Episode 15 - "An Alpine Ambush
- Part One"
The Bullnose Morris conveying the DeVere brothers crunched
it's way along the winding gravel drive towards the imposing
schloss in the Alpine Duchy of Grand Fenwick. Jaspar, always
the more ebullient of the two rubbed his hands as the car
approached the vast studded door.
'I tell you, Lucius, we really are going up in the world this
time. I have it on good authority that Our Client has somewhat
over fifty million in Zurich.'
'Hmm, yes, well make a good impression then,' cautioned the
other, 'the things I have heard of Her reputation-' he let
the words hang. He remembered the letter commanding their
attendance, and the rather strange postscript: ensure you
are not followed.
The door was opened by a flunkey in the apparent final stages
of decrepitude, who after five minutes of hard shouting, finally
understood them to be the guests he was told to expect. His
Mistress, he told the DeVeres, was out hunting but if they
would kindly wait within the courtyard, the Baroness would
be returning soon.
The lady - their 'Client' appeared at that moment, astride
a magnificent grey Arab mare, surrounded by her hounds, who
at the sight of the two strangers, bounded over to paw enthusiastically
at Jaspar. The Baroness ignored him completely and side-saddled
over to Lucius who appeared to be the more serious of the
pair. Indeed it had been he with whom she had corresponded
initially. Lucius offered his hand to assist the lady to dismount:
The Baroness Lizbet Lucrenza Schrapnell Barbarossa von Bathory;
a petite lady but of obvious dominant personality. She was
clad in wine coloured riding habit, richly frogged in gold,
and a feathered fur cap.
'Gentlemen?' she said, and Lucius gave his best bow.
Lucius waited until his brother had extricated himself from
canine attentions, then cleared his throat and commenced.
'Now, in précis, Your Grace,' he said, 'you require
us, as your Confidential Agents, in return for a -ahem -most
generous honorarium -,' he looked up once more, and the Baroness
inclined her head in assent ,' - to facilitate in
finding you a suitable mate,' and he showed his teeth in a
rather sharklike smile. 'Consort, if you please. Mate is such
a vulgar word,' corrected the Baroness coldly.
The Baroness qualified the statement,' This is so, but you
will recall my specific requirements. The gentleman must be
of noble birth -'
'Oh, but naturally' interjected Jaspar unwisely and was rewarded
with a freezing glare from the Baroness. He mumbled apologetically.
The Baroness gave him an arch look and returned her attention
to Lucius before continuing.
'He must be of noble birth,' she reiterated, 'preferably of
an old English family. Yes. English I think.' She said half
reflectively. 'It is necessary.' She didn't bother explaining.
The brothers exchanged a knowing look, then smiled obligingly
at the Baroness.
'I believe, my dear Lady,' said Lucius, producing a ream of
paper from his briefcase 'that we are in the happy position
to meet your every requirement.' He placed one hand palm down
on the dossier. 'We have located, we believe, a most suitable
suitor (haha), er, candidate for Your Grace's perusal. He
is young-ish, English, of two ancient lines, heir to quite
an estate, unattached and, currently touring the continent
in the company of his sister. Would you care to view?' and
he passed the file over.
Buffy opened the file and looked at the sepia-tone photograph
stapled to a cyclostyled page of Who's Who. The photographer
appeared to have caught the subject by surprise from his expression,
and the angle was a little strange, but facially he seemed
pleasant enough. The woman whose arm was linked through his
must be the sister.
One slim blonde eyebrow arched as she read the entry and the
corner of her mouth curled slightly.
'Gabriel Valentine Fox-Leatherette,' she murmured, 'Baronet.
How very fortunate
' She looked levelly at the man before
her 'You are quite sure your information is current and correct?
His inheritance and position are beyond dispute.'
Lucius found her regard and tone rather disquieting and to
cover his discomfiture took out his monocle to polish it.
'My dear Baroness,' he said rather stiffly, 'The DeVere Confidential
Agency is meticulous in its investigations.' He smiled, with
what he considered a confident warmth, 'you may repose absolute
trust in us. With our service, you simply cannot possibly
fail in your prospects
Pitstop had left Monte before dawn. After the
fracas in the garage last night with Count Backwards (she
muttered under her breath) she had no intention of outstaying
her welcome. Neither of doing what she could to spring Backwards
from the chokey , who in her opinion had failed her. She was
still cursed and her soul doomed - as if to remind her, what
sleep she had managed had been filled with dreams of Maman
Noir's evil face and mocking laughter.
No she couldn't rely on Backwards, and now even supposing
he managed to slide out of his current predicament, he would
probably shoot first and not even bother with questions later.
She had to find another 'enemy' to serve her needs, or find
another way to break the curse. At least she knew where she
was going: the next Race Checkpoint was Turin. Turin, she
mused, city of the Gran Madre de Dio, the Basilica de Superga,
the Turin Shroud
Pitstop swore. The CHURCH! Of Course, why had she not thought
of that before? If anyone in the world knew how to combat
maledictions it would be the Catholic Church! She shook her
head at her own foolishness in not thinking of it before,
and now she was heading to the most Catholic country of all.
Laughing, she revved her engine, and pulled the Enfield in
the most impressive wheelie, past the gaping customs men at
the border, who, being Italian, cheered, applauded and wolf-whistled.
Kitten was enjoying a catnap under a lap rug
on the floor of the boat she had stolen making her escape
from Monte Carlo. The rocking caused by the waves was just
so soothing until
an insistent angry buzzing from her
clutch bag woke her out of her light slumbers. She knew what
it was: the two way radio in her compact - her boss wanted
'a word'. Gingerly she slid the compact out and clicked it
open; the aerial slid out automatically but she was used to
that and no longer caught it in her ear.
'Agent KC reporting,' she said rather nervously, and was immediately
rewarded with a torrent of abuse so forceful she nearly dropped
the compact overboard into the waters of Livorno marina, her
current port of call.
'No, honestly Boss, I'm not throwing in the towel,' she complained,
'I just had some bother in Monte Carlo and had to scram
angry buzzing from the speaker)
No, I didn't draw attention
to my self
No I didn't! It wasn't my fault,' she said
despairingly, 'I was done up like a kipper (buzz buzz)
yes it probably was her, yes. But don't worry,' she said ,'I
have a plan. She's with this poncy guy - I think I can get
to her through him
I'll choose to ignore that
remark!' The voice on the other end of the communicator had
calmed down, and began to relay instructions. Kitten listened
'Where? Venice? I thought it was supposed to be Turin
Oh I see. How did you know I was in a boat? What do you mean
you can see me?' she looked around her at the flat calm water,
the waterfront warehouses, the loungers on the jetty. Nothing.
She waved her hand in the air: 'How many fingers am I holding
up?' (BUZZ!!!!) Oh, sorry you can see me. Yes HC. Yes Boss.
I will. I won't. No I won't mess up this time! Yes, I'll report
when I arrive in Venice. Yes I know what will happen. Yes!'
The line went dead, and she clicked the compact shut looked
about warily surveying her situation mindful that she was
being watched. A periscope several yards away slowly lowered
back down beneath the waves.
First she needed to buy fuel and provisions, and then head
on around the coast to Venice. By the time the other competitors
had gone via the proper route, she should still be there before
Kitten decided she had best check her current funds and reached
into her inside pocket. She frowned. Her wallet wasn't in
the usual place. She tried the other breast pocket. Not there
either. With diminishing patience she made a methodical search
of her other pockets, several times. Then the boat. She began
to panic, as she was forced to confront the horrible reality
that her wallet - and everything it contained - was gone!
'Can you see anything?' Lavinia asked, concern
furrowing her usually smooth brow. She was addressing her
enquiry to her half-brother's feet. The rest of him lay underneath
the engine of Chugger Zoom; the gallant jalopy had managed
to limp as far as this lay-by on the winding mountain road
then, with a distinctly terminal cough and death rattle, had
shuddered to a halt.
'Anything obvious?' she re-iterated, anxious about slipping
behind - already three of the other competitors had passed,
and her 'damsel-in-distress-lean-on-hood-flash-leg-and-swoon'
classic gambit had so far been to no avail.
From beneath the engine bay came her brother's reply: 'I'm
no expert,' he said, 'but it looks like someone's been at
this with a Junior Wrecker's Tool Kit.' A light dawned in
his brain: 'That's what I fell over! That bounder in the trenchcoat,
Livvi - the greased up one?'
'Yes - you know he was in the garage last night? I bet it
was his FEET! And I was next to Chugger: he's bloody nobbled
the engine, darling!'
Lavinia swore and kicked savagely at the whitewalled tyre
- missed - and caught her half-brother a very painful crack
on the ankle, provoking a loud stream of inventive public
school swearing with which even she was unfamiliar. When the
echoes had died out into the valley, she apologised profusely
and crouched to soothe Gabriel's abused limb.
'Bloody Backwards!' she muttered as she rubbed.
Some hours earlier 'Bloody Backwards' was hunched
scowling in the rear of a police saloon, speeding through
the night. Admittedly the two trench coated 'Special Detectives'
didn't look like exactly kosher - to Backwards anyway - but
they certainly did look heavy, so he sat quietly seething
and grinding his teeth.
The drive, strangely circuitous with many apparent double-backs
(Backwards knew evasive driving when he experienced it) took
them finally into a covered mews on the outskirts of Monte
Carlo, whereupon he was dragged out (in silence), dragged
upstairs into a glass-doored office and thrust down onto a
wooden chair. An angle-poise lamp shone brightly into his
eyes. Through the glare he could vaguely discern two figures
behind the desk, one seated, one standing, both rotund and
both appearing from the occasional glint of light, to be wearing
monocles. The seated one spoke.
'Count Backwards. We have a file on you here.' The speaker
picked up a very well stuffed box file, and thumbed casually
and meaningfully through a sheaf of reports and other papers.
'Busy fellow you've been
.wanted by Interpol
and the FBI, KGB, MIs 5 & 6, The Vatican, The Carpanian
Imperial Guard and Zippo's Circus
a 'No-goodnik for hire'
excellent. Alright Arsene, you
can go,' this to the trenchcoat tough holding Backwards down
by the shoulder.
After he had gone, the seated one leant forward on the desk.
'Now listen Backwards, you're in a great deal of trouble,
and play foul by us and it's straight back to the police-'
'Or in the harbour with an anchor tied to your feet' interrupted
the other for the first time.
'Now, now,' chided the first, 'you're not going to play foul,
are you my dear Count?'
Backwards, wishing he could bribe his way out of this, cleared
his throat and muttered to himself, 'I picked a bad day to
give up carrying cash.' He then tried to sound confident and
asked , 'What do you want?'
'Good fellow. I believe you are acquainted with the Lady Lavinia
Kydd-Leatherette and her noble brother the Honourable Gabriel
'Yes I am,' snarled Backwards, and if I ever see that smarmy
@*£$+, sneering, dandy %&*£ upstart again,
I'll damn well-!'
'Protect them both like they are more precious than your own
worthless hide' finished his interrogator sternly. Backwards
gaped like a gaffed haddock.
Gabbling he blurted 'Have the two of you the faintest concept
of what they did to me, the @*£$+ pair of '%&*£---!!'
The standing figure had moved round to Backwards and clamped
his hand over Backward's bestubbled mouth. He bent down and
whispered dangerously in the Count's ear.
'Now listen you,' he hissed,' we know all about the Hon. GVF-L.
Believe me there is nothing you can tell us about him we don't
know, and we don't care about you. Insofar as your liberty
or life are concerned you better do as you're told and ensure
he and his sister make their race stages - and you had better
do it! Capiche?'
Backwards looked into the blankly glinting monocle, not understanding
this turn of events in the slightest; but it did mean liberty.
All he could think to say was:
'Where do you get your moustache wax