Excerpt from The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Christmas Train

by David Baldacci

The Christmas Train
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2002, 272 pages
    Nov 2004, 304 pages

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He'd had an opportunity for a wonderful life with another woman but the relationship had, inexplicably, fallen apart. He now fully understood that not marrying Eleanor Carter would forever stand as the major mistake of his life. Yet, ever the man of action, and wanderlust upon him once more, Tom was taking the train to LA for Christmas.

Why the train, one might ask, when there were perfectly good flights that would get him there in a fraction of the time? Well, a guy can only take so many of those airport security search wands venturing into sacrosanct places, or requests to drop trousers in front of strangers, or ransacking of carry-on bags, before blowing a big one. The fact was, he'd blown a big one at La Guardia Airport. Not merely a nuclear meltdown, his detonation resembled something closer to the utter destruction of Pompeii.

He'd just flown in from Italy after researching yet another bit of fluff, this time on wine-making, and imbibing more of the subject matter than he probably should have to get through the ordeal of crash-learning soil diversification and vine rot. As a result, he was tired, cranky, and hung over. He'd slept for three hours at a friend's apartment in New York before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Texas. He'd been given an assignment to write about teen beauty pageants there, which he'd accepted because he enjoyed blood sports as much as the next person.

At the security gate at La Guardia, the search wand had smacked delicate things of Tom's person that it really had no business engaging, socially or otherwise. Meanwhile, another security person managed to dump every single thing from Tom's bag onto the conveyor belt. He watched helplessly as very personal possessions rolled by in front of suddenly interested strangers.

To put a fine finish on this very special moment, he was then informed that a major warning flag had been raised regarding his ID, his hair color, his clothing choice, or the size of his nose. (They were never really clear on that actually.) Thus, instead of flying to Dallas he'd be enjoying the company of a host of FBI, DEA, CIA, and NYPD personnel for an unspecified period of time. The phrase "five-to-ten" was even bandied about. Well, that, coupled with his exploited physical parts, was his absolute limit. So, the lava poured forth.

Langdon was six-feet-two and carried about 220 pounds of fairly hard muscle, and real honest-to-God steam was coming out his ears. His eruption involved language he ordinarily wouldn't use within four miles of any church as he launched himself at the security team, grabbed their infamous search wand, and snapped it right in half. He wasn't proud of his violent act that day, although the rousing cheers from some of the other passengers who had heard and seen what had happened to him did manage to lift his spirits a bit.

Thankfully, the magistrate Tom appeared before had recently endured airport security of an extremely overzealous nature, and when he gave his testimony, she and Tom shared a knowing look. Also, the red flag raised at the security gate had been, shockingly, a mistake. Thus Tom only received a stern warning, with instructions to enroll in anger-management classes, which he planned to do as soon as his uncontrollable urge to maim the fellow with the search wand subsided. However, the other consequence of the blowup was that he'd been banned from placing his miserable person on any air carrier that flew within the continental United States for the next two years. He hadn't thought they could do that, but then he was shown the appropriate statutory power in the microscopic print of the airline's legal manifesto under the equally tiny section titled "Lost Luggage Liability Limit/Five Dollars."

And that's when he had his epiphany. Being unable to fly, his usual and necessary way of traveling, was an omen; it had to be a sign of something divine, something important. Thus he was going to take the train to LA. He was going to write a story about it, traveling by rail from sea to shining sea during the Christmas season. He had a grand motivation, beyond spending the holiday with Lelia. Tom Langdon was one of the Elmira, New York, Langdons. To those with a keen knowledge of literary history, the Elmira Langdons brought to mind Olivia Langdon. Olivia, besides having been a lovely, resilient, if ultimately tragic person in her own right, gained lasting fame by marrying the loquacious orator, irascible personality, and prolific scribe known to his friends as Samuel Clemens, but otherwise known to the world and to history as Mark Twain.

Copyright © 2002 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.

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