Double Trouble


The characters from the TV show are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this piece of fanfic.

Thanks to Steph and the Academy for inviting me to enter the 2017 Halloween Challenge.

Yet another instalment of the tragically pitiful saga of Lady Xena, whom we first met in ‘Take One Head And Call Me In The Morning’ and sadly again in 'Medium Rare'. Halloween demands horrifying stories and they don't get more dreadful than this sorry trilogy.

Reading those two stories first will help this one make more sense, if Lady Xena could ever make sense.

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Join me, dear reader, as we move into the world of the financially- and socially-distressed genteel of the late Eighteenth Century. Honest, comely folk with their well-spun tales and much-darned stockings. Simple dwellings filled with love and full-fat milk. Scrubbed wooden floors and furniture; the heady scent of beeswax, butter and chamber pots. The comforting sound of the mantel clock ticking the minutes away.

In short, imagine our houses now, only without the fridge, microwave, oven, indoor plumbing and a lot more darning.

A wholesome scene and one, I think you’ll agree, as far removed from Gothic horror type debauchery as it is possible to get. Bram Stoker wouldn’t give it the time of day.

So follow me, dear reader, as we move effortlessly in an omniscient narrator kind of way through the window and into what was commonly called the parlour, where we meet two figures sitting in silence around a plain wooden table. And not a clap of thunder to be heard!

Lady Ephinata de Beauvoir carefully picked up her chipped teacup and, with her pinky finger crooked at the socially acceptable angle, delicately sipped the steaming brew. It tasted like horse poo, with milk.

“Strong!” she spluttered. She could feel the tannin burning the back of her throat. “Oh my!”

Gabriella nodded. “Very good for shock,” she muttered abstractedly.

“Yes,” gasped Effy. “So is sugar.” She quickly heaped three spoonfuls of the stuff into her builders' brew, and tasted it again. It remained absolutely undrinkable. “But you're the one who had the shock, darling.” She leaned over and popped a spoonful into Gabriella's tea, then stirred vigorously.

“Yes, I suppose.”

Effy placed the sugar bowl purposefully back on the tablecloth, covering a rather large and heavily darned patch, then rose slowly to her feet.

“Undoubtedly, darling. You've had such a hard time over these last few years, ever since Callista died.” Effy picked up a small frame from a well -scrubbed oak mantelpiece.  It contained a watercolour portrait of a blonde teenager, executed with no small amount of skill. The artist had caught the subject's personality perfectly; the curl of the lips, the flaring of the nostrils, the single eyebrow running across the forehead and most remarkably, the livid brown eyes staring piercingly from the canvas.  Effy gulped and looked away. “Your dear, dear sister. How you must miss her.”

“Must I?” Gabriella shot her a look, then glanced at the portrait. “Oh yes, absolutely. Not a day goes by when I don't remember. Really, not a frickin' day.”

Quickly, Effie plonked the frame back on the mantelpiece and moved on, surreptitiously running a kid-gloved finger along the wood to check for dust. People's household chores did somewhat go to pot at times of great distress, she'd noticed. Except when one had servants of course, who thankfully never had great distress. She was pleased to see Gabriella's standards had not yet slipped, even though she was unfortunately and permanently sans servant. “What a beautiful cabinet. I don't remember seeing it before. Walnut isn't it?”

“Yew.” Gabriella continued to stare gloomily across the room, absently stirring her tea.

“That's an interesting bottle,” Effy remarked politely, peering through the smudged glass. On a shelf in the cabinet sat a lone wine bottle, a cork jammed crookedly into its neck. Stuck to the bottle was a rather badly scrawled note in an unknown hand: 'Vintage Alti. Do not let anywon open this ever. POISIN!'  “Why are there so many padlocks on this cabinet?”

Gabriella shot out of her seat. “Don't touch that!” she screeched.

“Darling, I couldn't if I wanted to! What's so...” Effy's face suddenly turned pale, then even more quickly green. “Wait, that's not...” Gabriella nodded. “In that bottle?” Gabriella nodded again. “From that God-forsaken séance?”

“Here, sit down. Drink your tea. It's got three sugars in and it's very good for shock,” soothed Gabriella as she steered her friend back to the table. Effy grabbed the cup, forgetting the pinky etiquette, and downed the tea in one. “Would you like something stronger?”

“Too right I would,” gasped Effy, visions of the séance dancing before her eyes. It had been the single most terrifying night of her life. She heaved a few breaths and visibly pulled herself together. “But it's a little early darling, even for times such as this. Unless you've got any medicinal brandy in the house?”

Gabriella shook her head. “I meant coffee actually. You know we can't have alcohol in the house. Because of Father.”

“Oh of course, darling. How insensitive of me.” Effy patted her friend's hands.

“I always wondered what it was that had driven him to drink. Not Mother's running off; he barely seemed to notice she'd gone.”

“He did rather seem to be permanently in his cups, even from the day your mother came to work at the Hall.” The Hall, as Effy rather euphemistically referred to it, was the ancestral home of the de Beauvoirs – a steaming great pile going back generations, its corridors and halls festooned with pictures of de Beauvoirs throughout the ages. It even had a row of suits of armour in the dining hall.

“Well, I guess now we know.” Effy patted Gabriella's hand sympathetically, then poured them each another cup of tea.

“It was rather a shock for him, her showing up like that.”

“Well, it would be. How on earth did she ever find you?”

Gabriella shrugged, despondency etched onto her young and too-careworn face. “She must have followed me home one night. And I’d taken such care to make sure she never found out where I lived, but I must have slipped up just the once and taken a direct route home. Really, I think it was opening the door to her that did it.”


“Shock,” declared Gabriella sadly. “Dropped down on the spot, dead as a stone.”

Effy shook her head sympathetically. “Such a sad time. Why don’t you have a memento mori made of him? I know ever such a good artist who specialises in this type of portraiture and he’s so sensitive. It would be something for you to remember him by. Something to take out of a drawer and remember his poor, dear face.”

“Oh my God, are you mad?” Gabriella rose and headed towards the low sofa. “Would you want to remember this?” Slowly she peeled back a blanket to reveal the face of her dear and recently departed father. Both women flinched as they stared down at the expression, frozen in perpetuity in rigor mortis. “It’s as if Halloween had a face,” Gabriella mused.

“I take your point,” said Effy, delicately averting her eyes. “Do you think the undertaker could do anything? A touch of make-up perhaps?”

Gabriella carefully replaced the blanket, and both women gave an audible sigh of relief. “Make-up? More like plaster of Paris. They are supposed to be very good undertakers though. Old Hal recommended them. Said they did a bang-up job with his Esme, which must’ve been no mean feat considering where the horse kicked her. And then the carriage wheels. So I asked him to fetch them round. They should be here soon.”

No sooner had she said that than there was a loud banging on the front door, quickly followed by a raised and raucous and extremely familiar voice.

“Cooo-wee! It’s us. Bring out yer dead!”

“Ooh, that must be them!” remarked Effy, rising to her feet and heading to the front door.

Gabriella’s eyes had grown as wide as serving dishes. “No wait – don’t open the…”

But it was too late. The door was opened and in fell Lady Xena, fetchingly dressed in a long charcoal frock coat, swirling midnight-black cape and a gay red ribbon tied around the brim of her top hat.

“We’re expected!” she declared grandly before weaving her way into the small sitting room. “Is this where the package is?”

“Package?” Gabriella had sunk back into her seat. “Why are you here? Haven’t you done enough damage?”

“How was I to know he was about to croak? Not my fault the old goat had a dicky ticker. He was as strong as an ox back when I knew him. See, that is what too much drinking and hard living can do – knackers a body out so it collapses at the merest hint of an old girlfriend rocking up at your door. I hadn’t even asked for money either; never even got the chance. Boom! Went down like a sack of stones at my feet. Anyway, I can’t stand here reminiscing all day, I’ve got work to do. This is my new business venture - Castle Funerals and Funerary Services. Business is really good lately, especially with all those unsolved brutal murders. Here’s my card.” She handed Gabriella a small scrap of black-edged card:


Discreet services for the deer departid.
Remembrins Services.

No stiff too small
Discounts available just ask

We do not grave rob!

Gabriella turned the card over. The Lady undertaker's contact details were written on the back in neat but slopy handwriting.

“I see you've moved back into the castle,” Gabriella remarked, tucking the card into her pocket.  “Suspiciously close to where all those unsolved murders are happening.”

Lady Xena nodded. “I've come into a bit of money,” she declared mysteriously. “So we're fixing up the castle. Bentley finally managed to get the Callista stains out of the carpets. And the fire damage is fixed. Ish.” She smiled brightly. “Well, it doesn't rain on my head and that's the main thing! Hey, I hope you aren't accusing me of nefarious business practices!”

“Are you murdering people for their heads or bodies again?”

The undertaker looked hurt. “Absolutely not! It's a legit business. I just deal with the aftermath.” She poked her head back into the hallway and bellowed “BENTLEY! Come and pick up the stiff!” She glanced back at Gabriella. “My back’s giving me gyp. Bentley does all the heavy lifting. Well, how nice to see you again! How are you doing?”

Lady Xena's geriatric butler painfully edged his way into the room. He looked paler and more shrunken than Gabriella remembered, if that were even possible, and his limp leg seemed to drag just that fraction longer. She could almost hear his hips creaking with every pace. “So sorry for your tragic loss Miss Gabriella,” he muttered.

“Thank you Bentley,” she replied kindly.

“Enough with the pleasantries!” stated the Lady, swirling her cloak dramatically before pulling out a finely engraved silver hip flash and taking a deep draught from it.  “I've got a funeral cart and a hansom cab waiting outside, and time is money. The fee’s payable up front. No dosh; no dust to dust. I got expenses to cover.”

Effy’s face fell. “But we haven’t had a wake!”

The black-clad undertaker’s face froze. “Awake? I thought you said he was dead?”

“A wake! As in, speeches, sandwiches. Maybe a little drinky to send him on his way.”

“A little drinky?” Xena’s face lit up. She shoved the flask back into her pocket and sat next to Effy at the table. “That sounds very civilised! This is dusty work, dragging these dead people all over everywhere. All the digging and embalming and everything.” She elbowed Effy conspiratorially. “The embalming bit’s my favourite, but don’t let anyone know. I’ve invented a brilliant machine that does all the hard work for me. Just whack a couple of tubes up certain places and Bob's your uncle! And I have a dead cheap supplier for the special fluid – it’s all scientific and everything!”

Gabriella’s face was hollow. “I don’t have any alcohol in this house.”

“Oh well, never mind. Apparently I have a policy of not drinking while on duty. I’ve been told that mixing alcohol and my special embalming fluid is very dangerous. Things could go boom, and for some reason people don’t like it when their dearly departed go boom. So I’ve discovered. So I use snuff now. It's all the rage, and apart from the odd teeny nosebleed it's practically harmless!” She clapped her hands together and rose graciously. “Right, that’s a guinea up front and we’ll take the stiff off your hands.”

“I don’t have a guinea” said Gabriella with tears pricking her eyes.

“Oh dear. That is a pity. But since it’s you and we go way back -“

“And since you murdered my sister twice, and scared my father to death…”

“- I’ll offer you Mates Rates. Half a crown a week over six weeks. Or a shilling a week over the next year. Call it a Funeral Plan.”

“That’s extortion!”

“No it isn’t! I’ve done extortion before and it’s much less profitable!”

For the sake of a guinea, and to spare her very dear friend any further anguish, Effy stepped in. “Here’s a guinea for the funeral, and here’s fivepence to get you to bugger off and leave my friend to her grief.”

The guinea and fivepence were carefully tucked into the band around the top hat. Xena rummaged in her cloak, pulled out a tiny snuff box and had a quick snort.  “BENTLEY!” she hollered when her head had stopped spinning, “bring the casket in!”

Gabriella and Effy retreated to the kitchen whilst with much huffing and puffing, the body was packed into its casket. The lid was closed and the casket dragged out to the waiting cart.

“Will you be wanting a viewing?” asked Xena as she hovered on the doorstep. “Because I've got a room all tastefully set up at my Castle for that sort of thing. Viewings are sixpence extra.”

“NO!” responded Gabriella and Effy.

“Perfect!” The top-hatted undertaker gaily clapped her hands together before adopting a sombre face. “Sosorryforyourloss,”she intoned, then gave a signal to the black-clad driver of the cart; he raised a whip, and the horses slowly trundled off.

“See you at the funeral – we'll have a proper hearse and everything then! Sixpence extra,” the Lady undertaker declared gaily as she climbed into the hansom cab that was waiting outside for her. The carriage rode slowly away, with the Lady waving merrily out of the window.

Effy fanned herself. “That was quite horrific!” she declared.

“You're telling me,” replied Gabriella. “She seemed almost sober.”

“She must have been. She didn't try to hit on you.”


Lady Xena settled back against the red brocade seat cushion, popped her flask out and drained it. “Do the honours Bentley,” she said, tossing the empty container onto her butler's lap. “This snuff stuff is getting right up my nose.”

“You're not supposed to be drinking, MiLady,” the old butler warned as he uncorked a bottle of claret and filled up the tiny silver flask.

She waved a hand airily. “It's medicinal, to counteract the snuff stuff! And there's no embalming fluid in here anyway.” She tucked the flask back into her bosom, then whipped the claret bottle from the old butler's hand and had a few quick glugs. Her eyes closed blissfully and she heaved a deep and very satisfied sigh.

“But what about Doctor Jekyll?”

“What she doesn't know won't hurt her, Bentley. She'll never guess I've had a quiet little drinky.” She wiped her hand across her mouth, leaving red wine smears all over her chin.

Bentley wasn't quite so sure. He wasn't altogether enamoured of his mistress' latest squeeze, but since getting involved with the rather intense blonde, the Lady had stopped obsessing quite so much about getting her dearly departed bard back. In fact, it had been Miss Jekyll (Doctor) who had suggested their new and rather lucrative business venture, and had set up the even more lucrative joint partnership with the Academy of Perilous Science. She'd also negotiated the sub-letting of several castle rooms, at very reasonable rates, which had been given over to Doctor Sinistre and the Academy's new experimental laboratory. Apart from the fetching, carrying and grave-digging, Bentley's life had quietened down an awful lot. It was definitely easier when the Lady was sober-ish and having a sex life-ish.

“Besides, she's working late in the laboratory tonight.” The Lady's eyes grew calculating, and she took another quick slurp out of the bottle. “Tell the driver to take the long route back to the castle, Bentley,” she ordered, tapping him on the knee with the now half-empty bottle.  “I have plans and schemes to hatch, and you know I can't plot on an empty stomach. Take me to my Club, where I shall dine on oysters and lamb chops!”

Bentley felt his stomach drop at the mention of the words 'plot', 'plan' and 'scheme'. He'd really hoped all those days were behind them.  “Sorry MiLady. You are banned from your Club, ever since that episode with the blonde waitress and the pork medallions.”

“Am I?” She peered at him with eyes slightly wonky and blinking.  Her top hat perched on her head at an improbably rakish angle. “Ah, yes – I remember. They were damn fine pork medallions!” She glugged again, eyes wide and dreamy. “Then take me to your Club!”

Bentley sighed and leaned out of the window.

Darkest midnight cloaked the town. Black clouds loured above, waiting for their chance to pounce with a drenching rain that would pierce the skin like a thousand fine needles, bringing burning pain and then blessed numbness.  The clouds debated whether to chuck in a bit of forked lightning, just for effect, but one of them reminded the others that 'less is more' so they decided to keep it clean and stick with the torrential rain. When they were ready, of course.   No point in shooting your bolt too early, so to speak.

Two figures weaved their way unsteadily up the steep hill, the crooked castle in their sights. The path seemed to go on forever, snaking and curling its way through the forest which edged the castle grounds. Carriage drivers and horsemen refused to come this far. Townsfolk talked in hushed and terrified terms about the ghost, a twisted and gnarled figure abroad in the forest in the dead of night. People had wandered into the forest, never to return. Or at least, never to return in their original form; a few had been used in early prototypes of the Lady's first scheme to resurrect her bard by building- or more correctly, compiling – her a body and all to no avail.

Bentley sighed as he remembered the many nights on Headwatch duty, freezing his hump off while he waited for just the right body parts to show up.

“Oooh, I'm pooped!” declared the Lady Xena as she stopped by the side of the road for a quick wheeze. Her raven hair whipped wildly from underneath her top hat. “I don't remember the road being this long. Is there any of that restorative claret left?”

Bentley shook his head. The wine was a mere distant – very distant – memory. They'd hit three taverns and a house of ill-repute since the claret.

“Bugger! Then I'll have to have a blast of snuff. Just to keep me going, like.” She fumbled around in her voluminous cloak, eyes glazed, until she located the tiny snuff box. Two enormous snorts later and she was up, eyes sparkling and body bouncing. “Bloody marvellous stuff, this snuff!” she declared. “I dunno what she puts in it. But it's great. Brilliant! Yeah. Brilliant, it is.”

Bentley could guess. “Doctor Jekyll is a keen student of chemistry MiLady, so it's bound to be top-grade materials.” Odd though, he mused, as most snuff tended to be brownish in colour, whereas the Lady's was definitely being cut with something a little more pure white in hue. Hence the nosebleeds.

“Yes, my Doctor Miss Nidjy is a top class swot. Top class brainy totty. Top class!” Xena bounced around the road. “She's almost as clever at chemistry and biology and stuff as me! And I haven't even got one of these fancy Doctor thingies. All self-taught, me!” Nobody was quite as Machiavellianly clever as the Lady – after all, who else in living memory had successfully brought the dead back to life? “It's brilliant that she's working in our castle now, brilliant! In the experimental laboratory. Brilliant. Doctor Sinistra Hyde's assistant. It's a brilliant job. Brilliant!”

“Yes, MiLady.” Bentley took the jiggling undertaker's elbow and steered her back towards the road. They set off again, walking in a companionable silence broken only by eerie hooting of an owl and occasional scream of a fox. And the constant jabbering of the undertaker.

Bentley cleared his throat, tearing the silence apart. “Just out of interest, MiLady, do you happen to know what experiments they are conducting in the experimental laboratory?”

The Lady's pin-prick pupils momentarily fixed on his. “Doctor Sinistre says I'm not allowed in the laboratory. Jealous of my brilliance probably. But that's where my special embalming fluid comes from so obviously, that's a brilliant experiment. Brilliant.” Her pupils danced away, then spent a few seconds rolling around in her sockets.

“Yes MiLady. Brilliant.”

“And it's what they need the dead bodies for. Experiments. Brilliant! Two birds with one castle!”

“Yes, MiLady.” This was the third lucrative side-business set up with Doctor Sinistre Hyde and arranged by Miss Jekyll, and was paying for the ongoing repairs to the Castle,plus the Lady's newly acquired snuff-and-oysters habits. “And we're quite sure it isn't grave robbing?”

The Lady looked aghast. “Ooh no Bentley. That's ever so slightly illegal. We are helping Medical Science. It's completely different, so my Doctor Miss Nidjy says. We would never do anything illegal,” she announced confidently, completely overlooking the slightly illegal nature of kidnapping, murder, embezzlement, extortion and theft. Plus copious amounts of wilful destruction of property and a fair few grievous bodily harms. “Although it would be brilliant...”

“We have always been completely law-abiding citizens, MiLady,” lied Bentley, who long ago ceased to have any delusions that he would ever end up in Heaven. He'd never get through the Pearly Gates with the sins he was carrying, and as for the Lady...

“Well, I have anyway. You've always walked a fine line...” They were nearly at the castle door now, and the snuff was wearing off.  “Bentley, go and check that Gabriella's father arrived safely – I told them to put him in the ice cave out back. He's a perfect candidate for Medical Experimentation, what with the closed casket and no viewing. Bung a load of rocks into one of our cheapest coffins, and they'll never know.” She rubbed her hands together gleefully. “Five pounds per stiff, no questions asked! A sweet little earner and no mistake. Brilliant!”

Bentley swung the heavy oak door behind them, and dragged the rusty iron bolt into place. Once inside the hallway, the Lady took her coat off and handed it to him. “Bring me my evening port, Bentley, and a few bits of bread and cheese. And oysters. I shall be expecting Doctor Miss Najara to join us tonight.”

“Very good, MiLady. And Doctor Sinistre?”

“I don't think so. She usually likes to leave Doctor Miss Najara and I alone. Nobody likes a gooseberry! That's why she's never around when Nidjy is. I shall retire to the drawing room!”

“Very good, MiLady.” With visions of his comfortable bed beckoning, Bentley heaved a sigh of relief as he limped his way to the kitchen. With a swiftness borne of years of experience, he assembled the Lady's tray – minus the oysters and cheese – and limped his way back to the dimly-lit parlour.

The Lady had draped herself elegantly across a yellowed chaise-long and was picking idly at a bunch of grapes that lay on a dusty silver platter, itself on a filthy walnut occasional table at her elbow. On the table was a blackened silver candelabra whose candles guttered and flickered, their reflected flames dancing and whirling in the mad woman's eyes.

The aforementioned eyes lit up when she saw the generous goblet of port. “Excellent! I do my best thinking whilst nibbling and having a little drinkie!”

Bentley carefully placed the tray on the table. “And what is it that you are working on, MiLady?”

The noblewoman shoved a chunk of bread into her port, gulped it down and licked her fingers. She looked a little shifty. “What else, Bentley, but my life's mission? My all-encompassing desire to...” she paused dramatically, and drained the glass. “... bring my bard back!”

Bentley felt himself go a little pale. His bed suddenly seemed farther away. “But...?”

“Indeed!” She held out the empty glass and gesticulated; he filled it up again from the bottle he'd stashed in his overcoat pocket. “You thought I was blissfully happy bonking the Doctor Miss Najara?”

He nodded mutely.

Her cheeks had already become fetchingly flushed. “Well, I am! She's got a smokin' hot bod, and the looks to go with it. She even resembles my bard a bit – blonde, big blue or perhaps green eyes, cute little snubby nose and abs you could grate cheese on. But without my bard's essence, it's just sex. Really, really good sex but a woman of my mature years needs more than just physical fulfilment. My soul sings for more, Bentley. It cries out in anguish for my bard, even after all these lonely, lonely years.” Again the glass was drained and refilled, and the desolate Lady started to collapse into the chaise-long. “We were supposed to be together forever! What happened to all those plans we made?” The snivelling and wailing began. Bentley quickly dipped a piece of bread into the port and popped it into her mouth.

“Death does rather get in the way of life, MiLady.”

“Indeed.” She  chewed thoughtfully on the hunk of port-soaked bread. “If I'm 100% truthfully honest, I'm a bit disappointed that she hasn't made more of an effort to get back down here to me, Bentley. Still, not to worry! I've been working on a plan and even if I say so myself, it's my best yet! It is brilliant in its sheer brilliance!” The flush on her cheeks turned to fevered spots, and her eyes were all sparkly and only wandering a wee bit. “Can I trust you, Bentley?”

“Not at all, MiLady.”

“Excellent! You just can't buy that kind of loyalty these days. My plan is intricate; so intricate that I've had to work on it in three stages. Stage one – find The Vessel. This is where Doctor Miss Najara comes in.”

“You've been seeing her for four months.”

“An extended trial period. I had to make sure she's the right bod for my bard! And that we've got – shall we say – chemistry?” She snickered, and flopped her legs off the chaise-long. “Did you see what I did there Bentley?”

“Most droll, MiLady.”

“But we've tried all that assembling body parts and resurrecting the dead. That didn't work. And we've tried bottling the spiritual essence and pouring it into a live body and we know that didn't work!” They both shuddered. “Dodged a bullet there, eh?”

“Indeed!” He topped up her goblet again, and poured himself a teensy glass as well.

“So stage two – find the method. Of preservation. The freshest corpse, none of this been dead for ages malarkey. And with the right preserving fluid...” She made 'ta-da!' movements with her hands and eyebrows.

A light bulb – if they had have been invented then, which of course they hadn't – of understanding glimmered faintly. “The special embalming fluid?”

“Indeed! I've been adapting the fluid in my own laboratory in the basement. I do all my best work down there. And I've rebuilt my Contraption!” She bolted upright, eyes shining and wine dribbling. The Contraption was the complicated system of  levers, pulleys and electrical conductors that had unfortunately resurrected the Contessa di Callista from her eternal slumber.  It, along with almost everything else, had been destroyed in the fire which had done for – again – the Contessa. Second time's a charm and all that.

“I am on the cusp of perfecting a formula that preserves the body at the very moment of death - suspended between life and death if you will! And it acts as a binding agent for the soul, like a sort of... of soul glue! So when we pour my bard's essence into the vessel, she'll stick around. The plan is foolproof!!” She cackled merrily before downing another brimming goblet of port.  And from somewhere – and very strange, as they were inside the castle – bolts of lightning forked around her head.

“What about stage three, Milady?”

“There is no stage three.” She blinked at him, or at least she chose one of the three of him that were swimming in front of her eyes to blink at. “Wait! Is there? Oh yes of course – stage three; finding the opportunity! No wait, that's stage four. Stage three – finding my bard. Well, we know how to do that. I've got that medium woman on retainer. All we need is a nice big empty wine bottle and a ready and waiting Vessel, and preferably a dark and stormy night. We need the lightning to power my Resurrecting Contraption.  And we've still got my bard's brain pickling in a jar, so we'll be all set there. And we'll pick the right brain this time. Bentley, make sure all my arch-enemy brains are packed away in crates so there can be no more unfortunate mishaps.”

Bentley sighed. That would take him ages.

The mad noblewoman's raven hair had escaped its top hat and was weaving wildly around her head. She raised her glass, and continued, maniacal beams dancing from her eyes. “Then to stage four – finding the opportunity. As in...” Crudely, she pantomimed the various acts involved in stages one through three.  “I feel we are close, Bentley! Find this year's almanack and see if you can figure out when the next massive storm will be coming. With lightning. Got to have lightning. It shouldn't be too long – it is almost Halloween and the weather's always bloody awful at this time of year.”

“I'll get right to it Milady,” promised Bentley as he started to shuffle his way off to bed.

“Brilliant!” The crazed noblewoman collapsed onto the chaise-long again, and within seconds had conked out in an alcohol induced stupor. She started snoring faintly.

But then, in an overly dramatic way, the door was flung open and in burst a statuesque woman with cropped blonde hair wearing a tightly corseted blue dress and the most massivest pair of stiletto-heeled boots Bentley had ever seen.

The stranger took one look at the scene; the snoring Lady, the discarded bottles of port and the breadcrumbs on the floor. She turned an accusing glare onto the butler. “This doesn't look good!”

Bentley hurriedly limped back across to Xena, who was mumbling something about oysters and bards in her sleep. Quickly, he shook the addled woman awake, then stepped back well out of the way.

“Doctor Najara Jekyll to see you, MiLady.” He began arthritically edging his way towards the door again.

“Oh shit!” Hurriedly, she kicked the empty bottles underneath the chaise-long. “Hello O Altar Upon Which I Worship! How lovely to see...”

“Don't give me that crap!” shrieked the irate scientist. “You promised to be good! This is not good! How is this good?”

“Well, in the sense that it was good port, O Font At Which I...?”

The blue eyes grew even more irate. “Drinking is not the Lord's work! Lying is not the Lord's work! Getting crumbs on the carpet is not the Lord's work! Doing the Lord's work is the Way Of The Light! This is not the Way of the Light! WE ONLY DO GOOD!”

Specks of spittle doused the hapless Lady's cheeks. She wobbled to her feet and plastered what she thought was an ingratiating smile on her face. “But that's what I've been doing, sweetie! I'm helping you with The Light and everything. I've brought you a very good body for your Medical Experiments.”


“I know, sweetie.”

“It's all part of the Lord's work! I DO IT FOR THE LORD!!”

“Yes, and it's very good work, sweetie. The Lord must be so pleased with all the scientific breakthroughs you are making.”

The maniacal blue eyes suddenly became absolutely calm. A serene smile spread across the blush lips. “Yes He is. I am told He thinks I am doing marvellous work.  For The Light.”

“Ever such good work, O Loveliness Without End.” The Lady Xena soothingly patted the arm again. There was nothing like an irate girlfriend steaming into your guilt-ridden room to knock the alcohol right out of a body. That, and a good dose of the newly souped-up special embalming fluid, but she was saving that for emergencies.

“Yes, well.” Najara appeared somewhat mollified. “I am on the cusp of another scientific breakthrough. I do need a subject to extract some – well, never you mind. Where's this lovely fresh body you were talking about?”

“Out back, on ice. It's...”

The blue eyes fell chill again. “On ice? On ICE? Just exactly how fresh is this body?”

The undertaker looked shifty. “Not long. Just a day. Or three...” She held up her hands to ward off the explosion that was coming.

Just like Krakatoa, Najara erupted. “THREE DAYS?? THREE SODDING DAYS? ARE YOU TRYING TO SABOTAGE ME?  You know FULL WELL that my window of scientific opportunity is within ONE DAY. ONE FURKIN' DAY!”

“We used a lot of ice, sweetie...”


Najara's face, brightly glowing red as it already was, started to swell and go all lumpy and her hair suddenly looked a lot less glossy. More straggly and longer. In fact, she started to look hairier all over, somehow. “Shit! SHIT! NOW LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE! I HAVE TO GO!” And with that, she dashed out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her.

Lady Xena turned bemused eyes onto Bentley. “Well I never. What was that all about?”

“Doctor Miss Najara seems to have a bit of a temper on her, MiLady.”

The bemused noblewoman shrugged, and fished out an almost-empty bottle from under the chaise-long. She dribbled the last drops onto her tongue. “That's how passionate she is. She's passionate about her experiments, and making scientific breakthroughs in the name of the Lord.”

“Yes,” replied Bentley, feeling somewhat cynical about the clearly mad-as-a-hatter God-botherer who had just erupted in their drawing room.  Bentley had never trusted those with a fervent religious bent, especially when they were unleashing it in his face.

“Thank God we won't have any of that crap when she becomes The Vessel. My bard will soon knock that out of her. And we'll be left with just the passion, which we can put to other good uses! Twice a night!”

The door crashed open again and for a moment, both hearts sank at the thought of Doctor Miss Najara raging into the room again. But it wasn't the fiery scientist this time – no, it was a much more dishevelled creature. Wearing a black cloak over a shredded blue dress, a mass of mares' tails where its hair should have been and with crooked and blackened teeth, it ran into the room and gibbered furiously.

Bentley popped open a bottle of single malt and poured himself and the Lady Xena a glass. It felt like a whisky kind of evening.

“Ah, Doctor Sinistre! How nice of you to join us!” The Lady rose to her feet and beckoned the monster humanoid in with an expansive wave of her arm. “Would you like a little drinkie?” She wiggled her glass at Bentley who still held the bottle in his outstretched arm. “Don't tell Doctor Miss Jekyll we're having a teensy little nightcap.”

The Doctor gibbered and growled before launching herself at Bentley. She chomped first the bottle, then the arm, and then a leg. There was a sickening crunch and a blood-curdling scream.

Bugger, thought Bentley as he slid into unconsciousness. I didn't even get to finish the bloody whisky.

Let us leave that sorry scene of debauchery behind us, skipping over the frantic howls; the blood dripping and pooling on the threadbare rug and the sight of Lady Xena dragging her butler by his one remaining good-ish leg to her laboratory where she immediately swung into action with her well-practiced and finely-honed stitching skills, sewing up the gash in Bentley's leg. Sadly, her bone-soldering skills left a bit to be desired, so she whacked him in plaster and laid him out on The Contraption.

So that's that bit skipped over.

Ah – but where is Doctor Sinistre, I hear you cry? Where indeed.

Gabriella stood at the graveside and watched as the gravediggers cast shovelfulls of earth over her father's grave. She hugged her cloak closer around her to ward off the crisp autumn chill, the sun's weak rays barely making it past the clouds. The elms rustled faintly in the wind, the last of their russet leaves floating to the ground to layer a crunchy carpet underfoot.

It was peaceful. Her dad would've liked it. Hell, she would like it.

“It was quite a lovely service, darling,” soothed Effy as she dabbed her eyes with a finely embroidered cream handkerchief. Gabriella nodded. “I thought the undertakers did a jolly good job, all things considered.”

Yes. There were a lot of things to be considered, the most pressing being the invoice for Funerary Services she had just been presented with. “I might ask for a discount,” she said.

“Discount, darling?” Effy put her arm around her and steered her towards the church gate where they joined their undertakers Lady Xena and Bentley.

“Yes. I don't think anyone burying their loved one should be expected to push one of the undertakers in his wheelchair.”

The Lady undertaker clapped her gloved hands together and blew on them as she waited for her hansom cab to arrive. “Fair point,” she conceded. “But it was for Bentley. He's practically a father to you.”

“No he isn't! And in case you'd forgotten, I've just buried my father!”

“'Course I didn't forget – took me ages to drag that coffin here by myself! Bentley's next to useless now that he's broken his leg in two places in mysterious circumstances. Luckily it's his limpy one so no real harm done! It's a bit parky; anyone got any restorative nips of brandy on them? No? Pity.”

She stamped her feet and rubbed her hands together again before rummaging in her pocket. The flask came out and much to everyone's surprise – and possibly her own - she handed it to Gabriella. “Here, kid. You look like you need this more than me. It may surprise you to know that I too have lost a loved one.  This one's on the house. Where's my bloody hansom cab? I've got to get to the Town Mortuary. There was another horrific murder last night, and we've got the contract with the town morgue to pick up the stiffs once they've been sliced and diced.”

Gabriella took a swig and handed the flask back. “Thanks,” she said, casting a tiny grateful smile to Xena.

“Well, I was expecting a bit more gratitude, but a smile is no small reward on a day like today.” She took her own swig, before returning to her pockets and pulling out another flask which she passed to Bentley. “Laudanum,” she confessed. “My own special formula. Good for the pain. Two doses, three times a day. Sorry – did I not make myself clear? It's been quite an upsetting few days, it's knocked me right off my game. I meant - the funeral is on the house.  Mates Rates. I'll tear up the invoice.”

Gabriella's mouth dropped open and tears began to squeeze from her eyelids. “Really? Because I truly can't afford it and I cannot give him a pauper's grave.”

“What? That was an option? I wish I'd known that before tearing up the invoice!”

“I can't tell you what a relief this is! It means I might be able to stay in my home. The rent is in arrears you see , and the other bills – he spent all our money on drink. I had no idea things were this bad until...”

Xena patted Gabriella's heaving shoulders awkwardly. “There, there,” she said, taking Bentley's flask off him and having a quick nip herself. “Oooh! Wait! I am just having a brilliant idea! Wait!” Another quick nip. “Yes, there it is! As you can see, Bentley is incapacitated. He can't get around too easily, so  how about I offer you a job?”

“As your butler?” Gabriella looked uncertain. “I can't butle.”

“No! Bentley can still butle. He's still got two arms and one leg. He just needs a bit of help is all, just until he's back on his feet, or at least until he can comfortably drag his withered leg behind him again. It'd be a sort of butler's assistant job. Push his wheelchair. Fetch and carry. A bit of light housekeeping. And of course  attending to the very specialist particular needs of our experimental laboratories.”

Gabriella's eyes narrowed. “What specialist particular needs would they be?”

“Mainly making tea – us scientists do drink a lot of tea. Errrr, a bit of light dusting and washing out the test tubes when they're done. Cleaning up spills. Splashing a bit of disinfectant around. Laundry. Maybe writing legible labels on jars and bottles. We all know what can happen when a label's hard to read! Maybe helping me out with a bit of undertaking if we happen to get a delivery in.”

“What's the pay?”

“A shilling a week. And you can stay at the Castle. Meals included.”

Gabriella took a moment or three to consider. “Make it two, and you've got a deal.”

Gabriella stepped through the heavy door, leaving the bitter cold of the night and the allegorically-raging storm behind her. The door scraped into place and closed with a clang that echoed through the cavernous hallway. It wasn't the first time she'd been in the castle but she hadn't remembered coming through the front door last time. They probably had a special entrance for kidnapped blondes and murder victims, she mused. Probably a chute or something.

The woman of the house and Bentley were waiting to greet her with huge smiles.

“I'll show you around!” said Lady Xena brightly as she took Gabriella's small packing case. She dumped it onto Bentley's lap. “Bentley can't manage the stairs you see. I am fixing up a mechanised contraption for him that will carry his wheelchair up and down the staircase. A sort of stairlift, if you will. But the donkeys keep running away so I'm not having much luck.” She gestured to a patch of hay and a steaming pile of droppings which lay on the floor at the foot of the grand staircase. “Plus my beloved Doctor Miss Najara won't stop complaining about the smell. She's my girlfriend, but you can call her Doctor Miss Najara. I think that's her name.”

Gabriella could hear braying coming from the far end of the entrance hall. “What exactly are the donkeys for again?”

The Lady pointed towards a wooden pulley system with two harnesses attached. “The donkeys turn the flywheel, which in turn pulls the chain...” She pointed to a heavy chain that ran along the banister. “.. which pulls the platform, upon which Bentley's wheelchair can be rolled, and up he goes!” She cackled in delight.

“How does he get down again?”

“The donkeys turn the wheel the other way, and it cranks him slowly and safely – and I can't stress enough how important safety is! - down to the ground floor again. It's foolproof!”

“Except for the donkeys?”

Xena's face fell. “Yes. They won't co-operate. They keep hee-hawing and pooing, and running away.”

“I see.” Gabriella scratched her chin. “Carrots. Donkeys love carrots.”

“Aha!” A maniacal gleam entered the noblewoman's eyes. “Yes, I shall bend them to my will using a harmless and plentiful vegetable!” She clapped Gabriella on the shoulder, and steered her down the darkened corridor. “See, you're already earning your keep! This is going to be a brilliant arrangement! This is where the scullery and kitchen is. The wine cellar is through that door there.” She pointed to the left. “And whatever you do, DO NOT under NO CIRCUMSTANCES EVER enter through that door there!”

“You mean the door right next to the wine cellar?”


“The one with no markings on it whatsover, right next to the equally unmarked wine cellar?”

“Yes, that's right. You remember the wine cellar don't you? It's where I hatched my brilliant plan to defeat your sister.”

“I remember it very well. I remember most of the bottles were empty.”

“Yes.” The Lady blushed slightly. “I had a teensy bit of a drinking problem in those days, I'm ashamed to say. Missed my mouth most of the time!” She erupted in laughter. “No, seriously! I did have a tendency to hit the bottle a smidge too much. Do you know, I think it might've affected some of my many skills. Mainly my motor skills, and perhaps occasionally my decision making ones. My Nidjy has really helped me get it all under control. Did I mention I have a girlfriend now? So you can rest assured that I won't be trying to kidnap you and use you to resurrect my bard. See, I realised after all these years that she's just not coming back, and so I decided to give a live one a go! With her own head and everything!”

Gabriella couldn't help but be impressed by the almost-sober Lady. “This is a huge step forward for you,” she observed.

“Yes. I'm growing as a person.” She delved into her sleeve and had a quick slurp out of her flask. Catching Gabriella's eye, she explained; “I've been on a journey, you see. Or at least I was – to Grimsby actually, but then the coach driver threw me out. That's when I met Doctor Miss Jekyll.”  She rummaged in the larder and pulled out a couple of carrots.  “I can't wait for you to meet her. She's inspirational. Maybe a teensy bit volatile. But you'll meet her at dinner.”

“Oh great, what time is dinner? I'm starving.”

“Whenever you cook it. Just don't use the carrots.”

Xena ambled out, closing the kitchen door behind her.

Gabriella sighed, and got to work.


“What is this?” the haughty blonde in the blue dress demanded as a scowl spread across her face.

“Meat and potato pie, roast beetroot and boiled cabbage,” explained Gabriella as she placed a brimming plate in front of Lady Xena. “And gravy. All home cooked.”

“Looks delish!” drooled the dark-haired Lady, grabbing her cutlery and prodding the food.  She grunted approvingly and stuck a bit of piecrust in her mouth. “Gabriella is Bentley's new assistant, O Delight Of My Life.”

“It looks like peasant food.” The scowl was still hovering.

Gabriella threw her a glance before serving Bentley and then taking her own seat. “It is. Plain and simple cooking. I prefer to think of it as rustic, rather than peasant.”

Najara's face suddenly beamed. “How absolutely marvellous! Plain and simple rustic fayre, just like The Lord demands. For was it not Our Lord who fed the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes?”

“Was it?” murmured Lady Xena absently around a mouthful of pie. There was a sudden crashing silence, and the air turned noticeably frosty. “Absolutely it was! Truly a miracle, O Lord's Blessing Sent Unto Me.”

“Yes. Well. The Army of Light marches on its stomach,” Doctor Jekyll muttered cryptically. She glared at her hapless girlfriend before turning a pair of appreciative eyes back to Gabriella. “How nice to make your acquaintance, my dear. I hear you'll be with us until Bentley's leg is healed.”

“That's right. I'm sure he'll be up and about in no time.”

“Perhaps even earlier, if my Miracle Cure works. It's one of my extremely important and highly experimental scientific experiments. It's completely approved by the Academy of Perilous Science and all above board. ”

Gabriella nodded politely. “Lady Xena mentioned you were a scientist. How interesting.”

Najara's blonde head ducked in excitement. “I sense a kindred spirit! You must assist me in my experimental laboratory.”

“Is that the one next to the wine cellar?”

There was a choking sound from Lady Xena.

Najara's brow wrinkled. “Wine cellar? I don't know what you mean. My experimental laboratory is in the attic, up the rickety old winding staircase. It's not a fire trap at all. Just right for handling bunsen burners and corrosive chemicals. “

“I've said to Gabriella that she may assist you in your scientific experiments if you so wish, O Keeper Of My Eternal Flame.”

Najara clapped her hands together excitedly. “We shall have such fun doing the Lord's work together, you and I Gabriella! We shall be the Lord's scientific Army of Light!”

“She whitters on about the Light an awful lot,” whispered Xena. “I've found it best to humour her.”

Gabriella nodded. “Why don't you tell me about your latest scientific experiment, Doctor Jekyll?” she asked, spearing a beetroot.

“Oh my dear, please call me Doctor Jekyll. Well, I'm working on a potion. It's absolutely marvellous stuff! I call it djinn.”


“GIN?” Xena's eyes lit up.

“Yes, djinn. It's a muscle relaxant. It's great for de-stressing. I take it myself, although it is still in the experimental stages. It's marvellous. After I've taken it, I feel so relaxed and my cares have just melted away! I'm working on a formula for the potion that will allow me to distill it into lozenge form, or perhaps powders.  Something to lessen the strong flavour and make it easier for people to self-administer.” She nibbled on a bit of pie. “It's what I think will cure Bentley's ailing leg.”

“It sounds fascinating,” lied Gabriella.

“Indeed, my dear. The only problem, which I just can't crack yet, is a little, inconsequential side-effect. Amnesia. I cannot remember a thing for at least five hours after I've taken it.” Najara's blue eyes grew calculating. “What would help, from a scientific experimentation point of view, is to have a subject I can observe. Observation is very scientific.”

Gabriella looked up from her dinner plate. “You want to observe me taking your gin?”

“Yes, the djinn.”

“I'LL TAKE THE GIN!” Lady Xena's hand was in the air immediately. “Is it neat or on the rocks?”

“I'm not taking any experimental drugs,” said Gabriella firmly. “Especially if they have side-effects. I'm doing the cooking, you know.”

“I'LL TAKE THE GIN!” Xena's hand was still in the air. “Can I have it with lemon and tonic, O Beatific One?”

“Interesting...” Najara rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “I hadn't considered diluting the djinn. It just might work. Quickly, to the laboratory!”

Bentley stayed behind, to enjoy his pie in peace and quiet.

“Good God,” whispered Gabriella out of the corner of her mouth to Lady Xena. “Is it always this messy?”

They stared around at the room. Instruments and lab coats were strewn everywhere; shards of broken pipettes, test tubes and beakers lay scattered all over the benches and floor and puddles of unknown liquids pooled on all the surfaces.

“I dunno,” Xena whispered back. “I've never been allowed in. It is diabolically unkempt.”

“A little light dusting, you said. I'm not cleaning this up.”

“Apologies if it's a bit untidy. Doctor Sinistre isn't the world's best housekeeper. I just don't know what she does to make such a mess.” Najara was rooting around in the debris. “I'm going to knock up a fresh batch of djinn. It won't take me a minute! Make yourselves at home. There's an ante-room over there you can wait in. Xena, darling, why don't you lie on the bed in there, make yourself comfy. I'll be in with the potion and my notebook in a jiff.” She peeked out from over a table and studied the noblewoman. “Might make it twice the strength. This is so exciting!”

“I wouldn't be taking any experimental potion cooked up here,” muttered Gabriella. “It's not  hygienic.”

“I'll take some snuff. It'll counteract the filth.” Lady Xena rummaged around in her sleeve, dug out her box and took a pinch. “Ahhh! That's better!”

The ante-room was clearly doubling as a bedroom. The day bed in there was unmade, with unmentionable debris strewn all around it. It looked like Tracey Emin's unmade bed, if of course she'd have unmade it in the eighteenth century.

“Good God, is this where Doctor Sinistre sleeps?” asked Gabriella, peeling discarded undergarments off the bed. Xena shrugged.  “It's a pit. Where is she anyway?”

“Dunno. We never see that much of her really – we just hear all the banging and clanking. She goes out a lot, around midnight.”

“Does she? Does she wear a blue dress too?”

“Yeah, usually. With one of those swirly opera cloaks over it.”

“A bit like that one?” There was an opera cloak hanging neatly on the back of the door. Xena nodded, her eyes doing their own bit of light swirling.

“There's a massive pile of blue dresses over there. I'm not doing laundry. I'll be there all year trying to wash them.” Gabriella picked up one of the discarded dresses. “Not to mention the mending. This is ripped to shreds. They all are.” She rummaged around a bit more in the pile of blue material. “There's blood on this one. And this.” Gabriella turned a concerned face to Xena. “Exactly what is involved in making these potions?”

The Lady picked up a tattered dress. “Oh dear. This is fresh blood. And something else... if I'm not mistaken. Oh. Dear.”

“What?” Gabriella craned her neck to see, but the Lady hastily shoved the lacerated dress out of sight.

“Nothing. Just a bit of... Well, offal.”

“Yes, it is well awful,” agreed Gabriella, grandly mishearing. “I think these must be connected to the murders. Do you think Doctor Sinistre is involved? We must fetch the police!”

“Police?” Najara stood in the doorway, a beaker in her hand. “What do we want them for? The djinn's ready!”

“Goodie!” exclaimed Xena, throwing herself onto the disgusting bed. “Bring it on, sweetie! Did you put the lemon in? And one of those little umbrellas, if you've got one.”

“Are you mad?” shouted Gabriella, plucking at the Lady's sleeve in an attempt to get her back off the bed. “Don't drink that stuff – you don't know what she's put in it!”

“Hopefully some tonic water and ice cubes,” replied Xena. She took the beaker and downed it in one. Doctor Najara stood nearby, pencil poised eagerly. The subject of the experiment held out the empty container. “Fill 'er up, barkeep!”

“What have you done?” cried Gabriella, aghast.

Xena began to cough. “Blimey, that hits the back of the throat! How long does it take to work?”

Doctor Najara was scribbling in her notebook. “Well, that's what I want to observe. Although usually, I start feeling a LOT more relaxed, almost instantly. We'll give it a minute.”

They gave it a minute. Then another. And another.

“Did you dilute it down too much, O Light Of My Life? ‘Cos the only thing I'm feeling the effects of is the teensy pinch of snuff I took.”

The Doctor scowled. “This can't be right. I made it extra strong, to counteract the dilution. Hang on, let me try for myself.” She dashed away, returning almost immediately with the remnants of the extra-strong potion, still in its test tube.  She drained it. The test tube immediately fell from her fingers and shattered onto the floor.

Najara began to twitch, then groan. Her head swelled and went lumpy; her eyebrows thickened and hair started sprouting all over. Her eyes turned yellow and her fingers became claws with talons where fingernails had been. The Doctor clutched at her throat, gurgled and then ducked out of sight behind a dresser, from where there came a series of increasingly blood-curdling screams, roars, groans and clanks. Occasionally her head or feet could be seen as she thrashed about behind the furniture.

Silence suddenly fell.

Doctor Sinistre sprang out, growling and gibbering.

Lady Xena squealed. “What have you done with my girlfriend?”

Gabriella gasped in shock. “Don't you see? That is your girlfriend! It must be the potion!”

Lady Xena squealed again, and took another hit of snuff. “It can't be! I could never date anyone that hairy!”

The monstrous being roared and swept aside the heavy dresser like it was made of straw.

“Quick! Do something – she's your girlfriend!” screamed Gabriella, grabbing Xena and shoving her in front.

“Not any more she's not! We're finished!”

The creature roared, and made to lunge at them across the bed. Gabriella started throwing things at her – the pile of dresses and whatever else she could get her hands on - as they both backed out of the room and into the laboratory proper.

“Stop antagonising her and do something!” screamed Gabriella as she threw scientific instruments at the beast. “This won't slow her down for long!” The monstrous apparition had jumped over the bed and was stalking them round the laboratory, snarling and lunging. “She's a mad scientist with the strength and inclinations of a hairy murderer!”

The creature roared again, beating her hairy chest and gibbering at them, her blackened teeth like crooked gravestones in her gums.

The frantic noblewoman shut her eyes in despair. “I can't believe I used to kiss that mouth!” she shrieked.

Gabriella paused momentarily from throwing test tubes. “Surely you mean Najara's mouth? You didn't actually...”

“Well, there were a few moments in the throes of orgasm when I thought Najara did get a bit more – of a handful.”

Gabriella closed her eyes. “Why am I surprised? You were probably drunk. Or maybe high on that snuff. The snuff! Let me see that stuff.” She took the box off Xena and opened it. “This isn't snuff! It's...” She stuck her pinkie finger in and tasted it. “I don't know what it is, but it's not snuff. Where did you get it from?”

“Where do you think?” The Lady undertaker was busy throwing laboratory furniture at the ravaging beast now.  “I can't believe she's been cutting my snuff with other stuff!”

“Well it's just as well she did because I think this snuff has counteracted the potion. I have an idea!” And with that, Gabriella threw the snuff contents all over the creature. It stopped in its tracks, sneezed a few times and then roared again.

“That didn't work!” cried Lady Xena in despair. “And you've wasted my special snuff!”

“Give it a minute...” They gave it a minute. Then another. And another.

The creature kept coming. “Perhaps it only works before the potion has taken hold,” yelled Gabriella.

“I'm running out of laboratory furniture to throw. Quick, head for the door!”

But they were facing away from the door, and the creature was standing in front of it.  They feinted a few times, but the creature stayed firm, hollering and roaring, its yellow eyes crazed and its long fangs bared.

“Do you have a powder gun on you?” Gabriella yelled at Xena. “Hidden in your pockets or sleeves?”

“No, I never carry weapons, after that time with the highwayman and the daffodils,” Xena screamed back.

Gabriella cast wildly around her and improvised. She grabbed up two scalpels, balanced them in her hands and then cast them at the hairsuite figure. There was a 'thunk'. Najara stopped, blinked a few times and then crashed to the ground.

Silence filled the ruined laboratory.

“Oh bugger! There goes The Vessel!” cried the anguished noblewoman, surveying the remains of the monstrous creature which lay sprawled on the floor with two scalpels deeply embedded in its heart.

“Give it a minute,” advised Gabriella. “She's bound to turn back to Najara. They always do in the Penny Dreadfuls.”

They gave it a minute. Then another. And another.

“My beautiful Machiavellian schemes, all for nought!” Lady Xena's shoulders slumped. “That's that foolproof plan buggered then,” she sighed. “Back to the laboratory. I have new schemes to hatch. Better bring a couple of bottles of champagne. It's going to be a long night.”

“Wait!” cried Gabriella. “You can't leave it this like this!  Apart from anything else, you have to destroy all traces of the potion.”

“Oooh that's true. We wouldn't want anyone else – well, ending up like her. That. Whatever.” She scratched her head for a few moments. “Wait! I have it! We'll lock up this room, and never darken its door again!”

Gabriella gave her a piercing stare. “Really? That's your plan?”

“Pfff! Do you have a better idea?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” A lit candle suddenly materialised in each of Gabriella's hands. She gave an evil smile, and dropped them on the floor.

“Oh bloody hell!” wailed Xena. “I've only just had the roof fixed!”

The experimental laboratory went 'whoosh'.

The rickety staircase, down which they had just flung themselves, went 'whumf'.

Lady Xena, Bentley and Gabriella stood in the grounds and watched the flames dancing and licking over the roof.

“This feels familiar, somehow,” mused Xena, watching her home and lucrative business ventures go up in smoke.

“Second time's a charm,” replied Gabriella dryly.

“A fairly typical Halloween, MiLady,” added Bentley.

She turned and regarded him thoughtfully. “You're right. This is not the most auspicious time of the year for us. Perhaps we should go abroad next year? Somewhere nice and sunny. Romania perhaps? I have a cousin there. Haven't seen him for ages.”

“Indeed MiLady.”

Xena wheeled the old butler in a 3-point turn, and the three started to slowly make their way down the road.

“So, Gabriella. We're homeless. And jobless. How big's this cottage of yours?”

“You're not living with me. You're a curse.”

“I'm a curse?” shot back the indignant homeless noblewoman. “Bad things only happen to me when you're around!” Gabriella shot her a look. “Aw, c'mon. We hardly take up any space. Bentley can sleep in his chair. How big's your wine cellar? I have a lot of plans to hatch, and my cogs will need oiling. I do, after all, have a bard to resurrect.”

“Don't get any ideas. I'm not your bard.”

And together in companionable arguing, they travelled down the road – towards, who knows what?


Or is it????????