She's gotten herself a dog. He's always hated dogs. Inherently cheerful, insipidly loyal, idiotically trusting, drooling, thoughtless creatures is what they are. The only pet worth having is a cat. But if he had to have a dog, he would have chosen something real. A Doberman or a German Shepherd or even a Lab. Something people wouldn't laugh and point at when he had to take it out to shit in the morning. She got a Saluki. Until she brought one home, wrapped in a little bundle like a baby in a papoose, he wasn't even sure what a Saluki was.
Now he knows. A Saluki is a skinny, high-strung, schizophrenic blonde who refuses to eat anything but gourmet food delivered on a golden platter and doesn't know how to do any tricks. A Saluki is Marita in dog form.
He resists the urge to kick Anastasia Elizabeth Penelope- God, what kind of crazy bitch gives her dog three fucking names?- when he crosses the threshold into their New York apartment. No use taking out aggression on a defenseless animal when it's the owner you really want to kick.
Instead of animal abuse, he resorts to age-old methods of tension release; slamming doors, kicking chairs, hurling random explicatives in every direction.
He sneers derisively upon entering their impeccably decorated, ridiculously neat bedroom. So much order. She's always imposing her twisted sense of order, trying to bring the appearance of something to their lives that doesn't really exist.
He tosses his jacket onto the floor and then his shoes. Pausing at her vanity table, he notices that all the artifacts sitting atop the aptly named piece of furniture are irritating to him. Her set of silver make-up brushes, French perfume in obscenely intricate and expensive bottles, the hairbrush she always seems to pick up and absently run through her tresses whenever he tries to talk to her about something real, photographs- not of him, but of Marita herself. She's even got a picture from her wedding. Yes, the dreaded husband has been snipped away, tossed in the garbage or perhaps burnt in a ritualistic bonfire, but she's kept and framed her half of the picture. Because she looked so damn beautiful the day she got married. Amazing, the force of this woman's ego. So strong is it that it overpowers the most traumatic of experiences, the most obscene nightmares.
Disgusted with her belongings and everything they represent, he swipes his arm across the tabletop, sending the contents flying just as she'd done to his desk a few hours earlier. He wants to tear down something she's built up, to make a mess of her superficially ordered existence, to rip into her the way she's ripped into him.
She thinks he has become a monster. "You're just like him," she'd whispered, imparting a secret, her deepest fear realized. She is trying to manipulate him, to bend him to her will by tossing false accusations at him. But he will not be manipulated. He will not be fooled. He is nothing like the old man, the dead bastard.
Throughout his tantrum, his wrath of destructive havoc on inanimate objects, the dog follows him. There is a thoroughly chewed hunk of rawhide, covered with drool and other unspeakable things, which Anastasia carries in her mouth, trailing Alex relentlessly through the apartment. She wants him to tug at the thing, to fight her for it, as if he might hold some secret desire in his heart to have the mucky piece of trash for his very own.
He does kick the dog eventually, out of a desire to be left alone more than anything else. The stupid thing takes it as a sign of affection and comes back for more. He can't help but laugh at the poor runt's predicament, it being so similar to his own.
Surrendering, spent, the apartment thoroughly trashed, he collapses into the easy chair next to the window and allows the pup to climb into his lap.
"Why is your mom such a bitch?" he asks the whimpering creature as she licks his neck.
There is no answer to that question, canine or otherwise, no explanation for her twisted desire to bring misery and strife to his existence.
He should have known. Things seemed to be going so well for them. Of course she'd have to destroy it. It's just her way.
Just like her to want something so desperately, to beg for it, fight for it, struggle and climb for it, and then, once attained, reject it. She wanted absolute power, wanted it for both of them, but maybe she never understood what sort of responsibilities that would entail. Maybe she's just too damned weak to be in this position.
There is no part of his consciousness able to consider the possibility that she may be right, maybe he is being unfair, needlessly cruel. And for her to accuse him of being out of control, an ego run rampant with no restraint...he's not the one who broke the fucking laptop. She is the one with no control, no sense, no goddamn idea what she's doing.
He begins to work through the possibilities, to assess the most effective method of dealing with this situation. Working with her is not an option any longer if she is incapable of embracing, or at least accepting, his vision. But dropping her like a hot potato is bound to be troublesome as well. Particularly if he wants to keep sleeping with her.
In the midst of his machinations, the telephone begins to ring. He doesn't bother checking the caller ID, for he is certain that it's her, calling to whine and wheedle some more, to drive another proverbial stake through his ribcage.
"I could send her to Paris," he muses aloud, speaking mostly to no one, but slightly- he must admit- to the dog. "She likes Paris. There's gotta be something for her to do there. Something to keep her outta my face. I could fly there on the weekends to fuck her."
The answering machine beeps and a voice, not Marita's, begins speaking. He listens because the words are very strange.
"Miss Covarrubias, this is Doctor Starling's nurse. I'm calling to confirm your appointment for next Friday. Please remember not to eat or drink anything Thursday night. You'll need to have an empty stomach for the tests."
When her father was still alive, he referred to Alex as "mysterious". Also as an arrogant, dangerous, fool-hardy, son-of-a-bitch. The latter accusations were entirely accurate, but the first...she always found the first conviction entirely too funny. There is nothing mysterious about Alex Krycek. At least, not to her. His motives are as visible as week-old ham through a Zip-Lock baggy.
But, strangely enough, it seems to be a widely held belief that Alex is a mystery wrapped in a conundrum, someone impossible to understand and unravel. Even her therapist holds this deluded view of him, despite everything Marita has told her. The truth is, if you're paying attention, he is terrifically transparent. All the answers are written on his face, carved in his body language; even his tone of voice is a give away.
When the eyes are blank and statementless he is lying. When the teeth are bared he is afraid. When he laughs sharply, nervously, he is angry. And then there is a twitch, a vague upturn of the lips and a tremble of the skin just below his eye, which is a signifier of something she despises in him. It is a look that only occurs when he is hurting someone deliberately, manipulating and twisting them from the inside out, and enjoying every minute of it.
Yes, she knows him, knows him inside out and upside down. She feels confident in saying so, although she hasn't always. But honestly, it wouldn't have taken a particularly keen insight into the nature of Alex Krycek to have predicted this outcome.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Isn't that the saying? After the Russian Revolution, when the workers took control of the mechanisms of government, succeeding in overthrowing the brutal regime they'd been fighting for years, one of the first things they did was establish a brutal regime of their very own. She used to believe it was human nature. Now she thinks it might just be the Russians.
She swallows another mouthful of six dollar a cup, dishwater coffee, taking small comfort in the fact that Alex hasn't always been a dictator. Perhaps there is a way to get him back, turn the evil switch back to slightly less evil. Watching half-assed raindrops trickle down the window in this anonymous Starbuck's she wishes there were a way to recapture the past, to retrace our steps and correct the mistakes.
She has been absorbed with thoughts of her history lately. She blames her therapist. And that wretched journal.
The book had provided her with some comfort though, on her ridiculous fool's errand for Alex. She'd spent a long, dreadful night, stuffed into a Ford Escort- courtesy of Alex's trampy former prostitute of a secretary- spying on Scully as she cried into her pillow at the Kansas City Motel Six, and the journal had helped in a small way. It helped her through the night to have something else to concentrate on, something to make her feel like less of a creepy peeping Tom with her high-powered binoculars. She'd written about her wedding.
She has made many mistakes in her life, errors in judgment so vast that she can scarcely stand to think of them. Most involve Alex. All involve what her therapist likes to call Marita's "pathological need for acceptance". The unholy marriage was not her most heinous misdeed, but when she looks back at the broad picture of her life in hindsight, it stands out as a pinnacle of sorts. A culmination of her most offensive tendencies.
It was also the beginning of the end- the start of a downward spiral into misery, amorality, and anger. For her and for Alex. When she finds herself asking how he could have become such a cold, cruel bastard, how such a rabble-rousing, rebellious, but inherently sweet young man could have turned into the beast she argued with this afternoon, she can find the beginnings of an answer in her marriage.
She was twenty-four when she married Oron, just a few months out of grad school, her Master's in International Relations complete. Her future had looked so bright, so limitless. If she could only have that promise back, to reach into the past and grab hold of it, make something real of it...
Father had introduced her to Oron when she'd returned from her final semester abroad. Paris had been fun, but she'd been consumed with thoughts of Alex. It had been almost three years since she'd seen him, three years since they'd found the secret stash in the attic of father's summer house, and learned the dark secrets that changed them so profoundly. She'd been avoiding him, afraid to speak again of the things they'd discovered. Another pattern. Breakthroughs always seem to be followed by withdrawal. But in Paris, she'd missed him.
She'd planned to call him when she returned to the states, to perhaps apologize for her hasty exit from his life. It certainly wouldn't have been the first time for such a conversation, but she was still frightened. Oron had been a convenient intervention, a welcome obstacle, an excuse.
He worked in Washington as an advisor to President Bush. At the time she'd been impressed that her father knew someone so close to the president. Now she knows the truth. The president was probably impressed to know someone so close to her father.
At thirty years her senior and at least three times her girth, Oron was not what Marita considered a physically attractive man. But his wealth and his power- especially his power- made her swoon. Still, there was no reason to consider him a potential marriage partner until her father mentioned the possibility.
"He could be good for you," he'd told her over afternoon tea a few weeks after she'd been introduced to Oron. "He could take you far. Much farther than Alex ever could."
"Why are you telling me this?" she'd asked, confused.
"Because, he has extended his hand. He would like you to become his wife."
And so it was arranged. Like a medireview princess, she was promised to a man of her father's choosing. Between their first meeting and the wedding, she spent approximately ten hours with her husband-to-be. She called the three dinners dates, but in her more skeptical and honest moments, she realizes that they more closely resembled business meetings. The pre-nuptial agreement was signed, the terms of the union discussed in oblique, subtle terms, but neither party had any question of the meaning.
She was to be, essentially, a trophy wife. Her primary functions would be to attend political gatherings, high-profile parties, and other assorted social functions with him, to pose for pictures, to entertain guests in their mansion, to be polite, beautiful, charming and clean. She was not to embarrass him or cause controversy. He would not expect her to "fulfill her more personal wifely duties" and promised not to make any "unwelcome advances".
In exchange for her services, she would be given a beautiful home, a car and driver, and, most importantly, a job at the United Nations. The most appealing aspect of the arrangement, however, was something she'd been striving for her entire life, something that motivated almost all of her choices. Her father wanted the marriage, and in committing to it, Marita hoped to gain his acceptance, to make him proud. She hoped he would finally let her in, let her become a part of things.
The ceremony was held at a small church on the Vineyard. She knew Alex would find out, but she'd irrationally hoped it wouldn't be until after the actual event. Sure enough, though, he was there, sitting in the back row, watching statementlessly. When the union was sealed with a kiss, he stood, applauding with the rest of them, a smile on his face.
Later at the reception, between clandestine tequila shots and glasses of champagne, she watched him out of the corner of her eye, leaning against the wall in his rented tux, a smirk on his face. She flashed back to the last party of hers that he'd crashed, to the day he'd taken the virginity she was still claiming with her pure white dress, and she realized that no matter how much things changed, some things were always the same. They'd been through so much since then, changed so much, but still, her knees buckled at the sight of him. Still, he was busting into her life at the most inopportune moments, forcing her to remember, to question. She hated him for it. All of it.
She can't remember what it was that caused her to flee the reception; if it was her newly acquired, aged step-mother questioning her about the possibility of little Orons, her father's pompous glee, the constant flash from the cameras, the alcohol she'd been partaking of since noon, the sight of George Bush, Senior stuffing himself with caviar, or just the knowledge that Alex was watching it all. At some point, though, something snapped and she had to leave. Just for a little while.
The party was at her father's summer house and she took refuge in her old bedroom. Alone, she gazed at her reflection, wondering if she would always be so beautiful, if she was wasting her prime.
Almost immediately, she felt Alex's presence. She turned to find him standing in the doorway, champagne glass in hand.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"I came to congratulate you on your holy union," he said, unholy smirk firmly in place.
She remembered Oron's words about this ceremony, how it was so important to him, how she would regret it for the rest of her life if she embarrassed him in any way, and ran to shut and lock the door.
"No you're not, Alex. You're here to tell me I'm making a mistake. That I shouldn't let my father run my life, that I'm being a pathetic whore. Well, you can save it, all right? I don't want to hear about it."
"Hmm, you seem to have it all figured out for yourself. Guess I don't have to say anything."
She started to respond, but found herself suddenly woozy. All the tequila she'd been swilling since before the ceremony was starting to take effect. She sat down on the bed, trying to regain her bearings.
"Feeling sick?" he asked her snidely. "There seems to be a lot of that going around."
"What, have you been talking to my mother-in-law too?"
"No, I've just been ready to puke since I saw you kiss that fat fuck."
She stood again quickly, struggling to take offense rather than laugh, and took hold of the back of a chair to steady herself.
"That fat fuck is my husband!" she exclaimed, immediately realizing that it wasn't much of a defense, realizing that she was drunk.
"Well congratu-fucking-lations!" he said, laughing at her. "You must be very proud."
"At least I'm getting somewhere in my life!"
"Yeah, too bad you've gotta screw your way there, isn't it?"
She slapped his face as hard as she could manage which, in retrospect, couldn't have been that hard. It took so much effort, though, that she had to sit again.
"You think you know everything about me, don't you, Alex. Well you're wrong. You know nothing."
"Oh really? Well why don't you explain it to me. Are you gonna sit there and tell me you're in love with that guy?"
She pulled her hair out of the tight bun, began brushing it absently and watching in the vanity mirror as he paced restlessly behind her
"We're going to be very happy," she told him with as much conviction as she could muster. "Very very happy."
"You need to get a grip. Even the fucking minister could tell what this marriage is about, Rita."
"So what if it is, Alex? Why is it even any of your business? Why do you care?"
Even then, she knew it was a ridiculous thing to ask. Of course he cared. After all the time they'd spent together, all the promises made and broken, all the sex and the fun and yes, the love, of course he cared. She remembered telling him a few years earlier that she'd always want to be with him, that even if she married someone else, she'd want him to be her lover. He'd asked her why she thought she might marry someone else. It all seemed so far away, yet somehow still relevant. She wondered if he remembered, if he'd try to hold her to it. Part of her hoped that he would.
"You need to go, Alex."
"Have you fucked him yet?"
"God, what do you care? Get out of my life!"
"He doesn't think you're still a virgin does he?"
She wanted to hurt him, to humiliate him, make him feel the way she did; like she might fall to a million pieces if someone so much as tapped her on the shoulder. Now she thinks he probably felt that already.
"What are you doing, Rita?" he asked her. "What about everything we found? All of our plans?"
"I've got my own plans now, Alex. It's time for us to move on."
"Is that really what you want?" He knelt down, looking her in the eye through the mirror, his voice steady and his statement suddenly and eerily calm. "Because if it is, you know, I can accept that. I can accept you not wanting me, Marita, if it's genuine. But I can't accept you running from me out of fear. Not again. I can't accept your rejection if it's because of your father or your husband or anyone else in this world but you. I can't accept you living your life for other people." His voice started to rise at this and she felt her stomach turn over in apprehension. "God, I thought you were past this by now! Surely after everything we know now about your father, surely you can't still care what he thinks. The man is a bastard, Marita. He doesn't care about you. He had your mother abducted for Christ's sake!"
"Shut up!" she yelled, finally interrupting him. It was so easy for him to say these things, so simple for someone who never cared what people thought of him, for someone who lived his life purely for himself with no regard for how his actions might impact other people.
Horrified, she realized she'd started to cry. Mascara ran down her cheeks in ugly tracks. How was she supposed to go back to the party now?
"You need to go, Alex," she managed to choke out. "Just, please, go."
She wondered why he didn't ever cry, why he never seemed afraid or lost or confused.
And then she remembered. She had seen him cry. Once. In this very house. She remembered sitting with him in the attic, three summers ago, when they found the evidence linking his uncle and the smoking man to the brutal murder of his parents.
His mother had been a journalist, and she'd spent the last years of her life investigating her brother's nefarious business dealings. She'd gotten too close to the truth.
They'd read the correspondence between Alex's uncle and the smoking man, detailing the plans for the assassination. Alex had read one of the smoker's letters aloud to her.
"The boy need to live," he'd written. "He will be taken alive and sent to live with you in the States. Although he is still young, we see great promise in him. He is gifted."
Alex had crumbled. He told her about the day he saw his mother and father shot to death by masked assailants who'd broken into their home, about those men pulling him away from his dead mother's body and tossing him into the back of a van, about the guilt he's felt ever since for being the only one to survive.
"Why didn't he just let me die?" he'd asked her, tears running down his face.
She'd been embarrassingly unable to comfort him. She was too frightened, too shocked. She'd never heard him say such a thing. He was always such a survivor, so intent on living at all costs. To think that anything had the power to make him wish he were dead was absolutely terrifying. It was the first time she'd seen and understood how damaged he truly was, the first time he'd let her see.
Eventually he rescinded his statement, told her that he was glad to be alive, if only so that he could avenge his parents death. Eventually he bounced back, like he always does, but the memory had haunted her on her wedding day, as she dismissed him from her life for the fourth or fifth time, and it haunts her still tonight.
The rain has started to fall more heavily, and she realizes that she has been sitting in this desolate coffee shop for nearly three hours, lost in her thoughts. Still, she feels no impetus to leave. Leaving means going home, facing the present. It is easier in some ways to dwell in the past.
She thinks that maybe it is time to finish the story.
She surveys the other patrons nervously, assuring herself that she isn't being watched. She knows she will have to destroy the papers she is about to fill with her words, to tear them from her journal and bring them to the restroom, shred them to pieces and flush them down the toilet. She cannot risk being seen.
Comfortingly, no one seems to notice that she is there at all. She is just another person in this place, a stockbroker or a high-priced call girl or a secretary, taking refuge from the rain. Sometimes she is happy to live in New York.
She takes the journal from her valise and begins to write about the end of her marriage.
The nights were the worst. During the day I had my work, my purpose, my sole reason for being. It was easy during the day to forget. But eventually, at night, I had to go home.
I could never quite decide if the nights he was away were more or less torturous than the nights he was home. When he was home there was the sex to endure. His promise of an unconsummated marriage had been broken almost immediately and he expected me to lay under him almost nightly. But once it was over, it was a relief and I could sleep. The nights he was away, there were no distractions. I was left alone with my thoughts.
I started drinking. No, I'd always been a drinker. I started drinking myself into stupors. Some nights I would eat. Not just a little, but several meals worth. Sandwiches and ice cream and chips. A whole chicken. And then, disgusted, I would force my stomach to empty itself. Then, disgusted with that, I would drink more. I suppose the sex was better.
Alex was in his last year of grad school at NYU, living in a studio apartment in Alphabet City, refusing financial assistance from his uncle. He was writing his thesis on fantasy-prone individuals and working nights as a bartender to pay his rent.
I know this because it was one of those nights when Oron was away, a rainy, lonely, New York night, similar to this one, when I decided to go to him.
I walked almost the entire way, in a hellish thunderstorm, from my penthouse on West 51st to his shit hole on Avenue A. Eventually, though, I got tired and had to take a cab.
I arrived on his doorstep drunk, soaked, scrawny, and pathetically lost in my ruined rabbit fur coat. He looked me up and down, taking in my ridiculous appearance, and I felt a flush of shame rise to my cheeks.
It had been almost a year since the wedding, and we hadn't spoken since. He hadn't, to my knowledge, tried to contact me, and I'd avoided any situation which might have caused us to come into contact. My visit was random, unannounced, and embarrassing. It was three o'clock in the morning.
He'd obviously been working on his paper. The lights were on and his desk was covered with notes and books. He was wearing gray sweatpants and nothing else, his hair slightly mussed. His chest was smooth and hard and I found myself thinking of Oron's doughy, hairy flesh pressed against mine. I regretted coming, but I knew I couldn't go back.
Alex was, sadly enough, my only hope. He was the only person who might have been able to help me.
"What do you want?" he asked me, cold as hell. I don't think I've ever felt so stupid. What did I want?
"I need to talk to you."
He stared me down, full of disgust and disbelief.
"It's the middle of the night. I'm busy."
Somehow I managed to find my dignity, to get control of myself and the situation, and I pushed my way inside the apartment.
It was a shit hole, but it filled me with jealousy. It was his shit hole. He lived here, by himself, and he did what he wanted, just like always. He had no one to answer to. He took care of himself. And he was finally using his potential. Soon he'd graduate and he'd get a good job and have a good life, away from our twisted little family. If only I'd left him alone, he would have had that life.
I sat down on his ancient sofa, feigning nonchalance, pretending it was perfectly normal for me to be there in my stupid coat.
He was having none of it.
"What the hell are you doing here, Marita? Why aren't you home being happy with your husband?"
I shrugged, regretting this more and more by the second. How could I do this? How could I come here and tell him that he'd been right? That I'd been a fool.
"I um, I came to see what you've been up to since I've been...away," I lied, spotting a bit of lace peaking through the cushions of the couch. A bra. Perhaps it was a sign of my dementia that I thought I had the right to be angry he'd been sleeping with other women.
"Couldn't you have asked me that over the phone?" he asked, hands on his hips.
"Why are you here? Honestly."
I hadn't cried since my wedding day, but I felt perilously close sitting there looking at him. Damn him, he always makes me cry.
"You look like hell," he told me, randomly. That's Alex for you. It's something I've grown to respect, strangely enough. He'll always tell me the truth, even when I don't want to hear it, even when it hurts like a bitch. Because he just doesn't care.
"Yeah, yeah I do." I said stupidly. And then I did start to cry. Sob, actually. A pitiful display. I couldn't even speak for at least ten minutes. I'd been holding it all inside for so long, it actually felt good to let it out like that, to let him see.
When I regained some control and coherence he was sitting next to me with a box of tissues.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked.
I had no idea how to answer that. I still don't.
"He's...God, Alex, if I have to screw that fat bastard one more time I'm going to kill myself. I've already decided how I'm going to do it. I've got the pills. I'm going to do it at Father's house, when he's not home. I'll have to wait until he goes on a trip so that there won't be any chance of him finding be before I'm dead."
I don't know where those ideas were coming from. I'd not had any intention of killing myself before I went to see him. I was merely trying to frighten him, to show him how serious the situation truly was, but the more I spoke of it, the more it seemed like a good way out.
It worked, in any case. He was terrified.
"Wait, wait, wait, slow down. What are you talking about, Marita?"
"It's so awful, Alex. You have no idea."
"Well, why don't you tell me about it?"
He handed me another tissue, and I wiped my face with trembling fingers, wondering how it was possible to tell someone about the slow erosion of your soul.
"Does he force you to have sex with him?" Alex asked, with his usual delicacy.
"He treats me like a possession, like his car or his dog."
"Has he been raping you, Marita?"
The word caused me to wince. I hadn't been raped. Of course, I hadn't. I was his wife, after all. There had been times when I'd told him no, at least in the beginning, before I realized that it was easier to let it happen, and yes there had been times when he hadn't listened. But rape didn't seem to be an appropriate term.
"I...I wouldn't say that, exactly."
"Wouldn't say that exactly? Marita, why don't you just leave him if he's making you miserable. You don't have to kill yourself- just get a fucking divorce!"
So simple for him, so easy. Why don't you just do this and what's so hard about that...
It was particularly infuriating in this case because he was absolutely right. A divorce was the most reasonable solution. But I was weak. I was afraid.
"I don't want him to take it away from me," I told him in a small voice. He stared at me, incredulous.
"Are you talking about your stupid job?"
"It's not stupid! It's very important to me."
"So what good is it gonna do you if you're dead?"
There was no arguing the logic in that.
"Forget about all that, all right? The point is that if I leave him, he'll destroy me. He'll take everything from me."
"You'd still be alive."
Alex of all people should have been able to understand that there are some lives not worth living. But on that night, he seemed to be in one of his survival uber alles moods and there was no use arguing the point with him.
We were at an impasse, and he was surely wondering again what I was doing there, what I wanted from him. I was wondering the same thing.
I watched him as the storm raged outside. His posture was tight, tense, his gaze distant and pensive. I wondered what he was thinking, but now I know. He was weighing his options, asking himself if it would be worth it.
A flash of lightening lit his face, creating the illusion of fire in his eyes, fire like the bowels of hell, and it was one of those moments- one of those pivotal, fork-in-the-road, no going back moments that seem to only happen in the movies until you look back at your life and realize that they have happened to you, you just didn't recognize them at the time.
"What if you could take away the power that he has?" he finally asked.
I scoffed at his naivity. How silly he seemed in that moment, how sheltered.
"Alex, there's no way to take away his power. You have no idea what we're dealing with here. The only way to destroy him would be to kill him."
My words were met with a thick and heavy silence.
I'd thought of killing him before, in passing, but always in the vaguely wishful way one thinks of, say, winning the lottery or sleeping with Pierce Brosnon. But in that moment, on that night, with Alex, it seemed suddenly, horrifyingly possible.
"Alex, that's...that's not what you're thinking. Is it?"
"It makes more sense than killing yourself."
He was very serious and that frightened me, but more frightening still was the giddy tremor of excitement that ran through my body at the thought, the sense that this could be real.
"I'm not a murderer," I insisted, for my own benefit as well as his.
"You wouldn't have to do it yourself. I know someone who could help you. He'd arrange the whole thing. You wouldn't have to be involved at all."
I shuddered to think of what kinds of characters he'd gotten himself involved with since he'd moved to New York.
"Who do you know?"
"You know him, too. In fact, he and your father have been in sort of a bidding war over me for the past few months. They both want me to come work for them when I graduate."
"Oh, Alex, you're talking about one of them?"
I was shocked, to say the least. Since we'd read those documents I'd been under the impression that Alex wanted to be as far removed from my father and his cohorts as humanely possible. He'd essentially disowned his uncle, and his connection to the group was, as far as I knew, severed.
"He said he'd do anything to get me on his team. And he'd make sure your father never knew. He hates your father."
Realization dawned and a cloud of black smoke seemed to fill the air above his head. I remembered a conversation we'd overheard so many years earlier at Father's 4th of July picnic; the smoking man speaking to one of his people about the potential he saw in Alex. I remembered the letter Alex had clutched in his angry fist.
"Alex, not him. You're not talking about him, are you?"
"He'd do it if I asked."
"But in exchange for what? He doesn't do charity work."
"I just told you. In exchange for my services."
"Alex, you don't want to work for him."
It was a weak protest. Honestly, the thought of Alex selling his soul to the devil, to the man he hated most in the world, was, at that moment, the least of my concerns. In retrospect, it makes me physically ill, but at the time...at the time I thought that he was very brave and that I was very lucky.
"I'll call him," he said, and then left the room to do just that. He closed the bedroom door behind him so that I wouldn't hear, so that my hands would remain relatively clean.
I spent the night with Alex, but he didn't touch me. It would be a long time before I could be touched by any man.
The next morning I left, blissfully unaware of the details of the arrangement. All I'd been told was that there was an arrangement, and that was all I wanted to know.
Two weeks later, Oron was shot in the head. We were leaving the Kennedy Center together when the assailant, a homeless man who was later executed for his crime, fired from point blank range, killing him instantly.
I got my picture in the paper.
Trashing the apartment seemed like a good idea five hours ago. Five hours of uninterrupted waiting can wreak havoc on your perspective.
He hates to wait, hates it more than anything in the world. She likes to call him impatient, but he isn't impatient. He's just got better things to do than sit around waiting for things to happen. He makes things happen.
Waiting for Marita has diluted his anger toward her, turned the white-hot fire in his chest into a mild case of indigestion. And as the fury that inspired the destruction has passed, he has come to feel somewhat foolish.
Sitting amidst the ruins of his lovely home, he is beginning to feel like an infant, flopping about in his own excrement. He has considered cleaning, but that would open a whole new array of humiliating possibilities. Marita finding him on his knees, dusting the dirt from his boots off of her picture frames, would be even more disturbing than this ridiculous vigil.
He tries to recapture his anger by reviewing the events that lead him to this point, by reminding himself just how wrong she is. About everything.
First, and most important, she abandoned her post. Whatever problems she might have with him, deciding to up and go home in the middle of an assignment was simply unforgivable.
Second, barging into his office unannounced. He could have been meeting with an important contact. He could have been in the midst of vital negotiations and she could have ruined everything with her thoughtless temper tantrum.
Fortunately for her, he happened to have been getting a massage. Still, that European bitch of a masseur charges three hundred bucks an hour. He'll have to get Marita to send the check this time.
Third, speaking of cash, she'd broken his computer. That was another two grand down the toilet.
Fourth, her apparent mistrust in his leadership and decision-making abilities. A stupid assignment, she'd called it. A waste of time. She'd even gone so far as to accuse him of sending her so that she'd be out of his way for a few weeks.
He'd given her the assignment because she was the only one he trusted to do it correctly. If she can't see that, can't see the importance of the work she is *supposed* to be doing, then maybe she isn't as bright as he'd once believed.
No matter what she calls him, who she compares him to, he will not apologize for sending her after Scully.
Yes, he is in the right this time. Absolutely, one hundred percent.
But this time, for some reason, he has stopped caring. Recounting the afternoon's events ad nauseum has not rekindled the fire. All he can think, all he can feel, is that stupid telephone message.
Several possibilities have floated through his mind since he first heard the words. Brain cancer? AIDS? Pregnancy?
Whatever it is, she has not seen fit to discuss it with him and that, more than any work-related calamity, saddens and, irritatingly, concerns him. Worry has gnawed its way past anger, past indignation, past impatience. And it grows with every hour.
He wonders if he has become soft again.
So, it's raining. So, it's almost three o'clock in the morning. So, it's New York City and Marita wears her fifteen thousand dollar watch everywhere she goes. So, they still have enemies. So, she might have lupus or Lyme's disease or that thing that makes your skin fall off. So what?
He shouldn't even be awake right now.
The dog whimpers at his feet and lifts her head. Seconds later he hears the locks turning in the front door. He fingers the pistol on his night stand, wondering idly if the keys belong to Marita or a thuggish nighttime visitor.
Ana gallops off to the living room and is greeted by a series of sweeties and babies and he lets go of the gun.
She walks into the bedroom and, without so much as a glance in his direction, begins gathering the remains of her vanity. She is wet, rumpled, bereft of makeup. Watching her clean his mess, on her knees like their decrepit old housekeeper, makes him a little queasy.
He has prepared several speeches since their argument, but he doesn't know what to say. She doesn't even seem to realize that he's there.
She takes the wedding picture in her hands, holds onto it for a moment and then tosses it in the trash.
He clears his throat.
"Where have you been?" He is surprised at the gravely quality of his own voice.
"Uptown," she answers, continuing to rifle through the broken glass and puddles of moisturizer.
"Must have been a big cup."
She stands, brushing herself off, and finally looks at him.
"I can't do this now," she sighs wearily and then, inexplicably, starts taking off her clothes.
"We have a lot to talk about," he reminds her.
"It's three in the morning. I'm going to sleep."
She tosses her suit and undergarments into the hamper; a token gesture considering the room's disarray. Then she turns off the light and crawls into bed.
"You're just going to go to sleep?"
"Yes, that's what I said."
"Alex, I don't want to talk right now. If you'd like we can schedule a dinner appointment for tomorrow."
"A dinner appointment?"
He has never, in all the years they've known each other, scheduled an appointment with her.
"Yes, if you want to discuss business I think that's appropriate. But right now I'm off the clock and I'm tired."
He is not interested in business. He wants to know if she is dying. He wants to know if she really thinks he has become the devil.
"I've arranged for us to fly to Los Angeles next week, to meet with our new contacts," he lies.
"When? What day are we leaving?"
"I...I can't Friday. I've got another obligation."
He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. He doesn't enjoy having to manipulate the truth out of her. Listening to the rain for a moment, he wishes there were another way.
"What obligation is that?"
"It's personal," she tells him flatly, and he hears her rolling onto her side in the darkness, turning away from him. The dog's tail thumps incessantly on the blankets beside her.
"Well, if we can't discuss business in our home, perhaps we can talk about personal matters."
"It's got nothing to do with you, Alex. It doesn't concern you."
"So does that mean you're not going to tell me?"
"It wouldn't interest you."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Dammit, Alex! I don't need you interrogating me on top of everything else. I don't want to talk right now. How many times do I have to say that?"
Well, there it is. She simply does not want to tell him, even though he's given her the widest opening in the world. And now he is angry again. Very very angry.
"So when do you want to talk, Marita? When are you gonna tell me? Ever? Or am I gonna have to wait until you're dead to find out what the hell is going on with you?"
Light fills the room again and she is sitting up, glaring, wide awake.
"What are you talking about, when I'm dead? What does that mean?"
"You got a call while you were having coffee. From your doctor's office."
"What did they say?" The terror in her voice frightens him.
"What do you think they said?"
"Alex, please! This is serious. What did they say?"
She is trembling. The knot in his stomach tightens.
"Nothing. She was just calling to confirm your appointment. For the tests."
"I was hoping you'd tell me about it of your own accord."
She looks down, her statement uncharacteristically shameful. He expected an argument, an aggressive response. He wants her to tell him that it's none of his business, that it's just a routine physical exam and what the hell is he doing listening to her messages anyway. She doesn't say anything.
"Do you want to tell me about it now?"
She shakes her head, no. No she doesn't want to tell him. Still.
"What kind of tests are they?"
"Why can't you just tell me? Rita, please tell me."
Her eyes are a dwindling fire when she looks at him. There is anger there, but it is dying, drowning in something darker.
"I have a...there are tumors."
"Tumors?" he asks, struggling to ignore the suffocating panic closing in on him. "What kind of tumors? Where?"
Slowly she moves her hand down her belly, resting on the soft patch of skin just above her crotch.
He is dizzy, sick in his stomach nearly to the point of vomiting. The image of her face, her discolored, sickly face, bloodshot eyes, scabrous lips, dirty, sticky hair hanging in clumps, floats unbidden into his consciousness. He tries to push it away, to banish thoughts of the darkness of that time, but tonight as she speaks they weigh heavily upon his soul.
"Is it...are they because of the tests? Because of what Spender did to you?"
"It doesn't matter," she tells him, but he knows it does. It matters.
He never wished that particular horror on her. He'd given her father the vaccine with reluctant trust that the old man had his daughter's best interests at heart. Alex expected him to take care of Marita, and he had, but in the end he couldn't take care of himself.
During his employment, his internship with Marita's father, Alex asked about her whereabouts, her condition. He never got a straight answer, and when the crotchety bastard finally got himself killed Alex had no clue where she was. He should have known that Spender would get his hands on her. He should have been able to stop it. But he'd been too busy, too distracted, too angry, too confident that she was fine just like always, that she didn't need his help.
He'd still been nursing the wound of her betrayal when he found her at Fort Marlene, but seeing her in that condition wiped the slate clean. She'd paid for her disloyalty, her ill-conceived plan to break away from him and from her father and to do something "good". She'd paid in a way he never expected, never wanted. They were even- and then some.
He left her with Spender Junior, trusting the boy with the relatively simple task of removing her from the facility. To be certain there would be no errors, Alex killed a few guards, opened a few doors. They did get out, but sometimes he thinks that he didn't do nearly enough. Tonight he thinks that it was too little, too late.
"Are they malignant?" he asks through the sudden dryness in his mouth.
"They don't know. The tests will tell us a little, but either way I'm going to have to have surgery to get rid of them."
Is it cancer? Are you dying? He thinks, but does not ask. God, please don't die. Not now.
"I'm going to the attorney's tomorrow morning," she says, all efficiency and crisp, cool business. Even naked, frightened, talking about her potentially debilitating illness, she's more prideful and intimidating than he can manage on his best days.
"Why are you going to the attorney's?"
"I need to make sure that everything's in order."
"Everything what? What are you talking about?"
He stares at her for a moment, hoping her statement will reveal some sort of deception.
"Your will? Are you talking about your will?"
"Yes, of course."
"Why are you thinking about that?"
"Because, Alex, I might...this could be very serious. I need to be prepared."
She needs to be prepared. He wonders if she ever considered, even for a moment, the fact that he might need a bit of preparation himself. It makes sense, he has to admit. Of course she wouldn't trust him enough to want to share this with him. But it still angers him. More infuriating though, is her apparent resignation.
"So that's how you're dealing with this? You're getting ready to die?"
"I suppose you could say that."
"That's insane, Rita. You can't think that way."
She shoots him a look of disdain, rolling her eyes in that way she has, and he can practically hear her saying "This is exactly why I didn't want to discuss this with you." But she doesn't say that. She remains eerily silent.
"Rita, listen to me. I know you don't care what I think and I know that this is...that it's about you and that you're going to feel however you're going to feel, but don't you understand? As soon as you accept it, as soon as you start believing that you're going to die, then you're as good as dead already."
"Alex, stop. I don't need to hear your daily affirmations right now, all right?"
"Yeah, you do need to hear it. You need to hear it if you're worrying about your fucking will! This is just a challenge, Rita. You need to face it head on and fight."
"Fight? You want me to fight? How the hell am I supposed to fight this, Alex? It's a disease. You can't fight a disease. If I'm going to die there's nothing I can do about it."
"You're not gonna die!"
He is surprised to find himself shouting, rising up out of his chair and lecturing her with a passionate vehemence. He is startled by his own rage, by how great it is even in comparison to the furniture-breaking rage that overtook him earlier.
"You need to stop thinking you're going to. That's how you fight it, by not believing that it can beat you. You fight it by concentrating on living, on what you still have left to do in this world, what you want and what you need. Not by sitting there crying about it and planning out who's gonna get your jewelry and your fucking Visa Gold card when you bite the dust!"
She thinks he's acting crazy. He can tell by the way she's looking at him. Maybe he is, but he's telling her the truth. Near-death experiences are all too familiar to him and he knows how to win a battle with the Grim Reaper.
There have been times he surely would have lost his life if he'd let himself believe for one instant that death was a possibility. Times when the only thing that saved him was faith in a future that needed him.
And her. He has thought of her almost every time he's felt the spiny fingers of death tapping on his shoulder. The need to be inside her, to feel her body pressing against him at least one more time, has gotten him through some of the darkest nights of his life. Lying on a forest floor a million miles away from her, watching insects devour his dismembered limb, he thought of home, of tomorrow, of living another day so that he could touch her once more. Not of death. Never of death.
"You can't inherit someone's credit line."
"You said that I..."
"I know what I said! Look, that's not...you're missing my point."
She is laughing.
They don't laugh very much anymore. Not like this. He has grown accustomed to her derisive sneers and her bittersweet smirks. This is true laughter, like he hasn't heard from her in years, and in spite of everything she is beautiful.
"Are you laughing at me?" he asks and she nods emphatically. Normally this would irritate him. As she is so fond of reminding him, he has a tendency to take himself a bit too seriously. But at this moment he is glad for the levity, strangely elated to see her smile.
As quickly as the vision is given, though, it is taken away. A loud burst of thunder rattles the building's foundations and they are thrust back into darkness.
He hears Marita gasp, Ana whimper, and he looks out the window. The power seems to be out all the way down the block. The constant carnival of lights that is New York City gives him frequent headaches, but seeing the grotesque colorful landscape suddenly blackened is a little creepy. A little too apocalyptic for his taste.
"I'll get some candles," he says, but he feels her hand groping blindly, brushing his thigh. He catches her index finger with his own and she tugs lightly.
"Don't bother with that, Alex. Just come here."
He sits on the bed beside her and is surprised, but not displeased, when she straddles him, presses her naked body against him. He realizes that he has been wanting this since their quarrel this afternoon.
Her hands trace a pattern on his face, seeking out his mouth in the pitch black.
"I think maybe you're right, Alex. I think..."
She presses her mouth against his, softly for a moment and then hard, needy. Soon she is plundering his mouth, pushing, sucking, biting, swallowing his life's breath. He usually prefers to dominate their sexual encounters, but tonight he lets her set the pace, take what she needs from him.
"You're not gonna die, Marita," he whispers against her lips. "You've still got a lot to do. We've got a lot to do."
She kisses him more and he begins to taste the salty sweet flavor of her tears. With a catch in his throat, confusing and unwelcome, he realizes that this may be the most destructive enemy they have ever faced.
He has only seen her lying in a hospital bed once before. It is not a happy memory.
He has never found purpose in pouring relentlessly over the details of his life. He prefers the future to the past and the present, and that is where his thoughts usually take him. He doesn't like yesterday, but today he can't help remembering.
He was only sixteen last time. It was the end of the summer and Marita was planning on going to Yale in September, leaving him to finish out his pathetic high school tenure. They'd spent the majority of June and July in his bedroom. And on the beach. And in his car. And on her roof. Anywhere they could grab a few hours of privacy to screw like weasels.
It was around the middle of August that she started avoiding him, ignoring his phone calls, standing him up on nights when they'd planned to meet. Eventually, as they are wont to do, his hormones staged a coup to overthrow his pride, and he went to her house.
The place had been empty except for the afternoon housekeeper who, apparently, hadn't been informed of his undesirable status with the family. She told him that Marita was in the hospital.
The registering nurse, however, had been given strict orders to keep Alex away. She refused to tell him where Marita was or what was wrong with her. But the old man was there, as he always seemed to be, happy to dispense his knowledge and revel in the misery it would bring.
"Do you know why she's here, boy?" Spender had asked him, leading him away from the nurse's station, into an elevator.
"The maid said she had a horseback riding accident," Alex said, feeling stupid but not knowing why.
"Yes. Yes she did." Spender nodded with an statement Alex was just becoming aquatinted with. The one that said, quite simply, "I know something you don't know. Ha ha ha."
"You know, you're not allowed to smoke in hospitals anymore. Or in elevators." Alex pointed out, hoping to retain something of his smart-assed image and praying that he wouldn't end up groveling on the floor for a scrap of information. His comments were met with a bemused smirk and a flick of ashes onto his new Reebok sneakers.
"You're a smart boy, Alex. Surely you realize that this is more complicated than a simple riding accident."
He hadn't realized anything of the sort and still had no idea what the bastard was talking about, but he found himself nodding, trying to bluff.
"Look, if you could just tell me what room she's in, that would be great."
"You really don't know, do you? You don't know what's happened."
"You didn't know that she was carrying your child?"
The elevator stopped at just that moment, proving that sometimes life is just as ridiculously dramatic as any B movie, and Alex stood, immobilized, as the doors opened onto the sterile hallway.
"Room 417," the Smoker told him, but Alex's legs refused to take him there.
"How...how do you know that?" Alex demanded, wondering how it could be that anyone knew more about his life than he did.
"I'm in a position to know many things."
He has often wished that he'd asked if she'd done it on purpose, if it hadn't been an accident after all. He's never dared to ask her.
In fact, they've never spoken about the miscarriage or the fact that she was pregnant at all.
When he finally managed to walk, trance-like, to her room, he found her asleep. He sat at her bedside for a few moments, watching her, cursing and hating her for not telling him about her pregnancy, for presumably thinking that he was too immature, too irresponsible to handle the information.
He checked her chart, hoping that the old man had lied, but the facts were all there in black and white, the word miscarriage seeming to mock him.
He left before she woke, perhaps proving that he was in fact, too young to be in the situation. He couldn't bear to face her, to ask her why and how and run the risk of seeing her cry.
Last time she was in the hospital, she didn't even realize he'd come to see her. This time she is awake and they are talking. She's telling him about her scar.
He is trying not to laugh at her, but it's hard. Talking to a one-armed man about a patch of discoloration on your abdomen seems, to him, a pretty laughable thing. The tumors are gone. The surgery was a success. Her prognosis is very good. She is not dead. These are the things she should be thinking about.
"But it's going to be so big, Alex," she whines, picking at her bandage. He knows that she is proud of her appearance, her perfection even in light of everything she's suffered. Her recovery from the time at Fort Marlene has really been quite astounding. But even the most stunning work of art must have an imperfection to be truly beautiful.
If he said that to her it would probably cheer her up, but he doesn't.
"Can I ask you something, Marita?"
"Do you really think I'm like him?"
She stops fussing over herself and looks at him sadly.
"No, Alex. I don't. I...I'm sorry I said that."
She reaches her hand toward him tentatively and he takes it, runs his thumb across her knuckles.
"I'm sorry for a lot of things," she whispers.
"Don't be. Regret is for the weak."
She laughs a little and shakes her head. "Now you really do sound like him."
"It's true, though. Besides, what do you have to be sorry for? Not nearly as much as some people."
Not nearly as much as I do, he thinks.
"Sometimes I think that I'm a horrible person, Alex. When I was going under, before the surgery, I started seeing these flashes, pictures of people I've hurt and disappointed. I...I saw a lot of pictures of you."
He doesn't know how to respond to her. This is more of herself than she's exposed to him in a decade.
"You...you're not a horrible person, Rita."
He can hardly stand to look at her without her carefully composed wall of indifference and dishonesty. It shames him to think that her shell-shocked state has been a comfort to him.
"I've done horrible things," she says, and he can't argue that, but if that makes someone a horrible person, what can he say about himself?
"But you're not a horrible person. You...You've never intentionally harmed anyone."
He's not sure if there is even a grain of truth in that statement, but he hopes it sounds reassuring. He uses similar platitudes to assure himself.
"Do you trust me yet, Alex?"
He has to think about that for awhile. There is no easy answer. For the first time in a very long time he wants to tell her yes. He wants to be the sixteen-year-old boy who believed everything she told him and worshipped her unconditionally, but they are so far beyond that place that it's almost impossible to even remember how it felt.
"I...I trust what's in your heart," he mutters into his shoulder, the word heart barely audible. "I just wish you'd listen to it more often."
She brings his hand up to her lips and brushes his fingers with her kisses. He thinks he might be blushing.
"I'm glad I didn't die," she says. "We're not done yet." He does not want to speak for fear of saying more embarrassing, ridiculous things. But he is glad, too. Glad that this is not another ending. That for once, it feels like a beginning.