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twenty-eight

When a girl in bib overalls told Raylan she loved him and handed a printed sheet through the window, he read:


HUGGING


Hugging is healthy: It helps the bodys immunity system, it keeps you healthier, it cures depression, it reduces stress, it induces sleep, its invigorating


Got that far and filed the sheet with the Miami Herald and a pair of binoculars, on the seat next to him. If anyone wanted to know what he was doing, sitting in a Jaguar in the parking circle at the north end of Dreher Park, he was taking it easy. Letting it happen, so to speak. When a squad car stopped by, Raylan showed his star and told the sheriffs deputy he was working surveillance and to kindly get his green-and-white out of there. When a bearded guy with snake tattoos on his arms shoved a smudge stick at Raylan and said, Have a smudge, offering what looked like a joint as big as a loaf of bread, Raylan said no thanks, catching the odor of smoldering sweet grass and sage, new-age incense. The bearded guy said, Go on, tight ass, take a whiff, itll do you good.

Raylan turned his head, hat brim low on his eyes, to the bearded countenance in the window and said, Do you want to have to eat that thing?

The guy with the snake tattoos left. Raylan watched him cross the grassy park toward picnic tables in a stand of ficus, big ones, where most of the Huggers were gathered, maybe a couple dozen, most of them young. Raylan could hear their voices now and then and drumbeats that would bang away for a minute or so and stop. He saw a couple of girls in their underwear, their panties, trying on dresses and dancing to the drumbeats. The Huggers were to his left, off past the public rest rooms and a phone booth, the old glass-box kind. Straight ahead, a walk skirted a dense woods of banyan and palmettos.

Raylan had sent Melinda down that path to locate the dope tree, where the heads gathered, and look for Warren Ganz, a middle-aged guy who went by the name of Cal. In the car coming here Melinda said, Youre using me in a dope bust? not wanting any part of it. Raylan told her Cal was suspected of having committed extortion and the sexual exploitation of minors, and Melinda was ready to go. The plan-if Cal was there-Melinda would tell him shed run away from home, didnt have a place to stay and needed money more than anything. Raylan told her how Cal operated, how hed talk sweet to her, find out where she was from, who her parents were, then phone them and ask for a big finders fee. Or, Raylan said, youre a nasty kid, you work it so its your idea to call your folks; he asks for the money and you split it. You get him to that phone booth by the rest rooms and Ill take it from there. Melinda walked down the path barefoot in shorts, the little purse hanging from her shoulder, and was back inside of twenty minutes.

Hes there, but I wasnt able to get near him. Hes selling dresses.

Buy one, Raylan said.

Im not supposed to have any money. You forget? She said, You should hear some of their weekend names they use. Fat Cat and Cherokee, Reservoir Dog; two girls there are Bambi and Ling-Ling. They go, Love you, or Gimme a hug, and then try and put their arms around you. Im in the woods there taking a leak? This big, hairy pervert comes up, wants to hug me. He goes, Welcome home, sister. Love you. Im telling you

Is there much dope?

Not out in the open, but its there. This goomer stops by, he goes, Want to get zooked? and shows me a Visine bottle. I told them my names Peanut. She stared at Raylan and said, Youre lets see. How about, youre the Cat in the Hat. She left the car again to look for Cal, give it another shot.

It was almost four now; shed been gone over an hour.

Raylan picked up his binoculars and put them on the groups by the tables, over in the trees, to see Huggers in grungy clothes and tie-dyed outfits, dropout campers having fun: drinking beer, sniffing the guy with the snake tattoos smudge stick, banging on drums, sucking on balloons a guy was filling with nitrous oxide from a tank, Huggers giving new arrivals peace signs and hugs. Dawn had described a sign, WELCOME HOME, and there it was, fixed to a tree. Raylan edged his binoculars past other groups, normal-looking picnickers, families.

He watched a girl come out of the rest room building and lowered the glasses, a fat girl coming over to the car now, saying, I need a hug, bad. Will you give me a hug? She squeezed her head and shoulders through the window and got Raylan around the neck, pressing his face to her breast before he could protect himself. She said, Love you, and walked away as he took his hat off and replaced it over his eyes.

Not long after that he saw Melinda coming up the path along the banyan thicket with a skinny guy in jeans and white tennis shoes, a red, white, and green rugby shirt, sunglasses, the guy fairly young, his hair blond in the sunlight-until Raylan put the glasses on him and he became an older guy with gray hair. Finally, the one and only Chip Ganz, the guy slouching along next to Melinda, middle-aged hip, talking, smoking a joint pinched between his thumb and finger. Raylan watched him offer the joint to Melinda as they came past the parking circle. Bringing the stub to her mouth and taking a drag, she looked right at the car. Now they were heading toward the phone booth by the rest rooms, Chip digging into his pocket for change and then counting what he had in his hand. Now Melinda had her little purse open and was feeling inside.

Raylan got out of the car and walked over to them, standing by the phone booth now. He saw Chip look at him and start to look away-at the grass, the trees, at whatever was there that seemed to hold some fascination for him-Raylan was sure Chip knew who he was.


You need change?

Chip came around showing surprise now. Oh yeah, if you could help us out.

Raylan put his right hand in his pants pocket, his left hand in the other pocket and stood this way looking at Chip, not saying anything for several moments. He watched Chip studying his change again to be occupied.

You see Harry lately?

Chip raised his eyebrows looking up. Harry?

The one you owe the sixteen five.

Chip put on a tired smile now, shaking his head. He sent you to collect?

That was another guy, Raylan said, your gardener.

Oh. Yeah, the one my mother hired.

While youre down in the Keys.

Thats right, but I did see the guy. I explained it to him.

What?

That Id pay Harry in the next sixty days or so.

Chip maintaining an innocent look: blank, but somewhat bewildered.

Raylan said, You came all the way up here to get hugged?

Chip grinned. Well, among other things. I like the atmosphere, it takes me back, man, to that time, the peace movement, we were gonna change the world. You mustve been around then.

I was in a coal mine, Raylan said. You know who I am, dont you?

A friend of Harrys. You must be the one stopped by and spoke to my caretaker, Louis? He called and told me.

While you were in the Keys.

Yeah.

Were you going home from here?

Chip shook his head. No reason to.

Is Louis there?

I think he has Saturday off.

Raylan said, Whos there, just Harry?

He watched Chip frown now, giving it all he had.

You think Harrys at my house?

Frowning and then shaking his head.

Raylan said, Wherere you parked?

Chip hesitated. On Summit. In one of those strip malls. Why?

Raylan said, Give me your car keys.

Why? What for?

Raylan said, You want to see my I.D.?

I just dont understand why you want my keys.

Raylan held out his hand.

Chip shrugged. He dug the keys out of his jeans and held them up, a finger in the key ring. Okay, now what?

Take off the one for the car.

Chip sighed now, going along, worked the key from the ring and handed it to Raylan. He said, You know, this would appear to be a car-jacking, except you dont seem the type that goes around boosting cars. His expression turned deadpan, a stand-up comic now as he said, Hey, but what do I know? Then seemed to laugh without wanting to, ruining the effect.

Raylan thought Chip was doing the best he could, trying hard to seem innocent, good-humored, but the man was becoming giddy. Raylan doubted hed be able to keep it together for long.

Handing the car key to Melinda, telling her, Its a tan Mercedes that needs bodywork, came close to finishing Chip off.

He said, Peanut?

The poor guy, betrayed by this nice-looking young girl. She said to Chip, Its Melinda, just so youll know who set you up.

Summits that way, Raylan said, pointing south.

Melinda nodded. Ill see you later, and walked off across the grassy park.

Chip watched her with an expression Raylan thought of as forlorn, lost, no one to help him. But then said to Raylan, still with hope at this point, though not much, How do I get my car back?

I dont know, Raylan said. You dont have Bobby to pick it up, do you?

That seemed to finish Chip off, at least for the time being. He looked at Raylan with nothing to offer.

Raylan put his hand on Chips shoulder.

Come on, Ill take you home.


twenty-seven | Riding the Rap | twenty-nine