An extract from Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men.
At the end of the ridge was a rockslide, a rough trail leading down. Candelilla and scrub catclaw. He sat in the rocks and steadied his elbows on his knees and scanned the country with the binoculars. A mile away on the floodplain sat three vehicles.
He lowered the binoculars and looked over the country at large. Then he raised them again. There looked to be men lying on the ground. He jacked his boots into the rocks and adjusted the focus. The vehicles were four wheel drive trucks or Broncos with big all-terrain tires and winches and racks of roof lights. The men appeared to be dead. He lowered the glasses. Then he raised them again. Then he lowered them and just sat there. Nothing moved. He sat there for a long time.
When he approached the trucks he had the rifle unslung and cradled at his waist with the safety off. He stopped. He studied the country and then he studied the trucks. They were all shot up. Some of the tracks of holes that ran across the sheet metal were spaced and linear and he knew they'd been put there with automatic weapons. Most of the glass was shot out and the tires flat. He stood there. Listening.
In the first vehicle there was a man slumped dead over the wheel. Beyond were two more bodies lying in the gaunt yellow grass. Dried blood black on the ground. He stopped and listened. Nothing. The drone of flies. He walked around the end of the truck. There was a large dead dog there of the kind he'd seen crossing the floodplain. The dog was gutshot. Beyond that was a third body lying face down. He looked through the window at the man in the truck. He was shot through the head. Blood everywhere. He walked on to the second vehicle but it was empty. He walked out to where the third body lay. There was a shotgun in the grass. The shotgun had a short barrel and it was fitted with a pistol stock and a twenty round drum magazine. He nudged the man's boot with his toe and studied the low surrounding hills.
The third vehicle was a Bronco with a lifted suspension and dark smoked windows. He reached up and opened the driver side door. There was a man sitting in the seat looking at him.
Moss stumbled back, levelling the rifle. The man's face was bloody. He moved his lips dryly. Agua, cuate, he said. Agua, por dios.
He had a short-barrelled H&K machine pistol with a black nylon shoulder strap lying in his lap and Moss reached and got it and stepped back. Agua, the man said. Por dios.
I ain't got no water.
Moss left the door open and slung the H&K over his shoulder and stepped away. The man followed him with his eyes. Moss walked around the front of the truck and opened the door on the other side. He lifted the latch and folded the seat forward. The cargo space in the rear was covered with a metallic silver tarp. He pulled it back. A load of brick sized parcels each wrapped in plastic. He kept one eye on the man and got out his knife and cut a slit in one of the parcels. A loose brown powder dribbled out. He wet his forefinger and dipped it in the powder and smelled it. Then he wiped his finger on his jeans and pulled the tarp back over the parcels and stepped back and looked over the country again. Nothing. He walked away from the truck and stood and glassed the low hills. The lava ridge. The flat country to the south. He got out his handkerchief and walked back and wiped clean everything he'd touched. The door handle and the seat latch and the tarp and the plastic package. He crossed around to the other side of the truck and wiped everything down there too. He tried to think what else he might have touched. He went back to the first truck and opened the door with his kerchief and looked in. He opened the glove box and closed it again. He studied the dead man at the wheel. He left the door open and walked around to the driver side. The door was full of bullet holes. The windshield. Small calibre. Six millimetre. Maybe number four buckshot. The pattern of them. He opened the door and pushed the window button but the ignition was not on. He shut the door and stood there, studying the low hills.
He squatted and unslung the rifle from off his shoulder and laid it in the grass and took the H&K and pushed back the follower with the heel of his hand. There was a live round in the chamber but the magazine held only two more rounds. He sniffed at the muzzle of the piece. He ejected the clip and slung the rifle over one shoulder and the machine pistol over the other and walked back to the Bronco and held the clip up for the man to see. Otra, he said. Otra.
The man nodded. En mi bolsa.
You speak English?
He didn't answer. He was trying to gesture with his chin. Moss could see two clips sticking out of the canvas pocket of the jacket he was wearing. He reached into the cab and got them and stepped back. Smell of blood and faecal matter. He put one of the full clips into the machine pistol and the other two in his pocket. Agua, cuate, the man said.
Moss scanned the surrounding country. I told you, he said.
I ain't got no water.
La puerta, the man said.
Moss looked at him.
La puerta. Hay lobos.
There ain't no lobos.
Si, si. Lobos. Leones.
Moss shut the door with his elbow.
He went back to the first truck and stood looking at the open door on the passenger side. There were no bullet holes in the door but there was blood on the seat. The key was still in the ignition and he reached in and turned it and then pushed the window button. The glass ratcheted slowly up out of the channel. There were two bullet holes in it and a fine spray of dried blood on the inside of the glass. He stood there thinking about that. He looked at the ground. Stains of blood in the clay. Blood in the grass. He looked out down the track south across the caldera back the way the truck had come. There had to be a last man standing. And it wasn't the cuate in the Bronco begging for water.
He walked out on the floodplain and cut a wide circle to see where the track of the tires in the thin grass would show in the sun. He cut for sign a hundred feet to the south. He picked up the man's trail and followed it until he came to blood in the grass. Then more blood.
You ain't goin' far, he said. You may think you are. But you ain't.
He quit the track altogether and walked out to the highest ground visible holding the H&K under his arm with the safety off. He glassed the country to the south. Nothing. He stood fingering the boar's tusk at the front of his shirt. About now, he said, you're shaded up somewheres watchin' your backtrack. And the chances of me seein' you fore you see me are about as close to nothin' as you can get without fallin' in.
He squatted and steadied his elbows on his knees and with the binoculars swept the rocks at the head of the valley. He sat and crossed his legs and went over the terrain more slowly and then lowered the glasses and just sat. Do not, he said, get your dumb ass shot out here. Do not do that.
He turned and looked at the sun. It was about eleven o'clock. We don't even know that all of this went down last night. It could of been two nights ago. It might even could of been three.
Or it could of been last night.
A light wind had come up. He pushed back his hat and wiped his forehead with his bandanna and put the bandanna back in the hip pocket of his jeans. He looked across the caldera toward the low range of rock on the eastern perimeter.
Nothin' wounded goes uphill, he said. It just don't happen.
It was a good hard climb to the top of the ridge and it was close to noon by the time he got there. Far off to the north he could see the shape of a tractor-trailer moving across the shimmering landscape. Ten miles. Maybe fifteen. Highway 90. He sat and swept the new country with the glasses.
Then he stopped.
At the foot of a rockslide on the edge of the bajada was a small piece of something blue. He watched it for a long time through the binoculars. Nothing moved. He studied the country about. Then he watched it some more. It was the better part of an hour before he rose and started down.
The dead man was lying against a rock with a nickel-plated government .45 automatic lying cocked in the grass between his legs. He'd been sitting up and had slid over sideways. His eyes were open. He looked like he was studying something small in the grass. There was blood on the ground and blood on the rock behind him. The blood was still a dark red but then it was still shaded from the sun. Moss picked up the pistol and pressed the grip safety with his thumb and lowered the hammer. He squatted and tried to wipe the blood off the grips on the leg of the man's trousers but the blood was too well congealed. He stood and stuck the gun in his belt at the small of his back and pushed back his hat and blotted the sweat from his forehead with his shirtsleeve. He turned and stood studying the countryside. There was a heavy leather document case standing upright alongside the dead man's knee and Moss absolutely knew what was in the case and he was scared in a way that he didn't even understand.
When he finally picked it up he just walked out a little ways and sat down in the grass and slid the rifle off his shoulder and laid it aside. He sat with his legs spaced and the H&K in his lap and the case standing between his knees. Then he reached and unbuckled the two straps and unsnapped the brass latch and lifted the flap and folded it back.
It was level full of hundred dollar banknotes. They were in packets fastened with bank tape stamped each with the denomination $10,000. He didn't know what it added up to but he had a pretty good idea. He sat there looking at it and then he closed the flap and sat with his head down. His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead. All of it cooked down into forty pounds of paper in a satchel.
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