WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
“Johnny, it’s me,” Darlene almost shouted when her brother answered his phone. “I just got back to the Drop Inn from a party in the woods, and you won’t believe what’s out there. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to go in the first place. Linda from the Drop Inn invited me. I don’t even know her last name. I didn’t know she was into that stuff either.” Darlene finally had to stop and catch her breath.
“Hold on, sis, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
The words began tumbling out of Darlene in a rush she couldn’t have stopped had she wanted to. “Oh Johnny, there’s a place out in the woods just north of town with a run-down cabin that two men are living or probably squatting in…and they threw some crazy kind of birthday party for the youngest one…I think they are brothers…There were probably fifty or sixty people out there for that “party” doing all kinds of things….I knew they weren’t my kind of people the minute I got there, but I didn’t have a way back to town, and I forgot my cell phone in my car, and I left my car at the Drop Inn, and I rode with that Linda woman…I mean to tell you those people were low-lifes…Some were trying target practice on the oak trees and were so high they couldn’t hit anything….I hid out away from the crowd until my ride was ready to leave, but one of the brothers found me sitting under a tree. He sat down and told me everything,” Darlene rambled until she had to stop to catch her breath again.
“Hey, slow down, sis. What is everything? What were they doing out there that has you so upset?”
The rush of words from Darlene continued. “Oh, Johnny, there was drinking, of course, and I’m sure there was other stuff too….The older brother kept taking people into the barn and closing the door. I’m positive I saw him shoving a fistful of cash in his pocket several times when he left. They’re up to no good, if you know what I mean. I couldn’t wait to get out of there but, you’d have to see if it is what I think it is…And the really horrible thing is he told me how they raised the money to have that “party” in the first place….you remember that horse everyone’s been looking for since the parade last week? Well, he told me they drugged it, and stole it, and planned to sell him to the kill buyer for fifty cents a pound….He was the one who hurt the little girl…That creep told me he felt a little bad about that…Can you imagine?… That beautiful creature was going to be turned into dog food!…And that poor little girl…I think she’s still in a coma…I just can’t believe anyone would do something like that…He told me they did that a few times before and just stole horses out of pastures to sell for slaughter…But their buyer told them that horse was too hot for him to take, so they sold him for four hundred bucks to some old coot up in the mountains to use as a packhorse….Johnny, I sat at the parade with the owners of that horse and parents of that little girl….I just can’t imagine how they would feel if he’d been shipped off to a Mexican slaughter plant and ended up as dog food….And I can’t imagine that poor horse being a packhorse in the mountains….He’s so beautiful and so talented…You have to do something so they can get him back, Johnny!”
Darlene had Deputy John McGrew’s rapt attention at the mention of low-lifes and a secluded barn out in the woods. His heart rate began to race when his sister mentioned the horse. “Hey, Darlene, are you sure you heard that right? Did he specifically mention the 2.5 million dollar stallion that was stolen from the Swallows Day Parade?”
“Oh, yes! I did hear that very specifically.”
“Can I get you to hold on a minute while I find a pad and pencil? I want to go over this with you again so I can take some notes. I have to call my Watch Commander right away.”
Darlene slowed down and took several deep breaths, keeping her hands on the steering wheel of her car so tightly her knuckles turned white.
Deputy McGrew came back on the phone line and began asking questions as he scribbled down her answers.
He was shocked by what she told him. Law enforcement agencies across the whole state had been looking for the horse thieves and that horse. Darlene, his baby sister, just broke the case wide open. He couldn’t help but think how it would also help his career when he became the first law enforcement officer to get any kind of lead in this case.
John thanked her for keeping her eyes and ears open. He told her to go on home and relax. He assured her he’d take care of everything.
Darlene drove home and jumped in the shower the minute she got home. She needed to wash off the dirty feeling she got from being at that “birthday party.” She stood under the hot water for a long, long time. She didn’t hear her home phone ring forty-five minutes later.
Deputy John McGrew had just arrived home following his watch when Darlene’s call came in. His wife, two kids, and their brother’s family were at the pizza parlor waiting for him. He made a call to his Watch Commander, who asked him to come back to the station right away. John called his wife’s cell phone and let her know he wouldn’t make the pizza party for the soccer team that night.
In the meantime, the Watch Commander reached his superior by phone, which set off a flurry of calls ending up with San Diego County Sheriff Tishman. Sheriff Tishman organized a Major Case Task Force of his people and called Orange County Sheriff Nolan and filled him in. Tishman asked Nolan to join them at the North San Diego County Sheriff’s Station. Orange County had an Assault, Attempted Murder, and Grand Theft case hinging on the information. It was a very high-profile case. Sheriff Nolan wanted it solved. He was getting pressure.
Nolan called Detective Brian Nelson and asked him and his partner Ron Bentley to join them at the Task Force meeting. Nolan told Nelson they might have information to break the case on the stolen horse and the little girl in a coma.
Nelson called his partner as he left his driveway and told him to meet him there. By the time John McGrew arrived back at his substation, the place was a madhouse, and he heard both Sheriffs and a Major Case Task Force were on their way. He was surprised this was coming together so fast. Once everyone arrived, they went into the conference room for a briefing. Sheriff Tishman put Deputy McGrew in front of the group. He told them what he knew. He’d tried to call his sister but got no answer. Darlene was in the shower and didn’t hear the phone.
The two Sheriffs asked John to hang around and keep trying to reach his sister while they held their private meeting. They planned what action to take and when. A lot of that depended on John’s sister being able to lead them to the site. They discussed strategy. They decided they’d bust an illegal party and take the two suspects in for questioning. San Diego County and Orange County Sheriff’s Departments would both take part.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Forensic Lab was working with FBI Records. They finally got a match to the print on the syringe found by the Howard’s horse trailer. Danny had a record, and his fingerprints were on file. Bingo! They now had a name to go with the evidence.
Brian Nelson had been working the case as a kidnapping for ransom. Now they had a live suspect. He was thrilled. According to the Deputy’s sister, these two suspects had stolen the horse for money to have a birthday party.
The stupidity of it all and the amount of time and resources wasted on a wild goose chase made him mad and sad at the same time. In the meantime, there was a little girl in Mission Hospital in a coma.
John McGrew finally reached his sister by phone. He told her he was at his station. San Diego County Sheriff Tishman asked him to get her to the station so he and the Major Case Task Force could get information directly from her about the horse theft and the party she’d been to that day. She dressed in a hurry and flew out the door.
She was amazed and intimidated by all the officers in the conference room waiting for her. There were Deputies and Detectives from Orange County and San Diego County, Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Hazardous Material Handling (HAZMAT) staff, and Federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) members. Both Sheriff Tishman from San Diego and Sheriff Nolan from Orange County were in the room.
All eyes in the room were on her. Deputy McGrew stood up and introduced Darlene. He gave the group a general outline of what she’d told him that evening on the phone. Darlene felt stupid for getting herself into the mess in the first place and was horribly self-conscious about speaking to such a large group of people.
Questions began flying at her. She answered each one as honestly as she could. Yes, she’d personally seen people going in and out of the barn. Yes, she’d seen what looked like wads of cash Calvin Hix shoved in his pocket after trips inside the barn. It was in the old barn on the property. No, she didn’t know what went on inside that barn because she hadn’t gone inside herself, but she was pretty sure they weren’t having a Tupperware party.
Yes, she’d had a conversation with one of the residents, a man named Danny. He admitted he and his brother Calvin stole a horse from the Swallows Day Parade the week before. Yes, Danny did describe the horse. He told her it was a pretty gray stallion. Yes, Danny told her they stole the horse to raise money for his birthday party. Yes, he told her they planned to sell the horse to a kill buyer who intended to trailer the horse to Mexico for slaughter.
Yes, there were guns on the property. She watched several men taking turns shooting branches off trees. They were so drunk or otherwise impaired it scared her to death. And so on, and so forth.
The questioning went on for more than an hour. Finally, one of the deputies asked her to describe how to get to the place. She told him they left the Drop Inn on the main road heading west until they were about a half-mile past the 7-11 at the end of town. Then they turned onto a dirt road she’d never noticed before, heading south. She said they drove five or six miles to the driveway.
“I know that place,” Deputy Jones said. “That’s the old Miller place. Bill bought that property way out in the woods so he wouldn’t have to put up with neighbors. He was always a hermit type. Real nice guy, though. I ran into him in town every week or so. He built that barn for his two horses. It was just him and those two horses and one old dog. He’s passed on. I heard he had a heart attack about six or seven years ago.”
“Thanks, Darlene, for your help on this. We all appreciate you being here so we could get the story straight from you. Do you mind if we call you with any more questions that come up?” Sheriff Tishman asked.
“No, not at all,” Darlene answered. “I’m just glad I’m able to help. Maybe you can find the missing horse. Those people are scary. I think Danny is not right in the head. I think that he could get dangerous with little provocation. His brother is the brains of the operation.”
“I think that’s all the questions we have for you right now. Again, thank you for coming down and talking with us. You are free to go home now. Would you like an escort?” Sheriff Tishman asked her.
“No, but thank you. I’ll be fine. I’m just tired and feeling pretty stupid for getting into that mess in the first place.” Darlene answered.
Sheriff Nolan spoke up. “Darlene, it was ill-advised of you to go to that party, and we are certainly glad you got home safely. You showed a lot of courage in coming forward with what you know. Without your help, we would still be wondering what happened in that parking lot a week ago. We now have a chance to recover the horse and tell the young girl’s parents what happened. I believe, with your information, we will solve this case. Thank you for being so courageous.”
“Sheriff Nolan, it was the right thing to do. Now I’m going home. Call if you need anything else from me,” Darlene said.
Sheriff Tishman announced a fifteen-minute break. He told the men in the room to be back by 9:30 p.m. so they could plan the raid. The men left the room searching for fresh coffee.
Sheriffs Tishman and Nolan led the meeting assembled in the conference room at nine-thirty. They had a map of the area blown up. They set up teams of Deputies with their assignments. They pointed out where they wanted the Haz-Mat Teams. They gave Drug Enforcement Agency teams their assignments. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms received their instructions. The time set for their arrival at the cabin was 5:30 a.m. the following day. Anyone on the property was to be arrested, not just the Hix brothers. Sheriff Nolan and his Detectives of Orange County planned to participate because the Hix brothers were suspects in the Orange County cases for Grand Theft, Attempted Murder, and other charges.
They had a current aerial map of the Miller property enlarged and printed. The various teams were assigned a specific sector, so no one on the property escaped. Deputy McGrew marked assignments on the property map. Sheriff Tishman brought in their command and control vehicle, which included phones and computers. The Public Information Officer got the go-ahead to notify the media of a Press Conference set for 2:00 p.m. the following afternoon.
One of the supervisors called the San Diego County District Attorney. He could start setting up his staff to handle the cases. The Sheriffs made another call to the Orange County District Attorney. The meeting adjourned close to eleven-thirty. The two Sheriffs told everyone to get some sleep. Everyone was to be back at the substation by 4:00 a.m. They needed to get their gear together and get to the property before 5:30.
Men poured out of the conference room, got in their cars, and left. The Orange County Detectives and Sheriff got a local hotel room for the night, so they wouldn’t spend the rest of the night driving.
Brian Nelson and Ron Bentley were anxious to get their hands on the Hix brothers. They wanted to find out where the horse was. They wanted to know why those two saw fit to put a 13-year-old girl in the hospital so they could steal him to raise money for a stupid birthday party. Brian personally wished he could choke the life out of Danny Hix for what he’d done to Becky Howard.