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The good liar, p.29
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       The Good Liar, p.29

           Catherine McKenzie
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“Why did you?”

  “I’ll tell you everything, okay? But I need you to be honest with me. I need you to tell me how you blew up the building.”

  “Why do you want to know?”

  “Because I want to be close to you. But there can’t be any secrets between us for that to happen. So tell me. I want to understand.”

  Franny was shaking her head, but Kaitlyn could feel her tipping. She leaned forward.

  “It’s pretty amazing that you got away with it. I’m impressed.”

  “You are?”

  “Of course I am. You must be very, very smart.”

  “Everyone thinks I’m stupid.”

  “I’ve never thought that. So tell me, Franny. Tell me, sweetheart . . . How did you do it?”

  Franny smiled the slowest smile Kaitlyn had ever seen. “It was easy. People are stupid, you know? And they underestimate people. They underestimate people like me all the time.”

  “I’ll bet they do.”

  Franny’s smile spread. She was enjoying this. “I was working at Peoples Gas as a secretary.”

  “You were living in Chicago?”

  “I moved here two years ago.”

  “That’s how you were following us around so easily?”

  “That’s right.”

  “And what happened at work?”

  “All I was hearing about was how bad the pipes were. How one might blow at any moment and God forbid because it could bring down a whole building. And one day this guy, this technician, Carl, who was a bit sweet on me, showed me a map of where the worst pipes were. And he pointed to one, and it was like a sign or something. It was right under your building.”

  Kaitlyn shivered. “And then what?”

  “I asked him, all casual like, how could it happen? What could make something blow up? He told me it would only take a small hole in the pipe. Something that could easily go overlooked, especially if one of the sensors was out, which they were all the time. The gas would accumulate, and if it didn’t get repaired quickly, all it would take is a spark to blow the whole thing up.”

  “How did you get in the tunnel?”

  “That was easy, too. All the maps were there, and I swiped a security pass when a worker came in one day. I just had to be patient.”

  “And that morning you went down and made a hole in the pipe?”

  “Yes, and I turned off the sensor so no one would know there was a leak.”

  “That was clever. What created the spark?”

  “I found this thing on the Internet about how to rig a trash can to burst into flames on a delay . . . I put that in a maintenance closet where I knew one of the vents led down to the tunnels. The timing worked out even better than I expected.”

  Franny smiled that smile again. The room turned cold. Kaitlyn leaned back in her chair. All she wanted to do was get up and run, but she had one last thing to do.

  “I want you to leave town,” Kaitlyn said.

  “You want to go somewhere together?”


  “What? I thought . . .” The color fled from Franny’s face. “You tricked me, didn’t you? You still don’t care.”

  “Yes, I tricked you.”

  “Well, I’m not leaving.”

  “Yes you will.”

  “Why should I?”

  Kaitlyn turned over the phone. The record function was on, blinking red. “Because if you don’t, this recording’s going to the police.”

  “What? You wouldn’t do that . . . You’d be caught, too.”

  “I’ll take my chances. You’ll leave tonight. Now.”

  “No, I have to go say goodbye.”

  “You’re leaving in thirty minutes. I even bought you a ticket. You can e-mail them once you get there. Joshua will be relieved. Trust me.”

  “He chose me, you know. I didn’t even have to work that hard.”

  Kaitlyn hit the button to end the recording. Franny tried to grab it from her, but Kaitlyn was too quick. She pocketed the phone.

  “Don’t bother. See that guy at the door? I paid him five hundred dollars to watch out for me. If you try anything, he will be on you so fast.” She pushed a bus ticket across the table. “Take the ticket, Franny. Eileen. Go home.”

  Franny looked at the location. Madison.

  “I don’t want to go back there.”

  “I don’t care. You can leave and go somewhere else if you want. You just have to promise not to come back to Chicago.”

  “How will you know if I do?”

  “I have something set up.”

  It didn’t take Franny long to get there. “Cecily.”

  Kaitlyn didn’t say anything.

  “I made sure Joshua knew what you did with Tom. I knew he’d tell Cecily,” Franny said.

  “Thanks for that.”

  They glared at each other. Kaitlyn had a sickening thought that she and Franny weren’t so different after all. And wasn’t the explosion at least partly her fault? If she’d handled Franny properly, maybe none of this would have happened. They’d both spend the rest of their lives in purgatory. It wasn’t enough to pay for her own sins, but it was something.

  “You’d better get going, Franny. You wouldn’t want to miss your bus.”

  Franny’s eyes darted around the room, looking for an exit.

  “There’s no way out. Take the ticket. Go to Madison. Then go where you want. Start over for good this time. And get some help. Forget about me. Forget about my family.”

  “I can’t ever forget about you.”

  Kaitlyn suspected the feeling was mutual, but she didn’t want to think about that right now.

  “Let’s go. Stand up.”

  Franny followed her instructions. Kaitlyn left some money on the table for her drink, then tapped Franny between her shoulder blades, leading her out of the bar. They crossed the street, Kaitlyn with a firm grip on Franny’s arm. She took her to her bus stop. She waited with her until it was time to get on. They didn’t say goodbye.

  There was nothing left to say.












  I have a secret.

  Twenty-four years ago, I gave a baby up for adoption.

  When I was eighteen years old, I won a contest to intern at a famous magazine in Europe. I was so surprised I won that it took me weeks to tell my parents. I’d lie in bed and stare and stare at the envelope, the letter. I read everything I could about the city. I bought tapes and learned the language. Actually learned it, not just the way you do in school. I loved the way it rolled off my tongue. The way it tasted.

  My parents were strict, and I was a bit wild. I thought I was carefree, that they were too cautious. But I can see their point of view now. I was reckless. The kid who’d walk along the edge of the seawall. The one who didn’t listen when her parents told her to step away from the ledge. I scraped knees, broke a wrist, got a mild concussion. They’d frown while I laughed. The pain was worth the experience.

  So this, I knew this, even though I was eighteen, would be a problem. I needed to show my parents I could be trusted. That nothing would happen to me. That I’d be safe.

  Somehow I did. They hemmed and hawed. I begged and ple
aded and promised.

  And then they let me go.

  I met him the third day I was there. I see the cliché now. An older man, my boss, married. The heedless, naive girl from North America. After, when it was over, I realized he’d manipulated it all from before I arrived. That he’d chosen me because he saw something in my essay. My photograph. Something pliable. Something broken that he could exploit rather than fix. That even the flowers he’d given me—marigolds—were part of the information he’d gleaned from my application. Was he a sociopath? Given everything, I’ve wondered. But then? I thought he was charming. Smart. The man for me forever.

  Until the stick turned blue two months into the New Year.

  Then he was cold, distant. More clichés upon clichés. I would have an abortion. He would pay, grudgingly it seemed. Of course he wouldn’t leave his wife. Had I done this on purpose?

  It was nasty. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to tell my parents. I couldn’t bring myself to end the connection I had to him. I loved him.

  I loved him.

  I found a place to go. My parents weren’t expecting me back until the summer. I called them once a week with updates, fake stories. Even to me, my life sounded fabulous.

  Then, in small towns, there were still places for girls like me. The nuns who worked at the place I went to were kind but censorious. As I grew larger and larger through the spring, I felt as if I was being crushed under the weight of their judgment. I craved my own language, food, city. I wanted to nest.

  I wanted to go home.

  That was impossible, but I found a place to go that was near enough. A sister organization the nuns approved of. I told my parents I’d been asked to stay on. The university would defer another year, and I could start my courses by correspondence. I made it seem as if it was their choice, and they agreed. They missed me, though. I said I’d call more often.

  I flew home in my eighth month, the end of a hot August, passengers staring. I looked so young. A baby having a baby. I remember my hair sticking to my neck. How I could never get cool. How often I had to pee.

  The nuns met me at the airport, drove me to Wisconsin. I barely remember anything of the drive, flat land flashing by. Then weeks staring out the window, feeling as if I was forcing myself to eat. Then pain. They never tell you about the pain. A conspiracy of women. I even found myself doing it, so much later, when I was pregnant with my daughter. I must’ve been exaggerating. It couldn’t be that bad.

  It was. And then it was over, and I was holding this alien thing. I thought I’d love it. Her. I thought I’d love her because she was a part of him. Instead, I turned my face away. I couldn’t face this, not now, and so the choice was made for me. Forms were signed. The baby was whisked away. I went back to the nuns until the weight had slipped from my body.

  The last month I was there, I read every issue of the magazine I was supposed to have contributed to. I made my weekly calls to my parents. I tried not to think of what I’d done. I surprised them the day before Christmas. Twinkling lights and a sprinkle of snow. My parents were delighted. I was so skinny, though—was everything all right? I nodded and brightened my smile and let my mother take me shopping for the college I would finally start in January.

  At night I cried. Then I taught myself how to forget. Her smell, her face. I erased each memory one by one by one. The memories of him were the hardest. His laugh, the way he held me. The cold look in his eyes when I told him. But I did it. I did it.

  I went to college. Every fall, around her birthday, the one day I couldn’t forget, a dark cloud descended. The fall blahs, I used to say, and take my medication. The clouds would lift, but I was a different person. Cautious. Lacking trust. Looking for security.

  The man I married matched the new me. Or so I thought. I fashioned a life. The years rolled away. I wasn’t happy, but I was managing.

  Then she came back. My daughter, the one I’d abandoned. She wrote to me. She wrote to me, and I was terrified. She wrote to me, and I was sad. She wrote to me, and I told her I wasn’t her mother. That she had the wrong person. That I never gave a baby up for adoption.

  So many lies.


  This book came tougher than some. Keeping me company along the way were:

  My sister and first reader, Cam.

  My friends on the roller coaster, especially Tasha, Janet, Tanya, Stephanie, Lindsay, Christie, and Candice.

  Wait, I have male friends, too: my patient and supportive husband, David; Eric; Presseau; Adrian; and Dan.

  My writerly peeps; my agent, Abigail Koons, and the whole Park Literary team; my editor at Lake Union, Jodi Warshaw, and the great author team there; Danielle Marshall and publicists Dennelle Catlett and Kathleen Zrelak; my new team at S&S Canada, Laurie Grassi, Nita Pronovost, and Kevin Hanson. And Paul Benjamin. Thank you all for believing in me and my writing.

  The other writers in my life, especially Therese Walsh, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, Heather Webb, Barbara Claypole White, Kathleen McCleary, Bruce Holsinger, those in the Fiction Writers Co-op, and Shawn Klomparens. You read, you listened, you gave great feedback. This book, and my life, would be less without you.

  My readers, who I am so grateful for.

  And Sara: who this book is for. She knows why.

  This book was written principally in Montreal, Canada; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. February 25, 2016, to January 1, 2017.






  1. Few people knew about the impending divorce between Cecily and Tom. What do you think about Cecily’s motives for keeping it a secret?

  2. Do you think Cecily’s anger toward Tom even after his death is a way for her to avoid dealing with her grief and feelings of guilt, or is what he did so awful?

  3. What would Cecily have to gain or lose by forgiving Tom?

  4. Do you think Cecily is right to eventually tell Cassie and Henry about the difficulties in her marriage?

  5. Cecily was supposed to be in the building at the time of the explosion but wasn’t. What role do you think fate played in that situation? How might Cecily and other characters have acted at various times if their beliefs about fate or coincidence were different?

  6. Cecily feels too guilty about hiding the trouble in her marriage to see that she’s been a hero to many after the tragedy, while Kaitlyn believes herself to be a “bad mother,” even though she’s a good nanny. Why do you think some people have trouble seeing the good parts of themselves and focus only on their faults?

  7. What do you think of Kate/Kaitlyn’s choice to run away from her family?

  8. How much regret do you think Kaitlyn has about her actions in life? Do you believe she does love her children? How differently do you think you’d feel about it if the character were a man?

  9. Kaitlyn risked exposure by returning to Chicago to save her family from Franny, but then she chose to leave again. Why? Do you think she made the right choice the second time?

  10. Why do you think that Franny acts the way she does? What does that reveal about her? What is she hoping to accomplish?

  11. Why are people so suspicious of Franny and her motives? What might she have done differently to alleviate those fears?

  12. Why do you think Kaitlyn refuses to acknowledge Franny? How much of a role does that play in Franny’s actions, and in Kaitlyn’s own?

  13. Has there ever been a time in your life when you were tempted to run away from everything?



  This is your eighth novel. What was the inspiration for this one?

  I have had the idea for part of this novel kicking around in my brain for years: What would happen if someone used a national tragedy to run away from her life? I wasn’t sure there was enough of a story there, so I parked it. Then I heard various stories about people faking their way into tra
gedies, which I also thought was fascinating. And then, finally, I heard a story about a 9/11 widow whose divorce was about to be finalized right before the towers fell. The three ideas fused together and became The Good Liar.

  What interests you most—characters or plot?

  I always start with plot—the big question or premise the book will be about. In this case, it was an image of a woman running away from a tragedy, a woman running toward the same tragedy, and one stuck in the middle of it. Once I have the premise, I think more about the plot. What’s the beginning, middle, and end? Where does this premise go? When I have that, I wait for the voice of the main character to show up. I do this by thinking about that person: who are they, how are they trapped in this situation, et cetera. When I hear that voice, I start writing.

  This story is about lies on so many levels: Tom’s affair, Kaitlyn’s dishonesty throughout her marriage, Franny’s deception surrounding her background, Cecily’s lies to herself and others about her feelings for Teo. What is it about deception that you find so fascinating?

  I think there is a lot of withholding in life, and even more so in books. When you are writing suspense, there are—in my view—two ways to go about it. You can create tension and fear through external forces (What was that noise in the basement?) or you can do it through having your characters be unreliable (which is another word for liars). I’ve never been a fan of external fears (I hate horror movies—I don’t enjoy being visually scared or the gore involved), so I tend to gravitate toward character-driven suspense.

  When you’re writing, do you always know how a story is going to end?

  Generally. Sometimes the fine details change, or, as in this case, I added an epilogue that I hadn’t envisioned specifically, but for which I subconsciously left bread crumbs throughout the book that I picked up in that chapter.

  Do your characters, and how they grow and develop as you’re writing a story, ever make you veer off course as far as plot goes?

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