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Death of an Origamist

Chapter Three—Little Black Dress

“Well, how was T-Rex’s class?” Barbara Lu, Sachi Yamane’s roommate at the convention hotel, asked. Seated at the desk by the window, Barbara was folding one of her trademark origami otters.

“Okay,” Sachi said, again trying to stay positive. She placed her convention bag and purse on her double bed which housekeeping had neatly restored to its original immaculate state.

“Well, let me see it.” Barbara stood up.


“You know, what T-Rex had you make in his special seminar.” Barbara’s voice was still tinged with envy. She wasn’t a type of woman who could mask her feelings.

Sachi felt like a fool. Here she had been accepted to Craig “T-Rex” Buck’s exclusive origami session in the hotel penthouse and it had been a complete disaster. Sachi let out a deep breath and open up her convention bag. Barbara wouldn’t let up until she showed her mangled creation, so she might as well comply now and get it over with. Sachi gingerly brought out her version of Buck’s Doctor Death origami structure. Instead of a grim reaper, it looked like something left behind by a tornado.

Barbara stared at it in silence.

Sachi didn’t wait for her to ask. “It’s a grim reaper. Or at least it’s supposed to be.”

Barbara surprisingly didn’t make any snide comments. “Oh, yeah,” she finally said. “That’s his sickle on his shoulder. Pretty creepy with the red paint.”

Sachi didn’t bother to correct Barbara that the red paint was actually the master origamist’s blood. A paper cut, resulting after Buck’s failed attempt to fix what Sachi had folded. One of the students, twelve-year-old Taku, even accused Sachi of ruining their private session with her monstrosity.

Barbara, obviously unimpressed, then announced she’d be taking a shower to get ready for their banquet tonight. Sachi was thankful to be alone for a few minutes. After her roommate closed the bathroom door and began running the water, Sachi took out her cell phone.

“Sach!” Leslie, her best friend and nurse at the same hospital, answered after the first ring. “I just got off an hour ago. I hope that you are having a good time.”

“I am.” Sachi tried to sound as bright and cheerful as possible.

“That didn’t sound convincing.” Leslie could not be fooled.

Sachi sat on the edge of the bed. “It’s just not what I expected, that’s all. I thought the master origamist would have some wisdom.”

“You mean the wizard?” Leslie liked to make fun of Sachi’s fascination with T-Rex.

“He’s not a wizard. Not even close. He even bleeds real blood.”

Sachi went on to tell Leslie about this afternoon’s disastrous private session. “I know that I’m just being silly. I mean, it’s just origami, after all.” Sachi was getting tired of going on and on about her petty problems and changed the subject. “How’s everything at the hospital?”

“Oh, fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

Sachi heard her friend draw a quick breath. “I didn’t want to tell you before you got home,” Leslie said.“But Oscar’s not improving. He’s getting worse.”

“No!” Tears came to Sachi’s eyes. Oscar was an orderly who had just gotten married last year. He was a tall bear of a man who often came to Sachi’s aid when she had to deal with an especially unruly patient.

The last time Sachi had worked with him was after the death of a teenage boy under their care during the graveyard shift. The patient was brought in, complaining of great pain in his head. Some meds were prescribed and a few hours later, his heart had stopped.

It turned out that there was some mess-up in the pharmacy department. Both Sachi and Oscar were relieved that it wasn’t their fault, but still. They had witnessed the parents mourning the unnecessary death of their fifteen-year-old son. And now, a few weeks later, Oscar had come down with something mysterious that had put him in a coma.

“I’m just tired of these terrible things happening,” Sachi said. “What the heck is going on?”

“Look, Sach, don’t even think of it, okay. You have a couple of days to yourself. You’re right next to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. You’re doing what you love. Don’t let Mr. Wizard and his paper cut get you down. Go to the bar, drink a couple of martinis, and maybe you’ll meet some cute guys at your convention.”

“I don’t think that you go to an origami convention to meet men.”

“Whatever. Just wear that little black dress you got on sale at Nordstrom’s. You still got it, girl.”

“Yeah, the cellulite.”

“Listen, you still have a butt and that’s more than most sixty-year-old women can say. You got it, flaunt it.”

Sachi cracked a smile. If anyone could make her feel better, it was Leslie.

* * * * *

Sachi actually took Leslie’s advice and got into that little black dress. The rest of her body drooped but there was makeup and bras that could mitigate or at least mask it. Sachi checked herself in the full-length mirror. Leslie was right. Her oshiri was still fine.

As Barbara was drying and curling her hair, Sachi left to go to the hotel bar before the dinner. Other convention goers had the same idea and the bar was almost completely full. There was one open seat at the bar at the end. Pulling herself up on the high stool, she balanced herself in position.

“Survived Doctor Death, I see,” someone said next to her. The elbow of his suit brushed against Sachi’s bare arm. It was the Asian man in the penthouse during T-Rex’s seminar.

“Oh, hello,” Sachi said. She, like the others, was wearing her nametag over her fancy outfit. This man, however, was ID-less. “Who are you, exactly?”

“Kenji. I’m Mr. Buck’s bodyguard.” He extended his hand and as Sachi shook it, she felt his calluses against her palm. Not an origamist’s hand.

He offered to buy her a drink and Sachi decided to accept. She was going to ask for an Appletini, but then stopped herself. Go for my true self, she thought. “I’ll have a Bud Light.”

A few sips of her beer made Sachi more bold. “I know that he’s big in the origami world, but does Mr. Buck need a bodyguard?”

“You’d be surprised,” Kenji said, not elaborating fully.

“Well, shouldn’t you be with him now, guarding him?”

“You sure like to ask questions,” Kenji said.

Sachi blushed. She normally wasn’t so curious. Maybe it was Leslie’s voice, egging her on.

Kenji’s cell phone next to his drink began ringing loudly and he picked it up immediately. “Okay, okay. I’ll be right there.” And then with no explanation, he was gone.

Sachi continued to nurse her Bud Light, feeling the glass get warmer with every minute that passed. She surveyed the happy and laughing faces around her, desiring their levity, whether authentic or faked, for at least a moment.

* * * * *

“Welcome to our dinner.” The convention organizer with a British accent addressed the crowd in the banquet hall. Leaving her half-drunken Bud Light on the bar, Sachi had made her way to her assigned table with an origami centerpiece celebrating the movie, Star Wars. Barbara, her hair perfectly coiffed, had saved her a seat.

“That’s Taku’s father,” Barbara whispered to her.

“It is?” Sachi hadn’t been sure of the boy’s ethnicity. He looked hapa, like most of her nieces and nephews. The mother must be Asian, Sachi thought to herself.

“I’m sorry to inform you, however, that Mr. Buck will be not able to speak tonight.”

The crowd groaned. Everyone had been looking forward to hearing from the legendary Craig Buck. Everyone except for Sachi. She was relieved that she wouldn’t have to spend the evening looking at his face.

Their tablemates didn’t feel the same way, of course.

“What? That’s why I bought drinks for this lousy chicken dinner. To hear T-Rex!”

“I wonder if they will give out refunds.”

“I think that I saw him earlier today. Hey, weren’t you in his seminar this afternoon?” A woman asked Sachi from across the table.

“Please, please, we have another substitute speaker planned for you—” The organizer attempted again.

A table in the back began booing. Sachi recognized some of them from the bar. They apparently had one drink to many. Who knew that origamists could be such party animals?

A few people in front rose to their feet. Sachi expected to see Kenji there, helping to subdue the crowd, but there was no sign of his large presence.

A slim, short figure dressed in a suit stood on one of the ballroom chairs in front of the podium. It was Taku, playing grown-up. He then announced in a loud voice, “Mr. T-Rex is dead.”

Chapter Four >>


© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

Death of an Origamist fiction mystery naomi hirahara origami

About this series

Sachi Yamane, an emergency room nurse, escapes the pressure of life-and-death situations through the precise and calming world of origami. Attending an origami convention in Anaheim, California, she looks forward to meeting her idol, Craig Buck, a guru of not only origami but also life. Over the past two years, Sachi has gone through her set of losses—her husband’s fatal heart attack and unexpected deaths of some coworkers. Meeting Buck and being immersed in origami will again restore peace in Sachi’s life, or so she thinks. But as it turns out, the origami convention is not the safe haven that this sixty-one year old Sansei imagines it to be.

This is an original serialized story written for Discover Nikkei by award-winning mystery author Naomi Hirahara. 

Read Chapter One