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A valentine

“So, it’ll definitely work?” The kid who was asking’s name was Jerry — Gerald Micah Anderson, according to his credit card. Not that the money mattered anymore.

“It’s got five milligrams of fentanyl in it,” the masked man said (though it was quite muffled) while sliding the red-and-white envelope into his back pants pocket, “it’d kill a horse.”

Jerry smiled, and he could see that devilish grin in the reflection of the red gas mask’s goggles or whatever the hell you called ‘em. It made him feel perverted, and that smile was quickly wiped from his red cheeks.

“G-good,” he sputtered, although his face certainly didn’t read as ‘good’. “He’s not a horse but…definitely an ass. Thanks.”

Jerry extended his boney, outstretched hand toward the elusive masked man, of whom he knew very little, except that he was good at what he did — and what he did was kill people. The masked man didn’t budge, however, and merely looked down at Jerry’s trembling hand until it dawned on the kid that the stranger was wearing gloves for a reason, and then that hand of his awkwardly shot to his side. Even through the mask, the stranger could tell right away why he was single: he was awkward and twiggy, and above all else twitchy. The masked man turned for the door without saying a word, but before he could break for it, Jerry’s nasally voice struck through the mask yet again:

“Wait, if you’re the V-Day Killer,” he began, regretting it almost immediately, “w-what do you do when it’s not Valentine’s Day?”

The masked man stopped cold in his tracks and, despite having one, gloved hand on the knob, let it go in order to spin around, real slow-like. His tall, black boots were still on the welcome mat and hadn’t even taken a full step into the place, and for good reason: it was filthy — somewhere between a college dorm room and poor, white trash, maybe a bit of both. How this kid managed to put his pants on every day, not to mention snag two grand in order to knock off some douchebag, was beyond him. Not that he cared, of course, he was making two grand.

Again, not that the money mattered anymore.

“You got a mom?” the masked man asked. It was a stupid question that required an even stupider answer, and luckily for him, Jerry answered that call.

“Yeah.”

“You got family? Cousins? Neighbors? Friends?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

The masked man leaned in closer to him, and Jerry could almost see his eyes, “Don’t they have birthdays? Christmases? Graduations? Hell, Mom’s got a whole day all to herself. They’re all just excuses to send shit to people. V-Day is just another day, another dollar.”

But that was a lie. To the masked man, Valentine’s Day was not just ‘another day’, it was quite possibly the worst day out of the whole year. Hell, he wouldn’t even refer to it by name, and V-Day sounded awfully similar to D-Day, now, didn’t it?

He, at one point, was a pretty good delivery driver — didn’t make much but the hours were flexible, and at least it kept him off the sauce. For a while, at least. He knew his way around town like the back of his hand, which was what he looked at the majority of the time when he was liquored up — staring down the barrel of an empty bottle. One V-Day he got so hammered that he blacked out and woke up in the infirmary — had no idea how he got there, but someone in the ER told him he was three inches away from going through a tree. Too bad he hadn’t, because it was during that trip that he discovered something that would make him a lot more dough than pizzas: fentanyl. At first, it was just because he had broken his wrist and needed something stronger than morphine for the pain, but after a nurse had told him that it was lethal in even the smallest of doses, he started getting ideas that only a drunk, beat-up, and cynical bastard (probably one with some kind of brain damage) would’ve gotten.

The first victim of the V-Day Killer was a guy by the name of Lou Donaldson. Lou was a guy that he met while out on one of his deliveries — one of his deliveries before he had turned to the bottle, that is, and the delivery that eventually caused it. That was because the girl who had placed the order was Sarah Monroe.

Sarah Monroe — the only two words that caused more unrest in him than ‘Valentine’s Day’, and, in truth, they went hand-in-hand. It was on Valentine’s Day when they met — when she placed that fateful order. How the hell was he supposed to know that behind a simple stack of pepperoni pizzas was the face of the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen? It didn’t seem fair, especially not with that corporate-mandated baseball cap crap that he was required to wear — neon red like a stop sign, which wasn’t the look you were going for when the answer you wanted was ‘green for go’, as in, “go out with me.”

It would’ve never been a ‘go’, though, because behind every beautiful woman you’ll usually find one ugly son of a bitch. And in his case, that SOB was quite literally behind her at the door — Lou Donaldson.

“Y’know, usually the delivery guys actually…deliver the damn thing?” Lou said, and his smugness was enough to snap the young and dumb pizza guy from his stare. He felt embarrassed, and he could tell she did too.

“Uh, sorry, it’s, uh, thirty-five even,” he said, lifting the pizzas. She took them from his arms and, for a brief second, her pinkie must’ve caressed his hand because it was warm — warmer than any hand he’d ever felt.

Lou pushed by her as she entered the party through the narrow doorway and outstretched the thirty-five even, no tip, of course, “Here,” he said, but he could tell that the pizza guy was looking elsewhere. “Hey!” he snapped, snagging his attention yet again, “She’s not lookin’ at you, pal. She’s with me.”

“Sorry,” the pizza guy said, and he was mad at himself for apologizing. After a long minute of staring at Lou, he looked up from his daydream into the smudgy rearview mirror and realized he was almost there: 1409 Park Avenue — home of the douchebag.

It was a place that had certainly seen better days, perhaps better tenants. Jerry said the douche was a college kid, so it’d make sense if the place was a glorified dorm room, not unlike the apartment he had been standing in half an hour prior, except the grunge on this one extended for several hundred more square feet, it seemed. The envelope that made its way into his glove was blank, aside from the red-and-white that reminded him of the occasion. It wasn’t as if he could merely write on it. Surely, some kind of handwriting analyst would’ve had a field day with the thing, and that’s the last thing he wanted. Besides, there was no time for a signing party or another trip down memory lane and surely soon someone would’ve seen him parked out front of mailbox 1409 — and that was a memory he didn’t want. And so, with a flick of that glove, he swung the metal mailbox open, tossed the fentanyl-laced Valentine inside, and threw his junker into reverse, although he clearly didn’t see the neighbor’s mailbox directly behind his bumper — and he crashed right into it.

“Shit,” he groaned, and it was muffled. He was about to book it out of there when he noticed the woman perched along the porch railing like an owl, except that owls usually didn’t have lonesome cigarettes dangling from their nonexistent fingers. She, on the other hand, did.

“Hey,” she said, loud enough that he could hear it through the car’s windows, and taking another puff from her cancer stick, “you can’t park there — that’s my mailbox.”

The man took two shotty breaths and, without many other options and avoiding a scene at all costs, snatched the gas mask from his face and raked his fingers through his hair until he didn’t look like such a psychopath, even though he probably was. He looked into the mirror once and, without hesitation, kicked the driver’s side door open with his boot.

“Oh my gosh,” he said with the least genuine performance he had ever done, “I’m so, terribly, sorry. I didn’t even see it I swear.”

She puffed, “Consider yourself blessed — that mailbox was a piece of shit. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I opened it. You even check your snail mail?”

The man shook his head instinctively and looked over his shoulder at the driveway littered with more letters than a bowl of alphabet soup. That mailbox must’ve been stuffed, he thought.

“See anything good?” the woman asked, hopping off her perch and sashaying onto the grass, kicking a stray flyer full of coupons in the process, “I don’t need the coupons. I get, like, five-hundred emailed newsletters a day,” she said, looking down at the flyer she just tossed with her toes, “and who the hell needs coupons for milk? People still drink that shit?”

“People still smoke?” the man jokingly asked, kneeling down to pick up the stray papers. He took a quick glance at her: she was cute — her skin was pale and young (despite the smoking) with freckles on her cheeks, and she had lush, red hair.

“When they live in this dump, they do,” she said, taking another puff, “you runnin’ over that mailbox actually just raised the value of the block. Congratulations.”

He couldn’t help but chuckle a little, the woman’s casual demeanor threw him off from the usual, run-of-the-mill lot that he typically had to hassle with. He tried his best to hide the giggles and held his face to the ground, continuing to pick up the assorted papers. One such was labeled, “Clerk of the Court — Summons”, and it looked old, too.

“Uh oh, I think this is jury duty,” he grinned, lifting the envelope.

“Well, shit,” she said, taking a final puff before tossing the cigarette into the grass and stomping it, “I guess they’ll have to sue me.”

“And then I’ll be on jury duty,” he smiled.

She coyly smirked, “Or you can just wait for some asshole to run your mailbox over,” she said, looking him up and down. “What’s your name anyways? Wait-“ she said, not giving him a moment to speak, “I don’t wanna know.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause once you get a name, you get a number. And when you get a number, you get a call. And when you get a call, you get a date. And when you get a date-“

“Is this all from personal experience?” he asked, cutting her off.

She sighed and pulled another ciggy from out of her jean pocket, “Now you know why I smoke.”

He nodded, “Well, how about we just start with a name?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes, “I should be the one asking you so I can report your ass to the cops,” she said. He realized that already, and that’s why he was prepared with a lie, yet somehow and for some reason, he was inclined to tell her the truth.

“It’s Melanie, by the way — last name’s on the mailbox,” she smiled.

Stanley,” he said. Surprisingly to himself, that was the truth.

“Well Stanley, I have to ask,” she said, “how do you know Patrick?”

“Patrick?”

She gestured to the house next door, 1409 Park Avenue, “Patrick Marley?” she asked, “I take it you’re not leaving him love letters, although it is the day for that kind of thing, isn’t it?”

Stanley laughed in his throat, “So they say. No, I’m an old friend — just thought I’d drop something off for him.” It was a stupid excuse, but he didn’t think far enough ahead. A simple delivery like this was usually an in-and-out type of deal. Not today, apparently. Though he didn’t mind it.

“I think he’s home,” Melanie said, looking back toward the neighboring house yet again.

“Yeah, and probably drunk off his ass,” Stanley said, “probably better I let him get his beauty sleep.”

Melanie smiled, “He needs it, too — he’s ugly as a stick, and not the hot kind.”

Stanley laughed, and it wasn’t a fake, social chuckle but an honest giggle. He hadn’t done that in a while.

“What’re you doing tonight?”

She thought about it, “I’ll check my inbox,” she said and looked around at the sprawled papers and the snapped wooden post of the mailbox with a rear bumper resting atop it. “You’re in luck…it’s empty.”

----------

‘Tonight’ managed to turn into two hours later, after the pair had blah, blah, blah’d themselves until they were red in their faces and decided to book it a short drive (in Melanie’s car, of course) up the street to a little place called Dave’s Diner — a greasy spoon that truly lived up to its name. And while they never saw the titular Dave, they did manage to sneak a peek at several greasers, and otherwise generally greasy people, spooning it up in their booths next to unsipped milkshakes with two straws. The sight was unsavory, to say the least, but thankfully the food wasn’t — Melanie got two helpings of butter with a side of waffles and Stanley got a good ol’ fashioned, all-American cheeseburger, which was sopping with grease yet wasn’t as cheesy as the grin on his face while staring into Melanie’s eyes. It was like something out of a cheap Hallmark movie, and, usually, that would’ve repulsed him, but not tonight.

“I guess ‘Mother’s Day Killer’ doesn’t have the same ring to it,” she said, and it snapped him out of his stare.

“Wait, what?” Stanley said, dropping his burger onto the plate.

“The V-Day Killer? Oh, c’mon, you must’ve heard of him.” Melanie pointed with a red-polished fingernail to the tv set in the corner of the restaurant, with a display of the local news network that was likely a channel left on nonstop since the mid-80s. On the screen, the outline of a shadowy figure stood alongside the anchor as the text beneath read, “Will The V-Day Killer Strike Again?

“Y-yeah,” Stanley said, taking another bite of his burger.

“Y’know, it’s stupid: he strikes all year, I don’t know what makes him the ‘Valentine’s Killer’ any more than the friggin’ ‘Easter’ one,” she said as she wolfed down a large bite of waffle.

“Maybe he kills more people on V-Day,” Stanley said, still avoiding the ‘V’ word.

“Not this year, apparently,” Melanie said, “not one reported murder — at least, not with his given M.O.”

Just wait until tomorrow,” Stanley thought before he humored her, “What’s an M.O.?”

“I don’t know, it’s like their thing,” she said.

Who’s ‘thing’?”

Killers,” Melanie said through a grin. Her mouth was full, but she didn’t care, “I don’t know, I saw it on a crime show. It’s like their ‘thing’ they do — how they do it. The V-Day Killer kills ‘em with greeting cards, although I don’t know who the hell’s falling for that one these days.”

You’d be surprised,” he thought again, before replying sarcastically, “Greeting Cards?”

“Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know what those are,” she said.

Stanley cheesed through his cheeseburger, “Unfortunately.”

“Why? Didn’t get one this year?” she said, teasing him.

“Guys never get Valentine’s cards,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Oh, did someone break Stanley’s lil’ heart — didn’t take his Valentine on the playground?”

He chuckled, “No, just…oh, I don’t know. I was hurt before.”

“Who was she?”

“Honestly…I didn’t even know her.”

Melanie nodded as if she had been there before, but she had no idea that he literally meant it.

“So, what happened?” she asked.

Stanley sighed, swallowing the last bite of his burger, “She loved somebody else.”

“Did you kick his ass?” she said, grinning from ear to ear as she wiped some syrup from her cheeks.

“You could say that,” he said, “but it didn’t change anything.”

She nodded, and for the first time of the evening seemed to take a bit of seriousness with it, and her voice lowered, “I’m sorry.”

Stanley nodded, “How about you? Surely, you’ve broken some hearts.”

Melanie laughed, “Usually it’s the other way around. Men suck. Except for you, of course.”

“Of course,” he grinned, before his smile faded, “I don’t know who’d ever try to hurt you.”

Melanie looked back up at the television screen and watched as the image of the notorious serial killer faded into commercial, “I don’t know why people do a lot of things. I guess it’s their M.O.”

Stanley smiled and finished his shake. But, that time, the smile was fake.

----------

The morning after Valentine’s Day, Stanley awoke naked in Melanie’s bed. On the floor was one of those pairs of boxers with the little, red lips plastered on them. Had they gone out for drinks the night before, he might’ve forgotten that he had even worn them, but considering all he had on his stomach was a cheeseburger and a few sips of a strawberry milkshake, he could remember the whole night, perhaps one of the best of his life. He rolled over to greet her but noticed her side of the bed was empty. Warm, but otherwise empty. He sat up.

“Melanie?” It echoed. The house was quiet, and it smelled like lavender, just like her car — shockingly neither smelled of nicotine, and he attributed that to her front-porch-smoking-sessions, the kind that were occasionally interrupted by mailbox car crashes by idiots driving with a gas mask on. Stanley smiled to himself and shook his head from the memory before glancing around the room again and calling out to her, “Melanie?” No answer, only the dead silence of an empty home and the scent of lavender.

That was until he smelled the cancer stick.

It was still wedged between her fingers and burning onto the carpet. Gripped in her other hand was the red-and-white envelope. It was torn open, much like her head along the carpet. The card was nearby and was blank aside from the blood that had likely poured from her nose onto it as she inhaled for the last time. There was enough fentanyl in it to kill a horse, after all.

She must’ve gone outside for a smoke session but noticed the red-and-white on the porch mat. Patrick Marley, the douchebag, now truly living up to his name, had wrongfully assumed that the blank card in his mailbox didn’t belong to him. Guys never get Valentine’s cards, after all, and with the mail and mailbox all scattered across the neighbor’s lawn (not to mention that neighbor was a single, young woman), it was a logical conclusion, except for the fact that it wasn’t meant for her. It was meant for him, logically.

Though, illogically, Stanley had no idea as to why she’d take it. It was the V-Day Killer’s M.O., after all, and she didn’t act like one of those bimbos from the horror movies. Maybe she was groggy and tired and had forgotten about the headlines, or maybe she was just a curious little minx.

Or maybe, and this was the one that hurt him most of all, love had blinded her.

The final three victims of the V-Day Killer were reported that day: Melanie Shaver (as it was read on her mailbox), Patrick Marley, and Stanley White.


Written by MakRalston
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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