The Top Dog


Frank Bingham smiled his famous, twisted smile; either the press was getting adept at tracking him down, or he was losing his touch.  He ran his fingers through his hair, automatically rearranging the thin strands where they would do the most good. Although the limo was air conditioned, his fingertips were moist.  Bingham looked at the two other men who accompanied him, his manager and his assistant.  Why weren’t they sweating too?

“That crowd of reporters looks nasty, Senator.  Want me to drive past them? I can try the rear entrance.”

“No, there are probably more of them waiting back there, Gerry, just aim for the main entrance as usual,” the senator replied.

“The Senator’s right, Gerry.  And the ones in the back are usually second string so they’re meaner, leaner and hungrier.”

Senator Frank Bingham nodded his head.  He turned to face his campaign manager, “And nastier,” he added.

“Yeah, remember that bitch from the wire services?  What was her name?  Oh yeah, Hodgeson.  Well, thank God they promoted her and sent her to Southeast Asia.  Maybe, she’ll get to cover a bloody coup up close and personal.  It would be the only thing to keep her busy and out of our hair.”

The two men laughed, but the frown lines around their eyes never faded.

As the driver maneuvered the limo to the curb, Bingham slowly unwrapped the breath mint he had pulled from his blazer pocket.  For a few seconds he stared at the mint, pinched between his manicured nails, his dark brown eyes straining as if there was something else to see beyond the bright green candy. Suddenly he pitched the mint into his open mouth and snapped his jaw shut.   His perfectly straight, white teeth clinked sharply as they slid past each other in their bite.  A quick glance into the rear view mirror confirmed that his hair was in place and his tie straight. He picked off a tiny piece of lint from his trouser leg and placed it in the ashtray.

As soon as the car pulled over to the curb Senator Frank Bingham was surrounded by the press; he smiled broadly.  His arms were outstretched as if he welcomed them. Flashbulbs flashed faster than the reporter’s questions, and Bingham raised his arms again as if he were going to confer a blessing.  For a moment the reporters’ shouts subdued, and they strained forward to listen.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I’m here today because I’m showing my kennel’s best dogs in this competition.  Any questions having to do with the excellence of my kennel, will be answered with the greatest of pleasure.”

“Senator, how about the Burns kickback accusation?”

“Although some people consider Burns a mean dog, he is not of the four legged variety, therefore . . . ” Bingham shrugged hisshoulders, rolled his eyes and smiled. Several reporters snickered  and nudged each other.

“But, Senator, the election is only two weeks away, how will this scandal affect your re-election chances?”

Once again Bingham shrugged his shoulders.  “We’re only discussing dogs today. Ask me tomorrow when I’m back in my office.  Today, ladies and gentlemen is my day off, and I intend to enjoy it.”

“A day off? Just two weeks from the election?”

“Exactly.”

“You are that confident, sir?”

Senator Bingham flashed his famous twisted smile. “What do you think?”

The reporter from the Clarion jumped in with the next question.

“Senator, what kind of a showing do you expect from your kennel this afternoon?” This reporter’s face was twisted into a grimace, his associates laughed at his expression.

“All my dogs are winners–”

“Like you, Senator?”

“You better believe it!  Winners like me!”

“Senator, tell us what you think your chances for re-election are now that Burns has made his disclosure?”

Frank Bingham smiled broadly as if the reporter had just announced the discovery of gold in the Bingham back yard. Microphones were pushed so close to Bingham’s face that they grazed the freshly trimmed hairs of his mustache.

“Well, Senator?”

Bingham shook his head and pushed away the reporters closest to him.  At that point Bingham’s assistant and manager cleared a path to the stadium’s entrance by pushing aside the stubborn press corps.

Free from the crush of the crowd, Bingham headed towards the dog handler who waved him inside.  However, as eager as he was to get away from the press, he reminded himself not to walk rapidly because it would emphasize his limp.

When first he had decided to enter public life, he spent months with a dance instructor learning how to carry his imperfect body as gracefully as possible. The special shoes disguised his main defect; he was born with one leg shorter than the other.  The tailor, the hair stylist, the makeup artist, and the voice coach, each in turn had subjected him to scrutiny, evaluation and a thorough make over. Now when Frank Bingham walked, he knew  he drew admiring glances, and it feltl good. That feeling was worth every penny he had paid.

“Morning, Senator.  Have you checked out Jay Bird yet?”

“No, I just got here. Where is he?”

“Down this aisle of crates to the left.  I put him where no body would bother him.  I want him rested and eager to work when we’re called.”

“He is in good shape, isn’t he?”

“The best.  He’ll take the best that Starwood Kennels can throw at us, and make mince meat out of him too.  When the judge sees Jay Bird’s gait, the competition is going to be in the bag.”

“How about his coat?”

“Coat, claws, teeth, everything is perfect.  I tell you there’s no problem, just make room in the limo for the cups.  He’s one hell of a fine dog, Senator.  We’ve never had one better.”

“But is he a winner?”

“That’s up to the judge, Senator, but I don’t think the judge is blind or stupid.  Go look for yourself.”

“I think I’ll do that.  I haven’t seen him since we bought him.”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

When Bingham saw the German shepherd dog in his crate, he knew his trainer had outdone himself, and Bingham congratulated himself on picking out best of the litter.  He called the handler’s assistant to take the dog out of the crate so that he could inspect him at close range.

“Jim, get that hind leg out further, yeah, like that!”  Bingham’s fingers trembled, the dog looked damn good.  Reaching into his blazer pocket, he pulled out his copy of the German Shepherd standard; its cover was torn, and its pages had torn free of a restraining staple for a long time. Glancing at the pages, but focused on the dog in front of him, he recited the words from the book.

“.  . . strong, agile, well-muscled, alert and full of life. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility–difficult to define, but unmistakable when present . . . ”

Selective breeding.  Only the best stock allowed to procreate had produced this flawless animal.

“. . . The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine, and in proportion to the body. . .”

Bingham put the book of standards into his pocket.

“Senator, they’re calling for the Shepherds!”

“Take him, and bring me the cup!”

“We’ll do better than that; we’re going for Best in Show, Senator.”

Bingham stuck his fist up in the air with a thumb’s up sign.

He watched the judging from the sidelines.  Months of training and preparation, all for these few moments.  He watched the judge’s face carefully for clues, but could find none.  Other owners and spectators leaned forward in their seats, Bingham grasped the railing in front of him.

Senator Frank Bingham waited for the instant the judge would point to the winning dog, ready to saunter to the handler shouting his congratulations, but when the judge pointed at the winning dog, Bingham froze, the Starwood Kennel entry had won.

The Senator watched Paul Wood jump to his feet, his arms above his head, and his head thrown back as he danced a few steps of triumph. Bingham’s lip curled in disgust; that man had no class.

Bingham took a few steps forward and stopped. Jay Bird had come in second. People were looking at him. He had to go congratulate the winner; it was expected.

The words of congratulations felt like sawdust in his mouth, but he said them and walked back to where Tom was busy getting the bitches ready to show.

“Sorry about Jay Bird, Senator.  Either the judge is blind or Paul Wood paid him off.  But don’t worry, we’ll make it up with the bitches.  Look at Lolly Lee!  Now there’s a winner if I ever saw one.”

“Good, Tom, that’s good. By the way, make a note to get rid of that loser ASAP.”

“Jay Bird?  But you can’t mean that, Senator.  He’s entered for the show in L.A.  You have to give him another chance.  That west coast judge will flip when he sees Jay Bird.”

“I don’t want to hear it, Tom, just get rid of him.”

“Senator, please. Think about it. What will people say? The press. . .”

Bingham rubbed his temple. “You may have a point there. Here is a thought: why don’t you just give him a bowl of antifreeze tonight? It will be a tragic accident.”

“Antifreeze?”

“You heard me. No one will have anything to say then, just notes of condolences. I’ll go shopping for something better after the election.” Bingham walked away without looking back.

“Senator, how about a statement on the second place win?”

Bingham focused on the reporter’s mouth. God that man was so annoying.

“We’ll take L.A.,” he said and grinned his famous, crooked smile.

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