when he was in the Great One's house? Did Numerius ever mistreat you- make fun of you- abuse you in some other way?' Some men might have taken certain advantage of a slave who was thick as a Greek statue, and built like one.

'Never! I told you, Numerius had a good word for everyone. I liked him.'

'Then there's no reason, no reason at all, why you might loom up as a suspect in Pompey's mind when he learns that Numerius was murdered under my roof?'

'None at all!'

'Because, son-in-law, if I thought Pompey might suspect you, I'd be tempted to drag Numerius into the street and pretend he never set foot in this house. These days it profits a man to go to whatever lengths he can to avoid trouble, especially trouble with the Great One.' I studied Davus's face, which was incapable of deceit. I nodded. 'Well, then, Pompey will have to be told. I suppose I must do it myself- make the trip outside the city walls to Pompey's villa, wait for an interview, give him the bad news, then let him deal with the matter as he chooses. Here, help me roll the body face-up.'

From inside the house, I heard my little grandson shouting again to be let into the garden. I looked toward the doorway. Bethesda and Diana peered out anxiously. It was something of a miracle that they had so far obeyed me and stayed out of the garden. Bethesda started to speak, but I held up my hand and shook my head. I was rather surprised when she nodded and withdrew, taking Diana with her.

I forced myself to look at Numerius's strangled face. It was a sight to give anyone nightmares.

He had been young, in his twenties, probably a bit older than Davus. His broad, blandly handsome features were now discolored and distorted and almost unrecognizable in a rictus of agony. I swallowed hard. As I used two fingers to shut his lids, I saw my reflection in the black pool of his staring eyes. No wonder my wife and daughter had obeyed me without question. The look on my face was alarming even to me.

I stood, my knees crackling like the gravel beneath my feet. Davus sprang up beside me, as supple as a cat despite his size.

'Pompey will be mightily pissed,' I said gravely.

'I said that already!'

'So you did, Davus. But bad news keeps, as the poet says. The day is young, and I see no need to rush across Rome to bring Pompey the news. What do you say we have a closer look, and see what Numerius may be carrying?'

'But I told you, I searched him when I took his dagger. There was only a small moneybag around his waist, with a clip for his scabbard. Nothing else.'

'I wouldn't be sure of that. Help me take off his clothes. Be careful; we shall have to put everything back exactly as it was, before Pompey's men come to claim the body.'

Beneath his well-cut woolen tunic, Numerius wore a linen loincloth. It was wet with urine, but he had not soiled himself. He wore no jewelry except for his citizen's ring. I took off the ring and examined it; it appeared to be solid iron, with no secret compartments or hidden devices. There were only a few coins inside his moneybag; considering the chaotic state of the city, it would not have been prudent for a man without bodyguards to carry more. I turned the bag inside out. There were no secret pockets.

'Perhaps you're right, Davus. Perhaps he was carrying nothing of interest, after all. Unless… Take off his shoes, would you? My back aches from bending over.'

The uppers were made of finely tanned black leather stamped with an intricate design of interconnected triangles, closed and fastened by thongs that wound around the ankle and calf. The soles were quite thick, made of several layers of hardened leather attached to the uppers by hobnails. There was nothing inside them. They were warm and carried the scent of Numerius's feet; handling them was more intimate than handling his clothing or even his ring. I was about to hand them back to Davus when I noticed an irregularity in the layered sole, at the heel. The same irregularity appeared at the same spot in both shoes. There were two breaks in the middle layer of the sole, about a thumb's length apart. Near one of the breaks was a small hole.

'Do you have the dagger you took from Numerius?'

Davus wrinkled his brow. 'Yes. Ah, I see! But if you mean to cut into his shoes, I can fetch a better knife from the kitchen.'

'No, let me see Numerius's dagger.'

Davus reached inside his tunic. I handed him the shoes and he handed me the dagger in its sheath.

I nodded. 'What do you notice about this sheath, Davus?'

He frowned, suspecting a test of some sort. 'It's made of leather.'

'Yes, but what sort of leather?'

'Black.' He saw that I was unimpressed and tried again. 'It's decorated.'


'It's stamped- and the same pattern is carved on the wooden hilt of the dagger.'

'Yes, a pattern of interlocking triangles.'

Davus peered at the shoes in his hands. 'The same pattern as on his shoes!'

'Exactly. Meaning?'

Davus was stumped.

'Meaning,' I said, 'that whatever shop made the shoes also made the dagger. They're a set. Rather unusual, don't you think, that the same shop should produce such dissimilar goods?'

Davus nodded, pretending to follow my thoughts. 'So- are you going to pull out the dagger and cut open the shoes, or not?'

'No, Davus I am going to unlock the shoes.' I left the blade in its sheath and studied the hilt, which was carved from the hard black wood of the Syrian terebinth, attached to the metal by bosses of ivory. The triangle design ingeniously concealed the hidden compartment in the hilt, but it slid open easily once I found the right place to press with my thumb. Inside the compartment was a tiny key, hardly more than a sliver of bronze with a little hook near one end.

'Son-in-law, hold up the shoes with the heels facing me.' I started with the shoe on my left. The irregularity in the heel, the two breaks I had noticed in the center layer of leather, proved to be a narrow door, with a hinge at one side and a keyhole at the other. I inserted the tiny key into the tiny hole. After a bit of fiddling, the door gave a little snap and sprang open.

'Extraordinary!' I whispered. 'What workmanship! So delicate- yet sturdy enough to be trod on.' I took the shoe from Davus, held it under the sunlight and peered down into the narrow chamber. I saw nothing. I turned the shoe over and knocked it against my palm. Nothing came out.

'Empty!' I said.

'We could still cut into it,' said Davus helpfully.

I gave him a withering look. 'Son-in-law, did I not say that we must put back all of Numerius's things exactly as they were, so that Pompey's men will see no signs of our tampering when they come to fetch him?'

Davus nodded.

'That includes his shoes! Now hand me the other one.' I inserted the key and fiddled until the lock sprang open.

There was something inside. I withdrew what appeared to be several pieces of thin parchment.


'What does it say, father-in-law?'

'I don't know yet.'

'Is it Latin?'

'I don't know that yet, either.'

'I see Greek letters and Latin letters both, all mixed together.'

'Clever of you, Davus, to spot the difference.' Davus had lately been taking instruction from Diana, who was determined to teach him how to read. His progress had been slow.

'But how can that be, Greek and Latin letters both?'

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