بخش 03

کتاب: جایی برای پیرمردها نیست / فصل 3

جایی برای پیرمردها نیست

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بخش 03

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IV

I was sheriff of

this county when I was twenty-five. Hard to believe. My father was not a lawman. Jack was my grandfather. Me and him was sheriff at the same time, him in Piano and me here. I think he was pretty proud of that. I know I was. I was just back from the war. I had some medals and stuff and of course people had got wind of that. I campaigned pretty hard. You had to. I tried to be fair. Jack used to say that any time you’re throwin dirt you’re losin ground but I think mostly it just wasnt in him. To speak ill of anybody. And I never did mind bein like him. Me and my wife has been married thirty-one years. No children. We lost a girl but I wont talk about that. I served two terms and then we moved to Denton Texas. Jack used to say that bein sheriff was one of the best jobs you could have and bein a ex-sheriff one of the worst. Maybe lots of things is like that. We stayed gone and stayed gone. I done different things. Was a detective on the railroad for a while. By that time my wife wasnt all that sure about us comin back here. About me runnin. But she seen I wanted to so that’s what we done. She’s a better person than me, which I will admit to anybody that cares to listen. Not that that’s sayin a whole lot. She’s a better person than anybody I know. Period.

People think they know what they want but they generally dont. Sometimes if they’re lucky they’ll get it anyways. Me I was always lucky. My whole life. I wouldnt be here otherwise. Scrapes I been in. But the day I seen her come out of Kerr’s Mercantile and cross the street and she passed me and I tipped my hat to her and got just almost a smile back, that was the luckiest.

People complain about the bad things that happen to em that they dont deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things. I dont recall that I ever give the good Lord all that much cause to smile on me. But he did.

When Bell walked into

the cafe on Tuesday morning it was just daylight. He got his paper and went to his table in the corner. The men he passed at the big table nodded to him and said Sheriff. The waitress brought him his coffee and went back to the kitchen and ordered his eggs. He sat stirring the coffee with his spoon although there was nothing to stir since he drank it black. The Haskins boy’s picture was on the front page of the Austin paper. Bell read, shaking his head. His wife was twenty years old. You know what you could do for her? Not a damn thing. Lamar had never lost a man in twenty some odd years. This is what he would remember. This is what he’d be remembered for.

She came with his eggs and he folded the paper and laid it by.

He took Wendell with him and they drove down to the Desert Aire and stood at the door while Wendell knocked.

Look at the lock, Bell said.

Wendell drew his pistol and opened the door. Sheriff’s department, he called.

There aint nobody here.

No reason not to be careful.

That’s right. No reason in the world.

They walked in and stood. Wendell would have holstered his pistol but Bell stopped him. Let’s just keep to that careful routine, he said.

Yessir.

He walked over and picked up a small brass slug off of the carpet and held it up.

What’s that? said Wendell.

Cylinder out of the lock.

Bell passed his hand over the plywood of the room-divider. Here’s where it hit at, he said. He balanced the piece of brass in his palm and looked toward the door. You could weigh this thing and measure the distance and the drop and calculate the speed.

I expect you could.

Pretty good speed.

Yessir. Pretty good speed.

They walked through the rooms. What do you think, Sheriff?

I believe they’ve done lit a shuck.

I do too.

Kindly in a hurry about it, too.

Yep.

He walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator and looked in and shut it again. He looked in the freezer.

So when was he here, Sheriff?

Hard to say. We might of just missed him.

You think this boy has got any notion of the sorts of sons of bitches that are huntin him?

I dont know. He ought to. He seen the same things I seen and it made a impression on me.

They’re in a world of trouble, aint they?

Yes they are.

Bell walked back into the livingroom. He sat on the sofa. Wendell stood in the doorway. He was still holding the revolver in his hand. What are you thinkin? he said.

Bell shook his head. He didnt look up.

By Wednesday half of the State of Texas was on its way to Sanderson. Bell sat at his table in the cafe and read the news. He lowered the paper and looked up. A man about thirty years old that he’d never seen before was standing there. He introduced himself as a reporter for the San Antonio Light. What’s all this about, Sheriff? he said.

It appears to be a huntin accident.

Hunting accident?

Yessir.

How could it be a hunting accident? You’re pulling my leg.

Let me ask you somethin.

All right.

Last year nineteen felony charges were filed in the Terrell County Court. How many of those would you say were not drug related?

I dont know.

Two. In the meantime I got a county the size of Delaware that is full of people who need my help. What do you think about that?

I dont know.

I dont either. Now I just need to eat my breakfast here. I got kindly a full day ahead.

He and Torbert drove out in Torbert’s four wheel drive truck. All was as they’d left it. They parked a ways from Moss’s truck and waited. It’s ten, Torbert said.

What?

It’s ten. Deceased. We forgot about old Wyrick. It’s ten.

Bell nodded. That we know about, he said.

Yessir. That we know about.

The helicopter arrived and circled and set down in a whirl of dust out on the bajada. Nobody got out. They were waiting for the dust to blow away. Bell and Torbert watched the rotor winding down.

The DEA agent’s name was McIntyre. Bell knew him slightly and liked him about well enough to nod to. He got out with a clipboard in his hand and walked toward them. He was dressed in boots and hat and a Carhartt canvas jacket and he looked all right until he opened his mouth.

Sheriff Bell, he said.

Agent McIntyre.

What vehicle is this?

It’s a ‘72 Ford pickup.

McIntyre stood looking out down the bajada. He tapped the clipboard against his leg. He looked at Bell. I’m happy to know that, he said. White in color.

I’d say white. Yes.

Could use a set of tires.

He went over and walked around the truck. He wrote on his clipboard. He looked inside. He folded the seat forward and looked in the back.

Who cut the tires?

Bell was standing with his hands in his back pockets. He leaned and spat. Deputy Hays here believes it was done by a rival party.

Rival party.

Yessir.

I thought these vehicles were all shot up.

They are.

But not this one.

Not this one.

McIntyre looked toward the chopper and he looked down the bajada toward the other vehicles. Can I get a ride down there with you?

Sure you can.

They walked toward Torbert’s truck. The agent looked at Bell and he tapped the clipboard against his leg. You dont intend to make this easy, do you?

Hell, McIntyre. I’m just messin with you.

They walked around in the bajada looking at the shot-up trucks. McIntyre held a kerchief to his nose. The bodies were bloated in their clothes. This is about the damnedest thing I ever saw, he said.

He stood making notes on his clipboard. He paced distances and made a rough sketch of the scene and he copied out the numbers off the license plates.

Were there no guns here? he said.

Not as many as there should of been. We got two pieces in evidence.

How long you think they’ve been dead?

Four or five days.

Somebody must have got away.

Bell nodded. There’s another body about a mile north of here.

There’s heroin spilled in the back of that Bronco.

Yep.

Mexican black tar.

Bell looked at Torbert. Torbert leaned and spat.

If the heroin is missing and the money is missing then my guess is that somebody is missing.

I’d say that’s a reasonable guess.

McIntyre continued writing. Dont worry, he said. I know you didnt get it.

I aint worried.

McIntyre adjusted his hat and stood looking at the trucks. Are the rangers coming out here?

Rangers are comin. Or one is. DPS drug unit.

I’ve got .380’s, .45’s, nine millimeter parabellum, twelve gauge, and .38 special. Did you all find anything else?

I think that was it.

McIntyre nodded. I guess the people waiting for their dope have probably figured out by now that it’s not coming. What about the Border Patrol?

Everbody’s comin as far as I know. We expect it to get right lively. Might could be a bigger draw than the flood back in ‘65.

Yeah.

What we need is to get these bodies out of here.

McIntyre tapped the clipboard against his leg. Aint that the truth, he said.

Nine millimeter parabellum, said Torbert.

Bell nodded. You need to put that in your files.

Chigurh picked up the signal from the transponder coming across the high span of the Devil’s River Bridge just west of Del Rio. It was near midnight and no cars on the highway. He reached over into the passenger seat and turned the dial slowly forward and then back, listening.

The headlights picked up some kind of a large bird sitting on the aluminum bridgerail up ahead and Chigurh pushed the button to let the window down. Cool air coming in off the lake. He took the pistol from beside the box and cocked and leveled it out the window, resting the barrel on the rearview mirror. The pistol had been fitted with a silencer sweated onto the end of the barrel. The silencer was made out of brass mapp-gas burners fitted into a hairspray can and the whole thing stuffed with fiberglass roofing insulation and painted flat black. He fired just as the bird crouched and spread its wings.

It flared wildly in the lights, very white, turning and lifting away into the darkness. The shot had hit the rail and caromed off into the night and the rail hummed dully in the slipstream and ceased. Chigurh laid the pistol in the seat and put the window back up again.

Moss paid the driver and stepped out into the lights in front of the motel office and slung the bag over his shoulder and shut the cab door and turned and went in. The woman was already behind the counter. He set the bag in the floor and leaned on the counter. She looked a little flustered. Hi, she said. You fixin to stay a while?

I need another room.

You want to change rooms or you want another one besides the one you’ve got?

I want to keep the one I got and get another one.

All right.

Have you got a map of the motel?

She looked under the counter. There used to be a sort of a one. Wait a minute. I think this is it.

She laid an old brochure on the counter. It showed a car from the fifties parked in front. He unfolded it and flattened it out and studied it.

What about one forty-two?

You can have one next to yours if you want it. One-twenty aint took.

That’s all right. What about one forty-two?

She reached and got the key off the board behind her. You’ll owe for two nights, she said.

He paid and picked up the bag and walked out and turned down the walkway at the rear of the motel. She leaned over the counter watching him go.

In the room he sat on the bed with the map spread out. He got up and went into the bathroom and stood in the tub with his ear to the wall. A TV was playing somewhere. He went back and sat and unzipped the bag and took out the shotgun and laid it to one side and then emptied the bag out onto the bed.

He took the screwdriver and got the chair from the desk and stood on it and unscrewed the airduct grille and stepped down and laid it dustside up on the cheap chenille bedspread. Then he climbed up and put his ear to the duct. He listened. He stood down and got the flashlight and climbed back up again.

There was a junction in the ductwork about ten feet down the shaft and he could see the end of the bag sticking out. He turned off the light and stood listening. He tried listening with his eyes shut.

He climbed down and got the shotgun and went to the door and turned off the light at the switch there and stood in the dark looking out through the curtain at the courtyard. Then he went back and laid the shotgun on the bed and turned on the flashlight.

He untied the little nylon bag and slid the poles out. They were lightweight aluminum tubes three feet long and he assembled three of them and taped the joints with duct tape so that they wouldnt pull apart. He went to the closet and came back with three wire hangers and sat on the bed and cut the hooks off with the sidecutters and wrapped them into one hook with the tape. Then he taped them to the end of the pole and stood up and slid the pole down the ductwork.

He turned the flashlight off and pitched it onto the bed and went back to the window and looked out. Drone of a truck passing out on the highway. He waited till it was gone. A cat that was crossing the courtyard stopped. Then it went on again.

He stood on the chair with the flashlight in his hand. He turned on the light and laid the lens up close against the galvanized metal wall of the duct so as to mute the beam and ran the hook down past the bag and turned it and brought it back. The hook caught and turned the bag slightly and then slipped free again. After a few tries he managed to get it caught in one of the straps and he towed it silently up the duct hand over hand through the dust until he could let go the pole and reach the bag.

He climbed down and sat on the bed and wiped the dust from the case and unfastened the latch and the straps and opened it and looked at the packets of bills. He took one of them from the case and riffled it. Then he fitted it back and undid the length of cord he’d tied to the strap and turned off the flashlight and sat listening. He stood and reached up and shoved the poles down the duct and then he put back the grid and gathered up his tools. He laid the key on the desk and put the shotgun and the tools in the bag and took it and the case and walked out the door leaving everything just as it was.

Chigurh drove slowly along the row of motel rooms with the window down and the receiver in his lap. He turned at the end of the lot and came back. He slowed to a stop and put the Ramcharger in reverse and backed slightly down the blacktop and stopped again. Finally he drove around to the office and parked and went in.

The clock on the motel office wall said twelve forty-two. The television set was on and the woman looked like she’d been asleep. Yessir, she said. Can I help you?

He left the office with the key in his shirtpocket and got into the Ramcharger and drove around to the side of the building and parked and got out and walked down to the room carrying the bag with the receiver and the guns in it. In the room he dropped the bag onto the bed and pulled off his boots and came back out with the receiver and the battery pack and the shotgun from the truck. The shotgun was a twelve gauge Remington automatic with a plastic military stock and a parkerized finish. It was fitted with a shopmade silencer fully a foot long and big around as a beercan. He walked down the ramada in his sockfeet past the rooms listening to the signal.

He came back to the room and stood in the open door under the dead white light from the parking lot lamp. He walked into the bathroom and turned the light on there. He took the measure of the room and looked to see where everything was. He measured where the lightswitches were. Then he stood in the room taking it all in once again. He sat and pulled on his boots and got the airtank and slung it across his shoulder and caught up the cattlegun where it swung from the rubber airhose and walked out and down to the room.

He stood listening at the door. Then he punched out the lock cylinder with the airgun and kicked open the door.

A Mexican in a green guayabera had sat up on the bed and was reaching for a small machinegun beside him. Chigurh shot him three times so fast it sounded like one long gunshot and left most of the upper part of him spread across the headboard and the wall behind it. The shotgun made a strange deep chugging sound. Like someone coughing into a barrel. He snapped on the light and stepped out of the doorway and stood with his back to the outside wall. He looked in again quickly. The bathroom door had been shut. Now it was open. He stepped into the room and fired two loads through the standing door and another through the wall and stepped out again. Down toward the end of the building a light had come on. Chigurh waited. Then he looked into the room once more. The door was blown into shredded plywood hanging off the hinges and a thin stream of blood had started across the pink bathroom tiles.

He stepped into the doorway and fired two more rounds through the bathroom wall and then walked in with the shotgun leveled at his waist. The man was lying slumped against the tub holding an AK-47. He was shot in the chest and the neck and he was bleeding heavily. No me mate, he wheezed. No me mate. Chigurh stepped back to avoid the spray of ceramic chips off the tub and shot him in the face.

He walked out and stood on the sidewalk. No one there. He went back in and searched the room. He looked in the closet and he looked under the bed and he pulled all the drawers out into the floor. He looked in the bathroom. Moss’s H&K machinepistol was lying on the sink. He left it there. He wiped his feet back and forth on the carpet to get the blood off the soles of his boots and he stood looking at the room. Then his eye fell on the airduct.

He took the lamp from beside the bed and jerked the cord free and climbed up onto the dresser and stove in the grate with the metal lampbase and pulled it loose and looked in. He could see the dragmarks in the dust. He climbed down and stood there. He’d got blood and matter on his shirt from off the wall and he took the shirt off and went back into the bathroom and washed himself and dried with one of the bath-towels. Then he wet the towel and wiped off his boots and folded the towel again and wiped down the legs of his jeans. He picked up the shotgun and came back into the room naked to the waist, the shirt balled in one hand. He wiped his bootsoles on the carpet again and looked around the room a last time and left.

When Bell walked into the office Torbert looked up from his desk and then rose and came over and laid a paper down in front of him.

Is this it? Bell said.

Yessir.

Bell leaned back in his chair to read, tapping his lower lip slowly with his forefinger. After a while he put the report down. He didnt look at Torbert. I know what’s happened here, he said.

All right.

Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse?

Yessir. I believe so.

You’d know it if you had.

I think I went once when I was a kid.

Funny place to take a kid.

I think I went my own self. Snuck in.

How did they kill the beef?

They had a knocker straddled the chute and they’d let the beeves through one at a time and he’d knock em in the head with a maul. He done that all day.

That sounds about right. They dont do it thataway no more. They use a airpowered gun that shoots a steel bolt out of it. Just shoots it out about so far. They put that thing between the beef’s eyes and pull the trigger and down she goes. It’s that quick.

Torbert was standing at the corner of Bell’s desk. He waited a minute for the sheriff to continue but the sheriff didnt continue. Torbert stood there. Then he looked away. I wish you hadnt of even told me, he said.

I know, said Bell. I knowed what you’d say fore you said it.

Moss pulled into Eagle Pass at a quarter till two in the morning. He’d slept a good part of the way in the back of the cab and he only woke when they slowed coming off the highway and down Main Street. He watched the pale white globes of the streetlamps pass along the upper rim of the window. Then he sat up.

You goin across the river? the driver said.

No. Just take me downtown.

You are downtown.

Moss leaned forward with his elbows on the back of the seat.

What’s that right there.

That’s the Maverick County Courthouse.

No. Right there where the sign is.

That’s the Hotel Eagle.

Drop me there.

He paid the driver the fifty dollars they’d agreed on and picked up his bags off the curb and walked up the steps to the porch and went in. The clerk was standing at the desk as if he’d been expecting him.

He paid and put the key in his pocket and climbed the stairs and walked down the old hotel corridor. Dead quiet. No lights in the transoms. He found the room and put the key in the door and opened it and went in and shut the door behind him. Light from the streetlamps coming through the lace curtains at the window. He set the bags on the bed and went back to the door and switched on the overhead light. Old fashioned pushbutton switchplate. Oak furniture from the turn of the century. Brown walls. Same chenille bedspread.

He sat on the bed thinking things over. He got up and looked out the window at the parking lot and he went into the bathroom and got a glass of water and came back and sat on the bed again. He took a sip and set the water on the glass top of the wooden bedside table. There is no goddamn way, he said.

He undid the brass latch and the buckles on the case and began to take the packets of money out and to stack them on the bed. When the case was empty he checked it for a false bottom and he checked the back and sides and then he set it aside and began to go through the stacks of bills, riffling each of the packets and stacking them back in the case. He’d packed it about a third full before he found the sending unit.

The middle of the packet had been filled in with dollar bills with the centers cut out and the transponder unit nested there was about the size of a Zippo lighter. He slid back the tape and took it out and weighed it in his hand. Then he put it in the drawer and got up and took the cut-out dollar bills and the banktape to the bathroom and flushed them down the toilet and came back. He folded the loose hundreds and put them in his pocket and then packed the rest of the banknotes into the case again and set the case in the chair and sat there looking at it. He thought about a lot of things but the thing that stayed with him was that at some point he was going to have to quit running on luck.

He got the shotgun out of the bag and laid it on the bed and turned on the bedside lamp. He went to the door and turned off the overhead light and came back and stretched out on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He knew what was coming. He just didnt know when. He got up and went into the bathroom and pulled the chain on the light over the sink and looked at himself in the mirror. He took a washcloth from the glass towelbar and turned on the hot water and wet the cloth and wrung it out and wiped his face and the back of his neck. He took a leak and then switched off the light and went back and sat on the bed. It had already occurred to him that he would probably never be safe again in his life and he wondered if that was something that you got used to. And if you did?

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 said. 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 trouser-leg 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.

Bullshit.

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?

Blood.

Blood?

Blood.

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.

Señor, 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.

What?

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 machine-gun 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?

Yes.

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.

V

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.

You always tried to be available for your social events and I would always go to things like cemetery cleanins of course. That was all right. The women would fix dinner on the ground and of course it was a way of campaignin but you were doin somethin for folks that couldnt do it for theirselves. Well, you could be cynical about it I reckon and say that you just didnt want em comin around at night. But I think it goes deeper than that. It is community and it is respect, of course, but the dead have more claims on you than what you might want to admit or even what you might know about and them claims can be very strong indeed. Very strong indeed. You get the feelin they just dont want to turn loose. So any little thing helps, in that respect.

What I was sayin the other day about the papers. Here last week they found this couple out in California they would rent out rooms to old people and then kill em and bury em in the yard and cash their social security checks. They’d torture em first, I dont know why. Maybe their television was broke. Now here’s what the papers had to say about that. I quote from the papers. Said: Neighbors were alerted when a man run from the premises wearin only a dogcollar. You cant make up such a thing as that. I dare you to even try.

But that’s what it took, you’ll notice. All that hollerin and diggin in the yard didnt bring it.

That’s all right. I laughed myself when I read it. There aint a whole lot else you can do.

It was almost a three hour drive to Odessa and dark when he got there. He listened to the truckers on the radio. Has he got jurisdiction up here? Come on. Hell if I know. I think if he sees you committin a crime he does. Well I’m a reformed criminal then. You got that right old buddy.

He got a city map at the quickstop and spread it out on the seat of the cruiser while he drank coffee out of a styrofoam cup. He traced his route on the map with a yellow marker from the glovebox and refolded the map and laid it on the seat beside him and switched off the domelight and started the engine.

When he knocked at the door Llewelyn’s wife answered it. As she opened the door he took off his hat and he was right away sorry he’d done it. She put her hand to her mouth and reached for the doorjamb.

I’m sorry mam, he said. He’s all right. Your husband is all right. I just wanted to talk to you if I could.

You aint lyin to me are you?

No mam. I dont lie.

You drove up here from Sanderson?

Yes mam.

What did you want.

I just wanted to visit with you a little bit. Talk to you about your husband.

Well you cant come in here. You’ll scare Mama to death. Let me get my coat.

Yes mam.

They drove down to the Sunshine Cafe and sat in a booth at the rear and ordered coffee.

You dont know where he’s at, do you.

No I dont. I done told you.

I know you did.

He took off his hat and laid it in the booth beside him and ran his hand through his hair. You aint heard from him?

No I aint.

Nothin.

Not word one.

The waitress brought the coffee in two heavy white china mugs. Bell stirred his with his spoon. He raised the spoon and looked into the smoking silver bowl of it. How much money did he give you?

She didnt answer. Bell smiled. What did you start to say? he said. You can say it.

I started to say that’s some more of your business, aint it.

Why dont you just pretend I aint the sheriff.

And pretend you’re what?

You know he’s in trouble.

Llewelyn aint done nothin.

It’s not me he’s in trouble with.

Who’s he in trouble with then?

Some pretty bad people.

Llewelyn can take care of hisself.

Do you care if I call you Carla?

I go by Carla Jean.

Carla Jean. Is that all right?

That’s all right. You dont care if I keep on callin you Sheriff do you?

Bell smiled. No, he said. That’s fine.

All right.

These people will kill him, Carla Jean. They wont quit.

He wont neither. He never has.

Bell nodded. He sipped his coffee. The face that lapped and shifted in the dark liquid in the cup seemed an omen of things to come. Things losing shape. Taking you with them. He set the cup down and looked at the girl. I wish I could say that was in his favor. But I have to say I dont think it is.

Well, she said, he’s who he is and he always will be. That’s why I married him.

But you aint heard from him in a while.

I didnt expect to hear from him.

Were you all havin problems?

We dont have problems. When we have problems we fix em.

Well, you’re lucky people.

Yes we are.

She watched him. How come you to ask me that, she said.

About havin problems?

About havin problems.

I just wondered if you were.

Has somethin happened that you know about and I dont?

No. I could ask you the same thing.

Except I wouldnt tell you.

Yes.

You think he’s left me, dont you.

I dont know. Has he?

No. He aint. I know him.

You used to know him.

I know him yet. He aint changed.

Maybe.

But you dont believe that.

Well, I guess in all honesty I would have to say that I never knew nor did I ever hear of anybody that money didnt change. I’d have to say he’d be the first.

Well he’ll be the first then.

I hope that’s true.

Do you really hope that, Sheriff?

Yes. I do.

He aint been charged with nothin?

No. He aint been charged with nothin.

That dont mean he wont be.

No. It dont. If he lives that long.

Well. He aint dead yet.

I hope that’s more comfort to you than it is to me.

He sipped the coffee and set the mug down on the table. He watched her. He needs to turn the money in, he said. They’d put it in the papers. Then maybe these people would leave him alone. I cant guarantee that they will. But they might. It’s the only chance he’s got.

You could put it in the papers anyway.

Bell studied her. No, he said. I couldnt.

Or wouldnt.

Wouldnt then. How much money is it?

I dont know what you’re talkin about.

All right.

You care if I smoke? she said.

I think we’re still in America.

She got her cigarettes out and lit one and turned her face and blew the smoke out into the room. Bell watched her. How do you think this is goin to end? he said.

I dont know. I dont know how nothin is goin to end. Do you?

I know how it aint.

Like livin happily ever after?

Somethin like that.

Llewelyn’s awful smart.

Bell nodded. You ought to be more worried about him I guess is what I’m sayin.

She took a long pull on the cigarette. She studied Bell. Sheriff, she said, I think I’m probably just about as worried as I need to be.

He’s goin to wind up killin somebody. Have you thought about that?

He never has.

He was in Vietnam.

I mean as a civilian.

He will.

She didnt answer.

You want some more coffee?

I’m coffeed out. I didnt want none to start with.

She looked off across the cafe. The empty tables. The night cashier was a boy about eighteen and he was bent over the glass counter reading a magazine. My mama’s got cancer, she said. She aint got all that long to live.

I’m sorry to hear that.

I call her mama. She’s really my grandmother. She raised me and I was lucky to have her. Well. Lucky dont even say it.

Yes mam.

She never did much like Llewelyn. I dont know why. No reason in particular. He was always good to her. I thought after she got diagnosed she’d be easier to live with but she aint. She’s got worse.

How come you live with her?

I dont live with her. I aint that ignorant. This is just temporary.

Bell nodded.

I need to get back, she said.

All right. Have you got a gun?

Yeah. I got a gun. I guess you think I’m just bait settin up here.

I dont know.

But that’s what you think.

I cant believe it’s all that good a situation.

Yeah.

I just hope you’ll talk to him.

I need to think about it.

All right.

I’d die and live in hell forever fore I’d turn snitch on Llewelyn. I hope you understand that.

I do understand that.

I never did learn no shortcuts about things such as that. I hope I never do.

Yes mam.

I’ll tell you somethin if you want to hear it.

I want to hear it.

You might think I’m peculiar.

I might.

Or you might think it anyway.

No I dont.

When I got out of high school I was still sixteen and I got a job at Wal-Mart. I didnt know what else to do. We needed the money. What little it was. Anyway, the night before I went down there I had this dream. Or it was like a dream. I think I was still about half awake. But it come to me in this dream or whatever it was that if I went down there that he would find me. At the Wal-Mart. I didnt know who he was or what his name was or what he looked like. I just knew that I’d know him when I seen him. I kept a calendar and marked the days. Like when you’re in jail. I mean I aint never been in jail, but like you would probably. And on the ninety-ninth day he walked in and he asked me where sportin goods was at and it was him. And I told him where it was at and he looked at me and went on. And directly he come back and he read my nametag and he said my name and he looked at me and he said: What time do you get off? And that was all she wrote. There was not no question in my mind. Not then, not now, not ever.

That’s a nice story, Bell said. I hope it has a nice endin.

It happened just like that.

I know it did. I appreciate you talkin to me. I guess I’d better cut you loose, late as it is.

She stubbed out her cigarette. Well, she said. I’m sorry you come all this way not to do no better than what you done.

Bell picked up his hat and put it on and squared it. Well, he said. You do the best you can. Sometimes things turns out all right.

Do you really care?

About your husband?

About my husband. Yes.

Yes mam. I do. The people of Terrell County hired me to look after em. That’s my job. I get paid to be the first one hurt. Killed, for that matter. I’d better care.

You’re askin me to believe what you say. But you’re the one sayin it.

Bell smiled. Yes mam, he said. I’m the one sayin it. I just hope you’ll think about what I did say. I aint makin up a word about the kind of trouble he’s in. If he gets killed then I got to live with that. But I can do it. I just want you to think about if you can.

All right.

Can I ask you somethin?

You can ask.

I know you aint supposed to ask a woman her age but I couldnt help but be a bit curious.

That’s all right. I’m nineteen. I look younger.

How long have you all been married?

Three years. Almost three years.

Bell nodded. My wife was eighteen when we married. Just had turned. Marryin her makes up for ever dumb thing I ever done. I even think I still got a few left in the account. I think I’m way in the black on that. Are you ready?

She got her purse and rose. Bell picked up the check and squared his hat again and eased up from the booth. She put her cigarettes in her purse and looked at him. I’ll tell you somethin, Sheriff. Nineteen is old enough to know that if you have got somethin that means the world to you it’s all that more likely it’ll get took away. Sixteen was, for that matter. I think about that.

Bell nodded. I aint a stranger to them thoughts, Carla Jean. Them thoughts is very familiar to me.

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