Characters: Rachel, Raylan (Gen)
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Summary: This is one place Rachel will never fit in.
Author's notes: My You'll Never Leave Harlan 2013 Fic Exchange story for scioscribe.
If Rachel Brooks had known how much of her time as a Federal Marshal would be spent in Harlan County, she might have gone to business school instead.
Every month or two at least, she found herself driving down there in pursuit of some fugitive or witness, or a drug-running hillbilly, or even a connection to organized crime. Harlan County had more criminal infractions per population than certain neighborhoods of East L.A.—or so she'd heard. Most of it seemed to work its way back to having something to do with Boyd Crowder.
Rachel and Raylan were in a bureau vehicle right now, headed to Harlan to look into some new problem. Rachel had been driving for almost two hours. The broken fences and unused cars were getting closer together, a sign that they'd reached the outskirts of Harlan. "You ever think you'd wind up back here?" she asked suddenly.
Raylan's eyes took in the surroundings with a look somewhere between disgust and regret. "I certainly did not…"
"At least people know you around here. Got to make the job easier."
Raylan frowned. "My Dad was a no-good crook, and the people who don't hate me for that aren't too happy with the badge now, either."
Rachel glanced over at him, all lean and handsome and imagining his life was so much harder than anyone else's. "They ever string your people up from trees Raylan, just because they could?"
Raylan squinted out the window. "Uh, no."
Chew on that, Rachel thought, Mr. World-don't-like-me-none.
"Still don't know why they sent us out on this little promenade, 'stead of the ATF," Raylan said a minute later.
"Or no one at all."
"Exactly. Feds getting their panties in a wad over some yahoo with a still… Half of Harlan County's got 'em, best I recall."
"Those would be small-time operations, though, surely. Kitchen commerce. Guess this guy must be doing major business."
"Unregulated and a hundred-percent tax-free. Nothing the Feds hate worse." Raylan pointed to a cross street up ahead. "This'll be it. Turn left here."
They drove about four miles and turned again, onto a dusty gravel-topped road. Mackelby's place was just beyond a clearing that offered a view of the hills rising up behind Harlan itself.
"Not much to look at, is it?" Raylan said.
Mackelby ran true to the mold of many of Harlan's homegrown criminals: lots of ambition—maybe even hidden stores of cash that proved it—but no outward evidence of the high life at all. He lived in a beat-up trailer-home surrounded by a solid patch of weeds. Only the large, well-made barn hinted at something more impressive.
Rachel eyed that barn. "Bet he's got the whole works in there."
"More'n likely," Raylan agreed. "Well, let's see if he's home."
Raylan went first. Rachel stayed a half pace behind him, watching the barn, windows, sides of the trailer. Folks in the rural areas near Harlan didn't much like visitors anyway, and law enforcement types even less so. Paying a call on a man with something to hide meant taking your life into your hands.
Raylan knocked on the door with his left hand, right hand ready to draw his gun if needed. "Duke Mackelby? Federal Marshals. We'd like to have a word with you."
The door opened a crack, and a man in a sweat-stained undershirt looked out. "You're that Givens boy, ain't ya?"
"Pretty much," Raylan said.
The man's gaze flicked over to Rachel, and then back to Raylan. Rachel figured he'd most likely pretend she wasn't there. That's how it was in Harlan. People either ignored her, or tried to put her in her place. That Elstin Limehouse, smug as a toad in his hollow, who'd flattered her looks and tried to patronize her into powerlessness by calling her "Little Lady"? He was entirely typical.
"We understand you're running a private liquor enterprise," Raylan said. "We have a warrant here to search the property."
"Which property?" Mackelby said.
Raylan showed him the warrant. "The entire lot, and any and all structures and buildings thereon."
"'Thereon'," Mackelby snorted.
"I don't write 'em, I just serve 'em," Raylan said. "Let's start with that barn."
With a fair amount of hillbilly foot-dragging, Mackelby led them over to the door. "Open it," Raylan said. Mackelby scowled, and then yanked on the door and threw it open with the fierceness of a man who knows he's been bested. All the evidence they were looking for was right there inside.
The enterprise was halfway to being a decent distillery, with a large still and a well-laid-out bottling operation, including hand-lettered labels.
"Impressive," Raylan said. "And entirely illegal."
"It's just moonshine, Raylan. Where's the harm in it? People know what they're buying, they know it ain't Johnny Walker."
"I don't disagree with you," Raylan sighed. "But it ain't my decision. I've got to lock all this up and take you in."
Rachel kept watch on Mackelby while Raylan got padlocks and chains and secured the barn, for all the good it would do. Mackelby reluctantly locked the front door of his trailer, and Raylan shepherded him into the back seat of the SUV. Rachel got behind the wheel for the long drive back to Lexington.
They weren't half a mile onto the main road again before they came upon a pickup truck blocking both lanes.
"Man, this shit gets old," Raylan said. "These your boys, Duke?"
"My cousin Wade, looks like, and the Hatley brothers."
"Do they know this ain't gonna work?"
"Can't promise that," Mackelby said. "They ain't never been what you might call smart."
"All right, let's do it." Raylan reached for the in-dash loudspeaker microphone. "U.S. Federal Marshals on official business," he announced to the world at large. "Clear the road!"
The pickup just sat there, seemingly abandoned.
Raylan scowled, and spoke into the microphone again: "One way or the other, we're taking this man in. Nobody needs to get hurt over it."
Someone rose up behind the other side of the pickup, hoisted up a rifle and fired off a shot.
Raylan groaned. "Really?" He pulled out his gun, lowered the window, and shot the side window out of the pickup.
Rachel bit back a comment. Even when the other side made the first wrong move, Raylan had the tendency to escalate trouble rather than quiet it.
A hat appeared just above the hood of the truck, and Raylan shot at it.
"Raylan!" Rachel hissed. "They can't drive away if you don't let them back in the truck!"
Raylan nodded as if he saw her point. He picked up the microphone. "You boys ready to call it quits? Or do I have to send one of you to the morgue first?"
"How 'bout letting me try?" Mackelby said from the backseat.
Raylan stretched the cord as far as it would go. "No funny stuff," he said.
Mackelby leaned toward the microphone. "Hey, now. I 'preciate what you're tryin' to do and all, but this ain't the way to go about it. Let me and the Marshals get where we're going, and y'all go home and call my lawyer, all right?"
After a moment of utter stillness, a faint response floated up on the wind: "Yeah, all right."
The far door of the pickup opened and three figures bumbled their way inside, keeping their heads down low. The truck's ignition started, and with a couple of bumps and a lurch it moved out of the way and sped off down the road.
"We could've always rammed 'em with this here truck, and shoved 'em out of the way," Raylan suggested.
"Maybe if you were driving," Rachel said, "so you could be the one to handle all the paperwork and explain it to Art."
"Hey, that's why I always let you drive."
"Uh huh." Rachel continued on down the road then, keeping watch on either side.
Mackelby sat up suddenly. "Say, I don't suppose this might count toward some kind of reduced—"
"Nope," Raylan said.
"Worth a shot…"
Raylan looked over at Rachel with a sly grin. "Now, wasn't this fun?"
"No," she said. God forbid she ever got used to this kind of thing.
At least this time they'd gotten away without actual bullet holes in the vehicle. But from here on out?
The ATF and every other neighboring federal agency could do their own damn dirty work instead.
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