Lawrence Jones walked into his office at the New York Daily Tribune and picked up a note that was positioned on his desk begging for his attention. “I want to see you now.” His boss demanded.
Lawrence dutifully went not really expecting what he was about to hear, from the founder of the Trib, Horace Greeley. “Lawrence… I have an exciting assignment for you.”
Lawrence thought to himself. “I just know he’s gonna send me outside of the city, to cover a story that nobody will read once I write it.”
“Lawrence come over here and sit down.” Greeley demanded, holding a mostly puffed down cigar in his usual not so pleasant manner. “You’re heading to California my boy, mostly by train. I received a letter from a longtime friend of mine who used to be with the paper, he now lives in Barstow, California.”
Lawrence looked somewhat amazed, “You’re asking me to go to California? To cover a story? And most importantly are you going to cover all my expenses?”
Responding quickly Horace explained to Lawrence what this was all about, “The answer is yes to all of your questions. Now let me tell you why I think this story has merit. There seems to be a lot of attention being given to a prospector named Gusty, who works pretty much around the Calico mountains. It happens to be, not too far out of the town of Barstow. There’s a train station there so you will be able to disembark. How you get out into the desert and meet Gusty, well I leave that up to your clever ingenuity.”
After looking at Lawrence’s expression, Horace developed sheepish smirk, which he wasn’t necessarily known for. Horace, no doubt was thinking about the popular phrase he coined, “Go West young man.” A slogan which Horace Greeley took great pride in.
Lawrence thought to himself, “Is this some sort of joke?” He certainly wanted to know why he was going to travel from New York City to little town in the Mojave Desert. “What’s so special about a prospector in the middle of nowhere… who no doubt lives with a mule.”
“This is the fascinating part,” Horace replied. “This miner, or should I say prospector, because I don’t really know if he ever staked a claim, has been telling anyone who would listen to him, that he’s been getting visits by some sort of flying contraption. These visits show up in the middle of the night, and you’re right about the jackass part, her name happens to be Bonnie.”
“I’m still not sure what’s so interesting about this story,” Lawrence asked.
“Well here’s what I know so far… this prospector, Gusty, claims these visitors steal his artworks.
Now Lawrence was smirking somewhat condescendingly at what he was hearing. “So now you’re telling me that a prospector who has visitors from somewhere in the galaxy is complaining that they are stealing his artworks?”
“Yes! That’s what I’m telling you.”
Somewhat bemused and sarcastic. Lawrence holding back his snickering, fired back at Horace. “Here’s a prospector that lives in the middle of nowhere, with a jackass, claims that he is getting visitors from outer space. And they’re stealing his art collection. I suppose next you are going to tell me he has an art collection worth thousands of dollars. That he manages to tie on to Bonnie the mule, and that he enjoys his masterpieces by carefully placing them around the campfire to keep him company at night.”
“Maybe… but here’s more of the story.” Horace explained, now having a firm expression on his face.
“Apparently this prospector has quite a gift for rendering what he sees out in that desert. He uses chalk and some pastels. His art became popular in the town of Calico, which in turn was seen by some high-falutin collectors and gallery owners in Los Angeles. These gentrified folks are no doubt taking advantage of this poor old soul. But this is what I’m looking for Lawrence, I want you to go out and meet this guy, Gusty. Find out what’s really going on with these flying machines and his story about how they are swindling him out of his art.”
Weeks later Lawrence Jones gets off the train in Barstow, California and takes a room at a local boarding house. He then went to haberdashery to pick up some clothes, to make him fit in with the locals. Lawrence then started the investigative process that he was trained for, and that he happened to be really good at. Digging up the facts and the truth about this whole business with Gusty, his art, and these crazy notions that he has about visitors coming from the stars and pilfering his drawings. It took some doing but Lawrence managed to get a ride on a wagon loaded with lumber heading to the town of Calico. Once he arrived, he asked various folks around the town about the prospector Gusty. Virtually everybody in that town knew him. Lawrence discovered that actually some of his drawings resided on the walls at the hotel and various saloons. Lawrence negotiated for room and started to dig up as much information as he could about this prospector and of course his mule.
It took every bit of a week before Gusty wandered into town. A fellow at the blacksmith shop pointed him out to Lawrence. It didn’t take long before gusty turned his mule into the stable and headed over to his favorite saloon, to no doubt quench his hot dry mouth and throat from all the dust that seemed to permeate the area when there was the slightest breeze.
Lawrence followed Gusty into the saloon and asked him if he would join him for a drink over on one of the tables. Gusty who was always up for a free drink replied “Sure, but who the hell are you?”
It wasn’t long before Lawrence told Gusty the whole story of why he was there. Gusty, swirled down another beer and started to laugh. “That’s a hell of a trip and a hell of an idea your boss had to send you all away out here just to interview a desert rat of a prospector.”
“Yeah; I suppose it is, but the more I thought about your story as I traveled out here, the more intrigued I became.” Lawrence replied.
“Well what do you want to know young man?” Gusty asked Lawrence, while he shouted over to the bartender to bring him another beer and this time with a shot of whiskey on the side.
Lawrence took out a notebook and pencil. He started by asking Gusty, “What does this flying machine look like?”
“It looks like the plate I eat my beans on, it just seems to come from nowhere, hangs around for a while, not really touching the ground.” Gusty went on, while Lawrence was rapidly taking notes. At this point Lawrence decided to not ask questions and just let Gusty ramble on anyway he chose.
Gusty looked up at the ceiling as if he were looking up and a starlit night and went on. “This visitor has been showing up off and on for the last several years, maybe seven or more. He’s a pretty odd looking fellow, stringy with a big head and big bug like eyes, not much of a mouth to speak up.”
“How does he talk to you?” Lawrence asked.
“Don’t know exactly how his questions just seem to pop into my head. And for some reason… damned if I know why… I hear what he is saying. He tells me to hand over some of my drawings, I generally argue with him. What are you going to give me in return? I don’t give these things away to just anybody you know. He always tells me to stop searching for silver and start to look for a mineral “IT” calls “Colemanite” he says if you do, you will become rich.”
“I don’t know what Colemanite is, do you Gusty?” Lawrence asked.
“I heard from a feller over at the Rhyolite digs in Nevada that it’s becoming a valuable ore, mostly found near Furnace Creek in Death Valley, I ain’t going out there… no way.”
“Why do you suppose these oddities come down from the heavens and steal your art?” Lawrence asked.
“I’ll be damned if I know. My kinfolk back East, if any of them are still alive, may get to read about me, in some newspaper somewhere.”
Lawrence laughed. “I can assure you Gusty, my newspaper will print this story and other newspapers will pick it up, so before long you will be known in most of the cities around the country.”
Gusty started laughing loudly, everyone in the saloon turned their heads to see what got poor old Gusty so giddy. “I’m going to become famous you all, just wait and see.
“What is your given name Gusty, and where are you originally from?” Lawrence asked.
“I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska my parents named me Gusty for no good reason that I’m aware of. The family’s last name was Kincaid.”
Lawrence told gusty that Omaha had quite a history, Lewis and Clark spent time there on their journey to the Pacific Coast.
“No kidden, who the hell was Lewis and Clark anyway?” Gusty spoke mostly out of curiosity and was somewhat embarrassed, thinking that he should know who they were.
Lawrence told Gusty, “It’s really not important…that happened long before my time I just read about it in a book.
“Lawrence looking at Gusty’s facial expressions added, “I’m going to be heading back to New York in a few days, but I would like to ask you this one important question before I go.”
Leaning over the table and looking Lawrence dead in the eye Gusty said “Give it your best shot boy.”
“Is this story of yours Gusty a bunch of bull that you made up all by yourself sitting next to the fire, back in the hills of Calico? Or did Bonnie your mule, whisper it into your ear’s one of those lonely nights after you finished off a bottle of whiskey?”
“Well… if I did make it up, it must be a good yarn— to get Mr. Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune to send a reporter all the way out here to interview a prospector. That prospector on most occasions doesn’t have enough money to feed himself, let alone his mule. I make no money from my prospecting. What little money I live on comes from the sale of my sketches. But I’m sure I could make more money if that big eyed, skinny varmint looking creature that comes a calling in the middle of night would pay me for my sketches instead of sneaking off with them when I’m not looking.”
Lawrence was satisfied that this was a pretty tall tale that could not be completely made up in the mind of this folksy frontier prospector. When he got back to New York he submitted the story as if it were factual. Horace Greeley decided to let the story run as it was reported. Gusty Kincaid did gain notoriety, which in turn made his sketches more valuable. He later moved to Redlands, California where he lived out the rest of his life cherishing a scrapbook filled with pictures and articles written about him.
Extraterrestrials may be just like magpies and bowerbirds who collect trinkets and baubles to decorate their nests. After all, visitors from other planets have learned one thing about our species, no matter what our position in life is, we often create authentic and original pieces of art. Theorists suggest that maybe these extraterrestrials are not above stealing; after all… how in the hell would you ever catch them, they’re here one minute and gone the next. Only to be reported by individuals sighting them in the middle of the night on a lonely road in the Mojave Desert, near the ghost town of Calico.
Copyright 2020 © Rod Jones artist-writer