Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Kodak stood in the middle of the lava field, watching the steam rise from between the rocks. He thought he'd seen steam the day of the signal fire, but wrote it off as some odd response to the size of the fire he'd built.

One afternoon he stood in the lava field, trying to imagine some thermal pool somewhere beneath him. The steam coming up through the rocks seemed more noticeable. He understood what it could mean but without any certainty, he wrote it off as a thermal pool.

The other thing Kodak became aware of was that the waterfall where he showered each morning was getting warmer. He didn't mind having a warm shower but he wondered what made it warm. He'd considered where he was and where he could go and the best idea was to live each day as best he could, keep taking pictures and exploring the world that belonged to him, and forgo worrying about those things he couldn't control.

He still found his way to the center of the lava field each day, as he tried to see if there was more steam today than yesterday. Tazerski wouldn't walk out there with him, letting go of his hand and squawking, obviously annoyed, when Kodak walked out onto the steaming rocks. He didn't notice any temperature change, but he hadn't thought about the temperature before. The rocks were warm but the sun shinned on them all day.

Each day on the island was perfect. The nights were pleasant with Godzilla keeping the insect population at bay. The afternoons were hot and humid. If Kodak took to his hammock, the breeze kept it from being too hot, even in the middle of the day.

Tazerski didn't seem to mind the heat, and he liked sitting beside Kodak when he was in the hammock. The comfort of another creature made them both happier, but even with Tazerski so close, this was the time Kodak thought most about Taz. It always started when he called the monkey by name and talked to him as if he could understand. He felt like Taz was listening, and no matter how crazy that was, it encouraged him to talk to Tazerski like it was Taz.

"I miss you, Tazerski," Kodak would say with the monkey climbing onto his stomach, wanting to be tickled, which was his most favorite thing once he'd sit still for it.

"I love you, Tazerski," Kodak said fondly.

"I love you too," Taz said, sitting straight up in his bed with his heart racing. He felt Kodak's presence.

Tazerski chattered and made a happy sound when Kodak paid attention to him. These play periods usually ended with Kodak taking a nap, being sure to wake up before dark so he could go on the hunt for something new and exciting for dinner. Sometimes it would be waiting for a fish he didn't recognize as one he'd eaten before. Other times he wanted something familiar that he'd enjoyed before.

He'd yet to see anything dangerous lurking in the lagoon, but he was careful once he'd selected a fish for dinner, making sure to come straight back in off the stones that were just under water when he fished. The final ten steps back to the beach were in knee deep water, the last opportunity for his dinner to execute an escape, but he guarded against it.

Kodak, unfamiliar with the slippery nature of fish, lost dinner a couple of times early on. At times the fish wriggled and wiggled in a sudden spasm, slipping out of his grasp, disappearing into the water. It didn't take long for Kodak to learn to keep a firm grasp on the fish. There was nothing worse than his mouth watering with anticipation, and then losing dinner before he got it back to shore.

Godzilla became particularly animated once a fish was being grilled on the hot rocks. He'd leave his constant perch beside the hammock to make certain Kodak didn't forget he was there. It was difficult to forget a four foot lizard that always looked hungry.

By the time the fish dinner was finished, Godzilla's mouth hung open waiting for what he knew was coming. Godzilla's mouth shut around his meal. He didn't chew, didn't drop any, and soon moved back to his usual spot, satisfied.

Some nights, breaking brush and the sound of something moving in the jungle nearby alarmed Kodak. He'd wake up in a sweat and make sure Godzilla was standing guard. It was enough to keep Kodak out of the jungle. He was curious about the jungle that came right up to his camp, but he confined his activity to the areas he controlled.

There had been snakes, smaller lizards than Godzilla, birds galore, and whatever it was that he heard but never saw late at night. It was a good variety for photographing, and nothing he took pictures of seemed threatening; even the other monkeys kept their distance as Tazerski had the run of the camp.

Whatever the larger creature or creatures were, he didn't get enough of a look to know if it might be a cat or some animal he had never seen. He thought about the people who made the steps to the top, and why they might have left. Was something on the island that forced them off?

Being alone created some fear that he controlled by keeping busy. Had Taz been there with him, there would have been no fear. Even in a war zone he felt safe as long as he was with Taz. Without Taz, he didn't feel as secure.

Whatever was out there, it had no desire to meet up with Kodak. Whatever it was had come close enough to camp in the dark that he knew it was there. It had never come any closer, so far.

Did it feel fear or was it waiting for something?

It was for certain that if a large animal wanted to charge into the camp, there was nothing to stop him. Whatever it was had enough intelligence to know to steer clear of something it wasn't sure about. Was the thing in the night responsible for the steps?

This was the closest thing to danger Kodak sensed in this tropical paradise. There was no other threat he could detect, and he wasn't going to sit up nights worrying about something he couldn't do anything about. Had something wanted to stalk him he would be easy prey, but so far so good.

The following morning Kodak came in from collecting a new pile of coconuts with Tazerski screeching in his favorite tree, waiting for his favorite treat. Kodak put the dozen nuts in a pile once he'd cut away the protective fiber covering.

He used a rock particularly suited for opening a small hole from which he could drink the coconut water or he could offer it to Tazerski. If he wanted peace and quiet, the monkey got his first. Kodak had become adept at getting the most out of each nut.

As the monkey retrieved his breakfast, Kodak's attention was drawn to the lagoon. Rowing ashore was a rubber boat with three men in it. Beyond the lagoon was a larger boat that had appeared while Kodak was gathering coconuts. Kodak's mouth fell open as he saw another human being for the first time in over a month, maybe two months.

Walking out from between the trees, the three men were as surprised to see Kodak as he was to see them.

"Who are you?" one of the men asked, as they pulled the boat onto the beach.

"Paul Anderson," Kodak said, responding with the name he'd used for the first nineteen years of his life.

"What are you doing here?" the leader asked.

"Plane crashed. That's it out in the lagoon opening," Kodak said, pointing at the spot where the plane sank. "My pilot was killed."

"I'm Dr. John Corbin. We're here to investigate this island's potential for eruption. You're alone?"

"Yes. I was the only other one on the plane. I'm a photographer and was flying to an island to photograph some new species that had been discovered there. We hit a storm. The plane had mechanical failure and I ended up here."

"How long have you been here?" the doctor asked.

"I'm not sure. More than a month. Less than two months. I've lost track of time. Could be longer."

"We're here to set up sensors to monitor the venting taking place here. Get your things, we'll take you back to our boat and contact someone about your location. We'll be an hour or two if you want to gather your things up."

"Sure," Kodak said, a little flustered by the unexpected rescue. "Follow the area I've cleared over there and it will lead you to steps to the top of the island."

"You've been busy," Dr. Corbin said.

"No, the steps were already here. I just cut away the jungle."

Kodak's life had been going in slow motion for so long he didn't have a lot to say and wasn't sure what to do. He gathered his camera, film, and camera case. He left most of the faded and torn clothes, putting on the cloth Hawaiian hat before focusing on Tazerski.

"I'm going to miss you Tazerski. You've kept me sane. I've never had an animal for a friend, but you were a good friend."

Tazerski sat with a half coconut, picking out the coconut meat, while Kodak drank the liquid from his, still stunned.

The Red Baron took off toward the top of the island as soon as the three new arrivals headed up the steps. Before the men got back to the bottom, Red Baron came gliding back into his treetop perch.

"You packed?" Dr. Corbin asked, as he was the first man down.

"Not much worth taking," Kodak said, patting Tazerski's head and walking toward the boat as it was being pushed out into the shallow water.

Tazerski stood up, waving his arms over his head the way he did when he was upset, chattering louder than Kodak had ever heard him carry on. Kodak followed Dr. Corbin and was ready to step into the boat, when he heard Tazerski coming toward him, making a relentless fuss.

"Oh, Tazerski, I can't take you with me. I've got to go. This is where you belong," Kodak said, not the least bit deterred by the three men who were watching him talk to a monkey.

Tazerski was having none of it and he screamed and chattered, standing at the water's edge. Kodak set his camera case in the boat, bent down with his arms out, and Tazerski came running into them. Kodak lifted him up and stepped into the boat with his friend.

"I'm sorry. I can't leave him," Kodak said, and no one responded as the boat was rowed back out of the lagoon, passing directly over top of the plane that had brought Kodak to the island. He looked down but couldn't see anything but the shadow of it as it sank deeper into the sand.

The rubber boat was pulled onto the front of the larger boat and secured. Kodak was introduced to the captain as Tazerski held tight to him, keeping his face buried in Kodak's neck, not wanting anything to do with the other men.

No one mentioned the monkey as the captain of the vessel made radio contact to give their base station a heads-up that they'd rescued a plane crash victim and were waiting for instructions.

They'd originated at a scientific outpost in the southern portion of the Marshall Islands. After a short stop at another island a few dozen miles away, the boat returned to its base with two more passengers than when they'd left.

Communications had been established with the United States Navy and they were advised that they'd recovered Paul Anderson from Madalwa. The Navy said to keep him until they could make arrangements to get him back where he belonged, which would take a day or two.

"They weren't surprised we rescued you," Dr. Corbin said. "I thought they'd have a lot of questions about who you are. They're coming to get you as quick as they make arrangements to get you home."

"Thanks," Kodak said without having a clear picture of what it all meant.

For the first time in longer than he could remember, Kodak had a meal prepared for him by an island cook who worked at the station. Tazerski wasn't as pleased by the food or the people. He didn't let go of Kodak and Kodak made no effort to set him down.

The station didn't have direct contact with the outside world, but through their shortwave communications with the Interior Department, details about Kodak's rescue were revealed. The Interior Department deferred to the US Navy, since they were taking control of Kodak and his monkey.

The communication said he was safe and in good hands. They were told arrangements were being made to retrieve Kodak to get him back to where he belonged. New Zealand was informed about the missing plane in the Madalwa lagoon.

Life at a scientific outpost wasn't a big change for Kodak. There were no luxuries but any kind of civilization was okay. He could go to the kitchen any time he wanted and get something to eat, and there were books to read, if a little on the dry side. Not being able to call the ranch didn't bother him, because Taz would be on the mesa and there was no phone there.

Kodak was given a private room, where Tazerski was more relaxed, as long as Kodak didn't leave him. The two of them slept around the clock once they settled into the room. Kodak dreamed of seeing Taz again and Tazerski dreamed of coconuts.

It was the third afternoon after his rescue that they were put back on the motor launch that rescued them. Kodak knew he was finally on his way home. He was told a naval ship would take them to Hawaii. He be put on a plane to California, and then he'd be put on a plane to Montana. For a couple of hours they headed farther and farther out into the Pacific in search of a navy ship.

The ship was breathtakingly large and visible for miles. It came with a number of other ships of various sizes. Climbing up the rope ladder was no piece of cake for Kodak, while Tazerski held on for dear life, not daring to look down at all that water below him.

It was the biggest ship Kodak had ever been on. It stood tall and long, looking foreboding on the horizon. Up close it looked even bigger. He was met by a seaman 1 st class who helped him get the last few feet onto the deck.

"I couldn't leave him behind," Kodak said. "He depends on me. Is it okay?"

"I'm a seaman, sir. I just follow orders. I got nothing to say about nothing, but odds are the captain won't throw him overboard."

Tazerski hung tightly to Kodak but made a squawking sound when the subject of throwing him overboard came up. He obviously didn't understand, but maybe it was the tone of the seaman's voice.

Kodak was told there was no communications with the mainland but Gen. Walker had been sent a message about his rescue and arrangements would be made to meet him once he reached Montana.

Kodak assumed Gen. Walker was the behind the direct transportation backed to where he belonged. He asked no questions, figuring the less said the better it was for all concerned. He'd been out of touch for months and in a few days he'd get his life back and he'd be back where he belonged.

At the same time the navy ship was steaming to Pearl Harbor, Jeremy Goodstar was digging into the base of the canyon wall beside where they'd constructed the corral. Taz found a pick right where he'd found the shovel and they decided the sandstone and soft red earth was going to make a fine cool root cellar.

Jeremy couldn't let a good opportunity go by without prying into Taz's mind, and where that mind had taken him the final night he attended the sweat lodge. Taz continued to be evasive, not protecting anything in particular, except the feeling that whatever had happened wasn't anything he was interested in exploring or repeating.

Taz had no difficulty being quiet. It was normal for him. He let Jeremy go on with his logical translation of the events that meant far more to him than to Taz. From time to time Taz responded to an innocuous inquiry or hypothesis to reassure Jeremy he was capable of speech.

Specializing in people, Jeremy was content to observe and offer assistance to Taz when possible. It gave him a reason to be there. His own search was a lonely one. The idea of Taz having answers that applied to Jeremy, kept him paying attention.

Wanting to see his own mind more clearly, Jeremy needed to overcome the conditioning that proved to be more of a handicap than he expected it to be. He stopped seeing the discovery of the spirit world as an intellectual exercise. He wasn't sure of what approach to take to get him where he wanted to go, but Taz had been there having little more than a lost friend as motivation.

Medicine Band told his son, "Entering the spirit world isn't something you do. It is something you accept and receive. The white man's world blinds you to what is vital in the search for the truth that leads you there."

Taz wasn't sure Jeremy's elevator went all the way to the top, but his own elevator got hung up between floors at times. He wasn't going to judge Jeremy too harshly. Having company at a time like this did help. Kodak stopped talking to him at night, which was more worrisome than hearing his voice saying, 'Tazerski.'

Taz's simple life offered no resistance to external forces that came to the mesa. The loss of the person he trusted and depended on most left him open to the possibility of other worldly experiences if they came for him. He was available because nothing obstructed the need he had to be in touch with Kodak, wherever he was, but not resisting and understanding were separate things.

It was only troubling for Taz because he was hearing Kodak's voice and feeling his presence, especially late at night, but not recently. Perhaps Jeremy's arrival kept him preoccupied. Taz had firm control over his world, and the one thing he wasn't discussing with Jeremy was Kodak.

While Taz didn't seem all that impressed by people, Jeremy could see that he had no particular animosity toward anyone except his father, who was spoken about even less than his friend but in far less affectionate terms.

Gen. Walker was out reconnoitering the White Brotherhood compound for Sheriff Ward, when a message came for him from Admiral Clark of the Pacific Fleet. The radio operator, knowing the general wanted to see anything coming from that direction right away, put the message in his inbox on his desk.

Kathleen, doing the monthly accounts, and making her list of supplies she wanted for the ranch, put the books and the list in the inbox on her husband's desk an hour after the radio operator put the message there.

Gen. Walker selected a spot for an observation post on a hill a mile from the entrance to the WB compound. The spot gave the observer a full view of the front gate and most of the driveway to monitor the comings and goings. Because of a clump of trees, the post wasn't visible from the compound.

He would make sure someone was there from noon until dark each day to monitor the activity.

Sheriff Ward was interested in catching the founder of the White Brotherhood in the commission of a major felony. Gen. Walker was more than happy to assist, after learning the rustling started and ended with Sam Jones.

The one question either the sheriff or the general couldn't answer, why did Jones send his own lawyer to represent the rustlers? Did he think local law enforcement was that oblivious to the fact attorney Meeker only represented the WB? This move had Gen. Walker suspecting he might find stolen cattle wandering around their compound, but no one was that dumb.

The equation changed with the arrest of the rustlers. Gen. Walker was receiving information on the White Brotherhood from Washington, and he was encouraged to learn more if he could about the relatively undocumented survival group.

Gen. Walker's years in the military gave him access to a lot of official Washington by merely picking up a phone. Though he had no official power or position, his opinion was sought on matters of war and respected, when offered, in other matters.

Even under the circumstances the invitation to look into a shadowy group wouldn't have tempted Gen. Walker into action, except they'd decided to cut his fences, steal his cows, and injure Taz in the process. It wasn't anything this general was sitting still for. Once he had time to think about the sheriff being in over his head, he had to move on the threat.

People who disrespected him, his family, or his property were marching down a long hard road.

"Did you see my list?" Kathleen asked, as he hung up his hat and moved toward his desk.

"No, whatever you want, dear. I'll get Rowdy on it. I have an observation post and I can see the WB compound entrance and part of the driveway. What do you think?"

"Depends on what you want," Kathleen said. "Until you get them to court there isn't much cause for you to be anywhere near them."

"No, but I got a feeling," Gen. Walker said, looking at Kathleen's list.

"Set up a three day recon mission to learn all you can. Rotate teams every four hours to keep them alert. You might get a read on how well armed they are and how many men they've got."

"Just what I was thinking," he said, pulling her arm so that she ended up on his lap. "We might have won over there if they'd made you a general. You taught me everything I know, Mrs. General."

"Yes, I did, but I didn't teach you everything I know, yet," she bragged, kissing her husband and draping her arm around his neck.

"Hey general, sheriff on line one," the man in the radio room announced.

"Thanks. Can we recapture this mood a little later, if you aren't too busy keeping me in business?"

"I suppose. A woman's work is never done," Kathleen said cheerfully, as she moved out of the way of the phone.


"I've got some answers that might explain things."

"I'm all ears, sheriff."

"The guy we've got booked as John Smith is Bob Jones. We'd had the names of the other two but we just got the Jones I.D."

"The son? That seems to explain why Sam Jones sent Meeker to represent the rustlers. He knew sooner or later we'd identify his son and tie him back to the White Brotherhood."

"Yeah, the old man is trying to keep his son out of prison for the next ten years."

"Why would a man that runs a survivalist militia send his son out on a lame brain rustling scheme? That doesn't calculate."

"Maybe the lame brain rustling scheme was the son's idea. He's obviously the ringleader of these boys. He fancies himself a tough guy."

"So Daddy didn't know what the kid was doing. Probably freelancing to line his own pockets. All those cattle just standing around, a shame to pass up on all that money on the hoof. A cowboy would know better. They aren't from around here, sheriff."

"They're around here now, General. Thought I should let you know what we've got. I'll keep you posted."

"Yeah, I'm setting up an observation post. We're going to keep an eye on the compound for a few days. See what comes and goes. They can't see us but we can see them."

"Good idea. You keep me posted."

Gen. Walker sat for a long time, pondering the kids he'd seen do stupid things to prove their manhood. It often ended badly, and with him writing letters to the next of kin.

Gen. Walker sat thoughtfully, remembering precisely why he'd left the military. While the military would never leave him, he no longer wanted to watch things taking place that no one could explain to him; and while he bled army green, it was no longer his responsibility. He hadn't expected all his years in the military to mean much once he was merely a rancher, but there was always someone wanting his opinion, a committee wanting his input, a Senator needing his endorsement. His career had accounted for something more than being witness to the futility of war.

"General, you off the phone?"

"Yeah, talk to me."

"Note in your inbox. From Pearl. Admiral Clark. You need to read it."

"Cappy called?"

"Shortwave. Radio message."

As he opened the note, his life improved remarkably.

"Kathleen, they got him," he yelled.

"Got who?" she said, leaning in the door.

"Kodak's safe. He's in Pearl. He's on his way here. We've got to meet him at the field over by Bozeman day after tomorrow. Air Force is flying him there for us."

"That's the best news I've heard in ages! We need to send someone up to tell Taz. He'll be beside himself," she said.

"No. We won't tell him anything. Once we know what time he's going to be here, I'll send for Taz to come down to the house to talk about the court case. He's expecting that. No point in having him sit on the edge of his seat for two days after all this time. Bad weather, some kind of glitch, and he might be later than two days."

"Sounds like you ought to entertain the idea of being a movie director, general. I think that's perfect."

"Get me Kendall," Gen. Walker yelled happily.

He told Kendall what was up and for him to make preparations to go pick up Kodak as quick as they knew what time he would arrive.

Over the next few hours it was discovered that there were no pictures of the senior Jones. Samuel Jones hadn't appeared in court or in town. No one knew what he looked like and no one had more than general information about where he came from.

He was a rich oil man who made his fortune in the rich Texas oil fields of the nineteen forties and fifties. He'd sold his holdings and spent the last decade traveling. He remained relatively invisible inside the oil industry and the world of high finance, where he was well-represented by his money.

His attorney Meeker came to Montana a few years before, buying up property that included the compound in the name of the White Brotherhood survivalists. They were about returning control of the country to the people, especially the ones who believed equal rights meant the White Brotherhood and similar groups should run the show. If Jones resided in the compound, no one could identify him and Meeker wasn't saying.

As events unfolded, the town and the countryside began talking. Rumors had gotten to the sheriff that some kind of attempt to remove the junior Jones from his custody was being planned. The less anyone knew about the White Brotherhood, the more suspicious it made everyone.

Montana was a country of individualists who took care of themselves, but there was a point when too individual became too dangerous, and that was the feeling the White Brotherhood was leaving their neighbors.

The general took a shift at the observation post, keeping his glasses trained on the gate.

Tazerski liked the plane a little less than he liked the boat rides. He clung to Kodak, trying to figure out where he was and where they were heading. Kodak talked with him, trying to reassure him, but he remained unsettled. Kodak was anxious as well. He was going to be back with Taz soon, and he couldn't wait.

Kodak suspected that life together was going to be made that much better after their separation. The idea of his fonder heart making it home to the man he loved had his excitement rising.

There were a lot of activities at the ranch. Men were cleaning and preparing the supplies kept in Gen. Walker's armory. They made certain all the equipment was in good working order. The ranch resembled a military camp by the time Kendall was ready to go to pick up Kodak.

The FBI knew of all the survival groups active in the northwest. They didn't know that a routine rustling case involved one of the groups that was making a point of becoming better and better armed. The FBI knew a lot about the WB's weapons, having an undercover agent who was selling them guns as a way to keep an eye on them.

Once becoming aware of Gen. Walker's involvement, the FBI forward as much information to him as they thought he might need. In turn they wanted to be informed about any violent activities that could be pinned on the WB. An FBI agent was on his way to attend the court proceedings.

Kendall left two hours before the plane was due on the ground, to be sure there was someone there to meet Kodak. Gen. Walker wasn't a man to be caught unprepared. He'd asked for some specialized surveillance equipment along with some surplus AK-47s to go on the flight with Kodak.

The cowboys sat around the back of the house and the barn, cleaning and checking equipment that had been stored for some time. They began to look more like soldiers with fatigue shirts and their soft military hats replacing the everyday cowboy way they dressed to chase cows and ride herd.

Gen. Walker carefully picked the men who received an invitation to work on his ranch. Once there, they could stay as long as they liked. Some men loved and needed peace and quiet, as they readjusted to being Stateside. Others needed more activity to make them feel more alive.

He knew the kind of man who would thrive on a ranch in Montana. The same man might not adjust well to a fast-paced dog-eat-dog world. Each man invited was someone he had personal contact with in his active duty role. Many of the men were wounded, not always visible wounds. They faced being shipped home to whatever awaited them.

These were the men he was most concerned about. Seeing they had time to readjust, even spend time on his staff, gave them time to get to know one another. The life of a cowboy was no walk in the park. Like the life of a soldier, it required an inner toughness. Instead of facing a threat to your life every day, you faced horses and cows. It took a tough man to gentle a horse and handle a cow.

Kodak wasn't a military man, but he'd lived with a rifle squad in a war zone for most of a year; he'd taken an iconic picture seen around the world. The picture of Taz became the face of a heretofore misunderstood war. A picture taken of a man Gen. Walker came to regard with a father's affection. Sergeant Tazerski was a courageous soldier, born of a bad circumstance. He was precisely the kind of man Gen. Walker wanted around him in war and peace. There was no soldier better suited to Montana than Taz.

Kodak's role in creating the environment that brought Taz to Gen. Walker's attention got Kodak an officer's respect. The idea of separating Taz from his stabilizing force wasn't a consideration. Like all his cowboys, he took them as is, as long as they didn't create a surplus of discord. Montana wasn't simply right for Taz, Taz was right for Montana.

Offering Taz and Kodak a way to live on the ranch, while not being forced to act in any way inconsistent with their friendship, meant offering them a spot on the mesa. Normally a difficult place to keep men for long, because of the isolation, for Taz, a soldier drying out, it was perfect. The fact Taz and Kodak shared a friendship other cowboys might not understand made the mesa a place where they could feel at home and be at home. Taz didn't need to make apologies to anyone for who he was, because he was Taz.

Now his men, tempered by war, were being asked to keep the peace. It was an officer's preparedness that might never be needed, but if it was, his men would be in the proper frame of mind. So as Kendall drove to pick up Kodak, Gen. Walker's army cleaned and got their equipment shipshape. It was a familiar role they knew well.

The back of the jeep had been filled with crates and containers full of weaponry and equipment Gen. Walker arranged to have sent. After fondly greeting Kendall and introducing him to a reluctant Tazerski, they were on the road back to where Kodak's unexpectedly long misadventure began.

"What's in all the crates?" Kodak asked.

"Military supplies for the general."

"Why?" Kodak asked. "I thought he retired."

"Mine is not to reason why…." Kendall said agreeably. "I just do the driving."

"Is something going on I should know about?"

"Could be a war brewing. There's a white supremacy survival militia group that rustled some of the general's cows. We're getting things ready in case we need to get their attention."

Kodak looked at the crates again and measured Kendall's description of what was going on. It did not please Kodak to know Taz might be at risk. After leaving Vietnam behind, he thought they'd left the violence behind them. Taz was happy to have survived. He didn't miss war, but Taz would be the first one to volunteer if the general needed him.

Tazerski was a little less happy traveling in the jeep than he had been with all the other forms of transportation he'd been introduced to in the past five days. He hung on to Kodak, sitting on his lap with one of his arms hung up over his head and around Kodak's neck. He watched the landscape peeling past the fast moving vehicle. His wide open monkey eyes were not happy eyes.

"How's Taz?" Kodak asked, once they'd turned onto the highway.

"Taz is Taz. He's building a corral for the horses. He got hit in the head with a pair of wire cutters by a rustler, but he took care of that guy. He won't be throwing nothing at no one for a while."

"He's stayed up on the mesa?"

"He's been down to the house a few times. He goes to court with the general. He had to identify the rustlers. He comes down for dinner every now and again if he's after something. The general is sending word for him to come to the house tonight. You'll have time to relax before dinner. He'll be there by then."

Kodak knew he wasn't going to catch up in one conversation. Taz wasn't in the habit of telling anyone what was on his mind. That had become Kodak's strongest connection to him. Taz did like to talk to Kodak about the things that were bothering him. On the mesa those discussions were fewer and farther between, as the mesa suited both of them and kept the ghosts of war and lonely lives away.

Going to a place more isolated than the mesa would be hard to do, but Kodak had done it. He had a purpose for leaving, but he was happy to be back. He didn't plan to leave the mesa for some time to come, and then, only if Taz went with him.

Now that the reunion was straight ahead, he couldn't wait. He was anxious, worried, and a bundle of nerves. Seeing Taz's face, knowing they were together again, was almost worth the wait. He wanted to grab Taz and hold onto him and never let him go again. He wasn't sure how he'd managed without his man close to him. It exhilarated him to be going home, but at the same time, the closer he came to ending their separation, the more agonizing the waiting became.

Tazerski stared straight ahead and was reassured by Kodak's arms that held him. This was a wide open space. It wasn't quite as frightening as the wide expanse of the ocean, but the treeless, uninterrupted landscape puzzled a monkey who spent most of his life up a tree.

Kodak was his only connection to his former life. It was enough to keep him calm, but nothing made any monkey sense. Even Kendall's voice aggravated him. He'd had a similar reaction to the people on boats and planes. They passed by him like he wasn't there, staring at him and ignoring him at the same time. Tazerski knew where he belonged. What he couldn't figure out was where he was, and that scared him.

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