After-image

After her return to Washington, Dolores realized that her days as Cultural Attache with routine access to the Oval Office were over. The heady emotions of Buenos Aires and her front-page notoriety as a beautiful target of kidnap rapidly dissipated in the daily political ferment of Washington. Occasionally, late at night, Dolores would get a text and a chauffeured limousine would whisk her across town to TuTu’s where she would listen to complex reflective tangos and await the President. One such evening, a lone couple glided across the dance floor, their bodies keyed to the music and to each other. Fabio and Maurice, caught up in Di Sarli’s “Porteno y Bailarin”, barely noticed the flurry of suits that appeared just after midnight. Fabio’s slender fingers caressed the ivory buttons of the bandoneon, wreathing a rhythmic hypnotic refrain around the stoned melodic ellipses flowing from Maurice’s violin.

The late arrivals dispersed unobtrusively around the room. Amancio found a seat by the bar and sipped an Islay single malt, while Willis oversaw security from a banquette at the back, hands steepled over his glowing smartphone, attentive to whispered alerts in his earbud. Sitting at a small table adorned with a shell pink camellia, the President, relaxed and urbane, conferred briefly with an aide, then turned to his companion. Dolores was dazzling in a soft iridescent blouse with his emerald brooch at her breast, a serpentine slit skirt and gilded heels. She rose from her chair and stepped onto the mirrored parquet, guided discreetly by Felix’s palm in the small of her back. Fabio and Maurice segued into “Desde el Alma”, and Felix led Dolores into the familiar complexities of a simple Tango waltz.

“Dolores,” he murmured, his lips grazing the perfect pearled precincts of her ear, “Tell me about the Hotel Fakir.” Dolores’s eyes filled with tears.
“Felix, my family name is Ferreyra; my brother is a journalist for the Buenos Aires Tribune. Marcos Maldonado killed our father. We honored his memory by seeking justice for the Desaparecitos and by looking out for Ignatio. In his own way, through Tango, Ignatio kept the crippled conscience of Argentina alive. In the end, he couldn’t bear a final separation from those he loved. He walked knowingly into the fire, on his own terms, not those of his enemies.” She glanced at the bar, then kissed Felix chastely on his cheek. “I’ll be right back.”

Amancio caught the bartender’s eye and stood as Dolores joined him.
“The Western Isles know a thing or two,” he said. “Care for a dram?”
“Amancio, you’re ridiculous.” Dolores slid onto his seat, crossed her legs gracefully, and touched the orchid in her hair. “How can we dance, wasted on single malt?”
Gazing into the reflective pools of her eyes, he glimpsed tiny songbirds nestled in the warm down of cranes on southward migration. He slipped an arm around her waist.
“Care to dance, Dolores?” he said.

The Second Grave

“Ferreyra, Marcos Maldonado. Sorry I missed your call. I don’t read the Buenos Aires Tribune; you always dig up the past like we never did anything right. You want background? A lot has been happening; Mme. Quiroga’s inauguration as President, the spectacular Dolores kidnapping, and now her rescue. I assume that’s why you’re calling. Your name rings bells. Was your father in the Malvinas 7th Infantry? I remember a Lieutenant Ferreyra; we arrested him when he rescued a rebel general from a firing squad just before dawn. He broke easily under torture. Ferreyra deserved a long drop into the South Atlantic, but we shot him instead.”

“Where was I? Oh yes, Dolores. I had nothing to do with her. I retired 20 years ago, and lately Septima Infanteria has drawn hotheads who weren’t even born in our day. The Dolores stunt was typical; a limpet mine blew off the limo door, right there on Avenida del Libertador during rush hour; amazing how they got away. A fast Ducati, I’m told.”

“Why Dolores? The papers said she’s a cultural affairs attaché, coaching the US President for Quiroga’s inaugural ball. Probably just his fancy girl. I hear she taught tango in Charleston at the Hotel Fakir, run by the traitor who’d betrayed us in the Malvinas. For years he’s been conjuring intrigues from the safety of exile, or so he thought. I’m told an old-fashioned Molotov cocktail incinerated the Hotel Fakir and him along with it. Good riddance; I sleep a little better these days, believe me.”

“Oh yes, you want background. Let’s see. I was an officer cadet when I married Graciela. She was radiant and carefree, but her tentative blushes when men caught her eye angered me. Years went by and we never had children. I rose in military intelligence, Graciela became distant, and one day she got an annulment and was gone, stolen away by a brother officer who later turned traitor. Leftists and secularists with no respect for God and family are scum.”

“I was bereft, but kept close tabs on everything. Their daughter Charlotte was always in the paper with scholarly accolades. At last, in the Malvinas campaign, I got my chance. Ignatio Quiroga went missing in action, and Graciela and her daughter fled to the States. Charlotte somehow made it to Harvard, and now she’s President of Argentina. Tango is her disarming overture to the free world.”
“You’ve got your story, Ferreyra, and a Glock 45 awaits me in my desk. Confucius said those who embark on vengeance must first dig two graves…”

Surrender

While Federico slept, the tiniest details of Dolores’s YouTube video were subjected to high-resolution image analysis. For three uneventful minutes, Dolores’s video showed hostage and captor dancing across the cellar’s slate flagstones to the B flat minor key of Troilo’s “Barrio de Tango”. Nothing is uneventful, of course. While the phone recorded their impromptu dance and innocently betrayed its precise location in Calle Copernico, Dolores was tense in Federico’s embrace, distraught that she may not have set the phone properly. The music goaded Federico’s fevered imagination, feeding his tango crush like a mother’s tender swollen nipple. In the last second or two of the video, the rasp of the cellar door being opened was heard, and an abrupt jolt and sway of the camera’s field of view captured a man’s startled eyes as he stared into the phone’s jewel-like lens. This last video image was downloaded and processed.

The security services inherited by Mme. Quiroga were skilled at scanning and archiving covert photographs of citizens. U.S. expertise in computational image analysis did the rest. Spectrophotometric rendition of the man’s right iris was compared to a database of thousands of digitized irises. A match was made, and a judge perfunctorily signed an arrest warrant for Marcos Maldonado, a retired military intelligence officer, adjutant to General Quiroga in the Malvinas campaign, and focal point of violent rightist subversion of Argentina’s Head of State.

Amancio oversaw the flow of intelligence on his laptop in the Sofitel. While leaning on the balcony rail, he listened to FM Gardel 91.1 and studied the windowed complexities of life in the condo tower across the street, where dramas no less exigent than his own were playing out. Tango shaped his interpretation of these dioramas, and he returned to his laptop refreshed and decisive. Dolores, back at the Four Seasons, shaken but game, dabbed Provocatif on her earlobe and wondered if a black cocktail dress or a white would be better when meeting Willis, and shoes, of course, were a more substantive question… Willis and Nestor negotiated jurisdictional nuances in a beige Ministry of Security office. Federico, under surveillance at the Hospital Italiano, drifted uneasily between the tedious fluorescent reality of life-support, and surrender to dreams of intimate connection with Dolores to the sound of Di Sarli’s “Mi Refugio”.

And Felix and Charlotte, flouting presidential protocol, met discreetly in a private room at La Cabrera, and touched, over Ojo de Bife, on the finer points of leading and following.

Startled Eyes

Federico, no different from Amancio or Felix or many others back in the day at the Hotel Fakir, was smitten. As he surfaced from the deep somnolence of anesthesia, he gathered memories of close embrace with a beautiful creature that moved in tight synchrony with him and the melting rhythms of Troilo’s “Uruguaya”. He recalled a disorienting explosive flash and a solid concussion that threw him to his knees, and then sharp snapping cracks that pierced his shoulder and side. The image of Dolores dancing before his eyes faded as he focused on two men leaning over him. One was thoughtful and disinterested, essentially benevolent; the other radiated hostility and violence. Lying supine, staring at fluorescent ceiling lights, Federico felt restraints on his arms and feet. He slipped into trackless oblivion relieved by fleeting glimpses of Dolores, hands tied behind her.

“Is she all right?” he whispered.
“Who’s she?” someone said.
“Dolores. I danced with Dolores,” he heard himself say.
The slap was reflexive, fast and sharp, slamming Federico’s face sideways.
“We don’t need that,” said Willis, taking Nestor’s hand, “we’re just beginning.” He turned to Federico.
“Dolores is fine, she asked about you. What is all this about?”
Federico saw a drip-bag, a snaking silicone line, and a needle penetrating a vein in his forearm. Wires were draped across his chest.
“Was I shot?”
“You’ll live,” Willis said, “Who assigned you to Calle Copernico?”
“I was told to watch over her. I was listening to Radio Gardel tango and she asked me to dance.” Federico closed his eyes and thought back. “She promised to put us on YouTube; she showed me how with her phone.”
“Hijo de puta,” said Nestor, and prodded Federico’s temple with a Glock 45. “We want names.”
Willis intervened a second time. “Nestor, we find that water-boarding is more productive. Federico, your Facebook friends have told us just about everything we need to know. Can you help us wrap this up?”

Federico breathed deeply, warding off waves of nausea. “Yes. Study the video. It’s all there.”
The momentary silence was punctuated by discrete pings from a bedside instrument monitoring Federico’s vital functions, and muted FM tango from a nurses’ station down the hall. Willis and Nestor closed their files, pushed back their chairs, and left the room. Federico closed his eyes, and found himself walking onto the gleaming parquet of a tango salon, meeting the smiling eyes of Dolores who sat beneath a somber but uplifting print of a Cunard ocean-liner. A tiny tango orchestra played Troilo’s “Temblando”, and over by the bar, next to a flamboyant display of tropical gladioli, clematis and orchids, an elderly bartender cast his eye over the dancers and mixed a heady cocktail.

Redemption

Critical distinctions among fine tango orchestras of the 40s were interests that Charlotte and Felix shared, but these were yet to surface in their conversation. They were having lunch on the shaded South Wing terrace of the Presidential Palace. A mild breeze carried faint sounds of city traffic, and muted tango songs diffused from speakers hidden in the garden. Charlotte was composed and serene, the severity of her crisp white blouse and charcoal skirt softened by her café au lait complexion, expressive eyes, and the mother-of-pearl brooch on her breast. Felix scooped an oyster from its shell and chased it with a sip of champagne.

“Mademoiselle Quiroga,” he said, “Dolores was a tanguera at the Hotel Fakir in Charleston. She became my tango instructor, and she guides my preferences for classical orchestral tango. Dolores drilled me for our delightful Inaugural Ball dance.”
Charlotte sliced delicately into her salmon empanada.
“The pleasure was all mine. She taught you well. Desde el Alma, was it not? Osvaldo Pugliese’s. The most haunting yet joyous vals of all. But tell me, why was Dolores at the Hotel Fakir?”
“We’re not certain,” Felix replied, inclining his head respectfully. “Ignatio Quiroga opposed the military junta. Dolores acquired high value when she came to the White House to teach me tango.”
“Tango does that,” Charlotte said with a smile. “We know that Dolores was abducted by an extremist splinter group, Septima Infanteria, which agitates for indicted junta generals. We have a well-trained rescue team poised to attack as we speak.”
Felix fought down alarm. He scooped another oyster and sipped his champagne tentatively.
“I’d like to see your rescue plan,” he said.
“Of course.” Charlotte patted her perfect chignon and met Felix’s eye. “I’d prefer that we do things together.”

She gestured discreetly to an aide posted by the tall French doors opening onto the terrace.
“Nestor is my eyes and ears on Septima; he’ll cooperate fully with your people. We need to move promptly; Dolores may be a skilled tanguera, but she’s helpless in their hands.”
Her evocation of tango brought a light to Charlotte’s eye and sharpened Felix’s mind. They regarded each other forthrightly. In less dire circumstances, their thoughts may have culminated in a simple embrace fueled by tango’s complex insinuations.
“My aide Amancio oversees investigation of your father’s death,” Felix said with tact. “He’s resourceful, he knows Dolores, and his understanding of Tango may be helpful.”

A commotion at the French doors distracted them. Amancio appeared on the terrace. He conferred briefly with Nestor, and bowed in deference to Mme. Quiroga. He was flushed and breathless as he addressed the President.
“Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt. Dolores got her phone to stream us a video of her dancing with her guard Federico. We found her in a cellar on Calle Copernico in Recoleta. We blew down the door. Dolores is safe at the Four Seasons, Federico is at the Hospital Italiano; he may respond to interrogation in a day or two.”
Charlotte and Felix sat speechless. After a moment, Felix raised his glass.
“Thank you, Amancio,” he said. He turned to Charlotte, resting his fingers on the silver bracelet encircling her wrist.
“Septima has to be shut down for good, I’m sure you’ll agree. But first, let’s celebrate with your favorite vals.”
He stood, waved casually at the hidden speakers, and offered his hand to Charlotte.

A Little Closer

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!”

Disarray

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.

Defiance

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.”

The Cobra Strikes

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…

On the Case

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.