The Case of the Mustang Murder
Robert 'Slink' Tern stuck the toe of a scuffed boot into a wooden slat, climbed the rungs of the chute and casually glanced down at the dappled, gray mustang. The bronc stretched his neck, snorted from flayed nostrils and returned the glance.
Tern muttered to the man at his feet. "This is a good one, Frank."
Frank Bray grinned. "Supplied every calf, bull and horse for this rodeo." Frank eased his hand through a gap in the boards and ran his palm across the horse's flank. "You been beatin' up my other ones, Slink. Explosion’s gonna’ give you a ride."
Howie Eaton sidled up to chute and pointed to the mustang. "Got some poop on that one, Slink. Tends to stall comin' out of the gate, but once he buries his head, he'll start kicking. And we he starts kickin’ watch out. Kicked a dude in Amarillo, killed him. "
Slink, tipped his hat, straddled the top rail of the box and leaned over to Phil Afeero, his best friend and chute boss. Phil's left hand was poised on the gate latch. "Phil, any suggestions?"
"Yep," Phil raised a gloved thumb in the air. "Five seconds on top and you'll be doing good. Get to the eight second buzzer. Hell, Slink, this fellow could be a quick ride back to the top. Fame and fortune, cowboy. Course, I'm rooting on the fortune. You still owe me six thousand."
"It ain’t six thousand! More like five thousand, nine hundred, twelve dollars and fifty cents less," Slink laughed. "I'm keeping track." Howie pitched up a bag of resin. Slink applied it to the his reins and gloves while he nodded down at Frank. "Thanks for the saddle."
"It was just hangin’ on the wall," Frank grinned. "Besides it was one of your old ones anyway."
Slink returned the resin, slipped over the chute and hunkered down onto the surcingle saddle. Slipping his left hand into the suit-case handle slot and pounded it down. The horse grunted, bucked, while both hind legs kicked into the rear of the stall.
Simultaneously, the announcer blared over the P.A. System. "Ladies and gentlemen, cowboys and cowgirls, comin' out of chute three, a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Robert 'Slink' Terns. On Exxxplosion!"
Slink weaved the reins around the nub of the saddle, toed into the stirrups for leverage, lifted his right arm high in the air and nodded to Phil at the gate.
The latch dropped. The gate sprung open. A hush fell over the crowd.
Slink leaned back and gave Explosion his spurs. The Mustang's rear hooves shattered a board at the back of the chute, then it catapulted into the arena.
At the one second mark, Slink threw his right arm high in the air in rhythm with each buck, building tempo with each twist and jerk.
At the two second mark, Explosion crouched, then reared on his haunches and lurched upward.
At the three second mark, the horse charged the guard wall at the last instant veering, smacking Slink's right knee against the barrier wall. For a blink, his grip slipped on from the handle slot. His fingers vised on hub as he dipped his shoulder in tandem with the horse.
At the five second mark, Slink and Explosion were one. A blur. Vaulting into the air. For each jerk of the horse, the rider had a counter move. Slink lived for this. "More. Give me more."
Those closest to the rail heard the taunt and picked up the chant, which whipped through the stands like a cyclone. "More," the crowd yelled. "Give him more."
Slink waited for a few beats after the 8 second buzzer, then held out his arms to one of the pick-up men, glided to the ground to the roar of the crowd and a standing ovation. Doffing his hat, he did a slow turn accepting the accolades of the fans. Then a puzzled look crossed his face and he collapsed, face down into the arena's muddy soil.
Two weeks after the funeral, Sheriff Ralph Pinkerton caught up with Frank Bray, Phil Afeero and Howie Eaton in a parking lot outside of the Carson City Rodeo. "If you boys got a minute?" Frank, Phil and Howie turned to the voice. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"What's this about, Sheriff?" Frank asked.
"You boys divvy up Slink's gear?"
All three cowboys exchanged a quick glance. "Sure," Howie said. "That's how he'd want it."
"Hell," Frank added. "That's how we'd all want it."
"We're on the OEbuddy, Sheriff." Phil added. "Partners. Sharing expenses, winning and losings."
"But Slink wasn't winning. He was on a long losing streak. How much money did he owe you?" Sheriff Pinkerton’s glare bit into Phil's shrug. "Exactly, five thousand, nine hundred and twelve dollars and fifty cents. "
Frank moved between the two men. "What's this gettin' to, Sheriff?"
Pinkerton turned a curious eye. "Glad you asked. You're Frank Bray, contractor for this rodeo?" Frank nodded. "How come your horse Explosion isn't entered?"
Frank turned to Howie Eaton. "Horse is dead. Just like a friend of mine. Drew a line from the base of its right ear to his left eye. Drew a line from it's left ear to his right eye and put a bullet in the middle of the X. That one's dead, Sheriff. Killed a friend of mine."
Sheriff Pickerton gave the man a puzzled look. "You're Howie Eaton, right?"
"Right," Howie said.
“Slink stayed aboard that bronco over eight seconds. Pinkerton looked at each man in turn. “Horse didn’t kill him. "Howie, you drew the x on the wrong head."
(1) So who killed Robert 'Slink' Terns?
(2) How did he die?
(3) What clue fingered the killer?
(4) What was the motive?
Sheriff Pinkerton’s Investigation (clue 1)
Pinkerton got involved when he heard that Explosion was killed after the rodeo. Here was a mustang that had already gained fame as a killer, no rodeo contractor in his right mind would kill such an asset. Or deprive his friends of breaking the horse that killed their buddy, unless there was something wrong with the horse.
Veterinarian's Report (clue 2)
There was no trace of drugs in horse.
Coroner's Report (clue 3)
There was a large amount of a drug in Slink. Psilocybin - a hallucinogenic crystalline solid, obtained from the mushroom Psilocybe mexicana which grow in Mexico and the Southwest.
The Case of the Mustang Murder
Motive for the murder. Slink had broken a half a dozen of Frank Bray's prize broncos. Tame, the horses were of no value. In each case Frank had found minute traces of Psilocybin in his horses' blood stream, though not enough to claim foul. Besides horse and rider where picked by lot right before each event. Even Slink couldn't fix the lottery.
It took Frank Bray two years to get his hooks on one of Slink's saddles. And two hours and a sharp knife to find the hidden compartment underneath the seat. The perfect place for a small syringe. Each time, Slink hunkered down in the saddle the drug was injected into the animals spine. The small jolt of Psilocybin almost guaranteed a violent ride and, therefore, the highest points.
Although Frank knew that Slink was trying to go straight, he was still furious about what Slink had done to his mounts. So he rigged his own syringe into the suit-case slot of Slink's old saddle. In the heat of the ride, when Slink gripped tightly to the slot, he was injected.
"A taste of his own medicine," Frank told Sheriff Pinkerton on his way to jail. "Wasn't really trying to kill him. Just givin' him some learnin'. Let him know I knew what he'd been doin'. And wouldn't be puttin' up with no more of it."