CHAPTER TWELVE

    The fall had been wasted with Jack's tax troubles and Flip's tetanus.  Now Flip had only weeks to win a qualifying placement for the National.  A setter had never placed in the Florida Championship, and Jack was skeptical, but the Florida’s grounds were outstanding, perfect for Flip's big way of going.

    The year following the derby season is difficult for field-trial dogs.  They compete head to head now against dogs wise from years of experience.  Some, caught up in their own high spirits, turn hard to handle.  Some lose self-confidence.  But in spite of the tetanus and his youth, Flip worked with the maturity and polish of a five-year-old.  And so Jack could handle him the way he liked--riding slowly, leaving Flip mostly to his instincts, honed by almost three years of patient training.  Jack’s deep baritone singing served as Flip’s directional beacon; Flip needed only to hear Jack’s voice to keep to the front, even on a twisting course.
More open than the other plantations in the quail belt, Chinquapin Farms is a rolling sea of wire grass and blackjacks lightly sprinkled with towering pines.  Quail love the native chinquapins that thrive there--little nuts on short bushes that burst from burr pods in the fall.  The land's contours are ideal for trials; the courses follow long ridge tops, yielding sweeping views of the wide-hunting dogs.    As Jack and I drove in the sandy lane on Sunday afternoon, we passed the manager’s neat white house, then tractor sheds, then a cottage marked "Judges House."  The clubhouse, low and dark green, sat nestled in a grove of pines beside a huge lime-rock sink.  A steel silhouette of a black and white pointer marked the entrance.    "Paper Rosie's buried there.  She was the Masters Champion and after that the favorite gun dog here for a decade.  Her descendants will run here this week," Jack said.    Behind the clubhouse stood long rows of kennels for competing dogs.  The horse barn and paddocks adjoined the clubhouse.  In the assembly room hung photographs of famous dogs, horses and field-trial people, and an aerial photograph of the grounds.  From a corner kitchen lunch would be served every day, free for all.  A fire burned in a big fireplace; it would warm us each morning as we gathered for coffee before the start of the day’s running.    Other outfits were arriving, getting their dogs and horses settled in for the week.  We unloaded our horses, fed and released them in a big shady paddock.    Doc arrived just in time for the drawing.    In the clubhouse, owners and handlers from all over joked and kidded, as they filled plates with turkey and the trimmings.  Soon the tables were filled.  In no time the food disappeared and the drawing began.  An air of tension replaced the brotherhood of the meal.    On the drive back to the motel, I asked about the tension.

    "Outsiders think field trials are a gentlemanly sport.  Truth is, they’re a war game.  My daddy used to say a trial is the closest thing to a cavalry battle since Mosby and Forrest,” Doc said.  (Jack winked at me on Doc’s mention of Forrest.)

    Next morning as we drove back to Chinquapin, Jack said:    "Doc's cavalry-fight description was about right.  And the handlers here are desperate --they've all got dogs in their strings that need a placement to enter the National, and this is about their last chance to get it.  Owners get impatient this time of year. "

    That day and the next passed quickly, the dogs pointing quail with amazing frequency.    On the third morning, as we waited at the breakaway for the ground fog to lift, someone said Otto Kuykendall had died; they'd seen his obituary in the Field.  Jack cantered back to the clubhouse, yelling, "Anybody got this week's Field?"    Jack read the obituary aloud:
                        OTTO KUYKENDALL SUCCUMBS

    Word has just reached the Field of the sudden death of Otto Kuykendall, of Fredonia, Kansas, long time patron of field trials.  Mr. Kuykendall collapsed at a casino in the Bahamas.
Mr. Kuykendall will be remembered for the multiple champions he campaigned, with son Otto Kuykendall, Jr., handling, all bearing the prefix of his Hook'um Ranch: Hook'um High, Hook'um Low, Hook'um However and, the incomparable brood matron, Done Hooked'um.    Mr. Kuykendall formerly had extensive ranching and business interests in Kansas and was a patron of field trial clubs in that state and of the AFTCA.  May he rest in peace.

    On the clubhouse phone Jack called Little Otto in Kansas, where it was six in the morning.

    "Little Otto, sorry about your dad."  Silence ensued as Jack listened.
    "He still had his interest in Homer Ferguson's Louisiana oil play, didn't he?  . . .  Good!  Listen, Otto, you and Sister don't have a thing to worry about.  It don't matter what's in Big Otto's will.  Louisiana has got the             Napoleonic Code.  You can't disinherit a child from Louisiana real estate.  It's called forced heirship.  In other words, if daddy owned it, the kids inherit it.  Big Otto couldn't leave it to anybody else, and I got Homer to put     a “no borrowing” clause in the deal so Big Otto couldn't hock it.  You and Sister are in the catbird's seat.
    “Little Otto, I've got to catch up with the gallery.  You and Sister ought to come to the National.  You can charter a jet now that you're oil folks."

    Jack hung up, slapped his thigh and let out a Rebel yell.
   
    "Now that's justice.  Miss Delores may have been number one in Big Otto's will, but the will can't give her his Louisiana land and oil.  I'd give a good Walking horse to see Miss Delores' face when the lawyers explain it to her."

    We cantered out to catch the gallery, guided by the handlers' singing.    When Flip's turn came at Chinquapin, he was braced with Norman Klensch's Takeover Bill.  Through the fall Farley Snead had been running Klensch's string in all the major circuit trials, and winning steadily.  He had a new scout to replace the disgraced Earl Shiflett--his name was Lefty Swartz.    Norman Klensch drove up to the clubhouse in a rented Lincoln five minutes before his dog’s heat was to begin.  He emerged from his trailer tack room in full cowboy regalia, stockman's Stetson to Tony Lama boots, stuffed two cellular phones in his saddlebags, heaved his belly over the pommel and struggled to get his right leg over the rump of his black horse.  As soon as the dogs were released he was on the phone. Twenty minutes into the heat Norman had dialed four calls, trying all the while to keep an eye on his dog.  Doc watched in amusement.

    "He's got a deal cooking," Doc said.  "We're going to have a little fun."
    Doc approached T. Jack Robinson, a director of the Suwannee River Club, sponsor of the trial, and, like Doc, a jokester.  Robinson rode up to Norman and said loudly,
    "We're sorry, Norman, but we've disqualified your dog.  The rules forbid electronic communication with a handler.  Your talking to Farley Snead on the phone puts your dog out of the running."
    Norman, at first preoccupied with his call, finally realized what Robinson was saying.
    "Why, I'm not talking to Snead, I'm talking to my lawyer in New York!" Norman said.

    The gallery roared.  Norman didn't join in the laughter, but he made no more phone calls.    Meanwhile, the dogs began a bird-finding duel.  A half-hour into the heat they were tied at three finds each. Flip moved fast to the front and over a knoll.  Jack cantered to the top of the knoll to keep him in view.  Flip was on point just ahead; Jack raised his hat.  From the corner of his eye, he saw Farley Snead approaching from his left, beneath the brow of the knoll and out of sight of the judges.  He had Takeover Bill at heel.    Jack figured Farley intended to bring Bill in for a back.  When Bill caught sight of Flip he slowed, as if to back, but Snead gave a toot on his whistle, urging Takeover Bill on toward Flip.  Catwalking, he passed Flip and stole the point.  Jack thought, thirty years ago I'd have whipped Farley Snead by now and been ordered off these grounds.

    As Judge Roy Fry's horse topped the knoll, he looked upon a familiar scene:  Takeover Bill on point, Flip backing, three yards behind, handlers still mounted.    Judge Fry strongly suspected he was witnessing a crime scene--canine larceny of a point the crime.  Jack wore a wry grin, but said nothing.  Soon the gallery arrived to watch the drama unfold. Snead dismounted and walked in to flush.  The covey took wing, and the gallery yelled, "There they go."  Snead fired.  Both dogs held steady.  Snead led Takeover Bill off for the restart.  Flip remained immobile and unperturbed, untouched by Jack.

    Judge Fry made an entry in his notebook giving Takeover Bill credit for the find, and Flip for a back.  Judge only what you see, not what you suspect--he had said it a thousand times to apprentice judges, and he had always taken his own advice.  But he would be alert for future evidence of Takeover Bill's duplicity.    No man judging field trials had more respect than Roy Fry.  The small quiet grain farmer from Illinois booked a full calendar of judging assignments every year and declined many others.  Handlers liked his attentiveness--he watched every dog with equal care, at least until in his judgment it had no chance to place.  He could ride and was not afraid of a horse.  He would go uncomplaining with a handler on foot into a briery swamp to get to a dog on point.  He did not drink, and he did not socialize much with owners and handlers during a trial he was judging.  He didn't accept invitations from dog owners for shooting or fishing trips.

    It takes a special sort to make a good judge on the major circuit.  In truth, no more thankless job exists, and its a dangerous one to boot.  The judge must ride like a cavalry trooper, often in miserable weather and tricky terrain.  Bad horses are the greatest hazard.  Fortunately, on the major circuit, good ones are usually provided, but not always.  Travel expenses and a token gift are his only pay.    As the heat continued, Roy Fry reflected on his years in the sport.  Only he knew it, but two weeks before his eye doctor had diagnosed a cataract.  It was too soon to operate, and he would have to tolerate a period of decreasing vision.  He had agreed to judge the National in February; then he would retire.

    As Roy Fry reflected on his retirement, he thought of all the great champions he had watched through the years.  Ironically, it was not the champions he would miss, it was the derbies--the anticipation each fall of the new crop of two-year-old's, the handlers' expressions when they came to the line on the prairie to release a young dog.  Always a look of hope--like the look of a parent about to watch a child's first little league game.  More often than not the hope would be forlorn, and before Christmas, the derby would be off the string, washed up, condemned to the lesser life of a plantation gun dog.  Still, the chance to glimpse a future champion, the possibility that the unknown derby might show the special spark, the inherited greatness instilled in so few--for Roy Fry, that was the real fun of judging.  He had seen that special derby spark in Halifax Flip last year.
After Takeover Bill's theft of Flip's point, Jack dropped back to the gallery and said to John Proud Bear,

    "You didn't tell me Takeover Bill was a cheater."
    John said, "I never told anybody Takeover Bill was a cheater--worked like hell to cure him of it too, but once a cheater, always a cheater.  Sometimes for a dog it pays--for a while."
    "He belongs to the right man," Jack said.

    Five minutes after Takeover Bill's theft of Flip’s point, the course entered a hilly section filled with lime-rock sinks.  Snead was riding hard to the front, trying to keeping up with Bill.  Jack, as usual, rode slowly just ahead of the judges.  Flip made a long sweeping cast from the right, and Jack raised his arm to point out his dog.

    "We see him," came a judge's response.  Then Flip disappeared over a ridge, and Jack cantered Copenhagen ahead to see the direction of Flip's next cast. As Jack topped the ridge he entered a large sinkhole.  Near the bottom Flip was on point.    Just as Jack started to ride back up to the lip to call in the judges, he caught sight of Farley Snead riding into the bowl from the other side, with Takeover Bill again at heel.  Snead intended to have Takeover Bill steal Flip's point again.

    "You're pushing your luck, son," Jack said.

    Snead blew softly on his whistle, and Takeover Bill catwalked past Flip and stole his point.    Now Snead realized his dilemma.  He would have to ride out of the sink to summons a judge.
Just as Snead rode over the lip of the sinkhole, Jack quickly rode Copenhagen close in front of Takeover Bill.  The covey rose and flew off.  Snead did not see them fly.  Jack returned Copenhagen to where he'd been, behind the dogs.

    "Point, Judge!" Jack heard Snead call.

    Minutes later, Snead returned with Judge Fry and the gallery close behind.  Things looked to Snead just as they had when he left.    Jack grinned at Roy Fry when Snead dismounted and began his flushing attempt.  
I'll bet this will be an unproductive, Roy Fry thought; sure enough, Snead was unable to flush birds.    As Snead remounted, Jack said, loud enough for all to hear,

    "Better be careful now, Farley.  That's one unproductive.  One more and you're out."
    "The wages of sin . . ." Jack muttered under his breath as he rode past Judge Fry.  

    Flip finished his hour with six finds in a wide, sweeping race.  Despite his larceny, Takeover Bill finished with five finds, and a race that was strong but, in the eyes of the judges, not quite as forward or responsive as Flip's.    On the day after Flip's heat, we watched Snead handle another of Klensch's dogs.  Jack's attention was riveted to Snead's horse.  Half way through the brace Jack rode to Judge Fry, spoke for a moment, then rode forward and called to Snead.

    "What the hell do you want?" Snead growled.
    "Take my horse, Farley." Jack said.  "Yours is about to collapse under you."
    "Oh, he's all right," Snead said, "tough as a pine knot." He neck-reined the horse and gave it the spur.
    Judge Fry called out,    "Do what he says, Farley."

    Rage filled Snead's face, but he dismounted, took Copenhagen and rode off after his dog.
   
    "I'll walk Mr. Snead’s horse back to the lot, Jack," I said.  "You take my horse."
    "I don't care to see any more of this brace," Jack said in disgust, leading Snead’s horse to the dog truck and wetting it down with the hose from the water tank after removing its saddle. 

    Then Jack and I led Snead’s horse to the shade of a live oak to cool.  Twenty minutes later, we rode my horse double to the clubhouse, leading Snead's horse.    Snead's initial refusal of Jack's offer of a horse was unusual, for handlers often offer one another a fresh horse when one unexpectedly tires.  Snead's ingratitude and lack of compassion for his horse dropped him a notch in everyone's estimation, though you couldn’t deny his skill handling dogs.

    On the night before the Florida Championship closed, everyone gathered in the clubhouse for the traditional barbecue supper.  Although Flip had not been declared the winner, most believed he was top dog and not likely to be toppled.  Jack seemed unusually tired from the six days of riding.  He and I were saying our thank-you’s and good nights when someone handed Jack a fax from Sy Beale.  It read:    "The hook is set."

    Jack smiled and said: "If I was still a drinking man, I would have one right now."

    Next morning Jack woke me early, and we drove to a café for breakfast.  Jack was in an unusually talkative, sentimental mood.  He recalled childhood predawn departures with his father to the livestock auction markets.  He described his father, standing among tightly bunched lambs, feeling their loins, dabbing them with a red or blue paint brand (one blue circle, Choice, two blue circles, Heavy Choice, a red circle, Good).  Neighboring farmers always called Jack's father when it was time to dehorn, castrate, vaccinate.  Without formal training, he was a veterinary paramedic--a man whose mere presence calmed stock; a man to ask for advice about buying a bull or a ram; a man to select your yearling replacement ewes; a man to be trusted about animals.  He had died at age sixty-three of a massive stroke while dehorning calves for a neighbor; before that, never sick a day.  One minute laughing with sleeves rolled up, sweat streaming down his iron hard forearms; the next minute, gone.

     “A man’s lucky if he gets to die sudden,” Jack said.

    Then in a quiet voice, Jack recalled his competitors over five decades on the circuit.  The few scoundrels, quickly gone, and the lucky ones--the ones with sons.  Jack said the father-son tradition was strong in the dog-handler craft, back to the beginnings, to families like the Armstrongs and the Bevans, immigrants from England and Scotland where they had been gamekeepers.    He remembered Ed Farrior, in the twilight of his career when Jack had commenced his own, working with his son Ed Mack.  Then John S. Gates, "the Captain," shrewd businessman, working with his sons, John Rex and Robin.  He recalled Herman Smith, The Little Fox, and his apprentice sons, Collier and Rod, when they were little boys on the prairie (like Jack, Herman had married a Canadian farm girl); the tough, hard-working Gardners of Mississippi, father John and son Ted, and how the son had helped the father realize his dream, winning the National with his last great dog, Miss One Dot; the Rayls, father Bill and his boys Fred and Eddie; Billy Morton and his sons Billy Wayne and Charles; the Tracys; the Lunsfords; the Crangles; the Daughertys; the Rays.  And then he told me about Pete Hicks, with the Bisco dogs, and his comeback with his knees worn out but not his spirit, helped by his sons Joe and John.
The Magnolia Cafe_ was a greasy spoon of the old order.  We had country ham and eggs, with grits, of course.  Jack flirted with the homely waitresses, teased the cook and the dishwasher, stuffed the jukebox with quarters for country music.

    "On the circuit in the old days, there were lots of good cafes and diners like this.  They're about all gone now.  Anybody who can run a good one has got a fast-food franchise.  I hate those franchise places," Jack said.

    I had never thought of Jack as old.  His face bore no wrinkles, just smile lines at the corners of his eyes.  Today his face revealed a deep tiredness in spite of his cheerfulness.    We flipped for breakfast, and Jack lost.  He removed all the bills from his money clip, separated enough for the check and a tip, pocketed the rest, and handed me the clip.  It was silver, with a worn etching of a flying grouse, and an inscription beneath, illegible from wear.

    "David, I want you to have this.  It's the first thing I ever won at a field trial, and it's been my good-luck piece.  I've had more than my share of good luck, and so far you've had more than your share of bad.  Carry it and remember our times together whenever you pull it out to pay a  check . . . ."

    My eyes moistened, and I bit my lip to keep from crying.    The final brace of the Florida Championship finished at noon, and everyone got busy packing up as we waited for the judges' decision.  Then news spread of an incident that could be explosive. A Kansas City real estate developer, John Grimes, had sold his champion pointer Skyscraper to Norman Klensch.  The great young champion had been raised and developed by Billy Ford, a professional from Thomasville, just beginning to make his name on the circuit. The bond between Skyscraper and Ford was the talk of the circuit.  When Skyscraper ran it was as if he were a kite on a long string in Ford's hand.  The dog would make an enormous cast and, just as it seemed he had bolted, Ford would blow a long blast on his whistle and the dog would look back and swing to Ford's direction.  The dog had just turned three.  He had won the Georgia Derby Championship--one of the big five.  Skyscraper had a great future, and Ford's wagon seemed hitched to the dog's star, as often happens with a handler entering the game.
Would Klensch leave the dog with Ford, or would he move it to his private string under Farley Snead?  Everyone had an opinion.  Some thought he would surely leave Skyscraper with Ford, who had been so successful with the dog.  Jack and Doc were sure Klensch would move the dog to Snead.  They knew Klensch's suspicious nature would not allow him to campaign a dog with a handler who might have loyalties to others.
The news of the dog's sale had come to young Ford at the clubhouse via an early morning phone call.  Ford had gone to his trailer in a huff, slamming the tack-room door behind him.  Many of us had seen his outburst.
Now Doc walked to Ford's rig, knocked softly, and entered.  Billy Ford sat on a bag of horse feed, head buried in his hands.  The compartment was dark, except for a thin shard of daylight coming through the roof vent.  It was stifling hot, filled with the blending smells of sweet feed, neat's-foot oil and horse sweat.

    "What's the deal?" Doc asked softly.  Billy looked up at Doc, then returned his face to his hands.
    "Mr. Grimes called.  He's sold Skyscraper to Norman Klensch.  He recommended Klensch keep the dog in my string, but it wasn't a condition of the sale.  Said he was sorry, but he had no choice.  What the hell can he mean by that--no choice?”

    Doc figured Klensch had offered Grimes a tall price and given him no time to shop the offer.  Grimes must be in financial trouble.  Supposedly rich men are not always rich, especially those in the real estate business.
This was Billy Ford’s third year on the circuit.  While he had proved he was able, he was also a hothead.  At least twice Doc knew about, he had fought with other handlers--once when he thought an opposing scout had intentionally ridden off his derby, once when a handler let his dog steal a point from Billy's dog (the same trick Farley Snead had used on Jack).  Billy was beginning to realize such hijinks were part of the game, something every pro had to expect.

    "Billy," Doc said, "in a few minutes Norman Klensch is going to come in here and tell you to turn Skyscraper over to Farley Snead--or more likely he will just send Snead with the message because he hasn't got the guts or the class to do it himself.  When that happens you have a choice.  You can pitch a fit, and cuss and scream and even take a poke at Snead.  Or you can give him the dog and say nothing.
"You have proved you can train and handle a dog with the best.  Now you've got a chance to show you can take a punch as well as swing one.  It's up to you."  Doc walked out, closing the door quietly behind him.

    Farley Snead approached and entered Ford's trailer.  When the two men emerged, Billy, his Kasco cap pulled low, stared at the ground.  They walked to Skyscraper's kennel run, and Billy opened the gate and called the dog to him.  He knelt, looked into the dog's eyes, snapped lead to collar and rubbed his shoulders.

    "Come on, boy," he said softly.
    Snead opened an empty dog compartment on his trailer.  Ford unsnapped the pointer's lead and said softly, "Load."

    Effortlessly, the dog leapt four feet straight up into the compartment and turned to lick his handler's face.  Ford gave the dog one last pat, closed the compartment and turned to face Snead, who stood six feet away, tense and alert.  Billy extended his right hand to shake and said,

    "Good luck.  He's a good one.  Take care of him."

    We watched from the shade of the tall pines on the clubhouse lawn.    As Billy Ford started his truck to depart, Jack walked to him and said, "I know how you feel, son.  You showed class, just like your dog. " 
   
    Billy turned his face away from Jack to hide his tears and drove away.    The door to the clubhouse opened, and the club secretary emerged with the judges, blew his whistle for attention and called for all to gather 'round.  Then he announced Flip the winner of the Florida Championship, and Takeover Bill runner up.    Everyone congratulated Jack, Doc and me, and the pictures were snapped.

    "Can't believe a setter won my trial," the club president, Ted Baker, said with a wink.  Baker was a pointer man to the bone.
    "Good to have Flip requalified for the National," Doc said.
    "Don't count on taking home that silver," Baker said, "I'll have a dog there too."

    A mystic telepathy between dog and handler is the stuff of field-trial legends.  Ed Farrior with Air Pilot's Sam; his son, Ed Mack, with Warhoop Jake; Jack Harper with The Texas Ranger; Bill Morton with Wrapup--some say they willed the great dogs around a course.  Many a handler has predicted the spot where his dog will pop out of cover.  And while each anecdote might be explained as coincidence, repeated examples between the same handler and dog are enough to convince the skeptical.  Rumors of telepathy between Flip and Jack had begun to circulate.

(to be continued)