The name is Harlow, Gene Harlow. No, I’m not related to the woman from the movies. I’m a private eye, a gumshoe for hire. It’s not glamorous or fun most of the time but it does pay the bills. And lately I’ve got plenty of bills, especially of the dental variety. Not long ago I went to see a dentist because of a toothache and he said I had a lot more than a toothache. He said that I had a mouthful of teeth that either needed to come out or be fixed, pronto.
I guess I could have paid closer attention to dental hygiene. I mean, I always did have a sweet tooth and sometimes I did forget to brush, but still, that doesn’t really explain why over half my teeth would go to hell at once. It’s like the old saying that when it rains it pours. Oh well, go figure!
Anyway I figured I would just get all of the work done at once, take only as much time as was needed to recover and then go back to work with my bank account not taking too bad a hit. When I first realized that I needed a dentist I went to see my doctor, Dr Smiley, a man whose name does not fit him; a dourer fuck you will never meet. But hey, the man seems to know his stuff and he doesn’t ask a whole lot of questions. I’ve heard that he’s even been known to remove a bullet or two without worrying too much about how it got there and, most importantly, without bothering to tell the cops. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never needed that service, yet, knock wood. That’s a good thing, too, because they also claim that he’s not big on anesthetics. They say he just gives a shot or two of booze and an old belt to bite on, just like the Old West. That seems hard to believe, but I wouldn’t put anything past the old bastard.
It was Dr. Smiley who referred me to my dentist, Dr. Ski. Dr. Ski is a Jew with one of those mile-long names that was Polish or something. Everyone just calls him Dr. Ski. Dr. Smiley assured me that he really knows his stuff. I wanted to ask how the hell he would know that, but I figured that I’d find out for myself soon enough.
Dr. Ski was a little taller than me, like 6 foot 5 or something and with a nose that seemed to cover his whole face. He couldn’t have needed to breathe more than once or twice a week, tops.
Dr. Ski didn’t like my plan. He said that getting that much dental work done in one day would be traumatic.
I said, “Hey, my whole life’s traumatic, every thing I do is traumatic, even jacking off. The only reason I do it so much is that I’m a glutton for punishment.”
In the end, Dr. Ski won and so we agreed to have the procedures done over several weeks. I was a little uneasy about it, though. I had hoped to get everything done in one day and then go hole up in a cabin in the woods owned by a friend of mine. But spreading the work over several days meant I would remain in the city and I sure hoped I wouldn’t run into any creeps that might want to give me a sock on the jaw while my mouth was all fucked up like that. Lucky for me I was in Marysville, California and not some larger, crime-ridden city, but still we did have our own share of crumb bums and creeps. I should know because in my business you get to meet them all and not always on the most pleasant terms. To lessen the chances of a problem like that, I decided not to have any dental work done until after I closed my current case. Trouble usually found me when I was in the middle of a case, otherwise not so much.
It was a beautiful spring day when I went to Dr. Ski’s and the sky was not cloudy all day—you get the picture. The first order of business was a cleaning. He had the dental hygienist, a Miss Evans, give my teeth the once over with this sharp-looking metal thing. I hadn’t counted on having a cleaning done. Dr Ski said that he knew that, but my teeth needed cleaning and he didn’t think that I would come in just for that. He was right of course.
Miss Evans was a pert and pretty young sort, the kind I wouldn’t mind getting to know better. But it was a little hard to make small talk with her at that moment. She was using this sharp little thing to clean my teeth; well, that is to say, to scrape the hell out of them. She let me know that I could spit into this little miniature toilet bowl right in front of her if at any time I felt the need to. This was hardly the time or place for romance.
After Miss Evans had completed her cleaning, Dr. Ski came in holding up x-rays and said, “Well, as you know, you’re going to need several procedures, but today I thought we would do a simple crown on one of the teeth that’s in better shape.”
He showed me a tooth on the x-ray. It was on the bottom-left toward the back.
He said, “This shouldn’t take long. I’ll just give you a shot or two of Novocain, drill it out a little, inset the crown and you’ll be on your way.”
“Yeah, whatever you say, Doc.”
Everything went smoothly and when we were done, I stopped by the reception desk to make my next appointment. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t until next week and couldn’t help wondering if he wasn’t playing this out deliberately, but she assured me that the appointment was the earliest availability.
Once outside and who did I see right across the street? Jimmy ‘The Weasel’ Hamel. A more shiftless piece of shit has never slid, shimmed, or slithered across God’s green earth. But I realized that I shouldn’t fuck with the guy in my current condition, what with the left side of my mouth all swollen up from the Novocain and shit. But I had been looking for this prick for a while and who knew when I would find him again?
“Hey Jimmy,” I said as pleasantly as I could.
As soon as he saw me, the prick began to run. He always did that and half the time he had no reason to. As near as I could figure, the little asshole fucked so many people over that he couldn’t remember who was who and so it was just easier to run. I never should have chased the prick but when a guy starts to run on you, well, what are you going do?
When I finally caught him I threw his ass against the wall, hard.
“What the hell are you running for, Jimmy?’
“Well uh, what were you chasing me for?”
“Remember when I gave you that sawbuck sometime back? You were going to get me the address of that hooker,” I mumbled through swollen lips.
Jimmy smiled nervously. “Yeah, sure, sure, Gene and I’ve been trying really hard you know, but so far no luck.”
“So you ran from me to avoid telling me that?”
“No, uh, no, it was just a misunderstanding. I didn’t know who you were, what with your face all swollen up like that. Say, what happened to you anyway?”
“Just a little dental work,” I replied.
“Really, what’s that like?”
“You’ve never been to a dentist?”
Jimmy shook his head no very rapidly. Suddenly I found myself feeling a little sorry for him despite knowing what a prick he is.
“Well, it’s really no fun. Look, see what you can come up with about the hooker, okay?”
“I’ll do my best, Gene.”
“That’s all I can ask,” I said with a smile—such as it was—and a friendly wave goodbye.
I had chased Jimmy into an alley, so I didn’t really know what street I was on. I walked down the alley and was about to turn the corner when I was met by a big bruiser who promptly punched me in the mouth—on the left side of course. It was all I could do not to lose consciousness.
He stood over me saying, “Hey, let that be a lesson. You hear me, Brewster? You had better stop messing with my wife.”
It took a moment for me to be able to speak but finally I told him that I wasn’t Brewster, that I was Gene Harlow. He refused to believe me until I showed him my driver’s license.
“Well, I’ll be,” he finally said. “You look just like Brewster. But just so we’re clear, if you ever do meet my wife you’ll know not to mess with her unless you want more of the same, uh, but worse. You understand?”
“Yeah,” was about all I could muster.
With that, he helped me to my feet, dusted me off a bit and then said goodbye with a friendly wave, leaving me standing there with no clue what his wife even looked like. My head throbbed and I could barely walk or stay awake, but I somehow made it back to Dr. Ski’s office. Upon my arrival, his receptionist promptly stated the obvious.
“Mr. Harlow, you’re back.”
“Yes,” I managed to blurt out. “Is he available? I’ve been attacked. I need help.”
Lucky for me, the doc was just about finished with his current patient and so I was whisked right in. After I told him what happened, he gave me a shot for the pain and then took another x-ray. The look on his face let me know that he didn’t like what he saw.
“Go ahead, give me the bad news, Doc,” I said.
“Well, that man had a hell of a punch and it must have landed right on the tooth. The crown’s gone. Either you spat it out or swallowed it. The tooth itself is now in much worse shape. It’s broken, more like shattered from the gum line, almost to the top and—”
“Pull it,” I said.
“Are … uh you sure? You only have thirty-two teeth and if I pull it you’ll have one less.”
“That’s okay, Doc, I can make do without it. It sounds like fixing it would cost a lot and you’re already going to be in to me for quite a lot.”
“Whatever you say, but let’s wait a few days for the swelling to go down. Oh, and make sure you get that prescription for pain medication filled. I really think you’re going to need it.”
“Whatever you say, Doc,” I said, hoping not to sound too sarcastic.
This time I managed to make it home—well, to what passed for home. I had moved here to Marysville in 1946, right after the war. I had been stationed at Camp Beale, about 12 miles east of Marysville, and it was there that I met the future Mrs. Harlow. It’s hard to belive that was two years ago. She was only twenty-three when I met her—three years younger than me—and so very pretty. Her hair had been blond, an obvious dye job like so many of the Hollywood ‘glamour girls’ seemed to have. But that wasn’t what attracted me to her—in fact I like her natural brunette hair color better—there was and is a natural beauty and kind of positive life force that radiates from her. Hell, I know how hokey that sounds so I’ll just say that she’s a pretty girl and leave it at that.
Mary is a school teacher who volunteered at the USO on post. Funny thing about the United Service Organiztions, most people don’t realize it was founded by FDR himself in 1941. Since then they have provided a lot of good services and fine entertanmant for military personel all over the world. I can personnaly attest to that. Anyway, Mary was born and raised in Marysville and she made it clear that she wanted to live here after we got married. I didn’t mind. I didn’t have much reason to go home to Brooklyn. My mother died during the war and my old man was long gone by then. I don’t know where to and I don’t much care either. It was just kind of a shame that things hadn’t worked out well for Mary and me. As long as we were together I had kind of a readymade, close-knit family, the kind of family that I had always dreamed of. But I always did have kind of a wondering eye and when Mary caught me with that girl last year—hell, I can’t even remember her name—well, that was all she wrote. I can still remember the look on her face: a mixture of anger, hurt, and surprise. She later told me that she hadn’t known which was worse, my sleeping with another woman or my sleeping with another woman in our bed. She asked me if I had secretly wanted to get caught and I really hadn’t thought of that before. I really did think she was gone for the day, but I had to know I was taking a hell of a chance, plus the girl had suggested we go to her place, so who knows? Now everyone seems to look at me as the bad guy, and that’s true enough, I guess. I was the one who screwed things up, not her.
Sometimes I think I should just leave here, but there’s something about this little town that kind of grows on you, and not always in a good way. But anyway you look at it; I think I’m bound to stick around at least for a while.