Rowdy Bendleman had always been considered something of an eccentric, even by the standards of Apache Flats.
Get this: he once put shoes on an ancient gelding that had keeled over as soon as Rowdy put a halter on him. The owner wasn't there, the horse was deader than a rotted stump, but Rowdy went ahead and put the shoes on. “Because I told you I was going to do it at 3:30, rain or shine,” explained Rowdy to the flummoxed owner who had called inquiring about his deceased steed and the sparkling new set of hardware.
“Cheer up, I ain't gonna charge you extra, even though they're tougher to shoe that way,” he'd told the man.
Those are the kinds of allowances most folks afford geniuses. Make no mistake, Rowdy was a legendary farrier, his abilities considered almost mystical by some. It didn't matter whether it was the hottest runner at Remington Downs or a kid's first 4-H project; Rowdy had the answer and the price to match the client.
Rowdy had been through four marriages, three anvils, two sets of false teeth and one good thumb over the past 30-odd years, all in the name of shoeing one more horse. It was an obsession.
Rowdy wasn't one-dimensional, though. He was also a basketball fiend from way back, first as a small forward that made it as far as intramurals at West Texas, then as sometimes college scout as he made his rounds.
Unbeknownst to many, Rowdy was also a shot doctor sought after by some folks you've even heard of. Suffice it to say, his unique perspective carried over to this endeavor as well. He'd been known to fill balls half up with water to “strengthen the backspin” of a shooter, duct-tape hands to jock-straps in order to teach the use of the off-hand, and leap out at unsuspecting players brandishing a barbed wire shield to encourage more arc in the shot. Strange as the tactics were, he had a waiting list of erratic, predictable, easily guarded shooters.
Given Rowdy's unique sensibilities, few would be surprised to learn that Rowdy and Hooter had been pals professionally and otherwise for decades.
Ducks in Odd Places
It made sense then that Gilbert Underwood, prosperous owner of Top Dawg Trailer Sales and Livestock Commission would invite Rowdy to coach an all-star junior basketball team he was sponsoring. In turn, it made sense that Rowdy would appoint Hooter as his assistant coach.
The way Gilbert figured it, many of his customers were either already contented clients of Rowdy's, too, or wanted to be. Besides which, every member of Gilbert's basketball team were clients' children—who wouldn't want a coach who had dealings with actual professional players? All way around, Gilbert figured it was good for business.
What Gilbert hadn't considered was the fact that his logic was more flawed than a steep-shouldered horse. Just because someone is a Super Bowl MVP doesn't mean they have any business behind a microphone; just because someone is a world-class cattle feeder doesn't mean they know one end of an AI straw from another; just because…You get the idea.
For all of Rowdy's basketball history, knowledge, passion and confidence, he turned out to be completely inept as a game coach. The odd thing was that he was an extraordinary practice coach—patient, kind and encouraging. He knew just what plays to run and how to coax his enthralled players to run them.
Really, Gilbert should have done something after the first game when Rowdy cussed out the opposing team's mascot for standing too close to his team's bench, then called two timeouts following the opening tip-off to argue with the refs about lighting conditions in the gym. A suggestion from Gilbert that there was a barrel horse in need of emergency shoe repair the next county over saved the day. Hooter filled in, admirably to the surprise of some, and Rowdy's Raiders won the first game going away.
But you don't get where Underwood had in life by letting a speed bump slow you down. He merely joked with Rowdy that they'd make sure the next gym was lit brighter than a sunrise in Heaven. That and he'd hired two bouncers to protect the bench.
Hooter was thinking ahead, too. He invited a mutual friend, a horse vet, to sit directly behind Rowdy, with instructions to keep him as distracted as possible with questions about the finer points of massage therapy and such.
Until the last minute of the game, the strategy worked perfectly. Rowdy was so engaged in the therapy discussion that he'd barely noticed how far ahead his team was, thanks to his instruction at practice, Hooter's gamesmanship, and mostly to the grittiness of his players.
A chance wave from someone Rowdy knew across the court caught his attention, though, and re-directed his gaze to the court where an opponent had committed a hard foul out of frustration, a hard foul the refs chose to ignore.
“Foul, foul, foul!” cried Rowdy, bouncing off the bench and running down the sideline toward the nearest referee. “What're you blind?”
“Coach, settle down,” warned the referee.
“Settle down! My player loses an arm out there and you want me to settle down,” boomed Rowdy. “A blind flea on my pet Beagle's privates can see better than that!”
“Yeah!” chimed in a good portion of the crowd.
Tweeeeeet! Came the whistle and a defiant motion from the referee indicating a technical foul.
Rowdy turned red, his anger so intense that all he could do at first was quiver.
By then, an uncharacteristically calm Hooter had joined the fray after double-checking the scoreboard and clock. “It's OK, Rowdy. If you saw the cows he runs you'd know his eyesight isn't so good.”
Tweeeeeeeet! A technical on Hooter.
“For that matter, you should see his wife,” said Hooter.
Tweeeeeeet! “You're out of here.”
“Actually, you're out of it, I'm just leaving,” grinned Hooter.
“And you,” said the ref, whistle sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he pointed at Rowdy. “One more peep and you're out of here, too.”
Rowdy punched the ref in the snoot; dropped him like an anvil tipping over the edge of the Grand Canyon. As he headed to the door he growled over his shoulder, “When I get back, I'm gonna tack racing plates to your sorry hide.”
To Hooter who was waiting for him at the door, Rowdy said, “Well, at least I didn't get kicked out like some people I know.”