The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 11 of 20
Predator and Prey
Five of the Connors brothers slowly ambled up the main street astride their steeds, riding like cavalry soldiers returning from a wearisome battle victory. Tired and thirsty, they made their way toward the saloon in hopes that some type of alcoholic refreshment still remained to water their trail-dried throats.
“You be best a hidin’, Marshal,” Joe insisted. “These boys ain’t never gave no mind to harmin’ me, but strangers….”
Marshal King peered through a small hole toward the Connors. Turning toward his lone friend, he said, “How about you head on up to the second floor outta harm’s way and I’ll take care of servin’ the Connors boys their due drinks.”
“You’re the boss, Marshal,” Joe replied, before disappearing up the saloon stairs.
The five brothers tethered their horses in front of the saloon, making far more noise than their number amounted to. Entering, they observed a stranger behind the bar, a long silent eeriness followed.
The Starshine Kid counted only four brothers. In the shadows of the saloon’s entry the marshal could make out the silhouette of a rifle casting its shadow across the boards beyond the swinging doors. He quickly greeted the group and offered drinks to their fill. This rustled up the lone brother standing outside and forced his entry into the long forgotten establishment.
“Who are you?” one brother with the flames of hell in his eyes asked. “And where is the old man?”
“So, you Connors boys been out havin’ a hard day I see.” The stranger behind the bar appeared to know more than he should, and that gave him the edge he needed.
“The name’s Clay,” stated one brother. He pounded his large hands on a table near the left side of the entrance. “Now answer the question… where is the old man and who are you?”
“That’s two questions, Clay. You’re dumber than your brothers look,” the stranger answered.
Lawman and outlaw both stared down on one another with the eyes of both predator and prey. Marshal King studied Clay’s reaction for any minute detail that would give him a clue as to the outlaw’s next move, keeping his pistol finger perched a hair’s breadth from the butt of his gun.
“I don’t have a mind a sayin’ you got a lot of nerve stranger. More nerve than a regular kinda man. You must not be afraid of dyin’.”
“Sometimes a man's life can make death a much more welcome experience,” the Starshine Kid replied.
Tension rose steadily in the saloon like the rising waters of a small tidal pool on the edge of an ocean inlet. The brothers fanned out, spreading themselves across the saloon in loose formation, hands hovering over the butts of their pistols.
“Answer my brother, quick like, stranger,” one of the outlaw brothers demanded.
“Shut up Cullen,” I ain’t gonna tell ya again, don’t be talkin’ when I be talkin’.”
The Starshine Kid studied the group’s faces for signs and details of emotion, reading their eyes and body mannerisms for hidden hints. Finally, he addressed Cullen abruptly, “Where are your other two brothers, boy?”
“They be down south of the Rio Grande a bit, getting’ some wet stock for—”
“Angrily, Clay snarled at his brother, “You idiot, why, I got a right mind to wallup you upside the head. How stupid are you… tellin’ this stranger somethin’ like that."
Clay informed the stranger that his brother was only fooling around and that his other two brothers were down south visiting a sick aunt. Clay thought about this stranger for a moment, and who he might be. Thinking was a dangerous thing for a Connors boy to do.
“You must be the law. How else would ya know who we are, or how many of us there be.”
The Starshine Kid answered with a smile, “US Marshal King is the name, Adam King. Drinks are on me.”
The Connors exchanged brief glances while Marshal King carefully watched their eyes for signs of action. Clay drew his pistol first, firing a round and missing the marshal by barely a hair’s breadth. Quickly, the other Connors brothers followed suit. Marshal King managed to hit two of them, sending one to the floor in a pool of outlaw blood while the rest of the group exited the swinging saloon doors faster than a colony of rabbits running from a coyote; the marshal followed in quick pursuit.
The Starshine Kid knew he stood a mere trigger pull away from his last dying breath, sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes like a waterfall’s shower into a remote mountain river. It was hot, dang hot, but Marshal King remained as calm as a reflective pond in the blazing sun’s light.
Lying in the road was the other victim of justice’s bullet, taking his last miserable breath of dusty trail air, while his own kin raced away with two riderless horses trailing behind them in the wake of a large dust cloud.
From a second story window of the saloon, Joe yelled out, “Let me put on some ridin’ britches, Marshal, I got a mind to join ya on your huntin' adventure.”
Two of the Connors boys needed burying, however, so Joe was instructed to proceed with the arrangements while the marshal took care of marshal business on his own.
“Looks to me you got Chris and Calvin James; them other three was Cullen, Carl, and Clay.”
“That leaves Calvin Paul and Clifford unaccounted for… probably rustlin’ stock like Cullen Connors said they were,” the marshal speculated.
“Dust be arisin’, Marshal,” the old man pointed off into the distance from the window that had just overlooked more street action than the town had experienced during its boom years.
“Can ya make anything out from up there?”
“Looks like a lone rider, no more than that.”
“Let’s get these bodies into the shade somewhere. It ain’t gonna help much, as hot as it’s gotten to be, but it sure ain’t gonna hurt none.”
“Ok, Marshal, I’ll be right down.”
With the Connors’ bodies hidden in the shade by the side of the old livery, Marshal King and Joe returned to the front of the saloon and sat down on what remained of a long wooden bench, a bench that once provided a resting stop to alcohol infested patrons tired of their own staggering.
The lone rider strode into town, head high. “Thought I’d be findin’ you here, Marshal Adam King,” he stated.
“Well… I’ll be….”
“I happened upon some bareback ridin’ friends of yours dropping a small blind boy off at one of the rural stagecoach stops a few hours ride from here, the night of the lightning storm.”
“That was some nighttime light show!” old Joe commented.
“Anyway, I waited with the boy until the stage came through. As it turned out, that same Oregon politician you came across was aboard that stage. I introduced myself and he right up told me he had written a pardon for me and had given it to none other than US Marshal Adam King. So, I trailed you here and left the little lad with the politician and stage driver.”
The marshal looked at Joe and said, “Let me introduce my sweetheart’s brother, Anton, better known as Antonio from Antonio.”
“I heard of you. You came from back east someplace.” Joe looked surprised. “You be about the deadliest gun there is in these parts nowadays, or any other parts for that matter, so I heard me.”
“Looks like we got some rustlin’ robbers to catch,” Anton commented.
“Yeah,” Marshal King agreed, “but first…” he handed Anton some papers from his coat pocket. “Now it’s official. And I’ll also be swearin’ you in.”
“Sounds about right to me,” Anton replied.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 12: Pursuit of Happiness
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