Marrok was mostly ‘alright’, but he had one stop to make on his way home. Bookhole was a local start-up, it had done well and expanded to be just as large and well known in Lubbock as any of the other recognized bookstores in the area. Marrok had frequented the place on a monthly basis for the past few years and was known by the store’s staff as a quiet patron.
The double doors of Bookhole’s main entrance were inviting and welcomed Texas book lovers into a labyrinth of packed shelves. The back of the giant room was only just visible from Marrok’s height, a display of the widest variety of novels, biographies, reference materials, art collections, how-to books, magazines, and children’s’ works. There was nothing the avid shopper could not find if they had enough time to look. And if customers needed a reprieve from their search, a small dinette was nestled into the corner near the store’s entrance offering coffee, sandwiches, and baked goods to refresh shoppers and retain them for a longer and fuller experience. With books as diverse as their consumers, Bookhole had become a popular destination for students, teachers, professionals, amateurs, the curious, and the part-time adventurers of Lubbock.
Marrok disappeared into the grid of shelves as he searched for a new curiosity of his own. He had been to the ‘Supernatural Interests’ section once or twice before and so he was not engaged for the length of time a newer customer might have been in the large store. It took a few minutes of superficial browsing and thumbing through a book or two before he finally pulled a thick volume from the shelf. More than Mythology: Vampires of the World by Dr. Barnabus Conrad. He glanced over it, flipped a few pages, and decided it would suit his needs. He began making his way back toward the double door entrance where the checkout counter was located. As he rounded the corner of a bookcase, he came to a stop, face to face with another customer. Only half of the word ‘excuse’ escaped his mouth before he was silenced by his own disbelief. It was the woman from the coffee shop.
The initial surprise faded from her face quickly and she gave him a welcoming smile. Her short black hair was draped down over her shoulders contrasting a white woven long sleeve shirt. Tight blue jeans hugged her close and the pant legs were rolled up past her ankles in capris fashion. Her dark green eyes stunned him, just as they had a few days prior. He stood there, motionless, speechless.
“Hi,” she smiled.
“Hi,” he managed. There was that awkward moment on the air, the seemingly eternal period in which nobody speaks out of uncertainty. Luckily, the woman was more socially adept than he was and rescued their encounter from the spiral.
“What have you got there?” she motioned to the book in his hand.
“Oh, uh…” he hesitated. ‘Hello again most beautiful woman I have ever seen, let me show you this book about vampires.’ Any confidence which normally beamed from him had vanished. He was practically reduced to a brainless introvert. “A book,” he said. A book! What kind of response was that? He began to sweat a little. Each second of time that had passed seemed to be endless, rolling at the slowest imaginable rate. He wanted it to end.
She laughed at his comment. “Smart ass,” she said. Her gaze continued for a moment while her chuckle faded back into the warm smile. “It was nice to see you again,” she said. She grinned again and began to walk by.
She was leaving! Fate had blessed him twice with the presence of this woman, this angel. She had smiled at him, laughed even. What were the chances of that? Thoughts competed for attention in his head, a free for all that pushed everything from his mind but the realization that as he continued to stare into space with that stupid look which had occupied his features, she continued to get farther away. He had to do something.
“Excuse me,” he practically burst, turning towards her. She stopped and turned back towards him.
“Eh,” he sighed, taking a few steps in her direction. “Would you…would you like to get coffee some time?” It was as if a space shuttle had launched. Every part of his being waited in awe to see what her answer would be.
“Yes,” she smiled and nodded. “I would like that.”
“Ok,” he almost choked. “Great.”
“Do you normally stop at Blackbrew?” she asked.
“Yes I do. Every day.”
“Well,” she began, “what time will you be there tomorrow?”
What time would he be there tomorrow? What day was it? His mind drew a blank. What time was he normally there? 7:30ish? It must be close to that. He would need extra time to sit down with her. What would they talk about? Maybe this was a bad idea.
“Seven,” he said.
“Seven it is,” she replied. “I will see you then.” She gave him another wonderful smile before turning back into the rows of bookshelves. He stood there for a moment, dazed at what had taken place, paralyzed with fear and excitement. He nearly walked out the double doors without paying for the book in his euphoria.
Not until Marrok was pulling up to his cabin did he regain his focus. He cooked, he fed the horses, he fed Merlin, and then he went straight to his chair and opened the book. Maybe this was not the ordinary way of conducting an investigation, but what else did he have to go on? Drake had displayed an inclination to bite necks, and the vanishing act alone was enough to convince the ranger that there was something else at work in his fugitive.
Dr. Conrad’s book may as well have been labeled an encyclopedia, he had broken down the ‘various subspecies’ of vampire by nation and region. There were several entries that caught his attention as he thumbed through the table of contents. There were chapters on vampires from North and South America, Africa, ancient civilizations including Persia and Greece, and the list continued on. Marrok’s finger settled about a quarter of the way through the list, The Eastern European Vampire. He flipped through the pages until he found the chapter that had caught his interest. As each other chapter had, this particular one began with an introductory paragraph and a visual to accompany it. The drawing was well done, and resembled the physical characteristics that Marrok had recognized in Korbin Drake. Dark, reddish skin, a somewhat bloated appearance, and greasy hair. The chapter’s introduction was possibly of more interest than the picture.
The Eastern European Vampire is surprisingly ignored in popular fiction works despite being one of the most popular vampires in existence stemming from this part of the world. Although Dracula has been depicted in multiple fashions spanning written and visual media, the vampires from this region are noticeably different from these displays. The average member of this line is most identifiable by their dark ruddy complexion when well fed. They have the characteristic fangs as may be expected and they have no shadow or reflection. This is not a magical quality by any means, vampires of this type are notably different from other lines due to their demonic origins. Originally established through what is quite literally recorded as “a deal with the devil”, Eastern European Vampires are soulless and often times are entities separate of the host body. These vampires have not received as much study as other entries in this book due to their ability to remain hidden from the public eye in their well secluded dwellings, although several sightings have been recorded throughout history. Further research is required to refine their characteristics, but records from two notable sources from 12th Century Poland and the Balkans suggest seemingly believable information based on comparison with other sub-types.
It was hardly possible to put the book down after reading the first paragraph. Page by page, Marrok slowly worked his way forward as he found himself puzzled yet enthralled with descriptions, diagrams, and anecdotal accounts. He stood several times to retrieve more coffee from the kitchenette and Merlin watched with a wondrous curiosity as his master ignored sleep throughout the night while a full moon shone through the window.
Somehow, the time had dripped on to four o’clock in the morning. The alarm from his phone urged him out of the armchair where he had fallen asleep. The book was on the floor in front of him. Merlin was there too, still sporting the curious grin from the night before. How long had he slept? The slumber must have crept upon him slowly. Marrok vaguely recalled a point at which he was seeing the pages without comprehending what was on them. The ache in his joints and the dull pain in his head suggested that whatever sleep he had gotten was not enough. He stumbled into the kitchen and poured a mug of the coffee from what was probably only a few hours before. The microwave hummed like his head did as it heated the brew. This day would surely be a long one.
As Marrok began his morning rituals, what he had learned during his overnight study slowly made its way to the forefront. By the time he was behind the wheel and driving towards Lubbock his mental recall had become a review of particular points.
“Eastern European Vampires,” as the book referred to them, were the result of Dracula’s attempt to naturally reproduce. There was a detailed explanation of their genetic history walking the reader through Dracula’s own transformation, his “children” and those he “turned,” but Marrok was not particularly interested in the history lesson so much as how to stop Korbin Drake, if indeed he was a vampire. Luckily, Dr. Conrad’s book was very thorough concerning the abilities and vulnerabilities of the monster in question.
They were strongest when “fed,” discernible by their complexion. A fed vampire’s skin was dark and ruddy while the “starved” vampire would appear pale. In either case, the Eastern European variety was unique from other vampires in that they had the early Hollywood characteristics: no reflection and no shadow. Like other vampires, they had fangs of varying appearance. They were immortal, possessed super strength, enhanced senses, unnatural speed, healing abilities of a supernatural sort, some psychic abilities, and other “various powers based on the family line” including shape-shifting and psychokinesis. Despite their immortality, it seemed they had biological vulnerabilities, some of which were fatal. Hawthorn or oak were the best for stabbing or “staking” the heart, but other organs would serve an equally mortal end. Decapitation was fatal as was fire, garlic if present in the respiratory system, and “proper wounds from holy artifacts.” Drowning was possible, but temporary and would be null once the body was removed from water. Silver was equal in effect to the hawthorn and oak depending on the family line, and finally there was a sensitivity to light which in the extreme exposure may cause blindness but more often a migraine. Interestingly, Dr. Conrad included that many Eastern European Vampires suffered from obsessive compulsive tendencies in one form or another, and that their powers were restricted geographically. “Once a vampire of this breed steps foot out of what is today Romania, their powers are forfeit and the pain of their weaknesses may harass them more constantly without exposure leading to illness. It is believed that part of Dracula's’ curse transferred to them genetically and so the soil of Transylvania limits their ability to migrate.
Oddly enough, the “soil of Transylvania” nonsense would explain Drake’s necklace. Marrok had suspected it contained something other than the ashes of the fugitive’s grandfather, perhaps it was soil the necklace stored. If Drake was a vampire, and he carried around with him the soil from Transylvania, would his powers be extended so that he could use them outside of Romania?
Another question to be resolved was the mystery behind Dr. Elder’s involvement in Drake’s previous arrest. Marrok intended to find out what the professor really knew and what kind of game he might be playing. He hastily dialed Elder’s office phone as he came closer to Blackbrew. There was no answer. Of course not, it was too early. Marrok settled for leaving a voicemail, he would visit the professor’s office sometime later that morning. The phone was back in his pocket just as he pulled into the parking lot. It was 6:54 a.m.
Marrok leaned back in the driver seat and looked himself over. His boots looked clean, his slacks were pressed, and the white shirt with a grey tie probably looked alright. His suit coat probably looked fine too, he had combed the lint roller over it painstakingly earlier to remove any sign of Merlin. Should he wear his work stuff in? She would probably never see the handcuffs on the back half of his belt, the coat would cover them. She had probably already seen the gun when they bumped into each other, the badge she had noticed for sure even though the coat usually covered that too. What did it matter? That’s who he was, might as well wear what he was. Marrok looked over at the Stetson, perhaps he would leave that behind. He let out a big sigh, opened the door, slid out of the SUV, and made his way towards the front door of Blackbrew.
He felt like he had gained a thousand pounds as he walked through the doorway. He was nervous. It had been a long time since he had been on a date. Marci waved to him immediately and motioned with her smiling face for Marrok to look to the side of the room. There she was, the girl he had practically knocked over, the girl from the bookstore. She smiled at him.
She was seated elegantly in a booth. A light pink summer dress clung to her shoulders and her dark hair was pulled back in what he could only think of as ‘princess fashion.’ As if this had not elevated her above the rest of the room, she was adorned with what appeared to be pearl earrings and a necklace to match.
“I feel under-dressed,” Marrok grinned as he walked towards the booth.
“I knew you would be wearing a suit Mr. Ranger,” she beamed. He gave a surprised glance which she quickly answered. “Marci told me a little bit about you,” she smiled.
“Did she?” Marrok was still standing. His date had taken the seat facing the door, he wanted it. Despite his discomfort in turning his back to the entrance, he reluctantly slid into the booth across from her.
“Yes,” she replied, sliding him a second coffee which was on the table. Marrok took a sip of it and grinned, it was black.
“Thank you,” he began. “What else did Marci tell you?”
“That your name is Kasey, you are here most mornings, you are not as mean as you look, and you do not like to sit with your back to the door when Marci convinces you to sit down for a few minutes in here.” She watched for his expression but it was hard to read so she continued on, “That is why I sat here in fact.” She watched again, wondering if he would catch the hint. She could see the wheels were turning, she waited. The man across from her raised an eyebrow and seemed to come to the correct conclusion. He stood up and came around the small table, easing himself into the seat beside her. His face flushed a little. “My name is Alice,” she said.
“Hello Alice,” he stifled a nervous laugh.
Marrok let out a breath, “Well Alice, do you come here a lot?”
“I might now,” she answered gleefully. Marrok practically choked on his most recent sip of coffee.
“Do you live here in Lubbock?” he asked.
“And do you work in town as well?”
“Yes, I’m a doctor here.”
“An ER doctor actually,” she said proudly.
“Wow. That is impressive.”
“Says the Texas Ranger! How long have you been doing that?”
“Four years or so. How long have you been a doctor?”
Marrok fiddled with his coffee. He was not sure what else he should be asking on a “first date.” She seemed to be waiting for him to talk again which only increased the pressure he felt. He took another sip to stall for time.
“What do you like to do when you are not working?” The question practically fumbled from his lips.
“I love to read,” there was a sparkle in her eye.
“I love to read everything and I love to travel.”
“Where have you been so far?” he asked.
“Oh, Europe mostly. My family is from England so I have been back there a few times. Iceland once, Canada, Mexico, and a few states.” She took a sip from her cup. “And you? Do you like to travel?”
“No.” His abrupt answer was out immediately, but he did not want the conversation to end now that it had started off so well. It might be hard for him to get another one going. “I like to stay in one place if I can help it, but I’ve been a few places for work.”
“Like where?” she asked. Marrok stared off for a few seconds recalling his travels from previous lives before he answered her.
“Canada and England as well,” he began. “Poland, the Middle East, and Germany. Quite a few states I suppose.”
“You said ‘for work.’ Do you mean before you were a Ranger?” She had turned herself sideways in the booth to face him. He had turned slightly towards her as well.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“What was Kasey Marrok before he was a lawman?” Her interest seemed genuine.
“I was a cop in North Dakota for a short time. Joined the Army. When I got out I was in Texas so I got in with the State Troopers and that led to this.”
“That sounds like the short version,” she commented.
“Less boring version,” he corrected.
“Oh, I doubt that.”
“What about you? Have you always been a doctor?”
“Really only a student before. It takes a while before we are trusted with a person’s longevity.”
“Makes sense.” Marrok checked his watch. “I have to leave, there is someone I have to talk to this morning.”
“It’s alright, I have to get on as well.”
“I would like to do this again if that is alright with you.”
“It is definitely alright with me,” she smiled. “Maybe dinner next time.”
“Dinner, alright,” her smile was contagious. He stood up to leave with one of his own.
“Kasey,” she stopped him and he turned around. “You might need this.” She passed him a folded-up slip, there was a phone number on it. He took it with an immense feeling of anticipation.
“I will not lose it,” he grinned. “See you later.”
“See you later,” she said with a hopefulness of her own.