The book had come out under the imprint of Alistair Taylor. Alistair is a colourful figure, for many years a bold and innovative publisher, a pioneer in New Zealand's late 20th century wine boom, but someone whose career had by this time, like Jeff Lebowski's, slowed down a little.

His phone number was on the copyright page of the book, so I rang him, told him I'd just read Be Very Afraid and enjoyed it, and wondered if by any chance the film rights were available. Alistair thought long and hard and told me that my timing might well have been perfect, that the current option - there had been huge interest - may well have lapsed. He went away and came back with good news. The option had expired! The rights were available! It was my lucky day.

We arranged to meet at his office which was above a Chinese restaurant in the Great South Road. I climbed the stairway into a - sorry, but it's the only way to describe it - Dickensian scene. Dark and chaotic, with shafts of dusty light, and shelves and boxes full of books. As true as the day is long there was a figure sitting on a high stool at the top of the stairs writing numbers in columns in a large book. I asked this ledgers clerk (had to be) for Alistair, and he called out "Alistair! Someone!" without looking up.

Alistair came out. He was utterly charming. We wasted a good hour talking about everything but Be Very Afraid. I was soon sore from laughing. Eventually he brought the meeting to order. He absolutely agreed there was a film in Dave's story, but warned me that Henderson was a prickly bastard, and it would probably be better if he handled negotiations on my behalf. I said sure.

Two weeks passed. I rang Alistair. Henderson was being impossible. But Alistair felt he was making headway. He suggested another week. I waited two. Still no news. By now bored and restless I rang Directory Service and asked for the number of Dave Henderson in Christchurch, address unknown. There were several. I rang the first one. A voice I would come to know well over the next few years answered with a sharp 'Yuh!' as though I'd interrupted him in the middle of something important, which I probably had. He was always working. When, a few years later, the cowardly Michael Cullen, who succeeded Bill Birch as Minister of Finance, described Dave, under parliamentary privilege, as being the organiser of the sex industry in Christchurch, Dave's partner Christina said he was so busy he hardly had time to organise the sex industry in his own house.


I said I was trying to contact the Dave Henderson who had had a titanic run-in with the Inland Revenue Department and written a book about it. "Yuh," said Dave. I took that to mean I had the correct Henderson. I explained that I was interested in optioning the film rights to the book. "Are you the guy from Hollywood?" Dave asked. The guy from Hollywood? Hmmm.

It seemed there were differing points of view around the payment of royalties from sales of Be Very Afraid, which the publisher was hoping to off-set by brokering a lucrative film deal. Lucrative! That's exactly the kind of gall someone needs if that someone is going to plant pinot in Martinborough, or publish books of Robin Morrison photographs or New Zealand Artists, A to M.

Dave had appointments in Auckland the following Friday so we arranged to meet at Toto, an Italian restaurant in Nelson Street (sometimes referred to as the TVNZ cafeteria in reference to the number of TVNZ employees who supposedly enjoy splendid lunches there. Senior management. About 1% of TVNZ's staff. The rest eat their sandwiches in the real TVNZ cafeteria, a far more prosaic spot).

Dave was already seated when I arrived. He was looking through the NBR. I told him how I had got onto his story via Simon Carr's columns in that paper. He told me he had become good friends with Simon as a result of Simon's interest in his case. He told me Carr's theory about films not getting made. Dave was a really good guy, well-read, witty, unpretentious, easy to like. He was dressed in his version of formal - pinstripe suit, white shirt open at the neck over a white tee-shirt, no tie. And shoes and socks of course. Dave was in Auckland in part to attend a function put on by Hanover Finance that evening. They always invite me, he said. I owe them more money than anyone else in New Zealand.