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One thing abut Cicerius, he's a man for plain speaking when necessary. He apologises stiffly for his former brusque refusal of my offer of help, and admits that I am probably the man for the job.
"As you know, my son Cerius Junius has been accused of dealing in dwa."
One time that might have shocked me. It doesn't any more.
"Deputy Consul Rittius, acting on information, obtained a search warrant this evening. He visited my house while I wasn't there. In the course of his search he found dwa in Cerius's rooms."
"Two imperial pounds."
"Right. Too much for personal use. Who's he dealing it to?"
Cicerius looks pained. "I refuse to believe that my son is a dwa dealer."
I point out that these days even the most respectable families are finding themselves involved in dwa. Cicerius frowns. His famous eloquence departs him as he considers the prospect of his son ending his days in a prison galley.
"So what do you want me to do?" I ask, drinking some beer.
"Find out the truth. As you know, Rittius and I are bitter rivals and are standing against each other for the post of Deputy Consul. He has leapt at the chance to discredit me. If Rittius defeats me and remains Deputy Consul, great harm will come to the city."
By which Cicerius means that Lodius's Populares will gain the ascendancy. As a bastion of the Traditionals, Cicerius doesn't like the thought of that at all. Not being interested in politics, I don't much care.
"I'd say you're discredited already."
"Not quite. Consul Kalius has no wish to see my son ruined. Nor does he wish to see me discredited and the Populares gaining ground. With the political situation in Turai being so volatile these days, it is vital that Senator Lodius does not increase his influence."
"So the Consul is going to sweep it under the carpet? Then why do you need me?"
"The Consul will not sweep it under the carpet," retorts Cicerius with asperity. "All citizens in Turai are subject to the law. But he will see that the case is not brought to court if Cerius names the people he bought the dwa from, and whom it was intended for. That is standard practice."
True enough. Many small dwa dealers have wormed their way to freedom by selling out their larger partners in crime.
"Unfortunately Cerius absolutely refuses to speak. I cannot understand it. All he has to do to safeguard his reputation, not to mention his family's, is tell the Consul the full story. He refuses."
Poor Cicerius. You spend all your time being the most respectable politician in Turai then your son goes and gets arrested for drugs. Just goes to show that even the blue-lined Praetorian toga can't guarantee you happiness.
"You're the finest lawyer in Turai, Cicerius. I've heard you tearing people apart in court with your cross-examination. If you can't get anything out of your son, what makes you think I will?"
Cicerius looks pained. The whole episode has obviously come as a terrible shock to him. He admits that his courtroom techniques somehow don't seem suitable for dealing with his son.
"Also I have little experience of these matters. Even in these decadent times I did not imagine that a young man of Cerius's character would become involved in dwa. Furthermore, in the few hours since this happened, I have already invited Tuparius to investigate the matter. Tuparius could learn nothing from my son."
Tuparius. A high-class Investigator. Works out of Thamlin. I don't like him much but he's not a bad Investigator compared to some of the others that work up there.
"Is he still on the job?"
Cicerius nods. I don't mind too much. Frankly, in a case of dwa dealing I wouldn't expect Tuparius to come up with much. Not enough low-life contacts.
"Even if you can learn nothing directly from Cerius," continues the Praetor, "I shall expect you to find out full details of the business, including where the dwa came from and who it was for. Once that information is passed on to the Consul, Cerius will not be brought to court. If he is not brought to court, we may keep it from reaching the ears of the public."
"Rittius is down on you like a bad spell. He'll make sure it does."
Cicerius raises one eyebrow slightly. Which means, I imagine, that he still has enough influence around here to hush it up, providing there is no court case.
"How long do I have?"
"It generally takes one week till the preliminary hearing. After that it will be too late."
I point out that I am already busy, far too busy to be wading into another case.
Cicerius points out that the public scandal will undoubtedly hand the election to Rittius. Which isn't so good for me, I must admit. Even if I don't care about politics, my life would be easier if the Deputy Consul wasn't a man who hated me. If I help Cicerius here, and he wins the election, then the new Deputy Consul would be in my debt. I become slightly more enthusiastic. Maybe I'll get back into the Palace one of these days after all.
Really I'm too busy to take on the case. I think about the money I owe the Brotherhood. I'm not scared of Karlox, but I can't fight them all.
"I'll take the case."
I pick up my standard retainer and another thirty for expenses, and promise to get on the job first thing in the morning. The Praetor departs. Makri, waiting silently all this time, is of the opinion that I am foolish to take on more work.
"That's three difficult cases at once. You'll end up making a mess of all of them."
"I need the money. I got two days left to pay off Yubaxas, and who knows if I'll recover the Cloth in time to get paid before the Brotherhood come after me. I'm in no position to turn down employment.
And don't bother lecturing me about my gambling, I'm too tired to take it in."
I clear the junk off my mattress and sleep, but not for long. Kerk wakes me up by kicking my door.
He has some information to sell and badly needs his morning dose of dwa. The early interruption to my slumbers puts me in a foul mood.
"Make it quick," I snap.
"Well you look as happy as a dragon with a headache," mutters Kerk, and grins stupidly. "I got some information about Prince Frisen-Akan."
I frown. I've already had enough of the Royal Family. "What about him?"
"He's importing dwa."
I'm almost moved to laughter. That the heir to the throne should be a drug dealer is quite in line with our national character these days.
"What's that got to do with me?"
"He's a friend of Cerius."
Word has got around quick about this one. I don't bother asking Kerk how he knows about Cerius.
He's generally well informed about drug-related matters in Turai.