RIDING THE RAP
by Elmore Leonard

[Copyright Elmore Leonard, Inc. Originally published in "The New Yorker." Reprinted by permission.]


Ocala Police picked up Dale Crowe Junior, two o'clock in the morning, for weaving, crossing the center line, and having a busted tail-light. Then while Dale was blowing a point-one-nine they put his name and date of birth into the national crime computer and learned he was a fugitive felon, wanted on a three-year-old charge of Unlawful Flight to Avoid Incarceration. A few days later Raylan Givens, with the Marshals Service, came up from Palm Beach County to take Dale back, and the Ocala Police wondered about Raylan.

How come if he was a federal officer and Dale Crowe Junior was wanted on a state charge ... He told them he was with FAST, the Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team, assigned to the Sheriff's Office in West Palm. And that was pretty much all this marshal said. They wondered, too, since he was alone, how he'd be able to drive and keep an eye on his prisoner. Dale Crowe Junior had been convicted of a third-degree five-year felony, Battery of a Police Officer, and was looking at additional time on the fugitive warrant. Dale Junior might feel he had nothing to lose on this trip south. He was a rangy kid with the build of a college athlete, bigger than this marshal in his blue suit and cowboy boots--the marshal calm, though, not appearing to be the least apprehensive. He said the West Palm strike team was shorthanded at the moment, the reason he was alone, but he believed he would manage.

And when he put his hat on and drove off with Dale Junior in the confiscated two-year-old Cadillac he was using, a dark-blue one, an Ocala officer said, "He believes he'll manage... ."

Another officer said, "Don't you know who that is? He's the one the Mafia guy drew on last winter in Miami Beach--the two of them sitting at the same table, and this marshal shot him dead. Yeah, Raylan Givens. It was in the paper."

"That why he didn't give us the time of day? I doubt he said five words. Shows us his star ..."

The one who had read about Raylan Givens said, "I didn't get that impression. I saw him as all business, the kind goes by the book."

 

He said to Dale Crowe Junior, "I know you think you can drive when you've had a few. How good are you when you're sober?"

This marshal not sounding like the usual hard-ass lawman; Dale Junior was glad of that. He said, "I had a Caddy myself one time, till I sold it for parts and went to work at Disney's. You know what I tried out for? Play Goofy. Mickey Mouse's friend? Only you had to water-ski, and I couldn't get the hang of it. Sir, I like to mention that these three years since I took off? I been clean. I never even left the state of Florida all that time, not wanting to be too far away from my folks, my old mom and dad, except I never did get to see them."

The marshal, Raylan Givens, said, "If you're gonna talk I'll put you in the trunk and I'll drive."

So neither of them said another word until they were south of Orlando on the Turnpike, a hundred and sixty miles to West Palm, Dale Junior staring straight ahead at the highway, flat and straight through Florida scrub, boring, holding it right around sixty so as to make the trip last, give him time to think of a move he might try on the marshal. The man didn't appear to be much to handle, had a slim build and looked like a farmer--sounded like one, too--forty years old or so; he sat against his door, seat belt fastened, turned somewhat this way. He had on one of those business cowboy hats, but broken in; it looked good on him, the way he wore it cocked over one eye.

Dale Junior would feel him staring, though when he glanced over, the marshal was usually looking out at the road or the countryside, patient, taking the ride as it came. Dale Junior decided to start feeling him out.

"Can I say something?"

The marshal was looking at him now.

"What's that?"

"There's a service plaza coming up. I wouldn't mind stopping, get something to eat?"

The man shook his head and Dale Junior made a face, giving the marshal an expression of pain.

"I couldn't eat that jail food they give you. Some kind of potatoes and imitation eggs cold as ice." He waited as long as he could, almost a minute, and said, "I don't see why we can't talk some. Pass the time."

The marshal said, "I don't care to hear any sad stories, all the bad luck and bum deals life's handed you."

Dale Junior showed him a frown. "Don't it mean anything I got nothing on my sheet the past three years, that I've been clean all that time?"

The marshal said, "Not to me it doesn't. Son, you're none of my business."

Dale Junior shook his head, giving himself a beat look now, without hope. He said, "I'll tell you, I thought more'n once of giving myself up. You know why?"

The marshal waited, not helping any.

"So I could see my folks. So I'd know they was O.K. I didn't dare write, knowing the mails would be watched." When the marshal didn't comment, Dale Junior said, "They do that, don't they?"

"What?"

"Watch the mails?"

"I doubt it."

Dale Junior said, "Oh, well," paused, and said, "My old dad lost one of his legs, had it bit off by a alligator this time he's fishing the rim canal, by Lake Okeechobee? I sure wish I could see him before we get to Gun Club. That's where we're going, huh--the Gun Club jail?"

"You're going to the county lockup," the marshal said, "to await a sentence hearing."

"Yeah, well, that's what they call it, account of it's off Gun Club Road. So you're not from around there, huh--West Palm?"

The marshal didn't answer, seeming more interested in the sky, clouds coming in from way out over the ocean.

"Where you from, anyway?"

"I live down in Miami."

"I been there once or twice. Man, all the spics, huh? My dad's never been to Palm Beach or seen the ocean. Never got any closer'n Twenty Mile Bend. You believe it? Spent his whole life over there around Belle Glade, Canal Point, Pahokee... ." He waited, eyes on the road, before saying, "You know, if we was to get off near Stuart we could take 76 over to the lake, run on down to Belle Glade--it wouldn't be more'n a few miles out of the way and I'd get to see my folks. I mean just stop and say hi, kiss my old mom ..." Dale Junior turned to look at the marshal. "What would you say to that?" He waited and said, "Not much, huh?"

"You old dad's never been to Palm Beach or seen the ocean," the marshal said, "but he's been up to Starke, hasn't he? He's seen the Florida State Prison. You have an uncle came out of there, Elvin Crowe, and another one did his time at Lake Butler. I think we'll skip visiting any of your kin this trip."

Dale Junior said, "My uncles're both dead."

And the marshal said, "By gunshot, huh? You understand how I see your people?"

 

Now he said, "You can speed it up some."

Dale Junior looked over at him. "You want me to break the law?"

Raylan didn't answer, staring at the open vista of flat land to the east, what he imagined the plains of Africa might be like.

"We could use some gas."

"We'll make it," Raylan said.

"Fort Drum Service Plaza's coming up."

Raylan didn't say anything to that.

"Aren't you hungry?"

This time Raylan said, "I'll see you get something at the jail."

"I ain't had a regular meal," Dale Junior said, "since the day I was arrested, and you know what it was? A hamburger and fries, some onion rings. That night for supper I had potato chips. See, all day I was out looking for work. I had a job, working for a paint contractor? Scraped down and sanded this entire goddam two-story house and the guy lets me go. That's what they do, they use you. My trade, I drove a big goddam cane truck from the fields to the sugar house--back before I had that trouble and had to take off. Now, the way the system works, what's known as the free-enterprise system? They're free to use you on some dirt job nobody wants, and when you get done they fire you. Four dollars an hour, man--that's the system, as good as it gets."

Raylan watched him as he spoke, Dale Junior staring straight ahead, rigid, arms extended, hands gripping the top arc of the steering wheel. Big hands with bony white knuckles. Raylan turned a little more in the seat-belt harness to face him and raised his left leg a few inches to rest it against the edge of the seat. He could feel his service pistol, a Beretta 9, holstered to his right hip, wedged in there against the door. Handcuffs were hooked to his belt. A shotgun, an MP5 machine gun, his vest, a sledgehammer, and several more pairs of cuffs were in the trunk. He had left the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office about nine this morning. Almost five hours up to Ocala, then had to wait around an hour for the paperwork before getting his prisoner. By then it was after three. Now, more than halfway back, it was starting to get dark.

"The night I got stopped," Dale Junior said, "I had like four beers and the potato chips while I shot some pool, that's all. O.K., driving home, this place where I been staying with a friend, I'm minding my own fucking business, not doing anything wrong, I get pulled over. Listen to this. On account of one of my tail-lights ain't working. The cops get me out of the car, tell me to walk the line, touch my fucking nose, they give me all this shit and take me in for the breath test. O.K., I want to know who says it's fair. I'm clean three years, been working on and off when I could find a job, and now I'm gonna get sent up to F.S.P.?" Dale Junior said. "Do five years, maybe even more'n that on account of a busted tail-light?"

Raylan got ready.

Dale Junior said, "Bull shit!" Turned his head and strained against his seat belt as he swung at Raylan backhand to club him with his fist, and Raylan brought his leg up under the arm coming at him and punched the heel of his cowboy boot hard into Dale Junior's face. The car swerved left, hit the grassy median, and swerved back into the double lanes, Dale Junior hunched over the wheel holding on. By this time Raylan was out of his seat belt, had his Beretta in his right hand, and was holding it in Dale Junior's face, waiting for him to look over.

When he did, Raylan said, "Pull off the road." He waited until they were parked on the shoulder before reaching around to get his handcuffs. He said to Dale Junior, "Here, put one on your left wrist and snap the other one to the wheel."

Dale Junior, blood leaking from his nose, stunned but still irate, in Raylan's judgment, said, "I can't drive handcuffed to the steering wheel."

Raylan held up his free hand for Dale Junior to look at and began rubbing the tips of his thumb and index finger together. He said, "You know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin. A fella did that in a movie where these six scudders wearing black suits go and rob a jewelry store and they all get killed. You see it? It was a good one?"

 

They drove on toward West Palm with darkness spreading over the land, Dale Junior getting used to the handcuffs, looking over as the marshal said, "Put your lights on." Saying then, "Everybody's got problems, huh? Different kinds for different people. Account of you think you're tough you're going up to State Prison where you'll have to prove it."

Dale Junior said, "You gonna report what I did, get me another couple of years up there?" and had to wait.

The marshal taking a few moments before he said, "Last month I went to Brunswick, Georgia, to visit my sons. One's ten, the other's four and a half, living up there with their mom and a real-estate man she married name of Gary, has a little cookie-duster mustache. Winona calls the boys punkins, always has. But this Gary calls them punks. I told him not to do it, my sons aren't punks. He says it's short for 'punkin,' that's all. I told him, 'I don't care for it, O.K.? So don't call them that.' If I'd known about you then I could've told Gary your story and said, 'That's what a punk is, a person refuses to grow up.'"

"I asked you," Dale Junior said, "if you're gonna bring me up on a charge."

"You hear your tone of voice?" the marshal said, sitting over there in the dark. "I'm not your problem."

It was quiet in the car following the headlights along the Turnpike, neither of them saying another word until they came to the toll booth and the marshal paid the man and they got off on Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm. The marshal told him to go east to Military Trail and turn right, and Dale Junior told him he knew the way to Gun Club, O.K.?

Now there were street lights and signs and stores lit up, back in civilization.

"Your problem," the marshal said, "you can't accept anyone telling you what to do."

Dale Junior only grunted, feeling another sermon coming.

The marshal saying now, "If you can't live with it, don't ever get into law enforcement."

"If I can't live with what?"

"Being told what to do, having superiors."

Dale Junior said, "Oh," slowing down and braking for a yellow light turning red, thinking, Jesus, what he always wanted to do, get into law enforcement.

It was as they coasted to the intersection and stopped they got rammed from behind.

 

Raylan felt himself pressed against the seat harness, his head snapping back and forward again. He heard Dale Junior say "God damn!" and saw him gripping the wheel, looking up at the rearview mirror now. Raylan got his seat belt undone before looking around to see the headlights of a pickup truck close behind the Cadillac's rear deck. Now it was backing up a few feet, the driver making sure the bumpers weren't locked together.

"Goddam jig," Dale Junior said.

Two of them, young black guys, coming from the pickup now as Raylan got out and walked back toward them: the one on the driver's side wearing a crocheted skullcap, the other one, his hair done in cornrows, holding something in his right hand Raylan took to be a pistol, holding it against his leg, away from a few cars going past just then--all the traffic Raylan could see coming for the next few blocks. They were by a vacant lot; stores across the street appeared closed except for a McDonald's.

The pickup truck's bumper, higher than the Cadillac's, had plowed into the sheet metal, smashing the tail-lights on the left side and popping the trunk, the lid creased and raised a few inches.

Raylan recognized the revolver the guy held, a .357 mag with a six-inch barrel; he had one at home just like it, Smith & Wesson. Raylan kept his mouth shut, not wanting to say something that might get these guys upset. This was a car-jacking, the guys were no doubt wired, and that .357 could go off for no reason. Raylan looked at the damaged trunk again, studying it to be occupied.

The one with cornrows and the gun against his leg said, "You see what I got here?"

Raylan looked him in the eye for the first time and nodded.

The one in the crocheted skullcap walked up to the driver's side of the Cadillac. The one with cornrows said to Raylan, "We gonna trade, let you have a pickup truck for this here. You see a problem with that?"

Raylan shook his head.

The one in the crocheted skullcap glanced back this way as he said, "Come here, look at this."

The moment the one with the cornrows turned and moved away Raylan raised the trunk lid. He brought out his Remington 12-gauge, then had to wait for a car to pass before stepping away from the trunk. Raylan put the shotgun on the two guys looking at Dale Junior handcuffed to the steering wheel and did something every lawman knew guaranteed attention and respect. He racked the pump on the shotgun, back and forward, and that hard metallic sound, better than blowing a whistle, brought the two guys around to see they were out of business.

"Let go of the pistol," Raylan said. "Being dumb don't mean you want to get shot."

He used two pairs of cuffs from the trunk to link the car-jackers together--had them do it left wrist to left wrist and right wrist to right wrist--side by side and had them slide into the front seat next to Dale Junior.

 

Would he have shot them? Dale Junior kept quiet wondering about it. One of the cops back in Ocala had told him he'd better behave while in this marshal's care, but he hadn't thought about it until now. He could feel the shoulder of the car-jacker sitting next to him, the one with cornrows, pressing against his arm. Now the marshal, back there in the dark with his shotgun, was saying, "Fellas, this is Dale Crowe Junior, another one believes it's the system's fault he's ill-tempered and feels it's O.K. to assault people."

Saying then, after a minute, "I know a fella sixty-seven years old, got rich off our economic system running a sports book, has more money'n he can ever spend. But this man, with all his advantages, doesn't know what to do with himself. Mopes around, drinks too much, gets everybody upset and worried so they'll feel sorry for him."

The car-jacker next to Dale Junior said, "You was to lemme go, I'll see the man don't bother you no more."

Dale Junior thought the marshal would tell him to keep his mouth shut, maybe poke him with the shotgun. But nothing happened like that, and there was a silence, no sound from back there in the dark until the marshal said, "You miss the point. This friend of mine isn't bothering me any, he's his own problem. Same as you fellas. I don't take what you did personally. You understand? Want to lean on you. Or wish you any more state time'n you deserve. What you'll have to do now is ride the rap, as they say. It's all anybody has to do."