No country for old men, p.8
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       No Country for Old Men, p.8

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  He emptied out the bag and put the shotgun in and zipped it shut and took it together with the satchel down to the desk. The Mexican who'd checked him in was gone and in his place was another clerk, thin and gray. A thin white shirt and a black bow tie. He was smoking a cigarette and reading Ring magazine and he looked up at Moss with no great enthusiasm, squinting in the smoke. Yessir, he said.

  Did you just come on?

  Yessir. Be here till ten in the mornin.

  Moss laid a hundred dollar bill on the counter. The clerk put down the magazine.

  I aint askin you to do nothin illegal, Moss said.

  I'm just waitin to hear your description of that, the clerk said.

  There's somebody lookin for me. All I'm askin you to do is to call me if anybody checks in. By anybody I mean any swingin dick. Can you do that?

  The nightclerk took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it over a small glass ashtray and tipped the ash from the end of it with his little finger and looked at Moss. Yessir, he said. I can do that.

  Moss nodded and went back upstairs.

  The phone never rang. Something woke him. He sat up and looked at the clock on the table. Four thirty-seven. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and reached and got his boots and pulled them on and sat listening.

  He went over and stood with his ear to the door, the shotgun in one hand. He went in the bathroom and pulled back the plastic showercurtain where it hung on rings over the tub and turned on the tap and pulled the plunger to start the shower. Then he pulled the curtain back around the tub and went out and closed the bathroom door behind him.

  He stood at the door listening again. He dragged out the nylon bag from where he'd pushed it under the bed and set it in the chair in the corner. He went over and switched on the light at the bedside table and stood there trying to think. He realized that the phone might ring and he took the receiver from the cradle and laid it on the table. He pulled back the covers and rumpled the pillows on the bed. He looked at the clock. Four forty-three. He looked at the phone lying there on the table. He picked it up and pulled the cord out of it and put it back in the cradle. Then he went over and stood at the door, his thumb on the hammer of the shotgun. He dropped to his stomach and put his ear to the space under the door. A cool wind. As if a door had opened somewhere. What have you done. What have you failed to do.

  He went to the far side of the bed and dropped down and pushed himself underneath it and lay there on his stomach with the shotgun pointed at the door. Just space enough beneath the wooden slats. Heart pumping against the dusty carpet. He waited. Two columns of dark intersected the bar of light beneath the door and stood there. The next thing he heard was the key in the lock. Very softly. Then the door opened. He could see out into the hallway. There was no one there. He waited. He tried not even to blink but he did. Then there was an expensive pair of ostrichskin boots standing in the doorway. Pressed jeans. The man stood there. Then he came in. Then he crossed slowly to the bathroom.

  At that moment Moss realized that he was not going to open the bathroom door. He was going to turn around. And when he did it would be too late. Too late to make any more mistakes or to do anything at all and that he was going to die. Do it, he said. Just do it.

  Dont turn around, he said. You turn around and I'll blow you to hell.

  The man didnt move. Moss was walking forward on his elbows holding the shotgun. He could see no higher than the man's waist and he didnt know what kind of gun he was carrying. Drop the gun, he said. Do it now.

  A shotgun clattered to the floor. Moss pulled himself up. Get your hands up, he said. Step back from the door.

  He took two steps back and stood, his hands at shoulder level. Moss came around the end of the bed. The man was no more than ten feet away. The whole room was pulsing slowly. There was an odd smell in the air. Like some foreign cologne. A medicinal edge to it. Everything humming. Moss held the shotgun at his waist with the hammer cocked. There was nothing that could happen that would have surprised him. He felt as if he weighed nothing. He felt as if he were floating. The man didnt even look at him. He seemed oddly untroubled. As if this were all part of his day.

  Back up. Some more.

  He did. Moss picked up the man's shotgun and threw it onto the bed. He switched on the overhead light and shut the door. Look over here, he said.

  The man turned his head and gazed at Moss. Blue eyes. Serene. Dark hair. Something about him faintly exotic. Beyond Moss's experience.

  What do you want?

  He didnt answer.

  Moss crossed the room and took hold of the footpost of the bed and swung the bed sideways with one hand. The document case stood there in the dust. He picked it up. The man didnt even seem to notice. His thoughts seemed elsewhere.

  He took the nylon bag from the chair and slung it over his shoulder and he got the shotgun with its huge canlike silencer off the bed and put it under his arm and picked up the case again. Let's go, he said. The man lowered his hands and walked out into the hallway.

  The small box that held the transponder receiver was standing in the floor just outside the door. Moss left it there. He had the feeling he'd already taken more chances than he had coming. He backed down the hallway with his shotgun trained on the man's belt, holding it in one hand like a pistol. He started to tell him to put his hands back up but something told him that it didnt really make any difference where the man's hands were. The bedroom door was still open, the shower still running.

  You show your face at the head of these stairs and I'll shoot you.

  The man didnt answer. He could have been a mute for all that Moss knew.

  Right there, Moss said. Dont you take another step.

  He stopped. Moss backed to the stairs and took one last look at him standing there in the dull yellow light from the wallsconce and then he turned and doubled down the stairwell taking the steps two at a time. He didnt know where he was going. He hadnt thought that far ahead.

  In the lobby the nightclerk's feet were sticking out from behind the desk. Moss didnt stop. He pushed out through the front door and down the steps. By the time he'd crossed the street Chigurh was already on the balcony of the hotel above him. Moss felt something tug at the bag on his shoulder. The pistolshot was just a muffled pop, flat and small in the dark quiet of the town. He turned in time to see the muzzleflash of the second shot faint but visible under the pink glow of the fifteen foot high neon hotel sign. He didnt feel anything. The bullet snapped at his shirt and blood started running down his upper arm and he was already at a dead run. With the next shot he felt a stinging pain in his side. He fell down and got up again leaving Chigurh's shotgun lying in the street. Damn, he said. What a shot.

  He loped wincing down the sidewalk past the Aztec Theatre. As he passed the little round ticket kiosk all the glass fell out of it. He never even heard that shot. He spun with the shotgun and thumbed back the hammer and fired. The buckshot rattled off the second storey balustrade and took the glass out of some of the windows. When he turned again a car coming down Main Street picked him up in the lights and slowed and then speeded up again. He turned up Adams Street and the car skidded sideways through the intersection in a cloud of rubbersmoke and stopped. The engine had died and the driver was trying to start it. Moss turned with his back to the brick wall of the building. Two men had come from the car and were crossing the street on foot at a run. One of them opened fire with a small caliber machinegun and he fired at them twice with the shotgun and then loped on with the warm blood seeping into his crotch. In the street he heard the car start up again.

  By the time he got to Grande Street a pandemonium of gunfire had broken out behind him. He didnt think he could run any more. He saw himself limping along in a storewindow across the street, holding his elbow to his side, the bag slung over his shoulder and carrying the shotgun and the leather document case, dark in the glass and wholly unaccountable. When he looked again he was sitting on the sidewalk. Get up you son of a bitch, he sa
id. Dont you set there and die. You get the hell up.

  He crossed Ryan Street with blood sloshing in his boots. He pulled the bag around and unzipped it and shoved the shotgun in and zipped it shut again. He stood tottering. Then he crossed to the bridge. He was cold and shivering and he thought he was going to vomit.

  There was a changewindow and a turnstile on the American side of the bridge and he put a dime in the slot and pushed through and staggered out onto the span and eyed the narrow walk ahead of him. Just breaking first light. Dull and gray above the floodplain along the east shore of the river. God's own distance to the far side.

  Half way he met a party returning. Four of them, young boys, maybe eighteen, partly drunk. He set the case on the sidewalk and took a pack of the hundreds from his pocket. The money was slick with blood. He wiped it on his trouserleg and peeled off five of the bills and put the rest in his back pocket.

  Excuse me, he said. Leaning against the chainlink fence. His bloody footprints on the walk behind him like clues in an arcade.

  Excuse me.

  They were stepping off the curb into the roadway to go around him.

  Excuse me I wondered if you all would sell me a coat.

  They didnt stop till they were past him. Then one of them turned. What'll you give? he said.

  That man behind you. The one in the long coat.

  The one in the long coat stopped with the others.

  How much?

  I'll give you five hundred dollars.


  Come on Brian.

  Let's go, Brian. He's drunk.

  Brian looked at them and he looked at Moss. Let's see the money, he said.

  It's right here.

  Let me see it.

  Let me hold the coat.

  Let's go, Brian.

  You take this hundred and let me hold the coat. Then I'll give you the rest.

  All right.

  He slipped out of the coat and handed it over and Moss handed him the bill.

  What's this on it?




  He stood holding the bill in one hand. He looked at the blood on his fingers. What happened to you?

  I've been shot.

  Let's go, Brian. Goddamn.

  Let me have the money.

  Moss handed him the bills and unshouldered the zipper bag to the sidewalk and struggled into the coat. The boy folded the bills and put them in his pocket and stepped away.

  He joined the others and they went on. Then they stopped. They were talking together and looking back at him. He got the coat buttoned and put his money in the inside pocket and shouldered the bag and picked up the leather case. You all need to keep walkin, he said. I wont tell you twice.

  They turned and went on. There were only three of them. He shoved at his eyes with the heel of his hand. He tried to see where the fourth one had gone. Then he realized that there was no fourth one. That's all right, he said. Just keep puttin one foot in front of the other.

  When he reached the place where the river actually passed beneath the bridge he stopped and stood looking down at it. The Mexican gateshack was just ahead. He looked back down the bridge but the three were gone. A grainy light to the east. Over the low black hills beyond the town. The water moved beneath him slow and dark. A dog somewhere. Silence. Nothing.

  There was a stand of tall carrizo cane growing along the American side of the river below him and he set the zipper bag down and took hold of the case by the handles and swung it behind him and then heaved it over the rail and out into space.

  Whitehot pain. He held his side and watched the bag turn slowly in the diminishing light from the bridgelamps and drop soundlessly into the cane and vanish. Then he slid to the pavement and sat there in the puddling blood, his face against the wire. Get up, he said. Damn you, get up.

  When he reached the gatehouse there was no one there. He pushed through and into the town of Piedras Negras, State of Coahuila.

  He made his way up the street to a small park or zocalo where the grackles in the eucalyptus trees were waking and calling. The trees were painted white to the height of a wainscot and from a distance the park seemed set with white posts arrayed at random. In the center a wrought-iron gazebo or bandstand. He collapsed on one of the iron benches with the bag on the bench beside him and leaned forward holding himself. Globes of orange light hung from the lampstands. The world receding. Across from the park was a church. It seemed far away. The grackles creaked and swayed in the branches overhead and day was coming.

  He put out one hand on the bench beside him. Nausea. Dont lie down.

  No sun. Just the gray light breaking. The streets wet. The shops closed. Iron shutters. An old man was coming along pushing a broom. He paused. Then he moved on.

  Senor, Moss said.

  Bueno, the old man said.

  You speak english?

  He studied Moss, holding the broom handle in both hands. He shrugged his shoulders.

  I need a doctor.

  The old man waited for more. Moss pushed himself up. The bench was bloody. I've been shot, he said.

  The old man looked him over. He clucked his tongue. He looked away toward the dawn. The trees and buildings taking shape. He looked at Moss and gestured with his chin. Puede andar? he said.


  Puede caminar? He made walking motions with his fingers, his hand hanging loosely at the wrist.

  Moss nodded. A wave of blackness came over him. He waited till it passed.

  Tiene dinero? The sweeper rubbed his thumb and fingers together.

  Si, Moss said. Si. He rose and stood swaying. He took the packet of bloodsoaked bills from the overcoat pocket and separated a hundred dollar note and handed it to the old man. The old man took it with great reverence. He looked at Moss and then he stood the broom against the bench.

  When Chigurh came down the steps and out the front door of the hotel he had a towel wrapped around his upper right leg and tied with sections of window blind cord. The towel was already wet through with blood. He was carrying a small bag in one hand and a pistol in the other.

  The Cadillac was crossways in the intersection and there was gunfire in the street. He stepped back into the doorway of the barbershop. The clatter of automatic riflefire and the deep heavy slam of a shotgun rattling off the facades of the buildings. The men in the street were dressed in raincoats and tennis shoes. They didnt look like anybody you would expect to meet in this part of the country. He limped back up the steps to the porch and laid the pistol over the balustrade and opened fire on them.

  By the time they'd figured out where the fire was coming from he'd killed one and wounded another. The wounded man got behind the car and opened up on the hotel. Chigurh stood with his back to the brick wall and fitted a fresh clip into the pistol. The rounds were taking out the glass in the doors and splintering up the sashwork. The foyer light went out. It was still dark enough in the street that you could see the muzzleflashes. There was a break in the firing and Chigurh turned and pushed his way through into the hotel lobby, the bits of glass crackling under his boots. He went gimping down the hallway and down the steps at the rear of the hotel and out into the parking lot.

  He crossed the street and went up Jefferson keeping to the north wall of the buildings, trying to hurry and swinging the bound leg out at his side. All of this was one block from the Maverick County Courthouse and he figured he had minutes at best before fresh parties began to arrive.

  When he got to the corner there was only one man standing in the street. He was at the rear of the car and the car was badly shot up, all of the glass gone or shot white. There was at least one body inside. The man was watching the hotel and Chigurh leveled the pistol and shot him twice and he fell down in the street. Chigurh stepped back behind the corner of the building and stood with the pistol upright at his shoulder, waiting. A rich tang of gunpowder on the cool morning air. Like the smell of fireworks. No sound anywhere.

  When he limped out into the street one of the men he'd shot from the hotel porch was crawling toward the curb. Chigurh watched him. Then he shot him in the back. The other one was lying by the front fender of the car. He'd been shot through the head and the dark blood was pooled all about him. His weapon was lying there but Chigurh paid it no mind. He walked to the rear of the car and jostled the man there with his boot and then bent and picked up the machinegun he'd been firing. It was a shortbarreled Uzi with the twenty-five round clip. Chigurh rifled the dead man's raincoat pockets and came up with three more clips, one of them full. He put them in the pocket of his jacket and stuck the pistol down in the front of his belt and checked the rounds in the clip that was in the Uzi. Then he slung the piece over his shoulder and hobbled back to the curb. The man he'd shot in the back was lying there watching him. Chigurh looked up the street toward the hotel and the courthouse. The tall palm trees. He looked at the man. The man was lying in a spreading pool of blood. Help me, he said. Chigurh took the pistol from his waist. He looked into the man's eyes. The man looked away.

  Look at me, Chigurh said.

  The man looked and looked away again.

  Do you speak english?


  Dont look away. I want you to look at me.

  He looked at Chigurh. He looked at the new day paling all about. Chigurh shot him through the forehead and then stood watching. Watching the capillaries break up in his eyes. The light receding. Watching his own image degrade in that squandered world. He shoved the pistol in his belt and looked back up the street once more. Then he picked up the bag and slung the Uzi over his shoulder and crossed the street and went limping on toward the hotel parking lot where he'd left his vehicle.


  We come here from Georgia. Our family did. Horse and wagon. I pretty much know that for a fact. I know they's a lots of things in a family history that just plain aint so. Any family. The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin that the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that's what it is. It's the thing you're talkin about. I've heard it compared to the rock--maybe in the bible--and I wouldnt disagree with that. But it'll be here even when the rock is gone. I'm sure they's people would disagree with that. Quite a few, in fact. But I never could find out what any of them did believe.

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