The Legend of Tom Job

A Novel Excerpt

They’re coming for me now — coming for me, coming for us, coming for you, young scribe. You’ll burn with the rest if you don’t set this down right, and in full, and get out before the day rises.

Oh, now, don’t jump, don’t spook, young scribe. You was sent down here to do a job, and you was paid rightly, and handsomely, and you just do what it is we done agreed for you to do, and you do it, before my boy shows up out there to burn us all down. You do your job right, and I will unlock your ankle from that chair, and you can shuffle off with that stack of pages, right on back up the road, give them to Mr. Finly, for him to hold on to.

Seems silly to me, now, to fret a damn minute or lay down dollar one over getting this frightful thing done. I’d probably call it off, if I hadn’t done paid Mr. Finly to send you down here. But that would be money wasted, and a man don’t get to where I am if he don’t feel awful sore about money wasted. Don’t ever leave money on the table, young scribe. Don’t do it.

Of course, of course, the money aint the only reason.

Oh, you know it.

Vanity, vanity. Look where vanity done got me.

Again.

I suppose when you really get down to it, it’s the white man in me that’s so damn vain. Aint nothing in the world more white man vain than to fret over one’s own biography — and on the eve of destruction, no less. And more than that, to fret over the quality of the words writ down to sum up your life. I paid top dollar for Mr. Finly to find me the best damn steno man in the state, to take down all these words, and how many of these words lies?

How many white men in history paid how many dollars to have their lies told, and told well. You think on that, young scribe. Think on the sheer volume of lies told every day. Think how every lie, no matter how little, forms a chain between the liar and the lied-to. A chain of false information, a string of corrupted data, running all the way up and down time. You tell me a lie and I shout it to the world, am I now lying, too? Am I implicated in your falsehood? I suppose I am. And how many of them falsehoods flow on down through the centuries to become — (a long intake of breath through the nose) — my God, but the nearest and dearest things about us? Why we love our country. Why we love our God and hate our enemies. Why we think this over here is right and that over there is wrong.

Even things more personal. Lies of true love and fidelity. Of character, courage. Daddy lied about his bravery in the war, because his daddy lied about his bravery in the war. And when he lied, he told both lies: My daddy did this, and I did that. One great big chain of lies that drags us all the way back to the very first man to ever stare another man face to face and bear false witness against him.

Ah, now, don’t you worry, young scribe. I was just tricking on you! You got nothing to worry about from old Tommy Job! I wouldn’t enlist a man of your sterling record into no conspiracy of faleshood!

I intend to speak the truth.

I aint so white man as to lack all respect.

Mmm-hmm, here you go, young scribe.

Here’s how it starts.

You ready?

I was a king in America.