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Mr. Monk and the Termites
My name is Natalie Teeger. You’ve never heard of me, and that’s okay, because the fact is I’m nobody special. By that I mean I’m not famous. I haven’t done anything or accomplished something that you’d recognize me for. I’m just another anonymous shopper pushing her cart down the aisle at Wal-Mart.
Of course, I had bigger things planned for myself. When I was nine I dreamed of being one of Charlie’s Angels. It wasn’t because I wanted to fight crime or run around braless—I was looking forward to the day I’d fill out enough to wear one. Sadly, I’m still waiting. I admired the Angels because they were strong, independent, and had a sassy attitude. Most of all, I liked how those women took care of themselves.
In that way, I guess my dream came true, though not quite the way I expected. I’ve made a profession out of taking care of myself, my twelve-year-old daughter, Julie, and one other person: Adrian Monk.
You haven’t heard of me, but if you live in San Francisco and you watch the news or read the paper, you’ve probably heard of Monk, because he is famous. He’s a brilliant detective who solves murders that have baffled the police, which amazes me, since he is utterly incapable of handling the simplest aspects of day-to-day life. If that’s the price of genius, them I’m glad I’m not one.
Usually taking care of Monk is just a day job, but that changed the week termites were found in his apartment building. By Monk, of course. He spotted a pinprick-sized hole in a piece of siding and knew it was fresh. He knew because he keeps track of all the irregularities in the siding.
When I asked him why he does that, he looked at me quizzically and said, “Doesn’t everybody?”
That’s Monk for you.
Since Monk’s building was going to be tented and fumigated, his landlord told him he’d have to stay with friends or go to a hotel for a couple of days. That was a problem, because the only friends Monk has are Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer and Lt. Randy Disher of the San Francisco Police Department and me. But I’m not really his friend so much as I am his employee, and, considering how little he pays me to drive him around and run his errands, I’m barely that.
I went to Stottlemeyer first, since he used to be Monk’s partner on the force, and asked if he’d take him in. But Stottlemeyer said his wife would leave him if he brought Monk home. Stottlemeyer said he’d leave, too, if Monk showed up. I went to Disher next, but he lives in a one-bedroom apartment, so there wasn’t room for another person, though I have a feeling he would have found some room if it were me who needed a place to stay. Or any other woman under the age of thirty with a pulse.
So Monk and I started to look for a hotel. That wouldn’t be a big deal for most people, but Adrian Monk isn’t like most people. Look at how he dresses.
He wears his shirts buttoned up to the neck. They have to be 100 percent cotton, off-white, with exactly eight buttons, a size-sixteen neck and a thirty-two sleeve. All even numbers. Make a note of that; it’s important.
His pants are pleated and cuffed, with eight belt loops (most pants have seven, so his have to be specially tailored), a thirty-four waist, and thirty-four length, but after the pantlegs are cuffed, the inseam is thirty-two. His shoes, all twelve identical pairs, are brown and a size ten. More even numbers. It’s no accident or coincidence. This stuff really matters to him.
He’s obviously got an obsessive-compulsive disorder of some kind. I don’t know exactly what kind because I’m not a nurse, like his previous assistant, Sharona, who left him abruptly to remarry her ex-husband (who, I hear, wasn’t such a great guy, but after working with Monk for a short time, I understand why that wouldn’t really matter. If I had an ex-husband I could return to, I would).
I have no professional qualifications whatsoever. My last job before this one was bartending, but I’ve also worked as a waitress, yoga instructor, housesitter, and blackjack dealer, among other things. But I know from talking to Stottlemeyer that Monk wasn’t always so bad. Monk’s condition became a lot worse after his wife was murdered a few years ago.
I can truly sympathize with that. My husband, Mitch, a fighter pilot, was killed in Kosovo, and I went kind of nuts for a long time myself. Not Monk nuts, of course—normal nuts.
Maybe that’s why Monk and I get along better than anybody (particularly me) ever thought we would. Sure, he irritates me, but I know a lot of his peculiarities come from a deep and unrelenting heartbreak that nobody, and I mean nobody, should ever have to go through.
So I cut him a lot of slack, but even I have my limits.
Which brings me back to finding a hotel room for Monk. To begin with, we could look only at four-star hotels, because four is an even number, and a place with only two stars couldn’t possibly meet Monk’s standard of cleanliness. He wouldn’t put his dog in a two-star hotel—if he had a dog, which he doesn’t, and never would, because dogs are animals who lick themselves and drink out of toilets.
The first place we went to on that rainy Friday was the Belmont in Union Square, one of the finest hotels in San Francisco.
Monk insisted on visiting every vacant room the grand old Belmont had before deciding which one to occupy. He looked only at even-numbered rooms on even-numbered floors, of course. Although the rooms were identically furnished and laid out the same way on every floor, he found something wrong with each one. For instance, one room didn’t feel symmetrical enough. Another room was too symmetrical. One had no symmetry at all.
All the bathrooms were decorated with some expensive floral wallpaper from Italy. But if the strips of wallpaper didn’t line up just right, if the flowers and their stems didn’t match up exactly on either side of the cut, Monk declared the room uninhabitable.
By the tenth room, the hotel manager was guzzling little bottles of vodka from the minibar, and I was tempted to join him. Monk was on his knees, examining the wallpaper under the bathroom counter, wallpaper that nobody would ever see unless they were on their knees under the bathroom counter, and pointing out “a critical mismatch,” and that’s when I cracked. I couldn’t take it anymore and I did something I never would have done if I hadn’t been under extreme emotional and mental duress.
I told Monk he could stay with us.
I said it just to end my immediate suffering, not realizing in that instant of profound weakness the full, horrific ramifications of my actions. But before I could take it back, Monk immediately accepted my invitation, and the hotel manager nearly kissed me in gratitude.
“But I don’t want to hear any complaints about how my house is arranged or how dirty you think it is or how many ‘critical mismatches’ there are,” I said to Monk as we started down the stairs to the lobby.
“I’m sure it’s perfect,” Monk said.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Mr. Monk. You’re starting already.”
He looked at me blankly. “All I said was that I’m sure it’s perfect. Most people would take that as the sincere compliment it was meant to be.”
“But most people don’t mean ‘perfect’ when they say ‘perfect.’”
“Of course they do,” Monk said.
“No, they mean pleasant, or nice, or comfortable. They don’t actually mean perfect in the sense that everything will be, well, perfect. You do.”
“Give me some credit.” Monk shook his head.
I gaped at him in disbelief.
“You wouldn’t stay in that hotel room we just saw because the floral pattern of the wallpaper didn’t match under the sink.”
“That’s different,” he said. “That was a safety issue.”
“How could that possibly be a safety issue?” I said.
“It reveals shoddy craftsmanship. If they were that haphazard with wallpaper, imagine what the rest of the construction work was like,” Monk said. “I bet a mild earthquake is all it would take to bring this entire building down.”
“The building is going to fall because the wallpaper doesn’t match up?”
“This place should be condemned.”
We reached the lobby and Monk stood still.
“What?” I said.
“We should warn the others,” Monk said.
“What others?” I asked.
“The hotel guests,” Monk said. “They should be informed of the situation.”
“That the wallpaper doesn’t match,” I said.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “I’ll call them later.”
I didn’t bother arguing with him. Frankly I was just relieved to get out of the hotel without stumbling over a dead body. I know that sounds ridiculous, but when you’re with Adrian Monk, corpses have a way of turning up all over the place. But, as I would soon find out, it was only a temporary reprieve.
• * *
Monk lived in a Deco-style apartment building on Pine, a twilight zone of affordability that straddled the northernmost edge of the Western District, with its upper-middle-class families, and the southwest corner of Pacific Heights, with its old money, elaborately ornate Victorians and lush gardens high above the city.
On this sunny Saturday morning, Monk was waiting for me on the rain-slicked sidewalk, watching the uniformed nannies from Pacific Heights and Juicy Coutured housewives from the Western District pushing babies in Peg Perego strollers up and down the hill to Alta Plaza park and its views of the marina, the bay, and the Golden Gate.
Monk stood with two large, identical suitcases, one on either side of him, a forlorn expression on his face. He wore his brown, four-button overcoat, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets, which made him seem smaller somehow.
There was something touching about the way he looked, like a sad, lonely kid going off to camp for the first time. I wanted to hug him, but fortunately for both of us, the feeling passed quickly.
Parking is impossible on a weekend in that neighborhood, so I double-parked in front of his building, which was so streamlined that it looked more aerodynamic than my car.
I got out and gestured toward his two suitcases. “You’re only staying for a few days, Mr. Monk.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I packed light.”
I opened the back of my Cherokee and then reached for one of his suitcases. I nearly dislocated my shoulder. “What do you have in here, gold bricks?”
“Eight pairs of shoes,” he said.
“You brought enough shoes to wear one pair a day for over a week.”
“I’m roughing it,” Monk said.
“That can’t be all you have in here.” I wrestled his suitcase into the back of my car. “It’s too heavy.”
“I’ve also packed fourteen pairs of socks, fourteen shirts, fourteen pairs of pants, fourteen—“
“Fourteen?” I asked. “Why fourteen?”
“I know it’s playing close to the edge, but that’s who I am. A man who lives on the edge. It’s exciting,” Monk said. “Do you think I packed enough clothes?”
“You have plenty,” I said.
“Maybe I should get more.”
“You’re fine,” I said.
“Maybe just two more pairs.”
“Everything,” he said.
“I thought you were a man who lives on the edge,” I said.
“What if the edge moves?”
“It won’t,” I said.
“If you say so,” Monk said. “But if it does, we’ll rue this day.”
I was ruing it already. And I wasn’t even sure what “ruing” meant.
Monk stood there, his other suitcase beside him. I motioned to it.
“Aren’t you going to stick that in the car, Mr. Monk, or were you planning to leave it here?”
“You’re saying you want me to put the suitcase in your car?”
“You thought I was going to do it for you?”
“It’s your car,” he said.
He shrugged. “I thought you had a system.”
“My system is that you put your own stuff in my car.”
“But you took one of my suitcases and loaded it in the car,” he said.
“I was being polite,” I said. “I wasn’t indicating a preference for loading the car myself.”
“That’s good to know.” Monk picked up his suitcase and slid it in beside the other one. “I was respecting your space.”
I think he was just being lazy, but you never know for sure with Monk. Even if he were, I wouldn’t call him on it, because he’s my boss and I want to keep my job. Besides, it gave me the opening I was waiting for to address a touchy subject.
“Of course you were, Mr. Monk, and that’s really great. I appreciate that, because Julie and I have our own way of doing things that’s not exactly the same as yours.”
Oh, my God, I thought. Where to begin? “Well, for one thing, we don’t boil our toothbrushes each day after we use them.”
His eyes went wide. “That’s so wrong.”
“We don’t use a fresh towel every time we dry our hands.”
“Didn’t anyone teach you personal hygiene?”
“The point is, Mr. Monk, I hope that while you stay with us you’ll be able to respect our differences and accept us for who we are.”
“Hippies,” he said.
There was a word I hadn’t heard in decades and that certainly never applied to me. I let it pass.
“All I want is for the three of us to get along,” I said.
“You don’t smoke pot, do you?”
“No, of course not. What kind of person do you think I am? Wait—don’t answer that. What I’m trying to say, Mr. Monk, is that in my house, I’m the boss.”
“As long as I don’t have to smoke any weed.”
“You don’t,” I said.
And with that, he got into my car and buckled his seat belt.