This is one of a collection of stories that are like “Final Destination” meets “The Monkey’s Paw” (W. W. Jacobs, 1902). As such, they are tragedies more than either mysteries or horror, and would appeal most to readers who enjoy the inexorable pull of a story arc that leads to doom. In each story, a protagonist makes a wish that comes true with fatal results for someone, often the person making the wish. Nothing supernatural, but just how things work out. (Or is it?) The technical details surrounding the fatal (or near-fatal) event are drawn from real cases in the US OSHA incident report database or similar sources and are therefore entirely realistic, even if seemingly outlandish. The plots draw lightly from cultural beliefs around actions such as pointing at someone with a stick or knife, wishing in front of a mirror, or stepping on a crack.

Dr. Opal Otter had a strange hobby. It was a hobby that attracted the utmost interest of the police, FBI, and the US Marshals Service. It involved owning a well-outfitted but elderly green Range Rover and always packing hiking boots, dog treats, a spade, and towels. Her hobby also involved dead bodies—so many bodies, she had lost count.

Her everyday routine involved time playing serious games with her dog, Anubis, a big friendly Belgian Malinois. On weekends, she would often venture into the forests, trails, or fields with him and a map. For these outings, other members of her club would bury a small cloth dabbed with putrescene or cadaverine. Given only a map grid reference, it was her job to find the cloth. Being a cadaver dog handler meant lots of outdoor hiking, plentiful fresh air, and weekly meetups after an exercise to chat with other club members over a pub lunch and good cheer. It was easy during those times to joke and laugh and have fun and not mention the dour side of why they were so valued by their clients. Happily, not all their callouts were for locating murder victims and dead hikers; sometimes it was to help archeologists and historians map out ancient settlements and burial grounds. However, most of their work was either unobtrusively accompanying search and rescue teams or more openly helping to locate bodies of people who were no longer expected to be found alive.

Hiram hated his nephew. Pressured by his family into taking him on as a junior partner, Hiram was unable to do much in the way of due diligence or to refuse the deal. What he did find disturbed him, and it was soon obvious that there was little cultural fit between himself and Joshua. Where Hiram was a cautious, meticulous, and measured dentist, Josh took risks, often breezed over details, and was brashly extroverted. Hiram was also not enchanted with the balance in sweat equity. Where Hiram started work at seven sharp and took lunch and breaks between patients, Josh usually rolled in somewhere between eight and nine. Josh saw lunchtime as an opportunity to get out, be social, and go to swanky restaurants whose cuisine was a far cry from the whole wheat sandwiches and vegetables in Hiram’s lunch tin. Hiram grudgingly admitted to himself that Josh frequently worked later than himself but was not entirely sure what Josh did in that time.

On the one hand, Hiram found everything about Josh to be irritating, but he had to admit that Josh brought in a different set of patients, and they paid well. Where Hiram drew mostly a patient panel of middle- or lower-income individuals of all races and ages, and performed the gamut of cavities and extractions, Josh seemed to bring in a large number of middle-aged and elderly white women of ample means with a thirst for higher-priced services that included whitening, straightening, and a new service, “advanced whitening.” Hiram was not sure what that meant, or what it entailed, other than it brought in a lot of money and was mostly done on weekends or after hours. There were many small irritations about Josh that Hiram found frustrating; he often microwaved smelly foods or didn’t refill the coffee, he put his actual hands into the candy jar instead of using the tongs, and he talked too loudly on the many phone calls he received. There were more serious impediments, though; the practice use of nitrous oxide was way up, and Hiram was getting suspicious that Josh was using it recreationally.

Then there was the burglary, where some equipment and drugs were stolen. The insurance company audited the practice and made several recommendations, including the installation of security cameras, adding a lockable storage room, and placing panic buttons in several strategic places around the practice. It was up to Hiram to see to the details, since Josh seemed to have little interest in the administrative duties. Josh was initially interested in meeting with the insurance auditor when he heard it was a woman, but lost all interest when he saw that she was grey-haired, stocky, and wore sensible shoes. Hiram was soon up to his ears in motion detector, camera, and “cloud storage” options and specifications. He didn’t like administrative work any more than Josh; he just knew that it was inescapable and best tackled early. As a result, the practice soon had the simplest, cheapest, and most user-friendly security camera system that was available, but one with remarkably good images. Image quality was where things got very difficult.

Since Josh had kept himself out of the security discussions and deliberations, it fell to Hiram to make sure the system was working and to review the images. What Hiram saw that muggy Friday night before the Memorial Day long weekend was an education. In crystal-clear images, there was Josh giving clients little bags of a white substance, snorting lines of the contents with them, and huffing nitrous oxide. But that wasn’t the half of it. In lurid color and wet stereophonic sounds, Hiram stared speechless at a clip of Josh pounding away on Hiram’s dental chair. Hiram’s mouth dropped open, his head bobbing, his eyes fixed on her legs wrapped tightly around Josh’s naked and thrusting buttocks that … Hiram snapped out of the trance and hit the stop button. The obvious drug use was bad enough, but this desecration of his sterile workplace was intolerable, and he would not stand for it. Hiram phoned Josh, and in an unusually commanding voice, told him to get to the office immediately. While he waited, Hiram cleaned up around the SodaStream, where, as usual, the countertop was a sticky mess, and the steel CO2 bottle was empty.

When the practice reopened after the long weekend, Hiram gathered the staff and explained that due to irregularities and disagreements over professional boundaries, Josh had agreed to leave the practice immediately and was moving to another state, maybe Nevada or Alaska. Hiram emailed a short clip of the drug exchanges, coke snorting, and dental chair sex to his sister with a note that he had no further interest in helping her son. He also let it be known to the whole family that he didn’t want to hear another word about his nephew, and that as far as he was concerned, he would rather not hear from him or cast eyes on him ever again.

The staff had always held suspicions about how Josh maintained such expensive tastes in clothes and cars, and a few of the female staff nodded knowingly about the mention of “boundaries.” It would have been no surprise to them that there had been more to those afterhours appointments than dentistry. The immediate focus, though, was to reschedule appointments while Hiram found a locum to cover Josh’s patients. In the following days and weeks, the rumors had flown freely. Some held that Josh had got one of the patients pregnant and they had run away together. Another held that the expensively dressed woman that always wore Prada had been a mob wife, and Josh had high tailed it to escape a contract out on him by the husband. Yet another was that Josh was running from a drug lord who he had stiffed. By the time summer had gone, fall had flowed into winter, and spring had slid into summer again, the office gossip had returned to whether Hiram would ever get married, ever come out of a closet of some kind, or have anything more interesting than Knäckebrot and liverwurst spread for lunch.

It was a Saturday morning and Opal was hurriedly getting ready for a field training session with Anubis when she bit on something hard in her granola and broke a filling. There was no pain or sensitivity, but since the dentist was virtually on her way to the interstate, she decided to pop in and have it checked out. She was a little flustered by the time she got up to the reception desk. Apologizing profusely for the inconvenience and short notice, she explained her situation. It was already too hot out to leave Anubis in the car, and she apologized some more for having a big panting dog with her. The receptionist waved off the apologies as being entirely unnecessary and said that Anubis was very handsome in his official-looking bright green working vest.

Anubis seemed unsettled, though, and instead of sitting quietly, he kept trying to pace the perimeter of the waiting area. Opal was surprised at this but put it down to unfamiliar smells. Things got complicated when the assistant opened the door, though, because Anubis quit pacing and darted past the surprised assistant and pushed through the open door. Opal yelped at him, pausing briefly to apologize to the dumbfounded assistant. Anubis hurtled down the passageway and came to a sliding halt as he passed an open storeroom door. He quickly recovered, and with claws scrabbling on the polished floor, scampered into the storeroom. When Opal arrived at the door with the assistant and receptionist in her wake, Anubis was sitting rigidly in front of the west wall of the storeroom. He glanced quickly at Opal and barked twice.

Opal was very familiar with the way Anubis signaled an alert and what it implied. Her manner shifted from embarrassed apology to businesslike. She led Anubis back down the corridor and into the waiting room. She instructed him to sit facing the reception desk, rubbed his chest, and whispered “Search!” Anubis ran through the waiting room door, down the corridor, and directly to the same spot in the storeroom. He again sat facing the same spot and barked twice. That was more than enough for Opal, and she called her contact at the police. “Cheryl, sorry to be a bother, but I think Anubis has something for you.”

After the police removed the shelves and a section of the drywall, the remains of Josh were clearly visible. The pathologist was later able to find the skull fractures where repeated blows from a steel CO2 bottle had fragmented the bone and ended Josh’s irritating ways for good.