Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 15

McCoy Investigates McCoy

McCoy never believed in the duality of man. It's how he came to see Taz. He went back to read the articles on Taz again. It would be part of his need to know things about people. There were comments from the men of 1st squad. They called Taz 'a fighting fool' and 'a fighting machine.' These words had been spoken with reverence, one army man about another. Taz was the man you wanted beside you when you went into battle.

This seemed contrary to the efficient ranch hand stories that came from the bunkhouse. A new round of inquires got McCoy stories of Taz chasing rustlers, commiserating with Indians, and of a man who stood his ground in the shootout at the courthouse, and then went back to fence mending and herding cows.

Taz could be centermost in one story and just one of the cowboys a few minutes later. He seemed to have little interest in anything but doing his job, but he'd do whatever he was called upon to do. The equivalent to: "…And all other jobs assigned" in Gen. Walker's army of cowboys.

'Wasn't that what he was doing in Vietnam… a job the way he saw it?' McCoy wondered to himself.

The most action McCoy saw, was in breaking up fights in one of the local whorehouses or bars that sprang up where soldiers were found. It wasn't like fighting a war at all and McCoy didn't know if he could face fire and stand fast.

It wasn't something unique to him. Every soldier questioned whether or not he could face death without turning tail to run. Taz faced fire with distinction. This made him an attractive character to McCoy. He wasn't impressed by losing his prisoner to Taz, who had every right to want Slade dead, even before Slade insulted him.

McCoy Knew he failed to do his job properly. Knowing Taz and Kodak had him assuming they'd act predictably. When you are taking down a hardcore killer, and one of his victims is present, 'never assume anything,' McCoy reasoned to himself repeatedly.

McCoy thought he would have liked knowing Taz the soldier. He liked visiting Taz the cowboy. He'd drive up to spend a few hours, drinking coffee, and they'd sit out on the porch to watch the colors in the Montana sky change.

A group of pronghorn might pass, or an elk, sometimes a bear could be seen from the porch. McCoy did most of the talking. Taz sounded like a cowboy should. He sounded comfortable with his life. McCoy thought he might find some mystery beneath Taz's cowboy way, but he didn't. Taz talked and acted like any cowboy would.

Nothing he said or did explained the man inside the cowboy. That discovery was more perplexing than Taz taking his prisoner away from him. By all appearances Taz was an ordinary man.

Kodak was the perfect host and offered McCoy food and more coffee at regular intervals. It was another new concept McCoy couldn't quite get his brain around, but Taz and Kodak were perfectly suited to one another if outward appearances were to be believed. Their fondness for one another was apparent.

Taz loved the new house and the idea the general built it for him. It was more creature comfort than Taz had ever known, but he was ready to ride out on a horse and stay for several days, as soon as he was able. The comfort was nice but Taz was tough and he wouldn't let it soften him.

Which brought McCoy back to the day Taz almost killed Slade. There wasn't a jury in the country that would convict Sgt. Tazerski in such a matter. There wasn't a judge who would put him in prison for killing the man who tried to kill him. These facts ran through McCoy's brain the day of the event, making it more disturbing.

There was no way he could stop Taz. If asked to tell what happened, McCoy would have said he didn't see anything. If Taz had killed Slade, McCoy would have wiped the gun clean of prints, dropping it beside Slade's side, instructing the boys to drive away. Then he'd do the same thing, taking the riflemen he brought with him.

Sheriff Ward had bailed out of the investigation of Taz's shooting as soon as the general told him he had an investigator coming. The sheriff was cooperating with McCoy and in return he now knew Jake Slade was the shooter as well as a participant in the courthouse shootout.

It was small town Montana. The man who helped shoot up the courthouse was found dead on Main Street. There would be no crying over this death or worry over how he got that way, but townspeople would sleep easier, and they'd thank the sheriff for a job well done.

Knowing this disturbed McCoy. He was going to be a cop. Seeing justice done was his job, but he wasn't a cop yet, and what was more just than a killer killed by a man he was trying to kill? It wasn't according to the law but it was just.

Letting Taz get to Slade bothered McCoy, and it forced him to consider all contingencies concerning Slade's death, after the event ended. Slade didn't die but he could have.

No, McCoy wouldn't have dropped a dime on Taz. There were any number of reasons why. This was disconcerting for an aspiring police detective. Why did he feel the way he felt? Maybe it was the general he was protecting.

The other thing McCoy was trying to understand was Kodak. He gave him the wire, telling him why he had to wear it. Kodak put it on. He listened to all the instructions about what could go wrong, which all ended with him in serious jeopardy. Except McCoy would be there every step of the way to put a bullet in Slade before the shooting started, and that explained McCoy's attitude. He was ready to shoot Slade on sight if either Kodak or Taz was in danger.

When the chips were down, Kodak spoke into the microphone with clarity. He did everything possible to keep from moving away from the pharmacy, until McCoy took over. Taz had courage few men possessed. Kodak was willing to protect his man any way necessary.

The love and affection between two men was awkward for McCoy. He wasn't able to ask questions about that either. He was made far too nervous by something he didn't understand. He'd seen it the day he got Slade, but it was most apparent on the mesa.

It was something McCoy wanted to understand. Two men he respected, with due cause, weren't afraid of sharing a hug or of holding hands as they watched the Montana sky change. With all the heartache and heartbreak in the world, McCoy found it heartwarming.

Taz wasn't going to be a cop. He figured bad people needed to be disposed of when necessary. Good people needed protecting. Taz didn't mind protecting them, or himself, from a killer. He wasn't going to wait around for someone else to decide to do it.

Taz didn't have much use for people. He felt someone should have protected him as a boy, but no one did. It wasn't until Vietnam that he found a purpose in life. He took on the role as protector-in-chief of 1st squad. His job, as he saw it, was to keep them alive.

Once home he'd been swept up in a whirlwind that had nothing to do with war or returning from one. He was on stage, playing a role the army ordered him to play. It's when he came face to face with a soldier dying from the war that he slid down the razor's edge.

The horrors of war, its consequences, and the scars it left weren't easily repaired. The incongruity of what he was doing and what he had done collided at Walter Reed when a young soldier died.

The whirlwind swept Kodak up with Taz. They bonded, depending on one another in a way they'd never depended on anyone else. Kodak became the first person Taz trusted, but Kodak lacked the ability to put Taz back together again.

The life and death struggle of war was replaced by sunny Montana skies, after Gen. Walker took charge. It wasn't easy living on the mesa, but as long as they were together, it completed them in a way nothing else did.

Being a cowboy wasn't a lot different from being a soldier. A cowboy had a job and he did it. It was easy once Taz applied his sense of duty to it. He felt good about it.

In Montana, on Gen. Walker's ranch, everything made sense to Taz. There was a predictable order to his life. It furnished a security Taz relished. He was sure it made him a better man.

When McCoy said his final goodbye, he was sure he'd see the boys again. Taz thanked him again for saving his life and McCoy blushed, saying, "I didn't do anything."

Kodak laughed at the uncoordinated parting.


Sitting in the general's office, McCoy was ready to eat. He could smell dinner. He sipped the coffee Kathleen gave him.

"I'm going to need to go see if my discharge is ready, I think I'm on overtime," he said to the general.

"Oh, that reminds me. This came for you last week. I kept forgetting to tell you."

The general opened his top drawer to slid it across to McCoy.

"It says my discharge papers were sent to the Montana Reserve unit near here. It's dated ten days ago, General," McCoy said.

"You were doing such a fine job, I didn't want to distract you. I took the liberty of writing the Chicago Police Commissioner. I told him if he gets tired of you eating everything in sight, I'd put you on my payroll, because you're the best damn investigator around."

"Thank you, General. I've got a question for you before you get me to my discharge. Maybe ask Crosby to get me to Joliet."

"Shoot, McCoy. I owe you now."

"The sergeant. Tazerski. I've read the articles. While I was at FBI Headquarters I wandered over to the Washington Post morgue and dug up the articles about Tazerski. He was in DC one minute and dropped out of sight the next. No one was ever quite sure of where he went. Where was he and how did he avoid the stockade after standing up the US Congress?" McCoy asked.

"I went to West Point with a man who became a shrink. He was US Army all the way. I called him and told him what I needed. Being a doctor, as well as a high ranking officer, he committed Taz for a drying out period, while I expedited his discharge.

"The last thing the army wanted was to see their golden boy brought up on charges. The army smoothed it over with congress. Once discharged, I flew him to Montana," the general said.

"What happened to him? I know it had something to do with that kid who died, but this guy is a major hero. He's famous. He's got the world by the tail and could write his own ticket. What happened?"

Gen. Walker reached into his humidor for two cigars, tossing McCoy one. Once they were lit, he leaned back and kicked his boots up on his desk, putting his hands behind his head.

"War is hell, McCoy. Taz was a perfect fighting machine. If I had an army of men like Taz, I could rule the world. The trouble with war is, it's war. A man can only endure so much. Some men stay focused and never deal with it at all. They cram it all down inside and hope it never surfaces, or some it doesn't bother.

"My father once told me that after WWII, all the men gathered near ports in tent cities. They were with their squad, with their company, and they could sit and talk to each other about it, drink, explore the local landscape before taking a slow boat home.

"On the ships they were shoulder to shoulder with guys who saw action with them and knew what they knew, experienced what they experienced, and they talked about it. They worked it out, so to speak.

"When they got home, few of them wanted to talk about the war again. It was over and they'd made it home alive. The therapy they needed was furnished by the men they fought beside. No one else could understand what they'd done and seen. Why talk about it? That's old soldier rationale," The general explained.

"Almost all my cowboys were once soldiers in Vietnam. I invited the men I knew personally to come to Montana to be a cowboy if they want. We're talking America's finest fighting men. I rarely had much to do with the front line troops, but I met soldiers, and many soldiers on my staff saw action.

"This is their boat ride home in some cases. There are guys who don't have a home to go to, and so they stay on as cowboys. It's a good life, hard work, good food, modest pay. Some men come to the ranch, spend some time, readjust to being home, moving on to another more appealing place.

"Taz was lost in the bush in Vietnam one day and being wined and dined the next. There was no decompression time at all. He'd never had any kind of a life except in the army. It's all the boy knew. Taz was a decorated war hero touring the country at the ripe old age of nineteen. It's what he was ordered to do. It was a sweet gig.

"His visit to Walter Reed triggered a response made far worse by what he was doing. Everywhere he went he was greeted like a hero. When he sat with that dying boy, something broke inside Taz. He saw himself as part of what killed that boy, which was contrary to what motivated him. That's my interpretation of events.

"The death forced Taz to deal with his role in war. It didn't matter if congress or the president was waiting in the wings, it was his time to come home from war.

"As far as I can tell, if Kodak hadn't been there for him, we might never have gotten Taz back. He was in danger of losing himself. He's at peace with himself on the mesa. He's as good a man as I've got. As long as he has a job and Kodak is there to keep him company, I think his life is as good as it has ever been. Taz belongs here."

"You know, he nearly killed Slade," McCoy said. "I thought he was a dead man."

"I thought Slade had a gun on Taz and you came to the rescue?"

"He nailed Slade upside the head with his elbow. Can you believe that. He's all bound up. Has a hole in him, and yet he waited for Slade to move into range, bonk, out like a light. I couldn't believe it. I was talking Slade out of his gun and Taz takes him out."

"You were going to talk him out of his gun? He's a killer."

"I had my gun three feet from his head. He had his gun pointed at the back of Taz's seat. There were four riflemen on top of the pharmacy with orders to blow him up if he flinched. I had him."

"So that's where my cowboys have been. Riding around with my investigator. Slade wasn't the kind of guy that was going to prison for the rest of his life without putting up a fight, McCoy?"

"I'm not convinced of that," McCoy said.

"You better thank Taz the next time you see him. He did the right thing. That boy is fearless."

"You think so? I haven't finished yet."

"Taz wasn't waiting around for you to finish?" the general said.

"I've got Slade's gun. Everything's under control. Then Kodak hugs Taz in front of Slade. Slade said something about a faggot, and Taz was on him like stink on shit. I still don't know how he got to him. The boy's wounded. He gets Slade's gun, and I swear to god he was trying to shove it up his nose."

"McCoy, you left a piece out. That's not like you. How did he get Slade's gun away from you?"

"I put it down on the rear fender," McCoy said sheepishly.

"Which means you didn't have Slade's gun."

"Anyway, I mean Taz was a madman, General. He kept asking Slade to repeat what he said."

"Did he?" the general said.

"No! He was too busy begging for his life."

"I suspect he was."

"He pissed himself and begged Taz not to kill him."

"Did he kill him?"

"No."

"What happened."

"He gave me the gun and calmed down."

"Sounds like Taz. Then you had the gun?"

"Yes, but not before I almost pissed my pants. I don't know why Slade is still alive. I want to be a cop and Taz totally outflanked me. I didn't know what to do."

"You let him get his hands on a gun with the man who shot him a few feet away. Not a good move, McCoy. You need to work on that."

"Not good at all. I learned my lesson."

"A fighting machine, McCoy. You can take the boy out of the army but you can't take the army out of the boy. He's a trained killer. He was trained by the finest military in the world. You're lucky, McCoy. What would you have done if Taz used the gun?"

"I swear, he had that gun up his nose. There was nothing I could do. It was all up to Taz. All I could do was watch. I felt helpless."

"He taught you something?"

"Yes, he did."

"You're a good man, McCoy. You'll be a good cop."

"Thank you, General. Is that dinner I smell?"

"You're a piece of work, McCoy. You're going to weigh three hundred pounds one day."


Gen. Walker moved down the back steps of his porch to walk out to where Taz was opening the gate, after he heard their jeep returning from town.

"Going to need to stop letting you go out by yourself," Gen. Walker said.

"Your birddog was keeping an eye on us, until he got Slade the other day. You think I didn't know McCoy was around somewhere? I ever tell you about when my neck begins to itch?"

"Jake Slade had a hard head?" Gen. Walker asked, looking at Taz's sling.

"I suppose. I'd have used a club but I didn't have one handy."

"McCoy said you almost killed that bird," Gen. Walker said.

"Nearly bout. I decided I didn't need to kill him. He's just one of a million assholes. Can't kill 'em all, General, but I'll kill him if he ever crosses my path again."

"There will be a trial," Gen. Walker said.

"What'm I going to say, 'I got shot. I was sitting on a fence and woke up in a hospital.' No, they won't need me in court. He's a bad man. McCoy got the goods on him."

"Broken?" Gen. Walker asked.

"There's a crack. The sling keeps me from forgetting."

"You need anything, you know where I am. Kodak, keep an eye on your cowboy."

"Yes, sir," Kodak said. "I thought we left the brushes with death back in Vietnam. It got pretty close to us out there that day. Slade meant to kill us, General. He was one cold dude."

"Not so cold Taz didn't get him to piss his pants," the general said. "Paper tiger."

"McCoy's been talking, I see. I guess he saved our bacon. He's been up to check on us three or four times since he got Slade. I figured we wouldn't see him again after the showdown in town. Putting that asphalt down makes it easy on him to come see us." Taz said. "I walked Cyclone some. Won't be long I'll be able to ride out to the fence line, get back to work."

"Don't rush it, Taz. We sent the herd to market last month. We aren't using the mesa now. You take it easy and heal up proper."

"Where'd McCoy come from, General?"

"McCoy was an MP in Vietnam, when we first crossed paths. He went into Army Investigation. He didn't see war up close. I don't think he ever had to kill anyone. By the description he gave me, he expected everything to go a certain way. There were risks but he had calculated how best to reduce the risk to you."

"Yea, he wired up Kodak. I was riding along without a care in the world. Things like that don't usually slip by me."

"When you went after Slade, after the event ended in McCoy's mind, your rage caught him by surprise. I think the fact he didn't see it coming is what shocked him most. He reasons everything out to its logical conclusions. He didn't figure you into the equation."

"I figured he was trying to resolve something out when he kept coming up to visit. You know him better than I do. What I know is he made sure Slade didn't kill me. That's all I need to know, but I can't tell him or you why I didn't kill him. I was ready to. He called me that name and I wanted to kill him, but I didn't. That's all there is to it.

"You might could say, it's why I like Montana. It's why I like your ranch, General. Damn few assholes to kill. When I meet me one that needs killing, I let him go. You figure I'm getting soft?"

Gen. Walker started laughing. Taz smiled.

"No, I figure you're just about right, Taz. As men go, you're one of the best men I've known. You don't need to explain yourself to me."

"Thanks for saying so, General. I'm a little tired. It's nice to be home and I do appreciate all you do, but I need one more thing."

"Shoot, son."

"I appreciate all the protection. They got me through a rough patch when I first came home. I feel like I'm ready for you to move the sentries off the mesa now. My neck hasn't itched all day."

"Let me talk to McCoy. He's my security expert. If he agrees, I'll pull the cowboys off the mesa."

"Thanks," Taz said, ready for the ride to the mesa. "General," Taz said, hesitating.

"Yes, son?"

"You're like the father I never had, you know."

"Taz, I couldn't be more proud of you if you were my own son," the general said.

Taz smiled and sat down beside Kodak in the jeep.

"Thanks, General," Kodak said, moving the jeep through the gate on the way home.

Gen. Walker pushed the gate closed as he watched the jeep ease along the single black strip of asphalt. He smiled and turned to walk back to his office. He began to whistle.

Postscript

Gen. Walker and Angus McCoy sat smoking cigars in the general's office before it was time for McCoy to make his exit to start his new life in Chicago.

"I still haven't gotten a line on Jones, General, but Jake Slade is singing like a canary. Jones hired him to kill Taz and you. They've already sworn out warrants for Jones. Attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He's looking at big time."

"Jones isn't going to shoot anyone. He's your typical frightened little man," the general said. "Slade's a songbird? You just never know."

"He could hire someone else to do his dirty work. Jake Slade isn't the only gun for hire out there."

"Could be, and we'll deal with it when that time comes. Good work, McCoy. You took Slade down without firing a shot. Pretty damn impressive, you ask me," the general said, smoke rising to the top of the room.

"I've decided to look at it your way, General. Damn nice work. I can hang around a year and never know what makes Taz tick. He did what he did and I do what I do. It all turned out fine."

"Taz can't explain why that word sets him off. He can't explain why he didn't go ahead and kill Slade. He killed way better men than Slade in Vietnam. It is what it is, McCoy. Some things aren't meant to be explained. Taz is Taz."

"How do you feel about that word, McCoy."

"Ugly. I understand ugly, but not how he went off."

"Say you're a gay. Say you're every bit as good a man as any man alive, but someone seeks to diminish you. They call you that. I don't know how I feel about Taz and Kodak, but what I know is, they're happy together. By god that's a small miracle. So few people find the kind of happiness they share, I bless them for it."

"No one ever called me that, so I don't know. I know you got one tough cowboy. In spite of his temper, he's a damn good man, General. I also can tell you, when Slade called him that, I winced. I can't say I didn't see what was coming. I may have just ignored it."

"Now you're talking, McCoy. Think the best about yourself and when you can't do that, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. I didn't have anyone else I could call concerning Taz being shot, but I had no doubt in my mind, I wanted you on the case. Since this is your first civilian case, you can mark it off as solved."

"Thank you, General. I'll tell my new boss that."

"Which brings me to security. Taz wants the sentries pulled off the mesa. I told him it was up to you."

"Considering all I know and all I've learned, I think it's safe. I've taken out the hiding places on the rim. The wire blocking off the rim from easy access is going to discourage anyone from getting closer. Run a jeep up top a couple of times a week to be sure.

"You know to keep your eyes open now. You need to remember if something looks suspicious, check it out. Use common sense and you should be fine from here on out," McCoy said. "Case closed and time for me to get back to my own life."

The End

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