Episode 14 - "Monte Schmonte"
Pandora Pitstop leaned back against a brick
wall in the shadows, pulling moodily at her brandy flask.
After her close call with the train, her mind
had eventually focused on the present again. She had gathered
herself together and ridden once more into Spain. As the sun
climbed higher, she had pulled off the road, exhausted and
a little dispirited, and half-watched the road from the shadows.
As she leaned staring into the heat shimmer, she heard an
engine approaching from the south. Four wheels, she thought
dismissively, but as the car pulled into view, she began to
take an interest: the road was straight, and she had a good
view as the details of car and driver grew more distinct.
It was a roadster, and she recognized it. The hood was down,
so she could see the driver: the flash of the white-leather
driving coat and speed-whipped blonde hair was all the confirmation
As the car disappeared in a cloud of dust north, Pitstop heard
a new engine note coming towards her: much louder this time,
and distinctively arrhythmic. She stayed in the shadows and
eagerly waited. Sure enough, Chugger Zoom appeared over the
horizon, and, although it was going too fast for her to see
the driver, Pitstop was satisfied. Smiling for the first time
in days (albeit somewhat sourly), she wheeled her bike back
onto the road, swung her leg over, kicked it back to life,
and set off in careful pursuit. The scrap of Spanish map,
now useless, fluttered discarded and settled in the dust .
Rather handy bumping into that chap at
your hotel, what? Gabriel called to his sister over
his shoulder. Although it seemed to him that he was doing
more than his fair share of driving, Lavinia was preparing
a snack in the back seat, so that was reasonable.
Oh yes, said Lavinia, He said he was waiting
to meet me when someone hit him from behind. He was most helpful
in putting us on the right track.
Everyones helpful to you, her half-brother
laughed, So: its Monte, is it?
Oh yes, smiled Lavinia, an unholy light of gambling
fever beginning to shine in her eyes. They drove on, unaware
of their leather-clad shadow . . .
Monte Carlo was in festive mood. It was rare
that it received such notable favour oh sure, minor
races of other championships and the usual monied crowd, but
the Rumble Rally was an EVENT. All day long, vehicles of almost
every type had wound down the mountain into the resort to
be checked into the Contestants Only secure parking
lot by the marina: rare and limited marque jalopies, experimental
and concept autos, drag racers . . . and one bike. The owner
of that particular bike, an Enfield, had been the fourth to
arrive in Monte Carlo. And now, perched alone on a hilltop
scenic observation point like a dark angel of doom, she used
a public pay telescope to scrutinize the other contestants
as they arrived.
Having no change to operate it, she had jammed
her stiletto blade into the coin slot. It had seemed to work
Pitstop's motives for being here were divided:
she was still a competitor. It was her raison d'ici as far
as Monte Carlo was concerned. She wanted to win the Rally.
She wanted the fabulous prize, and so, she told herself, she
was studying the opposition . . . However, another reason
was always on her mind. Maman Noir's curse. Pitstop was looking
for enemies. Perversely, she needed them preferably
a selection but one bad one with whom she could somehow
enter into a contract and lift the malediction from her. None
of those she viewed through the telescope seemed too helpful
in that regard. Other than Kitten, who had been the first
to arrive (and Pitstop wouldn't trust her further than she
could spit), and the Lady Lavinia, who hadn't really done
anything serious to incur her wrath . . . there was always
HC, she mused, then shuddered. No way, she told
Just then, she heard a curious whirring noise
overhead. Panning the telescope upwards, she focused on a
small helicopter, almost a toy an antique autogyro.
Zooming in, the features of the pilot snapped into focus.
Like an answer to a pagan's prayer, there, almost flying toward
Pitstop and her need, was Count Backwards. Pitstop followed
his trajectory until he disappeared from view, then she straightened
up and leant on the telescope.
Backwards . . . she mused, Hmmm,
yes, I think you just might do. Retrieving her dagger,
she took the cliff path into town, humming Do It In
Style as she went.
Having landed his gyrocopter on the edge of town and using
Shanks pony to make his way through the low-rent district,
Count Backwards was feeling angry. Angry and sorry
for himself. Angry, sorry for himself, off his food entirely,
possibly coming down with Spanish flu and the laudanum
DTs, none of which boded any good for somebody. He was also
still having trouble with grease, no thanks to that harridan
Lavinia and her pestilential sibling Gabriel-Blast-His-Eyes-Fox-Leatherette.
The Counts eyes narrowed and he ground his teeth as
he thought of that upstart show-off with his Savile Row tailoring
and undeserved airs and graces. Oh, somehow he remembered
him and his cocksure attitude from long ago, and it had stuck
in his throat then. But he still couldnt remember where
exactly, although he seemed to think they were both a lot
younger. The thought bothered him like a flea he couldnt
scratch. Gabriels a flea! he blurted out,
attracting startled looks from passers-by. Embarrassed, Count
Backwards scuttled down a side alley. He took to prowling
the backstreets, backwards (appropriately enough), as it made
him feel more superiorly sinister and helped when plotting
revenge and oh what revenge he had to plot!
Intent on finding a pusher purveying the finest of melodramatic
yesteryear gear i.e., laudanum Count
Backwards slid through the shadows, inching around corners,
muttering, hiding in doorways when necessary. He was unaware
that one of those shadows had substance . . . and a pipe wrench.
Backwards went down on his knees, stars exploding in his addled
brain, then rose rather shakily to face his assailant. Through
watering and independently focusing eyes, he watched as the
figure stepped into the half-light. He recognized Pitstop,
standing poised and ready. He began to circle warily, but
as a result of the whack on his cranium, his Backwards persona
had begun to slide, and his true self of Aubrey, Lord Ruthven
to surface; his two selves began an argument in his head.
Oh shut UP! he shouted at himself.
Pitstop eyed him suspiciously, keeping a firm grip on the
pipe wrench and circling in turn changing direction
when Count Backwards, living up to his name, changed direction
and began to move retrograde.
Aubrey . . . ? she said slowly, warily, warningly.
The Count blinked, shaking his head as if to clear it. The
clout on his lid probably hadnt helped his mental clarity,
Pitstop considered, but it could hardly have made things worse
. . . could it?
Um . . . Ms. Pitstop? He gave her a quizzical
look. Why, how strange to see you again, here of all
places. He looked about, taking stock of his surroundings.
And where is here, exactly? He looked at her almost
accusingly, as if she were in some way responsible.
Never mind, Pitstop said. I will explain
but how much, uh, can you remember?
Aubrey/Backwards removed the dented helmet, looked at it in
some confusion, and gingerly rubbed his greasy curls where
the woman had struck him. He didnt like questions. It
reminded him vaguely of school, although he couldnt
remember much, and he was sure none of the masters had ever
used a pipe wrench to instill discipline well, not
many of them.
Erm . . . well, he began uncertainly. Last
thing I remember was being tied to a fence. His eyes
began to glaze. Pitstop snapped her fingers.
OK, listen, she commanded. Ill fill
you in on the blanks as we go, but I need you to work with
Oh yes? he replied, in an arch tone,.
Lady Lavinia and her brother strolled arm in
arm through the foyer of the Hotel Metropole as if they were
royalty. Lavinia basked in the admiring glances of those they
passed and the occasional camera flash. Gabriel was a little
uneasy at the attention especially when one of the
paparazzi snapped him until his half-sister explained
that under the Rally Rules, Monaco was regarded as neutral
territory; although the organizers might spring surprises,
it was still primarily play-time for the contestants and a
chance to catch up on Race news, get progress reports, check
the form on entrants, place bets, and generally profit how
one may. Lavinia squeezed her brothers arm.
Darling, she said. Do you have any money?
Er, no, he replied knowingly. At least,
none I want to risk on red. He smiled fondly as he spoke,
so Lavinia didnt pout too much.
But darling brother, she coaxed. I can triple
it for you. I have a system. Her hand was already searching
for his wallet. Gabriel was good; over the years, he had learnt
to resist Lavinias particular brand of persuasion, and
he lasted for at least 5 seconds before giving way.
Oh all right, he sighed. But I would like
to eat later. Together, they entered the hotel casino
. . .
. . . only to bump into Miss Kitten Caboodle
coming out. Both women froze and exchanged looks that would
have shattered glass. For a long, tense moment, neither spoke.
Gabriel, not having the faintest idea who the blonde woman
was but with enough brains to realize trouble when he saw
it and mindful of the warnings in the Rules about breaking
the Monte truce, interposed himself, smiled winningly
at Kitten, and gripping his sisters elbow firmly dragged
her through the casino door but not without brushing
oh so casually against Kitten on his way past. Excuse
me, Miss, he murmured.
Kitten's face adopted a very peculiar expression:
half sneer (at Lavinia), half leer (at Gabriel). She decided
to simper. It would at least score a point if she could steal
Lady L's escort from her (that's all she knew), so she decided
to try. She placed one hand lightly on his chest. Theres
no hurry, surely? she purred up at him.
Oh but there is, Lavinia contradicted, flashing
an icy smile that was all teeth. Important meeting with
the Race officials. They passed through into the casino,
leaving the blonde woman glaring after them.
When they had found a safe corner, Lavinia whirled around
to face Gabriel. She was livid. Do you know who that
was? she hissed.
No idea, said Gabriel. But I could tell
she was trouble, which is why I thought you might like her
wallet, which he produced from inside his jacket. Dont
forget, he said, with a sidelong smile. My education
was as good as yours. I would have had her watch if youd
given me more time. With a practiced hand, Lavinia plucked
the pocketbook from her brothers fingers and riffled
through it. She was delighted to see that not only were there
wads of cash, but also Kittens driving license, three
fake IDs with Kittens photograph, the ownership papers
to her roadster, and, best of all, the stolen Race documents.
A slow smile began to spread over Lavinias elegantly
made-up countenance, and she looked up at Gabriel.
Lets have a bit of fun with Miss Kitten,
she said with vengeful glee.
Much later in the contestants secure garage
. . .
Pitstop had found Aubrey easy enough to manipulate into a
contract to sabotage a car or two.
Im still not entirely sure this is quite fair.
Aubrey/Backwards voiced his reservations from under Chugger
Zoom. Slightly muffled, only his feet were showing.
When did that ever stop you, muttered
Pitstop as she leant against the bonnet studying a recent
edition of the International Herald & Tribune by torchlight,
looking for updates on the race. The Rules only stipulate
a truce as far as drivers are concerned. It says nothing about
their cars . . . Now get on with it, before Im, I mean,
we get discovered. She was half keeping lookout as she
read the paper. Ah, horoscopes, I wonder if . . .
Pitstop read her star signs entry to herself. Blah blah
blah, ruling planet Mars . . . retrograde . . . in opposition
. . . 8th house . . . an eclipse . . . Oh, for #%!$
sake! Shed read enough. Something told her this
wasnt going to do the trick, and as if the stars were
trying to press home their point, at that moment, there was
a furtive click, and the door handle of the garage began to
Pitstop pressed her lips together, switched
off the torch, and, deciding that her liberty was more important,
abandoned the softly swearing Aubrey to his fate in the dark.
She calmly left through the rear exit and stomped along the
boulevard, considering her next course of action. Scratch
one option, she thought bitterly.
As she left through one door, Gabriel entered
through the other. He had left Lavinia happily raking in the
chips at the baccarat table (using Kittens stolen money),
and now, wearing his work clothes (evening dress
and a domino mask), was carrying out his sisters plan
for revenge on Kitten: namely, stashing a half-dozen lifted
wallets and a couple of Kittens fake IDs in her glovebox.
Its all in good cause, he thought.
As he picked his way between the parked cars,
he thought he sensed a different aroma floating over the usual
garage stink of petrol and Castrol R. He paused and sniffed.
Yes, it was definitely a lady's choice of scent. His first
thought was that Kitten was about but then dismissed it; it
wasn't the brassy throat-scraper he'd smelled on her earlier.
No, this was different. His refined olfactory senses detected
lilies, spices cloves? and an underlying base
note of vanilla. Very distinctive, he thought, and oddly familiar.
He was sure he had smelt it before, but not for a long time
a good few years at least. He pondered past conquests,
hoping to identify the lady as he continued his progress.
Really, he should have been watching where he was going instead
. . .
The next few events occurred in quick succession.
He located the roadster by means of his small torch, which
picked up the paintwork and stray blonde hairs on the upholstery
but failed to illuminate Aubreys black boots. Clumsily,
Gabriel fell over them, causing the prone saboteur to start
in alarm, sit up, and brain himself on Chuggers manifold.
Gabriel managed to stop himself from falling,
but the resounding clang of Aubreys skull on metal had
roused the night watchman, and lights started to flick on
throughout the garage.
Keeping low, Gabriel skulked around to the nearside
of Kittens roadster, opened the door and glovebox, stuffed
the contraband within, closed both, then made for the nearest
available exit, trusting to luck, which, as Fortune would
have it, was on his side this time. With a practiced hand,
he slipped off his mask and leant nonchalantly against the
exterior wall, watching with mild interest as a crowd of race
officials and police arrived to investigate the disturbance.
Also attracted by the commotion and arriving
(separately) were Kitten and his half-sister. Gabriel sauntered
over to the latter.
All done, let's go, he murmured
in her ear.
Not yet, she breathed back. Let's watch
the fun. Everyone was entering the garage now: it wasn't
long before the inevitable explosion.
Backwards, now fully back to his Backwards persona, had been
discovered, oily-faced and wandering about in an angry dazed
stupor by Kitten's roadster. She in turn had been required
by the police to produce her documents (and couldn't), at
which point the authorities had proceeded to search her car,
revealing the stolen property. From their vantage point, Lavinia
and Gabriel watched the poor hapless spy desperately trying
to convince the law of her innocence. It was really too funny
for Lavinia, who had to leave with both hands over her mouth
to stifle the giggles.
Kitten's cause, unfortunately, was further damned
as the authorities laid apprehending hands on the perpetually
suspicious-acting Count Backwards. Livid and oily as he was
(would he NEVER be free of engine lubricants?), his eyes somewhat
pasted down and unable to see, he felt his arms gripped and
blurted out in blind defence:
It was HER! She made me do it! I didn't
want to touch the damn car! The accusatory attention
swung mistakenly back to Kitten. She bit her lip and, inwardly
cursing Backwards (what WAS his beef this time, the rotter?),
realised only one option was left to her: flight. Like a cat
on a hot tin roof, Kitten leaped with a twist and turn in
mid-air, dodged between reaching hands, and sprinted for the
Convulsed as she was by paroxysms of mirth,
Lavinia didn't see her coming. Neither did Gabriel, and both
went down like ninepins as the blonde thunderbolt went through
them. Even in her haste, Kitten, consummate flirt, managed
a squeeze and an airy Sorry, honey, later, to
the man on her way past.
All hell was breaking loose in the garage as
the gendarmerie, whistles blowing, thundered off in hot pursuit,
causing the wooden marina to bounce and creak alarmingly.
Kitten reached the end of the planking and cast
about for a means of escape. Bobbing at the mooring post,
polished woodwork gleaming in the moonlight, was a stunning
little Aqua Riva. Kitten dived into the seat, jammed her patent
skeleton ignition key (a handy tool on loan from her
boss) into the ignition, and revved the engine. Spinning the
wheel and turning the prow seaward, she threw a glance over
her shoulder. The police were almost upon her. Laughing at
their cries of Non! Non! Arretez-vous! Voleur!
she thrust the throttle forward. The mooring rope held for
a split second, then, with a terrible rending of splintered
wood, the powerboat leapt forward like a missile, taking the
mooring post and a large section of the marina with it, and
depositing her pursuers in the foaming water.
Kitten laughed maniacally, and blessed her ninth
life, still holding good as she headed out to sea along the
path of the moon's reflection. She was wholly unaware that
not all of the wake spreading out behind her was emanating
from her boat. Glinting occasionally in the moonlight,
just above the waves, the brass housing and lens of a periscope
cut through the water, at a safe distance but matching speed
following, following . . .