"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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,"
"Well, maybe we can find one dog with a soft mouth,"
"Maybe one so old it's like Harry and got no teeth,"
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,
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
"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
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
"Lordy, mercy, that setter sure do like chickens,
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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)