The Bitter Toothache


Tom Benton (private collection)

I took Sandy's moped. My trenchcoat flapped in the wind.

As a private dick I’ve had to look into a lot of unpleasant things, but one thing I’ve never gotten sick of looking into is open mouths. So it was a pleasant surprise when my degree in dentistry finally came in the mail.

It came in a manilla 8×10 envelope. First I thought it was those photographs from the Schenelli case, which meant I owed Donny Eaton 150 bucks, since they’d showed up before Jimmy Hoffa. Then I thought after all these years my Loretta Swift autograph had finally arrived.

Instead, I got a certificate. It said:

hereby grants
with some kind of

I put the tear-stained certificate on the wall and got right down to it. I told Minny to clean out the fencing museum in the space next to my office; it wasn’t turning a profit anyway.

I had the sign on my door repainted to say:


Our first customer was some poor kid who’d been involved in some trouble downtown. He’d fled to the outskirts, my neck of the weirds. His face was bloodied. There was a bullet lodged in his tricep.

He stumbled into my office in a daze. I stood up.

“You look like a capable young man,” I said. I swooped toward his face.

“Say!” I lifted his jaw. “What is this? Oh no. Oh dear. Eat a lot of candy, do you?”


“Crystal meth?”


“Sure! Sure.” I clapped him on the shoulder.

“Minny,” I said, facing her. “Would you date this young man?”

“F—k no.”

“Why not?”

“No dreams, no inspiration, no distinctive personality or sense of humor—”

“But, uh, between you and me,” I whispered, bringing my face to the young guy’s ear, “meth mouth is at the top of her list of turnoffs.”

He gasped.

Four exhaustive hours and twelve removed teeth later, I’d completed my first oral surgery. I knew he’d talk me up. I just hoped he had enough teeth to do so.

The first week I had four customers. 14 the second. By the end of the month I had seven customers a day.

Kaufman showed up on Friday the 13th. He made me nervous.

“Awrh saaay, good fellawh” – I scraped plaque from the back of his molar – “Howrh is threh privrate deyective busyess?”

“Oh fine, fine,” I said. “Open up… that’s it… yeah, sure, it’s swell. I’m just making a little money on the side.”

I fell asleep in the operating chair that night, holding a game of “Operation.” I had my pliers in the breadbox and it was buzzing.

There was scotch all over the floor.

Mindy woke me on Monday morning.

“You got a client,” she whispered. “I mean: a patient.”

I took my pliers out of the breadbox. I closed my eyes.

“She’s got boots,” Mindy whispered.

I sat up. “How high?”


“Then she’s got an appointment.”

I hopped off the chair and lost my balance, blindsided by the hangover. Mindy helped me balance. She got the patient with the knee-high boots while I got on my surgical gear.

A tiny voice squeaked: “Doctor Schlong?”

“That’s right,” I said, and shook her hand. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m worried about my oral situation, Doc,” she squeaked.

“Oh, there’s nothing to worry about,” I assured her. I led her to the operating chair. “Here’s how it works.” She sat. “You just sit right there, and open wide. Then I put my tool in your mouth and go to work. After that’s done, I’ll spray in your mouth, and we’ll have you out of here in no time.”

She smiled. Her teeth were as pretty as she was.

20 minutes into the surgery she said, “Dawkah Swahng?”

I stopped drilling. “Yes dear?”

She sat up. “I have a problem. I’ve heard you do dick work on the side… maybe you can help me. I’m a go-go dancer.”

“Sure,” I said. “Whatever you need.”

“I think the owner of the club where I dance—I think she’s skimming off the top.”

My pulse calmed. The blood headed south again. “That’s no surprise, sister, in that kind of work.”

“But if I could prove it…”

“There’s no reward money in that kind of information. When was the last time you had fluoride?”

“You don’t understand!” she said. “I am the owner of the club!”

Minny came in with a new toothbrush.

“Not yet,” I said. She left.

I said to the dancer, “Tell me about it.”

“I got a split personality,” she said. “During the day, I’m me, Sandy, but sometimes, at night, I’m Shakira Toosh! I’ll get up there and start dancing, and then kick the nearest guy, walk off the stage, and put on a business suit!”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want me to follow you and find out if you’re skimming from yourself?”

“These are two very different people, Doc. They even got separate apartments. One morning I’ll wake up, and I’m driving a Cadillac! The next morning, I’m driving a moped!”

“I see what you mean,” I said. “Alright, I’m on the case. But let’s look at those dental x-rays first.”

Before she left, Sandy looked at me with eyes full of concern, like a fishbowl’s full of water.

She asked, “Do I have any cavities, Doc?”

I looked her over. “I’m sure you do…”

She pulled back and covered her mouth. “Do they need to be filled?” she asked.

I swallowed.

“Desperately,” I groaned.

The club was in Montreal. Place called Go Go Gadget Physical Reaction. I was the first one there. Sandy took the stage at nine, breakdancing to “Adagio for Strings.”

At quarter past 12 she kicked a hapless young Asian, strode through the crowd, and walked right out the door. I followed. So did 20 other guys.

When we were outside the door, I shouted, “Holy shit! Was that Wayne Gretzy?” at which point the Canadians scattered.

I took Sandy’s moped. My trenchcoat flapped in the wind.

I was getting worried. It was one o’clock on a Tuesday morning and I was riding a moped on the trail of a go-go dancer in Montreal.

I turned a corner. I saw a feminine hand lifting a sewer seal into place. I pulled over, then I pulled my gun and lifted the seal.

Didn’t reveal any go-go dancer. Just a visual metaphor for my life: a ladder descending into darkness. As usual, I followed it down.

I sensed her before I saw her. I couldn’t see a damn thing, but I knew she was right beside me.

“Why are you following me?” she hissed.

“Because you’re skimming money, Shakira.”

“I am not!”

“You’re lying.”

“Hmph! These hips don’t lie.”

“Then what are you doing in a sewer?”

“I’ve been trying to get someone down here for months!” she said. “As long as you’re here, take a look at this—”

She turned on a flashlight.

There was a 30-foot-long alligator staring at us. Its eyes were as black as the darkness had been. I wanted it back.

“You see?!” Sandy-Shakira bellowed. “There are alligators in the sewers!!”

The alligator moved toward us. I raised my gun and fired.

Flames exploded out of the air. I rolled in time and took Sandy-Shakira into the sewer water. It was filthier than a Winnipeg shithouse.

When we sat up, the sewer looked like it had been sauteed by an incompetent first-timer. I looked at Sandy-Shakira. She looked shocked. Sandy was back.

“Methane pocket,” I said.

I drove back that night. I had third-degree burns on one side of my face, and Sandy had her share, too. I paid her back her dental fees; in fact, once Shakira’s lawyer got involved, I paid her everything I’d earned as a dentist and everything it had cost to become one.

I glowered at her as I left the courtroom.

“Nice, Toosh,” I said.

That night, driving back from Montreal, the border patrol did their usual show.

“Anything to declare?”

“Yeah,” I said. “There’s no such thing as oral pleasure.”