The Rivals

  By Tom Word

    Their rivalry was born of fair competition.  How it grew to hate was mostly forgotten, except by the rivals and a few old timers who’d been there when it happened.  The hate began at a National Championship, twenty years before.

    On that day, Ben Grimes’ Gladiator had been braced with Sam Dillon’s Frontseeker.  Half way through the brace, Gladiator disappeared, never to be seen again.  Ben Grimes and his handler, Eddie Swoop, blamed Sam Dillon.    The evidence was circumstantial.  The night before Gladiator’s disappearance, Eddie Swoop had seen Riley Parker, an employee of Sam Dillon’s Atlanta-based construction empire, refueling at a truck stop outside Tupelo.  Parker had been pulling a two-horse trailer.  He had not been in the gallery when Gladiator and Frontseeker were released the next afternoon.  Parker usually rode front for Sam Dillon’s dogs.  After Gladiator’s disappearance, Ben Grimes and Eddie Swoop immediately suspected Parker of abduction.  Their suspicions had never been confirmed, but had grown through the years.

    Now the old rivals’ best dogs were again braced together in the National.  Their handler-scout teams had not changed, but Riley Parker no longer worked for Sam Dillon—he was dead, killed in a construction accident.    Ben Grimes had always believed Sam Dillon’s motive for Gladiator’s abduction had been to use him as a sire, for six weeks before Gladiator’s disappearance, he had refused Dillon’s request to breed a bitch to Gladiator.  Ben had watched all the homebred dogs Sam Dillon campaigned after Gladiator’s disappearance.  Beginning with Dillon’s derbies two seasons later, Ben Grimes saw similarities to Gladiator—in gait and in attitude on game.  Later he learned from his scout of a rare and telltale trait from Gladiator—Dillon’s dogs barked when lost on point. Ben Grimes spent sleepless nights speculating where Grimes was keeping Gladiator.  He’d spent considerable dollars with private detectives trying to find out.  Now DNA science would confirm or discredit his suspicions.

    The night before this year’s duel, Ben Grimes and Eddie Swoop gave their scout, Booty Washington, an assignment.  During tomorrow’s race, he was to catch Dillon’s entry and take a swab of saliva from the dog’s jaw.  With this evidence, they would learn whether the dog descended from Gladiator.  Ben Grimes had found among his keepsakes a collar Gladiator had worn as a puppy; from hair adhering to it, he’d obtained Gladiator’s DNA profile. Though neither of the rivals’ entries won this year’s National, Booty got the saliva sample.  Ben Grimes sent it off to the lab, and in a month, confirmation came in a letter.  Gladiator was, in fact, a several-times ancestor of the current leader of Sam Dillon’s kennel, though the pedigree of the dog showed not an ounce of Gladiator’s blood.

    With the letter in one jacket pocket and a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver in another, Ben Grimes drove from his home in Birmingham to Dillon’s office in Atlanta.  Arriving unannounced, he asked the receptionist on the 45th floor of the gaudy Peach-Tree-Street high-rise to see Mr. Dillon.  She dialed Dillon’s assistant who told her Mr. Dillon had no appointment with a Mr. Grimes.

    “Tell her its about a bird dog,” Ben Grimes said.  In five minutes, the assistant came to the reception room and escorted Ben Grimes to Sam Dillon’s office.  Photos of Dillon’s bird dogs crowded the walls of the assistant’s anteroom.  Oils of winners adorned the walls of Dillon’s big corner office.
Sam Dillon rose as Ben Grimes entered.

    “What brings you to Atlanta, Ben,” he asked as he held out his hand to shake.  Ben Grimes left him standing awkwardly with arm extended.  He waited until the assistant had closed the door behind her before speaking.

    “For twenty years, I’ve known you had Riley Parker kidnap Gladiator at the National.  Now I have proof.  Booty took a saliva sample from your entry at this year’s National.  It confirms you used Gladiator as a sire.”

    For a minute, Sam Dillon was silent.  Then he spoke.    “Even if you can prove Gladiator’s blood is in my dogs, that does not prove I’ve done anything wrong.  Gladiator’s been dead fifteen years, and the Field isn’t going to get involved in pedigree errors that far back.”
(When the Field’s DNA initiative was announced, Dillon had had his lawyers make anonymous inquires.)

    “That may be so, but now you are going to write a letter for the Field admitting what you did.”  With that, Ben Grimes pulled the .38 from his jacket pocket.
Sam Dillon sat in the chair behind his clean desk.  He placed his hands before him on the desk blotter.

    “Get out some paper and a pen,” Ben Grimes ordered.  Sam Dillon hesitated, then reached with his right hand to open the top drawer on the side of his desk.  In it was a .22 automatic.  As swiftly as a rattler’s strike, Sam Dillon pulled out the pistol and shot Ben Grimes in the gut, an inch above the navel.  Reflexively, Grimes pulled the trigger of the .38, and a hole appeared in the center of Sam Dillon’s forehead as the back of his head exploded.

    Ben Grimes was tried for murder before a jury of his peers.  His defense was self-defense.  The evidence was clear that Dillon fired first (a .22’s pop had been followed by the .38’s roar, Dillon’s assistant testified).  Clear too that Ben Grimes had come armed to Dillon’s office.  He testified he brought the gun because he knew Dillon to be a violent man, and he came to confront Dillon with evidence of a crime he’d committed.

    With just an hour of deliberation, the jury acquitted Ben Grimes.  Grimes’ lawyer had carefully researched the jury panel.  The chairman turned out to be a quail hunter.  The prosecutor didn’t know about bird hunting or bird dogs—he’d grown up in a northern city before going to Harvard for law school.