In which Moneypenny follows her hunch and ends up at a curious party
I make my way through the gates, candles light the path to the house setting the perfect mood for a late night in Buenos Aires. As I get nearer, I hear music playing, it’s faint but I recognise it immediately - Francisco Canaro’s Corazon de Oro. It’s instrumental, without words, but every emotion is transmitted. It’s betwitching, and before I know it, I sway to it’s gentle rhythm 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 as I walk towards the mansion.
As I start going up the front stairs, the door suddenly opens: ‘Good evening señora, you are most welcome’, says a voice from the entrance hall. ‘Good evening,’’ I respond timidly looking into the darkness. ‘Please enter,’ he continues.’ As my eyes accustom to the gloom, I see a small wheelchair, in which sits the tiny figure of the boy from Recoleta. How odd to find him here, I really have no idea what I'm getting myself into...but here I am.
Following the candle light, I cross the tiled floor of the vestibule into a grand marbled entrance hall. It has all the appearance of an Italian villa with it's four floors of arched balconies; 4 large chandeliers ornate the ceiling and cast a golden hue on everything below. ‘The ballroom is to the right, señora, says a butler, pointing towards the French doors.
My shoes click as they tap the marble floors making my presence hard to conceal.
As I get closer to the ballroom, the sound of the music intensifies and I see the silhouettes of dancing couples and the orchestra; women in long dresses with sparkling jewelry, the men in black and white tuxedos. I’m greeted by smiles each way I turn, as if they’re expecting me. One figure, stands out from the rest - since he’s a foot taller than anyone else, he can’t help but stand out everywhere. He’s wearing a simple evening suit and bow tie, less formal than the general crowd, but he fits in perfectly.
Bond notices me and smiles, a light smile, almost a smirk, as if he’s amused to see me here. He raises his hand and motions for me to join him. ‘Why good evening old girl, what are you doing here?”, he says tauntingly. ‘Good evening Bond, well it was like this...’ I explain, when he interrupts, ‘Come, let me introduce you to some people. Start your evening by getting to know the right people.’
‘The man over there chatting to the women is our host Richard. Next to him is his partner, Santiago, but everyone calls him Jay’, he says, pointing out a man of smaller stature to Bond, but with a presence that seems to dominate the room, like an eagle flying over a canyon. ‘Jay is from Peru and loves to dance tango. You should indulge him old girl,’ he adds as he walks over to them.
‘This is the bright young lady I was telling you about, Jay’, Bond announces as we join them. ‘Good evening, my dear.’he responds and then adds‘You are most welcome here,’ as he kisses the hand that I had raise with the intention of shaking his.
At that moment a blond woman bustles towards us. Could this be the woman I had seen at the cemetery? If so, why the riddle? No, it can’t be her. In a turmoil my mind drifts back to cemetery, I still had no idea what I had seen there, or why it and the riddle in the green envelope had brought me here.
The blond woman smiles at Jay, then turns to pat Richard gently on the shoulder, ‘Richard, my dear, the Vanderbilts are looking for you. Be a good host and join them,’ she says in a soft, possessive voice. ‘Yes of course my dear Margarita’, he replies. As he leaves he turns to Bond saying, ‘Enjoy the night old sport, we’ll finish our discussion later in the billiard room’.
‘What is this place?’ I ask Bond. ‘Come, someone is waiting for you, or if she’s not, she’ll certainly be happy for you to fill one of the empty seats at her table’. ‘Oh, and by the way, Richard our host is Richard Alvarez’, he adds casually avoiding my question.
‘Bond!! Richard Alvarez!!! So that story you told me WAS true!! I want to meet him!’ I plead. ‘All in good time, old girl’, he says knowing full well how much I hate the expression. ‘You know sometimes I don’t know why I like you so much! Save the ‘old girl’ for your hound back home’, I say, turning my back on him. He makes me so angry sometimes.
‘Did you like his partner Jay? he continues, he’s quite a character, and unlike the Argentines he’s proud of his roots. He claims to be descended from an Inca dynasty, but actually his ancestors were Spanish renegades who traded gold with the Incas, traded or more accurately cheated but that's old history by now’.
We walk towards a table at which a woman sits alone. ‘Isn’t that Sabrina?, I ask. ‘How come she is here; why all this mystery?’ I plead again. ‘Put your shoes on and we will dance.’ he responds, again avoiding my question.
I cross to Sabrina, I notice that her classic bottle of Don Perignon and red rose lay on her table. She’s wearing her black Versace dress and her signature red Manolo Blahniks. ‘How nice to see you here - finally,’ she blurted out. Finally? I’m not even going to ask her what this place is, or how everyone seems to know that I was going to arrive. Until a few hours ago I had no idea I would be here.
‘Sit, put your shoes on and dance. This is where you were supposed to be tonight,’ she adds casually. ‘Fine, but can I ask one thing? How come you have Manolo tango shoes? I didn’t know they made them for tango,’ I say knowing that this was yet another question to which I would not get an answer.
‘They’re made for me, and only me. After all I went through these shoes are the least I should be getting. Now hurry along, he’s back,’ she adds as Bond makes his way to the table.
I put on my right shoe, struggling with the left strap as usual. When I finally look up, I see Bond and Sabrina making their way to the dance floor and ask myself, ‘Could this be the rekindling of their long lost love?’
Barracas was hit by a power outage, a regular occurrence here in Buenos Aires, leaving the barrio in darkness save for street corners touched by moonlight. The headlights illuminated the entrance beyond decorated wrought iron gates and I made my way to the door of Peru 1826 before Raul turned the Bentley, my last steps bathed in red from the stop lights and a pitiful handful of pillar candles that add an eerie glow.
The front door clicked open on a remote release catch, and I entered. From the darkness came the sound of ‘Milonga triste’, a classic tango tune made famous by Hugo Diaz.
He lowered his harmonica and looked up at me from his shrunken wheelchair. “Mr Bond, what are you doing here tonight?”, he exclaimed. “We were not expecting you after you failed to leave the envelope”. ”Didn’t you get the message?”
Knowing that Raul and the Continental were now en route back to Palacio Haedo, I had to think quickly. Should I simply spin on a heel, and leave in a cab? At that moment voices came from a room beyond, and then appeared Marguerita holding a candlestick.
“Bond, you are here”, she exclaimed, “Come and join us”, she added, swinging her skirts and large frame towards the ballroom. “Seems I am trapped HB”, I whispered, winking to the unseeing boy, now left in total darkness, and followed her.
Argentine’s - especially Portenos - love parties, in particular those that start late and finish in the early hours: these, together with tango and beautiful women, are the three main reasons that I am here in Buenos Aires. But this was not a party of Mate, empanadas and Malbec; here in the gloom of a power cut were gathered some of the city’s wealthiest people and, as it happened, the most excruciating bores. It was the sort of party that I was required to be at when working for Her Majesty's Government - and for which I was paid to attend.
Let us start with the Vanderbilts of ‘the Vanderbilts have asked us up for tea’ family fame - you remember the song...something about ‘swells? With conspicuous wealth, they had positioned themselves centre stage to attract the attention of their acolytes. Having made a fortune (some say from involvement in selling the children of the ‘disparue), they now were intent on spending it socialising with their friends, creating a form of upper class social polo game for the retired elite.
But for his wealth, extracted dubiously as a cosmetic surgeon, and the paid support of his effete Peruvian partner Jay, our host Richard Alvarez would have been a forgotten character sitting in a care home lounge. Instead, he was indulged by sycophantic ‘friends’ and, having a half-decent voice, unfortunately asked to sing. Margareta, his deposed wife bore no resentment towards her husband’s gay partner Jay. She always appeared at his parties and said that singing (and her presence) was good for his health. To outsiders, it was hard to tell which of the two was keeping him alive, and which intent on his demise. No doubt his death would bring with it a fight for his fortune.
Alone at a table bearing a candle and single rose, sat Sabrina. She was wearing Versace and the expensive Manolo tango shoes I had acquired for her twenty years earlier. For an instant I wanted to retreat from the room, feeling a tragic sense of deja vue - when one’s forgotten past becomes one’s present. She had started to bear the ravages of time, accentuated by the roots of her hair that shone silver under the chandeliers.
As the night progressed I glanced around the room. From the head upwards, the predominant colour was grey. Below, brashly expensive jewellery separated their status. With one exception - that suddenly entered the room from the hallway.
“Moneypenny, what are you doing here?” “I didn’t know that you wanted to be a part of this set?” “But how clever of you to work it out, old girl”, I added. “Now, who do you know, who don’t you know, and who do you want to meet?”
I inspected Moneypenny who looked awkward as I introduced her to some of the relics, like a filly standing for the first time, surrounded by old drays.
‘So, about the note’, I asked. “Well, it was quite simple; all I did was to….”, she replied, but was cut short by the sound of a bandoneon.
Sabrina, desperate for company, glanced in my direction with a pronounced mirada. “Go do your duty, Bond”, joked Jay, as he turned his to lavish his attention on Moneypenny.
What did I have to lose really? I had made no real plans, I just bought the ticket, threw a few things in my backpack and ran away....
Moneypenny I take the note, start to walk towards San Telmo while trying to make sense of what I had just seen. Was this a secret...
Mr Bond I flash a smile towards Nancy the waitress, and without a word she arrives with a second champagne glass for Moneypenny, who...