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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 turned on a projector and one wall of his office was covered with newspaper headlines.

McCumbie sniffed. <<What's that you're wearing?>>

<<Sir?>> Croon said. <<Iím wearing the scent of musk.>>

<<Hmmmph. Engineered from the glands of a synthetic platypus?>> McCumbie laughed smugly, 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, <<Scientests estimate there are approximately 2000 wild gorillas on the African continent, inhabiting the lowlands of Cameroon to the central highlands of Congo and Uganda. 2000 specimens! That's not much bio-diversity! 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 a Chinese supermarket. 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 eating 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 racial 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 said <<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 Xue Spay.>>

Croon remembered the name from a recent CNN report - <<The guy who neutered all those peasent 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.>>

CASSIUS CROON and other characters copyright Rob Sullivan 1996-2000.

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