Authors: Bradley Convissar
: A Serial Thriller
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This book is a work of fiction.
All characters, events and situations in this book
are purely fictional and any resemblance to real
or events is purely coincidental.
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, Bradley Convissar
edition, Darkest Days Publishing
Cover design by Kealan Patrick Burke @ Elder Lemon Designs
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, Atlanta. I’m Gerald Andrews and this is your Channel 5 Action News at eleven.”
Gerald Andrews’ perfectly manicured face stared out solemnly from tens of thousands of televisions across northern Georgia. High definition plasma and LCD screens captured the haunted gaze lurking behind his blue eyes
and the slight frown on his thin lips with digital perfection, betraying the gravity of the words to come before they even formed on his tongue.
“Tonight’s top story is the abduction of a local college student from the parking lot of Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff library late last night.”
Gerald Andrews’ somber countenance was replaced with a photograph of a beautiful young woman in a purple graduation gown and black mortar board with a matching purple tassel posing for the camera. Honey blonde hair highlighted with subtle streaks of strawberry cascaded down around her shoulders, framing a naturally stunning face accentuated by only a hint of makeup. She had large brown eyes, a small button nose and a radiant smile which exuded both warmth and confidence.
Sharon Goldschmidt was last seen last night at eleven o’clock by several of her friends and classmates before she left the library. She was supposedly heading home to her parents’ house, where she lived. She never made it home.”
The graduation photo of
Sharon Goldschmidt faded away, replaced by the live studio footage of a subdued Gerald Andrews. “Sharon’s mother, Karen Goldschmidt, has told Action News that she wasn’t worried at first when her daughter didn’t come home because she assumed her daughter was staying with a friend on campus, as she often did. But when she couldn’t reach Sharon by cell phone earlier today, and after she learned that none of Allison’s friends had seen her since last night, Karen contacted both the Atlanta police department and campus security.
“The following footage
, not reviewed until Sharon’s disappearance was reported to the authorities, was captured by one of the security cameras located in the library parking lot. It is disturbing footage, and we only show it in the hope that someone watching may be able to identify the assailant.”
Television sets across Georgia went eerily silent as a b
lack and white drama more real and more disturbing than any reality program unfolded in real time.
The security camera captures the grainy form of a girl, supposedly
Sharon Goldschmidt, though it is impossible to tell for sure, entering the frame from the right. She walks casually down the dimly lit parking lot aisle alone as she has probably done dozens of times before. Only a handful of cars remain at the late hour.
stops next to a Ford Focus, her car, which is parked to the right of a dark Mercedes. She places her handbag and knapsack on the trunk, fishes around in the pocketbook for a moment, and pulls out her cell phone and a key ring.
Sharon produces these items, a figure rises like an apparition from between the two cars. It slowly detaches from the shadows, a shadow itself in the neck-to-ankle black trench coat and wide-brimmed fedora he wears, and steps into the aisle as Sharon slings the bags back over her shoulder and turns away from the trunk.
freezes, startled by the tall man suddenly standing before her. She doesn’t take the prudent course when confronted by the dark, towering presence. She doesn’t turn and run from the obvious danger. Instead, she begins fumbling with her keys, possibly feeling for a can of pepper spray, possibly trying to activate the emergency button on her car remote. Whatever her purpose, it ultimately proves to be in vain.
The man in black jabs his right hand at Allison, striking her
in the throat. She jerks violently, begins to stagger backwards as her legs buckle under her, and appears to be a second away from crumbling to the ground in an undignified pile. But the man moves suddenly, his movements fluid, like running ink, and with the grace of a dancer he flows behind her, catching her as she topples. With little effort, he heaves her prone form over his shoulder.
The trunk to the neighboring Mercedes pops open like a hungry, bottomless maw, and the man heaves his prize, along with her bags, into its dark confines. He then bends down and snatches several objects from the black top- presumably Allison’s phone and keys. These, too, are tossed into the trunk. Satisfied, the man closes the lid and climbs into the driver’s seat. The Mercedes quickly reverses out of the parking space, turns to the left
, and disappears from the view of the security camera.
This entire bizarre tableau seems have occurred over the course of several minutes, as the brain naturally slows down the events in an attempt to make s
ense of the disturbing scene, but in reality, the abduction took less than twenty seconds from beginning to end.
The black and white video disappeared, replaced once again by Gerald Andrews and the sterile studio backdrop depicting Atlanta’s skyline
“The man seen in the video is
now the primary suspect in the abductions of college girls from four other schools in the past three weeks, including Jacqueline Monroe from Tufts University in Boston, Mary Wagner from Temple University in Philadelphia, Carol Becker from Northwestern University in Chicago, and Danielle Klein from USC in Irvine California. This abduction is the fifth we know about, though there may be more. The authorities are asking anyone with any information to call the tip line at the number at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, the Mercedes in the video did not have a license plate.
“The FBI and police also want to remind everyone not to approach the suspect. He is considered armed and very, very dangerous.”
Dr. Jamie Whitman tossed the still-loaded syringe
of Lidocaine, the modern form of Novocain used in dentistry, onto his littered instrument tray, straining to control the rage building inside. He
to dash the syringe against the far wall of the operatory with all of his considerable strength. But that wouldn’t have been professional. Quite the opposite, actually. It would have been a sign of emotional instability. Perhaps a growing insanity. So instead of a demonstrative display of disgust that was sure to get him in trouble, he emitted a low growl of frustration behind his blue ear-loop mask and angrily tore off his latex gloves, tossing them into the sink behind him. Thankfully, the five year old in his dental chair was no longer bawling and thrashing like a baby, having reverted to simple whimpering once Jamie removed the needle from his sight.
The young dentist, only
five months out of dental school, pushed the tray, which was attached to the chair by a series of metal arms, away from him and rose. A flick of his right ankle activated a switch on the floor which gently returned the reclining chair to its upright position. He reached up and flipped off the overhead light.
“Carol,” Jamie calmly said to his assistant,
who hovered to his right, “would you mind waiting her with Khalif for a moment?”
“Yes, doctor,” t
he young dental assistant, dressed in the same shapeless blue surgical gown they all wore, said as she offered a single curt nod.
Jamie turned to Shonda Jones, Khalif’s mother, who s
tood in the corner of the room. Her lips trembled slightly. “Ms. Jones, would you please join me in the hallway for a moment?”
looked around twenty-three, three years Jamie’s junior, dropped her eyes to the tiled floor like a petulant dog who knew she had done something wrong and was about to be chastised for her behavior. She scratched at her nose with a freshly painted and manicured three-inch nail. “Ms. Jones,” Jamie repeated, more forcefully this time, as if commanding said dog to heel. The young mother peeled herself away from the wall and obediently followed him out of the room and into an empty operatory across the hallway, her eyes never leaving the floor.
Jamie took a moment to bury
the smoldering remnants of his fury. He closed his eyes and brought to mind a memory of his mother, her face battered and swollen and bloody, his father towering over her with a look of unbridled rage burning in his eyes. A simple image, a single snapshot of his childhood, but powerful enough to remind Jamie of the tremendous damage simple anger could drive a person to cause. It was an image he had needed to conjure all too often over the years as anger had always been, and still was, a constant presence in his life. An unwanted companion. His own demon. One he had to fight regularly lest it drive him to the same violent urges his father had succumbed to. Jamie was a heated, passionate man, and only remembering his mother as she was after his father had finished beating her helped to submerge the fury which was always quick to rise. It was a visualization trick his grandfather had taught him years ago and it never failed to relax him. Calmed, he looked directly at the young mother. “Ms. Jones, look at me,” he said. He never took his eyes from the woman, stared at her until she had no other option but to look up and meet his gaze. Shame and fear burned in her dark eyes, and Jamie knew it took all of her will to not turn away from his reproachful stare.
Jamie knew he was an imposing figure, even when he wasn’t bordering on rage. He was a little over six feet tall with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and thick, muscular arms, a physique which was part genetics and part gym. He possessed icy blue eyes which previous girlfriends had described as “piercing” and “intense”, a slim, aristocratic nose, and sharp,
well-defined bone structure under smooth, slightly tanned skin. His hair was blonde, fine and smooth like silk. He could have been model, he knew, or possibly an actor. But he didn’t have the skill. Or conceit.
“Look, Ms. Jones,” Jamie said, “I’m not angry with you.”
A bald lie, but a necessary one.
“But remember why you’re here. You came to us because your child was in pain. You came to us because half of your child’s baby teeth are rotting out of his mouth.”
Because of your neglect!
“I didn’t come to your house and grab your baby and force him to receive treatment. You took the first step, the responsible step, did what a good mother does, and came to us so we can help Khalif. And I praise you for that because it’s more than a lot of parents do. But it helps no one when you stand there in the corner and tell me to stop what I’m doing, half crying and half yelling, because I’m hurting your baby. He has a toothache because he has an infected tooth. The tooth has to come out, and to take it out, I have to get him numb. To get him numb, I have to stick a needle in his mouth. And I can’t do that if you’re crying and shaking and telling me not to hurt him!”
Jamie’s voice had slowly risen during his speech, and Shonda finally responded to his scolding
by tearing her eyes from him and once again directing her full attention to the floor. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
Jamie exhaled, took a deep breath, and sighed. He let the
remaining anger slowly drain during the moments of uncomfortable silence. “Look, Ms. Jones,” he finally said, “we can’t treat Khalif here. You’re going to have to take him to a dentist who specializes in treating children.”
That brought Shonda’s attention back to him, her braids whipping behind her head. “I don’t have no money, doctor” she said, her voice panicked. “No one else in the area will take Medicaid. You gotta’ try again.”
Jamie couldn’t help but look at her with pity. He wanted to help—that was why he had accepted this residency, to help treat those that private practices couldn’t or wouldn’t because of the crappy reimbursement—but there was no way in hell he was going to attempt to place a needle in that child’s mouth again, not with the thrashing and the flailing and the crying. The child’s terror was absolute; if he hadn’t been completely terrified when he walked into the clinic, he was now because his mother had stupidly reinforced his own fears with her own instead of supporting the doctor. The child was young and out of control and required sedation of one type or another before any work could be done. It was that simple. “I won’t treat him here. I can’t treat him here.”
“But he’s in pain,” she said, a mother’s desperate defiance creeping into her voice. “My baby’s in pain and you gotta help him.”
Jamie refused to get into an argument with this woman. He wasn’t responsible for the child’s pain. He had tried, and through no fault of his own, he had failed. There was no shame in that. He had neither the training nor the facilities to treat little Khalif Jones, and that was the beginning and the end of it
“I’m sorry,” Jamie said. “All I can do is
ask the front desk to give you a list of pediatric dentists in the county who take Medicaid. You may have to drive a bit, or take a bus, but there are places that can help him. And I can give you a prescription for an antibiotic to help make him comfortable until you can get him treatment. But we can’t do anything more for him here.” He turned and quickly walked out of the room before the mother could draw him back into an argument. He didn’t have time or energy.
Jamie walked back into his operatory
, where little Khalif was again sobbing and begging to go home, and quickly filled out the child’s chart. He walked it up to the front desk himself, explained the situation to Maggie Berger, who checked the patients out after treatment, and asked her to page Dr. Ziegler so he could give the young mother a prescription for an antibiotic. He retreated back to the faculty room the long way so he wouldn’t have to see Shonda Jones again. He collapsed into a chair in the small room and took a breather. He had a patient in another room, waiting to be discharged after having a tooth extracted, but she could wait another minute or two. He had to collect his sanity. His original plan had been to give Khalif an injection and, while he was getting numb, check on and dismiss the other patient. But rarely did his time-management plans run smoothly. Not here, where patient demands and behavior bordered on the inane.
It was too easy to get angry working at this place, Jamie mused as he allowed his tense muscles to completely deflate. It was not the first time this thought had passed through his head
during the past five months, and while he enjoyed the work, enjoyed helping people, part of him couldn’t wait to be done, get into private practice where cases like Khalif Jones were few and far between. When people thought of neglect, they thought of malnourished, dirty children dressed in rags. Children covered in sores, coughing and riddled with disease. Too thin, almost skeletal. Children locked in cages and treated like animals—worse than animals, in many cases—by friends and family just looking for another welfare check. But here, in this clinic, Jamie had discovered a hidden face of neglect. Neglect was a mother not taking her child to the dentist until his or her teeth were so rotten that he or she was in pain from a massive infection. Neglect was a mother not bringing her child back for treatment, in many cases free, paid-for-by-the-taxpayers-treatment, after being warned that the child could lose teeth, both baby and permanent, simply because she couldn’t be bothered. Neglect was a mother refusing to pay for a root canal and cap to save her teenager’s tooth, a tooth which would have only needed a simple filling if the decay had been discovered a year ago, choosing to have the infected tooth extracted instead.
Neglect was a mother condemning her fifteen year old daughter to dentures because dentures had worked well enough for her
and her own mother.
Jamie took a deep breath. This wasn’t a private practice, catering to patients who could afford dentistry, which he knew could prove quite expensive (which was why preventative
care was so important). This was a clinic, subsidized by the state for the specific purpose of catering to a population that could not afford private dentistry. Some of the patients were self-pay, paying a reduced fee based on income, but the majority had Medicaid or one of the welfare insurance plans that paid dentists so little that no private practitioners could afford to participate. He knew that most of these parents didn’t want to be bad parents. Didn’t want to be neglectful. But when a single mother worked sixty hours a week to put food on the table and a roof over her children’s heads, oral hygiene was at the bottom of her priority list. When a father had a sixth grade education and functioned well enough with only eight teeth in his head, the importance of regular trips to the dentist for his kids didn’t always register. For many, unfortunately, it took a toothache to drag them, or their children, to the dentist. It was unfortunate, but that was life. But thankfully, clinics like this existed so that young dentists like he and his five fellow residents could treat the less fortunate when they finally chose to walk through the front door. Or, in the case of Khalif Jones, send them to someone else who could.
Perspective was everything sometimes.
“So how did it go?”
Jamie didn’t bother to look
up at the door. Dr. Zeigler (who liked to be called Dr. Z), the only staff doctor working that day (Dr. Shapiro, the man who actually ran the clinic, was on vacation in Buffalo for the holiday weekend), possessed a deep, jovial baritone that could not be confused with the voice of any of the assistants or other residents who worked at the clinic.
“I had to refer him to a pediatric dentist. The kid was already hysterical when he sat down, and his mother only made things worse.”
“The only thing you could do. I wrote the mom a prescription for antibiotics. Should help some.”
“Still, I feel bad that I couldn’t do anything for him. Number A was rotten to the gums.” Baby teeth were referred to by letters, adult teeth by numbers.
“It’s hard,” Dr. Z agreed, “but one of the most important lessons you learn when it comes to dentistry, as well as most other things in life, come to think of it, is knowing when you’re getting in over your head and stopping before you even start. Knowing your limitations as a person and a professional. There’s a reason why god created specialists.” He emitted a low noise that was cross between a grunt and a laugh at his own joke. “You can’t save the world, Dr. Whitman. But we do what we can and only what we feel comfortable doing.”
Jamie couldn’t help but to smile. He sighed and lifted his head and looked at Dr. Z. The big man always knew w
hat to say. Not only had he toiled away in private practice for twenty-five years, he had also served as the president of the American Dental Association for four years. The man was a practically a dental god who understood the profession from the practical, business, and legal angles. Jamie couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.
“Thanks,” Jamie said as he stood. He walked past the attending’s six foot two, two hundred and fifty pound frame towards the door. A true gentle giant Dr. Z was, always cradling a cup of water in his right hand, always willing to get his hands dirty for the sake of education. His hands were large, his fingers sausage thick and requiring
extra-large gloves, but the delicacy with which he manipulated dental instruments inside even the smallest mouth was awe-inspiring. Jamie wondered if he would ever be as skilled. He doubted it.