Bill Graham's purpose was rarely to put horse-killers in jail. His job was to get them to drop their bogus insurance claims, and at this he was close to 100% successful. Dousing these crooks with a splash of vile publicity, the greediest and slimiest especially, was his own idea, something he threw in for free, and to which he brought an extraordinary store of ingenuity and glee:
"They were having a damn livestock show, and this thug was there. Over on the north side of the hall was the speaker's box, with all the pbx lines and main trunk lines running into it and a switch box. I had this jack mike that would fit right in with that assembly. So when there was a lull ? they'd been running around with their horses, showing them off ? I come up with this LADIES AND GENTLEMEN and of course you have to do it quick because you can't give these sons a bitches up in the booth a chance to think about where it's coming from WE GOT A SPECIAL AWARD FOR what was that sumbitch's name COME ON OUT HERE HANK WE GOT A SPECIAL AWARD FOR YOU COME ON OUT HERE BOY and he run out in the middle of the ring with his horse. Stood up like a soldier and I said TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT THE SON OF A BITCH! HE'S BEEN KILLING HORSES FOR YEARS! TO COLLECT THE INSURANCE MONEY! LET'S HAVE A BIG HAND FOR HIM! That dumb shit" ? Graham was gasping with laughter ? "he looked like he'd been electrocuted. He knew who it was too but there wasn't a goddamn thing... He just kind of ambled away..."
In the conspiracy he was currently investigating the "inner circle of spit swappers" numbered a full dozen, and Graham drove endlessly from Texas to New Mexico to Arizona and back again taking out the minor players first, picking them off like ducks at a carnival. After one blast of his personality in a small room they generally caved. This was not the cream of the horsy set. Graham discovered one shareholder living in a tin and adobe shack. In the front yard were heaps of rusting metal junk, a rotting cow's head, and a hound baying on an overturned washtub. This individual claimed ? for about ten minutes ? to have invested $50,000 in the so-called million-dollar horse. Other claimants turned out to be drifters, bankrupts, a failed liquor store owner and a man who had been arrested for beating a jockey with a bolt-cutter. The one who, based on Graham's investigations, had probably murdered the horse ? by running a tube of ammonia into its bowels ? was a gristly little man with red eyes and a straw cowboy hat with a long feather in it. He had a way of leering at times by which he meant to suggest perspicacity. He was shrewd enough anyway after talking to Graham to drop his claim. ("That boy killed that horse," Graham said later, "or I'm a fucking airplane pilot. I'm a Chinese aviator.")
All these characters faded at a touch, but the last shareholders were more well-to-do, and correspondingly more of a challenge. The first one was a horsebreeder in southern New Mexico's melon and cotton country. As he took Graham on a tour of his stables ? he'd put those little dishes of Coca-Cola by the stalls, he said, because the carbonation made rats explode ? the rancher mounted an elaborate defense, pleaded stupidity, swore he'd never known what the others were up to, claimed he was getting out of the horse business anyway ("I'm going to be raising ostriches. I got me some brochures."). But that same afternoon a friend of his tried to ambush Graham with a couple of goons. Unfortunately they went to the wrong address, but news of the attempt delighted Graham. It was the kind of thing he relished and lived for.
He saved the mastermind for last. This individual lived in south Texas, and when Graham got there he couldn't believe his luck. The man was actually running for sheriff. He was in the middle of his campaign.
The incumbent he was trying to unseat was like something out of a couple of thousand movies. Silver-haired and lanky, with remote blue eyes, he wore an ivory Stetson and a 44.40 Colt with an antique mother-of-pearl grip. He and Graham bonded instantly, and pretty soon the sheriff was leaning back in his office chair with his feet up, telling stories in a slow, campfire voice while the cheroot in his lips bobbed up and down. Mostly they were tales of his rowdy youth. They involved trashing bars on a Saturday night and whittling on people with his pig-sticker. It was a phase of his life in which he took a sort of indifferent pride, and something his opponents, heavy church-goers mostly, were trying to make hay of in the current election. They didn't like his taste in pets either, the fighting cocks he had perched in the trees out back of his house, or the pit bulls he had chained up there, which he took down to Mexico now and then to enter in dog fights. It was the sheriff's view that his hobbies were his own business, but he was taking flak from all sides now, accused of being "everything but a triple-lipped child molester," and given the conspicuous rectitude of his opponent, his re-election was much in doubt.
That very opponent, meanwhile, the kingpin of the horse-killing ring, was throwing a campaign barbecue for himself on the edge of town. It attracted three hundred people. Men broiled meat ? beef brisket, chicken, cabrito ? and basted it with sauce; some protected their recipes like a hand with four kings. The women had brought homemade potato salad and frijole beans and fruit pies. There was a mariachi band and plenty of beer.
In the crowd the candidate gravely mingled. Still lean at 62, he wore a pale blue suit and a white Stetson and a Rolex. His belt buckle was of turquoise and diamonds. His dress was flashier than his manner, which suggested an usher in church. Indeed, when he finally rose to make his speech, and promised to enforce the law earnestly and honestly with the help of the Lord, he invoked the name of Christ so often that some members of the audience leaned toward each other and whispered about it.
It was a mark of Graham's vast talent for mischief, the delicacy with which he set about torpedoing this man's campaign. Instead of going loud and public, as might be expected, he set up shop in an office at the local jail and sent word to a number of the town's leading citizens that he needed to speak with them privately on a matter of some concern. One by one they arrived, conferred with Graham for ten or fifteen minutes, and departed in varying degrees of surprise.
Over the next day or two news of the horse-killing ring seeped through town like a gas. Graham finished off the candidate ? and got him to drop his insurance claim ? without ever laying eyes on him. It was in its way a thing of beauty.
"Time to get out of Dodge, cowboy," he said, "leaving devastation and confusion in our wake."