Chapter Seventeen: Tibo
“I suppose we could try to find a colleague? Someone who helped in his research?” Rolly flopped back on the chill grass, hands behind his head.
“Wait...what? You’re being all helpful now and not saying let’s go home?”
“Ti, this is important to you.” Rolly reached over to tangle their fingers together. “And the more I help you, you ungrateful little git, the faster we get home.”
“Probably our best chance.” Rolly sat up abruptly. “Let’s grab something for breakfast and ask where the nearest library is.”
Tibo’s stomach agreed and his head definitely needed coffee. “But I thought we needed the university?”
“You think we can just march into any building and yell, Oy! Anyone here doing work with that poor Professor Bach? We need to do some research and no one can trace us on a public computer.” Rolly tapped the end of Tibo’s nose. “You would make a terrible spy.”
“Good thing I have a day job.”
They snagged coffee and some decadent chocolate almond pastries at a corner cafe and Rolly, under the pretense of looking for historical sites, got the waitstaff to direct them to the nearest library. Part of Tibo resented that all things social came to Rolly so smoothly, but he told that part to sit the fuck down and be quiet. It was better this way instead of Tibo fumbling and misstepping through things and the cafe staff found Rolly’s attempts to use his limited German utterly charming.
The Zentralbibliothek was almost close enough to bite them, as it turned out, and wonderfully quiet on a weekday morning. With instructions, in English, thank the gods, for signing into the computers, they found two stations side by side far away from the circulation desk.
Tibo tried to find Emil Bach under the University of Zurich website and was soon grinding his teeth in frustration.
“Ease down over there,” Rolly murmured. “I’ve found him through his research papers. He’s published, ah, a number of them.”
“I couldn’t find a single freaking one at the university’s website,” Tibo huffed.
“It’s a little tricky. Dr. Bach worked at one of the colleges, the Eidgenössische Technische und Verzauberung Hochschule Zürich.”
“English, you overeducated jerk.”
“It’s the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Magic. Not an exact translation, but close enough. And he’s had a number of collaborators over the years.” Rolly’s auburn eyebrows pulled down as he frowned. “We may need to split these up.”
An hour later, they had eliminated three American doctoral students, a Korean professor in applied magical theory, and several Canadian colleagues who were all currently out of reach. The only regular collaborator still on the list was Dr. Maeva Zoss who specialized in magical molecular and field studies and happened to have her office over at the institute, the ETVH.
“What if she won’t see us?” Tibo whispered.
Rolly shot him a tight smile. “Then we’ll make an appointment. Professors have to see you if it’s during office hours.”
Sure as he was that he wanted to speak to Dr. Zoss, Tibo nearly lost his nerve at the domed ETVH building with its imposing colonnades and looming wings. The inside was worse, all gleaming white and gold, three tiers of columns the styles of which he was certain one was supposed to know the names of before one would be allowed inside. They were going to call security or the centurions or whatever they had in a place like this and toss him out for never going back and finishing school.
Rolly took his hand in a firm grip, murmuring, “You’re with me, Glent. Just be arm candy if you like. We’re here to look at the exhibit on dark energy microbeam cancer detection. And, perhaps, speak to Dr. Zoss about her part in the research if she has a moment.”
“You must be rubbing off, Rolls. I understood all that.”
The crooked grin Rolly shot him wasn’t at all academic. He waggled his eyebrows in comic exaggeration. “You can think about rubbing off all you like later. Just not here.”
Rolly’s playfulness vanished when they reached a huge directory of scrolled framework and brass removable plates. Dr. Zoss’s office was listed as HAD G 4.
“Well, grand then. Off we go. Deep breath, Ti.”
Tibo allowed his Rolly--his lover, by all the gods, that was a wonderful things to say, even to himself--to pull him toward the staircase but as he set his foot on the first step, something caught his eye. A pair of shady characters who looked even more out of place than he felt had stepped up to the directory. The satyr pointed to a name, the phoenix of the pair nodded. They whispered back and forth, eyes darting around the main hall, and Tibo’s goblin ears picked up the word Zoss.
Silently, he motioned Rolly onto the stairs out of their line of sight, pointing to the suspicious pair. Tibo wished he had a knife or at least something heavy and blunt. He unbuttoned his coat, let the pair get past them on the stairs, and grabbed the phoenix from behind, one hand tangled in the feathers atop his head, the other around his throat so the phoenix was bent back and in danger of toppling if he struggled.
In a whisper full of threat and violence, he spat out, “What the fuck do you want with Dr. Zoss?”