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Gary Phillips

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 it, Ivan."

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 tickets."

She nodded.

"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 High."

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 me."

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 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 situation.

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 shooting?"

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 snatched up.

"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 Thunderbird.

"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 night?"

"What if I was? There some kind of reward being offered?"

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. "Okay."

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 welcome.

"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 Johnny's."

"You two get to conversing about anything in particular?"

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 hooker.

"Can you meet me down at the Experience tonight? room 4."

"What time?"

"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 quickly.

"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 thud.

"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 snapped back.

Monk looked down at Marcy, who was rubbing her bruised thigh.

"Big punk," she said in a little girl's whine.

"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 folded newspaper.

"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."

Monk swallowed.

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 ruminated.

"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 him?"

"Nothing. I mean he kind of looked at me then laughed. I tried to make it a joke and said I wished I'd killed her."

"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 patterns.

"No, man, that's not how it was," Washington pleaded.

"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 it."

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 night."

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 maduro cigars


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