The Tell-Tale Tooth
I remember glancing at the clock when the office doors were kicked in.
A man reeking of wet garbage and stale Mickey’s rushed the reception desk. This scarecrow of a human stormed past a little kid pushing wooden blocks along a swirling metal ring, causing him to cry out in fear.
It took the man three large steps to get face to face with me as I sat behind the reception counter. His beady eyes were piercing. Shaking with panic, my first thought was, “Did I not pay the gas bill?” I don’t know why that was my first thought. There’s no way NW Natural would hire an off-brand, rock bottom, Cosmo Kramer-type to collect customer debts. (Or would they?)
Silently he dug his hand deep into his jeans pocket. After about a minute of jiggling, a crowd of coworkers gathered.
“Sir, how can we help you?”
“You can put THIS back in my fucking head!” he loudly boomed.
He slammed the clutched contents of his pocket onto the freshly sanitized counter. As his crusty, bleeding hand spread open, out poured several clipped fingernails lined with years of grime; tiny balled up bits of paper; a frosted animal cracker; paperclips; a new wave of potent stank; and a front tooth.
“Here’s how this is going to work,” he sneered. “You’re going to get some glue, wipe it on this tooth, shove it back in its hole, and I’m not going to pay shit.”
“Sir, please calm down, we know you’re in pain,” my coworker chimed in, always the voice of reason.
“CALM?! MY GODGIVEN MOUTH JEWEL FELL OUT,” he yelled. His mouth was wide open, and having trouble forming words around this newfound feeling of missing a front tooth. With every panting breath, the scent of sardines hung heavy in the air.
“Sir, we need you to please stop talking so loudly and fill out this form,” I said, taking the reins.
“If you think for one silly second I’m going to hand over any info, you’ve got it all wrong,” he shouted, blood squirting out of his mouth. “JUST CUT OPEN MY ARM, THEY’RE TRACKING ME ANYWAYS. My birth name, my dick size, what I ate last Tuesday... I’M NOT PAYING. You can call the President of the United Nations, maybe they’ll have your payment!”
Suddenly he was calm. He looked at us solemnly. Slowly, he scraped his belongings off the counter; the paper clips making a light scratching sound that broke the silence of the office. With three backward steps, he opened the glass doors and exited. We watched as he threw the contents of his pocket on the ground, the tooth bouncing into the street. He pressed his face against the glass window, hoisted a middle finger to us, and walked off.
Trying to process what just happened, we stood there quietly. That’s when our boss came out from the back, looked at me and said, “Oh, you dropped this the other day.” He handed me a NW Natural bill.