Fresh from his trip to Britannia, Marcus Didius Falco needs to re-establish himself back in Rome. A minor role in the trial of a senator entangles him in the machinations of two lawyers: Silus Italicus and Paccius Africanus, both ex-consuls with notorious reputations.
Rome, Autumn AD 75. Falco reflects on informers in general:
I had been an informer for over a decade when I finally learned what the job entailed.
There were no surprises. I knew how society viewed us: lowborn hangers-on, upstarts too impatient for honest careers, or corrupt nobles. The lowest grade was proudly occupied by me, Marcus Didius Falco, son of the utterly plebeian rogue Didius Favonius, heir to nothing and possessing only nobodies for ancestors. My most famous colleagues worked in the Senate and were themselves senators. In popular thought we were all parasites, bent on destroying respectable men.
I knew how it worked at street level – a hotch-potch of petty investigative jobs, all ill-paid and despised, a career that was often dangerous too.
All informers are said to be vile collaborators, currying favour, contributing to repression, profiteering, targetting victims, working the courts for their personal advantage.
Surprisingly, Falco tells us he is up against other informers in his task:
I was about to see the glorious truth of informing senatorial-style. In the late summer of the year that I returned with my family from my British trip, I worked with Paccius Africanus and Silius Italicus, two famous informers at the top of their trade; some of you may have heard of them. Legals. That is to say, these noble persons made criminal accusations, most of which were just about viable, argued without blatant lies and supported by some evidence, with a view to condemning fellow senators and then snatching huge proportions of their doomed colleagues’ rich estates. The law, ever fair, makes decent compensation for selfless application to demeaning work. Justice has a price. In the informing community the price is at least twenty-five per cent; that is twenty-five per cent of all the condemned man’s seaside villas, city property, farms, and other investment holdings. In abuse of office or treason cases, the Emperor may intervene; he can bestow a larger reward package; much larger sometimes.
Falco, Vespasian and money. What a topic.
Falco is asked to obtain a document witness it and present it to a court; after the case is complete, the prosecuting lawyer calls for Falco’s attendance. After stomping around various temples and porticoes, Falco finally runs down the lawyer to a morning tea with an interesting crony:
Cursing, I barged through the crowds, hopped down the steps and marched across the roasting travertine. At the twelve-sided well called the Pool of Curius, I deliberately refrained from chucking in a copper for good luck. Amid the multicoloured marbles of the Porticus of Gaius and Lucius on the opposite basilica I expected a long search, but I soon spotted Silius, a lump who looked as if he made greedy use of the money he earned from his hight-profile cases. As I approached, he was talking to another man whose identity I also knew; about the same age but neater build and more diffiedent manner (I knew from recent experience how that was deceptive! When they noticed me, the second man stood up from the wine-shop table. He may bave been leaving anyway, though my arrival seemed to cause it. I felt that they should have kept their distance, yet they had been chatting like any old friends who worked in the same district, meeting regularly for a mid-morning roll and spiced Capmpanian wine at this streetside eatery. The crony was Paccius Africanus, last seen as opposition counsel in the Metellus case.
Falco’s curiosity is sharp, and critical. Falco’s curiosity is founded on his own practice of law, that is to say, as an informer, seeking the truth. His work is often resolved in the courts, so he expects propriety and the canons of good practice to prevail. Defence and Prosecution sharing wine and rolls at a street-side eatery alerts his unconscious searchlight within that the truth may be being tampered with. Something is out of kilter.
Britannia was not without its problems for the legions. There had been the Boudicean Revolt, and the disgrace of the II Augusta, of which both Falco and Petro had been members. The Legio Principa was cause of that disgrace, and had been disposed of privately by the assembled centuries. Leadership in Britannia had been difficult, and the Army had run the province by ‘committee’ for some time, clandestine until “discovered”.
While Falco may be Paterfamilias, Helena Justina decides to take in a street urchin, one Albia, to give her a home and a life. Albia feigns an inability to talk, which leads Falco to Petro’s stakeout and to an old lover from his past, one Chloris. Albia is returned to the nest with the other children, and Falco, struck dumb by the enraged Helena Justina, watches as Petro’s love life is sorted once and for all.
Roman Court …
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