Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

My Old Montana Home

Turning into the driveway at the ranch made Kodak smile. Kendall looked at him, realizing the change as he came to a stop next to the back porch. A couple of the wranglers came over to get a look at the monkey. Once more, Tazerski buried his face in Kodak's neck. The cowboys that knew Kodak said hello, explaining to the new arrivals about Taz, the picture Kodak took, and Time magazine putting it on the cover.

"We're home, sir," Kendall said, before turning into the general's office with Kodak right behind him.

Gen. Walker stood up and came around the corner of the desk, putting his hand on Kodak's shoulder as Tazerski considered it and the man attached to it.

"You're a sight for sore eyes. You look wonderful, Kodak. I've never seen you with so much color. You lost a little weight, and who do we have here?" The general asked, touching the back of Tazerski's head with a gentle hand. "Hi, buddy. Welcome to Montana."

"How is he?" Kodak asked, shaking the general's hand as Tazerski kept his eye on him.

"Under the circumstances, he's held up pretty well. I didn't know you were coming until you were almost here. We've had a situation and I wasn't in my office for a few days. The news of your arrival didn't give me much time to prepare him. You know we didn't know if we'd ever see you again. I decided to send word I needed to see him and ask him to come down for dinner.

"You have time for a shower. Do you need anything? What can I do for you? How about this guy? He need a banana?"

"Some fruit for Tazerski would be nice. I'll have to give him canned once we get up to the mesa."

"Not a chance. We'll have fresh sent in a couple of times a week. He looks like a growing boy to me," the general said, smiling large at the ranch's newest resident.

"I just saw a bunch of bananas in the kitchen. Would he like one of those?"

"Yes, I'm sure he'd like a banana. He's never had one. They had some on the navy ship but they'd spoiled."

"Come on. Kathleen will love to see you. She's got the kitchen going full tilt to give you such a welcome. She's been floating on air since we got word you were on the way back."

The general led the way as they headed to the kitchen.

"Look who I brung you, Kathleen."

"Oh, my goodness," she said, wiping her hands on her apron before coming to hug Kodak. "Oh, I'm so glad to see you. Taz will be beside himself. I've been so worried about that boy."

"Thank you. I've been worried about him myself."

"Kath, I'm stealing a banana for his friend."

"Oh, my word. I almost ignored him. How are you, little guy," Kathleen said, smiling for Tazerski.

"He's really been confused since we left the island. He wouldn't let me leave without him."

"Well, we can always use another ranch hand," the general said, handing Tazerski a bright yellow banana. "Here you go, fellow. Is he a fellow?"

"Yeah, I named him Tazerski."

The general and his wife laughed.

Tazerski lost all interest in everything but the yellow fruit, as he worked on getting at what he seemed to suspect was inside.

"What would you like? I have a pig in the oven. We've got chicken and several casseroles. Can I get you something to hold you until dinner? It'll be a few hours before we're all set up to eat."

"No, ma'am. I'm fine. Maybe a shower and I'd like to lie down for a few minutes to regroup. I've been in one place so long, and for the last few days I haven't stopped moving. Now that I'm home I'm finally able to relax. I wondered if I'd ever see Montana again."

"Or Taz, I bet," she said, feeling Kodak's cheek. "You're so tan. That beard makes you look older. I'll make sure there are some towels in the guest room, but I bet you can't wait to get back to the mesa?"

"No, ma'am. I'll be all the way home once I get there."

"Nice having you home, Kodak," she said, leading him to the guest room at the back of the house.

"Kendall, get those things in the armory. Uncrate it all. It's stuff we might need to convince the enemy they don't want to mess with Montana. Get Rowdy on making sure it all works."

"Yes, sir," Kendall said, heading toward the back door.

As dinner time neared, the cowboys slowly began cleaning up and meeting on the back porch, waiting for word the feast was on. Kodak went to the window in his bedroom from time to time as he showered, shaved, and got into a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt Kathleen brought for him.

Tazerski sat on the bed, watching Kodak do things he'd never seen him do before. Without the beard, Kodak looked far younger than the young man that had come in an hour earlier. Tazerski held his hand as they walked back toward the kitchen.

It was after he left the window in the bedroom that the lone horseman rode off the hill toward the gate that separated the meadow from the house. Taz only knew the general wanted to talk about the court case and he'd get dinner that didn't include anything burnt or dried.

As Taz leaned to release the gate, Kodak walked out onto the back porch. His eyes were immediately on the figure at the gate. He froze. Seeing the man he loved, after so long, filled him with emotion.

Cyclone carried Taz around the gate and he leaned to close and secure it. When he wheeled Cyclone around toward the house, his eyes locked on Kodak's eyes. Cyclone stopped. Taz sat frozen, seeing a sight he wondered if he'd ever see again. His prayers had been answered.

He slid down out of the saddle, taking his hat off and dropping it on the saddle horn. After composing himself for a few seconds, he turned and began to move toward Kodak, who was already off the porch and on his way to Taz.

Coming together near the middle of the compound, their embrace turned a lot of cowboy heads. It was heartfelt and long overdue, filled with the affection the two men felt for one another. There were no words because neither of them could speak. They just held on to one another for dear life.

Tears ran down Taz's face. He shook as he held tightly to the man who had given him a life.

Rowdy and then Kendall started to applaud, feeling the emotion of the moment. The general and Kathleen clapped their hands, needing to do something, and half the cowboys clapped, while the other half wondered if the embrace might be held a little too long, even for best friends.

The cowboys who knew Taz & Kodak were happy to see them together again. It seemed right. Men sharing affection wasn't such a big deal, once they'd shared the brutal side of war. This wasn't something that everyone understood, but few needed to know all there was to know about a man who held his own in battle. Whatever it took to get them through the night was fine. Whatever it took to bring peace to their hearts was fine.

A good portion of the cowboys knew Taz and Kodak as friends and most knew of their fame. Until then they didn't know Kodak was alive. With all of Gen. Walker's cowboys being soldiers, Taz didn't need to explain himself to them. Heroic men rarely needed to explain themselves to other warriors.

Tazerski took Gen. Walker's hand as soon as Kodak left him alone. The general looked down at the monkey and Tazerski looked up at the general, who seemed trustworthy. A minute after the embrace was broken, and Taz and Kodak stood looking at one another, Tazerski let go of the general's hand. He went down the steps, walking to Kodak to take his hand.

Kodak looked down at the monkey looking up at him. Taz looked at the monkey. The monkey looked at Taz.

"Tazerski, Tazerski," Kodak said, introducing the two.

The monkey jumped up to hang his arm around Kodak's neck, leaning his back against Kodak's chest to look Taz over.

"You named a monkey after me?" Taz complained, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Tazerski squawked and stared at Taz, keeping his hold on Kodak.

"You don't look so hot either," Taz said to the monkey.

Tazerski chattered some more, sensing this man was to be part of his life.

"I missed you so much," Taz said, not able to take his eyes off Kodak. "I was afraid I wouldn't see you again."

"Me too. I'm home now. I won't be going anywhere without you."

"Good," Taz said, the tears running down both cheeks as the monkey watched their interaction.

No attempt was made to dislodge Tazerski, and Taz and Kodak held hands as they walked toward the back porch, overwhelmed by coming together again.

Cowboys patted their backs, the general smiled, Kathleen cried, and Tazerski chattered up a storm, not sure he liked so many people.

The meal was a feast and a good time was had by all. Food kept coming. Kodak kept eating like he couldn't get enough. The conversation was loud and full of laughter and joking as the general's house was alive with the celebration of life and the best things in it.

They celebrated with their extended family present. There were the soldiers who needed to decompress after fighting a war and the general who gave them a home and whatever time it took for them to heal. They could each come back to the world in his own time. A general who loved his men, wanting to lead them back to a productive life. A general who intended to keep his ranch and his men safe from any threat.

The feast was about life's resilience under the best of circumstances. One of their own returned safe from his mission, but Kodak wasn't entirely home until they were back on the mesa. The food was superb. The company was good but he wanted to go home, after another piece of Kathleen's pie, …and maybe another hamburger.

Tazerski had begun to take each new experience in stride. The horseback ride wasn't the most fun he'd ever had, but the horse fascinated him, and he groomed her mane as they made their way up to higher ground. The wide open spaces made the monkey feel small.

Kodak was already planning to plant some trees for Tazerski to hang out in. Tazerski liked hanging on the corral cross members, watching the horses stroll and stand and stroll some more. He allowed Kodak out of his sight for the first time.

Kodak wasn't sure what Tazerski thought of Taz. At the moment he was tolerated and watched. He didn't fully understand the relationship between the two men, but the monkey wasn't blind. He felt safe with Kodak, and he could see Kodak felt safe with Taz. Seeing them together, touching, talking, holding hands, was no threat.

Inside the cabin was fine. Outside with the horses was better, and having a top bunk gave him a place to swing and feel more monkey like. When Taz took Cyclone out to ride fence, Tazerski was there when he left and he met him when he returned. He liked it best when Taz and Kodak, Cyclone and Milkweed were all there.

Kodak placed an order for a dozen coconuts a week and several bunches of bananas, now Tazerski's favorite thing. Kathleen was checking to see what kinds of fruits to buy for the ranch's latest new face. Kodak accompanied Kathleen into town once a week to shop for the cabin.

The three of them loved nothing more than picking at a fresh-opened coconut a few mornings a week. It was a treat Taz had never experienced. Once Taz had enough of the delicacy, he handed what was left to Tazerski, who never refused coconut.

While Tazerski was out of place on the range, he didn't mind. Milkweed had taken to him immediately, while Cyclone was a little less sure. Milkweed tolerated Tazerski's climbing from the top corral rail onto her back, and she either stood or strolled as if Tazerski weren't really there. The monkey would tire of it after a time and climb back on the rail, grooming Milkweed's mane from that perch.

Cyclone learned patience with the picky monkey, but she only stood still for it for so long, walking away to end the monkeyshines. It didn't take long for Tazerski to be able to read both horses, and neither threatened his place on the mesa.

Kodak thought the corral was a great idea and the new root cellar offered a flexibility they hadn't had before. Cool nights allowed them to keep milk for several days at a time and potatoes, onions, and garlic were always on hand. Jeremy brought dried meats to offer a greater variety of food Kodak could learn to cook. Kathleen could send food in larger quantities now that there was cool storage.

Kodak was delighted with all the improvements Taz made to the outside of the cabin during his absence. He wasn't nearly as pleased when he opened the door to go inside the cabin the first time. Taz cringed even before hearing a familiar name.

"Taz!"

"Didn't want you to think you weren't needed here," Taz said sheepishly.

"Taz!"

The piles of clothes, the trash, and even dirty paper plates decorated every surface. It didn't look like anything had been picked up since Kodak left the cabin.

In one afternoon Kodak had control over the debris. It was slow going but he washed the curtains, the table cloth, the bedding, and anything that he could fit in the wash tub. Later he took the pile of dirty dishes the general put outside, dumped them into the tub, and covered them in soapy water to let them soak for a few days or maybe a month.

Restocking the cupboards with canned goods that could be made into easy-to-prepare meals was Kodak's first planned outing with Kathleen. After unloading the bag onto the table, he started putting the cans in the cupboard and found the bottle of bourbon pushed far back on the shelf.

"What's this?" Kodak asked, holding out the bottle for Taz to identify.

"It's a bottle of the general's bourbon," Taz explained.

"Yeah, I recognized it. What's it doing in our cupboard?"

"It's what I asked him to bring me after he told me you were lost."

"How many did he bring?"

"Well, he brought another one later on, but I told him the one was enough," Taz said, leaning back on the two legs of his chair and sipping the delicious coffee Kodak just made.

"It's not open," Kodak said, putting it down on the counter.

"No. Just wanted one to look at."

Kodak looked over his shoulder at Taz, with a warm, proud feeling in his gut. He climbed down and went over to where Taz leaned and kissed his cheek. It was a lovely cheek.

"You know, I love you," Kodak said, smiling at Taz.

"You do? Why's that?" Taz asked, aloof.

"Just because I do," he said, kissing him again. "Could you have made a bigger mess? I could have felt needed with a little less work to do."

"I don't know. I didn't try. I probably could have. You got another one of those?" Taz asked.

"What?" Kodak asked.

Taz pointed to his cheek. Kodak kissed him again, feeling like the luckiest person in the world to be there with this man. Taz let all the legs of the chair back on the floor, pulling Kodak closer as they hugged and kissed.

It was hard for them to let each other go when they were in the cabin together. They frequently hugged, and hugged, and hugged some more. They couldn't make up for lost time but they intended to make the best use of this time.


After Kodak's first week home, Jeremy came. He felt there was something more settled about Taz. The inside of the cabin had taken on a warm, friendly glow. He didn't ask any details about Kodak, but it didn't take a doctorate in psychiatry to see the fondness the two men shared for one another.

It was when the monkey arrived, pushing the door open from his morning corral visit, that Jeremy began to put two and two together.

"This is Tazerski," Kodak said, as the monkey climbed on his lap to look at Jeremy.

"Tazerski?" Jeremy repeated. "You named the monkey after Taz?"

"Taz asked the same question."

"He said you never called him that," Jeremy said.

"He said I never called him that? Why would he say that?" Kodak asked, a bit confused.

"You didn't tell him?" Jeremy asked with surprise, looking at Taz.

"No point. He's home. It's not important."

"What's important?" Kodak asked.

"You can't deny what it proves. You were hearing his voice," Jeremy insisted. "It's proof. You were hearing him call the monkey."

"That's your story," Taz said, taking his usual stance.

"What story?" Kodak asked.

"Nothing," Taz said. "He's looking for something."

"Nothing!" Jeremy said. "Tell him. See if he thinks it's nothing."

"I dreamed I heard you call me Tazerski. I told Jeremy you never called me Tazerski. That's all."

"You dreamed what?" Kodak asked, his mouth now open.

"You heard me. I speak English. I heard your voice but you were calling me Tazerski. I don't remember you ever calling me that."

"That's impossible," Kodak said, knowing he had been talking to Tazerski like he was Taz.

"Tell him the rest. Tell him about Medicine Band. Tell him about what he said."

"He's not interested in that stuff. He's got a life, Jeremy."

"What stuff?" Kodak asked.

"I was chasing some rustlers. I ran into some Indians. That's Jeremy. He's a shrink. He thinks everything means something else. It's hard to explain to him stuff is stuff and it don't mean nothing."

"Tell him," Jeremy said. "I dare you."

"I sat in on a sweat lodge. His father Medicine Band, the Indian version of a shrink, told me you were safe. He was sitting closer to me than you are, and I heard him say it, but the place was filled with Indians and none of them heard him speak. They probably fell asleep, you ask me. I was supposed to be getting it through some spirit thing or other. Jeremy is convinced I had this great spiritual journey. Somehow his old man got inside my head, moved some of the furniture around. Told me someone he knew nothing about, you, were safe."

"There were twenty people in the sweat lodge with him and no one heard Medicine Band say a word. I was there. My father didn't speak."

"Mass hypnotic suggestion," Taz said.

"Not a word," Jeremy said.

"Okay, I'm crazy. He didn't say anything. I dreamed he told me my friend was safe."

"You were both in the spirit world. He talked to you there."

"How'd he know I was safe?"

"He didn't. He just told me you were," Taz said.

"How'd he know I was lost?"

"He didn't say. He learned it from the spirits. He passed it along to Taz, because it's what needed to be done. It's all according to Hoyle. There are rules about such things."

"Well, he's home. He is safe, so it doesn't mean anything."

"You heard me calling you Tazerski?"

"I dreamed it. Besides, you never call me that."

"He found his way into the spirit world. Once the door opens, it doesn't close behind you on your way out. He's got a special gift," Jeremy explained.

"You telling me," Kodak said, touching Taz's hand. "Real special."

"It scares him," Jeremy said.

"I did get hit in the head, you know," Taz explained, but the first time he heard Kodak call the monkey Tazerski, he knew what he'd heard and he knew it wasn't a dream at all.

He didn't know how, but once Kodak was home it didn't matter. Taz didn't question it was Kodak's voice he'd been hearing. He didn't know how, except that the Shaman put the idea in his head; but admitting it made him sound a little crazy, and while that possibility occurred to him, he tried not to dwell on it. Being difficult was easy for Taz and more fun when it came to Jeremy.

Tazerski only sat for a minute before grabbing a banana and heading back to his perch on the top corral rail to watch the horses. It was a pleasant day and Jeremy stayed for lunch. It allowed Kodak to bring things from the root cellar in Jeremy's honor.


It was less than a week before the next court appearance, and Taz began to feel uneasy about leaving Kodak to make the trip into town. When he said as much to Kodak, it didn't take any persuading for him to say he'd go along. The truth was he didn't want to be separated from Taz. He'd go shopping and maybe take a few pictures of the town.

They'd tried life together. They'd been separated twice, after meeting each other. They agreed that life together was far more enjoyable than life apart. Kodak's return had them closer and more affectionate than they'd ever been before.

Taz had never wanted Kodak to leave, but was willing to go along with what he wanted to do. He was a photographer, and he did want to practice his profession, but Taz hated to think of life without Kodak, even for a short period.

Kodak was back, no more than an arms length away most of the time. They settled back into life on the mesa, until the day came when they had to go to town to do the kind of business neither liked, but Kodak was going with Taz.

Taz didn't say anything about it, but his fear and apprehension extended beyond leaving Kodak. There was something buzzing around on the inside of his head and he didn't know what it meant. Having Kodak beside him didn't quiet the disturbance he felt.

As they rode off the mesa early on the morning of the court appearance, Tazerski stayed in his bunk, understanding he didn't go with them to the house. He rather liked the mesa and having his own way of doing things. He knew when Kodak said goodbye that he'd be back soon. This is what happened on shopping days and Kodak always came back with treats Tazerski loved to eat.

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