only by the rich and well-born. That torque, now missing, was a mark of rank. Persons of status do not usually die shabby deaths alone in taverns, whatever their culture. Something was up. So the centurion had sent a runner to the governor.

Julius Frontinus was in his first year of office here. When the message came, he was eating breakfast during an early-morning meeting with his right-hand man. We all shared the official residence so I was there too. 'Gaius, go and see if you recognize the victim,' Frontinus told Hilaris, who had been in Britain all those decades and so knew absolutely everyone. Since the governor had previously worked with me on a murder hunt in Rome, he then added, 'Sounds your sort of thing, Falco. You should trot along there too.'

So here I was. I had been dispatched to the crime scene as an expert in unnatural death. But I was a thousand miles from my own patch. How would I know the motive for a local British murder, or where to start looking for the killer? I was on holiday, intending to claim that I had nothing to contribute. My own official mission in Britain was finished; afterward I had brought Helena to Londinium to see her relatives, but we were pretty well en route for home now.

Then when the centurion presented the sodden body, Hilaris went quiet and I too felt queasy. I knew at once that I might have had a direct involvement in how the victim came to be here.

So far, only I knew that.


Wonder who he is?' The centurion nudged the corpse with the side of his boot-avoiding the tip, where he might have touched dead flesh with his big bare toes. 'Who he was!' He laughed sardonically.

The dead man had been tall and well fed. The straggles of long hair that clung to his head and neck, tangling in the edges of his woolen tunic, were once wild and red-gold. The eyes, now closed, had been bright with curiosity and used to delight in dangerous mischief. I suppose they were blue, though I could not remember. His skin was pallid and swollen after drowning, but he had always been light-complexioned, with the gingery eyebrows and lashes that go with such coloring. Along his bare forearms, fine hairs began to dry. He wore dark blue trousers, expensive boots, a belt with hole-punched patterns into which the plaid tunic was gathered in thick clumps. No weapon was present. Every time I saw him alive, he had worn a long British sword.

He had been always on the go. He dashed around; was full of vigor and crude humor; always accosted me in a loud voice; regularly leered at women. It seemed odd to find him quite so still.

I stooped, picking up the cloth of a sleeve to inspect a hand for finger rings. One sturdy item in rope-twisted gold remained, perhaps too tight to drag off in a hurry. As I straightened, my glaze briefly caught that of Hilaris. Clearly he could see that I too knew the man's identity. Well, if he thought about it, I had just come up from Noviomagus Regnensis, so I would.

'It is Verovolcus,' he told the centurion without drama. I kept quiet. 'I met him officially once or twice. He was a courtier, and possibly a relative, of the Great King-Togidubnus of the Atrebates tribe, down on the south coast.'

'Important?' demanded the centurion with a half-eager sideways look. Hilaris did not answer. The soldier drew his own conclusions. He pulled a face, impressed.

King Togidubnus was a longtime friend and ally of Vespasian. He had been lavishly rewarded for years of support. In this province he could probably pull rank even on the governor. He could get Flavius Hilaris recalled to Rome and stripped of his hard-earned honors. He could have me knocked over the head and dumped into a ditch, with no questions asked.

'So what was Verovolcus doing in Londinium?' Hilaris mused. It seemed a general question, though I felt he aimed it at me.

'More official business?' asked the centurion meekly.

'No. I would know of it. And even if he came to Londinium for private purposes,' continued the procurator levelly 'why would he visit an establishment as grim as this?' He now glanced directly at me. 'A British aristocrat laden with expensive jewels is as much at risk of robbery in a hole like this as a lone Roman would be. This place is for locals-and even they have to be brave!'

I refused to be drawn, but left the yard, ducked inside the bar, and looked around. As wine bars go this lacked charm and distinction. We had found it halfway down a short, narrow alley on the sloping hill just above the wharves. A few crude shelves held flagons. A couple of windows with iron grilles let in some light. From its filthy straw-strewn floor to its low shadowy rafters the bar was as lousy as bars can get. And I had seen some.

I tackled the woman who kept the place.

'I know nothing,' she spouted immediately, before I could ask her anything.

'Are you the owner?'

'No, I just wait at table.'

'Did you summon the centurion?'

'Of course!' There was no of course about it. I didn't have to live in Britain to know that if she could have hidden this crime, she would have done so. Instead, she had worked out that Verovolcus was bound to be missed. There would be trouble, and unless she made it look good today, the trouble would be worse for her. 'We found him this morning.'

'You never noticed him last night?'

'We were busy. Lot of trade in.'

I gazed at her calmly. 'What sort of trade was that?'

'The sort we get.'

'Can you be more specific? I mean-'

'I know what you mean!' she scoffed.

'Sinful girls, after sailors and traders?' I threw at her anyway. 'Nice people. Businessmen!' Nasty forms of business, I bet. 'Had this man been drinking here last night?'

'Nobody can remember him, though he could have been.' They should remember. He must have been of a higher class than any regulars, even the nice businessmen. 'We just found him left here with his feet waggling-'

'Excuse me! Why were his feet waggling? Was the poor sap still alive?'

She blushed. 'Just a manner of speaking.'

'So was he dead or not?'

'He was dead. Of course he was.'

'How did you know?'


'If only his feet were visible, how did anyone know his condition? Could you have revived him? You might at least have tried. I know you didn't bother; the centurion had to pull him out.'

She looked thrown, but carried on gamely. 'He was a goner. It was obvious.'

'Especially if you already knew that he was crammed down the well last evening.'

'I never! We were all surprised!'

'Not as surprised as he must have been,' I said.


There was nothing more to be gained here. We left the centurion to shift the body for safekeeping until the Great King was informed. Gaius and I emerged into the alley, which was used as an open drain. We picked our way past the daily rubbish and empties to what passed for a street. That was dingy enough. We were on terraced ground below the two low gravel hills on which Londinium stood. The area was right down near the river. In any city that can be bad news. The procurator's two bodyguards followed us discreetly, frontline soldiers on detached duty, fingering daggers. They provided reassurance-partially.

From the badly cobbled lane that protected this enclave to larger, perhaps less unfriendly vicinities, we could hear the creak of cranes on the wharves that lined the Thamesis. There were pungent smells of leather, a staple trade. Some towns have regulations that tanneries have to be out in the country because they reek so badly, but Londinium was either not that fussy or not so well organized. Attracted by the river's proximity, we walked

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