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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Randy Yamashiro, a resident of Hawaii, credits George Hasuike as his "good-luck charm." Yamashiro, who is visiting the mainland from Oahu, announced that he will be holding a luncheon in Torrance, CA, in Hasuike's honor later this week. The two men were in Las Vegas for a reunion of Asian American Vietnam War veterans.
Mas knew that he should be impressed with Yamashiro's generosity, but instead it made him sick. Going to rub our noses into it, thought Mas. The last thing he would do was go to any meal paid for by a winner of a game based on a food product.
Mas's best friend, Haruo Mukai, of course, was of another opinion. Haruo, like Mas, had escaped from the ravages of the Bomb in 1945. Mas returned to America, his birthplace, physically intact, whereas Haruo had left his dead eye behind in Hiroshima. Haruo's good eye was as good as, if not better than, a pair of Mas's eyeballs; he saw things that Mas had a hard time seeing. Like their obligation to go to that luncheon. Haruo had received a personal invitation--Mas would have, too, if he'd bothered to get an answering machine.
"We gotsu a go, Mas," Haruo insisted over the phone. It was close to eight, the time Haruo usually went to bed before working the graveyard shift at the flower market in downtown Los Angeles.
"I don't have to do nutin'," Mas replied. Sitting at home seemed like a more appealing option.
"Osewaninatta. G. I. the one who help youzu out wiz a ton of legal problems, rememba?"
Like a typical Japanese, Mas thought, Haruo would pull out that card. Osewaninatta, Japanese would say to each other. I am in your debt. You've helped me out, and I owe you, big-time.
"Get you, Mari, out of more jams than you can count," Haruo kept going.
Mari was Mas's daughter in New York City, and Mas didn't appreciate Haruo using her as part of his argument.
"Yah, yah, yah," Mas said quickly, not wanting to be reminded of past troubles. "Orai, orai."
Mas ended the call soon after that. He immediately regretted agreeing to go to the party. It was fall, a time to reassess and rescue scorched lawns and dried-out plants on his gardening route. It was a season to restrategize, not to wander twenty miles south to the coastal suburb of Torrance.
Haruo had invited Mas to go with him and his girlfriend of two years, Spoon Hayakawa. Spoon's real name was Sutama, but Mas guessed that it could have been worse--being called "Fork," "Knife," or "Chopstick," for example. Shaped like a gourd, she had long salt-and-pepper frizzy hair, which she held back with a stretchy headband. She was also a Nisei, and being an all-American gave her an easy sense of humor. Mas and Haruo, on the other hand, were Kibei Nisei, which meant born in the U.S. but raised in Japan. This duality resulted in men and women who were either sweet or sour. Haruo was sickeningly sweet, the type to hold hands with his girlfriend even when he was pushing seventy-two. That was hard to take for Mas, the classic sour, so he declined Haruo's offer. Another invitation came from other family friends, Tug and Lil Yamada. Again, Mas passed, making up a story about needing to deliver some plants to a customer on his way to the restaurant. The last thing Mas wanted to be was a third wheel. Indeed, if he had to go, Mas would go alone.
A lot of times, Mas noticed, when you looked forward to something--like the start of the horse race season at Santa Anita Racetrack on the day after Christmas--time went slow. Each gardening job before the twenty-sixth of December seemed tedious, because it was the very thing that stood between Mas and his favorite holiday activity. But when you weren't that excited, it was entirely different. So cutting trees, shaving hedges, clipping rosebushes--they all seemed to merge together, and then finally it was Saturday and Mas was parking his truck in a gravel parking lot in Torrance.
Torrance had an Orange County feel to it--new land, large, pristine boulevards, and only a few bunches of trees in the business parks. Aside from its main high school building and the old retail section by the defunct train depot, nothing seemed to predate 1950. There had once been strawberry fields and flower farms, but then progress came, wiping out the farms and bringing in tract homes, super-sized malls, and corporate buildings, all shiny and reflective like structures to be launched into space.
Since the 1990s, Torrance had become king of the Japanese American communities, beating out its northern neighbor Gardena, which had held the throne since post-World War II. As the Sansei left their fathers' jobs as gardeners and producemen to become dentists, lawyers, and doctors, and made more money, they headed south to Torrance. It was like a hole in a dam--soon Japanese American families and businesses poured into the lowlands and then climbed up the Santa Monica Mountains into the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
G. I.'s party was being held at a Hawaiian restaurant called Mahalo. It must have been an International House of Pancakes in a previous life, because it had the same gingerbread-house sloped roof and concrete-block columns. But instead of being painted baby blue, the building was a tan color, perhaps to simulate Hawaii's sand, even though Mahalo stood along a huge six-lane boulevard filled with whizzing cars.
Mas was late because his 1956 blue-green Ford truck had been giving him problems. It had been stolen a few years ago, stripped of its guts like a cleaned-out trout. But the thieves hadn't been able to open the mouth of the machine, the hood, which had been dented and scarred when Mas's daughter, then six, and her friends had jumped on it like a trampoline. Ironically that past pummeling was the one thing that ultimately saved the engine, since no one but Mas knew how to open the damaged hood.
With the engine still operational, Mas had simply improvised on the truck's gutted interior. He found an old neon yellow Chevy driver's seat at the junkyard and jammed it into place. As it was a little too wide, Mas had to saw off part of the passenger's-side cushion and seal it with some black duct tape. Haruo had located an old dashboard from a 1970 Ford pickup, giving the truck the clashing look of two disparate decades. An old mug glued onto the driver's-side door with rubber cement had served as an adequate ashtray back when Mas had smoked. He'd kicked the habit a couple of years ago, so the mug was now filled with old Bic pens and a free promotional flashlight from a Clippers basketball game. Mas locked the car with a screwdriver (who would steal his truck anyway, especially with new Toyota Camrys, Infinitis, and Honda minivans all parked in nice, straight rows?). Lately, the dependable engine had been sputtering out, a flame growing fainter over time. Mas knew that one day he would have to finally retire the Ford, but today was not the day.
He walked to the restaurant and opened the heavy wood door. Inside, it was cool and dark; Mas blinked a few times to get his bearings. He could make out a counter filled with macadamia cookies, bean cakes, and other pastries. Up above were fake palm fronds and strings of leis made from mini conch shells.
"Aloha," said an Asian woman in her twenties, her cheeks as smooth and brown as the Hawaiian sweet bread on display. Her hair was long and straight, and she wore a yellow Hawaiian shirt with a pattern of white hibiscus flowers.
"Yah. Lookin' for G. I.," Mas said.
"The party in the back, Tiffany." Another waiter, his hair standing straight up like the teeth of a comb, jabbed an elbow in Tiffany's side.
"Oh, please come this way." Tiffany led Mas down the stairs into a large open room with bare wood beams draped with more fake palm fronds. The youngster then returned to her post at the hostess table, while Mas stayed on the bottom stair, surveying the crowd. There were people logjammed at the buffet line, scooping steaming noodles and meat out of metal trays and onto white plates. Families, including harried Sansei mothers and old ladies with their grandchildren, sat at round tables. A bar to the side with an overhead television tuned to a college football game attracted a couple of men with apparently no social skills. A stage in front held microphones on stands. And in the back were a bunch of Sansei men in polo shirts and long-sleeved button-down shirts. Two of them were wearing white carnation leis: G. I., the man of the hour, and his friend Randy, the jackpot winner. Mas's plan had been to say hello and then good-bye, but the smell of soy sauce, ginger, and bacon made him reconsider. He was here anyway; couldn't hurt to get in an early dinner.
A Sansei man in a windbreaker apparently observed Mas's change of mind.
"You a friend of G. I.?" He had a raspy voice, like a coil of wire being unraveled.
"Well, come in, come in. Have some food, beer." The man extended the Sapporo beer in his right hand toward the buffet line. "I'm Jiro. Another buddy from 'Nam."
Mas introduced himself and stepped down so that he was on the same ground level as Jiro. The man was about Mas's height, a little over five feet tall, and his face was marked by a spray of freckles, splatters of different sizes and shapes. When he closed his mouth, his lips both puckered out as if he were waiting for a kiss that would never come.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Posted August 18, 2010
Wow!! Another great book by Naomi Hirahara!! She continues on with the Mas Arai mysteries. This is the third book in the mystery series and as with the other books, it will leave you in suspense to the very end!!
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Posted December 9, 2008
Hiroshima survivor gardener Mas Arai attends a gala honoring his friend attorney George 'G.I.' Hasuike at Mahalo Hawaiian restaurant in Torrance, California. Meanwhile the party¿s host Randy Yamashiro informs G.I. that he won $500K on a Spam slot machine during their recent trip to Vegas. Mas meets the fiancée of G.I. Juanita Gushiken and finds her charming on the other hand he immediate dislikes Randy. When Randy and G.I. almost come to blows, Mas decides to leave. --- Not long afterward Juanita asks Mas for help as someone stabbed Randy to death the prime suspect is G.I. who had plenty of motives, 500,000 of them. Mas hesitantly agrees to investigate, but though he says no to her, Juanita insists on joining him every step of the way. The only clue so far is a five-decade old battered SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN Okinawa musical instrument left near the corpse. --- Mas¿ third wonderful appearance (see SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI and GASA-GASA GIRL) is a delightful look at a subculture today vs. the 1950s inside of a fine murder mystery with ties back to the happy days of the Eisenhower era. The reluctant hero is at his best as he makes inquiries and reflects back to just after WWII, but is also enhanced, often with humor, by the energetic female fireball Juanita. The whodunit is cleverly devised so that readers will enjoy a strong investigative tale while also obtaining appreciative insight into a subculture. --- Harriet Klausner
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Posted May 1, 2011
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