Gryphon: New and Selected Stories
By Charles Baxter
Hardcover, 414 pages
List Price: $27.95
The Next Building I Plan to Bomb
In the parking lot next to the bank, Harry Edmonds saw a piece of gray scrap paper the size of a greeting card. It had blown up next to his leg and attached itself to him there. Across the top margin was some scrabby writing in purple ink. He picked it up and examined it. On the upper left-hand corner someone had scrawled the phrase THE NEXT BUILDING I PLAN TO BOMB. Harry unfolded the paper and saw an inked drawing of what appeared to be a sizable train station or some other public structure, perhaps an airport terminal. In the drawing were arched windows and front pillars but very little other supporting detail. The building looked solid, monumental, and difficult to destroy.
He glanced around the parking lot. There he was in Five Oaks, Michigan, where there were no such buildings. In the light wind other pieces of paper ﬂoated by in an agitated manner. One yellow ﬂyer was stuck to a ﬁre hydrant. On the street was the daily crowd of bankers, lawyers, shoppers, and students. As usual, no one was watching him or paying much attention to him. He put the piece of paper into his coat pocket.
All afternoon, while he sat at his desk, his hand traveled down to his pocket to touch the drawing. Late in the day, half as a joke, he showed the paper to the ofﬁce receptionist.
"You've got to take it to the police," she told him. "This is dangerous. This is the work of a maniac. That's LaGuardia there, the airport? In the picture? I was there last month. I'm sure it's LaGuardia, Mr. Edmonds. No kidding. Deﬁnitely LaGuardia."
So at the end of the day, before going home, he drove to the main police station on the ﬁrst ﬂoor of City Hall. Driving into the sun, he felt his eyes squinting against the burrowing glare. He had stepped inside the front door when the waxy bureaucratic smell of the building hit him and gave him an immediate headache. A cop in uniform, wearing an impatient expression, sat behind a desk, shufﬂing through some papers, and at that moment it occurred to Harry Edmonds that if he showed what was in his pocket to the police he himself would become a prime suspect and an object of intense scrutiny, all privacy gone. He turned on his heel and went home.
At dinner, he said to his girlfriend, "Look what I found in a parking lot today." He handed her the drawing.
Lucia examined the soiled paper, her thumb and ﬁnger at its corner, and said, " 'The next building I plan to bomb.' " Her tone was light and urbane. She sold computer software and was sensitive to gestures. Then she said, "That's Union Station, in Chicago." She smiled. "Well, Harry, what are you going to do with this? Some nutcase did this, right?"
"Actually, I got as far as the foyer in the police station this afternoon," he said. "Then I turned around. I couldn't show it to them. I thought they'd suspect me or something."
"Oh, that's so melodramatic," she said. "You've never committed a crime in your life. You're a banker, for Chrissake. You're in the trust department. You're harmless."
Harry sat back in his chair and looked at her. "I'm not that harmless."
"Yes, you are." She laughed. "You're quite harmless."
"Lucia," he said, "I wish you wouldn't use that word."
" 'Harmless'? It's a compliment."
"Not in this country, it isn't," he said.
On the table were the blue plates and matching napkins and the yellow candles that Lucia brought out whenever she was proud of what she or Harry had cooked. Today it was Burmese chicken curry. "Well, if you're worried, take it to the cops," Lucia told him. "That's what the cops are there for. Honey," she said, "no one will suspect you of anything. You're handsome and stable and you're my sweetie, and I love you, and what else happened today? Put that awful creepy paper back into your pocket. How do you like the curry?"
"It's delicious," he said.
After Harry had gotten up his nerve sufﬁciently to enter the police station again, he walked in a determined manner toward the front desk. After looking carefully at the drawing and the inked phrase, and writing down Harry Edmonds's name and address, the ofﬁcer, whose badge identiﬁed him as Sergeant Bursk, asked, "Mr. Edmonds, you got any kids?"
"Kids? No, I don't have kids. Why?"
"Kids did this," Sergeant Bursk told him, waving the paper in front of him as if he were drying it off. "My kids could've done this. Kids do this. Boys do this. They draw torture chambers and they make threats and what-have-you. That's what they do. It's the youth. But they're kids. They don't mean it."
"How do you know?"
"Because I have three of them," Sergeant Bursk said. "I'm not saying that you should have kids, I'm just saying that I have them. I'll keep this drawing, though, if you don't mind."
"Actually," Harry said, "I'd like it back."
"Okay," Sergeant Bursk said, handing it to him, "but if we hear of any major bombings, and, you know, large-scale serious death, maybe we'll give you a call."
"Yeah," Harry said. He had been expecting this. "By the way," he asked, "does this look like any place in particular to you?"
The cop examined the picture. "Sure," he said. "That's Grand Central. In New York, on Forty-second Street, I think. I was there once. You can tell by the clock. See this clock here?" He pointed at a vague circle. "That's Grand Central, and this is the big clock that they've got there on the front."
Excerpted from Gryphon by Charles Baxter Copyright 2011 by Charles Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.