There was some faint feeling of relief as his cabin came into view. At least he had made it back. Merlin was pleased to see him but seemed to know he was in a hurry and would not stay long. Merlin’s bowls were filled; the neighbor kid was still dependable. Marrok replaced the suit he had torn to pieces several hours before and returned to the vehicle he had left running with the air conditioning on outside. It was a hot one.
His cellphone rang as he eased back out of his driveway. The battery was low. It was Dr. Elder.
“Hello,” Marrok answered.
“Good morning Ranger Marrok.” The doctor’s voice had a spring to it. As if he knew something wonderfully pleasant.
“What do you want?” Marrok was less pleased and still had reservations about the strange and mischievous old man.
“Shameful way to greet a friend Ranger.” Even the doctor’s retort sounded happy.
“We are not friends,” Marrok replied.
“Interesting,” said Elder. “Well then, as a man who is not your friend, I am still wondering… How goes the hunt?”
Marrok hesitated before giving an answer, “I may have lost him.”
“Lost him? Where did you lose him then?” Elder asked.
“Across the border.”
“Well perhaps you should get after him.”
“I did,” Marrok grumbled. “He’s gone.”
“Is he?” The line was quiet for a moment. “My dear boy,” Elder began again, “no one is ever gone. Where was he when you lost him?”
“Why should I tell you?” Marrok pulled over and stared hard out his windshield. Who was Mark Elder to tell him what to do? Who was Mark Elder to put himself into law enforcement business? He had been shady and less than completely forthcoming so far. Marrok leaned back in his seat and straightened his posture in a bit of angst. He did not answer to Mark Elder.
“Do you want my help or not?” Elder asked.
Marrok hung up the phone and tossed it into the passenger seat. He took in a deep breath, let his hands loosen their grip of the steering wheel. It was time for a coffee.
He was standing in line at Blackbrew when he felt his phone buzz again in his pocket. It was a text. From Dr. Elder.
You should check outgoing flights from Ciudad Acuna
Marrok’s pupils dilated and his grip on the phone became tense. As he thought of throwing the phone through the floor, another text from Elder appeared.
That’s where you were last night I presume
Marrok dropped his head and swallowed his rage. It crossed his mind to go to Elder’s office and rip him apart as he had the ghoul man in Mexico.
“There you are Kasey, have a good day!” Marci said as she slid his coffee across the counter.
“Thank you.” He took the coffee and walked back out to the SUV.
Marrok stared at the phone on and off as he made his way into Lubbock and towards the Company C parking lot. He should have spent time figuring out who Mark Elder was. The man was getting on his nerves and peaking his curiosity at the same time. How did he know to check flights, and how could he possibly know where Marrok had been the night before?
Company C’s bullpen was hopping that morning. Daley walked in shortly after him and wished him a good morning. Several other Rangers who had recently been away from their desks seemed to be around again. A few telephones were ringing. A visitor might have thought a serious incident had taken place given the amount of activity. The only thing missing was Major Lance. His office door was shut and the light was off. Marrok wondered where he had gone. And then Marrok wondered where Drake had gone.
Checking flights from Ciudad Acuna proved to be much more difficult than the text had made it sound. He gave a call to the Department of Homeland Security and quickly realized after a short conversation with an annoyed agent on the other line that plane tickets departing from a foreign country with an unknown destination were apparently the most absurd thing he could ask about. Well shit.
Marrok walked over to Daley’s desk. It was a rare thing for him to do, but he was in unfamiliar territory at this point. He had tracked folks into Mexico before, but never to Mexico and then to somewhere else. He felt a bit out of his league as he approached the smiling veteran.
“Ah, Kasey. This is a strange feeling. I don’t know that you’ve ever walked over to this side of the pen before!” Daley grinned.
“I need some help.” Even the words felt strange as they left his mouth.
“Must be serious. Come to think of it Kasey, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you talk to anyone in here for more than a ‘good morning’.” Daley raised an eyebrow.
“It’s about that fugitive.” Marrok tried to ignore the banter.
“Is it? Well what can I do for you Kasey?” Daley leaned forward in his chair.
“Korbin Drake stole a car a few days ago in Robert Lee,” Marrok began. “He drove the car down to Ciudad Acuna. He stayed there for maybe a day or two. And now he’s gotten on a plane to somewhere and I need to know where he went, but I have no idea how to find out.”
“How do you know he was in Ciudad Acuna?” Daley asked.
“Long story.” Marrok replied.
“Did you follow him there?” Daley asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Long story.” Marrok replied.
“I’d like to hear it sometime.”
“I will keep that in mind.” Marrok sighed. “Can you help me or not?”
Daley leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment.
“No,” the older man sighed back, “I can’t.”
“Shit.” Marrok was barely above a whisper as he voiced his frustration.
“But,” cut in Daley, “I know someone who can.”
“Let’s get lunch Kasey.”
Marrok rolled his eyes, but it was hard to say no to Daley for anything. He walked back to his desk and grabbed his hat and coat just in time to follow Daley out the door. Daley was on his phone as they walked through the parking lot.
“Hello Jen. Do you have time for lunch today?” There was a pause. “I’m sure that’s fine, we’re just leaving… Oh, a friend of mine…Ok, see you soon.” The two climbed into Daley’s truck and started out in a northerly direction. Marrok guessed that they were going to the Chinese buffet place that Daley liked from time to time, but they drove by the turn for it. The truck continued north, until finally it was clear that they were leaving Lubbock altogether.
“Where are we going?” asked Marrok.
“To see a friend,” replied Daley.
“A friend from where?” pushed Marrok.
“Amarillo? That’s almost two hours away Daley.”
“Call me Bill.”
“Who is in Amarillo? “
“You heard me on the phone I imagine, but her name is Jennifer.”
“Who is Jennifer?” Marrok was trying to hide a temper now.
“Kasey. You asked me for help. I’m helping you. Relax. Save your questions for her, she’ll find your escaped bandito.”
The rest of the drive passed by in silence, almost. Daley eventually turned on the radio, oldies rock. Not Marrok’s usual choice for music, but Daley seemed to prefer it. The drive gave him a lot of time to think through the entire chase again, and then some time to consider his next move. If this Jennifer could indeed find out where Drake had flown to, would Marrok follow him there? He had no idea. Mexico had been a big risk already. Going farther than that would more than likely be career suicide. His odds of getting caught crossing professional lines would increase. His odds of screwing up in unfamiliar territory would increase. And if Drake had gone somewhere familiar to him, Marrok’s odds of being outdone by the fugitive increased as well. The more he thought about it, the more the uneasy suspicion that Drake might get away crept over him. Daley seemed to sense the tension in the younger Ranger as their drive wore on towards Amarillo.
“It can’t be that bad Kasey.” Daley smiled from the driver seat.
“What?” Daley’s comment had pulled Marrok out of a daze.
“I said it can’t be all that bad.”
Marrok paused before replying, he was hesitant to engage Daley in conversation. He knew the older man had a way of getting him to talk about anything. He didn’t care for it even though it usually worked. He did not like talking.
“I have never let anyone get away before.” Marrok grumbled.
“You haven’t let him do anything. He is just a bit more slippery than most, not that you let him.”
“I could have killed him.” Marrok thought back to putting the bullet through Drake’s head in the green house in Mexico. He had remembered what the books from the library had said about vampires’ weaknesses. He knew the round would not kill Drake. Matter of fact, he had not even been sure the round was enough to knock him out for the short time it had. But he could have killed him there in that bed. Ripped his head off. Tore his heart out. Shredded him to pieces like a sheet of paper. But he had not. He had tried to bring him back to Texas. What good would that have done? Another prison sentence? Perhaps another escape? More murders later down the road? He had screwed up. He should have killed him like he had the other man in the house.
“Is that right?” asked Daley. “In Mexico I suppose.” Marrok flinched. He did not answer.
“Oh,” chuckled Daley. “I’m not going to say anything. Just talking is all.” Daley seemed to ponder a thought for a short time. “Why didn’t you kill him then?”
“I don’t know.” Marrok said.
“Do you like the guy somehow? Feel bad for him?”
“Brought your gun with didn’t you?”
Daley paused another moment, leaned back in his chair, sighed. Kasey Marrok was a hard man to talk to, mostly because he did not like talking. But Daley liked talking when there was tension in the air. He wanted everything to be on the table all the time. It felt dishonest any other way.
“Well you could not have been scared.” Daley’s tone had become more adult and fatherly than before. “Drake is nothing compared to your crash.”
Marrok thought back to the helicopter crash, the short chase and gunfight that had followed. That had been fourteen years ago now. He had not given it a whole lot of thought. Matter of fact he had given it no thought at all in several weeks. Maybe it had been longer. But he was thinking about it now. The scene came back to him with no purposeful effort. Like blinking.
2008. The crash had been brutal, unforgettably carved into Marrok’s mind. He had gone to great lengths to assure himself of his superiority in the cockpit of his UH-60, but none of that had made a difference against two rockets. Marrok had seen the first one fired off, and Chief Sims, his co-pilot, had quickly spotted the second. They had dodged a single poorly aimed rocket weeks earlier and Marrok expected to extend the tally of near misses to three. Fate had other plans. Both rockets missed the helicopter, but each exploded less than a safe distance behind them. The shrapnel and fire raged, pushing the craft down and forward like a small boat caught from behind by a vicious wave. Marrok tried to correct them into a manageable fall, but without the tail rotor he was at a severe disadvantage. They were falling, spinning, and burning, there was smoke everywhere as they descended to the hard surface of Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.
When his eyes had opened, an angry roaring noise filled his head. They had hit hard and fast. He could feel his body on fire with pain even as he sat motionless in the seat trying to regain his bearings. As his mind began to catch up with reality, he became aware of a terrorizing and unprecedented pain in his left leg. He could not move it at all- the sting was too much every time he tried. He raised his arms in the seat to lift himself up, but he quickly stopped. Space was tight in the crinkled up cockpit. He turned his head to the right, Chief Sims was slumped in the seat with a chunk of metal from the door seemingly stapled into his side.
“Sims…” Marrok’s attempt to rouse his co-pilot came out as a hoarse whisper at best. Just breathing was stinging his lungs, his words were nearly inaudible. He reached out with his right arm and tried to shake Sims awake. Nothing. Sims was dead. Slowly, Marrok tried to turn just enough to peer behind his seat. Sergeant First Class Holland also sat slumped, his helmet was gone, his head was soaked with blood, and his right arm was hanging unnaturally beside him. Marrok did not even try to say Holland’s name. There was movement next to Holland; Marrok winced as he turned just a little more, hoping that he was not the only survivor. His effort was rewarded.
Staff Sergeant Malloy was slowly pulling herself towards him. Her face and hands were cut up and bloodied; one eye was already swelling shut. Malloy’s breath was just as labored as Marrok’s.
“Sir,” she managed quietly.
“Stuck,” he said. She crawled into the cockpit, wedging herself between Marrok and Sims. Marrok looked down at his leg and she seemed to understand. She clambered a little closer and ducked her head towards his mutilated leg. Malloy looked back to him.
“O.K.” she rasped.
Marrok again raised his arms to the seat and lifted his torso up. Malloy grabbed his leg where there was the least damage and lifted it for him. He had to stifle a scream as her hands put pressure on his leg. Carefully but painfully, he finally had become sideways in his seat with his back to the door. The only way out of the cockpit seemed to be easy- straight out of the front. The glass was all over the interior, but the hole was more than large enough for them to escape through. Malloy recognized this immediately. She took her helmet off and used it to knock out the leftover edges of glass and then tossed it aside before suffering the climb out. Marrok maneuvered to the side and looked through the hole, Malloy was gone.
He reached out with both arms, gripping the beginning of the exterior and pulled himself through. His leg dragged behind him and it hurt. It throbbed and wept red tears demanding him to quit, the pain was more excruciating than anything he had ever felt before. He moaned in agony as he pulled his leg up through the hole. His arms stretched out again to pull him the rest of the way and then a bloodied hand grabbed his. Malloy was there, looking at him intently.
“We have to go,” her voice was wheezy.
He thought about changing there. It was dangerous, but maybe he could. In wolf form, he could probably survive the wounds, feel less of them. He looked down at his leg. There was no way. The stress on his body to change would probably knock the leg off the way it looked. There was no way he could change. Not until he had healed. Going from his human form to the wolf would increase the damage significantly. He would die, either from blood loss or shock, and Malloy would be alone. He looked down at his leg. No. There was no way he could change. Not with these wounds. He reached out for her.
She pulled him onto the nose, and then they both went to the ground in a slow, awkward motion. Malloy grabbed him by the collar of his vest and leaned him back to sit against the downed craft.
“Can you walk?” she asked hurriedly.
Marrok’s eyes drifted beyond her beaten face and he saw why she wanted to leave. Vaguely, he could make out figures moving towards them on foot, presumably the men who had just ripped them out of the sky.
“Help me up,” he grunted.
She moved under his arm and he pushed with his right leg, using the metal behind him to their advantage. Malloy stayed under his shoulder and they turned towards a nearby cliff wall. Two hundred meters, maybe a little farther, much farther than either of them wanted to go. They had no choice; there was nowhere else to find cover. The first few steps quickly provided a new and terrible sensation in his leg. He gritted his teeth, trying to only use the mangled limb minimally. Every other step, he put as much weight on her as he thought she could move under. The hobbling run seemed too slow, surely they would be overtaken by their attackers. He felt as if they were on a treadmill, making no progress towards the cliff at all. Slowly, they limped forward until only fifty or so meters separated them from a good crop of boulders. They might make it.
A shot cracked the air somewhere behind them, and then another. They just needed a few more seconds. A third shot rang out and Marrok heard a “humph” as Malloy collapsed from below his shoulder. Without her holding him up, his momentum carried him face first into the dirt. He rolled to his side and looked back, she was just a few feet away. Their stalkers were closing the gap quickly. A new energy enveloped him and forced him up onto his knees. He was not going to die here, they were not going to die here. The adrenaline pumped through him with ferocity like a burning wildfire. He lurched forward and grabbed Malloy by the collar of her vest. His eyes burned a predatory yellow.
“C’mon!” it was a hoarse yell.
Blood leaked through a hole in her pant leg and was seeping into a large stain quickly. He pulled her up onto her knees, her one non-swollen eye was open and alert. Together, they scrambled towards the rocks as fast as they could. Several more shots kicked up the nearby sand and pelted the rocks in front of them but none found their marks as the two dashed haphazardly forward. They half dove, half fell behind the nearest boulder which happened to be one of the larger ones in the immediate area. There was a slight relief of sand behind the rock which did not make for the best place to hide, but it was the best they would get under the circumstances.
They had both lost a lot of blood. They had a hiding spot, but no way of escaping the men who would no doubt catch up with them shortly. There was no time, nowhere else to go. The big rock protected them from direct attack, but soon those men would run around either side and kill them. Not without a fight, he would not just give up. Malloy was breathing hard, but he knew from her stern eyes that she was not done yet either. He placed a hand on her shoulder, a silent ready check, and Malloy grabbed his arm agreeing to whatever he had in mind.
“Mags?” he asked.
“Two,” was her response.
Marrok was also only carrying two magazines for his 9mm Beretta, or as he had often referred to it, his BB gun. He moved Malloy closer to the rock and helped her face towards the left side, not the way they had come. Once she nodded in approval of her position, Marrok maneuvered himself so they were sitting back to back. Hopefully, the majority would come his way. Captain Marrok drew the pistol from its holster on his thigh and ensured there was a round in the chamber. He thought to himself that this would not end well.
Time seemed to slow and the world became unnaturally quiet as they waited there to roll the dice with death. Marrok had always counted himself a patient man, but this waiting was heavier than life’s previous obstacles. He just wanted to get it over with. The silence lingered on unnaturally until at last the men had gotten close. The voices came in labored but hushed, quick words of direction on how to proceed into the rocky cliff side. Marrok raised his pistol with a firm grip and a hard stare. He could smell them. They were here.
BANG BANG. Two shots from Malloy’s handgun rang out behind him. There was some shouting, inaudible because his ears were ringing now. A foot appeared from behind his side of the rock, then another, BANG, the man stumbled to his knees, BANG, the man fell to the ground. More feet appeared and Marrok squeezed the trigger as quickly as he could. Each man that rounded the corner stumbled and fell, the 9mm had no knock down power, but it was serving its purpose. Another man rounded the corner of the rock and managed a shot before Marrok could put him down, but he missed and fell next to his companions. Several shots rang again from behind him and he felt Malloy jerk against him. Two more came to his side and he felt a sting in his shoulder, he continued firing but a loud chainsaw like noise overpowered the volume of his weapon and something tore through his two attackers like they were pudding, slamming them down into the dirt. The sound of rotors reached his ears, their escort had caught up. Thank God. Several more barrages of the Apache’s cannon silenced the world around him, assuring him that nobody else would come for him.
“Malloy,” he whispered.
She let out a faint grunt, but did not answer him.
Marrok rolled onto his side and she fell backwards, there was more blood. Her vest had stopped a few, but several bullets had circumvented the Kevlar and penetrated into her gut, her shoulders, and her legs. There was too much blood. He crawled next to her and grabbed her hand.
“Hey, hey we made it Malloy, hold on a bit.”
She turned her head to look at him. Marrok squeezed her hand, trying to get a response from her.
“Hey, c’mon Jess…”
Staff Sergeant Jessica Malloy looked into his eyes for just a second, and then she looked through them. She had died there, next to him. The next few months had been the worst of his life.
Drake could not be compared to that. He could disappear at will. He could run like Marrok. He almost had Marrok’s strength. He could take a bullet to the head and walk away from it. He was an unnatural creature, a thing of legend, or nightmares rather.
Eventually, they arrived in Amarillo. Daley turned left across a few lanes of traffic and down a busy side street that led into a parking lot. The parking lot belonged to a building with a sign outside that read, “Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Daley’s friend Jennifer must be with the FBI.