The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 7 of 20
Topography of the Outlaw
Sheriff Curtis Long sat mesmerized in his office chair as Marshal King demonstrated, on a large map of the county and the surrounding terrain around the town of Swallow Hills, how to conclusively locate the most likely and unlikely holdouts for the outlaws involved in that area’s recent string of robberies. Taking into consideration local waterholes, areas of wild game concentrations, and what Marshal King called ‘the effect of invisibility’, the Starshine Kid portrayed his thorough knowledge of tracking outlaws, and anyone else for that matter. The marshal carefully instructed the young sheriff concerning the basics of reading ‘sign’ out upon the trail.
“How’s I ever gonna remember all this, Marshal King, is beyond my ability to even think on,” a dejected Sheriff Long stated.
“Aww, shucks, Curtis, I didn’t mean to get you discouraged. It gets easier with practice, and after a spell it’ll be second nature to you. Trust me, readin’ sign and the topography of outlaws is an ever-growing art. Just take one step at a time and practice every chance you get.”
“Ok, Marshal. I can learn it.”
“In fact,” continued Adam, “I’ll write out a step-by-step paper for you. How’s that sound, Curtis?”
“Just fine, Marshal. Can you include the circles things around where the crimes occurred and where they intersect and all that measurement distance stuff?”
“Of course I will.”
“Oh,” the sheriff added, “and a bit about how they have this safe feelin’ area that they like doin’ crimes in… and some examples as to the how-tos behind all that stuff.”
“Absolutely. They may have grown up in the area right around here in Swallow Hills, been on cattle runs here before, rode through a few times, worked somewhere in these parts… I’ll write out as many as I can think of and pass it on to you.”
Sheriff Long looked about as pleased as a ten year old kid gifted with his own saddle on Christmas Day, grinning ear to ear. “What say we get you settled in at the hotel, Marshal?”
“Sounds good to me. A hot bath and a good meal would do it up mighty fine for me right now.”
Marshal King checked his rifle with the sheriff for safe keeping, a recent personal gift from an undisclosed bareback riding friend, before the pair departed the office and walked along the wooden walkway toward the Crown Hotel.
An ancient looking tall Indian walked toward the pair, excited upon seeing Marshal King, he said, "You have the face and eyes of my people.”
Respectfully, the Starshine Kid smiled at the aging living artifact of American history.
The man continued, "You have the same black eyes… I see the fire of life in your soul." The elderly Indian then continued on his way without another word being exchanged.
"What was that all about, Marshal King?" inquired the curious sheriff. "That Indian never speaks to nobody as far as I know. We leave him be 'cause he’s as harmless as a dead wolf out on the prairie."
Diverting the sheriff's focus, Adam replied with a question, "You say he never talks to anyone?"
"That's as right as rain."
"Maybe he's startin' now. Hey, you say they got good grub at the hotel?"
"Yep, best in town," Sheriff Long replied, having already forgotten the previous conversation and encounter. "Of course, it is pert near the only place in town with grub, besides the saloon, that is."
Before the chance presented itself, a scraggly looking man ran toward the pair of lawmen waving his hands frantically, “Sheriff, Sheriff!”
“He’s one of our local fellas,” Sheriff Long informed Marshal King.
The man, half out of breath and talking faster than a jackrabbit runs after being stirred up by a coyote, told a tale one would only hope to read about, but never experience firsthand, “You gotta come, Sheriff Long, they be stringin’ up Telly Thomassen as we speak! Rancher William Kornwall and some of his hands, they be sayin’ ol’ Telly was a killer. The tale be told that he’s got a bunch of body parts and bones all over his place out there. I ran all the way here.”
“Slow down a bit,” the sheriff replied. “You say Mr. Kornwall and his boys are involved in a hangin’?”
“That’s what I just been sayin’. I bet the deed be done by now. You better get out there, Sheriff.”
With growling stomachs and thirsty tongues forced to wait their turn, Sheriff Curtis and Marshal King hurried to their horses and rode to the Thomassen spread.
Telly Thomassen was a loner of a man, never venturing into town except to buy the necessary supplies a man would need from time to time. No one knew much about him. He had no friends to speak of and never so much as talked to a single soul, except the storekeeper when he visited town.
When the two lawmen arrived at the Thomassen spread the barn was aflame, and Telly swung by a rope from a tree while the wind blew his lifeless body around like a fancy dressed lady’s parasol caught in a summer breeze.
Kornwall’s ranch hands rode off swiftly, while William Kornwall remained behind. He approached the sheriff and Marshal King as the two dismounted.
“Me and the boys took care of this ourselves, Sheriff. You got no business here, so you and your friend can head on back to town,” the rancher demanded.
Sheriff Long did not immediately respond, so Adam took control of the situation and informed the rancher of his identity as a US Marshal, and clearly warned the rancher that taking the law into one’s own hands was not a trivial matter.
“This fellow,” he pointed toward the man with one final rope burn around his neck hanging from the nearby tree, and said, “he’s been killin’ folks, God only knows how many, and skinnin’ ‘em. I found one of my missin’ hand’s personal belongings in that there barn over there.”
“I suppose you didn’t think to take anything out of that flaming barn before you went and lit it up, did ya’?” Marshal King asked.
“I ain’t that stupid,” he angrily replied, “It’s all over there by the side of the deceased’s house… and the house is full a stuff too. Check it out for yourselves, go ahead, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Just as the angry rancher had said, the house looked like something right out of a trail hand’s campfire horror story collection. Chairs made from human bones and upholstered with human skin adorned the gruesome residence from wall to wall and even the window shades were made from human hides.
This house holds a trove of unknown stories, the Starshine Kid thought to himself. I don’t have time for this distraction.
“Well, Curtis,” Marshal King addressed the confused looking lawman, “It looks like you’ve got this under control. I’m gonna head back into town and see if I can get a lead or two on those robbers for you.”
Glancing around the immediate area before his eyes, the stunned sheriff replied, “What?”
“If it was me, I’d let that rancher fella go on his own recognizance, verify the facts here, be certain this Thomassen was indeed responsible for all of this,” Starshine took a deep breath before continuing with his advice, “and if it all pans out like gold to be the truth , let things be.”
“Yeah, ok,” the sheriff replied, solidified within a trancelike daze.
Marshal King had more important things at hand than to establish the guilt of a dead man. Robbers needed to be apprehended, and he needed to deliver some official papers to a pardoned man, a man who needed to know about his newfound freedom.
With a dead man swinging from a tree and a barn blazing in flames behind him, the Starshine Kid rode back toward town.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 8: Tongues of Fire
The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
By Royce A Ratterman
© All Rights Reserved
Cover Art & Illustrations by Erlend Evensen
The characters, locales, enterprises, entities, and events herein are entirely fictional and intended for educational and entertainment purposes. Content portrayals do not reflect any actual events, locales, entities, or any individuals living or deceased.
Dedicated to all of those who lost their lives establishing peace, safety, and harmony in the days of the Old West