The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 8 of 20
Tongues of Fire
The town was ablaze with chatter when Marshal King rode in. He tethered his horse in front of the local saloon and entered, hoping to gather more information about the area’s string of recent robberies.
“Beer, Marshal?” the bartender asked.
“No, but I’ve got a mind for a sarsaparilla, if that can be arranged.”
With drink in hand, Marshal King made his way across the sawdust littered floor to a vacant table within earshot of a group of men, busily quenching their thirsty mouths between their talking and arguing bouts.
An elderly man, sitting to Adam’s left, spit his tobacco chaw into a spittoon by the bar and commented, “If it looks like an outlaw, shoot it! If it acts like an outlaw, shoot it! If it just feels to ya like it's an outlaw, shoot it! If you only think it may be an outlaw, shoot it!” The man leaned back and studied the Starshine Kid intensely for a moment, then continued, “Killin’ an outlaw ain't no different 'en steppin' on a spider, that’s what I says!”
Looking at the man Adam responded with a question, “What was that, sir?”
The man repeated himself, “If it looks like an outlaw, shoot it! If it acts like an outlaw, shoot it! If it just feels to ya like it's an outlaw, shoot it! If you only think it may be an outlaw, shoot it! Killin’ an outlaw ain't no different 'en killin’ a spider.”
“A man’s got a right to his opinions.”
The old man put his feet together, stretched his arms a spell, and stated rather matter-of-factly, “Crime is on the rise in these parts and we gotta do somethin’ about it.”
“You’re talking about what transpired today, I assume?”
Answering with eyes glaring like burning embers in a pot belly stove, he said, “Yep, and those robberies we been havin’… it be all too much crime for a place like this, if you be askin’ me.”
The Starshine Kid took a sip of his sarsaparilla, then leaned toward the man and inquired discreetly, “You ain’t heard no word on who might be havin’ a mind to be involved in any of them robberies, would ya?”
The old man looked squarely at the Starshine Kid, took off his hat and ran his fingers through his grey hair, replaced his hat and said, “I know you be a lawman, mister. No need to be tryin’ to play the sly and try foolin’ me. I be tellin’ ya what I know shortly, but a man can get a might bit thirsty tellin’ what he knows to a US Marshal.”
Taking the hint, a bottle soon adorned the talkative gent’s table, complements of the Starshine Kid.
The grateful man poured out his soul faster than a farmer pours out a can of soured milk on a hot summer day, “Reliable sources be tellin’ me that those Connors brothers be the ones doin’ all the robberies.”
“The Connors brothers, you say?”
“Yep, all seven of ‘em. One of ‘em is meaner than hell and the whole lot of ‘em be dumber than a barrel full of empty whisky bottles.”
“They seem bright enough to have pulled off them robberies.”
“Oh, don’t be givin’ that no mind, Marshal. Seven fellas in masks totin’ pistols and rifles would make almost all folks a might bit fearful. One-on-one, them Connors brothers ain’t nothin’ but cowards.”
Marshal King tipped his hat, told the man how obliged he was for the information and friendly conversation, and then left the establishment in search of a few more talkative folks, the type of folks who may have an inkling to flesh out the details surrounding the Connors brothers.
A woman at the feed store, and a man who sat idly near where folks board the stagecoach, all substantiated what the colorful gent from the saloon had said.
Outside of the livery a seasonal hired hand filled Marshal King in regarding some of the details concerning how the Connors brothers operated, “Now I ain’t sayin’ I ever participated none in any of this, so don’t be getting’ me wrong, Marshal.” The nervous man went on for over five minutes spouting information like a big city water fountain spouts its liquid treasure high into the air.
With his face set hard like a stone and a heart ready for catching criminals, the Starshine Kid rode out of Swallow Hills toward the direction of Ghost Valley. The winding trail along the cliffs took maneuvering skill and trail expertise, expertise the Starshine Kid’s years of riding experience had equipped him with.
The hours under the sweltering sun dragged on longer than a politician’s speech during a campaign season, while the reflected heat from the rocky terrain made the going extremely difficult. The Starshine Kid took his neckerchief off, dabbed it with what precious little water he had remaining in his canteen, then patted his forehead and neck before laying it across the back of his horse’s neck for a spell.
Rounding a large bolder, Adam squinted to soften the sun's glare blazing in the distance upon the hot desert sand; he thought he saw something in the distance. A feeling, the feeling one gets when they know something is not exactly right, slithered up inside of him like a tree snake up an old sturdy oak.
In the distance the Marshal saw the smoldering remains of a migrating pioneer family's wagon resting like a forgotten corpse on the valley sand below. Like a sudden wind and twice as swift, Adam bolted down the remaining length of the trail to see if any life could be found within the charred remains of a family’s lost dreams.
The Starshine Kid approached slowly as he neared the heap of smoking rubble, making sure no ambush would befall him.
“Who’s there?” a young voice screeched, as pistol shots sang their song of warning in the gentle wind.
Marshal King dismounted and slapped his horse’s rear, sending the animal off into the distance. Quietly, Starshine concealed himself by lying flat behind a small boulder near the wagon.
“I know someone’s there, I heard ya come down that ridge on a horse. I also knows you are alone. I’ll keep shootin’, I swear.”
The Marshal ascertained that the voice was of a boy aged ten, eleven, or thereabouts.
A bullet grazed the stone where the Starshine Kid lay, just skimming its top and sending a shower of rocky dust over the marshal.
“I ain’t kiddin’ mister, whoever you are. Go away!”
“I’m a US Marshal, son. Lay down your weapon so we can talk a spell.”
Silence pierced the air surrounding the smoldering wagon where the youth remained hidden. It was a good silence, it assured that the boy was thinking, analyzing, and drawing his own conclusions as to what to do.
“How does I know you are an honest-to-goodness marshal?”
“I’ll show you my badge if you promise not to shoot.”
The silence that followed the marshal’s words was a bit more puzzling to Adam. He waited for the boy’s response for almost two minutes before repeating his offer, “You there boy?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I guess I got nothin’ to loose. I’m almost outta bullets anyway, so if you got a mind to kill me I guess now’s as a good a time as any to die. There are a lot a ways to die and this is about as good a one as any other, I suppose.”
“You’re not gonna die, son, I’m here to help. Now promise me you won’t shoot.”
The breeze changed direction just long enough for the boy to choke in the wagon fire’s dark smoke. Coughing slightly, he assured the marshal that he would not shoot and then tossed his gun away.
The Starshine Kid crawled away from the rock and stood. He carefully surveyed the area, in hopes of avoiding any additional unknown surprises.
“I heard ya crawl some fifteen feet and get up, marshal,” the boy coughed out his message.
The Starshine Kid walked slowly toward his young target. Rounding the burning embers he found the boy, face frozen tight with fear, lying beside one of the charred wagon wheels. Another thing was as obvious as the sun’s heat rays overhead… the boy was blind.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 9: Signals in the Wind
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