Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chapter Nine: An Enemy Revisited; or, What Exactly is Written in the Book?

I sat on a leather sofa with an iced tea on a coaster placed on the coffee table in front of me. Pax sat on a throne-like chair, higher than the sofa, very deliberately looking down on me. He looked exactly the same as ten years before. He had bright blue eyes under a red unibrow, shaggy strawberry blond hair that twisted its way down his back, almost to his waist. It looked like something you would find a pigeon hiding in. He had a nasty scar running from his left eye down to his mouth, a remnant from his days as a corporate vice-president. He wore a ragged T-shirt with "Wilma's Shrimp Shack" printed on it, and holey jeans. He looked like Peter Horton gone to seed.

Not unlike my encounter with Morton X. Morton, neither one of us spoke. As we sat there, I thought I knew far too many people who pulled this macho crap. Me included. This time, he cracked first. I knew he would - his hatred of Octavian Bench VII was too great, and he wanted to know how he could contribute to harrying him.

"Good to see you, Isosceles," he said. "Ten years."

I told him all about the book. I didn't want to be there, I didn't want to spend more time with Pax than necessary, I wanted to leave as soon as possible. Pax made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to be reminded of the past. My story took a while, and through it all, I could see Pax becoming more and more interested. By the time I finished with Wanda's plan and when I would come and retrieve the book, he was leaning forward on his throne in anticipation. I knew I had found the perfect place to hide the book.

"May I see it?" he said. I got up and walked over to him. When I was a few feet away I tossed the book to him. He smiled. He knew I didn't want to get too close to him.

He carefully unwrapped the book and put aside the bubble wrap. He held the book in his lap for a moment, then opened it. I was shocked a little by his boldness, and more than a little ashamed at my squeamishness so far because I hadn't read it. Pax read only the first few pages, then closed it.



"This is a cookbook. A recipe for curried stag, a recipe for eel braised with brandy, a recipe for minced rhododendron. You gave me a cookbook."

I felt cold. What the hell was he talking about? Pax had a sense of humor, but not when he knew the situation was serious. He certainly wouldn't make jokes about anything that would hurt Octavian Bench.

"Uh -" I started, but he picked up the bubble wrap and put the book in it, wrapping it back up. "If you say a cookbook will help destroy Octavian, fine. I'll hide it. Get out."

I knew he wouldn't say any more. I was burning with curiosity, and I wanted to challenge him, and I cursed myself for not opening the book before. Was it a fake? Had all this been over a hoax? Even if it was true, Octavian Bench still wanted the book, and I still had to hide it. I knew Pax saw my uneasiness, which would shut him up even more. He wasn't going to speak again. I had to leave.

I retraced my steps out of the house and got back into the El Camino. I was shaken by my encounter with Pax and wanted to have a nice relaxing drive back to the Alex. I wanted to get all the horrible thoughts about ten years ago out of my mind.


"I saw Pax today," I said after taking my first sip of beer. Cyrus shook his head.

"You did not just say that."

"I saw him. I drove out to the desert and talked to him."

Cyrus put his hand over the rim of my glass. "I'm not sure if you're allowed to drink tonight. You might be crazy."

"I had to. Business."

"You do remember what happened, don't you? You do remember what he did?"

"Of course I do. I had no choice."

Cyrus shook his head again. "You're crazy. Don't let Zenobia know. She hates him more than you do."

"No shit. Don't worry, I have no intention of telling -" I shut up, because Zenobia had just entered the bar. I smiled at her and drank my beer. When she moved to the far side of the room, Cyrus leaned in close.

"Listen, Isosceles, I don't tell you your business. But this ... you went through a lot of shit with Pax. You, me, Zenobia, Genghis, Insane Larry, your reporter friend - he put us all through a lot of shit. One of the happiest days of my life was when he pulled up stakes and went out to the desert. Fuck him. And now you go to see him? Don't you know what contact with him will do? He'll come back into our lives."

"He won't. He hates us as much as we hate him. There were plenty of betrayals on both sides, Cyrus."

"His were the worst, Isosceles. His were the worst."

I slammed the glass down. Zenobia looked up from the table she was serving quizzically. Cyrus quickly took the glass away from me before I caused more damage. "Don't you think I know that, Cyrus?" I screwed up my face in anger and lowered my voice. "Don't you think I know that? Do you think I wanted to see him? I told you - I had no choice."

"We always have a choice."

"What's going on, guys?" I hadn't heard Zenobia approach. I sat up straight and tried to look casual. I knew I failed miserably.

"Nothing, Z. Just talking. About stuff."

"Uh-huh. Give."

I looked askance at Cyrus, who shrugged. "We were talking about Pax. I went to see him today."

Zenobia stiffened. I said, "Z, wait -" but she turned and walked away. "Shit," I said to Cyrus.

"What did you expect?" he said. "Reminiscence about the good old days?"

I told him I'd better leave. He shook my hand and told me that if I felt I needed to go out to see Pax, it was something he could deal with. I reiterated how important it was, and he said he hoped he could hear about it some day. I thought briefly about going back to work the next day, but I quickly put that out of my mind. I left the bar, but before I reached the curb, I heard my name. I turned and saw Zenobia. She was crying.

"Why, Isosceles? Why would you do that?" She stalked up to me, and I could tell she was trying not to hit me. I sat on the bench on the corner and asked her to sit with me. She debated with herself for a moment, then acquiesced.

"Listen, Z, I didn't want to go. You know I never wanted to see him again. You know that. He hurt me too. Not as bad as he did you, but still. I had to see him." I told her very quickly that I had something that others wanted, and I didn't want to put any of my friends in danger. The only one I could think of to hold this thing was Pax.

She smiled. "So he might get hurt because of it?"

I hadn't thought of that. It never occurred to me that someone might find out where I had taken the book. I knew I hadn't been followed, but it was possible that someone might discover that I had seen Pax. Apparently I was dealing with ruthless forces, so they wouldn't have any compunction about hurting Pax to get the book.

I said that it was possible, and that cheered her up. "Then it's not all bad."

"Z, you know -"

"He broke your heart. I understand. I know it hurts you, Isosceles. I know you thought it was true love. So did I. When he came to me, told me that he was leaving you, that he wasn't really gay, and that he loved me, I told him to go to hell. You know that, don't you, Isosceles? I would never do that to anyone ..."

"I know, Z."

"He was so convincing, though. He told me that you did horrible things, and I believed him, and I was so lonely after Mom died, and Dad is ... not good with these situations, and Salvatore had just died, and Hippolyta was being such a bitch right then, with her crowing about the triplets - it was an awful time for me, Isosceles, and he was such a charmer. I believed him about you - I know I shouldn't have, because I knew you better, but he ..."

"I know about him, Z. I fell for it too."

"Shit, I know. And he was such a kind man, and such a wonderful ... well, you know, you were with him. And I was so happy, and when I got pregnant, I thought we'd get married ... and then, when he convinced me to ... you know ..."

"He never wanted kids, Z. He didn't convince you, he forced you. Not with threats of violence, no, that wasn't his style - it is now, but not then. Don't say 'convince' - it gives him too much credit. He forced you into the abortion."

She wiped a tear away and sighed. "I don't even know anymore, Isosceles. Maybe I didn't really want the kid. Maybe I didn't even want to marry Pax. Maybe it was because of Salvatore's death. But I do know that he lied to me from the very beginning. When I found out about your relationship with him ... you know how sorry I am?"

"You've told me many times, Z."

"You may have placed him in danger?"

I laughed. "Rest assured."

She smiled like a tiger. "Good." She got up and went back to work. That night I lay in bed, thinking about the two years Pax and I were together. She was right - he was a charmer, he could be very kind, and he was a fabulous lover. When he left me, I thought I might commit suicide, that's how broken I was. When I heard he had hooked up with Zenobia and was telling everyone how awful I had been, I wanted to kill him and then commit suicide. How had I missed it? To this day, I didn't know if he was gay or straight, if he was lying to me or to Zenobia. I knew he was a liar, and that's all that mattered. When I found out what happened with he and Zenobia, I knew she would feel just like I did. I had talked to her, and we had come through it together. Pax fled the vengeance of almost everyone I knew.

I lay in bed, wondering if I had given him the book in the hopes that one of my adversaries would find it and kill him to retrieve it. Maybe I had. I thought of Pax dying and the Children of Rufus getting their hands on the book. "Not a bad trade," I said. I slept the sleep of the just.


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