Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

Andy of Mayberry

The general wasted no time getting busy once they arrived back at the ranch. He was immediately calling Crosby to the radio room where he laid out the plan.

"Crosby, get me Rowdy and Boyd. We're going to button this place up. I want radio communication in all vehicles that leave the ranch. You get with Boyd to see to it the radios all match up to your receiver. Let me know if you need anything."

"What's up, General?" Crosby asked.

"We picked up a tail leaving the hospital. Kendall left them in the dust, but now we know they're there and Taz was only the first target.'

"Those WB boys?" Rowdy asked, after answering his call to the general's office..

"Not a minute's trouble until we came up against them. Now we've got guys chasing us. I don't know if they're behind it, but logic points right at them. The smart move for Jones would have been to become invisible, but that's not his style, and he's picked the wrong general to fuck with."

"What's the plan, General?" Rowdy asked, as Boyd leaned in to listen.

"I'm calling the police department in Billings and I'll get them to pick up the slack at the hospital, until we can have more men there. They already know we're guarding Taz and they're cooperating. No reason to think that won't continue.

"Rowdy, pick four volunteers who don't mind twelve hour shifts at the hospital. We'll secure some kind of lodging. change the men every three days. Volunteers only. Make it clear they're going to be protecting Taz."

"What do you want done here?" Boyd asked.

"I want guards on the driveway, halfway between the road and the house. Set me up a sandbagged guard station. Get a roof on it so they aren't standing out if it rains. That's a twenty-four hour a day guard. I want a radio at that position so they can communicate with the house.

"If they're watching us they've seen construction material coming in. They may use a lumber truck to get to the house. I want the sprinklers down by the road run for an hour every four hours, but turn them on now for the next eight hours. Anything that tries to come off the road and across the front of the property should sink up to the axles. Run the water until they will.

"I don't think they're that stupid but we'll be ready for them if they are. Are you getting all this."

"I'm with you, general. You haven't missed anything yet. What about the cattle?"

"I want you to move the cattle to the shipping pens. It'll be harder to stampede them from there. I'll call Randy Couch to get him to pick up the cattle early. The easiest way to draw us away from being ready for a fight would be to have us chasing cattle all over Montana. These guys aren't rocket scientists, but that just might cross their minds.

"Yes, sir. I'll get right on it. I'll get four men to cut out the cattle a few dozen at a time. We should be able to get the main herd into the holding pens in half a day. We going to tell Sheriff Ward what's up?" Rowdy said.

"He doesn't work well under pressure. I'll wait until we're sure of what's going on. You know as well as I do, I'm probably over reacting, but we've got Taz in the hospital already. I'm not waiting until they put more of them there. We'll be ready for them if they decide to come at us..

"Kathleen was with me today. They couldn't have made a bigger mistake than coming at me with my wife in the car. I don't plan to get caught flat-footed again. We'll be ready for them if they come."

"Yes we will, General," Rowdy said. "They'll live to regret it if they decide to drive up here."

"I want to finish the work up on the mesa. Maybe four of my best builders. Can we do everything else and keep four men up there? Armed men."

"We have enough to get it all done." Rowdy said.

"I want the house finished when Taz comes home."

"Good as done, General. I've got the men for the job."

"Thanks, Rowdy. Anything comes up, give me a call."

Gen. Walker felt no fear, but he failed to protect those closest to him. As a rancher he might accept this failure. As a general, he wasn't letting it happen twice.

The FBI and the Montana State Police asked to be kept apprised. Their main concern was to find out if the shooting led back to the WB, and more precisely, Sam Jones. The local authorities had jurisdiction until the time the man they wanted was linked to the crime. At that time they wanted to be involved in rounding up their fugitive.

"Kendall, my man, how long to the ranch?" McCoy asked, as he tossed his things in the backseat of the sedan.

"Five hours if I take my time," Kendall said. "Couldn't you have gotten a flight a little closer? I could have picked you up in Chicago and not been that much further from the ranch."

"Best I could do on short notice, Kendall. Believe me, it doesn't thrill me driving over hill and dale for hours and still end up in the middle of nowhere."

"City boys," Kendall said.

"How long if we detour through your little town and stop to see Andy?"

"Andy?" Kendall asked, yawning.

"Your local sheriff. Where you gentlemen conducted your shootout to rescue his town."

"Five and a half hours. Five hours and fifteen minutes if we stop for coffee," Kendall calculated.

"How come the stop knocks off fifteen minutes?"

"Once I have some coffee, it'll speed me up a bit."

McCoy had enough cash for two Egg Mc Muffin and two large coffees. The MacDonald's was right on the way.

"Hey, honey, you sit up here and eat this. I baked them fresh this morning. Here's a cup of coffee to wash it down," Madge said, as Kodak sat up rubbing his eyes from another night of sitting beside Taz's bed.

"Oh, thank you. That smells incredible, Madge. You didn't say you were a cook."

"Yes, it would, since you haven't eaten enough to keep a bird alive. You making yourself sick isn't going to help this boy none," Madge said, moving the uneaten food into the trash can.

Kodak bit into the roll and the flavor was every bit as good as the smell. He smiled, taking a swig of coffee for a double dose of flavor he savored.

"Thanks, Madge. That was nice of you," Kodak said, biting the roll another time.

"Not nourishing, but it will put something in your stomach. He has good color this morning."

"You think so? I can't tell anymore."

"I dug out my copy of Time magazine with 'the fighting fool of 1st squad' on the cover. It took time for me to associate this man with that cover. You expect him to jump right out of the magazine and yet here he lies quiet. Who did this to him anyway?"

"I don't know, Madge. I haven't spent any time thinking about it. I don't know why he'd have an enemy in the world. He's one of the good guys."

"They have two guards on his room now. Someone has some idea that adds up to another attempt on his life."

"I didn't think about it. The general is quite fond of Taz. I'm sure he's doing what he can to protect him. I have a hard time believing anyone would want to hurt him."

"I'm an old army warhorse and I know the smell of fear. Those boys standing guard are waiting for something to happen. Every time I go out, they act like they've never seen me before when I come back," Madge said. "I don't carry my pistol on my person."

"You're funny, Madge. You're nice. I'm glad the general put you on the room with Taz."

"Well, I don't mind telling you I wasn't all that anxious to come back to work, but your general does have a way of getting the troops to attention."

"He's a good man, Madge. I've never met anyone more compassionate. I trust him. He knows what he's doing."

"Yes, I'm sure. Generals often do. Just in case, I never travel alone," Madge revealed.

"You don't?" Kodak asked, looking to see if someone had come in with her.

"No, sir. It's me and Smith & Wesson model 29 in my purse. If someone tries to harm that boy he'll have to come through me first."

"Thank you, Madge," Kodak said, smiling at the idea of the tiny nurse holding off assassins. "What kind of gun is it?"

"'The most powerful handgun in the world,' according to Dirty Harry anyway. I'll take his word for it," Madge said. "The shells are .44 Magnum."

"Why did they change rooms? This doesn't look any different from the other one. This is the third room in five days."

"Honey, this is a hospital. They might do anything, when the mood strikes. This room is more out of the way and there's no direct foot traffic. The staircase across the hall leads to the parking lot. The guards aren't going to let anyone to come out on this floor. Other than that you have to come from the main nurses station to get down here. No one will bother him here," Madge said,

Madge set down her purse and moved the chair from the table where she and the cowboys played cards, putting it nearer the bed.

"How is he, Madge? What are the doctors saying?"

"His blood pressure is good. His pulse is stronger and he's been breathing on his own. His color is improving and that's always good. The problem is, until he opens his eyes and recognizes you, there's no way to know if there's permanent damage from his blood loss. The damage has begun to heal. He'll wake up when he's ready. That's when we'll know. The doctors don't say anything more than that."

Kodak intended to be there when Taz opened his eyes, and that would make everything okay. Taz would be okay and Kodak would be okay.

"Sheriff Ward, do you have a minute?" McCoy asked, as he strolled into the sheriff's department, spotting him off in one corner with one of his deputies.

"Oh, Gen. Walker's man. McCoy, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. Did you tell the general he owed you for the fingerprint kit I borrowed?"

"Thanks," the sheriff said.

"Yes, well, I'm back to ask some questions. We have some interesting evidence from the crime scene."

"What can I do for you, McCoy?"

"It's not the shooting on the mesa. Your shootout in town in the courthouse. Taz was involved in that."

"He broke it up. Never seen anything like it. The general says there were eight riflemen in the two second-story windows at the front of the courthouse. I was on the first floor and behind all the action, until the general's men opened up. I don't mind telling you it sounded like all hell broke loose. It seems he had men in the two alleys adjacent to Main Street, drawing the riflemen's fire to the alleys.

"I heard the uproar and came up front to see if Patton was out front. Damn if I'd ever seen anything like it. That boy, Taz, hell, he was a better man than me, I don't mind telling you. He steps out in the street, lifts that big rifle, and the two front windows with the eight riflemen disintegrated. He stood there like he was bulletproof. Then he moved into the General Store. The general's men were still firing, but it went silent after a minute.

"We figure the gunmen who didn't get shot got away in the confusion of my men taking back the courthouse."

"That's a pretty good description. I really hadn't asked about the details before. You seem to have a grasp of what went down. The general got himself shot and his men were busy drawing fire to the alleys. No one saw Taz but you and the outlaws. I understand there are pictures."

"I never thought of that. We got busy securing the building as quick as the gunfire stopped. We didn't manage to trap any of the bad guys except the dead ones. We didn't secure the side entrances and they escaped that way.

"For some reason I'll never understand, they returned to that WB compound Jones owns. The general used his men to surround them and when they tried to escape the State boys showed up to take them into custody. Then some judge cuts the Jones the father and Jones the son loose on bail. That's the last anyone has seen of them."

"Fascinating! Fascinating! Which brings me to the information I need from you. The windows were shattered, but did you make an effort to get fingerprint evidence?"

"Son, I'm a sheriff. I know what evidence is. Certainly, I put my fingerprint man on what was left of the frames."

"Did he get anything you can use in court?"

"I have an envelope full of the prints he got off there, but you've got to realize one detail. That's a public building. Anyone can say they touched the window before the shootout."

"Can I have copies of the prints you took?"

"I just told you that they won't stand up in court."

"So you don't mind giving me the fingerprints? I'll return them after I'm done."

"What are you really after?"

"Everything comes back to the WB group. I want to get your evidence in the system. Compare it to known hit men."

"Professional job?" the sheriff said.

"If it is a professional hit man involved with the WB, he might have been in that window. I want to cover all the bases. They could have brought someone from the outside in to do the hit."

"My sets of prints only help if you have something on the shooter. Anyone could have touched that window at any time."

"What I have are some partials. We probably won't get much on them. If they match some of your prints we might get an identity that way," McCoy explained.

"Now I see why the general called you. Very clever. I'd never have put that together. You figured all that out?"

"I've been in Army Investigations for several years. You learn to approach a problem from more than one direction. My experience tells me we might get more by comparing what I have with what you have. I'll keep you posted."

"Yea, you got me curious now. I'll give you what I have. You brief me when you return it, McCoy."

McCoy left the sheriff's office with an envelope full of fingerprint evidence taken off the windows in question. He wasn't sure what he was going to find, but he decided to go back to Cicero to see what Holloway could find out.

He should have gotten all the facts on the shootout before going to Cicero. He had no reason to tie the two events together until he'd talked to Holloway and had time to think about it. There would be a strong motive for one of the men in that window to want to take out the guy who took his buddies out.

McCoy was young and he knew he'd do a lot of backtracking before he was wise enough to see the big picture before backtracking. Investigating is what taught you to be a better investigator.

They drove past the sandbags, the guards, and into the area behind the house. Kendall went to fill the car up with gas and McCoy headed for the general's office.

"Where you going, soldier," the general barked from the table in the dining room.

"To see you. Can you get me back to Joliet?"

"Crosby," the general yelled. "You forget your brain, McCoy."

"No, sir," McCoy explained. "Call me a little slow on the uptake. The sheriff had fingerprint evidence from the upstairs window in the courthouse. It makes sense that the guy who shot Taz was in one of those windows. It took me until now to put two and two together, I want my man to look at the sheriff's prints. If he can match ours to theirs, we'll probably be able to get a name of it.

"You've got the mind for this kind of stuff, McCoy," the general said. "You fly all the way to Illinois to get to the local sheriff's office. Not the way I'd have played it."

"You want this guy. I want this guy, but I've got to get to him in my own way. I may be slow but I'm good."

"Do it your way, son. You're the investigator."

"Crosby, he needs to get back to Joliet. ASAP."

"You like to fly, McCoy?" Crosby asked.

"Book me first class. I need food and some sleep first."

"One first class ticket in freight seating. You got it," Crosby yelled, getting Gore AFB on the phone.

Once again Kendall had to get up in the middle of the night to get McCoy where he needed to be.

As McCoy flew east, Kodak remained vigilant at Taz's bedside. He chatted with Madge during the day. She was a pleasant woman who knew her business. She made the ordeal less painful.

There was a disturbance outside of Taz's room the morning McCoy flew to Illinois. There were bells, voices, and something that sounded like chanting. As Madge headed for her handbag, the door swung open, and Medicine Band, Jeremy, two Indian braves and two Indian women filed into the room, forming a semicircle around Taz's bed.

"You can't come in here," Madge objected, after they were in and the door was shut.

"I know them, Madge. It's okay," Kodak said.

"War Eagle's heart is being held in the spirit world. Medicine Band wants to return it to Taz's body. There's a ceremony," Jeremy explained. "It won't take long but it can't be interrupted."

"Madge, they're fine. I want them here. If it makes you nervous, you can wait outside. We'll be fine. He's a medicine man. Taz is their friend."

"I don't mind. They scared the hell out of me. I'm not unacquainted with the ways of Native Americans. I won't raise a fuss. Just try not to disturb the rest of the hospital. They'll toss us all out of here."

Medicine Band chanted, smoke filtered from pots the women held, and bells jangled as they danced near Taz's bed. Medicine Band put a substance on Taz's forehead and cheeks before he became very quiet and seemed to be praying before the chanting started again.

As the ceremony was coming to an end, Medicine Band came over to Kodak, marking his forehead and cheeks before chanting for a few more minutes. The door opened and the Indians started moving out.

"Thank you," Kodak said, putting his hand on top of Medicine Band's hand, when he hesitated in front of him.

"He wake soon, Hair-in-Flames," Medicine Band said.

Medicine Band left the room and Jeremy returned without his headdress.

"How'd you get here?" Kodak asked.

"I'd tell you on a cloud, but that wouldn't be true. Sally Two Shirts has a pickup truck for her laundry business. She drove. It's a new Indian custom."

"How'd you know?" Kodak asked.

"We're Indians. We know stuff. No, I rode over to your place. I told Taz I would help him put in the windows. One of the cowboys told me yesterday. When I told Medicine Band he went off to himself for a few hours and the next thing I know we were planning a trip here. Things happen fast when you're an Indian. It's best not to resist the inevitable."

"Thank you, Jeremy. He'd appreciate your coming by. I appreciate it."

"He has a powerful spirit presence, Kodak. It's not easy to snuff out a spirit as strong as War Eagle's. He'll be fine. If he was going to die, he'd be dead. He can only die a sudden death."

"He lost a lot of blood, Jeremy. It took hours to get him here."

"He is strong. His spirit isn't done here. Medicine Band says he has a long life ahead of him. He merely came to call for War Eagle's heart to return to him."

"Tell him I appreciate it very much."

"He knows, Kodak. He knows. You are the one who keeps Taz's spirit so strong. You go together as the hand goes with a glove. Medicine Band prayed for your heart to be unbroken and for your spirits to be one again."

"Thank him."

Jeremy left as Madge sat quietly in one corner of the room.

"War Eagle?"

"His Indian name," Kodak said.

"Fitting. It's amazing how intuitive they are. I always depended on medicine to heal my soldiers and my patients, but I can't help but feel the energy they left behind. He called you Hair-in-Flames. To have an Indian name is quite an honor hereabouts for a white man. They aren't given to being fond enough of most of us to give us an Indian name, not that we can blame them. We did them a big injustice."

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