If Big Island folklore had it right, Agnes Rodrigues owned every woman’s business suit in Hawaii County.
She was willing to stipulate it. On this informal island no one would dress up except to plead in court, and the local bar would look like a boys’ club without her.
So the woman showing up at Agnes’s door in a black suit from Saks might not know it, but she was already picking a fight. Agnes thanked the instinct that had made her skip over a tan poplin and settle on her best basic black. Whatever this woman wanted, Agnes didn’t plan to start down a point.
“I’m Katherine Ostler. Your new landlord.”
Agnes disciplined an urge to ask, “Since when?” Looking as if the woman had taken her by surprise wouldn’t help.
Especially when it was true.
Ostler handed Agnes a printout with a terse list of figures. The numbers added up in a way that Agnes didn’t like.
“Your lease is up in two months. The new lease will include these increases every three months for a year, ending with the bottom figure.”
“New York is five thousand miles that way,” said Agnes.
“I’m from New York. Your point?”
“These numbers would play there. Maybe even in Honolulu, but this is Hilo.”
“I could just raise you all at once. You can also move.”
“You’re going to lose everybody in the building, and nobody else in this town will touch the place at these prices.”
“That would be my problem.”
Ostler’s heels would have clicked toward Ollie Guzman’s apartment next door, but the indoor-outdoor carpeting on the open-air hallway prevented that kind of New York nonsense. Ollie wouldn’t be home, but Ostler could find that out herself. Agnes had wasted enough words.
She looked to her right and saw Elizabeth Carvalho, her other neighbor, standing in her doorway with a sheet of paper in her hand and a stunned expression on her face.
Agnes shut her door and returned to the kitchen in the rear of the apartment. As she waited for the coffee maker to finish, she examined the rent schedule for loopholes. It didn’t look promising.
Elizabeth had looked in need of coffee. Agnes decided to go invite her for a brainstorming session.
She always cranked the window slats in her living room open to catch the morning breeze. The blurred line between indoors and outdoors was one of the things that had seduced her back to Hilo after Stanford Law.
But today island living came with a downside. Nothing muffled the sickening crunch that made Agnes flinch in a way she would never want opposing counsel to see. The sound reminded her of a date with one of the few men she had ever attempted to keep around for more than a night. This date had involved a boxing match in Honolulu, which ended with a punch that made the referee stop the fight without consulting the corner man.
This time a groan and a thud followed right on top of the first impact, but not so closely that Agnes could confuse the sequence.
The silence returned. She opened the front door and crossed to the railing, where she braced herself to look down. Nothing obstructed her view of Katherine Ostler lying half on the concrete apron and half on the blacktop of the front parking lot. The woman’s utter stillness told Agnes everything.
Good thing a criminal defense attorney never took a step without her cell phone.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“A woman just fell down the stairs. She’s dead.”
The operator paused. She probably had more practice dealing with panic than professional objectivity.
“Are you sure she’s dead?”
“Do you feel safe where you are?”
Agnes wasn’t sure why, but the scene had an after-action feel.
“Wait for the officers.”
The new tenant who lived downstairs stepped into view. Agnes didn’t know the young man’s name yet.
“Don’t touch anything,” she called to him.
“What about her?”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“How do you know?”
“You can trust me on that.”