Kinda busy today. In lieu of a regular post, here’s the first chapter of a new novel, “A Rotten Stinking Place to Die,” first draft actually nearly finished. Then starts the revision. Any and all comments and criticisms welcome. That’s the point of first drafts.
I didn’t see the body at first.
It’d been a rough night crossing, the Orient Star plowing into thirty knot squalls with driving rain and corkscrewing seas. We finally dropped anchor after two a.m. in the lee of what boat skippers in these parts call Thank God Island and collapsed into our bunks.
I woke by long habit shortly before dawn. Despite only a few hours of sleep, my consciousness returned full and instant. I have never been a sleepy-head. The rain had stopped. The single-berth cabin held steady. The air conditioning unit hummed, the red numerals of its temperature display reflected backwards off the porthole’s glass. I am accustomed to equatorial heat, but I’d indulged my Nordic genes by dialing it as low as it would go. Kicking off the blankets, I swung out of bed to dress in a sarong and long-sleeve blouse. I crammed on my cap and grabbed the prayer rug. Outside the galley, I used the freshwater hose to rinse my face and hands and feet in the ritual ablution. That done, I went up the metal stairway to the upper deck, treading softly so as not to wake Alexandra, who slept with her captain’s ear alert to the ship’s noises.
By the upper landing was a small hydraulic crane used to hoist the inflatable dinghy into its cradle. The body dangled only ten feet away, but was shrouded in thick night shadow. I walked past without noticing.
Beside the salon door, rungs led to the top of the wheelhouse, festooned with radar and satellite domes. There was no moon. Tattered clouds strung across the star-dusted sky, shedding enough light to silhouette the island. A breeze carried the iodine scent of reef and the murmur of surf.
On the eastern horizon, the night began to thin. I placed the prayer rug toward Mecca in the northeast, which meant I was angled towards the ship’s stern. The body was below me, out of my line of sight. I performed the ritual dawn prayers, and added my personal ones, for my ailing mother in the care facility and my sister in university and for patience and grace in dealing with the ship’s guests.
When I was finished, I rolled up the rug and stepped toward the ladder. A swell curled into the anchorage and ran under the ship. In the darkness below me, something swayed. I noticed then that the crane’s boom was extended over the water. As I peered, whatever dangled from the boom swayed the other way and then hung still again.
The head tilted at an ugly angle. The chin flopped onto the chest. The arms fell straight. The toes drooped toward the water. I might have thought it all an illusion, a shape fashioned out of the night like a cardboard cutout, without depth or detail, except another swell rolled into the bay. The body swayed again. A stray beam of anchor light fell on the face. Dried blood crusted under the nose. A swollen tongue protruded between puffed lips.
That made it real as hell.