Soudo sat back in his brown leather chair, fingers interlaced over his stomach. He still smelled the faint scent of musk hanging
in the air. That Mrs. McKenzie was something. Blond hair, blue eyes, legs that went on forever. Too bad she was a basket case.
“You’re very special, child,”
he’d said to her as she leaned forward, across the mahogany desk. “You’ve been chosen to be of considerable
help to us.”
“To the Cause.”
“To the Cause. I’m certain your dreams,
your nightmares, will stop once you’ve made this sacrifice.”
She’d stretched her arm across the desk,
touching his hand, her red-painted nails bright against his chocolate skin. “No. It’s no sacrifice. You are the
one who sacrifices, Pastor. Without your counseling, I don’t know how I could go on living. I don’t know how I
survived until I found this church.”
“Well, praise the Lord, daughter.”
He’d given her his “killer” look, the one he practiced daily, in the mirror. Sincerity. That’s what
got them. As much as he’d have liked to schedule her for more private counseling, she was destined for another purpose.
“You’ve talked to Brother Wilson?”
“Yes, of course.” A smile. Perfect
Leonard bit his lip, balled his fists on the
desk, then relaxed them. “Thank you, my dear. These other small…services you’ve rendered will not be forgotten.
But it’s the great thing to come that will establish our feet. That will put stars in our crowns. Brother Wilson will
contact you when…You realize it may be at a moment’s notice?”
“Not a problem. Thank you so much, Pastor
Soudo. I just praise God I found you.”
“Yes. Well, I believe our time is up for
today. Goodbye, Mrs. McKenzie.”
She’d stood, tugging her short skirt down
over bare tanned legs. How did she keep a tan this time of year? Then she turned and opened the door, smiling back over her
Now he sat at his desk, smelling her perfume
and considering opportunity lost.
It was dirty business. And hard to keep straight.
Like Me maw used to say about lies: pretty soon you forget the lies you told to cover your first stories. The church believed
he was just an honest passionate preacher. The boys in the “bomb squad” believed he was a warrior. The syndicate
had promised another fifty grand if the old man coughed up the records then disappeared.
If everything worked out, he’d be in the
Bahamas soon. Away from the snow and the wind. It was all due to the generosity of Sister Carrie. Bless her heart, to die and
leave that big donation to the church. Two-hundred fifty thousand dollars. In bills. The old girl kept them deposited in her
bank, in her linen cupboard. She liked the killer look too. And the sincere voice. Funny thing is, she told her nephew she’d
given a sizable donation to the church when she found out she had only weeks to live. She’d just never said how much.
“Praise the Lord,” the deacon board
said when they saw the new projection screen that lowered from the ceiling. “That must’ve set us back a dollar
“Owing to the goodness of Sister Carrie,”
Leonard told them.
“How much shall I put in the financial
“I don’t know as we have to enter
it at all, Deacon. It was in and out, as they say. That and the new steps into the baptismal, the lapel microphones and, of
course the new van, designated…” he turned his head, including all the men in his broad smile, “for use
by the board for travel to meetings and such.”
Three of the brethren had returned his smile,
but the treasurer still had a furrowed brow. “But I believe we need a figure, Pastor. For tax purposes, you know.”
Leonard scowled again, just remembering the pesky
man. “The good sister bequeathed us one hundred fifty thousand dollars, in cash. Will that suffice for your bookkeeping,
brother?” He’d risen, and the men understood the subject was closed. They didn’t mistrust him, he knew.
Just figured he was controlling. Shepherding, it was called in church lingo.
“And I am,” he said aloud. “Controlling
of one hundred thousand dollars.”
All of which he’d invested with his golfing
friend, who knew a man, who knew a man…Selling body parts. Sounded like something Dr. Frankenstein might invest in.
Ghoulish. But good business and, in a way, a service to mankind. Yessir, Me maw Flossie would be proud of her grandbaby for
The tears surprised him. Truth was, she’d
always been proud. He remembered the look on her face when he stood up and preached at his first church. His very own church.
Flossie’d spent nearly all her savings to come out on the bus, surprise him for his first sermon as a real pastor. He
took her to Kentucky Fried afterwards, and she cried all through dinner.
“That’s my baby,” she’d
told him. I always did say you’d amount to somethin’.”
Me maw Flossie wouldn’t be all that proud
of her boy now. Yeah, he amounted to something, but…. She’d always said, “Do unto others, baby, what you’d
want them to do to you. He that knoweth not love knoweth not God.”
“I’m going to put a white picket
fence around your place out there, Me maw. Just like the fine ladies had, you worked for. And hire somebody can keep fresh
flowers there all the time. You’ll see, Me maw. You’ll see.”
“Excuse me, Pastor Soudo?”
Leonard swiped at his wet cheeks with the back
of his hand. He grabbed a paper from the desk, whirled in his leather chair, away from the secretary’s view, and held
it to the light as though to see it better. He took a deep breath and his voice came out in a hiss.
“Sister Cranwell, Is there something?”
“I thought I heard you call me, Pastor.
I must be mistaken.”
Leonard took a deep breath, still feeling the
sting of the tears. “Quite all right, sister. I was just thinking out loud. Practicing my sermon.”
Two things by which Maxine Keller set store were
the healing properties of chicken soup and the old adage ‘cleanliness is next to godliness.’ In testimony, a cauldron
of soup bubbled on Abraham Sorkin’s range while Maxine, on hands and knees, scrubbed the doctor’s bathroom with
Lysol. Sorkin lay on the living room sofa, snoring loudly.
“How can men live like this?” She’d
been talking to no one in particular for over an hour, since Sorkin fell asleep. “ Men just aren’t made to live
alone. How he’s made it this long without a wife is a mystery to me.” She folded the rag in half, dirty part inside,
and dug at caked mud on the floor, along the tub’s edge. “He’s too young to have an old man smell to his
house. If a woman lived here . . . ”
“Maxine, what are you up to in there?”
Dr. Sorkin’s voice was weak. He appeared at the bathroom door, blanket wrapped around his cotton pajamas, a pillow held
tight against the broken ribs. “I didn’t ask you here to scrub my floors.”
“ You didn’t ask me here at all,
I just came. I thought you’d heal faster if your injuries weren’t compounded by staph infection.” Maxine
stood ,drying her hands on a towel tucked into her pants waist.
“My house isn’t that dirty.”
“And I just got a date to the senior prom.”
She took his arm and steered him back to the sofa. “You’re going to trip, dragging that old blanket around with
“I have no choice. Some mishugena took away my clothing. Here I sit with nothing on but pajamas. And a strange woman in my house.”
“You crazy old man. I’ve seen it
all before. I’m a nurse, and a pretty good one. I know you agree, since I work for you.”
“Maybe you still work for me, and maybe
not. Depends on whether or not I get my pants back.”
“Fat chance, Abraham Sorkin. I’ve
known you for twenty years and I’m not afraid of you. Sit back and I’ll get you some soup.”
The doctor sat back against the cushions and
ran his hand over the fringe of hair that edged his bald dome. He smoothed the
faded thermal blanket just as Maxine returned, juggling two bowls.
“One for you.” She pulled a shaky
metal TV tray to the couch with one foot, setting a bowl on it. “ And one for me.” The woman settled into the
doctor’s leather chair with her soup.
Now, tell me what really happened to you.”
“I’ve told you. I fell. End of story.”
“I don’t believe you, Dr. Sorkin.”
“ Dr. Sorkin. Dr. Sorkin. How come, after
twenty years, you never call me Abraham? Don’t I call you Maxine?”
“Last month, you reminded me to call you
“ Last month, I was mad at you. This month,
you’re sitting in my living room ,with me in pajamas, eating
“Well, for pity’s sake, don’t
let that get out. You’ll ruin my reputation.”
“ Did I tell you yet, thank you for finding
me and calling the ambulance? I am grateful, Maxine.”
“That’s okay. I’m really glad
I was there. . . Abraham.”
The doctor smiled, in obvious satisfaction. “Ah.”
He fell silent as they ate their soup. Maxine wondered if he felt
as comfortable as she did, as warm.
“ Things have gotten. . . complicated in
the last two months, haven’t they?” Sorkin finished his
supper and sat back.
“You mean the protests? Last year, they
made a bubble zone , and I thought to myself , ‘What the heck
is a bubble zone?’ Then I found out the pro-lifers couldn’t come any closer than eight feet to pass out their literature, but they could still pass it out. Boom. Pro-lifers are happy, pro-choice is happy. No more problem. Now they’re protesting
It goes in cycles. It’s like my hair.”
“Excuse me, Maxine. Like your hair?
“ I dye it red, and I’m happy until
some old broad in a magazine looks gorgeous in gray hair, so I let
it go and it gets gray. Then I see an ad for Nice And Easy and I think , boy that woman looks a lot younger without all that gray, so I dye it again. See? A cycle.”
Sorkin shook his head, then winced and closed
his eyes. Maxine slid the TV tray to the side to get to him, but he waved her back. “ And the protests really don’t
“ I have a feeling that’s not all
that’s going on. That frightens me.”
“Maxine, I will try my best to see that
the clinic. . . that you are safe. And Macie.”
“I’m sorry I nagged you to do that
dictation. It’s just that I thought I needed to get it put into
“Computers. Now that scares me. I can’t
even get near one of the things. If you and Macie weren’t in
the office, I would do everything longhand.”
“And that scares me. I can’t read
your writing.” The two laughed longer than the joke deserved.
Maxine realized that Abraham Sorkin wasn’t eager for her to leave. As he tightened the grip on the pillow held against his ribs, his sleeve fell back and she saw the tattoo. The numbers, marking him as a survivor. Summoning courage, she asked what she’d wanted to ask for years.” Will you tell me about the camps. . . in the war? I know
prisoner. You lost your family. . . ”
“No. I don’t talk to anyone about
that. They shamed me.”
“But you were only a child. And humiliation
was one of their. . . tortures. It wasn’t only you.”
“ Shame. They called me a Kapo. No more
talk. . . I’m tired.” Sorkin put his head back and closed
his eyes again. The room chilled ; the openness was gone.
Neither one said anything for a long while. Then
Maxine stood and gathered the dishes. “I’ll put these
away. Would you like me to turn down your bed? “
“No. I’ll sleep here tonight. It’s
easier to get to the bathroom.” He slid his slippers off and
put his feet up on the sofa. He seemed to dismiss her and Maxine sighed as she washed the bowls and glasses, dried them and
set them in the cupboard.
When she finished, Maxine put on her jacket and
fished in her purse for her car keys. Sorkin lay, eyes closed, covered with the worn blanket. She glanced at him, then opened
the door to leave.
“Goodnight, Maxine,” Sorkin barked.
“Abraham,” he said.