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grn_bt.jpg (687 bytes) Prologue
grn_bt.jpg (687 bytes) March 23, 1995 - Thursday

Austin Webb paced nervously underneath the bleachers of the Western Maryland College stadium.

Sweat was beading on his forehead with each step he took.

He was coming. A voice from the past. A ghost from the past.

A skeleton from his closet that just did not want to stay buried. It could mean the end of his career and the end of his marriage, which was already on the rocks as it was.

Austin knew what was about to happen, and who he was about to meet. And it was not possible. It just was not possible.

"It’s a joke." Austin told himself nervously. "This is just a cruel joke. Somebody has a cruel sense of humor."

Austin tried to remember which one of his comrades was the trickster.

Stewart Boswell!

"That asshole!" Austin spat still talking to himself. He then reasoned that Stewart, even with his deranged personality, would not do something like this.

There was a pact, and not even Stewart would sink this low.

It had to be somebody else, but who? Who else knew?

The possibilities were limited.

Austin heard the footsteps behind him and whirled around to meet them. To meet him, whoever he was.

"Webb!" The voice called out.

"Yes, I am here, as you requested. Or should I say blackmailed."

The voice laughed and a person stepped forward. Austin squinted to see who it was, but could not in the darkness of the night.

"Have you considered my proposal?" The voice said.

"Who are you?" Austin demanded. "I know that voice!"

"Yes. You do!" The voice said as the person removed the baseball cap, revealing a face. Austin gasped in horror and took a step back.

"My God! It’s YOU ?"

"Don’t act so surprised."

"This is not possible!" Austin declared. "There is just no way in hell this is possible!"

The voice laughed. "Funny you should mention hell...."


grn_bt.jpg (687 bytes) March 24, 1995 - Friday

Ryan Thomas knew something was not right when he woke up. He couldn't put his finger on it exactly. But he knew something was definitely amiss.

It was a little past eight in the morning when Ryan was abruptly awoke by his alarm

clock. The bright red numbers on the clock glared at him as if to say, 'Get up now, or you’ll be late for class!'. Fighting off the urge to go back to sleep, he threw himself

up out of bed and sat up with his eyes half closed, wearing nothing but light blue boxer shorts. Ryan threw a glance over to his sleeping roommate, Jarrod Mayfield.

"Rise and shine sweetheart." Ryan grumbled. Jarrod twitched, pulling the covers over his head.

"Sink and rust asshole." He responded. Ryan chuckled to himself sauntering over to the bathroom "closet". This was a running joke between Ryan and Jarrod since the day they met, in this very dormitory at Western Maryland College. The bathroom was a toilet, sink, and shower in a space no bigger than a closet.

Both men were doomed to spend their senior year of college in this cramped situation.

Ryan looked at himself in the mirror and smirked at the sight he saw. He saw a twenty two year old male with tousled blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. He ran his hand through his short hair to arrange it. No luck. All he succeeded in doing was pushing the crushed hair to one side so it stood up. He would have to take a shower to straighten it back out.

Jarrod turned in his bed and growled.

"Work late last night?" Ryan asked his half comatose roommate. Jarrod answered in a series of grunts. "I'll take that as a yes." More grunts.

Jarrod delivered pizza's part-time for Pizza To Go in downtown Westminster. Ryan, already working there had helped him get the job. It was not unusual for either of them to work until two or three in the morning. This was their source of income.

This was the case for half the students at Western Maryland College. Some had rich parents who doled out a healthy weekly allowance for beer and other college supplies. But many parents who had opted to send their children to W.M.C had put themselves in debt just for tuition to this prestigious college. Ryan and Jarrod fell into the 'not rich' category. Although Ryan’s father was an incredible wealthy man, he was trying to teach Ryan the value of a dollar. Ryan hated this theory, but knew somewhere deep down his father was probably right. This was the case for Ryan’s other friends. Most of the families who lived in the area and its suburbs were farmers or middle income households. Westminster was a medium sized town nestled between Baltimore and Frederick. The college was once of the reasons Westminster has so many flourishing businesses.

The town itself had historical value. President Lincoln traveled down Main Street on his way to Gettysburg, which was thirty miles north of Westminster itself. Buildings with bullet marks from the civil war were still preserved.

However, from a twenty-something social perspective, there just was not one whole hell of a lot to do. There was a mall more for the local teenagers and a few bars. ‘Champs’ was one of them, right down the street from the college. That's where most of the college kids went to party if they hadn't already started a party of their own.

Tonight was Friday and there were bound to be a few parties around campus come the evening. Ryan stumbled back into the room still rubbing his eyes. Ten or eleven more hours of learning, and then he could make love to the nearest beer keg and try relentlessly to get into Tiffany Cutter’s pants. Tiffany was one of Ryan’s best friends from the newspaper click. He had fallen for her the day he met her, when she had walked curiously through the door of the news room hoping to become a writer for the paper.

Tiffany on the other hand was playing a very long game of hard-to-get. She had great affection for Ryan, but was not admitting it. She had her reasons for the time being. She was fond of the cat and mouse game she was playing with Ryan. He had also been one of her closest friends since they met three years ago.

Jarrod was drifting back to sleep again. It was the mild snoring that tipped Ryan off. "Get up you lazy, black, computer hackin’ nerd!"

"Shut the fuck up, cracker boy!"

The two men threw slurs at each other left and right, but never took it seriously. They had reached a point in their relationship in the last six months where such words were a part of their friendship. According to Jarrod, his father had left right after he was born and had been raised by his mother .

Jarrod was skinny and not very athletic. His skin was light brown and his hair was a deep dark brown. He was outspoken if you knew him, and kept pretty much to the circle of friends that he had made at the paper. Computers and everything associated with them were Jarrod's hobby and that was pretty much it. Ryan had suggested the college newspaper, The Forum, to Jarrod as an extra curricular activity. Jarrod readily agreed. He had been eager to meet new people as he knew no one from Westminster. Jarrod had transferred to Western Maryland College from another University up north. A college Jarrod called Auburn University.

Ryan, on the other hand, was a party animal. If there was beer, there was Ryan. Although this lifestyle did not deter from the other responsibilities in his life. Ryan was also into the newspaper and had been there as one of the primary reports since his freshman year. He had a thing for investigative reporting.

Ryan was about to see his next assignment right outside his dorm window.

"Holy shit Jarrod, what the hell is going on out here?" Ryan asked, awake now as he peered out the window towards the college stadium.

"What the hell are you yapping about?" Jarrod asked irritated looking over at Ryan.

"There are cops all over the place." he answered in awe. Jarrod stumbled out of bed join his roommate at the window. Outside, down in the playing field were several State Police cruisers, and an ambulance.

"Jesus. I haven't the slightest idea." Jarrod gasped. "Maybe we should go find out."

"I don't think so. We'd just be in the way."

"Hey man." Jarrod said with a sly smile on his face. "Think of the newspaper. We just found our next cover story." Ryan looked back at him with a satisfied look on his face and nodded his head.

The two men were walking across the field wearing only sweat pants and T-shirts when they were met by Alan Kittridge. Alan, who was the editor in chief of The Forum, obviously had the same idea.

"What's the scoop, chief?" Ryan asked lighting up a cigarette. Alan made a disgusted look and waved his hand in front of his face to deter the smoke.

"Thomas, put that fucking thing out!" Alan barked. Ryan blew smoke in his face. Jarrod chuckled as Alan rolled his eyes." You two aren't going to believe this. Professor Webb was murdered last night."

It was Jarrod who broke the silence. "Ryan?"

"Yeah."

"Got anymore of them cigarettes on you?"

"Yeah." Ryan tossed him the pack, with matches.

"Apparently," Alan continued, "he was stabbed to death. What's really weird is that the killer branded something, a symbol, on Webb's forehead.

Ryan dragged on his cigarette. "What was it?" he asked.

"A bird of some kind. With it's wings spread." Alan said. "It looked like a crow."

"Who do they think did it?" Ryan asked, his investigative instincts kicking in.

"They have no idea. Whoever did this was very thorough. There aren't a lot of clue's left behind. No footprints, no tire tracks, no weapon, and no motive." Alan stopped briefly as if in thought. "Everybody liked Webb, I don't get it. I've known the guy for almost thirty years. He had no enemies."

"A mugging gone wrong?" Jarrod chimed in.

"Doesn't look that way." Alan said firmly. "No money missing from his wallet, nothing taken from him."

"Except his life." Ryan mused, staring off towards the field where Webb's body was being loaded into an ambulance.

Alan looked back towards the scene. "Austin Webb was a good friend of mine. We both were students here at one time, back in the late sixties. We went through a lot together. I can't believe he's dead. I really can't believe anyone would want him dead. It REALLY does not make sense."

"I'm hip." Ryan agreed as the three men watched the ambulance with Austin Webb's body in it drive away.

A half an hour later, Ryan was walking with Jarrod toward the classroom buildings for their first class. Ironically it was Advanced Sociology taught by the late Austin Webb. There had been no cancellation notice, so they figured somebody might be there to teach the class anyway.

Tiffany had been waiting outside the building for Ryan as usual. Only today, Ryan did not greet her with the same silly marriage proposal directed at her breasts. Immediately Tiffany was tipped off. Something was wrong with Ryan.

"No proposal this morning?" She asked when Ryan walked up to her with a blank expression.

"What?" Ryan asked, not hearing what Tiffany just asked him.

"Jesus." She uttered. "Something must really be wrong if you aren’t declaring your undying love for me Ryan, its been your calling card for almost three years now."

"I’m sorry sweetie," Ryan apologized. "Have you thought about my marriage proposal yet Tiff?" He asked in line with his character.

"That’s better." Tiffany said with a big smile. "Only you asked me and not my tits this morning, so I know something is still wrong."

"I suppose you could say that." Ryan said not smiling.

Tiffany started to look serious. "Ryan, what is it?" She asked.

Ryan did not answer as he didn’t know how to just blurt it out. Jarrod saved him the trouble, "Professor Webb was murdered last night."

Tiffany did not make one move. It was as if she did not hear what Jarrod had said. "What?" She asked in a whisper.

"It’s true." Ryan confirmed. "They found his body under the stadium bleachers this morning. He had been stabbed to death."

"Are you kidding me Ryan? Jarrod? If you are, this is not funny."

"No joke Tiff." Ryan reiterated. "There was a symbol of a bird with it’s wings spread branded on his forehead."

"What?" Tiffany asked again, looking shocked "What does that mean?"

"My hunch?" Ryan asked. Tiffany nodded. "If this is what I think it is going to be, I think we have the beginnings of a serial killing here. The brand of the bird obviously being the calling card, the MO of the serial killer. However, it’s to early to tell. There has to be at least three murders involving the use of the bird, which Alan thinks is a crow, before this can be officially considered serial killings."

"What does Alan think?" Tiffany asked.

"Same thing." Ryan said. "If were lucky, and I say this in the kindest way possible in regards to Professor Webb, then this will just be a one time thing. If we in fact have some kind of serial killer here on campus, or even in town, things could get pretty ugly in Westminster before this whole thing is over."

"Do you really think that Ryan?" Tiffany asked, covering her mouth.

"I don’t know yet. I certainly hope not." He replied. "Only time will tell. I would be extremely careful nonetheless, both of you."

"Yeah." Jarrod said in complete agreement. "I hear you bro."

Tiffany stared off into space for a brief moment and looked at Ryan. "How much longer till class starts?" She asked. Jarrod looked at his watch.

"About ten minutes." he said.

Tiffany slung her purse over her shoulder. "I’ll be back soon. I might be a little late." She said hurrying away.

"Where are you going?" Ryan asked calling after her.

"I’ll be back!" She called in return. Ryan watched her disappear towards her dorm building.

"That was weird." Jarrod commented.

"Yeah, really." Ryan agreed. "C’mon, lets get to class. We’ll figure her out later."

The crow. What was the significance of the crow?

Ryan was asking himself this over and over again. He looked up from the desk at the man conducting Professor Webb's class. The man was Adam Jones, Dean of the college.

Ryan looked over at Jarrod who was staring down at an empty sheet of paper. Clearly, he, like everyone else, was a bit shook up at Webb's untimely demise.

Jones was asking the class to share their feelings about Webb's passing. Ryan thought it was a complete waste of time. Everybody was more or less unanimous in their feelings. Webb was well liked and his death did not make any sense.

Ryan's thoughts were interrupted by a tap on his shoulder from someone behind him. He knew it was Tiffany. Although Ryan did not actually remember her coming into the classroom.

Ryan leaned back in his chair so she could whisper in his ear. "What?"

"The thing with the crow." She said. Ryan nodded. "I heard somewhere that the crow symbolizes a tortured spirit, avenging his death."

Ryan turned his head sideways. "Tiff, Webb never killed anyone."

"Do you know that for sure?"

"It's a pretty safe bet. Webb was cool. It wasn't in his character to kill anyone. Besides, I think you've been watching to many movies in your spare time." Tiffany huffed and slouched back down in her seat.

"Mr. Thomas?" a voice asked. Ryan looked back at Dean Jones. "Is there something on your mind you would like to share with the rest of us?" Ryan suddenly felt like he was back in high school.

"No." Jones glared at him briefly and continued his preaching. Ryan looked back at Tiffany who was shrugging her shoulders. He was actually looking at he breasts.

He focused his attention back to Jarrod who was half smiling. Ryan flipped him the bird underneath the desk.

Tiffany was whispering behind him again. "Meet me in the cafeteria at three Ryan. I have a proposal you might be interested in." Ryan turned his head to the side again, eyebrows raised in a suggestive manner. "I think not!" Tiffany whispered. "Something better. Just be there."

"You know I will be sweetie, anything for you."

Tiffany giggled in a whisper. "Yeah, I know." She said in her egotistical way. Ryan smiled and shook his head, directing his attention back to Adam Jones. Ryan looked back at Tiffany and motioned for her to come closer.

Tiffany leaned forward. "What?"

"Why can’t you meet me after class?"

"Because I have something I have to take care of first and then I have another class after that." She replied.

"So skip it."

"Ry-an! I can’t do that." She wheezed. "You will just have to learn patience my eager prince. Remember, good things come to those who wait."

"Ha, so you are teaching me." Ryan retorted

"Smart ass." She whispered in his ear, brushing her lips on it in the process. Ryan felt a chill shoot through his spine and jolted suddenly as Tiffany leaned back into her chair.

Ryan quickly scanned the room knowing his jolt has caused the table to move. People were looking at him. Jarrod was holding a laugh in.

"Are you sure there isn’t something you’d like to add Mr. Thomas?" Adam asked again. Ryan sunk into his seat as various snickers echoed around the room.

"Yeah, I’m sure." Ryan uttered.

"Okay." Adam said. "Just raise your hand at any time you feel like sharing."

"Yeah, okay."

Adam continued his speech as Ryan looked back at Tiffany who was smiling slyly. Ryan mouthed the words "you’ll pay". Tiffany smooched a kiss at him as Ryan turned to give Jarrod the bird underneath the table again.

Ryan did not say another word until class was dismissed.

Ryan walked over to The Forum news room to see what Alan was up to until his next class rolled around at eleven.

Alan was busy on the layout table, trying to piece together the next issue of The Forum.

"What’s up Alan?" Ryan asked. "How’ya doing?

"I don’t think the shock has hit me yet." He admitted. "I suspect it will when we have to write the story of what happened."

"Ooooh, who gets the by-line for that story?"

"I don’t know yet." Alan replied. "I have to speak with Adam Jones first to see how he wants this story handled."

"Geez, what a prick that man can be sometimes."

Alan chuckled. "Yeah, he can be a pompous windbag. In the meantime, I have your next assignment until I can figure out if I want you to cover Webb’s murder or not."

"Oh yeah? What’s that."

"Your going to think this is goofy, but if anybody can figure it Ryan, it’s you." Alan said looking at Ryan, smiling.

"Thanks, I think. What is the story?"

"There has been some, well, how do I out this...paranormal activity over at Alumni Hall"

Ryan looked at Alan with a blank expression. "You’re kidding, right?" He asked. "What do you mean specifically ‘paranormal activity’?"

"Ghosts." Alan said. "I overheard a couple of students talking on the way back from the stadium field this morning. They said that something funny has been going on during rehearsals of the spring musical over at Alumni Hall."

"Alan, you know as well as I that there has been a rumor going around for years that Alumni Hall is haunted. The lower level stage I think, you know, the one in the basement?"

"Yeah, I know it’s silly. But the student I was listening too is pretty reliable. I don’t think he would make something like this up." Alan explained.

"Who is it?"

"Off the record, Todd Methany. He has the lead in the musical this year." Alan replied.

"Which musical?"

"Grease, I think"

"So what happened to Todd?"

"Well, if this is right, he was walking across the center of the stage when he tripped and fell." Alan explained.

Ryan laughed. "Mystery solved Alan, that’s just Todd for you."

Alan shot Ryan a doubtful glance. "Cute. It didn’t happen that way. According to Todd, there was nothing on the stage to trip him. He described the fall as if he had run into someone and fell, but there was no one there. Also, there have been unconfirmed reports of things being scattered around backstage, like someone had just tossed them."

"So, it could be somebody screwing around. You know how actors are, hams to the last." Ryan said.

"Maybe, I just want you to check it out anyway. Maybe do a profile of other haunted places here in Carroll County in addition to Alumni Hall."

"Okay Alan, I’ll check it out for you." Ryan agreed.

"I think Todd and some others are there now." Alan said. "Talk to him if you want. Tell him I sent you. He knows I overheard him this morning."

"Okay, be back in a little while." Ryan said walking out the door.

Alumni Hall was halfway across the campus from the news room. Sure enough, Todd and some others were on the lower stage rehearsing some scenes from Grease. Ryan went unnoticed when he entered the auditorium. He watched the small group of thespians from the shadows.

Ryan looked around seeing nothing unusual. He became engrossed in the performance when something unexpected happened. There was a cold draft in the room for a second and then a cold chill passed over him. Ryan looked to see if a door was open to the upstairs entrance. It was not. Suddenly everything returned to normal room temperature.

"Jesus, this place gives me the creeps." Ryan whispered to himself. he continued to watch the broken performance below. Todd was giving his co-actors instructions when he stopped suddenly and put his arms around himself.

"Did you feel that?" Todd asked his partners.

"Yeah, it’s happening again." The other guy said.

"Ignore it, it will go away." Todd advised starting to give blocking instructions. Todd was backing up when he tripped and fell on his ass. The girl who was portraying Sandy in the musical let out a yelp. Ryan could not tell if it was fear or laughter.

"Are you okay?" The male actor asked.

"God dammit, it happened again!" Todd bellowed.

"Maybe we should call Ghostbusters." The girl said, laughing.

"Bust this!" Todd said grabbing his crotch, regaining his stance on stage. "Professor Webb’s death had just stirred up the spirits in this building, that’s all."

"You really think this building is haunted?" The girl asked.

"Of course it is Deborah. I studied up on it after the first few "chilling" episodes. A ghost has been roaming this building for years. Rumor has it a man was killed in here, in cold blood."

"Get the fuck outta here." The other guy said. "At Western Maryland College?"

"Tell that to Webb!" Todd barked.

There was no reply. A small crashing sound backstage. All three people on stage turned to see what it was. Ryan himself was tempted to leave.

Yet he stayed to watch. Todd was the first to investigate and disappeared back stage. He came back out shrugging his shoulders. "Nothing." He said. "Another box fell over, that was it."

"Unless your spooky friend pushed it over." Ryan muttered. He decided he would go to the library later and investigate. His father had mentioned once that there was a book about haunted places here in Carroll County.

It was intriguing for Ryan to think that a man had actually been murdered in Alumni Hall. A murder mystery. Ryan liked those. Agatha Christie had been his favorite growing up.

Ryan’s stomach grumbled. It was time for breakfast.

Carefully, and unknown to himself why, Ryan snuck out of Alumni Hall and drove to Donut World for some chow.

It came as no surprise that there was an unmarked police cruiser parked outside the building. Ryan parked his car, glancing towards the other side of the parking lot where the Pizza-To-Go building sat. Stewart’s car was not there. Stewart Boswell, the owner and manager of Pizza-To-Go was a general prick all around. Ryan did not look forward to going to work later.

Ryan strolled into the dining room of Donut World and sat himself at a small table in the back of the room. Two tables down, were the two men. The only other people in the dining room. Ryan assumed that these men were the users of the unmarked police car parked outside. They were dressed in suits and not the awful tan uniforms that the Maryland State Police boasted.

Ryan ordered the French toast special and ignored the two men. Until the name Webb came up. Then Ryan eavesdropped as carefully as he could.

"The card will not be made public Norman." The thinner of the two men said. "If in fact we have a serial killer loose in Westminster, we need to keep the card under wraps, to weed out the wacko’s claiming to be the killer."

"Of course." The cop called Norman replied. "We should see about mis-feeding the information on the brand to the press. We could say it was a bat or something. But not a crow."

"I’ll ask you again Norm. Why are you so sure it was a crow burned into Webb’s forehead."

"Just a theory. It certainly does look like a crow."

"Hmm, okay."

"What?" Norman asked defensively.

"I don’t know. It was the way you looked at Webb when we swept his body. You almost looked...upset, I think."

"Ian, just between you and me, for right now, okay?"

Ian sighed. "Okay..."

"I knew Webb back in my college days. Not just an acquaintance mind you, but actually knew him. We simply lost touch over the years." Norman explained.

"Why didn’t you tell me that before Norm, Jesus. We could ask to be taken off this case."

"NO." Norman said suddenly. "I want this case, if it’s all the same to you. I don’t want to say that’s it’s personal, but, in a way it is. I would like to find out who did this."

"Okay, we can stay on it." Ian said. "Is there anything else I should know?"

"No, that’s about it."

"You sure?" Ian said, sounding like he really didn’t believe Norman.

"Yeah. Lets get out of here and get some work done."

The two police got up and left the shop. Ryan looked over his shoulder to see them walk to their unmarked cruiser.

"Hmm." Ryan mused to himself as his food was served. He ate in silence. Why was Webb’s death suddenly more intriguing?

Ryan attended his eleven o’clock class and then proceeded directly to the cafeteria to wait for Tiffany.

Tiffany was actually ten minutes late, but Ryan didn't care. He worshipped the ground she walked on, but would never actually let her know it. Ryan thought she had the body of a goddess and the face of an angel. Plus he was obsessed with her breasts. He found himself staring at them all the time. Tiffany was only a junior, but partied just as hard as a senior. They had attended several social gatherings together, one trying to drink the other under the table. He had tried relentlessly to get her to go to bed with him but she never gave in, saying he said he would have to wait. When he asked for what, she never answered.

When she finally arrived, his gaze instantly locked to her breasts.

"Ryan, stop looking at my tits." she teased.

"Sorry."

"Okay, check this out." She began. "I have a friend over at the Westminster Police department who tells me that there was a message left with Professor Webb's body."

"The card," Ryan said to himself, thinking about Norman and Ian at Donut World this morning. "Who is your source?"

"I can't say, I promised I wouldn't. Consider it an anonymous source." She said. Ryan nodded not liking the answer, but accepting it. "The message was left on a blank card, and it was typed. They say it looks like it was a laser printer. The stab wounds were made from a blade comparable to that of a kitchen knife, only duller..."

"Tiff?" Ryan interrupted.

"What?"

"What did the message say?" he asked with a bit of exasperation.

"Oh, I'm sorry, it said, 'Ring me a Porter.'" Ryan looked at her with a blank expression. She continued, "What was odd is that the word 'Porter' was capitalized."

"'Ring me a Porter?' What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Ryan asked, perturbed.

"Nobody knows." Tiffany replied. "I agree with you completely Ryan. For what ever reason, Austin Webb was murdered in cold blood. And I'll tell you something else. I think it was premeditated. Whoever did this had a reason. And I think you want to find out who did it as much as I do." She looked down at the table to hide her eyes.

"You okay?" Ryan asked.

She nodded. "I can't believe this happened. Right here on campus. It just goes to show how vulnerable we all are." Tiffany started to cry. Ryan went to her side and gave her a hug.

"It's okay Tiff. Really." Ryan soothed. "I wouldn't let anybody hurt you, don't you know that?" Tiffany giggled through her sobs.

"Oh Ryan, you can be so sweet sometimes."

"Yeah, I know." he smirked with a pretentious look on his face.

"Okay," Tiffany said, regaining control of her emotions. "My proposal."

"Oh yes, I've been waiting for this." Ryan said sounding pleased.

"Ry-an," Tiffany whined. "Listen, you know as well as I that everybody on staff at The Forum wants the by-line for this story. Alan said that whoever has the best story will get the cover. I think if we work together, both of us being so sneaky and all, we could probably get the best story and we'll share a by-line. What do you think?"

"You could maybe elaborate on 'sneaky'?" Ryan asked, intrigued.

"I know that the Westminster City Police haven't searched Webb's office yet. And I'm pretty sure the State boys haven't either." Tiffany grabbed Ryan's hand. "Lets look in his office ourselves and see if there's anything there."

"Risky." Ryan said sounding impressed. "But its got potential. You were thinking of doing this, when?"

"Tonight."

"I like it."

"Meet me at my dorm building. One a.m." She instructed. "And don't tell Jarrod. I'll take care of the rest."

Ryan had this terrible sixth sense kind of feeling that Tiffany knew something and was not sharing. Wanting to search Webb’s office for clues just to write a story seemed kind of extreme. Ryan was almost sure that Tiffany was after something in Webb’s office.

"Okay, one a.m." Ryan agreed. "Tiff, just be ready to go."

She smiled. "Aren’t I always...?"

Ryan did not see Jarrod until they were at work. It was Friday night, and if one had a part time job in the food business, one could pretty much count on working part of that evening.

Pizza-To-Go was not as busy as some of the other big name pizza places. But they did enough business to keep one on their toes. Jarrod was a driver and spent most of his time on the road. If he was not delivering a pizza, he was washing dishes or prepping food for the next day while waiting his turn. Ryan on the other hand was strictly an inside man either prepping or cooking. He didn't see the point in driving the life out of a car for minimum wage, plus tips.

When the rush was over Ryan had a chance to talk to Jarrod. He found him by the dishwasher loading in pans and other utensils.

"Hey man." Ryan whispered, walking up to the prep table, which was next to the dishwasher."

"Word up, what's happening'." Jarrod replied smiling. "Haven't seen much of you this fine Friday evening."

"Been a little busy I guess." Ryan answered reaching for some pans to oil." What time you outta here?"

"Shit man, I'm stuck here till close." Jarrod pulled out another load of pans for Ryan to oil. "What about yourself?"

"Eleven o'clock baby." Ryan jeered clapping his hands together.

"Asshole. Who's dick did you suck to pull that one off?"

"Eat me bitch. The shit just happened that way. Just as well, because I, have, a date!"

"Get the fuck outta here." Jarrod mused. "What's his name?" Ryan picked up the oil jug a shot a load of it on Jarrod's apron.

"It's your fucking mother!" Ryan joked. Jarrod laughed.

"Shit motherfucker, you whipped out that little white pin dick on my mom, she'd laugh you honky ass into the ground." Ryan grunted at the thought and was about to retaliate.

"Ryan!" Ryan looked behind him knowing who it was that beckoned him. Stewart Boswell, the owner and manager of Pizza-To-Go.

"Yeah Stewart, whatcha want?"

"We need some lettuce chopped up for the salads." He declared. "Would you be so kind?"

Ryan pushed the pans aside. "Okay." Stewart walked away and Ryan looked at Jarrod. "What a prick."

"Tell me about it!" Jarrod sympathized. Ryan fetched five lettuce heads out of the cooler and set them on the prep table. Jarrod was still washing dishes. "Okay Thomas, who's the bitch?" Jarrod inquired.

"Tiffany Cutter."

"WHAT?" Jarrod asked almost falling down. Ryan reached for the knife which was in a holster on the wall above the prep table.

It wasn't there.

Ryan looked around the table and dishwasher for the knife." Well, its not a CLASSIC date, in the true meaning of the word. Were just going to take a walk later, ya know, to talk."

"Yeah right." Jarrod spat. "I've seen you idea of TALK bro. Just make sure you practice safe sex!"

"Fuck you. Where's the cutting knife?" Ryan asked, looking around the store now.

"Should be on the wall?" Jarrod looked above the cut table to see an empty holster. "Maybe not. Wait a sec." Jarrod started digging through the pile of utensils next to the dishwasher. He then opened the door to the dishwasher and scanned the bottom of the dishwasher itself. Sometimes utensils would get stuck underneath the wash arm.

"Find it?"

"No." Jarrod called back.

Ryan approached Stewart. "Hey Stewart, the cutting knife is gone."

"So?"

"Whose back did you plunge it into?" Ryan cracked. Stewart whirled around to face Ryan. He was not amused.

"And just what in the hell is that supposed to mean?" Stewart snapped. Ryan was taken aback.

"Chill man." Ryan said holding up his hands. "It was just a JOKE!"

Stewart was quick to come back. "That kind of insubordination will NOT be tolerated Mr. Thomas! Any further JOKES like that will be cause for termination. Are we clear?"

"Sorry, forget I said anything." Ryan apologized walking back to the prep table. Ryan used a smaller knife.

"What the hell was that about?" Jarrod asked.

"Hell if I know." Ryan

"No shit!"

"Mayfield! Your up!" Stewart bellowed. Jarrod put the pans down and glared at Stewart as if he were about to retaliate with some crude comment. Stewart was not a well liked man.

"That's my cue, brother." Jarrod said walking towards the cut table. He was not smiling when he walked out the door with pizzas in hand. Ryan finished his work and was off work before Jarrod got back from his run.

The knife was not found.

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Copyright 1995 - 1999  C. Kevin Provance / TPA Software.  All Rights Reserved.