The coven was meeting in Rosie Broomstick's office. Rosie herself had faced the possibility of the hessian container so often she was immune to worrying about it. Miss Twix, of course, being a nurse, was entirely fireproof, as was Professor Cruster. But Ardent was finding out what they didn't tell you at Harvard Business School.

The shock of the Terminator's appointment had hit him hardest of all. In his plain, downhome sort of way Ardent was an innocent. How could Carla have done this to him? He had thought their relationship was more, more. . . honest and pure. Miss Twix sniffed dismissively, Rosie dabbed an eye, while Cruster merely looked bemused - he didn't do emotions.

Ardent became melancholy. Well that was it, heading for the last round-up, saddle up and gallop into the sunset, man's gotta do. . . even John Wayne would have cried. Don't be premature, said Twix. Might not happen, don't burn your bridges. There were many targets, and usually when the chiefie changed the first to the block would be the finance director - followed by the ops director, added Rosie.

Just as Ardent was starting to pull himself together a bit, the telephone warbled - or rather it played a random selection of Abba hits. Rosie answered it at the third bar, and the way her eyes immediately flashed towards Ardent told them all they wanted to know. Replacing the handset she said how sorry she was, but Tarantino wanted to see Ardent 'as of now'. . .

Tarantino regarded Ardent pensively. The Yank was pale, all his normal, youthful, early morning workout glow and swell had gone. He was listless, slightly damp and crumpled. The Terminator was in heaven. Much as I had enjoyed Tarantino's selection of hair oil and Islington salad dressings over the years, I was beginning to dislike him just a bit.

'Well now, Clay.' First name! A warning sign! Ardent stiffened perceptibly. The time had come for straight talking. Things had gone to rack and ruin under Greycoat and the Admiral, but he and Carla Citrus would damn well make the old place shape up.

Then he went into prime ministerial mode. They wanted a new team, a new approach, new strategy, new determination, new people with new vision. A new deputy. . . did Ardent want the job, and please call him Charles. I slipped in something greasy and fell to the carpet.