PRINCE ALI – WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE, SECOND EDITION
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
“How much farther are we goin’ anyway?” whined Danny. “We’ve been on this blasted dirt road forever already.”
“Oh, quit yer gripping’’! Tweedy gave me directions. He told me this guy lives up in the mountains where that Station Fire burned everything up a coupla years ago. He must be sorta like a hermit. I’m looking for a signpost that points to Little Rock. We turn there and follow the road for another 10 miles or so.”
Calvin was feeling the effects of the day. He was jumpy and jittery, and his mind was going a thousand miles an hour. It was difficult for him to focus. He almost slammed them into a ditch and a hillside in separate near misses had Danny not yelled at him to watch where he was going.
“We’ll be lucky if we get there before dark.”
“Might be better if we don’t. If the cops are looking for us, they might miss us in the dark. I just don’t like the idea of driving this rig around these mountain roads at night. If we do get down to civilization ‘for the sun goes down, we should prob’ly look for someplace to hide out ‘til it does.”
“You got us in a fix this time! Picked the wrong darned horse for sure!” Danny muttered under his breath. It was starting to get cold as they climbed in elevation. He rolled up his window and hugged himself to keep warm. “Should’a brought jackets or somethin’.” Danny was feeling the effects of the day. His mind was jumping around.
“Like I said before, quit yer gripping. We just gotta get rid of this animal and skedaddle home.” Calvin snapped. He rolled up his window. They were starting to see a few patches of snow on the ground.
Another 45 minutes passed as they bumped along the dirt track, twisting first one way then another. Thousands of twisted black skeletons of trees and shrubs covered the sides of the hills from the forest fire a few years before. Some regrowth had started, but it would take decades to grow back.
Ali kept his footing as best he could in the trailer, with the trailer rolling and swaying from side to side over the rough rocky ground. He was fully awake now and didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten there. The last thing he remembered was his Becky getting pushed and hitting her head into the building and falling. She didn’t move. “Becky, I miss you. I have to get home! I have to find you. I don’t know where I am, but I will get home somehow. I promise you, Becky!” He wasn’t sure what happened to her, but he would recognize the man who hurt her. He hated that man! He saw that man push her, and he saw his expression when he did that. He would never forget!
After a time, Ali locked his knees and dozed off, jerked awake only when a particularly hard bump jostled him. That started the replay in his mind again, and he watched Becky sailing headfirst into the side of the building. It made him sick at heart.
It was almost 4:30 p.m. before they found the turnoff Ed Tweedy told Calvin about. Just as he made the turn, he slammed on the brakes and shouted, “Looky there! It’s a big black bear right up on that hillside,” pointing his finger towards it.
“Oh, wow! Yer right! It is a bear. We’d better get outa here,” Danny said. “I hear bears can come right on in through the window if they want to. I don’t feel like tanglin’ with anything that big or that mean.”
The she-bear had just wandered out of her winter den looking for water and something to eat. She only weighed 300 pounds, about 75 pounds less than she weighed when she went to sleep. She had two cubs waiting for her, and her food search hadn’t been successful. She climbed up the hill and slowly lumbered her way back to the den.
The Hix brothers bounced, jounced, twisted, and turned their way down the dirt road to the final turnoff. Once they made the turn, they could see the camp before them. It wasn’t much to look at.
It consisted of a makeshift cabin built of whatever lumber the old guy could scrounge up. The roof was a patchwork of tin sheets in all sizes and didn’t look very water-tight. An ancient pick-up truck stood beside the cabin. It could be from the 1950s by the style of the fenders. It was covered in more rust than paint. There was trash on the ground everywhere, old cans, bottles, cardboard food packaging, clothing, and stuff that defied identification. A corral built of whatever the man could cobble together, including tree limbs and rusty wire, stood beside the cabin. It had a three-sided shelter from the weather. The side walls had holes in them you could put your fist through. A lone chestnut horse stood in the corral and called out a welcome.
Calvin leaned on the horn to raise the owner of this mess. As he looked around, he looked dejected. “We’re sure not going to get much for the horse from a place like this,” he said.
Just then, the cabin door opened, and an older man stepped out, clutching a shotgun in both hands. The man, of indeterminate age, had long matted gray hair with a matching beard down to his chest. He wore a stained thermal undershirt partially tucked into grimy jeans. His feet peeked out from under his pant legs in dirty socks.
“What’s your business?” he said as he lifted the barrel of his shotgun slightly and aimed it at their truck.
“You Nixon?” Calvin asked. “Ed Tweedy sent us. Said you was lookin’ for another horse for packin’.”
“Oh, if Ed Tweedy sent you, come on in,” said the old man with a grin that showed missing front teeth. “I called him from down below when I lost that last danged horse.”
Calvin turned off the engine. He and Danny climbed out of their truck and walked over to the cabin door. The old man waved them in. The inside of the cabin wasn’t in much better shape than the outside. It sure smelled worse.
“Can I get you somethin’ to drink?” Nixon asked. “I got some coffee just made this morning’ …. Or was that yesterday morning? … or something stronger? Got some whiskey, but I don’t have ice and don’t have any clean glasses.”
The offer of whiskey tempted Calvin, but after looking around the cabin, he decided to pass on it.
“No, thank ya, sir. But thanks for the offer. We’re needin’ to get our business done pretty quick so we can get back down out of these mountains before it gets too dark. I’m not familiar with these roads.” Calvin replied. “Why don’t you come on out to our truck and take a look at the horse we brought ya.”
Carl Nixon followed Calvin and Danny back to the door and stashed his shotgun just inside it. They walked out behind the horse trailer, and Calvin opened the door. Danny went to the front of the trailer and opened the feeder door to untie Ali. Calvin stepped inside the trailer, on the other side of the divider wall from Ali, snagged the lead-rope, and pulled Ali out of the trailer backward.
Ali was compliant. He came out of the trailer quickly. He stood quietly and looked around, seeing not one familiar thing. Then Danny stepped around the side of the trailer to stand beside his brother. Ali screamed and lunged at him, kicking out with his front feet as he tried to take a bite out of the man who hurt his Becky. Danny scrambled backward, hit the trailer, slipped, and fell flat on his butt. Calvin choked up on the lead rope and pulled Ali away from Danny.
Nixon laughed. “Looks like he doesn’t like your partner there,” he said. “But he’s sure a pretty one. Where’d you get a horse like this anyway?”
“Danny, go sit in the truck. I’ll finish up here,” instructed Calvin.
Danny happily scurried off and jumped in the truck, slamming the door.
Calvin looked at Carl Nixon, “I don’t own horses. I just drive the truck. Couldn’t say where this horse came from.”
Nixon walked over to Ali and stroked his neck, then scratched his withers. Ali turned his head and nickered at the old man like he usually did when someone found his itchy place. The old man walked around the horse and looked him over carefully, checking his legs and feet. Then he stroked his face and pulled down his lower lip for a quick look at his teeth.
“Young one, isn’t he? ‘Bout five or six maybe?” he asked Calvin.
“Looks like it to me, but I don’t know for sure. I just haul ‘em, don’t own ‘em,” Calvin answered. “You interested?” he asked.
“I asked for a packhorse, and you bring me a pretty boy. I don’t know.” The old man stroked his beard while he admired Ali. “What are you asking for him?”
“Like to get four hundred fifty or five hundred for ‘im, but we can talk,” Calvin said.
“The deal I had with Tweedy was for a packhorse for two hundred, not a pretty boy. I only have two hundred in cash on me right now.” Nixon answered.
“Well, what else ya got?” asked Calvin, standing slump-shouldered. This was not going well. They needed more cash.
“All I have right now is maybe a few hundred in gold flakes. It hasn’t been assayed yet, but it’s pure. I’ve been panning it. I could add that to the two hundred in cash. Will that make you a deal?”
“Oh, what the heck. Sure. Deal! Go get your cash and your gold, and you got yourself a horse.” Calvin had no idea in the world what they were going to do with gold flakes. But it had to have some value, didn’t it?
Carl Nixon went to the cabin and came back out with a stack of dog-eared bills and a tiny pouch tied up with a leather thong. He untied the thong and opened the bag, pouring a bit of the content into the palm of his hand. It glinted like gold in the waning sunlight. Calvin nodded his acceptance, and Nixon poured it back inside the pouch, re-tied the leather thong, and handed it to him with the stack of bills. Calvin tucked the pouch into his jeans pocket and counted the bills. It was all there.
“Guess you got yourself a horse.” He said and handed the lead rope to the old man. “Now, can you tell me which way to get down this mountain? From the maps, I think we’re looking for Highway 138, so we can go east and pick up Interstate 15.”
Nixon gave him directions, and Calvin headed back to the truck. “Been nice doin’ business with ya,” he said to Nixon as he started up the truck and turned back toward the road hauling the now empty trailer behind.
The old man watched the truck and trailer leave, heading downhill, and turned back to the horse. “Don’t know what your name was before, but you’re my Buddy now. Let’s get you into the corral, and you can meet your new friend Max,” he said as he led Ali to the corral. He opened the improvised gate and led Ali in. He removed his halter and coiled the lead rope in his hand. “Now, you two get acquainted. I’ll get you both some hay and fresh water,” as he walked out and latched the gate. He returned with hay and filled up the water barrel with fresh spring water.
Carl Nixon had been very fond of the last packhorse. She was a sweet-tempered bay mare and was always easy to deal with and sure-footed as a mountain goat until that last trip. They were on their way back from panning in his secret stream when she slipped on the trail and fell into a ravine. He’d climbed down to see if there was any way to get her out and found she’d broken her front right leg. And he’d forgotten to bring his gun on this trip. So he’d taken what he could carry from the pack and had to leave her there. She’d screamed when she fell, and she’d screamed when he walked away. But there was nothing he could do but let nature take its course. He still felt terrible about it. He’d never take a trip again without taking his gun.
Ali was cold. He’d always lived inside a tight, warm barn and worn a winter blanket when the outside temperature got below 50 degrees. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the temperature at this elevation plummeted down near freezing. There was no bedding to lie in, no blanket to keep him warm, and he missed his people terribly.
He and Max became acquainted somewhat. Max was a bit stand-offish, not much for words, but he didn’t try to bully him; he just wasn’t much company for a heartsick, homesick horse. Ali didn’t get a bit of sleep that first night. He spent the night staring at the stars.
Calvin and Danny bounced down the dirt road, twisting and turning for a while. Calvin finally pulled to a stop. “Ya know we gotta dump this trailer for a while. Makes us stand out like a sore thumb. Let’s get out here and see if we can find a place to leave it. We can come back in a month or so and pick it up again. I’ll borrow a truck from someone at the Drop Inn. Can you hand me the flashlight in the glove box?” he asked Danny.
“It’s cold out here. I didn’t bring a jacket or nothin’” Danny whined.
“Let’s find a spot and get this done so we can get outa here, then,” snapped Calvin. “Stop yer snivelin’ and help me find a good hiding place.”
Danny and Calvin found a place in some trees off the road they could back the trailer into. Danny stood outside with the flashlight to help Calvin get the trailer spotted, then both of them worked to unhook it from the truck. The two men dragged some brush in to cover the front of the trailer so it wouldn’t be easily visible.
The truck made much better time down the mountain relieved of the extra weight of the horse trailer and the horse. Calvin eventually found himself on paved roads. He followed the directions given to him and turned onto the highway he was looking for.
The sun dropped below the horizon, and dusk came over the hills. Full darkness was right behind. Calvin turned east and stopped at a convenience store with a gas pump out front. “Good thing we got some cash, anyway. We’re not gonna get home on what we got in the tank. You want anything besides a cold one?” Calvin asked.
“A sandwich would be good. I’m starved! And a coat, but that don’t look too likely in there,” mumbled Danny.
Calvin walked inside the store to look for drinks and sandwiches. As he walked to the counter, the TV behind the clerk started the 5:30 p.m. news broadcast with a Breaking News story. The next thing that flashed on the screen was a photo of the horse they’d just sold.
The reporter announced, “Prince Ali, probably the most famous Arabian horse in the country, was stolen this afternoon from the trailer parking area after the Swallows Day Parade in San Juan Capistrano. The Orange County Sheriff is looking for two men, mid-twenties or early thirties, blond hair, wearing blue work shirts and jeans, driving an older blue pick-up truck with an older blue and white horse trailer for questioning in the case. The horse owner’s 13- year-old daughter was with the horse when it was stolen but is now in a coma at Mission Hospital in critical condition at this hour. The Sheriff’s office is asking anyone who sees the two men or their vehicle and trailer to please call …..”
Calvin didn’t wait further. He grabbed a ball cap from the display next to the counter and pulled it on, tucking his hair in on the sides. He walked back to where he’d seen a stack of hoodie sweatshirts for sale and picked up two of them in bright colors. He pulled one on himself and walked back to the counter carrying the other one.
The evening clerk was not paying much attention. He was a young kid busy texting on his cell phone. He rang up the sale for the drinks, sandwiches, ball cap, and sweatshirts with hardly a glance at Calvin. Calvin paid for the purchases in cash, including an extra forty dollars for gas. He went outside to pump gas into the truck. He tossed the drinks, sandwiches, and sweatshirt in to Danny. He pumped gas into the tank, jumped in the driver’s seat, slammed the door, and started the truck.
“We gotta get outa here,” he told Danny. “They got us on TV now. That kid in there was too busy texting to notice. We gotta get home. It’s a good thing we dumped the trailer up there. The cops are looking for the truck and trailer together.”
He headed down Highway 138 and turned south on Interstate 15. The stars were lined up just right. They saw no highway patrol cars, no sheriff’s cars, no police squad cars of any kind all the way home.