‘It’s hurting,’ mumbled the old man. He shuffled in the seat, closed his eyes to the fluorescent light above him. The tinted plastic glasses balanced on his nose weren’t helping.
‘Don’t worry, that’s just the needle. The anaesthetic’ll kick in soon.’
The tv droned on above him and the dentist. Just dull morning news. As the numbness spread across Horace’s gums, his inside lip, his nose, he relaxed a little; he still dreaded the pain he’d suffered in the African clinic.
‘So they were a bit rough over there?’ said Dr Grindle. ‘Still inserting silver fillings. Unusual. Where’d you get it done?’
‘Congo,’ Horace mumbled.
The dentist raised an eyebrow above his mask. ‘Their dentistry’s not the best, by the looks of your tooth.’ He poked at Horace’s lip. ‘How’s that feel? Unfortunately they’ve done a pretty shoddy job. You had it done a week ago, yes? And it’s fractured already.’ Leaning over Horace with a razor-sharp pincer, he shook his head. ‘Mercury’s already leaking into your gums, but I suspect we’ve caught it in time. I’ll replace that filling and you’ll be good as new.’
Horace squeezed his eyes tight. Images of the steamy Congonese clinic, a suspiciously brawny male nurse jabbing him with a searing needle, then darkness until he awoke in a grimy tent, his head foggy and his jaw aching. But the unbearable stabbing in his molar had waned, so he hadn’t complained. It was cheap, and his tooth was fixed, thank god. Holidaying in such a place had been a stupid idea – he should never have listened to Fred. After Horace’s daughter’s wedding in Tanzania, Fred had convinced him to visit the Congo. Something about investing in diamond mines, getting rich. Stupid, stupid idea. Horace’s misgivings had solidified into fear when the hostile locals glared at them. The mosquitoes, the heat, the red dust, the rabid dogs – he’d hated the place. His tooth flaring in unmitigated agony had been beyond belief.
Now he was back in Sydney. He didn’t know this dentist – Fred’s recommendation – but knew he could more or less trust an Aussie medic.
Dr Grindle suddenly paused. ‘Well, well,’ he muttered. Horace gripped the seat’s armrest. Gaping into the dentist’s eyes he moaned, ‘What? What?’ Pain shot through his jaw and he jerked in the seat, choking on a howl. The world blacked out.
When he came to Fred was standing beside the dentist. ‘Thanks, Doc,’ he said. ‘I’ll take that.’ He glanced pitifully at Horace. ‘Sorry you had to go through all this, mate. I was gonna hide it in your luggage, but then luckily your tooth played up.’
The dentist’s eyes leered at the diamond in his hand. Blood trickled down his glove, along his wrist; Horace could see the gleam radiate between his fingers as passed it to Fred. Holding it to the light, Fred nodded at the dentist. ‘Give him some more, Sam. We’ve gotta go.’
As Horace’s life dimmed he heard Fred’s laugh. ‘Thanks mate. Couldn’t have done it without you.’