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A Valentine Movement

By @Val

Edmund watched, mildly curious, as the strange woman relieved the man of his wallet in the alleyway between Church and Windsor Street. She had dark hair and held what appeared to be a revolver in her leather clad hand. Edmund observed the mugging from the safety of a dimly lit street lamp. Dark bends and alleyways, he knew, were where people got grabbed. Never under the revealing light of a street lamp. He was constantly baffled at how people failed to realize this, as he was witness to this snag and theft nearly every night on his walk home down Windsor. Edmund himself had never been grabbed.

The man ran off, stumbling. His life was safe, but pockets empty. His mugger laughed, a bright sound in the darkness of the alley, and reached for her pocket. From her coat she drew something indistinguishable in the darkness. Agog, Edmund boldly bent his head from the protective arch of lamp light. He watched as she tacked a white swatch, eye level, to the brick wall before her. Once fixed, she turned her attention to the newly possessed billfold, opening it and examining the contents before tossing it aside.

It was none of Edmund’s business, but he could not help but wonder why she took it at all if she meant only to throw it away. Certainly there was a profit there, discarded on the filth and garbage of a Loblolly County back alley. He should have carried on and gotten himself home to a quiet night of reading, yet something about this odd sequence of events held Edmund firmly beneath the street lamp. The mugging. The swatch of white, perhaps a note, fastened to be found. The jettisoned money. Even the woman herself was fascinating. She had a very pleasant face. Her eyes were wide and childlike, surrounded by a crown of black lashes, and her lips curved to form a welcoming smile. Shadows stole away any color, and yet Edmund could have sworn he detected a bright flush across her round cheeks and a hint of cherry in the brown of her hair. There was something very innocent about this woman that contradicted her incriminating circumstances.

She was gone in a moment, disappearing down Church Street.

Edmund should have left it at that. He should have forgotten the incident entirely, but against all instinct he found himself abandoning his lighted sanctuary and entering the daunting mouth of the back alley.

Ronald Wallow was the unfortunate victim of this evening’s mugging. Edmund knew from the license tucked between his wallet leather and a clear layer of plastic. He was smiling in the photograph, unsuspecting of the licenses fate to come.

Behind the license was a coupon for five percent off a new pair of shoes, a rewards card for Rudolf’s Deli, and a fold for cash. As he suspected, the woman had thrown down a decent earning. Edmund counted the bills for a total profit of nearly eighty dollars. He considered pocketing the money, but refrained out of respect for his conscious. Carefully, he positioned the wallet as it had been when he found it.

Edmund nearly forgot about the note. He turned his attention to the north wall, eyes locking on a square of white. From this distance, his suspicions were confirmed. It was, in fact, a note. Edmund stepped closer, examining the light scrawl. It read as follows:

This is the first of many letters.

Things are about to change.



After reading it once, Edmund folded the note and tucked it into his coat. He retreated to Windsor Street. He hurried home, passing from one hazy cone of street light to the next until he reached the stoop of 308 Windsor Street. Once inside, safe from the threat of the Loblolly City nightlife, he slammed the bolt, twisted the lock, and breathed a satisfied breath. He, at least, had made it down Windsor Street without any trouble, unlike the unfortunate Ronald Wallow.

Pleased, Edmund began with his nightly routine, though something stopped him from sinking completely into a sense of ease. Something about the woman’s smile. He found it lodged in his memory, distracting him from his nightly reading. It was a haunting smile, one that kept him awake until the early morning hours. When the sky beyond Edmund’s latched window began to lighten, he rose from his bed and threw down the comforter behind him, sure to straighten it with precision. It was no use pretending to be asleep when his mind was so far from it.

He busied himself with breakfast, though this too proved ineffective in removing the woman from his thoughts.

There was a desk computer in the small apartment. It had been an expensive gift, but Edmund disliked the bright technology and never brought himself to use it. For the first time since acquiring the device, Edmund pressed the power button and waited for it to fire up. The unit whirred and the monitor flashed blue, welcoming him to its home screen. After several minutes of tinkering and loading, he found the explorer and began a search through local crimes.

When the mystery woman did not appear, Edmund broadened his search from Loblolly City to Loblolly County. Nothing again. Edmund tried state crimes, and eventually nation, but came up with nothing to match. The woman was a ghost, completely undetected by police records or news reports.

Remembering the note, Edmund retrieved it from his coat pocket. He searched any crimes related to the name Valentine. Nothing. He searched for any person in Loblolly with the name of Valentine, first or last. Nothing noteworthy. Finally he searched only for Valentine, nothing crime related and nothing about names. When only chocolates and flower sales appeared, Edmund gave up. He sighed, shutting down the computer. The screen blinked twice, flashing a farewell message, before an abrupt pop brought back the black mirror. The units humming died as the fan slowed its rotating, returning Edmund’s apartment to a state of silence. He leaned back in the desk chair, rubbing his temples.

Edmund meant to forget the woman and her villainy. Unfortunately, Edmund never forgot much. Not even the little things. This woman, he suspected, was far from something little. For reasons unknown to him, he anticipated her approaching significance. He dreaded it, and yet he could hardly wait. He wanted to see her again. He must see her again.

Rising, Edmund snatched a pin from his desk top and pushed its point through Valentine’s note, taking it to the cork board. This was his first clue, and according to Valentine, it would not be his last.

In the weeks to follow, Edmund found that things would not be so easy when it came to finding Valentine. He began with something a little more simple-finding Ronald Wallow. This search started with an inquiry at Rudolf’s Deli. No need to look him up, Edmund thought, when Rudolf’s was just a block from his apartment.

“Oh, yes! I know Ronny,” cried Missy, the young deli employee, as she shaved a honey ham. “Nice, nice man. Very nice.” She offered several more compliments towards Mr. Wallow before allowing Edmund to state a reason for his curiosity. Missy claimed no knowledge of how to locate the man, but she did prove herself useful for other reasons.

“Poor Ronny,” she said with a sigh. “We’ve experienced our own little robbery just last night. I’m sure you’ve read about it in the paper.” When Edmund confessed he knew nothing on the matter, Missy continued. “Ohh! It wasn’t so terrible. They left the money just outside, scattered down Windsor Street. Just a mess! Mr. Bukov was very upset with the whole ordeal.” She sliced the honey ham as she said this, as though neither the meat nor the conversation held much importance.

Edmund questioned who ‘they’ were. She shrugged. “Charlie was working last night, not me. Said it was a big guy with a gun.” Missy shook her head as she said this. Edmund encouraged her to speak freely. She smiled, pleased with the attention. “Charlie only said that because Mr. Bukov would be mad about the money we lost if he told the truth. I got a very different story out of him.”

When Missy finished with her retelling of the robbery, Edmund let out the breath he had been holding. Somehow the stars had aligned and without so much as picking up a phone book, he had found Valentine. At least he found the next clue to her identity. “Charlie refused to take this. Said it was none of his business.” Missy slid him a white slip of paper across the deli counter. On it was scrawled a note much like the one from Ronald Wallow’s mugging.

Come find me.



Edmund thanked Missy for the information as well as the note, which she told him to keep. He hurried back home to 308 Windsor, retreating within his apartment to compare the script. Under the bulb of a desk lamp, he set the sheets side by side. They were of different pulps, one grainy and the other smooth. This meant nothing. Edmund took the notes and held them up to the afternoon light streaming in through his bedroom window. He squinted, pulling the papers close to his eyes one at a time, and determined that the signatures were completely different. Of course, only a stupid criminal would leave notes of the same signature. A clever one would deviate the script the way Valentine did in order to remain undiscovered. Edmund smiled as he pinned the notes side by side on the cork board. He stepped back, admiring them.

Things were about to get interesting.

Edmund spent the following weeks exploring businesses in Loblolly that had encountered Valentine. It was a large city, and in the end Edmund collected a total of five letters. Aside from the original note from the mugging of Ronald Wallow, they all said the same thing. Come find me. Love, Valentine. Come find me. Love, Valentine. Come find me. Love, Valentine. Always the same.

This was not the only pattern Edmund discovered. When confronting store owners, they each began the sessions with falsified versions of the theft before confessing and turning over their notes. “A strong man with arms the size of trees!” “A mysterious guy with a scar and a limp.” “He had a gun! A gun!” “I only gave up the money for the sake of my life!” And so went the reports, severely altered from reality. “All right, it’s true!” Their tones would shift then, at this moment of disclosure. “It was a woman.” “Yes, she left a note.” “No, I didn’t report it.” “I don’t understand how I let this happen.”

Perplexed, Edmund contemplated this repeated sequence. Always the lies. The false tales of mighty villains. And then the truth, whispered in shame. As though women had no business being criminals. They were too weak. Too docile. Incapable.

Edmund’s collection of notes remained on the cork board for a week without addition, and then two. He began to worry there would be no more to add. He tried two different shops that day, though neither had theft to report. Crestfallen, he returned to Windsor street and walked home beneath the sheltering lamp lights, contemplating the desertion of his current obsession.

“You can call me Valentine.”

The voice came from the closing door of an all hours shop. Edmund found himself pausing at the breath between street lamps, turning in the darkness towards the little shop. A neon sign blinked OPEN in vibrant red, buzzing as it threw a cherry glow onto Edmund’s baffled expression. He snagged the metal door handle and pulled. Abandoning his cowardice, Edmund entered the shop. Beneath the fluorescent bulbs stood a vision, her hair a dark brown color with just a hint of red. She did not glance at the door as it clicked shut, but remained focused on the cashier.

Edmund watched, fiercely keen, as the strange woman rid the register of its contents. She beamed, jangling her filled purse. “I’ll have to insist you call the cops now,” she said with a sweet smile. The cashier resisted, though he quickly caved when Valentine reminded him of the gun in her hand. “Go on then, it’s a simple number to remember.” The cashier did as told and spun the rotary dial. Before he finished the third rotation, Valentine gave him a final instruction. “Tell them to put out a search for Valentine. Got that? Valentine. Tell them to come find me.”

Valentine exited the store as the cashier spoke to an operator over the telephone line. She brushed past Edmund, only a smile to acknowledge his presence before she flew out the door. Edmund watched, bewildered, as she opened the purse and emptied her stolen cash into a pile on Windsor Street. The cashier slammed down the receiver, hollering as he watched Valentine kick the pile of money, but he did not leave the shop. She still had the gun in her hand.

Once the wind picked up and blew the bills down Windsor, Valentine disappeared into the darkness between buildings.

Edmund would have followed, he should have, but the street lamps did not penetrate those shadows. He later resentered his return of cowardice, but in the moment he could not bring himself to move. Not even for the sake of chasing Valentine.

Things are about to change.

Valentine hadn’t lied when she wrote those words. She got a few more stores before returning to her original ways of snagging walkers and taking wallets, always tossing them once the victim ran off, and always marking the scene with a crisp white letter. Come find me. Love, Valentine. More and more reports were coming in every day to the Loblolly Police Station. Reports of a mystical woman. A sensation. A thief who profits nothing. Infamous devil, beloved for irrational reasons that no one of Loblolly could comprehend. And yet these people were entranced by Valentine and her crimes, just as Edmund had been for weeks.

Yes, Valentine was making quite an impact on Loblolly. Edmund could see that well enough. Soon it seemed as though half the population had lost their wallets, and not a one of them was upset about it. Ronald Wallow even got an interview with Loblolly Local News, the station for all your current events and updates. Rudolf’s, of course, was having a hay day once they proved themselves victim to Valentine. Mr. Bukov proved far from angry with the situation. Edmund heard he even gave Charlie and Missy a raise with the booming of business.

All of this was good and well, and Edmund felt a sense of pride for Valentines success, but there was something about the ordeal that made him uncomfortable. Something he could not name. Perhaps it was the fact that Valentine was no longer his. She was a shared jem of Loblolly. Edmund couldn’t take a single step down Windsor or pick up a newspaper without finding sketches and stories of Valentine. It was tiring. And there was another thing bothering Edmund. The reports, he thought, were not always true. Some said Valentine had black hair, others blonde. One report described her as nearly six feet tall, another barely over five. Sometimes she had ivory skin and sometimes it was black as tar. People could not seem to make up their minds about what was true anymore.

Loblolly was a fundamentally boring place, and its people in need of some entertainment. They craved excitement and publicity, which Valentine was stirring up a lot of.

Edmund felt certain that this was not the way things were meant to be. This could not have been Valentine’s vision: a thrill seeking city of groupies, hanging out in the back alleys in the hopes that they got grabbed. Things are about to change. Those were her words. Valentine asked for a movement, not a following. Yet Edmund could not help but join her band of admirers. He felt certain she would grab him one night, as long as he remained on Windsor. This was, after all, where it all started. 

Tonight, Edmund thought, would be his night. He would meet Valentine face to face, and for once have something to say. His chest swelled and cheeks went flush at the idea of it. This night he left work with a feeling of excitement, walking slowly despite the jitters in his legs. His eyes turned down every alley, hoping to find her waiting there. Still, he stayed beneath the street lamps. This habit he could not bring himself to break, though at night he left the window unlatched, hoping maybe Valentine would escalate her crimes to home invasion.

He made it home, much to his demay, without being grabbed.

It had been over a month since Edmund’s obsession began and weeks since the public became aware of Valentine’s business. Things were getting out of hand within his brain, Edmund decided. He was becoming too distraught over a phantom woman, so in the morning he made a choice. That would be the day he found Valentine. If not, it was over. There would be no more searching. No more wondering where she was, who she was with, what she was doing. Edmund would throw away the letters and forget about Valentine completely. He would leave Loblolly if that is what it took.

As he did on every second Monday morning, Edmund stopped at the bank on his walk to work with the intention of cashing his Friday check. He never did it over the weekend, lest he be tempted to spend it. For this reason, Edmund found himself in the Loblolly City Bank at five after eight on this particular Monday morning. It seemed he was not the only one who waited until the weekend passed in order to cash his check. Of the three tellers, all were occupied with a short line. Unbothered, Edmund took a seat at the waiting bench. He drew a paper from his coat pocket and began to read.

The Loblolly News had been particularly riveting in the weeks since Valentine’s coming out. Sketches of her face were constantly plastered on the front page and accounts of her crimes filled nearly every column. The renderings, of course, did Valentine no justice. Her face was always drawn too slim and her eyes lackluster. How were the people of Loblolly so blind? Did they not see the brilliant eyes of this woman as she robbed them? Those, at least, should have been drawn with care. Yet the image always became distorted on the front page.

As he flicked the pages open, Edmund was surprised to see the front page stolen by a fire at Chapman’s bakery on Ivory Street. It seemed that Loblolly grew familiar enough with Valentine to allow her once overwhelming presence to fade into the mundane. Below a photograph of the blazing bakery was a summary of the events that led to this disaster. Water on an oil fire caused the flames to only spread, seeping into the Loblolly News and pushing Valentine aside. A solitary story of her most recent move was crammed in the second page columns.

Edmund sked, shook his paper out, and continued to read.

“Terrible thing, in’it?” a woman spoke from beside Edmund on the bench. She wore brown leather gloves over her frail hands and a headscarf wrapped loosely around her head. Edmund could tell she was ill by the huff of her breath and her airiness of speech. He wondered what she meant, but responded as though he agreed. Edmund shifted so that her breath did not dust his skin, fearing that she were contagious. She wheezed and continued, “No respect for the arts anymore.”

Edmund looked up at this, shocked to find familiar wide eyes staring at him from behind a pair of red horn rimmed glasses. Though he considered himself an intelligent man, Edmund’s mind went blank. What to say? What to do? All thoughts left him as he stared back at her. Valentine. She winked, leaping from the bench. 

Once again, Edmund could not bring himself to action.

“Listen up!” Valentine yelled, her speech no longer hoarse. She’d been faking, Edmund realized. He felt moronic for being so slow to realize this. Valentine drew from her pocket what appeared to be a revolver. The lapels of her coat were upturned and the headscarf still in place. She pulled the knot at her chin, releasing the silky fabric to the floor and freeing her dark curls. “I require your attention for a very special announcement!” At her voice, the line of people turned to watch her. She lifted the same pistol as every time Edmund witnessed before, sending a ripple of tension through the bank. “A large sum of money must be placed in this here bag. However much fits.” She lifted a purse to the first teller, who emptied his register. “Large bills first, please.” He complied, and she was gone as soon as the bag filled. The only thing to hint that she had been there was the trail of fifties down Billings Street.

Valentine succeeded that day in recovering the front page. Her face was plastered across every paper and every poster for weeks. Then suddenly, as though Loblolly had once again grown bored with all that inhabited it, Valentine was forgotten.

In the heat of things, when Valentine was in her prime, Edmund forgot she was only human. She became a godlike figure, and on his apartment wall was a shrine in her honor. All of the original Valentine letters. All of her sketches in the Loblolly Times. Every article and report of her crimes that Edmund could find. He’d long ago abandoned the cork board, tacking them directly into drywall instead. He also abandoned the locks on his front door. Every precautionary measure he’d learned to take was forgotten. He even walked home in the dark, avoiding the light of street lamps he once used as his shield from the night prowlers. Edmund had predicted Valentine’s significance in Loblolly, and that had come true, but his anticipation of her eternal infamy proved wrong.

Nearly a year passed before Valentine resurfaced in the papers, and this time in an unthought of way. Rather than the sketches and tales of the peculiar crimes from her past, this was a photograph. A mug shot. She held in her delicate hands a black sign, on it the following words:




HT. 5’3  WT. 127LBS  DOB. 02.14.1954

This should have been a heartbreak for Edmund, who would have read the description of Valentine’s confession with tears in his eyes. It was an article of despair and emptiness so unlike the woman he’d seen only three times in his life and never once spoke a word to. Emily Townsend, as she revealed herself to be, was quoted as saying this: “You don’t get it. No one gets it. Valentine wasn’t a criminal. She didn’t want your money or your admiration. She was just a woman, and she only wanted you to know what she was capable of.”

Emily’s quote was taken from a square of white paper on which she scrawled her final note. Edmund would have done anything in his power to add it to his shrine, but he didn’t read the article. He never got the chance. You see, there were three major stories on the day that Valentine confessed. Hers took up the front page. The second detailed the arrest of Missy Brady. But tucked in the back in a neat little bottom corner was a portrait of Edmund Hammond.

Police Detective Ronald Wallow made the following statement which was printed along with Edmund’s photograph:

“Let Mr. Hammond’s death be a reminder to us all that

we must lock our doors at night. Loblolly has proven to

us once again that it is not the safe city we like to think

it is.”

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