WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Calvin drove north on Interstate 5 in the slow lane at the speed limit. He didn’t want to call attention to themselves. They were both sweating from the adrenaline rush.
“Phew, we did it, little brother! I’m thinkin’ he probably weighs nine hundred to a thousand pounds, so that’s …., let’s see …., at fifty cents a pound …., maybe four hundred fifty to five hundred bucks. Looks like we goin’ to party after all!”
Danny had a hard time controlling his emotions. He wasn’t sure if he was mad, scared, relieved, or what. He was very anxious. He thought about that little girl lying on the asphalt with blood in her hair. She looked so small. He wanted her to be okay. He didn’t want to be responsible for killing her.
Danny turned on the radio and fiddled with the dial until he found a station he liked. Danny turned the volume dial up on the radio, “Hey, I LOVE this song,” and he began tapping to the beat on his knees. When the song was over, he turned the volume back down.
“Hey, Cal, why do you keep saying he’s worth fifty cents a pound anyway? We both know he’s worth more than that. Can’t we get more for him?”
“I told you I met this guy, Ed Tweedy, at Red’s a coupla weeks ago. He buys and sells horses all the time. He’s got a 60-acre ranch in the High Desert where he keeps ‘em. He buys ‘em at horse auctions for a coupla hundred bucks, and puts some weight on the skinny ones. Some of them, if they’re good horses that he buys legit, he can sell for more than he paid for ‘em. The others he just fattens up and hauls to Mexico for slaughter. People give him horses they don’t want no more ‘cause they’re old or crippled. Some people sell him horses. He don’t ask no questions. There are horse buyers that insist on Bill-a-Sale or papers of some kind to prove you own the horse. They only buy at auctions that are legit. Not this guy. He’ll buy anything! That works for us ‘cause we don’t have no papers on this guy.”
“Why take ‘em to Mexico?”
“’Cause we don’t do no horse slaughter in this country. Horse people got laws passed to stop that. But Ed told me the President signed a new law that might bring slaughter plants back. It’ll make his job easier, won’t have to leave the country to make his money, just head for Missouri or Wyoming.”
“But, why Mexico?”
“Only two places you can haul horses for slaughter from the States is Canada or Mexico, and Mexico’s only three hours away for him. Like I said, he takes horses and don’t ask no questions. If he gets one he thinks could be hot, he dummies up some paperwork and hauls them across the border. Over there, they’re just meat, hides, and hooves in a coupla minutes. No way to trace ‘em, and he makes a quick dollar a pound and is back in the States before anybody knows the horse is missing.”
“Do people really eat horses there?”
“Well, it’s cheaper than cow, and if you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything. Most of it prob’ly goes to dog food, and they might ship some overseas. People in some countries in Europe eat horse meat. Speaking of which, hand me my cell phone. I gotta call and let him know we’re comin’.”
Danny handed Calvin the cell phone, and he made the call. “Right, know where that is….be there in about two hours. See ya then.” Calvin snapped the phone shut. “He’ll be waiting for us,” he told Danny.
“Well,” grumbled Danny, “I still don’t get why we can’t get more for this guy. He sure is a pretty one.”
“Haven’t you been listenin’ to me? We don’t got no papers on him! He’s hot! We gotta dump him quick. And this guy don’t ask too many questions, you big dummy. It’s fast cash for us. All we had to do was snatch ‘im and drop ‘im off and collect our money.” Calvin looked at Danny with irritation.
Danny never was the brightest bulb in the box. But eventually, he understood their position and sat back to listen to the radio as Calvin drove the old truck up the freeway.
“Ya know,” Danny said quietly, “I feel kinda bad about this guy,” poking his thumb backward over his shoulder. “He didn’t do nothin’ to deserve this. He’s goin’ to be dog food in a few days like ya said. And I like horses. In fact, I like horses more than most people.”
“Well, don’t get your panties in a twist! You don’t know this horse from Adam, and we need the cash,” answered Calvin. “You are going to enjoy that birthday party. Just think of it that way and don’t go stewin’ over it.”
As they rumbled northward through Saturday afternoon traffic on Interstate 5, neither of the brothers had much to say. The drive across the Los Angeles area was uneventful except for slow traffic at the interchanges where they changed freeways.
Ali was half-conscious most of the way. He was used to being hauled, so this was nothing new to him. One knee at a time would buckle on occasion, and the trailer swayed a bit as he regained his footing. He began to come back to himself slowly the further they went. When they merged from Interstate 405 onto the Antelope Valley Freeway, his head was mostly clear.
He was in an unfamiliar trailer and had no idea how he’d gotten there. He whinnied loudly a couple of times but settled down to pick at the stale hay in the hay bag. He wondered where he was going. This didn’t look like any place he’d been before. He could see the countryside from the trailer window. The hills looked bare and rocky, not at all like the area near his home, or around Boulder,Colorado.
In the truck cab, the news came on the radio. Danny was just about to change the station to something he liked when the newsman announced “Breaking News.” Danny’s hand was on the dial when he heard, “The most famous Arabian horse in the country was stolen this afternoon from the parking area in San Juan Capistrano following the Swallows Day Parade.”
“Oh, crud!” Calvin exclaimed, “Turn that up!”
Danny turned up the volume.
“Prince Ali, a gray International Champion Arabian horse, was taken from his owner’s trailer this afternoon by two men driving an older blue truck towing an older blue and white horse trailer. It was reported this horse had just been awarded the Keys to the City of San Juan Capistrano for bravery in stopping a potential stampede during the parade. The horse was also the Grand Marshall of the parade.”
“The men are suspected of causing serious injury to the owner’s 13-year-old daughter who is currently in Mission Hospital in San Juan Capistrano fighting for her life.”
“The suspects are two men described as white, mid-twenties to early thirties, both with blonde hair wearing ball caps and blue work shirts and jeans. In a highly unusual attempt to recover the horse, police have issued an Amber Alert. Anyone seeing these two men or their truck and trailer is encouraged to call the California Highway Patrol or their local law enforcement and report their location…. and the weather today in the LA Basin will be generally sunny and mild with slight breezes, 72 degrees in downtown LA…..”
“Holy cow!” Calvin shouted. “We‘re in big trouble! We’d better get off the freeway quick. I know there are several back roads into the High Desert from here, but some are just dirt roads. The longer we stay on the freeway with that horse, the better our chances of getting stopped! We prob’ly stick out like a sore thumb.” He began to sweat again. He’d been in jail before, but this would get them a long stretch in prison.
“Danny, get out the map. I’ll take the next off-ramp and park under it where we can’t be seen ‘till we figure out which way to go.”
Danny fumbled through the glove box for a map. Calvin turned off the freeway at the next exit and parked the rig under the freeway overpass. “Better call Ed and tell ‘im we’re goin’ to be a bit late. Wish I had a cold one. Need somethin’ to calm me down. I gotta think about this.”
“Oh, man!” Danny shouted, “You really got us into it this time! Just take any horse, you said. It won’t matter. It’s just meat on the hoof. Well, we took the wrong darned horse! And that little girl is in the hospital. What’re we goin’ to do now??” He was shaking and sweating and scared to death.
“Just shut up and give me the phone,” Calvin growled. “I gotta call Ed.”
“Okay …. Okay! Here!” Danny tossed him the phone. “Here’s the map too! See if you can figure a way outa this mess you got us into.” He sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. He crossed his legs. He nervously twitched his raised foot.
Calvin dialed the phone, and Ed Tweedy picked it up after two rings. “Hey, Ed. We’re on our way, but we might have a little problem. Just heard a breaking news story on the radio, and we might have a famous horse in our trailer ….. yeah, he’s gray. …. yeah, I understand …. You’ve seen it on TV?? Holy crud! …. Too hot for you to handle?? ….yeah, I get it. …. We’re under the over-pass at Vasquez Rocks right now. ….dump the horse? …. You got any ideas where we can take ‘im and get rid of ‘im?” Calvin listened for a minute, then asked Danny for a pen and piece of paper. “Yeah, I’m writin’ it down. Can you give me those directions again?” He scribbled furiously on a scrap of paper Danny found in the glove box. “Okay. See you another time,” he said as he closed the phone.
Calvin looked over at Danny. “Ed Tweedy won’t take this horse. Says he’s too hot to handle and doesn’t want to get caught with him, takin’ stolen property and all. Says we’d better dump him quick. He gave me the name of an old guy he knows not far from here that’ll prob’ly give us a coupla hundred bucks for him as a packhorse. Says the guy’s a crazy old prospector out in these parts who keeps lookin’ for the gold Vasquez, the bandit, was supposed to have hidden in these rocks. I got directions. Let’s head on over and see what kind of deal we can do.”
Calvin turned the truck around and headed east until he came to the dirt road Ed Tweedy told him to look for. He turned left and headed north into the hills. The dirt road looked like it never saw much traffic. The hills were almost entirely bare except for the rocks and squat-growing desert plants. A few California poppies struggled to poke their heads above ground in the arid desert soil this time of year. There wasn’t much to look at. The truck bumped along the desert track, mile after mile, climbing as they went.
“Better to be a packhorse for some old fool than what you had in mind for ‘im,” Danny said thoughtfully. “Better to work in this heat and rocks than be turned into dog food in couple days.”
“Oh, shut up, ya big dummy!” Calvin spit out. “I told you not to get your panties in a twist over it. You’re in this just as deep as I am. And, you’re the one that tossed that little girl into the building in the first place! Sure wish I had a cold one ‘bout now.”
They bounced along in silence after that. Ali, in the trailer, struggled to keep his footing as the trailer bounced over ruts and rocks, so the trailer swayed back and forth. He whinnied his discomfort loudly, but there was no one to hear him except the Hix brothers, and they could have cared less at this point. All they wanted to do is be rid of him; the sooner, the better.