Abraham Sorkin woke stiff. He had spent the night in his easy chair, feet propped on the leather ottoman.
Bending over the television, he pushed a button and Barbara Walters’ face disappeared from the screen. His slippers
shuffled on the Berber carpet as he headed to the apartment’s one bathroom.
“Old men, cold men,” he told himself glancing at his reflection in the mirror. Old men lingered
in the bathroom. Old men stooped long over bowls of oatmeal. After all this time, he was reduced to being a slow old man,
and nothing he did could change it.
If not for a stupid old man, Steve Voight might still be alive, he thought. A stupid, slow old man who
thought he would finally achieve some renown. But at what cost? Oh, people would soon know who he was. They would know him
not for his work, his accomplishments, but for this…gruesome item on an evening newscast.
Abraham was exhausted, but sleep was out of the question, so he turned on the small television. All three
networks led with the suicide story on their news. The newscast flashed pictures of the Voight home, the police cars, the yellow
crime tape, and a young reporter mentioned the name of Dr. Abraham Sorkin.
Dr. Sorkin, whom the police had questioned about his connections to the dead man. Abraham Sorkin, whose
clinic had—just that day—been the object of a pro-life protest. Dr. Sorkin,
who could shed some light on why a man would kill himself. And the doctor didn’t have the strength to get up, shut off
the television, stop the words. So, it buzzed on all night, even after he finally drifted off.
Abraham had no qualms about his work at the clinic. He saw many kinds of patients. Some of them wanted
abortions. These, he thought, he helped regain control over their lives. He saved children from being born into impossible,
hopeless lives. He figured they were better off dead. But the stem-cell work, that was different. He didn’t realize
that it would come to, well, to driving a man crazy.
Of course, Steve Voight was probably not stable before the surgery. Yet, shouldn’t they have known
that? Shouldn’t someone have taken the time to know him? But then, time was something they didn’t have. The government
was doing research in stem-cell organ transplants, too. It was a race to the finish.
The procedure was well known to scientists. Cells, taken from human embryos, had the ability to develop
into many different kinds of tissue. They could become livers or hearts or . . . eyes. Abraham and Austin had found out how
to expedite the process. How to grow entire organs outside of the body. That made it more practical for transplants. They
had each worked on part of the experiment, taking copious notes and then combining their discoveries in this one great event.
In this monumental failure. In Steve Voight’s eyes.
Abraham thought about changing the wrinkled slacks and flannel shirt, discarding the faded vest, but he
had no energy to do it. He ate his cereal slowly; it got cold before the final mouthful, but he didn’t taste it anyway.
The phone rang constantly. Few people knew his unlisted phone number. Still, there were ways. . . Abraham
let the machine pick up. Each time he passed it and saw the blinking light, he thought that answering machines were good things.
Not at all intimidating, like computers or fax machines.
He didn’t tell the police the whole truth, but Mrs. Voight hadn’t either. There was comfort
in that. It gave him time to figure what to do. How soon would the government catch up with their research? He didn’t
think Austin, or the other men financing the program, would make their public announcement now. But if they didn’t hurry,
the government would beat them. Then, there would be no redemption for Abraham.
Last night’s interrogation left him shaken.
“How long have you known Steve Voight?” The young cop asked.
“They’re long-time family friends,” he lied. “What is your name again, young man?”
The officer sighed. “Cagle, sir. Rod Cagle. You and the deceased were friends. And was he your patient?”
“Only advice. I’m not a general practitioner.”
“You performed his recent surgery?”
Abraham could answer truthfully. “No. I did not.”
“Do you know why they called you instead of his regular physician tonight?”
“I’m not psychic. Ask them.”
Whatever Mrs. Voight had told him, Cagle seemed satisfied. It obviously was a suicide, and there were so
many other cases waiting.
“The only thing . . . ,” added the officer, tucking his notebook into his pocket, “It’s
strange, this happening after the protests this afternoon. You’ve had a rough day, wouldn’t you say, Doc?”
As the uniformed cop had led Abraham to the living room for questioning, he’d glimpsed Voight’s
body. The scene played over and over again in his mind as he drove home.
By , Abraham had decided to burn the notes: Abraham Sorkin’s one claim to greatness.
He held the three journals over the kitchen trash can and put a match to their pages, one-by-one. When it was over, he felt
like crying. Like a baby. He lifted out the plastic can-liner, pulled the drawstrings, and shuffled with it to the alley dumpster.
Steve Voight’s bloodied face flashed through his thoughts. So much like the bodies at Bergen-Belsen.