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«Sign of the Unicorn», Roger Zelazny

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“Yes.” I dug it out of my pocket and passed it to him. “Here.”

He studied it and shook his head.

“I don't know,” he said. “It could be his writing-if he were in a hurry-but I don't think it is.”

I shrugged. I took the note back, folded it, put it away.

“Whatever, I tried to reach him with his Trump, to save myself the ride. But he wasn't receiving. I guessed it was to maintain secrecy as to his whereabouts, if it was all that important. So I got a horse and rode on down.”

“Did you tell anyone where you were going?”

“Not a soul. I did decide to give the horse a workout, though, so I rode along at a pretty good clip. I didn't see it happen, but I saw him lying there as I came into the wood. His throat had been cut, and there was a disturbance off in the bushes some distance away. I rode the guy down, jumped him, fought with him, had to kill him. We didn't engage in any conversation while this was going on.”

“You're sure you got the right guy?”

“As sure as you can be under such circumstances. His trail went back to Caine. He had fresh blood on his garments.”

“Might have been his own.”

“Look again. No wounds. I broke his neck. Of course I remembered where I had seen his like before, so I brought him right to you. Before you tell me about it, though, there was one more thing-just for a clincher.”

I withdrew the second note, passed it over.

“The creature had this on its person. I presume it had removed it from Caine.”

Random read it, nodded, and handed it back.

“From you, to Caine, asking to be met there. Yes, I see. Needless to say...”

“Needless to say,” I finished. “And it does look a bit like my writing-at first glance, anyway.”

“I wonder what would have happened if you had gotten there first?”

“Probably nothing,” I said. “Alive and looking bad-that seems how they wanted me. The trick was to get us there in the proper order, and I didn't hurry quite enough to miss what was bound to follow.”

He nodded.

“Granting the tight scheduling,” he said, “it had to be someone on the scene, here in the palace. Any ideas?”

I chuckled and reached for a cigarette. I lit it and chuckled again.

“I'm just back. You have been here all along,” I said. “Which one hates me the most these days?”

“That is an embarrassing question, Corwin,” he stated. “Everyone's down on you for something. Ordinarily, I would nominate Julian. Only it doesn't seem to hold up here.”

“Why not?”

“He and Caine got along very well. For years now. They had been looking out for each other, hanging around together. Pretty thick. Julian is cold and petty and just as nasty as you remember. But if he liked anybody, he liked Caine. I don't think he'd do it to him, not even to get at you. After all, he probably could have found plenty of other ways if that was all he wanted.”

I sighed.

“Who's next?”

“I don't know. I just don't know.”

“Okay. How do you read the reactions to this?”

“You're screwed, Corwin. Everyone is going to think you did it, no matter what you say.”

I nodded at the corpse. Random shook his head.

“That could easily be some poor clod you dug up out of Shadow to take the blame.”

“I know,” I said. “Funny, coming back to Amber as I did, I arrived at an ideal time for positioning myself advantageously.”

“A perfect time,” Random agreed. “You didn't even have to kill Eric to get what you wanted. That was a stroke of luck.”

“Yes. Still, it is no secret that that is what I came to do, and it is only a matter of time before my troops-foreign, specially armed, and quartered here-are going to start provoking some very bad feelings. Only the presence of an external threat has saved me from that so far. And then there are the things I am suspected of having done before my return-like murdering Benedict's retainers. Now this...”

“Yes,” Random said, “I saw it coming as soon as you told me. When you and Bleys attacked years ago, Gerard deployed part of the fleet so that it was out of your way. Caine, on the other hand, engaged you with his vessels and scuttled you. Now that he is gone, I imagine you will put Gerard in command of the entire fleet.”

“Who else? He is the only man for the job.”


“Nevertheless. Admitted. If I were going to kill anyone person to strengthen my position, Caine would be the logical choice. That's the real, damning truth.”

“How do you propose handling this?”

“Tell everyone what happened and try to discover who was behind it. Have you any better suggestions?”

“I've been trying to think how I could alibi you. But it does not look promising.”

I shook my head.

“You are too close to me. No matter how good we made it sound, it would probably have the opposite effect.”

“Have you considered admitting to it?”

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