Ice Man

He saw deputies in their serious hats coming through the restaurant from the kitchen, four white guys who looked like they meant business.
Lindsay Hebberd/Corbis

The day Victor turned twenty he rode three bulls, big ones, a good 1,800 pounds each—Cyclone, Spanish Fly, and Bulldozer—rode all their bucks and twists, Victor’s free hand waving the air until the buzzer honked at eight seconds for each ride, not one of the bulls able to throw him. He rolled off their rumps, stumbled, keeping his feet, and walked to the gate not bothering to look at the bulls, see if they still wanted to kill him. He won Top Bull Rider, 4,000 dollars and a new saddle at the All-Indian National Rodeo in Palm Springs. It came to … Jesus, like 200 dollars a second. That afternoon Victorio Colorado, the name he went by in the program, was the man.

He left the rodeo grounds as Victor to celebrate with two Mojave boys, Nachee and Billy Cosa, brought along from Arizona when the boss, Kyle McCoy, moved his business to Indio, near Palm Springs. The Mojave boys handled Kyle’s fighting bulls, bringing them from the pens to the chute where Victor, a Mimbreño Apache, would slip aboard from the fence, wrap his hand in the bull rope tight as he could get it, and believe he was ready to ride. He’d take a breath, say “Let me out of here,” and the gate would swing open and a ton of pissed-off bull would come flying out.

“His mind made up,” he told the Mojave boys at Mi Nidito in Palm Springs, “to kill anybody’s on his back. See, he behaves in the chute. What he’s doing, he’s saving his dirty tricks till he has room to buck you off and stomp you, kick out your teeth.”

VIDEO: Elmore Leonard talks with Atlantic contributing editor James Parker about bad movies and good writing.

They were at a table on the bar side of the place, Mi Nidito, a good one, some Agua Caliente Indians here after the rodeo. Victor was telling stories his Mojave buddies had heard, but they were happy, Victor was buying the tequila shooters and beers. Now he was telling them what he’d learned about bulls working for Kyle McCoy since he was a kid: how to ride the bucks tight, feel what the bull was about to do next. “I ask Kyle, ‘What’s that mean? Feel what he’s gonna do?’ I’m asking him how to ride a bull twenty times bigger than me. Kyle goes, ‘You become one with the bull or land on your ass.’ I had to figure out for myself what he meant. Two years in a row Kyle McCoy’s world’s best bull rider, twenty-four, twenty-five years old. Five years later he’s world champion again and said, ‘That’s it,’ quit before he ever landed on his head. Kyle wore his range hat, never put on that helmet they offer you now. Quit in pretty good shape and moved to Indio to raise his bulls.”

“All killers,” Nachee said.

“But he started with heifers,” Victor said. “You approach a mean heifer out on the graze? She gives you a dirty look and chases you the hell off.”

Victor saw Nachee and Billy Cosa looking toward the entrance and turned his head to see a Riverside County deputy talking to the manager. Some more law was outside. They’d go around to the kitchen and check on Mexicans without any papers. Victor saw the Riverside deputy look his way. No, he was looking at the white guy at the next table, the guy wearing a straw Stetson he’d fool with, raising the curled brim and setting it close on his eyes again. Never changed his expression. He had size, but looked ten years past herding cows. It was the man’s U.S. Government jacket told Victor he was none of their business. Victor said to his buddies:

“What Kyle did, he’d look for heifers were always pissed off and started with two of the meanest girls he could find. He named one Stormy, after a stripper he’d see he went to New Orleans, and the other one Julie, after the movie star was his girlfriend on and off, everybody thinking they’d get married till she walked out on him. Kyle was spending more time getting his heifers laid than whatever he was doing with Julie Reyes.”

“He was crazy,” Billy Cosa said. “Julie Reyes is the coolest chick I ever saw in my life. She look at you with her dark eyes has lights in them … ? Man, I forget what I’m saying to her.”

Victor said he heard Julie was in Hollywood making vampire movies. “And Kyle’s in the bull-humping business. Kyle’s making more money than he ever did rodeoin and I guess Julie’s a movie actress.”

“Vampire flicks,” Nachee said. “I see her last one, I come out of the show after, Kyle McCoy’s there lighting up. I smoke one with him, ask him how he like the flick. He say he don’t care for her being a vampire. A week later he sole Julie, asking a hundred grand and got close to it.”

“He sole the girl name Julie,” Billy Cosa said, “or the heifer?”

Nachee raised one hand to give Billy a lazy high-five.

The white dude in the cowboy hat, still watching them, was laughing out loud.

Victor looked over to see him grinning now, the guy telling them, “I’d say the boy’s in trouble, he don’t know a woman from a cow. Else he’s had too much firewater.”

By this time Victor believed he and the Mojave boys had each put down four shots of tequila, toasting his rides, and a few Dos Equis for chasers. No matter, he was celebrating with his NDN brothers and would tell this nitwit Billy was kidding. But then he was thinking, Why you want to explain it to him? Cause he wears a U.S. Government jacket? Now the white guy was getting up from the table, and Victor looked at his buddies and shook his head once, side to side, and said, “Don’t fuck with him,” though he believed he probably would.

This guy in the cowboy hat was standing now, watching a girl coming from the bar with a drink in her hand. She walked up to the nitwit, saying, “The bartender finally got the Stoli Doli right.”

She stood with the white dude listening to him talking to her, nodding his cowboy hat at the three boys.

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Elmore Leonard has written more than 40 books during his highly successful writing career, and many of his novels have been made into movies. He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN Center USA and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Bloomfield Village, Michigan.

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