Under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1971, this is a fully copyrighted and protected work by law. Copyright is owned by and all rights are reserved to Nathanael Miller. No part may be reproduced in whole or part without my written permission. Facebook and Twitter links to this story may be shared; but the work itself and all characters are my intellectual property and may not be shared or reproduced except with written permission. All characters and events are fictitious.
The Murder Game
(A Short Navy Murder Mystery)
by Nathanael Miller
She had her assignment.
It was nearly 4:00 a.m. and the winds were quiet. Only an occasional gust tried to disturb the building. Rain still drummed steadily on the roof, but in a defeated sort of way. Tropical Storm Kelly’s efforts were waning as the storm moved inland. Even as the Tidewater area breathed a sign of relief, cities further inland such as Richmond were feeling the brunt of the storm.
Robinson was dead tired, but the surge of adrenaline that had kicked in during her conversation with Shepherd had not worn off, so her mind was still alert.
“Persia,” She shook Carpet’s shoulder. “Persia, up. You’re on watch.”
“Why are you still up?” Carpet rubbed her eyes and stiffly uncurled herself from her position in a chair propped against the wall.
“Can’t sleep,” Robinson said. “Come on, you and Kelly are on.”
Carpet stretched and looked around, noting the quiet. “Storms easing off.”
“Yeah,” Robinson said. Sniff came over as Smith and Killer approached. “Ok, you two. You’re turn to sleep.”
Killer stretched and Smith yawned. Sniff was running her hands through her hair. Only Steinbeck wasn’t awake.
“Where’s the chief?” Carpet asked suddenly. “He’s not here.”
“Oh, he went out looking for Collander’s phone,” Robinson said casually.
“He’s what?!” Sniff exclaimed, startled.
“He went outside?!” Carpet blurted. “Into the storm?!”
“Huh? What…?” Steinbeck stirred and sat up from his position on the floor, Sniff’s exclamation awakening him.
“Chief Shepherd’s gone?!” Carpet was incredulous.
“But…he can’t do that!” Sniff said, alarmed.
“Why not?” Robinson asked.
“Why not?” Carpet asked rhetorically. “There’s a murderer hiding in this building! Chief’s the one who told us not to go anywhere alone!”
“I know,” Robinson said. “But he said he had a very good idea where the murderer had hidden Collander’s phone. He figured it’s outside somewhere, so he took off to go look for it.”
“So he’s going to risk his life instead of waiting until security can get here in the morning?!” Smith asked, stunned.
“He’s an idiot,” Steinbeck declared. “Let him get himself killed.”
“I tried to stop him, but he gets bull-headed when he’s got an idea,” Robinson said.
A low peal of thunder outside startled them all.
“Well, Dionne, why didn’t you stay with him?!” Carpet demanded, recovering herself.
“He ordered me to stay here since I’m the one he put in charge,” Robinson said. “And then he charged off.”
“We need to go find him!” Carpet said.
“No, we need to stay here,” Robinson said firmly.
“Why the hell shouldn’t we go look for him?!” Smith asked. “He could get killed!”
“Let him. His dumb-assed choice,” Steinbeck said.
“Harper–!” Carpet started to round on Steinbeck.
“Persia!” Robinson said, “He put me in charge of this group, and that makes you all my responsibility. I couldn’t legally stop him from going off on his own, but I can make sure all of you stay alive until morning. We’ve already had one murder and an attempt on Kelly.”
Sniff’s hand went to her throat where the small cut had scabbed over.
“We stay put,” Robinson said. “It’s already 4:00. Maybe three more hours at the outside and we can safely get out and go get help.”
The group looked at each other, no one quite at ease.
“Persia, Kelly, you two have the watch,” Robinson said. “Everyone else get some sleep. I think I’m finally tired enough myself to get some sleep too.”
“I don’t like this!” Steinbeck said. “How do we know he didn’t murder your boyfriend?”
This time everyone ignored Steinbeck as they grudgingly began settling themselves back down.
“Why does he think he knows where Collander’s phone is?” Sniff asked. “Wouldn’t the murderer keep it on himself?”
Robinson shook her head as she leaned back against the wall. “No, his theory is the murderer would have ditched it. That way, it’s not on them if they are caught. Without it on them, they might have a chance of able to get out of this without a problem. But if they’re found with that phone on them, they don’t have a prayer.”
Sniff nodded, as another grumble of thunder rolled past. “Makes sense.”
“After all, we all know that phone is obviously the key to the murderer’s guilt,” Robinson said. “If he can find it, we have the bastard who killed Jacob.”
“And he thinks he knows where it is?”
“He’s got an idea where it might have been hidden, and he’s not going to get caught unawares. This is his first murder case, Kelly. He’ll be fine.”
“Hey, do me a favor and send over Persia real quick. I need to ask her something.”
“Ok,” Sniff looked around in the dark until she spotted the dark-skinned Carpet lurking in the shadows, keeping a weather eye out.
“Persia,” Sniff called quietly, aware that the soft rhythm of breath at her feet meant Steinbeck, Killer, and Smith were already asleep.
“Kelly?” Carpet came over.
“Yeah—Di wants to see you before she goes to sleep.”
Carpet nodded and headed over to Robinson as Sniff took up her post, keeping an eye for danger in the dark.
“What’s up, Di?” Carpet asked quietly as she crouched down.
“Persia, I need you to do something.”
“Name it,” Carpet shrugged.
“No, it’s not that easy,” Robinson said, dropping her voice to a whisper. “This is going to be a doozy. But, whatever you do, keep your voice down!”
“Ok,”Carpet said in a whisper, “What?”
Robinson told her.
It was all Carpet could do to force her vocal cords back into whisper mode as she blurted, “You want me to do what?!”
“You heard me,” Robinson said evenly.
“But that violates all proper watch standing procedures!” Carpet was enraged, a clap of thunder mirroring her anger. “You’re asking me to violate the first, second, and eleventh general orders all at the same time!”
“No, I’m telling you what I want you to do,” Robinson said levelly, staring directly into Carpet’s eyes. “This is the best way to play things in my opinion. So, just do it, ok? We’re after a murderer here.”
Carpet swallowed, “If this doesn’t work…my ass is on the line.”
“No, it’s not, Persia.” Robinson said in a tight whisper. “Now do what I say.”
Carpet stared at her, but finally nodded.
“Good. Give it half an hour. Now send Kelly over; I need to talk to her too.” Robinson said, leaning her head back against the wall.
Carpet rose and got chair. Plunking it down she told Sniff Robinson wanted to talk to her.
“What’s up, Di?” Sniff asked as came over. Her phone was glowing; she had been scrolling through pictures of her twins.
“I have an idea, but I need your help,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to like it, but I need you to trust me.”
Sniff listened as Robinson whispered her instructions. Just like Carpet, she reacted in a most negative fashion.
“That’s crazy, Di! You’re leaving everyone here at risk if I do that!”
“No, I’m not. I need you to trust me here, Kelly,” Robinson said. “Look, assuming one of us is the murderer and there’s not some unknown person in this building, this will give them a chance to entrap themselves, especially if Chief Shepherd is not able to find that phone.”
Sniff noticed that Robinson’s eyes flicked unconsciously to Carpet’s back as she spoke. She sucked in her breath.
“I…I don’t…it’s against all procedure, Di…”
Robinson laid a reassuring hand on Sniff’s arm. “I know, Kelly. But you have to trust me. I have an idea and, if I’m right, we’ll have you back to your boys safely before you know it.”
“I can’t believe any of this is happening,” Sniff said with a kind of dark wonder.
“You and me both!” Robinson whispered back, smiling, actually finding the thunder outside oddly comforting. “Even by Chief Shepherd’s standards this past six months has been a bit ridiculous with the number of murders he’s dealt with.”
“Is it true? Do they really call him the ‘Accidental Detective?’”
Robinson nodded. “Yep.”
“I heard he took down Rear Admiral Symco twenty years ago. Is that true?”
“Yes. He told me about it; that was his first case. He was a Yeoman back then. A Yeoman Third Class at VQ-2, a patrol squadron based in Rota, Spain. Apparently Symco’s daughter had murdered a guy in his barracks. He got on the case out of stubbornness and nearly got himself killed.”
“That motorcycle accident he was in,” Robinson pointed out. “That was the admiral in disguise trying to kill him.”
Robinson nodded. “He’s had an interesting career, and most of NCIS hates his guts.”
Robinson laughed quietly, “Professional pride. How would you like it if I walked into your shop and was able to generally do your job better than you do? Even though I’m doing things right, you’d be rather unhappy. Look, it’s going on 4:20. Go take your post and…just trust me.”
Sniff nodded and left. Robinson lay back against the wall. She felt it vibrate as another wave of thunder strolled past.
She sincerely hoped Shepherd knew what he was doing. Granted he had a rather impressive track record behind him, yes. But this mess was nothing like the case she and helped with him a few months before on board the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It was all she could do not to fall asleep. She was exhausted physically and emotionally. She hand to concentrate on not drifting off…even though brain teased here with enticing notions that Jacob would be waiting for her in her dreams. She had to push back the emotional wave that threaten to overwash her like the storm had done Hampton Roads. Chief Shepherd was right—there would be time to mourn later. She had to focus.
The problem was looking like she was asleep meant she had to lie there quietly…exactly the right position to be in to fall asleep. But she couldn’t. She had her assignment…and she had a personal stake in this.
Where the hell had Shepherd gone?! She knew he hadn’t told her everything, and he tended to do that when he either wasn’t sure about something, or had just fallen into one of his few (but great) failures in leadership: tunnel vision. Every leader has their weaknesses; one of the easiest for Isaac Shepherd to fall into was tunnel vision; getting so focused on a single problem (or aspect of a problem) that he’d lose situational awareness on everything else.
She jerked slightly and realized to her chagrin she had drifted for a moment. Hoping she had not been too obvious, she raised her head up ever so slightly and looked around the darkened banquet hall. The wind was gone; only the rain drummed a desultory beat on the outside of the building.
…Was not quite right…
She swept her eyes over the room again and realized that two shadows were missing. Two people were gone.
Three people were gone?!
She bolted to her feet, adrenaline again blasting the foggy cobwebs of fatigue from her mind. Her first instinct was rage—didn’t these stupid fools know enough to follow orders?! They were going to screw up everything!
Killer and Smith both jumped to their feet as a strangled shout came from Bay Vista’s kitchen area.
“What–?!” Smith asked sleepily, trying to shake himself awke.
A crash from the kitchen area grabbed their attention.
“Come one!” Robinson ordered, sprinting towards the dark hallway leading to the kitchen. Smith and Killer took off after here.
All three crashed into the table at the same time, sprawling over it and sending it and its chairs flying like some hackneyed stunt in a B-movie.
Ignoring her bruises and the stinging pain screaming at her from her left shin, Robinson was back on her feet and running again…but just a little slower so she could make out the other tables in the dim emergency lighting.
She heard Smith and Killer pounding along behind her as she crashed towards the kerfluffle of scuffle in the kitchen. She started to make out voices; she could heard Carpet grunting. A high-pitched shriek sounded like Sniff’s voice. The other grunting could only be Steinbeck.
She stopped dead in the kitchen door and saw a shapeless monster pulsating and writhing in front of her.
Abruptly Killer and Smith piled into her from behind and the three tumbled forward, crashing onto the floor. She extricated herself and took stock of the situation while trying to ignore the numerous bruises she had just collected. A crazy bit of light lit up the edges of the heavily-curtained windows as lighting flashed and thunder crashed.
She realized the “shapeless monster” was in fact a three-way fight between Carpet, Sniff, and Steinbeck. Steinbeck and Carpet were locked in a fierce grapple that evidently pitted her wiry, Boatswain’s Mate strength in a near-even match against his brawn and boiling anger. Kelly Sniff was riding on his back, her around his neck trying to pull him off Carpet.
“Stop!” Robinson yelled, darting forward into the fray. She grabbed Sniff and pulled her off Steinbeck, inadvertently throwing her into Smith and Killer.
Sniff reflexively swung out and decked Smith and then aimed a kick at Killer’s more sensitive areas. Killer cried out as his groin was crushed under her foot and reflexively jabbed, clocking Sniff directly in the face even as Smith, blinded by Sniff’s punch, swung out blindly and decked Killer. Sniff fell backwards, spinning and crashed into Smith.
Steinbeck roared as Robinson jabbed into a pressure point under his arm. He released Carpet so fast she fell back and hit the deck, tripping over the body of Jacob Collander.
Robinson dimly noted the body seemed to have been moved from where it had lain when she, Killer, and Shepherd discovered the missing phone hours ago, but her attention was diverted as Steinbeck landed a direct strike on her solar plexus.
She had trained for years how to take a punch, and her momentary loss of breath did not stop her from launching a kick. Unfortunately Steinbeck’s punch had rotated her and, in the dark, she didn’t realize her kick missed Steinbeck and ended up connecting with Smith’s hip, knocking him sideways into a startled and groaning Killer.
Killer reacted in surprise and punched again, his fist connecting with Smith’s jaw and sending him flying to crash into Sniff as she tried to regain her footing. The two went down hard, Sniff screaming and flailing out even as Smith brought his hand up to protect his face…and clocking her in the jaw in the process.
A roar of thunder slammed down on the building as Carpet regained her feet and dived at Steinbeck. He managed the step aside and she missed, her momentum carrying her into Killer. The impact sent both of them tumbling into the large refrigerators, the crash echoing the blast of thunder overhead.
Steinbeck launched himself into Robinson and tackled her. She got a foot up just in time and caught him in the midriff, slowing his impact and keeping him from getting his hands firmly on her neck.
Everyone was yelling now, grunting and shrieking as random blows landed far off their intended targets. Dimly Robinson realized that Collander’s body was in danger of being trampled under Steinbeck’s feet. She caught him under the arm as he charged again, pivoted, and deflected him away from Collander…and right into Carpet and Killer and the walk-in refrigerator door.
The clang was epic.
The three fell in a heap and started trying to untangle themselves, but only succeeded in jabbing elbows into ribs and generally causing each other more pain.
“Stop!” Robinson screamed into dark, but her voice was lost in the thunder. “Everyone stop!”
Someone’s foot swept her own feet out from under her. She fell hard, but managed to soften her fall by landing on top of Steinbeck, knocking the wind out of him as he hit the floor again.
The back door suddenly banged opened and hit the wall with a predictable crash. The winds were no longer tropical force, but they were still strong enough to fling rain into the kitchen as a lightning strike blasted down in the building’s back parking lot, so near that electricity seemed to crackle into the building around the silhouetted figured of a man, his coat whipping wetly as a deep, frightening voice thundered from him.
The free-for-all stopped so fast it was like someone hit “pause” on a video player.
The light faded back to normal as the bolt faded away. Out in the back parking lot a small hole could be seen blasted in the pavement. Their eyes began to adjust from the lightning flash, and they recognized the sea green eyes glaring down at them.
Isaac Shepherd had returned. And he was pissed.