The Rumble Rally
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 she needed.
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.”
“Everyone’s helpful to you,” her half-brother laughed, “So: it’s 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 so far.

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 herself.

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 Shank’s 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 Count’s 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 couldn’t remember where exactly, although he seemed to think they were both a lot younger. The thought bothered him like a flea he couldn’t scratch. “Gabriel’s 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t like questions. It reminded him vaguely of school, although he couldn’t 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. “I’ll fill you in on the blanks as we go, but I need you to work with me.”
“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 brother’s 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 didn’t 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 Lavinia’s 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 sister’s 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. “There’s 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. “Don’t forget,” he said, with a sidelong smile. “My education was as good as yours. I would have had her watch if you’d given me more time.” With a practiced hand, Lavinia plucked the pocketbook from her brother’s fingers and riffled through it. She was delighted to see that not only were there wads of cash, but also Kitten’s driving license, three fake IDs with Kitten’s photograph, the ownership papers to her roadster, and, best of all, the stolen Race documents. A slow smile began to spread over Lavinia’s elegantly made-up countenance, and she looked up at Gabriel.
“Let’s 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.
“I’m 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 I’m, I mean, we get discovered.” She was half keeping lookout as she read the paper. “Ah, horoscopes, I wonder if . . .” Pitstop read her star sign’s entry to herself. Blah blah blah, ruling planet Mars . . . retrograde . . . in opposition . . . 8th house . . . an eclipse . . . “Oh, for #%!$ sake!” She’d read enough. Something told her this wasn’t 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 turn slowly.

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 Kitten’s stolen money), and now, wearing his “work” clothes (evening dress and a domino mask), was carrying out his sister’s plan for revenge on Kitten: namely, stashing a half-dozen lifted wallets and a couple of Kitten’s fake IDs in her glovebox. It’s 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 Aubrey’s black boots. Clumsily, Gabriel fell over them, causing the prone saboteur to start in alarm, sit up, and brain himself on Chugger’s manifold.

Gabriel managed to stop himself from falling, but the resounding clang of Aubrey’s 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 Kitten’s 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 marina.

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 . . .


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