In which the proverbial thin line separating love and hate is observed and, perhaps, breached

At the sound of the latch, DeMoto turned from his patient, drill still in hand. The boy, nearly too tall to fit in the doorway, wore an impassive expression, though inwardly he was locked in a dogfight with his capillaries, trying to keep the color from his cheeks.
“Je veux partir,” he said.
“Go, then,” DeMoto growled hastily. “You can see I am busy?”
“No,” the boy said. “I mean I want to go for good.”
The spill of backlight from the dental lamp gave Dr. DeMoto the air of a silent movie villain at the moment when he’s been exposed. His hand twitched, as though resisting the urge to rise to his moustaches for a bit of compulsive twirling. “There is a contract.”
“The terms of which I’ve more than fulfilled.” For months now, the boy had been “filling in” when Dr. DeMoto was ill or unavailable, which meant performing the lion’s share of the office’s procedures while DeMoto sprawled in a chaise lounge upstairs, watching his laudanum- and nitrous oxide-induced delusions emerge from and disappear into the slow, circular shadow of the ceiling fan.
“This seems improbable.”
“If you could produce some document…”
“You know well nothing was written down.”
“Perhaps you’d like this settled before the chancery court.”
“Perhaps I would!” But it was obvious to the boy that DeMoto wanted no such thing. The good doctor had been accused of many things by patients, colleagues, and employees, but a good poker face was not one of them. He could no longer resist the urge to twirl his moustaches, and he did so with all the zeal of a religious fanatic performing some arcane rite. In the background, the patient made a helpless gargling sound, and the boy’s eyes glided to the figure in the chair. The patient’s mouth had been forced open by a kind of scaffolding, rendering her speechless, but her wildly rolling eyes eloquently expressed the mingled trepidation and impatience she was feeling. DeMoto followed the boy’s gaze, his mind working furiously, and as he saw the flicker of compassion betrayed by the boy’s otherwise blank face, a look of diabolical inspiration passed across his own.
“I tell you what. She is to undergo the total cranial replacement. If you have worked here as much as you claim, you will be able to perform this yourself, sans the aid of myself? If you can accomplish this, then I will concede.”
Dr. DeMoto’s confidence faltered somewhat when he saw the boy’s grin. It was the smile of an alley dog who’s just stumbled across a cut of filet mignon. He hovered nervously in the corner, watching closely as the boy washed his hands and snapped on his rubber gloves. “Scheisse!” the boy’s mentor-cum-nemesis thought to himself. “The boy has already surpassed me.”
If asked about it later, the patient would have reported little memory of what transpired in the cramped little operating room (she had, don’t forget, undergone a cranial replacement). She would recall the kind eyes that beamed down at her from above the surgical mask, distracting her from the presence of the grotesque little Brandenburgher who observed from the periphery. She would recall a touch so deft, so delicate it was almost erotic. And she would recall the oddly paternal tears of the doctor when the young assistant with the brilliant smile unwrapped her bandages. They bespoke a pride at war with jealousy, and an avarice struggling to subdue something she might almost, if asked, have called love.
The boy formerly known as Hot Face stood at the door of the office that night, beneath a moth-battered light, shouldering his pack as DeMoto approached with the keys. The doctor extended his hand, then withdrew it, then extended it again, and finally, as the boy reached for it, withdrew it once more. “Get on with you, then,” the doctor said, and summarily slammed the door. The boy turned toward the neon street, with its brothels and cheap casinos, and smiled. So this is what it’s like to be free.
He had no idea what to do next.


From a diary, purportedly circa 1920, lately exhumed from the basement of a junkshop in Tangiers

Heat—old nemesis—stole over cheeks. Not even wind down there could cool them. Must have looked a perfect mess, can see that now. W/ head like big tomato on skinny neck. & here is the jeune fille, soft & quiet. Dune by starlight. Eyes, wide-open, color of canal. Lazy blue. Or green. Shame I saw in them? Maybe at first. Me: grinning idiot looking on what no men bar her fr. & bro. were to see. W/ veil in my hands. Like I’d caught a kitten fallen from tree. Wind damn near whisked it away. But no blush. No color in cheeks. Except honey-color.

& was there something else besides presumable embarrassment? Can’t decide. Perhaps in moment just before she snatched veil back & wrapped it smartly around head again. Or when eyes blazed through opening. Anger: maybe. But interest?

Of course not, fool. Don’t dream. Always your problem at orphanage. Too dreamy to get up and walk out. You’re not going to dream anymore. So why call after her just before she disappears around corner? “What’s your name?” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. But: she answered! Claire. Claire. Claire de Lune. Now here’s me: dirty cot, ratty room, tiny porthole open on filthy slum. Can still smell her, though. & feel the phantom fabric rippling in my fingers. Lighter than it looks. This will be no dream. Tomorrow I find her. Claire de Lune.


Run, Derek, Run!

I am still unclear on whether California election law stipulates that signatures on a candidacy petition have to come from registered California voters, or U.S. citizens, or what, but I hope that you'll consider supporting my old buddy Derek Teslik in the gubernatorial race. He'll make a fine governor, and certainly can't do worse than Gray Davis! Perhaps this will be the start of bigger things for Mr. Teslik. To pledge your support, you'll need to visit teslik2003.blogspot.com. I can think of no more fitting tribute than Elise's: "He's no more or less qualified than Arnold Schwarzenegger!"


In Which is assessed the number of procedures assisted at by Hot Face at Dr. Demoto's Dentateria

Tooth cleanings: 412
Cavity fillings: 537
X-rays: 321
Mandible shatterings: 17
Crownings: 53
Maxillofacial restructurings: 4
Molar enhancements: 22
Root canals: 190
Cosmetic smashings: 13
Underbite-to-overbite adjustments: 41
Overbite-to-underbite normalizations: 41
Tongue enhancement surgeries: 8
Scrapings: 787
Gougings: 619
Pokings: 692
Deep-gum drillings: 48
Total cranial replacements: 1
Canine bypass enamel graftings (CBEGs): 5
Complete defangings: 25
Force-flossings: 265
Shamings: 412
Denture installations: 146