It was a two-hour drive to Virconium, given a speedy vehicle and a reliable driver. Having both, they arrived without incident. The city was gearing up for next month’s Saturnalia with bright lights and sparkly tinsel in every shop window to lure in gift-buyers. Julia felt an odd pang of nostalgia as she caught sight of a display of sigillaria in one. There were candles moulded or carved into fantastic and beautiful wax sculptures, beside a shelf of grotesque and amusing ones. She wondered how it would be to spend her first Saturnalia away from Rome.
The navi system took them straight to the dance studio, where Julia followed Dai and Bryn as they made their way to the reception desk in a cool quiet portico. The elaborately coiffed young man behind the white and gold edifice recoiled visibly.
“Members only,” he snapped.
Bryn stepped forward.
“The Submagistratus wants a word with Bont.”
The receptionist opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no sound emerged.
“Sometime this week, sonny”
“Not possible. Ulysses is busy right now.”
“Well un-busy him.”
“I don’t think I can…”
Bryn smiled and leaned over the desk, cracking his knuckles. The receptionist swallowed audibly, then he thumbed a button.
“Ulysses Bont to reception. Immediately please.”
Bryn rewarded him with a wolfish grin.“Now you’re being sensible. Got somewhere we can talk uninterrupted?”
They were soon ensconced in a pleasant room, which Julia was delighted to find came complete with beverages and cake. It wasn’t long before they were joined by a lean man wearing a sardonic expression.
“You wanted me, dominus?” he said a waspish bite to his tone.
Dai looked him up and down slowly.
“I think wanted is an exaggeration.”
Bont coloured, but Julia could see he wasn’t brave enough to argue with a man whose blue eyes were as bleak as a winter morning. Bont shut his mouth and cast down his gaze.
“Better. Now. Talk to me about Tales from the Mabinogion.”
“What?” Bont looked up in surprise. “The dance troupe?”
“We were contracted for a three-month school tour. Then disbanded.”
He met Dai’s stare defiantly for a moment, then looked at Julia. She schooled her expression to stone. Something in her face seemed to get to him, though and he sighed. “Okay, it was more than a bit odd. We were paid well over the going rate and our paymasters were a bit creepy. Too interested in kids. Always girls and always the petite ones. Not that I ever saw them actually do anything, I’d have reported them if they had.” he broke off for a moment as if thinking about what had happened. “You have to understand, they really weren’t the sort of people you question. But…”
“But indeed. Do you have any names?”
“There were two of them, a couple of men, called themselves Smith. Can I ask what you think they have done?”
“Eleven of those girls have gone missing.”
“Oh no. Please, no.” Bont looked truly sick. “Look. I don’t know much that could help you, I really wish I did. That’s – just horrible.” He broke off shaking his head as if trying to deny it. Then he looked up directly at Dai. “Except that there’s this female dancer, I never liked her. Her name is Katya Czesny, she was right in with the Smiths. And she is still working In Viriconium.”
“A nightspot. The Scarlet Letter. She’s cage dancing now. Calls herself Lubricia.”
Julia spoke for the first time.
“Thank you,” she said softly.