Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is Michael Marshall Smith, author of SPARES, ONLY FORWARD, ONE OF US, THE SERVANTS, and one of my all-time favorite collections, MORE TOMORROW & OTHER STORIES. Under the name Michael Marshall, he has published the popular STRAW MEN trilogy (THE STRAW MEN, THE UPRIGHT MAN, and BLOOD OF ANGELS), THE INTRUDERS, BAD THINGS, and most recently KILLER MOVE, an excerpt from which you can find below.
Michael Marshall Smith
As I pulled around The Breakers’ inner circle I saw that Karren White’s car was already tucked into the better of the two Shore Realty slots — the one that gets shade in the afternoon and stops your vehicle from feeling like an oven turned to burn when you climb into it at the end of the working day. She had parked with characteristic accuracy, the sides of her sporty little BMW exactly parallel to the lines, as if she’d put the car in position first and then sweet-talked Big Walter the handyman into painting the parking space around her (which, knowing her charm and forcefulness, was not entirely out of the question). I parked my own vehicle in the remaining space, with not dissimilar skill, and glanced at the clock in the dashboard. Eight twelve.
I logged the time in a utility on my iPhone. I’m not OCD about these things, you should know. The point of logging is merely to develop positive habits, reproducible patterns of behavior that can later be reallocated to tasks of greater importance. The point also was that Karren was at work before me on the third straight Monday morning, and doubtless thought this proved something, or might yield competitive advantage in the long run. She could not know that I’d already taken a working breakfast up at St Armands Circle, coffee and French toast and twenty-five minutes of light banter with someone who might, eventually, make me a lot of money. She would also not be aware that on the way over from my home in Sarasota I’d caught up on the weekend’s brand-building and entrepreneurship podcasts (spooled from the web onto the iPhone, and thence to my car’s meaty sound system), sent five emails (drafted before I left the house, edited and then dispatched while waiting at traffic lights), and updated status on my LinkedIn, Facebook and HollaBack pages. The early bird gets a worm, true, but Bill Moore doesn’t mind dining second if the specimen of the phylum Annelida he snares is bigger and juicier as a result.
So, Ms. White, gather the better parking spot while ye may. We’ll see who grows fat in the end.
I braced myself before getting out of the air-conditioned comfort of the Lexus, but the heat still came on like a middle-aged banker bracing a cocktail waitress. Six years in Florida hadn’t yet accustomed me to the way humidity makes the place its bitch, already in position, with insidious weight and heft, before humans have even hauled themselves out of bed. As I locked the car I glanced at the sky above the sturdy, two-storey condo blocks all around me, and was reassured to see clouds gathering inland. Sooner or later — maybe this afternoon, please God — a storm was going to break, and after that it would become more bearable for at least a day or two.
I strode over to Shore Realty’s little hut, noting that the picture of a recently listed two-bedroom condo had finally made it into the window. It was crooked. Once inside the cool and air-con-dry building, I righted this state of affairs, before turning to the office.
‘Morning,’ I said, a little louder than necessary —with an air of distraction, too, to make it clear I was not actually starting my working day but already well into my stride.
My voice bounced off the rear wall and came back to me without much to report. Shore Realty’s lair in The Breakers is neither large nor bijou. It’s the smallest outpost of a chain that has more impressive accommodation at the Ocean View Mall halfway up the key, plus additional locations in Sarasota, Bradenton, and Tampa. The bulk of my office’s business comes from reselling units within The Breakers itself — though this was something I had been trying to change.
The working area is a rectangle perhaps eight yards by six (I’ve never actually measured it), with space for three desks: mine, Karren’s — at which she sat, clattering away at her keyboard — and one for Janine, the assistant who spends her days performing support tasks like confirming meetings, misunderstanding basic computer functions, and putting properties in the window, never quite straight. Janine was nowhere to be seen, business as usual for this time of day (and other times, too).
‘Back atcha, Billy-boy.’
Karren was sporting her standard get-up — smart white blouse and a snug-fitting blue skirt that stopped above the knee, the better to showcase her tennis court-honed calves. Back in the day she’d been a force on the courts, by all accounts, had even considered turning pro. From what I’d seen — we’re afforded complimentary use of the resort’s facilities — she remained sharp at twenty-nine. Like, whatever. I play just enough tennis to hold my own when business demands and to lark around with my wife when she’s in the mood. Winning at sports is not the same as winning in business, just like The Art of War is not a corporate how-to manual. You run that beat-up 1980s routine on me and I’m going to stomp you into the ground.
‘And Janine is..?’
‘Doctor’s. Kid’s got the plague.’
Karren shrugged theatrically, causing her long, dark hair to pool up on her shoulders. Just about the only matter on which we absolutely agree is that Janine is basically useless, and her kid actually defective.
‘Says she’ll be here by one, cross her heart and hope to diet.’
‘I’ll be out again by then. Got a meeting down on Siesta.’
Karren went back to her keyboard, and failed to rise to the bait. Point to her, probably, or maybe she simply hadn’t been listening.
When I got to my desk I saw something lying on it. This was easy to spot, as my working area is the tidiest in the Sarasota area, possibly even along the entire gulf side of Florida — though I’ve heard rumors of a guy up in St. Pete who has nothing on his desk at all. Propped in the centre of mine was a rectangular card, midway between business and postcard size.
I picked it up, flipped it over. Just one word on the other side: modified.
‘Hell is this?’
‘Thing on my desk.’
‘No idea,’ Karren said, without turning around. ‘Came in the mail. Probably some viral marketing crap.’
‘You know. Coming in under the radar. Keeping it on the down-low. Advertising that’s cool and hip and engaging and just so New Edge it makes you want to spit.’
I looked back down at the card in my hand. It was matte black on both sides, had just that one word in white letters and bold type across the front, and my name and the company’s address on a laser-printed sticker on the back. The sticker had been put on perfectly straight.
* * *
Read more about KILLER MOVE at the author’s website.