Dear Aunt Ora,

Lately, something seems amiss. The daily routine of wake, eat, work, eat, sleep seems to lack that essential something which makes one want to repeat the cycle indefinitely. What am I missing? Love? Wisdom? Faith? Hope? Seasons tickets? I throw up my hands, baffled.

Where can I find these intangibles I seek, and thus reinject the joie de vivre into my bloodstream? In short - what's it all about, Ora?

I looked hopefully at the hard-faced woman sitting across from me. The nameplate on her desk identified her as "Ms. P. DiStefano". She studied the sheet of paper bearing my question for a moment, then spoke.

"Yes, I think we can be of help to you in this matter, Mister Duck."

I was about to point out that my name wasn't Duck when she aimed a shotgun at my head, and I realised her last word had been an instruction. I ducked. I heard two deafening reports, then a curse.

"Damn! Nippy little beggars!"

I looked behind me at the smouldering wreckage of a filing cabinet.

"Sentient weasels," Ms. DiStefano explained. "There's a colony of them somewhere in the building. Every now and again they launch attacks on us. Just ignore 'em."

Uncertainly, I resumed my seat. My companion put her gun down and fished another sheet of paper out of her desk drawer.

"Legal formalities first," she announced, and read out: "Information supplied by Delphic Research, Inc. is given in good faith based on the best evidence that can be obtained freely or extracted by force at the time. Delphic Research, Inc. cannot be held responsible for the consequences of misuse of the information, nor for the information subsequently being rendered less than accurate in some or more facets due to changing social circumstances, acts of god, stock market downturns or George W. Bush. In no event shall Delphic Research, Inc., or any of its employees, be liable for any direct, special, incidental--"

Her recital was interrupted by a scream from the young blonde on the next desk, who had been engrossed in a magazine all the time I had been in the office, even during the shooting.

"The RAT! How COULD he? The slimy HEEL!"

"Prince William?" asked Ms. DiStefano, evincing mild interest.

"I don't want to talk about it!" wailed the blonde. "I want to DIE!"

She stormed into the next room, which appeared to be some sort of washroom, slamming the door behind her.

"Britain's heir to the throne bar one," explained my companion. "She's got a thing about him. He's probably himself got a new girlfriend, or something."

"Oh, ah," I said. There didn't seem to be much else I could say.

"Still, you can see her point. She sends him mushy emails almost every day. The least he could have done is warn her, and not leave her to learn it from some teen mag."

I must confess my attention wandered at this point. So would yours, if you'd just seen a bewhiskered face with an eye patch and a three-cornered hat emblazoned with skull and crossbones leering at you through the window.

"Something the matter?" asked Ms. DiStefano.

"There seems to be a pirate watching us through the window."

"Oh, that." Without bothering to turn she picked up her shotgun and, resting the barrel on her shoulder, fired at the window behind her. The glass pane shattered and the face disappeared.

"See if I got him, willya?"

I cautiously approached the window and looked out.

"I can't see a body. There's a car driving off at high speed. A Yugo, I think."

"One of our competitors. Damn! Two misses in as many minutes. I keep telling Sibyl we have to include a charge for daily firing range practice on all our invoices, but will she listen?"

"Look," I stammered, "if it's all the same with you, I think I've changed my mind. I don't really need an answer to my question all that much, after all."

"I was just joking about the firing range charge," said Ms. DiStefano. "Really, your bill for this job shouldn't exceed, ooh, $350,000 at the most."

"Thanks all the same, but..." I'd reached the door leading into the corridor. I was about to let myself out when it opened and another woman entered the office. This one was older, almost matronly except for the steely glint in her eyes. She was dragging an enormous duffel bag, which appeared very heavy.

"Would you be so kind as to give me a hand with this?" she asked me and, before I knew what I was doing, I was helping her heave it onto one of the desks.

"Whatcha got?" asked Ms. DiStefano.

"Peter Gabriel," said the newcomer. "Honestly! When that boy said his brother had broken him, I thought he meant an arm or a leg. But look at this mess!"

She opened the bag and pulled out a human head, missing the ears, nose and one of the eyes.

"And the rest is all the same," she complained. "I swear, there's a hundred pieces in here. Cassie! Are you there? Fetch the superglue, will you please!"

"Fetch it yourself!" came the blonde's voice from the washroom. "I'm busy slashing my wrists!"

"Oh dear, not again," sighed the older woman.

This time I made it through the front door of the office without being stopped. At the end of the corridor I turned to see if anyone was pursuing me. Good - nobody in sight.

Perhaps the daily routine wasn't so bad after all, I reasoned. I mean, when you viewed the alternatives. Perhaps I should make the most of what I had and then, in time, when I felt ready, maybe some season tickets. Maybe even - who knows? - join a bowling club. Hell, who cares what it's all about? Joie de vivre's probably over-rated.

I turned to descend the stairs to the lobby. Five small brown furry bodies hurled themselves at my face.