The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 15 of 20
The Beginning of the End
As Marshal King’s eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, he could see a faint ray of light piercing the cave’s blackened realm approximately seventy-five yards deep within its interior. After hurriedly securing his horse’s reigns to a large rock, he grabbed his rifle and proceeded quietly to investigate the origins of the faint beam in the distance.
Finding a hole the size of a small youth’s head at the rear of the cave where the ceiling lowered to a point, Marshal King used a sharp stone to enlarge the opening. The hour time limit for him to surrender came and went with no rush on the cave by the quartet of outlaws and no orchestra of rifle fire. The Starshine Kid continued to dig through the rock layers, finally being able to poke his head out in time to see a band of peculiar appearing Indians. He presumed they were those that the Connors’ crew had stolen the horses and cattle from. The natives chased a lone rider in the far distance, with one Brave trailing closely behind taking charge of their recovered horses.
After another hour of hard digging and a tight squeeze through an opening no larger than a fox’s den, Marshal King was free. He climbed around a narrow rocky ledge to a small perch jutting out over the opening of the cave and then slithered down the last fifteen feet carefully, rifle in hand.
“My, my,” he mumbled as he saw three lifeless outlaw bodies littering a small dune not fifty feet from the cave’s entrance. Upon a closer examination of the bodies, Marshal King recognized the signs of the renegade Indians’ handiwork. Clifford Connors, however, was not among the dearly departed.
He’s escaped again, King thought. Them Indians musta not had the slightest inkling I was inside. Or… maybe they just plain let me be.
After retrieving his horse from the cave, the Starshine Kid pursued the lone rider and pack of disgruntled Indians. Some six hours later Marshal King observed that the Indians’ tracks had branched away from the distinctive shod tracks of the man they had pursued for so long. He was not sure whether they had managed to wound or kill Clifford Connors, leaving him in the saddle of his wandering horse, planned to ambush him further up the trail, or simply decided to abandon their pursuit. One thing he was sure of was that his job was nowhere near over until he found Connors… dead or alive.
The Starshine Kid followed the horse’s tracks along the rolling hills and stream fed meadows toward the east, to a place known by wagon train immigrants as ‘Chuck Wagon Flats’, on account of it being a great open area to stop for a night or two while traveling to the dreamlands of the west. Behind him, about another day’s ride toward the west, those same dreamy-eyed immigrants of the 1860’s found it necessary to cross a dry, rattlesnake infested stretch of washed out lonesome landscape area locals unofficially called the ‘Arroyo Grande’. This would prove to be those early settlers’ final testing grounds, a place to prove their determination to reach the promised land of California with its history of burly fur trappers, gold fever fortune hunters, instant mining millionaires, railway magnates, and a population that was growing faster than a Poplar tree along a riverbank. Many folks these days, however, choose to ride in luxury aboard the trains of the First Transcontinental Railroad that traversed the Donner Pass and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“To ride the Central Pacific Railroad’s train across them mountains to San Francisco,” the Starshine Kid addressed his equine friend, “now that’s a trip to make and San Francisco is a place to see someday.”
The shadows lengthened swiftly as the sun set behind the mountains, and the chill of the evening crept across the horizon like a sheet being pulled over a fresh corpse. Marshal King set up camp near a large cluster of boulders. “Looks like we’ll be beddin’ down right here for the night,” he informed his four-legged companion.
As the Starshine Kid rested his head atop his saddle he could not keep his mind from dreaming of seeing Della once again. He lay there contemplating his future, wondering if the life of a lawman could in any way be compatible with a normal family life. The stars brightened overhead and the fresh smells of the desert plains scented the air. Marshal King slept peacefully until the fragrance of dawn woke him for another day of outlaw hunting and its accompanying unknown dangers.
With the sun rising against his face, Marshal King climbed his mount and continued with his pursuit of Clifford Connors. The beauty of the surrounding nature was enough to distract any normal man, but the Starshine Kid was no normal man. He was a dedicated lawman, a lawman who desired that common folks could settle in the lands of the Americas in peace and in the shadows of a secure environment. Outlaws were an unnecessary infestation, an infestation that required those who had the nerve and determination to rid the land of these types of parasitic annoyances.
Marshal King spent barely half the day trailing the last of the Connors brothers before capturing the outlaw as he napped by a spring in the open daylight. The Marshal had wondered if this was some sort of trap, but the area where Connors napped was as open an area as one could hope for and there was not an Indian or another outlaw in sight.
The ride back to Iron Creek took a day longer than Marshal King had wished, but not any longer than could be expected with a tethered outlaw who possessed a big and noisy mouth. Adam King knew from childhood that it was those with the least to say that talked the most. ‘A fool says all that’s on his mind’ he heard an old Indian tell him many times as a youth, ‘but the wise man waits for the right time to speak’.
Marshal King placed Clifford Connors in the Iron Creek jail early the following morning. The town was without a lawman for the time being and the only individual willing to watch the outlaw was an elderly ranch hand who had volunteered for the task. Adam experienced a feeling of uneasiness as he exited the jailhouse, but when he heard Della’s voice he quickly forgot that telltale sign; an instinctive feeling that builds itself upon years of experience that lawmen possess and is actually an instinctive process of logical deduction. The type of process that occurs when a symphony musician reads and plays a note of music without needing to think consciously of what note is displayed on the music sheet, or the necessary fingering needed for playing that note on their instrument. It is an automatic response.
“I’ve missed you somethin’ fierce,” Adam’s eyes shined.
“Why, Marshal,” Della toyed with her man, “I think you are tryin’ to fluster me a bit.”
The two embraced and shared stories as they walked down the wooden walkway toward the telegraph office. Upon arrival, Marshal King sent a message informing the US Marshals Service of his capture of the last Connors brother, along with supporting information related to the case. Della waited patiently outside.
“Anton sent me a telegram and said you wanted to meet me here, Adam. Was there any special reason for us to meet here?”
The Starshine Kid looked a bit surprised, but he smiled wide and replied, “Your brother told me the same thing… almost. I think he must have planned this reunion to be in this town for some reason or another.”
The two laughed.
“My brother is all well now and headed off to who knows where,” Della informed Adam. “He rode out yesterday evening in fact.”
“He doesn’t seem like the type of man to set roots down anyplace too long now, does he.”
They laughed together again.
Later that evening Adam and Della’s peacefulness was interrupted by an announcement from a man, who looked well trail dusted and overly excited, as he burst through the doors of the saloon and yelled, “The prisoner has escaped and there ain’t no one at the jailhouse! Two horses be missin’ from the livery too!”
* Stay Tuned *
Part 16: Goodbye Again
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