La Duquesa – Wonder Horse Book Two
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Charlie Spade found some answers in the mail. There was an envelope from the Arabian Horse Registry in Denver, Colorado, on his desk. He opened the large envelope, read through the letter, and reviewed the attached paperwork. La Duquesa has been re-registered to a Virginia Hartley in Pinon Hills about two weeks after Reilly Stone’s death. Virginia Hartley had her mail addressed to a post office box, so he didn’t have a location for her. The registry didn’t have a phone number either. He was a private investigator, and that’s what they do. They find people.
Charlie looked for the largest feed store in Pinon Hills, figuring if Virginia Hartley had a horse, she would need supplies. There wasn’t one. He did find two listed in the adjacent little town of Phelan and called them. The first one didn’t recognize her name. The second one did. The manager said, “Oh, you must mean Ginny. She and her husband own Hartley Ranch in Pinon Hills. They buy a lot of feed from us.” The woman was happy to give Charlie an address when he told her he wanted to talk with Ginny about a horse. She also gave him directions because she told him Google Maps weren’t always trustworthy out in their area. Charlie checked his schedule for that afternoon and decided to take a drive out to meet Ginny Hartley. He packed up his paperwork, grabbed his cell phone, and told his secretary he’d be gone for the balance of the day.
Charlie drove the hour and ten minutes to the front gate of Hartley Ranch. It was no small ranch for sure. The house was a few steps from the walk-through gate. It was a large Spanish style hacienda with covered porch along the entire front and large partially covered patio at the rear. “Horses must be good business,” he thought as he walked to the door and rang the bell. He heard the dog alarm go off inside and fade a bit as the dog made his way to the back of the house. He heard someone shushing the dog as they walked to the front door. An older woman answered the door. “Hello, what can I do for you?” she asked pleasantly.
“I’m here to talk to a Virginia Hartley about a horse,” he answered smiling.
“Well, if you came to talk about a horse, you came to the right place. Come on in. We can talk in the living room.” She ushered him in and told the dog, Clyde, to go back outside and leave them alone. “Clyde can be a pest sometimes,” she explained. “He’s friendly but a nuisance.”
She escorted Charlie to the living room and offered him a seat. “Now, what exactly are you looking for? My husband has several really nice Quarter horses and a lovely Paint mare that are ready for competition if that’s your preference. I know he also has some ready-to-be trail horses if you like to ride for relaxation.”
“Actually, I came here to talk to you about a specific Arabian horse. I have some documentation here that I’d like to show you. First is a copy of her registration papers showing you as her owner. Second is a copy of Anne Stone’s will leaving the horse to her niece, Sara Evans, upon her death.” He handed the papers to Ginny.
Ginny looked at the registration papers and was stunned to see La Duquesa’s name. “Wait a minute here. Just exactly what are you doing here?” she asked him with an edge in her voice.
“I’m Charlie Spade, a private investigator. I was hired by Sara Evans to find her property. She was Anne Stone’s only heir, and she died a few months ago. Sara thought the horse went back to Anne Stone’s trainer the day she passed away. She told me she called her before she left her aunt’s cabin in Pinon Hills and asked her to pick the horse up for her while Sara took care of funeral arrangements and some of her aunt’s other business. When she talked to the trainer just a couple of weeks ago, the trainer said the gentleman living in the cabin drove her off and told her the horse belonged to him. Sara had a conversation with the gentleman, who was Anne Stone’s estranged husband, and he told Sara he sold the horse. But, as you can see from the will in your hand, he had no right to sell her to anyone at all. The horse belongs to Sara Evans.
Ginny looked at the will and read it carefully. It was in black and white. Anne Stone gave La Duquesa to Sara Evans when she died. Ginny’s heart sank.
“Well, Charlie, let me tell you a few things. Anne Stone was one of my professors when I was in the equine studies section at Cal Poly Pomona years back. She was my favorite professor. I’ve remained loosely in touch with Anne since. We didn’t see each other often, but called each other once in a while to catch up. My husband also had her in one of his classes. That’s where I met him. I was at Anne’s funeral myself. I met Sara Evans at the funeral. In all the years I knew Anne Stone, I never knew her to own a horse. She always told me they were an expensive hobby she couldn’t afford on a professor’s salary. But she had access to every one of the lovely Arabian horses born, raised, and trained at Cal Poly, and that was enough for her. This registration paperwork shocks me in the first place.” Ginny got up and walked around the room with her hands clutched behind her back. Finally she told him she had something in her office she wanted him to see and left the room.
When she returned to the living room she handed him four photographs. They were pictures taken of La Duquesa the day she arrived at Hartley Ranch.
“My husband and I took a trail ride that Sunday morning with Clyde, our dog. You just met him. We were minding our own business when Clyde heard something that alerted him, and he took off running. We chased him on horseback until we came to a cabin way out in a little valley we’d never seen before. There was an old drunk beating this horse with a lounge whip. That got Clyde’s attention, and he was charging the man when we got there. The man was trying to use the whip on our dog by then. My husband is particularly upset by any kind of horse abuse, and that clearly was the case right there. That mare had maybe a week left before she died of starvation, thirst, and exposure. I offered him cash to buy the mare. I happened to have feed money in my pocket that I’d forgotten to leave at the ranch before we went riding. I counted out $500 in his hand, and he handed me her registration papers. He told me the horse was my problem, and he slammed the door in my face. We took those pictures when we got her back here. I wasn’t sure we could save her life at that point.”
“Oh, my goodness. That poor horse. I’m so sorry,” Charlie said as he glanced at the photos again.
“To bring you up to date, with the help of our vet, we were able to save her life. She’s doing just fine now. I have a young student who can’t afford the expense of a horse that has fallen in love with her. She works here to work off the cost of riding lessons. She’s out in the arena riding La Duquesa right now. Why don’t you come out and see her for yourself.”
Ginny escorted Charlie out the back door to the riding arena. Maryann and La Duquesa were practicing. Charlie watched with interest. “Is that the same horse in those pictures you showed me?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes, that’s the same horse. This is what good animal husbandry, a good vet, and the love of a little girl can accomplish in a few months’ time,” Ginny told him. “Despite whatever paperwork someone has, sometimes you just know when the right horse comes along for the right person. You are looking at that in front of you now.”
“Wow! Mrs. Hartley, I don’t know what to say. I’ll tell you that I don’t think Sara Evans is especially interested in the horse for herself. She didn’t want her uncle anywhere near it, and she sees it as a valuable asset her aunt gave her when she died. Let me talk to her. I think you are right. The horse is happy and healthy, which were her major concerns. I think the horse is right where she belongs.”
He turned to go, and Ginny walked back toward the house with him. “Why don’t you give me your phone number, and I’ll keep in touch with you on this,” Charlie suggested. “Maybe we can work something out.”