The tips of Dr. Nick Allen’s rubber gloves dampened all the way through to the skin; there was even a hint of blood speckled on the side of his index finger. The girl started to whine before he was done.
“No, no, it’s all right,” he said gently, wrapping another part of white floss around his finger. “It’s normal for your gums to bleed a little bit. Everyone’s does. It just means that you’re not flossing enough!”
The girl sat up in the chair and instead diverted her attention to the cartoon characters on the screen above, something not all offices could afford to have in every room. Frankly, Nick didn’t know what they would have done without them. They were perfect. They kept everybody at ease, adults and children alike, and kept them entertained while he did his work at peace. The girl rinsed with a Dixie cup and then he replaced the gloves and adjusted the paper mask across his mouth. He wiped his little mirror on the oversized napkin around the kid’s neck, not even noticing one of the assistants coming in next to him.
“Dr. Allen, here are the pastes.”
“Thanks.” He looked to the kid. “Which kind would you like best: strawberry, bubblegum, or mint?”
“Bubblegum,” she squeaked.
He smiled. “Good choice!”
Nick put the little cups on a slide-out tray next to the patient’s chair and loaded pink gunk on one of his tools.
“Now we’re going to polish your teeth and make them all shiny and
feeling fresh, okay? It won’t hurt, don’t worry. I promise.”
He had a nice voice, a pleasant sort of tone, the kind that comes on over intercoms and has clear diction. It matched his clean cut and gentlemanly face, with soft chocolate eyes and hair to match. He was well-built and in decent shape for being in his early-thirties, but at
least he was nowhere near graying yet. He polished along the kid’s teeth gently and gave her another Dixie cup to rinse. She sat up and smiled at him, something he knew he liked best coming from any kid who didn’t have a scary experience at his office. He gathered some of his tools and put them at the sink counter.
“Guess what?” he said. “You’re all done now.” He undid the paper napkin at her neck and she promptly took that signal to mean she could get out of the chair. “Wait just a second and I’ll get you some special treats.”
Nick left for a minute and came back with a basket in one hand and a small plastic bag in another.
“Go ahead, you can pick something.”
The basket did have a lot of good stuff in it. There were stickers, coloring books, picture books, little stuffed animals and other small toys. The girl picked a small toy and then he handed her the little bag, which held less exciting contents of a small kid’s toothbrush, paste, and floss. The little patient and her mother left soon after that, and Nick decided it was time to help himself to a paper cone of water from the office cooler.
An assistant passed by again, the same one who had supplied him with the flavor buffet of toothpastes. Susan Chandler was his personal favorite, an older woman with light brown hair that curled just above her ears. She had a pair of eyeglasses fastened to a chain around her neck when not perched on her nose, and no matter what, she always found a reason to smile.
“Done for the day, Nick?” she asked him.
He grinned. “Yup, I believe that’s the last one for me.”
She rolled back the baggy sleeve of her shirt to the silver band around her wrist. “It’s about three-thirty, earlier than yesterday, huh?”
“Yeah, yesterday seemed more booked than usual. Today had a few cleanings here and there, but I wouldn’t mind getting home early anyway.”
Just as he dipped his paper cone under the blue tab for more water, another staff member came by. Stark against the man’s white jacket was his cocoa skin, same as his own perfectly white smile. Nick wasn’t sure if he had them professionally whitened, or where he went to get them done for that matter, but he sure was more of a walking role model for their services than any of them. Nick almost wanted to have him as a patient for the challenge of finding something wrong.
“Hey Nick, hey Susan,” Dustin greeted them cheerily.
“What’s going on, Dustin?”
It could have been the setting for a comedy skit: The typical, casually awkward meeting at the company water cooler as the basis for many jokes. But here it was, and much to Nick’s dismay, there was really nothing all that funny about teeth.
“I’m going to eat my leftovers in the break room and see if any reruns of the match are on. Want to come?” Dustin gulped down his water and tossed the paper cone to the trash bin.
Nick shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
His own paper cone soon followed and then the two dentists made their way to the company break room in the back, where Dustin headed immediately to one of their refrigerators. Nick sat down at one of the tables and stretched out, picking up a newspaper that could have been today’s or last week’s but he didn’t notice or care. His eyes scanned over stories about school board
meetings and political affairs while the microwave hummed a few feet behind him.
“Have you been watching the Thunder God matches?” asked Dustin.
“No, I haven’t had the chance to catch the last one. Too caught up with work and stuff, but I did see this great interview with him. I don’t even remember what channel or anything, I just caught it this one night. Most likely a recap.”
“Oh yeah? He is great to watch. I think they do that stuff on purpose for publicity.”
The microwave beeped and Nick’s eyes stayed on the brown and white mass in Dustin’s hands. He didn’t know what it was, and frankly,he almost did not want to.
“Yeah, he is pretty good, even with all the controversy going around about him.”
“I don’t think that Budnick match was his fault,” Dustin replied stirring his mystery lunch.
“Well, all that stuff is pretty staged anyway. I think it was an accident waiting to happen.”
“Did they say anything on the news if he was going to be arrested or charged or anything?”
Dustin shook his head. “No. Not yet. I don’t believe a word of it.
We don’t care, though. My wife and I still watch. We’ve been trying to get tickets.”
Dustin came over and sat down next to Nick, a foreign and steamy smell smoking from his plastic bowl. Rice and vegetables and…chicken? Nick didn’t really want to ask. “Yeah?” Nick said turning to him.
“I mean, we’ve been driving over to the ring, and we’ve been trying every time. She’s got some friends that wanted to see it anyway, and we figured while we were there we could try.”
“I’ll bet they’re hard to get.”
“They are, but they’re expensive and we know we’d have fifty people that would insist on going with us anyway, and fight to the death for those extra tickets.”
Nick shook the newspaper and started to sort through the sections.
“I wonder if anything is in here about the last one, and whatever this guy did lately.”
Dustin shrugged while scooping the steaming rice and vegetablewhatever-it-was into his mouth.
“Tre ghe tegv.”
He swallowed. “Try the TV.”
Nick got up to turn the knob on the television above them, hoping Dustin’s idea was right about recaps of the games and any latest stories. The news was on so Nick stayed there to watch for a minute.
“They’ll probably have something on there by now,” said Dustin. Nick lingered at the television some more, then finally got antsy and walked around the break room a bit. He opened the fridge door where many differently colored Tupperware containers and already-opened Diet Pepsi bottles greeted him. There were some water bottles, but who knew if they were already being used, or were re-filled at the cooler and just looked like fresh bottles from the vending machine.
Nick didn’t bring anything to eat today, and did not really mind it, given that he really wasn’t hungry and was looking for something to consume out of boredom. His mind trailed off somewhere between the day-old McDonald’s bag and the brown goo in a plastic container and almost did not hear Dustin.
“Look, they’re talking about him on the news!”
Nick came over just as the newswoman was giving the recap of the wrestling match. Sure enough in the slow motion replay, there flew Thunder God into another slam with a much smaller opponent, giving him a victory.
“Yes!” exclaimed Dustin. “I knew it! He’s still going strong.”
Other staff members came filtering in the room at various intervals, and they may or may not have cared about wrestling, although some did look at the TV to see what their hooting was all about. Wrestling was one of those things people either loved or hated. There were no shades of gray in that versus game of black and white. Susan Chandler walked in then, and went to the sink to wash out an old coffee cup from that morning, brown lines sticking to the sides as it poured down the sink.
“Yeah, Nick?” She said barely turning around.
“Come here, look!”
Susan came over to their table where they were putting their attention on the TV, and all on the athletic and possible notorious icon that was churning Americans everywhere.
“Oh, this junk.”
“Oh, come on, you know wrestling is your favorite.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I wish I could do that, but I’m such an old lady.”
“You are not an old lady,” chuckled Nick as he playfully patted her on the arm. “You could totally take him.”
“Yeah, Susan could get in the ring right now and teach him a lesson if she wanted to,” said Dustin pointing at her with his fork. “Come on,those big guys don’t stand a chance against—
“Wait, shh!” Both Dustin and Nick did “shh” as they followed the direction of Susan’s finger at the screen. The brief on the latest match was over and the news woman was talking about something else, and showing a picture of a building.
“And news this hour, last night between the hours of midnight and three A.M. Roamer and Weiss Jewelry Company on Edison Street was robbed completely, leaving no counter unturned,” stated the news anchor.
“Edison Street? That’s not that far from here,” said Dustin.
“The burglar managed to break in and get past the alarm system and get away completely undetected.”
“Nice,” said Nick.
The screen now showed views of the ransacked store: the missing glass in the hole of the window as well as on all of the display counters. There were no fragments of shattered glass anywhere on the floor. It was clear whoever it was did a clean cut and smooth job.
“There have been no suspicious sightings and no reports to the police further on the robbery, and no leads. There is only one point of interest that gives anyone a clue.”
Then, the television zoomed in on the jewelry display. By this time everyone in the company break room watched and they came closer to the television to see what it was showing.
“What is that?” someone asked from the back.
The camera zoomed in to one of the empty display cases to show that it was not empty at all. Around the plastic neck mannequin was what appeared to be one of those candy necklaces that kids got in Easter baskets. Next to it, on a plastic display finger, was something similar. It was a Ring Pop, a mockery of a ruby that had a shining, cherry candy-coated shell.
“Is that candy?”
“It appears that whoever committed the robbery has a strange sense of humor with these replacements or this is a calling card of some sort,” the news anchor continued. “Police are investigating the scene and scanning for fingerprints and other clues.”
People in the room stared at the television in a mixture of shock and amusement. They all looked at the pictures of candy sitting in the display cabinets and noted what a spectacle it really was. Isn’t it true, then, real jewelry has an appetite of a different kind?
“And nothing interesting ever happens in our town,” remarked Susan shaking her head.
The people cheered—as well as booed—as soon as the wrestler’s name was called and he came sauntering down the stadium. He threw his arms up in the air. The mask over his face hid his true expression but still he grinned and yelled back.
He was starting to get used to this treatment and it did not bother him as much as it used to, but that did not make it completely gone. Tonight, Thunder God was going against Razor Sharp Rick, an old foe, and whose moves he already knew pretty well. His confidence was the only thing that showed as he climbed in through the ropes.
“Yes ladies and gentlemen, the tornado of chaos is here once again to take on Razor Sharp Rick! Let’s hope our friend Razor Sharp has razor sharps to protect himself on this one! You never know what could happen with the ‘Blunder’ God!”
Laughter and yells erupted all over the stadium and he could feel his face burning. He hated that nickname, but especially since he had earned it. His opponent on the other side of the ring curled his lips back and bared his teeth like a wild cat as he got into a fighting position—although—he could tell—he was a terrified. Everyone was scared of him. Most people would not come within ten feet of him. He remembered the last time he went to the grocery store. A woman walked right in front of him, and two seconds later, all her bags broke open. And then there was the time a motorcyclist merged into his lane, only to crash and land in a garbage dumpster on the side of the
street. Yes, and his last opponent suddenly came down with the flu and vomited right there in the ring. Every minute and every second of his life was unpredictable, and the world knew it.
Thunder God pulled his cape out from under his foot and swung it back behind him, ready to begin. His opponent, of course, eyed him aggressively but deep down Thunder God knew he was shaking. They always were.
The bell went off and his opponent lunged at him. He nearly toppled over but grabbed onto his shoulders for balance. The two men pushed one another and Razor Sharp tried to thwart Thunder
God by stomping on his feet or kicking at his shins. As he avoided these low attacks, Thunder God tried to get his own grip on himself. He didn’t know where the perfect balance was from
defending to just plain hurting, so he stopped trying. He learned that some things were just too risky and it always went against him. He figured if he didn’t do anything too sudden nothing bad could happen. He let Razor Sharp push him over and then kick his own legs out from under him, sending his back flat and hard on the ground. Soon his opponent slammed down, knocking the air out of him, and then the counting began.
Back in the men’s washroom down a hidden and rarely visited corridor, he could not even look at himself in the mirror. Even then, he would be reminded of recent events. Everyone knew, anyway, of the horrible thing he had done not that long ago. He remembered being in a scene very similar to this one, when he was left alone to face himself in the mirror and his thoughts and his agent came bursting in: Thunder God had been sweating, but he was cold, shaking all over and not knowing what to say or do. His agent Joe came in and plopped down next to him on the locker room bench.
“Okay, okay, calm down. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t mean it. The guy was stupid. He had a weak, unhealthy neck and he knew it. He signed a waiver. He could have slipped and fallen in his own kitchen and was bound to anyway, that’s how easy it would have been.”
“Are they after me? Am I going to be arrested?” He stammered, blowing it out.
“No no no,” his agent said confidently. “Relax. It was his fault for doing the match in his condition. He was in and out of the hospital, how many times? It was an accident waiting to happen. Besides,
he smoked a pack a day and even his lungs were going to collapse anyway. We’ll take care of you, I promise.”
Thunder God’s agent Joe was the only one who knew his real name, as well as who his family was and where he lived. Joe wasn’t afraid to be around him. He put up with whatever happened, from spilling his coffee to stubbing his toe. He was the wrestler’s only security blanket and Thunder God intended on keeping it that way. It was safe to take his mask off now and allow himself to breathe some real air before the press came rolling in. He groaned, not wanting to think about
going back out there.
“We’ll take care of the press, too,” his agent said perfect timing. “It’s not your fault. This whole thing is ridiculous. It’s not your fault he didn’t have a sign on his neck that said ‘Warning: I am breakable,
please play nice with me in the ring.’ That’s a load of bull, right?”
He nodded, although still glumly.
“Look on the bright side,” the agent continued. “Now you have one bad-ass reputation more than you ever had. Plus, this will make everyone forget about the time your costume split right down the
middle in two halves, right?”
Thunder God cringed. He wanted to believe his agent, but he was still unconvinced. Now, he certainly had seen a drastic change to his reputation and career, including more losses, and to him it was bigger than any elephant in the room. His reputation was now whatever it was, and he struggled with just how little control he had over it. If only he worked as a journalist instead of an auto mechanic, he would have been able to stop that story from printing a few months
Robin Wright and Sam Glen each got up from their chairs at their cubicles in surprise. It was not often that they got called to their editor’s office in person, nor was it often they got called in together.
They met halfway by the fax machine and exchanged their confusion.
“Do you know what this is all about?” Sam asked hastily, her wide blue eyes matching her cardigan.
“No, I don’t,” answered Robin under a thick Indian accent. “I suppose she wants to talk to us about future columns?”
They walked to their editor’s office, the single glass pane showing the woman reading something at her computer. They walked in the open door and stood right by the nameplate on the desk that read Gloria Spruce. Gloria herself turned around and her chair squeaked a greeting.
“Hi ladies. Are you finished with your columns for today?”
“Almost,” Sam spoke up. “I just need a little tweaking in Home and Gardens.”
“I am almost done too,” Robin echoed.
“Good,” Gloria continued. “Because we’re in a little bit of a funk right now and I desperately need your help. Lois and Ira both called in sick and Jessie is on vacation and we’ve got a breaking news story that we need covered.”
Both women jumped at that phrase but made no verbal reaction,although their mouths were slightly ajar.
“When I interviewed the both of you, not long after you graduated, I remember you telling me you wanted to get into the fast-paced world of news. I hired you as Features and columnists to start you off until you got into the speed of things and to see how you would do, but I think now you may have your chance.”
The two young women perked up a bit but remained attentive.
“Since this is out of your experience level because you’re both still kind of new, and this is something that needs to be pretty detailed and we need to get it as soon as possible, and not to mention you two have great chemistry and together you can help each other learn, I would like you to cover this story together.”
Both Sam and Robin could not help but show their pleasant surprise.
“Oh, great!” Sam said immediately.
“I would love that,” echoed Robin, a little more shy than her coworker and delighted at the thought of having her help.
“What is the story on?” Sam asked what they both were thinking.
“Would you mind going to a wrestling ring?” Gloria said.
Neither of them had as much enthusiasm for this, but tried not to let it show. Gloria continued.
“Have you heard of the famous wrestler Thunder God?”
They shook their heads.
“Well, it’s more like he’s infamous as a jinx, and especially after his latest match. He was up against Gary Lee Budnik who went into the ring with a bad neck and Thunder God sat on him and broke it. We are going to need a story on this right away. So do you think you can
Sam and Robin nodded together and Gloria could not help but smile at their expressions.
“Don’t worry. All you need to do is ask the right questions to the right people and you’ll have your story.”
Gary Lee Budnik Meets Dire Fate under Thunder
God —Literally .
By Robin Wright and Sam Glen
It was a shocking and tragic night no one expected in the ring as Thunder God and Gary Lee Budnik faced off for what would be the last time. Budnik, having been in and out of the
hospital for neck problems has reported to be feeling fine the day he entered the ring.
“He was always tough about that,” says agent Wayne Donaldson. “But being tough doesn’t mean don’t take care of yourself. He could have not participated. He could have recognized when it was a bad time.”
The match went on but did not last very long as soon Budnik became thrown to the ground—and his numbers were almost up. Thunder God ended it there once and for all with a final body slam that fatally wounded Budnik. After the countdown took place declaring Thunder God the winner, the victory did not last.
It was not long before everyone noticed that Budnik did not get up or move. Thunder God’s celebration ended abruptly when officials gathered around his opponent, and then an ambulance had come to take him away. These officials are able to tell us that his neck broke. Thunder God is often mockingly referred to as “Blunder God” because he is known for his bad-luck demeanor. This
demeanor showed no mercy that night on Gary Lee Budnik. Budnik’s own reputation and history has told us that he is sneaky and known to pull a fast move, and maybe that was what caused Thunder God to move the way that he did.
“It was an accident,” declares Thunder God’s agent Joe Doyle. “We are all truly sorry for the incident and are deeplyshocked at what happened, but it was not Thunder God’s fault. He did not mean it. He does not make these things happen. We are all sorry and feeling this loss.”
A private wake and funeral arrangement has been made for family and friends only at this time.
The news room was busy, and Gloria’s phone rang a couple of times but it could wait. She smiled and pushed the most recent issue toward Sam and Robin standing near her desk.
“Nice one!” she said, causing the two of them to beam.
“You got more information than I thought you would. I have to say I’m impressed with how well you two work together on a story.”
“Thank you!” they said.
“That was a big step for both of you. And I didn’t think I would be saying this, since you regularly write feature columns, but I think that you will see more news stories in your futures, don’t you think?”
“Yes!” said Sam.
“Would love it,” said Robin.
“Well, I hope you know what you got yourselves into because you’re about to get very busy.”
The reporters did not care, they could hardly contain themselves. They stood and waited for their boss to say more as she continued to ignore the ringing phone.
“We just got word of another jewelry shop that was robbed completely early this morning, or late last night, depending on how you look at it. Can I put you two on it?”
She smiled at them, and they smiled back.
“Find out everything you can, especially if you can find any clues on who did it. I’d like this to run soon, so please get to it right away. Get interviews with the shop owner and police officers, and anybody else you can.”
“We’ll get on it,” they said nodding.