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Read the Review  It
was cold the night I went to pick up Clayton Bennett's Jeep, the
tail end of the coldest day of the season so far. In Montana the
calendar demarcation of winter from fall is nothing but a
technicality. Up here, in the shadow of Canada, other people's idea
of winter usually starts before Halloween, and this autumn had been
no different: parka weather, thick frost on windshields, breath
like gauze even in the afternoon sun. But not until the morning of
December 20 did we feel the imminent promise of an animal frost and
know that a deep heart of winter cold was screaming in from the
cleansing wind had raked across the valley floor, and by morning
the river was viscous with ice. Pushed down from Canada, the air
reeked of the tundra, of glacier-churned dirt and stunted lichen.
It was this smell that signaled that the first subzero snap of the
season was on its way. 
had just gotten Bennett's file that afternoon, and from what
little I'd read I'd figured on one of those rare easy-as-pie jobs.
My boss, Flip, had given me a set of dealer's keys. All I had to do
was get in the Cherokee and drive away. I'd planned on paying my
visit sometime in the next couple of days, but when I heard on the
radio about Bennett's death I thought I'd better head over to his
office right away. There was no telling who else Bennett owed money
to, and I wanted to be the first person there to
Normally, it would have taken a while for news like this to hit
the airwaves, but Bennett had been stabbed in a drunken brawl and
the two Indians the cops suspected had disappeared. Local radio
stations were broadcasting descriptions of the couple, urging
everyone to be on the lookout. The place was crawling with cops
when I pulled into the parking lot of the Super Six Motel, next to
Bennett's office. I'd told myself to grab the Jeep and get out of
there. I'm not too fond of anyone with a badge, and I had no
intention of sticking around. But when I saw the scene unfolding in
the river bottom, curiosity got the better of me. 
didn't know much about Bennett, only that he had run a charter
business, a shifty little outfit called Big Sky Adventures that
took tourists on backcountry flyovers and down to remote lakes for
fishing. His office and makeshift apartment were in a shack on the
northern bank of the Clark Fork, right across the river from the
vacant tract of land where the old paper mill and tepee burners
used to be. 
a downtrodden section of town, a final vestige of the ugly
industrial West that Missoula was still part of when I was a child.
Before the yuppies from California arrived, cleaned up the
waterfront, and passed laws that kept the mines upstream from
dumping cyanide in the river. Before the quaint farmers' market and
the latte bars and cafés selling veggie burgers and frozen
yogurt moved in. 
I stepped out of my Ford truck onto the slick blacktop, the
time/temperature sign at the casino across the street blinked, its
lighted display changing from 16 to 18 degrees below zero. I took a
breath and felt the tissue in my lungs freeze up. Behind the
concrete hulk of the motel and Bennett's shack, the river bottom
was lit like a movie set. A stand of leafless cottonwoods stood in
stark relief, their trunks a pale and ghostly white. The river was
close to frozen solid, and the milky crust of ice shone under the
halogen glow of spotlights. In its center was a narrow rush of
water, black and sinuous as an adder. This time of year the hours
of darkness far outnumber those of daylight, and even when the sun
is above the horizon it seems diminished. So there was something
obscene about the brightness of the lights on the river and the
naked trees. 
had pulled Clay Bennett's body from the weeds on the low-water
island where he had been discovered and were carrying him toward us
to shore. It took four men to hold the stretcher. They wore fishing
waders under their ranch coats, and the rubber boots were plainly
no good on the icy boulders of the riverbed. Even from up on the
bank I could see their feet slipping, their shins ripping into the
thin shell of the river ice.   When they reached the unfrozen
channel, one of the men faltered, dipped his knee, and stuck his
arm out to keep his balance. The crowd in the parking lot let out a
collective gasp. The stretcher tilted and Bennett's hand sprang up
in a lazy wave, his flannel-shirted arm freed from the death grip
of whatever had held it to his side. The expressions on the faces
of the men carrying him changed suddenly. Terror overcame them,
revulsion at the jerking movements of the dead, and they lost their
corpse's head and right shoulder lolled downward, as if he were
contemplating a quick dip. One finger dangled in the current, then
a whole arm, the side of his torso, a booted foot, until his entire
body was immersed. It was incredibly graceful, the way he went in,
his palm slightly upturned to the sky, the fingers loosely curled.
And the movement of his body toward the water: like a leisurely
dive on a hot day. It took them a few frantic minutes to fish him
out, then another few to plod on through the river and up the
crumbling bank. 
all the things that happened, it's Bennett's body I will always
remember. How he lay there sparkling and shimmering in the lights
of the parking lot, a layer of ice encasing him. In the time it
took to carry him from the river he had solidified. His arms were
frozen to his sides, pinned where they belonged. The brittle skin
around him looked like a thin cocoon. He was perfectly preserved,
the violence of his death completely intact. His flannel shirt was
tom, his chest mottled with pink rosettes, tiny bursts of blood, a
dozen cuts around his heart. He was a large man, and suddenly his
size struck me, his power, the thickness of his
hoisted him up into the ambulance and closed the double doors and
then, because Flip has told me over and over how important time can
be in cases like this, I walked across the parking lot of the Super
Six toward the Big Sky Adventures office. 
Bennett's brown Jeep Cherokee was parked just outside the
front door. The dark windows of the office reflected the commotion
at the motel, the rhythmic revolutions of a police cruiser's
lights, the ambulance flashing red as it pulled onto Broadway.
Out on the river, figures rushed in and out of the spotlights'
glare. I heard a shout, then another, a cry of "Rabbit!" from the
brushy island. A shape burst onto the open ice, a man lumbering
forward. Evidently it was one of the Indians they'd been looking
for. He was making good time till he slipped and fell. In an
instant a sea of uniforms was upon him.   Fishing in my pocket
for the dealer's keys, I slid into the Cherokee like I belonged
there. In the rearview mirror I could see them bringing the man up
the bank, his arms twisted around his back, his wrists cuffed. He
stumbled along, the weight of his chest slung forward. I shoved the
key into the ignition, felt the engine cough to life, and touched
my own wrist, thinking of the cold cuffs, the familiar sensation of
the steel bracelets grating against my flesh. And I thought of the
other Indian, the girl still out there, fugitive. 

Excerpted from ICED (c) Copyright 2000 by Jenny Siler. Reprinted
with permission by Henry Holt. All rights reserved.

by by Jenny Siler

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805064389
  • ISBN-13: 9780805064384