The Rumble Rally

Episode 23: Bakery Fakery

In Stygian darkness, lethal shapes moved. Cold, sinuous, reptilian, slithering over the body of the woman who shared their prison. Coiling around her limbs, slithering over her chest, their tongues flickering, exploring this strange creature, so unlike them, and yet, strangely . . .

Pandora Pitstop held herself very still. With all the calmness learned in the Guild of Assassins, she practiced patience, controlling her breath, her pulse. Time ceased to have any meaning. She did not know why the mambas had not struck her. They seemed calm with her, almost — and her head span at this — friendly! At the very least, they seemed to have no interest in striking her — and she knew how bad-mannered mambas could be. And yet, they seemed placid. Pitstop was nonplussed: Why? she wondered. What was it? The curse? Could it be the curse? No soul, no body heat . . . It was the only thing she could imagine. Well, well, Gypsy Lady — looks like you saved my life this time, she thought grimly.

A snake curled around her wrist, settling there; she remembered the serpent ring she had once worn on that hand — lost when Gabriel pushed . . . when she had slipped from his grasp on the train. She flexed her fingers: the snake on her wrist made no movement of anger. Slowly, very slowly, she raised her knees. Could she reach the top of her right boot? Annoyingly, a coil of snakes fell beneath her bottom. Well, she would just have to jam her knees against the lid, then! She stretched her bound wrists down, brought her knees up, and . . . and — yes! She could touch her boot! She slid her fingers into the top and prayed. It was there: the slim stiletto in its hidden sheaf within the leather; the Chinese bitch had not thought to frisk her clothes, no doubt believing the snakes would make such a precaution redundant.

Pitstop withdrew the blade, twisted it in her fingers, and pressed its edge against the rope and began to saw . . . At least she hoped it was a rope. No doubt she would find out soon enough . . .

. . . With a sound of splintering wood, the coffin lid exploded from within, propelled by Pitstop’s mighty kick. She punched and elbowed her way through the remains and rolled over the side followed by a mass of liberated snakes, which flowed over her as she lay on the cold stone flags, gulping foetid but nonetheless welcome air into her lungs. She rolled over into a fighting crouch, but she was quite alone. She then stood slowly, scanning her environs: the niches in the walls containing webbed and dusty coffins told their own story. She sought the door and tried it. It was locked from the outside and immoveable, but above it, a fanlight in stained glass admitted light in funereal greens and purples — it would do!

Pitstop set to dragging and piling the coffins against the wall; maddeningly, they were just short, but . . . She paced to the far wall, measured her distance, then ran at the makeshift steps, springing off the last and crossing her arms in front of her face. Her agility was faultless, and she hurtled through the glass into the gathering twilight, tucking and somersaulting before landing like a gymnast on the gravel. She was free!

A swift glance about in the gloom told her she was quite alone, and she allowed herself to rest briefly against the carvings — a darker angel of revenge next to those of pale mourning. She pushed herself away slowly, composing herself. “Deadlier than me, Dragon Lady?” she muttered. “Don’t count on it.” Then she sprinted for the road . . .


Lavinia frowned. Was she imagining it or was the fat baker giving her the glad eye. He was certainly winking and twitching his head towards the end of the counter. Did he have a tic or was he trying to communicate something? Lavinia looked about her: Jaspar was eyeing up the blonde female bakery girl with the Brunhilde buns. Lavinia sauntered over to the corner and, sure enough, was promptly joined by the baker. Suddenly, she realized it was Count Backwards, poorly disguised and with his moustache combed out and drooping.

“ What on earth . . . ?” she began.

“ Lavinia, listen, you’re in danger,” Backwards hissed, nervously darting glances at the baker’s girl for some reason. Lavinia followed his gaze surreptitiously. Was there something familiar about that ‘hand on hip stance’? It couldn’t be!
“ It’s Kitten,” confirmed Backwards, “and she’s got some plan in her head to rub you and Gabriel out . . . er ah, meine Fraulein, ja iff I might interest you in zis sachertorte?” Backwards suddenly slipped back into his cover, and Lavinia looked up to see Kitten wandering over with a suspicious look on her face. Lavinia selected some pretzels, requesting Kitten fetch them, treating her like the shop girl the Sheban pretended to be.


The turnip truck pulled up at the farm, allowing Pitstop to jump down from the rear. She thanked the driver, reaching inside her jacket for a coin. Instead, her fingers closed around something cold that moved, and she yanked it out to find herself staring eye to eye with a small mamba — one of Fan Song’s ‘pets.’ The snake’s tongue flickered in and out of its mouth but it seemed quite content — unlike the truck driver, who thanked Pitstop all the same and put his camion into gear and lost no time in quitting the scene. Without really knowing why, Pitstop slipped the placid snake back into an inside pocket and trotted for the tree line: she would approach the farmhouse in a roundabout fashion, as before. This time, however, she wouldn’t waste any time in conversation.

She stood under the trees in the darkness, studying the house: no lights were showing, in any of the windows, no signs or sounds of movement or life — nothing at all. After an hour’s watching, Pitstop cautiously approached the house. Dressed in black, she was hidden by the darkness; had there been any light, she would have cast no shadow in any case.

Pitstop knew she could gain access to the house via the barn wherein her imprisonment had occurred: it was the least obvious point of entry and the least secure, so it was this that she tried. The barn door was unlocked, and she opened it just enough to slip through, listening carefully. Still no sound. She passed like a wraith across the interior of the barn to the door of the farmhouse. She drew her stiletto, ready for combat, then kicked the door open. The kitchen was empty, unlit. She scanned it from the doorway, but no trap lay in wait. She entered. With a growing sense of frustration, Pitstop moved from room to room, hoping to find her quarry, but the farmhouse was deserted: the Chinese had decamped. She felt thwarted. She found an old oil lantern and, deciding there was no longer any need for secrecy, struck a match and lit it. Signs of recent occupation were evident — fantan tiles, half-eaten food, dirty dishes left in the sink, a discarded newspaper . . .

Pitstop placed the lantern on the table and flicked over the pages — idly at first, but then an article attracted her attention. Although her grasp of the local language was limited, the gist of it was clear: a royal wedding. Pitstop sneered — she was aware of the Baroness and her reputation, but she was a minor factor as far as she was concerned. Then her eyes fell upon the photo of the groom, and his name seemed to jump off the page: Lord Gabriel Valentine Fox-Leatherette. He was the groom? Pitstop stared. Him? Really???

The more she stared at the article, the less it made sense. Surely Gabriel’s main concern was helping his sister win the Rumble Rally. How on earth had it come to pass that he had the time, and more importantly the inclination, to splice himself in wedlock? From her admittedly brief encounters with him — images of dinner on the Orient, the fight on the roof, their tango in Venice flickered rapidly through her mind — he hadn’t seemed the type for such nonsense. And the Baroness’ reputation was well known in the demi-monde that Pitstop half inhabited. What could she want him for? This could surely be no love match . . .

Her mood was very black, and her eyes glowed like coals. Something began to stir in Pitstop: perhaps it was only a silly notion, perhaps it was the black mamba nestling more comfortably in her jacket, but perhaps, just perhaps, here was a chance for revenge. She rolled the newspaper tightly, absent-mindedly wringing it as though it were Fan-Song’s neck, while she scanned the room for any further information; she then returned to the barn. She had seen, on her first pass through, a familiar shape under a tarpaulin. Hauling the cover aside, she was pleased to reveal her trusty Enfield. She stroked the fuel tank and, speaking half to herself, half to the bike as though it were a pet, she gave the machine a thorough examination. It was, thankfully, sound. Clearly, the Chinese believed that their treatment of her was sufficient expended energy — they had not bothered to nobble the Enfield.

Pitstop opened the barn doors slowly and carefully, checking outside for signs of life. Silence. She strode purposefully to the bike, mounted it, and kicked it into life, exploding out of the barn like a bolt from Hell. She took the corner to the main road in a slither of pebbles and leaves and roared off into the night.

. . . What Pitstop had failed to notice was someone in the shadows who was perhaps as clever and certainly just as driven as her. The Hooded Claw removed the night-glasses from his eyes and smiled nastily. She had picked up the newspaper. She had taken the bait. Now that should put her very nicely where he needed her . . .

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