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.

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