“And who the bloody hell are you?” asked Dolores. She sniffed her drink, and then smiled at Arthur. “Sipsmith’s?” she said. “The landlord is stocking much better these days.”
“Isabella Bonfontaine,” said the woman in the doorway. She came in, closing the door behind her. “If you would all be seated, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll get straight to the point and then you may decide what you want to do. If that should be leave then there’s nothing I can do to stop you. But I hope to convince you to stay a little while.”
“Bloody peculiar timeshare presentation,” said Phillip, not moving. “How did you get in here? I don’t recognise you, and this is a very private club.”
“It’s not a timeshare,” said Isabella. “I’m not asking for money. What I’m asking for is, technically, much more valuable, but equally far easier for you give and will, relatively speaking, cost you personally nothing.” She crossed the room while she was speaking to the AV-unit. “Again, if I might ask you to sit down, things will be far easier to present.”
“You didn’t say how you got in here,” said Jaana. “Phillip makes a very good point; you shouldn’t even have known that this room existed. Did you invite us? How did you know how to reach us?”
Isabella sighed, her finger resting on the ON button. “I think you all know Lady Wednesday,” she said. “Or rather, you all know who is meant by Lady Wednesday, which is more than I do. She, if she is a she, provided me with this location, a card to gain entry, and the assurance that the right people would be here when I arrived.”
Dolores harrumphed immediately, but then she sat down in the nearest chair and continued to sip her drink. Arthur stared at his feet for a few seconds, and then walked around the table to sit next to Dolores. Phillip frowned. “That’s all well and good,” he said. “You’ve got a pass for the evening only, I suppose. But how do you know Lady Wednesday? I don’t like this very much.”
“How do any of us know Lady Wednesday?” asked Jaana. “I don’t think that’s a question any of us would be willing to answer, so I don’t think we can ask it of Isabella. Unless, of course, she would like to tell us?” He looked over, and Isabella shook her head firmly. “I see. Then I will listen, but I can tell you now that when you are done, I will be leaving. Lady Wednesday or not, I feel that I have been brought here under false pretences, and I do not like that.”
He and Phillip sat, near the top of the table, but on opposite sides.
“Thank-you,” said Isabella, pressing the button. The screen at the far end of the room descended, and a projection lowered from the ceiling, coming to live as it did. A countdown appeared on the screen as the projector warmed up, and a keyboard slid out of the AV unit. Isabella tapped the enter key. While she was aware that no-one in this room was under sixty, she was sure that they all had to sit through PowerPoint presentations regularly for the various board positions they held and companies they ran, so nothing she was about to show them should be unusual. Except, perhaps, the actual content.
The screen flickered, and the first slide came up: black except for her name in white letters.
“My name is Isabella Bonfontaine,” she said. “I find things for people. Usually things that have a degree of difficulty associated with them, and in some cases are broadly considered to either not exist, or no longer exist. This is not always true. The thing that I have been tasked to find this time is the reason I am here. I am informed, by Lady Wednesday, that you have all encountered these before.”
The slide moved on, and the next screen was a picture of a long, spindly humanoid creature. Its arms and legs were thin and about three times as long as a human’s, and all four limbs ended in a hoof-like structure that could split apart into two segments. The body was vaguely female in shape, with thin, small breasts and visible rib-cage. The head was bald and faceless, and the whole thing looked like a daddy-long-legs badly crossed with a human being. The slide animated, and the thing turned and skittered up a wall, vertically, covering thirty feet in a second, and then it paused, hanging near the ceiling.
“The Ilmatu,” said Isabella. The reactions around the table told her that her audience had definitely seen these things before.