Nine Princess In Amber by Roger Zelazny
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Nine Princes In Amber
It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.
I attempted to wriggle my toes, succeeded. I was sprawled there in a hospital bed and my legs were done up in plaster casts, but they were still mine.
I squeezed my eyes shut, and opened fhem, three times.
The room grew steady.
Where the hell was I?
Then the fogs were slowly broken, and some of that which is called memory returned to me. I recalled nights and nurses and needles. Every time things would begin to clear a bit, someone would come in and jab me with something. That's how it had been. Yes. Now, though, I was feeling halfway decent. They'd have to stop.
The thought came to assail me: Maybe not.
Some natural skepticism as to the purity of all human motives came and sat upon my chest. I'd been over narcotized, I suddenly knew. No real reason for it, from the way I felt, and no reason for them to stop now, if they'd been paid to keep it up. So play it coo'l and stay dopey, said a voice which was my worst, if wiser, self.
So I did.
A nurse poked her head in the door about ten minutes later, and I was, of course, still sacking Z's. She went away.
By then, I'd reconstructed a bit of what had occured
I had been in some sort of accident, I remembered vaguely. What had happened after that was still a blur; and as to what had happened before, I had no inkling whatsoever. But I had first been in a hospital and then brought to this place, I remembered. Why? I didn't know.
However, my legs felt pretty good. Good enough to hold me up, though I didn't know how much time had lapsed since their breaking--and I knew they'd been broken.
So I sat up. It took me a real effort, as my muscles were very tired. It was dark outside and a handful of stars were standing naked beyond the window. I winked back at them and threw my legs over the edge of the bed.
I was dizzy, but after a while it subsided and I got up, gripping the rail at the head of the bed, and I took my frst step.
Okay. My legs held me.
So, theoretically, I was in good enough shape to walk out.
I made it back to the bed, stretched out and thought. I was sweating and shaking. Visions of sugar plums, etc.
In the State of Denmark there was the odor of decay. . . .
It had been an accident involving an auto, I recalled. One helluva one....
Then the door opened, letting in light, and through slits beneath my eyelashes I saw a nurse with a hypo in her hand.
She approached my bedside, a hippy broad with dark hair and big arms.
Just as she neared, I sat up.
"Good evening," I said.
"Why-good evening," she replied.
"When do I check out?" I asked.
"I'll have to ask Doctor."
"Do so," I said.
"Please roll up your sleeve."
"I have to give you an injection"
"No you don't. I don't need it"
"I'm afraid that's for Doctor to say."
"Then send him around and let him say it. But in the meantime, I will not permit it."
"I'm afraid I have my orders."
"So did Eichmann, and look what happened to him," and I shook my head slowly.
"Very well," she said. "I'll have to report this. . .
"Please do," I said, "and while you're at it, tell him I've decided to check out in the morning."
"That's impossible. You can't even walk--and there were internal injuries...."
"We'll see," said I. "Good night"
She swished out of sight without answering.
So I lay there and mulled. It seemed I was in some sort of private place--so somebody was footing the bill. Whom did I know? No visions of relatives appeared behind my eyes. Friends either. What did that leave? Enemies?
I thought a while.
Nobody to benefact me thus.
I'd gone over a cliff in my car, and into a lake, I suddenly remembered. And that was all I remembered.
I strained and began to sweat again.
I didn't know who I was.
But to occupy myself, I sat up and stripped away all my bandages. I seemed all right underneath them, and it seemed the right thing to do. I broke the cast on my right leg, using a metal strut I'd removed from the head of the bed. I had a sudden feeling that I had to get out in a hurry, that there was something I had to do.
I tested my right leg. It was okay.
I shattered the cast on my left leg, got up, went to the closet.
No clothes there.
Then I heard the footsteps. I returned to my bed and covered over the broken casts and the discarded bandages.
The door swung inward once again.
Then there was light all around me, and there was a beefy guy in a white jacket standing with his hand on the wall switch.
"What's this I hear about you giving the nurse a hard time?" he asked, and there was no more feigning sleep.
"I don't know," I said. "What is it?"
That troubled him for a second or two, said the frown then, "It's time for your shot."
"Are you an M.D.?" I asked.
"No, but I'm authorized to give you a shot"
"And I refuse it'" I said, "as I've a legal right to do. What's it to you?"
"You'll have your shot," he said, and be moved around to the left side of the bed. He had a hypo in one hand which bad been out of sight till then.
It was a very foul blow, about four inches below the belt buckle, I'd say, and it left him on his knees.
"____ ____!" he said, after a time.
"Come within spittng distance again," I said, "and see what happens."
"We've got ways to deal with patients like you," he gasped.
So I knew the time had come to act.
"Where are my clothes?" I said.
"____ ____!" he repeated
"Then I guess I'll have to take yours. Give them to me."
It became boring with the third repetition, so I threw the bedclothes over his head and clobbered him with the metal strut.
Within two minutes, I'd say, I was garbed all in the color of Moby Dick and vanilla ice cream. Ugly.
I shoved him into the closet and looked out the lattice window. I saw the Old Moon with the New Moon in her arms, hovering above a row of poplars. The grass was silvery and sparkled. The night was bargaining weakly with the sun. Nothing to show, for me, where this place was located. I seemed to be on the third floor of the building though, and there was a cast square of light off to my left and low, seeming to indicate a first floor window with someone awake behind it.
So I left the room and considered the hallway. Off to the left, it ended against a wall with a latticed window, and there were four more doors, two on either side. Probably they let upon more doors like my own. I went and looked out the window and saw more grounds, more trees, more night, nothing new. Turning, I headed in the other direction.
Doors, doors, doors, no lights from under any of them, the only sounds my footsteps from the too big borrowed shoes.
Laughing Boy's wristwatch told me it was five forty-four. The metal strut was inside my belt, under the white orderly jacket, and it rubbed against my hip bone as I walked. There was a ceiling fixture about every twenty feet, casting about forty watts of light.
I came to a stairway, off to the right, leading down. I took it. It was carpeted and quiet.
The second floor looked like my own, rows of rooms, so I continued on.
When I reached the first floor I turned right, looking for the door with light leaking out from beneath it.
I found it, way up near the end of the corridor, and I didn't bother to knock.
The guy was sitting there in a garish bathrobe, at a big shiny desk, going over some sort of ledger. This was no ward room. He looked up at me with burning eyes all wide and lips swelling toward a yell they didn't reach, perhaps because of my determined expression. He stood, quickly.
I shut the door behind me, advanced, and said:
"Good morning. You're in trouble."
People must always be curious as to trouble, because after the three seconds it took me to cross the room, his words were:
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," I said, "that you're about to suffer a lawsuit for holding me incommunicado, and another one for malpractice, for your indiscriminate use of narcotics. I'm already suffering withdrawal symptoms and might do something violent...."
He stood up.
"Get out of here," he said.
I saw a pack of cigarettes on his desk. I helped myself and said, "Sit down and shut up. We've got things to talk about."
He sat down, but he didn't shut up:
"You're breaking several regulations," he said.
"So we'll let a court decide who's liable," I replied. "I want my clothes and my personal effects. I'm checking out.."
"You're in no condition-"
"Nobody asked you. Pony up this minute, or answer to the law."
He reached toward a button on his desk, but I slapped his hand away.
"Now!" I repeated. "You should have pressed that when I came in. It's too late now."
"Mr. Corey, you're being most difficult . .
"I didn't check me in here," I said, "but I damn well have a right to check me out. And now's the time. So let's get about it."
"Obviously, you're in no condition to leave this institution," he replied. "I cannot permit it I am going to call for someone to escort you back to your room and put you to bed."
"Don't try it," I said, "or you'll find out what condition I'm in. Now, I've several questions. The first one's Who checked me in, and who's footing my bill at this place?"
"Very well," he sighed, and his tiny, sandy mustaches sagged as low as they could.
He opened a drawer, put his hand inside, and I was wary.
I knocked it down before he had the safety catch off: a .32 automatic, very neat; Colt. I snapped the catch myself when I retrieved it from the desk top; and I pointed it and said: "You will answer my questions. Obviously you consider me dangerous. You may be right."
He smiled weakly, lit a cigarette himself, which was a mistake, if he intended to indicate aplomb. His hands shook.
"All right, Corey-if it will make you happy," he said, "your sister checked you in"
"?" thought I.
"Which sister?" I asked.
"Evelyn," he said.
No bells. So, "That's ridiculous. I haven't seen Evelyn in years," I said. "She didn't even know I was in this part of the country."
"Nevertheless . .
"Where's she staying now? I want to call her," I said.
"I don't have her address handy."
He rose, crossed to a filing cabinet, opened it, riffled, withdrew a card.
I studied it. Mrs. Evelyn Flaumel. . . .The New York address was not familiar either. but I committed it to memory. As the card said, my first name was Carl. Good. More data.
I stuck the gun in my belt beside the strut then, safety back on, of course.
"Okay," I told him. "Where are my clothes, and what're you going to pay me?"
"Your clothes were destroyed in the accident," he said, "and I must tell you that your legs were definitely broken-the left one in two places. Frankly, I can't see how you're managing to stay on your feet. It's only been two weeks-"
"I always heal fast," I said. "Now, about the money. . .
"The out-of-court settlement for my malpractice complaint. and the other one."
"Don't be ridiculous!"
"Who's being ridiculous? I'll settle for a thousand, cash, right now."
"I won't even discuss such a thint."
"Well, you'd better consider it--and win or lose, think about the name it will give this place if I manage enough pretrial publicity. I'll certainly get in touch with the AMA, the newspapers. the-"
"Blackmail," he said, "and I'll have nothing to do with it."
"Pay now, or pay later, after a court order," I said. "I don't care. But it'll be cheaper this way."
If he came across, I'd know my guesses were right and there was something crooked involved.
He glared at me, I don't know how long.
Finally, "I haven't got a thousand here," he said.
"Name a compromise figure," I said.
After another pause, "It's larceny."
"Not if it's cash-and-carry, Charlie. So, call it."
"I might have five hundred in my safe."
He told me, after inspecting the contents of a small wall safe, there was four-thirty, and I didn't want to leave fingerprints on the safe just to check him out. So I accepted and stuffed the bills into my side pocket.
"Now what's the nearest cab company that serves this place?"
He named it, and I checked in the phone book, which told me I was upstate.
I made him dial it and call me a cab, because I didn't know the name of the place and didn't want him to know the condition of my memory. One of the bandages I had removed had been around my head.
While he was making the arrangement I heard him name the place: it was called Greenwood Private Hospital.
I snubbed out my cigarette, picked up another, and removed perhaps two hundred pounds from my feet by resting in a brown upholstered chair beside his bookcase.
"We wait here and you'll see me to the door," I said.
I never heard another word out of him.
Nine Princes In Amber
It was about eight o'clock when the cab deposited me on a random corner in the nearest town. I paid off the driver and walked for around twenty minutes. Then I stopped in a diner, found a booth and had juice, a couple of eggs, toast, bacon and three cups of coffee. The bacon was too greasy.
After giving breakfast a good hour, I started walking, found a clothing store, and waited till its nine-thirty opening.
I bought a pair of slacks, three sport shirts, a belt, some underwear, and a pair of shoes that fit. I also picked up a handkerchief, a wallet, and pocket comb.
Then I found a Greyhound station and boarded a bus for New York. No one tried to stop me. No one seemed to be looking for me.
Sitting there, watching the countryside all autumn-colored and tickled by brisk winds beneath a bright, cold sky, I reviewed everything I knew about myself and my circumstances.
I had been registered at Greenwood as Carl Corey by my sister Evelyn Flaumel. This had been subsequent to an auto accident some fifteen or so days past, in which I had suffered broken bones which no longer troubled me. I didn't remember Sister Evelyn. The Greenwood people had been instructed to keep me passive, were afraid of the law when I got loose and threatened them with it. Okay. Someone was afraid of me, for some reason. I'd play it for all it was worth.
I forced my mind back to the accident, dwelled upon it till my head hurt. It was no accident. I had that impression, though I didn't know why. I would find out, and someone would pay. Very, very much would they pay. An anger, a terrible one, flared within the middle of my body. Anyone who tried to hurt me, to use me, did so at his own peril and now he would receive his due, whoever he was, this one. I felt a strong desire to kill, to destroy whoever had been responsible, and I knew that it was not the first time in my life that I had felt this thing, and I knew, too, that I had followed through on it in the past. More than once.
I stared out the window, watching the dead leaves fall.
When I hit the Big City, the first thing I did was to get a shave and haircut in the nearest clip joint, and the second was to change my shirt and undershirt in the men's room, because I can't stand hair down my back. The .32 automatic, belonging to the nameless individual at Greenwood, was in my right-hand jacket pocket. I suppose that if Greenwood or my sister wanted me picked up in a hurry, a Sullivan violation would come in handy. But I decided to hang onto it. They'd have to find me first, and I wanted a reason. I ate a quick lunch, rode subways and buses for an hour, then got a cab to take me out to the Westchester address of Evelyn, my nominal sister and hopeful jogger of memories.
Before I arrived, I'd already decided on the tack I'd take.
So, when the door to the huge old place opened in response to my knock, after about a thirty-second wait, I knew what I was going to say. I had thought about it as I'd walked up the long, winding, white gravel driveway, between the dark oaks and the bright maples, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and the wind cold on my fresh-scraped neck within the raised collar of my jacket. The smell of my hair tonic mingled with a musty odor from the ropes of ivy that crowded all over the walls of that old, brick place. There was no sense of familiarity. I didn't think I had ever been here before.
I had knocked, and there had come an echo.
Then I'd jammed my hands into my pockets and waited.
When the door opened, I had smiled and nodded toward the mole-flecked maid with a swarthy complexion and a Puerto Rican accent.
"Yes?" she said,
"I'd like to see Mrs. Evelyn Flaumel, please."
"Who shall I say is calling?"
"Her brother Carl."
"Oh come in please," she told me.
I entered a hallway, the floor a mosaic of tiny salmon and turquoise tiles, the wall mahogany, a trough of big-leafed green things occupying a room divider to my left. From overhead, a cube of glass and enamel threw down a yellow light.
The gal departed, and I sought around me for something familiar.
So I waited.
Presently, the maid returned, smiled, nodded, and said, "Please follow me. She will see you in the library."
I followed, up three stairs and down a corridor past two closed doors, The third one to my left was open, and the maid indicated I should enter it. I did so, then paused on the threshold.
Like all libraries, it was full of books. It also held three paintings, two indicating quiet landscapes and one a peaceful seascape. The floor was heavily carpeted in green. There was a big globe beside the big desk with Africa facing me and a wall-to-wall window behind it, eight stepladders of glass. But none of these was the reason I'd paused.
The woman behind the desk wore a wide-collared, V-necked dress of blue-green, had long hair and low bangs, all of a cross between sunset clouds and the outer edge of a candle flame in an otherwise dark room, and natural, I somehow knew, and her eyes behind glasses I didn't think she needed were as blue as Lake Erie at three o'clock on a cloudless summer afternoon; and the color of her compressed smile matched her hair. But none of these was the reason I'd paused.
I knew her, from somewhere, though I couldn't say where.
I advanced, holding my own smile.
"Hello," I said.
"Sit down," said she, "please," indicating a high-backed, big-armed chair that bulged and was orange, of the kind just tilted at the angle in which I loved to loaf.
I did so, and she studied me.
"Glad to see you're up and around again."
"Me, too. How've you been?"
"Fine, thank you. I must say I didn't expect to see you here."
"I know," I fibbed, "but here I am, to thank you for your sisterly kindness and care." I let a slight note of irony sound within the sentence just to observe her response.
At that point an enormous dog entered the room-an Irish wolfhound-and it curled up in front of the desk. Another followed and circled the globe twice before lying down.
"Well," said she, returning the irony, "it was the least I could do for you. You should drive more carefully."
"In the future," I said, "I'll take greater precautions, I promise." I didn't now what sort of game I was playing, but since she didn't know that I didn't know, I'd decided to take her for all the information I could. "I figured you would be curious as to the shape I was in, so I came to let you see."
"I was, am," she replied. "Have you eaten?"
"A light lunch, several hours ago." I said.
So she rang up the maid and ordered food. Then "I thought you might take it upon yourself to leave Greenwood," she said, "when you were able, I didn't think it would be so soon, though, and I didn't think you'd come here."
"I know," I said, "that's why I did."
She offered me a cigarette and I took it, lit hers, lit mine.
"You always were unpredictable," she finally told me. "While this has helped you often in the past, however, I wouldn't count on it now."
"What do you mean?" I said.
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