F I C T I O N Excerpted from the mystery novel Head Above Water. You get used to things going bump in the night when you live aboard a boat. A fender works itself loose or the tide slaps an empty plastic bottle against the hull, and then you have to decide if it’s going to keep you up all night, or whether a pillow over your head might block out the noise. On this particular night, I knew that I was too keyed up to listen to any noise for very long. I was in a rearward cabin and from the sound of it, whatever was banging against the hull was right alongside the stern, just inches from my head. I pulled on my heavy terrycloth robe and well-worn boat shoes, and made my way up on deck. Grabbing a flashlight that I kept at the helm, I went out the port side door on to the walk-around deck, carefully moving to the foredeck where I kept a gaff pole to fish out the source of the noise. Moving back toward the stern I made a quick check of my portside fender lines, which were all intact. I aimed the beam of light toward the water line on the starboard side. If you’re expecting an old soft drink bottle or an empty plastic oil container, you don’t quite know what to make of a smooth round shape. It was like nothing that I had ever seen floating in a marina, and believe me, you see an extraordinary variety of disgusting objects floating on the water where there are boats and people. Holding the gaff pole in my right hand, I aimed the flashlight with my left hand and leaned over the teak capped railing, trying to get a better look at what was keeping me awake. I pulled upward with the gaff and rotated the orb until I realized that whatever it was, it was looking back at me.
“Jesus H. Christ,” I shouted to no one as I backed up with a start. The gaff pole hung up on the railing and the flashlight went skittering down the narrow deckway. My heart was fibrillating at an alarming rate as I realized that the thing banging against my hull was someone’s head bobbing just above the waterline. A very dead person, who nonetheless had stared back at me as though I could save him. And in a way, I would.