Read an #excerpt from Pompeii: A Tale of Murder in Ancient Rome by @GaiusMarcellus

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A Tale of Murder in Ancient Rome

by Robert Colton

History awaits an unsuspecting young man, fleeing the imperial capital and Nero's wrath. Arriving in Pompeii, Marcellus witnesses the funeral of a local man; the course of his life will be altered by this stranger’s death. Unable to stop the murder of a mysterious woman named Helen, Marcellus becomes the caretaker of the dead woman's newborn baby. Hiding in plain sight at a brothel, Marcellus is left to decipher Helen's secrets.

With the help of his overbearing servant and a seductive oracle, Marcellus must deduce who in Pompeii has blood on their hands. Helen's killer appears to be his greatest threat. Little does he know what cataclysm the Mighty Jove has designed. If Marcellus can survive the city's disaster, he just might expose a murderer and stay alive.


Chapter One: Distant Memories

To my Dear Appian:

I pray this letter finds you in good health as it has left me. I am not exaggerating when I write that you have only just left my home. After one last departing wave as you rounded the cobbled road, I dashed, as quickly as an old man might, back to my study to take up my stylus and tablet. My freedwoman was about to take away your cup and the dish of food that we shared, but I asked her to leave them. She looked at me oddly, as she often does, but left the room just as it was. Somehow, this conjures the illusion that you might still be here with me, as though you have stepped out of the room only to return shortly. The musty scent of a young man who traveled by horse faintly remains in the air. The sweet smell of your wife’s perfume, which clung to the folded letter in your pocket, still graces my fingertips. I may sound foolish, but if I close my eyes, I can even hear your good-natured laughter echo just down the hall. This letter may very well arrive in Rome even before you return, as you have many stops along the way. I will see to it that my own messenger is sent straight to the city without distraction.

You came to me seeking information about the quake and subsequent devastation of Pompeii that I witnessed a lifetime ago. Instead, I attempted to intrigue you with my own personal stories. The ploy was admittedly unfair on my behalf. The mention of murder, deception, and even a bit of lust while fleeing from certain death had a greater appeal than any mechanical description of a well-known calamity. I cannot blame my attention seeking on the fact that I am a lonely old man, but I simply enjoy telling my stories. And far from alone, I am fortunate to have a dear wife and caring friends, but alas, they have heard my tales a few too many times. Or worse, they have witnessed or participated in my escapades. A shared history has many interpretations, and I have been criticized for self-flattery on more than one occasion.

Well, as you have requested, I shall write down the story that I briefly told you, and as you wished, I shall give as detailed of an accounting as possible. I believe that I have a better memory than most people whom I know, and yet the memory is a strange thing. The event, item, or experience must somehow enter the mind firmly, and how this takes place I cannot begin to speculate. For example, I can remember as a teenager taking a trip to the site where Ptolemy hid Alexander’s body. I can describe the mystical tomb in great detail, but I don’t recall the actual journey up the Nile leading to the visit. And, similarly, today I clearly recall that you drank three cups of wine, and I noticed that the right side of your mouth naturally smiles after you have asked a question. I was puzzled that your thumbnails and seven of your fingernails were perfectly manicured, but your right little finger’s nail was bitten to the quick. All these details I remember for no particular reason, and yet I would need to ask my steward which of my clients had visited me this very morning. So take what I am going to write to you not as fact, but rather as how I have remembered the facts.

Now I must decide how to introduce myself and the purpose of my journey at my story’s beginning. I need not start with my childhood as, any facts necessary to convey how I had ended up, or where I had ended up, will surely show themselves through my narrative. And besides, this isn’t really a tale about me, but rather an odd story of how I inadvertently became tangled within the web of Titus Terentius Felix’s murder. If I fancied my writing talents to be on par with the great story-tellers, I would begin with a description of a little farmhouse just outside of Pompeii. I would ask that you picture two people quarreling. One loses their temper, and a well-placed blow proves fatal. And in an ill-conceived attempt to hide the crime, the little farmhouse is set ablaze. The sinister killer briefly watches the fire they’ve kindled before leaving the scene of the crime. But I am not suited for this style of writing. Fortunately, I do believe that you were quite entertained today by my storytelling, so I must attempt to write in the same style that I spoke.

I shall pour myself another cup of the wine that we shared and begin with my return to Rome. While your escape from Egypt brought you to safety, my departure from that mystic place led me very near to the River Styx