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.
Julia was rapidly getting annoyed. There was something big and bad going on, she knew it in her gut but she couldn’t pin it down. As she had feared, talking to the lion keeper’s wife had proved a waste of time although it wrung her loins with pity. Somebody somewhere had to know something. But whom? She kicked the wall of the office she had been allotted and swore sulphurously. Edbert looked up from the dagger he was polishing the nicks out of.
“Why don’t you go have a word with the lovely Lydia?” he rumbled. “I heard a rumour that she’s thick with the wives of both the dead Romans and with the Arena boss.”
Julia gave him a grim look, knowing full well that asking him about the source of his rumour would get her nowhere. Praetorian barrack-room gossip was her guess. Stamping her feet into her boots and striding out of the room, she crossed the courtyard and was admitted to the Tribune’s lodgings without comment. A moment later she was at the door of Lady Lydia’s rooms. She tapped and a homely female face appeared.
“You after her ladyship?”
“She ain’t here.”
Julia was nonplussed and the woman sighed.
“If you was to ask me, she don’t intend coming back.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I just found out that she took her jewel box.”
“Come with me,” Julia snapped.
She stomped off along the corridor, not bothering to check whether or not the woman followed her. Hurrying as fast as she dared without causing too much remark, she was soon knocking on the door of the Tribune’s suite of offices. The secretarius came to the door.
“I need to see the Tribune,” Julia demanded.
The man frowned, but she heard Decimus speak sharply.
“Who is it, man?”
“Domina Julia,” the man mumbled.
“Let her in then, and bugger off.”
The secretarius glared at Julia, but he opened the door wide and shuffled through it and passed her.
“Come in, girl. Come in.” Decimus bellowed.
Julia went into the room followed by Lady Lydia’s servant. The Tribune stood in front of an open window with his big hands clasped grasped behind his neck. She stopped quietly and waited for him to speak.
“I hate all the admin and paperwork that goes with this job and I hate that little pederast of a keyboard-fiddler. Hate him and his computer equally.” He did not trouble to modulate his volume and the secretarius would still have been in earshot. Then he dropped his voice and turned to her with a smile. “I was about to contact you with some new information anyway. But what brings you here, little sister?”
Julia shuffled her feet and he stopped smiling.
“So. It’s not a social call?”
“No. It’s about the Lady Lydia.”
“What about her?” He sounded long-suffering rather than surprised.
“I went to talk to her and she seems to have gone missing.”
That summoned a frown to his face.
“Missing? What do you mean missing? And why did you want to speak to her?”
“Missing as in not in the house, and her woman here says she has taken her jewellery box. And I wanted to talk to her because one of her close friends is dead, and two have been recently widowed.”
Decimus glowered at her from beneath his thick, black brows then hit a bell on his desk with one hard fist. A guard came scuttling in.
“Will you please find out if Domina Lydia is in the house?”
The guard left at a gallop, and the Tribune turned his fulminating gaze on the serving woman who shook her head and returned it stoically.
“You might have known she was up to something,” the woman said, her tone inappropriately accusing. “She has been too quiet. Except for that Titillicus and he was in the nature of a diversion.”
Decimus showed his teeth.
“Shut up Boudicca. If you can’t be anything but right you can just shut up.”
The woman actually smiled at him. There’s a story here, Julia thought, but she was too exercised with the puzzle in hand to add another set of questions to her list. However, Decimus obviously felt the need to explain.
“Boudicca here is a Briton by birth, but she was sold to Lydia’s futatrix of a mother when she was a little girl, just before enslaving anyone was outlawed. Of course every decent person promptly freed their existing slaves, if they had not already done so, but as it was not a legal requirement, the old cunnus didn’t. So Boudicca came with my lady wife as a body slave. I freed her. Annoyed the merda out of Lydia, but you know how I feel about slavery and those who keep trying to get it reinstated.”
It was not the whole story, Julia thought, she got the impression she was being told the details as much to distract as to inform. But right then there seemed no more to say on the topic and she was not about to enquire, so the three people in the room stood in silence for a moment.