`Sounds like a cheap brothel.'

`Have faith, lad.'

`Or an overpriced shoemaker. Falco amp; Partner: try our triple-stitched calfskin slipperettes… As worn by all decadent layabouts, sheer luxury at the arena and the perfect lounging shoes for orgies

`You're a dog,, Falco.'

`Subtlety is fine, but unless you give some delicate hint that we carry out enquiries, and that we rather like to be paid for it, we'll get no work.'

`Listen – Partners' personal attention may be possible in certain instances. That implies we are a sound organisation with a large staff who look after the riffraff; we can flatter each punter into believing he gets special terms – for which he naturally pays a premium.'

`You have an exotic view of the freelance world.' He was revelling in it. `Listen, scribe, you still haven't said -'

`Yes I have. It's in my draft. Specialist enquiries. Then in small letters at the bottom I'll put No charge for preliminary consultation. That lures them in, thinking they'll get something for nothing, but hints at our steep fee for the rest.'

'My fees have always been reasonable.'

`So who's the fool? Half the time you let yourself be bamboozled into doing the work for nothing. You're soft, Falco.'

`Not any longer, apparently.'

`Give me some room here. Don't stand' in my way.' `You're taking charge,' I accused him. `It's my business,

but you're pushing in.

`That's what a partner is for,' grinned Petro.

I told him I had another appointment somewhere else. `Push off then,' he, murmured, completely absorbed in his task.


For my next appointment a formal escort had been provided: my girlfriend, the baby, and Nux the dog.

I was late. They were sitting on the steps of the Temple of Saturn. It was a very public place, at the north end of the Forum' on the Palatine side. They were all hot. The baby wanted feeding, the dog was barking at everybody who passed, and Helena Justina had, applied her extra-patient face. I was in for it.

`Sorry. I called at the Basilica to put the word around the barristers that I was back in town. It may bring in the odd subpoena delivery.'

Helena thought I had been at a wineshop. `Don't worry,' she said. `I realise that registering your firstborn child takes a low priority in your busy life.'

I patted the dog, kissed Helena's warm cheek, and tickled the baby. This overheated, irritable little group was my family. All of them had grasped that my role as the head of their household was to keep them waiting in uncomfortable locations while I pottered around Rome enjoying myself.

Luckily Helena, their tribune of the people, was saving up her comments until she had a complete set to blast me with. She was a tall, well-rounded, dark-haired dream with rich brown eyes whose most tender expression could melt me like a honeycake left on a sunny window sill. Even the scathing glance I was meeting now rattled my calm. A fiery tussle with Helena was the best fun I knew, outside of bedding her.

The Temple of Saturn lies between the Tabularium and the Basilica Julia. I had guessed Helena Justina would be waiting at the Temple, so when I left Petro I had dodged round the back on the Via Nova to avoid being seen. I hate barristers, but their work might make the difference between survival and going under. Frankly, my financial situation was desperate. I said nothing, so as not to worry Helena; she squinted at me suspiciously.

I tried to climb into my toga in public view, while Nux leapt at the cumbersome folds of woollen cloth, thinking this was a game I had organised just for her. Helena made no attempt to help.

`I do not need to see the child,' sighed the Censor's clerk. He was a government slave, and his lot was gloomy. Faced with a constant stream of the public through his office he had a continual cold. His tunic had first belonged to a much larger man, and he had been dealt a rough throw of the dice by whoever shaved his beard. His eyes had a Parthian squint about them, which in Rome cannot have won him many friends.

'Or the mother, I suppose?' snorted Helena.

`Some like to come.' He could be tactful, if it helped avoid verbal abuse.

I placed Julia Junilla on his desk, where she kicked her legs and gurgled. She knew how to please the crowd. She was three' months old now, and in my opinion starting to took pretty cute. She had lost the squashed, shut- eyed, unformed look with which the newborn frighten first-time parents. When she stopped dribbling she was only one stage away from adorable.

`Please remove your baby,' mouthed the clerk. Tactful, but not friendly. He unravelled a scroll of thick parchment, prepared an inferior one (our copy), and applied himself to filling, a pen from a well of oakgall ink. He had black and red; we were favoured with black. I wondered what the difference was.

He dipped the pen then touched it to the lip of the well to release unnecessary ink. His gestures were precise, and formal. Helena and I cooed over our daughter while he steadily wrote the date for the entry that would confer her civic status and rights. `Name?'

`Julia Junilla -'

He looked' up sharply. `Your name!'

`Marcus Didius Falco, son of Marcus. Citizen of Rome.' It did not impress him. He must have heard the Didii were a swarm of quarrelsome roughnecks. Our ancestors may have caused trouble for Romulus, but being offensive for centuries doesn't count as a pedigree.


`Plebeian.'' He was already writing it.


`Fountain Court, off the Via Ostiana on the Aventine.'

`The mother's name?' He was still addressing me.

`Helena Justina,' the mother crisply answered for herself

`Mother's father's name?' The clerk continued to aim his questions at me, so Helena gave in with an audible crunch of teeth. Why waste breath? She let a man do the work.

`Decimus Camillus Verus' I realised I was going to be stuck if the clerk wanted her father's father's personal name.

Helena realised it too. `Son of Publius,' she muttered, making it plain she, was telling me in private and the clerk could go begging. He wrote it down without a thank you:



The clerk looked up again. This time he let himself scrutinise both of us. The Censor's office was responsible for public morals. `And where do you live?' he demanded, directly of Helena.

`Fountain Court.'

`Just checking,' he murmured, and resumed his task. `She lives with me,' I pointed out unnecessarily. `Apparently so.'

Want to make something of it?'

Once again the clerk' raised his eyes from the document. `I am sure you are both fully aware of the implications.'

Oh yes. And in a decade or two there would no doubt be tears and tantrums when we tried explaining them to the child.

Helena Justina was a senator's daughter and I was one of the plebs. She had married once, unhappily, at her own level in society, then after her, divorce she had had the luck or the

misfortune to meet and fall for me. After a few false moves we decided to live together. We intended to make it permanent. That decision made us, by strict legal definitions, married.

In real social terms we were a scandal. If the excellent Camillus Verus had chosen to make trouble over my

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