This is the second of three excerpts from Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "One Perfect Lie," in stores now.
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 head-on." 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 sisters?"
"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. Teachers 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 else.
"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 resumé again. " You've taught Government before?"
"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 impersonating someone.
"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 friendly, openhearted, and, above all, trusting.
"There's an unfortunate line between the haves and the have-nots, and it becomes obvious in junior year, which you will be teaching." Dr. McElroy paused. "The kids from the well-to-do families take the SATs and apply to college. The farm kids stay behind unless they get an athletic scholarship."
"Good to know," Chris said, trying to look interested.
"Tell me, how do you communicate with students best?"
"Oh, one-on-one, definitely. Eye-to-eye, 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 about location."
"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 regional high school 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 home."
"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 High School."
"Terrific!" Chris extended his hand over the desk, flashing his most sincere grin. It was time to set his plan in motion, commencing with step one.