LA DUQUESA – Wonder Horse Book Two
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Authors of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
One week after Sara Evans left the Pinon Hills cabin in a panic, a 16-year-old dirt-bike rider came to the top of the rise, looking down at the cabin, and saw something out of the ordinary. He saw Reilly Stone’s body lying where it fell, head down and feet up on the steps. The smell reached all the way to where he stopped his bike.
He pulled out his cell phone and dialed “911.” When the dispatcher came on the line, he described the scene in front of him and gave her his location, including the GPS coordinates off his phone. He promised the dispatcher he would stay right where he was and would flag down the patrol car when it got close to him. And he promised not to go closer or touch anything. That was easy; his stomach was queasy from the smell at this distance, two hundred feet away. He hoped the breeze would change direction before the Deputies got there.
A single Deputy Sheriff arrived shortly, took the witness statement from the kid, and let him go on about his business. He drove his patrol car to the cabin, looked at the bloated corpse, noted the impossible angle of his head from his neck, and surmised the man had accidentally fallen down the steps. He called it in to his Watch Commander. There was no need for paramedics. The Watch Commander sent several people to the scene to collect evidence, including Detective Sam Brown, the Lead on the case. Sam looked over the scene when he got there and noticed the broken whiskey bottles, beer cans, and trash around the cabin. He also looked through the still open front door and saw the same inside. There wasn’t much speculation in this case. It was obvious to everyone that the man drank himself into a stupor and fell backward from the porch, breaking his neck in the process. This was an accidental death. The Sheriff’s photographer took photos of the body where and when found, a few photos outside of the cabin and one or two just inside the door before putting his camera away. Sam Brown called the Coroner to pick up the body and waited until his people arrived with the Coroner’s van.
Sam found the wallet in Reilly Stone’s rear pocket and took it for evidence. He gave the name on the driver’s license to the Coroner’s people. The driver’s license photo was a close enough match to the body no one felt they needed further identification. As soon as the body was loaded in the Coroner’s van, Sam Brown wiped the eucalyptus salve from his nose with a tissue. That was the only thing he found that helped keep the smell of death from making him sick. Sam wrote pertinent information in a new case file, closed the front door of the cabin, and taped it with crime scene tape. As far as he was concerned, that closed this case. He drove back to the office to look up next of kin so he could do the notification. That was almost the worst part of his job. He hated being the bearer of bad news, especially to the loved ones.
From the time Sara Evans got back home from the cabin in Pinon Hills, she was a nervous wreck. She went inside her home and checked the locks on every door and window. Then she checked them all again and did it multiple times each day. All the blinds and draperies were drawn so no one could see in the house. She was in constant fear that Reilly Stone would show up at her door. Even the phone ringing made her jump. She took a hot shower when she got home that night but was afraid to get in the shower again in case Reilly did show up there. She kept the lights off in the front of the house so people wouldn’t realize someone was home.
Sara had a nasty bruise on her left cheekbone from the slap Reilly gave her. In a couple of days, it turned her eye black and blue as well. She put ice packs on the bruise for several days to reduce the swelling. She also had large bruises on her neck from where Reilly tried to strangle her. Her right knee was bruised and scraped where she tried to knee him with it. She was one big mess and couldn’t stop crying. She didn’t sleep well. She wasn’t hungry. She wandered the big old house in the dark, unable to sit still for any length of time. She wore a high turtleneck sweater to cover the bruises on her neck and long pants to cover the bruises on her knee. She kept a pair of dark glasses with her just in case.
When the knock did finally come on her door a little over a week later, she almost jumped out of her skin. She peeked out through the living room draperies and saw a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s car in her driveway. Her heart almost stopped. She made her way to the door on shaky legs and peeked through the peephole to find two men standing at her door. One was in uniform and the other in a plain dark blue suit. Her mind whirled. If she didn’t answer, maybe they’d just go away, but would that look suspicious? She hadn’t done anything wrong! Her hand reached toward the doorknob several times, and she pulled it back, afraid. Afraid of what? She finally opened the door. Her voice cracking, she asked, “What can I do for you?”
“We are looking for Anne Stone. Is she at home?” Sam Brown asked.
“I’m sorry, no she’s not. She passed away two and a half months ago,” Sara answered.
“Are you a relative?” Sam inquired.
“Yes, I’m Anne’s niece. Why were you looking for her?”
“We’re looking for relatives of Reilly Stone. Are you related to him?” Sam asked her.
“He would be my uncle by marriage, I guess,” Sara told him. “Reilly had no other relatives that I know of.”
“In that case, may we come in for a minute? We have some news for you,” Sam explained.
Sara opened the front door, and the two men filed in. She showed them to the living room and switched on one of the side lamps. That only slightly brightened the dark room.
Once the three were all in the living room, Sam suggested, “Please take a seat. We have some bad news for you. May we sit down?”
Sara nodded and sat in her favorite comfy chair while the officer and the detective sat on the couch.
“Ma’am, we’re here to tell you Reilly Stone was in an accident. It was fatal. It appears that he’s been dead for about a week. It looks like he fell down the steps at his cabin and broke his neck. We’re sorry to have to bring you such bad news,” Sam began. He watched Sara closely for her reaction. As an officer, reactions to this kind of news were unpredictable. She looked more relieved than anything. That surprised him and put up a flicker of a red flag in his mind.
“Oh, so he finally did it? He’s been a notorious heavy drinker for some time. I often wondered how long it would take him to kill himself with that stuff. I just hoped he wouldn’t be driving and take some poor innocent person with him,” Sara finally said out loud. She felt like a heavy burden had just been lifted off her shoulders. She took a deep breath, the first one she had taken in over a week.
“Yes, ma’am. His blood alcohol was very high. It does appear alcohol contributed to his accident. His body is at the Coroner’s office now awaiting autopsy, but our preliminary findings are that his death was accidental. Is there anyone else we should notify?” Sam asked her.
“In all the years my aunt was married to him, she never met a relative of his, only his drinking buddies or his golfing buddies, and not many of them. They lived separate lives for a long, long time. I never understood why Aunt Annie didn’t divorce him. He disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time and never communicated with her. He showed up on occasion, sometimes for just a night and sometimes for a few days or weeks, then disappeared again. He never told her where he was or where he went. It was the strangest marriage I ever saw.”
“I know this has to be a bad time for you. Here’s my business card. If you have any questions, you can reach me on my direct number there,” Sam said, standing and holding out his business card to her.
“Well, there is one thing,” Sara said. “My aunt made me the sole heir in her will, this house, for example. She also left me that horse,” she pointed at the photograph of La Duquesa over the fireplace. “She left me a small cabin in Pinon Hills too. Aunt Annie died of cancer. I was her only living relative besides Uncle Reilly, and we’ve been very close since my parents died right after I finished high school. I quit my job to care for her. We lived at the cabin because she could bring her horse there and see her every day. When Aunt Annie died, I called Tania, her horse trainer, to pick the horse up and get her safely back into Tania’s training barn while I sorted things out here. I didn’t find out until about a week ago that Tania showed up to get the horse, and Uncle Reilly chased her off. He must have gotten to the cabin sometime after I left that day. I asked him what he did with the horse, because Aunt Annie left her to me in her will. All he would tell me is that he sold her. That horse was Aunt Annie’s prized possession. I’m worried about her. I have no idea how to find her. Would you happen to know a private investigator I could hire to do that?”
“As a matter of fact, one of my best friends left the department and went out on his own doing private investigations. He’s the one I would want on my case. His name is Charles Spade. I’ll jot his number down on the back of my business card,” Sam told her as he took the card back from Sara and jotted a phone number and name on the back of it. “Give Charlie a call and tell him Sam sent you. He’ll do a good job for you.”
Sara escorted the two to the front door and thanked them again for their kindness. When she shut the door, she leaned her back against it and cried again. This time she was crying from sheer relief.