In which Bond and Moneypenny keep their appointment



Mr Bond

As I exit the double doors of Palacio Haedo, I spot Raul waiting in the Bentley by the crossing on Av Santa Fe. In contrast to our last sortie to Peru 1826, I have dressed down, choosing a simple black shirt, casual chinos and a dab of cologne. Raul, as ever, sports his old gardening shirt and sun-beaten straw hat. Having arrived in good time for once, in the off-side seat sits Moneypenny, her cool slim legs crossed against the leather upholstery as she leans forward to kiss my cheek.

“Mr Bond, do we go to collect Senora Sabrina?”, Raul enquires. “No, she doesn’t trust your driving”, I retort with a grin that he spots in the rear view mirror. ”Bueno, let’s go”, he adds, feigning indifference. It is clear that Sabrina’s historic allure still retains some of its magic.

We head east in Marcelo Torcuado Alvear to 9 de Julio, then due south towards Av San Juan, beneath 25 de Mayo and into Barracas. I glance at Moneypenny. Tonight she is quiet and pensive. Gone - the incessant chatter and questions. In one way it is a relief to feel the summer evening silence; in another I am missing her youthful exuberance.  Leaving the flyover at Herreras, Raul navigates the Bentley down Alvarado, left into Salom and two blocks later to Av Gral Iriate. Just beyond the railway arches we arrive at our destination, Bar Los Laureles.

As I nudge the door of the Bentley I hear the sound of Hugo Diaz on the evening air, and a small wheelchair containing a diminutive frame comes into view along Concalves Diaz. Raul nods in its direction, and slips a manila envelope under a wiper blade.


It is about to turn eight o’clock as we enter Laureles. Following Raul, I glance around the bar in search of Sabrina. As expected, she is already at our table by the window, her jet black hair catching the fading light. Lines to her face reveal a slight scowl.

“Don’t get up”, I quip, smiling down at her, which she ignores as she offers a cheek to both Moneypenny and Raul. “What kept you?”, she asks with sarcasm, remembering her last dash in the Bentley with Raul at the wheel.

Bar Los Laureles still bears its 1893 credentials, and some of its paintwork. It has not changed in 125 years. The waiters bequeath their jobs from father to son, so even their appearance remains reminiscent of years gone by. Tonight they clatter from table to table, polishing glasses and checking salt cellars, with the occasional instruction called from the bar.

At one such shout a young waiter rushes to the back of the restaurant to pull open a door leading from the kitchen. And ‘M’ appears in the room from behind the bar.

Wearing a light cape and cloche, there is no doubting Maria Cristina’s significance and status, yet somehow she seems at home here, just as she does everywhere. She removes her hat, shakes her blonde hair to her shoulders and folds a silk scarf in her gloved hands. At the same moment a departing motorcycle and side-car bearing government insignia growls past the front of the building, its single headlamp penetrating the gathering gloom.

“Good evening everyone”, she announces, glancing in turn at Sabrina, Raul and me. “Bond, are you recovered from your trip to the cemetery?”, she adds with a superior smile. At which she turns to Moneypenny and says, “how good to meet you at last, Miss Moneypenny; it has been a while since Recoleta”.




Moneypenny

‘It’s out of the question old girl”, he said to me, “You can’t go back. Lucia arrived as you left. It seems she has a key to Alvero’s apartment. Fortunately, she didn’t see you leave - her taxi was apparently blocked by a wheelchair”, he added with a smile.

Those were his instructions, which in one blow destroyed my original plan of returning to Alvaro’s with a handful of La Viruta’s famous medialunas and café con leche to convince him that we had just spent the night together - that we were working on the same side to ‘seduce’ Jay, each for their own purpose. Perhaps I could tell him that I ran off when I heard Lucia making her way into his apartment? I wonder how gullible he is…..I have the feeling that a little flattery and promise of money and sex will go a very long way with Alvero.  I could also have disobeyed Bond, but as they say, ‘those that don’t follow instructions are often the most intolerant of disobedience’.

Anyhow, tonight is about meeting the mysterious ‘M’ for the first time. I have no idea how I should act. With Bond I know a little flirtation works allowing me to get away with almost anything, but this was going to be different, The silent card is probably the best one to play - speak only when spoken to, and see how things develop.

“Buenas tardes Miss Moneypenny”, says Raul as he holds open the rear door of the Bentley and I climb aboard.  He calls me ‘Miss’ because he knows I hate being called ‘señora’. I’ve demanded that he call me by my first name, but he won’t hear of it.

“Buenas tardes Raul, es la primera vez en mi vida que alguien viene a buscarme con una Bentley, que suerte tengo!” I reply, and he smiles, appreciating my efforts to master Castillano.

We drive through the city towards Recoleta. Why would Bond have Raul pick me up first and then return for him, since Barracas is in my neck of the woods? Did he think I may be late, or worse, didn’t he trust me to come?

Bond gets into the car and gives me his usual up and down look; ‘Dress casually’, he had instructed, so I followed his example by sporting black shorts and a black sleeveless shirt. We look as if we’re going to a funeral or impersonating Yoko and John during their black phase.

Bond is silent, and I have no inclination for chit chat, so it suits me perfectly. I stare out the window as Raul swirls the Bentley through the avenidas and calles of Buenos Aires towards Barracas.  These streets hold so many memories. I feel I’m watching the end of a Woody Allen film - scenes empty of people to a haunting violin that makes you question if it had all been a dream. Who I was when I came here first? The things which have happened since? I still can’t believe it at times…

I love Barracas. The best way to describe the barrio is that it’s ‘haunting’, ‘bewitching’ -  grand old houses in large avenues that reveal a certain sadness about the city and it’s dwellers, a sadness with which I identify.

“We’re here, old girl,” Bond says, pulling me from my daydream.  “Bar Los Laureles, you’re going to love it!”




It is as if we’ve stepped into the time capsule, or that the clock has been wound back 130 years. The walls are filled with pictures of famous historic clientele. Between the pictures, time has chipped away the paint. The checkered floors on which dancers sway to Gardel are cracked, yet it doesn’t seem to bother them.  Waiters whisk from the cluttered bar to impatient customers carrying everything from bottles of wine to obscenely large pieces of meat.

Sabrina is seated in the far corner of the room, looking incredible as always. As we enter she looks up, ignores Bond, and beckons me. I feel vulnerable. For some unknown reason her presence here comforts me.

We kiss, take our seats and await the arrival of ‘M’.



In which Bond meets Moneypenny at La Viruta and prepares her to meet ‘M’


Mr Bond


It is Friday morning, after midnight. Checking my fountain pen, I pull on my jacket but decide against the black polished shoes, favouring a pair in suede. La Viruta Milonga is far from formal and I want to do my best to blend in.


There are some things that you should know about La Viruta. Situated in the Asociación Cultural Armenia in Palermo, La Viruta is a tango club with a difference. Whilst tango tourists arrive before midnight, the true milongueros - the professional dancers, teachers and organisers do not appear before two or three o’clock and stay until six in the morning after the tourists have gone, for a breakfast of coffee and medialunas.


My taxi drops me in Armenia and, being early, I saunter diagonally up the wide Asociacón stairs, turning to descend to the salon. From above, the ceiling appears low, giving the place a ‘club-like’ feel. Horacio Godoy’s bald head glints as he purports to conduct a small tango orchestra to the amusement of his tanguero followers. I glance to the far corners of the room in search of Moneypenny. As expected, she is not here yet. When a departing couple leave their table near the piano the waitress nods and I take my place to await Moneypenny’s arrival.


It is nearly 5 am when a breathless Moneypenny stumbles down the stairs to the salon. It is hard to know whether she is fearful, excited or both. She spots me and trots quickly towards my table. “Moneypenny, old girl, what kept you?”, I say jovially. She looks strained and exhausted. “Come, let’s dance and you can tell me all about it”, I continue, glancing down at her little red Katrinski flats.


Out on the crowded floor Moneypenny recounts her encounter with Alvero, and that she has made a discovery. As we dance she slips her hand under her shirt to withdraw a slim diary. “Bond, I found this in his pocket and from what I could see in the taxi coming here, it may hold the key to Jay”. “I am sure there will be more there if only I can get back. Will you come with me?”


“It’s out of the question, old girl”, I reply, adding, “apparently, Lucia arrived just as you left”. “We don’t know why, but it seems she has a key to Alvero’s apartment. Fortunately, she did not see you leave, thanks to the door of her taxi being blocked by a wheelchair”.


I take the diary from her fingers and slip it into my jacket pocket. El pibe de La Paternal - Fresedo’s ‘Buscandote’ swirls us into a close embrace.


“I have had a phone call from my handler ‘M’ here in Buenos Aires”, I breathe. “And she requires to meet you. It seems that from here on she will be pulling the strings for both of us”.


Returning to our table, I take the diary and pen from my pocket, and rip out a blank page on which I scribble an address. “This, old girl, is where we are to meet. Eight o’clock on Thursday night. For heaven’s sake, don’t be late”.




Were it not for my ‘grace-and-favour’ apartment on the top floor of Palacio Haedo, I would live in Barracas; an area that lies to the south west of San Telmo with the river Matanza at its feet, and La Boca to the east. Considered by many to be a ‘risky area’, for me it combines aging splendour with the historic home of true Portenos.


Sabrina was strangely quiet when I phoned to pass on Maria Cristina’s directions for a meeting. Her matter-of-fact response had me questioning the whole plan, and in particular, which of us was really handling Moneypenny. These days, Sabrina’s bitterness often conceals her true feelings, and drawns a curtain of mistrust. “Fine”, she replied, “I will meet you there for I don’t want to suffer Raul’s driving after last time”, she added abruptly, referring to her rescue from Belgrano two years earlier.


Bar Los Laureles is located in Av Gral Iriate, deep in Barracas. It is one of the oldest bars in Buenos Aires, dating back to 1893, and is steeped in the traditions of politics and tango. It was here in 1940 that the famous tango singer Angel Vargas gathered and seduced his first followers. Well chosen by M, it is so distant from the Recoleta’s Embassy community as to be a safe, discreet and private meeting place.


“We could get there by taxi, Mr Bond, but it is doubtful that we will find a cab to bring us back”, said Raul, knowing of Barracas’ night time reputation. “I will get the Bentley out on Thursday”, he continued, drumming his garden-gloved fingers on the side his watering can. “We can bribe one of those cartonero kids to watch it for us”, he added with a grin.






In which Moneypenny begins to execute her plan




Moneypenny

The taxi swings into Caballito, one of the few places in Buenos Aires that remains relatively tourist free, where the everyday Porteño can still afford to live. It is far cry from Bond’s fashionable Recoleta.

“Top floor, hermosa”, he breathes into my ear”, “let’s take some wine on my terrace”. The elevator doors slide open. Inside is cramped, enabling him to slide his arms around my waist. The elevator pings at each floor, increasing my anxiety as we ascend into the darkness.  

I’m so nervous. I feel a smudge of his hair gel on my face. I struggle not to touch it. I hadn’t expected it would happen like this. I hadn’t thought this through. I had not anticipated how I would feel.  He is wearing a divine cologne and looks elegant. There would have been a time when this was exactly what I would have wanted, and where I would have wanted to be. But now the only thing on my mind is to accomplish my task, and to dash to the safety of Bond.

“Estamos hermosa!”, he invites as he unlocks the door to his apartment. It’s larger and more sophisticated than I had expected. I guess tango, and it’s extra-curricular activities can pay off after all. After the dingy elevator I notice how fashionable his room is, with black leather sofa and large television. Yet it is so obviously a shrine to him. On each wall is a picture of Alvero dancing tango, taken in a way that his partners are barely discernible, just ornaments of tango like his shoes and fancy vintage suit.

“Your apartment is quite interesting”, I manage to say as I stare around the room.  “Si, it’s my palace. Come upstairs”.




From behind me his hand guides me up the staircase, descending to my lower back as he directs me towards huge lounge chairs on the terrace.  We don’t speak. I smile a lame smile. He pours two glasses of chilled white wine - the perfect catalyst to a hot and humid summer night. 

Whilst he fetches another bottle of Sauvignon blanc, I top up his glass. On his return, we toast to a life of tango and dreams.

Within moments he takes my glass from my hand, places it on the table and reaches out towards my bare legs.  He leans in to kiss me. It feels rehearsed. I realise I’m not the first extra for the role of ‘Alvaro’s lover’.

“Take me to bed”, I whisper to him. “Si, vamos hermosa”, he breathes in response. 



Leading me towards his bedroom he flicks his cigarette lighter against the candles positioned strategically around his bed. Here are more self portraits ornating the bedroom - Alvaro in Paris, Alvaro in Rome, Alvaro in Vegas…..every picture, the same smile, the same piercing gaze. 

Silk sheets are cool against my back. He unbuttons his shirt to expose a hairless, muscular chest. He kisses the back of my neck and up towards my ears. With goosebumps I feel a tinge of regret about slipping Sabrina’s sleep inducing drug into his glass minutes earlier. It will take effect any moment now. But what if I could enjoy him a little longer? 

“You are so beautiful you make my head spin,” he slurs, then passes out, his arm flopping over the side of the bed.  I roll him over to remove his clothes.

Extinguishing the candles I leave the apartment by the stairs.  He’ll be sleeping like a baby by the time I get back. 



From the taxi, I run up the stairs of Club Armenia, throwing peso notes towards the cashier but not waiting for a ticket. I scan the salon for Bond and spy him tucked away in the far left corner from which the media lunas will be served within the hour.

“Good evening, or more like good morning old girl”, he quips as he glances at me.

“Bond, I have just come from Alvero’s and I know just how we’re going to do this”, I gasp.

“Very well old girl, tell me everything. But before you, do how about us taking those red Katrinsky’s for a tanda of Fresedo?”.





In which Moneypenny goes out on a limb at De Querusa Milonga




Mr Bond

Taking tea at Alvear I had tested the waters with Moneypenny, and she had responded like a professional. 

“I have an idea that I’m sure will work” was not the answer I had expected from her. It seemed that she understood more than I imagined. At this point of a conversation you usually get the flood of questions - ‘what, why, who, when’. But no; simply a ‘yes’ to the proposition, and that sent my mind into overdrive. Was it instinct, or did she know more than she let on?

Moneypenny returned from the powder room sporting her Katrinski flats, having swapped them for her tango shoes that were safely packed away in her bag together with the flower from her hair, and jumped into the taxi I had called for her.

I needed time to think, so resolved to stroll along Av Alvear, past Palacio Duhau and the Jockey Club, across Av 9 de Julio into Av Arroyo and Esmeralda towards San Martin. Reaching Arenales I caught a fragment of Diaz’ ‘Guitarra Mia’ on the evening air, but could not locate the origins of the vals.

No sooner had I turned the key in the lock to my apartment than the phone rang. ”Bond, can you speak?”. “Go ahead, I am alone”, I replied, realising that ‘M’ had clearly been well informed on my progress. “She will do it”, I replied. 

“Assuming she is successful, tell her to meet me at Los Laureles - next Thursday before 2000 hrs, when it is still quiet. Bring Raul, and let Sabrina know”, she added; and as usual before I could reply the phone went dead.

All that was needed was to make sure that Moneypenny got through the next 48 hours safely.

“Moneypenny - meet me Friday 2am at La Viruta. Bond”. 

Replacing the gold Parker fountain pen in my inside jacket pocket, I handed the note to Raul. “Make sure she gets this”, I added. Within moments Raul had disappeared down the main staircase, and within seconds, I heard the squeak of tyres on marble, and a small wheelchair exited the Palacio doors into Santa Fé and off in the direction of Florida.






Moneypenny 

‘I have an idea, and I’m sure it will work’, was where we had left it. 

Indeed, I was sure it would work, for it depended on the ‘surest’ of truths; flattery, sex  and human greed; which can make almost anyone do almost anything; and in this case, most of the work was already done all I had to do was plant a seed and watch the fertile soil do the rest.  Tonight I’ll set the wheels in motion before meeting Bond at La Viruta as per his instructions. 

“Hermosa, mia, que lindo verte!  I have missed you!”, he gushes as I walk into De Querusa. “Hola Alvaro, un gusto verte tambien, it’s been since when?  Oh right, since La Nacional that I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with you”, I retort.  “Si” he replies blushingly, “Sit with me tonight and promise me the first tanda”, he adds. “The first tanda is yours, but I shall sit at the front of the stage with the tangeras. You can’t expect me to devote my entire night to you, can you?”  

“I dream of the day you will devote your entire night to me, hermosa,” he responds, with his devilish smile.  I now understand why he’s left a trail of broken hearts over the years, and not exclusively those of women.

It’s early. As I take a seat beneath the stage, the class finishes with a ripple of applause. Starting at around 9 pm and ending around midnight, De Querusa is where the ‘greats’ come to warm up before heading for the later milongas at Canning or La Viruta.  There is no live orchestra, no performance, and no frills apart of the cheesy Spanish hacienda décor. I love dancing here, but tonight wasn’t just about dancing. Tonight I had a mission.  

I’m not sure why I took on James’ proposal so easily. I don’t even know what he wants from me exactly; if it’s dangerous; or even legal?  I guess I’m also just looking for a new challenge, something to take me away from daily routine.




As I struggle with my shoe strap I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Bailamos!” he says. “Si bailamos”, I respond.

Alvaro and I dance five consecutive tandas scrutinised by De Querusa tangueros; ‘Another flavour to add to his repertoire’, is what they are thinking as is plainly written in their faces; not that they have any scruples about hiding their thoughts.  I am amused, how wrong they are.

It’s a quarter to midnight and people have already started drifting off to distant milongas.  “My feet are tired,” I say looking at Alvaro, “can we stop off at your place before heading to La Viruta? You can give me that foot massage you promised.”

“Si of course! Vamos

Money Penny's stranger returns

 Moneypenny Corner of Balcarce and Defensa ‘Bond is standing in front of a Bentley; the window lowers and…. I can’t believe it, but...