Buck Smith’s Options

Part Six
 
                      By Tom Word
 
The stakes had been predrawn, and Buck and Kyle picked up draw sheets from Doctor Hawthorn.  Their entries were reasonably disbursed, a relief since with only four mounts between them they could easily wear out their horseflesh.  The derby stake ran first; Buck got a second with Whiparound, which he promptly sold—he had become convinced the attractive white and liver pointer male had too short a nose to make it as an all-age.  The $2,000 check for his proceeds felt good in Buck’s pocket.  Kyle got a third with Whipstitch, a white and yellow pointer female he had become attached to.  “She loops too much to make an all-age,” Buck had said just before they left camp for the North Dakota trials.  “She’ll outgrow that,” Kyle had countered.
In the all-age, both men’s entries disappointed until Headstrong’s brace was called at the end of the stake.  He’d drawn the first course as a bye.  Released at the homestead, he coursed for the cemetery; Buck found him on point to the left of the course near the north-south section road that passed by the cemetery and the one-room schoolhouse.  He looked like a million and had a gravel-seeking pheasant pinned roadside.  It squawked at flush, but Headstrong just got taller.  Released west of the road, Headstrong used the big open pasture to show his heels, then came around nicely to Kyle’s call to go south, passing west of the old house and going deep toward the east-west section road beyond the big wheat field, recently harvested and flat as an ironing board.  He left a dust cloud at his heels.
Buck was riding the left flank near the old house.  He went to a slight rise in the prairie that gave him a good view of Headstrong’s expected route into the rising prairie pasture beyond the wheat field and across the section road.  He saw a dark vehicle, probably a Chevy Suburban, moving slowly west on the section road.  It stopped briefly and resumed its way west.  Buck figured the driver had seen Headstrong approaching and stopped to allow the dog to safely cross the section road, though the distance and Buck’s weakening eyesight made this speculation.  They were thirty minutes into Headstrong’s hour now, and Kyle and Buck were both thinking that with another good find, preferably two, Headstrong should be in the money.
But that was not to be—Headstrong did not reappear, and before they knew it, the judges signaled he was “gone too long,” unseen by them more than the allowed twenty minutes.  They’d given him an extra five minutes of grace, for they liked his race and hoped he’d be found pointing.
Kyle got his tracker from the judges with a “Thank you for lookin’ at him.”  He could not get a signal.  He and Buck spent an hour riding and calling, figuring the collar’s battery had failed.  Finally, they gave up and rode for headquarters.  Kyle was worried.
“That’s the first time I’ve lost him, except on point, since he was a derby,” Kyle said.  “He may be on point now,” Buck said, but he doubted it.
They took care of the horses and fed the dogs, then headed in the truck for town, Buck driving and Kyle using the tracker to search for a signal.  Three miles from trial headquarters, Kyle got a signal.  It led to the collar, unbuckled and in a roadside ditch.
The conclusion was inescapable.  Headstrong had been stolen, and the thieves had thrown his tracking collar away.  “Dumb sons-of-bitches.  They didn’t even have the sense to unscrew the battery,” Buck said with bitterness.
Kyle was on his cell phone to the highway patrol.  “Tell them to be on the lookout for a black or blue Suburban,” Buck said.  Then he told Kyle what he’d seen from the old house site.  When the thieves’ vehicle had stopped on the section road, it was not to let Headstrong pass; it was to pick him up.
 To be continued in Part Seven.