Summary: Starsky and Hutch are in uncharted territory when they have to solve a murder on the rodeo circuit.
Category: Starsky & Hutch
Word Count: 12,022
ACT ONE – SCENE ONE
“WHERE’S YOUR PARTNER, HUTCHINSON?”
“Oh, he’s on his way captain.” The blonde cop answered calmly.
“He better get his act together damn it!”
“He’s just gassing up the car. No need to get upset.”
“UPSET! I’m not upset!”
“Then why are you shouting… look here he is.”
Hutch sat on the edge of his desk quietly perusing the morning paper. He noticed his partner in the hallway and pointed at him with his coffee cup as he entered the squad room. Starsky stuffed a chocolate iced donut into his mouth and noisily licked his thumb and forefinger. He hummed as he swaggered toward his desk.
“Mornin’.” He greeted cheerfully, oblivious to Captain Dobey’s ire.
He took his place in his chair and tucked himself under the desk – the feet screeched across the linoleum like fingernails on a chalkboard. He clutched a grease-stained paper bag that held several more breakfast treats. Hutch winced when he saw it, disgusted at Starsky’s choice for his first meal of the day. The curly-haired detective reached back awkwardly for the coffeepot that was on the counter behind him. He balanced the chair on its back legs and poured himself a cup. It wasn’t until he took a sip that he noticed his audience.
“What?” He said innocently.
“Where the hell have you been?” Dobey asked – his hands on his hips like a principal scolding a pupil.
“Ah, well, captain… I was, ah…” He looked over at Hutch who tried to charade the filling of a gas tank. “…umm, I was pouring… I was watering…” He strained to decipher what his partner was covertly acting out. He scrunched his face with puzzlement and cocked his head to try again. “I was watering … my plants?” He sounded unsure.
Hutch stared blankly at the wall then rolled his eyes – disappointed that Starsky hadn’t clued-in to his mime.
“You were gassing up the car turkey.” Hutch sighed.
“Yeah. Dats it. I was gassing up the car Cap.” He laser-beamed a smile at his boss.
“You two are worse than my kids.” Dobey confessed.
“What?” Starsky shrugged. “What did I do?”
“I am? Late for what?”
“GET IN MY OFFICE!” The burly captain blared. “AND DON’T SLAM THE DOOR!”
“Okay, okay.” Starsky said as he swallowed a large bite of donut and wiped his hands on his pants. “What’s with him?”
“I guess Edith forgot to pack his Twinkies?” Hutch jabbed as he precariously placed his cup on a stack of files and approached Dobey’s office.
“Tragic.” Starsky chuckled. “Just tragic.”
The two men settled in the seats in front of the captain’s desk and felt like they were about to be sentenced to after school detention. They waited patiently for him to get off the phone. They glanced at one another wondering what was up. When Dobey finally hung up, he folded his hands on his desk blotter.
“Got an under cover assignment for you two delinquents.”
“Delinquents?” Starsky protested. “Ah, come on captain. We put in our time.”
“I WANT YOU HERE WHEN YOUR SHIFT BEGINS! NOT half way through.” Dobey barked. “Is THAT too much to ask?”
The twosome shook their heads and smirked.
“DON’T PATRONIZE ME!”
“Whatsa matter Cap? You on a diet or something? You always get a little irritable when you’re on a diet.”
“NO! I’M NOT ON A DIET.”
“Well, don’t you think you should be?” Starsky glanced over at Hutch for a reaction to his comment. He didn’t get one.
“LISTEN! I’M DOING JUST FINE. Better than you’re bony ass.”
“Captain?” Hutch asked quietly, uninterested in the exchange.
“I hate to interrupt, but what’s the assignment?” Hutch’s voice was so smooth it hung in mid air like a balloon. It instantly calmed his boss.
“Somebody’s killing cowboys.” He responded squarely.
“Cowboys?” Starsky replied perplexed, biting into his second donut.
“On the rodeo circuit.”
“WHAT WORD DIDN’T YOU UNDERSTAND STARSKY?” Dobey stared at the detective impatiently and paused before continuing. “First one in Stockton two weekends ago. Then in Bakersfield on the 31st and last night in Culver City.”
“Oh.” Starsky said simply. “That rodeo circuit.”
“THAT’S YOUR TURF.”
“What… the rodeo?”
“NO! Culver City.”
“Yes it is captain.” Hutch kept his satin-like tone. “What do you want us to do?”
“You, Hutchinson, are going undercover as a cowboy and you Starsky,” Dobey cracked a cock-eyed grin, “a rodeo clown.”
“HEY!” The dark haired cop objected like a two-bit lawyer. “How come he gets to be a cowboy?” He sat up right in his seat and pointed at Hutch who chortled under his breath.
“Hutch has some horse experience.” Dobey stated.
“Yes he does. Don’t you Hutchinson?”
“Ah, yeah.” Hutch straightened up. “I spent my summer’s on my Uncle Al’s farm when I was a kid. I told you about that Starsk.”
“THAT was a dairy farm!”
“Horse, cow… same thing?”
“They both have four legs and hooves. What more do I need to know.”
“You don’t ride a cow, Hutch.” Starsky argued. “See captain. Goes to show you how much he knows about horses or cows for that matter.”
“And just how much do you know about them Starsky?” Dobey asked as he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.
“Well… I know what they look like.”
“Like I said.” Dobey resolved, “Hutch is going undercover as the cowboy and you are going under cover as a clown. Besides, Hutch looks like a cowboy. You don’t look like a cowboy, you look like…”
“A clown.” Hutch finished Dobey’s sentence.
“He’s a natural.” The captain proclaimed of the waspy detective.
“The only thing natural about him is his hair and I’m still not sure about that.”
“Whatsa matter Starsk? Don’t you think you’ll make a good rodeo clown? Pretty dangerous stuff you know. Mad bulls charging at you. Keep you on your toes.” Hutch stated still chuckling.
Starsky looked at his comrade like a deer in the headlights. He swallowed hard – his Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down. He turned a putrid shade of gray and a slight coating of dew covered his face. His gut flipped.
“You okay Starsk? You don’t look so good.”
The swarthy cop fell back into his chair knowing his argument was lost. He crossed his arms in a huff. He always wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up. His chin rested on his chest as Dobey continued to give Hutch instructions.
“Justin Webber at the BCPD equestrian unit is going to give you a crash course on hazing Hutch.”
“Crash course is right.” Starsky muttered.
“He’ll set you up with whatever gear you need.”
“Hazing? What the hell is hazing?” Hutch asked.
“HOW THE HELL SHOULD I KNOW? Do I look like a cowboy to you?”
“Nope. No you don’t captain. Got the file on the victims?”
“Yes.” Dobey passed him the paperwork. “Three victims. Troy Donaldson in Stockton, Steve McConnell in Bakersfield and last night Dylan Overbeck.”
“Cause of death?”
“Coroner says Donaldson and McConnell were poisoned. The toxicology hasn’t come back yet on Overbeck.”
“Okay.” Hutch corroborated. “We’re on our way.”
“HEY!” Starsky piped up. “Wait just one lovely moment here. What about me?”
“What about you Starsky?” Captain Dobey responded coldly.
“What about my training and my gear?” He questioned feeling left out.
“I’m sure Constable Webber can help you too.”
“Oh.” Starsky digressed. “Thanks… I think.”
The men stood and turned to leave.
“Oh and Starsky?”
“Yes captain?” He tore off another morsel of donut.
“Don’t forget your big red nose and Bozo wig.”
“You know…” Starsky retorted with disdain. “Playing bait for raging bulls is not exactly a walk in the park. As a matter of fact its down right dangerous. I could get killed!”
“No you won’t.” Dobey encouraged. “That bony ass of yours can move pretty fast when it has to.”
“Let’s go Clara Bell.” Hutch said as he tugged on Starsky’s sleeve.
“Is this what I’ve got to put up with now? Clown jokes?”
“Fraid so.” Hutch shrugged – his smile widening as he held the door open for his partner to pass through.
“Terrific. Just terrific.”
ACT ONE – SCENE TWO
Los Angeles blistered under the sun of midday. It sparkled off the hood of Starsky’s double-waxed, red Torino like a diamond in a jeweler’s showcase. It made Hutch squint until his eyes were slits. He reached for his sunglasses and slipped them on. Starsky drove in silence, still in a huff – destination, the BCPD Equine Center.
“Oh come on Starsky. If I could, I’d be the rodeo clown, but I’m just not as fast as you are.” Hutch patronized.
“If I wanted to run with the bulls I’d go to Spain.” The dark detective droned.
“It’ll be fun.”
“Well, sure.” Hutch encouraged.
“Being chased by an incensed, snotty nosed, 1500 pound bull through mud and manure may be your idea of fun Hutch, but it sure ain’t mine.”
“You’re doing me a favour though buddy.” The platinum cop divulged in an attempt to puff up his partner’s ego.
“Favour? What favour?”
“You’re saving my neck.”
“You are far more agile then me Starsk. I WOULD get killed out there. You know better than any one that I’m a bit of a klutz. Those bulls would make short work of me but not you. They’ll never catch you. No way.” Hutch waved his hand flatly across his chest with confidence. He winked and nodded at the same time.
“You are so full of crap.”
“Crap? Why… whatever do you mean?” Hutch sounded British.
“Don’t give me that ‘you’re faster then me’ shit.”
“I know when I’m being set-up. I’m not stupid.”
“I never said you were Starsk. There’s no set-up. What are you talking about?”
“Oh please. Spare me the condescension.” Starsky said with disgust. “You just sit up there on your nice white horse, with your nice shiny boots and your brand new hat – and I’ll do the dirty work like I always do.”
Normally, Hutch would have jumped all over that comment but decided to let it go this time. The last thing he wanted to do was trade assignments with his partner. He really DID want to be a cowboy when he grew up and wasn’t about to loose this opportunity. No, he swallowed his pride and grinned covertly. Nothing more was said between the two men until they arrived at the Mounted Police Equine Center.
ACT ONE – SCENE THREE
The mews were spotless and obviously well managed. The air was fragrant with the smell of sweet hay and cedar-shavings. Starsky and Hutch wandered down the center isle that was floored with rounded, red brick. The maple-lined stalls were spacious and occupied by very large, extremely well kept horses. They poked their heads out to sniff the new comers. Hutch reached to pat the forehead of one as he passed. Starsky on the other hand, veered clear of the curious beasts, seemingly afraid of them. He did not possess Hutch’s comfort level when it came to livestock.
Several young people milled about tending to the animals – sweeping and watering. They were obviously students who just loved being in the company of horses and would do just about anything to be there. One of the teens had a horse in cross-ties and puttered about the bay, grooming her happily. Hutch approached and curled his forearm around the horse’s head and bushed her velvety nose gently. Starsky watched his partner with envy. He wished he had his confidence.
“She’s a beauty.” Hutch gushed. “She belong to you?”
“I wish.” The pretty girl answered sweetly. “She’s a police horse. Someday I’ll have one of my own.”
“Do you want to be a police officer too?”
“Don’t like the fuzz.”
“Ah. I see.” Hutch winked.
Starsky smiled charmingly at her then gave Hutch a sly smirk. The nudging of a gelding that decided his leather jacket was fodder distracted him. Starsky pulled away suddenly, spooking the horse. He gave the steed a dirty look as he felt his shoulder only to find a puddle of slim left behind by the horse’s cud.
“Eeeooych.” Starsky spat wiping the mess on his pants. “That horse just attacked me.” He pointed accusingly.
The girl giggled at the cop’s expression. Hutch ignored him.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where Officer Webber is would you?” The blonde detective asked still holding the mare’s massive head.
“Sure. He’s in the office down by the arena. Just go down to the end of this hallway and turn right. It’s the door at the very end.”
“No problem mister.” She answered pleasantly then resumed her duties.
“Nice horse.” Hutch mentioned as he and Starsky meandered toward the arena. He pointed back at the animal with his thumb over his shoulder. His partner still tried to rid his hand and shoulder of hay juice.
“Yeah, nice and big.” Starsky sounded skeptical.
“Yep, they’re big alright. But they don’t know that.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, horses aren’t the sharpest nail in the horseshoe Starsk.” He laughed at his own pun.
“Oh? And how do you know that?”
“Just the fact that an animal like that would allow man to tame it. You know, let itself be ridden.” Hutch philosophized using his hands to make his point more dramatic. “Allow itself to be ruled by something less powerful.”
“Well, did you ever think that maybe that’s what makes it so smart? Maybe, the horse is so intelligent because it likes the companionship and the partnership it has with man. Maybe, it enjoys working and doing a good job. Maybe, it’s so intelligent it gets bored just standing around in a field and needs the mental stimuli to keep it happy. Besides they eat a lot better in captivity. Maybe they allowed themselves to be tamed so they could be cared for and well fed. Now, THAT’S intelligent. Did you ever think of that?”
“Well… no.” Hutch said amazed at his partner’s insight actually stopping to face him. “But you obviously have.”
“You’re not the only intellectual in this partnership pal. I went to college too you know.”
“Yes. I know that Starsky. I just had no idea you gave that sort of thing any …”
“Any what? Any thought?”
“Well, I do. I think about a lot of stuff I don’t necessarily talk about with you. I can be sensitive too.”
“Humph.” Hutch breathed somewhat vexed.
“Now let’s find this guy Webber and get out to Culver City before they move to the next town. The suspense of dodging bulls is killing me.”
Starsky continued to walk toward the arena, leaving Hutch standing with his mouth agape. Finally, absorbing the deep conversation he’d just exchanged with his partner, Hutch jogged to catch up to him. They walked side-by-side down to the office – Starsky grinning with satisfaction.
ACT ONE – SCENE FOUR
“Justin Webber?” Hutch asked after tapping on the door of the stable office.
“Yep. That’s me.”
“We’re detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. Captain Dobey sent us down for some training.”
“Oh yeah. Good to meet you two boys.” Officer Webber stood to greet them – his hand outstretched. “We’ve got everything ready for you. Which one of you is the cowboy?”
“That would be me.”
“Okay detective Starsky.”
“No, no. I’m Hutchinson… he’s Starsky.” The blonde detective corrected.
“Oh. Sorry. Anyway, we’ve got a good sound gelding picked out for you. A veteran hazing horse. He won’t give you any trouble. He knows what to do.”
“Great!” Hutch said before pausing. “Hazing? Ummm – just what exactly is that?”
“He’s the cowboy that keeps the steer straight out of the shoot so he can be roped. There’s a lot of freelance hazers out there. It’s a perfect cover.”
“OH!” Hutch sounded relieved. “Hazing. Yeah… hazing. Okay. I can do that.”
“It’s not as easy as it looks. Shane will do his job which will help a green rookie like you.”
“You just make sure you hold on tight. They go like a bat out of hell when that shoot opens. Just about give you wipe lash if you’re not ready for it. Just lean forward, give him lots of rein, raise yourself out of the saddle a bit and enjoy the ride.” Officer Webber described with a devious chuckle.
“Okay.” Hutch didn’t sound as sure now.
“So… you’re the sucker they chose to go under cover as a rodeo clown, huh?”
“Sucker?” Starsky gulped.
“Most dangerous job in a rodeo. But most important too.”
“Yes sir. They are crazy sons-o-bitches. Have their fair share of the four “B’s””
“The four “B’s”?” Starsky gulped again.
“Bulls, broncs and broken bones.”
The curly-haired detective glanced over at Hutch for sympathy or rescue but only received a brow-raised shrug. He returned his attention to Officer Webber. Starsky’s neck had disappeared by this point and his head seemed to rest directly atop his shoulders. He looked dazed – in disbelief of what lay ahead.
“So… who’s going to show me what to do?” Starsky forced the question – his voice cracking under the pressure.
“Rodeo clowns rely a lot on survival instinct but Robert can show you some tricks that will save your ass from used like a bowling ball.”
“Great… I think.” Again Starsky looked to his partner, scrunching his face at the prospect of being tossed.
“Let’s get to work then eh boys? You’ve got a tough afternoon ahead. Hope you two are in some kinda shape.”
Officer Webber exited the tiny office that smelled of well-oiled leather and burnt coffee. The twosome watched him leave. Both seemed reluctant to follow.
“Come on Starsk. Let’s go.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Hutch. I’m not sure about this. I got a bad feeling.” He was starting to feel nauseous. “I think I’m going to hand in my resignation. I don’t want to be a cop anymore.”
“Oh grow up will ya. Let’s go.”
“Well… okay… but if this bony ass gets punctured it’s your fault.”
“I’ll take care of ya buddy.”
“Where have I heard that before.”
ACT TWO – SCENE ONE
The two detectives were outfitted with an entire rig. It gave the elusion they were a pair of traveling freelance cowboys. It included a fairly new pick-up truck and horse trailer complete with horse.
Hutch was given all the gear he needed – chaps, hat, boots, spurs, and tack. The only thing lacking was confidence, something that seemed to be waning since his training session the day before.
He spent much of his lesson on his butt looking up at Shane who looked down at him as if he was an amateur. The Pinto had his number all right. Officer Webber had certainly put Hutch through his paces. Hutch did okay according to his teacher but had his eyes opened to the art of hazing. He kept telling himself that practice made perfect… he hoped. The rest he would have to make up as he went along. He was so sore he could barely crawl in behind the steering wheel of the pick-up.
Starsky on the other hand was in worse shape. He too was feeling his aching muscles. He’d been forced to run around an arena for several hours in deep dirt, which was like wading through sand with wet socks. His thighs felt like tree trunks that were still rooted. He’d only faced a guy running at him with a phony pair of steer horns but he’d never been through a workout quite so brutal. He was given tips on how to avoid being killed – something he was assured would come in handy.
Hutch had picked up his partner at dawn and they headed out to the rodeo site.
“Starsky… what exactly are you eating?”
“A cheese and pickle sandwich.”
“A cheese and pickle sandwich…” Hutch repeated with disgust.
“… for breakfast.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but what kind of cheese?”
“Starsky, Cheez Whiz is NOT cheese.”
“Oh no? What is it then?”
“It’s processed milk solids with lots of added sodium and nitrates that a human should not eat.”
“Tastes good to me.” Starsky chewed gleefully.
“Just for laughs, what kind of pickle did you slap on there?” Hutch looked over at the sandwich with a sour expression. Starsky sheltered it possessively, afraid it might be taken away from him.
“I don’t know… some kinda sweet pickle I think.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Just wondering?” Hutch shrugged.
“Yeah… go ahead.”
“What ever possessed you to put fake cheese and a pickle between two slices of week old bread?”
“It was the only thing I had in the house to eat.”
“And what exactly did you eat for breakfast Hutch… one of those whipped liver and sea weed shakes?”
“I can’t think of anything more grotesque than that concoction of ground up animal organs and powdered bottom feeders you drink everyday.”
“I’ll tell you one thing Starsk.” Hutch resolved as he picked up speed to merge onto the highway.
“If I was going to be chased around by really, really angry bulls tonight like you are… I’d be much better off with my nutritious breakfast than your poor excuse for one.”
“Oh is that right?”
“Well, if I’m going to have a last meal, at least it will have some flavour.”
“You got me their Starsk.”
The twosome then rode in silence, both nervous of what lay ahead. Neither one had really pondered the murder case they’d been assigned to investigate, but rather how to keep themselves out of the morgue. They had read over the files of the three cowboys that had been killed, but that was about it. There wasn’t much to read anyway. Three men dead by mysterious circumstances – all three poisoned. End of story. Starsky and Hutch definitely had their work cut out for them – in more ways then one.
Hutch took the off ramp toward the Culver City Fairgrounds where the rodeo had staked itself for the remainder of the week.
“Hutch!” Starsky squawked with irritation. “Do you have to hit EVERY pot hole? I’m trying to put on my make-up.”
“Well, maybe you should have put your face on before I picked you up darling.” Hutch yammered like a hen pecked husband.
“Ha.” Starsky faked a laugh. “You were early or I would have.”
“I was right on time. YOU were late as usual.”
“Bitch, bitch, bitch.” Starsky muttered.
“Why are you putting on your clown make-up anyway? It’s hours before the rodeo and we haven’t even been hired yet.”
“Practicing huh?” Hutch said as he pulled into the participant’s parking lot behind the arena stands.
“Well, I think you should practice running. Your make-up is the least of your worries old buddy. Let’s find the manager and get ourselves into the this game.”
Hutch firmly put his cowboy hat on, grinned at his partner and was about to disembark the truck when Starsky stopped him. He grabbed his arm, squeezing it tightly taking Hutch by surprise.
“I really… really don’t want to do this.” Starsky whimpered.
“I told you. You’re going to be just fine. I watched you yesterday. You’re good. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“You know they gave me a full set of pads. A chest protector and shoulder pads and knee pads. THIS IS SERIOUS!”
“I know it is. I have to wear a vest too. It’s just standard equipment.”
“You wouldn’t lie to me wouldja?”
“Starsky.” Hutch gently stated. “Have I ever lied to you before?”
“No. But there’s always a first time.”
ACT TWO – SCENE TWO
“Hot enough for ya?” Came a welcoming voice from across the parking lot.
An older man approached Starsky and Hutch with his hand outstretched.
“Howdy!” Hutch blurted as he guided Shane back out of the trailer.
“Howdy?” Starsky chastised with the roll of the eyes.
Hutch ignored him.
“Where you boys from?” The Walter Brennan lookalike asked.
“Ah… we’re just in from the Texas circuit.” Starsky explained. “Nothing going on down there so me and my partner here decided to give California a try. Got any jobs for hazers or clowns?”
“Great.” Starsky fabricated some enthusiasm. His dried upper lip stuck to his front tooth.
“You must be the clown.” The man pointed at Starsky.
The observation made Hutch chuckle.
“How’d you know that?” The dark-haired detective asked with an insulted tone.
“You still got some make-up on.”
“Nice Paint you’ve got there son.” The man diverted his attention to Hutch.
“Paint?” He asked.
“You’re horse. He’s a beauty.”
“Oh. Yeah. Ain’t he though.”
Again, Starsky rolled his eyes at Hutch’s attempt at cowboy slang.
“Once you boys get settled, you can go register in barn number two. Maggie will take care of you. Glad to have you aboard.”
Hutch successfully unloaded his steed and tossed him some hay and filled a bucket full of water. He gave Shane a comforting pat on the shoulder as Starsky confronted him.
“Howdy? Ain’t he though?” He jabbed.
“Pouring it on a little thick aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Can’t you just talk normal?”
“I am talking normal.”
“Come on.” Starsky gave Hutch a little push toward the barn. “Let’s get this over with.”
ACT TWO – SCENE THREE
The August sun simmered like a pot of over spiced chili. There was a heat wave beginning to boil and it only added to the pair’s angst. They sauntered toward the barn to sign-in bantering all the way. Subliminally, it was their way of comforting each other. At this point it was all they had to keep them on an even keel. They were in over their heads with no way out.
They entered the cool darkness of the barn and stood momentarily to let their eyes adjust. Hutch steered Starsky to a lone table where a middle aged, overly plump lady sat. She watched the men approach.
“Can I help you boys?”
“You surely can ma’am.” Hutch said tipping his hat forcing yet another adverse reaction from Starsky.
“I’m Ken Hutcher and this here’s my partner Dave Starr. I’m a hazer looking for a steer roper and he’s a rodeo clown. Y’all be needn’ a hazer or a clown?”
“Where you boys from?”
“Well,” She gave the men the once over. “…they sure do build handsome men in Texas don’t they.”
Starsky and Hutch both sniffed with embarrassment. They smiled shyly.
“Ah shoot. My mama thinks I’m purdy but I’m not so sure about the young ladies.” Hutch gushed.
“Oh brother.” Starsky murmured under his breath. “Will you please.” He sighed.
Hutch cleared his throat and asked again about the jobs.
“Let me take a look here sugar.” She put on her bifocals and perused the sheet with a very long, bright pink, polished fingernail. “As a matter of fact, one of our clowns is in the hospital. So we will be needing another one. You’re timing couldn’t be better sweet cakes.”
“Hospital?” Starsky asked with trepidation.
“Yeah. Poor guy.”
“Why’s he in the hospital?”
“Oh.” Starsky glanced at Hutch with relief.
“What about hazer’s? Anybody need a hazer?” Hutch asked as he cocked his head to check the list.
“Billy Sweeny needs one. So does Donny Drake.”
“Where can I find them two boys ma’am?”
“They are probably at the Flying Bull.”
“The Flying Bull ma’am?”
“It’s the watering hole across the street. Most of the guys hang out there before the show.”
“Well. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Starsky pulled Hutch away from the table with a jolt.
“Hey watchit!” Hutch protested. “You almost ripped my shirt.”
“I’ll rip something else if you don’t cut the Roy Rogers routine.”
“Alright.” Starsky ended the conversation with a large exhale.
Hutch checked on Shane one more time before the partners made their way over to the tavern. The official investigation would begin there. Starsky hoped they might be able to solve the crimes before he had to take center stage in the ring that evening. But, he knew that was unlikely. The men crossed the street and entered the bar.
ACT TWO – SCENE FOUR
As they stepped through the front doors of the Flying Bull, Starsky and Hutch felt like they’d stepped back one hundred years. The only thing that made the place up to date was the cranked air conditioning and the music that blared from the old-fashioned juke box. They walked out of a blast furnace and into a meat locker. The music blared through an ancient sound system. It made the pair take a step back and wince.
“Conway Twitty should not be played that loud.” Starsky said with a smirk.
The bar was filled with cowboys and it seemed like every one of them was smoking something. The twosome could hardly see the bartender through the gray fog that hung in the air like mosquito netting. They were barely noticed as they made their way to the front where they placed themselves on the only two vacant bar stools.
“What can I get ya?” The extremely large barman asked.
“Couple of beers.”
“Sure.” Starsky and Hutch answered simultaneously.
They were served their drinks and as they took a swig were approached by a young man. He had obviously seen his fair share of the four “B’s”. His jeans were so tight they looked painted on his bowed legs. His belt buckle was as big as a skillet. He wore his hat low and he looked out from the shadow of the brim. His hands resembled crumpled paper bags and the cracks in the skin were black with grim. He had a fresh cut on his face right under his nose. The shirt he wore was crisp and clean and brilliantly coloured in a flame pattern. He was small but powerful and looked so cocky Starsky could almost see the tail feathers.
“Howdy!” Hutch greeted cheerfully.
Starsky elbowed him.
“I mean. How you doin’?”
“Doin’ good. Doin’ just fine.” The cowboy answered. “Ain’t seen you two around. What’s your business?”
“I’m a hazer and he’s a clown.”
“Yep.” The cowboy chewed his tobacco noisily. “He looks like a clown alright.”
“At least I don’t need a frying pan to hold my pants up junior.” Starsky jabbed.
“This here’s my State Champion PBR buckle, mister.”
“If you say so. Bet it comes in handy when you need to cook breakfast.”
“Listen,” Hutch interjected fearful of a fight breaking out, “We’re just here to pick up some work. I’m looking for Donny Drake or Billy Sweeny. Either one of those boys here?”
The young cowboy finally took his eyes from the back of Starsky’s neck to answer Hutch.
“Donny’s over there… in the black hat and red shirt.” He pointed to the corner of the tavern. “And, I’m Tyson Fraser. You’ll be hearing a lot from me.”
“I’m sure we will.” Starsky muttered casually.
“So. Who are you guys?” Tyson asked.
“Well, I’m Ken Hutcher and he’s Dave Starr.”
“Dave Starr, huh.”
“Yep. Dats me.”
“Well, I know most of the rodeo clowns in every state south of Nebraska and I ain’t never heard of you.”
“Well, you just did kid.” Starsky replied calmly.
“I ain’t no kid!”
“Could have fooled me.”
“Listen mister. Would you care to step outside or should I just kick your ass right here.”
“Right here would be just fine but it’s your ass that’s getting kicked.”
“Whoa! Come on now.” Hutch sounded. “Take it easy.”
He was standing between them now with the bartender hovering over them waiting to stop whatever might get started.
“Come on Starsk. Let’s go over and talk to Donny. I need the job remember?” He chuckled uncomfortable.
Hutch started to pull Starsky off the barstool and away from the impeding fracas. The curly-haired cop never took his eye off his adversary. Hutch dragged him across the room and sat him next to Donny Drake who seemed irked at being interrupted. Hutch knocked his arm making him spill a full drops of beer on his shirt.
“Hey! Watch it.”
“Sorry.” Hutch apologized. “Really sorry.”
“It’s okay. What can I do for you?”
Donny seemed friendly enough. He too wore an enormous, silver belt buckle. His skin looked like saddle leather. He sported an old style handle bar mustache and wore his boots over his jeans.
“I’m Ken Hutcher and I’m a hazer lookin’ for work. Maggie said you might need a hazer. Is that right?”
“Yup. I do.”
“Good.” Hutch smiled broadly.
Starsky was still focused on Tyson who had returned to his table and circle of buddies.
“You any good?” Donny asked wiping beer foam from his impressive facial hair.
“Course I’m good. Aren’t I Starsk.”
There was no answer.
“I’m a good hazer right?”
“Oh yeah. The best Donny. The best.” Starsky made a circle with his thumb and forefinger and winked.
“Okay. I’ll give you a try. I’m entered tomorrow afternoon. That okay with you?”
“Sure thing. That’s fine.”
“Just let Maggie know and we’re all set.”
“Listen Donny?” Hutch leaned in to whisper a question.
“I heard there’s been some trouble.”
“Yeah. Something about some cowboys dying? You know anything about that?” Hutch asked sheepishly.
“Well I knew the boys. But that’s about all.”
“Know how they died?”
Starsky was still targeted on Tyson Fraser who glanced over occasionally to make sure Starsky was at bay.
“Who were the cowboys that died?” Hutch continued the interrogation.
“Steve McConnell, Troy Donaldson and Dylan Overbeck. All steer ropers. All good friends of mine. Why you so curious?”
“Just wondering is all.”
“Well, keep your nose out of it. None of your business. Just stick to hazing and there won’t be any more trouble… you hear.”
“Sure thing Don. May I call you Don?”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow then.”
Donny Drake did not acknowledge Hutch’s last comment. He returned to his mug of beer and puffed his stogy.
“Let’s go Starsk.”
“Let’s go check in to a motel.”
Starsky and Hutch exited the bar. The bright sunlight hit them like a slap in the face. Being in the extreme cold of the tavern made the outside air seem even hotter and Starsky was still hot under the collar from his run-in with Fraser.
“What was that all about?” Starsky said seemingly baffled that anyone wouldn’t like him at first sight.
“What was what all about?”
“Dat guy? What was his problem? He’s askin’ for a boot sandwich.”
“You just bring out the worst in people Starsk. Never mind him.” Hutch said as he crossed the street back toward the pick-up.
“I do not bring out the worst in people.” Starsky mumbled to himself as he followed his partner.
“Let me get Shane into a stall and then we can settle into a motel okay?”
“This is going to be a tough case Starsk.” Hutch announced – his face scrunched to fight the glare of the daunting sun. “Nobody’s talking.”
“You’ve talked to one guy.”
“Yeah and that guy isn’t talkin’. This is a close knit group and it’s not going to be easy to get answers.”
“You’ll just have to let me do the talking then.”
“I’ll get them to talk.”
“Oh yeah? And just how do you propose to do that?” Hutch and Starsky were stopped beside Shane. Hutch leaned on the horse casually.
“I’ll use my charm.”
“Okay. But I think you’re going to need all the charm you can get on those bulls tonight don’t you?”
Hutch walked around Shane to lead him into the barn leaving Starsky by himself and wishing he hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning.
“You know Hutch?” Starsky called to his friend. “You’ve got a real mean streak in you!”
He threw himself into the passenger side of the pick-up and waited for Hutch to drive them to the local motel. The anxiety he felt was almost debilitating. Would he survive until morning? The murder case didn’t even matter to him. All he cared about was getting through the night intact. His stomach churned, his shoulders tensed and his knees shook.
“What have I gotten myself into?” He asked himself, gazing upwards.
ACT THREE – SCENE ONE
“I feel like an idiot!”
“Well, you don’t look like an idiot, Starsk.”
“No. You look like a clown.”
“I feel stupid in this ridiculous outfit.”
“That’s what rodeo clowns wear. Remember we’re here on a murder case.” Hutch reminded. “Don’t worry about what you look like.”
“Easy for you to say Tex.” Starsky turned to look in the mirror. His face was etched with concern. “I just hope I’m not the next murder victim.”
“Awww, Starsk. Bulls don’t murder people. They kill people but they don’t murder them.”
“You are so funny.” Starsky announced drolly.
Starsky continued to give himself the once over with uncertainty. He wore a pair of blue overalls that were cut off at mid thigh. Colourful bandanas hung from his mid section like flags on a sailboat. His shirt was Pepto-Bismol pink and he sported a wide, bright yellow tie with red Pokka dots. He kept his familiar Adidas and sports socks with maroon and gold stripes. At least he could rely on them. Black kneepads bulged out of the middle of his legs. He wore elbow pads too. To top off the costume he donned a small, black cowboy hat that had a set of horns sticking out of each side.
His face was framed by a perfectly painted white oval. Two circles were left around his eyes. The tip of his nose bore a painted, red diamond. An exaggerated up-side-down smile covered his mouth. He finished off the make-up with a single teardrop under his left eye.
Hutch on the other hand was dressed in a skin tight, bright white t-shirt that matched his beaming smile. It showed off his fit frame. He wore a tan Stetson and customized it with a silver hatband. His Levi’s were faded blue and neatly clung to his legs. Not too tight – just right. He sported a silver and turquoise watch. The ensemble was finished off with a pair of brown and tan, Tony Lama boots. He looked like a western ware catalogue model.
“You ready?” He asked Starsky from where he sat at the end of his bed.
“I guess so.”
Hutch approached his partner and put his arm around his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I keep telling you, you’ll be fine.”
“I feel sick.”
“Do you want me to trade with you? I’ll be the clown. Do you want me to be the clown Starsky? Because if you really want me to I will.” Hutch offered with a small voice.
“Well, I’m all dressed up now.”
“Yes. Yes you are.” He said relieved. “Let’s go.”
Hutch made his escape before Starsky could change his mind.
He bounded toward the door and Starsky shuffled after him as if he was walking from death row to the electric chair. He turned to look back into the hotel room wishing he could just stay put but then closed the door behind him and joined Hutch in the truck for the short trip to the stadium.
ACT THREE – SCENE TWO
Starsky stood in the middle of the rodeo ring. It was brightly lit – blindingly so. The sun was just setting and the combination of lighting gave the scene a deep purple hue. The heat of that day was still evident and the ankle deep dirt steamed under his feet. The crowd was noisy and anxious for the bull-riding event to begin.
Starsky had never quite felt fear like this before. It was the feeling soldiers must have before going into battle. Or a gladiator awaiting the lions. That sick, heavy feeling when the only clue to the fact that you are alive is the explosive pounding of your heart resonating in your neck and forehead.
He’d introduced himself to the two other clowns that were working the event. They welcomed him aboard with a vigorous pat on the back. They stood like bookends on each side of Starsky. They stretched and warmed up for the onslaught of live locomotives that would soon enter the arena. Starsky just stood there like a statue frozen by absolute terror.
He glanced around the crowd to see if Hutch was there. But, he knew Hutch was playing detective, poking around the barns and asking questions about the cowboys that had died. The fact that his partner was no where to be seen made Starsky feel even more vulnerable. Even though he was surrounded by thousands of people he’d never felt more alone.
The announcer’s voice split the air welcoming the crowd and introducing the first cowboy and his ride.
“Good evening cowgirls and cowboys and welcome to the Culver City Rodeo. Tonight we have several events for your entertainment. The thrills and spills of bull riding is first on the bill and our first cowboy is just about ready in the shoot. This is number 32 – Jimmy Michael’s aboard Jackhammer! Good luck to all our contestants.”
Jimmy Michael’s gingerly placed himself on Jackhammer’s back and Starsky watched with unsettled anticipation.
Then without warning the gate burst open like a lift lock releasing a flood of water and the massive animal began his powerful dance. He threw his head wildly and arched his back trying in vein to dismount his passenger. He bolted straight upwards then forward then back – bouncing around the ring like a one ton pinball.
Starsky stared wide-eyed. He followed the lead of the other clowns as they moved closer to the action where they squared themselves like linebackers and waited for the eight-second time to elapse. When the alarm sounded ending the ride they moved in to distract the bull. Only then did Jimmy go flying over Starsky’s head. He ducked to avoid a boot to the teeth. The bullrider hit the dirt like a bag of dirty laundry but scrambled to his feet and toward the fencing. Then the clowns, Starsky included, herded the animal toward the exit shoot and closed the gate behind it.
“Dat wasn’t so hard.” He told himself as he took his position back in the middle of the ring and awaited the next round.
Twenty-three more contestants went for a trip that evening and by the time the last one left the shoot, Starsky felt like a pro. He even kind of enjoyed it. When the event was over the three men dressed in colourful rags and face paint congratulated each other on a job well done. Neither man nor beast got injured that night – a rarity. The next night would tell the tale though, as the top 12 would move on to the final.
“How’d you do?” Hutch asked as he greeted Starsky at the gate.
Hutch was so spotlessly clean he shone. His exaggerated toothy grin matched his gleaming white shirt – his jeans the same cobalt blue as his eyes. He looked like an advertisement for Mr. Clean. Starsky on the other hand was so filthy his hair was gray with dust. Sweat smeared his make-up.
“Know what Hutch?”
“What.” He had his hand on his partner’s shoulder but removed it and made a face at the grim left on his palm.
“I did really good!” Starsky said with a sparkle of surprise – chuffed at his performance.
“Good. I told you.”
“What about you? Did you find out anything?”
“I just spent the last two hours scouring all three barns and every trailer and talking to about fifty people and you know what I got?”
“Diddley – nothing… zilch.”
“But I did get us something you might be interested in.”
“Oh yeah. What?”
“Dates for tonight.”
“Yep. Guess what my dates name is?”
“Candy… Cane.” Hutch winked. “Guess what your dates name is Starsk. Go on take a guess.”
“I don’t know… what?”
“Ah come on take a guess.”
“Hutch.” Starsky stated impatiently.
“Marilyn Mon… roe.” Hutch enunciated with an glib expression.
“Does she look like Marilyn Monroe?”
“Not a bit… but she’s cute Starsk. She’s just your type.” Hutch assured as he stuck his forefinger in Starsky’s chest with reassurance.
“My type huh?”
“Yeah. When she’s not barrel racing she helps out at her father’s lumber yard.”
“Oh. Dainty.” Starsky thought a moment. “Aren’t we supposed to be investigating some murders… I don’t… something about a murder.” He said sarcastically.
“We can talk to the girls over drinks at the Flying Bull. Maybe they know something.”
“Can I at least go back to the hotel and shower and shave for this big date you’ve so kindly set up for us?”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
“Yeah buddy?” The two men walked side-by-side back to the truck like a father and son after a little league game.
“Did you see me in there? Did you see me fighting those bulls?”
“I saw ya Starsk… I saw ya.”
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
“Never is Starsky… never is. But don’t get too cocky okay – I already have a bowling ball.”
ACT THREE – SCENE THREE
The Flying Bull was crowded with loud, happy patrons. The smoke still lingered giving the place a cave-like ambience. Elvis sang “Good Luck Charm” through the small, tin-sounding speakers.
“Hey Hutch. They’re playing my song.” Starsky noted.
“Let’s find the girls shall we?”
Starsky and Hutch moved through the throng toward the bar. Hutch scanned the place for their dates and Starsky was on the look out for his nemesis – Tyson Fraser.
“There they are.” Hutch pointed to the same table Donny Drake sat at that morning. He steered his partner toward them and Starsky pasted on a charming smile so he could make a good first impression.
“Good evening ladies.” Hutch greeted, tipping his hat.
“Well, hello honey bear.” The tiny auburn-haired woman gushed. “Aren’t you just the sweetest thing. Like an angel from heaven. Look at him, isn’t he just the most gorgeous thing you ever saw?”
“He’s a cutie alright and his friend isn’t so bad either.” Her girlfriend tittered.
“Ah… well… gee…. Um.” Hutch muttered bashfully.
He actually blushed. But, he loved every word that wafted from her cherry lips. “This is the friend I told you about.”
“Even’in ladies. Name’s Dave.” Starsky introduced himself.
“Nice to meet you Dave. This is Marilyn.”
“You are a living doll, aren’t you.” Marilyn said as she moved over in the booth to let Starsky sit down. “Come and sit right next to me sweet cheeks.”
The small talk soon turned to intimate conversation complete with close eye contact, then to blatant sexual innuendo. Hutch held Candy close into his chest with his arm slung over her shoulder. They looked like they were practicing for the Olympic two-man bobsled team. Marilyn had settled into Starsky’s lap where she fed him French fries one-by-one. The foursome were just about to leave when they’re old friend Tyson Fraser reared his ugly head.
“That’s my girl you’ve got sitting on your lap Bozo.” The wiry cowboy confronted.
“Drop dead Ty.” Marilyn hissed. “You told me you didn’t want to see me anymore. Besides Dave here is far more interesting than you will ever be.”
“Zat so?” Tyson thwarted.
“Yes that’s so. Isn’t it Dave?”
“What ever you say sweetheart.” Starsky said without giving Tyson the benefit of recognition.
“This time you are going to get your ass kicked.” The cowboy warned.
“Yeah?” The blonde cop answered casually.
“Dis guy says he’s going to kick my ass.”
“So he says.”
“I got five bucks on you partner.” Hutch winked and clucked a sound from between his cheek and teeth.
“Listen Ty.” Starsky said nonchalantly.
“I wanna ask you something.”
“Do you take moron lessons, or does it just come naturally?”
The blow to Starsky’s chin literally made him see stars. Then Tyson grabbed Starsky by the shoulders of his jacket and pulled him into a standing position sending Marilyn onto the floor. Tyson threw a right cross which Starsky skillfully dodged then responded with an elbow to Tyson’s chest. This knocked the cowboy onto his butt. Hutch ignored the fracas and continued his conversation with Candy. He did take his beer off the table in case it got knocked over by a flying body. No need to waste a perfectly good mug of beer.
Tyson scrambled to his feet and went at Starsky like a defensive end toward a quarterback. Starsky ended up over Tyson’s shoulder with his feet stuck in the air and the top of his head aimed at the floor.
“Strong little feller ain’t he.” Hutch mentioned to Candy as he slowly rose from his seat and took a punch at the first face he saw.
This sent the entire place into a full, drop down, drag’em out bar room brawl. Chairs started to fly across the room, ladies ran for cover, glasses were smashed and bodies went everywhere. The bartender did his best to keep order and eventually herded the fighting men out into the parking lot where the Malay continued until they all ran out of steam. The flock of about sixteen men dispersed and limped away from the scene.
“Well. That was fun.” Hutch panted as he massaged his jaw, moving it from side-to-side to make sure it still worked. “What is this? A John Wayne movie?”
“Feels more like Bruce Lee to me.” Starsky stated then leered at Tyson who was now across the parking lot getting into his truck. “What’s with that guy? What did I ever do to him?”
“Personality conflict I guess.”
“Hutch. You gotta have a personlity to have a conflict.”
“What are you talking about, Starsk.” Hutch panted. “You have a great personality.”
“Not me. Him dummie.”
“Oh… well, in that case never make fun of a cowboy’s belt buckle.” Hutch warned brushing the dirt off his pants.
“YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST OF ME!” Tyson yelled back at Starsky from his pick-up as he passed.
“I’LL BE HERE!!” Starsky yelled back with a choice hand gesture.
“You okay?” Hutch asked as he moved back into the bar pulling his partner by the shirtsleeve.
“I think so. Do I look okay?”
“You look the same.”
“Then I guess I’m okay. You?”
“How do I look?”
“Just as beaut-ee-ful as ever.” Starsky chuckled examining his knuckles for scrapes.
“Let’s get back to the girls.”
“Oh yeah… da girls – nice goin’ by the way.”
“Thank you. I do my best.”
The rest of the evening was quite calm and very enjoyable for the foursome. The girls were barrel racers and regulars on the circuit. Hutch questioned them about McConnell, Donaldson and Overbeck and it turned out Marilyn had dated all of them. She would need further investing and Starsky planned to do just that. But, Marilyn was not a one-night-stand sort of girl and gave Starsky a peck on the cheek when they parted that evening. Hutch too, got the “nice girl” treatment and the partner’s returned to their hotel room alone.
“Marilyn dated all three victims, Starsk.” Hutch said through a gob of toothpaste.
“Don’t talk with all that stuff in your mouth. It’s disgusting.” Starsky complained.
He was already tucked in. He was tired. Hutch spit and rinsed and wiped his mouth of minty foam.
“I said… Marilyn dated all three victims.”
“I heard you the first time.”
“Oh.” Hutch pouted as he threw the towel into the bathroom and got under the sheets of his tiny single bed. It creaked and rattled irking Starsky. He tried to ignore his partner’s bedtime rituals.
“So. What do you think about that?” Hutch queried.
“I think Marilyn gets around.” Starsky murmured half asleep.
“She gets around all right.” Hutch placed his hands behind his head. “Did you hear what she said to Tyson just before he decked you?”
“About him not wanting to see her anymore?”
“Well, I’m thinking your buddy Tyson might be the next victim.”
Starsky laboriously sat up, propped himself on his elbows and looked over at Hutch.
“You think she’s the killer?”
“Oh come on. That’s just too easy. What’s her motive?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a woman scorned?”
“I think she’s been scorned… a lot.”
“I’d sure like to scorn her.”
“What?” Starsky had rolled back into the fetal position and adjusted his pillow just right. “I’m just saying, I didn’t get very far with her. She seems like a nice girl. You know… an old-fashioned girl.”
“My mother always warned me about girls like her.”
“Go to sleep.” Starsky muttered. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“Tyson is in my event tomorrow. So while I’m playing hazer I want you to keep your eyes peeled. I know he’s difficult, but he might need some help.”
All was quiet except for a very enthusiastic cricket.
All Hutch got as a response was a quiet snore. He laid there staring at the ceiling mulling over his Marilyn-as-murderess theory. He was a little worried about his event the next day too. His stomach fluttered like a scared pigeon. He took several deep breaths and closed his eyes with a sigh. Within moments he’d tossed himself on his stomach and fallen asleep.
ACT FOUR – SCENE ONE
Hutch had risen early that morning so he could get on Shane and practice before the steer roping competition at 2:30. He’d left Starsky asleep back at the hotel. He’d reminded him of the previous night’s conversation. His assignment – to keep his eye on Marilyn and Tyson. Starsky answered with a muffled grunt.
As Hutch put Shane through his paces and gained more and more confidence with every step, he noticed Candy ride up to the fence to watch him. After finishing a few more maneuvers he reined his horse over to her.
“Good morning baby blue.” She greeted sweetly.
“Who you hazing for?”
“Oh.” She said with a sour face.
“What’s the matter? Something I should know about Donny Drake?”
“No. Not really.”
“Why the scowl?”
“He’s just broken up with Marilyn.”
“Is there anyone Marilyn hasn’t just broken up with?”
“She has a soft spot for steer ropers – what can I say.”
“Just where is Miss Monroe?” Hutch asked scanning the back paddocks. He stood up in the saddle to get a better angle for perusing the place.
“Barrel racing is starting in about half an hour and she’s getting Mickey ready.”
“Her horse, silly.”
“Oh.” He settled back in the saddle again. “What about you? Not racing today?”
“Didn’t make the final.”
“Where’s your friend, Dave?”
“I’m right here.” Starsky announced as he approached the couple.
“Hey you’re up?” Hutch said.
“Yup… I’m up.” Starsky yawned. “When’s the roping start?”
“Well, I better go see if I can give Marilyn a hand.” Candy announced. “Maybe we’ll see you boys later.”
“Count on it.” Hutch called after her as she pulled her horse away from the fence like a sailboat leaving a dock.
Starsky climbed up the fence and balanced himself on the top rail so he could be eye-to-eye with Hutch. He scratched his head vigorously and expelled another dramatic and lengthy yawn.
“Do you mind.” Hutch said disgusted with Starsky’s morning breath.
“Sorry. So, huh… what’s the plan?”
“The plan is for me to get this hazing thing over with and for you to keep an eye on Tyson and your girl Marilyn.”
“<Humph>.” Yet another exhale passed through Starsky’s mouth. The sound was like a tire with a slow leak. “Okay. I’ll do some sniffing around. Where is Dr. Jeckyl and Mrs. Hyde?”
“Marilyn is in the barn getting ready for the barrel racing and I have no idea where Tyson is.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later.”
“Oh and Hutch.”
“Keep the saddle side up.”
ACT FOUR – SCENE TWO
Shane was coiled like a cobra as far back in the shoot as he could get. Hutch had put all his faith in his steed in hopes that Shane would get him through this. The horse seemed totally ready and willing for the task at hand. His experience shone.
Donny Drake placed his looped lariat in his mouth and bit down hard on it. He removed it and spit, then reset it. He backed his horse up then gave him a bit of rein and then pulled him back again. Everything had to be just right before Donny gave the signal to release the steer.
Hutch’s mouth was as dry as a vodka martini and his adrenaline flowed through his body like a surging mountain spring. He stared ahead – totally focused on the path he needed to take.
With a nod of the head the steer was released and both Donny and Hutch exploded from their respective shoots. Hutch leaned forward and raised himself onto the balls of his feet and held on. Shane did his job perfectly, galloping straight as an arrow to the other side of the arena. Hutch pulled him up then wheeled him around to watch Donny finish his hog tie of the steer. The whole thing took less than twenty seconds. It was a blur and both Hutch and Shane came through with flying colours. Hutch could hear his cheering section made up of Starsky, Candy and Marilyn who whooped and clapped. It made him smile with both relief and pride.
Donny’s time was now the time to beat with only two competitors to go. It would be hard to better. He took off his hat and waved it at the crowd in appreciation of their applause. But, just as he began to walk back to his horse and mount up his legs gave out from under him. He fell face first into the dirt and lay there motionless.
Hutch loped Shane up to him and dismounted. He moved over to Donny and knelt down beside him and turned him over. By this time several other rodeo organizers had circled around Donny as well. Starsky had hopped the fence and rushed to the scene. Candy and Marilyn looked on hoping that “it” hadn’t happened again.
“He’s dead.” Hutch said sorrowfully as he raised his head from Donny’s chest and sat back on his heels.
A volunteer ran to call an ambulance and the crowd watched in silence. Donny’s horse walked slowly over to the body with his nose to the dirt as if sniffing out his partner. It was like he could smell death. He pushed the people aside and nuzzled Donny’s shoulder as if willing him to get up. Hutch grabbed the reins of the gentle giant and collected Shane as well and led them both to the barn.
ACT FOUR – SCENE THREE
“Marilyn didn’t do it.” Starsky stated as he joined Hutch in the barn.
Hutch had removed the tack from Donny’s horse and put him in his stall. Now he tended to Shane. He uncinched the saddle.
“Why do you say that?” He asked looking around to make sure their conversation couldn’t be heard.
“She hasn’t been out of my sight since I left you this morning.” Starsky whispered. “She spent all her time getting ready for the barrel racing and then she raced. Candy and I met her after that and we’ve been together all afternoon. She was in a totally separate barn from the steer roping contestants. She didn’t do it. She couldn’t have… not Donny anyway.”
“What about Tyson? Seen him?” Hutch probed.
“Know what I think, Starsk?”
“I think the rope is poisoned.”
“The lariat.” Hutch stopped what he was doing and rested his forearm on Shane’s shoulder. “When Donny put the lariat in his mouth he looked like he’d just drank sour milk. I think who ever is killing these guys is using their lariats to do it.”
“I’ll go find Drake’s lariat.” Starsky said as he spun around and scrambled back out to the arena to search for the evidence.
Hutch continued to scan the barn as he groomed Shane. He didn’t want their cover blown. He felt as if he and Starsky were getting close to solving this case and he was concerned that someone may have overheard them talking. When he was satisfied that they were not discovered, he returned his full attention to Shane.
Hutch took extra care grooming and rewarded his equine friend with apples and a few cubes of sugar. He brushed him and checked his feet and painted them with hoof conditioner. The horse seemed to appreciate the attention and stood calmly and patiently for Hutch to finish. When he finally did, the barn that bustled with activity just 25 minutes ago was empty. Everyone else had done their duties and moved on to other events or gone home.
“You were such a good boy today.” Hutch said to Shane as he wrapped his arm around his head and rubbed his nose gently.
The horse lapped up the affection. Hutch glanced at his watch, wondering where his partner was.
“How long does it take to find a piece of rope.” He grumbled.
Hutch undid the cross-ties and led Shane into his stall. Then – just out of the corner of his eye he saw him. Tyson Fraser surprised Hutch from inside the stall. The blow from the shovel cracked Hutch’s brow before he had time to defend himself. Shane threw his head back and danced to the back of the stall – spooked by the suddenness of Tyson’s attack. Hutch fell right where he stood – crumbling to the ground as if his bones had collapsed inside him. He was unconscious before he hit the straw. A flood of blood oozed from a gash over his eye. It seeped into the bedding like tomato sauce over a plate of spaghetti. Tyson gave Hutch a swift, sharp kick to the abdomen but Hutch did not even react to it. He pushed the downed cop to the front of the stall hiding him from the view of passers by.
Tyson left the stall and slid the door shut. He peered through the bars to make sure Hutch couldn’t be seen. Shane had settled himself but snorted at Hutch who lay stagnant under the water bucket and feeding trough. The horse pawed the ground with uncertainty but eventually lost interest and began to munch on a flake of hay. A single fly buzzed around Hutch’s head.
ACT FOUR – SCENE FOUR
Starsky stood in the very spot where he and his partner had had their discussion only half an hour ago. He looked over at Shane who stood in his stall enjoying a face full of hay. Starsky held Donny’s lariat in his hand.
“Hey Hutch?” He inquired again suspiciously.
Starsky scouted the barn from one end to the other exploring the tack room and office. Only a few stragglers remained in the place. He ended up right back where he’d started. He moved closer to the stall and leaned on its edge and let loose an impatient sigh.
“You seen Hutch?” He asked Shane who didn’t even acknowledge Starsky’s presence. “You’re not talking either, huh.” He chortled.
He leaned his head back – his forearms still planted on the bars and looked both ways down the alleyways. Starsky returned his attention back to Shane and noticed a smear of blood on the horse’s nose.
“Hey? What happened?” He said softly. “Did you cut yourself?” He asked as if Shane would answer.
He stared at it momentarily debating whether he should enter the stall to investigate. Starsky pushed himself away from his comfortable stance and started to move toward the door to slide it open. A sudden movement behind him spooked Shane and Starsky turned just as Tyson threw his first blow. He raised his arm to shield himself.
The pain in Starsky’s shoulder blade felt like he’d been stabbed with a spoon. It dropped him to one knee. Tyson then grabbed Starsky by the scruff of the neck and threw him against the stall door where the handle dug into the small of his back shooting more pain through his body. The shovel came slicing down toward his head like a meat clever and Starsky dodged it. Survival had taken hold by this point and he instinctively regrouped and tackled Tyson. The spade was sent flying and clattered against the bars of Shane’s stall.
The two men held each other’s shirts by the fronts of the shoulders – both seemingly unable to break each other’s grasp. They struggled, pushing one another back and forth trying to get the upper hand. Tyson like a madman and Starsky trying to defend himself until he could gain enough strength to deliver a jab of his own. Finally, Starsky jammed his knee sharply into Tyson’s groin, which made him release the cop instantly. The wiry cowboy fell to the ground into the fetal position clutching his crotch and groaning in agony.
The few people that milled about the barn and several others from outside had gathered to break up the tussle. Starsky produced his badge to show he was in control and bent down to gather up Tyson. He tied him securely to a post with some cross ties and then fell against a wall out of breath and still reeling from the vicious strikes he’d taken. He leaned over and placed his hands on his knees taking several gasps of air to slow down his flow of adrenaline.
“You okay?” An anonymous voice asked.
“Yeah.” Starsky panted. “Yeah… I’m okay… I think.” He reached around to rub his back and check for wounds. “My partner?” He asked with concern. “Anyone seen my partner?”
“Hutch? Anyone seen him?”
Then Starsky remembered the blood on Shane’s nose. He dashed to the stall and opened it forcefully scaring the Paint yet again. Just inside the door, Hutch lay face down. Starsky thought he was dead. That one instant sent a wave of terror coursing through him. He looked down at Hutch afraid to find out for sure.
A member of the crowd went into the stall to calm Shane while others moved in to help move Hutch.
“NO! Don’t move him.” Starsky shouted.
He knelt down over Hutch and placed his hand flatly on the center of his back. He leaned forward still panting from the fight and sniffing away the sweat.
“Hutch?” He said sensitively into his partner’s ear. Starsky tried his damnedest to control his respiratory system. “Hutch? Can you hear me?” There was so much blood. “Hutch?”
The place fell silent as the crowd waited to see if the fallen cop would respond. The only sound was the defeated groan of Tyson.
“Hutch?” Starsky now placed his hand on his head.
Finally Hutch released a guttural moan. Then he fluttered his eyes and slowly opened them. Consciousness seemed to engulf him like a wave of warm water. He tried to get up but Starsky stopped him.
“Hutch it’s me Starsky. Are you okay? Can you move everything?”
“Yeah. Tyson hit you with a shovel.”
“Yep…” Hutch grunted. “That’s what it feels like alright.”
“He’s okay guys. Help me get him on his feet.” Starsky instructed with relief.
Several men gathered around and lifted Hutch into a semi-standing position. His face was black with clotted blood. Pieces of straw stuck to the sticky red stuff and Starsky tried to pick some of it off. He was passed a towel and Starsky planted it on the gash that framed Hutch’s right eye. It still oozed. He pressed the cloth firmly on the wound.
“Aaaahouh!” Hutch protested. “That hurts!”
“I know it hurts but I gotta stop the bleeding. Let’s go get you stitched up.”
“Is Shane okay?” Hutch asked with concern.
“Yes. He’s fine.”
“He tried to warn me.”
“He tried to warn me too.”
“Why? What happened to you?”
“Yeah. Tyson.” Hutch was starting to remember now. “Where is that little twerp? He’s the one who hit me.”
“He can’t talk right now. He’s tied up.”
“What do you mean he’s tied up. He’s on the phone? What’s he doing on the phone.” Hutch seemed confused and rightfully so.
“No. I mean he’s tied up.”
“Oh. He’s tied UP…” The blonde cop said as if his partner was now speaking his language. He winced. “My head hurts, Starsk.”
“I know buddy. We’ll get you all fixed up.”
Hutch leaned on his partner as they walked out of the barn. They looked like two winos leaving a bar a three a.m. The ambulance had just arrived and Starsky helped Hutch into the back door and up onto the gurney. He gave the Walter Brennan lookalike instructions to call Captain Dobey and have him take care of Tyson. The back doors of the van slammed shut and the ambulance screamed away from the scene. The small crowd of spectators dispersed and the rodeo continued on.
“Oh you poor baby.” Candy gushed as she stroked Hutch’s flaxen hair.
She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. He and Starsky had returned to the Flying Bull Tavern to have a farewell drink with Candy and Marilyn.
“Look at your eye. It’s all black and blue. Does it hurt very much?” She asked sweetly, like she was talking to a three-year-old.
“Oh. It’s not too bad.” Hutch replied soaking every bit of sympathy he could muster. “I’ll live.”
He’d drained all the compassion he could from Starsky. As soon as it was established that Hutch’s injury was purely superficial – no concussion or nothing broken – that was the end of anymore commiseration from his partner. And vice versa.
“Hey! What about me?” Starsky protested. “My back is just as black and blue as his eye and I can barely move my shoulder.” He whimpered while rotating his arm with exaggerated difficulty. Marilyn started to massage it.
“Ahhhh… dats bedda.” He sighed.
“So? What happened to Tyson?” Candy asked with interest.
“They’re doing a psychiatric profile on him. But, me a Starsky think he just hates to loose.” Hutch outlined.
“What do you mean?”
“We figure he thought the best way to win was simple.” Starsky continued. “Just eliminate the competition – one-by-one.”
“He certainly was a wild man when I dated him.” Marilyn confessed. “But, I kinda like that in a man.”
“So what is it you see in Starsky then?” Hutch asked with a devilish smirk.
“I’ll never tell.” She teased.
“Oh come on.” Hutch egged. “There must be something?”
Starsky was not thrilled with the comments that were being slung around the table. He looked hurt. He gazed into Marilyn’s hazel eyes. She’d taken her favourite seat in his lap. She played with his curly, sable hair and caressed his cheek and chin seemingly deep in thought.
“Is it my sparkling charm?” Starsky queried with a silly grin.
“My devastating good looks?”
“Then it must be my incredibly powerful body.”
Hutch rolled his eyes at all of Starsky’s descriptions. They all waited for Marilyn’s answer.
“Well what is it then?”
“Do you really want to know, Dave?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Okay then… it’s your partner.”
“I just love blondes.” She divulged.
The threesome burst into fits of laughter at Starsky’s expense. He did not think it was funny at all.
“Well you know what they say, Starsk.” Hutch chuckled.
“No. What do the say?”
“The best way to get to a man’s heart.”
“Through the chest… with a knife.”