Saturday, October 18, 2014

The first two chapters of, While the Emperor Slept

Alright.  Within four days I will finally . . . FINALLY . . . finish writing the Decimus Julius Virilis novel, While the Emperor Slept.  As you may or may not know, someone asked me to write a novel (and possibly a potential series?) featuring a character from out of 1st Century Rome who acts, in his deductive reasoning, like an ancient Sherlock Holmes.  Not a clone of the famous sleuth, mind you;  just someone who would strongly remind you of the famous Baker Street detective.

The first question to ask, while approaching this delicious little quadmire, was . . . just what exactly makes Sherlock Holmes so interesting? Is it his personality?  His looks?  His cold, scientific mind?  His brassy assurance?  Or all of the above stirred up into one big stew and poured into a tall frame of sheer audacity?

The second question to ask was, could I recreate the ambiance and color of 1st Century Rome and make it believable.  And . . . did I have to make it 100% historically accurate?   (this led to a whole series of mental debates within my noggin' about just how important historically fiction had to toe the line in authenticity at the expense of dramatic framing of potential scenes).

In the end I threw all these concerns out the window and decided to write the best damn story I could and stuff it into the 1st Century as best as I could.  A good story, in my not-so-humble-opinion, wins out over historical accuracy any time (as long, of course, as the bending of historical fact doesn't completely fracture ons's Suspension of Belief to the breaking point).

So with all this in mind, I created Decimus Julius Virilis.  I thought I would do two things today.  I thought I might share with you a little Decimus' background and top it off with the first two chapters of the book. (a little blatant self-promotion here.  IF the book is accepted, and IF the book comes out in print, maybe it will receive a higher than expected audience if I kinda . . . you know . . . prime the pump first.  Yeah, I know; wishful thinking.)

So here goes:

Name:  Decimus Julius Virilis
Born:  Somewhere between 29-31 BC in a hut just outside the city of Brundisium
Occupation: At the age of 15 joined Octavius Caesar's Legio III Augusta  in 16 BC and
                    began rising through the ranks. Served in various legions and saw action in, Gaul
                    Hispania, Africanus, Aegypt,  Italia, Germania, Parthia.
Retired: 9 AD, after achieving the rank of Prafectus Castoreum (third in command of a Roman legion);
              becoming a full Roman citizen. (thanks to being distantly related to Caesar himself)
Further Employment:  Given the rank of Tribune in the Caesar's new Cohortes Urbanae (a specialized
                                  police unit for the cities of Rome and Ostia).  Put on special assignment personally
                                  by Octavius Caesar to investigate delicate cases particularly sensitive to the
                                  Julii familiy.
Died: Yet to be determined

So there is a snapshot portrait of my Holmesian wannabe.  Part detective. Part assassin.  Part seeker of political intrigues.  Sometimes very cold and calculating.  Sometimes very deadly.  Hopefully . . . a character that will catch on with the reading public.

So.  To stimulate that last thought, here are the first two chapters of While the Emperor Slept.


            With a shrug from a shoulder he slipped off the short toga and took the first tentative step into the hot bubbling waters of the bath.  Behind him his servant, a pepper haired old Roman soldier by the name of Gnaeus, eyed his master ruefully and then bent down and retrieved the short robe from the marbled floor. In the light of a hundred candles filling the bath with a soft warm light, he eyed the black marble columns of the private bath, noted the rich drapes which hung from the marbled ceiling, felt the warmth of the marble floors he stood on and nodded to himself in pleasure.
            The Baths of Juno Primus, with its marbled columned porch and impressive water fountains at the base of its portico steps, was the newest public baths in Rome. It sat three blocks away from the gigantic Balisca Julius, the elegant and impressively enclosed public forum and administrative building just completed in the heart of the city.  The baths, rumored to have been built with donations from the Imperator himself, were equally impressive.  It may have been true.  He knew Gaius Octavius.  An old man now known as Gaius Octavius Caesar, the Augustus.  He knew the other Caesar was that kind of person.  Julius Caesar had a passion for spending money lavishly on grand architecture.  Octavius inherited the family trait. Both had a passion for building.  Building large, grand structures out of the finest marble.  Each dreamed of converting, in one life time, a once dreary, almost rural, city called Rome into a world class megalopolis. 
            Smiling, Decimus Julius Virilis stepped into the warm clear waters of the steaming bath and lowered himself onto a marble bench.  Closing his eyes he stretched arms on either side of the bath and leaned back and heaved a sigh of relief.
            He sat in the water and allowed his senses to wonder.  Vaguely in other parts of the large bathhouseRome's rather complex society.  In such a place like this one would find the most noble and the most carnal.  Without question cabals were being hatched.  Dark secrets were being revealed.  Roman politics thrived behind the closed doors of each large bathing pool reserved for one patron or another.   Chin deep in the artificially warm waters of these baths there was no conceivable plot, no scandalous terror, men of power and wealth could not converse in soft whispers which had not been discussed a hundred times before.
he heard the voices of men mumbling or the splashing of water.  Somewhere a woman's voice, probably that of a serving girl, was laughing merrily.  Somewhere else the tinkling of goblets clinking together told him men were enjoying their wine. The baths was a giant complex filled with senators, generals, politicians.  The rich and elite of
             Sighing, he gently pushed the cacophony of noise from his mind, and allowed the heat of the water to seep into aching muscles and a tired body with its soothing fingers of sensual delight.  He was an average size man in height.  But the numerous scars which tattooed his flesh in a bizarre matrix of randomness, along with the amazing display of muscles he yet retained, would have indicated to an on looker this man was anything but remotely average. 
            Twenty five years soldiering in one of the many legions loyal to Octavius Caesar had a way of hardening a man's body . . . a man's soul.  From Hispania to Aegypt; from Illyrium to Gaul.  One legion after another.  Fighting.  Fighting Gauls.  Fighting Spaniards.  Fighting Romans.  Hundreds of skirmishes.  Several pitched battles.  Stepping over friends and foes alike lying on the ground dead, sword dripping with blood in one hand and shield in the other.  Battle fields littered with the dead, the dying, and the cowering for as far as the eye could see.
            Twenty five years.
            Watching fool politicians appointed to command riding prancing horses, banners and Eagles rising in the sunshine, with men shouting and hammering their shields with the swords eager for battle, only to, months later, see the same legion either victorious and lusty.  Or defeated and disgraced.  Or worse . . .  decimated and barely clinging in existence.
            Twenty five years.
            Rising up through the ranks.  First as a simple legionnaire in the tenth cohort . . . essentially the raw recruits of a legion.  Proving himself as both a leader and as a fighter.  Attaining on the battle field the promotion to centurion and assigned again to a tenth cohort as its commander.  Years of slugging through summer hit and winter's cold.  Through rain and snow.  Facing an almost unlimited number of Rome's enemies.  Facing  rampaging war elephants.  Facing armor clad Parthian cataphract cavalry with their deadly lances and stinging composite bows.  Facing Greek spears stacked up in their compact, vaunted, phalanxes.  Facing naked, blue painted Celtic madmen wielding gigantic two handed swords taller than a man.  But eventually . . . with a little luck at surviving defeats as will as victories, along with the acumen of using his own natural abilities  . . . his star kept rising.  Rising eventually to primus pilum, or First Spear; the top ranking centurion commanding the First Cohort in a Roman legion.  And finally, from there, to being promoted to a tribune and given the rank of prafectus castorum.  The highest rank a professional soldier could attain.  Third in command of a Roman legion.  The soldier's soldier a legion's twenty or so tribunes and eighty or so centurions came to with their problems.  The soldier expected to maintain discipline in the army.  To feed the army.  To provide the arms. To mold thousands of disparate individual souls into one efficiently killing machine.
            But no more.  No more.
            A life time of soldiering was enough.  With what few years of good health remained to him he would enjoy as a free man.  He had accepted all the accolades, all the honors bestowed on him by noblemen and commoner, and retired from the army.  He no longer served anyone.  No longer took orders from anyone.  No longer felt obligated to anyone.  It was a strange feeling.  A dichotomy of emotions.  On one hand was the feeling of joy . . . immense joy of finally, finally being in command of his own fate.  On the other hand was this feeling of extreme loss. An odd emptiness hanging just below his consciousness.   As if there was something critical was missing.  An order given and yet to be obeyed. Frowning, he inhaled the hot humid air of the baths and opened his eyes.
            What was he going to do with himself?   The need to be gainfully employed was of no concern.  Retiring from the position of prafectus castorum meant he left the service of the Imperator as a wealthy man.  Almost twenty three years of being first a centurion and then a tribune meant, among other things, being involved in the handling of his men's savings.  Yes, most of the men he commanded spent their wages on women and drink as fast as they could.  But a number of men in any legion had learned to save some money back.  To throw it into the cohort's banking system in the hopes that, if the army was successful and cities or provinces were plundered, their meager savings would grow.
            The final three years of his army life had been a considerable financial boon.  As perfectus castorum  his staff had been in charge of the entire legion's savings.  Several thousand sesterces worth.  If an officer was astute in his men's investments a sizeable profit could be had by all.   And if a legion was fortunate to be favored by its commander, or legate, for exceptional service, the reward would be even greater.
            He was not called The Lucky for nothing.  Lucky in war.  Lucky in investing.  Lucky in being related to the richest man in the empire.  Gaius Octavius Caesar.  Money was of no concern to him.  He would live comfortably for the rest of his life.
            But what to do?  What exercise to entertain and stimulate his mind?  He needed a challenge.  A goal . . . a . . . puzzle . . . to keep his wits about him!  Without some challenge for the gray matter in his skull to dwell on life was nothing but a series of boring mannerisms to endure.
            Closing his eyes again he idly heard his servant Gnaeus pouring wine in a large goblet for him.  And then . . . a brief silence.  An odd silence.  An out of place silence.  Softly followed by just the lightest whisper of heavy cloth rubbing across the leather scabbard of a sheathed gladius.
            He didn't move or show any outward gesture he was aware of a new presence behind him.  Resting in the water of the bath he appeared to be asleep.  But ever nerve in his body was tingling with delight!  He heard the soft tread of three distinct sets of sandals.  With one of the three, strangely, without question an old man. Opening eyes slowly he noticed the colors around him . . . the blue of the water, the black of the marble columns, the white of the marble bath walls . . . seemed to be a hundred times more intense!  For the first time in weeks he felt alive!  And when he heard that distinct shuffling of feet and the odd hissing of someone finding it difficult to breathe he almost laughed out loud.
            "Good evening, cousin," he said quietly, coming to a standing position and turning to face his unannounced guests.
            Three of them stood above him looking down at him as he stood in waters of the bath.  Two of them were big men dressed in the distinct cuirass and greaves of the Praetorian Guards.  Around their shoulders were short capes of the royal purple trimmed in silver thread.  Underneath their left arms were their brightly polished bronze helms.  At their waists lay the short blades of the Roman gladius. The double edged weapon that had carved out a vast empire for the City of Rome and its people.
            Between the two was an old man slightly stooped over and dressed in a dark wine red toga.  Around his shoulders and covering the curls of his white hair was a plain woolen cloak and hood.  But there was no mistaking this man.
            "Good evening, Decimus Julius Virilis," Augustus Caesar said, an amused smile spreading across thin lips.  "I see you still retain all your limbs and most of your senses."
            "No thanks to you, Imperator," Decimus laughed, making his way out of the bath completely unconcerned about his nakedness and men armed standing before him.  "You've tried to kill me at least a hundred times."
            "One of my few failures I'm sure," replied the old man, chuckling.
            "So tell me, cousin.  To what pleasure do I owe you receiving your company in a public bath house suddenly ordered vacated by a detachment of your Praetorian Guards?"
            The old man's eyes, bright and alive, looked upon his distant cousin with mirth and pleasure.  They had known each other for years.  Ever since Decimus, as a boy of fourteen, ran away from home and joined his first legion.  A legion he happened to be commanding in Greece facing Mark Anthony so many years ago.  Nodding approvingly, the old man moved closer to the younger man, took him gently by one arm and squeezed it affectionately.
            "I am in need of your services, cousin.   And, amusingly, some would say I bring with me an incredible opportunity you might consider.  A very delicate situation has come up that must be addressed swiftly and surely.  Swiftly and surely with . . . uh . . . only the talents you can bring to bear."


            To his right the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea seemed to lift up and fill the late afternoon sky in a soft blue haze from horizon to horizon.  Sails, white and wine red, from several large cargo ships, moved with an elegant ease as they headed for the port of Ostia.  Sea gulls circled and wove through the partially cloudy skies above them.  The Roman countryside slid down to the see was a lush verdant green.  To him it looked like the vast gardens of a royal estate as he rode down the rough trail toward their destination.
The sun was out and deliciously warm.  The panoramic view of the countryside pleasing to the eye. 
            One would think, if one only trusted his eyes and nothing more, the world was beautiful and peaceful and tranquility was the order of the day.  But he knew better.  He knew the true nature of the world.  Life was an illusion.  Beauty only a mask to hide the darkness and pain from our eyes.
            Reining in his powerful mare he turned and looked at the small entourage behind him.  Gnaeus, looked decidedly ill at ease sitting on a horse, dressed in the garb of a Roman legionnaire.  With the plain conical helm of a legionnaire partially hiding the thick mass of pepper and salt colored hair, the simple off white linen undergarment underneath the typical lamellar armor of a Roman cavalryman, Gnaeus reined in his horse expertly and scowled at Decimus.
            Smiling, the tribune turned his head and looked at the two other men who reined in on either side of Gnaeus.  One was a thin framed with the hooked nose of a scowling hawk.  Like Gnaeus, he too was dressed in the typical armor and uniform of a cavalryman.  And like his servant a man whom Decimus had known for years in the army.  A specialist in his own right.  A man who knew how to find things.  Any thing.  Find it and retrieve it without making any raucous noise about it.   Some said Rufus was a thief.  A pick pocket. A purse snatcher.  He knew Rufus for what he truly was.  A man with a very special talent any commander of a legion would require sooner or later.
            Or a man now in his newly appointed position.
            The third cavalryman was very much different.  He was a tall man with thick arms and powerful thighs.  Yet he rode his horse with the ease of someone who had lived all his life around horses.  He was dark complexion with jet black eyes and a small mouth.  There seemed to be an aloofness . . . a sense of otherness . . . that separated him from the rest of them.  Indeed he was this stranger.  He was not Roman born.  He was a foreigner.  A tribesman from the deserts of Numidia.  Yet he too, like the others, a man whom he had known and trusted for years.
            "Hassid.  That way," he said lifting an arm and pointing toward the south.  "Check the surrounding countryside for any tracks.  Make a full circle around the crime scene.  You will find us there when you return."
            The black eyed hunter from the desert nodded silently and urged his horse on.  He moved out rapidly and soon disappeared into a copse of trees hugging a small hill.  Decimus, waiting until the rider was well out of sight, grunted and turned his horse toward the southwest and heeled its flanks.
            With the two riding abreast and slightly behind him the newest tribune of Rome's  Cohortes Urbanae topped a small grassy knoll and began descending rapidly down upon the odd scene below.
            After the civil wars, after Octavius' arch rival, Mark Anthony, had been dispatched to Hades, Octavius returned to begin rebuilding both the city of Rome and the empire.  In Rome, after decades of neglect and civil strife, he found a city dominated by powerful underworld gangs. Gangs, bought and paid for by powerful patrician families of Rome, basically had carved out their own private empires within the city.  To fight the tenacious tentacles of organized crime Caesar created two organizations and gave them the specific tasks to accomplish.  That being bringing crime under control and providing some measure of safety for the citizens of the city from the ever-constant fear of the city burning to the ground in one gigantic conflagration.  One was the old Vigiles Urbani.  The other was the Cohortes Urbanae.
            The vigiles were the firefighters and beat cops of the city.  The city-watch.  A carry over idea, greatly expanded, from the numerous privately funded fire brigades and neighborhood watches that littered the city during Julius Caesar's time.  The Imperator collected the various units into one unit, assembled them along the lines of a Roman legion, and established taxes to pay for them.  Most of the men were ex-slaves commanded by Roman citizens--usually retired officers from the army.  They worked during the night looking for fires and chasing down common hoodlums.  They were effective if not, occasionally, a bit brutal.
           Cohortes Urbana acted more like the homicide division of a city's police force.  They investigated violent crime, organized crime, political shenanigans. They too were organized along the lines of a Roman legion.  But unlike the vigiles using ex-slaves as their manpower, only free Roman citizens could join the cohorts.  Better paid and equipped compared to their vigiles cousins the Urban Cohorts could, if the need arouse, actually be pulled from the city's streets and used in military operations.
            The Imperator commissioned Decimus with the rank of tribune in the Urban Cohorts.  A tribune minus the normal eight hundred or so men most tribunes in the army, or the vigiles, or the urbanae,  would command.  His orders, straight from the quill of Octavius himself, decreed he was on detached service answerable only to the Imperator. 
            His assignment was simple.  Find, and bring to justice, those whom the Imperator thought were of a particular dangerous threat to the newly acquired peace of the empire.
            Like this case.
            Reining up suddenly in front of a group of men, a mixed bag of vigiles and urban cohort soldiers standing around the destruction of what once had been a large wagon, he nodded to the centurion in charge and then slipped from his horse, throwing back the edge of his short scarlet and purple trimmed short riding cloak in the process.
            "Hail, tribune!" the young officer said, snapping to attention and saluting.
            "At ease, son.  And be so kind as to inform me of this situation."
            In the thick grass were several large dark stains where people had died violent deaths.  The bodies were gone but the visual evidence was ample to the trained eyed to conclude no one had survived the attack.  A quick sweep of the ground suggested to Decimus at least four people were dead.  The litter of several wooden trunks smashed to piece with their contents strewn all over the side, even the ripped out bottoms of the wagons themselves mixed in with the other flotsam, indicated someone must have been in search of something important.
            "Night before last the servant of a merchant in Ostia brought word there had been a series of murders . . . a massacre as they described it . . . just outside the port.  I sent two men out on horses to ascertain the truth.  As you can see the information was correct."
            He saw Rufus nod his head toward his master and drift off toward the sea to begin his assigned task. Gnaeus, scowling as always, silently moved away in a different direction and began looking at the signs left behind in the dirt and grass.  Decimus nodded, turned, and strode to one particularly large dark stain in the grass and knelt down.  The young centurion behind him followed respectfully yet watched the two servants of the tribune curiously.
            "The bodies?"
            "In Ostia, sir.  In the morgue of the vigiles' barracks.
            "Any survivors?"  he asked as he used an index finger and traced the outline of a particularly large partial print of distinctive shoe sole in the dust of the narrow trail beside the grass.
            "None that we know of.  When I arrived I found four bodies.  Two men of rank it would seem and two servants.  And, of course, the scene which greets you now."
            "Identification of any of the men?"
            "None.  No signet rings.  No personnel scrolls.  Nothing of monetary value left behind."
            "Are you sure, centurion, of the veracity of your men?  Are you sure no one in your command decided to claim a small prize of his own?  Say the first two men who came out and discovered this scene?"
            He stood up and turned to face the younger man.  A hot flash of anger swept across the centurion's face but quickly subsided.  The officer was of a famous plebian family.  A very famous, and rich, family.  Rarely had anyone doubted his veracity.
            But standing before was a tribune with a high sloping forehead with a thin swipe of grayish/blond curly hair covering the upper regions of his cranium.  The man also had this deep, experienced wrinkled face of a man who had seen much in life; like that perhaps of an old soldier.  Certainly the man exhibit a confident, almost arrogant, gate of a soldier.  There was the way the tribune gripped his ivory tipped baton, the symbol of rank for any high ranking Roman officer, which cautioned him.  Not just an ordinary soldier.  But someone who was used to command.
            A man not to be trifled with.
            Frowning, he turned and barked loudly two names.
            From the huddled group vigiles two men stepped forward and came to attention in front of the centurion.  Decimus, eying the two freedmen, slapped hands behind his back, stepped up very close to the men and began inspecting them closely as circled them.  Glancing down into the dust of the wagon ruts he noticed the prints of their sandals they had just imprinted into the dirt.
            "You," he said, using the long wooden baton of authority he gripped in one hand and slapped the man forcefully on the man's biceps. "Your name."
            "Gallus, sir."
            "You and this man beside you discovered the bodies last night when you road out from Ostia?"
            "Yes sir."
            Decimus nodded, hands gripping the baton behind his back, head down and staring at the ground thoughtfully as he walked slowly around the two men and stopped directly in front of the man who called himself Gallus.
            "Centurion, what is the punishment for a vigilii who is convicted of thievery?"
            The rough looking plank of an ex-slave visibly paled.  As did the man standing beside him.  Decimus eyed the tribune but returned his attention back to the two standing in front of him.
            "Ten lashes with the whip, sir.  And garnishment of one month's of wages.  Of course, if the theft is large enough, perhaps he might become a contestant at the next set of gladiatorial games."
            Beside the white faced Gallus groaned softly and his knees almost buckled.  The centurion, angry, exploded in rage.
            "By the gods, Gallus.  You filthy liar.  I'll personally peel the flesh off your back with a cat'o nine tails if you don't confess to your crimes now.  Do you understand me!"
            "Sir!  I . . . we . . . it was just a little thing!  Nothing expensive . . . really."
            Decimus turned his head and watched the forever scowling Gnaeus trotting up toward him carrying something white and thin between the forefinger and thumb of his right hand.  The tribune nodded and smiled grimly.  Extending a hand, palm up, toward his servant.  The bushy haired smaller man gently deposited the grim piece of evidence onto the tribune's hand
            The centurion's eyes, watching closely, did not see what was deposited into the older officer's hand. But he felt relatively certain it was something which would not go well for the undersized oaf named Gallus.
            "Let me paint you a picture of what happened last night, soldier.  Interrupt me whenever I stray from the truth."
            The young centurion strode up to stand by the balding yet dominating force of Decimus Julius Virilis and turned crimson faced in rage when his eyes fell upon the severed ring finger.  Slapping the small baton all centurions gripped angrily against the side of his bare leg he turned and gave his man a dark, murderous look.
            Decimus, snarling back a dangerous smirk, zeroed his eyes on the man in front of him and continued talking.
            "You and your companion arrived last night just as it began to lightly rain.  You found this site as it appears today.  You found four dead bodies, clothes and furniture scattered all over the field, along with the two small wagons completely dismantled and strewn about.  There was no gold.  No jewelry.  Nothing.  Except for one small item . . . "
            Lifting the severed finger in his palm he delicately put it directly under the ex-slaves flaring nostrils and continued.
            "You found a rather large fat man with a small signet ring on a finger.  A ring which would not come off because the man's fingers were swollen.  No no . . . don't deny it.  It was a signet ring.  In fact I suspect it was a signet key ring.  A key that was supposed to open a small jewelry box or some other small wooden chest.  See the circular discoloration on the flesh?  Yes?  Clear evidence the man wore a ring.  Now look closely at the finger.  It is a man's middle finger.  The finger a man of some importance would decorate with a signet key ring.  So tell me, Gallus.  Did you find the wooden box the ring you removed from the dead hand of Spurius Lavinius last night?"
            "I . . . uh . . . we found what . . . what was left of the box, tribune."
            "We . . . !" exploded the man standing beside him, wheeling around and stepping away from his comrade.  "I told you not to cut off that finger.  It was a trifling ring! It wasn't worth a penny!"
            The centurion, baton in hand, backhanded the man across the face viciously.  The man staggered to one side, holding his face with one hand, but came back to full attention.  Glaring at the man for one second the young officer thought about clubbing the man again. But he contained his anger and turned to face the tribune.
            "My sincerest, most humble, apologies sir.  I assure you when these two return to their barracks they will be severely dealt with."
            Decimus shook his head negatively and placed a hand on the officer's arm.
            "Severity in punishment will not correct evils committed, centurion.  Discipline them you must.  Preferably in front of their comrades for all to take note for those who cannot restrain themselves from petty theft.  But measure the punishment to the quality of the crime.  Otherwise you will generate more animosity than compliance among your men.
            Besides, I believe this man.   I suspect they did indeed find the small jewelry box already destroyed and its contents missing when they arrived."
            Turning back to the ex-slave the balding, darkly tanned tribune lifted a hand up and told the man to give him the ring.  The man fumbled the ring out of a small leather pouch and dropped it into Decimus' hand.
            "Sir, if I may ask a question?"
            Decimus smiled, turning from the two ex-slaves and motioned them to leave at the same time.
            "You're wondering how I knew so quickly this nasty little deed had taken place last night.  Yes?"
            "Sir!" the centurion nodded, surprised, and wondering if the older officer could read his mind. "I mean . . . how?"
            Decimus half turned toward the young officer and smiled fatherly as he lifted a finger up and motioned him to follow his actions.  Kneeling in front of the stain on the grass beside the dust of the wagon trail he waited for the centurion to kneel beside him and then he pointed toward a set of tracks in the recently dried soil.
            "There are two different set of foot prints.  Here and here," he said pointing to one and then the other.  "Look closely.  The vigilies and the urban cohorts issue to their men the exact types of sandals as the army does for their men. They have a distinctive pattern on the soles of the leather.  Notice one set is that of someone wearing such footwear and the other isn't?"
            Once pointed out it was obvious for anyone to see plainly written in the soil.  With the addition of the military soled sandal extruding from underneath it mud.  As if Gallus had knelt in the rain to do his dastardly deed.
            "Precisely," Decimus nodded, smiling with quiet pleasure at seeing the younger officer see the evidence without the need to point it out to him. "A slight rain producing just enough mud to generate such a track.  But not so the other.  Meaning?"
            "The murderer must have committed his dead prior to the rain last night.  The rain began just a little after midnight.  So . . . that means the massacre mush have taken place sometime before."
            "Very good," the older man said, coming to his feet and smiling. "Remember this small lesson, young man.  Every living creature uses their gift of sight to see world around us.  Our eyes gives us this wondrous sense of vision.  We see . . . but very few of us observe.  For an officer such as yourself the difference between seeing and observing could be all the difference in the world in keeping you and your men alive."
            "But . . . but how did you know in the beginning the dead man would have a signet key ring?  And this blood stain?  How did you know this was the precise stain to look at and not the other three?"
            Decimus laughed casually and glanced at Gnaeus who had come up to stand beside him.  The scowl on servant's face softened a bit but did not go away as he eyed the young centurion.
            "As to the knowledge of the key ring I confess I came owning such knowledge already.  I've been asked to look into this case and to bring it to a swift conclusion.  I was informed the patrician involved was carrying a small black wooden box engraved in ivory with a set of papers in it that were important.  Important to several groups of people.  That box and those papers my task is to find and obtain as well as to bring to justice those who killed Spurius Lavinius and his men.
            As to knowing to look at this stain and not the others?  I confess. I guessed. Over the years I have observed men in powerful positions and how they reacted in a number of extreme situations.  Experience, in other words, centurion.  Drawing on my experience in similar situations led me to believe a man of Spurius' position would have placed him in the lead wagon.  He would be the first to step down form the wagon if confronted by ruffians.  I knew the man, centurion.  I knew how arrogant and supremely confident he was toward those he considered his inferiors.  I'm sure Spurius thought he could bluster his way through this confrontation and continue on with his journey.  Unfortunately he sorely misread the situation and paid for it dearly."
            "Spurius Livinus?" the young centurion repeated, frowning and looking confused.  "I don't recall hearing this name before.  Who was he?"
            "An old, old, old villain my boy.  Very old . . . and very dangerous,"  Decimus answered softly.
            "Yet it appears, tribune,  someone even older and more dangerous found your man first. I assume this may be the opening gambit for a far more complex crime wave to come?"
            Decimus Julius Virlis glanced at the young centurion and frowned. 
            Indeed so, my boy.  Indeed so.


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