Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 13

Reunited

The jet black '64 Ford Galaxy stopped at the guard post at the front entrance to Gen. Walker's ranch. The radio in Crosby's office crackled.

"Mr. Dave Miller has an appointment to see Gen. Walker."

"Send him up. He's okay."

The car parked near the back porch and the blond haired young man walked up the steps and knocked on the back door.

"Come on in," Gen. Walker said, extending his hand and introducing himself as they went back to his office.

Gen. Walker picked up the phone and dialed the house on the mesa.

"Kodak, Gen. Walker, I've got someone I'm bringing up to see Taz. Yes, it's Mr. Miller. We'll be up in a few minutes."

The general stood at the gate, waiting for the black sedan to go through. He closed the gate and got into the passenger side of the car. It followed the brand new single lane of asphalt that took them the four miles up to the mesa. The car stopped in front of the hitching post that sat at the side of the house.

The young man followed Gen. Walker as he opened the screen door to the front porch and held it for his companion.

"Hi, Kodak. Dave Miller. This is Kodak, Mr. Miller."

"Hi," the young man said, shaking Kodak's hand.

"Sit here. You can put your things on the table. I'll get Taz. He needs to rest in the afternoon. He'll be glad to see you. He's wanted to meet you for a long time."

Kodak went into the bedroom and Taz's eyes were immediately on him.

"You've got company, babe."

"Oh, Jesus, tell me it isn't a newsman."

"No, it's Dave Miller."

"Who?"

"He's the fellow you stood in for when the soldier was dying that day in DC."

Taz swung his feet out of bed, holding his left arm close to the bandage that ran from his chest to below his beltline. He pulled on his jeans, slipped into his slippers, and put on the shirt he left hanging on the door handle before lying down. He moved out toward the open end of the house.

Gen. Walker was pouring coffee from the pot on the stove.

"Coffee, Taz?" Gen. Walker asked.

"Yes, sir. It'll get my eyes open."

Taz stood at the table and extended his hand to the visitor.

"I'm Taz."

"I'm Dave," the visitor said, standing to shake Taz's hand.

"David… he called you David."

"Charlie? Yes, he always did. Dave sounds more mature, don't you think?"

"That's up to you," Taz said. "You get to decide. You're older than I thought you'd be."

"You're way younger than I thought you'd be. You're my age. I was almost a year older than Charlie."

"He was very young," Taz said, thinking back to the day at the hospital, when he held the hand of a boy soldier as he died for his country. "I feel very old if that helps."

"What the hell happened to you?" Dave asked, looking through Taz's unbuttoned shirt.

"Shot. I got shot," Taz said.

The general stood off to one side of the table and Kodak stood off to the other. Taz sat down across from the young man.

"How's Coconut doing? Has Tazerski gotten tired of his pony yet?" the general asked.

"No, he spends a lot of time with Coconut. Let's go out. I'll show you. We'll be back in a few minutes. You enjoy your visit," Kodak said to Taz as he led the way out.

"They tell me you're famous," Dave said.

"I'm just a soldier they took pictures of in battle. The pictures were famous for a while. I wasn't."

"Why'd you sit with Charlie? They told his mother you were on a tour of the hospital and when you came to his room you went in and stayed until he died. Why? Charlie was nothing to you."

Taz squirmed realizing this was a door he'd rather not open. It had started his downfall several years before. Charlie's death sent Taz into a tailspin for reasons he still didn't understand.

"He was a brother. He was in that sterile room all alone. He was hooked up to all kinds of machines. They told me he wasn't going to live. I decided I needed to sit with him. A man shouldn't die alone, especially a brother."

"I appreciate that. Charlie was too young to die. We weren't on very good terms when he left to join the army. I told him he was a fool. He had a high number. He'd never have been drafted. My number was lower than his. I didn't go. They would have had to come and get me. He went anyway. I guess that sounds pretty bad to a war hero. It's how I felt. I had nothing against the Vietnamese."

"Me either, Dave. How you felt was how you felt. This is America. You get to make up your own mind. I'm not sure I'd go now if I had it to do all over again."

"You joined?" Dave asked.

"I joined. I volunteered for Vietnam as soon as I was old enough to go. It's a long story."

"I don't think a guy is smart enough at eighteen to be put into life and death situations. A lot of them are going to die because they aren't smart enough to stay alive."

"Amen," Taz said, trying to relieve Dave of his guilt.

"I told Charlie he'd never make it back. He was no soldier. He was a nice kid. Never hurt anyone. I didn't go to say goodbye to him. We were best friends before that. I was pretty mad. We'd been friends all our lives. We did everything together, until he joined the army."

"He was young. So young," Taz said. "I got all the way through my tour in Vietnam and didn't get much more than a scratch. The pictures of me took on a life of their own. I was on a tour of the country when I met up with Charlie. Once he died… once I watched him die…. He thought I was you. He kept calling me David."

Dave's face turned into a boy's face. His eyes filled with tears. He wanted to speak but couldn't. Taz decided to finish what he was going to say.

"When I left him, I promised him I'd look you up and let you know he was thinking of you when he died. He must have thought a lot of you. There isn't a lot more to say."

Dave Miller looked down at the things he'd brought into the house with him. A few tears leaked down his cheeks as he made an effort to keep Taz from noticing. He thought of the friend he'd missed and was still angry with for giving up his life for a cause Dave didn't believe was right. Dave was saddest about the time he wasted being mad at Charlie.

"Here," Dave said, moving the magazines and a high school yearbook to reveal the hand made peace symbol Taz put around Charlie's neck that day. "They told us you gave your peace symbol to Charlie just before he died. It came back with his things. His mother didn't know what it was. She gave it to me the day we buried him. You should have it back. It was between you and Charlie."

"I'll be damned," Taz said, holding the peace symbol that Solomon had given him years before. "Metal Peace."

Taz wore it under his uniform, feeling as if it had some magical power to protect him. He slipped it around his neck as Dave watched, seeing it had some effect on Taz.

"Metal piece?" Dave asked.

"It's made of metal. It's a peace symbol. Metal peace. It's an Indian deal from a wise old Indian," Taz explained.

"Oh. Glad I brought it. I wasn't sure if I should. How'd you get shot anyway?"

"Someone wanted me dead. Laid for me on the ridge out behind the house. Shot me one morning last month. I'm lucky to be alive," he said, his hand cradling the metal.

"You go through Vietnam safe and sound and come home and get shot. That's pretty lame."

"Yes it is. Life is like that. How'd you get here?"

"I drove. A man named McCoy talked to Charlie's mom. He asked about me. Of course she knew who he was talking about right off. Charlie and I were best friends for forever. I was always at his house or he was at mine.

"This McCoy guy told her the story and said that you wanted to meet me, but you were a bit under the weather and since I only live over in Idaho, I told him I'd drive here. I knew the story about a war hero sitting with him until he died. I wanted to meet him… you."

"I do appreciate that. It has been on my mind more than once. His last thoughts were of you. He thought I was you. He thought he was talking to you. I can't recall much of the conversation. He seemed happy I was there. You were there. He talked about you being boys together. Things you'd have understood, but I didn't.

"He did apologize to you. Said you were right and he should have never enlisted. He was smiling and seemed happy to get that off his shoulders. He died peacefully. I was holding his hand and he was chattering away one minute, and then he was gone that quick. Just stopped living," Taz said, amazed at the time how swiftly it took place.

Dave had tears in his eyes as he listened.

"Glad he passed easy. They say he had a rough road after he was wounded. Glad he didn't suffer at the end. Glad you were there. Wish I'd have gone.

"By the time I knew he was at Walter Reed, he was already dead."

The general and Kodak came back inside a few minutes later. There were a couple of minutes of small talk. Dave showed Taz some of the pictures of Charlie and him in their high school year book. He had the two copies of Time magazine with Taz on the cover.

"I got these from our librarian back home. Would you mind signing them for me."

"No," Taz said, taking Dave's ink pen and signing both covers for him.

As Dave stood and said he should be going, they shook hands again.

"Thanks for coming. I'm glad to meet you," Taz said.

As Dave passed in front of the general, and he began to follow him out, Taz stopped him.

"General," Taz said.

The general stopped and turned in the doorway with the sun directly over his should. His shadow on the floor almost reached the table.

"I don't know how I can ever repay you. No one has ever been so kind to me, General," Taz said, saluting.

"You already have, Taz. You gave me someone I can look up to," and the general saluted him right back.

Gen. Walker turned and left the doorway.

"Nice. Very nice," Kodak said.

It was a bright day. It was the kind of day that made you feel glad to be alive. Dave's black Ford Galaxy crawled back down the thin shiny stretch of asphalt toward the general's house.

Taz sat silent with a half cup of cold coffee in front of him. Kodak sat across from him, wondering if an old wound was reopened by the surprise visit.

"It came back to you. I remember the day that dude gave it to you. We were up in a park in San Francisco."

"Solomon gave it to me in Golden Gate Park."

"You never cease to amaze me, Taz."

"Thought he may have a screw loose. Solomon told me I'd give it away one day. He didn't say it would come back."

"You okay?" Kodak asked.

"Yea, I'm fine. Something like finishing a journey. I'm glad he came. The promise has been fulfilled."

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead