I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Ace. I was barely twenty years old, and the contrary old mixed-breed bird dog was sprawled in front of the domino hall. At first I thought he’d been hit on the highway and flung onto the coke bottle tops that served as the parking surface.
Cars and trucks came and went, forced to steer around the dog, probably thinking like me, that he was dead. That bright, sunny December day I shut off my truck, got out, and walked over to look at him.
There were no obvious signs of trauma and I was surprised when he finally sensed my presence.
Ace opened one eye, the only one I could clearly see, and gave me an appraising look. For several long seconds I stood there and pulled on my newly-sprouted mustache to ponder the dog’s presence.
Ace’s eye traveled to my feet, to my face, and back down. Ignoring me without the courtesy of a tail wag, he drew a long-suffering breath and tried to go back to sleep.
“He’s something, ain’t he?” I looked over at Cousin, who’d just stepped out of the nearby store with an RC cola.
“Is something wrong with him?”
He took a long drink. “There’s a lot wrong with Ace.”
“Who’s is he?”
“He belongs to Delbert P. Axelrod now, and he ain’t worth killin’.”
“Delbert, or the dog.”
“Delbert. Ace there is the best bird dog in the county.”
“Yep. I imagine there’ve been more birds killed over Ace than any other dog I know.”
“You sure he hasn’t been run over?”
“Sure I’m sure. He’s resting up for another hunt.”
“I’ll have to see this to believe it.”
“Delbert’s in the store. Let’s go.”
Delbert came out and it’s a stretch to say the dog was even interested in getting in the truck. Delbert called him several times, and the dog barely twitched an ear. Finally, in frustration, he picked Ace up around the middle and lifted his limp body over the tailgate.
We drove down into the bottoms, loaded our shotguns, and called Ace.
After several suggestions toward his heritage, not even his nose poked up. Finally, Delbert lowered the tailgate, drug the dog out, and set him on his feet.
“Is he sick or something?”
“Delbert or the dog?”
I sighed. “The dog.”
“Naw, he’ll get to huntin’ now.”
While we watched, the mutt yawned, lifted his leg on a nearby clump of grass, and sort of ambled along an overgrown fencerow. I wasn’t sure if he was blind for a long while, because he seemed to just bump into things, and then he suddenly stopped and lowered his head and kind of hunkered up in the middle.
“He’s fixin’ to puke,” I said.
“Naw, just wait a minute.”
He sat down to scratch, and then looked off into the distance as if he were pondering something he’d heard the night before.
“He’s on birds,” Delbert announced.
“Walk up there.”
I did, and a covey of quail exploded from the grass.
We shot, birds fell, and Ace just looked around as if he’d suddenly become disinterested in the whole affair.
The same thing happened several times that day. Ace never seemed to put his nose to the ground, and I watched him move like he didn’t know where to go or what to do when he got there. But before the afternoon was over, we’d all filled our game bags.
We were standing by the truck when I noticed Ace wasn’t with us. “You’re dog’s probably on point somewhere.”
Delbert scratched his chin. “Naw, he knows we’ve got our limits. He’s probably back at the store by now.”
“There’s no way. That animal can’t count, he barely had the energy to walk along the edge of these rows, and the store is over two miles away. He couldn’t be there already.”
“I believe I’m right.”
And he was. When we pulled back into the parking lot, Ace was once again asleep in the same spot in front of the domino hall. Meanwhile, only ten feet away, a woman with a poodle was giving the loafers a good chewing out when we got there.
Delbert eased up, heard her concerns, and slipped back to us. He quickly lifted Ace back into this truck and waved. “I gotta go and get him out of here. The lady says when she came out of the store just a minute ago, her dog, who’s in heat, and Ace were locked up together in the front seat of her car. We’ll see you later.”
As they quickly pulled out and onto the road, I looked over at Cousin. “How could he get back so quick and do…that, before we got here?”
“He’s a wonder dog,” Cousin said and we admired the sleeping dog.