"I assure you this isn't about the money. I see your look, and I know you. It makes no difference what kind of person I am. You shouldn't be more frightened to die because you think I'm a bad person."
"I knew you were crazy from the first time I saw you."
"It's a hard thing to understand."
"What's that?" asks Cooper.
"They always seem to say the same thing. You don't have to do this."
"You don't. You got your money. Now leave me be."
"You had your chance for that. That's gone. Life is always turning, and in that turning, everyone is choosing. You chose, and it all follows up to this. Your path was predetermined from the beginning."
Cooper shakes his head.
"I spent this time meeting you here so that you could see. One last final glimpse before the shroud drops. The darkness. Do you see it?"
"Oh, God," Cooper says. “Whatever you’re gonna do, get on with it.”
Cooper looks at him a final time.
"You don't have to," Cooper says. "You don't. You can change all this.”
Dax shakes his head.
“You made your decision, Cooper. Nothing changes. Nothing ever will. What happens next was always meant to happen.”
"Don't turn around," Cooper says. "If you turn around, I'll blow you to hell."
Dax doesn’t move. Cooper walks forward on his elbows from underneath the bed as he holds the shotgun. He can see no higher than the man's waist, and he doesn’t know what kind of gun Dax is carrying.
"Drop the gun. Do it now."
A shotgun clatters to the floor. Cooper pulls himself up, his badge snagging the shag of the gnarled and musty carpet. "Get your hands up. Step back from the door."
Dax takes two steps back and stands with his hands at shoulder level. Cooper comes around the end of the bed, no more than ten feet away. The whole room pulses slowly. There's an odd smell in the air like some foreign cologne that has a medicinal edge to it. Everything hums. Cooper holds the shotgun at his waist with the hammer cocked.
Dax doesn't even look at him. He seems unfazed as if this were all part of an ordinary day. "Back up. More!"
He does. Cooper picks up Dax's shotgun and throws it onto the bed. He switches on the overhead light and shuts the door.
"Look over here," he says.
Dax turns his head and gazes at Cooper. Blue eyes. Serene. Dark hair. Something about him is faintly exotic, beyond Cooper's experience.
Cooper crosses the room, takes hold of the foot post of the bed, and swings it sideways with one hand. A document case stands in the dust. Cooper picks it up, and Dax doesn't even seem to notice. His thoughts are elsewhere. Cooper takes the nylon bag from the chair and slings it over his shoulder, and he gets the shotgun with its huge can-like silencer off the bed, puts it under his arm, and picks up the case again.
"Let's go," he says.
Dax lowers his hands and walks out into the hallway. Cooper backs down the corridor with his shotgun on Dax's belt, holding it in one hand like a pistol.
"You show your face at the head of these stairs, and I'll shoot you."
Dax doesn't answer.
"Right there," Cooper says. "Don't take another step."
Cooper moves back to the stairs and takes one last look at Dax as he stands in the dull yellow light from the wall sconce. Cooper turns and doubles down the stairwell. He takes the steps two at a time. He doesn't know where he's going. He hasn't thought that far ahead.
The night clerk's feet stick out from behind the desk in the lobby. Cooper doesn't stop. He pushes out through the front door and moves down the steps. By the time he crosses the street, Dax is already on the hotel's balcony above him. Cooper feels something tug at the bag on his shoulder. The pistol shot is just a dull pop and thwap in the dark streets of a quiet border town.
Cooper turns in time to glimpse the muzzle flash of the second shot. It's barely visible but can be seen behind the faint fifteen-foot neon pink glow of the hotel sign. He doesn't feel anything. The bullet snaps at his shirt, and blood starts running down his upper arm when he's already at a dead run. With the next shot, he feels a stinging pain in his side, and he falls and gets up again.
"Damn," he says. "What a shot!"
Cooper moves down the sidewalk past the plaza theater . As he passes around the ticket kiosk, all the glass falls out of it. He never even hears the shot. He spins with the shotgun, thumbs back the hammer, and fires. The buckshot rattles off the second-story balcony, taking the glass out of some of the windows.
When he turns again, a car coming down main street picks him up in the lights. It slows and speeds up again. Cooper turns up on Front Street , and the car skids through the intersection in a cloud of rubber smoke and stops. The engine dies, and the driver tries to restart it. Cooper turns with his back to the brick wall of the building. Two men come from the car and cross the street on a run. One of them opens fire with a small-caliber machine gun. Cooper fires at them twice with the shotgun, then lopes on with warm blood seeping into his crotch.
In the street, Cooper hears the car start up again. A pandemonium of fire breaks out from behind him. He doesn't think he can run anymore. He sees himself limping along in the reflection of a window across the street. He holds his elbow to his side with the bag slung over his shoulder. He carries the shotgun with the leather document case. When he looks at the window again, he's sitting on the sidewalk.
"Get up, you son of a bitch," he says. "Don't you sit there and die. You get the hell up!"
Cooper crosses the street with blood sloshing in his boots. He pulls the bag around and unzips it and shoves the shotgun in, and zips it shut again. He stands, tottering. Then, he crosses to the bridge. He is cold and shivering. He thinks he's going to vomit. He staggers out onto the span. He eyes the narrow walk ahead of him. It's just breaking first light, and it's dull and gray above the floodplain along the river's east shore.
Dax comes down the steps and out the front door of the hotel. A blood-soaked towel wraps around his upper right leg, fastened with sections of ripped pillow casing. He carries a small bag in one hand and a pistol in the other.
A Cadillac lies crossways in the intersection, gunfire in the street. Dax steps back into the doorway of the barbershop. The clatter of heavy automatic rifle fire and the resounding slam of a shotgun rattle off the facades of the buildings. The men in the streets are dressed in raincoats and tennis shoes. They don't look like anyone you'd expect to meet in this part of the country.
Dax limps back up the steps of the porch, lays the pistol on a balustrade, and opens fire on them. By the time they figure out where the fire is coming from, he has already killed one and wounded another. The wounded man gets behind the car and opens up on the hotel. Dax stands with his back to a brick wall and fits a fresh clip into the pistol. The rounds take out the glass in the doors and splinter the woodwork. The foyer lights go out. It's still dark enough in the street to see the muzzle flashes.
There's a break in the firing, and Dax pushes through and into the hotel lobby. Bits of glass crackle under his boots. He gimps down the hallway and into the rear hotel parking lot. He crosses the street and keeps to the north walls of the buildings. He hurries with his bound leg swinging out to the side. He knows he is a block away from the county courthouse. He has minutes at best before new parties will arrive.
When he gets to the corner, only one man stands. He's at the rear of the shot-up car with a body inside. The man watches the hotel, and Dax levels the pistol and shoots him twice. The man falls limply in the street. Dax steps back behind the corner of the building and stands with the gun upright at his shoulder, and waits. There's a rich tang of gunpowder in the cool morning air like the smell of fireworks. Not a sound remains.
When Dax limps out into the street, one of the men he shot from the hotel porch crawls towards the curb. Dax watches him and then shoots him in the back. The other one lies by the front fender of the car. He's shot in the head and dark blood pools around him. His weapon lies by his side, but Dax pays it no mind. Dax walks to the car's rear and jostles the man with his boot. He bends and picks up the machine gun. It's a short-barrelled uzi with an extended clip.
Dax searches the dead man's pockets and comes up with four more clips. He puts them in his back pockets and sticks the pistol in the front of his belt. He checks the rounds in the uzi clip. He swings the piece over his shoulder and hobbles back to the curb. The man he'd shot in the back lies watching him.
Dax looks up the street towards the hotel and the courthouse. He looks back at the man. A pool of blood begins to spread rapidly.
"Help me," he begs.
Dax takes the pistol from his waist and looks into the man's eyes, and the man looks away. "Look at me," says Dax.
The man looks and then looks away again.
"Do you speak English?"
"Don't look away. I want you to look at me."
He looks at Dax, and he looks at the new day rising. Dax shoots him through the forehead and studies him. He watches the capillaries break up in his eyes and the light that recedes. Dax watches his own image degrade in that squandered world. He shoves the pistol in his belt and looks up the street once more. He picks up the bag, slings the uzi over his shoulder, and crosses the road. Dax limps towards the hotel parking lot where he'd left his vehicle.
"You're asking that I make an exception to who I am. A man can only live one way. There’s no such thing as a paradox of being. People try all the time, but it is impossible. That’s the problem with human beings. It is impossible to overcome what you refuse to know exists in the first place. Do you comprehend what I’m saying? From the moment we met, your life was coming to an end. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end. You cannot say that things could have turned out differently. You cannot say that there was another way this all could have happened. Things are this way because that is the natural order of it all. You're asking that I defy the very nature of existence. Do you see?"
Cooper responds reluctantly
“Yes. I do. I truly do."
"Good. That's good.”
“But, I have one more question?”
“And what is that?”
“You say that there is truth? This means that something has to be false….”
Cooper sniffles and rocks to one side, allowing the boxcutter in his sleeve to drop. Cooper lunges forward and slices his throat before Dax realizes what he is getting at. Dax raises the gun and fires a shot that passes through Cooper's side. They both fall to the ground.
“It’s the exclusivity of truth,” Cooper says, writhing on the floor. “You’re right. This was meant to be. I asked you to change nothing. It turns out; it just happened to be my truth today.”
Dax holds his throat as Cooper lies by his side.
“It’s a beautiful thing. Life. It carries a direction and a purpose.”
Cooper struggles to prop himself up on one elbow.
“And then, one day, it’s over. And, that’s it. ”