I should have lied. In fact I should never have started this. He was my friend, and I, knew just how short his temper could be. But I was too exhausted to be subtle or careful. `I did hear that Arria Silvia had been seen out with another man.'

Petronius Longus said nothing immediately. `Forget it,' I mumbled.

His voice was low: his temper high. `Who told you this?' `Maia. It's probably gossip -'

`How long have you known about this, Falco?'

'No time -'

He was on his feet.

I had been friends with Petronius Longus for many years. We had shared tragedy, wine, and bad behaviour in almost equal measure. He knew things about me nobody else was ever likely to discover, and I realised exactly what he wanted to, say. `Petro, you helped me with my stinking work, you, endured, my slapdash methods and my lousy old apartment; you put up with being criticised over breakfast, and now you've watched me collar Thurius and take the credit for the job. To cap all that I've just told you your wife's slumming, at the very moment when you humbled your pride and decided you were going back to her. Well, there you are: you want to end our partnership, and I've just handed you an excuse for a major quarrel.'

I was too tired to find the energy to argue. Petro gazed at me for a moment, then I heard him breathe in and out quietly. Half a smile creased his face, though he said nothing.

He walked out of our apartment at his normal steady pace, and I heard him thump down the outer steps with scornful finality.

After a moment there were sounds of Helena returning. The pail crashed against the outdoor banister as it always did when she lugged it home full, and she muttered to herself. Then her voice called out sharply as if warning a visitor not to come up, apparently without effect, because feet pattered eagerly up our steps and a head I knew thrust itself round the door. Slick hair, pale eyes, and an insufferable sympathetic air. The familiar unwelcome body followed. It was my old antagonist: Anacrites.

He wore a neutral-coloured tunic with faintly rakish styling, close-fitting boots, and a hard leather belt. Hung on the belt were a small purse, a large note tablet, and a set of nail files to keep him occupied if he ever needed; to lean against an Ionic column for hours observing a suspect. Somebody must have been giving him lessons. He had the classic informer's look: tough, slightly truculent, perhaps amiable if you got to know him, a curious and faintly unreliable sort of character.

`Welcome home, and congratulations! I hear that Petronius Longus is unwinding your partnership?' I covered my eyes and shuddered quietly. I was, so exhausted I was helpless, and Anacrites could see that. He did the dirty work very gently, like a tooth-puller assuring you it's not going to hurt just at the moment when he makes you scream. `Mother was right, Falco. Aren't you glad there's someone else available? It looks as if it's you and me now after all!'

Вы читаете Three Hands In The Fountain
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату