This is how he remembers Boyd Crowder:
Seventeen years old. Scrawny in the sort of way that never got him picked on because he always looked like he could get nasty if he wanted to, like there was something raw and dangerous lurking just underneath the surface. With a family like the Crowders, that wasn't too hard an image to sell.
People had a tendency to scatter when they saw Boyd Crowder coming their way. Not Raylan, though. Raylan stood his ground, for all that they were too different, because at the end of the day, he trusted Boyd. He trusted Boyd not to get him killed and down in the mines, that kind of trust sure does go a long way.
The last time he saw Boyd, his face was streaked with soot, eyes bright in the dark of the tunnels, like something wild that had been borne from the mines themselves.
He sees nothing of that Boyd in the polished, put-together political candidate standing before him in the US Marshals' Office.
But fuck, if Boyd doesn't still look just as dangerous as he always did.
It doesn’t surprise Raylan as much as it probably should. If you had asked him ten years ago how Boyd Crowder would turn out, he might’ve said one of three things: two-bit criminal, rotting six feet underground, or running the whole of Kentucky.
He says as much, standing in his practiced slouched in the lobby of the US Marshal’s office, under Art Mullen’s watchful gaze. “They tell me you run the whole of Kentucky these days, Boyd.”
Now Raylan, he had only ever seen two paths for himself: cop or criminal. A bone deep resentment of his father, always just beneath the surface and only getting worse with years, made the decision for him. Throw in a few too many John Wayne movies and a worn down paperback biography of Wyatt Earp, and there was only one way to go.
He envies Boyd, a little, his third way out, for all that politicians make his skin crawl.
Boyd grins, thin-lipped and with the air of a man of who knows the value of all of the secrets that he surely must keep tucked away in that vest of his. “That’s mighty generous of you, Raylan. I didn’t know that you thought so highly of Harlan as to suggest that it encompasses all of Kentucky.”
“My apologies, Boyd, I misspoke. What’s it like, running all of Harlan? The prestigious jurisdiction that it is.”
“Well, Raylan, it’s a dream come true,” Boyd says, with all of the apparent sincerity that must win over constituents all over the Holler. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an appointment to keep.”
It’s only after Boyd has left the office that Raylan realizes that he had one hand hovering over his gun holster the entire time.
Here’s what the files tell him. Boyd Crowder got into trouble with the law a few years after Raylan last saw him. Boyd had a little gang of his own, robbed a few banks, and very nearly saw himself put away for it. His gang all got two year stints in state prison and Boyd walked away scot free, proclaiming to be washed clean of all sins of the mind and the flesh – greed was the way of the past, Boyd Crowder was here to serve the people.
Any other place in the country, a record like that would doom a political career before it even got started. In Harlan County, it’s like all it did was show people that Boyd understands them.
Boyd ran for city council shortly thereafter on a platform promoting miner’s rights, drawing on his own days mining for Harlan coal. Impassioned speeches that Raylan tracked down old videotapes of, where Boyd paced amidst the crowd, voiced raised like some crazed preacher borne from the salt of the earth itself.
Raylan rewinds these tapes over and over again, looking for the cracks, the moment when Boyd lets up and reveals that maybe he doesn’t quite believe everything that he’s preaching with such conviction. He doesn’t find it.
The bridge from city councilman to mayor doesn’t seem so vast and that’s another thing Raylan isn’t surprised by – Boyd has never done things by halves.
What is surprising is the woman by his side. Missus Ava Crowder, blonde and every bit as beautiful as she always was, never more than a step behind her husband. In the videos, Boyd is always turning and looking to her, as if for affirmation, and that’s a surprise too.
He remembers Ava as she used to be, in her cheerleader’s outfit and still a bit too young for him, but often looking to impress him anyways. How she used to complain about that creepy Boyd Crowder kid, always looking after her where he wasn’t wanted. He wonders how they got to this point, from Ava dating Boyd’s deadbeat jock of a brother to making up one half of this seamless team that Ava and Boyd appear to be.
Then again, at least they’re happy together. At least someone’s got this whole marriage bit worked out. Raylan certainly never has, the ghost of his marriage to Winona haunting him, for all that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to see her once since he got back.
Raylan rubs idly at the wedding band that he still hasn’t taken off and rewinds the tapes again.
“The Bennetts want Boyd dead.”
“Hello, Ava, and how are you today?” Raylan says, opening the door to his hotel room to let her in.
“They have a deal with some big shot coal mining company who want to carve up half of Kentucky. Boyd stands in their way. That’s what you’re not being told,” Ava says, sitting down on the bed.
“What do you want me to do about it?” Raylan says.
“Protect my husband. That’s what you’re here for, ain’t it?” Ava asks.
It’s not quite as simple as that. If he were forced to put a finger on it, Raylan couldn’t quite tell you what he’s doing back in Kentucky, except that a forced transfer pushed him here and Art Mullen wants him to stick around for no goddamn apparent reason.
“I suppose. There a substantiated threat?”
“We sent Boyd’s old friend Devil over to negotiate with Mags Bennett over a glass of her famous apple pie a few days ago and we ain’t seen him since. Devil’s favorite ring, some big ugly skull ring that he wore every day, turned up on Boyd’s desk this morning. That substantial enough for you?”
“Not enough to satisfy the US Marshal service.”
“What about you, Raylan?” Ava presses, and she’s good at this, Raylan has to admit, and he sees how she and Boyd make a good team.
“It’s got me a little curious, I’ll admit,” Raylan says. “I’ll keep an eye on things.”
“Boyd is giving a speech tomorrow in town hall. You might want to be there,” Ava says.
“You think they’d try anything that public? That’s not exactly Mags’s style,” Raylan says, running through possible scenarios.
“Sure is Dickie’s though. That boy doesn’t think first before he does anything,” Ava says.
She’s got him and she knows it. Dickie Bennett has been a thorn in Raylan’s side for longer than he could remember, an itch that he’d like to obliterate from God’s green Earth for being a worthless human being, for being spineless and destructive.
“All right, I’ll be there,” Raylan says.
Ava stands as if to go before turning and pressing a kiss to Raylan’s lips that he’s almost too surprised to return. “Thank you, Raylan. You know, I always wondered what it would be like to kiss you. Ever since I was a teenager.”
Raylan’s eyebrows raise. “Word is that ring on your finger means you belong to Boyd Crowder, teenage kissing or no.”
Ava laughs. “Belong to? That how you think this works?”
“No, I sure don’t, but Boyd doesn’t strike me as the type of man to think otherwise.”
Ava shakes her head as she opens the door. “You don’t know him like I do. And Raylan? I belong to no one but myself. You’d do best to remember that.”
She shuts the door firmly behind her and Raylan finds himself reaching for the bottle of scotch.
“I see you got the message I sent Ava to tell you,” Boyd says, upon seeing Raylan enter the town hall building where Boyd is set to give his speech in a matter of minutes.
Raylan wonders just how much of Ava’s message Boyd is privy to. He has the funny feeling that Boyd knows everything and is laughing at him. He can see it a little, in the crinkle around Boyd’s eyes as he reaches over to shake Raylan’s hand.
“Just here to do my job, Boyd,” Raylan says.
Boyd raises an eyebrow at the apparent lack of back up. This isn’t official Marshal business and he knows it.
“Sit down, Raylan. You might like what you hear,” Boyd says, before making his way up to the podium.
It’s ten minutes into the speech before anything starts to happen. Boyd is in full swing, the tenor of his voice reaching every nook and cranny of the room, unaided by a microphone.
Raylan spots a movement out of the corner of his right eye, the flash of gunmetal, and he’s drawn his own gun just as he registers a man with a ski mask on with a gun pointed at Boyd. Raylan fires without a thought, a habit borne from years of practice – draw first blood or it’ll be your blood that gets mopped up later, that’s what he always tells himself.
Raylan holsters his weapon, the other man clearly down, and approaches the would-be assassin. He pulls up the ski mask.
It’s Dickie Bennett. He’s dead.
“You’re welcome,” Boyd says, tone of voice quiet as the room swarms with policemen and crime scene investigators casing the scene.
“Shouldn’t I be the one sayin’ that? I did just save your life,” Raylan says.
Boyd fixes him with a shrew look. “I gave you something you’ve been wanting for near on twenty years now, Mister Givens. Let’s not pretend otherwise.”
Boyd walks away without another word, leaving Raylan to lean backwards against the wall, suddenly in need for some fresh air.
He doesn’t know what he’s doing back in Harlan but he has a feeling that he’s going to be finding out real soon.