Boyd always got to work far too early. He liked to sit in the empty break room, drink his coffee and read for at least half an hour before the other miners arrived, usually longer. He never read the newspaper; it was always a paperback novel, always something that took place as far from Kentucky as possible. But this morning the break room was already occupied when he arrived. There was a grimy denim jacket thrown across one of the chairs, a wrinkled paper lunch bag on the table and someone leaning over the small sink and peering into the mirror when Boyd walked in.
"Why Raylan Givens! Don't you fret none, your hair looks fine," Boyd said cheerily. If he had to share the morning quiet with someone, he was happy it was Raylan. Raylan wouldn't talk a blue streak or otherwise interrupt his reading the way the others would. Boyd threw his jacket on top of Raylan's, threw his book on the table and stuffed his lunch into the small fridge. Raylan didn't acknowledge him at all, just leaned closer to the mirror and grimaced. He was poking at something on his forehead. That was when Boyd noticed the first aid kit open on the table.
"Raylan, did you get yourself injured before we even step foot in the mine? That is not what I would call a favorable portent."
Raylan finally turned to look at him, revealing the left side of his face, which had been out of Boyd's view. It was grotesquely bruised and swollen. His left eye was only a slit in tight angry purple skin and his eyebrow was sliced open by an oozing gash that probably should've had stitches. His lips were puffy and bruised, and on his right hand, his knuckles were split and bloody. Raylan had obviously been trying to tape some sort of gauze creation over his eyebrow without success.
"My word, Raylan!" Boyd said, his astonishment colored with admiration. "Having seen you fight, I am going to jump to the conclusion that you left the other man in a coma." He walked over to stand beside Raylan at the mirror and get a better look at the mess that had been the left side of Raylan's face. As Boyd watched, Raylan tried to tape another clump of gauze over his eyebrow, but his hands were trembling and the tape folded in on itself. He crumpled the gauze in frustration and threw it into the sink, where there was already a small pile of failed bandages. Raylan reached for another packet of gauze, but his hands shook so badly that he dropped the packet before he could even get it open. He swore under his breath and leaned forward, bracing himself on the sink. His one good eye, red-rimmed and too wet, met Boyd's gaze briefly in the mirror and then skittered away. Boyd's eyebrows rose. This wasn't at all like Raylan. Boyd had seen Raylan fight plenty of times-they'd traded punches themselves, once or twice-and sometimes Raylan won and sometimes he lost, but he was always affable, almost philosophical about it. He never really got upset. He never got this look he had now, this dangerous mix of anger and embarrassment and hurt and shame. The only time Boyd had ever seen a fight affect Raylan this much was when-
"Holy shit, Raylan, did your daddy do this to you?" Boyd blurted.
"I just-I ain't had any coffee yet," Raylan muttered. Boyd ignored this.
"Raylan, did you go sticking your judgmental nose into Arlo's business again? You did, didn't you? Cause let me tell you, if that's a habit you plan on cultivating, you'd best also develop your ability to properly apply a bandage," Boyd said. There was no answer, though Raylan sighed and straightened up to stare back into the mirror. Boyd circled one arm carefully around Raylan's shoulders and turned him toward the table. "Come on. You're bleeding all over the sink. Why don't you sit and let me bandage your face."
"Shut up, Raylan. Listen to your betters for once and sit your ass down."
Raylan mumbled disagreeably, but he let Boyd push him toward the table and then collapsed into one of the metal folding chairs, tipping his head back. Boyd rifled through the supplies in the first aid kit. "I'm gonna take your silence as admitting that this is Arlo's work," he said. Raylan didn't reply. "What'd you do, just stand there and play pinata? I know exactly how big Arlo ain't. And I also know you could take him with one hand tied behind your back if you so chose."
"He had a couple friends help," Raylan said tersely.
"Are you-he went three on one against his own flesh and blood?"
"I suppose some would say I had it comin'." Raylan winced as Boyd irrigated the cut with disinfectant and scrubbed at it. "Jesus, Boyd. That stings."
"Well, I gotta clean this out less you want an infection. When did this happen? You ain't even scabbed."
"Couple hours ago."
"Arlo and his friends got you up in the middle of the night just to kick your ass? Good lord, Raylan. I am typically not one to pass judgment, but your daddy is one low-down snake in the grass. Getting friends over to thrash his own son in the middle of the night." A terrible thought came to Boyd. "My daddy wasn't one of the ones helping to beat on you, was he?"
"No, they was some guys I never seen before."
"Well, thank God for small favors." Boyd patted Raylan's eyebrow dry and rummaged through the kit for antibiotic cream. "You shoulda had a doctor see to this, it's bone deep."
"Arlo have friends who wield broken bottles?"
"Thought so." Boyd smeared ointment into the cut. "So what's ole Arlo up to that got you in such a tizzy? He smuggling again? Carjacking? I hope you didn't get your pretty face damaged over some petty thievery."
"Why you wanna know?" Raylan's single good eye was narrowed. Boyd noticed and abruptly stopped his ministrations, leaning back.
"Raylan, in case you don't know, I get here early to read and enjoy my coffee in peace. I did not bring my busted face into this room and disrupt your solitude. You did that to me. So please spare me any suspicion as to my motives in this here conversation."
"Calm down, Boyd. I ain't had much sleep."
Boyd leaned toward Raylan's head again. "I will take that as an apology."
"Anyways." Raylan closed his eye. "It's some banking scam. Investments. He goes outta town, talks old people outta their money. Promises them the moon, fifty percent return or some such bullshit."
"And don't tell me. Contrary to his heartfelt promises and most sincere efforts, he is unable to deliver on either the moon or fifty percent. Hold still, I gotta tape this down."
Raylan grunted. "He takes the money and he's gone like a jackrabbit."
"And is that what you told Arlo to bring this shitstorm down on yourself? That he's a jackrabbit?"
"No." Raylan's face twisted, all the pissed-off indignation rising back to the surface. "I told him he's a goddamn criminal and someone should sic the law on him sooner rather than later. I told him I had evidence I'd be happy to give the authorities myself, and maybe I would make that phone call, cause nothing would make me happier than to see him in jail for the rest of his life. I may have also called him an asshole."
"Well. I see." Boyd worked in silence for a moment. Morning sunlight filtered through the window, highlighting dust motes in the air and bringing the purples and reds of Raylan's face into a full and glorious mural around the perfect white square of bandage. "Alright, I think I've done all I can with your head wound. Give me your hand."
Raylan didn't bother protesting this time, just held his hand out for Boyd to wrap gauze around. "What book?"
"You said you got here early to read. What book?"
Boyd reached over to grab the book, flipped it casually at Raylan. "The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's a classic. You read it?"
"Can't say as I have."
"I'm halfway through. If read with a certain mindset, it's an instruction manual on how to be filthy rich and throw incredible parties. Which coincidentally are two things I plan to have figure prominently in my own future."
"Does that mean you don't believe me? Oh ye of little faith. Mark my words, there will come a day you'll say you knew me when." Boyd trimmed the last bit of medical tape. "There, careful with that hand now. Respect an expert's work."
Raylan flexed his fingers experimentally while Boyd leaned back in his chair and contemplated him.
"Now Raylan, I got a couple things I want to say to you. I know taking advice ain't your forte, but bear with me for a moment."
With his good hand Raylan flipped the paperback over, end over end over end, restless, but listening. "Go on, then."
"Raylan, you grew up here same as I did. You know Harlan people, most of them don't care bout right or wrong less it pertains to an umpire's call. They see the shit people like Arlo and my daddy pull, and they bitch and moan a little, but they don't really care. They think it's just the natural order of things and they shrug and go about their business. These people, they go through life wearing blinders. They do whatever keeps them and their families fed and they might hope for a little happiness along the way, but they don't really think bout much beyond where to go fishing next weekend. But you—I have known you a long time, and you ain't like that. You got a higher moral standard in your head, some set of ideas bout what fair looks like. You see the evil that men do, and it ain't enough for you to sit back and let things play out, you want to take action. You live by that standard, that code you got in your head, and to hell with the consequences. You want to feel like Lady Justice's mighty scales are balanced, and it just eats at you when they're off kilter, don't it? Most people round here don't care bout shit like that, but your face says you do."
Raylan had frozen, staring at the book but not really seeing it. Boyd wasn't sure he'd ever seen Raylan so still and it worried him a little, but now that he'd started talking he couldn't stop.
"I probably don't need to tell you this, but you ain't gonna achieve any satisfaction as a miner in Harlan county being the way you are. You will turn to drink, or to drugs, or you will fight until you're dead over things you are unable to change. What you have to do, you have to find some way to reconcile this here," Boyd tapped his forehead, "with the way you move through the world. You have got to leave this behind," Boyd whirled a finger, indicating the break room and the mining operation beyond it, "and find a way to live that lets you have a hand in balancing those scales. You understand? Raylan, my friend, you shouldn't even be here. You ain't capable of wearing the blinders and going through the motions. You're destined for greater things."
There was a long silence, and then Raylan cleared his throat. "And what about you, Boyd? Are you destined for greater things?" He tried to sound sarcastic, but didn't quite pull it off. He skated the paperback across the table and Boyd caught it easily, tapping it with a finger as he answered.
"Yes, I most certainly am. I too am destined for greater things. That's not to say I am anything like you, though. I am a whole 'nother beast." Boyd grinned, a quick and wolfish flash of teeth. Raylan stared at him for a minute, maybe two, and then roused himself as if waking from a dream.
"I don't know if anyone ever told you, maybe it's all the readin', but you talk like a preacher."
"Well now, no, no one ever told me that before. But now that you mention it, last Saturday night, in the back of her daddy's Chevrolet, I did bring Cindy Ann Leroy to the point of revelation," Boyd drawled, stretching back in his chair. That got a bark of laughter from Raylan, which was all the encouragement Boyd needed. "Yessir, I'd read in the Good Book all about speaking in tongues, but let me tell you, I had no idea a woman could be brought to such a pinnacle of spirituality merely by the careful and repeated application of my tongue to her-"
"Ferchrissakes, Boyd, stop, laughin' hurts m'face."
"I'll spare you the story of the second coming, then." Boyd was laughing now too.
Raylan shook his head and rubbed his jaw gingerly, then glanced at the clock. "When the guys get here-"
Boyd raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. "You know, word around town is that you got into a bar brawl two counties over with three big guys from Alabama. Yes, I do believe that's what I heard. You were defending the honor of a pretty woman, because that's the sort of thing you do, Raylan Givens. You're noble. You escorted the young lady safely home after fending off these thugs, these brutes, and then even as your face bled and bruised, you left her off with a kiss at the door. 'Course, that's only what I heard around town. You yourself didn't tell me anything, as you just got here a minute ago and I've been reading Gatsby all morning."
Raylan gave a rueful grin, at least as much as his split lip would allow. "What a bunch of horseshit. Noble. You think anybody'd believe that?"
"Anybody who doesn't is a fool."
Raylan got up, and then to Boyd's surprise, he reached out his hand. Boyd stood and they shook solemnly.
"Thanks, Boyd. I mean it."
"No problem, old sport. Anytime."