The Blood of Alexandria

Free The Blood of Alexandria by Richard Blake

Book: The Blood of Alexandria by Richard Blake Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Blake
Tags: Historical Mystery, 7th, Ancient Rome
before to finish dinner with us. He’d gorged himself proper on the mice.
    ‘Do you think there might be a place of easement here?’ he whispered with a downward glance.
    ‘Oh, you don’t want one of those horrid places,’ I said airily. ‘You’ll have flies crawling all over you.’ I stood up and looked round. As luck would have it, there was a potty man within hailing distance. Alexandria might be past its best in many respects, but it still had all the civilised amenities. I snapped my fingers very hard and gave the man a significant look.
    ‘I can tell you, sir, you’ll not find cleaner tools in all Alexandria,’ he said, answering my question. ‘Just take a look at this . . .’ His slave assistant brandished the brass pot: it gleamed in the sunlight that was reflected up from the pavements. ‘You could eat your dinner out of that.’ The man stood before me, at once obsequious and calculating.
    But he was right. For sure, I wasn’t having Martin go and get his sandals all pissy in one of the public latrines. I fished into my purse. The bookseller had cleaned me out of gold. But I had a mass of goodish silver. I took out one of the smaller coins and put it on the table.
    ‘Oh, sir,’ he said, impressed though trying not to look too obviously at the coin, ‘you can rest assured of a new sponge for your assistant.’ He took one from his bag and waited as his assistant arranged the framework of curtained wood beside our table.
    As he got reluctantly up, I gave Martin a shove towards it. The slave guided him in and fastened the thing shut around his neck. As Martin was forced by its weight into a squatting position, the cone made contact with the pavement. I raised my cup again and looked at his flushed, straining face. As we waited, a man at the next table looked up from his bread and olive paste. At last, with a long noise of farts and splashing, Martin emptied himself into the pot. And it was a long one. The whole framework about him trembled as, with purple face, he strained again and added to his deposit. I’d not have liked to be sitting downwind of that performance.
    ‘Do you know what that chanting means?’ I asked the potty man. I took another sip of wine and nodded at the growing crowd of Egyptians over by the gate. ‘I think I can hear the word “Alexandria”. Whatever it is, they seem to like the sound of it lately.’
    ‘Don’t know nothing of the wog language, sir,’ he said proudly. ‘Nor never been on their side of the Wall. But I’m told there’s not a single bathhouse working on the other side – no, nor no potty men neither. If a wog gets taken short, why – rich or poor – he squats down and shits in the street. Pardon my expression,’ he said hurriedly, ‘but that’s how it is.’
    I glanced over at the Wall. In places twenty feet high, it bisected the whole city, and joined with the city walls. It had first gone up a hundred years before to keep the Greek and Egyptian trash from tearing at each other. Passport control at the gates and the cutting off of all public services had now made the Egyptian quarter into another world. We let some of the better workmen into the Greek side as often as they were needed, but always pushed them out again before dusk.
    ‘But pardon me for saying it, sir,’ the potty man went on. He’d now reached inside the framework with his sponge, and was rubbing vigorously. ‘I don’t think you’s from round here.’
    I made no reply. That much was obvious. My colouring screamed West. My accent should have said Constantinople. It wasn’t surprising hardly anyone in the streets recognised me. In the capital, everyone below the Emperor was always going about in public. Here, just about everyone of real quality went about in a closed chair with an armed guard.
    ‘Well,’ he said, breaking the silence, ‘I can tell you there is money on the other side of the Wall. The wogs ain’t all low-grade scum. Some of them have big money. Can you

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