The fire that consumed the Hotel Fakir made the front page of the Charleston Evening Post. For those whose days are lived in fear, the blaze confirmed that citizen vigilantes, preferably armed in accordance with the Second Amendment, should defend the city against infiltration from all points north of Calhoun Street. Tango was of course the pre-eminent raison d’etre of the Hotel Fakir, and tango’s consensual intimate collaboration between men and women who would otherwise be strangers no doubt fueled, together with the gas, the enthusiasm with which the Post reported the spectacular demise of the Hotel Fakir.
The die-hard or even episodic Hotel Fakir regulars mourned above all the enigmatic Ignatio Quiroga, who could easily have escaped the catastrophe, but instead sought to save some prints, the Aquitania among them, and a handful of photographs of tango intimates, family, Hotel Fakir habitués, and written testimonials that adorned the bar just behind his extravagant daily displays of tropical flowers. Ignatio Quiroga died aged 90, a soldier and tanguero whose checkered career included command of the 7th Infantry in the Falkland Islands campaign. As a boy in Buenos Aires, accompanying his mother to milongas where she worked as a dancer, he had learned the feminine role in Tango because older young men needed compliant partners to hone their skills as tangueros. This knowledge animated the masterful tangos that he performed occasionally in the Hotel Fakir, but more often found expression in laconic and perceptive remarks as he concocted his heady drinks behind the bar.
The next morning, firemen probing the smouldering ruin of the Hotel Fakir found Ignatio Quiroga’s remains behind the blistered black-lacquered door, with shattered fused globules of etched glass from the transom strewn all around. His right hand, which had somehow escaped incineration, grasped a framed sepia photograph of his mother, smiling, her hand raised in incipient embrace as she invited a long-departed partner to a tango. In the background, Osvaldo Pugliese was leading his orchestra in a performance of what could only have been “Manos Adoradas”.
Among Ignatio Quiroga’s meager effects were found disorganized reminiscences and fragments of letters from his wide circle of correspondents over the years. Max examined these feuilletons at the request of Quiroga’s executor, Tadeusz Poniatowski, his erstwhile comrade-in-arms and second son of the Ambassador’s amanuensis in the Austrian Embassy in London in the 1910s. This fragment, written by Count Albert Mensdorff-Pouilly, Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, offered insights into Quiroga’s life-long fascination with Tango.
The invitation, on heavily embossed vellum, resting on a small silver tray, was presented by my secretary Poniatowski. I had just signed my weekly dispatch to Vienna, and was discreetly rehearsing an ocho cortado while gazing out across Regent’s Park.
“Her Majesty Alexandra would be pleased if Your Excellency would honor her with your presence at an informal soirée at St. James’s Palace. Alexandra, R.” I regained my ambassadorial poise and looked questioningly at Poniatowski. “Sir, the Queen and her Lady of the Bedchamber Countess Alice are much taken with this insidious Tango. I understand they seek suitable partners to advance their studies.” I pondered. “Why me?” I asked. “Sir, we Poles have a reputation for gaiety and a love of dancing, and your recent dabbling with Tango, private classes and so on, has clearly piqued the Queen’s and Countess’s interest.” I pondered no more. “Please see that my dancing shoes are well-polished.”
“My cultural attaché, Arsenio Quiroga, a talented tanguero who often offers advice on my tango and especially on my walk, which tends towards a slouch after a glass or two of Argentine Malbec, accompanied me to the Court of St. James. Our carriage turned into Marlborough Road, and drew into a covered portico. A uniformed retainer unlatched the door and Quiroga helped me down. “Sir, imagine yourself a young man in Buenos Aires,” he murmured, “stepping out on a summer evening with your sweetheart. Move with natural grace, intention and love…”
I told him I’d never been to Buenos Aires, was certainly not young, and as for love… Before I could finish, deferential courtiers whisked me away and presently announced my arrival in a chandeliered drawing room with a mirror-like parquet floor. Servants bearing trays of champagne and canapés circulated among bejeweled ladies in daring tango cocktail dresses or harem trouser-skirts in the latest apricot shades. Raising an ivory baton, a pomaded maestro gestured towards an elevated dais where four bandoneonistas, three violinists, two flautists, and a pianist waited expectantly. He smiled genially at the glittering assembly. “Tonight we celebrate the birthdays of Her Majesty, Queen Alexandra, and Lady Alice. Comencemos por un tango de cumpleaños!”
“The orchestra led off with Angel Villoldo’s “El Choclo”. I downed in rapid succession two glasses of champagne from a passing tray and stepped onto the mirrored parquet. As the Queen waltzed by with the Uruguayan Chargé d’Affaires, I tapped his shoulder; he bowed and withdrew. I took Alexandra’s proffered hand. We embraced tentatively and then surrendered to the mesmeric allure of a tango grapevine. Her bosom was lightly sprinkled with freckles and talc, and I was enveloped in a perfumed tincture of roses as she pivoted before me in an ocho, preoccupied and smiling. Someone tapped my shoulder and took her away. The orchestra seguéd into the next tanda, and the Queen and Countess suddenly found themselves face-to-face. Impatiently, they shrugged off their partners and came together like magnets into each other’s arms. Alexandra and Alice danced with absorbed precision, capturing every nuance of the lilting tango vals, their limbs and bodies in fine and beautiful synchrony, an epitome of what men create in tango dreams.”
Max filed the fragment with care, and as the moon rose over the marsh, he slipped one or two accessories into his pockets and headed for the creek. First out was a tiny but powerful flashlight that showed him the way; he was mindful of the canebrake rattlesnake coiled incognito in the grass. He crossed the lawn, tensely navigated a short shadowed path through bog myrtles and pines, and settled into a weathered garden bench under an oak at the edge of the marsh. He turned off the light. Next out were an iPod and a JamBox. A few clicks later, D’Arienzo’s staccato bandoneon and wistful violin set the stage for a survey of the stars, the playful juxtaposition of Venus and Mars, trajectories of flashing five-mile-high jets, and moonlight animating the marsh. The music reclaimed his attention, and he turned onto the walkway that led to the dock.
The tide was in full flood as he strode across a vast lake that precisely reflected the distant forest and the skies above. D’Arienzo’s song prompted weightless steps first to the right and then to the left, interspersed with crisp cruzadas, all carefully aligned with the edge of the walkway. He came at last to the dock and practiced step sequences from class, assimilating them gradually as reflexes. The music alone elicited the steps, and for moments on end, his heart and mind were at ease. But he knew that tango is capricious when danced with another. Like him she is impelled by something more than a beautifully interpretive set of perfect steps.
That something remained elusive. After a while, watching Mars and Venus set in the northwest, and feeling the late-night chill creeping in, Max considered again tango’s insistent hold over him. He recalled Ignatio Quiroga’s remarks one evening on tango, while mixing yet another Manhattan for a lady whose capacity for cocktails was surpassed only by her elegance on the dance-floor. “In Tango, as in chess, opposites with strictly-defined moves meet on a limited field. The encounter offers boundless possibilities. Strengths and weaknesses are carefully probed and acted upon. But in contrast to chess, in the end, for something like a second, Tango melds the opposites and sets them free.”
Dolores thought of Felix’s predecessor whose intimate encounters had almost lost him the Presidency. Felix was a bachelor, of course, and so his secret was somewhat less alarming. Given the times, though, she was mindful and correct teaching Tango on the mirrored parquet of the Oval Office. Her ID badge said Dolores Ferreyra, Cultural Affairs Attaché, and she had 30 minute access every Tuesday at 7 pm. This was their last class before Felix’s visit to Buenos Aires, where he would waltz with Mademoiselle Quiroga, the President of Argentina, at her Inaugural State Ball.
The scarlet satin dress and gilded stilettos folded into Dolores’s purse tripped no alarms. She was shown into the Oval Office by Amancio, a fresh-faced presidential aide, whose discreet glances spoke of devoted puppy love. Felix was on the phone, tie askew, his feet propped on the desk. He stood and kissed her cheek. “Good to see you, Dolores,” he said. She changed in the little powder room off the Oval Office, and dabbed Provocatif on her earlobes. As she came out, Felix glanced at her golden heels. “I love your…,” he said, and he paused, looking for the next best word. “Mr. President, did you just say you love me?” He smiled and reached into his briefcase propped against the leg of the Presidential desk. He drew out an iPhone and a JamBox. “What do you think? Di Sarli or Pugliese?” he said.
Dolores loved this man who set aside affairs of state for her. But Felix was caught in the insidious grip of Tango. He changed his polished wing tips for soft felt-soled dance shoes. As a Pugliese waltz filled the Oval Office, Felix embraced her intently and led her, her eyes closed, attentive to the slightest move, into the gathering delirium of “Desde el Alma”. They came to a halt precisely on the final beat, and his hand on her back traced a wistful caress that spoke of lives they’d never live, whose expression was best and most safely left to Tango. His phone pinged. Felix pulled away and listened gravely. “Brief me at 7:00 am,” he said. He smiled, she re-cued the music, and they danced once again the set of steps that painted every nuance of Pugliese’s waltz. A tap on the door announced the next item on the agenda. Felix grazed his lips across hers. “Later,” he said.
Amancio was waiting outside. He consulted his Blackberry, tapped the little screen twice, and strode off down the corridor. Dolores hurried after him. “TuTu Tango, right?” he called over his shoulder. A limousine took her to TuTu’s, where she nursed a Malbec and listened to the elderly bandoneonista and his meditative violinist. Around 10 a flurry of suits appeared at the bar, and Felix sat down beside her. He caught the bartender’s eye, indicated her glass, and took her hand. “Dolores,” he said, “I love Tango. But tell me: how do I distill the message of Tango from the beautiful messenger?” “You tell me, Mr. President.” She touched her glass to his. “You’re the leader of the free world. Lead me.” They stepped onto the tiny dance floor, and the violinist smiled. As the music enveloped them, Felix and Dolores merged into the safe primal embrace of a man and a woman moving as one to Tango’s hypnotic invitation.
She pined for Felix when he was gone. The first night she sat at a secluded table in TuTu’s, her phone close at hand. Men mostly steered clear of her, somehow aware of the protective veils of surveillance enclosing her. Willis, a little coil of wire in his ear, sat at the bar, deeply bored with his assignment. Every few minutes, like a beach lifeguard, he scanned the room methodically and murmured a word or two into his cuff. The tiny orchestra played a set of rhythmic tangos by Enrique Rodrigues. Fabio, the bandoneonista, was nostalgically convincing as he channeled Roberto Flores and his fluid songs of heartbreak. Maurice, the violinist, was thoughtful, flying high on fine Sensimilla he’d smoked an hour before in the mens’ room. Dolores had turned him down politely when he’d offered to turn her on. She was thinking of Felix, or so she thought. But Mademoiselle Quiroga was the one who danced before her inner eye.
She reached for her glass of Malbec. On her phone she googled this re-incarnation of Eva Peron, whose beauty was the toast of Argentina, from balmy Buenos Aires and arid Patagonian deserts to frozen Andean heights. While she sat in TuTu’s listening to Fabio, Mademoiselle Quiroga was waltzing with her Felix, the President. She moved as one with him, her silken body taut but compliant. He leaned intently into her embrace, leading her like the free world that she was. All eyes were upon her, and her eyes were closed against his cheek. Dolores touched Felix’s emerald brooch on her breast, sipped her wine, and succumbed to the violin’s sinuous embrace. A calm familiar voice whispered in her ear.
“Dolores?” Amancio, his Blackberry gone, offered his hand. His eyes caught hers momentarily, then rested on the crimson arc of her lips.
He’d read her perfectly, of course, and led her into a finely calibrated circuit of the dance floor. Her phone uttered a presidential ping as they passed her little table. Willis by the bar stiffened and touched his ear, and she danced on, settling into Amancio’s careful comfortable embrace. A second authoritative ping sounded from her phone, and Fabio, no fool, nodded almost imperceptibly as she passed by. Willis, now on full alert, tried to catch her eye, but he was no tanguero, just Secret Service. Eyes closed, she danced on, attuned to Amancio’s take on the music as he led her body into pleasing rhythmic alignment with his own. The third ping was piqued and insistent.
Amancio led Dolores to her table, his hand on her back. Her phone awaited her on high alert. She picked up, and he retreated to the bar. Ignatio raised an eyebrow in male complicity and poured him a brandy. Dolores stood by her table, toying with the emerald at her breast, a latter-day Botticelli Venus lacking only a scallop shell. She glanced at Fabio and Willis, then glanced at Amancio and smiled. A small, huge consolation. “Yes, Mr. President,” she said. “Dolores,” he said, “What do you think? I know she looks good, but in the fourth bar of “Desde el Alma”, where we switch from parallel to cross steps, she lost me.” He fell silent. “Felix…?” “Dolores, ask Amancio to get you to Reagan National; a jet to BA is waiting for you.” Dolores tucked away her phone, smoothed her serpentine silk dress, and leaned back in the banquette. She inclined her head slightly towards Amancio. The cock had crowed three times, and she had not folded. She twirled her glass, smiled at Willis and Fabio and Maurice, and considered her options.
Tantalizing moments passed as Fabio and Maurice played tangos that sang of passionate lives and fruitless love. At last Dolores eased onto the barstool next to Amancio and whispered in his ear. “How about a red-eye to Buenos Aires?” He rested his eyes on hers, contemplated the perfect symmetry of her face, and thought fast. Willis had left his post at the other end of the bar, and was coming towards them. “Of course,” he said, “we’ll lift the rugs in the cabin and stream Di Sarli to the speakers.” Dolores threw her hands to her face and gasped in glee. “Amancio, you’re ridiculous!” she cried. Willis stood before them, listening to voices in his ear, his eyes watchful. “I need to check with State…” he said in a tolerant tone. Dolores took Amancio’s hand, blew Fabio a kiss, and made for the door. She called over her beautiful bare shoulder. “The President has spoken, his wish is my command, to hear is to obey.” She laughed, and her blond curls danced around her face like an angel’s halo.
Amancio made some calls while a soundless limousine sped them to Reagan National. In the dead of night, the federal bureaucracy stirred, schedules were re-arranged, and authorizations were signed. Their sleek Gulfstream IV accelerated smoothly, lifted off and climbed, tilting gracefully toward southern constellations. Dolores sipped ice-cold champagne and swayed in his embrace to Di Sarli’s dramatic tangos. Later, dozing through the stratospheric moonlit night, he dreamed of long-limbed cranes flying south in elegant V-formations. In his mind’s eye, hummingbirds, yellow wagtails, and small sparrows nestled in the warm down of the cranes’ backs and relieved the tedium of migration with exuberant birdsong.
He crashed in the Sofitel Buenos Aires, and was sleeping off the songbirds when a text alert sounded. The moon was waning in the west, feathery clouds raced across the horizon, and a cool dawn approached. He stirred and slowly focused. “Staff meeting at 7 am, Four Seasons.” He left a voicemail for Dolores, and shaved while musing over their spellbound tangos at TuTu’s. He summoned a car from the Chief of Staff motor pool, and snoozed as they sped through the leafy boulevards of Buenos Aires to the Presidential suite in Recoleta. He strode through security to the elevators. The lobby breakfast buffet was in redolent full swing and he paused for a cappuccino and two Panuelitos de Grasa. A Presidential aide appeared and escorted him to the penthouse suite, where the Chief of Staff paced back and forth, frowning into his hand-held. The aide’s murmured introduction elicited a bright smile from the Chief of Staff.
“The dramatic tangos of Di Sarli!” he said. “I’m told the Gulfstream surfed the stratosphere with great poise.” Birds chirped in the atrium beneath his window. “Yes, sir. A good trip, uneventful.” Amancio waited, Blackberry in hand, for instructions. Dolores was probably up by now, but hadn’t called. “Good,” the Chief of Staff said, “keep Dolly busy and happy till morning, then get her back to Washington.” “Yes, sir,” said Amancio, “and if the President asks for her…?” The Chief of Staff contemplated a sparrow flitting through the palm fronds in the lobby. “Be there to bring her home.” At the back of his mind Amancio heard the lyrical cadences of Canaro’s “Poema” and saw himself dancing again with Dolores, her brow resting against his cheek as their bodies sought stratospheric synchrony. “Yes, sir,” he said.
As he turned to go, the President strolled into the room, relaxed and urbane, and their eyes met. He put an arm across Amancio’s shoulder and drew him aside. “Amancio. Good to see you,” he said quietly. “What do you know about the Hotel Fakir?” Amancio thought for a moment. “Mr. President, the Hotel Fakir was a tango salon in Charleston, South Carolina, destroyed by arson some months ago. Dolores was a dance instructor down there; we met at the Hotel Fakir.” “Yes,” said the President, “Mademoiselle Quiroga told me her father tended bar at the Fakir. He died in the blaze. The FBI and State are on the case, now reporting through you. You will tell me what’s going on. And Amancio,” he added, lowering his voice, “Like you, I like Dolores. Keep her out of this if you can.” Amancio nodded, and his phone buzzed as the President moved on. The screen said Dolores. Amancio thought for a moment, and by the time he picked up, she was gone. He texted “6 pm, Four Seasons.” First thing next morning, back on the Gulfstream, songbirds paid off, Charleston would be front and center. He was on the case.
Dolores woke to a chirped text alert and a snippet of Di Sarli’s “Don Juan”. Could only be Amancio. Swathed in warm goose down and Four Seasons Egyptian cotton, she stretched languidly, and must have dozed off, because her thoughts were hijacked by flights of geese descending through low-lying mists over a Carolina sea-marsh. They glided easily on silent widespread wings and then flared and alighted with barely a splash on a warm tidal lagoon. Without surprise, she saw that Felix, so eager to get things right, alert to the slightest misstep, and Amancio, ensnared and completely enraptured, had flown in just behind her. What more did she need? She paused at the edge of the marsh grass and gazed fondly upon her fine ganders paddling dutifully in her wake, avoiding each other. A second chirp awoke her and the dream dissolved into irretrievable wisps. For some minutes she studied the lazy rotation of the ceiling fan, and then got going.
She called Amancio while sipping a cappuccino under a palm tree in the atrium. A sparrow perched for a second on the edge of the glass-topped table. She noticed Willis a few tables over with an open newspaper, watching over everything. He ignored her little wave and resumed reading. The sparrow shot her a petulant glance and took off. Further back, by the breakfast buffet, two men in dark glasses inspected the crisp folded linens, silver warming platters, baskets of fresh-baked breads, jugs of exotic juices, then settled for coffee and medialunas. Their ears, like Willis’s, sprouted tiny telltale wires. She smiled, and they looked away. A text came in from Amancio, followed by thirty seconds of Calo’s “Milonga Antigua”. He was a quick study, her Amancio; he knew that tango exerts a narcotic grip. She finished her cappuccino, then rose and stepped out, as if invited to dance.
Behind her linen napkins were cast aside and chairs scraped back on the patio paving. A liveried doorman signaled for a cab as she came through the revolving doors. She waited, gazing across the boulevard to a small park where ducks dabbled in a pond shaded by Tipa trees. Her sketchy entourage caught up with her and stared into the middle distance, feigning anonymity. A limo turned onto the concourse and stopped beside her. Willis, right there, opened the door, took her arm and steered her gently into the back seat. He told the driver Recoleta Cemetery and they accelerated into bright sunlight and fast-moving traffic on Posadas. Willis touched the wire in his ear. “Sorry, ma’am. The President needs a few minutes with you.”
On Avenida del Libertador, the limo slowed and stopped momentarily, caught in gridlock. Dolores felt a little bump, and then a hard concussion blasted away her door. Someone grabbed her. Coughing and choking on acrid smoke, her eyes streaming, she was dragged out of the limo onto the rear seat of a Ducati crotch rocket and trussed to the hunched rider with two or three loops of bungee cord. His black mirrored crash helmet had a stick-on hooded cobra tattoo. They took off with a shrill high-powered snarl, weaving across lanes of stalled cars. Behind them were blaring horns, confused shouts and apocalyptic roiling clouds of smoke. No protective ganders…
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.”
Amancio, entrusted with Dolores’s care and safety, was the last to know. He was strolling back to the Sofitel, taking a circuitous route past the Obelisk and the Malvinas War Memorial, when his Blackberry went into serial spasms of vibration. Willis’s ID flashed onto the screen. While he was keying a reply, another text peremptorily ordered him back to the Four Seasons. And then Dolores messaged him: “Black Ducati, Cobra helmet”. Confused, and feeling the first gropings of alarm in his gut, Amancio sent Dolores an interrogative question mark. Gathering his scattered thoughts, he saw smoke rising beyond the office towers out towards the Recoleta Cemetery. Minutes passed; Dolores’s phone was dead. Two black-and-white police cruisers shot past him, sirens shrieking, riot lights ablaze. Amancio waved down a cab, and saw a new text from Willis: “Dolores taken; motorbike northbound on Libertador.”
Leaning forward in the cab, Amancio keyed ID codes into his phone and shrank inwardly as he remembered the President’s admonition: “Keep her out of this.” He forwarded Dolores’s message to Willis, and moments later, for the second time that day, he was striding through the Four Seasons lobby to the elevators. Before him, tight-skirted young women holding furry mikes shouted questions. Behind them, stepping steadily backwards, were silent shaven-head men, TV cameras propped on their shoulders, red LEDs blinking. Amancio pushed past them, smiling politely. Green and yellow parakeets argued noisily in the palm fronds overhead, and sparrows foraged among the starched-linen lunch tables.
In the penthouse operations suite, the President and his advisors were watching a giant plasma screen. A high-zoom view of stalled traffic on Avenida del Libertador was dominated by smoke towering into a crystalline blue sky. “Where were you, Amancio?” said the Chief of Staff, “There are maybe 15,000 Ducatis in Buenos Aires; how many are black we don’t know, not yet. What about the cobra?” Startled by the rebuke, Amancio contemplated the blemished digital skies of Buenos Aires and feigned professional poise. “It’s unclear, sir. I was asked to arrange some Tango lessons for the White House. Online searches detected unusual Tango fervor in Charleston, South Carolina, focused in the Hotel Fakir, which happened to have an etched-glass cobra over the door. I met Dolores there; she was a skilled tanguera, she checked out well, and we made her a temporary Cultural Attaché.” The President had been listening intently, hands under his chin. “How is it,” he now said, “just when I’m visiting BA, we suddenly learn that the Hotel Fakir was run by the Argentine President’s father, commander of the Malvinas 7th Infantry, exiled conscience of the Argentine people, and recently mysteriously deceased? Not to mention the ubiquitous cobra? What next, Amancio?”
“That’s an accurate summary, Mr. President,” said Amancio. “I assume her phone has been reset or destroyed, and we’re probably already asking for check-points on every major highway leaving BA. The cobra tattoo on the bike helmet implicates the 7th infantry. We can get details of veteran political activities from Mme. Quiroga’s office. Google and the NSA will give us everything else; location, names, addresses…”
Amancio paused, imagining the integration of all these data. Knowledge is power, he thought, and an image of Dolores folding into his embrace came to mind. A stab of anxiety ran through him, rousing again the crippling fear that Dolores was in terrible danger. Some phrases of Piazzolla’s “Regreso al Amor” drifted across his thoughts, and he saw in a flash that the answer lay in Tango; everyone was listening to Tango’s invitation.
From the shoals of restless thoughts that swam through Dolores’s mind in the far corner of the dank cellar where she’d been for the last six hours, Tango rose slowly to the surface. By the cellar door, Federico sipped a glass of wine, involuntarily tapped his feet, and swayed gently to Anibal Troilo’s “Sonar y Nada Mas” on the radio. The rope that bound her hands was poorly knotted; she had already loosened her wrists and was massaging them in readiness for the next step. Federico was no older than nineteen, his slender body barely filling his grey T-shirt and jeans, his face earnest and focused, outlined by straight black eyebrows and a sharply trimmed beard. His eyes were large, brown, and meditative, and every now and again he turned towards her, regarding her with forthright interest and tacit understanding that all the initiative lay with others; he was simply her temporary jailer, and anything beyond that was unimaginable.
Nevertheless, Federico listened attentively to the staccato bandoneon and mournful violins diffusing from the radio, and thought of close embrace with Dolores and of intuitive steps that would paint his sense of the music. He glanced at his watch, and then at Dolores. She caught his eye, and her invitation was unmistakable; he was reminded of cabeceos in Buenos Aires milongas, and before he knew it, he was on his feet and crossing the damp flagstones to her side. “Can I get you anything?” he asked politely, “I’m sorry you’re so miserable, but I’m sure it’s only temporary, and in any case, it’s probably all a terrible mistake.” Dolores regarded him intently, then cast her eyes downwards, despairingly, shrugging off the obvious inconvenience of her tied hands, and letting a tear flow down her cheek. “Perhaps you could loosen the rope a little,” she said, “The music’s so lovely, time passes more quickly. What’s your name?” Federico thought momentarily of the elderly grey army veterans around his father, who together had contrived his own recruitment to the cause, whatever that was, and the improbable abduction of Dolores. He knew all this related to ancient betrayals that lived on and sullied the life of everyone they touched.
“My name is Federico,” he said, “I like Troilo, my favorites are Di Sarli and Pugliese, and best of all is Piazzolla’s “Regreso al Amor.” Dolores was intrigued. “What about D’Arienzo? Don’t you love his songs?” Their eyes met as he knelt before her to adjust the cord that bound her wrists. Federico remembered, too late, advice he’d read in a Dear Abby column in the Buenos Aires Tribune: if a woman desires to be kissed, she will come close, and then a little closer, and then just wait; within seconds a man will sense the inevitable, let his tongue touch her ear lobe, murmur a word or two, and seek her slightly parted lips. And so, kneeling before her, Federico was gently swept away on tides of desire. He caressed Dolores’s bruised wrists, brought his face close to hers, brushed her cheek with his, and murmured seductive words of consolation. Dolores saw her phone lying on the packing case by the cellar door, next to a bottle of cheap Malbec, the radio, and a guttering candle. They had probably reset the phone, but maybe not, and the camera and GPS would do the rest. “Federico,” she said, “isn’t that Troilo on the radio? Let’s dance!”