The Rumble Rally

Episode 22: Have You Anything To Stop My Coffin?

Pitstop held Fan Song’s hand in her grip for a long time and stared hard into her face, as if trying to divine her thoughts. Will this work, she wondered? How long do I have to be in ‘agreement’ with someone for the curse to be lifted? She sure fits the bill as an enemy, anyhow . . .

“So, Ms. Pitstop,” said Fan Song with a business-like attitude. “How do you intend to placate my superiors? Let us take tea, and you can outline your plans.” Fan Song turned and left the room. Rather guardedly, Pitstop followed her, keeping her close.


Through careful negotiations, the Race Committee and organizers of the Rumble Rally had decamped to the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick, ruled over by the von Bathory dynasty since records began. Every market square possessed a statue of one scion of this family or another, and the burgomeisters’ houses bore the family’s coat of arms under the eaves.

There was a festive air in the Duchy: the grand rally was to run through their little state, with civic receptions and presentations accompanying it. In addition, rumours abounded of a royal wedding, that of their beautiful widowed Duchess to a noble English lord – one of the actual racers! Those who might have grumbled at the expenses imposed on an already over-burdened public purse were slightly mollified by news that the lucky bridegroom was rumoured to be fabulously wealthy, with estates and fortunes that would alleviate their poverty and lift the peasantry out of their down-trodden condition.

It was true that no-one had actually seen the bridegroom; he was said to be ensconced in the ducal palace and ‘busy with wedding preparations’ (much ribaldry at this), but promises were being made and passed mouth-to-ear in the bierkellers and cafes.

If Buffy had heard these rumours – if she had deigned to listen to the filthy peasantry – she would have laughed out loud: the Leatherette fortune was destined to be hers – the estates, the bonds, the houses, and, oh yes, most certainly, all the money. The peasantry could go to hell; she intended to move her court to England. Havitall Hall looked an eminently suitable residence. She pored over the estate book, so thoughtfully provided by her confidential agents, the DeVeres – most capable and efficient ‘gentlemen.’ Decidedly she must retain their services. They had proved themselves most useful in delivering a suitable consort who would be the answer to all her problems. He wasn’t actually bad looking either – charming, intelligent, cultured. He’d do. For now . . .


In Kitten Kaboodle’s locked room in the Golden Cockerel, Count Backwards gazed doubtfully at the paraphernalia that the Sheban had laid out on the bed. She had commanded him to join her a deux in her boudoir, and although it hadn’t sounded like a come-on exactly, he had gone partly out of curiosity but mostly out of suspicion.

On the bed lay two sets of chefs’ whites with puffed hats: a small one clearly intended for her, and a much larger – fatter, blast her impudence – one for him. Kitten entered from the bathroom.
“ What’s all this then?” Backwards demanded, eyeing her dubiously.
“ All part of my plan, y’all” Kitten replied. “We need to be incognito for the fireworks.”


Fan Song did not lead Pitstop to a lounge or other comfortable room – the farmhouse had few of those – but out to the adjoining barn. Garaged within was the Cadillac hearse. As if to give an air of verisimilitude, the rear of the hearse was open; next to it on a table was a coffin. The coffin was open, with its lid propped against the side of the hearse.

“Why have you brought me here?” Pitstop asked suspiciously. She tilted her chin at the sight of the casket that lay on the low table.
Fan Song walked slowly around to the other side of the coffin, running one long nail along its length.

“This figures very strongly in my plans, Pandora Pitstop,” she replied. She turned to face the other woman. “And it is ultimately important to you, American . . .” Something about those specific words, or perhaps the way Fan Song uttered them, triggered Pitstop’s sixth sense, and she threw herself to one side. The Chinese thug who would have pinioned her arms went blundering past and fetched up against the table. Three more – two armed with clubs and the other carrying a coil of rope – pattered into the dim room and deployed themselves. Pitstop faced them, looking for a way out, but they blocked the door. She snatched up a pitchfork and smiled grimly.
“ Who’s first?” she challenged. The four shuffled forward and she braced to meet them, but suddenly she felt something slim and viciously sharp pierce the back of her neck. The room span. The pitchfork dropped from her nerveless fingers, and her limbs turned to lead. She felt herself pitching forward, but she was caught by the Chinese henchmen. Two held her in their remorseless grip, whilst the others busied themselves binding her. Her hands were tied in front of her, her arms to her sides, whilst Fan Song gave directions, sliding an envenomed needle back into its case before replacing it in her sleeve. Pitstop felt herself hoisted into the air; the last thing she saw was the coffin looming toward her like the mouth of Hell, and then – nothing . . .


The Baroness received Lucius DeVere in one of her many staterooms. The confidential agent carried a healthily bulging briefcase under one arm, which she eyed approvingly. She invited him to sit and sweetly offered him tea. Buffy could be winningly pleasant and charming if it got her what she wanted . . . and it seemed DeVere had brought her what she wanted.
“ My dear Mr. DeVere,” she said, handing him Earl Grey tea in a Sevres china cup. “I trust you have been eminently successful in securing for me detailed accounts of my fiancé’s holdings?”
Lucius professionally placed the briefcase on the floor and withdrew a fat dossier: the sum of the investigations he and his brother had undertaken in their commission.
“ Your Grace, I have here,” and he tapped the leather cover proprietarily, “lists of investments held by the Leatherette family, current market estimates of the Havitall estate, etc. Also I have some influence,” and he smirked, “in casinos and couturiers . . .”
“ What?” Buffy’s head snapped up, regarding DeVere sternly. “Are you suggesting my fiancé is a frivolous gambler?!”
“ No, no,” Lucius hurriedly assured his client. “I mean his sister, Lavinia. The amount of money she spends is clearly an indication of their solvency. In any case, it’s merely a point of interest: Gabriel is the only son, the only male child. He will be the heir to the entire Leatherette and Fox estates. It will all devolve on him – and, of course, the lady he marries . . .”
“ Good . . . good,” murmured Buffy, her attention already more on the documents than the man in front of her. Her fiancé’s prospects – and hers – were looking more and more attractive with each passing moment . . .


The hapless Lavinia had troubles of her own. She had spent the morning tuning and re-tuning Chugger’s engine. She wanted to make sure the old boy was in tip-top running condition in case of the ‘fast getaway’ that she rather feared was inevitable. To that end, she didn’t want to fully strip the engine, and she made sure none of the Baroness’ staff went anywhere near the car. This wasn’t difficult, as the Baroness rarely welcomed her company for meals – and that bothered her, because she wanted to keep an eye on her brother, for both their sakes.

What also bothered her was the almost constant presence of Jasper DeVere, who had taken to ‘hanging about’ her when she was bent over the engine bay. He would turn up, sometimes smelling of ‘Roue,’ a particularly expensive pomade and aftershave, his moustache tips freshly waxed, and in his most finely cut clothes; he would lean nonchalantly against anything handy and make charming small talk – or, in Lavinia’s opinion, talk complete bosh about any subject under the sun. She was glad she often had a large spanner in her hand, but even if she hadn’t, she had been famous at her finishing school for the move that had become known as the ‘Barchester Two-Step.’

“Ah, my dear Lavinia! Still tickling up the points, eh?”

Lavinia grunted non-committaly and moved around to the other side of Chugger’s long bonnet. Jasper DeVere, obviously hoping for more of a response, cleared his throat and tried again.

“Um, I was thinking, once you’ve got the engine running, perhaps we could head out for a picnic or a turn around the town? I’m sure the Baroness wouldn’t mind . . .”

Lavinia stood up slowly, an artfully applied smudge of grease on one cheek still looking as if it had been applied by a Hollywood make-up artist. She opened her mouth to issue her most cutting put-down, but suddenly an idea began to take shape in her mind . . .


Pitstop came slowly, painfully awake. The back of her head throbbed excruciatingly. Something was bound tight across her mouth: she tried to raise her hands to pull it free but found she could not. Ropes were biting into her arms – they were bound to her sides! Her eyes snapped open, but all she could see was darkness; although she struggled, she felt enclosed on all sides by hard, unyielding wood. She kicked her feet, but her ankles were similarly and expertly bound. She screamed in rage into her gag, thrashing futilely in her confines.

At that moment, light flooded in on her, and she blinked against the sudden glare. Pitstop realized with a horrible, sudden clarity that she had been imprisoned in the coffin! She tried to sit up with a jerk, but a cord from one side of the wood to the other across her chest held her flat. Two dark figures entered her vision, and Pitstop looked up into the implacable porcelain face of Fan Song. The Chinese woman gazed down coldly.
“ No doubt you think me a treacherous bitch, Pandora Pitstop,” the woman said without a trace of emotion. “Did you really believe a truce with a barbarian foreigner was in any way binding to one of the divine race? You are a fool, American.” Fan Song turned and beckoned the other figure forward: one of her hatchet men advanced, holding a sack at arm’s length with great nervousness. Pitstop stared with horror – something was moving within the sack!

Fan Song turned back to her, this time allowing herself to smirk. “Your new and final bedfellows, Pandora Pitstop. Can you guess what they are?” With that, she sank a long, sharp needle into the hessian. An explosive and angry hissing ensued, and something thrashed within. Pitstop thrashed no less frantically – she must escape!
“ Black mambas, Pandora Pitstop.” She looked down pityingly. “No, Fan-qui: there is no escape for you. Embrace death and, in your final moments, regret that you ever encountered me. For I am deadlier than you!”

She stepped abruptly back, and her servant emptied the sack over Pitstop’s body. A rain of death fell over her in a coiling, writhing, hissing mass. Pitstop thrashed and screamed into her gag as the lid of the coffin was slammed shut and bolted with the finality of the tomb . . .


In the late afternoon, a Cadillac hearse rolled sedately into a deserted necropolis on the outskirts of Grand Fenwick’s capital. It slowly came to a stop in an untended avenue of monumental sphinxes and mausoleums.

A coterie of black-clad figures descended: six of them moved to the rear of the hearse and drew out an ornate casket. Under the direction of the seventh, they carried this under the low stone lintel of an open tomb. This done, they exited, closed and locked the metal gate, whereupon the six bowed (the seventh did not) and, ascending once more into the hearse, departed . . .



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