‘A beautician.’ Belatedly Lucilla realised how it sounded: as if Lachne was a prostitute.

Vinius wondered if the daughter was being trained in the same trade. He decided that would be a pity. Gods, he must be going soft.

‘Mother is a hairdresser, for the Emperor’s family,’ Lucilla protested.

Vinius did not believe that story. But if Lachne sold herself to men, she must be registered here; he could check the vigiles records, so there was no point in the girl lying. If the woman worked on her back and had not registered, it was foolish to attract his attention — which might explain why the girl was sent here by herself, with the mother keeping out of the way.

‘Where is your mother now?’

‘At home, hysterical.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Mother came home and found all her jewellery missing.’

‘Any of it valuable?’

‘All of it!’ Lucilla saw the investigator’s suspicion.

‘Sure it’s gone? Mama couldn’t have stuffed her beads behind a cushion and forgot?’

‘We searched the whole apartment.’ Lucilla had done that, and she had been methodical. She had her own doubts about her mother.

Vinius applied a friendly face. ‘I shall make a list eventually, so be thinking.’ He noted that apart from her ivory hairpin, the waif-like Lucilla wore not so much as a pebble necklace. Nobody would place her as a child of a woman with possessions worth stealing. Jupiter, even among the homeless under the Tiber bridges, mothers usually decked daughters in a string of pebbles. His own toddler wore an amulet. ‘So, Mama comes home… Any signs of a break-in?’


‘Damage to your door?’


‘Would other people have known you would be out?’ Lucilla shrugged, implying their movements were random. ‘You’re on the fourth floor — could anybody climb over from a neighbouring balcony?’

‘No, we don’t have a balcony, and we keep the shutters closed.’

‘So the only way in is through the door? You do lock it when you’re out?’

‘Yes, we are not stupid!’ Anxiously, the girl lashed out at him again, ‘You are not taking any notes!’

All Vinius had scratched on his tablet so far was her name. He never wasted effort. The chances of solving this burglary were slim. Rome was awash with house-breakers, bath house clothes’ pilferers, purse-thieves, rogues who pulled packages off the backs of moving carts, dishonest slaves, and walk-in chancers who strolled into houses to empty dining rooms of their silverware. He rarely caught any of them.

‘What kind of lock?’

Under his prompting, Lucilla described the pointless inexpensive kind that bad landlords like Morena always installed; at least hers had a key, not merely a latch-lifter. Gaius Vinius, who believed crime prevention was his most useful work, recommended a barrel-lock, suggesting where the women could buy one from a reputable locksmith.

‘“Reputable” means…?’ asked Lucilla cynically.

Vinius had his human side; he was rather enjoying the conversation now. ‘The one I always recommend. Then at least I know where to head if someone who has followed my advice is subsequently burgled…’ More serious, he asked the usual question: ‘Does anyone other than your mother or yourself have a key?’ This was patronising. On the other hand, there was a good reason why the vigiles always asked it. Lucilla shook her head; victims always denied giving out duplicates. Vinius kept going: ‘I know it is very unpleasant to think you might have trusted the wrong person… Do you have a boyfriend?’

‘No.’ Lucilla looked embarrassed. He should have known from her absence of ornament; the first crook who came after this girlie would get her in return for a faux-gold snake bangle with glass eyes.

‘What about your mother?’ Lucilla’s silence told its own story. ‘I see. Does she have a crowd of followers, or just one at a time?’

‘One at a time!’

‘So what do you think of the fellows your mother entertains?’

‘Not much.’ Lucilla was finding the interview more difficult than she had expected. Vinius knew how to break down her defences. ‘The present one is a businessman. He doesn’t need to steal.’



‘How well off?’


Vinius watched her thoughtfully. He allowed Lucilla time to work out why.

He could see he had upset the girl; he was sorry for that.

This was the first time in her relationship with her mother that Lucilla took any initiative. Lachne had seemed reluctant to involve the authorities, even though the contents of her jewel box, gifts from important women she had served and men she had attracted, were genuinely expensive. Indignant, and frightened that a thief had been inside their home, Lucilla had flounced off here to report the theft, leaving her mother slumped on a chair. Lachne often played the helpless woman; it had not seemed out of character.

In addressing this crisis, Lucilla had shown new independence. She was already beginning to feel doubts, when the officer’s lightly posed question made her see how her mother had duped her.

‘One thing I always have to consider,’ explained Vinius, ‘is whether a reported “burglary” might be an inside job.’

He was right. Lucilla inderstood now. Lachne was preying on her latest man. Orgilius is such a sweetie; when he sees how unhappy I am, he is bound to replace things… Lachne did not need to report the theft, because it never happened. But she must have decided that letting her unwitting daughter run and appeal to the vigiles would make the story more credible.

Her mother had bamboozled her, lied to her, used her. Sitting there under the quizzing of Vinius, Lucilla realised she had been cruelly betrayed by the only person close to her.

Even Vinius, who had never met her before, recognised the hard look as Lucilla decided not to put up with it. She was only fifteen. She had few options. Nevertheless, she would break with her mother over this.

Outside in the yard, there were noises, which Vinius had noticed. His glance went to the door; he was listening, trying to evaluate the activity.

‘I’ll send someone along. One of your neighbours may have noticed something…’

Flavia Lucilla recognised the brush-off. Vinius had not even written down where she lived. No one would be sent. It was a waste of time. Even if one of his troops did investigate, Lachne would simper and giggle, and finger the man’s muscles, and let herself be squeezed, until some half-baked understanding was reached, then Lachne and Lucilla would have to spend weeks letting the new hopeful down gently and stopping Orgilius running into him…

‘So who do you think did your break-in?’ Vinius asked: yet another question that the vigiles always put.

‘How would we know? It’s your job to find out — that’s if you can be bothered, pretty boy!’

‘Ah, sadly, sweetheart, my pretty days are over.’ Vinius swung around in his seat to face Lucilla full on.

He did it on purpose, intending to shock.

While he was a soldier, he had been seriously wounded. He was smashed in the face by a rebellious tribesman’s spear and lost an eye. There was other damage, which an army surgeon who thought his patient was dying had sutured only crudely. The right side of his face, previously hidden as he sat sideways, was disfigured by terrible scars. Shaken up and sight-compromised, Vinius had been posted back to Rome and assigned to the vigiles; he was ugly enough for those tough ex-slaves to accept him.

Lucilla was horrified, but managed to conceal it. ‘That must spoil your love life. How did it happen?’

Vinius did not reply. He was on his feet and standing at the door, to see the action in the yard. In any case, he wanted to avoid thinking about his so-called love life.

Someone had already dragged open both main gates. Although the men appeared calm, Vinius sensed the prickle of excitement and apprehension that always accompanied fires. They were hauling a siphon engine from its

Вы читаете Master and God
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату