In the cold desert night, gunslinger Ray Featherskill rides alone. On the horizon, he sees two men sitting at a roaring campfire. He approaches carefully, but his caution is unnecessary. The men are dead, their throats cut from ear to ear. It is the work of Blackschuster, the sinister magician who kidnapped Dr. Spectros’s beloved bride and imprisoned her in a glass coffin. Ray rides not just for Spectros, but to avenge every innocent person Blackschuster has killed.
On the shadowy edge of the dead men’s camp, Ray finds a survivor—a spirited young woman who is happy to join the chase for the magician who murdered her father. Soon they are joined by Spectros, and an epic blood feud approaches its electrifying conclusion.
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The Silver Canyon
Spectros, Book Five
By Paul Lederer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Town Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The moon was a haloed silver glow above the western mountains. The night trembled with the cold of the desert. Giant saguaro cactus cast eerie shadows across the silver sands. Beautiful, desolate, deadly, the desert, bathed in quicksilver, slept in peaceful coolness. By noon it would be a hundred and thirty on the flats. The sun would be a meteor searing across the empty, white skies.
The big horse Ray Featherskill rode stumbled and pitched forward in the soft sand. He smothered a curse. Ahead of him rode Blackschuster, and Ray figured to be gaining ground on the big man. He would not be riding at night, not if he was as smart as Ray thought. None but the reckless, the desperate, the fugitive would ride this long, fearsome desert through the bitter hours of night. A single misstep, an unseen barrel cactus, a slight depression, could snap a pony's leg and leave the rider afoot. And to be afoot on the desert was to be dead. Ray Featherskill had no intention of becoming a dead man.
There was said to be water in the tinajas at Conejo, near to the Mexican line, in those chalky white tanks high on the mountainside. Yet it was late in the year, and it was a long detour. If there was no water there, it would be another sixty miles to Lupe. A sixty-mile ride he could never make. And by then the big man could be into Mexico.
The gray was tiring rapidly, the effort of moving through the deep sands telling on the big gelding. Ray drew up and stepped down, shouldering his roll himself.
"We'll make it," he told the horse. The gray pricked its ears up, then hung its head miserably. It was a hell of a way to treat a noble animal, but there were times when there was no choice.
Ray took the reins and trudged on, going to his ankles in the sand with each step. The moon had dropped into the cradle of night, and he moved now with only starlight to guide his steps.
The night seemed endless, the blue-white desert stretching to infinity. With each labored step the mountains drew no nearer. But Ray had seen hot winds and hard mountains before, tasted his own blood in his mouth, and seen men go down before his guns. There was no quit in the man.
The depths of the night turned chill. The temperature plummeted. Shivering, Ray stepped again into the saddle of the gray which balked at the feel of a foot in the stirrup.
He stood in the stirrups, yet there was nothing to be seen. Long ago the wagon tracks had petered out, covered by the drifting sand. He was following blindly, knowing only that Blackschuster must travel from watering hole to watering hole as all travelers in the desert must.
Ray rode on, his eyes bleary from constantly searching the wasteland, from the hours without sleep. Yet when he saw the fire he reacted immediately. He slowed the gray, testing the wind, knowing that any horse in that camp would catch his scent downwind. Ray stiffened, circled southwest and filled his hand with the cold steel of his Henry repeater.
Perhaps it was Blackschuster, perhaps not, yet there was no sense in taking chances. There were very few men on this vast desert who did not have to be here. There were Apache in this country, the Chiricahua, and most folks were jumpy. They didn't appreciate men riding up on their night camps unannounced.
As far as that went it could be a Chiricahua fire, yet it was awfully large for an Indian campfire. White men built big fires and sat back, Indians built small fires and sat close.
Ray circled cautiously and went down, the sounds of his horse's hooves muffled to faint swishes in the deep sand.
Ray stepped from the saddle carefully when he was within fifty feet. Still he saw no one. He knew he should hail the camp to avoid being shot accidentally by nervous travelers. Yet if Blackschuster were there, to call out would be to die instantly.
Ray dropped the reins and moved slowly forward on his belly through the scant cover of scraggly mesquite and red flowering ocotillo. These looked like octopus thrust headfirst into the silver sand, black tentacles stirring in the faint breeze. The sand was warm, the air cold as Ray inched forward. His thumb was on the hammer of that Henry, fingers locked to the lever.
There were two men there. One sat near the fire, blanket around his shoulders. The other slept nearby, rolled up in his bed. Both were only black shadows before the red, flaring fire.
The fire hit a knot or a ball of pitch and flared up. Ray sucked in a deep breath and walked forward.
"Evenin'," he said quietly. "Take it easy, men, if you're holding weapons. I'm just a traveler."
The man sitting by the fire did not turn around. Ray put a hand on his shoulder—and he toppled over, dead. His throat was slit from ear to ear. Ray drew back the hammer on his rifle instinctively and turned the muzzle on the sleeping man.
Yet he was not sleeping. He too was dead, wrapped up in his bedroll, probably in the very position he had died.
Ray checked his pulse, yet it only confirmed what the first glance had told him. Featherskill edged backward into the shadows, his eyes searching the darkness. The man in his roll had been stabbed twice. Once in the neck, at the base of the skull; and then in the back, below the scapula in a direct line to the heart.
Only one man killed that way, had killed that way a hundred times. His name was Wango, and he was a brutal, savage man of the night. Blackschuster's demonic right hand.
Ray backed toward his horse, rifle at his waist. He stepped into the dark wash and glanced toward the big gray. The animal was running! Driving away from him, the gray ran, a rider whipping the horse with his hat. Frantically Ray ran up the dune, sage whipping at his chaps. He topped the rise, legs churning, heart pumping just as the gray drove toward him between two scrub manzanita bushes, the horseman on its back whipping it to beat the band.
Tossing the rifle to one side Ray flung himself through the air, and he took the rider high. There was a groan, the faltering hoofbeats of the gray, then they were pounded against the earth, the wind going out of both of them.
Ray whipped out his Colt and put his knees over the horse thief's shoulders. He drew back the hammer and put the muzzle of that big blue-steel revolver an inch away from the thief's chin. She promptly burst into tears. Yes, it was a woman. A young woman in man's dress. Her hair spread out against the sand in reddish profusion. The starlight whitened her dirty, pretty face. Ray stepped back and stood foolishly, gun dangling in his hand.
She sat unsteadily, her eyes bright. "Go ahead and do it, mister."
"I'm not going to do anything to you," Ray answered.
"Then why'd you jump me?" she demanded.
"You had my horse, woman. I didn't figure to beg your pardon first. You know what a life's worth on this desert without a horse."
"We had trouble," she said slowly. "I guess I was scared."
"You had a right to be." Ray holstered his Colt and crouched down near the red-haired woman. "You were with them?" he nodded toward the campfire.
"My father," she said with a break in her voice. "And my uncle, Ed." The girl rose to her feet, dusting her britches. "They were wary of Apaches the whole way, but when these two white men rode up, drawing a wagon, they invited 'em down for coffee, glad for the company. We hadn't seen anybody since Santa Fe but for one old prospector. Him—he marched by us, not even lifting his head. Probably hadn't talked to nobody but a jackass in thirty years and didn't know how."
"These men who came in," Ray asked, "was one a big man, the other a dark, wiry one—all scarred up, wearing a gold earring?"
"They were. To a T." She looked at Ray oddly. "You know them?"
"I know them. They're bad men, very bad. How'd you manage to get away?"
"Me? I hid out for a time. Pa always had me do it when we traveled. Said it was best to measure strangers first."
The girl was silent, yet Ray could imagine what was going on in her mind, how it had been. A frightened girl hiding in the shadows as two butchers slit her father's throat and killed her uncle for fresh horses. Or was that all there was to it?
"Why do you figure they did it?" Ray asked suddenly, his eyes jumping to hers. He had recovered his Henry rifle and he wiped the sand from it carefully.
The girl shrugged and turned her eyes away. She glanced up, almost shyly at the tall, blond man in black, perhaps measuring him. She said nothing, but she didn't need to. Her gestures, the elusive eyes gave her away. Something else then. Something besides the horses.
Blackschuster was a man without compunction, Wango a savage; yet they did not kill like this. There was always a reason. Something the girl's father knew, something he possessed? The girl herself? That thought came to Ray. Perhaps even now they looked for the girl. If so they would be back. If she would not help protect herself, then he must take the burden on his own shoulders.
"We have to get away from here," Ray said. "They may be back."
"Whatever for? Why would they be back?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe you do." He measured her much as she had measured him. "If there's a reason you know they'll be back."
"Is there time?"
"We'll dig two graves," Ray told her.
"I shouldn't ride with you. After all, who are you? What are you?"
"I'm about the only person on this desert, white or red, who wouldn't like to see that scalp of yours hanging somewhere, the way I'm guessing," Ray answered.
The girl nodded hesitantly after a moment's thinking. Then she watched as Ray hastily scooped out two shallow graves. The girl said a word or two over them, and then they rode, Ray keeping on an eastern track, following Blackschuster's trail.
It was the hour before dawn that Ray finally stopped. The girl was dead beat, the gray worn to the nub. High on a sheltered cliffside he had found the tinajas, and the water was good.
The girl drank deeply, and then the horse, dipping its muzzle into the cold sinkhole in the chalky stone, lifting it in surprise at the icy touch of the water, before drinking its fill.
Ray led the horse into the grassy park beyond where wind-stunted cedars bent toward the east. The girl rested against a shattered, fallen log when Ray returned. She was pretty. And scared. And cautious. He could blame her for none of these.
He started a small fire, boiling coffee. The girl looked up at him expectantly. "Aren't you going to sleep?"
"Not until I have to. You go ahead," he answered.
"I'm not ..." a yawn interrupted her protest. She smiled and Ray smiled back. Featherskill poured a cup of his black coffee, watching the desert morning come, a few frail pennants of pink streaming out from the promise of the sun. Shadows stirring, taking on life.
"What's your name?" the girl asked. Her eyes were closed, her red hair golden in the coming sunlight.
"Ray. Ray Featherskill."
With the greatest difficulty she opened those blue eyes of hers and studied the man in black, crouched near the low fire, sipping coffee, hat tilted back.
"I'm Sarah. Sarah Gambell." Her eyes closed with weariness.
"Well, Sarah, I'm mighty glad to make your acquaintance."
It was a cool, quite morning. Doves swept across the crimson skies, heading to water. Valley quail sang in the underbrush. Alone on the white flats below, a lone jack rabbit loped aimlessly. Ray tugged his hat lower and closed his eyes.
"Mr. Featherskill. Ray?" the girl said sleepily. "Thank you."CHAPTER 2
Ray was up after an hour's sleep. He was angry with himself for having taken that much time. An hour was time for Blackschuster to kill again. To kill him or the pretty red-haired girl. He stepped to Sarah and touched her shoulder.
"We'd better keep moving."
She sat up, startled, eyes wide with the confusion of sleep. Slowly it came back to her and she nodded, collecting her things.
"Where are we going?" she asked, her blue eyes wide.
"Going to take you home," Ray answered. He tied his roll to the saddle. The girl made no answer. "Where is home?" he asked. "Where is it you were going?"
"I don't know," she answered in bewilderment. "Home? I have none. Wherever Daddy and Uncle Ed were."
"Where were they taking you this time?" Ray asked.
"I'm not sure." Sarah watched the patient man's eyes. "They had many plans," she told Ray.
"I see. Look, Sarah. I can't take you to any place far off. And I sure can't take you with me. I'm going hunting, you see."
"Hunting?" It dawned on her. "Those men! The two who killed my father?"
"Then I'm going."
"Then you're not going!" Ray said firmly. "They're killers, butchers."
"I want them too," she said. She said it with a coldness in her eyes which had not been there before, with her lips compressed.
"You won't tell me where you were going?"
"I don't know," she said in exasperation. She stamped her foot and her eyes flared up again.
"All right. I'll take you to the nearest town."
"And leave me?"
"And leave you. Look, Sarah, I've no choice. I've been looking a long time for these men. When I come up on them I want nobody there I have to worry about."
"You'd just drop me off like a piece of baggage," she pouted. He did not answer.
Ray took her hand and helped her up behind him on the gray's back. It was hot already as they broke camp. By noon it would be a hundred, hotter on the sands. No cloud broke the long skies, not a breath of wind stirred the scattered ocotillo.
"Why don't you tell me about it," Ray suggested. They rode lazily up the gravel of a dry stream, a lizard scuttling away. There had been pony tracks a mile back, Indian ponies, but they were a day old, heading in the opposite direction. There was no sign of Blackschuster.
The girl's head was against Ray's back. She answered lazily, dozing in the sun. Her arms were around his waist.
"Where you were going. Why your father and uncle were killed. What you're holding back from me."
"There's nothing," she assured him, her face innocent as he looked back.
"It just might mean your life," Ray Featherskill said. "You can't know these men as I do. You might be gambling with your life, Sarah. I'd like to think you aren't so foolish."
"These men—you say you want them badly."
"Yes. I want them badly."
"Then we'd better stick together, Ray Featherskill. Stick close. Because I want them every bit as much as you do. I want to be there to see them pay for what they've done. And," she added with a toss of her head, "I know exactly where they're headed."
Grantville was a sleepy border town consisting of six rough frame buildings, three of adobe, a general store and six saloons. It was sun-bleached and weather-yellowed. A red hound seemed to own Main Street. He lay, tongue dangling, tail switching affably, dead in the center of it.
The black wagon drawn by four beautifully matched bays arrived from the north, clouds of yellow dust billowing into the hot, white sky.
It was driven by a massive man with a bull's neck and a placid face. Behind the wagon which was enclosed, decorated with gilt, rode a hard-faced lean man who looked most like an Indian except for the long, hooked nose, and the narrowness across the cheeks.
The big man halted the wagon and stepped from the box, wiping his face. The dark one tied up a nice-looking roan.
"Busy, isn't it, Montak?" the tall man asked, surveying the street. A pair of horses, heads hanging, waited in front of another saloon uptown, a boy in a white shirt rolled a hoop up the street. A lone old-timer sat, tilted back in a chair near the general store.
Montak grinned. He liked them quiet, yet he knew what Inkada meant. There couldn't be that many strangers passing through a town like Grantville, not so many that someone wouldn't remember Ray.
Montak held the door to the saloon open and Inkada went in, the giant following, ducking his head as he did. The bartender was a big man with a dead cigar. He rested on the counter, idly flicking at a droning fly with his hand.
"Morning, boys!" he smiled, seeming pleased to have some company.
"Good morning," Inkada replied. The bartender cocked his head at the odd accent then nodded to Montak who smiled back.
"What'll you have, gentlemen?"
"We are seeking information," Inkada said, stepping to the bar himself, putting a foot on the brass rail.
"Fine," the bartender smiled. "Let's have a drink and talk."
"I really do not wish to drink," Inkada said.
"Maybe not," the bartender replied with a wink, "but this is a place of business, mister. You see—if I was in the information business, I'd likely sell you what you wanted to know and be almighty pleased to have done it. But seeing's how this is a saloon, I prefer to do my talking while folks have a drink."
"Two beers," Inkada replied with a tolerant smile.
"Got it, and got 'em cold," the bartender replied. "Do you believe that?"
"I'm happy to hear it."
Excerpted from The Silver Canyon by Paul Lederer. Copyright © 1981 Town Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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