PRINCE ALI – WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE, SECOND EDITION
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Authors of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Walter left the hospital Sunday morning and drove home. Esperanza met him at the door, wiping tears from her eyes. She threw her arms around Walter and sobbed. Walter held her until she calmed down.
“Espie, she’s going to be alright,” he said softly. “She’s in a coma right now, but everything else seems to be fine. The doctors are doing all they can for her.”
“Señor Walter, can I see her?” Esperanza asked.
“At the moment, the nurses will only allow family in to see her, so Caroline is staying with her until I get back. I’ll ask the doctor to let you in in a couple of days. You know you are family to us, but the nurses have their rules. I’m sorry.”
“I understand,” Esperanza said sadly. “But I will pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe for her recovery. I will pray as hard as I can.”
“I know you will, Espie,” Walter said. “I don’t know what Caroline and I would do without you.”
“Señor Walter, there are two men of the policia in the living room waiting for you. They came, as you said, to put something on the phones. There are also four others outside watching the grounds. The policia in the living room are recording all the phone calls that come here. So far, it has only been familia and your office calling. I have a list in the kitchen for you. The policia outside talked to Fernando. I let them put their cars in the garage.”
“Perfect. Thank you. I’ll go talk to the deputies and see what they want us to do.”
Walter walked to the living room and introduced himself to the two deputies sitting on the couch with the recording equipment. They went over the procedures and explained what they did and how they needed to handle phone calls. They instructed Walter what to say when the kidnappers called, suggesting ways to keep them on the phone long enough for the wiretaps to locate the phone they were calling from. They also talked to Walter about possible suspects. Did he know anyone with a grudge against them, maybe an employee or ex-employee, a neighbor, another family member, a client?
Walter assured them he couldn’t think of anyone in their circle of family, friends, neighbors, or at his work that would do this. He was as perplexed as they were. He told them he was confident he could raise any ransom in a short amount of time. He told them one of his calls today would be to his banker and stockbroker, just in case.
He excused himself and went to the master bedroom for a shower and change of clothes. He packed a gym bag with his running clothes and took it down the hall into Caroline’s office with him. He sat at her desk and made his phone calls. He looked sadly at the blank spots on the walls where the photographs of Ali were missing.
Once he wrapped up his business at home, he stopped in the kitchen to let Esperanza know he was leaving for the hospital. She was cooking like a mad woman. “I can’t just sit here with nothing to do,” she explained to him. “So I’m making lunch for the policia and Fernando.” She paused for a minute while chopping an onion.
“You do what you need to do,” Walter told her. “I understand. Sitting waiting for something to happen is hard. I know you’ll take care of things for us here. Caroline will be back for a shower and change of clothes when I get to the hospital. We will let you know how Becky is doing. If anything happens here, call us on our cell phones. We’re only a few minutes away.”
“Si, Señor Walter,” Esperanza said, “Fernando and I will take very good care here. You no have to worry. Please tell the niña I love her and give her a kiss for me.” She sniffled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She resumed her chopping.
Walter patted her ample shoulder and left through the kitchen to the barn area, where he spoke briefly with Fernando before he left for the hospital.
Walter entered Mission Hospital’s main lobby with his overnight bag in one hand, and Caroline’s windbreaker tucked under his other elbow. He was a man on a mission, so he headed directly to the elevator.
“Walter,” he heard and stopped in his tracks. He turned and faced Ginny Hartley rushing toward him with tears in her eyes.
“Oh, Walter, I’m so, so sorry,” Ginny said to him as she hugged him. She sniffled back tears. “How is Becky? And is there any word at all on Ali? Has anyone seen him or heard anything at all?”
Walter hugged the woman and comforted her. “There’s been no change with Becky so far. She has a concussion and is still in a coma,” he said gently. “The doctor said the first forty-eight hours is the most critical, and we are just about halfway there now. She doesn’t respond to Caroline or me, just lays there sleeping. As far as we know, there’s been no sign of Ali, and everyone in the state is looking for him, maybe in the country by now. Last evening, I heard the Sheriff held a news conference, and the national TV news and newspapers picked it up. With all the publicity, we’re hoping someone has seen him and will come forward soon.”
“Yes, we all saw the coverage on TV last night. It broke our hearts. My nephew, Brody, was a lot more concerned than I expected. He called Chris and Sharon’s son Todd last night about it. How is Caroline holding up?” Ginny asked.
“Caroline is stronger than she thinks. She doesn’t want to leave Becky’s side and insists at least one of us is with her at all times in case she wakes up. We want to find Ali before she comes around. We don’t want to tell her that he is missing, and we don’t have a clue where he is. You know yourself how she feels about Ali.”
“Boy do I! Telling her that would devastate her. She and Ali have been training so hard for the Youth National Championships. That’s all she talks about when we are working. Those two are so in sync; if she thinks it, he does it. It is the most amazing thing for me, as a coach, to watch.”
“Well, I’m heading on up to the ICU. I’ll let Caroline know you are here in the lobby. She’ll be down in a few minutes,” Walter told her.
“Wait a sec. Sharon O’Neal and I cooked up a scheme, and I need to tell you about it. My clothes are packed and in my truck. Sharon is flying in from Denver this afternoon,” Ginny checked her watch. “In fact, she is in the air right now. She and I plan to stay at your house and take care of your horses so you and Caroline can stay with Becky. Now, this is not up for negotiation!”
“That’s really not necessary, Ginny,” Walter said. “Fernando and Esperanza are at the house. I know they will take care of things there while we stay with Becky.”
“Well, you know Sharon feels like Becky’s other mom. She can’t sit fourteen hundred miles away and wait to see if she comes out of this okay. Chris and Todd talked it over with her. They need to stay in Colorado to run their ranch, but they want Sharon here close to Becky and you and Caroline since you are all family as far as they are concerned. As for me, not only is Becky my star student, but I feel like family too. She calls me Aunt Ginny. I love that kid half to death. I don’t want to be a hundred miles away. And then there’s Ali. I don’t have to tell you how we all feel about him. We want to be here for him too.”
Walter thought about what Ginny said, then hugged her again. “It means a lot to me to have you here, and Sharon too. Thank you. I’m going back to the ICU. I’ll tell Caroline you are here, and she will be out to meet you. Thanks for being here for us. I will talk to Sharon when she gets here.”
Caroline walked out of the elevator into the hospital lobby ten minutes later. Ginny jumped to her feet and rushed over to hug her. Caroline just held onto Ginny and cried. Ginny held her and comforted her, sniffling her own tears back.
When Caroline got herself under control, she stepped back and looked at Ginny. “I can’t thank you enough for being here,” she told her. “It means a lot to us.”
“Hey, the way I was raised, that’s what you do for friends and family.”
“I know, but you and Sharon are making quite a sacrifice for us. You really don’t have to stay. I know both of you have other things you should be doing.”
“Woman, you couldn’t blow us outa here with dynamite,” Ginny chided. “Our families are all in agreement, so we’ll stay for as long as it takes.”
Ginny put her arm around Caroline’s shoulder. “Hey, let’s go. My truck’s out in the lot, and I’ll drive you home. We can talk more on the way. I’ll be picking Sharon up in two hours, but that should give you time to shower and change. I can drop you off here before going to the airport to get her. In the meantime, you can bring me up to speed on your other horses so Sharon and I can keep their routines on schedule. Sound okay?”
“Thanks, yes, that sounds great. Please be sure to let Sharon know how much Walter and I appreciate what you’re doing for us. I will call the house later this evening and give you an update. If you hear anything from the Sheriff’s office, please call us on our cell phones,” Caroline said.
At home, Caroline showed Ginny to one of the guest rooms to put away her things. “This will be your room any time you stay over here,” Caroline told her. “Please make yourself at home. Sharon can have the room across the hall. I will let Espie and Fernando know you’ll be staying. We’re all family here.”
Caroline spoke briefly with Esperanza and Fernando and the two officers in her living room. She introduced Ginny to the officers and let them know she would be staying at the house while they were at the hospital. The officers gave Ginny and Caroline the same talk about incoming phone calls they gave Walter. Caroline went to take her shower. She quickly put on clean clothes. Ginny drove her back to the hospital then drove on to the airport.
Becky lay in a deep fog. She heard Mom and Dad talking in the distance, but she couldn’t make her body move. She struggled to speak but couldn’t form words. She tried and tried and finally gave up, exhausted. She slipped back into the fog.
Sometime later, Becky didn’t know if she was dreaming or just remembering, but she felt small. She was eight years old and standing on a bucket in the feed room in the barn. It was late at night and cold, but she didn’t care. She was looking through a window into the foaling stall at Spirit, Mom and Dad’s prized mare. Spirit dropped down in the straw as contractions became severe. Becky saw the two little feet and squealed, “Mommy, Daddy, there’s the feet. He will be here soon. I can’t wait!”
Mom smiled at her. “I agree with you. I think it’ll be soon.”
Becky felt herself sitting in the straw against the wall of the foaling stall, watching the new baby struggle to stand up. She was grinning from ear to ear. “Mommy, can we see whether the baby is a boy or girl yet?” Becky knew for a long time this baby was a boy. She’d already picked out his name, Prince Ali. She knew it wasn’t a girl, so she didn’t bother picking out a girl name.
Becky watched as the baby horse got to his feet. Fernando and Daddy helped him find his mother’s udder so he could eat for the first time. Daddy looked the baby over and confirmed the baby was a little colt. “Looks like Prince Ali is here,” he told Becky with a grin.
“He’s going to be my very best friend in the whole wide world!” Becky announced. “He’s the handsomest colt in the whole world too.”
Becky spent days playing with Ali. They played soccer with a giant ball Mommy bought for them. They “jumped” over old fence posts Fernando replaced around the back of the property. Becky dressed him up like a toy doll. She was out in the barn before Fernando fed the horses their breakfast. Mom had to threaten her to get her in the house for meals and bedtime. She hated going back to school in the fall because it meant she couldn’t spend the day with Ali.
Happiness circulated around Becky for a while and faded as the fog enveloped her again. The voices in her hospital room receded.