Bell reflects on the way young people have a hard time growing up. He remembers his cousin who was a police officer and married with a child by eighteen. Another man he knew as a boy was a respected preacher by the age of twenty-one. Bell went to France to fight in WWII at the age of twenty-one, and was the oldest in his class at boot camp. He notes that grandparents are raising some percentage of the nation’s children in modern America. He wonders about the next generation. Because these children don’t have parents, their children won’t have grandparents. He laments the state of the nation, thinking nothing can save the world but the second coming of Christ. He reflects on what a good wife Loretta is. She cooks for the men in the local jail, and sometimes they come back years later, married and doing well, to visit her.
Bell finds the changes he has witnessed during his life deeply disturbing. His examples show the way in which his generation took responsibility for their lives and society, but he worries the new generation is not capable of the same accountability. Bell’s frustration leads to a sense of powerlessness, and in the face of this futility, he feels he has no choice but to put his faith in Christ. He does, however, find some hope in Loretta’s moral and ethical sensibilities, and honors her for her work.
The narrative then moves to Chigurh. He looks up a veterinarian in the phonebook, and drives to Uvalde, Texas to get supplies to treat his wounded leg. He buys a sack of supplies and drives down the street before parking the car. He walks to a pharmacy, where a car is parked in front of the store. He slides some cloth in the gas tank, tapes a piece of cardboard over it, and lights it. He goes into the pharmacy, and the car explodes. Once everyone is distracted, he slips behind the counter and steals some pain medication, antibiotics, and a pair of crutches. He leaves through the back door, setting off an alarm, but doesn’t look back toward the burning front of the building.
Chigurh chooses the veterinarian for medical supplies to avoid connecting himself to the shooting in Eagles Pass, but this decision connects symbolically to his view that human beings are no different than animals. Chigurh’s philosophy of fate is demonstrated in his choice to create a distraction, as opposed to robbing the pharmacy. He doesn’t want to be forced to kill those who are not yet ready to meet their fate. Chigurh does not look back at the wreckage, showing his lack of concern with the past or with the carnage he has wrought. He is only interested in continuing to move forward with his mission.
Chigurh gets a motel room, and fills the bathtub. He cleans his leg, finding the entry and exit wounds. He cleans and bandages his wounds. Then he injects himself with antibiotics. He lies back on the bed, and other than a bit of sweat on his forehead, there is little evidence that his labor cost him anything at all.
As the embodiment of fate, Chigurh acts entirely alone, and refuses to depend on anyone else for help. He refuses to recognize weakness or fear, as these things would make him vulnerable, so the injuries he has received cost him nothing psychologically or spiritually.
Chigurh stays in the motel for five days. He keeps the television on, but doesn’t change the channel. He just watches whatever is on—the news, talk shows, soap operas. When the maid comes, he tells her all he wants are towels and soap. He hands her ten dollars, and tells her the same thing in Spanish. She nods and takes the money before leaving. On the fifth night he is in a café when two officers come in. The officers eye him, so he leaves. He collects his things from his motel room, and drives away.
Unlike other characters, Chigurh is indifferent to the suffering of others and comfortable watching programs that fixate on human suffering. The mystery of his nature and origins are highlighted in his conversation with the maid. Like fate, Chigurh is not confined or limited by language, borders, social structures or norms. Leaving after seeing the police officers suggests that while his actions disregard the law, he knows he is still at risk of being recognized, which would interfere with his objectives to kill Moss and find the money.
The narrative moves to Wells as he examines the bridge that crosses the river into Mexico. He studies Moss’s blood marks on the sidewalk. He walks further along before finding blood on the chain-link fence. He realizes that if Moss had carried the money into Mexico it would be gone, but he understands Moss didn’t bring the briefcase over the border. He figures out that it is in the cane on the riverbank.
Wells’ investigative skills lead him to deduce the location of the money. He understands the corruption and greed involved in money, and knows Moss would be robbed if he brought it over the border. He depends on his deductive skills without recognizing luck or chance, and at this moment, he doesn’t recognize that his actions are leading him toward his death.
The narrative switches to Bell as he gives his assistant a book of checks, and asks if she has any leads on the cars at the original crime scene. She says she doesn’t. She tells him that McIntyre called and asked if he wanted to go to the crime scene. Bell says McIntyre is a certified government agent, and he can go wherever he would like. She asks what he plans to do with the cars. Bell says they will sell them at auction. He asks her if she would call Loretta and tell her he has gone to Eagle Pass. He says he would call her, but she might want him to go home, and he just might if she asked. He asks his assistant what Torbert always says about truth and justice. She says that Torbert says: we dedicate ourselves anew daily. Bell says he is going to commence dedicating himself twice daily, and maybe three times before this is over.
Bell recognized the hierarchy and the authority inherent in the structures of law, and knows that McIntyre can do as he pleases. In this moment Bell is torn between his duty as a police officer and his duty as a husband. He knows if he talks to Loretta, his duty as a husband will draw him home, but he feels morally obligated to continue searching for Moss. Bell’s comment about dedicating himself to truth and justice twice or three times daily shows his internal struggle to uphold these ideals. He is beginning to feel like quitting, and needs to work hard to stay dedicated.
Bell gets a coffee, and as he comes out of the café he stops a flatbed truck carrying the bodies from the crime scene. Bell asks if the driver has checked his load. The driver gets out of the car and they look at the bodies wrapped in blue plastic. One of the tie downs has come loose so the plastic is flapping, and Bell says it’s a damned outrage. Bell asks how many bodies he left the scene with, and the driver assures him he hasn’t lost any. The driver asks if he is going to write him a ticket, but Bell tells him to leave.
As a man dedicated to morality and ethics, Bell has a deep reverence for the dead, even though he knows these dead men were drug dealers. By not writing the ticket, Bell shows the way in which the limits of the law are malleable and defined by the men who uphold it. This moment demonstrates the conflict between his power as sheriff and his goodwill as a regular human being.
Bell stops at the Devil’s River Bridge, and gets out of his car. He leans against the rail and looks out at the sunset in the west. A semi passes, and slows down. The driver yells, “Don’ jump, Sheriff. She ain’t worth it.” Bell smiles as the truck drives away, and says, the truth of the matter, is that she is.
Bell has been considering his marriage to Loretta and how his police work has interfered with their time together. The driver’s comments represent the contemporary views of love and marriage, but Bell still holds onto the old values.
Meanwhile, Chigurh is driving toward Eagle’s Pass when suddenly the tracking device beeps in the passenger seat. He pulls over, and adjusts the nobs, but nothing happens. As he pulls back out onto the highway the device begins beeping again. He goes to the hotel in Eagle Pass and gets a room. He can’t understand why the tracker is back at the hotel. He assumes Moss is dead, so he thinks it’s either the police or some agent from the Matacumbe Petroleum Group.
Chigurh shows his fallibility by assuming that Moss is dead, but he is right in supposing someone is there looking for him. The reader knows that Wells is looking for him, and an element of fate and free will is present in the looming encounter. He continues forward despite this knowledge, confident that the laws of fate will draw the person or persons to him.
Chigurh gets a room and takes a nap. He wakes at ten-thirty and goes to the lobby. He asks the clerk for the registration list. She tells him she can’t show him because he is not a police officer. He says yes, she can. Afterward, he goes to the room Moss rented before the shoot out. Inside, he finds the tracking unit where Moss left it in the drawer of the bedside table. He thinks about it for a minute before placing the unit on the windowsill. He then he goes back to the lobby to wait for Wells.
Chigurh’s comment to the clerk about sharing the information suggests that he does not recognize the law. In his mind, the power given to police officers is arbitrary. Chigurh’s discovery of the tracking device in the drawer shows that Wells has not been as observant as he thinks. His cockiness has caused him to overlook the device that will lead to his demise. This oversight depicts the limits of Wells’s belief that he can overcome fate through careful action.
Wells comes in at 11:13. Chigurh wraps his shotgun in a newspaper, and follows him upstairs. When Wells notices Chigurh in the hallway, Chigurh drops the paper and greets Wells by his first name, Carson. They enter and sit in Wells’ room. Wells tells him he doesn’t have to kill him—Wells could just give him money and go home. Wells refers again to the offer, but Chigurh tells him it’s the wrong currency.
Wells enters the motel with his guard down, assuming that Chigurh would not return to the motel. His self-sufficiency fails in this moment, which reinforces the idea that fate is inevitable. Despite everything Wells said to Moss about Chigurh, he tries to reason for his life, but Chigurh is not driven by greed. He is there for one reason: to deliver Wells’ fate.
Chigurh tells Wells getting shot by Moss changed his perspective. He speaks about an experience he had in a town by the border. A man started insulting him at a bar. He tried to ignore him, but the man kept going. Chigurh offered for the man to come outside, and when he came out, Chigurh killed him. He watched the man’s friends gather around the body as he drove off. Chigurh was arrested an hour later, and let the deputy take him into custody. He wanted to see if he could extract himself from custody by an act of will, but he understands it was a foolish thing to do.
Chigurh’s anecdote refers to his arrest at the beginning of the novel. The man’s actions in the bar speak metaphorically to the testing of fate. The man could not see the way his actions were influencing his future. Chigurh’s experience with his arrest and later with his injury have led him to understand that he is not exempt from the laws of fate. His decision to allow himself to be arrested was a foolish tempting of his own fate, and he has begun recognizing the risk involved in such actions.
Wells asks Chigurh if he knows how crazy he is. Chigurh doesn’t answer, but asks Wells a question: “If the rule you follow led you to this of what use was the rule?” Wells says he doesn’t know what Chigurh is talking about. Chigurh tells him he is talking about Wells’ life, in which everything can be seen at once now. Wells tells him he is not interested in his bullshit. Chigurh says he expected something different from Wells, since the predicament he is in calls past events into questions. Wells tells Chigurh he knows where the money is located, but Chigurh is not interested. He tells Wells the money will be placed at his feet. Wells continues trying to reason with Chigurh, but Chigurh tells him it’s not going to happen. Wells tells him to go to hell.
Chigurh’s question to Wells conveys his philosophy of fate, chance, and free will. He recognizes the limits of self-imposed rules. As careful and determined as Wells has been, he could not account for the elements of chance and the power of fate that brought him to this moment. Now that Wells has reached the end of his life, Chigurh suggests he can see how all of his actions led him to this moment. Well’s doesn’t believe Chigurh, but Chigurh is able to see the way in which Wells’ free will brought him here. Again, Chigurh explains he is not driven by greed. He believes the money is fated to come to him.
Wells stares Chigurh down, and Chigurh asks if he thinks he can stall his death with his eyes. Chigurh tells him he should just admit his situation, that there would be more dignity in it. Chigurh understands that Wells thinks they are alike, that he is driven by greed, but he is not interested in the money. Wells tells Chigurh to get it over with and kill him. Chigurh tells Wells to compose himself. If he doesn’t respect Chigurh, how can he respect himself? Wells says that Chigurh he thinks he is outside of everything, but he is not outside of death. Chigurh says he is not afraid of death. He is different than Wells, who has been giving things up for years to end up where he is in this moment. Chigurh notes they are in the same line of work, up to a certain point, so how can Wells hold him in contempt?
Chigurh recognizes Wells’ attempt to deny his fate, which is unacceptable and cowardly in Chigurh’s mind. Chigurh points out the difference between he and Wells, suggesting that greed has caused Wells to make wrong moves. Chigurh thinks it hypocritical for Wells to condemn him for killing when Wells does the same thing. Chigurh does not perceive himself as outside of death, but he accepts death as a fact, which works to his benefit as he moves through the world. He is not attached to the material world, so he is unafraid. Driven by greed, Wells has made sacrifices and wrong moves that have brought him to this moment, while Chigurh operates without the influence of greed or attachment.
Wells asks Chigurh what time it is. Chigurh tells him it is 11:57, and Wells tells him that according to the bullet hole in the old woman’s calendar he has three more minutes to live. He says he saw this coming a long time ago, almost like a dream. Again, he tells Chigurh to get it over with. He closes his eyes, and raises his hands in front of his face. Chigurh shoots through his hand, and the bullet enters Wells’ head. Everything Wells ever loved or remembered drains from his head—his mother’s face, his first communion, the women he had loved, the men he saw killed in Vietnam, a child dead beside a road. Chigurh takes the shell casing from the floor and leaves. He checks Wells’ rental car, and as he looks around, Wells’ phone rings. It is Moss calling from the hospital. Chigurh answers.
Wells remembers the bullet hole in the calendar, and knows he should have trusted it as a sign. The same is true with the dream; he has depended too heavily on his determination and self-will, believing he could overcome fate. Raising his hand before being shot can be read as a final attempt to deny his fate. The fading of the memories points to the idea that the past is carried forward into the present, and only vanishes in death. The call Chigurh receives from Moss immediately after killing Wells supports the idea of fate as inevitable. Had he called a short time earlier, he would have reached Wells, but he was fated to die.
From Mexico, Moss calls Carla Jean before calling Wells’ phone. Carla Jean’s grandmother answers, telling him she doesn’t want to talk to him. Carla Jean’s grandmother says she told Carla Jean this would happen. When Carla Jean gets on the phone, she tells him she didn’t think he would do this to her. Bell has been there, and she was afraid Moss was dead. He tells her she needs to leave Odessa. Carla Jean asks what she should do with her grandmother, and Moss tells her she will be all right, nobody will bother her. Carla Jean starts crying and tells Moss that Bell told her he is going to get killed. She tells him she doesn’t want the money, she just wants things to go back to the way they were. He says they will be, eventually. Carla Jean calls the money a false god, but Moss tells her it is real money. He tells her that everything will go back to the way it was if she just listens to him. He tells Carla Jean he plans to call Wells for help.
Carla Jean’s grandmother is from an older generation. She has been skeptical of Moss from the start of their relationship because he does not ascribe to older modes of thinking and living. Moss operates in the world with a newer set of values—a lack of faith in God, a distrust of the law, and dedication to autonomy—that challenge the views of the older generation. Though Carla Jean seemed steadfast in her trust of Moss earlier in the novel, this moment suggests she her faith in him has waivered. She wants to go back the way they were, but Moss continues to be driven by his internal desire for autonomy. He finds the money more “real” than faith in God or religion, which demand faith in unobservable forces. He would rather put his faith in himself and his ability to survive than put his faith in God, a power that may or may not exist.
Moss calls Wells’ phone and Chigurh picks up. He tells Moss he needs to come see him. Chigurh tells Moss that Wells can’t help him now. He asks Moss where he has hidden the money. Again, Moss asks about Wells, but Chigurh tells him Wells is out of the picture, and Moss needs to deal with him. Chigurh tells Moss he knows he is in the hospital in Piedras Negras, but that he is heading to Odessa instead. He tells Moss he can save Carla Jean by handing over the money. He tells Moss he will kill him either way, but he could save Carla Jean. Moss tells Chigurh he will kill him before he can kill Carla Jean.
Moss understands Wells is dead, and that he must depend on himself from now on. In this moment, Moss is given a choice to exercise his free will, and save Carla Jean, yet he chooses not to, believing he he can overcome Chigurh and his fate. Chigurh will kill Moss either way, as he believes he has been fated to die, and in choosing not to work with Chigurh, Moss has also decided Carla Jean’s fate.
Moss leaves the hospital before daylight, shoeless, and dressed in the hospital gown with his jacket over it. He tries to get a cab, but they pass by him until one eventually pulls up. Moss asks the driver to take him over the border. The driver asks if he has money, and Moss says he does. At the gate, the guard leans over and studies him in the back of the cab. He asks Moss what country he was born in. Moss tells him he was born in the U.S. The guard has Moss step out of the car.
Moss’s appearance after leaving the hospital makes it difficult for him to flag down a cab. The drivers questioning, and later the guards distrust of him suggest a shift in identity. He lacks the signifiers of his American identity. His external appearance metaphorically reflects internal changes as well. Moss is no longer the moral and law abiding citizen he once was.
The guard brings Moss inside and questions him, making it clear that only some citizens get to go in to the U.S. and he decides who those people are. Eventually, Moss tells the guard he is a Vietnam veteran. The guard questions him about his service, and what outfit he fought with and the dates of his tours of duty. Immediately the atmosphere changes. The guard asks if Moss is alright, and whether he has money for a phone call. The guard asks if his wife knows where he is. Moss says yes, and the guard asks if they had a fight. Moss says they had a little fight. The guard tells him he needs to apologize, even if he thinks it was her fault. Moss says he will. The guard tells him that sometimes there is a little problem, but if you don’t fix it, it turns into a bigger problem. Moss agrees, and then leaves.
The border guard immediately flaunts his power by stating that he decides who is allowed into the U.S. This demonstration of power draws a distinction between the two countries. While Moss only needed to pay a dime to cross into Mexico, crossing back is not so easy. Moss’s status as veteran, however, gives him the upper hand in this situation. Americans hold a special respect for veterans, and though Moss struggles with this, knowing the unethical realities of war, he uses it to his benefit. The guard also holds to traditional American values regarding marriage. His comment on growing problems can be read ironically, as Moss’s entire existence is now defined by a single wrong decision that has become a major problem.
Once Moss crosses into the U.S., he goes to a clothing store. The store is closed, but he knocks and asks the owner to make an exception for him. Because he is injured, Moss asks the man to find him some clothes, boots, and a hat. Before the man sets out to collect the clothing, Moss asks him if they often get customers like him without clothes on. The man says no. Moss goes into the dressing room and gets dressed. When he comes out he tells the man he hasn’t been “duded up” like this since he got out of the army.
The man shows compassion for Moss by letting him in and finding clothing for him. In this scene, Moss regains his American identity. The comment about being “duded up” is a nod to the traditional Western genre. Moss has survived his near death experience, and is about to set out to rescue his wife, which suggests he still believes he can overcome Chigurh and maintain his autonomy. This scene contains a sense of triumph and hope, but it will be short lived.
Bell talks to the Eagle Pass sheriff. The sheriff tells Bell that they are closing the motel because a second clerk was killed. Bell says that the reason nobody knows what Chigurh looks like is nobody lives long enough to give a description. The sheriff says Chigurh is a lunatic, but Bell says he wouldn’t call him that, though he doesn’t know what to call him.
Bell understands that Chigurh is a highly principled and effective killer. He does not act out of insanity, but with a clear code, even if this code exists beyond Bells understanding of morality and justice.
Bell and the sheriff go back to the hotel and see the tracking unit on the windowsill. They examine the scene, noting Wells’ death. The sheriff asks if there is something Bell isn’t telling him, but Bell says they both have the same facts. The sheriff asks if Bell has a “dog in this hunt”, and Bell says tells him about Moss and Carla Jean. The Sheriff asks if they are family. Bell says no, but they are from his county, and he is supposed to protect them. The sheriff takes the tracking device and shakes his head. They talk about the drugs involved. The sheriff notes that they sell it to school kids, but Bell says its worse than that. When the sheriff asks what he means, Bell tells him that school kids are buying it.
Neither of the sheriffs has witnessed this kind of violence, and both struggle to make sense of it. They must confront the limits of their power as lawmen. Even though Moss and Carla Jean are not family, they are members of Bell’s community, and he feels a moral obligation to protect them. Bell recognizes that the drug problem is not just driven by the dealers, but by the young people creating the market. He sees the corruption on different levels, and understands that it will be part of America’s future.