Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Calling McCoy

Gen. Walker was up before the sun came up the following morning, but he wasn't at the hospital. He was sitting at his desk in his office at the back of the house. There was business to attend to and it wouldn't get done from the hospital.

"It's ringing, General. This is his barracks. It's as close as I can get this time of day," Crosby said.

"Yea, who am I speaking to?" the general asked, leaning back in his chair.

"Pvt. Percy, who the hell is this?"

"Well, Pvt. Percy, this is your lucky day. I'm Gen. god damn Walker. You got that name or should I spell it for you one letter at a time?"

"Yes, sir," the private said.

Gen. Walker was certain he heard the private's bare heels clicking together.

"You bring Spec. 4 McCoy to the phone and I just might forget your name, private."


"Spec. 4 Angus McCoy. I'm told this is his barracks and I want him on this phone five minutes ago. Are you hearing me, private?"

"Yes, sir," the soldier said, as the phone went silent. "Where's McCoy at," Gen. Walker heard him say to someone in the distance.

Several minutes passed as Gen. Walker waited.

"McCoy," a raspy voice said.

"Spec. 4 McCoy."

"Yea, this is McCoy. You got me out of my rack. Why don't you start talking."

"Gen. Walker, McCoy."

"Oh, shit! This isn't going to go well for me is it, General."

"Hell, McCoy, this is your lucky fucking day. You're about to do me a favor and you know how much I appreciate a soldier who does me a favor."

"Hey, General, I'm out of the Army in a couple of weeks. I'm about to process out of here. I'm going to be a cop."

"McCoy, you're just the man I'm looking for. Discharge or no discharge, police or no police, I need you in Montana yesterday, son."

"I'm not a cowboy. I don't know one end of a horse from the other, General. I've got a career ahead of me. Don't mess me up. I've been waiting to do this."

"It's already done, son. I've got a message into your commander. You're in the active Army Reserve for two years. You're about to receive an early discharge, so don't stray too far. You're also being called up to active duty by the Montana Army Reserves. They're assigning you to me. It's a matter of national security as far as you're concerned. I can't go into it over the phone."

"National security? What do you have in mind? Give me the short version, I haven't had my coffee yet."

"I have a man that's been shot. If my hunch is right he was shot by the head of a white supremacy group, or he had him shot. This asshole shot up our courthouse to get his kid out of it a few months ago. He's crawled back into the woodwork, after a judge cut him loose on bail. The man's got money and he has powerful friends.

"My man, Tazerski, lit up a few of his men during the shootout at the courthouse. My theory is, shooting him is revenge, as well as a message to me. He'd be in less trouble if he shot me, McCoy. I aim on bringing the proper outlaws to justice. You're the man I want on the job."

"This Tazerski is the big rifle dude from Nam?"

"Yea, that's him. 'The fighting fool of 1st squad.' He was shot in the chest. He's alive but we got nothing on the shooter. That's where you come in. I have men at the crime scene. The sheriff is coming up today, but he's a county sheriff and not schooled in the fine art of investigative techniques.

"Look, McCoy, you did me a lot of good with the case you worked for me in the Pacific Theater. I haven't forgotten you stuck with it, when I told you that you could bail out of it. You're a professional's professional. I want you to conduct the investigation on this. I'll see to it whatever notes you need in your files to get you where you're going, get in there with the gratitude of your grateful general. It's the best I can do for you, son, but it's better than nothing."

"You don't owe me anything, General. If you want me to investigate for you, that's all you need to say. You already did me more good than I deserved. I stayed on that case because it was what I wanted to be doing. I became an army investigator because you made it possible. I'll go wherever you say go and I'll do the best job I know how to do for you."

"That'll be good enough. Like I said, I've got a call in to your commanding officer. I've talked to Division and they're cutting your orders. I do a lot of business with the commander of the Montana Army Reserves. I keep him in some of the latest weapons. He's agreed to release you to me on special assignment. He'll send those orders to me."

"Yes, sir. You've got a guard on Tazerski? If they've got a professional hit man on him, he isn't safe as long as he's alive."

"Shit, I never gave it a thought. I'm slipping since I retired, McCoy. Oh, sorry, Kathleen. I didn't see you come in."

"What did you forget?" Kathleen inquired, putting down her husband's coffee and cleaning out the ashtray on his desk.

"I've left Taz unprotected," the general said, putting his hand over the phone for a second. "McCoy says they'll try again."

"The McCoy from that drug case in Vietnam?"

"The one and only. Let me finish getting him here."

"My being smart enough to put you on the case is already paying dividends, McCoy. Go get your coffee. I've got to get a man into the hospital. This will really please the doctors. I've already had to threaten to court martial the lot of them."

"General, where is he at in the hospital?"

"He was in the ICU when I left. They might move him today or tomorrow. I've asked for a private room."

"Let all that take place, like they want to do it. He'll have full time people around him in the ICU. No one is going to try anything there. Too many witnesses."

"What do you suggest, McCoy."

"Let them follow their usual routine. Once they put him where they want him, have him moved to a new room. Have all the records kept by his doctor and only his doctor. He shouldn't be in the hospital's record's system at all. No information about him should be available to anyone but a nurse or nurses that are on his case. No one knows or has ever heard of your man. If they can't figure out if he's there or not, they'll be less likely to do more than sniff around."

"Okay, let me get busy. If you think of anything else call me back. Leave a message with my communications man, Crosby. I'll call the hospital administrator and give him a heads up about what we'll be doing. It'll no doubt be the highlight of an otherwise boring morning."

"Okay, General. I'll start packing."

"Kendall, you up?" the general asked, after hearing his voice. "I need a man with a weapon at the hospital. We'll need to set up eight hour shifts, twenty-four hours a day. Put a driver on the detail to transport them, until I know what my plan is. I've got other duty for you, so stay close to the house."

"You think he's still in danger, boss?" Kendall asked, stretching as he came to the door, buttoning up his shirt.

"My investigator thinks so."

"Your investigator? I thought Sheriff Ward was coming this morning?"

"Remember McCoy? The soldier that accompanied the bodies back to the States for me? Remember that drug investigation we ran out of Da Nang?"

"Oh, yea, he was a big kid. You don't forget anyone, do you, boss?"

"Not the good ones. McCoy did above and beyond…. he's going to be a cop, after I'm done with him."

"A cop? I can see that. I'll roust Rowdy to pick a man for guard duty. Barney's a good wheel man. I'll get him to drive the guard right away."

"Get Boyd to do the driving this time, I want him to hang around for a look see. If he notices anything suspicious, he'll know what to do. Barney can spell Boyd on transporting the guards in and out.

"I've got Sheriff Ward coming out. We're going up to look over the crime scene. I want to discourage him from doing anything until McCoy is here, and then I'll make arrangements for McCoy to take the lead in the investigation. The sheriff won't want to spend a lot of time looking for clues and McCoy knows how to work a crime scene."

"Okay, boss. A .45 okay, or do you want something more lethal?"

"Yea, a .45 is fine. We don't want to scare the staff at the hospital any more than necessary. We can wear them on our hips with shirts out. Won't be so obvious that way. I don't know how to handle Kodak. He's in jeopardy if he's close to Taz. Just tell Boyd not to alarm him. Tell him I ordered a guard on the room to be safe. He doesn't need to know Taz may not be safe."

"You tell Kodak that Taz may be in danger and he'll do whatever you tell him needs doing. He won't let anyone get past him if he's still alive."

"I'll need to think about that one. Maybe keep an extra .45 in the car. If we get wind of anything going down, maybe slip the .45 to Kodak for safe keeping. I don't want the boy shooting himself."

"I'll tell Rowdy we want the best guys for this kind of a job. No one with any hinky idea about Taz & Kodak. I've never heard anyone say anything, but I don't want anyone like that protecting him, boss. Can I ask for volunteers to protect Taz?"

"You're reading my mind, Kendall. You put it better than I could. Tell Boyd to talk to me before he leaves. He'll want to know what I'm thinking."

"Have any word on his condition this morning, boss?"

"No change, son. He's resting easy. Still might be losing a little blood but nothing they want to go looking for."

"At least he isn't worse. I'll get right on the guard detail," Kendall said, heading out of the house.

"Send Boyd over before he finds something else to do," the general yelled after him.

The general leaned back in his chair, taking his cup of coffee off his desk before it was out of reach.

"You haven't had a minute this morning, my love," Kathleen said. "I want you to tell me that Taz isn't in any danger."

"I don't think it's anything immediate. I know only one reason for him to get shot and I didn't think they'd come at him in the hospital. I'm slipping, Kathleen. I wouldn't have let something like that get by me before," the general said solemnly.

In war he knew instinctively what the enemy would do.

"War and peace are two different things, love. In war there are rules and designs that you can depend on. Back here, in the real world, there are no rules for men like Jones. There are no limits on what his hideous mind might conceive with no one there to tell him he's as crazy as a loon."

"You're right, but Jones doesn't know he's crazy."

"This is the real world, remember? There are crazy people everywhere. Shooting a lovely boy like Taz is the act of a crazy man."

"You want me, Gen. Walker?" Boyd asked, standing at the door.

"I've got to get out to the kitchen. Delivery day," Kathleen said, passing Boyd on her way out.

"I've left that boy exposed up there in that hospital. I'm going to put rotating guards on his room. Do you mind driving the first one up there for me?"

"General, I work for you, remember?"

"Yea, I remember, and you usually have things planned out for your day. This came up all of a sudden. I want you to deliver the man who will guard the room today. I also want you to take a long look around. Use that sergeant's sense of yours and take a read on the situation. I want to know if anything looks suspicious. I want to know if you see a way to protect him better. I don't want his healing interrupted. If someone has it in mind to take another shot at him, I want whatever force is necessary to stop it."

"Tall order, General. I'll take a look-see. Boy's a hero. Be a shame to lose him to some asshole. I wouldn't like that much. Most of your men would find that downright objectionable."

"Well, Boyd, you're virtually a quiver with emotion this morning," the general said, amused.

"I don't like it when good men are shot for no reason. I especially don't like it when they bleed Army green."

"Thanks, Boyd. I wasn't sure where you stood on Taz. Old school is a bit shaky on change. I confess I have my moments, but good men are hard to find, Boyd. Taz is one of the best men I've known and I've known some damn good men in my time.."

"Don't hurt he saved your life, General. Didn't hesitate as I recall. Just did what needed doing. Got you out of harms way."

"Yea, and I've left his ass hanging out and I should know better. You don't spare the horses. Any tickets and I'll take care of them. Be careful, but the sooner we have a guard on him, the better I'll feel about it."

"Good as done, General. I'll call when we get there."

Sheriff Ward was the next to arrive to let the general explain what he wanted. He was pleasantly surprised by everything but his need to ride a horse up to the mesa to see the crime scene. Gen. Walker knew one trip was going to be enough and the sheriff would be more than willing to allow McCoy do the investigating.

Two men were standing guard near the corral. Both of the cowboys moved their horses off to one side, once they saw the general and the sheriff riding up from the house. Exchanging waves, they stood off from the official visit.

"This is where he fell. He was shot from the front. What do you think?" Gen. Walker asked, giving the sheriff no clues or much time to ponder the scene. "Kodak, the young photographer, was up here and came out right away but there was no sign of the shooter."

"I don't know. What do you think?" Sheriff Ward asked, scratching his head and holding his cowboy hat in his hand.

"Hard to say. He was shot from the front. It's all canyon wall in front of him."

The general waited for the sheriff to look up.

"Lord, General, can't hardly get up there. You think he was shot from above? Who'd go through all that trouble?"

"That would explain Taz not seeing it coming. It was early in the morning, not long after the boys got up. He couldn't have seen it coming or he wouldn't have fallen straight backward. Do you think?"

"That all his blood?" The sheriff said, looking at the large stain where Taz had been found.

"Yea, he lost a lot of blood. Westphalia kept pumping blood into him. No telling if we got to him soon enough."

"Long way up here, General. Boy's lucky to be alive. You need some kind of communication up here, don't you think? Could make the difference in life or death. Not after this anyway. No, siree, someone has a grudge against that boy. Bad place to get your ass shot, you ask me."

"I've kicked myself for that oversight and a dozen more, since he was shot. I'm a general, sheriff. I can plan a battle, keep a division supplied, fed, and moving, but when it comes to getting out in front of a thing like this, I'm in the dark. I never saw this coming. You know who did this?"

"Me? Come on! How could I know? You bring me up here and show me this and you want to know who did it?"

"No, Jones did it, or he had it done. You've got to watch your back sheriff. That boy took out Taz as a warning. One of us may well be next."

"Jones! I'm not made for big time sheriffing. Figured he'd be long gone. Jones?"

"Taz was even less likely to be hit. A cowboy living in a shack out on the range. Who in the hell could possibly wish that boy ill?"

"Jones," Sheriff Ward said.

"Snakes got a long reach, sheriff. You need to be careful."

"What in the hell does he gain by taking out a half-ass sheriff in the middle of no where?"

"Revenge. I've got an investigator coming. I've notified the FBI about the shooting and my suspicions. The agent who came here to investigate the courthouse shooting wants to be kept apprised. I told him we intend to conduct a full crime scene investigation.

"I know this is your turf, Sheriff Ward, and I brought you up here to see the spot and the size of the crime scene. I'm no good with this kind of thing and you don't have the time or the manpower to spend a few weeks up here looking for clues.

"With that in mind, I wanted to run it by you, so you didn't think I was trying to be sheriff, which I couldn't do if I tried, and I know it. I do want your blessing. I've got an Army Investigator who knows his business on his way here. If you okay my plan, I'll keep you advised about what we find and how I see it."

"Oh, carry on, General. No, I have no objections. You have an investigator skilled at this sort of thing, you go ahead. You have my full cooperation. Let me know what you find out…. If you can. This takes a load off my mind, General. I was dreading how I was going to get this done while taking care of the town."

"Same thoughts crossed my mind. We're not exactly in town and I have resources you don't have access to."

"Yes, you do," the sheriff agreed.

"The only thing that boy's had his hand in, since he came to work for me, is that little shootout in town. No one thought Jones had that kind of reach. I never gave it a thought, so I'm responsible for that boy being up in that hospital. I put him in danger and then left his ass hanging out. Stupidity isn't a defense, but as sure as I'm standing here talking to you, I'm getting whoever it was that did this. I won't spare any expense or leave a stone unturned.

"And you be careful. Don't be getting out of your car in the dark in an unfamiliar place. If you need to send a man out at night, don't be the man that goes. Just until we clear this up."

"Well, General, you seem to have some pretty definite ideas about what your investigator is going to find."

"No, all supposition, sheriff. I'm mad and when I'm mad, I do my best to make something out of nothing. I don't know who did this. I might not catch who did this, but it won't be because I didn't try. There are no facts that backup my suspicions… yet."

"Thanks for the advice. I don't want to walk around here. We could mess up the evidence. Get your man on it and update me when you have time. If there's anything I can do, just call."

"Will do, sheriff. I've got my men making sure nothing is disturbed. I doubt the bird that did this is going to hang around to try to muck up the evidence, but I'm not taking any chances."

The general and the sheriff rode back off the mesa. The sheriff was more than happy to get back into his police car.

Gen. Walker was good at reading men and he figured the sheriff would gladly hand over authority to Gen. Walker, who was known as well as respected throughout the area.

As the general watched the police car move down the driveway toward the highway, he thought of only two groups that might have a grudge against his taciturn wrangler who lived on the mesa with Kodak. One group was the North Vietnamese soldiers, who knew the soldier with the big gun. The more likely of the two to hold a grudge, were the militia men of the White Brotherhood. Logic pointed at the WB and Jones, their leader.

By the time the sheriff and the general were at the crime scene, Taz had been moved from the ICU to a private room. Breathing on his own and with a full time nurse in the room with him, the doctors agreed that the ICU wasn't necessary. Most of the monitoring equipment was moved with Taz.

The hospital administrator was on hand to supervise the move, regarding it as a safety issue for the hospital. The chief of the Billings police encouraged cooperation with Gen. Walker and his men as the best recourse. The chief also assigned a car to remain at the hospital for the duration of Taz's stay.

The doctors huddled around Taz's bed once he was moved. He was resting comfortably and seemed to be gaining strength. Drugs were used to keep Taz unconscious, until his body was sufficiently healed.

After Taz was in his room for several hours, Kodak was allowed to sit with him. Kodak sat beside Taz's bed, holding his hand, watching for any sign of him waking up. He watched his chest moving up and down in regular motions. Taz looked better, which made Kodak feel better, even if it didn't mean much. It was the beginning of a long rehabilitation. Kodak was in it for the long haul. His promise not to leave Taz again was on his mind. He spoke softly to reassure Taz he was there.

It was late that afternoon, when Gen. Walker and Kathleen came into the room. Madge, the nurse, and Kelly, one of the general's cowboy guards, sat in one corner playing rummy.

"Hi, Kodak. How's he doing?" Kathleen asked.

"He's alive," Kodak said. "He looks better, huh?"

"He's strong. He's going to be okay. I brought you a shirt. Here's another sandwich. I would have brought soup, but we had to stop a few times and it would have been cold."

"Thanks, Kathleen," Kodak said, not getting up or letting go of Taz's hand.

"He does look better today," she said.

"You Madge?" Gen. Walker inquired, watching Kelly deal the cards.

"Yes, sir. You're the general."

"That's me. This is one of my men. I want him to have the best care possible. Can you make that happen, Madge?"

"Good as done."

"What war, Madge? They told me you retired from the hospital."

"I was in Korea, class of 51-52."

"I was there. I was a bird colonel in that war. Got my third star as general in the Pacific Theater. I'd had enough by last year and I retired myself. Figured it was time for my wife and me to get to know each other."

"That's a fine reason to retire. I'll take care of your soldier for you. I'll see to it the doctors don't miss anything."

"You beating the pants off this man? Better be careful, he's pretty damn good with a gun, Madge."

The man holding the cards at the table across from Madge smiled but didn't speak or get up. He knew his job and none of them were in the army any more. Kelly's angle on the door was perfect in case of trouble. The .45 on his hip would be deadly at that distance.

"Any change, Kodak?" Gen. Walker asked.

"Looks like he could sit up and start talking any time," Kodak said.

"Well, when he does, tell him the window frames were delivered. That was the holdup on the addition. Rowdy will get them installed. We'll have that finished for him to move into when he comes home. If you don't mind us doing it?"

"He'll like that, General. Hear that Taz. The general is going to finish the bedroom. You can wake up now," Kodak said, looking at Taz's face, but there was no change.

"You can depend on it. I'll go up with the window frames tomorrow. I'll take a look to see what we can do to make things a bit easier on you boys. Don't want him getting soft, but we'll probably put in some communication, just in case. It's not safe leaving you up there with no way to get help."

"That would be a good idea, until he's well again," Kodak said.

"I have an investigator coming from the army tomorrow. The sheriff is letting him handle this. While we're up there, I'll see what I need to order to finish the job. We won't want him climbing around on the roof for a while."

The general and Kathleen didn't stay, but they brought back a hot meal for Kodak. It sat with the sandwiches on the nightstand, next to Taz's bed. Kathleen didn't mention the unopened food. She knew Kodak was on a vigil. All she could do was make food available to him and hope he ate.

Since he'd returned from his ordeal in the Pacific, they'd been together, but once more he found he missed Taz. He missed his voice and his presence in his life. Taz unconscious wasn't enough to fill the void Kodak felt.

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