Trust Me, I'm Lying (Trust Me #1) - Mary Elizabeth Summer
THE STRATTON JOB
I can’t say I have much personal experience with conscience. I wasn’t born with that particular cricket on my shoulder. But people who believe in conscience seem to think it has something to do with compassion. And it could, I suppose, if you tilt your head and squint at it in just the right light.
The truth is, conscience exists because everyone has something in their past they’re not proud of. And if you’re smart enough to use that to your advantage, you can stay one step ahead of the consequences. Any good con man with the right kind of rope can hang an entire mob.
But my story doesn’t start with the mob. It starts with a pair of borrowed pumps and the front walk of a black-shuttered Colonial.
I am Ms. Jena Scott, the youngest attorney at Lewis, Duncan, and Chase Law. Or at least, I am for the next thirty minutes. Then I’ll turn back into Julep Dupree, sophomore at St. Agatha’s Preparatory School and all-around fixer. (Julep’s not my real name, either, but we’ll get to that later.)
It’s the officially unofficial talk around school that I’m a solver of other people’s problems. And I am. I just happen to charge a respectable sum for my services. St. Aggie’s isn’t cheap, and a job at the local deli isn’t going to cover the cost of toiletries, let alone tuition. Luckily, my fellow students can more than afford my rates.
My talent is the one thing I can leverage. I’m a grifter, a con artist, and a master of disguise. I’m the best, actually, because I was taught by the best—my dad, Joe. Never heard of him? Well, you wouldn’t have, because he’s never been caught. And neither have I. The best grifters are ghosts.
For the newbies out there, a grifter is a person who specializes in selling people something that doesn’t exist. At the moment, I’m selling my client Heather Stratton’s parents on the idea that she has applied to New York University. Which, of course, is a load of crap.
Heather doesn’t want to go to NYU; she wants to be a model. But since her mom won’t bankroll that endeavor, my job is to grease the wheels, so to speak, so everyone believes she’s getting what she wants. It’s a win-win-win, really. Heather is happy, Mrs. Stratton is happy, and I get paid. When you look at it like that, I’m in the making-people-happy business.
Heather’s paying for a full pig-in-a-poke package: fake application, fake interview, fake acceptance. And it’s going to cost her. I’ve already had Sam, my best friend and partner in crime, build a fake NYU website showing Heather’s application status. Then came the official-looking brochures and letters on NYU stationery Sam and I spent an afternoon making. And that was easy compared to getting the envelopes to sport a postmark from New York.
Now I’m doing the interview bit. Ms. Scott is a new creation of mine. A lawyer by way of NYU undergrad and University of Pennsylvania law school. She works at a big-deal firm here in Chicago and occasionally does admission interviews for her alma mater.
I straighten my suit skirt in the perfect imitation of a lawyer I saw on television last night. There’s a good chance nobody’s watching, but it never hurts to get into character early. I touch my hair to make sure the longish brown mess is still coiled into a tight French roll. I adjust the thin, black-framed glasses I use for roles both younger and older than my near-sixteen years.
Then I remember my gum—doesn’t exactly scream professionalism. Lacking an appropriate disposal option, I take the gum out and stick it to the bottom of the Strattons’ mailbox. I walk up to the covered porch and rap smartly on the blue door. A few moments later, a brittle, middle-aged woman with a too-bright smile and Jackie O style opens it.
“Mrs. Stratton, I presume,” I say in a slightly lower pitch than usual. People assume you’re older if your voice is deeper.
“You must be Ms. Scott,” she says. “Please, come in.”
She’s easy enough to read. Nervous, excited. She’s an easy mark, because she wants so much for me to be real. I mean, look at me. This disguise is a stretch, even for a professional grifter. But she won’t doubt it, because she doesn’t want to. No disguise is more foolproof than the one the mark wants to believe. I might feel a little bad for her if I were a real