<<A HUMUNGOUS CLARION CALL to all the hey-hey chaps in the earshot tonight, all the strife specialists. Stoke up the coals for this one! We're taking you downside on a riptide ride.>>

Way back then in the mid-60s when Hugh Heffner conceptualised the bachelor pad: if you took that ideal and gave it a black slant, threw in a few Zebra-skin rugs and illicit ivory... that would be a pretty close approximation of Cassius Croon's London place. He was lying on leopard skin listening to leopard skin tunes when Mr Catheter came around to see him.

<<What the...>> Croon roused from a riptide reverie. <<Hey man, you can't just walk straight in here.>>

<<Spare me the theatrics>> Catheter said. <<I understand you haven't had a case in six months. Ample time to "chill out", as you might say.>>

No, that's what you're meant to say Croon thought. And you've got to say it with feeling! But he said: <<Let me guess: EuroCore. Senior MI5, a survivor of amalgamation, therefore an advocate of privatisation.>>

According to postCorrection etiquette, Mr Catheter's response should have been a hearty <<Check out the brain on Brad!>> But Catheter wasn't big on etiquette, so he said as if it were another century:

<<Listen, I know this hardly the British gentlemanly thing. Then again, what does Brussels know about the British gentlemanly thing? These are new days, unfortunately, and there are new ways for the new days. Let's blame it on New Labour.>>

And Croon, because he was embarrassed enough, listened to the old fool ponce his way through a half-baked kidnapping scheme in Germany, feigned moral outrage regarding certain aspects of the Second World War, constant references to the "EurObjective". Croon said <<So you basically want me to abduct some cat who played lab-mice with the Jews?>>

<<My dear sir>> Catheter turning all prude and serious here <<you understand more than anyone how Correction Fatigue pushes all cultures into endgame. Take the Middle East. The Israelis are furious they had to give up East Jerusalem. The Arabs, meanwhile, are close to rebellion over their expulsion from the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. Both sides are armed to the teeth... possibly with atomics. We have to distract them or else there will be war. And you know how much that will antagonise Armageddon fears in the west.>>

<<I'm not doing your PR>> Croon said. <<They should have told you how I feel about that one.>>

<<Mr Croon, we can compromise. The European Community prides itself on its neutrality in this dispute. This stunt is merely intended to show we care... to show the world cares for the Jewish dilemma. It's an act of brotherhood. Meanwhile, when you're off netting the Nazi we'll be promoting a new Arabian patriot. For the amount we're paying for it, they ought to bloody deify him!>>

Croon laughed then, imaging the prospect of a New Islamic Prophet. Fucking hell, I'd like to see that he thought. He'd trample these geeks into the sand, that's for sure.

<<All right, I'll do it. But I don't want no fucking Israeli's with me. Just me and the talent.>>

SO HE TOOK THE CASE. There was none of the usual street haggling, none of the customary attitude... as the man said, Croon hadnít had a job in six months. But as if the promise of a Hamas bullet wasn't enough to do his head in, there was also the scarcity of information.

<<Come on man, be reasoanble>> he said after Mr Catheter handed him a map of Berlin with two suburbs highlighted, Potsdam and Kreuzberg. The first was the site of Storm Thorgarten's mad wartime labatory, the second was presumably the address of his only living heir. <<You've got to have more than this.>> He couldn't undersand why Mr Catheter was being such an asshole.

<<Wait, thereís a photo and these files>> Mr Catheter handing him a manilla folder. <<It also contains her employment dossier. My dear sir, we're giving you all the information we've got. She's either very sly or very shy, that's all I can say.>>

Croon opened the folder to find a large photo captioned Bäbel Thorgarten. She was not a conventional beauty by any means, but not classically ugly either. She had light blue hair, nose-ring, all the usual adornments, some hint of a glow-in-the-dark tattoo on her forehead. It looked like a rune.

<<Oh I forgot>> Mr Catheter said <<there's also this.>> He handed him a sheet of paper adorned with four glowing inkgifs... the latest in Japanese technology. The gifs were loaded with nanomachines which would flood the porous membrane of his skin if he touched them, filling his mind with artificial memories. Instantly, intuitively, Croon knew he was being tested.

<<So, my dear Croon>> Catheter said <<what's it going to be?>>

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CASSIUS CROON and other characters copyright Rob Sullivan 1996-2001.

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