Jim Stone finally becomes the central character in Gemstone, my novel in work and the one I wanted to write from the start. Because it is to be saga length, the complexity and detail is tedious as I strive to make it an important work, to me anyhow, and hopefully for my publisher and the reading public. Currently, the completed word count is greater than my first novel/novella, The Outlander, and I anticipate it could end up twice the word count of Assassination Safari. My character, Jim Stone, as a young man arrives in South Africa in the mid 1950s. His life and adventures run through current times; the ending not really in sight because I haven’t come the The End. When I do, the era of Jim Stone’s saga will correspond to the era of South Africa in the news at the time. The following compacted excerpt shows the beginning of Jim Stone becoming the force in Africa that I foresee:
EXCERPT, GEMSTONE, a novel in work, by Jim Woods
The Liverpool-registered freighter Frances Newton was outfitted with eight passenger cabins on the second deck, one level safely removed from the sometimes-perilous cargo handling operations topside. Never in the ship’s thirty-two year years of service had it sailed with all cabins occupied. When the ship was commissioned the owners had visions of adventurous travelers willing to pay lucrative fees for leisurely passage to distant, obscure, exotic and sometimes surprise-scheduled destinations. They miscalculated; the bare-and-spare Newton just could not compete with the cruise liners that offered dance floors, intimate cocktail lounges and midnight buffets.
Passenger amenities on board the Newton were limited to eating at officer’s mess, a library of well-used paperback books, several decks of equally well-thumbed playing cards, a checker board, a chess set and ample opportunities for carnal encounters with the mostly-Irish boiler tenders and British deckhands. Captain Perkins had observed over the past seventeen years— he was only the second skipper of the Newton since it first was launched— that the worst offenders of the latter were married women traveling with their husbands, older women traveling with like companions, and young men traveling alone. The occasional younger single women, or married women who booked single-cabin passage, seemed to gravitate to officers. The American, Jim Stone, was neither passenger nor crew nor officer of the Frances Newton, yet he was all three.
“This is the Captain. All hands stand-to for docking. Attention, all passengers and crew. We have stopped just outside of Table Bay. The South African customs inspector and the Cape Town harbor pilot will come on board shortly; their boat is coming alongside just now…. Passports and customs declaration forms must be ready for the inspector. Thank you for your cooperation. We will get underway shortly after the pilot is aboard and should tie up starboard-side-to at Duncan Dock, Berth B, in less than an hour.”…Jim Stone gathered up his possessions, a Navy-issue olive-green duffel bag that held his clothes and personal effects; a newly sewn bleached-white canvas, draw-string-top duffel that contained his bedroll; and a scuffed leather rifle case that protected the Springfield….
…The other ship in Jim Stone’s life and career, the U.S.S. Harry E. Hubbard, had docked at U.S. Naval Station, Long Beach, after a six-month cruise that started from the Philippines, and included the stretch of sixty-six days at sea, then stopovers at Okinawa, Darwin and Queenstown in Australia, Western Samoa, Hawaii and finally home. The destroyer was scheduled for major and lengthy refitting in dry dock and most of the crew had been reassigned. Jim Stone’s enlistment was up in twenty-one days so he was assigned to a transit barracks along with other short-timers, for processing out.…He seldom went off base in the evenings when seemingly all the rest of the Long Beach-based sailors were competing for the waterfront district’s bar stools and bar girls. On his thirteenth day in the city, in a coffee shop, he met up with his destiny.
“I beg your pardon, but I noticed your insignia. Your specialty is electronics, is that correct?”
“Yes, my rate is Electronics Technician First Class. From your accent, I’d guess you’re Brit. I don’t recognize your bars though so I assume you’re not Navy. Can I do something for you?”
“I hope so. My name is Brill, Nathan Brill, and I’m South African, actually. I’m Second Officer on a British freighter though, the Frances Newton.”
“Sorry, I don’t recognize your ship either. Should I?”
“No reason for you to. It’s a grubby little tub. I’m the navigation officer. Know anything about loran?”
“As a matter of fact I do…. What are the symptoms?”
“That should make it easy. It almost has to be a power-supply tube.”
“That’s what I thought too, but when I replaced the high-voltage rectifier that tested bad, it blew right out again. Besides, it was sick before it died.”
“Don’t you have a radio-tech aboard?”
“Ag, he went ashore four days ago and we haven’t heard from him since. Cap’n figures he jumped ship. We notified the port authorities but the bleddy oke is Canadian. We figure he has just headed home, didn’t want to go to South Africa. He has his passport and it’s easy enough for a Canadian to cross the border.”
“If you’d like, I’ll take a look. Do you have spares?”
“We’re equipped . . . just nobody who knows how to use them. When could you come aboard?”
…“We are indebted to you Mister Stone. Second Officer Brill tells me you are quite talented. You have impressed him with your skills. He is very dependent on the loran. Edward,” his command directed to a Negro messman, “another cup of tea for Mister Stone.”
“Thank you Captain Perkins. I was glad to be able to help. Will you be signing-on another radio technician before you leave Long Beach?”
“Not likely. That’s a Third Officer’s berth. It would be difficult if not impossible to find a qualified man in the short time we have left here . . . knock wood that we will be departing shortly….We’ll sail short-handed and bring our complement up to standard once we are back in Southampton. Or perhaps I’ll find one in Cape Town who wishes to return to England.”
“What about me for that job . . . until you reach South Africa?”
“Are you thinking of deserting the U.S. Navy, Mister Stone? And do you have maritime papers? You can’t just sign on as a crew member these days without papers, especially to fill an officer’s billet . . . not like it was when I first went to sea.”
“I’m not thinking of deserting sir, but I’m scheduled to be discharged in eight days . . . and basically I have no place to go, and nobody who particularly cares where I wind up. South Africa sounds like a good spot for me to look over.”
“What about a passport?
“That would be a problem. I don’t have one; never needed one before, but there is an immigration office in Los Angeles. I could try….”
“There’s still the problem of officer’s papers that you would need. No one sails without papers.”
“I won’t spend the time and energy trying to get a passport on short schedule if you can’t get me on board as crew. What do you say?”
“Mister Stone,” Captain Perkins asserted after a lengthy and contemplative silence, “you get your passport and I’ll get you on board as a passenger. I’ll trade you passage to Cape Town for your skills in electronics repair, and I promise you, you’ll earn your keep. There’re a lot of tired electrical systems on this tired old bucket.”
“What about your sailing date?”
“We have missed it already and our manifest is still not complete. I’ll give you your eight days. Get yourself a passport and I’ll find a berth for you. You may require a visa to enter South Africa as well. Let me pull a string or two in that regard. I’ll call in a favor.”
Jim Stone cajoled the sympathetic manager in the passport office to give his application priority, and his passport had come through in ten days, four days after he had become a civilian once again, his four-year enlistment having been shortened by two days in a burst of efficiency by the Navy personnel office. With his final regular pay and the mustering-out bonus, he felt rich with four hundred and twenty dollars-and-change in his pockets. He was relieved that the Springfield was still in the gun shop. He coveted it from the first time he had examined it, but with not enough money at the time, and no immediate need for the rifle, and no place to keep it even if he had the money and the need--barracks personnel couldn’t keep private firearms on base--he had been certain that someone else, better heeled, would have snatched the prize from him.…
…Jim presented his two sea bags to customs, but the officer was more interested in the rifle. He examined it carefully, recording the serial number and caliber, and asked about ammunition for it. … “You will be on safari then, while you are in South Africa?” the inspector queried.
Jim surprised himself he when responded affirmatively; up until now he had thought idly of shooting an unspecified African animal but had not considered himself to be “on safari.” He savored the sound of it, then when he volunteered to the customs inspector that he may plan on staying longer, even permanently, the officer explained that to stay longer than just a visit required not only a visa but proof of funds to support himself for an extended period, and if he actually took a job in the country, additional immigration and work permits were necessary. Reading into Jim’s reaction concerning the state of his finances that perhaps the personable young American did not have very much money, the officer conspiratorially told Jim that he would waive the five-pounds-Sterling fee that normally must be paid by visitors entering the country. He wished Jim good hunting, and waved him off the ship....
Jim Woods has published some four hundred articles in national magazines, contributed to various fact and fiction anthologies, and is the author of sixteen print and e-books with treatments ranging from writing tutorial to fictional political assassination. He’s a current world traveler, so far having logged his presence in eighty countries. He also is a former Editor, Managing Editor and Editorial Director with (then) Petersen Publishing Company of Beverly Hills—Guns & Ammo and Petersen’s Hunting magazines; and Senior Field Editor with (then) Publishers Development Corporation, San Diego—Guns and Shooting Industry magazines. He’s a former big-game hunter and has written extensively on African safari, both the hunting and camera varieties. He lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona.