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Killer Roll

Chapter Seven — The Magic of Kitchen

The condo itself is one of those nondescript kinds all along Embarcadero in Palo Alto. It’s part of a larger complex with probably at least fifty units. My ex-husband’s condo is way in the back and I stand there waiting for his lawyer, Jordan Phelps.

With everything that has happened, I know that it’s quite dangerous for me to be out there, in plain sight. But I’m tired of being scared and ashamed about my past. Ever since my customer—well, I guess date—was killed and then my ex-husband, I’ve been questioned countless times by the authorities. I feel like I’ve literally been skinned alive. I don’t have any secrets anymore, but it seems like the closest person to me in America had a ton of them. And they may be hidden in this condo.

Finally a van drives in and parks in one of the guest parking slots. After some minutes the door slides open, a ramp descends, and Jordan emerges in his wheelchair.

He doesn’t bother to even say hello. He wheels past me and then goes to the door of Kurt’s unit. He presses down on a remote and I hear the alarm being disengaged. He finally acknowledges me by handing me the keys. “You do the honors,” he says. “It’s your place now.”

I’m frightened to see what might be inside. Maybe there will be strange drawings or photos on the wall, befitting a man who has gone crazy. Or gold bars and suitcases of cash, proof that Kurt was fully involved in some illegal activity.

I push the door open. There’s a stale smell, like the space has not been recently inhabited. In fact, the condo is almost completely empty. There’s no furniture in the living room and nothing in the side room. I leave Jordan in the kitchen as I go up the carpeted stairs. On the second floor, there’s one bedroom and an adjoining master bathroom. There’s a mattress on the floor with a sleeping bag on top of it. Kurt didn’t even bother to have sheets. In the closet hanging are only a couple of short-sleeved shirts. I recognize a striped one. That’s one I had given him when we were married.

The bathroom has one white towel that looks like it was stolen from a hotel. And a single bar of soap, Irish Spring, in the shower. Irish Spring, with its hideous strong smell, was Kurt’s favorite. For the heck of it, I lift the lid to the toilet tank. Just water in there. I’ve been watching too many crime movies.

I finally go down the stairs. “I don’t understand,” I begin to say to Jordan, who is still waiting in the kitchen. “There’s nothing in here.”

“Like he was on the run,” Jordan says.

I nod and then take in the kitchen. Standard cabinets made of processed wood and tiled counters, signs that the 1990s décor was never updated. Jordan moves toward the front door and that’s when I see it. Next to a regular white refrigerator is a most spectacular stainless steel stove—it’s my dream appliance, something I’ve coveted for most of my adult life as a cook.

I’m speechless as I trace the knobs with my fingers.

“What’s wrong?” Jordan asks.

“This stove. This stove is worth thousands of dollars.”

Jordan frowns and pushes back his Giants baseball cap. “How many thousands?”

“Like fifteen thousand. It’s been a stove I’ve wanted my whole life.” This one has a broiler drawer underneath the grill to ensure the best grilling for fish and nasubi, eggplants. I pull out the drawer and on the bottom, I see something that’s not supposed to be there. Aluminum foil. I pull it back to reveal a thin, silver laptop.

“Is something wrong?” Jordan rolls towards me.

“Ah, no, no.” I quickly close the drawer. “I was just admiring its features.”

“Well, this is all yours now.“

I have no idea who this Jordan Phelps is. How did he become Kurt’s lawyer? I tell him that I’m staying behind to look at the condo some more. The lawyer hesitates. “Suit yourself. Although there’s certainly not much to see.”

After the van leaves, I stuff the laptop into my Whole Foods bag. I’m glad that I had brought it along. No one will suspect that I have a piece of evidence in there that might explain the murder of two people.

My hands are shaking as I lock the door behind me and head for my car.

A woman with shoulder-length curly brown hair pops out from a hedge and I stifle a scream. “So, are you his girlfriend or something?” she asks.


“I’m the HOA president here,” she states proudly.

I’m not sure what that means. Does she have any authority to ask questions then? I’m not thinking straight and blurt out, “I’m his ex-wife.”

“Does he know that you’re here? He might not like it.”


“No, Jerry.”

“Oh, ah…” So Kurt was using a pseudonym with his fellow condo owners. I guess it was possible as he bought the house under a fictitious company name.

“Another girl was looking for him the other day. Jerry is very popular.”

“What did she look like?”

“I don’t think that I should tell you. Because if you are his ex-wife, it’s really none of your business.”

If only that was true.

* * * * *

As I drive back to Carrie’s dormitory, I try to understand what Kurt was doing living in a shell of an apartment. Maybe he wasn’t intending to stay long. Was this his temporary hideout? And the stove. Surely that’s a sign only meant for me. No one else would know that I’m wild about broiler drawers. He had hidden the laptop in a place only I would look.

Once I park in the lot, I try to figure out where can I hide the laptop. I can’t leave it in the car. Carrie will know what to do with it. Shikataganai. I take the Whole Foods bag with me.

I head straight for the kitchen, because that’s always the place I feel the safest. Even back in Wakayama, I loved hanging out in our humble daidokoro. Everything was aluminum and small. No fancy tile, backsplashes, or marble or wooden counters. Yet it’s what you could create in that small place that was magic.

I crave miso soup to calm my nerves. But not the instant kind in which the contents come in tiny bags. No, I need to make it from scratch. Luckily, I had brought some dried iriko, anchovies, from Yudai’s as well as a container of fresh red miso.

Usually I like to soak the iriko, but there’s no time for that. I pour a handful of anchovies in a pot of boiling water and look for a strainer to remove the fish once the stock is ready.

I realize that someone has been watching me. Crowe, the dorm chef, stands by the doorway, something rolled in fabric in his hands.

“Oh, I’ll get out of your way,” I say.

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

I gaze at his deep-set hazel eyes, the long butterscotch hair, his strong neck. I could never forget a face or physique like that. In fact, I feel a tingle of recognition.

“You’re no grad student,” he says. He begins to unroll the fabric on the wooden island and I discover that he’s brought a knife. “I know who you really are.”

Chapter Eight >>


© 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