was smoky.

I glanced at Diana's text and saw that she had more left to read. 'Go on,' I said quietly. 'What else?'

' 'Few slaves in the household. Among them: two boys, brothers acquired from the widow of Clodius shortly after his death, originally stableboys at his villa on the Appian Way. Mopsus (older) and Androcles (younger). Often act as messengers for Gordianus. Little jugs have big handles.' ' Diana frowned. 'I'm sure that's what it says.'

'It's a quotation from a play by Ennius,' I said. 'It means that little boys have big ears- implying that Mopsus and Androcles might make useful informers. Go on.'

'There's a bit more about Mopsus and Androcles: 'Given Gordianus's inclination to adopt orphans and slaves, will he end up with two more sons?' ' She raised an eyebrow and waited for a comment.

'Go on,' I finally said. 'What else?'

'A summary: 'Subject possesses no political power and little wealth, yet is held in high regard by many who do. Once called by Cicero 'the most honest man in Rome,' but where does his reputation for integrity come from? By never firmly taking sides in any dangerous controversy, he manages to appear above the fray and so remains able to move freely back and forth between sides. Even when employed by one side, he maintains an appearance of independence and neutrality, committed to finding 'truth' rather than achieving a partisan agenda. He combines the skills of the investigator with those of the diplomat. This could be his chief value in a crisis: as a go-between trusted by both sides.'

' 'On the other hand, some see him as a wily pragmatist, exploiting the trust of powerful men without giving them full allegiance. What sort of man hires out his integrity, case by case?'

' 'In the event of an unprecedented crisis, where will his true allegiance lie? He has a fine house on the Palatine and has managed to stay out of debt (another factor in his independence); it is hard to see how revolution or civil war could be to his interest. On the other hand, his unconventional family of adoptees and manumitted slaves indicates a man with little concern for traditional Roman values. Most troublesome is his connection to Caesar through his son Meto. This, more than anything else, may act to pull him into Caesar's orbit.'

' 'Conclusion: Gordianus may be of use to the Great One, but should be carefully watched.' '

Diana looked up. 'That's all of it.'

I wrinkled my nose. ' 'A wily pragmatist?' ' That stung as sharply as the gossip about Meto.

'Actually, I think it's flattering, on the whole,' said Diana. 'It makes you out to be a rather subtle fellow.'

'Subtle fellows lose their heads in times like these.'

'Then Davus shall be safe, at least.' She looked at me with a straight face, then laughed. I managed a smile. She was only trying to cheer me up, I knew; but she really had no idea of the enormity of the danger that was looming. I suddenly felt a great tenderness for her. I touched her hair.

There was some sort of commotion from the front of the house. Davus left the garden. A moment later he was back. He strode into my study. 'Another visitor,' he said. His face was pale.

'This late in the afternoon?'

'Yes, father-in-law. The Great One himself.'


'Pompey? Impossible!'

'Even so, father-in-law, he's waiting in the foyer, with armed bodyguards.'

'He's breaking the law, then! Pompey has a standing army. Never mind that his legions are off in Spain- proconsuls in command of armies are not allowed to enter the city walls.'

Diana spoke up. ' 'Stop quoting laws to us. We carry swords.' ' She quoted a phrase which Pompey had made famous when he was in Sicily and some locals objected that he was overstepping their treaties with Rome.

I took a deep breath. 'How many men are with him, Davus?'

'Only two in the foyer. The rest of the bodyguards are waiting in the street.'

I looked at the pieces of parchment on the tripod table. 'Numerius! Where in Hades did his shoes end up? If Pompey finds him barefoot-'

'Calm yourself, father-in-law. His shoes are back on his feet. What do you think I've been doing in the garden all afternoon? I dressed Numerius, put the ring back on his finger, and replaced his moneybag. The body's just as we found it.'

'What about his dagger?'

'I put the little key back inside and slipped the dagger back into his sheath.'

'And the garrote around his throat?'

Davus nodded grimly. 'Still there.'

I lowered my gaze to the table. 'Everything in place, then- except these pieces of parchment. I meant to put them back before anyone came for the body. If Pompey discovers they're missing-'

Davus frowned. 'Perhaps, if we can keep Pompey from seeing Numerius…'

'Hide the body? I don't think so, Davus. Pompey must know that Numerius came here; that's why he's here himself. If we make some clumsy attempt to hide the body, and Pompey discovers it, how would that look?'

Diana touched my arm. 'If you're worried about Pompey catching you with the documents, Papa, we could burn them. There's a fire in the brazier. It would take only a moment.'

I stared at the pieces of parchment. 'We could burn them, yes. Or stuff them back into Numerius's shoe, if there's time. Either way, we'll never know what else they contain. Perhaps there's more about your brothers, or someone else we care about…'

'Shall we hide them, then, so we can decipher them later?'

'And what if Pompey decides to search the house, and finds them? Gordianus, the 'wily pragmatist' of dubious allegiance, caught in possession of secret documents, with one of the Great One's kinsmen lying dead in his garden…'

Diana crossed her arms. 'Pompey has no right to come barging in here. He has no right to search a citizen's house.' The fire in her eyes reminded me of her mother.

'Are you sure of that, daughter? Ten days ago, the Senate passed the Ultimate Decree. The last time that happened was when Cicero was consul and accused Catilina of plotting insurrection. You were too young at the time to remember-'

'I know what the Ultimate Decree means, Papa. I read the notices in the Forum. The consuls and proconsuls are empowered to use any means necessary to safeguard the state.'

'Any means necessary- and you think Pompey would hesitate to ransack this house? For all practical purposes, Rome is under martial law. The very fact that Pompey dares to come into the city with armed men means that ordinary laws no longer exist. Anything could happen. Anything!'

Diana's composure wavered. She crossed her arms more tightly. 'Knowing all that, Papa, what do you want to do about these documents?'

I stared at them uncertainly, paralyzed with indecision. I had succeeded in frightening myself more than Diana.

I heard voices from the front of the house and looked up to see Pompey emerge through the doorway into the garden, accompanied by two bodyguards. All three wore expressions of grim determination. I had waited too long. The situation was out of my hands.

I watched through the window as they turned sharply right, then left, following the colonnaded walkway around the perimeter of the courtyard, heading for my study. Pompey glanced to his left. He halted so abruptly that one of his men bumped into him. From the look on his face I knew what he had seen. I followed his gaze, but the statue of Minerva blocked my view. All I could see of the body of Numerius was one of the feet, wearing the shoe from which we had taken the documents.

I looked at Pompey. In the blink of an eye, his face become contorted with anguish. He gave a cry and ran to the body. His two guards drew their swords in alarm.

Without a word from me, Diana scooped the documents from the tripod together with the parchment with her decipherings, walked to the brazier, and added them to the flames. The moment had passed when Davus or I could have done so; Pompey or one of his guards might have seen us, and remembered later. But who would take

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