Thursday, February 3, 2011
Chariots of Murder
As much as I love vintage autos (and they play roles both sinister and heroic in CITY OF DRAGONS and CITY OF SECRETS, respectively), this is launch week for THE CURSE-MAKER, so we'll take a little trip to first century Londinium ...
Arcturus wanders out of his house on an early morning, leaving Gwyna asleep, and meanders toward the barn he's going to have to build for Nimbus and the donkey (an addition from THE CURSE-MAKER). He checks the animals and rubs their necks until his hands smell like the donkey ... smiles when he thinks what Gwyna will say when he comes in ... and idly looks over the equipment--saddles, bridles, small cart for hauling building materials to his always-in-progress house ...
Except that the cart has a foot sticking out of it. A feminine foot.
Because he's a medicus, the first thing he does is make absolutely certain that the girl--a relatively young girl--is, in fact, beyond saving. The circle of blue bruises around her neck, the rubbed red raw ring, and the engorged tongue give him no hope, really, but he checks out of habit.
She's dead--strangled--with large, strong hands and possibly a rope around her neck. She's also pregnant, the swelling of her abdomen unmistakable. He'd vomit if he had any food on his stomach.
He takes a deep breath and pulls himself together. Does he know the girl? Has he seen her before? The face is misshapen, but she seems dimly familiar, like a hazy dream. A patient?
Think, Arcturus, think, he mutters to himself. Who is she? Why is she here? Someone in the household, could someone ... No. He shakes his head. Not Venutius, not Brutius. Not Draco. Draco has a not-so-good history with women, but hell ... so did he.
He looks at her again. And he remembers.
Tentatively, he pulls away the linen from her shoulders to make sure. The birth mark is there.
He lets out a long, low breath, staring down at Drusilla, the daughter of a wine importer, a good supplier of Falernian. He'd last seen her when she was fifteen, getting ready for the marriage market. He hadn't heard about any nuptials since then, but that's not surprising ... he'd been busy.
He remembered Drusilla. Remembered how she'd stripped off her clothes and cupped her breast with his hand until he'd pulled away and told her he was a doctor, not a good-time boy at a gladiator show.
And now ... now it looked very much like someone was framing Arcturus with her murder. He could see the vigiles approaching, feet clomping on the paving stone. He could hear the lawyer arguing ... young girl, young doctor, the doctor gets married but refuses to give up his mistress... until the girl became pregnant and threatened to tell his wife.
Agricola's almost gone, he's done, through, back to Rome. No one to protect the doctor now ...
He shudders, staring at Drusilla. He'd better find the murderer ... and fast.