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Monk and Natalie have finally settled into a new office routine, but the detectives soon have another problem to deal with: Captain Stottlemeyer’s new lieutenant, A. J. Thurman — a man of limited skills whom Monk finds insufferable.
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Hy Conrad was one of the original writers on the USA Network television series Monk and stayed with the series for all eight seasons, acting as coexecutive producer for the last two seasons and garnering three Edgar® Award nominations. In addition, Hy was head writer of the webisode series Little Monk and served as consulting producer and writer on the USA series White Collar. He is the author of hundreds of short stories, dozens of interactive mysteries, and ten books of solvable whodunits, sold around the world in fourteen languages. Hy's new series, Amy's Travel Mysteries, will debut in February 2015, with the publication of Toured to Death.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I have made a slow, sad discovery over the past few months. Brace yourself. You might not want to hear this: Office work is boring.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t a shock. But when you fantasize about being a private eye, when you work and plan and visualize yourself opening a real business with real clients walking through the door with exciting, life-and-death problems to solve . . . Well, let’s just say there are a lot of hours in the workday.
The red-and-black signage on the front window of our establishment reads MONK & TEEGER, CONSULTING DETECTIVES. I would be the Teeger. Natalie Teeger, single mom, ex-bartender, ex–blackjack dealer, ex-assistant to a brilliant and dysfunctional crime consultant. The Monk would be Adrian Monk, ex-cop and my ex-boss. We’re in this thing together now, trying to share our modest office space in a mini-mall without annoying each other to death.
Even though my name is listed second, I’m the official boss. I’m the one who took the time and effort to get my investigator’s license. But Monk is the one with the genius for solving any possible or impossible case—except his own case of OCD. You probably know all of this. Right? As I said, I’ve been bored and I’m starting to repeat myself.
Lately we’ve taken to splitting our hours, just to give each other a break. At first I was nervous about it. But Monk surprised me with his ability to open up the shop by himself and deal with the demands of a storefront and not scare away too many clients. He does have this habit of making mortal enemies with the other fine businesses facing onto our communal parking lot. But we’re working on that. Baby steps.
It was exactly one o’clock on a cloudy afternoon when I pulled my Subaru into an empty spot just as Monk and Luther Washington were coming out the door.
As long as I’m saying things you probably already know, I’ll mention Luther. He’s Monk’s driver. Not really a driver. But a year or so ago, Monk met Luther and bought his car service company. Luther stayed on to manage the business and give Monk a free ride whenever he needs one. I’m sure Monk could have avoided the expense of buying a company and simply paid for his rides. But that would have provided Luther with an exit strategy he doesn’t have now. Luther is financially forced to be Monk’s friend. And, except for a few hiccups along the way, I think it’s working.
It seemed to be working on that afternoon when I pulled up. The two of them were acting like a couple of schoolboys, scurrying around the side of the black Town Car. Luther held open the passenger door for Monk, then put on his cap and got behind the wheel. They were almost giggling.
“How was your morning?” I asked through the open window, trying to keep things professional. “Any exciting business I should be aware of?”
“Exciting,” Monk echoed, then seemed to change his mind. “Uh, no. Nothing exciting. We got an inquiry about a child custody case, which I turned down. The landlord came by with a plumber to check out that smell in the bathroom. They said it’s my imagination, but my imagination doesn’t smell like that. I’ll call them again in an hour. Oh, and the hippies next door are still making a racket. You don’t even have to press your ear to the wall to hear their antiestablishment music. It’s practically blaring.”
“Yeah,” said Luther with half a grin. “They’re really causing pain.”
Monk answered that with half a chortle. “Causing pain. Good one.”
Hmm. I wasn’t aware that Luther had even met the hippies. “Okay,” I said, stretching out the word. “What’s up with you two?”
“Nothing, boss,” said Monk, and he rolled up the window. “Go, go,” I could hear from behind the tinted glass as Luther scooted back out of the space.
I watched them drive off, make a right onto Divisadero, and blend in with the downtown traffic. Okay, I thought, heaving a deep sigh. Time to visit the hippies and apologize. For whatever.
The hippies, as Monk called them, owned Paisley Printing, the shop just to the right of ours as you face the parking lot. Peter and Wendy Gerber were probably still in their twenties, thin and scruffy. Back in the seventies, they might have been labeled hippies. Since then, other labels have come and gone to describe their look: granola, new age, sixties retro—or, to quote my father, old-school San Franciscans.
Peter and Wendy were sweet and good-natured, struggling to make ends meet in a business dominated by the likes of Kinko’s and Office Depot, not to mention the surge in desktop publishing. They certainly didn’t deserve to have Adrian Monk holding his nose every time he smelled a whiff of incense, or his pounding on the thin walls every time he heard the music of the old guitar that Peter plucked on during the spells between their printing jobs.
“Natalie,” Wendy called out warmly through the open door. At least she still considered us on speaking terms.
“Wendy. How is everything? I hope Adrian hasn’t been bothering you.”
“Adrian? What a sweet old soul he has. No, I haven’t seen him.” Wendy was a long-haired brunette, but with the kind of frizzy, flyaway hair you might expect on someone my age. She swept back a long strand. “I expected to see him pacing out front, you know, spooking away customers, only we don’t have any customers.”
“Natalie.” Peter was toward the back of the shop, looking up from a laptop. He sported a scruffy three-day growth that always looked the same. “I love it when Adrian pounds the wall. He can’t help but keep time, so it’s like I’ve got my own drum section. Freakin’ cool.”
“My bad. We did have a customer,” Wendy recalled. “Clyde. I forget his last name. African-American dude with a very centered aura.” She held up her hands as if holding the aura for me to examine. “Teeny tiny order but super weird. We wasted all morning getting it right.”
“Time is never a waste,” Peter corrected her. “It’s an artificial construct reflecting the circular flow of the universe. We’re all part of it, you know.”
“Don’t mind him.” Wendy laughed. “You can decide for yourself if it was a waste.” And with that, she led me behind the counter to the monitor on top of the main, white-laminate work space. “I guess it’s for a clinic or a medical supply business?” She phrased it as a question.
Wendy used her mouse to bring up the image of a poster. The letters were big, almost magenta on a multicolored background, in a kind of retro-forties font. There was no illustration to speak of, just four oddly spaced words filling the lower part of the sign, plus an arrow.
CAUSING YOU PAIN?
“I guess it’s a window ad,” I suggested. “For a hip replacement facility? You’re right. It is super weird. How big was the final product?”
“Clyde was very specific,” said Peter as he joined us at the worktable. “It had to be exactly two feet two inches by three feet seven and a half inches. He kept looking at a photo, but real James Bond secret-like. He kept fiddling with the color and spacing. It must have taken us an hour plus.”
“And after all that, he only wanted one copy,” said Wendy, shaking her frizz. “We kept telling him a dozen would be almost as cheap, but he said he only needed one. Matte finish on a self-adhesive plastic-peel backing. All-natural inks, too.”
“Did he pay cash?” I asked. I had a sinking feeling about this story. “Did he wait and take it with him?”
“Whoa,” said Peter. “Both of those. It’s like you’re tapping into his spirit.”
“Unfortunately, I think I am.” From the start there had been something familiar about the font and the colors—and, now that I thought about it, about the African-American man . . . and the phrase “causing pain,” which I’d run into more than once in the past few minutes. Just call me Sherlock.
“Natalie, where are you going?”
Peter and Wendy followed me out of the shop and to the right. I couldn’t stop them, not that I wanted to. If I was right, they deserved to see it.
And there it was, plastered on the stucco wall that separated Paisley Printing from the third shop in the row, the Farmers’ Natural Market, a pricey, overly quaint food store. Gracing the wall space—as recently as an hour ago—had been two side-by-side paintings, both done in an old-fashioned style, brightly colored and reminiscent of fruit crate labels. The first announced the presence of “Fresh Baked PIES” while the second celebrated the shop’s “Fair Trade COFFEES.”
“Freakish mystery solved,” I said.
At the moment, the coffee painting was completely obscured by Peter and Wendy’s newly printed hip ad. I had to hand it to Luther; it was a perfect fit. It covered the coffee ad perfectly. And the letters, with a nearly identical font, lined up with those of the pie painting next to it. “Not cool,” said Peter, staring at it and tugging at his stubble. “Who would do this?”
The “this” in question was the following:
CAUSING YOU PAIN?
The bold red arrow pointed directly to the Paisley Printing storefront. “Fresh baked hippies.” I moaned as I read.
“It was Adrian, wasn’t it?” said Wendy. “Why would he . . . I know he has his issues going on. But I thought he at least respected us.”
“It wasn’t Adrian,” I stammered. “I mean, it was. Obviously. But he doesn’t do practical jokes. Clyde, your African-American dude? His name is Luther and he’s Adrian’s friend. Luther must have been the force behind it.”
“It is kind of funny,” Peter admitted, getting over his initial shock. “We worked so hard making it just right. And the whole point was to prank us with our own work. Good job.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’ll go talk to the market people. I’m sure they can peel it off without harming the wall.”
“It’s totally harmless and peelable and biodegradable,” said Peter. “The dude paid extra to make sure.” He stretched to his full height, grabbed the top two corners and slowly pulled down the fake hip ad. It came off in one piece, and he just stood there, holding it, staring at it, his eyes drooping at the edges. “We like to take pride in our work, you know? Make the client happy.”
“I’m sure they were happy,” I said lamely.
A few minutes and several more apologies later, I was back in my office, at my desk, on the phone, doing my best to yell at Luther Washington. Or should I say Clyde?
“It was Mr. Monk’s idea,” he said smoothly, refusing to raise his voice in response. “I acted as the facilitator, you might say.”
“That is so not true. I know Adrian a lot better than you do. He would never even think of pulling a prank like that. He can be unthinking and self-centered and a dozen other things. But the man is not cruel.”
“Well, maybe I did go proactive,” Luther admitted. “But I had to do something to stop his whining about the hippies. I figured he needed to feel some control over the situation.”
“And hurting their feelings made him feel in control?”
“Hey, the poster was his brainstorm. He went through the whole morning smiling and focused and not worried about a thing.”
“I know. That’s how he gets when he’s in the middle of a case. But a case is a lot more productive than insulting a couple of sweet people we have to work next door to every day.”
“So we punked the hippies. Big deal.” Luther lowered his voice to a growl. “We all got our ways of dealing with Mr. Monk. You use your psychology and I use mine. It’s as simple as that.”
It wasn’t as simple as that. Being a caretaker for Monk is a delicate proposition. In the past I never had to worry about some stranger coming in and leading our little genius astray. For one thing, it takes a rare character to put up with him. For another, Monk has a moral compass of magnetized iron. He won’t even warn me about a lurking patrol car on a freeway when I’m going a few miles over the speed limit. “Yes, I saw him, but I’m not a radar detector,” he would say as the officer would be busy writing me a ticket on the side of the road. “That would have been cheating.”
But there are always gray areas, chinks in Monk’s armor. One of those chinks is his need for friendship. Luther is Monk’s employee and has a vested interest in at least pretending to be a friend. And Luther, I was discovering, had ways of working outside the box.
I don’t know which happened first—Luther hanging up on me or Daniela Grace walking through the door. Let’s say they happened at about the same time. “Daniela,” I said, putting down my phone and breaking into a big smile. “Good to see you.”
“Don’t get too excited, dear. I don’t come bearing a new case.”
Daniela is a senior partner in a white-shoe law firm, although with her, the preppy white oxfords had been replaced by black Manolo Blahnik heels. She was skirting the upper reaches of middle age, thin and stylish and reminiscent of my mother. It takes a village to keep these women looking so spectacular.
I tried to hide my disappointment. “You don’t have to have a case to come and visit. It’s always a pleasure. Do you want some tea?”
“No, thanks. Just a quick question.” She stood in the doorway as if expecting me to get up and go over to greet her—which I did, of course. “The last time I was here, I noticed that printing company next door. Have you ever availed yourself of their services?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.” I don’t know why I say half the things I do. “Just availed ourselves this morning. They did a project for Adrian.” I was telling the truth. And I suppose I was feeling a little guilty and sorry.
“Was Adrian happy with their work?”
“Happy?” I replied. “He was practically giddy.”
Despite the years of expertly injected Botox, Daniela managed to raise her eyebrows. “High praise indeed. My firm is putting together a series of IPO documents for one of our clients. All very hush-hush. We would do it in-house, but frankly our people get paid too much by the hour and don’t have the time. You say these printers do high-quality work? Are they reliable?”
“Very reliable and great quality. They did a color match on a sign that was incredible.”
“Good,” said Daniela. “Personal recommendations are always the best.” She took a step out the door and examined the hanging sign. “Paisley Printing.”
“They’re good people,” I insisted. “They won’t overcharge and they seem very careful and honest.”
“Done,” said Daniela, and made a right turn out the door without ever coming fully inside. “I’ll say you recommended them.”
“Please do,” I called out after her, then turned back to face my empty office.
At least someone was getting a job today.
It turns out we got a job, too. Peter and Wendy might have considered this the result of my good karma, but only if they ignored Monk and Luther’s bad karma.
Less than five minutes after Daniela went over to introduce herself, my phone rang. It was Captain Stottlemeyer with a consulting gig. We hadn’t had a police case in months, not since that infamous triple homicide in that warehouse on Stockton Street. I guess that’s the curse of specializing in weird, unsolved murders and living in a relatively safe city.
Once or twice during this dry spell we’d run into the captain. But neither of us had seen Lieutenant Amy Devlin in ages. She...
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Book Description Sterling Mystery Series, 2016. Library Binding. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111628998253
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