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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Three—If I Had a Hammer

Read Chapter Two >> 

Some people read palms. Others read tea leaves. I like to read teeth. No, I’m not one of those weirdoes with strange fetishes. My younger sister, Traci, is a dentist in Yorba Linda and also my only sibling who still talks to me. During the early days of her practice, she hired me to shake down people who wrote her bounced checks. I told her just to deal in cash or credit cards, especially for uninsured services, but that’s not how Traci rolls. Yeah, she’s one of these people with a heart of gold, while mine tends to be like aluminum. Recyclable and easily reshaped.

Anyway, as I sat in her office for about a week, I started to develop a theory about people and their teeth. Those with completely rotten mouths—poor childhoods, for sure. Attractive people with a ton of cavities—probably have issues with saying no. Those who didn’t floss—optimists who are usually in denial about something. Teeth grinders with pleasant personalities—conflict avoiders. And finally, those people with meticulously cleaned perfect white teeth—high maintenance alert!

I think of this as I continue to study my newest client standing in my P.I. office. She’s finally revealed her name, Bet Fujii. (Bet? I’ll get to the bottom of this before the day is over.) She’s got the hottest legs of anyone in Little Tokyo right now—I guarantee it. I haven’t seen her smile once during our half-hour consultation, but she now openly grimaces when I ask her for more information about her relationship with her brother. And yep, blinding pearly whites, all in a neat row.

“Why do you need to know about how I get along with Eric?” she asks.

“Well, Ms. Fujii, you’ve just accused him of murdering your mother. I’ll need some more information for my investigation. What kind of person is he?”

“Well, he’s a loser. Can’t stand on his two own feet. You know the type.”

As she spouts out these words, I feel something stab at my side. I mean, I’m gainfully employed, right? Well, I have a great deal on an office and residential unit, compliments of my friend, Cesar Soto, but I wouldn’t call myself a mooch.

Bet must sense that her judgmental tone has had an effect on me, because she adds, “He was living illegally in my mother’s senior citizen unit, for God’s sake. My mother couldn’t even invite anyone over because she feared that she would be found out. Like they were fugitives or something.”

“How long had your mother been living in Little Tokyo?”

“For about five years. She lived with me for a while in Manhattan Beach. But she said that she liked to be in walking distance of Japanese markets.”

Manhattan Beach, I note. This chick must be loaded. Manhattan Beach is the Beverly Hills of the shoreline. I would love to live there. But right now, I’m stuck in the middle of downtown, with no wheels at my disposable. Getting two DUIs will certainly get you landlocked.

“They found pepper spray on her key chain. It was not discharged. She knew how to use it. I even took a class with her for it. Whoever attacked her was someone she knew.”

Satoko Fujii’s body was discovered on Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock. I know this almost firsthand because I was with the responding police officer when he first got the call. She had experienced a fatal blunt force trauma to the head.

“Daddy, your probation officer is on hold,” Maddy calls out from her desk.

“Probation officer?” Bet frowns.

“My daughter is just making a joke. Please wait for a moment as I take care of this,” I tell Bet, shutting the door behind me.

* * * * *

“Maddy, we’re going to have to talk soon about how to conduct yourself in an office,” I say in a low voice.

Maddy rest her feet—black combat boots—on the secondhand desk. She’s wearing a black T-shirt featuring some skinny white boys. On her left arm are about four neon rubber bracelets. “This is an office?”

I gesture to her—we are going to talk—as I pick up the phone and talk to my PO, an African American woman about my age.

“Just want to tell you that a new Narcotics Anonymous chapter has opened up in Little Tokyo,” Gloria says. “It’s actually on the same block as where you work.”

“I don’t think that I want people to know that I have some—ah, medical—issues. Besides, it’s not like I’m addicted or anything.” I hadn’t had any weed for about eighteeen days since I had moved to Little Tokyo. But who’s counting?

“Kev, you can’t drive anywhere. You have limited choices. Someone’s got to drive you or you have to take public transportation. You have to go to some recovery meetings. Those are the terms of your parole.”

“Okay, okay.” I jot down the location and hours. Gloria is right. It’s practically downstairs and the next meeting is tonight.

After I hang up the phone, Maddy shoves a sheet of paper secured on a clipboard in front of my face. “Oh, here’s that client form you wanted that lady to fill out.”

I take the clipboard, study it briefly, and gesture for Maddy to join me inside. “Take notes for me, okay?” The sooner I teach her some responsibility, the better. I hand her a yellow tablet and Bic pen. And she glares at me and takes out her phone. She acts as if I had given her parchment, an ink well, and feather.

“Sorry for that, Bet. Let me make sure I have all your information before we go on.” I study the top of the form. “Your full name is Bette Fujii.”

“I was named after Bette Davis.”

Maddy gives her a blank look.

“She was an actress. A very famous one. Haven’t you ever heard that song, ‘Bette Davis Eyes’?”

Maddy quietly shakes her head. Apparently she’s intimidated by Bet’s white teeth, too.

“And you described your occupation as, what is this, ‘talent scout.’”

“I find talent for reality shows.”

I personally didn’t know that reality shows featured anyone with any kind of talent. Except for my favorite, Swamp People, because capturing alligators in the waters of Louisiana does take some special skill involving both rifles and rope.

She then recites dozens of names of shows that includes either the word “housewives” or “celebrity.”

“How long have you been doing that work?”

“Why does this have anything to do with my mother’s murder?”

“Bet, I need all this information.”

Maddy furiously thumbs her cell phone.

“What is she doing?” Bet asks.

I don’t answer her question and so go back to mine. “And how about your mother? Is her full name, Satoko Fujii?”

Bet nods. “Her close friends called her Sats. She’s originally from Fukushima.”

Maddy’s head bobs up. She even has heard of Fukushima.

“Yep, where that nuclear disaster happened due to the tsunami. She actually went there a couple of years ago. Just to make sure her sister and other relatives were okay.”

“Did your mother work?”


“From…” I wait for Bet to elaborate on her mother’s former occupation, but she strangely hesitates.

“Well, she was a domestic.”

Maddy types and she whispers to me, “What’s a domestic?”

“She was a maid, okay,” Bet says. “I told her to stop that work long ago, but she refused. She worked out of Hancock Park. Not that far from here. It was for a Japanese family, actually.”

“We’ll need their names.”

“Why? I just told you my brother did it.”

“All of this is necessary, Bet.” Please, Ms. White Teeth, cooperate. “And your father?” I ask.

“He flew the coop long ago. When Eric and I were just kids. I was maybe about her age.” She points to Maddy.

“Where is your brother now?”

“He’s completely disappeared. That’s why I’m here. The police won’t take my accusations seriously. They maintain that it was a murder in the commission of a robbery because her wallet’s gone. But I know better.”

Both Maddy and I wait for Bet to continue.

“My mother’s body was discovered at three o’clock in the afternoon that day. I just came from the manager of the senior housing unit. He let me look at the security footage. It shows my brother going into the unit at four o’clock. A hammer sticking out of his pocket.”


Chapter Four >>


© 2014 Naomi Hirahara

fiction little tokyo mystery naomi hirahara Nikkei Detective

About this series

Private investigator Kevin “Kev” Shirota calls himself an OOCG, an Original Orange County Guy. The last place this Huntington Beach, California, native wants to be in is Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, but he finds himself there temporarily to operate his failing PI business. The only bonus is that his fourteen-year-old estranged daughter, Maddy, loves Little Tokyo, which can possibly bring the two closer together. But a series of vandalism and then the discovery of a dead body challenge not only Kev’s investigating skills, but maybe the relationships that are the most dear to him.

This is an original serialized story written for Discover Nikkei by award-winning mystery author Naomi Hirahara. A new chapter will be published on the fourth of every month from August 2014 through July 2015.

Read Chapter One