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Nikkei Detective

Chapter Nine—The Last Selfie

Read Chapter Eight >>

“I’m a private investigator. Kevin Shirota,” I flash my license as if it really means something to a woman sitting behind a clear desk in the lobby of Fine Bank. This place is not like any financial institution I’ve ever been in. First of all, there are no tellers perched on high stools, but men and women dressed in high-tone suits that probably cost more than the SUV I had to sell to afford my defense attorney in my DUI case.

“You’ll have to talk to our legal department—” The receptionist is on her phone in two-seconds flat. In the meantime, a blonde who looks part-Asian interrupts our conversation.

“He’s an investigator,” I hear the receptionist hiss in the blonde’s ear.

“Wait—what is this all about?” The blonde must be in her forties and her age looks mighty good on her. I remind myself that I’m the dad of a teenage daughter—get your head out of the gutter, Kev!

“Murder case. A Japanese woman named Satoko Fujii,” I explain.

The receptionist exhales relief. What’s up with that? It was as if she’s happy that I’m looking into a murder instead of some other kind of crime.

“Here, come inside.” The blonde gestures that I follow her down a hall. Yeah, I’ll definitely follow her even though I have no idea where we are going.

We settle into a square office with strangely no windows. All the walls are painted white and for a moment, I feel like I have walked into an insane asylum.

I sit in a simple chair, also white.

“She was Yokoyama-san’s housekeeper, yes?” She lights up a cigarette in her office and I’m both surprised and jealous. Every building I know of in California has a no-smoking policy.

She obviously registers the look on my face. “You want one?” she says, extending the cigarette carton towards me.

“I quit.”

“It’s never too late to start up again.”

Unfortunately, she’s so right. Well, this is not an illegal substance at least, and I accept her offer.

“I didn’t get your name,” I finally say after a long, sweet drag. I know that I shouldn’t be enjoying this guilty pleasure so much, but I am.

“I didn’t give it.” She then laughs, so loud that the sound echoes from the plain walls. “Harumi. Harumi Campbell. I’m the operations officer here.”

“Harumi. So you’re Japanese.”

“You are a good investigator.” I know Harumi is dissing me, but I enjoy that as well. “My mother is from Japan. But your visit isn’t about me.”

“Right, Satoko Fujii. How is it that you know her?”

“I met her. At Ryo’s house in Hancock Park.”

Ryo instead of Mr. Yokoyama? This familiarity sounds suspect. I know that we aren’t in Japan, but Fine Bank apparently does a lot of work with Japanese industrial companies—at least that’s what Maddy told me from Googling “Fine Bank” on her phone. Speaking of Maddy, I glance at my phone to see if she’s texted me. I left her in the downstairs Starbuck’s with strict instructions to stay put.

“What, Mr. Shirota, are you in some kind of hurry?”

“No, just checking on my daughter.” I let that piece of personal information slip before thinking. “She’s fourteen and I left her downstairs.”

“By all means, have her come up here.”

“No, no.” Maddy would be a distraction and certainly wouldn’t keep her opinions about Harumi to herself.

“So you just met Mrs. Fujii just once?” I return to the investigation.

“No, I didn’t say that. I don’t know, maybe a half a dozen times.”

I straighten my back. “You know Mr. Yokoyama well then?”

“He’s the president of the bank.”

I don’t buy that their relationship is just professional. The Yokoyamas didn’t seem the type to open their doors for company parties.

“Look,” Harumi says. “I just know Satoko as the housekeeper. That’s all. She was discharged because she was stealing some of Mrs. Yokoyama’s things—”

“You know about that?” Harumi’s story confirmed Ryo Yokoyama’s.

“Look, if she’s the type to do something like that, who knows who else she ripped off. She’s pissed off her son, her daughter.”

When Harumi says “daughter,” I feel my ears prick up. That daughter, Bet, happens to be my client.

“Her daughter?” I can’t help but to say.

“Yeah, her daughter with champagne tastes and a beer budget. She’s super overextended. They are going to foreclose on her condo in Manhattan Beach. She even had the gall to come here and demand a loan from Ryo.”

I think about the five-hundred dollar check that she had written for me, and feel sick to my stomach. The ash on my cigarette is growing long and Harumi nudges over a metal trashcan with her shoe my way.

“I need to go,” I tell her as I tap the ash in the trashcan.

“I’m sure you do.” She drops her cigarette on the white linoleum floor and crushes with her heel.

Harumi walks me out back to the lobby. “Listen, Ryo had nothing to do with Satoko Fujii’s death,” she says to me before I leave. “I guarantee it.”

Still, holding the nub of my extinguished cigarette, I nod my head. I’m still numb with the thought that my client may not have the funds to really pay me. Standing in front of the elevator, I don’t waste any time and call Bet Fujii.

She answers at the first ring. “Did you get the evidence on my brother?” Her voice sounds eager, hopeful.

“No, but I’m at Fine Bank right now. Got some very interesting information about your attempt to get a loan here.”

Bet does a 180—all her original positivity is gone. Now her voice is hard and biting. “I’m not paying you to investigate me. I told you to find out how my brother killed our mother.”

“I’m an investigator. Not a hired hand. I’m trying to discover the truth.” I drop the remaining cigarette in the trash can beside the elevator. “Tell me that your check isn’t going to bounce, Bet.”

“You know, the stories about you were right,” Bet says. “Here I was, trying to give you a chance. You’re a damn loser, Kev Shirota. And you’re fired!”

Our call is cut off and I don’t know whether to be angry or relieved. Truth be told, I’m nowhere close to finding out who killed Satoko Fujii. I’m not sure if she was a saint or a shrew. Either way, she was a person, deserving some kind of justice.

Bet’s words do cut me. Loser. Waru bozu. Maybe I’m not worth anything, high or sober. I’ve never thought seriously about ending it all, or maybe I have, but I didn’t even realize it. I can’t afford to even think of taking such drastic measures. I’m a dad with a teenage daughter. A daughter I’m finally getting to know.

I take the elevator down with a couple of office drones complaining about their boss. When I’m on the first floor, I head directly to the Starbuck’s. Once I see that goth girl in her Doc Marten’s, I’ll be all right. Who cares if I got fired by a lying client with apparently no money?

I check out the line of tables. People on their laptops or office workers getting a quick latte together. But no single teenagers. I check my phone. No texts. I then quickly text her, making misspellings as I’m typing too quickly. No response.

I approach one of the baristas. “Hey, have you seen my teenage daughter? Her name is Maddy. She looks like this.” I hold up my phone with my most recent photo of her sitting in our temporary apartment in Little Tokyo.

“Oh, her. I don’t know what happened to her, but she never picked up her drink. And she left her phone.” The barista hands me a familiar phone in a black case. As I touch it, the wallpaper lights up. It’s a selfie of us together, father and daughter.

 

Chapter Ten >>

 

© 2015 Naomi Hirahara

fiction little tokyo mystery naomi hirahara Nikkei Detective

Sobre esta série

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