Hades shook his head to clear the cobwebs. “Great googly-moogly man! I thought that story would never end.”
Pliny bowed his head sheepishly. “Sorry sir. I was trying to be thorough. Latin doesn’t translate to English with brevity. Unless, you only want three-word sentences. I thought…”
“Very well. Enough prattle and sass from you. So, you never explained why he was buried by the tree in the first place.”
“Well…My lord, he was an escaped prisoner who had the misfortune of dying still shackled on the villa property.”
“An old man? What could he possibly have been imprisoned for at his age?”
“If I recall, sir, he stole a loaf of bread from the temple meant to be an offering to Zeus…”
“Bah! Of course. Continue…”
“Well, the priest wasn’t happy and wanted the man executed on the spot. But the magistrate suggested the spectacle of a poor old man being punished in such a manner would cause confusion and a potential backlash from the townsfolk. The priest thought it over and declared that Zeus wished to show mercy on the man and would not take his life. However, the priest realized the old man would just be a burden on the temple’s resources. So, it was ordered for the man to be locked away deep in the bowels of the catacombs—far from sight and where he could never steal again.”
“So, if he was shackled in the catacombs and left for dead, how did he escape and make it all the way to the villa?”
“No one is sure, Lord Hades. He had help, certainly, but no one witnessed what happened. When the priest found out though? Oh boy…was he angry. He ordered the man put to death—effective on sight and buried in a shallow grave.”
“Let me get this straight. The old man wasn’t given the proper funeral rites. No laying out. No procession. So that means he wasn’t afforded a coin for his safe passage. That would also explain why he couldn’t figure out where to go. Poor man just wandering aimlessly for all those years. So, when he was buried a second time, why did he not return to the Underworld so I could take care of him, instead of having him wandering my coffee shop right now?”
“Well, you see sir…here’s the thing. The priest that blessed his body. Well, he wasn’t one of ours. He was one of the priests of the new gods from Rome.”
“Ugh. So, this poor guy was just given the wavy hand thing and sent on his way without so much as a helping hand, huh?”
“It gets even better. The people felt bad for having made him wander for fifty some years, so they paid the cart driver enough coin to take him to the proper burial ground and taken care of the right way. The coin purse proved to be too heavy for the cart driver to ignore. So, they never reached the cemetery. The driver didn’t want to share with the gravedigger nor pay for the plot.”
“So where was he buried at? Let me guess…in the woods where the City of Olympus now sits.”
“I believe so.”
“Enough. So, some Bronze Age knuckleheads decided that the best location to start a cemetery would be in Olympian territory…not only that, but they decided to rob the corpse blind. So now, Dark Sparks Café might as well be Poltergeist Central.”
Pliny looks on sheepishly. He knew better than to respond to hypotheticals when Lord Hades was infuriated. The last time, he was forced to clean the pens of the Crommyonian sow and her brood. In hindsight, that wasn’t even the worst part. It was those damnable greenhead flies—those little buggers were relentless with their swarming and biting. Covered in swine filth, Pliny had been a delectable treat for the flies. He had to apply lotion to his delicate tidbits for a month. No, he would not make that mistake again.
“Bah. Stop looking like I’m going to hang your head from the city gates. We don’t do that anymore. Do you know who these dirtbags are?”
“No sir, I don’t, but I could ask around…maybe post some fliers at the housing complexes…”
“Take your time. We have all eternity, but if you hear something you let me know. Now, get out of my office”
Pliny sighed with relief and nodded quickly before scurrying to the door.
“…and translate these damn records already,” Hades yelled after the man.
Pliny’s robes ruffled behind him as he hurried to close the door. When it was closed tight, Hades pushed the resume button on the video.
Quintus walked around the barren landscape in circles. Eventually, he found himself wandering through the forest. Hades pushed the 4x speed button impatiently. Comically, the antics of the old man lost in the forest played out on his screen. Occasionally, the man would stop and look towards the camera. Raising his chained arms over his head, he would rattle them furiously and groan, before returning to his ambles.
Eventually, Quintus stopped moving. He laid down—curled up into a misshapen heap on the cold ground. Hades watched quizzically as the man was jerked up from his rest as though he were a marionette. The man jerked around floating just above the ground as the puppeteer yanked on his strings. Then *poof* the man vanished from view and never came back.
Hades tapped his pursed lips with a thumb and then closed his laptop. “Great, another charity case,” he thought out loud. Recognizing his frustration with the situation and not the man who had been done wrong so many times, he softened a little. When he found the man, he would be sure to do whatever it takes to make it up to him—a tall order indeed. Hades was determined this was going to be a good day, starting with Mr. Laevinus.
First, he would have to find the man and get him safely out of the café unseen. He knew he would have to dig up the floor at the café and find the man’s skeletal remains. Then, he would have to see that the man was laid to rest properly. All this without being caught by paparazzi or a nosy bystander with a cell camera. The media frenzy that would ensue would surely hurt the profits.
Things were so much easier in the good old days. Grabbing a pen, he jotted down the names Dr. Martin Cooper and Steve Jobs on a steno pad. “Blasted cell phones,” he bellowed. For good measure, he emphatically underlined Steve’s name and scribbled three exclamation points afterwards. Satisfied with that micro-tantrum, he turned and stormed out of the office.
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