Buck Smith’s Option
 Part Twenty-Two
                          By Tom Word
Doc Keen wanted to keep Strong for observation at his clinic overnight, but Kyle knew that would be disastrous—the dog could not stand the smells of a veterinary clinic and would grind off his teeth trying to get out of a cage.  By the time they reached the clinic, Strong seemed almost himself, so after Doc Keen examined him a final time, Kyle and Buck drove for home.  They’d left their horses at Dixie and would retrieve them tomorrow.
Next morning Strong seemed normal.  On Doc Keen’s orders, he’d not been fed the night before, so he was ravished now.  Kyle fed him generously, and he ate his food down in seconds, then drank water from his bucket in the kitchen, his tail whipping happily.
At 9 a.m. the phone rang.  It was Doc Keen with lab results on Strong’s blood—he’d had the lab rush them.
“Kyle, Strong’s blood shows traces of a generic form of Valium—you have not had him on any sedative, have you?”
“No . . . no medicine at all.”
“Well, someone gave him a sedative just before he ran at Dixie.  There shouldn’t be any lasting effects, but bring him by so I can test his blood again in a couple of days.”
Buck had driven down to Dixie to pick up their horse.  When he got back, Kyle told him about Doc Keen’s findings.
“The only time Strong was not with us was when he was on the dog wagon trailer.  That’s when somebody had to have slipped him Valium,” Buck said.
They got on their cell phones to people they remembered being around at the breakaway and in the gallery before Strong’s race.  No one they reached recalled seeing anyone around the dog trailer while Strong was on it.
With the time they had left to get ready for the National, Kyle and Buck worked mostly at Mossy Swamp, helping out with hunting parties on the weekends.  Hardy Dillard had a full schedule of guests,  and Kyle and Buck enjoyed entertaining them.  They were different from the usual plantation shooting guest crowd—not the super rich society crowd from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, or the show biz crowd from California, just ordinary folks from Virginia, friends of Hardy Dillard’s over decades.  All of them appreciated bird dogs, not just shooting birds, a rare thing.
The first of February arrived, and Kyle and Buck went to T. Jack Robinson’s Soggy Bottom Plantation grounds at Rienzi, Mississippi, to acclimate Strong to the scenting conditions he’d experience at the Ames Plantation, just up the road.  They’d met T. Jack at the Florida Championship where he’d invited them to use his grounds.  For a week they worked Strong every other day, and by the time they departed for Grand Junction, Strong seemed comfortable with the county and sharp.
Hardy Dillard flew in to Memphis for the National’s drawing, and Kyle and Buck drove to the airport to meet him.  Simon Green would drive over with Hardy’s horses once they knew when Strong would run.
  At the Saturday-night drawing, Hardy met most of the bird-dog fraternity he’d not met before.  They all had nice things to say about Headstrong, which made him feel good.  Of course he realized all with dogs of their own were rooting against Strong.
Hardy was booked at a motel in Collierville, and so were Kyle, Buck, and Strong.  After the drawing, they went to a steakhouse for supper.  Strong had drawn the last brace, which Kyle saw as bad luck, but Buck liked.  The handlers took the opportunity to tell Hardy what they suspected.
“Mr. Hardy, somebody has got it in for Strong and us.  Somebody drugged him before the finals at Chinquapin and at Dixie,” Buck said.
Hardy Dillard was shocked.  How could such heinous conduct occur in the gentlemanly sport of field trials?
“Mr. Hardy, field trials ain’t no gentleman’s game.  It’s a game where some people—a few maybe—have always played for keeps, played to win at any cost.  One of them is out to get Strong and us,” Buck said.
Hardy Dillard had his doubts, but Buck was convincing.  He was serious as a heart attack.  One think was sure -- Strong would not be out of Kyle and Buck’s exclusive possession again.  They would not put him in a kennel away from home or on a field-trial dog truck  again.
Next morning hardy Dillard flew back to Mossy Swamp, to return for Strong’s National race.  Strong would stay in Kyle and Buck’s presence, or locked in their truck, until his time to perform at the end of the second week of competition, Thursday, absent weather delay.
To be continued in Part Twenty-Three.