The Rumble Rally
Episode 11 - "Into Uncharted Territory"

Lady Lavinia Kydd-Leatherette relaxed in the lushly upholstered bar of the first-class lounge compartment on the boat train to Paris. Her car, 'Chugger Zoom' as it had been known in its racing heyday, was safely stored at the back of the train, taking up two spaces. She casually inspected her starter's orders and competitor's rule book over a glass of champagne with Pierre, a very attractive and accommodating Eurocrat with a generous expense account.

Lavinia read the stage rules to herself:
At the beginning of each stage of the Rally, each competitor is given or must find his clue/tip … detours may occur at anytime - BEWARE! … all expenses (food, transportation, fuel, lodging, bribes, and supplies) must be funded independently by each competitor … Competitors can beg, borrow, steal, and sell possessions/favours … The clues/tips found by the competitors in each stage point the competitor to the next stage's destination or direct them to perform a task set by the organiser. Route marker flags mark the places where competitors must go to find the clues and tips …

Meanwhile, Miss Kitten Kaboodle threw her official starter's orders overboard from the ferry to Bilbao, Spain. She didn't need the race organisers interfering with her plans to complete her task, and she certainly didn't need to actually complete the race when her boss had the power to grant her a 'fabulous prize' of her choice. Miss Kitten checked in with her boss "HC" at HQ when she reached the ferry docks. Her status report was met with scathing abuse because she had been unable to terminate any of her assigned targets prior to the race. HC tipped her off with the stage-one completion destination for Lady L. in Madrid, so at least she knew where to head before Lady L got there. Miss Kitten retreated into her ferry cabin for some quiet contemplation of her trap-setting technique and, perhaps, a nap. She consulted her dog-eared copy of Spying Without Trying by S. Reilly, a stolen textbook from her days at the Mata Hari polytechnic in South London.

Pandora Pitstop ignored her starting orders altogether and disappeared into the French interior on her motorcycle under the cover of darkness. On the wings of a gathering storm, she gunned the Enfield along the back roads from Dieppe. The engine's throaty voice had an answering echo from the lowering clouds above her. Pitstop, however, was not in any mood to appreciate it. She had a lead to follow and business to conclude. She remembered the words of the Breton wharfman in the dimly lit harbour tavern; 'If you see Maman, remember - she will exact a price.' This warning rolled around in her head. If the information she received was good, she would pay. If not, she might exact a price of her own …


High above, and wondering whether being so close to a thunder cloud in a spiked helmet was necessarily the best course of action, Count Backwards trailed the leather-clad figure below him. Gripping the joystick precariously between his knees, he unfolded the Ordnance Survey print of 1915 he had found under the seat, fought with it, swore, unpeeled it from his face, and finally wrestled it into submission. Ignoring Richtofen's marginalia and the adolescent scribblings of 'Manny leibe Lili', he tried to plot his foe's route. He could make neither head nor tail of it and was frankly baffled:

'Clearly she knows something I don't, and that's not good,' he muttered, and, after several unsuccessful attempts at refolding it, he stuffed the map inside his greatcoat and set the gyro into a steep dive. He would follow the woman closely, just above the trees …


Unaware of her aerial shadow, Pitstop turned off the main highway, skidding into an overhung lane that was little more than a track. She had memorised the Breton's directions and was in fact heading somewhere most particular. The bike splashed and slid through puddles and leaf litter, the lane became a track, and soon Pandora was riding over a carpet of pine needles, crouching low and forced to reduce her bullet-like speed. Ahead of her through the trees she could see the faint glow of a camp fire …


Count Backwards had been following the red beacon of Pitstop's tail light, but her detour from the road meant she was completely lost beneath the trees. He bit back a curse and set the gyro in a slow search spiral. Having nothing better to do, he reached into his inside pocket and took out the small green bottle that nestled there.
'Just a nip,' he thought. 'Against the weather.' He pulled the cork with his teeth …


Pitstop sat on her bike, feet braced, the engine still running. In the beam of her headlight was the place she had sought: the caravan belonging to the gypsy queen, soothsayer, wise woman, and seer -- a woman rumoured to have dark powers and hidden knowledge. She was known among the paysanne simply as Maman Noir -- 'Mother Black'. She was respected and feared. Pitstop was more familiar with the fear from another Arkham inmate who had consulted Maman in her youth, wishing for too much too young, the silly woman. Pitstop knew she wouldn't make the same stupid mistake and sat for some moments, unsure whether she was actually going to enter into a contract to have her fortune told by such a person. 'Hey, an edge is an edge,' she thought, and with that, she set her stand, switched off the engine, and strode boldly up the few steps into the caravan. As she did so, she had a faint impression of someone singing off-key. The sound seemed to come from far away above her. She shook her head and entered.

The narrow caravan was dim inside, lit by one old kerosene lantern hanging from the low roof and a fire in the small grate. At the far end was a table, behind which sat Maman Noir in peasant garb belonging to another century.

'Come in my dear,' said the woman. Her heavily accented voice was calm, unsurprised, but with a definite air of sardonic authority. 'Maman knew you were coming. Sit!'

Cautiously, Pitstop sat down opposite Maman. The impression she gained was of a person of confident force, looking not unlike an older Theda Bara; she would have been beautiful in her youth but now had plenty of grey roots in her frizzy, hennaed hair. Her leathery face was dominated by dark and unfathomable eyes, which seemed to bore into Pandora's soul. Pandora shifted on the small stool. She felt like an errant schoolgirl and didn't like it. Maman Noir chuckled drily, aware of her guest's discomfort.

'You have something for me?' she said, holding out a wizened claw, bedecked with a variety of rings both ancient and modern. Payment of the contract; of course. Pitstop reached inside her coat and placed an envelope on the table, explaining, 'I have no gold but I do have a document that may be useful to you or one of your clan. A signed letter of immunity.' If the gypsy was impressed she didn't show it, but at least she seemed satisfied. In return, Maman unwrapped a small, velvet bundle and pushed the Tarot deck across to Pandora.
'You shuffle,' she commanded.

Still unsure of the truth of the situation, Pandora shuffled the cards with all the skill of a Mississippi gambler -- the 'Niagara' was her favourite -- and placed the deck between them. She eyed Maman with a boldness she didn't really feel and thought, go on then. Maman's hand hovered over the deck. 'Your question,' she mused half to herself, 'You want to know how to win ... but the question you don't ask is ... who you are.' Without waiting for confirmation, she began the reading.

Turning the cards, Maman stated what they told her. 'You are in a race. You start from a position of ignorance, yes ... yes. You need the next step.' Maman turned the next card. 'You have enemies. Not competitors, enemies of blood. Fatal people. You are surrounded by malice. This is a race of the highest stakes...' Tell me something I don't already know, old woman, thought Pitstop.

Next card: 'Your goal: to win. You will do so at any cost, to yourself and others around you. You consider the cost worth the prize, do you? You know not what that is,' she chuckled. It was like wind through dry leaves.
Next card: 'You have lost yourself, been betrayed ... by many. Hurt, yes? Fought back and you will have to fight again, but even Maman cannot answer all this.'

Next card: 'Ah now, this is you, The Queen of Swords. You are an Avenger.' The gypsy seemed impressed and tapped the card. 'You have force of will. You set out boldly ... hmm ... interesting.'

Next card: The Tower. 'Calamity will befall you soon. Something ends, something changes. It may not be good. It will be sudden. Beware!'

Next card: Maman sat back, surprised. She looked up at Pandora questioningly. 'I did not expect this,' she said.

Pitstop looked at the card -- 'The Knight of Swords. What of it?' Pandora asked casually.
'Yes,' said Maman Noir, 'You have a champion. But, see: he is inverted. He is also a knave.'
'He's the right way up to me though,' Pandora muttered, half to herself.
Maman snorted. 'So. You have a friend you do not know. You will need one. But you may not know until it is too late. I still say beware.'

Pandora was becoming impatient and thought this was getting off the point. 'Enough about my social life; what of the race? Where shall I go?' Maman spread the rest of the deck in a line, face up. She pored over them, drawing a few, seemingly at random. Muttering, 'A city ... The City, of course ... The Street of Death ... the Underworld. You will face two enemies. BEWARE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD!' she shrieked and slumped back in her chair, seemingly exhausted. Moments passed in silence.
'I tire of your melodrama. Is that all?' Pandora was growing angry. 'Nothing more?' Maman shrugged. Pandora persisted, 'Tell me what I really need to know. How can I be sure of winning?' The gypsy gestured dismissively at the cards. 'Only you can answer that,' she replied. To Pandora, this sounded like a stock response.

Pandora swore and stood. 'You're just a sideshow charlatan!' she accused, contemptuously. Snatching back the envelope, she overturned the table in her rage and sent the cards fluttering to the floor. A few found their way in to the grate and began to burn. She stormed out into the dark.

She swung her leg over the saddle and viciously kicked the bike to life, muttering a stream of invective against the world and gypsies.
'STOP!' The voice cracked like a whip. Pandora looked up. Maman Noir stood in the door of her caravan; silhouetted there, she looked seven feet tall!
The gypsy held something above her head. It was a singed card. Without knowing why, Pitstop knew it was the Queen of Swords.

Maman wailed at her: 'You dare to break our contract? You have no respect, no honour! Until you enter into a contract with an enemy and honour it, you will HAVE NO SOUL!' At that moment, the storm broke, lightning split the sky, thunder filled the world with awful volume. Despite thinking this was all very impressive stuff, Pandora looked away from Maman, angrily revved her engine, pelted the soothsayer with a roostertail of mud, and roared off into the dark ...


High above, Count Backwards was in no pain at all. Having had 'just the one nip' of laudanum -- followed by three or four others -- he was nonetheless still able to pilot the gyrocopter with surprising skill, despite the occasional selection of the reverse gear. At least he kept it in the air, which, given his state of intoxication, amounted to surprising skill. He had completely failed to pick up Pitstop's trail since he had lost her under the trees, and his flight path had taken him south, and he found himself following a railway line. Feeling rather like an eagle closing in on its prey (laudanum's a terrible thing you know), he was overhauling the train below him when he noticed something rather interesting: one of the carriages was a flatbed truck, and there, secured upon it, was a vintage jalopy he recognize --, the marvellous Chugger Zoom of latter-day fame.

'Well, well, Lady Lavinia,' he murmured with sinister satisfaction. 'Some you lose, some you win. Let's just see where you're going …'


Having bid the generous Pierre a pouting farewell, with the promise to look him up next time she was in town, and clutching the ticket and travel documents he had paid for (he was so kind to her), Lavinia Kydd-Leatherette supervised the loading of her father's beloved racer onto the train for Madrid, then boarded her luxury sleeper compartment. Depositing her reticule on the upholstered seat, she gazed absently out of the window. The weather was foul. 'I pity poor drivers on a night like this,' she thought fleetingly, then kicked off her brown crocodile Gucci pumps and attended to the more serious matter of the wine list before ringing for the attendant.


Spurred into decisive action by the blistering rebukes of her employer and further inspired by her choice of bedtime reading, Kitten Kaboodle spent her brief time in Bilbao visiting various ships' chandlers and hardware shops. She left for Madrid with a trunk containing rope (various types), fishing nets, diversion signs (assorted), three large tubs of tin-tacks, one family tub of grease, and an economy pack of Elnett. She had a plan (at last) for the ultimate disposal of that copper-topped toff, Lady L.
'Finally, one target to rub off the list,' she smiled, circling Lavinia's name in her little notebook and surrounding it with cartoons of skulls, daggers, nooses, and a gravestone on which a cat sat, preening itself.

She thought of the 'fabulous prize' HC had promised her and rubbed her hands with diabolical glee, nearly swerving off the road as she did so and terrorizing a farmer and his donkey in the process …


Pandora Pitstop sat in the darkest corner of the darkest bar tabac off the Rue de Cirque; her mood was even blacker than her surroundings. She knocked back the cognac in her glass and held it up for a refill. The garcon dutifully did so, rather nervously. His hand shook, but Pitstop didn't notice. In truth, neither did she notice the cognac: her thoughts were turned inward, and she reviewed the events of the last 24 hours. Unwillingly, they kept returning to the same problem …

After leaving Maman Noir, she had headed for Paris. If the correct stage clue was in 'The City,' it must mean the capital, and so it had proved to be - such as it was. Pitstop sneered at the memory. As she had reached the outskirts, she had been near run off the road by a black Daimler - deliberately so. She had been aware of the vile yellow lights in her mirror for some time, the car keeping pace with her, but as she neared the city it had shot past, giving her no room. She had seen the driver in that split second, and the mocking leer on the cruel face would stay with her. She promised herself revenge in that moment. The list was getting rather long. She also recognized the number plate from the pit lane at the start of the race, and the knowledge that this was a fellow competitor heading in the same direction should have relieved her doubts. Should have, but somehow didn't: but at least she had someone upon whom to vent her rage.

She had trailed the Daimler through Paris' meaner streets to the older quarter of the city and at last had found it parked outside an ephemera dealer in the Rue Morgue. 'Street of Death': of course. Pitstop parked her bike around the corner and, concealing herself in the shadows, crept closer. The car was empty, the door to the shop open and swinging. Hefting the large monkey wrench she carried, she slipped into the shop and looked about her.

The dusty shop was empty, at least at first glance, but as her eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, she noticed a pair of feet protruding from behind the corner of the counter. She looked over. The old man lying in an awkward position was clearly the proprietor. Beside his head was an open trap door with steps leading down. Pitstop stepped over the body - there was nothing she could do anyway, the garrotte round the neck had proved its own finality, and, oddly, she found she didn't seem to care. After the briefest pause, she descended.

The ladder took her into the dark, cavernous underground sewers beneath Paris, damp, stinking, and echoing to the drip of water. She noticed wet footprints leading on and these she followed. The path disappeared around a corner, and Pitstop prepared herself for combat, but before she reached the turning there was a sudden squeal of tortured and rusted metal, and a horrid choked-off scream. She froze, then peered around the corner.

She was greeted by the gruesome and very fresh remains of the driver of the Daimler - oh it was him alright; there was enough of his face left to recognize that. He had been killed by an ancient trap, not unlike an oversized poacher's trap, that he had sprung by pulling one of two levers in the damp wall. Clearly the wrong one. Grateful for her crash helmet, she took a deep breath and pulled the other. For a tense moment, nothing happened, then, slowly, one of the bricks began to slide out to reveal a small void. Her heart in her mouth, Pitstop reached in and drew out a small antique tin, emblazoned with a Red Race Flag. She sprung the lid to reveal a scrap of parchment. It was a map: of … Spain? The damn clue wasn't even here! Cursing, she dashed the tin to the floor and stormed out of this tunnel with its damp and death …

Now, she was sitting in this bar, punishing the cognac and the garcon, and finding no solace or humour in either. She was left with nothing but a scrap of a map and the growing fear that Maman Noir had done her worst.

Her soul was diminishing, ebbing away every hour bit by bit. Pitstop first noticed the slight changes in her mood. Nothing unusual there; after all, she was an angry, vendetta-obsessed female. But then she began to feel something of a constant chill in her spine, a chill that just wouldn't go away. A chill like ice water in her veins, and neither hot tea nor strong liquor could warm her. Then she noticed that she appeared out of focus in her own rear-view mirror and that sometimes she had no reflection at all when passing a darkened window. Sleeping was near impossible, she had a restless feeling that never ended, and as for a moment of joy or humour, she felt nothing, like a somnambulist … She stared moodily at the map in her hands: Until you enter into a contract with an enemy and honour it … Well, she had plenty of those to chose from, and, in the meantime, she had a race to win. She screwed up the map, flung money at the cringing garcon, and left the bar ….


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