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Trouble on Temple Street: An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery

Chapter 9

“What?” I say, my voice rising as the din at Bottega Louie gets louder with the “ladies who lunch” crowd.

“The cop was dirty,” Rowan James repeats, and I suppress the urge to sock his drunken face in the mouth. How can he say that about my boyfriend, who may be fighting for his life at USC General Hospital in Lincoln Heights?

“Cortez Williams is not dirty,” I exclaim.

“You know him?”

“You’re not worthy to shine his shoes.” I don’t know where that came from. Maybe I heard my Grandma Toma say that one time. I had blown my cover, so what did I have to lose? I dig out my badge from my backpack and slap it down on the table next to our empty glasses.

“You’re a cop, too?”

I’m actually off-duty right this moment, but this high-tech exec doesn’t need to know that. “Listen, I’ve been in your offices. I’ve seen Cortez’s blood underneath your conference table. I know what you’ve done.”

Rowan James covers his eyes. “I didn’t mean to. I keep having to say it again and again. It was an accident. Never even held a gun before and it just went off.”

“Then why did you have one?”

“It wasn’t mine. It was Atom’s. He was nervous. Was getting threats from someone. So he brought a gun that his grandfather carried during World War Two to the office. Just in case.”

“For what?”

“I dunno. People were pissed about the photos we got. But then other folks have been sending more shots. Photos that they want to be leaked.”

Compromising shots, no doubt.

“That cop, Cortez? He was threatening us. Saying that we had better tell us who was feeding us photos or else something very bad may happen.”

“He didn’t say that.”

“Yeah, he did. I even have the photo that he was all upset about.” He scrolls through his camera roll on his phone. “Here, here it is. This chick,” he says.

From a distance, I can tell the woman is Asian. I pull his phone out of his hands to get a closer look. No, it can’t be, but I recognize that face—even if it is about thirty years younger—anywhere. It’s of my aunt Cheryl, looking nothing like I’ve ever seen her.

* * * * *

I leave Rowan James at the table and stumble out into the blinding sun of downtown L.A. Before I undo my bicycle lock, I send a text. Fortunately, I get an immediate response. Aunt Cheryl is conveniently in her office and free for lunch. I need to make sure that none of our colleagues are around, so I suggest the Hawaiian place in Honda Plaza in Little Tokyo.

Even though we both work for the LAPD, I haven’t seen my aunt in person for a month and a half. Actually around Mother’s Day. That’s not unusual because she’s one of the top dogs and I’m definitely one of the bottom ones. Everyone at my station now knows that we are related but no one seems to make a big deal about it anymore. It’s not like it’s benefitted me at all. I’m still on my bike and reaching the next level sometimes seems insurmountable.

When I enter the restaurant, I see that my aunt is already seated in a far corner.

“Everything on this menu seems full of carbs,” Aunt Cheryl says.

Duh. It’s Hawaiian food. But this lunch meeting isn’t about eating.

I get right to the point. “Aunt Cheryl, I need to know what’s going on.”

“What do you mean?”

“Atom McConnell’s murder out on Temple Street. You were there, when you didn’t have to be. And Cortez getting shot at 2ibon headquarters. What is that all about?”

“Ellie, this is an active investigation. You know that I can’t share details with you.”

“Then tell me more about this.” I activate my phone and show her the photo that I air dropped from Rowan James’s phone.

Aunt Cheryl’s lips part for a second and then she closes her mouth shut. I can literally see her jaw tighten. She is not amused.

“Did you get that from Cortez?” she asks and I know that this whole issue has put her on edge. In the past, she would never reveal her cards like this.

“Why is Cortez doing your dirty work?”

“You don’t understand, Ellie. This is highly sensitive.”

I know, I know. Way above my pay grade. But I deserve to know. “My boyfriend almost died for this. To cover up some scandal in your past.”

The waiter in a red and white Hawaiian shirt comes to take our order but one look from my aunt convinces him to scurry away.

“This is classified. You are not to tell anyone about this. Especially your little friend, the reporter.” Nay is anything but little—not the time to split hairs over her size.

I nod and wait to hear what my aunt is going to offer.

“Before I became a homicide detective, I worked vice. I was undercover.”

I frown. “That isn’t part of your bio.”

“And for good reason, too. The people we put away, they were connected with law enforcement. The ringleader was convicted for drug distribution and sentenced for more than twenty years in federal prison. He was just released.” She begins to take the paper napkin in front of her and starts to fold it in thirds, something my mother always does when she’s a bit anxious. “This photo that you had, that was released on 2ibon. The department thinks it’s a warning, a warning that my life can be in danger.”

I’m so shocked that I can’t talk. Ever since I was little, Aunt Cheryl was my role model, the tough detective who made it up the ranks. Since joining the force, I haven’t felt the same about her. If anything, she seems more distant, aloof and yes, even compromised.

“So that’s why you were at Atom McDonnell’s murder scene.”

“I wasn’t sure if it was related to the release of my photo. But I had to see.”

Aunt Cheryl’s phone rings and she immediately picks it up. “Yes, yes,” she says. “That’s good news.” After she ends the conversation, there’s actually a slight smile on her face. “You’ll be happy to hear this. Cortez is out of his coma.”

To be continued...

 

© 2018 Naomi Hirahara

Ellie Rush fiction little tokyo mystery naomi hirahara

About this series

LAPD bicycle cop Ellie Rush, first introduced in Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley, 2014), returns in this special serial for Discover Nikkei.

Ellie, who has been on the force for two years, finds herself in the middle of a Little Tokyo murder case that may potentially involve the people she loves most—her family. Will she be able to connect the dots before the killer harms her aunt, the deputy chief of the LAPD? Where does Ellie’s allegiances fall—the truth or family loyalty?

Read Chapter One