WONDER HORSE BOOK ONE
By: Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Writers of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Brian Nelson thought about what Danny said. Danny told him where he and Calvin took the horse. Brian knew that was in Los Angeles County. He knew a little about the area and thought either Acton or Palmdale Sheriff’s offices would be where they could locate a deputy to take them to such a remote spot. Since Palmdale was urban, he thought Acton would probably have someone on their staff who knew the area.
He remembered the Station Fire of a few years ago. It burned almost 125,000 acres up there. It might be challenging to locate a small valley that hadn’t burned. Maybe they should also get in touch with the Federal Fish and Wildlife people. They would know the area as well.
He talked to Sheriff Nolan. They reviewed the interview tapes. The Sheriff agreed with Brian. Sheriff Nolan stepped away to call the LA County Sheriff and enlist his support. He also called the Fish and Wildlife Department with a request for help on standby.
The LA County Sheriff confirmed Sheriff Nolan’s and Detective Nelson’s opinion. He had two officers in Acton with twenty years’ experience there. They knew the area well. He set up a meeting for Detectives Nelson and Bentley to meet with them and one officer from Little Rock at 1:30 in the Acton substation.
Brian Nelson asked one of the staff to take a sandwich and coke into the interview room for Danny. He knew Becky Howard was fighting for her life in Mission Hospital right now. As far as Danny’s headache was concerned, Brian wished he’d been the one to give it to him. Danny could forget his aspirin. Brian Nelson couldn’t have cared less. He and Ron had to leave immediately to get to the meeting in Acton.
Nelson and Bentley hurried to their car and jumped on the freeway. They drove for miles to get to the meeting. They pulled off the highway and arrived at the LA County Sheriff’s office in Acton with five minutes to spare.
Brian asked the officer at the front desk for coffee when they checked in. “Sure, we have a fresh pot brewing right now. It’s hot and strong. The guys here chip in for Starbucks. Help yourselves. Let me buzz you in. Take this corridor to the first left. That’ll be our lunchroom. The coffee and supplies are in there. I’ll let the guys know you’re here.”
Four Deputies joined them in the lunchroom and poured coffee for themselves. They introduced themselves and asked why Nelson and Bentley were there. Brian told them. There wasn’t a law enforcement officer in Southern California that hadn’t heard about the horse theft at the Swallows Day Parade. They were all whistling at the value of the horse involved.
“How’s that little girl doing?” one of them asked. Brian told them she was still in a coma. “She’s from a very prominent family, and they are the nicest people you’d ever meet. It’s so sad.”
The men adjourned to a conference room. Detective Nelson and Bentley told them what they knew about where the horse went. They repeated directions Danny gave them to the LA County officers. They brought a copy of the interview tape between Brian Nelson and Danny Hix. They played that portion of the tape for the LA County Deputies.
Deputy Ramon Ramirez, from Little Rock, said, “I bet I know who you’re talking about. That sounds like it could be Carl Nixon’s place. I’ve never been there but have heard the stories. Carl’s been up in the mountains for close to twenty years now. It’s a real sad story. He used to have an excellent job at Lockheed in Palmdale, a wife, and a pretty 12-year-old daughter. The daughter had a thing for those Arab horses. His wife was driving her home from a riding lesson when some idiot got in a hurry to pass a truck out on the highway and took them out in a head-on crash. Both died instantly.”
“Carl stuck around about two weeks after the funeral. He cleaned out his bank accounts, took his retirement savings, maybe sixty grand altogether, and just disappeared. The neighbors with a key checked on his house when nobody had seen him for a month, and they found the house empty but neat as a pin. Clothes still in closets and dressers. It looked like someone was coming home any minute.”
“It was months before anyone saw him again. He showed up in Little Rock for supplies looking like a mountain man. Now he comes into town in an old rust bucket pick-up truck and buys supplies and hay for his horses every few weeks. He doesn’t talk much. Says he does a little prospecting up there and brings a few flakes of gold to some pawnbroker over in Palmdale for cash to keep him going.”
“You said he buys hay for his horses?” asked Brian Nelson.
“That’s what I hear. The boy at the feed store says he doesn’t say much. But I guess he keeps a couple of packhorses up at his place. The boy told me he bought grain and some brushes and curry combs this week. He thought that was strange. The old man doesn’t buy things like that.”
“Can you get us up there? We need to talk to Carl Nixon and see if he has the horse we’re looking for.” Ron Bentley asked.
“Look, you’re probably driving a Crown Vic or a Taurus. That road is too rough for one of those. You’ll break something and get yourself stranded on the mountain, and then we’ll have to bring in search and rescue to find you. Why don’t we take my four-wheel drive? That road ain’t pretty.” Deputy Ramirez chuckled.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Brian Nelson.
One of the Acton Deputies joined them. Ramirez drove them to Little Rock and turned off the main highway heading south into the mountains. They had paved roads for the first few miles and then dropped onto dirt roads. The ride was very uncomfortable. The tension built the closer they got. Nelson and Bentley hoped they would find Prince Ali and get that part of the case closed.
Carl Nixon’s place was ten and a half miles off the pavement as the crow flies. But the road twisted and turned, sometimes meeting itself coming around a corner. Driving time was close to two hours. When they finally saw the little valley with the tumbledown shack and makeshift horse corral, they all breathed a sigh of relief. Deputy Ramirez stopped his vehicle in front of the cabin.
An old man who looked to be in his seventies came out of the cabin with a shotgun pointed toward the ground. The guys all got out of the four-wheel-drive vehicle and approached him.
“You guys here about a horse?” Carl Nixon asked. “If so, you’re about a day late. The horse escaped last night. No telling where he’s at now. He could be a meal for a cougar by this time if he were unlucky.”
“You wouldn’t be Carl Nixon, would you?” asked Deputy Ramirez. Carl nodded his head. “Mr. Nixon, would you mind telling us all about it?”
“Sure. And you can call me Carl.” Carl said, walking back to the cabin and placing the shotgun just inside the door.
Carl filled them in on the Hix brothers’ arrival at his place, wanting to sell him a two hundred dollar packhorse. When the horse came out of the trailer, he said he knew he wasn’t a two hundred dollar packhorse. But he was the prettiest Arab horse he’d ever seen in his life. He told them his daughter had been partial to Arab horses.
He told them about the horse going after Danny. He’d assumed Danny had done something mean to him. He didn’t know about Becky. Carl said he’d been rolling it around in his head for several days, wondering why such a nice horse was here for just a few hundred dollars. He had a suspicion the horse was stolen, or there was a lot more to the story than the Hix brothers told him.
Carl said he woke up Sunday convinced he needed to go to the Sheriff’s Department in Little Rock and make inquiries, but the horse was gone when he went outside to feed. He told them how attached he’d gotten to the horse in such a short time. They noticed tears welling in his eyes as he spoke.
“I rode all over the area this morning looking for him and couldn’t find a trace of him,” Carl told them. “The only thing I did find is an old blue and white trailer. It looks like the one the guys that brought him used. It’s about a mile and a half down the mountain in a thicket of trees. I’d be happy to show it to you. It wasn’t there before they showed up with that horse, I’ll guarantee it.”
Despite his appearance, Carl Nixon was articulate and educated. And they could tell he was genuinely upset over losing the horse. Carl referred to him as “Buddy” when he spoke. And he was very concerned about Buddy’s well-being.
The detectives filled Carl in on the horse and the little girl lying in a hospital bed. That really affected him. He broke down and choked back tears. It was too close to home for him. Only his little girl didn’t make it. He promised to keep searching for the horse and tell them if he spotted him, alive or dead. Then he drove them to the location he found the trailer parked.
Deputy Ramirez happened to have a hitch and ball on his four-wheel-drive vehicle that matched the hitch on the trailer. With Carl’s help, they hooked it up. They thanked Carl for his help and cooperation and promised Deputy Ramirez would let him know if the horse turned up. Deputy Ramirez gave him his card and asked that Carl contact him if he found evidence of the horse on the mountain.
“I’ll keep looking for him and hoping I never find what’s left of him,” Carl told them.
Detective Nelson told Carl his boss called the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They had people who worked in the area and knew it well, so they’d also be searching. Carl said he’d be on the lookout for them.
The officers left hauling the trailer to the substation as evidence. Now LA County had charges to pile on for the Hix brothers.
Detectives Nelson and Bentley finally got back in their car in Acton close to 8:00 that night and made the long trip home, missing dinner again.
Sheriffs Tishman and Nolan held a joint press conference and announced a break in the case of the injured girl and the stolen horse. They had two suspects in custody. They promised more details as they had them. They took few questions. They didn’t have all the answers yet.
At 2:00 that afternoon, a representative of the Orange County Sheriff called Walter on his cell phone and told him about the arrest. He didn’t have more information but promised to contact Walter when they knew more.
“Did they find our boy, Ali?” Walter wanted to know.
“I don’t have that information yet. I know the Detectives are working on it. We’ll call you when we have more information,” the officer told him.
Walter told Caroline. They both made a flurry of phone calls. They started to have hope again. It was the first good news they’d had for days.