Excerpt from American Gods by Neil Gaiman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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American Gods

By Neil Gaiman

American Gods

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"I don't get you, Shadow," said Wilson, as they walked.

"What's not to get, sir?"

"You. You're too fucking quiet. Too polite. You wait like the old guys, but you're what? Twenty-five? Twenty-eight?"

"Thirty-two, sir."

"And what are you? A spic? A gypsy?"

"Not that I know of, sir. Maybe."

"Maybe you got nigger blood in you. You got nigger blood in you, Shadow?"

"Could be, sir." Shadow stood tall and looked straight ahead, and concentrated on not allowing himself to be riled by this man.

"Yeah? Well, all I know is, you fucking spook me." Wilson had sandy blond hair and a sandy blond face and a sandy blond smile. "You leaving us soon."

"Hope so, sir."

They walked through a couple of checkpoints. Wilson showed his ID each time. Up a set of stairs, and they were standing outside the prison warden's office. It had the prison warden's name -- G. Patterson -- on the door in black letters, and beside the door, a miniature traffic light.

The top light burned red.

Wilson pressed a button below the traffic light.

They stood there in silence for a couple of minutes. Shadow tried to tell himself that everything was all right, that on Friday morning he'd be on the plane up to Eagle Point, but he did not believe it himself.

The red light went out and the green light went on, and Wilson opened the door. They went inside.

Shadow had seen the warden a handful of times in the last three years. Once he had been showing a politician around. Once, during a lockdown, the warden had spoken to them in groups of a hundred, telling them that the prison was overcrowded, and that, since it would remain overcrowded, they had better get used to it.

Up close, Patterson looked worse. His face was oblong, with gray hair cut into a military bristle cut. He smelled of Old Spice. Behind him was a shelf of books, each with the word Prison in the title; his desk was perfectly clean, empty but for a telephone and a tear-off-the-pages Far Side calendar. He had a hearing aid in his right ear.

"Please, sit down."

Shadow sat down. Wilson stood behind him.

The warden opened a desk drawer and took out a file, placed it on his desk.

"Says here you were sentenced to six years for aggravated assault and battery. You've served three years. You were due to be released on Friday. "

Were? Shadow felt his stomach lurch inside him. He wondered how much longer he was going to have to serve -- another year? Two years? All three? All he said was "Yes, sir."

The warden licked his lips. "What did you say?"

"I said, 'Yes, sir.' "

"Shadow, we're going to be releasing you later this afternoon. You'll be getting out a couple of days early." Shadow nodded, and he waited for the other shoe to drop. The warden looked down at the paper on his desk. "This came from the Johnson Memorial Hospital in Eagle Point ... Your wife. She died in the early hours of this morning. It was an automobile accident. I'm sorry."

Shadow nodded once more.

Wilson walked him back to his cell, not saying anything. He unlocked the cell door and let Shadow in. Then he said, "It's like one of them good news, bad news jokes, isn't it? Good news, we're letting you out early, bad news, your wife is dead." He laughed, as if it were genuinely funny.

Shadow said nothing at all.

From American Gods by Neil Gaiman. © 2001. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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