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Authors: Naomi Hirahara

Sayonara Slam

BOOK: Sayonara Slam
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Advance Praise

“Written with heart, depth, and pace, Hirahara's sixth case is hard to put down.”

—
Kirkus Reviews

“Mas Arai is a wholly original sleuth—reluctant, curmudgeonly, and irresistible. In
Sayonara Slam
, he delves into baseball, World War II, and the complex history between Japan and Korea, all while grappling with that most enduring mystery: love. Naomi Hirahara has created a story that's both meaningful and great fun; you'll be cheering until the very last play.”

— Nina Revoyr, author of
Lost Canyon
,
Southland
, and
Wingshooters

“Another compelling Mas Arai murder mystery, this time framed through the game of baseball. With reference to the early days of the sport in Japan via Babe Ruth's visit in 1934 and the internment leagues begun in the American desert behind barbed wire by Kenichi Zenimura, the story climaxes in the contemporary confines of Dodger Stadium. The unraveling of the clues to the murder puts a new spin on an old pastime.”

— Terry Cannon, executive director of the Baseball Reliquary

Praise for the Mas Arai Mysteries

“A shrewd sense of character and a formidable narrative engine.”

—
Chicago Tribune

“Naomi Hirahara's well-plotted, wholesome whodunit offers a unique look at L.A.'s Japanese American community, with enough twists and local flavor to keep you guessing till the end.”

—
Entertainment Weekly

“In author Hirahara's deft hands (she's an Edgar winner), the human characters, especially Mas, always make for a compelling read.”

—
Mystery Scene

“This perfectly balanced gem deserves a wide readership.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“A compelling grasp of the Japanese American subculture…absolutely fascinating.”

— Asian American Press

“Hirahara has a keen eye for the telling detail and an assured sense of character.”

—
Los Angeles Times

“Naomi Hirahara has done it again! It's wonderful to see reluctant detective Mas Arai back in action.”

— Lisa See,
New York Time
s–bestselling author of
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

“A thoughtful and highly entertaining read.”

—
Library Journal
(starred review)

“Hirahara's complex and compassionate portrait of a contemporary American subculture enhances her mystery, and vice versa.”

—
Kirkus Reviews

“In an age in which too many books are merely echoes of previous books, Naomi Hirahara has the distinction of writing a mystery series that is unlike any other.”

—
Chicago Sun-Times

“What makes this series unique is its flawed and honorable protagonist…a fascinating insight into a complex and admirable man.”

—
Booklist
(starred review)

“A winning series.”

—
Seattle Times

More Mas Arai Mysteries

Strawberry Yellow

Blood Hina

Snakeskin Shamisen

Gasa-Gasa Girl

Summer of the Big Bachi

More Fiction by Naomi Hirahara

Grave on Grand Avenue
(an Ellie Rush mystery)

Murder on Bamboo Lane
(an Ellie Rush mystery)

1001 Cranes

Selected Nonfiction by Naomi Hirahara

A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market

Silent Scars of Healing Hands: Oral Histories of Japanese American Doctors in World War II Detention Camps

An American Son: The Story of George Arataki, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood

Green Makers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California

Copyright © 2016 by Naomi Hirahara

This book is a work of fiction. With the exception of historical names and locations, the characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published by Prospect Park Books

2359 Lincoln Avenue

Altadena, California 91001

www.prospectparkbooks.com

Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution

www.cbsd.com

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Names: Hirahara, Naomi, 1962- author.

Title: Sayonara slam / Naomi Hirahara.

Description: Altadena, California : Prospect Park Books, [2016] | Series: A Mas Arai mystery ; 6

Identifiers: LCCN 2015050666 (print) | LCCN 2016005763 (ebook) | ISBN 9781938849749 ()

Subjects: LCSH: Murder--Investigation--Fiction. | Japanese Americans--Fiction. | Gardeners--Fiction. | Baseball stories. | BISAC: FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3608.I76 S29 2016 (print) | LCC PS3608.I76 (ebook) |

   
DDC 813/.6--dc23

LC record available at
http://lccn.loc.gov/2015050666

Design & layout by Amy Inouye, Future Studio

While certain landmarks, such as Dodger Stadium, are real, the stories in this mystery are completely fictional. The World Baseball Classic championship was held at Dodger Stadium in 2009, but the course of events was quite different from those of this novel.

I
N
M
EMORY OF
T
OBI
Y
AMASAKI AND
F
RANK
E
GO

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Chapter One

A
t first, Mas Arai thought it was a bat boy playing some kind of prank. The figure on the mound could not have been much more than five feet tall. But this wasn't a neighborhood park. This was Dodger Stadium, born in 1962 over plowed-down Latino homes and the oldest baseball stadium on the west coast. In two hours, Japan would face archrival South Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. No time for a mischievous youngster to sneak up and pretend he was a baseball
senshu
. Weren't the security guards standing on the sidelines going to put a stop to this nonsense?

There was no doubt about it, Mas's eyes were bad. Haruo, who Mas would never credit as his best friend, first nagged him about it. Then Genessee, whose role in Mas's life was also unspoken, even though they had been together for five years, took over. She had finally driven him to the Costco on her side of town to get a real eye doctor to do a checkup. Mas had resented being forced to recite giant letters on a screen and reading minuscule lines on cards. What
fool could see those letters, not to mention one who was nearing eighty years of age?

Genessee had advocated for colorful plastic-framed glasses that Mas had seen young people wearing, but he would have none of that. If he had to wear glasses other than the readers from his local drugstore, he wasn't going to go
majime
, book smart. He'd instead chosen bank-robber cool—tinted gold wire-rimmed ones that actor Steve McQueen might have worn in the heist movie,
The Getaway
.

Mas slipped on his glasses now to make sure he was seeing right. The person on the mound was in uniform, wearing a dark blue shirt with “Japan” in red emblazoned across it. The hair, which stuck out underneath a baseball cap, was a little long for Mas's taste, but at least it didn't look to be streaked blue or purple. He then blinked hard, once and then twice. Sonofagun. The pitcher was a woman.

“That's Neko Kawasaki. Plays on the minor leagues in Hawaii.” The voice came from behind him. He turned his head to see an Asian man with a dazzling white head of hair. He wore tinted glasses not unlike Mas's.

“Sheezu any good?” Mas asked. As soon as he said it, he knew it was a stupid question. This was the pros, and not even limited to the United States, so she had to be good.

“She's a knuckleballer. Not too many of them these days. Wakefield might be one of the last ones.” Mas knew about old man Tim Wakefield, a fortysomething Red Soxer for…what, close to fifteen years now?

“I'm Smitty Takaya.” The white-haired man extended his right hand.

“Mas. Mas Arai.”

“Lloyd's father-in-law. You're a gardener, right?”

Mas widened his eyes. He wasn't used to strangers knowing anything about him before meeting him, and it made him suspicious.

“Maybe you can take a look at our Japanese garden someday.”

Mas frowned. Maybe his ears weren't working either. Who ever heard of a Japanese garden in Dodger Stadium?

“One was dedicated out there past the edge of the parking lot. You could draw a line from home plate to centerfield and you'll find it out there.”

Mas took a second look at the white-haired man. He wore a light-blue polo shirt with the L.A. Dodgers logo prominently embroidered on the left-hand side. Maybe this guy wasn't fooling around. Maybe he was a big shot.

“I work in the front office.” Smitty gestured to the upper deck, where enclosed offices overlooked left field. “I process his and the rest of the checks for the staff. Head groundskeeper, a nice promotion for Lloyd.”

It took five years, but Mas's son-in-law was finally making good money.

“He told me you'd be helping us. Good at shaving lawnmower blades, I hear.
Dozo yoroshiku
,” Smitty added in perfect Japanese.

Mas widened his eyes. “You knowsu Japanese. You'zu Kibei?”

“I'm an all-American Buddhahead. From Honolulu. But I played in Japan for the Flyers, now known as the
Nippon-Ham Fighters. They were in Tokyo Dome back then.” So he
was
a big shot. The Japanese Baseball League was just getting back on its feet when Mas left Hiroshima in 1947. This Smitty was lucky to be Flyer instead of a Ham Fighter. But whatever he was, Mas was fully impressed. And that rarely occurred, or as his late wife, Chizuko, had said, only the possibility of winning a trifecta would get Mas Arai out of his easy chair on his day off.

“I first came in to help with international scouting after I retired from playing, but then I was always good with numbers, so I slowly moved up the ranks.” A thick gold ring with “World Champions” shone from his right hand. “I usually stay in the front office, but I guess they needed my bilingual skills. These fellows from Nihon, they're supposed to study English in school, but their pronunciation is lousy.”

Mas's face grew hot, and he looked away. He was born in America and not
Nihon
, the most popular name for Japan by its citizens, but he'd been taken by his family to Hiroshima when he was only three years old. After spending close to fifteen years in Japan, he moved back to the States. Despite being here for sixty years, his language skills were definitely subpar.

They heard curses from Japan's catcher, who was having a terrible time anticipating where the knuckleball pitches would land. Neko Kawasaki had him chasing balls in the dirt by the dugout. Or else the ball would bounce off his chest protector, his glove moving much too late.

The batter wasn't fairing that well, either. A thirtysomething man with dyed yellow hair, the color of burnt hay, he
couldn't anticipate the trajectory of the pitch and ended up swinging air.

“She's getting them good. That knuckleball is tricky. I hope these guys will be ready for Jin-Won Kim.”

Mas drew a blank, and it must have been plenty obvious from the look on his face.

“He's a pitcher for the Unicorns,” Smitty explained. “Yeah, you heard me right, there's a Korean team with that name. I guess me being a former Ham Fighter, I shouldn't talk. But our fans called us the Fighters, okay?” He glared at Mas through his tinted eyeglasses, even though Mas had said nothing out loud.

“It's not about power, you know,” Smitty continued. “You don't need for the ball to go fast. It's how you hold the ball with your fingernails.” He pulled a baseball out of his pocket and simulated by placing his thumb behind the bottom seam and digging two fingernails right above the top seam. And what was that in the center of the ball—some kind of Japanese chicken scratch?

“Neva seen a girl play,” Mas murmured out loud.

“Well, let's not get too far. She's just helping the Japan team prepare for Jin-Won Kim. Kind of like a batting coach, what have you. Most of them have never faced a knuckleball pitcher. He's the closer, the one who comes in at the end and sweeps everything up. And by the way they are hitting, it doesn't look like they're going to fare too well today.”

“Dad, is everything okay?” Every time his son-in-law called him Dad, Mas had to do a double take. Lloyd, sunburnt and lean, looked different in his powder-blue polo
shirt, khaki shorts, and cap. He wore wraparound sunglasses like he was pretending to be a movie producer instead of a glorified gardener. Mas had always wanted a son, but he'd never imagined this.

Smitty dipped the lip of his cap toward Lloyd. “You have a good father-in-law. He knows his baseball, that's for sure.” He then looked toward the sound of voices coming from the other side of the field. A crowd of photographers, mostly Japanese men who were balancing heavy lenses on poles that reminded Mas of black PVC pipe, were jostling for space. “I better see what all that's about.”

After Smitty was beyond earshot, Lloyd muttered to Mas, “I hope you didn't say too much to him. Smitty has more influence than you'd think.”

Mas gritted the back of his dentures. He hated
oshaberi,
people who moved their traps without saying much of anything, and now his own son-in-law was practically accusing him of being a chatterbox. He didn't know if he liked this version of the giant gardener with his shaven golden locks. Before, Lloyd was a
bura-bura
type who didn't seem to have much ambition or care much what other people thought of him. But now with this fancy title and job, he was suddenly Mr. Sensitive, Mr. Politics. His newfound respectability did buy him and his family a lot more things, Mas had to admit. There was only one problem. In spite of their increased income, they still weren't moving out of Mas's house in Altadena.

His grandson Takeo was now eight, a third-grader at a private school in Pasadena. Mas figured the tuition was why
they weren't making a move. And also Mari had returned to her first love, filmmaking. Seemed like everyone in the Arai family was doing the things that they wanted to do. Everyone aside from Mas Arai.

“Whyzu you just tell them they gotta move out,” Haruo had said a month ago when they were fixing a sprinkler leak at the home of his daughter, Kiyomi. Haruo had gone to therapy for his gambling addiction for nine months, which apparently made him some kind of expert on things of the heart. He used a mysterious lingo, with words like “codependency” and “boundaries.”

Haruo was one to talk. He had an adult stepdaughter, Dee, under his roof as well. But Mas wasn't going to get on his case about Dee. He knew firsthand that most of her life had been a struggle. So he gritted his teeth and sat through Haruo's amateur psychological analysis. Genessee claimed that his friendship with Haruo had made Mas into a good man. Mas had been called a number of things, but never good. To hear it made him feel off-balance, unsteady.

Anyway, what would happen if Mari, Lloyd, and Takeo did move out? It would mean the McNally house would be empty. There'd be room enough for Genessee to move in, although she seemed more than comfortable in her home in Mid-City. And all the things that were unspoken may then have the space to be spoken. Mas preferred a crowded house to that.

He returned his concentration to the Japanese coaches and players, seeing if he recognized any of them. Since they were all wearing the Japan team uniform, they were harder
to distinguish from one another. There was the pitcher for the Red Sox with the ridiculous braided necklace sitting in the dugout. Someone was warming up on deck, swinging a black wooden bat. Mas placed his hands on his cheeks; he couldn't even say his name out loud or in his head. The first thing that came to him was Uno. Uno-
san
, the master outfielder—the first Japanese position player to be a major leaguer. Uno-
san
with the nobility of a samurai.

Mas and his all-American friend, Tug Yamada, who loved his Dodgers fourth after God, family, and friends, had both decided that Uno-
san
was quintessentially Japanese, in both his playing and his attitude. While his teammates hung out and laughed when others batted, Uno-
san
stayed in the zone. He stretched, he meditated, he focused. His work ethic was renowned. Uno-
san
was a private man who rarely gave interviews, but Tug's son, who also bled Dodger Blue, had discovered a perfect example of his dedication on an internet site. There he learned that Uno-
san
cleaned not only his mitt but also his cleats after each game
on his own
! This is a superstar earning several million dollars a year. To actually take care of his own soiled gear was unheard of.

Mas wished Tug was with him now, so they could both admire Uno-
san
's form in person. Tug and his son, Joe, were coming later to the game, along with Haruo and his wife, Spoon, as well as their lawyer friend, G.I. Hasuike, and his girlfriend, Juanita. Mas's daughter, Mari, and grandson Takeo were also on their way. Since Genessee was at some kind of music conference, Mas was the only one who wasn't part of a pair.
Just like old times
, he thought. Sometimes flying
solo was a relief, a gift. It made him feel that his life, at least for a moment, was wide open, not defined or boxed in by another person's expectations, desires, or disappointments.

The commotion near the opposing team's dugout was getting louder. The stadium apparently had limited cameramen and journalists to a narrow, rectangular space. Smitty looked like he was barking out instructions, but he was being ignored. The journalists continued to jostle for the best position to shoot the Japanese baseball
senshu
at practice. They were all Asian, except for one tall photographer, a Latino in a khaki vest who Mas had recognized as working for the local Japanese American newspaper in Los Angeles.

A thin
hakujin
girl with her blond hair in a ponytail emerged onto the field. She was pushing a cart of water bottles, and based on the muscle she was giving her load, it was a heavy one. Without giving it a thought, Mas took over the cart. His life was spent doing physical work—definitely second nature. He wheeled the cart next to Smitty.

“Thanks.” The girl walked alongside him, wiping moisture from underneath her bangs.

“These guys are out of control. This is almost as bad as Nomomania,” Smitty murmured to the girl, who was wearing the same Dodgers polo shirt.

“What?”

“You know, Hideo Nomo. The Japanese pitcher from the 1990s.”

“Oh, yeah, there's a photo of him upstairs.”

Smitty eyed Mas, giving him an exasperated shrug—
see
what we old guys need to put up with?
“Anyway, pass out the waters, April Sue,” he told the girl. “The last thing we need is any of these journalists passing out from excitement.”

April Sue dug her fingers in the plastic to uncase the water bottles. Even that seemed a struggle. Mas pulled out a small pocket knife, opened it, and cut into the packaging. “Thanks,” the girl murmured again.

Mas grunted and helped her pass out waters to the members of the media.


Kuso
,” one of them swore in Japanese to the photographer next to him. “Back off,” he added, along with a sharp elbow jab. He then claimed the water bottle from Mas without even a token bow of the head.

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