The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 14 of 20
Billy held the long worm up high, using the sun for backlighting as he examined it carefully. “Hey, Tommy Joe, you get these worms at the cemetery?”
Billy lowered the creature and inquired, “Ol’ Mama Mabe’s grave?”
“Yep, the fat big ‘ens I did. Mama Mabe always gots fresh flowers and a watered grave.” Tommy Joe stared at his fishing line in earnest.
“What about them skinny ‘ens?”
“I gets me them sorry critters from Mayor Thompson’s grave… and ya know what Billy?”
“What, Tommy Joe?”
“There always be ants all over that grave, little red ‘ens, that’s just the way it is.”
“Yep, that’s just the way it is.”
“Hey, Billy, you think we gonna die good and old like Mama Mabe, or as a youngen, like little Joey Prescott?”
The two boys’ thoughts carried them off into the realm of faded memories for a spell.
“I miss me that Joey,” Billy lamented.
Tommy Joe agreed, “Me too. He was sure a might good stickball player.”
“That he was, Tommy Joe, that he was. So,” Billy slowly took a deep breath and collected his thoughts before continuing, “what’s ya think… about us dyin’?”
Tommy Joe gave a quick tug on his pole and replied, “I guess we be knowin’ when it comes. That’s just the way it is.”
“Yep, that’s just the way it is. Sure ‘nough, just the way it is.”
A smile grew on Tommy Joe’s face, followed by a short burst of gentle laughter.
“What be you laughin’ ‘bout now, Tommy Joe?”
“Just ’bout when we stole farmer Jake’s chicken,” Tommy Joe laughed. “That rock salt he shot us with tanned my hide a bit.”
“You mean your butt,” Billy chuckled.
“Burnt for days, Billy”
“For days, Tommy Joe, for days.”
Billy threaded his hook with the fat worm while Tommy Joe kept a close eye on his line.
“How come your papa lets you go fishin’ Billy, same reason as my papa?”
“I reckon so. He say we be havin’ hard times, so a boy’s gotta do some fishin’ and get some fun out of this life in these here tough days.”
“My papa says the same thing, Billy. If a fella gots no play time he might as well just shrivel up and die right now, that be what my papa says.”
“That’s just the way it is, Tommy Joe, just the way it is.”
The blue sky overhead was highlighted with small white puffs of clouds and a gentle eastern zephyr cooled the sun’s hot rays just enough to make this hot day not so hot.
“My pole! I gots me a big bite, Billy. I bet this be a humongous fish, humongous.”
“Humongous? Where’d you be learnin’ that word, Tommy Joe?”
Tommy Joe wrestled with his pole, trying not to pull too hard or fast.
“Mary Jane learned it to me. She be a might pretty one.”
“That she be, Tommy Joe, that she be.”
“Oh, no! I lost the fish… he got away, dag nabbit.”
“That’s just the way it is, Tommy Joe.”
“Yep, Billy, that’s just the way it is.”
Billy shielded his eyes from the sun and gazed upstream, “Look over thataway, Tommy Joe… up river a might. Them folks be lookin’ like strangers to these parts.”
“They sure be, Billy. You be thinkin’ we outta hide or somthin’?”
“I ain’t got a mind on what we outta do, Tommy Joe.”
A small wild shrub partly shielded their presence along the river bank. The boys remained as still as was possible and continued with their fishing and their conversation, now down to a whisper.
“Look like they be waterin’ their horses,” Tommy Joe observed.
“Yep. They ain’t givin’ us no mind.”
“Now they be saddlin’ up to leave, Billy.”
“They sure be. I thinks me I only seen one with a rifle.”
“Yep, me too. I bet they be outlaws.”
“That’s just the way it is.”
Five fish later, and an hour down time’s long road, the youths heard the sound of another horse’s gentle stride behind them.
Seeing the US Marshal’s star on the stranger, Billy smiled and said, “I guess you be huntin’ them outlaws that came through these parts pert near an hour ago, I reckon.”
“I sure be doin’ that, boys,” the Starshine Kid replied. “I am Marshal King, Adam King. Looks like you boys got some mighty fine fishin’ done today.”
“That we did, Marshal,” Tommy Joe replied.
“Now, you said ‘them outlaws’,” Marshal King addressed the smaller of the two boys wearing a hand-made straw hat. “So, there was more than one?”
As Billy cast his line into the river he replied, “Yep, there sure were, Marshal.”
“About how many do you reckon there were?” the curious and slightly perplexed marshal asked.
“I counts me up four, Marshal, four,” Billy responded, he then pointed across and up the river, “They watered their horses up thataway.”
“Well, thanks fellas. I guess I’ll be on my way and leave all this fun fishin’ to you professionals. Take care, now.”
“We will, Marshal,” Tommy Joe answered quickly, as he threaded the largest worm he had ever seen onto his hook.
While the Starshine Kid rode away upstream he commented to his horse, “Fine boys.”
Entering the water at river’s edge Marshal King soon found his steed swimming furiously against the crosscurrent. Once the Mustang exited the turbulent waters on the other side, the marshal dismounted to examine some tracks left near the river bank’s edge.
Now, who could those other three be? Outlaws? As Marshal King examined the tracks around where the four had watered their horses briefly, he recognized the Connors’ horse tracks, quite distinguishable from the rest. The other tracks were unshod hoof prints, a sign too important to miss by any tracker. Well, well, now, these may very well be more stolen Indian horses.
He mounted and continued to follow the sign left so obviously behind by the mysterious quartet. A large cave, nestled in the distance along a sharp incline, provided an ample place to hide for an outlaw, or group of outlaws, so the Starshine Kid trotted onward with caution.
Rifle shots echoed against the rock walls around the cave’s entrance, whizzing by Adam’s head like angry bees from a hive robbed of its honey. He made a quick decision to rush the cave with his pistol drawn. Horse and marshal entered the darkened crevice.
The cave was empty, but it was not long before he heard the rustle of horses outside of the cave’s mouth.
“So, Marshal,” came the voice from the mouth of the cave, “looks like we got you in a tight spot.”
Adam remained silent.
“I know you killed off Clifford’s brothers, but I gots me some friends out here thirsty for a lawman’s blood… friends that ride with the Connors brothers whenever the need calls. What do you think about that, Marshal?”
Marshal King stated loudly, “You all best be turnin’ yourselves over to me and face a judge. I can put in a good word for you all if you come along nice and peaceful.”
Load laughter echoed into the cave from its entrance, a disturbing sort of laughter.
“Yeah, I think that’s what we all out here had in mind,” the sarcastic voice replied. “We were just discussin’ that amongst ourselves.”
More laughter echoed.
“We be givin’ you one hour, Marshal. One hourglass hour.to crawl out on your hands and knees and give yourself up to us. If you don’t be comin’ out, Marshal, after the hour is up and all, we’ll just a start shootin’ into this here cave, and we all know that would be a mighty sorry waste of a good horse… we don’t be wantin’ to kill a good horse now, Marshal, that would be a crime.”
“I want to talk to Clifford Connors,” Marshal King demanded.
More laughter echoed into the dark cave.
“You just think on that hour for a spell, Marshal… for, say, about an hour or so.”
Their continual taunting and laughter annoyed the Starshine Kid. Their mockings resonated and the marshal felt an uncommon feeling, fear, make its feeble attempt to engulf him, but neither laughter nor fear could deter him from his duty in any way, after all, he was the Starshine Kid.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 15: The Beginning of the End
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