There are some days when Buenos Aires is so hot and humid that San Telmo streets hum with the sound of the air conditioners which deposit their contents into large plastic bottles, or drip across scorching footways. Today is one of those days. Fortunately for me, a hint of breeze brushes the terrace to cool the skin.
On Sundays the milonga at Plaza Dorrego creeps into life at 1800 hrs, but most dancers arrive after later just as it starts to cool. The organiser, ‘El Indio’ Pedro Benavente is tall, slim and athletic, with long indian hair tied back into a plait. Following him, a collection of young tangueras vie for his attention. Significant amongst the local milongueros that frequent Plaza Dorrego is Don Bernabe, the grand master of the milonga. His age, a closely guarded secret, does not prevent him from dancing, and occasionally performing to the delight of the crowds that gather there.
Now early evening, I stand on the terrace overlooking Defensa. A tiny figure wheels into view and the sound of a harmonica rises against the walls of Geza Eckstein Sanjon de Granados Sa. The apartment buzzer sounds but over the intercom I hear nothing but the noise of market traders packing away their wares. When I reach street level, the figure and his chair has evaporated amongst the crowds, but tucked close to the door is a package - a shoe box wrapped in brown paper.
Returning to the apartment I slip my Georgian silver and mother of pearl pen knife through the string to open the box. ‘Exactly right - the perfect Comme il Faut seduction’, I say to myself.
Wearing my old dance shoes, I descend again the fifty two stairs to street level and make my way across Independencia towards Plaza Dorrego. I have left everything behind, save for a handful of pesos in my pocket and my apartment key clipped to my belt - the Bremont and leather wallet stored safely at the apartment. Plaza Dorrego welcomes those that travel light, and after our exploits of last night I do not relish a repeat loss.
The square is already crowded with visitors. On Sunday evenings it acts as a magnet for tourists that line three of its four sides to watch the dancers and take photographs for their memories. El Indio has just finished his demonstration performance to Angel Villoldo’s El Choclo, his a youthful partner’s fishnets catching the light from a string of coloured bulbs that hang from a plaza tree.
Moneypenny arrives with a swirl of energy. “Bond, let’s dance right now - its Miguel Calo with Raul Iriarte”, she calls above Cuando Tallon los Recuerdos, and she pulls me from my seat on the low wall. With that, we slip into the pista and execute a fast giro whilst waiting for a knot of onlookers to retreat to the steps. Tonight, for the first time since our return to Buenos Aires, Moneypenny dances with a lightness, almost a shallow breath, her short blonde hair catching the lights.
At the cortina, we return to the wall; and from beneath a planter I retrieve the box. “Imagine that, Moneypenny, it seems someone has left a present for you”, ‘Size six if I am not mistaken”, I continue with mock surprise. Lifting the lid, she takes out the Comme il Faut bag and squeals with delight. “Oh James, how thoughtful.” “But what is this?”, she adds, a frown crossing her face as she opens a note that has been slipped inside.
“Bond, you had better read this”, she stutters. “What is it….how did this get here….what does it mean?”
I look down at the note as she holds it out in her hand. The paper bears an MI6 letterhead and below, writing in thick italic nib. I glance up with concern. As I do so, I notice a wheelchair disappear into the crowd. Simultaneously, Richard Hammond appears ominously from the other corner. The Hugo Diaz cortina dissolves into a new tanda of Pugliese. But now dancing is the last thing on my mind.
Richard ‘cabeceos’ me and before I can even react Bond says: “Go dance with him, be natural, don’t say anything, keep it casual and talk about the weather.” Richard and I embrace, the pugliese has already started so we don’t lose any time in idle chit-chat. My dancing is horrid, I can’t hold my balance and as I go into my first ocho, my left shoe strap comes loose. I notice Bond across the pista reading the note, he seems worried but not surprised.
The first Pugliese of the tanda ends, “How nice to see you my dear, we did miss you at Casa Blanca in Sucre after you left”, Richard whispers in my ear. “Yes, I had a lovely time as your guest, but I had to get back to Buenos Aires”, I respond as I break away from his embrace. His eyes are fixed on mine, “What a pity, but perhaps we will have another occasion to spend time together in the near future, I feel that we have much more to talk about Miss Moneypenny, in fact I’m rather sure we will see each other very soon”. “It sure has been hot these past few days hasn’t it?” I suddenly utter not knowing what else to say; Richard ignored my sad attempt at changing the subject and whisks me back onto the pista. The tanda continues, ‘Una noche de Luna’ plays; Bond has picked up a slim blond and is circling around the dance floor as if nothing had happened.
The tanda ends and Richard disappears just as quickly as he had appeared; “Good job old girl”, Bond says to me. “If you say so, I’m not sure what happened there”, I answer as I try to get my strap to hook on; “He knows something, or there was something about the way he spoke to me. I’m so fed up with all this mystery secrecy; what did the note say?” I ask Bond.
“See for yourself”, he responds and hands me the letter, a telegram more than a letter really, which reads:
‘Bond, the situation is grave, we are on the brink of war; they have managed to get vital information from the Argentine government. You must go to the rendez-vous point tomorrow, your local contact will meet you there as will agent 012. Keep the girl handy, we have reason to believe she can be of use to us, but do not tell her more than she needs to know. Goodluck. M ‘
“Why would you need me? This is absurd, I want no part of it”, I shout to Bond. “Lower your voice Moneypenny, everything will be alright, you just need to play along”, he responds in a calm and contained voice. “We will dance after this milonga tanda”, he casually adds. However, before the end of the tanda, the music suddenly stops as the crowd, which was just seconds ago merrily twirling about the dance floor, falls into the deathening silence. A man has collapsed, his partner kneeling over him trying to wake him.
“Alguien llame a una ambulancia!”, shouts a voice as everyone retreats to the side of the pista. Before Bond can say anything, I grab the box of shoes and run off to Sabrina’s.
“You’re sure you don’t want to join me tonight?”, shouts Sabrina while twirling in front of the large mirror ornamenting the entrance of her, and now my, apartment.
“You seem very preoccupied with how you look tonight, any special reason?”, I ask her with a smirk.
“I believe my question was about whether you wanted to join me or not. If you’re so curious about my reasons for going, why don’t you join me? You’ve been going out with that man non-stop this week, it’s time you spent your free time in better company”, she adds.
“I’d love to, but I’m tired and all I want to do with get into a hot tub, have some wine and just be alone” I tell her.
“Suit yourself, you have Damian’s number in case you change your mind”.
“And which part can Damian help me with? The alone part? The hot bath part?” I respond mockingly.
“You're too clever for your own good you know? Damian can drive you to wherever you want to go if you need, for the rest, he's a grown man who can indeed be at your service if you need anything else..... Rest well my dear” she retorts with a smile.
As she closes the door behind her, and seeing her all ready for dazzle and dancing tonight, I almost regret staying home; not to mention that I was dying to know where she was going, she had been so secretive all day, almost as if she had been trying to bait me. I stare down at the box of ‘Comme il faut’ shoes, that were delivered earlier today and wonder if I shouldn’t just run after her, but something tells me I should stay put tonight after the day I’ve had.
I stare over at the clock, it’s just before midnight, still early by porteño standard, but for some reason I’m exhausted. I let the tub fill with steaming water and start soaking my tired feet and desperately try to make sense of the events that happened to me today.
I left Bond’s this morning, after making him my specialty breakfast: coffee and burnt toast, and rushed through the Sunday market. I love Sundays in San Telmo but for some reason today nothing was quite like I wanted it to be; the fresh orange juice stand I usually go to, wasn’t there; the coffee from the market was too hot; my medialunas were too dry; it’s as if the day was trying to warn me to stay home.
I walked towards home and just before reaching the front door, I saw I Damian leaving Sabrina’s place; he no doubt spent the night here, a rare privilege for Sabrina’s lovers, they’re usually asked to leave just as quickly as they’re asked to come in, but not him. I’m not quite sure what she sees in him, but I know better than to ask Sabrina about her nightly engagements.
When I got home, Sabrina handed me a package which had been delivered earlier today; a pair of 36 silver Comme il fauts, just like the ones I lost last night and a copy of my key. The worst part was that I almost wasn’t surprised. I feel as if I’ve had no control over my own life in the past few months, that it was only natural that last night’s pickpocketing had more to it than met the eye, but why? Of what interest was I of all people to anyone? Nothing seemed random, everything seemed all planned out, like a play and I was the only one who hadn’t gotten a copy of the script.
After a few hours of telling Sabrina what happened, I stepped out to Dorrego and that’s when I realised I should have listened to the events of the day and stayed home…..
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