Cheating didn't pay for Ollie Cobb, but it did get him a lighter sentence. Grady on the other hand, got a longer one, and with harder time on account that he had hit first. After that, he had been able to pounce on the card shark, pounding his bottom-of-the deck dealing face in a rage fueled by indignation and cheap moonshine.
Oh, Ollie had been slick and he had the round, cherubic face of an overgrown choirboy. But for whatever else that Grady may have lacked, he had an uncanny knack for sniffing bullshit a mile away. And when Ollie had pleaded innocence, Grady rendered judgement with his fists.
The charge, which stuck, was attempted murder. It was ridiculous, of course, because if Grady had meant to kill Ollie, the man would be lying in a box now. Grady knew all about killing, having learned the craft over in France and honing it to a deadly razor edge thirteen years ago on Hill 142. It was during the Battle of Belleau Wood and he was part of the First Battalion of the 5th Marines assigned to take the hill. By afternoon, the objective was reached but at the cost of over three hundred officers and enlisted from the First.
Returning home alive might have been an accomplishment, but Grady took tightly to the bottle in an attempt to avoid the images of the hell he had endured. When Prohibition was passed, it made little difference to him as booze was cheap and easy to get down in Georgia. After surviving the horrors of the trenches, he was a prisoner of the liquid that gave him the precious dullness he craved.
He didn't care to march up to DC and live in some damned Hooverville, bemoaning the lack of jobs after those crazy New Yorkers began tossing themselves out of skyscrapers back in '29. Banks closed, businesses failed, but Grady always found a way to get by, doing odd jobs and occasionally making a few extra bucks at a poker table. It was during one of the latter ventures when he was joined at a table by one Oliver C. Cobb. The rest, as they say, was history as evidenced by the court docket.
By Spring of the next year, Grady had settled to the mind-numbing existence of prison life. Work on the chain gangs was considered brutal by many, but he had seen much, much worse and was often reminded of that at night when he closed his eyes. At least he could still get some hooch and even learned to make it in his cell; one precious tin cupful at a time.
He heard word of the Bonus Army, a group of thousands of veterans and their families camping out in Washington, DC and demanding their war bonus. Grady didn't think they were going to get much of a hearing from President Hoover, who was likely to find himself unemployed after the November election. People figured it would be another Roosevelt - not Teddy this time, which was a damned shame in Grady's opinion - moving into that nice white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Grady didn't know much about this other guy except that he was also from New York but evidently had not done a twenty-story swan dive onto the pavement of Wall Street.
But bonus armies and presidents meant little to the men who were housed and fed by the fine state of Georgia. There were other things, however, that did affect Grady and, namely, his luck. First was the snake-shit-on-the-brain of Billy Lee Sauder and the second was Sergeant Preston's green teeth.
Billy Lee was a slip of a man, maybe weighing ninety pounds when soaking wet. With the perpetual dark rings around his eyes, he looked more like a starving raccoon than a threat but men twice his size would have nothing to do with him. At his mildest, he was strange. But when he went off, he was like a pack of wild dogs stuffed into one short, scrawny frame. Some said he had drunk some bad moonshine that left his brain permanently pickled while others said it was a bunch of blows to the head when he was a kid.
When he was sent out on the chain gang, Billy Lee was always second to last. They would have preferred last but the guards knew that having someone shackled to each of Billy Lee's ankles would make it easier to physically control him went he lit himself up. No prisoner wanted to be next to him and many felt that was the worst part of the chain gang - not the labor or conditions - but waiting for the snake shit to bite into Billy Lee's brain again and set off the fireworks.
Sergeant Linwood Preston was lecturing loudly (he did everything loudly, if you asked anyone who had been in earshot of him) about today's assignment. They were grading out the earth for a road to be built. Grady knew that - everyone here did. They had been working on the damn thing for three weeks.
Now Sergeant Preston had a curious aversion to brushing his teeth. This left a constant yellow film on them and as the corrections officer bellowed today, Grady noticed that his upper two front teeth looked rather green near the gum line. Oh, not green like the grass of a mountain meadow in Springtime, but a kind of peculiar and unhealthy yellowish green.
Normally, Grady would have had the sense not to stare but he was feeling a little hungover following a particularly robust elixir from his cell that he enjoyed before breakfast. With his reduced alcohol consumption in prison, the cup of strong stuff had left him a little addled in his responses.
Suddenly those teeth were right in front of him.
"Just what the Hell are you staring at, boy?" came Preston's none-too-gentle query as it rattled Grady's ears.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Changes last made on: Monday, March 13, 2017