He listened intently to her. More than his own life, he wanted money and his name to be known. It was indeed a challenge in Rome where there was quite the bustle of businesses but with Vibia, or rather Vesuvia, perhaps he could get some news and information that would be valuable to him and help him in his desires. A pawn, a toy but one with too much of a crafty tongue. It was a problem, simply because it was unpredictable, but nothing that he assumed he couldn’t deal with.
“You bring me money, as you have been doing, and give me what I want, which I am sure you have an idea as to what that is,” said Titus plainly and then waved his hand. It wasn’t like she’d never entertained other men before. “And I won’t say a single thing to Marco Falco. You have my word. All I want is information on every important person in Rome. I’m sure a woman of your profession and sharp tongue can handle that without difficulty.”
A compliment, perhaps. At least, he could admire someone who could get things done, even if a freedwoman, prostitute and woman. Titus didn’t think highly of most people. “And that’s how we’ll do this,” he said. “So you’ve given me money tonight, I will be expecting the other. But first, we can get to know one another.” He wanted to know more about the woman he was getting involved with.
If it hadn’t been for Titus, his family would have been living in poverty, likely no better than slaves. His father had been quite useless that way, a good businessman on some days but the absolute worst on most. And to think his father had thought so little of him too, the weak man was likely rolling in his grave. Titus much preferred having that higher ground than nothing at all.
“I can’t say I know the exact amount off the top of my head,” he said, rubbing a chin. He’d have to go over information in his office to know. “But I would say a good amount, if not most, are indeed slaves. I don’t want most freed or getting any ideas that they are an equal to me in any way. Some freedmen are overconfident but they don’t remember where they once were.” Titus thought of himself as better than freedmen and women, simply because he did not share their background. He had been untouched by bondage and untainted by their way of life since birth.
“And to answer your second question, if a man is to, let’s say, badly hurt or even kill one of my slaves, he must pay a sum, enough for me to care for the slave or buy a new one,” said Titus, explaining. A little extra, of course, for his pocket but what some men didn’t know didn’t hurt them. Or Titus for now. “I replace my slaves every so often as a result. But that isn’t to say that slaves don’t get on my nerves too.” He chuckled softly and felt comfortable enough to admit this. “And that is the way it should be in Rome. Beating slaves into submission. We can’t have them thinking they have a voice.”
The moment she continued her speech, he knew that was trying to rattle him. The smile was the cherry on top, she clearly thought she’d put him in his place. Titus turned, giving her his full attention, merely to watch her curiously, observing every crevice and every slight movement of her face. In small ways, she reminded him of himself. He let out a laugh and then shook his head as if in disbelief. Honestly, he expected Gaia to get more difficult the older she got. She was well into her thirties now, she was certainly no longer the child or younger woman she once was, so simple to manipulate.
“I would have said such a story wasn’t for such delicate ears,” said Titus, rising from his seat and moving to stand directly above her. “But you are not as innocent as you like to pretend you are...” He could see right through her current antics, she wasn’t at all innocent. She knew what she was doing. He remained where he was, towering above her before leaning in, hands tightly gripping the arms of the chair so that Gaia had no choice but to stare at him. He was inches from her face and could smell her perfumed scent. “Why do you think you can test me, Gaia? I could easily throw you into the streets with your son. And then where would you be? Without me, you would be forced to whore your body out, becoming looser than you already are.” He then patted the side of her cheek before rising.
If he was offended by her insult to his establishment, he certainly didn’t show it outwardly. If the service was subpar he hardly cared as long as men came in like flock of brainless sheep, hoping to find a hole or several to use and abuse, that’s all that mattered. But he hoped she enjoyed her sip of wine while it lasted because he wasn’t letting her have more from the jug. Not until she pissed him off less. Classical conditioning worked on some people but he wasn’t quite sure about Vibia yet. If she hated him, good. He hoped she did. Nothing made arrangements like this simpler if there were no strings attached. They were less messier.
“I suppose that does interest me,” he said, tapping a finger on his chin as if he was thinking on it, but he didn’t want to sound too eager. When bargaining, or doing anything similar, it didn’t do well to appear too eager. He didn’t want her thinking she was the one pulling all the strings. Still, it was useful to have someone who was within the Domus Venus to spy around for him, especially when some men of Rome only visited the Domus Venus and not the Elysium.
“I can’t say that I can be trusted either,” said Titus, perhaps one of his most honest words. He’d spun over business partners in the past and tossed people when he grew bored or found no use for them. There was no knowing if he’d do the same to Vibia just yet. “I guess you’ll just not have to disappoint me then. But, tell me, Vesuvia, what do you think I can offer you?”
He wasn’t going to give her what she wanted but holding a scrap of meat over a yapping puppy’s mouth, toying with it, was entertaining.
Titus never thought of himself as a terrible person. Terrible had been his younger brother, Gnaeus. He would have surely loved the gladiatorial games for the he would have been watching with a fiendish tint to his eyes and cackling unceremoniously throughout, without regard for those sitting next to him. He was more of an animal than the animals he tormented when alive. And yet, Titus had ordered the death of a friend and business associate, merely to assume more power. But he wasn’t terrible, just a man with high ambitions if you asked him.
“I have not yet but I suppose there is money to be gained by such an act,” said Titus, both hands coming together as though he were praying and pressing against his lips in thought. He always tried to think up new ways to gain more coin. His eyes had always been elsewhere towards his schemes that he hadn’t yet thought of tossing one of his slaves into the pits, instead keeping them to serve him in some capacity where he felt like he could control them better.
“At the very least, it would be entertaining,” said Titus, offering a sly smile as his hands lowered. Titus didn’t trust very easy, he never divulged too much about himself but Marcus was proving himself to be good company, considering that he liked having power. Two businessmen with a love of power, it certainly made an interesting connection. “You do seem the type of man to enjoy power, which is a rather admirable trait. I suppose that’s why business attracts our sort. It’s one of the most exciting ways a man can gain leverage in the world and it can become just as bloody as the gladiatorial pits.” Especially where criminals were concerned, Titus knew that much. “Nothing like a bit of life and death to make the job more exhilarating, especially when you have the higher ground.”
He hated whenever his sister interfered with his discpline of the slaves. She could help manage the establishment but when it came to discipline, he preferred to leave the matters to himself or others who he trusted and felt would deliver it more effectively. While he appreciated her help, though he would not voice it out loud, he also did not want her undermining his choices.
Before she could head anywhere, he gestured for her to approach him. “No, you are not going anywhere,” said Titus firmly. He wasn’t going to let her leave just yet, not until he said so. She was stuck with him until he was done with her and moved on to something else. “The slaves, my workers, are not your friends. They are not even worthy of your attention.” The workers who had been there longer, those who knew how to navigate Titus and worked with him were the ones he much preferred and did not time, even if it was for survival and to stay clear of his ire. Still, they were not his friends and he preferred an emotional distance from them.
“Sit down, Gaia,” he said firmly. “Don’t you want to talk to your brother? I’m the only family you have left.” Outside her son, that was. But Titus had been in her life since the day she was born. He’d helped protect her from Gnaeus. He could have turned away the girl and her mother but he kept them, he made sure Gaia remembered that. “And probably one of the very few people who actually care about you. Rome doesn’t even know who you are. My name will become known at every corner of Rome one day but yours, no one will care. But I care. So sit with me.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ve been tempted,” he said dismissively. He was sure a good many people had been tempted but he was still standing and breathing. Why hadn’t they done anything, if he was so horrible? He hadn’t been expected to live in his earlier years of life by his father and looked where that man was. A pile of bones somewhere. The threat with the Collegium didn’t really trouble him. Perhaps it should have but it didn’t. However, the Syndicate was another problem entirely, probably a lot more tricky, but nothing he didn’t think he could handle with a little scheming. He’d survived the criminal world this long.
She had the gall to think she was even on the same level as him, let alone others that walked the earth, picking up a goblet and pouring herself more wine. If Vibia was stubborn and proud, Titus was just the same. He wanted to retreat back to his wine but instead grabbed the jug of wine from her hand and set it down elsewhere, far from her reach.
“If we’re in this together, you’ll just have to get used to me,” said Titus. Because she was going to be seeing more of him, whether she liked it or not. “Given our arrangement is quite convenient for me, you can be rest assured that your secret is not going anywhere. But don’t tempt me. I cannot imagine a single man that would want to fuck you with a mouth like yours. You make any man long to become a eunuch so do me the favour and lessen the wisecrack. And a girl like you with her allegiance torn cannot be trusted so easily. So you’ll have to earn my trust if we’re in this together.”
Titus’ head turned in curiosity. They were all dead then. Most of Titus’ was as well, dying one by one like flies, and good riddance to them all, he thought. The last of his family was his younger half-sister and her spawn. The man hadn’t mentioned wife or children either. But what was a man without his family? Family was everything in Rome, continuing one’s legacy or keeping nicely secured in the food chain.
“Well, friends then,” said Titus briefly. The other man must have had those, if not then business associates and the like. There was nothing better in the world of business than networking and connections. It brought more opportunities and money pouring in. A man like Titus couldn’t complain about that. All he needed in life was tits, ass and his coffers.
He tapped his chin in thought, not out of habit but because it was an almost theatrical display of the fact he was thinking over Marcus’ question. “I do,” he admitted. “I like the thrill and suspension of the games. You never know who is going to come out on top, that’s what keeps me invested. Besides, some of the men and women are quite the lookers. There is nothing more appealing than rattling breasts and a man’s tight ass as they fight for survival.” Except money, perhaps. But it was tied.
Titus didn’t answer his sister immediately, eyes reading the pages of one of Landicus’ recent works. He let out a laugh, practically ignoring his sister, making her stand there and wait until he saw fit to finish the page and place the scroll away. Looking up, he saw her before him, looking almost like a ghost, striking similarities to her mother even more present in her current age than when she had been younger. It was only then that he gave her his attention.
“She can work like that,” said Titus dismissively. The slave had no choice because she was a slave. How she worked or how good her work was, it didn’t matter to him. She’d have to, uh, find a way. “I would argue that the slaves cost me a lot more when they upset my customers. An angry customer is a customer that won’t return and they would spread the word to their friends. It’s a customer that demands a cut in his pay for the troubles. What I did was effectively correct the problem.”
He gestured for his sister to sit down across him, rather than stand up like an uncertain slave. “If her eyes won’t open, she learned her lesson. To keep her mouth shut and her legs wide,” said Titus coldly. “I’m sure your mother would have known all about that. But what would a woman like you know about anything, including money?” He tilted his head to look at her, purposely trying to rile her and make her feel like nothing. “Without me, our family would have become nothing. I don’t know what your contributions are besides birthing a son. So why is Gaia Lupa bothering my slaves, hoping to follow her mother’s footsteps, I take it?”
With his elbow on the arm of his chair and his fist bolted beneath his chin, he simply watched her with a seemingly bored expression. “Who you are?” he said. He would’ve laughed but didn’t. As far as he was concerned, he was better than her. She was a whore, meaning she her background was likely not very glamorous. After all, his younger sister’s mother had been a whore too. And look where that landed her.
He placed his cup of wine down and pushed himself up from his chair. He slowly began to near her, his eyes weren’t at her face. They fell to her chest, which allowed for her face to be vaguely seen, but the dark hair, he could see the ends of it. He took the cup from her hand, its contents spilling and spraying as he did so, and tossed it to clatter against the floor, wine spreading.
“I don’t think you know a single thing about men like me,” he said. “And I don’t think you understand the situation you got yourself in by playing with fire. The moment the Syndicate catch wind of your disloyalty towards them, do you think that they would be willing to war the other to keep you, a mere whore?”
A hand rose to tightly hold her face and he stared down at her, blue eyes penetrating. “The moment the Syndicate hears, you won’t be alive for very along. They’ll get rid of the problem as if it never existed. They cannot have a woman with conflicted interests.” He wasn’t going to tell the Syndicate about Vibia’s involvements. As of now, she was more valuable alive. “But you are alive because of me and I am the only person you can trust. I can keep your secrets safe,” he said, voice soft, though his intentions were anything but. He released her from his grip. “If you want any wine, you’ll have to take it from the floor. Like a dog.”