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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Cutting Horse
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T
HE NEXT MORNING
Stevie got up earlier than usual. Before breakfast, she went to the Devines’, where she found Frank Devine glancing at the morning paper. “Any good news this morning?” she inquired.

Frank held out the front section for her to see. “Yes, there is: the weather. The rain’s supposed to hold off for another day. I was hoping it would hold off until these people pack out of here, but that’s probably wishful thinking. If everyone and everything gets drenched, it’s going to be even more work for the staff.”

Stevie saw her opportunity and seized it. “Speaking of more work …”

“Yes, Stevie?” Frank asked.

“We all think there’s one person on your staff who’s working harder than anybody else,” Stevie said.

Frank didn’t look surprised by the comment. “I don’t have to ask who that is,” he said. “I can’t get John to leave the stables at night, and he’s out there at dawn. Then he spends the whole day doing Hollywood chores … well, we all do that, but somehow he’ll never quit. It’s as if he’s trying to prove something to someone.”

Frank’s words gave Stevie a sudden insight. Of course! Part of the reason John was working so hard was probably to impress Lisa. He wouldn’t have admitted it, but it was true. But instead of being impressed, Lisa felt bad that the movie was taking up so much of his time.

“So, what do you suggest I do to give the boy a break?” Frank asked.

“We’ve got the perfect solution. We really need him on the technical advisory team. There are more problems with the horses than we expected, and John would be a huge help,” said Stevie.

“He sure would. If he can’t solve a horse problem, I don’t know who can,” Frank responded.

“So, can we have him?” Stevie asked eagerly.

“You’ll get no objection from me,” Frank answered. “I’m more than happy to let him go for a couple of hours a day. It will be good for him to be with you girls and enjoy himself. He’s been working much too hard. Tell him I said it’s an order, all right? Now, what do you say we get some oatmeal while it’s hot?”

“You’ll get no objection from me,” Stevie said.

A
FTER BREAKFAST AND
Stevie’s thumbs-up report, Lisa approached John. She found him in the feed room dumping sacks of grain into the trash cans where it was stored. She was a little nervous about how he would react after what had happened the night before, but John was apologetic and seemed embarrassed about their argument. “You mean we help out whoever needs it?” he asked, when she had finished describing their job.

Lisa nodded. “Right. Anyone who needs horse-related help, that is.” She specifically didn’t bring up Skye. John could find out later who needed their help most.

“Okay, count me in,” John said.

“Great, then come on. We’re all going to watch the morning shoot,” Lisa said.

John hesitated a minute, looking around the room.
Then he gathered up the empty grain sacks and stacked them neatly by the door. “All right. Why not? One of the other hands can take over from here.”

“Even Frank Devine thinks you’re working too hard,” Lisa told him shyly, as they left the barn. “He said to order you to come have fun with us.” Lisa hadn’t been surprised to hear that John had been putting in more hours than any other employee. He had such a strong sense of responsibility that he would do whatever jobs needed doing instead of finding someone else to share the work. Lisa had been more like that herself before meeting Stevie and Carole. Through them, she had learned that it was pointless to tackle huge projects alone. Now she willingly enlisted their help in almost everything she did.

John and Lisa met Stevie and Carole on the viewing platform where they had sat before. This time none of them had trouble getting past the security guards. “I think they’ve noticed that we have friends in high places,” Stevie remarked, with a nod in Skye’s direction.

“Yeah, you can’t get much higher than the
Skye
, can you?” John teased.

Lisa did a double take. Had she heard correctly? John? Making a joke about Skye? Maybe some of what she’d said the night before had sunk in. Maybe John realized how
badly he’d been behaving. Before she could wonder about it more, someone on the set screamed, “Quiet!” The filming had begun.

At first it was exciting. Blake Pratt, Director, was truly in his element: barking orders left and right; doing retakes; screaming “Makeup!” when Skye needed a touch-up; and generally keeping things rolling. But even in this new scene, without the horse and cattle, it was next to impossible to get a perfect take. Skye was having a lot of trouble following the director’s orders. And as interesting as the whole process was, after watching Skye get out of a pickup truck, slam the door, whistle for his dog, and push his cowboy hat back on his head seventeen times, even his biggest fans, The Saddle Club, were getting a little fidgety.

The dog was evidently bored, too. On the eighteenth take, instead of coming when Skye whistled, he began to yap and run in circles. Then he ran pell-mell for the director, growling and snapping. Blake Pratt was not a man to take the dog’s antics in stride. As John and The Saddle Club watched, he exploded into a rage. “Get that thing outta here!” he screamed. “Get it away from me! You shut your trap, you stupid cur! Scram! I said now!”

Stevie leaned in toward her friends. “This guy isn’t
exactly the world’s biggest animal lover, is he?” she whispered.

By this point the dog had the director backed up against the viewing platform. The crew, stifling laughter, had made no move to rescue their boss.

“I guess everyone wishes they could be the dog,” Lisa said, “and finally give him a piece of their mind.”

Finally, when it was clear that nobody was going to do anything, John stood up. He walked to the edge of the platform and spoke to the dog in a low, firm voice. The dog cocked his ears and sat back on his haunches, listening. John told him to lie down, which he did, his tail wagging.

Now that he was safe, Blake Pratt started sputtering with anger. He turned on John, who had come down and was holding the dog. “You idiot! Why didn’t you come get him sooner? I could have been killed by that rabid hellhound! One bite from him and I’d be dead! You hear me? Dead! What were you thinking? Why, I oughta—!” Shaking his fists at John, the little man stomped off.

A member of the crew yelled, “Fifteen-minute break for coffee!” and The Saddle Club scrambled down to join John.

“What a jerk!” Stevie cried. “Here you were, trying to help!”

“Listen,” John said quickly, “I’d better get back to the stables. I’ve already been away for over an hour. Make sure you get this dog to the animal trainer, okay?” Before the girls could think of a way to urge him not to go, John had slipped into the crowd.

“Hey! Wait a minute!” Skye called, running up to join them.

Seeing him approach, Lisa understood why John had run off. Even if Skye wanted to thank him, it would have made John feel awkward after he had been so rude the day before.

“Where did John go?” Skye asked. “I wanted to tell him how much we appreciated his stepping in like that.”

Carole began, “We don’t know, but we—”

“He had some important errands to run for the Devines,” Lisa said firmly.

“Oh. Well, if you see him, tell him thanks for me, okay? As you could see, everybody on the crew was paralyzed. I think we all secretly hoped Rex would take a chunk out of Blake’s leg,” Skye admitted.

Silently Lisa was thankful that Skye still seemed willing to be friendly with John. Being in the movie business, Skye was probably used to dealing with rudeness. Evidently it didn’t ruffle his feathers.

“So, Skye, exactly how many more times are you going to have to shoot this scene?” Stevie asked.

Skye chuckled. “Sorry about that. It’s not usually quite this boring,” he said. “You see, this is a close-up shot, so we have to get everything perfect. If I twitch or squint too much or get hair in my face or
anything
, it shows. Other scenes—like, say, the scenes on horseback—are more distant: You’ll see a horse and a rider, but the camera won’t pick up every last blink.” With a sigh, he added, “That’s why they can use a double for my riding scenes.”

“So the director’s still talking about calling in a stuntman?” Lisa inquired.

Skye nodded gloomily. “Yes. He told me he wanted to make a few phone calls and fly somebody in today or tomorrow. He says we have to get one of the riding scenes done tomorrow afternoon, at three
P.M.
sharp. I told him that I think Sir Prize will be ready, and I also told him not to call anyone—not yet, anyway. But you can’t trust Blake. He’ll do anything when my back is turned,” said Skye.

Although she had winced at Skye’s mention of Sir Prize, Stevie said confidently, “Don’t worry, Skye. The next time Blake sees you, you will be ready.”

There was a longish pause before Carole and Lisa
jumped in to second Stevie’s prediction. “Sure, Skye,” said Carole. “Stevie’s right.”

“We wouldn’t let you down,” Lisa added.

Nearby, a voice barked over a bullhorn. “Skye Ransom. You’re wanted in makeup. Ransom to makeup.”

Skye seemed glad for the interruption. It obviously made him nervous to talk about the problem. “As they say in Hollywood, there’s my cue,” he said. “I’ll see you this afternoon for the lesson.”

When he had gone, The Saddle Club turned and fled the premises.

“Why the heck did I have to go and say that?” Stevie wailed.

“Why the heck did I have to agree with you?” Lisa groaned.

“Who cares? What I want to know is
how
the heck we’re going to solve this one!” Carole said.

There was no question about it: The Saddle Club was panicked. Stevie called an emergency meeting in the tack room of the barn. On the way there, they met Kate coming from the trailers. They waved her over.

“Wait till you hear the latest!” Kate said, falling into step with them. “The spouses of the actors and film crew have decided that they’re bored. So they asked my mother if we could arrange group trail rides for them, the way we
do for our usual guests! Isn’t that too much? Mom and I have been working around the clock to keep them happy, we’ve hired extra help to provide maid service in the trailers, and now they want trail rides, too! I know they’re paying a lot to use the place, but honestly, sometimes I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

Murmuring their sympathy, the girls insisted that Kate at least take time out to come to The Saddle Club meeting. She was eager to comply.

A few minutes later, after they had negotiated the maze of roped-off sections that lay between the set and the barn, the four of them were seated on the floor of the tack room. They filled Kate in on the grim outlook.

T
HE GIRLS TALKED
about the problem for almost an hour, but they finally realized that all they could hope for was that Skye would somehow get lucky and pull off a couple of decent scenes with Sir Prize. “The most frustrating thing is that Skye isn’t the real problem—the horse is. Skye might not be perfect, but with a good horse, he could do fine. And yet he’s going to be the one who suffers if they call in a stuntman,” Lisa pointed out.

“You’re right. Sir Prize wouldn’t care if his Hollywood career went down the tubes, would he?” Kate said.

Stevie giggled. “Maybe we should expose him to the
press! We could leak a story to the Beverly Hills gossip magazines that the great Sir Prize isn’t much of a prize after all.”

Everyone laughed, but Lisa remarked, “It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Bad publicity can ruin a career. And in Hollywood, even animals have careers!”

The four girls wandered into the aisle of the barn. It was time to go get lunch so that they could be back to tack up Stewball for Skye’s afternoon lesson. Carole cast an eye down the row of stalls, as she always did. What she saw at the end of the aisle made her start. The others followed her glance. There was a strange man nosing around the stalls. He was tall and blond. He looked a lot like Skye—same build, same hairstyle.

“Boy,” Lisa murmured, “he could almost be Skye’s”—she caught her breath—“Skye’s double!”

B
EFORE
S
KYE

S LESSON
, Stevie, Lisa, and Carole made a pact not to mention the double. Knowing that the man was actually on the premises would only worry Skye and make it hard for him to perform. With heavy hearts, they took Stewball to the corral to meet Skye. What chance did they have now that the stuntman had arrived? The director had clearly made up his mind that he didn’t want Skye to ride. Still, they couldn’t give up until the decision had been made. With Stevie setting the example, Carole and Lisa put on optimistic faces and went forward to greet Skye.

As it turned out, they needn’t have bothered. The bad
news was written all over Skye’s face. “Blake came clean to me after the shoot,” he said. “He called the double last night. He said it makes him feel better knowing we have a sub. The guy is here right now, ready to take over whenever I give the word.”

Stevie, Lisa, and Carole didn’t know what to say. The situation had gone from bad to worse, and none of them could see how to change it. Now there was no reason to hide the fact that they had seen the stuntman on the property.

BOOK: Cutting Horse
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