Enjoy the opening of Dying on the Mosaics, one of The Dai and Julia Mysteries by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago set in a Britain where the Roman Empire never left, which is free to download 18-22 April.
The cheap baths in Londinium were not the most salubrious place to meet but needs must when times demanded. At first he thought no one was there, then a changing cubicle opened. The man who emerged looked much older than he expected and a slight tic flickered in the corner of his eye. They had been friends once, but now there were other bonds that tied them.
The man with the tic washed his hands and under the cover of the sound of running water, murmured. “You have to do something. This could destroy me – destroy us, destroy the entire consortium.”
It was interesting to see how weak and vulnerable a proud man could become. Contemptible but interesting.
“Don’t worry. Fortunately for you I’ve been thinking ahead and will be in a good place to deal with it.”
The man with the tic nodded, their eyes meeting in the mirror for a moment, then turned and walked out. He had left the data drive in the cubicle as arranged and it was a moment’s work to pocket it and walk out.
Ante Diem Septimum Idus September MDCCLXXVIII Anno Diocletiani
The body lay sprawled on the cold, mosaic floor of the Basilica Viriconia. Dai found irreverent and irrelevant thoughts going through his mind about how having a murder scene so close to the Vigiles House was so convenient and considerate of the killer. He recognised them for what they were. An instinctive protection against the horror.
And horror this was.
The headless corpse had been carefully arranged so its posture fitted to the Caput Deum, the head of the Divine Diocletian, picked out on the floor there as it was in every official building in the Empire. Haloed in tiny golden tiles, it replaced in two dimensions the murder victims own head. The body was naked, male, and the only obvious identifying mark was the silver ring of Citizenship. Whoever this was they were most-likely Romano-British.
“Same M.O. as the last one,” Senior Investigator Bryn Catrivel observed. “This is getting sick and creepy, Bard.”
His familiar tone and form of address drew an odd look from the other man present, Sextus Catus Bestia who had recently taken up the role of Magistratus for Demetae and Cornovii. Recently enough, Dai knew that he had yet to realise Bryn and Dai were long time friends and work partners. That they had served together in the Vigiles in Londinium for eight years before Dai was appointed to be Submagistratus based here in Viriconium.
Dai looked around the broad expanse of the civic building’s portico and noticed the dead-eyed cameras.
“They even found a way to take the surveillance offline, I’m guessing.”
The Magistratus cleared his throat. His long face looking distinctly sallow beneath the carefully trimmed black hair. He lifted one hand, palm forward, the heavy gold patrician ring of Citizenship very obvious on his index finger.
“Um. I’m terribly afraid that might be my fault. I was testing it late yesterday afternoon and I told the disadattatus I would restore it to normal mode as it was the end of his working day, but I must have forgotten and I suppose it stayed down overnight. Mea culpa. Isn’t there a night watchman of some sort?”
“Used to be, dominus,” Bryn said heavily. “Until Aprilis. That was when the last man retired and as the automatic surveillance had been upgraded it wasn’t felt necessary to replace him.”
“Oh dear. That is not good, not good at all.” The Magistratus looked profoundly unhappy and shook his head. “The poor, poor man.”
Dai was wondering whether the ‘poor man’ in question was the retiring watchman, the disadattatus or the deceased when he caught the look Bryn sent him.
“Dominus, we should allow SI Cartivel to continue this murder investigation. As long as we are here it is getting in the way of what he needs to do.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” He started walking towards his office and Dai walked with him leaving Bryn giving clipped and efficient orders to his team. “Two Roman Citizens killed in this bizarre way.” He frowned heavily. “Wasn’t there some extreme Anti-Roman group operating in this area recently?”
“Yes, dominus. We had an unpleasant encounter with such a group last year. But they were dealt with conclusively.”
“Such evil can grow deep roots and spring up like mushrooms. But if you are certain, Llewellyn…” He trailed off as another thought clearly distracted him. “Considering how this is going I think I should take over the investigation myself.”
Dai felt his guts tighten. The new Magistratus had been in Viriconium for less than three weeks and in that time the impression he had made was not one to inspire any confidence in his ability to lead an investigation.
“Might I suggest, dominus that as you are still settling in and are not fully acquainted with the local circumstances, it might be better to let me do so.”
The Magistratus stopped on the spot.
“Well isn’t that the point? How am I ever going to get to know how things are here if I don’t jump in and get my hands dirty? Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be breathing down the neck of the local Vigiles – I’m sure they know what they need to do, I’ll just be overseeing not interfering. This is the kind of thing that can echo all the way to Augusta Trevorum and even Rome, you know. I just want to keep across it so if there is any come back I am the one who gets to do the testudu and your Vigiles won’t have to worry about taking any flak.”
Dai stifled the urge to snap that the Vigiles wouldn’t need any protecting if they were just left to do their job, but clearly the Magistratus meant well and was trying to show care and consideration for his subordinates.
The Magistratus placed a heavy hand on Dai’s shoulder.
“I know I have a very large set of sandals to fill to be able to measure up to Magistratus Ambrosius, but I want my people to know I have their backs. So I’ll have my primus secretarius – what’s his name again? Turtle? Turnbull? Terfel. That’s it – arrange for SI Cartivel to brief me twice daily and on any key developments. I can provide any support and resources as the investigation might require.” He nodded as if well satisfied by his own solution to the issue then smiled encouragingly at Dai. “It’ll be for the best.”