The Missing Jewelry by Theresa Welsh


Chapter Four: The Warehouse

Cornelia lay in her bed by the open window, staring at the darkness of night. She and her brother had stayed and had some food after their performance, but she had not seen Marcellus. She could imagine him being taken to the forum in chains, to stand before a judge in the vast Tribunal, charged with being a thief when he had actually tried to catch a thief. She had implored her brother to let her talk to Julia, but he had restrained her. Anyhow, there hadn’t been a chance. Julia was busy with her guests, and performers had been hustled to the smaller atrium for refreshments, then out to the street. It was really too bad that what should have been a time of triumph had gone so badly. Her only hope was that Marcellus could convince Valerianus that he was just setting up her act.

She finally drifted off to sleep. When morning came. She was still thinking about poor Marcellus. He had behaved bravely. How could she forgive herself if he was in trouble? She brooded over it as she worked in the courtyard, checking on the cakes in the outdoor oven. She began humming a sad tune as she pulled a large pan from the oven. The metal pan had a long handle that Cornelia held with a hot pad.

"Hey, good-looking. What’s cooking?" called a familiar voice.

"Marcellus!" Cornelia was so excited, she almost dropped the pan. Carefully setting it on a wooden table by the oven, she rushed over and embraced Marcellus. He grinned broadly.

Cornelia, withdrew, suddenly embarrassed. But she hurriedly asked, "What happened? Didn’t they take you away in chains?"

"No, fair lady, they did not," he said with satisfaction in his voice. "And I mostly have you to thank for that. I told Valerianus you and I were friends. My father told him we’d been together recently to talk about the performance. So, he finally decided it was all an act and let me go."

"Yea, but what was actually in the purse?" asked Cornelia.

"The jewelry, of course. I saw him take them. I came very close to actually catching him at it. If just I could have grasped that purse and emptied it, he would have been revealed as a the thief he is!" Marcellus had anger in his voice now. "And so he gets away with it."

"Maybe not," said Cornelia, pacing about the courtyard.

"Oh, no. I know that look." Marcellus was pacing after her. "I got in a lot of trouble with the last plan we had."

"True," said Cornelia. "But it was YOUR idea, Marcellus, to try to stop the robbery. We have to finish what we started. So what we need is a better plan."

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The next day dawned bright and clear. Vesuvius was a white-topped cone above the pastel shops of the Via DiNello. A nice breeze blew through the open doorway, where Cornelia leaned casually, watching the parade of people pass by on their daily duties. Lido had gone with his father to Crispus’ warehouse to work and Petra was busy stocking her shelves with the cakes baked yesterday.

"Mom," began Cornelia. "I’m going to the forum to check out the goods at the market. She hoped she sounded believable, as Petra turned around and looked at her. A smile came on her face. "Yes, you go. Let me know who has cakes and what their price is," she said. "But try to get back by lunch. We’ll have a rush of customers and I’ll want to take a break."

"Ok, Mom," called Cornelia, already skipping out the door. She hurried along the Via DiNello, past the bathhouse with its elaborate facade, and on to the graceful Temple of Furtuna Augusta, dedicated to the emperor Augustus who had brought peace to the Roman empire. She skipped past the white marble steps that led up to the portico with its tall columns as she continued on, just avoiding a noisy horse cart that clattered along with a load of wool for the big fuller’s building at the forum. Fullers were people who dyed wool and made it into cloth. The cart would have to stop at the forum entrance, as horses were not allowed on the big concrete expanse of the forum.

The forum was full of people going about their business. Many were headed in the same direction as Cornelia, toward the market. Others were going to the government buildings at the south end. People stopped at stalls set up to sell refreshments and snacks. But Cornelia was not thinking about buying anything. She was looking for someone…

She approached the market – called the Macellum, entering the walled enclosure that held table after table of goods for sale. Amid vendors calling out their wares, and slaves with baskets laden with fruit and meat, she saw Marcellus standing against a wall. He grinned at her as she went to meet him.

"Well," he said, "here we go again. Do you think this will work?"

"We cannot just let thieves get away with a crime," said Cornelia as they hurried out of the Macellum and down a nearby side street. "If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else."

"I was afraid you’d say that," groaned Marecellus.

They came to a long low building with three doors. Above the second door was a small sign that read "T. Crispus Warehouse."

"I hope Lido is here," said Cornelia, opening the door and going in, with Marcellus behind her. It was dim inside, with just the light from windows leading to the courtyard. They were in a large room full of big jars and wooden crates. In the back of the room, they spotted Lido. "Hi" called Cornelia.

Lido came out from behind the crates. He looked around as he hurried up to them. "Dad’s gone to make a delivery, as planned," he said. "But we don’t have much time. Crispus’ office is over there." He indicated a desk in a corner of the room with his hand. Cornelia and Marcellus made their way through the piles of goods to the desk.

Lido followed behind. "It doesn’t seem likely to me he would leave the jewelry here," he said. He has a villa by the sea. I would guess he’d take them there. Anyhow, you’re lucky you found me here alone. Some of Crispus’ slaves will be here soon to load this stuff onto carts to take to the ship. Crispus may come too." As he talked, he glanced through the door leading to the street. Cornelia had left it open. He caught a glimpse of a familiar figure – it was Crispus.

"Marcellus, you’ve got to leave. Here comes Crispus. I can’t explain why you’re here" said Lido excitedly.

But Marcellus could not leave by the door without being seen. Quickly, Cornelia pointed to a huge jar (called an "amphora") that was empty. These jars were used to store oils and garum, a fish sauce made in Pompeii. Marcellus climbed up a crate and lowered himself into the empty jar as Crispus came through the door. He saw Cornelia standing with her brother and stopped in his tracks.

"My sister came by with a message for me," said Lido. "She was just leaving."

"Well, you’ll be leaving too," said Crispus gruffly. "That crate of spices…take it to the Forum Inn. Come back when you’re done and wait for your father. He’ll be loading the carts. We sail in three days."

Lido picked up the heavy crate filled with spices the ship had brought from the East. The kitchen at the Inn was a regular customer. Cornelia followed behind him, stepping out into the street, but her thoughts were back with Marcellus. She and Lido headed down the street toward the Inn. "I hope Marcellus can be quiet as a mouse," said Lido shaking his head. Cornelia followed behind. "I hope so too," she said, thinking how she’d gotten Marcellus into trouble once. Had she done it to him again?

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Lido set the heavy crate on the paved entranceway at the back of the Inn. Cornelia stood beside him, feeling uneasy, wondering what was happening back at the warehouse. Forgotten was her mother’s request that she be back for the lunch hour. Following her brother back, she watched as he stopped at a fruit vendor’s stall. He pulled a few coins from a purse.

"How can you think about food when poor Marcellus is stuck back at the warehouse in that amphora? What if Crispus finds him?" Cornelia watched as Lido bought two pears and handed her one.

"You should have thought of that earlier," he said, taking a bite.. "Anyhow, we’re on our way back."

When they finally arrived on the street with the warehouse, they spotted Crispus leaving. Cornelia ran the rest of the way, opening the door. Another workman was just coming out the door. He was tall and smelled bad. "Hello, miss," he said giving her an appreciative glance.

Lido rushed up. "Seutonius, this is my sister, Cornelia. Is anyone else here?"

"No, " said Seutonius. "Your father was here though and told me to start loading the carts. I’ll go get the donkeys if you watch the shop."

"Fine," agreed Lido, gently moving Cornelia through the door. Inside, Cornelia rushed to the big jar, calling "Marcellus! Marcellus!" With relief, she saw the jar begin to wobble. Standing on a crate, she looked in to see Marcellus wincing as he tried to stand up. Lido came and helped Marcellus out of the jar.

"Wow," said Marcellus rubbing his side, "talk about your tight spaces..."

"Never mind that," shouted Cornelia, "What did you hear?"

"Plenty," said Marcellus. He looked at the two eager faces and paused to make them wait a bit longer. Cornelia was nearly jumping up and down with suspense.

"You will not believe who came here while you were gone," he began finally. "Yes, Valarianus came and it was obviously an arranged meeting. And you further won’t believe what they exchanged."

"The jewelry!" shouted Cornelia.

Lido moved closer, shushing Cornelia. "Keep your voices down. We don’t want anyone to hear this."

"Crispus took the jewelry with him. I wish I had a peep hole in this thing," he said, indicating the jar. "I wish I could have seen the jewelry. But they had it all right. And I know it was Valerianus’ voice. The jewelry will go on the ship that’s leaving in three days."

"Then they’re not here?" demanded Cornelia, excitedly.

"No," said Marcellus.

"Well, you’re getting out of here right now, both of you," said Lido. "Seutonius will be back with the donkeys and I’ve got loading to do. Crispus will give me an earful of nasty words if I don’t get these crates moved."

Cornelia and Marcellus stepped out into the warm sunshine of the street, leaving Lido inside the warehouse.

"What should we do now?" Cornelia asked more to herself than to Marcellus.

"My dad expects me back at the kitchen," said Marcellus, turning in the direction of Julia’s house. Cornelia followed behind, asking exactly what Marcellus had heard.

"It was not a long meeting. I heard Crispus ask ‘Have you got it with you?’ and Valerianus said ‘Yes.’" I heard a lot of rustling and some clunks and some talk about how beautiful it was, and that was about it."

"How can you be sure he took the jewelry with him?" asked Cornelia.

"Because he said he’d keep them in a safe place until sailing and I heard the sounds of him attaching something to his belt. Your brother’s right…he wouldn’t keep ‘hot’ jewelry in a warehouse where workmen could find it."

They walked along in silence. Julia’s house was up ahead. They walked around the corner to the service entrance. They saw Marcellus’s father, Antonius, come out the door. He rushed to meet them.

"Marcellus, there’s trouble," said Antonius. "Julia has discovered her Etruscan jewelry missing. Valerianus has said he thinks YOU took them. I’m trying to deal with it, but you should stay away. Go see your Aunt Lucia."

Cornelia grabbed Marcellus’ arm and hurried away with him. She’d gotten him into more trouble! "let’s go back and see my Dad. He’ll have an idea what to do," she said.

"No, Cornelia, you’re not in trouble. You go home. I don’t need help."

"Yes, you do," she said heatedly. "I got you into all this. I must help you get out. Now we know who has the jewelry. We just have to prove it or get the jewelry back ourselves."

"Oh, sure," said Marcellus, running along beside her. They approached the warehouse and saw two carts. Lido and Seutonius were loading crates and jars onto one. The other was a personal horse cart and coming from the doorway was Crispus. Cornelia and Marcellus wove through the crowds, ducking into doorways, and making their way to the carts without being seen. Hiding in an alley, they heard Crispus say, "I’ve got to return to my villa; I’ll meet you at the ship."

"I’ve got an idea!" whispered Cornelia.

"I was afraid you’d say that," said Marcellus.

"We’ll sneak onto his cart and go to his villa with him. We can get the jewelry there and bring it back to clear you of these false charge."

"Great idea…we just sneak onto the cart and…Cornelia, come back!"

But Cornelia was already up to the cart and climbing on. Marcellus followed behind. Fortunately, there were many boxes and one had wool blankets in a pile. Cornelia pulled a blanket over herself and Marcellus as they crouched in the cart. As the cart left with a lunch, she was aware of his closeness. It was hot under the blanket and the boards under them were rough. Crispus sometimes kept the best merchandise for his own use, or stored it his house until he could find the right buyer.

"Well, I hope your Mom didn’t need you back at the bakery," whispered Marcellus.

"Oh Jupiter! whispered Cornelia excitedly. "I forgot all about Mom. She’s going to be really worried, and mad too."

"I guess I’ll have to take good care of you," said Marcellus, leaning back against the blankets and putting an arm around Cornelia. Lovely lady, my villa awaits you."

Despite her distress, Cornelia laughed.

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