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Jim Woods

Jim Woods, Author of So you Want to be An Author?
Jim Woods wrote novels and short stories, many of which stand alone, while others are assembled into collections, in worldwide milieus. He was a world traveler, having researched numerous exotic locales as settings for his stories. Much of his world travel was for big game hunting which, coupled with his background as editor with Petersen’s Hunting, Guns & Ammo and Guns magazines, frequently allowed him to bring firearms into play in his tales. Jim Woods passed away October 8, 2012; he lived and wrote in Tucson.

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New Title(s) from Jim Woods

So You Want to be an Author? by Jim Woods Hits and Misses by Jim Woods Women with Weapons by Jim Woods Toys, Lights and Trinkets by Jim Woods Oxwagon by Jim Woods The Outlander by Jim Woods My Journey by Jim Woods 

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So You Want to be an Author? by Jim Woods
English usage and grammar textbooks, at least those volumes when in paper print, are so big, so heavy…so complete. Students toting books and laptops in backpacks need relief, just as home authors can use more space on their reference bookshelves. So, You Want To Be an Author? takes up little space and weight but most importantly provides immediate answers to questions about grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing style. No searching through voluminous chapters in textbooks or scrolling incessant computer files. Pick a subject and go right to it for realistic examples of literary usage drawn from the author’s more than four decades working both sides of the editorial desk. Let his experience as magazine Editor, Managing Editor, Editorial director; independent book editor; and his four hundred articles and thirteen books as a fellow author, be your compact and shortcut guide along the path to literary success.

Word Count: 31,000
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99

Hits and Misses by Jim Woods  These accounts of shooting birds and hunting big game mostly relate the author’s adventures in North America—Canada and The United States. Game species encountered, or hoped to encounter, include mule deer, whitetail deer, blacktail deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bear, turkey and geese. But by convenience, and necessity because all his hunts don’t fit neatly into the confines of North America, and the author had no other place to tell a couple of unique hunt stories, this volume also includes reports of dove hunting in Honduras and red stag in Spain. Mainly, this collection tells the story of one hunter who just happened to be a writer and whose job sometimes required him to go hunting, making him, if not a PH (professional hunter) then perhaps a PTPH (part-time) or a SPH (semi). Either way, for him it was a dream job.

Word Count: 35000
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99

Women with Weapons by Jim Woods
Three separate women with separate stories; all with guns, all with a mission. Marlene as “The Husband Hunter” had a husband but couldn’t keep him, but found him after years and a global search, and then didn’t want him... alive. Veronica simply was misguided; her sole and desperate interest was protection of her family against imagined evils, but she was set straight following a neighborhood encounter where “The Streetwalker’s Price” was a life-preserving lesson. “A Gun in the House” offers a sense of security and comfort, and protection against intruders, but Constance testifies not all the threat comes from outside the home.

Word Count: 12,750
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99
Toys, Lights and Trinkets by Jim Woods  The stories in this eclectic trilogy are unrelated, except for their setting at the end of year holiday season. The first must be saddled with the based on true events disclaimer; the next is related just the way it really happened; and the last story is pure fantasy.

Word Count: 8000
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99
Oxwagon by Jim Woods  The story opens with a very strange cargo for an oxwagon driver—the comatose body of a woman whose passage is paid by a man fearing for his life. When the driver takes on the load, he also takes on unexpected adventure for everyone involved on the long and perilous overland trip.

Word Count: 22900
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99
The Outlander by Jim Woods
Ever wish you could call back a promise you've made? David Stone, American, has adopted South Africa as his home and Marjie van der Leun as his lover. It's an on-again, off-again affair, but during one of the on-again stages, David made a commitment which would come back to haunt him. In a reckless moment, David said he would kill for her. Now Marjie wants to call in that favor.

The arrangement involves a lot of money and once David is "in for a penny, he is in for a pound," as the saying goes.

The plot thickens, Marjie is prosecuted for the murder and David thinks he has gotten away... until...

Word Count: 50000
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $ .99
My Journey by Jim Woods  Jim Woods was a sports hunter writer, outdoorsman and game hunter. Follow his journey from his early beginnings in the Navy through many hunting adventures, both in the Eastern and Western hemispheres as he searches for and bags trophy game.

Word Count: 98600
Buy at: Smashwords (all formats) ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Amazon
Price: $5.99


So You Want to be an Author?

Introduction To The Real World Of Publishing

Acquisition Editors at the book publishing houses, and literary agents, big and small, are overloaded with work. Thanks to the computer age, thousands upon tens of thousands of manuscripts are submitted to them every year, and the numbers continue to grow. While the publishers are reducing their payrolls by cutting down on staff just to stay afloat in a tenuous economy, the agencies, many of which are single-staff proprietors, simply cannot handle the increase of prospective work that crosses their transoms. Reduced editorial staffs and inundated agents coupled with the ever-increasing numbers of submissions to those offices have resulted in a logjam of manuscripts that seems to grow in quantum leaps.

It doesn’t take much of a perceived problem with a manuscript to cause it to be tossed out as unworthy of the editor or agent’s already crowded work schedule; they look for reasons to diminish the backlog. It may be the cover letter; it could be the paper stock on which the manuscript is printed; but more than likely it’s the grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage and structure of the first two or three pages... and that’s all that will ever be read!

The first strategy in combating the problem, to allow the editor or agent to get further into the story to find out how really great it is, is to ensure that grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage and structure are as perfect as they can be made to be, by double and triple pre-editing before submitting the manuscript.

We’re not talking style or storyline here; no amount of diligent copy-editing will build a stronger plot or develop more interesting characters. Those must come first with talent (which, of course, we all have in abundance), then guidance from qualified instructors and critics (not your spouse or best friend), and then the tedious re-write(s).

It could appear to some that the answer to getting published is simply to circumvent the overcrowded, overworked system, and become your own publisher. The proliferation of information technology has spawned numerous avenues for self-publishing. According to which publishing newsletter or website to which you subscribe, there are perhaps half a million or several million self-published or vanity-published or web-published book titles on the market. However, the buying public can be just as critical if not more so than the professional editor or agent. A poorly done book, poorly written and poorly edited, will quickly get the bad name that will inhibit future sales. Self-publishing is not altogether an ill-conceived idea, but putting out a nonprofessional book, regardless of the publication and distribution media, is bad for the industry and the author.

Subsequent sectors in this book will offer tips and insights on, and examples of, those little glitches and gremlins that can turn an editor or publisher away from your own potentially great article, short story or novel. Of course, any advice treatment must include a disclaimer:

This book is not an English, grammar, spelling or punctuation textbook for the classroom. It does, however, serve as a useful adjunct to those textbooks, and reflects the practical side to all those literary disciplines as viewed by an author/editor who has worked both sides of the editorial desk for a lifetime. Teaching professionals will view the lessons presented here as incomplete, and that would be true if it were intended to be a course-study textbook. It does not pretend to contain all the answers to writing in the English language, but rather is designed, by use of examples and referral to the author’s personal experiences as both editor and author, to make writers think on their own and produce manuscripts less likely to be rejected prematurely. If you remember no other rule of commercial writing, it is this: The Editor is always right.

Back to So You Want to be an Author?

Hits and Misses

Honk If You Love Geese

Choosing a favorite big game species is a difficult and arbitrary decision for me. My selection could be swayed by the latest daydream inspired by one of my trophy mounts on the wall, or by one of my rifles that I associate with a particular hunt. I might vacillate between an African species that I have collected several times, or one that almost collected me; or I might settle on the noble western mule deer that I have loved to hunt. It would be a tough choice. But among the birds, everything comes second to geese.

For no good reason that I can offer, I do not have a taxidermy mount of a Canada goose, although I favor those mounts with giant wings cupped for landing. The only tangible goose decoration in my writing work space is a pair of carved birds; not decoys, but miniatures carved of fir and not painted, just the natural color of the wood.

What makes them special is that they were fashioned by a Cree Indian, carved over several evenings during the winter freeze that imprisons the far reaches of Ontario, and finished to splinterless perfection by being scraped with broken glass. Not that the Indians could not get sandpaper if they wished it; on James Bay where the Crees live, the historic Hudson Bay store still supplies all the necessities of life, and that could include sandpaper. Why broken glass then, instead of sandpaper? Because they have broken glass, and materials on hand are to be used. It could be called conservation and recycling.

Geese are godlike to the Crees. Tribal hunters take them by the boatload under the native subsistence laws of Canada, and the tribe does subsist on geese for the entire winter when the waterways freeze over. For a people normally given to hard work, days of forced inactivity produce some native art of exceptional merit, including my toy geese.

I do love the big birds. If there is a greater thrill than a flight of geese lifting off the water and flying past my blind, I haven’t experienced it yet. It’s exciting to have them pass close enough to get off a shot, and a pure satisfaction to bring one or two down from the flight, but many have been the times I was content to watch them pass without my ever slapping a trigger.

It’s another thrill to have the grand creatures come to your call and decoys. In fact, I’m not sure I could say whether sitting in a morning blind waiting for and experiencing the liftoff and formation or turning the birds from a high flight by a coaxing call is the more exciting.

Much of my sitting in blinds waiting for the over-flights has been on Maryland’s eastern shore of the Chesapeake. There is little in the United States to compare with the Chesapeake when it comes to geese. James Michener captured the spell of the geese in the novel, Chesapeake, and to have written that novel, he had to have experienced the flights over Chesapeake Bay. If I were to build a permanent waterfowl blind on Chesapeake Bay, I’d outfit it with a pew for a bench, for at no time do I feel more in church than when the geese fly.

I was fortunate to have hunted the Chesapeake without having to compete for space along the public accesses, and without the necessity of joining one of the expensive private clubs that control much of the admittance to the waterways. All my Chesapeake experience has been as a guest of Remington Farms. Remington, the arms and ammunition people, at the time operated Remington Farms on the bay. The farm, which included a wetlands sanctuary, was a virtual field laboratory for wildlife habitat and related sciences. It was common to observe university students and wildlife biologists at work on Remington Farms, and not only on waterfowl projects but also on those associated with deer and small game, and with general agricultural-improvement methods that benefited farmers nationwide.

In addition, some limited hunting was authorized, controlled hunting being a prime wildlife conservation tool. Remington utilized the setting to host outdoors writers from time-to-time for introduction of the company’s new firearms products. Those sessions usually included a couple of days of hunting. It was during these sessions on Remington Farms that I enjoyed my well-remembered Chesapeake Bay goose hunting. At all times when hunting on those press junkets, the Chesapeake geese were zealously protected, by the federal waterfowl regulations, those of the state of Maryland, and perhaps most rigidly of all by the caring custodians of Remington Farms.

The geese at Remington Farms do not originate at Chesapeake Bay but only stop there en route to wherever their instincts take them on their annual journeys. The geese moving down the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, and perhaps some that take the Central Flyway as well, gather for their odyssey at James Bay, the southern projection of Hudson Bay between Ontario and Quebec. The birds don’t necessarily originate there either. Most of them are spread much farther north, summering all along the northernmost perimeter of Canada, including frigid Victoria and Baffin islands and all of the Arctic landfalls.

Back to Hits and Misses

Women with Weapons

“What do you mean,” she screamed, “there’s nothing the police can do? He stole my money! Don’t you understand? My husband took all my money from my IRA and he’s gone. Run off. With my money; a hundred thousand dollars! That’s robbery. He’s a thief! Why can’t you do something?”

“Ma’am, please control yourself. Shouting and abuse don’t help matters. There is no indication of theft here. Now I suggest you take this up with your bank, or perhaps your lawyer can do something for you as a civil matter, but there is nothing pointing to a crime in what you’ve told us. I’m sorry, Missus Tucker, this simply is not a police matter.”

Marlene Tucker was shocked beyond tears. She had to make the trip to Missouri; Aunt Catherine became ill and no other family member could, or would, make the effort to attend her. First the hospital in Kansas City for four days and then more than two weeks at Aunt Catherine’s home, nursing her back to self-sufficiency. Bedpan duty. Nursemaid. Cook. Housekeeper. Marlene didn’t mind, at first; she loved her aunt. Now she hated her.

Philip telephoned her daily, or she him, and sometimes both ways. He was supportive, or seemed so. Said he missed her. She assured him she’d be home soon, but had to be truthful; her care to Aunt Catherine was going to run into weeks, maybe even a month. He’d muddle through, Philip assured her, “You take care of Aunt Catherine; I’ll take care of things here.”

Oh, he took care of things all right! Philip hadn’t called her at her aunt’s home for the past three days, and he didn’t answer when she called him. Marlene was fearful Philip had an accident, or a heart attack. Finally she had to leave her aunt on her own and she rushed home to Portland expecting the worst—and found it, but not at all what she dreaded. Philip was not at the house. The houseplants were dry and wilted. Philip’s car was in the garage; his key ring on the hook near the front door. The front door was not locked; the security alarm was not set. Marlene could not say what prompted her to look in Philip’s closet. Some of his clothes remained, but most of them were gone. Philip was gone. She went to his underwear and socks drawers. Mostly empty. Fear turned to trembling understanding, to anger, to rage, to utter shock. Philip had left her like a thief in the night. The unspoken phrase ran through her tortured mind and triggered her to action.

Noting the time, and realizing the bank was closed for the day, Marlene went to her computer and accessed her account. She was relieved to note the checking account balance was more or less normal, close to the four thousand dollars they always tried to keep for operating expenses and small emergencies. Then she scrolled down to recent activity, and terrified understanding came to her in a shockwave. Three days ago, some six hundred and fifty thousand dollars had been withdrawn. A week before, two super large deposits were made, totaling a similar amount. The sonofabitch! He had cashed out both their retirement accounts, nearly a hundred thousand in hers and more in his, more than five hundred thousand. He got away with over six hundred thousand dollars! But why would he do this? Where would he go? Marlene had nowhere to go but to the police. She called 911.

The dispatcher calmed Marlene as best she could and upon understanding the extent of Marlene’s hysterical trauma, suggested an officer on the scene was not the remedy, and coaxed Marlene to come down to the station and talk with someone in person. The dispatcher assured Marlene she would have an officer apprised of the situation and Marlene would be expected. But the police detective, sympathetic but firm, turned her away.
Back to Women with Weapons

Toys, Lights and Trinkets

Ghost Breakers (third story in book)

The wizened old witchdoctor in Zimbabwe had been right all along. Although he obviously did not know us—my wife Anne and me—he was much too believable in his wisdom. He somehow knew things about us he had no need or right to know, but we solicited the interview. No one tricked or coerced us to consult him, so we listened to him. Anne and I were a lot younger then, and at the same age, and on one of our several safaris in southern Africa when the old Mashona gentleman consulted the bits of carefully arranged chips of mystic bone that spoke to him. One of his revelations predicted Anne would live ten years longer than me. He was right on; I crossed over a full decade before Anne joined me once again. And while it is true, there is a time to die, Anne’s family would take her passing especially hard, it coming so near Christmas—a time that should be reserved for happy memories.

Even though I left earlier, and fittingly, in the fall of the season and the autumn of my time, I couldn’t stay away. Our lifetime together was too strong in the physical world to be fractured, simply because I happened to be deceased. I hung around the house to keep Anne company. Admittedly, a few friends and even family tittered behind her back about her carrying on conversations with me. We tried to pay no attention, and really were not offended. In fact. it was amusing to us knowing what was going on and they only could guess, and speculate that Mom or Grandma, depending on which generation was the questioning source, was hanging on to the cusp of dementia. Anne and I held a lifetime of memories to recall between ourselves, and we untiringly relived and talked them over.

Anne and I stood together, hand-in-hand, at her funeral service. Being unseen, except to one another, made it easy for us to get a front row view. The Anne beside me was beautifully young, and she noted the same about me. Shucks, I don’t mean she said I was beautiful, just she thought me young and in my prime. We both agreed the body on display the day before at the funeral home was not Anne, but some wrinkled lady who still showed evidence of having been beautiful, and if we examined her closely, my red-haired Anne did show through. Everyone in attendance had nothing but kind words for my bride, as they did for me as well, ten years back. The difference was at my wake; everyone still talked respectfully about me, which was to be expected since Anne was present for all the comments and conversations. That condition changed somewhat drastically at the after-service gathering in remembrance of Anne. It was our granddaughter, Rochelle, whom we both loved, who opened the less than lovable exchange with her mother, Anne’s only child, Charlene, from her first marriage which went awry before I came into her life.

“What are you going to do with all of Grandmother’s crap?”

“I’m surprised you’d say something like that. Mom and Dad may have accumulated a lot of things over their lives and travels, but certainly no crap. They always bought quality.”

Good for you, daughter, Paxton telepathed. You tell her!

“Sorry, I didn’t really mean it that way. They just have so much stuff. How do you even start disposing of it all?”

“Let’s not rush into disposing of anything. I still have to locate the will, although Mom has told me everything goes to me and I’m listed as executor.”

What do you mean, have to locate the will? It’s right where I told you it would be, in the safe, and the safe combination is pasted behind that framed certificate in my library.

Back to Toys. Lights and Trinkets


“Are you sure she’s alive? She looks dead to me and I don’t transport dead bodies for any price. For that matter I don’t take passengers either, so we have nothing to discuss. No deal.”

“Verdoem, man. Cover her back up; I don’t even want to look at her again. I’ve got to get rid of this woman. She’s driving me crazy and she tried to kill me.”

“Then why didn’t you just kill her? If she tried to kill you, you’d be justified. Unless, of course, she had reason to. But actually, I don’t want to know. I’m just not taking her on this trek.”

“Man, you’re in the transport business, and this is cargo I need transported. Why can’t you take my business? I’ll pay to have her transported to Fort Salisbury. Tell me, what are your rates?”

“But I do not take passengers, much less a woman. This is hard country. We barely survive it ourselves, what with the rains, the mud and the fever. And we lose oxen on every trek, if not to the lions, then to their exertion of pulling too much weight over bad country. Their strong hearts simply fail, or they break a leg and we have to shoot them. And when they get tired and cranky they fight among themselves. That’s why we take along extra teams of the animals. We lose too many on a trek. Don’t you understand? This trek is too hard as it is. No passengers to make it even worse!”

“Verdoem, Clayworth, this woman is not fit to be called a passenger. She’s freight, pure and simple. And if she does not survive the trip, I don’t care. Dump her off just by the side of the road as you would any other damaged freight. So, tell me. What is your rate to Fort Salisbury?”

“See here, now, Hannes. You know my rates very well. They’re the same as any other transporter’s. This won’t do you any good, but Johannesburg to Fort Salisbury is a three-leg trek. The first leg is from Johannesburg to Palachwe; the next is to Bulawayo; and the final leg is on to Fort Salisbury. My rates are twenty-five shillings per hundredweight, per leg. That’s seventy-five shillings. Man, you could buy her a salted horse for that if she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury and she could join a train on her own.”

“I never said she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury. I want her as far away as I can put her and Fort Salisbury fills that bill. Look, I know she’s swaarly, more than a hundredweight. I’ll double your price. One hundred and fifty shillings, a shilling for every pound, to take her with you all the way to Fort Salisbury. Dump her off there and she’ll never find her way back here again. What do you say?”

“I say no, just as I’ve been trying to tell you. No passengers. Passengers have to eat and the trip takes twenty to thirty weeks and that’s if we have fair weather. That’s a lot of extra food to carry or find along the way. A man could be useful on a long trek, but not a woman. A man can stand night watch. He can chop firewood. He can wade the mud to pull the trek-oxes through. A woman. Bah! On a wagon trek she’s good for one thing and one thing only. And not good at all when my partner and I would share her. No. I won’t do it. Take her away. I have to inspan and get on my way. Sunlight is a wasting.”

“Now see here, Clayworth. I’ll pay you triple. Two hundred and twenty-five shillings to take this problem off my hands and the load off my mind. What do you say?”

Jerrick Clayworth, grim and tight-lipped, forced himself to hold back lashing out again to the Afrikaner, Hannes Crouse. He considered the offer of two hundred and twenty-five shillings, more than eleven pounds, more than enough to pay for a replacement ox when he lost one, as he was sure to do somewhere, sometime on this trek. And if the woman died along the way, or went on her own way once they were a few days out of Johannesburg, then so much the better. But is she really alive? Jerrick lifted the woven-reed lid from the deep and sturdy woven grass basket once again for a confirming examination. The woman was dressed in man’s breeches and boots, with a shirt top that was male as well. She made no sound. He bent low to inspect her, noting no bleeding wounds, but more importantly no smell of death about her; an earthy odor but certainly not dead.

“How did she get in this condition? What’s the matter with her? Why is she unconscious and how long has she been this way?”

“She’s just knocked out for a while. She’ll come around.”

“What did you give her?”

“I got the potion from a sangoma. I don’t actually know what’s in it.”

“Then how do you know she’ll come out of it?”

“The old teef told me she would, and if she don’t, I’ll wring that witch’s scrawny black neck and take back the two goats I paid her.”

“Well she don’t look dead, but if she does come out she’s going to get really messy in short order when her body starts to function again. We’ll have to get her out of that basket. I’ll spread a bullock hide to lay her on so she don’t piss or crap all over my goods when she wakes up.”

“Danke, Clayworth. Here, I’ll help you with her.”

“Not so fast. I’ll take the shillings first; otherwise she stays in the basket and goes home with you instead of on the trail with me.”

Grumbling, Hannes counted out two hundred and twenty-five silver shillings, and in so doing, emptied the bag. Jerrick noted and realized Hannes knew all along how much he would have to pay and was prepared with just the right amount. Hannes cupped the coins, returned them to the pouch and handed it over to Jerrick. Together the two men spread the hide over the crates and baskets, and stretched the still inert figure on it.

“Does she have a name?’

“I always called her Gertie. Gerta, I suppose?”

“And her surname? Hell, man if she dies on me I have to be able to burn a name on the crossed sticks. I couldn’t leave her for the animals.”

“Verdoem, man. Don’t bother to dig the ground for her. As far as I know even she doesn’t know her father’s name or even who he was. She’s just Gertie and the hyenas won’t check her pedigree.”

Back to Oxwagon

The Outlander

Chapter One

David Stone seldom went to sleep at night without acknowledging he was perhaps the most fortunate bachelor on Earth. After college in California, he practically had fallen into his job, a well-paid management position, allowing him to return to the country of his birth, South Africa, a locale of which he held scant actual memory. Others’ recollections passed on to him, combined with old photographs, triggered false memories of a father he had never known. He knew now his father had been a professional hunter, a safari operator. It was rare for an American to hold such a position in this country and David treated the knowledge as a birthright of near royalty for himself. David had been on safari several times, enjoyed an impressive salary and social position, and all the female attention that money could buy. Life indeed was good; David Stone had everything to live for.

David stirred and groaned at the first summons from the distant kitchen telephone. At the second signal he tossed aside the light comforter and swung his long frame upright, legs dangling over the side of the king-size bed. By the third insistent chirp, he was awake enough to curse his boss in California, who refused to authorize the trivial expense of adding a second instrument for the bedroom of the company-leased condominium in Durban.

Alex Becker, absentee owner of PCI (Pty) Ltd, in addition to being cheap about minor expenses, also demanded the full attention of any employee who happened to be the object of his thoughts at any particular time. He reasoned with the nine-hour time differential between the United States west coast and South Africa, a call placed to South Africa during his local business hours stood a good chance of finding his area manager in bed instead of in the office or out on the road. He wouldn’t tolerate sleep-befuddled answers to his questions, so his scheme was to ensure David always had to be sufficiently awake to find the telephone at the other end of the house, and therefore be alert enough to reel off all the correct responses.

David once again resolved to put in the additional phone at his own expense, but knew that he wouldn’t, because Alex would raise Holy Hell about it when he commandeered the guest bedroom on his next unannounced visit. As much as he enjoyed thinking about crossing Alex, he knew that he would not. His position as almost total controller of the South Africa office provided him a very comfortable, even lavish, lifestyle he wouldn’t jeopardize. He was more or less fully functional when he snatched up the handset.

“Private Computers International,” he puffed into the instrument. “This is David Stone.”

The call had to be from Alex this time of night, David was certain, and his absentee employer demanded formal business telephone protocol. A clerk from the office who stayed late with David one evening, then on until morning, had been helpful in answering the telephone in order to let David continue his recovering slumber. Her pleasant and sensual hallo sounded anything but businesslike to Alex, and she was instantly dismissed from her job and David came perilously close to being yanked back to California. Since then, David’s guests were warned away from taking incoming calls and he was careful always to be professional on the telephone, no matter what the time of day or night.

“Dave? This is Marjie.”

The voice jolted him. She didn’t have to say Marjie Who. David remembered Marjie. When he first took the assignment in South Africa three years before, he’d taken stock of the local talent and identified Marjie as a sexy airhead. He was only half-right; she was sexy. She also was a very smart engineer who’d developed the power module allowing the PCI computer to work on the peculiar 50-cycle, 230-volt electricity produced and distributed by South Africa’s national electric power company, Eskom. Marjie worked for Eskom but, thanks to some expensive and persuasive encouragement from Alex Becker, her efforts had been instrumental in opening the Southern African market to PCI immediately after the post-apartheid government took over in 1994, when foreign investment in the country once again became an attractive proposition. PCI was able to beat the competition to the marketplace by several months, and still held onto that advantage.

David had been the recipient of a Masters fellowship sponsored by PCI, and his brilliant thesis on marketing opportunities in Third World countries won him the managerial assignment with PCI in South Africa. PCI joined with Eskom in a politically-motivated venture to bring technology to the underdeveloped nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Thereafter, at the local implementation level, David and Alex together coordinated closely with Marjie, a working threesome by day and, after hours, one or the other of them a playful pair with Margie, according to her fancy.

Marjie permitted both PCI-exec Alex and second-in-command David to court her, but she’d been promoted to an assignment to electrify the rural northern Transvaal a couple of years ago, and David had lost contact with her. Marjie’s departure apparently had been Alex’s reason for the abrupt decision to wrap up his personal control over the South Africa operation, ceremoniously turning it over to David and immediately returning to the company’s home base in California. Now Marjie was back in David’s life, and his groin ached pleasantly in remembrance of their times together... and Alex was not hovering nearby to claim a share of her.

“Marjie! How’ve you been? Where are you? What’s going on with you?” He wanted to say something clever and smooth, but felt tongue-tied and angry with himself because he couldn’t control his thoughts or his voice. What kind of schoolboy must she think I am? he wondered, but Marjie cut in with her assurances of how much she missed him. She explained that she had gone back to the family home in Cape Town for a while after her project in the north was finished. She had just returned to her own home in Pietersburg and wanted, no needed, to see him.

“Davie, do you remember when you...” she struggled for the words, “offered to eind die lewe of someone for me if I ever needed it? Well, I need to talk to you about that now. There’s twenty thousand in it for you. Can you come?”

Wheeew, he blew silently, and was quiet for just an instant too long. Marjie was necessarily fluent in English as the language of commerce and technology in South Africa as in most of the rest of the world, but in this very personal turmoil she reverted to her traditional language. She had used the Afrikaans, end the life. Murder someone!

“Daaave,” she came back impatiently, “didn’t you mean it?”
He remembered. When she found out he was keen on firearms, she pursued him with pleas to make her a shooter, and he enjoyed the attention. He instructed her in the use of several guns, from the FN-FAL battle rifle used by the South African military to his favorite personal handgun, the Browning Hi-Power nine-millimeter pistol. She was an eager pupil. The excitement of their shooting sessions carried over to the bedroom. Once, he teased that if she ever needed anyone removed, she had only to call on him. Her thrill at the prospect of him killing someone at her direction moved Marjie to even greater appreciation.

“Yes, I meant it,” he struggled to assure her. He’d lost her once. Now with the prospect of having her back, he wasn’t about to give her up again over some silly notion she harbored about killing someone. He had spent only a few weeks collectively in the United States over the past three years of being posted in South Africa and had become completely at ease with the local currency, rands. However, he still converted to dollars to know what prices were in real money. Twenty thousand rands was roughly five thousand dollars. “I can take care of that for you, but it’ll cost fifty thousand. Haven’t you heard about inflation?”

“Done!” she exulted. “I would have given you a hundred!”

Hey, she’s serious! What am I letting myself in for? “Just who am I supposed to kill?”

“I don’t want to talk about this kind of business on the phone. Let’s meet at the Carlton. I’ll drive in and get a suite where we can talk in private. Can you fly up tonight?”

Durban—almost six hundred kilometers from Johannesburg, he computed quickly; Margie’s base in Pietersburg about half that. “No, I’ll drive up in the morning. In fact, I’ll leave in three or four hours and be there in the early afternoon. I’ll get the hotel and call you at home and we can meet there later that evening. What’s your phone?”

Now it was her turn to hesitate. Clearly she wanted to control the venue, but eventually she gave her grudging approval to the plan. She stumbled over the telephone number as though having difficulty remembering it, then blurted out the four digits. As David wrote them down on his phone-side pad, he automatically added the area prefix for Pietersburg. “I’ll ring you up from the city,” he said hoarsely, and hung up.

No, he thought, I’ll ring you up right now! Then, halfway through dialing he slammed down the receiver. Sprinting to the bedroom, he pulled on the navy-blue sweatpants he’d laid out in preparation for his early-morning roadwork regimen—eight kilometers at a dedicated runner’s measured pace designed to cover the distance in an easy half-hour—then struggled into the matching pullover top emblazoned with Santa Clara in yellow script across the chest, and Broncos on the back He snatched his keys, change and handkerchief from the dresser-top valet and jammed them into the muff pocket, then pulled on his tackies, stuffed the hanging laces into the shoes against his bare feet and rushed to the carport. The Mercedes responded to the turn of the key and squealed down the drive, then onto the street that would take him over to Windemere Plaza and the public phone.

If I’m right, he thought, she will have to go to the post office to find a coin phone in Pietersburg. Having driven extensively over the past three years through the sparsely settled Transvaal Province in presenting PCI’s computer system to potential clients—the exception to spotty populations that characterized the rural province being the Johannesburg/Pretoria megaplex—he knew that the post offices in the smaller towns were the only places to find public telephones this time of night, and generally they were located in the seedier parts of downtown. David reasoned that Marjie would have to drive several minutes, perhaps even a quarter of an hour or more, to get from the upscale Ster Park neighborhood where she lived to the only post office in Pietersburg, and her return trip might give him enough time to verify she did not call from her personal telephone. As he wheeled into the plaza parking lot, he spied the lighted phone pod and was relieved to note that it was not in use. Another problem with the public telephones, as he and all the whites were aware, was the instruments were normally tied up by the blacks who did not have phones at home; they monopolized them for hours. This time of early morning, even the street-blacks were not hanging around the telephone. His first thought, since the cubicle was unoccupied, was he would find only the broken and frayed, dangling cable but he was relieved again when he found the instrument, to be in working order.

Using his crisp, white handkerchief, he dry-sanitized the assumed-to-be-contaminated receiver and mouthpiece with a couple of determined rubs, and then tossed the streaked cloth in the nearby wire trash bin. He dropped a two-rand piece in the coin slot and determinedly punched-in the regional code for Pietersburg and then the home number Marjie had given him. It rang on the other end three times before an answering machine responded in her purring voice. Okay, he reasoned, she did not call from her home. She’s making sure, as I suspected, no record of the call from her telephone could ever be traced to my number. I’ll have to be just as careful from my end.

The leisurely drive through the few blocks to his neighborhood gave him time to muse over just how he would stay a step ahead of the beautiful lady Marjie while also getting her into his bed. Back at the condominium, he dropped into that friendless bed still fully clothed, with Marjie, not at all so encumbered, the prime focus of his schemes and fantasies.

Fighting to clear his head of drowsiness just half an hour ago, he found now he could not sleep. He stripped off the jogging clothes, ran the shower hot while he shaved, then lunged into the revitalizing spray and steam. In the kitchen, he switched the automatic coffee pot from his normal wake-up time to ON, and watched gratefully as the life-giving drip started almost instantly. Then he wet-tracked across the gray stone-textured tile to the bedroom. As he draped the towel across a maroon-upholstered chair he wondered, what does one wear when negotiating a hit contract?

After two cups of coffee, brewed to his still American taste—South Africa offered many culinary pleasures, but the provincials simply could not make decent coffee—and half a box of Baker’s Tennis Biscuits, one of those off-the-shelf culinary pleasures—he dressed for the drive to Johannesburg.

Back to The Outlander

My Journey

A Long Walk Home

This account of my birth is enhanced family verbal history—enhanced because I don’t know precisely what dialogue was spoken, although the gist of it is faithful to what I’ve been told. I’m not certain that my mother remembered exactly either, and quite likely recalled and told it a bit differently each time I heard it from her. However, the story is as I remember it being told to me, and of course I have no personal memory of the events.

“Virgull! [My father, Virgil Neff Woods] Ah kain’t go no futher!”

Already some fifteen steps ahead of her, he deliberately took two more as though he didn’t hear, and then disgustedly set down the two battered and mismatched suitcases. He unslung the water jug hanging by the rope loop from his shoulder, and turned to face her.

Her streaked, blonde, straight, sweat-matted hair clung to her colorless features. She hadn’t put on lipstick in four days. Even her normally blue eyes were dusky gray.

The tattered sweater, once blue like her eyes, now faded by the years and grayed by the dust filtering upward from her every step, hung limply on her shoulders. The stretched sleeves covered half of her hands so that only her fingers were exposed below the frayed cuffs. She had needed the wrap in the coolness of the morning when they started out just after first light. Now at midday in mid-September, the Arkansas weather was steamy. Still, it was easier to wear the sweater than to carry it and the sniffling boy too.

Her dress once had been a bright flowered print. She traded and coaxed cloth from neighbors until she had enough of the multicolored flour sacks in the same pattern to make the only maternity dress she had ever owned. She had worn it while pregnant with the boy, now in her arms, two years ago. Threadbare and almost bleached out, once again it stretched taut across her swollen stomach. The soles of her flimsy sandals gave way to the piercing of every pebble in the road, and her feet were bruised and dirty.

“We can make six more miles today,” he objected gruffly, then relented to the persuasion of her silent tears.

Under the refuge of a hickory tree just turning to yellow alongside the grassy roadside ditch, he fished cigarette makings from the bib pocket of his overalls. To conserve tobacco, he packed the paper loosely from the Prince Albert can, twisted the ends to keep the cherished narcotic in place, and then popped a wooden match into flame under his grimy thumbnail. When the paper flared and the tobacco glowed, he stuck the half-burned match to the grass and twigs she had gathered for a cook-fire.

He appreciated the tree that sheltered them, but cursed the forest around Hardy [Arkansas] that finally had run out, causing the mill to shut down. It had been degrading for him to go hat-in-hand to her sister’s family in Fort Smith, and beg to stay on with them until he found another job. There should be jobs. It was 1934; the Depression was turning around, the nation’s economy on the way to recovery—Mister Roosevelt said so. Then came the letter from his own sister Catherine [Pierce] in Paducah [Kentucky] telling him that the Illinois Central Shop was hiring—and paying forty cents an hour!

Paducah was three hundred miles away. Train fare was impossible for them, so they set out afoot, and had been lucky with rides while they walked along the main roads. They crossed the Ozark Plateau in three days, sometimes hitching a ride on a wagon or truck. They even slept under a roof every night; on the ground huddled in their coats in abandoned or dilapidated barns, but at least not out in the open. Now at Marked Tree, they turned northeast through the Mississippi Valley to cut across the corner of Missouri into western Kentucky. The main flow of commerce moved in the tug-towed barges on the river, so the surface roads through the region were lightly traveled. The single car going in their direction passed with a blaring horn and a flurry of dust. They had walked nine miles.

She untied the rope from around the heavier suitcase, and removed the cast iron skillet and the battered aluminum pan that long ago had lost its handle. Then she dug out the bag of flour and measured a couple of handfuls into the pan. From the Clabber Girl can, she added a pinch of baking powder, and lastly, a sprinkle from the saltbox. She twirled the ingredients briefly with her single tablespoon, and formed a depression in the center of the mixture.

He pulled the cork from the jug of tepid, cloudy water reclaimed from a farm pond back down the road, washed the dust from his mouth with a swig, and handed her the bottle. She poured some into a tin cup to give the fretful boy a drink, and then clucked soothing endearments to quiet him, while she splashed more water into the flour mixture. When it was stirred into a thin batter, she used the same spoon to measure lard from the tin to the hot skillet where it sizzled and smoked, and spooned three pools of the batter into the skillet. She then retrieved the spatula he had shaped and thinned from a broken board with his clasp knife on their first night’s stopover.

After the batter was covered in bubbles over the entire top surface, and the bubbles broke, she flipped the hoecakes over to cook them through. The edges of the bread were burnt and crisp, while the centers were plump and soft. When the first one was done, she passed it to her husband. She turned her attention to the boy, crumbling the next hoecake in a tin plate and pouring syrup over the pieces from the almost empty Log Cabin can. Then she mashed the bread into a gooey mixture and spoon-fed the boy.

She was snatching a bite of her own bread in between feeding the boy when He demanded, “Don’t we have some of that baloney left?” Setting her lunch aside, she probed once again into the kitchen suitcase and produced a greasy paper package, and remembered the meager feast of last night.

They agonized over the decision, but had spent a precious dime for their first meat in three days. It was hard to wait as the butcher sliced a few pieces from the cloth-wrapped sandwich loaf. When the man realized how desperate was their hunger, he rolled another sheet of butcher paper into a cone and filled it with crackers from the barrel out in front of the counter. They protested that they didn’t have money for crackers, too, but he insisted that crackers were free with the purchase of bologna. They carefully divided the meat and crackers into two portions and put half away for the next day, even though what they acquired was barely enough for one meal.

She unwrapped the package and gagged at the odor, and her eyes brimmed at seeing the formerly fresh pink bologna now slimy and tinged with green. The crackers, also closed up in the hot and airless suitcase, had gone stale and soft. Her weeping turned to near hysterics at the waste, and he stoically resolved not to add to her misery. He wouldn’t voice the deserved accusation that she should have known this would happen when he insisted they not eat it all at one time. Besides, she cried at everything these days.

She separated the crackers on the butcher paper in the forlorn hope that they would dry in the air and perhaps serve as an acceptable snack to pacify Bobby [My brother, Bobby Gordon Woods] before the next meal, then solemnly fried the last of the batter.

After another sip all around of the just barely drinkable water, she started to repack the suitcase, because she knew that he wouldn’t allow them to rest here for very long. As she twisted around in her sitting position to stretch for the fry pan, she felt a sharp, penetrating pain and screamed him out of his musings of the good life to come. “Virgil! The baby’s coming!”

“Don’t be silly, Ethel Marie! [My mother, Ethel Marie (Burns)Woods] You’re just upset over that damned baloney. You’re not due for two weeks and we’ll be at Cat’s way ‘fore then.”

“No! It’s coming. I know it is and it hurts! You’ve got to help me!” Her panic was real and contagious.

“What can I do?” Now, scared at his inadequacy, he was yelling at her. She had no right to involve him in this business that was her doing.

“Get the coats... and the boy’s diapers!”

Back to My Journey