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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Six—Noguchi Verses

Read Chapter Five >> 

As I make my way to the Koban Visitors Center, First Street in Little Tokyo is hopping. And I don’t mean just the millenials lined up at Daikokuya ramen house. Couples pushing strollers and teenagers in cosplay. It’s a weekday evening in August. Those attempting to revitalize Nisei Week Japanese Festival, an annual shindig since the 1930s, need a pat on the back. Whatever they are doing, it’s working.

I text my fourteen-year-old daughter Maddy to make sure that she’s safe and sound in our temporary living quarters, a low-income residential unit around the corner from my PI office space. She doesn’t text me back. I’m already up to my ears investigating a murder of a local elderly resident. I don’t have time to deal with a rebellious goth daughter.

The Koban, which literally means police box (yeah, I’m reluctantly learning my share of Japanese during my semi-enforced stay here), is more of a place to welcome tourists more than anything else. Right now it’s wall to wall tissue paper balls in anticipation of the upcoming Tanabata festival. Someone’s leading a workshop so that community groups can create symbols of the lovers, which basically looks like multi-colored shooting stars.

“Kev,” someone calls out to me from one of the folding tables in the back. It’s my buddy in the LAPD, Officer Brenner. Instead of a Glock, he has a glue gun, cocked and ready.

“What the hell, Doug.” I stifle back a laugh.

He shrugs his shoulders, defeated. “Community policing.” He’s gluing tissue paper onto a plastic colander. The color of the paper is police-issue blue. Nice touch, I think.

I pull out a folding chair. “Hey, have you talked to your contact in homicide about the Fujii murder case?” I keep my voice low. Right now most of the participants in the room are Japanese-speaking women and they are enjoying their female-bonding too much to even notice us.

“The coroner hasn’t completed the autopsy report yet.”

“But I thought that it was obvious.” Blunt-force trauma. Basically, Mrs. Fujii had been fatally konked in the head.

“Well, she suffered an injury to the head. But the coroner is disturbed with something to do with her skin. Something didn’t look right.”

“She was in her seventies.” Heck, my skin, freckled with spots from years of sun worshipping and surfing, doesn’t look right and I’m in my fifties.

The cacophony of noise in the Koban is eclipsed by the high-pitch scream of a forty-something woman who bursts through the crowd. Her target? My friend, Doug Brenner.

“Someone tagged the Noguchi rocks,” she reports in between deep breaths.

The spectacular dual rocks in Noguchi Plaza in front of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center? You have to be kidding me. Those are masterpieces by a world-renown artist, Isamu Noguchi. (I know that you’re impressed by my artistic knowledge, but it’s all from Maddy’s sixth-grade report on Isamu Noguchi after she visited another one of his gardens in Costa Mesa.)

Doug immediately rises, abandoning his matted circle of blue tissue. I follow him out the door.

“Kev, I don’t think that you should be with me,” he says when he notices my presence.

This serial tagger has been leaving my name, “Kev,” on various Little Tokyo landmarks. If this vandalism at the JACCC is part of the same, it would make this the third incident.

“Hey, you’re my alibi, right? I was with you inside the Koban. Better if I’m with you so that you can keep your eye on me, right?”

Doug finally nods. “Just make sure that you don’t touch anything.”

It’s dark now but we can clearly see the rocks as we walk from San Pedro Street. A white streak goes from one rock to the other.

Doug swears as he absorbs the damage. On the southern rock is a “K” and an “E.” On the other, a “V.” Yup, the tagger is spreading my name, “KEV,” all over town.

“Where’s Maddy?” He asks as he takes out his cell phone to take pictures of the vandalism.

“What does she have to do with this?”

“Where she is, Kev?”

“She’s back at our apartment on Judge Aiso Street. Eating dinner.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure. She texted me to let me know,” I lied.

“You have that text?”

“I erased it. Still have a flip phone and it has limited memory.” That latter part was true.

Maddy doesn’t have a juvenile record or anything. But she was caught tagging her summer school building in Orange County a month ago. That’s when her mother, my ex-wife, thought it was time that she spend some time with Dad, even though I was having problems of my own.

“We’ll have to check in with her then.”

As Doug was getting a closer shot of the “V,” I hurried with my giant fingers to get a text out to Maddy: U better b home in 5. I hope that she understood “5” to be five minutes.

Walking back towards First Street on San Pedro Street, I start praying. I’m not a religious man in any way, other than my spiritual relationship with Cuervo Gold and various illegal substances, but I guess it’s never too late to try something new. Maddy, be in the apartment, I say silently.

“What’s wrong with you, Shirota?” Doug breaks in.


“You’re never this quiet.”

Right now Maddy and I are staying in a studio apartment at the San Pedro Firm Building. It’s a restored building with low-income units. I’m subletting a unit from one of my friend’s friend who is spending the summer in Japan. The space is tight and I sleep on the floor on a futon while Maddy the Princess gets the Murphy bed which we pull down from the wall every night.

I fumble with the key at the door. I think that I hear some kind of electronic music coming from inside. Still praying, I push open the door.

Maddy sits on the Murphy bed, with empty bags from various local eateries surrounding her. At least she had the decency to pull off her Doc Martens, although instead of neatly by the door, they are strewn on the floor. Also on bed in front of her is her laptop. I can now clearly hear the loud techno music from one of her video games.

“Hi, Dad. Hi, Officer Brenner. You want an imagawayaki?” She offers an open bag of brown disks of grilled pancake batter. Inside is red bean.

I shake my head, while Doug accepts the offer.

“So you’ve been here all night?” Officer Brenner asks in between chews.

“After I got dinner. Why? what’s going on?” Maddy turns down the volume of her game.

“The Noguchi rocks got vandalized tonight,” I explain, “with the same tag.”

Maddy swears. “Who the hell would do something like that? Those rocks are like, sacred.”

I’m surprised by her allegiance to a Japanese cultural icon, but she’s right. Those rocks seem to anchor Little Tokyo to the rest of the world.

“You got any enemies, Kev?” Doug focuses his attention back to me.

“Me, enemies?”

“Mom isn’t much a fan.”

I give my daughter the evil eye, but apparently she isn’t getting the hint.

“And somebody doesn’t like him investigating Mrs. Fujii’s murder,” she adds.

I frown. “What do you mean?”

Maddy crawls to the edge of the bed and reaches for something on an end table. “This was underneath the door.”

It’s a piece of white paper with a message generated by a computer. “Stop asking so many questions about the Fujii case,” it read. “Or else your driver’s license may not be the only thing that will be taken away.”


Chapter Seven >>


© 2015 Naomi-Hirahara

fiction JACCC koban little tokyo mystery naomi hirahara Nikkei Detective Noguchi Plaza San Pedro Firm Building

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