CHAPTER SIX

    "I've got a treat waiting for us in Mississippi," Doc said as we drove north through the Texas panhandle to catch I-40 for the long drive east.
    "We've got use of six thousand acres of what I’m told are the best grounds anywhere.  Country just like the Ames Plantation, plenty of birds."
    "How'd you manage that?" Jack asked.
    "A few years back a Mississippi fellow named Harry Winston brought his wife in with two detached retinas.  I fixed her up with laser surgery.  Harry saw the field-trial pictures in my office and offered me the use of his place any time.  Seems he and his daddy and granddaddy before him bought up land in all the Mississippi hard times since Reconstruction.  Harry's your sort of guy--but I'd watch my bets.  He'll make you a good bridge partner--keeps a running game in the back of his country store.
    "They say when TV first came in the fifties, Harry took bets from customers on the golf matches--everybody came to Harry's store Saturday afternoons to watch because Harry had the only TV.  Of course, the golf matches were recorded, and Harry knew the winners when he took the bets.  Used his winnings to buy uniforms for his neighborhood baseball team.  You've never been so charitable with your card-game profits."
Jack grinned.  "Mississippi Robin Hood.  That's a new one."

    On I-40, we crossed Oklahoma, flat and brown, into Arkansas at Fort Smith, and on through Little Rock toward Memphis.  In east Arkansas, we passed mile after mile of flooded oak timber, with great flights of ducks trading restlessly above us.

"This is Nash Buckingham country, David,” Doc said.  He’d given me the book, Best of Nash Buckingham, for Christmas--the start, I guess now, of my interest in writing.

    Jack entertained us with bluegrass tunes on his harmonica, and we listened to tapes of Shelby Foote's Narrative History of the Civil War and Ben Williams' biography of Huey Long.  The time and the miles passed easily . . .
   
    "He looks like a bird dog now, " Jack said, rubbing Flip's gaunt ribs and iron-hard hindquarters.  The hair around Flip’s nose and eyes was worn off from fighting West Texas shinnery.
    "You know, we've been hunting Flip alone or with dogs he knows.  Teaching a dog to ignore the other handler is might-near as important as teaching him to listen to his own handler.  Flip needs to run braced with some strange dogs, hear a strange handler hollerin'," Jack said.

    "That'll be no problem," Doc said.  "A dozen handlers are in north Mississippi getting ready for the National.  Any of them would love a chance to run on Harry Winston's place."
   
    We crossed the Mississippi-River bridge at Memphis on January 10th. The weather was warm, so we had the windows down.  As we drove through north Mississippi, toward Winston’s Corner, Jack grew silent and seemed depressed.  Doc asked him what was wrong.

    "It's the reminders of poverty and hopelessness everywhere in this country, like at home.  Shanties and trailers, trash thrown on the road.  When Ann and I used to drive through country like this, she'd stare at the shacks and wring her hands—her daddy’s wheat farm in Saskatchewan was neat as an Amish place, she never could stand a mess.  You know, Ann started the Meals on Wheels in Greenbrier County."

    We passed six teenage boys playing basketball by the road; their bare torsos glistened in the dimming sunlight as they leapt like ebony ballet dancers on a stage of red clay.
Harry Winston's store was unpainted heart pine clapboard, its roof rusting tin.  Through dusty front windows, guarded by vertical bars, came the faint glow of a light at the back.  Faded sheet-metal signs on the outside walls declared:  Winston's Store, U.S. Post Office, Winston's Corner, Miss., Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Coca-Cola, Nehi Grape, Sinclair Oil, American Thread, Red Man.  Hand-wrought hinges held the store's front doors precariously above sills worn concave by thousands of feet that had crossed the threshold through a hundred years.  The remaining quadrants of the crossroads held other Winston enterprises:  a baseball diamond with grassless clay infield, a warped plank grandstand and chicken wire backstop; a used farm-equipment lot, and a large barn, once a livery stable, with a tin sign in front proclaiming,"Winston's Feed, Seed and Poultry."  From behind it came the barking of many foxhounds, kenneled under giant live oaks.  A quarter mile down the road a rusting cotton gin bore the Winston name in fading letters.
We entered the store with Flip at heel.  A half dozen cats scurried off chicken-scratch sack and disappeared in the shadows.  Dusty glass-front cases held handkerchiefs, socks, work shirts and trousers.  There were shelves of grocery staples, and in a back corner, a postmaster's cage.  Flypaper strips hung from the ceiling like crepe streamers at a high school prom.  A dozen nail kegs served as stools around a potbellied stove.  I spotted a glass case holding a large collection of pocketknives, which kept my attention through this and subsequent visits.
Wild creatures peered down from wall pedestals:  owl, bobcat, red and gray fox, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, raccoon, 'possum, muskrat, otter, beaver, wild turkey, rattlesnake, even an albino skunk--testament to the area’s wildlife and some taxidermist's art.  Centered in the rear was a high clerk's desk.  Above the desk hung one naked light bulb, the sole source of light in the store.  Deer heads with huge racks stood vigil in the shadows on the store’s back wall.  A card beneath each head identified the slayer and date of dispatch.  Scores of dusty prize ribbons won by Harry’s legendary foxhounds were thumbtacked on the wall beneath the deer heads.

    "Harry doesn't ride to the hounds," Doc had explained on our ride from Texas.  "He's the other kind of fox hunter--the kind that kneels with friends by a night fire and listens to the hound music.
    "Harry even keeps a fox pen--nine hundred acres fenced with army-surplus chain link.  Men bring young hounds from five states to train them in Harry's fox pen, have to make reservations a year ahead."

    Harry perched on a high stool at the clerk's desk.  A slight man in his seventies, he wore khaki trousers and shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a sweat-stained Panama hat.  His small keen eyes peered racoon-like through rimless glasses.  When Harry recognized Doc, he grinned.

    "Well, I'll be damned, if it's not Doc Bates!.  You look different out of your doctor suit.  And what in the world is that long-haired hound you've got with you?"

    Two six-month-old pointer pups, tethered at the rear of the store for socializing, let out a chorus of barks.

    "Quiet, pups," Harry admonished, and they quieted.

    Doc introduced Flip and Jack and me, and we were soon engrossed in talk of the bird crop, weather prospects and entries for the National Championship.  Flip approached the pups.  They tucked their tails and cowered, then realized Flip was not hostile, and mutual sniffing followed.  Flip lay down just beyond their reach, and the pups became calm.

    "Here's a map and an aerial photograph of the land you'll be working on.  May has stocked your refrigerator.  She wanted to have you over tonight for supper, but since we didn't know exactly when you'd be gettin' in, I suggested we put that off.  Let me close up, and I'll show you your headquarters," Harry said.

    Just as Harry put the cash drawer in the old safe and spun the combination lock, the store's doors opened and two men entered.  One was tall and plump, with a spare tire, about forty.  He was dressed western, but his pasty complexion revealed he spent most of his time indoors.  The second man was smaller, perhaps thirty.  The whistle lanyard around his neck identified him as a dog handler.
The big man was Norman Klensch, a San Francisco field-trial devotee and investment tycoon; the smaller man was his private trainer, John Proud Bear, a Montanan of the Crow tribe who had made a name in the west as a handler of all-age dogs.  After we all introduced ourselves, Klensch said, "Well, fancy meetin' you here, Doctor Bates.  You got a dog in the National?"

    "Yes," Doc said.  "Our derby Halifax Flip just qualified, and we thought we'd give it a try."
    "You're wasting your money running a derby in the National, especially a setter," Klensch said.  We all three bristled, but held our tongues.

    Klensch had headed an investment pool that plundered corporate America in the Roaring Eighties.  Through astute public offerings, he'd since resold the stripped companies to an unsuspecting public.

    "What are you doing for a livin' these days, Mr. Klensch, with hostile takeovers out of vogue?" Doc asked.
    "Call me Norman.  I'm running a natural-resources investment partnership.  We're acquiring timber tracts on the North- and South-American continents, holding them for long-term appreciation."  He sounds like a prospectus, Doc thought.

    Norman Klensch had a dog qualified for the National, a pointer, Takeover Bill.  Klensch also owned Takeover Betty, an up-and-coming setter.
   
    "Where are you staying?" Doc asked.
    "We've rented a cottage just down the road from the Ames Plantation, but we need grounds to work on.  We've been in Alabama for three weeks, but John here wanted some work in this kind of country.  Mr. Winston, your friend Wilson Dunn told me you might have some grounds we could lease."

    Before Harry could answer, Doc said, "I've got a proposition for you.  We have Harry's grounds leased--but you're welcome to come work with us."
   
    "That's very kind of you."  Norman's wary tone suggested he expected a catch in the offer--some condition that would cost him money. 

    When none came he seemed to relax.  Harry Winston gave Klensch a map, and all agreed to meet the next afternoon.    Klensch had studiously ignored Jack during the conversation, and Jack had not spoken to him.  Instead, Jack had engaged Proud Bear in a private conversation, as fellow pros are inclined to do.    We followed Harry Winston’s pickup up a magnolia-lined lane past the ruins of an antebellum house.  Behind the ruins stood a dog-trot cabin set on posts in the Mississippi tradition.  Our headlight beams revealed a small mule barn and a dozen kennel runs.  (Our horses were already in the barn, trailered over from North Carolina by a friend of Doc's.)    The cabin's three rooms--two bedrooms and a combination kitchen, dining and living room--were furnished with hand-me-downs.  DuPont calendar prints of turn-of-the-century bird dogs hung on the walls, along with an aged black and white photograph of three men with three bird dogs.

    "That's my daddy with Er Shelley and Paul Rainey at Tippah Lodge, just down the road," Harry said.  "The dogs are Lady's Count Gladstone, Hard Cash and Pioneer.  Two national champion setters--1900 and 1906, I think--and one of the first real good pointers.  My daddy was with them the night in 1912 when Rainey proposed goin' to Africa to hunt lions with hounds.  Rainey bought Jim Avent's bear hound pack, and Shelley took 'em to British East Africa in 1913.  They said he would never make 'em hunt true on lions, but Shelley did it in a month.  Then he cleared out a bunch of man-eaters that were terrorizing Nairobi, came back and wrote a book about it--there's a copy by the lamp."  (I couldn’t wait to read it.)

    After explaining how everything worked in the cabin, Harry bid us good night.    In tired silence, we ate the supper Mrs. Winston had left neatly wrapped for us in the refrigerator.  She was a good cook, no doubt about it.

    As we cleaned the supper dishes, Jack said,    "I think Flip can make a fair showing even as green as he is--he's got the natural talent.  Of course, it takes more luck than ten men get in a lifetime to win the National.  But the dogs that win it have got natural greatness--a three-hour heat exposes the holes."
Doc said, "The winners are always dead broke, and they listen quick to their handler at great distance, which, so far, Flip does only most of the time.  I'm not worried about Flip messing up on his game--you've got him broke.  Keeping him on course and in front for three hours--that's going to be your challenge."
"They've torn down all the tenant houses on the courses, haven't they?" Jack asked.  He was thinking of Flip's weakness for barnyard chickens, a sure enough "hole" if chicken were around. 

    While Flip never ran deer or chased squirrels, he had a definite problem with domestic chickens--he hated them.  It had started as a puppy on his first day at Doc's ranch when he discovered Sally's chicken lot.  Out of curiosity, he dug under the gate and to his surprise met Sally's rooster.  Jack had feared the encounter would make the pup bird shy--but it turned out just the opposite.  From that day forward he attacked every chicken he saw.  Those not well-fenced quickly perished.

    "Jack," Doc said, "you have got to get Flip chicken proof before we go to the Ames Plantation."
Next morning as we ate breakfast, a pickup groaned up the lane.  It was Billy Harris, a farrier Doc and Jack had known for years.  His trailer-mounted forge clanged over the ruts toward the mule barn.
Harris donned his leather apron, fired the propane-fed forge and began the backbreaking labor of trimming and shoeing our six horses.  He carefully measured hooves and shaped shoes in the forge.  He worked without rest or wasted motion, all the while telling us the gossip on other handlers and their entries for the National Championship.  Billy had the muscle and grace of a man who'd worked a lifetime at a hard, exacting job.
Billy finished the last hoof just as Harry Winston and his wife May arrived.  Mrs. Winston spread a checked cloth on a wooden table beneath a live oak that had seen the first white man's appearance up the Mississippi River.  Sitting in folding chairs, we devoured bowls of shrimp gumbo and munched crisp fried chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, pickled beets, corn pudding and homemade biscuits filled with fried ham.  We topped it off with pecan pie and steaming New Orleans-style chicory coffee Mrs. Winston poured from a thermos into paper cups.

    "If you boys will harvest a few of the bobwhites your critters point, I'll fix you a quail dinner," she suggested.
    "I doubt you boys can hit one, with all the fussin' you do tryin' to keep the dogs steady to shot.  Besides, every field-trial dog I ever hunted over would eat every bird he saw fall," Harry teased.
    "Well, maybe we can find one dog with a soft mouth," Doc said.
    "Maybe one so old it's like Harry and got no teeth," Jack said.
    Jack asked, "Billy, what's your record time for shoeing a horse this year?"
    "Fourteen minutes, thirty-five seconds."
    "Faster or slower than last year?"
    "I ain't sayin'."
    "Must be tough to have a profession where everybody can figure out just when you start downhill," Jack teased.
    "Everybody knows you started downhill quite a ways back, Jack," Billy said.  "Pretty high on that setter derby, aren't you.

    Jack grinned, shook Billy's hand goodbye, thanked May, and walked to the barn to saddle up for the afternoon's work.  I went with him.    At two o'clock John Proud Bear pulled his rig up the lane; Norman Klensch followed in a black Jaguar.  He wore a Stetson stockman's hat, a big silver belt buckle and flashy rattlesnake cowboy boots that made him look ridiculous.    While Doc didn't know it, Jack was well acquainted with Norman Klensch. When Klensch had first embraced field trials a few years before, he decided to buy up good dogs and place them with handlers all around the country.  (Klensch had discovered field trials on his first quail hunt at a fancy Texas shooting place where a New York investment banker hungry for his business had taken him as a guest.  Before that trip he'd never seen a dog on point.)  Reading of Jack in the Field, Klensch had called in search of prospects.  Jack told him of a promising setter derby in his kennel that needed an owner.  They made a deal on the phone.  Jack campaigned the dog successfully for Klensch, winning three derby firsts. That spring, as the dog's first adult season approached, Jack told Klensch the dog was capable of winning a championship.  A few days later, Klensch called with orders to ship the dog to another handler.  Jack complied, but he did not forget.  That setter's name was Montana Flip.  (After I told Jack about Montana Flip's having bred Pat on Groundhog's Day, he called Klensch and asked for the stud certificate so we could register Halifax Flip as Montana Flip's son, but Klensch had refused since he had not been paid a stud fee.  Of course Klensch did not know that our Flip was the pup Jack had called him about, and he never would.)

    Jack and Proud Bear prepared to turn loose their contenders.

    "Shall we run 'em an hour?"  Jack asked as he handed John Proud Bear Harry's hand-drawn map of the property, marked with the course.
    
    Proud Bear nodded assent.    The day was perfect for quail hunting--50_, overcast sky, a gentle breeze from the west.  Doc and Norman Klensch and I followed the handlers on horseback.  John Proud Bear rode a beautiful paint, a cross between a western horse and a Tennessee Walker, a compact, smooth but surefooted mount.  Norman's black Walker had been a show champion.  ("All he needs is a black hat to match," Doc whispered to me.)

    The course took us through sedge-edged cotton and soybean fields, bordered by ditch banks grown up in plum thickets, then through open pinewoods and along swamp edges.  The two dogs seemed to float before us.  In no time, each had three finds; they handled the big coveys perfectly. As the hour mark approached, Flip dug into a woods edge to the left, and Doc and I went to scout for him.  Emerging in a small clearing, we saw smoke rising from the chimney of a dogtrot cabin.  Flip was marauding in its chicken lot.    As Doc came out of the chicken lot with Flip by the collar, a small, very old black man eased his way down the cabin's back steps.

    "Lordy, mercy, that setter sure do like chickens, don't he?"

    We were relieved by the man's sense of humor.  Doc quickly proffered a twenty-dollar bill.  

    "That's way too much," said the man.  "Looks like he didn't kill but two. Five dollars would be plenty."
    "No sir," said Doc, "this will probably keep your hens from laying for a week, and he busted the fence too.  Keep the twenty with my thanks, and if you hear a commotion in the next couple weeks, please don't bring out your shotgun.  I'll cover any damages.  We're trying to get Flip here ready for the National over at Grand Junction."
    "Sure enough," said the man, grinning.  "That's great.  I used to work over there for Mr. Ames, and after he died, for Miss Julia.  They were fine folks.  Mr. Ames, he liked to act like he was stern, but he had a great big heart.  He helped many a boy from around here--white and black--go to college that had no chance otherwise."
    "I'm James Bates--call me Doc--and this is David Burch," Doc said, switching Flip's collar to his left hand and extending his right to shake.
    "And I'm Washington Grimes," said the man, extending his gnarled, arthritic fingers.

    Doc looked closely at the old man's eyes.  "How's your vision, Mr. Grimes?" he asked.
    "Not what it used to be," said the old man.  "I can't read the paper any more.  That's not much loss, since the news is always bad."
    "I'm an eye doc when I'm not running dogs, and I'd be glad to check you out and see if I can help you--no charge.  Why don't you come up to the kennels about five o'clock?"
    "Well, that's mighty kindly of you," the old man said.
   
    At that moment Norman Klensch rode up, having followed our trail of disturbed leaves through the woods.  "Little chicken trouble, Doc?"
    "Yes, but I've got it settled," Doc replied.

    While Doc and Mr. Grimes were talking, I'd noticed a fox hound bitch with a litter of pups in a dirt-floored pen back of the cabin.  They were the cutest pups I'd ever seen, just out of the box and toddling.  Their mother's udder was heavy with milk;  she showed her teeth in a snarl when I came near.

    That afternoon Doc examined Mr. Grimes' eyes.

    "Are you using drops?" Doc asked.
    "Well, I used to, but after my Manny died I sort of got out of the habit."
    "Here's a supply," said Doc, taking the glaucoma medicine from his bag. "You need to do this regularly, twice a day.  It's very important.  And you've got a cataract on your left eye that's ready to be removed surgically.  I could take care of it for you, and it won't hurt a bit.  It would let you read again with no trouble."
    "Lordy," said Mr. Grimes, "I couldn't afford that."
    "No charge," Doc said, "I'll make arrangements in Memphis, and we'll fix it right after the National."
    "I couldn't put you to all that trouble," Mr. Grimes said.
    "It would be an honor to remove the cataracts of a man who had worked for the Ames," Doc said with a smile.

    The days passed quickly, Jack and John Proud Bear working smoothly together, Norman Klensch irritating us with his every remark.
 A week before the National, Jack turned worrisome.

    "You know, Doc, I haven't ridden the Ames Plantation in fifteen years.  A lot changes on a course in just one year.  So many twists and turns over there.  Get a dog behind, and he's got to run through a thousand spectators on horseback to get to the front.  If Flip draws an early brace, before we can ride the courses several times, it's going to be one hell of a disadvantage."
    Doc said, "Maybe I know somebody . . . ."  Then he went for the phone.

    Next morning early Doc ordered us into the truck and drove to an airfield at Holly Springs.   Nathan Cottrell waited beside a small airplane.  Nathan, who regularly judged the National, loved to fly.

    "Okay, boys, we're going to fly the Ames Plantation, low and slow," Doc. said.

    When we returned, Jack and Doc had mental maps of the courses and a good understanding of the pitfalls and opportunities for Flip—they’d identified areas where the topography and the cover would let Jack show Flip to best advantage, others where he might easily be lost.

    On the drive back to Winston's Corner, Doc said, "I don't believe I could have stood that another five minutes.  Never been so air sick.  Only thing that kept me from throwing up was fear."

    It hadn’t bothered me—our flights with Sy Beale had conditioned my stomach to small-plane bouncing.   
   
    Two days before the drawing, Jack said, "I'm satisfied with where Flip is.  He's handling, he's fine on his birds.  My worry is gettin' him stale—more trials have been lost by overwork than not enough.  Doc, you’re sure there's no barnyard chickens on the Ames Plantation aren’t you?"
    Doc replied: "I’ve checked with the man in charge, and he says nobody living near the courses keeps chickens anymore. "
    “I hope he’s right,” Jack said.

(to be continued)