Brush With Death
"In my opinion, yes."
"And you think an orthodontist can fix it?"
"As I said, his upper central and lateral incisors are protruding slightly. But there doesn't appear to be any malformation of the mandible, and his occlusion looks fine. I think orthodontia should take care of it."
I was explaining to Denise Toomey--in excruciating detail
--the options concerning her son Dwight's overbite when, mercifully, there was a knock at the operatory door.
"Yes," I said. "Let me just get this." But instead of opening the door I stepped out into the hall myself. It was Nona, my receptionist.
"I didn't mean to interrupt."
"No, you saved me."
Nona smiled. "I just came to tell you that the lab work is in. I put it back on the bench." With that she was gone and I was left by myself to deal with Mrs. Toomey. After finally answering her repeated questions to her satisfaction I walked with her and her son back to the reception desk. "And this can be corrected, this . . ."
"Overbite," I repeated. Nona handed me a referral pad without being asked and I began filling it out with the name of an orthodontist a few doors down from my office.
"He'll need braces?"
I wrote faster. Tearing off the sheet and handing it to her at the same time I picked up a file of a patient I'd already seen, I started back down the hallway. "Just talk to Dr. Bevins. He'll explain everything."
I heard her mumble another question. I walked faster. Then I heard a thank you and lifted my hand without turning back around. Once inside the sanctuary of my lab, I tossed the file onto the bench, sat down, and breathed a sigh of relief. Nona showed up a few seconds later. She picked up the file and said, "Is it okay if I file this now?"
"Sorry," I said. "I just had to get out of there. That woman drives me nuts."
Nona just laughed. "You want some coffee?"
"No, thanks. I'm just going to unpack this stuff and then head home."
As Nona headed back down the hall, I began opening the boxes in front of me. I have most of my crown and bridge work done over in Bellevue at the Nakanishi Dental Lab. Dave Nakanishi has always done a fantastic job for me, and since I stopped doing my own lab work, I've come to depend on him and his staff more than ever. There were four boxes from Nakanishi and one with no return address. I opened that one first.
On occasion Dave will be out of town or I'll need something late in the day when his people can't come over to pick up my impressions. At those times I use a dental lab in Seattle. But to be honest, I couldn't remember having had to use them in the past week.
The box looked normal in every way, with a top that slipped over the bottom like most dental shipping boxes. I slit the packing tape with a knife, pulled the top off and saw the usual cotton packing material. But when I pulled the cotton off I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A heavy, metal box of some sort was nestled into the cotton packing. The top appeared to have been hand made; I could see the hammer marks across its surface.
I just sat there for a moment, looking at it. Something was wrong. I took a look at the top of the packing box again. It was my name and address, scrawled in a sloppy but legible hand on a white label, but no return address. I didn't really think it was a bomb, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't going to like what I found inside. I couldn't stall forever, though, and finally I opened the lid. The top wasn't hinged. It came off just like the packing box, and inside was more cotton. I took my time putting my fingers into the box and gingerly tweezed out the cotton. What I saw there had me even more perplexed. It was a tooth. But it wasn't just any tooth.
I didn't pick it up right away because the moment I realized what it was I had decided to call the police. First, however, I needed to figure out what to tell them. It was a primary tooth--what most people call a baby tooth--and there was still blood and tissue on the roots. It had to have been pulled from a child's mouth within the last hour or so. The images that ran through my mind sickened me and propelled me to the phone across the room.
I put in a call to Lieutenant Dan Lasky from the Magnolia Precinct. Dan was a friend of mind and I knew he would take the call seriously. I was able to get right through to his desk, and before I could even finish my description he interrupted me.
"I'll be right over. Just leave everything the way you found it, okay?"
"Sure. Can I at least put the cotton back over--"
"No. Look, just don't touch anything, okay?"
"Fine. I'm just trying to keep it in the same condition--"
"Look, Steve, the more time I spend on the phone with you the less I have on the scene. I'll be right over."
But before I could respond, Dan had hung up on me. Since he was only a few blocks away, I knew he would be over any minute. I set the receiver on the cradle and made my way from the lab down to the reception desk. Nona could obviously sense my concern and said, "What's the matter?"
"Who gave you that box?"
I shook my head. "The lab work. Who gave you the boxes?"
"Is he the one who always delivers from Nakanishi?"
"All five boxes?"
Now the concern on Nona's face matched my own. "No, Mike only had four. A kid from Allied came in a few seconds later with the last one." Allied was the dental lab I used in town.
"Are you sure he was from Allied?"
She shook her head. "I just assumed. What's going on, Steve?"
I looked out the full-glass front door to my office. No sign of Dan yet. "Someone delivered a tooth to the office."
"Yeah. A primary tooth that's almost certainly been pulled out of a kid's mouth within the last hour. There was still blood and tissue on it."
Suddenly Nona looked as sick as I felt. "Oh, my god, Steve. Did you call the police?"
Just then I saw Dan's beat-up car pull up to the front. "Yeah, here's Dan now."
I walked around the reception desk and opened the inner door to the office just as Dan was coming in. He was trailed by two other plainclothes detectives and I led the three of them back to the lab. Dan stopped me at the door and went in first, the other detectives following.
He looked down at the tooth for a second and then up at me. "Is this the top?" he said. He was pointing to the top of the packing box. "Yeah. That's what it was packed in, but you see that other, smaller metal lid next to the box? That was inside."
"Okay." He was turned now to the other cops. "I want both of these bagged too, and for Christ's sake don't mess up the prints." Then, to me: "Have you ever been fingerprinted, Steve?"
I was embarrassed to say I had. I'd been arrested a few years ago breaking into another dentist's office looking for incriminating evidence . . . It's a long story. Anyway, Dan said, "Good, then we can run them against yours and eliminate those right away." The other men began slowly taking apart the box and putting the items into separate plastic bags.
"Did you touch the tooth?"
"Good. Okay, Steve. I think we can take it from here. We'll get everything packed up and then I'll have one of these guys stay here and take a statement from you and your receptionist."
I nodded and turned to walk down the hall when one of the detectives said, "Lieutenant. I think you better take a look at this."
I froze in my tracks as Dan took a step backward. The detective was holding a piece of paper with a pair of tweezers out to Dan. He took a look and then all three of the men looked up at me.
"What's going on--" Before I could take a step, Dan had a hand in my chest and was pushing me out into the hall.
Dan looked into my eyes with the most intense ferocity that I had ever seen and it scared the shit out of me. "Look, Steve, we have things to do that we have to get done right now, you understand?"
"What the hell's going on, Dan?"
"Steve." He was practically yelling. "I don't have time to fuck around, you understand?"
"What the fuck's going on, goddamn it!"
"Steve, listen to me. When I show you this you have to promise not to go off half cocked, okay?"
I tried to push past him, but he grabbed me by the upper arm and held me fast. I could sense Nona coming up the hall. "All right," I said, and angrily ripped my arm out of his grasp.
He took my arm again, led me to the other detective, and nodded to him. Then the detective held out the paper in the tweezers. "Don't touch it," Dan said.
The words were written in the same scrawl as the address label. When I read them I felt my stomach rise to my throat and my heart nearly stop. Dan's grip tightened on my arm as if he knew I was about to bolt from the room.
The note read: Dr. Raymond, do you know where your kids are?
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