Word Count: Part 4: 2,500 words
Characters: Leland Stottlemeyer, Randy Disher, Adrian Monk, Natalie Teeger
Setting: During the Season 6 hiatus, after “Mr. Monk Stays Up All Night.” However, it’s spoiler-light, so anyone who is familiar with the later seasons should have no trouble!
Summary: The team investigates the puzzling murder of a welder. Oh, and Randy Disher has a date. A Stottlemeyer and Disher-focused tale. Gen.
Previously: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
“So, Mr. Monk, do you think she did it?” Randy asked in a low voice as the four of them -- Monk, Natalie, Disher and Stottlemeyer -- walked up the drive to the Nichols’ house. He was far too cheerful -- especially after the night he’d had. But something about getting close to a solution on a case always made the junior detective giddy.
Natalie frowned. “I don’t think she did. It’s bad enough that her husband is gone... and that was real grief, I know it.”
“I’m not sure, yet... there’s just one piece missing here...” Monk shifted his shoulders in agitation. “But guilty is guilty, Natalie.”
As they all reached the front steps, Stottlemeyer turned and shot them each a severe look that said, That’s enough from the peanut gallery -- we’re here.
He rang the doorbell, and a few minutes later, Sarah Nichols answered, a look of worry on her face. “Yes, Captain?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but some new evidence has surfaced in your husband’s murder case... may we come in?” Stottlemeyer had procured a warrant, just in case, but he preferred to use courtesy, especially in delicate cases such as this.
Her eyes widened, in fright or hope -- it was hard to tell -- and she stepped aside to let them in. “Certainly... anything that will help.” She gestured to her living room, indicating that they should sit. “Can I get you anything? I have a fresh pot of coffee. I’m not sure it’s enough, but I’m sure that I could get another one brewing...” Disher began to lean forward to accept, and Stottlemeyer lifted a hand to halt him.
“We don’t need anything, ma’am,” Stottlemeyer interrupted her with a serious tone. “In fact, why don’t you take a seat, Mrs. Nichols?”
“A--All right,” she acceded faintly, and sat beside Natalie, who tried to smile encouragingly.
“There’s no easy way to say this...” Stottlemeyer’s own relationship pain was still too fresh for him to give the news as cavalierly as he might have once done. He looked around at his colleagues, who were thankfully letting him take the lead here. “It seems your husband was probably having... an affair.”
All four of them watched the widow carefully for her reaction -- would it be shock? Anger? Hurt? Awareness? Her back stiffened for a moment, and then her posture slumped as she looked down at the floor suddenly. With an odd, detached voice, she told them, “I... I knew.”
Natalie gently grabbed the woman’s hand again; she had seemed to be comforted by it the other day. “Did he tell you?”
“No,” she answered in the same dull voice. “I only suspected. I never knew who she was...” Suddenly, she looked upward, not really seeming to focus on anyone or anything. “When he started acting so romantic again, I didn’t really care anymore. It only mattered that he had come back to me.” Tears began to glitter in her eyes again, and Natalie placed another tissue in her hand, which she didn’t seem to notice.
“Mrs. Nichols...” Mr. Monk asked from the side. “You say that you suspected. What made you suspect?”
She broke out of her trance at his question and finally wiped at her eyes. “Just little things. He’d go out at night with his buddies a little too often, stay late working one too many nights, he was really distant sometimes. I never had any proof, though.” She laughed humorlessly then. “None of the clichéd clues. No lipstick on the collar, no odd phone calls or receipts...”
At the word receipt, a niggling thought stuck Captain Stottlemeyer. “You said no receipts... when we were here before, we found a dry cleaning receipt.”
“Oh, that?” Sarah’s eyebrows drew down in confusion. “Bill’s always liked to look good. It’s one of the things that attracted me to him, you know? And especially since he had to wear protective gear all day long... he always told me that it was a nice change.”
Monk started to stand, a look of comprehension on his face. Without warning, he strode quickly toward the back of the house, just as Stottlemeyer was asking Mrs. Nichols, “So he’d been dressing well for your entire marriage?”
“Even before that, since we first met... where is he going?”
Natalie had chased after her employer the moment he took off, and Lieutenant Disher followed behind -- leaving Stottlemeyer and Mrs. Nichols alone. “That’s Adrian Monk for you, ma’am. And don’t worry...”
A shout from the back caused both of them to turn their heads toward the hallway. “I’ve solved the case!”
Stottlemeyer’s mouth curved up in a satisfied smile, and he placed a hand on her shoulder. “...it’s always a good thing.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it before...” Monk groaned, shaking his head. “Turn left here!” he pointed urgently over Stottlemeyer’s shoulder.
“I know where it is, Adrian.” Stottlemeyer hit the turn signal and continued to drive, unruffled as usual.
Natalie looked back and forth between the two men, frowning slightly. “I know I’m not the detective here, but did I miss something? One moment we’re in her closet, and the next, we’re rushing to the dry cleaners... Mind filling me in?”
“Okay, here’s how it happened.” Monk took a breath, seeming to drift into his own world as he talked. “Bill Nichols was working late, all alone... or so he thought. Someone was waiting for him -- waiting for him to use the bathroom. The tissue I found was wadded up toilet paper, not facial tissue.” Acting out the movements with his hands, he continued. “The killer poured something over Bill’s project. You know how the coroner’s report listed traces of tetrachloroethylene in Bill Nichols’ blood?”
Stottlemeyer nodded, making a right turn. Monk went on, “It’s like you said, that chemical isn’t uncommon in machine shops. It’s used in metal degreasing, and has a really strong smell -- like sweet almonds. It usually isn’t that dangerous, even when the fumes are inhaled regularly.”
By this time, Stottlemeyer was pulling over into a parking space near the dry cleaning shop. “When I examined the shelves of the machine shop, I noticed a warning label on one of the bottles of degreaser.” Monk called on his photographic memory, so useful in his line of work. “‘Do not use near high-heat flame. All traces should be cleaned from metal before welding.’ But Bill Nichols had a cold... he wouldn’t have been able to smell the chemical at his station until it was too late.”
Monk got out of the car, and began walking rapidly down the sidewalk. Natalie, Disher and Stottlemeyer rushed to keep up with the detective on a mission. Talking over his shoulder, he added, “Tetrachloroethylene produces phosgene gas when subjected to a high-heat flame. Exposure causes the victim to cough and choke, and leads to pulmonary edema.”
Natalie pressed her lips together for a second, an expression of I’m sorry I asked... written clearly on her face. “How do you even know this stuff?”
He stopped, a few yards from the shop entrance, and turned to face her. “Believe me, if it poisons our water, our food or our air...” He screwed up his face in revulsion. “I know about it.”
Disher cut in, “But that still doesn’t explain why we’re here.” He gestured to the shop sign.
“You know the other industry that uses tetrachloroethylene? Even more than metalworking?” Mr. Monk pushed open the doors to the shop with a quick movement, and the four of them spilled inside. “Dry cleaning.”
They all looked around for a moment, inhaling the air inside the shop, and a look of comprehension came to each of them, much like the one Monk had worn at the house earlier. Disher began, “I never noticed it before, but it...”
“...smells like...” Natalie continued.
“...almonds.” Stottlemeyer finished with a huff of air.
Holly came to the counter, then, a friendly smile on her face. “What can I help you folks with?” After a moment, she noticed Disher among them. “Oh, Lieutenant. You’re back! Do you have more questions?”
The captain stepped forward, pulling his badge out of his pocket. “Yes, miss, we do. We have reason to believe that someone who works at this establishment might be a murderer.”
Her eyes widened, and she brought a shaking hand to her mouth. “Bill? He really was murdered?”
Stottlemeyer nodded gravely. “You knew him, didn’t you? Much better than just a customer...?”
Holly took a step back. “Yes. I was afraid to say anything before...”
Monk came to stand on the other side of the captain. “You were having an affair with him, weren’t you?”
Her face heated, and she dropped her eyes. “We were... involved. But we broke up about a month ago.” She gasped suddenly and her head swung back and forth as she looked at each face in turn. “You don’t think I killed him do you?”
Monk took another step forward, and Holly backed into the plastic bags hanging from dry cleaning carousel. “Did you kill him?”
“No! I was hurt, but I would never--” She froze, then glanced behind her and squealed with fright. She jumped away from the carousel and almost into Captain Stottlemeyer’s arms.
Everyone turned in the direction of Holly’s glance. Coming from the back storage room was the other employee of the shop, decked out with a gas mask -- a bottle of solvent in one gloved hand and a metallic lighter in the other, the lit flame flickering above it. “Get out of here, Holly. I don’t want you to get hurt,” came the muffled voice.
“Anthony? What are you doing?”
At Anthony’s appearance, Disher swiftly ducked down on the other side of the counter -- whether it was fear or cunning, only he could have said -- but the four other people in front of him effectively blocked him from view.
Anthony ignored Holly’s question and directed his next statement at Stottlemeyer, Monk and Natalie. “Holly’s innocent. She’s the nicest girl I’ve ever known.” He turned his masked face toward her and added sadly, “Too nice.”
Stottlemeyer began to go for his gun, but Anthony’s voice rang out harshly. “Don’t! Unless you want to suffer the same fate as Bill Nichols...”
“Let’s not be hasty here...” the captain tried to reason.
“I warned you.” He tipped the bottle of fluid out at his feet, pouring it all over the floor. A strong almond smell filled the air, and everyone except the murderer winced, Monk covering his nose with his lapel. “Holly -- one last chance to run!”
“Anthony, please, don’t do this! If I knew how you felt...” Holly pleaded with him.
“You did know. But you only had eyes for Bill. And even after he treated you like dirt you wouldn’t look at me.” He shrugged and gave a short laugh. “I guess it’s only fitting...” He tossed the flaming lighter toward the pool of liquid, the golden metal glittering in the light. Stottlemeyer pulled Holly in close to shield her while everyone but Mr. Monk dove for cover...
The flame hit the tetrachloroethylene...
And promptly went out.
Anthony stared dumbly at the lighter on the floor, just long enough for Disher to pop up, grab the heavy desk bell, and bean him with it on the side of the head. He fell into the chemical pool face-mask first.
“Great shot, Randy!” Natalie said admiringly, slapping his shoulder. Disher smiled proudly.
“Yeah, you missed your calling, Lieutenant.” At the captain’s remark, his smile widened even further.
Carefully stepping over Anthony’s unconscious body, Monk picked up the bottle with a wipe-protected hand. “He may have known a lot about tetrachloroethylene... but I doubt he was good at reading the fine print. Reading the fine print is very, very important!” He walked just as carefully over to the captain. “Very important. You see, it’s only dangerous with an extremely high-heat flame, like a welding arc.”
Monk pointed to the text on the back of the solvent bottle. Stottlemeyer and Holly both looked at the words: ‘Non-flammable.’
Leland Stottlemeyer closed the case file on Bill Nichols with a satisfying flip. As much as he complained sometimes, he had the best team in the business. He swiveled in his chair to place the file in the cabinet behind him, when a cell phone signal interrupted him. He began to grumble about the damned things... when he realized it must be his own cell phone.
Setting down the file on his desk, he dug in his jacket to find the device. He flipped it open. ‘One new text message from Randall Disher.’ Frowning slightly, he opened the message, which read:
Want to come?
Stottlemeyer lifted his head. Across the room, Disher was sitting in his chair, back to the captain’s office. His cell phone was in his hand, but otherwise, he seemed unaware that Stottlemeyer was looking at him at all. He shook his head with amused annoyance -- he couldn’t have walked twenty feet over here to ask me himself?
He typed back:
And then sent the message. Faintly, from over at Randy’s desk, the same signal went off. He calmly opened the screen to read. And then he turned toward Leland with a grin and a nod. Stottlemeyer scowled and waved for him to get back to work, which after startling for a moment, Randy did. But anyone within the captain’s office would have seen the small smile below Leland’s mustache, as he placed the file into the cabinet.