Willie Gooch was high
as a Georgia pine—not on booze or drugs, but on mental images of a
derby he’d been working since March. It was August now, with the first
prairie trial just a week away. Willie was on his cell phone from North
Dakota to Robert French, the derby’s owner and Willie’s boss, about the
paperwork he needed to enter the derby in that trial and the ones to
follow. He knew he had a winner, maybe Derby of the Year, but he
couldn’t enter it unregistered.
French told Willie he’d be back to him in a few minutes, to stay off the phone while he dug up the paper in his plantation office, a five-minute walk from the Big House where he now sat before a bay window sipping single-malt scotch and watching the sun set over the Mossy Swamp Mill Pond, the cypress leaves and Spanish moss above the dark waters glowing like golden gossamer in the horizontal rays of dimming sunlight. True to his word, French called Willie back ten minutes later.
“Got a pen? Write this down. Name, Mossy Swamp Sam, Registration Number 9978365, by Mossy Swamp Mobster out of Mossy Swamp Missie. Whelped January 10, 2006,” French said.
A long silence
followed. Willie knew his derby Sam was not from a mating of those two
dogs. He’d broken them both. They were wagon dogs on Mossy Swamp
Plantation. Their sires were trial dogs, yes, but his special derby
didn’t show the characteristics of any of those dogs, not at all.
Finally, Willie said,
“You send in a DNA sample with the papers for that registration?” “Yes,” French replied. The tone of the “Yes” told Willie all he needed to know.
His derby Sam was an impostor and would never sire a litter. If his derby proved a winner, and Willie had no doubt it would, another dog at Mossy Swamp Plantation would have to breed any bitch whose owner wanted a pup from his derby Sam. The substitute suitor would be whatever pup from the mating of Mobster and Missie whose saliva sample Robert French had sent to the Field with Sam’s registration application.
Nothing more was said between Willie and Robert French that evening, except “good night and good luck.” Both men understood the charade that would have to follow if the derby to be entered as Mossy Swamp Sam proved a winner. A policy of “Don’t ask—Don’t tell” would have to prevail between Willie and Robert French through all the days of Sam’s life. If a request came to Willie for a breeding to Sam, he’d just refer it to Robert French. That would no doubt prove awkward, unless Robert French placed the real Sam (the dog whose DNA had gone to the Field) in Willie’s string as a passenger only, to occupy a dog box on the trailer and a chain on the string so Willie could surreptitiously breed it in the trailer to bitches delivered to him for breeding to Sam. That would directly involve Willie in the fraud, and he hoped Robert French would not do that. On reflection, he expected Robert French would choose instead to declare Sam sterile or unavailable and not offer any dog at stud as Mossy Swamp Sam. Robert French certainly didn’t need the stud fees, though Willie could sure use them. But since Willie was a private trainer on salary for French, it wouldn’t be as bad as if Willie were training and handling “for the public” and depending on stud fees as a bonus to his revenue stream.
Willie fell asleep in
his chair watching satellite TV. It was midnight when he woke up. His
scout John Bain was also asleep beside him in the other soft chair
facing the TV. Willie shook John awake, and he stumbled off to bed.
Then Willie walked out in the moonlight to the plastic barrel in the
shelter break where Sam slept. The derby heard his footsteps and came
out of his barrel with tail wagging and licked Willie’s hand when he
reached to pet the derby good night.
As he walked back to the cabin from the shelter break, Willie hummed My Old Kentucky Home. He looked forward to crawling into bed, but looked forward more to running his derby Sam, the impostor, in the trial next week.