The Devil's Punchbowl

BOOK: The Devil's Punchbowl
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ALSO BY GREG ILES

Third Degree

True Evil

Turning Angel

Blood Memory

The Footprints of God

Sleep No More

Dead Sleep

24 Hours

The Quiet Game

Mortal Fear

Black Cross

Spandau Phoenix

 

 

 

SCRIBNER
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright Š 2009 by Greg Iles

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Scribner Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

SCRIBNER and design are registered trademarks of The Gale Group, Inc., used under license by Simon & Schuster, Inc., the publisher of this work.

The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com [http://www.simonspeakers.com].

Library of Congress Control Number: 2008049551

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-9463-5
ISBN-10: 1-4165-9463-9

Visit us on the Web:
http://www.SimonandSchuster.com [http://www.SimonandSchuster.com]

 

 

 

For
Madeline and Mark
Who pay the highest price for my writing life.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a comin’.

—Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger

 

 

“You’re an animal.”

“No, worse. Human.”

—
Runaway Train

 

 

 

 

THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

CHAPTER 1

 

CHAPTER 2

 

CHAPTER 3

 

CHAPTER 4

 

CHAPTER 5

 

CHAPTER 6

 

CHAPTER 7

 

CHAPTER 8

 

CHAPTER 9

 

CHAPTER 10

 

CHAPTER 11

 

CHAPTER 12

 

CHAPTER 13

 

CHAPTER 14

 

CHAPTER 15

 

CHAPTER 16

 

CHAPTER 17

 

CHAPTER 18

 

CHAPTER 19

 

CHAPTER 20

 

CHAPTER 21

 

CHAPTER 22

 

CHAPTER 23

 

CHAPTER 24

 

CHAPTER 25

 

CHAPTER 26

 

CHAPTER 27

 

CHAPTER 28

 

CHAPTER 29

 

CHAPTER 30

 

CHAPTER 31

 

CHAPTER 32

 

CHAPTER 33

 

CHAPTER 34

 

CHAPTER 35

 

CHAPTER 36

 

CHAPTER 37

 

CHAPTER 38

 

CHAPTER 39

 

CHAPTER 40

 

CHAPTER 41

 

CHAPTER 42

 

CHAPTER 43

 

CHAPTER 44

 

CHAPTER 45

 

CHAPTER 46

 

CHAPTER 47

 

CHAPTER 48

 

CHAPTER 49

 

CHAPTER 50

 

CHAPTER 51

 

CHAPTER 52

 

CHAPTER 53

 

CHAPTER 54

 

CHAPTER 55

 

CHAPTER 56

 

CHAPTER 57

 

CHAPTER 58

 

CHAPTER 59

 

CHAPTER 60

 

CHAPTER 61

 

CHAPTER 62

 

CHAPTER 63

 

CHAPTER 64

 

CHAPTER 65

 

CHAPTER 66

 

CHAPTER 67

 

CHAPTER 68

 

CHAPTER 69

 

CHAPTER 70

 

EPILOGUE

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

 

CHAPTER
1

 

 

Midnight in the garden of the dead.

 

A silver-white moon hangs high over the mirror-black river and the tired levee, shedding cold light on the Louisiana delta stretching off toward Texas. I stand among the luminous stones on the Mississippi side, shivering like the only living man for miles. At my feet lies a stark slab of granite, and under that stone lies the body of my wife. The monument at its head reads:

 

SARAH ELIZABETH CAGE

1963–1998

Daughter. Wife. Mother. Teacher.

She is loved.

 

 

I haven’t sneaked into the cemetery at midnight to visit my wife’s grave. I’ve come at the urgent request of a friend. But I didn’t come here for the sake of friendship. I came out of guilt. And fear.

 

The man I’m waiting for is forty-five years old, yet in my mind he will always be nine. That’s when our friendship peaked, during the Apollo 11 moon landing. But you don’t often make friends like those you make as a boy, so the debt is a long one. My guilt is the kind you feel when someone slips away and you don’t do enough to maintain the tie, all the more painful because over the years Tim Jes
sup managed to get himself into quite a bit of trouble, and after the first eight or nine times, I wasn’t there to get him out of it.

 

My fear has nothing to do with Tim; he’s merely a messenger, one who may bear tidings I have no wish to hear. News that confirms the rumors being murmured over golf greens at the country club, bellowed between plays beside high school gridirons, and whispered through the hunting camps like a rising breeze before a storm. When Jessup asked to meet me, I resisted. He couldn’t have chosen a worse time to discover a conscience, for me or for the city. Yet in the end I agreed to hear him out. For if the rumors are true—if a uniquely disturbing evil has entered into my town—it was I who opened the door for it. I ran for mayor in a Jeffersonian fit of duty to save my hometown and, in my righteousness, was arrogant enough to believe I could deal with the devil and somehow keep our collective virtue intact. But that, I’m afraid, was wishful thinking.

 

For months now, a sense of failure has been accreting in my chest like fibrous tissue. I’ve rarely failed at anything, and I have never quit. Most Americans are raised never to give up, and in the South that credo is practically a religion. But two years ago I stood before my wife’s grave with a full heart and the belief that I could by force of will resurrect the idyllic town that had borne me, by closing the racial wounds that had prevented it from becoming the shining beacon I knew it could be, and bringing back the prosperity it deserved. Halfway through my four-year term, I’ve learned that most people don’t want change, even when it’s in their best interest. We pay lip service to ideals, but we live by expediency and by tribal prejudice. Accepting this hypocrisy has nearly broken me.

 

Sadly, the people closest to me saw this coming long ago. My father and my lover at the time tried to save me from myself, but I would not be swayed. The heaviest burden I bear is knowing that my daughter has paid the highest price for my illusions. Two years ago, I imagined I heard my dead wife’s voice urging me onward. Now all I hear is the empty rush of the wind, whispering the lesson so many have learned before me:
You can’t go home again.

 

My watch reads 12:30 a.m. Thirty minutes past the appointed hour, and there’s still no sign of Tim Jessup among the shoulder-high stones between me and Cemetery Road. With a silent farewell to my wife, I turn and slip between the monuments, working my way back
up toward Jewish Hill, our rendezvous point. My feet make no sound in the dewy, manicured grass. The names chiseled on these stones I’ve known all my life. They are the town’s history, and mine: Friedler and Jacobs and Dreyfus up on Jewish Hill, whose stones read
Bohemia, Bavaria, Alsace;
the Knoxes and Henrys and Thornhills in the Protestant sections; and finally the Donnellys and Binellis and O’Banyons back on Catholic Hill. Most of the corpses in this place had white skin when they were alive, but as in life, the truth here is found at the margins. In the areas marked “Colored Ground” on the cemetery map lie the trusted servants and favored slaves who lived at the margins of the white world and earned a patch of hallowed earth in death. Most of these were interred without a marker. You have to go farther down the road, to the national cemetery, to find the graves of truly free black people, many of them soldiers who lie among the twenty-eight hundred unknown Union dead.

 

Yet this cemetery breathes an older history. Some people buried here were born in the mid-1700s, and if they were resurrected tomorrow, parts of the town would not look much different to them. Infants who died of yellow fever lie beside Spanish dons and forgotten generals, all moldering beneath crying angels and marble saints, while the gnarled oak branches spread ever wider above them, draped with cinematic beards of Spanish moss. Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River, older even than New Orleans, and when you see the dark, tilted gravestones disappearing into the edges of the forest, you know it.

 

I last came here to view a million dollars in damage wreaked by drunk vandals on the irreplaceable wrought iron and statuary that make this cemetery unique. Now all four gates are chained shut at dusk. Tim Jessup knows that; it’s one reason he chose this trysting place. When Jessup first called, I thought he was proposing the cemetery for his convenience; he works on one of the riverboat casinos at the foot of the bluff—the
BOOK: The Devil's Punchbowl
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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