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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 9

Case File X257-17

Report by Detective Scout Carter

The steaks were good enough even Luke couldn't ruin them. Especially not when he received a Trump call and started looking just a little nervous.

"There's been some kind of explosion in Amber. A minor tavern, nothing important damaged. Random was asking if I knew anything about it."

I thought it best not to ask if he did, but thought this a good time to apologize for the crazed bomber I'd sent through earlier. Luke smiled and said he'd taken that as an invitation. I would have smacked myself in the forehead if it wouldn't have been totally impolite. Of course the bomber had been listening to my phone calls. Consider it an invite by 'bomber gram.' I decided to change the subject back quickly.

"I didn't think thing blew up in Amber," I said, knowing full well that there was some way to make guns work, just a secret one. And hoping Luke only knew of it.

"There's a trick to it," he answered, putting a clear hint forward that he knew that trick. "I think the powers that set up the universe like games."

We chewed enjoyably for a while before Luke decided to try conversation again. "Planning to stay in LA long?"

"Haven't made that plan yet," I answered, deciding honesty wasn't that damaging at the moment.

"Being a native," Bleys said, again showing hints of information I'm sure I hadn't given intentionally, "I suppose you know what people do in their free time."

"Not really," I answered. "Never really had much to speak of." That was true enough. Plus I liked the simple mindlessness of just watching TV for hours on end. It helps me think.

"One of the advantages of immortality," Bleys noted, "is considerable free time." He went on for a bit, waxing a bit maudlin about Amber and mortality. But he straightened up quickly. "You don't have time to play tonight, though. You have your mission."

"I'm not sure where to go next on it, but yeah, I guess I do." I was fishing for offers of assistance that I could check for fishhooks. Bleys was very prompt.

"I want you to feel free to contact me. You seem to be a good kid, you just need some lessons about how things work." Flattery gets to me every time.

"Steed and Corwin have half-tried on that count," I said and he looked a little shocked.

"By all means, contact me." He handed me a Trump. I didn't look to see if Luke was upset that we'd just bypassed him as middleman for future chats.

The business part of dinner conversation was over then, and we all stuck to small talk. Anna even managed to get a few words out when she wasn't busy staring at Bleys. We all went our own way, promising to contact each other again. Anna and I went back to my apartment to retrieve some valuables then find a place to stay that wasn't quite so trashed.

My mail was interesting. It had all been opened, of course, and small notes written on it in a scrawled printing. My uninvited guest. The interesting thing was that all my bills had been paid, including keeping my rent up to date. There was a note from the landlord complaining about the smell, which I didn't blame him for. There was also a pre-approved credit card I didn't remember applying for. Still, I could use it to cover some incidentals.

Anna and I went to a hotel, got adjoining suites. I suppose money wasn't a problem any more and I could do with a good hot shower and a comfortable bed. She and I discussed our plans first, listing out the possibilities and those we could eliminate. Oberon, Osric, Findo, Caine, Brand and Eric were dead, which made it unlikely the Unicorn would send me after them. Merlin, Steed and Luke were all just barely old enough. That was good news, as I didn't like to picture any of that group as my father. Anna added the name Martin to that list, saying he was a son of Random's unlikely for the same reason, his relative youth. That still left a fairly long list: Bleys, Random, Corwin, Julian, Benedict, Ge`rard and Delwin. The last was a remote shot, at best. Except for the brief glimpses of him at that mirror-castle, he'd remained all but unseen for a long time.

I tried to cross of Random, Corwin, Eric and Benedict just because they'd been within shouting distance of the Unicorn when she'd given me the Jewel to pass on. Anna suggested that the Unicorn's goal might not be getting the Jewel to someone as much as getting me to him. Possible, but I still preferred having a shortened list.

Bleys wasn't a bad possibility; he seemed likable enough and relatively pleasant to be around. Julian I'd taken an instant dislike to when we'd met, so I hoped he could stay as distant a relative as possible (though the choices were slim... he was father or uncle). Ge`rard was a good enough person, but unless I really took after my mother in the extreme, I can't see the resemblance. And Delwin... Like I said, a pretty remote shot. But perhaps worth looking for again. Not until after I try another, somewhat easier, plan.

We called it a night so I could rest. I'd need a clear head before what was coming.

I'd barely gotten to sleep when the Trump call started. I didn't want to dissect the meal with Luke, the most likely caller I could think of, so I tried to block it out. But it wouldn't stop, even after long minutes. Luke is a salesman, he knows better than to poison the conversational well with a tactic like this. That meant it was someone else...

Kesä's smile greeted me when I let the call through. Without an explanation, she asked to come through. I wasn't entirely sure I could trust her, but so far as I know she hadn't directly tried to kill me, so I took the chance. "I'm bringing a friend," she added, just as she took my hand. I didn't get a good look at her 'friend' in time to stop them from arriving.

Creed stood in my hotel room, as whole in body as I'd ever seen him, looking around with a somewhat confused look that slightly lacked in his usual violent maliciousness. "What the hell is HE doing here?" I asked, glancing over to make sure my gun was in easy reach.

"Who's he?" Creed asked, gesturing toward me with hands I normally associate with a few too many attempts to kill me.

:He doesn't remember a thing. A real dunce.: Kesä's voice said in my mind. That didn't explain everything, but it took a little of the edge off.

Anna stepped into the room, sword in hand. She asked who my guests were, so I introduced them. We talked briefly, not saying much for a while. Kesä offered no explanation for how she'd found Creed or where she'd parted ways with the Doctor and I didn't ask. Anna proposed that this Creed was probably a Shadow of the original, which fit with the fact that the original was, so far as I knew, lost in the Abyss. Kesä didn't seem impressed with that theory, though. Eventually, I convinced our guests to put her plans for me on hold until the next day, at least until I'd gotten some rest. She didn't seem to mind much, which left me having a nice, restful night with nothing but worries about what she and this shadow-Creed had planned for me.

Anna and I had just finished a nice room-service breakfast when Kesä arrived, this time with Citten as well as the shadow-Creed. She said she was looking for the original Creed's mind, which she was convinced could still be found (I didn't ask how she came to be sure of that) and wanted Kat's help, but settled for her duplicate. I found myself uncomfortable around any alliance with even pale replicas of Kat and Creed, so I begged off joining them, saying I was too busy with my own problems. Problems which I didn't enumerate and, thankfully, wasn't asked to.

Kesä did offer one interesting gem of information as we talked. While going on about Merlin's coronation , she mentioned that Eric was planning an attack on Chaos, likely to coincide with the ceremony. Eric was no longer on my short list and had tried to kill me, so I thought it was a good idea to try to stop him. Believe me, it wasn't because I think Merlin or anyone else I knew in Chaos deserved the help. I think I managed to convince Kesä the whole matter was totally unimportant to me. "Chaos is a long way off from here," I said, and added "though you couldn't prove it some days."

They headed off to their own plans, and I pity whoever that sets them on. I planned to be far away from where they were and leave a convoluted trail if they tried to follow me, even though my plans did lead back to here fairly quickly. I'd learned that going in a wide circle was a great way to lose people.

Using the Trump Steed had given me of his room in Amber, Anna and I headed back there. I made my way through proper channels quickly (surprisingly so, since I don't have the slightest idea what the proper channels are) and was talking to Random before most people even knew I was in Amber. I traded him the information about Eric's plans (he seemed delighted to have something to offer Merlin to get his new opposite number into his debt) for a full deck of Trumps (well, as full as the royal family's decks are... It didn't feature many of the Trumps I'd once had when the Doctor had given me some). That allowed me to move on to the next step in my plan, the one I was far less excited about. It's a good thing to offer a king some news he wants to hear. It's another to initiate a conversation with yet another tremendously crafty individual in the hopes you can squeeze more information out than you have to put in. I didn't have much hope for my chances.

Flora answered quickly. but said she was quite busy and could only talk for a few minutes. For this, I was quite grateful. I certainly didn't want to find myself in a long losing conversation; a short one was more than enough.

She was fairly open about having a place in LA (I'm sure too many people knew about it to make it worth hiding it), but when I referred to Earth as "her shadow", she corrected me. That made me feel a lot better, really (which might be why she did it). One felt very insecure discovering everything you'd ever known was the personal playground of a rather flighty socialite. I got her talking back to the late sixties and just who had visited her. The list was disappointingly long.

Corwin was living on Earth then, without his memory of who he was. Eric had stopped in to check on him now and then. Random was still suffered as a guest (apparently he offended Flora with a particularly messy poker party sometime between then and now) and showed up fairly regularly. Bleys, Caine and Ge`rard had attended a Christmas party she'd hosted in 1969 and the late Oberon had sent Droppa, the court jester, as his representative (I have a feeling Flora took that as an insult). Steed was living in London and hadn't had much cause to visit the US. And Julian had spent several months at the LA house as a guest, though Flora offered no clues as to his purpose.

I was born in '69, so the Christmas party is really too late to be considered. That left Corwin, Eric and Julian as the primary contenders (though there was no reason to believe someone couldn't have passed through without letting Flora know). And of them, only Julian was still on my short list.

I decided very quickly that I'd want more facts before trying to pry anything out of him. Flora was kind enough to invite Anna and I back to Earth via her Trump. It turns out she was in London at that moment, offering advice to Morganth and Suehprom on the proper fashions for the upcoming coronation. I begged off that detail and accepted her offer of transportation to LA. I was building up quite a debt to her and I hated to imagine what the vig would be like.

I hadn't expected a private charter just for Anna and myself. But I have to admit, the food was a lot better than you get flying coach.

Case File X257-18

Report by Detective Scout Carter

We landed at LAX without having to wait more than a few seconds for landing clearance and were waived through customs. I could get to like traveling this way. Anna took it all in stride, which continued to build my confidence in her as a reasonably useful associate. I wondered how Random would react if I asked for her help on a more extended basis once I'd finished this Jewel thing and decided it would be worth trying when the time came.

Michelle had some answers about my mother when I called her. Or, more precisely, she had some new questions. What she had found was a vagrancy charge, May 1969, with the result being housing in the woman's shelter the orphanage had listed as her address. Nothing else on her in the system. She suggested I try the newspaper morgues, which I had been trying to avoid because those microfilm machines always give me motion sickness. But no more delays. Anna and I set into the search at the Times, and found only one entry.

November 1969, obituary entry. Cause of death was given as complications of childbirth. That didn't make me feel any better. No other personal information was given, so I knew almost nothing more than I had before. Still, I printed off a copy. And then Anna and I headed back to the hotel and took some time to compare notes.

"Most of the evidence is pointing one way," I said, "and not a way I like." The only name on all my short lists was Julian's and he was high on my list of least-desirable possibilities as well. Maybe we'd just started off on the wrong foot, but our earlier encounter in Arden hadn't left much of a positive impression. I suspect he felt much the same, if not worse, about me. So it would take a lot more evidence than the current circumstantial pieces to satisfy me of anything.

"You should probably get some of the others talking. The ones who aren't anywhere near being in the running," Anna suggested, which was a good idea. "Why not get them talking about other topics, then try to get them to drop a hint or two?"

"I was never much for the Colombo interview style," I admitted, since it was true. I'd liked the show enough, but how could someone always know exactly the right questions without already knowing the answers? Mystery writers made it all too neat.

I flipped through the deck of Trumps Random had gotten for me. There were a lot of faces there I could contact, none I though I could trust.

Until I saw one that, by all rights, shouldn't be familiar. In another world, I'd known her as "Doctor Dream." In this one, she was known as Sand, full sister to the equally mysterious Delwin. He and I had shared about a handful of words as the world fell to bits around us, but if I'd met her, it had been under very unique circumstances. Still, she'd seemed a decent enough sort and quite well informed about things, if my opinion of Doctor Dream could be applied to her look-alike. Who knows, perhaps she had something to say that could help. I put down the other Trumps and started to concentrate on hers...

And was interrupted by an incoming call.

It was the Doctor, still sporting that menacing-looking van dyke and announcing that he had news. Apparently, he said, Eric had caused the explosion in Amber Luke had mentioned earlier. That sounded a little odd, since Eric was supposed to be active all the way on the far end of reality, but I let it ride. I did mention that I'd heard Eric was making trouble, to which the Doctor readily agreed.

He then asked if I could help him 'scout up' a suitable high-technology Shadow for something he was working on. I didn't refuse, because even as squeamish as I felt about his recent change in appearance, he was still the same overall decent fellow who'd helped me out considerably. I said I had just the place in mind, considering sending him toward the bombed-out place where I'd almost become far more intimate with a truck than I ever wanted to be. That should be the sort of place he wanted. He gave me a Trump of himself in his current look, I suppose expecting me to call when I was able to get to the Shadow and bring him over. I warned him that I had no idea when I'd find the free time to do that, but he didn't seem in all that much of a hurry.

With that out of the way, I re-applied myself to contacting Sand. I concentrated on the card, but found it hard to stay focused. I was pretty tired. Jet lag, I suppose. I let my eyes close, just for a second...

I was in a different room, sitting on a comfortable couch.. Sand sat nearby in a chair. I could see outside a window nearby, but what I saw made very little sense. It looked like we were underwater. Not in the room, but on the far side of the window.

"Hello?" I said, trying to see if she would respond. She did, but seemed to be talking from far away or mumbling through the blades of a fan or backwards or something. I couldn't make out the words.

A distorted miniature of Corwin wheeled into the room on a unicycle, road circles around me, then left. I didn't see where he came in from or where he left to. Just that he was there and then he was gone.

"Can you understand me?" I asked Sand. "Because I can't..."

She gestured toward a door I hadn't noticed before. I didn't suppose I had much choice, so I stepped through.

Suddenly, I was in a very different place, dressed in formal clothes far beyond anything I've ever owned. There was a long, red carpet stretching in front of me and people lining both sides. Most were unfamiliar, some I recognized from the Trumps or earlier meetings. It seemed like everyone who was anyone in Amber was there. Sand walked before me, leading me down the carpet to a raised platform at the end. On it sat a throne, toward which she gestured again.

It didn't make any sense, but I had gone along with things this far so saw no reason to stop. I sat and was immediately approached by a lanky figure. It looked like Eric, only stretched an extra foot and a half in height without an extra pound to show for it. He held a crown in his hands, reached forward and set it on my head.


Anna shook me awake.

"I don't know if that was contact or not. It seemed more like a dream," I said. She said it would likely have to be, as no one had been in contact with Sand or Delwin in a long time. But I had. I'd talked to both of them before (I was certain now that 'Doctor Dream' was the very real Sand). And now I knew what I'd have to do next.

I drew out Delwin's Trump, set it in front of me, and concentrated again. I half expected another strange experience, but instead I just met with resistance. Long moments passed and I could feel myself sweating for almost no progress.

"Let me help," Anna offered and I nodded, very slightly. I felt her hand, light on my shoulder.

And there was contact. Just barely something.

"Who?" said a voice I recognized from only a handful of words earlier.

"Scout. We talked earlier. I was with Corwin." He had no reason to know me, but if he remembered our meeting in the mirrored castle, it was as good an introduction as any other I could imagine.

"You have to stop him. He'll destroy us all."

Now there was a non sequitur. The only person I'd mentioned was Corwin and, so far as I knew, universal destruction wasn't his thing. I hoped he meant someone else, but I had to ask. "Stop who?"

The contact was gone.

"Damn." I let the Trump drop to the table. "I do not need another quest right now."

I shuffled through the other Trumps I had, looking for Corwin's. If he was the one Delwin was warning me about, I had to know. If he wasn't... Well, it shouldn't hurt to check in with him. I wasn't feeling quite as ill-used by his sending me to explore Chaos while he relaxed on a beach any longer.

His Trump resisted contact as well, and continued even when Anna joined the effort. Of course, all that did was make me want to contact him even more. I didn't like the nervous feeling I was getting.

I tried to tap into the Jewel for a little boost. I imagined the Pattern as I'd seen it inside the Jewel. A three-dimensional, swirling thing that pulled me along it. I felt a surge and contact...

"What the Hell do you want?"

"I thought I should check in with you. A lot of things..."

"Listen, Eric's about to start a war with Chaos and I have to stop him. Can it wait?"

I smiled. Stopping Eric was a good thing, that much I was fairly certain of. Which eliminated Corwin from the list of 'him's Delwin wanted me to stop. Good.

"It was Eric I was going to inform you of. Good luck."

Corwin growled something that might have been thanks but probably wasn't and cut off the contact.

Now I was left with a father to find (and a most likely candidate I didn't want to approach) and someone unidentified to stop before he destroyed us all. If I can't be rid of those two problems, I at least wanted a good meal and a few day's to consider things.

Nothing like that seemed very forthcoming.

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