Raylan Givens was holding a federal warrant to serve on a man in the marijuana trade known as Angel Arenas, forty-seven, born in the U.S. but 100 percent of him Hispanic.
“I met him,” Raylan said, “the time I was on court duty in Miami and he was up for selling khat. That Arab plant you chew on and get high.”
“Just medium high,” Rachel Brooks said, in the front seat of the SUV, Raylan driving, early morning sun showing behind them. “Khat’s just catchin on, grown in California, big in San Diego among real Africans.”
“You buy any, you want to know it was picked that morning,” Raylan said. “It gives you a high for the day and that’s it.”
“I have some friends,” Rachel said, “like to chew it now and then. They never get silly, have fun with it. They just seem to mellow out.”
“Get dreamy,” Raylan said.
“What’d Angel go down for?”
“Thirty-six months out of forty and went back to selling weed. Violated his parole. He was supposed to have made a deal through that Rastafarian ran the Church?”
“Temple of the Cool and Beautiful J.C.,” Rachel said. “Israel Fendi, with the dreads, Ethiopian by way of Jamaica. Was he in the deal?”
“Never went near it. But somebody put the stuff on Angel, some doper lookin for a plea deal. Swears Angel was taking delivery last night. I doubt we walk in and find Angel sittin on it.”
From the backseat they heard Tim Gutterson say, “He’s looking at two hundred and forty months this time.” Tim going through a file folder of Angel Arenas photos came to a mug shot.
“Look at that grin. Nothing about him armed and dangerous.”
“He never packs,” Raylan said, “that I know of. Or has gun thugs hangin around.”
The SUV was traveling through a bottom section of East Kentucky, creeping along behind the state troopers’ radio cars, following a lake that looked more like a river looping around on its way down past the Tennessee line. A few minutes shy of 6:00 A.M. they pulled up to the Cumberland Inn.
The state troopers, four of them, watched Raylan and his crew slip on Kevlar vests, which they wore underneath their U.S. marshal jackets, and watched them check their sidearms. Raylan told the officers he didn’t expect Angel would resist, but you never knew for sure. He said, “You hear gunfire come runnin, all right?”
One of the troopers said, “You want, we’ll bust in the door for you.”
“You’re dyin to,” Raylan said. “I thought I’d stop by the desk and get a key.”
The troopers got a kick out of this marshal, at one time a coal miner from Harlan County but sounded like a lawman, his attitude about his job. This morning they watched him enter a fugitive felon’s motel room without drawing his gun.
There wasn’t a sound but the hum of air-conditioning. Sunlight from the windows lay on the king-size bed, unmade but thrown together, the spread pulled up over bedding and pillows. Raylan turned to Rachel and nodded to the bed. Now he stepped over to the bathroom door, not closed all the way, listened and then shoved it open.
Angel Arenas’s head rested against the curved end of the bathtub, his hair floating in water that came past his chin, his eyes closed, his body stretched out naked in a tub filled close to the brim with bits of ice in water turning pink.
Raylan said, “Angel . . . ?” Got no response and kneeled at the tub to feel Angel’s throat for a pulse. “He’s freezing to death but still breathing.”
Behind him he heard Rachel say, “Raylan, the bed’s full of blood. Like he was killin chickens in there.” And heard her say, “Oh my God,” sucking in her breath as she saw Angel.
Raylan turned the knob to let the water run out, lowering it around Angel, his belly becoming an island in the tub of ice water, blood showing in two places on the island.
“He had something done to him,” Raylan said. “He’s got like staples closing up what look like wounds. Or was he operated on?”
“Somebody shot him,” Tim said.
“I don’t think so,” Raylan said, staring at the two incisions stapled closed.
Rachel said, “That’s how they did my mother last year, at UK Medical. Made one entry below the ribs and the other under her belly button. I asked her why they did it there ’stead of around through her back.”
Tim said, “You gonna tell us what the operation was?”
“They took out her kidneys,” Rachel said. “Both of ’em, and she got an almost new pair the same day, from a child who’d drowned.”
They wrapped Angel in a blanket, carried him into the bedroom and laid him on the spread, the man shuddering, trying to breathe. His eyes closed he said to Raylan staring at him, “What happen to me?”
“You’re here makin a deal?”
Angel hesitated. “Two guys I know, growers. We have a drink—”
“And you end up in the tub,” Raylan said. “How much you pay them?”
“Is none of your business.”
“They left the weed?”
“What you see,” Angel said.
“There isn’t any here.”
Angel’s eyes came open. “I bought a hundred pounds, twenty-two thousand dollar. I saw it, I tried some.”
“You got taken,” Raylan said. “They put you out and left with the swag and the weed.”
Now his eyes closed and he said, “Man, I’m in pain,” his hands under the blanket feeling his stomach. “What did they take out of me?”
Raylan felt his pulse again. “He’s hangin in, tough little whatever he is, Sorta Rican? I can see these growers rippin him off, but why’d they take his kidneys?”
“It’s like that old story,” Tim said. “Guy wakes up missin a kidney. Has no idea who took it. People bring it up from time to time, but nobody ever proved it happened.”
“It has now,” Raylan said.
“You can’t live without kidneys,” Tim said.
“Be hard,” Raylan said. “Less you get on dialysis pretty quick. What I don’t see, what these pot growers are doing yanking out people’s kidneys. They aren’t making it sellin weed? I’ve heard a whole cadaver, selling parts of it at a time? Will go for a hundred grand. But you make more you sell enough weed, and it isn’t near as messy as dealin kidneys. What I’m wondering . . .” He paused, thinking about it.
Tim said, “Yeah . . . ?”
“Who did the surgery?”
About noon Art Mullen, marshal in charge of the Harlan field office, came by the motel to find Raylan still poking around the room.
Art said, “You know what you’re looking for?”
“Techs dusted the place,” Raylan said, “picked up Angel’s clothes, bloody dressings, surgical staples, an empty sack of Mail Pouch, but no kidneys. How’s Angel doing?”
“They got him in intensive care, maintaining.”
“He’s gonna make it?”
“I think what keeps him alive,” Art said, “he’s half out but mad as hell these weed dealers ripped him off. Took what he paid for the reefer—if you believe him—and left him to die.”
“Didn’t mention,” Raylan said, “they took his kidneys?”
“I kept makin the point,” Art said. “ ‘Tell me who these boys are, we’ll get your kidneys back for you.’ He commenced to breathe hard and the nurse shooed me out. No, but his kidneys,” Art said, “were taken out by someone knew what he was doing.”