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Excerpt from A Grave on Grand Avenue: An officer Ellie Rush Mystery

I get on the Gold Line light rail—I may be missing my car but unlike some Angelenos, I know how to use public transportation; my dad is an engineer with the Metro—and get off at Little Tokyo.

Two blocks east from the station is our hangout, Osaka’s, the best ramen in the neighborhood. Inside, I find my friends—Nay, my ex-boyfriend Benjamin, and the fourth member of our little posse, Rickie, the ultimate Mohawked diva—right where I knew they’d be.

“You won’t believe this,” I announce. “Someone stole the Green Mile!”

The whole table begins to clap. I hate them all.

“Wow, I had no idea you all thought so highly of my car,” I say bitterly, sinking down in an empty chair. How many times had I given them all rides? How often had the Green Mile come to their rescue (especially Nay’s) in the middle of the night?

Nay is sensitive enough to backpedal. “Girl, don’t get us wrong. We’re not dissin’ the GM.”

“I am,” Rickie spouts out, his mouth full of noodles.

Benjamin lowers his eyes. He doesn’t dare say anything negative about me or my beloved car. Things between us have been still pretty awkward since last year, but, well, as good as they can be. We’re polite to each other. But we don’t go out of our way to make one-on-one conversation. I’ve told myself that I have to forgive him. I mean, really forgive. Our break-up was both of our faults (well, maybe his a little more than mine, but who’s keeping score, right?). We’ve been the Fearsome Foursome since freshmen year at PPW, Pan Pacific West, and even though I’ve gone in a different direction (I graduated in three years, while the rest of them are working on their fifth), we still hang out together all the time. I’m not going to let a little thing like a break-up get in the way of that, right?

“Shut up, Rickie,” Nay says, then turns back to me. “Look, Ellie, you have a real job. You’re not a professional Dumpster diver like some people.” She gestures towards the Mohawk.

Rickie swallows. “Ah-ah, I prefer upcyler. You should have seen what I did to an old lampshade frame. Covered it with my lola’s old nightgown. Sold it for twenty bucks on craigslist.”

The rest of us cringe in unison at the image of Rickie’s grandmother sans nightie. I shake my head free of that picture, as Nay directs her attention back to her food, generously sprinkling Japanese chili powder on top of her ramen. “Look, what I mean is that you can afford a new car. Like, actually new.”

“Yeah, get some decent wheels.” Rickie devours a plate of gyoza, which had probably been Benjamin’s order. As Rickie describes himself, he’s a free spirit. Unfortunately, we’re the ones who end up paying for his freedom. “Last time we all went to that fund-raiser for the Legal Center, everyone was giving the Green Mile dirty looks. I even had to apologize to the valet.”

But you didn’t feel bad enough to give him a tip, I think.

The four of us continue chatting about nothing of consequence—our specialty— as we finish our meal. Even though I don’t get much love for the Green Mile, I do feel better. But then, I always feel better after hanging out with my friends, especially Nay.

As I lay ten dollars on the plastic bill tray to pay for my meal, Benjamin unexpectedly grabs my wrist and holds it tight while Nay and Rickie continue to jabber away on the other side of the table.

“We need to talk some time. Just you and me,” he says softly, so the other two can’t hear.

“Okay,” I say, trying to sound as casual as possible. He’s wearing his faded red plaid shirt, my favorite. And he’s close enough that I can smell the soap on him. “How about right now?”

“Hey, guys,” he then announces loudly, getting Nay’s attention. “I have to take off. See you around.”

And like that, his backpack on his shoulder, he’s gone. What just happened? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Follow him? But he didn’t give me a chance; he disappeared so quickly.

In any case, we’ve paid the bill and are all about to leave anyway, so soon I’m also saying my goodbyes to Nay and Rickie, who are off to the PPW library to do some studying. The streets of Little Tokyo are relatively empty for a Sunday night. There are a few groups of people our age mixed in with single Japanese men in T-shirts and flip-flops. Before I walk to the Little Tokyo station, I text Benjamin:

When do you want to talk?

But he doesn’t call or text back, and I start wondering if I, again, am reading too much into nothing.

 

* A GRAVE ON GRAND AVENUE, the second Officer Ellie Rush mystery, will be released on April 7, 2015 by Penguin Berkley Prime Crime in mass market paperback and ebook formats. For more information about the book, see www.naomihirahara.com, http://berkleysignetmysteries.com/book3134, or the JANM Store.

 

© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

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