Scout Carter's Journal - Part 8
Case File X257-15
Report by Detective Scout Carter
We were at the side of a large manor-house, and when we got to the front,
there was a horse-drawn carriage sitting, conveniently awaiting
passengers. I considered taking it as offered, but there was a driver and,
I assumed, also an owner. Probably inside the nearby house.
"Excuse me," I said, walking up to the driver and getting his
attention. "We seem a bit lost. Is this...?" I let my voice
trail off to invite him to fill in the rest. He obliged.
"Lady Alron's estates. You're looking for...?"
"This," I said with a smile, and headed toward the door. Anna
took a moment to tie up the horse and did a good job of hiding any
reaction she might have to my act. But I'd used this sort of act to get my
way in with reluctant witnesses before, and it usually worked fairly well.
My reasoning for expecting help in the manor when this way. Julian had
brought us here, that said he meant us to be here. And so, either this was
a safe and moderately friendly place or it was a nasty trap that would
take a bite out of my ass for not running fast enough. But the latter
seemed unlikely because he could have done that a lot more easily than
dropping us near a high-class 19th century manor. Call me naïve, but I'd
rather assume people aren't childishly vindictive the first time we meet,
even if they do send wolves and hawks to pin me down by way of
So I was going to introduce myself... but I decided not to drop Julian's
name, just in case.
The doorman was quick to answer the bell (attached to a cord, not an
electric button), but didn't seem happy with a visitor (two when Anna came
up behind me) who wouldn't offer their business to be passed along. For
one, I hadn't thought of a good lie quite yet and, for another, I was
playing on an impression from too many movies that people of this era are
given to indulging mysterious strangers. Though I didn't know how charming
I could be after being chased through the Arden and otherwise abused by
the great outdoors for a couple days.
The Lady Melissa Alron was introduced by a footman. She had red hair, fine
features and was maybe 23 and she was dressed in blue, probably the high
fashion of the time. In other words, it looked as much like something for
a costume party as most people I've met since coming to Amber do. But she
wore it well. And she seemed intrigued enough to give a stranger's story a
"And just what might your business here be, Mister Carter?" she
asked after a few preliminaries.
"To be honest, it's mostly just to move on. But we seem to have lost
our way and our means of transport. Thus, we've a need for
She seemed confused, which was natural as I wasn't quite making sense. I
decided to steer her thought process a bit more.
"We were hoping to locate a carriage or coach that might be
"I'm certain they rent coaches in town. Why have you come here?"
She actually made looking confused into a rather pretty expression.
Unfortunately, it seemed all too natural for her. She must be used to
being a step or two behind conversations.
"In town?" I continued, ignoring her question (because it made
too much sense and was too difficult to answer just now). "And town
is...?" I tried to look bewildered and lost, which was easy because I
"I was just preparing to go into town myself. If you would like to
accompany me, I'm certain you'll be able to find what you need."
"That would be more than kind of you." I glanced back to Anna,
who was rolling her eyes just a bit and, in general, acting like the
long-suffering escort of a madman. Lady Alron didn't seem to pay her any
mind, and instead led us out to her carriage.
"Scout... My horse?" Anna said quietly, which was good as I'd
managed to make myself forget the animal. We tied the beast to the back of
the lady's carriage and joined her inside. As I helped her in, I caught a
glint in her smile than reminded me to glance at her hand. I didn't see
anything that looked like a wedding ring, though who can say what such
looks like here. I decided then to be a bit more careful how the
"So, just what does a 'scout' do, Mister Carter?" she asked,
apparently mistaking my name for a title. Good. It added to the mystery
and gave us a safe topic. In fact, I could turn it into an excuse for
satisfying my curiosity.
"What does anyone do, really? Labels don't mean much."
She seemed intrigued, and pushed for more, like I'd expected. "Most
people do something. My father is the best onion farmer in the kingdom.
You must do something."
"Mostly, I look for people. Specific people."
She seemed to like vague answers and was creative enough to fill in the
gaps. And I wasn't contradicting any mistakes she made. Besides, the
direction she went in was that I was some sort of special officer of the
law, which is close enough, or at least was until recently.
"You aren't looking for Dalt, are you? He's been a lot less trouble,
recently. Since Rinaldo became king. at least."
I assured her I wasn't, which was entirely honest. But it told me where we
were. Rinaldo/Luke's shadow. Two people to avoid, then, were Dalt, if he
was actually here, and Luke, who would wonder why I'd arrived without
telling him I was on my way. And would want to make some deals I'd rather
not be part of. I guess Julian wanted to put me someplace where, if I
caused trouble, it would be someone else's problem.
More small talk filled the rest of the trip, no new revelations. Lady
Melissa insisted on sending us on to a livery stable in her carriage once
we'd brought her to her destination. I was glad for that, too, since it
meant less time in the open were someone who might know me would see me.
Not that there were many people around who knew me, but those who might
weren't anyone I wanted to see just now.
Melissa offered me her hand as she left, and I acted like someone out of a
historical movie and kissed it lightly. She seemed charmed, which likely
meant that my earlier guess, that she was an unmarried daughter inching
toward a state of desperation about it, was likely true. If I had more
time and this wasn't Luke's backyard... Perhaps after the current crisis
We had no problem getting our own carriage. Anna had money (lots of it,
mostly in gold) and said it was the crown's, not hers, so she was willing
to spend it freely. She also said she'd give a try at driving the
carriage, which was good because certainly I had no idea how to do it. I
was free to concentrate on moving us out of this shadow and closer to
where the Pattern had taken me. It was easier to do now that I had the
Jewel in my coat pocket rather than around my neck, but it was harder from
the back of the carriage, since I couldn't see as much to make changes.
Before long, the effort and the regular, monotonous rattle of the wheels
and clomp of the horses' feet made my eyes heavy and I sat back for a nap.
When I woke, Anna had stopped and made camp. A fire was blazing away and
she offered me some rabbit. I think I prefer my meat less recognizable,
but I was hungry enough to give fresh bunny a try. It wasn't that bad,
actually. Not that I plan on imitating Elmer Fudd for another chance at
The next morning, we set off again and I determined to move us to a shadow
with cars as my first priority. Anna asked why I was so hot on getting
cars, since they were more of a problem than they were worth. "Cars
run out of gas and you're stuck. A horse just needs some grass or
"Call me a hopeless city boy, then. Besides, a car'll keep the rain
off both of us. And it might rain where we're going."
Shifting shadow wasn't all that hard now, as we were getting further from
Amber (I'd been assured that was important as part of the minimal
information I'd received about this sort of thing). We pulled our carriage
into a large parking lot and looked around for an appropriate vehicle. I
was less concerned about just borrowing one now, since I knew cars lead to
car theft and, likewise, to insurance. Whoever I borrowed from would be
inconvenienced a bit but not really hurt. And I wouldn't be here long
enough to be caught. And we were far enough from Amber by now this was
likely to be someplace that didn't really qualify as 'real' by most
standards. And I was making excuses because, primarily, I was sick of
being at the mercy of animals.
Considering Anna's horse, I looked for a horse trailer. Around the first
corner, I found one. I'm certain that was the Pattern working for me. I
could get used to this. I found the door unlocked, the keys in the visor.
This was almost too easy.
Anna loaded the trailer as I started the engine, then we drove off. I had
the sky fairly soon after starting and was doing a fair job of getting the
feel right when I started wondering how close to the apparent war I'd
witnessed during my brief visit we'd have to get. I hoped I'd be able to
get a trail without driving through a radioactive crater.
I felt a Trump call, so I pulled over. It was Luke again, and he didn't
seem to know about my visit to his home, so I didn't fill him in. He was
calling because, he said, Bleys was interested in talking to me about the
Jewel. I said it wasn't a good time just now, which he seemed to accept,
but he passed a Trump of himself to me. "Call me when you have time.
We can get with Bleys and work out a good deal." For someone, I'm
sure. But if all he wanted was me talking to Bleys, he'd give me Bleys'
trump, not his own.
I pulled out the altar-stone when some more driving had us fairly close to
where the Pattern had put me. Only it didn't look like itself any more.
The dark outer layer had flaked off completely, and inside was a miniature
clone of the Jewel of Judgment, complete with a fragment of the Pattern
glimmering in its depths. Great, now I had two of the thing. Still, that
did explain how the thing had managed to lead me through Shadow on Creed's
trail earlier. But it raised a lot more questions than it answered.
I let Anna drive for a while, directing her with the Gem (I'd decided to
label the one-time altar-stone that to keep them straight in my mind). It
wasn't long before we found the truck that had almost flattened me. It
looked melted, but seemed to be slowly regrowing itself. Trés weird.
Whatever the truck had been carrying, it was empty now. And the driver was
still in his seat, very dead. But also regrowing. That was less weird and
more grotesque. His ID was melted and unreadable. Which made this whole
line of investigation a dead end.
Anna and I went back to our borrowed car and I drove us around a bit,
looking for something like a good part of town. I started to believe this
shadow didn't have one after passing more damaged and destroyed buildings
than I care to count, all of them in the process of regrowing themselves
like the truck and driver. This was a very strange shadow, I could tell. I
was getting hungry, but a sign promising "Used Food" convinced
me to try another shadow for our snack. A little shifting later and Anna
and I were enjoying thick, greasy burgers that didn't taste entirely like
beef but were good enough to keep me from asking the exact content.
All of which covered for the fact that I was at a blank for what to do
next. Dealing with Bleys (through Luke, of course) wasn't high on my list
just yet, though I didn't know the man. And I wasn't nearly ready to give
up. There had to be some reason the Pattern had brought me where it did
when I asked it to take me to my father.
I just needed to figure out what that reason was.
Case File X257-16
Report by Detective Scout Carter
McRicky's burgers weren't all bad, since they were pretty filling. I'd
rather have given the fries a miss, though. Still, the break for a meal
gave me time to think. And to realize for sure that the trail I'd been
following had gone cold. And that meant... what? I'd tried to let the
powers of the universe take me where it wanted me once and ended up at
ground zero for a neutron wake-up call. So maybe I had to go back to the
basics, good old investigation 101.
When all the trails go cold, go back to the last place where you knew
everything to be true. The last place where I had a definite link to my
And that would be an orphanage in LA county I'd much rather have never set
foot into again.
Anna and I took the car and trailer, drove until the freeways got very
familiar, took an exit near La Puente and guessed it was something like
June from the sun-scorched grass around. Flash fire season soon. There's
no place quite like the City of Angels. For which most places are
I felt the hints of a Trump call as we pulled to a parking spot in a strip
mall not far from the orphanage. It was probably Luke and I didn't want to
talk to him, so I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Soon enough, it
I left Ana to distract the staff (she came up with a story that had us as
a young couple, except "Mister Carter is unable to..." Don't
think I won't remember that.) and sneaked into the file room. It was about
like I remembered it, still musty and mostly dark. They hadn't
significantly computerized, at least not this part of things. Good. Paper
files were easier to search without leaving obvious tracks.
While I looked for the right file, the Trump call returned. This time it
pressed harder, demanding attention, but I didn't have time to offer any.
So I closed my eyes and pushed it away, and in time it went. Good. I dug
out my file and started to read.
'Boundless curiosity. High energy.' Yep, that's my file. I looked back,
for personal information. 'Father - Unknown' No help there. But there was
something else. 'Mother - Annette Carter' And there was an address.
I also checked a desk calendar and was able to determine that I'd been
gone just over two months. Time flies when you're bouncing all over the
universe, I guess.
Anna and I left the orphanage and headed to the property registry. The
address I'd found listed for my mother was registered to a Catholic
women's shelter and had been since the 1920's. Not much help there. This
trail had almost died out before going anywhere.
So I decided to use my connections at the police force, assuming I still
had any. Lucky me, I did. Michelle in records answered on the second ring
(she always was good for that) and was surprised to hear from me. She said
she'd heard I was on detached duty with the FBI. Wonder where that got
started? Anyway, I asked her to check on the name "Annette
Carter" and she didn't comment on the similar last names (which I
wouldn't have explained anyway). There was nothing on the computer, but
she said she'd check the paper files when she had time. I thanked her and
hung up just as another Trump call tried to find me.
Still not interested, I held it off until whoever it was got bored, then
joined Anna in the car and headed back to my apartment, which should still
be mine after only two months (though I'd have some angry messages from my
landlord to deal with and back rent to pay). On the way, the mini-jewel in
my pocket started to buzz. I wasn't sure it still did that up until then,
but I wasn't going to ignore the warning. I pulled the car to the side of
the freeway, checked the mirror to see a large man on a motorcycle pulling
over just behind me. He looked too much like Schwartzenegger in the
Terminator films to be an accident, and the shotgun on his back looked
real and deadly enough. So as soon as Anna stepped out of the car (she
wouldn't listen to my advice to stay inside), I jammed the stick to
Reverse and floored the gas. The weight of the car and trailer plus the
short distance to the target meant I really didn't have a chance to hit
with any speed behind it, but it was still a surprise and enough to take
him off his feet.
I was opening my door when I heard the familiar, heavily-accented voice
say "You will be terminated" just before a shotgun blast. I
guess he'd spotted Anna. I drew my sword and ignored the twinge of another
Trump call. Bad time even if I was interested. I was busy closing on the
big look-alike and ducking under a shotgun blast. I thrust hard with the
sword, struck metal just under the skin. Right the first guess. Who was
sending movie-creatures after me? No time to wonder then. He turned
sharply and my borrowed blade snapped. Sorry about that, Steed. As he drew
a big pistol, I looked for a safe out, found nothing. His first shot was
low as I jumped to the top of the trailer. It was a little safer than
standing on the shoulder of the freeway, but not much. He took aim, I
waited for the shot.
And two hooves smashed open the trailer door, smacking into him and
ruining his aim. I take back anything bad I've said about horses because
that one had saved me, no question. Anna came in at that moment, her sword
stroke a bit better considered than mine. She left his gun-hand hanging,
mostly severed. A few sparks teased the air. I took the chance, then, and
dove from the trailer, the remnants of my sword in hand. A few nasty
thrusts and he stopped struggling under me. Good. We were gathering a
crowd who seemed to think we were filming a movie. I'll let them look for
the cameras as Anna and I get clear. Besides, I really didn't want to have
to answer the questions I'd get when the LAPD showed up.
We made it back to my apartment with no further incidents. The trailer
wasn't damaged too badly and Anna's horse seemed well-behaved enough to
stay away from the only barely still attached door. But just to keep
things interesting, the former altar stone buzzed a warning as we
approached my door. I figured it was time for a direct approach, so I
quietly unlocked the door (how I'd managed to hold onto my keys all this
time I have no idea) then burst through, ready for anything.
Except what I found.
All there was to find was a mess. Scattered pizza boxes, books tumbled
from shelves, couch cushions torn and stained. I'm not that bad a
housekeeper. Clearly, I'd become a home for squatters.
"I guess we have a guest," I said to Anna in a voice loud enough
to be heard.
"oh shit," came an unfamiliar male voice from my bathroom.
Caught with his pants down. I couldn't find it in my heart to pity him and
we hadn't even met yet.
"Let's go introduce ourselves."
Anna had her sword, I didn't feel the need. After what I'd faced the last
few weeks, I wasn't worried about any messy uninvited house guest. I
should have been, though, because he came out with some very interesting
attire. I'd estimate his vest was made up of enough explosives to take out
the whole floor.
"I knew you'd come back. I was waiting for the aliens to send you
I recognized the look in those wild eyes. Exactly the look one doesn't
want holding the fuse to a bomb. I gestured Anna back. I'd have to talk
"I don't think we've met. And last time I checked, I wasn't with
aliens the last few weeks." Which was not entirely true, of course.
But it wasn't at all like he thought and there really wasn't time to
"You wouldn't admit it, but I know. I've been watching you. I've been
shown the truth. And you're going to take me to the one you're working
Okay, strike the 'reason with him' plan. It looked like this would be a
'get rid of the problem without anybody getting hurt' sort of action.
"All right. But I need to get something to do that. I'm going to
reach into my pocket..."
He didn't seem to trust me, gestured with the hand holding the trigger. It
might not be a well-made dead-man's switch, but I wasn't taking any
chances. I drew out Luke's Trump with two fingers, showed him the back. He
seemed a little more confused than before, but that may have been an
illusion. I looked at the face of the card, sought Luke...
"I've got someone here who would like to see you," I said when
he answered. He'd be harmless there, since if guns don't work that close
to Amber, bombs shouldn't either. And besides, Luke was a king so he had
guards to handle problems of this sort. I shoved him through and let the
problem be gone.
"Are your days always this eventful?" Anna asked me, in a tone
that didn't make it clear if it was sarcasm or genuine curiosity. I just
shrugged. Which was good, because the day wasn't over yet.
I got the feeling of another Trump call as I was digging out my answering
machine. Again, I ignored it. At best, it would be Luke asking where the
would-be Scout-assassin was from. At worst, it would be trouble. It went
away soon enough, so I started listening to my messages.
Mostly, they were Timmers. He still hadn't forgiven me for walking out on
some unfinished paperwork and he wasn't happy at all about the FBI duty.
He complained about someone named Evelyn Flaumel who, apparently, was the
one who had requested me for the job. I didn't take too long to figure
that was another name for my resourceful aunt Flora. If I get a chance,
I'll have to thank her for providing my life some cover. I do plan to come
back here, once the rush is over, so I can close things up right.
The final message wasn't Timmers ranting, though. It was far more
"Hi, Scout. I though you might want to talk to me without going
through Luke." It wasn't a familiar voice, but I had to figure it was
my one missing male relative, Bleys. "I have reservations at the
Brown Derby at seven. For three, right? See you there."
The time count said he'd left the message just a couple of minutes before
I opened the door. I'm officially impressed. But maybe I should be
worried. He knew I was here, that made him potential suspect for the
"Terminator" we'd run into on the drive in. Unfortunately, I had
no idea what sort of resources anyone in this family had, so everyone was
suspects there. I can't hold that against him, then.
Another Trump call. This was getting to be a constant bother. But it was
gone before I could even start to ignore it. I started to pick up a pizza
box so I could make a stack of them, just to have a clear path through the
living room, and the Trump call came back. Then vanished. Then back. It
came in rapid, regular pulses. Someone really wanted my attention. And
Luke didn't strike me as the sort to try something like that. So, for the
sake of my sanity, I let the call through.
Someone stood with Kesä who I didn't recognize. He had a thin face, dark
hair and a slightly pointed van dyke. "Hello, Scout. Doctor
I'd run into shape changing as part of this whole thing already. But I
hadn't know the Doctor could do it.
"Not sure I like the beard," I said, but my worry was something
else. Something about him just set my teeth on edge. The Doctor I knew was
a hard person to dislike, as irritatingly condescending as he could be.
This... This was almost an anti-Doctor. He was quite polite, didn't once
ramble into a technical explanation and I didn't trust him a bit. He told
me someone was trying to kill him and asked if I was free to try to help
out. I said I wasn't, but if things got messy he could call back. I did
have an appointment to keep, after all, and he didn't look to be in any
immediate danger. He seemed to accept that and ended the call.
I dug out some less beat up clothes and my back-up pistol. I don't keep a
sword around the place, of course. I may have to find one somewhere,
though, before I go traveling again. Which just might be soon.
One the way to the Derby, I asked Anna if she'd ever met Bleys before. She
said she hadn't, but knew a little about him. He was one of the family, of
course, a redhead. That meant full brother to Brand and Fiona as I'd
learned things. Apparently he hadn't been spending too much time in Amber
The maitre d directed us back to a well out of the way table, far from the
kitchen but also a fair way from anyone else. Bleys wanted to make sure we
had a chance for a proper conversation, clearly. And he was already
waiting. He looked a lot like his picture on the Trumps, except that his
red and orange clothes were replaced with a slightly less extreme suit in
muted versions of the same colors. He stood to welcome us, offering a seat
The waiter asked about drinks, and when Bleys tried to skip that and just
order now (I suppose to minimize interruptions during our chat), but the
waiter looked surprised. "Aren't you going to wait for your
I looked at Bleys and he looked at me and we reached the same conclusion
at about the same time. So we ordered drinks while we waited for our
"So, son," Bleys began, "anything to say before Luke
The 'son' caught me a little off guard (which I hope he didn't notice,
though I wouldn't make bets on him missing anything). But, thinking about
it, I doubt it meant what it sounded like. The tone certainly wasn't
paternal, more that of an elder reminding a kid of his place. I was
learning my place pretty quickly, though. I may have one of the more
valuable items around, but I was anything but a player.
I didn't go straight at my real question, of course. I started by
complementing his choice of restaurant, since I'd always found the Derby a
good place for a somewhat classy meal and conversation. I let that segue
into asking if he'd been to LA before, which he confirmed. But he added
that most all of the family spent some time here on Earth since Flora was
such a good hostess. No light there.
Luke arrived before I could try another direction. He was all smiles,
apologized for being late by telling us he'd been distracted by the news
of Merlin's coronation. It seems that Corwin's son was about to be crowned
King of Chaos. He seemed less impressed than I would have expected,
commenting how a crown is more of a bother than anything else. Bleys
didn't comment, so I didn't feel the need to either. And when Luke passed
on an invitation for us to attend, we both made excuses.
After our drinks arrived (I just asked for an iced tea to keep my wits
about me) and we'd ordered our dinners, Luke looked to me and I decided to
cut him off early.
"I know you're looking to broker a deal, Luke, but I want to make
this clear. I'm a courier not an owner. I'm not free to trade."
He didn't seem that upset (why should he be, since I'd told him this
before?) and just said "No problem. At least it's a good meal with
good people." He was also familiar with LA, it turns out. He and
Merlin had lived near here for some time not too long ago. Not long enough
ago, though. I didn't want to be adding any names.
Anna was spending most of this time either staring at or pointedly not
staring at Bleys. I can't say I blame her, as he had the sort of looks one
usually associates with leading men this close to Hollywood. And unlike
Luke, whose charm had the distinct scent of a snake-oil man, Bleys
practiced a more subtle sort of influence.
Bleys asked about me, wanting to know about his new relative. I described
my recent years as an LA cop, which was safer than going further back and
being too clearly digging for clues. Bleys mentioned that Droppa, the
Amber court jester was from LA or at least spent a lot of time either here
or in Vegas to mine material. I made a note to avoid the gent, since I've
never been much for stand-up.
Conversation slowed, so I decided to take another stab at my real reason
for meeting Bleys. "It's kind of odd to move from almost no family
except the force to one this complicated," I said, watching both
Bleys offered me standard family advice (it pretty much amounted to
"trust no one") and asked if I knew my mother. Once again, he
had implied some knowledge about my parentage, or at least about the
mystery of it. But Luke stepped in right there, commenting about how his
mother had actually been more of a problem than his dad. Which, given that
his father had, I've been told, tried to destroy the universe was saying a
lot. He also commented that he didn't envy Merlin his parents, which I
couldn't disagree with as neither Corwin nor Dara had seemed the easiest
people to deal with.
But we were getting nowhere, and weren't likely to get anywhere as long as
Luke was here. Which was a problem, since he seemed set on being here as
long as it looked like anything might happen that he could get a
percentage of. Just the sort of thing to take the enjoyment out of a good