We made the fifteen hundred miles home to West
Virginia in four days, stopping to drop off gun dogs we’d trained and
spending nights at the homes of field-trial people Jack knew near
Omaha, St. Louis, and Lexington, Kentucky. Our visits with Jack's
old friends were a revelation. He had not seen these people for
many years, but they talked of shared events of thirty years before as
if they had occurred yesterday. For the first time, I sensed how
fleeting life is, how when a day is gone it is gone
forever. On the road, Jack told me of heats run on
field-trial grounds we passed--of great dogs that had made their mark,
had a year or two of glory, then faded into dim memory. Jack,
like all the pros I came to know, could remember long-ago races of his
dogs and others in every detail.
Back home, I started school a week late.
September was a big month for new gun dogs to train, as bird hunters
began to plan for the coming season. At night the phone rang
constantly with the calls of people wanting to buy a dog or bring one
for training or to breed a female to Flip. Many evenings we had
visitors. And then on October 1, we had a different
kind of visitor--two men in a gray sedan with U.S. Government license
tags. They wore dark suits and plain-toe black shoes, and they
identified themselves as agents of the Internal Revenue Service.
They read Jack his rights: "You have the right to remain silent .
. . ."
Jack phoned Harvie McGuire, an Elkins lawyer, old friend and
customer. Harvie told Jack not to talk to the IRS agents but to
turn over the tax records they had a subpoena for, making sure he had
copies of everything he gave them.
Next day when I got home from school, Harvie and
Jack were at the kitchen table. Harvie stopped talking when I sat
at the table beside Jack. "Go ahead, Harvie, I've go no secrets
from David," Jack said.
Harvie said Jack was going to be indicted for income tax evasion and
gambling without a federal gambling stamp. One of the players who
had lost to Jack in the big game at The Greenbrier had called the IRS
snitch line. Jack's big pay-down of the farm mortgage was proof
of his winnings--not reported on his tax return. Harvie asked
Jack if he wanted to plea bargain. Jack said he wanted a jury.
The following weeks were a nightmare. Jack and
I trained gun dogs from sunrise until the daylight was all gone,
Saturdays and Sundays included. Evenings Jack went to Elkins to
work with Harvie on his defense. I held down the fort at the
farm, dropping out of high school for the semester over Jack's
objections. (Doc sided with me.) Doc and Jack had a big
argument about Flip--Doc wanted to take him on the amateur circuit to
keep him tuned up, then try to get him qualified again for the National
by entering one or two qualifying open trials; Jack was still set
against Doc running Flip in amateur trials.
"After this February you can run Flip in any trial
you please, but until I've run him in the National again you can't run
him, period. You've got the rest of his life and yours to run him
in amateur trials--you and David both. I've got just one chance
for the National . . . . Hell, I may not even have that," Jack
said. We thought he was talking about the tax trial coming up.
Then Flip got sick. When Jack let him out the
front door for his morning stretch, he took three strides toward the
yard fence--which he always jumped--and he staggered. His muscle
tone was suddenly gone.
We drove to the vet's clinic in Lewisburg. He examined Flip for
half an hour; he hadn't a clue. Flip's heartbeat and respiration
were near normal, but his muscles had turned to jelly. The vet
took blood samples and said the tests would be back in a few
days. In the meantime, he wanted to keep Flip at the
clinic. Jack said no--he thought more animals got infections from
clinics than cures.
We called Doc who said to take Flip to the
University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, that a friend would be
expecting us. And so we lay Flip between us on the truck seat and
headed out. We got to Philadelphia at four-thirty, and Doc's
friend examined Flip just as our vet had and took more blood. He
also took x-rays. He called Doc on a speakerphone.
"It could be a brain tumor; it could be a tumor on
the pancreas--like Oklahoma Flush had--or it could be something we
haven't thought of that the blood tests will suggest. I want to
see the blood test results before doing anything invasive."
And so Jack and I left Flip at the vet school.
We were low as could be. On the drive back, just as
the first range of the Blue Ridge came into view, a thought came to me.
"Jack, have you ever seen an animal get sick like
"No . . . not exactly."
"He got limp all at once--just like a lamb will do
that gets an infection from the rubber band you put on its tail to dock
it . . . ."
"That's tetanus--lockjaw--the lambs get. Never
heard of a dog with tetanus. The tetanus germ lives for years in
horse manure, the vets say . . . ."
Then I remembered. Flip had been imprisoned in
the old horse trailer in North Dakota--and he had torn his pad.
The wound would have been exposed to the horse manure in the trailer.
When we reached the farm we called Doc, who said it was possible--any
mammal was susceptible to tetanus in some degree, and men and horses in
a high degree (that's why they were inoculated against it as a matter
of prevention). Doc called his friend at the vet
school who said he had heard of just one case of a dog contracting
tetanus, but he agreed Flip's symptoms were consistent with the
disease. He’d expand the blood test to check for tetanus.
It would take three days to get the test results. Meanwhile Flip
grew weaker. The next three days were pure
hell. We called the vet school and Doc every morning and
afternoon, but it did no good. Doc talked to his friend about
courses of treatment. If it were a brain tumor, there was nothing
to do; if a pancreatic tumor, they could operate, but the prognosis
would not be good. But if it were tetanus . . . well, there was a
one in a thousand chance of that . . . but tetanus could be cured with
an antitoxin if caught in time.
And then on Wednesday Doc called--it was
tetanus! Flip had been given the antitoxin, and, barring
complications, he should make a complete recovery. It would take
two months to rebuild his muscle tone.
Our chances to run Flip in the National in February seemed
dashed. He would not be eligible without a major circuit
placement before then, and he wouldn't be able to run in fall
trials. Only if we could get him well and back in shape for the
January trials was there a chance. And those were the toughest
trials of all--the entries were always large; to get even a third
place, Flip would have to beat eighty or more all-age dogs more
experienced than he. Still, we had hope--and confidence in
Flip--if we could just get him healthy in time.
In spite of our troubles with Flip and Jack's
upcoming tax-fraud trial, Jack and I delivered thirty dogs to
customers, ready to hunt by the opening of the bird season. Most
were just country broke, but they were ready enough for meat
hunters. Only one dog came back--its buyer took it to a shooting
preserve and shot over it all day with a twelve-gauge, rendering it gun
shy. Jack took it back for half the fifteen-hundred-dollar sales
price, then told the buyer,
"Don't ever come back here again." Jack would
rehabilitate the dog--although it was thoroughly gun-shy, it didn't
associate the noise with birds, just with guns and man, and so it could
Jack's tax-fraud trial was set for the week before
Christmas, at the Federal Courthouse at Elkins. All the judges in
West Virginia recused themselves--they had been his customers or
golfing partners (or victims, depending on the day's pairings).
The prosecutor tried to get a continuance, but Harvie McGuire would
have none of that--the week before Christmas was the perfect time to
try a criminal case to a West Virginia jury.
Harvie was elated when he learned the name of the judge assigned to
hear Jack's case, Richard L. Williams of Richmond, Virginia.
Judge Williams was notorious for his "rocket docket." He demanded
that lawyers put on their cases quickly and without repetition.
Lawyers everywhere were scared of him. Harvie learned Williams
was an avid outdoorsman--trout fisherman and grouse and turkey
hunter--and owned a mountain farm in Virginia. Williams didn't
know Jack--except perhaps by reputation--but he understood mountain
folk. At the same time, Williams was not known as soft on
crime--far from it. His record for sentences in tax-evasion cases
made Harvie gulp when he looked it up on his computer. Still,
there would be a jury . . . .
The government asked Judge Williams for two weeks
for the trial, but he allowed just two days. Doc flew in for the
trial. We got rooms in an Elkins motel.
"You won't believe this," Harvie McGuire said as he
emerged from Judge Williams' chambers after the final pretrial
"Judge Williams has got an English setter in there
with him. 'Judge'--that's what he calls it."
The trial began with the gravel-voiced judge
explaining the case for the jury in four quick sentences. And
then for hours, government accountants testified about numbers on tax
returns. Harvie waived cross-examination until the government's
final and most important witness finished his testimony. Then
Harvie. rose to cross-examine.
"Sir, did you make any attempt to determine if Mr.
Slone had any deductions he didn't use but was entitled to?"
"No further questions, Your Honor."
The government rested its case, and Harvie called
Jack to the stand as his first and only witness. Jack held a
folder of papers, and for the next hour, Harvie took him through
records of payments to the hospital and doctors and the bank, including
long-due payments on Ann's medical bills. The government lawyer
objected after each document was tendered on grounds that the
deductibility of the payment had not been established. After each
objection, Harvie withdrew the proffered item, but the jury heard
Jack's explanation, which was all Harvie wanted.
Judge Williams soon grew impatient with Harvie.
"I apologize to the Court, Your Honor. I'm
just a country lawyer--not a tax expert like my friend here from
Washington," (Harvie pointed to the special prosecutor from the Tax
Division of the Justice Department, clad in an expensive blue
suit--Harvie wore a crumpled old double-knit).
"No further questions of the witness, Your Honor,"
Harvie said with a smile to the jury.
The government lawyer rose to cross-examine Jack.
"Mr. Slone, you are a professional gambler, are you
"Well, I never thought so. I make bets when I
play golf, but that's a game of skill so it's not gambling. And I
play poker for money when I can find a game--not so easy in Greenbrier
County as it used to be."
The jury laughed; everyone in West Virginia knew
about the wild and wooly days in Greenbrier County.
"No, sir, I don't think I'm a professional
gambler. I'm a farmer and a bird-dog trainer--those are my
professions," Jack said.
"Do you admit winning thirty thousand dollars in a
poker game at The Greenbrier Hotel last year?"
"Yes, I do."
"And do you admit not reporting those winnings on
your income tax return?"
"Yes, I do."
"No further questions, Your Honor."
In his closing argument, Harvie McGuire spoke to the
jury like friends gathered in his kitchen. Several were his
friends, for Harvie made it his business to know everyone living around
Elkins. He made the case simple: Jack hadn't intended to
evade taxes. His expenses through all the years of Ann's illness
had been so high and his income so low that Jack just saw his
thirty-thousand-dollar poker win as a little getting even--and it had
all gone to the bankers or doctors, every cent of it.
It took the twelve men and women from the West Virginia hills and
hollows--men and women by nature suspicious of government, bankers,
doctors, hospitals and "come heres"--just thirty minutes to acquit Jack
of tax evasion. They convicted him of failure to buy a federal
gambling stamp, a misdemeanor. For that Judge Williams imposed a
thousand-dollar fine and a thirty-day jail sentence, suspended on
condition of good behavior.
To celebrate our victory Doc took Harvie, Jack and
me to dinner at The Greenbrier. Over dinner we decided to enter
Flip in the Florida All-Age Championship the second week of January and
try to requalify him there for the National Championship. Doc
spent the night at The Greenbrier so he could get a flight home early
next morning. On our drive to the farm, snow began to
fall. Christmas morning I awoke before Jack and went
down to light the fires. The snow-covered mountains shimmered in
the predawn moonlight; the river was a black satin ribbon through the
stark-white valley. I let Flip out, started the coffee and the
bacon, then let him in again. He quickly chewed away the ice
formed in the hair between his toes. Jack had still
not stirred. I sat with Flip before the rising fire and listened
to the crack of the fatwood . . . Tomorrow Jack and I would head
south. I would be out of school until March. Our troubles
were behind us—Jack’s taxes, Flip’s tetanus; so many good things lay
just ahead . . . and yet I felt a foreboding, as I had on the
morning my father caught me staring at his scarred hand, the morning of
my hunt with Pat and the big white dog . . . . Jack’s steps
thumped on the stairs.
“Merry Christmas!” he said with more cheer than I
We opened our gifts to one another—and shared a long
laugh. They were the same—framed 8 x 10 photos of Flip on point
on the prairie last summer, mine made at daybreak, Jack’s made at
dusk. We placed them side by side on the mantle above our
Christmas fire and went into the kitchen for
breakfast. Harvie McGuire's usual fee for a federal
felony jury trial was twenty thousand dollars, but he cut it for Jack
to ten thousand--and the promise of two good grouse dogs on sixty-days
call (he already owned a Jack-trained pointer in its prime). Once
again, Jack was desperate for money.
Next morning at daybreak, Jack and I headed for
Georgia, Flip between us, our horses and a few derbies Jack was
training to sell in the trailer.
"Dog's got to acclimate his nose to the sandy
wire-grass country," Jack had said. We spent the next ten days on
borrowed grounds south of Albany. Again, my carelessness nearly
cost us everything.
The Deep-South quail country was beautiful--acres of wire grass under
tall longleaf pines, their low bark blackened by the yearly burn, giant
live oaks with limbs like outstretched arms. This was real
bird-dog country--every pickup held a dog box. When
we finished Flip’s final workout before the Florida Championship, I
fitted Flip in a roading harness for the ride back to the
kennels. I snapped one end of a check cord to the harness, then
the other end to a ring on my saddle.
My horse, a new one Jack had traded for since our
arrival in Georgia, was tall, so I led him into a depression for my
remount. As I lifted my foot to the stirrup, a rattler sounded
and my horse galloped off--with Flip in tow! Terror
gripped me. If the horse ran close by a pine, Flip would be
pulled into the tree--and crushed.
"Jack!" I screamed in panic.
Jack was fifty yards away, attaching a roading harness to Flip's
"Don't move, don't yell," he said calmly.
Miraculously, Flip realized his danger and how to
manage it. Instead of fighting the rope he fell in close at the heels
of the runaway horse, keeping the rope slack and making it impossible
for the horse to pull him against a tree. But if the rope caught
on a stump or in brush, he could still be killed . . . I held my
breath and prayed. After minutes that seemed an hour,
the runaway horse slowed to a trot, then dropped its head to
graze. Unhurt and unconcerned, Flip lay down behind him.
Jack rode slowly to the grazing horse, dismounted and unclipped the
check cord from the saddle ring. Tears of shame and gratitude
streamed down my cheeks. As I hugged
Flip, Jack said, "Bet you don't do that again."
On our ride in to the kennels, the dogs pulling
happily ahead in harness, Jack’s warning advice the first day we worked
dogs from horseback in West Virginia rang in my ears.
(to be continued)