The Beast was hungry. The Beast was always hungry, but now it could not remember when it had last fed. Its hunger had become ardent.
So The Beast's thousands of eyes scanned the landscape, ran the horizon. Its thousands of ears were tuned for promising sounds, the first distant, subtle scrapings made by unaware quarry perhaps a throat nervously cleared, a door furtively shut.
The Beast no longer hunted. It had learned that it need not exert itself. Prey would in time come to it. It always did, as if compelled by some sacramental obligation.
Somewhere in a dim corner of its memory there was a vague sense that The Beast had once had a frisky youth and had bounded after game. It had had a nose for misfeasance and malfeasance. A taste for dishonesty. It raided hypocrisy's hiding places. It was a cleansing Beast. It preyed itself on the bloody-toothed. It protected the townspeople.
Oh, it treated itself now and then to an errant celebrity, catching one out in a flashbulb's flash at untoward business. That was dessert; The Beast proudly fed on red meat.
But the desserts in time gave The Beast a sweet tooth. Sugary scandal gave it a rush. It gave up stalking bigger game. As The Beast grew huge, it needed more food, faster, oftener. And it had only to wait. Marshmallows always roll down hill.
The Beast did not much stir when it first heard the words "Chandra Levy." Of course it recorded the name; it records everything. But the name rang no bells, teased no associations.
Neither did the name "Gary Condit," an obscure congressman.
But then The Beast heard the word "intern" and its hunger synapses glowed. It made the connection: politician and intern. It had fed here before, and grandly. The Beast searched more avidly. It gathered the words "investigation" and "interrogation."
The Beast's was ravenous now, and when it heard "intimate relationship," it began saying the words over and over to itself. Soon there were "other women," and The Beast was feeding without pause.
Now, wherever this "Condit" went, scores or more of The Beast's eyes feasted. Its ears picked up the whispers of detectives. It caught the wailings of competing lawyers. The Beast had made a banquet for itself.
The last time The Beast had gorged itself, the townspeople had reproved it and The Beast had said it would not feed again on private lives unless a public issue were at stake. The Beast made the promise sincerely, knowing that where the taste was juicy enough, and The Beast had become hungry enough, it could always find a public issue.
Was this "Condit" failing to "fully cooperate with authorities" in order to "cover up" "intimacies"?
For months The Beast had lived in a town with a president who would not hold press conferences, but that did not move The Beast. It had heard that a national energy policy had been got up at the instruction of industries that would profit from it and that the names were being kept secret, but The Beast sensed no fodder there. There is no sex in coal, no celebrity in oil.
In time The Beast will have its fill of "Chandra Levy" and will forget the name and then it will doze again. Until the hunger pangs stir.
Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers based in Atlanta.
Copyright 2001 The Daily Camera