'When my housemate's new boyfriend moved in, I immediately knew something wasn't right.'

This is an extract from Duped: Compulsive Liars and How They Can Deceive You by Abby Ellin. Published by Hachette Australia RRP $32.99

After college, I moved to Manhattan with a gay college buddy named—I swear—James Bond. We were just like Will and Grace, but broke. James and I had a perfect system for figuring out whether a guy was on my team or his. We’d approach whomever caught our eye, sidle up to him and say: “If you were going to go off with one of us—hypothetically–which one would it be?” Not subtle. But efficient.

One night James came home with a sexy bearded Scotsman from Glasgow. Ewan had only been in the country a few months. He was a writer and spoke in a gorgeous lilting brogue, and James fell wildly in love. Ewan had some family outside Boston, but he wasn’t close to them. Soon, he was living with us, and I didn’t mind. He made James happy, and he helped with chores. If the Con Edison bill was due, he’d volunteer to walk over to the office and pay it. All I had to do was hand him the money. He also gave me the name of a family friend who was a big shot at MTV, who would most assuredly hire me.

During the month Ewan stayed with us, things started to seem a little suspicious: Con- Ed sent me a late notice, for example. How could this be, when Ewan paid the bill?

“Beats me,” he shrugged. “They must have made a mistake.”

I doubted it, but I was starting a new job (not at MTV, but at a women’s magazine in New Jersey) and didn’t have time to investigate. And James was still gaga. I didn’t want to kill on his buzz.

One night I found James and Ewan clutching each other on the couch, red-eyed. Ewan’s brother in Boston had been admitted to the hospital; he was dying of AIDS.

A few days later, I told a friend the story. “Do you believe it?” she asked.

Until that point, it hadn’t even occurred to me—not consciously, anyway–that Ewan might be lying. But no, I didn’t buy it. She and I spent the next hour calling Massachusetts hospitals to see if anyone by his brother’s name had been admitted. We found nothing.

compulsive liars

I didn’t have a chance to see James to tell him the news. The next day, I called home from work and checked our answering machine (this was before the iPhone overtook the world). There was a message from the police, “calling about the robbery.” Robbery?

Ewan had stolen all of our CD’s—Dreamgirls! The Who! --and sold them for drug money, which was also where the Con Ed cash had gone. He was not from Scotland but Vermont. He knew no one at MTV, which explains why I never got a call back on the resume I sent over. The accent was a hoax.

James was mortified. As the youngest of five kids, he always despaired of being the only person in a room who didn’t have the same information as everyone else. He spent the next few months scouring East Village record shops and trying to buy back our lost music. He also tracked down Ewan, who was living on the streets.

James barked at me whenever I brought up Ewan’s name.

“Can’t you just drop it?” he’d say. “I feel like a total asshole.”

“But you didn’t know! He lied to you!”

“I don’t care.”

We never discussed it again. Twenty years later, it’s still too upsetting.

This is an extract from Duped: Compulsive Liars and How They Can Deceive You by Abby Ellin. Published by Hachette Australia RRP $32.99

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