Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XIX

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.

It was more than half an hour before she returned to the Tribune’s study, where she found the two men playing a complicated board game, which, by Decimus’ face, Dai was winning.
“Thank goodness you are back, puella. Before I got my arse whipped by a sheep-shagging provincial. What did our master say?”
“Before or after he stopped swearing?”
“After.”
“Well. First off he’s sorry he stuck you with his awkward futatrix of a daughter. Second, he’s putting the word out on Marcella Junius. Going to make it treason for anyone to assist her. It’s going out on the public screens now. With pictures of her victims, especially those poor bloody dogs. Reckons he can winkle her out, and her life isn’t worth a brass penny when he does.”
Dai looked both relieved and pained and Decimus clapped his shoulder with some fellow feeling.
“Don’t think about it. I know there isn’t any proof, but I also know in my gut that the futatrix is guilty.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any doubt of that,” Dai sounded truly disturbed, “I just can’t get my head around it.”
“Which bit in particular?”
“Why. I think I am struggling with why.”
“Money,” Julia could hear the weariness in her own voice, “money and power. While he was venting his fury on me, the boss had all the information we have run through the computers in Rome. Of course, there was other stuff we couldn’t access. Most of which he wouldn’t tell me. But when the computers added up the probability it came out at over ninety-eight per cent that three patrician women hatched a pretty plot to get themselves back to Rome as wealthy widows. It looks like the poor stupid arena curatrix couldn’t cope with the reality of murder – they found some messages she sent to Lydia which hinted she wanted out. She was probably always expendable anyway. I feel sick. And there is a thing I have to tell you, Decimus, and it’s not nice. Sorry Dai, but I have to say it in private.”
She looked into Dai’s face, expecting the shuttered look that indicated another attack of hurt feelings, and was surprised to see complete understanding as he heaved himself to his feet.
“Wait.”
Decimus looked at the pair of them.
“I trust the sheep-shagger. Just talk, Julia.”
She looked at their expectant faces and swallowed the bile that threatened to choke her.
“It’s about Lydia and Octavia Scaevia…”
Decimus actually nodded his big head.
“Lovers, were they?”

Julia felt her jaw drop slightly open and she closed it quickly.
“Probably. It looks like Marcella killed them because the two of them had fallen in love – or lust – and tried to run off together with a big part of the loot. Don’t tell me you knew?”
“Not knew, precisely. But I always suspected that was where her tastes lay. The boy she wanted was more feminine than most women. And there was the way she looked at some of the pretty butterflies that cluster around men of wealth.” He sighed. “I tried to talk to her about it once, but she clammed up like the bitter oyster she was.”
“Honestly, Decimus, what did you expect?. She could hardly admit that to you. Even if she admitted it to herself…”
Julia and her childhood friend glared into each other’s eyes for a moment, and it felt to her as if thirty years had slipped away and she was five years old again, squabbling with the ten-year-old son of her grandfather’s oldest friend. She smiled and Decimus relaxed.
“Aye. I know. But I tried.”
“You did. And honestly I don’t know what else you could have done.”
Dai coughed apologetically and Julia couldn’t help looking over her shoulder and laughing.
“Sorry Dai, are we being embarrassing?”
“No. I was just thinking. If they were planning to kill their husbands, shouldn’t the Tribune be taking extra precautions?”
“I already do. I live with people wanting me dead. Though you can be sure my lads will be extra vigilant. They are not stupid, and at least some of them will have put the clues together.”

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

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