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Five

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"Start anywhere. Don't leave anything out. Sometimes the things that seem most irrelevant are the most important leads."

Liv sat at her desk, digital recorder running, pen and legal pad in hand. Across from her, hunched into an office chair, Cooper Tedeschi looked nervous. He jiggled one knee up and down. He swallowed and looked toward the door like he wanted to bolt. "I don't know where to start."

Liv sighed. She leaned over the desk toward her cute and rumpled client. He looked more boyish today in his faded jeans, black tee-shirt, and gray zippered hoodie. The dimple in his chin and the curly hair reminded her of a cherub. A glum cherub. "Look, Cooper. Don't be nervous. I'm on your side, remember? You're not on trial here."

Cooper's face flushed red. "How much is this going to cost me?"

"Nothing for a consultation, which this is. We can work the rest out later if I decide to take the case." She tapped her pen on the legal pad. "Right now, just tell me what happened, as best as you can remember it. Start from when you were accepted into the MFA program at Longfellow College."

"Okay. I was accepted two years ago into the program and started taking courses that September." Cooper's voice got stronger. "Two years of my life, wasted. I should have graduated this coming August, but I was kicked out of the program in February thanks to Mason Falwell and those spineless sycophants on the honor code committee and the administration!"

Liv smiled. This was the wordsmith she remembered from the coat room at the Glitterati Ball. "Can you give me a list of the names of the people on the committee?"

"Sure." Cooper bent down and handed her a document from the satchel near his chair. "These are the papers. All the names are on there."

Liv nodded at him, approving. Cooper was nervous, but he was prepared. That told her he was serious about the situation and was already thinking ahead. She liked that in a client. "Okay, go on. Mason Falwell was assigned to be your advisor?"

"No. I requested him." Cooper grimaced. "Worst decision I ever made."

"Tell me about the program. Did you have classes with Mason exclusively?"

"No," Cooper said, shaking his head. "The first year I took graduate courses in literature, critique, and creative writing with a number of English Department professors. Last September, though, I began writing my graduate thesis--the novel--under Falwell's tutelage."

"Tutelage? I don't understand."

"The second year of the program is basically low-residency. A cohort of second-year students meets for three weeks at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters for workshops, readings, conferences, and one-on-one tutorials. After that, we're expected to work independently on our own projects, sending chapters to our advisors and receiving their feedback."

Liv jotted down a few notes. "Okay, continue."

Cooper's leg jiggled up and down. "Falwell mentored me on the novel. The work went quickly. I'd send him packets with three or four chapters every couple of weeks, and he'd either send them back or we would meet in his office to discuss the work."

"Did you use intercampus mail or email?"

"The college's email and document-sharing program called Long/Space."

Liv took the information down, and then looked up. "What was the title of the book?"

"The Eye of the Hours. It's a hybrid, a cross between science fiction and fantasy." Cooper's voice was proud, truthful.

Liv pressed her lips together. On the other hand, Cooper could be delusional, believing Mason Falwell's recent book was his own. She wondered if he'd had emotional or psychological problems in the past or a family history of schizophrenia. For now she'd proceed as if he was mentally stable, but took down a note to do a background check for anything suspicious.

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