Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. You can listen to this on YouTube too. And if you missed out, you can start from the beginning here.
“Who is it?”
“Treno Bellicus. You may have heard -”
“Of course I have.” She cut across him rudely as if wanting to reassert herself after the moment of weakness he had witnessed. “He is one of the contestants. He was reported missing days ago but you useless vigiles have done nothing about it.”
Dai took a breath and met her accusing glare with his own brand of gravitas.
“Well, you can be certain we are giving the matter our full attention now,” he assured her.
She snorted and stalked off.
“It strikes me that after two thousand years of unbroken Roman rule and all the incredible technological advances that has brought to the world, they would have figured simple things like that,” Bryn said, watching her retreating figure.
Dai glanced at his decanus, saw his expression and decided to bite.
“Things like what?”
“How to run a decent criminal investigation service. I mean clearly these vigiles she speaks of are cack. That poor woman, having to deal with such incompetents. It must be very trying for her.”
“I’ve met a few who really are,” Dai agreed, grinning, “but Roman Citizens just have to man up and make do with the inefficiencies and restrictions of Imperial rule out here in the provinces. She should just be glad we have the most essential basics like hovercars and the internet.”
“Yeah. I don’t know how the poor dears manage here in this primitive and barbarous land, so far from Rome where everything is always perfect.”
“If I didn’t know you better I might think you were abandoning Stoicism to become a Cynic, Bryn.”
“What? You have met my half-Roman wife? My mother’s half-Roman too. With those women folk I’m a Stoic, man, through and through. I have to be.”
Dai laughed and shook his head, then they both turned their attention back to the very unfunny reality of the corpse at their feet.
Twenty four hours later.
This time, though, there were two bodies.
One was another British contestant, Tam Docca ‘Fly Boy’, from the Valentia Game team, but it was the second corpse lying as if awaiting funeral rites that had Dai’s fullest attention. Quintillas Publius Luca – son of a Roman Senator and a proper one at that, from proper Rome – not one of those who sat in Augusta Treverorum, giving themselves airs.
Trev, as Dai and most Britons thought of it, was the capital of Prefecture Galliae, home to the man who ruled Britannia and much of the Northern and Western parts of the continent as well. It was one of the four original Prefectures, each governed by its own Caesar, established by the Divine Diocletian under his sole rule as God-Emperor of a new Roman Empire.
According to the information Dai was getting, Luca was not supposed to even be in the province. There were media images which showed him in some small provincial town, identified as Lutetia in Gallia Lugdunensis, sipping cocktails on a terrace overlooking a river, with his gorgeous patrician bride of a year, one Marcella Tullia Junius. The same article claimed Luca was away from Rome on a long-term project to regenerate and oversee the family’s estates in Gallia.
“You would think,” Bryn observed dryly, “that after last night they would have kept a watch. Security cameras all down still and I bet no one saw a thing, just like before. That’ll put a sour look on the face of that jobsworth Flavia.”
Dai shot his decanus a look.
“Shut up, Bryn, you spado. I’m thinking.”
The decanus chuckled.
“It ain’t often I can get the Bard to swear,” he remarked happily. “Let’s see if I can shake a few more curses out of those pure Celtic lips. You know they’ll sic a Roman on us? This is too big for us local yokels.”
“Yeah. Just as long as it isn’t Titillicus…”
“Oh, course you won’t have heard. Titillicus is no longer a factor. He got in a ruck with the Tribune, who sent him home to his mammy.”
“Nah. In a body bag. Seems he pulled a knife.”
“Moron. But what was the row about?”
“As if you couldn’t guess.”
“Yep. The Tribune’s wife under the very eyes of the family lares.”
Dai grinned viciously. He had never liked working with Titillicus, the kind of Roman who assumed he ruled the Province and owned every provincial he encountered. Surely whoever they sent from Trev HQ would have to be better than that?
Two days later, he found out.
He stood outside the Prefect’s office feeling as if he had been grilled like a flatbread on a griddle. The Prefect seemed to feel it was all Dai’s fault too, on top of which she was seething they had not sent one of her extended family’s clients from Trev. They had sent someone direct from Rome.
“This is a client of the Praetor himself so if you mess this up, Llewellyn, you make one mistake, or upset her at all, you will be stuck in the Pit monitoring security footage until you reach your dotage.”
The Pit was a room under the main HQ where failed vigiles would be sent to serve out their term going over the endless amount of security footage the AI decided needed a human decision. The chances of making the wrong call were high, and too many of those, would get you a missio ignominiosa – meaning you’d be thrown out of the vigiles with nothing and little chance of getting any decent employment anywhere, ever. The idea of a future life as a nightclub bouncer in one of the shadier suburbs did not fill Dai with a warm fuzzy feeling.
That and the fact this was his turf, his case and he was going to have to solve it somehow, whilst keeping some place-holding sycophantic client of Praetor Marius Aurelius Naribus distracted enough not to get in the way.
In the lift back to the main office he had time to contemplate the implications. Bryn must have seen his mood, because the decanus wisely said nothing when Dai gestured to him to follow. The two of them made their way to the plush reception room where important people from Rome could be properly accommodated and entertained. Dai ignored all protocols and strode in, then stopped so fast Bryn pushed into him and he heard the decanus swear under his breath. But Dai barely noticed because he had just realised that this was going to be worse than he could ever have imagined. This wasn’t a woman, it was a little boy in leather trews and bristling with weapons.
Part III will be here next Sunday. If you can’t wait to find out what happens next you can snag the full novella here.