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Trouble on Temple Street: An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery

Chapter 10

When Aunt Cheryl and I arrive on Cortez’s floor at USC L.A. General Hospital, I feel my heart both rising and sinking at the same time. Rising because Cortez has come out of his coma. Sinking because I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to see him.

Appearing from the side waiting room is Nay, and Aunt Cheryl immediately becomes frostier than even usual.

“Girl, it’s about time you showed up,” Nay says, giving my shoulders a squeeze. Aunt Cheryl, meanwhile, doesn’t bother to say hello to Nay and continues through the automatic doors to the ICU.

“I see she’s in her usual cheery mood.” The relationship between those two have deteriorated ever since Nay started working for a local TV news affiliate. The LAPD and the media don’t mix.

“Have you seen him?”

“Are you kiddin’ me? I’m a damn pariah in the ICU. I was waiting around until you showed up.”

“I may not get any further than you.” I hang on to the straps of my backpack.

“What do you mean? You’re his woman.”

“You tell his mother that.”

“You tell him that. He’s a grown man. Now that he’s conscious, he can decide who he wants to see.”

I take a deep breath. Nay is right. Why am I hiding in the shadows of the hospital? I raise my chin and step onto the mat to open the doors.

Mrs. Williams is waiting outside of his room. As soon as she sees me, she starts shaking her head. “Na-uh, this is not going to happen.”

“Mama,” I hear Cortez’s voice, weak yet still clear as a bell. “What’s going on?”

I use this opportunity to join Aunt Cheryl by his side. As I pass by Mrs. Williams, I can almost feel her glare burn the back of my neck.

“I’m here,” I tell him. He’s lost weight and has lost some muscle mass. I squeeze his hand and he squeezes it back. I’m not going to burden him right now about his mother banning me from his hospital room during his medically induced coma.

He continues to talk to my aunt. “That kid wasn’t trying to hurt me.” Cortez swallows. “Looked like he never handled a firearm before.”

So what Rowan James told me in a drunken stupor was the truth. He didn’t mean to shoot Cortez.

“Why did they have that gun there in the first place?” I ask.

Aunt Cheryl pulls the lapels of her jacket together. I know that she has some information, but doesn’t want to reveal anything in my presence. I’m not going anywhere. She finally exhales. “The Firearms Analysis Unit has determined that the gun was issued by the government to the military during World War II.”

“It did look damn old,” Cortez says.

“It was owned by Atom McDonnell’s grandfather. He was with the military police. At Manzanar.”

“At Manzanar?” That’s where Grandma Toma was during World War II.

“And the threatening notes that were being sent to Atom?” Aunt Cheryl continues. “I’ve been getting the same exact ones at LAPD headquarters.”

We all fall silent. What does this all mean?

* * * * *

Nay drives me back to Little Tokyo, where my bike is locked up in Honda Plaza near the Hawaiian plate lunch place.

“Well, at least you showed her who is boss,” Nay says about Mrs. Williams.

“I’m not sure that I showed her anything.” I tried to be congenial when I left Cortez’s room. I even tried to make eye contact with Mrs. Williams and smile, but she acted like I didn’t exist. I couldn’t help but say when I was leaving, see you tomorrow.

After saying goodbye to Nay, I ride my bike all the way to my parents’ house, a grueling nine-mile course through the hills of Cypress Park. I don’t mind. It gives me time to expend all my worries and also attempt to piece together the past strange events that may be linked together. Atom McDonnell getting fatally stabbed at the Go for Broke Monument. The same threatening anonymous notes being sent to Atom and my aunt. The firearm of a military policeman who was in Manzanar.

I’m thankful that Cortez is expected to make a fully recovery, but I’m still haunted by the revelations that it may not be a coincidence that the Toma family might be somehow connected to this darkness.

I can think of one person close to me who might be able to provide some answers. I bring my bicycle into my parents’ house. The two Priuses usually parked in the driveway are gone, but I hear a TV blaring from a backroom.

Although she’s a die-hard UCLA basketball fan, Grandma Toma has switched over to the Dodgers in the summer and she’s watching a game right now while sucking on some boiled edamame.

“Grandma Toma, I need to talk to you about something.”

Still staring at the baseball broadcast, she answers, “I just spent my social security check on new stove for your mother.”

“No, it’s not about money. I’m good with money. It’s about Manzanar.”

Grandma Toma looks totally confused. “Manzanar? Why would you bring up Manzanar?”

“I was wondering if a name of an MP would be familiar to you. McDonnell.”

She frowns, struggling to access details from the past. “McDonnell. Actually that name sounds familiar.”

I wait, and she realizes that I’m not just making idle conversation. She pulls out a moving box from the corner and takes out a musty black notebook.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“My father’s log book. From working on the camp police force.”

She slowly turns the weathered pages from the seventy-year-old record book. I want to tear it from her hands and plow through it, but I have to be patient.

After a few minutes of adjusting her trifocals and going back and forth to certain pages, she finally speaks, “Yes, here it is. A Joe McDonnell was friends with my father. He was an MP. Is that who you are talking about?”

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