Ray Lewis kept dialing the beeper number frantically, beside himself in grief, aware that his actions made no sense.
The number belonged to Marlin Barnes, Lewis' roommate, teammate and fellow linebacker for three years at the University of Miami.
"I'd enter my code," Lewis said, "but no one ever responded."
Lewis knew the awful truth; he was just in denial.
Barnes, 22, had been murdered in the Miami apartment they shared with two other teammates. So had Barnes' friend, Timwanika Lumpkins, also 22.
Lewis attended Barnes' funeral on what should have been the happiest day of his life, the day the Ravens made him a first-round pick at No. 26.
Yesterday, he made his first visit to Baltimore carrying in his travel bag a T-shirt with Barnes' picture.
He sat outside in the sunshine at the Ravens' practice facility in Owings Mills, talking about his conflicting emotions, about dialing Barnes' number.
"That's when I was trying to come to reality, that Marlin was dead," Lewis said. "I don't care where Marlin was, who he was with, what he was doing, if I beeped him, I was getting a call back in less than five minutes."
Barnes and Lewis lived at Miami with cornerback Earl Little and running back Trent Jones. Their apartment was known for its uproarious card games. The losers didn't pay -- they did push-ups.
"Everybody knew that me and Marlin had a certain kind of bond," Lewis said. "I never went nowhere without him. He never went nowhere without me. We went out, always dressed alike."
Police in South Florida have yet to make an arrest in the double murder. Barnes and Lumpkins had gone out to a nightclub on a Friday night. Little discovered their severely beaten bodies upon returning to the apartment the next morning.
Lewis was in Daytona, celebrating Black Beach Week, when he got the news from Miami linebackers coach Randy Shannon. He always gave Shannon his number, no matter where he was going.
"He said, 'Marlin is no longer with us,' " Lewis recalled. "The first thing that goes through your mind is, 'What has he done to get kicked off the team?' That's what I said. He said, 'No, Ray, that's not what I'm talking about.'
"He said, 'Marlin is no longer with us.' I said, 'Man, I'm not understanding what you're saying.' He said, 'Marlin's dead.' When he said that, I busted a hole in the hotel wall because I didn't believe it."
And with that, Lewis took off.
"I left for three days and just rolled," Lewis said. "I cut off my phone, cut off my beeper, cut off everything. I didn't know where I was going."
He wound up in his hometown of Lakeland, Fla., where another of his friends, a high school teammate named Timmy Moore, had been murdered the month before.
Lewis doesn't turn 21 until next month, but he has endured enough tragedy for a lifetime. He wears a tattoo of a black panther on his right breast in tribute to the late Raymond King, his mentor growing up in Lakeland.
King helped raise Lewis, whose father left when he was young -- "He used to get me out of so much stuff," Lewis said.
But police shot King dead during an attempted bank robbery in Tallahassee in October 1993. Lewis has said his friend was just caught in the middle.
He wears another black panther tattoo below his right shoulder, one that honors Moore and his late great-grandfather. And yesterday, he pointed to the same spot on his left arm and said that space is reserved for a tattoo of him and Barnes, with the inscription, "Together we will always stand."
"My mom always told me don't ever dwell on nothing you don't have control over," Lewis said. "I can't bring Marlin back. The only thing I can do is let his spirit live on, do the things he always wanted me to do."
Lewis remembers speaking with Barnes the day of the murders. Barnes wanted to borrow one of his white shirts. They talked about the draft party. They joked and teased each other, same as always.
"I remember the last thing he said to me was, 'Hey, boy, the only thing I can say is I'm happy, boy. I'm happy one of us is finally going to make it.' He said, 'I love you.' I said, 'I love you, too.' "
It was to be such a joyous time. Lewis was leaving Miami a year early, but Barnes would accompany him to his NFL workouts, lending support, pushing him. They were like brothers, the four roommates, inseparable.
"If I was doing something wrong, or he was doing something wrong, we always stopped each other," Lewis said. "That was the best thing about our relationship."
But there Lewis was on draft day, attending Barnes' funeral.
The draft started at noon, the funeral at 1. Lewis said he put his head down and prayed on the ride over to his draft party at Joe Robbie Stadium. He never took off his sunglasses.
Later, he wore Barnes' jersey.
The NFL was barely on his mind.
"I just sat there and prayed," Lewis recalled. "I said, 'Marlin, just rest in peace.' "
Pub Date: 4/26/96