Warden O’Grady was standing by the iron gate at the prison jetty, it was surmounted with razor wire and flanked by ominous watchtowers from which Toms with machine-guns impassively watched the Mayor approach. O’Grady greeted Mayor Ruddegan with a dead-fish smile and a clammy grip.
‘Welcome to Fever Creek, Mr. Mayor,’ he said in a voice strangled by five packs a day.
‘So, what’s so pressing that it calls me to this stink-hole so urgently?’ spat Ruddegan.
With a wry smile, O’Grady paused, then replied quietly, ‘We have the dog! My Toms delivered Lonely Dog here just two hours ago. We slammed him in the hold and I called you straight away.’
A.K.’s response was stunned silence. Finally, his moment had come. His mind raced with all manner of schemes. ‘Does anyone know?’ A.K. realized he had no reason to detain the popular wee Hound.
‘Not so far. Just me, and my guys that hauled him in,’ O’Grady replied with a smug smirk.
A.K.’s eyes darted from side to side with this exquisite news.
‘So what now?’ the Warden finally asked, desperately interested in the role he might play in whatever happened next.
Ruddegan leaned back on the couch and blew a thick stream of cigar smoke upwards. ‘How many inmates have you got on old Miss Liberty?’ he asked.
‘As of today…about five hundred,’ O’Grady replied.
‘Sounds a bit … overcrowded,’ Ruddegan said with mock concern. ‘I meant to say, it can’t be sanitary having all the those grubby Hounds kennelled up together, now can it?
The Warden stared at him, uncertain as to where the conversation was headed. ‘Well, by law we are only supposed to have two hundred inmates here at Fever Creek …’ He trailed off, waiting fr the Mayor’s response.
It came in the form of a sinister laugh.
‘The law?’ Ruddegan scoffed. ‘“Upriver,” Warden, you and I are the law! Don’t forget that.’
‘So, what do you suggest I do about my “illegal overcrowding”?’ the Warden asked cautiously.
‘I’m not suggesting anything, Warden. Far be it from me to tell you how to run your ship. Still, I can’t help but feel that, what with all this overcrowding, it’s just an accident waiting to happen.’ He turned slowly, his black eyes glittering, and held the Warden’s gaze.
‘“Accident waiting to happen”?’ O’Grady repeated with a sinsiter curl of his mouth. ‘What kind of “accident” were your thinking of Mr. Mayor?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Why, some fool could inadverently drop a cigar butt in the cell block and before you know it the whole place could be an inferno and those poor old Hounds, all locked up and shackled … Why they wouldn’t stand a chance. Now that would be tragic, wouldn’t it, Warden?’