Gaius spent most mornings receiving clients, an exercise he found deeply satisfying and, like his time at the barber’s, endlessly instructive. They gathered in his courtyard for the chance to extend their well-wishes, to ask his advice on business or politics, and to share news about large events and gossip about small.

They gathered—mostly—to seek favors.

They were old friends. He’d arranged introductions for them, partnered with them in business, recommended them for civic contracts, loaned them money. Gaius had invested heavily in them all. And not just denarii—time and influence and advice. In return, they gave him the information, the loyalty, the voting block, the contacts, and—above all—the dignitas that marked him as a man on the rise.

He stepped from his study into the courtyard to receive their greetings.

“Titius Justus,” they called together. “Be well and happy.”

“Ah, greetings, my friends. Sorry to keep you waiting.” Though no one was complaining. “Anyway, glad you could be here this morning.”

Of course, you’re here! he smiled. Where else would you be?

Still, a crowded courtyard always gratified Gaius, and even if the presence of his clients was expected, it was welcomed. “Vigilis! Bring these men some warm bread and honey. And some wine. But not too much. We have work to do!” He laughed with them at the old joke and turned to a jowly man at his left. “Tullius, thank you for coming today. Could you join me in my study?”  

Tullius Rufus was not one of his clients. He was a peer, a partner. They had worked together for years. Once a week, they met to discuss their shared business interests … and other matters of mutual concern.

“Are you well, Tullius? Your wife and children?”

Tullius raised a hand to the heavens. “Yes, thank the gods. Amelia remains a model of virtue. And—so far—the children haven’t caused major embarrassment.”

“Well, you are fortunate. A man who doesn’t have his family in order can never be truly rich.”

And, with that platitude, it was time to speak of important matters.

For  a long time, they talked over their business ventures, the profits they’d enjoyed and the profits they were projecting, the management of this or that enterprise. Only when they had assured themselves of their financial health did the conversation turn to politics.

“I’d like your input on the upcoming elections, if you don’t mind.” Gaius broached the subject carefully. “I’ve heard that Marius Secundum will be standing for duovir this year.”

Tullius sat forward with interest. “I heard the same and thought you would not be pleased by the news.”

Gaius spread his hands, as if to discount any suspicions of personal animosity. “Marius has had a fine career and serves our community with distinction. However,” he spoke through narrowed eyes, “he is no friend of mine and I can expect no favors if he is elected to office.”

Gaius rubbed his eyes. “Yes. I expect it will be a long, dry year for us both if he is successful.”

Gaius grimaced. “Perhaps the time has come to pull a few teeth, so to speak. I don’t care if Marius can still bark, but I’d prefer there be no bite behind it.” He paused for a moment, thinking. “So we can’t have Marius winning this election. We need a candidate to stand against him.”

“Do you  have anyone in mind?”

Gaius nodded. “A few possibilities. I’m testing the waters, seeing who might give Marius a run for his money. Put some thought into it, would you? Ask around.”

“Certainly.”

Gaius looked off for a while, calculating. “There’s nothing immoderate about Marius is there? Something we could use against him? A weakness for boys, perhaps?”

Tullius grinned again—that wolfish, hungry grin that Gaius liked so much in him. “I’ll see what I can find. Or make up.” He stood to leave and held out his hand. “As always, my friend, our discussion has been profitable.”

Gaius came to his feet and escorted Tullius to the door. “By the way, I’ve stumbled on a rather interesting new religion.”

Tullius raised his eyebrows. “Another one? Gaius! Why don’t you take up the theater? It’s so much more interesting!” And he laughed.

But Gaius was serious. “No. Really. This one is quite extraordinary. Very powerful. Very profound. And the man who leads it … well … he’s an interesting character. Compelling and repulsive at the same time. A man of great learning. But he doesn’t seem to understand people very well—at least, not Corinthians.” He frowned as he thought about that.

“This faith is new to Corinth but has already drawn some influential followers.”

“Ah!” his companion huffed cynically. “Now I see the attraction.”

“There’s that, of course,” Gaius acknowledged. “We must always be alert to opportunity. But it’s more than that.” He thought of the heat in the synagogue. “There’s a power to it, a life, that bears watching. I’d like to tell you more about it, maybe even take you to one of their gatherings.”

But Tullius was shaking his head. “I don’t have your taste for religion, Gaius. Nor your addiction to the latest religious buzz.”

Gaius grinned at him. “Let’s talk. You may surprise yourself.”

Tullius surrendered. “Oh, very well. We can talk if you like.” He walked into the courtyard.

“Goodbye, Tullius. Get back to me about those candidates.” Gaius called after him. He turned to his steward. “Vigilis? I believe I’ll see Rosco next.”

[Next Chapter]