Episode 16 - "Masquerade Madness
- Part One"
The remaining competitors, having successfully completed
the last stage, are now arriving in Venice. As they check
in with the race officials each is given an invitation to
a masquerade ball to be given in their honour by the infamous
Luisa, Marchesa Casati at her resplendent and stylishly decaying
palazzo on The Grand Canal. Promising a night of pure extravagance,
all are expected to attend as further stage clues will be
hidden within the 18th century partially ruined villa and
without in the immense gardens littered with statuary, peacocks
Having been personally invited to stay at the villa, Lavinia
and Gabriel have finished dressing and are now sweeping down
the grand staircase towards the ballroom. Lavinia divinely
dressed in a peacock themed gown of green and blue feathers
with matching golden mask and Gabriel in his best white tie
and black domino mask. Just as they were about to be announced,
Lavinia remembered she had forgotten her fan and wish to return
to the room for it as it formed an integral part of her ensemble.
Gabriel waited for her to the side of the staircase.
Gabriel turned around with a who me? expression on his face.
Miss Kitten was behind a half opened door under the stairs.
She motioned to Gabriel urgently bidding 'I need your assistance,
will you come in here and help me for a moment?'
Unable to refuse a lady in distress, Gabriel entered the door
which led into some sort of private gaming room with card
tables and billiards. Miss Kitten was dressed in a bright
red sequinned dress with matching mask like a true scarlet
woman. In a matter of seconds she pounced on her prey.
Kitten had moments earlier liberally applied a special lipstick,
one that can incapacitate a 'victim' in but a short period
of time. Kitten's plan was to record Lavinia's escort in a
compromising position and ruin their little racing 'team'.
Just a bit of friendly rivalry fun.
Laughing with delight, Kitten dispensed with pleasantries
and got straight to the point. She grappled with Gabriel and
pushed him onto the billiards table and planted a smoochy
kiss square on her 'victim'...
Pitstop, in a dress stolen from the Marchesa's extensive
wardrobe, stood on the balcony terrace overlooking the Grand
Canal, staring outwards with eyes unable to produce tears
for the rage and hopelessness she held inside. Her knuckles
glinted white in the moonlight as she tightly gripped the
stone balustrade, and the beading on her dress shook gently
with the suppressions of sobs that shook her slender frame.
She was angry with herself for coming here. The Marchesa's
Ball should have proved a powerful distraction - an evening
of pleasant forgetfulness. Instead her inability to experience
the delightful sensations of life and merrymaking had pushed
her near the edge of madness.
Earlier, as she was escorted onto the floor for a dance
she had caught sight of her partner, a total stranger, in
the mirrored wall - and he was dancing faultlessly: on his
own. The curse was now complete, she cast no reflection at
all - none. Everything she had tried failed, it was over.
She had dashed from the stranger's bewildered hold, grabbing
champagne from the waiters, but even that had turned to tasteless
nothing in her mouth. The laughter of the revellers had seemed
to turn shrill and mocking in her ears, and she pushed through
oblivious guests until she found herself here, alone, gasping
ragged breaths and shaking. The fear of realisation on her
face was hidden beneath the sable and silver gilded bat-wing
mask as she now looked down into the moonlit water far below.
She watched the rippling blackness, the welcoming hypnotically
lapping water. Was that the answer? Was that really the solution
to her half-life, an end to all the pain and hopelessness?
At least, she thought, if I choose to jump it's my decision,
not like being dropped off the roof of a train by a caddish
thief. She considered the ridiculous weight of the glass beaded
Erte creation she wore should be enough to drag her beneath
the rippling blackness forever. All she had to do was sit
on the stone railing and lean forward
Gabriel felt soiled. He had managed to prise himself from
Kitten's maniacal laughing, pawing grasp and sought sanctuary
in the small ante room. Anywhere he could away from her. He
used his handkerchief to wipe any traces of her sticky lipstick
off his face. He then noticed a few of her stray hairs on
his evening dress and with an exclamation of disgust took
off his jacket and brushed it down. He needed a smoke. He
opened the large window and sat on the sill overlooking the
balcony terrace. He swung himself round and off the sill on
to the terrace straightening his clothes. Looking over he
noticed the curtains billowing from the open balcony terrace
doors, and, following the music from the ball, he walked into
the moonlight. It was then he noticed he was not alone. A
woman was sitting on the stone balustrade facing the canal
and leaning a little too far over for safety's sake. Genuinely
concerned for his fellow party guest's well being he coughed
'I beg your pardon,' he said softly, 'I didn't mean to intrude
Pitstop's fascination with the water below broke and she
straightened. She adjusted her mask before turning towards
the stranger, maybe, just now, she thought, company might
not be so bad.
'I find the night air more pleasant, don't you?' she responded
'Yes.' said Gabriel, moving carefully to her side ready to
grab the lady's wrist should she slip off the railing. 'May
I offer you a cigarette?' He produced an open case. She declined
so he removed just one of the curious scented cigarettes for
himself and replaced the case in his jacket. Gabriel deftly
struck his lighter and slowly drew in the potent smoke. Gosh,
Gabriel thought, these are a bit strong tonight as his head
began to swim a bit. He couldn't help noticing just how luminous
the lady's skin was in the moonlight.
The lady began to turn back to the canal and Gabriel inhaled
again, he had to come up with a way to get her down onto the
terrace. The music from the ballroom changed as the orchestra
altered tempo and mood. A slow soulful tango, melancholy but
with a poignant sweetness.
'Oh listen to that,' encouraged Gabriel 'lovely isn't it?'
Pitstop recognised the tune ,'It's Oblivion,' she said, and
whispered 'how appropriate.' Then more audibly ,'I've always
liked this piece.'
Gabriel put out the cigarette, stepped back and bowed slightly
offering a gloved hand, 'would you honour me..?'
Pitstop turned towards the stranger and took his hand as
he helped guide her legs over the rail and onto the terrace.
She looked up at him, face hidden by his mask, as was hers,
and then she was in hold, laying her head on his shoulder
as they began to move to the music, slowly, softly, two shadows,
for a moment forgetting everything but the music and each
As they danced, Gabriel couldn't help notice just how remarkably
cold her body was in his hold yet it was a perfectly balmy
night. Pitstop felt her tension lessen perceptibly, at least
she was able to push her problem from her mind and for this
one moment lose herself in the dance. Perhaps it was the music,
the moonlight, or her partner.
Gabriel was feeling relaxed, very relaxed and let his thoughts
drift. He had forgotten Kitten, the Race, the curious avalanche,
the even curiouser behaviour and arrival of Count Backwards.
He just listened to the tango, felt his partner move with
him in the dance and inhaled her perfume
lilies, cloves and vanilla
? He knew this
scent. Gabriel's memories drifted about in his head and suddenly
looked up as he placed the lady's possible identity. His line
of sight was directly into their reflection in the terrace
windows. The music finished and they moved slightly apart,
but still in hold. His reflection was dancing alone in the
glass! What tricks was his mind playing, he had only taken
a few puffs? Somewhat disturbed Gabriel let go of his corpse-like
partner, if he even actually had one! Pitstop looked up at
him not realising his agitation.
'You tango very well,' she said in simple compliment.
Ever polite, Gabriel replied a brief thank you and nervously
smiled back, and at that moment the moonlight fell across
his face and Pitstop recognised his smile. It was unforgettable.
Simultaneously both recited out loud 'You!'
Gabriel was now certain his dance partner was the long dead
woman he'd let fall from the train now here to revengefully
haunt him 'My
' he said. Pitstop moved menacingly
toward him and grabbed at him wishing to remove his mask to
be sure of the stranger's identity but instinctively he stepped
back. Quickly glancing again at his reflection in the long
windows, yes he was most definitely alone with a supernatural
apparition, the result of a decision he'd often regretted
making some years ago.
He backed away muttering 'no, no I didn't mean it to happen
that way...' turning Gabriel dashed for the terrace doors
and stumbled into the ball room and through the dancers heading
for the main doors and escape. He sought his freedom from
this ghostly madness through the Marchesa's Villa's maze of
corridors but was lost and disorientated. He punched the wall
'My Lord?' A sweet voice said behind him. He spun, fear rising
again, she's found me! It was not the ghost, this lady was
smaller, more delicate and cast a vision of warmth in a regal
gown, with her golden hair piled and pinned with diamonds.
'I looked for you in the Ballroom,' she chided smiling, 'You
have been most remiss, making me wait - and when we have so
much to discuss
Gabriel was thoroughly confused and feeling woozy Kitten's
drug was slowly taking effect. His muddled thoughts were still
on the vengeful ghost pursuing him and his enfeebled mind
could make nothing of this at all. He was sure he wasn't obliged
to any ladies living or dead. 'Forgive me, er, madam,' he
stammered in apology trying not to look quite so scared, 'I
- er - don't believe I yet have the honour of your acquaintance.
You uh... have me at a disadvantage.'
The lady smiled seductively and removed her mask,' That will
come later,' she chuckled, and extended her gloved hand,'
I am the Baroness Lizbet Lucrenza Schrapnell Barbarossa von
Bathory. My friends call me 'Buffy'. And you are the Baronet
Gabriel Valentine Fox-Leatherette. You don't need that domino
mask - I know everything about you.'
'Er, really...?' Gabriel replied doubtfully 'I hope not'
under his breath. 'Buffy' found him to be most pliant and
slipped her arm through his and began to lead him away.
'There are of course certain things I don't know,' she conceded
,'so you must spend the rest of this evening satisfying my
curiosity. But, my, you're shaking. Surely I'm not that frightening?
Let's get you some brandy.' Buffy oozed charisma as she spoke.
Perhaps Fate was pointing him in a different course? Half
reluctantly, but weakly, he let the Baroness lead him on