The Rumble Rally

Episode 19: The Curse Of The Jade Bat (Part Two)

Lady Lavinia cracked open the sealed race clue. She read through the clue, generally caught the gist of it, but needed clarification. This particular artefact, whatever it was, was clearly something valuable. She considered playing the ingénue with one of the race officials, but she knew that wouldn’t answer. She needed Gabriel: both for his knowledge of fine art and his cat-burglar skills. She also needed to speak to him urgently about the matter of the Baroness, and for some reason had been unable to get him on his own to do so.

There was a knock on the hotel room door.

“ War ist das?” enquired Lavinia in faultless German.

“ Freiherr Fuchs!” was the answer, and with great relief, Livvi flung open the door and threw her arms around her half-brother, before dragging the surprised Gabriel inside and locking the door.

“ What’s up, Livvi?” Gabriel enquired, amused and touched by this display. Lavinia sat them down and took hold of both his hands.

“ Gabriel, listen to me: I don’t know how it happened (although I can guess) but you must break off this engagement with the Baroness.”

Gabriel was surprised. “Erm . . . really? Don’t you like her?” He scratched the back of his neck. “I know Buffy can be a bit . . . well, used to her own way, but she’s been nice to me. I suppose.” To Lavinia, Gabriel sounded doubtful. She pressed home on this.

“ Gabriel, I will be frank with you: I don’t like her; she scares me. My solicitor has done some digging, and the Baroness has a reputation. People die around her, and I am scared for you – she’s a black widow, darling. And there’s this business with her state.” Lavinia looked into his eyes “You don’t really love her, do you?”

Gabriel dropped his eyes. He didn’t think he did really – in fact he knew deep down he didn’t, but for some reason, whenever she kissed him in greeting, he seemed to forget his doubts. Even so . . . His eyes ranged around the room and fell upon the race clue.

“ What’s this?” he asked, scanning through it.

Lavinia, deciding little and often was the way to bring Gabriel around to her way of thinking, allowed the matter of the Baroness to drop. She read the clue again over Gabriel’s shoulder.

“ Do you know what it’s about?” she asked.

Gabriel considered. “Well . . . absinthe is green, so your object is green . . . and Chinese. Victorian hairdressers/omen of joy . . .” He snapped his fingers. “Bats! A green Chinese bat – of course! The Qin Jade Bat – it’s in the Kunsthistorische Museum!”

Lavinia kissed his cheek. “Clever boy. Now, how do we get it?” she asked with devilish mock innocence. Gabriel turned and smiled slowly at her.

“ Why, sister dear, you need a brilliant thief.”


Pitstop crept stealthily along the deserted galleries of the Museum. So far, so good. She had visited earlier as a tourist and “cased the joint,” so she knew where she was going – the Oriental Gallery on the third floor. She had had only one slight hiccup, but had dealt with the security guard with a swift chop to the back of his neck, leaving him gagged and bound in a broom cupboard. She reached the foot of the last flight of stairs.

In yet another part of the Museum, dark shapes scuttled. A half-dozen Oriental-looking shapes in black silk flitted from doorway to case to pillar in a very business-like and sinister manner. Behind them, taking delicate, measured female steps was a seventh figure, who gave hissed orders to her six servants. Their own entry had not been without incident. On three separate occasions, they had been forced to tackle the Museum’s security. Those hapless guards had been ruthlessly and efficiently dealt with.

Outside the museum, two shadowy figures moved through the courtyard, approaching from different directions. The first was Kitten Caboodle. Nobody was likely to be about; if she was stopped, she could say she was merely out for a stroll: no better form of concealment than open display. She knew she could finesse any security guard – and she had on her hallucinogenic lipstick, so she felt confident. Admittedly, her coat did bulge here and there with concealed tools, but, well, she hadn’t been stopped so far.

Kitten turned the corner of a parterre and froze: someone was coming from the opposite direction. In the darkness, her night vision was good, but she needed him to come a little closer . . .
Moving with his favourite (and self-deluded) loping stride, Count Backwards flitted as best as a slightly overweight and out-of–condition, laudanum-afflicted peer of the realm could. He’d done a bit of housebreaking in his youth. He seemed to remember one excursion at school, following a younger boy, obviously up to no good on a visit to Barchester Girls. The night’s foray had ended abruptly when, climbing the ivy, he had heard the almighty crash of smashing statuary and had decided that discretion was the better part of valour -- leaving his schoolmate to his fate, he legged it.
He brought his mind back to the problem at hand: he wanted the jade bat. If all that was said about it was true, perhaps it could be used to revive his faithful manservant Boris. How he missed him and his abilities with a needle and thread, his special breakfasts, and his second-to-none qualities as a henchman who could be relied upon not to make snide comments about Backwards’ increasing waistline. The Count peered around a bush – was that . . . ? Someone was hiding across the square, obviously up to no good. He had competition!
In the ceiling of the Oriental Gallery, a skylight opened silently, and a slim knotted rope dropped down, its end bobbing three feet from the floor. A dark shape in tails swiftly and skilfully descended, alighting softly on the parquet. The figure remained motionless, listening for a long time before switching on a small masked torch. By its light, he began to study the display cases very carefully.

Pitstop ascended the stairs and crept along the corridor. She was surprised not to have encountered more of the guards, although at one point she froze into stillness: she was sure she had heard a noise on the floor below, but it was not repeated, so she resumed her hunt. She reached the archway that led into the Oriental Gallery and cautiously peered around the corner. Someone was there ahead of her! She could see the figure crouched at a display case, clearly working at the lock with criminal intent. Pitstop bared her teeth in a feral smile and slipped closer. She would let this one do all the hard work, she decided, and then “persuade” them to give up the prize. She could find another use for the jemmy in her hand.

Gabriel had snipped the crude electric alarm cable with a small pair of pliers and had the case open in a trice. Slipping his lock-picks back into his tail-pocket, he eased open the glass case and propped up the lid. The ancient piece of jade, carved in the rather comical Oriental fashion, was as broad as his palm. As Gabriel slipped it out of the cabinet and held it up to examine it by the light of his torch, he suddenly felt a cold draught.

“ I’ll take that.”

The voice was not loud but horribly close to his ear, and Gabriel nearly jumped out of his skin. Even worse, it was a voice he recognized. But he kept hold of the jade piece. He whirled round, only to be confronted by the dark and sinister spectre of Pandora Pitstop, tapping a crowbar on her palm. Her eyes widened as she recognized him in return. She sneered.

“ Oh God . . .” said Gabriel, stepping backwards into the display case. The lid slammed shut and shattered.

The ensuing events happened very quickly. The lights in the gallery flickered on, and both Gabriel and Pitstop looked towards the door: a trio of museum security guards entered wielding batons. At the same moment, from the other end of the hall, a party of six wicked-looking Oriental types burst through and deployed themselves in kung-fu poses, blocking off their escape. A seventh figure, whom Pitstop recognised as the Chinese woman from the party, glided forward. She held out her hand.

“ No, Ms. Pitstop. I will take it.”

Pitstop looked from the Austrians to Gabriel to the Chinese woman and back to Gabriel. She grabbed his wrist and yanked him behind her: she wanted the jade bat, but she also needed his help.

“ If you want out of here, guard my back,” she snapped at him.

“ Er, right,” Gabriel replied, putting up his dukes. Her grip had felt solid enough, but it was like dipping his hand in liquid nitrogen, and he wasn’t even stoned this time. Thinking on his feet, he bellowed Tuetonically to the bemused security guards:

“ Freiher von Fuchs, auf dem Museumsbrett. We Vorabend vereitelt ein Diebstahlversuch durch die Zangen. Verleihen Sie eine Hand, schauen Sie Phasen!”

(or to put it more plainly: Baron Fox, on the museum board. We've foiled a theft attempt by the Tongs. Lend a hand, look lively!)

The guards were none too bright, but seeing an obvious gentleman, titled, fluently speaking their own language, and menaced by an obvious Oriental foe, they charged the Chinese, who pattered forward to meet them, and a pretty dust-up ensued.

“Effective,” muttered Pitstop grudgingly over her shoulder and turned to Fan Song. “Sorry, Dragon Lady, no dice.” With that, she raised her crowbar.

Fan Song’s face became a mask of pure evil and she snapped open her fan: it appeared to be made of solid steel, and the edges glinted like a razor.

Gabriel cursed himself for not bringing his sword-cane but blessed his public school education as he kneed one of the Tong hatchet men savagely in the groin. The man collapsed, leaving an opening behind him. Gabriel saw freedom, but he wasn’t about to leave a lady in the lurch – even if it was the icy spectre of Pitstop. He grabbed the back of her belt and yanked her after him. “This way!” he yelled. Fan Song’s death fan whistled over Pitstop’s head and thunked, quivering, into the door frame, as the two pelted through.

“ After them!” Fan Song screamed (in Chinese, obviously) at her two remaining foot soldiers, and they set off in pursuit. She wrenched her fan from the woodwork on the way past.

Gabriel headed for the stairs, and Pitstop kept pace grimly, not letting him out of reach.

“ Wouldn’t the front door be better?” she asked half-sarcastically.

“ They’ll be expecting that,” puffed Gabriel. “I came by the roof, and I’m leaving that way.”
“ We’re leaving that way,” insisted Pitstop. Gabriel flashed her a weak grin – actually it might have been a wince – but he had the grace to say “This way then,” and sprinted up the stairs, Pitstop at his elbow.

Fan Song was barely moments behind them, although it was beneath her dignity to race. She commanded her two henchmen to follow with a vicious hiss, then turned to the elevator before her and pressed the button. She entered and the doors closed.

Pitstop and Gabriel crouched behind a suit of armour, two flights of stairs up, and tried to regain their breath. The woman had demanded to know why they were stopping. Gabriel had shrugged.

“ I don’t think we’ll outpace them somehow,” he admitted. “We’ll have to play dirty to get out of this,” and he’d pulled her behind the armour. He thoughtfully retained his grip on her corpse-like upper arm. She shook him off scowling. “What?” she demanded. In the shadows, he might have blushed.

“Well . . .” he whispered cautiously – the noises of pursuit having become louder as the two Chinese servants ascended the stairs lower down. “It’s just that, you are – I mean you’re not really, you know, dead?”

Pitstop wasn’t expecting that and stared at him, and then everything clicked into place and her lip curled.

“ It takes more than pushing me from a train . . .” It sounded so bitter when she said it.

“ An accident! You slipped!” he protested rather too loudly and cursed himself.

She snorted. “I ought to kill you. Happily for you, you can buy my clemency momentarily,” and she gave him a meaningful look. Instinctively, Gabriel’s hand twitched in the direction of his breast pocket wherein lay the jade bat.

The sound of a stealthy movement distracted them; through the shadows, they could dimly see the forms of the pursuing Chinese. By unspoken agreement, Pitstop and Gabriel poised themselves behind the suit of armour.

“ Ready?” she whispered. A nod from the man. “NOW!” she yelled and they heaved, sending the plate steel crashing down upon their pursuers. The two Chinese tumbled down the stairs in a tangle of limbs and armour, but Pitstop did not stop to watch. She barged past Gabriel, heading for the roof, knocking him over in the process. He picked himself up and checked his pocket. His very empty pocket.

“ Oh, you . . .” he muttered and tore off in pursuit.

Pitstop gained the roof and stepped out into the warm night air; she drew the amulet from her jacket and held it up to the moonlight for a closer look. She moved a few paces from the door, which suddenly slammed behind her. Pitstop spun round. Fan Song stood with her back to the door.
“ The amulet is mine, fan-qui!” she hissed, extending a claw-like hand.

Pitstop hefted the jemmy. “Come and take it, Tiger-Lily,” she sneered . . .

Gabriel raced up the stairs hard on Pitstop’s trail. She had easily outdistanced him (he must stop smoking those things!) but he could faintly hear the sharp rat-a-tat of her heels. He swung onto the top floor, skidded, supported himself on the banister, took a few deep breaths of much-needed air, then sprinted for the roof door . . .

Fang Song pirouetted gracefully and swung her steel fan in a murderous flatline at Pitstop’s throat . . . but the woman wasn’t there, having anticipated her attacker’s move and pivoted on her heel out of reach. Pitstop hefted her jemmy in a killer arc at the back of the Chinese woman’s head. Fan Song dropped to her haunches just in time, swinging her weapon up to block the deadly blow. There was a loud ringing snap as the finely tempered steel of the fan shattered against the cruder tool in Pitstop’s gloved fist. Pitstop grinned – and then gasped as Fan Song delivered a perfect aerial kick into her chest. Pitstop stumbled backward against the door, clutching the amulet to her chest, yet holding her jemmy in front of her. Fan Song pursued her with the shattered but still sharp remnant of her fan held high. She seized Pitstop’s throat; the fan descended. Pitstop caught Fan Song’s wrist in the hooked end of the crowbar, and clawed for the woman’s fingers with her free hand – the hand still gripping the chain of the amulet. Eyes gleaming with triumph, Fan Song also seized it and pulled . . .

At that moment, the door flew open as Gabriel hurtled through, shoulder-charging both of them and unwittingly sending the two women sprawling – and the jade bat spinning high into the air, silhouetted against the moon. Gabriel’s eyes snapped up and he ran for it as though he were making the saving catch at Lords. Pitstop sprang to her feet with feline grace, sprinting after him, trying to trip him up or knock him out of the way. They both fetched up against the parapet, reaching desperately for the precious object as it dropped – bare inches from Pitstop’s grasping fingers – and it fell six floors to shatter into a thousand glittering splinters on the stone-flagged courtyard far below.

“ NOOOOOOOOOO!” screamed Pitstop, watching in despair and horror as her chance of redemption was snatched away from her. She had been so close – so CLOSE!

“ That’s a bugger . . .” said Gabriel quietly and turned towards Pitstop with a shrug. The look she gave him froze his blood. He remembered her on the train; he remembered her Guild ring.

He began to back away. She had murder and a look of madness in her eyes. He turned and ran for where his rope was secured. The crowbar went sailing past his head, and he could hear her racing after him. With a skill born of desperation, he leapt for the rope and dived from the parapet, sliding recklessly at great speed to the ground, smoke rising from the leather of his gloves as the friction burned them through. Alighting on the ground, he spared a glance upwards. Pitstop had remained on the roof and he could see her silhouetted against the moon. She looked rather like an angel of doom. He disappeared into the darkness.

Pitstop gazed after him for a long time. Once again, her chance of freedom had slipped away. Once again, it seemed, she must find another way to break her curse – the way Maman Noir had decreed, indeed. And once again, it seemed, that the man, Gabriel, had appeared to confound her. Whatever happened, she would find a way to pay him back. One day.

She stalked off the roof, kicking the unconscious Fan Song in the gut as she passed . .


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