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 looking--creased 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 activities--sleeping 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.
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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