My Bloody Valentine
Larry Lawrence sat beside the window of the Southwest Airlines 737, casually searching the ground below. In some strange way he had hoped to be able to spot Dyson City as they flew over northern Alabama. To this point he hadn’t spotted any recognizable landmarks.
Dyson City, Alabama, was a small town of less than ten thousand, located in the middle of the north central part of the state. It was a typical redneck community, about an hour north of Birmingham and a few miles south of Cullman. It was also the town he had fled in humiliation and despair some twenty years earlier; a town that he had been determined to never visit again. Well, that had all changed with a surprise phone call from the past.
When the captain announced they were on the final approach into the Birmingham airport Larry knew they had long since passed the area where the town was located. It wasn’t a real surprise he hadn’t noted anything that looked familiar - just as he had changed over the years, so had the town. He was certain neither would have recognized the other.
As he gathered his bag and exited the aircraft, he reflected on the events of that dreadful Valentine’s Day - the events that had drastically altered his life forever.
Do I really want to go back to that hell-hole? he asked himself. If only I hadn’t received that strange call; a call that released the demons that have been locked away for years.
“Be here on the fourteenth,” she had said. “It’s time for Madison to be avenged.”
Larry had tried to immediately call the woman back at the number shown on his phone’s Caller ID, but was told by a robotic voice that it was not a working number. That raised his hackles even more than her phone call. It took a lot to get that kind of reaction from him after he spent sixteen years in Army Intelligence plus four years as the vice president and senior troubleshooter of a major security company.
Since a mysterious call had precipitated this trip Larry wanted to make sure that it would be almost impossible for anyone to track him, or trace anything that occurred in Alabama back to him. Therefore, he had used the same research, planning, and tradecraft tactics he’d honed during his years in Army Special Operations Intelligence (SOI) to hide his true identity, and the path he would travel.
Thus, in the previous week, Larry had traveled to Denver, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City as part of his normal business activities. In each city he had made late night visits to hotels close to where he was staying and had used their business services computer to acquire the tickets and boarding passes for the different sections of the trip. Each of these had been purchased using one of his many previously created false identities and a matching prepaid credit card.
On February 13 Larry traveled from Kansas City to Seattle to lead the investigation concerning a security breach at a client’s location. In actuality, he only stayed in Seattle long enough to make a face-to-face visit with the client, and advise Jerry Maples, the lead man on the investigation, as to what needed to be done concerning the investigation. The meeting with Jerry also included a discussion of what was needed to cover Larry’s absence.
To many, a secret shared was no longer a secret, but Larry had complete trust in Jerry. Sergeant Maples had been part of his old Army group and was totally dedicated to his old Major - legal or otherwise.
“Jerry, I need you to cover for me as best you can. If the client asks, I’m chasing down some leads in the outlying communities. Also, here is my cell phone. Use it to make a few local calls using my identity, as well as to call my office to periodically check my voice mail. Before I leave, we’ll pick up a couple of prepaid phones for any needed communication between us, including relaying important calls and e-mails.”
“I understand, Boss. If you’re here, you can’t be ‘there.’“
“Sergeant, I think you have the picture.”
Larry had flown from Seattle to Las Vegas using a different identity and an altered appearance. After checking into a cheap motel near the airport he changed his appearance and supporting identity to that of an elderly man. After checking himself carefully in the mirror the ‘old man’ walked next door to another motel and took a shuttle back to the airport.
In an airport gift-shop Larry added a cane to his disguise. A short time later the ‘old man’ boarded the next flight to Dallas-Fort Worth.
At the Dallas airport he slowly hobbled into a busy restroom and entered a handicapped stall. A few minutes later that identity disappeared and Larry emerged with a new identity, complete with different clothes, glasses, bushy eyebrows, a dimple in the middle of his chin and a different carry-on bag. He loved the soft bags that could be carried inside another one. The clothes he had been wearing were now helping him to appear thirty pounds heavier.
After leaving the restroom Larry wandered around the airport for more than three hours, killing time until the last flight to Nashville. While waiting he used the prepaid phone to call Jerry Maples to check on things.
“A woman just called and left a message,” Jerry relayed. “She said to meet her at the Krystal in Rawlingsville at one thirty.”
Larry must have sounded different somehow because a concerned Jerry asked, “Boss, are you okay, and if you don’t mind me asking, what’s going on?”
“Jerry, I wish I knew. It has something to do with a nightmare from my past. For the moment, I’m having to proceed a step at a time, using all my past experience to try to cover myself.”
“Do you know who this woman is?”
“I’ve my suspicions, but right now, you know almost as much as I do.”
“Does it have anything to do with a girl named Madison?”
Shaken to his very core, Larry asked curtly, “What do you know about Madison?”
“Just at times you used to cry out her name in your sleep, especially when it appeared that you were having a bad dream. When you said a nightmare from your past I suspected there might be some relationship between those dreams and all this.”
“I suspect you may be right, but at this point, I’m not sure. That’s why I’m being so cautious. This whole thing, in some way, relates to the horrible events that precipitated my leaving Alabama twenty years ago.”
“And, what was that?” asked Larry’s concerned friend.
“Jerry, you don’t need to know the details. It’s bad enough that I have to carry their weight - and I lived them.”
“I hear you, Major, but we’ve been through too much shit together for me to ignore your struggles. Do you think this woman is planning on blackmailing you, or something?”
“There’s no basis for blackmail, as I was one of the victims.”
“That’s good to know, though I can’t imagine you being any sort of victim.”
“Thanks for the thought, Sergeant Maples, but, do you remember, the Army builds men?”
“Well, twenty years ago I was a nerdy kid who only weighed a hundred and forty pounds. I was blindsided, knocked unconscious, and beaten almost to death. At the same time, my girl, Madison, was gang-raped and beaten. She committed suicide within an hour after arriving home from the hospital.”
The stunned retired Master Sergeant responded, “And now you’re going to make the bastards pay?”
“Jerry, I don’t even know for sure who the rapists were. I’m just following a couple of cryptic messages from some unknown woman to see where they lead.”
“Well, good luck, and I’ll make sure you’re covered from this angle.”
“Thanks. I’ll probably talk to you sometime tomorrow.”
It was after one in the morning when he finally landed in Nashville. He had a five hour layover before his flight to Birmingham. He wandered around the almost deserted terminal for a while, finally taking a seat across from his departure gate. It wasn’t the most refreshing place to sleep, but, after all his time in the Army, Major Lawrence had learned to sleep anywhere, anytime.
After exiting the plane in Birmingham, Larry headed toward the front of the terminal. Once past the security area he entered another bathroom and did another identity change. Plasti-skin was removed from his face, revealing a scraggly four-day beard. A dark wig formed into a classic mullet style haircut covered his short light brown hair, and colored contacts replaced the fake glasses he had been wearing. His khaki slacks were replaced by some well-worn jeans, and his shirt was covered by a Crimson Tide hoodie. The finishing touches were a beat-up University of Alabama hat, and a mass of something that resembled chewing tobacco placed in his cheek.
After checking his appearance Larry briefly reviewed the itinerary and maps that resulted from his research using a map program, along with Google Maps and Google Earth. Satisfied that he was as prepared as possible he departed the airport through the front entrance, where he caught a taxi that had just discharged its passenger. A few minutes later he was dropped off at a cheap motel on First Avenue.
Once the taxi was out of sight Larry walked to a used car lot in the next block where Al, the owner, was holding an older Ford Bronco that the two men had discussed over the phone. After briefly checking out the car Larry counted out the agreed upon thirty-one hundred dollars. In turn, Al handed him the bill of sale, a temporary insurance policy, and signed over the title. After verifying that everything was in the name of ‘John Madison, ‘ Larry was quickly on his way.
The first stop after filling the Bronco with gas was the main FedEx location where several packages shipped to John Madison were waiting to be picked up. That done he went two blocks over and picked up another package at the UPS office. Finally, he made a quick stop at a gun shop to pick up three magazines for a Glock model 22 and another stop at a Walmart to pick up a couple of boxes of .40 caliber hollow points. By eleven fifteen he was on Interstate 65 traveling north out of Birmingham.
Rawlingsville was two exits south of the exit leading to Dyson City and was at least twice its size. Once he was off the Interstate Larry headed for an old self-service car wash he remembered. Using Google Maps he had observed a modern drive through unit had been added, but the old-style wand pits were still in use.
He pulled into one of the older pits and stopped the car with the front just over the floor drain. With the car now in a position to obscure his actions Larry removed a gallon of black water-based primer that had been in the box picked up from UPS. Verifying no one was in an obvious position to observe him he opened the paint and slowly poured it down the washing stall’s drain. When he was finished the frame of a paint covered Glock model 22 rested on the grating.
With that part of the job completed Larry inserted four quarters into the wash control and quickly soaped down the car, along with the gun frame that was still resting on the drain grate. When everything was clean he changed the machine’s setting and rinsed everything, including the primer can and its lid.
Next, he pulled the car over and pretended to be using the vacuum. What he was actually doing was opening the other boxes and pulling out the appropriate pieces from a conglomeration of various machine parts that had been thrown into the boxes. At a quarter after twelve he had a complete pistol - loaded, cocked and ready to fire. In addition, he had two full magazines in the front pouch of his hoodie.
Looking around Larry noticed the building next to the car wash was an auto supply store. He smiled when he saw an open dumpster in the back of it. He drove over to the store, parked near the dumpster, and walked around to the front.
A chime sounded when he entered the store, and a middle-aged man asked, “Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” answered Larry with a country-boy accent. “I need a pair of aviation style sunglasses with the mirror lenses. My old ones have upped and disappeared, and I can’t do squat without ‘em.”
“Certainly, Sir. I have some quality ones on this counter.”
“Good,” replied Larry.
After trying on several pair Larry announced, “I think these’ll do.”
“They do look good on you. Is there anything else you need?”
“Yeah. I need one of those steering wheel covers and some Armor-all wipes. I’m tired of burning my hands on that stupid thing after the car sits in the sun a spell.”
“Would that be an elastic cover, or a more permanent leather one?”
“Give me both. I’m a wanting the leather, but it’ll have to wait till later for me to slap it on.”
“I understand. Is there anything else?”
“Naw, that’ll do it.”
Larry paid the man cash for the items, but as he started out the door he turned, and asked, “By the way, I’m parked near your dumpster. Do you mind if’n I toss some trash from my car?”
“That’s not a problem. We never fill the thing, anyway, and they’re scheduled to pick up early in the morning.”
“Thanks, I ‘preciate it,” replied Larry.
At the car Larry threw the boxes and paint can into the trash. Then, after pulling out some latex gloves from his bag, he proceeded to use the armor-all to wipe down any interior surface that he might have touched. As a final touch he placed the elastic cover over the steering wheel and placed the gloves back into his travel bag.
A few minutes before one o’clock in the afternoon the Bronco pulled into the local Krystal, and Larry parked where he could observe everyone as they entered. Now, he waited for the mystery woman he was to meet.
That question was answered twenty minutes later when a silver Grand Am pulled up close to the door. The very sharp looking strawberry blond who climbed out of the car was about five six and a hundred and thirty pounds; she also looked like an older version of Madison.
This has to be Madi’s older sister, Allison, thought Larry.
Now more confident about this meeting, Larry quickly jumped out of the car and met the woman as they went through the foyer together.
Approaching close behind her Larry whispered, “Alli, don’t scream or act surprised. Just remember we’re here together.”
“Larry?” the woman managed to ask in a soft casual tone.
“In the flesh. Now, let’s order and find an out of the way table.”
After glancing at her sister’s ex-boyfriend she replied, “I like the improvements. As for a table, I’ve a better idea. Let’s get our meals to go, and I’ll lead us to a place where we can talk.”
“That’ll work,” Larry responded as he picked up an empty cup from a table and spit into it.
“Ewww! That’s a nasty habit.”
“It’s not what you think. I’ll explain more later. It’s part of my camouflage, just like this Bama shit I’m wearing.”
“I was wondering if you’d come over to the ‘dark side.’“
“No, I’m still as much an Auburn fan as I was back then. This just helps me blend in with the local rednecks and white trash.”
“And to think I was almost ready to call you ‘Bubba, ‘“ she laughed.
Allison ordered a Crispy Onion combo, and he ordered the same. They returned to their cars, and Allison led them to a house about five blocks away. They pulled into the driveway and parked in the back, out of sight from the road.
“This is my cousin’s house,” Allison explained as the couple approached the door. “She, my mother, and my aunt have conveniently gone to Branson this week.”
“What about your dad?”
“He died in a car wreck about six years ago. They claim he’d been drinking, but I don’t think my father had ever even had a beer. I think he was onto something regarding Madison, and they shut him up - permanently.”
“Do you know anything?” asked a pensive Larry.
“I do, now. That was the primary reason for my call, though there are other aspects that come into play.”
“Then tell me, girl. I’ve waited twenty years for some payback.”
Allison turned to Larry and placed her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a deep kiss that lasted well over a minute. At the end their tongues were dueling and their hearts were racing. Their breathing had reached the point of panting.
When they finally separated Allison responded “Wow!”
Larry shook his head, and replied, “Ditto.”
Allison smiled at Larry’s reaction, and said, “I know you want payback. So do I, but please be patient with me for a little while. In a short time all will be revealed, including how this can be settled, once and for all. In the meantime, let’s eat and catch up on our lives.”
Larry took a bite of the small, thin burger placed on what was more of a dinner roll than a bun. He had eaten Krystals when he was young, but that was a long time ago. These had a new twist - crispy French fried onions had been added to the cooked chopped onions, mustard and pickle that had long been the components of the tasty little meal.
“This is pretty good,” he stated.
“I agree,” she answered between bites. “They’re a lot better than the plain Krystals. Now, tell me what happened after your beating and Madison’s rape.”
Larry said, “From what I understand, when the guys left Madison made her way the hundred yards or so to the highway. There, she was able to flag down a car. Of course, being naked made it easier. She told the driver, Missus O’Brian from the library, that I’d been beaten and was in pretty bad shape. After seeing my injuries Missus O’Brian was afraid to move me, so she rushed Madison to the hospital, which created all sorts of chaos.”
“I can imagine. I know what it was like when my parents and I arrived almost an hour later.”
“Anyway, the old woman sent an ambulance crew for me and called my dad. He called the ambulance company and told the dispatcher to have me taken directly to Huntsville. It seems he had some pretty strong suspicions that the Rat Pack was behind the whole thing, and with the political and financial power of their parents he wanted me completely out of the area.”
“They were right in doing that, as their suspicions were dead on the money,” responded Allison. “The stupid sheriff wanted to charge you for the rape and the beating, but Madi rejected that idea while still in the emergency room. Her statement, coupled with the ambulance crew’s description of your physical condition at the scene, caused him to quickly drop that idea.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to rape someone when you have a concussion, four broken ribs, a cracked tibia, a broken nose, and bruises over most of your body. The first time my mother saw me in the hospital she fainted.”
“I knew you’d been hurt, but I didn’t know how badly.”
‘Well, one nurse told my dad it was easier to list where I wasn’t hurt. Of course, they kept me drugged up for more than a week, so I healed a lot before I was finally able to see my body.”
“What happened then?”
“While I was being treated in the Huntsville hospital my parents decided that the best solution was to get me away from Dyson City, at least for a while. The next morning they went by the high school and picked up my transcripts, along with letters of recommendation from my teachers.”
“So, they weren’t planning on moving?”
“Not right away, but when Madison committed suicide they felt it was best if the whole family left the area. They packed our clothes and key personal items, and left town in the middle of that same night. The next morning they met with their attorney in Cullman, and after explaining the situation they gave him the power of attorney to sell both the house and the dry cleaners, including all equipment and furnishings.”
“I remember the cleaners being closed for a while, but I wasn’t sure what all had transpired. Where did y’all move?”
“As soon as I was released we headed to Greenville, South Carolina, where we temporarily stayed with family. Shortly after we arrived Mom tried to enroll me in the local high school, but the administrators said that I had missed too much school and would have to restart my junior year at the beginning of the next school year.”
“But weren’t you close to graduating here?”
“Yes, but by their criteria I was just a junior. It didn’t matter that I had taken the SAT with very high scores, or that I had tested out of most of my junior courses. In fact, my ‘testing out’ was much of the problem, as they wouldn’t accept those courses.”
“What did you do?”
“Mom found a military prep school in Virginia that would accept my existing grades and allow me to take individual studies for most of my remaining classes. I had to attend during the summer and part of the fall, but I was able to graduate by the following Thanksgiving.”
“Were you able to attend college, and how did you develop this gorgeous body?”
“The school’s Commandant was a retired Major. After learning what I had gone through he made sure there was no bullying, and the typical hazing that occurs in a military school was kept to a minimum. In addition, he assigned a retired Master Sergeant to act as my advocate, adviser and personal trainer. It was his goal to see me get to a muscular one sixty-five before I graduated.”
Allison laughed, “That’s still a long way from where you are now. What are you, six two, two twenty five?”
“That’s pretty close. I kept up the exercise program over the years, and even with my current busy life I still try to work out three times a week at a local gym, as well as running five miles and swimming two on the off days. I also took up martial arts while in Virginia, and I now have high degrees in three different disciplines.”
“That would do it,” she laughed. “What about college?”
“The Commandant arranged a full scholarship to the Citadel. This worked well with my family, as, by that time, they’d purchased a dry cleaners in Summerville, South Carolina, less than twenty miles away from the college. By the end of my first year I knew I wanted a career in the Army, so military science and criminal justice were my majors.”
“I know you now work for a security firm, but how long were you in the Army?”
“I was given a medical retirement after sixteen years. It seems there is some policy about how many purple hearts you can receive.”
“Since you went to the Citadel I assume you were an officer.”
“I was a Major when I retired. In my specialty of intelligence, that was about as far as I was going, anyway.”
“Only to the Army. After Madi, I could never open my heart to another woman.”
“Larry, I can’t be Madi, but we both loved you. If you want to know the truth, we flipped a quarter to see which one of us would get the first crack at you. Do you think you could open your heart to me?”
“It’s possible, but you’re a married woman.”
“True, but I suspect that, by tonight, I’ll be a widow.”
“Now, that’s a loaded statement,” replied a rather shocked Larry.