David Wishart: Trade Secrets

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David Wishart Trade Secrets
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Trade Secrets: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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David Wishart

Trade Secrets


Fascinating things, babies. So long as you keep a respectful distance, that is, because the little buggers can be really devious. Witness the existence of projectile vomiting.

Which was currently relevant: as of the evening before, we’d got Marilla and her doctor husband, Clarus, over on a visit from Castrimoenium, plus of course the grand-sprog, young Marcus Cornelius, born at the start of the Winter Festival so now pushing five months old, as promising a little bruiser as ever dirtied a nappy and presently ensconced on the atrium couch opposite snoring his socks off against his grandmother’s shoulder.

‘You want to hold him for a while, Marcus?’ Perilla said. ‘I have to go upstairs to change. They’ll be here in an hour.’

True; it was the lady’s monthly poetry-klatsch morning, when her literary pals met to juggle their anapaests, and this time she was hosting. Not exactly my scene. By the time the cultured hordes rolled up for their cakes and honeyed wine I’d be long gone.

‘No, I think I’ll pass,’ I said. ‘I’ll leave it to the experts.’

‘Oh, come on, dear! He’s perfectly harmless! And I’m no more an expert with babies than you are.’

True again; it’d become obvious pretty early on that Perilla couldn’t have kids herself, and we’d adopted Marilla in her early teens when her bastard of a real father took his well-earned final nose-dive down the blunt end of the Capitol. Even so …

‘No, I’m OK,’ I said.

‘Coward.’ Perilla stood up carefully, prised young Marcus loose, and handed him to Marilla on the other couch. ‘You really should take your grandfathering duties more seriously.’

‘Yeah, well, I’ll wait until things reach the conversation stage.’

Clarus, on the couch next to Marilla, grinned. ‘Corvinus, he won’t even be able to put two words together for another two years at least,’ he said. ‘And handling an actual conversation will take just a little longer.’


‘Trust me.’

Jupiter! It was a different world, this!

‘So what are your plans for today, dear?’ Perilla said to Marilla. ‘You’re very welcome to join us if you like. Albia Tertia’s giving a short talk on the funerary epigrams in Cephalas’s Anthology with her own translations, which should be quite fun. Tertia’s always good value.’

I glanced at Clarus and caught the wince and slight look of desperation. Right; not a literary man, by any means, Cornelius Clarus, unless you could call medical treatises literature. Particularly the ones featuring illustrations of dissected body parts. Marilla wasn’t exactly a fan, either, to put it mildly. I could’ve told Perilla she was on a hiding to nothing for a start, but she was probably only being polite.

‘No,’ Marilla said carefully. ‘No, we thought we might do a few touristy things while we’re here. Clarus has been to Rome before, of course, lots of times, but we’ve never really got round to it. I thought today we’d take a boat trip from the Sublician Bridge upriver to Augustus’s Mausoleum. And Clarus wants to go to the Pollio Library. They’ve got a rare manuscript of Erasistratus he’d like to take a look at. But that can wait for another day.’

‘On the sensory and motor nerve systems,’ Clarus elaborated.

‘Is that so, now?’ I said.

‘It’s fascinating stuff. He also has a lot to say about bodily degeneration due to sudden or chronic diseases.’

‘Really.’ Gods! Some people had a weird definition of ‘touristy’, let alone what constituted good reading material. Still, everyone to their own bag. Me, I’d be spending the time more constructively with a leisurely shave in my usual booth off Market Square, followed by a few hours propping up the bar at Renatius’s with the other punters, soaking up the booze and generally putting the world to rights.

‘Are you taking young Marcus?’ Perilla asked. ‘On the boat trip, I mean.’

‘No, we’ll leave him behind with Mysta,’ Marilla said; Mysta was the nurse. ‘It’ll make a change, getting away on our own for a while, particularly since Clarus is busy most of the time. Besides, he’s had a bit of diarrhoea these last few days, so it might not be a good idea.’

It was my turn to wince: ah, the joys of parenthood. Still, she’d brought the glad news out deadpan, so I assumed she was pretty much hardened to small unpleasantries like that by now.

‘Very well, dear,’ Perilla said. ‘I’ll see you later. Have a nice time.’ She turned to go. ‘Oh, and you too, Marcus, if you really do insist on going out.’ The barest sniff as she made for the stairs; Perilla doesn’t altogether approve of me passing up an opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons, particularly when the alternative choice of venue is Renatius’s wineshop on Iugarius where most of the punters are plain mantles at best, with a fair sprinkling of freedmen. Me, I’ve always thought that was a definite plus: reasonably close to the centre as Renatius’s is, the purple-striper brigade wouldn’t be seen dead doing their drinking and social networking there. The wine was good, too, which set the cap on it.

Marilla stood up, still holding the sleeping Sprog.

‘I’ll get changed as well,’ she said to Clarus. ‘Marcus seems to be flat out, so I’ll put him in his cot and tell Mysta what’s happening. Give me ten minutes?’


She left. Clarus was grinning.

‘What’s so funny?’ I said.

‘Oh, nothing.’

Uh-huh. Me, I can tell how many beans make five, and I’d seen the look of panic on his face when Perilla handed out her invitation change to one of relief.

‘You hadn’t any plans for the morning at all, had you?’ I said.

He shook his head. ‘No. Or nothing definite, anyway. It’s only our first day, after all. That was pretty fast thinking on Marilla’s part.’

‘You’re learning, pal. Both of you. Although Marilla’s had a lot more practice.’

The grin widened. ‘Simple self-preservation,’ he said. ‘And man’s a learning animal. Mind you, the tourist thing’s true enough, in general terms. The visit to the Pollio, too, but like Marilla said that can wait.’ He settled back on the couch. ‘So. How are things in Rome under the new regime?’

‘Pretty quiet, all things considered. Certainly no ructions. It’s early days yet, sure, but Perilla thinks Claudius will make a good emperor, and from what I’ve seen I’d tend to agree. Particularly after Gaius.’

‘You’ve met him? His wife’s a cousin of yours, isn’t she?’

I kept my face straight. ‘Messalina. Yeah. We haven’t had much to do with each other in the past, mind.’ And we’d have a hell of a lot less, in future, if I had anything to do with it; that lady I wouldn’t touch with gloves and a ten-foot pole. ‘He’s a nice enough guy in himself, Tiberius Claudius, if you make allowances. There again, me, I’d settle for sanity.’

Too right I would: Gaius’s last six months had been hairy, for all concerned, me included. Perilla had made the right decision after all: Rome and the empire were better without him.

‘How’s the sleuthing going? You never did tell us how that Surdinus business you were working on before the Festival turned out in the end.’

I shrugged. ‘It went OK.’ I wasn’t going to elaborate: Clarus was close-mouthed as they come, but there were some things it was better – and safer – for him not to know. Him or anyone else, for that matter. ‘More or less. Not one of my best.’

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