I wasn’t exaggerating when I said my encounter with Lola Whitecastle was far worse than Francois Devine’s. He may have scoffed in much the same way he does when a counter attendant asks whether or not he would like to super-size his elevenses but at that point he did not know at what he was scoffing.

“Prey hurry along, Dennis Brent” he sighed “and don’t forget that the tale you tell must be sufficient for our esteemed guest.”

He indicated D.I. Thomas with his eyes and I understood what he meant. The truth and nothing but the truth. Just not the whole truth.

“Well” I began, “I too was invited to Lola Whitecastle’s house to discuss my upcoming project as her official archive expert and chronicler. She obviously felt Francois Devine’s proposition was beneath contempt as she booked me to attend her a mere hour after his due arrival time.”

“I can do my business in less than an hour” he interrupted. “Efficiency and charm – that is what is says on the Devine family coat of arms (in Latin naturally) and it is that to which I attempt to live up to every day of my life.”

He was laying it on a bit thick for our plain-clothed guest so I decided to ignore him and continue.

“Thanks to my extensive preparation” I explained, leaving out the bit where I’d toppled into my dustbin when my search for Anthony Van Starbuck’s book overbalanced me, “I knew that brining a bottle of wine to a woman’s house is considered socially acceptable. I opted for an amusing red from Bargainsave’s Latvian collection and from the look on her face I think she found it unexpected. She hasn’t returned it to me by post so I’m assuming she didn’t find it unpleasant. She showed me in and asked if I wanted a drink.”

“A glass of sherry would be admirable” I told her. She waved for me to sit on what I now know to be the same sofa you were also requested to sit in. That does explain both the uncomfortable warmth I felt when I sat down and the extremely depressed cushions which were now laid over the sofa like doilies.”

“I object to that remark” protested Francois Devine. “That is all.”

I continued.

“No sooner had the woman returned with my sherry, however, than she sat down next to me and asked if I would like to take my jacket off. I declined but she insisted – telling me a rather convincing story about how I wouldn’t be insured in the case of a fire if I didn’t take all reasonable steps to keep myself cool. Looking back it seems a bit unlikely but I’d spent much of that afternoon upside down in a dustbin breathing in the decomposing remains of the previous week’s foodstuffs so I wasn’t quite up to my usual standards for sharpness or wariness. She took my jacket away and hung it up but not before feeling the pockets and making a suggestive remark about whether I had a space policeman’s truncheon in my pocket of if I was just pleased to see her. I clarified that I did have a space policeman’s truncheon in my pocket and that I would like her to sign and date it to prove it was authentic. Not that I had any intention of selling it for a considerable profit. I made sure to clarify that.”

“Yawn” boomed Francois Devine. “Is that the end? Do you have anything else you wish to know?” This last remark was aimed at D.I. Thomas who said he did but since Francois Devine was incorrect about my having finished, it wasn’t yet Thomas’s turn.

“I sat sipping my sherry while she signed and dated what was almost certainly an original Adventures into Space prop (and her signature meant it was now as close to official as you could get and – additionally – if it were ever to be proven to be a forgery it would be her in court rather than me). She slipped it back into the pocket of my jacket, made an inappropriate remark and came to sit next to me. I pointed out the many empty chairs but she said she preferred being intimate.”

“Now, about this offer you made for me to write your autobiography” I began, cleverly trying to trick her with my use of language.

“I want to know that you can write from here” she said suddenly, taking my hand and propelling it into my chest in a rough demonstration of where my heart was mindlessly beating and forcing oxygenated blood around my arteries. One by-product of this manoeuvre was that the glass of sherry I had in that same hand was spilled all down my front and onto my lap.”

“Have you run mad?” I demanded.

“Oh dear” she said with an inexplicable lack of remorse. “Your shirt and trousers are covered in sherry. You’d better get them off immediately so I can wash them.”

“If it’s all the same to you I’ll rush home and put them in the sink to soak” I replied.

“Nonsense – sherry is a curse to get out and you wouldn’t want to ruin such beautiful trousers.”

I looked down – these were indeed my best trousers which is the only reason I acceded to her request. Once I was sure she was out of the room, that the door was closed and that the dressing gown she had provided reached down below the top of my socks, I removed both my shirt and my trousers. To clarify, I also removed my waistcoat. I wouldn’t like you to think I was some kind of contortionist. The only reason the waistcoat hadn’t been mentioned so far is that it was a sufficiently dark colour so as not to show up sherry stains. Nor blood stains which is the main reason I chose it.”

“Blood stains?” repeated the police officer.

“I didn’t say blood stains” I told him firmly. “Did you mention blood stains, Francois Devine?”

“I did not.”

He took out his pince-nez and starred at Thomas.

“No one mentioned bloodstains” he said firmly. “No one mentioned blood stains.”

“No one mentioned blood stains” repeated Thomas slowly, his mesmerism complete.

Francois Devine took off his pince-nez, Thomas shook himself awake and I continued.

“I heard the washing machine go on so at least I knew she was telling the truth and hadn’t misappropriated my trousers. Nor my shirt, waistcoat or lime green silk-style/nylon mix tie. She came back in and sat next to me yet again.”

“I want a book that will satisfy me” she purred. “And to do that I need an author who will satisfy me.”

She put her hand on my thigh – a habit she clearly had if your version of events can be believed – only this time she was able to slip it through the gap in my dressing gown and touch actual bare f-l-e-s-h.”

“She didn’t” gasped Francois Devine.

“She did, Francois Devine, and it was horrible. I felt so used and so cheap.”

“What happened next?”

“I tried to steer the conversation back to her written records collection. I asked if I could see some of her papers to get myself going for the mammoth task ahead. She said something unrepeatable about having other ways of getting me going. I said she was talking nonsense so she tried a couple of them. I was right and she was wrong – something I made absolutely clear to her in my letter afterwards. All the while she was attempting to entice me into taking my dressing gown off (why give it to me in the first place?) I was edging round the room and closer to my only means of escape – the front door. I may not have had my trousers (or indeed anything save my undergarments and socks) but I would sooner keep my dignity than sacrifice that just to get my trousers back.”

“Why don’t we go upstairs and loosen up a little?” she suggested.

“Are your written records upstairs?” I asked.

“No – they’re...”

“Like you I’ve opted to censor the rest of that remark just in case you were lying earlier and weren’t told where they reside.”

“I find your lack of trust in me disturbing” said Francois Devine with a pout. “But I shall try to overcome it and not let it drive a wedge between us.”

“We’ve had bigger wedges than that between us” I said wittily. “And most of them have been heavily salted and covered in ketchup.”

Thomas laughed at my extraordinary joke. Francois Devine tried to look sour but was clearly thinking about potato wedges and couldn’t help but lick his lips a little.

“Whitecastle took me by the hand and tried to pull me towards the stairs. It was now or never.”

“Look – a mouse” I shouted, pointing in the opposite direction. Thankfully, women haven’t changed since the 1960s and she turned away in fear and looked for something to jump on to that wasn’t me. I made for the front door and was out before she could ask for more details about the mouse that I’d just made up.”

“Is that the end?” asked a still miffed Francois Devine when I stopped talking.

“It is. Apart from the bit that happened afterwards” I told him.

“The bit that must remain a secret” he agreed.

“Which bit is that?” asked D.I. Thomas.

“Oh” I said, the cat poking its head out of the bag and the worms beginning to slither out of their freshly opened can.

“Ah” added Francois Devine.

“It’s nothing” I said, trying to bluff my way out of the situation. “Just the part that ended with me breaking my legs, Francois Devine breaking his arms and Melba breaking his face.”

“That sounds like the most interesting part of the story” said Thomas, not falling for it for a moment.

What could I do? He was a policeman – I had to tell him what happened.