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The good liar, p.26
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       The Good Liar, p.26

           Catherine McKenzie
 
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  “There’s no point in getting a confession that can’t be used,” Teo says. “And we could end up the ones in trouble. Besides, that wasn’t the point of all this. We wanted to find enough to persuade her to leave Joshua, right? This, and the other things we’ve found, should do the trick.”

  “What else did you find?”

  “The name change,” Joe says. “And her sister says she wasn’t adopted. I looked into it, and she’s right. No adoption records anywhere in Wisconsin by her parents. And they had lived there since before Eileen was born.”

  “Couldn’t they have come to Illinois to adopt?”

  “They could’ve, but I checked the records here, too.”

  “Aren’t those records sealed?”

  “Some are and some aren’t.”

  He looks blasé. If I press him about where he got his information, I’m sure he’ll give me some variation of “I have my methods.”

  “Why are you surprised?” Teo says. “You were the one who told me that she wasn’t Kaitlyn’s daughter.”

  “I know, it’s just . . . My source isn’t the most reliable person.”

  “How so?”

  “Let’s leave it at that, okay?”

  Joe looks curious. Too curious.

  “Right, Teo? We had a deal.”

  “We do—don’t worry. Joe’s not going to go investigating without getting paid, right, buddy?”

  “True enough.”

  “So how do we do this?” I ask. “How do we convince her to leave? She’s not even returning my calls or texts right now, and I’m not sure where she is.”

  “She’s back with Mr. Ring,” Joe says. “They reconciled, apparently.”

  I feel stunned, though I’m not sure why. Joshua doesn’t know what I know. They got into a fight because he was hurt about Kaitlyn and Tom.

  “Well,” I say. “That makes it easier, I guess. Poor Joshua.”

  “I thought I’d ask her to come in for a final interview,” Teo says. “Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.”

  “Is she talking to you?”

  “Nope.”

  “So how do we make that happen?”

  Teo hesitates. “What if you speak to Joshua?”

  “And say what? Your fiancée’s a complete fraud, and Teo would like to confront her with the information so you have a better ending for your documentary?”

  Teo smiles. “You’ll make it sound much better than that. Besides, you’re going to have to speak to him about it at some point, aren’t you?”

  The reality of it all hits me. Because Teo’s right, I’m going to have to speak to Joshua about all of this. This and the other things we left hanging when Franny found those e-mails. But how can I do this to Joshua? He’s had enough loss already. And maybe his and Kaitlyn’s relationship wasn’t great, I could always see that, and she was unhappy, but he’s a great dad and has managed a tough situation well. On the other hand, I can’t let Kaitlyn’s girls be raised by someone like Franny. What I know already is enough, and nothing Joe found makes it any better, even if she didn’t kill her parents.

  “Yes, you’re right. But I’m not looking forward to it.”

  “I don’t blame you.”

  “Can I have that file?”

  Joe looks at Teo, who shakes his head. “Sorry, ma’am, but this here is my confidential work product. If it goes out of my hands, then I could be compromising myself and the people who helped me get it.”

  “How am I supposed to convince Joshua, then? If someone told me this kind of stuff about my husband, I probably wouldn’t believe them unless I had the evidence. Unless I could see for myself that it was true.”

  “I have an idea,” Teo says. “But you’re probably not going to like it.”

  He tells me what it is, and he’s right. I don’t like it, but it’s going to be effective, I think: kill another two birds, or three in this case.

  It’s just sad that there are so many birds that need killing in the first place.

  • • •

  Joe leaves, and I text Joshua and ask him to meet me for coffee—alone, I emphasize. He dithers a bit but then agrees to meet me after the kids are in bed. Franny can watch them, he writes, his way of letting me know she’s back.

  “It’s all set,” I say to Teo.

  “Good. Thanks for doing that.”

  “I haven’t convinced him to do anything yet.”

  “I have faith in you.”

  I sink onto the couch. “I have no idea why. I’ve been a complete mess the entire time you’ve known me.”

  He sits down on the coffee table in front of me. Our knees are almost touching. He looks tired and stressed. This isn’t easy for anyone.

  “You’re not a mess,” he says. “You’re great.”

  “If you could see the inside of my brain right now, I doubt you’d think that.”

  “I’d love to see the inside of your brain.”

  “I’ll bet. The better to document me.”

  “That’s not what I meant.”

  He’s looking at me so intently, as if he’s become the camera, recording my every move. I cover my face with my hands. I’m so sick of being observed, of being seen. Before, I was invisible, a star only in my own life. We could all use a trip to the past.

  “This is the problem with us,” I say.

  “What’s that?”

  “It’s not just the trust thing we were talking about the other day. It’s this film. It’s always going to be between us.”

  “I’ll be finished with it soon.”

  “But it won’t be finished with me. It’s going to come out, and for your sake, I hope it’s a big success, but for me, I wish that no one would ever see it.”

  “Why did you agree to participate, then?”

  “You’re very persuasive.”

  “I’m not that persuasive. Come on, I’m not recording this; just tell me.”

  I look at my hands. I’m still wearing my wedding ring. I put it back on my finger on the way home from New York and never took it off again. “I felt guilty, I think. Guilty I survived, guilty I got that check. Guilty I wasn’t the grieving widow everyone thought I was. And I had this silly idea that maybe it would bring closure to the whole thing. That once everything was down on tape, I could move on, and everyone else could, too. I could go back to being who I was before.”

  “That makes sense.”

  “Does it?”

  “Of course it does. But you don’t have to feel guilty, Cecily. I’m sure you’re not the only one whose marriage was in trouble and whose spouse died that day.”

  He doesn’t know how right he is.

  “That’s probably true.”

  We stare at each other for a moment until the heat rises in my cheeks.

  “You know what I see?” Teo says. “What I’m going to show in my film?”

  “What?”

  “Someone who never understood how strong she was. Think of all the amazing things you’ve done this year. You’re a symbol to so many people of what survival can look like. How you can turn tragedy into something positive not just for yourself but for others, too.” He leans in as he talks, closing the space between us. “And that’s why I wanted you in my film. You’re the hero, Cecily, whether it feels like it or not.”

  “I wish I could see myself that way.”

  “What’s holding you back?”

  “The truth.”

  “What’s the truth?”

  I sit up, and now our faces are so close I can smell the coffee Teo’s been drinking.

  “I had a crush on you,” I say.

  “Had? What happened to it?”

  “You know what happened.”

  He frowns. “I killed it.”

  “You did.”

  “That’s too bad.”

  “Is it?”

  “Yes, because my crush is still alive and well.”

  He comes closer, and I can feel the kiss before it starts. A real kiss this time, not some hurried t
hing on a street corner. Soft lips, his tongue in my mouth, his hands on my hips pulling me toward him.

  I want this, I want this, I want him. But then I stop.

  “We can’t.”

  He rests his forehead on mine. “Are you sure?”

  “You’re the one who put the brakes on. Nothing’s changed, has it?”

  “No.” He kisses my forehead and stands. “I should probably go.”

  “I have to meet Joshua soon.”

  “Right. Let me know how that goes?”

  I stand, and we walk to the front door. “I will.”

  He puts on his coat, then strokes the side of my face. “I wish things were different.”

  “We all do.”

  I open the front door and watch him walk to his car. He gives me a wave as he drives past the house, and I can’t help but wish I’d made a different decision. But then again, do I need another man in my life who has doubts about whether we should be together? I deserve to be someone’s first choice.

  I deserve to be someone’s sun.

  38

  I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE

  KAITLYN

  There was something about hiding above a garage that belonged to someone who’d never liked her that made Kaitlyn feel more like a fugitive than she had all year. She didn’t trust Sara not to blow the lid off this whole thing. The look of disgust she’d given her when she let them in hadn’t helped. Kaitlyn didn’t need those kinds of looks from others. She was disgusted enough with herself. And all it meant was that staying there felt dangerous. She might be discovered at any moment. A SWAT team on the stairs. A door kicked in. Then cuffs. Being booked and photographed. A cell with a bad mattress and a scary roommate.

  Child abandonment. That’s what she’d done. She’d looked it up once. It was a Class 4 felony in Illinois. She didn’t know what that meant, but she knew felonies were generally something to be avoided. They probably wouldn’t put her in jail, but given how she’d gone about it, they might want to make an example of her.

  She’d also Googled “is faking your own death illegal?” The search auto-filled; someone before her, many people, in fact, had asked the same question. Even though she’d done it in another anonymous Internet café, she’d gotten nervous. Was there some alarm that went off in Skynet if you Googled child abandonment and faking your own death? If there wasn’t, there should be.

  Pseudocide. That’s what faking your own death was called. It wasn’t illegal, but according to an article she’d read, it generally required so many other frauds to pull it off that you were bound to make it illegal. Kaitlyn didn’t think she’d done any of those things. She hadn’t created a false identity. She’d gone back to who she was before she was married. She hadn’t involved anyone else, so it wasn’t a conspiracy. Or filed for insurance or run out on loan payments. Though maybe she had. Joshua had to pay the mortgage by himself now. And she owed support to her kids.

  She had to face it. She was a criminal. If she was caught, bad things would happen. She had to stay uncaught. In a day or two, when all this was taken care of, she could leave again. Go back to Canada. Maybe Andrea would even take her back. If not, there were enough families in need of her services. It was a way to make up for abandoning her own children. Being a surrogate mother.

  Eileen had felt abandoned. That’s what she wrote to her in the first in a long series of rambling e-mails. Her whole life, she felt as if she didn’t fit in. That missing biology was a main character in her life. One she couldn’t get past. That’s why she was so desperate to find her mother.

  Kaitlyn was sympathetic at first. How could she not be? And it made her feel useful. Like she was helping Eileen get better. Providing her an outlet. A sympathetic ear. It helped Kaitlyn put some things in perspective, too. Her own life wasn’t that bad. She should try to appreciate it more. Maybe her family, motherhood, hadn’t worked out as she’d hoped. But that didn’t mean it was all bad. That it couldn’t improve. If telling someone her problems helped Eileen, then it could help her, too. She went to see a counselor. She got medication. The clouds lifted.

  Then Eileen had written: You’re my mother, aren’t you?

  No, Eileen, Kaitlyn had written back. I’m sorry, but I’m not.

  But I feel so close to you, you know? I feel that tie I was missing, that bond. It’s you. I know it’s you. Please can we meet so we can verify?

  Verify how?

  A DNA test.

  I’m not your mother.

  But I have the record. My birth certificate from the hospital.

  Eileen didn’t seem to have understood her. She could get like this sometimes, a dog with a bone. Denials wouldn’t dissuade her.

  I’m not doing a DNA test, Eileen. Subject’s closed.

  But no subject was ever closed with Eileen. It might recede for a while, but it was bound to come back. And since she wasn’t going to do a DNA test, it would become a loop. One they’d spin around over and over until Kaitlyn was sick.

  Kaitlyn had tried to help her, but there wasn’t any way out.

  A few weeks later, when Kaitlyn’s boss asked her some pointed questions about whether she was ever going to come back to work, she took the plunge and said no. A few weeks after that, her work e-mail account was shut down.

  She didn’t tell Eileen.

  INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

  TJ: There seem to be some inconsistencies in your story, Franny.

  FM: Oh yeah? Such as?

  TJ: Sherrie said that you often asked if you were adopted as a child, but your parents consistently denied it.

  FM: I told you. I asked them not to tell her.

  TJ: If you didn’t want your sister knowing you were adopted, it doesn’t make any sense that you’d bring up the possibility with your parents when she was around.

  FM: I was a kid. I said stupid things. Maybe I was testing them, you know? Seeing if they’d respect my wishes.

  TJ: Then there’s the stint in juvenile detention you failed to mention.

  FM: I told you—I did some stupid shit, stealing and such. I went to juvie for a couple months. What does that prove?

  TJ: Nothing in and of itself, though I do find it revealing that you didn’t tell me about it.

  FM: I told you the big stuff. The relevant stuff.

  TJ: And you spent time in a mental health facility.

  FM: I suffer from depression sometimes. I’m not crazy. There’s lots of reasons people go to those places. They helped me get better. I take my medication and I’m mindful or whatever, and I don’t have those low moments anymore.

  TJ: But it’s another thing you didn’t tell me.

  FM: Why would I tell anyone that? You try telling people you spent time in a funny farm, and they’re all thinking it’s that Cuckoo’s Nest book, you know? Like I was talking to walls or wearing tinfoil on my head. It wasn’t like that. It was peaceful. Restful.

  TJ: You told me you got a copy of your birth certificate and your birth mother called you Marigold. Is that right?

  FM: Yes.

  TJ: Well, I have a copy of your birth certificate right here. Eileen Marissa Warner. Born on October 10, 1994. That’s your birthday, isn’t it?

  FM: Yes.

  TJ: Strange coincidence about the date.

  FM: I guess. I never thought about it.

  TJ: I find that hard to believe.

  FM: I never cared about my birthday. Why are people so fixated on getting older and celebrating that? It seems stupid to me. And then my mother died on my birthday, and it just made it that much worse. So I didn’t mention it.

  TJ: I looked back at the paperwork you filled out when you signed the waiver to participate in this film, and you put a different birth date down.

  FM: It was this thing I did when I changed my name. I gave myself a new birthday, so I was starting over completely.

  TJ: I see. Coming back to your birth certificate . . . It clearly doesn’t say your name is Marigold.
r />   FM: That’s the one with my adoptive parents on it, right?

  TJ: Yes.

  FM: It’s not my real birth certificate. They give you a new one after you get adopted.

  TJ: I see. Do you have this other birth certificate?

  FM: Not on me. I don’t carry things like that around.

  TJ: If you could send me a copy when you have a chance, I’d appreciate it.

  FM: Sure, I’ll do that. Are we done here?

  TJ: There’s one more thing I’d like to discuss. Why did you insist on having DNA matches to the wreckage for families to get compensation?

  FM: I told you. To keep people from defrauding the fund.

  TJ: It wasn’t to distract away from your own fraud?

  FM: What? I’m not a fraud.

  TJ: You’re sure about that?

  FM: Of course I am.

  TJ: Because I do have a copy of your DNA test.

  FM: Why didn’t you say so before?

  TJ: I was giving you a chance to tell your own story.

  FM: Uh-huh.

  TJ: As I’m sure you’re aware, your DNA didn’t match to anything in the site. They used Kaitlyn’s daughter Emily’s DNA to match to her mug.

  FM: No, that’s not right. There was a match—there was.

  TJ: I have the results right here. Would you like to see them?

  [Pause]

  FM: All this shows is that they forgot to test both samples when they found the mug . . . That doesn’t prove anything.

  TJ: Well, yes, that’s technically true, but . . . We could run the test again. Would you agree to do that?

  FM: You can run whatever tests you like. The lab has my DNA sample. They’ll tell you. They’ll tell you Kaitlyn Ring’s my biological mother.

  TJ: All right, Franny. Please calm down.

  FM: Don’t say that to me.

  TJ: I’m sorry.

  FM: We talked about that. I told you I hate that. I told you.

  TJ: Are you okay? Do you need me to call someone?

  FM: [Muttering] Stupid, stupid girl.

  TJ: Franny?

  FM: Are we done?

  TJ: Yes, of course. I can’t keep you here.

  FM: This is such bullshit. And you know what? I revoke my consent. I take it back, okay? You don’t have the right to use any of this.

 
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