And another one is in the books! Looking Back is, I admit, technically not a Norfolk Murder as it took place seventeen years prior on the carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea. However, I judged it appropriate to give poor Isaac Shepherd a break and let him have at least one month go by without a murder as he closes in on retirement!
Besides, I’ve hinted and dropped back story clues right and left since Off Center began this small odyssey. I believe I owe it to my readers to allow them a direct glimpse into the past so they can understand a bit better how Isaac came to be who he is (and make these stories’ set-up more believable). There had to be a point where the young, cocksure man-boy started to grow up and take on the maturity we see in him today.
As much as Abraham Gray was a gift of a character and a name to partner Isaac with in the present, Veronica Bale was another gift of a character (and name!). As related by Shepherd, she did train him in the “investigative arts” during his off-time on the “Chucky V” after this case, thereby giving him a solid professional foundation for being able to sleuth in a more believable fashion.
She was also trying to recruit him into a career in law enforcement, but he didn’t bite. Not officially, at any rate.
This story partly turns on the horrible dilemma many gay people lived in the military for many, many years. I am a gay man; I lived in the closet under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for years and it cost me dearly inside. It did many of us who wished to serve this wonderful country, but couldn’t do so as who we really were.
However, this is a wonderful country—and the only nation in the history of humanity to be founded on ideals. We have woefully and inadequately lived up to those ideals in many ways, but the republic was always looked up by our Founders as a great experiment, and that experiment continues today. Even in this story we see the conflict existing over the issue of gays in the military; indeed in the larger society.
Although I approached the murder as the act of panic and the passion of betrayal it was, I also did not want to paint my beloved Navy as monolithically anti-gay. No; there are characters here who despised gays in the uniform and characters who didn’t care and saw people as people. That is not to insult those who have objections to homosexuals. Nope. Not at all. I have many, many conservative religious friends who still believe I am making a choice to be gay and consider the life sinful…but these same conservative religious friends treat me with dignity, respect, and—like I do—trust in God to sort it out in the end.
So while one character did walk out in disgust and abandon Beasley to his fate, another stuck with him. Fitts did not mince words about Beasley’s crime or the accounting in court he had to face; murder is murder, after all. But he did not abandon him. Don’t read anything into the ranks of the two characters here; it simply made more sense for a commanding officer to have resources to help ensure a fair trial than a master chief.
The big point of Looking Back was to showcase the turning point in Shepherd’s life as he began to mature and understand why people like and respect him despite his flaws. He learned a key lesson about not underestimating people. He found in Veronica Bale a second NCIS agent who, in the end, took him seriously and let him help find justice. The confidence boost that alone would be to a man with an (as of this story’s timeline) undiagnosed depression and anxiety disorder would be incalculable.
So we took a moment to look back. But Shepherd is fast approaching retirement, and there is a serial killer out there who is gunning for him and Abraham Gray. Shepherd’s summer of discontent has just begun.
There are a few clues in this story that will play out and pay off as the last three stories in this series develop. Don’t try to find them; you won’t guess them at all…until they are paid off. But, once they pay off, it’ll be wonderfully obvious!