The Green Room: A Storm Kayama Mystery #2

The Green Room: A Storm Kayama Mystery #2

Storm Kayama needs to build her clientele, so when surf promoter Marty Barstow's wife Stephanie walks into her new law office, Storm agrees to represent her, despite her distaste for ...

About The Author

Deborah Turrell Atkinson

Deborah Turrell Atkinson lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and two children. A zest for traveling off the beaten ...

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Chapter One

Storm Kayama rearranged books on the newly varnished shelves. The place was looking good. Welcoming. Cozy, even. Now all she needed was a client or ten, preferably before the rent was due next month.

Just last week, she and Ian Hamlin opened an office together in a small converted house, only about a mile from Miles Hamasaki’s former high-rise, high-rent law firm in downtown Honolulu. Though Hamlin had been fairly well established before Miles Hamasaki’s death, Storm had been a mere law clerk for her beloved Uncle Miles. He’d died before she had a chance to tell him she’d passed the bar.

Storm had never imagined she’d be setting up her own offices without her mentor’s guidance. Hamlin had told her he’d handle the big expenses until she had a steady income, but she wanted to avoid that situation. It was kind of him, but Storm was already testing new waters in their relationship, which was built on love, lust, and a common profession—in ever-shifting priorities.

She was on her own, which was how she preferred to work. But her thirtieth birthday loomed, her income was inconsistent at best, and most of her friends had regular salaries and growing families.

She tried to shove financial concerns to the back of her fret- ting mind. It’s a Friday in mid-January, she told herself, people are recovering from the holidays. Of  course the phone wasn’t ringing. Who wants to start the New Year considering legal problems?

She pushed a wiry lock of mahogany hair back into her French braid, went back to the rosewood desk she’d inherited from Hamasaki, and picked up the call list for the Public Defender’s office, to which she’d recently added her name. According to a handful of people who should know, the PD’s office would start sending clients. And Honolulu, despite a population of around 300,000 people, was a small town where the coconut wireless operated faster than certified news sources. A person’s reputation was built by word of mouth, and Storm’s friends, Hamlin especially, assured her that with her family network and heritage, she’d be turning away clients before too long. Storm sighed. She could also starve before too long.

If only Uncle Miles were here, to share stories about how he set up his practice, which had been one of the most successful in the state. She missed him deeply.

Storm shook off her dark thoughts and turned up the Bose Wave radio, an office-warming gift from the Hamasaki family. “High surf advisory for the North and West shores of O‛ahu, Maui, and the Big Island. Semi-finals for the second of three pearls in the crown of one of the ASP’s most important contests has been postponed until Sunday, due to services for surfer Ken Matsumoto, who died of head injuries last week at Pipeline. Top-ranked competitor on the world pro-surfing circuit, Matsumoto’s loss is a real tragedy for the Association of Surfing Professionals.”

The loud ring of the phone startled her. It was Grace Nishiki, Storm’s and Hamlin’s shared secretary. “You’ve got a call on line two. It’s a client, kiddo, someone who knows your cousin.” Her excited voice dropped in volume, though they were on Storm’s private line. “Is he anything like his name?”

Nahoa, the daring one. Wow, a blast from the past. It had been eighteen years since she’d seen him.

“I suppose so,” Storm said. “I heard he’s a professional surfer now.”

Grace disconnected and Storm took a deep breath before she picked up the outside line. “Storm Kayama speaking.”

“My name is Stephanie Barstow. Could we come see you?

I—I need some advice about my husband.” “How’s tomorrow at nine?” Storm said.

“Do you have any time this afternoon? We’re driving back to the North Shore tonight.”

“Uh, yes, I could do that.” Her mind raced. She could tear home, shower off the smell of furniture polish, perspiration, and dust, put on a suit, and tame her unruly hair in an hour. “How about—”

“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Stephanie Barstow said. Storm looked down at the faded and spotty T-shirt she wore over a baggy old pair of  board shorts. “Okay.” She spoke to a dial tone.

Grace poked her head through the office door about a minute later. And Storm could only surmise that it was the expression on her face that caused Grace to plant her hands on her wide hips and shake her head from side to side. It couldn’t have been the hole in her Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational T-shirt, could it?

“Good thing it’s only your cousin coming,” Grace said. “It’s a friend of his. Some woman who needs a divorce.” “Oh dear.” Grace wagged her head again.

“I was cleaning.” Storm planted her chin in her hand and eyed Grace’s voluminous mu‛umu‛u. No way. That yellow would make her look like a candidate for a liver transplant. It didn’t do much for Grace, either, except set off the huge yellow double hibiscus she wore in her hair.

Hamlin, on his way down the corridor to his office, passed by the door. He wore a pressed blue dress shirt, with the long sleeves rolled to just above his wrists, and creased wool gabardine slacks. Woven leather loafers, no socks. Storm eyed him; she knew how she could get his clothes off. It would take five minutes. Well, to do it right, it would take twenty.

Grace stood, hands on hips, in the hallway. One eyebrow was climbing. “What’s so funny?”

Storm met Grace’s narrowing eyes with wide-eyed innocence. “Oh, nothing. Stephanie Barstow is going to have to accept her lawyer in cleaning clothes.”

“Did I miss a joke?” Hamlin came back to Storm’s office door. Grace rolled her eyes and wandered off.

“Uh, no. Looks like I’ve got a client,” Storm said. “Hey, that’s good.”

“But I’m in grubs. I cleaned cupboards today.”

Hamlin shrugged. “This a referral from the PD’s office?

Most crackheads don’t do wardrobe critiques.” “No, it’s someone who knows my cousin.” “He’s family, right? He’ll understand.”

He sauntered down the corridor to his office, missing the exasperated look Storm gave him. She shut the door, and slid her bare feet into the rubber slippers that were positioned on the pretty, but fake, Chinese rug. Costco had had a whole bin of them on sale and she’d just laid it on the newly-finished hardwood floor. At least her office looked decent.

She dashed into the bathroom that adjoined her office, lathered her face from a bottle of Dial antiseptic Softsoap, and promised her skin she’d treat it gently tonight. Sometimes she knew she was lucky to have the olive-toned, forgiving skin of her Hawaiian mother and Japanese father.

Storm found a hairbrush in the bottom of her backpack and redid the French braid that kept her wavy hair under control. She had applied mascara to the eyelashes of one eye when someone knocked on the door. It was a sober tap, definitely not Grace or Hamlin, who wouldn’t have bothered knocking.

Storm opened the door. “Come in.” She opened her mouth to explain her appearance, but stopped.

Stephanie Barstow looked too preoccupied to care. Storm’s first impression was that Stephanie’s concerns probably weren’t financial. She was dressed casually, but with good taste, in Capri slacks and expensive, strappy sandals, and Storm was pretty sure the Kate Spade handbag she carried wasn’t a Seoul knockoff.

Stephanie appeared to be in her late thirties, and had a mixture of Asian and Hawaiian blood similar to Storm’s own. Except for the worry lines etched between and around her eyes, she was drop-dead gorgeous.

A very tan young man, around nineteen or twenty, took Stephanie’s elbow and guided her to one of the two chairs facing Storm’s desk. Storm could see his mother’s features in his face, but he had the rounder eyes and longer, narrower nose of a Caucasian.

Stephanie gave the boy’s arm a gentle pat. “This is my son, Ben. We moved back to Hawai‛i about a year ago.”

“You’re from here?”

Stephanie nodded and twisted her fingers together. “Yes, and it’s good to be home.”

“Is your husband here in the islands?”   Ben glanced at his mother, who kept her eyes on Storm. “No,”

Stephanie said, and she allowed relief  to show in her voice. “But he will be soon,” Ben added. Stephanie chewed on her lower lip, but didn’t look his way. “He will, Mom.”

She ignored her son’s comment. “Marty and I separated about a year and a half ago, and he doesn’t want a divorce.” Her eyes flicked to her son, who slumped in his chair and picked at a callous on his thumb.

Storm let a few moments pass. Miles had taught her that people try to fill silent gaps. Stephanie, however, dug in her purse, extracted a tissue, and blotted her lipstick.

“And how can I help you?” Storm asked.

Stephanie sighed deeply. “I need to finalize things. It’s not a marriage any more.”

Storm looked at Ben, who let his gaze slip past hers before sliding down further in his seat. “Is he going to be angry about this?”

“Yes,” Stephanie said softly. “He’s going to fight it.” “He knows where you are, right?”

“He knows we’re in Hawai‛i,” Stephanie said. “What does your husband do, Mrs. Barstow?”

“Call me Stephanie, okay? He’s a commercial real estate developer in California.” She sighed. “For years, we worked together in the family business. I helped him get it started.”

“What was your role?” Storm knew that Barstow’s version of her involvement in the business could be the polar opposite of what she heard now. Uncle Miles had hated divorce cases. He’d refused to do them because he claimed everyone lost. Someday, when she could afford rent and groceries, she would, too.

“I ran the office side of things. Made follow-up phone calls, set appointments, collected bills. Sometimes, when Marty had to be two places at once, I’d do some of the negotiations.” Stephanie looked at her hands. “I stopped a little over two years ago.”

“What happened?”

“He got moody and secretive. It got worse and worse.” “Are you afraid of  him physically?” Storm asked.

Stephanie shot another glance toward her son. “I…well, he’s not here.” She took a shaky breath and tore little pieces off the tissue she’d twisted in her fingers.

Storm turned to Ben. “Are you over eighteen?”

“I’m nineteen. I was seventeen when we moved out, and Dad was pretty upset.”

Storm turned to Stephanie. “He’s paying support now?” “No, I’ve been managing a restaurant in Haleiwa.” Her eyes darkened with emotion. “Marty told me if I divorced him, I’d never get a penny.”

“How long did you work with him?” Storm asked. “Almost  twenty years. We  set up Barstow  Developments in the mid-eighties, and we did pretty good.” She sighed. “But a couple of years ago, Marty stopped telling me things, what investments he made, what people he was doing business with. About three years ago, I found a bank statement for an account I didn’t know about. It was for more than four hundred thousand dollars.” Stephanie squeezed one hand in the other until her knuckles were white. “When I asked about it, he screamed at me to stay out of his business. And after that, he…he got worse.”

Storm had heard other lawyers rant about difficulties evaluating a spouse’s financial worth, and hoped Stephanie’s case wasn’t going to be one of these. “Have you been signing tax returns?” Storm asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you think he’s correctly reporting his income?” Stephanie shook her head and kept her eyes on her hands.

Storm winced, though she’d expected as much. “The IRS hates it when that happens. I’ll need your past tax returns, and any current information about his business you can find. Get me the names of clients, partners, people on the payroll, and jobs he’s done in the past five years.”

Stephanie chewed on her lower lip. “I’ll try. I know some people I can call, but some of them might tell him I asked questions.”

“I’ll call the ones you’re worried about. Just get me the names,” Storm said. “Since you’ve been here for a year, we’ll file in Hawai‛i, though California divorce laws are similar to ours. Unless the spouses agree otherwise, property is usually divided fairly equally.” Storm went over the personal information she required, what steps she would take on their behalf, and explained her rates.

“Um, Ms. Kayama? Can you protect my bank accounts here in the islands?”

“Is his name on them? Are they joint accounts?”

“No. But he might want to find out what I’ve saved.” Stephanie tore the tissue into smaller pieces. She didn’t notice the little scraps fall to the carpet.

Why would a wealthy developer want to investigate a North Shore restaurant manager’s bank accounts, Storm wondered. Unless the guy was a total power freak.

“If his name isn’t on them, he shouldn’t have any access to them. You might want to alert your bank to the possibility of unauthorized inquiries, though. Have them contact you—and me—if someone attempts to get information about the accounts.”

There was a chance the guy was so controlling that he couldn’t stand the idea his wife was making a living independent of him.

Then again, the restaurant managers Storm knew, and she had a friend who ran a local Zippy’s, didn’t have the Neiman Marcus wardrobe Stephanie wore. She didn’t look like she’d just dressed up for this appointment, either. Something to keep in mind, Storm told herself.

“Thank you, Ms. Kayama. I’ll work on getting what you need,” Stephanie said, and stood up.

“Call me Storm. It’s easier.” She offered her hand first to Stephanie, then to Ben.

They headed toward the door, and Ben turned back. “Do you surf?”

“Just small waves. Not anything like Nahoa. How about you?” Storm didn’t need to ask the question, she could tell by the light in his eyes.

“I grew up surfing in California. But it’s not the same as here. Were you there?” If his eyes hadn’t dropped to her shirt front, she wouldn’t have known what he was talking about.

“No, a friend gave this to me. His cousin was in one of the meets.”

“The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational? You know somebody who did that? Is he still around?”

“Sure, he runs a dive shop on Maui.”

“Cool.” Ben paused. “Hey, I’m going to be in a meet this weekend with Nahoa. You wanna come out?”

“You’re in the Sunset Triple Pro? I just heard about it on the radio.” Storm did a quick reevaluation of Ben. This guy was more than a wannabe. The Sunset Triple Pro was by invitation only. “Are you seeded?”

Ben shrugged. “Fourth or fifth, since Ken died.” His shoulders sagged a little.

“You knew him?”

“Not well. He was older than I am, better established. Makes you think.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. Sure, I’d love to see the meet.”

Stephanie’s expression had become even more worried during this exchange. “Call me if you come out,” Ben said.

“I will,” Storm promised, and saw them out of her office.

No wonder Stephanie looked troubled. She had a nasty ex and her only son wanted to compete in the waves that had killed his competitor.

Storm remembered the forecast for rising surf. Hadn’t the announcer mentioned waves in the twelve to fifteen foot range? In the Asian-Polynesian tradition of downplaying grandness, waves in Hawai‛i are measured from the back. Consequently, when the weather service reports that waves are “breaking three to five,” experienced islanders know that the face of the wave approaches twice that.

Twelve to fifteen foot waves would be monsters, but still not the biggest of the big-time waves. Certain surf meets weren’t even held until the waves were in the twenty to twenty-five foot range. Storm knew that surfers at Pe‛ahi, on Maui, had to use jet skis to get past the break zone, then catch the liquid mountains that Mother Nature devised with her winter storms. The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational not only didn’t take place until the waves were at least twenty feet, the contest required surfers to paddle themselves.

She never, ever wanted to be in waves that big. But it would be awesome to watch: just to feel the ground tremble under the crashing force of those rushing walls of water would be a thrill. Big wave surfers like Nahoa would be flocking to Haleiwa in droves, as if the weather report were a party invitation instead of a warning. There are a handful of places on earth where the ocean’s huge waves curl in a form perfect enough to hurtle a steel-nerved athlete on the ride of a lifetime. From November to February, the north shores of the Hawaiian Islands beckon to surfers the way Everest calls to climbers.

She’d see if Hamlin would go with her. Maybe her best friend Leila and her eleven-year-old son, Robbie, would come along, too. It would be a weekend they’d talk about for months.

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