Metal Peace

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14

Slade Moves

The weeks after Dave's visit saw Taz growing stronger. He was able to mount Cyclone but riding was still tiring. They drove into town for Kodak to shop at the market a couple of times, when Taz wanted to go out.

It was on a Wednesday, an hour or so before Taz took his afternoon nap, the boys headed for town to get Taz's prescriptions refilled. It was a pleasant day, the sun was shining. The air was fresh.

"I want to stop at the market too. Tazerski's coconuts might be there," Kodak said, stopping the jeep in front of the pharmacy. "You okay? Want to go in with me?"

"No, you go ahead. The sun feels nice on my face."

When Kodak came back out, there was a strange man seated behind Taz. A chill ran through Kodak.

"Who is he," Kodak asked loudly, standing in the shadow of the overhang, moving no closer.

"Hi, the sergeant said you'd give me a ride," the man said.

"I don't understand. We need to go to the market, Taz. You shouldn't be offering strangers a ride," Kodak said, standing firm.

"You better get in. He isn't about to let you walk away. He's got a pistol in my back."

"A pistol," Kodak said, easing forward.

The man had short hair and was clean shaven. The white neckline of his undershirt appeared at the neck inside his plaid cowboy type shirt. He wore jeans, slightly faded, old cowboy boots, looking like any cowboy you might meet in Montana high country. He also looked exactly like Jake Slade. Kodak's blood ran cold.

"Get in. He's got a gun on me," Taz repeated.

"It has a hair trigger, so be very careful when you shift gears. I'd hate to have an accident," Slade said smiling.

Kodak noticed a tan light weight jacket draped over his arm. The arm was extended toward the back of Taz's seat. Kodak became immobile as he stood beside the jeep.

"Where are we going?" Kodak asked, standing fast. "Is the gun under that jacket?"

"You're a fucking genius. If you don't get in I'll just pop you two right here. Get in," Slade insisted.

Once in the jeep Kodak fumbled with the ignition but the jeep didn't start.

"You might want to turn the switch on. I'm army, son, don't fuck with me. Drive out of town the way you came in. I'll tell you which way to go. Don't forget the hair trigger. No point in sending the sergeant to his great reward before his time," Slade said, amused by it all.

The engine finally started. Kodak ground the gears trying to get the jeep in reverse. His knee shook so severely it was almost impossible. The grinding was hard on the ears.

It was at this time a man stepped out from under the shade of the overhang. He carried a large bag of popcorn and was beside the jeep before Slade could warn him off.

Slade realized he dare not take the gun out of Taz's back to warn off the pedestrian. He'd heard what a fighter Taz was. Give him an opening and no telling what he'd try. Slade did his best to keep his cool. If he was forced to shoot all three of them in the middle of Main Street, he would.

"Back this thing up," Slade ordered, as the man beside the jeep smiled, friendly like.

"Howdy, gentlemen," the big man said happily. "I'm with the local Preservation Committee and we're collecting donations to restore the courthouse to its previous splendor. Perhaps you'd like to donate," McCoy said with a pleasantness he didn't feel.

"Beat it. We ain't interested. Get this thing out of here," Slade growled, Kodak let the clutch pop, stalling the jeep, which got Slade's eye on him.

When Slade looked back, he was looking into the barrel of McCoy's .45.

"I've got a gun in his back. You don't back off, I'll cut the son-of-a-bitch in half," Slade promised.

"That's too bad. I sort of like him. I suspect half cut him in half. Once I put a bullet in your ear, you'll stop shooting."

"You think you scare me? Wrong! Back up the jeep," he ordered, leaning closer to Taz to make sure the gun couldn't be dislodged.

Kodak didn't move.

McCoy took half a step backward, holding his pistol steady and pointed at Slade's face. Slade followed him with his eyes, trying to figure out his next move. The sound of four riflemen chambering a round got Slade's eyes up at the roof of the building and on four M-16s pointed directly at him. This wasn't how he saw his plan going.

"Excuse me for moving back. I hate blood and guts getting all over me. You can't get it off your clothes," McCoy explained.

"Call them off. I'm going to kill him even if you kill me. The sergeant is holding a losing hand."

Slade's eyes lifted to look at each of the four muzzles aimed at him. This had never happened before. He'd always had surprise on his size. His plans always worked. This wasn't going to end well.

"My orders are to stop you. I hate to lose the sergeant, but he's not my concern. You, however, are. You so much as twitch and those boys will open you up. Does it feel like a good day to die?"

"You're bluffing."

"You see, I work for a guy who wants you dead. The sergeant doesn't figure into it beyond being bait to draw you out. In the larger scheme of things it's like trading a pawn to save the king. I'm here to save the general, Slade. One way or another it ends here today. You take the pawn and I take you."

Slade flinched when he heard his name. How'd this guy know who he was? He'd covered his tracks. He felt exposed.

A rage ran through Taz. This was the guy who shot him. Taz felt like this was payback time. Forcing the rage out of his mind, a peacefulness washed over him as he waited to strike. Slowly he began moving the rearview mirror, a little bit at a time, while Slade and McCoy palavered. Once he could see his assassin's face, he let his arm relax beside him and waited.

"Hey, Slade! I don't want you looking at them when I kill you," McCoy said, noticing Slade's eyes on the rifles again. "I want you to see it coming. You too much a coward to look the man that kills you in the face?"

"You're going to see me kill this one," Slade said, leaning forward enough to make sure the gun couldn't be dislodged.

Once Slade was satisfied, he looked at McCoy to make sure he saw the strength of his position. He wasn't fooled by the bravado, he'd let Slade go before he'd let the sergeant die.

As soon as he leaned forward that little bit more, Taz's elbow shot back and caught Slade in the left temple. Taz waited for the shots to rip into him.

Slade slumped onto the floor as McCoy snatched the gun from his grasp.

Kodak's head drooped between his shoulders as he leaned hard on the steering wheel. He reached under his shirt, removing the wire McCoy had furnished him, letting it drop on the floor. He exhaled as if he'd been holding his breath.

"You were wearing a wire?" Taz asked.

"Uh huh."

"We were sitting ducks so McCoy could ride to the rescue?"

"It's what he said he needed to protect you."

Taz was surprised by this little piece of news.

"What the hell are you thinking, Tazerski. I had it under control. He wasn't going to shoot you," McCoy blurted.

"The gun was in my back, McCoy. I'm a pawn, huh? Did I kill him?" Taz snapped.

McCoy yanked a groggy Slade back into his seat.

"No, you put the hurtin' on the son-of-a-bitch though. How'd you know he wouldn't pull the trigger when you hit him?" McCoy barked. "Are you crazy?"

"He might have gotten me, but he wasn't getting anyone else," Taz explained. "I owed him."

"I had everything under control," McCoy said disappointed.

"You want to give him his gun back and we'll see how it turns out doing it your way," Taz taunted.

"No, no. I just can't believe you did that. He could have killed you. Tazerski. You're certifiable."

"I didn't kill him. I wanted to kill him. Shit! I think I broke my elbow," Taz said, unable to lift his arm.

"You're crazy," McCoy said, as Jake Slade jerked back to semi-consciousness.

"What hit me?" he asked.

"He's alive," Taz said with no pleasure.

"Don't worry about what hit you. Worry about me doing it again if you fuck with me," McCoy said angrily, pulling Slade out of the jeep and onto his feet, but his knees weren't ready to hold him.

McCoy leaned his weight against him to pat him down, making sure there were no more weapon on him.

"You boys keep him covered?" McCoy said, shoving his gun into the holster under his arm. "Grab for it and I'll break your jaw."

"What hit me?" Slade repeated, acting stunned.

"A very self-destructive sergeant," McCoy said. "So much as twitch and you won't be able to ask what hit you."

Kodak finally got enough energy to lean to hug Taz, putting his face against Taz's shoulder. He was spent.

"You knew what was going on and didn't let on?" Taz said.

"I was scared shitless," Kodak said.

"I'll be damned," Taz said, kissing Kodak's cheek. "You're something, you know? You might want to ease up on that elbow. It's not doing so good."

"They're faggots. I was blindsided by a faggot," Slade said with hatred in his words.

There was no end to the mistakes Jake Slade made this day.

Taz whirled out of the jeep so fast McCoy never saw him coming. Taz picked up Slade's pistol from the fender as he passed. What McCoy did see was Taz on top of Slade, bending him back over the side of the jeep, trying to shove the barrel of the pistol up Slade's now bleeding nose. Taz held the outlaw in place by using a clump of hair that made for a handy handle.

"What did you call me, motherfucker? You human piece of shit. I'm going to blow your brains out the back of your head. You're the guy that put a hole in me, and I'm going to return the favor, asshole. How does that sound to you?"

"Tazerski," McCoy yelled, paralyzed by the possibilities.

"What did you call me? Say it again. I want to hear it before I kill you."

Every few words, Taz jammed the pistol harder to get the barrel up the left side of Slade's nose. The blood ran down over the barrel and onto Taz's hand. Even after he stopped speaking, he jammed it harder against the petrified assassin.

It was McCoy's turn to shake. He was afraid to move. The four riflemen stood on the street beside the jeep now, watching with no particular interest in the outcome.

"Tazerski, lighten up. He's got a hair trigger on that thing. You're going to shoot him," McCoy said.

"Don't try to make a monkey out of me, McCoy," Taz growled. "My name is Taz."

"Don't do this. He wins if you kill him. Don't!" McCoy pleaded, being over his head for the first time in his law enforcement career.

"What's my name, asshole?" Taz asked, jamming the pistol some more, leaning all of his weight against the bent backward Slade.

"Hair trigger," Slade muttered before peeing himself.

"What's my name, asshole?" Taz demanded.

"Sgt. Tazerski. Don't kill me. Please!" Slade cried.

"What did you call me," Taz continued, still raging.

"Mr. Tazerski," Slade managed to say, losing the feeling in his legs and beginning to feel faint. "Don't kill me."

Taz let go of his hair and stood up. Taking the barrel of the pistol in his weakened left hand, he let McCoy take it.

"Damn, man, I was sure you were going to kill him," McCoy said.

"I was," Taz said. "That fucker shot me."

McCoy stared at Taz not being certain what to make of him.

Kodak moved over to hug Taz.

"Take it a little easy on that arm. I think I did break that elbow. We might should drop in to see how old Dr. Westphalia is doing today. He hasn't looked at my back in over a week."

Kodak held onto Taz, crying tears of relief. The threat was over. He rested his head on Taz's shoulder, not wanting to let go of him.

"You're one cool customer," Taz whispered. "I don't believe you stalled all that time, until McCoy got his shit together."

"I wasn't all that cool. I was shaking, but I wasn't going to drive away from our protection."

"McCoy was in the pharmacy?"

"He came in from the alley. He told me Slade was following us. He gave them the slip right outside of town. McCoy felt like Slade would make his move today. We've come into town around this time before," Kodak explained.

"I guess he knows his stuff," Taz said softly, so McCoy didn't hear.

Kodak saw Taz unleashed in Vietnam. He brought death and destruction to the enemy. There was no emotion to it. Today Taz's raw emotional approach was something new, but understandable under the circumstances.

Kodak knew Taz could kill Slade. In war no one would have looked twice at such a death. Taz chose to let it go. He was content to let McCoy take charge, but Slade would never forget the day he came face to face with Taz.

Kodak knew the difference between good and evil. He knew Taz was pure goodness. He had a sense of right and wrong that he honored. He was also a trained soldier who could kill. Kodak was glad he didn't kill today, even when he'd rest easier with Slade dead.

Angus McCoy wasn't so sure. He was good at what he did. Once he had control of a situation, he was in charge. Right under his nose Taz took control away from him. The truth was, McCoy never saw it coming. He'd underestimated Taz and he got caught flat-footed. All he could do was watch… and pray.

Then it was over. McCoy had the gun he should have secured properly in the first place. How did he lose control?

How could he factor raw emotion into every situation? How could a seriously damaged man do what Taz did? McCoy didn't know.

How close he came to killing Slade, only Taz could say, but he wouldn't, because McCoy wouldn't ask him for fear the answer would further distort the natural order McCoy believed existed.

Kodak took Taz to see Dr. Westphalia as soon as Slade was in McCoy's vehicle and on the way to the sheriff's office.

"Come in. Come in. Why do you look lopsided, son? That wound in your back bothering you? It was fine last week. Finally healing. What have you done?"

"No, the back is fine. I just broke my elbow on a guy's head," Taz said.

"You what? I told you nothing strenuous."

"He knocked Jake Slade out using his elbow. Slade was in the backseat of our jeep intending to kill us," Kodak explained.

"Good Lord! Let me look at it. We'll need an X-ray. Why don't you just stay home, son?"

"Jake Slade wasn't at home, doc," Taz said.

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