Autumn, 218 B.C.
''Commander, I have just had the most exhilarating experience of my life.''
''Foot soldier Argoni, you were supposed to find the best possible route through these Alps for our attack force. Now what have you to report?''
''Well, sir, as I was nearing the summit of one of these noble peaks, I hesitated to admire the breathtaking view.''
''And - ''
''I chanced to step on my shield. In the next instant I was streaking down the slopes, using my spear to maintain my balance.''
''Have you taken leave of your senses, Argoni?''
''No, sir, but how would the mighty Roman legions react to an army of 40,000 eagles descending from the skies faster than the flight of an arrow?''
''Argoni, I think you're on to something. What if we used wooden slats instead of shields for greater maneuverability?''
''Good thinking, sir. They could easily be discarded once we reached the Po Valley.''
''That still leaves us with a logistical problem.''
''The elephants, Argoni.''
''Could they not be employed as lifts to pull the troops upward toward the summit?''
''You know, Argoni, this whole scene is suddenly pregnant with enormous commercial prospects.''
''How does 'Hannibal's Hideaway' sound, sir?''
''Argoni, inform the troops there's been a change of plans. . . .'' March 15, 44 B.C.
''My Caesar . . . you've returned unharmed, . . . but the oracle, . . . my dream, . . . how is it possible?''
''My dear wife, you are such a worrywart.''
''Did I not remind you when you awoke this morning what day this was?''
''Fortunately you did, Calpurnia. In all the excitement of devising an equitable tax form for all Citizens of Rome I had completely forgotten to file my own X-XL statement, and today was the deadline for doing so.''
''Then you didn't meet with the Senate?''
''On my way there an unexpected event occurred. A figure darted from an alleyway, pressed something against my palm, and just as quickly disappeared.''
''My husband, it was the omen I warned you about!''
''It certainly was - a card bearing the address of a tax preparation service.''
''Did you run into Cassius and Brutus?''
''Yes. My dear friend, Brutus, seemed especially unsettled. He was obviously concealing something in the folds of his toga. I presumed it was his X-XL which he hadn't filed as yet, so I remarked, 'Et tu, Brute?' and hastened on to the Palace of Taxation. . . .'' July 17, A.D. 64
''Pretonius, what is that din outside the palace? I can hardly hear myself practice.''
''O Mighty Nero, the Lyre Master is capitalizing on his latest invention in conjunction with a rumor that has been spreading throughout the city.''
''Rome seems rife with rumors these days, Pretonius.''
''True, O Great One, but it is being noised with some conviction that your majestic skill with the lyre could one day set the world ablaze, figuratively speaking, of course.''
''It just so happens, Pretonius, I expect to be out of town tomorrow on a gig and won't be back till the smoke clears.''
''Say what, Great Caesar?''
''Just a figure of speech, Pretonius. By the way, what has the Lyre Master invented?''
''A curious device he calls a smoke detector. . . .'' A.D. 450?
''Lucius, my Treasurer, have you talked to Attila?''
''The man's a barbarian, Sire, with abominable table manners. His tent is a pigsty, and - ''
''Spare me the sordid details and get to the particulars.''
''I explained to that scoundrel that Rome could ill afford the purchase of sack insurance, since our Treasury was still recovering from the consequences of his previous visit; that 2,000 pounds in gold for protection against excesses perpetrated by his unprincipled horde was exorbitant.''
''Shall I order the populace to flee?''
''Nay, Sire. As you know, necessity often brings out the best in us, so I invented the Empire Charge Card, explaining in terms that even a simple, fun-loving Hun could understand that within the next millennium or two my charge card would be accepted anywhere in the known world in lieu of currency - and he bought it!''
''That dunce. Well, your scheme will certainly buy us some time - but why are you packing your bags, my friend?''
''Would you want to be around when the scourge of the earth discovers he's been duped?''
''Wait, I'm going with you, Lu . . . .''