Episode 20: Recriminations And Realisations
Gabriel slipped quietly into the garage where Lavinia was
waiting: as previously agreed, she had prepared Chugger for
a fast getaway and they were all packed . . . but when she
saw his face, she knew instantly that something was wrong.
“ Get us out of here!” he said curtly. Lavinia started the engine
and they drove without lights until they reached the suburbs. Eventually she
asked: “What happened?”
Gabriel replied, “I’ve been to less crowded parties. Everyone was
after the damned thing. Some mad Chinese woman and her cronies, and . . . ”
“ And?” prompted Lavinia. Gabriel didn’t want to say who else,
so he changed tack.
“ . . . and the damn piece got dropped from the roof. It’s in a thousand
little bits. We need to move before we get caught in a forfeit or penalty.”
Lavinia’s mind spun; she had no idea how this was going to affect the Race
and those participating. It was another problem on top of those they already
had. But perhaps there was a silver lining . . .
“ Well, the Baroness isn’t going to want to get involved with you
after that,” she mused half to herself while casting a sidelong glance
at her half-brother.
He shot her a quick look. “No, perhaps not . . . To be honest, I’ve
no idea what her interest was in the first place. It all happened so fast, and
it’s as confusing as hell . . . ”
“ Um, I’ve never asked, Gabe, but she’s not, you know . . .?”
“ Good God, Sis, what do you take me for? I’ve never even touched
her!” Gabriel was shocked at the question. Livvi patted his hand as she
“ I just had to know, dear,” she reassured him. She felt calmer in
many ways — as did Gabriel. They were leaving Vienna, Buffy, and, most
of all (privately), he had discovered he was not responsible for murdering Pitstop
after all. Things could be worse, he reflected. The siblings breathed a joint
sigh of relief . . .
. . . which suddenly froze as they rounded a corner. Two cars blocked the road:
a Bullnose Morris and a large Rolls Royce saloon. A group of shadowy figures
clustered around the headlights. Lavinia shot a worried look at Gabriel and slowed
One of the figures approached, and she recognized it as Lucius DeVere. He came
up to her window.
“ Well done,” he said to her. “The Baroness
also thought it wise to leave Austria. You have pre-empted
her telegram to her fiancé. How do you do, my lord,
looking forward to your wedding . . . ?” and he smiled
a particularly nasty smile . . .
Kitten Caboodle was packing in a hurry; fortunately, she
knew how to hightail it in a crisis. With 8 out of 9 lives
down, she could get out of Dodge quicker than spit off a
hot griddle. She threw her few belongings into a case and
slid out a back door of the hotel — at least she could
avoid paying the bill. True, she had lost her chance of a
new set of lives, so she would have to continue working for
the Claw to gain the Fabulous Prize, but maybe she could
fob him off . . . it wasn’t her fault the damn Bat
had been broken; she had only just arrived. From her vantage
point behind a bougainvillea, she had spotted an elegant
figure abseiling to the ground and she could guess who it
was: when she had grappled with him at the Marchesa’s
ball, he had left an impression in her memory. She could
blame Gabriel for the catastrophe and work it to her advantage.
But she’d still blow the scene — just in case.
Count Backwards had the same idea and had already thrown his case into his
(stolen) car. He wasn’t too bothered about it being recognized, as
the room was registered under someone else’s name anyway — and
he had forged the signature on the cheque he’d handed over. Fortunately,
the concierge was too nervous of him to scrutinize it. He roared out of the
garage, nearly running down Kitten in the process.
“ Maniac!” she screamed after him.
“ Stupid blond Yankee tart!” he yelled over his shoulder. Kitten
vowed to follow him and leapt into her own racer. She needed to leave town, but
one direction was as good as another. She might be able to use him too . . .
He was so reckless but maybe she could use that to her advantage. She pressed
down hard on the accelerator.
Fan Song had dreaded reporting back to her Master on the previous night’s
disaster. Strangely, he had been calmness itself, merely reserving his recriminations
for those who had foiled Fan Song’s efforts to retrieve the jade amulet.
He had softly and sibilantly ordered Fan Song to carry out the executions of
Gabriel and Pitstop, specifically, and anyone who might harbour or shield them,
generally. It was a task for which Fan Song was eminently skilled, and she
relished the duty. She would take great pleasure in making the woman suffer
before death. Pitstop would have to endure the jacket, and she would make the
man Gabriel watch, so he knew what to expect for himself . . .
The organisers of the Rally found themselves without the Jade Bat and a depleted
field of entrants — several of which were suddenly and suspiciously
absent. They decided to very speedily move operations to the next stage,
suspending all points and positions until reconvening. The suggestion was
mooted that this be in Grand Fenwick — it was nicely neutral, handily
over the border, and as the Race’s rumour control division had been
prying into the Baroness’ plans, perhaps a “royal wedding” rally
stage could be arranged. Emissaries were dispatched to the Grand Fenwick
court. The organisers fancied a slice of wedding cake but not before it had
been iced and the ink was dry on the invites.
The Leatherettes hunched moodily and anxiously in Chugger, sandwiched between
the Baroness’ car and the DeVere’s. Buffy herself had spared
the merest frosty glance for Gabriel before ordering her chauffeur to drive
on. She would have words with him later. As for his half-sister . . . well,
something would have to be done about her to keep her out of mischief until
after the wedding, by which time it would no longer matter.
As usual, Pandora Pitstop was watching the solemn procession from the shade
of a small copse. She heard little of what was said, but she could sense
trouble when she saw it. She also knew of the Baroness’ reputation — and
also the nature of the business the DeVere’s were in. It seemed the
Leatherettes might effectively be out of the race: good, she thought. Lady
Lavinia was her most serious rival. Gabriel would get his comeuppance at
the hands of the Baroness. Pitstop resolved that she must now genuinely compete
and win the race — even though she had to do this with the help of
a mortal enemy, no less — in order to break Maman Noir’s curse,
so it was useful to have one less obstacle to overcome. But she needed to
make that pact with an enemy. She wondered where Aubrey was just now. And
she had recently picked up another implacable foe in the Oriental . . . Pitstop
pursed her lips at that thought and, sliding a leg over her Enfield, kicked
the bike into life and rode in distant pursuit of the departing convoy whilst
looking for signs of Backwards along the way.
Count Backwards sat hunched in his dark trenchcoat in the darkest corner of
the darkest inn a few miles inside the border of Grand Fenwick. He smoked
one of Boris’ special cigars and nursed a balloon of brandy. He had
his back to the wall and so was a little surprised when a Yankee twang sounded
in his ear, followed by a rough waft of potent scent.
“ Count. I think the time has come to bury the hatchet and pool our resources.”
He looked up at the winning smile of Kitten Caboodle. Without waiting for his
assent, she sat opposite him and pushed more brandy across the table.
“ What do you want?” he sneered suspiciously.
“ Well . . . a bit of mutual back-scratching. How about we help each other
win the race?”
Backward guffawed. “Oh yes, and how, pray?”
Kitten smiled, judging the moment, his sanity, and level of intoxication “By
. . . eliminating the rest of the field.” Her smile never wavered as
Backwards slowly exhaled acrid smoke at Kitten and sighed, “I picked
a bad day to give up mass murder . . .”
“ God’s balls, I’ve seen more cheering autopsies,” Gabriel
muttered to Lavinia as they drove through the heavily fortified gatehouse of
Buffy’s schloss in her “home town” of Grand Fenwick.
“ No you haven’t, dear, but I know what you mean,’ replied
his half-sister, scoping out all the possible avenues of escape. There weren’t
many, she decided. The cars fanned out and parked, and Livvi brought Chugger
to a stop.
As servants ran from all directions, Lavinia realized they had little time
before their privacy was gone. She turned to her brother.
“ Gabriel,” she said, “This is a heap of trouble; to get out
of it, we’ve got to be clever. So I need you to be nice to the Baroness.”
“ Seriously. Be charming until we can get the Hell out of here! Our lives
depend on it.”
Gabriel swallowed: he loved his sister, but he hated it when he knew she was
right . . .