Sweat collected in his goatee, and Monk could
feel the stuff gather along the rim of his collar. A heavyset
white guy sported out in lime green suspenders, the upper portion
of his shirt wet, munched on a pear in the corner. Near him, a
water fountain leaked coolant. There were only three people
sitting in the oppressive atmosphere of the lunch room. Everyone
else was outside eating on the lawn and at lunch tables.
"The police said I should forget it. My
husband was killed for $73, it happens every day, they said."
The room's humidity didn't bother Betty Patrick. She had more
important matters to contend with. "I don't want to forget
Monk shifted his gaze from her to the beefy man
in the corner then back. Betty's fellow worker seemed genuinely
immersed in the Super Bowl highlights edition of the Sports
Illustrated he was leafing through.
"I hate to sound like Larry Elder, Betty,
but you and I both know meaningless death can be too much of life
in South Central L.A."
A tiny smile eased the tension on her handsome
face. "I know." Her eyes fixed on him and they were like
twin pieces of hardened amber. There was a resolve mirrored in
them, and there was no letting it go.
"Marcus is coming home from work after an
overtime shift on Friday night," Monk began, hoping to show
her how hopeless it was by going over it again. "He stops at
a liquor store to get a six-pack and also buys three Lotto
"He leaves with his beer, rounds the corner
where his car is parked, and is shot. No witnesses, no apparent
motive other than a stick-up." He closed his steno pad.
Betty Patrick touched Monk's arm. "We were
married for eight years. Had no children because we were saving
our money to put something down on a house. Marcus and I had been
sweethearts since our junior year when I transferred to Locke
There was no pleading or wheedling in her voice.
Just the finality of a woman who wanted some reason in a chaotic
universe. The bell rang signaling an end to the half-hour lunch
the employees of Tycor Brake Company received each day. The young
widow rose but didn't leave as the man in the suspenders exited.
"I have over nine thousand in the bank.
I've got nothing to spend it on now, Ivan. I can pay you your rate
for whatever you can find.
"The police figure it's just one more young
black man in a never ending assembly line of them snuffed out in
the low level genocide we practice on one another daily. Solving
his murder is not a priority with the law, but it is with
A supervisor stuck his head in the room then
withdrew it at a withering look from Betty. She went on,
"Reverend Tompkins gave me your name, he's the pastor of
my...my mother-in-law's church. He did the service. He said you
were to be counted among the wheat, not the chaff."
Now it was Monk's turn to smile. "Okay,
Betty, I'll take a run at it." He got up and shook her hand.
"I'm not promising anything."
"I understand," she said gratefully.
He walked with her onto the shop floor toward
the work bench where she assembled truck calipers. "I'd like
to swing by your apartment around seven to go through your
husband's things and drop off a contract."
"Good, I'll see you then." She
returned to her duties and Monk got into his restored '64 Galaxie
parked on the lot. He left the industrial city of Vernon—population
some 10,000 by day and less than 300 actual residents at night—and
got to his office in Culver City in less than thirty minutes.
Sitting at his antique Colonial desk, he dialed
Wilshire Division and got his only cop friend, Detective
Lieutenant Marasco Seguin, on the line.
"Home deduction," Monk said.
"Hollywood Dick, what up?" Seguin
drawled in that unique inflection of his. A combination of East
Los vato and professor.
"Make a call for me to the Southwest
Division and put in a sterling recommendation to the cops handling
the Marcus Patrick killing. I'd like to know what they've found
out so far."
"Because I'm your fuckin' ace and gave you
a good tip which helped you break a murder case you took the
credit for a couple of weeks ago."
"Well hell if you're going to be that
way," Seguin laughed. "Hang by the phone for a bit, I'll
see what I can do."
The connection severed and Monk re-read the
notes he'd made at his meeting with Betty Patrick. The late Marcus
Patrick had worked at Academy Litho in Gardena as a computer film
separator. The man drank socially, not to excess, played poker now
and then with a group of friends, and fixed the leaky faucets
around the house. The couple lived in a duplex on Van Buren, and
used to get out to the movies or a club maybe once a month. Betty
Patrick knew he wasn't in debt to any gambler, and was positive
her husband hadn't been robbed by a prostitute as one of the cops
had suggested to her.
Monk looked at the next page in his note pad and
saw where he'd written that the liquor store was across the street
from a quickie motel. But it did seem that angle on the crime was
wrong. Prostitutes or their pimps had been known to rob a
customer, but usually when they were in a more compromising
Sitting and waiting, Monk puffed on a Jose Marti
torpedo and spun various theories around in his head. If you
discounted the obvious, that it was a common but tragic random
street crime, then it was planned. After all, the robber had taken
the wallet, but not the watch nor the gold band on Patrick's
finger. Of course the thief might have just been in a hurry.
Maybe Patrick was working with a printer who was
counterfeiting and got bumped off by his partner. Monk liked that
idea and wrote it down. Or maybe Patrick was having an affair. The
picture Betty gave him showed a sharp featured, muscular man.
Counting their time with each other in high school, they'd been
together nearly eleven years. Yeah, he could have gotten the itch.
Jealous boyfriend or the girlfriend herself shoots the
philandering husband and makes it look like a robbery.
Monk looked at the list of the late man's
friends. If he was fooling around, one of them was sure to know.
Man had to brag to his running buddies about gettin' some on the
side. Monk reflected on his own relationship with his long-time
girlfriend, Judge Jill Kodama. Before he could dwell on such
matters too long, the phone rang.
It was a detective named McClane assigned to the
Patrick murder. He was curt but answered Monk's questions. From
the cop Monk got nothing new except the names of the managers of
the New Experience Motel, and the owners of the liquor store.
McClane abruptly ended their call with the pat "If you dig up
anything, let me know."
The New Experience Motel was on south Hoover
near Vernon. It was a graffitied yellow and black cinder block low
slung wonder. Two women, one black, the other Latina, and both
dressed in outfits even Frederick's of Hollywood would find
risqué, traded jokes with each other in front of the joint. Monk
parked across the street in front of Diamond Star Liquors and went
inside the store.
"No man," Wilcox, the co-owner of the
establishment, said to him and the twenty on the counter.
"You didn't see or hear anything,
huh?" Monk asked.
Wilcox, an older black man in starched white
shirt and pressed khakis stared blank faced at Monk. "Look
here, I've been running this business for thirty-two years. Two
riots, several earthquakes, do-rag wearin' gangbangers and them
no-smilin' Koreans ain't put me out of business yet. And the
reason is because I don't worry myself in the affairs of my fellow
man." With that, he put his back to the money, Monk, and the
world, and continued setting his bottles in order.
Monk walked over to the motel. The two women
were gone, no doubt having acquired some five minute company. He
went to the closed-in booth with the word 'MANIGER' incorrectly
spelled out in press-on letters forming a crooked line across its
heavy glass. A curtain of dark material loomed behind the glass,
and a thin Indian woman appeared from around it.
She shoved a registration card and a stubby
pencil at Monk through the space at the bottom of the glass. Monk
put the twenty into the metal recess beneath the slot. "I'd
like to ask you some questions about the shooting that happened
across the street three weeks ago."
She considered the bill then said. "What
Monk added another twenty.
Her hand descended on the money like it was
manna. "All I heard that night was the shot, then a car
leaving in a hurry. Same as I told the cops." The forty was
"See what kind of car it was?"
"No, no, didn't see." She turned to go
back behind the curtain.
"You only heard one shot?"
"Yes, yes." She went away.
A door to a room opened, and Monk turned to see
the Latina who'd been out front stroll onto the courtyard. She was
young and pretty, but the cynical cast of one who plied her trade
in human loneliness was already distorting her features. She
walked past where he stood, her mini-skirt hiked high over one of
her hips. She gave Monk the eye as a middle-aged white man also
emerged from the room, then scurried off to his late model
"Did you see anything the night of the
shooting?" Monk asked the young woman, coming up alongside
her as she lolled on the corner of the Experience.
"You ain't no cop, you're too cute."
she said. Monk produced another twenty, holding the folded bill
tight between his thumb and his hand balled into a fist. "I
pay better than the cops."
"You mean the thing that went down 'bout a
month ago at the liquor store?" She tilted her head to
indicate the store across the street.
"That's right. Were you around that
"What if I was? There some kind of reward
Monk was inclined to lie, figuring she was just
stringing him along. If she did know anything, probably McClane
had already sweated her. Still. "If your information leads me
to the killer, it could mean something substantial for you."
She puckered her red lips and her baby browns
disappeared in slits. She seemed to be considering her answer when
the black hooker walked up.
"If she's arguing price with you, big man,
see about my rates for dates." The second one said, placing a
hand on Monk's arm and squeezing his triceps. "Goddamn, you
work that iron steady, huh?"
The Latina pulled her friend over and whispered
to her. Then she said, "You got a number, man?"
Monk gave her one of his cards. "Think
about it. There's more than a twenty in it for you if you produce
something of value." Yeah, a good citizen's award.
The black woman nodded at her friend.
In the evening Monk went through the few
artifacts representing the too-short life of Marcus Patrick. As he
did, he asked the widow more about his habits and hobbies and took
more notes. Afterward, he thanked her and went home.
His abode these days was a split-level
overlooking the reservoir in Silverlake. The mortgage had Kodama's
name on it, who was out of town at a conference until Sunday. The
fact the house wasn't his bothered him less and less, particularly
as they talked more and more about having children.
He dismissed fretting on the implications of
that as he constructed two smoked turkey sandwiches, added a side
of cole slaw, and a dark Becks for lubrication. Eating his meal,
Monk watched C-SPAN which replayed an address by Senator Jesse
Helms at a Heritage Foundation function. Helms was going on about
the connection his researchers had uncovered between homosexuality
and global warming.
Johnny Briggs nudged Howard Washington and
laughed heartily. "Shit, Marc wasn't no macker. That boy was
a square as a box of sugar cubes."
Washington drank more of the beer Monk had
bought the two of them for lunch at the 5C's seafood restaurant on
54th Street. "Damned if that ain't so, brah. Marc might smack
his lips at pussy same as all of us, but naw, he didn't dip his
skeeter where it didn't belong."
"Yeah, Briggs agreed, he wasn't no Cleavont."
The two laughed again then looked at each other.
Washington said, "Don't mistake our foolin' around for what
it ain't, Monk. We like to remember the good times with our
friend, not the fact that some cowardly motherfuckah shot him down
in the street."
"I understand. Who's Cleavont?" Monk
signaled for the waitress to bring two more beers.
Briggs' shoulders rose and fell. "Dude I
know. He and I used to work over at the Greyhound depot in Santa
Monica 'fore it closed. I invited him to a couple of our poker
games and he's always goin' on about what chick he's doing.'"
"All talk and no fact," Monk said.
"Oh, I've met some of his honeys,"
Briggs said. "I guess it's fair to say he did most of what he
said he did."
Monk talked more with the two, getting the names
of other men Patrick and the two had played poker with on
different occasions. Later, he called Briggs at his home and got
their phone numbers and addresses.
As afternoon lengthened, Monk met Cleavont
Derricks at his apartment off Stocker in the Crenshaw District.
He was large in the torso, slim in the hips. His
do was done in an semi-Jheri Kurl forming oily ringlets of his
dyed hair, and he wore too much cologne. Crow's feet were
beginning to form in the corners of his bright eyes, and Monk had
the impression as the years descended on him, they would not be
"No, Monk, I haven't got any idea who would
off Patrick." From a CD outfit on a bookshelf, Anita Baker's
voice soothed in the background. "I only talked with him at
"You two get to conversing about anything
An imp's grin creased Derricks' smooth face.
"Women and money, you know how it goes."
It went like that and over the next few days
Monk talked to all the men who'd been involved in the poker games
at Briggs' house. It was looking more like Betty Patrick would
never have an answer.
Then he got a call from Marcy, the Latina
"Can you meet me down at the Experience
tonight? room 4."
"Around seven." She hung up.
Monk knocked on the right door at the appointed
time. The Indian woman was behind her glass, a box from Kentucky
Fried Chicken at her elbow. She went back around her curtain
"Come on in, baby," she said sweetly,
and he stepped inside. Pain blossomed across the upper portion of
his back and he staggered forward. Gritting his teeth, Monk sank
to his knees as he dully heard the door slam shut.
A shadow contorted across the filthy shag carpet
and Monk got his body around in time to see the round end of
something plowing the air over his head. He got under the swing
but the batter adjusted and brought the wood down on his shoulder.
"Yeah, mutherfuckah," the man wielding
the timber said. "Think you can come around her flashing
money and my ho's not tell me?"
Monk blinked, compartmentalizing the pain as he
sized up his opponent. The pimp was dressed in a tailored sport
coat, open collar shirt, over-sized cotton shorts, no socks,
tasseled shoes and a derby atop his small head. He was hefting an
large wooden mallet like something Tom would chase Jerry with in
one of their cartoons. He was an escapee from a Master P video.
The man began another attack but Monk buried a
straight left into the other's stomach.
"Sheeit," he exhaled, doubling over.
Marcy, who'd been sitting on the edge of the
bed, launched her body and landed on Monk's back. "Get him,
Snow, get his money, baby."
Snow, darker than Monk, had his mouth agape like
a tunnel, the mutant mallet held slack in his gloved hand.
Monk worked to get to his feet, but Marcy was
punching him in the side. With her other hand she was yanking on
his ear. He gripped her leg and spun his body, crashing down on
top of her with force.
Marcy swore like a drill sergeant but Monk was
already in motion and rolled off as Snow struck again with his
weapon. The mallet smacked against Marcy's thigh with a mushy
"Fuck," she yelled.
"Shut up," Snow said, bringing the
mallet back into play. He arced it again at Monk's head who was
now back on his feet. But having anticipated such an action, Monk
snatched up the room's sole chair to block the weapon's descent.
He shoved with the chair, getting his two
hundred plus behind it. Snow's body cracked against the cheaply
made door in the confining room. The pimp's head dipped down. Monk
kicked him in the jaw. The derby flew off as the clean shaven head
Monk looked down at Marcy, who was rubbing her
"Big punk," she said in a little
"Sorry to spoil the surprise." Monk
stepped over a groggy Snow sitting on the floor and picked up the
mallet. Instinctively, the pimp covered his head with his arms.
Monk showed his teeth, and went out into the air
carrying the thing. Gathering himself in the courtyard, he heard a
familiar sound and looked across the street at the liquor store.
He saw something he hadn't before and smiled.
He hit him hard alongside his head with the
"Goddammit," the other man swore,
wheeling around at Monk. Recognition tempered his anger.
"What'd you do that for?"
Monk heard the wariness in the man's voice.
"You know why," he snarled.
The other man sagged against the side of his
van. "It's not like I meant to kill him." Workers filed
past the two.
"Bullshit," Monk said.
He looked at him, searching for relief but there
was none to give. "How'd you find out?"
"There're two Dumpsters rented by Diamond
Star Liquors and a shop next to them. Every other Friday at 7:15
or thereabouts the truck comes to empty them. The driver
remembered seeing your black and tan van that evening. The one I'd
seen you drive up in when I took you and Johnny to lunch."
Howard Washington's head did a little movement.
He looked way past where Monk was standing. "Nobody filled
out a summer dress like Jenny. Only she looked on marriage as
merely words on paper. She figured her beauty would make me so
desperate for her, I'd keep letting anything slide."
A meanness crept into his voice, and it was
clear Jenny stood before him in his mind. "One night I waited
up for her. We had a place outside of Galveston where I worked at
a boat yard. It wasn't much more than a fancy lean-to, but it was
clean and comfortable. For two at least. She came in, hadn't even
bothered to wash the smell of sex off of her."
Washington went on, "She was high and
passed out on the bed in her clothes. But I could see her panties
were missing. I cleaved her head in two with a claw hammer and
left her body on the edge of the interstate." The violence
drained from him and a purity calmed his face.
"Nobody suspected you?"
"No. She had a couple of boyfriends who got
the go-round but they were let go eventually. Sheriff figured some
other dude she'd picked up had done it." He rubbed his chest
like something burned inside of him. "She was part Seminole,
man. She was beautiful."
Monk took Washington over to Southwest Station
to make his statement to McClain. Pulling into a parking space on
the street, Monk asked him, "Why'd you kill Patrick?"
"It was one of the few times we played
poker at my crib. Afterwards, me and Marcus was the only ones
left. We're both got a buzz on and we get to talkin' about women,
you know how it gets."
"Sure," Monk said.
"I don't know how I got on to it, but he
was talking about how he couldn't cheat on his old lady even if
tempted by a stone fox. Said too it would kill him if Betty ever
did it to him." He snorted at the irony.
Two uniforms passed along the sidewalk, staring
at the two. No doubt assessing if they were wanted, Monk
"For some reason, I told him. I guess I
wanted some kind of understanding. Once I started, I couldn't
stop. I told him how I'd put up with Jenny's foolin' around until
I couldn't tolerate it any more." Washington wiped at his
eyes. "She clowned me, man, over and over. Wasn't trying to
be discrete about it, you know?"
They got out of the car. Washington's body
stiffened as he took in the police station. Monk got sharp, but
the other man compliantly marched forward.
"What did Patrick say when you told
"Nothing. I mean he kind of looked at me
then laughed. I tried to make it a joke and said I wished I'd
"But it wouldn't leave you alone?"
Monk wondered aloud. His hand was on the door handle.
The man plucked his lips with his fingers.
"What if he got to thinking I wasn't foolin'. What if he made
a call down to Galveston?"
Monk was pretty sure Patrick had rationalized
Washington's confession as a sick joke. Otherwise given how close
they were, his widow would have mentioned it. "So you
followed him from work that Friday night to kill him." They
went inside. Civilians and uniforms moved about in pre-ordained
"No, man, that's not how it was,"
"You had the gun on you," Monk said.
"I kept in the glove box. Everybody's
strapped in L.A. I'd worked myself up so bad over it I just had to
talk to him." He paused, gnawing on his lip and kneading his
knuckles. "The piece was in my hand without me thinking about
Yet he'd tried to make it look like a robbery,
but Monk would let a jury decide how premeditated Washington's
mind-set had been. The duo went to the front desk.
Washington worked his hands like he was molding
clay. "I always knew women would do me in."
Monk's mouth was too dry for words.
Washington stared ahead then said.
"Lowball. That was the last hand we played. Marc had a
natural wheel: ace, deuce, three, four, five. He won big that
Later, Monk drove to Betty Patrick's house. He
played a Muddy Waters cassette. "You're Gonna Miss Me"
finished as he pulled into her driveway.
Gary Phillips will have two hardbacks out this
fall: Only the Wicked, the fourth in the Ivan Monk PI
series, and High Hand, featuring Martha Chainey,
ex-showgirl and now courier for the corporate Vegas mob. He's also
finishing a novella about pit-bull fighting, to be released with
its own compilation soundtrack of Def Jam rap artists. And when
he's not writing, he may be walking his dog Mitzy as he smokes