Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 14


The general spent an hour explaining his plan to his men. Every cowboy on the ranch was in the dining room to listen. No one was required to participate in a 'military action'. None of his men would miss it. They were all military men at heart.

Boyd was the oldest man on the ranch and retired after being a Master Sergeant in the general's command. He took charge of installing radios in every vehicle. This kept the radio man, Crosby, in touch with everyone.

The observation post just outside the WB compound had a similar radio installed. Two riflemen were kept at the observation post. A few hundred yards away were two other riflemen, in plain sight of the WB compound.

Periodic radio checks began that morning. Crosby marked the position of every vehicle four times an hour. There was to be no engagement. The jeeps were to make a fast exit if necessary to avoid a gunfight and inform Crosby immediately of the move.

"We are there to contain them. No one is to fire upon the compound. This may change from hour to hour, but not before we control all aspects of any fight that develops."

The general had spoken.

The idea was no longer invisibility. It was mobility. There were always at least two jeeps on patrol, and during daylight hours there were four. All of the jeeps were heavily armed and ready to engage, but the order was to avoid engagement at all cost.

Taz sat next to Kodak in chairs placed against the wall for the cowboys. Taz didn't touch Kodak; the desire was there, but the environment was wrong.

Taz was uninhibited and had done outrageous things ,but shocking people at inappropriate times didn't appeal to him. There was business and there was the rest of the time and he'd learned the difference.

For years outrageous behavior kept people at arms length, which is where Taz had wanted them, until Kodak. When he did things to alarm Kodak, he found Kodak mostly curious. Taz decided he didn't want to repel him after Kodak refused to be driven away. Taz had never had a real friend before.

Taz was unapologetic about loving Kodak, and when the need arose, he held his hand; but at the general's table, in the general's house, at this particular time, it was out of place. There was no reason to force others to consider his love life, especially in a country where the idea of love was cockeyed at best. Taz had seen love and he'd seen war and in his mind, love ruled.

They were together, even there, and the comfort of being in one another's company far exceeded anything that might come from holding hands or embracing just to prove they could. For too long they had been apart and together now, even in danger the comfort was enough.

Once the meeting ended, Kathleen brought coffee and sandwiches for the men. She poured coffee for the general and didn't insist he rest, go to the hospital, or lie down. Mrs. General knew that her husband had control of the situation and he'd rest once the job was done. She wasn't used to his command demeanor at home, but she knew better than to argue with her man when he was on a mission.

When Gen. Walker indicated with his eyes, she let him lean on her as he went back to his office. He had leaned on Kathleen in many ways over the years, relying on her to run the ranch. As advisers went, she was number one.

She sat with him in his office and he discussed the entire plan he'd conceived. She listened and gave him her opinion, and she dialed the numbers for him when he called to enlist the help he needed to accomplish the outcome he desired.

Taz was reluctant to leave. He wanted to check with the general about what he wanted him to do, and make certain he was ready when called upon.

"How's your hand?" Gen. Walker asked, after inviting him to sit in his office.

"It's fine. A little sore. How's your side?"

"It'll be fine. There's a guy who works on my antique rifles. I'll send your B.A.R. over to him. I'll have a walnut stock put on it."

"That's nice. I'd like that. What do you want me to do, boss?"

"Go home. You and Kodak take a break. You did the Lion's share today. It'll all be routine until we move tomorrow."

"You are a mind reader, my love," he said, touching Kathleen's hand and watching her fondly.

"I've got to go see to Tazerski. I think he misses Milkweed and Cyclone as much as he misses us," Kodak said.

"Nothing will happen before tomorrow. I'll have all the pieces in place before noon. We'll discourage the WB boys from leaving home, until I'm ready. So you boy's go get some rest."

Taz and Kodak said goodbye.

Kodak went in to greet Tazerski, while Taz put the horses away. Once done, he headed for the cabin. He was looking forward to a little relaxation.

"I've got beef stew heating. I'm not all that hungry," Kodak said.

Taz shut the door and Tazerski walked over and took Taz's injured hand in his hand, walking with him into the room. He'd never held Taz's hand before. Once Taz sat at the table, Tazerski climbed on his lap, looping his arm around Taz's neck.

Taz looked into his face and smiled at the unusual behavior.

"I love you too, little guy," Taz said as the monkey stayed close to him.

"What's gotten into him?" Taz asked. "He's never bothered with me before."

"He sees you hurt your hand. He's worried about you. I'm worried about you. How did it feel wielding that thing again?"

"I don't know. It felt familiar and it felt strange. It didn't take any thinking to get the rounds where they needed to go, but I felt awkward."


"I was scared. I felt fear and I don't know I've ever felt fear in circumstances like that before. It's like that part of me used to shut down. I just did what needed to be done without any thought. I guess I'm getting soft."

"You've got something to lose now," Kodak said, turning away from the stove.

"What's that?" Taz asked.

"Me, asshole. You've got me."

"I got you babe and you got me," he sang in a raspy voice.

"And we have Tazerski. Don't we," Kodak said, talking baby talk and holding his arm around Taz's neck while patting Tazerski's head.

The monkey chattered before getting down off of Taz's lap. Tazerski turned the knob on the door and went outside.

"Where's he going?" Taz asked, and Kodak went to look.

"He let himself into the stable. He's gone to see the horses. They were gone all day. He really likes them. Milkweed is fond of him."

"Cyclone doesn't know what to make of him. She doesn't know what to make of me either. Maybe I can get Jeremy to talk to her."

"Remember that first day? You were scared shitless of Cyclone."

"Yeah, don't remind me. I'd never ridden anything before. How was I supposed to know what to do?"

"Didn't you go to movies?" Kodak asked, sitting on Taz's lap and kissing his cheek.

"Yeah, but those horses knew how to act."

"So did Cyclone. You didn't know how to act."

"I did have that problem until I met you. I figured out how to act pretty damn quick, didn't I?"

"You did not. You gave me a hard time. You said awful things to me. You made me feel like a fool."

"That's because I liked you. You didn't know that?"

"You were the most contrary person I'd ever met. You were nice one minute and you acted like a viper the next."

"Yes, I did. What's a viper?"

"A snake."

"Oh, I did? I thought I was playing hard to get," Taz said, smirking as they kissed. "You know what?"

"What?" Kodak asked.

"I'm sure glad you couldn't keep your hands off me. It's only because you found me irresistible that I let you have your way with me."

"Irresistible? You were a pain in the ass."

"I try," Taz said, as they both laughed.

"That is an understatement, my love."

"Did I tell you how much I missed you?" Taz asked.

"No, you didn't. I wondered if you noticed I wasn't here cooking your meals and picking up after you."

"You couldn't tell when you got home?"

"No, I just thought a cyclone hit the place."

"I missed you every day, Kodak. My heart ached for you. Any time I wasn't working, keeping busy, I could hardly stand it. I knew I cared about you as much, more, than I've ever cared about anyone, but I didn't understand what love was, until you were gone."

"I'm back and I'm not planning on leaving again."

"I hope not. I'm not sure I can live without you. Living without you is the hardest thing I've ever done."

"When they took you to dry out we were away from each other then," Kodak remembered, leaning his head against Taz's and hugging him closer as he sat on his lap.

"I wasn't really alive back then. All the life was sucked out of me all of a sudden. Besides, we'd only been together on the road, as a traveling circus. We weren't living, we were performing. I couldn't have done it without you, and having you close to me was like having a best friend. I'd never had one of those before either. Once the touring ended, I had to find a reason to live. Gen. Walker saw it and told me about it, when he visited me. Even then he included you in the conversation. He knew you were good for me. He didn't know the extent of it. He knew you were the one who could keep me under control. He's a pretty smart man."

"Taz, you're one of the most controlled men I've ever known. You only act like you're out of control."

"You've known a lot of men, have you?"

"I know you. You maintain perfect control. You could be in a war and ignore it, when you weren't fighting it. You could be on stage and absorb a crowd, just by being Taz. Once we came here, you owned it. That first day with Cyclone told me this might not work. You own Cyclone now, like you own the ranch, and everyone on it. No one has ever amazed me the way you amaze me.

"Today, when you stepped out in that street, your gun was taped together, you were taped together, and you did what I watched you do a dozen times in Vietnam. You turned a battle in a few seconds. You didn't flinch.

"I can't say what other men know or do, but you are the most in-control man I've known. You own your world, Taz.

"You were a drunk in Vietnam. You went cold turkey once we left there. Then the chickens came home to roost. You sat with a dying soldier, and once he died, you drank yourself into oblivion. Because of who you were, the general wasn't about to let you go. He pulled you back from the abyss.

"…And just to prove you were a better man than the rest of us, when you didn't know if I was dead or alive, you asked the general for a bottle. Even though the general knew it could be the death of you, because you are you, he brought it. You never drank a drop. You did your job every day. You chased rustlers and cavorted with Indians and you were always in control.

"You're quite a man, my love. I thought about you every day, every hour, because I wanted to be with you. I wanted to experience the control you have over everything around you without being pushy or demanding. You own it all. People respect you. I respect you."

"Sounds good when you say it. Maybe I should make you my PR man. I wouldn't need to do anything, just let you talk, and me, I'd just cowboy."

"I'm done talking. Kiss me and when you kiss me, realize I'll never willingly leave you again. I don't think I could survive being separated from you again. You've taught me what being in love means."

"Likewise, I'm sure," Taz said, moving his face the few inches to get his lips on Kodak's lips.

Tazerski returned to the cabin after grooming Milkweed and pulling down some hay for both horses. He climbed up onto the bed with Taz and Kodak, sitting on top of them as they talked to him. He climbed up into his bunk and spent some time leaning over and watching the lovers hold one another. He understood and smiled his monkey smile before going to sleep, while counting his toes.

'What comes after one?'

Shortly after daybreak, Taz got up to saddle the horses while Kodak put on a pot of coffee. Sitting on the porch with coffee was how they began most days. Before they left Kodak set out two half coconuts for Tazerski, leaving a banana on the table with two pieces of candy.

Tazerski knew this meant he was being left behind. It was more fun for him when he had the horses to play with, but catching some extra shuteye was okay too.

The sky was turning a brilliant blue as they rode away from the cabin. The horses kicked the morning dew off the grass as they walked the familiar trail to the house.

The smell of food was waiting at the gate and the table was set with a wide variety of food. The cooks were taking orders and cowboys came and went from the dining room. Taz & Kodak stopped for a cup of coffee and headed for the general's office to greet the general.

"Morning, General," Taz said, handing him the cup of coffee Kathleen sent him.

"Oh, yeah, thanks. I can use this," the general said. You up for a bit of a tussle?"

"Tussle?" Taz queried.

"That's rancher talk for kick some butt."

"As a wise old Indian once said, "it's a good day to die,"" Taz said.

"Won't be no dying on my watch, son," the general advised. "Funny you mentioned Indians. Who fed you that line?"

"Jeremy Goodstar talks about wise Indians. I can't help but pick something up now and then."

"He's a good man. He's having a hard time dealing with his Indian part. First time I saw him, he was in a suit and tie. Wouldn't be caught dead in costume, and now he's a regular encyclopedia of Indian culture. He's finding himself."

"He's finding himself at my place more and more."

"He sees you as having a rare spiritual power."

"Yeah, I'm not sure he knows what it is he's seeing," Taz said.

"He sees what I saw the first time I saw you, son."

"I wasn't much to look at, General."

"You're a poor judge of character then. You're a good man."

"Yes, sir," Taz said, squirming. "You figured out what we're doing yet?" Taz asked.

"Funny thing about generaling. I got to see what the other fellow is going to do before I know what to do. I'm working on it. It won't be long. This bird ain't a deep thinker. You boys go eat. I'm waiting for some calls."

"What do you think?" Kodak asked, on the way back to the food.

"Everything is copasetic, son,"

"That's army talk, I bet," Kodak said. "Let's eat. I'm starved."

The first word came from the observation post radio.

"Riflemen at the front of the house."

"Radio check!" Crosby said, listening to the jeeps report one at a time.

"Tell them to keep their eyes open. It won't be long now," Gen. Walker said.

It was an hour after Taz & Kodak arrived before the general came out into the dining area.

"What's the plan, General?" Taz asked.

"No movement beyond a couple of riflemen moving around. The plan will be up to Jones. As long as they don't move, we're in fine shape. The sheriff is monitoring our radio. He has some deputies waiting for them to start moving. He says the State boys are on their way from Billings."

"No plan yet, Taz. We'll take a ride over there if they start moving around before all the pieces are in place," Gen. Walker said.

"I don't recall you letting anyone else call the shots for you. You sure you don't have a plan?" Taz asked.

"Maybe a little one. That hand okay?"

"Fine," Taz said, unsatisfied.

"I can't find another B.A.R at the moment. Get a .45 and I'll make you a lieutenant. I want you to ride with Kendall and me today. Bring Kodak and his camera. I might want my picture took. Some good damn work you did yesterday, Kodak."

"You find some keepers?" Kodak asked.

"You haven't lost your touch. We got pictures of Jones splattered from here to DC. He won't be able to be so slippery from now on."

"I do what I can, General. The work excites me."

All remained quiet.

"General, six riflemen have come out to the gate of the WB compound," Crosby said, just receiving the message in the radio room.

It was nearly noon and Gen. Walker had just come out of his office for a cup of coffee in the dinning room.

"This might be it. They're starting to move. We'll want to neutralize the guys with the guns nearest the road. I don't want to give them a chance to take potshots at my men. Let's load up. I want to see what they're up to."

Taz was happiest when there was movement, and being in the jeep made it seem like something was happening. As they drove toward the WB compound, Taz checked the .45 he'd been given, making sure he could hold it firmly in a sore hand. Just in case, he held it in his left hand, letting that hand adjust to the weight of the weapon.

Kodak likewise checked his camera and loaded it for business. He was the only one in the jeep not wearing a sidearm.

Taz wished that he had the B.A.R., because it gave him a security that other weapons didn't. He knew tactics defeated force every time, and the general, being the man with the plan, wasn't supposed to be exposed. Maybe being in the general's jeep was the problem, because that meant he wouldn't be exposed.

The jeep jerked to a halt beside the observation post. A call went in to the sheriff to report movement had begun. Gen. Walker listened as the sheriff reported on the elements of the plan only the two of them knew about. The general instructed certain men to get in position as per their instructions earlier in the day.

Kodak took pictures of the gunmen standing around the gate at the front of the compound. They couldn't see the jeep for a clump of trees that blocked the view of the compound, but they did see riflemen stationed on the hill some distance away. They weren't showing any interest in them.

If anyone drove up to the gate unaware, they'd face some major firepower, with each WB gunman carrying an assault weapon. There were six of them, two standing on either side of the gate with two more standing in the middle of the driveway 50 yards from the gate, creating a formidable obstacle in front of the house.

Taz pictured firing the .45 in his head. He felt the weight of the gun in his hand again, checking the safety, imagining its kick. He'd never used a .45 before. He reached into his pocket to check the extra clips. He didn't feel nervous but he was anxious. He wanted to be part of whatever was going down.

"They're still in there, General," Taz said. "We going in to get them out?"

"What makes you think they're in there?" he asked.

"They ain't guarding Santa Claus. Don't make much sense though. They should be making a getaway before they're surrounded. They got to know they can't break guys out of jail and go home for lunch."

"Taz, if bad guys were smart, they wouldn't be bad guys in the first place. They think those six men are going to hold off a small army, but that's not necessarily so. By the time they realize those six men are sitting ducks and aren't going to stop diddly squat, they'll get moving in a hurry. They'll come to us. We don't need to do a thing."

"How?" Taz asked. "You think they're going to drive out the front gate, expecting no one is laying for them?"

"You take out those sentries and there's no way out. That's the only road. If they drive out, they've got to drive out that gate. If we hold that gate, they can't drive out. They know that. They know they're being watched. Those riflemen are a distraction, while they make their getaway."

"You can't know that for sure."

"No, I checked a map. Once they returned to the compound, there was only a couple of options. Obviously they aren't coming out the front gate. Those riflemen don't know that. They think they're in on the getaway, but they're expendable. Mr. Jones thinks we think he's coming out the front door, because it is what people do."

"How do you know this stuff?" Taz asked.

"If you knew what I knew, Taz, you'd be the general."

"Not me," Taz said certain of his facts. "I don't even know what I don't know."

"That's what makes you a lot smarter than those birds, Taz. They think they know something."

The general smiled, picked up his radio microphone, "Let's get this ball rolling, cowboys. Boyd, Rowdy, move in. Take them out if they even look like they want to fight," Gen. Walker said into the microphone. "Men, move in from the sides. Make sure you're behind their position so they can't make a dash for the house. Everyone else hold tight. They'll be coming your way in about fifteen minutes."

"Everyone else?" Taz asked, leaning forward to speak to the general confidentially.

"Relax, Taz. General at work. I brought you along to watch. Enjoy the scenery. One thing for sure, it should be interesting."

Taz sat back to watch, as two jeeps with two soldiers in each came speeding up to either side of the driveway just outside the gate. The arrival of the jeeps got the attention of all the sentries. As the sentries moved toward the jeeps, four men came from the woods on either side of the driveway inside the compound, firing at the feet of the sentries, who were trapped between the forces.

They'd done nothing to protect their flanks, which was a fatal mistake. They couldn't wait to throw away their rifles and raise their hands.

"General, gate secured," Rowdy announced on the radio.

"General 1 bad guys 0," Taz said proudly. "All right, General! How'd you know they'd give up without a fight?"

"Didn't. Had to wonder what they felt might be worth dying for. Didn't figure it was the assholes in that house, but then again, these aren't your best and brightest."

"I've got to admit that was pretty slick," Taz said.

"Taz, you meet force with superior force. It's decisive and convinces the enemy the battle is over before it starts. Not many men want to die for a lost cause.

"Now those guys in the house know we're inside their compound. They'll be moving soon. With my guys on the gate, doesn't leave them a lot of options."

"You've got them trapped. They can't get away now," Taz said, realizing that even without the sheriff and the State Police, the odds were in the general's favor. "We can just go in and get them out."

"They aren't trapped but they won't get away. Kendall, let's go watch the turkey shoot."

Kendall started the jeep and drove back to the highway, speeding past the gate at the front of the compound. In five minutes they reached the crossroad that ran down beside the property, where Kendall turned right. In another five or six minutes they reached the next crossroad. Kendall turned right.

"Okay, we're behind the house here," Kendall said, after driving a few more minutes.

"Drive on up that hill. We'll just sit inside the tree line and see what turns up."

"General, your men are at the front gate. What are we doing here? If you think they're heading this way, how do we aim on stopping them with a couple of peashooters?" Taz wanted to know.

"It goes back to the me being a general, Taz," the general said. "Sit tight and you'll learn something. A general doesn't win battles. He arranges for them to be won."

"I'd feel better with an automatic weapon in my lap," Taz said.

"Patience, Sergeant. Some days you don't need a big gun."

Kodak removed the nearly spent roll of film from his camera, replacing it with a new roll. He wanted to be ready.

It was very quiet and there was no sign of any action. Kendall yawned, Kodak kept his camera aimed in the direction of the house, and Taz kept his hand on the .45, tapping his index finger on the butt.

The jeep sat out of sight for a little over fifteen minutes. The radio crackled a couple of times, but no one spoke.

"Movement behind the house," a voice said.

"The foxes are loose," Crosby's voice said a minute later.

The general took the microphone and said, "Fall in behind them. Don't let them see you. Just be there in case they try to execute a retreat once they realize they're in the trap."

It was another ten minutes before the first men on horseback appeared out of the woods and into the field, heading for the highway. As soon as those men came into view, three vehicles pulled off on the shoulder of the road across from the field.

"General, they're going to get to those cars," Taz said. "Once they do, they're gone."

"Shh!" the general said. "Watch the show."

There were three men with rifles in front of six men, then Jones father and son, followed by three more men with rifles. They rode toward the waiting cars. Once they'd crossed half of the field, a god-awful noise erupted from either side of the horsemen. Two dozen Indians, firing AK-47s in the direction of the bad guys, came charging off the hills from both sides, riding toward the escaping horsemen.

The Indians waited for the riders to go past before chasing them. The bad guys were too busy running for their lives to entertain the idea of stopping to fight. The idea of wild Indians riding down on them was an anachronism that couldn't help but bring Custer to mind.

All the horsemen took off at top speed with their bodyguards joining them in the race to the road. It was just like cowboys and Indians with automatic weapons, led by their own Vietnam vets, who were well acquainted with Gen. Walker and the tactics of overwhelming force.

In two or three minutes the men reached the road and jumped from their horses, leaving them to wander around in circles. They were all in the cars in a couple of minutes, with the cars skidding from the dirt shoulder and onto the highway, when a dozen State Police and sheriff's vehicles came speeding up to block any idea of a getaway.

The trap snapped shut without one casualty on either side, if you didn't count hurt feelings, which had to be endured by the brain-trust of the WB. They'd have plenty of time to figure out where they went wrong.

Troopers leaped out with guns drawn, using the doors of the patrol cars for cover. The Indians set up a perimeter, firing over the top of the immobilized cars. Men began to appear with hands raised, aware the gig was up, and peace and tranquility returned to the general's domain.

"Pretty damn neat, General. Pretty damn neat," Taz said. "You planned all this out?"

"All but the arrival of the State Police. The sheriff hadn't talked to them when I talked to him last. They might have gotten away… but they didn't," he said, smiling. "Kendall, let's go to the hospital in Missoula. I think I'm bleeding again."

Kendall started the jeep and drove slowly off the hill as the Indians were getting back on their horses to ride back to their encampment. The old world and the new waved victoriously at one another as the jeep turned onto the highway.

Taz got his hand looked at but refused stitches. They gave him alcohol when he asked for it, and he poured it on the place where he'd pulled the piece of wood out of his hand. Kendall shook his head, Kodak wasn't surprised, and the general watched dispassionately as the doctor booked a room for him to have his side repaired properly.

"You do understand we must report gunshot wounds to the police department," the stern intern warned cautiously.

Taz took to laughing and Kendall grimaced.

"I should send you to Vietnam, son. You'll have more gun shot wounds to report than you can possibly count," the general said without humor. "When you talk to your local policeman, have him call the Commandant of the State Police. Have him say it is Gen. Walker with the gunshot wound. It'll cut down on everyone's paperwork. Now I'm feeling dizzy, so if you'll get me somewhere that I can lie down, I'd be forever in your debt, son."

The intern looked at the man with the cowboy boots and farmhand shirt, not knowing him from Adam, but he'd do what the man asked. He had no reason not to. Cutting down on paperwork sounded like a good idea to him.

Gen. Walker called Kathleen, once he was in his room, to tell her that the mission was successfully completed and he was at the hospital getting the wound taken care of, and there was no reason to worry.

He then dismissed Kendall, Taz & Kodak, saying this was something he had to do alone, as the doctors were examining him and ordering an operating room to be readied.

"We'll be having a little celebration to the completed mission at the ranch, once they slap a Band-Aid on me and get me back on duty. I'll send word for you boys to join us, Taz," the general said weakly.

"Wouldn't miss it, General. You get well fast and that'll be worth celebrating. You amazed me today, sir," Taz said, snapping to attention and throwing him his sharpest salute.

Kendall drove Taz and Kodak back to the general's place and they rode back to the cabin and were happy to be home. Tazerski squawked loudly to protest being alone all day yet again.

Worn out from the excitement, they were content to collapse together in their bunk, putting the chores off until later.

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