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The plucky, eager young Bob has been ordered to deliver a message to Alice. Bob, desperately wanting to please his superiors, runs along as fast as he can and hands over the envelope before the wax has dried. He watches, nervously, as Alice reads it and... wait, why is she pointing a gun at him?
This trope is when a character causes another - usually an Unwitting Pawn - to deliver a message containing the single instruction to harm the person delivering the message. While the instructions are usually fatal, that is not a requirement for the trope. This method of disposing of the Unwitting Pawn is usually a Kick the Dog moment for the person sending the message.
Sometimes the message refers to the messenger, but not by name. This message often gets handed to a different messenger for delivery. Alternately, the messenger of another person intercepts and modifies the message.
- This is how John Looney betrays Michael O'Sullivan in Road to Perdition. The message in question read "Kill O'Sullivan, and all is forgiven." Michael being Michael, however, the people that he sends this message to don't succeed in offing him. John Looney's son Connor, on the other hand, is a lot more successful in his part of the betrayal.
- In "Vasilii the Unlucky", the rich merchant tries to avert his daughter's marriage to a poor man's son by many means, including having the son carry a letter to his wife with instructions to kill him. The three men who enacted that they would marry changed the letter to direct her to marry him to their daughter.
- In "The Story of Three Wonderful Beggars", it happens the same way.
- In The Brothers Grimm's "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", it's robbers that do the switch, out of pity.
- In "The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate", the princess herself makes the change.
- In Joseph Jacobs' "The Fish and the Ring", robbers do it. (It's also a Gender Flip.)
- In Joseph Jacobs' "The Son of Seven Queens", the son was given such a message by the wicked woman who had stolen the queens' eyes and usurped their place, but he altered it to say that her mother should give him his mothers' eyes.
- In The Girl Without Hands, inverted. The message that she be well treated is turned to one that she be executed.
- In Kangaroo Jack: They're delivering the payment for their murder, rather than the contract.
- The opening of Return of the Jedi doesn't quite match this to the letter, but the idea is the same: R2D2 and C3P0 are sent to Jabba's palace with a message that they are being traded to Jabba, much to the surprise of C3P0 (but not R2). This is subverted when it turns out to be all part of their plan to rescue Han.
- Dr. Bledsoe pulls a non-fatal version on the Narrator in Invisible Man.
- Vagabonds of Gor: Tarl risks life and limb to deliver a message from the regent in Ar to the commander of Ar's Station, but when he gets there, he learns that the message is, "This man is a spy. Kill him." The message wasn't from the regent but from another traitorous faction within Ar's government.
- In The Wheel of Time series, Mat carries one of these at one point. Being less than completely honorable, he decides to read it before he delivers it.
- I, Claudius has a downplayed version which doubles up as a Snipe Hunt: Caligula punishes someone who's annoyed him by sending him with a letter to the King of Morocco. The letter says, "Kindly send bearer back to Rome."
- In Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You), he suggests improving the track-and-field Olympic events in various ways, one of which is to give each runner a sealed envelope the winner is supposed to deliver. The envelopes contain a kill order for the winner. Everyone knows this but the runners.
- In the opening of Thomas Gifford's The Assassani, a priest kills a messenger for reading the letter before delivering it. The wax had nightshade in it, so when the messenger heated the wax to reapply the seal, the smoke from the plant dilated the messenger's eyes, making it obvious he tampered with it.
- A variation in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact. Junior Commissar Ludd is given such a letter by his superior officer, with the caveat that he's only to deliver it (and thus be shot) if he feels he needs help earning the respect of the Ghosts, thereby failing in his role as morale officer.
- In The Destroyer series, if it ever becomes necessary to disband CURE via Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, Smith will commit suicide after sending Remo to deliver a Please Shoot the Messenger message to Chiun.
- Done in Rome to the assassin of Pompey.
- In "The Luck Child," an episode of The Storyteller, an evil king finds a young man who's been prophesied to be king after him. He offers him a position at court and sends him to the castle with a letter instructing the Queen to have the boy cut into a thousand pieces. The letter doesn't make it into the Queen's hands, thanks to the intervention of a helpful forger who replaces it with instructions to have the bearer marry the princess instead.
Mythology and Religion
- Older Than Feudalism: Iobates was the King of Lycia. His nephew Proetus sent Bellerophon to Iobates with a note that said "Kill the bearer of this message." So, Bellerophon was sent to destroy the horrible monster Chimera.
- The Bible: In the Second Book of Samuel King David has Uriah the Hittite carry a letter to Joab, his commanding officer:
And he wrote in the letter, saying: Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.
- Caliph Al-Akim is said to have toyed with this by dropping random missives for people to find and deliver, containing either an order to kill the bearer or an order to give them gold if delivered unopened.
- A nonlethal variant happened to Alfred Hitchcock. When he was a little boy, his father gave him a letter and sent him to a police station. The letter contained a request to throw little Alfred into a cell for a night. Since then, Hitchcock, generally a brave man, feared police.
- Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are the unfortunate messengers in Hamlet. Notably, they actually did know what the letter was before Hamlet changed its contents from "Kill Hamlet" to "Kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."
- In Drakensang II in order to win the trust of Captain Soorman you must deliver such a letter to one of his men.
- In Hitman: Blood Money, the agency has some sort of code that instructs their agents to kill postmen who bring them a letter marked with it.
- Can happen to you in Fallout 2: if you don't agree with Moore's views (even though he's right) about Vault City being a bunch of selfish assholes or pressure him to give you more payment for delivering his briefcase to Bishop, he will put a notice into the briefcase that prompts Bishop to set his thugs after you. In fact, there's no way to tell whether the briefcase carries the notice or not since the game notes it's sealed up real good so that you can't open it.
- In No Rest for The Wicked, the usual plot is inverted. King Gareth's message about his wife is turned into an order for her execution.
- Bugs Bunny once tricked Elmer Fudd into thinking he needed a special license to shoot a "fricasseeing rabbit." Daffy Duck writes up the license but Bugs tricks Daffy into making it a "fricasseeing duck" license.
Daffy: How do you spell fricasseeing?
- In the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon "Not So Quiet," Pegleg Pete, a general, does this to Oswald, a low-ranking soldier.