Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!

Death of an Origamist

Chapter Ten—The Innocents

Surprisingly, after learning that her flirtatious relationship with Kenji the bodyguard was based on secrets and lies, Sachi felt liberated. She hadn’t even considered any kind of romance after her husband Scott had died, but here her heart and body had been willing and open. She just felt thankful that she learned the truth before she had gotten in deeper. She was still standing. And alive.

From the hotel’s penthouse level, she took the elevator down to her room and got ready to leave. Normally she would take care to roll her clothing in tight, neat bundles to optimize space in her bags. But today she literally dumped her belongings in her suitcase and when that was full, she threw the rest in a Trader Joe’s bag that she had used to bring snacks for her and her roommate, Barbara.

She had driven over to Anaheim, after all. All her things could be thrown in the trunk and she was set to make her getaway.

Sachi also didn’t bother checking under the bed or damp towels to check if she had left anything behind. She had a sense that she needed to leave and leave fast.

She pushed her roller bag down the carpeted hallway and made her way back to the lobby. Let them not be down there. Let them not be down there, she murmured. Sure enough, her wishes were granted. The lobby was empty, aside from the hotel cashier behind the reception table. Sachi planned to check out via phone once she was safely back in Los Angeles County. No sense in possibly alerting the authorities now.

Sachi quietly crept toward the glass double doors. They automatically swished open and all she saw were couples with cranky children, completely spent from a day at Disneyland. Getting to her car in the self-parking lot was going to be easier than she had imagined.

She actually exhaled when she saw her parked Nissan. Next to it was a white van, its back doors ajar. A figure then emerged. “Oh, Ms. Yamane, I heard that you weren’t supposed to check out yet. At least that’s what the detectives told me.”

It was Beatrice, the convention receptionist with the strange cotton candy hair. Now that Beatrice was standing so close to her, Sachi realized that the hair was actually a badly fitting wig.

Sachi’s cell phone began to ring and she took it out to see her girlfriend Leslie’s number. She gestured to Beatrice that she had to take the call. “I wanted to let you know that Oscar is getting better.” Leslie gave the latest status report on their hospital co-worker who had become seriously ill.

“Thank God.” At least one piece of very good news.

“They found out what was wrong with him. He was being poisoned with Botulinum.”

“Botox? That’s so weird. That’s what the master origamist died of—”

Sachi then felt something hard and perhaps metallic being pushed into her spine. “Get off the phone.” Beatrice was standing so close to her that Sachi could feel her hot breath against her neck. “Tell your friend goodbye.” Her voice was now at least an octave lower. It now sounded strangely familiar. Where had Sachi heard it before?

“I have to go, Ethel,” Sachi said. Ethel was their code word for help. The ER was full of unruly types and the two nurses learned that it helped to have a code word to signal assistance from a security guard. Sachi slipped the phone in her jeans pocket but made sure that it was still on.

Beatrice placed her hand on Sachi’s neck and pushed her toward the back of the van.

“Get in. C’mon, get in. I have my husband’s .22.”

“I’m not going in there.” Sachi had spoken to enough police officers in the emergency room. Never be moved from your original location. Being transported in a car by a kidnapper, meant that you would be killed, nine times out of ten. She locked her legs in position, but then crack—something hard, most likely the butt of the gun, came crashing on the back of her skull. Sachi felt dazed and her head smarted. She knew enough about the damage head trauma could cause a person.

She crawled into the van. The back seats had been removed and a sleeping bag was placed on the bottom of the vehicle.

Beatrice followed, the gun in her right hand. Once she closed the van door behind her, she slipped off her wig, revealing salt and pepper hair down to her shoulders.

“You— you were our patient’s mother.” It all came back to her now.

“Patient? He had a name. Connor Ellis. My only son.”

Yes, this was Joan Ellis, the mother. “We weren’t responsible for his death. It was the pharmacy. A terrible, terrible mistake.” He had been a cute kid. A little awkward, as many 15-year-old boys were. The realization of the truth then hit Sachi. “You poisoned Oscar. And Mr. Buck…” Her mind raced. “It wasn’t the origami paper, after all. It was the tissue. You had poisoned the tissues. You had wanted to poison me.”

“You were the one who told me that everything would be alright. That I was in good hands. That I shouldn’t worry. You told me to go to the cafeteria to get some food. My boy died while I was eating a damn hamburger.”

“Mrs. Ellis, you have to understand. We all were devastated by your son’s death. Just devastated. I couldn’t sleep for some time, and I know Oscar was affected as well. But you didn’t have to go to such lengths to harm the hospital staff. Especially Oscar. He was an orderly. Completely innocent.”

Joan Ellis wasn’t having any of it. “How can you continue living with yourself? How can you come to something like this—an origami convention—and pretend that everything is okay? My son is dead in the ground, and yet you have time to do something as stupid as folding paper.”

Mrs. Ellis’s words smarted. She had no idea what an ER nurse went through each day. And a career nurse like Sachi? She had probably treated literally hundreds of gunshot victims, pregnant teenagers, and mangled bodies from car accidents. Losing herself in origami was a benign way to ease the ugliness of her work.

“You don’t want to kill me,” Sachi said. She was shocked how calm her voice sounded. “You’ve already killed one innocent man who had nothing to do with your son. Mr. Buck was a genius. An inspiration. He had people who loved him. He didn’t deserve to die.”

Joan adjusted her hands around the handle of the gun. It was obvious that she was growing tired of holding it.

“And if you kill me, Mrs. Ellis, it’s not going to solve your problems. They will know that it was you. Believe me. Your son will still be dead and your husband will be alone to bear this loss by himself.”

From a distance, Sachi thought that she heard a police siren and soon after there was a chorus of sirens surrounding them. Mrs. Ellis clutched at her weapon and Sachi was almost afraid that she would use it on herself.

Then came a female voice, magnified by a megaphone. “Attention, this is Detective Flanagan. Mrs. Ellis, and yes, we know your real identity, we have you surrounded. Please let Ms. Yamane go. There is nothing to be gained by this. Really.”

Put the gun down. Just put it down. Sachie said silently.

“We have someone on the line for you,” Flanagan’s voice echoed in the parking lot. There was a bit of silence and then a man’s voice. “Hello, Joannie. It’s me. I’m not sure what’s going on, but you can’t do this. I need you.”

Tears sprang from Mrs. Ellis’s eyes and the combination of sheer terror and emotion within the back of the van was making Sachi feel sick to her stomach. It was the most inopportune time to throw up, but Sachi couldn’t help herself. As she lurched forward, Sachi heard the .22 go off, a popping noise ringing her ear drums and then the smell of burning gun shot.

Chapter Eleven >>


© 2016 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