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About the Author
Date of Birth:1961
Place of Birth:Stuttgart, Germany
Education:B.A., University of Mississippi, 1983
Read an Excerpt
sleep no more
By GREG ILES
G. P. Putnam's Sons Eve Sumner appeared on the first day of fall. Not the official first daythere was nothing official about Evebut the first day the air turned cool, blowing through John Waters's shirt as though it weren't there. It was chilly enough for a jacket, but he didn't want one because it had been so hot for so damn long, because the air tasted like metal and his blood was up, quickened by the change in temperature and the drop in pressure on his skin, like a change in altitude. His steps were lighter, the wind carrying him forward, and deep within his chest something stirred the way the bucks were stirring in the deep woods and the high leaves were pulling at their branches. Soon those bucks would be stalked through the oaks and shot, and those leaves would be burning in piles, but on that day all remained unresolved, poised in a great ballet of expectation, an indrawn breath. And borne on the first prescient breeze of exhalation came Eve Sumner.
Copyright © 2002 Greg Iles.
All rights reserved.
She stood on the far sideline of the soccer field, too far away for Waters to really see her. He first saw her the way the other fathers did, a silhouette that caught his eye: symmetry and curves and a mane of dark hair that made the mothers on both sides of the soccer field irrationally angry. But he hadn't time to notice more than that. He was coaching his daughter's team.
Seven-year-old Annelise raced along the sea of grass with her eye on the ball, throwingherself between eight-year-old boys nearly twice her size. Waters trotted along behind the pack, encouraging the stragglers and reminding the precocious ones which direction to kick the ball. He ran lightly for his age and sizea year past forty, an inch over six feetand he pivoted quickly enough to ensure soreness in the morning. But it was a soreness that he liked, that reminded him he was still alive and kicking. He felt pride following Annelise down the field; last year his daughter was a shy little girl, afraid to get close to the ball; this year, with her father coaching, she had found new confidence. He sensed that even now, so young, she was learning lessons that would serve her well in the future.
"Out of bounds?" he called. "Blue's ball."
As the opposing team put the ball inbounds, Waters felt the pressure of eyes like fingers on his skin. He was being watched, and not only by the kids and their parents. Glancing toward the opposite sideline, he looked directly into the eyes of the dark-haired woman. They were deep and as dark as her hair, serene and supremely focused. He quickly averted his own, but an indelible afterimage floated in his mind: dusky, knowing eyes that knew the souls of men.
The opposing coach was keeping time for the tied game, and Waters knew there was precious little left. Brandon Davis, his star eight-year-old, had the ball on his toe and was controlling it well, threading it through the mass of opponents. Waters sprinted to catch up. Annelise was close behind Brandon, trying to get into position to receive a pass as they neared the goal. Girls thought more about passing than boys; the boys just wanted to score. But Annelise did the right thing all the same, flanking out to the right as Brandon took a vicious shot at the net. The ball ricocheted off the goalie's shins, right back to Brandon. He was about to kick again when he sensed Annelise to his right and scooped the ball into her path, marking himself as that rarest of boys, one who understands deferred gratification. Annelise was almost too surprised by this unselfishness to react, but at the last moment she kicked the ball past the goalie into the net.
A whoop went up from the near sideline, and Waters heard his wife's voice leading the din. He knew he shouldn't show favoritism, but he couldn't help running forward and hugging Annelise to his chest.
"I got one, Daddy!" she cried, her eyes shining with pride and surprise. "I scored!"
"You sure did."
"Brandon passed it to me!"
"He sure did."
Sensing Brandon behind him, Waters reached back and grabbed the boy's hand and lifted it skyward along with Annelise's, showing everyone that it was a shared effort.
"Okay, de-lense!" he shouted.
His team raced back to get into position, but the opposing coach blew his whistle, ending the game with a flat, half-articulated note.
The parents of Waters's team streamed onto the field, congratulating the children and their coach, talking happily among themselves. Waters's wife, Lily, trundled forward with the ice chest containing the postgame treats: POWERade and Oreos. As she planted the Igloo on the ground and removed the lid, a small tornado whirled around her, snatching bottles and blue bags from her hands. Lily smiled up from the chaos, silently conveying her pride in Annelise as male hands slapped Waters's back. Lily's eyes were cornflower blue, her hair burnished gold and hanging to her shoulders. In moments like this, she looked as she had in high school, running cross-country and beating all comers. The warmth of real happiness welled in Waters at the center of this collage of flushed faces, grass stains, skinned knees, and little Jimmy O'Brien's broken tooth, which had been lost during the second quarter and was now being passed around like an artifact of a historic battle.
"Hell of a season, John!" said Brandon Davis's father. "Only one more game to go."
"Today was a good day."
"How about that last pass?"
"Brandon's got good instincts."
"You better believe it," insisted Davis. "Kid's got a hell of a future. Wait till AYA football starts."
Waters wasn't comfortable with this kind of talk. In truth, he didn't much care if the kids won or lost. The point at this age was fun and teamwork, but it was a point a lot of parents missed.
"I need to get the ball," he said by way of excusing himself.
He trotted toward the spot where the ball had fallen when the whistle blew. Parents from the opposing team nodded to him as they headed for their cars, and a warm sense of camaraderie filled him. This emerald island of chalked rectangles was where it was happening today in Natchez, a town of twenty thousand souls, steeped in history but a little at a loss about its future. In Waters's youth, the neighborhoods surrounding these fields had housed blue-collar mill workers; now they were almost exclusively black. Twenty years ago, that would have made this area off limits, but today there were black kids on his soccer team, a mark of change so profound that only people who had lived through those times really understood its significance. Before he knew why, Waters panned his eyes around the field, sensing an emptiness like that he felt when he sighted a cardinal landing outside his office window and, looking closer at the smear of scarlet, saw only the empty space left after the quick beat of wings. He was looking for the dark-haired woman, but she was gone.
He picked up the ball and jogged back to his group, which stood waiting for concluding remarks before splitting up and heading for their various neighborhoods.
"Everybody played a great game," he told them, his eyes on the kids as their parents cheered. "There's only one more to go. I think we're going to win it, but win or lose, I'm taking everybody to McDonald's after for a Happy Meal and ice cream."
"Yaaaaaay!" screamed ten throats in unison.
"Now go home and get that homework done!"
The parents laughed and shepherded their kids toward the SUVs, pickups, and cars parked along the sideline.
Annelise walked forward. "You blew it at the end, Daddy."
"You don't have that much homework."
"No, but the third-graders have a lot."
Waters squeezed her shoulders and stood, then took the Igloo from his wife and softly said, "Did we have homework in second grade?"
Lily leaned in close. "We didn't have homework until sixth grade."
"Yeah? Well, we did all right."
He took Annelise's hand and led her toward his muddy Land Cruiser. A newly divorced mother named Janie somebody fell in beside Lily and started to talk. Waters nodded but said nothing as Janie began a familiar litany of complaints about her ex. Annelise ran ahead, toward another family whose car was parked beside the Land Cruiser. Alone with his thoughts for the first time in hours, Waters took a deep breath of cool air and savored the between-ness of the season. Someone was grilling meat across the road, and the scent made him salivate.
Turning toward the cooking smell, he saw the dark-haired woman walking toward him. She was twenty feet away and to his right, moving with fluid grace, her eyes fixed on his face. He felt oddly on the spot until he realized she was headed back to the now-empty soccer field. He was about to ask her if she'd lost her keys when she tilted her head back and gave him a smile that nearly stopped him in his tracks.
Waters felt a wave of heat rush from his face to his toes. The smile withheld nothing: her lips spread wide, revealing perfect white teeth; her nostrils flared with feline excitement; and her eyes flashed fire. He wanted to keep looking, to stop and speak to her, but he knew better. It's often said that looking is okay, but no wife really believes that. He nodded politely, then looked straight ahead and kept moving until he passed her. Yet his mind could not recover as quickly as his body. When Lily leaned toward Janie to say something, he glanced back over his shoulder.
The dark-haired woman was doing the same. Her smile was less broad now, but her eyes still teased him, and just before Waters looked away, her lips came together and formed a single wordunvocalized, but one he could not mistake for any other.
"Soon," she said without sound.
And John Waters's heart stopped.
He was a mile from the soccer field before he really started to regain his composure. Annelise was telling a story about a scuffle between two boys at recess, and mercifully, Lily seemed engrossed.
"Hey, we won," she said, touching her husband's elbow. "What's the matter?"
Waters's mind spun in neutral, searching for a reasonable explanation for his trancelike state. "It's the EPA investigation."
Lily's face tightened, and her curiosity died, as Waters had known it would. An independent petroleum geologist, Waters owned half of a company with more than thirty producing oil wells, but he now lived with a sword hanging over his head. Seventeen years of success had been thrown into jeopardy by a single well that might have leaked salt water into a Louisiana rice farmer's fields. For two months, the EPA had been trying to determine the source of the leak. This unpleasant situation had been made potentially devastating by Waters's business partner's failure to keep their liability insurance up to date, and since the company was jointly owned, Waters would suffer equally if the EPA deemed the leak their fault. He could be wiped out.
"Don't think about it," Lily pleaded.
For once, Waters wasn't. He wanted to speak of comforting trivialities, but none came to him. His composure had been shattered by a smile and a soundless word. At length, in the most casual voice he could muster, he said, "Who was that woman who looked at me when we were leaving?"
"I thought you were looking at her," Lily said, proving yet again that nothing got by her.
"Come on, babe ... she just looked familiar."
"Eve Sumner." A definite chill in the voice. "She's a real estate agent."
Now he remembered. Cole Smith, his partner, had mentioned Eve Sumner before. In a sexual context, he thought, but most of what Cole mentioned had a sexual context, or a sexual subtext.
"I think Cole's mentioned her."
"I'll bet he has. Evie really gets around, from what I understand."
Waters looked over at his wife, wondering at the change in her. A few years ago, she never made this sort of comment. Or maybe she hadmaybe it was her tone that had changed. It held a bitterness that went along with the now-perpetual severity in her face. Four years ago, the smiling girlish looks that had lasted to thirty-five vanished almost overnight, and the bright eyes dulled to an almost sullen opacity. He knew the date by heart, though he didn't like to think about the reason.
"How old is she?" he asked.
"How old did she look to you?"
Potential minefield. "Um ... forty-two?"
Lily snorted. "More like thirty-two. She probably wants to sell our house out from under us. She does that all the time."
"Our house isn't for sale."
"People like Eve Sumner think everything has a price."
"She sounds like Cole."
"I'm sure they have a lot in common." Lily cut her eyes at him in a way that as much as said, I'm sure Cole has slept with her. Which was a problem for Waters, since his business partner wasnominally at leasta happily married father of three. But this was a problem he was accustomed to dealing with. Cole Smith had been cheating on his wife since the honeymoon ended, but he'd never let it interfere with his marriage. Cole's chronic philandering was more of a problem for Waters, who not infrequently found himself in the position of having to cover for a friend and partner whose actions he deplored. On another day he might have given a token grunt of skepticism in response to Lily's assumption, but his patience with his partner had worn thin of late.
He swung the Land Cruiser around a dawdling log truck on Highway 61 and tried to clear his mind. There was a low-grade buzz deep in his brain, a hum of preoccupation set off by Eve Sumner's smile but which had nothing to do with Eve Sumner. The smile on her face had risen straight from Waters's past; the word she'd silently spoken echoed in a dark chamber of his heart. Soon....
"Damn," he said under his breath.
"What is it?" asked Lily.
He made a show of looking at his watch. "The Jackson Point well. Cole called and said it may come in about three in the morning. I'm probably going to have to log it tonight." Logging a well was the task of the geologist, who read complex measurements transmitted by an instrument lowered to the bottom of a newly drilled well in order to determine whether there was oil present. "There's some stuff I need to do at the office before I go out to the rig."
Lily sighed. "Why don't you swing by now and pick up your maps and briefcase? You can make your phone calls from home."
Waters knew she had made this suggestion without much hope. Whenever he logged wells, he had a ritual of spending time alone. Most geologists did, and he was thankful for that today.
"I won't be more than an hour," he said, a twinge of guilt going through him. "I'll drop you guys off and be home as quick as I can."
"Daddy!" objected Annelise. "You have to help with my homework."
Waters laughed. His daughter needed no help with homework; she just liked him sitting close by in the hour before bedtime. "I'll be back before you know it."
"I know what that means."
"I promise," he insisted.
Annelise brightened. Her father kept his promises.
* * *
Lily and Annelise waved as Waters pulled away from Linton Hill, the house that was not for sale, an antebellum home he'd bought five years ago with the proceeds from a well in Franklin County. Linton Hill wasn't a palace like Dunleith or Melrose, but it had four thousand square feet with detached slave quarters that Waters used as a home office, and many small touches of architectural significance. Since they moved in, Lily had been leading a one-woman campaign to have the house placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and victory seemed close. Having grown up in a clapboard house less than a mile from Linton Hill, Waters usually felt pride when he looked at his home. But today, watching his rearview mirror, he barely saw the place. As soon as Lily led Annelise up the steps, his mind began to run where it had wanted to for the past ten minutes.
"I imagined it," he murmured.
But the old pain was there. Dormant for two decades, it remained stubbornly alive, like a tumor that refused to metastasize or to be absorbed. Waters gave the Land Cruiser some gas and headed downtown, toward the north side, where live oaks towered overhead like the walls of a great tunnel. Most houses here were tall Victorian gingerbreads, but there were also plain clapboards and even shotgun shacks. Natchez was a lot like New Orleans on this side: half-million-dollar mansions stood yards away from crumbling row houses that wouldn't bring thirty thousand.
Excerpted from sleep no more by GREG ILES. Copyright © 2002 by Greg Iles. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are Saying About This
"A dazzling combination of guilt, obsessions and suspicion." - ST. Petersburg Times
"Erotic, shocking, pulse-racing." - The Clarion-Ledger
"This novel should come with a red wrapper marked DANGER: HIGH EXPLOSIVES." - Steven King