Episode 12 - Hysteria in Iberia
Lady Lavinia Kydd-Leatherette stepped elegantly onto the
platform at Chamartin with the grace of Veronica Lake on a
particularly fine day. Her face was shaded from the sultry
Spanish noon-day sun by an exquisitely crafted black Andalucian
riding hat, stylishly titled; her flaming russet hair was
gathered at the nape of her neck by a black-velvet ribbon
to coil fetchingly in a tail down her back. The rest of her
outfit consisted of a shimmering ivory blouse (very cool),
cream button-sided jodhpurs, and tan Cuban-heeled dressage
She waited graciously for the perspiring but grateful porter
to appear pushing a trolley laden with her trunks and bandboxes,
then turned à la runway on her heel and sashayed along
the platform to supervise the unloading of Chugger Zoom. She
had to do this: if the stevedores here were like the ones
in France, they would spend more time looking at her than
at what they were doing, and she needed to remind them to
As she enjoined them (for the nth time) to mind the paintwork,
she became aware of a garlic-scented shadow at her shoulder.
'Eh, Senorita?' said a slightly effeminate yet swarthy voice.
'Con su permiso?' and a large manila envelope was thrust into
her hands so suddenly that Lavinia's brim tipped over her
eyes. By the time she had straightened it, the visitor had
gone, and no one else even seemed to have noticed him. She
looked at the envelope in her hands and turned it over; the
sticky red wax seal was stamped with a race flag! Eagerly
-- she was actually rather excited -- she slipped a perfectly
manicured nail under the flap and snapped the envelope open.
Inside were the following:
Directions to a flamenco club, Los Tobillos Quebrados on
the Calle de Mujeres Absurdas.
Instructions: You will attend this club at 3.15 p.m. TODAY,
where you will perform the famous Spanish Dance El Orleano
successfully in order to proceed to the next stage. Dress
A challenge! Her next clue would be given on successful completion.
Why, she thought, this is so simple! Lavinia smiled to herself
as she tucked her instructions back into the envelope. She
knew just the boutiques to attend in order to acquire the
requisite costume in time for her challenge. And, as luck
would have it, she had led her 6th form in a cultural exchange
with the Cadiz Charm Reformatory for Girls, excelling at pick-pocketing
partners in tango, flirting with flamenco, and mixing coma-inducing
tequila-based cocktails. This was proving to be the easiest
race ever! She instructed the porter to send her baggage on
to her hotel, climbed behind the wheel of Chugger Zoom, now
safely unloaded, and humming Ravel's Bolero, turned out of
the station concourse. As she turned the wheel, she noticed
that some of the curious purple ink of the race clue had rubbed
off on her fingers. Her pretty eyebrows drew together in a
slight, but not unbecoming, frown, then she shrugged and forgot
As she drove past one of the many cafes populating the station
road, Lavinia was unaware of the startled reaction her passing
had on one of the patrons; at the distinctive sound of Chugger
Zoom's syncopated miss-fires, a well-dressed -- indeed, slightly
overdressed -- young man looked up suddenly from the social
pages of his International Herald Tribune. He stood swiftly
and followed the car's passage with his eyes. Then, leaving
some pesetas on the table, he folded his paper, collected
his hat and cane, and left.
Kitten Caboodle watched Lavinia's departure from the upper
window of an adjacent warehouse. She dropped the trench coat,
trilby, and outrageous false moustache onto the race official
-- bound and gagged in his red-flannelette all-in-one and
still out cold from the crack behind his ear with her sock
of snooker balls. Kitten smiled slyly as she packed up her
John Bull Printing Outfit; how useful it had proved to be.
She ran her eyes over the real race clue and decided she might
as well hang on to it as she finished off the cold pizza lunch
she had 'acquired' off a hapless delivery boy. Without a backward
glance, she quit the premises to prepare the rest of her trap
. . .
The last pair of eyes to note both the departure of Lady
Lavinia and the subsequent sortie of Kitten stared out from
beneath the brim of a burnished pickelhaube. Perspiring rather
too freely in his black leather great coat and considering
the possibility of a sensible panama -- but only in black
straw of course -- Count Backwards decided to tail the blonde
spy: she was nearer, and it was a hot day. With exaggerated,
weasel-like slinking movements, Count B slipped into the rear
seat of a waiting taxi.
'Follow that car,' he hissed, adding, with a painful flick
on the ear of the taxi driver, 'Now! You'll be well paid .
Lavinia was somewhat confused; she had followed the instructions
to the letter. Here she was, at the right address - a rather
seedy side street, but the sign seemed new (fresh actually);
inside the 'bar', only a few chairs and the odd packing case
were scattered about. This place looked less like a flamenco
bar than an old garage. She was annoyed. She'd made the effort
with her appearance especially. Frowning, she looked at the
instructions again: were some of the letters out of alignment?
'GOT YOU!' came the echoing shout, and Lavinia's head snapped
up, but nothing could protect her from the net plunging down
from the ceiling. She suddenly found herself struggling amongst
the fishy fibres, watching the approach of a laughing blonde
woman that Lavinia recognized all too well . . .
Unbeknownst to both Lavinia and Kitten, Count Backwards was
(largely improvising) preparing to spring a trap of his own.
However, before doing so, he thought he would enjoy the fun.
Rubbing his hands with childish glee, he watched through a
side window as the blonde trussed the struggling redhead like
a rather overdressed chicken and hung her kicking and swearing
from a hoist.
Unfortunately, the Count, becoming rather too interested
in this one-sided catfight, leant too heavily against the
aged frame, which promptly gave way in a splintering of dirty
glass and wormy woodwork. Startled, and not wishing to be
caught in flagrante, Kitten bolted for the nearest door, leaving
Lavinia helpless and pendant, in the presence of yet another
old enemy. Backwards gingerly picked himself up out of the
Unbeknownst to all three of them, a slim shadow was inching
its way through a skylight and descending as quietly as his
patent leather shoes would permit . . .
'I suppose, Count,' Lavinia gasped while valiantly doing
her best to appear unruffled, 'You wouldn't be a gentleman
and let me down?'
Count Backwards guffawed: 'Well, you know, I could,' he suggested,
'But frankly, where's the fun in that? Besides,' he said,
absently toying with a discarded grease gun, 'I want to know
what you know about the race.'
'Which, considering my position, clearly can't be much,' retorted
The Count turned to her, moustaches twitching in a most sinister
fashion: 'Oh my dear Lady Lavinia,' he said, 'You'll have
to do much better than that . . .'
And with a nose glistening sweatily with malice and a manic
glint in his (somewhat bloodshot) eyes, Count Backwards advanced
on the helpless Lavinia, who was steeling herself in a froth
of red lace to meet a fate too awful to contemplate but determined
to give the Reaper a good kicking on the way.
'And now, my dear Lavinia,' he began. He didn't finish.
Dink. Dink. Dink.
Something metallic rapped the crown of his pickelhaube, followed
by a cultured nil admirari drawl:
'Awfully sorry to spoil your fun, old stick, but that's my
Startled and thwarted, the Count swung round: 'What the blazes
The 'ulp' was occasioned by suddenly finding himself rather
too closely inspecting the pointy end of a slender steel blade.
Eyes watering, his gaze travelled along it to the crisp, white-gloved
hand that held it, the black-sleeved arm to which the hand
belonged, and the slender apparition to which the arm was
attached and which was currently in the act of replacing an
ebony cigarette holder between grimly smiling lips. The scent
of somewhat 'exotic' tobacco reached Backwards' twitching
nostrils. He recognized the brand as one of his late lamented
friend Boris' favorites. Always the perfect Christmas gift.
He glared at the interloper, who was immaculate in faultless
evening dress, complete with white tie, gloves (somewhat bizarrely
for this time of day). The man he faced appeared to be in
his early thirties, slightly pale of feature, with a rakish
Valentino moustache, perfectly groomed hair, and a lopsided
smile. Deep in the back of his addled mind, Count Backwards
seemed to recognise this overdressed upstart from the lower
form at Barchester, Lord Ruthven's alma mater. The blade rather
too firmly scratching the Count's stubble belonged to a sword-cane.
There was a tense silence while the newcomer drew on his gasper,
then Lavinia exclaimed:
'Gabriel!' The man winked and addressed the Count.
'It is customary,' he said, in that drawl the Count knew instantly
he was going to despise, 'For coves in your position to say:
curses, foiled again. Far be it from me to fly in the face
of tradition. You are at liberty to speak, old son.' The Count
did so, calling Gabriel a nasty name -- several, in fact,
and many of which did not even suit his gender.
'I see,' said the newcomer, 'Well in that case, do please
lose that grease gun and sit ye down on that packing case.'
With gritted teeth and malice straining every nerve (and seam),
the Count did so with decidedly ill grace. Something white
flickered into his lap: a calling card.
'That's for your education,' said Gabriel. The Count read,
and while he did so, Lavinia's bonds were severed. The card
bore the legend:
GABRIEL VALENTINE FOX-LEATHERETTE
The Albany (occasionally)
Lavinia rubbed her dainty wrists and examined her nail polish.
Fortunately (oh, SO fortunately) for Backwards, it wasn't
chipped. There WAS, however, a viscous grease spot on her
bodice that would never shift, and Spain was not a country
where one could readily obtain Helena Rubenstein's Shangri-La
Orchid Oil Lotion to soothe her rope burns. She would simply
just have to wear three-quarter-length gloves for a few days.
She glared vengefully at the Count. Her eyes fell on the grease
gun. She addressed Gabriel.
'Brother mine,' she inquired, 'Is Chugger still outside?'
'Indeed sister dearest,' he replied, as he finished tightening
the last of the Count's bonds.
'Then do please fire it up, dear heart; I won't be a moment.'
Gabriel looked from her, to the Count, to the grease gun,
and back to her. The Count looked from her, to Gabriel, to
the grease gun, to the door, and back to her. Lavinia just
looked at the Count.
'Ah. Righto,' said Gabriel and patted the Count's shoulder
with manly sympathy on his way past. 'Three minutes, Livvi,
and we are leaving,' he cautioned, then added in a whisper,
'Slight hurry -- not exactly endeared myself to the local
traps, you know?'
Lavinia rolled her eyes 'Oh, Gabriel you HAVEN'T . . . ?'
The other flashed her a sideways glance and a somewhat sheepish
smile and slipped out the door. Moments later, a throaty 23-litre
V12 aero piston engine roar echoed through the garage. She
turned back to her erstwhile tormentor.
'And now, my dear Count,' she said, advancing upon the unfortunate,
yet thoroughly deserving captive, 'Time to pay the piper!'
She squeezed the trigger of the grease gun. The Count's moustache
trembled in trepidation as a large globule of grease swelled
at the nozzle . . .
From his position behind the growling patent piston array,
Gabriel was nonetheless able to hear -- in this order -- whimpering,
pleading, language of the sort a gentleman shouldn't utter,
and then the smart rap of his sister's size 5's as she leapt
in beside him, flushed, breathless, a little greasy. Then
there was another, even more alarming -- to Gabriel anyway
-- sound: a siren.
'Time to go,' he said and stamped on the accelerator. The
car leapt forward in an explosion of dust, smoke, and the
pinging of Lavinia's Spanish head-dress off the bodywork.
Her brother raced the car through the narrow cobbled streets,
with scant regard for pedestrians, fruit stalls, laundry,
big piles of empty cardboard boxes, and men leaning comically
from ladders. Lavinia looked sideways at her brother, hardly
daring to take her eyes from the road. Even reckless as she
knew him to be, this was a bit much and she would prefer to
remain in one piece. She plucked the cigarette from the holder
between Gabriel's teeth and sniffed it.
'I've told you before, Gabriel,' she said reprovingly, 'No
Turkish ovals!' He shot her a sulky look.
'I'm not going to ASK what YOU'VE been up to,' he retorted.
The sound of sirens diminished but his speed did not.
'Where are we going?' Lavinia asked as the town fell behind
'In the best traditions of hasty getaways, the border,' replied
'But my LUGGAGE IS AT THE HOTEL!' protested Lavinia.
'Oh for Heaven's sake,' shouted her irritated half-sibling,
performing a four-wheel skid onto the main drag. 'Which hotel,
and have you at least paid up?'