An extract from Lisa Scottoline’s thilling ONE PERFECT LIE
Read the opening section of Lisa Scottoline's thrilling new novel, ONE PERFECT LIE.
Posted on April 11, 2017 in Extract
Tags: Extract, Lisa Scottoline, One Perfect Lie, crime fiction, thriller
Chris Brennan was applying for a teaching job at Central
Valley High School, but he was a fraud. His resume was
fake, and his identity completely phony. So far he’d fooled
the personnel director, the assistant principal, and the chairperson
of the Social Studies Department. This morning
was his final interview, with the principal, Dr. Wendy
McElroy. It was make‑or‑break.
Chris waited in her office, shifting in his chair, though
he wasn’t nervous. He’d already passed the state and federal
checks and filed a clear Sexual
Misconduct/Abuse Disclosure Form, Child Abuse Clearance
Form, and Arrest/Conviction Report & Certification
Form. He knew what he was doing. He was perfect, on
He’d scoped out the school and observed the male
teachers, so he knew what to wear for the interview – a
white oxford shirt, no tie, khaki Dockers, and Bass loafers
bought from the outlets in town. He was six-foot-two,
216 pounds, and his wide-set
blue eyes, broad cheekbones,
and friendly smile qualified him as handsome in a suburban
way. His hair was sandy brown, and he’d just gotten it cut
at the local Supercuts. Everyone liked a clean-cut
they tended to forget that appearances were deceiving.
His gaze took in Dr. McElroy’s office. Sunlight spilled
from a panel of windows behind the desk, which was
shaped like an L of dark wood, its return stacked with
forms, files, and binders labeled Keystone Exams, Lit &
Alg 1. Stuffed bookshelves and black file cabinets lined
the near wall, and on the far one hung framed diplomas
from Penn State and West Chester University, a greaseboard
calendar, and a poster that read dream more,
complain less. The desk held family photographs, pump
bottles of Jergen’s and Purell, and unopened correspondence
next to a letter opener.
Chris’s gaze lingered on the letter opener, its pointed
blade gleaming in the sunlight. Out of nowhere, he flashed
to a memory. No! the man had cried, his last word. Chris
had stabbed the man in the throat, then yanked out the
knife. Instantly a fan of blood had sprayed onto Chris,
from residual pressure in the carotid. The knife must have
served as a tamponade until he’d pulled it out, breaking
the seal. It had been a rookie mistake, but he was young
‘Sorry I’m late,’ said a voice at the doorway, and Chris
rose as Dr. McElroy entered the office on a knee scooter,
which held up one of her legs bent at the knee, with a
black orthopedic boot on her right foot.
‘Hello, Dr. McElroy, I’m Chris Brennan. Need a hand?’
Chris rose to help her but she scooted forward, waving
him off. She looked like what he’d expected: a middle-aged
professional with hooded blue eyes behind wire-rimmed
bifocals and with a lean face framed by clipped gray hair
and dangling silver earrings. She even had on a dress with
print. Chris got why women with gray
hair dressed in gray things. It looked good.
‘Call me Wendy. I know this looks ridiculous. I had
bunion surgery, and this is the way I have to get around.’
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Only my dignity. Please sit down.’ Dr. McElroy rolled
the scooter toward her desk with difficulty. The basket in
front of the scooter held a tote bag stuffed with a laptop,
files, and a quilted floral purse.
Chris sat back down, watching her struggle. He sensed
she was proving a point, that she didn’t need help, when
she clearly did. People were funny. He had researched
Dr. McElroy on social media and her faculty webpage,
which had a bio and some photos. She’d taught Algebra
for twelve years at CVHS and lived in nearby Vandenberg
with her husband David and their Pembroke Welsh corgi
Bobo. Dr. McElroy’s photo on her teacher webpage was
from her younger days, like a permanent Throwback
Thursday. Bobo’s photo was current.
‘Now you know why I’m late. It takes forever to get
anywhere. I was home recuperating during your other
interviews, that’s why we’re doing this now. Apologies
about the inconvenience.’ Dr. McElroy parked the scooter
next to her chair, picked up her purse and tote bag from the
basket, and set them noisily on her desk.
‘That’s okay, it’s not a problem.’
Dr. McElroy left the scooter, hopped to her chair on
one foot, then flopped into the seat. ‘Well done, me!’
‘Agree,’ Chris said pleasantly.
‘Bear with me another moment, please.’ Dr. McElroy
pulled a smartphone from her purse and put it on her desk,
then reached inside her tote bag and slid out a manila
folder. She looked up at him with a flustered smile. ‘So.
Chris. Welcome back to Central Valley. I hear you wowed
them at your interviews. You have fans here, already.’
‘Great, it’s mutual.’ Chris flashed a grin. The other
teachers liked him, though everything they knew about
him was a lie. They didn’t even know his real name, which
was Curt Abbott. In a week, when it was all over and
he was gone, they’d wonder how he’d duped them. There
would be shock and resentment. Some would want
closure, others would want blood.
‘Chris, let’s not be formal, let’s just talk, since you’ve
done so well at your previous interviews, and as you know,
we have to get this position filled, ASAP. Mary Merriman
is the teacher you’d be replacing, and of course, we all
understood her need to take care of her ailing father.’
Dr. McElroy sighed. ‘She’s already up in Maine, but reachable
by email or phone. She would be happy to help you
in any way she can.’
Whatever, Chris thought but didn’t say. ‘That’s great to
know. How nice of her.’
‘Oh, she’s a peach, Mary is. Even at her darkest hour,
she’s thinking of her students.’ Dr. McElroy brightened.
‘If I expedite your paperwork, I can get you in class this
Thursday, when the sub leaves. Can you start that soon?’
‘Yes, the sooner the better,’ Chris said, meaning it. He
had a lot to do by next Tuesday, which was only a week
away, and he couldn’t start until he was in place at the
school. It gave new meaning to the word deadline.
‘I must warn you, you have big shoes to fill, in Mary.
She’s one of our most beloved teachers.’
‘I’m sure, but I’m up to the task.’ Chris tried to sound
‘Still it won’t be easy for you, with the spring semester
already well under way.’
‘Again, I can handle it. I spoke with the others about it
and I’m up to speed on her syllabus and lesson plans.’
‘Okay, then.’ Dr. McElroy opened the manila folder,
which contained a printout of Chris’s job application, his
fake resume, and his other bogus papers. ‘Chris, for starters,
tell me about yourself. Where are you from?’
‘Mostly the Midwest, Indiana, but we moved around a
lot. My dad was a sales rep for a plumbing-supply
and his territory kept changing.’ Chris lied, excellently. In
truth, he didn’t remember his father or mother. He had
grown up in the foster-care
system outside of Dayton,
Dr. McElroy glanced at the fake resume. ‘I see you went
to Northwest College in Wyoming.’
‘Got your certification there, too?’
‘Hmmm.’ Dr. McElroy paused. ‘Most of us went to local
Pennsylvania schools. West Chester, Widener, Penn State.’
‘I understand.’ Chris had expected as much, which was
why he’d picked Northwest College as his fraudulent alma
mater. The odds of running into anyone here who had
gone to college in Cody, Wyoming, were slim to none.
Dr. McElroy hesitated. ‘So, do you think you could fit
‘Yes, of course. I fit in anywhere.’ Chris kept the irony
from his tone. He’d already established his false identity
with his neighbors, the local Dunkin’ Donuts, Friendly’s,
and Wegman’s, his persona as smoothly manufactured as
the corporate brands with their bright logos, plastic key
tags, and rewards programs.
‘Where are you living?’
‘I’m renting in a new development nearby. Valley Oaks,
do you know it?’
‘Yes, it’s a nice one,’ Dr. McElroy answered, as he’d
anticipated. Chris had picked Valley Oaks because it was
close to school, though there weren’t many other decent
choices. Central Valley was a small town in south-central
Pennsylvania, known primarily for its outlet shopping. The
factory store of every American manufacturer filled strip
mall after strip mall, and the bargain-priced
bisected by the main drag, Central Valley Road. Also on
Central Valley Road was Central Valley Dry Cleaners,
Central Valley Lockshop, and Central Valley High School,
evidence that the town had no imagination, which Chris
took as a good sign. Because nobody here could ever
imagine what he was up to.
Dr. McElroy lifted a graying eyebrow. ‘What brings you
to Central Valley?’
‘I wanted a change of scenery. My parents passed away
five years ago, in a crash. A drunk driver hit their car
Chris kept self-pity
from his tone. He had taught
himself that the key to evoking the sympathy was to not
act sorry for yourself.
‘Oh no! How horrible.’ Dr. McElroy’s expression
softened. ‘My condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss.’
‘Thank you.’ Chris paused for dramatic effect.
‘How about the rest of your family? Any brothers or
‘No, I was an only child. The silver lining is that I’m
free to go anywhere I want. I came east because there are
more teaching jobs and they’re better-paying.
here are rolling in dough, correct?’
Dr. McElroy chuckled, as Chris knew she would. His
starting salary would be $55,282. Of course it was unfair
that teachers earned less than crooks, but life wasn’t fair.
If it were, Chris wouldn’t be here, pretending to be somebody
‘Why did you become a teacher, Chris?’
‘I know it sounds corny but I love kids. You can really
see the influence you have on them. My teachers shaped
who I am, and I give them so much credit.’
‘I feel the same way.’ Dr. McElroy smiled briefly, then
consulted the fake resume again. ‘You’ve taught Government
‘Yes.’ Chris was applying to fill the opening in AP
Government, as well as the non‑AP
course Government &
Economics and an elective, Criminal Justice, which was
ironic. He had fabricated his experience teaching AP
Government, familiarized himself with an AP Government
textbook, and copied a syllabus from online, since the AP
curriculum was nationally standardized. If they wanted to
turn the public schools into chain stores, it worked for him.
‘So, you enjoy teaching at the secondary level. Why?’
‘The kids are so able, so communicative, and you see
their personalities begin to form. Their identities, really,
are shaping. They become adults.’ Chris heard the ring of
truth in his own words, which helped his believability. He
actually was interested in identity and the human psyche.
Lately he’d been wondering who he was, when he wasn’t
‘And why AP Government? What’s interesting about
AP Government to you?’
‘Politics is fascinating, especially these days. It’s something
that kids see on TV and media, and they want to
talk about it. The real issues engage them.’ Chris knew
that engagement was a teacher buzzword, like grit. He’d
picked up terms online, where there were so many teacher
blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter accounts that it seemed
like the Internet was what engaged teachers.
‘You know, Chris, I grew up in Central Valley. Ten
years ago, this county was dairyland, but then the outlets
came in and took over. They brought jobs, but we still
have a mix of old and new, and you see that in town.
There’s been an Agway and a John Deere dealership for
decades, but they’re being squeezed out by a Starbucks.’
‘I see.’ Chris acted sad, but that worked for him too.
He was relying on the fact that people here would be
and above all, trusting.
‘There’s an unfortunate line between the haves and the
and it becomes obvious in junior year, which
you will be teaching.’ Dr. McElroy paused. ‘The kids from
families take the SATs and apply to college.
The farm kids stay behind unless they get an athletic
‘Good to know,’ Chris said, trying to look interested.
‘Tell me, how do you communicate with students, best?’
there’s no substitute.
I’m a friendly guy. I want to be accessible to them on
email, social media, and such, but I believe in personal
contact and mutual respect. That’s why I coach, too.’
‘Oh, my, I forgot.’ Dr. McElroy frowned, then sifted
through his file. ‘You’re applying to fill our vacancy for
an assistant baseball coach. Varsity.’
‘Yes.’ Chris had never coached before, but he was a
naturally gifted athlete. He’d been going to indoor batting
cages to get back in shape. His right shoulder ached. ‘I feel
strongly that coaching is teaching, and vice versa. In other
words, I’m always teaching, whether it’s in the classroom
or on the ball field. The setting doesn’t matter, that’s only
‘An insightful way to put it.’ Dr. McElroy pursed her
lips. ‘As assistant baseball coach, you would report to Coach
Hardwick. I must tell you, he doesn’t keep assistants very
long. His last one, well, moved on and wasn’t replaced.
Coach Hardwick likes to do it all himself, his own way.
And he can be a man of few words.’
‘I look forward to meeting him.’ Chris had researched
Coach Hardwick, evidently a well-known
jerk. ‘I’m sure
I can work with Coach Hardwick. He’s an institution in
baseball, and the Central Valley
Musketeers have one of the finest programs in the state.’
‘That’s true.’ Dr. McElroy nodded, brightening. ‘Last
year, several players were recruited for Division I and II.’
‘Yes, I know.’ Chris had already scouted the team online
for his own purposes. He needed to befriend a quiet,
insecure boy, most likely a kid with a troubled relationship
to his father. Or better yet, a dead father. It was the same
profile that a pedophile would use, but Chris was no
pervert. His intent was to manipulate the boy, who was
only the means to an end.
‘So where do you see yourself in five years?’
‘Oh, here, in Central Valley,’ Chris lied.
‘Why here, though? Why us?’ Dr. McElroy tilted her
head, and Chris sensed he had to deliver on his answer.
‘I love it here, and the rolling hills of Pennsylvania are
a real thing. It’s straight‑up
beautiful. I love the quiet
setting and the small-town
vibe.’ Chris leaned over, as if
he were about to open his heart, when he wasn’t even
sure he had one. ‘But the truth is, I’m hoping to settle
down here and raise a family. Central Valley just feels like
‘Well, that sounds wonderful! I must say, you lived up
to all of my expectations.’ Dr. McElroy smiled warmly
and closed the file. ‘Congratulations, Chris, you’ve got the
job! Let me be the first to welcome you to Central Valley
‘Terrific!’ Chris extended his hand over the desk,
flashing his most sincere grin.
It was time to set his plan in motion, commencing with