In another story the four blondes would have been washed up on a canal bank, stripped bare, battered and bruised. They were completely naked, but alive and well, and walking around. Unlike the gumshoe detective who lay dead on the river shore, trench coat still on and a half-smoked cigarette stuck to his lips.

The tallest blonde opened her mouth to say something, and as she did so, the tail and hind legs of a brown rat appeared. The other blondes tried to scream, but as they did, each one in turn spewed out a rat's ass. The dead detective sat bolt upright like something out of Frankenstein, blinked twice and ran off through the trees, shouting: 'I cannot abide freakin' rodents whatsoever'. Together the blondes spat them out and laughed the laugh of dentists on nitrous oxide. The detective, now in pyjamas, was chasing a sexual leitmotiv he'd once met in the John.

Had he not had his dream suppressants, Federal Agent D.D. Cale might have been able to dwell on the significance of his recurrent nightmare. But, seeing as he was on a POTUS assignment, he was shielded from the unresolved conflicts and the repressed phobias of REM-sleep by a Company drug synthesized from concentrated THC. He had a foggy recollection of sleeping in his crib right next to his folks' bed in their apartment on Main Street. Nanotechs. This was Cale's personalized biochip, imprinted with his earliest memory - on each of the three too many he'd had with his Vodka Cocaine.

Developed on the back of the truth drug trials of the 20th Century, Nullanol was said to help agents focus on their investigations more exclusively. Agent Cale suspected the real reason was to lower his empathy and make him more malleable. He often went beyond the mandatory dose to help him transcend the queasiness of DC. The city gave him the creeps. Ivy League schmucks talking about good governance. Spindoctors pitching for that anti-antiwar vote. Billions of national security dollars and none of it worth a cent, except to those already rich enough to need it to buy more with. It was a waking nightmare. Who needed drugs?

He thought in all likelihood that he did, but the man he was waiting for was late and he didn't deal in chemical dependency - not since Coops had left the Company anyway.

Agent Cale had imagined joining the team of hacker-trackers assigned to clamp down on the black market propaganda feed, eDubya. But he had been selected to monitor an actor who lived on the corner of 47th and Third and worked in a diner. This guy had more surveillance teams on him than a G8 summit.

- The line is that the President's got two brains : the officially sanctioned psychblog on, and the cool one - the illegal feeds for the anti-market available through the eDubya network.

His superior was filling him in.

- I'd kinda figured that much out already, sir.

- I'm sure you did Cale. But here's the rub. The State Department deploy a surrogate conscious. Since most of the time he's only dimly aware of what's really going on, the President's eDubya blogstream is played by an actor.

- It's not as if it's the first time we've used actors as President...

Ignoring the aside, Cooperman went on.

The President's own consciousness is so two-dimensional and downhome, we've pretty much been able to put it straight on along with the standard mishmash of lifted screenplay, media blurb, cartoons, Westerns, Bilderberg Group speil and after-dinner repartee.

- White propaganda?

- Listen Cale. This is strictly a black psych. op. You're a tourist on this thing. The Company are gonna want their piece of ass. NSA and the Secret Service boys too. You gotta stay focussed on our guy. Watch your back. And don't do anything to screw up.

But even before Cale left the Federal building on a tide of rhetoric that morning , the body that housed the President's most plausible brain had already washed up on a canal bank near the gas works downtown. The Homicide boys had gotten excited, but it turned out that the Jane Doe was not blonde nor even a she. He was naked alright, wearing only a wig and badly smudged mascara.

When Cale visited the corpse in the city morgue that afternoon, it so clearly was not the same body as before, he suspected he was being set up. He told his boss only that the President's feed had been drowned - more than likely by one arm or other of national security, and since the left arm didn't know what....

His superior cut him short.