Zelda churned out the draft of her Saturnalia piece in record time, writing it on autopilot. It was rife with stock phrases, every bit the tabloid fare she was sick of. But she was sick of it because she was good at it. And so it came fast.
She had gone straight to the office to write, still in her party clothes, but no one was around to tease her in the small hours of the morning. She dragged herself home to take off her makeup and get a few hours of sleep, and was back a the office by ten.
"How was the ball?"
Zelda looked up from the elevator buttons and into the face of Henri Matin, a Sports reporter who had asked her to lunch several times. He was handsome, but not her type. Not that she really knew what her type was, she was just sure he wasn't it. "Morning, Henri."
He reached past her to press the button for their floor. "Morning. Must've been a helluva party."
She flushed, taking that to mean she must look like it had been a rough night. "Actually, I barely saw anything. They kicked me out before midnight."
"You could say that."
The elevator opened on the ninth floor and Zelda almost stepped into Reinard himself. "Watch it, Minelli."
"Sorry! So sorry, sir." She danced out of his way, Henri guiding her back by the elbow.
"Good work on the Saturnalia piece," Reinard said, already looking at the folders in his arms. "I want a more in-depth piece before lunch."
He had praised her. Now was a time to say something! "Actually, sir, I..."
Reinard fixed his gaze on her. "On my desk before the takeout arrives." The elevator closed, making the matter final.
Zelda groaned softly. She was never going to convince him to give her another shot.
Henri gave her elbow a squeeze before letting go. "How about you come get me for lunch when that article's done? My treat."
She didn't have the energy to argue.
Zelda manged to put together a decent draft of the new article before Reinard's pizza arrived. She then allowed Henri to take her out for sandwiches at a deli around the corner. It was... nice. Casual. Friendly. Henri had a way of making her unwind little by little. By the time she got back to her desk she was ready to tackle the stack of leads and memos that had come in overnight.
She nearly missed the pale blue envelope at the very bottom of the pile. It seemed so very innocuous, one corner a bit crumpled. She fumbled for something to open it with. The envelope had a weight to it that was unexpected. She used the end of a pen to slit it open, and a thin piece of note paper slid out into her lap. It landed, writing side up. Zelda sighed—a fan letter or condemnation? Either way, it wasn't important. Or so she thought until she looked inside the envelope. A photograph was still lodged there. She pulled it out, squinting at the fuzzy details.
The high, stylized ceiling of Roma's Grand Terminus Train Station filled the background. In the foreground, a young woman was purchasing a ticket, sunglasses pushed up onto her forehead. She was frowning at the old ticket seller, money balled in one hand.
Zelda would recognize that scowl anywhere. Black hair, dark eyes, a heart-shaped face and turned up nose. One of those punk denim jackets from overseas, clearly not yet broken in. And at her side, a rather large suitcase. Zelda studied the photograph one more time.
She picked up the note and read it quickly.
Was working at the Terminus when who should walk in but Herself! She dropped the receipt, a one-way ticket to Germania. Thought you'd want to know! (If you don't already, you sleuth!) Love your pieces. Highlight of my day. Keep up the good work, Lucia
Zelda hadn't the faintest idea who Lucia was, but if she was right, this was news. She inspected the envelope again, and sure enough, there was the receipt for a one-way ticket to Lower Germania.
Why in the foggiest reaches of Hades would Zoë be going there?
Something was niggling at her, some vague recognition. Wasn't there something going on out there? She grabbed a copy of that day's paper and flipped through the pages but nothing leapt out at her from the headlines. Finally, a blurb caught her eye.
…troops remain stationed in Langobardi and Lower Germania, diverting resources from…
She stood and looked around the newsroom for someone who would know. Henri happened to be passing by and she flagged him down. "Henri—Germania, isn't there something happening there now?"
"Germania?" he gave her a blank look. "Er, there's a new coliseum going up…"
"Nothing to do with sports!" she said. "Something important."
He tapped his foot, trying to think. "I remember something a few months ago about sending another legion up there because of the protesting…"
"So it's important. Politically significant?"
"You'd have to check with someone in News or Editorial…"
"Things are happening, though."
"Sort of, yes."
"Thank you." She darted back to her desk. Her brain was whirring, already making plans. This would work, this would work! She knocked on the open door of Reinard's office. He was reading a printout, red pencil in hand. "Sir?"
"I've just received a tip that Zoë is in Germania."
It took a moment for him to look up, frowning. "Germania? Isn't she still here at University?"
"The semester doesn't start for another two weeks." Zelda handed him the note and the photograph, letting him see for himself.
"A very reliable source. She's given me good things before." Her fingers crossed behind her back.
"Not much of a story, somebody leaving," Reinard chewed the end of his pipe.
"Well, sir, I had a thought," Zelda said, drawing out her words. "Things are always slow this time of year, everyone's a bit busy what with the holiday... Why don't I go to Germania and see what our princess is up to?" She held her breath, watched cogitation flash across Reinard's face.
"Do you know how far Germania is, Minelli?"
"This isn't a day trip."
"I'm aware of that, sir. I wouldn't expect it to be. And I doubt she's planning to leave Germania soon, either." Zelda leaned across the desk and tapped the photo. "That is not the suitcase of someone going on a brief holiday." That was the trunk of someone who intended to stay for a good long while.
Reinard worried the pipe, staring at the photograph.
Another knock came on the door. "Zelda, have you heard anything about the princess not being registered for spring classes?"
Her eyes met the editor's. A delicious thrill uncurled in her belly. She had it.