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Authors: Lee Goldberg

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BOOK: Mr. Monk is a Mess
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“Not much more than you do,” Ambrose said.

What we knew was that she’d been in prison for something, that she’d killed someone, and that she’d ended up in St. Louis. An investigative journalist named Dub Clemens, who was dying of lung cancer, hired her as his assistant to help him with what he knew would be his last story. Together, they set out in a motor home, chasing clues left across the country by a serial killer. That’s how we met her. And when Clemens died, Yuki came to work for Ambrose and they fell in love.

“How can you love someone you know so little about?” Monk asked.

“It’s not her past that I fell in love with,” Ambrose replied. “It’s who she is today and who we are together.”

“Do you have a photograph of her?” I asked.

He shook his head sadly. “It was a huge mistake. I just never imagined her leaving. But I’m going to take hundreds of pictures of her as soon as she gets back.”

“Do you have anything that might have her fingerprints on it?”

“What for?” he asked.

“There’s a possibility that Yuki Nakamura may not be her real name,” I said. “If she has a criminal record, her fingerprints will give us whatever is on her in the system.”

“Are you listening to what she’s saying, Ambrose?” Monk asked. “Think about it. Is the woman Natalie just described someone you really want back in your life?”

Ambrose ignored him. “Good idea, Natalie. Let me see what I can find.”

He went upstairs. As soon as Ambrose was out of earshot, Monk glared at me.

“Why are you encouraging him? It’s obvious what happened. She couldn’t stand being a prisoner in this house for another second and fled.”

“You don’t know that,” I said.

“It’s a certainty.” Monk paced in front of me. “She couldn’t have done this at a worse time for me. I can’t tell Ambrose that I’m leaving right after she’s left him. His mental health is shaky as it is.”

“So that’s why you’re so upset. It’s pure selfishness. Well, now you have a great motivation to find her, don’t you?”

“Not if it’s just so she can tell us that she’s finished with him,” Monk said.

“Then you better hope it really is true love and that she’s in trouble.”

“So I’m screwed no matter what happens,” Monk said. “I see that my life has finally returned to normal.”

Ambrose came downstairs with a book in a plastic bag. It was an owner’s manual for a 386 desktop computer.

“One of my early classics,” Ambrose said, handing the bag to me. “She’s been reading one chapter each night before bed. It’s been a revelation. I had no idea when I wrote it that I was writing erotica.”

Monk did a full-body cringe. I ignored him and looked at Ambrose.

“Please don’t worry,” I said. “Mr. Monk won’t rest, and neither will I, until we find Yuki.”

“I know that you won’t.” Ambrose looked at Monk. “Regardless of what some of you may think of her.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Mr. Monk Goes to the Store

W
e went from Ambrose’s house to Beach’s grocery store, which was where Yuki was going when she disappeared. It was located in a small shopping center a few blocks away and across the street from U-Store-It, where the motor home was supposed to be parked in storage.

As we drove by U-Store-It, I could see that the motor home was there, smack in the middle of a lot crammed with other RVs, boats, trailers, and large trucks. There were also rows of storage units with corrugated-metal roll-up doors painted bright orange.

“Someone should notify the owner of the storage facility to correct their sign,” Monk said. “It was obviously written by someone who is illiterate. Even a preschooler knows how to spell
you.”

“It’s shorthand,” I said.

“We should leave a note, or better yet, a correction,” Monk said. “It’s a blight on the entire town.”

“We have other priorities,” I said, and steered our car into the shopping center parking lot.

“If this was Summit, I would ticket him.”

“There’s no law on the books that says words on signs have to be spelled correctly.”

“The law of gravity isn’t on the books,” Monk said. “But we are expected to follow it anyway.”

“We don’t have the choice.”

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s the same thing.”

I might have argued with his logic but I was distracted by a troubling sight. Yuki’s motorcycle was in one of the parking spaces and her tires were slashed. I pulled in beside it and stared at those tires, which struck me as a particularly ominous sign. I could just imagine the sharp knife that was used to cut the tires and imagine what damage the same weapon could cause to a human body.

Like Yuki’s.

But I was being overly and needlessly dramatic. There were no signs of blood on the motorcycle or the pavement, so I scolded myself for letting my imagination run wild.

Thinking such grim thoughts about Yuki, and only minutes into our investigation, wasn’t helpful. In fact, it was damaging. I needed to objectively analyze whatever I saw without adding drama that could color my perceptions and lead us down the wrong path.

“Why are we parking here?” Monk asked. “There are other spaces that are much closer and if you park beside that Chevrolet two spaces down, the cars on this side of the aisle will be in alphabetical order.”

“Because that’s Yuki’s motorcycle next to us,” I said. “And the tires are slashed.”

Monk looked over his shoulder at the next aisle. “In fact, if we could get the driver of that Acura to move his car into the first space on this side, that would be perfect.”

“I need you to focus, Mr. Monk. Yuki’s motorcycle being here changes things.”

“I don’t see how.”

“Because someone slashed her tires. If it happened while she was in the store, maybe she decided to walk back home and something happened to her on the way. On the other hand, she could have abandoned her bike here for some other reason and the tires were slashed afterward, which also raises some troubling questions. What do you think?”

Monk frowned and rubbed his chin. “I think the motorcycle needs to be taken away. It doesn’t belong in a row of cars. Motorcycles should have their own row.”

“Forget about organizing the vehicles in the parking lot and think about Yuki. That’s our mission right now.”

“That’s your mission,” Monk said.

“He’s your brother.”

“Who deserves better than some motorcycle mama. She probably walked out of the store, hitched a ride with the first biker that she saw, and rode off with him to his garage, where they are happily smoking marijuana joints, taking LSD, and listening to rock music way too loud.”

“When you took Ambrose on the road trip for his birthday, you did it because you wanted to open him up to the world so he could find happiness. You succeeded. It was on that trip that he met Yuki and she makes him happy, more so than he’s ever been. That’s the only thing about her that should matter to you.”

I got out of the car and slammed the door behind me. Sometimes Monk could be so extraordinarily childish, petty, and selfish that I wondered how I could have spent so many years devoted to making his life easier. He certainly didn’t try to make life easier for anyone else, not even the ones closest to him.

Perhaps it was time for me to rethink my life and my priorities.

Then again, maybe I already had.

Monk caught up to me. “When I was a kid, this store was called McCabe’s. Ambrose and I used to come here and play.”

I stopped outside the entrance to the store. “What did you play?”

“What every kid does. The Hunt for Expired Products,” Monk said. “We’d run up and down the aisle with shopping carts, seeing who could find the most expired items in a limited amount of time and bring them to the attention of the manager.”

“He must have appreciated that.”

“Mr. McCabe banned us from the store,” Monk said. “I resented it then, but now, with the benefit of maturity, I understand that he couldn’t have kids roughhousing and engaging in shenanigans in a place of business.”

“That must have been it,” I said and we went inside.

He stopped and looked around. “It’s hardly changed.”

“You haven’t been inside since you were a kid?”

“Of course not,” Monk said. “I was banned.”

We’d been to this same shopping center seven years earlier, on Halloween day, when Monk was called in to investigate the shooting of an armored car driver in the parking lot. But now that I thought about it, I remembered that he had stayed in the parking lot and never went inside the store.

“I think you’re safe,” I said. “It’s been decades and the store has changed hands since then. The ban has long since expired and been forgotten.”

I turned my back on Monk and approached the customer service desk, where a portly fellow with a mini-beard on his knobby chin stood organizing coupons. He was facing a mounted microphone on an adjustable arm.

“Excuse me, are you the manager?”

“Yes, I am,” he said, moving the microphone aside. “How may I help you, ma’am?”

I reached into my pocket, took out my badge, and flashed it, an action that continued to make me feel really good. “I’m Natalie Teeger. We’re detectives with the Summit, New Jersey, Police Department.”

“We?”

“Me and my partner.” I turned to gesture at Monk, but he was gone. I looked around and saw him racing out of sight down the frozen food aisle with a shopping cart. “Who is around here somewhere.”

“You’re a long way from home, Detective.”

“It’s a big case and a vital witness might have been in your store yesterday. Her name is Yuki Nakamura. She’s in her twenties, dark-haired, about—”

He interrupted me. “Yeah, I know her. She’s Ambrose Monk’s assistant. She was in here around four o’clock. We used to make deliveries to the Monk place two times a week until she came along. Really sweet young lady. She’s saving us a bundle in time and aggravation.”

“Did anything unusual happen when she was here?”

He shook his head. “Nope. She came in, got her stuff, and left.”

“What about afterward?”

“Mr. Monk called about fifty times looking for her, saying she didn’t come back, but like I told him, nobody knows where she went after she left the store. That guy is a strange one. He never leaves the house. Ever.”

“So I’ve heard,” I said.

“He’d pay us in exact change,” the manager said. “The cash was ironed and the coins were cleaned. I swear to God.”

“I believe you,” I said. “Do you have any surveillance cameras on the parking lot?”

“We’ve got one right above the entrance to the store,” he said. “It’s a wide-angle view.”

“Would it be possible to get the footage from yesterday afternoon?”

“I can do better than that.” He opened a drawer, pulled out a business card, and wrote something on the back. “All the cameras inside and outside the store record onto a DVR. The footage goes back thirty days. You can access it online and scan through whatever you like. Here’s the username and password but don’t spread it around.” He passed the card to me.

That’s when Monk charged up with a shopping cart filled with boxed, canned, and frozen goods. He was breathing hard and there was a smile on his face. “I haven’t lost my mojo.”

“I’m sorry, sir, this is the customer service desk,” the manager said. “You’ll have to pay for your items at one of the cash registers.”

“No one is buying these. They are all expired goods,” Monk said. “You need to dispose of them right away.”

The manager looked confused. “You came into my store just to look for expired food?”

“I feel like a kid again,” Monk said to me. “Still wild at heart. It’s nice to know some things never change.”

The manager glanced at me. “You know this guy?”

“My partner,” I said.

“You should be more vigilant about checking for expired food,” Monk said. “I should never have been able to gather so many items in so little time.”

“What are you?” the manager said. “The grocery police?”

I laughed and took the card off the counter before the manager could change his mind. “Thank you so much. You’ve been very helpful.”

I started to go, but Monk held back.

“We need to make an important announcement to your customers,” Monk said to the manager.

“No, we don’t,” I said.

But Monk was already reaching for the microphone and turning it on.

“Attention, shoppers. Would the owner of the brown Acura please move your car to the first open parking spot closest to the store? Thank you. For future reference, owners of Alfa Romeos, Audis, and Aston Martins may park in the first spot of any row if it is available. Otherwise, alphabetical order according to the make of your vehicle always applies. For instance, a Bentley or BMW may park in the next available spot, followed by a Chevrolet or Chrysler. And so forth and so on. This is true of our parking lot and any others that you may visit. Thank you for your attention and good citizenship.”

He clicked the mike off. The manager stared at him suspiciously.

“Are you any relation to Ambrose Monk?” he asked.

“Of course not,” I said, before Monk could answer. “Why would you think that? Thank you again for your help.”

I grabbed Monk by the arm and led him quickly out of the store before he could do more damage.

“Why did you lie to the manager about me and Ambrose?” he asked once we were outside.

“I didn’t want the manager to invalidate the password he gave me to view their surveillance footage or to ban you from the store forever.”

“Why would he do that?”

I knew Monk would never understand how irritating it was to the management for him to gather expired products or how outrageous it was to demand that people park their cars in alphabetical order according to their brands. So I came up with an explanation he could accept.

“Because he’s petty, vindictive, and small-minded. He’d want to get back at you, or worse, at Ambrose, for pointing out to him his intolerable mistakes and staggering incompetence.”

“Then you did the right thing,” Monk said. “Let’s hope he will now, too. Between poisoning his customers with expired food and letting his parking lot devolve into anarchy, it’s a wonder that store is still in business.”

“I’m sure he’ll remember this day as his epiphany,” I said and headed for the car.

* * *

As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on our way back into San Francisco, I called Ambrose, told him what little we knew, and had him arrange to have Yuki’s motorcycle towed back to his house for safekeeping.

The call drew a scowl from Monk, who felt that having the motorcycle at the house would “attract a bad element to the neighborhood.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Yuki Nakamura,” Monk said. “And her biker friends.”

“She lives there already,” I said. “And if she came back, it would make things a lot easier for us. We wouldn’t have to look for her anymore and you could tell Ambrose that you’re leaving, and dating a woman who sells crap, without feeling guilty.”

“I am not dating Ellen Morse,” Monk said.

“What would you call it?”

“Altruism,” Monk said. “I’m trying to save her.”

“From what?”

“Disease, death, and eternal damnation. I am perhaps the only person who can get her to quit her outrageous occupation before it’s too late.”

“She does what she does for the same reason you do what you do,” I said. “To maintain the natural balance. I was there when you told her that you understood that and that you would make an effort to accept it.”

“I solve murders. That’s very different from peddling poo-poo.”

“Murders are violent, bloody, unpleasant, and frequently very gory. How is a mutilated, decomposing corpse any less disgusting than dung?”

“Corpses don’t come from anyone’s behind.”

“That’s it? That’s what makes poop more disgusting and dangerous than murder, a crime so heinous that it merits the death penalty?”

“Not murder,” Monk said. “Corpses.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“We can’t put a stop to excrement, though it’s certainly something we all wish for, but we can stop murder. Excrement is a disgusting fact of life best left unseen, and properly and sanitarily disposed of, not put to use in products.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s repulsive, unsanitary, and forces us to see and think about something that should be unseen and disregarded.”

“But that’s just it, Mr. Monk. Poop is a fact of life. Hiding from it and not thinking about it doesn’t make it go away. That’s why Ellen is doing what she’s doing. She’s trying to make us accept that excrement is natural and recognize it as a potential resource.”

“And that’s the insanity that I am trying to save her from,” Monk said. “The same way you’d try to talk a suicidal person off the roof of a building.”

“You don’t see the balance that she’s trying to achieve? You told her that you did. Were you lying to her?”

“No, I wasn’t. I see it,” Monk said and then cringed. “But I wish I didn’t.”

“Then why not accept it?”

“Because if she’d just change that one thing about herself, she’d be a very exceptional woman.”

BOOK: Mr. Monk is a Mess
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