Home > The Burgess Boys(5)

The Burgess Boys(5)
Elizabeth Strout

Jim touched Helen’s shoulder on his way by. “It’s okay.”

Helen bent to pick up Jim’s socks, and this made Bob wonder whether, if he had hung up his coat like Jim did, Pam might not have been so mad about his socks.

After a long silence they heard Jim quietly asking questions. They could not make out the words. There was another long silence, more quiet questions, remarks. Still, they could not hear the words.

Helen fingered her small earring and sighed. “Have another drink. It looks like we may be here awhile.” But they could not relax. Bob sat back on the couch and peered through the window at the people walking home from work. He lived only six blocks from here, on the other side of Seventh Avenue, but no one would joke about a graduate dorm on this block. On this block, people were grown-ups. On this block, they were bankers and doctors and reporters, and they carried briefcases and an amazing variety of black bags, especially the women. On this block, the sidewalks were clean, and shrubs were planted in the little front gardens.

Helen and Bob turned their heads as they heard Jim hang up.

Jim stood in the doorway, his red tie loosened. He said, “We can’t go away.” Helen sat forward. Jim took his tie off with a furious pull and said to Bob, “Our nephew’s about to be arrested.” Jim’s face was pale, his eyes had become small. He sat on the couch and pressed his hands to his head. “Oh, man. This could be all over the papers. The nephew of Jim Burgess has been charged—”

“Did he kill someone?” Bob asked.

Jim looked up. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked, just as Helen was saying cautiously, “Like a prostitute?”

Jim shook his head sharply, as though he had water in his ear. He looked at Bob and said, “No, he didn’t kill someone.” He looked at Helen and said, “No, the person he didn’t kill was not a prostitute.” Then he gazed up at the ceiling, closed his eyes, and said, “Our nephew, Zachary Olson, has thrown a frozen pig’s head through the front door of a mosque. During prayer. During Ramadan. Susan says Zach doesn’t even know what Ramadan is, which is completely believable—Susan didn’t know what it was until she read about this in the paper. The pig’s head was bloody, starting to melt, it’s stained their carpet, and they don’t have the money to buy a new one. They have to clean it seven times because of holy law. That’s the story, you guys.”

Helen looked at Bob. Puzzlement came to her face. “Why would that be all over the papers, Jim?” she finally asked, softly.

“Do you get it?” Jim asked, just as quietly, turning to her. “It’s a hate crime, Helen. It’s like if you went over to Borough Park, found an Orthodox Jewish temple, and forced everyone in there to eat ice cream and bacon before they could leave.”

“Okay,” said Helen. “I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that about Muslims.”

“They’re prosecuting it as a hate crime?” Bob asked.

“They’re talking about going after it every way they can. The FBI’s already involved. The attorney general’s office might go in for a civil rights violation. Susan says it’s on national news, but she’s so nuts right now it’s hard to know if that’s true. Apparently some reporter from CNN happened to be in town, heard it reported locally, loved the story, sent it out nationally. What person happens to be in Shirley Falls?” Jim picked up the remote control for the television, aimed it, then dropped it onto the couch next to him. “I don’t want this right now. Oh, man, I do not want this.” He ran both hands over his face, his hair.

“Are they holding him?” Bob asked.

“They haven’t arrested him. They don’t know Zach did it. They’re out looking for some punk, and it’s just idiot little nineteen-year-old Zach. Zach, Son of Susan.”

“When did this happen?” Bob asked.

“Two nights ago. According to Zach, which means according to Susan, he did this alone as a ‘joke.’ ”

“A joke?”

“A joke. No, sorry, a ‘dumb joke.’ I’m just reporting, Bob. He bolts, no one sees him. Ostensibly. Then he hears it all over the news today, gets scared, and tells Susan when she comes home from work. She’s flipped out, of course. I told her to take him in right now, he doesn’t have to make a statement, but she’s too scared. She’s afraid they’ll lock him up for the night. She says she won’t do anything till I get there.” Jim slumped back into the couch, then sat forward again immediately. “Oh, man. Oh, shit.” He stood up quickly and walked back and forth in front of the grated windows. “The police chief is Gerry O’Hare. Never heard of him. Susan says they dated in high school.”

“He dumped her after two dates,” Bob said.

“Good. Maybe he’ll be nice to her. She did say she might call him in the morning and tell him she’ll bring Zach in as soon as I get there.” Jim reached out to hit the arm of the couch as he walked past it. He sat back down in his rocking chair.

“Does she have him a lawyer?” Bob asked.

“I have to find one.”

“Don’t you know someone in the AG’s office?” Helen asked. She picked a piece of lint from her black tights. “I can’t think there’d be a lot of turnover up there.”

“I know the attorney general himself,” Jim said loudly, rocking back and forth, holding the arms of the rocking chair tight. “We were prosecutors together years ago. You met him at a Christmas party once, Helen. Dick Hartley. You thought he was a moron and you were right. And no, I can’t contact him, Jesus. He’s sticking his nose in the case. Totally a conflict. And strategically suicide. Jim Burgess can’t just go barreling in, good God.” Helen and Bob exchanged glances. After a moment Jim stopped rocking and looked at Bob. “Did he kill a prostitute? What was that about?”

Bob held up a hand in a gesture of apology. “Zach’s a bit of a mystery, is all I meant. Quiet.”

“The only thing Zach is, is a moron.” Jim looked at Helen. “Honey, I’m sorry.”

“I’m the one who said ‘prostitute,’ ” Helen reminded him. “So don’t get mad at Bob, who’s right, you know, Zach has always been different, and frankly it is the kind of thing that happens in Maine, a quiet guy living with his mother killing prostitutes and burying them in some potato field. And since he didn’t do that, I don’t know why we have to give up a vacation, I really don’t.” Helen crossed her legs, clasped her hands over her knees. “I don’t even know why he has to turn himself in. Get him a Maine lawyer and let him figure it out.”

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