Monday, June 4, 2012
That's Show Biz
Rare was the day when Merry could be persuaded to take a well-deserved night off. Her foreman, hands and staff could order, argue and wheedle all they liked, for all the good it did. Running a break-even cattle and dude ranch took a firm hand and constant attention. Merry hadn’t been raised a shirker, and saw no point in starting at this late date.
Of course, this was before Dash came to the ranch. A bit of sweet-talk from the persuasive were-stallion and Merry was liable to find herself delegating tasks so she could kick back and relax, usually in Dash’s arms. Or on Dash’s back, or in his bed. Or that one time in the box stall …
But not tonight. Dash had the DVD player fired up in the living room and twin bowls of snacks all prepared—popcorn for Merry, creamed corn for himself. Merry hopped onto the old comfy sofa beside him. With one hand in her popcorn she held up the disk jacket. Her eyes brightened. “Frontier Justice! With Toby Garner as the Rover. I used to watch reruns of this show after school when I was a kid.” She sent a dubious look at Dash. “A little vintage for you, isn’t it?”
“My cousin Rachael sent me this. She knows I know Ed. His grandsire’s in it. She thought I’d get a kick out of it.”
“Ed? The photographer?” Merry said. She knew Mr. Ed had a number of talents. In addition to his photography studio he worked part-time at the Equine Education Center. He was also rumored to provide “riding lessons” to well-built, athletic young men. Merry had learned not to ask too many questions where shifters were concerned. “He’s from a Hollywood family? Well, that explains a lot.”
“I guess.” Dash shrugged. “His grandsire was a contract player for one of the smaller studios. He must’ve made a ton of Westerns back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Let’s see how good an actor he was.” He hit “start” on the remote.
The movie, a compilation of several TV episodes, was a typical 1950s Hollywood Western with all the cliché trimmings: black-hatted bad guys versus an upstanding Texas ranger and his faithful Native American sidekick. The Amerind was a better actor and a much more skillful rider, Merry noted. The plot was as corny and simplistic as she remembered. She snuggled contentedly against Dash, lost in nostalgia.
“There!” Dash sat up so fast he almost spilled his creamed corn. “There he is!”
“Where?” All Merry saw was the Rover galloping over the plains. “Ed’s granddad was Toby Garner?”
“’Course not. Toby’s riding him.”
Merry straightened and took a long, hard look at Toby’s mount, a handsome red chestnut with a blaze face and blond mane and tail. And a chest too broad and legs too long for any breed she knew.
“Copper the Wonder Horse?” she exclaimed. “He was a shifter?”
“We have to put hay on the table too,” Dash said. “Ed’s family had a ranch up in the Hollywood hills. When they needed cash, they’d hire themselves out as laborers, in whatever shape was needed. When movies got big, they’d sign on as extras. Jordy—that’s him there—was the only one who ever got billing. Most of the rest were stunt mounts. Y’know all those scenes where the horses get shot? Those are shifters. They knew how to fall without hurting themselves.”
Merry stared at the screen. The Rover had been ambushed by the bad guys. Copper carried his rider to a water hole, then went back to fetch his fallen rifle. She looked for the subtle clues of the horse glancing at its trainer off-camera and saw none. She recalled an old jokey publicity still that showed Copper supposedly reading a script. Maybe it hadn’t been a joke after all.
“Did the studio know?” she asked.
“Doubt it. Jordy’s wife Nancy acted as ‘wrangler’ and ‘trainer’ for the studio remuda. Even real horses did what she told ’em. She was a tough little mare. She did a little acting too, when some extra needed a mount. I don’t know if she’s in this one. I think Ed said she was a pinto.”
The bad guys had gathered to discuss their evil plan to drive the peaceful Indians off their gold-rich land. Merry found herself watching their horses. Two in the background kept nudging each other, nickering and laughing. Yes, laughing. There was no mistaking those equine headshakes and whickers. She pointed it out to Dash.
“Yeah, I see ’em. They’re making cracks about the dialogue. The one just said, ‘Who writes these road apples?’ And the other one goes, ‘I’m doing a Civil War movie next week.’ I wonder if Ed’s dad is in this? I know his mom was the palomino in the family. She worked in the commissary. Somebody had to make sure the shifters in the cast got the right kind of food.”
Merry shook her head. “I’ll never be able to look at a Western in the same way again.”
“I know what you mean. I get watching the horses and laughing at their comments and miss half the plot. Not that plot matters much in these things.”
“Did any of them ever meet John Wayne?”
Dash pursed his lips sourly. “Ed told me stories. Wayne was a big guy. Heavy. Nobody wanted him on their back. They always made sure a real horse carried the Duke. At least he could actually ride, so they tell me.” Discovering his bowl of corn was empty, Dash shrugged and set it aside. “Too bad Westerns fell out of favor. All that work dried up. The ‘80s were tough on Ed’s family.”
“That’s a shame. Ed’s really handsome in his horse form. I’ll bet he would have been a star.” She nuzzled Dash’s chin. “You too.”
Dash grinned and slid his arm around her. “Don’t need to star in any of that Hollywood hooey. I already got the girl.”
Merry shouldered him playfully. “Watch the movie.”