Slash decides to invite Axl out for a drink.
After a bit, I said, “Axl, about what happened—”
He cut me off. “Forget it, Slash,” he snapped. “Forget any of it ever happened.”
“It’s not that easy—”
“Just shut the fuck up, okay?” He slammed his palm down on the lock button, and the doors made tiny popping sounds. “Get out of my car, and don’t fucking talk about it ever again.”
I opened the door and slid out, wondering if this was how Axl dealt with all his problems. It occurred to me, as I walked down the slope of the parking lot, that this was probably what had happened to Mark.
Axl avoided me for the next two days, staying in his office, making phone calls. At around four-thirty on the second day, Mark came into my office with a giant stack of papers.
“Slash,” he said, “I have the forms for that new guy…” His voice trailed off, and it occurred to me that I probably looked as miserable as I felt.
“What’s wrong, Hudson?”
“Nothing,” I said quietly. Mark shrugged, dumped the papers on my desk, and said:
“Well, whatever. Anyway, just look over Stradlin’s forms; he’s out by the giraffe pens with Axl if you have any questions.”
My ears immediately latched onto the phrase with Axl, and I saw the dawning light of retribution in my path. I waited until Mark left before looking at Izzy’s credentials.
Name: Izzy Stradlin. Age: 22. D.O.B.: April 8, 1962. Place of Birth: Lafayette, Indiana. Occupation: cashier at Canter’s. Reason(s) for taking this job: I love animals, and I know a lot about giraffes.
I read through the whole thing, including Recommended by (Axl Rose) and Hobbies (Chemistry, dog-walking, guitar). When I was done, I slid it into a manila folder in my filing cabinet, took a bottle of water and my key ring, and headed out towards the giraffes. There were hardly any people here this late, and there was a gentle lull over the whole zoo. The sun cast orange rays between the leaves of the trees, over the fur and feathers of the animals. As I passed the tigers, one of them lifted its head and stared at me impassively, amber eyes blinking lazily.
Eventually I reached the giraffes, tall and majestic and lovely. One of them was poking its head around in a raised platform, lips folding over whatever food was up there. The other was gazing off into the distance, looking both proud and sad. I walked into the back of their den and unlocked the door. Izzy was there, like Mark had said, and he was looking at the giraffe who was eating.
“Izzy,” I said, and he jumped and turned to face me.
“Slash. Hey.” He smiled at me, and I knew I’d made the right choice in taking him on. “You want something?”
I shook my head no. “Just was looking over your forms,” I said. “Are you gonna keep working at Canter’s?”
Izzy shook his head and started to say something, but just then Axl walked out, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops.
“Izzy, you ready to go?” he asked, and then his eyes fell on me. For a second his jaw clenched, and I had a sudden, irrational fear of getting hit.
Perhaps Izzy sensed the tension between us, because he said, “I just gotta feed the other one and pen them up; I won’t be long,” and then he disappeared into the growing shadows, clicking his tongue softly at the giraffes as he went.
Axl stared fixedly at the wall behind my head. “What, Slash? What do you want?”
“I just wanna talk…”
“I told you to forget about it.”
“And I told you it ain’t that easy!” My voice rose unintentionally, and he glanced sharply at me.
“Don’t fuckin’ yell at me, Hudson.”
“I wouldn’t have to yell if you’d listen to me!”
His eyes flashed a hellish green shade of emerald, and I shivered. He folded his arms across his chest and locked his irises onto mine. “Fine. Talk, then. You came all the way out here and bothered the hell outta me, now talk.”
I took in a deep breath. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was planning on saying, but what came out was not at all what I’d expected:
“What happened between you and Mark?”
His eyes widened ever so slightly, and I could see the question had startled him. Then he rocked back on his heels, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
I sighed. “Axl, we’re gonna have to talk about it at some point, y’know… especially if we keep working together…”
He didn’t answer. I stepped forward. In the cool half-light of the late afternoon, the sharp angles of his face were softened slightly, and once again I marveled at how strangely vulnerable he looked.
“C’mon, Axl… we can go out and get a drink. Just one drink.”
He was thinking; I could tell by the way his eyes flashed and narrowed. He blew out a soft sigh, shut his eyes. I caught another whiff of his aphrodisiacal exotic cologne, and felt a brief rush of heat between my legs.
“One drink?” he asked, staring down at his feet. The sensuous hypnotic quality of his accented voice was beautiful enough to send me spiraling down, down into a long tunnel from which there was no escape.
“One drink,” I promised.
“All right,” he said. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his car keys. Izzy came back at the same time and looked from Axl to me, obvious curiosity flickering in his hazel eyes.
“Slash and I are going to the Strip for a drink,” Axl explained.
Izzy nodded. “Okay… hey, listen, I finished feeding the giraffes; I just need to lock them up, then can I go?”
“Just don’t forget to clock out,” I replied, waving my hand vaguely. Izzy nodded, then pulled out the key that would open the door of the giraffes’ sleeping quarters. Axl looked after him for a bit, then back at me.
“So, shall we go?”
I nodded. Suddenly, for no particular reason, I was nervous. We walked out together; Axl was slightly ahead, and I watched his hips sway and dip in an almost serpentine manner. On the way out the gate, we passed Mark, who was cleaning bird shit off a shiny black bench.
“Why don’t you fuck out of his life, McDunn? You act like he’s your slave or some shit,” Axl snarled. He looked genuinely pissed off, and Mark’s eyes widened. For a second, I thought he would cry, but he just sucked in a breath and briefly shut his eyes.
“I just wanted to ask where you’re going,” he muttered.
Axl looked at me. I shrugged. “We’re just going for a drink, Mark. D’you mind closing up for me?”
He shook his head, looking positively miserable. Axl sneered a little, stepping just close enough to Mark to almost be able to touch him, but not quite.
“If you want someone to like you, McDunn,” he said, voice dangerously soft, “I’d suggest you quit looking so goddamn depressed all the time.” He started off towards the parking lot, flicking his wrist at me in a come on gesture as he went. I looked at Mark, but he wouldn’t look back at me.
“Don’t get in too deep with him,” Mark mumbled. “He’ll tear your life apart.”
But I couldn’t think of how to reply. After all, what harm could there be in getting one drink?