Runner's Moon - Cover

Runner's Moon

©1995, ©2007, ©2010 by Wes Boyd

Chapter 8

The next two weeks were busy, but tiring. They'd cleared the lot and driveway of brush and tall grass, got the backhoe, found the sewage line and laid a water line from the trailer site to the barn, poured concrete to make pads for the mobile home to sit on. The way the mobile home had to sit meant that it had to be backed up the driveway, and it was slow, careful process. It took Josh, Mark, Mike and Walt most of a long day to get it into place, get concrete blocks under it, level it up with house jacks, and chain the I-beams under the trailer to eyebolts in the thick concrete pads, to make it more stable in high winds. The sewer line had been hooked up the same day, and they'd gotten the electrical service hooked up earlier in the week. About all that was keeping Josh from moving in was the well; it had turned out that the pump was frozen up, after sitting for so long, and he was still waiting for Water Well Service to get out and change it, but they'd promised the first of the week, maybe even over the weekend.

That was fine with Josh. He'd busted his butt the past couple of weeks, and had hardly seen the dogs. Though he had a long list of things to work on over the weekend, starting with a pen for the female dogs in heat and cleaning out the barn a bit. As he drove out to the trailer from taking a shower at home on Friday evening after work, he'd decided he was going to throw a little time at the dogs, just to see if he remembered what a dog looked like.

But first, a stop at the Frostee Freeze for something to eat. He was looking forward to stopping that. He wasn't much of a cook, but could open a can, and figured he could take off from there. Rather than just gobble a hamburger in the truck, though, he decided to enjoy the nice evening, and took his burgers, fries, and a coke out to a picnic table under the awning.

He finished his burger and fries, and was sipping at his coke, thinking about nothing in particular, when he heard a voice: "How you doing, Josh?" He looked up to see Brian McMullen, another Spearfish Lake musher, one that had a Pound Puppies team, one that had done pretty well, too; he'd been maybe second, the previous winter.

"Oh, pretty good," Josh said. "Busy as hell."

McMullen sat down across the table from him. "I was talking with Dennis the other evening," he said. "He told me he gave his team to you."

"Yeah," Josh said. That was confirmed, now. He'd run into Bergen in the hardware store earlier in the week. Things with Amanda had settled down, he'd reported. Josh had asked if he'd like the team back, but he'd said he thought maybe he'd not light that particular fire again. As much as he'd liked Magic, he thought he'd better not even take him back, or it would be too tempting to want to do more. "If you ever feel like running a dog team," Josh said, "You're welcome to come on out and take some around the patch. Amanda doesn't have to know." Dennis had said probably not; it would just set the itch going again, but thanks for the offer.

"I thought with those extra dogs," McMullen said, "That you might have a Pound Puppy or two to sell."

"Might be," Josh said, shifting his mind into trading gear. "I'm not looking to sell any dogs right now, but I've got a couple pretty good Pound Puppies I might trade for the right dog. They've got pound papers, and all."

McMullen shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I've got a pretty good team right now, but I've got one dog that's getting old, and probably won't race next year."

"Well, these two dogs have been to Warsaw twice," Josh said. "They're really more sprint dogs, they've been on the sprint team the past couple years. I dropped them at Warsaw the year before last; they were getting tired and slowing down, but we went up there like a whirlwind. They made it all the way all right last year, but I wasn't hurrying, either. They'll give you good speed for the Pound Puppies, and they've probably got three or four winters left. They're the only Pound Puppies worth anything I've got that I'm willing to let go of right now."

"You're getting out of sprinting, I take it?" McMullen asked.

"Backing off a little," Josh admitted. "Probably not going to get out of it all the way, since it's good race experience for the dogs. But, I'm trying to lean a little more toward long distance."

"Well, I've got one dog that might work pretty good for you," McMullen said. "Just can't keep up with the other dogs at sprints, but he'll go all day. He sort of carried the rest of the team on the way back from West Turtle Lake."

He was probably being oversold, Josh thought, but he was probably overselling Headlight and Stinker a little, too. They really weren't bad at sprints, and they'd do all right in the Pound Puppies. "I'll be honest," Josh said. "If you're thinking about the Warsaw Run, you don't want these dogs."

"Not thinking about it right now," McMullen said. "I was sort of kicking it around a while back, but I've only got five dogs, plus Stupid. With these new rules, it makes for more dogs than I want to have."

"It only takes seven," Josh observed.

"Yeah, but for how long? You want to bet that there won't be ten-dog teams starting this year?"

"I may not run ten," Josh said. "I figure on taking the best dogs, not just fill out the team for the sake of it."

"I'll just stick with the Pound Puppies, and sprints," McMullen said. "That's just as much fun, and you don't have to have as many dogs. You like to come see this dog?"

"Might as well," Josh agreed, draining his coke.

Josh followed McMullen as they drove over to his house. It was hard to tell about the dog that McMullen had; it clearly had a husky look to him, but you could see that there was quite of bit of other mixed breed, too. He did have a lean, muscular look. "This is Bingo," McMullen said.

Josh checked the dog's paws. They looked fairly sound. "Get much paw ice with him?" he asked.

"Never had a problem," the older musher said. "But I put booties on 'em all when I catch any of them getting it, and my leader, Rascal, gets it first."

"Good move," Josh said. "Well, I'm willing, if you like the looks of mine." He looked around the lot; the other four dogs were pretty good-looking, too, but one showed obvious signs of age. There was another dog, out on the edge of the lot. Josh looked, then looked again. That was the strangest-looking husky that he'd ever seen. Half again as tall as the rest of the dogs, he had a good coat and a husky face, but he looked like he was pulled taffy. He was long and lean, with long legs. "What's that dog?" he asked.

"That's Stupid," McMullen said. "My sister turned him up. A neighbor of her's has a greyhound, and they figure a Siberian or a Malemute got to her. There were only two pups, and they gave one away. My sister thought maybe I'd like him, but he ain't never worked well in the team."

"Jeez, he looks like a grayhound in husky clothes," Josh said. "You'd think he'd be a hell of a sprint dog."

"That's what I figured," McMullen said. "But, I'll tell you what. Every time I took that dog out, and I mean, every time, something got fucked up, and I mean right now. Dogs got tangled, wouldn't steer, went ass over teakettle. I ran him in team, in wheel, in swing, and things got fucked up every time, and no shit, every time. Take him out of the team, and things went fine. The damn dog is a jinx, just eating, shitting, and taking up space. Hell, if you want him, I'll give him to you."

As he'd known when he'd given Wolf to Fred Linder, sometimes a dog that is a major problem in one team is the spark plug in another, given different dogs, different leaders, different mushers, different styles in training. Signal had been a problem dog in another team, but had worked well for Josh, and was on the short list for leader training. Besides, the dog looked to be as fast as a thief. It was worth taking a look at. "Yeah, I'll give him a try," Josh said. "As many dogs as I've got, what's another, more or less?"

They took Bingo and Stupid, and fastened them on tielines in the opposite corners of the truck bed -- the dog box had long been unloaded, and Josh had a garage sale couch in it, too -- and together drove out to Mark's. For once, Tiffany wasn't there. Josh and McMullen walked out onto the dog lot, and he showed them Headlight and Stinker. After some jawing, McMullen allowed as how they would do, and the deal was done. They loaded Headlight and Stinker in the truck bed, and, as long as Josh had McMullen with him, drafted him to help unload the couch at the trailer before taking him back home.

On the way back out, Josh decided to drop by Mike's house to tell Tiffany about the trade. "I saw you go by with Headlight and Stinker in the back," she said. "Does that mean you've made another trade?"

"Yeah, they're back to being Pound Puppies," Josh said. "Look, I don't want to work on the trailer tonight. How's about we load up Bullet and a couple of pups, and haul them up to Fred's? I'm hoping to move the dogs later this week, and that'll be at least one we won't have to move."

"That's fine with me," she said. "Let me get some shoes on. I want to hear about this new dog, anyway."

"Actually, it's two new dogs," Josh said. "Bingo, well, Brian thinks he's got the makings of a distance dog, but he's no sprinter, he says. The other dog is, uh, interesting."

They went out and got in the truck. "Dad has pretty well agreed with the idea of trading Hemp for Beauty and Maybellene, so there's that," she said. "That leaves us with Gustav and Clyde."

"The summer meeting is next weekend," Josh said. "Maybe I'll just haul them down there and see what we can do."

He and Tiffany walked out to the dog lot to see the new dogs, before getting Bullet and the pups. They stopped to look at Bingo, first. "He looks pretty good," was Tiffany's verdict. "Can't tell, of course, until it gets cooler and we can run them a ways. Now, let's see this other dog."

Tiffany agreed that Stupid was about the funniest-looking husky she'd ever seen. "He looks like he's doing forty miles an hour standing still," she said. "He's going to be a sprinter, not a distance dog."

"Yeah," Josh said. "He was a throw-in. Brian had a lot of trouble with him. He wouldn't run well in a team, he said. But, I figured that you and I and Mark and your dad had looked at dog's hind ends more than he had, so figured at the price it was worth taking a look. We're not going to get all the way out of sprinting, after all, and he looks like a hell of a sprinter if we can made him work at all."

"Whatever his problem is, it might be something we can train him out of," she agreed. "Let's give them the evening to get used to the new surroundings, and then tomorrow morning, while it's still cool, let's hook them both up, and run them up and down the runway a little, just to check them out."

"Sounds like my plan," Josh said. "I'm going to have to work on the place tomorrow, but if we get out early, I can put a couple hours into the dogs. But, if we're going up to Freds, we'd better get moving. Which pups should we give him?"

"It's still pick 'em, as far as I can tell," she said. "Beacon and Breeze seem a little more attached to Bullet than the other two, so they'd be the favorites."

"Beacon and Breeze it is," he said. They loaded Bullet into the back of the truck, while the two puppies went up in front with Tiffany. It was going to be hard to get rid of these pups. They might make racers, or might not, but they were good little dogs, and they and Tiffany had been though a lot.

On the way to Warsaw, Tiffany caught Josh up on what had been happening with the training -- and, really, it wasn't a lot of news. In the heat, about all that could be done in terms of conditioning was to let the dogs exercise a little, be careful about overfeeding them, and just spend time with each one. Tiffany had been working Signal and Pipeline on basic command-type training -- stand, sit, roll over, shake hands, along with some leash work, working on team commands. All the dogs at least were exposed to the basic sled commands, but a leader had to react differently to them than a dog farther back in the team. In addition, leaders needed other traits, moving the team, keeping it organized; not every dog could get the confidence to do a reasonable job in front. There was only so much that could be done without running the dogs in a group, and Tiffany had spent a little time with three-dog teams behind Mark's ATV with the two in lead, singly, and paired with another leader. "Both of them will run with another leader pretty well," she reported. "But they dumb out when you put them in single lead."

"We've got plenty of time," Josh said. "Now that we've got the Dennis Dogs pinned down, we can look at them, too. Crystal looks a little leaderish to me. Not a lot, but a little. Maybe we can work her into the rotation."

Tiffany seemed dubious. "She doesn't act real leaderish to me," she said. "Besides, if we breed her, she's not going to be active for this racing season. She won't recover in time to keep up on conditioning. We've got to be thinking about that. She's got to be coming into heat in the next week or so."

"You've got to figure she's the best candidate," Josh agreed. "Even though we don't know that much about her. Let's leave Polly and Spirit out of it for now. If I can't get a good Minnesota dog, we might want to breed one of them later."

"If we wait that long, it'll be the '93 season before we get any help from those pups," Tiffany said. "Crystal's might be some help the winter after next."

"Got any better ideas?" Josh asked.

"No," Tiffany said.

They rode along in silence for a while before Tiffany spoke again. "I think we want to move David and Spirit, and Hemp, now, I guess, over to your place. It'll help with training if we have the dogs all together."

"Are your folks going to mind?"

"No, I don't think so," she said. "I mean, I've never told them that some of your dogs are actually my dogs, but if they haven't figured out that I've at least got dibs on some of your dogs, then they're totally clueless."

"Well, I don't mind," Josh said. "You know, with the trading that's been going on, we're starting to get a yours, mine and ours problem."

"We'll work it out," she said. "It really doesn't matter very much right now, but after we see how the new dogs work out this fall, we'll have to choose up sides a little."

Josh nodded his head. "Sounds fair to me. You know, we're on the verge of having a real racing kennel."

She smiled. "That's what we were working toward, wasn't it?"

Josh thought about it. He really hadn't had that goal in mind, but the pieces were falling into place that way. The decisions he'd made, especially the last few weeks, certianly pointed in that direction.

"Maybe so," he said after a while.

There was still dew on the grass the next morning when Josh stopped off to pick up Tiffany. Still yawning, she and George hopped into the truck cab with him. Josh was sipping on coffee he'd gotten from the convenience store as they drove up to Mark's.

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