The Last Minute Judge
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
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
(Ben’s bracemate had been picked up at thirty minutes.)
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.