How long had he been staring at the computer screen? He was not sure. It had been so long since he had written anything to anyone that it seemed nearly an impossible task, albeit an unnecessary one. He had not received anything from her, he had not spoken to her, and in fact he had not heard anything about her in what must have been more than a decade. Still, she had lingered quietly in his mind every day. He continued to stare at the email box, but nothing would come to him.
Her picture was still there, framed and standing upright just to the side of the laptop. Her blonde, shoulder length hair hung straight down, a little waved. Her crystal blue eyes and vibrant smile seemed to light the desk better than the real light did. She was an attractive woman, no doubt about it. Her personality and character had matched her looks, flawless. Had she not found out his secret, or maybe if he had told her about it sooner…maybe she would have stayed. Maybe.
Leaning back in his chair, he surveyed the rest of his one-room log cabin. There was no need to. He knew every inch of it, but somehow distracting his gaze surely would prompt a beginning to his message. There was not much to give him motivation. His desk was spotless, home only to a few drawers with minimal storage, his laptop, and of course her picture. The kitchen, nestled in the corner, was clean and simple. Opposite the kitchenette, his log frame bed was made with pristine corners folded under the mattress. The only interior door led to the bathroom, a small tiled compression of toilet, sink, and shower. A large, dark red rug covered the center of the hardwood floor, but there was no furniture to rest upon it. Also absent was a television. The only additional item inside the cabin was a long bookshelf, one he had made himself. It stored a neatly sorted collection of mostly non-fiction, all but two of which he had read. Then there was Merlin. The big, wise-looking German Shepard lay relaxed at the foot of the bed. His gaze was on the man, seemingly coaxing him towards giving up and going to sleep. The two of them shared a look, as if they understood each other but were not ready to agree.
His gaze returned to the laptop. Several seconds passed by, none of which bore witness to progress, not even a spark. His calloused hand took control of the mouse and he hit the x. It probably would not have done him any good anyway. She probably did not even use the same email address anymore. There was one more glance to the framed picture. He felt pathetic, there was no way she would come back. It was hopeless. His large hand gently gripped the picture and slid it into the desk drawer. Looking at her hurt just as much, if not more than her being gone. He stood up, pushed in his chair, closed his laptop, and walked over to his bed. It was only ten o’clock, but what was there to do? The wind was howling and through the evenly spaced windows placed along each of the four walls, he could see that it had begun to rain. He laid down and drifted off, the rain drumming the windows calmly.
Six hours later, Johnny Cash sang him awake through the surprisingly loud speaker in his phone. He reached over to the nightstand, silenced the legend, and rolled out of bed towards the kitchen. 4:00 a.m., it was the perfect time for coffee. As the machine began brewing the first of what would likely be several cups of life, he re-invited Johnny Cash into the solitary space through another app on the phone. The man had a routine, one he had kept for several years. One cup of coffee, then scores of pushups and sit-ups, followed by a twenty-minute run, furthered by pull-ups and chin-ups, and finishing with a protein shake, a heated slump of beef from the refrigerator, and chased by a second cup of coffee. Dripping, but thoroughly awake and vitalized, he walked to the small barn across the yard from his cabin with Merlin close behind him.
In the barn there were two horses, a blue roan and a chestnut. As they did every morning, the two geldings were alert to his movements, the chestnut more so than the roan. He delivered a bale of hay to each, distributed their morning’s allowance of oats, checked the water tank, and exited the barn after giving both a gentle nose rub. Merlin followed silently throughout the chore, watching his master’s predictable movements and steps with great interest. The dog had the man’s routine memorized and watched him as an avid fan might observe an athlete.
Back in the house, Merlin assumed his normal position on the giant rug as the man went about his morning. The shower ran, the faucet ran, the man dressed himself in black cowboy boots, black slacks, a white button-up collared shirt, blue tie, and a black suit coat. On his belt was strapped a pair of handcuffs and a black P226 Sig Sauer. Above his left shirt pocket, a star-shaped badge rested against the fabric which read, “Texas Ranger.” Finally, the man put on his Stetson. Merlin knew this meant the man was leaving and so he moved to the door to await his customary head scratch before being let out for the day. His doorman act was rewarded and at 6:57 a.m. as he was every other day, Merlin was released from the cabin as the man climbed into the sedan and departed down the gravel road.
It was a forty-two-minute drive to the office in Lubbock including the normal coffee stop. Despite having two cups thus far into each morning, he found some comfort walking into work with another twenty ounces or so at his disposal. Therefore, each morning he stopped at a small coffee shop called “Blackbrew.” A young lady named Marci had opened the place up a few years before, conveniently located on his route into work. He had made a habit of stopping there every day, sometimes even when he was not working. The coffee was the best he had tasted, far better than what he brewed at home.
Today was no different. At 7:45 a.m., as he had every day for the past four years, the man walked into Company C of the Texas Ranger Division with coffee in hand. Just as was his habit at home, the man’s desk was clean, one of nine in the main portion of the office which were lined around the walls facing inward towards the unoccupied center of the room. Additional rooms lay opposite of the entrance, two of which housed the Company’s Lieutenant and Major, a third smaller room generally utilized for interviews, and a larger fourth which served as the conference room.
Even if the desks were not situated so that movement into and throughout the room was not obvious, the man would be hard to miss when he walked in. At 6’4”, his muscled frame was hard to hide even within the confines of a suit coat. His aged blonde hair, cut in a high and tight fashion, stood out against the black coat he often wore. At a closer glance, the man’s blue eyes were memorable in an unsettling sense. They seemed to have a piercing and electrical vigor about them. All physical traits accounted for, the man was not someone easily overlooked.
The office happened to be a ghost town on this Monday morning. Usually by this time, nine rangers occupied the desks and the bustle of the day had begun. It had been a busy summer though, so he was not surprised at the low population in the “bullpen” as they had come to call the work space. Having just finished his primary workload on Saturday, the man was eager to move on to the next task. Primed with his coffee from the Blackbrew, the man hung his suit coat on the back of his chair, sat down at his desk, turned on the computer monitor, and logged on to the desktop. The machine greeted him generically with bold text against a solid background, “Welcome K. Marrok.”
In the Major’s office, the bustle had started despite the mostly empty bullpen. Major Edward Lance’s phone rang almost immediately after he had walked in. Lance answered in his normal, professional manner. “Texas Rangers Company C, this is Major Lance…I am well, and yourself?” A familiar party was on the other side. “Well what can I do for you Jim?” A long but calm explanation followed. Lance moved over to the window which allowed him to see the bullpen, he glanced in Marrok’s direction. “Yes, he is available…it’s no trouble…I will.” Lance hung up the phone.
Marrok’s inbox had finally loaded, there was nothing of consequence in it. He took another gulp of his coffee which was already half diminished and pulled a manila folder from his desk. The folder was labeled, “T. Foster.” It was something of a cold case he had been attempting to initiate for at least a year. Perhaps today was the day to put fresh effort into it.
“Kasey!” Marrok looked up, Major Lance was standing in the doorway of his office. The Major had a commanding presence, despite not having an intimidating look. He was a professional, always courteous to the point of chivalry, yet not someone to be messed with. Major Lance was slightly above average height and a fit man. His hair was mostly black with only clues of grey hidden about his neatly combed, but barely clean-cut hair. Major Lance had more of a stride than a walk, and a very stiff, upright posture. “I have something for you,” the Major said. Marrok replaced the folder into his desk, collected his coffee, and walked towards the Major’s office. The Major remained in the doorway.
“Your Marshal friend called. An inmate has escaped from the state prison over in Childress. Apparently, you have made a name for yourself.” Major Lance gave a half smile.
“Yes sir.” Marrok’s voice was a growl. Not because he had unpleasant feelings towards Major Lance. His voice had always just sounded that way, as if a wolf had learned to speak but in a calm and low tone. Marrok turned to leave.
“Kasey.” The Major waited for his Ranger to turn back towards him before continuing. “It’s ok to enjoy your job.”
“It’s ok to show that once in a while.”
“Yes sir.” Marrok grabbed his suit coat, his Stetson, and walked out of the office.
He had made a name for himself, but not on purpose. At least in the western half of Texas, Ranger Marrok’s name was synonymous with finding folks who had disappeared. Sometimes it had been runaway kids, a few missing persons had helped his reputation spread throughout the region, but the main source of his mild fame in the law enforcement community was for a very special knack. Not a single fugitive had eluded a manhunt when Kasey Marrok was involved. Due to his special skill for finding people, he had made a few acquaintances outside of Company C in Lubbock. There were a few county deputies who kept his number in their phones, one or two federal agents who had asked for his help, and one particular Deputy United States Marshal who seemed to call more frequently than the others. Marrok had come to look forward to these little “hunts” as the marshal called them. Despite the enjoyment that they brought, Marrok did his best to keep his excitement to himself.
And so, it was with a nonchalant pace, that Ranger Marrok walked through the parking lot and back out to his SUV. He turned the key in the ignition and found his way out to the highway. Childress was a bit of a hike. Hopefully, the trip was worth it.