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6. THE PAINLESS METHOD


THE PAINLESS METHOD. Jay Street.

 

Marvin Geller arrived at his office on Monday morning, with the feeling that his was a dull and conventional existence. The night before, he had met an explorer, an actor, and a Marine sergeant at a party. Tales of their triumphs and exploits lingered in his ears. As he paused in front of the mahogany door, he no longer felt a thrill of pride at the sight of the gold letters that proclaimed his function in the world.

With a sign, he put the key in the lock and went inside.

Even the sight of his gleaming-white, immaculate equipment, the new amalgamator that produced a fine mix of alloy and mercury in just eight seconds, the neatly-kept files, the general atmosphere of efficiency, failed to lighten his glum mood. Nevertheless, he managed a smile when Miss Forbes, his assistant, arrived for the day’s work.

«Mrs. Holland this morning», she said brightly. «You were supposed to take radiographs of her central incisor (1). And I was supposed to remind you about Mr. Feuer’s abscessed molar (1)».

«Yes, thanks», he said vaguely.

«It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? I walked to the office this morning. Did you have a good time last night?».

«Just fine. Did that Mr. Smith call again last night after I left?».

«Oh, yes». Miss Forbes started flipping through the appointment calendar. «I told him you were booked solid (2) for the day, but he was insistent and said he’d drop by anyway».

«Strange man. Oh, well», Marvin said, reaching for his clean white coat. «Let’s get things started».

 

Marvin’s mood improved as the day wore on as he became occupied with the problem of Mrs. Holland’s incisor, Mr. Feuer’s molar, Miss Beech’s gingivitis, Mr. Conroy’s impacted wisdom (1). By afternoon, he was almost as convinced of the worth of his profession as he had always been. But adventurous? Maybe not.

At one o’clock, Miss Forbes announced:

«That man is here again: Smith. The funny (3) part is, Mrs. Fletcher cancelled her appointment a couple of minutes ago, so you could see him if you want».

«Send him in», Marvin said.

Mr. Smith was a short, compact man with sharp-angled shoulders and an eroded (4) complexion. His handshake was muscular, and his tight grin displayed a set of badly cared-for teeth. He looked at the dental chair doubtfully, but when he turned his small black eyes to the doctor, they seemed wise and unafraid.

«Make yourself comfortable», Marvin said. «Was there some specific complaint, or just a check-up?».

«Well, I’ll tell you, Doc (5)», Smith’s voice was hoarse. «I got kind of a dull pain, back here». He shoved a blunt finger in his mouth.

Marvin probed the back teeth. Quickly, he found the gaping cavity in the second molar. There appeared to be numerous other problems, too and Marvin assessed them with interest.

«Well, Doc? What’s the verdict?».

«You have several cavities. The most serious is in the second molar, that’s the cause of your pain».

«Will you have to drill?».

«Some, but it won’t be bad».

«Don’t give me that. I heard that «painless» junk (6) before». He shut his mouth firmly, and then the lips turned upwards in a smile. «Besides, I didn’t come for no drilling (7). I just figured (8) the best way to approach you was like a patient. Sorry to spoil your fun».

Marvin stared at him and knew he was telling the truth. Не didn’t look like a patient. He was too cocky (9), sitting in the chair, one hand toying with the contra angle, swinging it carelessly.

«I don’t understand. What did you want, Mr. Smith?».

«I want to do a little business, Doc».

He gestured towards the neat file cabinets.

«A friend of mine is thinking of setting up a little dental practice. I’d like to buy those files from you».

Marvin gaped. «But those are my personal dental records; they’re not for sale».

«Maybe not usually». Mr. Smith grinned with his bad teeth. «But in this case, maybe you’ll make an exception, Doc. Like for a thousand bucks (10)».

«Are you crazy?».

Mr. Smith dipped into his jacket and came out with a chubby envelope. He slapped it against the chair arm, smiling.

Marvin shook his head vigorously. «Your friend is going about this all wrong. Those files won’t help anybody – they’re just charts of the dental conditions of my patients, past and present. And they’re certainly not for sale».

Smith’s grin widened.

«I get it, Doc. Okay, I can be reasonable. Let’s make it two grand (11), and I’ll take the files right along with me».

«Miss Forbes!», Marvin cried.

Smith’s face fell, and the grin vanished.

«Okay, don’t get in an uproar. If you want time to think it over, take time. I’ll be back here tomorrow. But I’d take my offer seriously, Doc. My friend can get pretty nasty».

Miss Forbes came in. «Yes, Dr. Geller?».

«It’s okay», the man said. «I was just going. Thanks for the exam (12), Doc. Maybe next time I’ll let you fill the tooth. Hardly get any fun out of a steak anymore».

When he was gone, Miss Forbes looked at the dentist’s trembling hands.

«Something wrong, Dr. Geller?».

«No, nothing. Just a crackpot (13)». He straightened his white jacket. «Show Mr. Feuer in, and stand by for an X-Ray».

 

At ten the next morning, Miss Forbes came in just as he was completing a temporary filling.

«I told him you were busy, doctor –».

«Who?».

«Mr. Smith. He’s on the phone».

Marvin sighed, and excused himself. In the anteroom, he picked up the telephone receiver lying on the desk blotter.

«Hiya (14), Doc», Smith’s hoarse voice said. «Had time to sleep on my offer? (15)».

«I didn’t give it another thought. The files are not for sale».

«Then listen carefully, this is the final offer. Three thousand bucks. I’ll come over with the cash at five-thirty».

«No!», Marvin said angrily. «There’s no use coming, Mr. Smith, unless you want me to do something about that cavity of yours. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time».

«Yeah, sure, Doc, you can fill the tooth. Been hurting like hell today. I’ll see you at five-thirty».

He spent the rest of the day wondering about it. He wondered about it through three fillings, an extraction, and a laborious root canal job. Then, at five fifteen, he said goodnight to Miss Forbes.

The short, compact man showed up promptly for his appointment and hopped athletically into the chair.

«Been thinking about it, Doc?».

«Yes, I have. Only we better have that tooth taken care of before it gives you real trouble».

«Sure, Doc, whatever you say».

Marvin inserted the angled mirror, and said: «This won’t take long. A few minutes of drilling, and then I’ll put in a temporary filling. You come back in two days and I’ll finish up».

«That’s okay with me».

Marvin set to work, adjusting the burr on the end of the drill arm, absorbed in his work, no longer worrying about the motives of the man in the chair. All patients were the same to Marvin, just open mouths with problems. He worked quickly and methodically, using the drill end delicately, expertly readying the cavity for the insertion of the temporary fill.

«There», he said finally. «Was I right or wrong about the pain, Mr. Smith?».

«Not bad, Doc, not bad at all». The short man rubbed his jaw. «And just to show my gratitude, I’ll make this part painless, too».

He reached into his jacket and produced an even fatter envelope.

«There’s three thousand bucks in there, Doc. And it’s all yours».

Marvin shook his head. «I’m sorry you misunderstood me, Mr. Smith. It’s just not a question of money».

Mr. Smith stopped smiling.

«I was afraid you’d say that, Doc. I was hoping we could keep it painless, but I see we can’t».

His hand returned to his jacket, but this time it brought forth something a great deal more upsetting than an envelope. It was a small, competent-looking pistol, and it fitted cosily in his hand.

«Now», he said. «See what you get for being stubborn? If you did it my way, you’d be three grand richer. Now you got nothing». He wriggled the fingers of his free hand. «Let’s have em all, Doc. The files».

«You can’t do this!», Marvin said, staring at the round hole in the weapon. «This is robbery!».

«So it’s robbery. Let’s have the file, Doc, from A to Z and no monkey business (16)».

Marvin turned around, his heart thumping. He pulled out the two long drawers marked RECORDS and brought them back to the chair. Smith tucked one under each arm, and grinned.

«Thanks, Doc. My friend will be very happy».

He covered Marvin with the pistol, and went to the door.

«Thanks for the good work», he said. «I’m looking forward to that steak tonight».

Marvin looked blankly at the closed door after he was gone, and then rushed for the anteroom telephone.

«Hello, operator? Give me the police!».

When the sergeant’s dry voice at the other end asked his business, Marvin said:

«I want to talk to somebody in homicide».

There was a click, and a second voice said: «Lieutenant Gregg speaking. What can I do for you?».

«Listen, my name is Marvin Geller, and I’m a dentist in the Brooks Building on Fifth Avenue (17), eighth floor. A patient just held me up and stole my dental records –».

«You got the wrong division, mister».

«No, wait! Has there been a murder recently? Somebody found dead you couldn’t identify?».

«What’s the point?».

«You don’t understand. This man tried to buy my dentals records, and when I wouldn’t sell them, he took them by force. If you’ve found a body recently, maybe that means he’s trying to prevent identification –».

«Stay where you are!», Gregg snapped. «We’ll be right over».

 

The Lieutenant was a burly, square-jawed man, but he looked uncomfortable at the sight of Marvin’s equipment. He sat gingerly in the chair and said:

«Okay, so what makes you so sure about the murder?».

«Well, it happens all the time, doesn’t it? Bodies get smashed up or burned beyond recognition, but they can often be identified by their teeth. Every dentist keeps a record – and teeth are more personal than fingerprints. Isn’t that right?».

«Yeah, that’s true enough. But just because a guy cops (18) your files –».

«Why else would he offer so much money? One of my patients must have been his victim; maybe he found one of my cards on him. If he couldn’t be identified, maybe there wouldn’t even be a murder investigation. Don’t you see?», Marvin licked his lips nervously.

«Did you find an unidentified body recently?».

«Yeah», Gregg said, rubbing his cheek. «Matter of fact, we did, three days ago. Out on Route 21, in the bushes. Man’s body, burned to ashes, maybe with gasoline fumes».

«Then he must be a patient of mine. All you’ve got to do is check on all my clients, and find out which one is missing. You’ll have your victim – then all you’ll need is your murderer».

«Mr. Smith?».

«Of course».

The detective shook his head. «That won’t be so easy. Now that he’s got the files, he’s probably heading for parts unknown. Can you describe this guy?».

«Exactly. Down to his teeth». Marvin grinned triumphantly. «But maybe I can do more than that. Maybe I can tell you where to find him».

«Where?».

The dentist’s face glowed. «I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble. All you’ve got to do is make sure that every dentist in the area has his description. He’ll walk right into your arms».

«Because», Marvin said. «Once I figured he was up to no good, I drilled that bad tooth of his all the way down to the nerve. Then I put in a filling that I knew couldn’t last more than ten or fifteen minutes».

«Ouch (19)», said the lieutenant, wincing.

«Ouch is right», Marvin grinned. «He’s going to need help pretty soon. That tooth will give him the biggest ache he’s ever had in his life. All you have to do is be ready for him. Okау?».

«Okay is right», the detective grinned widely. When he shook Marvin’s hand, the dentist noticed the incipient cavity in his lateral incisor. «I’ll be seeing you, Doc», Gregg said.

«I wouldn’t be at all surprised», said Marvin happily.

 

Jay Street, a modern American detective story writer.

 

READING NOTES.

 

1. incisor: cutting front tooth; molar: tooth that grinds; wisdom: wisdom tooth, one of the four back molar teeth which appear only in adults.

2. booked solid: fully engaged (by previously made arrangements).

3. funny (coll): odd, queer; strange.

4. eroded: here unhealthy.

5. Doc (coll): Doctor.

6. junk (coll): nonsense.

7. I didn’t come for no drilling (ungram): I didn’t come for drilling (to have my teeth drilled).

8. figure (US coll): calculate, reckon.

9. cocky (coll): conceited, bumptious.

10. buck (US coll): a dollar.

11. grand (US sl): a thousand dollars.

12. exam (coll): examination (of the teeth).

13. crackpot (coll): a crazy person.

14. Hiya (coll): a contraction of «How are you?», an exclamation of greeting.

15. Had time to sleep on my offer?: Had time to think over my offer?

16. monkey business (sl): foolish, mischievous, or deceitful tricks or behaviour.

17. Fifth Avenue: a rich shopping street in Manhattan, New York.

18. cop (sl): steal.

19. ouch: an exclamation expressing sudden pain.

 

EXERCISES.

 

(a) Questions:

1. Why was Marvin Geller gloomy when he arrived at his office on Monday morning?

2. What made him envy the explorer, actor and Marine sergeant whom he had met the night before?

3. What made Marvin Geller remark that Mr. Smith, who was trying to make an appointment with him, was a strange man?

4. What was Mr. Smith like?

5. What was the true purpose of Mr. Smith’s visit to Marvin Geller?

6. How much was Mr. Smith prepared to offer Marvin Geller for his dental records?

7. Why wouldn’t Marvin Geller even hear of selling his files?

8. How did Mr. Smith finally manage to get hold of the files?

9. Why did Marvin Geller immediately contact homicide squad?

10. Why was Marvin Geller sure that the police would have no trouble in catching Mr. Smith?

 

(b) Read through the story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:

1. Marvin Geller was a highly skilled dentist.

2. Mr. Smith was of great interest to Marvin Geller as a patient.

3. Marvin Geller changed his mind about his profession.

 

(c) Talking points:

1. Give your understanding of the phrase «the worth of one’s occupation». Give your reasons why a person should be convinced of the worth of his occupation.

2. Speak about your work or your future profession, about the reasons that dictated your choice.       

3. Describe a visit to the dentist.

4. Explain the title of the story.

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