please don't be alarmed.

I would like you to confine yourself to answering the exact questions I ask. You are a member of the Scribes' and Actors' Guild?'

`Yes,' answered Blitis, my contact from last night. `Do you recognise any other members here?' `Yes, and -'

`Thank you!' I stepped in quickly. `Just answer the questions, please. I understand that a writers' group meets regularly at the Temple of Minerva to discuss their work-in-progress. The member whom you recognise here has done that?'

`Yes.' `Often?' `Yes.'

`Has the group ever discussed an adventure tale called something like Zisimilla and Magarone?'

'Er – yes.' Blitis looked slightly embarrassed.

`Relax,' I grinned. `I shall not ask for an unfettered review of it.' He looked relieved. `We have already had that.' He looked embarrassed again. `It is by someone in this room, am I right?'

`Yes, Falco.'

`A technical detail – when you heard this poor work being read at the Temple, did you see the scrolls? I am wondering specifically if it had a title page?'

`I seem to remember that it did.'

`Thanks. Just sit on the bench at the back, will you?' There was room next to the vigiles. All my witnesses would be put safely there now.

I paced down the floor, crossing the rug on the centre mosaic, like a barrister thinking up his concluding remarks as the last water clock ran out and his talk-time expired.

`In any murder enquiry, what we need is actual evidence. One of the first problems in this case was that nobody seems to have seen the killer straight after the crime. We know he must have been heavily bloodstained, yet we never found his clothes. Other items from the scene were missing too: part of the scroll rod that was a murder weapon and, of course, the title page of the manuscript Chrysippus had been reading.'

I turned to Helena, who had remained standing patiently nearby. `What about that manuscript? Helena Justina, although you did not enjoy it, you read most of it. Can you give us some idea of the person who wrote it?'

Helena pondered, then said slowly, `A reader. Someone who has devoured plenty of similar novels, without properly digesting what makes them grip. It is too derivative; the ingredients are rather cliched and it lacks originality. It's by someone unskilled, but someone who has plenty of time to write. I imagine the project meant a very great deal to the author.'

I turned back to Blitis. `When Zisimilla and Magarone was discussed at your writers' group, there were unfavourable comments. What was the author's reaction?'

`He refused to listen. Our remarks were well-meant discussion points. He threw a tantrum and stormed out.'

`Is that usual?'

`It has happened,' Blitis conceded.

`With the same degree of violence?'

Not in my experience.'

I asked Helena, `Would this fit your assessment?'

She nodded. `Marcus Didius, I can envisage a scene here where Chrysippus was approached by the author of Zisimilla and Magarone, who obviously had a wild yearning to be published. Chrysippus explained – perhaps not tactfully – that the work was unacceptable, although attempts had been made to improve it using a successful and well-known redrafter. The author became distraught and probably hysterical; tempers flared, the scroll rod came into play, and Aurelius Chrysippus was violently killed.'

`We know that the killer then continued in his rage, throwing ink, oil, and various scrolls around the room.'

`I imagine that was when he ripped the title pages from the scrolls,' said Helena.

`From more than one?'

`Yes,' she said gently. Helena paused for emphasis. `There is a second story, Marcus Didius. It is one of fine quality. Both Passus and I enjoyed it tremendously. I would imagine that if Chrysippus read the second, he knew that was the one he must take.'

Euschemon sat up keenly. No doubt he wanted to quiz Helena on this tempting sales prospect.

`I suppose Chrysippus may have told the disappointed author that he had been pipped by someone else?'

`If Chrysippus was unkind,' said Helena.

`And it would fuel the reject's disappointment?'

`His grief and frustration must have been intense.'

`Thank you.'

Helena sat down, putting her hand protectively over the pile of scrolls beside her, which we now knew included a probable best-seller.

I fetched Blitis and led him in front of Philomelus. I positioned myself carefully to intervene if there was trouble. `Do you know this young man?'

`I have met him,' said Blitis.

`Among your group at the Temple?'

`I saw him there once.'

`Thanks. Sit over there with the vigiles again, please.' I myself led Blitis back. I was not expecting trouble, but it was a moment to take care.

`Philomelus.' Philomelus was rigid. `You are a pleasant young man, working hard to support your dream. You come from a good family, with a loving, supportive father. He believes in you even though you have abandoned the family trade and want a most insecure career. Unknown to you, your father even tried to influence Chrysippus in your favour. Pisarchus would actually have paid for your work to be published – however, he knew you would find that untenable. Your father sees you as an upright character, whereas I am now faced with the opposite thought. You are a would-be writer of adventure tales who visited Chrysippus just before he died. You admit you became angry and you threatened him. It appears I have no alternative but to arrest you for his murder.'

Philomelus stood up. I gave him room, and stayed alert. His eyes met mine, harder than I had seen them. His father wanted to leap up beside him, but I gestured Pisarchus to let the lad handle this. The father's chin jutted, as though he was clinging on stubbornly to his faith in his son.

Philomelus was so angry, he could hardly bring words out. Yet the anger was controlled. `Yes, I came here. Some of it happened as you say. Chrysippus did tell me my story was rubbish, and he said it was not worth copying. But I did not believe him!' Those eyes were blazing now. I let him go on. `I knew it was good. I felt something odd was happening. I am starting to understand it now, Falco – I was being cheated. He never lost my manuscript; the man intended to steal it and say it was written by somebody else -'

I held up my hand. `Are these the ravings of a complete madman? Or have you something significant to say in your defence?'

`Yes!' Philomelus roared. `I have something to tell you, Falco: my story is not Zisimilla and Magarone – I would never call a character Zisimilla; it is almost unpronounceable. 'Magarone' sounds like a stomach powder too. My novel is entitled Gondomon, King of Traximene!'

I turned to the benches behind me and found Helena Justina beaming with delight. I pushed Philomelus down to his seat with one hand on his shoulder. `Stop shouting,' I said gently. I glanced over to Helena. `What's the verdict?'

She was thrilled for the young man. `A shining new talent. A breathtaking story, written with mystical intensity. An author who will sell and sell.'

I grinned briefly at the shipper and his startled son. `Sit quiet, and contemplate your talent and your good fortune: Philomelus, my assessors reckon you are good.'

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