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EARTHCORE by Scott Sigler
Book One: Opportunity

Chapter One

July 30, 2004

Sonny McGuiness sat at a corner table, staring angrily at the longhaired Indian sitting across from him. The bar was dark with shadow despite the noonday sun that blazed on shuttered windows. They had the corner of the bar to themselves, not because there were only ten people in the place, but rather because both of them smelled as if they hadnít bathed in weeks. Sonnyís shocking-white, unkempt beard framed a scowl that furrowed his deeply wrinkled, dark-black face. The skin around his eyes was somewhat lighter than the rest of his onyx complexion, a light chocolate color, giving him an odd reverse-mask appearance. He drank his beer as if it would douse his sudden burst of annoyed temper.

"Bullshit," Sonny said. "You ainít found no Silver Spring."

"Hey, man, donít get hostile," said the Indian. "You said you were a prospector, so I just thought Iíd share a tale with you. You believe what you like, man." He drawled out the word "man" so it sounded long, smooth, and mellow. The Indian sipped at his double shot of Red Star vodka.

The mention of the Silver Spring caused their first conversational pause in over an hour. Sonny had entered the bar planning to drink alone, as he usually did, when he spotted a man with a telltale head of long, straight, black hair. Sonny had introduced himself and bet a beer he could guess the Indianís tribe on the first try. The Indianís name was Dennis Diving-Bird, a strange combination of Americana and Indian tradition. Most people, however, just called him Dennis the Deadhead. Dennis took the bet, Sonny guessed HopiĖDennis bought the first round.

After forty years of prospecting in the American Southwest, Sonny prided himself on guessing any Native Americanís tribe. He liked Indians. They were, in fact, the only people he liked.

"The Silver Spring is just a myth," Sonny said. "I should know, I looked for it twenty years ago and didnít find squat."

"Whereíd you look?" Dennis asked.

"I looked in the Snake, Black, and San Francisco ranges." Sonny finished his beer and signaled the bartender for another. "I didnít find nuthiní."

"Well, you were close," Dennis said. He took a puff from the latest in his nonstop chain of Pall Malls. "Itís in the Wah Wahs."

Dennisís wrinkled face hid under long, dirty-black hair. He wore a tie-dyed shirt, fringed leather covered with Grateful Dead skull patches, and smelled awful. But then again, Sonny knew that his two straight weeks in the Arizona foothills had fixed him with a rather ripe stench as well.

"The legends are true, man," Dennis said. "That spring is bubbling out of the ground into a little pool full of silver dust."

"So you found the Silver Spring?" Sonny tried to sound disbelieving, but curiosity tickled his thoughts. "The legend is true, and itís just sittiní there waitiní for someone to claim it?"

"Thatís right, man. Itís just layiní there as pretty as you please, as long as no oneís found it since I was there about ten years ago."

"Right. And thatís why youíre here, at the Two-Spoke Bar, drinking rotgut vodka instead of liviní high on the hog at the Hilton."

"Hey, man, just ícause I didnít take it donít mean it ainít there."

"Then why the hell didjya leave it?" Sonny wasnít mad at Dennis, only at himself. The story was pure bullshit, yet already he felt that uncontrollable part of him embrace the tale the way a girlís legs wrap around her lover. Some men suffer addictions to drugs, booze, women, money; Sonnyís habit was curiosity.

Dennis the Deadhead leaned forward conspiratorially, curling protectively around his drink, keeping his head low to the table. "That place is cursed, man. Maybe even evil."

"Aw, go fuck yourself! No curse ever stopped anyone from grabbiní the pot at the end of the rainbow. Iíd lift the devilís sack and pluck treasure from his ass, if thatís what it took."

"Thatís ícause you ainít ever been there," Dennis said with the air of someone who wears wisdom like a soft old denim coat. "The Hopi know enough to steer clear of that place. No one goes out there. No reason to go there in the first place. Nothing there but dirt and rock. I went out there to see for myself, to test the legends, you might say, but I only went once. The devil lives on that mountain. You can feel him, man."

Throughout the conversation, Dennisís eyes had sparkled with friendly laughter. Especially when he talked of the summers of í79 through í84, during which heíd toured with the Dead. Now, however, Sonny noted that Dennisís friendly emotion filtered away like wisps of smoke from his Pall Mall. As he talked of the Silver Spring and the mountains, the eyes took on a growing aura of fear. Every few seconds, Dennis looked from one corner of the bar to the next, as if the simple mention of the legend might summon some evil power.

"So if you know where this place is, how come you havenít told anybody?"

Dennis shrugged. "No one ever asked. Most people take one look at me and shy away. I canít remember the last time someone introduced themselves and offered to buy me a drink. In fact, I think youíre the first."

Sonny nodded. "Yeah, but a secret like that burns a hole in a manís belly. If no one has found it yet, you havenít really told anyone. Why me?"

Dennis stared at Sonny long and hard.

"I donít know," he said after a pause. His words were starting to slur slightly. "Youíre a man of the land. I can feel that. Maybe I told you because if you go there, I know youíll feel what I feel. Maybe because that place scares the shit out of me, and it wonít scare you as much, maybe you can do something with it. Maybe itís because Iím getting drunk. Who knows?"

Dennis drained his vodka, his eyes flashing to both corners as he did.

"Could you draw me a map?" Sonny asked.

"Buy me another round of shots and Iíll draw it right on this napkin," Dennis said. "But I warn ya. You wonít like that place."

Sonny signaled the bartender again, this time with two fingers for a double shot.

Dennis produced a red Crayola, and on the beer-stained napkin he started drawing a map. Their conversation continued for another hour, during which the two of them got exceedingly drunk, but Sonny wasnít really paying attention anymore. All he could think about was the possibility that the fabled Silver SpringĖwhere silver poured from the ground like water from a bottomless canteenĖwas real.

Sonny wasnít some greenhorn straight off the bus. He knew the Southwest like a man knows his wifeís body. He could hop in his Humvee, drive five or six hours to Utah, then hike into the Wah Wah Mountains and locate Dennis the Deadheadís mythical Silver Spring. The trip might take a day, perhaps two considering hiking speed in the unforgiving Wah Wahs. That wasnít much wasted time, and heíd satisfy his curiosity. He had to check it out. An ounce of truth lined every old wivesí tale, as his sainted mother used to tell him.

An ounce of truth sometimes paid off with an ounce of gold. Or in this case, silver. Sonny wasnít going to be picky.

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