Jackie had finished inputting all the information for billing, called to remind patients of their appointments, and had filed the records that had been pulled for that morning’s appointments.

The bell tinkled as the door to the reception room opened. In strolled a well-dressed man, who removed the fedora from his head before approaching Jackie’s window.

“My name is Martin Blake, and I have an appointment.”

Jackie glanced at the calendar on her desk. “Yes, Mr. Blake, you’re a bit early. Dr. Lee is seeing another patient right now, so just have a seat and he’ll be with you soon.”

Jackie bent to reach into her purse below her desk. She retrieved the novel she hoped to finish by that evening, and was about to place it on the desk in front of her when she realized Mr. Blake had not moved. She held the book on her lap below the desk.

“You’re prettier than the last one they had here.”

“Why, thank you,” Jackie said. “Dr. Lee will probably be ready for you soon. The latest issue of Time magazine arrived this morning, and it’s got a very interesting article about that big project down by the bay. It’s on the rack right next to the chair over there.”

Jackie smiled expectantly. Mr. Blake scratched his head and looked left and then right.

“I had a colonoscopy,” he said. “I don’t ever want to have to go through that again.”


“Yeah, terrible thing, that. But old Dr. Swenson said I had to have it, so he made the appointment. Oh wait, was it Dr. Swenson or Dr. Hinkle? He was the one with the gray hair and glasses. I think it was Dr. Swenson. Anyway, he said it was time.”

“I see,” Jackie said. “Well the doctor knows what’s best.” She studied a piece of paper on her desk.

“Yes. Well, you can’t eat anything the previous day, and they make you drink that awful liquid several times. Yep—cleans you right out. And you’re starving! They let you have chicken broth, but nothing solid.”

Jackie glanced up momentarily. “Yes, I guess that’s important.”

“By the time I went to bed that night, I woulda been happy if I coulda even had some split pea soup, or maybe clam chowder. But those instructions Dr. Swenson gave me said I couldn’t have none of that. In fact, I don’t think I could even have beef broth. Had to be chicken.” Mr. Blake paused for a moment. “Now that I think of it, maybe it was Dr. Hinkle.”

“Speaking of doctors, the new People magazine has an article about the cast of that TV show that takes place in a hospital, the one with the smart-aleck doctor. I think it’s right there on the rack next to the Time magazine. Right over there,” she said, pointing.

Mr. Blake glanced back at the magazine rack, then turned and nodded to Jackie. “Thank you. You know, the procedure itself wasn’t really painful. It was just the preparations. That awful liquid they make you drink. And after you drink it, you better not wander too far away, if you know what I mean. Heh-heh!”

“Yes, I can imagine,” Jackie smiled.

“You ever have a colonoscopy? Terrible thing! I never want to go through that again.” He looked up toward the ceiling as if he had heard something. “You know, clam chowder probably woulda been better than split pea.”

“No, I haven’t had a colonoscopy yet.”

“Well, of course not, you’re such a young and pretty girl. But when your doctor says it’s time, don’t put it off. My friend Jerry postponed his, and he died of colon cancer. He was just sixty-seven years old! Or was he sixty-five? Give me a minute.”

Jackie reached down to pick up her purse. Slipping the novel back inside, she searched for her cell phone. Finding it but keeping it concealed inside the purse, she scrolled through her Contacts list to the number for the office phone on the desk in front of her. She pressed the Call button and set the purse back on the floor.

“Yes, I’m pretty sure he was only sixty-five. They had to operate on his colon, and that’s when I bet that he wished he’d gotten the procedure done when the doctor said.”

The phone on Jackie’s desk rang. She held up a finger to silence Mr. Blake. “Lee Family Dentistry. Oh hi, Mrs. Jones. Yes, your appointment is Friday at ten thirty. Will you have any problem getting here on time?”

In the silence that she allowed for the alleged caller to answer, Jackie heard a buzzing and realized it was her own voice coming from the cell phone in her purse. “Will you have any problem getting here on time?” She placed her left foot over the purse to clamp it shut and smother all sound.

Just then Dr. Lee escorted his previous patient out of his examining room, shaking the woman’s hand. Jackie loudly said into the phone, “Okay, Mrs. Jones, we’ll see you then.”

“Mrs. Sheffield,” Dr. Lee said, “I’ll see you again in about six months. Jackie here will schedule an appointment for you.”

The dentist held out his arm in welcome to Mr. Blake. “Go on in, and I’ll be with you in a minute, as soon as I clean up.” Carrying his fedora, Mr. Blake strolled though the door.

While Mrs. Sheffield examined the calendar on her smart phone to confirm the best date, Jackie signaled Dr. Lee over to the filing cabinet. “What sort of procedure is Mr. Blake having?” she whispered.

“I think it’s just a routine cleaning,” he answered in a discreet whisper.

“Nevertheless,” she said, “I’d suggest you put every piece of dental equipment you can into his mouth. And keep it there for the full duration.”

Dr. Lee squeezed her arm in gratitude.

A few minutes later Jackie heard Mr. Blake’s voice in the examining room. “I had a colo-mmff nnnanna…” She heard the suction machine start up, and then the voice stopped.