Bad Apple Blues

by Domenika Marzione

The trip back from LA is a quiet one; they don't talk apart from a short discussion in O'Hare about which way the gate they need is and, once they're in the air en route to Lexington, how to divvy up their receipts so that Betty, the AA who handles expense reports, won't dock them for exceeding their per diem every day. Rachel's the one with the bigger bills - she'd opted out of a couple of trips to greasy spoon diners and dingy dive bars - but Raylan offers to take one of her dinner tabs as his own because he can't rightly blame her for having done so. He doesn't feel guilty about not pushing harder for some place she might've liked more, not when her travel gear included that chip on her shoulder, but he can be gracious after the fact.

He's a little less gracious with Young Tim when he finds out that not only was there a house pool on whether Rachel would shoot him while they were in Los Angeles, but that Tim had run it. He demands the pot as punishment.

"Why?" Tim asks after telling Raylan that the plan was to return the money to the contributors seeing as that there were no winners.

"Because it's a shameful thing you've done here, Deputy Gutterson," Raylan tells him in as stern a voice as he can muster because Tim's not sure how pissed off he really is or isn't. Raylan isn't, but there has to be some kind of punishment for leaving the sign-up sheet next to the coffee pot. "Pitting your colleagues against one another like that. It's even more shameful that I found out about it. If you're going to act low, at least be stealthy about it."

Tim makes a face, Raylan makes one back at him, and Tim sighs and leans over to dig his wallet out of his pants.

"I'd have let you keep it if you'd bet on the side of decency," Raylan says after Tim counts out a hundred dollars in twenties into his waiting palm.

"I want half," Rachel says as she comes out of Art's office, the conference call with the LA office apparently over. Raylan had been dismissed earlier, arguably the only advantage to Rachel having been lead on the case. The paperwork would be straightforward; the LA office had agreed that Raylan's kills had been clean ones and Mindy's statement had backed up his own that he'd tried to bring Roland Pike in alive and most certainly hadn't shot at him.

Raylan looks at the money. "I don't have change of a twenty," he says. "Forty good?"

Rachel scoffs and pulls three of the twenties from his hand. "I get the bonus for restraint," she informs him airily, tucking the money into her pocket as she goes back to her desk. "Don't think I don't know how big the bounty is on your head from those folks in Miami."

The thing about marshaling, like policing, is that it ends up revealing a lot that everyone would rather keep hidden.

Mostly, it's about the bad guys. To track a fugitive, it's necessary to learn about their life beyond what's on their rap sheet, be it that they used to hike in a certain park as a child or that they had a mistress in another state or that they've got irritable bowel syndrome and so don't go looking for them in the taqueria. But that also leads to other details, like that they make and sell their own squirrel jerky and broke out because their cousin changed the recipe, or that their mistress is a three-hundred pound guy named Steve they spend an hour on the phone with every Sunday, or that just because refried beans don't agree with them, they eat them anyway and so, yeah, you are going to find them in the taqueria and you're going to have to drive them back to stir with the windows rolled down.

Raylan's more or less okay with all of that. It comes with the job and, most of the time, it's the easiest part of the job to shrug off at the end of the day, to be rehashed only in beer-and-bullshit sessions when everyone's got at least one story that's so over-the-top ridiculous that nobody doubts that it's true because who could make that shit up?

(The other stories, the ones that tell of scars and nightmares and crimes that you wish they'd get away with because some people truly are evil and stopping them shouldn't be against the law, badge or no badge, don't get told over beer and whiskey. But every LEO worth their paycheck's got some, and always one more than the other kind at that. These are the ones that don't improve with age or retelling, but are burnished bright from being remembered. These are the ones that haunt.)

Sometimes, however, the secrets belong to your colleagues and friends. Marshaling is a little bit of action and a whole lot of of sitting around -- stakeouts, long drives to and from distant prisons, protection details, those miserable days when the boss says he doesn't care if DB Cooper's sitting in the coffee shop across the street, nobody's leaving the office until the paperwork is caught up. And in those long stretches of peace, truths will out no matter how hard you try to keep them hidden -- or try to pretend not to see.

Raylan's not good with this part. He's never quite mastered the companionable silence well enough to pull it off without help and he's shit with casual conversation, coming across as either aloof or like an interrogator. He's restless by nature and enforced stillness, let alone the diligent idleness that comes with stakeouts, makes him edgy and, occasionally, surly. But he's also not without manners, so he's acutely aware of these failings to a degree that makes his total obliviousness about all his others a marvel to anyone paying attention. (Winona could never understand why he'd apologize for not asking about her day first thing, but could then commit the litany of sins that led to their parting.)

It's all that much worse for being stationed in Kentucky, where not only are his secrets on display through the usual means, but they're also legitimate grist for the office mill because they're business. Even the parts of it that aren't -- Winona -- end up being so because Kentucky's not big enough for Raylan to walk around without stepping into some mess from his past. And because he does, on very rare occasion, add to the disorder without anyone else's assistance.

The day starts badly. The couple in the next motel room has loud (and apparently creative) early morning sex, leaving him awake, a little hungover, and a lot horny a half-hour before his alarm goes off. Then the hot water's out, leaving him no choice but a cold shower, especially since he thinks he's still sweating out the bourbon from the night before and can't show up at work smelling like he's coming straight from the bar. He doesn't have enough money left in his wallet to buy more than coffee and a stale donut and no time to fix that because Art calls, telling him he's got two hours to get to Big Sandy to pick up Lou Mitchell and transport him back to Lexington because his trial date got moved up.

"Now how is it my turn again already?" Raylan protests as he fumbles with his keys and his cuff button and tries not to drop his cell phone. "I've already done two since Labor Day."

And fun ones they were, a crooked customs agent with motion sickness and then a wannabe tough guy offended that he didn't get the whole prison bus and shotgun-wielding corrections officers routine and was determined to take it out on him.

"You're going to do at least two more before Thanksgiving," Art tells him with not a little bit of satisfaction. "Courtesy of your penchant for accruing administrative leave, restricted duty, and medical time, everyone else is in double digits for the year except for you."

Raylan drops his keys in a puddle next to the car door. "Shit."

"There are consequences to actions, Raylan," Art chides. "Don't get upset at me for-"

"No," Raylan cuts him off, then sighs at the mess in his hand. "I dropped my keys in a puddle that's half Slurpee and half Lord knows what."

Art chuckles. "Well, dry 'em off and get going. I'll see you back at the office this afternoon. Remember you owe me paperwork."

"I look forward to it," Raylan says with as much sarcastic cheer as he can muster, but Art's already hung up.

He's late to Big Sandy because it's longer than a two-hour drive if there's any chance of picking up a speeding ticket, but it doesn't matter because the transfer paperwork's not ready when he does arrive. He ends up shooting the shit with the desk clerk for an hour while the warden's staff makes phone calls and waits for faxes just in case this is all an elaborate plot to spring Mitchell. An idea that Raylan finds as ridiculous as the desk clerk once he takes a look at the file. Lou Mitchell's a Department of Education bureaucrat who got caught using federal money to make his car payments and send his son to private school; he's a slightly overweight, slightly balding, more than slightly rumpled black man in his fifties who looks like embezzlement's about at the limit of his creativity. This impression is reinforced once Mitchell is finally produced, a sorry man in his white sneakers and orange jumpsuit, cuffed at the wrist and ankle and shuffling along with his worldly goods in a clear plastic bag clutched to his belly.

Mitchell is quiet on the drive back to Lexington, spending the time looking out the window and not mounting a protest when Raylan won't let him close the stall door during the pee break.

The jail in Lexington's not expecting Mitchell and the duty officer's a prick who won't accept custody of him until all of the paperwork is in order, leaving Raylan to wait another hour before he can sign the damned piece of paper and wish Mitchell good luck. He goes to the ATM, goes to the chili place for a lunch special to go, and then back to the courthouse so he can see how much paperwork he's got to do and how much of it Art actually expects him to hand in.

"Did you get that from the place on North Upper?" Tim asks as Raylan's halfway through his chili three-way.

Raylan, mouth full of spaghetti and cheese, nods.

"I'd be careful," Tim warns. "They got closed by the Board of Health last week. Racked up ninety violations."

Raylan forces himself to finish chewing and swallowing. "Well, then they're going to be extra careful right after they reopen, aren't they?"

Nonetheless, he examines each bite before he puts it in his mouth and ends up throwing some of it out.

The afternoon is dull and boring and full of Tim's Chinese water torture typing (peck.pause.peck.pause.pause.peck.peck.pause.peckpeckpeck) and Rachel having a prolonged phone conversation with someone at the Covington courthouse that's undoubtedly frustrating as hell to her but is a pleasant diversion in the form of absurdist theater for the rest of them. Raylan finishes two case reports, the big ones Art is most likely to demand from him, and starts files on four others so that it looks like he's not three months behind, which he is.

"Hey, turn on the news," Sawyer calls out as he pushes through the door. "Hostage situation at the Whole Foods."

"It's a break from their usual highway robbery," Tim offers, not looking up from his keyboard. It has a 'quiet mode' that he refuses to use because he touch-types poorly and Raylan, in the desk adjacent, has seriously considered pouring water on it to force a change. "You'd think they wrapped their arugula in gold at those prices. The President even said it was too much."

"What are you buying at Whole Foods?" Raylan asks, not ruling out that the answer is in fact arugula. Tim is particularly complicated for an Army Ranger.

"They have cheap fish on the weekends," Tim answers.

"They have cheap fish on the weekends because it was caught on Tuesday and we're a landlocked state," Raylan replies, making a face. Tim is also sometimes just an accident waiting to happen. "And you're warning me about the chili place?"

Ramirez, closest to the television, reaches for the remote. It comes on with a blast of music at very high volume and Art is in his doorway a deep breath away from bellowing at them for goofing off before Ramirez can lower the volume and change the channel. It's already made the news and two channels have broken in to the mid-afternoon slate of talk shows and fake courtrooms to show live video from the parking lot.

They watch for ten minutes before Art tells Ramirez to put it on mute, that there's nothing happening and until they get a call from SWAT that there's a federal court connection, it's nothing but reality TV and they have work to do.

Hostage situations are either over right away or run forever, so most of them are able to return to work with only the occasional glance up at the television to confirm that this is going to be one of those long-haul types. By the time everyone's ready to leave - Art having deemed that enough life force has been sacrificed to the gods of bureaucracy that their children are safe - nobody's yet figured out how or why anyone would hold up a Whole Foods.

Ava calls as Raylan is driving to the pizza place to pick up dinner; she asks if he wants to come down for the weekend, let her cook him some proper supper instead of eating out every night. He accepts without really accepting, giving the impression that the answer is yes without actually saying it. It won't keep him out of trouble if he has to cancel, but it will give him a leg to stand on. But as he settles down to what Jimmy's calls a pizza and a cold beer, he thinks he'll do his best to make it.

The next morning brings no resolution to the hostage crisis. The Herald-Leader fails to find the humor in the situation, at least judging by the headline, but the US Marshal Service, jaded and weary, certainly can. By the time Raylan fills up his coffee cup and brings it back to his desk, he has heard a dozen half-witty (and half-witted) comments on the topic. There are four hostage takers, thirty-two hostages, and a raging argument between the SWAT commander and the store manager, who doesn't want to cut power to the store lest he lose all of his perishable merchandise. Nobody seems to know what the specifics of the demands are, but everyone's theories have the location being significant and so Raylan's heard everything from the hostage takers being anti-globalist anarchists to the local communist cell.

"Arugula for the masses," Tim announces with a raised fist power salute. "That's totally going to be my next tattoo."

"No tattoos," Rachel says, depositing a pile of freshly-photocopied papers on to Tim's desk without breaking stride.

"Why can't I get a tattoo of arugula if I want to?" Tim calls after her in an offended tone, feeling around his desk for his pencil before remembering he tucked it behind his ear. "Grooming regs say that it's fine as long as it's covered up at work."

Raylan swallows his mouthful of coffee before it comes out his nose from laughing. "I believe she meant for you to add it to the verbal instructions you give the witness," he says mildly. "There have been cases where they get their real name or their girl's face or other personal details tattooed on, making it harder to hide them."

Tim got the lead on a WitSec case that came in this morning, apparently for no other reason that he was walking by Art's door when he took the call. It's a complicated case that requires assistance from almost everyone at some point during the morning; Tim can't type for shit, but he can multitask probably better than any of them and he manages to do the bulk of the work by himself while keeping track of what he's delegated to others. Raylan's both jealous and impressed, although not impressed enough to scrap his plans to water Tim's keyboard.

"They could get an arugula tattoo if they wanted," Tim says. "Unless there's some kind of personal connection there."

Raylan takes a deep breath. "That's not the kind of thing that usually ends up in the case files, so you're probably safest just sticking to a blanket 'no tattoos.'"

Tim takes Sawyer with him to the airport to pick up the witness and Raylan, free to work on his own caseload, instead finds himself staring at an email from HR informing him that he has two days to choose which Sexual Harassment in the Workplace session he wants to go to or he'll be assigned to one. He checks the dates and realizes that he can't catch the flu on either one because he's got other appointments both days, including a trip to Pikeville that he can't get out of because it's payment for Ramirez covering for him last month. So he knocks on Art's door.

Art has little patience for the politically correct mandates from HR - he faked a raid to get them out of the last diversity symposium - but he's unsympathetic to Raylan's plight here.

"It'll be good for you," Art says. "You might learn that it's a bad idea to seduce witnesses."

Raylan's about to point out that it was Ava doing the seducing, not him, but right at that moment, the security alarm goes off. He gestures over his shoulder toward his desk and Art nods and reaches into his own desk drawer for his sidearm. Raylan retrieves his own, barely holstering it before he has to reach for it again as the office door bangs open.

But it's not a bad guy, just Walt the security guy, who informs them that someone pulled a gun in Courtroom B and the building's going into lockdown until the police arrive.

"Walt," Art sighs, "SWAT is tied up outside of town at the supermarket. We'll be here until dinnertime if we wait for them. Where's Burnmeyer? I want to talk to him."

Burnmeyer's the head of building security and he's got a love/hate relationship with the Marshals Office, or at least their office. But while he might be in charge, Art's the one with the power and he comes back in five minutes later looking annoyed.

"Rachel, Kevin, I want you two to go downstairs and start cleaning up the mess outside Courtroom B," he orders. Ramirez, who'd been leaning against a file cabinet, stands up so suddenly the cabinet shudders at the loss of pressure. "I want an accurate list of everyone in that room, including how many bad guys. Michael, I want background on the case being tried, including any threats or previous attempts at disruption. Call the US Attorney's office and make sure they give you everything you ask for."

Raylan stands waiting for his assignment, but none comes and so he follows Art back to his office.

"What about me?" he asks from the doorway.

"You?" Art repeats. "You have to make your choice which Sexual Harassment in the Workplace seminar you're going to."

Shocked, Raylan stands frozen where he is. "You're cutting me out of this?"

"For the time being, yes," Art replies as he hangs up his sport coat. "This isn't an all-hands event."


"But I don't owe you an explanation," Art cut him off. "Nevertheless, to encourage you to get back to work, I'll give you one. First, Rachel's not only senior to you in this office, but she's better at soothing ruffled feathers than you are. Second, you're crap at research and Michael can get the information faster, especially since everyone at the US Attorney's office doesn't know his name from their list of cases screwed up by deputy marshals sleeping with witnesses. Third, I don't want there to be any shooting if that can be avoided and Raylan? You don't avoid it very well."

Raylan's got nothing to say to that -- at least nothing that will improve his situation -- and so he goes back to his desk, trying not to trip over the tail between his legs, and resumes staring at the email from HR while eavesdropping on Faucette's attempts to get the US Attorney's office to not put him on hold or send him to voicemail.

Tim calls in twenty minutes later wondering why Ramirez never called him with the set of emergency phone numbers he is supposed to give to the witness and Raylan has to explain what has transpired since his departure.

"Does Art want us back in?" Tim asks hopefully. WitSec is only slightly less grating than prisoner transport; you've got custody of someone who is difficult because they're scared out of their minds instead of being difficult because they're pissed at being incarcerated.

"I don't think so," Raylan replies as he rifles through the papers on Ramirez's desk to look for Tim's info. "He said it's not an all-hands event. I'm sitting here deciding which day HR should teach me not to make lewd comments to my female colleagues."

"I'm signed up for the morning one," Tim says. "I figure getting up a half-hour early will be worth it to watch Rachel react to being told that the proper response to inappropriate office behavior is to tell Art and not a wrist-lock leading into a knee to the nuts."

Raylan smiles. "I'll have you know that the lovely Miss Brooks is currently downstairs assigned to crowd control precisely because of her gentle demeanor."

He reads off the numbers for Tim, who asks him to tell Art that he and Sawyer will be back as soon as they can.

"Good," Art replies once he's off the phone with the SWAT commander down at the Whole Foods. "We might need a sniper."

Raylan gives him a dirty look, but says nothing.


It comes out like an exhale, a whisper. She's standing there in the tiny opening between the two heavy doors, stiff and scared and stubborn and so beautiful all at once, a piece of paper in her hand and a gun to her back, and Raylan fights the urge to push past everyone that's between them and grab her, pull her to safety no matter the cost to himself.

But he doesn't move because she flinches, poked from behind by the business end of a double-barrel shotgun as a prompt to get on with the business that has her out from behind the doors in the first place.

"These are our demands," she announces haltingly, holding out the paper -- a strip torn from her recorder -- to Rachel. "If they are not met within two hours, one hostage will be shot every fifteen minutes until they are."

Rachel accepts the paper, but before she can say anything, a hand snakes out from behind the door and grabs Winona by the arm, yanking her backward with enough force to make her gasp and stumble. She reaches for the door edge, either to steady herself or break free, but to no avail and the heavy doors slam shut and lock.

There's a heartbeat of silence and then everyone starts moving at once. The cops and FBI descend on Rachel, who throws Ramirez up as an obstacle while looking for Art. But he's not close enough to hand that she can't help getting cornered. Raylan, who's not really supposed to be here anyway, stays behind and lets the crowd surge past.

He's known for a couple of hours now that Winona's one of the hostages. He saw the original list and then he got a phone call from Gary, who'd got official notification from the police and wanted to know what Raylan could do. The official answer is that he can do nothing, which is what he told Gary, who scoffed and said that Raylan has a very flexible appreciation of things like jurisdiction and protocol and so what, to repeat, was he going to do for Winona.

"Whatever I can."

But what he can do right now is not much. Art stopped fighting his inclusion once he saw Winona's name on the hostage list, changing his warning from "don't get involved" to "don't do anything stupid" and giving him tasks that will keep him busy and away from Courtroom B.

Which is why Art is giving him a sour look when he sees him, but gestures for him to come over anyway.

"Into the conference room," Art orders him. "Now."

The conference room is not upstairs, which is where he's been kept all afternoon, so he goes without protest. He can hear Art bellowing at the FBI and police to leave his people alone, stop getting in the way, and if he needs their help, he'll damned well ask for it. Art managed to get operational command of the situation through a combination of good timing, the blessings of the SWAT commander, and the premise that with SWAT engaged, the Marshal Service is the agency most accustomed to raids and rescues and dealing with dangerous criminals. Especially with the local FBI contingent being made up entirely of desk duty types seemingly all on their first field assignment.

The front of the conference room is choked with whiteboards, all covered in lists and photos and blueprints of the courtroom. This is the war room and this is where he's been banned from up until now.

Tim is sitting in a chair by the window and eating a salad out of a clear plastic bowl. There's a long black plastic case leaning against the wall next to him and Raylan knows it's a Remington M-24 case; Tim picked it up from the SWAT armory on the way back.

"Arugula to the people," Tim says, waving some green around on his fork. Raylan can't tell arugula from anything else that's green and not lettuce, but he presumes Tim can. "We get the ransom demand yet?"

"Yep," Raylan confirms, getting himself some coffee and a danish and sitting down nearby. "I believe everyone's on their way in to discuss it."

They are. Rachel and Ramirez and Sawyer and Faucette, a couple of police brass, the local FBI chief, and then finally Art, who shoos unseen people away and closes the door on more voices.

"Raylan," Art begins, walking over to the empty seat at the head of the table. "You happen to get anything interesting out of Lou Mitchell yesterday?"

Raylan sits up from his slouch and puts his coffee cup down. "Mitchell? I got maybe ten words out of him and four of 'em were 'I gotta go pee.'"

A quiet chuckle around the table.

"Well, it seems that all of this -- including the supermarket -- is all a dance so that we'll give up Lou Mitchell," Art goes on, dropping a thick file on to the table. Raylan recognizes it as Mitchell's file, the one he had to wait for it to be compiled and faxed and approved and verified a half-dozen times the day before. "Which begs the obvious question of why, since I suspect none of the folks in that courtroom are members of the school board he ripped off."

At Art's prompting, Raylan gives the highlights of Mitchell's file and then a play-by-play of the transport yesterday.

"Whoever planned this had to know about the change in the court schedule," he finishes. "Big Sandy wasn't ready to move him and Lexington wasn't ready to take him, but that don't mean that someone else wasn't more up to speed."

Art tells the FBI guy that he wants a list of everyone Mitchell either called or met with in prison and Mitchell's lawyer thoroughly questioned. He charges Faucette with finding out who did know about the move, starting from when the change was made, since Mike has already been on the phone with most of these people today.

"You, Raylan," Art continues, "are going downstairs to talk to Mister Mitchell and see if he has any ideas about who is behind this and why -- and whether he knows just how much trouble he'll be in if he had any kind of knowledge of this before the fact. Try to get more than ten words out of him this time."

Raylan has three separate and distinct idiotic conversations with the corrections people and the police -- all of whom know him by sight and still dither about accepting his ID as legit -- before he can get into Mitchell's cell.

Mitchell looks the same as he did yesterday, just in a blue jumpsuit instead of an orange one. Sad, rumpled, beaten down by his circumstances, and no more of a criminal mastermind than before, even less a type who could organize this kind of dangerous theater.

"I didn't realize I was chauffeuring a celebrity yesterday," Raylan begins as he enters, gesturing for permission to sit on the chair opposite the bed. Mitchell nods. "You've got quite the fan club here in Lexington. Between the supermarket and the courtroom, you've got more than fifty people who are going to die for your freedom."

Mitchell looks more scared than surprised, although he's definitely both.

"I don't know what they're telling you down here about what's going on," Raylan continues, "but I think it's important you know."

He gives Mitchell a short recap of the dueling hostage situations and the single ransom demand. As he talks, Mitchell seems to sink further into himself, as if he could hide on that thin prison mattress and it would all go away.

"The thing is, Mister Mitchell," Raylan presses on, "I don't think you're behind this. You may have quick hands when it comes to hiding money that isn't yours, but this kind of performance requires a bit more ambition than you've exhibited thus far.

"You see, someone who is willing to sacrifice so many others to get what he wants in life generally looks a bit more alive. Pardon me for saying so. But you just don't seem have that glow from within that goes with enjoying that kind of power over so many other lives."

This time, he gets more than ten words.

"Mitchell stole more money than we thought he did," Raylan reports to Art once he gets back to the conference room. "Turns out he wasn't just easing his family's passage through life, he was building up a whole new one somewhere else. There's an extra $3.29 million missing from the DoE's till and someone found out about it and wants it for themselves."

Art frowns. "Does he know who?"

Raylan shakes his head. "Not their real names, at least. They sent him letters in prison, delivered by other inmates, demanding his cooperation or his family's death."

"And he chose to say nothing why?" Art asks, but it's rhetorical. Mitchell feared his blackmailers more than he trusted the police, plus he was undoubtedly afraid of what would happen to him for not coming clean in the first place. "Well, let's see what the FBI can get about visitors and communication and whatnot. Maybe he's leaving something else out of the story that can be useful."

Raylan makes a noncommittal noise. He got the impression that Mitchell was holding back, but he also came away sure that he wasn't getting anything else out of the man until he could prove that they could make some progress on their own. Proof of competency would be rewarded with more information -- the good guys had to show that they were also the strongest guys.

"Do we have anything useful so far?" he asks instead of elaborating on that theme aloud.

It's Art's turn to grunt. "We still have conflicting accounts of how many hostage-takers," he says. "Forget about how well they're armed."

The early accounts had anywhere from two to eight attackers and the gun totals were so ridiculous as to be meaningless.

Out of the corner of his eye, Raylan sees that Tim's rifle assembly case is missing. "Young Tim went off bird-watching?"

Art shrugs. "We've got access to an apartment across the street. It's not a great angle, but we'll see what he can see."

The courtroom windows are shuttered except for the very tops. Depending on how high the apartment is, Tim might have nothing to look at through his rifle scope except an empty witness box.

The door opens and Rachel comes through, a cursory grimace of acknowledgement in their general direction but she does not pause in her pursuit of hot coffee. She takes a sip and rolls her neck and shoulders.

"It's after hours," she sighs, "I've been trying to send non-essential personnel home, but everyone has decided that we can't do this without them. Plus now we've got family members arriving. They're outside for now, but it's a distraction we don't need. Especially if there's any shots fired."

Raylan looks at his watch. They've got seventy-five minutes left to secure Lou Mitchell's release from custody and a van for the hostage-takers to drive off into the sunset. Or, since they don't negotiate with terrorists or hostage-takers, seventy-five minutes to come up with a plan for an assault that won't get most of the hostages killed.

While he was downstairs, the ransom note that Winona brought out was taped to the whiteboard next to the sketch of the courtroom layout. The handwriting is neat block print, easily recognizable as Winona's, but that's not what draws his attention.

"Who's getting tried in B?" he asks, not taking his eyes from the top of the strip of paper.

"Chop shop for an auto theft ring," Rachel answers, reaching for one of the notepads on the table. "Receiving stolen goods, criminal possession..."

"Gun charges?" Raylan presses.

"None," Rachel answers after re-checking her notes. "Why?"

Raylan chuckles quietly and turns back to the strip of paper, tapping it gently. "Winona, you beautiful and brilliant woman."

"Raylan," Art prompts. "Why are you suddenly back in love with your ex-wife?"

"I was never out of love with my ex-wife," Raylan answers, then gently removes the paper from the board. "But in this particular instance, it's because she gave us the information we needed."

All court reporters have their own shorthand, like a fingerprint. There are similarities between most of them, like dialects of the same language, but enough is unique that one reporter can't usually decode another's without help. Raylan can remember enough of Winona's to understand what she'd typed. Just as she knew he would.

"Five men, eight guns," he translates. "Two of them are in the jury box. No explosives."

From there, it's straight to refining the plan for the assault. The bad guys know that they're coming in and Art and the others have been taking that into account. But knowing how much firepower there is inside, even if they don't know where all of it is, is a help.

Tim, via radio, confirms that he can see one man with an MP5 sitting by the judge's entrance door, which has a hostage leaning against it. Nonetheless, everyone agrees that that's probably their best point of entry. It could be a choke point if they don't time it right, but so long as Tim can take out the guard before they push in, a diversion at the main doors will get them through without too much trouble.

Raylan's more observer than planner; he's gone on plenty of raids, but he's never choreographed anything as complicated as this. Rachel, unsurprisingly, is very active in the planning. She chased down fugitives in Chicago for the better part of two years and knows her way around a breach.

Because everyone on both sides knows that an assault is coming in the next half hour, getting any kind of surprise is both necessary and impossible. They choose to start it in the middle of the half-hourly phone call with the leader (Bob), a tightly timed dance that involves Tim picking off the door guard simultaneously with both doors being knocked open, all while Bob is busy threatening April, the FBI negotiator making the call.

Raylan is at the main courtroom doors, right behind the guys with the battering ram and the flash-bangs. He's part of the decoy, which bothers him for more reasons than just that he's the one everyone's going to be shooting at. Rachel is leading the team actually going in, the premise being that she won't shoot unless she has to (and Raylan, by contrast, will).

Which makes it a little ironic that Rachel ends up with the only two kills of the evening.

Winona finds him before he can see her, running into his arms while he's still frantically calling her name. He holds her tightly, kissing her forehead, and telling her she's so brave and clever. Winona will be able to translate all of that into what it really means; hers isn't the only shorthand she knows. He holds on to her knowing that he's going to have to turn her over to the paramedics, who will in turn hand over to Gary. But right now, at this moment, she's still his, as much as she ever was.

There are three hostages wounded in the assault, none seriously. Although Raylan's of the opinion that anytime anyone gets shot, it's serious, all three will be out of the hospital in the morning. One of the three surviving hostage-takers looks familiar and it's not until they get him out of the chaos of the courtroom that Raylan realizes why.

Bob is actually Jack Mitchell, son of Lou. He looks different from the smiling college graduation photo that's in his father's files, older, crueler, and very much glowing with the power he so recently held. He's not here to free his father, he readily admits. He's here to force his old man to give up the secret fund that he didn't have the guts to enjoy while he had it.

"All those years of skimming and he only used just enough to get by on," Jack spits out, defiant and full of disdain. "He was saving that money up for what? He was never going to take my momma to Paris. They were never going to live like they never had to worry about money. He had no ambition."

"For himself, maybe," Art replies, frowning. "But for you, he had plenty. Good schools, good clothes, everything you needed to get ahead in the world. And this is what you do with it."

The cleanup and the debriefing and the reportage take hours. It's almost three in the morning before Raylan can leave because just when it looks like they're about to hit that point of 'enough for tonight' comes word that SWAT has finally taken back the Whole Foods and then there are more names to check and records to look up. Art finally calls a halt and tells everyone to go home; when the FBI agent in charge protests, Art tells him that he's welcome to work as late as he likes, but the US Marshals Office is closed for business.

Raylan hasn't eaten anything not coffee or danish since that chili at lunchtime, but he goes straight home and to bed, stopping only to take off his hat and his boots and unbutton his jeans. He's exhausted, especially so with the adrenaline rush faded, but he can't drop off to sleep right away, instead thinking about Lou and Jack Mitchell. How did Arlo Givens, a much bigger criminal in every sense of the word, sire a lawman while Lou Mitchell ended up with Jack? Especially as both sons lived to spite their fathers, although look where it got them.

He falls asleep before he quite figures out where that is.

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26 December, 2010