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
The pinning ceremony frocking the new chiefs went off starting right at 9:00 on Friday, Sept. 16., in the auditorium of Building C-9 on the naval station. “Frocking” is a uniquely Navy tradition that allow enlisted Sailors who are selected for advancement to put on the uniform, wield the authority, and enjoy the privileges of the grade for which they were selected before they are paid and officially advanced.
Only the top-rated selected in each rate for the new chiefs was advanced that September day. The rest were only frocked and would be advanced over the course of the next year depending on their place in the ranking among the peers of their rate. Robinson, who had been #2 on the list of Chief Mass Communication Specialists selected for chief, would be advanced the next month.
The pomp, circumstances, and speeches were all rooted deep in tradition. Adm Jones spoke, recalling a time as a Lt.j.g. he had been schooled by a Senior Chief in the difference between a Senior Chief’s insignia (the Chief’s anchor with one star added) and a Chief.
The naval station’s command master chief (senior most enlisted Sailor on base and direct advisor on enlisted matters to the station’s commanding officer) spoke. And then the selectees were called up five at a time to be frocked.
Shepherd and Gray each pinned an anchor to Robinson’s new khaki collar. As soon as they were finished they stepped back a bit and Jeong Li, standing behind Robinson, lifted the combination cover of a Chief Petty Officer, moving to set it lightly on her head, bumped it against the tight knot of braided bun at the back of Robinson’s head…
And dropped it.
Li and Robinson caught it at the same time. They laughed as heartily as a chuckle went through the crowd. Already a few pinners had dropped anchors and had to stoop to pick them up. This was hardly unusual, but always funny.
Robinson hugged Shepherd, Gray, and Li, and then three returned to their seats as Robinson’s line marched up the stage behind a curtain. Once all the sailors were pinned, the curtain was raised and the assembled class led the congregation in a rendition of “Anchors Aweigh” before heading out to the sidewalk outside C-9 along Bacon Avenue.
The September sunlight dazzled Shepherd and Gray as they exited the building and got in line (Li had gotten a call from NEPAC and departed straight back to the command—from what he overhead, Shepherd guessed it was another press inquiry into his newly-corrected status as a target of the Norfolk Murderer).
“Oh, after this I need you to come to the office,” Gray said. “I’ve been going through the footage from Sulfide Services your people got last week. In fact, I’m grateful to Dionne for helping make that reconnaissance mission happen, especially considering she was in the lead-up to the final night events last night before today’s pinning ceremony.”
“She’s invested herself in stopping Gordon Grey,” Shepherd said, referring to a serial killer they were tracking. “What do you want me to look at?”
“I think I’ve spotted Grey,” Gray said. “But I want you to confirm. You and I are two of the last people around here to have seen him up close, so I want your eyes on those frames. If I’m right and it’s him, then we have another noose to start tightening on him because, if it is him, then I think I’ve spotted someone helping him.”
“Be glad to,” Shepherd said, and then the conversation ceased as the line moved forward, and they started shaking hands and congratulating the new chiefs.
Finally they reached The Four. The previous month had seen Shepherd and six selectees trapped in a building during a raging storm…along with the dead body of Robinson’s boyfriend, Jacob Collander. One of the six, Kelly Sniff, had turned out to be the murderer. Another, Harper Steinbeck, had turned out to be a jerk, and kept himself distant from the rest. But The Four (Shepherd always thought of them in capital letters) had bonded around the need to support Robinson in her loss. Persia Carpet, John Smith, Miles Killer and Dionne Robinson—The Four.
“Isaac!” Robinson said, laughing. “I finally get to call you that!”
“Chief Petty Officer Robinson!” Shepherd laughed, hugging her. “I finally get to call you that!”
“Abe,” Robinson said, finally abandoning her obsessive “Mr. Gray” at his insistence.
“Dionne, John, Miles, Persia,” Gray said, shaking each of their hands, “You all did good. You all are going to be great chiefs!”
“I wish you were staying around longer, Isaac,” Carpet said, now allowed to use his first name.
Shepherd shook his head, “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. My retirement became unstoppable after I dropped my paperwork in February. My spot was factored into your class’ selection quotas. Meaning,” Shepherd turned to Robinson, “In one sense I gave up my career to give you a better shot at chief. Don’t waste it!”
“You know I’m really glad for?” Killer asked.
“What?” Shepherd asked.
“The combination cover! It’s nice to have a cover with a brim!”
Shepherd and the rest laughed. He had said the same thing two years before when he made chief. The traditional “Dixie Cup” white hat was pretty cool…but it had no brim to protect one’s eyes from the sun. The combination cover chiefs and officers wore provided that protection.
“Alright, we have to move,” Shepherd said. “We’re holding up the line.”
“You going to be at the khaki ball next week?” Carpet asked. The Khaki Ball was a ball thrown by the chiefs to celebrate their newest members. Everyone wore their khaki uniform to it.
“Honestly, I doubt it,” Shepherd said. “Got a few things to take care of; my retirement ceremony is on the 22nd—and that’s pretty close. We got to move on. I’ll see you all later!”
Shepherd and Gray finished the receiving line. Steinbeck had pointedly ignored Shepherd’s proffered hand and just said, “Thanks.”
“He’s going to go far, that one,” Gray said, looking at Steinbeck as the two finished the line and threaded their way through the crowd towards the parking lot behind C-9.
“Meh,” Shepherd said disgustedly, “The way things run, he’ll be the one to make Master Chief!”
“Alright, see you at the office,” Gray said, heading to his burgundy sedan. “If this is Grey I’ve spotted, then we can finally lay a trap for him.”
Shepherd nodded. “Ok. I’m going to stop at ‘Subway’ and grab a sandwich, then meet you there.”
Shepherd headed back down Bacon Avenue to cross Morris Street and get to the parking lot where Sarah Jane waited. As he was about to cross the street, a voice arrested his progress.
He turned and snapped to attention, saluting, “Admiral Jones, sir!”
Jones returned the salute and then stepped closer, “Am I still scheduled to give introductory remarks at your retirement ceremony next week?”
Shepherd smiled, “Wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ll be the warm-up act for my dad, who is the guest speaker.”
Jones nodded, crossing his massive arms. He was one of those men who had to work out very little to have an incredible musculature; to this day his biceps and triceps threatened to rip open the sleeves of his khaki uniform. “You sent the notes on your dad’s career to Lt. Ali?”
Shepherd nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I also understand you believe I’m not Gordon Grey’s target at all,” Jones said.
“Correct, sir,” Shepherd said. “I am convinced he was using you as a feint to divert us…which means he has another target selected and he’s getting ready to move on that target any day now.”
Jones looked grave, “Any idea who?”
“No, sir,” Shepherd said. “Though he is still targeting me through these people, but he has also indicated he’s going to get to me soon enough. I really think he’s convinced I’m going to be paralyzed with fear and grief through him killing these other people.”
“You’re not, I hope.”
“I’m pissed off. I’m going to nail this son of a bitch to the deck,” Shepherd said, “And if I’m very luck, I’ll be the one to nail him with a bullet through the head. I don’t know how yet, sir. But I will stop him. This is over and he will not kill again.”
“How can you be so sure if you don’t know his target? Sulfide Services is a huge company, and has people all over this base, Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Little Creek…even NAS Oceana. That’s a lot of ground to cover.” Jones popped to a loose attention to return the salutes of some junior enlisted Sailors who were talking and, glancing up, nearly had a heart attack seeing who they were about to walk into.
“It’s hard to explain, Admiral,” Shepherd said. “Granted we can’t just ban Sulfide Services people from coming on base to their jobs. But that’s not the problem. I have an odd feeling Grey knows we know where he’s been working. If so he’ll drop out of sight now before NCIS can get too close. Still…I…I can see the puzzle, sir. I can almost see the picture. The pieces are there and I can almost recognize it. I just need one or two more details and I can get nail it.”
“I know it doesn’t need to be said, but as I’m ultimately responsible for every life on these bases, I have to say it, Chief. You need to hurry.”
“I understand, sir,” Shepherd nodded. “In fact I’m on my way to NCIS right to review some footage that might give me that last piece or two.”
Jones nodded, “Don’t let me hold you up then. Good luck!”
Shepherd saluted again, “Sir!”
He drove over to the Subway restaurant attached the Mini NEX sandwiched between Twoway Drive and Bellinger Blvd. While waiting in line, he got the odd feeling a lot of people were staring at him.
Odd, He thought. Every chief around here is in khakis from the pinning ceremony.
And then he heard someone behind him whispering, “Yeah, that’s him…the one they were questioning about these murders!”
Ah! He thought. I guess news of my status as a person of interest is still circulating. Oh, bother…
Shaking his head, he got his food, paid, and drove over to NCIS. Bale was waiting for him in the lobby to sign him in.
“Abe has the footage up,” She said as the took the elevator up to the second floor.
“Isaac,” Gray said from his computer, “Your Sailors did good. They got hours of b-roll that we’ve been scanning. I have to amend my earlier statement; on second review of these clips the person I thought might be helping him isn’t…and that’s assuming you can confirm the person I’m looking for is Grey.”
“I got stared at big time at Subway,” Shepherd said. “And heard people whispering; apparently the story about me being a person of interest still has legs.”
Gray and Bale exchanged looks, and Gray said, “Yeah, Charlotte released the new statement about you this morning, but it’ll take time for the narrative to change. You know that. By the way, I drove by your house again this morning after I left on my way to base. Only WAVY 10 was parked out there; the rest of the gaggle from last night has left.”
“Good.” Shepherd settled himself. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“I’m not going to tell you when I think I spot him,” Gray said. “I need your opinion uncorrupted by my ideas.”
Shepherd nodded and began eating as he started playing the video footage.
It took him an hour to go through it all…twice. There were lots of stops as he paused the film, noted a time mark, then went on. Finally he wadded up his sandwich wrapper and tossed it and his cup into Gray’s trash can. He paused a frame on the screen.
“He’s not here,” Shepherd said. “But, before you react, that dude there does look inordinately like him. However, the skin color is a little too light. Grey’s Hispanic in origin and has slightly darker skin. And the tattoo on the arm…I’m pretty sure it’s an octopus, and that’s now what Grey had on his arm.”
“You’re sure?” Gray asked, incredulous.
“Very sure,” Shepherd said. “Face shape is slightly off too.”
“Damnation!” Gray smacked the desk in frustration.
“Don’t be upset,” Shepherd said. “I had a feeling he’d picked up on us sniffing around and ducked out already. No evidence mind you, just a feeling based on how perceptive he is. The more I thought about it, the more I though it likely he’d figure a NEPAC film crew meant I’m ferreting around for him. He is pretty smart, you know. However…this exercise in video futility was not futile after all!”
Gray and Bale traded glances, and Gray looked back at Shepherd, “Come again?”
Shepherd checked a time mark on his notes, and then ran the footage to that mark and paused it. “Him.”
“Him?” Bale asked. “Who’s he?”
“Abe, do me a favor,” Shepherd said, “Get the still photos out from March. You know—the ones Grey took in that bar and tried to pass off as being taken on St. Patrick’s Day—the day he killed John Stiles.”
Gray looked uncertain, but went to go get them.
Shepherd looked at Bale, “Grey tried to create an alibi for himself by posting photos on social media of him at a bar. He posted the photos on March 17, the night John Stiles was murdered. What started unraveling the alibi was that no one, no one, in that bar was wearing green, nor did the bar have any St. Patrick’s Day decorations or shamrocks up. On closer inspection of a TV caught in the background of one of his selfies, we were able to make out a date that was several days earlier.”
“I see,” Bale nodded, “He took them and held them. So, when he posted on March 17, the date stamp on the social media site was March 17.”
Gray came back with a file and unceremoniously dumped the mylar envelopes holding each photo on his desk.
Shepherd sorted through them. He took fifteen minutes to study the faces in each photo.
“Ah ha!” He smacked the desk triumphantly.
“Ah ha?” Gray asked, intrigued.
“Him!” Shepherd said, pointing to a man standing just behind Grey in the self from back in March, and then up to the face on screen. The scene on the screen was in a break room in Sulfide’s building. Sitting behind the subject of the interview was the same man.
“There’s our connection!” Shepherd said.
“Dammit!” Gray smacked his own forehead. “That’s the man I mentioned I thought was helping Grey, but but changed my mind when I never saw him again. I had no idea why that thought struck me, so I decided to ignore it.”
“You haven’t seen him since March,” Shepherd said. “Not since we examined these photographs, but the case against Grey broke so cleanly we didn’t have to really look deep into these. The only reason I did back then was I was struck by something odd, that ‘odd’ thing was the absence of any St. Patrick’s Day stuff in an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Bale’s secure phone went off, making them all jump. She stepped out of the office to answer it.
“And, to make it easy,” Shepherd was saying, “My Sailors interviewed this guy! About half an hour after this shot, they got some commentary from him about the actual subject of their story…here! And in the production notes I’ll be you’ll find his name marked at this time mark!”
Gray poured through the notes he’d been given. The Sailors had written down the name and time mark of everyone interview.
“John Lee, Sulfide HVAC expert,” Gray said, his eyes lighting up. He pulled out his own phone and dialed. “Carla? Abe. Listen, we have a lead at Sulfide and I need you or Shey to get over there and follow it up. A man named John Lee. Lee…L-e-e. We found him with Gordon Grey is some old photos from March, and he’s at Sulfide; odds are he’s Grey’s inside connection! I’ll be Grey has cleared out, but Lee is still there. Go get him and put as much pressure as you can on him. Tell him we have proof he’s supply Grey with meds, help, whatever. Just squeeze him to the legal limit as fast as you can!”
Gray hung up and turned back to Shepherd. “Ok, your idea worked, my friend! We have a connection to Gordon Grey. But, unless we got some real information, we can’t stand down the extra security around Adm. Jones. We need something more.”
“And we need it now,” Shepherd said. “You saw that note he sent me. He’s ready to move again. He was feinting with the admiral, but that means he has his target. But…who? Who the hell is he going after?! I will not let him kill again!”
Bale stepped back into the office, excited. “I’ve only got a minute, then I need to call back some contacts at the FBI. But you’re idea last night paid gold, Isaac. Those odd suicides that seemed to happen near Grey? There is a connection, and it was the name ‘Gordon.’ Every one of the victims, male or female, had the name ‘Gordon’ connected to them somehow. First name, middle name, last name…even street names! One victim was named Sheryl Dibney and she died at home, but her office was on Gordon Street! Another victim was a Military Sealift Command civilian who also died at home…but was part of the crew of the USNS Gordon out of San Diego! That’s our connection!”
“Hot damn!” Shepherd sprung up and high-fived Gray. “We’ve got ourselves a serial killer leaving his own name as one of the common threads!”
Bale talked fast, almost breathless, “But he’s also been damned clever about it! Not all the victims have the name ‘Gordon,’ and none of them have any direct or close indirect connection to him! By shifting the ‘Gordon’ marker around between people’s names, street names, even a ship name—he’s kept it below the radar! I need to go and call the office up in D.C.!”
She bolted from the room.
Gray’s secure cell rang again. He listened for a moment nodding, then hung up. “That was Shey. He happened to be at Sulfide talking to the senior manager, so he detained Lee. When faced with an NCIS badge, Lee crumpled. Lee’s been getting the RLS meds for Grey from other friends, but friends outside of Sulfide, and he spread it around small group of people, so the usage wouldn’t show. More than that…Grey did work there but abruptly quit the day your people showed up!”
“Called it!” Shepherd exulted.
“He was working under the name Hector James, and Lee helped him get his security paperwork forged. Apparently Sulfide has some real security problems they’re going to have to address.” Gray folded his hands up to his mouth, thinking, then said, “We’re still no closer to knowing the real target, though.”
“Yes. We are,” Shepherd said. He began pacing, and Gray noticed his sea-green eyes beginning to glow as they always did when his amazing brain began to put the puzzle together.
“Yes, we are…” Shepherd said again. “He’s telling us….good Lord, the man is telling us who he’s going to kill! He wants us there, Abe—you and I! Mainly me, but he wants to cut your throat too! Bu the bonus for him is that if we don’t figure it out, he gets to murder again and, in his mind, hurt us more!”
The glow in Shepherd’s eyes brightened to emerald suns blazing out. “Think! He sends us notes months ago challenging us. He specifically addresses me and that he hates me for taking away his chance for promotion! He kills a naval officer, then two crew of the Norfolk Rover. The captain’s death was a suicide, yes, but a suicide forced on him after Grey tortured his family and killed them. Then Grey goes and kills another naval officer…closely connected to an admiral I’m closely connected to! He is obviously raging against rank and power that he was denied!”
“Ok, I can track with that, but so what?”
Shepherd raised his hands to his mouth, prayer-fashioned, then went on, “Next he leaves two asinine fake suicide letters that I, in my own arrogance, dismiss as simple arrogance by him. But he used a really dumb skip code right out of a Sherlock episode in them…and I’m betting he figured I’d crack that code because I’m a Sherlock fan.”
“How could he know you love the BBC’s Sherlock?” Gray asked.
“It’s all over my social media,” Shepherd said, pacing and spinning up into even higher gear, “Things like that are public because I’m part of various TV forums! That bastard’s been profiling me as long as we’ve been profiling him! God dammit! He pegged me! He knew I’d dismiss those fake suicide notes and their message as just arrogance on his part—he pegged my own infatuation with my over-inflated sense of psychological judgment perfectly! But those messages were real…he is reaching for the stars!”
“But we know he’s not aiming for Adm. Jones,” Gray said. “That’s not his style, and even Gordon Grey will be, as you often point out, limited to being himself, and simply can’t seem got get away form a ‘Gordon’ connection to his premeditated murders.”
“Then that phrase, ‘reaching for the stars’ means something other than Adm. Jones!” Shepherd said. “But what…? Think, Isaac! The man is working for the biggest custodial contractor in Hampton Roads! He’ll know…things…”
“Abe, do you remember our first case—the Symco case—in Spain?”
“Not easy to forget,” Gray said.
“During it you and I had a discussion while having coffee in downtown Rota while the old Saipan was in port. We joked that, for all our operational security, the taxi drivers always knew ship arrivals ahead of time because they had friends among the civilian port workers?”
“Until today Grey worked for the biggest custodial contractor in Hampton Roads,” Shepherd said. “He’d have access to knowledge of a lot of upcoming events!”
Gray stiffened, “The senators! They’re both going to be on base, but they’ll be staying out in town. Two U.S. senators would be a hell of a target for him!”
“No,” Shepherd said. “No, not them…that phrase he threw in our faces, ‘reaching for the stars.’ That’s pretty damned specific considering how deeply the imagery of stars is embedded in all the iconography of the every branch of service!”
“But we know he’s not after Adm. Jones. And, in case you’re not aware, no other admiral or general around here is named Gordon, lives on a Gordon Street, or works on a ship named Gordon. Who else can ‘stars’ refer to in the Navy?”
Shepherd’s eyes widened and veritably spit out green fire as he and spun on his heel, both hands slamming down on Gray’s desk as his face registered a mixture of excitement and fury, “I’ve got it! I know who his target is!!”
“Think, Abe!” Shepherd said. “He hates me because he blames me for ruining his chances of making chief! More: who else in the Navy besides an admiral do stars represent? Who else in the Navy besides a vice admiral wears three stars as part of their insignia? And who just happens to be coming to Naval Station Norfolk today?!”
Gray was lost. Understandable in hindsight as he had never looked at the NEPAC East Production Board.
“MCPON!” Shepherd fairly shouted. “Abe, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy is arriving today! That’s who his target is: MCPON Alicia Shreveport Gordon!!!”