One day, Tim Gutterson was going to have the kind of job that meant he didn’t have to drive way out in the middle of fucking nowhere at three in the morning.
Out in Harlan, this early, what he got on the radio was mostly hellfire preachers talking about sin and redemption. He was out here because of one or the other of those. Contrariwise, he was out here because he hadn’t blocked Raylan Givens’s number from calling his phone, and it was stupid shit like that that would get your ass out of bed and in Harlan County every time. Tim liked Raylan, but if you gave him an inch, he twisted your arm and took the tape measure, too.
He found the roadside shack Raylan had told him about, and parked. Waited. He rolled his window down to get the night air, cool on the back of his neck, and to air out some of the hellfire that would soon be devouring the very bodies and souls of wicked, could he get a hallelujah and another ad for whitening toothpaste. He waited some more, even after the radio turned into mostly static, and he didn’t even hate Raylan for that, because waiting, like shooting, was something he was good at. He told himself stories about the shack, about the trees: decided that the shack was haunted by Confederate ghosts and that lovesick kids had carved their initials into the trees, that Raylan’s were out there somewhere, scraped into bark with the tip of a pocket knife. He waited, eyes open and head clear, for maybe an hour and a half before he heard footsteps coming through the dried leaves.
He moved his hand over just a little. He wasn’t as quick a draw as Raylan, but he was a better shot.
Boyd Crowder came out of the woods, head down, hands streaked with sap, jeans powdered with bits of dead leaf. Tim opened the door and swung out slowly. He didn’t want to sneak up on Boyd anymore than Boyd wanted to sneak up on him, probably.
“I called Raylan,” Boyd said, looking at him with unblinking eyes, like one of those fish that trawled along the ocean floor where there was no light at all.
“Well,” Tim said back, “Raylan ain’t here.” And he was stupid to be here himself. The only answer to it was that he was particularly susceptible to Raylan’s bullshit when he was half-awake, because why else would he have agreed to come all by his lonesome and meet Boyd Crowder out in the middle of the woods way before the sun was even up. “But, you know, you just say the word, and we’ll keep sending marshals out here until we hit on one that suits your particular need.”
Boyd said, “I apologize for any implication of unsuitability,” all soft, either crazy or the dry husk where craziness had been. He kept his shoulders hunched in, like he thought Tim was going to hit him. “I believe I’ve made your acquaintance, but I’m afraid I don’t remember your name.”
He told Boyd his name, because obviously that was the most important thing to establish right now, why Raylan had asked him to come all this way out, so he and Boyd could get all cozy and acquainted.
“Well, Deputy Marshal Gutterson, I’d hoped to play this out with Raylan in particular—”
“I understand that I’m a disappointment to you, Boyd, and I just hope we can put all this shit behind us so we can laugh about it one day.”
Boyd looked at him with those frozen lamplight eyes again. Tim wondered if he was drunk. If Tim were going to be wandering around the woods in Harlan in the middle of the night, he’d want to be drunk, and he knew that to a damn certainty, because here he was, and he really wanted to be drunk. And Boyd did have the slow, cautious movements of someone who knew that his body might not do exactly what he wanted it to do. Then again, it wasn’t like Tim really knew him well enough to say.
“I’d like you to arrest me,” Boyd said. He held out his wrists. “I’ll go quietly, but if you’d prefer to use restraints, I understand.”
“That’s some kinky shit, Boyd,” Tim said. “You mind me calling you Boyd?”
“Everyone always does,” Boyd said, which was, like everything else he’d said, fucking weird enough for Tim to take notice of it. He kept his hand extended. They were clasped loosely together, almost as if he were praying, and Tim thought of all the sermons he’d heard before the radio reception had shit the bed. All those empty ghost voices calling out that whatever you did, you were damned for it, and you had to give up on the idea that you could ever save yourself.
On the phone, Raylan, his voice still full of sleep, had said, “Look, Tim, I wouldn’t ask it if I didn’t need it, but I can’t get there right now. And Boyd—hell if I know where his head’s at right now. I tell you what he said, he’ll change his story before you get there.”
Tim was thinking that maybe he hadn’t, because if there was something that could flummox Raylan Givens enough to make him ask for a favor, it was Boyd Crowder turning himself in for, so far, nothing in particular. He decided that the best thing to do was wait a little longer and see what happened. He listened to the cicadas in the trees and breathed in the smell of leaf mold and Boyd’s slightly stale sweat. He told himself a story about Boyd, hunched and crazy, his voice a raw whisper, out here in the middle of the night, asking a near-stranger to take him into custody for reasons Tim couldn’t even guess it, except he knew, from the bee Raylan had had in that hat of his for the last few weeks, that it had something to do with sin and redemption, just like everything else in Harlan before dawn, and maybe ever. He couldn’t decide how the story ended.
Boyd slowly put his hands down and said, “I’m coming to believe, Deputy Gutterson, that God is not going to allow me to be the kind of man I’d intended.”
Tim knew what that felt like. He’d learned it a long time ago. “Boyd,” he said, “anything in particular you want me to arrest you for?”
“No,” Boyd said. He put his hands in the pockets of his jacket, bowing his shoulders in even further, like he was just going to disappear.
Tim sighed. There was a reason he tried as hard as he could to stay out of Harlan. He said, “Do you have a car here?” Fuck it, of course he didn’t. Tim had seen for himself that there was nothing around for miles. Shit, Boyd and Raylan deserved each other, two sides of the same damned coin. All those big dramatic confrontations—wandering in the wilderness waiting to give yourself over to God or Raylan Givens, shooting Miami drug lords over bowls of lobster bisque—and no thought at all to how someone else was going to clean up the mess if things didn’t work out. But whatever it said about him, he’d given up on minding, at least for the night, or morning, or whatever the fuck time it was.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll give you a ride home.”
Boyd followed him, obedient as a whipped dog, and stayed silent all the long car ride except to give Tim directions. He flinched when the preachers came back through the static, and Tim turned the radio off.
Finally, he pulled up outside a house that looked nicer than anything he’d have said Boyd Crowder would’ve thought he could lay claim to, and the sun was just coming up. He’d have a three hour drive back to Lexington, maybe a little less without many other cars on the road, and he’d be lucky to make it to work on time. If Raylan didn’t cover him long enough so he could take a shower and steal some donuts from the break room, Tim was going to be the one getting a reputation for shooting people. He didn’t have much time to waste, but still, before Boyd had even put his hand on the door handle, Tim said, “The way I figure it, Boyd, is you never know the kind of person you’ll be. It’s like you’re standing outside yourself, guessing what you’ll do next. And sometimes you do exactly what you want, and sometimes you don’t.”
“Yes,” Boyd said.
Tim didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. He thought that he was trying to tell Boyd about the flat look the desert sky had sometimes, that glassy blue, and how he’d wondered if it could drive him straight out of his mind, make him take a shot too soon, or at the wrong person. But it never had. He never had.
He said, “Either way, you know who you were tonight. I mean, that’s something.”
And Boyd looked at him like Tim had just given him water from the well. Grace. And he said, “Thank you, Deputy Gutterson. I’ll remember that,” and when he got out of the car, he was holding himself a little less like he might fly to pieces if he weren’t constantly chafing at his own skin.
Tim turned the radio back on and rode the gospel preachers out of Harlan; halfway to Lexington, he switched it over to country, something with some twang, songs about losing everything and still going on, getting dressed in the dark because someone had called and asked you to, waiting to see if the life you’d built for yourself was going to hold together or fall apart. He told a story about himself in which he was the hero.