It was 4 p.m. before Marrok left Childress and began the drive home. There was no point in going to the office. Nobody would be there, and if they were, they would have called him. His mind wandered away from the highway and back to the prison cell. Something about Korbin Drake would not let go of him. How did he get out of his cell? Why had there been no physical marks of any kind? Why had it been more difficult to track the fugitive this time? He had not let on to Hawk or anyone else, but he had experienced minor difficulty in following the trail to the farmhouse. He needed to find this guy, there must be more to him than his homicide charge and this escape. There simply must be something else.
Merlin was there to meet him as the SUV eased into the cabin’s driveway. As did the morning, so too did the evening have a ritualistic schedule to be followed. Marrok walked straight to the barn to care for the horses as he had some thirteen or so hours earlier. Once he was back in the cabin, the kitchen area became his focus. Two pounds of beef were collected from the fridge where they had been thawing all day and delivered to two separate pans on the stove top. Butter was added to grease the pan, a few spices to enhance the beef’s flavor, and the sounds of country radio filled the air. Eventually, boiled noodles were added to one of the pans and before long the meat had cooked to a well-done state. The "beef only" pan was emptied into Merlin’s dish, an act that was acknowledged by an eager barking and wild tail wagging before it was finished. The beef and noodle combination was emptied onto a large plate which accompanied Marrok to the small table along with a large glass of milk.
Marrok ate as he usually did, slowly and alone. He glanced around the cabin, not really looking at anything as he consumed the all too familiar meal set before him. He thought through the day’s events methodically, revisiting every sight, every smell, and every detail he could muster. His thoughts gravitated toward the necklace that Drake had been allowed to wear. Surely it did not contain the ashes of the inmate’s grandfather, but it had been a good ruse with which to get the necklace from the guards. Whatever Drake had done to facilitate his escape, Marrok knew that the necklace had something to do with it.
His meal now gone, Marrok took the dishes to the sink and washed them immediately before placing them in the drainer on the countertop. Then he walked to the desk, opened his laptop, and waited patiently for it to wake up from its day-long slumber. He typed into the search box, clicked the mouse a few times, changed his search, but finally found what he thought he might be looking for. He wrote down a phone number and address onto a small legal pad procured from one of the desk’s drawers and left it out on the desktop for use in the morning.
Since the laptop was already open, Marrok decided to check his email. There was nothing specific he was hoping to see, no one he was expecting to hear from, but it had become a habit to open the inbox once in the evening and so he did it. As usual, there was nothing.
The next morning, Marrok deviated from his routine. After leaving the house, he made his way towards Texas Tech University, causing him to drive a route that did not lead him by Blackbrew for his morning caffeine desire. He eased the SUV into visitor parking and walked across the campus in search of the agriculture building he had made note of on the legal pad the night before. It took several minutes, the time made more uncomfortable by the stares pointed in his direction from several students as he strode down the winding sidewalks. He stuck out like a sore thumb on the college campus. His tall frame labeled with a badge and Stetson was loudly contrasted by the summer clothed students wearing garments that were to tight or too loose, hats of every fashion worn facing the wrong way, weighed down with bags and books, and most more than twenty years younger than him. The time was uncomfortable, but more for the students than Marrok. He did not care if he blended with the crowd. He had work to do and he would not be bothered if people watched while he did it.
Room 216. It was on the floor which housed the majority of faculty offices in the building. A placard near the door read Dr. Amy Peret. The door was ajar a few inches, but Marrok decided to knock anyway.
“Come in,” a female voice answered.
Marrok walked into the office, leaving the door open behind him. It was small. The floor was carpeted, the walls were white, and the ceiling was white too. Natural light flooded through a big window behind the desk suggesting snow blindness may be a symptom for students with too many questions. The desk was grey throughout with minimal paper or stationary of any kind on top of it. Behind the desk sat Dr. Peret. Her hair was pulled back tightly. She wore thin framed glasses with black rims. Her wardrobe combined a knitted sweater and slacks for that business casual look. Dr. Peret was a very clean woman, and perhaps all business if the room reflected her character at all.
Dr. Peret glanced up from her computer as Marrok walked in. A look of slight surprise shown through what appeared to be a straight laced demeanor as she saw him. He was not the normal visitor faculty expected during office hours.
“Um, hello.” She said.
“Hello ma’am. My name is Kasey Marrok, I’m a Texas Ranger. I was hoping you could help me with something.”
“Uh, ok. What do you need help with?”
“I am led to believe you know your way around soil.”
“Well yes,” she replied. “What is it you’re looking for?”
“I was wondering if I could look at some.”
“Look at some?” Dr. Peret looked down at her desk as the question bounced through her mind. Look at some soil? This was a collegiate institution, not a garden shopping center. “I’m not sure I understand you correctly. Could you tell me exactly what it is you need?”
Marrok’s gaze remained on the woman while he tried to work out the correct thing to say in his head. He had not thought through this conversation as carefully as he would have liked. He thought about just walking out, she probably could not help him anyway. It would not be the first time he simply walked away from someone. No doubt Major Lance would get a call accusing Marrok of strange behavior in a public place. Maybe he could salvage the situation.
“I know this is going to sound crazy,” he began, “but I am wondering if you know anything about mythology, the supernatural, that sort of thing.” If Dr. Peret’s face had not displayed reservation before, it certainly did now.
“This is the agriculture building,” she said in a lower and more muddled tone than before.
“Yes ma’am,” Marrok began, wishing he had not come. “What I mean to ask is are there types of soil, historically speaking of course, that were supposed to have supernatural properties?” He seemed to regret the word, treating it sourly as it came out.
“I think you are confused sir.” Dr. Peret said in the same muddled tone with a raised eyebrow.
“Look,” Marrok began a bit more stern than before, “I do not decide what things are found, said, or done at a crime scene. I just have to follow up on some things, no matter how out there they sound.” His hands had moved to his hips in a fatherly disappointment fashion. He did not need a straight answer, but any shred of information could point him in the right direction.
“Right, sorry. It’s just that your request is a strange one. Let me see…” She did something on her computer while Marrok waited, his gaze still holding her down. She moved from the keyboard to her desk drawer, then wrote something down for him. She passed it to him across the desk. Marrok looked it over, it was another building number and another name of another doctor. “If there is such a thing, maybe he knows something about it. Will that do?” Dr. Peret still did not seem entirely convinced of the Ranger’s mental state.
“Sure,” Marrok mumbled. “Thank you.” He turned and walked out of the office, closing the door most of the way as he left.
Again, Marrok found himself trekking across the campus with eyes following him every step of the way. He did not return their gazes, nor acknowledge them as they passed by. Perhaps some of the students watched because of his facial display, it was as if he were an aircraft on autopilot. Maybe the pilot had had enough of flying for the day.
Soon he had arrived to the office of Dr. Mark Elder. Dr. Peret’s note suggested he was a professor in mythological studies. He proceeded with the door knocking and was once again told, “Come in,” by the office’s occupant.
The office was clean as had been the previous one, but it was darker. The walls were painted a dark blue, the carpet mirrored the walls. The desk was black, the shades were drawn, and the man within looked to be more a brooding intellectual than casual professional. This time, as Marrok entered the room, the doctor behind the desk said nothing. The man did look up at him, but not in a puzzled fashion as Dr. Peret had. This man seemed unmoved by the Texas Ranger’s presence instead of a student. The older man was not phased in the slightest.
Dr. Elder sat tall in his chair with correct posture. His grey hair was combed back neatly, hints of black hidden throughout the short mane. His face was protected by a mess of grey stubble several days unshaven. His glasses were precise, black rimmed, amplifying blue eyes which seemed to have faded almost to gray upon closer examination. A black button up shirt matched the shadow cast by his black slacks, no doubt furthered by the black sport coat which hung in the corner of the office from an antique coat rack. Most surprising of Dr. Elder’s thin but stately appearance were the calloused hands. Marrok thought it peculiar that an academic would have a working man’s hands. Throughout Marrok’s observation of Dr. Elder, neither of them spoke. The two seemed to glance each other over simultaneously.
“Mr. Marrok I presume,” Dr. Elder broke the silence with an English accent.
“Yes sir.” Marrok assumed that Dr. Peret had called ahead to warn her coworker of his arrival.
“Dr. Elder will do, there is no need for chivalry here.” The doctor’s voice was matter of fact, gravelly, and just deep enough to command any audience. There was no doubt he was a phenomenal orator.
“Sure. Dr. Elder, I assume you know why I’m here as well.”
“Indeed,” Elder leaned back in his chair. “I am curious though. How did you come to have such a curiosity as this one.”
“Crime scene, just following up on something.” Marrok gave his answer as one would try to brush through a crowded room.
“Do tell,” Elder would not be brushed aside. Marrok hesitated, as if he had something to hide. Perhaps he did, he had come alone after all. Something kept him from being straightforward with the educator.
“Escaped felon, empty cell, only thing left behind was some dirt or soil of some kind.” Marrok spun some truth in with lies. Elder waited for the rest of the explanation. “One of the guards…” Marrok hesitated as he thought it through while giving the impression of disbelief towards whatever he would cite, “…one of the guards says the inmate had some voodoo magic sand or something. I know it sounds ridiculous-"
“-But you were wondering if such a thing exists.” Elder cut him off and finished the thought. Marrok gave a slight nod of agreement, still playing the disbelief in a crazy theory through the raise of an eyebrow. Elder continued eyeing Marrok, deciding what he believed and what he did not. It seemed that several minutes had passed when Elder finally began again.
“Interesting.” Elder’s words were not forged of surprise, disbelief, excitement, nothing out of the ordinary. The word dropped into the room like a brick. A simple statement acknowledging his interest, nothing more or less.
“Have you heard of such a thing?” Marrok’s interest was not obvious, but slightly more profound than Elder’s.
“Of course,” he started in speculative tone, “countless objects have magical attributes credited to them throughout history. Soil though, that is interesting. Sacred ground is a common theme, perhaps we shall start there.” Elder’s inclusion of “we” in his response suggested to Marrok that he was expected to join the doctor at a poorly lit desk within a cavernous library, hunting the answers he so desperately sought. Unfortunately, hours in a library would be hard to explain to his boss. Especially hours spent researching magic dirt. Elder seemed to recognize this sentiment before Marrok could voice his difference.
“And obviously by ‘we’ I meant I will look into this. You are a lawman after all and must have pressing matters at hand.” Marrok did not argue. Elder placed one jab at the Ranger, “You do not strike me as a man prone to reading anyway.” Marrok smiled at the comment.
Marrok pulled a card with his phone number on it from a pocket and gave it to Elder. “Thank you,” he said firmly. Marrok extended his hand to the professor, “I do appreciate your help.” The handshake was a strong one from both sides. The two men seemed as though they had missed the company of each other for a brief second. A sort of unspoken respect for the grit, honor, and integrity each suspected of the other. Marrok left the office without another word and returned to his SUV in the visitor lot, again ignoring the rivers of students as he went.
Marrok’s phone had remained silent through the morning. This meant there would be time for a pit stop. He found his way into a big name drive thru place on the way to the police headquarters and ordered a large black coffee. It was nothing like Blackbrew, but it would suffice.
He considered Dr. Elder during the short drive. Of late, a chief complaint voiced only inside of his head was that of the men which he had encountered during the past decades. An ever mounting displeasure to him, the number of men which measured to his expectations was lower than he usually cared to pay any attention to. He had known men who had cheated on their wives, men who took shortcuts at work, men who avoided confrontation, men who shied away from responsibility, men who were quitters, men who were weak, and men who did not care for their fellow man. These examples were far from the way young Kasey Marrok had been raised, and so he found such realities made him mad and disappointed at the same time. Dr. Elder, at first glance, did not seem to be a man of low caliber. He seemed confident, strong, well-intentioned, and was willing to help a stranger without any mention of compensation. There was something about the way he spoke, the way he had stood up at the end of their conversation, the way he looked, and the power of the handshake that convinced Marrok there were still real men to be found.