He seems to be at peace, stretched out on the crisp white sheets of a hospital bed, an oxygen mask strapped over his face, tubes dripping fluids taped into both arms. He's a tall man, six foot plus, bulky and out of shape. His thinning hair has the shoe polish black color of bad dye, the kind he applies once a month while he showers, several shades too dark for his age. His dark hair emphasizes the waxy luster of his skin.

If he could open his eyes, he'd see two nurses at their station on the other side of a large window. He'd see machines mounted on the walls around his bed, and more machines positioned beside him on carts. He's alone in the room, which is airless and smells of disinfectant. The machine that supplies his oxygen hisses. The machine that monitors his heart beeps. Another machine has a hum that's worrisomely loud.

Beyond that window, in a lounge at the end of a long corridor, his wife is talking to reporters. A cameraman is taping her while a young woman points a microphone. A second reporter takes notes.

I don't understand, Mrs. Blat says. He's the nicest guy in the world. He's never given me any trouble at all. My God, she says. He's a full professor! He's not . . . some . . .