The Athenian Murders

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Authors: José Carlos Somoza
Tags: Mystery
roofed inner chambers - changing rooms, showers, massage and unguent rooms.
    Two men were engaged in combat on the palaestra. Quite naked and glistening with sweat, they leaned against each other, as if trying to butt each other, the arms of each forming muscular knots around his opponent's neck; despite the clamour of the crowd, they could be heard roaring and bellowing with the prolonged effort; white threads of saliva hung from their mouths like strange barbarian adornments. The fight was savage, brutal, irrevocable.
    No sooner had they entered than Diagoras tugged at Heracles Pontor's cloak. 'There he is!' he cried, pointing to a place in the crowd.
    'Oh, by Apollo ...' murmured Heracles.
    Diagoras saw his amazement. 'Did I exaggerate Antisus' beauty?' he asked.
    'It wasn't your disciple's beauty that surprised me, but the old man talking to him. I know him.'
    They decided to question Antisus in the changing rooms. Heracles stopped Diagoras rushing over to him, and handed him a piece of papyrus. 'Here are the questions you are to ask. It's better if you do the talking: that way I can study his answers.'
    Diagoras was reading the papyrus when a violent clamour in the crowd made them look towards the palaestra. One of the pancratiasts had savagely struck his opponent's face with his head. The sound was heard throughout the gymnasium, like a bundle of reeds cracking beneath the impetuous hoof of a huge animal. The fighter staggered and was about to fall, although he seemed surprised rather than hurt by the blow. He didn't even raise his hands to his crushed face, which looked first exhausted, then devastated by the impact, like a wall smashed by the horns of an enraged beast. Instead, he stepped back, eyes open wide and fixed on his opponent, as if someone had played a joke on him, while, from his eyes down, the solid framework of features collapsed noiselessly and thick lines of blood ran from his lips and large nostrils. But still he didn't fall. The crowd shouted insults, urging him to fight back.
    Diagoras greeted his disciple and said a few words in his ear. As they headed towards the changing room, the old man who had been conversing with Antisus, his body blackened and shrivelled like one huge burn, widened his onyx-black eyes in surprise on seeing the Decipherer. 'By Zeus and Apollo of Delphi, you here, Heracles Pontor!' he cried, in a voice that sounded as if it had been dragged over rubble. 'Let us make libations to Dionysus Bromios, for Heracles Pontor, the Decipherer of Enigmas, has deigned to visit a gymnasium!'
    'Occasional exercise can be beneficial.' Heracles bore the man's violent embrace with good grace. He had known the old Thracian slave for many years - he had served in Heracles' family home - and treated him like a free man. 'Greetings, O Eumarchus. I'm happy to see that you are as youthful in old age as ever.'
    'That is well worth repeating!' The old man had no trouble making himself heard above the violent clamour. 'Zeus increases my age but reduces my body. In you, I see, the two go hand in hand
    'My head remains the same size, for now.' They both laughed. Heracles looked round. 'Where is the man who was here with me?'
    'Over there, with my pupil.' Eumarchus pointed to a place in the crowd with a finger that had a nail as long and twisted as a horn.
    'Your pupil? You're Antisus' pedagogue?'
    'I was! And may the Benefactresses take me in should I be so again!' Eumarchus made a sign to drive away the bad luck brought by mentioning the Erinyes.
    'You seem angry with him.'
    'And why shouldn't I be? He has only just enlisted, and the stubborn boy has decided suddenly that he wants to guard the temples of Attica, far from Athens! His father, the noble Praxinoe, has asked me to try to convince him otherwise.'
    'Well, Eumarchus, an ephebe must serve the City wherever he is most needed.'
    'By the aegis of blue-eyed Athena, Heracles, don't tease me at my great age!' yelled Eumarchus. 'I can still butt your

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