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Six

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Gritty's Pub in the Old Port was quiet at four p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.

Liv picked at the plate of poutine in front of her, popped a gravy-covered fry into her mouth. She looked around at the exposed beams, brick walls, the plank floor and sipped her beer, enjoying the vibe. It was a little early in the day, but you couldn't sit in a traditional, Irish brew pub without having a pint and fries. She figured she'd work it off with a run later.

Cooper's lawyer, Patrick Ledeau, carried a dark amber from the bar and joined her at the corner table. "Thanks for meeting me," he said, sitting in the chair opposite hers. He was a short, stout guy with close-cropped hair, the beginnings of a double chin, and a shrewd intelligence in his round, brown eyes.

He lifted his mug, she clinked hers against it. "Slainte," she said. "Now, tell me what information you need."

Ledeau, an old buddy of Cooper's from their undergrad days, had agreed to take Cooper's case on a contingency basis. He was gathering evidence to bring lawsuits against Mason Falwell for plagiarism and Longfellow College for wrongful dismissal, defamation of character, infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.

"Everything short of murder," Ledeau said, grinning. "Should be enough to give the board of directors heart palpitations. They might even throw Falwell under the bus if it will save their reputation and endowment funds. It's a gamble, but it could pay off. For both of us, Lively."

Liv nodded. She knew he was dangling a financial carrot in front of her. She could bill at a higher rate if she didn't stipulate a retainer up front. If Cooper won a big settlement, Ledeau would collect, and he'd make sure she was paid. It was a gamble, of time and resources, and she needed a better idea of what she was getting into before she totally committed.

Her eyebrows scrunched together over the rim of her rich stout. "Was the college really that negligent? I can see a judge taking one look and throwing the case out."

"Tedeschi paid tuition to the school and met all the requirements for the degree, yet they are withholding that degree from him due to a baseless dismissal. They moved very quickly. I'd argue they failed to do their due diligence regarding Cooper's supposed offenses. We claim they kicked him out of the program because of Falwell's reputation and heavy influence, not because Cooper did anything wrong."

"Attacking a professor, accusing him of plagiarism in the college paper? The honor code committee might have looked at that and made what some people would consider a rational judgement."

"That's where you come in. If we can prove Cooper was telling the truth, his actions are not only reasonable but fair, and their whole defense falls apart."

"What sorts of things are you looking for?"

"We need a copy of Falwell's manuscript, ideally from the publisher. I can handle that. From you I need emails. Any witnesses who heard Mason talking about Cooper's early drafts. Mason Falwell's marital and financial history, legal problems, professional setbacks, anything that would be a potential motivation for stealing a student's work and passing it off as his own."

"That's the real question isn't it?" Liv said, sitting back, crossing her legs and swinging her black, leather boot back and forth. "Why wouldn't Mason Falwell, a best-selling novelist, just write his own book? He could probably scribble any sort of garbage and it would sell--at least for a few years until the fans figured out he had become a hack. He's already published, what, twenty, twenty-five novels. Why would he need Cooper's manuscript?"

Ledeau shrugged. "That's what we need to find out."

"So you think Cooper's telling the truth?"

"I do." He leaned toward her. "I know Coop. He's a good guy. Always had my back. He's passionate about his writing, but he isn't crazy."

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