The Dai and Julia Mysteries are set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules…
Even when he was supposed to be focused on the case, Dai found himself looking again at the selfie of Julia in the sun and wondering how she was. It had got so the image was always popping unbidden into his mind, leaving his thoughts distracted. He had no idea what he should say to her and dreaded that what he said might be the wrong thing. So he made no further attempt to contact her and as time went on he felt as though the opportunity to say anything, ever was slipping away from him.
“… which means we can effectively eavesdrop on him. Unless he wises up and turns it off.”
He was sitting in Bryn’s office in the Vigiles HQ in Viriconium and it took an effort to refocus his thoughts on what his senior investigator was saying.
“Yes. You know how Tony Talog’s using that AI PA system? Mercuria? Well, turns out we can apply to have a listening ear put on it. I put in for it last night and got permission through first thing.”
“So we can spy on him using his own electronics?”
“That’s about the size of it. In fact, we have been for the last few hours.”
“I somehow don’t see him being that indiscreet, but we can hope.”
Bryn laughed. “Bard, you have no idea how people can be with these systems. They think of them as a one-way thing – something they control completely. They tend to forget that it’s connected to the entire internet and not just to their own home.”
“Remind me not to get it installed at the villa.”
“So I don’t think Tony will see it as being indiscreet, it won’t even occur to him there is an issue in the privacy of his own four walls.”
Dai frowned. “He has it at home as well as in his office?”
“Yep. He’s the kind who likes to make out he’s up with all the latest trends. Odd for a man who makes his living from the past, don’t you think?”
“Would be odd if he actually loved the past – Tony Talog doesn’t, he just exploits it.”
“Oh and we have a lunch date,” Bryn said. “Justina Cynddylan says she may have some information for us and wishes us to join her for lunch as her guests.”
“And she can’t just tell us because…?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. But she says she booked a table at an out of town place. Posh one too, Bene Placito, you may have heard of it.”
Dai nodded. It was one of the most exclusive eating places in the area specialising in the finest Roman cuisine. The kind of establishment where your meal would be sparse but served artistically and the fact you felt hungry at the end of the meal would not matter because one sight of the bill would remove what remained of your appetite. Dai had been toying with the idea of taking Julia there for her birthday as a surprise but was not entirely convinced she would want that. There were times he realised just how little he knew her.
As far as discreet went, Bene Placito served that up in buckets. The place was in one wing of a small villa, presumably also the home of the chef who owned it, that nestled in the hills behind Viriconium. The villa had a long private driveway which wound past fields of vegetables and livestock, showing off the produce that they would soon be eating.
Dai and Bryn were greeted at the door by a simply dressed waitress who asked their names and explained that each party or individual was given their own secluded dining room.
“Domina Cynddylan is in the Rose Room. If you will come with me…”
Bene Placito was a small slice of Roman elegance and opulence thrust into the British countryside. The decor and furnishings were all items that might grace the pages of patrician’s lifestyle magazines and set in amongst the modern, sophisticated, decor were exquisite examples of ancient Roman statuary and other artefacts.
The Rose Room turned out to be well named. It had a window onto a small walled rose garden, though at this time of year the bushes were little more than pruned back twigs, and there were several pots of indoor miniature roses sitting on small pedestals. Dai’s heart sank as they were shown in. he should have expected it, but somehow he had not. It was a triclinium. The three couches had been set to overlap, in three sides of a square with the table in the middle.
Justina Cynddylan was already ensconced on the central couch, helping herself to some olives from a bowl on the table. She smiled as the two men were shown in and made a sweeping gesture to the empty couches on either side of her.
“Thank you for joining me, please make yourselves comfortable and we will see what the chef is providing today.” Dai eased himself on to a couch, feeling awkward, but noticed with surprise that Bryn seemed completely unperturbed and slid onto his couch as if patrician born.
“You will have to excuse me from getting right down to business, but we can’t be assured of complete privacy until the meal has been served. The timing of that is always a little uncertain as Chef can be very temperamental.”
“I understand,” Dai said, though he was not sure he really did. But he sought an alternative topic of conversation. “There are a few antiquities here I see.”
“Oh yes. I have sold several genuine ancient pieces to Chef. He is a bit of a connoisseur of Etruscan art and it has been my pleasure to help locate and arrange the purchase of one or two for him.” She lowered her voice “To be honest he is a little obsessed, he is convinced he is descended from Etruscan ancestors, but when one is such a great artist as he is, one can be forgiven such foibles.”
The door opened as she was speaking and the waiting staff piled the table with heated stands and small covered pots, as well as plates with a few multi-coloured leaves strewn over them. A bottle of good wine and glasses completed the spread, then the staff withdrew.
Justina lifted a few lids and helped herself to some of the contents, and made the same imperious sweeping gesture with which she had greeted them. “Eat up. We can talk and eat.”
Dai eyed the items on her plate with some suspicion. He went for a plentiful portion of the grains and vegetables and only a couple of the more innocent looking meat slices, spooning garum over the whole lot to disguise any odd flavours. Bryn, meanwhile, was cheerfully piling his plate with samples from all that was on offer.
“The flamingo is excellent, don’t you think?” Justina nodded towards the meat Dai had chosen. He had some in his mouth at the time and chewed and made himself swallow before managing a nod. Why did the Romans insist on eating such things?
“Look, I really appreciate your – uh – generosity in inviting us here -”
“Oh, not so generous, Chef always gives me a discount,” Justina said quickly.
“Yes. Well, the thing is we are a bit pressed for time, so if you feel we are private enough now, perhaps we could get to what it was you wished to tell us.”