The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 17 of 20
A Flash in the Shadows
Upon cresting a sparsely vegetated dune, the Starshine Kid’s horse displayed a peculiar restlessness. Marshal King wondered if a snake may be nearby, but before he could complete his thought a shot rang out, slightly grazing his left shoulder.
“Easy,” he calmed his horse, quickly dismounting and dropping back behind the dune, he and his faithful steed quickly laid flat against the mound’s hot sand.
“Be still, I’ll be alright,” Starshine comforted the beast, as he removed his rifle and crawled slowly to the dune’s crest to gain some insight as to the shooter’s location and identity.
He determined that the only vantage point where the shooter could have stationed themselves was a small cluster of rocks about five hundred yards to the southeast. He marveled at the unknown marksman’s prowess to pull off a shot like that so quickly, They must have been waitin’.
Without a person or creature in sight, Marshal King quickly mounted his horse with rifle in hand and raced directly for the cluster of rocks. He felt that a straight on confrontation was far better than dragging out some long shootout for hours under the rays of the hot sun. Upon arrival he was surprised to discover nothing except a pair of boot prints and a set of mule tracks. Another one hundred yards onward and down a steep, thin trail, lay the debris of what was clearly a prospector’s mining endeavors alongside what appeared to be a small seasonal creek.
“I’m a US Marshal,” Adam announced himself. “C’mon out, now. I ain’t gonna hurt you and I ain’t got no mind to jump your claim.”
Marshal King carefully made his way down the trail, a trail definitely suited for the dexterity of a mule.
“Go on, I don’t need no marshal for nothin’,” a voice shouted from behind a large rock. A mule stood tethered nearby, glancing around peacefully, unaware of any commotion.
Marshal King sheathed his rifle and dismounted. Walking slowly toward the rock where the mysterious man hid himself, he said softly, “I know it was you that done the shootin’, but no harm’s been done.” Seeing a smoldering kettle a stone’s throw to the left of the rock, he continued, “I could sure use me a cup of sweet sagebrush tea or even some coffee, that bein’ if you got any extra.”
Poking his head out from behind the rock for the first time, the old miner replied gruffly, “I ain’t got no coffee, but I can muster us up a cup or two of tea.”
The man was a small, thin fellow who looked as though he’d spent all of his life, and half of another, living in the wilderness. Wrinkles lined his face like green cash lined the pockets of a dishonest city official. One could see that the man was strong, hard, and ready for anything that may come his way, good or bad.
Turning to tie his horse to a small tree, Starshine responded, “Mighty fine, mighty fine.”
“The name’s Red, folks be callin’ me Red since I was a youngen’,” the crusty bearded man announced. “It bein’ because of my red hair and all. And how my cheeks be red all the time.”
“Well, Red, I’m Marshal Adam King, and it’s mighty hospitable of you, I might say, to serve me some tea. I be in debt to ya. Mind if I have me a seat here?” The Starshine Kid sat on a small block of wood.
“Don’t never mind me where a man sits or don’t sit.”
Joining the Marshal with a pair of rusty cups full of sweet sagebrush tea, the elderly man apologized, “I rightly had no inkling that you be a US Marshal and all. There be some shady folks come around tryin’ to get my claim from time to time, so I ain’t none too careful. I thought you might be part of a group of Injuns that was by earlier with some white fella.”
“Injuns?” Starshine sipped his tea calmly. Adam had always resented this derogatory term, but such was the language of the times. He hoped that one day folks would maintain more respect for the native peoples of the Americas.
The man narrowed his eyes, “Yes, sir. I hid myself and old Bertha, that’s my mule, when I saw them Injuns comin’. They had a mind to just take shots at my camp and my stuff. No reason other than to shoot the place up.”
“What’s this world comin’ to when a man can’t trust an Injun?”
The old man smiled for the first time and the two laughed.
“You be right, I reckon, Marshal. I mean what can I expect out here all alone? Well, I gots me Bertha, but… you know.”
Marshal King poured another cup of tea and replied, “Yep, I been doin’ a lot of thinkin’ on that lately, my friend. Out here trailin’ outlaws alone, well… that’s not the kind of life to be livin’ all a man’s born days.”
“I weren’t always alone, I was married once, Marshal. A might fine gal she was.”
“Really? If ya don’t me a askin’ what happened to the fine lady?”
Red’s eyes saddened and moved back and forth for a moment before he answered, “She had a mind to move on in life. Found herself another man and went onward to one of the big cities. She wanted a city life and I ain’t got me no love for all that noise and all them folks moseying around all over the place.”
The Starshine Kid felt sorry for the old miner. He removed his hat and wiped his forehead with his kerchief before asking, “How long did your marriage last?”
Red looked up smiling and with a loud laugh replied, “’Bout as long as my supply of full whiskey bottles did.”
The two trail-weary men laughed together. Each knew that life takes its toll on those who live it.
“Anyway, Red,” the Starshine Kid stood, “I am a wonderin’ if you got a mind to point me in the direction of where those Indians and white man were a headin’?”
The elderly miner stood and pointed off toward the southern horizon, “Right thataway, Marshal.”
Opening his saddlebag Marshal King removed his supply of jerky and handed it to the elderly miner, “I think this might be of some use to you, Red.”
Looking shocked and grateful, Red said, “That be mighty kind of you, Marshal, mighty kind.”
With the fresh dust his horse kicked up behind him, the Starshine Kid headed south toward the horizon, a horizon filled with unknown mysteries and dangers.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 18: Up To My Neck
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