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Killer Roll

Chapter Two—False Identity

The first thing I figure out: that my date, Ray DiPietro, wasn’t quite who he said he was.

Before I can even call in his murder, the police arrives at my workplace, Yudai’s Corner. First it was a couple of plainclothes detectives in an unmarked car. And then five black-and-white squad cars with Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department emblazoned on their side doors.

I begin shaking like a leaf. A woman pulls me aside, shows me some official identification and starts to pat me down while her male partner watches.

“What are you doing? I didn’t kill him.”

The coroner’s department has arrived. Other officers, their hands gloved, walk around the vehicle. It looks like they are taking fingerprints. They are, of course, going to discover mine on the door.

“Ms. Mitchell,” the male detective says, “we’ll have to take you to our department for questioning.”

“The place a few blocks down?” In the past, I’ve gone to the Mountain View Police Department to get a special parking permit for a friend visiting from Japan.

“No, you’ll be coming with us to San Jose.”

“Why San Jose? I don’t understand.” This is my second clue that something is amiss. First, how did the authorities know about Ray’s death? It was almost like they were watching. And now these detectives want to take me to the big city 13 miles from here.

I feel like I can’t refuse. If I say no, it may mean that I’m guilty in some way. And I’m not, am I?

Since it’s a little after rush hour, traffic isn’t so bad and we arrive in a nondescript building in about 15 minutes. It’s dark, and nothing looks familiar.

We go into the building, take an elevator, and go down a hallway into a small room with a table and three chairs. It’s as if the room has been prepared for us.

They have digital audio recorders and ask me questions about how I know Ray and what were my intentions with him.

My cheeks grow hot. “I was just planning to have dinner,” I say. “That’s all.”

The male detective, whose hair is the color of a rusty nail, then asks, “Do you know where your husband is?”

“You mean my ex-husband? I am not married.” I don’t say divorced. I hate that word. My parents in Japan have practically disowned me after I tell them that Kurt had left me. They blame me that I didn’t satisfy him in some way. “What does he have to do with any of this?”

The woman whispers into the ear of the male detective, and he excuses himself out the room. I finally feel like I can breathe.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t properly introduce myself back at the sushi bar,” she says. “I’m Neela Bronstein. I’m an agent with the District Attorney’s REACT unit. We deal with high technology crimes.”

“But this is murder,” I say.

“There may be some officers with the Mountain View police department who will be asking you questions as well. But we wanted to talk to you first. Because Agent DiPietro was part of our unit.”

My mind whirls. Ray was an undercover agent? What did he want with me?

“I’m sorry that this is a bit of a shock.”

“I don’t know anything. Ray was just a customer.”

“But your place of work is closed today. And you agreed to see him.”

Because he was a nice guy, I think, or at least that’s what I thought. And he looked at me a certain way. As if he cared about me. My eyes become wet and I feel like such a fool. I lower my head.

“I get it,” the agent’s voice becomes softer. “You were interested in him. Romantically, I mean.”

I nod my head. “What does any of this have to do with my ex-husband?”

Agent Bronstein lets out a big breath before speaking. “You see, Ms. Mitchell, we’ve been investigating your husband. And he’s nowhere to be found.”

“Have you checked with his workplace?”

She doesn’t bother to answer my question. “Has he made contact with you during these past few weeks?”

I shake my head. The last time I spoke to him was on Oshogatsu, Japanese New Year. All the employees of Yudai’s Corner get together at the sushi bar to have our own private celebration. Kurt isn’t that into parties, but he liked that one. He had called me out of loss, not because of love.

“What has he done?”

“It’s nothing that we can discuss, Ms. Mitchell.” Officer Bronstein then slides a business card on the table towards me. “If you hear anything from your ex-husband, it’s imperative that you contact me.”

After Bronstein questions me, another agent drives me home. Funny thing is, I didn’t even give him my address. It’s like everyone in that special high-tech department knows all sorts of private details about me.

When I enter my apartment, my cat, Mochiko, does figure-eights through my legs. She senses that I’ve been traumatized and her touch does calm me down. Kurt, what have you gotten yourself into, I think. Part of me wants to call him, but I have a feeling that my calls are being traced.

The next morning, my cell phone rings me awake.

“What the hell happened yesterday?” Yudai bellows. He’s speaking Japanese, so I know that he’s particularly irritated.

“Did the police talk to you?”

“No, it’s all the neighbors—urusai bunch. They said that there was a shoot-out here.”

“No. No shoot-out.” I then tell him how I discovered our customer dead in his car. I say nothing about being questioned about Kurt.

“I don’t need attention,” he switches into English. “You know I like to be low key.”

“I know, Yudai. I’m sorry.” I then switch over to Japanese to fully express my apology. “Moshiwake gozaimasen.”

“Now, now, none of that old-school Japanese stuff. I was just worried about you, that’s all.” He then tells me to take today off but I decline his offer.

“It’s better if I come in and work.”

Yudai must have told the rest of the staff about what happened because everyone at work is especially nice to me. Even Hector offers me an extra tamale that he’s brought from home. I accept it because I don’t know when is the next time I’ll get one from him.

“How was the other day?” I ask Yudai as we do the day’s preparation of rice.

He looks at me with a blank face.

“The Optimists.”

“Ah, no good. They laughed at everything. I couldn’t tell what jokes worked and what didn’t.”

“Mmm,” I say and then Carrie, our wait staff, flips over our sign to open.

I’m not an itamae that makes small talk with the customers, but after Ray’s death I’m even more wary. Maybe these people, even the pasty-faced regulars, are not who they say they are.

“You okay?” Our busboy, Som, checks in while Carrie squeezes my shoulder after she delivers a container of sake to a customer.

The night is uneventful, predictable even. I am so happy to be safely ensconced in a routine. Around nine o’clock, exhaustion hits. Yudai can see the tiredness on my face and practically orders me to go home early.

Although my bathtub is a regular western kind, I look forward to throwing in some bath salts and soaking in some hot water.

I should have known something was wrong as soon as I approach my door. Mochiko is not looking at me through the window behind the drapes.

I open the door and before I can turn on the lights, I hear a familiar voice inside.

“Maki, it’s me,” my ex-husband says. “Don’t say anything and just close the door.”

To be continued...

 

© 2018 Naomi Hirahara

fiction 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.