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