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Authors: Naomi Hirahara

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“I miss him. I never let myself miss him before.”

he following week went fast, because there was nothing to look forward to. Mas stopped by Eaton’s Nursery: Mr. Patel had recently heard of the feng shui merits of an indoor money tree, the small tabletop plants with multiple trunks twisted together, and seeking good luck, he wanted a few for his restaurants. Eaton’s wasn’t the cheapest, but it was the closest, and these days convenience was worth more than it used to be.

It was a half hour before closing time. Mas wasn’t surprised to see the gang of five beginning to unearth their Budweisers from the bottom of their coolers. What did surprise him was that behind the counter, instead of the kind, welcoming face of Kammy, was a craggy, shrunken fellow with a limp. Wishbone Tanaka.

Wishbone saw Mas’s surprise in his eyes. “I broke out of Keiro,” he said, grinning. “Nah, my doctors figured out that causing trouble is good for my health. But it’s bad for everyone else. So they kicked me out.”

“You workin’ here now?”

“Have to, to pay off my investors.” Wishbone leaned on his good foot. “Yup, that’s the deal we’re trying to make. No one wants to get involved with a lawsuit, anyhows. It’s the lawyers that always win.”

Mas couldn’t argue with that.

“Saw Anmen in the slammer this week.”

“Oh, yah?”

“He’ll be out once he makes bail. All these musicians in Okinawa are sending money to him—he’s going to get the best lawyer in L.A. If he only had known, huh? This could have been his best scam yet.”

So the gears of the legal system were slowly turning. Mas had heard from G. I. that Jiro was already out on bail. Hopefully, with Kinjo’s testimony, Jiro wouldn’t have to do any jail time. But, as with anything involving lawyers and judges, you couldn’t take anything for granted.

Mas walked over to a display and selected the six money trees with the healthiest leaves and most beautiful braided trunks.

“Everybody is going wild over these,” Wishbone said, helping Mas carry them to the counter. “I guess everyone wants to be rich.”

Mas grunted, opening up his wallet. He knew the real reason for the plant’s popularity. It was no muss, no fuss. No fertilizer, and just a sprinkle of water a week. It was plain easy to keep them alive.

he following Monday night meant dinner at the Yamadas’, and this time Mas did not come empty-handed. He drove all the way down to a Hawaiian restaurant in Monterey Park to bring back a set of eight Spam
, all wrapped in cellophane.

Lil had said that the dinner would be a celebration in his honor, so she had invited G. I. and Juanita, Haruo and Spoon. That made three couples, six people, plus Mas to make it an odd seven, but Mas figured he could always eat two people’s worth of

He was the last to arrive. He recognized Haruo’s mini Honda, the red Toyota truck, but
—a green-tea-colored VW Bug? Mas looked into the window, and instead of an orange gerber daisy in the vase holder on the dashboard, he saw a white stephanotis. Stephanotis—fragrant, star-shaped blooms—were popular for weddings, Haruo had told Mas.

The cellophane-wrapped
were slippery in Mas’s hands. He rang the doorbell and Tug answered, a sloppy grin on his face. Everyone, except Lil and Tug, was already seated at the Yamadas’ dinner table. G. I., Juanita, Haruo, Spoon, and, yes, Genessee.

“Hello, Mas.” Everybody seemed to talk at once; they were so happy to see him. As if he were a hero of some kind.

Lil appeared, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “We were waiting for you. Have a seat.” She gestured toward an empty seat between Genessee and Haruo. Tug returned to his place at the table while Mas presented the Spam
before sitting. He should have noticed a little bit of hesitancy on Lil’s part as she accepted his gift. He soon discovered what the problem was when she tentatively set out each
on its own plate at each seat.

“What’s this, Mom?” Tug grimaced, creating an ugly face that Mas was not used to seeing on his friend.

,” she said, presenting a fake smile. “Mas brought it.”

“Sorry, ole man. I’m just not a fan of Spam. We had it all the time in the army. Just seeing it gives me a stomachache.”


Orai, orai
.” Mas almost started to laugh. Chizuko always said that Mas had a healthy dose of
, rudeness, and, in contrast, held up Tug as a modicum of gentility. To see Tug mixed up with
amused Mas to no end.

“Here, you have mine, okay, Mas?” Tug nudged the plate over to Mas’s side of the table.

No problem on Mas’s part. He knew enough to wait before he started. “
, surprise,” he commented to Genessee beside him. She was wearing a soft white eyelet blouse, which made her skin look luminous, like a fresh-roasted chestnut. “Didn’t expect to see youzu.”

“Well, hope it’s a good

Mas was too embarrassed to nod yes.

Tug then called for his ritual of grace, and each person opened their hands to their neighbors. Mas quickly wiped his right palm on his jeans before he extended it to Genessee. Her hand was as smooth as an ocean stone polished by thousands of waves. Tug ended his prayer with an amen, which Mas could hear Genessee repeating under her breath.

,” G. I., the latent Buddhist, then announced. It was now officially time to eat.

Lil had made roast beef and potatoes, but Mas chose to start his meal off with his appetizer. He unwrapped the cellophane from the
and then opened his mouth wide, letting his dentures squeeze down on the grilled Spam, soft vinegared rice, and strip of black seaweed. The salty firmness of the processed meat, sweet tang of the soft rice, and dryness of the nori all merged together in a great taste symphony, signaling that for a moment, everything was all right.


is the Macavity Award nominated author of two previous Mas Arai mysteries,
Summer of the Big Bachi
Gasa-Gasa Girl
. A writer, editor, and publisher of nonfiction books, she previously worked as an editor of
The Rafu Shimpo
, a bilingual Japanese American daily newspaper in Los Angeles. She earned her B.A. in international relations and spent a year at the Inter-University Center for Advanced Japanese Studies in Tokyo. She and her husband reside in her birthplace, Southern California. For more information and reading group guides, visit her Web site at

Also by Naomi Hirahara

Summer of the Big Bachi

Gasa-Gasa Girl


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A Delta Trade Paperback / May 2006

Published by Bantam Dell

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York, New York

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved

Copyright © 2006 by Naomi Hirahara

Delta is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Hirahara, Naomi

Snakeskin shamisen / by Naomi Hirahara.

p. cm.


1. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 2. Japanese Americans—California—Los Angeles—Fiction. 3. Gardeners—Fiction. 4. Gamblers—Fiction. 5. Mystery.

PS3608.I76 S63 2006

813'.6 22


eISBN: 978-0-440-33589-4


BOOK: Snakeskin Shamisen
2.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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