Tom had known of this familial connection since he was old enough to block-letter his name. It had always inspired him to earn his living with words. For Twain had also been a journalist, starting at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, before going on to fame, fortune, bankruptcy, and then fame and fortune again.
Tom, for his part, had been imprisoned twice by terrorist groups and very nearly killed half a dozen times covering a variety of wars, skirmishes, coups, and revolutions that "civilized" societies used to settle their differences. He'd seen hope replaced with terror, terror replaced with anger, anger replaced with - well, nothing, for the anger always seemed to stick around and make trouble for everybody.
Though he'd won major awards, he believed he wasn't a writer with the ability to create memorable prose that would stand tall and strong over the eons. Not like Mark Twain. Yet to have even a marginal connection to the creator of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, a man whose work was timeless, made Tom feel wonderfully, if vicariously, special.
Shortly before he died, Tom's father had asked his son to finish something that, according to legend, Twain never had. As his father told it, Mark Twain, who probably traveled more than any man of his time, had taken a transcontinental railroad trip over the Christmas season during the latter part of his life, his so called dark years. Apparently he'd wanted to see some good in the world amid all the tragedy he and his family had suffered. He'd supposedly taken extensive notes about the trip but for some reason had never distilled them into a story. That's what Tom's father had asked him to do: take the train ride, write the story, finish what Twain never had, and do the Langdon side of the family proud.
At the time Tom had just finished a frantic twenty-hour plane odyssey from overseas to see his dad before he passed. When Tom heard his mumbled request, he was struck dumb.
Travel across the country on a train during Christmas, to finish something Mark Twain allegedly hadn't? He had thought his father delirious with his final suffering, and so his dad's wish went unfulfilled. Yet now, because he could no longer fly in the Lower Forty-eight unless he was fingerprinted and shackled, he was finally going to take that trip for his old man, and maybe for himself too.
Over almost three thousand miles of America, he was going to see if he could find himself. He was doing it during the Christmas season because that was supposed to be a time of renewal and, for him perhaps, a last chance to clean up whatever mess he'd made of himself. At least he was going to try.
However, had he known what life-altering event would happen to him barely two hours after he boarded the train, he might have opted to walk to California instead.
Copyright © 2002 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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