Killer Sweet Tooth
Author:Gayle Trent

Killer Sweet Tooth - By Gayle Trent


CHAPTER

One




IT ALL began with a little bite of innocent sweetness. It was mid-January, and Brea Ridge—deep in the heart of Southwest Virginia—had been experiencing the type of “Desperado” days the Eagles would describe as “the sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine.”

Ben—my boyfriend . . . significant other . . . man I date?—was working late to make sure an article was included in the Saturday edition of the Brea Ridge Chronicle. He’s not only the newspaper’s editor in chief, he also writes articles and is a perfectionist who has trouble delegating. This isn’t the first Friday night he’s had to call and cancel our plans at the last minute. We’d only been planning to go see a movie in nearby Bristol, but I was still disappointed. However, there were worse things than disappointment. My ex-husband Todd’s idea of a fun weekend evening had been to berate me and to prove how superior he was to me in both size and strength. Oh, yeah . . . good times.

Violet, my sister, was visiting her mother-in-law Grammy Armstrong this evening with her hubby Jason and their twins, my precious tween nephew and niece Lucas and Leslie. Anyway, Grammy was celebrating her seventieth birthday. I’d made the cake for the occasion. It was a ten-inch round cake with a basket-weave border and an assortment of flowers—roses, carnations and daisies—in the center. I’d finished it off with a Happy Birthday pick in the center of the flowers. Violet and her family, as well as the rest of the Armstrong clan, were having a small gathering to wish Grammy Armstrong well.

I must selfishly admit, I felt as if everyone had left me out in the cold that night. Pardon the pun. But I was lonely. Lucky for me—or at least I thought so at the time—Myra was lonely too. Myra is my favorite neighbor. She’s a sassy, sixtysomething (you’ll never get her to admit to any specific age) widow who knows everything about everybody in Brea Ridge (or can find out), who has a heart of gold, and who is as entertaining as they come. I saw her arriving home (she lives right next door), gave her a call, and she agreed to come over around eight for some freshly made cashew brittle and a game of Scrabble. Myra tends to make up words when playing Scrabble, but that merely adds to the challenge of the game.

At the sound of the doorbell, Sparrow, my one-eyed formerly stray gray-and-white Persian cat, raced down the hall toward my office. She has a little bed in there under the desk, and it’s her favorite hiding place. She has begrudgingly made friends with me, but she isn’t comfortable around other people yet. Don’t worry about the one eye. The veterinarian said she was probably born that way. Plus, it’s how she got her name. My nephew and niece, Lucas and Leslie, named her Sparrow in honor of Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. They said having one eye made Sparrow look like a pirate.

I opened the door and Myra came in wearing jeans, an oversized blue sweater, and a pair of tan Ugg boots. She deposited the boots by the door and rubbed her hands together.

“I’m so glad you called,” she said. “I’ve been bored out of my mind today. That’s why I went out to the mall for a while.”

“Did you buy anything good?”

“Not a thing. I just window-shopped until the stores started closing. That made me even more depressed.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Cake orders have been slow since New Year’s . . . even with the Daphne’s Delectable Cakes lawn sign I put up last week. Do you think I should add ‘It’s okay to stop by anytime and order a cake’ to the sign?”

“Nah. Things’ll pick back up. Valentine’s Day will be here before you know it,” Myra said as we walked into the kitchen. “Who knows? You might even get to make a wedding cake.”

“That would be wonderful,” I said.

I’d only been back in Brea Ridge for four months—after more than a twenty-year absence—and opened a cake-decorating business, which I run out of my home. I hadn’t had the opportunity to make any wedding cakes yet, although I had been given the privilege of making a large, tiered cake for a guinea pig’s birthday celebration. It was the closest thing to a wedding cake I’d prepared so far.

I had the Scrabble board set up on the island with the two stools set on opposite sides. The cashew brittle and chocolate-covered raisins were plated and on a tray to the right side of the board along with a large bowl of popcorn. The Scrabble tiles were to the left.

“What would you like to drink?” I asked.

“Something hot. That wind chilled me to the bone on my walk over,” she said. “How about a decaf café au lait?”

I smiled. “Sounds good to me.”

Myra sat down and began choosing her tiles. “Great. Nearly all vowels. How am I supposed to make a word out of this mess?”

“Just put those back and draw some new letters.” I have a single-cup coffeemaker, so I began making Myra’s café au lait.

“No, now, you know I don’t cheat,” she said. “I’ll make do with the letters I have. Maybe some of this cashew brittle will help me think.”

The next sound I heard was a howl of pain.

“Myra? What is it?”

“Owwww, my tooth . . . my filling . . . fell out!” She shoved her fingers in her mouth, trying to retrieve the metal filling.

I turned the coffeemaker off. “Who’s your dentist? I’ll call him and ask if he can meet you in his office.” Don’t think I was being sexist when I said “him.” There were only two dentists in Brea Ridge, and they were both men.

“Bainworf.”

I got “Bainsworth” out of the mumbled word and rushed into the living room to retrieve my phone book from the end table. I called the dentist’s office first and then dialed the emergency number that was on his answering machine. Dr. Bains-worth answered the call immediately.

“Hi, Dr. Bainsworth. I’m Daphne Martin. My friend Myra Jenkins is a patient of yours. She is here at my house and she just bit into a piece of cashew brittle and lost a huge filling. She’s in terrible pain.”

“Ah, yes, I know Myra well.” His voice was deep and rich and contained just a hint of amusement. “Tell her I’ll meet her at my office in three quarters of an hour. In the meantime, do you have any clove oil?”

“I believe so.”

“Then apply a little of the oil to the tooth with a cotton swab,” he said. “It’ll help dull the pain until you can get her here.” He chuckled. “Good luck.”

“Thank you.” Apparently, he did know Myra well.

I returned to the kitchen. “Dr. Bainsworth will see you in his office in forty-five minutes.”

“It’s gonna be almost an hour?” she asked. “I’ll be dead by then, or at least passed out from the pain.”

I opened the cabinet where I keep my spices and got the clove oil. “He told me to apply a little of this to your tooth. He said it will help dull the pain.”

“Eashy for him to shay.” She continued moaning as I went to the bathroom for a cotton swab.

“Come on,” I said when I had returned. “Dr. Bainsworth says this will help. Take your hand down, open your mouth, and show me which tooth.”

She opened her mouth. “It’s this toot.” She pointed to her second bicuspid on the left. “The one drobbing wit pain.”

I dabbed clove oil on the tooth. “There. Feel better?”

“No.”

“Well, just give it a minute,” I said. “Go ahead and slip your boots back on, and we’ll head on over to the dentist’s office.”

She got down from the stool, went into the living room, and put on her boots. It took a laborious effort, but she managed somehow. Myra should have been an actress. She was a regular drama queen.

I took my coat from the closet, grabbed my purse and car keys, and off we went.

Myra gasped and covered her mouth when the cold air hit her tooth.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, “but the dentist is meeting us, and you’ll be feeling better in no time.”

She nodded as I opened the passenger-side door of my red Mini Cooper and helped her get in. I hurried around to the driver’s side, started the engine, turned on the lights, and backed out of the driveway. The traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Friday winter’s night in Brea Ridge.

When we got there, I was relieved to see lights blazing in the back of the office. Dr. Bainsworth was already there and, presumably, had everything ready to fix Myra’s tooth.

Myra pulled her scarf up over the lower portion of her face before stepping out into the cold air. I walked ahead so I could hold the heavy door open.

We stepped inside and looked around the empty office. Empty offices always look creepy at night, don’t you think? There was only one light on in the entryway, and in the waiting area, the long, skinny windows allowed muted light from streetlamps to filter in, casting shadows throughout the room.

“Dr. Bainsworth? It’s Daphne Martin and Myra Jenkins. Would you like us to come on back?”

He didn’t answer, and I supposed maybe he couldn’t hear us.

“Let’s go on back,” I said to Myra.

She nodded slightly, and we walked toward the examining rooms.

“Dr. Bainsworth?” I called again. “Are you back here?”

I looked inside the first room. My eyes widened, and my hand flew to my throat. I turned to Myra in shocked silence.

“Wha?” She followed my gaze to where Dr. Bainsworth was lying facedown on the floor. A trickle of blood emanated from his head. “No!”

“It’s okay,” I said, putting my arms around her. “I’ll call 911. I’m sure he’ll be all right.”

“My toot! Who’ll fiss my toot!” she cried.

I heard a thud in the lobby as if someone had tripped over a piece of furniture. I froze, and Myra did too.

“Whoever did this to Dr. Bainsworth is still here,” I whispered.

She nodded.

“We have to find something to defend ourselves with.” I stepped into the examining room and grabbed a huge plastic toothbrush.

Myra armed herself with a model of a molar so big she could barely hold it. She raised it up to eye level so she’d be ready to strike someone with it if need be.

It was at that moment that we heard the sirens. Which was odd because I hadn’t called 911 yet.

I looked from my giant toothbrush to Myra’s giant molar to the dentist bleeding on the floor. “This is not good.”

I had no more than gotten those four words out of my mouth when two policemen, neither of whom I knew—which is also odd, given my past experiences here in Brea Ridge—came around the corner with their guns drawn. Had we wanted to, Myra and I could not have escaped. We’d brought a toothbrush and a molar to a gunfight.

I will say, however, that we had the element of surprise on our side. The officers were too stunned to speak. So I took the initiative.

“Hi,” I said, trying to smile but probably grimacing. “I know this looks crazy, but—”

“Be quiet and drop your weapons,” the taller, older officer commanded.

I put down my toothbrush and raised my hands.

Myra was a little slower. “Weapons?” She frowned at her plastic molar. “Hiss is no weapon; it’s a plastic tooth.”

“Drop it,” the officer said. “Now. And put your hands where I can see them.”

She shrugged and dropped the tooth. It bounced across the floor and hit the officer’s left shin before coming to rest at his feet.

“Hands,” he said.

Myra rolled her eyes and held up her hands. I silently prayed she wouldn’t get us both shot.

“My tooth,” she began. Then she looked at me. “Tell ’em.”

“Um . . . yes, Officers. Myra—this is Myra Jenkins, and I’m Daphne Martin—she hurt . . . well—” I cleared my throat. “Lost a large filling, actually, out of one of her teeth. So, I called—”

“Save it,” he said harshly. “I need you both to step away from the body.”

“Can you re-ive him?” Myra asked.

The officer looked from Myra to his partner to me. “What?” he asked.

“Re-ive! Wake him up . . . fiss my tooth!”

“Step away from the body now,” he demanded.

The other officer—shorter, trimmer, and clean-shaven—stepped forward and lowered his gun. “This way, ladies. We’ll go into the hallway until Officer Halligan can see to the victim.”

“Ought to be out catching who did this,” Myra muttered as we followed the younger man to the end of the hall near the waiting room.

I could see the road beyond the picture window, and a light blue or silver car was speeding down the road. Could that speeder be Dr. Bainsworth’s attacker?

“Did you see that?” I asked. “That car racing down the road . . . it could be whoever did this. Shouldn’t you call somebody?”

“We get our fair share of speeders on the weekends,” the officer said. “Mostly, they’re kids in a hurry to get to Bristol or Johnson City or somewhere. Did you get a good description of the car? Make? Model?”

“No,” I told him. “Do you think Dr. Bainsworth will be all right?” I hoped to show the nice officer that we were really more concerned about the dentist than about ourselves and Myra’s hurt tooth.

“Hard to say, ma’am,” he said. “Did you see anyone else when you arrived?”

“No,” I said. “Of course, we weren’t looking for anybody. We were just hurrying here to see the dentist about Myra’s tooth. We did call him ahead of time. We spoke to him less than an hour ago. There should be a record of our call.”

Darn! Should I have said that? Will he think the call was a ruse to lure Dr. Bainsworth here so we could bash him over the head and take . . . take what? Toothpaste samples? I was panicking. It was obvious Myra had lost a filling and that she was in pain.

I noticed he was holding his gun at his side, but he hadn’t holstered it yet. The other officer came into the hallway. His gun had been put away—at least, for now—and he was removing latex gloves while talking into a microphone on his right shoulder.

“Yeah,” he said. “Get Crime Scene out here right away.” He turned to the three of us. “Let’s all step into the waiting area. We need to secure this location and wait for the crime scene techs.”

“Will Dr. Bainsworth be okay?” I asked.

“No. He’s dead.”

At that, Myra just flat-out started to cry.


“IT’S GONNA BE okay,” the younger officer—Officer Kendall—told Myra, trying to reassure her, as he eased us into the back of the patrol car. “I called the station and we have a doctor on call who happens to be there right now. We had a patient fall against his toilet and chip a tooth, so we called in the dentist.” He smiled at Myra. “So, you’re in luck. Since we need to take you to the station for questioning so Crime Scene can go over Dr. Bainsworth’s office, you get some free dental work on behalf of the Brea Ridge Police Department.”

“Yay,” Myra said sarcastically.

I glared at her.

“Wha?” she asked. “He’s had his hans in a prisoner’s mouf and maybe a toilet.”

“You’re talking like Scooby-Doo,” I said.

“You ought to know . . . Raphne.”

I sighed and rested my head against the back of the seat. I shuddered to think what might be on it—blood, spit, snot, vomit—and decided I’d scrub my scalp raw in a scalding shower as soon as I got home. I thought about whether or not this was the worst night of my life. Sadly, this night didn’t even make my top-ten list.

I suppose number one on the list would have to be the night my ex-husband shot at me. Fortunately, he missed . . . which is why he’s now serving time for attempted murder in a Tennessee prison and why I moved back to my hometown in Virginia to start life anew at the tender age of forty.

If you’re wondering why he shot at me, it was because the mileage on my car wasn’t where it should have been at the end of the day. On my way home from work, I’d gone four-tenths of a mile out of my way to a bookstore—which turned out to be eight-tenths of a mile after I got back on the route home, naturally—so I knew I was busted before I’d even gotten home. But I was so tired of having my every move controlled . . . tired of having to ask permission to stop at the grocery store or to schedule a hair appointment . . . tired of being told what to do and when to do it . . . tired of signing and turning over my paycheck to someone who wouldn’t even allow me to have a checking account or a credit card . . . tired of not being able to voice an opinion . . . I was just plain tired. So, I did it. I knew there’d be a price to pay, but I was at the point of being willing to pay it. And the title of the book I’d bought? Regaining Your Self-Respect: A Ten-Step Plan.

So, you see? This night was cake compared to that one.

Cake. I almost laughed at the irony of my thoughts. That’s my claim to fame here in Brea Ridge—Daphne’s Delectable Cakes. Well, that and seeing dead people. Not like the kid in that movie with Bruce Willis but rather literal dead people. Since I’d set up shop here, my first customer had been murdered, and a bagger from the town’s grocery store had been poisoned. Neither of those incidents had anything to do with me; they were just wrong-place-wrong-time situations. Like tonight.

Myra elbowed me in the side. “You awake?”

“Yes.”

She nodded toward the windshield to show me that we’d arrived.

The officers parked the squad car and opened the doors to remove Myra and me. Officer Kendall, the nice one, said Dr. Huffington would fix Myra’s tooth while they were interrogating me.

Officer Halligan punched in a code, and we entered the jail. We were in the back part, so we walked down a concrete floor past holding cells on the way in. It wasn’t pleasant. In fact, it was downright creepy. The entire area smelled like urine and sweat. A few disheveled, drunken people (mainly men) yelled things (mainly obscenities) at us as we passed by their cells. I so did not want to wind up sleeping over at this establishment.

An oversized man barreled down the hall and exuberantly greeted Myra. “Hey, Ms. Jenkins! Remember me? Mark Huffington?”

Myra’s eyes widened. “Btter?”

“Yeah!” He laughed. He looked at me. “Back in the day, Myra’s son Carl Jr. and the other kids called me Butter—you know, short for ‘butterfingers’—because I couldn’t hold on to a football or a basketball to save my life.” He chuckled again, reminding me of a cross between John Candy and Christian Slater. “Better hope I’m not as clumsy with a drill, eh, Ms. Jenkins?”

I recalled Myra saying that Carl Jr. had attended Abingdon High School. They hadn’t moved to Brea Ridge until he was in college.

Poor Myra looked terrified as “Butter” led her away. I didn’t feel much more at ease as I stepped into the interrogation room and heard the heavy metal door slam shut behind me.