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.
Another tap came on the door and a sentry stuck his head in.
“Bryn Cartivel, dominus.”
“My decanus,” Dai provided.
“Send him in then.”
Bryn came in looking, Julia thought, a bit nervous. Dai obviously agreed with her because he barked out a laugh, which he covered quickly.
“What is it?” Decimus shot a disapproving frown at Dai as he asked the question, but from the way the decanus’s face froze and he straightened up, Julia realised Bryn thought the frown was aimed at himself.
“It’s them toughs we apprehended, dominus. We’ve been talking to them nicely and they decided to come clean, in the interests of furthering justice, you understand. But I don’t really want to repeat what they said.”
Decimus looked at the decanus and then smiled – the one Julia recognised as his nice smile, the one without wolffish overtones.
“I don’t shoot messengers,” he said mildly.
Bryn took a run at it.
“It’s all very well to say that, but I never expected to ever be in the same room as you even, dominus. And now I am, I have to tell you that the street toughs who attacked my boss and domina Julia were paid by your lady wife and another woman. A veiled woman with two of them little pompom dogs.”
At which point Julia got up and stomped around the room kicking furniture.
“I’m guessing that those two women didn’t want us investigating the murders.”
“No domina,” Bryn was polite, “it doesn’t seem like they did. According to the vigiles we are also talking nicely to, they expected Titillicus to be in charge of the case. And they had him precisely where they wanted him.”
“They did. Thank you, Bryn,” Dai spoke softly.
Instead of subsiding, Bryn stuck out his chin.
“That’s not all. Them Vigiles reckon that the woman with the dogs paid a couple of junior investigators to pass on details of which Game players were in trouble with the big betting syndicate in Rome.”
Dai swore and he met Julia’s fulminating eye with some embarrassment.
“Now I feel responsible too. I’ve been blaming it all on Rome, but now…”
Julia decided not to belabour the point, just shrugging eloquently.
“This smells very bad. We should all be very careful.”
Decimus rang the bell at his elbow and when the sentry poked his head around the door frame he spoke briskly.
“I think we will double the guard for a while.”
The sentry saluted and could be heard outside relaying the order. Decimus turned to Bryn.
“Thank you, decanus. I would prefer it if you and your men remained here until we smoke out the last of the rats. I hope that isn’t a trouble to you.”
Bryn’s face and voice were wooden.
“No sir. Thank you, sir.”
He saluted awkwardly, as if he had not had much practice at making the gesture, and backed out of the room.
Julia looked at Dai to see him battling some powerful emotion. He managed to keep a straight face for a few seconds then started to laugh.
“I’m sorry,” he gasped, “but Bryn has been my decanus since I was promoted, and I’ve never managed to get the better of him. Not once. It’s probably petty, and entirely out of place in a murder investigation, but I did so enjoy watching him squirm.”
Decimus actually forgot his woes sufficiently to snort out a laugh. Julia looked at the pair of them with at least an attempt at proper Roman dignity and gravitas.
“Behave, you two.”
Dai went so far as to poke his tongue out at her, so she gave up trying to bring them to a sense of decency and went to look out of the window into the parade ground. That proved too much for her hard-won composure as Bryn was standing in the middle of Dai’s posse, waving his arms and mugging frantically as he related what had transpired in the Tribune’s office.