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1 Burnside Mystery- A to Z

The Ice Harvest


The Ice Harvest Cover




At four-fifteen on a cold, dry Christmas Eve a nervous

middle-aged man in an expensive overcoat walked

bare-headed into the Midtown Tap Room and stood at the

near end of the bar with his membership card in hand,

waiting for the afternoon barmaid to get off the phone.

She was about forty, heavy in a square way, with a shiny

face and dishwater blond hair that looked like she'd got

shitfaced and decided to cut it herself. He knew she'd

noticed him coming in, but she was taking great pains to

pretend she couldn't see him. To do so she had to stand

at a peculiar angle, leaning her hip against the back bar

and looking off toward the back door so that she was

facing neither the lawyer nor the mirror behind her. lawyer nor the

mirror behind her. neither the lawyer nor the

mirror behind her.

The only other drinker at that hour was a small, very

slender young man in a fully buttoned jean jacket who sat

leaning with his elbow on the bar, his cheek resting on the

heel of his wrist with a cigarette between his index and

middle fingers, its ash end burning dangerously close to the

tip of his oily pompadour. His eyes were closed and his

mouth open.

The lawyer unbuttoned his overcoat and stood there for

a minute, listening to the barmaid's phone conversation.

She had just the start of a drinker's rasp, and if he were just

hearing her on the phone and not looking at her he'd have

thought it sounded sexy. She seemed to be having some

kind of roommate trouble involving a fender bender, a borrowed

car, and no insurance, and it didn't look as though

she'd be noticing him anytime soon.

He couldn't remember ever seeing the Tap Room in

daylight before, if the failing gray light filtering through the

grime on the front windows qualified as such. It was a deep,

narrow old building with a battered pressed-tin ceiling and

a long oak bar. On the brick wall behind the bandstand

hung a huge black-faced clock with fluorescent purple numbers,

and running the length of the opposite wall was a row

of red Naugahyde booths. All of this was festooned with

cheap plastic holly and mistletoe. Around the walls seven

feet or so from the floor ran a string of multicolored Christmas

lights, unplugged at the moment. This is my last look

at this place, he thought, mildly surprised at the idea. He

hadn't been out of town for more than two or three days at

a time in fifteen years.

A squeal from the barmaid interrupted his reverie. "Jesus

Christ, Gary, you set your hair on fire!" Young Gary

looked up in cross-eyed bewilderment at the hiss of the wet

rag she was patting against his smoldering forelock. He protested

weakly and unintelligibly as she snatched his cigarette

away from him and ground it out in the ashtray, then

put the ashtray behind the bar. "It's obvious you can't be

trusted with these anymore," she said as she confiscated his

cigarettes and lighter. He started to say something in his

own defense, but stopped and closed his eyes again, resting

his cheek back down on his hands. "You'll get these back

tomorrow," she said. "You want another drink?" Gary nodded

yes without opening his eyes.

Now she looked up at the newcomer, feigning surprise.

"Oh, hi. Didn't see you come in." She gave his membership

card a perfunctory glance. "What can I get you?"

"CC, water back." She turned without a word and busied

herself making his drink, following it with another for

Gary. "Is Tommy in back?" the man said as she set the

drinks down.

"Nope. He'll be in tonight."

"Could you give him this for me?" He handed her an


"Sure," she said. She took the envelope from his hand

and turned it over a couple of times as though looking for a

set of instructions.

"Tell him it's from Charlie Arglist."

"Charlie Arglist?" There was genuine surprise in her

voice this time. She lowered her head, cocking it to one

side, giving him a close look. "Charlie, is that you?"

"Yeah . . ." At that moment he was certain he'd never

seen the woman before in his life.

"Jesus, Charlie, it's me, Susie Tannenger. Wow, have

you ever changed." She stepped back to let him get a better

look at her. The Susie Tannenger he remembered was a

lithe, pretty thing, at least six or eight years younger than

he was. He had handled a divorce for her about ten years

earlier, and in the course of the proceedings her husband,

a commercial pilot, had threatened several times to kill


She came around the bar and gave him a hug, a hard

one with a discreet little pelvic bump thrown in. Her ex

had had good reason to want to kill him; he had taken out

his fee in trade, at her suggestion, on his desktop.

"Isn't life funny? Are you still a lawyer? Hey, Gary,

check it out--this is the guy that did my first divorce!"

Gary looked up, focused for a split second, then grunted

and returned to his private ruminations.

"Charlie, this is my fiance, Gary. Shit, I didn't even know

you were still in town; we gotta get together sometime."

"Yeah, we should do that." Charlie knocked back his

drink and set a five-dollar bill on the table. "Well, I got

some Christmas shopping left to do. Nice to see you again,


She swept up the bill and handed it back to him. "Your

money's no good here, Counselor. Merry Christmas!"

"Thanks, Susie. Same to you." He went to the door. It

was getting dark outside, and Susie hadn't yet turned the

overhead lights on. From that distance, in that dim, smoky

light, he almost recognized her. "And a happy New Year to

you both," he said as he pushed the door open and stepped

out onto the ice.

When the door closed Susie sighed and looked over at

Gary, whose head had migrated down to the bar and who

had started to snore. "There goes the second most inconsiderate

lay I ever had," she said.

Who gives a shit if I say good-bye to Tommy or not anyway?

Charlie thought. He was warm and dry behind the wheel of

the company car, a brand-new black 1980 Lincoln Continental,

the finest car he had ever driven. He was headed

west with no particular destination in mind. It was dark and

overcast, one of those days where it was impossible to tell

whether the sun was still up or not, but as yet it hadn't

started to snow. He passed the Hardee's across the street

from Grove High, watched the kids hanging around in the

parking lot the way he had when he was in school, back

when it had been a Sandy's. His kids wouldn't go to Grove,

close as they lived to it; they'd be assigned to one of the

newer and presumably nicer schools farther east. Good for

them; fuck all this nostalgia crap. He pulled a flask from the

inside pocket of his overcoat and took a long drink. Now

might be a good time to stop by the Sweet Cage; the afternoon

shift would be ending, and there were a couple of the

daytime dancers he wanted to see one last time. It was a little

after four-thirty, and he had nine and a half hours to kill.

Charlie had both hands resting on top of the wheel, trying

to screw the cap back on the flask, when he caught sight of

a police cruiser just behind him to the left, gaining slowly.

He quickly gripped the steering wheel with his left hand

and lowered the flask in his right, spilling a little bourbon

on his pant leg.

"Ah, shit . . ." He looked down at the stain, just to the

right of his crotch. "Looks like I pissed my fucking pants."

He looked up as he felt the car swerve, catching it at the

last possible moment and swinging back into the right-hand

lane. The black and white pulled up alongside him

and Charlie looked calmly over. The cop on the right rolled

his window down and Charlie did the same.

"Road sure is icy, Counselor," the cop shouted, his face

pinched against the cold wind.

"Sure is, Officer." He tried to remember the cop's name.

"You're doing forty in a school zone, you know."

"Shit. Sorry." Charlie let his foot up off the gas, and the

cops slowed down with him.

"Never know who's gonna clock you around here, Mr.


"Thanks. That's one I owe you."

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, guys." He held up the flask and drank

them a short toast and they accelerated away, laughing and

waving. That was a lucky fucking break, he thought. He

switched on the AM radio and rolled the tuner knob between

thumb and forefinger until he found an adenoidal

police reporter giving quick but detailed accounts of a fist fight

in a tavern, a foiled daylight burglary, and a rash of car

thefts at a local shopping mall. He closed his report with a

message from the chief of police admonishing shoppers to

lock their cars and take their keys. He was followed by an

equally adenoidal country singer's bland, stringy rendition

of "The First Noel." Charlie took another sip and wondered

who the hell burgled in the daytime, on Christmas Eve yet.

Product Details

Phillips, Scott
Ballantine Books
New York
Mystery & Detective - General
Organized crime
Christmas stories
Wichita (Kan.)
General Fiction
Mystery-A to Z
fiction;noir;mystery;crime;kansas;crime fiction
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
October 2001
Grade Level:
7.48x5.54x.65 in. .43 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z

The Ice Harvest Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345440198 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "[A] darkly delicious debut comic thriller....Newcomer Phillips's seedy characters are skillfully developed, particularly the semiremorseful Charlie....Charlie's final confrontation with Gerard will likely leave readers nauseated with laughter — altogether not a bad way to debut in crime fiction." Publishers Weekly
"Review" by , "[An] astonishing debut novel from a writer who manages to put a funny, modernist spin on a piece of our noir past: Jim Thompson frosted with a blast of Jonathan (Motherless Brooklyn) Lethem."
"Review" by , "Ominous, action-packed....This is a confident, wry debut...[that] may remind readers of Fargo or Pulp Fiction."
"Review" by , "What could be as empty as one of Charlie's cast-aside whiskey bottles turns out to be a pitch-perfect foray into pulp fiction, witty and bitter, with an ironic conclusion that makes a neat package. Slap a bow on this one, and it's the ideal stocking stuffer for all those Scrooges on your Christmas (or hit) list."
"Review" by , "I simply can't wait to see what Scott Phillips will do next. [This] funny, tough first novel felt like it was written by an old pro, an Elmore Leonard we've never heard about who's discovered a place where the criminals are really dumb, the low-lifes are oh-so-fun to watch and, if somebody just happens to get what he deserves, there?s no one to blame."
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