Buck Smith’s Option

 Part Twenty-Six

By Tom Word
Hardy Dillard spent the evening planning the game dinner to celebrate Headstrong’s win of the National.  He started with composing the guest list, then turned to the menu and the entertainment.  He left open the date until he could confer with Kyle and Buck.
He went to bed at eleven, but could not sleep—his mind kept replaying Headstrong’s race at the Ames Plantation.  As he finally felt himself growing drowsy, he reflected that reliving Headstrong’s performances in memory was the best part of his new field-trial obsession.  He felt himself smile, and then he was asleep.
The plan came to him next morning as he sat on the porch, listened for the quail to whistle, and enjoying his first cup of coffee.  He loved this time of morning; it renewed him.  In unison a dozen coveys of quail sounded off from their roasts announcing they were walking out and about from their tight circles of the night.  
Martha, his cook, brought out his breakfast on a tray, scrambled “egg beaters,” a single slice of dry whole-wheat toast, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  He thanked her and asked about her husband, George, retired as Mossy Swamp’s butler, and her grandson, Willy, a fourth grader.  She said they were “doing fine.”  He wondered if that were so, but as usual found Martha inscrutable.  Martha kept her feelings to herself.
He drove his pickup slowly the mile out the entrance lane shrouded by giant live oaks, watching for scurrying quail and flitting songbirds.  When he reached Buck’s house, Buck and Kyle were at the barn feeding their horses.
“Mornin’ Mr. Hardy.  What brings you out so early?”  Buck said.
“Mornin’ boys.  When you get to a good stopping place, I’d like to talk with you a few minutes.”
“Yes sir.  We’ll just be a minute,” Buck said.
The three walked to the kitchen where Kyle poured three mugs of coffee.  When they were seated around the kitchen table, Hardy Dillard got down to business.
“Boys, I fired Simon Green yesterday after Doc Keen told me about what he was up to with Strong.  He’s gone from Mossy Swamp.
“I’ve got a proposition for you all.  How about you come to work for me.  Buck, you’d be my manager for Mossy Swamp.  Kyle, you’d be head dog trainer and huntsman.  I want to keep my hand in field trials, but just the piney woods all-age trials, the Florida, Continental, Southeastern, Masters, and, of course, the National if we’ve got a dog eligible.  And you’d still go north, but just to make our wagon-dog string and train a few trial prospects.
“I want to hunt Mossy Swamp a day and a half twice a week, just for folks I like.  We can host a field trial at Mossy Swamp if you fellows want to—or not.  I’d like to give back to the sport since it’s given me so much pleasure.”
Buck’s mind was racing.  He’d been thinking about asking Hardy Dillard if he would buy his home place so he’d have something to live on when he couldn’t work any longer.  He didn’t want to retire yet, but he knew he’d eventually have to.  Hardy Dillard had a better idea.
       “Buck, I’ve got a way you can have your cake and eat it too with your place here.  I know it means a lot to you, and I want you
to be able to keep it.  Here’s my proposition.  I’ll make it possible for Tall Timbers to buy a conservation easement on it from you.  You’ll keep it; just have to agree it can’t be developed for houses or a shopping center.  They can pay you enough so you can buy an annuity that will make you pretty comfortable.  You two will have health insurance, a 401(k) plan, disability insurance, a little group life insurance.”
Hardy didn’t mention salary numbers, and Buck and Kyle didn’t ask.  They looked at one another, then broke into grins that telegraphed their decisions to Hardy Dillard.
“When do we start, Mr. Hardy?” Kyle said.
“How about tomorrow.  I’ve got two couples from Virginia flying in tonight.”

To be continued in Part Twenty-Seven.