Concept: The Other Side

The flat screen TV hung in the waiting room in Dr. Travis Martin’s office, perfectly centered on the beige-colored wall. The Today show filled the screen brightening the matching, drab chairs that formed one end of a rectangle around the TV with the ambient light that flashed from the screen. A glass table sat in the center of the collection of chairs in the waiting room covered with a fan of magazines that had been carefully organized the day before after the office had closed. Janice, the meticulous owner of the reception and waiting area, sat patiently behind the counter pecking away at the computer before her. She glanced askew at the muted TV and sighed. Another long day awaited her.

At 7:10 AM the first patient of the day arrived. Charlie Peck, a dapper young professional who commuted into the city every day, bounded through the door like a man on a mission. He was late, as usual, but he commanded her attention like she had been the one who had disrespected his time. He didn’t apologize for being late, and Janice liked him less because of it. She judged the doctor’s patients not only by the condition of their teeth, this was a dentist’s office after all, but also by how well they kept to their appointments. She’d heard all manner of excuses in her two decades of working for Dr. Martin, and she’d learned who deserved her leniency and who did not. Charlie did not.

“Dr. Martin will be with you shortly,” she said as Charlie stood before her at the counter after he had checked in. “Please have a seat.”

She kept a professional demeanor, but she quietly seethed. She hesitated for a moment before telling Dr. Martin that his first appointment had arrived. His next appointment slot remained open, so the doctor had time to make Charlie wait. She glanced at Mr. Peck as he fidgeted in the waiting room obviously annoyed at having to wait. He likely had to get downtown soon, but he was always late and constantly rescheduling and moving his appointments like only his time mattered. Time was money for Dr. Martin, and by extension, it was for her too.

The hygienist, Richard, walked up to the reception area and peered into the waiting room. “Is Charlie checked in?” He pursed his lips and widened his eyes behind his wire-frame glasses. Richard was a burly man who almost busted through his tight-fitting lab coat. He looked like a linebacker who squeezed into a suit after a game.

“Yes,” Janice replied. The hygienist looked at her a moment and then to Charlie behind her.

“Mr. Peck, do you want to come on back?”

“Yes.” Charlie shot up from his chair and darted toward the door as Richard opened it. As he walked by Janice, Charlie gave her a wan smile, which she returned in the affectless way she did when she was annoyed.

She peered out into the empty waiting room for a brief moment before she returned to the computer in front of her. A game of solitaire awaited. Had she been paying attention to the parking lot, she would have noticed the black car pull into one of the spaces in front of the office.

Charlie Peck lay back in the dentist chair fully reclined as the amiable hygienist chatted away as he checked each bright white tooth in his patient’s mouth. He poked and prodded with the sharp metal tool and made small talk with his muffled patient. Charlie managed only a word or two as the hygienist switched tools or applied suction to the pooling water in his mouth. The one-sided conversation carried through the office just like any other early-morning start to the day.

Dr. Martin listened to chatter and footsteps through his office from a nook behind a wall at the top of the hall leading to his exam rooms as he reviewed his appointment schedule on a laptop. A dim light cast a shadow over his back, but he could see just fine. He had refrained from turning on the overhead fluorescent lights because he disliked the artificial blast of cold light and how it made his skin look. Florescent lights only made bright white teeth look better. Everything else looked sickly or dead. A vision of a cold, dead hand flashed before his eyes, but he shook it off.

His hygienist, Richard, continued his one-sided conversation with Charlie. Richard’s voice boomed and carried throughout the entire office. Sometimes, his laugh startled Dr. Martin as it rattled off the walls. His loquacious and amiable assistant softened his patients up before he waltzed into the room and had a more serious discussion with them about cavities and gum disease. He focused on the problems his patients faced, while Richard talked about his grandkids and his beloved Duke Blue Devils.

Richard laughed heartily disturbing the relative calm in Dr. Martin’s nook. The doctor shook it off as he heard the ding of his front door opening, but he ignored it because he knew Janice would take care of it. His next patient wasn’t due until 8:30. Tuesdays were always slow. He returned to his laptop briefly before Richard interrupted him.

“Hey Boss, you ready to take a look?” Richard asked.

Dr. Martin looked up and gave a restrained smile. “How’s he look?”

“Good. Nothing’s changed since his last visit. More plaque build-up though and some gum recession. Otherwise, looks good.”

“Okay. Let’s have a look.” Dr. Martin stood up and pulled a pair of latex gloves from box near his laptop and followed the bulky hygienist to the patient room down the hall.

“Good morning, Mr. Peck,” Dr. Martin said as he grabbed a rolling stool and had a seat next to his patient.

“Good morning.”

“Anything new with you?”

“Nothing–”

“Dr. Martin,” Janice said as she walked through the door. “There are two men here to see you.” She looked pale and frightened, but Dr. Martin felt more annoyed than concerned.

“Okay. What do they want?”

“They said it’s important.”

“Are they patients?”

“No. They need to talk to you.”

“Find out what they want, and tell them I’ll be done in about ten minutes.”

“They can’t wait.” Janice looked positively frightened.

Dr. Martin paused for a moment. This was his office and no one dictated what he did, but Janice’s persistence concerned him. Nevertheless, he replied, “Tell them to wait.”

“I don’t think we can do that, Dr. Martin,” said a deep voice that belonged to a man who appeared at the door to the exam room. The man, tall and sturdy with a crew cut, had a stern look on his face. Dr. Martin could see another similarly-sized man behind him. Neither had a friendly smile of any sort to suggest that their business was pleasant.

“I told you that you cannot come back here…” Janice protested.

Dr. Martin sized up his visitors and waved Janice off. “It’s okay, Janice,” he said to her as he turned toward the men. “How can I help you?” His felt his own voice tremble as if the solid foundation he stood on had begun to teeter.

“I’m Detective Lance Burgess with the Stamford Police Department, and this is Detective Reginald Featherstone. We’re going to need you to come with us,” the first man said as he flashed his badge. Both men nodded.

“Now?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Charlie had sat up and wheeled around toward the two men. Janice shrunk into the corner as the blood drained from her face, and Richard stood behind the detectives with a grim look on his face.

“I’m in the middle of an appointment here. Can’t this wait?”

“No, you can either come with us willingly or we can arrest you right here.”

“What is he being arrested for?” Janice wailed.

“Ma’am, this doesn’t concern you,” Detective Featherstone said.

“What about my checkup?” Charlie asked out loud. He seemed dumbfounded and at a loss for words.

Dr. Martin looked at him and then said, “Richard, can you finish up with Charlie?”

“Yes, Boss,” he replied from the hallway.

The detectives looked tense. The stern looks on their faces remained chiseled in place as Dr. Martin stood up. He motioned for them to leave the room as he stood behind them, but they merely moved aside of the door way and kept their eyes on him. Janice looked at him in horror, but he ignored her. He nodded his thanks to Richard, but his affable hygienist looked just as frightened as his receptionist.

In the hallway, the detectives flanked him on either side while Detective Burgess spoke to him in a low, serious voice. He didn’t really listen to what the Detective was saying about his rights. Silence sounded good at that moment. A lawyer couldn’t help him right now. He followed them out into the parking lot and the second detective opened the rear door to their car for him. He sat down in the backseat and buried his head in his hands. He didn’t look up for fear that he’d see Janice standing at the door gaping out at him or his next patient walking into an office that he’d likely never see again. His hands trembled, but his resolve remained firm. He’d say nothing.

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