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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Seven—Do You Know the Way to Hancock Park?

Read Chapter Six >> 

I stare at the message a second time. It’s printed out on a regular white letter-sized paper, the standard offering of any office store. The font is Helvetica, also totally nondescript. The content, however, is not anything typical. It’s a blatant threat, telling me to stop investigating the murder of a seventy-something Japanese woman in Little Tokyo. Or else.

If it’s just me, I’d wad up the paper and say, “What the hell.” But I’m a dad of a fourteen-year-old daughter, Maddy, whom I’m responsible for, and I’m not going to let anything happen to her. I’m actually thankful that my buddy with the LAPD, Doug Brenner, is here with us in our temporary apartment, examining the note.

“You have a gallon-size plastic baggy?” he asks.

I have no idea, but Maddy immediately begins to rummage through a drawer in the kitchen. She hands him a large bag, and he carefully lifts the note by its edges to deposit it in the makeshift evidence sleeve.

“We’ll dust it for fingerprints, but I can’t promise anything.”

I nod. If the perpetrator knows anything, he or she would have used gloves to produce the threatening note.

“Someone is after you regarding the Fujii case. Have any idea who it may be?”

I think about the victim’s son, Eric, with whom I had a run-in at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting just tonight. As he was seen with a possible weapon, a hammer, an hour after the murder and reportedly had a complex relationship with his mother, he’s obviously a suspect at the top of the list. But as a son who has had his own issues with his parents, I don’t want to brand Eric as guilty as others (well, namely my siblings) have branded me.

“No, I don’t know for sure,” I say to Doug.

“You will keep me in the loop, though, right?”

“Of course,” I lie.

He heads for the door. “You two take care of yourself,” he says before he leaves. “Between this and the ‘Kev’ graffiti all over Little Tokyo, you’ve made a name for yourself in a very short time.”

As footsteps from his LAPD-issued hard-soled shoes get fainter in our hallway, I turn to Maddy. “Maybe you should go back to the OC and live with your mom.”

Maddy crosses her arms. “I don’t want to live with her. I want to live with you. I like it here in Little Tokyo.”

I have to admit—my face gets warm as I actually hear a compliment coming from my daughter. Sure, it may be more about Little Tokyo than me, but I’ll take it.

“Okay, Maddy, then you’ll have to stay close to me. No wandering around Weller Court by yourself to hang out with the cosplayers at Kinokuniya Bookstore.”

Maddy pouts slightly, but she acknowledges the seriousness in my voice. I’m not being a helicopter parent, but a responsible dad, maybe for the first time in my life.

* * * * *

My first order of business before it gets too late is to call my client, Bet Fujii. She answers her cell phone on the first ring. “So did you find proof that my brother did it?”

Shoot. It’s just been barely five hours and she’s wondering if I’ve solved the case of her dead mother. I’m pretty good, but I’m not that good.

“I did question him and I guess his girlfriend, Emily.”

“Where did you find him? Where is he living now?” She’s peppering me with questions, some that I don’t want to answer, namely that I coincidentally ran into him at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. We do have a code of anonymity, and I’m not sure what will happen to me if I break it.

I sidestep her questions, assuring her that I’m collecting as much evidence as I can. “Anyway, the reason why I’m calling is that I wanted the contact information for her former employer.”

“The Yokoyamas? But why? She hasn’t worked for them for the past six months.”

It probably would lead to nothing, but I need to get a fuller picture of this woman, Satoko Fujii. I know that she’s a native of Japan—Fukushima, specifically—and that she was strong-minded. According to Emily, she was money hungry as well. I need to get as much feedback from people who really knew her.

“It’s my process, okay?” I tell Bet. “I never know what useful information will come from the most unexpected places.”

Bet resists my request for a few minutes and then finally sighs. She puts me on speaker phone as she searches for the phone number. “Okay, here it is.”

I quickly write down the number. “Home address?”

Bet sighs again and gives me the address in a ritzy Hancock Park neighborhood, just west of downtown Los Angeles.

“I don’t know how the Yokoyamas will be able to help,” Bet says. “My mother was somewhat friendly with Mrs. Yokoyama. But the friendship of two older Japanese ladies will probably lead to nowhere.”

* * * * *

The next morning I was up early, on my laptop by eight o’clock. I Google mapped the address and figured out how many buses it will take us to get there. It isn’t too bad—a total of seven blocks of walking and one transfer. Maddy isn’t going to be thrilled with the length of walking, but she’s young.

At eight-thirty, I clap my hands by her ear and she just turns in her sheets on the Murphy bed. “Maddy, wake up. If you want to hang out with me in LA, you have to be my Girl Friday.”

She squints her eyes at me. “But it’s Wednesday.”

“Just take a shower and get up.”

By the time she finally emerges from the bathroom with wet hair, it’s already nine-fifteen. I hand her some strawberry Pocky sticks—I know, breakfast of champions, don’t tell her mother, okay—and some loose change.

“What’s this for?”

“Bus fare. We’ll have to get a TAP card. And we’ll have to transfer one time.”

Maddy opens her mouth wide. You’d think I just told her that we’d be walking across the Sahara desert. It’s the LA Metro, my dear daughter. Millions take it every day.

By the time we arrive at the Yokoyamas’ house, it’s close to ten-thirty. This business of getting around town without a driver’s license is a hassle, but it could be way worse.

The house is a typical building in the area. Older, built before World War Two, in yellow brick and an immaculate garden. I take a quick glance at the driveway. There’s a silver Lexus parked close to the garage.

“Hope someone is home,” I mutter to myself.

“What?” Maddy is dragging her feet, complaining about every block we had to walk to get there. “You mean you didn’t call to make sure someone is home?”

I never call when it comes to questioning people. The thing is, if you call, they can easily put you off and say no. If you’re standing on someone’s doorstep, on the other hand, they have a harder time denying you.

I pat down my hair and ring the doorbell. I see someone pull aside the side curtains on a panel of windows by the door.

“Yes?” the voice of an older woman with a slight Japanese accent.

“Hello, my name is Kevin Shirota and I’m a private investigator.” I hold up my license to the side window. “I’m here about Satoko Fujii’s recent death.”

The door immediately opens, revealing a frail thin woman, her graying hair back in an elegant bun. She wears pearls with a beige knit dress. She looks like she’s ready to go out for a special function, but she apparently is in no hurry. “Oh, my. Satoko-san. Come in, come in please.” She stands away from the door to let me pass.

“That’s my daughter, Maddy,” I explain the damp-haired goth girl behind me.

“Oh, come in. I’m so glad that you’re here. I was wondering when someone would finally come and ask me about poor Satoko-san.”


Chapter Eight >>


© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

fiction little tokyo mystery

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