As Good As Dead Page 2


She stepped into the room and his face was the first thing she saw. Sitting on the opposite side of the long table, his angular cheekbones in a downward point to his mouth, his messy swept-back blonde hair. He glanced up and met her eyes, a hint of something dark and gloating in his.

Max Hastings.

Pip’s feet stopped moving. She didn’t tell them to, it was like some primal, unspoken knowledge – that even one more step would be too close to him.

‘Here, Pip,’ Roger said, pulling out the chair directly opposite Max, gesturing her down into it. Beside Max, across from Roger, was Christopher Epps, the same solicitor who’d represented Max in his trial. Pip had last come face to face with this man on the witness stand; she’d been wearing this exact same suit while he hounded her with that clipped bark of a voice. She hated him too, but the feeling was lost, subsumed by her hatred for the person sitting opposite her. Only the width of a table between them.

‘Right, hello, everyone,’ Hassan said brightly, taking his assigned chair at the head of the table, in between the two parties. ‘Let’s get the introductory bits out of the way. My role as mediator means I’m here to help you reach an agreement and a settlement that is acceptable to both parties. My only interest is to keep everyone here happy, OK?’

Clearly Hassan had not read the room.

‘The purpose of a mediation is essentially to avoid litigation. A court case is a lot of hassle, and very expensive for all involved, so it’s always better to see if we can come to some arrangement before a lawsuit is even filed.’ He grinned, first to Pip’s side of the room, and then to Max’s. A shared and equal smile.

‘If we cannot reach an agreement, Mr Hastings and his counsel intend to bring a libel lawsuit against Miss Fitz-Amobi, for a tweet and a blog post shared on 3rd May of this year, which they claim consisted of a defamatory statement and audio file.’ Hassan glanced at his notes. ‘Mr Epps, on behalf of the claimant, Mr Hastings, says the defamatory statement has had a very serious effect on his client, both in terms of mental well-being and irreparable reputational damage. This has, in turn, led to financial hardship for which he is seeking damages.’

Pip’s hands balled into fists on her lap, knuckles erupting out of her skin like a prehistoric backbone. She didn’t know if she could sit here and listen to all this, she didn’t fucking know if she could do it. But she breathed and she tried, for her dad and Roger, and for poor Hassan over there.

On the table, in front of Max, was his obnoxious water bottle, of course. Cloudy dark blue plastic with a flick-up rubber spout. Not the first time Pip had seen him with it; turns out that in a town as small as Little Kilton, running routes tended to converge and intersect. She’d come to expect it now, seeing Max out on his run when she was on hers, almost like he was doing it on purpose somehow. And always with that fucking blue bottle.

Max saw her looking at it. He reached for it, clicked the button to release the spout with a snap, and took a long, loud sip from it, swilling it around his mouth. His eyes on her the entire time.

Hassan loosened his tie a little. ‘So, Mr Epps, if you would like to kick things off here with your opening statement.’

‘Certainly,’ Epps said, shuffling his papers, his voice just as sharp as Pip remembered. ‘My client has suffered terribly since the libellous statement Miss Fitz-Amobi put out on the evening of 3rd May, especially since Miss Fitz-Amobi has a significant online presence, amounting to more than 300,000 followers at the time. My client has a top-tier education from a very reputable university, meaning he should be a very attractive candidate for graduate jobs.’

Max sucked from his water bottle again, like he was doing it to punctuate the point.

‘However, these last few months, Mr Hastings has struggled to find employment at the level which he deserves. This is directly due to the reputational harm that Miss Fitz-Amobi’s libellous statement has caused. Consequently, my client still has to live at home with his parents, because he cannot find an appropriate job and therefore cannot pay rent to live in London.’

Oh, poor little serial rapist, Pip thought, speaking the words with her eyes.

‘But the harm has not been my client’s alone,’ Epps continued. ‘His parents, Mr and Mrs Hastings, have also suffered from the stress, and have even recently had to leave the country to stay at their second home in Florence for a couple of months. Their house was vandalized the very same night Miss Fitz-Amobi published the defamatory statement; someone graffitied the front of their home with the words: Rapist, I will get you -’

‘Mr Epps,’ Roger interrupted. ‘I hope you are not suggesting that my client had anything to do with that vandalism. The police have never even spoken to her in connection with it.’

‘Not at all, Mr Turner,’ Epps nodded back. ‘I mention it because we can surmise a causal link between Miss Fitz-Amobi’s libellous statement and the vandalism, as it occurred in the hours proceeding that statement. Consequently, the Hastings family do not feel safe in their own home and have had to fit security cameras to the front of the house. I hope this goes some way in explaining not only the financial hardship Mr Hastings has suffered, but also the extreme pain and suffering felt by him and his family in the wake of Miss Fitz-Amobi’s malicious, defamatory statement.’

‘Malicious?’ Pip said, heat rising to her cheeks. ‘I called him a rapist and he is a rapist, so –’

‘Mr Turner,’ Epps barked, voice rising. ‘I suggest you advise your client to keep quiet and remind her that any defamatory statements she makes now could be classified as slander.’

Hassan held up his hands. ‘Yes, yes, let’s just everyone take a breather. Miss Fitz-Amobi, your side will have the chance to speak later.’ He loosened his tie again.

‘It’s alright, Pip, I’ve got this,’ Roger said quietly to her.

‘I will remind Miss Fitz-Amobi,’ Epps said, not even looking at her, his gaze on Roger instead, ‘that four months ago my client faced trial in Crown Court and was found not guilty on all charges. Which is all the proof you need that the statement made on 3rd May was, in fact, defamatory.’

‘All that being said,’ Roger now stepped in, shuffling his own papers, ‘a statement can only be libellous if it is presented as fact. My client’s tweet reads as follows: Max Hastings trial final update. I don’t care what the jury believes: he is guilty.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Now the phrase I don’t care clearly places the following statement as a subjective one, an opinion, not fact –’

‘Oh, don’t give me that,’ Epps cut in. ‘You’re trying to fall back on the opinion privilege? Really? Please. The statement was clearly worded as fact, and the audio file presented as though it were actually real.’

‘It is real,’ Pip said. ‘Wanna hear it?’

‘Pip, please –’

‘Mr Turner –’

‘It’s clearly doctored.’ Max spoke up for the first time, maddeningly calm, folding his hands in front of him. His eyes focused only on the mediator. ‘I don’t even sound like that.’

‘What, like a rapist?’ Pip spat across at him.

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