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Nikkei Detective

Chapter One—False Confession

“I did it,” I tell them. I sit in a back room of the Little Tokyo Koban, a visitor’s center and community police outpost on First Street in downtown L.A. Standing in front of me are the Koban manager; my best friend, Cesar Soto; and Officer Doug Brenner, my main contact in the LAPD.

Half of the room is covered with balls covered in tissue paper in preparation for the upcoming Tanabata Festival, something related to star-crossed lovers. Strangest place for a confession, but apropos for me in my current situation.

“You didn’t, Shirota,” Brenner says. What kind of cop argues with someone who is trying to confess?

“I did,” I insist. “I’m the one who defaced the Friendship Knot.”

“You’re lying, Kev,” Cesar says.

He knows me too well. I am lying, but I have to redeem my years of parental neglect. I’ve been a lousy dad, and that’s probably pushed my only daughter, Maddy, now fourteen, into a life of crime. And now I have to defend her. That’s my penance, and I’m more than willing to put my reputation and my private investigator’s license on the line for her.

* * *

Let me start from the beginning. At least to give you some background before Little Tokyo entered my life.

I’m not an OG, original gangster, but OOCG. Original Orange County Guy. And this is the OC before the TV series, the OC. So before it became cool and more multicultural. And I’m not talking about Garden Grove where the Japanese came and settled to grow strawberries or whatever.

Huntington Beach. I was a surfer, joker, toker, you get the picture. Maddy cracks up every time she sees the puka shells and the long, sun-lightened hair in my old childhood photos. I loved the life there. Couldn’t relate to the Super-Js in Monterey Park or Gardena. You know, the ones with the souped-up Toyotas with car stereos practically larger than their trunks. Other than my short stint playing baseball for the Evergreen Knights, I didn’t have much interaction with Asians, other than my family members.

I was living the life. Inspired by Tom Selleck’s TV show, Magnum, P.I., I decided that I want to be a private investigator. I’d wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts like Magnum did, and sit back and drink daiquiris in between gigs. Yeah, it wasn’t realistic, but what twenty-something-year-old has a handle on reality?

But I actually was able to make a living doing investigating. It wasn’t about anything particularly interesting, but I was making money. Got a job investigating accident fraud for insurance companies, married my college sweetheart, finally had a kid, and then things started to fall apart. First of all, my marriage. Claiming that I had communication issues, not to mention some addiction to mind-altering substances, my wife left me, taking our daughter with her. I know that I should have fought for Maddy more, but like I said, I was a lousy father.

I soon proved that not only was I a lousy father and husband, but also a lousy son and brother. When my parents both started getting physically frail, instead of getting closer to them, like my other brothers and sisters did, I went in the opposite direction. First I did geographically—moved further north to San Luis Obispo—and I stopped taking calls or receiving updates. Hearing about their declining health were like stabs to my heart, you know, reminders how my parents were going to die soon and that I was such a disappointment. My oldest brother was a superintendent of a small school district in Orange County; the second one, a VP of a bank. My younger sis, a dentist. I guess it’s not unusual for Boy No. 3 to be a failure, but that statistic does no one any good, especially my family and me.

* * *

Little Tokyo is the last place I expected to be or wanted to be during my midlife years. Maybe Turtle Rock in Irvine, Laguna Beach, or Newport Beach. But not First Street in between John Aiso and Alameda streets. That be the ghetto in my OOCG eyes. The place where my grandparents and parents broke out of to make a life for themselves in other places.

Obviously, though, for the past five years, I was going backward in life. My recreational activity started to get the best of me. Yup, my drinking and toting landed me in jail. Two times. This knucklehead of a PI gets not one, but two DUIs. I’m in a special program now that will qualify me to get my driver’s license back after a year. You heard it right. I can’t drive for 365 days, not even to or from work. In Southern Cal, that’s a death sentence. For a PI, it usually means unemployment, unless you are a whiz on the computer. And for a middle-aged washed-up partier like me, I don’t have to tell you that computer skills are not my forte.

But then my high school buddy, Cesar, comes to the rescue. Turns out that he’s made a mint on real estate. Not in estates around the OC, but metropolitan areas. Los Angeles. His son’s opened up a snack shop in one of the storefronts on Little Tokyo, but there’s office space above, a couple of rooms, barely twelve square feet total. Do I want to set up shop there? Temporarily for three hundred bucks a month? Criminal courts are around the corner. Federal Building, up the street. All walking distance. What do you think I said? Hell, ya. I’m not going to end up here permanently, after all. This is just my second chance. My chance for me to get out of here.

* * *

“Who are you protecting? Your daughter?” Officer Brenner asks.

“I thought Maddy liked it here.” Cesar frowns.

“She loves it here. Best summer vacation in her life,” I tell them.

Doug’s radio then squawks. He responds. I know the police codes. 419. Dead human body. The address over the radio is close to Japanese Village Plaza, a collection of stores and restaurants. The exact place where Maddy likes to hang out.

“I have to go, guys,” Doug announces.

I get up, too.

“Oh, no, Shirota, you stay here,” the police officer tells me. “You watch him,” he directs the Koban manager. Brenner then stares back at me. “We are going to continue this conversation later.”

After Brenner walks out of the Koban, I quickly take out my cell phone and text Maddy as fast as I can. Where R U?


Chapter Two >>


© 2014 Naomi Hirahara

fiction little tokyo mystery naomi hirahara Nikkei Detective

About this series

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