The week after Loretta’s 21st birthday, she gets a card and burner phone in the mail from Raylan. The card is covered in glitter, has a pink pony on the front with a little word bubble that says happy birthneigh! coming from it’s mouth. Loretta finds it amusing despite herself.
Loretta’s never really seen Raylan’s handwriting before, but if she’d set aside the time to imagine it, she’d have put it as just as scrawled and disorderly as it is on the card, tiny, scrunched words saying, took me a while to figure out where you’re putting up your feet nowadays. happy birthday anyway, kid. have a drink or two for me. It’s sweet, in a way, but Raylan hasn’t sent her a birthday card for any of her other birthdays and that makes her suspicious. Usually, being suspicious is what keeps her alive, and Raylan’s gotten a healthy amount of it from her in the past, but he’s been gone nearly three years now. Maybe the distance has made her fond, because she actually considers calling the number programmed into the burner.
Not now, though. She’s cautious. No reason not to think about it first, figure out if there’s more to it than a family man waxing nostalgic about the good old days.
Loretta, as a rule, tries not to kill anyone unless it’s necessary. She has a reputation for being tough but fair, young but capable, for keeping her shit stowed and making sure the goons in her employ do the same. Once a month or so she meets up with Gutterson or Brooks – usually it’s Gutterson – because she likes to keep things cordial and they both have decent taste in whiskey. They don’t talk shop, as a rule, but it’s useful to know a few faces in law enforcement. She’s not Mags, or Boyd, or the Detroit Mafia. She’s not her father. She’ll make new rules as she sees fit.
She finds Gutterson sitting at the bar, already drinking. He’s dressed down, but he never loses the stiff shoulders or the rifle calluses. Loretta knows he’s a sniper but she’s never seen him in action. She doesn’t much care to, to be honest.
She orders a whiskey at the bar, neat, and thinks about how maybe if anyone in this town bothered to card she’d care more about being legal, but as it is she’s been drinking since she could walk, almost.
“You know if anything new is going on with Raylan?” she asks as she pulls herself up onto a stool. She doesn’t generally see the point in greetings.
“Not that I recall,” Gutterson says. “He on your mind for some reason in particular?”
“Yep,” Loretta says, but doesn’t go into it. She’s never been to Miami, but she thinks it’s probably more relaxed than Harlan is. They have beaches there. Loretta hasn’t been to any real beaches recently, hasn’t seen the ocean since she was four and her mother was still alive, but she figures they’re most likely a calming influence. She thinks, sometimes, about leaving Harlan, but she doesn’t think it’s time, yet. She has her GED but she never went to college. She doesn’t care to, really, and there isn’t much she knows about besides selling weed, which she is very, very good at.
“That it?” Gutterson asks, throwing back the last of his drink. He always has a sly sort of grin on his face, like there’s a joke only he gets. Honestly, Loretta prefers Brooks, but she’s busy being in charge. Making decisions. Keeping Kentucky safe, or whatever it is that Marshals do.
“When have you ever known me to be verbose?” Loretta asks, tilting her glass to watch the alcohol move, glinting dark amber in the low lighting. It’s early yet, so there’s no country music on the speakers, the TVs above the bar still dark, which Loretta prefers. She doesn’t like to shout.
“Don’t normally ask about Raylan, either,” Gutterson says. He sounds almost sleepy, but his eyes are sharp, looking right at her. If she puts something down, even without meaning to, he’ll pick it up. “First time for everything.”
“Maybe I’m just feeling a little curious.” Loretta shrugs easily.
“Seems mighty unlikely,” Gutterson says. “Why not just cut to the chase?”
“He still in Miami? Being a dad and all that?” Loretta thinks about how Raylan talked to her when she was a kid, about his dead mother and his deadbeat father, and she can’t deny there was always a kinship there, no matter where she and Raylan fell on the sides of the law. She hated it for awhile, but you don’t get to choose the people who make sense to you. She didn’t choose the ways they were similar.
Sometimes she still thinks about stepping on Boon’s wrist, being certain, certain, that Raylan was dead. She hadn’t wanted to care, and she had anyway.
“Far as I know,” Gutterson says in that slow drawl, like he’s waiting for her to make the pieces fit together. “You’ve met Raylan – not a communicator at the best of times. You looking for him?”
“Something like that,” she says. “Anyway, that’s not why we’re here tonight, is it?”
“Nah,” Gutterson says, and flashes her that sly smile. “We’re here so I can kick your ass at poker like you deserve.”
“Maybe if you win the cute bartender will finally take you home,” Loretta says, tilting her chin to the man behind the bar, his sleeves rolled up over his forearms, his beard neatly trimmed.
Gutterson grins. “Yeah, maybe.”
She spends two days finalizing a deal with four property owners out in Three Point – land in exchange for a small cut of the growth profits. She doesn’t even have to bring muscle with her, just the six-shooter on her hip and Carver to stand beside her with his hands in his pockets, watching. Most of Harlan knows her now, knows her reputation, and it keeps her safe enough. She hasn’t had to make a big show of power in over two years, but that doesn’t mean she’s getting complacent.
She knows that the best method of retaining her position is to keep her word and not take shit. She isn’t afraid of follow through on a threat, but she hasn’t been at the top so long by killing indiscriminately, either.
“That went well,” Carver says, during the drive back to headquarters.
“We ain’t asking for much,” Loretta says. “Not more than they’re willing to give to get profit in return. And we’ll still be making more than enough off the take.”
“How come we ain’t branched out to bigger things?” Carver asks. It’s what they always want to know. Loretta has all the new crew shadow her for at least a month before making them a real part of the team, because if they discount her one on one they don’t deserve to hang around long. She doesn’t need dissenters.
“I seen enough trouble in this town over the hard stuff. Are we not making a tidy sum as it stands?”
Carver looks in the rearview mirror, and keeps both hands on the steering wheel. Loretta is leaning against the passenger side window, one leg pulled up on the seat. She’s probably getting mud from her boot on the cushion, but it’s all about the look. So much of being in charge is posture and swagger and acting like you belong. She learned that early.
“Yeah, I guess. But isn’t there more money in oxy? Or heroin?”
“Maybe,” Loretta says, easily. “If you think it’s worth getting dead over. I’d rather be smart.”
She’ll watch him carefully over the next several weeks. If he won’t follow her lead, that’ll be it for him. Pot is what keeps Harlan running, the gears under the surface turning together, saving the county from sinking. Even Raylan wasn’t much interested in stopping the pot trade. He had too much stake in Boyd, and Wynn Duffy, and the bigger, more violent turns of crime. Loretta has no desire to be any of them. She’s not planning on spending her life in jail.
The truth is she hasn’t had to touch the money Mags left her. If she’s careful, she never will.
Someday, she’s going to leave Harlan. She’s going to take her gains and go traveling, maybe. She doesn’t have huge plans, but she can’t help thinking that it’s worth going somewhere other than Kentucky, just to see. She’s young, yet.
She caves after a week. She’s home, finally, with a beer and her cat, Mary Alice, curled up on her lap. She hasn’t brought anyone home in six months, hasn’t dated in longer, and she doesn’t feel like she’s missing much. Her life is what it is. She isn’t running out of time.
She’s left the burner stuffed into the drawer on the side table next to the sofa, and she stares at it for a good three minutes before calling. It’s late – after 10PM – and she figures Raylan won’t pick up. If the number is even his.
The phone rings three times, but he answers.
“Hello?” It’s definitely Raylan’s voice. She’d know it anywhere, that sarcastic drawl, even on one word. He’s not her dad, he’s never been her dad, and her dad was mostly a waste of a person anyway, but hearing his voice kicks up something in her. That feeling of being understood, maybe. The feeling of having history.
“Hey, Raylan,” she says. Her voice is softer than she means it to be. She hates, a little, that he can make her feel so young, but it’s easy to forget, sometimes, how long he’s known her.
“Hey, kid,” he says. “Isn’t it a little late for a phone call?”
“You answered, didn’t you?” she asks. “Some of us work late.”
“Ah, yes,” he says. “Punching that time card?”
“I make ends meet,” she says, like he doesn’t know what she does with her time. He’s never been stupid – the opposite, in fact – and she doesn’t want to listen to him tell her to go to college, which is likely what he’d have done if he’d stayed in Harlan. Luckily now he has a real daughter to bully. “How’s the kid?”
“A big fan of ice cream, as it turns out,” he says, dry. “Who would’ve guessed?”
Loretta isn’t sure what to say, which is odd for her. She still isn’t sure why Raylan wanted her to call. Three years is a long time to let something slide.
“Kind of odd of you to send me a card,” she says.
“I know,” he says, placid. He sound relaxed. It isn’t like he ever appeared particularly wound up, but most of the time that was a lie, in her experience. “It seemed like the right time.”
“Why?” she asks, and she can almost hear his shrug, He isn’t going to give her a satisfactory answer.
“I’m not rightly sure,” he says. “Maybe I’m just settled here, finally. Not liable to run back to Harlan at the first sign of danger.”
“I make do just fine on my own, thanks,” she says. Mary Alice is purring in her lap, and she tries not to sound as bristly as she feels.
“Who said anything about you? You think Tim didn’t call me up a few times to complain about the way you’ve got things running? Everyone falling in line behind you and everything.”
“Seems fairly unlikely, yes,” she says.
“Suit yourself,” he says. “Anyway, figured three years gives you enough time to not be pissed at me, and now we can be – pen pals, or something. Phone buddies.”
“Raylan,” she says, but isn’t sure what to put after that. Finally, she says, “Did Miami make your brain soft?”
“Nah, just being a dad, I think.” He sounds contemplative. She snorts. It’s mostly nice to hear his voice.
“I can call again, if you want,” she offers, though she’s not sure why. He’s far away, and doesn’t have much bearing on her life anymore. He left Harlan. That might as well put him on another planet.
“I’d like that,” he says, and he sounds like he means it. She doesn’t know what to do with that, except that she smiles, a little, where he can’t see.
She doesn’t say that she would, too, though it’s probably the truth. She doesn’t need to give him more strings to pull on her life. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll do that, then.”