Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Sheriff and the Prosecutor

Taz rode down into the meadows to the ranch house before breakfast. He found himself thinking about the food the general's wife might provide. He didn't think of food all that often, because left to his own devices it came out of a can, except when the general brought something up when he came to see how he was.

The first appearance in court wasn't for another two weeks, but Taz had to identify the culprit that tried to brain him with the wire cutters. It was all part of a case being built against the rustlers. They no longer hanged rustlers in Montana, but they did get stiff jail time for stealing valuable beef.

The general signed the central complaint, but the assault on Taz figured into the charges and the time the men were looking at. Taz picked the three men he'd seen at the fence out of three separate lineups. He sat with the general as they listened to the prosecutor describing the case.

"We've got clear identification. The rustling charges carry substantial time. The assault charge gives us a bit more leverage with the assailant, but as of yet, we can't get anything out of any of them."

The sheriff was waiting at the jeep when Taz and the general came back to head home.

"Gen. Walker, I've got a bit of news, and I don't know what to do with it."

"Sheriff Ward, what can I do for you?"

"I'm not sure you can do anything. Do you know Bob Meeker?"

"I've heard the name. I'm not up on my local officials."

"He's no official. He's an attorney that works exclusively for the White Brotherhood. They have their place on the other side of the pass from your ranch."

"Not familiar with it or him," the general said.

"White Brotherhood is a white supremacy group. Meeker is their attorney. They bought a place out your way three years ago. We get alerts from the Justice Department on local militia and militaristic groups. They're all mixed up in mock military type activities."

"I see. Well, that's all fine, but what does it have to do with me?"

"Meeker is representing those rustlers. They're connected to the WB. They've been rustling cows in the area to finance their activities. We're right long on suspicion and right short on proof. We've tried to get a man inside their organization, but they're pretty careful about who they take up with. We haven't even got a look inside their compound. No probable cause."

"Sheriff, I don't see where this involves me or my ranch. I'm an old cowboy and not into local politics. I pay my taxes, and I keep clear of trouble whenever possible. If you have something else to say I suggest you get on with it. I got cows to tend to."

"No, sir. I want you aware of what's behind the men who took your cows. They might get out on bond, and the likelihood of them ever showing up for trial is slim and less than slim. So, your herd isn't safe and those men are going to be out there somewhere beyond my reach. I don't have enough to tie them to WB to get a search warrant for their compound.

"The WB isn't going away and if we can talk the judge into holding onto the rustlers, I'm going to need your help. The judge might respond to your request to deny bond. So far we've been able to hold onto them, but I don't know how much longer. Meeker is arguing for bond as we speak."

"Under those circumstances, give me the judge's name. I'll give him my two cents worth, but I'll have to use you as my source of concern."

"No problem. He's already heard from me, but he isn't convinced yet. If I can convince him they're likely to disappear because they are with the Brotherhood, he might go for it. You calling to express your concern would make it more likely. Your being willing to back the judge's play with that small army you got out at your place would probably allow him to rest easier.

"We don't have a big budget to defend the jail, and at the moment I've got no reason to suspect they're about to come take those boys away from me; but then again, I don't have any reason to think they won't if they have a mind to."

"What do you think these boys are up to? What do they do?"

"They want to take the country back. Get it in the hands of the rightful owners. If we were further south, the judges down there would cut those boys loose in a minute. They're all right wingers and big believers in being armed and dangerous."

"The Indians? Why would a white supremacy group want to give the country back to the Indians?" the general wondered out loud.

"Indians aren't people to them, Gen. Walker. I can appreciate your sense of humor, but white men are people. Everyone else is something else. They think this is their country."

"Yes, lot of that going around. Doesn't sound like your average Sunday school class. I think I'd like to keep an eye on those fellows if you don't object? I may be retired military but I'm not without influence. I'm still a reserve officer with a lot of cowboys that are reserve soldiers. Any breach of the peace becomes my business."

"That's what I wanted to hear. I'll be bolder if you're backing my play. If I'm right we'll be able to smoke those boys out of there and shut down the WB."

"Okay, Sheriff Ward, I'll do what I can. Keep me posted on this thing. I have a communications man on duty at all times. You need a small army, I just happen to have one. I'll see what I can rustle up from my side of the pass. I'll be in touch. I won't move without telling you."

"Thanks, General. I was told if I explained it to you, you'd come through for me. I feel a bit easier about this deal now. You don't want that crowd living up there."

Taz sat in the back of the jeep. Kendall turned off on the mountain road to go back to the ranch. The general didn't have anything else to say, but Taz could tell he was thinking about what the sheriff told him. Random rustlers were one thing, but a dangerous organization rustling to fund illegal activity was another.

The arraignment was scheduled in two weeks, and they'd need to go back to town to be available for whatever might come up. The general made a statement about the rustlers being a flight risk and their attorney objected, but the general prevailed and bail was denied. This alarmed the rustlers, who didn't take it well. Their attorney had obviously misled them.

There were some extra precautions taken to keep the herd closer to the house, where the general's men could manage them and keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Orders were given over dinner as the general had side arms taken out of storage for his cowboys to wear while on patrol.

The general didn't like having weapons out around the house but he was a practical man, prepared for any contingency. There was the possibility he and his men might be called on to go clean out a nest of desperadoes. Having soldiers for wranglers meant there was a small army at hand should he need one.

He intended to be a rancher and nothing else, but something else always managed to take place to remind him he was a general, and he came from a line of generals, and saying he was a rancher didn't change that. He'd seen enough war and dying, and long ago lost the taste for it, but no one was going to threaten him or his ranch.

Taz saddled Cyclone after dinner and headed back for the mesa. It was the first time his thoughts about Kodak went beyond missing him. For the first time Taz wondered where Kodak might be. It wasn't a wonder if he was dead or alive, but a wonder involving his whereabouts.

He didn't know it meant anything, except he felt differently, as he tried to picture where his friend might be. Taz had never missed anyone before. He'd never been as close to anyone as he was to Kodak, so missing him was no surprise. It was the idea he was alive that surprised him. He wasn't any great optimist. It went beyond optimism to a feeling he had and didn't understand. That damn old Indian was still fucking around in his head, but how angry could he get if it made him feel better?

He didn't mention his change of heart to Gen. Walker. The general saw Taz as a pragmatist. It was how a general had to be to keep from getting in his own way. Taz was realistic about his life, and not expecting too much from it was good for him. Kodak was good for him.

He'd never gotten much of value out of life before Kodak. Each day was just a new struggle. After doing his best to remain hopeful, once he'd heard Kodak's plane was missing, Taz began to doubt. His heart was full of optimism, though he kept it to himself because he was pragmatic.

If he told the general about his dream and his new feelings about Kodak, the general couldn't help but be wondering if the bottle of bourbon remained sealed. Taz wasn't sure about the dream or its meaning. Thinking about it created doubt, and so he didn't think about it.

The dream was part of it. There were other things. There was Medicine Band's edict. There was Jeremy's visit, and the conversation about Medicine Band's ability to go into the spirit world to bring back answers. There was nothing to explain how Medicine Band knew anything about Taz. Not only didn't he mention Kodak to anyone at the encampment, he didn't mention Kodak to anyone. He was private, and it had nothing to do with anyone but the two of them.

Taz wasn't sure what he knew or how he knew it. He felt something. Maybe Medicine Band was responsible. Maybe his own need to believe Kodak was alive had him believing he was. No matter what the reason, he held onto his hope silently, waiting for another sign.

The general had not mentioned Kodak, and that meant there was no news from his connections with the Pacific Fleet. They had found nothing, which meant there was no wreckage, which meant there was no proof Kodak was at the bottom of the ocean.

With the rustlers caught, the fences stayed in good repair. Regardless of that, Taz rode the fence line each day. When he was done riding fence to the north, he rode the fence line between the mesa and the meadow, to make sure the cattle were safely confined where the general wanted them.

Some days he took out Milkweed for this chore. Cyclone snorted and objected to being left in his stall. And when Taz brushed and treated Milkweed affectionately, Cyclone didn't care much for it, and so Taz would always brush Cyclone last, making sure she had all the hay she wanted, which soothed hurt feelings.

It was early the following week that he rode back toward the Indian encampment, but the field where more than a dozen teepees had stood was empty. He sat for a time, thinking about the events surrounding his visit to the temporary village. It was difficult to be sure that what happened actually happened the way he remembered it.

The evidence was gone. He rubbed the spot on his head where the wire cutters had hit him. He wanted to believe Kodak was alive, but it had been a long time, and he couldn't even pin down something that happened a week ago.

He pondered how long someone could survive out in the Pacific alone. As he rode back toward the cabin his mind wandered, and he felt a bit out of sorts. He decided to ride to the ranch house to see if he could get enough wood to build the two horses a corral, where they could run during the day.

With the sound of wolves at night, he didn't want to let the horses roam free. There was no guarantee they'd be there when he wanted one, so a corral seemed like a good idea. He explained what he wanted to the general and he would have the wood delivered about the time of the arraignment.

Taz collected a Winchester during his visit, in case the wolves came closer to the cabin. He didn't intend to kill one unless it was necessary, but the rifle created options that might be necessary. He also remembered the rustlers, and didn't want to remain unarmed. He was having thoughts about things that could happen, and he wasn't sure he liked it. Maybe it was because something happened to Kodak.

The arraignment was routine. Gen. Walker and the sheriff objected to bond. Their connection to the White Brotherhood was cited. Previous defendants with similar connections had disappeared once they were released on bond. Attorney Meeker objected, the judge overruled his objection, and denied the rustlers bond. They were marched back to jail. The trial was set in 30 days.

Taz drove the wagon load of wood back up to the cabin with Cyclone walking behind. He spent the rest of the afternoon piling the wood where he wanted it. The weather turned warm and sunny, but the soil remained soft from the spring rains that encouraged the grass to grow green.

Using a post hole digger in the soft soil, he planned the corral to be near the canyon wall to offer the horses some shade for the really hot days. First came the posts, and then he nailed the cross sections to fashion the enclosure. It wasn't pretty, but it would keep them inside where they could exercise.

As he was working his way around to the front side of the corral, nailing the wood as he went, Taz realized he wasn't alone. Jeremy was in jeans and a button up shirt, while riding an Indian pony with no saddle.

"Need some help, cowboy?" Jeremy asked.

"Sure. Nothing like a little help to speed things along."

"For the horses?" Jeremy asked.

"Yeah, give them some running room."

Jeremy held up the wood for Taz to nail in place. It was late afternoon when Taz drew some water for them as they went to sit on the front porch.

"Brought you some dried venison. You need a root cellar. Keep things cool. Do you have a shovel?"

"Yeah, but I don't keep much in the way of roots," Taz said.

"It's a cool place where things will stay fresh longer. Roots, dried meat, canned goods. It's cool storage, since your fridge don't work."

"Sounds like something convenient."

"Any news about your friend?"


"Any more dreams?"

"I don't know I'd call them dreams. I hear his voice at times. Not anything I understand. It's just words. Sometimes it's in the daytime. He's saying Tazerski. Wishful thinking I think. Why'd he be calling me that?"

"It's your name."

"He didn't use it. I don't remember him ever calling me that. He probably did, but this is just like he's talking to me. Why would I be imagining him saying something I know he never said?"

"When did you start hearing his voice?"

Taz sat for a minute, taking a long pull on his glass of water. He knew precisely when it started, and he wasn't so sure that it wasn't a suggestion put in his head by Medicine Band. The man had talked to him, and now Kodak talked to him, but he wasn't there.

"The night I left the encampment. The night your father spoke to me."

"You said there was no one there, when my father spoke to you; but don't you see, I never left the sweat lodge until you got up and left. The sweat lodge was full and no one left but you. Your conversation with Medicine Band was taking place in the spirit world. You were in the middle of the sweat lodge with twenty other Indians and you're the only one that heard my father speak."

"That's your story."

"I've heard about it happening. I've done my best to have it happen to me, but I can't let go of my reality. I can't do it and I think you did. I'm hoping I can figure out how."

"Putting it that way, it's downright scary. I keep thinking I'm crazy. I just want my brain back."

"The door has been opened. I don't know you can close it. You've got to accept the spirits are present in your life. It'll make you crazy if you don't."

"That's your version. I've got my own. I don't plan to let spooks make a fool out of me. I can do that all by myself. I don't need help."

"I'm fascinated, as a shrink and as an Indian. I don't know I understand, but you're proof the spirit world exists. I want to know how you opened the door. I'm not going to stop trying to figure it out. You're proof it can be done."

"I'm just a guy with a friend who is missing. I try to make sense of it as best I can. What I hear in my head makes no sense."

"Not in conventional sense, but we don't know everything," Jeremy said confidently.

This was as close as Jeremy could get to the answer he was seeking.

"I've talked with my father about it for hours. He thinks I'm limited by the world in which I've lived. He says, I've lost my connection to Mother Earth and all living things. I came home to get it back, if I ever had it. Now that I'm educated, I want the knowledge my father has and could never get me to want to see."

Jeremy knew his desire to be well-educated disconnected him from what he didn't see as important when he was younger.

"My father says, by following the path I picked, I was always on a journey back to my people and my roots. While psychiatry had little to do with what I needed to find, what was in the mind, its capacity to see beyond any random boundaries established for it, was key to the answers I seek. He's a smart man and I came home."

"That's his story."

"Yes, it is," Jeremy agreed.

Taz was not an easy man to pin down. The more Jeremy prodded him the less he had to say. Never having a great understanding of himself, or what came after survival, survival was on his mind, which kept his life manageable.

Letting anyone know what Taz was feeling wasn't an easy proposition. It took Taz a lot of years to figure out what he felt. Only because people asked him about feelings did he wonder if he might have some. He didn't so much feel life as he endured it for most of his childhood. There was one feeling he'd had and did not like in the least, and that was pain. Only after meeting Kodak did he become aware that life wasn't merely pain or no feelings at all. Once he met Kodak he thought there might be more to life than survival.

The disturbing part of what had taken place in the sweat lodge was how much it upset him. The meaning of it went far beyond his ability to understand it. Discussing it wasn't on his mind. Being unnerved by hearing Kodak's voice speaking his name so clearly to him, was.

Where his feelings ended and his brain power picked up left him a little short in the substance department. Taz thought he had a firm grip on his life, but no one had to tell him that hearing a voice he hadn't heard in a month saying his name was impossible. He had been hit in the head with a pair of wire cutters and all the weirdness since might be a result of that.

He wanted to believe it was the blow to the head that accounted for the voices and the sleeplessness that came with them. If Kodak was talking to him, why didn't he do it in the day time? What time was it where he was?

Jeremy wanted to believe some mysterious door had been opened to another world, and Taz wasn't buying into voodoo. No, there had to be a reasonable explanation that covered it all, but Taz was unable to come up with one. Silence seemed to be the best answer when Jeremy claimed to know. What kind of shrink was he?

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