Peteena let the newest Weekly World News fall atop the heap of tabloids on the floor and breathed a short sigh of relief. Another week had gone by, and her secret was still safe.
She closed her eyes and buried her face in her manicured paws. Why, why couldn't she stop? The pleasure was short-lived, and the risk was terrible. For all her precautions, one day she would be caught by a passerby, some lost tourist with a video camera--and then...
She could never have reached her pinnacle of stardom without making enemies. She had never been afraid to make them. Producers of films that the public had shunned at the theatres after Peteena had shunned their premieres. Politicians whose careers had plummeted after a single scornful quip from Peteena's lips. Evangelists whose tawdry merchandise of families and tithes and saviours could never compete with the ineffable glamour of Peteena.
Every pecadillo, every scandal was an occasion for them to attack Peteena and "Peteenism". But all their public scorn could not hide their sick envy. They knew, and their followers knew, that their boasted virtue was only a poor disguise for cowardice. What Peteena did without fear or shame, they would do too if they only dared.
But this--oh, how they would gloat over this! To millions of tabloid readers, there would be nothing glamourous, nothing seductive in this. It would only seem low and dirty to those who couldn't, who wouldn't understand.
And if the reaction of her enemies would be bad, the response of her followers would be insupportable. Her staff, or most of them, would remain with her, would remain efficient and seemingly respectful. But the fawning deference would be gone, and low japes and nicknames would circulate behind her back. And her fans! They would send countless letters and e-mails professing their support. But every line would betray their secret pleasure in the downfall of their golden idol, her descent to their own vulgar level.
How could she risk losing it all? Never again, she swore--but even as she did, she knew she would yield to temptation again, as she had done so many times before.
She set her jaw purposefully. Time to go about her business, to plunge into the whirl of celebrity, to try to forget the reeking alleys where temptation lurked, scant blocks from her luxury-filled penthouse. She slipped into a jacket of butter-soft leather trimmed with exotic furs and adjusted her broad-brimmed chapeau to the angle that had ravished the hearts of cardinals and ambassadors. Out the door she went, into a world where powerful statesmen and struggling artists, established stars and fierce young musicians, financiers and poets and directors, all hungered for a moment's contact with the magic of Peteena.
Long after midnight she returned. She had spent the day moving from restaurant to theatre to soiree, granting the grace of her attention to the deserving and freezing the presumptuous with her indifference. She had hoped to plunge exhausted into bed, but fatigue only sapped her strength to resist temptation. Cursing her weakness, she slipped the jacket from her shoulders and stepped into her boudoir.
Five minutes later she crept out the back door of her building. No vision of superstardom now, disguised against prying eyes, she had wrapped herself in shapeless rags and moved with a graceless hobble, creeping like a demented bag lady through the dark deserted alleyways.
Six streets away, she stopped. A caged bulb over a graffiti-covered door dimly illuminated oozing bricks and overflowing dustbins. The smells of urine and vomit and stale cigarette smoke hung in the dank air. The rotting carcase of a pigeon sprawled on the cracked and filthy pavement.
Peteena looked furtively about. Not a soul was in sight, not a voice echoed in the deserted alley. She cast off the tattered black coat and flung herself onto the bird's decaying corpse, rolling with all four paws in the air, forgetful of fame and power and glamour, revelling in the stench that rose in rich thick waves around her.
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