A dentist uncovers a shocking conspiracy by toothpaste companies to sell more toothpaste.
|‘Damn it!’ John cursed to himself then quickly splashed some water on his tie to rinse away the toothpaste that had dropped from his mouth. He leaned over the sink and swirled some water inside his mouth, then spat it out vigorously. A quick glance through the splatters on the mirror assured him his tie was fine now.
The clatter of business shoes trotting down the stairs to the subway platform was like sheep, each following the other along a rocky mountain ridge without a thought to whether it was a safe route or not.
The minty fresh tingle of the toothpaste still resonated in his mouth and triggered an instinct to re-check his tie. The wet spot had dried, and he squeezed his way onto the subway car with relief. A large man standing in an expensive looking suit and broad-rimmed black hat arrogantly forced open a newspaper. Everyone shuffled their feet a little to make room for the man’s elbows as he turned the pages. His hands were shiny with gold rings. He looked like a mobster, John thought, but corrected himself when he saw the Rolex. He was probably some fat cat CEO. But really, what was the difference?
The fat cat was reading the financial section. John could see a headline about FamiFresh and MaxiDent, two major toothpaste companies, merging. The toothpaste that had landed on John’s tie, and the splatters on his mirror, were products of MaxiDent. It was good toothpaste. He used to use a cheaper brand but Cammy always complained about his bad breath so he switched. She was annoying like that. The new company would be called DentiFresh and was expected to hold nearly eighty percent of the market. Before reaching the deal the two companies must have had to weasel their way through some fancy loopholes in order to avoid violating monopoly laws. The fresh tingling sensation in his mouth was gone now.
The subway doors opened. Without apology John’s shoulder crumpled the newspaper as he slid out. The jumbled crowd in the doorway launched him out the door like a fighter pilot ejecting from a down spiraling plane.
‘Good morning, Dr. Pinker’. Jill was always far too perky. John could never be sure, but the way she always greeted him sounded somewhat condescending, like she didn’t actually believe he was a real doctor. Logically however, he knew it was more likely just his own insecurity. After all, he wasn’t a real doctor.
He leaned over the counter from the patient’s side and tried to check the schedule without having to ask her. A spot of cleavage distracted his eyes just long enough for her to notice. John had told her before about the importance of dressing professional. It relays an image to the patients. She wore a black sport coat, which was quite tasteful, he had to admit, but under it her white top was rather low cut.
‘A rep from FamiFresh should be here anytime.’ Her voice was different now. John’s gaze had probably creeped her out. ‘They’re sending someone new this time.’….
‘Yes, I read that this morning….’ The sales rep agreed and nodded habitually. ‘That kind of thing really isn’t my department though.’ The rep had introduced himself as Carl, without offering to give his family name. Typical of this generation, John thought, they think they’re being friendly by using their first name only, but it lacks respect. Still, when Carl asked if he could call him John, he had agreed.
Carl handed over the usual bag of cheap toothbrushes, sample toothpaste tubes, and happy face stickers. There was a difference this time, however. Before, the stickers were always embedded with the FamiFresh logo. John snickered at Carl, knowing full well Carl was at least partially involved in the merger. He’d have to be. How else could they ensure a seamless shift into the new DentiFresh dominated industry. Except for the lowest rung of staff members, people like Jill, everyone at both FamiFresh and MaxiDent would have had to be in on it long before today’s newspaper announcement. This new batch of stickers, embedded with a DentiFresh emblem, were probably made weeks, or even months ago. These sales reps were always so slippery.
The meeting left an especially sour taste in John’s mouth. It seemed as though young Carl had a scheme up his corporate sleeve. He said there had been ‘a lot of hype’ recently in the dental world about new research which concluded our long belief about brushing three times a day, might in fact, be wrong. This was quite a bold assertion.
John leaned forward in his stool and edged himself closer to Carl, who was perched on the edge of the dental chair, his hands folded neatly and his shiny loafers dangling.
‘Do you understand the implications of what you are saying?’
Carl was taken aback by the question. Obviously he hadn’t taken everything into consideration.
‘Well…I…there’s—‘ Carl stuttered, ‘…luckily there’s a simple solution.’
‘Which is….?” John lowered his voice to a whisper.
‘That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today, John.’
What Carl was proposing was that the average person should start brushing their teeth four times a day instead of three. For as long as John could remember he had been telling patients to brush three times a day. It was an established fact, that three times a day was sufficient for fighting cavities and preventing tooth decay. Any more than three times was seen as excessive and might actually be damaging. What Carl was suggesting flew in the face of everything John had been taught. This was revolutionary on both a personal and societal scale.
An array of thoughts bounced off the inner walls of John’s brain. Flashbacks of dental school bombarded his cranium -- memories of lying in the dentist’s chair as a little boy with the overhead lamp warming his skin like the spring sun breaking the gray of winter. He remembered Cammy’s glowing white smile dancing across the bathroom mirror as they embraced and watched themselves brush their teeth together before bed.
This young sales rep must be delusional. What research? Why change now? Since nearly the beginning of time, that’s the way it’s been. You brush your teeth three times a day. Period. Everyone knows that…. Then it hit him. The horrid reality behind such a drastic overhaul of dentistry was exposed as Carl revealed the truth.
John’s head began to spin. He gripped the edge of the stool for balance. Yet somehow Carl sat so calmly, just staring at him.
‘Jill!’ John yelled. ‘Jill, come in here!’
Obediently she came hopping in like a bunny on a leash. ‘Yes, Mr. Pinker?’ She had gum in her mouth.
‘Cancel all my appointments. I can’t work today. This…this is too much. It’s too much.’
‘But… Mr. Pinker, you’ve got a full schedule of patients today. I’d have to call ev—‘
‘Just do what I say! God damn it, Jill. When are you going to start acting like a professional?’
She stood in the doorway with her face frozen. Then she raised her eyebrows at Carl as if to share some secret inside information only the two of them were in on. Carl gave her the same look in return and she slowly backed away, retreating to the reception area. John thought it would probably be better if she wore a white lab coat from now on, or something that covered her legs more.
Carl tried to keep the situation calm but it wasn’t helping much. John fumbled around a white countertop behind his stool. A can of pens tumbled over and a few rolled onto the floor. He grabbed one before it fell, along with a notepad, and began jotting down notes. ‘I need some Novocain.’ He muttered to himself. ‘This is too much.’
‘This will be good for you, John. It’s Hawaii. It’s gorgeous. Have you been to Hawaii?’
‘Of course I have.’ John stopped writing.
It was an intriguing proposal. What the new DentiFresh corporation was offering was an annual, all expenses paid trip to Hawaii to attend a dental health conference. The first conference would take a full afternoon, but future ones would be much shorter. The remainder of the four-day event would also be paid for by DentiFresh, but the attendees would be free to spend the time at their own leisure. John was naturally suspicious of the seemingly unprompted generosity. He knew there was a catch.
A couple months later, true to Carl’s word, John found himself stretched out on a beach towel, his teeth reflecting the surf and sun, and bikini clad cocktail waitresses standing over him. It was highly unprofessional but he gladly accepted their complementary drinks and service. Tips weren’t included, but he wasn’t falling for that trick either. The first day was to get settled in. Most of the other dentists and ‘researchers’ mingled amongst themselves, lounging about at poolside bars, getting a massage from a young hula girl, or sweating out their guilt in the sauna.
John was there for different reasons. He was on a mission of espionage. On the second day, a banner reading DentiFresh Annual Dental Health Conference greeted everyone as they filed through the double doors into the conference room. There were a dozen or so tables, he noted in his memo pad, each with eight to ten people. Although everyone was a professional in the industry, it appeared as though John was the only one dressed appropriately. Most wore Hawaiian shirts or tank tops and shorts. Some of the ladies had on bikini tops instead of business suits with nothing more than a light sarong wrapped around their waist. On one young woman, he could clearly see the lines of her swim suit bottom right through the sarong. It was still wet and clung tightly to the curves of her body. It was definitely too much. If that tramp, Jill, were here she’d no doubt approve. Cammy would have never dressed like that.
The conference began with some light hearted dentistry related jokes, which John had to admit weren’t half bad. A mustached man with a belly in an untucked polo shirt and colorful surfer shorts took the podium and started a PowerPoint presentation. There were lots of 3D pie charts and graphs, and even some cute animations, to go along with the propaganda he was spewing. As John expected, this whole charade was simply a ploy to increase public consumption of toothpaste. How could everyone be so blind? Nobody seemed to notice, or if they did they certainly didn’t care. They were all quite content with their free vacation and lobster buffets. Half the crowd wasn’t even listening -- they were sipping drinks and chatting.
The porky speaker caused a few ears to perk up when he claimed a ‘disturbing number of dentists have reported rapid increases in tooth decay in recent years’. He even had the audacity to suggest that most of the dentists here today would surely agree. At this dubious and unfounded remark, several people began nodding their heads like chickens and looking at each other in agreement until a wave of conformity swept over the room. John looked around at the faces of the people at his table. He wondered if one of them was imbedded by DentiFresh. Who had been the first to start nodding? Was it the girl beside him? Probably. She looked the part. Her blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, her big eyes highlighted with too much makeup, the cross hanging from her neck deliberately drawing attention to her large fake breasts covered scandalously by a loose halter top. Why else would a girl like her be seated with a group of middle aged men? John was sure each table had someone like her planted among the group to insight agreement. These big companies were clever like that. They paid millions of dollars to research how to manipulate people. It was no different than Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. People think the Cold War days are over, but John knew the reality of our time is that the war never ended, it’s just that the battlefield has shifted.
At least the people at John’s table were fumbling through some documents that had been laid out. John grabbed hold of one of the copies. It was a glossy magazine type pamphlet full of sleek photos of researchers in lab coats holding beakers and wearing protective goggles. It has a very scientific aura but John was far too clever to be fooled. After the presentation, he took the pamphlet up to his room and locked the door. For added security he closed the curtains so no one could see inside.
The room had a small counter with an internet connection, and a stool like the one in his dental room. He set his laptop down with urgency and opened up a web browser. Using the names of the universities which the pamphlet said conducted the research; it didn’t take long for John to confirm his suspicions. The so-called research was conducted at several schools and private labs across America, Europe, and even one in Japan. When he traced back some of the university research’s funding he found that in several cases, FamiFresh or MaxiDent were the primary, or even sole, sources. They had given millions of dollars to these schools. Millions!
This was utter madness! It was too much. John was hysterical. He stood up from his stool, knocking it to the ground. He paced the room with his hands on his head. Sweat poured down his neck and he could hardly breathe.
‘What am I going to do?’ He asked himself. ‘I’ve got to tell someone…. Who can I tell? Should I go to the press? ….Not yet, I need more information…. I need more evidence.’
He picked up the phone and began to dial frantically.
‘Who’s this? ….Who?’
Some guy had answered the phone. Who the hell was he? Jill never mentioned any guy before.
‘I need to talk to Jill right away…. Yes, I know—Sorry, I know… it’s an emergency. Please, it’s an emergency…. John Pinker. I’m her b—‘
‘Mr. Pinker? …It’s the middle of the night. What are you doing?’
Finally the guy had handed the phone over to Jill. John tried to stay calm and explain everything to her. He told her how the conference was a big conspiracy to get people to use more toothpaste so the new DentiFresh company could increase profits. If people brushed their teeth four times a day instead of three times a day their profit margin would explode! FamiFresh and DentiMax funded research that they could use to tell the world that cases of tooth decay were on the rise and that the only way to prevent it was to brush your teeth four times a day instead of three times a day. Then, once the research was complete, FamiFresh and DentiMax merged, meaning any trace of their dubious scheme would be erased because both companies no longer existed as the world new them before. Effectively, they had altered history. This was a classic trick of the old Soviet Union. All that existed now, was a this new company, DentiFresh, which had a totally clean image. It was all too much… way too much.
John still couldn’t believe it himself so he didn’t expect her to fully grasp the severity of situation, but he knew he could trust her. His mind wandered. How long had they worked together for now? Almost five years, he thought. Yes, it’ll be five years next month since Cammy left. Jill would never be able to replace Cammy.
He told Jill he needed her to do him a favor. He needed a list of names of all the scientists who’d collaborated on the research projects, and he needed them by morning. The line was beginning to fade in and out. He couldn’t hear her voice very clearly anymore and there was a delay. The guy with her was trying to tell her something.
John countered. ‘Don’t listen to him!’ He tried to interrupt the guy’s distant voice. ‘He’s not your boss…. I need you, Jill. This is an emergency.’
Shouting into his cell phone, John said he’d call her back a six A.M. with a fax number for her to send the list to. Jill protested at first, saying it wasn’t her job, and she didn’t have any idea how to find out that kind of information, but he knew she’d find a way somehow. She’d never let him down before.
Suddenly there was a banging on the hotel room door. John dropped his phone and slammed shut his laptop. He scurried over to the bedside lamp and turned off the light. He tried to tip toe over to the door to listen but tripped over the internet cable. His laptop crashed to the floor and he screamed.
‘Mr. Pinker?’ A husky voice called through the door. ‘Is everything alright in there?’
What did they want? John sat on the edge of the bed with his knees tucked up to his chest and rocked back and forth. They knew. They must have bugged his phone call or been monitoring his internet searches somehow. These big companies will stop at nothing, he though. A second male voice called out but was muffled by the door. There was no escape. The swimming pool was at least twenty feet from the building and his room was only on the fifth floor. He’d never be able to launch himself far enough if he were to jump from the window. There were bars on it anyway. They’d probably already thought about the window being used as an exit, or even as a suicide method. He was trapped. There was no choice but to face them.
John slowly undid the deadbolt and opened the door a crack but kept his foot in front so they couldn’t burst in on him. He was sweating and had taken his shirt off to cool down. He didn’t like using air conditioners. There were two older men in blue blazers with hotel insignia standing in the hall. They were dressed up as hotel staff. Cautiously John opened the door a little more.
‘Is everything alright, Mr. Pinker?’ The one with the husky voice asked.
‘How do you know my name?’
‘You gave it to us when you checked in.’ the other one answered.
That was true. Perhaps these two gentlemen posed no threat. But still, John thought, he couldn’t afford to take any chances. He assured them he was fine and would try and keep the noise down.
Before the men went back downstairs though, John stepped forward into the doorway and whispered into one man’s ear, ‘what do you know?’
Both men took a step back and didn’t answer the question. John moved forward and whispered again. ‘Are they watching me?’
‘You’re getting too close.’ The man with the husky voice said.
John leapt back for refuge into his room but the door was locked. He rattled the handle but it wouldn’t open. ‘I’m getting too close.’ He repeated to himself. ‘I’ve got to get out of here…. I knew it.’
‘Mr. Pinker…. Mr. Pinker…. Please calm down. It’s your breath… I’m sorry. It smells like garlic from the buffet, that’s al.’
‘My breath?’ John was on the hallway floor with his back against his door.
‘You were getting a bit too close. I don’t mean to be rude.’ The older of the two gentlemen, the one without the husky voice, said. Then he reached into his blazer pocket for something. John recoiled and reached up for the door handle in fear. Soon he was able to relax though when he saw it was just a room keycard. The man inserted it into the door, just above the handle which John still clung to. The door beeped and made an unlocking sound.
‘The doors lock automatically when you close them. Be careful not to get locked out.’ He said.
John pulled himself up, thanked the gentlemen, and retreated back into his room, locking the deadbolt behind him. He had to leave immediately. This was just too much. But first he thought he’d better brush his teeth. It wasn’t very professional to walk around with garlic breath. He went into the bathroom and grabbed the toothpaste tube off the shelf above the toilet. He knew it was no coincidence that the hotel had supplied his room with MaxiDent toothpaste. He went over to his suitcase and dug around until he found the tube he’d brought from home. He compared the two tubes side by side. Although also MaxiDent toothpaste, his tube was considerably larger than the one from the hotel bathroom. The companies must have started making the tubes smaller just before the merger, that way when they came out with the ‘new’ DentiFresh tubes no one would complain that the tubes were smaller than usual. John shook his head at the thought. He also knew they probably kept the price the same even though the amount was less. Of course they did.
‘Those bastards!’ John shouted and hurled both toothpaste tubes at the wall in disgust.
He decided he’d buy a pack of gum on the way to the airport instead. In the taxi he warned the driver about the conspiracy unfolding before them and vowed to stop brushing his teeth altogether. He’d chew gum instead, and he implored the driver to do the same. Finally the driver agreed, but it wasn’t easy to convince him. The driver obviously was brainwashed by all the bullshit advertising and propaganda put out by the toothpaste industry. The hotel concierge said he’d never noticed it before either, but that’s just what those type of people would say.
John’s flight landed just before dawn. As soon as he found an inexpensive place with decent coffee and breakfast, he called Jill. To his shock and dismay she had let him down. She had never disappointed him so greatly before, but to be fair, he couldn’t actually recall asking a favor from her in the past. Jill wasn’t completely useless, however. She at least had the sense to fire off an email. John sat down with his laptop and coffee, frantically fumbling with the keys and connections. The email was simple. It contained no greeting or small talk, just a single name -- Minnie Ma.
On the phone, Jill sounded oddly distant. Had she been compromised? Did someone get to her? Her voice was raspy and lacked its usual perkiness. This person, Minnie Ma, according to Jill, was a researcher at a nearby university who had co-authored a paper which was later sited by DentiFresh in their reports trying to justify the push for the public to increase their brushing frequency. On the phone, John could hear the same male voice muttering something in the background, then the line abruptly went dead. What happened? Was Jill alright? Should he rush to her home? No… there was no time. He had to find this inauspicious character, known as Minnie Ma.
He quickly packed up his laptop and stuffed the cables into a business bag. The tip of his tie got caught in the zipper, and he cursed at the wasted time it took to jerk it free. He grabbed his coffee mug and tried to fire it down the hole, but it was still too hot and it scalded his tonsils. With the yelp of a kicked puppy, he yanked it away from his lips, splashing some on his hand.
A guy at the next table hid smirks behind a newspaper…. There it was! Staring John boldly in the face, in the bottom corner of the health section page, a vivid color ad proclaiming new ‘research’ has led three out of four dentists to recommend increasing your brushing habits from three times a day to four times a day. What a farce! There was a silver lining to the ad, though. Three out of four dentists. John stood motionless in thought for a moment.
‘You got a problem, buddy?’ The voice behind the newspaper inquired sharply.
Three out of four dentists…. John knew what he had to do. He had to find that fourth dentists. He had a feeling, this Minnie Ma character might lead him in the right direction.
‘We all do, my friend.’ John replied. ‘You don’t even know the half of it.’ Then he scrambled to the counter and shouted at the cashier to pour his remaining coffee into a take-out cup.
Everything appeared to be functioning normally around the campus, but John sensed an ominous aura in the air. It had taken some time to get the information counter to agree to cough up the department and lab number of the imbedded infidel known as Minnie Ma, and it was a tad embarrassing for John to have to return a minute later to ask them to throw out his empty plastic coffee cup for him. Nevertheless, he soon found himself standing in front of the lab room door. He popped a piece of gum in his mouth to mask the coffee smell which no doubt lingered on his breath, then knocked with authority on the door.
There was no response. But there were voices coming from inside….female voices. There was even laughter. Those sickos! How could they be so cold as to be part of such evil collusion, yet carelessly laugh away the guilt? He knocked again, but there was still no answer. Perhaps he’d have to come back later.
Maybe not… footsteps tapped across the floor and suddenly it swung open. John stumbled back, startled at the presence of a young female in a long white gown which did little to hide the ampleness of her bosom. She had long blond hair tied back in a pony tail and wore big safety goggle over round blue eyes. Her long thin legs added an element of intimidation to their awkward introduction.
‘What can I do for you?’ The words sang from her lips.
‘M-Minnie M-Ma,’ he stuttered, unsure if he’d asked a question or given an order.
A second later a much smaller, easier to handle, girl appeared in the doorway. She was distinctly Asian, possibly from China, or Taiwan. Her lab coat and goggles dwarfed her like a child in a costume. Her skin looked irresistibly soft just like Cammy’s had been.
‘Minnie Ma?’ He asked.
‘Yes.’ She spoke softly with no accent. What a perfect vehicle she was for the big toothpaste conspirators -- too innocent and gentle to be suspected of any deliberate tomfoolery. John had to admit, these DentiFresh thugs were clever. This delicate specimen before him was far from the monster he expected to confront. At first Ms. Ma was reluctant, but after he explained the gravity of the situation she agreed to meet with him in the campus cafeteria.
The coffee tasted like instant and John could feel his teeth getting yellow. It was an acceptable compromise considering the value of being in the center of noisy cafeteria which would drown out their conversation should anyone be spying. In between sips he chewed gum to keep his breath fresh. Minnie Ma was polite but offered little indication of emotion. She was disturbingly frank. As expected, the research grant and any subsequent funding extensions hinged on the outcome of the research. The dental conspiracy agents, or DCA, as he referred to them, had told her they were hoping to find some researchers who could show evidence to justify publically recommending brushing more often “in order to prevent the recent increases in tooth decay”. Trying to contain his excitement, John got her to repeat her incriminating statement into the voice recorder in his cell phone.
With the evidence safely tucked into his pant pocket, he was a man on a mission. He knew it was vital to get the information to the media before anyone tried to stop him.
Minnie Ma sat unaffected in naive attractiveness. She really was too much. He gazed through her Bambi eyes, which were far too big for her head and added an element of cartoonish cuteness to her. He stared deeply and tried to read her soul. She was one of the good ones – an unfortunate victim, collateral damage of the underground toothpaste machine that would stop at nothing to increase profits. She began to look uneasy as John continued to analyze her features silently. She was probably worried about spies as well.
To avoid being followed, he stood up suddenly, which startled Minnie Ma like a threatened rabbit. She shrunk in her chair. He stood over her and sensed her fear. He could smell it. She was afraid of the DCA finding out she had squealed. She opened her lips to speak but quickly he placed his finger over them and hushed her. She grabbed his wrist in loving embrace and trembled lustfully as he caressed her cheek.
‘Not now…’ he whispered in her ear, ‘be patient, Cammy, my love….’
A tear welled up in the corner of her eye, but he couldn’t stay. It was far too dangerous for them to be together now. If all this blows over, he though, then they’ll be together again just like old times.
A robust gentleman a few tables away was watching. Had he been listening in on their conversation? As the man headed his way John sprinted for the exit. Without looking back he flew through the swinging doors, skidded around the corner, and pushed his way past a group of students. Once safely outside he flopped himself down on a patch of grass under an oak tree. Panting, he checked his business bag to make sure his laptop was alright and more importantly he made sure his phone, with the recorded confession, was unharmed.
On the bus he called up Jill and told her to arrange a meeting with the editor at the big newspaper firm downtown. She fussed and refused, forcing him to raise his voice. The other passengers stared at him. If they only knew….
‘Who is this?’ A male voice barked through John’s cell phone. ‘I said, who the hell is this?’
John hung up and dashed for the bus’s exit. It wouldn’t open. He rattled the handle violently. Everyone was turned in their seats to watch him.
‘Let me off!’ He yelled. ‘Stop looking at me!’
The bus came to a halt and finally the doors released with a hiss.
Jill had been compromised. He should have rescued her earlier, but it was too late now. What about Cammy? He stood in the street thinking. A horn blasted him as cars whizzed by. Should he go back to the university and help her? No, he had to get to the newspaper firm whether he had an appointment or not.
Two men in dark suits glared at him from the sidewalk. Were they DCA? A police officer appeared within the gathering crowd. John looked left, then right. He staggered back and the bus inched forward then braked with a squeal and a hiss as if to try and scare him out of the way. The driver waved his hands, gesturing for John to move but instead he froze like a fawn gone astray from the herd. It was far too much now. He could barely breathe.
The officer approached, charging forward mustache first. He was shouting something but all John could hear was a deafening ringing in his ears. The bus, the cop, the men in suits, the crowd, the traffic…. They were all closing in on him.
“You’ll never get me alive!” John burst out of his daze and dashed between the cars, narrowly dodging an oncoming taxi. He leapt to safety on the other side of the busy road and darted down the street, around the corner, and out of site from his would-be captors.
Snaking his way through alleys he dodged sunlight by keeping to the shadows of dumpsters the building bases. He clenched his cell phone in his pocket tightly, being sure to protect Minnia Ma’s recorded statement. When he reached the newspaper headquarters he banged heavily on the back delivery door. He knew DCA agents were probably waiting at the front entrance for him.
An elderly man with a broom finally opened the door and John forced his way past. The man muttered something but put up little protest. John sprinted up the concrete stairwell to the second floor then threw open the fire door and flung himself into a carpeted reception area. Careful to avoid any possible security cameras he dropped to the floor in an attempted barrel role but the friction of the carpet prevented the smooth execution he’d hoped for. Instead he came to a skidding halt the moment his shoulder made contact with the carpet. His body tumbled over itself violently and his cell phone flew out of his pocket and bounced across the floor. Pain shot up his torso and he let out a humbling groan.
A lady in high heals and a knee high skirt retrieved the shambles of his phone. She held one piece in each hand as she stood back in shock. Her hair was in a long pony tail and she wore too much makeup. Her shirt was low cut but there was little to be exposed. John admired the attempt at using sexuality to gain power in the workplace but also noted her amateurism. Still, she was slightly intimidating in her unpredicability.
‘Are you alright?’ She asked.
‘Give me that!’ John reached for the pieces of his phone. ‘I need to speak to your editor.’
He pulled himself upright and dusted off his wrinkled suit. His leg wouldn’t fully straighten as he limped forward to get his cell phone. The lady handed over the two halves without a fight and he put them back in his pocket. He repeated his request until she went behind the counter and picked up the phone.
An array of bustling cubicles echoed voices and the sounds of keyboards clicking away along with the occasional ringing of a telephone. John peered over the counter to listen closely, making sure she wasn’t trying anything fishy. Sure enough, a few minutes later a tall balding man in a slick pin striped suit waddled his way out of the elevator beside the fire exit door John had come through.
John was a wreck. He didn’t know how to explain what was happening but he tried to pull himself together. He shook the base of his phone in the air and told the editor it contained important testimony which incriminated DentiFresh in what was possible the biggest toothpaste scandal of our time.
The editor looked John up and down apparently thinking over this breaking story. He ran his hands through his imaginary hair and let out a sigh.
‘What’s DentiFresh?’ He asked patiently.
John was startled by the question. Was this guy for real? What’s DentiFresh? Had he really not heard about the merger, or was he playing ignorant because he was in on the conspiracy?
He stared at John blankly for a moment before speaking again.
‘Call security.’ He said calmly.
Relieved that the editor had decided to cooperate John pulled out the other piece of his phone and tried to flip open the keypad.
‘What’s the number?’ John asked.
The editor and the receptionist simultaneously cocked their heads sideways and blinked in confusion. John realized his mistake and closed his phone slowly. It came apart again and he let the pieces fall to the ground. They didn’t believe him. Any minute he was going to be thrown out of the building. This was his only chance to expose the truth. How could he make them see what was happening?
‘Three times a day is plenty!’ He shouted. ‘There’s no need to brush more than that! Any more and you’ll just be damaging your teeth….’
He dropped to his knees and began to weep. He raised his hands in the air, begging for them to understand.
‘The enamel will start to break down – you’ll get tooth decay even easier than before. It’s a fraud -- a scam. They don’t care about you! They only care about more money -- they’re trying to change everything you ever thought you knew about dental hygiene. Can’t you see what they’re doing to you?’
The fire exit door burst open and two large security guards stepped forward. Calmly they stood over John and watched him cry. A few other staff members had gathered behind the counter to see what was going on too. John repeated his story but no one commented. It was a lost cause. They didn’t care.
The truth was beginning to sink in. They’d all been programmed to just sit in their little cubicles and push buttons their whole life. When they were done they would go home and be sucked into their televisions. Their feeble minds fed line after line of corporate propaganda and advertising. Their job training, their university degrees, and their childhood education before that had all been carefully crafted to hide the realities of their world from them. The system was designed so they couldn’t see the charade of it all.
As well, a safety mechanism had been built into their brains via all those years of programming – on the rare occasion where the truth did slip out, they would have already become so apathetic and nurturing of the artificial society which enslaved them that the exposure of the direct thievery of their trust, and even their humanity, would cause no reaction whatsoever. In fact, the lone person in possession of the truth, and the key to release them from their imprisonment, would be seen as nothing short of a madman and an enemy to the world they now believed was their cradle rather than their cage.
The guards continued to stand over him almost in a sympathetic manner. They wouldn’t hurt him. There would be no arrest or assassination. The DentiFresh world John was living in wasn’t Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Such violent suppression of dissent wasn’t necessary in the DentiFresh world. He didn’t need to be tortured, sent to a labor reform camp, or be “re-educated” through brainwashing, because the society around him unwittingly performed the functions of a gulag without the DCA ever lifting a finger.
Even Cammy had ostracized him for trying to get her to see the real world she was living in. She didn’t want to know the truth and instead ended up leaving him. She’d preferred to be alone in ignorance than face an unsettling world with a partner.
The guards escorted John quietly down the stairs and out the back down into the darkening alley behind the building. There, in a heap of trash bags lay a homeless man with a sign round his neck warning of the impending apocalypse. The homeless man was squeezing the remnants of an old toothpaste tube onto his finger. John caught a glimpse of the MaxiDent logo on the tube as the man began to brush his teeth through his matted facial hair with his finger. John kicked aside some garbage and took a seat against the building wall beside the man then took out a pack of gum.
‘You know you shouldn’t use too much of that.’ John said offering him a piece of gum.
The man grunted and pushed it away. Then the homeless man began shuffling around some folded newspaper which encircled him like a nest. After a minute of searching he retrieved a page and handed it to John. Without talking the man pointed to a small color ad at the bottom of the page. It was a chewing gum advertisement saying recent research showed that three out of four dentists recommend chewing gum to prevent gum disease.
‘The chemicals in the gum cause cancer.’ A raspy voice bubbled through the toothpaste in the homeless man’s mouth. ‘They tried to get me to say the gum is good for people…’ He rinsed his mouth with water from an old plastic cup and spit it behind a trash bag. ‘But I wouldn’t do it. I was a dentist and I knew the truth. But it was all too much. Too much, I say…. I knew it was bad but they called me crazy. But it’s them that are crazy. They’re all crazy. Not me. Not us. Guys like us would rather be here with our sanity than living with all those crazies out there.’ He waved an arm in air as if motioning to the masses.
‘You’re the fourth dentist, aren’t you?’ John asked.
The man smiled. His teeth were white and straight.