I head towards 9 de Julio, jump into the first taxi I see and head to towards Palermo, where the night was still relatively young.
We arrive in front of the Armenian cultural center, with my mind constantly wandering, taking me back in the events which occurred earlier this evening, I almost forget to pay the driver. “Perdon” I tell him as I dash out.
I run down the stairs and accidentally collide with someone: “Perdon”, I blurt out a second time.
Standing before me is Adrianna. “You really must learn to be careful, you could have hurt one of us!”, she admonishes, “but I guess that’s not important to you is it, as long as you can get downstairs fast enough to get the best tandas!” she adds.
I wish I had run into anyone else but her right now. She is accompanied by Lucia and this little mishap of mine will no doubt give them something to complain about for the rest of the evening.
“I am very sorry, it was reckless of me”, I say apologetically and then turn towards her and say: “Oh, Adrianna, I wanted to tell you, I saw Alvaro at De Querusa the other night” I stare over at Lucia and try to gauge a reaction from her, any sign of discomfort on her part, “and he couldn’t stop talking about you” I add.
“Really!” she responds excitedly in a high-pitched voice like a hyena. “Yes, he’s quite fond of you…..says you’re very kind and elegant. He says you remind him of his mother, which, I’m sure is quite the compliment; you know how these porteños are, everything is about their mothers. Must be why they like breasts so much. Wouldn’t you say Lucia?” I add with a smirk, they’re both going to hate me.
“Our table is ready, we will see you inside” Adrianna responds grabbing Lucia by the shoulder and rushing away from me.
I hadn’t expected them to be here tonight, especially not arriving at this hour. Was La Viruta some sort of secret meeting place for undercover agents? Are Adrianna and Lucia involved in this somehow? Or am I just becoming paranoid.
The smells of fresh coffee and medialunas fills the air; the dance floor is starting to empty out; dancers are slowly removing their shoes to give their aching feet a little break. I sit in the far corner, where Bond usually sits, even in his absence I seem to gravitate towards him. I lean over to put on my shoes and barely manage to tie my left strap when I feel a gently caress on my right shoulder: “Quieres bailar?” He asks, in that porteño accent I could never resist. “Si” I respond without hesitation; not only is he very handsome, but it’s a Troilo tanda.
I gently lean into him as we start to synchronize our bodies and slowly move in-tune with the dos por quatro tango compas. I close my eyes and abandon myself completely to him and to our tanda; I want to empty my mind of everything and just enjoy this moment; enjoy his subtle perfume, his firm support as we move around the dance floor, the feel of his hand almost caressing my back; I want to forget everything else that has happened tonight. After the first tango, we simply stay in close embrace and sway from left to right without saying a word, waiting for the next tango to start.
“Gracias” he says after the tanda is over. “Gracias a vos” I respond, “I want to go I think” I say looking directly into his eyes. “Ok let’s go then” he responds without hesitation. So we leave La Viruta grabbing 2 medialunas on our way out.
I slowly unlock the front door, I’m sure she’s out, it’s market day; she nevers sleeps in on Sundays. I wonder if she noticed my absence this morning. The house is empty, I quickly grab my things from the night before and drop off a note on her bed stand before making my way out.
I need time to think, I’m going to Bolivia to clear my mind. Don’t worry about me I’ll be fine, I’ll be back in 10 days. Don’t tell Bond.
Take care of you
Dawn over Recoleta. The sun barely catches the tops of the trees, gold fronds flickering on a morning breeze. Beneath in the gardens of San Martin the cartoneros wake from their benches and leaning against their trolleys await their timber-framed truck to carry away a haul of cardboard and plastic.
Here in my apartment the telephone rings. I stir and reach out for the receiver. “Mr Bond, you are needed in London”, says the voice, “there will be an envelope for you in the post room by first delivery”, the voice continues, and the phone goes dead.
I do not recognise the voice. It is certainly neither a familiar M nor Q. It is of a deeper timbre, British, with a military edge. Walking to the windows, I gaze out onto the square in time to see a small wheelchair disappear behind the statue of Jose Francisco de San Martin.
As the coffee pot comes to heat, Raul raps his distinctive knock on the apartment door. “This has just come for you, Mr Bond”, he proclaims as he enters closely followed by Cleo the cat, “it is marked urgent and confidential, so I thought I would bring it up straight away”.
The manila envelope is clearly MOD, and the typeface typical of the department. Slitting it open with my silver penknife, I find inside a single flight pass to RAF Northolt London, together with travel instructions to Whitehall. There are no further details. The message could not be clearer...or more obscure.
Flying the long route via the RAF station on Ascension Island, the military aircraft touches down in a grey north west London as early morning light struggles through a deep blanket of cold cloud. I wheel my small overnight case through the bare reception area and touch in to confirm my arrival. My designated car - no 67 driven by my favourite driver Mireille, who for over twenty years has collected me from airfields around Britain. “Bonjour, James”, she greets, her French Canadian accent still joyously vibrant. “So, Mireille, no gold watch, you haven’t retired yet?”, I reply, winking a bleary eye. “How dare you suggest that I might be so old”, she rejoins, “Get in the car and let’s quit this dump”. With that, probably to make a point, she seizes my case, throws it onto the back seat, shakes her blonde-grey hair and slips into the drivers side.
South Ruislip passes quickly as we join the A40 and on to the raised Westway. A morning London streams past like a silent film, overlayed only by passing small-talk. “How are the cats, MIreille? How are Richard and Paul doing with the allotment?”, I ask, stifling a yawn and thinking about coffee. “Will you be going back to Buenos Aires?”, she asks eventually. “It depends why I have been pulled out”, I reply, “You never know with the powers-that-be, they rarely tell you anything unless you need to know, and it seems, presently I don’t. I reckon they get off on their surprises”.
With road works and a diversion the 43 minute journey has taken nearly an hour. On the roofs of Whitehall the early light is still thin. A double kiss from Mirelle and she is gone. The corridors of MI5 await. “It’s going to be a long day’, I say to myself as I divert towards the canteen.
“Hey Bond”, comes a call, “what are you doing back? I thought you had gone for good. How’s the tango?”
Q smiles but looks faintly ridiculous. A container clipped to his belt sways as he simulates a tango gancho. “Ah, do you like it Bond? It’s my new design for a hands-free, non-spill cup. You see - no hands. And it tastes much better than the biodegradable cardboard ones they dish out here”, he adds.
“Have you any idea what’s going on, Q?”, I ask. One minute I am dancing tango in San Telmo; the next I am on that dreadful plane back to blighty”. “Not a clue, Bond, but why would they tell me unless they wanted something from me? And at the moment, old boy, it seems my time is filled with inventing cups”.
I am now waiting in the anteroom, the smell of fresh lilies and furniture polish competing with the receptionist’s cologne. “They will see you now”, says Tom, adding “you can leave the case here if you wish Mr Bond”. I recognise this as the voice on the phone from London as I walk towards the mahogany doors.
Behind the table sits a panel of three. “M is worried about you, Bond. It’s the usual problem”, the chair begins. “This girl - what’s her name - the one you seem to have been spending time with in Buenos Aires”.
The department always start this way. Disarmingly probing. Catching off-guard. Straight to a point - but not necessarily the point. “So, tell us about your new tango life and this...whatever-her-name is?”.
“Bond, we have her under surveillance, you know. According to M she seems to be close to retired agent S - that Sabrina woman who worked with you on ‘les desaparecidos’. “Didn’t you have a thing with her, Bond?”, a wing member questions.
“Well, we are concerned about Sabrina as it seems she has rekindled her friendship with Dr Richard Alvarez. Did you know about this, Bond?”. We have been following her to a regular meeting place - what is it now…”. My principal interrogator tails off as she shuffles through a file of papers. “Ah, yes, Peru 1824 in Constitucion”.
“I think you mean Peru 1826, Barracas”, don’t you?”, I reply. “That is where he and his Peruvian lover Jay spend their time”. “But I thought Sabrina was still on side from what M told me”, I added inquiringly.
“It seems not. She may have been compromised”, the third member explains. “Which also means that we are worried about this girl. According to M she knows too much. We need to know that she is on side - or not”, he adds ominously.
“We are keeping you here in London for the next ten days whilst we run a few more checks. Then we will fly you back to Buenos Aires in time for your next tango lesson”, the lead continues. “You can go now, Bond. Enjoy your holiday”.
With that, I close the door behind me, pick up my case from Tom and head off towards my tiny apartment in Ormond Yard, St James. I cut across St James’ Park under a line of plane trees and reflect back on Sabrina’s responses and Moneypenny’s recent transformation. ‘Maybe they have a point’, I say to myself as I slip my key into the outdoor latch and climb the stairs to Flat B.
Sabrina’s resolve not to travel with Raul at the wheel of the Bentley evaporated in the evening air, impelled no doubt by the prospect of locating a taxi at this time of night, and I suspect, a desire to reassure Moneypenny whose hand she held as they slid into the rear seat. Once underway through the darkened calles of Barracas I heard a sigh from Moneypenny, but otherwise our journey silent, but for the clinking of Raul’s bottle of Malbec as it rolled in the boot.
Back at my Recoleta apartment I found my mind turning over the evening’s events, and the need to sleep seemed secondary to the desire for a single malt and the chance to think. My old arm chair beckoned from the terrace, and that is where I found myself, with moonlight glinting through a bottle of Talisker, and Cleo the cat arching gently against my leg.
Recoleta, so busy and bustling during the day, settles into a state of suspended animation at night, only the tops of tall trees in Plaza San Martin showing signs of a breeze. In the distance, unseen and almost unheard, the sound of a taxi as it turns into Santa Fe, and nearer, the beat of wings from a startled dove as it settles in a Jacaranda tree below the terrace.
‘Moneypenny is certainly a strange fish’, I think to myself. She played M like a professional. With each question and at every turn of the conversation she seemed ahead of the game. There was clearly more to Moneypenny than first appeared. Maria Cristina must have logged her consummate performance. Was it too good to be true? With this plan, M was about to allow Moneypenny, a relative stranger, inside access to our plans and concerns regarding Dr Richard Alvarez and his dealings. This could amount to a very dangerous strategy.
Returning from the terrace to the study, I pull out my old Olympia typewriter and wind in a sheet of plain paper -
‘M, I have worries about Moneypenny. She seems to know precisely what we want before we do - it is as if she has been briefed - but not by me. I think we need to meet, and maybe do a few more checks (unless you have another plan)’.
Folding the sheet into a brown envelope, I leave it in the rack for Raul and, pouring myself another malt, retire to bed for the few hours that remain before morning.
It has been light for a couple of hours when I wake to the sound of Rosa the maid clattering in the kitchen.
“It’s alright, Rosa, I am awake. How about coffee?”, I say, trying to smile and look vaguely refreshed. Raul has already collected the envelope and left a stack of morning papers on the table, just flown in from London. Down below, I hear the clack of lattice doors and the bump of a wheelchair as it negotiates its way out of the lift.
As I finish reading the last Times obituary, the telephone rings.
“Bond, are you up yet”, comes the voice. “You up for lunch? I’m starving. That shared milanesa last night was not enough to feed a mouse”.
“Moneypenny; good of you to ask how I am doing”, I reply facetiously. “So, what about Convento San Ramon Nonato in Calle Reconquista?”, I suggest, feeling the need for proper food. “You know where it is, I take it”, I inquire. “Isn’t it behind the Bank of Argentina or somewhere?”, she replies with a vagueness that is in stark contrast to last night. “Yes, I think I know it. Meet midday on the steps? Oh, and how are you today, Bond?”, she adds, “Have you recovered from the effects of all that Malbec?”
As I replace the receiver I hear the sound of a click on the line. It is faint, but clear. ‘We were not alone in that conversation’, I think to myself, and my mind returns to the turmoil of the previous night.
“You did well tonight, just like I expected you to”, Sabrina utters while pouring me a cup of jasmine tea. “All I did was follow your advice”, I retort. “I just don’t want you to get sucked in the way I did, you need to watch out for yourself; make sure you have a safety net; because once they no longer need you, you’ll be left with nothing but a pair of fancy shoes and a lifetime of secrets”, she adds. “I’m still not really sure what all of this is, but are we doing the right thing?”, I attempt to ask, hoping she’ll give me something more concrete to go on.
“There is no right and wrong, no good or bad really, peace and safety are assured by one thing and one thing only, balance, no one can have absolute power, it would ruin us all, even if intentions are good, are they rarely are, it wouldn’t work. But that’s enough for now, have your tea and go sleep in the guest room”, she replies, not giving the information I was hoping for, but I know tonight, a cup of hot tea is the only favour she’ll grant me.
Sleep wasn’t on the agenda tonight it would seem, the events of the evening just kept playing over and over in my head, like a broken record; Richard…. Infiltrate….secrets... Alvaro….working together… working for what.. Balance of power...? For whom? Once ‘M’ left, silence dominated our a table, not one superfluous word was spoken; Bond just smiled and twirled me about the very uncomfortable dance floor and Sabrina sat there in a deep ponder, sipping her Malbec.
If I were reading a novel, I wouldn’t be able to put it down at this stage, but now when everything seems to be materialising and playing out exactly according to plan; all I seem to want to do is run away…. My usual reaction.
I wonder what Alvaro must have thought when he woke up to find me missing, I shouldn’t have listened to Bond and I should have gone back like I had intended, what did it matter that Lucia went there? Why did she matter in any of this anyway?
I look over to the dresser and notice the outside light hitting the side of my silver Comme il Faut’s, casting a beam of light onto my bed; my shoes are calling me and their call is much stronger than the call of sleep.
I get up, put on some jeans, grab my shoes and discreetly make my way out of the apartment, if hurry I can make it for the first batch of media lunas at La Viruta.
Looking back on it, I have rarely seen Moneypenny look more uncomfortable than when ‘M’ addressed her in the bar at Los Laureles. It was as if Moneypenny realised that her insatiable curiosity in entering the cemetery had sealed her fate.
She smiled limply and cast her eyes down in a coy way. Was this the real Moneypenny, or an act put on for Maria Cristina’s benefit? But a few nights ago Moneypenny had been quick to seize the initiative and suggest what could only be described as an outrageous plan to seduce Alvero and access Dr Richard Alvarez.
“Well, you are now with us, like it or not - and I have a little job for you”, ‘M’ continued.
Raul leaned back in his chair as a 1931 vinyl recording of ‘Amargamente’ from Orquesta Tipica Brunswick played and lights from a passing car flickered across the wall. A waiter slid a fresh bottle of high altitude Malbec onto the table, and I picked up the last piece of queso milanesa. Sabrina, seeking to rescue Moneypenny ventured, “It seems that she has already made a good start”.
“So, tell me about it”, said ‘M’ as she looked intently into Moneypenny’s eyes. “What have you been up to, chica?”
It was over an hour later that Maria Cristina picked up her scarf from her lap, pushed her blonde hair beneath her cloche hat and opened her handbag to retrieve her gloves. On doing so, a yellow light spun across the wall and a motorcycle turned outside the bar in Av Gral Iriate. A waiter, not hitherto noticed, stepped forward and led M the way she had entered, behind the counter, disappearing as quickly and unseen as she had arrived.
Raul whistled softly, ‘phew, Moneypenny, I would never have guessed you had it in you. How on earth did you work out that plan?”, added Sabrina, “you make Mr Bond look like an amateur!”
Never the master of the understatement, Sabrina was spot on for once - although in fairness neither Moneypenny nor I had shared with ‘M’ details of her reckless plan to return to Alvero’s apartment.
“I think another bottle of Sottano Judas Malbec 2012 is warranted”, I ventured, “no point in having the Ministry’s gold card and not making full use of it”, I added. Raul looked across disconsolate - driving the Bentley had its disadvantages. “So, let’s get a couple of bottles then Raul can enjoy his at his leisure”, I continued with a wry smile and a nod.
As we prepared to leave Moneypenny tipped her head to one side and glanced over to the small dance floor. “Oh I adore Di Sarli”, she slurred, “just one last dance”. After her tour de force earlier I could not deny her this trophy, so propping her against my arm, I led her to onto the pista. “I know the words, Bond, ‘Esta Noche Luna’, I know the words”, she repeated, and resting her head against my chest we danced as she sung,
“Acércate a mí y oirás mi corazón
Contento latir como un brujo reloj,
La noche es azul, convida a soñar
El cielo ha encendido su faro mejor.
Si un beso te doy, pecado no ha de ser
Culpable es la noche que incita a querer,
Me tienta el amor, acércate ya
El credo de un sueño, nos redimirá”.
Contento latir como un brujo reloj,
La noche es azul, convida a soñar
El cielo ha encendido su faro mejor.
Si un beso te doy, pecado no ha de ser
Culpable es la noche que incita a querer,
Me tienta el amor, acércate ya
El credo de un sueño, nos redimirá”.
Moments later, we stepped out into the cool night air. On leaving, the waiters slid the windows down along the front of the bar and shot the bolt on the doors. The sound of Di Sarli faded, to be replaced by Hugo Diaz’s ‘Mi Noche Triste’- receding from beneath the railway arches where I could just discern the glint of moonlight on the wheels of a chair.
“I didn’t want you to end up here, it’s not too late to say no…..it’s not too late yet”, Sabrina whispers in my ear. I don’t have an answer for her, few are the times when I am at a loss for words and it seems this was one of them. At first, I thought it was fun running around the city following Bond; mysterious cemetery meetings, secret milonga parties, even sleeping with Alvaro didn’t bother me too much, but now… I have to prove myself, prove my worth towards something I’m not even sure I want to be a part of.
Suddenly, I feel Sabrina and Bond tense up as the bar doors open and a blonde woman. dressed in black, walks in. It’s the woman from the cemetery, it’s the illusive ‘M’.
“Good evening, James, Sabrina, Raul”, she says as she removes her hat and lets her golden hair cascade over the shoulders. “Now let’s see what the two of you have been up to”, she says with a smirk, addressing Bond and Sabrina casually avoiding me. She then turns her gaze towards me and adds: “You both left out how incredibly….what’s the word, not beautiful, beautiful is too plain, too generic, no not beautiful - but seductive she is. Although, I should hardly be surprised, I have known you for what over…..well let’s just say some years now haven’t I James?”. I assumed this was also eluding to how Sabrina got caught up with them.
“Indeed M, good of you to conceal the exact number of years”, Bond retorts with a smile. “Don’t flatter yourself Bond, I did it more for me, and because I simply can’t count that high!”, she responds with a burst of laughter.
“Now enough of this nonsense; Sabrina I trust that everything is in order”, she questions, giving Sabrina no chance to repond. “And now Moneypenny, James tells me you’re quite something, says you figured out the riddle we planted for you without too much difficulty, Bond himself would have taken years to solve it”, she says looking directly at me with her piercing eyes. “How did you do it?”
“Well, it was quite elementary”, I started. “James, I mean Bond, and Sabrina for that matter, always seem to speak in riddles, so I’ve had a fair amount of practice when it comes to deciphering things. I know Bond is fascinated by Argentine history so I knew it had to be a historical reference. And the rest just followed: brothers in arms, high the sky… had to be Peru or Lima up in the Andes; freed from the same shackles, had to be the year of independence, and then I realized it was an address”, I respond, trying to conceal my nerves.
“Impressive, and what did you think of the party my dear?” she asks, again looking directly into my eyes.
“I’m not sure what to think, the standard of tango wasn’t very good and the floor was too slippery - but the champagne and the orchestra were excellent. Other than that I have no opinion”, I retort.
“I like her”, she says to Bond, “she doesn’t venture to talk about what she doesn’t know. It’s a good quality. However, don’t take me for a fool, I know you have more to say than a comment on the type of polish Richard uses on his floor. I also know you took matters into your own little hands with Alvaro”, she adds with an inkling of criticism. “ So tell me, what have you been up to, chica? What was your plan that you so boldly took on by yourself?”
I wasn’t sure what to answer her. I hadn’t really thought things through properly, I had just acted, I couldn’t tell her that though. “Well, I thought that the most direct way to Richard, assuming Richard is our target, is through his lover. Margaretta is clearly useless in this area, so the most obvious choice is Jay, which gives me at least one degree of separation from Richard should anything happen. But I thought Jay wouldn’t be too easily swayed by me, he’s a profiteer and I had nothing to offer him. It could make him doubt my motives for getting close to him. I needed something else to spark his interest. And then it came to be, who would do almost anything for a little fame and glory? Alvaro is perfect, he’s beautiful and fairly stupid. Not to mention that the man is obsessed with himself; a little flattery of his ego goes a very long way. Thus, I wanted to ‘seduce’ him and convince him that he and I had a lot to gain from a connection with Richard. I made up some cockamamie story about my dreams of being a tango dancer and how he and I could benefit from Richard’s connections around the world. How, by infiltrating his inner circle, by infiltrating Jay, we could have it all. Alvaro is too stupid and too preoccupied with moisturizing his chest to put two and two together”, I respond almost surprised at how easily the words flooded from my lips.
‘M’ smiles, pulls her hat down and slips her gloves onto her slim hands. “That’ll do for now”, she replies, “don’t do anything else until you’re told to”. “James, Sabrina I trust the two of you can work together on this”. Just as she got up, a waiter arrived, picked up the glass from which she had been sipping her Malbec and led her away. Not a trace of her was left behind, even her napkin had disappeared.
The four of us just stood there in silence as James opened another bottle of Malbec. “Don’t say anything, put your shoes on and go dance”, Sabrina instructs me.
As soon as I manage to hook my shoe strap on, struggling with it as usual, Bond cabeceo’s me and swooshes me away to the dance floor. We dance to one of my all time Pugliese favorites as moonlight beams through the windows of Bar Las Laureles.
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