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Chapter 8

Chapter 7 >>

Greg Shishido slowly awoke. His head first felt like it was filled with cotton balls, and then bang—searing pain, lightning bolts shooting through his brain. He cursed in the darkness, perhaps too loudly because a cool, bony hand quickly covered his mouth. His eyes adjusted to the low light. Peering into his face was an old Nikkei man, his head completely bald. He was so gaunt that his cheeks were sunken in, a skeleton man. Where was he? He struggled to remember. He had gone to that motel to see where Jorge Yamashita lived. He had opened the door of the room, only to see a young boy, maybe ten, crouched in the corner, holding a gun. And then blackness.

Even with the old man holding his mouth closed, Greg struggled to feel his limbs to see if he was shot. But he couldn’t move his arms or his legs. He tried to angle his chin down and saw that he had become a mummy, duct tape wrapped around his wrists and feet.

“Greg, do you promise to be quiet?” the old man whispered in his ear. “I would hate to wrap your mouth in tape, too.”

Greg nodded as best he could. “Who are you?” he whispered. His throat felt dry and his lips chapped.

The old man smiled, revealing a perfect set of brilliant white false teeth. “We are family.”


Sayuri Shishido studied the shattered piece of ceramic in the light of the motel parking lot. There was no doubt. This was from a Shishido Farms mug. Sayuri felt like banging on the door of each room. Her husband was somewhere there. He had to be. Or at least had been there earlier today.

She ran to the sidewalk to see if perhaps his truck was parked on the street. No bright blue Toyota Tundras. Sayuri had been against Greg spending so much on a truck. And why the flashy color—a shade called Blue Streak Metallic? Sayuri’s taste was more shibui, restrained. Black or maybe silver at most. But now she was thankful that Greg had such a noticeable vehicle. Now only if she could find it.

Cupping the broken piece of china in her hand, not caring if the sharp edges nicked her palm, Sayuri ran down the darkened street in search of the Tundra. Greg had even named the truck, calling it Gumby after a flexible childhood toy—a green clay figure with a strange lopsided head. “But the truck’s blue,” Sayuri said. Greg, who was color blind, didn’t seem to care.

On the far corner of the block, Sayuri saw a familiar truck. This one was old and red. The truck that had followed her earlier that day. Sayuri returned back to the motel and then took the long way around the other side, careful not to be detected. She was now at the back of the bed of the red truck and scrunched down so she could not be seen in the driver’s side mirror. The driver was indeed the same Asian woman, most likely in her late thirties. She had a bob cut and wore sunglasses even though it was night. She looked fit, much stronger than Sayuri, but Sayuri, a worried wife, now possessed extra strength.

She made a run for the driver’s side door handle and pulled on it as hard as she could. Luckily it was unlocked and the door swung open, surprising the driver.

“Where is my husband?” Sayuri said, pressing the shard of china against the woman’s neck.


Haru Shishido ran home crying to her family’s wood-framed shed in Watsonville. Her father was in the dirt driveway working on his Model T Ford truck. “Haru-chan, what’s wrong?” he asked in Japanese.

“I lost my Japanese textbook, the one that you were writing in.” Papa had been writing a new formula in the margins.

“Do you remember where you put it last?” he asked, leaving a tool he was working with on the ground.

“I didn’t really lose it. I actually left it at Uncle Saburo’s.”

Papa’s face became grim. “I’ve told you to stay away from there. Uncle Saburo is not the same man he used to be.”

“He was there with Miss Senzaki. And she had a baby. I don’t remember Miss Senzaki being pregnant.” Haru knew all about pregnancy because her own mother had given birth to her brother Kei some months ago at home. It had been a terrible birth with bloody sheets that Aunt Himeko ended up throwing away instead of washing. Haru could still not forget the nurse carrying away something wrapped in a blanket. Why was there so much secrecy over that day? Wasn’t the birth of Kei supposed to be happy?

Papa kneeled down towards Haru. “I know it’s hard, but you should not go to Uncle Saburo’s house any more. Not unless one of us is with you.”

“Why, Papa? Why does Uncle Saburo hate me so much?”

“He doesn’t hate you. He’s just an angry man. He’s mad at our oldest brother back in Japan. Mad that he’s the number-two son. Mad that my side of the farm is doing much better than his.”

“But he lives in that big house!”

“It’s actually not his house—” Papa then stopped himself, not wanting to say too much. But Haru had already overheard Aunt Himeko talking to Mama. The grand house was actually Uncle Saburo’s first wife’s—and Haru didn’t even know that her uncle had ever been married. Apparently living with Uncle Saburo was so tortuous that his wife didn’t even mind abandoning her fancy house to get away from him.

“Your strawberry formula, Papa—Uncle Saburo might steal it from you.”

Papa laughed. “He might. But breeding strawberries takes a lifetime, Haru-chan. Maybe even sixty years. I can’t imagine Uncle growing strawberries when he’s one hundred years old.”

Haru began to smile. “That would be a long, long time from now. Maybe even in the year 2000.” Haru couldn’t even imagine the world in that day and age.

“So nothing to worry about. Uncle Saburo can do all the itazura that he wants.”

Haru giggled. It was strange to hear Papa use that word, itazura, mischief, when talking about a grown man. Yes, let Uncle Saburo be as mischievous as he wants! Haru declared to herself. No matter what, there’s no way he could ever, ever hurt the Shishido family.

Chapter 9 >>

* “The Nihongo Papers” is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2008 Naomi Hirahara

fiction stories strawberries
About this series

Award-winning author Naomi Hirahara presents a bioterrorism thriller that involves characters that span generations and continents, strawberries, and a mystery that unfolds to reveal dark family secrets.

Read Chapter One

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About the Author

Naomi Hirahara is the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Kibei Nisei gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes, Officer Ellie Rush series, and now the new Leilani Santiago mysteries. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she has written a number of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience and several 12-part serials for Discover Nikkei.

Updated October 2019

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