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She lifted her face from the swirl of water in the sink and stared into the mirror.
Her eyes stared back, dark and frightened, from a tangle of bleached-blonde hair.
What the hell had happened? Had she passed out? Where was she? Who with? As she
struggled to remember, she felt her stomach tighten and convulse again. She lowered
her head and turned the tap back on, but the feeling passed. The worst was over.
Straightening up, she studied her reflection
critically. She wore no make-up and was naked
under the terry-cloth robe that hung loose
and open from her shoulders. "Gravity," she
had said to somebody not long ago, "catches
up with all of us in the end." Who was
it she had said that to? A reporter? A friend?
Male, female? She remembered that whoever
it was had laughed because she herself had
laughed as she spoke; but she had not been
joking. She closed the robe and tied it tighter
than was necessary.
The action seemed to rekindle her memory
of where she was and what she was there for.
The recollection made her catch her breath.
No wonder she had drunk too much or done
too many pills, or whatever combination of
the two it was that had caused her to pass
Why had she let them talk her into it? The
studio was going to kill her for leaving
town without permission; the picture was
already weeks behind schedule because of
that viral thing that had kept her temperature
going up and down like a yo-yo. No wonder
she felt so terrible. She was doped up to
the eyeballs with medication which had obviously
disagreed with some of the regular stuff
that she was taking. She didn't usually make
mistakes like that. It was a bad sign; she
would have to be more careful.
A glass of champagne, nearly full, stood
on a shelf by the shower. Bubbles still ran
to the surface, so it couldn't have been
there long. Maybe she'd brought it in with
her, though the thought of drinking it now
made her stomach heave again. She wondered
if there was something in the cabinet that
would help. Opening the mirrored door, she
sorted through bottles and phials and boxes
until she found something familiar. She swallowed
three capsules, cupping water in her hands
to wash them down.
It didn't take long for the effect to kick
in - two minutes, tops, during which time
she did nothing, neither moved nor thought
nor heard nor saw, barely even breathed.
It was a technique she had long since perfected,
an ability to shut down all systems and turn
wholly inward until the thing that she was
waiting for happened, that tiny click somewhere
deep in her psyche that told her she could
stop hiding now, that it was safe to come
out and connect with the world. It wouldn't
last long, this feeling: not long enough
to get her through what was ahead, but it
should get her through the start of it, the
preparations. Later was later, and she would
deal with that when she got there. She had
her secret ways, her own methods, painfully
learned over long years of torment and triumph.
She gave a little laugh, girlish and teasing,
child-like for her years. They were all out
there waiting, the boys and girls with their
soaps and scents, their hair-dryers and sequins,
and she was ready for them now. They could
go to work on their creation - her.
In a single movement she shrugged off the
robe and it fell around her ankles. She stepped
out of it and reached for the sparkling glass
of champagne. It tasted good, just what she
needed. She unlocked the door and stepped
onto the soft carpet of the adjoining room,
naked and sheathed in glory, the goddess
returning to her chosen people.
What the hell had gone wrong? One moment
she was laughing and joking, putting everybody
at their ease, full of confidence and looking
forward to the evening; and the next she
was alone, mascara running down her face,
hair all messed up again, a great Rorsharch
stain spreading on the wall where she had
flung her glass.
She ran into the bathroom. Her hand was
shaking as she yanked open the cabinet and
knocked half its contents into the sink and
onto the floor. Panic welled up in her as
she realized that what she needed wasn't
there. How could she have let this happen?
Christ, she couldn't think of everything
herself! There were people who were supposed
to look after her. Didn't the self-centered
bastards ever think about anything except
Then she saw across the room the little
traveling kit she always had with her, the
one she prepared and usually packed herself.
She had thought she'd forgotten it. Everything
had been so rushed: getting off the lot in
that helicopter, knowing that the studio
would have stopped her physically if they
could; then that long flight from the coast,
trying to sleep but with the air-conditioning
drying up her sinuses and irritating the
infection she'd been fighting for weeks;
finally being smuggled across Manhattan and
in here through the basement, praying that
the people they'd found to replace her usual
team would be able to handle the make-up,
the hair, the dress.
My God, that dress! One mistake with that
dress and the whole thing would be a calamity.
Her fingers struggled with the zipper on
the little plastic bag. She definitely didn't
remember packing it, but she must have -
thank God. But what was in it? She finally
got it open, tipped out its contents on the
straw-weave stool by the bath tub, and breathed
a great, gasping sigh of relief as she found
what she was looking for. She would be all
right now. A couple of minutes and she would
She sat there on the floor, wearing only
pants and a bra. She closed her eyes, running
a finger slowly up and down an imaginary
crease in the middle of her forehead, letting
her mind empty. Silence wrapped itself comfortingly
around her. After a while she heard a few
faint notes of music in the distance. It
took her a moment to realize she was humming,
rocking back and forth in time to the simple
What tune was that? And the words? She had
to remember the words. It was all starting
to come back now. She'd been humming that
tune and trying to remember the words, but
she couldn't. She had to go out there and
perform in a few minutes, and she couldn't
remember a single word of what she was supposed
to do. It was the ultimate actor's nightmare.
Christ, no wonder she'd gotten upset! Nobody
was helping her, nobody had offered to run
through it with her, nobody had put a script
into her hand. What the fuck did they expect?
That she'd stay calm? They weren't the ones
who had to go out there in front of thousands
of people, all of them just waiting for her
to make a fool of herself. None of them understood
that fine knife-edge between triumph and
disaster which was where you had to operate
if you were going to be worth watching. That
edge was what being a star was all about.
People say they love you, but they're never
on your side. They'll pay money to see you,
but hoping you'll screw up so they can sneer
and say you robbed them. They tell you they
want to fuck you, but nothing in your life
will ever give them as big a hard-on as your
Why had she thought of death? She wasn't
going to die. Damn it, she could do this.
She'd handle it. She just had to do it her
own way, in her own time, the way she always
did if she was going to get it right.
The tune. If she could remember the words
of that damn tune she'd be all right. She
hummed a few more bars. The clues were there...
She clapped her hands. She'd got it at last.
She started to sing in a soft voice, her
lips barely moving, her eyes closed.
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, Mr President,
Happy birthday to you.
Waiting in the wings was all the more agonizing
because of that perspiring fool out there
stumbling over his lines and cracking unfunny
gags about her. In truth, she'd never really
liked Lawford. They were friends, but in
this business being friends didn't amount
to a whole lot. You were friends with somebody
till they fucked you over, and then you stopped
being friends - until you needed them again,
or till they needed you. Sure, Lawford had
introduced her to Jack, but it had been Jacks's
idea. She knew that because he'd told her
how much he'd wanted to meet her. All Lawford
had to do was make the call.
Suddenly she'd had enough of standing in
the dark listening to that feeble patter
on stage. She took a breath, threw back her
shoulders under her ermine wrap, and stepped
forward into the blinding light. The crowd
went crazy the way they always did, though
it never helped her sense of nervousness;
just raised the stakes. The higher they lift
you, the further you fall. If you fall.
"Mr President," Lawford was saying, "never
in the history of the world has one woman
meant so much..." Then he broke off
as he turned and saw her shimmering towards
him in that long, tight, all but totally
transparent dress. She moved with a light,
skipping motion through jostling circles
of light as the spot operators struggled
to focus on and follow her.
Lawford's face was a professionally smiling
blur as he stepped back to make room for
her at the lectern with its bank of microphones.
The set-up looked more like she was going
to give a press conference than a performance.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lawford
continued, his arm creeping around her shoulder, "the
late Marilyn Monroe."
That jolted her, totally threw her for a
second - a second in which time stood still.
She felt herself freeze up inside, as though
somebody had walked over her grave. Why did
the son of a bitch have to say that? He'd
spooked her. He probably hadn't meant to,
but that didn't make it any better. All the
pills, that last extra split of champagne,
suddenly weren't working for her any more.
Everything around her seemed to rush away.
For a terrible moment she thought she was
going to pass out. She licked her lips, which
suddenly felt dry as cardboard.
Then, as abruptly as it had enclosed her,
the vacuum popped and the world came back
in focus. Out there in the dark they were
still cheering and applauding. Nobody had
noticed that anything was wrong. Nobody ever
did. She shrugged her shoulders, and the
ermine dropped from them into Lawford's hands.
The crowd's roar doubled as they got the
first real look at that dress.
That dress - sequins and beading on a flesh-colored
body-stocking of the sheerest silk mesh in
the world. She'd had to be stitched into
it, and anyone standing even a few feet from
her would swear she was nude except for those
artfully arranged little clusters of brilliance
which were all she seemed to be wearing.
She felt herself trying to suppress a smile
as she imagined Jack's reaction. He'd be
grinning from ear to ear, probably leaning
over to make some crack to Bobby or one of
his cronies, loving it. And it was for him,
just him. The rest of them out there could
watch, but that was all. This was a private
She tapped the microphone furthest to her
right, the one she had been told to use.
There was no reason to check it, except that
it gave her an excuse to look down, compose
her features, pull that schoolgirl grin back
off her face and bury it inside where secrets
like that belonged.
Now she was ready. She took a step to her
right to get out from behind that damn desk,
twisted the microphone to follow her, and
gave them her most dazzling smile. The noise
went on and flashbulbs were popping everywhere.
Then, just as her eyes were adapting and
she was beginning to see as well as hear,
some fool hit her with a blinding white arc
- probably because of the dress, and certainly
the public seemed to appreciate the better
look that it gave them; but thank God, when
she put up her hands to shield her eyes,
whoever was on the gantry took the hint and
cut the glare a little.
"Time", something inside her was
saying. "Don't milk it, ride it. Get
into the number."
She began. One word. "Happy".
The note quavered uncertainly in her ear,
but she'd never pretended to be a singer;
nobody wanted her to be. "Birthday to
you..." She could feel the crowd were
behind her, helping her on. In a moment they'd
be singing along with her. Somewhere she
could hear the band trying to pick up her
key and find a tempo, but without success.
It didn't matter. It was going to work.
It was going to be all right.
It was her night.
Later, she wasn't so sure. Yes, it had gone
all right; but it was Jack's night, not hers.
Somehow, at the end of it all, she had felt
diminished by the event. The spotlight had
left her with an abruptness she was unaccustomed
to, and the brisk way Jack had mounted those
steps and effortlessly taken center stage
had made her feel like an amateur in the
shadow of his commanding professionalism.
But the thing that had really gotten to
her was that word "wholesome".
His slightly hesitant delivery had always
covered an actor's sense of timing; she'd
even told him once that he reminded her of
Jimmy Stewart. Now there he was, role-playing
to perfection, turning around to acknowledge
the band, then back to the audience with
that big grin on his face, letting them cheer
and stamp and applaud as they hung on to
every second of that pause for just as long
as he chose to stretch it out. Finally he
let them see that he was ready to speak.
"Thank you... I can now retire from
politics after having had Happy Birthday
sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way."
It was the way that he'd turned to the band
again in between "sweet" and "wholesome" that
really drove the joke home. It was a a nudge
in the ribs, a leer between guys: "We
know the score here - right, fellas?" And
the audience loved it. It was the biggest
laugh of the evening, and at her expense.
He had both acknowledged her and trashed
her with that one, perfectly timed, ironic "wholesome".
By the time she got back to her dressing
room she had made up her mind that she wasn't
going to the party. Let them snigger if they
wanted to behind her back. She felt like
shit, she had a picture to finish in L.A.,
and she needed sleep. She had done her patriotic
duty; fucking him was optional, and this
weekend it was off the menu, birthday or
She had just told someone to bring her a
fresh glass of champagne, and was mounting
a stool so that they could start peeling
that dress off her, when the room fell silent.
She hadn't been expecting it, but she knew
at once what that kind of silence meant.
It happened when somebody very famous joined
a small group of people. It was the kind
of reaction she herself provoked often. But
this silence went further than that. Theses
people were used to movie stars. It took
more than fame to provoke this kind of reponse.
It took power. She looked over her shoulder,
and saw Jack.
Everyone was already leaving as though in
response to some unspoken order from him,
though he didn't look at any of them, didn't
even seem to be aware of them. His eyes were
fixed on her, and there was an amused half-smile
playing around his mouth. He didn't move
until his Secret Service detail had shut
the door, staying outside in the corridor
with everybody else. Then he spoke.
"You were great. Song was great. So's
"Wholesome?" she said, lifting
one eyebrow a fraction.
He laughed. "Yeah. Wholesome." He
took a step forward. "What are you doing
up there?" As he said it, he held out
a hand to help her down from the stool. She
"I was about to get changed," she
"Don't do that. Wear it to the party," he
His hand was still out. She took it and
stepped down. It gave her a moment to think
about what she was going to say.
"I'm not going to the party," she
said. She was looking up at him now instead
of down. She wished that she'd stayed on
"Oh, come on," he said, not taking
her seriously. "You can't let me down.
Everybody wants to meet you."
What was he planning, she wondered? To hand
her around like a slice of birthday cake? "I'm
not feeling great," she began, but he
"We'll ride over there together," he
said. "Get your wrap and let's go."
She wasn't expecting that. Ride over there
together? It made a big change from the hide-and-seek
games they usually played, with her wearing
sunglasses and a dark wig, being smuggled
in back doors and service elevators to the
President's suite. What was going on? Was
it possible that he was about to acknowledge
their relationship openly?
Everything she had dreamed off since their first meeting raced through her
mind. She knew that her fantasy of supplanting his wife and becoming First
Lady of the United States was just that - a fantasy. But she also knew that
fantasies come true. Look at her life: the girl from nowhere who became the
biggest female star in Hollywood, married the greatest athlete in America,
then its most famous playwright. If that wasn't a fantasy come true, then she
didn't know what was. And now..?
He kissed her on the lips. At the same time
his hand ran down her back and squeezed her
left buttock so hard that she gave a little
gasp. But she didn't mind. He was looking
at her with that softness that made her forget
and forgive everything except how much she
loved and wanted him.
"How the hell does this thing come
off?" he asked, his hands fluttering
all over now, pulling and tugging at the
"I thought you wanted me to wear it
for the party," she said.
"I do, but..."
"If it comes off, it stays off," she
told him with a laugh. She was feeling wonderful
now, light as a feather, like a little girl.
"Let's go," he said, his grin
widening as he took her hand and headed for
the door. The two Secret Service men snapped
to attention as he pulled it open. Everyone
else had been cleared away.
She was still laughing as he strode down
the corridor, pulling her along so that she
had to take awkward little running steps
to keep up with him in that tight skirt.
Then they were at the limo, its door open,
the soft interior beckoning. The door slammed
shut with a solid, reassuring sound.
Outside the darkened windows the lights
of Manhattan zipped by. She leaned her head
against his shoulder and closed her eyes,
listening to the sirens as they cleared a
way for them through the dense uptown traffic.
She was, she realized with that little shiver
of surprise that always accompanied the feeling,
The sound penetrated her consciousness only
slightly. Its familiarity made it both something
to ignore, or, depending on where you were
and what you were doing, something to pay
very close attention to. Present circumstances
favored close attention: somewhere a zipper
had unzipped. It wasn't hers. There was only
one - clear plastic down the back of the
dress - and that hadn't budged. She opened
her eyes a fraction. Jack's pants were undone
and his hand was pulling out his penis in
a way that left no doubt about what he wanted
It was over in about a minute; Jack was
always on a short fuse. It didn't do much
for her, though the thought of giving head
in the Presidential limo with the cops on
their motorbikes riding right alongside made
it kind of appealing. She lifted her face
to look up at him. His head lolled back in
ecstasy on the plush upholstery. It always
amused and in some ways bewildered her that
men were so easy to keep happy, at least
on that level. She tidied him away and was
about to zip him up, when she felt him move.
He was looking down at her.
"Leave it," he said.
"You can't arrive at the party like
this," she answered with a smile.
"Fuck the party. We aren't going to
no fucking party."
The tone of his voice shocked her. There
was a thickness to it that was alien to him,
crude almost. Jack was a lot of things, including
sometimes crude; but always with a touch
of lightness, and usually some wit. There
was no lightness in the voice that had just
"What d'you mean no party?" she
protested. "You can't not show up at
your own party. Think of all those people
who are waiting for you."
"Fuck `em. I've got other plans for
you and me, baby." He was looking at
her now, and there was something in his face
she didn't recognize, a coarseness, an almost
drooling carnality that alarmed her. It was
a look that made her feel cheap, anonymous,
disposable; a look that she had never seen
in him before.
"What plans?" she inquired, not
managing to hide the unsureness in her voice.
"You'll find out. Don't worry about
"Who says I'm worrying?" She drew
away from him slightly, making an effort
to steady her voice and sound more confident
than she felt. "A while ago you were
telling me how everybody wanted to meet me
and I had to be there. Now why the change
of plan? I don't understand."
The truth was that she understood only too
well, or feared she did. She almost laughed
aloud when she thought back to her fantasies
of barely half an hour ago. How could she
have been naive enough to think that Jack
would even dream of walking into a roomful
of socialites and political big-hitters with
her on his arm, let alone one day acknowledge
their relationship to the whole world? The
years of psychoanalysis, not to mention countless
hours of grueling self-examination in acting
class, had taught her to face things that
could not be escaped. Ultimately she always
faced the truth; it was what kept her sane.
"Where are we going, Jack? Can you
tell me?" She tried to sound casual,
but his arm was around her and his weight
against her, and his other hand was trying
to find a way under her skirt and up her
"Hey, baby, we can go anywhere we like." His
voice was rougher than before, breathless,
like an animal on heat who'd had his first
taste and wanted more, much more. "We
can drive around a while..."
"Drive around? Like this?"
"Why not? Aren't you having fun?"
"Jack, I... I really wanted to go to
that party with you... you know?"
"Will you stop going on about the fucking
party? The party's no part of this deal -
all right? Will you try to get that through
your fucking head? There's no party."
She didn't respond. She didn't trust herself
to speak. So this was where it ended, full
circle, where it started: on her knees to
some guy - starting in a field behind the
orphanage, then a hotel room, then maybe
a million hotel rooms. After that it had
been studio bungalows, executive suites,
private yachts and penthouse apartments.
And finally, now, in the back of the Presidential
limo, in the middle of the Presidential fucking
motorcade, going up (she looked out of the
window) Fifth fucking Avenue.
"Not bad for an old broad of thirty-six",
she had joked earlier in the day when they
were getting her into the dress. Everyone
had laughed and said she was good for a long
time yet. But how much time did she have?
Already it was too late for so many things.
And what did she have to put in their place?
How much longer would she even be a star?
Like a fool she had left her pills in the
dressing room. There was nothing between
her and the raw panic she could feel coming
at her like a wall. She couldn't handle this.
She had to get out. Somehow.
She moved so fast that he didn't know what
happened. There was a tearing sound and he
looked down at the flimsy shred of fabric
in his hand. He saw a flash of hair, of flesh,
her hands outstretched, reaching for the
door. She yanked the handle back, pushed,
and launched herself full length into the
His cry echoed behind her. Echoed, but did
not die away as it should have. She hit the
ground, and realized that the car wasn't
moving. Had they stopped without her noticing?
She became aware that she wasn't hurt, not
even grazed. She hadn't fallen far or hard
enough. And this was no road surface she
was pushing herself up from. It was smooth
and firm, yet had absorbed the impact of
"What the fuck - ?" Jack roared
She turned. He was getting out of the car
after her. But it wasn't Jack. He was dressed
like Jack, he was the man she'd just been
with. But how in hell had she ever thought
this man was Jack? She saw now that he was
shorter, heavier, with thinning black hair
and a round face flushed with anger.
"What the fuck is going on here?" he
yelled over her head at somebody she couldn't
She followed his gaze, taking in her surroundings
in a single sweep; and she realized that
something was terribly wrong. She could still
hear the sounds of the street, and she could
see people on the sidewalk and lights and
traffic and movement of all kinds; but it
wasn't real. It was some kind of back-projection,
but a kind she hadn't seen before. There
was a 3-D quality to it, and it didn't seem
to be projected on a screen so much as hanging
there in the air, a glittering, moving model
"Somebody fuckin' answer me!"
The man she'd thought was Jack was screaming
now in a paroxysm of rage. She turned back
- and saw that the thing she'd just jumped
out of wasn't a vehicle at all. It didn't
even have wheels. It was a section, a mock-up,
a studio set for an interior limo scene.
She was almost on her feet now, but her
legs buckled under her. She would have blacked
out - except that the world blacked out first,
which piqued her attention so hard that she
stayed conscious and watching.
Where Fifth Avenue had been just a moment
ago there were now only black drapes with
a couple of weird tripod-type arrangements
in front of them, each one supporting a little
metal box with a kind of tiny camera lens
on the front. She figured that these must
be projectors, but she still couldn't work
out what they must have used for a screen.
A couple of seconds after the world vanished
the sound of it died too. In the silence
she heard running feet coming towards her,
and voices, men's voices, alarmed and angry.
She looked around for some escape. There
was only darkness everywhere, so she ran
in the opposite direction from where the
men seemed to be coming. She had lost one
shoe; now she kicked the other off and ran
barefoot. She heard another sharp tearing
sound as the tight skirt split up beyond
her knees. Holding her breath, she pushed
through the heavy black drapes, fighting
her mounting sense of panic as the darkness
went on and on it seemed for ever.
Then, suddenly, there was light. A single
bulb suspended overhead illuminated a bare,
black-curtained semi-circle in the center
of which a narrow stage had been erected.
But it was the thing on the stage that caught
her eye. She had to look at it for several
moments before she could be sure. Then, still
not taking her eyes from it, she mounted
the wooden steps that "Jack" had
mounted earlier, and stood before the lectern
and the bunch of microphones where she had
sung "Happy Birthday" not so long
(but how long?) ago.
Slowly she turned, numbly looking for the
vanished vastness filled with twenty thousand
cheering people who had laughed and loved
and sung along with her in celebration of
the birthday of their glamorous President.
But all she could see were a couple more
of those little camera-like things on their
tripod supports. Above them, suspended on
the end of filament-thin cable, were a half
dozen or so miniature spots which, she found
herself thinking, must have far more power
than their size suggested to have dazzled
her as they had when she was here before.
Only as the shock of recognition wore off
did the questions rush in: Why? Where? How?
What sense did it all make? Was she insane,
imaging it all? Was that the only explanation?
She looked down at herself, at the torn
and ragged dress, the bare feet dusty from
the floor, and thought of Cinderella. She
could feel her hair was all mussed up and
her make-up smudged and running. She must
look a fright. A sound came from her throat,
something between a sob and laughter.
"She's over here!" she heard someone
shout. "On the Garden stage."
Out of the corner of her vision she caught
a flash of movement, but she didn't wait
for more. Leaping from the low stage, she
plunged once more into the dense black drapes
like some B-picture heroine fighting her
way through a studio jungle.
It was more frightening this time. She could
hear them all around, closing in on her.
She expected any second to be seized roughly
in the darkness, and gave an involuntary
cry of alarm as one of the invisible drapes
wrapped itself around her and clung more
tightly than the rest.
Pulling herself free, she stumbled backward
and against something flat. It wobbled and
gave way, and as it fell a light once more
washed over her. She found herself standing
in the bathroom of her dressing room - minus
one wall which was now under her feet. Nothing
else had changed. There was the mirrored
cabinet, the straw-weave stool by the bath
tub, and on the stool her little plastic
traveling kit of pills.
She lunged for it like a junkie for a fix,
a soul in search of salvation. Her trembling
fingers had sorted twice through all the
phials and bottles before she realized with
a cold sensation down the spine that there
was no drug, no upper, downer, tranquillizer,
stimulant or vitamin that was capable of
making any impact on the surreal nightmare
in which she now found herself. There was
nothing between her and what was happening.
If she was hallucinating, she didn't know
how or why, and she sure as hell didn't have
the antidote. And if she was insane, if that
final, primal terror of hers had at last
risen up and come to claim her, then there
was nothing she could do.
For a moment she just knelt there by the
little straw-weave stool and the bath tub,
paralyzed by a sense of emptiness. A second
or a year could have passed without her knowing
the difference. Then she felt eyes burning,
the way they always did, into her back. She
spun around. Watching her from the door of
her dressing room were a handful of anxious
faces: hairdressers, wardrobe, make-up. But
what was wrong? They were the same people
she'd worked with, talked with, laughed with,
screamed at earlier. And yet, like Jack when
he got out of that mock-up limo, they were
somehow subtly different, not quite the way
They scattered as she came towards them.
By the time she stood in the center of the
dressing room itself the place was empty.
She turned around. On an instinct she went
up to one of the walls and pushed. It rocked.
A goddamn set. Not real.
But the shouts in the distance were real
enough. Whoever those men were who were after
her, they weren't giving up. She ran to the
door that led to the corridor and looked
out. It was deserted. Last time, with Jack,
they'd gone to the right. Now she turned
left. After ten yards or so another corridor
crossed. She remembered vaguely that left
had been the way that had taken her to the
Garden stage before, so now she turned right
- and let out a shrill scream of pure terror
as she cannoned into somebody's arms.
It was Lawford, without his tuxedo now,
tie-less and in his shirtsleeves. Their faces
were inches apart, and he looked more terrified
than she was.
Except it wasn't Lawford. She knew he was
the man she'd somehow taken for Lawford,
but he wasn't. She didn't even have to break
away from him; he pressed his back to the
wall and just watched, open-mouthed, as she
The first door she saw had "w.c." painted
on it in small letters. She pushed; it was
stuck. She hit it with her shoulder, and
it swung open - not into a bathroom, but
once more into that strange, dark hinterland
of black drapes that seemed to surround all
these oases of illusion. But this time the
darkness lasted only for an instant. As quickly
as she was in it she was through it, running
now across a vast open though enclosed space,
the smooth, warm floor slapping beneath her
bare feet. Ahead was a postage stamp of daylight,
growing as she approached.
She knew where she was now: a sound stage
in some studio. Why or how were questions
without answers, but it was some small comfort
to be in surroundings that at least she recognized.
Her breath came raggedly and her lungs were
starting to burn. She didn't remember when
she'd ever run like this. She kept her eyes
on that small patch of light, letting its
growth push all else from her mind. In a
few moments she would be through it, leaving
this madness behind her on the studio floor
where it belonged.
The warm, bright air hit her like a hammer
blow. She stumbled, blinded, tripped and
fell - but never hit the ground. Strong arms
caught her, held her, then lifted her lightly,
He had dark, thick hair, slicked back. His
skin was pale but not unhealthy-looking.
His features were chiseled, the nose fine
and perfectly symmetrical, the cheekbones
high and prominent. He wore sunglasses unlike
any she'd ever seen; they seemed molded to
the contours of his face instead of resting
on them: part of him, not accessories.
"That's enough. Calm down. You're going
to do some damage to yourself."
His voice was soft, filled with the bland
confidence of someone who knew that his authority
over her was total. She didn't like that;
it was the way the doctors had spoken last
time she'd been hospitalized with that so-called "breakdown".
"Let me go!" She struggled, but
he held on, long fingers curled with effortless
strength around her wrists. Something in
the way that black-gazing, eyeless face stared
down at her, into her, unmoving, made her
"That's better," he said. "Nobody's
going to hurt you."
"Who the fuck are you?" she asked,
so short of breath that half the words were
swallowed as she gasped for air.
"It doesn't matter," he answered.
The way he dismissed the question, and by
implication the questioner, as unimportant
angered her more. Who the fuck was this flunky
to talk to her that way?
"Do you know who I am?" she shouted
in his face.
"I know exactly who you are," he
replied. There was a hint of movement somewhere
around those hidden eyes, a twitch of the
tip of that all-knowing nose.
She bit him. She sank her teeth deep into
the heel of the hand that was gripping her
right wrist. He gave a howl of pain and let
her go. She ran without looking back, careening
around corners and down the white-walled
canyons between sound stages, finally reaching
the long, low, colonial-style executive offices
with their venetian-blinded windows and trimmed
The strange thing was that nobody was about.
It was the first time she had seen a studio
lot without people passing and crossing everywhere,
either on foot or riding golf-carts, talking
urgently, delivering messages, hurrying to
meetings. Even on a public holiday there
was always somebody about. Now It was as
though the whole place had been cleared for
some mysterious purpose she knew nothing
Once more, behind her, she heard running
feet, more shouting. She glanced over her
shoulder. They weren't in sight yet, but
they were close.
Another corner; then, on her right, she
saw steps leading up an outside wall to the
second floor of one of the office buildings.
She ran up, grasped the handle of the door
at the top - and froze.
From where she was she could see a section
of the studio main gate. She had glimpsed
a couple of things as she ran that had given
her a good idea of which studio lot she was
on, and that famous gate confirmed it.
She could also see out over the boundary
wall and clear across to downtown L.A. But
something elusive, something she could not
put her finger on, was wrong. She ought to
have been looking out over cars, freeways,
and block after block of ugly buildings to
a skyline eternally shrouded in that yellowish
haze that always looked the way she thought
bad breath would look if you could see it.
Instead, she found herself looking out over
a gleaming city of glass and chrome, marble
and stone. The air was so crystal clear that
she could see, for the first time she could
remember, mountains in the distance. And
the skyline itself was not only crisply defined
against the cloudless sky; it was also different.
It rose higher, spread further.
Then, beyond it all, she saw something the
like of which she had never seen outside
of those dumb science fiction movies where
spaceships wobbled against painted backgrounds.
But this was no model, and that was no painted
The thing had a metallic look, but didn't
reflect the light. It had a simple, sculpted
shape, and rose gently into the air as though
by gravity-defying magic. It was hard to
tell how big it was, but she had a feeling
it was huge. It hung for a moment, then banked
gently to one side and accelerated so fast
towards the horizon that in seconds it had
She barely had time to question what she
she'd seen, let alone wonder what it meant,
before the voices bore in on her again, drawing
dangerously close. Her fingers still gripped
the handle of the door. She pushed, and a
moment later was running down a long carpeted
corridor, reassuring in its relative familiarity.
On the walls hung portraits of movie stars
and stills from pictures that she mostly
recognized, and the rest she didn't have
time to think about. She heard a door bang
somewhere up ahead, then another one behind.
They were checking the building. Although
she didn't think they'd seen her, she was
trapped. She pushed open the nearest door,
and found herself in some executive office.
At one end was a large desk with nothing
on it but two phones and a blotter. At the
other end armchairs and a couple of sofas
were arranged around a coffee table for informal
meetings. On the walls were movie posters,
prints from the Los Angeles Museum of Art,
She looked around for some way out. If this
was a movie, she couldn't help thinking,
there'd be a lower rooftop outside the window
with a safe drop into some convenient haystack,
or a truckload of mattresses that happened
to be passing. But this was not a movie,
and there was no way out. Nor was there,
so far as she could see, much place to hide.
Then, at about knee-height and marked only
by a hairline in the clean white paintwork,
she saw a hinged panel in the air-conditioning
duct beneath the window. She found the tiny
white-painted handle, yanked it open, and
rolled into the confined near-darkness.
The panel had a fine filigree pattern carved
into it which gave her a limited and fragmented
view of the room. Almost at once she saw
the door open and two men enter. They made
a quick search - checking behind furniture,
curtains, connecting doors - then went out.
She realized she had been holding her breath,
crouched, with her legs tucked under her.
She exhaled gratefully and tried to shift
her position, wondering whether she should
stay put or make a run for it. Before she
could decide, the door banged open again.
"Shit! This is all we need." She
recognized the man she had bitten. He had
a band-aid on now, but was massaging the
wound as though it was still painful. "Bitch
nearly bit my hand off!"
"You okay, Al?" The question came
from a younger man who followed him in. His
voice and manner marked him out as some kind
"Yeah, I'm okay. Get out there and
help find her."
"Merrill says will you talk to the
client? He's real upset."
"Yeah - ask him to step in here, will
The gofer left. She watched as the one called
Al, the one she had bitten, paced the room
anxiously. Once he came and stood right in
front of the dusty cubbyhole where she was
hiding. She held her breath until she almost
burst and was sure she would give herself
away; but then there were footsteps in the
corridor and Al crossed over to the door.
It opened and the man she had taken for Jack
was shown in by the gofer, who left them
"Sir, I'm truly sorry about all this," Al
began, making an effort to sound more in
control of things than he'd seemed a few
moments ago. "I apologize, and we're
doing everything possible to get things back
on track just as fast as we can."
"What the hell went wrong?" Jack
demanded. For some reason she still thought
of him as Jack even though he so obviously
wasn't. Everything about him was wrong, from
the belligerence of his voice to the squat,
stocky form that it came from. She fought
back a wave of disgust as she remembered
what she had done with this ugly little man.
"We have to remember," Al was
saying, "that we're dealing with something
organic here, therefore by definition not
entirely predictable. If you think about
"I know all I need to know about the
damn process," Jack snapped. "I
saw that movie a million times on TV when
I was a kid - the one about cloning those
things from their own DNA. Shit, if they
could do it back then, how come you can't
get it right now?"
"In fact they couldn't actually do
it in those days. That was just a piece of
fiction. However, in recent years..."
Jack interrupted again with a wave of his
stubby hand. "Look, I haven't got all
day. Why don't you just get another one up
here? You've got others, haven't you?"
"None available, I'm afraid. At least,
none that can be ready for this scenario
in the time we have."
"Then just what the hell do you propose?"
"As soon as we find her we'll have
everything back to normal in no time. All
we have to do is - "
Jack waved his hand again, bored with the
details. He took a cigar from a case in his
pocket and clipped it with a silver cutter
as he spoke.
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," he
said. "I'm going to take a walk around,
look at some of the exhibits you have here
- and if you get this show on the road inside
an hour, let me know. Otherwise I'm gone." He
lit a match and touched it to the end of
"I'm sure there'll be no problem, sir.
Make yourself comfortable, and of course
the hospitality wing is entirely at your
"Find her, fix her..." Jack inhaled
his cigar, blew out a cloud of smoke, and
gave Al one of those sly, dirty, between-guys
kind of smiles, "... and leave the rest
She didn't see them leave because her head
was down and her eyes shut tight. She didn't
know whether she was holding something in
or keeping it out. Distantly, she heard them
walking away, still talking, though she couldn't
catch what they were saying.
For some time she remained absolutely still,
re-playing in her head the conversation she
had overheard. In the end it was the sheer
physical discomfort of her position that
made her move. She pushed open the panel,
crawled halfway out, stopped, and listened
hard. She could hear nothing. It seemed that
the whole building was once again empty.
The first thing she saw when she stood up
was her reflection in a mirror. She looked
like she'd been pulled through a hedge; which,
come to think of it, she pretty much had
been. But there was nothing she could do
about that now. The most important thing
was to get hold of her agent, her lawyer,
her analyst if need be - whoever and whatever
it took to get her the hell out of here.
She ran to the large desk and picked up
a phone. She had started to dial before she
realized that the line was dead. She picked
up the other phone. The same. She jiggled
the cradle. Nothing.
"That won't help you."
The voice came from behind her, making her
spin around with a gasp of surprise. Al was
standing in the door, watching her from behind
those strange dark glasses.
"Those phones are just museum pieces,
baby," he said, coming into the room
and closing the door behind him. "Like
this whole place. A tribute to the past.
To the days when they made movies the way
you remember them. Long gone faraway days."
She backed away from him, still holding
the phone like a weapon to defend herself.
"I figured you must be somewhere in
this block," he said. "Only place
you could be after we checked everywhere
"Don't come near me," she warned,
feeling foolish, as she always did when she
tried to threaten somebody, which anyway
"It's okay," he said, spreading
his hands so that she could see the palms. "I
told you - nobody's going to hurt you."
"What's happening?" she said,
her voice trembling with rage as much as
fear. "What the fuck is going on here?
He sighed, then walked over to one of the
sofas and sat down, crossing his legs, oddly
relaxed compared with how he'd been before.
It was as though the fact of having found
her made everything all right. She noticed
for the first time how well his clothes hung
on him. It wasn't just the way they were
cut, loose but form-fitting; it was something
in the material itself, a texture, natural
but somehow resistant to stretching or creasing.
"There's no way you can understand
what's happening. You're better off not asking.
In a while you won't even want to. Trust
He made a little gesture, a kind of shrug,
to show that he wasn't offended. There was
something condescending in it that puzzled
her as much as it angered her. Who was this
guy who she'd never seen before to treat
her like this? Nobody treated her like this.
Nobody! Not any more.
"Answer my question."
He was looking up at her, his head slightly
cocked to one side, as though something about
her provoked his curiosity.
"What the hell!" he said eventually,
as though making a decision. "I'll answer
He placed his hands on his knees and levered
himself upright again. He was still looking
at her, and she at him. She was unused to
being stared at by someone in dark glasses.
Usually it was the other way around; and
if the star wasn't wearing them, nobody wore
them. But she didn't say anything. She felt
that what she was about to hear was more
important. She knew how to listen when she
"What you are, baby, is a Living Legend.
The biggest of them all. Others come and
go, but you just keep on getting bigger.
You're a phenomenon. You're the only one
She hadn't taken her eyes off him. Still
she didn't. He'd warned her that she wouldn't
understand. Perhaps she wouldn't. Yet in
some odd, hidden part of herself she felt
she might. Perhaps she did already; just
didn't know that she did.
He walked away, was silent for a moment,
"`Living Legend'. That's a brand name.
We own it. As a matter of fact I thought
it up myself, registered it offshore, before
this whole thing came out into the open.
Not that it altogether has, but you know
how it is - once people know that something
can be done, then sooner or later it will
be. The world finds a way of living with
these things. A modus vivendi. You know what
"Yes. I know," she said in a small,
"Don't let it worry you," he said. "In
a few minutes you won't even remember that
we had this conversation."
She tried to speak again, but her mouth
was dry. It was a moment before the words
"That man... he wasn't.... he isn't...
who is he?"
"That's client confidentiality. But
no, he isn't who you thought he was. None
of them were."
"Then why... what..?"
"That's what they pay for. These are
the hardcore fans, baby. Knowing all about
you isn't enough for them. They want to know
you. They want to play some part in your
life, whether it's hair-stylist, make-up
artist, dresser, whatever. What they play
depends on what they pay. For some of them
it's just the one time - thrill of a lifetime.
For others - well, there's one guy, for instance,
comes in here every week to play your shrink."
She was perfectly still, trying to work
out what she felt, what she thought. But
nothing came. She felt empty. Dead. It was
a moment before she realized that she had
sunk onto the edge of a chair, her knees
and feet together, her hands playing nervously
in her lap.
"Why me?" she said at last, in
a barely audible whisper.
"You tell me, baby," he said. "You
wanted what you wanted, and you got it. You
created yourself. All we did was make copies.
I've lost count how many. You're everywhere.
And they're always wanting more - in spite
of the occasional little problem, like today."
He had walked across the room again, and
regarded her now from a far corner.
She looked back at him through the tangle
of hair that had fallen over her eyes. She
had begun to shake and couldn't stop. It
was worse than a shake; it was a bone-twitching,
teeth-chattering shudder that ran through
her whole body like a series of electric
"All right," he said to somebody
over her shoulder, "you'd better take
She gave a cry of alarm and sprang to her
feet, but before she could turn she was seized
by two pairs of strong hands. She had a glimpse
of two men, one bald and in a white coat
like a doctor, the other younger, broad-shouldered
and muscular. Then something was jabbed into
her arm. It didn't feel like an injection,
in fact it didn't hurt at all. But almost
at once she felt herself starting to lose
consciousness. She fought it, but knew, even
as she did, that she had lost.
"Here, honey, take these."
She opened her eyes and realized she was
lying down. When she tried to get up she
found her movements were restricted. She
started to panic, but the woman with her
put out a reassuring hand.
"Careful, honey. We just got you sewn
into this thing - don't ruin it."
Of course. The dress. The damn dress. She
let the woman help her into a sitting position.
She was in her dressing room backstage at
"Take these now, you'll feel better."
She took the two pills that the woman was
offering, then the glass of water that she
"What are they?"
"They're your prescription. It's okay."
She swallowed them, one after the other.
As she did, she became aware of a handful
of people standing around, watching her.
She wasn't sure she recognized them, then
she remembered that they were the people
they'd got in for just this one show in New
The hairdresser came forward, flicked his
comb, sprayed something on her.
"Perfect! I'm so proud. We all are.
You're going to be wonderful."
"Come on, let me help you. Everybody's
It was the woman again, helping her gently
to her feet. She stood upright. She felt
fine. She couldn't remember why she had been
lying down. Had she passed out? Had she been
asleep? It didn't matter. All she knew now
was what she had to do.
She saw an open bottle of champagne in an
"Give me a glass of that, will you?"
The woman passed it to her. She took a sip.
Another. It tasted good, gave her just that
little extra charge she needed. She'd be
all right now.
There was a knock at the door. Someone opened
it, then turned to her. "They're ready.
Joe here'll take you to the stage."
She looked. A page-boy waited, expectant,
nervous-looking. She finished her glass,
held it out, someone took it.
"Let's go," she said. She felt
nervous, but it was the right kind of nerves.
Good nerves. Someone placed the wrap around
her shoulders. She pulled it closer and started
out in little, carefully measured steps.
The corridor was long and dark, underground.
In the distance she could hear applause,
laughter. Somebody was talking on a mike.
"Excuse me..." It was the page-boy
at her side. He sounded nervous. "D'you
mind if I tell you something, Miss Monroe?"
"Mm-hm?" she murmured absently,
her mind on what she had to do, rehearsing
the moves and the words, but not wanting
to seem off-hand. "Go ahead."
"I just want you to know - this moment
is the biggest thrill of my life."