Silk Dress Folds

Di Sarli’s “Comme Il Faut” snaked from the tall windows of a home on Cypress Street and permeated the glistening magnolias and overarching oaks. Max slowed down, U-turned, and parked in a space that infringed by a foot or two on a private driveway. The front door was ajar, but mindful of simple courtesy, he pressed the doorbell and paused for a moment before stepping into the black and white marble-tiled foyer. In a low-lit drawing room to his right, dancers in close embrace moved together as one, adorning the svelte orchestration that flowed from speakers by the window. Fairouz was back there, framed in a doorway that led to the garden. She was listening attentively to her phone and waving off mosquitoes with a Chinese sandalwood fan. A sober young man in a dark suit stood watchfully at her side. Max recognized Amancio, an occasional visitor to the Hotel Fakir before it burned down, a special friend, he recalled, of Dolores. He thought with a pang of Dolores, gone suddenly to Washington. Amancio had vanished too, a few days after the fire.

In an adjoining room, Ovidio grazed on the generous buffet, eyes roving restlessly. Max merged into the press of guests at the table and helped himself to shrimp and a glass of Carmenere. An arm fell across his shoulder and a thickly accented voice murmured in his ear.
“I worry about you, my friend,” Ovidio said. “You fantasize about Tango, you think it will revive you. You indulge delusions of vampirism, neglect your work, betray those you love, and at the end of the day, you’re lovelorn but always game for one more dance.”

Max shook off his presumptuous embrace, and stirred the spicy cocktail sauce with a plump shrimp.
“Delicious!” he said, taking a bite. “I don’t worry. The moment I heard Canaro’s “La Cumparsita” and found the Hotel Fakir, I was hooked. The music brought Dolores and me together. Maybe you should worry. What brought you to Charleston?” He touched the finely-detailed cobra tattoo on Ovidio’s wrist. “I hear you know my friend Jared Gregorio.”
Ovidio stepped back, startled, and glanced over his shoulder. He shrugged, and his loose linen suit suddenly seemed a size or two too large.
“Gregorio?” He stared as if seeing Max for the first time. “I don’t know a Jared Gregorio. Why do you ask?” He turned on his heel and said, “Let’s find Fairouz and dance a little Tango.”

A ruby laser spot blossomed on his shoulder and another one danced across his arm. The gathering at the buffet scattered as Amancio, flanked by black-clad men with pointed pistols, confronted Ovidio on his way into the drawing-room.
“Ovidio Banquet,” Amancio said. He splayed open a badge. “You’re under arrest in the case of Ignatio Quiroga. You have the right to remain…”
Ovidio interrupted him with a smile and gestured expansively at Fairouz as she joined them.
“Max, here’s Fairouz. Ask her to dance; I’ll be with you in a minute…”
So quickly that Max missed it, he pulled a shiny over-under derringer from his jacket, fired two deafening rounds, seized Fairouz and made for the garden. Lasers converged on his back, and a single gunshot threw Ovidio to his knees and pitched him face down in the doorway. Fairouz fell against the screen-door, gasping in shock. One hand covered her eyes, and the other shakily smoothed, over and over, folds in her pink silk dress. Di Sarli’s “Comme Il Faut” came to an end on an elided beat.

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