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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Twelve—Keep on Shining

Read Chapter Eleven >>

We talk about bullying as if it’s a 21st century phenomenon. Boys bullying girls and boys who don’t fit in, the mean skinny girls bullying the dorky fat girls, and it goes on and on. But old farts like me know that unfortunately bullying is nothing new. It’s been around since the beginning of time and it was definitely part of my life in the Seventies.

In Orange County, I created a persona. I was the Hawaiian surfer dude with the puka shells who was always ready to party. It didn’t matter that the only real connection I had to Hawaii was that I drank Hawaiian Punch every day. And when it came to my real childhood interaction with people of color, Japanese Americans in my Evergreen Knights baseball team, I targeted the weakest link. And that link was Howie Hanabata. To my defense, if I even deserved one, I wasn’t the only one to bully Howie. Together we stuck him in trashcans, stole his clothes and shoes, and threw him in duck ponds. I’m not proud of this, but what can you do, forty years later? I could have gone to him at his family’s arare shop in Little Tokyo and apologized. I mean, reconciling our past is even part of my twelve step program. But I didn’t think it was worth it. That was so long ago. Probably Howie had forgotten all about.

But now sitting in my buddy’s LAPD black-and-white, speeding towards Little Tokyo, I’m fully aware that I did wrong. And I’m definitely paying for it. Because I believe that Howie has taken my 14-year-old daughter to prove his point. The ultimate revenge. Get me where I hurt the most. He’s learned well from his bullies. Us.

“You can go from the back,” I tell my policeman friend, Doug Brenner, as we approach Judge John Aiso Street from First Street.

Doug nods. We are on the same wavelength.

I’ve actually been in Hanabata arare shop once, when I was eleven. I think that it may have been for some kind baseball fundraiser. The Hanabatas had donated some rice crackers and we team members had to help load the bags into the truck. We had gone downstairs in the basement, which sounds spooky and dark, but was actually pristine and clean with pure white walls. Could my daughter Maddy be down there?

“There’s a basement in the back,” I say and Doug nods again.

Doug leaves the patrol car in the rear parking lot, leaving his elderly murder suspect, Mrs. Yokoyama, handcuffed in the back seat. We quickly go over our plan. He would call for back-up, but we both know that this is based on hunches, my hunches. It’s flimsy at best. And who am I? A washed-up private investigator and recovering addict. One wrong move and his career is on the line. I can appreciate that. We need to handle this ourselves. I’m supposed to keep Howie occupied up front while Doug searches the back of the store and the basement.

So I go through my friend’s son’s snack shop next door to get to First Street.

“Hey, Uncle Kev—” Cameron calls out, but I ignore him.

I then approach the front of the arare store. The store window is dusty. Rice crackers, I don’t know how old, are on display. There’s an old Rafu Shimpo article about the Hanabata legacy taped in the corner of the window.

Inside is one customer, an old Japanese woman, who is inspecting each bag of homemade arare.

C’mon, lady, you’re not the Food and Drug Administration or with the Health Department. It’s just rice crackers; buy something.

She must have read my mind, or maybe I was getting too much in her space, because she finally selects something and goes to the cash register. And yeah, it’s one of those old cash registers with round buttons—nothing digital or remotely modern in here.

She sets her palm on a bell and after it sounds, he emerges from the kitchen. Howie Hanabata, in a soy sauce splattered apron.

He notices me immediately and stops in his tracks for a moment. Then the customer breaks his trance and he responds to her, taking her money. The cash register rings, the cash box opens, and then the woman leaves, slightly sneering at me.

“Hello, Kevin,” he says, pretending nothing is wrong. I can throttle him now, but I need to be steady for the sake of my daughter.

“Hey,” I say back to him. “I was wondering if you’ve seen my daughter. You know, Maddy. She’s fourteen and usually wears black.”

“Your daughter? What’s wrong?” A fake frown.

“She’s missing.”

“Missing? Oh, you must be really worried. Out of your mind.” Howie is tightening the screws, wanting to see me suffer.

“Well, I know that she’s somewhere here. On this block. Her mother and I have her chipped, you know. Like they do dogs. Well, they are starting to do kids, too.”

Howie then really frowns. “I’ve never heard that before.”

“It’s a new thing,” I say, getting closer and closer to Howie. “Something they’ve started in Orange County.”

Howie is now looking worried. Beads of sweat are forming above his upper lip.

“So the GPS on her chip says that she’s here. Right here on First Street. But she’s not in our apartment. Not in my office. Not in the snack shop. Would you have any idea where she might be?”

Howie knows that I know, and he first flees back into the kitchen. I hear someone say, “Stop! Police!” and pots and pans being overturned. Then Howie, a wild look on his face, reappears up front. He knocks over a display of rice crackers on top of me as he attempts to make his getaway out the front door. Stomping on the packages of arare, I chase after him. He heads towards the Far East Lounge and I see a couple of men from my Narcotics Anonymous group smoking by the parking meters.

“Get that guy!” I shout out. “He kidnapped my daughter!”

The two men don’t waste any time and grab hold of Howie’s T-shirt and the belt around his jeans.

“Where’s Maddy?” I say. He’s pinned down on the ground and I have my knee against his chest. “For your sake, she better be okay.”

“Dad, Dad.” It’s like the voice of an angel breaking through the drone of traffic on First Street. “I’m okay.”

Maddy runs up to me and her clothing is stained with various colors, red, purple, yellow. I hug her hard. Other than the time of her birth, I’ve never been so happy to see her.

Doug is right there, too, and rolls Howie over to place handcuffs on him. “You should have never come to Little Tokyo,” Howie shouts to me while Doug takes him down First Street. “You should have just stayed in Orange County.”

* * * * *

Maddy leads me back towards Hanabata rice cracker shop. “He told me that something had happened to you, so I just went with him,” she explains. “I forgot my phone and everything. I wanted to go back for it, but he said there was no time. And then he said that we had to go back to Little Tokyo, that you were there.”

“What the hell did he do to you?” I murmur, gesturing at all the paint on her clothing.

“He was such a liar, Dad. He said some awful stuff about you. That you and some other boys had stuffed him in trashcans and did other things to him.”

“The thing is, Maddy, we—” No, I wasn’t going to hide behind other people. “I did those things.”

“That’s so mean.”

“It was mean. I should have apologized to him when we moved into Little Tokyo. But I thought that maybe he forgot.”

“He told me that you were down in the basement. That you had a relapse. That you were on drugs again.”

When I hear Maddy say that, I feel one-inch tall. Oh, what have I put my kid through?

“After I went down the stairs, he locked the door on me. Said that he’ll be back. That he just needed to teach you a lesson.”

“I’m so sorry, Maddy. All of this is my fault.”

“It wasn’t that bad, Dad. There was a bathroom down there. And all these bags of rice crackers. Then I found all these spray paint cans.”

Spray paint cans? Or course. Howie had also been part of the vandalism of the landmarks in Little Tokyo. The tagging that implicated me, “Kev.”

She pulls me down the basement stairs. During the short amount of time that she’s been locked up here, she’s created a full-blown mural on the side of Hanabata’s basement wall. She’s painted the Noguchi rocks, the Friendship Knot, the memorial for Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, the garden at JACCC. Even the statue of Chiune Sugihara by Starbuck’s and her favorite yogurt place. And at the center of all these places are two figures—a silhouette of a girl in Doc Marten boots and a man, a little pudgy around the middle, at her side. They are both faced toward the wonder of Little Tokyo, underneath a sun that I hope will keep on going strong for many summers to come.

“Dad, you’re the best,” Maddy says. “You’re the most awesome detective in Little Tokyo.”

I give her a side hug. She’s right, you know. Because I’m the only PI here. But I’ll take what I can get.



* Naomi Hirahara starts new Discover Nikkei original mystery series "Death of Origamist"!! Please check back on August 4. 


© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

bulllying fiction little tokyo Los Angeles 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