In this monologue, Bell reflects on the changing technology in law enforcement. He is not sure it helps, and notes that the new technology also falls into the hands of criminals. He prefers classic pistols and shotguns, so he doesn’t have to hunt for the safety before firing. He also prefers older police vehicles with 454 engines, an engine you can’t get anymore. He drove a new cruiser once, but told the man he’d prefer to stay with the old vehicle.
The nature of law enforcement has become complicated during Bell’s career, and he sees police agencies struggling to keep up with the evolving nature of criminal activity. In order to keep up with changing technology in the hands of criminals, the police must also advance technologically, and Bell sees this as a negative cycle. He longs for a time when things were simple, but knows that by refusing to adapt, he is being left behind.
Bell goes on to note that the people who really deserve to be on death row don’t end up there. He reflects on an execution he went to, noting that people don’t know how to dress for an execution. The people there, however, knew what to do after the execution, which surprised him. After the execution, people got up and filed out, like they would at church. He states that some people, even those who work on death row, don’t believe in the death penalty. You get to know the prisoners, and most of them aren’t very intelligent. One man ate his last meal before his execution, but saved his desert for later.
Bell sees the connection between the failure of the criminal justice system, and the decay of morality within the community. The people believe capital punishment is justified by God’s higher law, which is reflected in Bell’s comment about church, but he has begun to question this idea. Even though the executed men are prisoners, Bell has empathy for them, and feels deep down that it is not ethical and not true justice. This point is expressed in the anecdote about the developmentally disabled man.
Bell is glad that he never had to kill anyone in the line of duty. He notes that sheriffs in the old days didn’t even need to carry guns. He laments the loss of the concern for the people in the community that old-time sheriffs used to have. One sheriff, who Bell calls “Nigger Hoskins,” knew everybody’s name and phone number in his county by heart. He notes how strange it is that there is no requirement to become a sheriff in Texas. He finds this especially unsettling because the job pretty much gives you the same authority as God, but does not require any special qualifications.
Bell’s use of the word “nigger” complicates Bells nostalgic romanticized view of the sheriff’s role: he does not recognize his own offensive prejudice, which stems from a history of racism in America, which arose from anything but a sense of “community.” He begins to question the power a sheriff holds in Texas, finding it ridiculous that there are no formal rules around who can be placed in this position of power. The rules are arbitrary, which destabilizes the structures Bell has spent his career trying to uphold.
The narrative moves to Moss as he says goodbye to Carla Jean, telling her he will call her in a few days. Before getting on the bus, Carla Jean tells him she has a bad feeling, but he tells her he has a good feeling, so the two should balance out. He tells her to quit worrying. She says his name, and when he responds, she tells him it’s nothing, she just wanted to say his name. She tells him not to hurt anyone, and he responds that he can’t make any promises—that’s how you get hurt.
Moss is not interested in feelings; he trusts his self-will and believes he can overcome his situation and escape death. Carla Jean’s love for Moss comes across clearly in her desire to say his name once more before they part ways. Moss recognizes that his future is unclear, and he may need to protect himself. His experience in Vietnam has shown him that he cannot take any chances and may need to use force to survive.
The narrative cuts to Bell. He gets a call from Wendell during dinner about a reported car fire. He finishes his meal, and asks his wife, Loretta, if she’d like to come along. They drive down to the scene together. When they arrive, they realize that the burned car belonged to the man Chigurh killed on the highway. They wonder why someone would set fire to it, but decide they are not sure. Wendell, who meets them there, says this wasn’t what the man had in mind when he left Dallas. Bell agrees that this was probably the farthest thing from his mind.
Loretta is Bell’s biggest support in the story, and her involvement in his work demonstrates her moral leanings and her dedication to justice, to her husband, and to the community. The authorities are still unaware of Chigurh, lending irony to the situation: the reader knows what Bell and his deputies are trying to figure out. Bell and Wendell are correct in assuming the man couldn’t have known he would meet his fate on the highway. From their perspectives, the killing was totally random, but from Chigurh’s point of view, the man had been making decisions his entire life that led him to that moment. It was his fate to die by Chigurh’s hand.
The next morning, Bell tells Wendell to get his wife Loretta’s horse saddled. They drive with the horses in a trailer down to the burned car. They decide to explore the area looking for any leads. They take their rifles and ride into the desert, unaware of the carnage they will find below. Bell constructs a narrative about that night based on the composition of tire tracks in the dirt. They identify Moss’s truck at the scene of the crime, as both Bell and Wendell recognize it. Wendell asks if Moss has a wife, and Bell says he does. They remark that it is curious that nobody has reported his disappearance. Wendell asks if Moss is a dope runner, and Bell says he wouldn’t have thought so. When they discover the carnage below, Bell tells Wendell to take the horses elsewhere, stating they don’t need to witness the massacre.
Chigurh operates beyond the framework of good and evil, which is a fundamental element of the traditional western genre. In Chigurh’s mind, he is simply fulfilling the work of an indifferent universe that has no sense of good or evil. Bell’s moral and spiritual framework cannot explain the carnage they encounter in this scene. Bell’s comments about the horses oppose Chigurh’s views. Chigurh believes humans are no better than animals, while Bell projects human emotions on the horses, believing that witnessing the carnage might damage them emotionally.
Bell and Wendell find the two men Chigurh murdered the night before, and Bell notes that they have been executed. He looks at the pistol, stating that the man didn’t even get the safety off before they were killed. As they move through the carnage, Wendell notes the dead men are bloody as hogs. Bell glances at Wendell, who corrects himself, stating he shouldn’t cuss about the dead. Bell says there isn’t any luck in what they are observing. Wendell says they were just a bunch of drug dealers, and Bell replies that the only thing they are now is dead.
Bell begins to realize that the killer (who the reader knows is Chigurh) has no concern for ethics. He kills quickly and ruthlessly. Wendell’s comment reduces the men to the status of animals, but Bell has respect for the dead even though they are drug dealers. Based on his moral and spiritual orientation, he sees value in all human life. From Bell’s perspective, the men are victims of bad luck, but Chigurh would likely note that their actions led to their fate.
Bell looks in the truck and discovers there was heroin inside at some point. He and Wendell wonder where the money went. Bell notes that there was another event that occurred after the initial violence. They move through the scene reconstructing the event, noting the different types of weapons used. Bell notes that somebody made it out of the carnage alive. Wendell notes that it must have sounded like Vietnam during the incident.
The presence of the weapons suggests they are dealing with a new kind of serious criminal. Comparing the drug war to Vietnam conveys the severity of the situation. The American campaign in Vietnam and the American drug war both involved extreme violence and unclear moral and ethical boundaries. The connection between the two suggests a consistency in American policy, and challenges Bell’s idea that the American past was morally superior to the present.
Bell and Wendell find the final dead man. They note that the man was not killed execution style. Bell notes that he died of natural causes, and when Wendell scoffs, Bell says they are natural to the line of work he was in. They realize that someone has been here before them, and that person likely has the money. They leave, and Bell has Wendell take the horses back to his house. He tells him to thank Loretta since the county doesn’t pay for the use of her horse.
In terms of fate, the decision to enter the drug trade involves actions that expedite a person to their fate, which is reflected in Bell’s comment about the man dying of “natural causes.” Loretta’s willingness to support the county reflects her sense of ethical responsibility to the community. Bell admires her for this, but recognizes the strain it puts on her.
Bell drives out to pick up Torbert. Torbert says he got a report from the coroner in Austin about the man Chigurh murdered for his car. They still do not know about Chigurh’s bolt gun, so Bell asks what he the man shot with. Torbert tells him they don’t know. They told him it looked like a large caliber bullet hit him, but there was no exit wound and the penetration was only two and a half inches. Bell can’t make sense of the incident. Torbert asks about the body count, and then asks who the hell these people are. Bell responds that at first he thought they were the same kind of people they’d always dealt with, the same ones his grandfather dealt with, but now he isn’t sure if they’ve ever seen these kinds of people before. He admits he doesn’t know what to do about them.
The mysterious nature of the man’s wound suggests they are dealing with a new kind of killer, an executioner with unconventional methods. Bell’s inability to make sense of the situation is frustrating, and causes him to worry that he is being left behind in a changing society. Bell is beginning to recognize that his old methods of law enforcement, and his sense of higher law and justice may not suffice to hold back these unprecedented evil forces.
The narrative moves to Chigurh as he drives to Moss’s trailer. He knocks on the door, waits, and when no answer comes, he uses the bolt gun to knock the lock cylinder out of the doorknob. Inside, he walks through the house, opening and closing closets and drawers. In the kitchen, he opens the refrigerator and takes a drink of milk, then puts the jug back. In the living room, he sits on the sofa and looks at himself in the dead gray television screen. He finds some mail on the floor and takes three envelopes before leaving.
Chigurh operates outside of normal societal boundaries, as shown through his entry into the house. Societal foundations, like the law, which are designed to prevent actions such as breaking and entering, are of no concern to him. Going into the fridge is a symbolic breach of personal space. His reflection in the television screen metaphorically mirrors Chigurh’s aura—dead and grey.
Chigurh drives up to the trailer park’s front office and asks the receptionist about Moss. She says Moss is probably at work, and when Chigurh asks her where he works, she says she is not a liberty to say. Chigurh asks again, demanding the information, but just then a toilet flushes in the back, and Chigurh leaves. He goes to a café and opens the phone bills he took from the house. He calls Carla Jean’s grandmother, and asks if she has seen Moss, but she says she hasn’t. When she asks who is calling, Chigurh hangs up the phone. He then goes to the shop where Moss works and asks some of his co-workers if they have seen him. They tell Chigurh he hasn’t shown up for work and hasn’t called. Afterward, he gets back in the Ramcharger and leaves.
Chigurh does not recognize societal structures and norms that protect people’s privacy, so he expects the woman to release Moss’s information without hesitation. Chigurh takes the toilet flushing as a sign that it is not the woman’s time to meet her fate, so he leaves. Refraining to say his name on the phone is a practical decision, but also holds symbolic significance—as a symbol of fate, he is mysterious and unpredictable. The way Chigurh finds out where Moss works is not explained, which suggests something uncanny and almost omniscient in his character, connecting him again to fate—no matter the obstacles one puts in fate’s way, it always seems to arrive.
The narrative moves to Moss as he gets off a bus in Del Rio, Texas. He takes a cab to a cheap motel called the Trail Motel. He asks for a room, and the receptionist tells him about weekly rates. Moss tells the woman he will just take the night, saying he will take it one day at a time.
Moss is aware of the unpredictability of his situation, and his decision to take it a day at a time is rooted in his philosophy on life. Instead of banking on the future, he must focus on surviving moment to moment.
In his room, Moss takes lays his on the bed beside him. He takes a nap, and when he wakes up, he decides to hide the briefcase. He unscrews the air duct grille in the wall. He ties a length of cord from the blinds around the case, and takes a thousand dollars from it before using a hanger pole from the closet to push the briefcase back as far as he can. Then he screws the grille back in place.
Moss doesn’t realize it at this moment, but his decision to hide the money in the vent will later save his life: every action we take has consequences, whether good or bad. Moss takes just enough money to hold him over. His priorities are shifting. While unchecked greed once fueled his decision to take the money, he can now contain it.
Moss wakes up in the dark. He looks out the window, finding nothing but deep shadows and silence. He gets dressed, and calls a cab. He pays the cab driver an extra ten dollars to take him over the border to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. He looks at some boots made from exotic animals—crocodile, ostrich, and elephant—but realizes their quality is nothing compared to the ones he already has. On the corner a cab driver asks him if he wants to go to see the girls, but Moss shows him the ring on his finger and carries on. He eats in a restaurant, ordering a glass of red wine and a steak. As he eats, he thinks about his life.
The exchange of money, as shown with the cab driver, becomes an important trope in the novel. People are willing to take risks, both physically and morally, for money. The fancy boots and the driver’s offer of women highlights the U.S./Mexico relationship in the novel: Mexico is presented as a place of vice, corruption, and decadence. Bell resists the temptation, as seen through his decision not to blow his money on the boots. Showing the driver his ring reflects Moss’s dedication to Carla Jean. Both of these actions demonstrate fundamental aspects of Moss’s moral and ethical code. The steak brings the reader back to Chigurh’s bolt gun, which is a tool for slaughtering cattle. This allusion is important as Moss thinks about his life, as it foreshadows the conflict the men will share as the novel progresses.
Moss takes a cab back to the motel after leaving Mexico. As the cab approaches the motel, Moss sees a gap in the blinds of his room’s window. He is unable to tell if he put it there himself, so he tells the driver to drive him around the building without stopping. The driver grows concerned, and decides to drop him off, but Moss hands a hundred dollar bill over the seat and tells him to keep going. The man says he doesn’t want to get into a jackpot, but Moss tells him he is already in one and he, Moss, is trying to get them out.
Moss recognizes his own fallibility and begins to doubt himself in this moment. The driver again follows Moss’s orders in exchange for money, showing the influence of money and greed. The reference to the “jackpot” again brings forward the idea of gambling, luck, and chance in every action we take.
Moss spends the night at a Ramada Inn. He eats breakfast, and wonders if whoever is looking for the money has found it. He realizes he is probably going to have to kill somebody before this ordeal is over, though he doesn’t know who it will be. He goes into town and buys a twelve gauge shot gun and a box of shells. He notes the box of shells has the same firepower as a claymore mine. After leaving the sporting goods store where he bought the gun, he goes to a hardware store and buys a hacksaw, a file, a pair of pliers, a pair of side cutters, a screwdriver, a flashlight and a roll of duct tape. Then, he goes back to the sporting good store and asks for a tent with aluminum poles. Moss takes the tent out and puts his supplies in the bag along with the poles. The employee is confused as to why Moss only wants the poles, but Moss doesn’t explain. He leaves and returns to the motel.
Moss prepares for battle, realizing that the situation is escalating. He recognizes that he may have to kill, but there is still an element of chance with regard to where, when, and to whom it will happen. The thought of killing is in conflict with Moss’s morality, and disturbs him, but he would rather work toward freedom and autonomy than get the police involved. The comment about the box of shells reminds the reader of Moss’s experience in Vietnam. The employee’s confusion and Moss’s reticence suggests that Moss is moving outside of normal society and entering Chigurh’s world, which operates under a different set of rules. Moss is starting to think only of survival now.
In his motel room, Moss saws off the shotgun’s barrel and stock off and files them smooth. Then, he loads the gun. He calls the Trail Motel and tells the woman at the front desk to hold his room. He goes to Wal-Mart, buys some clothes, and then throws the sawed off barrel into a lake, and hides the stock in some shale. He stays at the lake, and watches the sunset.
Again, Moss is overstepping the boundaries of law and order by modifying his weapon: sawed off shotguns are illegal. The sunset represents a metaphorical looming darkness: Moss’s imminent encounter with Chigurh.