The Sureness of Horses, Chapters 23, 24, and 25

Click to see: Summary of Chapters 1-22 of TSoH    

23

Monday, the workweek came as a relief. Getting back to SnyderSound sales and my weekly update for Ray felt refreshing. I had to make a dozen phone calls to bring my information up to date. When I called the folks I’d visited in Chicago, they were evasive about their final decision, so I left them listed as a prospect rather than a customer.

At nine-thirty I got a call from Ray, asking if I could move our meeting to ten o’clock. When I arrived in his office, I noted a little smirk. “So, what’s going on in Chicago?” he asked.

“No decision yet.”

He smiled. “I wanted to tell you this myself. They’re going our way.” He handed me an envelope. “They want everything installed by the end of the year for tax purposes, so their business will put our year-end numbers over the top. Go ahead, open it up.”

Inside the envelope were ten crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. Ray had never given me anything like this before.

“My favorite consultant gave me this book on sales management,” Ray said. “It says I should do things like this. And Sherry and I would like to take you out to dinner soon. Maybe with this new gal you’re dating. There’s a restaurant Sherry loves in San Francisco. Besides, this lets me write off an evening at her favorite restaurant. She misses working with you.”

I missed Sherry too. “That would be fun,” I said.

My mind jumped to Diana. If it hadn’t been for the strange guilt I felt after my encounter with Marita yesterday—I kept reminding myself I hadn’t done anything—I would have been dying to tell Diana about this bonus. Be here now. “Shall we go over the other accounts?” I asked Ray.

“Ah, let the report slide this week. Why don’t you get cracking on handing this Chicago deal over to the production guys? The book says I need to keep my salesmen selling.”

“If Jorge were here I could turn it over to him and never worry about it again.”

“Let’s not talk about the bad times. We’re finally turning things around. How’s Jorge doing at Enersystems?”

“He’s making a ton of dough,” I said, nodding. “Thinking about buying a house near me.”

“In Palo Alto? There’s not much there under two million any more. Jorge? Did a rich relative die?”

“No, he has no relatives still alive. He made the bucks himself, through stock options.”

“Wow.” Ray, his eyes wide, didn’t seem to be able to hide his shock. “Wish him my best,” he said as he stood for me to leave.

After I left I wondered if I’d said the right thing about Jorge . . . I still felt SnyderSound was the right place for him, but it would be hard to argue for that with his big paycheck coming.

When I called Diana to tell her I had good news, she invited me over for lunch. When she met me at the elevator, she seemed down. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“I had a bad dream, but we can talk about that later. You said you had some news?”

I told her about Ray’s offer to take us out to dinner.

“Sounds like your sale put him over the top for the year. First time he’s taken you out, huh? Congratulations.”

Standing by the tiled island of her kitchen, I showed her the envelope and crisp bills.

She nodded and smiled. “Who could argue with that?”

But her sour mood remained. Was this too little money to show to someone with such wealth? Jorge and I had figured out that the law firm must be billing Enersystems at least a million dollars a month. I was suddenly embarrassed I’d shown her the envelope with the paltry hundreds. “Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

“No, it’s nothing you’ve said. It’s this dream I had.”

“About us?”

“Yes, it was wonderful, for a while. You were right there with me. We were starting to make love but you turned against me. Suddenly you were a different man, someone I didn’t understand at all.”

“Honey, it was a dream,” I said, but shame from the day before tugged at me. I kept telling myself there was no way she could have sensed what had happened with Marita. And reminding myself that I’d behaved myself.

She had prepared tasty crab sandwiches, which we ate in silence. After lunch, she told me she’d set up more lessons for me with Edward. “He had a cancellation, so, if it works with your schedule, you can take two lessons this week.” She gave me the details, but something was missing. Perhaps it was just because, after the day before, I was losing trust in myself. Something had changed in me because I couldn’t get Marita out of my mind, but something had changed in Diana as well—she didn’t want me close to her.

Even though I’d had several months of lessons with him, Edward had me take Artemis through an agonizingly slow warm-up. I tried to mind my ps and qs since Diana was watching from a small grandstand.

“That’s it,” the wiry New Zealander said. “Sit on her like a sack of potatoes. Move with the horse.” Edward watched intently. “Now kick her into a trot.”

I tightened my legs around her wide body. Artemis kept walking.

“Don’t massage her with your heel. Kick her, with authority. She doesn’t know what you want.”

I did as I was told. Artemis leapt into a trot. I concentrated on posting each step. Up, down, up-down.

“Come on round here,” Edward commanded. He exchanged glances with Diana, who was watching Artemis and me as closely as he was.

I brought Artemis around to where Edward was adjusting the jumps.

“You’re continually giving your horse messages,” he said. “Make them the messages you want her to hear. Now, you’ve learned to ride rather later than some of the other chaps, but that’s okay. Today we’re going to see if you really can jump.”

I looked over at Diana but she didn’t return my glance.

“Start with these poles.” Edward pointed. “They’re set for a trot.”

Then he crossed two poles by raising them at opposite ends so that a horse could jump at the center of the ‘X.’ After I took Artemis over one of these jumps, he asked, “Ever heard of a gymnastic?” He pointed to three jumps placed in a row so that a horse would jump them one after the other. “I’ve set the jumps pretty low. Take Artemis over there to the rail and come back through the ‘X’s.”

Jumping them felt like a roller coaster. After the first jump, I couldn’t do much but balance with her as she hit the ground; feel her jump again, bounce off the ground again for the last ‘X,’ and it was over.

Edward walked up to me and talked quietly enough that Diana couldn’t hear. “Artemis almost stopped on you, you know.”

“Before the first jump?”

“Exactly. Make sure she’s got energy before she starts. Keep a leg on her.”

I brought her through the jumps again. This time I anticipated the staccato rhythm, and what I had to do to push her past her hesitancy.

Edward raised the jumps. “If they were higher, you’d have to slow the horse down in the middle, but you shouldn’t have to worry about that.” This time when I brought Artie into the first jump, I had problems. I had been sure Artemis was about to jump, but she didn’t. She ducked out at the last minute and threw me onto the crossbar. I lay there, unhurt except for my pride. Diana stood up, dazed, expressionless.

“Don’t gawk over at the bleachers,” Edward yelled. “Re-mount straight away. That’s what I had to do in the god damned Olympics—my horse quit and I flew into the jump. Seven years of hard work, gone in an instant. Think!” He grabbed me by my shirt and jerked me to my feet. “You looked down. Good dancers never look at their feet, and good horsemen don’t either. Keep your head up, your eyes on where you want the horse to go. Artemis was tiring. She saw that the Xs were higher, and jumping three of them is a lot of work. She was looking for any excuse to stop. Your glance down was all she needed.”

“She knows I looked down?”

“Of course. She knows everything you do on her back. Now get up and try again.” It was getting toward the end of the hour, and I wanted to quit.

“Leg, leg, leg,” he said in rhythm with Artemis’s steps as I approached the first jump. “Eyes up.” She jumped like a dream—one X after another, we sailed.

Edward raised the fences higher now, about three feet at the center of the ‘X,’ as high as I had ever jumped. “All right,” he said. “This is about all she can handle without you having to slow her down between jumps. Let’s go one last round to show you’re a real jumper. Believe you can do it. Take her out to the rail and come round over these.”

I concentrated on keeping my heels down. “Leg,” Edward yelled again. “leg, leg.” I clamped my legs as tight as I could around Artie’s wide middle as I approached the gymnastic. Just as Edward had taught me, I let the horse pivot my legs into jumping position, and felt her land and leap forward again and land and finally one last leap and the landing, where I turned Artemis back to Edward at a trot.

“I know people who’ve ridden all their lives who couldn’t do that any better,” he said. “I’ll tell you now what I couldn’t say before. I was so unsure of you getting to this point I almost didn’t take you on as a student. Past a certain age, riders can be hard to teach. But you were together with her there, on all three jumps. And I’m not just pissing in your pocket.”

This time, when I looked up at Diana, she was smiling broadly. She came down from the grandstand and shook Edward’s hand and kissed me. “Good work, both of you.” Making upbeat small talk, she walked between us. Edward put his arm across my shoulders. Here I was, forty-four years old, beaming like a cherished schoolboy.

24

After Jorge’s options came through, he asked me to meet him at the house he was buying, the one on my street Marita had pointed out.

Linda, the real estate agent who had sold Liz and me our house nine years earlier, who we’d encouraged Jorge and Marita to use, waited in her copper-colored seven-series BMW as Jorge and I walked across the street. As we approached she got out, wearing an expensive reddish-brown suit that matched her hair and her car with its saddle-colored leather interior.

“I just talked to Marita,” Linda said. “She can’t make it—something with Eva, so we’re on our own. She turned to Jorge. “You’re lucky the first offer on this house fell through. I think you’re getting a very good deal, Jorge. There were two bidding wars in our office this week, and a house on Middlefield went for three hundred thousand over the asking price.” She threw open the door. “Come on in.”

The house was the same age as mine, but with new paint and floors. I followed Jorge back to the bedrooms. “That’ll be Eva’s,” he said to Linda proudly as they peeked into the second bedroom. At the third bedroom, he said, “Maybe I can set up the punching bag in there.” It seemed small for exercise, but I didn’t say anything. The image of a punching bag got me wondering how angry Jorge might be underneath his cool composure. The first furnishing he mentioned . . . a punching bag?

After leaving the kitchen, which had swinging doors like you’d find in a bar room, he and Linda stepped down a steep cement step into the garage, with me following along behind. Except for a few avocado-green cabinets that looked like they’d been salvaged from a kitchen remodel, the garage was unfinished—two-by-four studs and black tarpaper. “There’s something depressing about the garage, almost eerie,” Jorge said. “You don’t get much for almost two million, do you?”

Linda answered in a professional monotone. “Put up some white wallboard, brighten it up. Midtown is very desirable. Young families want to live here. Almost half the homeowners in this town are Stanford grads. Maybe their parents help, or they’ve made money on options. A few just have big incomes. High tech execs, a few doctors and the like.”

When Jorge didn’t respond, Linda turned to me in the kitchen. “I hear you’re dating a pretty horsewoman.”

Palo Alto’s a small town, I thought, wondering how she’d learned. “You won’t believe it but she’s even got me jumping horses.”

Linda raised her eyebrows. “Now that is a surprise.”

Jorge turned to me. “The fireplace has a crack in it.”

I looked over the swinging doors into the living room. “I like the double-sided fireplace.”

“The owner wants me to sign off on it.” Jorge turned to Linda. “That’s the situation, right? What do you recommend?”

“I had a friend of mine check it out,” Linda said. “He’s a retired building inspector for the city. He says it’s safe unless there’s another big earthquake. He checked and it draws well. People around here live with such cracks.”

Jorge looked a little scared. “Wade, what do you think?”

I looked over the fireplace but couldn’t tell anything. “Any chance the seller would knock something off the price for it?”

Linda shook her head from the kitchen. “They claim to have a backup offer. I know the realtor. It’s probably true. Midtown properties are flying.”

I shrugged. “I know the price is hard to get used to, Jorge, but Linda knows the market. I’ll vouch for that.”

“Your wife knows it too,” Linda said to him. “Marita was over here early this morning and she’s convinced this is the best buy in the price range.”

Jorge turned the water on and off at the kitchen sink. “Is there anything else I should worry about?”

“Everything else looks pretty standard. A decent-sized yard, and the hardwood floors are almost new. It’s pretty sound for a fifty-year old house. Should be a quick close.”

“We want Eva to transfer schools as soon as possible.”

Linda nodded. “The district usually cooperates once you’re in escrow.”

“The school’s two blocks away,” I said.

Jorge pursed his lips. “Let’s do it.”

When Linda set a thick pile of papers on the kitchen counter for Jorge to sign, I asked her, “There’s a three-day grace period, right?”

Linda shook her head. “Even better. I’ve written the finance contingency so that Jorge can get out of the contract for nine days. All he has to do is say he hasn’t found acceptable financing.”

“What’s your point, Wade?” Jorge asked.

“You can still think it over. She’s a pro.”

Jorge took the pen Linda offered and started signing and initialing. As he turned page after page, I thought of some questions, but, since he had nine days to cancel the contract, I saved them for lunch.

“For a guy who just bought a house in Palo Alto, you seem down,” I said to Jorge as we finished lunch. “Are you okay?”

Jorge rested his head on one of his hands. “The job sucks more all the time, and the mortgage will devour my paycheck. If it weren’t for Marita’s wanting this so badly for Eva, I wouldn’t have signed.”

To cheer him up, I said, “Marita’s right, it probably will be good for Eva. The teachers here do a really good job. I think the world of the Palo Alto school system, but I didn’t sing its praises to Marita because I didn’t want to influence her to take undo risk.”

“Yes, Eva’s schooling—that’s what’s driving this.” He seemed relieved that I understood.

“You’ll get a big tax deduction. And I trust Linda when she says it’s a good deal.” Jorge looked skeptical. “By the way, did you catch that huge Beamer she’s driving? When she sold Liz and me our house, she was still teaching preschool part-time, driving around in a beat-up Volvo wagon. Everybody’s suddenly rich around here. This town had higher incomes than Beverley Hills last year.”

Jorge ordered an after-lunch latte. “I’m not following you.”

“She used to live like a schoolteacher and now she’s driving a hundred-thousand dollar car that matches her hair. Stuff like that’s going on all over town.”

Jorge shook his head. “You think there’s something magic about Palo Alto, just being here? I should just count on everything working out?”

“Oh, no. Not at all. People go broke here, too. They forget to do things like you did—selling enough stock to pay the taxes you owed on your options.” I saluted, touching my hand to my head. “Good move there.”

“Roger, my broker, recommended against it, but I followed your advice.”

I waited a bit before I raised my eyebrows. “Roger wanted you to not sell a share, and borrow against it? Just run for luck?”

“I guess so,” Jorge said. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Assuming the stock goes up, that would be fine, but you could end up like that guy who got caught holding the bag. What if it keeps going down?”

The latte came, layered with milk on the bottom, then espresso, and the foam on top. Jorge added sugar and stirred the layers together before he took a sip. “Everybody at Enersystems is holding on. They say, ‘It was a good buy at $90 and it’s an even better buy at $60.’ Roger handed me a Wall Street brokerage report just published yesterday that says Enersystems is undervalued.”

“How much did you sell to cover the taxes?” I didn’t mean to alarm him, but these were much bigger amounts of money than I was used to. Or Jorge.

“Almost a third of the shares. That covered what I paid for the shares and all the taxes. I paid for the stock and sent the IRS estimated taxes just like you said.”

“Let’s just hope the stock doesn’t keep slipping.”

“Look, don’t scare me now. Just because I don’t necessarily like everybody at Enersystems doesn’t mean they can’t make money hand over fist. They’ve been doing it for years.”

“What’s your backup plan?”

Jorge downed the rest of his latte. Frowning, he accused me of badgering him. “The stock shouldn’t go much lower before it starts climbing again.” He wiped some foam from his lip. “And you know Marita. No time to lose. Eva’s about to start school. Marita thinks the backup offer is real and may even be higher. Besides, I could borrow more in a pinch. You’re the only one who seems worried. And even you say the house is a good investment.”

“I didn’t realize how many eggs you were putting into one basket. I thought you were going to sell stock for the down payment.”

He shrugged. “No. Just enough to cover taxes, like you said.”

“I’m telling you, the ice you’re skating on is this thin.” I put my index finger and thumb a fraction of an inch apart.

“Wade, enough,” he said. Cut it out.” He stood up.

I rose too, slapping him on the back and saying, “Okay. Just remember you can still get out of that contract.”

It wasn’t just financially that I didn’t feel good about him buying the house. It was also Marita moving in across the street from me. I didn’t need that kind of trouble in my own back yard. As we parted I said, “Take your time. It’ll take a week for the financing to come through. You can back out without penalty until then.” But I knew as I left him that, as much as Marita wanted that house, she would get her way. And, I had to give her this much, if it worked out, it’d be good for my goddaughter. The school she’d go to, two blocks away, had an excellent reputation. I pictured Eva happily riding her bike down my street and felt my face relax into a smile.

25

When the hunt season opening was a month away, Diana set everything up for us to go out with the hounds one Sunday, a ride to prepare the horses and riders for the upcoming season. The night before, Rob had a business dinner that meant he couldn’t pick up the kids until ten, so I didn’t come over until early the next morning. She met me at the door of her condominium, looking crisp and ready in her jodhpurs and a starched white shirt. She gave me a light kiss and led me down the hall. “Your clothes are in here,” she said, opening a closet at the far end of her bedroom. It still felt strange to change in front of her, so I ducked behind the closet door.

“I was afraid you might be influenced by your poet friends. I imagine them getting quite upset about the poor little fox,” she said. “I thought you might cancel.”

“No way. I’ve looked forward to this all week. Like you say, it’s not really foxhunting. There aren’t even any foxes.”

She nodded. “This is hound training, an exercise.”

After I put on breeches, knee socks and a white collarless shirt, I sat down on the tile ledge of her Jacuzzi tub so that she could fix my stock tie.

“I get lost in it, all the tradition. Time stands still out there,” she said as she struggled to get the pin through my thick tie.

“Be careful with that thing,” I said.

She concentrated until she fixed it to her satisfaction. “Here.” She handed me two small safety pins. “These will keep the ends from flapping around. Pin ’em loose.”

When Diana tied her own tie, she pricked herself just below her neck. Pulling the material away from her skin, she wiped away a few drops of blood. “I just don’t want to get it on the blouse.” When the bleeding stopped, she finished with her stock tie and said, “It’s getting late. Let’s stack the gear in the elevator and take everything down in one load.”

We filled the elevator with hunting jackets, folding chairs, water jugs, buckets for the horses, and an iced picnic cooler. Downstairs we loaded up her SUV, drove to the ranch, and hooked up the trailer.

After we loaded up the horses, she pulled out her keys. “The ranch where we’re going is two hours south, down past Gilroy. You’ve never driven with horses behind. It’s different. But I was hoping you could drive down and I could drive home. I know you love the socializing after the hunt, so that way you could drink as much wine as you want.” She studied the keys before she handed them to me. “You will go super-slow around the corners, won’t you?”

“Yes, dear,” I said, still trying to lighten things up as I climbed into the driver’s seat. To reassure her, I was careful making the tight turns to join the freeway—until I got on the ramp up to the freeway I crawled along.

A few minutes later, as I made the turn onto 85, Diana leaned over and put her hand on my knee. “You drive like an old pro. I shouldn’t have worried.”

With her stock tie pinned perfectly so it bulged out a bit, Diana looked businesslike, a woman to be reckoned with. Part of her was tough, but it wasn’t completely unappealing. A warm feeling swept over me when I thought how it would feel to be an old married couple with her.

A few miles farther on, the freeway twisted east, toward the sun, which rose over Mount Hamilton through thin clouds. The windshield was painted with stunning pinks, yellows, and blues—a postcard sunrise. “It makes me want to get up early like this every morning,” I said.

Diana nodded. “The beginning of hunt season, hound training, I love it. Everything’s new again, like spring training in baseball. Rob took me to Arizona a couple of times in the spring to see the Rangers. Everyone works with a fresh spirit. The coyotes on this ranch haven’t seen us for six months.” She laughed. “I wonder if they’ve missed taunting us. They always get away. This hunt hasn’t had a kill in years.”

She looked over at me. “Don’t cringe, it’s unbecoming. The pack can catch up to a coyote that’s old or lame. Down in Texas, they might catch a boar. Supposedly the Portuguese brought them over to breed, but some got loose. There are a few around here, too. A boar can rip fences and tear up pasture quicker than a plow.” She took her eyes away from the road again, to see how I was reacting. What could I say?

She took a deep breath. “I’m sure today will be like most days; we’ll chase around and nothing will happen. Now that we have everything packed up and Gray Cloud and Artie are safe in back, I can relax. That sunrise—it’s the pink next to the yellow that gives a girl hope,” she said with a little laugh.

That was when I made the mistake of bringing up Billy and how I worried he was somehow taking advantage of Jorge.

She smiled. “Aw, Jorge’s got it made. He’s got a better job than he ever could get on his own, that’s for sure.”

“He says he’s miserable . . .”

Diana cocked her head pensively, acting a bit surprised. “He does?”

“When Jorge worked for me, the way to keep him happy was to load him down with work. This job requires very little of him. As for Billy, we don’t really know—”

“Billy’s done great things for that couple,” Diana interrupted.

Diana couldn’t be jealous of Marita, could she? No, it’s my guilt that made me even think of that. Marita’s image flashed before me, so available on my bed. Soon, I thought, with fear tinged with excitement, she might move in next to me.

As the roads became smaller and smaller, we stopped talking. Nearing the ranch, the road turned to dirt. We arrived early; only three other rigs were already parked, two horse trailers and the hunt truck with its noisy hounds.

Diana and I unloaded the horses and started grooming. The master stopped by carrying rounded crystal glasses of Bloody Marys, complete with celery sticks, on a silver tray. “We’ll have a stirrup cup later, but I like to start with this,” he said. Diana waved him off, but I took one. It was probably the earliest in the day I’d ever tasted liquor. Peppery, it tasted good.

Within the hour, about forty riders had mounted their horses, all decked out splendidly, according to tradition. The master shouted, “Field, please,” and we gathered around him. When he gave a nod, the huntsman released the hounds from the truck. They bounded over each other as they jumped out, excited to be free.

The master welcomed us all. “Remember, today is to train the hounds. This is the first day in the field for some of the hounds, so stay awake out there. We’ll trot out to the south part of the ranch to start. The landowner said he spotted three or four coyotes out there yesterday.”

I was eager to get started.

The huntsman blew a long loud blast and we were off. We separated into three fields behind the hounds. The pageant moved quietly along the eastern edge of the ranch, trotting most of the way, walking only on steep down slopes, cantering up a few times. Artemis had her blood up ever since the hounds left their truck, and I had to hold her back.

When we arrived in the middle of a large field with a few scrub oaks, the master nodded again and the huntsman cast the hounds. They spread out in larger and larger circles around him until they were covering an area bigger than a football field, working to find scent in the tall grass. Diana and I rode off to one side, behind the huntsman and the master, waiting to see how things progressed. When someone spoke, the Master shushed him. Diana mirrored the master’s gesture, to me, putting her finger silently over her lips. I tried to figure out if it was the hounds that needed silence or the huntsman, to hear his hounds. Whatever, I concentrated on keeping my heels down.

As the hounds went over a small rise to the west, one barked loudly. Quickly, a couple of other hounds fell in behind him, yelping—“They’re on to something,” I said and quickly corrected myself. “They’re giving tongue.”

Artie and I took off behind the hounds at top speed. I gripped my legs around her as tightly as I could. Diana yelled from behind me, “No rules now, Wade. Just go.”

The hounds weren’t imagining things; not forty yards ahead, I spotted a coyote, a little larger than the hounds. I continued to concentrate on keeping my heels down in my stirrups, which seemed awkward. But I was surprised how relaxed I felt, joining the horse’s sprinting rhythm in the middle of all the excitement.

The hound’s voices formed an excited cacophony as they ran full out in front of us. I started to worry about the frightened animal but reminded myself that Diana said a healthy coyote is almost never caught. I hoped that would be the case today.

The hounds and their quarry were so closely matched in speed it seemed choreographed. The coyote, running for his life, stayed eight or ten yards ahead, followed by the hounds and us, the field riders in an all-out canter. I looked to both sides: Artie and I were alone in front of the other horses. She was breathing as heavily as I was, but we kept on. At top speed on this rolling land, her gallop was surprisingly smooth. I had a moment of appreciation, almost religious. I was thankful for Diana in her glory, for the riding experience over these hills, and for Artemis, who was giving her all.

At the edge of a wide field, we came toward a low stone wall with a barbed wire strung above it. Just beyond the fence was a wooded glen. The coyote seemed to be tiring. For a moment the hounds gained on him, getting as close as a few horse-lengths. Then, perhaps sensing his sanctuary, he found a little extra speed and bounded over the wall, his tall, scruffy tail flying just ahead of the nearest hound. The hound behind him, who had almost caught him, stopped, exhausted, at the wall. Moments later a couple of hounds found their way over the wall, but most of them quieted as he disappeared in the glen.

“Damn,” Diana said, riding up to me. “Nobody could get a horse over that wall. We’ve built wooden coops all over this ranch to protect us from the barbed wire, but none near here. The wire’s almost invisible. No way.”

“So, the chase is over?” I asked as I got my breath back.

She nodded. “Even full out, the nearest gate is five minutes down that wall, and the nearest jump is beyond that. Let’s wait and see what the Master wants to do.” She looked at me proudly. “You rode like thunder.”

“The closer we got to the coyote, the more I was rooting for him. I wanted him to get away.”

“Most of us do,” she said in a whisper. “It’s bad form to talk about it, but what we love is the chase.”

“I never understood the thrill until now. What a rush,” I said.

The Master yelled over to Diana and me, “That was a long run. We got a good view, especially Wade. Good job. Let’s cool the horses down. There’s an outside chance he’ll come back out.”

Diana turned to me. “Sure,” she mouthed, looking dubious at best.

As the hounds searched diligently for a scent, Diana and I dropped back to second field, then third. “We had a great run, we can take it easy for the rest of the morning,” she said. After all the excitement, third field—hilltopping—now seemed tepid, a walk in the park after a drag race.