Read Pale Rider Online

Authors: Alan Dean Foster

Pale Rider

A NAMELESS STRANGER
rides into the corrupt and explosive gold rush town of Lahood, California. His arrival coincides with the prayer of a young girl who is hoping for a miracle to end the sudden and random violence in the community. Fifteen-year-old Megan quietly recites from the Bible: “And I looked, and beheld a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” A story of confrontation in a lawless time, the nameless stranger becomes a catalyst for hope and retribution. A struggle between ruthless corporation gunmen and innocent independent miners takes on new meaning with the appearance of an enigmatic horseman. Clint Eastwood is the Pale Rider.

SHOWDOWN ON MAIN STREET

The Preacher slid home the last cartridge. he snapped the .44’s cylinder shut and slid the big gun back into its holster. Standing by himself in the middle of Main Street, he hardly seemed to be breathing. The distance that seperated him from Stockburn and the deputies was not not great.

He waited.

As if marching in time to some unheard rhythm, Stockburn’s men descended from the porch and crossed into the street.

They stared at the lone figure confronting them as they formed a single line stretching from boardwalk to boardwalk.

The Preacher’s hand moved ever so slightly nearer the staghorn grip of his pistol. Beneath the shading brim of his hat, his eyes narrowed. He moved to meet them.

The distance between the one and the seven closed. To thirty-five yards, then to thirty, twenty-five . . .

At twenty-three yards the deputy on the far right went for his gun . . .

Also by

Alan Dean Foster

ALIEN

CLASH OF THE TITANS

THE MAN WHO USED THE UNIVERSE

KRULL

OUTLAND

THE I INSIDE

THE MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN

SPELLSINGER

THE HOUR OF THE GATE

THE DAY OF THE DISSONANCE

SHADOWKEEP

STARMAN

Published by

WARNER BOOKS

WARNER BOOKS EDITION

Copyright © 1985 by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack
All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.,
666 Fifth Avenue,
New York, N.Y. 10103

A Warner Communications Company

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing: June, 1985

ISBN 0-446-32767-0

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

CONTENTS

Books

Title

Copyright

Dedication

PALE RIDER

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

For Harry Morre and Smithee,

My two favorite preachers.

Whose methodology is somewhat more conventional.

I

They called Conway “Spider” for several reasons, the foremost being that he insisted on it, his real given name being less than suitable for his current occupation. Rumor had it his parents had dubbed him Percy, but there wasn’t a man in California who’d dare say that to his face.

The nickname fit his movements as well as his personality. Fiftyish, small in stature but wiry as an Arapaho pony, he didn’t so much dig into his claim as scuttle back and forth across it. While the majority of the other miners were content to work their Long Toms—the six-foot-long sluice boxes that lined Carbon Creek—or to sit patiently on the sandy banks and labor over their gold pans, Conway was in constant motion. One minute he’d be panning, the next he’d be using a shovel to dig up river gravel, and the third would find him scanning the larger rocks for signs of color. Burnt brown by the relentless Sierra sun, his hands and fingers flicked through the pieces of granite and schist that infested his pan. From time to time he would pause long enough to wave reassuringly in the direction of his two grown sons.

Conway could wave with one hand and continue panning with the other. Through this unique talent he had acquired a certain celebrity. Few men possessed both the strength of wrist and delicacy of touch to pan for gold with only one hand. Somehow Conway managed the difficult balancing act.

Used to be a time when he’d gladly demonstrate his special ability to newcomers in return for a meal. He hadn’t been able to do so for quite a while now. Not because he was unwilling. Quite the contrary. But the sad fact of the matter was that there hadn’t been any newcomers come to Carbon Canyon in several months. There was reason for this.

Word of what was happening in Carbon had filtered out, and those miners who might’ve been tempted by Carbon’s undeniable potential had also heard about the Other Thing.

So they called Conway Spider, and the name stuck. He made sure it stuck, because in the mining towns that lined the western slope of the Sierra Nevada the way pearls decorated the neck of Lola Montez, a sourdough named Percy wouldn’t be likely to live very long. A man can only survive so many fights, and Conway was several years the distaff side of fifty. So Spider he was and Spider he was glad to be.

Putting aside his pan for a moment, he fumbled in his kit until he found a tin cup, and dipped it into the creek. Even though winter was still weeks away, the icy snowmelt was still cold and refreshing. Best water in the world, Conway reflected, and if you happened to suck in a little gravel with it, well, maybe you’d get your gold that way.

The old miner chuckled, recalling the tale of the Chinaman’s Revenge. Way it had come about, down in Placerville, was that several men had refused to pay up for a whole month’s worth of laundry work by one respected Son of Heaven. Since the Chinese immigrants were not worthy of a sheriff’s notice, unless they happened to be involved in a violent altercation with a white man, it was left to the one who’d been cheated to seek recompense in his own way. This the man named Chang had done, and while he never did get his money, he certainly had his revenge.

Somehow the rumor got started that the three deadbeats had been burying their gold beneath the outhouse on their claim, where none would think to look for it. So naturally a bunch of wild-eyed would-be thieves had snuck out there one night. They’d torn the place apart searching for the hidden lode. None of the three miners had been able to halt the assault, with the result that the disappointed and odoriferous invaders had only departed the following morning, leaving the owners of the claim to clean up the results of the unwanted excavation while clad in their ill-cleaned clothes.

A smoke would be nice about now, Conway mused, but you didn’t smoke down on the creek. Smoking was purely an after-hours pleasure. Daylight was for panning and sluicing. The high mountains that enveloped the canyon shortened the days, and the light was too precious to waste on relaxation. Time enough for that after a man’s work was done. Sit back for a smoke and your fortune might go tumbling past your propped-up feet, right down the creek. Placer mining was not an occupation for the lazy.

Not that hard work would automatically make you rich. Carbon Canyon still held out the promise of that first big strike. And promise there was in plenty, if not easy riches. There was plenty of color, and just enough dust to hold a man back from leaving. It was still virgin territory, untouched by the forty-niners who’d picked up the easy gold a few years back. A man just had to persevere. You had to work your way through the upper layer of gravel to get to the paydirt beneath. Everyone knew that, which was why Carbon Canyon had attracted so many good folks on the heels of Conway’s first find.

No new arrivals for some time now, though. Conway grunted, letting his gaze wander from the fast-flowing waters of the creek up to the nearby cluster of buildings.

It wasn’t much of a community, but the promise was there, a different, but in its own way no less exhilarating promise than the kind the creek held. Already a few families had traded in their original tarpaper shanties and lean-tos for more solid structures of lath and log. People were setting up homes in place of camps. Smoke drifted skyward from several stovepipes as the womenfolk who’d followed their men westward bustled about their hard-won kitchens. Their presence was further proof of the incipient community’s vitality. Women didn’t settle in a mining camp unless they had thoughts of living there permanent. Their attitudes infected their husbands. It’s easy for a man to move from one claim to another, but hard to abandon a home. Such thoughts made Conway remember his own wife, remember how he’d come to lose her, and how long ago it had been.

A deep rumbling that rose above the play of the creek and the stones forced him out of his melancholy. Frowning, he rose to stare downstream. Summer thunderstorms were common enough in these mountains, but it was a mite late in the year for one to boil up over the peaks, and he was danged if he could see a single cloud. Of course, a man could be enjoying his lunch under a clear, warm sky one minute only to find himself racing for cover the next from a deluge fit to tweak Noah’s beard. That was the way the weather was in the Sierras.

Other books

Keep Fighting by Paul Harrison
Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinéad Crowley
Too Wicked to Tame by Jordan, Sophie
The Rebel’s Daughter by Anita Seymour
Neuromancer by William Gibson
The Traitor by Sydney Horler
Driven by Susan Kaye Quinn
Ingenue by Jillian Larkin
Angel City by Mike Ripley
Cold Pursuit by Carla Neggers


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2021