Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 1

A Rick Beck Story

Editor: Jerry W.

© OLYMPIA50, 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved

For David

Thanks Tracy for helping to make this story come to life.

Prologue

Taz is back to work on the mesa. He's accustomed to a Spartan life, leaving the jungles of Vietnam before settling in Montana. He mends fences, herds cows, and lives in a cabin with Kodak, his trusted companion. They like a life where they depend on themselves and each other to survive.

Little does Taz know that he has been targeted by Sam Jones, head of the White Brotherhood, Taz helped bring down. Using skills he honed in Vietnam, he stops an attempted jailbreak, leading to the arrest of most of the members of the White Brotherhood.

Out of reach, Sam Jones is determined to strike back at Taz and Gen. Walker, men Jones holds responsible for dislodging him from Montana. He employs an army sniper to right the wrong done him and his movement.

Gen. Walker and the man he enlists for assistance must stop the would be assassin before he can do more damage.

Echoes

Gen. Walker's house was a treat for Taz & Kodak. Living up on the mesa in a cabin without electricity or running water isn't an easy life. Taz loves it. Kodak doesn't mind so much that he wanted to leave it or Taz. He overlooks the shortcomings and enjoys the natural world so close outside the front door.

Even though they love the peaceful mesa living, visiting the general's and Kathleen's is a treat they look forward to days in advance. It's there they are treated special and fed until they can't eat any more, and then they get food to take home with them.

Kathleen most often sent the invitation to a meal or a gathering that Taz & Kodak were always more than welcome to attend. The latest invitation came through Rowdy and was from the general. Any time Taz & Kodak rode Cyclone and Milkweed off the mesa, they were already thinking about the fine fresh foods Kathleen prepared because she knew what they liked best and got least often. When the general called for them to come down, it meant there was something important to be discussed.

From time to time there was a gathering, barbeque, or picnic behind the house, where all the cowboys met to celebrate the good life the ranch provided them. The cold stormy winter meant heavy coats and discomfort, and so the coming of spring was a perfect time to have the first gathering of the new year. Until the tied the horses up behind the house, they wouldn't know what kind of deal it was.

It had been over four months since the last get together and long past was the conflict with the rustlers, the white supremacists, and the courthouse shootout that had everyone's attention, until the general orchestrated the outlaw's last stand.

On this early April evening, there was no indication of what the general had in mind, and Taz & Kodak knew better than to try to get ahead of him. They were grateful anytime they were invited to dinner with two people they considered to be good company.

The general had a mind of his own. Few things got past him for long and he never forgot anything, especially when it concerned the health or wellbeing of one of his men. He didn't always know what to do, but in time, he was sure to do something. This meeting was about that. It also involved dinner with two men the Walkers enjoyed entertaining.

There were only the four of them at the dinner table. It was the usual feast of fresh vegetable dishes along with the beef in which the general took so much pride. He took good care of his cattle. They lived free and grazed on grass most of the year. It wasn't about profit, although the ranch supported itself with ease. It was Kathleen who long ago developed a plan to keep the ranch well within the profit margin necessary to maintain it.

The mixture of cattle and cowboys, who recently had been at war, was a good one. Once a man saw the brutality and senselessness of such conflicts, he was often more gentle and caring of animals. It was Gen. Walker's father who first brought soldiers home to the ranch to work.

Gen. Walker grew up among these kinds of men, who taught him what it meant to be a man. The soldiers he felt closest to and respected most, he invited to Montana. Gen. Walker was comfortable with them and they with him. When it came to trust, there was no one he trusted more, except for Kathleen, the woman he loved, and not incidentally, the woman who ran the ranch very nicely, thank you very much, while he was away at war.

When he decided it was time for him to retire, he wasn't sure he could, but he was happy once he did. There were days when he felt like he was missing something. These weren't feelings that could last long. There was a ranch to run. The conflict of the previous year did allow him to play general again.

Kathleen was there to remind him of how much he had to do each day if he wanted to keep the ranch running smoothly. On these days he wondered how his wife had managed without him all those years he was away at war.

The general kept a few prime head each year to butcher and serve at his table. It was the beef Taz & Kodak found in front of them at the special dinner. Kodak joined Kathleen, having a glass of her blackberry wine with Kathleen. It was their favorite before meal drink. Gen. Walker drank his 30 year old bourbon and Taz drank the sun tea Kathleen set out late in the morning to get the best result from the Montana sun.

"Come on back to my office," Gen. Walker said, once dinner dishes had begun to be cleared.

The general and Taz puffed on the long rich tasting cigars, reputed to be Cuban, but no one had any proof where they might have come from.

Rumor had it that during a visit to the White House, while then President Kennedy was contemplating the sending of more advisors to Vietnam, JFK provided the two star general with his first Cuban cigar after dinner. It was also rumored that JFK was so pleased with Gen. Walker's forthright advice, he explained how he got the embargoed cigars, so the general could have a supply in the Asian Theater where JFK sent him.

While it may or may not have been true, Gen. Walker knew how to get the cigars through third party countries, where the general had served and maintained relationships. No one had the audacity to search a general's luggage on his return to the States on R and R or upon his retirement. Even if he had cigars, who was going to question him on what kind they were.

No matter the source of the cigars or how the general came to have them in his possession, they were a good way to complete a meal in his mind.

"Mighty fine meal, General," Taz said loud enough for Kathleen to know he was talking to her.

Kodak stopped helping Kathleen clear the table to join Taz in the general's office. It was never for certain what the general might have on his mind, but it wasn't unusual for Kodak to come into the office with Taz. Since Kodak's return from his ordeal, after his plane crashed in the Pacific, Taz and Kodak were rarely separated.

"I've spent some time getting the right dates and the right records concerning your request, Taz. You know I worry about this soldier being directly connected to the breakdown you suffered. I might have simply said I wasn't able to find out his identity. The thought did occur to me. The thought also occurred to me that you deserve the truth, and I've always given you that.

"We've never talked about the details of the day you went off the rails but I do know more now, because there were several reports filed at the hospital about your presence at the young man's bedside when he died."

"You did find out his full name and where he was from," Taz interrupted, not wanting to drag it out any longer.

"Charles Drew Taylor from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, age nineteen. He died the day the congressional reception was to be held in your honor. That was the day you stood up the Congress of the United States, and much more importantly, their wives. It was the day your career as a military man ended. I never had the details, until I received the information on this young soldier. Now it's all clear. Many times it's best not to delve too deeply into someone's demons.

"I did ask Kendall about where he took you and what happened that set you off that day, but he was more interested in protecting you than pleasing his commanding general. He told me where he took you, which he dutifully recorded in his driver's log, without telling me any more than what he figured I already knew. I don't know anyone else Kendall would cover for if I asked him for the details.

"Putting this together with what I already knew, I have a clearer picture of how the wheels came off your wagon.

"That's how I knew I needed to let you finish what you started that day. You're on a journey I can't possibly understand, Taz. What I've written on this paper will take you where you think you want to go. I don't know if you'll find what you're looking for, but I've done all I can to assist you in your search.

"Before you make plans to leave the mesa, I want you to know there are no conditions to your return. You take as much time as you like. You satisfy whatever itch you need to scratch. Return when you're ready. You've earned that, Taz, and I want you to know that I depend on you in a way I don't depend on many men. Just keep that in mind and hopefully you'll make your absence a short one.

"The mesa is yours until you want to give it up. I'll put no one up there where you and Kodak live. I can have another cabin built in a day if the need arises. You won't be crowded in any sense of the word. Go do what you need to do and come home when you're ready to come home, but remember, this is your home as long as you want it."

"Thank you, General," Taz said, taking the piece of paper off the table. "We'll need to acquire a vehicle and make some plans. I won't leave until you move the cattle back off the mesa. Got to keep those fences repaired. There's no hurry after two years."

"Vehicles aren't a problem. I'll have one of the jeeps cleaned up and put in good working order. Idaho is just a little way over the hill from here. Hardly a day's drive."

"I hear that's pretty country," Kodak said. "I'll have to get some extra film. Let you see where we went," Kodak said to reassure the general about their return.

"Kodak, I've put a bag of coconuts on the back porch. Don't forget them. I have some bananas and fresh fruit in a canvas bag on top of some canned goods I picked up for you boys this morning," Kathleen said, sticking her head inside the door to speak.

"Thanks, Kathleen, Tazerski loves you," Kodak said.

"When are you going to bring the young fellow down again? I haven't seen him in an age."

"Next time we come down. He's getting a little more comfortable about coming to the house. It took him a little time to adjust to the cowboy way."

"I'm sure," Kathleen said. "He still ride Milkweed?"

"He does. I try to discourage it except when the horses are in the corral. No telling where he'd go if he got a chance to ride off into the sunset."

"A monkey on a horse. I've heard it all now," the general said, shaking his head.


It was dark by the time Taz & Kodak reached the cabin on the mesa. Tazerski was sitting in Taz's rocking chair on the front porch. Kodak let Milkweed move up beside the porch so the monkey could ride over to the corral, where the horses would stay overnight. It was April on the mesa and the nights were pleasantly cool with the fresh night air being comforting after the evening ride.

Kodak set out an open coconut for Tazerski to have for a treat, when he came in from being with the horses. He put a banana on the table for when he came inside, but when after the horses were gone a while, Tazerski liked being out with them, until he tired. It was a big change from when Tazerski wasn't comfortable being away from Kodak for any length of time.

For a monkey he'd adjusted rather well to the high plains of Montana. He'd adjusted to the times Taz & Kodak rode away from the cabin without him, but he liked it better when they took him down to the house to see the man and woman who treated him so special.

"You going to finish the addition before we go to Idaho?" Kodak asked.

"Window frames are still on back order. I don't have the roof on yet. Probably, but don't call it a promise. I didn't think it would take so long."

"I want to order the bed. That will take some time."

"The 'queen sized' bed?" Taz teased.

"Well, king sized bed sounds a bit intimidating, don't you think?"

"I don't know. I like the sound of it. How else am I going to feel like a king?"

"You're the king in our house, Taz," Kodak assured him.

"That may well be, but do you drive?"

"What?"

"Do you have a driver's license."

"Yeah, it's a California license, but it's still good."

"Can you drive a jeep?" Taz asked.

"It's got the stick thing, doesn't it?"

"Stick shift. I'm sure it does. What do you think?"

"I can learn," Kodak said.

"Maybe Kendall will take you out for a lesson. He can drive anything. He raced cars as a teenager, he told me."

"You can't drive, Taz?"

"No, my old man had a car but he wouldn't let me near it. It was broken down half the time and when it wasn't broken down he was wrecking it. I never had much interest in learning."

"When do you want to go?" Kodak asked.

"Next month. It'll still be nice, and after October the weather could turn bad. I have no interest in being out there in bad weather."

"Me either. That'll give you time to finish the bedroom."

"Probably," Taz said, not wanting to commit to an exact date.

"Jeremy said he was coming back to help this week."

"Yea, Rowdy said he'd stay once the frames came for the windows. He'd help me set them in and get them level," Taz said.

"I can help. I'm just not very good with my hands."

"I'd never say that, Kodak. You're fine with your hands."

"Actually, I have a better eye," Kodak bragged.

"Yes, you do. You picked me out. I'd say you have a very good eye."

"No, that's not how it happened. I think I was stuck with you, as I recall. It was something like losing a bet."

"That's very cruel. How could you think being around me could be called… stuck with me?"

"Truth hurts. I felt stuck. It's a good kind of stuck now."


Kodak was cleaning up after breakfast and sweeping out the cabin as Taz got out his toolbox to go to work.

"Why don't you walk Tazerski out to the corral? He's getting under foot and I want to finish sweeping," Kodak said. "If you take him to the corral he'll be out there for hours."

Tazerski looked from Kodak to Taz as they spoke.

"That's right, pick on the short guy. Make me watch your monkey. Come on, Tazerski. I know when we aren't wanted. I'll feed the horses while I'm out there. Then, I'll be around back working on your new bedroom. In Nam wherever I threw down my cot was my bedroom."

The door of the cabin was already open from when Taz & Kodak had morning coffee on the porch. Kodak used the opening to get rid of the pile of dirt that he swept out several times a day. When he was satisfied, he hesitated to remember as a kid his family stayed in a cottage down at the beach, where he watched his mother sweep every time he and his sisters came in from the beach. He smiled before turning to attend to the dishes.

Kodak heard it while his mind was wandering.

It wasn't unlike Taz banging nails up on the roof out at the back of the cabin. It was strange because he only heard it once. Usually the pounding went on for some time, once Taz got to hammering. It did sound like it came from the side of the house. was more to the side of the house. He stopped to listen before going back to work. There was no indication anything had changed.

He turned when he thought Taz came back into the house, but found it was Tazerski instead.

"What are you doing? I thought I sent you out to play with the horses?" Kodak scolded as Tazerski closed the distance between them.

The monkey leaped into Kodak's arms. He hid his face in Kodak's neck. Kodak could feel him shaking.

"You're shaking. What's wrong with you?"

The realization that something was seriously wrong came over Kodak slowly. Tazerski pushed himself out of Kodak's arms, leaping to the floor. He grabbed Kodak's hand, pulling him toward the door.

"Where's Taz?" Kodak asked, listening to a silence that was unusual in its magnitude.

Tazerski pulled more insistently.

It took a minute for Kodak to locate Taz. He had been sitting on the top rail of the corral beside Tazerski when the bullet hit him on the upper left side of his chest. His left leg was propped up on the lower corral rail. Taz lay motionless flat on his back.

"Taz! Taz!"

Kodak dropped down beside him, looking at a growing red stain on his shirt. Kodak's first instinct was to put his body in front of Taz's body, but he knew by the location of the wound, Taz was in serious trouble and if the gunman was going to shoot him a second time, he'd already have done so.

Kodak looked around, unable to see where the bullet might have come from. There was no movement on the floor of the canyon, except for two very nervous horses and an agitated monkey that had taken to squawking and pacing behind Kodak.

Once he was sure the gunmen wasn't still there, Kodak grabbed one of the saddles Taz had left on the gate of the corral, after taking them off the horses the night before, and he saddled Milkweed, leading her outside of the corral. He went back to ease Taz's shirt off as the horse waited beside him, still shivering from the fear of the unknown.

"Tazerski, take this to the general. Go to the house. The house. Bring the general. Do you understand me," Kodak spoke as if he were speaking to a young child.

He set Tazerski on the saddle, putting the shirt in front of Tazerski for him to hold. Tazerski watched Kodak's every move and listened carefully to each of his words. He knew where the trail led and he knew the tall slender man who was in charge lived there.

"Bring the general," Kodak said, holding the horse at the beginning of the trail that led down to the house, slapping Milkweed's flank, she trotted down the trail in the right direction with Tazerski holding on tightly, not accustomed to being sent off on horseback alone.

Once she started, Milkweed knew where she was going. When she reached the gate behind the house, she knew to wait for it to open, so she could go to the barn where she lived most of her life and where she got the oats she loved.

When Milkweed stopped, Tazerski, still holding the shirt, scampered over the top of the gate and across the compound to the back of the house with the shirt flapping in his hand.

"Hey, little guy, what are you doing out on your own," Boyd said, seeing the monkey scurry past, moving toward the house.

The back screen door slammed as Tazerski dashed inside, passing Kathleen, he headed for the general's office without hesitating.

"The boys are here?" she asked the monkey, moving toward the screen door. "Where are the boys?"

Kathleen knew something was seriously wrong. Tazerski would never come in the house without one of the boys. She knew where Tazerski was heading, and that in itself was baffling. Usually his first stop was the banana bowl on the table he passed on the way to the general's office.

Boyd was leading two horses toward the back of the house for the general's and Kathleen's morning ride, when Kathleen appeared on the back porch.

"Where are the boys?" Kathleen asked, hoping they'd just stopped to talk.

"Don't know. Monkey came on Milkweed. I was about to let her in, when I got done here. She's standing at the gate."

"She's alone?"

"Just her and the monkey," Boyd said, only then thinking it was odd.

"Something's wrong. Get some of the boys. I got a bad feeling, Boyd."

"Yes, ma'am. We going to ride up there."

"Let me talk to the general. We'll be riding up there."

Kathleen went back into the house and the general came toward her with Taz's shirt in his hand.

"He's been shot. We got to get up there. I called Westphalia to get his ass out here. He's on the way."

"Boyd, bring a jeep and a stretcher. Rowdy, bring me and the missus our Winchesters. Get me four men on horseback, armed. Get them up there a half-hour ago. Take a first–aid kit and get some plasma out of the freezer."

"What's up, boss?" Kendall said, jogging from the radio room with Crosby in tow, after hearing the commotion.

"Taz has been shot," he said, holding up the bloodstained shirt. "Kodak may be hurt too. We're heading up there. I want a jeep, a stretcher, medical supplies for triage. Upper left quadrant chest wound. We'll need to bring him down on the back of the jeep." the general gave emphatic orders without knowing the extent of the injury.

This wasn't something the general had to ponder. He'd spent most of his life ordering men into battle and ordering the care they needed, once the battle ended. It was an automatic response to the emergency.

"Yes, sir. On the way, boss. You go ahead, I'll be there as quick as I can. I'll be set up to transport him back down."

"Here's the Winchesters," Rowdy said, attaching the weapons and their leather sheaths to the saddle of each of the waiting horses. "I've got four men saddling up. We'll be right behind you if you want to go ahead. Kendall, we've got the medical equipment at the barn door. We're stripping out a jeep for you."

"Leave someone here to tell Dr. Westphalia where we've gone. He's on the way."

Boyd was leading Milkweed around the gate when the general and Kathleen galloped out, heading up the trail.

It was less than five minutes before Kendall pulled the jeep up to the gate. Rowdy and four wranglers charged around the jeep on their way up the trail as Kendall held the gate for them to pass.

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