“Dennis Brent” gasped Francois Devine when I told him about the compliment I’d paid Lola Whitecastle. “I never thought to hear such words from your otherwise respectable mouth".

“I’m told it is the sort of thing one says” I replied.

“It may be the sort of thing some people say, but not the sort of thing one says” he insisted, pointing to himself (the one of which he spoke) as best he could with arms at yet another peculiar but medically important pair of angles.

“Be that” I continued, tired of his interruptions already, “as it may, I told her she was quite a beautiful woman and she thanked me verbally for the remark. As subtly as I could I ticked it off the list written on my cuff and moved on.”

“What would you bring to my autobiography?” she asked.

“Well, access to your papers would give me a unique insight into everything you’ve ever done that was important enough to be written down and stored out of public sight. I think you’ll agree that anything sensational has been covered in the popular press so to maximise sales your book should only include things that haven’t already been in the papers. To give just one example, I expect over 90% of the book to come from a forensic analysis of your camera scripts, contracts and memos collection. That level of forensic analysis is the service you get when you hire Dennis Brent.”

I gave her one of my best smiles. She swallowed hard – obviously impressed by my sales pitch – and took a sip of water.

“I’ve got plenty to say about what you called the sensational parts of my life that has never been in the newspapers. Things that have – until now – stayed behind my bedroom doors. To give you just one example, Maxwell De La Rocca Cruz and I spent a blissful evening in Beverly Hills…”

I covered her next few words with a loud blow of my nose.

“I said, Maxwell De La Rocca Cruz and I spent…”

I spared my blushes with a deep and sustained cough.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“That depends – are you going to try and tell me rude things again?”

“You mean the night Maxwell De La…”

Having used nose blowing and coughing, and not feeling that digestive gas would impress her, I had no alternative but to yawn loudly and lengthily.

“…and he ended up pouring a whole carton of whipped…” she continued. I yawned again. My jaw was starting to hurt but I could see her lips moving. I began to wave for the waiter, only realising later that doing so while my mouth was wide open might’ve looked a bit odd.

“Decidedly odd” agreed Francois Devine. “In your case at least. I quite often leave my mouth open in restaurants to save time.”

“Would madam care to order?” he asked. Whitecastle studied the menu.

“I’d like Pasta Alla Norma please” she told him after a moment’s considered thought. The waiter turned to me and I had a final look at the children’s menu which I hoped would keep the cost down a bit.

“I think I’ll have the Yo ho ho Cockleshell Bay Macaroni Cheese Treasure Chest please” I announced. He looked down his nose at me, wrote it in very small letters on his pad and took our menus away. I decided the time was right to use my second compliment.

“I see you’ve dressed with care this evening” I told her with another of my special smiles.

“Thank you… I think” she replied. “I bought this dress in Paris two or three years ago while spending the summer with Countess Angelique…”

“Do you have any of your Adventures into Space costumes left?” I interrupted. Van Starbuck’s book hadn’t explicitly mentioned what to do if your female goes off the agenda (indeed, he doesn’t mention an agenda at all which was why I hadn’t sent a copy to Whitecastle in advance).

“Why yes – I have one of my jumpsuits – the one with the rockets on the front, and one space policeman’s minidress. Sadly, the knee length boots perished in the early 70s and the shiny, leather-look catsuit got paint on it when I wore it to redecorate my flat in 1982.”

“You wore a priceless telehistorical artefact to paint your flat?” I gasped. “What a pathetically stupid thing to do. I bet you mixed the paint with an original spoon shaped Sensorite gun too. The scale of barbarism is almost too much to stomach.”

“Then I’d better not tell you what happened to my space policeman’s truncheon” she said with an odd glimmer in her eye.

“What did happen to your space policeman’s truncheon?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know.”

“I do.”

“You don’t.”

“I do. I’m always interested in the location and condition of artefacts of great historic interest and auction value.”

She told me what she did with her space policeman’s truncheon.

Sometime later there was a knock on the lavatory cubicle’s door.

“Is sir all right?” asked the waiter.

I wiped my face with some lavatory paper having spent a solid fifteen minutes retching into the bowl.

“Dinner is served.”

“I’ll be out shortly. I just received a rather nasty shock to my system. That woman has rendered two priceless items unsaleable but in very, very different ways.”

I emerged from the facilities and sat back down at our table. Whitecastle had begun eating and I turned my attention to the plastic treasure chest that contained my economical portion of macaroni and cheese.

“That looks delicious” she said with a smirk.

I shovelled as big a forkful of pasta into my mouth as I could, just to avoid having to speak to the woman. I reasoned that it would be possible to communicate entirely by electronic mail during the production of her book, even if it meant her moving out while I was on site reviewing her private papers.

“I did say you wouldn’t want to know what happened to…”

I waved my knife and then mimed stopping talking. She looked a bit shocked but I put that down to my mime involving pointing at her and waving my knife across my throat in a gesture that either said ‘stop talking’ (my intention) or ‘I’m going to cut your head off’.

After a period of silent contemplation we resumed negotiations.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m writing my autobiography now” she said. I hadn’t been but I was rather enjoying my macaroni and cheese and would let her do the work for a while. I’d been trying really hard all evening and deserved a little me time.

“Mmm” I said vaguely.

“Well, I went to see my specialised a few months ago and he told me I have a rather serious condition.”

I instantly felt I was in danger and she sensed my fear.

“Don’t worry – it’s not catching. I need a large sum of money to pay for treatment at a very exclusive Swiss clinic and when a publisher offered me an advance, I thought the time was right.”

Now I knew I wasn’t in danger I rather lost interest in her story. The timing was awful though – we’d been offering her cash for her papers since the late 1980s with every offer turned down flat. If only we’d had notice that she was dying (or whatever) – there was clearly a window where a solid monetary offer would’ve bought access to her archive without any of this demeaning mucking about taking her out to dinner et al.

“Would sir and madam care to order dessert?” asked the waiter, suddenly appearing out of nowhere like a well-trained servant should.

“I’ll have Crostata Al Frutti Di Bosco” said Whitecastle.

“And I’ll have the Pieces of Eight Chocolate Fudge Treasure Map” I added. He gave me a look which was either utter contempt or a frustration that I’d thought of a way to save money that had never occurred to him.

I laid down some ground rules while we waited for dessert to arrive. I told her what I was prepared to write about, what I wasn’t, the minimum level of technical detail I was prepared to stoop to, the number of convention calibre anecdotes I needed per chapter, the maximum font size for the work to retain scholarly credibility (7 point Times New Roman – anything more just looks like it’s written for children), the exact photograph of my face which must be on the dust jacket (or, if she insisted on the anonymous ghost writer nonsense which I’d been assuming was a backup plan in case she ended up with a lesser telehistorian like Francois Devine or Smasher rather than the authentic Dennis Brent brand, the photograph of my face which must be on the dust jacket of my personal author’s copy) and that I must have a key to her house or safety deposit box (delete as applicable) so I had access to the papers 24 hours per day.

“Mr Brent – your passion excites me” she declared.

“Hold hard, woman, I resent that remark deeply.”

“You clearly care a lot about my book and that touches me. I’ve seen a number of you research types recently and I’m afraid not all of them can go on to the next stage of the process. I’ll need to speak to your colleagues – Mr Melba, Mr Ganache and Mr Devine – but I’m pleased to say that you interest me and I’ll be in touch about the next part of the selection.”

“And Melba, Francois Devine and Smasher?”

“I’m sorry to say that the person who won’t be joining me again is…”

She paused for about thirty seconds. I blame television talent programmes.

“…Mr Ganache.”

I punched the air with joy and beamed at my fellow diners. I had one compliment left on my cuff and now was clearly the time to use it.

“May I say that your shoes are almost the same colour as the rest of your clothes and I think you did that deliberately.”

She was speechless. The end.”

I sat back against my pillows and looked over at Francois Devine and Melba.

“A mildly interesting tale, Dennis Brent, but not one I’d recommend you ever tell again.”

“Well it was better than yours” I said wittily.

“I suppose that is that” concluded Francois Devine. “Since we vowed never to talk about what happened next.”

“We did indeed. What happened next shall remain between the three of us” I agreed.

A functionary came in to reposition Francois Devine’s arms and to tell us that we had a visitor.

“His name is D.I. Thomas – he says he wants to talk to you about something very important.”

“D.I. Thomas?” I gasped. A policeman. Now we were in trouble.