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.
Dai flicked on the flashlight in his wristphone and led the way down the ramp into the tunnel. After a short time, he stopped and gestured Julia to keep still. From somewhere ahead of them he could hear a sound very like sobbing. Julia gripped his arm and pulled back shaking her head. Behind them four of Decimus praetorians in full combat gear emerged from the shadows and Julia pointed them along the tunnel.
Dai’s jaw tightened. He didn’t like being pushed aside – in this case both literally as well as figuratively. Yet another reminder that this was not his case. The feeling eased a moment later when Julia again pressed her nerve whip into his hand, drew her gun and followed in the wake of the praetorians. It felt odd to be holding a weapon, especially one that had such a powerful emotive pull on him and all non-Citizens. The last time he had not really had the chance to think about it as combat had been instant. But this time the smooth grip of the weapon meant something. Last time Julia had needed him to be armed for her protection, this time she was choosing to arm him so he could participate fully.
There was, of course, nothing to do once they got to the end of the tunnel. The praetorians had the room completely under control and one actually saluted Julia. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Dai offered her the nerve whip as soon as the praetorian had turned away. She palmed it and winked at him. He realised then she could get in serious trouble for arming a non-Citizen, it was, in theory at least, a criminal offence.
The room reeked of stale urine, excrement and blood. Hanging on the walls, there were what Dai first assumed to be tools, but then he realised and felt ill. The result of their use could be seen in the state of the corpses, cloth still gagging their mouths so they could not scream out the agony they must have been put through.
There were two dead men in the room and Dai’s identipad revealed one was a Briton and one a Roman.
The Briton was Docca Vindiorix from Aqua Sulis in Britannia Prima. He was a young man and the brief details available on him said he had just been taken on with the Prima team for the Game, but had yet to make any kind of a name for himself. And now, Dai reflected soberly, he never would.
The Roman came up with some interesting caveats flagging his name and a number of messages that Dai’s ‘enquiry’ would be reported. Urbanus Hostilius Rufus was what Bryn would call ‘a bad boy’ and from the look of his contorted body he had come to a very bad end. Unable to access the full available information on him, Dai had to ask Julia to check for him.
She was helping the one survivor of whatever had been going on. A woman who, despite the terror and trauma of her position, was collected enough to explain she was Tegwen Drust, wife of the chief lion keeper. She knew her husband was dead, Dai had the impression she had been made to watch him die before he was fed to his own lions. But whoever had done the deed had been masked so she could not help identify them.
Julia arranged for Tegwen to be moved to security at the barracks then looked at what Dai wanted and managed to access the information on the dead Roman.
“Well, it looks like there will be few tears and maybe even some cheers going up when news of Rufus being dead gets round.” She showed him the information stream the gist of which revealed he was well known for being involved in illegal gambling cartels and running under-age prostitution rackets. “Can’t see anyone weeping over this one.”
“Well someone might,” Dai said and pointed to one of the details. “He had a wife.”
Julia’s eyes widened.
“He had a wife who is from a Patrician family. How did a dirt-bag like Rufus manage that? She is Octavia Tullia Scaevia, and according to my information she lives here in Londinium. I think you should go and break the news to her right away, Dai.”
Dai balked for a moment then saw the expression on Julia’s face and nodded slowly.
“All right, I’ll go and tell her she is now a grieving widow.” He looked at the address and then back to Julia with a frown. “Coincidence?”
It was the block next door to the one they had been visiting that afternoon, where they had found the dead body belonging to Annia Belonia Flavia.
“I would be very surprised if it is. Do you want backup?”
Dai shook his head.
“I’ll take my decanus, that will look most natural.”
“I’ll go back with the praetorians and see if I can get the lion keeper’s wife to remember any more. I’ll see you when you get back.”