Ice Floe Joe only worked in the winter, when he could cut a hole in the thick ice of Lake Ayers and sit with his bitches inside the ice shack he’d inherited from his pappy, Fargo Freddie (who had, paradoxically, founded the St. Paul Players’ Ball). He was a legend in the upper regions of Minnesota, a man who mixed business and pleasure, who never allowed the workaday world to interfere with life’s simple joys.
Men came from all over Pennington County to “borrow” one of Joe’s hoes for an hour or two. They’d drive out onto the lake in their trucks, pick up their merchandise, and park a quarter-mile away from the shack. Most days, if the snowfall wasn’t too thick, Joe could stand in his doorway and see nine or ten pickups scattered around the ice. They were lumberjacks and survivalists, widowers and lifelong bachelors. There weren’t many women in the County, which contributed mightily to the ice shack bordello’s success.
Even the County Sheriff came by from time to time; he and the pimp would sip Old Milwaukee for hours, tossing the empty cans into the hole. Eventually, the Sheriff would stand up and nod at a whore, and she would follow him out to his police cruiser for twenty minutes, give or take. Alone among the men who visited the shack, he never paid.
The bitches came from as far away as Wisconsin, drifting in and out of service with regularity. They were relatively well-treated, allowed to drink beer between johns. It was difficult for customers to evaluate them based on looks, as each trick wore a thick parka that hid her figure under inches of downy poof. They smiled often but rarely spoke. Occasionally, Joe’s bottom bitch would gut and fry some fish for everyone.
There were many theories as to why Joe was only in business during the cold months: Some said he had wanted, as a young man, to become a schoolteacher but had been forced into the family business by his father, that the shack shared roughly the same schedule as the local schools. Others believed Ice Floe Joe moved his operation up into northern Canada when Minnesota thawed out In late April. The children on the playground at Challenger Elementary in Thief River Falls were closer to the truth–they spoke of Joe the way their great- grandparents might have discussed Paul Bunyan. To the kids (many of whom had older cousins who had been out to Lake Ayers), he was almost magic, outside of time or place, the Coldest Motherfucker Alive.
It was a throwback to the rough and rugged days of the early nineteenth century, when Minnesota was the frontier, when lonely trappers needed a way to warm up after selling their pelts. It had always been this way, and it might have continued if Sven Olafson hadn’t been found beneath the thawing March ice, naked and dead, half-eaten by fish…
To be continued…