By Mark Troy
Featuring Val Lyon
Doyle Gillespie bellowed in a voice as loud as his shirt, a yellow and red hangover of martini glasses and hula girls. “Sperm-jacking,” he said. “Somebody’s getting to my bulls. Taking the goblins right outta the pipe, you might say.”
Gillespie smiled at his own wit. I took a long pull on my tonic and lime, hoping it would settle my stomach, wishing I’d ordered it with vodka.
“Sperm-jacking? How can you tell?” I asked, keeping my own voice low. We sat at a beachside table at Duke’s in Waikiki. I choose public places to meet prospective clients, but this time I regretted the decision.
“A bull is a sperm-making machine, Miss Lyon, and the champion stuff gets top dollar from breeders. MY SPERM IS THE BEST THERE IS, ANYWHERE.”
Dozens of heads turned in our direction.
“A bull’s balls produce all the time, but you ejaculate him too often, you get fewer wigglies per cup of snot. The count doesn’t drop much, but even a small dip tells me what’s going on.”
“Uh, doesn’t that happen naturally sometimes?” I tried recalling my college biology from too many years earlier.
“Not if he’s healthy.”
“Maybe your bull got himself in the corral with a willing cow.” I was searching for familiar territory. As a private investigator, I’d followed plenty of roaming spouses.
Gillespie shook his head. “It’s the cowboys get the action at rodeos, not the bulls.”
“What would anybody do with stolen sperm?”
He favored me with the kind of expression most people reserve for idiot children. “Sell it, Missy. Black market. Hell, everybody wants to breed champions but nobody’s willing to pay full price. They all want a piece of me.” His face reddened almost the shade of his shirt. “I need you to find the bastard.”
“You’re asking me to find a thief with sticky fingers?” All of a sudden, a career in telemarketing had extraordinary appeal.
Gillespie snorted. “You give a hand job to a cowboy, you use a machine on a bull. An E-JACK-YOU-LATER. Not your everything-but-the-smell sex shop cooter, either. We’re talking about a serious-science collector.”
I glanced at the ocean, only yards away from where we sat, so blue you couldn’t tell where water met sky. The sweet smell of oil from hundreds of sunbathers wafted around us. Without a ‘Vette payment to make, I’d be on the beach faster than you could say bulls’ balls. Instead I was trapped with a blowhard, talking about his randy bulls.
“Do you have any suspects?” I asked.
“A clown named Higa.”
“Clown? My fee’s the same whether he’s a clown or a bastard.”
“They told me you got a smart mouth, Missy. Quality work, a package that’s easy on the eyes, but a smart mouth. So far, they’re right about the package and the mouth. Higa’s a rodeo clown.
“Jealousy. I made it in the bidness, he failed. If he tried digging holes to piss in, he’d screw it up. He sees me and knows what I got is outta reach but that don’t stop him from wanting it. Here’s the kicker, though.” Gillespie leaned forward like he was sharing a secret. “Lately, the dumb bastard is living large. New truck, big show-off watch. What does that tell you?”
“He came into money?”
“Bingo! A rodeo clown gets two hundred, two-fifty tops, a performance. That ain’t putting gas in his new truck.” He sat back and checked his own show-off watch. “Right now I’ve got a container-load of bulls on its way to the Makawao Rodeo.”
Makawao Rodeo. In a state with a two centuries-old cowboy culture, where summer means rodeo on every island, the event in Makawao, Maui was the jewel. A trip to Maui would be worth a lot of bullshit. “You expect Higa to be at the rodeo?”
“You’re catching on,” he said.
“All right. As long as I don’t have to cuff him when I find him. I’ll draw up the standard contract. Just so we’re clear, Gillespie, you’re paying for the work and that’s all you get.”
“Fine,” he said. “Your smart mouth I can do without. But you can’t stop me looking at the package.”
I used the excuse of paperwork to get away from Gillespie as quickly as possible. After preparing the contract and giving it to a courier, I requested a background check on Gillespie Buckers, my client’s breeding “bidness.”
* * * * *
A light breeze swirled brown eddies across Oskie Rice Arena, a mile above the town of Makawao on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. The nearly two mile-high shield volcano dominates the Maui landscape. I parked my butt on a hard grandstand bench, taking the sun on my arms and the tang of dirt and manure up my nose. I wore a wide-brim cowgirl hat with a flower-lei band, a fringe vest over a rhinestone-studded tank top, and the tightest Wranglers I ever wiggled into. All brand new from the Paniolo Store.
The announcer boomed over the P.A., “Ladies and gentlemen, next up, Lance Dawkins on Terminator, from Gillespie Buckers. Terminator has never been ridden in thirty-nine tries.”
The gate opened and a seventeen hundred-pound bag of aggression burst out of the chute with Dawkins on its back. Terminator bucked high and turned to his left. Dawkins bounced like a rag doll, chaps flying, one hand in the air. He leaned back as Terminator went airborne, head down and tail up. Dawkins lurched to the side as Terminator’s hind quarters crashed to the dirt, but he righted himself, narrowly escaping the bull’s horns as the beast swung his huge head from side to side. Dawkins held on, to my amazement, through turn after leaping turn before the buzzer sounded at eight seconds.
The ride wasn’t over. Dawkins slid off Terminator’s back but was unable to free his hand. Terminator continued to buck and turn, dragging Dawkins with him. A clown rushed to aid him as other clowns tried to get Terminator’s attention. The bull gave another toss of his head and a blunted horn punched Dawkins’s bib and flack vest as his hand came free. I jumped to my feet with the rest of the crowd, heart pounding, fist in my mouth as Dawkins ran for the open chute. A clown in a short skirt followed him, protecting his back.
Another clown, a sad-faced Emmett Kelly type standing in a barrel that resembled a beer can, caught Terminator’s attention. Terminator charged. The clown did his best imitation of a turtle seconds before the bull hit the can.
I’d read up about those barrels. They were made of steel, lined with rubber and weighed in at about 175 pounds, but the impact popped it straight into the air. It came down with a heavy bounce and rolled to a stop. The charge took the fight out of Terminator and he trotted to a chute at the opposite end.
“Ninety-one points,” the announcer said, totaling the points for rider and bull. “What a ride.” Dawkins climbed the chute gate and waved his hat, apparently unhurt.
Not so the clown in the can. The realization that he had not emerged swept through the arena. A hush fell over the crowd. The only sound was the crackle of the breeze through the kiawe trees.
Paramedics rushed into the arena and went to work. Dawkins joined them. Finally, after minutes of silence and agony, Dawkins gave a thumbs-up. The tension fell away and we all broke into applause. The clown got to his feet and walked off supported by medics.
The announcer said, “Let’s give one more big aloha to Junior Boy Higa, folks.”
Junior Boy Higa. Doyle Gillespie’s main suspect.
* * * * *
After the last ride, I headed back to town in search of paniolos–Hawaiian cowboys–and a drink. I found both in a small café. Swinging doors let me into a dark interior cooled by ceiling fans and decorated with cowboy tack on the paneled walls. My vodka and tonic came in a Mason jar with a side of pretzels.
Lance Dawkins came in shortly after and made straight for the end of the bar where other paniolos surrounded him. He had the kind of heart-stopping gorgeous features I’d always given my fantasy cowboys. Not matinee-cowboy soft, but hard, almost cruel. A day-old beard emphasized the hardness. I figured him somewhere in his early thirties, around my age.
I took my vodka tonic and worked my way through the posse to Dawkins’s elbow. “Awesome ride, cowboy,” I said.
Dawkins turned, startled. His left hand and wrist, wrapped in an elastic bandage, caught my arm. and knocked my drink. The vodka tonic, ice and all, found my tank top. Ice chips slid between my breasts. I yelped.
My first reaction was to lash out, but then I looked at Hawkins. Less than thirty minutes earlier he had ridden a bull to the buzzer but in that moment he had colored like a ten year-old. He said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. Lord help me, I didn’t know you were so close.”
“It’s okay, cowboy.”
“Ma’am, let me . . .” He whipped out a bandanna and then froze, unsure what to do.
I took the cloth and patted the exposed part of my chest.
He said, “I’m truly sorry, Ma’am. What can I do?”
I gave him my empty glass. “Vodka tonic. And you can stop calling me, ‘ma’am.'”
I made my way to the door marked Wahine, aware of the eyes of a dozen paniolos on me. In the restroom, I removed my wet top and bra and buttoned my vest. It gapped strategically.
When I went back to the bar, I found Dawkins alone at a table. He had a beer in front of him and a tall drink at the place next to him. His eyes zeroed in on the gaps in my vest.
“Whoo-ee! Forgive me for being ungentlemanly, but I never had so fortuitous an accident.”
“Is this mine?” I asked, sliding onto the seat by the drink.
“Vodka tonic, as you requested.”
“Lots of ice,” I said. I took a sip and regarded him over the glass. “Perhaps it won’t melt as fast this time.”
Dawkins turned bright red. “My name’s Lance.”
“I know who you are, cowboy. I’m Val Lyon. Tell me the truth, did nobody ride that bull before?”
“Yep. Ranked number one.”
“So how do you feel beating a beast like that?”
Dawkins took a long pull of his beer. “Kind of sad, ending his run. He’s a champion.”
“What about the poor clown in the can? Do you think he’ll be all right?”
“Junior Boy’s a tough hombre. He’s taken some pretty good lickin’s but he always comes through.”
“You know him well?”
“For years.” Dawkins lifted his bottle and contemplated it. “If he were to walk into this saloon, he’d drink on me the rest of the night on account of all the times he’s distracted a bull and saved my life.”
Dawkins drained his beer and signaled the waitress for another round. “What attracts you to the rodeo, the horses or the cowboys?”
“The bulls. ” I launched into the cover story I’d worked up with Gillespie’s help. “My daddy has a small ranch over on Molokai. We raise rodeo bulls.”
“Yeah? I might have ridden one.”
“I doubt it. We don’t have any champions. The best our bulls have done is the amateur circuit.”
Dawkins said, “Genetics are everything. Once you get a good line established, you’ll make it.”
“We need a good line like Terminator, but the larger ranches always outbid us.”
I scanned the room. Paniolos of both sexes occupied the other tables and packed the bar two deep. People threw glances our way. I leaned closer to Dawkins. “I’ve heard we might be able to get the little goobers through other sources.”
Dawkins thought about it.
I twirled a strand of hair. “Daddy’s very disappointed that our bulls don’t buck.”
Dawkins laughed and said, “Maybe you just need to tighten the flanking strap.”
In my ignorance of rodeos, I’d never heard of a flanking strap. I almost made the mistake of asking.
The cafe door opened and Junior Boy Higa came in. Dawkins waved him to our table. The remains of heavy clown makeup marked his hairline and the corners of his eyes. The makeup only served to emphasize the pallor of his complexion. His outfit consisted of a plaid shirt and polka-dot boxers. On the boxers were the words, “Wild Thang.”
Dawkins said, “Junior Boy, I want you to meet the prettiest cowgirl at the rodeo. This is Val, who lost her shirt over me.”
“Typical Lance trick,” he said. “I’m Junior Boy Higa.”
His speech was slow and deliberate, like a man who’d been drinking all night.
“Best barrelman on the circuit,” Dawkins said.
“Spam in a can,” Higa smiled, “That’s me.”
He shook the hand I offered and sat down.
“You took a big hit,” I said. “Shouldn’t you be in the hospital?”
“Hospital,” he said, waving a hand in the air dismissively. ” Ain’t no insurance company in the world gonna insure a barrelman. No insurance, you can’t even crap in a hospital. “
Hawkins said, “Junior Boy’s taken harder hits.” To the waitress who still hovered around, he said, “Bring my man a beer, ma’am. No, make that a case of beer.”
“7-Up,” Higa said. He eased into a chair. “Head hurts like hell.”
Dawkins said, “Val here breeds bulls.”
“My dad does,” I said. “I’m scouting for some championship sperm from a bull like Terminator.”
Higa said, “Don’t need Terminator. All my sperm are champions.” He passed a hand over his forehead. “But you found her first, pardner.” To me he said, “Lance’s got some champs, too.”
“Forgive my friend,” Dawkins said. “Cowboy humor should be left in the barn. Back to business, Terminator’s pretty expensive and Gillespie’s a greedy son of a bitch.”
“Price was higher before he was ridden,” Higa said. “Not show high now.”
“I’ll bet he’s still out of my range. I heard I could get the material from another source.”
“Maybe,” Higa said.
I wondered if Higa was being incautious. Dawkins must have thought the same. He shot Higa a glance that seemed to communicate something. “I don’t think so, pardner.”
Higa ignored him. “Sure she can, pardner. How much could you pay, Val?” He pronounced “much” as “mush.”
“You sure you’re all right?” I asked.Dawkins said, “She’s right. You took a big hit today, pardner. I think you need to rest. C’mon, we’re going to the hotel.”
Higa let himself be dragged out of the chair. “Yeah, all right. Christ, my head hurts.” Chrisht.
“If you’ll excuse me, Val,” Dawkins said. “Listen, are you free tonight? We can have dinner.”
“I’d like that,” I said. I gave him the name of my hotel back towards Kahului. We agreed on eight o’clock.
We left together. I followed Lance’s white pickup, Higa lolling in his passenger seat, down the winding mountain road. The early-evening sun hung low over the ocean painting the horizon gold. A mile before Kahului, Dawkins turned into a small hotel lot. I hoped Higa would be all right. His lethargic behavior, the way he allowed Dawkins to drag him from the chair, suggested a concussion.
I continued on to my own hotel. Doyle Gillespie accosted me as I entered the lobby. He wore his aloha shirt tucked into his jeans, a huge fashion faux pas given the girth of his waistline. His rodeo belt buckle was a license-plate-sized hunk of metal depicting a cowboy riding a bull and the words “RIDE THE WILD THANG.” I was beginning to catch on to cowboy humor and was not impressed.
Gillespie said, “So? Did you talk to him? Is he hijacking the juice?” His voice boomed off the paneled walls.
“I talked to Higa, if that’s who you mean. I also talked to Lance Dawkins. I don’t know who is ‘hijacking the juice,’ as you call it.”
I headed to the Silver Sword Bar. If I had to talk to Gillespie, I didn’t want him in my room.
Gillespie followed. I slid into a booth on the far side of the room, still within eyeshot of the bartender. Gillespie took the seat opposite me. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the gaps in my vest.
“These things take time. You have to let me work my own way.”
I crossed my arms over my chest as protection from Gillespie’s relentless leering. Dawkins’s glances had been discreet and admiring. And welcome. Gillespie’s were blatant and insulting. If he weren’t my employer I’d have punched his obscene face.
“But you talked to the little bastard,” he said. “Did you get anything from him?”
“I had the sense that he would have taken the bait, but Dawkins stopped him. We didn’t talk long. He took a knock on the head today when Terminator tossed his can.”
The news delighted Gillespie. “My bull tossed him? Excellent. The cocksucker deserves a good tossing.
Gillespie sat back and gloated while a slim waitress in a yellow holoku took my order of a vodka tonic. Gillespie ordered a beer.
When she left he said, “Where’s the sonuvabitch now?”
“Back at his hotel resting. I’ll go question him in the morning. He should be in a hospital, but he insists he’ll be fine.”
“Dawkins. Is he involved?”
“I’m not sure. I think he bought my cover story. I’m meeting him again this evening.”
“You going to use some undercover work on him?” His grin was adolescent and dirty, a Beavis and Butthead grin on his fat face.
“How I do the job is my business.”
The waitress returned and set our drinks on the table.
Gillespie wouldn’t drop the subject. “Under-the-cover work,” he said. “Use your mouth for more than smarting off. I reckon a doll-face like you could suck the truth out of a dead man.”
I picked up my glass and threw the drink at him. He sputtered in surprise as the ice pelted his face and the liquid soaked his shirt.
“We’re through, Gillespie. I feel soiled just talking to you.” I got out of the booth. “You’ll get your retainer back, minus my expenses so far.”
“Bitch! You can’t quit on me!”
“Watch me.” I walked out of the bar under the horrified gaze of the waitress. Gillespie didn’t follow. He stayed in the booth, railing at the unfortunate waitress who patted him with napkins.
I was glad to be done with Gillespie. I’d made a mistake taking the job in the first place, but I had another reason–Lance Dawkins. I was curious about him. Liked his look. Liked the way he looked at me. Now, I could be myself with him, with none of the pretense of my cover.
Back in my room, I woke up my laptop and prepared an accounting for Gillespie and a summary of what I had done to that point. After that, I checked my e-mail, deleted several dozen messages promising the secret to larger body parts, some of which I owned and some I didn’t, as well as ads for cheap Viagra. Most of the non-spam could wait until I got back to Honolulu. The only one of interest was a report from the information broker I’d contracted for the search on Gillespie’s breeding business Since I was through with the case, I figured I could wait.
What to wear for my date was foremost on my mind. Fortunately I wasn’t all cowgirl on this trip. I’d packed a white summer outfit for just such an eventuality. The dress was flimsy and short, held up by spaghetti straps. I gave some thought to underwear and then spent time on hair and makeup..
By ten to eight I was ready. At quarter after eight he hadn’t arrived or called and I wondered if he were lost. I’d wait in the bar, but that ran the risk of running into Gillespie and wrecking a promising evening, so I ordered a vodka tonic from room service.
While I waited, I opened the file on Gillespie’s company. The report contained nothing remarkable. It listed purpose, assets, capitalization for the company, Gillespie Buckers. I scrolled down, sipping the v.t. until I came to another document. This document was a dissolution of partnership for a company called Wild Thang. This was more than cowboy humor. The partners were Doyle Gillespie and Junior Boy Higa.
I‘d bet my Wranglers the break-up resulted in some bad blood. I was pondering that when Dawkins called from the lobby.
Dawkins’s face brightened when I stepped out of the elevator. From the way he took me in, I knew I was right to lose the jeans. Dawkins looked rugged and hot. He wore pressed jeans, a pressed shirt with mother-of-pearl snaps, and ostrich boots. He still had the sexy stubble on his face. I had to bite my lip to keep from shouting, “Yee hah!”
I noticed the elastic bandage was gone from his hand. The damage from the bull’s rope was visible as red welts. “How’s your hand, cowboy?”
He flexed it. “Good enough to put a squeeze on a filly.”
This fire was about to consume us both. “Don’t go charging from the gate. You kept me waiting an hour.”
“And I told you –drop the ‘ma’am.'”
We went to a seafood restaurant on Kahului Bay. The decor was all dark paneling and dim lights. At that hour, we had no trouble being seated on a lanai over the moonlit sand. Dawkins looked good enough that I could forgive him for making me wait. My head buzzed with moonlight, surf, and the alcohol I’d had in my room. I passed on drinks before dinner, but agreed to wine with the meal.
“How long have you been riding bulls?” I asked.
“All my life, I think. I rode steers in junior high. Rode my first bull before I had a driver’s license. The eight seconds is an awesome rush.”
“The roar of the crowd gets your blood jumping?”
“The only thing that gets my blood jumping more than rodeo is a dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty in a little white dress.” He gazed at me the way a starving man regards a steak. Me, I would gladly throw myself on the plate.
“Whoa, cowboy. We haven’t had dinner yet.” The warning was as much for my benefit as his.
Our dinners arrived, mahi mahi in mango sauce for me and snapper with chilies for him. I went slow on the wine, a pleasantly dry sauvignon blanc, because I didn’t want to get toasted and miss any midnight rodeo. Conversation with Lance was easy and unforced. He told stories of the cowboy life on the circuit.
“How much longer can you ride?” I asked.
“As long as I have something to ride,” he said.
That sounded like a proposition. We headed back to my hotel. I didn’t wait for the elevator doors to slide shut before making the first tentative kiss. His response was anything but tentative. His lips were warm and his tongue insistent. By the time we reached my room, I was ready. I yanked at the snaps on his shirt. They came open with satisfying pops.
I raked my fingers through the hair on his chest. “Just so you know, cowboy, I expect this event to last longer than eight seconds.”
He hoisted my dress and tore at my panties. “No problem, lady.”
But there was a problem. In spite of our desire and efforts, the only thing that rose was frustration. The desire petered out after about three quarters of an hour. Our effort lasted a little longer.
Finally he rolled off me. “Sorry,” he said.
“Don’t worry. This can happen sometimes. I put too much pressure on you.”
He cradled me in his arm. “It’s not you.”
“Sure.” I couldn’t help feeling ineffectual. I tried to push those ugly emotions away.
“Honest. It’s happened before.”
“They, uh, make pills for this, you know.”
“I’ve tried them. I’ve taken so many, my vision turned blue like I was looking at the world underwater. My doctor says I have nerve damage from riding too many bulls.”
I got out of bed. “You could have told me. I’d have understood.”
“Look, Val, I thought I had a chance for something different with you. When I saw you I was sure it would work this time. Don’t get steamed about it.”
I wasn’t steamed, just disappointed. “I’m taking a shower.”
I needed time alone to sort out my emotions and I thought he might, too. I liked Lance. Once I got past the self-doubt, I felt a great sadness for him. What must he be feeling?
The shower restored my confidence and elevated my mood. I dried off, wrapped the towel around me and turbaned another one around my head.
When I returned to the room, Lance was sitting on the bed, wearing his jeans and boots, searching my purse. My stomach tightened. I had to force myself to be calm.
“What’s going on?”
“You tell me.” He held my license. “Private investigator, huh?”
“You went through my purse? What gave you the right?”
He threw the license at me. “You’re spying on me and you ask what gives me the right?”
His eyes blazed. I had an inkling of his strength from our bed action and now fear crept in around the edges of my own anger. My only weapon, a canister of pepper spray, was in my purse, which sat next to him on the bed. I tried to calm him down. “You’re overreacting, Lance. What makes you think I’m spying on you?”
“You think I didn’t catch on to the way you came on to me?”
“Maybe I was attracted to you. Did you ever consider that?”
“Who are you working for?”
“What does anything matter now, anyway? Gillespie hired me to investigate sperm-jacking. He suspected Higa, not you.”
“Son-of-a-bitch Gillespie. Why did he suspect Junior?”
“They were partners once. My guess is they had a falling out. Look, Lance, I’m not condoning Higa, but I don’t like Gillespie at all. I quit the job after I met you.”
“You could have told me,” he said, his voice heavy with mockery.
“Go to hell. I was afraid of ruining things between us. I guess I did anyway.”
He looked at me with scorn. “I knew you weren’t who you said you were.”
“So you were just putting on a charade, too? When you told me I made your blood jump, that was all a lie?”
“No, damnit! I had hopes for us. You made me feel like nobody else has ever done.” He lay back on the bed and put his hands over his face. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter anymore. But, I didn’t lie about you.”
My fear of Dawkins drained away. The empty spaces quickly filled with sadness for what we’d lost.
“Okay, we both screwed up. What gave me away?”
“Your face when I mentioned the flanking strap. You’d never heard of it.”
“You got me. I’m just a city girl. What is a flanking strap?”
“A strap they put around the bull’s abdomen. Someone pulls it tight when the chute opens. The strap pinches the animal’s genitals and he tries to buck it off.”
“No wonder they buck.”
“Yeah. A bull is not normally aggressive.”
“I think that’s cruel.”
Dawkins’s cell phone chirped on the nightstand. He answered, listened for a moment. “What?” he said. “You’re not making sense. . . . Oh, damn. Just you?” The color drained from his face. “Don’t do anything. I’m on my way. . . . You didn’t? The police? Crap!” He closed the phone and grabbed his shirt.
“Another rider,” he said. “He had a tankful of booze and went to rouse Junior Boy. When Junior Boy didn’t answer, this rider kicked the door in. Junior Boy’s dead.”
Lance pulled on his shirt as he headed out. “Effects of the concussion, probably. Brain trauma, I don’t know.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“I’m going alone.”
I put on my dress, and slipped into my shoes. No time to hunt a replacement for my ruined panties. I stopped only to pick my license off the floor and grab my purse, but Dawkins had too long a lead.
I had no trouble locating Higa’s room at the motel. A Maui County Sheriff’s car sat outside painting the concrete facade in red and blue flashes. A knot of people had gathered in the lot near an open door. Dawkins and another cowboy stood a little apart from the crowd answering questions from a deputy.
I pushed my way through the group and flashed my investigator’s license.
Dawkins scowled at me. “Keep out of this,” he mouthed.
I said to the deputy, “I believe the man inside is the subject of an investigation I’m working.”
The deputy, a young Hawaiian with a broad face, studied my license. He studied me and my dress a little longer. “Your investigation all pau now, sistah.”
“Can I see him?” I asked. “Just to be sure.”
He looked me over again. “Come with me,” he said. “Quick look. Coroner’s wagon is on the way.”
“How’d he die?” I asked.
“Ask the coroner. The paniolos say the guy got a big concussion.”
“No sign of foul play?”
“Died in his sleep, my opinion.”
Higa lay on his back on the bed, eyes closed, a pillow beside his head. His face no longer had the clown makeup but small bruises darkened the flesh around his mouth and nose. I pointed them out to the deputy.
“So? The guy got tossed by a bull today. He should be one big black and blue.”
“He didn’t have bruises on his face after the rodeo. They could have been made by someone holding something over his face. A pillow maybe. If he suffocated, you might find broken blood vessels in his eyes.”
The deputy regarded me curiously and, for a minute, I thought he would break loose some macho bullshit about me being a woman and an outsider on his territory, but to his credit, he didn’t. He lifted an eyelid and shone a flashlight in Higa’s eye.
“Red through and through,” he said.
He lifted one of Higa’s hands.
“Material under the fingernails,” he said. He checked the other hand. “Both hands.”
“He may have been lethargic,” I said, “but he didn’t go easily.”
The deputy’s expression hardened. “Never had a murder before and I ain’t gonna screw this one up. I need you out of here now, sistah.”
I took a final visual sweep of the part of the room from the door. An elastic bandage lay on the floor next to the bed. Dawkins had worn an elastic bandage.
And Dawkins was nowhere to be seen. The other rider was sitting against the wall, head in hands. I kicked his boot. “Where’d Dawkins go?
He looked up at me through bleary eyes. His breath smelled like the floor of a bar. “He split. Gone up Mount Haleakala.”
If he went up the mountain, away from the city and the airport, then he wasn’t trying to flee. But he might be trying to hide. I got in my rental car and followed the only road up. Nearly midnight and up-country Maui had already gone to bed. The road wound through darkness. Now and then I spotted car lights a mile or so ahead of me. Dawkins, I assumed. Once, I caught a flash of headlights in my mirror, but they were far behind me. I continued on through Makawao town, having a good idea of Dawkins’s destination.
Oskie Rice Arena appeared deserted. Pole-mounted floodlights struggled to cut the shadows of the livestock trailers in the parking lot. The low sounds of cattle and horses drifted from the animal pens. I found Dawkins’s truck parked beside another one. My headlights caught him removing a case about the size of a double-wide ammo box from the neighboring truck. I left the lights on and got out.
“Junior Boy’s truck?”
“And the case?”
“The ejaculator,” he said, shielding his eyes from the headlights. The putty-colored box spelled “Dyno-jac” in big blue letters.
“What are you planning to do?”
“I’m going to use it on myself. Nothing else works.”
“Stop it with the lousy cowboy humor, Lance.”
“I guess my jokes don’t work with you any more than my dick.”
“Quit beating yourself up. You’re about to destroy the thing, aren’t you?”
“Junior Boy’s dead. This would only raise questions. His memory deserves better.”
People will have a lot of questions about you, too. Put it down.”
He set the Dyno-jac on the ground and stepped back from it. “What kind of questions? Why I can’t I get an erection for a beautiful woman? No thank you.”
“Stop it, Lance. You and Higa were partners, weren’t you?”
“You can’t prove anything.”
“This afternoon, in the bar, you tried to shut Junior Boy up because you had suspicions about me.”
Dawkins shrugged. “He was talking nonsense. The concussion fucked up his thinking.”
“But when he wouldn’t quit, you decided to get him away from me. Then what? You two have a falling out? Things get out of hand?”
Dawkins mouth fell open in surprise. “Wait, you think I killed him?”
“What did you do the hour you kept me waiting?”
“That hour? I made sure he was all right. Then I called around to ranches, checking you out.”
“You left your elastic bandage by his bed. Did you try to strangle him? When that didn’t work you used a pillow?”
“You’re crazy. I didn’t need the bandage anymore so I took it off.”
You have welts on your wrist. Junior Boy struggled and scratched his attacker.”
“My hand got caught on the bull rope. Do these look like scratches?” He held his wrists out to the light.
The welts did indeed look more like bruises than scratches. The skin was unbroken and the damage was confined to his left hand, the one he lashed to the bull.
“I had to know for sure,” I said. If Dawkins didn’t kill him, I had a good idea who did. “Higa and Gillespie were partners in Wild Thang. “How bad was the split?”
“Real bad. Junior Boy didn’t talk much about it, but I got the idea Gillespie screwed him out of a lot of money.”
“Junior Boy was going to collect Terminator’s semen. Did he always pick Gillespie bulls?”
“Come to think of it, yeah. You think that son-of-a-bitch Gillespie killed him?”
“Makes sense. Higa was trying to get back his money by hijacking the semen. Gillespie wanted to stop him.”
Movement behind a nearby livestock trailer caught my attention. Dawkins and I turned as Gillespie stepped out from the shadows. A chrome-plated semi-automatic in his hand caught the light from my headlights.
“Been listening to your pretty theories, Missy, and I like your first one better. Dead-dick cowboy here kills thieving clown. Really, Dawkins, you can’t even get wood for a fine filly like this? I pity you, boy, I really do.”
Dawkins shouted, “You bastard. Did you kill Junior? I’ll kill you, myself.”
Gillespie pointed the gun at him.
“Lance, calm down,” I said.
“Good advice, Missy. Lady Nine here gets nervous around jumpy people. Why don’t you move over with the cowboy? Don’t worry, he’s harmless. Leave the purse on the ground.”
I dropped my purse and went to stand by Dawkins. “Why did you hire me, if you planned to kill him anyway?”
“Wasn’t the plan, Missy. After you ran out on me, I went to talk to him. The motherfucking clown wouldn’t listen to reason and I had to improvise.”
Both of Gillespie’s forearms had nasty-looking claw marks. Higa had fought hard.
“The car following me up the mountain was you?”
Gillespie nodded. “Came to see you tonight, Missy. I don’t like people quitting on me. But when they change sides, that really burns me. I spotted you two in the elevator and it didn’t take any more brains than a prairie dog’s to figure out what’s going on. Way you were pawing her, Dawkins, who would have guessed your pocket rocket wouldn’t ignite?”
“Shut up, Gillespie,” I said. “What do you want?”
“I want to show you a dick that works and I’m sure you’re curious about this little ‘ol device. Pick the thing up, Dawkins, but don’t get cute.”
Dawkins hesitated. Gillespie pointed the gun at me. He said, “You’d hate for anything to happen to your lady love, cowboy.”
“Don’t hurt her, Gillespie.” Dawkins picked up the Dyno-jac.
Gillespie motioned us toward the animal pens. “I do admire the way you try to rise to the occasion, boy, even when you’re dick’s useless as a pool cue made of string.”
We walked to the animal pens. With a gun in my back, I had to go along. I only hoped Dawkins didn’t try to be a hero. The bulls pressed against the steel fences and watched us curiously. So many big animals would make me nervous without Gillespie and his gun.
Gillespie ordered us to stop at Terminator’s pen which bordered the arena. He said to Dawkins, “Get in the pen, boy.”
“Don’t, Lance. You’ll get hurt,” I said.
“Nothing to worry about. I’ve done this plenty of times.”
Dawkins pushed the Dyno-jac case under the fence and climbed over. He opened the case and took out some tubes.
Gillespie interrupted him. “The lady here deserves a fully-dressed bull, don’t you think?” He grabbed some ropes from a peg on the pen and tossed them to Dawkins. “Go ahead, set him up like he was going to be ridden.”
Dawkins fastened a flat rope around Terminator behind his front legs. Terminator paid him no attention.
“I’m sure you know about the bull rope the rider hangs on to,” Gillespie said. “You know about this other rope?”
“The flank strap,” I said. “Why don’t you put it around your fat ass?”
“You should rein in your smart mouth, Missy. I can see how a guy could lose an erection real fast around you.”
Terminator snorted in irritation when Dawkins put the strap loosely around the bull’s midsection.
Gillespie stuck the gun in my back. “Now you. Get up on the rail so I can keep an eye on you.”
My shoes were not made for climbing nor my dress for preserving modesty. I exposed a lot of myself unintentionally to Gillespie and he made sure Lance knew it.
“Yee haw, now that sight sure extends my telescope, Dawkins. Pity yours don’t work.”
I was now sitting on the top rail above Terminator with my legs inside the pen. Gillespie climbed up beside me.
“Get that bull hooked up, Dawkins.”
I knew Gillespie didn’t plan to let us go, but Dawkins asked the question. “You gonna kill us too, Doyle? You’ll have to explain more dead people.”
“What’s to explain? They’ll find the lady detective here, and figure she caught you in the act of sperm-jacking and you killed her. I’ll allow I hired her and she died bravely in the line of duty. Hell, I’ll say good things at her funeral.”
“The police can trace the gun.” I said.
“Not mine, they can’t. What guns I own are my business, not some limp-dick government clerk’s.”
Dawkins said, “You’ll still have me to deal with me and I’ll kill you myself if you harm her.”
“Brave talk, but I got a plan for you.”
Then I realized what Gillespie intended. “Lance, get out!”
Gillespie reached for the flanking strap. “Time to cowboy up.”
I slammed Gillespie’s gun hand against the top rail as he yanked the strap. His gun dropped into the pen. Terminator bucked and kicked Dawkins with his hind hooves, throwing him against the back wall. The whole pen shook. Gillespie lost his balance and tumbled backward onto the dirt of the arena.
The only way I could help Dawkins was to release the flanking strap. I lunged for it, but another wild buck by Terminator threw me off balance and . . . Shit! . . . I fell forward, desperately grabbing the bull rope to keep from falling between the wall and his body where I would surely be crushed. Holding tight to the rope, I swung my legs over so I was straddling his back and reached for the flank strap.
Terminator crashed the gate and it flew open. He burst into the arena, bucked high and turned to his left where Gillespie struggled to his feet. Terminator lowered his head and charged. I lost my grip on the bull rope but found the flank strap. Terminator caught Gillespie on his horns and lifted him, inches from my face.
Terminator tossed us both. I landed hard on my ass and rolled, desperate to get out of the way of Terminator’s hooves. I needn’t have worried. The flanking strap had come loose on the last buck and Terminator ambled to the far side of the arena.
I felt like I’d been caught in a blender. My flimsy spaghetti straps hadn’t survived the ride. I had to hold the top up to cover my breasts, but Gillespie had copped his last peek. His eyes were open and unseeing, his neck broken.
Dawkins was in bad shape, too. He lay on the floor of the pen. “Should have worn a flack vest,” he said through a grimace. “Think he broke some ribs. Afraid to count how many.”
“Don’t move. You might have other injuries.” I used Dawkins’s phone to call for help.
“Think Terminator ended my rodeoing.” He grimaced again. I couldn’t tell what hurt him the most, his ribs or the end of his career. “Not much rodeoing in jail anyway. You going to turn me in?”
“This thing,” I pointed at the Dyno-jac, “you found in Higa’s truck is all I have to tie anyone to the. . . uh. . .sperm-jacking. Gillespie won’t be talking and I’m done with this investigation. I’ve had enough bulls, bullshit and semen.”
Dawkins sighed in relief. Then he said, “You and me, we’re not going to work out, are we?”
“No, Lance, but not because of . . .”
“Right. Helluva ride you had, for your first one.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t go eight seconds, did I?”
“Three at most.”
“It seemed like forever.”
“They all do,” he said. He levered himself up on his elbows. “Got your blood jumping?”
“”Almost as good as sex, right?”
I turned away so he couldn’t see my face. Those three seconds were awesome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (2009)
Mark Troy is the author of the Shamus-nominated novel, Pilikia Is My Business. His short stories have appeared in Plots With Guns, Spinetingler, and Fedora: Private Eyes and Tough Guys edited by Michael Bracken. Mark lives in College Station, Texas. You can find out more about Mark and his stories on his website or on the Hawaiian Eye blog.