Kurt often thought creativity came from some other place. How could those ideas he wrote in his novels come from him? Was it God, the Muses, or some great source in the stars . . . well, he didn’t know exactly, but he often felt like a radio receiving transmissions. He would soon find out how right he was.
Those broadcasts from beyond had brought him here, to the editor in chief’s office, on what he hoped was the precipice of a career in writing. He was already working as a reader down the hall in the nonfiction department, but after two years of battling the blank page he had finished his first novel. He was hoping for a spot on Lor Publishing's roster of writers whom he had admired since he was a kid. He wanted this badly.
Kurt had to know, "Did you like it?"
"I liked it," Miles said without making eye contact. His head was lowered, his attention on the manuscript on his desk. Miles was a veteran of over three decades in the publishing game. As the editor in chief of Lor Publishing, he was an important man to know in this town. Kurt had worked hard at getting his attention.
On either side of Miles’s desk stood two men in gray suits. Were they studio executives from Hollywood looking to option the rights to his novel before it was even published? Only in Kurt’s dreams. Had he removed the dollar signs from his eyes, he might have noticed the suits were a little too conservative for Hollywood types.
"Funny thing is," Miles said, finally making eye contact, "I liked it the first time I read it, over a week ago."
Kurt blinked several times. "What do you mean? I just gave it to you last night."
"I read up until chapter seventeen of your manuscript before flipping to the last page. The ending was exactly as I had expected. Word for word," Miles said.
Kurt waited for the punch line.
"I knew what the ending was going to be, because I’ve already read this manuscript. Unfortunately it had someone else’s name on it. It had Richard Bock’s name on it."
Stunned, Kurt was speechless. Richard Bock currently had three novels on the bestseller list, two of which were already made into movies; the third was on the way. He was Lor’s most important writer. Had Bock tuned in to the creative frequency first? Writers sometimes came up with similar ideas, but never complete novels word for word. It had to be a mistake.
"I asked my secretary to bring me Richard’s manuscript and, lo and behold, they were nearly identical. Same idea, same basic arrangement of words," Miles said.
"That’s impossible," Kurt said.
"I thought someone was playing a joke on me. You’re not playing a joke on me, are you, Kurt?" Miles asked.
"No." Joke? Kurt never joked about his writing. In two years he hadn’t even talked about his novel with his own mother.
"You’ve been working for me as a reader for . . . two years now. Like most of our readers, you have aspirations to be a writer. I’m always thrilled to come into work and find one of their manuscripts on my desk." Bullshit, Kurt thought. "And even though we publicly claim to have a full client list, the first thing I did—after my half-caf, no foam, skim latte and bagel—was read your manuscript."
"Are you telling me that last week Richard Bock submitted a novel exactly like mine?" Kurt asked.
"Same title?" Kurt asked.
"Same words?" Kurt asked.
"Some were different, but not many. It looked like a sloppy attempt at veiling plagiarism. Like kids do in school," Miles said.
"I wrote every word in that book," Kurt said, jabbing his finger at the manuscript.
"Richard Bock begs to differ. And so do his lawyers," Miles pointed to his left and then to his right, "Joshua and Byron Fickelstein of Fickelstein and Fickelstein."
The two suited men acknowledged Kurt sternly. The whole thing was like bad television, like they had rehearsed it.
"There’s more," Miles said.
"More manuscripts," Miles said.
"I stole more than one?" Kurt asked.
"You’re admitting it?" one of the suits asked.
"That’s an admission," the other suit chimed in, making a note of it on a legal pad.
Kurt glared at them.
"If this is a joke, now is the time to tell me," Miles said.
Kurt said nothing.
"Then you mean to tell me you don’t know anything about the other six manuscripts that showed up on my desk," Miles continued. "The ones exactly like Bock’s?"
"There are six other manuscripts?" Kurt asked in a shocked gasp. "Wait a second. Why are they like Bock’s? Why not like mine?"
"Richard Bock is a Hugo Award winner, has a PhD in astrophysics, and is a best-selling author."
"So, he’s innocent until proven guilty. The rest of you are suspects."
One of the suits handed Kurt a document as thick as a dictionary.
"This is basically a gag order," Miles said. "You can’t talk about, submit, or distribute the manuscript. The copy you submitted to me, as well as the other six manuscripts, are being held as evidence. Fickelstein and Fickelstein have also asked that your house be searched, your computer be confiscated, and criminal action taken."
"Copyright infringement is a crime," Miles said.
"Miles, you can’t possibly think I put my name on someone else’s book? How stupid would that be? Give me a little credit!" Kurt said.
"No one is pressing formal charges as of yet, but I suggest you cooperate with the authorities in any way you can," Miles said.
"How could I have stolen from Richard Bock?" Kurt asked. "I work in nonfiction. You’re the only one at Lor authorized to read his material. I’ve never even read one of his published books!"
"As a reader for the publishing house, you have access to submissions. You know how manuscripts fly around this office," Miles said.
It was true. Last year one manuscript in particular, a tearjerker written by a well-known romance writer, had been passed around to every secretary in the office. One of the girls had even taken it home for a few days and brought it back wrinkled with tear stains.
"Miles. The whole reason I wanted to work in nonfiction is so I wouldn’t be influenced by other writers," Kurt said.
"Now Kurt, I’m not saying for sure you plagiarized his work, but it's a little strange you submitted the same book he did. What am I supposed to think?"
"Similar ideas come out all the time. Remember those two asteroid movies?"
"Kurt, your whole book is identical to Bock’s book."
"Impossible! No way!"
"If there’s been a mistake, we’ll find out what it is. You have my full support, but for now, I regret to inform you, I have to let you go. You’re fired."
"You’re firing me? I can’t believe this!" Kurt threw up his hands.
"Security has already cleaned out your desk. They’re waiting for you in the lobby."
As Kurt left the office, shocked, confused, and angry, Miles's last words were nearly lost on him: "Get a lawyer."
Out in the lobby, amid the pity-filled eyes of a half dozen receptionists, two security guards he knew by name handed him a cardboard box full of his stuff and escorted him to the elevator. He felt like a criminal.
To top it off, a very angry woman was waiting for him in the lobby.