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Killer Roll

Chapter Six — Pretender

I’m assembling a natto hand roll for a software engineer with Google, when a man in a motorized wheelchair enters Yudai’s Corner. He has a grizzled red beard that looks like strands of saffron and a Giants baseball cap.

“I’m looking for Maki Mitchell,” I hear him announce to our waitress, Carrie. He is already looking my way, so I figure he already knows who I am.

Carrie is giving him the third degree, but I tell her that it’s okay. It’s almost closing time in between lunch and dinner, anyway, and the engineer is happy with his cone of rice, natto, and kaiware radish sprouts, all wrapped in nori.

I go outside and the bearded man follows me in his wheelchair.

“I am Maki,” I tell him. I make sure that we stand close to the glass door. Som, our busboy, is practically pressing his face against the glass, watching. My co-workers are my protectors.

“Jordan Phelps.” He hands me a business card from his shirt pocket. It says that he is a lawyer. “I went to your apartment, but your landlord said that you had cleared out. He was a bit upset. He said that you left the apartment in a bit of a mess.”

“What is this all about?”

“I represent the estate of Kurt Mitchell. He designated you as executor of his living trust.”

I shake my head. “No, this is a misunderstanding. We got divorced last year.”

“No misunderstanding. He updated his trust recently and kept you as his executor.”

“How about his mother? Doesn’t he have a sister in Iowa?” His mother had been at our simple wedding at the San Jose courthouse. Kurt mentioned his sister, but I never met her.

“Both of them are deceased.”

“What?” I’m stunned. Kurt’s mother was in her sixties with no health problems that I was aware of.

“Mrs. Mitchell died in a car accident in February. The sister was an unfortunate victim of a home robbery.”

“When did the robbery happen?”

“A month ago.”

My mouth is kara-kara, completely dry. Is it a coincidence that both of them were killed in unfortunate incidents? The Google engineer comes out of Yudai’s Corner and waves goodbye to me. After I fake a smile, I tell Jordan, “I don’t want anything to do with Kurt’s property.”

“Well, it’s your prerogative.” He hands me a manila envelope. “At least read over the living trust before you decide. You have my contact information.” He then wheels himself into our parking lot towards a van.

I walk into Yudai’s Corner in a daze. Carrie has turned over our sign to read “CLOSED.” Everyone is sitting around a table eating mabo dofu that Hector has whipped together for lunch.

“Everything okay?” asks Yudai, who knows from the expression on my face that everything is far from okay.

I tell them what has happened and Carrie rips open the envelope and starts reading the trust. Som tries to read over her shoulder but it seems like her long hair is getting in the way.

“Maki, you should accept the executorship,” she concludes after handing over the will to Som.

“Did you just hear what I said? Both his mother and sister were killed recently.”

“You think that’s part of this whole conspiracy?” Yudai asks.

“Of course it is.”

“If you become executor, then maybe you can get into his papers and things,” Carrie says. “Find out what’s really going on.”

“I have no idea where he lives—”

“He has a house,” Som says and Hector takes the trust from him to check over the language.

“He does?” I’m dumbfounded. We always rented as a couple.

“Yeah, on Embarcadero in Palo Alto. It’s probably a townhouse,” Hector, who has his reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, says.

“We never had money while we were married. Much less to buy property in Palo Alto.” Even a small townhouse in that area would cost around a million dollars.

“I agree with Carrie. You should become executor,” Hector says. “As executor, you’ll be able to move more quickly.”

“Better to be assertive,” Yudai says, “than to sit around, waiting for someone to kill you.”

With such a cheery comment, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

* * * * *

After work, I drop Carrie off at the Stanford computer lab for her to complete some work for a class. Now that I’m sharing a dorm room with her, I’ve come to realize how truly amazing she is. A hatarakimono. A hard worker. Her father is the chief executive officer of a paper company in Orange County, so he can afford to pay her whole tuition, but he has insisted that she earn her way through college. It would be one thing if this was community college, but it’s Stanford.

“These people who are after you think that you’re afraid of them, but you have to actually go after them,” she says as she lifts her backpack on the floor of the passenger seat.

“What if I’m really scared?” I ask her.

“Do what I do,” she says, “pretend that you’re not.”

It’s a short drive to Carrie’s dorm, what is called a “self-op.” The students hire a chef to make them dinner, but I’m too self-conscious to take advantage of the students’ hospitality. I bring a bag full of food from the restaurant: a pack of tofu, eggs, natto, and of course gohan, rice.

The dishwasher in the communal kitchen is on and the wood block island is clear of any food. I put my groceries away, leaving out a couple of eggs.

The kitchen is quite big, larger than the one at Yudai’s Corner, and I enjoy how accessible all the tools and spices are. This is a chef who knows how to organize his workspace.

I’m turning my omelet over two times when I hear someone behind me say, “What are you doing in my kitchen?”

The speaker is a man in a white cook’s frock which has the lettering, “Crowe,” embroidered on the left side of his chest. He’s also wearing a white chef’s skull cap which fails to hide his long, wavy hair, the color of butterscotch.

“Oh, hello. My name is Maki Mitchell. I’m Carrie’s aunt.”

“You don’t look like Carrie.”

“We are related through marriage.” Carrie had already briefed me on how to answer these questions.

Crowe spies the folded omelet. “That looks pretty good.”

“Please try. It’s tamagoyaki. From Japan.” I slide the omelet onto the plate, reassuring the chef that I plan to clean everything I’ve used and return all the cooking tools to their rightful place.

Crowe takes a fork and stabs at a corner of the tamogoyaki. “Not bad,” he comments after chewing. “That would be good on a nigiri.”

I start to reveal my true occupation, but then remember that Carrie has told everyone that I’m a visiting graduate student here at Stanford.

“Ah yes,” I say. “You might be right.”

Chapter Seven >>


© 2019 Naomi Hirahara

fiction Killer Roll maki mitchell mystery naomi hirahara restaurant sushi

About this series

Maki Mitchell, one of the few female Japanese chefs in the world, works at Yudai’s Corner, a sushi bar in California’s Silicon Valley. Still bruised from her divorce to an American man, she uncharacteristically lets down her guard to a male customer one evening. That seemingly random encounter leads her down dark paths involving high-tech hijinks and international espionage. Soon Yudai’s Corner becomes a full-fledged detective agency and all the employees ban together to not only solve murders but to also support and protect the life of their female sushi chef.

Read Chapter One