The Abduction of Capstone

                     By Tom Word


Capstone was the unlikeliest of pointers.  Sired by Miller’s White Powder and whelped by a daughter of Miller’s Date Line, his lineage was impeccable.  But it was in his ownership and his trainership that Capstone proved unlikely. He now belonged to Farley Culp, a technology wizard who, with an MIT degree and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, turned billionaire at age thirty when the company he founded went public.  His trainer-handler was sixty-year-old Al Ellis, who just returned to freedom after ten years of prison on a drug selling conviction.  (Only two people knew Al had been innocent—Al and his son Morty.  Al had taken the wrap to save Morty from prison.  Morty disappeared after his father entered prison and had not been heard from since.  Al had not told his wife, Morty’s mother, of the switch for fear of breaking her heart.)

Al had been working as kennel man and assistant hunt guide on a Yankee plantation in Georgia when Farley Culp came there as a shooting guest.  Farley had never fired a shotgun.  In a prehunt safety session on the plantation’s sheet range, Al taught Farley to shoot.  Farley proved a gifted student.  Before he climbed onto the mule-drawn shooting wagon, he had broken twenty of twenty-five clay birds.
Farley had never seen bird dogs work.  He was fascinated.  By the lunch break, Farley was a committed quail hunter and bird-dog fan, and a friendship had germinated between Farley and Al.

Farley soon craved a place of his own for his new passion.  Al told Farley of a small but elegant spread available near Thomasville, thanks to the implosion of a hedgefund and the downfall of its mastermind, owner of the place.  Farley bought it and hired Al as his manager and dog trainer.  By the following quail season, Farley owned all he needed to be a sportsman—a quail plantation, pointers and retrievers, saddle horses and wagon mules, fly rods and johnboats.  Al had hired his old field-trial scout, Barney Bell, as a helper, and Barney’s wife as cook for the big house.  Al’s wife would serve as housekeeper and manager of hospitality.
Farley subscribed to the American Field, Covey Rise, and Sporting Classics.  “Al, tell me about field trials,” Farley  asked as he sipped single malt in his new gun room.

“Why don’t I show you instead?” Al responded.  Next morning they were at Dixie Plantation with horses to ride the opening brace of the Continental Derby Championship.  By the end of the morning, Farley was hooked on field trials.
“Where can we get a prospect?” Farley asked.
“Right here is the best place I know,” Al said.  When the three days of the derby stake ended, Al bought Capstone from a Kentucky farmer.  Capstone hadn’t won, but he’d shown Al the potential.

Al took Capstone home to Farley’s place at Thomasville, and the two began to get acquainted.  Capstone didn’t disappoint.  For the rest of the season, Farley shot birds over Capstone.  When summer arrived, Al took Capstone to North Dakota, where he polished the pointer’s pattern and got him reliably steady to shot.  In his spare time, he broke a half dozen dogs for the wagon-dog string.  
Capstone won both the North Dakota Classic and Darwin Hawthorn Classic at Columbus, then the Oklahoma All-Age Championship.  Next he won the Kansas Championship.  He missed the first-year all-age slump.  He became the talk of the field-trial fraternity and interest in him grew as a sire.
Al and Capstone returned to Farley’s plantation for the opening of quail season.  Farley shot quail over his now famous pointer.  With the new year, Capstone won the Georgia Quail Championship, the Florida Open All-Age Championship, and the Continental Open All-Age Championship.  No bird dog in history had ever had such a winning season.  Capstone seemed invincible.  He ran a huge forward pattern each time released, found birds, and pointed them with breathtaking style, good location, and perfect manners.  And he handled for Al as if the two read one another’s minds.
Then just after his Continental win, Capstone disappeared from his kennel on Farley’s plantation.  Word of his disappearance spread via the Internet.  Fortunately, Capstone had a tattoo on the inside of his right rear leg.  A reward was advertised for his safe return.  Al got prank calls claiming the caller had the dog and demanding, “Send the reward” . . . but the callers could not recite the tattoo, so Al knew they were frauds.
Time drew near for the National Championship.  Al and Farley were despondent.  They entered Capstone on the faint hope he’d be returned in time.
Just before Capstone’s disappearance, Al had arranged for Capstone’s semen to be collected and frozen.  At the drawing for the National, Farley’s announced that a vial of Capstone’s semen would be auctioned on Ebay during the week of the National, with the bidding to end when the National winner was announced.  What the vial brought would be a reward fund for Capstone, or a donation to the Holbart Ames Foundation should Capstone not be recovered by next year’s National drawing.  If the dog were returned safely in time to run in this year’s National, Farley would double the reward fund.  Capstone was drawn in the last brace of the thirty entries.

When he announced the auction of Capstone’s semen, Farley also announced this would be the only vial of his semen ever to be sold.  Through the week, the bids grew steadily.  On the night before Capstone’s brace was to run, the bid reached a half million dollars.
Then Farley got a message on his Blackberry.  It claimed the sender had Capstone.  He would be returned if the reward were wired to a Swiss Bank, with irrevocable instructions for released to the message sender upon Capstone’s safe delivery.  The sender knew how moneys were transferred in the digital age.  The procedure outlined was the same as that used for payment against delivery in international trade.  The message included a digital image of Capstone with the day’s front page of the New York Times, though Farley knew this might be fake.

Farley arranged for the payment, and a message came that Capstone was at a Memphis vet clinic.  Farley and Al rushed there from the drawing.
“He’s out of shape—we can’t run him tomorrow,” Al said after feeling Capstone’s muscles.  Early next morning, Al and Barney Bell pulled out of Grand Junction for Thomasville, Capstone safe on the dually seat between them.
Who had kidnapped Capstone and collected his ransom?  Al suspected his son Morty might be involved.  The prospect depressed him.  But the depression was ironic, for he’d believed his son was dead, killed in the drug culture.  If he were involved, at least he would be alive.
Farley had unleashed all his considerable influence to find the culprit.  Farley had made his fortune in technology designed to detect the senders of digital signals.  His company secretly specialized in anti-terrorism work for the government, though its inventions also served commerce.
Back at Farley’s plantation, Al worked to condition Capstone for the season’s upcoming final championships, the Southeastern, the Masters, and the Kentucky.  Al looked for signs Capstone had been injured, physically or mentally, but he could detect none.  Cap soon seemed his old self, though at first he lacked stamina.  He’d obviously been laid up in close confinement.  But soon his strength came back, and he breezed through workouts as eager and sharp as before his abduction.
Meanwhile, Farley, without Al’s knowledge, had unleashed a manhunt for Al’s son, Morty.  Al had talked heart to heart to Farley about Morty after Capstone’s disappearance.  Farley had heard from others the rumors of Al’s sacrifice for his son.  When he asked Al about it, Al just stared back blankly.  The subject was too painful for Al to talk about.  Farley understood.

The winning bid on e-Bay for Capstone’s frozen semen had been made by Farley himself.  So the money paid to the kidnapper was all Farley’s.  But the million dollars was worth it to Farley.  He wanted to catch the abductor, but he wanted more to find Morty alive. He’d grown extremely close to Al, who had opened his eyes to aspects of life he had not dreamed existed, an appreciation of nature, open spaces, and the man-working dog connection.  These were pleasures city-raised boys like Farley had no concept of.

Capstone’s lead in the Purina points for Dog-of-the-Year was unbeatable.  Al and Farley wanted him to have the opportunity to compete with the best.  All involved in the sport were wondering who had been the successful bidder for Capstone’s frozen semen.  Al and Farley naturally were not saying.
Farley’s search for Morty was not independent of the search for Capstone’s abductor.  Finally, Farley got a message from his company’s chief of security—Morty was in a California hospital, admitted through its emergency room where fellow homeless companions had brought him.  Farley flew Al in his private jet to see Morty, who was so emaciated Al hardly recognized him.  He suffered from malnutrition, as well as meth addiction, no doubt made worse by his guilt.
Al was heartbroken to see his son so afflicted.  He assured the boy, now thirty, of his love and forgiveness.  Farley  arranged for Morty’s admission to a rehab facility near Thomasville where father and son could be close to one another.
Capstone ran in the Southeastern, the Masters, and the Kentucky Championships.  He came close in each, but did not win, though Al thought he should have been named winner twice.  Farley was learning the reality of field trials—that even with a great dog, you did not always win.
Farley knew now from his chief of security that Morty had not been involved in Capstone’s abduction.  When he told Al, the handler’s relief was profound.  Meanwhile, at the rehab center, Morty made steady progress.  On July 1 Morty was released, and he and Al and Capstone departed for North Dakota for a summer of dog training, leaving Barney to look after Farley’s Georgia kennel.  Morty’s boyhood days of working with his father on the prairie were his happiest memories.  Farley had bought land near Columbus and a house in the town, which was becoming a summer-fall haven for  bird dogs folks from all over the country.
Farley called off his private search for Capstone’s abductor.  The crime had long since fallen off the radar of the FBI and Interpole.  Farley figured he’d return to it someday, but for now his priorities lay with the repair of Morty, the rebonding of a father and his son, and Capstone’s campaign to win the National Bird Dog Championship.

It was while riding with Al and Morty in North Dakota during one of Capstone’s workouts that Farley realized who had likely kidnapped Capstone.  His thoughts had turned to possible motives.  The suspect was his MIT roommate and early partner in his business, Norman Klench.  Norman had become jealous of Farley’s quicker mind and insisted on being bought out of the company.  Farley had obliged him, even accepted his price.  Then two years later came the IPO, making Farley super rich, while Norman Klench was just real rich from his buyout.

Using his cell phone, Farley called his chief of security.  Before Capstone’s workout ended, Farley got a call back, confirming his suspicion.  At first he was furious, but then he reflected on Al’s forgiveness of his son Morty and decided he’d not press charges against Norman.  He could understand and forgive Norman’s evil deed, motivated by envy, punishment enough in itself.  But the real reason for his forgiveness was Norman’s return of Capstone unharmed, proof enough for Farley that, like Morty, Norman was not beyond redemption.  He’d have to go see Norman and express his forgiveness, but not until after the National Championship.