She stroked Beth's perspiring forehead as Beth slept deeply, mouth open, flopped against her. Harry and Charlie were busy talking to one another. Secretly she was glad Harry had talked her into this ride.
After two hours the boulder trail they were driving on settled into a bumpy dirt road trenched by heavy machinery and rainstorms. Harry downshifted once, then turned to Charlie and said, "Go ahead, take her down another gear." The mother saw how Charlie's face was carefully expressionless to hide his pleasure and again she wanted to grab him, to hold him tight against the world.
"We're getting close to town," Harry said. "Lookee there."
Ahead in the road, parked in a draw, was a broken-down jalopy with an old man sitting at the wheel. The jeep didn't look like it had ever run. The old man looked like petrified wood.
"Is he alive?" Charlie asked.
"Course he's alive. That's Ace King. He's what happens to all you fortune hunters."
A sign propped on the jalopy read, Ace King, the Uranium Prince. Genuine Uranium Claims, $25 and Up.
Harry gave a toot as they passed.
"He is dead," Charlie said. Harry let out a big laugh.
"Preparation is nine-tenths of prospecting," Harry said. "Before you even think of doing it, you've got to get maps, study them, read geological reports, talk to the field office people. You need to check out the aerial photos, too, and see if you can get a hold of some anomaly maps."
In the middle of Harry's remarks Jean realized he was speaking to her.
"What preparations have you done? Out there in Ohio, I mean. How'd you get yourself ready?"
She didn't answer. One of the pamphlets she had read said Pick up a rock. If it ticks, you're rich.
"Then maybe do a reconnaissance on horseback or mule," Harry said. "Before you start in earnest. You're not answering me."
"What is your question?"
"I have a feeling you didn't do any preparations."
"You sound like my mother."
"Do you have a detection instrument of choice?"
"I think you already know the answer to that, Harry."
"Then you'll need a promoter," Harry said. "Unless you're thinking being Mrs. Ace King is the way to go. In that case I could help you make a sign nice as his. We could get a cardboard box and some markers."
"Why do I need a cardboard box?" she asked.
"A promoter promotes, gets the rumors spreading and the frenzy going. Drives the prices up. I've never seen it go different."
"Is that how Vernon Pick did it?"
"You know about Vernon Pick, huh?" When she didn't answer, Harry said, "Everyone thinks they're going to come out here and be Vernon Pick. Everyone thinks it. Happens to nobody. I've never seen it go different."
She said nothing. She had been planning to leave when the bottles of water ran out, wondering if the busted springs of the station wagon would get her back as far as the town where she could make repairs before heading home. Nice of course of that Paul Morrison fellow offering to set up a water buffalo, but she didn't really need it. She was just waiting for the look in her children's eyes that said they'd had enough. Even kids at a swimming pool eventually got that look, and then it was time to go home.
Beth and her family were lucky. The springs of their station
wagon had given out beside a natural shelter, a horseshoe of overhanging rock. A
sandy crescent was perfect for a tent. The sand roughened with bristles as it
spread toward blackbrush, sprouts of silvery winterfrost, and tough cheat grass.
A tiny piñon tree sprang out of nowhere, as if from one of her playsets. Beth
liked sleeping on the sand as long as a beach blanket was under her. She and
Charlie had searched for waterholes and found only the drying, white-rimmed pond
that she and Charlie now called emergency alkaline thanks to Paul Morrison. She
imagined them out there day after day searching for water, tricked by mirages,
until they were crawling on their knees half-dead, and when they finally fainted
their bodies would roll down a dune into a water hole. Saved at the last minute.
From Lucky Strike by Nancy Zafris, pages 26-37 of the hardcover edition. Copyright Nancy Zafris 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Unbridled Books.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
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