Art by Kimberly Cho
by Thomas K. Carpenter
The news of the murder had flown through the Rhakotis district like a swarm of locusts, leaving nothing but naked fear in its wake. Magistrate Ovid had been ensconced in his bath, laboriously drawn with the help of his only servant, when he heard about it. Though he’d been looking forward to relaxing in the warm water, he immediately climbed out, toweling off his considerable girth, and prepared for the journey to the western part of the city.
The Rhakotis district was unlike the other six districts of Alexandria. Besides being the largest, populated primarily with Egyptians that held neither wealth nor political power, it was only lightly controlled by the Roman Empire. Instead, the district ran on a system of favors and thuggery, headed by a man only known as Black Omari.
His name suggested many things, but it only meant one. The shadows of men were known as watchers from the god Osiris, the Egyptian god of death. Nothing that went on in the Rhakotis district was not unknown by Black Omari because his shadows were everywhere, which was all the more concerning because the victim in question was the crime lord’s favorite nephew—Teti of the Knife.
Magistrate Ovid found Black Omari on the banks of a wide canal that originated in Lake Mareotis and wound through the district on its way to the Mediterranean. The bronze-skinned Egyptian stood beneath a shade tree where a table had been set as if it were a cafe. He was surrounded by thick-necked thugs, while a crowd of women wailed over a body.
The location of the murder sank any of Ovid’s hopes that this would be a simple affair, as this was a favorite resting spot of Black Omari’s. He liked watching the children of the district playing in the cool canal waters, seeing himself as his benevolent protector from the conquering Romans.
As the sun blistered against Ovid’s flesh, turning beads of sweat into rivers on his back, he sensed events as a bowstring pulled taut, ready to lose a flaming arrow into a pitch-filled barrel. While deeply corrupt, Black Omari kept the district in relative calm. If this murder had anything to do with a rival faction, the Rhakotis might erupt in chaos, and the praetor—and eventually the governor—would land the blame squarely at Ovid’s feet. So he adjusted his robes, tugging on the purple sash that indicated his office, before approaching the knot of men.
Upon seeing him, Black Omari dismissed his men with a simple wave of the hand. The crime lord wore a mask of anger that smoothed away his wrinkles. He appeared as the jackal-faced god with cold, judging eyes.
“What good is Empire if cannot keep its people safe?” Omari asked mockingly, his voice cracking with grief, the only sign Ovid had ever seen of the man’s humanity.
“My condolences,” said Ovid, trying to keep his tone honorific yet not subservient. “I will use the Empire’s considerable resources in finding the murderer.” READ MORE
Art by Ron Chironna
by Michael Bracken
Friday, August 15, 1969
Shirley Warner pulled her meadow-green Corvair to the side of the road and slowed to a crawl as she leaned over to speak through the open passenger window to the longhaired young man walking along the shoulder. He wore a multicolored tie-dyed T-shirt, bell-bottom jeans, and sandals. Over his right shoulder hung an Army-surplus duffel bag, and a service station map of New York State occupied his left hand. She asked, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the music festival,” he said, “up there in Woodstock.”
Shirley hadn’t heard anything about a festival, but she was headed in that direction. “You want a ride?”
The young man slowed, stuck his head through the open window when Shirley stopped the Corvair, and looked at her. A few days past thirty-six, Shirley wore her peroxide-blonde hair in a flipped bob, much like the actress on Bewitched, faux pearls, and a pale blue sheath dress belted at the waist. In her haste to leave home she had not bothered with stockings, and because she was driving, the hem of her dress rested well above her knees. Though the young man could not see them from his vantage point, she also wore low-heeled white pumps.
“Sure,” he said as he opened the passenger door and threw his duffel into the Corvair’s rear seat.
Shirley moved her bulging white clutch and tucked it between the bucket seats before the young man climbed in beside her.
“Straight on,” he said as she shifted the Corvair into gear and eased the car back onto the road. “I’ll let you know when to turn.”
Shirley glanced at her passenger. “You have a name?”
“Josh,” he said, “but I’m thinking of changing it to Aquarius.”
“Why? Josh is a nice name.”
“It’s so white-bread,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect the inner me. What about you?”
“Shirley,” she said.
He looked her up and down. “You look like a Shirley.”
“Really? What’s a Shirley look like?”
“A housewife. Her old man takes the train into the city five days a week, expects dinner on the table and a fresh martini waiting when he gets home. Most exciting thing a Shirley does is watch Wild Kingdom Sunday nights to see if Jim Fowler gets mauled by something.”
Her passenger’s assessment of a Shirley’s life wasn’t far off the mark, and Shirley stared at her wedding ring set as she drove. After a moment, she tugged the rings from her finger, threw them out the window, and said, “Well, that’s behind me. . . .”