In which Moneypenny follows Bond to Recoleta Cemetery
My meeting with Maria Cristina was scheduled for Aguero in Recoleta, but after a tortuous taxi journey blocked by demonstrations on Av 9 de Julio, I was now running late.
Whilst waiting at lights, I dashed to a call box to rearrange our venue. Maria Cristina’s voice was feint on the bad line, but I gathered she was about to leave for Recoleta cemetery, our default meeting place. “Let’s meet there, then”, I suggested, and the line went dead.
“Change that to the cemetery”, I instructed the cab driver. “Makes no difference to me, senor, but I will have to drop you off at Av Manuel Quintana because Junin is closed”, he replied as we turn into Juncal, now making up time.
As we arrive outside La Biela, one of Buenos Aires most iconic cafes, I slip a fistfull of notes into the cab driver’s hand for his trouble. Cutting by the late afternoon diners, the British post box and the Arbol Patrimonio Historico - the largest, oldest gum tree in Buenos Aires - I walk briskly across the park towards the cemetery steps, skirting the tango dancers who are performing stage effects for tourists.
Twenty minutes later the meeting is over. It has gone pretty much to plan, and we have completed our business. As Maria Cristina walks off towards the entrance, her blond hair catching the breeze, a call from a cemetery cat cuts the early evening air. I peer down a passageway lined with tombs in the direction from which the sound came. Something moves or darts, as if in flight; probably the cat, or maybe just the illusion of light from the street as it plays against the trees. I think no more of it.
It is 5 minutes later that I descend the marble steps. The tour guides have gone home leaving the attendants to rattle their keys as they prepare for their lockup rounds. Quitting the cemetery I retrace my steps across the park, passing a lone street performer. He has been unable to access the premiere pitches on Junin for which the traders compete. A battered wheelchair has been shrunken to accommodate his emaciated frame, his bent feet barely reaching the footrests. He will be in his twenties, but bearing a much greater age, To ward off the evening chill a wool hat is pulled down across his forehead. In his twisted arms he cradles a tiny harmonica. He is totally alone - but for the music, which falters as he struggles a nod for the 100 peso note I drop into his empty tin.
After paying the bill, I sprinted out of Cafe Paulin, looking in both directions to hopefully catch a glimpse of his tall figure amongst the crowd. Walking off towards 9 de Julio he hailed a passing taxi. Before I knew it, before even thinking it through, I was telling my taxi driver to ‘Follow that cab’, which seemed to entertain him because as soon as I closed the door, he jetted off, swirling through the cars on the world’s largest avenue.
We were headed north, the Jacarandas were in bloom and 9 de Julio was in a purple haze, which made all of this seem even more dream-like. He slipped out of his cab at a red light, jumped into a phone booth and within a minute he climbed back into the taxi which took a sudden left turn onto Juncal. My driver turned to me ‘Si si, seguimos! Keep following him’, I screeched.
His cab came to a sudden stop by the park opposite the renowned Recoleta cemetery. What was he doing here? Not exactly the place for a romantic rendez-vous. I hand the driver his well deserved pesos and slip out the back door, squatting below the top of my taxi only to realize that I was showing my not so good side to the afternoon cocktailers at La Biela, one of my favourite cafes in the city. I turn around to give an apologetic head nod, acknowledged by friendly smiles and some not so charitable smirks.
Bond races across the park, I run to keep up with him whisking by the gum tree and the tangeros performing deep ganchos to a crowd of cheering tourists.
He stops at the entrance of the cemetery, glances at his watch then casually walks in. I continue to follow, trying to draw as little attention as possible by blending in with the crowds of tourists snapping away at the marble statues of the city’s long dead Aristocracy and desperately seeking out the famous Duarte grave.
His pace is brisk; he knows where he’s going. I follow him from a distance. I start wondering if I’m not in over my head. What if I see something I shouldn’t see? Why am I here? Then a gentle pat on the shoulder jolts me from my thoughts, ‘Excuse me Miss, will you take a picture of us,’ a woman with a thick southern US accent asks, as she hands me her camera giving me not much choice in the matter. ‘Um sure,’ I answer taking the camera and a snap away before even warning them. I throw the camera back her way and dash to catch up with Bond.
He walks away from the crowds; past poor Rufina Cambeceres’ grave, past Mitre, past Quiriga and Sarmiento’s graves, who were ironically bound more in death than they had ever been in life. He takes a quick right at Luis Angle Firpo’s Art Deco mausoleum, towards the back of the cemetery, in the directions of the forgotten graves, the ones that no one but the cats come to visit.
I duck between two crumbling crypts to watch. A woman is waiting for him. She wears an elegant black trench coat and a black cloche hat which conceals her face but allows her blond hair drape over her shoulders. I can’t hear what they’re saying but she seems concerned. Bond takes hold of her hands and whispers something in her ear. She nods, as if agreeing, taking a key out of her purse which she hands to Bond. They both look about them, making sure that no one is watching. It’s odd, for no tourists visit this part of the cemetery.
With the key in his right hand, Bond goes to the side of one of the disintegrating graves - I can’t make out the name from where I stand - he opens the metal gate and slips inside. What is he doing here? Seconds later he exits carrying a metal box which he hands to the woman. Together they open the box. He takes out a green envelope. She takes the box and the key.
They part with a lingering hug to walk off in opposing directions. I step into the shadows between the crypts so as to conceal myself completely. As I do so, my heel connects with the tail of a snoozing cemetery cat which shrieks out in pain. Bond spins around. I duck. He remains still and, although I’m out of breath, I try to slow my breathing so as not to make a sound. He pauses, looks about him for a few seconds, and then walks off again. I get up and follow him as he makes his way out of the cemetery back towards the park.
From my concealed spot behind the roots of the gum tree, I see him stop, open the envelope and read it’s content. Returning a sheet of folded paper to the envelope, Bond steps towards a nearby figure hunched in a wheelchair, drops something in his tin, then hurriedly turns away to hail a taxi. I attempt to follow, but know that I am too late to catch him. So walk towards the figure. I hear feint music, a tango almost lost on a breeze in the trees. On reaching him, I see that he is a young blind boy, hunched over a tiny harmonica. As I pass I glance into his tin and notice a 100 peso note - but there is also something else there. It is the green envelope that was in Bond’s hands but moments ago. The one retrieved from the tomb in Recoleta cemetery. I stop, open my purse and take out a 50 peso note. Stepping back a pace I reach into the tin, dropping the bank note, whilst deftly lifting the envelope. It’s now mine. But what am I to do with it?
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