The pedestrian dynamic changed quite suddenly. People passing by slowed their pace and turned their heads towards a large palatial villa. Others stopped across the street and stood individually or in small groups. A larger collection of curious citizens had gathered around the villa’s large ornate doorway.
Through this crowd passed men in senatorial tunics and fine robes, escorting weeping women clothed in black dresses and veils. Conscious of his frayed tunic and the faded leather of his sandals, Aquila searched around the corner of the extensive house for another entrance.
He soon discovered a small wooden door set into the wall of the garden. This served as an entrance for servants, workmen and slaves attached to the household. Via this entrance the staff could make their way to the servants’ quarter of the villa without being seen.
Aquila and his clerk were admitted by the cook who was awaiting a delivery. He assured them that their patron had been announced and was still inside, but they would have to wait until he left or else find a way to discreetly pass a message to him.
The two men were shown to a low kitchen table where the mortician was eating a hearty lunch of pickled fish and vegetables. He had cleaned, dressed and prepared the senator’s body for viewing after it was brought inside. Aquila questioned him about the body while he ate. His answers were brief and punctuated by mouthfuls of food.
“Sprawled on the street… they had turned him over, thought he was unwell… then they saw the blood… lots of blood, only seen that much blood at a sacrifice… was washing the body clean for hours… deep hole, yes, very narrow… right in the gut… more wine eh?”
“Wouldn’t have happened if that big Thracian had bothered to show up today.” The cook ignored the empty wine jug which the mortician shook under his nose. “That barbarian idiot is probably still sleeping one off.”
Aquila ascertained that the Thracian was a thug hired to guard the senator when he was in public. He lived in the River District, moonlighting as a brothel guard, and hadn’t met the senator that morning to accompany him to the senate house.
“He left alright last night as well,” the cook elaborated, “drank nearly all my wine, tried it on with the lady’s maids, called me a cheat at dice and swaggered off. Just like all the other barbarians.”
The mortician spat on the floor in agreement and waved the empty jug above his head. As the cook went to fill it the cheapest wine he could find, Aquila left a message with a serving boy to be delivered to his patron. This outlined their discoveries and his intention to visit the River District in search of the Thracian.