A tall man with a lean figure bent over the soldier’s corpse. The body lay beneath an archway on a sloping street in one of the wealthiest districts of Rome. The sun had risen recently and the day was bright with a pleasantly cooling breeze.
A young man with tanned skin stood to one side. He took notes as the older man spoke and tried his best to avoid looking at the corpse. These two men were observed by a military officer with a thick neck and an expression of furious indignation on his hard features.
“Gauls.” The officer spat out with hatred. “Bloody Gauls. No point in you poking around. I’ve seen Gauls in the city, pretending to be slaves and merchants. I don’t trust them. They did it and we should round up every Gaul within the city limits.”
The taller man did not respond to this outburst but remained focused on the corpse. Aquila was neither a soldier nor a mortician. He was a lawyer and the young man Hanno was his personal clerk. Aquila had been summoned to this place at dawn by his patron who owned the villa with the arched gateway.
At his patron’s request, and in return for a financial incentive, the lawyer was charged with privately investigating the murder of the soldier. A private investigation had been requested in case the murder was a precursor to some attack on his patron’s person or property. It was Aquila’s belief, however, that the military officer would be conducting his own investigation.
Heavy rainfall had washed away much of the blood on and around the body. But the soldier’s tunic still bore a dark red stain around the protruding knife hilt. The blade had not yet been removed from its position in the unfortunate man’s torso. Dead leaves and urban detritus had collected on one side of the corpse where its position had prevented the previous night’s deluge from carrying its load further.
Aquila placed the end of a heavy wooden stick which he used to support his bad leg on the chest of the dead man. With the other hand he manoeuvred the knife to either side and then pulled it free. Half-dried blood clung to the flat of the blade. It was a delicate instrument, had a narrow handle, razor sharp edge and was the length of a man’s forearm from handle to tip.
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