The Cowgirl, the Detectives and the Movie Star
By Janet Brayden
Things were not going well on Craig Malone's movie set. Props had failed, animals didn't perform as planned and his leading man was getting edgy and ready to quit. His leading lady was nervous and didn't know her lines. It was her first big part and she was intimidated by her co-star who was supposed to be playing her sweetheart.
To make matters worse it had been discovered that somebody was giving the young woman sabotaged copies of the script which made her look like a fool. She was a quick study though, and once given a good copy was able to learn her lines and speak them on cue.
"Mr. Malone?" his cameraman hailed him. "We've got a problem."
"Now what?" the studio executive asked.
"Somebody's been messing around with this camera," Michael Damon answered. "The motor's not running right and the lens is cracked."
"I don't suppose it could have been an accident?" Malone sighed.
"No, sir, I don't think so." Damon ran a hand through his blond hair. "The motor could break down or the cable might be bad. The lens could conceivably crack if exposed to severe temperature changes or something but it's not likely that both would happen at the same time."
"How long before you can get it running again? We need that camera. I don't have money in the budget for another one – not the way we've been running behind schedule."
"I won't know until I have time to take it completely apart and see what else, if anything, is wrong with it."
The producer was fuming. He was going to have to shut down the set for the third time in a week and that was not making him happy or doing his temper any good.
"All right. That's a wrap, everyone," Malone called out. "Everybody take the day off and be here at seven tomorrow morning. Martin and Amy – you need to be in makeup by five-thirty at the very latest so you can be in wardrobe immediately after."
The movie set bustled with activity the next morning. The stars had changed into their costumes from street clothes and been to makeup. The horses were saddled and waiting. The scene called for the heroine to take a leisurely jog down the road away from the camera, the premise being that she was meeting her sweetheart in town.
The young actress, who was the leading lady, mounted and sat ready and waiting for her cue. The three detectives were among those crowded around to watch. The actor playing her boyfriend was sitting on the front porch of the General Store.
There was a large crowd that gathered around the set and it was noisy. The horse that the actress was sitting on was nervous and kept sidling and crowding those who were near him. The young woman was not a good rider and had absolutely no control. She clung to the saddle horn and let the reins go slack in her hands. Then somebody bumped into the horse, accidentally or otherwise, and he spooked. The rider had no control as the gelding bolted and started running down the road with her barely able to stay in the saddle.
"Runaway!" somebody shouted.
Nobody near the extra horses needed for the scene seemed to know what to do. Everyone shouted to stop the horse but nobody took any action. Until, that is, a tall slim figure in jeans and a green plaid shirt was seen to untie the nearest horse and start it running. A blur of blue, green, tan and brown raced down the road after the runaway. The rider executed a perfect "Pony Express" mount and swung into the saddle. Within a couple of minutes the runaway was under control.
"That was some rescue young fella!" Malone exclaimed enthusiastically.
"Thanks," the rider said as she removed her hat to wipe her forehead.
Malone suddenly realized his mistake and stumbled all over himself trying to apologize for mistaking the young woman for a boy.
"I'm so sorry Miss..Mrs?"
"McKenna. Cayce McKenna."
"I'm pleased to meet you young lady," Malone said. "I hope you'll forgive me for thinking you were a boy."
Cayce grinned and shook the hand Malone held out to her. "It's not the first time, Mr. Malone, and it may not be the last."
"Still, I must apologize. You definitely do not look like a boy." The movie producer was adamant that Cayce accept his apology.
"Apology accepted." the young woman said.
"Please come into my office. I'd like to talk to you."
"Sure," she said.
The two of them went to the trailer that Malone was using as an office while he was on the set. Cayce noticed that the stars had trailers, very similar to his, nearby. She made a mental note to check with the young actress who had had the runaway to see if she was all right.
"Have a seat," Malone said indicating the chair in front of his desk. "I'd like you to come to work for me," the movie man said coming right to the point. "I need someone who can handle the horses and you seem to know what you're doing."
"I'm a rancher, Mr. Malone," Cayce told him. "I own a place up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I'm only passing through on my way home after a buying trip."
"I see," he said. "Well, I guess I'll have to get along with the incompetent help I've got. My star could have been killed when that horse ran away with her – nobody knew what to do."
"Are you having a lot of problems?" Cayce asked her green eyes getting dark with concern.
"It's one thing after another," her prospective employer told her giving her a brief recap of the recent series of accidents.
"Mr. Malone you've got yourself a heap of problems and you need some help," the rancher said. "I've got friends who are private investigators. They'd be glad for the job and they can help you, I'm sure of it. Call the Riptide Detective Agency in King Harbor. Tell them you want to hire them. Their fee is two-hundred dollars a day plus expenses. I don't think that's too much for you to pay for the help you need – and I'll stay on to manage your stock until you find someone else who knows what they're doing or until the movie is finished." Flashing him a grin she added, "I think you'd better make me a consultant as well – I was reading your script and I can tell you that there are a lot of things that need rewriting and you need to replace some of the props you're using."
"Young lady, you've got a deal." Malone stuck out his hand.
Cayce took it and gave him a surprisingly firm handshake. "Now call the guys and have them come down here. They'll need covers – how about a stable hand, a security guard and a special consultant? Murray is a computer and electronics whiz. Given the freedom to wander around at will he can do research and check cameras and other electronics for problems.
Cody Allen answered the phone when it rang on the Riptide that afternoon.
"Is this the Riptide Detective Agency?" a man's voice inquired.
"Yes, it is," Cody answered. "I'm Cody Allen. May I help you?"
"Mr. Allen your agency was recommended to me. My name is Craig Malone. I'm a movie producer working on a western film down in Frontiertown. I'm having some trouble and I want to hire your agency to look into it."
"I see," Allen said. "Where would you like to meet so we can discuss this?"
"Just come on down to Frontiertown," Malone said. "I've already arranged for covers for you though I understand that you and Mr. Ryder will have to discuss who does which of the two jobs – Security and stable hand – you will take. Mr. Bozinsky is already assured a job as my personal assistant which will allow him to roam freely around the set and the offices at the studio."
"We'll be there," the detective assured him. "Say around four o'clock this afternoon?"
"That'll be fine."
As Cody hung up the phone it occurred to him that he'd forgotten to ask who had recommended the agency. They didn't know anybody in Frontiertown and had never worked for anybody down there.
Promptly at four o'clock that afternoon the three detectives – Cody, Nick Ryder and Murray Bozinsky arrived at the studio in Frontiertown to meet with their prospective client. They were sent directly to the producer's office. The man welcomed them warmly.
"Please, gentlemen," he said. "Be seated and I'll tell you about the problems I've been having."
"What sort of problems?" Nick asked as Murray took a pencil out of his pocket protector along with a small notebook and prepared to take notes.
"Lighting that fails to work or burns too hot. We've had one fire but fortunately it was a minor one and nobody was hurt."
"What else?" Cody prompted their client.
"Horses gone lame. Wagon wheels falling off. Scripts missing. Costumes missing. You name it, it's happened – except that nothing has happened to my stars as of yet. I'll really be sunk if that happens."
"How long has this been going on?" Murray asked.
"About two weeks now. At first it was just minor inconveniences but a sabotaged camera is no joke. You gentlemen come highly recommended."
"This is so boss!" the thin scientist/detective exclaimed. "A real western movie and we're going to help make it!"
"There's only one problem," Nick said trying to curb his partner's enthusiasm.
"We don't know anything about westerns – or horses," Nick replied.
While they were talking Malone had quietly picked up his phone and summoned the one person the Riptide detectives least expected to see but were pleasantly surprised when they did.
"Come in," Malone said when he heard the knock on the door.
"You sent for me?" a young female voice asked.
Cody, Nick and Boz's heads whipped around at the sound. Cayce laughed when she saw the expressions on their faces. She was definitely a surprise. Three chairs fell over as the Southern California detectives rushed to hug their "little sister".
"Cayce!" Cody exclaimed as he engulfed her in a hug. "We haven't seen you for months! What are you doing here?"
Nick grabbed her in a hug and gave one of her ever present braids a tug. "Hi sweetie! What gives? What are you doing here?"
"Hi Cayce!" Boz said as he gave her a hug of his own.
"So many questions all at once," Cayce laughed at them. "Sit down and I'll tell you what's going on."
The men righted their chairs and sat down but not until Cayce herself was seated.
"Mr. Malone is being plagued by a lot of problems while he's making this movie," she explained. "I'll let him tell you what he knows and then I'll fill you in on what I've found just poking around."
"I've told them everything except for how you stopped the runaway," Malone told her.
"You stopped a runaway?" Cody asked.
"No big deal," Cayce told him trying to avoid the subject.
"It most certainly was!" Malone insisted and told the Riptide detectives what Cayce had done though he may have embellished on the details a little.
"It wasn't that dramatic," the young rancher insisted. "It was crowded, and noisy, and the girl doesn't really know how to ride very well. The horse got scared and took off when someone bumped into him."
"Sounds you were a real heroine," Boz told her.
Cayce blushed, the freckles on her nose showing against the tan she always had.
"Never mind," Cody said seeing how embarrassed she was. "Bring us up to date on what you've found. I know you've been asking questions and poking around, Cayce, you're good at that - and putting people at ease."
"Well, Amy Ryan, the leading lady, is a sweet girl. This is her first big part and she's understandably nervous. Problem is that her agent assured the studio that she knows how to ride when she really doesn't - not very well anyway. I'm afraid the runaway this morning didn't do anything for her confidence but I've got plans to fix that."
The detectives knew that this meant Cayce had private riding lessons in mind for the girl. Cayce was a good teacher but Murray was proof positive that she wasn't perfect. He'd never be a good rider no matter how many lessons she gave him.
"The head wrangler knows nothing about horses - that much is obvious. He's gone and brought in a bunch of Thoroughbreds." Cayce shook her head in disgust at the man's ignorance.
She handed the men a list of names. "I had Mr. Malone put together a list of names of everybody who's involved in making this movie," she told them. "I thought I'd give you a head start on your investigation." With a gleam in her eye that spelled mischief she said, "He's arranged for Boz to work as his personal assistant. That'll give him access to everyone and everything related to the movie. Now as for you two," she looked at Cody and Nick who were suddenly uncomfortable, "one of you is going to be a security guard and the other one gets to work with me as a stable hand. You choose."
"What do you mean one of us gets to work with you?" Cody demanded to know.
"Nuh-uh. No way. You're going home," Nick told her.
"Cayce, it's too dangerous for you to get involved in our cases," Murray tried to be the voice of reason.
It all fell on deaf ears.
"I'm already established here, so you might as well let me work with you," she told them.
"We'll call your uncle - he'll talk some sense into you," Cody said.
"You can't get him," was the answer to that threat. "He's not at Irwin and I'm not telling you where he is. And if Mr. Bozinsky dares to tap into the post's computer to find out where he is I'll never speak to him again."
Cayce and Boz had become quite close - almost as close as she was to the other two and she had quickly learned how to manage him. Telling him that she wasn't going to speak to him again would break his heart and she knew it.
"Cayce!" Nick was appalled. "That's not fair to Boz."
"I don't care!" she snapped. "I told Mr. Malone that I was going to help him. I don't even want to get paid for this job. You are not going to order me around like one of your recruits - or a child! I'm an adult and responsible for my own decisions!"
The men of the Riptide held a little conference. They didn't want her involved in the case and yet they couldn't, as she pointed out, order her to leave. She was a grown woman with a mind of her own.
"As much as it pains me to admit it," Nick said, "she really can be a big help." He looked Cayce straight in the eye and added, "But if there's the least little sign that you're in trouble and can't handle it we're packing you off back to the Lazy M if we have to hogtie you and throw you into the Mimi to get you there!"
Cayce stuck her tongue out at him and then said, "So which of you is going to work with me?"
Cody and Nick looked at each other with sour faces. Nick and Cayce were very fond of each other but working under her would be a disaster - he'd never be able to hold his temper. Besides that he had absolutely no prior experience working with horses except what he'd gotten visiting the Lazy M. Cody, on the other hand, had spent some time around the stables as a teenager because his well to do parents had belonged to a polo club. He'd learned some of the basics of horse care even before he'd ever met Cayce or visited her home in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
"I am," the blond said.
Cayce's eyes gleamed with mischief as she eyed his current attire of white slacks and a blue and white sweater. "You'll have to give up those nice clothes," she said. "No more slacks and sweaters and boat shirts. From now on - until you solve the case - you're going to be wearing jeans, tees and denim shirts. And no sneakers or loafers. Get the boots I gave you out of your closet and start getting used to them. You report to me at five o'clock tomorrow morning."
"Yes, ma'am," Allen said giving her his best military salute.
She just stuck her tongue out at him and crinkled her nose.
"That leaves Nick as Security Guard then," she told Malone. "If you'd like I'll show them around the set so they know what the layout is. I'm sure everyone has heard that I'm working for you as wrangler, stock handler and consultant at this point. I've found that word travels fast around here."
"Not a good idea, Cayce," Nick told her. "It might look a little suspicious that the new 'consultant' already knows the new assistant, security guard and stable hand. Let Mr. Malone take us around. You go on down to the stabling area and we'll 'meet' you there."
"Ok," she agreed. With one last hug for her brothers, she left for the stable that was housing the horses for the movie.
The detectives took the list of employees that Craig Malone had compiled for them and left the movie producer's officer to go back to the Riptide. Along the way Nick stopped by the Security Office and picked up the uniform he would wear.
When they got back to the boat they called home, Murray started running security and background checks on the people on the list. Cody checked his wardrobe for jeans, old shirts - denim or otherwise, and his boots which were stuffed in the back of his closet since he only wore them when they visited the Lazy M.
Bright and early, earlier than Cody was accustomed to being out of bed these days, the Riptide detectives prepared for their new "jobs". Cody had to be at the studio at five in order to assist with the feeding, and watering, of the horses in the temporary stable near the set. Nick would report for duty at around eight and Murray would report to Malone around the same time, driving in with Nick in the 'Vette.
"Miss McKenna? Your new stable hand is here," the soon to go off duty Security Guard told her.
"Thank you, Mike," she said and turned to greet the oldest of her "brothers". "Good morning - Mr. Allen is it?"
"Yes, Cody Allen," was the reply. Cody breathed a sigh of relief that Cayce was playing it cool and not letting on that she knew who he was.
"That'll be all Mike. You're due to go off duty in a couple of hours. You'd better make your final circuit before the new guy comes on. Mr. Malone will want you to show him around."
"Yes, ma'am," the guard said and then left the stabling area.
Turning to Cody, she asked, "Ready to get to work?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," he replied.
"The first thing we've got to do is feed, and water. Then we'll groom. Mr. Malone is going to send me a list of which horses he needs. When I get it, we'll saddle, or harness them, and bring them to the set."
So saying she grabbed a couple of water pails and headed for the faucet at the back of the stable. Cody followed suit and soon they had all of the horses watered. The next step was to determine how much grain to feed each horse, if any, depending on how much work they were going to do. As Cayce explained she didn't want to get horses all charged up that weren't going to be working since she didn't have time to take them out and work it off. All of the horses were given fresh hay.
"According to today's shooting schedule," Cayce said, "we'll need to saddle the male and female leads' horses and harness the four horses that pull the stagecoach. A couple of wagons and buckboards are involved as well."
She showed Cody the list and then they started in on the grooming. Cody was a pretty apt student for all his equine experience consisted solely of riding polo ponies but not the actual care of them. Cayce showed him how to use the currycomb, soft brush and hoof pick following up with a rag for the final polish to their coats. It was important that nothing on the horse, or the harness, be left behind that would harm the animals.
However, Cayce was not at all pleased with the stock manager's choice of horses and made mental notes to herself about it. When Craig Malone arrived to see how she was doing she was going to have a little chat with him. In the meantime, though, the horses did need grooming, feeding and watering and the right horses made ready for their part in the shooting.
"Good morning," the producer said when he arrived an hour later.
"Good morning, Mr. Malone," Cayce replied with a smile.
"How are things going in here?" he asked.
"We're well on the way to have finished the feeding, watering and mucking out and we've started on the grooming but let me tell you - you've got to make some changes among the horses."
"Because whoever you had in charge went out and got you a bunch of high strung Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds and the like but there's absolutely not enough horses that look like cow ponies or western livery stable stock."
"Is that a big problem?"
"Not if you don't care about authenticity," she told him. "Safety is a big issue as well. From what I've seen, the only riders on this set that have half an idea of what they're doing are extras or stunt men. Not a good thing."
"So what can I do about it? What do you suggest?" the man asked her.
"Let me make a few phone calls," the young rancher told him. "I can get what you need and maybe make a couple of temporary trades or get you a bargain on some good, steady mounts for your amateurs."
"You can do that?"
"If she says she can do it, Mr. Malone," Cody told their client, "she can do it."
As Cayce walked off toward the nearby telephone he added, "And it probably won't take more than thirty minutes to do it."
Sure enough she'd made three phone calls to nearby ranches, and stables, and had arranged to have a dozen horses - mostly Quarter Horses and Morgans or crossbreds - delivered that morning.
"I've been in business for thirty years, young lady," Malone said in admiration, "but I've never completed a deal as fast as you just completed three!"
"It's all in knowing who you're dealing with," Cayce told him. "Having been on the horse show and rodeo circuit for the last fifteen years I've made a lot of friends and connections. I just sort of called in a few favors and promised a few is all."
Malone left, satisfied that his new livestock manager knew what she was doing and that it wasn't going to cost him another big chunk of money that would put his picture way over budget. When he was out of earshot Cody turned to Cayce in concern.
"You're not jeopardizing the Lazy M with these 'deals' are you?" he asked. "We won't have you putting yourself - or your livelihood - in danger."
"Not to worry, Cody," she told him. "I'm just taking on a couple of clients I wasn't expecting and I won't have to do all the training. Smokey happens to be an outstanding cutting horse trainer and I'll pay him half the fee for training them as a bonus while I work with a couple of barrel racers. So you see there's really no need for you guys to worry."
Cody wasn't entirely convinced but he couldn't speak for the other two before conferring with them. For the time being he would accept her promise that there was no danger to the ranch. He did wonder, however, if talking to Colonel Brian McKenna, Cayce's uncle, would be a good idea. Colonel McKenna had raised Cayce since she was ten years old and they were very close. Cayce was more apt to listen to him than to the detectives.
"Come on, we have to get these studio horses ready to leave for their temporary homes and get the stalls ready for new arrivals." Cayce was all business.
It was while they were cleaning the last three stalls that Nick showed up in the uniform of a security guard. He stood in the doorway looking highly amused as his ocean loving partner shoveled a load of dirty wood shavings and manure into a wheelbarrow.
"Good morning, officer," Cayce greeted him. "Something I can do for you?"
"I just started on the job this morning," Nick explained, keeping up the pretense of not knowing the other two people. "Mr. Malone said to make myself familiar with the layout of the studio and all the related areas including the stable. He said there was a new livestock manager and stable hand that I ought to get to know. I'm supposed to become familiar with all the cameramen and the actors and all."
"Well, I'm Cayce McKenna and this is Cody Allen," Cayce said with a hint of a grin on her face. "I'm the livestock manager, as Mr. Malone puts it, and Mr. Allen is working for me. I'm only working here as kind of a favor to Mr. Malone. When this movie is done I'll be heading home to Sunny Acres."
Other studio employees were roaming around so the trio was especially careful to make themselves out to be new acquaintances. It was difficult for Cayce to resist making some wise remarks but she kept herself in check by remembering that if she blew their cover the chances were that the Riptide detectives would be in danger. She wasn't about to do anything to put them in jeopardy.
"Sunny Acres? Where is that?" Nick was playing his part well.
"It's in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. I own a ranch called the Lazy M."
"Hey boss," Cody turned to Cayce, "what do you want me to do next?"
"Take that wheelbarrow full of manure and dump it in those wooden crates you see out back there. I've got a farmer friend coming to take it away to use for fertilizer. He'll be here in a couple of hours and he'll be returning every day to pick up what we've got. Use a shove to dump it in."
Cody grasped the handles of the wheelbarrow and started off toward the back. It shouldn't have been a difficult task but somehow Cody was unable to manage the unwieldy garden device and lost control. It wasn't something he was used to doing and the barrow kept tilting from one side to the other until finally the load of manure fell to the floor. Cody found his face burning with embarrassment that his partner, and their little sister, had witnessed it.
Cayce looked at Nick and deadpanned, "Good help is so hard to find."
Nick was hard pressed not to laugh. He didn't dare because if he got Cody going they would blow their cover.
"I'm working the day shift right now," Nick told Cayce while studiously avoiding looking at his fuming partner. "I think Mr. Malone intends to have a night shift as well. He said something about props being damaged or mislaid and stuff like that. He doesn't want anything else to happen that will throw him off schedule. He's pretty uptight about that."
"You'll have to clean that up before somebody slips in it," Cayce told her "employee".
"Yes, ma'am," Cody replied as Cayce stifled her giggles and got to work preparing one of the stalls by putting clean straw in it and filling a hay net and water bucket.
Nick took this as his cue to leave and continued on his rounds.
Half an hour later, the first of several trucks towing horse trailers pulled up. This one was from the Rocking Star Ranch. The owner, Karl Brunansky, was a business associate of Cayce's. They'd quite often sold horses to, or purchased horses from, each other. Brunansky himself was at the wheel of the truck.
Climbing down from the cab was a man in his mid-thirties. He was tall, lean and bronzed. He had squint lines around his eyes from looking into the sun day after day.
"Hey Karl!" Cayce greeted the man enthusiastically.
"Hey yourself, cowgirl," the man replied as he shook her hand and gave her a brief hug. "I brought you the horses you asked for. I even brought your buddy."
"Star? You brought Star?" Cayce squealed with delight.
"Cody, uh - Mr. Allen, you've got to see this horse to believe him. He puts those polo ponies you knew to shame in looks, temperament and personality!"
She and Brunansky went around to the back of the large trailer and let the tailgate down. Once that was done she and the owner went into the interior of the trailer and started unloading the six horses that he had brought with him.
The last horse they unloaded was a seventeen hand chestnut without a speck of white on him. His flaxen mane and tail floated on the breeze the was blowing through the area. The horse looked around and took stock of his surroundings for a minute before finally turning his attention to Cayce who was laughing her head off.
"Same old Star," she giggled. "Has to check everything else out before he pays any attention to the people around him."
"Well he is a star," Brunansky joked.
Cody looked on puzzled. Obviously this was an inside joke.
"Sorry," Cayce apologized with a grin. "I forgot you don't know Tom and you've never seen Star before." Turning to the rancher she said, "Tom this is Cody Allen. Cody this is Tom Brunansky. He's the owner of the Rocking Star ranch in Tylerville."
The two men shook hands.
"Nice to meet you," the rancher said.
"Cody is working with me while I manage the stable for Carl Malone. Mr. Malone's previous stable manager was doing a lousy job of caring for the horses and wasn't around when the actress who has the lead in this movie had her horse run away with her. His incompetence got him fired. Mr. Malone asked me to take over in the interim. Cody, here, was looking for a job and has a little experience so I hired him to help me for the duration of the movie."
Cayce's explanation was plausible and Brunansky didn't question it. Instead he asked, "Are you going to explain about Star or should I?"
"He dances and he does rope tricks," Cayce told Cody.
The blond just looked at her which made her and Brunansky laugh.
"He does - really!" Cayce grabbed a lasso that Karl had in the front seat of his truck.
Walking over to the chestnut whose lead rope Cody was holding at this point she put the rope up to the easy going stallion's mouth. Then she backed away to give him room.
"Big spin, Star, big spin," she said.
The stallion took the hint - and the cue - that was given to him and started spinning the rope. Cody looked on speechless while Brunansky and Cayce laughed so hard they had tears running down their face. They laughed even harder when they saw Cody's eyes widen in surprise, and disbelieve, as Star managed to spin the rope around himself and Cayce at the same time.
"Sunset Carson's horse, Thunder, did that in a movie I saw once," Cayce's fellow rancher explained. "I figured Star was every bit as bright so I taught him how to do that. He can't quite manage to do a loop big enough to encircle two people and himself but we're working on it. Of course his real talent, the one Roy Rogers' Trigger had, is that he dances."
"Get out!" Cody exclaimed in disbelief. "Horses don't dance!"
"This one does," Cayce told him. Turning to Karl she said, "If you've got the right music, I'll show the skeptic, here, how well Star dances."
"I don't have a tape but I have my harmonica," he told her.
"Great!" Cayce boosted herself onto the stallion's bare back and took the lead rope to use for a rein. A moment later the tune to La Cucracha was coming out of the harmonica and Star was, indeed, dancing as Cayce used her skills as a rider to signal the horse for the right moves.
Cody, watching in disbelief - and amusement - thought about his partners and grinned, imagining the looks on their faces if they ever saw this. So far as he knew none of Cayce's horses danced.
A moment later Brunansky was laughing too hard to continue so Cayce brought Star to a halt and slid off his back. She gave the chestnut stallion a pat on the neck and promised him extra carrots for being such a good performer.
"We need to get Star settled and help Karl load the horses the studio is swapping out with him for the duration," Cayce said to Cody.
Together they led the champion stallion to his stall where they would give him a good grooming and some water and hay once they loaded the six horses that Karl was taking back to the Rocking Star to use for his dudes. The Rocking Star had some cattle but mostly Karl hosted dudes from the East, Midwest and anywhere else. They got to ride good, steady horses and participate in a short cattle drive. The horses the studio was giving him to use in place of his own fit the bill perfectly. None of them was excitable except for the one that had run away with Amy and even he wasn't normally that way. It had simply been a matter of too many people, too much noise and someone jostling him. A more experienced rider wouldn't have had a problem.
Ten minutes later Brunansky was on his way back to the Rocking Star and the next truck was pulling in with a two horse trailer hitched to it. It didn't take long to put the two horses away and send the driver on his way. They were being paid to lease their horses to the studio but weren't taking any back with them. The pair they had brought were currently not being used by anyone. This was a way to keep them from getting too fat and sassy.
Over the next couple of hours several more trucks came in to drop off and pick up horses and Cayce's farmer friend pulled up in his rattletrap pick up truck to load up the crates of manure he planned on using for fertilizer in his fields. He handed Cayce a check for Malone to give to the finance office. He knew he was getting a bargain and had no problems in paying. The deal he and Cayce had worked out was getting him better fertilizer than he could have gotten commercially and for about half the cost. And the studio was making money in a way that nobody in accounting could have every figured on.
Craig Malone stopped by the stable around noon while Cayce and Cody were eating sandwiches he'd picked up at the local deli. The one advantage to not filming at the studio itself was that they could take advantage of the local restaurants and have a choice in what they wanted. The cafeteria, at the studio, had a very limited menu.
"How are things coming in here?" he asked his new stable manager.
"Everything's fine," she told him. "Remind Amy that she has a riding lesson at two o'clock if she's through shooting for the day. I've got a horse all picked out for her that she'll learn on and you can use this mare for her mount in the movie. You haven't shot that much of it have you? Considering all the problems you've been having I didn't think a change of horse would be that big of a deal."
"No, we haven't shot that much and a change in horses won't affect anything at all," the movie man told her. "We were about to shoot her horseback scenes yesterday when she had the runaway."
"Has Murray arrived yet?" Cody asked.
"Yes, Mr. Bozinsky is ensconced in my office with complete access to my computer and my files. I've left word that he's not to be disturbed for any reason unless it's Miss McKenna."
"Mr. Malone, please call me Cayce," the young woman said. "I'm not used to answering to Miss McKenna. Half the time I find myself looking to see if you're talking to one of my cousins or something."
"All right, Cayce it is," he agreed. "We'll be done shooting for the day around six. Have you found a place to stay?"
"I'm going to stay right here in the stable," she told him. "I'm responsible for the horses belonging to my friends and associates - as well as the ones that actually belong to the studio. There's no way I'm leaving them alone at night."
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" Cody exploded. "With all these so-called accidents I don't think it's a good idea for you to stay alone in the barn. It's not like you're at home with Rusty and all your hands to look out for you."
"Well I'm not leaving Star and the others without someone to look out for them that knows what they're doing! Anything could happen and you're not exactly an expert with the horses!"
"You're not staying here alone!" Cody fired back at her.
"Then you can use the extra cot and sleeping bag I have in the back of the truck," she said taking the wind completely out of his sails.
"You have more than one?"
"Of course I do," she told him. "I knew you and Nick would have a fit - and Murray, too - if I said I was going to stay here alone."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Cody asked in exasperation.
"One - you didn't ask and two - you didn't give me a chance."
"I'm glad that's settled," Malone said with a smile. He could see how close these two were and he was definitely much happier knowing that the blond would be staying as well. The movie executive was a tiny bit nervous about the rented horses but he was even less comfortable with the the idea of Cayce staying by herself in the stable.
He started toward the exit, stopped and turned back to say, "Amy will be along in about half an hour. I hope the lessons go well. She's a nice kid and deserves a break."
Shortly more than an hour later, Amy Ryan showed up for her lesson. One look at her and Cody was not only smitten but amazed at the resemblance between the two young women. Amy was a little bit younger than Cayce but the two of them looked enough alike to be sisters.
"What are you staring at?" Cayce asked the oldest of her brothers.
"You two could almost be twins!" Cody exclaimed.
"That's nonsense!" Cayce rebutted his statement. "Amy's much prettier than I am and she's a lady - not a tomboy."
Cayce didn't have a low sense of self esteem but, rather, paid little attention to her looks. She wasn't vain about wearing makeup - didn't wear it at all. She didn't care for perfume but liked the outdoorsy scent of the balsam bags she tucked into her dresser drawers with her tee shirts and sweatshirts. The smell of things just taken out of the cedar chest or those shirts that had cedar disks on the hangers was much more pleasant to her. She didn't mind getting dirty but was always glad to get a shower at the end of the day. She was much more comfortable in a pair of jeans and an old shirt than in fancy dresses.
The Riptide detectives loved her just the way she was but Cody just couldn't help noticing how much the two young women resembled each other.
"He's right, Cayce," Amy told her almost twin. "You do look a lot like me."
"Never mind," the rancher told her. "It's time we got your lesson under way." Leading the way to the stall containing the mare she had picked out for the leading lady she said, "First things first. You're going to learn now to groom. This will help you get to know your horse. I know you're probably only going to ride this once but I want you to get familiar with this horse. That was part of your problem yesterday. You got up on a horse that you'd never seen before and didn't know how he'd react to crowds."
Cayce handed Amy a body brush, explaining that it would help get the dirt, and grease, out of the mare's coat. The dandy brush would be used only if it were needed to get caked on mud. The curry comb would be used when the mare was covered with dried sweat. A soft brush would put the shine on her coat and be used on her face. Then a mane and tail comb and a hoof pick would be used to finish up. Cayce intended for Amy to get very familiar, and comfortable, with the horse she had picked out for her to ride through the rest of the filming.
When Amy had finished the grooming, to Cayce's satisfaction, she was given the bridle and shown how to get the mare to open her mouth to accept the bit. Amy grimaced a little at the thought of putting her thumb in the horse's mouth but did so anyway. The mare opened up right away and kept her mouth open long enough for the actress to settle the bridle just right and fasten it. Then she was given the saddle blanket. The saddle, at roughly forty pounds, was too heavy for her but Cody had learned enough from his teen years at the polo club - and the visits to the Lazy M - to take care of that for her. Once he had the saddle on the mare's back Cayce showed Amy how to pull the cinch strap through the ring and fasten it. This mare wasn't the kind of horse that would puff herself up in order to keep the cinch loose - a hazard for the rider - so she was quickly ready to go.
Cayce had already saddled Star and Cody had an easy going gelding, a black Morgan named Pirate (Cayce couldn't resist assigning that horse to him since Cody lived on a boat). The trio led their horses out of the stable and into the large temporary pen that had been set up to contain the horses that were ensconced in stalls in the stable tents.
"Ok. Up you go," Cayce told Amy as the young actress mounted.
Cayce mounted Star and Cody climbed aboard Pirate. They started out at a slow walk with Cayce making comments here and there.
"Reins in your right hand only if you're a righty. Left hand if you're a lefty."
"What do I do with my other hand?" Amy asked.
"Let it drop to your side. Relax," Cayce told her, "this mare's not going anywhere that you don't tell her to go." She watched Amy circle the pen a few times. "Get your stirrups under the balls of your feet. Don't push your feet all the way forward like that. Sit up straight. That's better," she complimented the novice rider.
The trio rode around the pen for a few minutes before Cayce finally indicated that Cody should leave and she would also exit although she would be leaning on the fence to observe.
"It's time you rode alone, Amy," she told her. "I saw the script and there are times when you're not going to have somebody by your side. I've already arranged for the swap. You'll be riding Luna for the duration of the movie. The scriptwriter has already made a change so that there's a plausible explanation for the change in horses."
Seeing the nervous look on the other woman's face Cayce added, "You're supposed to be an expert. Granted you'll have a stunt double for the rough stuff but you should at least look a lot less uncomfortable than you do. I'll work with you every day. Whenever you have a couple of hours you come down here and, if I'm not busy with the other horses or getting the wagons and such ready to use, I'll give you a lesson. If you're not riding without me by the time this movie is filmed I'll be very surprised."
Amy still didn't look convinced.
"Did you tell Mr. Malone you could ride or did your agent?" Cayce asked.
"And you just let him." Cayce shook her head. "Let me tell you something, doll. I've got a little story for you about one of my favorite cowgirls - Dale Evans Rogers. When she moved out to Hollywood she had no plans on being Queen of the West." Cayce made herself comfortable on a bale of hay putting a piece of hay between her teeth. "When she came out here she'd been working in Chicago. Her agent told her she was dressed all wrong, told her to lie about her age and that her son was her brother. Lots of things. The worst thing he ever did - because it could have put in her danger - was to assure the studio execs that she knew how to ride. He didn't ask her - he just told them."
"Now Mrs. Rogers had been born, and raised, in Texas but she hadn't been on a horse since she was a child. Gabby Hayes watched her riding and called her 'butter butt' or some such thing. Either he, or Roy, told her they'd never seen so much daylight between a person and a saddle. So you see you're not alone and you're doing very well."
After an hour, Cayce called a halt to the lesson. It was going well but she knew that Amy would be very sore after her ride since she wasn't used to it. They took the horses to their stalls and groomed them. Cayce planned on giving Star some good exercise by riding him on the trails surrounding the town later on. It wouldn't do for him to get too restless.
"You go on home, get a shower and a good meal. I'll see you in the morning."
When Amy was gone Cody asked Cayce, "Is that a true story or did you make it up to make her feel better?"
"What? The story about Dale Evans Rogers not being able to ride?"
"Yeah, that." Cody gave her a look that said he didn't know whether to believe her or not.
"It's all true. Just read her autobiography The Woman At The Well. She tells it all in the book."
Around five o'clock she and Cody fed and watered the horses. Only those that were expected to work the next day were given any grain. It wouldn't do for the others to have it when they didn't need it as it would make them difficult to deal with. At six the pair left to get supper at one of the local restaurants. Nick was on duty, as were a couple of other security guards and all had promised to keep an eye on things while Cayce and Cody were gone. It was part of the job anyway but Nick, in particular, knew that Cayce wouldn't leave if she wasn't sure her charges would be looked after in her absence.
When they got back from their dinner break the pair set about making small cubicles to sleep in. They worked together to hang canvas over odds and ends of metal rods that weren't in use for the tents and quickly had two small spaces for them to use for sleeping and changing. There was a motel close by that was willing to let them use one of their unoccupied rooms to shower in as there were no shower facilities at the stable.
When this was done Cayce and Cody, whom Nick would get in the habit of referring to as the Double C, went and got the cots and sleeping bags out of the back of Cayce's truck. Once that was done Cody went in search of Murray to see if he had had a chance to start background checks on employees and if he knew of anyone who had recently been fired, demoted or whatever that might have a grudge against Malone or the studio.
He found the slender computer whiz kid leaving the trailer where the stars got their makeup done every morning - and whenever it needed something added to it. He wasn't looking where he was going as he was writing something on the notepad he had in his left hand. Cody ducked behind a generator and beckoned to Boz as he got close.
"Murray! Hey, Murray!"
The scientist looked up and tried to locate the source of the summons. He finally spotted Cody and made his way through the maze of cables and equipment to where his partner was waiting.
"Have you learned anything yet, Murray?" Cody asked.
"Not yet, Cody," Murray replied. "I spent most of the day getting familiar with the other employees and the script. One of the secretaries is going to show me the filing system and one of the other employees is going to show me around the set tomorrow. The first thing I want to do is access employee personnel records to see if I can find anyone with a motive or someone that wants to cause problems for Mr. Malone."
He grinned slyly at Cody. "So how's it going down in the stable? Is Cayce working you to skin and bones yet."
"Very funny," the blond groused. "You've been hanging around Nick too long."
Murray just giggled. It wasn't very often that he got a chance to give one of his partners a hard time so he was going to take advantage of it while he could do so without fear of retaliation.
"Speaking of Nick, have you seen him yet?"
"Yeah. He came through with one of the other guards a little while ago. Malone's talking about putting a night shift on around the set. Apparently he's relied on daytime security officers and the local police at night. Now that Cayce's managed to make a switch with some of the horses he's worried about the animals being valuable - and vulnerable to whoever been trying to sabotage his movie."
"I'll check in the personnel records for anybody who's got a record or anything at all suspicious first chance I get," Murray promised. "If you think of anything, or anyone, that you want checked out, send me a message through Cayce. Mr. Malone has already told all the Security people and his office staff that she's to have full access to him whenever she needs it. He's made her a special consultant in matters pertaining to the livestock and the authenticity of the film. He says she's already spotted some continuity issues that he's going to bring up to his staff." Murray smiled. "The man is becoming quite fond of our girl and he really appreciates her help. He wants this movie to be as historically accurate as possible - right down to the clothes and the animals and the furnishings. Cayce's been a big help to him already and she's only been here since yesterday."
"She knows her history all right," Cody nodded. "I love to tease Cayce, but she is a good person. She cares about people and she cares about animals. She's already saved Malone a lot of money by making some temporary swaps of the horses the studio provided." He stopped and thought for a moment. "You know, Boz, you might start by getting the name of the person who handled the deal with the horses and stuff first. Cayce wasn't too happy with that person's choices so maybe it's one more way of trying to sabotage Mr. Malone's movie."
"Good idea," Murray said. "That would be one way to do it - and it could get somebody hurt. I think Miss Ryan is very lucky that Cayce was visiting the set. Cayce's told us time and again how dangerous a runaway can be - especially with an inexperienced rider on board."
"Yeah. Definitely a good place to start. I'd give you their name but I haven't heard it yet myself."
The pair split up. Murray was headed back to the Riptide to do some research while Cody was due back at the stable. The blond knew that Cayce was capable of taking care of the horses but he didn't like her being in the middle of one of their cases. There were so many times when a simple stakeout had turned into a shoot out. None of the detectives was going to stand by and see their "little sister" get hurt.
Meanwhile Nick was getting acquainted with the other security guards and the layout of the area that the studio was using in Frontiertown. There were a lot of places where he felt that somebody could sneak in and he was determined to see that nobody did or that they got caught in the act of sabotaging something on the set.
"Hey, how's it going?" he asked the balding, older man that wore a uniform like the others.
"All right, I guess," the man answered. "You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Nick said extending his hand. "Name's Nick Ryder. Mr. Malone hired me. I hear he's been having a lot of problems with getting his movie done. Something about cameras being sabotaged, props missing or broken and such."
"That's part of it," the other man said. "I'm Gary Doyle. I've worked for Colony Studios for fifteen years and this is the first time I can remember them having so much trouble getting one movie done. The last incident involved the girl - Amy Ryan - who's the female lead. Her horse ran away with her. Some girl - I think they said her name is McKenna - saved her by jumping on another horse and going after her. Nobody else that was standing around knew what to do."
"How long has this been going on?" Nick asked.
"Ever since Mr. Malone started this movie. About a month and a half I'd say." The other man looked closely at Nick. "You're awfully interested in Mr. Malone's problems."
"It's helpful to know everything that's happened so I know what to be on the lookout for," Nick told him.
"That's true." Looking at his watch the supervising guard said, "We'd better start making our rounds. I'll go around to the far side. You go down around the stable. Check with Miss McKenna, and that guy that's working with her, and make sure everything's okay there. She went to a lot of trouble, I hear, to get new horses for this movie. Mr. Malone - and the studio head - is quite anxious that nothing happen to them."
This worried Nick. If the horses were possibly in danger then so were Cayce and Cody. He wasn't as worried about Cody taking care of himself but he definitely was worried about Cayce. It wasn't that his partner wouldn't be careful about anything happening to her but Cayce was another story altogether. The desire to have Cayce go home to the Lazy M was even stronger than ever. He resolved right then and there to have another talk with her.
Half an hour later he found himself at the stable. He found Cayce making one last check on the horses before she turned in.
"Hi," she greeted him cheerfully. "How's it going?"
"Not bad," he answered. Looking around to make sure there was nobody around who could overhear and blow their cover he said, "Cayce..."
"I know what you're going to say, Nick," the rancher said, "but you might as well save your breath. I'm not going home until Mr. Malone has a replacement or the filming is completed."
"You're just being stubborn!" the Italian exclaimed.
"Yeah, I'm being stubborn. So what else is new?" Cayce glared daggers at him. "I'm not a child, Nicholas! I make my own decisions and I made a promise to Mr. Malone. I'm staying and that's final!"
"What's going on?" Cody asked as he returned to the stable.
"I was trying to talk Cayce into quitting this job and going home," Nick told his partner. "Our client is worried that the horses are in danger. If they're in danger, so is Cayce. She ought to go back to the Lazy M where she'll be safe."
"I already tried that, Nick," the blond told his friend. "She's not going to give in. She won't be alone, though. We've both got an empty stall set up for sleeping in. I'm only a few seconds away if anything should go wrong." Giving the young woman a fond, but disapproving look, he added, "She went and got cots and sleeping bags and such for both of us. We set up our sleeping quarters a couple of hours ago. Don't worry - nothing's going to happen with the two of us looking out for her."
Nick looked doubtful but wisely held his tongue. He just hoped that nothing did happen because he didn't think he could look Colonel McKenna in the eye if anything happened to his beloved niece. There wasn't anything he could do about it. Cayce had made up her mind and that was all there was to it. It was only marginally less worrisome that Cody was right there. What could Cody do by himself without his partners nearby?
Around nine-thirty Cayce and Cody retired to their improvised sleeping quarters. Cayce had warned Cody that they would need to be up around four-thirty the next morning. The horses that were going to be used needed to be fed, watered and groomed before they themselves ate so that the animals would have time to digest their breakfast. After that they could see about some breakfast themselves. When they'd had breakfast it would be time to saddle and/or harness the horses. They'd already inspected the horse drawn vehicles and the harness. As far as Cayce could see - and she was pretty thorough - there was nothing to be concerned about there. There was also the fact that the horses would alert them if a stranger came skulking around while Cayce and Cody were sleeping.
By ten o'clock the "siblings" were sound asleep. Working with horses - seeing to their feeding, grooming, watering etc. was not work Cody was accustomed to. He was more than willing to hit the sack early. Cayce was accustomed to it but not to doing as much of it as she was doing here.
A dark clad figure made its way stealthily toward the are where the stables were. The moon cast bright light on the parking area but the mysterious figure kept close to the shadows created by the trucks, tents and buildings. Hearing footsteps, it melted into the blackness and held its breath as the form of Nick Ryder came close. Nick shined a flashlight in the direction of the intruder but they silently hid themselves behind the bales of hay that were stacked outside the tent where some of the horses were stabled. Cayce and Cody slept on, unaware that there was anyone nearby or that Nick was making his rounds.
The Italian's bright blue eyes narrowed as he peered into the shadows in an attempt to see if there was anything amiss. Seeing nothing he moved on and the figure let themselves silently into the stable.
Silent as a slithering snake, the figure moved down the aisle toward the back where the wagons and such were parked. Several of the horses nickered uneasily but settled down before the noise reached Cayce or Cody. The intruder took a wrench out of their pocket and set to work loosening a wheel on the stagecoach.
The noise of metal on metal disturbed Star. He whickered, and pawed, nervously which disturbed some of the other horses and roused a sleeping Cayce. Throwing her sleeping bag back and putting on a pair of moccasins she got up from her cot and went out into the aisle to see what was wrong.
Approaching the chestnut she reached out to pat him and looked around to try and figure out what had him upset. She didn't see anything but the hair on the back of her neck was standing up. Star wasn't by nature a nervous animal so there had to be something going on that she couldn't see.
Quietly she went over to Cody's sleeping area and shook him awake.
"What's the matter?" the blond asked.
"Something's got the horses on edge," she told him. "I can't see anything but Star and some of the others are awfully nervous. There's nobody in any of the stalls I don't think, but I don't like it."
"Neither do I," Cody told her. "You stay here while I check it out."
He rolled out of his own sleeping bag and pulled on his sneakers.
"We can't go yelling for help - it'll tip off the intruder."
"But Cody, what if they're armed?" Cayce was worried.
"That's why you're going to stay here," the detective told her firmly. "But if you hear, or see, a security guard and you can alert them without tipping off our visitor please do so."
With that he started down the aisle toward the back of the stable where the horse drawn vehicles were parked. He had a feeling that's where their intruder was. His suspicions were confirmed when he got close enough to see a black clad figure loosening the nut on the wheel of one of the buckboards. Looking around for something he could use as a weapon Cody found a pitchfork leaning against the wall. It was the one he'd used earlier while cleaning out stalls. Quietly he picked it up and approached the vandal.
"Drop that wrench!" Cody told the intruder.
The black clad figure turned and threw the wrench at Allen's head. When the detective ducked the intruder ran straight at him and shoved him aside. Cody caught the guy line on the tent and pulled himself upright chasing after the intruder who was a good sixty yards ahead of him and moving fast.
Cayce heard their pounding feet coming down the aisle of the stable. She ducked back out of sight knowing that that's what Cody would want. She didn't stay there long for when Cody caught up with their unwanted visitor the figure in black swung a vicious left hook that sent the blond flying into the post outside one of the stalls. His head connected with the wooden post and he slumped to the ground, stunned.
Cayce was livid and charged the stranger. They tried to shove her away but she was as tenacious as a terrier. Finally the intruder broke free but not before Cayce managed to land a couple of good blows on their arm and a good one on their right cheek. There was a ripping sound as part of their jacket tore off in her hands only she didn't notice it right off and dropped it in the aisle. Once she caught her breath she ran over to check on Cody who was just starting to sit up. One look and she ran for the front of the stable where she looked frantically for a security guard. Nick was just about to the stable on his second turn around. She yelled and he came running.
"Somebody was messing around outside the stable. Cody was chasing him but they shoved him real hard into one of the posts."
"Is he okay?" the Italian was concerned.
"I think so but our intruder just ran off that way." Cayce gave Nick a quick description - as much as she could - and pointed out the direction the vandal had gone.
Nick took off in a hurry calling for reinforcements on the walkie-talkie he carried as he went. Cayce turned and went back into the stable to check on Cody. By now the blond had regained his feet but his eyes were glassy so Cayce helped him over to his cot to sit while she checked out the damage to the wagon. What she saw made her see red.
"Doggone your ornery hide!" she exclaimed.
"Cayce? What's the matter?" Cody had gotten up from his cot and wandered down toward the back to check up on her.
"Our visitor has loosened the nuts on the stagecoach wheel. I've got to get a flashlight and get a look at the rest of these vehicles. I hope the horses alerted us in time to keep him from doing any more damage!"
"Don't you think you'd better wait until morning?" Cody asked.
"For a thorough inspection, yeah," Cayce agreed, "but I want to do a cursory inspection by flashlight so I'll have an idea of what to look for."
"Wait until the security guards get back," Cody advised. "Nick'll want to see for himself what you find when you find it. The other security guards should as well."
"Will you go back to your cot and sit while we wait?" Cayce was still concerned about Cody's possible head injury and he looked - to her - to be a little pale.
"I'll go back to my cot and sit while we wait," he agreed.
Arm in arm the siblings retreated back to the empty stall Cody was using for a "bedroom". Once they got there Cayce made Cody lie down and rest. He tried to protest but she was adamant. It was there that Nick, along with his supervisor, found them.
"You two all right?" the senior guard asked.
"Yeah, fine," Cody said.
"Ha! Fine he says," Cayce was indignant. "He gets his head banged on a solid wooden post but he's fine."
"Really, Miss McKenna," Cody told her, "I'm not hurt. I've just got a little knot on my head."
"Can't hurt him by hitting him in the head," Nick mumbled under his breath just loud enough for his friends to hear.
Cody glared at him while Cayce suppressed the giggle that wanted to escape.
"Shall we have a look around and see what our visitor might have been up to?"
Doyle led the way. Cayce and Cody followed with Nick, keeping a close eye on his friend, behind them.
The senior guard flashed his light around and asked questions of Cayce and Cody.
"Did you get a good look at the intruder?"
"No." They were both positive about that.
"He, or she, was wearing either navy blue or black," Cayce told him. "There isn't enough light in here to be sure which it was."
"Did you get an impression of size? Tall? Short? Skinny or heavy?"
Cayce and Cody exchanged looks.
"Yeah. At least as tall as me," the blond detective stated, "and strong. Either that or they got lucky and I was off balance when I tried to stop them."
Nick just gave him a disbelieving look. Cody's excuses were getting sillier. Off balance indeed! Fortunately nobody but Cayce and Cody saw the look.
"That could be," Cayce decided to agree with Cody on that one. "I had the impression of strength but more like they were wiry."
"What about their clothes? Anything you can remember besides them being dark?"
"They weren't wearing boots," Cayce said. "I'd guess sneakers but I didn't really get a look at their feet."
"She's right," Allen said. "They were wearing sneakers - I noticed them right before the wrench came flying at me."
"The wrench!" Cayce exclaimed. "They used a wrench to loosen the nut on the stagecoach wheel. It must still be around here if they threw it at Mr. Allen!"
The security guards and the "siblings" searched the area until they came up with a wrench which Cayce positively stated was not standard equipment in a stable. She hadn't been doing any work on the horse drawn vehicles, and neither had Cody, so it had to belong to their midnight visitor.
"I'll turn this over to the police," Doyle said. "They'll be here any minute. I called them when we lost track of the intruder."
The police arrived a few minutes later and everyone gave their statements. Cayce, and Cody, would go down to the station in the morning to sign their statements. It was late and they needed to settle the horses down before going back to sleep themselves.
Nick gave the pair one last concerned look before he left. His friends waved at him reassuringly and he left making a mental note to talk to Boz about this in the morning before he, Nick, went off duty. Maybe there was some database Murray could tap into that would let them know who might be knowledgeable enough about wagons and coaches and such that might want to sabotage the ones that Malone was using.
Cody and Cayce headed back to their temporary sleeping quarters. Cayce had aspirin in her purse and a cooler with bottled water. She gave a couple of aspirin to her "brother" and a bottle of water. He accepted them gratefully. As much as he hated to admit it he did have a bit of a headache from being knocked into that post. In a few minutes both were sound asleep. Cayce had a wind up alarm clock that would rouse her at four-thirty AM and she would wake Cody up as soon as she was dressed - if the clock didn't wake him.
It was a rather groggy pair that was roused by the alarm at four-thirty. For all she was accustomed to being up early, Cayce wasn't used to being up quite that early. She had enough men working for her that she didn't need to worry a lot about barn work. The men carefully inspected the horses they intended to ride and let her know if there was a need for the farrier or the vet to come out and tend to one of them. She did, however, look out for Blackfoot Medicine man, aka "Doc", her champion barrel racer, and Tamarack, the retired barrel racer belonging to elderly actress Helen Howell. She took complete responsibility for both horses on her own. If she were going to be away then her foreman, Alex McGregor, took personal charge of them even if it meant assigning one of the other hands to take over their care.
Cody was just as tired. He was accustomed to the occasional overnight stake out but it had been a while. Fortunately for him his current "employer", Cayce, was understanding having also been in the middle of the previous night's disturbance.
"Mornin' Cody," Cayce said as the blond came stumbling out of his sleeping quarters. "You feeling better now?"
"Yeah. The aspirin took care of the headache."
"Good. Let's get busy feeding so we can eat. Then we'll groom and get the horses ready for today's shooting before we start mucking out stalls. Amy's due here around ten for her next riding lesson."
The temporary stable manager, and her assistant, headed for the grain storage room to get the oats and corn for the horses. It was while they were walking back, to start feeding, that Cayce's eagle eyes spotted what appeared to be a rag lying near the tack room.
"Hey what's this?" she asked.
"Looks like it was torn off of somebody shirt - or maybe a jacket," Cody speculated.
"What do you want to bet I ripped something our 'visitor' was wearing last night?" Cayce looked at Cody. "There wasn't anything on the ground near you." She paused to think for a moment. "I remember now - I heard something rip when I tried to slow him down. I didn't think anything of it at the time - I was worried about you."
"I appreciate your concern, little one," Cody smiled. "We need to turn this over to the police."
"Before you show it to Nick and Boz?"
"Well - after will be okay. We're not exactly withholding evidence."
"No, you're not," she agreed. "We really only just now found it." The young woman's eyes danced. "I know how you can show it to Boz and Nick at the same time, too."
"How's that? Nick's going off duty about now and Murray is just about getting in."
"It's easy. Go to Mr. Malone's office and tell him you need to talk to him. If anybody asks tell them you're there to pick up a copy of the shooting schedule so we know which horses are needed."
"Maybe we ought to make you a partner in the agency, too," Cody joked. "That's a great idea."
"Of course it is and you can honestly say you haven't seen the shooting schedule because I haven't shown it to you and I can say I haven't read it because I haven't looked at it yet."
Fifteen minutes later Cayce was doing the feeding, and watering, and Cody was on his way to Malone's office.
A secretary, middle-aged with dark hair worn in a severe hairstyle, greeted him when he walked into the outer office.
"May I help you, sir?" she looked down her nose at him as he was dressed in jeans, an old shirt and boots. To her he looked out of place in an office.
"I'm Cody Allen - the new stable hand," he told her. "Miss McKenna sent me to get a copy of the shooting schedule for today so we know which horses are needed."
"It was sent, by messenger, to all concerned, yesterday," the woman said.
Thinking fast, Cody turned on the charm.
"Yes, well, Miss McKenna is not sure that she actually received a copy, ma'am, so she asked me to personally check with Mr. Malone."
"I don't know," the woman still hedged. "It's highly irregular."
"Why don't you just pick up the phone and ask him?" Cody was starting to lose patience. He needed to see the agency's client and she was keeping them apart.
Frowning at the detective's insistence the older woman picked up the phone to check on Cody's story.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Malone! Right away!"
Hanging up she said, "Mr. Malone says to send you right in."
"Thank you," Allen responded before knocking and being told to enter.
Cody found Malone sitting at his desk. Murray, the producer's new assistant, was there as well.
"Hi, Cody," Murray said. "How's it going?"
"Hi, Boz," Cody replied. "We had a little excitement last night."
"I heard," Malone said with a frown. "Are you and Miss McKenna okay?"
"Yeah, we're fine. She's as bossy, and sneaky as ever this morning." Cody grinned at his partner and their client. "It was her idea to tell anybody who asked that we needed a copy of the shooting schedule so we'll know which horses are needed. She's doing the feeding while I'm meeting with you."
"Mr. Ryder will be joining us any minute," Malone told Cody. "I told my secretary that I wanted to talk to the people involved in the trouble last night."
Five minutes later there was a knock at the door and the third member of the Riptide team walk in, still wearing his Security Guard uniform.
Malone rose to shake hands with Nick.
"Please, have a seat," he said.
Nick eyed Cody who grinned at him.
"Relax, grandpa," he told his partner. "I'm fine."
"You sure? Cayce was pretty worried last night."
"We both know that Cayce worries too much. Even the colonel says so. She's been that way since her parents died."
Cody looked into his partners' eyes and told them - for Murray was concerned as well, "I took a couple of aspirin last night and they took care of the headache I had."
Their attention then turned to their client who had been quiet while the two younger men were reassured that Cody was fine.
"Mr. Allen, would you please bring me up to date on what happened last night?"
"Cayce and I turned in around ten. All the horses had been fed, watered and bedded down for the night." Cody shifted in his chair to get a bit more comfortable.
"About midnight or so she came and woke me up. She said that Star - that's one of the horses - was nervous and upset about something."
"I got out of my sleeping bag and put my sneakers on. Then I went to investigate. I found someone, dressed in black - or navy blue - using a wrench on one of the stagecoach wheels."
"When I confronted them they threw the wrench at me. When I ducked they charged at me. We struggled and I wound up hitting my head on one of the posts."
"That'd be when Cayce jumped into the fray?" Nick asked.
"Yeah, I guess," Cody answered. "Things are kind of fuzzy after that until you and Doyle showed up."
"But Miss McKenna is truly okay?" Malone was anxious.
"She's fine," Cody reassured him.
Suddenly it occurred to him that he had something to show them.
"We found this near the feed shed this morning. It seems that Cayce did more damage that we realized."
Cody handed Nick the scrap of material.
"She sure did," Nick grinned. "She's stubborn enough to hold onto whoever it was, long enough to make them desperate to get away."
"All those water buckets and feed sacks and such she carries have given her a strength a lot of women don't have," Murray commented.
"She's no shrinking violet that's for sure," the blond laughed. "Like Nick said - she's stubborn."
"I think tenacious is a good word," Boz said with a smile.
"Stubborn. Tenacious. Whatever," the Italian said.
"Do you have any idea what she might have torn this from?" their client asked.
"Not for certain," Cody told him, "But off hand I'd say it's probably from a jacket or a shirt."
"Seems kind of lightweight for a jacket," Nick disagreed. "A shirt is more likely." He looked at his blond partner, "Doyle and I never got a look at your visitor. Do you remember anything about what he was wearing?"
"Not really. It's very dark back there and neither of us had a flashlight - we wanted to take whoever it was by surprise."
"Do you have any idea who might be trying to sabotage your movie, Mr. Malone?" Murray asked.
"I've been thinking about that, Mr. Bozinsky," the studio exec said, "but I can't come up with a single person who would have a reason for wanting to keep this picture from being finished."
"Nobody who works for the studio? Cody asked. "Another director? Disgruntled former employee? What about the person whose place Cayce is taking?"
"Anything's possible," their client said. He reached for a folder on his desk and handed it to Nick. "Here's a list of studio employees along with their employment records. Maybe that will help."
Nick took it and glanced at the contents before handing it to Murray.
"I'll take this list and start running some background checks," the computer whiz said.
"I had background checks done before these people were hired," Malone protested.
"There are background checks and there are background checks," Cody replied. "Murray can do a background check that is superior to yours because he can get access to data you wouldn't be able to find - and maybe not even know about."
Murray took the folder and placed it in the briefcase he was using as part of his cover as Malone's new assistant.
"I'll get to work on this right away. The DMV is probably a good place to start."
"Maybe their former employers?" Cody ventured.
"And the police and military," Nick added.
'Is all that really necessary?" their client asked.
"Yes, sir, it is," Cody replied. "We need to know what we may be up against in order to stop whoever it is that's trying to keep you from completing this movie."
"From a security standpoint, Mr. Malone," Nick added, "you need to make a few changes."
"Well, we realize you're not working at the studio so you can't make too many changes," Cody said, "But more lights around the perimeter would be good. especially around the stable area. Our intruder was able to elude detection before - and after - his sabotage because it was very dark. Up at the Lazy M, Cayce has a series of floodlights that are either on all the time or are motion activated."
"She also has Rusty," Boz pointed out.
"True." Nick grinned. "Nobody gets past Cayce's dog unless she tells him it's okay."
Cody chuckled at the memory.
"On our first visits - we weren't all together at the time - she introduced us to him so he'd know we were friends."
"Sounds like we could use him here and now," the movie man said.
"Yeah, but he'd be miserable in the city," Nick said. "His job is managing horses and cattle and watching out for predators."
"Too bad," Malone said.
"Well he's not here so we'll do what we can," the blond detective said. "Extra lighting is a start. Stagger the guards' rounds so they don't all go at the same time."
"That's a good idea," Nick said. "if we don't all make the rounds at the same time it could throw the troublemaker off."
"How do you mean?"
"Starting now issue orders to security to vary their route. Start at the barn with Cayce and Cody one time. Next time start somewhere else - say the props trailer. Check all doors on all buildings and trailers just as if they were working in a factory complex or office building."
Murray was busy writing these ideas down, nodding as he did.
While the men were busy discussing security changes Cayce was getting ready for Amy Ryan. She, herself would ride Star, but Amy would continue working with the mare Cayce had put her on the day before.
Amy was right on time and dressed as Cayce had told her to - in jeans, comfortable shirt and well worn boots with heels.
"Good morning, Amy," Cayce smiled. "You're right on time - and dressed just like I told you."
"You said to be here at seven."
"Yes, I did. I told Mr. Malone that he should shoot around you for a few days."
"And he agreed to that?" Amy was amazed.
"Yep, he sure did," Cayce told her. "I get the feeling that he's one movie executive who really cares about his employees."
Leading the way into the stable, Cayce took the actress to the stall where her mount awaited her.
"Now let's see what else you remember. Your tack is right there - let's see you bridle and saddle your mount."
An hour later the two women were working together to settle the mare when Cody returned from his meeting with Malone, Nick and Boz.
"Ah, Mr. Allen," Cayce said. "You're just in time to give us a hand."
"Looks to me like you've got things under control." Cody was puzzled.
"With the horse, yes," Cayce said, "but Amy needs to rehearse her lines a bit before they resume filming. We need a man to read the part of her boyfriend while I read the grandmother's."
"I'm no actor," the blond said, "but I'll be happy to help you out."
"How's the search coming, Boz? Anything on the current employees that makes you think they're responsible for Mr. Malone's problems?"
Nick, looking sleepy-eyed and rumpled since he'd just gotten out of bed a few minutes earlier, walked into Murray's cabin with a cup of coffee in his right hand.
"Nothing yet," the computer whiz said. "I've just gotten started."
"What are you checking?"
"Right now I'm searching the DMV files for any DUI or accidents. When I'm through with that I'm going to see if I can find anything in the VA or military records for the individual branches of the service."
The thin man left his cabin briefly to get a cup of coffee from the galley, then returned to his computer desk.
"It's going to take a while - there are a lot of people employed by the studio and not all of them are directly involved with the movie Cayce's working on.'
"Are you starting with those that are?" the Italian asked.
"Yes. It seemed the logical place to start. Right now I'm running queries on Cameron Lake - the man who was in charge of the horses and such before the runaway. He seems like a very good suspect as far as the attempted sabotage on the stagecoach is concerned anyway."
"I wonder," Nick said, "if it wouldn't be a good idea for Cayce to see the list."
"Why?" Murray asked. He knew that they were trying to keep her as uninvolved as possible.
"She might know some of these people from the rodeo circuit or horse shows. Especially this Lake guy."
"That's a good idea, Nick. I know we're trying to keep her from getting too involved but she does have knowledge that could be useful. How do we get it to her without arousing anyone's suspicion?"
Looking around Nick found a piece of paper and an envelope. Taking a pen from Murray's ever-present pocket protector he wrote a brief note to Cayce.
"When you get the information on Lake," he told his partner, "Print two copies of it. Put one in this envelope and have a studio messenger deliver it with tomorrow's shooting schedule. Cayce can send Cody to Malone's office with her reply."
"You can talk to Cody - I'm sure Cayce will tell him what she knows - and update me when I come on duty at five."
"Ok. What are you going to do in the meantime?" Bozinsky asked Ryder.
"I think I'll talk to some people at Alliance Security and see what I can find out about my fellow guards that you won't get in your research."
Nick got ready to leave. "You can get their employment records but I want to know what other employees know about them and how well they're really liked. What you have on paper doesn't always jive with how people feel you know? Somebody might be holding back something important."
"All right - but be careful. If somebody working at the agency is in on this they might get suspicious of you!"
"Good morning, Miss Nelson," Murray greeted Malone's secretary.
"Good morning, Mr. Bozinsky," she replied. "Mr. Malone said to tell you he's going to be a little late this morning."
"Oh? Is everything okay?"
"Yes, he just wants to roam the location for a while and talk to people about how they liked working on his different projects. He'll be in by noon."
"Well, I'd better get to work then," Murray giggled, "I wouldn't want my new boss to think I was goofing off." He hesitated and then asked, "Has tomorrow's shooting schedule been distributed yet?"
"No. I believe Mr. Malone left it on his desk for you to take care of. There's a list of who should get copies on your desk. If you need envelopes there are some in the cabinet over there," the woman indicated a tall black cabinet with doors rather than drawers. "The messenger will be here in about thirty minutes to pick it up."
"Thank you," Boz said as he turned toward Malone's office.
Once behind closed doors the computer whiz set to work putting the shooting schedule, other memos and the research printout into envelopes. By the time the messenger had arrived everything was ready to go and he'd written his own note to Cayce on the first page of the printout.
"Thanks," Cayce smiled at the messenger who had brought her the shooting schedule for the last couple of days.
The messenger nodded and continued on his rounds. Cayce went back inside the stable to share the schedule with Cody so they'd both know - right away - which horses were needed and which vehicles such as the stagecoach were called for.
"So what's on tap for today?" Cody asked as he brushed the hay off his shirt. He'd just finished filling hay nets for Star and Robin. Cayce had moved the horses around so that she could keep a very close eye on the valuable stallion and the leading lady's mount.
"There's a note from Nick, and a printout from Murray," she told him. "'Cayce, we need your help as much as it pains me to involve you. Take a look at the information Murray printed out and tell us if this guy is familiar to you.'"
Cody unfolded the printout on Cameron Lake, holding it so they could both read it.
"Cameron Lake?" Cayce was puzzled. "Cameron Lake was working here? You've got to be kidding me!"
Her eyes scanned the pages of the printout on which was printed Lake's address and job history. Until recently he'd been working for Colony Studios - he'd been fired the day of Amy Ryan's runaway. Two days earlier he'd been found to be negligent in his work and the runaway had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. That he was currently was unemployed was partly Cayce's doing. She'd been completely unimpressed with his choice of horses - high strung Thoroughbreds had no place in a western - and the stables didn't even come close to her standards of clean which left any animal boarding in them at risk for thrush or any number of insect infestations or insect borne diseases.
The condition of their equipment wasn't very good either. She and Cody had done a lot of work rearranging temporary stalls and organizing feed and tack over the last two days when she wasn't bringing horses to the set and Cody wasn't in conference with his partners and their client
"You know this guy?" Cody asked in surprise.
" Cameron Lake is very well known around the rodeo circuit. While that description could be any number of riders or cowboys - it's vague enough to be anybody - including half of Los Angeles - but I'm sure this is the Cameron Lake I've been competing against for five years. Him and his brothers and his cousin."
"What about his past employers? Do you recognize any of them?"
"Yeah - mostly by reputation. Ask Murray to find a picture of Cameron. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that his brothers and cousin are involved in this as well though I couldn't tell you why they would be."
The blond patted her knee. "I'll find an excuse to go to Malone's office to see him. If Boz is there I'll tell him personally. If not, I'll leave a message." He paused and then asked, "Do you think they could be the ones responsible for the runaway."
"No. The attempted sabotage maybe. You know how some disgruntled ex-employees can be." Cayce shook her head. "And you know I was on the set watching the filming that day. If anything Lake was negligent for allowing an inexperienced rider to be assigned a spooky horse. That horse is the type that hates crowds and loud noises. That was just asking for trouble."
"I'll go to the main studio to see Murray and find out what Nick is up to," the blond told his younger friend. "Will you be okay by yourself?"
"Of course I will!" She exclaimed. "Star will warn me if there is any more trouble - and I have my thirty-eight handy."
Still Allen hesitated. "This isn't an ordinary circumstances. I don't like to think about what could have happened if I hadn't been here the other night. You could have been hurt - or killed. The colonel will have our heads if anything happens to you while we're around."
"I can handle Uncle Brian," Cayce told him. "Now go. Go to the main studio and talk to Boz about my theory. I'll be fine."
Nick smiled at the clerk in the Security Agency office.
"How're ya doin'?" he asked.
"Fine," the young woman replied.
"I'm Nick Ryder," the Italian told her. "I just started working for the agency a couple of days ago. I'm assigned to Colony Studios at the location in Frontiertown."
"Yes, Mr. Ryder, I remember seeing your record in our database. You're working with..." she check her printout "...Gary Doyle and Wes Palmer."
Don't know about this Palmer guy," Ryder said, "but I was working with Doyle the other night when somebody tried to sabotage a stagecoach down by the stable. A guy by the name of Allen, who's working there, got knocked around a little and we never did find the intruder."
"Yes, Mr. Doyle mentioned that in his incident report. He also said that nobody was hurt."
"No. Allen insisted he was fine and Miss McKenna was never really in any danger." He thought about that statement and amended it. "Well, from what I understand she wouldn't have been except that she tried to keep the prowler from getting away."
"I heard she was pretty determined, but unsuccessful." The woman turned back to her typing.
"That's one way to put it," Nick muttered to himself. "I call it stubborn."
"What was that?"
"Nothing." Nick smiled
"Is there something I can do for you?"
"I was just curious - has the agency been working for Colony Studios for very long? I mean have they had the contract long to run security?"
"No, not long," the clerk answered. "We're actually just in charge of security for the Frontiertown location shots."
"Oh? Some other agency works at the studio?"
'This was an interesting situation,' Nick thought. Rival security agencies working for the same studio. It had potential as a motive for the sabotage at Colony. The other agency could be trying to make Alliance, the agency in charge of security at the location, look bad so they could get the contract for both places. He made a mental note to have Murray check into the other agency.
"So have you know Doyle for very long?" Nick was fishing for information on his temporary partner.
"I've only been with Alliance for a few months," the young woman told him. "Mr. Doyle has been here for about five years I believe."
"He seems like a nice guy," Nick said.
'Yes, he is. He's got a good employment record - always on time, never drunk on the job, conscientious and honest to a fault."
Nick filed this information away in the back of his mind. He'd have Murray check Doyle out - the man almost sounded too good to be true.
"Who's scheduled to work the movie location tonight?" the Italian asked.
"Let's see," the young blonde reached for the clipboard that held the schedule for the week. "It looks like you, Mr. Doyle and a gentleman by the name of Terrence Archer as well as Mr. Palmer."
"Well I guess I'll see them then." He hesitated and then asked, "What does this Archer guy look like?"
"He's about forty, medium height and a little overweight," was the reply. "Here's a picture of him. We were told to ensure that the guards either met or knew what their associates look like that will be working the movie location job."
Nick stayed a few minutes longer, then left and went back to the Riptide. He wanted to give this latest information to Murray so the computer whiz could do a background check on the third man.
Once he arrived he parked the 'Vette and boarded the cabin cruiser the three of them called home. He was due at the movie set in two hours and needed to quickly shower and get into his uniform before too long as it was a little bit of a drive from King Harbor to Frontiertown.
At six o'clock the location set started shutting down for the day. Cayce and Cody were kept busy unsaddling riding stock and unharnessing the teams that had been pulling wagons, buckboards and stagecoaches.
Once Cayce, the expert, was satisfied that all the animals were properly cooled out Cody was put to work filling water buckets while Cayce groomed - checking each horse out for injuries or sores.
"Let's get some dinner," Cody said when they were done. "You have us in bed so early," he teased, "that it will time for the final check and then bed."
"I want to check everything," the young woman said. "Horses, vehicles, buildings. I hate to leave it unprotected with everything that's happened."
There had been several relatively minor incidents around the stable and other areas, among which were damaged stirrup leathers, saddles and such dumped in the dirt. And at least one broken cinch which was on the saddle Amy was using when riding Robin.
The pair headed out toward Cayce's Bronco. She'd left the trailer with friends who owned a stable not too far away.
"Cayce!" Amy Ryan's voice hailed her as she and Cody left the barn.
"Hi Amy! What are you still doing here? I thought you were through for the day."
The young actress caught up them and Cody was again amazed at the resemblance between the two women though there were a few years between them and Cayce was slightly taller.
"I had to redo some of the interior shots we did yesterday," Amy replied. "Now I'm on my way home."
"Have you eaten anything since lunch?" Cayce asked the actress.
"Mr. Allen and I are on our way to get something ourselves. Why don't you join us?"
The other woman smiled. "Sure and Dylan can meet us there."
"Where do you want to eat?" Cody asked
"Hmm. I think I'm in the mood for veal parm," Cayce said. "Italian all right by you guys?"
"Sure," Amy replied. 'I'll call Dylan and have him meet us at..."
"Cafe Luigi's on Chestnut Street," Cody told her.
"You heard the man," the rancher said to her look alike. "Call that boyfriend of yours and let's get going."
Nick checked in with the guard he was relieving and got a report that all had been quiet. In some ways Nick was happy to hear it but if he and his partners were going to earn their fee they needed to catch the saboteur in the act of damaging - of hopefully only trying to sabotage - a camera or tampering with cables or messing around with something in the stable again.
The Italian started on his rounds by heading to the stable first. He was somewhat surprised to find them deserted but realized that his friends had probably just gone to dinner and that they must have rigged up some sort of alarm system. He decided to do a cursory check, by flashlight, and check with them later.
All was quiet around the stable. The horses were quietly sleeping or eating their hay. There was no sign of any trouble there so he moved on to go through the rest of the area the studio was using.
He met up with Doyle as he neared the General Store. They exchanged greetings and observations before moving on to check the saloon café and bank. Doyle was on the other side of the street checking cameras, dolleys and other technical equipment. Together they would check around the false fronts of the other buildings such as the feed and grain and the houses.
So far so good. Next they went around to where the trailers that were used for offices and storage were parked. Craig Malone was working late in his trailer office, meeting with some of the others who were involved in the making of this movie. They included several of his camera men, some stunt men and the stunt coordinator as well as the sound men. Murray was also in attendance at Malone's insistence.
Malone nodded while listening to his stunt coordinator speak, acknowledging the security team's presence and letting them know everything was all right in the trailer.
Nick relaxed a little when he saw Murray there. The Boz would sit in on the meeting, take notes for Moran on who was in charge of what and do a little research on them to see how reliable they were, how long they had worked for Colony and such like. If they were lucky he might turn up a viable suspect or two to question and do a deeper dig for information.
Back down the road the security team went to check what they had already done. Nick went to the stable when he saw Cody and Cayce return. Together the trio went through the stabling area to reassure themselves that nothing else had been tampered with in their area.
"It'll be easier, come daylight, to check the vehicles," Cayce said, "but the horses and mules all seem fine."
"We'll be here at six-thirty," Nick told her, to help you guys inspect before we go off duty. That should, from what you've told us, give you enough time to feed, water and groom."
'Yep. We'll be up at five to start and to check for injuries or sores that may only now be starting to make themselves known.
Heading back up the driveway from the stable yard, Nick met up with Doyle.
"I'm heading back toward Main Street," Doyle said. "I want to check the store fronts again and check with the local police to see if they've spotted anything suspicious."
"Why don't we switch sides?" Nick suggested. "You do the check on my side of the set and I'll check the areas you've already checked. That way we're not seeing what we've already seen."
"Not a bad idea," Doyle said. "Looking at something different we might just spot something we missed before and stop trouble before it happens."
The two men started off in the direction they had just come from a few minutes earlier. About two hundred feet from the General Store, Nick thought he saw a figure in black dart between two of the false fronts of the movie set.
Cautiously he drew the pistol he'd been issued out of its holster and turned on the flashlight he also carried on his belt. He fervently wished he had Cody for back up but was wise enough to know that he'd blow his partner's cover if he went to get him. Besides the suspect would get away after doing who knew what if he did take the time
Somehow he managed to get the attention of the other security guard. Doyle came quietly on the run. In a very low whisper Nick told him what he thought he'd seen.
"Circle around to the right," Doyle told Nick. "I'll circle left. Maybe we can catch whoever it is in a pincer move."
"You got it," the Italian said. "Be careful. He - or she - may be armed this time. They threw a wrench at Allen a few nights ago. That is if it's the same person."
"That goes for you, too," Doyle said as they split up.
The two men moved very slowly pointing their flashlight beams toward all the dark corners where a man could hide. The shadows were deep and the waving cables and tree limbs fooled them into thinking they saw a person moving, only to find out they were wrong.
A couple of minutes later, they were just about to give up when one of the shadows detached itself from a dark corner behind the false front of a store and charged them.
"Hey!" Startled, Nick let out a yell of surprise.
Both men fell to the ground as the mysterious figure shoved Doyle into Nick. Scrambling to his feet, the older man gave chase.
Nick scrambled to his feet and followed. He and Doyle both yelled "halt" but the intruder kept running, throwing obstacles in their path. Doyle finally fired a shot over the fleeing figure's head. It only slowed them for a few seconds.
The dark figure ran toward a waiting pick up truck. The unseen driver returned fire prompting Nick to draw his own pistol. He fired a couple of shots at the truck only to have to dive to one side as the truck drove right toward him.
Doyle hesitated - trapped in the headlights of the fleeing vehicle. There was a thud as he was hit. The force of the impact knocked him ten feet.
Nick was at his side in a flash calling for assistance on the hand held radio he had been issued by the security agency. He laid what was meant to be a comforting hand on his temporary partner's shoulder.
"Easy. Take it easy."
Doyle's left leg was obviously broken and Nick was sure that there were probably some broken ribs as well. Only a doctor's examination, and tests, would determine what other injuries the man may have sustained.
Down at the stable, which wasn't far from the false fronts of the movie set, Cody and Cayce heard the noise of screeching tires and gunshots. Both started running in that direction but the blond detective stopped up short and put a hand out to stop Cayce.
"Cody? What are you stopping for? Nick might be in trouble! He could be hurt!"
"You're not going anywhere near there, young lady.."
"You're staying here," Cody reiterated.
Cayce opened her mouth to protest again but Cody cut her off.
"No. You're not coming with me," he told her with flashing blue eyes. "No arguments." Softening, he told her, "I'll bring Nick here so you can see for yourself that he's okay."
With that he gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and took off running in the direction of the disturbance.
As Cody ran in the direction of the disturbance, he saw Malone, and the others who had been with him - including Murray - heading that way as well.
"What's going on?" Malone demanded to know. "We're not filming any shooting scenes tonight."
Boz looked at Cody and asked, "What about Miss McKenna?"
"She wanted to come but I convinced her to stay put until I checked it out."
Murray and Malone, both, looked relieved. It was Malone who expressed their mutual feelings.
"Good. I don't want that girl in any danger," the studio executive said.
An ambulance, siren wailing and lights flashing, passed them. The group of about ten people soon reached the scene of the hit and run. Nick was talking to the police and the paramedics about what had happened.
The Italian was obviously upset and a little shaken. It could have been him being loaded onto the gurney and into the ambulance. Or it could have been Cayce or one of his partners.
Cody and Boz knew the signs and were hoping they'd be able to have a few private moments with their friend. Unless Malone intervened it wouldn't be possible without a risk to their cover.
When Doyle had been loaded into the ambulance, and the police satisfied that they had everything Nick could remember - and his word that he would come down to the station and his statement once it had been typed up - the studio head, and Nick's partners, approached with the other movie people on their heels.
"What happened, Officer Ryder? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Nick answered. "Doyle and I were checking things around the set - especially the flats that look like buildings. We thought we saw something move in the shadows.
He paused to calm himself, swiping at the dirt on his dark uniform pants.
"Somebody, dressed in black, came out of the shadows and shoved Doyle. He bumped into me and we both fell. When we managed to get up we started chasing him. Doyle fired a shot over his head but he kept going."
The Italian had to stop again. The whole incident had shaken him up more than he would have thought it could.
"All of a sudden this pickup came out of the darkness. I dove out of the way but Doyle froze and the truck hit him. The guy were were chasing was in that truck."
"But you're sure you're not hurt," Malone wanted to be sure.
"Just a couple of scrapes and bruises is all," Nick replied.
"Did they damage anything?" one of the stunt men asked.
"I haven't had a chance to check," was Nick's answer.
The movie executive started issuing orders.
"Ryder, Allen, check for obvious sabotage. Markham, Callahan, check to make sure the cables securing the flats are intact and the tension is right."
Next he told his stunt men to check the mechanical devices, platforms and air bags.
Everyone scatted to check out the wires, cameras, lights and buildings as well as the stunt men's equipment and such. Nick went with the stunt men, shining his big flashlight on all levers and timers. So far so good. Everything looked okay. Nothing appeared to be out of order with the lights but the cameras they couldn't be sure of until morning. They needed daylight to really get a good look at them.
The buildings all seemed to be secure as did the sets. Little did they know that disaster was lurking just around the corner.
"Let's call it a night, gentlemen, and meet back here two hours before we start filming - say six o'clock? We start filming at eight." The executive scowled in frustration. "This is beginning to cost me money - I'm going to be over budget on this picture."
Cody, Nick and the others all exchanged looks. They understood the man's frustration for they were angry and frustrated as well. There had to be something, or someone, that could shed some light on the mystery of who was responsible for all this trouble that had befallen Colony Studios and Malone in particular.
Malone shook off his mood and turned to the detectives, "Mr. Ryder, I'd appreciate it if you would go back to the stable with Mr. Allen to help him and Miss McKenna ensure that everything is secure there. I worry about her being alone for very long - especially at night - with everything that's happened. I almost wish I hadn't asked her to take this job."
"Not a problem," Nick said. He actually looked forward to seeing her without having to pretend he had a message from Malone or was checking on things.
'I think I"ll go with them," Murray said. "I haven't seen Miss McKenna to speak to for a couple of days. I'd kind of like to see how she's doing."
"Don't stay too long," Malone said. "I expect my special assistant to be here when we start filming - I may need you."
"I won't," Boz assured him.
Cayce paced nervously as she waited for Cody to return. She knew he was concerned about keeping her out of trouble but she was worried about Nick. For all the hard time they gave each other they were still as crazy about each other as if they were truly brother and sister. Hearing familiar footsteps she ran to the doorway, her booted feet beating a tattoo on the wooden floor. Seeing Nick she threw herself at him, wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him.
"Nick! You're okay? What happened? Are you okay?" the words tumbled out of her mouth in a torrent.
"Whoa! Slow down!" Nick hugged her back and tugged on her left braid the way he always did. This time she didn't complain - she was too happy to see him safe. "Relax. Calm down. I'm fine."
"What was all the noise? Those shots? I thought you..." she couldn't finish the thought.
"I'm fine. One of the other security guards and I flushed a prowler out of one of the outdoor sets. We chased him but he got into a truck that was waiting for him."
"Those shots were fired by Doyle over the head of the guy we were chasing. Nobody was hit by them but Doyle tried to bluff them then by standing in front of the truck that picked up our intruder. The driver didn't stop and Doyle couldn't get out of the way."
"Is he..." Cayce dreaded the answer.
"His leg is badly broken but I don't know what else. They took him to the hospital a little while ago."
"I'm sorry about him," Cayce said. "I truly am, but I'm glad you're okay."
"We all are, honey," Cody told her as he squeezed her shoulders.
"Mr. Malone wants me to help you and Cody check that everything is secure here," Nick said. "After we do that I'm off duty for the next couple of days. I'll use them to check out any leads Boz has come up with."
The group went around checking the horses, vehicles and harness. They even checked Cayce's truck by flashlight. They found nothing until they got to a stack of hay bales that were piled near the shed where the other hay and all the grain was stored.
"What's that strange smell?" Murray asked. "It smells like - mold? And I think I smell something burning."
"Where?" Cayce asked. "Where do you smell mold - and smoke?"
Murray walked around for a minute before deciding, "I think it's over by the hay. Or it is the hay."
He indicated the large stack of hay bales that were piled near the storage shed. It was obvious, by Cayce's reaction, that she knew nothing about that load of hay Cody was puzzled as well by its appearance as he knew they hadn't ordered, or gone and picked up, any hay that day.
"Cayce? Where are you going?" Nick asked as the young woman broke away from them.
"To check that hay out. Don't you guys remember what I taught you at the Lazy M? About moldy hay?"
"It can make the horses sick," Murray said.
"That's not all it can do," Cayce said, then suddenly shouted "Fire!"
Looking in the direction she was pointing, the men saw that the hay was on fire. Flames were shooting up and sparks were threatening the wooden vehicles parked nearby.
"Grab the rakes and the pitchforks by the door," she told Nick and Cody. "Murray! Use the phone in my truck to call the fire department! I'll grab some buckets and fill them with water. We have to get that hay away from the shed and all before we lose everything!"
The men jumped to do her bidding. Cayce grabbed buckets and filled them with water. She also soaked a few empty feed sacks and beat at the sparks that threatened to ignite the roof of the storage shed and the wooden vehicles parked close by. They also beat at the sparks that landed on their clothing - in particular their shirt sleeves. Murray pitched in on that chore upon his return from Cayce's truck.
By the time the fire department arrived, sirens blaring, the fire was pretty much out. The firefighters turned a light spray - a drizzle really - on the roof of the shed to wet it down good, and around the outside for good measure. Cayce and her "brothers" turned the smoldering hay over so it could be soaked as well.
The captain approached the disheveled quartet whose clothes smelled of smoke and mold. They were all four damp and soot streaked. Their clothes and hair were mussed and streaked with soot as well. Nick, Cody and Cayce's shirts showed numerous little marks where sparks had landed on them.
"What happened here? Are you folks all right?"
"Hay fire," Cayce told him. "Probably spontaneous combustion. I'm just glad it wasn't in the shed or the stable." Smiling at the man in the helmet and turnout coat she said, "You guys saved Colony Studios a fair amount of money by getting here so fast. The water faucet is too far away, and the hose too short, to be very effective if that shed had really caught fire. Oats, and corn, don't come cheap!"
The captain bade them good night and departed with his crew. The sound of the fire engines' motors faded in the distance as they left the area to return to their station.
Cayce ran a shaky hand over her face. Underneath the smoke smudges she was pale. It didn't escape the notice of the men and the two oldest ones were quick to take action when she appeared to be faint.
Cody put an arm around her and started them walking toward their sleeping quarters He inclined his head in that direction indicating to his partners that they should follow.
Once they got to the empty box stall that Cayce was using Cody made her sit on her cot with her head down. While he massaged the tension out of her shoulders Nick rubbed her hands and Murray got a bottle of water out of the cooler for her.
In a few minutes she was calm again and the color had returned to her face.
"You okay now?" Cody asked.
"Yeah - except for one thing."
"What's that?" Nick wanted to know.
"I don't understand. Why mad?"
"Because that moldy hay could have been in the stable except that there's no room for it. If it had been the horses would have been in danger - horses I'm responsible for."
"Moldy hay isn't your fault," Cody told her.
"No, but there's one strange thing about it."
"Strange?" Nick asked.
"Nick, we never ordered any hay to be delivered. We have enough on hand to last a week - plus straw and wood shavings for bedding."
"Are you sure?" Boz asked
"She's right," Cody said. "We ordered enough the other day that was supposed to see us through to the end of the week. Cayce insisted on it so that we wouldn't have to take a lot of time away from this area and risk somebody tampering with another wagon or harming the horses."
"We've been busy hitching teams to wagons, buckboards and the stagecoach all day long the last few days," Cayce told them. "Plus Amy's been here for her riding lessons and the stunt men, and the extras, have needed horses. We didn't have time to run out and buy any supplies and didn't think to send a message to Murray to do it for us and keep Mr. Malone informed on what we're doing."
"I'd sure like to know who ordered the stuff and who delivered it. I told the local feed and grain that only myself, or Cody, would be doing any buying for the studio until further notice."
"You think someone's passing themselves off as your assistant?" Nick asked.
Murray looked thoughtful. "I'll see if I can tap into the store's computer - if they have one - and find out the name of the person who ordered it. Maybe it'll give us an idea of who's behind all this sabotage."
"No, Murray, don't do that," Cayce requested. "I think it's better if Cody and I pay the store a visit. I can tell the owner - or whoever's there - that I forgot to get a copy of the invoice or something. I think that the personal touch is what we need here."
"She's got a good point," Nick agreed. "She knows how to talk to these people." He paused for a moment. "I can't believe I'm agreeing to her help with this investigation."
"Hey! It's my temporary job on the line plus I'm personally responsible for the horses I borrowed," Cayce told him. "I'm in this with you, whether you guys like it or not!"
"I wonder if you could help us?" Cayce said to the clerk at the counter of the feed store.
"What can I do for you?" the middle aged man with the dark brown hair and brown eyes asked.
"I believe there may have been a mistake on my order," She told him. "I wonder if you could check your records for the deliveries to the Colony Studios project over to Frontiertown."
"Got 'em right here," the man said.
"Could I have a look at it please? Thank you."
She showed it to Cody who nodded in understanding. He was the detective but she was the temporary livestock manager and knew what to look for and what questions to ask.
"Here's the culprit, right here," she said as she returned the clipboard to the clerk. "I forgot to get a copy of the slip for that last order. Could I have this? After you make a copy for your records, of course."
The man hesitated but gave in to the young woman's charm, sparkling green eyes and hopeless manner.
"I'm such a flake sometimes," she said as Cody hid a grin. If there was anything Cayce wasn't, in business matters, it was a flake. "I know I'm supposed to get a copy of the paperwork but it was a busy day and I was in such a hurry that it completely slipped my mind."
"Not a problem, little lady," the man said as he made a copy for the store's records.
"Oh, and I did want to thank the two young men who delivered the order for me. They did such a nice neat job of stacking the bales of hay for me. I never did get their names."
"Didn't they have on their names tags or personalized shirts?"
"I'm afraid that, during the rush of getting horses hitched and all, I didn't notice."
The man looked at her pityingly. She seemed so young and scatterbrained to be holding down such an important job.
"Delivery was made on Friday, according to the date on the slip. That would have been Jeff Mallory and Dave Lake. They were the only ones making deliveries for the store over the weekend from Friday afternoon on."
"Thank them for me, will you?" Cayce folded the slip and put it in her wallet.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?"
She and Cody gathered some salt blocks and put them on the counter along with several tins of saddle soap.
"Yes, I nearly forgot that I needed salt blocks."
The clerk rang them up on the cash register after writing up an order form.
"That will be fifty dollars and sixty-five cents," he told her. Handing her her change and the customer copy of the invoice he said, "Don't forget this. I'd hate for you to have to make another special trip."
She thanked him as she and Cody gathered her purchases and left the store.
"You saw the slip, Cody," she said. "That's definitely not my signature on it. They must have signed it themselves and figured nobody would know the difference."
"Makes sense," he replied. "You're not known down here - outside of rodeo competitions. Nobody would know your signature or maybe not pay attention figuring you might have given someone permission to sign for you."
As they walked toward the spot where they had parked Cayce's pickup truck they passed the local newsstand.
"Hold these a minute," Cayce said, piling her bags on top of the box Cody was carrying.
She ducked inside and bought several newspapers and a couple of magazines as well as some candy.
"I like to keep up with the local news," she told the blond when she emerged from the store with her latest purchases.
His eyes danced when he saw the magazines, "And with your favorite movie stars? What would Nick say?"
She wrinkled her nose at him. "Nick would have a field day with that information except for one thing-"
"What's that?" Cody asked.
"He's the one who used to buy them for me when I was just the major's niece and had already spent my allowance."
"I should have know," Cody chuckled. 'I used to see him with them and kidded him about it. He got very defensive and secretive about why he had them."
"You shouldn't laugh - you were the one who bought me my western comic books and even got me a few collectible Roy Rogers comics! What do you think Nick would say about that?"
The two laughed and chatted the rest of the way to the truck. When they reached the red pickup with Lazy M Ranch, Sunny Acres, California, painted on the door Cody loaded their packages, except Cayce's bag from the newsstand, into the back. Then he opened the passenger door so she could climb in. When she was safely in he closed the door and went around to the driver's side and got behind the wheel. Cayce had tried to convince him that such manners weren't necessary but it was a lost cause. He would always open the door for her and see her settled before getting in himself. They were forever arguing about it.
While Cody drove back to the stable, Cayce used her car phone to check in with the Lazy M crew to see how things were going. It was rare for her to be gone more than a few days and it was already a week.
'Hi, Alex. How are things going?"
"Fine, Miss Cayce," her foreman, Alex McGregor, answered. "Everything's on schedule. We're laying in supplies for the Spring round up. KC has been tending to the riding stock we'll be taking. Smokey's been getting the trucks, your jeep and the trailers tuned up."
"Good. How are the fence repairs going? Have you been able to start them?"
"Not yet. We had another snowstorm a couple of days ago, but don't worry - we'll get along just fine while you're gone."
"I'll try to call again in a couple of days," she told him. "In the meantime you can try to get me on the phone in the truck or leave a message at Mr. Malone's office. The number is 555-2424. He'll have a messenger get it to me."
With that she hung up just as Cody pulled up to the spot they'd been parked all week.
"Everything okay at the ranch?" he asked.
"Alex says everything's fine. The only thing they can't do is fence repairs. It snowed again the other day so they're checking over stock and vehicles before we go on round up in a few weeks."
They climbed out of the truck and, together, they unloaded it and brought the supplies and their lunches inside. The lunches were put in the cooler that was stored in Cayce's temporary sleeping quarters.
The saddle soap went into the tack room while the salt blocks were distributed to the horses that were without.
As they were finishing up Murray came along.
"Hi Cody, Hi Cayce!"
"Hi Murray," Cayce smiled at the youngest of her adopted brothers.
"Hey Boz," Cody said. "What brings you here?"
"Mr. Malone is anxious for a first hand report on what's happening with the investigation. He'll be along in a minute."
Sure enough the studio bigwig came along about the time the trio got their respective notes together on what they'd found out. The group made themselves comfortable in the empty stall that Cody was using for sleeping quarters as it was less crowded than Cayce's.
"What can you tell me?" Malone asked.
"We checked on that hay delivery," Cayce told him and Murray. "Tell Nick that it was delivered by a Jeff Mallory and Dave Lake. They forged my signature on the receipt. Cody and I both saw it."
"Sure did," the blond responded. "That name, Lake, is certain popping up in this investigation a lot," Cody said. "Your predecessor was a guy by the name of Lake and one of the guys who delivered that moldy hay that caught fire was a Lake. Is this Dave Lake related to the cowboys you know? Brothers maybe? Cousins?"
"If we knew how old he is I might be able to answer that - or at least guess," Cayce said. "The problem is we haven't seen him. Cameron's got a couple of brothers and a cousin but I don't know of a Dave Lake."
"Oh! I got a picture of you predecessor," Murray told them. "I almost forgot! One of the studio photographers had pictures of the cast and crew with him yesterday. Mr. Malone pointed him out to me."
"That's Cameron Lake right there," Cayce said pointing to a medium height man dressed in jeans and a denim shirt. He was bareheaded making it easy to see his face.
Cayce studied the picture with a thoughtful look. "That's Cam but I don't recognize anybody else. I think..." she got up and went to her own sleeping quarters and grabbed one of her magazines. "Yeah! He's got a cousin that has competed in the bronc riding in some of the rodeos I've been at."
Hastily she flipped through it and found what she was looking for - a photograph of several cowboys from the recent Hallock Rodeo that had been held in San Jose.
"There! That's Andrew and that's Thomas next to him. There's Richard in the background."
"They certainly look chummy," Murray commented.
"Richard, Andrew and Thomas are cousins. I think that Cameron is Andrew's brother. I still can't explain this Dave Lake, though. He must be related but I couldn't tell you how."
"That's right," Murray told her. "From what I found in the newspapers' computers they all compete but only Andrew has much success. Sources in the rodeo business say that Cameron has been fired from more than one job for incompetence and Cameron and Richard have been disqualified from competition repeatedly for using underhanded tactics to win whatever event they were competing in."
"This is true," Cayce said, "but what do they care about whether, or not, Mr. Malone's movie gets finished on time - if at all?"
"I guess we'll have to dig deeper," Cody said. "Murray, can you do some digging and find out about friends and associates of these guys? We must be overlooking something."
"I'll see what I can do," the slender scientist said.
"Lake made the delivery with a guy by the name of Jeff Mallory," Cayce told Murray. "You might want to check him out too."
"What I don't understand," Cayce said, "is why anybody would be so intent on seeing that Mr. Malone fails to finish this movie. Is there somebody out there who absolutely hates him or do they hate the studio for some reason and they're taking it out on him. Have they tried to sabotage any of the other movies, or TV shows, that Colony is filming?"
The Riptide detectives looked at each other with grimaces.
It was Cody who broke the silence, "We should have thought of that ourselves. It looks like we're going to have to make Cayce, here, a partner - or at least a consultant."
"No way!" Cayce scoffed. "You wouldn't want me around when things get tough - you'd be so busy worrying about me you wouldn't take care of yourselves. I am, however, available by telephone for free consultations unless you want to work out a barter system." She grinned at her "brothers".
"I'm not even going to ask," Cody said.
"It's easy," she told him. "I help you and you help me. When you're not on a case you come up to the Lazy M and I put you to work. Murray does my bookkeeping, you and Nick work on my vehicles, the Baroness and anything else I need done that's within your capabilities - like fixing fences, and stairs and porches." With an appraising look at the slender scientist she added, "And I'll bet Murray could manage to weed Josefina's garden for her - provided he wears a wide brimmed hat and lots of sunscreen. He can water it too."
"We'll see," was all the blond would say.
"It would be a good idea," Murray said, "to get back to the business at hand." Turning to their client he asked, "Have you got any ideas, Mr. Malone, of who might want to put a stop to your movie?"
The studio executive thought on it for a minute. "Not specifically," he replied. "It could be a disgruntled ex-employee, a former star that's fallen on hard times - maybe even another studio. It's hard to say."
"The Lake cousins have been involved in some borderline hankypanky at some of the rodeos I've seen them at - maybe you should check for criminal records or if any of the rodeo associations have had formal complaints made against them. You can find a list of them through the library - get hold of a copy of Rodeo Weekly - there will be some names there you can start with," Cayce told the computer expert.
The meeting broke up soon afterward. Malone wanted to see how filming was going and to check on Amy Ryan. He'd become quite fond of the young actress who, against all odds, and in spite of the attempts to sabotage the film - including the runaway horse she'd been on - was sticking to her job and was seriously taking riding lessons with Cayce almost every day as her schedule allowed.
Murray left for King Harbor. The library there was better than the one in Frontiertown. It was bigger, had more books and had computers he could send the information back to his own computer on the Riptide to print his findings and not have to pay for them.
As for the "gold dust twins" as Nick would refer to them from time to time, they had a lot of saddles and other pieces of harness and tack to clean so they got right at it and kept at it until Cayce called a halt around noon so they could eat. According to the shooting schedule none of the horses would be needed for the rest of the day so that left them free to work on the cleaning at a leisurely pace and gave Cody a chance to wander around and see what he could find out.
"Here you go," Cayce said as she handed him a thick roast beef sandwich and a bottle of icy cold water.
"Thanks," the blond said as he sank down with a sigh on the closest hay bale to their designated "dining room". He wiped his sweaty forehead with the sleeve of his denim shirt before opening the bottle and guzzling half the contents in a single swallow.
"Not a good idea to guzzle cold water when you're hot," Cayce chided him as she handed him a second bottle and took a seat beside him. On her lap she balanced a plate with her sandwich while a bottle of water and one of her newspapers sat on the floor beside her.
"I know, but I'm hot and thirsty and it tastes good," Cody grinned. "Don't worry - I won't get sick."
Cayce glared at him but he just ignored it like he would if it were Nick making the same comment.
"Don't. Guzzle. The water," she stated even more firmly this time.
Cayce swatted his arm with the back of her hand.
Settling back on the hay bale, with a couple of saddle blankets draped over the stall behind them, the "siblings" relished the cold sandwiches. Both were thankful that Cayce had some of her camping gear in the truck when she arrived in Frontiertown. She had a couple of coolers as well as cots and pillows. With them they'd managed to fix up a couple of empty box stalls into temporary sleeping quarters that were relatively comfortable and cozy.
When she'd finished her sandwich, and the chips she'd had on the side, Cayce picked up one of her newspapers. It happened to be the local paper with a lot of news about the movie being filmed and how it was helping the local economy.
"According to the Frontiertown Ledger," she remarked, "the movie is doing a lot for the local economy. The restaurants and caterers are busier than ever. The bookstore, newsstand and all."
"The feed and grain?" Cody suggested while leaning back with his eyes closed.
"Yeah, the feed and grain, too," she grinned.
The young rancher worked her way through the newspaper until she got to the celebrity section. "There are short items in the celebrity section - aka the gossip column," she joked, "about which cast and crew members have been seen in which restaurants. They even mention Amy and her two unknown companions - us - and her boyfriend having dinner at Cafe Luigi's the other night."
"That's nice," came the drowsy reply.
The blond wasn't paying that much attention, but, then again, Cayce only read them for fun and to find out if there were any charitable events coming up that she might want to attend if she were able.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon. For the next half hour not a sound was heard as Cody dozed except for the rustle of newspaper pages as Cayce turned the pages. There was a soft breeze blowing through the wide open doors of the stable. The buzz of bees could be heard around the flowers in the wooden washtubs outside the stable.
"Cody! Wake up!"
"Huh?" Cody was startled by Cayce's urgent voice. "What's the matter?"
"I think I just found your motive - or at least a viable suspect in what's been happening around here."
"What are you talking about?" the blond asked her.
"Look! It's right here in the paper - and I think there's something in one of my magazines about it."
Cody took the paper from her and examined the item she indicated. The small item mentioned that a rival studio was filming the same type of movie at the same time as Malone's.
"That's interesting and you could be right - it could very well be a motive for all the sabotage."
"That's not all," Cayce told him holding out one of her fan magazines. "That same studio tried to hire Amy only she turned them down. She had a better offer from Mr. Malone - in money and extras. It was too good for a newcomer to turn down. Mr. Malone is quite serious about cultivating her talent. He thinks he could really make a star out of her. Plus he's a very nice person. The people at the other studio have a reputation for penny pinching and being extremely demanding - on the order of what I've always heard about Warner Brothers back in the days when they ruled the airwaves with all their westerns."
"I wonder why Mr. Malone didn't mention this?" Cody was surprised.
"I think it's because he's too busy trying to run a tight ship here and he doesn't think about that rivalry too much. As long as his people are happy and gainfully employed that's all that matters to him."
"Makes sense," Cody said. "He does seem like a decent sort and I haven't heard one bad word about him from anybody we've come in contact with." He frowned, "We need proof that these guys are responsible for what's been happening here. There must be some way to prove that this other studio - what did the paper say its name was?"
"Wilder-Long Studios," Cayce found it in the article she'd been reading. "They're small but they've had some pretty good success with some of their films and a couple of TV mini-series as well."
The young woman sat in silence for a minute. She had an idea of how to get the information the detectives needed but she knew Cody would object strenuously.
"I've got an idea, Cody," the young woman said.
"Whatever it is you're thinking, you can forget it," Cody said, instantly suspicious of her tone of voice.
"You haven't even heard what it is," she protested.
"It's bound to be something crazy - or dangerous."
'How do you know until you hear it?"
"Because I know you," the blond said. "Every time you use that tone of voice you want something you know I won't approve of."
"It'll work and I don't have to do it alone. I'll need Murray for part of it."
"The answer is no."
"You let her do what?"
It was later that afternoon and Nick was just finding out that Cayce and Murray had gone to the Wilder-Long studios to see what they could find out in regard to the sabotage on Malone's movie set.
"I let her talk me into letting her and Murray do a little looking around at the studio where they're making a movie like Malone's. She said it'll be simple enough for her to fit in as an extra and Boz has a camera and notepad so he'll look like a reporter while he noses around the offices and dressing rooms and such."
"I don't believe...Cody how could you let her talk you into this? Are you insane? They could get hurt if someone gets suspicious. What were you thinking?"
Nick was incredulous that his normally sensible partner could let Cayce talk him into such a thing. What the heck was Cody thinking of?
"I don't know," the blond said. "It's like I'm helpless when she sweet talks me like that. She had an answer for every argument I gave her."
The Italian shook his head. "You should have told them to wait. I would have said 'no' and stuck to my guns. She's always been able to get around you. The colonel would tell you the same thing." Leveling his gaze at his partner he asked, "Why is it you can't say 'no' to that girl?"
"I don't know. It's like I'm putty in her hands."
"Well you better hope nothing happens to her because the colonel will have your head - and mine - if any harm comes to her."
"Remember, Boz, you're a reporter for a small magazine and you're visiting several studios to learn about the movies they're making and who and what is involved." Cayce clipped a phony press badge to the lapel of the thin man's jacket.
"I'm going to slip in with the next batch of cowboys and do my best to blend in. If we're lucky nobody will know me from the other studio."
"This is so boss!" Murray exclaimed. "We're doing undercover work without the guys!"
"Yeah," Cayce said as they prepared to play their parts. "We are and the guys aren't."
That remark worried Murray for a minute. Why were they doing it and not Nick and Cody? The guys always did the undercover stuff - with or without him along. Something wasn't quite right here but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"We'll meet back here in two hours," Cayce told him as she moved away from their borrowed vehicle.
With that she slipped away and joined a group of movie cowboys and cowgirls heading onto the studio lot.
With her hair in pigtails Cayce looked younger than her twenty-five years and easily fit in with the teenage actors who were moving through the gate. The security guard paid little attention to them - apparently unconcerned with the size of the group other than to make sure there were no extras. There must have been some missing as Cayce was never stopped and questioned.
Once inside the studio gate Cayce followed the others to the back lot. It took a couple of tries before she found the right set. This particular studio had two westerns filming. It was by keeping her eyes and ears open that she finally found the right one - the one that was Wilder-Long's version of the same story that Colony was filming.
"I sure wish I'd hired on with Malone at Colony," a short, chubby cowboy said.
"Me too," the redheaded and bearded man next to him said.
Cayce kept her back to them and said in a low voice, "If you feel that way why don't you quit and go to Colony?"
She walked away leaving the men to think about what she'd said.
To herself, Cayce said, "Methinks I can work a little sabotage of my own. If I hear any more comments like that I'll just start a little backfire with suggestions that they go back to Colony.
Murray walked up to the gare and presented his "credentials". They stated that Martin Bohunicky was a writer for Cowboy Movie Magazine.
"I never heard of it," the guard at the gate said.
"It's a very small magazine," Murray told him, "but it has a very loyal subscriber base. Some of the younger readers heard that there are a couple of western movies being made and maybe a TV series. My editor sent me here to do some research for a story about them."
"I'll have to check with the front office," the man said, "but I imagine they'll be glad of any positive publicity they can get."
It was but a few minutes before a tall, heavyset man with gray hair and beard arrived in a golf cart.
"Mr. Bohunicky?" Receiving an affirmative answer from Murray he introduced himself. "I'm James Wilder. I own this studio."
"I thought this studio was Wilder-Long," Boz said. "is that not correct?"
"Well, yes, but Mr. Long is currently away scouting locations," was Wilder's answer.
"That's too bad," Murray responded. "My editor really would like to have interviews from both of you."
"I'm sure something can be arranged in the near future."
Leading the way to the golf cart the older man said, "Come along and I'll give you a tour of the studio while we talk."
Obediently, and curious, Murray followed the man hoping he'd be able to pick up some information that would be of use to him and his partners. A few minutes later they pulled up in front of a large brick building - the studio offices.
"Right this way." Wilder led Murray past a small theater, offices belonging to the other executives, a secretarial pool, a file room and a conference room.
"The dark room is in the building next door," the studio head explained. "We have several pictures being filmed right now as well as a couple of television programs. Our cameramen, photographers and photo lab people are working around the clock to process all the reels and rolls of film that we've used.
"The photographers are busy shooting publicity stills for 'Under Western Stars', 'Cowgirl Love Story' and 'Vanished'."
"Those are very interesting titles," Murray said as he scribbled notes. "Who are the stars of these films? I'm sure our readers would be very interested. It will give them something to look forward to."
"Well 'Stars' has Dwayne Connors, Jack Bradford and Doug Stacy. The leading lady is Teresa Howell."
Wilder led the way past a young brunette sitting at a switchboard and down a short corridor into a luxurious suite of rooms.
The carpet was extremely plush and matched the royal blue velvet drapes at the windows. The floor to ceiling windows let in the brilliant spring sunlight which brought out the rich sheen of the massive cherry wood desk.
Wilder made himself comfortable in the high backed black leather chair behind his desk and indicated that the detective should seat himself in one of the small upholstered chairs near the desk.
"Where were we?"
"You were telling me about your current projects - specifically the stars. My readers will be very interested to see who's got a new movie coming out."
"Yes, well 'Cowgirl' stars Meredith Crane, Gail Baldwin and Michael Hamilton. 'Vanished' has Scott Ferguson, Ken Blanchard and Susan Bray."
"Can you tell me a little bit about the movies?" Boz was ready to take notes.
"Well 'Under Western Stars' is a remake of an old Republic Studios film that starred Roy Rogers. It will be a bit more contemporary, of course, since there is no dust bowl now, but it will follow the same basic story line about a cowboy who gets elected to Congress.
"That's very interesting," Bozinsky said. "What about 'Cowgirl'?"
"'Cowgirl is about a young woman who competes in barrel racing and pole bending competitions across the country and in Canada. She's torn between two men - one a rancher from Arizona and the other a Canadian. Both claim to be in love with her but neither one supports her longing to compete in some of the other competitions such as calf roping. A third man, a fellow competitor gets involved as well."
Murray hastily made notes before inquiring about the third movie.
"'Vanished is a mystery. A young man leaves his home to meet his sweetheart at a nearby lake but she isn't there and nobody in the nearby town seems to know anything."
"Tell me something about the cast of 'Stars' as you called it and 'Cowgirl'. Is there any truth to the story that young actress by the name of Amy Ryan was supposed to play the lead in 'Cowgirl'?"
An unreadable expression came across Wilder's face. To Murray it appeared as though the man had to think about his answer.
"Well we had hoped to sign Miss Ryan," the studio executive said smoothly, "but she was too demanding in her requests for salary and perks - benefits. She wanted a salary such as an established star would get, a short daily filming schedule and a private secretary to answer her fan mail."
The man's voice took on a tone of disgust, "We could hardly justify such expenses for a relative newcomer now could we? We need to put that money into furnishings and equipment for the offices."
"No, I suppose that's true. It must take a considerable sum to keep the studio running."
Looking around Wilder's office at the expensive furnishings, plush carpet and all as well as the man's custom tailored suit he couldn't help mentally comparing them to the somewhat tacky outer offices with worn carpet, what appeared to be World War II surplus furniture and poor lighting. None of the other employees were nearly as well dressed either. He didn't write this down but he would definitely mention it to his partners.
While Murray was interviewing Wilder, Cayce made her way around the set of "Cowgirl". Dressed the way she was she had no trouble blending in with the others. There were quite a few people dressed in jeans, long sleeved shirts and boots with many different sizes, and styles, of cowboy hats - some Stetsons and many other brands as well. She kept her eyes and ears open and picked up a lot of information.
The leading lady, second choice after Cayce's new friend, Amy Ryan, was a shrill, shrieking harpie who complained about everyone and everything. The leading man was vain, lazy and rude. The rancher disliked him as soon as she saw, and heard, him. All around her she heard crew members grumbling.
Exasperated, she finally said to half a dozen of them, "Why don't you quit and go to another studio for crying out loud? I hear Malone, over at Colony, is looking for stunt men, camera men and just about every other position you can think of. From what I hear, you'll be treated a lot better, paid better and I hear the leading lady is a sweet girl."
"What makes you so sure of that?" one of the stunt men asked.
"If you don't believe me go call him. Tell him Cayce sent you."
"Cayce McKenna," she said.
"Wait a minute," one of the stunt women said. "You're not the Cayce McKenna - the one who set the new barrel racing record at the Erickson rodeo last year?"
"Yeah, that's me," Cayce admitted.
"That was some ride! Nobody's ever come close to that before! I've been riding in, and watching, barrel racing competitions for years and I never saw anything like it!"
"Well, I was mad and determined and Doc knew it. He ran his heart out for me."
"Hey, gang, let me tell you - this girl has a reputation as a rider and as a fair and honest businesswoman and employer. If she says that Craig Malone is hiring I say let's check it out. We could do, and are doing, a lot worse by working for Wilder."
"I'm with her," one of the extras said. Cayce McKenna has a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. Her word's good enough for me."
With that the thirty-something woman went to the closest pay phone and made a call. She spoke with Malone's secretary who gave them an appointment to talk to him around three o'clock that afternoon. It was already after two so they all got ready - a group of about twenty. Led by their unofficial sponsor, Cayce, they headed toward the gate.
The departing group ignored the screaming director. Instead they phone Wilder's office and informed his secretary that a group of them - not naming all the names - were leaving for the day. Also, that if all went well, they would be back later to pick up their personal belongings and leave for good. They completely ignored the continued screams of the director and kept on going, chatting it up with Cayce about the Lazy M and why she was in Frontiertown.
There was a knock on the door of Wilder's office. He, and Murray, both turned their attention to the secretary who entered the room at Wilder's "Come in."
"Yes? What is it Miss Greenough?"
"I thought you should know right away, sir, that a large group of stunt people and extras - even a couple of bit players - are leaving the studio. They say they may not be back except to pick up their personal belongings."
"What! They can't do that!" Wilder was incensed. "They have contracts with us don't they?"
"No sir," Miss Greenough answered. "The stunt coordinators' contracts expired a week ago. Their agents are in the midst of negotiating new ones. From what I hear things aren't going well in the talks and the stunt people are freelance - Mr. Kramer, in the accounting department was screaming about costs so production hired the free lancers. They're not bound by any contract. A contract would have meant a higher salary and more benefits."
"Excuse me, Mr. Bohunicky," Wilder said. "I must find out what's happening for myself. It would be a disaster for the studio if all those people walk out." He rose from his desk and hurriedly ushered Murray out of his office and to the golf cart which had brought them there from the front gate.
Once again Murray's analytical mind noted the differences between the people around and in the buildings here compare d to those at Colony. Malone and his studio came on on top in all areas.
As they approached the gate the men saw a large group of people - mostly dressed in western style clothing, leaving through the gate where a security guard was in danger of being trampled by the horde.
"What's going on here?" Wilder demanded to know.
The stunt woman who knew of Cayce spoke for the group.
"We're leaving, Mr. Wilder. We're tired of the petty jealousies and the dangerous working conditions and the low pay. We've got a chance to go to work for Malone over at Colony and we're going to look into it."
"You can't leave!" Wilder screamed. "You have a contract with me!"
"No, we don't," one of the spokesmen for the group said. "We had a contract. It expired three days ago. Our agents and your lawyers haven't come to an agreement. No agreement. No contract. We owe you nothing but you owe us three days wages apiece. We're out of here if Malone will have us."
Again Wilder demanded to know what was going on. Murray stood by, curious about what was transpiring.
Before anybody could say anything the stunt coordinator came rushing to join his fellow employees.
"No interview required," he told the crew joyously. "Mr. Malone said our work - and Cayce's word - are good enough for him. We start on two of his movies tomorrow!"
A chorus of cheers rang out from the rest of the crowd.
"You can't leave!" Wilder screamed. "You have contracts with my studio." He was bluffing he knew, but he was desperate. A mass walkout would cripple his studio and shut down production for who knew how long.
The group of disgruntled employees just ignored him and headed to wardrobe in order to exchange their costumes for street clothes. As soon as they were done they headed for the accounting office to collect their paychecks and informed personnel that they would not be back. Their agents were next on the list. In all the commotion Cayce managed to slip out the gate unnoticed with a small group of extras who had arrived in their own clothes and were leaving. Nobody noticed that she didn't belong there for she blended in just as she'd told Cody she would.
Murray took his leave of Wilder and went back to the borrowed car wondering where Cayce was. He didn't have to wonder for long. A slim figure in jeans, western shirt, hat and boots came out from between a couple of parked cars and slipped into the passenger seat beside him.
"Cayce! Where have you been?" he asked. "I was getting worried when I didn't see you with the others."
"I didn't think it would be a good idea for Wilder to see me," she explained. "I've kinda been stirring things up among his extras and stunt people."
"I'm not sure that was such a good idea. They were quite vocal about quitting and going to work for Colony. What if someone let's it slip that you encouraged them?"
"My name isn't going to mean anything to anybody at that studio. As for their employees - the stunt people and all - well a lot of them were complaining about working conditions and I don't blame them. Complaining wasn't doing any good and they were working without a contract. I just suggested they look for work elsewhere and told them to give my name to Mr. Malone," Cayce explained. "One of the stunt women knows me by reputation and encouraged someone to make a call for them."
They arrived back at Colony to find two agitated senior partners waiting for them.
"Where have you been?" Nick exploded. "We were getting worried."
"We were getting worried?" Cayce's right eyebrow rose. "Cody doesn't look very worried."
"You know what I mean," Nick snapped. His concern was obvious and he didn't like the way Cayce was making light of it.
"Getting mad at her isn't going to get us anywhere," the blond told his more volatile partner.
"I'm not mad," Nick said."
"Not much," Cayce muttered as she went into the barn to get out of the sun and maybe find a private plane for them to talk.
The others followed her in and they found bales of hay to sit on while Murray and Cayce told the others what they'd learned.
"What did you find out?" Cody asked the computer whiz.
"Well the first thing I noticed was the offices," Murray said. "Wilder has a rather elegant set up with expensive furniture - mahogany I think - velvet drapes and plush carpet. The secretary's office isn't quite as good but the common areas and the few glimpses of the other offices I got were - how shall I say it? Not as nice."
"Tacky," Cayce said.
"Yes, well, Mr. Wilder seems to spend a lot of money on his office but not on the rest of the place. The buildings are somewhat in disrepair and the office staff seems very unhappy."
"They're not the only ones," Cayce told them. "The stunt people were working without a contract and the extras were getting cheated on their paychecks - they're owed anywhere from one week to several months pay. They're not happy with the directors they're working under and they don't like the chances the studio expects them to take with their safety and everyone else's."
"That's good information," Cody said, "But it's not proof that he - or anyone at his studio is behind the trouble here."
"A lot of the people I talked to think it's very possible," Cayce told them. "I know it's hearsay, and it wouldn't be admitted in court if I told what I heard, but several people commented that he'd love to see Mr. Malone's studio go under. That way he'd have less competition and could hire some of his stunt people and other cast and crew members. They say he's very jealous of the fact that
Colony has Amy. He wanted her for his movie but she turned him down. He even offered her a better salary but she didn't like the looks of him or the contract."
"You think maybe that's what all the sabotage is about - an attempt to scare Amy back to Wilder's studio?" Nick asked.
"Could be," Cayce said, "only I don't think the runaway was necessarily deliberate. I made a lot changes among the horses when I took this job to help Mr. Malone out but it was partly so his movie will be more historically accurate and so that he's using horse that are calmer and safer for his cast."
She went on to explain that the Morgan horse was a strong, steady breed often used by mounted police units for crowd control.
"Safer for anybody who's an inexperienced rider."
"What about Star?" Cody asked. "You said he could be a handful. Is he safe to use on the set?"
"If I didn't think so," she said, "I wouldn't have borrowed him. Besides only the people I approve of, that are working on this particular movie, are permitted to get anywhere near him."
That satisfied Cody - and his partners - because even if she occasionally took chances with her own safety she would never knowing endanger anyone else.
"How did your interview with Wilder and Long go, Murray," Nick asked.
"Mr. Long wasn't there," Murray replied. "He's supposed to be out scouting locations for future movies."
"Oh? I wonder if that includes Frontiertown and the sets that Malone has set up here?"
"Are you thinking he could be one of the guys that you and Doyle caught trying to destroy the sets the other night?" Cody asked.
"Could be." the Italian said.
"How can we find out what kind of car he drives?" Cody wondered.
"I could tap into the DMV computer," Boz told them.
Cayce was only half listening to them at that point. She'd been distracted by the sound of angry voices outside the barn. The men hadn't noticed so she got up to investigate. Outside she found Amy Ryan talking, or rather, arguing with a man in his late forties. When the man grabbed Amy's arm as she tried to walk away Cayce stepped forward to defend her friend and student.
"What's going on her?" she asked. "Are you okay, Amy?"
The man holding Amy's arm glared at Cayce - not that it did him any good. She was completely unfazed.
"It's none of your business," he said. "The young lady and I were just having a friendly conversation."
"It doesn't look - or sound - very friendly to me," Cayce said with green eyes blazing. "Let go of her arm or else."
"Or else what?" he sneered. "You going to make me?"
"Oh, I probably could," Cayce told him, "but I won't have to."
Turning toward the barn she yelled, "Cody! Mr. Ryder! We need you out here - right now!"
The two men came running. Cayce's voice had sounded urgent.
"What's the matter?" Cody asked as they came out of the barn.
"This guy is getting rough with Amy. He thinks it's a 'friendly' conversation but I don't believe that Miss Ryan agrees - do you Amy?"
"No, I don't," the young actress said. "He won't leave me alone and I've already told him I don't want to talk to him."
"It seems to me," Nick said, "that if the lady says 'no' she means 'no' and you need to let her go."
"Amy, go with Cayce into the barn," Cody told the actress. "We'll see this gentleman off the grounds."
Amy was more than happy to obey that request. The man frightened her more than she cared to admit but she had come to see Cody as someone she could trust by watching the way he interacted with Cayce. She didn't know that they were good friends - siblings in all but name - or that Cody was a private investigator - but the blond detective made her feel safe. As did the new security guard.
The two women walked into the barn but Cayce wasn't taking any chances on her "brothers" being hurt. She retreated to her makeshift quarters and retrieved her .38 caliber revolver from her purse. She'd taken it from the glove compartment of her truck after the night that she and Cody had surprised the would be saboteur in the barn. She just hadn't told the guys that she had it. They might not be too happy about it. They wanted to be the protectors - not the protected.
"Where'd you get that?" Amy asked when she saw the gun in Cayce's hand.
"I carry it with me when I come to the city," Cayce told her. "Back home I carry a rifle on my saddle when I'm out on the range."
"You look like you know what you're doing with it," the actress commented.
"I do. My grandfather, and my Uncle Brian, made sure I knew how to use one. Grandfather McKenna taught me how to use a rifle. Uncle Brian taught me how to use a hand gun."
"Is there anything you can't do?" the other woman asked.
"Lots of things," Cayce grinned. "For instance I can't speak any Chinese dialect, can't make decent frosting no matter how hard I try and I can't scuba dive."
Amy laughed. Cayce was a constant source of delight to her. Many times over the last few weeks visits to the stable had had a cheering effect on her when she'd had a hard day on the set. Mr. Malone seemed very fond of Cayce and encouraged Amy to spend as much time with her as she wanted. The young rancher had a delightful sense of humor and was an endless source of stories - real and imagined - that would make all of Amy's troubles melt away.
"Stay here," Cayce told her lookalike. "I'm just going to stand near the door in case the guys need some help. Neither one of them is armed. We don't know if your 'friend' is or not."
"Oh, Mr. Wilder never carries a gun," Amy told her. "It's Mr. Long who does. And they both have some mean looking bodyguards with them most of the time. I don't know where Mr. Long's is right now."
Cayce started violently when she heard Amy name their unwanted visitor's name. Long was the partner that Murray hadn't been able to speak to. He was supposed to be out scouting locations so what was he doing here harassing Amy? She made her way to the door and started signing Long's name to Cody and Nick. Neither one of them noticed her at first. When they did they both gave her a look that told her to stay back out of the way and everything would be just fine. She waited anxiously for them to escort Long away from the barn and vicinity.
She watched, from the doorway, as the two detectives marched the unwanted visitor to the parking area. There were two pairs of raised eyebrows when they saw that Cayce had her .38 in hand, but at the risk of blowing their covers, they didn't say what they wanted to say.
"Where'd that come from?" Nick asked.
"My pocketbook. I always carry it when I'm in the city," she told him - not that he didn't already know.
Cody put an arm around the visibly shaken Amy's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I think so," the young actress said. "If Cayce really knows how to use that gun I'm glad she has it since you're not armed. You're not armed are you?"
"No, we're not," Cody told her.
A moment later, as they stood there talking, there was the squeal of tires and the roar of a truck engine. The men shoved the girls out of the way as a big black truck, possibly the same one that had struck Gary Doyle - the other security guard. The truck raised an enormous cloud of dust that set them all coughing until they moved away from the road.
"Are you all okay?" Murray asked anxiously as he came running out of the barn. He and Malone had been so deep in conversation, halfway down the barn aisle from the front door, that they never noticed that the others were gone until just at the time that the truck came roaring toward the group.
"I think so," Cody said as he dusted himself off. "Nick? Cayce? Amy? You're all okay?"
"Yeah," Cayce said, "but I'm steaming mad at that guy! What the heck did he think he was doing driving off like that?"
"That was Erich Baumgartner driving," Amy told them. "He's Mr. Wilder's bodyguard or driver or maybe both. He has a habit of driving like that. That's one of the reasons I decided to come to work for Mr. Malone - safety. With Erich driving around everyone, and everything, is in danger the whole time he's behind the wheel! He's a maniac!"
"He always drives like that?" Nick's eyes darkened. "Is that his truck?"
"I think it actually belongs to the studio," the actress replied. "Erich drives it the most though."
"I think it's time Amy went home," Cayce said. "It's been a long day on the set, she's had her riding lesson and it's getting late." Turning to her "twin" she said, "Go get some supper in town or go straight home, eat and take a hot bath before you go to bed. It'll relax those sore muscles."
Amy gave Cayce a hug and said a shy "thank you" to Nick and Cody for protecting her from Long and Baumgartner. Then she headed for her car which was parked near the barn at Cayce's insistence. She thought it was best for Amy's car to be where she and Cody could keep an eye on it. With everything that had been happening there was no telling what would be next. Sabotaging Amy's car was a distinct possibility - especially with what Cayce and Boz had learned at Wilder-Long studios that morning.
When she drove away the Riptide detectives and their little sister turned operative, went back in the barn to finish their conversation.
"Did anybody get the license plate on that truck?" Nick asked.
"Only a partial," Cayce said while Cody nodded. "It came out of nowhere so fast I didn't have a chance to get a good look at it before we were flying out of its path."
"Murray?" Cody asked. "How about you?"
"No, I was too busy watching you guys and praying you'd be able to get out of it's path."
"I got 263P but I'm not sure if that was beginning, middle or end," Cayce told them.
"It's a start, and it's more than we got," Cody told her as he put an arm around her shoulders and Nick gave her left braid a gentle tug which she didn't object to this time. They were all a little shaken up by the near miss.
Nick had to report for duty soon so he left shortly thereafter to return to the Riptide and change into his uniform. Murray left at the same time and headed for Malone's office as well as his little workspace. Malone had left, via the back door, before the truck appeared that nearly ran the detectives and the young women down. That left Cody alone with Cayce and the horses and they had a lot of work to do to feed, water and inspect the horses as well as checking for worn spots in the leather of the harnesses and other tack that was in use. They would also take a look at the wagons and stagecoach being used. They weren't taking any chances on something being tampered with and not being caught before somebody got hurt.
When every horse had been fed, and Cayce was satisfied that all were healthy enough, they left the animals to their evening meal and went out to the storage area. After the fire of a few nights ago Cayce always inspected the hay before it was accepted and then she and Cody put it in the storage shed. They had done that earlier so all that was left to do was to inspect the horse drawn vehicles. Cayce heaved a sigh of relief when she found out that everything appeared to be in good order.
"How about some supper, boss lady?" Cody asked.
"Ok, but I'll feel a lot better if we get something delivered. I'm nervous about leaving the horses and all unattended."
Cody readily agreed and used the phone in Cayce's truck to call out for a couple of pizzas and some soda. He insisted on paying for it saying that it would go on the agency's expense account for this case. They ate supper, disposed of the trash, talked with Nick and the other security guard who was on duty that night and then headed for bed. Fortunately the night passed without incident and they were up at dawn to feed again and prepare for the work day ahead. Amy would arrive for a riding lesson around ten o'clock. Malone had arranged her schedule so as to accommodate the lessons which were going well and made her much more comfortable before the cameras when the scene called for her to be on horseback.
The morning went well enough but by evening Amy was exhausted and depressed. The young woman came to the barn for her riding lesson but, after one look at her face, Cayce canceled it.
"You're too tired to get anything out of your lesson tonight, hon." Cayce put an arm around the other woman's shoulders. "You go on and get a good meal and go to bed. You can have a lesson before you have to be on the set tomorrow."
"I'll go to supper if you'll go with me," Amy told her riding teacher. "I'd like a chance to talk to another woman - someone who's not a regular part of the studio."
After a brief consultation with Cody, Cayce agreed. They wouldn't be gone more than a couple of hours and the horses had already been fed and watered. They'd finished cleaning all the tack, and harness, a couple of hours ago. Cody wouldn't have to do anything except wander around periodically checking on them and the vehicles. Amy had left her car in the studio lot and taken a shuttle bus to the filming site. From there she had walked over to the barn so the two women took Cayce's truck. Cayce had a two way radio in her truck and handed Cody the walkie talkie that was set to that frequency so that they could keep in touch since there was no phone in the barn.
The two women set off never knowing that they were being watched and followed. They went to the local diner and found a quiet, out of the way booth, where they could eat in peace in spite of Cayce's having made friends with many of the locals since she'd arrived. She was friendly and outgoing and made friends easily. Some of the local ranchers were acquaintances of hers and made it a point to say hello when they ran into each other. Amy was fascinated by their talk of horse shows and rodeos and livestock auctions. It was like another world to her.
The girls finished their meals and paid their check leaving a generous tip for their waiter - a young man who was working his way through college. Cayce admired his spunk - she'd done the same thing even though her uncle, a colonel in the Army (though a major at the time) could have afforded to send her. He'd raised her to be independent and independent she was.
See you later," Cayce told the staff of the diner as she and Amy went out the door.
Cayce's truck was parked a little way down the street from the diner. This being payday for the town employees parking was at a premium outside the diner. The girls chatted amiably as they strolled casually toward their transportation.
"You feeling better now, Amy?" Cayce asked.
"Yes, much," the young actress said. "I always feel better when I spend time with you and Mr. Allen and the horses."
They were so intent upon their conversation, and enjoying the fresh air, that they didn't notice the two men coming up behind them until it was too late.
"You're coming with us, Miss Ryan," one of them said addressing his remarks to Cayce. It was obvious these men had never laid eyes on Amy before except maybe from the distance.
The two women turned, startled, toward the sound of the voices. One look at them and Cayce knew they were trouble. She also knew she had to get Amy out of this mess by herself - the detectives weren't anywhere close by. She did what she thought was the next best thing - she dashed toward a nearby trash can, picked it up and hurled it at the men. Then she grabbed Amy by the hand and started running. A little way down the street they ducked into an alley. Amy was terrified but Cayce was angrier than she had ever been.
"Are you all right?" Cayce asked Amy.
"Yes. No. I don't know," the young actress said. "Who are those men and what do they want with me?"
"I don't know for sure," Cayce told her, "but I'll bet it has something to do with Wilder-Long studios and the movie they wanted you for."
"But why take me off the street?"
"They're desperate. They're losing money all the time," Cayce told her, "and a bunch of their employees just quit forcing them to shut down production on the movies. The press is talking you up at the next big star and they need your drawing power. Mr. Malone's got you and they'll do anything they can to destroy him."
Amy was shaking like a leaf. Cayce knew she had to act fast - the men would find them soon. She wasn't about to let them get their hands on Amy so she came up with a desperate plan.
"Listen, hon, I know you're scared but I need you to do something for me."
"I'm going to draw their attention to me and lead them away from you," Cayce told her. "You get yourself back to that diner and tell the people inside what happened. Have someone take you back to the stable. You tell Cody what happened and tell him to get Nick and Boz. He'll know what you mean." Cayce squeezed Amy's hands encouragingly. "Can you do that for me?"
"But they might hurt you!"
"I don't think they will," Cayce reassured her. "They want to scare you into going back to Wilder's studio. They can't afford to hurt you - if word got out you were injured in any way they'd be in big trouble. Boycotts and possibly jail time."
"No buts. I'm going to go out that other alley and get their attention. You just get ready to run back to the diner and get a ride back to the stable. Tell Cody what happened. He'll get the others and come find me."
The other woman reluctantly agreed and stayed in hiding, behind some trash barrels, while Cayce quietly ran down the alley to the next street over.
"Hey guys!" the spunky Scots-Irishwoman yelled when she spotted their pursuers. "I'm over here!"
"Hey! Get her! Mr. Wilder wants her."
Cayce took off running. When she was a quarter of a mile, or so, down the road, Amy came out of her hiding place and ran back toward the diner. When she arrived she opened the door and ran inside, crying. It took several minutes before anyone could cal her down sufficiently to find out what had happened. When they did one of the men from the hardware store hustled her out to his car and drove her back to the stable where Cody was looking after things.
Cody was making the round of the stable area when he heard a car pull up in a hurry and stop just outside the barn. He slipped into his sleeping quarters to get his .45 but stopped when he heard Amy's voice.
"Mr. Allen? Mr. Allen, where are you?"
The young woman sounded frantic to the detective. He hurried outside to meet her.
"I'm right here," he replied as he came out the door. Looking around he saw that a strange man was with her but Cayce was nowhere in sight.
"Oh, Mr. Allen, I'm so scared!"
"Where's Cayce?" the blond asked. "She went to dinner with you. You left here together a couple of hours ago."
"She's been kidnapped - or killed," Amy wailed.
"I'm Ray Dixon from the hardware store," the short, pudgy, balding redhead told Cody. "Miss Ryan came running into the diner about fifteen minutes ago. She was near hysterics, saying something about robbers or kidnappers or something. When we finally got her calmed down enough to understand she told us that some men approached her and Miss McKenna on the street. Miss McKenna threw a trash can at them and the two of them ran. They hid in an alley for a few minutes and then your young friend drew the men away from Miss Ryan and disappeared. This little lady was so distraught I thought I'd better drive her here myself."
"She told me she was going to lure them away and I was to go back to the diner and get a ride back here. I'm supposed to tell you that you need to get Nick and Boz."
"Yeah, I do," Cody said. He was seething at the thought of Cayce putting herself in harm's way. She'd done it before - pushing Murray out of the way of a speeding car - and wound up in the hospital for a few days because of it.
"Cayce will be all right, I promise," he told Amy "We need to stash you someplace safe, though, until we get her and the men who took her."
"Can't I just wait here?" Amy asked.
"No, it's not safe. If those men took Cayce thinking she was you they'll come right back here after you when they discover their mistake." Cody frowned as he tried to figure out a safe place for Amy. Then it came to him - Malone's office. "We're going to Mr. Malone's office. You can wait there. Boz is there and we can call Nick from there."
He turned to the store owner. "Could you give us a lift to the main studio? The girls took Cayce's truck and Amy walked over here so there's no car for us to use."
"Certainly," the redhead replied.
The trio got into his car and Cody gave him directions to the studio gate. Once there he climbed out of the car and assisted Amy in getting out. He took her by the hand and hurried into the building that housed the studio executives office. The guard at the gate admitted them at once because he recognized both Cody and Amy. Once they were inside they practically ran to Malone's office. Completely ignored the protests of Malone's secretary they burst through the door, knocking only once to announce his presence. Malone looked up, startled, as Cody and Amy came through the door. It was obvious that something was wrong.
"Mr. Allen? Amy? What's wrong?"
"Cayce's been kidnapped," Cody told him. "I'll tell you everything when the others get here. Call Nick and Murray, please, and tell them to hurry."
Malone didn't hesitate a second. Instantly he was on an outside line calling the security company to have "Officer Ryder" come to his office and sent someone to get Murray who was in another part of the building.
Cayce struggled, hard, against the grip that the two goons had on her arms but it was no use. One of them got mad enough at her, when she kicked him in the shins, that he slapped her across the face. The blow had her ears ringing, her cheek sore and her vision somewhat fuzzy. Thus she was unable to resist when they forced her into a van. When they arrived at their destination - she didn't know where they were - she was blindfolded before they allowed her out of the van. Apparently they didn't want her to know where she was on the off chance that she should escape them and avoid being recaptured.
The men hustled her inside an old warehouse and locked her in a storeroom that was pretty much empty except for a few cardboard boxes. When the door slammed shut, and locked behind her, she removed the blindfold. The room was pretty dark, dusty and dirty but there was a little bit of light coming from the small window set high in the wall. Briefly she considered piling some boxes on top of each other but the window was about ten feet up and she didn't think it would be a good idea. If she fell she could be badly hurt.
Nick arrived at Malone's office fifteen minutes after being summoned. Murray was already there - he'd been in an office down the hall and was easy enough to find. and all the occupants looked quite anxious about something. The Italian's trouble radar was beeping very loudly and strongly. Cody was pacing the floor - not something the oldest member of the agency was prone to do.
Amy sat in a chair, by Malone's desk, crying quietly ,while Malone sat at his desk steaming over what had happened.
"What happened? What's Amy doing here and why is she crying?" Nick asked.
"Cayce's been kidnapped," Cody told him.
"What? Why? Who?"
"Amy thinks it may have been someone working for Wilder and Long," Malone said. "Tell Mr. Ryder what you told us, Amy."
"We went to dinner around six. We finished up around seven and sat around talking for a few minutes before leaving the diner. Cayce's become quite friendly with a lot of the townspeople you know?"
"Yeah, she would be," Nick said. "She makes friends everywhere she goes."
"Go on," Cody told her.
"We were walking down the street when these two men approached us and said I was going with them - only they didn't seem to know who I was because they looked at Cayce when they spoke." She started crying again. Murray handed her the box of tissues from Malone's desk. "She picked up a trash can and threw it at them, then she grabbed my hand and pulled me along. We ducked into an alley."
She attempted to smile her thanks but the tears kept streaming down her face as she continued.
"Well, we hid there for a minute while the men came down the street. Cayce was determined to mislead them so she told me to stay in the alley while she went back out to the sidewalk from a connecting alley and lured them away. I ran back to the diner like she told me and got a ride back to the stable. She told me I was to tell Mr. Allen what had happened and that he would tell Nick and Boz and they'd - you'd - find her."
"Amy, do you have any idea who those men were?" Murray asked.
"No. They were strangers to me but they must work for Mr. Wilder and Mr. Long - they said Mr. Wilder wanted to talk to me."
"Wilder's getting desperate if he's willing to resort to kidnapping," Malone said. "He must really be hurting for money."
"He is," Murray said. "I did a little investigating. Wilder-Long studios is in big financial trouble. It doesn't help that your studio has done quite well. The studio has had numerous complaints filed with OSHA - that's the Occupational Safety and Health Association - and the fire marshal has threatened to shut the down on numerous occasions because of a lack of sprinklers and excessive use of pyrotechnics." He paused for a moment then added, "His studio, and most - if not all - of his other properties are heavily mortgaged," Murray added. "If this movie doesn't do well at the box office he stands to lose everything."
"No wonder his stunt people left when Cayce urged them to," Nick whistled. "These guys sound like nutcases!"
"They are but they're risk takers," Malone said. "They've always been willing to take risks that other studios wouldn't. That's why I refused to do business with them and I left them five years ago. It hasn't been easy, and I've come close to having to close down but I won't compromise on safety."
"This is bad," Cody said. "The man must be desperate."
"You used to work for them?" Nick was surprised.
"Yes. Up until five years ago when I started this company. I started as a messenger and moved up to assistant stunt co-coordinator. I didn't like having my safety measures overruled. A few people got hurt - one almost died. After that I quit and started my own business. Amy's coming to work for me is going to boost my standing in the business a lot."
Just then the intercom on Malone's desk buzzed. "Yes, Miss Nelson."
"Mr. Malone, I have Mr. Wilder on the phone for you."
"Tell him I'll be with him in a moment," her boss said. "It's Wilder," he told the assembled group. "On line two."
Cody reached for the extension and pushed the button for line two before signaling to Wilder to pick up the phone. The two men picked up at the same time so that the caller wouldn't know he was being heard by anyone but Malone. He held the phone so that Nick could hear as well. Murray listened in with Malone.
"This is Malone. What is it you want, Wilder?"
"I hear you're missing something," the man on the phone said.
"I'm not missing anything" Malone stated firmly. "What are you talking about?"
'I'm talking about your little starlet - the one you stole from me! Amy Ryan!"
"Murray," Nick whispered and waved his partner away from the other phone, "can you trace this call? It may lead us to Cayce."
"I'm on it," the computer whiz said. He quickly, and quietly, exited the room and went to his private workroom next door where he promptly tapped into Malone's phone lines and isolated the line he was using.
Murray crossed his fingers as the computer started tracing. It wouldn't take long but Craig Malone would have to keep Wilder on the phone long enough for the computer to isolate the number the other man was calling from. Uncrossing them he started tapping nervously on the desk hoping that Malone would be successful. Wilder abruptly hung up the phone after another couple of minutes. Cody hung up, slowly, frustrated that Wilder didn't understand that he had the wrong woman and that there was no clue as to where he was or where Cayce was. Concern for the young woman's well being flowed through the blond and his partner.
"That got us precisely nowhere," the movie executive said. "He's convinced himself that I'm to blame for his problems. Now what do we do?"
The detectives shared worried looks. They didn't know. Without a clue as to where to look they didn't know where to start.
Cody spoke first, the thought that was on his mind and Nick's.
"Maybe we should call the colonel," he ventured, "and tell him what's happening."
"No! No way!" Nick exclaimed "Besides the fact that he'd have our heads for letting her put herself in danger we don't know where he is, remember? Cayce said he was away and Murray wasn't to try and find him."
Malone was about to ask them who "the colonel" was when Murray burst through the door.
"Guys! I was able to trace the call - it was made from Wilder's office at the studio."
"That's great, Murray!" Nick exclaimed. "We have to get over there and see about getting Cayce back."
"That's easier said than done," Malone commented. "He'll have security on high alert for intruders."
"We'll figure something out," Cody told him. "We have to. Cayce'll be counting on us to find her."
"I want to come with you," Amy said. "It's my fault Cayce's in trouble - she was protecting me!"
"No," Cody told her firmly. "We're not going to risk your being hurt. Wilder is on the verge of insanity - there's no telling what he might do."
"She can stay here, with me," Malone said. "We'll be waiting by the phone anxiously to hear that you've gotten Miss McKenna back safely."
The three detectives exited the building and climbed into the Jimmy. Murray had been using it from the start since Cody had access to Cayce's truck if need be. The thin scientist had dropped his partner off on the first day and retained use of the Jimmy for the duration.
They ran for the GMC truck and piled in with Cody at the wheel as usual. It didn't take more than fifteen minutes for them to arrive at the rival studio. The challenge was finding out exactly where Cayce was being held.
About an hour after Cayce was brought to Wilder-Long studios she heard the door to her prison open. She came out from the corner where she'd been assessing her chances of escape to see the two men who had brought here there enter the room.
"The boss wants to see you," one of them said as they entered the room.
"I want to see him - whoever he is," Cayce retorted. "I'm going to give him a piece of my mind."
The larger of the men reached out and slapped her across the face. "Pipe down or I'll do it again."
She put her hand up to her cheek and blinked back tears. "Slapping me around isn't going to do anything for you, you know. You're already in trouble for kidnapping. If the law doesn't get you my friends will."
"Your friends, whoever they are," the man sneered, "don't know where you are now do they?"
"They will. Very soon, I guarantee you," Cayce said. "They'll figure out where I am and when they do - boy are you going to be sorry!"
Taking her by the arm the thugs led her out of the storeroom to another part of the building where they knocked before entering an office. Five men sat there - four of them dressed as cowboys. The other was dressed in a navy blue suit with a white shirt and black tie. Cayce was willing to get he had expensive wing tip shoes on his feet.
"Who's this?" the man in the suit asked.
"Amy Ryan," the taller of the two thugs - the one who had hit Cayce - replied.
"You fools, this isn't Amy Ryan!" His face was red, bordering on purple, and contorted with rage.
Four heads swiveled around and four pairs of eyes looked in disbelief as they recognized her.
"Cayce McKenna! What's she doing here?" Andrew Lake asked.
"Well, well, well if it isn't the Three Stooges and cousin. Get tired of the rodeo circuit boys and decide to try your hand at sabotage?"
"Who is this?" the distinguished looking man asked.
"I'm not Amy Ryan, that's for sure," Cayce told him. "I'm Cayce McKenna. I'm temporarily working for Mr. Malone at Colonial."
"She looks just like her," the man holding her arm said in his defense.
"Looks aren't everything," Cayce told him. "Amy and I just happen to look a bit alike." To herself she mumbled, "I guess Cody was right. Amy and I are almost twins."
"You haven't answered my question, Mr. Lake!" the man snapped.
"Cayce McKenna. She owns a ranch up in Sunny Acres and competes in horse shows and rodeos - her hired hands have beaten us more times than I care to remember - unless something kept them out of the competition."
"Like I said - sabotage," Cayce retorted.
"Nothing was ever proved," Tom Lake said with a sneer.
"That's because you lied and hid the evidence - like the knife you used to cut Smokey's cinch last spring. I could go on and on but you know what you did as well as I do. It's just sheer, dumb luck that the rodeo association hasn't permanently banned you. It's thanks to me that my guys didn't clean your clocks. I held them back because I didn't want the Lazy M contingent to be disqualified."
"Like they had a chance," scoffed Richard.
"Like you stood a chance if I didn't tell them to back off!" Cayce scoffed in return. "They were ready to tear you apart only we had to deal with other matters."
"Enough!" Wilder yelled as the door opened and another man walked in.
"What's going on here? Who is this girl?" Long demanded to know as he entered the room.
"Her name is Cayce McKenna," Andrew Lake, acting as spokesman for his family explained. "She owns a ranch in northern California and apparently she resembles this Amy Ryan chick you're so hot on having work for you. Your employees kidnapped Cayce instead of her."
"What's she doing here?"
"I was kidnapped off the street by these two goons," Cayce told him. "They thought I was Amy Ryan."
Long asked his partner, "What does she mean kidnapped?"
"Merely a mistake. I sent my men to ask Miss Ryan to come and speak to me. I wanted to make her another offer to come and work for us."
Wilder turned to Cayce.
"Where is Miss Ryan?"
"I don't know," Cayce told him.
"She has to know," Long's thug said, "they were together when we grabbed her."
"Where is she Miss McKenna?"
"I already told you I don't know," was the reply. "Even if I did know I wouldn't tell you."
"She must know," Richard Lake said. "She wouldn't be so stubborn about answering if she didn't."
"A lot you know," Cayce told him. "I really don't know where she is. I might be able to make a guess but that's all it would be."
"Then guess," Long told her.
"Why should I? You going to let your goons beat it out of me?"
"Don't tempt me," Malone's rival said.
Cayce scrunched up her face and thought about it.
"Well, first I need to know what time it is. I lost my watch when your goons kidnapped me."
"Why do you need to know what time it is?" Wilder wanted to know.
"If I know what time it is I'll know how long I've been here. If I know how long I've been here I'll have half an idea of where Amy's at."
"It's nine-thirty," Richard told her.
"Hmm. Nine-thirty huh?" Cayce thought about the events of the evening. "Well let's see Amy and I ate dinner around six and we left the diner around seven-thirty. Your friends over there accosted us at about quarter of eight. Not knowing exactly how exactly long it took us to get here I'd say Amy has still had time to get back to the diner, get a ride to the stable and alert Cody that I'm in trouble. By now Cody's told the others and they're looking for me. And they will find me."
"How do you know she went back to the diner and got a ride to the stable?" Long asked her.
"Because that's what I told her to do before I drew these goons away from her," was the reply
"That's all very well and good, but how are they going to find you? They don't know who took you or where we are? " Thomas Lake scoffed.
"Oh, but they have a pretty good idea, I'm sure, Thomas dear. We were just talking about you the other day."
"Boz, can you find some likely hiding places? What kind of property do these guys own and where is it located?"
"I have a list of known properties I just printed out today," the computer whiz told his partners and their client. "They're pretty well scattered throughout Los Angeles and there are even some here - in Frontiertown."
"Let's see it," Nick said reaching for the paper Murray held in his hand. "There are a lot of places on this list. How do we know which ones to check out?"
"I'd start with his office at the studio," Malone told them. "If she's not there then there's all sorts of hiding places at the studio let alone the warehouses and other offices he owns - or rents."
The movie executive showed them which address that was and gave them directions although Murray had been there not long ago with Cayce. The detectives left Amy in Malone's care and headed out the door.
Nick told Cody, "When we get her back - and we will get her back - I say we ship her straight back to the Lazy M and tell McGregor and the rest to sit on her. Maybe we should call the colonel and tell him about what's transpired."
They got into the Jimmy and headed away from Colony Studios leaving Amy safely in their client's care.
"I know how you feel, Nick, I'm worried about her too," Cody said as they started off. "The problem is that she's an adult now and we can't exactly tell her what to do like we did when she was a kid."
"Worried? Who said I was worried? I'm mad is what I am," the Italian told his friend.
The blond signaled for a left turn. "She's got you worried and that's got you mad but there's nothing we can do about it. Besides if we call the colonel and tell him about it he'll have our heads for giving into her"
"Maybe we can reason with her and talk her into going home," Murray said hopefully.
Nick snorted, "Fat chance! She's as stubborn as they come. What is it she says 'stubborn as a Missouri mule'?"
"Now, Nick," Murray chided him. "It's not like Cayce deliberately got herself into this mess. You, of all people, know how she is. She's very loving, kind, generous..."
"And too stubborn for her own good!" the Italian exploded. "If she'd gone home like we asked her to she wouldn't be in trouble!"
"She wasn't going to go back on her bargain with Mr. Malone, Nick," Cody reminded him. "We tried but once she's given her word she does everything in her power to keep it."
The three men were approaching the Wilder-Long studio headquarters as Cody finished speaking. The blond looked for an out of the way place to park the Jimmy so they could scout around. With security guards on the gate they were sure they couldn't get through the conventional way.
"How are we going to get in?" Nick asked his partners. "They've got guards all over the place."
"Maybe I can get in and find a way to get you in as well," Murray said as he reached into his jacket pocket. "I still have my press pass. I might just be able to talk them into admitting me so I can interview Mr. Long. I already told Wilder I'd be back - I just didn't say when."
"It might work," Cody said. "At the very least it'll take them off guard. If Cayce's in his office they'll have to move her and we can follow them until we see the right time to make our move."
Sure enough, the slender scientist still had his "press badge" in his pocket. He left the others in the shadows and walked up to the gate.
"My name is Bohunicky," he told them. "I had an interview with Mr. Wilder a few days ago. He told me I would have to come back if I wanted to speak to Mr. Long." Murray gave him his most innocent look. "I just happened to be passing by the studio and I wondered if Mr. Long might be back so that I could get my interview and finish this assignment by writing up my story."
The guard at the gate checked Murray's credentials and then picked up the phone. He dialed three numbers and waited for an answer.
"Mr. Wilder? This is Faulkner at the front gate. There's a reporter here by the name of Bohunicky. He says you promised him an interview with Mr. Long and he'd like to take care of that right now."
There was a pause as the man listened to the party on the other end of the phone line.
"Yes, sir. I'll tell him." Faulkner hung up the phone and turned to Murray. "No dice, fella. Mr. Wilder says Mr. Long is much too busy to talk to any reporters tonight. You'll have to call his office and make an appointment."
Murray walked back in the direction he'd come from in the first place. Cody and Nick were waiting anxiously for him.
"No luck?" Cody asked.
"No. I'm sorry guys. The person he spoke to on the phone said Long isn't available and I'll have to make an appointment to see him or to see Mr. Wilder again."
"Make an appointment," Nick said fiercely. "That proves they've got Cayce. Why else would they deny a reporter access?"
"Maybe they do," Cody said, "but we're not going to get in through the front gate, that's for sure. We'll have to sneak in with a crowd or find a way over the fence they have up around this place."
The three men fretted for a few minutes. Nick was full of pen up frustration. For all he and Cayce gave each other a hard time - always had and always would - he loved her like a little sister and was champing at the bit to do something to find and rescue her. Cody wasn't much better and neither was Murray.
"We've got to do something!" Nick was at the breaking point.
"I know," Cody replied. "But what? How do we get past security and find out where they're holding her - if they're holding her."
"What do you mean 'if'?" the Italian demanded. "You heard Amy's story - the men said that Wilder wanted to see her."
"That doesn't mean that she got caught. She could be hiding somewhere. She could, knowing Cayce, be spying on them."
"Hey, look, guys," Murray tugged at Cody's sleeve and pointed at the crowd approaching the gate from the inside. Some were dressed in jeans and boots. Others in shorts. Still others wore suits and ties. "I know some of those people - they're stunt people and at least one of the men in suits is their agent. They just hired on with Colony the other day. Cayce sent them over."
"Do you think they can help?" Cody asked his partners.
"All we can do is ask," Nick said as the trio waved to the group to summon them to the detectives' hiding place.
"Can I help you?" one of the men asked.
"I'm Cody Allen, this is Nick Ryder and that's Murray Bozinski," Cody introduced himself and his partners. "We're private detectives working for Carl Malone over at Colony. More importantly we're friends of Cayce McKenna's. We have reason to believe she's being held prisoner somewhere on the grounds of this studio."
"Cayce? A hostage? Why?" the stunt woman whom Cayce had befriended first was astounded.
"It was a case of mistaken identity," Nick told the group. "Wilder sent men to get Amy Ryan and bring her to him. Cayce and Amy look a lot alike. The men mistook Cayce for Amy. She took advantage of their lack of knowledge and tried to lead them away. We don't know exactly where, or how, they caught her."
"How do you know Mr. Wilder has her?" the man in the suit asked. "That's a pretty strong accusation. Do you have any proof?"
"Let me guess," the Italian said. "You're a lawyer, right?"
"Well, is the fact that Wilder called Craig Malone - our client - and told him he has his 'missing starlet' proof enough for you?"
"You know this for a fact?"
"Yes, we do," Cody quietly intervened. "We were in the office, with Mr. Malone, when Wilder called."
"It wouldn't surprise me," the stunt woman said. "I'm Lynda Harris. I was the stunt double for Wilder's new leading lady. I met Cayce, on the set the other day."
"She shouldn't have been there," Nick said with a glare at Cody.
"If you're worried that she caused us to quit our jobs here," Lynda told him, "don't be. Most of us were on the verge of quitting anyway. Cayce just gave us the final push in the right direction."
"Lynda's right," said the stunt coordinator. "I wasn't happy with the shortcuts they were taking on safety. I told Mr. Long that before he went off on his scouting trip. I thought maybe I could get him to see reason but he's intimidated by Mr. Wilder. That's why it didn't take much for us to decide to take Cayce up on her suggestion that we call Mr. Malone about going to work for him."
"We're going in to get our personal belongings that we left behind. Mr. Sawyer, here, is going to a meeting with Mr. Wilder and Mr. Long. If Cayce's here we'll soon find out and get word back to you."
"Couldn't you get us onto the grounds?" Cody asked.
"I suppose so," Lynda said. "Stick close and we'll sneak you as one of us. I doubt if Security knows how many of us are actually expected back today. They probably have a list but we'll do the best we can."
"Murray..." Cody started.
"I know. I can't go with you because they know I'm not expected until I make an appointment." The computer whiz was dejected. "Just find Cayce and bring her back safely."
"Wait for us here, Boz," Cody said. "We'll be back as soon as we can - with Cayce."
The two senior partners joined the crowd headed for the gate. Most, if not all, of them were wearing ordinary street clothes so the detectives' jeans and shirts blended right in. Cody was wearing boots but so weren't a few of the stunt people.
"State your business," the security guard said as they approached the closed gate.
"We're here to pick up our personal belongings," Lynda Harris told him. "We quit our jobs, here, today after interviewing at another studio. We told Mr. Wilder, and his secretary, that we'd be back later today. Well, it's later today and we're here to get our stuff."
"Well, OK, as long as that's all you do. Don't go near any of the sets you were working at and don't disturb Mr. Wilder. He's in a very important meeting with the Lakes and a Miss Ryan, I believe."
"We wouldn't dream of darkening Mr. Wilder's doorstep," said one of the men.
Nick and Cody nodded briefly to the guard as they passed through the gate. The guard, believing them to be part of the group that was entering, merely nodded back. He wasn't checking off names. He knew some of the people by sight. To be honest with himself he'd have to admit that he didn't blame them for quitting. He'd heard, and seen, enough to know that Wilder was a cheapskate who cut corners as much as he could and was a difficult task master.
Once inside the group split up. Nick and Cody, accompanied by Ron Agbisit, the man in the suit who happened to be a lawyer ("Figures," Nick said under his breath. "Who else would be worried about proof and false accusations?") and a couple of others went to the building where Wilder's office was housed.
"What's the big idea of kidnapping? It's bad enough you had her brought here against her will but you have the wrong girl besides." Long asked. " I didn't mind putting pressure on Malone. Continually offering to buy him out is okay, but I'm hearing that you've sabotaged sets and a security guard was hit by a truck. There was a fire at the stable. People could have been killed by one of your stunts - including this young lady."
"Putting pressure on Malone is just what I planned to do," Wilder defended his actions. "I was going to convince Amy Ryan to come back to work for us."
"Amy has no interest in working for you, Mr. Wilder," Cayce told him. "She doesn't like you and she doesn't like the people who work for you and she most definitely does not like the shortcuts on safety you take."
"How would you know all this?" the studio executive asked her.
"Amy and I have had a lot of talks over the last couple of weeks," Cayce told him. "She told me how she was treated. She didn't like the fact that you have armed bodyguards around who hit on her all the time - or anything else about this studio."
"That's hearsay. It would never hold up in a court of law!"
"That's true," Cayce conceded. She decided to run a bluff at this point. "except that I had Amy write it all down and get it notarized. We mailed it to a friend of mine who's a lawyer and we mailed it to the Riptide Detective Agency. They happen to be very good friends of mind. So if anything happens to me or Amy - especially to Amy - they'll know who to send the cops after."
"I don't believe you!" Wilder exclaimed heatedly.
"Doesn't matter if you do or you don't," Cayce told him. "You can't know for sure and you'd be wise to just let me go."
"Let you go? You know too much. I can't just let you go."
"You had no call to have these men bring her here," Long told his partner. "She's right, we'll be in big trouble with the law if we don't let her go."
"I think you'd better listen to Mr. Long," Andrew Lake said.
"Andy's right," Cameron spoke up. "We don't mind messing around with Malone's equipment a little, and trying to scare people off but we want no part of kidnapping and anything else you've got in mind. Let Cayce go."
"Kidnapping's a federal offense. We want no part of it," Richard threw his two cents worth in and started to leave with his brothers.
"Where do you think you're going?" Wilder demanded to know.
"We're leaving," Cameron Lake said as he and his relatives stood up to leave.
The door closed quietly behind them as the Lakes left. Sabotaging equipment was one thing - things like damaging cameras and causing props to fail. Kidnapping was a felony and they wanted no part of it.
Meanwhile Nick, Cody and Agbisit were approaching Wilder's door. When Ryder reached for the knob he found that it would not turn. Frustrated he took a step back.
"Try knocking," Cody told him.
"Open up in there!" he shouted as he pounded on the door.
Cayce heard him and started to call to him only Wilder's bodyguard was too fast for her. He grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her. Raising his pistol, and pointing it toward the door he said, "Not a word. You call to him - whoever he is - and I'll kill him the minute he walks through that door."
"Get her out of here," Wilder said to his bodyguards. "Use the back door and lock her up in that storeroom again until I decide what to do with her."
Still tightly gripping Cayce's arm, the one who had grabbed her before she could call to the detectives started to drag her toward the back door. As soon as the door closed behind them they hustled her out of the office building back to the storeroom she'd been locked in before. Long had had enough. He charged his seemingly demented partner and struggled to get the gun
Wilder had taken from his desk away from him.
Just as Cayce and the bodyguards left the room a shot rang out. Fearing the worst the detectives forced the door and found Wilder, smoking gun in hand, standing over his seriously wounded partner.
"What happened? Where's Cayce McKenna?" Nick demanded to know.
"Who's that on the floor?" Cody asked. "What happened? Who shot him?"
While the blond was no less concerned about Cayce than his partner, he saw that Long was hurt badly.
"That's Mr. Long - Wilder's partner," Agbisit told them as he entered the room a few seconds behind them.
"Don't touch him!" Long pointed his gun at Cody. "Whoever you are, you get out of here! It's none of your business! You're trespassing!"
"Mister, we came here because somebody named Wilder - I believe that's you - called Craig Malone's office claiming to have Amy Ryan. Amy isn't here - she's at Malone's office but our friend, Cayce McKenna is here. We know because Cayce and Amy look somewhat alike."
"Very much alike," his partner said.
"Ok, very much alike," Nick agreed. Turning back to Wilder he asked again - with more of an edge - "Where's Cayce McKenna?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Wilder asserted.
"I think you do, sir," Allen told him. "My partner has a rather short fuse so I think you'd better tell us where Cayce is and call for an ambulance for that man on the floor."
Wilder's response to that was to swing his pistol in the direction of the two detectives. Both men dived to one side and Wilder's shot went wild. Nick's shot, however, did not. It took the movie executive high in the right shoulder causing him to drop his weapon and cry out in pain. While Nick retrieved the weapon from the floor, the lawyer picked up the phone and called the police. Security would be alerted secondly as this was not a private matter any more.
"Where's Cayce McKenna?" Nick demanded to know.
The movie executive who had fired at them refused to say a word. It was his badly wounded partner, Steven Long, who told them.
"Try the...storeroom. Two streets...over. Warehouse. Behind Western Street." With that the man faded into unconsciousness.
The Filipino looked at them and waved them off.
"Go. Go find your friend. I'll wait for Security and the police and tell them what happened." He smiled grimly, "I don't think Mr. Wilder will be giving anybody any more trouble. I just pray that Mr. Long isn't hurt as badly as it seems."
The two detectives hastily departed through the back door of Wilder's office. Once outside they wasted no time in getting their bearings and racing over to Western Street to find, and rescue, Cayce. It didn't take them long to find the warehouse. Cautiously they entered through the front door looking for any place that looked like it could hide a person and trying the doors on every closet, storeroom and office they found on the first floor before moving up to the second floor.
They had no luck on the second floor nor the third one.
"How many floors is this building?" Nick asked Cody as they stopped on the landing between the third and fourth floors.
"I counted six," his friend answered, "but there may be a cellar as well - the building is that old."
"It would be just our luck," the Italian complained, "to be searching one of the few buildings in all of California that has a cellar."
"Come on, let's get going. Cayce's in this building somewhere and we have to find her. She's counting on us."
The two men continued the climb. It was when they were halfway down the large open area of the fourth floor that they spotted two armed men standing outside what appeared to be a locked room.
"Looks like we found her," Cody said. "Now how do we get to her?"
"I haven't a clue," Nick admitted. "We sure as heck can't rush them. There might be gun play and we don't know how thick those walls are, or how thick the door is. Cayce could get hurt."
"The colonel would tell us to map out a strategy," Cody said. "So would Pitbull."
"We have to draw them away. Some how." The frustration was evident in the dark haired man's voice.
"Cayce would tell us to 'divide and conquer'," Cody said. "So let's divide and conquer. We get one of them away from the door and then go for the other one."
The two men proceeded to do just that. Cody approached the men with a friendly, and disarming smile, and said, "Hi guys. Mr. Wilder asked me to relieve you. He's planning on leaving the office and wants you - or one of you anyway - to go with him."
"What about the girl?" the shorter one asked.
"What about her?"
"What are we supposed to do about her?"
"He said to leave her where she is. Nobody knows and he'll decide what to do about her later on."
The two guards looked at him skeptically but then the taller of the two shrugged his shoulders. It was fortunate for the detectives that these men didn't know that Wilder was, by now, in police custody. It made it easier to dupe them into leaving.
Cody and Nick held their breath while the two men conferred with each other. Finally the shoulder shrugger said to his partner, "Better go check it out. Mr. Wilder doesn't like to be kept waiting. If he's really waiting for us he'll be mad if we don't show up."
That said, the tall, blond bodyguard - who towered over Cody by about three inches - started out the door. Unfortunately for Cody, just at that time the police showed up. An ambulance was already there removing the two wounded men from the office.
"Hey! What is this?" the man demanded to know.
"Looks like the jig's up on Mr. Wilder's little game," Cody said. "He shot his partner just before we got into his office. The lawyer representing the stunt people called the police to report it. My friend and I are here to get the girl you kidnapped."
"Why you..." the man took a swing at Cody who managed to mostly block it. It struck a glancing blow that had him seeing stars for a second but Allen, angry over the way his "sister" had been kidnapped off the street, and the problems these men had created for her on a job she took to help someone out - and the perceived threat to Amy Ryan - swung back and knocked the flying. A few more angry blows and the man was down for the count. The blond left him lying there to go back to the warehouse and see how his partner was making out.
He found Nick in the midst of a furious fight with the remaining bodyguard. Jeans dusty, shirt pulled out and one sleeve partly ripped out of place, the Italian was gaining the upper hand. As Cody moved in to help his partner finally landed a knock out blow to the guy's jaw and the remaining bodyguard fell to the floor unconscious.
"You okay?" Cody asked.
"Yeah, fine. Let's find Cayce and get her out of here."
"The cops, and ambulance, arrived. I imagine Murray will be with them by now. He can be pretty determined so he'll probably show up here any minute."
By the time Cody finished speaking, and Nick had agreed with his comments, the two men were in the warehouse calling Cayce's name.
"Cayce! Cayce where are you?"
"Here! I'm in here!" came the young woman's voice muffled by the heavy door of the storeroom she was locked in.
"Hang on, honey," Nick called to her. "We'll have you out in a minute."
"Hurry," Cayce told him. "It's chilly in here and I don't have my jacket - or even a sweatshirt."
The two men quickly located the storeroom she was in only to find that the key wasn't in the lock.
"I'll search our friends," Cody told Nick. "One of them is bound to have the key."
Sure enough, the key was in the pocket of the one that Nick had fought with. Cody hastened back to the storeroom and inserted the key. Seconds later the door was open and Cayce threw herself into his arms.
"I thought you would never get here," she sighed with a stifled sob.
"We came as soon as Amy told us what happened," the blond told her as he released her to his partner's hug.
"Is she okay? I was worried about her."
"She's fine," Nick reassured her as he took his turn at hugging her. "She's awfully worried about you though. What's the big idea of letting yourself get kidnapped?"
"I didn't let myself get kidnapped," Cayce told him. "I was trying to decoy them away from Amy. I slipped on something on the sidewalk and fell. That's when they caught up with me."
Nick held her at arm's length and looked her over. He pulled her over under one of the lights along the wall to take a better look at her. Her hair was half out of it's solitary braid and her clothes were wrinkled and dirty but it was the sight of the black eye she was sporting that made him angry.
"Hey! What's this? How'd you get a shiner?"
"Shiner? She's got a black eye?" Cody was equally panic stricken. He hadn't noticed. He couldn't believe he hadn't noticed. "Let me see!"
"Guys. Guys! I'm fine. I've had lots worse falling off a horse."
"How'd you get the shiner, Cayce?" Nick was determined to get an answer from her.
"I got it from one of Wilder's bodyguards. He didn't like the way I talked to him - or maybe it was the way I talked about seeing his boss." Cayce thought that one over. "I think it was a little of both."
"We better have you checked out by the ambulance attendants," Cody said.
"That's a good idea," Nick agreed as four uniformed officers came along and took charge of the men who had kidnapped Cayce.
"Guys! That's not necessary!"
"Nick, why don't you run ahead and let Murray know that Cayce's ok and alert the ambulance attendants that we have someone who needs to be checked out."
"You got it!" The Italian took off at a run leaving the blond and the young rancher to argue all the way back to Wilder's office.
"You're sure she's all right? Yes, I'll tell Amy. She's been very worried. We'll see you when you get back here."
Malone turned to his young leading lady who was sitting in his office, waiting anxiously for word of Cayce who had saved her from being kidnapped by luring the would be kidnappers away.
"That was Mr. Bozinsky," he smiled. "They found Cayce and she's just fine - outside of a black eye."
"I'll bet it was Erich," the actress said. "He thinks women should be seen but not heard and he hates it when they talk back to him."
"They'll be here just as soon as they give their statements to the police," Malone told her.
"Cayce's been so good to me," Amy said wistfully, "I never would have been able to do this movie if not for her."
"Yes, she's been good for you and good for my business. She's quite the young lady and a good businesswoman besides. She gave me some names to look into for stable and livestock managers. I've hired one of each based on the references they gave me." Malone was thoughtful for a moment. "Amy, how would you like to do me a favor?"
It was a joyous reunion that took place between the actress and her coach/riding instructor. Amy cried so many tears of joy that Cayce's shirt was soaked where Amy had laid her head on her friend's shoulder.
Craig Malone gave her a brief, but very welcoming, hug relieved that she was safe and sound after everything she'd been through. He told her she was fired - that he had someone coming on board to take over her temporary job. Cayce was pleased that he'd hired two of the men she had recommended. They were old rodeo cowboys that were unable to compete any more but had plenty of experience in handling the livestock and keeping the horse drawn conveyances in good condition. They'd work out just fine.
To celebrate the wrapping up of the filming a party was planned for all cast and crew members. Cayce talked Malone into having the party in King Harbor, at Straightaway's. She like to give the Italian restaurant owner as much business as possible and this was a great opportunity as none of the restaurants in Frontiertown were big enough to hold the crowd. Both Cayce. and Amy, were greeted in his usual effusive manner of "mi bella signorina" and a kiss to the back of the hand. Amy blushed at the greeting. Her boyfriend, Dylan, was jealous at first but Cayce explained that it was just the way Straightaway was. He wasn't trying to cut in on his girl and besides, the restaurant owner was years too old for Amy.
Straightaway's was packed when the movie cast and crew arrived for the wrap party. Straightaway was thrilled and couldn't thank the detectives, and Cayce, enough for suggesting that it be held at his place of business. A disk jockey had been hired and the first song was a tribute to the western just completed and to the western stars of the 30s through the 50s. Soon the Statler Brothers were heard on the PA system.
Everybody knows when you go to the show
you can't take the kids along.
You've gotta read the paper and know the code of G, PG, and R, and X,
and you gotta know what the movie's about
before you even go.
Tex Ritter's gone, and Disney's dead,
and the screen is filled with sex.
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
ridin' the trail alone?
Whatever happened to Gene and Tex,
and Roy, and Rex, the Durango Kid?
Oh, Whatever happened to Randolph Scott,
his horse plain as could be?
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
has happened to the best of me.
Everybody's tryin' to make a comment
about our doubts and fears.
True Grit's the only movie
I've really understood in years.
You gotta take your analyst along
to see if it's fit to see.
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
has happened to the industry.
Whatever happened to Johnny Mack Brown,
and Alan "Rocky" Lane?
Whatever happened to Lash LaRue?
I'd love to see them again.
Whatever happened to Smiley Burnett,
Tim Holt, and Gene Autry?
Whatever happened to all of these
has happened to the best of me.
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
has happened to the industry.
There was a lot of whooping and cheering when the song was finished. Everyone agreed that it was an appropriate way to start the evening. But Cayce wasn't through yet. She had something up her sleeve to really lighten things up and tease her oldest "brothers" at the same time. She had a little surprise in store for Nick and Cody. She planned on taking them back to the early days in their relationship. The DJ was ready to go with the perfect song to kick off a party for a movie crew. Very shortly the sounds of The Drifters could be heard singing their classic "Saturday Night at the Movies" only Cayce was having fun with it.
Everyone caught the rhythm and was tapping their feet or snapping their fingers – or both as the song progressed. Nick and Cody weren't paying too much attention at first as they heard:
Well Saturday night at 8 o'clock
I know where I'm gonna go
I'm gonna pick my baby up
And take her to the picture show
Everybody in the neighborhood
Is dressing up to be there too
And we're gonna have a ball
Just like we always do
Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you're hugging with your baby
In last row in the balcony
Well there's technicolor and cinemascope
A cast out of Hollywood
And the popcorn from the candy stand
Makes it all seem twice as good
There's always lots of pretty girls
With figures they don't try to hide
But they never can compare
To the girl sittin' by my side
Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you're hugging with your baby
In last row in the balcony
For the next three hours - and longer - the oceanfront restaurant rang with laughter and cheers as the detectives tried to pay Cayce back for dedicating that song to them. Everyone had a great time and the movie would go on to make a star out of Amy who never forgot how Cayce, and the Riptide detectives, had helped her. The cowgirl, the detectives and the movie star would be good friends forever.