بخش 06

کتاب: جایی برای پیرمردها نیست / فصل 6

جایی برای پیرمردها نیست

7 فصل

بخش 06

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Later he went out and drove down to the quickstop. When he pulled back into the motel he sat there studying the cars in the lot. Then he got out.

He walked down to her room and tapped at the door. He waited. He tapped again. He saw the curtain move and then she opened the door. She stood there in the same jeans and T-shirt. She looked like she’d just woken up.

I know you aint old enough to drink but I thought I’d see if you wanted a beer.

Yeah, she said. I’d drink a beer.

He lifted one of the cold bottles out of the brown paper bag and handed it to her. Here you go, he said.

He’d already turned to go. She stepped out and let the door shut behind her. You dont need to rush off thataway, she said.

He stopped on the lower step.

You got another one of these in that sack?

Yeah. I got two more. And I aim to drink both of em.

I just meant maybe you could set here and drink one of em with me.

He squinted at her. You ever notice how women have trouble takin no for a answer? I think it starts about age three.

What about men?

They get used to it. They better.

I wont say a word. I’ll just set here.

You wont say a word.

No.

Well that’s already a lie.

Well I wont say hardly nothin. I’ll be real quiet.

He sat on the step and pulled one of the beers from the bag and twisted off the cap and tilted the bottle and drank. She sat on the next step up and did the same.

You sleep a lot? he said.

I sleep when I get the chance. Yeah. You?

I aint had a night’s sleep in about two weeks. I dont know what it would feel like. I think it’s beginnin to make me stupid.

You dont look stupid to me.

Well, that’s by your lights.

What does that mean?

Nothin. I’m just raggin you. I’ll quit.

You aint got drugs in that satchel have you?

No. Why? You use drugs?

I’d smoke some weed if you had some.

Well I aint.

That’s all right.

Moss shook his head. He drank.

I just meant it’s all right we could just set out here and drink a beer.

Well I’m glad to hear that’s all right.

Where are you headin? You aint never said.

Hard to say.

You aint goin to California though, are you?

No. I aint.

I didnt think so.

I’m goin to El Paso.

I thought you didnt know where you was goin.

Maybe I just decided.

I dont think so.

Moss didnt answer.

This is nice settin out here, she said.

I guess it depends on where you been settin.

You aint just got out of the penitentiary or somethin have you?

I just got off of death row. They’d done shaved my head for the electric chair. You can see where it’s started to grow back.

You’re full of it.

Be funny if it turned out to be true though, wouldnt it?

Is the law huntin you?

Everbody’s huntin me.

What did you do?

I been pickin up young girls hitchhikin and buryin em out in the desert.

That aint funny.

You’re right. It aint. I was just pullin your leg.

You said you’d quit.

I will.

Do you ever tell the truth?

Yeah. I tell the truth.

You’re married, aint you?

Yeah.

What’s your wife’s name?

Carla Jean.

Is she in El Paso?

Yeah.

Does she know what you do for a livin?

Yeah. She knows. I’m a welder.

She watched him. To see what else he would say. He didnt say anything.

You aint no welder, she said.

Why aint I?

What have you got that machinegun for?

Cause they’s some bad people after me.

What did you do to em?

I took somethin that belongs to em and they want it back.

That dont sound like weldin to me.

It dont, does it? I guess I hadnt thought of that.

He sipped the beer. Holding it by the neck between his thumb and forefinger.

And that’s what’s in that bag. Aint it?

Hard to say.

Are you a safecracker?

A safecracker?

Yeah.

Whatever give you that notion?

I dont know. Are you?

No.

Well you’re somethin. Aint you?

Everbody’s somethin.

You ever been to California?

Yeah. I been to California. I got a brother lives there.

Does he like it?

I dont know. He lives there.

You wouldnt live there though, would you?

No.

You think that’s where I ought to go?

He looked at her and looked away again. He stretched his legs out on the concrete and crossed his boots and looked out across the parking lot toward the highway and the lights on the highway. Darlin, he said, how in the hell would I know where you ought to go?

Yeah. Well, I appreciate you givin me that money.

You’re welcome.

You didnt have to do that.

I thought you wasnt goin to talk.

All right. That’s a lot of money though.

It aint half what you think it is. You’ll see.

I wont blow it in. I need money to get me a place to stay.

You’ll be all right.

I hope so.

Best way to live in California is to be from somewheres else. Probably the best way is to be from Mars.

I hope not. Cause I aint.

You’ll be all right.

Can I ask you somethin?

Yeah. Go ahead.

How old are you?

Thirty-six.

That’s pretty old. I didnt know you was that old.

I know. It kind of took me by surprise my own self.

I got a feelin I ought to be afraid of you but I aint.

Well. I cant advise you on that neither. Most people’ll run from their own mother to get to hug death by the neck. They cant wait to see him.

I guess that’s what you think I’m doin.

I dont even want to know what you’re doin.

I wonder where I’d be right now if I hadnt of met you this mornin.

I dont know.

I was always lucky. About stuff like that. About meetin people.

Well, I wouldnt speak too soon.

Why? You fixin to bury me out in the desert?

No. But there’s a lot of bad luck out there. You hang around long enough and you’ll come in for your share of it.

I think I done have. I believe I’m due for a change. I might even be overdue.

Yeah? Well you aint.

Why do you say that?

He looked at her. Let me tell you somethin, little sister. If there is one thing on this planet that you dont look like it’s a bunch of good luck walkin around.

That’s a hateful thing to say.

No it aint. I just want you to be careful. We get to El Paso I’m goin to drop you at the bus station. You got money. You dont need to be out here hitchhikin.

All right.

All right.

Would you of done what you said back yonder? About if I had of took your truck?

What’s that?

You know. About beatin the crap out of me.

No.

I didn’t think so.

You want to split this last beer?

All right.

Run in there and get a cup. I’ll be back in a minute.

All right. You aint changed your mind have you?

About what?

You know about what.

I dont change my mind. I like to get it right the first time.

He rose and started up the walkway. She stood at the door. I’ll tell you somethin I heard in a movie one time, she said.

He stopped and turned. What’s that?

There’s a lot of good salesmen around and you might buy somethin yet.

Well darlin you’re just a little late. Cause I done bought. And I think I’ll stick with what I got.

He went on up the walkway and climbed the stairs and went in.

The Barracuda pulled into a truckstop outside of Balmorhea and drove into the bay of the adjoining carwash. The driver got out and shut the door and looked at it. There was blood and other matter streaked over the glass and over the sheet-metal and he walked out and got quarters from a change-machine and came back and put them in the slot and took down the wand from the rack and washed the car and rinsed it off and got back in and pulled out onto the highway going west.

Bell left the house at seven-thirty and took 285 north to Fort Stockton. It was about a two hundred mile run to Van Horn and he reckoned he could make it in under three hours. He turned the rooflights on. About ten miles west of Fort Stockton on the I-10 interstate he passed a car burning by the side of the highway. There were police cars at the scene and one lane of the highway was blocked off. He didnt stop but it gave him an uneasy feeling. He stopped at Balmorhea and refilled his coffeebottle and he pulled into Van Horn at ten twenty-five.

He didnt know what he was looking for but he didnt have to. In the parking lot of a motel there were two Culberson County patrol cars and a state police car all with their lights going. The motel was cordoned off with yellow tape. He pulled in and parked and left his own lights on.

The deputy didnt know him but the sheriff did. They were questioning a man sitting in his shirtsleeves in the open back door of one of the cruisers. Damn if bad news dont travel fast, the sheriff said. What are you doin up here, Sheriff?

What’s happened, Marvin?

Had a little shoot-out. You know anything about this?

I dont know. You got any victims?

They left out of here about a half hour ago in the ambulance. Two men and a woman. The woman was dead and the one boy I dont think is goin to make it either. The other one might.

Do you know who they were?

No. One of the men was Mexican and we’re waitin for a registration on his car settin over yonder. Wasnt a one of em had any identification. On em or in the room either one.

What does this man say?

He says the Mexican started it. Says he drug the woman out of her room and the other man come out with a gun but when he seen the Mexican had a gun pointed at the woman’s head he laid his own piece down. And whenever he done that the Mexican shoved the woman away and shot her and then turned and shot him. He was standin in front of 117, right yonder. Shot em with a goddamned machinegun. Accordin to this witness the old boy fell down the steps and then he picked up his gun again and shot the Mexican. Which I dont see how he done it. He was shot all to pieces. You can see the blood on the walkway yonder. We had a real good response time. About seven minutes, I think. The girl was just shot dead.

No ID.

No ID. The other old boy’s truck is got dealer tags on it.

Bell nodded. He looked at the witness. The witness had asked for a cigarette and he lit it and sat smoking. He looked pretty comfortable. He looked as if he’d sat in the back of police cruisers before.

That woman, Bell said. Was she anglo?

Yeah. She was anglo. Had blonde hair. Sort of reddish, maybe.

Did you all find any dope?

Not yet. We’re still lookin.

Any money?

We aint found nothin yet. The girl was checked into 121. Had a knapsack with some clothes in it and stuff was all.

Bell looked down the row of motel doors. People standing around in small groups talking. He looked at the black Barracuda.

Has that thing got anything to turn them tires with?

I’d say it would turn em pretty good. It’s got a four-forty under the hood with a blower on it.

A blower?

Yep.

I dont see one.

It’s one of them sidewinders. It’s all under the hood.

Bell stood looking at the car. Then he turned and looked at the sheriff. Can you get away from here for a minute?

I can. What did you have in mind?

I just thought I might get you to ride over to the clinic with me.

All right. Just ride with me.

That’ll be fine. Let me just park my cruiser a little better.

Hell, it’s all right, Ed Tom.

Let me just pull it up here out of the way. You dont always know how quick you’ll be back when you set off someplace.

At the desk the sheriff spoke to the night nurse by name. She looked at Bell.

He’s up here to make a identification, the sheriff said.

She nodded and rose and put her pencil in the pages of the book she was reading. Two of em were DOA, she said. They flew that Mexican out of here in a helicopter about twenty minutes ago. Or maybe you already knew that.

Nobody tells me nothin, darlin, the sheriff said.

They followed her down the hallway. There was a thin trail of blood along the concrete floor. They wouldnt of been hard to find, would they? Bell said.

There was a red sign at the end of the hall that read Exit. Before they got there she turned and fitted a key to a steel door on the left and opened it and switched on the light. The room was raw concrete block, windowless and empty save for three steel machinist’s tables on wheels. On two of them lay bodies covered with plastic sheets. She stood with her back to the open door while they filed past.

He aint a friend of yours is he Ed Tom?

No.

He took a couple of rounds in the face so I dont think he’s goin to look too good. Not that I aint seen worse. That highway out there is a goddamn warzone, you tell the truth about it.

He pulled back the sheet. Bell walked around the end of the table. There was no chock under Moss’s neck and his head was turned to the side. One eye partly opened. He looked like a badman on a slab. They’d sponged the blood off of him but there were holes in his face and his teeth were shot out.

Is that him?

Yeah, that’s him.

You look like you wished it wasnt.

I get to tell his wife.

I’m sorry about that.

Bell nodded.

Well, the sheriff said. There aint nothin you could of done about it.

No, Bell said. But you always like to think there is.

The sheriff covered Moss’s face and reached and lifted back the plastic at the other table and looked at Bell. Bell shook his head.

They’d rented two rooms. Or he did. Paid cash. You couldnt read the name on the register. Just a scrawl.

His name was Moss.

All right. We’ll get your information down at the office. Kind of a skankylookin little old girl.

Yeah.

He covered her face again. I dont reckon his wife is goin to like that part of it neither, he said.

No, I dont expect she will.

The sheriff looked at the nurse. She was still standing leaning against the door. How many times was she hit? he said. Do you know?

No I dont, Sheriff. You can look at her if you want. I dont mind and I know she wont.

That’s all right. It’ll be on the autopsy. Are you ready, Ed Tom?

Yeah. I was ready fore I come in here.

He sat in the sheriff’s office alone with the door shut and stared at the phone on the desk. Finally he got up and went out. The deputy looked up.

He’s gone home, I reckon.

Yessir, the deputy said. Can I help you with somethin, Sheriff?

How far is it to El Paso?

It’s about a hundred and twenty miles.

You tell him I said thank you and I’ll give him a call tomorrow.

Yessir.

He stopped and ate on the far side of town and sat in the booth and sipped his coffee and watched the lights out on the highway. Something wrong. He couldnt make sense out of it. He looked at his watch. 1:20. He paid and walked out and got in the cruiser and sat there. Then he drove to the intersection and turned east and drove back to the motel again.

Chigurh checked into a motel on the eastbound interstate and walked out across a windy field in the dark and watched across the highway through a pair of binoculars. The big overland trucks loomed up in the glasses and drew away. He squatted on his heels with his elbows on his knees, watching. Then he went back to the motel.

He set his alarm for one oclock and when it went off he got up and showered and dressed and walked out to his truck with his small leather bag and put it behind the seat.

He parked in the motel parking lot and he sat there for some time. Leaning back in the seat and watching in the rearview mirror. Nothing. The police cars were long gone. The yellow police tape across the door lifted in the wind and the trucks droned past headed for Arizona and California. He got out and walked up to the door and blew out the lock with his stungun and walked in and shut the door behind him. He could see the room pretty well by the light through the windows. Small spills of light from the bulletholes in the plywood door. He pulled the little bedside table over to the wall and stood and took a screwdriver from his rear pocket and began to back the screws out of the louvered steel cover of the airduct. He set it on the table and reached in and pulled out the bag and stepped down and walked over to the window and looked out at the parking lot. He took the pistol from behind his belt and opened the door and stepped out and closed it behind him and stooped under the tape and walked down to his truck and got in.

He set the bag in the floor and he’d reached for the key to turn on the ignition when he saw the Terrell County cruiser pull into the lot in front of the motel office a hundred feet away. He let go of the key and sat back. The cruiser pulled into a parking space and the lights went out. Then the motor. Chigurh waited, the pistol in his lap.

When Bell got out he took a look around the lot and then walked up to the door at 117 and tried the knob. The door was unlocked. He ducked under the tape and pushed the door open and reached and found the wallswitch and turned on the light.

The first thing he saw was the grille and the screws lying on the table. He shut the door behind him and stood there. He stepped to the window and looked past the edge of the curtain out at the parking lot. He stood there for some time. Nothing moved. He saw something lying in the floor and stepped over and picked it up but he already knew what it was. He turned it in his hand. He walked over and sat on the bed and weighed the little piece of brass in his palm. Then he tilted it into the ashtray on the bedside table. He picked up the telephone but the line was dead. He put the receiver back in the cradle. He took his pistol from the holster and flipped open the gate and checked the shells in the cylinder and closed the gate with his thumb and sat with the pistol resting on his knee.

You dont know for sure that he’s out there, he said.

Yes you do. You knew it at the restaurant. That’s why you come back here.

Well what do you aim to do?

He got up and walked over and switched off the light. Five bulletholes in the door. He stood with the revolver in his hand, his thumb on the knurled hammer. Then he opened the door and walked out.

He walked to the cruiser. Studying the cars in the lot. Pickup trucks for the most part. You could always see the muzzleflash first. Just not first enough. Can you feel it when someone is watching you? A lot of people thought so. He reached the cruiser and opened the door with his left hand. The domelight came on. He stepped in and pulled the door shut and laid the pistol on the seat beside him and got out his key and put it in the ignition and started the car. Then he backed out of the parking space and switched on the lights and swung out of the lot.

When he was out of sight of the motel he pulled over onto the shoulder and took the speaker from the hook and called the sheriff’s office. They sent two cars. He hung the mike up and put the cruiser in neutral and rolled back down the edge of the highway until he could just see the motel sign. He looked at his watch. 1:45. That seven minute time would make it 1:52. He waited. At the motel nothing moved. At 1:52 he saw them come down the highway and tail each other up the offramp with sirens on and lights blazing. He kept his eyes on the motel. Any vehicle that came out of the lot and headed up the access road he’d already determined to run it off the road.

When the cruisers pulled into the motel he started the car and turned on the lights and did a U-turn and went back down the road the wrong way and pulled into the lot and got out.

They went down the parking lot vehicle by vehicle with flashlights and their guns drawn and came back again. Bell was the first one back and he stood leaning against his cruiser. He nodded to the deputies. Gentlemen, he said. I think we been outgeneraled.

They holstered their pistols. He and the chief deputy walked over to the room and Bell showed him the lock and the airvent and the lock cylinder.

What’s he done that with, Sheriff? the deputy said, holding the cylinder in his hand.

It’s a long story, Bell said. I’m sorry to of got you all out here for nothin.

Not a problem, Sheriff.

You tell the sheriff I’ll call him from El Paso.

Yessir, I’ll sure do it.

Two hours later he checked into the Rodeway Inn on the east side of town and got the key and went to his room and went to bed. He woke at six as he always did and got up and closed the curtains and went back to bed but he couldnt sleep. Finally he got up and showered and dressed and went down to the coffeeshop and got his breakfast and read the paper. There’d be nothing about Moss and the girl yet. When the waitress came with more coffee he asked her what time they got the evening paper.

I dont know, she said. I quit readin it.

I dont blame you. I would if I could.

I quit readin it and I made my husband quit readin it.

Is that right?

I dont know why they call it a newspaper. I dont call that stuff news.

No.

When was the last time you read somethin about Jesus Christ in the newspaper?

Bell shook his head. I dont know, he said. I guess I’d have to say it would be a while.

I guess it would too, she said. A long while.

He’d knocked on other doors with the same sort of message, it wasnt all that new to him. He saw the window curtain move slightly and then the door opened and she stood there in jeans with her shirttail out looking at him. No expression. Just waiting. He took off his hat and she leaned against the doorjamb and turned her face away.

I’m sorry, mam, he said.

Oh God, she said. She staggered back into the room and slumped to the floor and buried her face in her forearms with her hands over her head. Bell stood there holding his hat. He didnt know what to do. He couldnt see any sign of the grandmother. Two Spanish maids were standing in the parking lot watching and whispering to each other. He stepped into the room and closed the door.

Carla Jean, he said.

Oh God, she said.

I’m just as sorry as I can be.

Oh God.

He stood there, his hat in his hand. I’m sorry, he said.

She raised her head and looked at him. Her crumpled face. Damn you, she said. You stand there and tell me you’re sorry? My husband is dead. Do you understand that? You say you’re sorry one more time and by God if I wont get my gun and shoot you.

IX

I had to take her at her word. Not a lot else you could do. I never saw her again. I wanted to tell her that the way they had it in the papers wasnt right. About him and that girl. It turned out she was a runaway. Fifteen years old. I dont believe that he had anything to do with her and I hate it that she thought that. Which you know she did. I called her a number of times but she’d hang up on me and I cant blame her. Then when they called me from Odessa and told me what had happened I couldnt hardly believe it. It didnt make no sense. I drove up there but there wasnt nothin to be done. Her grandmother had just died too. I tried to see if I could get his fingerprints off the FBI database but they just drew a blank. Wanted to know what his name was and what he’d done and all such as that. You end up lookin like a fool. He’s a ghost. But he’s out there. You wouldnt think it would be possible to just come and go thataway. I keep waitin to hear somethin else. Maybe I will yet. Or maybe not. It’s easy to fool yourself. Tell yourself what you want to hear. You wake up in the night and you think about things. I aint sure anymore what it is I do want to hear. You tell yourself that maybe this business is over. But you know it aint. You can wish all you want.

My daddy always told me to just do the best you knew how and tell the truth. He said there was nothin to set a man’s mind at ease like wakin up in the morning and not havin to decide who you were. And if you done somethin wrong just stand up and say you done it and say you’re sorry and get on with it. Dont haul stuff around with you. I guess all that sounds pretty simple today. Even to me. All the more reason to think about it. He didnt say a lot so I tend to remember what he did say. And I dont remember that he had a lot of patience with havin to say things twice so I learned to listen the first time. I might of strayed from all of that some as a younger man but when I got back on that road I pretty much decided not to quit it again and I didnt. I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it’d be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late.

Chigurh stood at the receptionist’s desk dressed in suit and tie. He set the case in the floor at his feet and looked around the office.

How do you spell that? she said.

He told her.

Is he expecting you?

No. He’s not. But he’s going to be glad to see me.

Just a minute.

She buzzed the inner office. There was a silence. Then she hung the phone up. Go right in, she said.

He opened the door and walked in and a man at the desk stood up and looked at him. He came around the desk and held out his hand. I know that name, he said.

They sat on a sofa in the corner of the office and Chigurh set the case on the coffeetable and nodded at it. That’s yours, he said.

What is it?

It’s some money that belongs to you.

The man sat looking at the case. Then he got up and went over to the desk and leaned and pushed a button. Hold my calls, he said.

He turned and put his hands on either side of the desk behind him and leaned back and studied Chigurh. How did you find me? he said.

What difference does it make?

It makes a difference to me.

You dont have to worry. Nobody else is coming.

How do you know?

Because I’m in charge of who is coming and who is not. I think we need to address the issue here. I dont want to spend a lot of time trying to put your mind at ease. I think it would be both hopeless and thankless. So let’s talk about money.

All right.

Some of it is missing. About a hundred thousand dollars. Part of that was stolen and part of it went to cover my expenses. I’ve been at some pains to recover your property so I’d prefer not to be addressed as some sort of bearer of bad news here. There is two point three mil in that case. I’m sorry I couldnt recover it all, but there you are.

The man hadnt moved. After a while he said: Who the hell are you?

My name is Anton Chigurh.

I know that.

Then why did you ask?

What do you want. I guess that’s my question.

Well. I’d say that the purpose of my visit is simply to establish my bonafides. As someone who is an expert in a difficult field. As someone who is completely reliable and completely honest. Something like that.

Someone I might do business with.

Yes.

You’re serious.

Completely.

Chigurh watched him. He watched the dilation in his eyes and the pulse in the artery of his neck. The rate of his breathing. When he’d first put his hands on the desk behind him he had looked somewhat relaxed. He was still standing in the identical attitude but he didnt look that way anymore.

There’s not a bomb in that damn bag is there?

No. No bombs.

Chigurh undid the straps and unlatched the brass hasp and opened the leather flap and tipped the case forward.

Yes, the man said. Put that away.

Chigurh closed the bag. The man stood up from his leaning against the desk. He wiped his mouth with his foreknuckle.

I think what you need to consider, Chigurh said, is how you lost this money in the first place. Who you listened to and what happened when you did.

Yes. We cant talk here.

I understand. In any case I dont expect you to absorb all of this at one sitting. I’ll call you in two days time.

All right.

Chigurh rose from the couch. The man nodded toward the case. You could do a lot of business on your own with that, he said.

Chigurh smiled. We have a lot to talk about, he said. We’ll be dealing with new people now. There wont be any more problems.

What happened to the old people?

They’ve moved on to other things. Not everyone is suited to this line of work. The prospect of outsized profits leads people to exaggerate their own capabilities. In their minds. They pretend to themselves that they are in control of events where perhaps they are not. And it is always one’s stance upon uncertain ground that invites the attentions of one’s enemies. Or discourages it.

And you? What about your enemies?

I have no enemies. I dont permit such a thing.

He looked around the room. Nice office, he said. Low key. He nodded to a painting on the wall. Is that original?

The man looked at the painting. No, he said. It’s not. But I own the original. I keep it in a vault.

Excellent, said Chigurh.

The funeral was on a cold and windy day in March. She stood beside her grandmother’s sister. The sister’s husband sat in front of her in a wheelchair with his chin resting in his hand. The dead woman had more friends than she would have reckoned. She was surprised. They’d come with their faces veiled in black. She put her hand on her uncle’s shoulder and he reached up across his chest and patted it. She had thought maybe he was asleep. The whole while that the wind blew and the preacher talked she had the feeling that someone was watching her. Twice she even looked around.

It was dark when she got home. She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on and sat at the kitchen table. She hadnt felt like crying. Now she did. She lowered her face into her folded arms. Oh Mama, she said.

When she went upstairs and turned on the light in her bedroom Chigurh was sitting at the little desk waiting for her.

She stood in the doorway, her hand falling slowly away from the wallswitch. He moved not at all. She stood there, holding her hat. Finally she said: I knowed this wasnt done with.

Smart girl.

I aint got it.

Got what?

I need to set down.

Chigurh nodded toward the bed. She sat and put her hat on the bed beside her and then picked it up again and held it to her.

Too late, Chigurh said.

I know.

What is it that you havent got?

I think you know what I’m talkin about.

How much do you have.

I dont have none of it. I had about seven thousand dollars all told and I can tell you it’s been long gone and they’s bills aplenty left to pay yet. I buried my mother today. I aint paid for that neither.

I wouldnt worry about it.

She looked at the bedside table.

It’s not there, he said.

She sat slumped forward, holding her hat in her arms. You’ve got no cause to hurt me, she said.

I know. But I gave my word.

Your word?

Yes. We’re at the mercy of the dead here. In this case your husband.

That dont make no sense.

I’m afraid it does.

I dont have the money. You know I aint got it.

I know.

You give your word to my husband to kill me?

Yes.

He’s dead. My husband is dead.

Yes. But I’m not.

You dont owe nothin to dead people.

Chigurh cocked his head slightly. No? he said.

How can you?

How can you not?

They’re dead.

Yes. But my word is not dead. Nothing can change that.

You can change it.

I dont think so. Even a nonbeliever might find it useful to model himself after God. Very useful, in fact.

You’re just a blasphemer.

Hard words. But what’s done cannot be undone. I think you understand that. Your husband, you may be distressed to learn, had the opportunity to remove you from harm’s way and he chose not to do so. He was given that option and his answer was no. Otherwise I would not be here now.

You aim to kill me.

I’m sorry.

She put the hat down on the bed and turned and looked out the window. The new green of the trees in the light of the vaporlamp in the yard bending and righting again in the evening wind. I dont know what I ever done, she said. I truly dont.

Chigurh nodded. Probably you do, he said. There’s a reason for everything.

She shook her head. How many times I’ve said them very words. I wont again.

You’ve suffered a loss of faith.

I’ve suffered a loss of everthing I ever had. My husband wanted to kill me?

Yes. Is there anything that you’d like to say?

To who?

I’m the only one here.

I dont have nothin to say to you.

You’ll be all right. Try not to worry about it.

What?

I see your look, he said. It doesn’t make any difference what sort of person I am, you know. You shouldnt be more frightened to die because you think I’m a bad person.

I knowed you was crazy when I seen you settin there, she said. I knowed exactly what was in store for me. Even if I couldnt of said it.

Chigurh smiled. It’s a hard thing to understand, he said. I see people struggle with it. The look they get. They always say the same thing.

What do they say.

They say: You dont have to do this.

You dont.

It’s not any help though, is it?

No.

So why do you say it?

I aint never said it before.

Any of you.

There’s just me, she said. There aint nobody else.

Yes. Of course.

She looked at the gun. She turned away. She sat with her head down, her shoulders shaking. Oh Mama, she said.

None of this was your fault.

She shook her head, sobbing.

You didnt do anything. It was bad luck.

She nodded.

He watched her, his chin in his hand. All right, he said. This is the best I can do.

He straightened out his leg and reached into his pocket and drew out a few coins and took one and held it up. He turned it. For her to see the justice of it. He held it between his thumb and forefinger and weighed it and then flipped it spinning in the air and caught it and slapped it down on his wrist. Call it, he said.

She looked at him, at his outheld wrist. What? She said.

Call it.

I wont do it.

Yes you will. Call it.

God would not want me to do that.

Of course he would. You should try to save yourself. Call it. This is your last chance.

Heads, she said.

He lifted his hand away. The coin was tails.

I’m sorry.

She didnt answer.

Maybe it’s for the best.

She looked away. You make it like it was the coin. But you’re the one.

It could have gone either way.

The coin didnt have no say. It was just you.

Perhaps. But look at it my way. I got here the same way the coin did.

She sat sobbing softly. She didnt answer.

For things at a common destination there is a common path. Not always easy to see. But there.

Everthing I ever thought has turned out different, she said. There aint the least part of my life I could of guessed. Not this, not none of it.

I know.

You wouldnt of let me off noway.

I had no say in the matter. Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.

She sat sobbing. She shook her head.

Yet even though I could have told you how all of this would end I thought it not too much to ask that you have a final glimpse of hope in the world to lift your heart before the shroud drops, the darkness. Do you see?

Oh God, she said. Oh God.

I’m sorry.

She looked at him a final time. You dont have to, she said. You dont. You dont.

He shook his head. You’re asking that I make myself vulnerable and that I can never do. I have only one way to live. It doesnt allow for special cases. A coin toss perhaps. In this case to small purpose. Most people dont believe that there can be such a person. You can see what a problem that must be for them. How to prevail over that which you refuse to acknowledge the existence of. Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You can say that things could have turned out differently. That they could have been some other way. But what does that mean? They are not some other way. They are this way. You’re asking that I second say the world. Do you see?

Yes, she said, sobbing. I do. I truly do.

Good, he said. That’s good. Then he shot her.

The car that hit Chigurh in the intersection three blocks from the house was a ten year old Buick that had run a stop-sign. There were no skidmarks at the site and the vehicle had made no attempt to brake. Chigurh never wore a seatbelt driving in the city because of just such hazards and although he saw the vehicle coming and threw himself to the other side of the truck the impact carried the caved-in driver side door to him instantly and broke his arm in two places and broke some ribs and cut his head and his leg. He crawled out of the passenger side door and staggered to the sidewalk and sat in the grass of someone’s lawn and looked at his arm. Bone sticking up under the skin. Not good. A woman in a housedress ran out screaming.

Blood kept running into his eyes and he tried to think. He held the arm and turned it and tried to see how badly it was bleeding. If the median artery were severed. He thought not. His head was ringing. No pain. Not yet.

Two teenage boys were standing there looking at him.

Are you all right, mister?

Yeah, he said. I’m all right. Let me just sit here a minute.

There’s an ambulance comin. Man over yonder went to call one.

All right.

You sure you’re all right.

Chigurh looked at them. What will you take for that shirt? he said.

They looked at each other. What shirt?

Any damn shirt. How much?

He straightened out his leg and reached in his pocket and got out his moneyclip. I need something to wrap around my head and I need a sling for this arm.

One of the boys began to unbutton his shirt. Hell, mister. Why didnt you say so? I’ll give you my shirt.

Chigurh took the shirt and bit into it and ripped it in two down the back. He wrapped his head in a bandanna and he twisted the other half of the shirt into a sling and put his arm in it.

Tie this for me, he said.

They looked at each other.

Just tie it.

The boy in the T-shirt stepped forward and knelt and knotted the sling. That arm dont look good, he said.

Chigurh thumbed a bill out of the clip and put the clip back in his pocket and took the bill from between his teeth and got to his feet and held it out.

Hell, mister. I dont mind helpin somebody out. That’s a lot of money.

Take it. Take it and you dont know what I looked like. You hear?

The boy took the bill. Yessir, he said.

They watched him set off up the sidewalk, holding the twist of the bandanna against his head, limping slightly. Part of that’s mine, the other boy said.

You still got your damn shirt.

That aint what it was for.

That may be, but I’m still out a shirt.

They walked out into the street where the vehicles sat steaming. The streetlamps had come on. A pool of green antifreeze was collecting in the gutter. When they passed the open door of Chigurh’s truck the one in the T-shirt stopped the other with his hand. You see what I see? he said.

Shit, the other one said.

What they saw was Chigurh’s pistol lying in the floorboard of the truck. They could already hear the sirens in the distance. Get it, the first one said. Go on.

Why me?

I aint got a shirt to cover it with. Go on. Hurry.

He climbed the three wooden steps to the porch and tapped loosely at the door with the back of his hand. He took off his hat and pressed his shirtsleeve against his forehead and put his hat back on again.

Come in, a voice called.

He opened the door and stepped into the cool darkness. Ellis?

I’m back here. Come on back.

He walked through to the kitchen. The old man was sitting beside the table in his chair. The room smelled of old bacon-grease and stale woodsmoke from the stove and over it all lay a faint tang of urine. Like the smell of cats but it wasnt just cats. Bell stood in the doorway and took his hat off. The old man looked up at him. One clouded eye from a cholla spine where a horse had thrown him years ago. Hey, Ed Tom, he said. I didnt know who that was.

How are you makin it?

You’re lookin at it. You by yourself?

Yessir.

Set down. You want some coffee?

Bell looked at the clutter on the checked oilcloth. Bottles of medicine. Breadcrumbs. Quarterhorse magazines. Thank you no, he said. I appreciate it.

I had a letter from your wife.

You can call her Loretta.

I know I can. Did you know she writes me?

I guess I knew she’d wrote you a time or two.

It’s more than a time or two. She writes pretty regular. Tells me the family news.

I didnt know there was any.

You might be surprised.

So what was special about this letter then.

She just told me you was quittin, that’s all. Set down.

The old man didnt watch to see if he would or he wouldnt. He fell to rolling himself a cigarette from a sack of tobacco at his elbow. He twisted the end in his mouth and turned it around and lit it with an old Zippo lighter worn through to the brass. He sat smoking, holding the cigarette pencilwise in his fingers.

Are you all right? Bell said.

I’m all right.

He wheeled the chair slightly sideways and watched Bell through the smoke. I got to say you look older, he said.

I am older.

The old man nodded. Bell had pulled out a chair and sat and he put his hat on the table.

Let me ask you somethin, he said.

All right.

What’s your biggest regret in life.

The old man looked at him, gauging the question. I dont know, he said. I aint got all that many regrets. I could imagine lots of things that you might think would make a man happier. I reckon bein able to walk around might be one. You can make up your own list. You might even have one. I think by the time you’re grown you’re as happy as you’re goin to be. You’ll have good times and bad times, but in the end you’ll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I’ve knowed people that just never did get the hang of it.

I know what you mean.

I know you do.

The old man smoked. If what you’re askin me is what made me the unhappiest then I think you already know that.

Yessir.

And it aint this chair. And it aint this cotton eye.

Yessir. I know that.

You sign on for the ride you probably think you got at least some notion of where the ride’s goin. But you might not. Or you might of been lied to. Probably nobody would blame you then. If you quit. But if it’s just that it turned out to be a little roughern what you had in mind. Well. That’s somethin else.

Bell nodded.

I guess some things are better not put to the test.

I guess that’s right.

What would it take to run Loretta off?

I dont know. I guess I’d have to do somethin that was pretty bad. It damn sure wouldnt be just cause things got a little rough. She’s done been there a time or two.

Ellis nodded. He tipped the ash from his smoke into a jar-lid on the table. I’ll take your word on that, he said.

Bell smiled. He looked around. How fresh is that coffee?

I think it’s all right. I generally make a fresh pot here ever week even if there is some left over.

Bell smiled again and rose and carried the pot to the counter and plugged it in.

They sat at the table drinking coffee out of the same crazed porcelain cups that had been in that house since before he was born. Bell looked at the cup and he looked around the kitchen. Well, he said. Some things dont change, I reckon.

What would that be? the old man said.

Hell, I dont know.

I dont either.

How many cats you got?

Several. Depends on what you mean by got. Some of em are half wild and the rest are just outlaws. They run out the door when they heard your truck.

Did you hear the truck?

How’s that?

I said did you… You’re havin a little fun with me.

What give you that idea?

Did you?

No. I seen the cats skedaddle.

You want some more of this?

I’m done.

The man that shot you died in prison.

In Angola. Yes.

What would you of done if he’d been released?

I dont know. Nothin. There wouldnt be no point to it. There aint no point to it. Not to any of it.

I’m kindly surprised to hear you say that.

You wear out, Ed Tom. All the time you spend tryin to get back what’s been took from you there’s more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it. Your grandad never asked me to sign on as deputy with him. I done that my own self. Hell, I didnt have nothin else to do. Paid about the same as cowboyin. Anyway, you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from. I was too young for one war and too old for the next one. But I seen what come out of it. You can be patriotic and still believe that some things cost more than what they’re worth. Ask them Gold Star mothers what they paid and what they got for it. You always pay too much. Particularly for promises. There aint no such thing as a bargain promise. You’ll see. Maybe you done have.

Bell didnt answer.

I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didnt. I dont blame him. If I was him I’d have the same opinion about me that he does.

You dont know what he thinks.

Yes I do.

He looked at Bell. I can remember one time you come to see me after you all had moved to Denton. You walked in and you looked around and you asked me what I intended to do.

All right.

You wouldnt ask me now though, would you?

Maybe not.

You wouldnt.

He sipped the rank black coffee.

You ever think about Harold? Bell said.

Harold?

Yes.

Not much. He was some older than me. He was born in ninety-nine. Pretty sure that’s right. What made you think about Harold?

I was readin some of your mother’s letters to him, that’s all. I just wondered what you remembered about him.

Was they any letters from him?

No.

You think about your family. Try to make sense out of all that. I know what it did to my mother. She never got over it. I dont know what sense any of that makes either. You know that gospel song? We’ll understand it all by and by? That takes a lot of faith. You think about him goin over there and dyin in a ditch somewheres. Seventeen year old. You tell me. Because I damn sure dont know.

I hear you. Did you want to go somewheres?

I dont need nobody haulin me around. I aim to just set right here. I’m fine, Ed Tom.

It aint no trouble.

I know it.

All right.

Bell watched him. The old man stubbed out his cigarette in the lid. Bell tried to think about his life. Then he tried not to. You aint turned infidel have you Uncle Ellis?

No. No. Nothin like that.

Do you think God knows what’s happenin?

I expect he does.

You think he can stop it?

No. I dont.

They sat quietly at the table. After a while the old man said: She mentioned there was a lot of old pictures and family stuff. What to do about that. Well. There aint nothin to do about it I dont reckon. Is there?

No. I dont reckon there is.

I told her to send Uncle Mac’s old cinco peso badge and his thumb-buster to the Rangers. I believe they got a museum. But I didnt know what to tell her. There’s all that stuff here. In the chifforobe in yonder. That rolltop desk is full of papers. He tilted the cup and looked into the bottom of it.

He never rode with Coffee Jack. Uncle Mac. That’s all bull. I dont know who started that. He was shot down on his own porch in Hudspeth County.

That’s what I always heard.

They was seven or eight of em come to the house. Wantin this and wantin that. He went back in the house and come out with a shotgun but they was way ahead of him and they shot him down in his own doorway. She run out and tried to stop the bleedin. Tried to get him back in the house. Said he kept tryin to get hold of the shotgun again. They just set there on their horses. Finally left. I dont know why. Somethin scared em, I reckon. One of em said somethin in injun and they all turned and left out. They never come in the house or nothin. She got him inside but he was a big man and they was no way she could of got him up in the bed. She fixed a pallet on the floor. Wasnt nothin to be done. She always said she should of just left him there and rode for help but I dont know where it was she would of rode to. He wouldnt of let her go noway. Wouldnt hardly let her go in the kitchen. He knew what the score was if she didnt. He was shot through the right lung. And that was that. As they say.

When did he die?

Eighteen and seventy-nine.

No, I mean was it right away or in the night or when was it.

I believe it was that night. Or early of the mornin. She buried him herself. Diggin in that hard caliche. Then she just packed the wagon and hitched the horses and pulled out of there and she never did go back. That house burned down sometime back in the twenties. What hadnt fell down. I could take you to it today. The rock chimney used to be standin and it may be yet. There was a good bit of land proved up on. Eight or ten sections if I remember. She couldnt pay the taxes on it, little as they was. Couldnt sell it. Did you remember her?

No. I seen a photograph of me and her when I was about four. She’s settin in a rocker on the porch of this house and I’m standin alongside of her. I wish I could say I remember her but I dont.

She never did remarry. Later years she was a schoolteacher. San Angelo. This country was hard on people. But they never seemed to hold it to account. In a way that seems peculiar. That they didnt. You think about what all has happened to just this one family. I dont know what I’m doin here still knockin around. All them young people. We dont know where half of em is even buried at. You got to ask what was the good in all that. So I go back to that. How come people dont feel like this country has got a lot to answer for? They dont. You can say that the country is just the country, it dont actively do nothin, but that dont mean much. I seen a man shoot his pickup truck with a shotgun one time. He must of thought it done somethin. This country will kill you in a heartbeat and still people love it. You understand what I’m sayin?

I think I do. Do you love it?

I guess you could say I do. But I’d be the first one to tell you I’m as ignorant as a box of rocks so you sure dont want to go by nothin I’d say.

Bell smiled. He got up and went to the sink. The old man turned the chair slightly to where he could see him. What are you doin? he said.

I thought I’d just wash these here dishes.

Hell, leave em, Ed Tom. Lupe’ll be here in the mornin.

It wont take but a minute.

The water from the tap was gypwater. He filled the sink and added a scoop of soap powder. Then he added another.

I thought you used to have a television set in here.

I used to have a lot of things.

Why didnt you say somethin? I’ll get you one.

I dont need one.

Keep you company some.

It didnt quit on me. I throwed it out.

You dont never watch the news?

No. Do you?

Not much.

He rinsed the dishes and left them to drain and stood looking out the window at the little weedgrown yard. A weathered smokehouse. An aluminum two horse trailer on blocks. You used to have chickens, he said.

Yep, the old man said.

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