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The Secrets of Skin

by Thomas K. Carpenter

About the Author: Thomas K. Carpenter has had stories published in magazines such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Galaxy's Edge. You can find his novels online at all major retailers.


Magistrate Ovid stood naked before Praetor Atticus, wearing only the required girdle and covering for his face. Holding the mask required the use of one hand, while the other kept the wide belt from slipping off his sweaty midsection, leaving no opportunity for modesty.

“Take the cursed mask off, Ovid,” said the Praetor from his cushioned divan. His right leg lay awkwardly across a wooden stool with splints on either side. He grimaced from the exertion and leaned back with a sucking of breath through his teeth.

Praetor Atticus had fallen from his mount a few days before when an asp had appeared from behind a clump of rocks outside of Alexandria. The meaning of that prophetic encounter was not lost on the nobility, leaving him in a precarious position with few willing supporters, thus the unexpected request for help. Atticus had had the horse killed, leaving Ovid to wonder if the horse was the lucky one in this instance.

Ovid let the mask drop, blinking away the sweat dripping from his forehead. The air was as thick as a lion’s mane. “Apologies—”

“Apologies, nothing,” said the Praetor. “I see your hands are empty. Which means you have failed to find the stolen amulet. I can only assume that because of your girth that you could not properly search the house, thus sealing both mine and your fates. By the gods, you could at least visit a vomitorium from time to time. A lesser man would have brought me the son’s guilt.”

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