Statements, Rumors, and Other Particulars about the 1971 Ice Man Disappearance • Tara Laskowski

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For years there were sightings of Billy Stibinis—random tips came over the hotline from people who saw him at the bus station buying a ticket to Boston, driving a taxi in Shamokin, peering into their windows after dark. One guy swore the Ice Man was selling parrots at the Country Junction petting zoo. Another claimed she saw him on her television in the audience of The Price Is Right, waving a sign and hoping to make it to contestants’ row. There was no reward for finding Billy. Just people hoping to figure it out, make sense of it.

A woman across the street had called it in. Said she heard the roar and thought it was “those devil kids” again, drag racing up the back road. But then she went out onto her front porch and saw the guardrail across the street, a twisted-up elephant’s trunk.

The Stibinis Ice truck was as famous as the ice cream truck around our parts—a blue and gray rattler with the word ICE in shaky cubes, large, across the sides. Billy inherited the business from his pa when he died. Everybody loved his pa. Billy got his temper from the other half. He was the type that dressed up like Santa Claus at the VFW Christmas party and told all the kids they were getting their video games and talking dolls, and then later broke one of the father’s wrists in a fistfight in the alley, still wearing the white beard.

And then there was the night his mother fell down the stairs and broke her neck.

Every year on June 19 the kids dare each other to walk that stretch of the highway after midnight. Urban legend stuff. They say if you see his ghost you have to strike a match or he’ll freeze your heart into a solid block of ice. If you ask me, it’s just an excuse to get a lamb down there in the woods after dark for a quick feel-up.

Remember he dated Becky Bartlett for a while? Get three or four rum and cokes in her and she would tell everyone at the Brewski stories about their sex life. The punch line, always: “…and then the Ice Man cometh.”

He was probably going 50 when he went off the road in his mother’s Nova, breaking apart the guardrail like it was a tin foil art project from the kids at Chester Street Elementary. The car danced through hefty shrubbery and young trees before slamming into an old oak. His mother’s crocheted crucifix was still swinging from the rearview mirror when Posluszny pulled him out. I held the flashlight. We’d expected the worst.

The pawnshop owner said Billy called him asking how much he could get for his mom’s stuff. In their house we found her Elvis records, her kitten ceramics and the love letters she’d written to Bob Hope, all packed up in Stibinis Ice crates. Billy had drunk an entire bottle of Old Granddaddy that night. He left the double old-fashioned glass sweating on the bathroom sink, still half full of melting Stibinis ice. Every picture of his mother was face down.

Posluszny left town two months after the incident. At Brewski’s the other cops said he went soft. Said he moved down to Ocean City, Maryland, to open one of them shops selling braided beach mats to tourists. Said he never was right in the head after all that went down.

The front of the Nova looked like the accordion that my cousin used to play in the Fourth of July parade. It hadn’t burst into a fireball, and Posluszny didn’t seem to think it would, since he was still smoking his cigarette as he walked up to the mess.

The sonofabitch was moaning. Posluszny pulled him out. The Ice Man struggled, like he wanted to be left there. He coughed blood and some teeth—the report filed later noted three teeth found at the scene—and then looked up at us. His hair looked wet, sort of smeared to his forehead. He said, “I didn’t—” and then he stopped, and wiped his face, and gave this watery, choked-up sob, and off he walked. Not even a thank you very much. I was stunned. I figured that Posluszny would let him get some air and we’d pick him up on our way back and take him in. I figured he’d be there up at the road, staggering around.

Becky Bartlett tells people some paranormal lady took the Stibinis truck for her museum down in Tennessee. But my wife heard a restaurant bought it, painted over the sign, and now uses it for catering.

Poslusnzy got a bad rash on his hands. They said there must’ve been poison ivy down there, maybe, though they could never find any. Sometimes when I wake up to piss and can’t get back to sleep, I think about how he let Billy wander off because he was staring at something beyond the Nova, something that made his face as white as Father Frank’s robes on Easter Sunday. All I saw was darkness.

Here’s another story the kids like to tell: the police found a patch of wet soil right off the path Billy’s car took that night, even though it hadn’t rained in days. Like something big had melted.

Posluszny looks good with a tan. My wife and I and the kids go visit him sometimes. We don’t talk about what happened, but one night on his porch, listening to the surf and killing a pitcher of mojitos, he said, The devil would’ve been better. He flicked a cigarette over the balcony and said, Just treat your family right, Billings.

His store does have seashells, the kind you can hold up to your ear and hear the waves. It’s got other stuff as well—towels and sand art and wind chimes that make a really soothing sound when the door swings open and lets the breeze in. The kids like the bin of colored blue and white glass beads. They dip their fingers in and let the stones swim over their skin like frozen bits of water.

 

Tara Laskowski is the author of the short story collections Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. Since 2010, she’s been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly

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