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
“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
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.