Monkey See, Monkey Do, by Chris Bone and Paul L. Mathews
Tacitus was a well-travelled ape. Born on a rocky island—one of the Pillars of Hercules that lay at the mouth of the Mar Mediteraneum—he joined the Seventh Gemina Legion as the pet and mascot of a first spear centurion.
Having covered much of Hispania and Gaul, Tacitus finally arrived in Rome where Rufus had promptly won the ape from the first spear centurion in a wrestling bout. A merchant from Anatolia had introduced Rufus to the benefits of smearing one’s body in goose fat before a match, and Rufus had never looked back. It was much more slippery than oil. No one could get to grips with him. It was like grappling with a muraena eel.
And now Tacitus sat on the floor in Rufus’ quarters, head to one side as he watched Rufus clean a denarius he’d just stolen from poor Varius, the Prefect whom Rufus delighted in continually robbing, conning and deceiving. Rufus tossed a date to Tacitus, who caught it and greedily stuffed it into his mouth. Rufus chuckled affectionately at the ape as it sat there, dressed in a child's crimson tunic, a small leather Phrygian cap on its head. A sudden noise from the hallway, however, sent the ape bounding to a shadowy alcove beside the door.
Rufus reached for his gladius as the door creaked open and a large shape stood silhouetted against the flames from the brazier outside. A dagger flew towards Rufus’ chest and he barely managed to dive to one side, the knife thudding into the wall. The silhouetted assailant stepped forward, a knotted club raised above its head, ready to smash down on Rufus as he attempted to rise from the floor…
Tacitus leapt, shrieking, from the alcove and clung onto the intruder’s back. One tiny hand grabbed a handful of braided hair, the other hand plunged a needle-like stiletto blade into the intruder’s neck again and again. The intruder fell to his knees, flailing blindly over his shoulders in an effort to grab his tiny primate nemesis. But Tacitus continued to stab and stab and stab, arterial blood spraying the room.
“Sede!” shouted Rufus.
Immediately the ape stopped, leapt from the twitching body as it slumped forward and onto its face. Chittering angrily, Tacitus jumped onto the nearest upright chair. Rufus kicked the club away from the intruder’s hands and stood over him. Shoving his foot under the intruder’s torso, Rufus heaved the man onto his back. Something like a gargled moan of despair bubbled from out of the would-be-assassin’s slack mouth.
”Isake of the Circus Max ! What a pleasure to see you here!” Rufus squatted beside the dying Nubian, Tacitus leaping on his master’s back to scowl and gurn at Isake. “The lights are going out for you, my friend. Remember the old adage ‘Monkey see, monkey do’? Well this monkey certainly did for you”
Isake tried to speak as he made a doomed attempt to reach out and grab Rufus’ tunic, but his hand fell to the floor, eyes glazing over as he bled out. The last words he heard as he boarded the ferry for Hades were, “Nice one, Tacitus. Here, have another date.”