Down to the Liar
Author:Mary Elizabeth Summer

Thinking about my dad inevitably leads to me thinking about my mom. I still haven’t found her. I have no freaking idea where to even start looking, and neither does my dad. I’ve combed through my student file, but all the people listed in it are untraceable. No one’s ever heard of them, and there are no records of them anywhere that Murphy and I can find. There’s no personal information, like previous addresses, known associates, or even their favorite color. And if I can’t track them down, I can’t ask them if they know where my mom is.

Ralph, my dad’s bookie and best friend, is still missing, too. He should have made some kind of contact by now. It’s been months. Petrov won’t cop to killing him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t. Part of me hopes Ralph comes back. A bigger part of me hopes he’s cashed out and is lying on a beach somewhere sipping mai tais and binging on his wife’s Korean cookies.

Which circles me back around to thoughts of Tyler. The boy I almost-but-not-quite maybe-could-have loved. The boy who betrayed me. The boy who died instead of me.

My brain shies away from thoughts of him. Especially lately. Something will trigger a memory, and I’ll flinch. Then anger swirls up, swallowing the memory and the pain. The practical effect is that I’ve gotten a lot snarkier lately, and I snap quicker and more often. I know I’m doing it, but I can’t make myself stop. Everything irks me these days.

I stop at my locker and shake myself loose from the grip of things I can do nothing about. I’m much better off focusing on the job at hand. And just as I think that, the majority of St. Aggie’s girls’ tennis team passes me on their way to the computer lab. Skyla’s on the tennis team as well, but she tends to socialize with Bryn’s group instead. It’s not much of a motive for publicly urging someone to off herself, but popularity is a strange animal and girls can be vipers sometimes.

I slam my locker door closed and jump when I see the person standing behind it, waiting for me to notice him.

“Damn it, Carter,” I say, holding a hand to my chest. “Make some noise next time, will you?”

“Sorry.” He doesn’t look sorry. He looks like a weasel with a five o’clock shadow and a greasy tangle of dark hair. “Murphy sent me to get your computer. He wants to add the receiver to your hard drive, so you can help him sort through the data.”

I hand him the computer. “You were friends with Sam, right?”

He nods, though on him it’s more a head-duck than a nod.

“Do you still talk to him?”

“Not really,” Carter says. “He’s not on the forums much anymore. Kind of a shame. He always seemed to know the answer.”

My chest tightens, so I nod back instead of speaking.

He starts off down the hall, but I stop him. “Thanks, Carter. For helping with the job. You didn’t have to.”

He keeps his eyes downcast as he says, “I know her.” Then he scurries away before I can say anything else too far outside his comfort zone.

“Ms. Dupree. Loitering in the hallway, I see.”

That smug observation would only come from Dean Porter. Sure enough, she’s snuck up behind me like a titian-haired sniper. I want to roll my eyes at her, but the last thing I need is for her to haul me into her office. If I never see the inside of that floral monstrosity again, it will be too soon.

“I believe fourth period is still currently in session.”

I hand her the pass I always keep on my person. I have a stack of them in my book bag for just such an emergency. I am an expert forger, after all.

The dean doesn’t bother examining the pass. She knows it’s as fake as the IDs I unloaded on her desk last October. But she also knows she can’t prove it without talking to the teacher whose signature I forged, and Mr. Ludzinski owes me a favor. Even if she could get him to back her up, I’m a protected species at St. Aggie’s these days. President Rasmussen likes me, which means I can get away with pretty much anything short of setting the library on fire.

“Get to class.” She levels her serious-as-a-train-wreck gaze at me. But as soon as her back is turned, I smile. She’s carrying her laptop, and she’s headed toward Ms. Shirley’s computer lab. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. A window into the dean’s personal computer? Yes, please.

I’m about halfway to fourth period when I pass the door to the chapel. Skyla is kneeling in front of the statue of St. Nicholas and lighting a candle. I almost keep going. She hired me to make the attacks stop, not to counsel her through the experience. But Mike’s advice echoes in my brain: Follow the victim. Maybe I can get something out of her while she’s in the mood for confession.

I kneel next to her, clumsily making the sign of the cross. I don’t pray very much, or, you know, ever. But I can fake the motions well enough.

“He’s the patron saint of thieves,” I say, indicating the statue. “We go way back, St. Nick and I.”

“He’s also the saint of children,” she says quietly, not looking at me.

“You say ‘tomato’…”

“What can I do for you, Julep? I’ve already served you the privacy of all of my friends on a silver platter.”

“If they’re not responsible for the attacks, they have nothing to fear from me. I’ll push the deactivate button on the spyware myself the second this is over.”