Episode 16 - "Masquerade Madness
- Part Two"
. . . The Baroness led Gabriel by the arm back to the buffet.
At the merest turn of her golden head, a flunkey appeared
bearing a tray with two drinks - champagne for her and the
promised brandy for Gabriel. She then escorted him to a curtained
alcove and sat next to him on a chaise. She toasted him with
her glass and opened the conversation:
"The mysterious Gabriel Valentine Fox-Leatherette, the
Young Lord abroad, accompanying his delightful sister . .
." (she said with some asperity) ". . . in the Great
Race. You seek excitement in your life, Gabriel - I may call
Gabriel was still rather nonplussed. He knew nothing of this
"I suppose yes, although I met Livvi quite by chance
in Spain . . ." He looked about him, still expecting
the phantom woman to appear and molest him.
Buffy misconstrued his nervousness: "Come come, my dear,
we are private here, and we are friends - I hope you see me
as a friend?" she pouted very prettily.
"Er - oh rather, yes," he replied automatically.
"That's good," Buffy smiled seductively and moved
closer. "So . . . you have no home ties? No . . . wife,
or fiancée at home then? I assume not as you are racing."
"No, nothing like that," Gabriel was wary . . .
What was this woman after - could she be a police honey trap
"Me neither," Buffy pouted again. "Here we
are: two titled people all alone in the world, and on such
a romantic night . . ." Gabriel looked away. His thoughts
were of the dead woman whose name he simply could not place.
His head was heavy and he knew he was not firing on all cylinders.
He was paying very little attention to his current companion.
He almost didn't notice her hand slip into his and her other
arm curl around his neck.
"We shouldn't be alone should we, Gabriel my darling?"
Buffy's voice was breathy and very close to his ear. He turned
back to her, and her lips locked passionately on his. Gabriel
was overcome and quite forgot how to think at all.
Buffy held the kiss for a good long time, allowing the drug
in her lipstick to work its magic; she then released the man
to allow him to breathe - after all, she didn't want him to
quit just yet. Gabriel reeled and tried to focus his vision.
Buffy was speaking.
"My, Gabriel, what a marvellous kiss - you really do
like me, don't you?" she asked sweetly, fanning herself;
then "I wonder, my dear, would you do me a small favour?"
"Sure, Buff'," slurred the swaying Gabriel. Pleased
and surprised at how quickly her lipstick took effect, the
smiling Buffy produced a pen and a document from her reticule
. . .
Moving not unlike one of the Marchesa's big cats, Pitstop
stalked the corridors of the Casa Leoni, looking for Gabriel.
Unable to find him within, she tried the garden. At the sight
of her, the Marchesa's cheetahs hissed and shied away from
her, spooked, no doubt, by her metaphysical state.
Depressed, Pitstop reflected that cats were supposed to
be sensitive to such things.
She rounded a box hedge, and suddenly found herself face
to face with the legendary Marchesa Luisa Casati herself:
"That dress looks familiar," Luisa said in a heavy
Italian accent and with a knowing chuckle. Then, waving it
aside, she continued: "I almost think it suits you better
than it did me. You are the Racer on the motorcycle, are you
not? Are you looking for the clue?"
Reassured at finding the Marchesa so tractable, Pitstop answered:
"No. I'm looking for someone - uh no, I mean I'm looking
for something - a clue yes, the clue."
"Uh huh," tutted the Marchesa, "If that is
what you want me to think." The Marchesa noted the other
woman's expression and tone. "Come, sit with me a while
and tell me about your curse."
Pitstop was both shocked and relieved by this last comment.
How could the Marchesa know? Ah well, how could she not? She
had studied under the Master himself; although Crowley was
not present at the Ball, he was certainly a regular visitor
at Casa Leoni. But Luisa could clearly see all the signs;
it was written all over Pitstop's face. Pitstop sat on the
marble bench with Luisa and told her about her curse. "Can
you help me?" Pitstop pleaded.
Sympathetically, the Marchesa shook her head. "No, even
I cannot help you, my dear. This can only be broken by doing
exactly as you have been instructed by Maman. I'm sorry, but
it is truly up to you."
Pitstop's gaze dropped and the breath went out of her; she
felt Luisa's fingers beneath her chin and found herself forced
to look deep into the Marchesa's penetrating, kohl-lined regard:
"Do NOT give up, my dear! Even if your soul is in limbo
- for now - you still have WILL! These things can be overcome.
You are like me - I can see your strength, even if you feel
it has deserted you. You can succeed!" Suddenly, the
Marchesa stood. "Come with me!" she commanded, holding
out her hand as to a sister. Wondering, Pitstop took it, and
the Marchesa led her to a small ivy-covered chapel far into
her garden. Commanding Pitstop to wait, Luisa disappeared
inside and then returned with a small, bejewelled casket.
"My dear friend, you will find this useful if you wish
to proceed to the Next Stage. This much I can do," and
she grinned mischievously. "I will require everyone to
breakfast with me tomorrow, but you - you will already be
on the road, no?" and she held the casket out in both
hands. Pitstop took it, realising she alone now had the clue.
The Marchesa gave Pitstop one last piece of advice: "Remember
what I have told you. Buono viaggio!" Kissing Pitstop
on the cheek, she disappeared into the darkness.
In the small hours of the morning, lost in post -ball rapture,
Lavinia hummed a gentle bossa nova to herself as she glided
about her room in the Marchesa's Casa Leoni. She deposited
her diamonds - both her own and those she had just won in
a four-handed baccarat game against a Dalmatian countess,
a cardinal, and an art dealer who had come to evaluate the
Marchesa's collection. She was just slipping into her mint-green
nightgown and wondering idly what her brother might be doing
with himself when there was a banging at the door and Gabriel
His first act was to swivel on his toes and lock and bolt
the door. He then staggered over to the dresser, poured himself
three fingers of Cognac, and threw them back. He reached for
the decanter again automatically.
"Well hello to you, too," said Lavinia significantly.
"Oh, Livvi," winced Gabriel apologetically, "S-s-sorry
didn't see you," and he took another gulp, teeth chattering
against the glass. Lavinia leapt up and grabbed his wrist.
"Hey, hey, hey - easy! What's the matter, darling?"
She looked him over: through the brandy fumes, she could smell
. . . yes, no less than three different types of perfume.
"What have you been up to? I haven't seen you all night."
"Livvi, we m-m-must leave Venice," Gabriel said
nervously, darting a glance at the door, "before they,
I mean it, no I mean she finds me."
"What are you talking about? No, give me that!"
She prised the glass from his fingers and forced him to look
into her eyes. His pupils were fully dilated, as if he'd been
at the Marchesa's belladonna. "Come on, Gabe, what's
so bad, who's after you? Sit down on the bed and tell me."
Gabriel did as his sister bid, then said, "Livvi, I've
seen a ghost."
Lavinia blinked. "Don't be silly
oh, that was probably
the Marchesa, you know, how she . . ."
"N-n-no not her, of course not her," interrupted
Gabriel. "It was someone I . . . know to be dead. I saw
her die . . ." His voice trailed off and his eyes lost
"P-Pandora!" Gabriel whispered.
"Who?" repeated Lavinia. She had never heard him
mention anyone of this name before.
"Someone I . . . knew . . . once, briefly. S-s-she's
here! She's haunting me!"
"No, calm down! SIT down!" Lavinia held her brother
as he tried to rise. "You saw this person?"
"I danced with her."
"Ridiculous - she was solid then?"
"W-w-well, yes, but . . ."
"And is that her perfume I can smell?" Lavinia felt
somewhat relieved; the mystery seemed no mystery at all.
"Yes, well one is hers, probably, but she was a ghost!"
Gabriel persisted. "She cast no reflection."
"A trick of the light," Lavinia dismissed it, "and
your choice of tobacco - I can smell that too, darling. And
the drink!" She put a consoling arm around his shoulders.
"Are you sure you recognised her?"
"Well . . . she was masked like me." Gabriel felt
he was losing this one.
"Well, there you are! How can you be so sure?" Lavinia
"But she recognised me, too. It was her - her mannerisms,
her voice, her body - Jesus, Livvi, she felt like ice!"
and Gabriel started shivering, remembering their proximity
in the dance and her head on his shoulder.
"Ssh - calm brother. My dear, you imagined it. You're
overwrought, and you're completely stoned and drunk to boot.
See, you've got the shakes, too. There's no such thing as
ghosts, Gabriel," and she smiled reassuringly.
"You don't think?"
A pause. "There's something else, Livvi . . ."
"What?" Lavinia replied.
"I . . . er . . . I think I might be . . . engaged!"
The following morning, Marchesa Luisa Casati held court in
the banqueting hall of her Venetian palazzo. The wreckage
of the previous evening's frivolities had been expertly swept
into the canal, and those guests who were capable were seated
for breakfast. However, only perhaps a few of them were enjoying
it - at least not as much as the Marchesa, who sat with a
sly smile, petting the golden-scaled snake around her swan-like
At her right hand sat the Baroness, Father Scarletti, Miss
Kitten Caboodle, and an unusual, monocle-wearing gentleman
that Luisa could not remember inviting.
To her left sat Lavinia, her brother Gabriel, the Dalmatian
countess, and Count Backwards, dressed as a gondolier.
Meaningful looks flashed across the table: The Baroness exchanged
knowing smiles with Gabriel, who was glancing around the room
in a rather nervous (and hungover) manner. His eyes were very
red, the Marchesa noted. He winced occasionally for some reason.
Father Scarletti appeared also to be searching for an absent
partygoer in an agitated fashion.
Miss Kitten flirted outrageously over her fan with Gabriel,
who, when he noticed, looked quite disgusted and tried to
avoid her eye. Lavinia levelled curious and furious looks
at both the Baroness and Kitten, twisting her napkin meaningfully
and occasionally kicking Gabriel on his bad ankle.
The Dalmatian countess glared at Lavinia, and especially at
the diamonds around the latter's neck, which until the previous
evening had been hers.
The monocled stranger was almost imperceptibly jerking his
head sideways to indicate Miss Kitten and casting significant
looks at Backwards, who was doing his best to act normally
while returning "Yes, I know, I understand" looks
The Marchesa laughed suddenly, the golden snake raising its
little head, as if sharing its mistress' mirth. She clapped
her hands and the servants entered, bearing silver salvers
"I thought we would start with octopus," she said
brightly. Gabriel turned green . . .