Buck Smith’s Option
 Part Twenty-Three
                          By Tom Word
Hardy Dillard flew back to Memphis for Headstrong’s race in the National Championship, arriving Wednesday afternoon.  Simon Green had earlier trailered over from Mossy Swamp Plantation Hardy’s roans and a couple extra horses for himself and Hardy’s friends.  Doc Keen and his wife had also driven over with their mounts to ride front for Strong.
Hardy took the Keens and Kyle and Buck to a chain steakhouse in Collierville for supper.  Headstrong slept curled on the back seat of Kyle’s locked dually while the five diners toasted him with screw-top red wine.  “If Strong wins tomorrow, I’m buying Dom Periogn for his victory dinner at Mossy Swamp,” Hardy Dillard said.  “What’s Dom Periogn?” Kyle asked Buck when they went out to check on Strong between courses. “Darned if I know,” said Buck.
Ever since they’d discovered Strong had been drugged at Dixie and Chinquapin, Kyle and Buck had been trying to figure out who might have had done it.  Buck thought he knew, but he had not told Kyle or Hardy Dillard, hadn’t told anyone in fact.  He’d made a visit to Dixie just before he and Kyle left for T. Jack Robinson’s place and looked up Ben Washington, Sr., driver of the dog truck at Dixie.  Ben didn’t have precise memory of anything conclusive, and Buck didn’t ask him any questions that revealed just what information he was after, but he did confirm that a person Buck suspected had taken Strong from the dog trailer before his race in the finals, ostensibly to dunk him in a horse watering trough to cool him.  That would have given him an opportunity to slip him the sedative pill.  That pill had to have been wrapped in cheese, otherwise Strong would not have taken it.  Like many dogs, Strong couldn’t be given a pill unless it was camouflaged by food he craved, and for Strong the only food that worked was cheese.
Only a few people knew of Strong’s aversion to pills and his craving for cheese, which had helped Buck shorten his list of suspects.
Of course, Buck could be dead wrong, and he knew it.  Every competing handler and owner at the Florida and the Continental (or here at Grand Junction) had a motive to sabotage Headstrong’s performance.
When they finished supper at the Collierville steak house, Buck called Hardy Dillard aside.  “Mr. Hardy, I left some arthritis medicine in the tack room of your horse trailer the last day we guided a hunt.  Could I borrow your key to the tack room door?”
Hardy Dillard removed the key from a ring holding many and gave it to Buck.  “Don’t forget to give that back to me tomorrow,” Hardy said.
To be continued in Part Twenty-Four.