Terri Christopher, RDH, hurried through the back door of her private practice, visibly upset.
“It shouldn’t be this hard just to get to work!” She flung her purse on the chair as the morning huddle dispersed. “Sorry I’m late.”
“No problem,” Pat, the assistant smiled coyly. “We have a surprise for you! Your 8:00 patient!”
Pat handed Terri the day’s schedule, then left the room snickering.
Summer had come and East Hampton, Terri’s hometown, was overrun with tourists. The quaint little village on eastern Long Island had changed drastically since Terri was a child. Its two-lane streets weren’t built to accommodate such traffic. While the influx of vacationers posed a challenge to the locals, these seasonal “guests” were a welcome sight to every shop owner.
Terri checked her schedule and winced. Her first patient was Markus Winston, the son of Amelia Winston, a well-known businesswoman and CEO. Amelia was owner of a corporation and had all the charm of an ill-tempered bison. Markus, at 25, served as the “hatchet man” in the family-run business. His unpleasant duties seemed to suit him.
As usual, Markus was 10 minutes late without reason or excuse. He did have a lot to say, however, about the thermal burn on his hard palate and incisive papilla.
“Stupid girl brought me scalding coffee this morning! She won’t do that again,” he sneered, straightening the gold signet ring on his left hand. “You just can’t get good help these days!”
For a moment, Terri tried to imagine what it must be like working for this family in their mansion by the ocean. But chilling thoughts and caustic characters aside, Terri knew she had to focus on her patient’s oral health.
“Are you still using an electric toothbrush?” she asked as she finished his oral exam.
“That brainless wonder unplugged the charger when she vacuumed in the bathroom and left it that way. When I got back from Cancun, it was dead! I was so mad, I threw it and it shattered on the tiles. So no, I guess the girl is going to buy me a new one. It was her fault!”
Terri documented his comments and finished her work. She was very glad when Markus had left the building, but his unforgiving attitude tarnished the rest of her morning. Power corrupts, Terri mused.
A week passed. Terri came back from lunch one day to find a young, Hispanic girl in the reception room. She looked to be about 17 and was trying very hard to be brave. Her name was Maria, and her tear-streaked face revealed the pain she was feeling. Carol, the receptionist, asked Terri to take her back to the examining room. That’s where Terri’s poor memory of high school Spanish confirmed the “use it or lose it” rule.
“Where does it hurt?” Terri asked, gesturing toward her face.
Maria pointed to her lower left quadrant.
“Here,” she whispered, before she broke into sobs. She was scared and seemed to have a limited knowledge of the English language. The Hispanic man who had brought her in, José, had only said that they worked for Amelia Winston and that she would take care of the bill. He had said the girl had a toothache and that he had business in town. He would be back to get her later.
As Terri examined the area, she noticed bruising in the process of healing along her mandible. She found trauma on the buccal mucosa adjacent to the first molar area. Sloughing around Tooth No. 19 suggested aspirin burn, and the tooth looked to be abscessed.
“How did this happen?” Terri asked.
Maria dropped her eyes and shook her head, afraid to offer anything more.
Terri documented her clinical findings plus the patient’s demeanor and emotional state. Then she turned the chart over to Pat, who was preparing to take X-rays. Though Terri treated four more patients that afternoon, she couldn’t shake the thought of that young girl. Why wouldn’t she say more about what happened? Was she too scared? Could she even speak English? The doctor had just treated the girl and let her go. Maybe he really believed her trauma was accidental. Or maybe he didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Winstons. They were an intimidating lot. Terri knew there was much more to this incident than they were being told.
The next day on her lunch hour, Terri used the time to decide what to do with what she knew. Pulling out of the parking lot, she drove on Main Street past the masses of boutique shoppers and headed toward Town Pond. Terri was lost in thought as she cruised past the cedar-shingled windmills and Home Sweet Home, the boyhood residence of John Howard Payne. She looked down toward the South End Cemetery. Its occupants were about as forthcoming as Maria had been yesterday.
Terri hadn’t slept well. She realized she’d have no peace until she told someone. Then she remembered an ad she had heard for Childhelp USA. This national, nonprofit organization used the 24-hour hotline number 1-800-4-A-CHILD. It directed the caller to a local agency to report child abuse. Terri promised herself she would call as soon as she got home. But what if that was too late? Terri circled the pond and headed back toward the office. Then, on impulse, she took a detour to the East Hampton Town Police Department on Cedar Street.
The corpulent officer behind the desk looked up as she stepped in.
“Sergeant McCrary at your service, Ma’am.”
“Hi,” Terri said hastily, “is Gary Shepherd in today?”
McCrary took one look at her uniform and laughed.
“What’s that scoundrel guilty of now? Possession with no intent to floss? Resisting a probe? Reckless endangerment with a toothbrush? Or maybe the tags have expired on his tongue scraper, eh?”
Then he grinned, gesturing at a doorway.
“He’s back there pushin’ a pencil. Too much paperwork! I’ll tell him you’re here. And your name is...?”
“Terri Christopher. We were high school classmates,” she smiled, amused by his quick wit.
Gary was glad to escape his papers. He beckoned Terri into his office. The door was ajar while she described her encounter with Markus Winston and then Maria.
“So basically, you’re accusing Markus of child abuse?” he asked cautiously.
“I don’t know what to think, Gary, but there’s something very wrong going on and Maria won’t talk. What can I do, knowing what I know? I can’t just ignore it,” Terri confessed.
“I can cruise that area and keep an eye open. But I need more proof than this before I can do anything. That’s a pretty heavy accusation, Terri.”
Checking her watch, Terri got up to leave.
“I know. Thanks, Gary, I feel better just telling you about it, knowing you’ll be watching.” After she left, Sergeant McCrary came out from behind the desk and stood in Gary’s doorway.
“I couldn’t help but overhear the name Winston. If I was you, I’d tread lightly. The last time anybody dared to tangle with the Winstons, there was hell to pay. Just take my advice and think about it before you do something you might regret.”
Gary knew the rich and influential had lots of sway in a small town. It would be better for his career to look the other way. But he saw Terri’s eyes as she spoke of the incident. She was seriously concerned. There might be something to this.
It was 8:45 p.m. when Gary cruised down Lily Pond Lane on the way to the Winstons’ mansion. He made one pass, then turned around and parked the car about one hundred feet from the house and turned off the lights. It was just starting to get dark. The mansion was lit up in its usual splendor. He rolled down his window. The fresh breeze carried the faint smell of seaweed and salt water. Gary sat there, watching, wondering if he had over-reacted. Sergeant McCrary would say that Gary, just by being there, was looking for trouble.
Just then, he found it. The service door to the mansion flew open and a small figure raced through the backyard toward the ocean, a larger one in pursuit. At the sound of frantic screams, Gary jumped out of the cruiser and gave chase across the manicured lawn while calling for backup. Trampling perennials in a shortcut to the back gate, he followed her voice toward the dunes.
“¡Alguien me ayuda! ¡Ayúdeme! ¡Plese!” Now closer to the ocean, the young girl’s cries for help became barely audible.
“¡El me matará!” she screamed, clearly afraid for her life.
As Gary approached, he could hardly make out the form of a man wrestling with a girl on the sand, striking her with his fists.
“¡Usted ingrato!” he shouted, as he landed one blow after another.
Gary pulled his revolver.
José, totally surprised, sprang up and started to run.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!”
José took four more steps, then broke his stride and got down on the ground as Gary barked orders at him. He was cuffed, informed of his rights, and bitterly complaining when Santos, Gary’s backup, arrived. Gary escorted José to the squad car while Santos called for medical assistance to take Maria to the clinic. She was shaking and bloody with fresh cuts and bruises. Santos was asking her questions in Spanish, and Maria seemed very relieved at finally being understood.
Later that evening, Gary found out that Maria had been promised a better life with medical and dental care when José talked to her and her parents in Mexico. She was to have a good job working for the Winstons and planned to send money back to her impoverished family. Amelia didn’t know where José had found Maria, nor did she want to know. José had been paid to provide the Winstons with an inexpensive maid, but Maria hated the sarcasm and verbal abuse she suffered daily and wanted to go home. She begged José to send her back, but he only responded angrily to her tears. Although she spoke little English, Maria had then threatened to tell the authorities about José’s smuggling of illegal aliens. That’s when José had totally lost it.
A few hours later, most of the paperwork had been processed and José was an unruly guest in the county jail. It was very late, but Gary picked up the phone and called Terri. She was still up, unable to sleep.
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“Good evening, this is the East Hampton Police Department. Is Mrs. Holmes in?”
Recognizing Gary’s voice, Terri laughed, “No, I’m sorry, she’s out on a case, can I take a message?”
“Yes, please tell her that her hunch panned out. The perpetrator has been apprehended and the victim is undergoing medical evaluation and treatment.”
“Oh my gosh, Gary! What happened?” Terri blurted.
“Well, we had a little excitement tonight. But it all boils down to this ... Maria is at Southampton Hospital and José is in lockup. Apart from assault and battery, he committed a felony and is being charged with transporting and assisting illegal aliens to obtain employment. The Winstons committed a misdemeanor by not checking Maria’s work authorization status. They said they trusted José to recruit authorized workers. Maria wants to go back to Mexico. I spoke with her with a little help from Santos. OK, a lot of help. But it’s too late for details now. How about lunch tomorrow and I’ll fill you in?”
“It a deal, assuming I’m not running late and you’re not out chasing bad guys. Say about 12:15?”
“Great, and if you bring me a package of unwaxed, mint-flavored floss, I’ll buy!”
“Wouldn’t that constitute bribing a police officer?” Terri quipped.
“I’m not sure ... have to look up the regs on that.”
The next morning, early birds to the prestigious art exhibit in town had taken all available parking spaces, including Terri’s. Dog-tired and late for the morning huddle, she found it already buzzing with talk of the Winstons. Pat had heard the report about the incident on her police scanner the night before.
The look on the doctor’s face told her he knew he had been too detached with Maria. He was painfully aware of having misread the situation. Ironically, the subject for the morning huddle was the upcoming seminar at Farmingdale State University on recognizing signs and symptoms of child abuse.
Terri smiled, wondering whether to tell them the rest of the story.
Just then, Carol came to the doorway. “Terri, you have a phone call. It’s Maria. Remember ...”
“Yes, I know who you mean. Thanks!” Terri hurried to the phone. “Maria? Are you OK?”
“Si. Gracias, Terri, para ayudarme. Thank you for helping me.”
The language barrier made the conversation short and to the point, but Terri envisioned a joyful Maria heading home. “You are very welcome, Maria.”
As Terri hung up the phone, she turned and smiled at Carol, who was pulling a chart for an early emergency patient.
“Carol, I’m sleeping well tonight.”
Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH, is a 1974 graduate of SUNY in Farmingdale, N.Y. She has been licensed in five states. Winner of the grand prize in a Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul writing contest for dental professionals, she has been a frequent contributor to RDH magazine since 1997. She can be reached at [email protected].Facts about .....
Section 274 felonies under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, INA 274A(a)(1)(A)
A person (including a group of persons, business, organization, or local government) commits a federal felony when she or he:
✖ assists an alien s/he should reasonably know is illegally in the U.S. or who lacks employment authorization, by transporting, sheltering, or assisting him or her to obtain employment, or
✖ encourages that alien to remain in the U.S. by referring him or her to an employer or by acting as employer or agent for an employer in any way ...
Penalties upon conviction include criminal fines, imprisonment, and forfeiture of vehicles and real property used to commit the crime. Anyone employing or contracting with an illegal alien without verifying his or her work authorization status is guilty of a misdemeanor. Aliens and employers violating immigration laws are subject to arrest, detention, and seizure of their vehicles or property. In addition, individuals or entities who engage in racketeering enterprises that commit (or conspire to commit) immigration-related felonies are subject to private civil suits for treble damages and injunctive relief.
If you suspect a child is being abused, please report it. Childhelp USA provides a national 24-hour hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, that guides you to the appropriate agency in your area. If you need to, you can remain anonymous.