an air of perfect innocence that was flagrantly false.

'I'm Tullia,' this vivid vision said.

'Hallo Tullia!' I exclaimed.

Tullia smiled at me. She was a cuddlesome armful with nothing much to do that day, while I was a man whose low spirits needed consoling. I smiled back at her gently. If I had to lose the sweet lady I wanted, unprincipled women were welcome to do their worst with me.

A private informer who knows what he is doing can soon make a barmaid his friend. I engaged her in harmless banter then eventually broached, 'I'm looking for someone; you may have seen him-he often wears a cloak in a rather evil shade of green.'

I was not surprised when the beauteous Tullia recognized my man; on noticing Tullia, most males in this locality must rapidly join her mother's clientele. 'He lives across the alley-' She came to the doorway and pointed out the small square window of the room where he lodged. I started to like him. His surroundings looked pretty insalubrious. The indications were that the lad in green lived as miserably as me.

'Wonder if he's there now…'

'I can look,' offered Tullia.

'How's that?' She signalled upwards with her eyes. They had the usual arrangements of steps up the inside wall which led to a boarded attic where the proprietors lived and slept. There would be one long window over the shop entrance, to provide all their light and air. A lively young lady with an interest in people would naturally spend her idle moments looking out at men.

Tullia prepared to skip up the steps obligingly. I might have scrambled aloft with her but I guessed her mother was lurking above, which spoiled the fun.

'Thanks! I won't bother him at the moment.' Whoever he was and whatever he wanted, no one was going to pay me for disturbing his lunch. 'You know anything about him?'

She looked at me warily, but I had easy-going manners and all my curls were natural; besides, I had left her mother a decent tip. 'His name's Barnabas. He came here about a week ago-' As she spoke I was thinking; the name Barnabas had cropped up somewhere else quite recently. 'He paid in advance for a three-month lease- without arguing!' she marvelled. 'When I told him that he was stupid, he just laughed and said he'll be rich one day-'

I grinned. 'I wonder why he told you that?' No doubt for the usual reason men make women wild promises of wealth. 'So what does this hopeful entrepreneur do in life, Tullia?'

'He said he was a corn chandler. But-'

'But what?'

'He laughed at that too.'

'Seems quite a comedian!' Calling himself a grain merchant no longer squared with the Barnabas I was thinking about, who was the freed townhouse slave of a senator, and wouldn't know wheat from wood shavings.

'You ask a lot of questions!' Tullia tackled me slyly. 'So what's your line of business?' I ducked it with a knowing look, which she returned. 'Oh, secrets! Want to leave the back way?'

I always like to reconnoitre a place I may want to come back to, so soon I was flitting through a courtyard at the back of the wineshop, hopping round it fairly smartly since it was part of a private house. Tullia seemed at home there; no doubt the lucky householder had realized her possibilities. She let me out through an unlocked gate.

'Tullia, if Barnabas drops in for a drink, you could mention I'm looking for him-' Might as well make him feel nervous if I could. In my job you never won a laurel wreath being diffident with strangers who followed you home. 'Tell him if he comes to the house on the Quirinal-I think he'll know where I mean-I have a legacy to give him. I need him to identify himself in front of witnesses.'

'Will he know who you are?'

'Just describe my fine-featured classical nose! Call me Falco. Will you do it for me?'

'Ask nicely then!'

That smile had promised favours to a hundred men before. A hundred and one of us must have decided we could overlook the others. Ignoring a pang of guilt about a certain senator's daughter, I asked Tullia in the nicest way I knew; it seemed to work.

'You've done that before!' she giggled when I let her go.

'Being kissed by beautiful women is a hazard of having a classical nose. You've done it too-what's your excuse?'

Barmaids rarely need an excuse. She giggled again. 'Come back soon; I'll be waiting, Falco!'

'Rely on it, princess!' I assured her as I left.

Lies, probably. On both sides. But in the Transtiberina, which is even more grim than the Aventine, people have to live in hope.

The sun was still shining when I crossed by way of Tiber Island into Rome. On the first bridge, the Pons Cestius, where the current races fastest, I stopped for a moment and emptied my tunic pocket of the warehouse corpse's finger rings.

His emerald cameo was missing; I must have dropped it in the street.

The thought crossed my mind that the barmaid might have stolen it, but I decided she was far too pretty for that.


I trudged north. I bought a pancake stuffed with hot minced pork which I ate as I walked. A watchdog wagged his tail at me but I told him to take his smiling fangs elsewhere.

Life is unfair. Too unfair, too often, to ignore a friendly grin; I went back and shared my pancake with the dog.

I was off to a house in the High Lanes Sector, on the Quirinal Mount. Its owner had been a young Senator who was involved in the same plot as the man Frontinus and I had dumped down the sewer. This one was dead too. He had been arrested for questioning, then found choked at the Mamertine prison-murdered by his fellow conspirators to ensure he would not talk.

Now his house was being emptied. Clearing property was a Didius family business, so when the subject came up at the Palace, I volunteered. Besides, the illustrious owner was once married to my special friend Helena Justina, so I wanted to see how they had lived.

The answer was, in lavish style. Seeing it had been a bad mistake. I approached their house in a melancholy mood.

Most Romans are driven demented by their neighbours: rubbish on the stairs and unemptied slop tanks; the rude salesmen with their slapdash shops at ground level and the crashing whores upstairs. Not his honour here; his fine spread occupied its own freehold block. The mansion sprawled on two levels against the Quirinal cliffs. A discreet but heavily armoured door let me in from the street to a still corridor with two porters' cubicles. The main atrium stood open to the sky, so its tasteful wainscot of glazed tiles was sparkling in long shafts of brilliant light. A magnificent fountain in a second courtyard added to the cool and bright effect as it shimmered above exotic palms in shoulder-high bronze urns. Ornate, marble-lined corridors stretched in two directions. If the owner grew tired of his formal reception rooms, various little masculine snugs were hidden away behind heavy damask door curtains

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