Andi shrieked, but no sound came out.
"Lie still," the voice commanded sharply when she tried to peel the hand from her mouth. Someone was holding her so tight she could hardly breathe. Then the hand slowly came off her mouth. She twisted around, and looked right into the face of . . .
"Chad!" she whispered in disbelief.
He did not smile. "What is going on?" he demanded.
It's time to tell, she decided. But before she could say anything, Mitch appeared from behind the trees, leading Sky and his own horse, Chase. He walked up and grabbed Andi's shoulders.
"What are you doing? Who's plotting against Justin?" His face was drawn and worried.
Andi felt a surge of intense relief as she poured out the entire story.
"Mitch," Chad said as soon as she was done. "Tell them to come.”
"Who?" Andi asked.
In answer, Mitch rode into a clump of brush and returned with Sheriff Tate and a large group of ranch hands. Andi's mouth dropped open, and she was about to ask how they came here, when the low sounds coming from the cabin erupted into the sounds of a scuffle. There was a low moan, then all was silent.
At a signal from the sheriff, they surrounded the cabin. Every man held a loaded weapon. Quiet voices were heard, and then the door was thrown open. Two men emerged, and between them was Justin, tied and blindfolded.
Three other men followed. They banded together and moved forward. Their eyes took a moment to adjust to the blackness outside, but when they did, all five men leaped back, dragging Justin with them. Sheriff Tate stepped forward. Justin made a violent effort and jerked free. The five men, forgetting him, scrambled back inside and barred the door of the cabin.
They were cursing and yelling the entire time. Sheriff Tate bent over and sliced Justin's bonds. He reached up and yanked off the blindfold. Justin’s mouth fell open, and a wide grin spread across his face.
Andi ran forward. "Oh, Justin! You're alright! Thank God!"
"How? Yes, you're right, Andi, Thank God! But how on earth . . .?"
"Andi knew," Chad broke in.
"Yes, but how did you find out?" Andi asked.
"Let me explain that." Mitch stepped forward. "I was in the barn this afternoon and heard Andi come in. I knew something had been very wrong lately, and I decided to find out what. I stepped behind a partition and just listened. Yes, I heard every word," he added at Andi's astonished look. "I heard her talking to Taffy, saying how those men wouldn't hurt Justin if she could help it."
"But how did you figure out their plot?" Justin wondered.
Andi told them.
Justin's face lit up. "So that's what you were doing after school on Tuesday."
"Yes." Andi nodded. She glanced at Chad. His face was livid with rage, and his fists were clenched. He turned toward the cabin.
"Come out now!" he yelled. " We have you surrounded!"
A white face appeared at the window. Andi instantly recognized Jake.
"Open the door, or we'll break it down!" Sheriff Tate demanded.
The door slowly unbolted and opened, and there stood Jake, shaking visibly. The sheriff simply stepped up to him, slapped on a pair of handcuffs, and handed him over to Mitch. Then he, followed by a few ranch hands, walked inside and did the same to the rest of the would-be kidnappers. But, where was Hal?
A shout went up from behind the cabin. Hal was escaping! He had snuck out the back when the attention was on the others. A short chase commenced, but Hal was captured and brought back bound.
One of the ranch hands gasped. "You! You killed Mr. Jones!"
"So what if I did? I wanted his money," he said sulkily.
"You know this man?” Sheriff Tate asked the ranch hand.
"I saw him playing cards with Al Jones in the saloon. Al was winning and this fellow here was getting mad. That was when I left. Next morning I heard Al Jones was shot. I didn't say anything, because I had no proof, and because I didn't know who this man was.”
"Well, I guess that clears Cory." Sheriff Tate winked at Andi.
She laughed, then hugged Justin again. "Oh, I am so glad you're okay! God sure worked things out, didn't He!"
"Yes, He did. Thank God!"
"And what happened then?" Cory asked Andi excitedly the next day at school.
"Well, Mother was awfully worried. All she knew was that Justin and I were in danger."
"I missed all the excitement." He sighed regretfully.
"Well, I think I have had enough excitement to last me till . . ."
"Your next adventure," Cory finished.