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SHORT STORIES
Christmas in Crawfordville
A tale from the south Alabama piney woods.

by Michael H. Thomson
December 21, 2003

Crawfordville, Alabama is located in the southern part of the state near the Conecuh River on the state line with Florida. The town is a mill town with many small low paying enterprises including a couple of textile operations. Sarah LaBell worked for such a company, before an event took place that forced her and her family to leave Crawfordville forever...


Sarah LaBell was a beautiful, engaging woman. At 5'10" with long flowing blond hair and blue eyes she could have done anything she wanted to do. But she had made devastating choices in her life. The worst was getting pregnant in high school by a Cajun trucker who beat her and left her after three children. Another was her proclivity for sex. She was, by all definitions, sexually addicted.

After her divorce she was forced to work at the local garment factory. Her ex-husband sent her child support as he saw fit. He was in arrears to her and the State of Alabama for nearly twenty thousand dollars. She couldn't find him to have papers served because he drove a truck all over the United States and hadn't had a permanent address in years.

It was closing in on Christmas, and, as usual, she was broke. She needed money for her children and she needed it fast. She had worked herself into a panic thinking about her situation when her supervisor entered her work area.

Lamar Frazier was a kind, Christian family man who greatly sympathized with the plight of each of the underpaid women who worked for him. Often, he would try to brighten their day by offering a small compliment. He was a "toucher". He had a habit of placing his hand on the shoulder of the person he was chatting with, man or woman. He cared.

On this day he chose to chat with Sarah. As he offered her innocent compliments and queried her about her children, Sarah, feeling Lamar's hand on her shoulder, hatched a scheme. She hoped it would net her enough money to get out of this little town and move to a larger, town with greater potential.

As she sat in the Huddle House that next Saturday, Ford Ferrell, a local lawyer, came in from a morning of deer hunting. He was semi-sober and hungry. Sarah knew of Ford's reputation, his connections and his ardent sexual appetite. She motioned for him to sit down with her.

Ford knew of Sarah as well. In a small town everyone knew everything about everyone, especially sexually addicted women like Sarah. Hardly able to contain his excitement, Ford quickly moved into the seat. Sarah explained that she had been sexually harassed at the local garment factory and needed representation. She wanted to net at least $45,000 in a quick settlement and needed Ford's help. She would "do anything" for his help.

Ford immediately decided that the Huddle House wasn't the place for the discussion he had in mind. He suggested they go his office.

Upon arriving at the office, Sarah wasted little time with pleasantries. She knew what he wanted and what she wanted as well. Fortunately, Ford had a sleeper sofa in his office for just such an occasion as this. Used often, it reeked of various bodily odors as he unfolded it but it didn't matter to either one of them.

Sarah was an expert at pleasing her man of the moment. After thoroughly exhausting Ford, Sarah sat up, her long blond hair cascading over her still shapely breasts. She looked at the pitiful, worn out little man lying next to her. Thought he'd be better than that, she thought to herself.

It was time to get down to business. She told the story of Lamar, her supervisor, who she said had made her life a living hell for so many months. She had yet to succumb to his desires, but she feared she couldn't hold out much longer. In fact, she was terrified that if she didn't, she would be fired and she and her three children would have no way to live. Did Ford have any suggestions for how to put an end to this harassment?

Ford had all kinds of ideas and finally settled on a plan. Ford decided that Sarah would wear a wire - a hidden microphone and a tape recorder. He pulled one out of his desk that already had a tape in it. He didn't notice that it had already been partially used. She was instructed to get as much incriminating information on the tape as she possibly could during the next week at work. He would review the tape and, if she had something he could use, he would call poor Lamar privately and extort as much as he could, or they would go to trial and play this out for the public to hear. This is called "blackmail" in non-lawyer circles. It's called "tactics" when a lawyer does it.

On Monday morning, Sarah dressed a little sexier than normal. She put on a blouse one size too small and opened it one more button down. She put her hair up to show her beautiful long neck and wore the best perfume that $10.00 could buy at the local Fred's Dollar Store.

Sitting at her sewing machine, she waited as Lamar made his rounds. She reached down and turned on the recorder hidden under her shirt, sat up straight, and stuck her bosoms out as far out as they would go. She was eye catching to say the least and Lamar couldn't help but notice, even from 40 feet away.

He walked over to Sarah and told her how good she looked that day. He was glad to see that her mood and spirits had improved. He asked her to come to his office for a minute. They entered the office and Lamar asked her to sit down on the sofa. Then he handed her a bonus check for being the most productive machine operator in the company. They had taken notice of her abilities and felt she was capable of much more.

He wanted to send her to the local junior college for two years at the expense of the company to prepare her for management. Sarah looked at the sofa and at him. The only way she knew to say thank you was with a memorable romp in the sack and right now she wanted to say thank you really badly.

Then she remembered the tape recorder. At that moment Lamar put his hand on her shoulder, as was his habit, told her he was proud of her, and ushered her to the door and back to work. As he moved his hand down to guide her out of the door he felt the recorder taped to her.

Confounded, he asked what was going on and Sarah, beginning to cry, admitted to what she and Ford Ferrell had plotted. Sarah was a schemer and survivor, but at heart she was basically honest and couldn?t lie to Lamar. She gave Lamar both the tape and the recorder. Lamar asked her to leave and go back to her station. He had some thinking to do...

As he sat at his desk he decided to replay the tape to see what he had said that could be considered so bad. He re-wound it. When he turned it on, he didn't hear the roar of the many sewing machines, he heard Ford Ferrell drunkenly talking to some friends.

From the gist of the discussion, Lamar determined that the drinkers were apparently in an old store Ford had inherited from his father who had recently been murdered. Evidently, Ford had the sensitive voice-activated recorder on him when he had gone out to meet his drinking buddies and inadvertently it had switched on while he was telling one of his stories.

In the hunting culture of south Alabama there exists a mode of verbal behavior called "Camp Rules," i.e., what is heard in the camp, stays in the camp. "Camp Rules" also applied to spontaneous drinking bouts outside the camp. By the looseness of Ford and his buddy?s tongues, Lamar determined they were under the umbrella of "Camp Rules".

As they sat and drank Ford entertained them with stories about how his dad used to hide the food stamps in the wall. He also hid stacks of money disguised as frozen meat, wrapped in that white paper, marked and placed in the freezer. It was a lot of money that was never declared to the IRS, but Ford had found it as he cleaned up one day after the death of his dad. It was an unexpected bonus that made him laugh out loud even as he told the story. Ford didn?t declare it either.

He also talked about his wife Jane who happened to be his secretary as well. She had been his secretary first and then his wife second after he got her pregnant. Sex was a pre-requisite for any female that worked for him which made him an expert in sexual harassment. He didn't have many nice things to say about her except that she liked to get on that sofa bed at the end of each day with him and let him have his way with her.

After hearing this on the tape, Lamar thought for a minute. He then called Ford's office and Jane answered the phone. "Mrs. Ferrell, this is Lamar Frazier at the garment factory. If you want to hear what your husband really thinks of you come over to my office at lunch and don't tell Ford I called." he told her and hung up.

At lunch time Jane Ferrell entered Lamar Frazier's office. He played the tape. She cried uncontrollably. Lamar was sad. This was the worst thing he had ever done to a person in his life. He had meant to hurt Ford, but now realized he had gone too far. Jane asked for the tape, but Lamar said she could have a copy only. Jane wanted the tape to give to a divorce lawyer she knew in Mobile. This lawyer always got his clients nice juicy settlements, and after listening to Ford on that tape, she was certain she deserved a lot of money.

After Jane left his office, Lamar realized he had better go his attorney's office right then. He didn't make an appointment. He just waited in the parking lot until his attorney, Jimmy Thornton, came back from lunch.

When Jimmy arrived Lamar asked him to sit in his car as he explained what had happened. Then he played the tape. Jimmy asked him if Ford knew about it yet and Lamar said he figured he would in about five minutes since Jane was pretty angry when she left and that she had a copy of it. Jimmy told Lamar not to worry and to accompany him to his office.

Jimmy immediately went into to his office to call Ford Ferrell. He relished this. No one in Crawfordville liked the bastard. He brought shame to many of the other lawyers in town. Jimmy noticed that Ford answered his own phone. He thought he heard crying in the background. Ford said this wasn't a good time. Jimmy held up the tape recorder to the phone and began to play the tape...

As in most small towns, lawyers tend to congregate close to the courthouse and, thus, to each other. Jimmy was halfway though the tape when Ford burst into his office and demanded his tape recorder. Jimmy pulled the tape out, placed it in his pocket and gave the recorder to Ford. Ford demanded the tape as well but Jimmy responded with only a cold stare and one word. Jimmy simply said one word, "Evidence."

Usually a man of great preparation, Jimmy decided to wing it. He explained to Ford what he had heard on the tape, who else was going to hear it, and how long he expected Ford's prison term to be. Then in a mistake, he made a comment about how much fun the boys were going to have with Ford in prison. Ford lunged across Jimmy's desk taking no notice of Lamar sitting in the corner.

Jimmy was not a small man. He had played football at the University of Alabama and he knew how to take a man down. He really enjoyed the pop he gave to Ford's head. He hadn't hit a man that hard since Paul "Bear" Bryant pulled him from the Georgia game for hitting like a lady. The Bear put him back in ten minutes later. For all Jimmy knew that poor Georgia running back might still be in a coma. He was out for six minutes before they could get him off the field and to the hospital.

Ford hit the office wall with a thud, bleeding from the gash on the side of his head left by the picture his head had hit as he crashed to the floor. He was so mad he began to cry. Jimmy and Lamar were astounded. Then they began to laugh uncontrollably. Mortified and whipped for the moment, Ford asked what they wanted for the tape. Jimmy and Lamar huddled in quiet conversation.

Jimmy said he couldn't have it and would never get it but promised not to use it as long as he behaved. "Is that it?" Ford asked. "Not quite," said Lamar. "You were going to sue me for enough so that Sarah could have $45,000 to leave town. I have to let her go because of this episode and I want her to have the money."

"So give it to her! I don't care," proclaimed Ford.

"Actually," said Jimmy with a smile, "I thought you could give it to her since you are the one who has the most to lose should I decide to take this to trial. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that this tape should be played in open court, in front of your wife. She is still your wife I presume?"

"I'll have the check to you today but I want something in writing that the tape will be locked up forever with huge penalties for all of you if it ever comes out. Agreed?? Ford almost begged. "I'll take care of the copy that Jane has in a few minutes." The look in his eyes was ominous.

"Except for the fact that my client has already played it for your wife, I can assure you it will be placed in a safe, secure environment forever." replied Jimmy.

"You're a cold bastard for breaking up my marriage!" screamed Ford at Jimmy.

"Actually, it was me Ford.? said Lamar. "And after what you intended to do to me I could care less. You would have cost me my marriage, my reputation, and my job. I would have lost everything because of you. You can go to hell!" barked Lamar immediately regretting his profanity.

Ford left a bitter man. But he had a long memory and he would have his revenge, against both of them. First, he had to attend to Jane and the copy of the tape she had.

After work that same day, Lamar called Sarah into his office.

"What you tried to do to me was despicable." he said. "I want your letter of resignation right now."

Sarah burst into tears. She had little before this episode and now she had nothing. Her life was full of mistakes. She wrote a short resignation letter and handed it to Lamar knowing she had screwed up again.

As Sarah turned to leave, tears in her eyes, Lamar asked her to wait.

"Not everyone is against you Sarah. I wanted to help you because I saw your potential and not for any other reason." he said. "As long as you live I want you to remember this moment as the one that changed your life for the better." As she walked out of the office, he handed her an envelope. Inside was a check for $45,000 made out to Sarah LaBell.

"I never want to see you in this town again.", said Lamar with a grin and with that he shut the door... And just as quickly opened it, saying,

"Merry Christmas!"

Sarah gave Lamar a weak teary smile, already thinking of the programmer's course she would enroll in next term...

Visit Mike Thomson's website: ThomsonTalks and blog: Motives for Murder



About the Author:
Michael H. Thomson has plenty of tales about the fictional city of Crawfordville, Alabama. Many are to be found in a full length serial novel, entitled The Publisher being written on his website, www.thomsontalks.com. Mike and his wife live on 3 acres in Merrrit Island, Florida. They have 9 Loblolly Pines and one Pomeranian.


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