The Dai and Julia Mysteries have a Saturnalia surprise for you this year and we are counting down to it by offering a free novella every day from now until Saturnalia begins on 17 December. Saturnalia Optima!
In a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire never left, Dai and Julia solve murder mysteries, whilst still having to manage family, friendship and domestic crises…
Ante Diem Nonum Kalendas Aprilis MDCCLXXIX Anno Diocletiani
The working office of the Magistratus had changed considerably since Sextus Catus Bestia had taken over the role in Demetae and Cornovii six months previously. Dai Llewellyn, Submagistratus for the same area, still fondly recalled the simple and yet tasteful decor the previous incumbent had preferred. Bestia, by contrast, favoured opulence over simplicity and substituted extravagance for good taste. But then, unlike his predecessor who had risen through the administrative ranks, Bestia had transferred into the state sector after enjoying a successful career as a commercial lawyer. Dai assumed that impressing business clients required such an ostentatious display of wealth, but the same sat ill with the kind of civic dignity expected of Bestia’s present role.
Not that the man couldn’t easily afford the expensive artwork lining the walls, the rarewood furniture, the bejewelled and gilded bust of the Divine Diocletian and the elaborate full-length golden-framed painting of himself and his wife of a few weeks. That marriage had surely made him one of the wealthiest men in all of Viriconium.
Which was why this present meeting was beginning to make Dai move from frustration into anger. Bestia was sitting in his throne-like desk chair, hands resting on the carved lions that adorned the arms. The late afternoon sun had painted the window behind him with glowing light, adding to the regal impression. He also looked regally bored, as if he found the whole business of overseeing the administration tedious in the extreme.
“I see no reason to bend the rules just because your Senior Investigator has a gut-instinct about something. Cartivel must be close to retirement age and is probably just dyspeptic.” He smiled as if inviting Dai to share the joke.
“I’m not asking you to bend any rules. I’m asking you to sign-off further resources to investigate properly. I would if I could, but have already authorised this case to the limit of my authority.”
Bestia glanced down at the file on his desk. “Indeed. I see you granted SI Cartivel and his team an entire day in man hours. Time they have used to ascertain little more than that this woman was known to be a lupa and known to be willing to take money from clients who wanted more extreme practices than the usual. But there are no grounds that I can see here for me to extend the investigation any further. It would be a waste of public money.”
“If Malina Tesni was a Roman Citizen…”
For the first time, Bestia sounded annoyed.
“If the woman was a Roman Citizen, she would not have been a common British puta who was paid well by an over-vigorous client.”
“Over-vigorous?” For a moment Dai saw the start of a red haze clouding on the edges of his vision and with a supreme effort of will he fought it down, drawing a deep breath and counting silently.
“Distasteful as it is, there was nothing to suggest she had been abused against her will. She was also found with what I am assured would be a substantial payment for a street woman. No doubt an incentive to allow her client more leeway in his behaviour.”
“She was beaten half to death. The autopsy said she died of those injuries having caused severe internal bruising and swelling.”
“It was not murder. There was clearly no intent to kill or why pay the woman and let her go home? At very best it was an accidental death. No one has denied that she was a prostitute and that is a profession that we all know carries certain occupational hazards.” His expression softened suddenly and his voice shifted to something more like friendly cajoling. “You are a good man, a good Citizen and a good administrator, Llewellyn. I do understand why you feel so strongly about this, but you must let it go. It’s for the best.”
Dai had been sitting but now he shot to his feet.
“Let it go? Dominus, the man who did this is somewhere in Viriconium and he could do the same to another woman.”
Bestia lifted one hand from its lion’s head resting place.
“Stop right there. Firstly, I already said that I completely understand where you are coming from with this. Who could not be appalled at by it? But where is the crime? There is no law against prostitution.” He leaned back and shook his head, looking saddened. “If anything the dead woman is the criminal here. The only prosecutable offense I can see is failure on her part to have purchased a license to practice her trade. And, of course, the subsequent charges of tax evasion that would lead to, especially seeing how well she was being paid.”
Dai struggled to find some way to frame things in terms that could penetrate Bestia’s lawyer logic.
“If she was a Citizen there would be unlimited resources made available to uncover the man who did this whether it was deemed consensual or not. What if the man is local and his next victim is a Citizen?”
Bestia was frowning now.
“You should know better than that, Submagistratus. We can’t run the Vigiles on ‘what ifs’. There is no reason to think the man was local, indeed it is more likely someone passing through, staying the night and wanting some entertainment. And even if he was local, you have already spent public money on investigating something that is not a crime. Instead of asking me for more perhaps you should apologise and be grateful that I’m not going to mention that you did so on any official report.”
The red haze rose and this time Dai could do nothing to stop it. His last conscious act was to turn and start walking towards the door. Better to be rude to his superior than get arrested for attacking him.