Buck Smith’s Option
Part Three

                     By Tom Word

Buck Smith and Kyle Frith brought their dogs to the line.  The temperature was 10°F, the ground frozen solid.  “Are you ready, Gentlemen? Let ‘em go!” said the senior judge.  Naomi and Headstrong surged away, taking opposite edges of the opening bean field.  The judges had decided the first dog to find birds would get the title of National Champion.  It was Naomi, who found the huddled covey twenty yards deep in the edge cover—her experience told her that the birds would be roosting still.  All was in order, and the callback was over ten minutes after its start.  Naomi was announced National Champion from the porch of the Ames Manor House.  The crowd was small, for most fans had headed for home the day before.
Kyle Frith was the first person to shake his old mentor’s hand.  “Congratulations, Buck.  She earned it,” he said.
“She’d never have had the chance if you had not called point for her at the end of her heat.  Thank you,” Buck said.  He saw tears in Kyle’s eyes.  
“What’s wrong, son?” Buck asked.
“Harry Brent is taking Headstrong away from me,” Kyle said.
“We’ll see about that,” Buck said.
As soon as the pictures were taken and the well-wishers began to disburse, Buck Smith went to the stables where Harry Brent was loading his horse trailer.  He had Headstrong on a tie-out chain by the trailer’s tackroom door, curled in a ball and shivering.
“Harry, you return that dog to Kyle Frith or I’m giving my copy of the tape to Bernie Matthys,” Buck said.  Harry looked into his eyes and knew Buck meant it.
“Take him,” Harry said, knowing he was defeated.  “I’m getting out of this damn game.”
“What do you want for him? Buck said.
“What will he bring?” Harry asked, his trader instincts returning.
“I’m not sure with gas prices being what they are.  I’d have thought $20,000 before that.  How about if Kyle advertises him at that, see what offers he gets.  But Headstrong’s staying with him will be a condition of any sale.”
Harry Brent saw he had no leverage and nodded assent.  Buck lead Headstrong to Kyle’s trailer and explained the deal to his former protégé.  He’d required Harry Brent to write out the terms in a note, which he delivered to Kyle, along with Headstrong.
“You headed for Georgia?” Buck asked.
“Yes,” Kyle said.
“I’ll follow you in case one of us breaks down,” Buck said.  He handed Kyle an envelope.  In it was a check for half the amount of Naomi’s winner’s check.  Kyle put it in his shirt pocket without opening it, assuming it contained Headstrong’s registration certificate from Harry Brent.  (That was also in the envelope.)  Buck had proposed to Kyle that they split the purse no matter which dog won when the callback was announced, but Kyle had refused.
A half hour after they left the Ames Plantation for Georgia, Kyle reached in his pocket and opened the envelope.  He saw the check, and called Buck on his cell phone.
“You didn’t have to do that . . ..  I turned down your offer to split, you know.”
“I know,” said Buck, a laugh in his voice.  “Let’s stop at Tupelo and get a barbecue.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”
As they munched their sandwiches, Buck told Kyle of his conversation with Harry Brent at Stella’s Shanty and his return of the money to Harry via Kyle’s scout.  He pulled the recorder from his pocket and played the tape for Kyle.
“I’ll be damned!” Kyle said.
“Who do you think I should try to sell Headstrong to?” Kyle asked.
“Let me think about that as we roll down the road,” Buck said.  They flipped for the check, and Buck paid.  Kyle got the tip.

To be continued in Part Four . . .