Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 12

Finger Pointing

McCoy had been gone for some time before coming back to watch Taz being brought up to see his home for the first time. Because of where the sun was in the sky that time of morning, no one could see him even if they looked up at the top of the canyon wall.

He was immediately on his way into the general's office and found him at his desk.

"McCoy, I thought you ran away from home. I'd of had Kathleen stock up the kitchen if I knew you were coming."

"My eyes are crossed from looking at pictures through that magnifier."

"Do tell, McCoy. I thought you already did that."

"I gave you highlights. The more I know the more you know. The safer that makes you."

"You staying this time? I want you to take a look at the mesa. See if you see something I missed. Make suggestions. He's going home tomorrow."

"Let me brief you on what I know first. I'll go up and look over the new place and where you might want to beef up protection until the next time Slade comes calling. You did what I told you?"

"Yea. I've moved the old cabin far enough away he won't be poking around. I'll keep guards on him until we put Slade in the ground."

"I'll find him for you. You'll have to put him in the ground. I don't kill people unless they force me to," McCoy explained.

"You find him and I'll take care of him myself."

"General, forget your vendetta. I can't be certain he won't find you before I find him. Your boy having a hole in his back makes him way easier to protect. You, on the other hand, are highly mobile and motivated. I can try to protect you but the harder you make it the more danger you're in."

"Move on, McCoy. Tell me about his discharge. We haven't covered that."

"What makes you think I know about that?"


"Provincial leaders were dropping dead at a rapid rate. A dozen in two months. All of them close to Slade. No alibi. No witness saying he didn't. No proof he did. After they hit and even dozen in two months, they offered him a general discharge and a ticket home. He took it.

"Slade's a loner by nature. He's a crack shot. I tracked down a couple of guys in his unit. Not much to say about him. Confirmed the loner tag.

"Average student. No athletics. No girlfriends of note. Just your average everyday stone cold killer," McCoy said.

"I've seen this bird, McCoy," Gen. Walker said, staring at the latest picture McCoy brought him "Older, hair on his face, but I've seen him recently.

"He was at the hospital, General. You could have passed him in the hall."

"No, I was going in and out the side entrance. The only ones there were my own men. He was inside the hospital. Second floor nurse's station. In that area. The day all hell broke loose. It's the only time I paid any attention to who was upstairs at the end of the hallway where Taz was, but I saw him. If I'm not mistaken, he was looking right at me."

"That was the day the picture was taken in front of the hospital sign. His face was blown up ten or twelve times. That distorted it."

"Can I have this? I'll get Crosby to make copies so everyone sees it."

"I know what he looks like. You can keep it. Make a few copies for Sheriff Andy. I'll take a few to him. Dollars to donuts, he's the guy who follow you away from the hospital. It's a move he'd make. Run you off the road if he got lucky. Put a bullet in your body to be sure."

"Kendall thinks it was him," Gen. Walker said.

A few days later at dinner, McCoy showed up, after his trip in town to see the sheriff.

"Could you pass me those biscuits. Wouldn't want any to float away," McCoy said.

"Kodak got pictures of that shootout deal, according to the sheriff. How do I get a gander at those?" McCoy asked.

"Kendall can drive you up. I'll call ahead. They're probably still packed. What are you looking for?"

"Just looking," McCoy said, adding some mashed potatoes to his plate.

"Kodak is a good guy. He knows about you. Taz doesn't. We might not want to mention Slade around him."

"Call them? You got them hooked up to the outside world? You only need to get shot around here to get a phone? Glad I don't need a phone. I hope there's more of this beef."

"This is a cattle ranch, McCoy. Probably the only place you couldn't clean out of beef," the general said.

Kendall pulled the jeep up a few feet from the porch. Kodak came out to greet them.

"Hey, Kendall. This is getting to be a regular route for you."

"Yea, you can say that again. This is McCoy. He's the general's investigator. He came to see you."

"Hi, McCoy. Welcome to the mesa. I have the pictures out. All snapshot size. Crosby can blow up copies for you if you find anything you like," Kodak said.

"Kathleen sent some things. Pot holders, dish towels, and she sent some pot roast and mashed potatoes. I think she put a tin of biscuits in for you."

"Taz will love that," Kodak said, holding the screen door open for them.

"Where is he?" Kendall asked.

"He's lying down. He still gets tired easy."

McCoy sat at the table looking over the several rolls of pictures taken at the courthouse shootout, taking particular care with pictures of the second floor windows, where Slade's prints had been found.

"You have a magnifying glass?" McCoy asked.

"No, we don't have anything like that."

"I've got two pictures that look like the guy. Might help to have as many images of him as possible. He can change his appearance."

"This is the guy who shot Taz?"

"Yea, I took his thumb print off the shell casing he left up on top behind here. The sheriff got some prints from the same guy, proving he was at the courthouse shooting. You need to know what he looks like," McCoy said, handing Kodak the picture he'd brought for him.

"What's his name," a stern determined voice said as Taz moved out of the bedroom toward the table.

"Pardon!" McCoy said, buying time.

"The name of the guy who shot me. You know it?"

"I work for the general. You need to talk to him."

"If that's the man who shot me. I want his name," Taz said, moving closer to the table, sounding determined.

McCoy was a good bit larger than Taz, but there was no mistake about who was in charge.

Kendall stepped aside to let Taz move closer. Taz didn't look at him or acknowledge him as he honed in on the photograph of the man who shot up. Taz's easy going demeanor had been replaced by something more insistent.

"He shot me. I want to know his name," Taz ordered.

"Yes, he did. His name is Jake Slade. He was an army sniper. He left a thumb print on the shell casing I took off the rim of the canyon right above here. He left some prints at the courthouse. He was staring right out of those second story windows at you when you ended that little insurrection," McCoy said, deciding to go against the general's wishes.

"He's a brother. One of my own men shot me?"

Taz was confused.

"He's nobody's brother. He was run out of the army for killing people no one told him to kill. He's bad to the bone. He's not one of us."

"You're Regular army?"

"Yea, I'm Angus McCoy. I work for Army Investigations. I'm about to time out and the general tagged me for this."

"If the general picked you, you must be competent," Taz said.

"I like to think so. I'm learning. I'm about to become a cop, where I'll learn my trade in depth," McCoy said.

"I'm Taz by the way," Taz said. "Thanks for telling me his name. A man shoots you, you should know his name."

"Yes, you should," McCoy agreed.

"I feel better now. He was at the courthouse?"

"He was at the courthouse," McCoy said. "Probably has a lot to do with why he wants you dead."

"I killed some of his buddies then. It's a reason. I'll be seeing him one day," Taz said with an icy certainty. "It's a day he won't forget."

"I don't know he had buddies. He's a loner. You got in his way. He didn't seem to like it."

"That was intended," Taz said.

"He was probably paid to kill you. A warning to Gen. Walker is the way I figure. No proof of any of it."

"Cold blooded," Taz said.

"Very cold," McCoy said. "The coldest."

"You going to get him, McCoy?" Taz asked.

"If I can, but unless he makes another try, it'll be hard to dig him out of whatever hole he's dug himself into."

"Do we have coffee, Kodak?" Taz asked. "Our company might like a cup."

"Yea, there's still half a pot."

"You drink coffee, Mr. McCoy?" Taz asked.

"Sure do. Sounds like a winner," McCoy said.

"Kendall?" Taz said.

"No, I've had enough. Don't want to need to stop to pee on the way back."

"What do you think of this place? The general built it for us," Taz said, sitting across from Kodak's chair.

McCoy held the two pictures he wanted Crosby to blow up. "I'll return these as quick as Crosby's done with them."

"Just let Crosby hold onto them. I'll pick them up on my next trip down to the house."

Taz seemed fine and, after he got what he wanted, he seemed glad to have company and to share some of what they had. McCoy spent another few minutes making small talk, took the pictures and left with Kendall.

"How do you feel?" Kodak asked, after the company left.

"I feel better now. I wondered who shot me. I wanted to know why. I guess a paid killer is as good as the Viet Cong. There is no reason for me to be shot. All I did was my job. If they didn't want to get themselves shot up they shouldn't have been shooting up the courthouse. Didn't they think someone might object?"

"It's over now, Taz. You'll be fine," Kodak said.

"Yes, I will be fine, babe, but it isn't over. I owe someone… big time," Taz said, feeling his chest.

"You're getting stronger. Dr. Westphalia said we can go out, even ride a little."

"It's healing. My back is still sore but the doctor says it will be even after it heals. What I would like is to take a ride on Cyclone."

Kodak began to laugh.

"What?" Taz asked.

"I remember the first day you saw Cyclone. I remember how Cyclone got her name."

"Needed a clutch or a brake or something," Taz said, remembering the first time he tried to get on a real horse.

Less funny was a sudden flash of memory of a mechanical horse in front of the A&P back home. He wanted to ride it. His father broke his arm in three places yanking him off it. Taz cringed, pushing it out of his mind.

Few things upset Kodak since Taz had come out of his coma. The idea of Taz wanting to go after Jake Slade sent a chill through him, because he knew Taz was a man who took care of business. Kodak wanted to go back to the peaceful life they'd had before the courthouse shootout. It couldn't happen until Taz let go of his need to even the score.

Kodak reasoned there was no imminent danger, until he stepped out onto the porch, late in the day, and found two riflemen on horseback on either side of the house. Someone was in the cabin, and smoke drifted over the roof where the old woodstove vented.

Kodak knew immediately why they were there. Of course they were there. The general wasn't a man who would take chances with Taz's safety. Until Jake Slade was out of the picture, guards would be close at hand. He went back inside and closed the door, deciding not to suggest they sit out that evening.

The horseback riders had been there several times since they moved into the house. It was a cattle ranch and Taz wasn't able to work yet. Naturally the general had cowboys riding fence in Taz's place. That's all Taz needed to know, except Taz usually knew a lot more than he said.

This was the first time they were just sitting with rifles across their saddles. What Kodak didn't know was how serious the threat was. He went over to the radio in the corner and pressed the button to Crosby's radio room.

"Crosby, Kodak, what's up?"

"All's quiet on the western front," Crosby replied immediately.

"All quiet here."

"Thanks for checking in," Crosby said.

While the ranch got back to full speed in its daily dealings, there was one man who wasn't celebrating Taz's coming home, being under the protection of Gen. Walker and his small army.

Jake Slade wouldn't make another try on the ranch. That was a fool's move. He could wait. He'd wait for life to return to normal. One day he'd move closer to keep an eye on the general's ranch. One day he'd catch them off guard. That would be a very good day, when he finished his job.

Later McCoy waited in the general's office while Crosby blew up the pictures of the courthouse windows.

"Taz won't be doing a lot of moving around for a few days. The front porch is where he'll like to sit out and you can't see it from the bluff. Anyone moves around up there that isn't supposed to be there; we have communication with the station up there in the old line shack. They can alert Crosby before they eliminate any threat."

"How many men near the house?" McCoy asked.

"Four during the day. Two on horseback at night. Two jeeps on patrol up top during the day, one at night. Once we asphalt the road up there, I can have a dozen men up there ten minutes after we get an alarm."

"Good. I can spend my time tracking Slade. I'll want to keep copies of the pictures I've brought you. Have Crosby copy them and give me the originals. I'll probably recognize him when I see him, but seeing the different ways he can alter his appearance keeps me on my toes."

"Don't stray too far, McCoy. He's home and I need you to keep an eye on things."

"Won't need to stray far. He isn't far. He hasn't finished yet. He's waiting just like we're waiting, General. You're doing all you can. Let me do what I know how to do."

"I want that bird, McCoy."

"I understand that."

"I don't like my men being threatened. Get him, McCoy. I'll cover your ass. No one will cry over Jake Slade getting his just desserts."

"I'll get him for you, General. I'd do anything for you, but I won't kill him for you. That's where my loyalty ends."

"I won't rest easy until you get him."

"Like so many men bent on murder, if Slade wants him dead and doesn't mind giving his life to make him dead, He's almost impossible to stop. What you've got to remember is, Taz isn't the primary target. You are. He won't give his life to get Taz, but he may well be willing to give it to get a shot at you. You're the one I worry about at night."

"I keep my .45 on my nightstand. I maybe getting old, but I take a lot of killing."

"Remember he's a sniper by trade. He prefers a long shot. Easier to make a getaway. He might get close if he thinks he can pull off something he likes. Not his style but not out of the question. You need to watch your back, General. No telling when he'll make another try. I can't be everywhere all the time."

"So you think he's close?"

"Could be. My instincts say he'll lay low for a while. Whatever he was doing at the hospital didn't work out. Too much confusion is my guess. Too many opportunities for things to go wrong. It's not like him to get in the middle of chaos. Let himself be photographed to boot. He got sloppy because he was too close to his target. He's not as clever up close, because he's trained to wait for his target to come to him. He plans it all out and takes his shot and leaves without anyone seeing him.

"What I know is there will be another attempt, because it's what Slade does. Jones has probably paid him to do the job. Slade won't quit until he does what he was paid to do. He can't walk away because Jones protects him. Jones is his ticket to safety when things get dangerous for him."

"Can you stop him, McCoy?"

"As long as we have Taz on the ranch, he's safe. I don't see Slade making another try here. I may be wrong. We need to keep him protected. My guess is he'll wait for the right time. I doubt he knows what his next move is yet.

"You've got enough men to discourage Slade. He caught you off guard once. He knows it's not likely to happen again. You'll be on guard. A natural response but you're far more capable of responding. He'll watch for an opening to be exploit. I'll be looking for the same thing."

"But string the wire anyway?" the general said.

"No one is a hundred percent predictable. He might try taking a shot from the canyon wall again. Especially if it looks to be without risk. The wire tells him we're alert."

"But he won't do it here if he values living?"

"No, he won't, but I wouldn't bet my life on it."

"No, and I won't bet Taz's life on it. I'll keep a guard in the bed with him if that what it takes."

"Give his buddy a .45 and make sure he knows how to use it. As a last resort, it could makes the difference."

"I showed him. He was carrying at the hospital. Took to the idea as soon as I mentioned it."

"Love is hell," McCoy said.

"Yea it is, but that boy would take a bullet for Taz. That kind of loyalty can't be purchased."

"He knows about Slade."

"Kodak?" the general asked.



"Couldn't be helped."

"How'd he take it?" the general asked.

"Better than I expected. He's too weak to do anything right now, but I wouldn't want to be in Slade's shoes if Taz ever runs across him."


"Slade has the advantage. He picks the time for the next engagement. What he doesn't know is I'm out here waiting for him to pick that time. I've got to be close enough to see him coming and far enough away that he doesn't know I'm there," McCoy explained.

"How many clients have you had, McCoy?"

"You're the first and you're still alive, might I add."

"It sounds like a job for a dozen men, McCoy. Can you do it?"

"A dozen men can't appear non-threatening if you're a hit man on the job. I, on the other hand, can be quite inconspicuous in a pinch. Ask me that after we've encountered Slade the next time. I'll have an answer then."

The general laughed nervously, following McCoy's logic. The idea he was being asked to do a job he'd never done before was a lot to ask.

"What's your next move?"

"I've got some stops to make in Utah and Idaho. These are where the most powerful militia movements are located out here. The FBI keeps an eye on comings and goings. They're letting me look at all the pictures taken since Slade was at the hospital."

"How long will you be gone."

"Two stops in Utah. Idaho presents a lot more targets. I'll probably get all over Idaho. Maybe be gone a week."

"We be all right with you away for a week. I thought you might hang around to keep an eye on things."

"Taz can hardly leave his bedroom. We're fine for a week. You have enough guys up there to defend the Alamo. Keep doing what you're doing and we'll be fine."

"The boys were going over about the time Taz was shot. They wanted to look up a fellow named David. He was the best friend of a boy who was dying at Walter Reed. Taz sat with him and promised to look up his friend David. See if you can locate him since you're going to be over there. Since Taz won't be doing any traveling soon, I want to invite David to visit the ranch. It's something Taz would like. I have the file on the boy who died. His address. Details of his service."

"I can do that. Be a nice change of pace. Hone my investigative skills."

"That's good. Taz will be pleased."

"I don't suppose Kathleen has any of that chip beef gravy lying around? Can't travel on an empty stomach."

"You're a piece of work, McCoy."

It was the following week that Crosby called Kodak to tell him a Ken Brown was on the way into the ranch to meet with him. Kodak made sure Taz was sleeping. He saddled Milkweed after taking the envelope with the pictures from the courthouse and putting them in the saddlebags.

"I expected you to be older," Ken Brown said, shaking Kodak's hand as he entered Gen. Walker's office, where the meeting was to take place.

They sat at the desk and Kodak watched as the man from Life magazine went through the fifty pictures of the courthouse shootout. He formed two piles the second time he went through them, picking out an even dozen.

"Do you want to look at these?" he asked, sliding the chosen pictures over in front of Kodak. "If you give me the negatives we'll use six to eight, according to how they fit into the space allotted for the story we're telling. I was expecting pictures of Sgt. Tazerski," Ken Brown said.

"You wanted the pictures of the activities in town. These are the best pictures. Sgt. Tazerski is pictured in several of those."

"I understand he was instrumental in ending the uprising."

"That's accurate," Kodak said. "The story you want to tell can be told in these pictures. There are another dozen pictures of Sgt. Tazerski that aren't being negotiated at this time. I'm not comfortable releasing those."

"I'm aware of the shooting. I understand you want to be careful. These are excellent pictures. A story in pictures that needs to be told, but paying you the price I had in mind, with only a few pictures of the sergeant in them, is excessive. I don't know I can get that much for these. He is our main interest to account for his departure from the scene. I thought you understood he should be the subject.

"I do want to keep the channels open for when the rest of the pictures are available. If I buy these, which I'd like to, I'd be looking for more with the sergeant in them."

"There's no discussion we can have at the moment. These are the pictures available. You came here to discuss the pictures I mentioned that were taken at the courthouse. I'm not prepared to give you every picture of Taz the first time we meet, Mr. Brown. He's in no condition to worry about business negotiations at this time. My instincts tell me that if this works out well, you are a man I can deal with."

"Later, once we establish Sgt. Tazerski is not in peril, I want to do a spread exclusively on him using the pictures you're withholding from me now.

"Maybe we can do a story on his rehabilitation. There will no doubt be an audience created for that story if we include some mention of him being shot and now recovering, since the shootout at the courthouse."

"It's not a deal I can make at present. If Taz is agreeable we can discuss it at a later date. I can't sell what doesn't belong to me. These pictures belong to me and while some include Taz, they are my creative property."

"I see. Here's my offer," Ken Brown said, as he removed a tiny tablet from his shirt pocket, wrote something on the first sheet of paper, tore it off, folded it in half, and sliding it across in front of Kodak.

Kodak swallowed hard, not wishing to appear shaken by all the numbers that had been written on the paper.

"This is for the pictures you've picked out today. This isn't any combination deal. As I said, I can't agree to anything concerning Taz without getting his approval."

"That's for these pictures only. We have first rights and we'll retain book rights if we do a hard bound special edition and want to use one or more of these pictures. There is a flat rate for each picture used in such an edition. You wouldn't be disappointed and you can think of it as a bonus. Being 'Kodak originals' has a certain value. We'd like to be considered in any release you are planning to make."

"You brought a contract? I'll consider that right now."

"Of course," he said.

"When can I expect a check?" Kodak said.

"I'm on my way to San Francisco. I'll return to New York in a week. You should receive the check two weeks from today. Call me if it isn't here by that time."

"That's fine. Where do I sign."

"I have one more question and I don't want you to be insulted."

"Go ahead," Kodak said.

"You aren't shopping the pictures of Sgt. Tazerski around, are you? I'm prepared to make you a substantial offer to have exclusive first publication rights to any pictures of his involvement in this event. People want to read about him and no one else is going to offer you more."

"Any other pictures that I have aren't for sale to anyone at this time. You'll be the first to know when they are available and you can bid on the limited rights to them or make me an offer I can't refuse."

"I couldn't ask for more. You're a shrewd businessman and these are some of the best action stills I've seen in some time. I hope we'll have an opportunity to do more business together soon, Mr. Anderson."

"I'll look forward to it," Kodak said.

"This brings up one more matter I've agreed to handle. This is a $5,000 check from our publishers to be applied to the sergeant's hospital bills."

"What?" Kodak said surprised.

"You weren't compensated for your original pictures of the sergeant. Your paper erroneously allowed us to publish them without stipulation. I think it worked out well for you but it was an error we've been waiting to rectify. That check should be fair compensation for the unauthorized use of your work."

"That's pretty nice of your people. Tell them we are grateful. I'm happy to do business with you, Mr. Brown," Kodak said, shaking hands as business was concluded.

It's the way Kodak thought business should be done. He gathered the remainder of the pictures and thanked the general for letting him do business at the house.

Taz was seated on the front porch when Kodak rode back up toward the house. He stood and waved as Kodak stopped near the porch.

"Where were you?" Taz asked.

"I had some business to do down at the house. You were sleeping. I didn't want to wake you."

"I missed you," Taz said very seriously.

"You did. I was only gone for a few minutes, babe."

"I've been up for an hour."

"It takes time to ride down and back."

Kodak went around and put the saddle up before releasing Milkweed into the corral. Taz stood out near the corral to watch the horses run. He held Kodak's hand as they walked back toward the house.

"Are you okay, Taz."

"I was afraid. I was scared when you weren't here. Crosby said you were down there with some guy from Life magazine."

"Crosby's got a big mouth. It's a surprise. I sold some pictures."

"He knew I was upset. He said he shouldn't say but he did anyway. He said you'd be right home."

"Did it help? You could have asked to talk to me if it would have helped. A surprise is worth upsetting you, babe."

"Yea, you're in the middle of a business deal and you excuse yourself because your boyfriend is having a panic attack from being alone. I just had to know you were okay. I don't remember being afraid before."

"I'm fine, Taz. You're fine. I won't leave you."

"He's still after me, you know. He'll try again. I'm happy for the first time in my life. I don't want to die."

"Taz! No one is after you. We're protected. No one can get up here. See the smoke over at the line shack."

"Yea," he said, watching the smoke circle above the roof.

"The general is keeping cowboys on watch up here. If you listen close, sometimes you can hear a jeep up top. They're patrolling up there too."

"I'm not well enough to fight my own battle. I don't like being helpless. I'm not going to be helpless much longer."

"I know. The general is worried. There's no proof of anything. McCoy said it doesn't hurt to be on guard, until he nails the guy."

"He seems okay," Taz said. "Glad he's army."

"He knows his job and he's doing it."

"What's for dinner?" Taz asked.

"Oh, now the truth comes out. You wanted food. You didn't really miss me at all," Kodak joked.

"A guy can be hungry and miss someone at the same time, can't he?" Taz asked. "Besides, I did just fine those months you were lost."

"Depends on how you define fine."

"I won't argue with you if it's going to hold up dinner."

They laughed and Kodak went in to move the casserole out of the fridge and into the oven.

"I did miss you while you were gone. I think that's why I get scared when I wake up and don't know where you are," Taz said solemnly, staying close to Kodak.

"I'm back. I was gone a little more than an hour."

"No, after your plane crashed. I was really lonely, Kodak. You don't know how hard that time was on me."

"Now you know how I felt while you were unconscious."

"I didn't go anywhere. I was right there the whole time. You were sitting right next to me. You and your .45."

"When you were in that hospital bed, you were further away from me than you'd been when I was lost a half a world away in the South Pacific. Being able to touch you and you not respond…, it was about as scary as it gets, Taz."

"I can respond now if you touch me," Taz said, smiling an evil little smile.

"Yes, you can," Kodak said, smiling right back. "The casserole will take an hour to heat up properly. We can go into the bedroom and see if all your working parts are working."

"I'd like that a lot. That's the other thing about you being gone. I want to hold onto you all the time when you come home. Do you think I'm getting soft."

"Anything but," Kodak smiled.

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