From what Aaron had been able to gather, Dac had learned to cook from his father, a chef and single father in Hai Phong; Dac’s mother having passed away from a disease Dac would only refer to as “something very mysterious.” After a period of mourning that stretched blackly across the boy’s childhood, Dac’s father had fallen for a minor bureaucrat in the US embassy whose kitchen employed him. The kind of buttoned-up grey statesman who peopled Graham Green novels. The bureaucrat had brought father and boy back to the states after the fall of Saigon, but the State Department in the late seventies wanted all its homosexuals good and bearded. Forced to choose between love and country, the bureaucrat chose the latter and, armed with a pocketful of hush money, Dac and his father drifted across the country, finally settling into its middle.
All this Aaron had pieced together from occasional autobiographical snippets over their four years of acquaintance, usually in the form of new commentary. Troop drawdowns in Tengistan prompted a tale of Dac and his father air-lifted out of Saigon as part of Operation Frequent Wind, Dac crammed under the trembling arm of no less than Graham Martin, US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. A presidential candidate’s comments on health care led to a description of Dac’s mother and the mysterious illness that so desiccated her a young Dac tearfully insisted they put her into the tub so she might re-inflate like a dried out sponge. A statewide public proposition on gay marriage, defeated by a wide and virulent margin, evoked stories of those short-lived halcyon days in suburban DC when Dac once had again found himself with two loving parents.
Dac placed a vodka on the rocks, a manila envelope and a few scraps of paper in front of Aaron on the bar. It worried Aaron that even this early in the day, Dac assumed, correctly, that he could use a drink. Aaron sorted through the phone messages and, as usual, threw all of them aside as irrelevant.
“Been in business twelve years,” Dac said. “I find having a door to be an advantage. Customers like to be able to find you.”
“You’re an excellent answering service,” Aaron assured him.
“These people who call. I have no idea what they’re talking about. Never.”
Dac walked away to deal with something in the kitchen, disappearing behind swinging doors into a cloud of steam. Aaron deeply appreciated that Dac never asked what Aaron’s business was, even though he operated as a doorman for DIS. Life would be so much easier if everyone reacted to all situations with that kind of shrugging acceptance, rather than determination to understand before acting.
Aaron examined the manila envelope. It was addressed to him here at My Lai, and the return address was the law firm of Wolfram & Hart, the firm that had handled Jaime’s lawsuit. Aaron tore the envelope open. It contained a single sheet of paper, also addressed to him.
Dear Mr. Zeitlin, it read. Our sympathies on the death of your friend, Mr. Martinez. Our firm, which long stood beside Mr. Martinez in his pursuit of justice, now has the sad duty of attending to his estate.
A chill ran through Aaron. He wondered if this was what he sounded like when he performed notifications, so formal and stilted. He wondered if his sympathies sounded this canned.
Due to the protracted legal battles that surrounded the end of Mr. Martinez’s life, his remaining assets were few and were, for the most part, divided among family. But it was his wish that, in the event of his demise, the title for a small piece of property at the Chicago Data Center be transferred to your name. Below is the personal identification number and passcode, should you ever need to access this property.
Aaron put his hand over his eyes, unsure if they were watering. He’d never been the beneficiary of any will before, and this was such a small, strange bequeathal: the empty server where InterEm had originally been hosted, before Eric migrated the site to a massive server farm in Ashburn and away from Jaime and Aaron forever. It was like being given a small plot of land that had gone fallow but carried with it the resonance of home and the memory that there had once been a garden there. He wished the letter told him what Jaime wanted him to do with it, whether this was supposed to be a sign for him to build something new. For a moment, that seemed right. But the more he thought about it, the more the server in the Chicago Data Center felt like a patch of earth that had been razed and strewn with salt, someplace nothing was likely to grow ever again.