Striving toward a goal puts a more pleasing construction on our advance toward death. – Mason Cooley
Anthony trudged down the filthy street, pulling his cloak down as far as he could to keep out the evening rain. Anyone who observed his erratic course would have thought him drunk, but every sane Roman was out of the beastly weather and Anthony’s weaving route was shaped by the necessity of avoiding puddles while yet getting close enough to the signs to read them in the darkness without having to uncover his head.
He had occupied himself thus every night for most of a week, making inquiries and crossing palms with sestertii in an effort to discover the location of his quarry, and he was beginning to despair; he felt as though he had walked every muddy, narrow, winding back-street in the city, and the foul weather had dampened his spirits as thoroughly as it had his clothes. His schoolboy Latin was insufficient to the task at hand, and his outlandish accent and incredible ignorance of mundane matters marked him as a barbarian at best and a madman at worst; he feared that small-time hucksters were now pointing him out to one another as one who could be taken for a few coins merely by pretending to know of the strumpet he sought so assiduously. If he spent much more he would be unable to pay her fee, however nominal it might be; he therefore resolved that if he could not find her by the end of the night (or maybe sooner than that), he would simply pass her by, move on to the next name on his list and return here after he had done enough research to limit his possibilities to a few easily-investigated locales.
The very worst disappointment was the sheer number of bad leads; in any era the stage-names of whores tended to be predictable and repetitive, and some girls were willing to pretend to be the one for whom he was looking. But so far, none of the six Lyciscas he had met had been the right one; each had been too old, too young, too thin, too ugly or too dark to be the Lycisca he wanted to hire. So tonight, he would follow a different strategy; he would simply go into each lupanar he found, quiz the villicus about the women available that night, and then ask the name of any who fit the correct description rather than supplying them with the means of deceiving him in order to deplete his rapidly-diminishing funds still further.
But just when he was ready to give up, Fortuna smiled upon him. The streets and the buildings had all begun to look alike, so he was not surprised when the cashier at one of the brothels greeted him as a returning customer; he was about to turn to go when he realized he had been asked a question in which the name “Lycisca” had been embedded.
“What you saying?” Anthony asked, realizing the grammatical error as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“I said, aren’t you the fellow who was looking for Lycisca a few days ago?”
“Yes,” he replied wearily, expecting another con.
“Well, she’s here tonight. She wasn’t last time you came, so I tried to give you another girl,” he said with a grin. “But I promise, this is really the Lycisca you’re looking for. Here, I’ll call her out where you can see her in the light.”
Anthony guessed that the willingness of the villicus to make this extra effort was due to the poor traffic on such a foul night, but he just couldn’t get his hopes up…and then he saw her. The quality of her blonde wig was out of place in such a cheap establishment, and the quality of her health out of place in a low-end Roman prostitute. Despite her imposture of a common whore he could see the hauteur and breeding in her manner, and the difference between her Latin and that of the plebeians with whom he had been dealing for the past few days was obvious even to his foreign ears. He quickly paid her fee and tipped the cashier extra for remembering him, returned with her to her grimy little room and eagerly did what he had come so far and worked so hard to do.
He awakened to firm but gentle shaking, and opened his eyes to the smiling face of Leon, the one orderly he genuinely liked.
“Good morning, Professor! I’m sorry to disturb you, but I know you don’t want to miss breakfast!”
“Good morning, Leon. And thank you for waking me.”
“Did you scratch another name off of your list last night?” Then in response to the older man’s puzzled expression, “It’s the only time you oversleep.”
“How well you know me! Yes, I’ve just returned from a tryst with Valeria Messalina, Empress of Rome.”
“How’d you get an empress to sleep with you? I thought you just saw hookers?”
“Messalina was, as you young people say, ‘kinky’. She liked to sneak out of the palace while her husband was asleep and work as a common prostitute.”
“Wow, is that so? How was she?”
“Gee, Professor, I sure wish I could learn that astro-whatsis…”
“…astral projection,” he repeated, “so I could visit all those historical places like you do.”
“Well, Leon, it takes years of study and practice, but I’m sure you could learn if you set your mind to it.”
“Naw,” he said sheepishly, helping Anthony with his bathrobe, “I’m just big and dumb, I was never good at studies. Who’s the next lady you plan to see?”
“I think I shall brush up on my Greek,” he said wistfully; “I seem to have a yen for empresses these days.”