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May 74AD The Aventine Baths were some of the best in Rome, and right on Paulus' metaphorical doorstep. And, like the other baths, the patrons needed only to pay an as in order to have access to the full glory of the Roman bathing experience, from the tepidarium to the caldarium to the finely decorated frigidarium. And if that wasn't enough, there was a library and palaestra (exercise ground) too. Paulus, not being a scholar, ignored the library in favour of the baths. It was hot work, overseeing his staff and organising a decent auction (today marked the fifth copy of the Boy With a Thorn in his Foot that Paulus had seen this month, and today's offering had been a particularly bad copy of the original statue - the original was probably shoved in some back room in the Emperor's palace). Now, if some of the statues here came across his threshold, he might turn a decent profit. The one over there that pretended it was Plato (and was probably some totally unknown Greek instead) was a far better copy than the anaemic thing he'd seen this morning. "I don't suppose that really is Plato, though," he found himself remarking to the man on the bench next to him as the slave massaged his shoulders - true bliss, to be under the hands of a skilled masseur! @Jacob
Late March 74AD The House of Lucius Licinius Macer Macer let out a short grunt of contentment as Crito, the barber, applied the warm towel to his face. On this crisp March morning the heat of the towel was giving off gentle wisps into the cool air. With practiced hands the Greek freedman patted the towel on his jowls. Leaving it in situ he turned back to his counter, whistling distractedly as he used a small bowl to whisk up the shaving lather to a fine froth. Taking a brush of horse-hair he whipped away the towel and began lathering Macer's cheeks and chin up with the whitish-grey ointment. Macer always enjoyed visiting Crito's barbers. Not just because it was right outside his house. Not because, as a family freedman, he owed him his patronage. Rather because, sat on the chair facing the small street, he could watch the comings and goings of the world as it came alive each day. He fancied himself a local Caesar on a petty throne. Many of the people hereabouts were his clients or staff. His bodyguards kept them at a deferential distance but, nevertheless, they still bowed and qpueeked their greetings and good mornings as they raced to their daily businesses. As usual, Macer's steward, Dexippus, stood at his master's side and kept a careful eye on the entrance to the insula over the street, calling out to any of its residents who were late on their rent. The froth applied, Crito called out to his apprentice who hurried to him with a bag of razors and a whetstone. Continuing his whistling, Crito set to honing the edges of the blades on the stone. Despite the tunelessness of his warbling, Macer recognised that he was whistling the theme of one of the most popular tavern ballads at present. A fine drinking song, "I love her, but I'll not do that!" A raucous and increasingly vulgar ballad to titillate the plebs although he couldn't suppress a wry smile at some of the verses and had to admit it had a catchy tune. He had even caught his somber steward humming the tune late at night as he sat hunched over ledgers and invoices. Crito gently tilted Macer's head and with a flick of the wrist ran the blade across his cheek with a soft scraping. His almost effortless grace came with years of practice. Good Crito had once been his late father's personal groom. Freed in his will, Crito had wanted to remain close to the family in whose service he had spent the majority of his life so Macer had been perfectly happy to turf out the last occupant of his domus' taberna, a drunken leather-worker, and install Crito here in his own establishment. It did a fine business but it was accepted that it would be off-limits whenever Macer and his entourage required his ministrations. The barber wiped the blade, coated in froth, on a towel hanging from his belt. His apprentice brought a tray of weathered pottery beakers full of spiced wine and handed them out to the few bodyguards and hangers-on that Macer had brought with him. Even though this was literally outside his front door, it was appropriate for a man of means to travel in company. For his clients this was part of their job. They would attend his morning salutio and be at his disposal until he dismissed them, each with a small monetary gift and, for the chosen few, perhaps an invitation to dinner. As for the slaves...well...this was their job. What else would they be doing? Another rasping stroke saw the brittle stubble removed from his pink cheek. "You did send for him, yes?" he said. The remark was aimed at Dexippus. In speaking he accidentally ingested some of the lather and spat it out, pulling a face. Crito dabbed Macer's lips and continued his work. "Of course, dominus. I sent your litter to collect him directly." Macer grunted and gave a short nod. Crito, his aim spoiled, tutted slightly and with a firmness only allowed to a master barber, pulled Macer's head back into position. The man had been recommended to him - actually, well, no - recommended to Dexippus. One of the Saepta Julia's best auctioneers and general men of business, or so he had been told. Dexippus was a fastidious and careful man. He would have been sure to do his due diligence thoroughly. He reported that his place of business was legitimate, well stocked and staffed and, more importantly, was regularly frequented. The bankers had been checked to and gave him a clean bill of financial health. A good start. Macer had been long from Rome. Too long for any of his old connections to be of much use. No senator could rightly engage in business. It was deemed unseemly. Not only that but it was a perfectly valid reason for the transgressor to be struck off the Curial Roll by zealous, pompous censors. That didn't stop half the House of Hypocrites from regularly breaking these conventions. After all, how were the rich to stay rich? Exactly. There was nothing wrong in engaging in mutually advantageous partnerships. Having the appropriate face on an enterprise. So, whilst he had called the respectable gentleman to him with a view to re-furnishing his domus as part of his hunt for a new, younger bride, his secondary (and more pressing aim) was to sound out prominent local businessmen as to their openness to engaging in some money-making. Legitimately so. Well, almost. Legitimacy was in the eye of the beholder anyway. Crito was by now finishing up his art. Slapping his cheeks with some perfume Macer whinced at the sudden sting on his bare skin. A commotion further down the street suggested that his guest may be arriving. Handed a towel, Macer scrubbed his cheeks himself whilst Dexippus handed coins to Crito. "A pleasure, as always, my friend," Macer said as he stood. @Sharpie