The Awful Truth About Dead Men Prologue

Dead. Stone cold dead. As in not breathing. As in lying in a pool of blood. That's how I found Captain Fairweather that afternoon. Dead, dead, dead. Not that I've had any previous experience with dead men or anything, but after I prodded him with my foot and hissed his name several times, I knew. I was, if you'll pardon the expression, dead certain.

I confess that I didn't handle the situation very well. I backed into the corner of Captain Fairweather's cabin and froze with my hands clasped over my mouth. I tried to scream but it came out a meek croak. The cabin was dim and stuffy and I struggled to breathe. "In," I coached myself. "Out." Finally I broke the spell and bolted for the cabin door. I tugged frantically at the door handle with a shaking hand. When it finally turned I took off as if I was being chased by a knife-wielding madman. I lost my footing on the polished wood floor and slammed into the wall, but didn't dare stop.

I hit the deck running and burst into tears. As my four friends, Mary Linda, Ellie, Sandra and Julie gathered around me, I sobbed, "He's dead. He's dead." Ellie patted me on the back and I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.

"What's the matter?" Sandra demanded. "Who's dead?"

"Let's get the Captain," Mary Linda said. "Maybe he can help."

"No," I wailed. "You don't get it. The Captain is the one who's dead. I saw him."

"You saw him?" "Yes." I sobbed. "He was lying on the floor of his cabin."

"Are you sure he was dead? Maybe he was napping," Julie said.

"No-ooo," I cried. My voice cracked. "He was all blo-ody."

They stared at me blankly. And why not? I was totally unglued. I mean, women from Ohio don't usually stumble over dead men. Sandra met my eye. "So, what you're telling us is that you found Captain Fairweather lying on the floor of his cabin in a pool of blood?"

It did sound a bit farfetched. "I think so."

"Well, then," Ellie said, "I think we'd better go to his cabin and check it out."

I would have preferred to lower myself into a pit of writhing snakes than to go back to that cabin, but I knew I had no choice. I had to suck it up and prove to my friends that the captain of our chartered sailboat was indeed a corpse. The five of us crept down the hallway to the Captain's cabin in the stern of the ship. The door was latched and only the creaking of the masts from the deck above disturbed the deathly silence. We jumped when Julie kicked over a wastebasket sitting in the hall and it clattered to the floor, the lid rolling under our feet.

Ellie whispered, "The door's locked, isn't it? He's sleeping or something."

Sandra tugged on my arm. "Let's just go."

"No." I shuddered. "I left this door wide open. Somebody or something closed it."

I jiggled the handle and discovered that the door was unlocked. I eased it open and, with my friends glued to my backside, I inched into the cabin. was empty. No body. No Captain Fairweather. No murder weapon. Nothing.

"Where is this body?" Sandra demanded. "See, he isn't dead. He isn't even here."

"What do I know?" I said. I'm not familiar with corpse protocol. Maybe he wasn't dead after all. Maybe the dent in his head wasn't a fatal wound...Maybe it was a cruel prank. There's only one way to find out. Find Captain Fairweather and he can explain."

So we scattered to search the ship. But we couldn't find Captain Nigel Fairweather anywhere. Our mood was bleak as we clung together on the deck as the watery late afternoon sun began to set and the tropical breeze freshened. The huge sails looming above us luffed in the breeze and the ship rocked on the swells. Dissipating rain clouds from the storm earlier scudded across the sky. Here we were somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and the captain of our ship was, at the very least, missing, and if I was correct, dead. No one uttered a word.

"I think we have a problem," I said finally.