In which Bond and Moneypenny encounter problems at Plaza Dorrego
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.
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