President Charlotte Quiroga listened desultorily as her Cabinet ministers discussed the kidnapping. The Minister of Security declared that Dolores’s abduction was simply drug cartel extortion; his men were already closing in. The Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed a course of action, approved by the U.S. President’s Chief of Staff, which reflected the best principles of crisis management. Charlotte, daughter of an active service general, knew a thing or two about crisis, and realized that Felix’s Chief of Staff and even her own ministers had failed to grasp a central political truth.

Charlotte was President because she was smart and savvy. She had openly embraced the mothers of the Desaparecidos, student protesters who had defied the military junta back in the 80s. Thousands of them had been arrested and tortured, drugged, loaded onto military airplanes, and at 10,000 feet over the Rio de la Plata they were pushed to their deaths. Truly disappeared. Ever since, the Plaza de Mayo mothers, leftist veterans of the Falklands War, and the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons had clamored for justice. Entrenched wealthy elites obstructed all investigation.

Charlotte tuned out her preening ministers and remembered moments of fine connection with the President two nights before. She may have miss-stepped here and there in “Desde el Alma”, but Felix, schooled by Dolores, had gracefully adapted. Dolores was key; she was close to Felix, who would suffer if she were harmed. Charlotte’s father was also key. In the early 70s, as a career officer in the Argentine Army, he’d fallen in love with the wife of a junior officer. She had borne Ignatio’s first and only child, Charlotte. A decade later, Ignatio was commanding an infantry brigade fighting British aggression in the Falkland Islands. Fatefully, the same junior officer was assigned as his adjutant, as cover for political surveillance of alleged leftist officers in the 7th Infantry regiment. But the adjutant’s agenda went deeper; he was obsessed with revenge against Ignatio.

As Argentine casualties mounted across the barren windswept Malvinas, Ignatio Quiroga was arrested on spurious charges of treason arising from contacts with dissident officers. A summary court martial sentenced him to death by firing squad. Before dawn, commandos from the 7th Infantry overpowered the guards and smuggled Ignatio to the mainland on a military transport. He fled to the United States, found himself in Charleston, and opened the Hotel Fakir. In gratitude, he adorned the transom over the hotel’s black lacquered doorway with an etched-glass hooded cobra, mascot of the 7th Infantry. And now he was dead, victim of yet another unsolved arson in downtown Charleston.

An old Buenos Aires friend of her father had promised Charlotte that the kidnappers would show no mercy. And so, as she adjourned the Cabinet meeting, Charlotte was well prepared when her cell phone delivered a few bars of Pugliese’s “Manos Adoradas”, followed by a concise text. “No mailed fingers if the arson investigation stops now.”

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