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Scout Carter's Journal

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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 introduction.

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 chance. Good.

"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 assistance."

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 available..."

"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 was.

"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 conversation turned.

"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 passes, though.

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 it.

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 oats."

"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 father.

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 eternally grateful.

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 did.

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 back."

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 him down.

"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 explain.

"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 for."

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 interesting.

"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 here."

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 proper recently.

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 to Anna.

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 fourth?"

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 self-invited guest.

"So, son," Bleys began, "anything to say before Luke arrives?"

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 men's reaction.

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 steak dinner.

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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright © 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .