Deadly Election

Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis

Book: Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lindsey Davis
complete the purchase formalities with us, did not even look in their direction. Yet I believed what Gornia had said to me: the skinny man was their negotiator.
    The Callisti had secretly bought back the strongbox themselves.

14
    I t was not a unique event, though buying back was rare. Anyone sensible who changed their mind simply withdrew their item from sale.
    Relieved of gavel duties, I went up to the negotiator as he made payment. He wanted to give us a banker’s draft, which needed family authorisation. ‘That’s acceptable,’ I instructed our finance clerk. ‘Sir, we need your note by tomorrow. We keep the goods until the payment arrives.’ I congratulated the man on his purchase, making my remarks sound routine. Then I slipped in, ‘I am told that you act for the owners?’
    He scowled but did not deny it. As he finished the formalities, I leaned in, letting him see me read his signature. He was a lanky strip of wind who went by the name of Titus Niger. I drew him to a quiet corner. ‘If you work for the Callisti, Niger, was it you who went to that storeroom they use and prepared the inventory for sale?’
    ‘Yes, I did that.’
    ‘I’ve been hoping to talk to you. At the store, did you look inside the strongbox?’
    ‘No.’ The tall skinny man was very sure of that.
    ‘Did you notice anything odd in the room where it was kept?’
    ‘No.’ Despite his brief replies the negotiator was keeping a polite manner. He had a weaker voice than his trusted position and confident air suggested. I put the squeak down to nerves. The Callisti had warned him I was trouble and that he must watch what he said.
    ‘Footsteps in the dust on the floor, for instance? Or a nasty smell?’ I prodded.
    ‘Nothing that caught my attention. The light was poor. I had a lamp to write my list by, but it was dim. Everything smelt musty, but that was to be expected. Stuff had been in store for years.’
    I said I presumed he knew I had discussed the chest with Callistus Primus. ‘He will have told you what our people found inside?’ Beige Tunic nodded. He was probably fifty, long in experience. ‘So may I ask what your principals were thinking when they made you bid for the old chest?’
    ‘They changed their minds. It is allowed.’
    ‘Of course! But if they want to keep it, why not ask us to cancel the sale? People have second thoughts. My father is always obliging. I assure you there would have been no comeback.’
    Looking uncomfortable over his strange buy, the negotiator gave in. ‘Primus decided not to let the strongbox go to some inquisitive ghoul who wanted the thrill of finding bloodstains.’
    ‘There was nothing left to find inside,’ I said. ‘There never had been blood. The poor victim suffocated.’
    ‘Primus thought people wouldn’t know that. And he feels whoever killed that person and dumped him in their storeroom gave them responsibility.’ That was certainly not how Primus had reacted when I talked to him. His brother and perhaps his cousin may have persuaded him have a rethink, but they looked similar types, all unsentimental. ‘I was told to buy it incognito. When it comes home, someone will burn it and make a proper end of the thing, rather than let it become some ghastly souvenir.’
    ‘Well, that will be respectful to the dead.’ I kept my face neutral. ‘So why did the Callisti come here today, when it might have been better not to draw attention?’
    Niger gave me a look. ‘They wanted to watch and see who else was interested in their box.’
    I, too, was pinch-mouthed. ‘You should tell them that even if the killer hoped nobody had found the body he would never buy the chest himself – too dangerous.’
    ‘So you don’t think he was here?’
    ‘Oh, certainly! He was here – or someone acting for him was.’
    ‘And wanted to buy the body back?’
    ‘They probably realise we found the corpse. No, I think any culprits will have wanted to discover today what is known about the dead

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