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First pages

There is in life only one moment and in eternity only one. It is so brief that it is represented by the fleeting of a luminous mote through the thin ray of sunlight-- and it is visible but a fraction of a second. The moments that preceded it have been lived, are forgotten and are without value; the moments that have not been lived have no existence and will have no value except in the moment that each shall be lived. While you are asleep you are dead; and whether you stay dead an hour or a billion years the time to you is the same.

 

Mark Twain's Notebook, 1896

Prologue

Call me Mr. Brown.

That’s what the future-great-author calls me most of the time, unless it’s “Mysterious Stranger,” “Phillip Traum,” “#44” or something worse, depending on how funny he thinks he is that day. He hasn't yet called me Young Satan - and Mephistopheles is a mouthful in Manhattan, as the expression goes. In all his long-winded monologues I don't seem to have any physical description – perhaps because he's embarrassed by any association. The future-great-author will try to write me up as a buffoon whose coarseness and bumbling set up his witty critiques of the world and his fellow travelers in life. He also finds it useful to have me appear in his writings using different forms at different times.

Come to think of it, I agree with that approach, since it also serves my ends and that of my Uncle Lucifer, who is always my devilish inspiration. In my role it helps to have people guessing what I look like. They often come up with the most far-fetched, frightening images – horns and all that. Or they go to the opposite extreme and think I'm slickly handsome and debonair a la Rhett Butler, or silver-tongued a la Ronald Reagan. I can choose any image, but the truth is I usually prefer to be more incognito and everyman.

Clemens, or Sammy as I call him so as not to confuse him with another uncle who goes by the name of Sam, likes to play the same game. Ever wonder how someone from such low beginnings, a nearly uneducated hick from the Mississippi River sticks (or is that Styx?) could rise to be seen as a literary genius, the father of American literature, a public speaker much-in-demand worldwide? How would this commoner be chosen to dine with kings, queens, prime ministers, generals, sultans, multi-millionaires and robber barons? How would he become friends with, or greatly influence, intellectuals such as Sigmund Freud, Nikola Tesla, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Charles Darwin, William James, Karl Marx, Ulysses Grant and the list will probably keep growing long after he is molding away in the grave.

The answers aren't just about good marketing – though Sammy wasn't a slouch in that category - despite his aw shucks, down-home, everyman act. His growing love for white suits and expensive cigars should have been a tip off. In all honesty, I'd say he was a huckster, who was known to occasionally go so far as to plant friends in the audience to applaud wildly during his speeches. But there was something else going on, and I'm not the first to suggest it included more divine help than he ever wanted to admit.

His self-righteous sarcasm can’t be taken too seriously, coming as it does from someone who probably stole his pen-name from a fellow riverboat pilot who also dabbled in writing. Mark Twain, indeed! Did he really believe he was the first person to think that measurement of a river’s depth would float as an amusing moniker? But I suppose it was better than some of his earlier efforts like “Josh” and “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.”

Once in a while I have to remind him of that embarrassing bit of his literary history, just like I remind him that his lofty ideas about world peace, ending imperialism and bringing genuine honesty to daily human interactions are built on their own sandbars of wishful thinking. They’ll soon be washed away in the next flood of greed and lust. The future-great-author already makes me laugh - though for reasons very different than those rubes who consider him a humorist. I know how dark his thoughts will eventually become once he gets a little worldly experience.

I have an eternity of experience myself working for my Uncle L., taking advantage of suckers who grow embittered and are eventually ready to turn their souls over for a song. It’s often the song of a siren, but other times that of jingling coins, a bugle call of power, or a choir of sycophants. The human soul usually comes cheap one way or another and I know we'll find his price too.

There will come a time, much later in his life, when Twain finally writes about meeting and selling his soul to Satan. He tries to make like it's a joke, describing how “Steel was down, so was St. Paul, it was the same with all the desirable stocks.” So he sent word through the local agent in Vienna (“Mr. Blank” he called me that time) that he wanted a meeting with my master, Uncle L., to discuss a business proposition. The premise was that he would make the trade in return for untold wealth and material success.

Clemens thought he was being cute. Just about everyone knows he was never anything but a loser when it came to business investments. Typesetting machines, adjustable straps for garments to replace suspenders, a history trivia game and a self-pasting scrapbook were among his brainstorms that pretty much bankrupted him.

Anyone could see the devil hadn't successfully captured Mark Twain with that particular hook. In fact, it was insulting to consider we'd had any role in that mess. We have our reputation to think about, you know.

No, Sammy was trying to throw everyone off track so they wouldn't look closer at the vulnerabilities of his soul.

In the very same 1904 story, Twain would describe both meeting with Satan and the Prince of Darkness’ physical description. It was summarily silly with lots of talk about how he didn’t appear as a blazing red torch most humans envision him as. Instead, he was a “softly glowing” incandescent green that came from his true essence - of radium! Ha! It was a phantasmagorical description that supposedly came from Clemens' reading a couple articles about Madame Curie. As if.

But what is truly revealing about Twain's writing was how he quoted Satan, describing the potential and dangers of this only recently discovered radioactive element. “In radium, this lady has added a new world to the planet's possessions, and matched –Columbus-- and his peer,” Lucifer said, referring to a physical power that could replace the need for coal in powering the world's machinery. Twain's story goes on to quote the Prince of Darkness warning of an explosive power that, if uncontrolled, could mean “the world would vanish away of flame and a puff of smoke” and leave “a shower of gray ash.”

Now, I ask the reader how a 19th Century amateur scientist like Sammy Clemens could possibly have had knowledge allowing him to describe the power of an atomic bomb? How could he have foretold the carnage of ground zero? How could he have described fallout and Nuclear Winter? Does it not seem more likely he had help foreseeing the future and the potential of nuclear apocalypse?

But none of this has happened yet, so I should probably start at the beginning to explain my linkage - that I expect will last for eternity - with the great Mark Twain.

It was on a scouting trip to Missouri that he started to show me something. He'd shown potential from early on causing trouble in Hannibal. We started seriously viewing him as a likely draft pick when we heard of Sammy’s plans to travel down the river to catch a boat to South America, where he believed a fortune was to be made harvesting and selling coca leaves. How right he was, though unfortunately Sam Clemens would never become that kind of drug runner.

Like many men, the future-great-author never made it past New Orleans. Our first encounter came when he was an apprentice riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. He'd later claim in one of his far-fetched stories that a Captain named Brown was abusive to his younger brother, Henry, who had come along on trip as a deckhand. So he punched and threw Brown off the boat. Tough guy. Must have been another Mr. Brown on that boat.

Truth was, Clemens also got thrown off the steamer, which later blew up - with his younger brother suffering fatal burns from the explosion. Henry would die in Twain’s arms according to the future-great-author’s later account of life on the Mississippi. You’d think he’d have learned who he was dealing with from that experience alone.

But Sammy stubbornly continued for some time to hold out for a better deal. I decided to walk away and bide my time, waiting for a more opportune moment. All good things come in time - and my Uncle L. and I have all the time in the world.

Clemens and I met up again at the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California about 1863. Yes, that was really the name of the place, but it certainly didn't discriminate as to whether its angels were rising or falling. Believe me, there were plenty of the latter among all the gold-hungry 49er's and the equally crass, materialistic hangers-on who followed to California seeking wealth without the back-breaking trouble of panning or digging for their fortune.

Sammy proved to be one of those after a few months of half-hearted attempts to work for a living gave way to panning for newspaper gold. That might better be called fool’s gold, but he could turn a phrase or two and dreamed he'd write his way to fame and fortune – or at least find some open doors to insider trading or tips to the next big investment goldmine. He also didn’t mind using other people’s ideas in his scribblings.

Historians have noted how Clemens became particularly friendly with a popular writer known as Artemus Ward. Of course, his real name was Browne -Charles Farrar Browne, and his style and humor was often remarkably similar to that of the aspiring writer, Mark Twain. Browne would help the younger man make connections with a New York publisher, not that Clemens would ever acknowledge his debt. Sammy wasn’t big on gratitude - which, of course, only intrigued Uncle L. and I all the more.

One night, over a whiskey, I spun him a little yarn about a frog-jumping contest. He was quick to slap the Mark Twain nom de plume on it and claim credit even though he’d likely never heard of Calaveras County at that point in his life. Yet, he shamelessly rode the account to his first fame, calling me Jim Smiley in the published story and never saying thanks - nor signing in blood on the dotted line. I could have given him plenty more stories, but he clearly wasn't ready for, or deserving of, our help quite yet.

As we've already established in relation to his finances, Sammy either wouldn't know, or wouldn't easily accept good advice. It was part of Twain's know-it-all attitude. He had the need to be the smartest kid on the block. That would be part of his downfall - his hubris – and our opening. My Uncle L. knew a few things about pride from way, way back.

The other obvious opening to Twain was his wanderlust. He was still young and it came naturally. Being on the move as a steamboat pilot would always be his ideal job, but that wasn't going too well with the Mississippi River shut down by the Civil War. So he headed west. Sammy always had an itch to see around the next curve, or over the mountain, or across a body of water. His curiosity caused him to never be satisfied to settle for a normal life or easy answers.

We could also work with that.

By now Clemens had moved on to San Francisco where he hung out with the so-called Bohemian crowd. He was doing a freelance gig with a little rag called the Sacramento Union - mostly cute travel pieces about places along the coast, etc. He made a few dollars and a few fans with his corny lines. But I knew he was hungry for something that offered a chance to make bigger waves, so to speak.

So I reintroduced myself, suggesting I had an uncle with unlimited means and an interest in hot real estate who might spring for an all-expense-paid trip to the Sandwich Islands in return for some favors. Clemens gave no sign of catching on. In fact, he first responded with a lame joke about not being hungry for fast food, referring to the Hawaiian Islands' old name given by the British. I'm not sure the hick even knew where I was talking about, or up from down, for that matter.

But nevertheless, Sammy took the bait, agreeing to do a series of positive letters about the beauty and culture of the islands. A cruise to Hawaii has hooked more than one fish. Twain was falling in line to be one of my biggest suckers yet – though we just called this one a sampler. No blood oaths or soulful discussions yet.

With our, ahem, help, Sammy had himself a grand time and stories aplenty came from his trip to Hawaii. Classic stuff – horseback riding, surfing, nude swimming. Yeah, that's right. Mark Twain went wild and crazy on his spring break in paradise, even if he when truth be told, he wasn't actually very good at it.

"None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly," he would later write, explaining his spectacular wipeout in the Hawaiian surf. Twain would follow-up by trying join a group of native women swimming in the nude. Upon his arrival, they quickly fled the beach. Too bad he hadn't asked us, we could have set him up with as many swimming companions as he wanted.

Clemens was clearly taken by some of the other experiences we set up to help him “ransack the islands.” We included moonlight horseback riding through a sandy plain that was strewn with human bones - the remains of an ancient battlefield; scaling the summit of Kilauea during a lava eruption and standing at the crater's edge on a foggy night. He attended a torchlight funeral with 2,000 Hawaiians mourning a recently-deceased, beloved princess of the dying kingdom.

Sammy always likes that cultural stuff. It goes well with that man of the people schtick. However, I recall that when it came to real, hands-on action, Twain wasn't crazy about joining me in sharing poi from a communal pot. He wrote about it in a rare moment of full disclosure.

“One tall gentleman, with nothing in the world on but a soiled and greasy shirt, thrust in his finger and tested the poi, shook his head, scratched it with the useful finger, made another test, prospected among his hair, caught something and ate it; tested the poi again, wiped the grimy perspiration from his brow with the universal hand, tested again, blew his nose — 'Let's move on, Brown,' said I, and we moved."

Regardless, Sammy definitely got hooked on the celebrity traveler's lifestyle. No way was he going back to being a small-time journalist after he saw some of what we could offer him. Negotiations started in earnest as soon as we got back from Hawaii.

Some details are still awaiting final approval from my master, as well as signatures by both parties. The basic concepts were made clear before we all left the island of Paradise Lost: we supply Clemens with experiences and stories needed by Mark Twain and he commits his soul to Satan just as he promised that night in Vienna- even though that night hasn’t arrived yet.

Now we're off on the first part of Twain's journey to fame, immortality and Hades! Officially, he's a correspondent for a small time San Francisco rag called the Alta Daily. In actuality he's on his way to becoming a beat writer for the Damnation Daily.

I'll be going along to make sure he doesn't forget the deal. I'll also be doing a bit of double-duty for my other uncle – who some like to call the Great Satan, but who, in the big scheme of things is merely a transitory force. My side job with The Company pays me to keep an eye on things in various places. Sammy’s wanderlust and laughable search for the sources of good and evil is a good cover for my own agendas. We'll work together to spread the American way across the globe. Sammy gets the attention and the royalties, and I keep the royalty in line - along with all the other greasers who try to mess with our new world order. A coup here, an assassination there, is all part of progress and equally serves both uncles.

This little run through the Central American isthmus is a convenient chance to take a look at some hot real estate opportunities being wasted by the current crop of tin-pot dictators. A few of them I may have to help put in line, or even better, see the wisdom of selling their own souls. Most I can throw some crumbs to show them the advantages of being friendly to their northern neighbors and to their um... most southerly ones.

A few may require more serious hard sell actions. I hear some of them may be getting tempted to try something funny like pull off a new canal deal with the Chinese or other foreigner types. We wouldn't want any of that in the good old USA’s backyard! It’s the white man’s burden, and his destiny, to bring some hard realities of progress to the darker parts of the world. At least, that's my Uncle Sam’s storyline. I'll get a chance to refresh my own lines on this trip.

Not that I, or my real master, Uncle L., truly care about racism theories. We're totally equal opportunity when it comes to souls. But in these times, heck any times, divide and conquer is one of the best techniques to get people to do just about anything we want. It's almost as good as religious differences – and they usually work very well together!

We love that ethnic cleansing stuff – greatest recruitment theme (or scheme) humankind ever invented for us! Some places seem to do it better than others, but it happens on every continent. Here in the so-called New World, colonizers were able to nearly wipe out an entire continent of peoples while telling themselves it was a divine calling to create a model for the rest of the world.

Even Sammy thinks Americans are different from the rest, removed from the corruption of history that holds so many others back. His future writings will continue to show that, urging us to stay away from all the royalty, ritual, Pope-ish blather that dragged Europe into the Dark Ages. Americans escaped all that and have their own history to write and culture to corrupt. Modern thinking, which the USA personifies, actually requires forgetting history. My Uncle L., heck both uncles, love - and thrive - on that.

Twain loves to talk and write about being an anti-imperialist, opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land. But how does he figure that commerce, including his books, can safely travel around the world? Or how does he think his opportunity to jump, like that frog he wrote about, to California from a podunk Mississippi River town could have happened without pioneers willing to push their way through a pretty much wasted continent? Indians knew nothing about highest and best use principles, valuing those damn buffalo herds above progress. That's not the American way or my Uncle L.'s way either.

Of course, Twain may think he can bring light and lessons back to teach his fellow Americans about their neighbors – as if they really want to know. “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people,” he says, probably trying to convince himself that all his motives are pure. Or maybe it's simply a naiveté underneath that gruff exterior.

Twain likes to think he can quickly find the measure of any man and believes he'll have me figured out by the time we make it across Central America. He says things like “I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Perhaps he thinks he's going to win me over with his charm and talk himself out of trouble in the end. That would be just like him.

Ha! Even if he could, my Master would certainly hear nothing of it. There isn't going to be another mess up like there was with that Faust guy or that Joe Hardy ballplayer who hated the damn Yankees so much. There's no fancy-talking Daniel Webster lawyer going to win him a reprieve after a day in court. The conclusion of this story is already clear - and the would-be-famous author doesn't get a Hollywood ending. I have no doubt his nice white suit may get more than a little sooty where he’s eventually headed.

Twain will soon learn to give up some of his bleeding heart blather about travel positively changing human nature when he runs into people like the Russian imperial family on vacation. “When you meet a Romanoff, knife him,” the future-great-author will say after that experience. Clemens even became a backer of violent revolution to bring democracy to the land of Czars. How noble. I'll have to ask Anastasia how she feels about the great author next time I see her.

Sammy should know better by now than to think the global village is ever going to become God's peaceable kingdom. He's already lived through a Civil War, even if he managed to duck taking sides. He has seen slavery be uprooted, only to be replaced by new forms of servitude carried out not only in the Old South but also in the North and new territories. The new American masters learned to outsource their plantations to just about anywhere in the world. Corporate interests can now go global whenever need or greed requires. Uncle Sam’s kindly smile has sharp teeth behind it and my Uncle L. loves a world full of Madison Avenue slogans like “Save money, live better.”

Ends justify means for most of us, even if doesn't start that way. When push comes to shove, we tell ourselves that if we have to cut a few corners, so long as it ends up being for a good cause – which always seems to include oneself - those results are what really matters. It's about making choices you know will pay off in the long run. You're certain you'll be able to keep it under control, where others can't.

Being smarter than your neighbor gives you special dispensation to believe your success is good for the whole universe. The best and the brightest are the ones given the responsibility and courage to make the tough decisions for everyone's benefit. At least that's what I used to believe and practice. Of course, that's how my soul and I came to my current damned position. It wasn’t a fate I necessarily wanted, nor one I would advise anyone else to seek.

Twain may try to deny he's chosen the same course, or that he's made a deal with the devil. In fact, I'm sure a wise guy like him will try to find an escape clause. In the story I mentioned earlier, he joked about how he was considering trying to kidnap Satan and hold him ransom for the value of his uranium. He'd corner the market on energy and triple the value with inflated stock. This from a guy who would later mock Wall Street and big business, and write a book called “The Gilded Age.” Probably just jealous.

Twain definitely doesn't yet fully appreciate who he's dealing with making jokes like that about my master. But this little story demonstrates he certainly knows how to look out for number one and do what he feels necessary to get ahead. He wouldn't have considered the deal if he didn't know nice guys usually do finish last.

The route we're going to be traveling is maybe the best example of how history belongs to those who don't let things get in their way. Many of them gold rushers came the same way we'll be going – pushing through Nicaragua using every shortcut to success and not letting anyone or anything get in their way. Hell, that Darwin guy says it’s the natural order that some will succeed only if others die. This jungle we’re going to be going through probably has seen some good examples of that.

Twain clearly agrees in his honest moments. “I believe our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey,” he would write, acknowledging human evolutionary roots.

But Clemens still tries to believe in man’s ability to rise up out of the primordial muck and stand for something. Sammy is a sucker for a happy ending even if he likes to go on about all the flotsam and jetsam floating by on the river of life. He'd write his own version of the Bible if the thumpers would let him get away with it. His alternative version would have blamed God and turned original sin on its head, letting humanity off scot free. Gotta love artistic license!

“Where do we arrive with our respect, our homage, our filial affection? At Adam! At Adam, every time. We can't build a monument to a germ, but we can build one to Adam, who is in the way to turn myth in fifty years and be entirely forgotten in two hundred. We can build a monument and save his name to the world forever, and we'll do it!” Twain said.

It's an interesting argument that I think we'll consider a first down payment on Sammy's debt. While personally, I expect Adam’s name will always be mud, Twain's version of humanism muddies things in a charming way. Finding one's way through the jungle of life can make it difficult to discern good from evil. We rather like it that way.

Time will tell, as they say. I have a feeling this little voyage will reveal who's right. And I’m going to be right there with Sammy to keep an eye and remind him how Adam's trip through paradise ended. We'll cap it off by sealing Twain's own relationship with the snake.

Chapter 1 – Nicaragua route forever

We sat at anchor in the horseshoe bay of San Juan del Sur for a day and a night that seemed like forever to many. Of course some of us have a lot better sense of what eternity really is. The damned envy those who foolishly find boredom in the peacefulness of normal daily activities.

However our voyage had, in truth, been anything but normal. A child died of mysterious causes the first night out from San Francisco, Christmas Eve. That tended to put a damper on the good peoples' holy celebration. But for me, the fun was only beginning. I enjoy seeing people feel what they call “the fear of God.” It makes them more appreciative of a different kind of angel like my Uncle L.

Throughout the rest of the trip down the coastlines of California, then Mexico, then Central American coastlines, the Pacific rarely lived up to its name. A violent storm nearly swamped the America, terrifying passengers and making virtually everyone seasick. The future-great-author was not immune.

Clemens had already made clear his dislike for travel across that body of water. Of course he had to regale with one of his stories that was part history, part blarney.

“We hear all our lives about the 'gentle, stormless Pacific,' and about the 'smooth and delightful route to the Sandwich Islands,' and about the 'steady blowing trades' that never vary, never change, never ''chop around,' and all the days of our boyhood we read how that infatuated old ass, Balboa, looked out from the top of a high rock upon a broad sea as calm and peaceful as a sylvan lake, and went into an ecstasy of delight, like any other Greaser over any other trifle, and shouted in his foreign tongue and waved his country's banner, and named his great discovery 'Pacific' - thus uttering a lie which will go on deceiving generation after generation of students while the old ocean lasts. If I had been there, with my experience, I would have said to this man Balboa, 'Now, if you think you have made a sufficient display of yourself, cavorting around on this conspicuous rock, you had better fold up your old rag and get back into the woods again, because you have jumped to a conclusion, and christened this sleeping boy-baby by a girl's name, without stopping to inquire into the sex of it,'” Twain wrote in a newspaper column back to California.

Not surprisingly, Sammy had been among those unable or afraid to leave his cabin. He should have known with me at his side there was no serious danger to his material self if not his mortal soul. We have much longer-term plans and uses for him on this earth.

Clemens was still a baby-faced looking 32-year-old, with flaming red hair at this point in his life. He was hardly the grizzled veteran traveler and personality he would later be known for worldwide. His writing fame was only just beginning to extend beyond parts of the United States and he hadn't the crowd of admirers at every stop he would later see. But our investment in him was certainly based on more than his looks. We somehow knew the name Mark Twain would one day be an invaluable addition to our stable of brand names if we could just keep the faith, so to speak.

Regardless, at our arrival in Nicaragua there were sudden recoveries amongst all land-lubbers. Weary sea legs yearned to walk over the boat rails across the blue waters onto wide sand beaches we could see surrounded by a semi-circle of verdant, tree-covered hills. Only respect for the Captain’s orders, and another different kind of fear, kept everyone aboard. Any port after a storm was the dominant sentiment of the moment, though personally I was neutral - given that my recruiting efforts have often done well when humans are forced to spend much time together in confined quarters.

But San Juan del Sur's appeal was muted by news of cholera that had arrived the day before. Seems a battalion of troops from New York passing through the Central American isthmus, coming from the other direction, had put the entire seaport in frenzy when they brought along illness. On their way to the old Californy we had recently left, the soldiers had apparently drunk from waters not of the fountain of youth, as Twain put it.

Sammy got all worked up when he heard the news, though it was really nothing modern medicine and people smart enough to use sanitary toilets couldn’t have prevented. He always had a big thing about disease, probably dating from having seen three of his six siblings die in their youth. The future-great-author's explanation tended to be dark and conspiratorial – an interpretation we'd happily see not diminished by later personal tragedies.

“It moves by squad, by company, by battalion, by regiment, by brigade, by division, by army corps; upon occasion it masses its parts and moves upon mankind with its whole strength. It is the Creator's Grand Army, and he is the Commander-in-Chief. Along its battlefront its grisly banners wave their legends in the face of the sun: Disaster, Disease, and the rest,” Clemens would write, later in his life.

My Uncle L. and I loved how he pointed the finger away from us.

Whatever the source, clearly not all was sweetness and light coming from the same Rio San Juan we planned to soon travel. Of course, that didn't surprise me. But Sammy opined that it was not unlike the Spanish conquistadors who had brought disease, death and suffering along with their ideas about progress and mission.

Was he was thinking ahead? Hmmm. No, I expect he was just being his usual sourpuss. You could always count on him to give a light-hearted historical perspective.

Yet this narrative did mesh with my plan to fulfill our end of the Faustian bargain with Twain by supplying him with a bottomless well of stories and encounters. This Nicaraguan river route was full of them. It occurred to me that I could make his cup overflow with waters of knowledge he should not have normally enjoyed. We'd be passing through Edenic jungles in which I could offer forbidden fruit to feed his quest for fame. I would help him bite into the apple of history that so tempted him, and thus learn secrets of the human soul – even as his became darker.

But that would come. For now, we were required to spend the night there within pistol shot of shore as the final days of 1866 wore down. Half the ship's family looked longingly ashore even while fearfully discussing the cholera news. The other half were in the after cabin, singing boisterously and carrying on like princes, as if it was 1999. The dear reader can only guess which group I joined and which the would-be famous author blessed. But suffice to say that Clemens made new literary fans while I enjoyed and helped spread the pleasures of Nicaraguan rum or flor de cana. Alcohol has always been another great recruiting device.

It also provided me with a good, natural cover for one of my favorite unnatural tricks that has befuddled many a weather forecaster. It may seem clichéd to some, but I've always felt the fog of history is both a great technique and metaphor. Most people, and I'd include Sammy Clemens, have memories that easily cloud over much, especially including what they don't want to remember. Others believe they see through everything without noticing what slips by in the shadows. Fog is somehow both enlightening and mystifying at the same time.

The future-great-author would later use it to explain why Huck and Jim could miss their turn toward freedom as they drifted down the Mississippi. Hmmm. I wonder where Twain got that idea?

Regardless, I know that fog regularly lets my Uncle L. and I slip into a lot of places undetected. On this occasion, I brought a wave of brume rolling over the hills and harbor in the early morning hours. It briefly enveloped anyone still awake and sober enough to notice a cold mist that was especially unlikely in such a tropical locale. Some would tell stories the next day of strange dreams and seeing human shapes swirling about through the fog, as if they were trying to find their way through the swirl of time. Such storytellers would however either be laughed at or mocked as drunks who got a bad dose of Nicaraguan moonshine. But they were actually the most prescient ones.

When I mentioned the event to Sammy later he started going on about some dream he had of a guy getting bonked on the head and waking up in medieval England. So I guess my idea was already working in a wacky way. There would be plenty more to come.

In the morning the night's events all seemed nonsensical as the bright sun shone through - exceedingly early for some of us. Even I get hangovers and I always liked darkness anyway. But the good news was that we were now free to go ashore and experience what passed for a cosmopolitan port in those parts. We were rowed to shore in great anticipation of both dry land and carnal pleasures – or at least a home-cooked meal and a clean bed.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I’m a recovering journalist with 30+years covering the waterfront, as well as authoring a biography of former Washington Senators | Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith, "Calvin: Baseball’s Last Dinosaur" (1990). More recently, I published a newspaper focused on Mississippi River communities and owned and managed a coffee shop named Old Man River Cafe. Currently, I'm executive director of non-profit doing work in Nicaragua where I encountered the still beautiful, mysterious Rio San Juan.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
My love of travel and history (M.A. University of Minnesota), along with respect for Mark Twain's writings, came together in this fantasy based on actual characters and events. Clemens' Rio San Jan Juan trip sparked my imagination regarding a timeless theme – temptation and fame can test any soul.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Throughout his life, Twain struggled with religious beliefs & institutions. I hope this fictional tale of how Sammy Clemens began soul-searching while facing the mysterious Mr. Brown's temptations, will tempt readers to consider their beliefs, as well as the impact of history that through the ages.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
It was inspired by Twain's writings, the Rio San Juan's natural beauty and history's lessons from human efforts to capture & tame it. Combining that with Clemens' lifetime of struggle with material and metaphysical issues begged for imagining him traveling down this river, grappling with his devils.

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Wait for the Light
Assisting a celebrity felon is a killer job
The Fallen Child
In dreams may lie reality.