Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 07, Part 6 of 6

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The Egyptian was more affable than Carpophorus had feared he might be. Generally, a performer didn't care to discuss the technique of his routine; there was too much danger some ambitious rival would steal it.

But this man was obviously flattered that a Roman—and although only a freeman, Carpophorus was a Roman—would deign to praise his act. After a couple of mugs of strong wine, the Egyptian relaxed.

"Well, it's a good act, a good act," he said modestly. "I'm from Tentyra—that's on the Nile in southern Egypt—and the traditional business in our village has always been hunting crocs for their skins."

Carpophorus nodded. Nearly every small town had some traditional profession and crocodile skins brought a good price as leather.

"Some of the young men used to wrestle eight and nine-foot crocs for fun. It's not as dangerous as it looks if you watch out for the tail and jaws. Crocs are pretty sluggish, you know, not likej trying to tackle a leopard or a lioness as you do."

"Every man to his own. I'd hate to tackle a twenty-foot croc," said Carpophorus, filling his friend's cup again and already making plans to add crocodile wrestling to his repertoire.

"It takes practice, but with enough leverage you can turn one over on his back just as you would a man. Not one twenty feet long. That would weigh over a ton, and besides they don't come that big very often. The one you saw me wrestle was fifteen feet long, and let me tell you, that's plenty of croc!"

"I could have sworn he was bigger," said Carpophorus flatteringly. "What was the magic charm you used to keep him on his back?"

"Oh, that was business for the crowd. They. think we Egyptians are full of magic. Any croc will lie still if you turn him over on his back like that. I don't know why it is; they just do."

"But think of the strength it took to hold his mouth closed," Carpophorus exclaimed admiringly.

"Nothing to it. A croc's jaw power comes when he closes his jaws. They've got tremendous power there. But any good man can hold the jaws shut."

"Well, well, you certainly know your business," said Carpophorus. Privately, he was thinking what a fool the man was to give away this information. At the next games, Carpophorus would put on his own exhibition of crocodile wrestling.

"The big problem is getting them tame," the Egyptian went on, holding out his cup for more wine. "Some of the sacred crocs get very tame. The priests can call them out of the water and feed them by hand. If a croc isn't tame, he won't eat in captivity, and also they're too nervous to attack swimming humans unless they see others start doing it."

"We have the same trouble with lions," Carpophorus told him. "You have to put a 'make-lion' who's a real man-eater in with a new bunch. Once they see the make-lion start killing, the others will join them."

"I had an idea that was the way you worked it", said the Egyptian. "There's a big tame croc on a great lake in the heart of Africa. He is nearly twenty-five feet long and must weigh as much as an elephant. The natives use him as a combined judge and executioner. A suspected criminal is led to the lake shore and the priests call the croc by beating on drums."

The Egyptian continued, "The croc knows what the drums mean and comes swimming across the lake and crawls up the bank. Then the victim is pushed toward him with long poles. If the croc eats the man, he's considered guilty. If for some reason the croc won't bother with him, he's set free. That croc's so old and feeble now that a native has to help him climb the bank by carrying his tail like a train. I'd love to get my hands on that animal. What a sensation he'd make in Rome!"

"Just how do you go about getting them tame in the first place?" asked Carpophorus casually, refilling the empty cup.

"That, dear friend, is my little secret," said the Egyptian calmly as he drained the cup and rose.

"I've got to see how those four crocs are getting along that we saved. Those are our tame stock; we don't let them get killed. Thanks for the wine. Don't get drunk and start giving away secrets."

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Eight, Part 1 is next.

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