From the Publisher
“Smashing. . . . Fascinating. . . . Extremely subtle and nuanced. . . . [It has the] power to beguile and enthrall.” —The New York Times Book Review
“There seems to be nothing Smiley can’t write about fabulously well; her insights startle, dazzle.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“An irresistible novel of bad manners, a meditation on love and money that Jane Austen might have enjoyed, if she could have handled the sex.” —Time
“Everything about Good Faith is in perfect move-in condition. . . . [It] displays all the remarkable attention to detail that’s the hallmark of Smiley’s work. . . . Smiley has invested her best talent in this work, and you can buy it in good faith.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A vindication of the traditional American novel. . . . It depicts its disquiet by means of rich, seamless prose, scenic immediacy and tight plotting. It’s a true winner.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Only a writer of consummate craftsmanship and scope could write a novel about a series of real estate deals in a small town and make it so fully satisfying as to be thrilling. Jane Smiley has done it. . . . [Her] range is broad, her technique masterful. . . . [Good Faith is] a cautionary prequel just right for our times. And great fun, to boot.” —Los Angeles Times
“Natural, convincing and moving.” —Chicago Tribune
“I admire this novel in so many ways I hardly know where to start. . . . The suspense Smiley generates is about on a par with a hundred Stephen King creatures coming out of the woods. . . . [Smiley] is one of our most Dickensian novelists, her imagination is prodigious, her observations exact, and the wealth of fascinating people inside her head a national treasure.” —Donald E. Westlake, The Washington Post Book World
“Striking. . . . Well written, amusing.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[A] lusty, testosterone-pumped tale, which both revisits Smiley’s obsession with infidelity and underlines her remarkable ability to humanize an industry. . . . You’re sucked in [by] this story’s power.” —Elle
“A literary property that will only appreciate over time.” —Daily News (New York)
“Scathing, uproarious. . . . All of Smiley’s characters have a sharp vigor that fuels the book’s energy. . . . With its surprises and reversals, and its robust realism pushed step-by-step toward comic hyperbole, Good Faith affirms one’s faith in the venerable virtues of the satirical novel.” —The Seattle Times
“Smiley is never less than brilliant, and this is a clever, classy and utterly enthralling look back in I-told-you-so amusement.” —Daily Mail
“Seductive. . . . Frisky. . . . Hilariously deadpan . . . a beguiling cautionary tale. . . . Like a sturdy, well-planned house, it makes room for everybody, and it ought to last a long, long time.” —The Miami Herald
“With an arsenal of talents that seem equipped for everything from high drama to uproarious satire, [Smiley’s] charm and versatility are outdone only by her narrative confidence.” —The Boston Globe
“[Smiley] is so expert in the vernacular of real estate sales you feel like giving her a license by the end of the book. . . . [She] has imagined herself so deeply into [her protagonist] that we can almost feel the way the guy wiggles his toes in his black silk business socks.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“Smiley’s superb novel does for estate agency what The West Wing does for politics—make it, against the odds, enthralling and sexy. . . . Good Faith has some wonderfully funny characters and is wise and touching.” —Mail on Sunday
“Captivating. . . . Tightly focused. . . . A major piece of literary property.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Precise and unshowy, Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley populates her fiction with convincing mothers, lovers, sons and sisters (not to mention houses), and there’s real heart in this tale of a material world in the making. A high point in the genre of real-estate realism.” —Harpers & Queen, Beach Read of the Month
“A wonderful exposition of a decadent decade.” —Good Housekeeping
“Riveting. . . . Smiley has remained faithful to an ideal of sheer readability, to the Jamesian dictum that a novelist’s principal task is to be ‘interesting.’ Her artistry in doing so, in populating her fiction with interesting characters doing equally interesting things, is camouflaged by how easy she makes it all look.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Smiley’s mastery of language and her talent for plot and character make this story resonate with meaning long after its supremely satisfying final page.” —Sainsbury’s Magazine, Book of the Month
“Entertaining. . . . Perceptive. . . . Although Smiley could make even Whitewater understandable, it’s her characters—flawed, complex, totally convincing—who pull you through the pages. . . . Good Faith is on the money.” —The Orlando Sentinel
“Smiley is as restless and uninhibited by her own creative history as a novelist can be. . . . She has set herself a new task with every book. . . . Her technical mastery of fiction—her genius for dialogue and for shades of character, her perfect control of events, and her ability to create suspense out of a snowflake’s descent—has meant that all are admirable. . . . Good Faith has a new world to display and a new vocabulary for Smiley, with her usual miraculous powers of mimicry.” —Daily Telegraph
“On-the-mark. . . . Superbly written. . . . A broadly funny book by someone with an unerring satirical sense and the ability to create wonderful characters.” —Newark Sunday Star-Ledger
“The unassuming conversations, the faultless dialogue, the sheer ease with which the story progresses are of course Jane Smiley’s strength, and it is considerable.” —Anita Brookner, The Spectator
“[Smiley] is a gifted realist, able to capture the way things actually work and feel, from a high-level real estate transaction to a pool party circa 1983.” —The New York Sun
“Smiley’s new novel—written with her customary confidence, scale and assurance—may stand as an arresting development in what might one day look like a distinct genre of American turn-of-the-21st-century fiction, searching back to find the most recent wrong turning in the receding past.” —Financial Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
Jane Smiley's twelfth book is a refreshing, quick-witted tale from an impressively talented author who routinely goes to great lengths to offer readers new styles and subject matter. This time out she takes on the 1980s in all their decadence and gluttonous glory -- and anyone who lived through the decade will shudder with recognition when encountering the novel's fully fleshed-out cast of characters. Dazzling and original, Smiley's narrative assembles elaborate plots and entices you into the circumstances with a masterfully supple voice that accurately captures the tone of the times. Reminiscent of the often ludicrous nature of high finance wheedling found in William Gaddis's satirical JR, Good Faith is an often thrilling, occasionally chilling, and altogether fascinating page-turner of a novel. Tom Piccirilli
The New Yorker
Everyone trusts Joe Stratford, the affable Pennsylvania real-estate agent who narrates Smiley's ninth novel -- his clients, his bankers, his boss, his boss's sexy married daughter, and even the irascible contractor who builds the most beautiful houses in the county. But when Marcus Burns, a charismatic I.R.S. agent turned developer, comes to town, Joe feels that no one else understands his potential the way Marcus does. With Joe as his partner, Marcus soon seduces half the county into investing in a development venture that he says will make everyone rich. It is hard to imagine a novelist better suited to taking on the S. & L. scandals of the nineteen-eighties than Smiley, who has proved herself capable of writing about corruption in wildly different stylistic and moral registers ("Thousand Acres," "Moo"). Yet Joe's sense of who he has become is oddly muffled, a quality that infects the novel as a whole -- as if the author were unable to decide what, finally, her characters are guilty of, or how hard they deserve to fall.
Jane Smiley has produced an irresistible novel of bad manners, a meditation on love and money that Jane Austen might have enjoyed, if she could have handled the sex...Smiley, the Pulitzer prizewinning author of A Thousand Acres, knows something about land and the many ways it accrues value, sometimes just in the imagination. Her book is a wise comic tale about the ways in which money makes more substantial things-land, love, friendship-dematerialize. Time (4/21/03)
[A] lusty, testosterone-pumped tale, which both revisits Smiley's obsession with infidelity and underlines her remarkable ability to humanize an industry. We're back in the '80s here-a heady, get-rich-quick orgy of junk bonds and megadeals in which he who hesitates loses...Good Faith has 'cautionary tale' written all over it-but you're sucked in [by] this story's power, [which] lies in the fact that it is less about lying or greed of friendship gone bad than about boldness versus caution and our American ambivalence about which is the virtue and which the vice.Daniel Jones, Elle (May, 2003)
With Jane Smiley's new novel, another prime parcel has come on to the market. There may not be a thousand acres here, but it's still a major piece of literary property. Everything about Good Faith is in perfect move-in condition...It's a manageable size, with just a small collection of expertly drawn characters...Tightly focused on a single real estate agent in a small New England town, Good Faith displays all the remarkable attention to detail that's the hallmark of Smiley's work...There's plenty of wit here, but this is a novel of admirable restraint. She doesn't want to satirize the gassy atmosphere that inflated markets and S&Ls to the breaking point. She wants to observe the moral effect of these lavish new dreams on ordinary human beings, and she does so with captivating insight and gentleness...Smiley has invested her best talent in this work, and you can buy it in good faith. Christian Science Monitor (4/10/03)
Brilliant and versatile...Smiley has never been more seductive than in this acutely entertaining novel of big-time greed coming to a small East Coast town in the high-rolling 1980s...Smiley is fascinated by obsession and all the jargon and arcane knowledge associated with risky pursuits, and she expertly reanimates the mad and venal, not to mention illegal and disastrous, financial finagling that drove the money-mad, coked-up eighties, providing a thrilling rear-view mirror look at that notoriously covetous time. But this expertly crafted and subtly suspenseful tale is also notable for its exuberant eroticism: Smiley's sex scenes, and there are many, are truly ravishing. Booklist (starred amd boxed review)
The Washington Post
The Penguin short biography series chose Jane Smiley to do Charles Dickens, and they were right. She is one of our most Dickensian novelists, by which I mean her imagination is prodigious, her observations exact, and the wealth of fascinating people inside her head a national treasure. In the past, she has observed her people at the racetrack, on the college campus, on the farm and in Greenland long long ago, among other places, and wherever she goes you'll want to go with her. This time, it's a small town in the mid-Atlantic states with a savings-and-loan in 1982, and you want to be there. Trust me on this. — Donald E. Westlake
The New York Times
As she's done in so many of her earlier novels, Ms. Smiley conjures up her characters' daily routines with uncommon skill, delineating the tidal flow of desire, disappointment and wishful thinking that informs their domestic and business lives. She shows us Joe's relationships with his picky, demanding clients — his hopes for a sale sometimes skidding into irritation, sometimes snowballing into a run of good luck — and she shows us the unexpected evolution of his romance with Felicity, as sex turns to love and love to frustration. — Michiku Kakutani
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
For all of her serial genre-surfing, though, Smiley has remained faithful to an ideal of sheer readability, to the Jamesian dictum that a novelist's principal task is to be ''interesting.'' Her artistry in doing so, in populating her fiction with interesting characters doing equally interesting things, is camouflaged by how easy she makes it all look. — Paul Gray
The Los Angeles Times
Only a writer of consummate craftsmanship and scope could write a novel about a series of real estate deals in a small town an hour and a half from New York City and make it so fully satisfying as to be thrilling. Jane Smiley has done it. — Jane Ciabattari
It's 1982, and Ronald Reagan is backslapping America, assuring us that we've become at last that shining city on the hill our Pilgrim fathers foretold. And the city, of course, is made of gold. At no time since the '20s has the American Dream seemed so money-fueled, and Wall Street insider traders, yuppies and multifarious entrepreneurs are all striving merrily to realize it.
Joey Stratford wants in, too. He just doesn't know it yet. At the start of Good Faith, Smiley's remarkable twelfth novel, he's a bit of a blithe innocent. Childless, recently divorced, fortyish, he's living easy as a small-town realtor. He nurses a wistful sadness for his first true love, the daughter of his business partner, Gordon Baldwin, killed long ago in a car wreck. Otherwise, everything's going well for Joey. Still, he feels a certain restlessness. As the gleaming decade heats up, Joey's ready for a new beginning.
Enter Marcus Burns, fresh from New York City, GQ-dapper and burnished with glad-handing, Tony Robbins–style confidence. Schemer, dazzler, charmer, Marcus in time will reveal himself as a Faustian tempter—and Joey's world will shake.
A novelist of astonishing range, Smiley retold King Lear in her Pulitzer Prize–winning A Thousand Acres and has written about matters as diverse as horse racing (Horse Heaven), mid-nineteenth-century prairie derring-do (The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton) and fourteenth-century Scandinavia (The Greenlanders). Strong narrative and realistically vulnerable characters mark her fiction, as does a wickedly funny stripe—best displayed in Moo, her academic novel set in anagricultural college.
With Good Faith, she's penned a cautionary tale of the perils of capitalism, a fable reminiscent of the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Smiley shares with Fitzgerald a fascination with moneymakers—and a distaste for the ways they sometimes make it big. In Good Faith, she captures exactly the '80s zest for moneymaking, the sense that anything, fortuitously touched, can be made to glisten. Gordon, for example, is a home builder by trade, but he's also a sort of free-form capitalist. He buys and sells everything, from toilets to houses to livestock: All form part, he insists, of a joyous cycle of consuming. "One thing leads to another," he says. "Houses lead to commodes, and then commodes lead to houses, which lead to land, which leads to dairy cattle, which leads to cheese, which leads to pizza pies, which lead to manicotti and veal Parmesan, which lead to wine, which leads to love, which leads to babies, houses and commodes."
Gordon's gluttonous way with money is boyish, up-front, unabashed. And it's creative; he uses cash to build and expand. Marcus, however, is the soul of pure greed—he wants money for money's sake, and by any means necessary. With his equally glossy sister, Jane, he conspires to enlist Joey and Gordon in a brilliant venture—buy up a renowned old estate and use its acreage as basis for a subdevelopment, the grandeur of which has never heretofore been imagined. The potential profits? Not millions, Marcus exults. Billions!
Now Gordon's no fool, and Joey, Smiley's convincing Everyman, is, while avaricious enough, unimaginative. He may have outgrown his too-neat, single guy's condo, but he doesn't aspire to castles. Indeed, to the townsfolk, he's a regular good guy—if not quite so pious as his parents, for whom any form of keeping up with the Joneses, or overtaking them, smacks of sinful pride. In part, Joey shares their values, but he chafes at their lack of ambition.
Marcus, a former IRS honcho, wins Gordon over by erasing the latter's tax problems; Joey is more cunningly seduced. Even before Marcus teases him with tickets to the big time, however, Joey has begun testing his wings by plunging into an affair with Felicity, the married sister of the girl for whom he'd mourned. That the tryst seems guilt-free doesn't bode well for Joey. And thJoey so obviously needs it underscores Marcus's gifts both for reading character and for scamming—ultimately he zeroes in on Joey's loneliness and suckers him by offering "friendship."
The suspense in the novel doesn't lie in our uncovering Marcus's villainy or in waiting for the real estate speculation to explode. He's patently a slickster, and the deal screams danger. Rather, what's intriguing is the good faith that Joey and Gordon first lavish upon the suspicious stranger—trust bred of equal parts backwater naïveté and starry-eyed optimism—and our witnessing that good faith erode.
When Marcus's malfeasance is at last exposed, Joey's wallet is seriously depleted. The very faith he and Gordon had offered their betrayer, Joey attempts to reason, was perhaps itself too tempting for Marcus to resist. After all, you can't fault a thief when your door is left unlocked.
That "good faith" is a game for chumps is a terrible irony and the book's harsh message. With it Smiley indicts the Reagan years entire. Even while she suggests a chastened future for Joey, she neatly, wittily stifles any nostalgia for the Age of Greed. In doing so, Smiley reveals herself as one of the most traditional of novelists, one not afraid of making a point, or of ending a story with a well-found moral.
Smiley's range as a writer is always surprising. Eschewing both the tragic dimension of A Thousand Acres and the satiric glee of Moo, her 12th book is a clever and entertaining cautionary tale about America's greedy decade of the 1980s. Narrator Joe Stratford is a genial, well-liked realtor in a small New England town who's respected for his honesty; even his divorce was friendly. When smooth-talking Marcus Burns comes to town, fresh from a decade working at the IRS, where he's learned how to manipulate the law to avoid paying taxes, he convinces Joe and other decent but na ve people that it's never been easier to get rich quick. Marcus envisions a multi-use golf club and housing development. With the help of the conniving president of the local S&L, he easily finds money to purchase Salt Key Farm, a beautiful estate on 580 acres. The reader knows that the bubble will burst, but not how or when; frissons of suspense keep building as Smiley describes the fine points of land assessment, soil evaluation, loan applications and permit hearings in surprisingly riveting detail. Joe's personal life, too, is a tightrope walk. He's having an affair with a married woman, Felicity Baldwin, the daughter of his mentor, Gordon. When that cools, he takes up with another woman who seems perfect, but who turns out to be as devious as Marcus. What makes the story beguiling is Smiley's appreciation of the varieties and frailties of human nature. Every character here is fresh and fully dimensional, and anybody who lived through the '80s will recognize them-and maybe themselves. 200,000 first printing. (Apr. 28) Forecast: Only readers seeking the emotional wallop of A Thousand Acres will be disappointed by this lively tale, written with literary finesse. Booksellers can bet on a bestseller. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley once again opens a convincing fictional window on an American subculture. In her last novel, Horse Heaven, it was thoroughbred racing; this time around, it's financial speculation in the early 1980s. Successful small-town realtor Joey Stratford is divorced, at loose ends, and ready to pursue prosperity on a larger scale. New acquaintance Marcus Burns, a former IRS man lately arrived from New York, offers the chance of Joey's lifetime. The well-connected Marcus seems to know all the angles of developing and profiting massively from a fabulous local property, Salt Key Farm. Joey, at once dazzled by Marcus and distracted by an intoxicating affair with the sister of a high school sweetheart, proceeds with his investment, though he suspects that the Salt Key project may be very risky business. Marcus's schemes play out in a tragicomedy featuring a Dickensian mix of quirky characters chasing their versions of the American dream. Smiley's amusing plot is charged with energy, her sense of time and place is on target, and her research into the ways and means of real estate development is seamlessly integrated. This absorbing book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
THIS WOULD BE '82. I was out at the Viceroy with Bobby Baldwin. Bobby Baldwin was my one employee, which made us not quite friends, but we went out to the Viceroy almost every night. My marriage was finished and his hadn't started, so we spent a lot of time together that most everyone else we knew was spending with their families. I didn't mind. My business card had the Viceroy's number in the corner, under "may also be reached at." Buyers called me there. It was a good sign if they wanted to see a house again in what you might call the middle of the night. That meant they couldn't wait till morning. And if they wanted to see it again in the middle of the nightwell, I did my best to show it to them. That was the difference between Bobby and me. He always said, "Their motivation needs to be tested, that's what I think. Let 'em wait a little bit."
Bobby was not my brother, but he might as well have been. Sally, his sister, had been my girlfriend in high school for about a year and a half. She was the first person I ever knew who had a phone of her own. She used to call me up and tell me what to do. "Now, Joey," she would say, "tomorrow wear those tan pants you've got, and the blue socks with the clocks on them, and your white shirt, and that green sweater I gave you, and I am going to wear my blue circle skirt with the matching cashmere sweater, and I'll meet you on the steps. We'll look great. Have you done your algebra problems? When you get to number four, the variable is seven, and x equals half of y. If you remember that, then you won't have a problem with it. Did you wash your face yet? Don't forget to use that stuff I bought you. Rub it in clockwise, just a little tiny dab, about the size of the tip of your pencil eraser. Okay?"
I had been short, and now I was tall. I had been skinny and quiet and religious, and now I was good-looking and muscular. It was Sally Baldwin who brought me along, told me what to wear and do and think and say. She was never wrong; she never lost her patience. She created me, and when she was done we broke up in a formal sense, but she kept calling me. She was smart and went off to Smith College, and I was sure she would get everything organized there once and for all. I went to Penn State. In April of my freshman year, Sally was killed in a car accident outside of Boston. I had talked to her two days before. "Now, Joey," she had said, "it's okay to see a woman who is almost thirty, but you don't say that you are dating her, you say that you are seeing her. Seeing is much more sophisticated than dating, and it doesn't lead to marriage."
I went home for the funeral. It was as if the Baldwins had been eviscerated. All they had left were Felicity, Norton, Leslie, and Bobby. That didn't seem like much without Sally to move them along. Betty, their mom, couldn't act of her own free will. The funeral director, Pat Mahoney, had to seat her here and stand her there and remove her from this spot and place her in that spot. Gordon seemed better, almost vigilant in a way, though my mother said he would never recover and maybe he never did. Bobby was ten then, nine years younger than I was. Gordon came up to me afterward and asked me how I was doing. He was concerned, the way you always get at funerals, and I couldn't help telling him that I wasn't doing at all wellI hated college and was terribly homesick anyway, and now there was this stunning thing that was the end of Sallyand the next thing I knew he was offering me a job and I was taking it, and I went back to pick up my stuff at Penn State two days after the funeral, and I started working for Gordon the following Monday, which I certainly would not have been invited to do if Sally were alive and my girlfriend or fiancee because Gordon didn't like to be bankrolling everyone in the whole family, especially not sons-in-law.
My dad used to wonder what the Baldwins' real name was. They weren't like any Baldwins he had ever known. Gordon was loud and affectionate. Hey, honey, he always said, no matter who he was talking to. He ate out every night. He had three or four restaurants he took everyone to, owned by his poker buddies, I think. He played poker twice a week, high stakes. These games had been going for generations. For a living, he bought and sold things. For a while, it was antiques; for a while, jewelry; for a while, cars; for a while, expensive fixtures out of houses and restaurants and hotels that were being torn down. Once in a while he would hear about some hotel in the city that was going under, and he would come home with a truckload of dishes or silver that carried a hotel monogram. One year, his barn was full of pink silk chairs and settees from the lobby of a hotel in Montreal. Another year he got a thousand commodes. That was the year he persuaded everyone who bought a house from us that "you got to have one more bathroom than the number of bedrooms. It's the wave of the future." Always land and houses and dairy-cattle breeding stock. One thing leads to another; that is, houses lead to commodes, and then commodes lead to houses, which lead to land, which leads to dairy cattle, which lead to cheese, which leads to pizza pies, which lead to manicotti and veal Parmesan, which lead to wine, which leads to love, which leads to babies, houses, and commodes. That was Gordon Baldwin in a nutshell.
My father, who didn't like anything to lead to anything else, because of sin, couldn't decide whether the Baldwins had originally been "Obolenskis" or "Balduccis" or "Baldagyis." He took solace in the fact that we were Stratfords, always had been Stratfords; there was no misspelling of the Stratford name since the Middle Ages. The Baldwins had come to town after the war. That was all anyone knew; and for all that Gordon had gotten rich and locally famous, and he, Bobby, and everyone else in the family talked and talked, where the Baldwins had come from was something they never talked about.
Anyway, I could hardly keep my eyes open, though it was only midnight, early for a Baldwin, and Bobby was wide awake. He was drinking and playing craps for pennies with a builder we knew. The bar was about half full. It was a Wednesday. I said, "See you at ten."
Bobby said, "See that, a five and a three. That's eight."
"Bobby," I said. "Ten! I have to show a house at ten-fifteen and I want to be sure you're there before I go."
"Ten," said Bobby.
"Ten in the morning."
"In the morning."
"Morning is when the sun is in the sky and you don't have to turn on your headlights."
"Got you. Roll 'em." He looked at me and smiled. He looked just like Betty. I shook my head. As I passed next to the table right behind where we had been sitting, I saw a guy look up, look at me. I went out into the parking lot.
The parking lot of the Viceroy backed up on the river, the Nut. My condo was in a development in a smaller town upriver, Nut Hollow. Instead of getting right into my car, I walked down to the river and had a look at the moon, which was shining round and bright. The river was black and glassy around the circle of the moon for just a single long moment; then the wind came up and ruffled the image. I saw there was a woman squatting at the base of a tree, about ten yards from the river. When she turned at my footsteps, I realized it was Fern Minette, Bobby's fiancée. She stood up with a big smile, wiping her hands on her jeans. Fern was about twenty-seven or so. She and Bobby had been engaged for four and a half years. I said, "Well, it's Fern! What are you doing, Fernie?"
"You're trapping cats?"
"Well, my cat. He got out of the car when I took him to the grocery store Friday." She pointed to a cat carrier with its door open, just barely visible, in a cleft up the bank from the river. "I put things in there. Liver. His toys. Last night he went in, but when I moved away from the tree, he ran out again." She sighed.
I said, "Bobby's in the Viceroy. Maybe he would help you. He's not doing anything productive."
"You can't help with a cat. A cat can't be herded, a cat has to be attracted. I just can't figure out the thing that would do it, and as the nights go by it gets harder. You should go away, anyway."
"Do you stay out here all night?"
"Till two. Then I come back at six. Go away! He might be watching me and making up his mind!"
I got in my car and shut the door. When I turned on my headlights, Fern waved, then hunkered down beside the tree. The strangest thing about Bobby and Fern was that they had actually discussed marriage. Neither one was the sort of person you could image having any life plan that would lead to regular hours, a house, and then children who accepted them as parents.
Bobby was still on my mind when I got up to go to the office in the morning, probably because I was annoyed in advance that he would be late and I would have to rush to my appointment. It was a sharp but clear spring morning, not quite to the daffodil stage. The sky was a cold blue-gray, but the grass had greened up on the hillsides, and it seemed like you could see each blade shining with chlorophyll. It was the sort of day where houses look great, especially brick houses, and I had a brick house to show, one with a big front lawn and a newly blacktopped driveway.
The surprise was that Bobby was at the office, in a jacket and a tie, and he had the Multiple Listing book out of his desk, wide open to the listings in the high one-hundreds. In those days, that was the back of the book and there were some nice houses there, houses up in Rollins Hills with five and six bedrooms and Sub-Zero refrigerators. I remember I showed a house up there with its own little sauna/steam room. The buyers and I stood in our shoes in the bathroom, turning the seven dials and staring into the little wood-paneled cubbyhole like we'd never seen running water before. Anyway, Bobby was deep in the Rollins Hills listings. As soon as I walked in, he said, "Guess what! This guy in the bar last night, he's moving out from the city. I'm taking him out this morning, eleven-thirty. He wants to see seven houses today and seven tomorrow, and then he's going to pick. You should have hung around, but I'm glad you didn't. He was this"
"Dark-haired guy in a gray jacket?"
"That's funny. He looked up at me when I was leaving."
"People always look at you when you're leaving the Viceroy. They're looking at you in disbelief."
"They're looking at you in shame, Bob. Anyway, did you see Fern? She was out there trying to catch her cat."
"She's never going to catch that cat. That cat has been trying to escape for five years. You know, when she moved into her apartment, that cat had the vermin cleaned out in a month. Here he is."
A Cadillac pulled into our little lot and eased between my Lincoln and Bobby's new BMW. Baldwin Development bought a fleet of cars every two years, always whatever some crony of Gordon's was just getting into. After the New Year, Rollins Hills Motors had gotten the BMW franchise, and Stu Grade had sold Gordon six BMWs over a poker game. Bobby's was red. The local sheriff had been informed that Bobby's was the red one.
The guy who got out of the Caddy was very smooth lookingcreased tan slacks, expensive-looking white shirt, Italian-cut jacket, tasseled loafers. He pocketed his keys and threw his sunglasses down on the seat of his car, then glanced around for our door. When he saw me looking at him through the plate glass, he broke into a smile. There was no one with him. House deals without women put you out into unknown territory sometimes. That was especially true in those days, when most buyers were families moving around the county, to nicer houses, or out to the country from the city. But Bobby needed something to do with his time, and I thought an iffy client was better than any one of his usual six activitiessleeping late, going to the Viceroy, going to the doctor, going to the dentist, doing repairs around his own place, or calling Gordon and asking for something to do. It was this last that had resulted in Bobby's employment at my office. Bobby was well-meaning, and even smart, but he was a danger to himself and others simply because he couldn't use any sort of tool or even do anything outside of his normal routine without hurting himself or getting sick. If it wasn't a broken toe from stumbling over a stack of weights at the gym, then it was poison ivy all over his face from taking Fern on a hike, or some sort of food poisoning. Gordon said to me, "That kid could put his eye out with a hammer or break his leg with a screwdriver. Real estate is the safest place for him." And it was. But I didn't think he would be any match for this Marcus Burns, to whom he was now introducing me.
My clients were, or would soon be, waiting. My clients were careful buyers, the Sloans. I made a living in real estate by keeping track of what a buyer wanted and doing researchgoing to every open house, calling other agents, visiting model homes, just in general mastering as many features of as many listings as I couldbut you couldn't get ahead of the Sloans. What they wanted to know about every house they looked at, even the ones they didn't like, defied preparation. They had been looking for four months, not an inordinately long time, but they had seen every house on the market in their price range and now they just waited for new listings. Usually, at some point you gave up on people like that, because you knew they would never buy. The one thing that made me think the Sloans would eventually go for something was their conviction that something valuable or even precious was out there. The more I assured them we were on top of every available property, the more worried they got that we were missing one. I thought the tension would eventually become too much for them to bear. Needless to say, they were prequalified in every way. The mortgagor was dying to lend them money.