WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Joanne led Walter and Caroline down the hall to a small conference room. When she opened the door, two men in suits sitting at the conference table stood up. Joanne held the door open for them.
A tall, nice-looking man of about 40 reached out his hand to Walter. “I’m Detective Brian Nelson, and I’m the lead on this case. This is my partner, Ron Bentley.” Ron, about the same age as Brian Nelson, but a little heavier, nodded in their direction.
Walter took his hand and shook, “I’m Walter Howard, and this is my wife, Caroline.”
“Please take a seat. We need to go over a few things with you,” Detective Nelson said. “First of all, I need to get your address, and any contact phone numbers you have, and any other names you go by.”
Walter gave the information while both detectives scribbled it down in their notebooks. Caroline sat dry-eyed and numb during this exchange.
“We understand Caroline was the one who first found Becky,” said Detective Nelson. “Can you tell me about that?” He looked at Caroline with raised eyebrows.
“Well, after the parade, Becky walked Ali, that’s our horse, back to the trailer to give him some water and grain and take off his costume. People in the crowd delayed Walter and me, so I didn’t get there until maybe fifteen or twenty minutes after Becky and Ali got there. I got tied up talking to people who wanted to know more about our horse. Walter doesn’t like crowds, so he went back to the El Adobe to hold us a table. Becky and I were going to take Ali home and come back for the street fair and lunch.” Mom sniffled. “I should have been there with them.”
“Take your time,” Detective Nelson reassured her and handed her a tissue from the box on the table. “I understand. I have a 14-year old daughter.”
“Becky left the feed and water out and took off Ali’s costume and her own before whatever happened happened.” Caroline broke down. All the guilt and all the fear suddenly washed over her in waves. “I was chatting to people about our horse when someone attacked our daughter and stole him!” she wailed.
Walter put his arm around her and held her close while she sobbed. “Give us a minute, okay?” he asked the detectives. He held his wife, whispering to her while she cried as if her heart was broken.
Caroline pulled herself together in a few minutes, dried her face, and blew her nose. She looked at the two detectives with red, swollen eyes. “Let’s get on with this. I know you have a job to do.” She sniffed and mopped her eyes with the tissue.
“Okay, you went to the trailer parking lot from the street fair area to check on your horse and your daughter, that right? You were going to take the horse home and bring Becky back for the street fair and lunch. And you found her unconscious and the horse was missing? Do we have that right?” asked Detective Nelson. “Do you know about how long it was from the time you last saw Becky and the horse until you got back to your trailer and found her?”
“When I last saw Becky and Ali, I checked my watch. It was 2:10. I probably got to the trailer and found Becky about 2:35 or so. I didn’t check the time.” Mom blew her nose again, then wiped at her eyes.
“That’s when I found my baby girl lying there bleeding, and I couldn’t wake her up.” Fresh sobs tore through her. Walter held her close and comforted her.
After a few minutes, Caroline regained her composure. Detective Nelson said, “Well, this is what we know right now. Your daughter was walking the horse to the trailer at 2:10. We have a witness that saw two men putting a gray horse in a blue and white horse trailer right in front of your truck about 2:25 to 2:30. You found your daughter unconscious about 2:35, and your horse was missing.” The Detective referred to his notes. “We found a cigarette butt that looked fresh next to your trailer. Either of you smoke?”
Both Walter and Caroline shook their heads, “No.”
“Okay, it could have been left by the suspects. We’ll have it checked for possible DNA. We also found a syringe next to your trailer. It’s too large for human use, so we’re assuming it was for livestock. Could it belong to you?”
“No, we have the vet out when our horses need shots for anything,” Caroline explained. “We wouldn’t have one in the truck or our trailer.”
“Okay, then we assume the suspects could have left it. We’ll have the lab check it to see what was in it and look for possible fingerprints.”
“Now,” Detective Nelson said, “with what we know, it looks to us that the horse was the target, not your daughter. She might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, got in the way, or interfered. We won’t know for sure until she wakes up and we can talk to her. Do you know of anyone that might have a grudge against you or anyone in your family? A business associate? Another family member? A neighbor you don’t get along with?”
“Not that we know of,” answered Walter. “So you think Ali is what they were after?”
“Let’s talk through some scenarios. How would your horse react to strangers? Would he go willingly with someone he didn’t know?”
“We have no idea. Ali’s never been in that position that we know of. Many people he didn’t know have seen him, and he’s always friendly. But Ali loves our Becky, so he wouldn’t be happy with anyone that tried to hurt her. He’s a big boy. If he got angry or upset, he could be threatening.” Walter said.
“Well, assuming your horse was the target, there are some facts we know. If they left that syringe behind, maybe they drugged him to make him easier to handle. First, tell me about the horse. What is his value anyway?” asked Detective Nelson.
“Ali is something of an anomaly. He’s only five years old. We started showing him in large breed shows when he was a yearling. He’s done extremely well, nationally and internationally, because he has excellent conformation for his breed. He is extremely well-bred on both sides of his pedigree. Ali’s very talented, a very handsome individual, and has a lot of natural charisma. We were offered 1.3 million for him as a two-year-old. That was when he won his first World Championship at the Salon du Cheval in Paris, France. He won his second world title a few months ago. We were approached three months ago about syndicating him for somewhere close to 2.5 million dollars. We would never consider selling him for any amount of money. If you are looking purely for his dollar value, you’d have to use the syndication offer,” Dad explained.
“How does syndication work?” asked Detective Nelson.
“When you have a top-performing stallion of any breed, many mare owners want to breed to him hoping to create a top-performing horse for themselves,” Walter explained. “If every superior horse produced nothing but superior horses, the breeding business would be easy. But it doesn’t work that way. Syndication legally limits the number of mares bred to the stallion. ‘Breeding Shares’ generally run into five or six figures, depending on the horse. The share-holders pay annual ‘maintenance fees’ for the stallion and ‘mare care fees,’ which run pretty high. That helps ensure the stallion is bred only to the best quality mares for the highest quality babies. It also limits the number of babies. Supply and demand keep the value of the babies high as well,” Walter explained.
“We’re not ready to ‘retire’ Ali to stud just yet. Becky wants to ride and show him herself.”
“Wow,” whistled Detective Nelson. “That’s 2.5 million reasons to snatch your horse for ransom. “We need to focus on that angle here.”
Detective Bentley cut in, “I’d say we’d better get a wiretap on your phone now. Don’t want to miss the ransom call.”
“The more I think about it, Ron, we’d better put out an alert on the airports as well, in case they try to fly him out of here. Can you call the Commander and have that wiretap done a.s.a.p. and see who at the Federal Aviation Authority we need to get a hold of to put a watch out at the airports?” Detective Nelson spoke to his partner, “I’ll get the Howards to sign off on the authorization for the wiretap before we finish here. We might also put extra patrols on their home, just in case. And it would be a good idea to have someone at the house 24/7 until we know more.”
“Is that okay with you two?” he asked Walter and Caroline. They nodded their agreement.
“Is there anyone at your home right now?” Detective Nelson asked.
“Yes, Esperanza, our housekeeper/nanny is there, and Fernando, our groundsman, is there. I called Esperanza a while ago to tell her what happened to Becky and what we know right now. Fernando is taking care of the horses and keeping an eye on the place.” Walter answered.
“Oh, and we need some better pictures of the horse. The news photographer at the parade took the only ones we have now. He’s wearing some kind of costume, and you can’t see the horse very well. Do you have pictures of him without the costume that we can use?” Detective Nelson asked.
“Yes, in my office at home,” answered Caroline, dabbing at her eyes. “Esperanza can show your officer. They can take whatever they need to help find Ali. Finding him is important to us. You have to understand, I think of him as a son, and he is Becky’s best friend.”
“Ron, when you talk to the Commander, can you see that someone gets over there and picks up a picture of the horse for us?” Detective Nelson asked.
“Sure thing. I’m going outside so I can use my cell phone. Is there anything else I should report or get handled now?” Detective Bentley asked.
“Not that I can think of, but I’ll be outside with you in a couple of minutes. I just have one or two more questions for these folks, and I know they want to get back to their daughter,” answered Detective Nelson.
He looked at Walter. “Can you call your people at home and let them know we’re sending officers over to work on the phone lines and pick up the picture? You might also let them know we’ll be keeping an eye on the house and doing extra patrols of the neighborhood.”
Walter nodded, “Sure.”
The final questions asked and answered, authorization forms signed, the Detective looked directly at Caroline and said, “I want to assure you we are going to do everything in our power to find out who did this to your daughter and find your horse. As I said, I have my own 14- year-old daughter at home. I don’t know how I’d feel in your place, but I have some idea. I’m leaving our business cards for you. If you, either of you, think of anything, any little detail, no matter how insignificant, please call us. A lot of crimes get solved by putting together little details. And my family and I will pray for Becky’s recovery.”
Walter and Caroline headed back to the ICU, and Detective Nelson hurried to the hospital entrance.
When Brian Nelson got to the hospital lobby, it was packed with people. Through the glass doors to the outside, he could see three network TV news vans parked with their antennas reaching skyward. Reporters with their cameramen milled around with news photographers and newspaper reporters. He recognized the Mayor and City Council members. He didn’t recognize others he assumed were friends or family of the Howards.
Finally, he saw Ron Bentley outside the entrance talking on his cell phone. He headed toward Ron but was stopped by Mayor Sterling. The Mayor noticed the badge Brian had clipped to the left breast pocket of his suit coat. After exchanging names, the Mayor asked, “Do you have an update for me? I’d like to schedule a news conference in about forty-five minutes.”
“Let’s go outside. It’s too noisy in here,” Detective Nelson said. “My partner, Ron Bentley, is on the phone with our Commander right now. Let’s see what he has.”
The two men strolled outside the hospital lobby into the waning sunlight. Ron noticed them as he spoke on his cell phone and nodded in their direction, holding up his finger to signal he’d be with them in a minute. Brian checked his watch. It was only 4:45 p.m. So much had been done in a short time.
“The Commander is notifying the FAA people now to get a watch set up at the airports. They made sure Border Patrol was watching the Canadian border as well as the Mexican border. The wiretap is on its way to the Howard residence, and they’re sending someone to pick up the picture of the horse and get it back to the station. They’ve assigned a team to stay at the residence and monitor the wiretap. There are two units at the house already, keeping an eye on the place. The Sheriff is setting up for a news conference at the station in San Juan as soon as he can get there. He’s on his way with lights and siren. We might want to get the Mayor and some of these media people over there so they can get set up.”
Mayor Sterling spoke up, “I’ll get my people right on that. I didn’t know the Sheriff’s Department was holding a news conference, so I was going to set one up. I’ll cancel mine and meet with Sheriff Nolan’s people and join theirs.” He hurried off.
“Do you believe what a circus this place is?” Ron asked Brian. “There were already thousands of people in town for the Parade and Street Faire, and now we’ve got this going on too. I guess we’d better call home. Don’t think we’re going to get there for dinner tonight.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” said Brian Nelson. “It’s got the makings of a long night,” shaking his head.
About that time, people began streaming out of the hospital lobby heading for their cars. The news vans dropped their antennas; reporters jumped in with their cameramen and sped off toward the Sheriff’s sub-station in San Juan Capistrano.
Brian and Ron stood on the curb watching the madness as everyone jockeyed their vehicles for position to leave the single exit to the parking lot, wishing they’d had a traffic control officer there for the moment. They waited for the crowd to thin out before heading to their car to drive back to the station.
When Walter called, Esperanza answered the phone on the first ring. He used a phone at the nurses’ station in the Intensive Care Unit. “Espie, it’s me. I wanted to bring you up to date. Becky is in a coma, but she’s holding her own. There’s nothing we can do except wait. They said the next 48 hours are critical, but she’s young and strong otherwise. We just have to wait and pray.”
“Will my little one be okay, Señor Howard?” Esperanza asked, sniffing back her tears. She’d helped Caroline take care of Becky since she came home from the hospital two days after she was born. Esperanza loved Becky.
“We don’t know,” Dad replied softly. “All we can do is pray and hope she recovers. You know Becky is tough. She’ll fight to get back to us.”
“Señor Howard, you know I’m already praying and my whole familia too.” Esperanza blew her nose. “What can I do?”
“The Sheriff’s Detectives that just talked to us are thinking the guys who did this were really after Ali. They may have taken him for ransom. If that’s the case, they may call us for money in exchange for Ali. They are sending over some of their people to put a tap on our phone. They will record all our calls. When they get to the house, please let them in and show them whatever they need. Okay?” Dad explained.
“Oh, Si, Señor Howard,” Esperanza replied, nodding her head.
“Another Sheriff’s officer will be coming to the house looking for a good picture of Ali. Can you show him into Caroline’s office? Let him take any of the pictures he wants.”
“No problemo,” Esperanza sniffed through her tears. “Is there anything else I can do?”
“Please ask Fernando to watch over the horses. Caroline and I will be here at the hospital. We need him to feed and bed them down for tonight and in the morning. I’ll talk to him sometime tomorrow. If you need us, call our cell phones. We’d appreciate it if you two would keep an eye on the house and grounds while we’re here. The Detective told me they would send over some Deputies to help watch over the place, and they will be sending extra patrols in the neighborhood. If either of you sees anything that looks suspicious, be sure to let them know, or call 911.” Dad instructed.
“Will do, Señor Howard,” she replied. “Please kiss my little one for me. Tell her I love her too. And tell Caroline not to worry. Fernando and me will take good care here.” She blew her nose again.
Esperanza went directly to her room. She had a small altar along one wall with a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She knelt in front of the figure, closed her eyes, and bowed her head. She said her Rosary, fingering her beads as she prayed.