The actors circled one another like frenzied bees. The dressers hovered about them uncertainly, as useless as drones. All was chaos in the company of Quintus Roscius.

I looked down at the bloodless face of Panurgus, who was beyond caring. All men become the same in death, whether slave or citizen, Roman or Greek, genius or pretender.

At last the play was over. The old bachelor Megadorus had escaped the clutches of marriage; miserly Euclio had lost and then recovered his pot of gold; the honest slave who restored it to him had been set free; the quarreling cooks had been paid by Megadorus and sent on their way; and the young lovers had been joyously betrothed. How this was accomplished under the circumstances, I do not know. By some miracle of the theater, everything came off without a hitch. The cast assembled together on the stage to roaring applause, and then returned backstage, their exhilaration at once replaced by the grim reality of the death among them.

'Madness,' Statilius said again, hovering over the corpse.

Knowing how he felt about his rival, I had to wonder if he was not secretly gloating. He seemed genuinely shocked, but that, after all, could have been acting.

'And who is this?' barked Roscius, tearing off the yellow cloak he had assumed to play the miser.

'My name is Gordianus. Men call me the Finder.'

Roscius raised an eyebrow and nodded. 'Ah, yes, I've heard of you. Last spring-the case of Sextus Roscius; no relation to myself, I'm glad to say, or very distant, anyway. You earned yourself a name with parties on both sides of that affair.'

Knowing the actor was an intimate of the dictator Sulla, whom I had grossly offended, I only nodded.

'So what are you doing here?' Roscius demanded.

'It was I who told him,' said Statilius helplessly. 'I asked him to come backstage. It was the first thing I thought of.'

'You invited an outsider to intrude on this tragedy, Statilius? Fool! What's to keep him from standing in the Forum and announcing the news to everyone who passes? The scandal will be disastrous.'

'I assure you, I can be quite discreet-for a client,' I said.

'Oh, I see,' said Roscius, squinting at me shrewdly. 'But perhaps that's not a bad idea, provided you could actually be of some help.'

'I think I might,' I said modestly, already calculating a fee. Roscius was, after all, the most highly paid actor in the world. Rumor claimed he made as much as half a million sesterces in a single year. He could afford to be generous.

He looked down at the corpse and shook his head bitterly. 'One of my most promising pupils. Not just a gifted artist, but a valuable piece of property. But why should anyone murder the slave? Panurgus had no vices, no politics, no enemies.'

'It's a rare man who has no enemies,' I said. I could not help but glance at Statilius, who hurriedly looked away.

There was a commotion among the gathered actors and stagehands. The crowd parted to admit a tall, cadaverous figure with a shock of red hair.

'Chaerea! Where have you been?' growled Roscius.

The newcomer looked down his long nose, first at the corpse, then at Roscius. 'Drove down from my villa at Fidenae,' he snapped tersely. 'Axle on the chariot broke. Missed more than the play, it appears.'

'Gaius Fannius Chaerea,' whispered Statilius in my ear. 'He was Panurgus's original owner. When he saw the slave had comic gifts he handed him over to Roscius to train him, as part-owner.'

'They don't seem friendly,' I whispered back.

'They've been feuding over how to calculate the profits from Panurgus's performances…'

'So, Quintus Roscius,' sniffed Chaerea, tilting his nose even higher, 'this is how you take care of our common property. Bad management, I say. Slave's worthless, now. I'll send you a bill for my share.'

'What? You think I'm responsible for this?' Roscius squinted fiercely.

'Slave was in your care; now he's dead. Theater people! So irresponsible.' Chaerea ran his bony fingers through his orange mane and shrugged haughtily before turning his back. 'Expect my bill tomorrow,' he said, stepping through the crowd to join a coterie of attendants waiting in the alley. 'Or I'll see you in court.'

'Outrageous!' said Roscius. 'You!' He pointed a stubby finger at me. 'This is your job! Find out who did this, and why. If it was a slave or a pauper, I'll have him torn apart. If it was a rich man, I'll sue him blind for destroying my property. I'll go to Hades before I give Chaerea the satisfaction of saying this was my fault!'

I accepted the job with a grave nod, and tried not to smile.

I could almost feel the rain of glittering stiver on my head.Then I glimpsed the contorted face of the dead Panurgus, and felt the full gravity of my commission. For a dead slave in Rome, there is seldom any attempt to find justice. I would find the killer, I silently vowed, not for Roscius and his silver, but to honor the shade of an artist cruelly cut down in his prime.

'Very well, Roscius. I'll need to ask some questions. See that no one in the company leaves until I'm done. I'd like to talk with you in private first. Perhaps a cup of wine would calm us both…'

Late that afternoon, I sat on a bench beneath the shade of an olive tree, on a quiet street not far from the Temple of Jupiter. Eco sat beside me, pensively studying the play of leafy shadows on the paving stones.

'So, Eco, what do you think.? Have we learned anything at all of value?'

He shook his head gravely.

'You judge too quickly,' I laughed. 'Consider: we last saw Panurgus alive during his scene with Statilius at the close of the first act. Then those two left the stage; the pipers played an interlude, and next the quarreling cooks came on. Then there was a scream. That must have been Panurgus, when he was stabbed. It caused a commotion backstage; Roscius checked into the matter and discovered the body in the privy. Word quickly spread among the others. Roscius put on the dead man's mask and a yellow cloak, the closest thing he had to match Panurgus's costume, which was ruined by blood, and rushed onstage to keep the play going. Statilius, meanwhile, put on a cook's costume so that he could jump into the audience and plead for my help.

'Therefore, we know at least one thing: the actors playing the cooks were innocent, as were the pipe players, because they were onstage when the murder occurred.'

Eco made a face to show he was not impressed. 'Yes, I admit, this is all very elementary, but to build a wall we must begin with a single brick. Now, who was backstage at the time of the murder, has no one to account for his whereabouts at the moment of the scream, and might have wanted Panurgus dead?'

Eco bounded up from the bench, ready to play the game. He performed a pantomime, jabbering with his jaw and waving his arms at himself.

I smiled sadly; the unflattering portrait could only be my talkative and self-absorbed friend Statilius. 'Yes, Statilius must be foremost among the suspects, though I regret to say it. We know he had cause to hate Panurgus; so long as the slave was alive, a man of inferior talent like Statilius would never be given the best roles. We also learned, from questioning the company, that when the scream was heard, no one could account for Statilius's whereabouts. This may be only a coincidence, given the ordinary chaos that seems to reign backstage during a performance. Statilius himself vows that he was busy in a corner adjusting his costume. In his favor, he seems to have been truly shocked at the slave's death-but he might only be pretending. I call the man my friend, but do I really know him?' I pondered for a moment. 'Who else, Eco?'

He hunched his shoulders, scowled and squinted. 'Yes, Roscius was also backstage when Panurgus screamed, and no one seems to remember seeing him at that instant. It was he who found the corpse-or was he there when the knife descended? Roscius is a violent man; all his actors say so. We heard him shouting angrily at someone before the play began-do you remember? 'Fool! Incompetent! Why can't you remember your lines?' Others told me it was Panurgus he was shouting at. Did the slave's performance in the first act displease him so much that he flew into a rage, lost his head and murdered him? It hardly seems likely; I thought Panurgus was doing quite well. And Roscius, like Statilius, seemed genuinely offended by the murder. But then, Roscius is an actor of great skill.'

Eco put his hands on his hips and his nose in the air and began to strut haughtily.

'Ah, Chaerea; I was coming to him. He claims not to have arrived until after the play was over, and yet he hardly seemed taken aback when he saw the corpse. He seems almost too un-flappable. He was the slave's original

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