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Death of an Origamist

Chapter Nine—Better Than She Seems

The two Orange County detectives then left Sachi’s hotel room, taking Kenji the bodyguard with them. “We want to ask you more questions,” Detective Flanagan told Kenji. “We want a minute-by-minute account of what you were doing while you were away from Mr. Buck the evening he died.”

Well, at least 27 or so of those minutes were with me at the hotel bar, thought Sachi. If only she could be transported back to that time when her biggest concern was making a mistake on an origami project. Kenji nodded his goodbye. “I’ll call you when this is over.”

The door closed behind them, leaving Sachi by herself in the recently cleaned room. Every item—except for a corner of the bedspread on her roommate’s bed—was perfectly in place. All the chaos of the past two days had been erased.

How did this happen, Sachi wondered. How did she get in the middle of a murder investigation? In the emergency room, they were constantly dealing with the aftermath of crimes, but now Sachi and her new friends were seen as persons of interest in committing one.

Sachi took out her cell phone and called her best friend, Leslie. No answer. Leslie worked weekends, and probably was still on duty. She wondered about their mutual friend, Oscar, an orderly who had been taken ill. Sachi wasn’t a particularly religious person, but she believed in good thoughts, even though they had failed her late husband. She sent one now to Oscar and then a text to Leslie.

She picked up the remote for the television and in spite of the countless channels, there wasn’t anything that she wanted to watch. She considered doing some origami, but she couldn’t get Craig Buck out of her mind. Was the origami paper poisoned? Is that what did him in? If so, she could have easily been killed as well.

She paced the carpeted floor. She couldn’t stand being alone anymore. Maybe Olivia was now free from her administrative crisis. Sachi then remembered that she didn’t have Olivia’s cell phone number. She called the hotel operator for the penthouse and was eventually directed to leave a voicemail message.

After quickly refreshing her makeup, Sachi left her hotel room with her purse. She could stay trapped in her nicely furnished jail cell or she could try to figure out exactly what was going on.

* * * * *

Sachi took the elevator to the penthouse. As the door opened, she immediately spied Taku, the 12-year-old origami savant and Olivia’s son, sitting in a large leather chair in the hallway. He was furiously folding, leaving a scattered trail of origami animals on the floor. There was a bright green lion, red frog, and yellow flamingo. Sachi didn’t know if he had chosen the mismatched colors on purpose or if it was a sign of distress.

“Taku, what are you doing out here?” She honestly did not like Taku, but she reminded herself that he was a child. Every child deserved a second chance.

“My parents are arguing,” he said, gesturing toward the closed penthouse door.

“Do they know that you’re out here?”

He shrugged his shoulders as he continued to fold. “They usually don’t notice where I am.”

Sachi shuddered with sadness. She didn’t consider herself a “kid person” but she was popular among her nieces and nephews. Maybe because she didn’t expect anything from them. The other nurses commented that she was good with kids, especially young patients; it was only because she treated them like fellow humans, not appendages or idiots.

She sat crosslegged on the carpet, careful not to squash any of Taku’s paper creations. He was an amazing folder who always seemed to produce crisp, strong lines.

Taku held out a piece of paper to Sachi. A black square. Usually she would make a penguin, zebra, bat, or panda with that color. But Taku was going for the unexpected.

She took a breath of contemplation and then began. The two humps were easy. The ears were the hard part. Taku’s skill seemed to rub off on Sachi, because when she was finished, she actually felt proud.

“A black camel!” Taku’s voice was high-pitched and sounded younger than his 12 years. “It looks like something that could be in Star Wars.”

Sachi took it as a compliment and presented it to the boy in her outstretched palm.

“You’re better than you seem,” he said.

It was such a strange comment that didn’t make sense yet made all the sense in the world. Her husband, Scott, used to say something like that. That she underestimated herself and as a result, underperformed. Maybe that’s what happened at Craig Buck’s master session. She cracked under pressure.

“That’s what Kenji says about you.”

“Kenji?” His name sounded strange coming out of Taku’s mouth. Sachi didn’t even realize that he knew Mr. Buck’s bodyguard.

“Yeah, that’s what he was telling my mom.”

Sachi felt like freezing water was being poured on her head. “What do you mean?”

“He actually said that you are smarter than you seem. That my mother needs to be careful.” Taku looked up from his origami sheets. “I didn’t understand what he meant by that.”

“Just what is Kenji to you, Taku?”

“He’s my best friend.”

“Isn’t he a little old to be your friend?”

“Well, actually he was my mom’s best friend. That is, until she told him to move out.”

Sachi stiffened. “You mean that he was living with you.”

Taku nodded. “Then he got a job with Mr. Buck and moved to Mexico.”

“New Mexico,” Sachi murmured. At one point she had felt part of the origami elite’s inner circle, but now she realized that she had no idea what these people were. She felt like such a fool. For a moment, she thought that Kenji could be possibly a romantic interest. He instead was attached to one of those mystical beautiful women that all men seemed to pursue in their dreams.

Sachi didn’t care what the police had said. She had to get out of that hotel, and now.

She got to her feet.

“You’re leaving?” Taku actually sounded sad.

The elevator then dinged and opened, revealing Kenji in all his green cashmere sweater glory.

“Sachi, I’m glad you’re here,” he said.

She wished that he had been roughed up by the police. But he looked perfect. Unfortunately.

If Sachi was another person and about 30 years younger, she would have slapped that perfect face or thrown a punch into his washboard abs. Or at least released a kick—you know, right there.

She instead straightened her spine and walked straight to him. “You’re right, you know,” she said. “I am smarter than I seem.”

And then she went into the open elevator and pushed the button to go down.

Chapter Ten >>


Contest Announcement

Can you guess who killed the origamist? Enter our contest!

The winner will receive a signed copy of Naomi Hirahara’s forthcoming mystery novel, Sayonara Slam. Set during the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium, Sayonara Slam is the sixth book in Hirahara’s Mas Arai mystery series.

Simply write your guess in the comments section below. You must state the murderer’s name, and you must submit your guess no later than Tuesday, May 3, 2016, at midnight PDT. Multiple comments making the same guess are fine—the author will randomly select the winner out of the correct guesses.

You must post your guess here to enter this contest. The winner will be announced when we post Chapter 11. The winner will be contacted via the email address used to register/comment on this site. If no response is received within 10 days, another winner will be selected.

Please note that only residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia are eligible to enter this contest.

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© 2016 Naomi Hirahara

Death of an Origamist fiction mystery naomi hirahara origami

About this series

Sachi Yamane, an emergency room nurse, escapes the pressure of life-and-death situations through the precise and calming world of origami. Attending an origami convention in Anaheim, California, she looks forward to meeting her idol, Craig Buck, a guru of not only origami but also life. Over the past two years, Sachi has gone through her set of losses—her husband’s fatal heart attack and unexpected deaths of some coworkers. Meeting Buck and being immersed in origami will again restore peace in Sachi’s life, or so she thinks. But as it turns out, the origami convention is not the safe haven that this sixty-one year old Sansei imagines it to be.

This is an original serialized story written for Discover Nikkei by award-winning mystery author Naomi Hirahara. 

Read Chapter One