The Rumble Rally

Episode 21: Sugar And Spice; Cake And Cold Steel

“So, Gabriel my dear,” cooed Baroness Buffy, like a dove with a knuckleduster under its wing. “After our marriage, what rank does that make me in the British aristocracy? Have some brioche, dear.”

Gabriel warily accepted a small petit pain, as he answered, “It makes you a lady . . . look, Buffy, about this wedding business . . .”

“ It’s so exciting, isn’t it?” She shot him a bright smile, all teeth. Gabriel felt like a small furry animal facing down a leopardess.

“ Just think, our two great noble houses intertwined. Our noble bloodlines co-mingled, our estates spanning the continent. Just think what I — we — could do with our influence and wealth!”

Gabriel blinked. Blimey, he thought, she’s been at the gin early. He tried a different approach, using all his tact. “Um, Buffy, it’s just that I wanted to talk about . . .”

“ Of course, darling, we need to discuss the arrangements.” She dabbed her lips delicately and rose, staring at him until he did so as well. “I have an appointment with my dress maker. I’m sure you can find something to do to amuse yourself — perhaps go and discuss the race with your sister. Will she need a new co-driver now that you’re out of it? Think about that, oh, and do have some more cake!” And with that, she breezed out, leaving Gabriel open mouthed and with a distinct feeling of losing control. We have got to get out of here, he thought to himself . . . followed by, Hmmm, cake . . .

Count Backwards was in a bad mood — a very bad mood — and his hangover wasn’t helping. He had sat through a very drunken night with Miss Kitten Caboodle, amusingly plotting the downfall of the rest of the Rally competitors: taking them out of the race in a humiliatingly amusing fashion, that was his line. But Kitten’s ideas were more sanguinary. If someone came a cropper through poor driving, well that was racing — but Backwards never set out to deliberately “do away with” anyone. The Sheban spy, however — and here Backwards had to admit the brandy fog of yesterday had befuddled his senses — seemed to want to massacre certain people . . . and it suddenly occurred to him that he was actually supposed to be playing guardian angel to Lavinia and Gabriel (on pain of a very sticky end). He dunked his head in a basin of cold water and let the chilly water soak through his curls. He straightened up and stared grimly in the mirror. I really must pick a day to give up consorting with blondes.

“ Right,” he said, “Where’s a telephone?”


The Cadillac hearse followed the motorcyclist at a discreet distance, always staying at least a bend behind her to avoid detection. Ensconced in the curtained interior were Fan Song and a new coterie of hatchet men. She cared nothing for those arrested in Vienna. Their lives were expendable if necessary, and they expected nothing less. With the Jade Bat destroyed, Fan Song had a personal score to pay off against Pitstop; until further orders came from above, she could afford a little “jaunt.” She had both the time until the rally organisers sorted themselves out and a grudge that festered in the depths of her black soul. The woman Pitstop must die!

“ Pitstop must die!” The Hooded Claw had said almost exactly the same words to Kitten, who waited nervously to meet her boss to outline her plan for the “removal” of troublesome competitors.

A limousine pulled up next to her — as she had been told it would — and she got into the front seat with the driver. The Hooded Claw was in the shadowy interior of the back seat. The limo pulled away.

Without looking in his direction, Kitten demanded: “Tell me this marvelous plan then. Don’t tell me you’ve actually had a flash of inspiration?” She was rather more cheeky than perhaps was wise.

The Hooded Claw regarded her coldly, then continued briskly. “Listen, Caboodle, and I will use small words so you understand: the race is up in the air at the moment after the fracas with the Jade Bat.

Racers are milling about with little to do, wanting some direction. So we shall give it to them. I shall use my influence to wheedle invites to the society event of the year — the royal wedding of the Baroness and Gabriel Fox-Leatherette. We will get all the important people in one place, and then — one fell swoop. Something big and permanent, and final . . .”

The Hooded Claw looked shrewdly at Kitten from the darkened interior of the car to see if she was taking all this in. He continued, “This is the plan. It will need you to facilitate it.” He instructed the driver to pull over. “You will hear from me soon. I will draw up a list of what you need in the meantime. Now get out.” Kitten found herself back on the pavement outside the inn where she was staying. She watched the limousine speed off and felt somewhat smug. Things were dovetailing nicely with her own plans, and it seemed, once again, she didn’t have to expend much effort. She entered the inn’s bar to see Backwards replacing the receiver of the public telephone. At the sight of her, he started, with a very guilty expression on his face.

“ Are you alright?” she asked suspiciously.

“ Of course! My prescription,” he snapped and scowled before rudely brushing past her on the way to the stairs, choking slightly on the cloud of perfume that surrounded her. He hadn’t been able to get the idiot operator to connect him to the Baroness’ palace. He would have to go along with Kitten’s plan for now and try to scupper it when the opportunity arose.

Lady Lavinia was playing Patience in her room; in fact, she was fretting at the uncertainty of her current situation and using the card game to order her thoughts. She reshuffled and spread the deck, musing at the cards she drew. First, the Queen of Hearts — herself, of course, adored, admired, rich (but not as rich as she could be). She was concerned that she hadn’t heard from her contact among the race organisers. She expected to hear soon but had no idea whether the news would be good or bad. She was anxious to be racing again, but as the last clue had been destroyed, she expected a penalty of some description. She needed to win — she had gambling debts to pay; Havitall Hall, the family seat, to maintain; shopping to do.

She drummed her immaculate scarlet nails on the deck, then drew another card: the Knave of Hearts (these were pretty poorly shuffled; she was losing her touch). She smiled and thought of her half-brother, who still hadn’t managed to extract himself from the clutches of the Baroness. Livvi really needed to speak to him about that. The palace was rather like a gilded cage for them both.

She drew again: the Queen of Spades. Livvi wondered who that might be . . .

Fan Song dismissed her manservant at the door of her lodgings. They had taken over a small, secluded farmhouse and disposed of the inhabitants — peasant round-eyes, as she saw them. The guards were posted; she felt secure. The last thing she was expecting from the shadows of her locked room was attack, so she was particularly shocked when a blur of black appeared before her eyes, too fast for her to follow. Her arm was wrenched up behind her back, her mouth clamped by a gauntleted hand, and she felt the prick of razor-sharp steel above her jugular. She froze, and a familiar voice hissed professionally in her ear: “Not one sound, Dragon Lady, or you’re chow mein!” Fan Song recognized the soft American accent and even through the leather of the gloves, her lips felt as though they were being burned by ice. She waited. It was not her turn yet.

The voice whispered again. “It’s round one to me, but we both lost out in Vienna. Listen to me. I can offer you a chance for revenge. I don’t know why you’re in the race, but we can help each other win. Share the prize.” Pandora Pitstop released Fan Song but kept the knife at her throat. Pitstop’s body was cold, soulless —her frigid hand transferred its chill to the steel of the blade, making it an ice-like dagger of death. Pitstop’s mind was reeling with the Gypsy curse Maman Noir placed upon her; Until you enter into a contract with an enemy and honour it, you will HAVE NO SOUL!'

Fan Song was sensible enough not to shout for help but regarded Pitstop with undisguised hatred. “You won’t leave this room alive, fan-qui!”

Pitstop smiled like a tigress, all teeth. “I think I will. Whether you remain alive is down to you. You agree to help me win, and we will both profit. Refuse, and you die now. I owe you no clemency.” Pitstop’s words were harsh but she secretly hoped Fan Song would agree and make a ‘contract’ with her for she feared the curse was slowly killing her.

Fan Song sneered, but did not argue. She decided to play this stupid American for herself and entrap her at the appropriate time. “And what is in it for me?”

“ A share of the fabulous prize.”

“ You promised me revenge.”

“ Is a share not revenge enough, if ill gotten?” Pitstop reasoned coolly.

Fan Song thought to herself, No. The bat was destroyed. I have lost face. I want them all.

She extended her elegant hand in agreement to Pitstop’s offer, but as Pitstop moved to shake hands, Fan Song’s other hand remained hidden behind her back. Her fingers crossed in defiance.


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