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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.
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
bewilderment at the hiss of the wet rag she was patting against
smoldering forelock. He protested weakly and unintelligibly as
snatched his cigarette away from him and ground it out in the
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
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 envelope.
"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
"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
"Charlie, is that you?"
"Yeah . . ." At that moment he was certain he'd never seen the
before in his life.
"Jesus, Charlie, it's me, Susie Tannenger. Wow, have you ever
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
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
"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 fianc», 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
five-dollar bill on the table. "Well, I got some Christmas shopping
left to do. Nice to see you again, Susie."
She swept up the bill and handed it back to him. "Your money's no
here, Counselor. Merry Christmas!"
"Thanks, Susie. Same to you." He went to the door. It was getting
outside, and Susie hadn't yet turned the overhead lights on. From
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
Excerpted from THE ICE HARVEST (c) Copyright 2000 by Scott
Phillips. Reprinted with permission from Ballantine Books. All