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. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning. You can listen to this on YouTube.
Annia Belonia Flavia was not at her place of work and it took a combination of Dai’s bardic charm and Julia’s patrician authority to learn her home address from her subadiuva, a woman who seemed either fiercely protective of her boss or frankly terrified of her. Dai found it hard to be sure which.
Flavia lived in a very posh apartment in one of the new towering insulae built on the edge of the Tamesis. They were loosely modelled on the tenements of Rome in their outer appearance, but the irony was that these were top class luxury all the way. Even the floors of the public areas had the soothing warmth of a built-in hypocaust. They were tiled with mosaics showing the Divine Diocletian defeating the rebellious self-proclaimed Restitutor Britanniae in the failed Carausian Revolt. It was a popular meme in all Britannia, especially here in Londinium where the final hope of British independence had fallen forever with the dying bodies of those last loyal men. The place it supposedly happened, was now marked by a tall pillar, guarded by stone lions and topped by the Roman hero of the hour, Constantius.
Not that the bastard had even been there, but like all the Romans Dai had ever met, he was probably very good at taking the credit and burying the name of whichever Gallic auxiliary had actually achieved the victory for him.
The lift slid silently upwards and Dai wondered how much it must cost to live in this kind of place. Certainly far more than his humble salary. Not that he would have the option to live here even if the salary he earned ever reached that kind of level. He had seen the stone eagle above the main entrance, its wings outstretched to embrace the chosen few and the letters ‘SPQR’ clutched in its grasping talons. This was a place where only Citizens could live. Regular Britons, such as himself, were confined to the huddled suburbs of Londinium where concrete leviathans provided hutch-sized boxes for people to live in. Those who were licensed to do so, of course, which meant having a job that qualified as ‘essential’.
The door to Flavia’s apartment was open. Not so surprising when it had a foot lying over the threshold – bare, with toenails carefully manicured and painted. The foot was still attached to its owner, who lay with her bare buttocks on the face of the Divine Diocletian that was mosaiced into the floor. Dai could tell it had to be Diocletian by the inevitable wreath and halo which surrounded the image. It was obvious Flavia was quite dead. It was not at all obvious what had caused that. She was completely naked and her hair was in damp curls around her face, which wore a look of surprise.
Dai reached for his identipad so he could officially confirm her identity and log the death, but Julia’s small hand gripped his arm.
“No. We’ll leave that for the forensic team. I want to get back to the arena. If she has been killed to silence her, the sooner we can find out why, what she was being silenced for the better. Whoever did this is starting to panic.”
Dai opened his mouth to object, then closed it again. It was not his call to make. Julia had done such a good job of making him feel like a partner he had almost forgotten she was the one holding the nerve whip. He straightened up and forced a smile.
“Of course, domina. Whatever you say.”
Julia did not even seem to notice, she was speaking rapidly into her wrist phone to report the murder and call in the necessary forensic team. Before she finished she was leaving the apartment, still snapping brusque details as she went.
Dai stood beside her in the lift and felt his stomach plunge lower than the ground floor.
He looked down to see her small face, so like a child looking up at him.
“You have nothing to apologise for, domina.”
“Clearly I do or you would not be calling me that.” She studied his face for a moment then looked away. “I have to make executive decisions, Dai – and you may think you know this crime better than me, but this is a Roman crime, not a British one. I know the signs.”
Dai had no idea how to answer that, and the rest of their journey back to the Augusta Arena took place in a tense silence.
Part VII will be here next Sunday. If you can’t wait to find what happens next you can snag the full novella here.