Nine years ago:
He hated court. He’d only been into a room like this for research before and, in his younger days, to make amends for dumb colleague pranks gone wrong. This felt like a joke too, but not the sort he could easily laugh off. No, it felt like a nightmare.
He didn’t want to have to deal with this. The book had sold well, but it wasn’t going to pay the rent forever unless he got the sequel edited and sent off in time, and the man that the publishers had assigned to him was a demon. He’d already been up most of the night trying to correct all the grammar he’d taken issues with, and now he had to appear in court and defend himself against a stupid plagiarism accusation.
He hadn’t stolen someone else’s work. He hadn’t copied someone else since the fourth grade when he’d accidentally-on-purpose copied Julie Cho’s math paper and he’d had to stand up in the corner of the class for what felt like hours. After that, he’d promised never again.
That, his lawyer had said, was not something to tell the court. They had a solid defence, of course. The Ryder book had certain similarities to the as yet unfinished manuscript of one Quinten Merchant, but detective fictions of that sort always shared certain aspects of plot and style. It’d be over before they knew it, his lawyer had promised.
They’d been in court for two days now. Gabriel was running out of different shirts and out of energy. It should have been cut and dry. There just wasn’t any proof. True, he and Merchant had once belonged to the same writing classes but Gabriel had hardly gone at all, not after his loan had come through from the bank, and he’d bought himself a copy of the latest Playstation shoot-em-up game. He’d taken years to write his book, just as long to make it publishable, and frankly he’d been surprised that anyone had picked it up at all. He was even more surprised that someone, let alone an old classmate, thought he’d copied their work.
He took a deep breath and pulled into the parking lot in front of the court. He might be selling well, but he wasn’t a big star and so there wasn’t a mass of reporters lying in wait, thank god. He’d expected the news to cause more of a stir in the press, but Ms. Ganesh had sighed and told him they wouldn’t be lucky enough to receive any sort of PR boost. He wouldn’t be mobbed by paparazzi until he became more popular, and that wouldn’t happen till his book was reviewed in more papers, and if he wanted to be really successful, he had to get the sequel out. That last part she’d told him very pointedly, so that he wished he’d said nothing at all.
Maybe that was why he’d felt more motivated, the fact that she seemed so disappointed by how the book was doing. He didn’t want to be a flop, for his own sake mostly. But it’d be nice if Ms. Ganesh stopped giving him those unimpressed looks.
He grabbed the stack of papers from the passenger seat, hopping out of the car and towards the steps. She was waiting there in front of him, in a grey trouser suit with a briefcase in hand, her hair in a business-like ponytail. She looked beautiful, and deadly. Gabriel put on his best grin. Surprisingly, and maybe for the first time, she matched it.
“So you’ve heard the news?” Ms. Ganesh asked him when he reached her, having climbed the stone steps two at a time to try and prove his manliness. All it did was make his legs hurt.
“They’ve thrown out the case. It’s been ruled as a waste of the court’s time. They said you didn’t have reasonable ease of access to Merchant’s work. I don’t doubt that he’ll try a civil suit, but that will fall on its face too, or so our legal team tell me. Then we’d file a countersuit anyway, for defamation of character, stress…”
Gabriel felt himself deflate in happy relief, the worry just melting away. “Does that mean we can go for a celebratory coffee?” He asked, and maybe it was the faint note of pleading that made her smile. Maybe it was genuine pleasure that her author wasn’t going to jail.
“Oh, I think so. Once you’ve attended a little press conference I’ve arranged. And finished those edits.”