decline to become involved.'

Porsenna was about to speak, but Calpurnia silenced him with a gesture. 'Perhaps, if you saw the dead man…' she said quietly.

'I don't see how that would make a difference.'

'Nonetheless.' She rose from the chair and proceeded toward a doorway. Porsenna indicated that I should follow. I did so reluctantly, with Porsenna behind me. I disliked the haruspex from first sight and didn't like having him at my back.

We walked down a long hallway, passing rooms as simply decorated as the one in which Calpurnia had received me. The house seemed empty; Calpurnia's slaves were trained to remain out of sight. We crossed a small garden ornamented by a splashing fountain with a splendid statue of Venus-Caesar's reputed ancestor-standing naked upon a gigantic seashell.

A man was sitting in the shade of the garden. He wore the voluminous toga of a pontifex, with its extra folds gathered and tucked in a loop above his waist. His mantle was pushed back to show a head of perfectly white hair. The old priest glanced up as we passed and gave me a quizzical look. I thought I saw a family resemblance to Calpurnia. His words confirmed it.

'Who have you brought into the house now, niece? Another spy? Or worse, another soothsayer?'

'Be quiet, Uncle Gnaeus! This is my affair, and I shall handle it as I see fit. Not a word to Caesar, do you understand?'

'Of course, my dear.' The priest rose to his feet. He was a bigger man than I had thought. He took Calpurnia's hand. 'Did I speak harshly to you? It's only because I think you're troubling yourself over nothing. You allow this haruspex to excite your fears, and insist on drawing others into this foolishness, and now we see where it leads-'

'I know what you think, Uncle Gnaeus. But if you cannot say words of support, say nothing!'

This served to silence Gnaeus Calpurnius, who dropped Calpurnia's hand and returned his gaze to me. He seemed to regard me with a combination of pity, scorn, and exasperation. I followed Calpurnia out of the garden and back indoors, glad to escape the old priest's scrutiny.

We walked down another long hallway. The rooms in this part of the house were more cluttered and less elegantly furnished. Finally we arrived at a small chamber, dimly lit by a single window high in the wall. It appeared to be a storage room. Odds and ends were piled against the walls-a rolled carpet, boxes full of blank parchment and writing materials, chairs one atop another.

In the center of the room, a body had been laid upon a makeshift bier. Flowers and spices had been strewn around it to mask the inevitable scent of putrefaction, but the body could not have been lifeless for more than a day, for it was still stiff. Presumably the corpse had been discovered after rigor began, for the petrified body retained the posture of an agonizing death, with shoulders hunched and limbs contracted. The hands were clutching the chest at a bloodstained spot directly over the heart. I avoided looking at the face, but even from the corner of my eye I could see that the jaw was tightly clenched and the lips were drawn back in a hideous grimace.

The body was clothed in a simple tunic. The darkened bloodstain was vivid against the pale blue fabric. There was nothing particularly distinctive about the garment-it had a black border in a common Greek key pattern-yet it seemed familiar to me.

'Where did you find the poor fellow?' I said.

'In a private alley that runs alongside this house,' said Calpurnia. 'The slaves use it to come and go, as do a few others-like this man-who don't wish to call at the front door.'

'A secret entrance for your secret agents?'

'Sometimes. He was discovered at dawn, lying on the paving stones just outside the door.'

'The body was already stiff?'

'Yes, just as you see him now.'

'Then he had probably been dead-and lying undisturbed-for at least four hours. That's when rigor begins.'

'That's certainly possible. To my knowledge, no one used that passageway during the night, so he could have been lying there since sundown. I presume he came here to tell me something, but before he could rap at the door-'

'Someone stabbed him. Are there more wounds?'

'Only this one.'

'So he died of a single stab wound to the heart.' His assailant must have been very lucky, or very quick, or else must have known the victim. How else could someone draw close enough to land such a perfect blow?

'Was there a trail of blood in the passageway?'

'No. He fell where he was stabbed.' Calpurnia shuddered.

'His tunic… looks familiar,' I said, feeling uneasy.

'Does it? Perhaps you should look at his face.'

I stepped closer. The scent of flowers and spices filled my nostrils. My heart pounded in my chest. My mouth was dry.

'Hieronymus!' I whispered.


Although his features were contorted almost beyond recognition, there could be no doubt. It was my friend Hieronymus, the Scapegoat of Massilia, who lay dead upon the bier. His teeth were bared in a grimace and his eyes were wide open.

'This was your agent? Hieronymus?'

Calpurnia nodded.

I shook my head in disbelief.

It had been three years since I'd met him in Massilia, when the city was besieged by Caesar. Following an ancient custom, the Massilians chose a citizen upon whom they would lavish every imaginable luxury until the day they cast him from the Sacrifice Rock as an offering to the gods to avert catastrophe. Hieronymus had been selected for the role, not as an honor but as a way to get rid of him once and for all. His father had been a powerful man who lost his fortune, then committed suicide. Hieronymus began life at the very top of Massilian society, then found himself at the bottom. His very existence was an embarrassment to the city's ruling class, who valued nothing but success and despised nothing more than failure. His caustic wit had not won him any friends, either.

Hieronymus saved my life in Massilia. When I returned to Rome, he came with me and took up residence in my household. After I left for Egypt, he struck out on his own; so my daughter, Diana, told me, saying she had run into him occasionally in the city. But since my return, I had not heard from him. This did not surprise me, as Hieronymus was something of a misanthrope. Nor had I sought him; I had become such a hermit that it took a summons from Caesar's wife to get me out of my house. I assumed our paths would cross sooner or later, if he was still in the city, and still alive. Amid the chaos and confusion of the long, bloody civil war, Hieronymus was just another friend of whom I had lost track.

Now I had found him again, lying lifeless on a bier in the house of Caesar's wife-who was telling me that Hieronymus had been her spy. The notion was absurd!

Or was it?

In a flash I saw how such a thing must have happened. Having resided with me, observing how I made a living and hearing my stories of past investigations, how like Hieronymus to conclude that any fool could do the same. What skills were required, except perseverance and cheek? What resources were needed, beyond a circle of knowledgeable informants, many of whom Hieronymus had already met through me? He knew I had dealt with Calpurnia shortly before my departure and that I had come away from those dealings with a great deal of money. After I left for Egypt, he must have approached her and offered his services.

'But why did you hire him?' I asked. 'What sort of information could Hieronymus possibly have obtained for you? He was an outsider, a foreigner. He spoke with a Greek accent. He could never pass as a citizen.'

Вы читаете The Triumph Of Caesar
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату