The Dark Side
Joanne came into Ben’s office right after he returned from lunch. “Two young men stopped in just after you went to lunch and asked to see you. They were bird dog folks I know from the whistles on lanyards around their necks. I told them to come back at three.”
“What did they want to see me about?”
“Wouldn’t say, except it was ‘confidential,’” Joanne said. “Their names are Billy Hope and Carl Luck.”
“Hope and Luck, now that’s two perfect names for bird doggers,” Ben said with a grin.
Promptly at three the youngsters entered the office, gimme caps in hands, spurs on their roping boots, their Wranglers faded and thin, faces weathered from constant outdoors work (or play if it turned out they were still amateurs). Ben shook their hands and showed them into his library-conference room where Joanne had ice, glasses and cans of soft drinks waiting. The boys refused Ben’s offer of a beverage and took seats in captains chairs across the table from Ben.
“You boys running dogs?” Ben asked.
“Yessir. We are from Kentucky, been down here since January, brought a few meat dogs to sell to the plantations once we got ‘em finished, our trial dogs to run in the Southeastern and Masters.”
Ben had guessed right.
“Getting anything done?” Ben asked, meaning had any of their entries had a strong performance that might be in contention for a placement.
“No, Sir, not yet, but we have each had just one dog run so far.”
“You helpin’ each other?”
“Yessir,” Billy answered, Carl nodding. In the practice dictated by the slim economics of pointing dog competitions, Billy and Carl were trading their services as scouts with one another. The old practice of pro handlers hiring full time scouts was history.
“What can I help you with? Ben asked.
The young men, Ben guessed their ages at not above twenty five, looked at each other, then Billy pulled a smart phone out of a leather holster on his belt and said,
“We got something to show you and we want your advice about what to do about it.”
With that Billy played a two minute video filmed on the smart phone that angered Ben more than anything he could recall. A man was holding a setter up on its hind legs by its collar while another was thrashing the dog savagely with a flushing whip. Ben recognized the men as field trial handlers from the mid west who came to the Albany area to work dogs in winter and to compete in the winter and spring piney woods series of all-age and derby trials that culminated with the Masters. The men were not professionals but semi-pros, though for practical purposes they were pros, in the sport for the money. They kept their amateur status by not openly accepting cash pay for working or handling dogs for others.
“How did you come to take that?” Ben asked.
“I had run a dog in the previous brace, lost it. I was riding to find my dog with my Garmin when I rode up on them two beating the setter. They wasn’t running in the brace but their buddy was.” Billy named the “buddy, “ another semi-pro well known to Ben.
“I took the pictures and got away before they saw me. The setter came running by me a few minutes later, tail between its legs. It’s handler asked for the tracker soon after that.” Billy named the setter’s handler and a knot formed in Ben’s stomach. The setter’s handler was a man from Tennessee known for violence. He’d been tried for murder but acquitted by a jury on the “he needed killing” defense, disguised as self defense. The killing had grown out of a dispute over the attentions of a woman at a road house, rumor said.
Ben now understood why Billy and Carl wanted his advice. The men beating the setter might come after Billy and Carl if word got out Billy turned the video over to dog trialing authorities or law enforcement, and the setter’s handler almost surely would come after the dog beaters if he saw the video.
Then Ben got an idea.
“Boys, I want to show that video to a friend, Dr. Sam Nixon, who understands the technology and knows how to use it. He’s discrete. Billy and Carl nodded assent and Ben called Sam. In fifteen minutes he entered the room. Ben asked Billy to show Sam the video and Ben explained its implications as the pictures appeared on the little screen.
Then Ben explained his idea for dealing with the dilemmas presented by the video. He asked Sam if what he proposed as a solution was technically feasible. Sam said it was. Billy and Carl approved the plan. It was 4:30 and Ben pulled bottles of Jim Beam and The Macallan out of a drawer. The boys poured themselves bourbon and Coke, Sam and Ben The Macallan neat. Ben offered a toast to bird dogs and field trials.
That evening Ben called a Leesburg based pro handler and asked him to get word to the setter beaters and their pal that Ben wanted to see them about a business proposition and to please call Ben’s office. Next morning Joanne got the call and made an appointment for them to meet with Ben at 4 P M. When they arrived Ben and Sam were waiting in the library-conference room where Sam had set up a TV to show a DVD. The three introduced themselves to Sam and then Ben said,
“Gentlemen, we have a short video to show you.” With that Sam rolled the video clip which he had transferred from Billy Hope’s smart phone.
“Who took that?” The man who had wielded the flushing whip said, anger apparent on his face.
“That’s not material, Sir. The pictures speak for themselves, and they show the two of you administering a beating to a dog in competition in a field trial. The camera shows the time and date and the location is identified by the Plantation Services sign on the pine in the background. We know the brace mate,” Ben said.
“What do you want for the video–all copies,” the other beater said.
“We don’t want any money and you are not getting the video, not even one copy. All we want is for you three to get out of Georgia today and never come back, not to run in trials or train or sell dogs. If we learn that you have this DVD is going straight to the American Field and the AFTCA and to that setter’s handler and owner, and to the district attorney,” Ben said.
The setter beaters and their companion looked at one another, then stood in silence and pulled on the gimme caps they’d been holding in their hands. They turned toward the door and started out.
“By the way, this meeting has been recorded on video,” Sam said. The three stopped momentarily and looked around for the camera lens. Sam pointed out four, no larger than pencil erasers.
“Would you like us to play that video for you?” Sam asked. They continued out in silence. Ben called Billy Hope and reported on the meeting.
“You sure they don’t know it was me took the pictures,” Billy asked. “No way. Get anything done today?” Ben said.
“Yessir, my Meg bitch had four and a good race. Carl had a dog with three good ones and a hell of a finish.”
“Good luck, and stop by for a drink if you are in town any afternoons near quitting time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ben, and thank Dr. Sam too.”
Oh, to be young again, Ben thought, reflecting on the excitement in Billy’s voice.