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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Eight—She Cleans Houses, Doesn’t She?

Read Chapter Seven >> 

“She was my friend. Perhaps my only friend.” Mrs. Yokoyama carefully enunciates each syllable. 

My fourteen-year-old daughter Maddy and I sit on a pure white fabric couch as we listen to the Japanese woman speak. Maddy, as usual, can’t stay still and I am worried that one of her muddy Doc Martens will leave a brown footprint on the bottom of Mrs. Yokoyama’s spotless couch.

In a middle-class Buddhahead household, our shoes would be off and left on the floor by the front door. But the Yokoyamas aren’t middle-class. They are upper class with enough money for a full-time housekeeper, who can be committed to cleaning the hardwood floor, 24-7. One of their ex-housekeepers, Satoko Fujii, won’t be cleaning any floors, however. She is not only dead but killed at the hands of another person. Now Mrs. Yokoyama is telling us that Satoko wasn’t just a measly domestic worker. No, she was like a member of the family.

“Did you see her after she left your employment?”

Mrs. Yokoyama swallows before she speaks. A silk scarf is tied around her long, stringy neck. I wonder if she’s feeling okay. “Ryo didn’t let me—well, I mean, when she moved into that senior housing in Little Tokyo, I didn’t have many opportunities to see her. Only when I went downtown for shopping.”

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“About a month ago.”

“Did you talk about anything specific?”

“No, not really. She did mention that she was helping to make a tanabata decoration for the festival. I guess she was attempting to work with some other people from her home prefecture to honor the tsunami survivors.”

I could tell from her pinched expression that it wasn’t smooth going.

“Did she mention having problems with anyone specifically?”

“Well, there was this woman who lived in her same complex. Her neighbor.”

I feel Maddy’s stare on me. We had spoken to the neighbor and she had not mentioned anything about being from the same prefecture.

“But actually, she ended up doing a tanabata herself.”

We hear the turning of a key in a lock and the front door opens, revealing a tall Asian man with graying hair. “Who are you?” Not Mr. Hospitable, obviously.

“He’s a private investigator,” Mrs. Yokoyama explains. “He’s looking into, ah, Satoko-san.”

“Get out,” he spits out. His placid face transforms. He’s a demon man, his eyebrows looking like daggers.

I’m shocked. I usher Maddy out the door. I don’t want anything to happen to her. The man follows us outside.

“I don’t want you coming here, bothering my wife.”

What’s this jerk’s problem?

“Let’s go,” I gently push Maddy forward. If I was on my own, I would have decked this guy. Probably wouldn’t have fared well under the terms of my probation. Thank God for teenage daughters.

“Wait, wait,” the man calls out.

The guy is a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First he wants us gone, now he wants us to stay.

“What do you want?” Now I’m pissed off. I make sure that Maddy is safely behind me.

“Who hired you?”

“That’s none of your business.”

Mr. Yokoyama purses his lips and finally speaks. “I didn’t tell my wife this because she was so close to Satoko, but the woman was a thief.”

* * * * *

“That guy was a psycho.” Maddy says from her seat on the bus, which was pulling away from the curb on Wilshire.

“You said it.” He didn’t keep us long, but long enough to thoroughly tear down Satoko’s reputation. Not only was she a thief, but a no-good gossip and manipulator. And worst of all, she had been an awful housekeeper.

Tell us what you really think, Mr. Yokoyama.

He told us that he had actually fired Satoko, but gave her an opportunity to resign after he caught her stealing one of his wife’s purses.

“My wife wouldn’t have believed that Satoko was actually doing something criminal. She was constantly defending this woman.”

I’m not quite sure that I could believe Mr. Yokoyama. But then I remember that Emily, Eric’s girlfriend or whoever she was, mentioned that Satoko was always seen carrying designer bags, even on a domestic’s salary.

“So who did it, Dad?” Maddy pipes up, interrupting my thoughts. She leans against me as the bus makes a sharp left turn.

“Did what?”

“You know. Who killed Mrs. Fujii?”

A public metropolitan bus wasn’t the best place to have a conversation like this. But the only other person sitting in back with us is a muttering guy wearing three layers of clothing even though it was the middle of August in Los Angeles.

“Well, I guess the son could have done it. He had the motivation, opportunity, and was seen with something that could have been the murder weapon.”

“Obvious choice,” she says, sounding much older. “But you don’t think so.”

“Well, it’s—” I was going to say “an addict’s instinct,” but I stopped myself. “It’s just an instinct. Eric depended on his mother for housing. I mean, he was paying her rent—which was illegal under their rules—but at least he had a place to crash. He would have had to pay at least triple that to find something comparable in LA.”

Maddy quietly listens to me. Although she’s pretty mature, she has no idea what it takes to live in Southern California.

“So,” I continue, “why would he kill his benefactor?”

“Maybe she had some money stashed away somewhere. He kills her and then goes into her room.”

“And then hangs out in Little Tokyo? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Yeah, you’re right. If that was me, I guess I’d take off somewhere.”

“Like where?”

“I dunno. Maybe Canada or something.”


“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to live on Prince Edward Island. You know, where Anne of Green Gables was from.”

I faintly remember buying her a DVD of that Canadian classic maybe four years ago. I’m touched that she feels so connected to it.

“If he did kill her, he obviously didn’t get want he wanted,” I say out loud, more to myself than anyone else. I need to get into Satoko’s room to do a thorough search. I’m sure that my client, Satoko’s daughter, can make that happen.

“Maybe that old lady then? You know, the neighbor who didn’t get along with her.”

“She’s old.”

“Old people can still cause trouble. And Mrs. Fujii was old herself.”

True. And it wasn’t like Mrs. Fujii had been strangled or beat up. She had been hit on the head with something. Get the right spot on the temple and bam—she’d go down immediately.

“How about this guy, this Mr. Yokoyama?”

There’s something odd about that man, for sure. He had completely overreacted to us. As if he had something to hide.

I tell Maddy to get out her smartphone to search for something for me.

She stares at the screen. “It says here that Ryo Yokoyama works at Fine Bank in downtown LA. It’s on Wilshire and Flower.”

I press down on a plastic bar by our seat.

“What are we doing?” Maddy asks as the bus stops.

“While Mr. Yokoyama is home, we’ll just pay his workplace a little visit.”


Chapter Nine >>


© 2015 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