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.

The girl’s shirt was open two buttons, and her hair was mussed. The U.S. Government white dude leaned close to tell her—maybe, Victor thought—what he was going to do next. The girl seemed to listen but without much interest. Now she was taking a pack of cigarettes from her shirt pocket, got one out but didn’t light it, waiting for the white guy.

He stood there a moment adjusting his hat, setting it close on his eyes, the curved brim pointing at Victor. Now he used both hands to pop the snaps on his U.S. Government jacket. He held it open so they could read the words reversed in white on the dark T-shirt. It said in capital letters:


He said, “Fellas, you happen to know what I-C-E stands for?”

Victor could tell him it meant Immigration and Customs Enforcement, you turkey, but said, “Does it mean you deliver ice to places like this one for drinks, maybe shrimp cocktails? I understand it’s what icemen do, but I don’t think I know any.”

“What I deliver,” the Ice Man said, “I take illegal aliens to prison. People speaking foreign tongues and think obeying the law’s a bunch of shit, refuse to follow the goddamn law of the land. I heard you saying you work for Kyle McCoy, but I don’t recall seeing you since Kyle moved out here. I suppose cause you people, same as the colored, all look pretty much the same. You know what white people in olden times use to call Indins? Goddamn red niggers.”

Victor said, “You know what Apaches still call white people? Los Goddammies, because many of you cannot talk without swearing. You use God’s name even when you don’t have a reason to. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. But you said people who speak in foreign tongues refuse to follow the goddamn laws of the land. You saying all of us should speak only English?”

This Ice Man took time to stare at Victor. He said, “They teach you that at Indin school? I hope you aren’t getting smart with me. I see you drinkin … Can you show me you’re old enough by law?”

Victor said, “This is what it’s about, my age?”

“You show me you’re old enough,” the Ice Man said, “I’ll let you step outside and arrest you for being shit-faced drunk.”

“You kidding me?”

“Drunk and disorderly, arguing with me.”

Victor said, “You go to all this trouble—”

Nachee said, “Because we NDN, we must be drunk.”

“The three of you actin up,” the Ice Man said. “I been watchin you since you come in.”

“Man,” Nachee said, “Victor rode three bulls today. We drinking to his honor.”

“What’d he win,” the Ice Man said, “trading beads?”

“Four thousand dollars, man, and a saddle.”

Victor took the roll of bills from his shirt pocket and laid the wad on the table.

The Ice Man, looking at the money, raised his hat and set it on his head again saying, “The bulls buck any, or they too old? I can cite you now for tryin to bribe an officer of the law.”

Victor said, “I’m not offering you anything.”

“You’re mouthin off, arguing with me. Give me your names and we’ll get her done.”

Victor said, “My Mimbreño Apache name is Deer With Horns Running Through the Woods Being Chased by a White Dude Wearing a Cowboy Hat.”

Nachee said, “You know Agua Calientes operate the casinos? They get to watch white men become drunk and lose all their money.”

“Keep talking,” the Ice Man said.

Nachee said, “You know how NDNs know it’s safe to go fishing in the winter? When all the white guys quit falling through the fucking ice.”

This time the Ice Man only stared, no expression on his face.

“I was in a bar,” Nachee said, “where a white man with a cigar was blowing smoke rings, nine or ten of them hanging in the air. I look at the rings and said to him, ‘One more remark like that, I’ll bust you in the mouth.’”

The Ice Man said, “I was at a Indin wedding on the rez one time. The flower girls were all the bride’s kids, her bastards. You hear that one? Or, how do you tell a rich Indin from a poor one? The rich Indin has two cars up on blocks.” He waited a moment and said, “We’re through here,” picked up his cellphone and said, “Wesley, I might need a hand.”

What was going on? Nachee never carried ID working bulls. Victor didn’t either. They both believed if you know who you are, what do you need ID for? You want to tell somebody your name, tell him. You don’t want to, don’t.

The only question Nachee thought of: Why did Kyle McCoy move his bull ranch from Arizona to Indio, California? The only reason he could think of: now that Kyle’s bulls were making him rich, he had time for Julie Reyes in Hollywood making movies. He hoped so. Nachee was dying to see her again.

He saw deputies in their serious hats coming through the restaurant from the kitchen, four white guys who looked like they meant business, serious, minds made up, and Nachee thought of a grandfather now from the other time, more than a hundred years ago, Nachitay, sitting in Mi Nidito with Victor’s grandfather from the same time, Victorio. Sometimes Nachee talked to Victor about those guys living the way they chose to. You hungry? Run off a mule, cut steaks and cook them over a fire. Before General Crook came along on his mule, the one Nachee’s grandfather from that other time was dying to eat. Bring them all here to sit with their rifles, Victorio, Cochise, Geronimo … those guys doing whatever they wanted. They never carried ID but every horse soldier in the Arizona Territory knew who they were. Now the deputies were coming and Nachee, smiling as they reached the table, said:

“What can I do for you boys?”

One of the deputies banged Nachee’s head down on the table, held him while they cuffed his hands behind his back.

“All three,” the Ice Man said, “I’m placing these boys under federal arrest.”

The deputy he’d spoken to on the phone, Wesley, said, “What have you thought of to charge ’em with?”

“Mouthin off,” the Ice Man said, stepping over to pick up the fold of hundred-dollar bills Victor had dropped on the table. They had Victor bent over now, handcuffing him.

Victor straining to look at the Ice Man riffling through his bills.

“You know that’s rodeo money I won today.”

“How much you have left?”

“Four thousand. I haven’t spent none.”

“We’ll catalog it, pay your fines, your upkeep, you get your release I’ll give you what’s left,” the Ice Man said. “How’s that set with you?”

Celeste, the girl sipping a Stoli Doli earlier, was outside now having a cigarette.

She said to the Ice Man, “You finished holding up the law?”

“They’re in detention till I say let ’em out.”

“The only reason being they’re Indians?”

The Ice Man’s name was Darryl Harris.

He said, “What’s wrong with that?”

Presented by

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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