This story started here.
The princess approached us and my employer held out her hand. "Your highness," she said.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Miss Sleet," the princess said as they shook hands. "May we now move to being 'Val' and 'Jan'?"
My employer laughed. "That would be fine. This is my husband, Marshall."
The princess smiled as we shook hands. "Anybody who has followed your career, Jan, is aware of Marshall. It's good to meet you."
"I'm very pleased to meet you," I responded.
Her handshake was firm, and her gaze was direct. She was somewhat taller than Ana, and her brown hair was shorter. She wore a pantsuit, and her off-white shirt was open wide at the collar. It was apparently made of some very fancy material that I was not familiar with. She wore no jewelry.
"And may I present--" my employer began as Vicki came up.
"Miss Wasserman," the princess said, smiling. She started to extend her hand again, but Vicki instead made a perfect curtsey. The princess inclined her head. I could not have been more surprised if Vicki had performed a quick stepdance.
"Miss Wasserman," the princess said, "you're probably not aware of this, but when I was born there was a possibility that I would have been named Victoria. At that time, though, the general opinion was that it would have been too British."
Vicki smiled and nodded. "That was not a concern for me, since I'm a mongrel. My parents were an Italian and a lunatic, and I was raised by the world's least observent Jewish family."
"Ah," said the princess. "That sounds... interesting."
Vicki gestured at Pat. "This is Patricia, my girlfriend, and I do hope you'll call me Vicki while you're here. Have a good afternoon."
She took Pat's hand and led her away. Pat had not attempted a curtsey, though she had looked like she was imagining trying one and falling down in the attempt. She had managed to remove her baseball cap as she had been presented to the princess.
The princess turned back to us, and my employer said, "Would you like to sit down? Are you hungry or thirsty?"
The princess nodded. "I will confess that I would be happy to sit down, and perhaps have a cup of coffee or tea, if that's possible. That was a rather tiring walk."
"Of course," my employer said.
A few minutes later, we were sitting in a small alcove off the lobby. It had a large window, and the midday sun was pleasant. Ana and I had brought a coffee service from the kitchen -- a large carafe, four cups and saucers (which matched, more or less), and related supplies.
The princess sipped her coffee and looked out the window for a moment.
She turned back to us and smiled. "I'm very glad that you were able to receive me on such short notice. I had intended to come next week, or the week after..."
"Marshall noticed a small article in one of the European newspapers that we subscribe to. They mentioned that you were planning to visit the United States, and us."
"I had intended to spend more time in the United States before coming here, but... I had not realized that my visit would attract so much attention."
"From the press?"
"No." She smiled. "The newspapers have been almost completely uninterested in me, which is fine. There have been times, with my father..." She shrugged. "I am aware, of course, that you've been on both sides of the pad and pencil."
"I am... surprised and pleased that you are aware of my work. It has been a while since I earned my living with the pad, the pencil, and the typewriter."
"I was young when we met the first time, but I was certainly aware of who you were and what you were doing there."
"And we've read your book," Ana said suddenly.
Well, now my employer was really discombobulated, which was a rare occurrence indeed. She had never published a book.
"One of the bootleg versions?" I asked, to give her a moment to recover.
Ana nodded. "We found it very interesting."
My employer's magazine reports from Bellona, during the revolution, had been very popular, but a planned collection in book form had encountered many vague and inexplicable difficulties, and ultimately had not been published. There had never been direct evidence of government interference and suppression, but no other plausible explanation had ever been proposed.
Because of the level of interest in the book, however, bootleg copies did circulate, and my employer never objected.
We spoke for a while longer, quite relaxed, and the women all smoked as we drank the coffee. My employer and I recommended a few local restaurants and other sites of interest, and Ana made a list in a small notebook.
Then the princess said that she wanted to lie down for a while, still tired after her walk, although she looked about as weary as a sprinter the moment before the starting pistol is fired.
As she and Ana left the room, the princess leaned over and murmured something to my employer. Then they were gone, and through the open door I could see the bodyguard stand up to follow them.
I'd offered to show the princess and Ana to their rooms, but they had declined and I'd told them the room numbers.
After they were gone, we sat down again and I split the remaining coffee between our two cups.
"Do you know what I wonder?" she asked, tapping her forefinger on her cigarette case. Then she looked up quickly and frowned. "I am not thinking of the obvious. Obviously."
"Is it related to whatever her highness whispered to you?"
She laughed. "That was quite innocuous, actually. She just wanted me to know that Ana will not require a separate room. She'll be sharing the princess's quarters during their visit."
"Well, in my situation, I certainly can't raise an eyebrow about that."
She snorted a laugh. "I should say not."
"And the other thing that's on your mind, apart from the obvious?"
"Well, I'm wondering when and how the royal luggage will arrive."
Okay, she had been ahead of me on that one. The question of the princess's luggage had not occurred to me.