Ava sat in her chair in the conference room of the courthouse and tried to calm her frazzled nerves, if she ever succeeded maybe her hands would finally stop shaking. She knew she was breaking every rule she’d ever been taught coming up in Harlan, but she just couldn’t do it anymore. Bowman had come home drunk again the night before and taken to hitting on her again with his belt like she was some youngin’. This time when she’d run he chased her down the stairs and all the way round the corner into the kitchen, something he was usually too lazy to do, and the entire mess ended with her in the ER again. 

Only this time when the cops came by and asked her what happened she actually told the truth. No more accidental slips or clumsy days for her, this time she was going to tell her story the right way. She thought that would have been the end of it, she’d seen other wives send their husbands off to county after getting fed up enough to start telling tales, unfortunately for her she forgot one very important detail that separated her from the rest of those ladies by a country mile. 

Her husband was a Crowder.

Once word got out into the lawman community up in Lexington that she was talking they had her discharged from the hospital and brought directly to the courthouse. They told her not to worry that even if someone did see her there she could cover it all up by saying one of her people had passed and she was there for a will reading or some other piece of horseshit cooked up by someone who had obviously never lived anywhere near the holler. No, if someone saw her here in this room across the table from lawyers and badges they would know exactly what it was she’d done and then it would be a toss up over what happened to her next.

She wanted to back out and make a run for it back to her house and act like all was forgiven like she’d done so many times before. No one would ever have to know how close she’d come to going to the cops about family business. Hell they hadn’t even arrested Bowman yet over him smacking her around. She could just stand up and take it all back, but she knew it wouldn’t be that easy. Not now. Now that the cops knew about how Bowman had been treating her all it would take would be for one of them to come down heavy on him and say that one wrong thing for Boyd to put it all together. Bowman might not be able to make a clear picture out of any of it but his brother could and would, Boyd had always been the smartest of the Crowder Clan and the most vicious. 

No it was too late to walk out now, she’d put herself here with her big mouth and now she would just have to follow through with it and hope she was still breathing at the end of it all. Maybe she could lie or string them along, maybe let them put her in jail for obstruction or whatever else they might try to pin on her and beg forgiveness. Given enough time and the right advocates she might just come out the other side of this relatively intact.

Maybe she could-

“Mrs. Crowder, I understand that it’s been a tough time for you lately but well it would help everyone here out, yourself included, if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions we have.”

“Yeah, I can see just how concerned you lot are for me. It’s real touching.” The man in the suit looked all offended like he thought her distrust of them wasn’t warranted. Like men like them weren’t the villains in every story ever told up in the hills. Only the older man with the jowls that shook every time he rubbed at his eyes seemed to understand what she was saying. A few seconds later he opened his mouth and proved it.

“Look I know you don’t trust the law and you don’t trust men and that pretty much makes everyone in this whole room besides you the enemy. I understand that. What I want you to understand is that while we might seem to be your enemy we’re not. Your husband is.” She knew he was telling the truth. Bowman was going to kill her for this and no advocate and no amount of begging was going to get her out of it now.

No she dealt these cards out in anger and now she had to play her hand and hope she could break even. Or at least pull off a convincing enough bluff to buy the time to run for it.

“What do you wanna know?” The suit nodded to the stuck up looking middle aged woman in the corner sitting at her ridiculously little typewriter before he began to speak. She wondered for a second what it must be like to be her. Living in Lexington, coming to work each day in a blouse and knee length skirt, being respectable. She thinks about how she could have done all those things too if she’d just been given a chance, but she was born in Harlan and chances didn’t exist in the holler. Pulling her eyes back to the men across from her she let that old dream die, that was a fantasy and right now she had to deal with reality.

“Please state your name for the record.” She hated this part, every time she saw it in a film or something she’d always scowl at the t.v. They knew what her name was but they still went through the bother of asking. She almost gave into the impulse to give another name entirely like Priscilla Presley or Donna Summers. She always loved those names every time she heard them they always made her think about glamor and a life she would never have. But she didn’t think anyone else in the room would appreciate her sense of humor, except maybe the old man. 

“My name is Ava Crowder nee Randolph.” After today god willing she would be going back to being Ava Randolph again. The girl who had nothing to do with that dangerous Crowder Clan.

“What is your husband’s name?”

“Bowman Crowder.” Even saying his name in this room sent a shiver down her spine. The Crowder shadow loomed large and long, covering everything in their wake and leaving only darkness behind.

“To your knowledge has Bowman Crowder, your husband, ever participated in acts that have broken the laws of either the United States government or the laws of the state of Kentucky where we currently reside?”

“Yes.” Of course he had, he was a Crowder, he was born to break the law. Hell half of Harlan was born to do the same. 

What the suits would never understand, what none of them would ever understand was that the holler was a different place. Different laws. Different ways. Different everything. Pull someone out of Lexington and plop them down in Harlan and they would think they had been abducted by aliens and carted off to some far flung planet where everything was familiar but just that little bit off center. 

“What acts would those be, to your knowledge?” Jesus, he said that like there were only a few she could list off like a grocery list. Didn’t they understand who they were talking about?

“What hasn’t Bowman done? He’s run drugs and guns all across the land moving it all this way and that. He was an enforcer and assaulted people for every reason under the sun, yeah it’s not just me he likes to beat on it’s everybody. He helped with forging benefit checks and the like, he didn’t really have any talent for it himself but he… what’s the word. Facilitated, yeah that sounds right he facilitated the act. He ran books for a minute before everyone realized the dummy couldn’t count for shit. Honestly he’s done everything but step into the weed business. That I know for a fact he left alone. Beyond that you name it he’s probably had a hand in it somehow.” The weed business was Bennett territory and not even Bowman was dumb enough to rock that boat. He knew if it ever came down to a choice between maintaining the peace and taking his side he would lose. 

“To your knowledge did your husband, Bowman Crowder, engage in these criminal acts alone?” This was it, the moment when she crossed the line from poking at Bowman personally and moved to taking swipes at the whole family. There would be no going back after this.

Who was she trying to fool? There would be no going back at all, not after she opened her mouth in the hospital. Well if you’re gonna go down regardless might as well go down in a storm of fire and take as many with you as possible.

“No he did not.” The suit was almost cuming in his shorts at the prospect of getting one over on the Crowders. Only the older fella seemed to understand the true scope of what she was doing, while he was leaning in eager to hear every word that one was looking at her with sadness in his old eyes. He knew what came next for her after this, they both did.

“Do you know the names of your husband’s associates and if you do could you name them for us now?”

Licking her lips she dug down deep for the wisps of courage left to her after having it knocked out of her on the regular for the past ten years. She could do this. She had to.

“Well mostly he just worked with family, no one really trusted him outside of that. He would get big ideas and try to pull off get rich quick schemes that usually ended up costing money rather than making it. There’s his daddy Bo Crowder, he runs things, don’t nobody do nothing without first talking to Bo about it. There’s his cousin Johnny who owns the bar that Bo works out of, he tends to stay a step apart from the day to day of it all to try and maintain an air of respectability. Then there’s his brother Boyd. He’s a bit of a maverick, if it needs to get done then Boyd gets it done. Simple as that.” What a crock, there was nothing simple about Boyd. Not what he did. Not how he did. Nothing.

“Anyone else?” There was one more name she was supposed to give but she wasn’t sure she could hand him over. He was her light in the dark and even if she knew that they would never really be together it was hard to let go of that knight in shining armor fantasy and sell him out with the rest. She knew after they started looking they would find him anyway, hell all they would have to do was talk to Bowman. That boy ran his mouth like nobody she’d ever met before. She had to give him up if she wanted to swing her deal, and make no mistake for this she would be getting herself a deal.

“Yeah, one more. The same way Bowman had me, Boyd has Raylan. Raylan Givens. He’s in it all up to his neck too.” She watched them all perk up at the name, she’d given them something new to gnaw on. Shit they hadn’t known about Raylan at all, not until she told them. She felt like she was going to be sick.

She must have looked particularly bad because Mr. Jowls called for a brief time out so they could all take a breath, though it was probably only her they were worried about. If she passed out now they wouldn’t get to ask anymore questions and if there was one thing suits liked more than anything else it was asking questions.

Closing her eyes she let her head rest against the cool surface of the table and tried to pull herself together. 

I’m sorry Raylan. Please forgive me.

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