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 Norfolk Murderer
(A Short Navy Murder Mystery)
by Nathanael Miller
He was dying.
The blood was spurting from the wound in his neck with every beat of his fading heart. The damage done by the bullet had torn his throat apart; breathing was a choking mass of sundered tissue flapping back and forth as he gagged for air. But…but it was the blood being ejected from his prostrate body that was deciding his fate.
He was dying.
There was nothing for it. He was going to be dead in a very few minutes, and he could…not…stop…it.
It was not supposed to end this way. Not at all.
He had plans. He had goals and dreams. He had a good job lined up…actually, several good jobs lined up. He was finally going to have the freedom to stop scrimping and save money, travel, live like he had wanted to for years. So many years of work were about to pay off.
Yet it was all being taken away from him with every unstoppable beat of his soon-to-be-stopped heart.
He was too weak to even feel anger or horror now. His brain was already getting foggy as its oxygen levels dropped with his blood volume. Even the sadness as fading away slowly as he felt an increasingly acute sense of cold envelope him; an icy feeling of chill creeping inwards from his wounded extremities. Made sense, he supposed. Bleeding out like this mean his body had no mechanism to transfer heat within itself anymore.
His face was wet and sticky; he could feel his own blood creeping through his hair where the side of his face lay on the floor. A wave of nausea hit him as the blood loss made him dizzy. He stirred a bit, but he didn’t have the strength to wretch.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He wasn’t supposed to be the one dying. He wasn’t supposed to be the one defeated. The story was supposed to end with him bringing justice down on the villain who had stalked his nightmares for months now.
Instead he was dying. He had lost, and lost big.
He managed to turn his head and glare up at his adversary.
His vision was blurring and darkening. The form of his enemy stood quietly, watching. He tried to talk, tried to at least curse the man hovering, ghoulishly enjoying his death. He tried, but the bullet had done its work too well; his throat was a mass of jellied flesh fully incapable of performing its proper functions ever again. All he could do was gurgle out a spittle-filled cough.
Flecks of blood landed around the enemy’s shoes. Maddeningly, no blood landed on the shoes. He was to be denied even that petty bit of satisfaction.
“Funny thing,” The enemy said from three feet and two hundred miles away. “You never even knew it, you never saw it coming. For all your clever ideas, you never saw where it actually came from.”
The gun in the enemy’s hand was cold. He knew…he knew all right. The shot that tore out his throat had not come from in front of him. He had blindly fallen into the trap…a trap he should have foreseen. After all, he was the clever, smart one everyone always talked about!
A shudder wracked his fading body. His frame started to struggle for air, but there was no blood to transport it even if he could take a clear breath. His vision was fogging out quickly now.
His enemy leaned down and looked closely at him.
“I’m tired of you. Go on to hell.”
It was just not supposed to have ended this way!
“How’s you son?”
The calculated cruelty of the question shocked Abraham Gray, and that was saying something. Having been a Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent for nearly 30 years, there wasn’t much that shocked Gray anymore.
That question did.
“Oh, that’s right, sorry,” Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist Isaac Shepherd said evenly, “I forgot. He killed himself. Something about his career being derailed and unable to handle the emotional trauma of his mother and her boyfriend killing his father, wasn’t it?”
Across the table from them, the target of Shepherd’s cruelty wilted momentarily, but still managed to look at Shepherd with a vitriolic hatred.
Carolyn Stiles had once been a stylish, worldly and sophisticated woman. She had been the wife of Force Master Chief John Stiles, senior enlisted leader for Atlantic Forces Surface Command on board Naval Station Norfolk. In her way she was a woman about town and a leading light among the Navy spouses in Hampton Roads.
Now, a widow by her own hand, she sat wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, her hair, once full and flowing, was lank and pulled back into a ponytail. Her face was three times as lined as the last time Shepherd had seen it back in March, six months and a lifetime ago. Even so, there was still an almost regal carriage to her back and a haughty glint in her eye. She seemed to inflate a bit as she recovered from Shepherd’s barb.
The icy silence of her stare filled the interrogation room of the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia. She had been incarcerated here to await trial for her part in the murder of her husband.
“What do you want?” She asked. “I was busy.”
“Doing what, making license plates?” Shepherd asked levelly.
“Working on correspondence with my attorney for my defense,” She answered.
“Good luck with that,” Gray said, finally looking away from Shepherd.
He and Shepherd made an interesting pair. Shepherd in the khaki uniform of a Navy Chief Petty Officer, Gray in a dark blue suit, red tie, and American flag lapel pin. Gray’s hair had gone iron white early in his 30s. Shepherd’s hair was very salt-and-peppered…but way more salt than pepper. Gray had a thinner frame, but both men were barrel-chested and both broke 6’ tall…though Gray stopped there and Shepherd soared above him by three inches.
Gray was 51, and Shepherd 45. No one would ever mistake Shepherd for a high-society person. Even in civilian clothes his junior Sailors described his personal style as “Doctor Who meets a collision between Walmart and a thrift store.” Gray…in that suit and with his overly white hair…Gray perpetually looked like a presidential candidate. In the 20 years the two had known each other they had each aged out of their formerly skinny frames…but each had managed to retain that odd particular style they were known for.
Gray had seen many a suspect in many an interrogation room. He had seen suspects who looked bewildered and shell-shocked (the book process was not designed to be easy and carefree, after all). He had seen suspects who had collapsed into themselves in defeat. He had seen suspects who soiled themselves in terror. And, finally, he had seen plenty of suspects who, though beaten down, carried a regal bearing as if they above such petty trifles as legal responsibilities and were being inconvenienced.
Inwardly Gray smiled. Carolyn Stiles fit that latter category very well. And Gray savored every time he got to see such a suspect crushed into defeat by a guilty verdict at a trial they were certain they could worm out of.
Shepherd had also seen his share of interrogation rooms and suspects, although as a Navy public affairs specialist and Master Training Specialist, his involvement in such matters had mostly been a series of belief-defying accidents and coincidences that began with a murder in his barracks in Spain 20 years earlier a year after he reported to his first duty station. That whole unpleasant affair had brought Shepherd and Gray together, resulted in a second murder, brought down an admiral and his daughter, and earned Shepherd the nickname “The Accidental Detective.”
The nickname was not always meant well, especially by NCIS and other law enforcement agents who did not appreciate a rank amateur getting involved in such affairs.
One thing that bonded Isaac Shepherd and Abraham Gray (aside from the aforementioned string of coincidences landing Shepherd in the middle of murders) was a powerful moral sense. Both men found the idea of murder offensive, the idea of one person wantonly ending another’s life simply out of revenge or self-serving convenience assaulted both men’s code of integrity like an agitated skunk spraying an upscale sushi restaurant.
“Mrs. Stiles,” Gray said, relying on a formality he had perfected years ago to keep his temper under control as he faced down the vilest examples of humanity, “Frankly, we want your help.”
“You think I can help you catch Gordon.”
“To be honest, we’re hoping you can” Gray said. Gordon Grey (no relation to Abraham Gray), former Yeoman 1st Class, had been working for the late Master Chief Stiles…while secretly boinking the master chief’s wife. The two had cooked up a plot to kill Stiles while making it look like a suicide.
They very nearly succeeded…until Shepherd noticed one small detail that didn’t make sense. From that observation their whole plot unraveled and both been arrested. Carolyn Stiles had stayed safely in custody. Gordon Grey increased his number of murders to two by killing a guard as he escaped.
And then went on increasing that number of murders over the past seven months.
Gray leaned forward, “Gordon murdered a naval officer on the dinner cruise Norfolk Rover in May, then killed a crewman on that same ship, kidnapped and tortured the captain’s family to force him to help. Then he murdered the family, which led the captain to kill himself. In August he killed another officer and an enlisted man assigned to the headquarters of U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He has sent several notes to Chief Shepherd and myself openly telling us he is killing random people to get at us for having landed you in here.”
“He loves me. John never did,” Carolyn said bitterly.
“Far be it from me to tell someone an unhappy marriage isn’t worth ending,” Shepherd, himself divorced, said. “But there are easier ways to be with the jerk you love than murdering your husband.”
“Isaac,” Gray cut in, “That’s not helping. Mrs. Stiles, Gordon is going to go on killing innocent people to get as us, Isaac and I. He flat out said our families are safe because that’d be too predictable. But he’s on killing spree and, whatever you think about Isaac or I, even you have to believe that this spree must be stopped.”
She stared at them malevolently, but thoughtfully.
Gray leaned forward, folding his hands on the spare table. “We’ve talked about his murders, but Gordon has also destroyed an entire business. In addition to the people he killed in connection with the Norfolk Rover dinner cruise, he destroyed the business, putting everyone on that ship out of work. He’s terrorized the people working in the Atlantic Fleet headquarters building and a barracks on the naval station. His killing spree is going far beyond his intention to torture Isaac and myself. I know you care about him, but you have to care about these people who are getting caught in his way.”
“Don’t you dismiss them as collateral damage?” She said acidly.
“I’d call you collateral damage too,” Shepherd pointed out, almost sweetly. “I mean, you’re here and he’s free. When was the last time you heard from him?”
“I’m not going to help you catch him. I love him, and he loves me and we will be together!” Her defiance was almost admirable under the circumstances.
“You are facing a very likely long prison sentence,” Gray said. “I know you believe you’re going to beat this, but, come on, Mrs. Stiles. You know the odds against you beating this are very long. If you help us out, I promise you I’ll do everything in my power to see that is taken into consideration by the prosecution.”
“You’re all alike,” Carolyn said haughtily. “You think you can buy me off like that? Play me against Gordon? Those prosecutors have been trying ever since March. I won’t turn on him.”
“He already turned on you,” Shepherd said quietly, “Or don’t you remember he tried to stab you that night we cornered you two in Virginia Beach.”
“Seems to me you’d have a knife in your head if I hadn’t caught his arm,” Shepherd said. “If he loves you so much…well…I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure stabbing a woman through the face is not a universal sign of love.”
“Mrs. Stiles,” Gray said, silently applauding how Shepherd had played that card, “I know you care about him, but Isaac has a point. How much more of your life are you going to give over to a man who tried to kill you when everything fell apart? You have to focus on your own future, and helping us find him is a step in that direction.”
She sat back, staring at the wall between the two men.
And stared some more.
Shepherd and Gray glanced at each other after several minutes, and Gray flicked his eyes toward the door. Shepherd nodded.
They rose together.
“Good luck, Mrs. Stiles,” Gray said, “We’ll see you at your trial.”
She seemed to have come to a decision. Shepherd’s reminder of Grey’s attempted attack on her appeared to have finally cracked her snooty armor.
“I haven’t heard from him since March; you people know that,” She said. “I honestly don’t know where he is or what he’s doing. But…”
Gray and Shepherd sat down together, both leaning forward and folding their hands. In another situation, the synchronicity that had developed between the two men would have been funny.
“Gordon has restless leg syndrome,” Carolyn said, hugging herself through the orange jumpsuit.
“He has what?” Gray asked while noting Shepherd had done a bit of a double-take.
“Restless leg syndrome,” Carolyn repeated.
“RLS is a rather nasty disorder characterized by severe discomfort in the legs…sometimes other limbs…that drives a person to feel like they have to move all the time,” Shepherd said. “There’re two types, early onset and late onset. Early onset kicks in before people turn about 45 and gets worse over time, even to spreading through the body and manifesting in the arms as well. Late onset starts after age 45, but doesn’t get worse over time.”
Gray stared at Shepherd, almost annoyed. “Is there anything you don’t know, Encyclopedia Brown?”
Carolyn merely nodded and said, “Gordon has RLS. He told me it started when he was in his early 20s.”
Gray had a suspicion, but asked his question anyway just to confirm his thoughts, “This helps us how?”
“RLS can be controlled through medication,” Shepherd said, “But medication that has to be taken every day, sometimes twice a day.”
“Which means if he’s getting meds, we have a lead we can use to trace him,” Gray nodded, his idea confirmed. “Well, he’s certainly not getting them through Tricare.” Tricare was the military medical insurance system.
“I honestly don’t know anything else that might help you find him,” Carolyn said. “Like I told you, I haven’t heard from him since March.”
“I’ll be sure to mention this to the prosecution team, Mrs. Stiles,” Gray said. “If this lead does help us find him, I will do my best to make sure that is taken into account during your trial.”
Something in her seemed to deflate, and she wilted a bit before their eyes.
“Isaac, we’ve got at least a three hour drive back to Norfolk, probably longer with I-64 East traffic coming out of Richmond. We need to go if we want to be back by dinner.”
As the two rose and headed to the door, a guard opened it. Just before walking out, Shepherd turned back.
“Say hi to your son, Carolyn. Oh, darn, sorry—I forgot. He’s dead. Never mind.”
Shepherd had brief view of her face looking as though he had plunged a dagger between her eyes before Gray’s voice grabbed his attention.
“Isaac! Enough! We have to leave!”
It took them a little over 20 minutes to get out of the prison, between going through security and Gray having to make a few professional “hellos” to various prison officials. Once outside, they climbed into Gray’s burgundy sedan.
“Good Lord, man!” Gray said as they belted themselves in. “You just couldn’t stop twisting that knife, could you?”
“Oh, get off it, Abe,” Shepherd said. “I didn’t say anything you weren’t already thinking.”
“True,” Gray admitted as he started the car. “But at least I didn’t say it!”
“You can’t,” Shepherd said. “I can. You’re a professional agent, I’m not. I can get away with roasting that poisonous little bitch without violating any professional standards, and I know you agree with me. The woman murdered her own husband and her actions led to her son committed suicide and helped start our man Grey on this little adventure that’s fouled up my last seven months on active duty. Admit it, you wanted to say everything I did, even if you maintained your professionalism.”
Gray grinned as he pulled into traffic, aiming the car towards the interstate. “Alright, you got me. I was thinking most of. I’m just…I’m just not used to hearing that kind of stuff said. But…to be honest…I wish I’d let you get one more shot in before I called you off!
“Well, if she is in contact with him somehow, she doesn’t know that we already have a lead—Sulfide Services,” Shepherd said. “So now we have two solid pieces of information. This should make it easier to find him before he takes his shot at Adm. Jones.”
“I’m still leery about that,” Gray said. “Those last notes he left in that stupid skip code he apparently got off the TV show Sherlock. It just seems too obvious he wouldn’t think we’d crack something that absurdly simple.”
“Abe,” Shepherd said as the car skimmed up the on-ramp and merged into traffic on Interstate 64 East. Richmond lay at least an hour and a half ahead of them. “Abe, he’s a very smart man, but Gordon Grey thinks he’s far cleverer than he really is. So of course he’s going to do something stupid and slip up in his arrogance at making a private joke he didn’t think we’d get. And…I hate to say it…but, to be fair, he was right. We didn’t get it. My friend Tom Coleman and his Air Force intel linguists broke it. If Tom hadn’t been visiting during that ‘Hanged Man’ affair two months ago, we likely would have missed that clue. As it is, since Tom was there to help, we at least know Grey’s next target.”
“True. Adm. David E. Jones, Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.” Gray nodded. “Ok, so…restless leg syndrome. How do you know so much about it?”
“I have it.”
“I should have guessed,” Gray said. “You know, Isaac, for a 45-year-old man as strong and healthy as you, your body is falling apart in some very odd ways!”
Shepherd laughed, “I know. Chalk some of it to lingering injuries from a motorcycle wreck.”
Gray nodded, “Yeah, a wreck that was attempted murder during the first case we worked on together.”
Shepherd smiled, “Gadzooks, that was a long time ago. Spain and all that seem like a lifetime ago.”
Shepherd nodded, “I had the first manifestations of symptoms when I was 15. Started by an itch in my right calf that made me need to keep twitching my leg. My dad does that; a lot of people do. But for me over the years it slowly got to a point where I couldn’t stop twitching my leg when I sat down. And then my left leg started needing to twitch shortly before I joined the Navy.”
Shepherd took rubbed his eyes. He was wearing his contacts today. “By my tenth year in the Navy it got so bad that it was also in my arms—that horrid feeling of the muscles hurting and needing to move all the time. I couldn’t sleep anymore because I couldn’t lie still. That’s why I finally went to the doctor.”
“What does it feel like?”
“Everyone experiences it differently,” Shepherd said. “For some, it’s like ants crawling on their skin. For me, it’s a feeling like when your muscles are over-tired from over-exertion and you can’t get comfortable or get to sleep. Only magnify that several fold into both legs and both arms as well as an increasing sensation in the chest too.”
“That…would be awful!”
Shepherd nodded, “It is. My small personal pharmacy of daily chemistry includes an antidepressant, an anti-anxiety med, and pramipexole and iron pills.”
“There’s research that shows a correlation between low iron and RLS,” Shepherd said. “I started adding iron to my morning chemistry a year ago and found the pramipexole’s effectiveness was increased. In fact, it increased so much I can go 48 hours now without prmipexole before my body starts twitching again.”
“I am assuming this ‘pramipexole’ is the normal RLS medication?” Gray asked, sliding into the left lane to pass an 18-wheeler.
“It’s one of the most common. But I think there’s something like four main drugs used to treat RLS.”
Gray nodded. “Well, it’s not much. But between Sulfide Services and this, we do have two very solid leads to start tracking Mr. Grey. And we need to track him down fast. We may know Adm. Jones is his next target, but we have not idea when or how he’ll strike…only that he seems to strike every 60 days and we’re coming up on that very rapidly.”
“And he has a talent for coming at his victims from plain sight,” Shepherd said, grimly. “Not to mention the quicker this gets over, the quicker I can retire in peace. My ceremony is set for Sept. 22; that’s only two weeks from now. My parents and my brother and his family are arriving two days after the Chiefs pinning on the 16th. I kind of would prefer to do what most Sailors do at this point in their career and focus on retiring, not having to stop a murderer. This clown has really pissed me off!”
“Having a lead through his employer and now this RLS information…I’m sure we can catch him sooner than later, Isaac. The only thing I still haven’t worked out is how to get inside Sulfide Services and look around a bit before we start formally interviewing people. Grey’s good and very perceptive. If he gets wind we know where he’s working, he’ll vanish again. So…I need to talk to the office and figure out how to get inside Sulfide, and soon….”
Gray glanced over as he heard Shepherd chuckling.
“What?” Gray asked.
“Abe, my friend, you are so overlooking the obvious,” Shepherd said, grinning
“And how’s that?”
“You want to get an inside look in a contractor that supports the biggest naval base in the world and employees a number of naval veterans? Hmm…sounds like that would be a great story for a public affairs command to do! ‘Veterans Still Serving’ and all that.”
Gray glanced ahead, beginning to laugh. “Hmm…you have a point. It’s not like I have a friend who’s still on active duty and assigned to something like, say, the Navy Expeditionary Public Affairs Command East!”
Shepherd nodded. “It’ll take some fancy footwork to the CO of NEPAC HQ to buy off on this, much less the officer in charge of my center, NEPAC East. There is a real element of danger. But…Abe…I think we got this! Tomorrow we;ll talk to the admiral and your boss and let the admiral’s office reach out to Sulfide Services, and that way on Friday I can get the gang moving and get them into Sulfide.”