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*****


When the woman who was not a woman burst into our evening, we were just setting up some balls for the breaking.

Shortly after Miss Patel had finished her story of the Emerald Guardians, I and several members of the Wanderers' Club retired to the billiards room. After all the idle chit chat, we felt the need for action. After all, we call ourselves Wanderers, not Gossipers, do we not?

Just as Mr. Asteroth-Phipps was drawing back his stick to break the first rack of balls, the heavy oak door of the billiard room flew open. As the door slammed home against the oak paneling of the wall, the five of us in the room looked toward the noise all at once.

My first impression was of a statuesque woman standing in the doorway, two or three inches taller than six feet. A black overcoat encompassed the upper reaches of her frame, occluding many details of her figure. The rest were hidden by the vast bell of the royal blue skirt of her dress, fanned out over its frame of whalebone hoops.

Her blonde hair, instead of being worn up and properly pinned, lay in a tangled fall upon her shoulders and back. Her hair looked wild, as did her eyes; her long, oval face was glossy with sweat.

A statuesque woman in distress; this was my first impression. Had she been accosted on the street and sought shelter in our club? Was she the victim of a medical emergency, in need of urgent care?

Whatever her business, it didn't take long for us to offer our assistance. The five of us moved forward more or less at the same time. I would expect no less from such a gathering of men of action.

"Madame." I spoke first, bowing my head briefly as I stepped toward her. "I am Captain Buckingham Thrice of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, Occult Brigade. These good fellows and I stand ready to assist in any way possible. How may we be of service?"

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