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Chapter 10

Chapter 9 >>

Jorge Yamashita was in a state of shock. His sweaty hands almost slipped from the steering wheel. Beside him in the passenger seat was his ten-year-old son, Carlos. Behind them sat his late wife’s grandfather, Bisabuelo, and Greg Shishido, the son of Jorge’s boss, gagged and bound with gray duct tape. Pressed against Greg’s stomach was a gun held by Bisabuelo.

“Abuelito, do you have to have that thing in the truck?” Jorge said in Spanish, nervously checking his rearview mirror. He was careful to drive the speed limit. The only thing they needed was a police officer stopping them on the 101.

“We have to make sure that our friend doesn’t do anything rash,” Bisabuelo said in English. Dried blood remained on Greg’s forehead like strange auburn bangs. Bisabuelo had apparently used force on Greg.

Jorge took in the view as the highway opened to the ocean. It was full moon so light reflected on the waves. At any other time, this would be a beautiful, serene sight. But tonight it was bone-chilling. He’d never forget breaking down the door of Bisabuelo’s hotel room and seeing the thin body of Greg wrapped in duct tape on one of the twin beds. His hazel brown eyes were wide open, probably expecting Jorge to come to his rescue. But Jorge instead chose to be Bisabuelo’s accomplice.

Bisabuelo had been acting more strangely than usual, but Jorge had never imagined a kidnapping. He would have turned in his wife’s grandfather if it not had been for Carlos. Carlos had known about the abduction—if he himself had participated in it, Jorge wasn’t aware. But apparently his young son was at ease with a gun—he even called it by name, a Glock. What had Bisabuelo been teaching Carlos while Jorge had been working on the strawberries at Shishido Farms?

“We should let him go,” Jorge repeated to Bisabuelo. “We can just leave him taped up at the side of the road. Maybe even at the beach.”

“No,” Bisabuelo shook his head. In the mirror, Jorge could see the old man digging the Glock deeper in the side of Greg’s stomach. “We need to go to Watsonville. Back home. Where it’s safe.”

* * *

Sayuri Shishido covered her eyes. She and the private investigator, Juanita Gushiken, had told the police everything they knew. Her husband, Greg, had been missing since the early morning—totally uncharacteristic for him. They had found his truck hidden on a fallow field behind a tractor. There were clues that connected his disappearance with the single father who had worked on Shishido Farms. He was originally from Paraguay, an experienced farmer.

“And why do you think that this Jorge Yamashita would have taken your husband? Had there been any conflict at work?” the officer asked. They stood outside the motel where Jorge apparently stayed with his young son and an older man in a wheelchair, probably some kind of relative.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know.”

A few minutes later, a familiar couple arrived. Her in-laws, Bob and Alex Shishido. Behind them was Zip, the farm foreman.

The officer asked them the same question.

“Greg liked Jorge. Was very impressed with his work,” reported Bob.

Zip frowned and Sayuri pushed him to elaborate on his recent fears. “Well, Greg was getting kind of concerned about Jorge. Jorge seemed to know a lot of hybridizing strawberries, almost too much. With all the crazy stuff that’s been happening—”

“Crazy stuff?” the officer asked.

“Ah—” Zip shifted his weight from one foot to another. Fortunately his boss decided to step in.

“There’ve been some people who have died from strawberries over in Canada,” Bob explained. “And a lot of customers have been getting this anonymous e-mail message, ‘SHISHIDO FARMS KILL.’”

Sayuri jerked her head up. She had seen the message, but didn’t realize it had been sent to their business associates. “Someone is out to ruin the farm,” she murmured.

“Is that true, Mr. Shishido? Do you think it could be this Jorge?”

Bob shrugged his shoulders.

“Why would he?” Zip expressed all of their thoughts out loud. “Up to a few weeks ago, we never even heard of a Jorge Yamashita.”

* * *

After meeting with the Oxnard police, the group reconvened in a trailer on Shishido Farms. Juanita went straight to the telephones and began fiddling with the equipment—unscrewing the backs and taking apart the receivers. Afterwards she checked the telephone jacks and other remote corners of the office.

“What is she doing?” Zip whispered to Sayuri.

“Just seeing if the room is being bugged.” Juanita apparently had good hearing.

“Who are you again?” Bob asked.

“A private investigator hired by a politician in Canada. My client’s grandmother was one of the people who were poisoned by strawberries in Toronto.”

“Where is she, anyway?” Sayuri tried to remember the woman’s name—Phyllis Hamakawa.

“You mean she’s here in California?” asked Alex.

“She was,” answered Juanita. “She had to return back home for some official business. But I’m keeping her fully informed with what’s going on here.”

“So what’s going on?” Alex had become increasingly impatient. Her curly red hair was even more unkempt than usual.

“I think that your son might have discovered something that Jorge Yamashita was hiding.”

“Then he might be dead,” Alex declared. The room became eerily silent.

Sayuri couldn’t believe that. She would sense in her stomach if her husband wasn’t alive. “Or perhaps he was taken for ransom,” she said hopefully.

“Could be. Someone should be calling you then.”

Juanita then verbally went through the police investigation. “The police have put an APB on Jorge’s truck, so at least we have that.”

“Where could they have gone?” Alex almost sounded like she was moaning.

“Well, kidnappers usually go to where they feel comfortable.”

“Jorge’s never been in California or even the United States before,” said Zip.

“Or so he said,” Bob added.

“How about the old man?” asked Juanita.

“Jorge never mentioned anything about his personal life. I didn’t even know that he had a son,” Bob said.

Juanita glanced over to one of the computers in the trailer. “Do you mind if I use the Internet?”

“Of course not.” Bob sat at a desk and turned a computer on. “Full DSL capacity.” Bob moved to let Juanita sit behind the computer. Sayuri and the rest looked over the private investigator’s shoulder. She seemed adept at her job, and started to type in Spanish-language search engines.

“Is he from Yguazu?”

Zip nodded. “Yeah, I think that he mentioned that town.”

More clicks on the keyboard and then Juanita was accessing a Spanish-language newspaper’s website.

“What does it say?” Alex pulled out some reading glasses from her purse.

“It’s Jorge’s wife’s obituary. Mentions Jorge, of course, and their son Carlos. There’s another surviving relative. A grandfather.” Juanita’s voice began to shake. “His name is Saburo Shishido.”

Chapter 11 >>


* “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

Discover Nikkei fiction mystery fiction Naomi Hirahara stories strawberries The Nihongo Papers (online series) (series)
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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