My heart skipped a beat. I knew that litter. I had been carried in it myself. Of course she would be here.

The litter drew closer. Its curtains were closed, as of course they would be. She would have no desire to see the mob, or to be seen by them. But for a brief moment, as the canopy passed, it seemed to me that the curtains parted a tiny bit. I strained to see above the heads of the litter bearers but was confounded by the play of light and shadows that rippled across the red and white silk. Perhaps it was only a shadow I saw, and not an opening at all.

Eco's hand on my shoulder abruptly drew me back, out of the path of the gladiators who advanced alongside the canopy. He spoke into my ear. 'Do you think — ?'

'Of course. It must be her. The red and white stripes — who else?'

I was hardly the only man in the crowd to recognize, the litter and to know who must be inside. These were Clodius's people, after all, the poor of the Subura who rioted at his command, the ex-slaves who looked to him to protect their voting rights, the hungry mob that had grown fat from his legislation to hand out free grain. They had always supported Clodius, as he had always supported them. They had followed his career, gossiped among themselves about his sexual escapades and family affairs, plotted terrible fates for his enemies. They adored Clodius. They might or might not have adored his scandalous older sister, but they recognized her litter when they saw it. Suddenly I heard her name, whispered by someone in the crowd. Others repeated it, then joined in unison, until the name became a soft chant that followed in the wake of her canopy:

'Clodia… Clodia… Clodia…'

Her litter passed through the narrow gateway into the forecourt. Her gladiators could have cleared the way by force, but violence turned out to be unnecessary. At the sound of her name the mourners in the court drew back in a kind of awe. A pocket of emptiness formed before the litter and closed after it, so that it proceeded swiftly and without incident to the far side of the court and up the short flight of steps to the entrance. The tall bronze doors opened inward. The canopy was turned so that its occupants could not be seen as they alighted and entered the house. The doors shut behind them with a muffled clang.

The chanting died away. An uneasy hush descended on the crowd.

'Clodius, dead,' said Eco quietly. 'It hardly seems possible.' 'You haven't lived as long as I have,' I said ruefully. 'They all die, the great and the small, and most of them sooner than later.' 'Of course. I only mean — '

'I know what you mean. When some men. die, it's like- a grain of sand thrown into a river — there's not even a ripple. With others, it's like a great boulder. Waves splash onto the bank. And with a very few — '

'Like a meteor falling out of the sky,' said Eco.

I took a deep breath. 'Let's hope it won't be as awful as that.' But something told me it would be.

We waited for a while, trapped by the inertia that falls upon a crowd when something momentous looms. From those around us we picked up numerous, conflicting rumours of what had happened There had been an incident on the Appian Way, just outside Rome-no, twelve miles away, at Bovillae — no, somewhere farther south. Clodius had been out riding alone — no, with a small bodyguard — no, in a litter with his wife and their usual retinue of slaves and attendants. There had been an ambush — no, a single assassin — no, a traitor among Clodius's own men…

So it went, with no sure truth to be found, only a single, unanimous point of agreement: Clodius was dead.

The lowering clouds gradually moved on to reveal the naked firmament — moonless, pitch-black, spangled with stars that glittered like ice crystals. The short, swift walk from my house had warmed my blood. The crush of bodies and burning torches had kept me warm, but as the night grew colder, so did I. I curled my toes, rubbed my hands together, watched my breath mingle with the smoke in the air.

'This is no good,' I finally said. 'I'm freezing. I didn't bring a heavy enough cloak.' Eco seemed warm enough, I noticed, in a cloak no heavier than mine, but a man of fifty-eight has thinner blood man a man twenty years younger. 'What are we waiting for, anyway? We found out what the panic was about. Clodius is dead.'

'Yes, but how?'

I had to smile. He had learned his trade from me. Curiosity becomes a habit. Even when there's no money in it, a Finder can't help being curious, especially when there's murder involved. 'We won't find out from this crowd,' I said.

'I suppose not.'

'Come on, then.'

He hesitated. 'You'd think they'd send someone out to talk to the crowd. Surely someone will come out sooner or later…' He saw me shivering. 'Let's go, then.'

'You don't have to leave.'

'I can't let you walk home alone, Papa. Not on a night like this.'

'Send the bodyguards with me, then.'

'I'm not fool enough to stay in this crowd alone.'

'We could split them up, two for you and two for me.'

'No. I don't want to take any chances. I'll walk you home. Then I'll come back if I still want to.'

We might have haggled over these logistics for a while longer, but at that moment Eco lifted his eyes to look at someone behind me. His bodyguards tensed.

'I'm looking for a man called Gordianus,' said a rumbling voice above my head. I turned to find my nose pressed against an extremely broad chest. Somewhere up above was a ruddy face topped by a fringe of red curls. The fellow's Latin was atrocious.

'I'm Gordianus,' I said.

'Good. Come with me.'

'Come with you where?'

He cocked his head. 'Into the house, of course.'

'At whose invitation?' I asked, already knowing.

'At the lady Clodia's command'

She had seen me from her litter after all.


Even with the red-haired giant leading us, I was dubious of the prospect of pressing through the crowded gateway and across the forecourt. Instead, he started off in another direction. We followed him down the street, past the fringes of the crowd to the foot of a narrow stairway tucked into the hillside beyond the outermost ring of marble terraces. The stairway was flanked by fig trees whose dense branches formed a canopy above.

'Are you sure this leads to the house?' said Eco suspiciously.

'Just follow me,' said the giant gruffly, pointing ahead to a distant lamp at the top of the stairs. Without a torch to guide us, the way was dark and the steps lost in shadow. We mounted them cautiously, lagging behind the giant, until we arrived at a narrow landing. The lamp was hung above a wooden door. Beside the door stood another gladiator, who ordered us to leave our escorts outside and to remove our weapons. Eco produced a dagger and handed it over to one of his bodyguards. When I protested that I carried nothing, the red-haired giant insisted on searching me. Finally satisfied, he opened the door and led us inside.

We followed a long, dim hallway, descended a flight of steps, and at length emerged into a narrow room. We were in the foyer of the house, just inside the tall bronze doors, which were barred on the inside by a sturdy wooden beam. Through the doors I could hear the noise of the restless crowd from the courtyard beyond. 'Wait here,' the giant said, as he stepped through some curtains.

The foyer was lit by a hanging lamp, its flames reflected in the polished marble walls and floor. I stepped closer to the shimmering red curtains, fascinated by them. 'Do you know what these are, Eco?

These must be the famous Attalic draperies. There's genuine gold thread in them. To see them by firelight, you'd think the fabric was woven of flames!'

I should explain that the house of Publius Clodius, and its furnishings, had a brief but remarkable history. The original owner had been Marcus Scaurus, who began building the house six years before. That was the same year

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