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.
Julia awoke to the vicious burn of smelling salts and found herself in a windowless room, lit only by a dim ceiling light and a squat brazier full of red-hot coals. She was strapped to some sort of a wooden contrivance with her legs apart and all her weight hanging from her wrists, that which were bound to the crossbar with tight leather thongs. To say she was uncomfortable was to understate the case, and she had the feeling things weren’t going to get any better.
“Is she awake?” it was an educated female voice, rendered thick by excitement and bloodlust.”
A big hand lifted Julia’s head and a dark face stared down at her.
“Oh yes, she’s awake.”
Julia heard the whiplash before she felt its bite. Part of her felt as if she had fallen through time and was back in the hands of the Mongol slavers. It was as if her life was repeating the horror like a sick rerun. She set her teeth and concentrated on not making a sound. It was difficult, as the cut of the whip was exacerbated by the drag of her own weight on her wrists. It would have been only too easy to pander to the desires of whoever was wielding the whip, but she wouldn’t give in. The beating went on for some time and Julia could feel the blood running down her back. Suddenly it stopped, and she heard the sound of harsh breathing instead.
A man spoke, in the thick accent that took Julia back to her youth.
“Enough. Let her hang for now.”
The ‘Pit’ had its uses and in the past Dai had found the fact that Bryn knew and was on good terms with a fair few of those condemned to work there, meant that he could get hold of information that others might be left waiting for – or might never get at all. Those who monitored and reviewed the surveillance data were not inclined to be so helpful when asked to provide evidence of some minor misdemeanour by a fellow Briton. They were also notorious at spending hours trawling through surveillance that they knew would be of no value, if they felt so inclined. The abduction of a Roman was not likely to be something they would be pulling any stops out for and Dai was not surprised to find the Tribune had been given the standard response that they were working on all possible sources and had instigated overtime to ensure sufficient eyes were available. Which was at least half true.
Bryn had looked sick when Dai told him what had happened to Julia.
“You know she could already be d-”
“Yes. And I also know the longer we have the Pit playing the anti-Roman card, the higher the chance of that will be.”
Bryn chewed his lower lip for a moment.
“Can you stake me a couple of tickets to the Game?”
Dai stared at his decanus.
“Can I -?”
“Not for me. Just it never hurts to have something to offer people as an incentive – and a bit of a competition with a nice prize is incentive.”
It would cost him over a month’s salary and be completely beyond the pocket of Bryn who had a family to support on half as much and probably in dream territory for those paid little more than a minimum-wage pittance to work in the Pit. He didn’t hesitate longer than that thought before nodding.
Less than an hour later Bryn and Dai were in the dark recesses of the Pit looking at the rear view of two men running. One with something slung over his shoulder.
“So why do we think that’s her?” Dai was puzzled.
“If we run it back to where the bloke carrying her changes shoulders, there’s just a glimpse of two bare feet,” the operator explained patiently.
The man brought up a still on another screen, and Dai felt anger burning his throat at the sight of what had to be Julia’s feet poking out of some sort of heavy duty binbag. He turned his attention back to the moving picture.
“That’s Via Flumen,” Bryn said pointing to a low arch where the two men vanished from view. “And if they’ve gone into that estate of boxed up insulae and allies, the Caligula’s a gods-forsaken maze.”
“You don’t waste money watching rats shitting, fornicating and fighting each other, do you?”
Dai stared at the image and tried to catch the thought that was playing at the edge of his mind. He was suddenly sure there was something he was missing. He signalled, and the operator ran the piece again. A small dog pelted out of the alley just as the two men reached it and went in. Then his heart rate shot up.
“Filius canis, how could I be so stupid, Bryn get us transport to that place and I want all our people there when we get there.” He jabbed his finger at the arch on the screen marking the entrance to the estate. Then as Bryn obeyed, Dai used his wristphone. “Edbert? I need you to go to Via Flumen entrance of the Caligula Insulae Estate – and bring Canis and Lupo, they have work to do.”