Chapter 1 – Repeat That Please

Chief Deputy Art Mullen led AUSA Vasquez and his own Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson down the hall and around the corner to his office where the observing DEA agent was waiting. They needed to have a little pow-wow before this thing took off in every direction at once. The second Ava Crowder dropped a name none of them had ever heard before and put him standing next to Boyd Crowder the game changed drastically from where they started. Ava might be under the impression that Bo still ran things in Harlan but everyone in law enforcement knew that the last time Bo got sent up to Big Sandy Boyd stepped up and then refused to step back down when his daddy got out again. Boyd was the big man in Harlan and a slightly smaller but still substantial man in other places of interest to boot. 

The Crowders as a whole were every prosecutor and cops wet dream. He knew guys who actually centered the trajectory of their entire careers around angling to be a part of anything Crowder related. That family was big, powerful, and mean as hell like everything else that came up out of Harlan. Now if there was going to be a pissing match over who got first crack at this new lead they were damn well gonna have it out of sight and earshot of the witness.

Hell, the fact that Ava Crowder was going to have to go into WITSEC after this whole nightmare ended was the only reason his office was involved at all but that didn’t change the fact that as long as they were playing this game in his house they would play it by his rules.

“Now before anyone says anything I just want to say that you need to cool it a bit in there. You’re spooking the witness! This is a woman who don’t trust none of us and she trusts us even less every time you open your mouth and drone on in legal jargon. I could practically see her rolling her eyes around in her skull. I know you want to make sure we do this whole thing by the book and leave no room for any Crowder to wiggle out from but you need to turn this from an interrogation to a conversation and do it now. That girl doesn’t have to talk to us, so far she hasn’t said much of anything we could legally hold her with so if she decides she’s had enough and gets up to walk out the most we can do is watch her go.” He watched a grown man sit on his couch and pout like a toddler and fought to keep his anger off his face. The AUSA wasn’t one of his boys and he couldn’t scream at him until he shaped up. The best he could do was what he was doing, offer advice and pray he took it, cause lord knows he needs it.

“Now, I take it from your not so subtle reactions in there that this Raylan Givens character is a revelation to you. So what we need now is a plan of attack. We can’t just take turns bouncing questions off the woman, we need a strategy that gets us the most information with the least likelihood of reminding her of all the reasons why she shouldn’t be here talking with us. Any ideas?” He could tell that Tim had a few but he was also well trained enough between here and the Rangers to keep his trap shut until he was asked a direct question. He tended to see questions asked to the room at large as traps, and honestly he didn’t blame him.

“We need to focus on Givens, he’s a new piece on the board and we need to know more about him and we can worry about getting confirmation on the crap we already know about the Crowders later.” DEA Agent Leonard was quick to throw his two cents into the pot. He’d been filled in on the long walk to his office and he was giddy as could be to get a shot at a new angle. Too many damn cooks in the kitchen, that’s what their problem was going to be.

“No! We need to get the corroboration done so we have a solid case first, then we move on to this guy. Frankly seeing as how no one has ever heard of him before I’m not sure I trust this woman to know who or what’s worth knowing on her own. We could end up spending all our limited time on a nobody and end up being caught with our pants down with nothing to show for it in the end. I don’t know about your boss but mine wants every Crowder I can nail to the wall, he never said anything about wanting anyone else up there.” That was the problem with going after the Crowder clan in any way. Everyone involved got tunnel vision. Damn it!

“Yeah, but what if this Givens guy alibi’s Crowder out for the worst of the shit we’ve got him on. Then it comes down to a contest of who’s more believable; a battered wife with a clear grudge against her husband and every reason to lie or this nobody who just wandered in that we know nothing about.”

Art held up his hands before this little back and forth could devolve any further, they were right about one thing: their time was fairly limited. After Ava made her initial statement to the cops in the ER the clock had started on just how long they could delay going to get Bowman and the second they scooped up one Crowder they had better be ready to scoop them all or it would all be for nothing. Boyd was smart and the second he got a whiff of something being off that would be it, game over. They wouldn’t be able to tie anyone to anything. Even if that meant he would have to start cutting those ties himself, violently. The aim here was to avoid a bloodbath, not start one.

“Good points all around I think what we need here is a tie breaker so Tim what do you think we should do.” As much as he hated putting one of his own men in the position of playing monkey in the middle being forced to try and catch the bad ideas being tossed around before they blew up in all their faces he didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t do it or it would look like he was trying to pull rank in a situation where his rank didn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot. Tim on the other hand had the respect of most of the men that came in and out of this building on account of him having been a ranger plus the man lowest down the ladder in the room. At most voicing his opinion here would just make him look plucky.

“I think we’re over complicating this whole thing. She said that this Raylan guy was tied up with Boyd so if she tells us about him she’ll have to tell us some about Boyd too. All we have to do is steer the conversation in the right direction and we all get what we want.” That was true enough and he could see the beauty of it too. Neither man could shoot it down without having to admit that they didn’t think they could outsmart a high school drop out from the backwoods.

“Sounds like a plan to me. What about you fellas?” When he got no response only grumpy looks at being out done so easily he clapped his hands together satisfied with the way the sound echoed off the walls. “Good.”

Pushing away from his desk where he’d been leaning he walked out and back towards the conference room, not even pausing to see if they followed. He knew that Tim would be right behind him and he really didn’t care if the other two came or not. In fact he was pretty sure they would get a hell of a lot farther a hell of a lot faster if they let him go in alone, but he didn’t see that particular play being in the cards anywhere. At least not anytime soon.

“Well, Mrs. Crowder, I was wondering if you could tell us some things about this Mr. Givens you mentioned before.” The suit was at least trying to be friendlier now, but to her it just rang false since she had already seen him at his worst before. He could smile and charm all he wanted to now she knew what he was really like and how he really saw her.

“What about him?” She had hoped they wouldn’t focus on Raylan but she supposed that had been a fool’s wish much like every wish she ever made about Raylan.

“Why don’t you tell us how he and Boyd met.” This came from jowls and since it was him asking she figured it wouldn’t hurt to answer. How would it hurt anyone for them to know a bit about that? It wasn’t like it would tell ‘em nothing. They hadn’t gotten into the deep shit until much, much later.

Smiling, she thought about how it used to be back in the good old days before their family names caught up with them all. Those were the times.

“Well Boyd and Raylan have always orbited around each other since day one. Raylan’s daddy Arlo used to work with Bo on and off over the years. He was never what you would call one of Bo’s men but he had some talents, so I hear, that made him a man to know. He was sharp as a tack and mean as a snake, which no one ever saw coming from such a little fella. At least no one who didn’t already know him.

“Arlo’s daddy was a preacher man, which of course made Arlo run from God and straight into every sin he could find. Eventually his sinning sent him straight to the McKinley sisters Frances and Helen. Well he started going around with Frances first and when he decided that the two of them just didn’t suit he decided to maybe try his luck with Helen. Only old Arlo’s luck had already run out; he just didn’t know it yet. During the weeks of their running around together Arlo had managed to get Frances pregnant and when his daddy found out well the wrath of God wasn’t the only wrath Arlo needed to worry about that day. Eventually Frances gave birth to Raylan and Arlo disappeared into a bottle. He worked the mines for a bit but quit after his daddy died from black lung. Oh he was so scared of ending up like his daddy he seemed to be determined to do things the exact opposite of his old man. Papa Givens was a hard working devout man who believed in honoring his commitments so naturally Arlo became a lazy layabout who never honored nothing from his word to his family. Soon enough Arlo got a bit of a reputation for being less than trustworthy and his money opportunities came fewer and farther between until Bo was really the only one who would work with him. Bo knew Arlo would never try to cross him since he was so scared of him, and he was right. I don’t think Arlo ever did try to get one over on old Bo.

“Eventually though when the work was drying up and the needs of his family started to exceed the money he had he began to blame everything on Frances and Raylan. If Frances hadn’t gotten pregnant, if she hadn’t had Raylan then his life would have been worlds apart from the one he lived in. He would have been able to leave Harlan and make something of himself or at least to hear him tell the tale he would have. So Arlo took to drinking more and more and soon enough he took to beating on his wife more and more. Nothing that woman ever did was enough for that man. Eventually when Raylan was around five or six Arlo took to beating on him too. Of course everyone knew but no one did anything about it. In Harlan you don’t interfere in another man’s family situation, everyone has their own way of doing things and it ain’t your place to go around making judgements on people about how they handle their own affairs.” Though she sometimes wished they would, maybe then they would all be better off. Maybe then Raylan wouldn’t have ended up where he did. Maybe she wouldn’t have either.

“Like they didn’t help you?” If it had been the suit that popped off with that question it would have put her back up but since it was the younger guy she just shrugged and wiped the moisture away from her eyes.

Her daddy had never laid a hand on her growing up beyond the usual whoopings of being a child, so while she had always felt bad for Raylan she had never really understood. Not until after she married Bowman then she understood far too well. 

“Anyway. So Boyd and Raylan had always been around each other but they didn’t really come together in any way until high school. Raylan went out for the baseball team and got a place for himself.” She had gone to every single game, practices too, but they didn’t need to know that part. “Being able to be away from his house for practices and games was just what Raylan needed. Then one day at one of the games played over at Bennett High School Raylan was up at bat while Dickie Bennett was pitching. The Bennett’s and the Givens had been feuding for generations with some taking it more seriously than others. Heck Raylan’s preacher grandaddy used to cook up shine with Mrs. Mags and they would sell it together so there was some wiggle room which is why I think Raylan didn’t think anything of playing against Dickie. Unfortunately Dickie didn’t feel the same way, that boy always did lack in the brains department. He started throwing balls towards Raylan but made them grounders and curve balls too far off the side of the plate just enough to annoy Raylan and get him good and mad. Then he threw the ball at Raylan’s head and when it knocked him down and dazed him but good, then Dickie came running over and tried to stomp his cleet down in Raylan’s face. Almost without thinking about it Raylan grabbed the bat he dropped when the ball hit him and swung it at Dickie catching him full force in the knee of the leg that was coming down towards his face. 

“Dickie hit the ground screaming his leg at a truly odd angle and while people were trying to get to him to see if he was okay Boyd ran up to Raylan instead and dragged him away before the crowd that was more from Dickie’s area than his, could turn on him. If they had turned on him Raylan would have been dead and Boyd knew it. Dickie never did walk right after, word is he and his mama still blame Raylan for everything that goes wrong in his life to this day. After that Boyd and Raylan became thick as thieves even going to work down in the mines together when they was nineteen. They’ve been inseparable ever since.” Oh how she had dreamed about getting in between them. Some things though were meant to stay a fantasy.

“You implied before that Raylan and Boyd were… more than friends. Could you tell us how that development came to be?” These boys were sure interested in the whole story, most folks down in Harlan wouldn’t even think to ask a question like that.

“No one really knows for sure. If they was together like that before Bo went up no one knew about it. After, though, after Bo was gone and Boyd stepped up then it was obvious. Every time Boyd needed advice on something he went to Raylan. Every time Boyd needed something done and done right he went to Raylan. Boyd even moved Raylan into his house. At first people thought he was just a body man, keeping Boyd safe and all what with Bo leaving such big shoes to fill. Wasn’t ‘til someone saw the two of them kissing over at the whorehouse that the people in Harlan started putting two and two together, bunch a dumbasses living in them hills I swear. I knew it from the jump, I saw the way they watched each other the first time they came over to talk to Bowman and tell him how his daddy put Boyd in charge. They were just too aware of each other to be anything other than screwing.”

“Alright.” The suit paused to clear his throat and tug at his tie a bit, apparently the thought of those two boys together really flustered him, poor baby. “You implied that Mr. Givens was actively working for Mr. Crowder. Do you know any specifics about the kinds of work he did?”

“No. Nothing anyone could ever pin down really. Boyd would tell Raylan about a problem he was having, Rylan would disappear from sight for a few days and when he popped back up he would tell Boyd that it was handled. That was it, no details shared with anyone other than Boyd. I tried to figure it out once, maybe trace it from problem to well you know no problem but I couldn’t. I could never find anything done in those days when he was gone that would back down a group that Boyd wanted off his back.” She had actually tried more than once. She wanted to know for herself just how scuffed up her knight was getting. 

She watched them all scribble down note after note filling pages up with more and more questions for her. This was going to be a long day, maybe she could ask them for some food?

“We need to pick up Givens.” Art looked at the AUSA like he’d lost his mind, which from the sounds of it he had. They had just left Mrs. Crowder alone to eat her fried chicken in peace while they talked about their next step and now he had to deal with this horseshit. If DEA Agent Leonard had still been in the room he would have at least had someone to back him up, but the man had been forced to step out to go give a progress report to his boss. Now he was alone with a lawyer trying to figure out how to word Fuck That with at least a bit of respect behind it.

“We can’t, we don’t have anything on him right now other than a housewife with a grudge saying she maybe heard he might be doing some illegal shit somewhere but she don’t know what or where and even the when is a little hazy. What exactly do you think we can arrest him on?” They couldn’t get him on shit and they all knew it. At best they could go for him and hope he resisted but even then a halfway decent lawyer would have it and anything he said in custody thrown out as fruit of the poison tree. Right now they need to be smart not fast. It didn’t sound like Givens was going anywhere anytime soon; they had a little breathing space and they should take it.

“I don’t care what you get him for, I want his ass in a chair in one of the interrogation rooms before word leaks out what we’re doing here.” The boy was strutting around the office with his hands on his hips huffing and puffing like that was somehow going to change their minds. It wasn’t. 

“Word won’t leak, not from my people so I guess it’s your own you don’t trust to keep their traps shut.” He was greatly offended by the insinuation but he let his expression and his tone speak of his displeasure for him. The last thing he needed was for Vasquez to get him pulled from this and create another hole in their security. 

“Look you and I both know that if Crowder didn’t have at least one person inside the system tipping him off about stuff we would have had him long before now. So there is no it’s not gonna leak there’s only a question of when it will leak and when it does I don’t want Boyd sending this Raylan character out of our reach. Get him in here. Now!”

Watching Vasquez flounce out of his office like a pageant princess he sighed. This was becoming one big mess and he was sorrier by the second that he and his office had been pulled into it at all. 

Normally he would be able to pull rank and go around Vasquez to make it so that whatever arrest he wanted he would have to go through the staties or the locals to get. It wasn’t like the Marshals had any kind of jurisdiction in Harlan County without a very specific set of circumstances giving it to them and none of that was present here. But this wasn’t normal, this was Boyd Crowder. If he tried to go around him on this the powers that be would rain down all manner of hell on his head for breaking operational security because Vasquez was right about one thing Crowder did have at least one man inside.

Turning to Tim he saw the same look of resigned defeat he was sure would be looking back at him if he had a mirror handy. There was nothing for it now, there was no way out but through.

“Take Rachel with you, I would say to take more but well…” They couldn’t risk it and they both knew it. Now they could only hope that when they found Raylan Givens he was alone and not in a particularly ornery mood. 

Watching both of his deputies leave he felt the overwhelming urge to hit something. Preferably Boyd Crowder’s perfect teeth.

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