Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Investigations

Imperial Investigator Marcus Aquila was not in a great mood.
Tiredness and frustration tended to get in the way of his usual good humour.
‘Remind me why we are here, will you Castor?’
‘Mainly because the office of Paulinus requested it, Sir’
‘Ah yes. The Governor who seems more interested in beating up druids than managing the lands he already holds.’
The elderly scribe put down his stylus and glanced at his employer.
‘Surely that is not a criticism of our dear Governor, sir’ Castor smiled at the younger man.
Aquila slowly and deliberately made an obscene gesture with his left hand.
The two men were sitting in the garden of the Basilica. It was a rather nice evening.
At least, Aquila reflected, it gave them a chance to freshen up after the ride from Londinium. They had set out at first light and now the sun was slowly going down.
The Chief Magistrate was currently out on his rounds, so they had to wait until his briefing on the matter Aquila had been called to look into; some trifling thing about a runaway slave, of all things. It was a waste of his valuable time considering the level of tension in the province.
Castor looked through his notes.
‘Suetonius requested it because this magistrate fellow – Miletus, I believe is his name, after the city – is a relative. By marriage, I believe, to some cousin – just about close enough to the family to want to avoid any embarrassment. I would guess that’s why anyway. Something lurid that could drag the family down.’
Aquila looked at his aide in puzzlement.
‘I understand the nepotistic reason from Paulinus to have us wasting our time on a domestic matter when we should be checking on the political rumours we came across… But I can’t see why this is such a big fuss to Miletus. He can buy any number of little girls, if that’s what he is into.’
Castor shrugged.
‘Maybe he’s in love with her, or thinks he is at least. His kind can certainly think that. Or maybe she knows something about him that’s more of a scandal than a predilection for young girls.’
‘Now that seems more likely to me. Certainly that is the angle I will pursue. I think the girl is a distraction, Castor. I can feel that there is something else being hidden here.’
‘Cities are full of secrets, Investigator. Every little Taverna has its own set of things people are trying to hide. Some are just more important to the Empire than others.’
‘Yes, old friend. You’re right, as always. I tell you what. Why don’t you start sniffing around for me in those very places? See what you can find out. I’ll wait and get the briefing from this when this chap eventually returns. I’ll then go through the official channels.’
Castor looked shrewdly at the Investigator.
‘I assume that I can use any means I feel appropriate?’
Aquila deliberately quashed any sign of expression.
‘Obviously I would not condone or fund any activity beyond the scope of Roman law,’ he said as he gave Castor a bag of coins.
The bag vanished somewhere inside the older man’s tunic like a pursued rabbit down a hole. Aquila still did not know how his aide managed to move that fast at his age.
‘It takes practice, sir, lots of practice,’ Castor said, as if reading his superior’s mind,’ the streets of Neapolis teach you to hide things of value quickly – if you don’t want to end up with a knife in your back.’
‘I must get you to teach me sometime. Very well, go get some wine inside you and start listening. I’ll meet see you at breakfast at the mansio,’ Aquila sighed as he heard a strangled fanfare from somewhere in the Basilica.
‘Oh good,’ Aquila said sarcastically, ‘it appears that our dear Chief Magistrate has returned to brief me on my terribly important mission. Go now, and find this girl for me. It won’t be good for her if we but that is not our problem. The sooner we can wrap this up, the sooner we can get on with the proper work of defending the Empire.’
Aquila paused, frowning.
‘I have an urge to get back to Camulodunum. The rumours are not good. I don’t really trust the Iceni and the garrison commander there is an idiot. ’
Castor paused on the threshold.
‘Sir, if I did find the girl, and she was still alive… Should I just kill her quickly and be done with it? It probably would be a mercy, compared to what Miletus might do to her.’
Aquila sighed.
‘Yes, I think so. But only do it when you know exactly why some insignificant child is worth quite so much bother.’