Runner's Moon - Cover

Runner's Moon

©1995, ©2007, ©2010 by Wes Boyd

Chapter 6

It was close to nine when Josh and Phil pulled into Mark's driveway; they'd taken the time to run by Rick's for breakfast. Mark was out working in the shop, on a sign support for Jackie. "Missed you last night," he said. "I wanted to tell you I heard about a couple of mobile homes up in Warsaw that I thought we might want to go look at."

Josh smiled. "We went up last night and bought one."

"Any good?"

"I looked it over pretty good," Phil said. "It's in pretty good shape, except for a bum water heater."

"I'm only paying five hundred bucks for it," Josh said. "It looked pretty good to me."

Mark nodded. "Well, that's a better price than I figured. We're going to have to get it down here, though."

"The guy I'm buying it from said they moved it where it was with a tractor," Josh said. "It's got axles, and tires that, well, they'll do. I thought maybe we could take the Farmall and go get it, rather than paying a mover."

"That'd be kind of a haul, up the state road," Mark observed.

"Yeah, we wouldn't want to do it in traffic, but I thought maybe late at night, maybe next weekend," Josh said. "I figure it'd take two, maybe three hours."

"Why don't you go get it tonight?" Mark suggested. "I'd have to get the bush hog off the Farmall, but I have to do it anyway. You can park it out back till we're ready for it. I could see about that water heater, and we can work on it evenings this week. Phil, you could follow him, with the blinker lights going. If you left here about sunset with the Farmall, it'd just about be full dark by the time you got there, and the roads will be quieting down by then."

"That'd work," Josh said. "I'd have to take a swing by the bank and pick up some cash, then set it up with the guy to haul it out of there late, but that shouldn't be any big deal."

"I can do that," Phil said. "It'd beat sitting around watching TV."

"Tiffany been up to feed the dogs, yet?" Josh asked Mark.

"Yeah, about an hour ago," Mark said. "She went back and said she was going to watch some cartoons until you got here to take the dogs for a swim."

"Well, maybe she'd like to come with us," Josh said. "We're going to take a run back up to Warsaw." He explained about the trade with Linder. "I know that means yet another dog around here for a while," he said. "But, in a month or so, it becomes a net loss of two."

"I can stand it," Mark smiled. "In a month or so, I ought to be down to about seven dogs out back. We should have you up and running before then. It's going to be a busy month, though."

"We'd better get moving," Josh said. "I'll see you when we get back."

They went out back and loaded Wolf into the dog box. The dog was absolutely at the top of Josh's list to get rid of, mostly because of his fighting. It was a shame; he was potentially a very good dog, but as it was, he had to even have his doghouse well separated from the other dogs, due to his badmouthing. He might work for Fred, though, and Josh hoped he would.

They stopped up at Mike's house to pick up Tiffany. Predictably, she was already bored with the cartoons, and was glad to hop up in the cab of the truck with Phil and Josh. "What do we have Wolf with us for?" she asked.

"Wolf is going to a new home," Josh told her, and explained the trade to her.

"That'll work," she said. "Actually, we could separate the puppies from Bullet right now, but she's a help in controlling them when we go out. Maybe in another month, I we might have a better guess about which puppies we want to keep."

"I figure on keeping one or two," Josh said. "If for no more reason than to see if they might work out for us. If they show promise, we're a couple dogs ahead. If they don't, well, we haven't pinned that much on them."

"Yeah, darn it," Tiffany frowned. "I'm going to miss those pups in a way. They've been fun, but I keep thinking, why couldn't Cumulus have humped Polly?"

"I've got to admit, Cumulus and Polly dogs would have more potential than Cumulus and Bullet dogs," Josh said as he turned onto the state road. "But, Polly's feet are bad enough to have on one dog, and I'd hate to have to deal with doctoring a half a dozen sets of paws like that."

"I suppose," she said. "I've been thinking about it. We may be able to trade our way to good teams this year, but we're not going to get lucky again, and have someone give us some good dogs. The only way we're going to get it together in the future is to breed our way out of this problem."

"We've been around this block before," Josh said. "If we breed mutts with mutts, we're going to get mutts. We've got to make the best matches we can."

"Well, if we leave Polly out of it," she said, "That leaves potential breeding females as Spirit, and maybe one of the new dogs. Crystal, maybe. Damn the person that spayed Crosstie."

"We've pretty well rejected Spirit already, and Crystal, I don't know enough about," Josh said. "Under the circumstances, it'd be a month or two before we could breed her. We'd be cutting it tight if any pups would be available the year after next. Your dad really cut it too tight with George, but he was dog enough to overcome it. I agree, if we seriously start breeding, he's the dog to start with."

"I still think we should just go out and buy a good-looking Siberian bitch, and breed her to George, and hope for the best," Tiffany said. "I'd really rather have a proven runner, but I'd settle for one that looks like she's a runner."

"I don't know," Josh said. "Assuming we can make a couple more good trades, we ought to be set for this year. Maybe we can stretch Jack and Truck for another year, and sort of run a varsity and a junior varsity again. That'd take us through the '92 season, but we start to lose a lot of dogs by '93. At least five, maybe a couple more. I figure we've got to have at least two good litters in the next six months to a year, enough to get about ten dogs. We'll need them, by then -- we'll have to be running ten dogs to Warsaw."

"We'll need more, by then," she said. "We'll have to be talking teams of twelve, if we're going to be running this race in Michigan, and maybe the John Beargrease. And we'll have to have more puppies coming along by then, too. But, that runs into the other problem. Mark thinks the puppies are cute, but how is he going to react to having another couple of litters around?"

"That turns out to not be a problem," Josh said. "In another month or so, the dogs won't be at Mark's."

"Josh, that's going to be a problem," she frowned. "It's hard enough now to be up there so much of the time. How is it going to work if they're even farther away?"

"That's the beauty of it," he said. "They're actually going to be a little closer for you." He briefly explained his purchase of the lot, and the mobile home, as they turned into the line for the drive-up window at the bank branch.

"That'll make it a lot better," she said, once they were back out on the highway, heading for Warsaw. "At least we won't have to take static about a couple of litters of pups."

"It's going to make it worse for you," Josh said. "At least for the rest of the summer. There's going to be a hell of a lot to do, just to get the place ready, and to get it ready for winter, with the dogs. But, at least, maybe we can set things up so it'll be easier to take care of them."

"How about some sort of a mixer, to mix dog food?" she asked. "And a line to it from the hot water heater? That'd save a lot of work in the winter, all by itself."

"Could be done," Josh said. "Not a bad idea, in fact. We're probably going to have to get a backhoe in there to find the sewer line, so we could lay a line to the barn at the same time."

"What about these yearlings you got? Are they going to be any good?"

"Don't know," Josh said. "The background is pretty good, but they've got a lot of malemute. They're big, likely suspects for wheel dogs, but they might turn out to be slow. They've had some harness training, so I suppose it wouldn't hurt to hook them up with about three of our dogs in a team of five, and run the ATV up and down the airstrip a few times. That won't tell anything about a trail pace, but might tell us if they're slow to begin with."

"I've done it with the new dogs," she reported. "Just a little, since it's been so hot. I think Eclipse and Crystal are the best of the lot, and Magic isn't too bad. We might want to think about keeping Lightning, too. Beauty and Maybelline, well, we might want to give them to Daddy, if we can get him to trade for Hemp. They'll do. Clyde just isn't worth it."

"We can't do anything about that until I clear it with Dennis," he reminded her. "I want to give him another few days. Besides, that should give me the time to give them the same kind of workout, too."

Phil shook his head. "Josh, you weren't kidding. When you two get together, you really go to it."

"Well, yeah," Josh agreed. "I told you so. Tiffany, what do you think of Crystal as a breeder?"

"Like you said, we can't do anything about it for a while," she said. "But, you have got to figure that she's at least at a level with Polly and Spirit. But that's still shooting in the dark, until it cools off enough to run her longer, and then it'll be too late to have dogs that are big enough to do anything but screw around with next year. How about these yearlings? Any females?"

"Pumper is a female," Josh said. "But, there's a real shot in the dark, until we can run her some distance. Given the fact that I'm not sure, anyway, I wouldn't even want to list her as a possible."

"Polly, Spirit, and Crystal, then," Tiffany said. "Two dogs we're not crazy about breeding, and one we don't know about. Maybe we ought to breed all three, and hope we get a few good ones."

"Yeah, it may come down to that," Josh said, pulling out to pass a slow moving summer tourist. "If we do that, though, it takes all three out of the training lineup for this winter, and we're going to need at least one or two of them, unless I can trade for some really solid replacements. Besides, it's still the problem of breeding George with mutts, and hoping that we don't end up with mutts. Let's hold off for a month or so, though, and see maybe if I can trade up another candidate. By then, we should know about Crystal."

"You could talk to Greg about a Siberian bitch," she suggested.

"That may be the best idea," Josh said thoughtfully. "The summer meeting is in another three weeks. I'd sort of figured on seeing if I could do some trading there. Maybe we could turn up something. You know what I'd really like to find, though?"

"What?" Tiffany asked.

"What would really be neat would be to turn up a bitch or two from Alaska. One that's run the Iditarod a couple of times, so we'd know it was a good dog, and even maybe know something about the lineage, rather than the shots in the dark we're going to have to take otherwise."

"That would be great," Tiffany agreed. "Maybe one that's getting a little old for the race, but is good for a couple of litters."

"How would you find a dog like that?" Phil asked.

"I don't know," Josh said. "I know there are kennels up there, and I could call or write, I suppose. But you're really taking a shot in the dark, that way, because who knows what kind of shit you might get shoveled to you? Even if I had the time, I couldn't afford to go to Alaska, search up some dogs, ask around for people's opinions about them, and all that." He let out a deep sigh. "It'd sure be nice, but I don't see how it could be done. Tiffany, I guess maybe I'd better talk to Greg about a Siberian bitch. It's still a shot in the dark, but there's a good chance we could get some fair pups."

"Too bad," Tiffany said. "Look, it won't be any help for a year and a half, but what about you taking a trip to Alaska next winter? If you went in, say, November, we'd have to struggle through the year after next, but we'd have some good dogs for ''93, even if they don't have a lot of experience."

"It may come down to that," Josh said, "If we can't turn up any good brood bitches around here. Ultimately, if we want to stay in the front of the pack, that's just about what we're going to have to do. The problem is, I bet it'd cost five thousand bucks to make the trip, get the dogs, and get them back. I haven't spent that kind of money total on this in three years, and this just isn't a good year to do it, what with all the other expenses. What might be smarter is to take a run over to Minnesota and nose around. There are some Minnesota mushers that do the Iditarod, and the Beargrease, and I might be able to turn up a good dog or two there. But, I still couldn't do that until along around the end of November, when the pits shut down for the winter."

"Well," she said, "We'd have better odds of having a known good runner, that way, but the Minnesota dogs aren't usually top Iditarod dogs, either."

"I don't know about that," Josh said. "There's been some top Iditarod people come down for the Beargrease, and the Minnesota dogs seem to run with them pretty good. I think it's more the Minnesota people that's the problem. From what I can see, it's hard to do well in the Iditarod unless you're from Alaska, know the territory, and can train under Alaskan conditions. That's why the Alaskans are at the top of the heap. And, there's more dogs there, and people know about each other's dogs, pretty well. If I go to Minnesota, I'm still going to be taking a deep breath and jumping in pretty blind. But, we still stand a better chance of getting a good brood bitch up there than around here."

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