At the rodeo, various events are shown, after one of which the announcer presents World Champion Kelly Mars. Then, at the start of the Grand Finale, the announcer presents star of movies and tv, "The Stranger on the White Horse", Clayton Steele. There is an awkward pause as nothing happends. Finally, Steele enters the arena on his white horse, to much cheering, and the Grand Finale parade begins. After a few steps, the horse stops and Steele, with a pole stuck up his back (which had held him upright on the horse), falls to the ground, dead.
Burke is on his day off with girlfriend Alistair, necking in front of the fireplace. When the doorbell rings, he tells Alistair to ignore it. The doorbell continues to ring; Burke says Alistair clearly has him hearing bells, because the phone is off the hook. Henry delivers a telegram telling Burke "Your phone is off the hook; Murder in the Afternoon - Les".
IT'S A BROMIDE, BUT IT'S HOMICIDE - BURKE'S LAW
Alistair asks if she should wait for him. Burke replies "I refuse to answer, on the grounds that it might eliminate me".
At Steele's rodeo tent, McLeod informs Burke that Steele died of transverse cervical vertebrae 4,5,6 - in other words, his neck was broken and spinal cord severed. 30 different cowboys at the rodeo have twisted bulls necks in the same fashion as that which killed Steele. Few witnesses were near Steele's horses stall. Kelly Mars (part owner in the rodeo) and Ragnar Windsor (former stunt man and Steele's old "saddle buddy" - who, Tim says, still likes to get in the ring and clown around) were in the arena when Steele fell, and both men share in Steele's estate. Windsor has gone home and is awaiting a visit from Burke.
Windsor greets Burke dressed in caftan and fez, smoking a hookah. He picked up the "terrible" habit from a "hoochie-koochie" dancer he once knew. Windsor tells Burke he entered the ring 15 mintues before Steele and remained there. He says it was a terrible thing for the killer to embarrass Steele in front of his audience, especially considering the fact that Steele hated horses and was afraid of them. Windsor did all the riding in Steele's movies, in fact did all the stunts. He knew Steele for 23 years. He was the one who shot under a horse's belly and who jumped off a cliff. Windsor reminds Burke he was much younger and slimmer at the time. He also did all of Steele's swimming, since Steele was a coward and couldn't swim. Burke asks what Steele actually did. Windsor replied that Steele didn't have to do anything - he was the star.
One of Steele's westerns is shown at his funeral, with Steele facing 1000 Indians down; Windsor eggs him on, enjoying the film enormously. He points out to Burke all the stunts that he did in the film. Outrageous western motif flower arrangements surround the casket. Windsor informs Burke that the woman in black, crying, is Vanessa Barrett, who is the best female bronco buster in the history of the business. As Steele and his Indian companion Yamo ride into the sunset on the screen, a 21 six-gun salute is fired at the funeral. Windsor notes how Steele would have liked how he rode into the sunset. An elegantly dressed man in fedora and cape passes by the coffin and Burke recognizes him as the actor who played Yamo in the movie. Windsor says the actor hated Steele. Windsor definitely does not approve of Balakirov, since Balakirov has made millions of dollars from the showing of his films on TV, from "just grunting" and Windsor made nothing. Burke notes that Kelly Mars did not attend the funeral - since he and Steele did not get along. Windsor takes the copy of the film and tells Burke that Steele actually was a sweet man and he holds no grudge against him. He says Steele wanted everyone to love him. He puts the film into Steele's coffin, "in memoriam".
Mars is listening to "Die Walkure" tapes, singing along, when Burke arrives. He doesn't hear Burke enter and directs along with the orchestra seated in a huge chair with longhorn steer horns. He loves Wagner, especially Siegfried and Die Walkure, as they is about the triumph of the superior man. Kelly tells Burke that Wagner really knew what he was doing - Burke thinks he's too brassy. He says once in a great while a great man is born, strong and heroic and beautiful, but society tries to bring him down. Burke makes a joke about opera, but Mars is very serious, and compares himself to Alexander the Great. Mars tells Burke that he was a champion at 21 and the world's greatest who ever lived at 25. Then, like Alexander, he had no more worlds to conquer. He says that 3000 years ago he would have been made a god.
SOMETIMES YOU JUST CAN'T FIGHT THESE THINGS - BURKE'S LAW
Burke asks about his name and Kelly says his real name is Miguel Angel de Gomez y Aragon, "Kelly" for short. He hopes Burke finds the killer and says he was big enough to have killed Steele, but didn't. He reminds Burke that he has 7000 witnesses, since he was in the arena at the time of the murder. He and Steele hated each other, but had a "nonagression pact". Steele hired him for the rodeo because he was World Champ, then tried to tear him down. Mars says Steele couldn't tell a horse from a chicken and was jealous of Mars, who was everything Steele wanted to be but wasn't. He says he was Steele's Achilles heel. Just then, Mars receives a very private call from someone he refers to as "Puss". As Burke leaves, he reminds Mars of Gotterdammerung and says it always ends with the Twilight of the Gods.
At the rodeo Burke watches Vanessa drop a steer by twisting its neck. She flirts and says it's amazin' how much Burke looks just like her cousin Buford. She's sad about "poor Clayton" but says she was by the chute in the arena when Steele rode out and she also has 7000 witnesses. She invites Burke into her pink-and-white-striped trailer while she freshens up. The trailer is filled with pillows which all say "Love, Kelly". As she changes, Vanessa tells Burke the rye is in the refrigerator and then reenters in a frilly, feathered outfit. She says Burke looks so much like Buford that it's making her lose all her inhibitions. She tells him she's "betrothed" to Mars. Steele wanted to be "betrothed" to her but Vanessa couldn't stand him, especially because he was trying to kill Kelly. Steele hated Kelly because stole Terry Foster, the rodeo vet, away from him (Steele and Foster had been "kind of betrothed"), before Vanessa showed up on the scene. She says Mars didn't report Steele to the police because a World Champion can't just walk into the police station and say someone's trying to kill him with a horse. Vanessa tells Burke that Steele looked all over to find a stallion to throw and stomp Mars. Vanessa says that's the only way Steele could have hurt Kelly, because Mars could have killed Steele with one hand if he was mad enough. Vanessa says she won't be surprised if Terry tries to get Kelly back; Terry will inherit all the stocks and bonds from Steele's estate; he had taken her back when Mars dumped her for Vanessa. Vanessa lets it be known that she had no trouble stealing Kelly from Terry. She then says it just "slipped out" about Mars being able to kill Steele with one hand. Burke knows she's tried to implicate Kelly in the murder. When he leaves, Vanessa smashes Kelly's picture.
In the car afterward, Burke tells Tim
TELL ME WHO YOU LOVE, I'LL TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE - BURKE'S LAW
At the Chi-Chi Bar, Burke, Tim and Les order coffee and tea. The bartender wonders whatever happened to people who drink booze. Tim informs Burke that Terry Foster is a respected veterinarian with her own ranch and was in the "off chute" with five other people when Steele rode into the ring. So, everyone was in the ring 15 minutes before Steele entered. And the lab reports indicate that Steele was officially declared dead at 3:25 and couldn't have been dead more than 30 minutes before that time. Information has come in about the actor who played Yamo, who's name is Richard Goldtooth - but that's just a stage name - his real name is Balakirov.
Tim and Les find Balakirov at his mansion, performing a faux-Shakespearean piece about Julius Caesar for his servants, while plucking a harp. He finishes his pretentious hamming and informs them that tomorrow he will play Oedipus, "a juvenile delinquent who killed his pa and married his ma" but promises them that it ends happily -"they catch up with the hooligan and burn his eyes out". Tim and Les flatter his performance. Balakirov says Steele nauseated him. Steele ruined his career as a serious actor by casting him as the Indian sidekick. After those films, that was the only type of role he was offered. He asks them if they think he even looks like an Indian. At 8 he studied with the great Russian masters, then at 20 he ended up playing a "moron making smoke signals, who only knew words - kemo sabe". He said it destroyed the soul of a great artist, but admits no one forced him to do it. He was young, impressionable, and starving. Steele offered him a contract to "star" in movies, then turned him into "Richard Goldtooth". He tells Tim and Les that the ultimate insult was the character name "Yamo", Steele's idea of a joke - it meant "ham" in Indian. Even the today, the public only accepts him as Yamo. Balakirov tells Tim and Les he last saw Steele at the funeral. Before that, they had lunch in Steele's trailer the day of the murder. It was a lousy lunch (avocado and tomatoes - he hates them), he arrived at noon and left at 1:00. They ask why the lunch if he hated Steele so. He replies they were business partners and he was there to make money. He has no alibi for later in the day. When they ask who would want Steele dead, Balakirov replies that he would, but it's too late.
At Terry's expensive looking ranch, Burke knocks at the Dutch doors, and gets no reply. When he enters, a kangaroo or wallaby hopping by. A rattlesnake slithers down the steps and under the sofa, and when Burke pulls a gun, he is jumped by Leonard the monkey. Terry comes, with a huskie, and is afraid Burke has shot her snake Artie. Wally, the kangaroo is a coward, she says, and Leonard was only trying to be friendly. Artie the snake has been defanged. Terry says she rarely underestimates herself and has nothing to hide. She says she has to leave to tend to a horse at the rodeo, who's sick with a fistula.
SOME HORSES HAVE ALL THE LUCK - BURKE'S LAW
Burke agrees to give her a lift, if she'll answer his questions on the way. She admits being in the corral earlier and says Burke will find the killer. She then makes Leonard aplogize to Burke. Burke carries Terry's (heavy) bag from the car to the stall. Silver Crown II, an old war horse that used to be ridden by Steele, is in the stall next to the ill horse. Terry says that, like all men, the sick horse just wants to be babied. The band strikes up and Silver Crown tries to "go on" when he hears his cue. Burke realizes Silver Crown's stall is directly across from the arena entrance and checks the lock on the stall. Burke tells Terry he'll pick her up later.
Playing darts at the station, Burke gets shown Steele's X-rays. Steele's head had been jerked to the right, so the killer must have been left-handed. Burke figures out that then the killer would have only had to leave the body on the horse, with the stable door open and Silver Cloud would just enter the ring on his own when the finale music was played. So, none of the alibis are worth anything.
Later, Terry, all dolled up, is riding to dinner at Finnegan's in Burke's car. She wonders how Burke knew to find her in Kelly's trailer.
CAPTAINS KNOW EVERYTHING - BURKE'S LAW
Burke admires her bracelet and offers her champagne; she picks up the glass with her right hand. Burke asks why he found her in Kelly's trailer and she says that they're still good friends. Terry cattily comments that everyone runs around with Vanessa - for a while. She says she stopped being serious about the relationships with Kelly a year ago and that she an Kelly are finished. Tim calls to inform Burke that all the other suspects are right-handed. Just then, Terry picks up the champagne bottle with her left hand. Burke tells Tim have the answer to the killing within 24 hours. Terry's dying of curiosity and wonders if it's anyone she knows, but Burke isn't telling. Terry tells Burke she doesn't want to go to Finnegan's and invites him to her ranch for dinner instead - she'll cook.
At Terry's ranch, she and Burke get cozy, then she goes into her room "to get more comfortable". She kisses Burke and tells him he can have "anything he wants". Burke mixes drinks in the kitchen. Mars is waiting for her in her room (Terry had heard him moving around). Terry tells him she thinks Burke is trying to pull a trap and doesn't want him to take any chances. Kelly looks at Burke in the other room and they discuss "taking care of" Burke. Terry wants to go out the back way and run to Mexico; Mars says that will be a confession to murder and they'll be caught. She says Steele was a drunken sot who was holding them down but Burke hasn't done anything. She's afraid they'll get the gas chamber if they kill Burke. Kelly says they will anyway for killing Steele. Kelly asks her to take do it for him to prove her love, because Burke is between them and what they want. They kiss, and agree to use the same plan they did on Steele. Mars says he'd gladly do it, but it would be easier for Terry to do it.
Terry goes into the living room, claims she's put dinner from deep freeze into oven. Burke has his eyes closed. She massages Burke's neck, as Mars listens from the other room. Terry kisses Burke and massages some more. She puts her arm across his neck; Burke throws her and holds her against the stairs. Burke tells her Mars has no guts and will let Terry hang just to save himsel. Steele was really in love with Terry and only made Kelly a partner so he could keep Terry around. Terry says she'd do it all again. Burke calls out to Kelly, accusing him of trying to have it all and asking if he's also going to get her to kill Windsor the same way. Terry gives Burke a shove as Mars rushes into the room. He and Burke fight, Kelly with a poker, Burke with the fireplace broom - they "sword fight", then wrestle and Burke finally knocks Kelly down the stairs. As he calls Tim and Les in to take the two killers away, Burke reminds Kelly that even Wagner knew there could only be one ending - the gods all died in their own fires - GOTTERDAMMERUNG.
Back home, Burke and Alistair both lie under sun lamps. She asks him if she's a good girl. Burke replies: yes, but don't get discouraged. Alistair decides to leave before she gets too much sun. Burke turns the lights off and opens the drapes - it's night. Alistair kisses him goodnight and leaves. Burke sighs and goes back to bed - alone.