He arrived to the airport with time to spare. Security was quicker than he expected and the first leg of the trip from Lubbock to Dallas went by fast. It was not even a two-hour flight. He had needed the whole layover time in Dallas to go through security again, being that it was an international flight. Time seemed to stop on the second flight. Fourteen hours was too long to be on a plane. Initially, he had fallen asleep, it felt like he had been out for a long time, but only two hours had passed. He stared at the seat in front of him for a while before settling on an in-flight movie to watch. Then another, then a third. He looked at the digital clock on the screen, five and a half hours to go. It was not claustrophobia, but a severe boredom that threatened his sanity. He was not accustomed to just sitting, and certainly not for that long. He wished he was back with Alice. Fourteen hours with her would not have been enough. He could have stayed there all day with her. She was so great.
Shit. Five hours to go. He tried to go back to sleep. It worked, kind of. He felt as though he was waking up every fifteen minutes and the passage of time became unrecognizable. Soon there was a child crying, loudly. He or she was very upset and nobody could have slept through it. He sat up in his chair. Three hours to go. This had been a terrible idea, he wished he could undo it.
It was eight o’clock in the morning in London when the plane landed for his second layover. Marrok felt groggy and exhausted, but very pleased to have his legs under him again. He had two hours to spend. There was a coffee shop open and he spent the majority of his time there, sipping one, then two coffees and thinking about Alice. He bought a third and began making his way through the airport towards the gate for his next flight, the one that would take him to Bucharest.
As he walked through the terminal, a small bookstore caught his eye. It might be good to have something to read on the next flight, or at least for the flight back. He meandered around for a moment until one particular shelf stopped him in his tracks.
It was a magazine that caught his eye. Collector’s Interest was the title of the thing, but the cover photo was the interesting bit. It was a light brown-haired man standing in the forefront of a large room of displays of old weaponry. The man himself was holding a bow at such an angle as to serve the camera. The teasing line next to the man read, “A VERY PARTICULAR COLLECTOR, A look inside an ancient English armory.” Dr. Elder had used that exact phrase when he had spoken about the Hawthorne dagger. He had “bartered for it in England with a very particular collector.” What were the odds? He took the magazine from the shelf and purchased it, along with a candy bar, before moving along to find his departure gate. The third and final flight left on time.
“Sir,” the hostess said, shaking Marrok’s shoulder. Marrok’s eyes opened wide, he was still on the plane. He did not remember falling asleep. Then again, he was exhausted and hadn’t slept much leading up to the third leg of the trip.
“Excuse me,” she continued in an unfamiliar accent, “Can you put your safety belt back on? We’re about to land.”
“It’s ok,” she said as she turned around and walked back towards the front of the small plane. They were already in a descent towards Bucharest, the journey had finally come to an end.
The terminal was not as large as he had expected, but it made getting on his way that much faster. He collected his bag from the baggage claim and made his way to a string of car rental places. There was one with a red label and white lettering he recognized from trips around the states, familiar was better than unfamiliar and so he tried them first.
“Buna ziua,” a young woman greeted him from behind the counter. Marrok had no idea what she had said. Probably ‘hello’ or ‘good afternoon’ or something like that.
“Hello,” he said, hoping she spoke English.
“Hello,” she said. “English?”
“Yes.” He replied.
“Ok. Hello. My name is Martelina, how may I help you?”
“I need to rent a car, a small one will be fine.”
“Ok,” she said. “How long will you require it?”
He had no idea. He had not even booked a flight home. No idea where Drake would have gone from here, hopefully to the town he was born in. No way to track him from the airport though. She was still looking at him, waiting for an answer.
“A week,” he said.
“Seven days, you will return the car on the twenty third?”
“Very well.” She began typing into her computer. There was the standard rental agreement, the insurance policy, a telephone number to call if anything happened, the usual stuff. “Do you know where you are going?” she asked him.
“Not exactly,” he said.
“Do you want GPS?” she held up a tablet looking item. It probably wasn’t a bad idea.
“Sure.” She gave him a quick lesson on how to work the thing and ensured that it was set to English before handing it over to him. He paid for the transaction in cash, Leu it was called in Romania. Roughly twenty-five cents in US dollars per Leu. Not bad.
He walked out to the parking lot, wondering what he would do next. He had not expected to pick up Drake’s scent in the airport, there were too many people, too transient of a space. Instead he sat down in the driver’s seat of the rental and punched Cheia into the GPS. The thing calculated a route. It relayed to him that it was about a two-hour drive. Perfect, more time sitting. At least he was at the wheel this time.
He took it slow as he headed northward. The scenery was different, the houses looked different, it was almost as if he had stepped into another world. He could not pronounce most of the towns he drove through, and as he drew closer to Cheia, he wondered if Drake would even be there. It was his birthplace, not a home of record. Hell, he could have lied on that booking sheet. It was a longshot. Really, the whole trip was a longshot. The proverbial needle was now in a haystack the size of a country.
Cheia came into view as he rolled closer to the mountain range he had been looking at for at least twenty minutes. The town itself was nestled in and a quaint little place. It looked small enough that Marrok thought everybody would know everybody, or at least close to it. Maybe that could work in his favor. He drove around for a minute until he was sure he had found the equivalent of “down town” and pulled the car over to the side of the street. It was close to six in the evening. The sun had started to go down. He looked around and picked out what he thought was a tavern. That was probably his best bet. He got a few looks from passersby as he crossed the streets. Marrok stuck out like a sore thumb in his flannel, jeans, and cowboy boots. He looked American. Hopefully, it would not count against him.
There were two stools left inside the bar, he picked the one nearest the door. It was a pointless effort, there were enough patrons on either side to make a mess if he wasn’t a hit with the locals. The bartender came up to him, it was a middle-aged woman, an attractive one. She smiled at him and said something to him he did not understand.
“Vodka,” he said. He figured that was the same in Romanian. He had not figured out his ice breaker yet. She smiled and nodded, disappeared for a moment down to the other end of the counter, but returned shortly with his glass.
“Thank you,” he said. She stared at him for a moment before slowly nodding.
“You are…welcomed,” she said. Her English was not as practiced as Martelina’s from the airport. It was a start.
He sat there for some time, sipping on the vodka, slowly. He looked around the room continuously, hoping to catch a sight of Drake, knowing that he probably wouldn’t. Eventually he had to order another drink, he asked for a beer, anything would do. He had no idea what to order and the bartender seemed to understand. She didn’t harass him over it or point him out to anyone, she just kept smiling. Soon Marrok had been there for a few hours and many more seats had opened up at the bar. Most of the patrons had migrated out into the tables and booths. Now was as good a time as any. He waited for the bartender to return.
“Excuse me,” he said as she came back to his end of the bar. She stopped and smiled at him. “Do you speak any English?”
“Some English,” she replied nodding.
“Ok. Do you know a family here named Drake?” He let the question ebb slowly for her.
“Yes,” he said, “is there a family here by that name?”
She held up a finger, she needed a moment. She disappeared into a back room, but quickly returned with a cellphone in hand. She again showed him her pointer finger, as if to say, ‘just a second.’ She dialed up someone and held the phone to her ear. Someone answered and she spoke to them for a moment in what Marrok assumed was Romanian. She held the phone out to him. He took it.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello, this is Boris.”
“Hello Boris, I am Kasey.”
“Yes. Kasey, hello. I am Boris. My mother does not speak English well. She wants to know what you are asking her about, she thinks the Drake family but does not understand you.”
“Yes. I asked her if she knows of a family by that name here.”
“Ok, please hand the phone to her. Thank you.”
Marrok handed the phone back to the woman and she spoke with her son briefly. She handed the phone back to him and watched him as he held it up to his ear again.
“Hello again Boris.”
“Hello Kasey. Yes, she knows the Drake family. She wants to know why you wish to know this?”
“Would you tell her that I need to speak with a man named Korbin Drake, and that it is important that I find him.”
“Korbin Drake you said?”
“Why do you – forgive me, please hand the phone back.”
Marrok handed the phone back and waited for the two to make their exchange. It took longer this time and the mother seemed puzzled as she returned the phone to him again.
“I’m here,” Marrok said.
“Yes, Kasey. She knows Korbin, as do I. He is all that is left of his family. But he is not someone you would wish to speak to. My mother asks that you forget your business with him and return to where you came from.”
“Are you afraid of him?” Marrok asked.
“I…well no. But he was not a man to be in business with if the stories are true.”
“I see. Tell your mother that I am not his friend and that I need to find him.” Marrok handed the phone back to the woman. The conversation between mother and son this time lasted several minutes and she seemed to be arguing with him, but he had no way of knowing for sure. Finally, the phone came back to him, this time she leaned onto the counter.
“Kasey. My mother wants you to know that this Korbin Drake was alleged to have murdered several people before fleeing nearly twenty years ago. She wants you to know that one of those killed was her sister, Ana. He has only just now returned according to her and even showed up in the tavern you are in just yesterday. She wants to know what you intend to do when you find him.”
“Tell your mother that my business is my own but that Ana will be on my mind when I find him.” He handed the phone back for what he hoped was the last time. The woman waited for her son to finish, then she smiled and nodded. She gave him the phone back.
“Kasey. My mother says she will help you. But I ask you, do not let her come to harm please. I am in England or I would do something. Please.”
“Relax Boris, your mom will be fine, I just need help finding the guy. What is your mother’s name?”
“Ok. Don’t worry Boris, she’ll be fine.” He hung up the phone and gave it back to Brigita. He pointed at himself. “Kasey,” he said his name out loud for her.
“Kasey,” she repeated. He nodded in approval. She once again signaled that she needed a minute and disappeared into the back room. Several minutes had passed by before she returned, this time with a jacket on. She motioned for him to follow her out into town. He did.
She stood on the side of the street for a moment before looking back to him. She moved her hands like she was turning a steering wheel. Was she asking if he had a car? Must be. He pointed out the rental to her.
“Your?” she asked.
“Yes,” Marrok nodded.
She walked towards the passenger side. Apparently, they were going for a drive. Marrok sat down in the driver seat and turned the key in the ignition of the rental car. He looked over to Brigita. She pointed straight ahead and nodded up and down. He pulled into the street and followed it. Very quickly, they reached an intersection. Brigita motioned for Marrok turn left. He drove slowly, giving her time to direct him, but also taking in the town. There were a lot of trees, the streets were narrow, mountains to the north and west, small homes with wood planked fences around the yards. He had never seen anything like it. It was as if he had stepped back in time. The feel of the place was homely, comfortable, and familiar even though he had never been there. It was nice.
After four blocks, the town seemed to pause as they made their way through a small forested portion of road, then another small gathering of homes and what might have been a hotel. The road continued through the residential area and then suddenly the homes were gone and the road turned northward towards the mountains, into the woods. A few miles later, still in the woods, there was a fork in the road. He slowed down and looked over to her. She pointed to the right. He made the slight turn but slowed down again when he heard her voice.
“Stop,” she had said with a thick accent.
Marrok pulled over to the side and eased the car to a stop. He looked over again at her. She opened the car door and got out but knelt bent down far enough to maintain eye contact through the open door. She pointed down the road and said, “Drake.”
“Do you want me to take you back to town?” Marrok asked.
Brigita tilted her head, she must not have completely understood what he had said but she seemed to be thinking about the possibilities. She looked at him for a long moment before making an effort to communicate with him. She pointed at herself, then walked her fingers in midair back the way they had come, towards town. She was going to walk back. Marrok nodded up and down, he understood. He waved goodbye and said, “Thank you.” She nodded in return and smiled, then she began walking.
Marrok put the car in drive and continued slowly down the road. The forest was thick, even with the thin trees, many of which had begun to lose their leaves. The semi-paved road seemed to stretch on forever and he began to recognize the loneliness of the place. He found himself liking it, to be so far away from everything, from people. Perhaps if there was no Alice, he could live in a place like this. But no, he had to go back. He shook her from his mind and continued on.
Eventually, in what seemed to be a darker place than the rest of the drive had been, the road came to a stop, a dead-end. Just ahead was a home. It looked abandoned. He shut off the car and sat back in the seat, staring ahead. The home was small, probably only one, maybe two bedrooms. There was a small porch elevated from the ground, and maybe a door on the outside leading down into a basement. The exterior was not consistent, a mix of old torn up red brick and a paler solid substance, it looked like stucco. There were only two windows in the front, one off to the left, one next to the front door. The door was old and made of wood. It looked heavy. The roof had seen better days, the yard had not been maintained or cut. It could have been abandoned, except from the dim light coming through the window on the left.
Marrok moved his hand to the small of his back, making sure the Hawthorne dagger was still there. It was. He stood up out of the car and shut the door. He didn’t care if Drake heard him or not. This was the end of the line for one of them. There was nowhere left for Drake to run, nowhere left for Marrok to look. He walked up to the house.
With no particular strategy in mind, Marrok knocked on the door. There were footsteps inside, and then Drake’s face appeared in the window, it was practically purple, he had been feeding. Drake smiled at him through the window and then moved out of sight. The door inched open. There they were, facing each other with less than two feet of air separating them. Drake chuckled.
“I did not think you would come here dog boy.” Drake smiled.
Marrok stared at him.
“Ha. You don’t even know-“Marrok lunged forward and drove the Hawthorne straight through Drake’s chest, ripping his heart apart, and slamming the vampire down onto his back. Then he drove the Hawthorne in farther, pinning Drake to the floor.
Marrok straddled Drake, holding down the Hawthorne that was almost plunged through the vampire, staring his victim in the eye. Drake was panicked, he knew what had been done. He was breathing hard, trying to control himself, trying to stand up, but his body was not responding, it was shutting down. He reached up for Marrok’s neck, but Marrok caught his arm, brought his knee up under it, and then forced it backwards over the leg. Drake’s arm snapped like a twig and he screamed. His fangs shown now and he tried to sit up, maybe he could land a bite on his attacker. Marrok let go of the fractured arm and grabbed Drake by the throat, he forced the vampire’s head back onto the floor and held it there. The grip around Drake’s neck was unbearably tight. Blood was leaking from his back and his chest, his heart was in pieces. It was his end. Marrok watched, his eyes glowing a slight yellow from his merciless face. He said nothing. Blood began to seep from Drake’s mouth, then his head slumped to the side. Korbin Drake was dead.
Marrok walked back out to the car, grabbed his bag, and brought it into the small house. He stripped all of his clothes off and threw them into a fireplace in the center of the back wall, lit a few logs, and burned them to ashes. There was a new set of clothing in the bag, which he put on before sitting in a corner to wait out the fire. He was surprised at how tidy the small house was. The floors were spotless, except for Drake’s body and blood laying in the middle. Shelves were neatly arranged, nothing seemed to be laying around out of place. Perhaps Drake had been OCD? The fire burned for more than hour, but Marrok waited there until it had finally become dark outside. He walked out of the house, making sure to close the door behind him, and got back into the rental car. He turned the key in the ignition and the headlights shown upon the house. Hopefully he had a long time before the body was discovered. Marrok turned the car around and made his way back towards the road that would take him back to Cheia. He would need a room for the night.
He was glad to see Brigita as he walked back into the tavern, it was late and he had expected her to have gone home. She looked at him expectantly as he took the seat he had occupied before at the bar. She looked like she had a lot to say, but neither of them could easily understand the other. Finally, she leaned across the counter.
“Dead?” she asked.
Marrok nodded up and down.
She had a big smile as she reached across and took one of his hands in both of hers. She nodded up and down, still smiling. She was very pleased. Marrok pointed at himself and then put his hands together like he was praying and moved them next to his head. She seemed to understand and took him by the hand. She led him up a staircase he had not noticed before and there was a hallway of four rooms. She opened one of the doors with a key and invited him inside. It was a small room, but it had a bed and a small bathroom in the corner. Marrok pulled out his wallet, but Brigita quickly slapped his hand and shook her head left and right.
“No.” she said. She was not going to charge him for the room.
“Thank you,” he said. She left him there and he locked the door behind her. He gave the room another look, he could not wait to get back home to his cabin. He was tired, it had been a long trip, and a long day. The following morning he would drive back to the airport and work on getting a flight home, the whole affair had gone a lot faster than he had anticipated. It had gone better than the best case scenario he had in mind. Drake must have thought he was invincible on his own turf, too powerful to be put down, overconfident. How convenient. Marrok laid down in the small bed. At least it was not an airplane seat.
Something was wrong. His eyes were open and he did not know what had woken him up. He was still laying in the bed, his eyes were not adjusting to the darkness in the room. He sat up slowly, the bed creaked. There was a scent in the room, like Drake’s but different. He could not identify it. His eyes darted around the room, but there was nothing to see in the pitch black. He could sense something was there though.
“Stay calm werewolf, I do not intend to kill you.” The voice was a man’s, the accent was like Brigita’s. Romanian male.
Marrok said nothing.
“Ah. How do you call it, the silent treatment? There is no need for hostilities, I simply want to talk.”
“Then why are you hiding?” Marrok asked. The darkness that had enveloped the room seemed to flow back towards the door and Marrok’s eyes began to adjust. He began to recognize the form of a tall, lean man standing opposite of him in the room.
“Oh, I’m not hiding. I’m right here.” The man’s eyes glowed a strange color of red, enough to seem like a glow in the dark item.
“Friend of Drake’s?” Marrok sat up straighter in the bed as he asked.
“Perhaps not a friend,” the stranger said. “An acquaintance might even be an exaggeration.”
“Then what do you want to talk about?”
“You.” The stranger said.
Marrok said nothing.
“Yes,” began the stranger, “I want to talk about your being here. To be frank, I am wondering as to the length of your stay and your intentions.”
“I suppose that depends on how many more bodies I have to make,” replied Marrok. The stranger chuckled.
“Oh, well you’ll make no more bodies, I assure you of that. Now, if you value your life, listen closely.” The stranger was suddenly kneeling over Marrok on the bed and holding him by the throat with a firm grip, the red eyes burning into Marrok’s. “Drake deserved his end, but make no mistake, if you ever return here again I will murder you, drink you dry, and set your head to a pike outside my home. Do we understand each other?”
Marrok stared back.
“Typical of your kind,” there was a toothy grin under the red eyes. “Silence is agreement in this case, out of courtesy you understand.” The stranger disappeared and was again across the room, staring at him. “Which of them sent you?” the stranger asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Marrok replied.
“Interesting,” the stranger said. “Farewell wolf, may we never meet again.” The stranger vanished. Marrok sat up for the remaining few hours of the night until light began to creep in through the small window above his bed, his eyes had not left the door.
He did not like the idea of the stranger bullying him into leaving, but he had intended to leave anyway. Why did it matter what the stranger wanted, he had done what he had come to Romania to do. Drake was dead. It was time to go home, there was no need to stir up another pot. Whatever else Romania had going on was no business of his, his responsibilities were in Texas.
The drive back to Bucharest seemed to be a dream. Marrok was lost in thought and barely noticed the GPS talking to him, the buildings and farms he passed by, his mind was tinkering around with the memory of the stranger in his room. Returning the rental car, buying the plane ticket, and waiting around in the terminal for his last minute flight passed in similar fashion. It was as if he had been watching a television show and been left with a cliffhanger which he might not see resolved.
The plane ride itself was just as painful as the previous one. The stop in Munich was welcome, Atlanta might as well have been purgatory, and when he finally found himself back in Lubbock, he decided that he would never get onto a plane again. Not willingly anyway.