The Last Minute Judge
(Fiction)

By Tom Word

    Sam Perkins had not judged a trial in twenty years. But when the call came from the dear friend who hosted him for a South Georgia quail shoot every year between Christmas and New Years, he couldn’t refuse. (The advertised judge had begged off for an alleged back injury.) When Sam rode to the line for the opening brace, he didn’t recognize many faces. There were a few from the old days, a couple he recognized because they looked like their fathers. He recognized all their names from reading the Field, a habit of a lifetime learned from his father.

    From the first “Let ‘em go” to the end of the thirtieth brace five days later, he and his fellow judge watched intently. The standout performance came in the last brace.
Sam and his fellow judge had been fascinated by the team behind that dog. The owner had ridden front, and he and the handler and scout had ridden every brace of the trial. The six dogs they entered all ran very big, but showed to the front in time every time. Their last-brace entry, Ben Begone, had run a spectacular race with three limb finds and a blazing finish, to be found on his last find in the grace period after time. On their ride into headquarters atop the dog truck, the judges decided to have some fun. As they climbed down, Ben’s owner, handler, and scout rode in, Ben happy in harness on the scout’s check cord.

Sam Perkins said,

“Boys, come with us over to the stable where they’re keeping our horses. We want to have a little chat with you before we announce the winners. Bring ole Ben too.”

    The three looked at one another quizzically, then nodded assent and headed their horses toward the judges’ stable. Sam Perkins and his fellow judge walked a ways behind, quietly talking out their plan for the interrogation to come. Sam would do the talking. The judges’ horses were at the wash rack being cared for by the plantation’s staff, so the stable was empty, save for their two morning mounts, which could be heard munching hay in their stalls. As the judges arrived, the three riders swung from their saddles, wondering what was next. Sam Perkins walked to the back of the barn to be sure no one else was in it. Then he said,
 
“Boys that was a great performance ole Ben just laid down. He made it easy for us, saved us from some hard choices. But before we name Ben the champion, we’ve got a few questions to ask you.
“Booty (the scout’s name) let me see your cell phone—the one in your left front pants pocket. And Billy and Mr. Fred, let’s see your’s too.”

    Mr. Fred started to say he didn’t have a cell phone on him, then remembered he’d ridden off to call Billy when Ben came into the gallery, and the judges just might have seen it. All three handed Sam Perkins their cell phones. One by one he punched up the screens showing recent calls and punched redial. All three phones vibrated in his hand in sequence.

    Sam handed the men their cell phones and said, “Booty, let me see your stopwatch” (it was a big one, hung round the scout’s neck on a lanyard).

    Booty reached for it and looked to Mr. Fred for instructions. The owner nodded assent.
The watch seemed to have extra buttons, which Sam punched. The back lit up—a GPS digital screen. Sam walked into the adjoining paddock to confirm that Ben had a transmitter chip somewhere under his skin, the same technology used by Navy Seal teams, the CIA, FBI, and a few up-to-date divorce detectives, according to a recent article in the Sunday New York Times.

    “Let me see the tracking collar Ben was just wearing,” Sam Perkins asked.

    Billy unbuckled it from a saddle ring. A dime-sized wafer was glued on the inside.

    “A buzzer or a stinger?” Sam asked, “And let me see your stopwatch, Billy.”

    Sam punched the buttons on the watch, and the collar buzzed, same tone as a Tritronics collar. Another button lit up the GPS screen on the back of the watch.
Sam returned the stop watches to Booty and Billy and asked Booty,

     “Let me see that little leather bag snapped on the back of your saddle.”

    Booty unsnapped it and handed it to Sam. In it in a small plastic box were three hypodermic syringes, one almost empty, two filled with liquid, one pink, one yellow. The needles were covered by the customary plastic sheaths. Sam Perkins put the box in his coat pocket. He was a veterinarian and would have the contents of the syringes analyzed by a forensic lab next week.    The three riders stood holding their horses’ reins and looking sheepish, waiting for Sam Perkins’ next question. Sam let several minutes of silence pass, then grinned at his fellow judge.

    “OK boys, let’s go over to the clubhouse and announce the winners, let ole Ben get his picture taken,” Sam said.

    The three riders were incredulous. They’d been sure the judges were about to disqualify Ben. Sam Perkins sensed their thoughts and said,

    “No, boys, were not going to disqualify Ben. We figure your competition is doing the same things or worse. But if I find out there’s a sedative in that used syringe or anything harmful to a dog in any of them, you may be hearing from Bernie.”
 (Ben’s bracemate had been picked up at thirty minutes.)

    Sam searched the faces of the three men leading their horses and realized there would be no problem with the drugs in the syringes. Their expressions of relief were unmistakable. No doubt the empty syringe had held some performance enhancing elixir for Ben. Sam had experimented with many on his gun dogs over the years, but none seemed to work.  As they reached the clubhouse, Sam handled the club secretary a slip bearing Ben’s name as champion. As he did so, he thought, this game is getting more and more like NASCAR.