Off on the Wrong Tooth

This post is part of SoCS:

Here’s something new: a flash fiction with zero editing.  I don’t think this is an experiment I’ll recreate.  Interestingly, not my first flash that centers on a job interview.  The casual observer might read something into that, but I would remind you that things don’t always have to mean things.


As I said, zero editing on this one, just let it flow from top to bottom.  So please know there are things that I would change now that it’s done!


Off on the Wrong Tooth

The subtle aroma of a dead body was one you never quite got used to, but Penny was making a good effort.

The drawers of the morgue each concealed one victim after another of the person they were calling “The Dentist” in a really unfortunate blow for her profession, one which was already subject to more irrational fears than Penny felt was particularly fair.  For a woman of her stature, she’d been shocked to find grown men terrified to sit in her chair, yet they had turned out to be the norm.  After fifteen years, she’d gotten used to people being terrified of her.  She could make a routine cleaning seem as if it were the only thing standing between you and a total overnight rotting from head to toe, but only did so on those rare occasions.  Most of the time she was actually very pleasant, and tried to communicate it by wearing scrubs dotted with smiley faces or smiling puppies.

Today, though, on this particular consult, she was all business: gray trousers, gray blazer, white blouse, black-rimmed spectacles.  Penny was here to prove a point, but appearances must be maintained.  These were dead people, after all.  Using the tips of her fingers to pull the dead man’s chin down, she peered into his vacuous maw.  Vacuous wasn’t a word she used to describe mouths, not usually, but the complete absence of teeth had an effect upon her.  As if she had returned home and found all of her furniture moved a few inches to the left, the absence of teeth made her feel violated somehow.

Still, she had nothing useful to say to the faces that surrounded her, a fact that made her feel sillier and sillier the longer she kept it to herself.  The teeth were gone, yes, and some of the victims showed signs of gum decay and general poor oral hygiene, while others might have been impressive specimens, had they of course had their teeth in the proper place.  She snapped off her gloves and pushed her headlamp back over her hair.

“Expert removal,” she said, “though the tools were crude.  Probably automotive pliers, as you can see from the scarring on the gums.  No anaesthetic, either.”  She pointed at the victim’s mouth as if this would hold some meaning for the detectives.

“Automotive pliers?” the shorter man asked her.

“Sure,” Penny replied, shrugging her shoulders.  She couldn’t work out what it meant and she hoped to god they would pick up on that.  “About a five inch, from the look of it.”

The detectives shared a shrewd glance.


The taller one raised a skeptical eyebrow.  “How’d you know that?”

Penny sighed.  Explaining the obvious was exhausting.  “The span of the bruise here.  Also, anything smaller and you can’t get enough leverage.  Anything bigger and you can’t get the proper grip.”

They frowned and nodded and wrote notes on their little pads.  That information hadn’t been in the news; asking her had been a test.

Their jotting infuriated her.  “Guys,” she said, “For the thirtieth time.  I’m a dentist, not a detective.”

The short detective shrugged and stuffed his pad in his pocket.  “Awfully observant for a dentist.”

The taller one nodded.  “We all have to moonlight.  PI jobs don’t pay the bills, I get it.”

She ran a hand through her hair, tugging her headlamp off and tossing it on the exam table by the dead man’s foot.  “You got the wrong number when you called my office.  Just like the dozen times before this time.”

“Not a lot of Penelope Krelbornes in the book,” the shorter one said.  “Hard mistake to make.”

Yet they’d made it, and kept making it.  She’d rebuffed them so many times it was getting comical; she had finally agreed to consult on a case so that she could convince them she was Penny Krelborne, DDS, and not Penny Krelborne, PI.  How was she to know that this would be the one case she could solve?

“We’ve got a list of suspects,” the taller one said.  “Anything else you can tell us?”

Penelope threw her hands up.  “Jesus Christ, guys.  I don’t know.  The one with the worst teeth?”  She collected her bag and stormed out.  And they didn’t call her again.  Until they caught The Dentist and called her up to give her an award for meritorious service.


“And that,” Penny finished, doing her best to mute her pride, “is how I accidentally caught a serial killer.”

The interviewer narrowed his eyes at her, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose in a gesture that made her think he might have the kind of grip strength to strangle somebody.  She didn’t think he was violent, that was just the way she thought now.  He cleared his throat.  “But you do still practice, right?”

Penny bit the inside of her cheek.  All her credentials, an incidental murder solved, and it still wasn’t enough for this man.  Were women ever going to get a fair shake?

“Enough to tell that you need a new crown on your lower lateral incisor.”

He blinked, and removed his glasses.  “You really solved that case?”

With great resignation, she nodded.

He shrugged.  “You’re hired.”