Aaron shut the office door behind him and locked all four locks, working from the top down. He made his way down the stairs and out onto Argyle, with the Red Line stop depositing its daily delivery of itinerant lunch enthusiasts in the heart of Viet Town. The locals, who mostly tolerated or disregarded the presence of Aaron’s office above the Cathay Bank branch, stayed off the streets during lunch hour. Aaron walked up the block to My Lai, a restaurant and bar where Dac, the owner, worked the lunch shift. Once, Aaron summoned up the nerve to ask Dac why he’d chosen the name My Lai for a Vietnamese restaurant. “We massacre hunger,” Dac informed him inscrutably.
My Lai was in a basement with small windows near the ceiling to let in weak shafts of daylight. It was a serviceable place to start drinking in the early afternoon. One thing he liked about Dac was that their lack of a shared culture made all social interaction reliably awkward. Aaron wasn’t entirely sure how well Dac spoke English and how much of his terse cadence was affect, but there was a comfort in neither needing nor expecting to be understood by the person to whom you were speaking. Aaron assumed everything he said to Dac seemed as much of a non sequitur as everything the proprietor said to him.
Dac poured him a drink without asking and Aaron nodded in thanks.
Behind the bar were three large televisions, beaconlike in the dim. Dac followed the news like Aaron had followed certain soap operas in college, with a sense of distance and irony.
“News not history,” he’d told Aaron. “When news happens to people, they call hotline, show up on channel, ‘witness to incident’ under their name. When history happens to people, they never know about it. People in your towers, history crashed into them, they never knew.”
The news anchor was tanned like a catcher’s mitt. He delivered the war reports and entertainment news with perfect equanimity. “Frank Sinatra would be great news man,” said Dac. “On weekends, he’d have gig dancing on Cronkite’s grave.”
“Walter Cronkite’s not dead, Dac,” Aaron informed him.
“You keep telling yourself that,” Dac replied.
The anchor came back on with the hour’s human-interest story. The president of Kandaq had joined InterEm, claiming it was a good way to keep in touch with his people. The anchor delivered this news with the smug assurance that only the president of Kandaq, whose name he repeatedly and variously mispronounced, would attempt such a clumsy piece of media manipulation. InterEm, the anchor informed them, now had over five hundred million members, meaning if it were a country, it would be larger than Japan. The anchor delivered this bit of information as if to say, in your face, Japan, and mispronounced the president of Khandaq’s name. The president of Khandaq had five thousand friends on his page within the first hour.
“Real news for the day,” Dac said. “President of Kandaq has friends.”
“Turn that shit off,” Aaron muttered. Days earlier, the European press had reported on the liquidation of a newspaper office outside the Khandaqi capital of Shiruta. The president had long since claimed all businesses and citizens as assets of the country, allowing the euphemism liquidate to be applied to property seizures and assassinations. The story hadn’t made it to the US press; they were busy reporting on the president’s InterEm status updates. He could see Kandaqi soldiers, standing with guns cocked behind a row InterEm users at their terminals, screaming at the users to click the “like” button. Aaron downed the rest of his drink, crunching the ice cubes between his molars, and ordered another.