Greycoat sent for some Kenyan Mild Blend and slumped in his chair. What was an NOF anyway? Come to that, what was Y2K?

He employed people to know these things and they'd let him down, especially - oh, the treachery of it - especially Charles Tarantino.

So the 'corporate re-engineering group' was established with the Terminator as facilitator. They were all there - Greycoat and the Admiral trying to look detached; Cruster radiating triumph, sitting beside Ardent, which I thought ominous;

Miss Twix and Rosie Broomstick perched together, quietly confident, having managed to protect their positions by threatening to tell Carla Citrus from the CHC that the group had been formed. And Sterling the bean counter with his head number cruncher, Miss Fermat, crouched meekly at the end of the table.

Tarantino started, as he always did when he didn't know what to do, with a brainstorming session.

It was like Wembley on cup final day. Scores of problems, or 'insurmountable opportunities' as Ardent called them, were identified and yelled out fortissimo . For the Terminator, as he scribbled furiously on a flip chart, it was terrifying. Anarchy, pure anarchy: no control, no reason, no fear. . .

The insurmountables mounted. High-level indicators, waiting times, outpatient waits, Y2K (Greycoat still had no idea what it was), getting the PFI project started, the IT strategy, nurse recruitment. . . it went on. Tarantino scribbled furiously, trying to keep up. After 15 minutes he was on page seven of the flip pad. As every sheet was turned over Greycoat slipped further into his seat.

The Admiral looked at him. 'Greatcoat, ' he boomed as from the ship's bridge. 'Disappointed. Damned disappointed. Need a full report for the board next week. Special meeting, emergency action required, need to sort you all out.' He stomped off.

Silence. Their gazes focused on the Grey One, and he scanned them one by one, all slitty eyes and flushed cheeks: cold, malevolent, self-serving. His stare fixed on Tarantino. 'Charles, ' he purred like a frozen cobra. 'How could you be so disloyal as to let us get into this mess?'

Well, I fell off the chandelier. There was a shocked intake of breath from all except Tarantino, who appeared to have stopped breathing altogether. Could it be? The Terminator being fingered for execution?