Authors: Lee Goldberg
Mr. Monk and Goldilocks
s soon as we stepped into the house, Monk held his hands out in front of him, as if feeling the heat from a campfire, and began moving around the living room like a skater, swaying and dipping and spinning. Stottlemeyer called it Monk Zen, but whatever it was, it seemed to be his method for identifying patterns and spotting things that were out of place.
“My family photos have been taken down,” I said, trying to be helpful. “It leads me to believe that the lady in the tub wanted to trick someone into thinking that she lived here.”
“That’s a good observation,” Stottlemeyer said.
Devlin rolled her eyes. “Positively brilliant. I’ll see you in the bathroom.”
She walked away from us. Neither the captain nor Monk seemed in a big hurry to get to the corpse. I’d rarely been with the captain when he first arrived at a crime scene, so I was studying him to pick up his method, which at the moment seemed to be keeping his eye on Monk.
“Was the front door locked when you got here?” Stottlemeyer asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “Dead bolt and all.”
But the question gave me a thought. I hurried into the kitchen.
“I don’t see any signs of a break-in, but this isn’t exactly Fort Knox,” Stottlemeyer said, trailing after me. “What are you looking for?”
Using a dish glove, I opened my junk drawer, which was filled with stuff like rubber bands, paper clips, loose keys, duct tape, screwdrivers, coupons, batteries, pliers, screws, stamps, nail clippers, and dozens of those L-shaped little hex wrenches from the assemble-it-yourself stuff I bought at IKEA.
“My spare house key,” I said. “It’s not here. She might have picked the lock or broken in to start with, but it looks like she may have used my keys to come and go after that.”
“Somebody did lock up after killing her,” Stottlemeyer said. “Whoever it was might have taken the key.”
“Looks like I’ll be changing the locks when this is all over,” I said.
Monk circled the kitchen, studying the table, the counters, and the dishes in the drainer.
“The dishes and utensils that were used indicate that there was only one person staying here,” Monk said. “Perhaps for two or three days.”
“So she invited someone here for dinner. Perhaps he even stayed for breakfast,” Stottlemeyer said. “And then he killed her.”
“But why was she in my home and not her own?” I asked. “And how did she know that I, or Julie, or a house sitter, wouldn’t walk in on her while she was here?”
“All very good questions,” Stottlemeyer said and glanced at Monk. “Got answers for them yet?”
“No, I don’t,” Monk said.
“It must be the jet lag,” Stottlemeyer said. “I think it’s time we got a look at Goldilocks.”
He headed down the hall. Monk and I followed, passing my bedroom, where Devlin was crouched on the floor, going through a Gucci purse that certainly wasn’t mine and that I hadn’t initially spotted when I was in there before.
Since the bathroom was small, Stottlemeyer remained in the hallway so as not to crowd the female CSI, who was bagging the razor, and Dr. Hetzer, who crouched beside the tub examining the dead woman.
“What can you tell us, Doc?” Stottlemeyer asked.
“It appears she bled out from the wounds to her neck and wrist, but I can’t be sure there aren’t other injuries until I’ve drained the water,” he said. “I won’t be able to determine the exact cause of death, or other contributory factors, until I get her on a table and open her up.”
“She looks pretty opened up to me already,” Stottlemeyer said.
“A straight razor will do that,” Hetzer said.
His comment made me take a second look at the razor, which was in a baggie in the CSI’s hand. I spoke to her.
“Could you please open the bottom drawer of the vanity?”
She looked at Captain Stottlemeyer for approval and he nodded. She opened the drawer, which was where I kept Mitch’s old shaving stuff. A key item was missing.
“That was my husband’s straight razor,” I said. “He liked to shave the old-fashioned way. I kept his shaving kit after he died.”
That wasn’t entirely the truth. I’d had them since he was deployed to Kosovo. It was what I did every time he was on a mission. It was my way of keeping his presence in the house. The shaving tools and the smell of the cream that still lingered on them reminded me of him.
But in those first agonizing months after he was shot down, leaving me a widowed mother with a small child, they took on added poignancy. I’d take out his shaving brush and run it along my tear-streaked cheeks. It was almost as if he were there, tenderly stroking my face, comforting me and assuring me that we’d get through his loss.
It was bad enough that someone had broken into my home, but for her to have been killed with Mitch’s razor felt like sacrilege.
“We’ll have to hold on to the razor for a while,” Stottlemeyer said.
“I know,” I replied.
Monk squeezed between us, leaned into the bathroom, and cocked his head so he could look at the dead woman.
“This wasn’t a murder,” Monk said. “It was a suicide.”
“Or a murder made to look like a suicide,” Stottlemeyer said.
Monk shook his head. “The razor is in her right hand. The depth and arc of the wound on her throat are consistent with a self-inflicted lesion.”
Dr. Hetzer squinted at the wound. “I’ve got to agree with Monk on that.”
“There also isn’t the blood splatter on the wall or splashed water on the floor that would indicate that a struggle took place,” Monk said.
“The killer could have cleaned it up,” Stottlemeyer said.
“And taken the blood- and water-soaked rags with him?” Monk said, turning to me. “Do you appear to be missing any towels?”
“Not in here,” I said. “But I’d have to take a look in my linen closet to be sure. I don’t own many towels, so it’ll only take me a minute to do an inventory.”
I went to the hall closet and checked the towels. They were all accounted for.
“This could all be staged,” Stottlemeyer said. “Maybe he killed her somewhere else and put her in the tub afterward.”
“But if he killed her elsewhere in the house, where’s the blood?” I said. “My carpets are clean.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Monk said. “Looking at them is probably what pushed her over the edge.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re saying that seeing my dirty carpets drove her to suicide?”
“It’s certainly occurred to me more than once,” Monk said. “Seeing those permanent stains can’t help but drive you to despair and force you to confront the futility of your own existence.”
“Slashing your throat is an awfully brutal way to kill yourself,” I said. “Why not take pills? Or slit both of your wrists?”
“Maybe she wanted to be absolutely sure she got the job done,” Stottlemeyer said. “Or maybe she wasn’t just depressed with her life, she actually hated herself, and those other ways were too gentle a way to go.”
“If that’s true,” I said, “what could she have done that made her feel so angry about who she was?”
“I know what you mean,” Monk said. “It’s not like she’s the one who stained the carpets.”
“That wasn’t what I was getting at,” I said.
Devlin stepped out of the bedroom, holding a wallet. “The victim is Michelle Keeling, age twenty-six, from Las Vegas, Nevada. Does that ring any bells?”
“Never heard of her,” I said. “And I certainly didn’t invite her to house-sit and kill herself in my bathroom.”
Stottlemeyer gestured to the purse. “Find anything else in her purse?”
“Come see for yourself,” Devlin said and led us back into my bedroom. She had the contents of the purse spread out on the bed, already placed in transparent evidence bags.
The first thing I noticed was that my spare house keys weren’t among the stuff in her purse. The second thing I noticed was a baggie full of jewelry.
“That’s my wedding ring,” I said, picking up the bag. “And the rest of my jewelry. She even took Mitch’s old watch and cuff links.”
“So she was a squatter and a thief,” Monk said.
“But not a very picky one,” I said. “This stuff is hardly worth stealing. Even if you melted my wedding ring down, it wouldn’t be worth more than a few hundred dollars. The only real value any of this has is sentimental.”
“How sentimental are you about this?” Devlin picked up a baggie containing a stack of crisp hundred-dollar bills that had to add up to a few thousand dollars.
“I work for Adrian Monk,” I said. “I don’t have that kind of money around the house. Or anywhere else.”
Monk gestured to the pillows. “Two people slept in this bed. You can see that from the pillows and the way the bottom sheet is wrinkled. Whoever the other person was suffers from acid reflux disease.”
“How can you tell?” Devlin asked.
“The pillows are stacked so that he could sleep with his upper body raised,” Monk said. “And there’s a Pepcid tablet on the floor between the bed and the nightstand. Natalie doesn’t take Pepcids.”
“This is true,” I said.
Devlin took a baggie and picked up the pill with it. “So we’re looking for a killer with heartburn.”
Stottlemeyer examined an evidence bag containing a few matchbooks from Keeling’s purse. “It appears that Michelle liked to visit the Belmont Hotel bar. She’d need all that cash just to buy a Diet Coke there.”
I knew the Belmont. Everyone did. It was built after the great San Francisco earthquake in the heart of Union Square and had become a local landmark. I glanced down at her clothes and, based on what they cost, and the money in her purse, she’d fit right in there.
“If she could afford these fancy clothes and had all that cash, why didn’t she just get a hotel room?” I asked. “What was she doing in my house?”
It was a rhetorical question. I wasn’t really expecting an answer and I didn’t get one.
Devlin held up a baggie that contained an unmarked bottle of little red pills. “I wonder what these are for.”
“The lab will figure it out,” Stottlemeyer said and glanced over at Monk, who was also examining some pills in a baggie, but those were sealed in a foil card with a calendar printed on it. “But I know what those pills are.”
“So do I,” Monk said, setting the birth control pills down and looking at me. “I was having a moment of déjà vu.”
Monk and I shared a look. We’d come full circle. I glanced at Stottlemeyer and he knew it, too.
Devlin shifted her gaze between the three of us.
“What am I missing?” she asked.
“Natalie killed an intruder in this house a few years back,” Stottlemeyer said. “It’s how we met her.”
The intruder attacked me, we struggled, and I killed him on the living room couch with a pair of scissors. The captain brought Monk in to help investigate why the guy broke into my house.
The next day Monk came back to the house, went through my stuff, stumbled upon my birth control pills, and managed to embarrass me in front of my daughter.
Monk eventually figured out what the intruder was after and solved a thorny mystery, too. When it was all over, he hired me as his assistant.
And now my house had been broken into again, there was another dead body and another package of birth control pills.
Only this time I wasn’t the killer, the birth control pills weren’t mine, and I wasn’t a frightened single mother working as a bartender.
Now I was one of the jaded cops, a woman who’d lost track of all the corpses that she’d seen and all the murderers that she’d looked in the eye.
I was an entirely different person.
I’d known that for a little while now, but I think it wasn’t until that precise moment that Monk and Stottlemeyer realized it, too.
It was a significant moment, one we absorbed in silence.
Devlin was left out of it and, judging by the look on her face, she didn’t like it much. To be fair, she ended up in that position a lot when the four of us got together. I could sympathize. I’d felt that way with Monk, Stottlemeyer, and Disher for months at first.
“You’ve both had a long day,” Stottlemeyer said. “You ought to go and let us handle this. I’ll give you a call in the morning and let you know what we’ve turned up.”
Now that he’d mentioned it, I was tired. The idea of going to sleep sounded good to me, but it wasn’t going to be in my own bed as I’d hoped, at least not tonight.
“Let me grab a change of clothes and we’ll be on our way.”
I made a move toward my closet but Devlin stepped in front of me.
“Sorry, I can’t let you do that,” Devlin said. “The whole house is a crime scene.”
“It’s a suicide,” I said.
“We don’t know what it is, or why Michelle Keeling was here, or what other evidence might be in the house,” Devlin said. “Until then, you can’t take anything out of here.”
I looked to Stottlemeyer for support, but he sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m afraid she’s right, Natalie. You must have some clean clothes in your luggage you can use for a day or two.”
“I didn’t bring any suitcases back with me.”
It took Stottlemeyer a moment, but then he got the implications and nodded to himself. “Because you weren’t coming back to San Francisco to stay. You came here to pack. You’ve decided to keep working as cops in Summit.”
Monk lowered his head with guilt. “I’m sorry, Leland.”
“What are you apologizing for, Monk? I’m happy for you,” Stottlemeyer said, forcing a smile. “Three of my favorite people are going to be working together doing jobs that they love. I think that’s a great thing.”
“Thank you, Captain,” I said. “I wish it hadn’t come out this way. This wasn’t how we planned to tell you.”
The truth was, we didn’t have any plan at all.
The captain waved off my concern. “We’ve been friends too long to worry about that. Good news is good news.”
Maybe so. But if that was true, why did Monk and I feel so lousy about it?
Mr. Monk Cleans Up
stepped outside and called a crime scene cleaning company I knew and asked them to deal with my bathroom as soon as the police released the scene.
Monk waved his hands in front of me, interrupting my call. “Wait, wait. You should tell them to do your whole house.”
“But there’s only blood in the bathroom,” I said. “The rest of the house is uncontaminated.”
“You’re living in denial. Did you see those carpets?” Monk said. “How many more people have to die before you do something about it?”
I ignored Monk and finished my call with the crime scene cleaners. Thankfully, it was too dark for him to notice how dirty the exterior of my car was, or he might have suggested that I hire the crime scene cleaners to go over it, too.
When I got off the phone, he invited me to stay the night at his apartment.
I’d been sleeping on a couch for the last few weeks so I figured one more night on one wouldn’t kill me. Besides, it wasn’t like I had a lot of other options. He sweetened the deal by offering me whatever I needed from his vast supply of unopened toothbrushes, toothpaste, bars of soap, and shampoos to get myself cleaned up.
So I accepted his invitation but made a slight detour on the way to his place. There was a Marshalls at the corner of Fifth and Market and I knew I could pick up a cheap change of clothes there.
I parked in the red zone, stuck my SFPD crime scene permit on the dash, and ran inside before Monk could start lecturing me about breaking the law.
I’m not a picky shopper and I’m an easy size to fit. I went straight to the clearance racks and selected a pair of jeans, some T-shirts and a blouse, underwear, and socks. In less than ten minutes, I was out the door again with my purchases and I’d made only a small dent on my credit card. I got back in the car quite pleased with myself for being so swift and thrifty.
“You forgot to buy pajamas,” Monk said.
“I can sleep in my underwear,” I said.
“Not on my couch you can’t,” he said.
“Because I might want to sit on it again someday.”
“You think I’m that horribly filthy and disgusting?”
“No, of course not,” he said.
“I’m relieved to hear that.”
“I think everybody is,” he said.
“Fine. I’ll sleep in my clothes.”
“The clothes you wore on the plane, where you sat on a seat that thousands of other people have sat upon, sweated upon, and been airsick upon, and that you wore into your home, a palace of stained carpets and decomposing corpses?” Monk said. “Are we talking about those clothes?”
I sighed. Turned off the ignition and ran back into the store, found a tank top and a pair of sweats that could double as pajamas, and went back to the car.
“Satisfied?” I asked as I tossed the bag into the backseat.
He looked over his shoulder at the bag, then back at me. “Were they out of bathrobes?”
“And nun’s habits, too,” I said and drove off.
The closer we got to Monk’s apartment, the more tired I became and the more alert he got, which made sense. His tranquilizers had worn off entirely and he’d gotten plenty of sleep, while I’d been wide-awake for a long and stressful day of cross-country travel, confrontations, and corpses.
I was ready for bed. But as soon as Monk opened his front door and turned on the light he gasped in horror.
“Oh my God,” he said. “It’s a hellhole.”
I’d predicted his reaction but I hadn’t planned on being around to witness it. I’d forgotten that he hadn’t seen his apartment yet while he was wide-awake.
“I think you’re overreacting, Mr. Monk. Your apartment is perfectly, antiseptically, freakishly clean.”
“Compared to your house, of course it is. Then again, so is a public urinal,” he said, taking off his jacket and hanging it up in the closet. “It’s going to take us all night to clean this place, perhaps longer.”
“I’m too tired to clean.”
“You can’t sleep in this kind of filth.”
“I think I could,” I said.
“This is actually a blessing. Cleaning is exactly the therapy you need right now,” he said, carefully rolling up his sleeves. “You’ll thank me later.”
“No, I’ll see you later,” I said and turned back to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll figure out something,” I said and walked out.
I just didn’t have the energy or patience to get into a fight with him that I was sure to lose. Even if I avoided the argument and simply refused to help him scrub, vacuum, polish, dust, and disinfect an already perfectly clean apartment, which would be rude considering I was his houseguest, he’d make so much noise doing his work that it would be impossible for me to get any rest.
So I surrendered and fled.
I got in the car and started driving toward the Bay Bridge. My initial intention was to go to Berkeley and crash with my daughter and her roommates in their apartment.
But then I decided I didn’t really want to burden her with my problems, which might cause some awkwardness with her roommates. They probably wouldn’t understand how a dead woman could end up in my bathtub or why I was so blasé about it.
When you work with Adrian Monk, you get used to dead bodies turning up in places you’d never expect.
I also didn’t want to tell her about my new job, or that I was moving, under these circumstances.
So that left me wondering where to go next. I was considering that question when I reached the red light at the intersection of Pine and Van Ness and the new tower of the Belmont Hotel came into view.
was a relative term—the original hotel was built in the early 1900s and the tower was built in the 1970s.
But seeing the hotel aroused my inner Nancy Drew. As soon as the light turned green, I pulled into the red zone across the street and took out my iPhone to surf the Web for deals at the Belmont.
I found a special weekday rate for locals that was $199 a night, but that was still pricey for me. So I called the front desk and asked them what the local rate would be for their worst room with the worst view on the worst floor, figuring it would still be better than the best room at a mediocre hotel. They offered me a room on the fourth floor located by the elevator and the ice machine and overlooking an alley for $150 a night.
That was still steep for me, but it was a terrific rate for a legendary five-star hotel in the heart of San Francisco.
So I booked the room and drove right over to the Belmont, which was on Powell Street, directly across from the cable car stop at Union Square and next door to a bakery that had been making sourdough bread since the gold rush. You couldn’t get more San Francisco than that.
I dropped off my car with the valet, who distastefully regarded my Buick as if it were one of Ellen Morse’s poop products. I grabbed my bags from Marshalls, probably not a store logo they were used to seeing at the Belmont, and went inside the hotel.
The lobby was vast and ornate, with massive chandeliers, maritime-themed oil paintings, grand staircases, and a tuxedoed pianist playing tunes at a huge Steinway. You won’t find that at a Motel 6.
I checked in at the front desk, rattling off a ridiculous story about my house burning down. True, it was a fabrication, but it explained my bags from Marshalls and it got me some sympathy, a coupon for a free drink, and a complimentary toiletry kit to go with my room key. I thanked the clerk and headed for the elevators, stopping for a moment to glance up at the bar, which overlooked the lobby from the second-floor terrace.
As tired as I was, I couldn’t resist the idea of redeeming my coupon and doing a little detective work. It was, after all, why I was there, wasn’t it?
My theory about the room was correct. It was a lot nicer than what I would have found at a three-star hotel. The décor was classy, the room was almost as clean as Monk’s apartment, and the bed looked so warm and comfy that I felt myself rapidly losing my resolve to play detective.
So I tossed my bags on the bed and forced myself into the shower, where the water revived me, washing the travel and the crime scene off of my skin. I stayed under the pounding spray for what felt like hours, then dried off, brushed my teeth, and got into some of my fresh clothes from Marshalls. The ensemble wasn’t Gucci or Chanel, and cost far less than one night in the Belmont’s cheapest room, but I hoped nobody would notice in the dim lights of the bar.
* * *
I picked up my purse, my key, and my coupon and headed downstairs for my free drink and, I hoped, a lead or two on the dead woman in my bathtub.
The bar that I was working at when I met Monk was blue collar and unpretentious. It was a comfortable place to watch a game on TV, eat some stale pretzels, and get drunk. It catered to the lonely and the bored, the alcoholic and the desperately horny.
The Belmont’s cocktail lounge was white collar and elegant. The upscale and well-dressed clientele snacked on complimentary tapas and warm almonds and spent considerably more on their libations, but they were probably every bit as lonely and bored, alcoholic and horny.
A bar is a bar, after all, no matter how much you dress up the place or the customers.
I found an empty stool, took a handful of warm almonds, and glanced around the room. Most of the women were thin, expertly and expensively styled, and showing lots of cleavage. I felt matronly by comparison. In fact, I didn’t even feel like a member of the same species. I couldn’t look like those women if I tried.
The women were outnumbered by the men, most of whom were in suits and, I assumed, were business travelers staying at the hotel.
The bartender cleared his throat to draw my attention. He was in his fifties, with a touch of gray in his hair and eyes that looked like they’d seen it all.
“What would you like?” he asked.
I slid my coupon over to him like it was a hundred-dollar bill. “I’d like a glass of the house white wine, please.”
He nodded, took a wineglass from the shelf behind him, set it in front of me, then went off to get the bottle. He came back a moment later, filled the glass, and set the bottle aside.
In the short time it took him to get me my drink, I’d cleaned out the entire bowl of nuts. I hadn’t realized how ravenous I was.
He picked up the empty bowl and, from some magic place under the counter, replaced it with one that was already full of warm nuts.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Actually, yeah, maybe you can,” I said and took a sip of the wine. It was wonderful. “Wow, that’s really good. I’m looking for an old friend of mine, and I know this is her favorite bar, but she doesn’t seem to be around tonight. Maybe you know her.”
He shrugged. “What’s her name, Detective?”
I was stunned but I was also very, very flattered. “I look like a cop to you?”
“The only way you’d look more like a cop is if you were wearing a uniform and a badge.”
“Really?” I said, taking some more nuts. “What is it about me that’s so coply?”
“It’s an attitude, I suppose, a gaze that’s observant, judgmental, and a bit cynical.”
“I could say the same about you.”
“My cynicism is different from a cop’s,” he said. “It’s also your cheap clothes and the clumsy story you just told.”
“So you really think I’m a cop,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Most definitely.”
“I could kiss you,” I said. The comment surprised him and for some reason I took a lot of pleasure in that. “You’re the first person who has seen that quality in me and you’re a total stranger. In a silly way, it makes being a cop true for me in a way that my badge doesn’t.”
“Okay,” he said, a little uneasy now. I guess I wasn’t talking like any cop he’d ever met.
“What can you tell me about Michelle Keeling?” I had some more of my wine.
“I don’t know her,” he said.
“Redhead, lots of freckles, dresses like all the other women here.”
“I think I know who you mean. She’s in here a lot. She’s classy. The guys like her.”
“Any guys in particular?”
“Rich ones, usually.”
“There was the guy I saw her with the last time she was in here, about two or three nights ago,” he said. “He dressed almost as cheaply as you, wore a tie that went out of style during the Clinton administration, and smiled way too much, which I’d expect from someone in here who probably lives paycheck to paycheck in Walla Walla.”
“Home of the Washington sweet onion.”
“How do you know that’s where he was from?” I was down to half a glass of wine and another half bowl of nuts.
“Some salesman was at the bar, writing out a label for a FedEx package, contracts he wanted to send to an onion grower in Walla Walla. He didn’t know the zip code but this guy did.”
“So if she usually went for rich guys, what did Michelle see in him?”
“His wallet. Warren Buffett doesn’t look like a billionaire, but he is,” the bartender said. “This guy didn’t dress rich, but he drank Cristal like it was mineral water. So maybe he was incognito or just one of those rich guys who like to come across like a regular Joe.”
“Did she leave with him?”
“She always leaves with them,” the bartender said.
“Was she a hooker?”
“We don’t have hookers at the Belmont,” he said.
“Of course not,” I said.
He frowned at me and went off to tend to another customer, leaving me with some questions to ponder. I knew more about Michelle than I did before, assuming we were both talking about the same redhead. Still, knowing she was a hooker who picked up guys at the Belmont didn’t explain what she was doing in my house.
But I was too tired to do much thinking beyond that. I finished off my wine, and the almonds, and went back to my room.