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grn_bt.jpg (687 bytes) April 3, 1995 - Monday

Ryan opened his eyes for the first time in four days. He knew exactly where he was when he came to. It was the hospital. Carroll County General according to the bracelet on his wrist. He could barely move as he was so sore. His right shoulder was completely bandaged up, as various other parts on the man's body. Ryan lifted his hand to feel his face. It was tender, and clearly cut in places, although he could feel no stitches.

The fading daylight outside the window told the story that the day was coming to a close. Ryan was starting to get concerned as he had missed even more classes by being in here. He was thinking of a way to try and get a hold of his instructors to explain his absence. Also, Ryan had to find a way to let his Friday instructors know he was absent.

Ryan did not realize he had been unconscious for four days.

It was all starting to come back now. There had been a fight. At Tiffany's house. A man in black. Bits and pieces of the picture were coming to Ryan in fragments. He couldn't fully remember what had really happened.

Tiffany tied up on the bed. A gun being fired. Broken glass. A car on the side of the road.

It wasn't making any sense yet.

Alan strolled into the room, screeching to a complete halt in the doorway. A look of surprise on his face. "Nurse, I need a nurse please. Ryan's awake."

"Alan." Ryan tried to say. It came out as a hoarse grunt.

"Don't try and talk yet Ryan." Alan said, beaming. "Let the doctors look at you first." With that, a team of nurses and a doctor flooded the room. They poked and prodded, taking various readings of a machine Ryan was hooked up too. Blood pressure, temperature, adjustments on the IV flowing into his arm, it was all to much. Ryan closed his eyes and waited for it all to go away.

"Mr. Thomas?" The doctor asked. "Are you still awake?" Ryan opened his eyes and nodded his head. "Can you speak?" Ryan raised his left hand to his throat, indicating his throat was dry. One of the nurses gave him some water. Ryan drank in great gulps. The nurse took the water away from him, allowing Ryan only little sips at a time.

"Thank you." Ryan croaked.

"Do you know your name?" The doctor asked.

Ryan nodded. "Ryan Thomas, age 22. I'm a student at Western Maryland College."

Then the doctor asked a really off the wall question. "Do you know who the president of the United States is?"

Ryan gave the doctor a confused look and said. "Bill Clinton, why?"

"Routine question. We just want to make sure your not suffering from any severe memory loss." The doctor explained. "I'm Dr. Spears, Mr. Thomas. Welcome back. Could you tell me what today is?"

"Thursday, I think." Ryan answered. Alan looked at the doctor with worry. Dr. Spears didn't seem surprised.

"No. It's Monday night actually, the 3rd." Dr. Spears said. "You've been unconscious for several days. Four actually. Quite a nasty blow to the head you got there Mr. Thomas."

"What happened?" Ryan asked. "I don't remember all of it."

"This is actually normal." Spears said. "Temporary memory loss is not uncommon with severe head injury. I don't have all the details on your accident Mr. Thomas..."

"Call me Ryan." Ryan interrupted.

"Okay Ryan. I don't have all the details." Spears said. "You were brought in Thursday morning about two a.m. with a gunshot wound to the right shoulder, several mild lacerations to your face, arms, and hands. And a nasty bump on the back of your head. I can't really say to much until the police talk to you, but apparently, you fell out of a window two stories off the ground."

Ryan had a brief flashback of tackling the man in black in the window. "Really?" Ryan asked. "I think I remember that. I got shot too."

"Actually, it was just a flesh would." Spears informed. "The bullet didn't actually penetrate your body, although it probably feels like it. You were grazed. The bullet clipped you shoulder. You lost a good amount of blood, but no permanent damage."

Ryan suddenly remembered the gun being pointed at him. It went off. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and he flew backwards. "Ryan?" Alan asked. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Ryan replied. "It's all hazy, what happened."

Spears continued, "I have instructions to notify the police when your conscious Ryan. Are you up for that right now?"

Ryan looked at Alan. "Miller and Perri?" He asked. Alan nodded. "Yeah, okay, call them." Ryan told Spears. "I might as well get this over with."

"Very good." Spears said leaving the room.

Ryan looked back over at Alan. "What the hell happened?" Ryan asked.

"I was hoping you could tell me?" Alan said. "All hell had broken loose in Westminster Ryan." Alan held up a copy of the Carroll County Times, the county paper. The headline read,

SERIAL KILLER STALKS WESTMINSTER

"Jesus Christ." Ryan muttered. "It's out, isn't it?"

"That was Friday's paper." Alan said. "The streets are practically deserted these days. People are leaving Westminster. It's really spooky. Miller and Perri are working overtime to solve this thing now."

"Are the Feds involved yet?" Ryan asked.

"I don't know. I don't think so, yet." Alan answered. "Another murder, and Westminster will be a ghost town."

"What specifically has happened Alan." Ryan asked. "Start with me. How did I get here?"

"I don't know the whole story yet." Alan admitted. "I was waiting for you to come to and tell me. What I do know is that Tiffany's parents found you lying on the ground outside Tiffany's window. It looks like you jumped through it. You were found with a gun in your hand. Ron said it was a .38 Special." Alan paused. He looked severely uncomfortable.

"What is it Alan? What happened?" Alan didn't answer. "Jesus Alan, I need to know, I don't remember much."

"It's Tiffany." He managed.

Ryan felt a cold chill go down his spine as his stomach sank to the very depths of his existence. "What about Tiffany, what happened to her?"

"This can wait Ryan." Alan dodged.

"She was raped, wasn't she?" Ryan exclaimed. "I remember that. The killer was raping her when I got there."

"The killer?" Alan asked in shock, standing up out of his chair. "You saw the killer?"

"I think so. Not directly. He was concealed, rather well." Ryan said. "He was wearing black, and his face was completely covered. What about Tiffany, was she really raped?"

"Ryan, I don't think that..."

"ALAN, GOD DAMMIT, JUST FUCKING SAY IT!" Ryan exploded, sitting up in bed. Pain shot through his shoulder like a lightening bolt.

Alan buried his face in his hands and sighed. He pulled his hands up through his hair and looked at Ryan with such sorrow in his eyes. Tears were forming. "I can't say this to you Ryan." He stumbled.

Ryan was so nervous, he thought he was going to be sick. "Alan." He asked in a whisper. "Where is she?" Alan didn't answer. He couldn't. "Is something wrong with her?" Alan buried his face back in his hands and started to cry ever so gently. "Please." Ryan whispered. "Say it."

Alan stood up and walked over to Ryan's bed. He sat down facing Ryan and took his hand. Ryan looked into Alan's red sunken eyes where he saw pain. Raw pain. The kind of pain that would slowly gnaw at your insides till all that was left was a hollow shell. "Tiffany's parents didn't find you first." Alan explained in broken words. "They found Tiffany first, in her room. She had been shot."

"Shot?" Ryan asked enraged. "How is that possible? The killer shot me in the shoulder."

"No Ryan. Please, let me finish. This is very difficult." Alan said. "What I think happened, is that the killer must have aimed for you, and missed. You would probably be dead if he hadn't have. The bullet grazed you, which means your body didn't stop the bullet. It hit Tiffany." Ryan was starting to get restless. Alan squeezed his hand. "The bullet hit her in the neck. They're saying in the jugular. She bled a lot Ryan, so much so that when he parents found her...she...she was..." Alan paused to wipe one of the tears flowing down his face. "She was dead."

Ryan couldn't move. He wasn't hearing this. "No." He whispered as his vision was blurred by the tears. "Tiffany's not dead. That can't be right."

Alan continued, barely holding his composure. "They found you outside the window, two stories down on the ground. You were unconscious, and bleeding rather badly."

"No Alan, Tiffany's not dead." Ryan insisted. "She's NOT!"

"Ryan, you have to remain calm, there's more." Alan said. "There's a bigger problem. Ron has told me that the police think YOU did it."

"WHAT?" Ryan screamed. "That's absurd!"

"They found you with a gun in your hand."

"No shit!" Ryan snapped. "It was the killers. He lost it when I tackled him out of the window. I remember that now Alan. He took a shot at me and I fell. When I got back up, I went after him. We both fell to the ground. He started to run and I grabbed the gun. The last thing I remember is firing off in the direction of the car."

Alan looked confused, but continued anyway. "Ryan, they also found a gun in Tiffany's hand. The thinking is that you were there to rape her. She shot at you in self defense knocking you out the window. When you fell, you shot back, hitting her in the neck."

"What?" Ryan asked. "That's not even remotely right. When I found Tiffany, he hands were duct taped behind her back. She was in the process of being raped when I got there."

Alan looked at Ryan seriously. "Ryan, no duct tape was found on her at all."

"No, that's not right. When I found her, her mouth and hands were duct taped. Like we found her in the art supply room." Ryan insisted.

"That's not what the police found." Alan said.

"He came back." Ryan said to himself. "The son of a bitch came back and set me up."

"I believe you Ryan." Alan said right off. "I know you loved Tiffany. And I know you. What happening here is completely wrong."

"Tiffany called me at the dorm." Ryan said, apparently shaken. "She said he parents were late and she was spooked. She wanted me to come over and wait with her. So I did. When I got there, she was bound up and the killer was in the room, holding a gun at me."

"Ryan wait, there's still more." Alan said. "The killer got to Jarrod too."

"What? Jarrod's not dead too is he?" Ryan asked in a complete panic.

"No." Alan answered immediately. "He was in a car accident. It looks like someone fucked with his brakes of his car. Ron contacted me about an hour after they took you to the hospital. I called Jarrod and Mike and told them both to meet me at the hospital. Mike showed up, but Jarrod didn't. He was coming down Pennsylvania Avenue away from the college towards Main street. He went to stop at the light where the two roads merge together. His brakes went out and he went through the intersection into one of the buildings on the other side of Main Street. Completely totaled his car."

"So how's Jarrod?"

"Banged up a little bit." Alan said. "But he'll be okay. He's staying with me right now at my house. Nora took herself and the kids to her mothers house. She's really spooked about what's going on around here."

"Jesus, I can't say I blame her." Ryan said. He stopped and started to cry. "Tiffany's really not dead, is she Alan?"

Alan bowed his head. "Yes Ryan, she's dead. I'm sorry."

"No, I want to see her body." Ryan insisted. "I won't believe it till I see it."

"Ryan, I don't think you can."

"Find a way."

"Ryan..."

"NO dammit." Ryan swore. "I need to see her."

"Okay." Alan said. "I'll figure something out."

"I need to talk to my father." Ryan said. "If Miller and Perri are going to fuck with me, then I'm going to need a lawyer."

"They don't know where he is Ryan." Alan said.

"Who?"

"Your dad."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember you told me he would be back Saturday?" Alan asked.

"Yeah?"

"He never showed up." Alan said. "I can't reach him at your house, or at the ranch. The authorities can't find him either. It looks like he might have disappeared Ryan." Ryan reached for the phone on the table next to him and started to dial a number. "Who are you calling?"

"My dad's lawyer." Ryan answered. "I just so happen to know his home phone for just such emergencies as these."

The voice on the other end of the extension answered the ringing. "Hello?"

"Victor?" Ryan asked. "This is Ryan Thomas. Geoffrey’s son?"

"Yes Ryan, what can I do for you?" Victor asked.

"Do you know where my dad is?"

"Sorry Ryan, I haven't talked to you pop in a couple of weeks. Why? Is everything okay?" Victor asked.

"No, I think I'm in a lot of trouble." Ryan said. "I can't find my dad, and the police are on their way here to question me about a murder they think I did."

"Jesus Ryan."

"Can you come down here? I'm probably going to need your services."

"Yeah, where are you?" Victor asked.

"Carroll County General." Ryan said. "Room number...?" Ryan was looking at Alan.

"Three seventeen, intensive care." Alan said.

Ryan looked taken aback. "Three seventeen, intensive car unit."

Victor asked, "Intensive care? What the hell happened?"

"I'll tell you when you get here." Ryan said.

"Be there in a few." Victor said and hung up.

Ryan stared off into the wall. "Jesus, what the hell is happening to all of us?" He asked. "When did everything get this dangerous?"

"The day we saw Austin Webb being loaded into the ambulance behind the bleachers at the stadium." Alan said. "That's when."

Dr. Spears and his team of nurses returned to take Ryan to another room. One not in intensive care. They could find nothing more wrong with Ryan. He would have to stay one more night for observation, and then he could go home.

Miller and Perri were waiting outside the room Ryan would be occupying when he was transferred. Victor Miles, Ryan's newly appointed lawyer arrived just as Ryan was getting tucked in to his new room. It was convenient timing, as Miller and Perri were anxious to get some answers from Ryan.

Alan was asked to wait outside for the duration of the inquisition.

"Okay Mr. Thomas." Perri began. "Lets hear your side of what happened."

"Is my client under arrest?" Victor asked. Miller was rolling his eyes at the touchy formality of having a lawyer present for questioning.

"Not yet." Perri answered.

Victor turned to Ryan. "Don't answer them."

"But Victor, I want too." Ryan insisted.

"Fine, we'll do it the hard way." Miller snapped. "Ryan Thomas, I'm placing you under house arrest for the murder of Tiffany Cutter. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you by the state of Maryland. With these rights in mind, are you willing to talk to me about the charges against you?"

Ryan was glaring at Miller knowing he was getting some kind of perverse satisfaction out of placing Ryan under arrest. "Yes, I am!" Ryan snapped.

"Ryan." Victor warned. "You should really wait until we've had a chance to talk about this."

"It's okay Victor, I didn't do it." Ryan said. "And I can prove it. I can lead you to the person who did do it."

"How is that?" Perri asked.

"I saw the plate number of the car the killer escaped in." Ryan explained. Miller looked at Perri doubtfully. Perri flipped open his notebook.

"Okay, what was it?" He asked.

"It was a Honda of some kind. The plate read IBC4 99. It was a rental car of some sort. There was a sticker that said so above the plate."

"How do you know this?" Perri asked.

"I was on my way to Tiffany's house. It must have been around one ten or one fifteen in the morning. She had called me saying her parents were late getting back from some dinner or something. She was spooked and wanted me to come over. I said I would. A little bit before I got to driveway, I noticed a car parked on the other side of the road. That struck me as odd, so I stopped to look at it. It was a new car with everything I described about it. The sticker and the plate number? I'll bet you didn't find that car there when you investigated the scene." Miller and Perri didn't answer.

"Well?" Victor asked the two police officers.

"No, there was no car there." Perri admitted.

"But I'll bet there were fresh tire tracks there, huh?" Ryan asked. Victor was looking at them still.

"Yes, there were." Miller said. "But that doesn't mean there was a car there when you were. Was anybody with you?"

"What do you think Miller?" Ryan snapped.

"Don't be a smart ass." Miller snapped. "Answer yes or no please."

"No."

Perri: "Where did you get the gun that was found in your hand at the scene Mr. Thomas?"

Victor was about to say something when Ryan answered, "It was the killers."

"Was it now?" Miller asked sarcastically.

"Yep." Ryan smirked. "If you see who the gun is registered too, you'll see it's not me!"

"Has that been done Detective?" Victor asked.

"Yes." Perri answered.

"Was it registered to my client?"

"No." Perri answered turning to Miller. "Go check this plate number out." He said handing Miller the sheet of paper. Miller left the room glaring at Ryan. "Okay Mr. Thomas, how did the killers gun end up in your hand?"

"He dropped it when I tackled him out of the window." Ryan said.

"You tackled this man out of a window two stories up?" Perri asked.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because he shot me!" Ryan said pointing to his bandaged shoulder. "When I got to Tiffany's house, she didn't answer the door. I was worried, especially with that car being so close to her house. So I broke open the front door and found Tiffany in her room being raped. Her hands were duct taped together and her mouth was covered with dust tape too. The killer was standing in the corner of the room, completely concealed. Black clothes, gloves, ski mask with the nose and mouth sewn up, and sunglasses on underneath the mask. I thought he was going to kill me right then and there. He actually tried to escape out the window. I went to stop him and he shot me. Apparently he missed, only clipping my shoulder. The bullet hit Tiffany." Ryan stopped as the pain of realizing Tiffany might be dead started to eat at him.

Perri noticed something was wrong. "Are you okay Mr. Thomas?"

"No. The woman I loved and cared about is dead." Ryan said. "The last time I saw her she was lying half naked on her bed and had just had the penis of her murderer inside her, then I come to four days later to hear she had been killed by a bullet intended for me? No Detective Perri, I guess you could say that I'm not okay. The last memory I have of my beloved Tiffany is a degrading one. And that's the last memory I'll ever have of her, unless I have the good fortune of attending her funeral! Now in the aftermath of this living hell, I have you and Miller trying to put me away for that murder. Well, why not rub salt in the fucking wound Ian! I didn't do it! You find out who rented that car, and you'll have your murderer, and when you find him, you'll have the murderer of Austin Webb, Duncan Porter, and Alexander West!"

"You have reason to believe the man who you think killed Tiffany Cutter is also the man killing these other people?" Perri asked.

"Don't you?" Ryan asked. "Why else would you be here? Besides, I asked him, and he motioned in a bow type fashion, mockingly so, that it was him!" Perri didn't answer. It hit Ryan then. "You think I killed those other people?"

"You are a suspect." Perri admitted.

Ryan laughed. "And how do you figure this Detective. Enlighten me with your brilliant deductions."

"Your alibi the night of Webb's murder didn't check out." Perri said.

"What? Bullshit!" Ryan spat. "You go check the timecards over at Pizza-To-Go, you'll see that I was working that night."

"We did." Perri said. "They show you not working that night, Thursday, March 23."

"Your wrong." Ryan stated. "Ask Jarrod, he was working too."

"We did." Perri said. "He supported your alibi, but that's not enough. He could be covering for you. When we find Stewart Boswell, we'll have him confirm or deny it."

"You haven't found Stewart yet?" Ryan asked. "You won't. He's your killer. He's probably out of the country by now. With Linda Webb at his side, laughing at you and Miller knowing he got away with it."

Perri was about to retort when Miller walked back in. "Ian, could you step outside for a sec."

"Is this about the rented car?" Victor asked.

"It is." Miller replied.

"If you've discovered it's owner," Victor said. "I think we have the right to know who it is also."

Perri looked at Victor doubtfully. "We'll see." He said and walked out of the room with Miller

"You need to be real careful about what you say Ryan." Victor warned. "You don't want to tell the police anything that would came back to haunt you later."

"I think they found something." Ryan said. "And I'll bet Miller knows I'm right."

"I really think you should not say another word to these guys until we've had a chance to really discuss this." Victor suggested.

"Victor, there are things about what going on that I can't tell you right now." Ryan said. "It could inadvertently put your life in danger. It did mine, and look at me now. If these jokers are serious about charging me for this murder, and the others, if they really think I am the serial killer stalking Westminster, then I'll tell you. But its not me. I came face to face with him last night. Only his face was hidden. But now he's getting sloppy. I don't think the killer anticipated me tagging his car. Now we're closer to the real killer than ever. We may have him this time."

"Ryan, I barely know what your talking about." Victor said exasperated.

Miller and Perri walked back into the room. Miller looked burned! "We're going to let you go Mr. Thomas." Perri said. "We have some new information that sheds a new light on the case."

"Care to share?" Ryan asked nonchalantly.

"Not at this time." Perri announced. "However Mr. Thomas. If you were planning any vacations or trips outside the state, I suggest you cancel them."

"Don't worry Detective." Ryan quipped. "I'm not going anywhere. However, if you tell me who the car belonged, or was rented to, you'll save me the trouble of finding out for myself."

Miller barked, "I thought I told you to back off this case Mr. Thomas. Unless you'd like to add 'Interfering with an official investigation' to your list of suspected crimes."

"Who's interfering?" Ryan asked. "My investigation has nothing to do with yours. I am curious though Detective Miller. What are you so frightened of? What are you afraid I'm going to find out? Is there a skeleton in your closet? Or should I say a 'scarecrow'?"

Miller and Perri stopped dead in their tracks on their way out the door. Miller looked back at Ryan with a cross between fear and rage. Victor on the other hand appeared to be confused. Miller kicked the door shut and stopped back to Ryan's bed. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Miller snapped

"Why don't you tell me Detective? That's the word flying around town these days. I have no idea what it means. So why don't you tell me!" Ryan replied harshly. Perri put his hand on Miller's arm to restrain him.

"I don't know what the hell your talking about!" Miller insisted.

"I doubt it." Ryan smirked.

Perri continued to pull at Miller's arm. "This isn't over!" Miller stated.

Victor interrupted. "Is that some sort of threat, Detective?"

Miller glared at Victor, then back at Ryan whom he pointed his finger at. "This isn't over." He repeated. "I will be back."

"I look forward to it Detective." Ryan sneered.

"Ryan," Victor warned. "Let it go." Perri pulled Miller out of the room. Alan walked back in.

"What the hell did you say to him?" Alan asked.

"I mentioned scarecrow." Ryan replied.

Alan shook his head in disgust. "Ryan, why did you do that?" He asked. "You could have exacerbated an already delicate situation."

"I'm sorry Alan." Ryan apologized. "That fat pig was pushing me again."

"You should really do something about that temper of yours Ryan." Alan said. "Did Miller say anything else to you?"

"He said this wasn't over and he'd be back." Ryan replied. "I don't care at this point Alan. Miller doesn't scare me. I think he's the one who's scared."

Victor interrupted, "Are you going to explain to me what's going on here Ryan? As your attorney, I really should know what kind of trouble your in."

"I told you Victor, the less you know the better." Ryan said. "You could get into trouble."

Victor looked at Ryan doubtfully. "I am a big boy Ryan. I'm pretty sure I can take car of myself." Ryan looked at Alan who was shrugging his shoulders.

"Okay Victor, but none of this leaves this room." Ryan warned.

"I'm bound to confidentiality Ryan, you should know that."

Ryan nodded and told Victor the whole story, from Webb's death to Tiffany's untimely demise, which had been hard for Ryan to explain. Victor was obviously taken aback by the whole story. There had been way more to the story than the papers were printing. Victor explained that the papers, mainly the Carroll County Times, had left a lot of pertinent details out. There was no mention of the branded crow on the foreheads of the victims. Just a mention of a branded bird. There had been no mention that any of the victims had attended W.M.C. in the '70's. In fact, there was not a whole lot of history printed about the victims. The paper was concentrating on the anatomy of the killer, trying to piece their own clues together. Victor was saying the papers weren't even close to the story Ryan had just told him.

"Scary, isn't it." Alan added. There was a knock at the door as Jarrod stuck his face in the door.

"Hey guys, is this a private party?" Jarrod asked.

"No, come in dude." Ryan said. Victor snapped his briefcase shut and stood up.

"Okay Ryan." Victor said. "I'm going to try and locate your father. He may have gotten delayed at his last meeting. These things happen sometimes. I will contact you as soon as I get a hold of him. If the police want to question you further, give me a call. I mean it."

"I will Victor, thank you." Ryan said.

"And Ryan." Victor added. "I'm sorry about Tiffany."

Ryan felt a bad chord being struck in his insides. "Thanks Victor. I appreciate it." Victor nodded and walked out of the room.

Jarrod walked over to Ryan, wearing a back pack. He did not look any better, with the exception of the gunshot wound. Jarrod looked like he had gotten the shit kicked out of him. A few cuts and scrapes, some bruises, and an ankle cast of some kind. "I'm really sorry Ryan. I can't believe it myself."

This was getting harder and harder for Ryan to hear. "Thank you." he managed through that big lump in his throat.

"How'ya feeling?"

"Like I’ve been shot and thrown out a two story window." Ryan answered. "I don't believe any of this is happening. How are you Jarrod, you look a bit shaken up."

"I had a minor wreck in my car." Jarrod said. "Ron tells me the cops found cut brake lines. There was a pool of brake fluid in my parking spot back at the college. It looks like the killer was following us again."

"Well at least your alive." Ryan said. "That's what's important here."

Alan added, "Ryan had a run in with our killer."

"I knew it!" Jarrod exclaimed. "I knew you didn't do this Ryan. We thought it was the killer setting you up. We just didn't know, till now. You actually saw him?"

"Sort of. He was completely concealed." Ryan began, going through the whole story again for Jarrod to hear. "...And when I came to, I found out Tiffany was dead." Ryan stopped for fear of crying in front of Alan and Ryan.

"Unbelievable." Jarrod mused. "I told you Ryan. I told you he was going to come after us."

"Yeah, but I didn't think he was going to try and kill us." Ryan added. "I thought he was just trying to scare us."

"We must have gotten really close with this 'scarecrow' stuff." Jarrod reasoned. "This guy really means business. We're lucky to still be here."

"I know it." Ryan said putting his hand on Jarrod's. "Extremely lucky."

"Well, this won't bother you then." Jarrod said. "I came by looking for Alan. I didn't realize you were conscious. There's been another murder, and it looks like it was number four in the 'scarecrow' series."

"Jesus Christ!" Alan swore. "Our killer isn't wasting any time here. What have you heard Jarrod."

"Only what was on the news earlier." Jarrod replied. "The lady's name was Maria Hogan. She lived over in Columbia. What they're saying is that someone sent her a package through the mail to her place of employment. She was some kind of secretary. Anyway, when she opened the package, it exploded. She was killed instantly. No one else was killed, just her. A few people in the room got hurt, but Maria was the only one killed."

Ryan was shaking his head and looking at Alan. "'Take a letter Maria'. Where is this going to end. Our killer has a really sick sense of humor. Do either of you remember a Maria Hogan on any of the lists we were looking at?"

"Way ahead of you bro." Jarrod said. "I checked it out before I came over. There was no Maria Hogan on the original student roster, but you have to remember, her last name may be different now. Alan suggested yesterday that we check the student alumni association. They run on a completely different system than the college mainframe. I checked it out his morning. There is a Maria Hogan on that list, Maria Hayes-Hogan. When I cross-checked the lists, I found a Maria Hayes, who graduated with the class of 1973."

Alan stumbled to attention. "1973? Are you sure Jarrod?"

"Yep."

"That the year my wife graduated." Alan said. "Jesus, I wonder if Nora knew her?"

"Still way ahead of you." Jarrod said taking off the back pack. He reached in and brought out Nora's yearbook from 1973. There was a page marker sticking out of the top. Jarrod handed the yearbook to Alan.

"Jarrod, your a fucking genius." Alan praised.

Jarrod smiled smugly. "I know. I do what I can." Alan opened the yearbook at the marked page. He read earnestly, eyes growing bigger.

"What does it say Alan?" Ryan asked.

"It says, Maria B. Hayes, future plans to be a wife and mother, most memorable moment," Alan paused. "Ask Nora."

"Your Nora?" Ryan asked.

"I don't know." Alan said bemused.

Ryan: "What else?"

"A lot of gibberish about other girlfriends." Alan answered. "I don't see anything in here about 'scarecrow'." Alan started to flip through the yearbook again, stopping at another page. Jarrod leaned over to look over Alan's shoulder. "There's nothing there about Maria." Alan said.

"What are you talking about Alan?" Ryan asked.

"Nora's yearbook picture, there's nothing there about any Maria." Alan replied. "I've seen this caption a thousand times since I've been married. I don't remember Nora ever mentioning a Maria."

"It's probably a different Nora then." Jarrod figured.

"Yeah, probably." Alan said closing the yearbook and giving it back to Jarrod. "Weird, isn't it?"

"We need to set up a meeting with Ron." Ryan said. "I'm willing to bet my life there was some kind of card at the scene of the crime that has the next clue on it. I want to know what it said. I want to find this son of a bitch. He killed Tiffany. I want to be the one to cut his balls off and shove them down his throat so he chokes on them!"

"Calm down Ryan." Alan said. "Working yourself up isn't going to do any good. Listen, we've already taken your car back to the college. Everything is waiting for you there. I've already explained to your instructors what's happened to you. Everything is cool. Even Adam Jones stopped by the newsroom to inquire about you yesterday."

"Yeah, probably to make sure I was dead." Ryan cracked.

"No. He wanted to make sure you were going to be okay." Alan said. "He has an approved transfer for you in regards to another Soc. class."

"Oh, good" Ryan said.

"Everything's going to be okay bro." Jarrod added. "We'll figure out what's going on and fix it, I promise."

"Yeah, you just worry about getting better." Alan said. "We miss you down at the college."

Ryan chuckled. "I guess I would say the same, but I've been out for the last couple of days. I really want to get back into this. For Tiffany."

"I know." Alan sympathized. "We'll get him Ryan. We'll get him. I'll be back to pick you up tomorrow morning. Your more than welcome to stay at my place until you can find you dad, if you'd like. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call. I'll be at my house chillin' with Jarrod."

"I will." Ryan said. "Thanks guys."

Alan and Jarrod started to leave. "Rest up son, we've got a lot of work to do tomorrow." Alan added. "I'll be counting on your help."

"I'm there." Ryan said. Alan nodded.

"Take care bro." Jarrod said as he walked out too. Ryan was alone again.

He turned his head to look out the window into the cold dark night. Ryan didn't feel much like sleeping, even though he was a bit tired. Beyond that window lied a world without Tiffany Cutter. To Ryan, it seemed so empty and meaningless now. There was a big hollow space in his life now that Tiffany had filled. Just as they had come together, she had been taken from him, ruthlessly and viciously. Life, had slapped Ryan in the face and was laughing about it.

Ryan started to cry, feeling the tears stream across his face into the pillow. He saw Tiffany's face in his mind as she had been when he met her three years ago. Sweet, innocent, and untouched by the horror of the real world. He remembered her smile, her smell, the way her blond hair fell onto her shoulders. Her eyes were the color of an icy blue lake on a crisp winters morning, but were as deep as the deepest sea on the planet. They spoke of a zest for life, seeing the good in everything no matter how dismal the situation was.

Tiffany had blown into Ryan's life as quickly as she had blown out of it. Ryan had been a sophomore when Tiffany had introduced herself to him and Alan in the Forum newsroom three years ago...

 

"Is this the newspaper?" Tiffany asked walking into the newsroom. Alan and Ryan were leaning over the layout board when this beautiful blonde creature had breezed into the room.

Ryan looked up at her and opened his mouth to speak. No words came out. It was Alan who answered. "Yes, this is The Forum. Is there something I can help you with?"

"I'm here to sign up." she said smiling. "I'm sorry I wasn't here for the initial meeting last week, but I didn't know about it until after the fact. I hope I'm not to late."

Alan glanced at Ryan, whose mouth was still open, and then back to Tiffany and said, "Yeah, I think we might be able to make an exception Miss..."

"Cutter. Tiffany Cutter."

"Do you have any newspaper experience Tiffany?" Alan asked.

"I wrote for my high school newspaper for three years." She answered. "I graduated form Westminster High earlier this year."

"You’re a freshman?" Ryan asked appalled.

"Why? Is there a problem with that?" Tiffany asked, looking worried that her grade status might be a problem.

"No." Ryan answered immediately. "You look older than a typical female out of high school. I'm sorry. My name is Ryan Thomas, this is Alan Kittridge, our faithful editor."

"Nice to meet you Ryan." she said smiling, extending her hand. Ryan took it gently and brought it up to his lips, kissing it tenderly. She laughed as if shocked. "My, chivalry isn't dead." Tiffany gasped.

"You'll have to excuse him Tiffany." Alan said. "Ryan still hasn't learned how to properly handle a large dosage of endorphins yet." Alan gently shook Tiffany's hand and continued his work at the layout desk.

"Aren't you a little old to be a student?" Tiffany asked Alan.

Ryan bellowed out with laughter as Alan stared blindly into the wall, shaking his head. "I knew this was going to happen." Alan said to himself.

Ryan spoke instead. "You'll have to excuse Alan this time Tiffany, he's got this thing about being an old man!"

"I am not an old man." Alan defended. "Forty five is not old!"

"If you say so Alan." Ryan joked.

Alan addressed Tiffany then. "Yes, I am older than your average student here. I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree back in 1971. I'm a freelance writer for several magazine's, including Reader's Digest." Alan said proudly. "In order for me to move into a permanent management position at any one publishing company, it would be to my advantage to have a higher degree of education. I returned to Western Maryland to get my Master's Degree. You'll find that several of the commuting students are of the older genre." He said shooting a glare at Ryan.

"I see." Tiffany said leaning back against the wall. Ryan studied her body then. She was an incredibly attractive female, full figured in every way. His gaze fixed mainly on her breasts. It was the beginning of an obsession. Ryan swore to himself he would find a way to bed this beautiful creature. He would make it his life's work.

But in the end, Ryan painfully realized, he would never have that opportunity now. He was waiting for the right time to share that act of love with Tiffany, now that they had declared their love for each other.

That day would never come. This sudden realization jerked Ryan out of his memory of Tiffany back into the cold hard world that waited for him. He was crying harder. The pain was getting worse, realizing all the things he and Tiffany would miss out on. This was supposed to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship three years in the making. Now it was a tragic ending, one second in the happening. Ryan was realizing if he had taken that bullet, Tiffany would be alive. The thought of Tiffany's last memory on this Earth being one of rape and pain was to much to take in at once. It was another source of pain that had tapped into Ryan now. He was crying harder, calling out her name.

Somebody had turned on the light in Ryan's room. Ryan didn't bother to look and see who it was. He was to busy trying to conceal his obvious pain. Somebody was walking towards the bed, slowly, one foot in front of the other. Ryan closed his eyes, hoping it was the killer coming to finish him off. At that one moment in time, Ryan wished he were dead. Only so the pain of losing Tiffany would go away, and he could be at peace with her wherever she was. Someone sat down on the bed next to Ryan and put their hand on his. Judging by the touch, it was a female hand.

Ryan opened one of his red swollen eyes to see an older woman sitting on the bed beside him. It was Tiffany's mom. "It's okay." She whispered to him. "Go ahead and cry Ryan."

Ryan broke then, letting go of the pain he was struggling to keep inside. He sat up so Mrs. Cutter could hold him. Tiffany's dad approached the bed also, placing a comforting hand on Ryan's shoulder. Even though Ryan had Tiffany's parents there to comfort him in his time of sorrow, Ryan still felt all alone in the world. Tiffany's death had left him in a very lonely place that was going to take a long time to find his way out of.

Mrs. Cutter held Ryan, comforting him till he calmed down enough to talk. He laid back down on the bed and looked at Tiffany's parents. "I'm sorry." Ryan managed.

"It's okay." Mrs. Cutter said. "You've been through a lot. Do you think you'll be all right Ryan? Is there anything we can do for you?"

"I didn't do it." Ryan pleaded. "I don't care what the cops are saying, I tried to save Tiffany, not kill her."

"We know." Mr. Cutter said. "There are too many things about this incident that don't add up. First of all, Tiffany would never had that gun in her hands. I wasn't even aware she knew I had a gun in the house. She hated them, and I know she would never touch one, much less fire it. She carries around a can of pepper mace for such emergencies. We found her with a gun in her hands, and that just not what happened. I know it."

"We believe you Ryan." Mrs. Cutter said. "I spoke with your friends out in the waiting room. They explained to us what happened. I know you would never hurt our daughter. She's always spoken so highly of you over the years. You were somebody she trusted."

"I know who did it Mrs. Cutter." Ryan said flatly. "Its the same guy who killed Webb. He wasn't going to kill Tiffany. He was aiming for me, and missed. I should have taken that bullet Mrs. Cutter, Tiffany would still be here."

"You don't know that Ryan." Mr. Cutter said. "He could have killed both of you and not thought twice." Ryan knew that wasn't true, but didn't offer that. He would have to explain why, and that would mean explaining the whole investigation. This was not the time or place. "Tiffany's viewing was yesterday." Mr. Cutter continued. "We wanted to let you know that we've delayed the funeral until you've had a chance to see her. The funeral itself is going to be closed casket." This was obviously difficult for Mr. Cutter to explain. "We've made arrangements for you to see Tiffany tomorrow at Taylor's funeral home, alone if you so chose."

Ryan was speechless. He was struggling to hold back tears again. "I don't know what to say Mr. Cutter, Mrs. Cutter. Thank you."

"You didn't get a chance to say goodbye." Mrs. Cutter said, holding back her own tears. "I think if Tiffany had a say, she would have wanted that."

"Alan's picking me up tomorrow." Ryan explained. "I could have him take me to the funeral home, say around eleven or so?"

"That would be fine." Mr. Cutter said. "We can meet you there."

Ryan looked at Tiffany's parents with a great sadness about him. He could feel their pain, much stronger than his. "I really do appreciate this." He said. "Thank you."

"We're glad we could do this for you, and our daughter." Mrs. Cutter said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "And if there's anything we can do to help you Ryan, please let us know."

"I should be okay ma'am." Ryan said. "It goes both ways, if there is anything I can do for you or Mr. Cutter, just ask."

"We have a pretty good idea what you and your friends are doing." Mr. Cutter offered. "Tiffany was telling us a little bit about it, but not the whole story. And at this point, we'd rather not know right now. I want you to find this guy Ryan. If the person who did this is the same person whose been messing with you and your friends, and killing all these people, don't stop until he's dead. I mean that. Until he's dead."

Ryan was a bit shocked at the words Mr. Cutter was saying.

Dead.

He wanted the killer dead. Not brought to justice, or captured, but dead! Somewhere deep inside, Ryan knew it was probably going to come to that. The killer would have to be killed to be captured. "You have my word Mr. Cutter." Ryan swore. "I will find this person, and he will pay. I will not rest until Tiffany and these other people have peace. This started out as a personal vendetta for Alan, because Webb was a friend of his. Now it's my personal vendetta. It became personal right after Tiffany was abducted. I will get this guy, and I don't care what it takes to do it!"

"I believe you." Mrs. Cutter said holding Ryan's shoulders. "Just be real careful Ryan. I don't want to have to attend your funeral too."

"You won't Mrs. Cutter. I promise." Ryan said. Mrs. Cutter stood up to go. "He's getting sloppy." Ryan added. "He's leaving to many clues behind now. It won't be long."

Mr. Cutter nodded. "The funeral is also tomorrow." He said. "It's at two. I'll give you directions at the funeral home tomorrow."

"Okay, thank you." Ryan said. "I'll probably go with Alan or Jarrod."

The Cutter's turned to leave. Mrs. Cutter looked back as she walked out the doorway, meeting eyes with Ryan. They were crying out in pain. She was not going to have peace until her daughter did. Ryan knew, and nodded at her. She left, and Ryan was alone again.

He drifted off to sleep in a matter of minutes.

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