Going back to Harlan
Looking back now, Raylan could see that Boyd Crowder always had a personality that lent itself to blowing shit up.
You don’t get to be a powder man without a knack for explosives. It’s unpredictable work in the best of times, despite all the precautions you could take. And there were more safeguards now than there were back in 1989, when Raylan spent a hot summer underground, his face and Boyd’s both obscured by their masks. You trusted a powder man to know what he was doing. It wasn’t necessarily customary for a teenager to get the job, but that was the point: Boyd knew what he was doing. He never lost a man—not when Raylan was there, anyway.
Joining the army was as good a place as any to go from there, Raylan figured, especially for a man accustomed to physical labor and the daily possibility of death. Everyone in Harlan was trying to get out, most of the time. Some of them had smaller dreams, Lexington-sized dreams. Some had dreams that would take them further down south, to Nashville or Memphis. And some had dreams like Raylan and Boyd had had then. Big city dreams. Atlanta. Miami. The whole goddamn US of A. And in their cases, even past that.
Still, Raylan had never quite thought Boyd was the type to go blowing up a church. And killing someone outside the heat of combat, well, that was new too. You work the mines with a man, you get to know him, but a lot could change in twenty years.
He guessed they both paid a blood price to leave Kentucky. And here they both were, back again.
Raylan figured the bloodshed wasn’t done either. That didn’t mean he liked it, but sometimes he just had a feeling about those things. If it meant he ended up putting down Boyd Crowder—well, Boyd was hardly the man he had known down in the mines anymore.
Blowing off steam
After a day in the mines—some of them started before the sun was up, most of them lasted twelve hours or more, and it was usually days before you got some time off—most of the boys liked to blow off steam with some liquor. Raylan was no exception, and tonight he was drinking on his front porch with Boyd Crowder, overlooking his mother’s garden.
He’d known Boyd for years—their daddies were in the less respectable end of business together—but they never really got on much, somehow. It wasn’t that Boyd wasn’t worth Raylan’s time. God knows he was a sight above most of the people Raylan knew in Harlan. But they didn’t seem to have too much in common before now.
Going down a shaft with a man gives you something in common.
“Well, then I imagine I’ll join the army and see the world,” Boyd finished with some satisfaction. “How about yourself, Raylan?”
“Probably die of black lung by the time I’m forty,” Raylan said, with the self deprecation he was already learning to use as a charm.
“Bullshit,” Boyd answered. He’d been drinking heavier than Raylan, not that it mattered. You wouldn’t think Raylan would drink like he did, growing up with Arlo, but he did, all right.
The bottle of Jim Beam was more than half empty, but Boyd’s voice was clear enough. “You’ll be gone from this town before any of us will. I reckon you already know when.”
Raylan shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t know if the drink had fired Boyd’s imagination as well as loosening his tongue, but he didn’t like the idea of any man knowing him well enough to say that. Even if it was just Boyd Crowder.
“I don’t know about that,” he said, trying to brush it off, but Boyd wasn’t having it.
“You have aspirations far greater than this, my friend,” he said, pushing aside the Mason jar he’d been using in lieu of a shot glass. “I know it because I see in you what I see in me.” He gave Raylan a piercing look. “We are both destined for greatness beyond the realm of Harlan coal mining.”
“You’re talking out of your ass. You do know that, right?” Raylan said. He stood up, leaned against the porch railing. He was pretty sure his mother and Arlo were over at his Aunt Helen’s. Pretty sure. He reckoned they wouldn’t mind Boyd sleeping it off here either way. “I ought to get you a glass of water and put you to bed.”
“Now why would you do that, Raylan, when you know I’m right?” Boyd asked. His voice had dropped suddenly, and Raylan felt the hairs prickle on the back of his neck.
“Otherwise you’ll have one hell of a hangover in the morning, that’s why,” he said, trying to ignore it, but Boyd was looking him up and down appraisingly.
“Are you inviting me to share your bed, Raylan?” he asked.
“Well, it’s more comfortable than the couch,” Raylan said, hardly believing the words that were leaving his mouth. This wasn’t like him, he was on the baseball team, he worked in the mines and had his pick of the girls in Harlan. And there was no mistaking Boyd’s meaning now, even if he was drunk and playing coy.
“I believe I may accept your kind offer then,” Boyd said. He stood up, and Raylan knew he wouldn’t have walked a straight line. Wasn’t sure he would have walked at all, except for the porch railing leading him closer to the door. He hesitated when he got to the end of it and Raylan stepped up, grasping Boyd firmly under his arms.
“Got to get you into bed,” he said, trying to sound as hearty and, well, as platonic as he could.
“Shouldn’t I be undressed first?” Boyd asked in response, swaying and dipping his feet a little as Raylan supported him through the house.
“Hell,” Raylan said in return. He deposited Boyd on the bed, a touch too rough. It would be snug, but they could both sleep there. Boyd would be out before too long, he knew. Long before anything could happen that would mean they couldn’t look each other in the face the next day. “Put out your feet,” he said, and began unlacing Boyd’s shoes.
He left Boyd in his shirt and pants, then shrugged out of his own tee and hesitated as he came to his fly. In the end he crawled in beside Boyd wearing an undershirt and boxers, just what he would have gone with if he had been alone. Their elbows jostled, and Boyd’s knee was positioned against his bare thigh. He was acutely aware of the contact, could feel the heat on his skin. Imagined he could feel Boyd’s breath.
“You and me, we have the same dreams, Raylan,” Boyd was saying. “I am a mite surprised I never saw it until now.”
Raylan wanted to ask, why do you reckon that is? But he hadn’t more than got his mouth open when he felt Boyd turn smoothly and touch his lips against Raylan’s.
The kiss tasted like whiskey and smoke, but so did Raylan. Boyd’s lips were chapped, but he knew what he was doing. A thousand and one thoughts were running through Raylan’s head, and not a single one of them didn’t like what he was feeling. The rest of the thoughts, besides the one about how Boyd was pressing up against him—they were just over-thinking it.
Church of the Last Chance Salvation, outside Harlan proper
The marshals and locals were packing up now, Boyd’s band of ragtag ex-cons staring in silent suspicion. Boyd stood apart, watching, arms folded across his chest, and Raylan walked over to him, deliberately coming closer than his badge might have warranted.
"So tell me, Boyd, doesn't the Lord have something to say about laying down your sword and shield?" Raylan asked, trying to pass it off like it didn’t really matter to him.
Boyd stared back unblinkingly. "He does indeed, Raylan. But He has other things to say as well. In fact, it is the Lord’s calling for His faithful to visit justice upon the wicked. 'It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.'"
Raylan wasn't sure what to make of the sincerity in Boyd's voice. All he knew was that he was going to link Boyd to blowing up that trailer one way or another. Whether because of religion or something to do with his daddy, Raylan couldn’t say. Wouldn’t particularly say he cared, if he was asked.
"Guess His meaning's pretty clear on some other verses though," he said pointedly, trying to provoke Boyd, see if the other man would give him a reaction. "Something about lying with a man as with a woman."
Boyd's face remained blank, but a flush was visible in his ears, not as sun-darkened as the rest of his skin. "All have sinned and fallen short, Raylan," he said, the clear rebuke louder than Raylan had been expecting. "That does not mean the Lord has forsaken you. You can still turn from those ways, as I have done."
His earnestness was making Raylan seriously reconsider this line. "Don't tell me you didn't like it," he said smoothly, angling to rile Boyd into action.
"I have chosen to walk in the path of righteousness," Boyd said stiffly. "I will welcome you to my congregation as a son of God, but you have no business here as the arm of the law, Raylan Givens. Go forth in the love of Jesus Christ." He spread his arms wide, and Raylan stepped back automatically, maintaining the distance between them.
“I know you’re full of shit, Boyd,” he said, warningly, but Boyd just smiled broadly, shaking his head.
“The words of truth will sound like falsehood to the ears of the unrepentant sinner, Raylan. I pray daily for you to come into the light.”
And there was just nothing Raylan could say to that one.
It seemed like a good idea at the time
They didn’t talk about it, the next morning. Raylan woke first, unsurprisingly, and untangled himself from Boyd’s heavy arm as gently as he could. Boyd woke up anyway as he was slipping out of the bed, groggy and disoriented from the surplus of alcohol.
“Raylan?” he asked, staring at Raylan with unfocused eyes.
“Go back to sleep, Boyd,” Raylan advised, and to his relief, Boyd did.
He wasn’t even sure if Boyd would remember it, to be honest—fondling through Raylan’s shorts as Raylan’s own hand traveled slowly and uncertainly down Boyd’s back.
In the light of day, Raylan himself wasn’t sure what to make of it. It hadn’t been unpleasant, exactly—more like he was disconcerted at just how pleasant it had been. He’d never really considered it before, certainly not with Boyd, but... what was a little harmless satisfaction between friends? They were young, didn’t have much time to court girls with their hours in the mines. It wasn’t as though it had to mean anything.
And all Boyd’s talk from the night before? Big dreams and intersecting lives—that was just the alcohol talking. Raylan was sure of it.
They never talked about it after that, but a few more times, maybe half a dozen all told, when somebody’s daddy was gone and they didn’t have to go in the next day, a little alcohol and conversation led to more. Raylan grew accustomed to the feel of Boyd’s body, hard and sinewy where the girls he’d known were soft. They didn’t say much, didn’t do much either that might get one of them called “faggot” if it came out later, except maybe the kissing. Boyd liked kissing him, Raylan could tell, and he couldn’t complain himself.
The only reason Raylan could find to explain it was the one he offered up too much anyway. The one nobody ever seemed to think was good enough, but most people had stopped calling bullshit on. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The last time it happened was late summer, just shortly before Raylan was planning on leaving for Lexington. He’d never really thought about going to college until after he graduated high school and started working the mines, but a degree was going to be his ticket out of Harlan. Get him into something more than working the police force here and busting people like Arlo for DUIs or buying too much cough medicine.
He hadn’t told anyone he was leaving yet. Not Boyd, not his parents. Not even his Aunt Helen, although he wanted to tell her bad. But she might tell his mother before he was ready for Arlo to know.
“I’m thinking of joining the army next month,” Boyd said suddenly. They were sipping shine that night, a bit faster and looser than they normally did. It was strong enough, even if it was fouler than the stuff from up the hills.
Raylan took a sip from his own jar, buying himself time.
“Guess we won’t be seeing each other for a while, then,” he said.
Boyd’s face was blank under the dim yellow porch light.
“No, Raylan, I suppose we will not,” he said.
Raylan wasn’t sure why it made any difference at all. He was leaving anyway, and didn’t figure on coming back. What business was it of his that Boyd was doing the same thing?
“I hear things are about to get bad in the Soviet bloc and the Middle East,” he said, for lack of anything better to say.
“Things is always bad over there, Raylan,” Boyd answered.
“Well, have you thought about the National Guard or something?” Raylan wondered aloud. Because this was more than drunk talk or pipe dreams, and taking that step was suddenly tangible and frightening.
“Have you ever thought about the National Guard, Raylan?” Boyd asked back, and his voice made Raylan choke down a laugh.
“I don’t suppose I have,” he acknowledged.
“When do you leave?” Boyd asked. They were watching each other, and Raylan still wasn’t sure how Boyd Crowder had known he was leaving, but he didn’t try to lie his way out of it, just gave a brief nod.
“Two weeks,” he said.
“No, Raylan, I suppose we won’t be seeing too much of each other after this,” Boyd said again.
Now that it had been said, plain as that, Raylan wasn’t sure how to take it, or where to go from here. The alcohol did that to him sometimes. Made him slow, made him stupid. He blamed it on that. This... departure from his usual confidence and ability to control every situation, or at least predict it.
Boyd had a personality that lent itself to blowing shit up.
“I guess we should make the most of the time we have then,” Raylan said finally, like he hadn’t missed a beat, like it was the answer Boyd had been waiting for all along.
“I’d say you’re right,” Boyd agreed. He pushed himself up from where he was sitting on the porch railing and made his way over beside Raylan.
At this point, Raylan was accustomed to the feel of Boyd’s flannel shirt under his hands, and the time it took to move from the railing to the wall. Out where anyone could see if they came driving up. It didn’t matter; there was more adrenaline that way. It was like playing with fire.
It was explosive. It was intoxicating.
It was over twenty years before Raylan saw Boyd Crowder again.
A cabin outside Bulletville, surrounded by dead cartel guns
Denial, Raylan, Winona was fond of saying to him when they were married, ain’t just a river in Egypt.
It irritated the hell out of Raylan at the time. Still did, as a matter of fact. But watching Boyd Crowder, bleeding from his winged shoulder and hoisting his weapon on the good one, Winona’s voice came floating back to him.
She always did have better sense than to be married to a man like Raylan, he suspected.
“You going to bet your life on that?” Raylan asked, but his words were empty.
“No, Raylan, I’m going to bet my life on you being the only friend I have left in this world,” Boyd answered. They stared at each other for a long moment, or maybe it wasn’t so long after all, before Boyd turned away.
Raylan didn’t stop him. Didn’t stop Boyd from getting in his daddy’s car, keys still in the ignition, and turning the engine over.
And when Boyd backed up, asking Raylan for—for what? Clearance? Benediction? A partnership?—for one second Raylan wasn’t sure where to go from there. He spent his life walking the fine line of “justifiable,” much like Boyd seemed to be doing in his own way. But he had the badge to back it up. And this invitation was nothing more or less than an invitation to throw it all away.
It would have been one thing to get in that car. To give it all up and go with Boyd, on a mission from God or some excuse for a higher power. But there were bodies all around the cabin, Ava running through the woods without knowing what had happened, and somebody was going to have to call it in.
Boyd pulled away slowly, picking up speed as he aimed to catch up with the woman who killed his daddy.
And Raylan, watching after him, knew that he would follow Boyd, because that was what his job and his life and his code all required him to do. But there was nothing that was going to make him pull that trigger.