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Maxed Out

Killing the Golden Goose: Part II

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After the US Civil War, carpetbaggers from the North descended on the South like Christians invading Infidels during the Holy Crusades. It was all about plunder, wealth and power. Instead of swords and arrows, the carpetbaggers brought rigged laws and bogus tax assessments and cheated the defeated southerners out of pretty much the only thing they had left – their land.

With the might of corrupt law enforcement behind them, the carpetbaggers encountered much frustration but little real opposition. One story, possibly apocryphal, was told about a particularly egregious little weasel named O’Grady who roamed the hill country of the Virginias duping hillbillies out of what he was sure was valuable coal land.

O’Grady was oily and duplicitous and had more tricks for cheating a man out of his land than street hustlers have for shaking spare change out of tourists in New York City. Sometimes he’d pretend to be their friend and front them the tax money they didn’t have, only to foreclose a short time later. Sometimes he’d tell them bold lies of future riches and get them to "partner" with him. The terms of partnership were all in O’Grady’s favour and soon enough he’d own the land outright.

His favourite ruse though was to insult the landowner, to needle the man to the point where he’d haul off in frustration and smite the scoundrel a mighty blow. Of course, he always managed to have a bought and paid for sheriff’s deputy nearby to witness this violent assault, arrest the assailant and let the wheels of justice do the rest of the work for him.

On the last day of O’Grady’s life, he was angling for one of the prettiest patches of hill country he’d ever seen. The semi-literate man who owned it traced his claim back several generations to a pioneering grandpappy. He was tall and lanky and, like all remote hill people, suspicious of strangers and taciturn in their presence. He’d sold off enough timber and tobacco to have the cash to pay the newfangled tax bill and he’d turned down an offer to partner with O’Grady.

So O’Grady was deep into insulting the close-mouthed man when his life came to an end. He’d run down his land, calling it worthless, and he’d thoroughly demeaned the ramshackle house the man and his family called home. He’d called his wife ugly, his children stupid and suggested his mother may not have enjoyed the blessings of a sanctified marriage. The landowner had sat stonefaced through O’Grady’s tirade, calmly smoking a corncob pipe and ignoring the increasingly frustrated little man.

So the sheriff’s deputy, lurking behind nearby bushes, was particularly surprised when he saw the man jump to his feet, pick up a nearby axe and sink the blade several inches into O’Grady’s skull, killing him instantly and nearly taking his head clean off.

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