The Rumble Rally
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 you Gabriel?"
Gabriel was still rather nonplussed. He knew nothing of this lady.
"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 or something?
"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 burst in.

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 focus.
"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 asked gently.
"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?"
"Of course."
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 neck.

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 in return.

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 of food.
"I thought we would start with octopus," she said brightly. Gabriel turned green . . .


Character Profiles

© Pandora Pitstop •Site maintained by Mark (Thunzie) Paton