Episode 18 - "Kaput in Klagenfurt"
To avoid too much unwelcome attention, competitors in the
Rally had been boarded in various convenient locations in
the centre of Klagenfurt. Gabriel and Lavinia had been accommodated
in a pair of suites in the Palais Salzamt - not, however,
adjoining. Count Backwards had initially been offered a servant's
garret in a less salubrious establishment, but after "explaining
his importance" (menacingly) to the concierge, he had
been upgraded to the presidential suite. He had taken to promenading
up and down the Grand Boulevard, twirling his moustaches in
a sickeningly smug manner.
Pitstop had found accommodation of her own, but was not socializing.
A few of her fellow competitors had thought to invite her
for drinks. The black look they received spoke eloquently.
The telephone tinkled on Lady Lavinia's hotel bedside table.
She unhooked her earring and put the receiver to her ear.
"Hello? Lavinia Kydd-Leatherette speaking."
"Meine Dame? Your long-distance call to London is waiting."
"Thank you, please put them through." Lavinia waited
with bated breath. She had waited anxiously for this news
- she hoped that her solicitors had turned up some information
about the Baroness von Bathory. They did not disappoint her
- they had done their research well - but as Lavinia listened,
her face grew paler and she found she had to sit on the Louis
Quinze stool, for her legs would not support her.
Phrases flashed blackly in her mind: many relationships .
. . widowed four times . . . mysterious circumstances . .
. nothing proved . . . dubious financial position . . . political
unrest. . . . After her solicitor had finished speaking, Lavinia
calmly thanked him and replaced the receiver. She had been
about to dine with her half-brother in about an hour, but
now she needed to see him most urgently. She swept out of
her room like an auburn gale.
Gabriel was shaving when he received a knock on the door.
He froze; his first thought, for no particular reason, was
of his terror in Venice. Then he shook his head. "They
don't knock, Gabriel; they float through the door," he
chided himself, but he opened the door very gingerly. Outside
was a perfectly ordinary bellhop, bearing a pasteboard card
on a salver. Gabriel took it and scanned it as he absently
pressed 5 marks into the boy's hand. It was from Buffy. He
was invited to dinner, but the language used was rather more
like a command. Apparently they had "matters to discuss."
He telephoned Lavinia's room, but there was no answer.
"Oh well," he muttered, "I can send her a note."
The Baroness had also engaged rooms at the Palais Salzamt
(in order to keep an eye on her "prey") and had
arranged dinner in a private salon, with private waiter service
and a string ensemble in a curtained alcove. She stood regal
in a gown of crimson trimmed with ermine, awaiting her guest,
who, with impeccable manners arrived precisely on time.
"My darling, Gabriel," smiled Buffy, extending her
fingers for him to kiss; she waited until the doorman had
left the room, then kissed him lightly on the lips - she had
applied her "persuasive" lipstick once again, but
a little at a time, she thought. "I decided we really
should take such opportunities as we may to get to know each
other better. Champagne?" Gabriel accepted a glass. He
was still at something of a loss with Buffy, and couldn't
understand how he had gotten himself into this situation.
Were they really engaged? How did that happen? Buffy continued.
"I have ordered a special dinner for us, my dear. We
have so much to discuss, after all."
"Er, yes . . ." began Gabriel, but Buffy continued.
"After all, a state wedding doesn't organize itself,''
and she laughed musically. Gabriel necked the champagne and
collared the bottle. His throat was suddenly very, very dry.
Miss Kitten Caboodle would have given anything for a drink
of any kind. She had been dumped, bound hand and foot by Gabriel
(with only a curt, murmured apology), in the basement of what
appeared to be - from the smell of it - a disused laundry.
Even Kitten's suggestive undulating in her bonds had failed
to move him, earning her no more than a smack on the behind.
He had left her prone on the floor in the dark, covered with
an old sheet. Now she squirmed in order to activate her two-way
radio/compact's distress signal. Since it was in her hip pocket,
a few painful bumps against the floor set it softly beeping,
and she knew it was transmitting.
After what seemed an age, she heard the door to the cellar
open and a heavy and cautious tread descend the stairs. She
heard the beeping of a locator and suddenly the sheet was
thrown back and a flashlight shone in her eyes.
"Why do I employ you again?" came the nasal sarcastic
tone of her employer, and Kitten breathed a sigh of relief.
"I very nearly had them. I came so close on the road!"
Kitten tried to justify herself as she was untied.
"I know," replied her boss. "It actually came
close to being a good effort. And for that reason, I'm going
to give you one last chance. My intelligence tells me that
Lady Lavinia's brother Gabriel . . ."
"Her BROTHER??!" exclaimed Kitten. The Hooded Claw
"Yes, of course - do your homework! Where was I? Oh yes,
Gabriel is soon set, for reasons best known to himself, to
be wed to the Baroness of Bones (the idiot). It will be a
state and society occasion. This gives me - or rather YOU
- the best opportunity you could ever have to get rid of the
whole wretched lot once and for all."
Kitten digested this revelation: Lavinia's brother - no wonder
they were so close. "How do we get everyone in one place
"Leave that to me," replied her boss cryptically.
"Speaking of everyone - what happened to P-Pitstop?"
He had to spit the name out, for some odd reason.
Kitten thought it best not to lie to her boss, given his "forgiving"
nature. "I don't know," she said frowning. "I
haven't seen her in ages . . ."
Pitstop had left Klagenfurt behind. As the other racers had
arrived, she had half a day's advance on them already and
was riding for Vienna. She thought of taking it easy, but
that was never her way and she had no intention of being the
hare to anyone's tortoise. But she wasn't on the road alone
. . .
Loud of voice, and even louder of check golf-wear, Charles
"Chip" Woodward III found his patience was wearing
thin. The heir to a famous automobile dynasty, Chip was used
to having things done "just-so, lickety-spit," and
the mechanic at this out-of-the-way gas station was driving
him to despair. Oh, the Austrian was efficient enough for
anyone's money (and Chip had plenty of that), but he was so
painstaking he was slow: he'd been pouring over the engine
of Chip's Marquette roadster and so far had not diagnosed
the source of the strange knocking sound.
"Jeeze Louise, buddy," said Chip in Long Island
tones around a mouthful of gum. "Can't you see it yet?
Much longer an' I'm gonna lose my position. Look, how much
more do ya want to get one-a your pals out here for a second
"Have patience, mein Herr," replied the attendant,
holding up his hand in polite refusal as Chip's hand went
again to his wallet. "This engine is a finely tuned mechanism.
Assuredly I shall get you back on the road in good time. I
think I may have . . . ha! Ja . . . So!" He reached deeper
into the engine bay and began tugging at something.
At that moment a throaty engine noise caused Chip to look
around. A bright (Soviet) red American Austin auto pulled
up behind him and growled to a stop. The driver, in Red Army
uniform, stepped out. Woodward recognized him: Krzysztof Kozhakhmetov
- a Soviet major who had a gift for making himself unpopular,
as he now demonstrated.
"You!" He addressed the mechanic's posterior. "Fill
my car. And you!" He pointed a riding crop at Chip. "Move
that American junk-pile out of my way!"
Chip stood, hands on hips, and stuck out his lantern jaw "That
'junk-pile' your drivin' is American, buddy. Wait your turn
- you're Ruski, you should be used to queueing." The
Russian went as red as his car and strode over to stand nose
to nose with Chip, who anticipated a fight - he was ready
and looking forward to it.
"Er, mein Herr?," the aged mechanic said diffidently.
"The source of your problem. An inexpert attempt at sabotage.
It was wrapped around your crankshaft." He held up a
length of oily chain.
"Ya don't say?" Chip scratched the slight bump on
his temple - a souvenir from a childhood softball game when
his would-be sweetheart had expressed her opinion of him with
a fast ball that knocked him flat. What a girl! What was her
name again . . . ? Kozhakhmetov was prodding his chest with
the riding crop.
"Move your car, you capitalist exploiter of the workers!"
the Russian hissed.
"In a pig's eye, ya borscht-eating pinko!" returned
Chip and spat his gum on the other's boots. It was the Russian
who threw the first punch . . .
Pitstop passed the garage at an even 100 m.p.h. She noted
the two cars parked there and the serious dust-up currently
ensuing. She was curious as to how they had got ahead of her
- clearly someone somewhere was cheating. Well, she thought,
the rules are somewhat elastic. What truly awful dress sense
one of them has . . . and strangely familiar. Tragic check
outfit, no style, quite unlike . . . Pitstop angrily stifled
the thought and revved her engine.
As she drove, she checked her mirror. She had long got used
to the absence of her reflection, but after the Marchesa's
advice, she felt the pain less keenly. She focused on the
dust cloud on the road behind her - another competitor in
a Porsche saloon. As it got closer, she was able to read the
number plate: V V Z 1. Ah, thought Pitstop, Violencia Von
Violencia Von Zeil peered fixedly at the lone figure ahead
of her. She had heard of the woman Pitstop and had researched
her, but she had been able to find out very little about her:
the American's history was apparently cloaked in shadow. That
she was dangerous, Von Zeil knew, but that mattered little
to the Saxon: Pitstop was a rival that needed removing from
the race - one way or another. Violencia stamped her size
nine jackboot on the gas.
Pitstop was aware of the steadily gaining Porsche and anticipated
trouble of a not very subtle kind. Whether the German knew
it or not, she was known among the other racers as "The
Blunt Instrument," as much for her methods as her features
(which were less than pretty). It was said of Violencia that
she took what she wanted, including partners, regardless of
their own wishes. Pitstop knew her opponent certainly would
let no one stand in her way to win the Rally. As with Von
Lumpenkarl, she knew it would come down to herself or Von
Zeil. Pitstop doubted that a mere wrecking of the other's
car would be sufficient to stop her. She studied the road
ahead as she decided on the best course of action. From behind
her, she was able to hear the engine of the Porsche: Von Zeil
was getting closer.
Far to the rear of Von Zeil, Charles "Chip" Woodward
III and Kozhakhmetov had "sorted out" their differences
- leaving the former with two black eyes and the latter with
concussion on the garage forecourt - and the American was
back on the road, making up time and distance. His Marquette
roadster was a match for the Porsche, and soon he had the
German in sight; ahead of her was the lone figure on the motorcycle.
It seemed to Chip that the broad had acted foolishly in her
choice of transport, which he believed had no place in an
auto rally. The English Lady Lavinia now - there was a real
driving dame. Perhaps he should speak to her brother about
an introduction . . .
Von Zeil dropped down a gear and accelerated. The most direct
way was the best way: she intended to ram Pitstop off the
Pitstop looked ahead: the road was descending into a gully,
with steep walls of rock rising on both sides - a potential
deathtrap for somebody, and she could guess exactly how her
pursuer might attempt to take her out of the race. Pitstop
sneered behind her mask. She was not going to be smeared like
so much jam across an Austrian cliff. She gunned her engine,
and the Enfield's roar echoed off the rock walls.
Von Zeil smiled a yellow-toothed totenkopf grin. This would
be even easier: she could see the road would narrow; all she
needed to do was edge close enough to the biker to force her
into the cliff. She glanced in her mirror and frowned. The
American in the loud suit was behind her. No matter, she thought,
he cannot pass me here.
The three racers sped into the cutting; walls of rock leapt
precipitously skywards, reducing the light to a twilight gloom.
Von Zeil switched on her full beam, aiming it at her target.
Pitstop ignored the glare in her mirrors and accelerated,
and the German followed suit. Chip wove about behind Von Zeil,
seeking a place to pass, but there was none. Von Zeil began
to edge closer to Pitstop's rear wheel. Pitstop could see
that the road ahead of her narrowed to the width of one car,
and there would be no room for the Enfield. The question was
could she reach it before Von Zeil slammed her into the wall.
She was doubtful. She forced every ounce of speed from her
Von Zeil still had plenty of horse power under the Porsche's
hood. She, too, could see the black spot ahead, and she determined
to make use of it. Humming "Die Walkyrie," she closed
on the fleeing woman. Pitstop knew she had no space and desperately
sought a way through - and then she saw it: just before the
black spot was a fall of scree, and it had shelved into a
bank, sloping up to the cliff wall.
"OK, Speedworthy, you bastard," she muttered, "Let's
see just how well you taught me," and she bent low over
the handlebars and pulled the accelerator back hard.
They reached the cleft. Laughing maniacally, Von Zeil swung
her wheel hard over to mash Pitstop against the cliff - and
suddenly she wasn't there! Suddenly, impossibly, the woman
was riding not on the road, but racing along the rock wall!
Von Zeil's jaw dropped "Gott in Himmel!" she swore.
Pitstop was horizontal, parallel to the ground, and streaking
like a bullet along the sheer side of the cliff!
Fatally, Von Zeil could not tear her eyes from this spectacle.
Her offside wheel hit the scree bank, jarring the steering
wheel out of her grip. Her great speed was her own undoing!
With a scream of tortured metal, the Porsche snapped around,
pivoting on its front axle, then flipped and barrel-rolled
down the road, fragmenting as it did so. Pitstop watched the
flaming debris skitter and slide along below her as she steered
lower down the rock wall, concentrating on her speed and trajectory,
until, once more, she was on the flat. The shattered pieces
of debris whizzed past her, but none touched her.
She raced out of the cleft and into the sunlight, breathing
a silent prayer of thanks - to whom she did not know. A road
sign flashed past on her right: 15 k.m. to Vienna. She revved
the engine of her trusty Enfield and roared ahead. Behind
her, Chip and subsequent competitors had to find alternative
routes around the remains of Von Zeil. A grand reception was
due to be held that night: many of them were going to be late
. . .