Pau Hana Time
The sign over the door had probably once said MAHALO LOUNGE, but a few of the letters had fallen off and it now read "Ahal Lunge" which didn't sound promising to Danny, even though McGarrett had sworn the bar food was the best in town. Inside, it was dark; the bar looked like it was made of plywood held together with strings of Christmas lights, and there was one of those cat-statues parked on a red cushion next to the cash register, waving one raised paw back and forth like it was hailing a cab in slow motion. They were everywhere, those cats – in every shop from the pricey designer boutiques in Waikiki to the mom-n-pop shave-ice stand in Haleiwa. They sat in restaurants, gas stations, hair salons – hell, his daughter's high-end dentist even had one on her reception desk. And Danny would have been willing to swear on the Bible that he'd seen one cheerfully overlooking operations in that meth lab they'd raided two weeks ago.
"What the hell are those things, anyway?"
McGarrett tore his gaze away from the UH women's volleyball game on the big screen TV – another cultural mystery. Sure, watching sweaty girls jump around in those tiny shorts might be fun in and of itself, but as a sport, volleyball was kind of hard for a guy from the burg to take seriously.
"What are what things?"
Dan nodded towards the bar. "Those cats."
"Oh. Yeah. Those are called maneki neko – means 'welcome cat.' You get one, face it towards the door, and it's supposed to bring in money and customers."
"OK, right. Chinese?"
"Japanese. But everyone does it."
"Right. Chalk up another one for cultural diversity as reflected by market practices –"
"It's all about the ohana, man – you got a kid, you must've seen Lilo & Stitch. Now shut up for just two minutes 'cause it's aloha ball, here…"
"Bet you can figure that one out for yourself." McGarrett tuned his new partner out with the incisive efficiency Danny figured they taught them in the SEALs.
The girls jumped around some more, and the waitress came by with a tray. She was around sixty-five, with a bowlegged waddle and a stiff jet-black updo with a cascade of orchids down one slope of it. Her name tag read "Lovely," making Danny wonder for about the thirtieth time why, if family was so damn important in Hawai'i, supposedly loving parents would give their kids the kind of names he'd been hearing lately. Junior-Boy. Rockus. Rolenn. Herberta. Shaloha. Celica. . How were you supposed to fit THAT on your IRS forms? And Lovely? Didn't they figure that someday she'd be sixty-five and waddling? Bad long-term planning. Lovely unloaded a big plate with domino-sized slabs of something dark red neatly arranged on a bed of shredded cabbage, and a basket of hairy, steaming green pods. Jesus. It's like snack-time on Mars. What is this stuff?
"Thanks, aunty," McGarrett said, still watching the screen. Now a lot of people in green were yelling and kissing and putting leis on each other.
"Shuah, honey," Lovely said, setting down a pair of chopsticks and a small plate next to McGarrett's beer. She eyed Danny's tie for a moment, then handed him a fork.
This happened to Danny a lot. "It's – uh. It's OK, I can use chopsticks. Really."
"Shuah, honey," the waitress said again, with a slightly different intonation, and handed over an oblong paper package before she stumped off.
The post-game orgy was over by the time Danny'd got his chopsticks stripped down and ready for action, and McGarrett was once again mentally available for questions.
"Yeah?" McGarrett fished up a bristly pod and squeezed the contents into his mouth, which answered one of Danny's questions before he even had to ask it.
"I get that it's food, in what looks like a pretty basic form, which means I'm probably not going to get another really bad surprise like I did with the li hing martini and the Filipino chicken thing and the tentacle omelet, and I'm gonna eat it like a big boy, but just add to my cultural understanding, here."
McGarrett pointed a chopstick at the bowl of pods. "That's edamame. Soybeans. It goes good with that." The chopstick indicated the brown bottle in Danny's hand. "Which is beer."
"Yeah. Thanks. And the red stuff?"
"Ahi sashimi. Fish."
"They forgot to cook it."
"Nope. Cooking spoils the flavour. Come on, look at it – it's great. That sucker was swimming this morning. Seriously, it doesn't get better than this." Danny's new partner dunked one of the slabs of flesh around in a dish of soy sauce and Chinese mustard and slurped it up. "Go on, Danno, take one for the team. The green stuff's wasabi, if you wanna live dangerously."
It actually was really good. Once the wasabi had numbed you up a little. And it definitely made you appreciate cold beer even more – always a plus.
"So. I think I'm getting a handle on this local food thing. You guys put red bean paste in sno-cones, spam on your sushi, dried seaweed on your popcorn, and peanut butter in those Japanese glue-balls."
"Yep. Just don't ask what they put in the mon doo at Ted's Barbecue. You know, the one across the road from the Humane Society." McGarrett glanced meaningfully at the waving cat on the bar. "Just saying."
"That was totally unnecessary. I'm trying to eat my raw fish, here."
"Next time we're in Waimanalo, I'll take you to Keneke's for the kalua pig and rice plate lunch. With a side of mac salad and a fruit punch. Starch and sugar. It's the Island Way."
"Yeah, next time. And your idea of bar snacks is fish and soybeans. No pretzels? No peanuts?"
"You want peanuts? Peanuts will keep you quiet? I can get you peanuts, no problem. Hey, aunty!"
Lovely's flower-bedecked beehive loomed behind the bar, where she was pulling a couple of drafts for a pair of leathery old Asian guys in baseball caps.
They came in a bowl, but that was about the only thing they had in common with Newark peanuts. These things were still in their shells, and they were cold, wet, and kind of slimy, like they'd been dredged up from the bottom of a pond. Toxic waste peanuts. Jimmy Hoffa peanuts. "I should have known. You eat the fish raw and boil the nuts."
"Shuah, honey," McGarrett said, popping one open with a nasty squelch.
"I bet you were great at waterboarding."
"I had a style all my own, yeah. You gonna eat that last piece of ahi?"
Danny pushed the plate over. "It's yours."
"Thanks. You – uh – you got wasabi on your tie. Should've stayed with the fork."
"Crap." Danny flipped it up, noted the greenish splodge, pulled it off and shoved it into his pants pocket.
His partner blinked. "Whoa."
"That's all it takes to get you to take off the damn tie? A little wasabi? Wait'll I tell Chin and Kono - we had a tie pool going. Looks like I just won a hundred bucks. Hold still, I have to get a picture." McGarrett slapped his pockets. "Shit. Left the phone in the car. You'll have to back me up on it."
"A tie pool? You guys are nuts. Suppose I just say you're lying."
"Then you'd be lying."
McGarrett's face took on that weird look it got sometimes, like his mind was going some place other people's minds didn't usually visit. "You wouldn't."
"Lie. I bet you've never told a lie in your life."
Danny could feel his own forehead creasing, and he looked down at his hands. "Um. No. Not anything big. Something wrong with that?"
"No. Course not. It's just – rare, you know? And good. Not a lot of that around. It's… you know. Good."
"You know you're sweating all over your upper lip, right? It's that hard for you to say something nice?"
"I am?" McGarrett wiped at it with the back of his hand. "Must be the wasabi."
"Sure. Look – here." Danny dragged the balled-up tie out of his pocket and pushed it across the table. "Take the tie. Now you got evidence, right?" He grinned. "So forget about it."
"OK. Listen, let's get out of here. Go back downtown."
"You want to go back to work? I thought we were on whaddyacallit – pau hana time?"
"Nah, not work. There's this place on Queen Street – the Club Titanic. Kind of a local landmark."
"Club Titanic? Why the hell would anyone call a bar –"
"I'll let you figure that one out when we get there. It'll add to your cultural understanding."
"Why do I feel like you're setting me up? After I gave you my tie and everything…" But Danny was already getting to his feet.
"Just shut up and meet me in the parking lot. I'll cover the tab."
"Shuah, honey," Danny said, and went out, still grinning.
On the Mahalo Lounge's bar, the welcome cat ticked away, waving endlessly at the empty door, its elbow-action only slightly hindered by the tie dangling around its white and gold neck.