Fairouz took his hand and studied him carefully. Then she touched the soft skin under his right ear, and he leaned closer, eager to nuzzle the cinnamon valleys of her throat.
“Max,” she said, “You seem preoccupied. We should dance some more.”
She tapped twice on her phone, and showed him the Facebook page of a local Tango Society.
“Look. A house milonga tonight, down in the old part of town. What do you think?”
He glanced at the address. “Will Ovidio be there?”
“He didn’t say. Ovidio is here en route from Charleston to Miami. He was a federal contractor at the Navy Brig back there. Now he produces Argentine Tango shows for Caribbean cruise ships.”
“The Navy Brig? Was he a warden? Or a prisoner?”
“I’ve no idea. Why do you ask?”
“I’m working with a contractor to re-build a Charleston tango salon that was burned down some months ago. It was called the Hotel Fakir. This builder used to be a Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, and oversaw detention of terrorists in the Navy Brig.”
Fairouz considered these remarks quietly for a moment or two and Max wondered if he should be telling her this. Dots were connecting in his mind, but the lines to and from Fairouz were unclear.
“Ovidio told me about the Hotel Fakir,” she said. “He’s been there once or twice. He said it was a welcome refuge for those on the fringes of everyday life.”
Max thought of Jared Gregorio’s stories about detainees in the Charleston Navy Brig. Most of them came from destitute equatorial nations engulfed in Islamist chaos. But Gregorio had also mentioned an Argentine whose name had surfaced on a no-fly list as he checked-in at Charleston International for a flight to Mexico City. An FBI agent drilling into NSA records on her laptop discovered that his U.S. tourist visa had expired, and that he had connections to Septima Infanteria, a loose confederation of Peronista fanatics intent on destroying liberal democracy in Argentina. He was a close associate of Marcos Maldonado, recently deceased in Buenos Aires by his own hand. The cyber taps linked Maldonado to investigation of Ignatio Quiroga’s death in the Hotel Fakir.
“Max,” said Fairouz, “You’re still preoccupied. Will I see you tonight?” She stood and shaded her eyes as she gazed out over the marine park. A jet contrail bisected the sky behind her. “I like Ovidio’s take on Tango,” she said. “The walking wounded of love are brought together in metaphors of perfect union. Tango liberates and exalts the woman. I dance for all the women who cannot.”
Max wondered at the precision of her thought, and the ease with which it flowed from her lips.
“I’ll be there,” he said.
Late that afternoon, back at the Halcyon Suites, snacking on crumbly Gorgonzola and the rest of his baguette, Max stood transfixed at the window while another tropical downpour swept past and godlike thunderbolts struck repeatedly in the near distance. As the skies cleared, he turned his binoculars on the comings and goings at the TuTu café parking lot a block or two away. Judging from arriving clientele, he suspected Tango was not on the menu, but thought that the cafe would adequately fortify him for the evening ahead. And so, a little after eight, having found a bottle of Carmenere in the all-night grocery next door, he strolled over to the TuTu outdoor patio with the “Chronicle of Higher Education” tucked under his arm and asked a waitress to wipe down one or two stools and the bar-top and bring him an IPA and a slice of pizza.
A young danceuse, scantily-clad in an azure tulle dress, and her partner, quiet and fit, having wrapped up a showy tango set on a tiny stage inside the restaurant, sat next to him at the bar and sipped lemonades while studying what looked like Economics 101 on their laptops. Max finished reading the CHE editorial, and laid the paper aside.
“Great show,” he said, “I didn’t think I’d see tango at TuTu’s.”
“Thank you,” she said, “tango’s pretty much a niche thing around here, but what we earn helps with school. Do you like to dance?”
He explained he was obsessed with Tango, and in fact was on his way to a milonga downtown. She pressed a button on her phone, called up a Canaro waltz, and stepped onto the rain-slicked flagstones of the patio. They danced a few wordless measures, their steps seeking congruence and discreet invasion as her brow grazed his cheek. He fell as always into transient love, and they parted with silent smiles. Moments later in his Mazda, buoyant and alert, Max tapped the milonga into his GPS, turned up the staccato rhythms of D’Arienzo’s orchestra on his iPod, and sped downtown on I-4.