“So this is where you’ll spend most of your shift, probably,” said Kate, holding the door open so that Todd could step into the borderline miniature kitchen. Todd slouched into the room and bumped up against the brushed steel stove top and Kate followed. There was scarcely room to turn around with both of them in there.
“Fortunately, since you’ll be doing the opening shift, you’ll get to be alone in here for most of the time. I can’t tell you how many times Ann Marie and I have had full on collisions in here when we get a bit of a rush. The thought of all the plates of food that we’ve spilled just because this room is so small just makes my…ugh. I want to expand someday. Just isn’t quite in the budget yet.” Kate smiled up at Todd, and Todd nodded warmly back at her.
Just then, the bell above the door chimed. Kate looked at her watch and said, “Oh, is that her?” She stepped back out of the kitchen and Todd followed her into the main room of the restaurant where a brunette wearing jeans and a T-shirt was putting on an apron. Todd recognized her from school but they had never actually spoken properly.
“It is!” said Kate, rushing over to put her arm around the girl. “Speak of the devil, right?” Todd chuckled. “Of course, she’s no devil, is she? More like an angel! Isn’t she just the most beautiful young woman you’ve ever seen, Todd?”
The girl laughed. “Jeez, Kate, you’re making me blush.”
Todd laughed too but noted that, yes, she may indeed have been the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He extended his left hand and said, “Hi, I’m Todd.”
Todd expected some awkwardness as people were often confused when he tried to shake with his left instead of his right. To Todd’s surprise, the girl showed no confusion as she took his hand gracefully and said, “Pleased to meet you, Todd. I’m Ann Marie”
“Todd is going to help me with opening a few days a week. Annie is one of our fearless servers and she does all of the beautiful artwork on the windows.” Kate gestured over to a huge painting of a plate of breakfast that graced the window that made up most of the Northern wall of the tiny restaurant.
Todd smiled. “They’re very good,” he said.
“You should’ve seen the ones Steven used to do. He used to be a server here when I first started. He showed me how to do them. I’m getting better, but nowhere near the ones that he used to put up,” said Ann Marie.
“Well, they’re already very well done, but it’ll be fun to watch you get better and better.”
Ann Marie chuckled. “Thanks. That’s very sweet of you to say.”
There was a couple of moments of silence as they both awkwardly gazed at the window painting and then Kate said, “Annie, why don’t you show Todd how the three-basin sink works. I’ll get started on the place mats.”
Ann Marie nodded and said, “Okay, sure. C’mon, they’re in the kitchen.”
Todd thought back to his first day at Kate’s Diner, the first day he met Ann Marie Bennett. Todd had nursed a crush on Ann Marie for nearly a year after their introduction, but he never seriously considered asking her out. The feelings faded as Todd watched Ann Marie pursue other boys from afar. Eventually, they dissolved into a state of admiration and appreciation for their friendship. Ann Marie was decent to Todd, which was something that he couldn’t say for a lot of his other contemporaries, and though they never really spent time together outside of work, Ann Marie was as close a friend as Todd had.
Todd stared at a text that he had not yet sent to Ann Marie that said, “Hey, this is kind of out of left field, but I need to talk to you about something.” He hovered his shaking finger over the send button for a moment and then, after shrugging off his nerves, sent the message.
Todd set his phone down and picked up Maggie Nice’s phone. He turned the screen on and reread the texts that had prompted him to text Ann Marie. Despite Todd’s wishes to maintain Maggie’s privacy as much as possible, curiosity had gotten the better of him, especially in the wake of the confirmation that Maggie was raped. In perusing further back into Maggie’s text history, Todd happened upon a troubling conversation that she had had with Big Mac Halvorsen:
Maggie: “What’s up, Big Daddy? I’ve worked myself into a fit thinking about your big dick the other night. Why don’t you come over and help me find some peace of mind?”
Big Mac: “Are you fucking serious? Do not fucking text me like that. If Ann Marie sees your text everything will be fucked.”
Maggie: “You think so? I was thinking maybe she’d wanna join in.”
Big Mac: “Jesus Christ. I’m deleting these texts. Call me if you want to talk.”
Todd felt more and more sick to his stomach with every re-read of the conversation. He did not really know Big Mac at all but he felt nothing but contempt at the thought of him. He could not imagine a more resounding betrayal to pull on Ann Marie. Todd was terrified at the prospect of telling Ann Marie, but he felt that he simply could not keep this information from her.
Ann Marie and Jackson slipped into Reggie’s house through the garage door.
“Hey, it’s Beckett and Castle. What’s up, team? How was Ms. Halvorsen’s?” said Reggie, who was pitting Juventus against Man City in FIFA while the Blakroc album by The Black Keys played in the background.
“It was…interesting,” said Ann Marie, sitting down on the couch.
“Can I use your laptop?” said Jackson. “We wanna look something up.”
“Sure, if you don’t mind all the jizz stains on the keyboard. Have a looksee at my browser history if you’d like. I found a great nugget video the other night.”
“Nugget video?” said Ann Marie.
“Don’t ask,” said Jackson.
“Ugh. Gross,” said Ann Marie.
Jackson opened Reggie’s laptop and began searching for “BHIN” on Google.
“So what did Ms. Halvorsen have to say?” said Reggie.
“Nothing much at all. She basically invited us in and then kicked us out immediately. If she knows anything, she was not at all forthcoming about it,” said Ann Marie.
“Probably just playing hard to get. You guys smooth-talked her right? Nah, you were probably all honest and shit. That never got anybody anywhere.”
“The conversation didn’t last that long. We were inside for maybe five minutes before she booted us out. Jackson managed to grab something of interest though.”
“What is it?”
“An invite to the party at the Griffen’s house.”
“Well, shit. I coulda told you she went to the party.”
“That’s not it. Look at the small print at the bottom of it.” She pulled the invitation out of her purse and handed it over to Reggie. She also pulled her phone out and turned the screen on to check for messages.
“‘This event will also serve as a meeting of the BHIN.’” Reggie read out loud. “What the fuck is the BHIN?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” said Jackson.
“What the fuck are you looking at, Annie?” said Reggie.
Ann Marie was looking at her phone with a puzzled look on her face. “It’s…I got a message from Todd Sizemore telling me that he needs to talk to me.”
“Of course he does,” said Reggie. “He’s been wanting to stick his claw in your pussy for years now.”
“Jesus Christ, Reggie, shut the fuck up!” said Ann Marie, throwing a pillow at him.
Reggie laughed. “What are you gonna say to him?”
“I’m not gonna worry about it right now,” she said, as she texted back, “What’s up?”
“I think I’ve got something here,” said Jackson.
Ann Marie dropped her phone back into her purse and said, “What is it?”
“Most of the links just lead to companies and stuff. Nothing around here. But I found one Reddit post that might be what we’re looking for. This one guy asked, ‘What is the BHIN? A guy I was speaking with at the bar mentioned it to me last night and when I asked him about it, he clammed up and wouldn’t tell me anything more. I tried googling it but couldn’t find anything that made any sense.’ Another guy said, ‘BHIN is a fraternity much like the Stonemasons. They’re ridiculously secretive about what they do in their meetings. I had a friend who joined and he told me a bit about it in the beginning but after a while he stopped talking about it, and eventually he got more and more into it and he stopped hanging out with all of his old friends. He told me that ‘BHIN’ stands for ‘The Benevolent Hand in the Night’. Spooky shit. That’s all I know about it. I’d stay away from them if I were you. I think they’re a bunch of weirdos.’”
“Weird,” said Ann Marie.
“Probably a bunch of child molesters,” said Reggie. “I bet they’re using their benevolent hands on their kids every night.”
“So the party was just a meeting for them,” said Jackson.
“Yup,” said Ann Marie.
“Hm. I’m gonna do some more research. There’s gotta be more stuff about it online.”
“Mmkay,” said Ann Marie, who had pulled out her phone again and read a text from Todd that said, “Can we meet up?”