The Callback
(Fiction)

  By Tom Word


When the forty-two entries in the National Championship had taken their shots at the title, the judges were deadlocked.  Of the three judges, one was for Fleet Man, one for The Seductress, and the third for a callback between the two.  And so the secretary announced it after the last regular brace was picked up—Fleet Man and The Seductress would go down together at eight the next morning, to hunt for so long as the judges saw fit.  It was not said that one would be named National Champion, but that was certainly the expectation.
The judge in favor of the callback had previously told the president of the National Field Trial Champion Association that he would not accept an invitation to return as a judge.  This gave him a sense of release, and as he went to bed that night in the Ames Manor House, tired to the bone, he felt the presence of Hobart Ames and then of a series of distinguished prior judges, including the most respected, the gangster Cecil Proctor, boss of the numbers racket in Oklahoma City, of Dr. T. B. King, and last of Joe Hurdle.  Then in his dreams he was visited by the ghosts of Mr. Ed Farrior and his son Ed Mack, who had always been his heroes for their fierce independence and integrity.  All these luminaries begged him to do what he had been contemplating.
When he woke in the morning, he felt fresh as a youth in spite of his seventy years.  The house help was grumpy at breakfast on account of the extra day’s work, but he quickly assuaged that with envelopes for each holding a crisp $50 bill.  He had envelopes too for the barn help, who had his morning horse saddled at the breakaway.
There were three hundred riders waiting to see the runoff.  After he mounted and before the secretary began his spiel, the soon-to-be-retired judge called on the two handlers, their owners and scouts to ride off to the side with him for a confab.  What he would say he knew would assure their enmity toward him forever, but he did not give a damn.  In fact, he looked forward to their ill feelings, for he had the same feelings toward them.
These handlers and their owners, and yes their scouts too, had used modern technology to subvert the fairness of the trial.  The judge had his spies who kept him informed, spies who talked only to him.  They had confirmed his suspicions.
Cell phones and unauthorized receivers for the signals of the tracking collars worn by the dogs were the instruments of the fraud.  Both teams had agents along the course who used the latter to locate the dog and the former to relay the information to handler, scout, front rider, or intermediary for further relay.  
“Boys, we’re going to have this callback without tracking collars, and I’m asking you now to give me all your cell phones and pagers and such, including your GPS readers.”
The silence was deafening for three minutes as the meaning of what the judge had said sunk in.  Then Fleet Man’s owner spoke.
“Judge, you have no authority to make us run without tracking collars.  The rules say we can.  The danger to our dogs from vehicles is too great to run them without tracking collars.”
“Sam, if you want me to go back and tell the other judges that, I will do it, and they can decide.  But if you ask me to do that, I’m going to turn my evidence of what you two teams did here earlier to cheat over to the local press, and you’ll be seeing it on the six o’clock news.  Take your choice.  If you run today without cell phones and tracking collars, I’ll destroy that evidence.”
With that, the judge turned his horse back toward the breakaway.
Five minutes later, when the dogs were led to the line by their scouts, they wore no tracking collars and the retiring judge had a saddlebag full of cell phones.