Dolores was there the night the Hotel Fakir burned down. She was sitting with Roxanne by the Aquitania poster, toying with her glass and listening as the insistent rhythm of a D’Arienzo song made her want to dance. She touched the orchid in her hair; she knew she looked good in her satin chemise, slit skirt and scarlet Soy Porteno tango pumps. And there came Max, stepping a playful cruzada as he crossed the room. He caught Roxanne’s’s eye or perhaps she caught his, for he paused at their table, smiling and inclining his head toward the dance-floor. Roxanne stood and gave him her hand, and they stepped into the flow of dancers and were gone. Dolores sipped her Malbec and thought about Max’s exploration of Tango which had foundered on the twin shoals of writer’s block and a growing understanding that thought could no more capture the essence of Tango than spectral analysis of color would let you see scarlet. Tango is only discovered in the farther reaches of love.
Ignatio Quiroga was absently wiping the zinc surface of the bar. There was a faraway look in his eye, but he glanced now and again at the small collection of photographs next to his tropical flowers. Dolores walked over.
“Tell me a story, Ignatio”, she said, “I’m not dancing.”
Ignatio paused and adjusted a photo of a woman cradled in a tango embrace.
“A long time ago I commanded a garrison defending a remote archipelago against foreign aggression,” he said. “My adjutant was political, the bureaucracy’s eye on the battlefield. His wife Graciela was my mistress; we were madly in love. I see her in you, Dolores.” Ignatio took her hand in his. She smiled, but his tired lined face was impassive.
“Things didn’t end well. I escaped a firing squad with the help of a young officer named Ferreyra, who was shot in my place.” Tears welled in Dolores’s eyes.
“Graciela died in San Diego years ago,” Ignatio said, “a tanguera to the end. I have never forgotten. And nor have they.”
Dolores was used to Ignatio’s darker moods, and turned away to look for Max, unprepared for what came next. There was a loud crash and the etched glass transom over the front door splintered into a thousand shards. Something smoking and ominous lay spinning in the middle of the dance floor. Dolores glimpsed a bottle, a rag, a tiny lick of flame. With an almighty silent detonation, the floor was suddenly an incandescent lake of fire, and instantaneously, for one terrifying second, everything came to a standstill. And then panic set in as they all fled screaming out to the patio, slapping with bare hands the sheets of fire that engulfed them as they ran. Roxanne and Dolores huddled by the wrought iron railings under the fig trees and watched the Hotel Fakir, triumphantly ablaze in its final moments, defiant in the assault of drenching fire hoses, slowly collapse in monumental showers of sparks. Just then Dolores noticed that Ignatio was no longer there. A spectral figure was silhouetted against the fiery tableau, heading back into the flames.