Riding Lessons III – Second Chances
By Andrew Todd
Ace, Jesse and Diego were waiting in front of the main house to meet their arriving friends. When the black SUV stopped Zak, Dusty, Spin, Devon, CJ, Danny and Josh spilled out.
“Hey, guys!!” Ace grinned. “Welcome to Rancho Del Cielo.” He gestured to Diego. “This is Diego, his dad’s the new owner and he’s been our guide for the last few days.”
Diego stepped forward. “My father sends his regrets that he is unable to greet you in person–he had a last minute business trip come up. He hopes to be back before you leave.”
Ace and Jesse introduced everyone to Diego and then they led the newcomers to the bunkhouse.
Ace showed Spin to the room he would share with Mattie, while Jesse brought Josh to Casey’s room and Diego showed Zak and Dusty, CJ and Danny and Devon to their rooms. Devon knew he would probably end up with Ace, but he simply followed Diego to his assigned room.
After everyone was settled they all met in the great room.
“Hey, when is Mattie getting back?” Spin asked anxiously.
“Well, they left about two hours ago, so they should be back in an hour or two,” Diego answered.
“Where’s Dylan?” Zak asked.
“Ernesto called and said that Dylan had decided at the last minute to go with Mattie,” Jesse answered.
Zak walked over to Jesse and whispered to him, “He didn’t wait for you?”
Jesse shook his head. “No, he wasn’t even interested in going when we talked about it last night. I don’t know if Mattie talked him into it so he didn’t have to go alone.”
“Why wouldn’t he have asked you?” Zak asked. “You and Dylan never go anywhere apart and Mattie’s closer to you than he is to Dylan.”
“Well, Ace and I were out with Diego early this morning and Dylan slept in, so maybe Mattie grabbed him at the last minute.”
Zak nodded. “I guess so.” Zak thought more about it and thought something didn’t seem right.
Diego’s cell phone rang and he stepped into the entryway to answer it.
He returned a few moments later looking very concerned.
“Ace!” he called. “We need to get to the main barn, something is wrong.”
“What?” Ace asked.
“I’m not sure, let’s go,” Diego called as he ran for the front door, all the other boys on his heels.
When they reached the main barn, they found Casey sitting on a bench; he was holding an ice pack to the back of his head. One of the hands came over to Diego and began speaking frantically in Spanish.
CJ picked up on the conversation and began asking the hand questions. The hand tried to answer, but most of CJ’s questions were answered with a head shake.
Josh went over and knelt by Casey.
“Case, what happened to you?” Josh asked.
Casey shook his head. “I’m not sure. Ernesto asked me to check something with him in one of the tack rooms and then I woke up on the floor with my hands and feet bound. I’m not even sure how long I was there before Santiago there found me.”
“Where’s Mattie and Dylan?” Danny asked Casey.
“I don’t know. I was supposed to go with Mattie and Ernesto to the other ranch,” Casey answered. “Dylan wasn’t supposed to go with us.”
“Ernesto called Diego and said that Dylan had decided to go with you,” Ace explained.
Casey shook his head. “No, that’s not right. I saw Dylan in the bunkhouse when Mattie and I were leaving to meet Ernesto; he was planning to meet up with you, Jesse and Diego.”
By now, everyone had gathered around Casey, except CJ and Diego who were still in conversation with Santiago, the ranch hand who had found Casey.
After a few more minutes, CJ and Diego joined the group.
“Something is definitely not right,” CJ said. “No one has seen Mattie or Dylan or this Ernesto in several hours and there is another hand missing who worked very closely with Ernesto. The SUV they were supposed to take is gone as well, so everyone assumed that Ernesto had gone to the ranch with Mattie and Casey.”
“Has anyone tried to call this other ranch?” Danny asked.
Diego was just disconnecting his phone. “I just called the rancho and no one from here showed up there today.”
“So no one knows where they are or what the hell is going on?!” Spin shouted.
Zak grabbed Spin’s arm and pulled him to the side.
“Spin, calm down,” Zak whispered to his best friend. “Shouting and getting excited is not going to help Mattie or Dylan. Let CJ figure out what’s going on, ok?”
Spin nodded and looked down. Zak grabbed him in a hug; he knew Spin was all mouth and bluster most of the time, but he also knew Spin loved Mattie and was scared for him.
Zak looked over at Jesse who was wrapped between Ace and Devon. Jesse had lost so much in a short time, Zak didn’t know if he could survive losing Dylan as well.
CJ went over and grabbed Ace and Danny went to get Josh. The four and Diego went into a nearby office.
“Ace, call your dad and tell him to lock down the ranch and call all the guys back.”
“Sure, but why?”
CJ lowered his voice. “There’s a good chance my uncle is behind this.”
“We didn’t want to alarm Mattie or any of you guys, but my uncle was planning to hurt Mattie to get control of his inheritance. We found out because he tried to get Pete to help him and Pete told my dad. Uncle Juan was arrested and Natalia, who was helping him, was banished to South America. Juan’s trial is scheduled to start right after we leave. Mattie disappearing is too much of a coincidence. I can only assume that this Ernesto was working for my uncle.”
Diego shook his head. “I can’t believe that. Ernesto has been working for us since my father purchased the rancho; he’s always been so loyal.”
“Where did he work before?” Danny asked.
“He was here when we got here.”
“But he didn’t work for my grandfather,” CJ stated. “I knew his foreman. So it’s possible that Juan hired him to make sure he had an inside man here and then when he found out Mattie was coming here, the opportunity was too much for him to pass up.”
Ace took his phone and walked away to make his call.
“Hey, Ace, how’s Spain?”
“Well, it was good until today.”
“We think Mattie and Dylan have been kidnapped.”
Ace explained what had transpired and that CJ wanted the ranch locked down and all guards recalled.
“Ace, let me talk to CJ.”
“CJ!!” Ace called. “My dad wants to talk to you.”
CJ took the phone. “Sarge?”
“CJ, do you need me over there?”
“No, my dad has security people over here that will be more familiar with the area. I need you to keep an eye on things in case my uncle has plans for the ranch as well.”
“Do you want me to contact Dylan’s parents?”
“Let’s hold off for just a bit, until we are 100 percent sure that something has happened to them.”
“Ok, but as a parent, I can’t keep this from them indefinitely.”
“I understand. Give me a few hours and I’ll call you back.”
“Ok. Take care and get those boys back.”
CJ had no sooner disconnected Ace’s phone than his own phone started to ring.
“Hello…Mother…He did…we thought that would be the case…what does he want?…of course…you and father stay put and make sure you have a full security detail there and on Idgie…we will…whatever it takes.”
CJ disconnected the call.
“Someone claiming to represent my uncle called my father,” he said seriously. “They have Mattie and Dylan. They want Pete to change his testimony. Without that they can’t convict my uncle and then they want Juan reinstated as executor of the estate and for him to have full control of Mattie’s inheritance.”
Danny wrapped his arm around CJ’s waist. “You think they’re going to kill Mattie, don’t you?”
CJ looked at Danny and nodded. “There’s no reason to keep him alive if we do as they ask. The only way my uncle gets control of the money is if Mattie’s dead.”
Ace spoke up. “What about Dylan?”
CJ shook his head. “I don’t know. They mentioned that they had him. They told my parents they had their son and grandson, so maybe they think Dylan is Jesse, which may help keep him safe for the time being. “
Josh pulled Diego to one side. “Diego, it’s pretty isolated around here. There can’t be too many places they could safely hide two teenage boys in just a couple hours.”
Diego nodded. “True. The rancho itself covers a lot of land.” He turned and dug through a nearby desk. He pulled several rolled-up sheets from a drawer. He unrolled them and spread them out on the desk. “This is the rancho and the surrounding area.” He studied the map for a few minutes and then pointed to an area on the outskirts of the rancho. “HERE!!” he exclaimed.
Everyone gathered around the desk.
“On the other side of these mountains, there are several deserted buildings,” Diego stated. “I believe at one point, Mattie’s grandfather had planned to build a small town for the workers, but when he became ill, the plans were dropped. It’s very secluded and would be a good place to hide out.”
CJ and Josh turned the map around and examined it closely.
CJ nodded. “I remember this area. Grandfather showed it to me and Mattie the last time we came out. It would be a great hiding place and they would see a vehicle or helicopter coming from miles away.” He looked up. “Diego, Ace, I want you to go back out with the others. Let them know what’s going on and keep them calm. I’m going to call my father and get his security people here so we can proceed.”
Diego and Ace went out to the barn where the other boys were all pacing around. When they saw Ace and Diego everyone gathered around.
“What the hell is going on?!” Spin demanded.
Ace looked from Spin to Jesse. Spin was red with rage and Jesse was pale from the stress. Devon was practically holding Jesse up. Ace walked over to Jesse and wrapped his arm around him.
“Mattie and Dylan have been kidnapped,” he stated. “Mattie’s uncle is behind it; he’s in prison awaiting trial and they want Mattie’s brother Pete to change his testimony so that he gets off.”
“WHAT?!?!” several voices cried at once.
Ace tried his best to explain what was going on and what they knew about Mattie’s and Dylan’s disappearance and Diego’s idea about where they might be held.
“Then let’s get over there!!” Spin blurted. As he started for the barn door he was grabbed from behind by Dusty. “Let go, Dusty!! We need to find Mattie.”
“And we will, Spin,” CJ said as he came out of the office followed by Danny and Josh. “We just talked to my father’s security people as well as Senor Montoya. Some of my father’s men are on their way by helicopter; they should be here within the hour and then they will formulate a plan to find Mattie and Dylan.”
“We can’t wait that long,” Spin argued as he struggled in Dusty’s grip.
CJ walked over to Spin and nodded at Dusty who released Spin. CJ grabbed Spin in a hug. “I know you’re worried about Mattie, I am too.” He looked over at Jesse who was holding onto Danny like a life preserver. “And Dylan as well, but we need to be patient and do this right so they come back to us safe. If we rush into it someone could get hurt or worse.” He looked down at Spin. “I know you love Mattie and I know he’s gonna do everything he can to get back to you. But you need to be strong.”
Spin hugged CJ tight and wept. CJ held him close and led him away from the other boys.
Zak followed after CJ and Spin and helped to comfort his friend, while Ace and Danny held tight to Jesse.
After a few minutes, everyone headed towards the bunkhouse. Zak, Ace and Josh took Spin, Jesse and Casey up to their rooms, while everyone else gathered in the great room to wait.
CJ received a phone call and nodded to Danny, who ran upstairs to get Josh.
Josh and CJ left to meet with Mr. Alvarez’s security team.
A while later CJ came back into the great room; by that time everyone except Casey who was resting in his room had gathered.
“Ok, guys, Josh and I are going with my father’s security team. We’re going to fly out and land in a clearing about five miles from the compound and then hike in after dark. Danny’s going to stay here with you guys and I’ll relay information to him,” CJ said. “You guys need to stay close to the main buildings here. There is extra security all over, but I don’t want anyone taking any chances since we don’t know if anyone else on staff is working for my uncle.”
It was late afternoon when CJ and Josh took off with Mr. Alvarez’s security team.
Diego gave the new arrivals an abbreviated tour of the rancho, but there was very little enthusiasm amongst the group.
Diego arranged for his father’s cook to prepare dinner for the boys. Since no one was particularly hungry, he had her set up a buffet table in the great room where people could grab a bite when they felt hungry. As the evening wore on, most of the boys retired to their rooms until only Diego and Ace remained in the great room.
Ace was lying on one of the couches with his eyes closed, trying not to worry about Mattie and Dylan, while Diego was rummaging through some papers he had retrieved earlier from the main house.
“Madre De Dios!!” Diego exclaimed jumping from his seat.
Ace bolted upright. “What? What?” he said sleepily.
Diego ran over the couch that Ace was sitting on and sat beside him.
“I have been so stupid, my friend,” Diego said solemnly. “I was wrong.”
“Wrong about what?”
“Mattie and Dylan. They are not here.” He pointed to the spot he had found earlier. “They are here.” He pointed to a spot almost directly across the property from the spot he had originally pointed out.
“How do you know they’re there?” Ace asked looking at the new location.
“When Mattie’s grandfather was building the housing that I sent CJ to, he was also building some warehouses and a power plant over here. These buildings are abandoned as well.”
“What makes you sure they’re in those buildings?”
“I don’t think they are in those buildings,” Diego said assuredly. “I know exactly what building they are in. There is a warehouse that was built into the side of the mountain. It was made for cold storage. There is a garage where they could hide several vehicles and since most of it is below ground it would be hard to detect them.”
“How far is it from there to where CJ and the guards are headed?”
“Probably over an hour by ground. Visibility around those mountains would be very bad at night, nearly impossible for a helicopter.” Diego thought for a moment. “But we could take horses and ride into the mountains here. There are several entrances that we could use to enter the warehouse and rescue Mattie and Dylan.”
“Yes, you and I,” Diego said expectantly.
Both boys turned to see Jesse standing in the doorway.
Ace stood up and shook his head. “No way, Jesse,” he said as Jesse walked towards him. “There is no chance in hell that I am going to let you come with us.”
“Ace, you’ve been teaching me self-defense and shooting since January. You’re not going to leave me behind while you go looking for Dylan and Mattie. If anything happened to him and I didn’t try to help…” Jesse gasped as his voice quivered and tears came to his eyes.
Ace grabbed Jesse and pulled the younger boy to him. “I know, I know.” He hugged Jesse tight and then looked over at Diego. “Ok, Diego, if we’re gonna do this we need to get going, before everyone is down here. This won’t work if we drag ten guys out to look for them.” Ace thought for a moment. “Do you have any weapons here?”
Diego grinned as he stood up from the couch and signaled Ace to follow him.
Ace kept his arm wrapped around Jesse as the two followed Diego to a door in the back of the house. Diego punched a code into the keypad by the door and it slid open.
Ace whistled as he looked at the weapons cache that filled the small room.
“What do you have all this for?” Ace asked incredulously.
“My father has long been afraid that what happened to Mattie and Dylan would happen to me,” Diego explained. “So he has had me trained to use all of these as well as in many types of self-defense.”
For the next ten minutes, Ace’s military life took over and he outfitted himself as well as Diego and Jesse with an array of small firearms that they could carry easily on their person. He also grabbed a couple of rifles and plenty of ammunition. Just when he thought they were ready, Ace was once again surprised when Diego opened a small drawer. Inside were several KA-BAR knives in sheathes. Ace grabbed three and handed one to Jesse and one to Diego. The boys all attached the knives to their belts.
Jesse was also given a backpack with other provisions.
Before they left, Ace ran upstairs to get a couple heavy jackets for him and Jesse. The mountains would be chilly at night.
He stopped by Dusty and Zak’s room and knocked.
Dusty came to the door. “Hey, Ace,” he said quietly. “Zak finally nodded off, what’s up?”
Ace quickly told Dusty what they were attempting.
Dusty shook his head. “Are you sure about this? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all went?”
“No,” Ace answered. “It would be easier if it was just me and Diego. I’m not even sure if this is the right spot–it probably isn’t; but it’s worth checking out. I’d rather leave Jesse here, but he wouldn’t let us get ten feet from the ranch without telling someone.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“If you don’t hear from us by dawn, then let Danny know where we went. Diego says it will take a couple hours to ride out there.”
Dusty answered hesitantly. “Ok, but be careful,” he warned.
“Will do,” Ace said as he ran back downstairs.
Diego led them out the back of the bunkhouse and towards a small barn where Ace and Jesse knew Diego’s personal horses were kept. There would be no hands there at this time of night, as Diego took care of his string of horses personally.
Diego directed Ace and Jesse as to which horses they should get and he went to the stall of Domingo, his favorite of his horses.
Within a few minutes all three boys had their horses saddled and they were ready to move out.
They mounted up and Diego led them away from the compound at a walk. They did not want to awaken anyone, so they waited until they were far enough from the compound that the sound of hooves would not disturb anyone before they all kicked the horses into a run.
Mattie hadn’t heard anyone come into the room since he had awakened a second time. He could hear someone else breathing in the room, but he hadn’t said anything in case it was Ernesto. He had recognized the foreman’s voice before he had been drugged a second time.
He had let his head clear this time, before he tried anything. He started to remember what had happened at the ranch. One of the ranch hands had come to him to tell him Ernesto was running late. He remembered being grabbed from behind and a cloth being placed over his mouth and then he had awakened here.
He felt the plastic ties digging into his wrists. He had been trying to pull his wrists apart for a while with little success. He finally decided that he needed to try and move around and get some idea of the layout of the room.
He scooted along the floor slowly trying to feel as far as his arms could reach.
“Who’s there?” he heard a familiar voice say.
“Dylan? Is that you?”
“Mattie? What happened? Where are we?”
“I don’t know where we are, but I think we got grabbed by Ernesto.”
“That makes sense,” Dylan answered. “When I was looking for Casey, I found him tied up in one of the tack rooms and then someone grabbed me from behind and knocked me out.”
“Me, too,” Mattie said. “Are your wrists tied?”
“Yes, it feels like plastic.”
“I’m gonna try to scoot over to you and see if we can get them stretched or cut,” Mattie said as he slid in the direction of Dylan’s voice.
Mattie bumped into Dylan. “There you are.” He chuckled. He felt his way around Dylan until they were back to back.
“Just relax,” Mattie said. “Let me see if I can get yours loose–your wrists are skinnier than mine.
Dylan sat as still as he could as Mattie pulled and pried and grabbed at the plastic bindings. Every few minutes he would have Dylan try to slip his wrists through. After working them for what seemed like hours, Dylan was finally able to slip one of his wrists free.
He rubbed his raw wrist and then reached up and pulled the hood off his head. The room was dark and gloomy lit only by a bare bulb on the ceiling. Dylan turned around and grabbed the hood off of Mattie’s head.
Mattie blinked as his eyes tried to focus. He looked up at Dylan and grinned. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Dylan grinned back and hugged Mattie.
Dylan looked around the room and saw some broken glass on the floor in a far corner. He crawled over to where the glass was and carefully picked up a piece and cut the bindings on his legs. He stood up and went back to Mattie and cut through his bindings.
When he was free Mattie stood up and rubbed his wrists. He looked around the room. It was a large barren space. It looked like they were in some type of storage area or a warehouse.
Mattie went over to check out the one door they could see. He turned the knob slowly and the door opened.
Dylan was right behind him. “It’s not locked?” he asked.
“They were probably confident that we would stay immobile,” Mattie replied.
Mattie carefully peered out the door and seeing no one, signaled Dylan to follow him quietly.
They entered a long hallway and started their search for a way out.
Diego, Ace and Jesse had been riding for several hours when Diego called them to a stop.
“We need to walk from here,” Diego announced. “It’s about another mile or so to the warehouse, and we can travel easier by foot. There should be enough trees and foliage to give us cover.”
The boys quickly dismounted and tethered the horses to a fallen tree. There was plenty of grass around for the horses to graze on.
They grabbed all the weapons they could comfortably carry and started walking.
They walked for a while before they came to a dirt road carved into the wilderness.
“We’re almost there,” Diego stated. “We can follow the road from here, but let’s stay along the tree line so we aren’t spotted.”
They walked along the road until Diego again stopped them. He didn’t speak, only pointed to the entrance of the warehouse. There was a single guard posted. The guard appeared to be bored as he was not actually keeping watch anywhere in particular.
Diego signaled to Ace who nodded. Ace picked up a large branch and carefully walked through the woods and found a spot to wait near the guard.
When he saw Ace was in place, Jesse jumped on several broken branches. The noise they made brought the guard out of his daze. He lifted his rifle and walked towards the woods.
Both Diego and Jesse had their guns trained on the guard.
When the guard passed the spot where Ace waited, he stepped out and swung the branch like a club. He connected with the back of the guard’s head and the guard went down. Ace jumped forward and grabbed the guard’s gun. He made sure the guard was out cold and signaled to Diego and Jesse, who came out of the woods.
Diego and Ace dragged the unconscious guard into the woods. Jesse took a length of rope from his backpack and tied the guard’s hands; he then placed a length of duct tape across his mouth.
When the guard was securely out of the way, Diego had Jesse hand him the plans that he had in his backpack.
Diego unfolded the plans and looked over his should to the entrance the guard had been watching.
“Ok,” he whispered as they all bent over the plans. “We’re here. I would think they are probably holding Mattie and Dylan in one of these rooms.” He pointed to several large empty spaces on the plans. “They were set up to hold provisions, but would be large empty spaces now.”
“Right, let’s stay together and check each one,” Ace said. “Diego, you’re more familiar with the layout so you take point, Jesse you stay in the middle and don’t make a move unless I tell you and I’ll take the rear.” Diego and Jesse nodded. “Good, let’s move.”
The three scurried across the road to the warehouse entrance. Diego entered first and checked around, but saw no signs of life.
Diego signaled the others to follow and they began methodically seeking out and searching the rooms that Diego had noted on the plans.
As they checked each room, they became more and more frustrated that they were finding no sign of their friends. Ace knew that if there was a guard, there would have to be something worth guarding. He kept reminding Jesse of this as the younger boy became more disappointed.
They entered one of the last rooms they had to check and Ace immediately knew that something had happened.
He ran to the far corner of the room where there were some discarded plastic ties like police would use on suspects; there were also two stocking caps with patches sewn over the eyes and mouths.
“Look,” he whispered to the others, as he held up the ties. “There was someone here.”
Jesse ran over and looked around. He pointed to a spot on the floor. “Is that blood?” he asked nervously.
Ace looked at the spot and then stood and wrapped his arm around Jesse. “Jesse, it’s just a little spot. It looks like they used that piece of glass to cut the ties, so someone probably got a small cut.”
“So did they escape or…”
Ace took Jesse’s face in his hands and looked him in the eyes. “Hey, until we hear otherwise, this is still a rescue mission. We need to assume they found a way out of this room and now we need to turn this place inside out to find them.”
Diego pulled the plans back out and grabbed a small penlight to illuminate the map.
“The biggest problem is that since we are underground, they aren’t going to know what direction is out,” he said. “Let’s assume they are going away from the entrance we came in since we saw no sign of them and let’s work our way back. Now, we need to search every room for signs of them.”
Ace and Jesse nodded and the three took their positions and continued their search.
Mattie led the way down the corridor. Dylan was close behind him. They came to a dead end with two doors.
Mattie signaled Dylan to stay silent while he listened at each door. He couldn’t hear anything behind either one.
They had been running through this maze of hallways for a while now; if they didn’t find a way out or at least a place to hide they were as good as dead.
Mattie blamed himself for this mess. He knew they only wanted him, and that Dylan was collateral damage.
Mattie decided to try the door to the right. He slowly turned the knob and opened the door. The room looked empty as he peered in.
“C’mon,” Mattie whispered to Dylan as he entered the room.
As Mattie stepped into the room, he felt someone grab his arm and pull him in. Before he could warn Dylan there was a hand placed over his mouth.
The three would-be rescuers diligently searched each room they came to. They were again becoming disheartened by the lack of evidence that Mattie and Dylan had been there.
As they walked slowly down one hallway, Diego stopped. There were shadows coming towards them. Diego saw a door and signaled to Ace and Jesse to follow him.
The three slipped into the room and waited for the people to pass.
They heard footsteps that stopped in front of the door. Ace signaled Jesse to hide in a far corner of the room. Diego stood behind the door and Ace stood just inside it, prepared to take on whoever entered.
The door opened slowly and a head poked in.
“C’mon,” Ace heard a voice whisper. He grabbed the figure and placed his hand over the person’s mouth.
Diego grabbed the second figure and quickly shut the door.
“Mattie, stop struggling,” Ace hissed in his ear.
Recognizing Ace’s voice, Mattie slumped against his friend. Ace let go of him and Mattie turned and hugged Ace.
“Ace, what are you guys doing here?”
Before Ace could answer, Jesse came scrambling across the room and launched himself at Dylan.
Dylan’s look of joy and relief at seeing Jesse quickly turned to panic. “Jesse, what the hell are you doing here?!”
“Diego thought he figured where they were holding you guys and he and Ace were gonna try to rescue you, but I made them take me,” Jesse answered as he held Dylan tight.
“Guys, look, I know we’re all happy that we found Mattie and Dyl, but we’re not out of the woods yet–we still need to get out of here,” Ace declared.
Diego pulled out his trusty plans and he and Ace pored over them trying to find the nearest exit.
Jesse held tight to Dylan, determined to not let him out of his sight. He also reached over to Mattie and pulled his ‘uncle’ into the embrace.
“I’m so glad we found you guys,” Jesse said excitedly. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost either one of you.”
“I’m glad you found us, too,” Mattie stated. “We’ve been wandering around here forever trying to find a way out or a place to hide. Where are we exactly?”
“We’re still on the rancho,” Jesse explained. “Diego thought you were in one spot so CJ and Josh went with your father’s security guards to find the place, but then Diego remembered this place and thought it would be a better place for the kidnappers to hide you.”
“Of course,” Mattie laughed. “This is part of the warehouses and utility buildings grandfather was building in the mountains. I had forgotten all about them.”
Diego and Ace came over to join them.
“Mattie, have you seen any sign of Ernesto or anyone else here?” Ace asked.
Mattie shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen Ernesto at all, but I know he was here. They had us tied up and had hoods over our heads and when I first woke up, I heard him say something before he injected me with something that put me back under.”
“Well, then we need to be on the lookout for him and anyone else that’s working with him,” Diego declared.
Ace handed a small hand gun to Mattie which he tucked into the back of his jeans and then Ace handed him a rifle too.
Dylan looked at Ace. “What about me?” he asked.
Ace smirked. “You stay in the middle of us, Dyl. Your aim is not the best.”
Dylan flipped Ace the bird and the boys all laughed.
They exited the room in a single-file line. Diego again had point followed by Mattie, Dylan, Jesse and Ace taking up the rear.
Diego led them quickly and quietly to the nearest exit that he and Ace could find on the plans. He knew it was farther away from the horses than they had planned, but he and Ace agreed they needed to first get out of this building. They would be safer under the cover of the woods.
As they got closer to the exit, Diego slowed the group down. He signaled Ace to join him up front and the two instructed the younger boys to wait behind while they made sure the coast was clear.
Diego and Ace crossed to the exit and stood on either side of the door. Diego peered out and signaled to Ace that there was someone outside.
Ace held up three fingers to Diego, who nodded. Ace then nodded his head in a countdown.
On the third nod, Diego pulled open the door and Ace rushed out. Before the guard knew what had hit him, Ace tackled him to the ground. As the guard struggled to get up, Diego rushed up and coldcocked him with the butt of his rifle.
Ace stood up and looked down at the guard.
“Ernesto,” he spat.
Diego nodded. “Well, if it was just Ernesto and his friend, then we should be free and clear.”
“I sure hope so,” Ace answered as he walked back into the warehouse.
“Guys!” Ace called. “You can come out.”
Mattie and Dylan stepped into the hallway. Both had a scared look in their eyes.
“C’mon, guys, let’s get out of here,” Ace said. “Hey, where’s Jesse?”
“Right here,” said a deep voice. Jesse stepped forward followed by a figure that Ace and Diego immediately recognized. The figure held a gun to Jesse’s head.
“F-F-Father!?” Diego stammered. “What are you doing here?”
“Diego, what are you doing here?” Senor Montoya answered. “You have ruined months of planning.”
“You’re involved with this, Father?”
“I had no choice, my son. The only way for us to get the rancho was for me to help Mateo’s uncle.”
“You did this just for the rancho?”
“No, my son, I did it for you, so that you would have a legacy and something to build on.”
Ace tried to creep closer to Senor Montoya, but the older man saw him. “Don’t move, Ace,” he instructed. “I know you are proficient with firearms, but at this range, I guarantee I will kill Jesse before you can even aim.” He nodded to the four boys. “All of you against the wall and throw your weapons on the floor.”
Ace, Diego, Mattie and Dylan all backed up against the wall. Mattie, Diego and Ace threw their rifles and knives into a pile on the floor.
“And you, Dylan?” Senor Montoya asked.
Dylan shook his head, raised his arms and spun around. “They didn’t give me one–my aim is pretty bad.”
Senor Montoya grinned.
“Now, what, Father?” Diego asked.
“Now we wait,” Senor Montoya answered. “I’ve called for a couple of my men to come and meet us. Then, Mateo and Jesse and I will leave until Senor Juan’s demands are met.”
Senor Montoya stepped out from behind Jesse. He pushed Jesse against the wall. “Go stand with them,” he ordered.
Dylan was next to Mattie with his hand against the wall. He placed his hand on Mattie’s back and noticed that Mattie had kept the pistol that Ace had given him.
Mattie felt Dylan’s hand slide down his back and grip the pistol. He knew that they would only have one chance at this. Mattie pressed his back against the wall to signal Dylan to wait. Dylan drummed his fingers against Mattie’s back to signal that he understood.
In preparation, Dylan flipped the safety on the pistol. Mattie and Dylan watched Senor Montoya pace around the hallway. He was definitely nervous. Every time he changed directions he would turn his back to them. Mattie counted the steps and then tapped his fingers on Dylan’s thigh.
Dylan tapped Mattie’s back the same number of times. Mattie then tapped Dylan’s thigh three times slowly and Dylan replied in kind.
Mattie pulled away from the wall and watched Senor Montoya.
As Senor Montoya started his third pass, Mattie felt Dylan pull the pistol from the back of his jeans. When Senor Montoya started to turn his back, Mattie dropped to the floor and Dylan leveled the pistol and fired.
The sound of the gun shot thundered through the hallway.
Senor Montoya grabbed his leg where the bullet had torn through.
Diego sprinted across the hall and tackled his father. Ace followed right behind him and grabbed Senor Montoya’s gun.
Jesse tossed Ace some rope he had in his backpack and Ace bound Senor Montoya, while Diego held him down.
Ace got up and walked over to Dylan who was still standing against the wall holding the pistol. Ace quietly took the pistol from Dylan.
“Nice shooting, Dyl.” Ace grinned. He reached over and grabbed the gun. “Why don’t I just hold that for you.”
Dylan let Ace take the gun and stood stock still, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. “Thanks, but I was actually aiming for his head.” He shrugged.
Jesse ran over to Dylan and grabbed him in a hug.
“Guys, we need to get out of here, before Senor Montoya’s men get here,” Ace said as they all dashed for the door.
As they ran for the woods they heard a vehicle coming up the road.
“The woods!!” Ace ordered as they all ran.
“ACE!! DIEGO!! JESSE!!” they heard echoing through the woods.
“Guys, wait up!!” Ace hollered turning back.
They gathered at the edge of the woods and saw CJ, Danny and Josh getting out of an SUV while a platoon of security guards emptied out of two others.
“CJ!!” Mattie yelled as he ran from the woods followed by the other boys.
CJ grabbed Mattie in a huge hug and Danny ran to Dylan and Jesse.
CJ shook his head at Ace and Diego as he pulled Danny, Jesse and Dylan into his embrace.
“How did you find us?” Diego asked.
“Well,” CJ said glaring at Ace. “Ace had the forethought to tell Dusty where you guys were going, but he made Dusty promise not to say anything until morning. When the first site didn’t pan out, we came back to the ranch and noticed that you three were missing. Dusty came clean and we grabbed who we could and headed out here.”
“My father has more men on the way,” Diego explained.
Josh shook his head. “Nope, we intercepted them as they were leaving the ranch. The authorities should be there by now and should be on their way here.”
Ace and Diego directed the security personnel to the spots where they had left Senor Montoya, Ernesto and Ernesto’s accomplice. They soon had the three loaded into an SUV and awaiting the authorities.
Once the authorities had arrived, they took over processing the scene and questioning the boys. After several hours of questions and interviews, the boys were released to CJ and Danny’s custody and they headed back to the main house. CJ had sent a couple of the men to where the boys had left their horses to retrieve them and take them back to the rancho.
The SUV stopped in front of the bunkhouse and Mattie had barely stepped out of the vehicle when he was tackled to the ground by a red-headed missile.
Spin lay on Mattie and hugged him as tight as he could.
“Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Spin choked into Mattie’s ear. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Mattie felt Spin’s tears fall on his face as he looked up at his boyfriend. “I love you so much,” Mattie sighed as Spin covered his face with kisses.
The rest of the boys greeted Ace, Diego, Dylan and Jesse. CJ herded everyone into the great hall so they would only have to re-tell the tale once.
CJ told Ace to phone his father, who was not at all happy that Ace had gone off to rescue Mattie and Dylan without telling anyone where they were going. Sarge was happy to hear that everyone was alright. Dylan’s parents had been camped out at Sarge’s house waiting for news, so Ace had Dylan talk to them to assure them he was alright.
Eventually, the rescuers and rescuees started nodding off and CJ and Danny instructed them all to head upstairs for some rest.
Jesse lay in bed spooned up against Dylan. Dylan was shaking.
“Hey, Dyl, are you ok?” Jesse asked. “Do you need your pills?”
Dylan rolled over and faced Jesse. He pulled Jesse tight to him. “No. I was just thinking. I was ready to kill Senor Montoya today. I never thought I could do that.”
“You did what you had to so we would be safe,” Jesse said quietly. “We never know what we are capable of when we’re against it like that. Look at Ace. We know he knows all that shit, but you never think he would use it. But you should have seen him bust those guards’ heads when he knew it was you and Mattie on the line. You did what any of us would have done in the same situation.”
“I guess,” Dylan sighed. “I’m just glad my aims sucks.”
“So are your parents coming over?” Jesse asked.
Dylan rolled his eyes. “They wanted to, but I told them not to. We’ll be home in a week and Mr. Alvarez has so much security on us now, it’s insane.”
“And Senor Montoya and Ernesto are singing about Uncle Juan.”
Dylan nodded. “Yeah, CJ said there may not even be a trial for him. They think he’ll plead out. I just feel bad for Diego.”
“I know; me, too.”
Jesse held Dylan tight as the two drifted off to sleep.
Diego sat on his bed. He couldn’t sleep.
There was a knock on the door.
CJ and Danny came in and shut the door behind them.
“Hey, Diego, how are you doing?” Danny asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I am still in shock over my father and now I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.”
“Diego, I hate to be the bearer of more bad news,” CJ said as he and Danny sat on either side of Diego. “But I just got a call from my father. His lawyers have been reviewing the sale of the rancho and none of it was legal. It looks like Uncle Juan and your father dummied the sale with the idea that they would make it legal after my uncle got rid of Mattie.”
“So now I don’t have a home either?” Diego buried his face in his crossed arms and started to sob. “None of this, the bunkhouse or the horses are mine?.
Danny put his arm around Diego’s shoulders. “You don’t have any other family here, do you?” he asked gently.
Diego shook his head. “No, my mother died years ago and neither she nor my father had any family.”
“Then, you are coming with us,” Danny announced.
CJ looked at Danny and grinned. He knew that Danny couldn’t leave anyone behind.
Diego looked at Danny with tear-filled eyes. “You want me to come with you? Even after everything my father has done?”
“Diego, you are not your father,” Danny said gently. “You risked your life to help Ace and Jesse find Mattie and Dylan and when you knew what your father had done you stood with them against him. You don’t have any other family and I think Mattie and Jesse would like it if you came to live with us.”
“I know I would,” Mattie said from the doorway.
Diego looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mattie, but I do not think that Spin would like it very much.”
Spin stepped around from behind Mattie. “Oh, I think it will be ok,” he said with a grin. “As long as you keep your lips off my boyfriend, buster.”
Diego blushed red and nodded his head.
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