«I heard Raylan came back to Harlan», Ava had reported when she had come home from the grocer's.
«Ava…», Boyd had said, putting the apples she had just bought in the basket on top of the table.
« It seems that he and his daughter dusted off Arlo's old home and he is supposed to live there now.»
«Ava», Boyd had repeated again.
«Alright. I won't say a thing more. I just thought you would like to know», she had said, continuing to put away her purchases.
Boyd Crowder was still in charge of Harlan's most important criminal organization, despite the coming of hell and high water but had been laying low for the past months. The majority of news and fait-divers of Harlan that didn't pertain to his business came from Ava now. Too many governmental agencies were getting too close for his taste and he would do whatever it took to not spend the last years of his life in prison.
They were still living in the same house Ava had shared with his brother what seemed centuries ago, after dropping the illusion that they could build a regular life in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a dog, and neighbourhood barbecues alongside running a cartel. Some people would probably want to put as much distance between them and a house where their brothers had been shot by their wives and which was riddled with so many scars of bullet holes, but Boyd and Ava Crowder were not some people. It was secluded and they could keep an eye on who was approaching it rather easily but it had also been the place where their relationship had shifted until it had become what was now. Boyd was regarded by some as ruthless and cold-blooded but the sentimental weight of that building didn't go unnoticed and it was other of the reasons he was glad they had never moved out.
Unlike Ava, he kept very much to it these days. The authorities were keeping track of her as well, but she had put her foot down from the beginning. She would still go to town, do some shopping, run errands and go to the salon. They could get things taken care of by others or have people come to them but she wasn't willing to shut herself in and go crazy meanwhile.
«There's nothing dangerous about an old lady taking care of her life and if they follow me, they're going to see that.»
She wasn't an old lady at all, he had told her. Her hair might be of a paler blonde now, but her blue eyes were as sharp as ever and the water aerobics class she attended in Lexington every Tuesday showed in her figure and agility. Besides, she still ran the books with an iron fist and people who failed with what been agreed upon feared her even more than they feared Boyd sometimes. Ava might need glasses to read the very limited paperwork she kept, but had scared to death a kid who dared to imply her records weren't right with shotgun shots from 250 yards away failing him on purpose by inches not long ago. Conveying something like that no matter how subtly was an offense she would never forgive; she took real pride in being able to remember not only all the people they were in business with, but also all the details of such business. She didn't think it would be needed anytime soon, but because one could never predict the future, she had already devised a complex code to write down those things in. Ava didn't claim it was unbreakable, but they would need a damn time to crack it.
Boyd wanted to believe that he hadn't grown (very) mellow with age, but he wasn't that sure sometimes and he was thankful for having Ava by his side; he too felt old from now and then. Unlike her, he hadn't taken any sport and his thin dry structure was more due to genetics and the fact that he didn't smoke and only drank from time to time than exercise, which he only practiced when he took a walk around the property, escorted by his body guards that was. He hadn't grown mellow with age, after all. His now grey hair was still spiky and even if his posture wasn't as upright as it had once been, he still had an imposing air about him, aided by the fact that his style hadn't changed much. Because it had never been that youthful to begin with, it didn't seem that he was clinging on to gone times. Boyd didn't care about fashion, but he would never allow himself to look ridiculous and would have altered it if he felt so. Looking derisible could be the first step to be perceived as weak, and being in power was already reason enough to have people wanting to take you down. There was no need to give them even more ideas.
Two months had passed since Ava had given him the news of Raylan's return. He hadn't given much thought to it in public, arguing that he was retired and didn't pose much of a threat anymore. This didn't exactly match his feelings because Raylan Givens was and would always be a lawman at heart and being 76 years-old and no longer in duty wouldn't do much to stop him if he thought he should intervene, especially if it involved Boyd Crowder.
«I know you don't want me to tell you anything about Raylan, but I have to tell you this: He is dying», she said in a grave tone at the dinner table, «Whether you like it or not, there's some sort of very strong bond between you two and I know that if you don't see each other again for a last time, you will never forgive yourself.»
Boyd was taken aback by her words. He had had the impression she had seen Raylan walking down the street at least but had kept it to herself because he didn't want to hear a word about him. He would have never guessed that something like this was what she was withholding. His chest tightened, he stopped breathing and a mixture of incredulity and pain showed in his suddenly chalked face.
«Are you alright, Boyd?», his wife asked, worried. His blood pressure had been a bit higher than advised as of late.
«I am. I am», he replied eventually, but in a faint voice. «How do you know?»
« I ran into Abigail at the post office. His daughter hired her to do the cleanin'. It seems Harlan hasn't forgotten Raylan Givens the same way Raylan Givens hasn't forgotten Harlan.»
Boyd took a sip of water. His head was starting to hurt.
«Do you really think I should see him? », he asked. He wasn't exactly waiting for her answer to make a decision, but this situation had left him dumbfounded. He had rarely thought about Raylan in those 30 years, but Ava was right about the bond that linked them together.
«It's your call, Boyd, I guess.»
Ava knew him well and trusted he would know what to do.
Boyd was having a lot of trouble falling asleep that night. The memories of times past with Raylan had kept him awake. Not only their shared years in school and in the mines but also their cat-and-mouse game in their adult lives.
He kept tossing and turning in bed and after reassuring Ava that he was all right once all that agitation had awaken her, he decided to get up.
«Where are you going?», she had whispered when she saw him raise from the bed, despite the fact that they were alone in the room.
«Downstairs. I can't stay here», Boyd replied, tying the cord of his dressing gown, « Go back to sleep.»
He leaned over her and kissed her lightly on the lips. After so many years together, it still surprised him how much he loved her.
«Goodnight», she said, arranging the covers.
He left the room and walked through the corridor as silently as he could. Coming down the stairs with the least amount of noise possible proved itself a little trickier, courtesy of his right knee, which seemed to want to give up sometimes. In moments like these, he put some serious thought into taking their money and ask Ava to come with him somewhere. Maybe Europe. There was probably still some country which didn't have an extradition agreement with the United States. He had grown curious about Europe lately and was sure he would get bored in a tropical island very soon. Drinking cocktails and looking at the sea for days on end could be fun in the beginning, but he wasn't so sure of it in the long run.
Boyd already had his hand on the switch of the lamp by the corner, near the armchair, when he decided against turning it on. Doing so would spark the curiosity of the men scattered around the property and make them call to check if a light at such late hour wasn't a burglar or a sign of trouble. It could seem a bit restrictive, having those eyes on them like that but it was a small price to pay to have a peaceful night, something he had come to find very valuable over the years.
Besides, perhaps it was best to sit in the dark. He had always been a man prone to keeping his thoughts away from prying eyes, but what he felt over Raylan's return and even more so about the very close death of his friend was something he needed to ponder on alone. His friend. No matter how much he moved his thoughts and feelings around, Raylan was his friend and would be so from cradle to grave. There was no way to gloss over or to ignore it.
Apparently they knew each other way before that but his first clear memory involved Raylan. He had always had that smirk and a heightened sense of justice which spilled onto the playground. Boyd was pounding a kid about his age to the floor – the dumb child was claiming both the ball and the corner of the dilapidated field where they played football -, willing to set him straight. Raylan had come to them.
«Leave the kid alone, Boyd.»
He had looked up. Not only was he seated on the chest of the other boy, but Raylan was tall for a five-year-old.
«Or I'll make you leave the kid alone. Is as simple as that.»
Well, perhaps he hadn't used so many words but Boyd clearly remembered raising his eyes, squinting because of the sunlight that came over the brim of Raylan's hat. Yes, because the hat wasn't any affectation he had picked up later in life, trying to look cool or intimidating. Too many cowboy movies and books maybe. He had his nose stuck in one of the latter a lot. People made fun of him, mocked him in the open but he kept bringing that hat and that smirk and those books to school every day.
His brother and his cousin came to Boyd's side, but Raylan hadn't moved an inch and they had left the kid alone eventually. The field and the ball were too crummy for them to lose time over it after all.
They had gone through a lot since that moment, all those years ago.
The mines had forged that bond that only working so many feet deep underground could do. He had found similar camaraderie in the army but Harlan had a very particular way to bind people together indeed. One could survive in those woods and mountains and shafts by themselves but it could be damn easier with other people around - not many and not anyone, but some. Family mainly, whether the one God had given you or the one you found for yourself.
Boyd had gone to the army, Raylan had joined the Marines, and he truly thought they would never meet again, both of them so eager to leave Harlan behind that maintaining friendships that reminded them of it wasn't exactly something either was interested in. They didn't talk much by that point but had randomly met near the bus station. He was to go back to camp. No one in his family wanted to understand what had driven him to such a decision – the government had screwed them in every way possible and even if it all came cloaked in 'fighting for their freedom and their way of life', they defended he could do as much right there.
Boyd and Raylan had crossed paths at the newsstand door. The first was about to come in while the latter was coming out of the shop after getting cigarettes for Aunt Helen.
The good natured tone in their voices covered the awkwardness they both felt. Last time they met, at some point in the middle of that summer, had ended up with them taking punches at each other. Some stupid remark none of them remembered very well now had spiralled into insults targeting their fathers, even if Raylan had long decided to part ways with his and Boyd struggled under the influence and image of the Crowder patriarch. Both wanted to escape their families but both also had much more of them in their cores than what they wanted to acknowledge.
«It's time, I see », Raylan said, meaning Boyd's uniform, green camo jacket and pants not that much different from what he already wore, apart from the 'Crowder' written on the right side of his chest and the US Army insignias.
«I got two weeks off after boot camp. I'm going to Fort Benning and from there on, I don't know.», he said. «You?»
«The marines, for starters, and then we'll see. Maybe some sort of law enforcement, clearly what God intended me to.»
«I bet Arlo is very happy», Boyd said ironically.
«Couldn't be more. You know Arlo, it was always his dream to have a lawman in the family», Raylan replied with with a smile.
«Hey cowboy, in or out? There are customers waiting», said Rudy from behind the counter and from under the peak of omnipresent trucker hat.
«Out», said Raylan over his shoulder.
«See you around», said Boyd, not truly expecting it would ever happen.
«Yeah, see you around. Don't die over there. I hear it's a mess.»
Despite the joking finish, Boyd got the feeling Raylan was being genuine in his concern, which surprisingly moved him.
Boyd shifted in his armchair. It was hard to believe that it had happened more than fifty years ago.
There were times - like when his knee hurt and he felt tired of it all – that he was the age he was, but there were other where he still felt around 40, even if he couldn't exactly pinpoint why. Those had been wild, dangerous times; so wild and dangerous they almost seemed out of some fictional work. At the same time though, they might as well have been one of the periods of his own life where he felt saner, a welcome change following the months after his discharge from the army where he had landed in jail and cared about little but his white supremacist views, blowing things up, and plotting and executing bank robberies.
It was true that it had been followed by his conversion and the church-slash-anti-drugs-militia he had created in the middle of the woods which could hardly be described as a quiet time, considering the meth labs raids, the cocktails Molotov, and keeping to blow things up when he saw fit in order to clean Harlan and disrupt such trade. From now and then, he was still haunted by how it all had ended, the shots fired in the distance while he was walking away with a bloody face, hurt and mangled by his cousin Johnny's punches and by his father's ostracism, even if the agreement made with him would mean Boyd leaving Harlan in exchange for the lives of the members of his group. From now and then, he was still haunted by what his eyes saw when he came back to the campsite not long after: men that, in hindsight, at least at some point seemed to really want to straighten their lives had been killed and hanged upside down from a tree. His pain had turned into a thirst of revenge so strong that had lead him to turn himself in to Raylan, to go as his back-up to the cabin where his own father was threatening to kill Ava - her life for Raylan's. Givens and Crowder a team again as they had been many times in the coal mines, both entrenched in their families' histories no matter all the efforts they had both made in order to never find themselves in such position, shooting against Bo and Miami drug kingpins his actions had maybe drawn there.
«I'm going to bet my life on you being the only friend I have left in this world», Boyd had told Raylan when the shootout had sort of come to an end but the niece of the Florida drug lord was still on the run, in light of Givens' doubts about letting him go after her.
The only friend I have left in this world. Aside from Ava, it was still probably true even after all that time and despite the many people that gravitated around him.
A long time ago, Cousin Johnny had been more of brother to him than Bowman had ever had but he had shot him in the middle of the Mexican desert. He had done what he had to do, that bastard had sold him out and, to top it all and probably the worst offense, had started to look at Ava in an untoward manner. It hadn't been an action simply out of jealousy. It had gone deeper because Boyd would have never pulled something like that on him. They were family and family didn't do that to each other. God knew how many doubts he had had to overcome in himself when his feelings for Ava and her feelings for him had changed and not only theirs had not been a good, happy marriage but Bowman had been dead for some years.
Well, now that he was looking back, he wasn't that sure that those had been some of the saner phases in his life. He had killed or had had killed so many people, not only enemies or associates, but family as well.
A lot had been lost back then but he had an empire to show for it now. A criminal empire, that was true, but an empire nevertheless and not only had he acknowledged that he didn't indeed know better but had learnt that almost every empires were so, even those sanctioned by the government and the business world. Black Pike Coal, for instance - it had a respected, legal, and legitimate veneer but was a criminal empire all the same.
The memory of those days advocating for them and posing as an «explosive consultant» brought his thoughts back to Raylan once again, because, as now as during that time, it had also been nearly impossible to escape him, no matter how much he tried. It almost seemed that he was making up for all the years he hadn't set foot in Harlan County, strong in his promise to never be there again. Raylan had been working in Texas, Georgia, and Florida and even when he had been sent back to the Marshals field office in Eastern Kentucky, he still kept to Lexington. Boyd had even heard that his Aunt Helen drove there to see him, because damned would he be if he ever crossed those lines now that he had been able to get out.
Yet, what goes around comes around and so Raylan had ended up in the place he believed he hated the most in the whole world.
«Arlo's boy is back in Kentucky», the rumor mill had spilled out, something heightened by how much Arlo himself refused to hear about him, having vowed that he would never forgive his son's chosen profession, their life-long troubles aside.
Because he was still in his blowing-up-stuff-and-not-giving-a-shit-phase, Boyd's first reaction towards the news had been Bring it. If he got his hands in some C4 and felt like making anything explode, Raylan Givens would not stop him. He could only just watch him try.
Boyd found himself smiling in the dark. He act actually told Raylan once «I'll just watch you try.»
Things had gotten difficult as time went on. For every success there were three failed plans, but the Marshals Service hadn't been able to catch him in the end and he had never thought he would manage to live this long so it had been good enough for him.
Not the same had probably been said by Raylan though, Boyd guessed. Whether by personal choice or by his bosses' choice, Givens had gone to Florida to join his family, the Tommy Bucks incident long swept under the rug - or so Boyd had heard back then -, and in Florida he had stayed until now.
It had been a long time since he had stood on that small porch. If memory didn't fail him, he had been to that house for the last time one afternoon with Arlo and Cousin Johnny, planning how to steal from Dickie Bennett. It didn't escape him that they were all dead now but for him.
He had gone out alone, for the first time in many years. Ava hadn't said a word about this resolution, but it had been more troublesome to get the same appeasement from his henchmen.
«I will be in no danger and I took care of myself even before you were born», he had said, «And last time I checked, I was still your boss.»
Boyd knew that he was running out of time to knock. If anyone was home – which he believed was the case because there was a black car parked on the road below -, his shadow on the door had probably raised questions already, if not his steps. Besides, he seemed to hear voices close, perhaps from the other porch on side of the house.
Regret wasn't exactly what was delaying the announcement of his arrival. He had set he would meet Raylan the night before and fully intended to follow through with it, but it was as if he was finally realizing the circumstances that had lead him there. Ava didn't know much about Raylan's state, so Boyd had no idea how he would find him. Yet more than that, he was surprised by how sad the possibility of Raylan not wanting to see him made him feel.
He hit the door with his knuckles. Boyd heard steps approaching from inside and took a deep breath.
«Can I help you?»
A woman in her early thirties opened the wooden and the mesh doors. She was tall and slight and had dark shoulder-length hair. Her blue eyes might be her mother's but everything else came from Raylan, including the somewhat indolent stance. Boyd wondered if she was in some sort of law enforcement too.
«Miss Givens?», she nodded, but her gaze didn't soften, « My name is Boyd Crowder and I'm an old friend of your daddy. I was told he was back in Harlan and I would like to pay him a visit, if it were possible. »
He seemed to sense a certain disbelief in her voice. At first, he thought that maybe Raylan wasn't taking in any visitors and everybody knew that but him, yet he also didn't find past her father to mention his name at least once either. He couldn't pinpoint a reason why that readily though. Maybe Raylan had included him in some tale of his life, his work or even to prevent him exactly from coming to see him.
«Just a moment», she said.
«Of course, ma'am», he said, trying not to shift his weight from one foot to the other even if his knee was giving him some trouble.
She closed the door behind her and Boyd heard (or so he thought) muffled voices one more time. He worried we has unwelcome once again. It was quite a new feeling. He had very rarely cared about whether his presence was wanted or not.
«Come this way, please», Raylan's daughter said when she returned, signaling him to follow her to the living room.
The open double doors on the right lead to the porch. Seated in one corner, facing the mountain landscape and with the back turned to them, was a figure wearing a hat. Boyd couldn't avoid smiling.
«Raylan Givens, the last man I ever thought to see back in Harlan», he said, making his way to him. He had meant to start more shyly, considering the particularities of their relationship, but surprisingly those words had come out much more easily.
«Me too, to be honest. But the heart wants what the heart wants… or something. I don't even know anymore», Raylan replied with a smile, « It must be the old age talking.»
He was a bit pale and gaunt and the hat and his clothes looked a bit big for him, but his eyes had lit up when he had looked at Boyd, every wrinkle and line put to good use. He had a quilt over his legs and the book he had been reading before his arrival was closed on his lap.
Boyd laughed heartily and sat down on the chair nearby.
«How did we get old?»
«It's strange, isn't it? Don't ask me because I have no idea.»
«Would you like something to drink? Coffee, water…», the woman asked, still keeping a watchful eye on her father. Boyd didn't blame her.
«You have already met at the door, but this is Willa, my daughter», Raylan said.
«I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Givens», Boyd said, raising from the chair again, « I would like a glass of water, if it wasn't too much trouble, please.»
«Likewise», she said, feigning a smile, «I'll be right back.»
«Is she in law enforcement too?», Boyd asked, not knowing what to say next, not because they were out of themes, but more because he didn't even know where to begin.
«U. S. Marshals Service. I heard it runs in the family», Raylan said with a shrug.
«I can't say I'm surprised», Boyd said with an understanding smile.
«But she took a leave of absence to come and babysit me here. Part of me wants to die at once so she can go back to her life, but the other is still a little bit reticent about that, as you can imagine.»
Despite the turn the conversation had taken, Boyd wasn't very surprised with what he had just heard. Raylan had never minced words after all.
«Do you have any of your own?»
«Ava and I weren't blessed with them.»
In fact, they had done all possible to not be blessed. One thing was to live in that world but it was completely different to bring a child into it. Harlan had been built and kept on dynasties and it was easy to want to pass on the Crowder name to the next generation and bestow the empire to someone in the family. Boyd had been adamant about it once. Despite everything that had happened in his life that had made him question the relationship with his family and the concept itself, he came from a long line of Crowders and he wanted to continue it, but his intentions always collided with Ava's resistance. She believed Boyd could be a good father, but there was no way she would burden a child with such an inheritance and fate. Ava had lived with it for more than thirty years and had seen what it could do to a person, what it had done to her. Boyd had kept insisting until he came to a point where he realised that he continued saying he wanted children more because it was what he had always said and felt was expected of him (even if there was no else left to impress maybe apart from Ava) than what he actually meant. From a business standpoint, Boyd also couldn't deny that there were some advantages in picking an heir against having to stick with the one one had created, especially if they were incompetent, what also happened from now and then.
«Speaking of Ava… How about her? You're still together, I guess?»
«We got married a long time ago.»
«To avoid having to testify against each other?»
Boyd had to laugh.
«I won't deny it was one of the reasons», he conceded in an unplanned burst of honesty, « I mean, I love her, I have loved her for all these years and I don't think it will change now.»
«I know. I was just messing with you», Raylan said with a smile, pushing his hat forward, after scratching the top of his silver hair.
«She would like to pay a visit too, if it's alright», Boyd said, leaning forward in his chair.
«Ava may drop by when she feels like it. I'd like to meet her again too. Willa is the best companion I could ask for, but I like to see a new face around once or twice. »
As if summoned by his words, his daughter appeared on the porch carrying a tray.
« Here's your water, Mr. Crowder,», the woman said, handing him a glass. « And your ice-cream, Dad», Willa continued, more softly, giving Raylan a small bowl and a teaspoon and putting a hand on his shoulder.
«Thank you», they both replied.
«I'll be in the kitchen, in case you need something», she said, leaving them alone again.
«So, what have you been up to?», asked Raylan, taking a spoonful of ice-cream.
«Are you sure you want to know? Wouldn't it entail breaking the law and a hundred of U.S. Marshals rules? Or even trying to arrest me?»
«We may have not seen each other in decades, but I can assure you my regard for rules didn't change meanwhile. And I'm afraid I'm a bit old to try to arrest you, as much as it pains me to say it», Raylan paused for a moment, «well, it wasn't exactly what I meant to say, but you get the idea.»
«What about your daughter?», Boyd said nodding towards the kitchen, «I'm sure she would like to so in a heartbeat.»
«Well, Willa did hear a lot of stories about you and I can't deny that they weren't always the most flattering.»
«Did you tell her about the time you shot me?»
«And did you also tell her the one when I saved your life in Bulletville?»
«That one she knows too», Raylan said in a more serious tone, as if recalling everything they had been through together that day.
«I'm so sorry», said Boyd.
Raylan looked ahead, his gaze on the mountains.
«That's how things are, isn't it?», Raylan was focused back on Boyd now, «I could have died in a shaft or in these woods of a bullet wound, for instance, but I didn't and lived 30, 40, 50 years more, did my job the best I could, got to see my daughter grow up. I don't think I can complain, you know. It is what it is.»
«As strange as it may seem, I think you were always the most cynical of us.»
«Indeed. Despite it all there was a certain idealism about you», Raylan replied, eating another bit of ice-cream.
«You mean all the speeches?», Boyd asked with a false tone of incredulity.
«That too, but you were always a man with a vision, the criminal nature of some part of that vision notwithstanding.»
That remark made Boyd smile. «Isn't that what America is about? Following and conquering your dreams?»
«Yeah, I guess you're right.»
They talked vividly amongst each other, recalling episodes from their lives since infancy, to their time together in the mines, to standing on opposite sides of the law. From now and then came a moment when their many standoffs were cast in a different light than the rest of the conversation but they were able to move swiftly from it and resume the easy tone with which they had communicated before.
Night had fallen meanwhile. Willa had turned on the lights inside the house and apart from the glow of Harlan a couple of miles ago they could see nothing more than the outlines of the mountains and the tops of the trees cut by the moonlight against the deep blue sky.
Raylan invited him to dinner and he accepted.
«I'll just call Ava, so she doesn't worry.»
Raylan took off his hat and they moved to the table, but still left the windows open, letting the crickets' cry into the room. Boyd tried to avert his eyes, but he couldn't fail to notice how many pills his friend had had to take, the trouble he had had to eat the small portion of food on his plate, and his heart tightened.
Willa was polite and interested in knowing more about Raylan's times in Harlan, both while growing up and then as a Marshal. There were some details with which she was familiar already, but she took in everything else. Boyd could only imagine how difficult that situation was for her and he was glad to see that she seemed to welcome the break.
«Thank you very much for coming», Raylan said when they were by the door, leaning slightly on it. Now that he was standing, he seemed even frailer, Boyd thought.
«Thank you for having me. You and Willa, that is. It was a very enjoyable evening and it was very good to see you.»
«I'm sorry for not having said that I was back in Harlan.»
It was the first time Raylan appeared to bring up regret.
«I am also to blame for not having visited sooner. Ava told me you were around right away but I told her I didn't want to know. She's the reason why I'm here today. She reminded me of what was truly important.»
«She can be quite persistent», Raylan said with a nod.
«Do you think I don't know?», replied Boyd with a smile.
«I'm glad to see you happy. I honestly do», Raylan shifted his weight from one feet to the other, the hat back on his head.
«Sometimes I'm not sure I deserve it, after all I've done», he said with a sigh. And still do.
«You did some good things and tried to change. That accounts for something in my book.»
Boyd couldn't do much more than try to muster a smile. Raylan had always been earnest, but these words appeared to derive from a different type of honesty.
«Do you regret not being able to arrest me?». Boyd acknowledged that it was a particularly odd question to ask, but felt more compelled to do it than to keep quiet.
Raylan took some time to reply.
«As a lawman I definitely do. Your case had a very special place on my desk until I had put all my shit in a card box, but as a person, I'm not so sure anymore. Like it or not, we're friends after all. »
Boyd was reading the newspaper when the phone rang. The landline hadn't been used in so long, he wasn't even sure if it was still working.
«Do you want me to take it?», Ava asked, raising her eyes from the notebook she was writing on.
«No, I'll do it», he said, rising from the armchair.
«This is Willa Givens.»
Boyd and Ava made their way to the scarcely attended church. It surprised him that Raylan was to have a regular funeral, especially considering that Boyd never thought of him as a particularly religious man.
There were still at least three Givens in Harlan that he knew of, but they were cousins so removed, Boyd didn't find it odd to not see them there. Besides, they were younger than them, so they probably didn't even know Raylan by name at this point.
Two men were seated on a bench who he guessed were probably from the Miami Marshals office due to the fact that he didn't know them (and he was familiar with every law enforcement officer around ), how stiffly they sat and the way they seemed to be scrutinizing every corner. Raylan had made many enemies over his career, Boyd was sure, but it was too late to get him now, he thought.
«Are you alright?», Ava whispered. Even after all these years, she had very rarely seen him falter.
He nodded. Boyd was far from alright, but he understood what she meant. He had promised himself he wouldn't let himself cry, but even then he knew it was somewhat of a vain promise. When Willa had called him to tell that Raylan had had a thrombosis and had died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Boyd had fallen to his knees as if the strength needed to stand had been drained out of him right in that moment. He was still clutching the phone but didn't keep it to his ear, so Ava could hear the murmur of «Mr. Crowder? Hello? Mr. Crowder? Are you still there?». She had rushed to him and even without a word she knew what had happened. Ava had held him in her arms and taken the phone from his fingers. «Thank you for calling, Miss Givens. We're very sorry for your loss,» Ava had said, trying to not burst into tears, at least for now, «My husband needs a moment, that's all. Could you please call us with the funeral details? Thank you. I'm sorry for your loss», she had repeated. Willa had hung up, but Ava hadn't gotten up to put the phone back, simply pushing it aside, the tick of the line crosscutting Boyd's helplessness and the haunted look on his face as he went through all his memories of Raylan and her own sobs.
Rachel Brooks and Tim Gutterson had also come to pay their last respects, Art Mullen long departed too. Seated side by side in the long bench of the second row on the right, they talked in a low tone while the officiant hadn't arrived yet. She had a very distinguished look that befitted the current Director of the Marshals Service and he had salt-and-pepper hair but his face still had a young air to it. It was strange to see them after all that time, particularly considering that he wasn't trying to escape them. They had stuck in Lexington for some years more, but he had heard that Brooks had gone to the Atlanta office and Gutterson to somewhere in Colorado. Boyd had wondered back then if their transfers had had anything to do with the fact that he had managed to avoid arrest and conviction and couldn't deny that, even without any proof that it might have been the case, the idea alone had left him rather pleased. He nodded towards them and they nodded back.
Willa and a blonde woman he believed was Winona were seated in the first pew holding hands, white handkerchiefs twisted inside their folded fingers. Raylan had told him in one of their afternoon conversations that despite all their work and the love they had for each other, their relationship had failed once more and they hadn't even attempted to rekindle it again, still scarred by what had happened all those times before. They had done their best to raise their daughter in these circumstances and were rather pleased with the result.
«I'm so sorry for your loss, Miss Givens and Ms. Hawkins», Boyd said, shaking their hands.
«Thank you», said Willa. She still held something back but his rather frequent visits to Raylan over those last three weeks had managed to make her more receptive to him. «Knowing my father, I don't believe he ever put it like that that, but you helped him a great deal. He was really glad you came to visit him. »
«It brings me comfort to hear that, to know that I provided some to him too in these last weeks». It rarely happened, but Boyd didn't know what he could add, «I'm very grateful we got to meet each other again.»
Winona stood by her daughter, but she didn't say anything apart from the initial «thank you». What else could she speak when the common link between them laid in a wooden box some feet aside.
Boyd and Ava left them behind and climbed up the few steps to the altar. Raylan's trustworthy hat rested on the lid of the closed casket. Boyd guessed Raylan had left somewhat detailed instructions, considering that there hadn't been a wake and everything pointed to a simple ceremony: there was no photograph by the coffin or flower arrangements in the church. He was then oddly thankful he had forgotten in the car the small crown they had brought in.
He touched the brim of the casket and let out a deep breath. A day had passed since Willa's call, but he still couldn't believe that Raylan was truly gone, that they couldn't have another long conversation on that porch overlooking the mountains. He knew such reaction was normal and sort of expected but realizing that simple fact seemed to hit him harder every time it dawned on him.
« Raylan Givens was kind of an asshole », Tim Gutterson said from the podium after Willa's eulogy, his words raising eyebrows. «I know this isn't the type of thing that's said in a church or even in a funeral, but all the people here knew that: he was smug and cocky, cared very little for rules and rarely did as he was told, if there was probable cause for lethal force and it came to it he would use it, he was almost permanently angry, he could be disdainful, he rarely apologized, he seemed kind of proud of his 21st century John Wayne shtick. » Despite the serious setting, people laughed, Boyd included. Wherever he was, Raylan would laugh too, he thought, even if Boyd had been having trouble with the ideas of heaven and hell, notwithstanding his belief in some sort of superior deity.
« I could go on and on about his flaws,», Gutterson continued, « but Raylan was also smart, loyal, wounded, he could care deeply about people, was really funny and had the fastest quick draw I'll ever see. He knew how to wear a hat, was a good friend if he wanted to be, had a strong moral sense, always did his job damn well and was a good father. Despite the fact that Raylan Givens was indeed kind of an asshole, I could go on and on about his qualities, but nothing makes this easier and I'll miss that son of a bitch until the day I'm the one in the box», his voice breaking down in the end, his shoulders shaking as he made his way back to his seat.
Before the funeral, Willa had asked Boyd if he wanted to say some words, but he had declined, preferring to keep his thoughts on Raylan and their friendship as private as possible. «I don't think he would be mad at me. A bit offended that I didn't go out and laud him perhaps, but not mad». And so he had stayed in silence, sitting on that bench with Ava's hand on his own, composing his own eulogy to Raylan in his head.
The same people who had attended the ceremony stood now around the open grave by the Givens' house, but Boyd also spotted Loretta McCready farther away, with red eyes too, near a tree.
Twilight hadn't started yet, but the sun wasn't as bright as it had been during the day and bathed the landscape in a delicate golden light. Despite the circumstances, it painted quite a tableau over the mountains and the woods around, scored by chipper birds that seemed out of place.
The headstone read now. As the other three on that lot, its placement seemed rather disorderly instead of following the defined lines of a regular graveyard. The officiant said some words and a small delegation of Marines from Henderson Hall played 'taps' and performed the 'three-volley salute', turning the singsong of the birds around into one of despair.
Boyd felt it was harder and harder to breath as the proceedings went on. He had believed for a long time that Raylan would die in a blaze of glory, as he, truth be told, had also wanted for himself for a long time and during their years in Harlan, Boyd had thought that such end could be delivered by their hands, an idea that made him shudder now. Yet, as it happens in life, death rarely goes according to the plan and Raylan had been betrayed by his body in the end. For all the acceptance he had showed regarding his situation during their last talks, Boyd wasn't completely convinced that, if given the chance, Raylan wouldn't have preferred to die in the first set of circumstances, he reckoned, looking at the casket. No hat rested on it now; it had been laid on Raylan's chest by Willa when the coffin had been opened by the funeral house employees before leaving the church.
Raylan had tried to escape Harlan all his life, attempted to scare its ghosts away, even those which had lead him to avoid all the things he had always said he wouldn't become. But Harlan isn't the kind of place one can leave behind as they please, particularly if their kin has been there from the beginning and their blood had run in those mountains and that dirt since then. He might have lived most of his life elsewhere, but in the end he had chosen to die there. Raylan and Boyd had never delved much into his reasons, but even if they had tried, there wasn't much one could actually say. Joking tone aside, the 'the heart wants what the heart wants… or something' Raylan had mentioned in their first meeting since he had come back was probably the closest thing to properly convey it any of them could ever utter.
Boyd had had the same illusion once, but had made peace with how powerless he was to fight it a long time ago. For all the plans to move to a tropical island or to Europe or wherever he thought of, he knew deep in his bones that he would never do so. He would keep finding objections to leaving where there were none. At this point of his life it didn't matter if he had been the one to choose to die there or if it had been the place itself to demand him to die there; Boyd Crowder knew he would never leave Harlan alive.
Ava gently squeezed his arm. Boyd turned to her, nodded, and gently squeezed hers too. Despite her restrained veneer, it was difficult not to notice that she was deeply affected too. There was always a tear in the corners of her eyes and dark circles around them that make-up wasn't enough to conceal.
The casket was lowered to the ground and everyone took a handful of dirt from the pile nearby and poured it on it. There were still no flowers anywhere in sight and people kept in silence, the air charged with the particular weight of mourning.
«It's enough», Boyd heard Willa tell her mother, wiping her eyes while she hugged her.
«I think so too», Winona had replied in a weak voice, still holding her daughter and pushing a strand of hair away from her face when they parted.
A subtle nod by Willa summoned the two men who had been waiting with shovels in their hands under a tree yards away.
They came close and started moving in the remaining soil of the heap they had made that morning. Willa blew a kiss towards where her father laid now and walked to the house, people following her one by one over a couple of minutes to have a glass of bourbon in Raylan's memory.
«Do you want to be alone?», Ava asked when they were the only two people there apart from the workers.
«If you don't mind», he replied, kissing her hand.
Ava put her arms around him, her eyes gleaming with teardrops. She then looked squarely at him and touched his face.
«I'll meet you inside.»
Boyd nodded and watched her walk way.
The men were smoothing the grave with the back of their shovels when he turned to look their way. When they were done, they also went into the house, leaving their tools against the railing of the porch. Loretta had left meanwhile too, he learnt when he glanced at where she had stood.
Boyd was alone now but for Raylan resting forever under that hillside gravestone. He walked towards it, his sadness now too burdensome, the steps on the slightly muddy floor beneath his feet bearing witness of those who had just bid Raylan their farewells.
Boyd knelt with difficulty beside the recently-covered grave, placed a hand on it, and began to cry.