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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Five—Sansei Anonymous

Read Chapter Four >>

The Sansei guy standing in front of us is the same guy in the photo in my wallet. A little bit skinnier, a little more buff. (He’s obviously been working out during his recovery, while my paunch only gets softer.) I’m convinced that he’s Eric Fujii, the suspect in a Little Tokyo murder that I’m investigating.

Right now, he’s confessing, Narcotics Anonymous style. “She was always on my case, comparing me with my sister, saying that I was no good. I mean, I know that I needed to move out of her place. Those old ladies in there can be pretty fierce. But I was getting back on my feet, finally. Finding odd jobs, here and there. The other day, I thought that I was going to lose it. Hell, I wanted her dead, truth be told. And then it happened. She was gone.” He leans forward and snorts tears, which drip onto the floor.

The men in the folding chairs speak out encouragement. No one goes up and places an arm around the mourning man. In NA, we’re supposed to allow each person to own his or her pain. And it’s obvious that Eric has his share and then some.

One part of me looks at him like a fellow addict and the other, private investigator. I can’t help but be a little suspicious. I’ve done my share of lying, after all. We all know how to turn it on and off. That’s how we got away with our vices for so long. So are those crocodile tears? Or real tears of a sorrowful son?

Another man, an African American, rises as Eric takes a front row seat. “Thanks, Eric, for keeping it real. And we all here are so sorry for your loss.”

The speaker’s eyes then bore into mine. “I see that we have a newcomer. Want to come up and introduce yourself?”

No! I think. But that’s not the way it works with these recovery groups. I have to split open my gut and practically commit seppuku in front of these strangers in order to satisfy our code.

I get up and stand in front. I’ve gone to enough of these things that I can say the script in my sleep: “I’m Kevin and I’m an addict.”

“Hi, Kevin.” The dozen or so men—and one woman—greet me like zombies in unison.

“I’m in this place where I really don’t want to be,” I say. I’m referring to a physical place, of course, Little Tokyo, and maybe specifically this Far East Lounge, but these individuals are going to be thinking about a metaphorical place. Trust me, I know these people and yup, most of them are nodding in agreement.

“But I have to struggle through it. There are people that are counting on me. I can’t let them down.” I don’t go as far as mentioning Maddy. I know that we are supposed to get personal, but identifying my only daughter is way too revealing.

I blab on and on—I can’t go as far as cry—I haven’t cried since I was ten when some hoods took my boogie board at Huntington Beach. The whole time, I try to avoid Eric’s steely glare. He’s no pussycat, that’s for sure. Finally our facilitator rises to his feet and I’m off the hook. I stumble to my seat in the back row. I wish I could just leave now, but I need to make sure that I’m credited for this appearance for my probation officer’s benefit.

After the meeting’s over, there’s the obligatory day-old donuts and lukewarm coffee. Just so that I don’t have to awkwardly wait as I check in with the facilitator, I grab a Styrofoam cup of dark liquid.

Eric gives me some serious stink-eye. “I know you.”

Is my cover already blown?

“You hang out with that cop. What’s his name? Brenner.”

“Ah—” I try to buy some time, but Eric is already sounding the alarm.

“Hey, this guy’s a narc,” he calls out and soon twelve men and a woman have circled me.

The facilitator crosses his arms. “Well?”

“I’m not a narc. Far from it. I am a P.I., though.”

“So who are you investigating?” Eric asks.

This Eric is much smarter than he looks. He can smell my dubious intentions.

“I’m here for a meeting, okay. Gloria Rudolph’s my PO.”

“Gloria’s my probation officer, too,” the woman says. I really look at her for the first time. She’s in her mid-thirties with brown hair cut at her shoulders. She’s one of these people who have Disney-like features with big, wide apart eyes and a long forehead. It’s obvious that something is going on with Ms. Bambi and Eric by the way he protectively stands by her side.

Then the facilitator calls Eric over for a little private chat. Probably to school him from trying to out a fellow addict. This is all about anonymity, right?

“Sorry, he’s just a little antsy,” Ms. Bambi explains. “With his mother’s death and everything. His sister is saying he did it. How messed-up is that?”

“Yeah, pretty messed-up,” I say, hoping that she doesn’t notice that my ears are burning.

“She was a piece of work, I’m tellin’ you.”

I gulp down the nastiest cup of coffee I’ve had in a long time in anticipation of what I may hear.

“There’s a long line of people who would want to shut Mrs. Fujii down. She got into a big fight with someone over those tissue paper balls they are making for that Japanese festival.”

Tanabata,” I say, shocking myself with my knowledge. Just two weeks in J-town and I’m turning Japanese.

“Yeah, whatever you said. These two ladies were arguing right on the sidewalk of First Street, tearing into a ball. I didn’t know Japanese people did those kinds of things. Especially old women.”

“So this Mrs. Fujii had a temper on her.”

“Oh, yeah. She always had to be right. You know the type. I shouldn’t say bad stuff about the dead…”

Please continue, I pray. My prayer is heard, because she does.

“She did give Eric a place to live. But she was charging him her full rent. It was reduced for seniors and all, and he wasn’t supposed to be in there. I get that. Charging him the whole thing, though? She was into money. And for someone who used to be a housekeeper, she had a lot of it around. She was always walking around with the latest designer handbag and shoes.”

“Maybe someone else was buying those things for her?”

“Like her daughter? No way. Her daughter is cash poor. That’s why she wants to blame Eric, so she can get all of her mother’s money.”

Very, very interesting, I think. Just when our conversation is getting juicy, Eric breaks in. “Let’s go, Emily.”

“Anyway, it was nice to meet you, uh—”

“Kevin, right?” Eric interrupts, maddogging me.

The guy’s memory is amazing. Although we are about the same age, there are no black holes in his brain. I wish the same could be said for me.

I soon follow Eric and Emily out the door, remembering what the thirtysomething year old had said. Mrs. Fujii was apparently no saint. I need to stop by the Koban and find out if the manager at the visitor’s center had witnessed the fight over the tanabata.

A few of the attendees were standing on the sidewalk, smoking some cigarettes, a recovering addict’s favorite activity.

Next to them, leaning against a newspaper machine is my beloved (note the sarcasm) childhood friend—or should I say punching bag—Howie Hanabata, holding the latest Rafu Shimpo newspaper.

“So, what kind of meeting was that?” he asks. As usual, he smells like shoyu.

“Uh, the historical society.”

Howie glances at the bedraggled men wearing combat pants, torn jeans, and basketball jerseys. “Yeah, right,” he practically sneers at me. Howie isn’t the sharpest tack around, but even he knows that this crowd is not into Little Tokyo history.

I put my head down as I head to the Koban. The last thing I need are rumors swirling around about my substance abuse problem. And Howie, who knows my extended family well, would only be too eager to spread stories about my demise, decades after I hazed him while we played baseball for the Evergreen Knights. My parents—God rest their souls—are dead, but with my luck, my shame will follow them into the afterlife.


Chapter Six >>


© 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