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 fiancee. 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.
Excerpted from Good Faith by Jane Smiley Copyright© 2003 by Jane Smiley. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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