Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

Wild Blue Yonder

"Kendall, got a minute?" Gen. Walker said loudly.

"Sure, boss, what do you need?" Kendall asked, as he stepped into the office.

"I'm sending McCoy out of Gore Airfield in Great Falls on a hop over to Joliet. I'm going to need him at Gore before 06:30. They'll know he's coming and you shouldn't have any trouble getting onto the tarmac where the plane will be waiting. I told McCoy he could sleep until 03:30. How long can he sleep?"

"You better tell him 01:30. I know it looks like 200 miles on the map but the road isn't good between here and there. Four to five hours I'd call it, if you want him there alive and on time."

"They'll take him along but they won't wait. How do you know this stuff?"

"I'm a driver. It's what you pay me to do. I've checked routes to all the major cities in Montana from here."

"Even in the Corvette?"

"Even in the Corvette. A hundred miles of bad road is a hundred miles of bad road. I don't know it. I've seen it on a map. Weather could be a factor. What's he doing in Joliet?"

"I don't know. He's taking the evidence from the shooting to a lab in Cicero. He takes it all very seriously."

"Remember what a gangly kid he was, when you got a hold of him, boss?"

"Yea, and he was heading straight for the stockade. I saw a glint in his eye. I'd seen it before. I put him to work instead and he's turned into a good cop."

"First time I heard you yell. You dressed him down big time. He didn't know whether to shit or go blind."

"What's that, three or four years? He grew up."

"I was on light duty in your office. You were using me as a gopher, while I was healing up after being wounded. The army wanted to discharge me. I told you I had no place to go and you assigned me to your command."

"You and McCoy are two of my success stories."

"Half the cowboys on your ranch are success stories, boss. Taz was the topper."

"No, Kendall, Taz didn't need me. If anything, he taught me a thing or two. I don't think I've met anyone less self-aware. He was a fighting machine, dedicated to 1st squad. His childhood was brutal. Only mentioned it once. Then, only after I said something I had no right saying."

"Some men transcend human frailty. Taz could have written his own ticket long before he self-destructed. He did what he did for the Army, not for Sgt. Tazerski."

"Did you think Taz would adjust to Montana living?"

"I didn't see he had a choice, but no, I didn't know if he'd fall down some drunken hole somewhere. That's where Kodak fits into his life. That boy stabilizes Taz. I don't say I understand it, but it works for them and so it works fine for me. Kodak has me worried. Won't leave his bedside. You can't buy loyalty like that , son."

"You do cultivate loyalty, boss. Didn't McCoy do a job for you about the time he was heading for a court martial? He was in a world of hurt and the next thing I know he's coming and going from your office like one of your officers."

"He was going nowhere in the Military Police. I caught him drinking on duty. Another officer would have had him up on charges before daylight came around.

"He just happened to fall into my hands at the right time. We had our eye on a man in Mortuary Services. An investigation linked him with the drug trade. I assigned McCoy to the Mortuary to keep any eye on the bad guys. When it was time to pull McCoy off the case, when it was beginning to get dangerous for him, he set up a meeting with the head of the operation, who wanted a big dumb soldier, who might run interference for the operation.

"McCoy made it so we couldn't pull him off the case. The head of the operation took McCoy into his confidence. As a result, we got the head of the drug syndicate and most of his operation. That big dumb soldier snookered them all into putting their cards on the table. We had him wired and as quick as we had the goods on them, we busted in and arrested all of them. We separated McCoy out later and I had him assigned to Army Investigations."

"You never know what's on the inside of a man, boss."

"He was a misfit MP that I threw a lifeline to in the beginning, but he was a professional at MPing in the end. Now he's going off to become a cop in Chicago."

"I don't remember all that but I remember him. He was your first project that I saw. I'd only been with you for a few weeks."

"I didn't know how either of you would turn out. I never know what comes next. I see potential and go with it. You boys always surprise me. As much potential as I see, there's always more."

"You going to tell him about the early wakeup call?"

"He's a big boy. He'll figure it out."

The plane's engines were running as Kendall drove up to the open door and the stairs McCoy would go up.

"Thanks, Kendall. I'll be back in a couple of days. Lord knows where I'll be landing, but I suspect we'll meet again."

McCoy left the car, disappearing up the steps.

"I'm Spec. 4 McCoy. Gen. Walker sent me," McCoy said, as a sergeant stood in his way.

"ID would help, Spec. 4 McCoy," the sergeant said.

McCoy flipped out his military police identification.

The sergeant showed him to a small metal seat that had been bolted to the floor in between crates and boxes.

"Buckle in, McCoy. We'll be airborne in a few minutes. You didn't give yourself a lot of extra time. It's 06:26."

Before leaving Montana, McCoy had bounced enough to have him wide awake. It was noon local time, when they had an hour layover in Joplin. It was no time at all when they were landing in Joliet, where he found the waiting car.

"Hi, Cilla. Thanks for coming all this way to get me," McCoy said, scooting in and leaning to kiss her cheek.

"Couldn't leave my baby bull out here in the middle of nowhere. Where to, McCoy? Mama's all yours for two days."

"Cicero. You know the police lab near the center of Cicero? Has all those windows and is about 6 stories high?"

"I work in Cicero. It's the new police factory, isn't it?"

"I've got a friend from Nam who works there. I'm helping a general with a case in Montana and I need someone I can trust to examine the evidence. You don't want to disappoint a general if you can help it."

"Always the cop, McCoy. Where'd your mama go wrong?" Cilla asked.

McCoy stood in the lobby long enough to start yawning and shifting from one foot to the other in an attempt to stay awake. When the man he was waiting for finally came out, his eyes had closed and he was beginning to nod off.

"Attention, soldier. Where'd you get that uniform?"

McCoy almost came to attention, squaring off his shoulders before remembering where he was.

"Holloway, you're still an asshole," McCoy grumbled.

"An asshole you need for a favor. Come on back. I've cleared you as a visiting law enforcement officer. You tell me what you want and you'll have to come back tomorrow. I'll work late tonight and get what I can for you. You got the envelope with the evidence?"

"Yea, it's right here," McCoy said, holding the envelope.

"I'll show you how the big boys do it, since you're joining us in a few weeks."

"I'm on special assignment with the Montana Army Reserves. I'll be holding off coming to work in Chicago."

"Bummer. We're shorthanded. They're recruiting like crazy. Not many dudes with your qualifications applying."

"I know the city. It'll be nice being back to civilization."

"Here. This is where I work. Take a seat and give me the envelope. I'll log it in as you give it to me. Now, you know cigarette butts don't yield much beyond being the brand a bad guy smoked on a given day. The shell casing offers us the best shot at something substantial. If there's anything on that puppy, I'll get it off for you, McCoy. My specialty is shell casings."

"Can I watch?"

"Sure. Just don't touch anything. It'll take a bit of time, so your watching isn't going to make it any faster. I'll work up the final results for you after I'm off work tonight."

"I understand. Will I be able to match what you get with evidence from another crime scene?"

Holloway turned away from the items he'd set out on the counter in front of him.

"Yes, and no. If it's handled properly and they can be matched in a proper lab by someone who knows what they're doing. If I get anything substantial I'll run it through the national fingerprint directory. That might take a week. It's possible we can match just a thumb or fingerprint. Not likely but I've had it happen. Give you a name to go on."

"I'm falling asleep. I didn't get much sleep last night, or the night before. What time tomorrow?"

"My first break is at ten in the morning. Be here and I'll walk you through the results. Don't expect much, McCoy."

"Do the best you can. I'll see you in the morning."

The general and Kathleen entered Taz's hospital room and found Kodak with his head resting on the bed as he held onto Taz's hand. They both glanced to see all the machines doing what they had been doing when they left three days before. He waved for the nurse to go outside, and she put down her magazine and left the room.

"Kodak," Kathleen said. "Kodak."

"Oh, huh, ah Kathleen. General. I must have fallen asleep."

"You need to come home and freshen up. Get a good meal and a good night's rest," Kathleen suggested.

"No, I want to be with him. Thank you."

"I'll stay with him, Kodak," Gen. Walker said. "You go home and let Kathleen feed you. I won't leave him alone."

"No, thank you, General. I promised Taz I wouldn't leave him again, after I came back from the plane crash. I want to be here when he wakes up."

"Here, honey, I brought you a roast beef sandwich and a bottle of fresh soup I cooked this morning."

"That's prime roast beef, son, don't be wasting my best beef," the general added.

"Oh, thank you. You shouldn't go to all that trouble. I do appreciate it. I don't want to make work for you."

"You're one of the family, Kodak. Just appreciate it enough to eat some of it. I actually want to see how much you enjoy it," Kathleen said, holding up a spoon for Kodak to take.

"The doctor said there's no change. He's resting and might not wake up for a few more days," Gen. Walker said.

"Yes, sir, I talked to the doctor this morning. The first thing I want Taz to see is me, when he wakes up."

Kodak dug out two spoonfuls of soup. There was still warmth in it and it did taste good, except his appetite went downhill from there and he set the bottle on the nightstand with the containers of food the nurses kept bringing him.

"What good are you doing him if you make yourself sick, Kodak?" Kathleen asked.

"I'll be fine. I just want to be with him. I'm pretty scared he'll leave me."

While the general almost always got his way, he knew when to defer to a decision he couldn't change. He recognized the bond between Taz & Kodak and it wasn't something he could overrule. It wasn't his job to tell Kodak what was best for him and Taz seeing a familiar face if he woke up wasn't a bad idea.

"The window frames came. I put men on getting the job done. I'm going to arrange for some communications up there. I can't let you boys go back up there if you can't call for help. I've learned my lesson. He'll come home to a first class bedroom and I'll see to it a few other improvements are made. I hope you don't mind me stepping in?"

"No, he'll really be pleased. He was having a hard time getting it all done once he got it framed up. The floor was never level and every time he was trying to level it, it rained. He'd get mad as a hornet and fuss up a storm," Kodak said, almost smiling when he remembered an animated Taz.

"Not a problem, Kodak. I owe that boy my life, you know? We'll make a few improvements to keep him off the roof while he heals up. Maybe some indoor plumbing, a tub," the general added, more to check Kodak's reaction.

"Tazerski is keeping us all busy," Kathleen added. "He's doing fine and likes sitting in the general's office with him. He has his own cowboy hat. He's so cute. He doesn't seem to mind being in the house. The problem is there are way too many hiding places for him to fall asleep in. If I can't find him, I open a coconut, and before I set it down, there's Tazerski."

"He likes his coconut. I miss the little guy. He gets to see the horses every once in a while? He loves the horses."

"He spends half his time in the stables. He has two dozen horses in there at any given time. His favorite is Milkweed, but he has made friends with all the horses. Cyclone is a bit moody. She misses Taz too. The cowboys don't know what to make of that monkey," the general said. "I'm not sure what to make of him."

"That's nice. I was worried about him. I'm sorry I left him for you to take care of. I didn't dare bring him here."

"He's one of the family now. Don't give it a second thought. We'll hate to see him go," Kathleen said.

"No, I'll be glad to have my office back. He just comes in, climbs up on the chair next to the desk, and he sits there, watching me," Gen. Walker said. "I'm not sure he isn't a South Pacific spy."

"He likes you, dear," Kathleen said, patting the general's arm.

The visit ended and Kathleen and the general stopped to chat with the nurse before sending her back into the room. She had observed no change.

Kendall held the door open for Kathleen. The general stopped to talk to the guard, who was going on duty. The general got into the backseat of the car on the passenger side, and in a few minutes they were heading out of Billings and back toward the ranch. The late afternoon traffic was modest as they worked their way toward the secondary highway that would take them home.

By the time they reached the turnoff traffic had dissipated. Kendall knew better than to push it with Kathleen in the car. With just the general, he'd waste no time getting back home, but there was no hurry and he continued at a moderate pace for some time.

"He looked better today," the general said.

"Do you think so?" Kathleen said, not buying it.

"He's been unconscious a long time."

"Yes, he has," she agreed.

"I thought I was done with waiting for my men to die."

"He's not going to die," Kathleen said, patting the back of the general's hand to comfort him. "He's seriously wounded. It takes time to come back from that."

"I suppose," the general said. "I don't like seeing him like that."

"General, we're being bird-dogged. Black sedan staying a half mile back. Turned off the highway behind us. He's being real careful but not quite careful enough. I've seen him twice now. I watched him turn off behind us. No one has ever turned off behind us on this road before."

"Kick it up five miles an hour and see what he does," Gen. Walker ordered calmly.

He didn't move or look out of the back window. Kathleen held the general's hand without reacting to the conversation going on between her husband and Kendall.

"What did he do?" Gen. Walker asked.

"I wondered if you forgot. He kicked it up five miles an hour. He's following us, boss. He's staying a half mile behind, barely comes into view as we take the next curve."

"I'm sure. I'll give it another five and double check. We're going to hit rough road in about two minutes," Kendall said. "We'll be starting up the mountain right after that."

"Give me my .45 before you're too busy," General Walker said.

Kendall popped open the glove compartment, handing the holster back to the general.

"Ready yours before we hit the curves, Kendall. I don't want to come out of this car on my own. Can he catch us?"

"General, he won't catch us. Pull your belt tight, ma'am," Kendall said. "It's going to get a little hairy."

"Don't worry about me. Do what you need to do."

Gen. Walker tightened his seatbelt, and Kathleen did the same, taking her husband's hand again, patting the top of it to reassure him that she wasn't afraid.

Kendall's .45 clicked as he loaded a round in the chamber, once he'd jettisoned the holster onto the floor, he yanked to pull his belt tight. The engine of the sedan began to growl an evil, powerful sound as he gave it a little more gas to check to see if the power was there.

"You okay, son?"

"Fine. He's still right in the same spot where he's been. He's just coming into view before I lose sight of him again. He doesn't know I know he's there yet, but he will if you want me to dump him."

"As soon as you're on the mountain, give him something to chase, son. You get this thing tuned up like I told you, Kendall?"

"Two four barrel carburetors, transistor ignition, and a few other goodies that were recommended to put a tiger in our tank, General. She screams on the straightaway."

"I've heard the second four barrel kicking in. I wondered what it was. Kendall, before you get too busy, I want you to remember to double the guard on Taz's room. We may as well pull out the stops now that we know they're staying close to us. Get Rowdy to issue arms to our best men. We'll need to set up a guard on the house, until we've finished this little game. I'm tired of being surprised."

The general spoke in a soft even voice, belying the circumstances. He'd expected more trouble but not with Kathleen in the car. His wife had nothing to do with the war with the WB and having her in harms way pissed him off. Kendall was cool and he wasn't about to let a bad guy catch him.

"Hold on. It's Miller time. He's closing down the distance."

When Kendall punched the accelerator, he knew precisely where the first hairpin turn was. He planned to be around it and gone before the tail realized it. Because of the many twists and turns on the mountain road, the tailing car would assume he wasn't far away. But Kendall would be driving on the edge of losing control. He knew the road and he knew precisely where to use speed and when to brake to keep the pursuit car well behind them.

When he came off the mountain and hit the five mile straight stretch of road, Kendall pegged the speedometer until it ran off the dial. The air whistled as the car flew and Kendall checked the mirror to see if anyone appeared.

"No headlights behind us, General? He's still on the mountain. It's five miles to this turn and he hasn't shown."

"Carry on, Kendall. You can drop it back now. They'll think we turned off. They'll be searching that mountain all night, looking for the turnoff we took. Nice work, son. You do have a way with cars."

"Yes, sir, I do," Kendall smiled.

"Sorry dear, I'm slipping in my old age. I should have seen that coming. I don't like exposing you to danger."

"My love, as long as I'm with you, you can expose me to anything you like," Kathleen said, kissing her husband and squeezing his hand in hers.

Kendall blushed.

McCoy was back at the police laboratory a little before ten. He brought his coffee and an extra cup for Holloway. He still hadn't caught up with all the sleep he'd lost, but he was alert and ready to go.

"Come on back. I'll tell you what I found. That coffee for me?"

"Yeah, here. I figured it would save you going to get a cup on break. I do appreciate this. It means a lot to a man who helped me."

"Close the door," Holloway said, moving over to the counter and opening his coffee to take a long sip.

"I remembered cream, but I put a little sugar in just in case," McCoy cringed, knowing how he hated ill-prepared coffee.

"Cream only but you didn't get enough sugar in it to make it undrinkable."

"What did you get for me?" McCoy said, looking over Holloway's shoulder.

"More than I figured. We have a perfect thumb print. Don't get too excited. Matching only a thumb print with one presently in the system is a long shot. I'm continuing to run it against known hit men. Now I got a partial index fingerprint. I think it is enough to make a positive ID, but hard to say. It'll take way longer to do any mass comparisons. I'll do what I can to expedite the results, but probably not going to get a match."

"So we don't have much of anything?" McCoy observed. "Why hit men? I didn't tell you anything about the shooter, except he smokes Viceroy and lays in wait for his victim."

"But you see, I'm a laboratory technician with a brain, McCoy. I went off the reservation on my own. Here, I want you to look at these. No complete print on any of the butts. Except for one tiny detail, your shooter might remain anonymous."

"What detail is that?" McCoy asked, looking closer at the cigarette butts and shell casing.

"Take a look at each cigarette butt. What do you see?"

"He smokes them down to the filter? They're all the same."

"No, he doesn't smoke them to the filter. I don't know how far he smoked them down. He field strips them?"

"Military? He's a military guy?"

"I knew one soldier who did this to his cigarettes. He pinched off the burning tip of his cigarette, field stripped it, and then pinched the remainder off and stuck it in his pocket. He was an Army sniper. Never left anything behind."

"Army sniper? Makes sense."

"He may well be one of your own, but he got careless. The sniper tucks the butt into his pocket, leaving no evidence he was ever there. This guy didn't care or left those items to taunt you. He ain't in Vietnam no more but old habits are hard to break.

"Your man is going to have some serious stains on his index finger and his thumb, where he pinches off the fire.

When you nail your man, check for the telltale stain."

"Son of a gun, Holloway. When I heard you were going to work in the police lab, I didn't think you were the type. That's damn clever. I'd never have picked up on that."

"Well, McCoy, there was that little marijuana deal you let me slide on. I owe you my career. You get up here and need anything, you see me. If I can help you I will."

"The general I'm doing this for gave me a break and he saved my career. We'll just call it even, Holloway. I appreciate your help. I'll be seeing you before long."

"I've got your evidence in a plastic bag. I blew up some pictures of the cigarette butts. It could come in handy down the road."

"Well done, Holloway. I didn't expect to come away with much. I'll see what the sheriff back there has now."

"There's more?"

"Andy of Mayberry runs the town nearby. There was a shootout at his courthouse. I have no reason to expect he did a crackerjack job of investigating, but I didn't expect you'd get much. If he got fingerprints we may be in business," McCoy said, leaving the lab.

Cilla was waiting outside in the car for him.

"Take me to O'Hare, Cilla darlin'. I've got to get back to Montana. That seems like the place to start. I'll call the general to let him know I'm on the way back. He might be able to expedite the travel arrangements."

"Did you get what you were looking for?" Cilla asked.

"A veritable goldmine of information. My man Holloway really came through for me. He also created a lot more work. I thought this could be where my investigation ended, but it appears we've only just begun."

"I can't talk you into staying over one more night? You slept the entire time yesterday," Cilla complained.

"If anyone could talk me into staying, Cilla darlin', it would be you, but duty calls, and the investigator has investigating to do. It's why they pay me the big bucks," McCoy said.

"I thought you were in the Army?" Cilla said, and they both laughed.

"Yea, I am, but on base I get all the food I can eat, and that's big money, babe."

They laughed some more.

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