CASSIUS CROON HEAVED himself over the obstacle wall and dropped down the hempy face. Panting heavily, he jogged to a row of monkey bars, leapt to the first rung and (maintaining his kinetic energy) swung himself to the end. He then followed a muddy trail which for some time ambled through the russet Vermont hills, clouds of breath trailing autumnal in his wake, grey tracksuit dark with at least three triangles of sweat. He karate-chopped the air as he ran.
Freshly changed into a baggy suit and annointed with the latest Spice Girls stench, agent Croon stood patiently in his superior's office sometime later that morning. Gerald McCumbie put on his glasses, turned on a projector, and one wall of his office was instantly splattered with newspaper headlines.
McCumbie sniffed. <<What's that you're wearing?>>
<<Sir?>> Croon said. <<I'm wearing the scent of musk.>>
<<Hmmmph. Engineered from the glands of a synthetic platypus?>> McCumbie laughed wistfully, to himself. As he didn't have a clue what was going on, Croon studied the headlines on the wall. Most of them had to do with nature habitats, smuggling, aphrodisiacs and genetic manipulation. And there were lots of photos of gorillas.
<<Cas, I don't know about you but I'm not much of an animal lover. I mean, I love animals: I love eating them, I love wearing their fibres. But in regards to environmentalism... well, I gave up that kind of thinking years ago. However, I'm man enough to admit bio-diversity is essential to the long-term viability of this planet. And this bio-diversity is under threat.>>
Cued to his voice, the projector flashed up a new image: a grainy close-up of a mountain gorilla. Cued to the image, McCumbie said, <<Scientists estimate there are approximately 2000 wild eastern gorillas on the African continent, inhabiting the lowlands of Cameroon to the central highlands of Congo and Uganda, as well as the Virunga Mountains. 2000 specimens! That's not much biodiversity! This population has to contend with a declining habitat, disease and occasional tribal war.>>
A short film-clip was projected on the wall: poachers chasing startled gorillas through the bush, the discharge of an ancient rifle, then cut to a butcher slicing lumps of heavily veined meat in what looked like an Asian wet market. When it stopped McCumbie said: <<Lately gorillas have had to contend with a new threat: poachers. Chinese medical practitioners have developed a strange new taste for a certain part of the gorilla anatomy: specifically, the testicles.>>
<<They got this funny idea that eating ape nuts will keep their genetic codes intact and safe from all the modified food in their diet these days. By munching on the loins of the world's last remnant mountain gorillas, they think they can preserve their own racial prowess.>>
<<Ahhh>> Croon said. Which of course meant: That's what this is about, a political thing. As if reading his mind McCumbie negated: <<If this fad continues wild gorillas could be extinct by the end of the decade. The Chinese government claims to be clamping down on the trade, but it's not enough. The CIA's getting involved.>>
<<I'm not>> Croon insisted <<going to the Africa without a stopover in Morocco!>>
<<You're going to China first. I want you to pay a visit to the man they call the Castrator of Canton.>>
Croon remembered the name from a recent CNN report - <<The guy who neutered all those peasant boys? Sir...>>
<<We think he was framed. It might be a long bow to draw, but maybe there's a link with these monkey nuts. Check him out.>>