Excerpt from Natchez Burning by Greg Iles, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Natchez Burning

A Penn Cage Novel

by Greg Iles

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 800 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 816 pages

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CHAPTER 1



ALBERT NORRIS SANG a few bars of Howlin' Wolf's "Natchez Burnin' " to cover the sounds of the couple making love in the back of his shop. The front door was locked. It was after seven, the streets deserted. But today had been a bad day. Albert had tried to cancel the rendezvous by switching on the light in the side room where he taught piano during the week—he'd even sent a boy to warn the man to stay away from the shop—but the two lovers had ignored his warnings and come anyway. He'd set up their rendezvous a week ago, by sending out a coded message during his gospel radio show, which was his usual method. But lovers who saw each other only twice a month—if they were lucky— weren't going to be deterred by a warning light in a window, not even if their lives were at risk.

The white woman had arrived first, rapping lightly at the alley door. Albert had tried to run her off— whites were supposed to use the front—but she'd refused to budge. Terrified that a passerby might see her, Albert had let her in. Mary Shivers was a skinny white schoolteacher with more hormones than sense. Even before he could chastise her, he heard his side door open. Moments later, six-foot-three-inch Willie Hooks barged into the store. The big carpenter stuffed five dollars into Albert's hand, ran to the woman, seized her up in one arm, and carried her to the back of the shop. Albert had followed, desperately trying to explain about the visit he'd gotten from the furious white men that afternoon, but Hooks and the schoolteacher were deaf to all appeals. Three seconds after the door slammed in his face, Albert heard the sounds of people shedding clothes. A moment later, the woman yelped, and then the springs in the old sofa in the back room went to singing.

"Five minutes!" Albert had shouted through the door. "I'm kicking open this door in five minutes. I ain't dying for you two!"

The couple took no notice.

Albert cursed and walked toward his display window. Third Street looked blessedly empty, but within five seconds Deputy John DeLillo's cruiser rolled into view, moving at walking speed. Acid flooded Albert's stomach. He wondered where the schoolteacher had parked her car. Deputy DeLillo was even bigger than Willie Hooks, and he had a fearsome temper. He'd killed at least four black men Albert knew about, and he'd beaten countless others with rods, phone books, and a leather strap spiked with roofing tacks.

Big John's cruiser stopped in the middle of the street. His big head leaned out of the car to gaze into Albert's shop window. Albert couldn't see the deputy's eyes, thanks to the mirrored sunglasses he wore, but he knew what DeLillo was looking for. Pooky Wilson was the most wanted man in Concordia Parish tonight. Just eighteen, Pooky had gained that dubious distinction by bedding the eighteen-year-old daughter of one of the richest men in the parish. Since he'd worked at Albert's store for nearly a year, Pooky had naturally run to Albert when he learned that the Klan and the police—often one and the same—were combing the parish for him. Knowing that local "justice" for Pooky would mean a tall tree and a short rope, Albert had hidden the boy in the safe box he'd constructed for illegal whiskey, which he sold on a seasonal basis. For the past two hours, Pooky had been sitting cramped in the shell of a Hammond spinet organ in Albert's workshop. Positioned against a wall, the A-105 looked like it weighed five hundred pounds, but the hollow housing could hold a full load of moonshine, and even a man in a pinch. There was a trapdoor beneath it for dumping contraband during emergencies (and a hidey-hole dug in the earth below), but since the music store sat up on blocks, Pooky couldn't use that for escape until after dark.

Excerpted from Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Copyright © 2015 by Greg Iles. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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