I walked through the misty glass door and, for the first time, I realized that glass could fade if not washed properly. Out of the countless times I’ve been here, it was the first time I noticed such a trivial detail. I blamed it on that damned book, Fahrenheit 451, my girl convinced me to read. I wondered if I was going to end up like Clarisse if I kept on noticing these small quirks of life.
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Somehow the murky glass combined with the dim lighting to create the appropriate grungy experience. It was a place that you entered with a five o’clock shadow and felt proud to be a man. An overwhelming sweet smell of cheap smoke surrounded me, momentarily shrouding my vision. Smoking was recently made illegal in enclosed establishments, but nobody dared snitch on big Laka. Laka was the owner of the bar and it is said that he once smashed someone’s head in with his bare hands. I’m not sure about the validity of the story, but judging by the size of the big dark skinned man, I didn’t doubt the possibility of it.
It always amused me that Laka constantly sat perched upon a stool behind his prized marble bar top like an overlooking gargoyle in one of those gothic movies. I made sure to shake his calloused hand as I walked on by. The bar was always crowded with its regulars, a few of whom I nodded to on my way in. Noa, my closest friend, motioned me to have a seat next to him and I obliged. For the most part, the tall skinny Hawaiian proved to be humorous company.
Noa leaned in close when I sat in the chair opposite of him. He spoke as if he had a secret.
“Kase, you see dat stranga’ ova there?” He tilted his head in the direction he wanted me to look. “The one talkin’ to da boss?”
Noa always called Laka the boss as if the man somehow owned us. Maybe he did own my friend in a way; Noa was addicted to the stuff. But not me. I could quit anytime, or so I told myself. Truthfully, addicted or not, I didn’t like the notion of being owned and maybe that’s the reason I never could keep a real job these days.
I looked in the direction of Laka and took in the bizarre sight. The immense Polynesian was hunched over and talking in hushed tones with an odd white man. That struck me as unusual for two reasons: Laka rarely lowered himself to anybody and the white man was much too finely dressed in his fitted black suit, corduroy pants, and shiny shoes to be up to any good in here.
“Yeah. I see ‘em.”
We weren’t the only one watching him, either. The white man had twelve or so pairs of glazed eyes on him and he couldn’t have cared in the least. I despised his type – the ones who had everything handed to them on a silver platter. I hated them because I was once one of them-- son to one of the most decorated Chief of Polices in HPD history and on pace to attend a football university before my world turned to shit. My mom died in a car accident and a few weeks later I dropped out of school, moved out from home, and went from one menial job to another.
I spat on the ground to show my disgust at the white man or maybe it was simply to convince myself that I was never one of them. It would be hypocritical to admit my once privileged upbringing aloud. Respect meant everything in my business.
“Whatcha think he up to?” asked Noa curiously, his two missing front teeth gave him the appearance of an over-eager child.
“Aw hush, man. Ya always so distrustful of people. I kind’a like ‘es look. Maybe I’m goin’ to buy me one of ‘em fancy suits one day.”
You’re too trusting, I thought. I looked away from the white man and decided to change the topic.
“If you keep on coming here every night that suit is never going to get on your shoulders,” I joked.
Noa laughed. He had one of those deep throaty laughs that made you want to join along with him. I admired him for that.
A new scantily clad waitress came around and took our orders with lingering eyes. I wasn’t interested and she too quickly lost interest. I ordered today’s special, the lime Awa. I wasn’t sure why they added flavor to the root based drink and I hope they didn’t charge extra for it because the Awa always tasted like mud. My philosophy told me that you could add anything to mud and it would still taste like mud. Maybe today would be different, but I doubted it. The waitress also came back much too quick for my liking. Either the drink was pre-made or she just squeezed a lime onto the Awa. Laka wasn’t known to be an organized man so I figured it was the latter.
We sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes as I sipped on my drink, until I sensed a change in my friend’s behavior. His leg bounced up and down in quick spurts, an excited habit of his, which caused the flimsy table to shake along with him.
“He’s comin’” Noa said.
“The stranga’” Noa’s eyes went down to the table and I could feel the white man’s presence behind me.
The white man stopped once he came to the side of the table where he could see the both of us clearly. I looked up and met his icy blue stare. Initially neither of us blinked, but I wasn’t going to back down from the challenge. After all, this was my turf. After a few seconds, he gave in and glanced away, in the direction of my friend. I then took the time to examine him more closely. He wasn’t old, but he wasn’t young either. His translucent skin had a worn texture to it and a jagged scar ran down the middle of his right cheek. My mother once said that you could tell a good man from an evil man by the way he approached strangers. Honest men were always a little shy, never stared too long. An evil man exuded confidence as if it was a deodorant and I was already sick of this man’s smell.
He turned his cold stare back onto me.
“I take it you’re Kase Kapono.”
I nodded, wondering in the back of my mind how he had gotten my name.
“The last time a man looked at me like that, he lunged at me with a knife. I’m not looking for trouble, Kase. Just came here to make a proposal.”
“What ‘appened to ‘em?” asked Noa.
“To the man wit’ da blade.”
The white man chuckled before answering.
“Let’s just say that he wouldn’t make that mistake again.” The white man turned his attention back to me. “May I sit?”
“Suit yourself,” I said in a noncommittal manner.
“Aw, don’ mind ‘em. He’s jus’ a bit uneasy around stranga’s.”
“He’s a smart man. Gentlemen, the name’s Marcus Smith.” Marcus Smith held out his hand for each of us. I took it without much thought. A handshake couldn’t hurt. His grasp was firm, as if he had something to prove.
“So what’s your proposal, Mr. Smith?” I asked.
“Ah, a straight-talking man. I like you already.” Marcus patted his thigh in good humor. “Oh, but please call me Marcus."
He continued after a pause: "I hear that you’re good at locating people, Kase.”
“He’s the bess’” Noa said.
I shook my head. “No, I do mainly small time work. If a wife thinks her husband is cheating on her, then she’ll hire me to get to the bottom of it. Everything's legal.”
I emphasized the last two words.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” he said.
“Regardless, I doubt that I’m qualified for someone of your stature,” I said, finishing the last drops of the bowl as I spoke. If he thought that I was being rude talking to him while sipping on Awa, he did a good job of hiding it.
“I came to you didn’t I?” He was persistent.
“What does your job entail?”
“I’ll give you the details and five hundred dollars when you sign your name on the dotted line.” His blue eyes twinkled when he uttered the pay, as if it would convince me.
It almost did.
Five hundred dollars was a lot of money. Too much for an honest job.
“Maybe some other time.” I could feel Noa’s greedy eyes glaring at me as if I’d made a mistake.
Marcus Smith wasn’t a man used to being told no. His tone became hoarse, “From what I hear, you aren’t in the position of declining easy money.”
He was right. I didn’t have a steady income and I had monthly payments that I barely cleared every month. Still, I was stubborn and didn’t like the look of what he had to offer.
“Look, Mr. Smith, I’m not interested,” I said, while forcefully slamming the coconut bowl on the cheap table and rising out of my seat in a hurry. I had lost the urge to get drunk for the night and the warmth of my bed sounded comforting. I nodded at Noa, as if to say goodnight, but he had money in his eyes.
As I walked towards the exit I heard him say, “I’ll do it.”
“Stupid fool,” I muttered.
Without another thought, I climbed inside my red Honda and drove speedily home.
Looking back on it, I wish with all my heart that I pulled my friend out of there.