Axl and Slash go out for coffee, and Slash is increasingly drawn to his power.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Axl, and I braced my feet in the ground.
“Where are you taking me?”
Mark frowned at me. Then, to Axl, he said, “I just wanna have a private conversation with him. Is that such a problem?”
Axl muttered something which sounded like, stick a pole up your ass, fucker. Then he turned and faced my zoo.
“Just don’t take too long,” he said, folding his arms.
Digging his fingers into my arm, Mark dragged me off a ways, until we were out of earshot of Axl. Then he dropped my arm, slammed his hands on my shoulders, and forced me to face him.
“The fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he hissed angrily. “You know you can’t take Axl!”
I folded my arms across my chest and took a step back. “Why not?”
His eyes narrowed. “Because he is a complete fucking asshole! I told you that a year ago!”
“How do you know?” I shot back, because Axl had seemed like an okay guy to me—a bit obsessive, maybe, but pretty cool overall.
Mark swallowed. His gaze cut from me to Axl, and suddenly I saw it, in his eyes, what had happened.
“You loved him,” I said, incredulously. He snorted in disgust.
“It was years ago,” he said. “When he first came to L.A.”
I raised my eyebrows. “What happened?”
He hesitated, staring down at his feet, then shook his head. The expression on his face was pained. “Sorry, I can’t tell you, it’s just… it’s too complicated.” For a few seconds, we both stared at Axl, with his thumbs hooked in his belt loops as he gazed at the pond housing the flamingoes, then I said:
“It’s fine man.”
“Look, just don’t tell anyone, okay?” He stared at me pleadingly, and I nodded.
Then Axl called, “Jesus, McDunn, the fuck are you doing over there, giving him head or some shit?” He laughed caustically, and Mark frowned.
“Don’t come crying to me in a few months when he tears your life apart,” he murmured. Then he turned away, and I walked back to Axl.
He put his arm over my shoulders again. “This is gonna be the biggest fucking zoo in the whole goddamn county,” he said confidentially. He looked over at me. “Let’s go for some coffee or some shit, huh? We can talk there.”
“Okay.” I started to walk off, then paused, turned.
“Mark,” I called. “Axl and I are going to get coffee.”
“You don’t want to stay and man the zoo?”
Axl narrowed his eyes slightly, and I felt the muscles in his arm stiffen before he dropped it from my shoulder. “You stay and take care of his fucking zoo,” he snapped. “God knows you’ve already taken all the credits for its creation anyway.”
Mark’s mouth dropped open, and I felt my eyes widen slightly. “Axl—” I started, because I was beginning to feel a bit scared, but he held his hand up and snarled:
“Shut the fuck up, Slash, let me handle this.” He glared at Mark. “We’re going to get coffee, and I’m going to go over business with him. So you can screw yourself; you ain’t got a hold on his life.” He turned and started off. “You comin’, Slash?”
I glanced over at Mark. His cheeks were bright red, and he wasn’t looking at either of us.
“Just go,” he said quietly, and, feeling strangely guilty, I turned and walked after Axl.
“So… what are your plans for the zoo’s future?”
We were sitting in a booth together at Starbucks, steaming cups of coffee between us. I couldn’t take my eyes off Axl; he was beautiful and powerful… and dangerous. He curved his long fingers over the top of the cup and looked at me probingly, waiting for my answer.
“I want snakes,” I said. “A shitload of boa constrictors and ball pythons and king snakes… and the venomous ones too, like cobras and vipers.” I looked up at him, and was startled to see him tensing slightly, his jaw clenched as he stared into the steam rising up from his coffee. “Axl, what’s up?”
He glanced at me, and the muscles in his neck jerked reflexively as he swallowed. “N-nothing… I just really fucking hate snakes, that’s all… Fuck.” He stared at the wall. “But… it’s your zoo. Do whatever the fuck you want with it.”
I nodded. “All right.” I didn’t add that snakes are my favorite animal; I couldn’t have Axl quitting on me right then.
“What else do you want?” he asked. I thought for a minute, then said:
“Panthers, birds, leopards, jaguars… I dunno. Where do you deal from?”
“Wherever the fuck you want me to go.” He made a grand gesture with his arm, and I smiled.
“Can you get me a white tiger?”
“I can get you anything, Slash. I can make your zoo the biggest, hottest deal in the nation. Just say the word.”
Suddenly I had a vision of my zoo in the future, how amazing it would be: with tigers prowling, their muscles rippling beneath their hides; hyenas laughing at guests; mountain lions leaping off artificial cliffs. I smiled to myself, and Axl smiled too, a pleasant curving of his lips.
“What?” he asked, chuckling softly.
I shook my head and took a sip of coffee. “Nothing… hey, y’know what would be cool?”
“Kangaroos. And jellyfish. You could get me an entire fucking Australian section, complete with part of the Great Barrier Reef itself.”
Axl nodded. “And koalas,” he said. “All kinds of marsupials.” He locked his eyes onto mine, and I felt myself growing strangely dizzy. He extended his hand over the table, and we shook. A moment later he pulled back, his head tilted slightly to one side, a curious look on his face.
“Callous,” he said. “You play guitar?”
“As often as I can,” I replied. I wanted him to suggest shaking hands again, because I’d liked that tiny electrical thrill which ran between us when our skin connected, but all he said was:
“Cool. I play piano. You’ll have to come over and jam sometime.”
An invitation to his house. My face grew warm as I nodded my assent; I couldn’t imagine going to his home, seeing where this guy lived. We had just met an hour previously, but already he had a more intense hold on me than anyone else I’d ever known. I kind of wanted to ask him what had gone on between he and Mark, but I think that, even then, I knew Axl was a touchy guy who it was better not to cross.