I’ve taken a step back from the ego massage that usually makes up the content here and a young whippersnapper called Neil Broadfoot – author of FALLING FAST, THE STORM and soon ALL THE DEVILS – has come forward with an incisorive short story.
Grin and bear it
By Neil Broadfoot
Sarah Mulligan looked up from her computer as the waiting room door banged open and the man stormed in clutching a bony, ring-encrusted hand to his cheek. She gave him a quick, evaluating glance and sighed internally. Cheap jewellery? Check. Sweat-stained baseball cap? Check. Tracksuit bottoms and ridiculously white trainers? Check and check. A prime example of the adult small-town Scottish ned.
Or, to put it another way, trouble.
He glanced around suspiciously, the veins in his pasty white neck straining against mottled skin. His mouth was, thankfully, clamped shut in a tight, bloodless scar, but his eyes seemed to do the talking for him. Hostility, pain and fear seared from them in waves. Sarah had to force herself not to get out her seat and try to get away from that gaze.
The memory of an old Warner Brothers’ cartoon flashed through her mind – the one where Sylvester the Cat has just swallowed a bottle of nitro-glycerine and is trying not to hit anything so he doesn’t explode. That was what the man in front of her reminded Sarah of. A bomb waiting to go off, without the comedic star-and-boom effects.
“Yes sir,” she said, straining to keep her voice even. “Can I help?”
He hesitated for a moment, unwilling to open his mouth. Then, his body tensing, he spoke.
“Need tae see the dentist, ken?” he barked, clamping his hand tighter to his cheek as he spoke. “Ohh ya fucker!!!” he spat, bending over slightly. His voice was rising now, dissolving into a mewling, high-pitched whine that put Sarah’s teeth on edge. “Need tae see him now hen. Now!”
“Are you registered with us sir?”
“Naw ya stupit bitch,” he spat. “Fuckin’ hate dentists, don’t ah? But I need tae see the man, get him tae fix this fuckin’ thing.” As the man spoke, his eyes filled with tears.
“Look sir, “ Sarah replied, her voice a cold whisper. “If you’re not regis…”
“Is there a problem Sarah?”
Sarah turned, relief flooding through her as Geoff Malcolm emerged from his surgery.
“Not at all Mr Malcolm,” she replied. “I was just telling this… gentleman…” she spat the word as thought it were maggot-ridden fruit, “that if he wants to make an appointment to see you, he needs to be a registered patient.”
“Ah,” Malcolm grunted, nodding his head and scratching a hand through his grey-flecked beard. He stepped forward slightly, subtly placing himself between the man and Sarah. “And what seems to be the problem sir?”
“What the fuck ye think the problem is?” the man screeched, his cheap jewellery catching the overhead light and glinting wickedly as he rubbed his cheek. “Some cunt belted me wan last night an ma fuckin’ tooth’s killing me.”
“I see,” Malcolm said. He paused for a moment, gazing at the man in front of him coolly as he began to stroke his beard faster. After five years of working with him, Sarah knew the mannerism all too well.
The sudden straightening of his back indicated he had made a decision. “Well then,” he said brightly, “why don’t we see what we can do for you then?”
“Aye man,” the ned said, his voice a sickeningly grateful whimper. “Great.”
“But Mr Malcolm…” Sarah began.
“Now, now Sarah,” he replied mildly, “what harm can it possibly do? We’re the only dentist open at the moment in Prestonview, what with Mr Allan being on holiday. We don’t have any appointments for at least an hour, and this poor man is obviously in a great deal of pain. I’ll give him something to deaden that, and you can get the paper work for Mr…..?”
“Leslie,” the ned mumbled, clearly unwilling to open his mouth and aggravate the wounded tooth any further. “Brian Leslie.”
“Well, this way then Mr Leslie,” Malcolm said, motioning to his surgery. Sarah watched the ned follow Malcolm with slumped shoulders. “Prick,” she muttered softly as Malcolm closed the door behind him. She couldn’t quite decide who she was referring to. Then, sighing, she started to root out the paperwork they would need to register their latest patient.
Leslie settled himself uneasily into the dentist’s chair. Trying not to think about what was coming next.
“Now then,” Malcolm said, his voice heavy with forced nonchalance. “Let’s have a look shall we?”
With a clunk, the chair began to recline. Leslie’s hands spasmed, digging into the arms of the chair as his heart began to hammer in his chest. He fucking hated dentists. Always had done. Which was why he hadn’t been to one for years.
“Try to relax Mr Leslie,” Malcolm said as he loomed over Brian and swung the arc lamp into position. As he leaned closer, Leslie realised he smelled of mints. “Open wide.”
Reluctantly, Leslie opened his mouth. His teeth were a mess; a decaying, plaque-encrusted testament to a steady diet of junk food and sugar. And, if the stripped enamel and widening craters on the front teeth were anything to go by, occasional drug use as well. No surprise. There was so much work needing done that, had he not known what he was looking for, Malcolm would never have found the tooth in question.
But then, he knew a lot more than Brian Leslie thought he did.
“Ah yes,” he said, more for Leslie’s benefit than his own. “There’s the problem. You have a splintered tooth Mr Leslie – it’s split right down to the root, no wonder you’re in so much pain.”
“Uuuuuuhhh huuuh. Guuuuckin hurkksss,” Leslie gurgled, his tongue squirming like a slug as he tried to speak with his mouth wide open.
Malcolm sat back in his chair, taking huge gasps of air as he tried to rid himself of the reek of Leslie’s breath.
“Ok,” he said as he reached for a needle on the equipment shelf to the left of his stool. “We’ll just get that tooth numbed up so you’re not in so much pain and then I’ll rebuild it for you, ok?”
“Aye, great,” Leslie muttered, as though the prospect was anything but.
Malcolm nodded and then leant forward again. Normally, he would keep the needle out of the patient’s line of sight, coming in over their head and injecting as quickly as possible so they didn’t get too afraid. But with Leslie, he felt no urge to do that. He held the needle straight in front of him, desperately biting back the urge to laugh when he saw Leslie’s fear-filled eyes dart over its gleaming surface. It wouldn’t have looked so bad if he’d used the right needle, which was about half the size of the chrome-plated monstrosity he held in his hand at the moment.
But, as his mother always told him, the right tools for the right job.
He jabbed forward, plunging the needle into Leslie’s gum as hard as he could. Leslie bucked in the chair, pushing himself down as though he were trying to get away from the needle, but by then it was too late.
Far too late.
“Right,” Malcolm said as he flipped the switch and the chair returned to its upright position. “We’ll just give that a minute to work and then we’ll get started. I’ll just go and see how Ms Mulligan’s getting on with your paperwork.”
Leslie nodded slowly, rubbing his jaw as he watched the dentist leave the room. Fuckin’ bastard. He enjoyed that. But then, that’s what dentists were, wasn’t it? Evil fucks who enjoyed dishing out pain.
Leslie glanced around the room. It was a standard dentist’s surgery, a range of evil-looking drills and needles glinting in the glare of the light overhead. The walls were a cold, antiseptic blue, apart from one corner at the far end. Leslie got out of his seat and walked across to the splash of colour. Close up, he found it was a collection of a kid’s drawings, all stick men, clumsy crayon strokes and screaming primary colours.
“Too Daddy,” one, a picture of a long-legged giant with a purple face, green smile and shock of black hair, read. “I luv yooo. Becca.”
Leslie snorted contemptuously. Looks like brains don’t run it the family after all, he thought. He rubbed at his jaw again, aware of the first prickles of numbness spreading across his face. Cautiously, he moved his hand away from his face, which was now starting to feel like a foreign object to him. The pain was still there, but further away now, as though it were swathed in cotton wool. He weaved slightly on his feet, suddenly unsteady. Fuck, he thought, that’s good shit. Either that, or the hash he had smoked earlier to try and deaden the pain was starting to react with the anaesthetic.
He had just managed to get back to the chair when Malcolm reappeared, that same, smug smile bolted to his face like a mask. Anaesthetic or no, Leslie was starting to hate the stuck-up prick.
“Well Mr Leslie, how are you feeling?”
“Better,” Leslie replied, a flutter of panic leaping in his chest as he realised his voice was beginning to slur. “Thas some strong ane…anesss.. shit you’ve got there doc.”
The sound of Malcolm’s laughter ricocheted off the walls of the surgery. “Oh, I do apologise Mr Leslie,” he said after a moment as he waved a hand. “But you’re right, that is some strong shit I’ve got there.”
Leslie smiled languidly. His whole face felt numb now. Was it meant to be like that?
He found he didn’t really care.
“So tell me Mr Leslie,” Malcolm asked as he reclined the chair and repositioned the arc lamp. “How did this happen to you again?”
“Pub…” Leslie said after a moment. Talking was starting to be an effort. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and float. What the fuck had this guy given him?
“Ah yes,” Malcolm said as he reached for a drill. “Someone hit you you said? Why would they do that?”
“Dunno…” Leslie sighed. But he did. He had been at the bar of the Dalmeny last night and, when he turned around, he had knocked this guy’s pint out of his hand and into his chest. The guy, some thick-set motherfucker Leslie had never seen before, had demanded another pint as compensation. When Leslie had refused, telling the cunt that only an arse bandit would stand that close behind someone in the first place, the guy had taken a swing. For a big guy, he had been fast, the blow putting Leslie on the floor before he realised what was happening.
Collecting himself, he had jumped up, ready to smash a pint glass and ram it into the cunt’s throat. But the guy had already disappeared, and Leslie had business to attend to. He could find the prick later.
Which was what he intended to do as soon as he got out of this fucking dentist’s chair.
A drill whined to life, snapping Leslie out of his fantasy of revenge. He opened his mouth willingly, knowing he would feel nothing as he was so spaced out.
He yelped when the drill touched the nerve, steel-cold agony leaping from the tooth and racing through his body like an electric shock.
“Sorry about that,” Malcolm said quickly as he leant back. “Anaesthetic must not be fully working yet.”
“S’ok,” Leslie said. What the fuck was he saying? Of course it wasn’t ok. He should get up, grab this cunt by the throat and ram that fucking drill into his eye. Show him what pain really was. And he would. Later.
For now, he would float.
“So Mr Leslie, you were saying. What do you do for a living?”
Leslie chuckled softly. “Supply and demand,” he whispered. “I’m a salesman.”
“Really,” Malcolm said slowly, leaning forward so his face filled Leslie’s vision. Panic flashed across his mind as he saw the coldness in Malcolm’s eyes, the almost raw
contempt. But it was carried away by the tide. He couldn’t, wouldn’t hurt him. After all, he had made him float.
“So, what do you sell?”
“Happiness,” Leslie chuckled again. He was finding laughter came very easily. “I make people happy.”
Malcolm’s voice seemed to drop an octave. “And how do you do that Mr Leslie?”
“Pills n potions,” he sighed. What was he saying? Spilling his guts to this guy. But he couldn’t help himself. He What was he, suicidal? No…. he was,
… he was
“Ah,” Malcolm nodded slowly as the drill whirred to life again. “So you’re a drug dealer?”
“Thassrightt,” Leslie slurred dreamily. “Party drugs, make people happy.”
Malcolm grunted. Leaned forward with the drill. “People like my daughter you mean?”
Terror flooded through Leslie in a tidal wave, cutting through the fog in his mind and body like a scalpel for an instant. What the fuck had he just said?
The clouds were starting to roll in again, blotting out the panic and fear. He was missing something here, wasn’t he? But what…
“Open wide Mr Leslie…”
Leslie obediently opened his mouth.
Leslie screamed like a scalded child as the drill gouged into the soft marrow of his tooth as Malcolm drove it forward. He tried to move, tried to raise his arms to push Malcolm away but his arms felt like dead weights.
“Sorry,” Malcolm mumbled as he got up and walked to the other side of the room where the drawings were tacked to the wall. He stood in front of them for a moment then reached out and gently pulled one from its place.
“Yes Mr Leslie, my daughter. You see, she was a ‘party person’, as you put it. She loved to dance. Loved it.” Malcolm crossed the room and settled himself back into his stool. His gaze fell on the row of drills in front of him, his face becoming slack and distant as he spoke. “She would go to nightclubs with her friends and just dance. She didn’t even drink. But do you know what happened one night?”
Leslie shook his head as he felt his guts roll sickeningly. The sour thrill of adrenalin surged through his veins as his heart began to hammer in his chest. Whatever was going on here, this guy was an A-one nut job and he had to get away from him. And he would. He would. As soon as he could feel his legs again.
“Please…” he whispered. Christ, now it was getting hard to breathe. “Please, whatever…”
“Shut UP!” Malcolm bellowed as he slapped Leslie across the face. He howled as the force of the blow juddered through his exposed nerve, grinding on it like steel wool being dragged over his teeth.
Malcolm stared at Leslie for a moment, waiting for him to shut up. His clasped his hands together tightly, afraid that if he let them free they would leap for the drills, or worse, Leslie’s neck. Not yet.
First he had to know.
“One night, she…” he cleared his throat, choking back the tears. “She went to a club and one of her friends had some Ecstasy. Becca didn’t want to take it, but you know what youngsters are like, especially in groups. Her friends told her it would be ok, that they would look after her.” Malcolm shook his head slightly as tears began to slip down his face.
“Do you know what happened Mr Leslie?”
“N…no.” Leslie mewled as he felt his bladder give way and hot piss spill into his lap. Malcolm saw this and smiled.
“She had a stroke Mr Leslie. Something about a bad reaction to the drug. Oh, her friends were good to their word and they got her to a hospital in time, but she…. she stopped breathing. You see?” Malcolm’s shoulders began to hitch as he was wracked with sobs. He lifted the picture he had taken from the wall – the one of the long-legged giant with the purple face and black hair – so Leslie could see it. “My daughter is 19-years-old Mr Leslie,” he said slowly. “Do you know when she drew this for me?”
Leslie shook his head as best he could. He was crying himself now, his Adam’s apple working frantically in his throat like a man drowning in heavy seas as he did.
“Last week.” Malcolm said, his voice as cold and dead as his eyes. “She was brain damaged because the oxygen was cut off from her brain. And all because she was a ‘party person’ Mr Leslie. All because of pills and potions. All because of the drugs you sold her.”
“Me… how’d you know was me?”
“Because the friend who bought the drugs for her, Sharon Watkiss, told me your name Mr Leslie. She took a little ah, persuasion, but after a while, she told me all about you. Who you were, what you did, the drugs you sold, The pubs you drink in…”
“Oh fuck no…” Leslie gasped, trying with all his might to get up, get away.
“Oh yes,” Malcolm sighed as he reached for a drill and tested it. Its whine seemed very loud in the shrieking silence of the surgery.
“You’d be surprised how easy it was to find someone willing to take a swing at you Mr Leslie,” Malcolm said as he studied the drill bit. “It’s almost as easy as teaching someone exactly where they need to hit to break someone’s tooth.”
Leslie hitched in as much breath as he could and screamed. It was a high, reedy sound, like a kettle boiling. If he could only attract help. Get someone to…
“Now Mr Leslie, please,” Malcolm said mildly, his voice insanely calm as he leaned closer. “Please, save your strength. The drug I gave you means you’re not going anywhere, and besides, I’ve sent Sarah home and closed the surgery for the day. Oh, and don’t think someone turning up at the door on the off-chance will help you, it’s very securely locked. You see, I’ve been thinking about this moment for a very long time.”
“Nu…” Leslie grunted, his eyes bulging from their sockets as Malcolm leaned closer. “Nooooopleasenononononono…”
“Oh yes Mr Leslie. It’s just you and me. I noticed you have quite a lot of dental work needing done. Well, you just sit there. And don’t worry, the drug I gave you won’t affect your nerves, you should feel everything.”
Leslie whimpered like a beaten dog, tried desperately to get away. His heart was slamming against his ribcage like a frantic bird in a cage. Dimly, he hoped he would have a heart attack before Malcolm got to him.
“Open wide Mr Leslie,” Malcolm said gently as he grabbed Leslie’s jaw. With the last of his strength, Leslie clamped his mouth shut. Malcolm smiled slightly.
“Very well,” he said, “We’ll do it your way.”
He drove the drill forward, blood and tendrils of flesh gouting onto his white dental smock as the whirring drillhead bit into Leslie’s top lip and tore it open. The drill coughed its protest as it struck bone. Instinctively, Leslie opened his mouth to scream.
“Very good Mr Leslie,” Malcolm said as he drove the drill forward again. “Now, open wide, this will only hurt a lot.”
Leslie’s screamed again as the drill bit into his teeth, grinding, splintering, pulping. He gagged as the bitter marrow from his ruptured teeth flooded his mouth, and suddenly found a suction tube forced almost all the way down his throat. He thrashed feebly in the chair, trying to fight back, trying to get away, but it did not good.
Soon, his screams faded, replaced by gargling, choked cries for mercy or death, the high-pitched, angry whine of a dentist’s drill and the sobs of a father happy in his work.
That really sets my teeth on edge. You know what they say – the tooth hurts!
(That’s a cackle like the Cryptkeeper in ‘Tales From The Crypt’. I kinda look like him, too)