Caesar had walked into trouble again, Gaius Matius thought as he pulled his horse up in front of the villa. The screaming that was coming from inside was not the greeting expected by the proconsul of Gaul, and would have caused any normal man to hesitate before going in.
Caesar was already running up the steps into the villa without waiting for Matius to join him, let alone his bodyguards who were still further behind. Matius followed quickly and was just behind Caesar as he entered the atrium and stopped.
A man was impaled on the trident of a statue of Neptune which stood in the center of the atrium fountain. Blood was still dripping from the site of the impalement, but the body was limp in death. The screaming was coming from a woman who knelt at the side of the fountain, Servants stood around the room, some wringing their hands, and others sobbing softly. A young man was yelling at the kneeling woman.
“Is that our host?” Matius said, motioning to the dead man.
Caesar nodded. “That’s Julian. The woman is his wife, Marcia, and the youth is his son Darius. You met Darius a few weeks ago; he will be serving with me next year. It is another mess for me to clean up, Matius, and I had best be about it. Quiet!” he yelled, and the wailing group turned to look at him.
“What has happened here?” Caesar said loudly. Matius was relieved to hear the bodyguards come up behind them.
“Caesar?” the young man said. He glanced at the woman, whose wails had subsided, and came over to stand before Caesar.
“What has happened?” Caesar asked.
Darius shook his head. “We found my father like this,” he said, motioning to the body. “He was with us at lunch, and then he left to go to his study and then I heard my mother screaming and…I don’t know.”
“This is murder, Darius, and the murderer must be found. Did you argue with your father?” Caesar said.
“No, Caesar,” the lad replied in a dignified manner. “I bear no marks of a struggle.” He held out his hands. Caesar inspected them, along with his arms and his clothes, and then motioned for him to remove his tunic. There were no signs of a fight or a struggle anywhere on the hisclothes or body.
Marcia’s screams were still increasing in intensity.
Matius didn’t think Darius would have killed his father. When the lad had visited the camp, he’d seemed a quiet sort, and Matius had even wondered how he would deal with the rough atmosphere that pervaded an army on campaign. He walked over and looked closely at the body. Caesar and Darius joined him.
“A strong man did that,” Matius said. Julian had been a man who enjoyed his food.
Caesar nodded. “That, or a man with a lot of anger. A tall man, too.” The chest, pierced by the trident, was level with their eyes.
“I don’t think Julian was alive when it was done,” Matius said.
“There is a place on his head, do you see it?” Caesar asked.
Matius saw a misshapen and bloody area on the right side of the forehead. “He was hit there, and he also fought back.” He gestured to the blood and marks on Julian’s hands.
“A struggle first,” Caesar said and looked around the atrium. “There is blood on the corner of that bench over there, Matius. Darius, remove your mother and these other women.”
While Darius was following Caesar’s order, Matius walked over to the bench. He knelt to look at it. “This is chipped, Caesar. We need to call the magistrate,” he stood up.
Caesar shook his head. “No, Matius, we will notify the magistrate, but I will handle this investigation.”
“You don’t have time for that, Caesar. In three days Crassus and Pompey will be here for your meeting.”
Caesar smiled. “That is why I must find the murderer – and not trust a provincial amateur to do it.”
“We can just go and stay someplace else.”
“There is no place else; that’s why I asked Julian to leave the villa so we could use it. I must have Pompey close to me, so Crassus and I can be sure he sees and hears what we want him to. And the rest of the senators have taken all the possible places in town.”