sc_ban.gif (7151 bytes)


grn_bt.jpg (687 bytes) March 28,1995 - Tuesday

"Ryan, wake up." Jarrod said jolting Ryan from peaceful sleep. Probably the only peaceful sleep he had experienced since this whole mess with Austin Webb began. Ryan reluctantly opened one eye to see Jarrod hunched down in front of him. He was dressed in his sweats and was not looking happy. Ryan glanced up at the clock. It was seven forty five in the morning.

"Fifteen more minutes fucker." Ryan growled. "Its not eight yet."

"We got trouble." Jarrod said seriously. Ryan opened both eyes. Jarrod sounded like he meant business.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I woke up early cause I had to go to the bathroom. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I thought I would go get some breakfast. I found these plastered to our door when I went outside." Jarrod held up the naked photocopies of Tiffany with 'Austin Webb's lover revealed' captioned underneath. Ryan immediately sat up in bed.

"SHIT!" he barked. "Are they around campus?"

"I don't know, I haven't looked yet." Jarrod said. "I can only assume so."

Ryan put his sweats on and called the newsroom. There was no answer, only the phone machine with Alan's voice informing the caller that no one was there and to leave a message. "Alan, this is Ryan, we got trouble. I don't know your home number so your gonna have to find me. If I'm not in my dorm, beep Jarrod. The number is in the rolodex on one of the desks. He'll be with me. It ain't good, so do it as soon as you get there. Bye." Ryan looked back up at Jarrod. "Lets go check out the campus."

The two left the dorm and started for the student lounge.

"They were serious." Jarrod said en route. The sun was just starting to creep up the horizon, throwing a fire orange light over the college. It was a rude awakening with the post winter chill in the air. Ryan was glancing around campus. No body was really up yet, which was good in case there were copies of this picture floating around. They might be able to lessen the damage in case Tiffany's picture was a matter of public record by snagging as many of the flyers as they could.

"Apparently so." Ryan replied breathing into his hands to warm them up. "We were being followed last night. If it was the killer, he knows what were up to and means business."

"Do you think we're in any danger Ryan?" Jarrod asked. Ryan looked at him then, seeing the fear in his face.

"I don't know." he said. "We really need to start watching our ass's. This could be more serious than we thought. I think that we..." Ryan stopped talking as he and Jarrod stopped in front of the student services building. They stood there surveying what they saw. "We're fucked." Ryan uttered.

Every window on the building had one of the damaging flyers on it. They were on the side of the building also. Flyers were scattered all over the ground like discarded newspapers. Ryan looked down the side of the building towards the activities building where even more flyers were posted.

"Oh my God." Jarrod whispered. "It's started. This is for real."

A chill creeped down Ryan's spine. "Tiffany." he said to himself. Ryan bolted across the quad and towards the other side of the campus where the female dorms were. Jarrod followed, barely keeping up. As Ryan approached Tiffany's building, he saw more of the flyers scattered about. Some on the ground, some on the buildings.

Melissa was coming out of the building when Ryan and Jarrod got to the door. She saw then immediately. "Ryan!" she called out. "What in the hell is going on here?"

"I don't know." He lied. "Is Tiffany up there?"

"No, I don't know where the hell she is. She never came back." she replied looking around the campus.

"Or she did and saw this shit." Ryan spat pulling one of the flyer off the building. "If that's the case, she ain't coming back here. Was there any message on the machine?"

"Just her telling me she was spending the night over her parents house and that she'd be back in the morning."

"That's it?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah."

Ryan was clueless. He thought maybe Tiffany had gone back to her parent's house. That number would be in the rolodex at the newsroom. Ryan said, "If you hear from Tiffany, find me, call me, just get a hold of me, okay?"

"Whatever." She said. "Are you sure you don't know what's going on?"

"It's a really long story Melissa." He said. "I'll tell you later." Ryan turned to Jarrod. "Newsroom, I need to get Tiffany's home phone number." Jarrod nodded. They left leaving Melissa completely in the dark. She called out his name wanting more information, but Ryan ignored her. Melissa's curiosity would have to wait. "Ya know Jarrod." Ryan began as they jogged towards the activities building. "I find it difficult to believe that no one noticed someone putting these flyers up last night. Someone HAD to have seen something."

"Wasn't Ron on duty last night?" Jarrod asked.

"Yeah, but I don't know how late."

"Maybe he saw something."

"Maybe." Ryan said. "He would have contacted us though."

"How? Does he have our number?"

"Newsroom phone." Ryan answered. "Maybe there's a message on the machine." They stopped at the door that led to the hall in front of the newsroom. The door that the mystery person used to leave the building during the chase the night before. The window was broken. Ryan could see at the other end of the hall the window to the newsroom was broken also. "Shit, somebody broke in last night."

Jarrod reached for the handle on the door to enter the building. Ryan stopped him and said, "Don't. There might be prints of whoever did this here." Ryan took his shirt off, wrapping it around his hand. He opened the door that way. They ran down the hall and entered the newsroom. The door was already open.

The newsroom was completely trashed. Somebody had ransacked it. Papers were strewn about, desks completely messed up. It appeared as if someone had tried to pry Alan's safe open. It was way to big and heavy to remove from its spot. Fortunately, it remained sealed. The beeper and the pictures of Tiffany should still be in there, unscathed.

"Ryan." Jarrod said. "The computer, look." On the computer was one of the business card size messages. They walked up to the monitor and read the card.

NEXT TIME I HIT CLOSER TO HOME.
FINAL WARNING.

"Is this another one of those sick riddles?" Ryan asked out loud. "Closer to home? Tiffany's image is ruined, how much closer to home can you get?"

Jarrod said, "Maybe Alan was right. One of us could be the next victim. Maybe we should forget about this whole thing."

Ryan turned to face Jarrod. "Are you crazy? We're in too deep. We just can't stop like none of this never happened. We really have to find out who is behind this. If we stop this investigation, it doesn't necessarily mean we're safe. It only means we have to double our efforts and figure this thing out quick!"

"Ryan, I'm scared, I don't want to die. This whole thing has blown completely out of proportion."

"Your not going to die Jarrod." Ryan assured. "We're just going to have to take extra precautions." Jarrod didn't look reassured. Ryan looked back towards the phone machine. It was blinking once, which meant there was only one message. Ryan's.

Exasperated, Ryan walked to the desk the rolodex was on and flipped through it, looking for Tiffany's home number. Instead, he found Alan's, who he called immediately. Alan was asleep when he picked up the phone.

"Yeah?" a grumpy Alan asked.

"Alan, its Ryan, we got real problems here at the college, you should get down here right away."

"What's going on?" he asked a little more awake.

"Tiffany's flyer was circulated last night." Ryan said. "Also, the newsroom got broke into last night. It's completely trashed, and someone attempted to brake into your safe. It looks like they didn't succeed. Also, Tiffany has disappeared. I think she probably saw one of the flyers and took off."

"Jesus H. Christ, is there anything else?" he asked.

"Another message card left on the computer monitor. It say's 'Next time I hit closer to home. Final warning.'" Ryan said. "Jarrod's pretty scared. I gotta tell you Alan, I'm not feeling to secure these days either. Other than that, I haven't seen anything else yet."

"Okay." Alan said. "I'm going to page Ron to call you there and then I'll be right there. Hang tight." Alan hung up the phone.

It took about ten minutes for Ron to call back. Ryan briefed him on the situation. Ron said he would be there right away with a finger print duster, and instructed Ryan not to let anyone else touch anything else.

Ryan and Jarrod waited in the newsroom for Ron and Alan. There was complete silence as they waited, until Jarrod's beeper went off. He looked at it confused. "I don't know this number." he said showing it to Ryan.

"Call it." Ryan said.

Jarrod picked up the phone, dialed, and waited. "Who is this?" he asked. His look of confusion became one of satisfaction. "Where the hell are you?" Pause. "Yeah, he's right here, hold on." He looked at Ryan. "It's Tiffany."

Ryan took the phone from Jarrod. "Tiffany?" Ryan asked.

"Tell me you know what the hell is going on over there." she said sounding upset.

"You've seen the flyers then." Ryan inquired.

"I came back to my dorm this morning from my parents house and they were all over the place." she said. "Do you know anything about this?"

"Unfortunately I do." he said. "But you have to tell me something Tiffany, and be completely honest with me this time."

"I have been!" she whined.

"What were you REALLY looking for in that filing cabinet in Webb's office that night we went through his shit." Ryan asked.

Tiffany sighed. "When I broke it off with Austin, I gave him back something he had given me. He put it in the filing cabinet."

"What was it?"

"A beeper. He had given me a beeper so he could contact me without drawing attention from other people." She explained.

"What?" Ryan asked in surprise. "You don't have that beeper with you anymore?"

"No, I don't." Tiffany said sounding surprised herself. "How did you know about that beeper. I never told you about it."

"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it later." Ryan said. "Just let me see if I have this straight. When you broke it off with Webb, you gave him back the beeper, right?"

"Right, so?"

"That same beeper was found outside my car the morning after Webb was killed." Ryan admitted. "The belt clip to that beeper was found with Webb's body the morning he was killed."

"What are you saying Ryan?" Tiffany asked. "Are you thinking I killed Austin?"

"No Tiff, I think your being set up to take the fall for his murder." Ryan said. Tiffany didn't reply. Ryan continued. "I know that the picture being circulated was one Webb took of you during one of your, uh, interludes."

"How do you know all of this Ryan?" she asked sounding pissed now. "Austin never got those pictures developed. I was looking for that roll of pictures in the filing cabinet too. He told me once that's were he kept them. I didn't want anyone else to find them fearing something like this would happen."

"I found the roll Tiff."

"And you developed them?" she snapped. "How dare you!"

"Tiffany, how the hell was I supposed to know what was on that roll." Ryan explained. "I found it in his briefcase that same night. I thought I might get a better clue as to what Webb was into that might have gotten him killed."

"And you didn't tell me what you found?"

"A few days ago, this was a simple quest to write a story for the paper." Ryan said. "It's gotten completely out of hand now. Whoever the killer is, he's following us. They broke into my car after I developed the pictures and stole one. Its the one being circulated. I didn't know it was missing until it was too late. This is supposed to be some kind of warning to back off or something more drastic is going to happen."

"More drastic?" Tiffany snorted. "How could it get more drastic?"

"One of us could get killed!"

"I think I'd rather be dead than humiliated like this!" she spat.

"Tiff, your over reacting." Ryan said. "This can be taken care of. It's my theory the killer is trying to set you up to look like the murderer. We know you didn't do it. Ron has already verified your whereabouts the night Webb was killed."

"How do you know Ron?" Tiffany asked, still in shock.

"He came to me the day the police questioned you. He said he had some information for us." Ryan explained. "We struck a deal with him. He gives us official information and we lead him to the killer, if we get that far."

"Jesus Ryan, why am I the last to know about anything." Tiffany whined. "How am I supposed to show my face around campus now."

"Your not going to." Ryan said. "Let me take care of damage control. Meanwhile, I want you to go somewhere safe, in case the killer is following you. Don't tell me where. Nobody should know. You still know the number to the beeper Webb gave you?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I'm going to keep that beeper on me."

"You HAVE that beeper?" she snapped.

"Yes. It's in a safe place. I want you to beep me every six hours so I know your safe, and so I can update you on what's going on here." Ryan said. " I don't want the killer coming after you. He left a message saying next time he would hit 'closer to home.' I don't want that to be you Tiff."

There was a bit of silence before Tiffany spoke. "Okay Ryan, if you think that's best."

"I do Tiff." he replied. "I'll take care of this. You'll be okay."

"Thank you Ryan."

"Beep me at two." he instructed.

"Okay."

"Bye Tiff." Ryan said and hung up the phone as Alan walked into the newsroom. He looked around in disgust.

"Jesus, this is worse than I thought." Alan muttered surveying the room. He walked over to the safe and proceeded to open it up. It's contents had remained untouched.

"Alan, I need the beeper." Ryan said. Alan glanced at him cautiously. "Tiffany has gone into hiding in view of what's transpired. I told her I would have that beeper on me so she can get a hold of me and check in every six hours or so. So we know she's okay."

Alan consented and tossed Ryan the beeper. "Maybe we should do something with these too." Alan said holding up the pictures of Tiffany. "It's obvious somebody is trying to get to them."

Ryan took the pictures out of Alan's hand and threw them in the empty trash can on the floor. He then picked up the trash can and proceeded to leave the office. "I'll take care of it." He said.

"Where are you going?" Jarrod asked.

"To burn them." Ryan answered. "It's not evidence of anything except Tiffany's indiscretions. I made the mistake of having them printed and now one of them has been circulated. If in fact Webb's killer was here last night looking for these, or the beeper, then they shouldn't be here. If anymore of these pictures get out, it's going to cause Tiffany a lot more grief than she has already. We'll simply destroy the pictures and I'll hold on to the beeper. Anything else we come up with, we'll lock in a safety deposit box somewhere. Someplace where the killer or whoever wanted this stuff has no access to." Alan was nodding his head in agreement. Ryan took the pictures outside the building and set them on fire with his cigarette matches. In a matter of minutes they were destroyed, leaving no trace of Tiffany's romp in the office with Austin Webb.

Ryan was thinking about what Tiffany must have been going through right now as he watched the pictures of her melt into one pile of goo. She must be hurting, and dreadfully embarrassed to show her face around campus. It would only be a matter of hours before most of, if not all of the populace of Western Maryland College knew of Tiffany's fling with the late Mr. Webb.

Behind him in the newsroom, Ryan heard the phone ring.

The fire started to die away as onlookers passing by the activities building started at Ryan and the fire in curiosity. He looked around to see the students on their way to class stop and look at the flyers of a topless Tiffany. Thus starting the rumour of her relationship with Austin Webb.

It was going to get ugly soon.

Somewhere, probably nearby, the killer was getting a good laugh at Tiffany's expense. Ryan was pissed and anxious to discover who the murderer was. He or she would pay dearly for this outrage.

When the fire was out, Ryan carried the trash can back into the newsroom. Alan was placing the phone back into it's cradle and pushed the play button on the phone machine. Ryan opened his mouth to say it was only him. But after a few seconds of Alan hearing Ryan's voice, he shut it off. Jarrod was leaning back against the layout board, observing the mess in the room before him. "That was Mike." Alan said. "I left a message for him on his machine while you were outside. He just called back."

"That was quick." Ryan mused.

"He was in the bathroom having a shower." Alan explained. "I told him what had happened. He's on his way down."

Ryan said, "The pictures are gone." Ryan said setting the trash can down in front of Alan. "Now all we have to worry about are the one's posted around the college."

"Are you suggesting we confiscate every loose flyer of Tiffany?" Jarrod asked.

"As many as we can." Ryan said.

Jarrod rolled his eyes. "I understand what your saying Ryan but Jeez, the whole campus? It would take us all day to cover the entire area of the college."

"Maybe not." Ryan said. "We didn't see the flyers until we got to the student lounge. There weren't any flyers around our dorms."

"There were some around Tiffany's." Jarrod pointed out.

"True. But I suspect whoever did this only put them up around there to get Tiffany's attention. I think the reason they're all over the student lounge building and the activities building is because that's where all the heavy student traffic is."

"Makes sense." Alan reasoned. "If whoever did this did it after our chat with Ron last night, it only gave them about five hours to do it in. That's not enough time to cover the whole college. Just the areas that would be most effective." Alan picked up the card on the computer monitor and studied it. He was shaking his head. "Laser printer again." Alan studied the card looking at both of it's sides. There was nothing there to see. "This is the same kind of card and printer the murderer is using." Alan said. "Obviously they were here last night."

"Yeah, listening to every word we said." Jarrod muttered. The sound of somebody running loudly down a hall filled the air. They looked out the broken window of the newsroom door to see Mike approaching them.

"I got here as quick as I could." he said out of breath. He was wearing sweats also. Ryan noticed in fact that everyone in the room was wearing sweats. They should have dubbed themselves the 'sweat suit detectives.'

Ryan glanced at the clock. "That was pretty quick." he said.

Mike looked at him like he was unsure. "My dorm is only right around the corner." He said. Mike stood there for a moment, then freaked out as if the shock of the newsroom being trashed hit him like a delayed reaction. "Holy shit! You weren't kidding Alan. This place looks like hell." He smiled then. "It kinda looks like your dorm Ryan."

"Shut up Mike." Ryan snapped. "This is serious. We have some real problems now. Apparently, the person, or persons who killed Webb and Porter were here last night. It was probably them eavesdropping last night and it was definitely them who trashed the place. The card they left matched the one's left with the victims. They tried to get the beeper and the pictures of Tiffany. I have the beeper now and the pictures are destroyed."

"Aw man." Mike scoffed. "And they were good pictures too!" Alan shot Mike a dirty look as he started to clean off his desk.

Ryan continued, "Tiffany has gone into hiding at my request. I don't know how safe she would be here right now..."

Jarrod interrupted, "Or how safe any of us are."

Ryan glanced at his as if to say 'shut up', and continued, "I don't know where she is, and it probably should stay that way. She'll check in with me every six hours so I'll know she's okay. I have a bad feeling the killer may be working with somebody on the inside of the college."

Dead silence. They were all looking at Ryan. It was Alan who spoke next. "This is the first I've heard about this theory Ryan. What makes you say something like that?"

"Gut feeling." he replied. "If the killer is in fact older, and not a student at this college, as we suspect. Then he has no business being on campus. It would be very difficult for someone just to start hanging around campus this time of year if they had never been seen or noticed before. Whoever the killer is, he knows a lot about us. And we know very little about him, or her, or them. What I'm saying is, if the killer is not a student and is older, it stands to reason he knows somebody here who has easier access to the kind of information he has. If were being followed, maybe they have somebody following us and reporting back to them. Thus, it becomes a group of people involved instead of an individual. The killer knew about the pictures in my car, he knew about Tiffany's affair with Webb, he obviously knew we were talking to a police officer based on one of his warnings. The only people how knew about these things were us and now Ron."

"Are you saying one of US is involved with the killer?" Mike asked.

"Not necessarily." Ryan said. "I think one of us or some of us, hell, maybe even all of us are being followed or watched. This office could be bugged for all I know. It's a possibility we have to explore. If the killer has the brains to create bombs that explode with a simple phone call, he might have the smarts to have this room bugged."

Nobody said anything then. They looked around at each other and then around the room as if one of them might actually spot a transmitter. "Let's wait outside for Ron." Alan suggested as he headed for the door. The group walked down the hall halfway and stopped.

"Jesus Ryan." Jarrod said. "Do you really think the newsroom is bugged?"

"It's possible." he replied. "Practically anyone can walk in and out of there and not be noticed if no one was around. We should ask Ron if he had some kind of device that can sweep for bugs."

Alan was nodding his head again. "It makes sense. And it would account for a lot of things. Most of the conversations we've had have been in that room and as far as I know, nobody really know what goes on down here unless your part of the newspaper team. The other writers for the paper don't really work down here. It's mostly just us. You could really be onto something here Ryan."

"Until we can get Ron to sweep the room, we shouldn't talk about the investigation there." Ryan said. They agreed.

"What about Webb's wife?" Jarrod asked. "She knew about Tiffany, or at least she knew Webb was screwing around. Maybe she got pissed and killed him."

Alan looked at him doubtfully. "Maybe, but what's her connection to Porter?" He asked. "It's a real shot in the dark."

"Hey, the last one turned up something." Jarrod reasoned. "The school mainframe? That's how we found out Porter was a student here. Maybe Webb's wife was too."

Alan looked satisfied. "Check it out Jarrod, see what's there. I'll check my yearbook to see if Linda attended this college back in the seventies. Oh, and don't forget to hit the library about those newspapers from 1970."

"It's cool, I’m on it." Jarrod said. Ron appeared through the door at the end of the hallway. He was studying the broken window.

"Christ!" he muttered to himself walking towards the group. He was carrying a duffel bag. "How's it going guys?" he asked doubtfully.

"We think the room is bugged." Jarrod blurted out. Ron chuckled and unzipped his bag, withdrawing a device that resembled a tri-corder from a Star Trek episode. "What the hell is that?"

"It sweeps for transmitters." Ron informed. "I'm way ahead of you guys. I thought about it last night on the way home. I don't really want to take any chances on information about your investigation and our partnership leaking out. So I figured I would secure the newsroom as a sort of conference room."

Ryan said, "I have the feeling the killer bugged the room. It's the only logical explanation as to why the killer knows what he knows about us. Short of one of US being involved."

"I hear you." Ron said. "Well take a look."

Ron was brought up to date on the situation with Tiffany as he swept for a bug and dusted for prints.

"Not a damn thing." Ron said putting his equipment back into the duffel bag. "The person who broke into this room was careful. I can't get a single solid print on anything. It's probably safe to assume the culprit wore gloves of some kind.

"This room is also clean. No bugs, no transmitters, and as far as I can tell, the phone isn't tapped either."

"This just does not make ANY sense!" Alan barked. "How can a complete stranger know things that never left this circle." The five men looked at each other. It was the first time suspicious looks had been traded.

The tension started to build. "Guys." Ryan said breaking the silence. "I know what's going on here. This is ridiculous. I trust each and every one of you with my life, and that's what we need here. Trust. If we don't trust each other, we're going to get no where.

"Don't you see? This is what the killer wants! He wants us to turn on each other. It takes our attention off him so he can operate more easily. There has to be a logical explanation that we've over looked as to why the killer knows what he does. We just have to find it. Now, lets stop these silent suspicions and accusations and get on with it!"

"Ryan's right." Alan reasoned. "We're over reacting. Lets just take a step back and re think this whole thing." The tension in the room loosened. Alan glanced at the clock on the wall. "Okay." he began. "We can't forget our responsibilities here. Ryan, Jarrod, Mike, you have class. Go ahead and go, be back here around noon. I have to go back home and take care of some things and I'm sure Ron does to. We'll figure this out later. Just be careful out there."

"I won't be here." Ron offered. "I'll be at the station. You know how to reach me if something else transpires."

Alan nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry. The rest of you be here about noon. We'll clean up and talk some more then."

Exasperated and frustrated, Ryan and Jarrod left the room to go back to their dorm. They would have separate classes this morning and talked briefly of their classes avoiding the subject of the murders.

The morning dragged slowly by.

 

Ryan was out of his first class, Psychology, around ten thirty. It had been weird for him not to see Tiffany there next to him. He was used to her company and note exchanging on the note pads about how goofy the instructor looked with his bad toupee and horned rim glasses. In summary, the class had been boring and Ryan was not able to keep his mind on the lesson. He was concerned about Tiffany and the whole damn mess he had gotten himself into with Webb's murder.

Fortunately, it was Tuesday. Payday if you worked at Pizza-To-Go. Ryan wasted no time in driving up to his place of employment to collect his check. It was definitely time to buy a six pack of beer and chill for the day. Fuck the time. He needed the release. As Ryan pulled up into one of the drivers only spot at Pizza-To-Go, he duly spotted Stewart's car in the manager's parking spot.

Stewart had been acting screwy since the night Ryan noticed the missing knife. Had this just been a coincidence? Ryan wasn't even sure if Stewart even knew who Austin Webb was. Much less have a motive for the murder. It was just really weird the knife turned up missing the day after Webb was killed. And then Stewart acting all freaked out when Ryan asked him about it.

Ryan dismissed his thoughts as paranoia. He was grasping at straws. Besides, Stewart had no clue about Ryan and Jarrod's life outside of work.

Ryan walked through the front door of Pizza-To-Go. It was not an eat in restaurant. The lobby was a waiting area complete with benches for customers waiting on carryout. It was fairly dead as the lunch rush would not start for another forty-five minutes or so. Stewart was talking to a woman over the counter when Ryan walked in. Stewart glanced in his direction, knowing immediately what he wanted.

"Check Mr. Thomas?" Stewart asked.

Ryan smiled. It was another opportunity to throw another bad joke in Stewart's direction. "No thanks Stew, I haven't ordered yet."

There was no laugh in reply, not even a smile. Obviously, Ryan had interrupted an intense conversation. "Sorry Stewart." Ryan apologized. "Yes, I'm here for my check."

Stewart looked at his female companion. "I'll be right back." he said and disappeared into the back. Ryan looked at the woman in the lobby. She was fairly attractive, but a tad bit overweight. She was dressed in a trench coat and did not look at all happy. She was familiar looking. Ryan had seen her before, he just couldn't place where.

"Have we met before?" Ryan asked innocently. The woman looked at him doubtfully with a splash of condescension. "I'm sorry, you look familiar. I just can't place where I've seen you before."

"I've never met you before." She said coldly and turned away. Ryan took a step back and let it go. He figured if this woman was going to be a bitch, she could do it on someone else's time.

Stewart returned to the counter with an envelope and handed it to Ryan. Ryan took the envelope from Stewart noticing a large bandage across his right hand. "Ouch." Ryan said looking at the bandage. "What the hell did you do to yourself?"

Stewart glared at him without answering. Ryan waited for an answer glancing at both Stewart and the woman. The women was looking at her feet, shuffling them. Stewart finally answered. "I had an accident last night." Was all he said. Obviously he didn't want to answer. "I trust you won't be late tonight?"

"I'll be here Stewart." Ryan said casually glancing back into the kitchen where a cook and a driver were fidgeting around waiting for the lunch rush. His glance passed over the dishwasher to the prep table. In the holster above the table was the missing kitchen knife. It was the only one of its kind in the store. Plus Ryan knew it was not a new one as the old knife, the one in the holster, had a piece of blue tape wrapped around the handle. Ryan had put that piece of blue tape there himself so he could easily locate that knife when it was in a mix of other knifes. "I see you found the missing kitchen knife." Ryan said flatly.

"Yeah." Stewart replied sounding a bit more friendly now. "It had gotten jammed in the bottom of the dishwasher. Donald found it last night while he was cleaning the filter." Ryan chuckled to himself. Donald was a high school sophomore who washed dishes at night part time. He had ambitions of management. So he kissed Stewart's ass and did pretty much anything Stewart asked without question.

"Oh." Ryan said. "That's good. Gotta run Stew. See you later on tonight."

"Later." Stewart said returning his attention to the bitchy woman. There was something not right to this picture. Ryan felt as if something about the scenario that just took place was not real. There was something fake about the whole thing. Only Ryan couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.

He mentioned it to Alan when he got back to the newsroom later on that morning.

"Really?" Alan asked half intrigued. He was cleaning up the newsroom. "The old knife is back in the holster?"

"Yep." Ryan answered looking at the new window in the door. It too was frosted so one could not look in when the door was shut. The maintenance people at the college wasted no time installing new windows. "It was said to have been jammed in the bottom of the dishwasher."

"You sound like you don't believe it." Alan noted.

"I don't know." Ryan replied sorting out papers on what was the desk he primarily used. "Stewart was acting, I don't know, strange. Fake in a way. Oh, and get this, he had a bandage on his right hand."

"He cut his finger?"

"No Alan, not his finger. His whole hand. Like he slashed his hand or something."

Alan stood up from leaning over his desk and stared off for a bit. "Huh." he said as if he were thinking to himself. "How did he do that?"

"Stewart said he had an accident." Ryan replied.

Jarrod walked into the room. "Stewart had an accident?" he asked. "Is he dead? Does this mean we don't have to work tonight?"

"Cute." Ryan said sarcastically. "No, Stewart slashed his hand last night. It was all bandaged up this morning when I went to pick up my check. Oh, and by the way. The missing knife? It's back. Donald found it stuck in the bottom of the dishwasher."

"Bullshit." Jarrod retorted instantly. "I checked the bottom of the dishwasher, and the filters the night you noticed it missing. There was nothing there."

Ryan and Alan looked at Jarrod with blank expressions. "You mean Stewart lied?" Ryan asked. "That doesn't make any sense, why would he lie?"

Jarrod shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno, couldn't tell ya. I can tell you that it was definitely not there four days ago. When I was closing the kitchen that Friday, that knife was gone."

Ryan looked back over at Alan. "I knew something was not right with that story. He was, too friendly."

"Stewart, friendly?" Jarrod asked. "Yeah right. Mark that day down in your calendar bro. It will probably never happen again."

Alan could see the wheels turning in Ryan's head. "What is it Ryan?" he asked.

"I don't know. It doesn't make any sense."

"Nothing about this whole murder investigation makes sense son." Alan said. "Something's on your brain. Talk to me. I don't care how corny it sounds."

"It's a shot in the dark really." Ryan began throwing a glance over to Jarrod. "Stewart's hand was bandaged. The missing knife mysteriously returns and the story of it's whereabouts was a complete lie. The windows here were obviously smashed with something, and then the knife in Tiffany's desk disappears. All of these things happen last night. Coincidence?"

Jarrod asked, "Are you implying Stewart broke into the newsroom last night, distributed the flyers, and stole the knife back? Which would in turn make him the killer? Dude, that is a stretch."

"I told you it didn't make any sense." Ryan defended. Alan turned around to his desk and opened a drawer. "I don't even think Stewart knows who Webb is."

"SHIT!" Alan barked looking into a desk drawer.

"What is it Alan?" Ryan asked.

"My yearbook." Alan said. "It's gone."

"You didn't take it home with you?" Ryan asked.

"No, it was in here last night. The killer stole it!"

Mike strolled into the newsroom. "Hey fellow detectives, what's up?"

"Mike." Alan said. "Quickly run over to the college library and dig up the 1971 yearbook."

"Why, what happened?" Mike asked.

"I'll explain later."

"Okay, be back in a few." Mike said, leaving as quickly as he entered

Alan ran his fingers through his hair and looked at Ryan. "Your boss's name is Stewart Boswell, right?"

"Yeah, how did you know?" Ryan asked.

"I think you mentioned his name before." Alan answered. "It rings a bell. I know I've heard that name before. I think he was a student here back in 1971."

Ryan and Jarrod looked at each other in shock. Ryan thought this was just to coincidental. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"I think so." Alan replied. "I wanted to check the yearbook to be sure."

"Stewart was talking with a woman when I saw him earlier." Ryan offered. "She looked familiar. I asked her if I knew her and she said no, real bitch like."

Jarrod chuckled and said, "You have that effect on women Ryan."

Ryan flipped him the bird and continued, "I think I interrupted an intense conversation between the two. I made a joke a Stewart and he didn't laugh. Usually he does." Ryan paused to think. "But not recently." Alan was furiously going through his desk looking for the yearbook, hoping he had just misplaced it. "Did you ever get a look at that knife in the desk?" Ryan asked.

"What do you mean?" Alan asked.

"When we found that knife initially, it was wrapped in paper towels." Ryan explained. "The blade may have been sticking out a bit, but did you ever see the handle?"

"No." Alan answered. "I never touched it."

"Jarrod?" Ryan asked. He shook his head. "Did anybody look at that knife that we know of?"

"I don't think so." Alan replied. "I was watching to see who was going to mess with it first. Why are you asking?"

Ryan answered, "The knife missing from Pizza-To-Go had a piece of blue tape wrapped around the handle. I never thought to look and see if the knife in the desk had a piece of tape around the handle. It would have answered a few questions." Alan stared at him blankly.

"That's right." Jarrod agreed. "I didn't think of that either." There was a knock at the door. The three men looked to see Adam Jones standing in the door way. He was an older man with gray hair. He looked a lot older than he was looking the was he did. Adam was wearing a three piece suit. Ryan thought that it looked like an Armani. His father had three of them.

"Gentlemen." Adam greeted. "I hope I'm not interrupting. I heard about the break in last night. Is everything okay down here?"

"Good morning Adam." Alan said flatly. "Everything's under control down here. Ryan, Jarrod, this is Adam Jones, dean of the college."

"Yeah." Ryan said. "You covered Webb's class the day he was found dead."

"Oh yes, Mr. Thomas. I remember you." He said. "You were having a private little conversation with Tiffany Cutter that day. Bit of a spot Miss Cutter is in these days." Adam tossed a handful of flyers onto the table. "I don't suppose you know anything about this? Was Miss Cutter in fact involved with Professor Webb?"

"It's not polite to speak slanderously of the dead Mr. Jones." Ryan answered evasively.

"Well, then perhaps you know of Miss Cutter's whereabouts" Adam asked. " I'm a bit curious about why all of this has transpired."

"Actually, she's taking a few days off to recover from this terrible incident." Ryan explained. "I don't know where she went to be completely honest."

"Anyone?" Adam asked. Jarrod and Alan shook their heads. "Very well then. I just want you gentlemen to know that I'm having these incidents investigated thoroughly. This kind of immaturity will not be tolerated on this campus. I would trust if you knew anything, or discovered anything, you would contact me."

"Of course Adam." Alan said. "You'll have to forgive us, we have an incredible amount of work to do here to get back on track."

"Naturally." Adam said turning to leave. He stopped and looked back for one final thought. "This college has an un-tarnished reputation. Not only for quality education, but for student safety as well. I will get to the bottom of this, even if I personally have to 'hit the streets' myself and find a killer. Good day gentlemen."

Adam left the room. Alan watched him walk out the door at the other end of the hall. "What a pompous ass hole." Alan mused. "He's not the same guy he used to be. He would convict his own mother for this mess if he thought it would save his career and reputation."

"You knew him before?" Ryan asked, surprised.

"Yeah." Alan admitted. "Believe it or not, he attended this college once upon a time. He graduated with top honors the year before I did. Back then, Adam was a bit more adventurous. A real rebel as a matter of fact. He would protest constantly about the war in Vietnam. Ya know, the tie dye shirts, the hippie look, the whole nine yards. He actually used to have long hair."

"No way." Jarrod said. "Long hair? I can't even picture him our age, much less with long hair."

"Well Jarrod." Alan said. "You'd be surprised how young all of us use to be."

"Sorry Alan, I didn't mean you." Jarrod squirmed. "Your one of us, your age doesn't matter."

"Thanks, I think." Alan said returning to his desk. Mike breezed back into the room with nothing in his hands. "Where is the yearbook?" Alan asked.

"Gone." Mike said through his heavy breathing from running so hard. "It's gone. The yearbooks from '69 through '72 are gone. I asked the librarian about them and she has no idea where they went. It's like they just vanished."

"Clever. Very clever." Alan said. "Our killer is covering his tracks nicely. Not to worry yet. My wife Nora attended college here too. She might have a yearbook from '71."

"Wait, it gets better." Mike said. "While I was waiting for the librarian to look for the yearbooks, one of the students was trying to use the photocopy machine. It was out of paper. Well, that might have been normal, but one of the assistants there complained that she had JUST filled the machine the morning before and that it was nearly impossible for the machine to be empty UNLESS someone had made a shit load of copies. Actually, she didn't say shit load, I forget the word she used, I think it she said a whole bunch, or maybe it was..."

"I get the point Mike." Alan interrupted.

Mike continued, "I asked her if she had seen anybody in here making copies yesterday. She didn't remember anybody. Neither did the librarian. She said that anybody could breeze in and out of the photocopy room without being noticed."

Ryan stepped forward. "Your implying the killer made the photocopies of Tiffany using the photocopy machine in the library?"

"A hunch?" Mike jested.

"If that's true," Alan began. "Then there is somebody working on the inside. It's really unlikely that a non student could hang around the library long enough not to be noticed. If the killer is not a student that is."

"You mean it could be a student?" Jarrod asked.

"Anything is possible at this point Jarrod." Alan said. "We know so very little about this person, or persons."

Mike offered, "What if the killer is using a college computer and printer to make his cards. Do you think that's possible?"

"Very." Alan replied. "Remember, we have a computer center, plus at least two dozen other terminals around campus, all with laser printers. The catch is, you would have to be a student to get near any of them. Especially the computer center. You actually have to sign in at the door just to get in and there is always somebody checking ID's, unless they know who you are.

"Although it's possible that the cards are being done with a computer here on campus, lots of people own computers and printers of their own. Maybe even the killer does too. Its seems the best way to cover his tracks if he did. It keeps him out of the loop here. The photocopy machine is a different story, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry owns one of those. Plus, paper isn't cheap either. Judging by the amount of copies of Tiffany floating around. It's safe to assume that a whole bind of paper was used, if not more."

Ryan's beeper went off then. Conversation came to a halt while Ryan checked to see who it was. Jarrod asked, "Who is it?"

"I don't know." Ryan said. "I don't recognize the number. It could be Tiffany." He walked over to the phone and dialed the number.

It was Tiffany who answered and judging by the noise in the background, it was a pay phone. "Ryan?" Tiffany asked.

"Tiffany?" he asked in return. The group relaxed. "Are you okay?"

"So far." she answered. "I don't know where to go. I don't want to go home, and I just can't drive around all day and hang out at the mall."

"Okay." he said thinking of a place for Tiffany to go. There was one place, but Ryan still wasn't convinced the phone was clean. "Listen to me Tiffany. Whoever the killer is, he's nearby, and I don't think this phone is secure. Listen carefully and figure this out."

"Okay."

"There was a party last year." Ryan began. "Not to long before the semester began. We ended up sleeping in the same bed even though we didn't actually have sex, because we were so drunk. The little drinking contest, remember?"

"Yeah." She admitted. "That was some party."

"Do you remember where that party was?"

"Yeah, that was at..." She began

Ryan interrupted, "Don't say it Tiffany, not over the phone. But you do remember where it was?"

"Yes." Tiffany replied. She knew exactly where Ryan was talking about. It was his fathers ranch up in Pennsylvania.

"Do you remember how to get in? I showed you once, in case you had gotten there before I did back when we had that little soiree." Translation: The key to the ranch was inside the front lamp post, next to the light bulb.

"Yes, I do. Are you sure this will be okay with all parties involved?" Translation: Will you dad mind?

"Yeah, I'll clear it this afternoon. There should be no activity there for a while." Translation: I'll tell my dad later. Nobody will be there for a while.

"Okay, I'm on my way."

"Tiffany, don't use that number in the beeper. Use a code instead." Ryan instructed. "There should be a vehicle in the vicinity of that area, do you remember?" Translation: My dad has a car in the garage at the ranch.

"Yeah."

"Do you remember the year that car was made?"

"Yeah."

"Enter that number." Translation: 1968. (The car was a Camero.)

"Okay, as soon as I get there." She said. "Thank you again Ryan. I'll pay you back someday for all you help."

"We can discuss those terms later." Ryan poked. "Get going. The sooner your there, the sooner I'll feel better."

"Bye." She said. Ryan hung up the phone.

"Is it all worked out?" Alan said. Ryan sat down on top of Tiffany's desk.

"Yeah." He said. "She should be okay for a while. You'll forgive me if I don't reveal the location just yet. I still don't trust this room."

"Understandable." Alan said. "Better not to publicly announce it anyway. The less anybody knows of Tiffany's whereabouts, the better."

"She'll be okay where she's going." Ryan summarized.

There was a moment of silence. Finally Mike chimed up. "You'll be happy to know that there are maintenance people removing all the flyers. They should be all gone before to long."

"Hopefully." Ryan said sounding down. "We don't know how many horny guys have kept one of those flyers to whack off to."

Jarrod laughed and said, "That means you have to throw your copy away Mike."

"Fuck you Jarrod." Mike spat. "I don't need a crummy picture to get the job done. I've got your mother."

Jarrod laughed again. "All you white guys think that a black woman would want any thing to do with your white dicks. It really is amusing the way you fantasize about it. The truth is, a black woman would eat you up alive not even bothering to spit out the bones." Somewhere in the background, Alan was having a good laugh.

"Is that what happened to your dad Jarrod?" Mike asked taking the slam one step further. "Did he really leave? Or did your mom eat him alive like a praying mantis?" Jarrod was not smiling. "Or was she a black widow spider?"

"Hey man." Jarrod warned. "That shit ain't funny. Its personal and it's a sensitive issue. I can take a joke like anybody else, just keep my personal family history out of it, okay?"

Mike backed off. "I'm sorry dude, I didn't mean to hit so close to home. No offense intended."

"It's cool." Jarrod said offering Mike his hand. Mike slapped it. "Just don't let it happen again. Please."

"It's forgotten, we never had this conversation." Mike said, obviously feeling remorse for what he had said. He changed the subject. "I find it hard to believe whoever put the flyer of Tiffany up all over the building wasn't seen by a single person."

"He could have been." Ryan said. "If someone saw him, maybe they didn't care, thinking the flyer was something legitimate."

"In the middle of the night?" Jarrod asked. "Seems an odd time to do such a thing."

"Again, maybe nobody cared, if anybody was out at all." Ryan said. "All that mattered was security, and they didn't see shit!"

"That would have been Ron, right?" Mike asked.

"No." Alan answered. "When I talked to him this morning, he said he had left the college about two. His shift was over then."

"This goes back to my theory about somebody on the inside helping out." Ryan said. "If somebody who attends this college was seen wandering around in the middle of the night, it would not have been questioned. If an older man who didn't go here was wandering around in the middle of the night, it would be suspicious."

Jarrod said. "What about an older man who DOES attend classes here? Have we considered that?"

"I guess not." Alan said. "There are several people like myself who have returned here to further their education. I would think however that most of then have families to go home to therefore they would not be staying on campus. Like you kids."

"Any you know of?" Ryan asked.

"Not off hand, but I can look into it." Alan offered. "It would be interesting to see how many people who graduated in the early seventies have come back for more schooling."

"Yes, it certainly would be." A voice said from behind them. They looked at the door yet again to see who had invaded the room this time. Ryan recognized the voice before he had actually turned around. It was Detectives Miller and Perri. Again.

Ryan chuckled to himself. It was Miller who addressed him. "Does something amuse you Mr. Thomas?"

"Don't tell me your here about the break in." Ryan said.

"Not directly." Perri said covering for his partners obvious contempt for Ryan. "We have reason to believe the break in and vandalism concerning the picture of Tiffany Cutter are related to the killing of Austin Webb."

"You guys don't waste any time." Jarrod commented.

"It's out job." Miller retorted rather harshly. Jarrod stepped back, avoiding a confrontation with the police officer.

"What he means," Ryan said looking at Miller in the eye, "Is that they think Webb's killer was responsible for this mess."

"Something like that." Perri said. "I don't suppose you would know anything about these incidents?" He asked Ryan.

"Nada." Ryan answered simply.

"Uh-huh." Miller muttered sounding like he didn't believe him. "Where's Miss Cutter?"

"On vacation." Ryan smirked, pulling Miller's chain.

"Ryan." Alan warned from the back of the room. He then addressed the detectives. "Tiffany has opted to stay away from the college for a few days till things cool down. Considering what's been spread about her involvement with Webb, could you blame her?"

"I guess not." Perri said. "You wouldn't happen to know where she is specifically?"

"No." Alan answered. "She didn't say. I don't think she wanted us to know in case there was going to be trouble for her."

"Meaning what?" Miller asked quickly, suspiciously.

Ryan answered. "Has it occurred to you that maybe whoever is responsible for all of this might have it in for Tiffany?"

"Yes Mr. Thomas, it has." Perri answered. "That's one of the reasons we'd like to talk to her."

Ryan asked, "What could you possibly ask her that would lead you to the person or persons who are doing this?

"Mr. Thomas," Perri began. "I realize how protective of Miss Cutter you are, but let me assure you. The questions we have for her are standard questions we ask just about everyone we talk to."

"She didn't do it." Ryan said.

"Off the record, I know she didn't." Perri explained. "Her alibi checked out. However, she may have information about Professor Webb that might be useful in figuring out who would want him dead. She was intimate with him. He may have confided information to her that he would not divulge to his wife or friends. We don't know. This is why we want to talk with her. Do you understand?"

Ryan didn't answer. He was studying Perri's face. Was he lying or not? Ryan couldn't tell. He simply said, "I don't know where she is. I'm supposed to talk to her later."

"She's going to contact you?" Miller asked.

"Something like that." Ryan replied.

"How?" Miller persisted. Ryan wasn't going to tell them anything they didn't need to know no matter how much they wanted to help. Ryan's gut feeling told him not to trust them.

"Don't worry about it." Ryan snapped. Miller's face started to get red.

"Mr. Thomas." Perri started again. It was apparent he was getting frustrated with Ryan's attitude also. "It would help everyone greatly if you would please cooperate and not resist us so much. We are the good guys here and we are trying to help."

"Ryan." Alan said stepping forward to put his hand on his shoulder. "Calm down. Getting crass isn't going to solve anything. Maybe we should go for a walk and cool off a bit. What do you say?"

Perri added, "Sounds like a good idea."

Ryan and Alan started to walk out of the office. "Listen." Ryan began addressing Perri. "I don't think Tiffany is in any mood to talk to you guys right now considering how she was reacting to your last inquisition with her. When she contacts me, I will tell her what you told me and try to persuade her to come out of hiding. That's all I will do for you right now."

"Okay." Perri agreed. "You know how to get a hold of me."

Alan and Ryan left the building and sat at a bench in the quad. Ryan lit up a cigarette and puffed heavily. "Got a cigarette for an old friend?" Alan asked.

Ryan glanced at him with a modicum of surprise. "You should cut down on those things Alan." Ryan said tossing him the pack, with matches. "When the hell did you take up smoking again?"

"Since a good friend of mine was killed and we started getting stalked." He answered.

Ryan laughed. "Fair enough."

"Okay then." Alan said sitting back lighting his cigarette, tossing the pack back to Ryan. "It's just you and me now, what going on with you and Tiffany?"

"What do you mean?"

"When it comes to her, you get really defensive these days."

"Yeah, I know." Ryan answered slouching on the bench looking at his feet. "I don't know Alan. Ever since all this shit began with Webb, and the picture, I feel this overwhelming desire to protect Tiffany."

"From what?"

"Everything really. I don't like to see her hurting." Ryan answered, dragging on the cigarette. "She's going through so much right now, I wish there was something I could do to make this all go away so we could go back to the way things used to be. Without all of this worrying and stress."

"Okay." Alan said. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

Ryan looked at him unsure. "I guess."

"How do you really feel about Tiffany's affair with Webb? Just between us."

"I hate it." Ryan barked. "It pisses me off. I don't mean to slam your friend Alan, but what does a gut like Webb, who is married with a life, need with a college student for his sex toy? And of all the girls he could have pursued, why Tiffany?"

"Are you jealous Ryan?"

"I guess I am." He answered. "I've always been attracted to Tiffany. I just never pursued it in a serious fashion. I propositioned her a couple of times for sex when we were both completely drunk. She always said no, I would have to wait."

"For what?"

"I don't know. She never said. Maybe she meant until she was done with Webb. Who knows." Ryan replied.

Alan looked hopeful. "Maybe. You never know. It is pretty obvious to everybody that perhaps you have deeper feelings for our rowdy Miss Cutter. What do you think?"

"It's possible." Ryan admitted. "I just don't think now is the appropriate time for me to pursue these feeling. Let's face it Alan, I'm not exactly the easiest guy to get along with. Tiffany doesn't need the extra stress in her life right now. I would hate to burden her with my feelings about her on top of everything else she has to deal with right now."

"You feel that an admitting your feeling to Tiffany would do her more harm that good?" Alan asked.

"I don't know. I don't know how Tiffany feels. If she said that she wasn't interested, it would be okay. I could deal with it. I just don't want to put that burden on her."

"How do you know it would be a burden?" Alan asked.

"I don't"

"My point exactly." Alan said. "Tiffany is all alone right now. Probably scared too. I think she needs somebody to care for her, even though she is thoroughly capable of taking care of herself. If you were in her position Ryan, wouldn't you want somebody there to help you?"

"I suppose so." he replied.

"Well then. Why couldn't you be that someone?"

"I do care for her." Ryan insisted tossing his cigarette aside, relatively un-smoked. Alan looked at his cigarette, cringed, and did the same. "I wouldn't want her to misconstrue my actions. Like I would be taking advantage of her or something."

"This is very mature of you Ryan." Alan said. "But wake up son. Don't you see that Tiffany is calling out for you without words? Who does she go to for help? Who is she closest to?"

"Well I don't know about..."

"Ryan!" Alan snapped. "It's my professional adult opinion that Tiffany is very attracted to you and that she's not going to come right out and say so. Whether is was because of Webb, or because she's scared of what will happen, who knows? One of you is going to have to break that barrier.

"I'm not telling you what to do Ryan. But I think it would actually help Tiffany if you told her how you felt. You might be surprised."

"Alan, I'm not after a piece of ass, even though that's how it may look sometimes." Ryan said.

"I know it Ryan. I think Tiffany does too deep down." he reasoned. "Go to her when your done with your classes. Talk to her. Tell her how you feel. Then you won't have to think or worry about it so much. You could concentrate on other things then."

"I'm not slacking on the investigation am I?" Ryan asked.

"No. No. That's not what I meant." Alan reassured. "I meant that it might be easier for you to communicate with Tiffany then. Without the hidden barriers. You might find that it would easier to help her if you knew each other better."

Ryan paused for a moment to take in what Alan had said. It made some sense. "Okay Alan. I'll tell her."

"That's my man." Alan said holding out his palm. Ryan gave him '5'. "Now, I'm giving you permission to 'get lost' for a while. I'll go handle Miller and Perri. Try not to think about what your going to say. You would just fuck it up anyway. It'll come naturally."

"Okay." Ryan said. Alan got up and winked at Ryan, then went back into the activities building to deal with Miller and Perri. Ryan decided not to wait. He would go see Tiffany now. This was not something he was going to be able to not think about all day. Ryan left word for the instructors of his remaining classes that he had an emergency and would not be able to attend class

The drive to the ranch in Gettysburg was only about a half an hour. Ryan stopped at a McDonalds in Gettysburg to pick up lunch for Tiffany and himself. There was no real food at the ranch and Tiffany might be hungry. Ryan was.

It was a little past two when Ryan pulled into the long winding driveway of his fathers ranch. Tiffany's car was parked neatly in front of the garage. She must have seen him coming for she walked out of the front door when Ryan parked the car behind hers. She ran to him and he held her.

 

Tiffany was ravenous. She practically scarfed down all of her food in a matter of minutes. One would have though she had never seen food before. Ryan ate casually, taking his time. Clearly, Tiffany was an 'A' type personality.

The conversation was idle, not really amounting to much of anything. Ryan wasn't sure how to approach the subject of his feelings. It still seemed rather selfish under the circumstances.

Tiffany glanced up at him from the floor in the middle of one of her sentences. He locked his eyes into hers and did not look away like he normally did. She stopped speaking when his look became serious. "Ryan, what is it?" He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth. Tiffany returned his kiss and pulled away. "What the hell was that?" she asked surprised.

"Tiffany." Ryan began. He paused trying to figure out what to say. "I..I love you."

"I love you to Ryan, but I don't understand..."

"No." He interrupted. "I mean, I love you." Tiffany looked startled as if someone had just taken her by surprise. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." Ryan whispered regretting that he had.

"You love me?" She asked tentatively. "Love like as 'in love?'"

"Something like that." He answered sheepishly. "I'm sorry Tiff. I didn't mean to hit you with that right now. You have to many other things to deal with than my feelings for you."

"Feelings?" she asked. Ryan couldn't tell if she was offended or surprised. Ryan didn't answer. He was embarrassed. "How long have you had these feelings?" She asked.

"I'm not sure." Ryan replied. "A while I guess. I never really took them seriously until this whole thing with Webb started. I wanted to protect you from all of this. I feel as if I made it worse, with the picture getting out and all."

"That wasn't your fault." she said. "How were you supposed to know you were being followed?" Ryan shrugged his shoulders. Tiffany lit up a cigarette and reached for an ashtray to bring it closer. "Well." Tiffany began. "I certainly didn't expect this."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize." She insisted. "I'm glad you told me Ryan. I thought maybe you had a crush on me, with the way you drool over my tits and all. But I didn't think you were in love with me. Are you sure it's love?"

"I don't know Tiff." Ryan said sounding almost irritated. "I can't rightly say I've ever been in 'love' before. I thought I might have been a couple of times. But his is different. I don't know how to describe what I feel when I'm with you, when I think about you. I think I've always been attracted to you, but not like this. This is new. I want to make all your troubles go away. And seeing I can't, I want to protect you from them. To shield you from all the hell that's out there." Ryan looked into her eyes again. "I've always enjoyed your company. I wouldn't trade our friendship for anything. And although you may not feel the same way about me, I want to assure you that my feelings for you won't get in the way of our friendship. I would hope that my confession doesn't drive you away. I would hate to lose one of the closest friends I've got."

Tiffany smiled and took Ryan's hand. "Your assuming that I don't have feelings for you too?" She asked. "Ryan, I've done a lot of really stupid things in my life. One of them was getting involved with Austin Webb. That event started a downward spiral in my life that has led me to this place. If I didn't tell you this before, I hadn't planned on being with Austin for months and months. It was a rebound from Karl."

"Yes, you mentioned that." Ryan said.

"Ry-an, let me finish." she whined. "Anyway, it was supposed to be a fling to get Karl out of my system. That was mistake number one. I should have dealt with that pain in a more appropriate manner. Austin was really a charming guy if you knew him. That's probably the only reason I stayed with him as long as I did. Eventually, the relationship was past the point of no return, being pregnant and all. Austin was holding that over my head for the longest time, and I didn't see any way out of it. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't.

"I guess what I'm trying to say Ryan, is that if I could do it all over again. I would have come to you with my pain, instead of Austin Webb. The more I think about it, the more I think Austin took advantage of me. I don't think you would have done that to me. I really wanted to be with you then. You would keep propositioning me to go to bed with you and I would have in a heart beat. But not while I was seeing Austin. To go from your bed to his and vise versa would have been almost sacrilegious. If I was going to come to you with my feelings about you, I wanted it to be with a clear conscious and no baggage. I wanted to be rid of Austin and his baby. It just didn't work out that way."

"What are you saying Tiffany?" Ryan asked.

"I'm returning the sentiment." Tiffany said. "I'm pretty sure that I'm in love with you too, and just haven't truly figured it out yet."

Ryan was speechless. Alan had been right.

Tiffany leaned over to Ryan and kissed him on the mouth. They kiss lasted for several minutes until Tiffany pulled away again. Ryan opened his eyes. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"I really wish I could give you what you've waited for, for so long." She replied.

"Tiffany..." Ryan started to say.

"No, I mean it." She said. "I've probably wanted you for as long as you've wanted me. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to make love to you right here and now. But it still hurts a little bit from the abortion."

"Tiffany, stop." Ryan insisted. "This isn't about sex. Believe me, If I could take you now, I would. But I understand, and it's okay. Even if there were no medical complications involved, now is not the right time. If and when we make love, I want it to be the most beautiful and perfect thing we've ever done. I'm satisfied right this very second, here and now, with what we have. We know how we feel about each other, and it can grow from there. I would rather it be that way instead of starting our romantic relationship out with sex. Do you understand?"

Tiffany hugged him tightly. "Yes, I do." She answered. "Thank you Ryan. I could never repay you for what your doing for me."

He kissed her. "Don't worry about it. Your love will be enough for me." They kissed again and held each other in the silence, wondering what was going to happen next.

 

Ryan called Alan sometime later to let him know everything was fine and that things with Tiffany were as he had predicted. Only Alan wasn't in the newsroom. Nobody was. Ryan left a message on the machine and said he was going to spend the night with Tiffany and that he would not be back till morning.

At 5:15, Ryan bid Tiffany adieu to go to work. His shift started at six and it would take him about forty five minutes to get there. He didn't want to leave her but she insisted claiming she would be okay till he got back. Ryan actually got to work a few minutes late. Fortunately, Stewart was not there to give him hell about it. The assistant manager, Jerry was running the shift. Jerry was 26 and had been with the company since it's conception back in 1987. Back then Jerry had been a driver, but eventually proved his worth with Stewart thus promoting him to such a prestigious position within the company. Jerry was cool to work with, although he did like to get things done in an orderly fashion. Ryan sometimes wondered why it was like that with every job. The manager was always a putz, but the assistant was cool. He dismissed it as a balance of like/dislike within the company so there wasn't a higher turnover than there already was. If both managers were complete dicks, nobody would stay.

Jarrod was already there when Ryan breezed through the side door. It wasn't too busy yet, so there was not an immediate rush to get into position. "Hey dude." Jarrod said as Ryan was putting an apron on. "Where have you been."

"With Tiffany." he said.

"Really, was she good."

"Fuck off." Ryan said, a bit irritated. "It wasn't like that."

"Sorry bro. Guess what? You missed the big scene?" Jarrod said.

"What scene?" Ryan asked arranging utensils on the make table. (The make table was where the pizza's were made.)

"Those two detectives, Miller and Perri? They were grilling Alan pretty hard about where he was the night of Webb's murder." Jarrod said.

"What?" Ryan asked in shock. "They think Alan did it, and everything else?"

"Well, no. They didn't come right out and say that." He said. "It's just that Alan's whereabouts that night can't be accounted for."

"This is complete bullshit!" Ryan snapped. "Alan is no murderer for Chrissake. Where did he say he was?"

"At Champs Bar." Jarrod replied beginning his task of sorting dishes.

"Alone?"

"Apparently so."

This wasn't making much sense to Ryan. He wasn't aware that Alan liked to go into Champ's Bar. It was the bar right down the street from the college, therefore it was mostly college kids who went there. "So your telling me that Alan said he was in a bar between the hours of eleven and midnight? Without his wife? That really IS unlike Alan."

"He said he had a fight with his wife and left for a while to go get a beer." Jarrod explained. "Champ's was the closest bar, so he went there."

"And nobody there saw him?" Ryan asked.

"I think that's what Miller and Perri are going to do next." Jarrod said. "Go to the bar and see if any of the bartenders remember him being there between the hours of eleven and midnight."

"This is wrong." Ryan spat. "Those keystone cops ought to be interrogating Stewart and his disappearing knife."

"Tell me about it." Jarrod agreed. Ryan walked over to the prep table to get the knife from out of it's holster. He studies it closely, looking for traces of anything out of the ordinary. The knife was clean as a whistle, at least to the naked eye. Ryan put the knife back. "Anything?" Jarrod asked.

"Nothing I could see." Ryan replied returning to the make table.

Jerry walked out of the office in a big hurry. "Ryan?" he called out."

"Yeah."

"I have to run over to Stewart's house for a sec to get some papers." Jerry said. "Would you mind watching the place for fifteen minutes or so?" What Jerry meant to say was 'Will you run the register for me too.'

"Yeah Jerry." Ryan said. "Tell Stewart I said 'hi'." Jerry threw Ryan a doubtful look as he left the store. Ryan looked back at the office door which was open just a bit. Jerry forgot to pull it shut completely. Jarrod noticed this too as Ryan look at him. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Ryan asked.

"Yep." Jarrod said. "You want maybe I should 'watch the place' for you?" Jarrod was mocking Jerry.

"Oh yes." Ryan answered being over dramatic. "Would you mind at all dear boy, I'll only be a few minutes." Jarrod was laughing as he walked up towards the register. Ryan stole back into the office, leaving the door open just a crack in case Jerry came back.

The computer was off and Ryan didn't think he could access the damn thing anyway. Nobody, not even Jerry knew the password. One by one Ryan started looking through the drawers not finding anything of real interest. There was nothing to find and Ryan was about to give up when he noticed a small box of business cards on the shelf above the desk. Ryan took one of the cards out of the box to read it. It was blank. The whole box of cards were blank.

Ryan looked down at the printer on the desk. He couldn't tell if it was a laser printer or not. He would have to ask Jarrod. Ryan stuck his head out the door and called for him. Jarrod walked into the office looking nervous.

"What is it?" He asked.

"Is that a laser printer?" Ryan asked pointing at the printer on the desk.

Jarrod opened the lid and shut it almost immediately. "Yep, sure is. Why?" Ryan handed him the box of blank business cards. Jarrod started to look through them, his eyes widening. He looked at Ryan. "You don't think that...these are the cards the killer is...no, that's to easy."

"It's a tangled Webb we weave." Ryan said taking the box of card from Jarrod and putting them back on the shelf. He kept a couple for himself to show Alan later. "What do you think Jarrod." Ryan asked closing the office door behind them as they walked back out into the kitchen. "A cut hand that could be explained from maybe a broken piece of window glass from the activities building. A disappearing-reappearing kitchen knife, and now blank cards with a laser printer."

"Looks pretty bad for Stewart." Jarrod said. "All we have to figure out now is his connection to Webb and Porter."

"Did you make it to the library today, about those newspapers?" Ryan asked.

Jarrod slapped himself on the head. "Damn. I completely forgot about it. The whole thing with Alan had my attention most of the afternoon."

"That's okay." Ryan said. "I'd probably had forgotten too."

"I'll do it tomorrow morning." Jarrod said. "I'll make it a priority."

"Okay. You want me to go with you?"

"Naw, It'll go faster if I do it by myself. Besides, I was gonna skip Soc. to do it anyway."

"What?" Ryan asked. "And miss our new Soc. teacher?"

Jarrod grunted. "I'll live, as your so fond of saying." Ryan turned around to see a line of people at the counter waiting to pick up carry out. The rush had begun.

When Jerry returned to the store, he relieved Ryan of register duties. Ryan spent most of the night at the make table as Jarrod and two other drivers delivered pizza's and did dishes. They did not speak of Stewart and the evidence with Jerry around. Ryan left at eleven and went back to his father's ranch. He decided he would talk to Alan tomorrow as opposed to bothering him at midnight for information that could wait till morning.

Tiffany was already asleep when Ryan returned to the ranch. He lied down in bed next to her as she slept. She stirred a bit and cuddled up next to him. He held her as they both drifted off to sleep.

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