فصل 03

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CHAPTER THREE

The Ride-A-Winner Ranch

I watched Sandy Bonner leave my office. She had told me a very strange story. Was her story true? I wanted to find out about her. I decided to follow her.

I picked up my hat and my jacket. Quickly, I left the office.

I ran down the stairs. When I got to the hallway, Sandy had left the building. I went outside. I saw Sandy at the corner of the street. She was getting into a small black car - a 4x4. I got into my own car, which was parked near the office building.

As Sandy drove away, I started my old grey Chrysler and I joined the traffic. Sandy Bonner’s black 4x4 was a hundred metres in front of me.

It was a beautiful Friday in L.A. Blue sky, sunshine and smog! There was a lot of traffic. The engines of the cars, trucks and buses made the smog in the air. I thought about the clean air in Hawaii. Then I thought about Herman and about the money that I owed him.

The traffic moved slowly. There were four cars between me and the black 4x4. Sandy drove through the city and then towards Pasadena. I followed her. We turned onto the Foothills Freeway. We drove east, towards the San Gabriel Mountains.

Forty-five minutes later, I was driving past the Santa Rosita Racetrack. Sandy was still a hundred metres in front of me. But after another ten minutes, the black 4x4 turned off the freeway. I turned off too, and I started to follow Sandy’s car along a small road. But I slowed down. Soon, I was about three hundred metres behind Sandy. I didn’t want her to see me.

The road was straight and flat. There were dry bushes on each side of the road and there was dry grass. The grass was yellow and dusty. After about three kilometres, I saw some trees. The black 4x4 turned off the road near the trees. Sandy drove onto a track. I slowed down again and I stopped the Chrysler.

I watched Sandy’s car. The 4x4 went along the track for three hundred metres. Then it stopped near some buildings. Sandy got out of the car and she went into one of the buildings.

I started the Chrysler again and I drove slowly towards the trees. I turned off the road and onto the track. Where the track joined the road, there was a red and white sign. The words RIDE-A-WINNER RANCH were painted on it. After a few metres, I turned off the track and I parked the car in the trees.

There was a pair of binoculars in the Chrysler. I picked them up and got out of the car. I leant on the top of the car and I pointed the binoculars at the buildings.

I looked through the binoculars. I saw a large white ranch house. And I saw some long, low, wooden buildings next to it. There were some horses near these buildings.

‘The low buildings are the stables where the horses are kept,’ I said to myself.

I got back into the car and I waited. I could see the ranch but no one at the ranch could see me or the Chrysler.

Half an hour later, a car came along the road and turned onto the track. The car passed me and it went towards the ranch house. It was a big red 4x4.

The red 4x4 stopped next to Sandy’s black car and a man got out. He went into the ranch house. I sat in my car and waited. Nothing moved. It was hot and dusty. No one was riding a horse. Nothing happened.

I decided to go closer to the ranch house. I looked at the track between the trees and the ranch house. There were some bushes at the side of the track. The bushes were half-way between the house and my car. I got out of the Chrysler.

I ran, with the binoculars in one hand, towards the bushes. When I reached the bushes, I lay down on the ground. The ground was hot and very dusty. I lifted the binoculars and I looked through them.

I could see the ranch house clearly now. I could see the red and black cars outside. The red 4x4 was turned towards me. There was a piece of paper fixed to its front window. I turned a small wheel on my binoculars. Now I could see the paper more clearly. I read some words on the paper. The paper was a car-park ticket for the Santa Rosita Racetrack.

Then I turned the wheel on my binoculars again. I looked at the house. Immediately, I saw Sandy Bonner. She was inside the house. She was standing near one of the large windows. She was talking to someone - a tall, slim man with dark hair.

‘That man isn’t Dick Gates,’ I thought. ‘Gates has red hair.’

Suddenly, Sandy stepped forward and hit the man across the face. The man lifted his hand. Was he going to hit Sandy? At that moment, Sandy moved away from the window. I couldn’t see what happened next.

I stood up. I was going to run to the ranch house and help Sandy.

‘Stay where you are!’ a man shouted.

I turned. About five metres behind me, there was an old man. He was wearing blue overalls, a cotton shirt and a wide hat. He had a rifle in his hands. He was pointing the gun at me.

I smiled and I started to walk towards the old man.

‘Hi! ‘I said. ‘What’s wrong?’

There was a shot from the rifle and the dust by my feet flew into the air. I stopped.

‘Who are you, stranger?’ the old man asked. ‘What are you doing here?’

I thought for a few seconds. The old man chewed gum slowly. He watched me.

‘I - I’m watching birds,’ I said, smiling. I showed him my binoculars. ‘There were some interesting birds over there.’ I pointed towards the house. ‘I was watching them.’

The old man looked towards the ranch house.

‘There aren’t any birds there, mister,’ he said.

I smiled again. ‘No, there aren’t,’ I said. ‘When you fired your rifle, you frightened the birds.’

‘People don’t wear suits when they watch birds,’ the old man said angrily. ‘Why are you hiding in these bushes? This is private land. Now go back to your car and leave.’ The old man stepped forward and pushed me with the rifle.

‘Who are you?’ I asked. ‘And why are you telling me what to do?’

‘I’m Lou Weaver. I work here. I’ve worked for Miss Bonner’s family for more than thirty years,’ the old man said. He pushed me with the rifle again. ‘Miss Bonner is my boss. I do what she tells me to do. I have this gun and I’m telling you what to do. Now leave - and stay away from here.’

I turned and walked quickly back to the Chrysler. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell the old man about my meeting with Sandy. Sandy Bonner had told me not to come to the ranch. I had made a mistake. I didn’t want the old man to tell Sandy about my mistake.

Lou Weaver followed me. He stood in the trees as I got into the Chrysler. I saw him in the driving mirror as I drove away. Lou Weaver was chewing his gum and looking at me.

I drove back towards L.A. I had to help Sandy and I had to find The Chief. How? Then I remembered the car-park ticket on the window of the red 4x4. The words SANTA ROSITA RACETRACK were written on that car-park ticket. I didn’t know anything about horse racing and racehorses. So I decided to go to Santa Rosita Racetrack. I wanted to find out about horse racing. And I wanted to find out more about the thin dark man. Perhaps someone at Santa Rosita knew him.

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