The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 16 of 20
“How long has the jail been empty?” Marshal King inquired of the man in the saloon doorway.
“Ain’t sure, but the livery boy said the horses been a missin’ pert near half the day.”
Marshal King wished he had paid more attention to his gut feeling earlier that day, but now was not the time to wallow in regrets, now was the time to saddle up and pursue his outlaw prey.
“I’ve got to go, Della, forgive me,” Adam said as he stood to leave. “I’ll be back as fast as possible, believe me. I got a real hankering to ask you somethin’... somethin’ important, but now’s just not the time.”
With a look of immense concern adorning her face like an expensive necklace adorns a wealthy woman’s neck, Della responded softly, “Go with God, my love, I’ll be here waiting for your return and that question.”
Marshal King’s horse darted out of the livery as fast as a train carrying a politician after making campaign rounds in an unfriendly town.
An hour’s ride from Iron Creek Marshal King made the grisly discovery of the elderly jailhouse ranch hand’s corpse. It appeared that Clifford Connors had managed to get the man to open his cell’s door, or simply to step too close, and overpowered him, taking him hostage until a time when the elderly man was no longer a necessity.
Marshal King buried the man under some stones for the time being, “He’ll get a proper burial soon,” he mumbled to himself with his hat removed.
Following sign along the trail proved to be a tedious task for the Starshine Kid. Clifford Connors has taken a horse with no distinctive characteristics to its shoe pattern, at least none visible to the trained eye from the distance atop a horse. Marshal King found it necessary to dismount occasionally to check the small details of the horse’s shoe pattern along the busy route that led in and out of Iron Creek. Once the trail ranged far enough away from town the tracks became as visible as a red coat lying on a fresh white snowscape.
Night settled in once again, but Adam continued his pursuit as long as he could, until the darkness precluded his reading of sign.
It’ll be daylight soon, I better get some rest. Marshal King dismounted and rolled out his bedding. He reflected back upon his many hunts for the fugitives of the law and how much time he had spent riding the trails and hills around the towns he had served as Sheriff or Marshal. Now he continued to ride long and far in pursuit of law breakers, a never ending supply of criminal deviants that sprouted up faster than weeds in a well-watered garden; he had spent many a night sleeping out under the stars in lonely places, places without one solitary soul to unburden his inner self to, except his horse, of course.
One particular pursuit filled his mind as he stared up at the stars overhead. That case involved a man and woman who robbed stagecoaches periodically, just outside of a town where he was marshal a few years earlier for a brief time. Adam was simply filling in, on loan in a way, until a new marshal could be recruited for the town. Not one of the investigating locals had noticed that the stage driver was always the same man during the stagecoach robberies. Another detail overlooked was the same lone female passenger who was aboard during every robbery. It did not take the Starshine Kid long to arrive at the probable conclusion that these two victims were in fact the perpetrators of the crimes they reported. After briefly conducting surveillance on the duo, he was able to arrest the two and recover the stolen money and property the pair had hidden in a small cave along the stagecoach route.
Stories to remember, stories that should be told to my own children one day!
The stars crossed the heavens and daybreak neared. A quick fire to make some coffee and warm up some grub was all that was needed before Marshal King mounted his horse to pursue a man that was more annoying than a swarm of hungry desert mosquitos rising from the sagebrush on a hot day.
Spotting some familiar unshod horse tracks, Marshal King dismounted to inspect them closely. Looks like some familiar Indians passed this way, he pondered, three, four hours old… mighty interesting.
Adam scanned the horizon before continuing his quest to recapture Clifford Connors. A quest he would not fear to abandon should trail sign show that some renegade Indians may have beat him to his goal.
Hearing what sounded like the echo of rifle fire in the far distance, Marshal King checked his weapons and gave a slight kick to his horse to speed up his trek. He could not be sure it was rifle fire he had heard, but he knew it was not a natural sound.
The sign left by Connors’ horse winded down through a small, narrow pass between two large boulders that jutted out from the surrounding hills’ dark earth. The path then led to a long sandy stretch of rolling dunes. Connors’ horse, determined by the length of its stride, must have stood thirteen hands high. Not such a large animal, King thought.
Progressing onward, the Starshine Kid soon found the remnants of a smoldering campfire surrounded by numerous footprints… Connors!
He dismounted to check the area, keeping one eye on his surroundings at all times. Why that two-legged coyote, he said to himself as he discovered that not all of the tracks left in the sand belonged to Connors. Looks like you might have met your match.
Connors had entertained some unwanted guests that had hastened the outlaw’s own departure… the renegade Indians that did not take kindly to thieves, the friends of thieves, or the brothers of thieves.
Adam pulled out a shiny new silver dollar from his shirt pocket and said, “Well, Mustang, heads I follow, tails I don’t.” He flipped the coin high into the air and watched its fateful outcome plunge into the sand below his feet. Brushing away the grains he gazed at the coin for a moment before returning it to his pocket.
“Well, let’s be on our way,” he stroked his horse’s neck, “looks like our day ain’t over any time soon.”
“Yeah, I agree,” he said after his horse snorted softly, “I wish we were back at the livery bordin’ you for three cents a night, but we just ain’t. It looks like Connors is in a jam and that he’ll get no comfort from his newly acquired friends. The harshness of an outlaw lifestyle does not feature many comforts, it only reflects its costly toll on the faces of that lifestyle’s patrons.”
Up in his saddle and on his way, Marshal King knew that the trail ahead was likely filled with the thorns of uncertainty and the firebrands of danger.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 17: A Flash in the Shadows
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