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. A short story

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.”

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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.

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?”