Authors: Gregory Widen
Michael studied Hector. More fissures in the mask. “That isn’t why you called. It’s about Her, isn’t it?”
Hector smiled. “The smartest CIA man in Argentina.”
CIA man in Argentina.”
Hector probed the dirt with his cane. “You already know how every time we moved the Senora, flowers followed. So I moved her again and told only ten. The flowers returned. So again I moved her and told only three.”
“Olivar was one.”
“And the flowers?”
“Like a shadow.” Beat. “I once said I trusted you, Michael.”
Hector bent down, picked up a twig and folded it over. It was too green to snap. “Eva Perón must leave Argentina.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It has become clear that as long as Evita remains on Argentine soil, she will continue to be found by those fanatically devoted to her. And if eventually found by its more violent elements—”
“Peronist terrorists fighting for the return of her husband Juan Perón from Spanish exile.”
“Disorganized, fractional. But if stupid old women bearing flowers can find her, sooner or later one of them will too. She cannot be allowed, even in death, to become their symbol.”
“Put a guard on her. Put a hundred on.”
Hector smiled. “You think like an American, Michael. To Americans, the power of myth rests in ideas and people. Here the power of myth rests in objects. They need not actually possess her body to stand before it and invoke her name as their name. It is not her works that electrify the crowds but
Reveal where she lies with such large-scale protection and there would be thousands of
at the gate in an hour, and our enemies would have succeeded the same as if they had run her up a flagpole. She would become their flag, something to rally opposition around the way ideas never can in this nation.”
“Burn her, then. Dump her in the river.”
Hector took his arm as they strolled. “That’s an American solution, Michael. You see history as linear. Cause and effect. The evolution of events. But Argentina is a land where nothing happens. History here is an endless cycle, and one day the Senora will become the friend of the state,
flag. So we must keep her safe, away from politics.”
“In Argentina everyone is on deposit, Michael. Even the dead. You look cold.”
“I should have brought a coat.”
“We’ll go back to the car.”
They sat there. Watched the horse pass again through the windshield.
“Evita Perón is a secret Casa Rosada cannot seem to keep and so will never be safe on Argentine soil. For the same reason, if she is removed through Argentine hands, she will never be safe abroad either.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Michael hated the way it sounded. Worried.
“I would like you to use the resources of your embassy to move her out of Argentina.”
to get her out of the country?”
“You and the engines of the US State Department. It is imperative no Argentines be involved.”
“Perhaps. But I have something to trade. Files. Years of secret material gathered on governments all over South America.”
“If I asked Norris it would take weeks to get an answer, and even then it would probably be no, however much WH Division might want those files.”
“Then don’t ask.”
“You expect me to do this
“The protection of the Senora cannot wait.”
“This is it, right? The big withdrawal from the favor bank?”
“I’m asking you as a friend. But also as someone who knows you. Knows what you want. You’ll be thirty years old next year, Michael. With a new child and a life you hate here. You want out of Buenos Aires. You
to get out of Buenos Aires. Do
this quietly and you’ll finally have that ticket. There are so few chances in life to grab the future, Michael. This is one.”
Michael could hear the dash clock counting.
“Let me think about it.”
It was stupid, it was dangerous—and it was probably doable if he put his mind to it.
Michael sat in the living room of their house, listened to the first rain in a month, and stared out at wet darkness beyond the patio door. Karen was on the sofa, writing a letter to her mother.
If he did it and Norris found out, he’d be canned. Hector’s intel sharing had given him some credits with the SB branch, but to be collared shipping boxed first ladies without authority—well, that was a little beyond the pale, even with Hector’s promised files. He’d grown to hate this job, but he wasn’t ready to give up on it yet; there’d be retirements, other postings. It could get better. He was a foreign relations college major in an antiforeign recession economy back home. What the hell else would he do?
Karen looked up from her letter and saw the faraway look.
“What are you thinking?”
The snap answer was already halfway up his throat. This time he choked it down.
“Hector wants me to…to deliver something for him through our channels, without telling Bud. It’s a pink slip if I get caught, but it’s also probably our way out of here if I don’t.”
“Are you going to do it?”
Michael stood suddenly, kissed his wife, and softly told her he loved her. She took his hand and held it to her belly.
“We’re going to be okay, Michael.”
That night was Michael’s turn on Ara watch. He tucked his wife in bed, turned off the lights, and reluctantly drove down to the apartment building on Avenida Cabello. Dr. Ara was so connected
in the diplomatic community, had found himself at the center of so many goings-on, that WH refused to believe that he wasn’t somehow on someone’s spook payroll. Norris just laughed at their naïveté about how things worked down here. As usual, he wouldn’t make Lofton or his other buddies pull shifts, so it fell on Michael to do one all-nighter a month in the safe house across the street and report the same thing to Washington in the morning: nothing.
Michael couldn’t care less if Wintergreen or Yuri Kraganov himself knew about
safe house. It was only for Ara, and Ara was a waste of time. Michael had wondered why Norris didn’t take a stronger stand on the obvious waste of station resources but had come to suspect, by the odd empty bottle of wine left behind, that his station chief was doing some private entertaining up here. Probably Lofton and Miller too. Hell, maybe even Esther. Maybe the whole fucking embassy Marine Corps detachment.
Like with the Russian OP, the apartment was a small studio with one window, a mattress, and a single armchair aimed out to Ara’s apartment across the street. The lights were off, and Michael kept his off too, spending the first two hours staring at his reflection or the odd pedestrian haunting the avenue. He had a thermos of coffee, Roquefort pizza picked up on the way, some station homework, and his thoughts.
What I am doing here? Why doesn’t the station at least buy a comfortable chair? Because the only thing in here anybody else uses is the bed. My wife is in bed. So is my unborn child. My mother and sister are in graves, one kind or another, not far away. And I’m here, waiting on the Spanish dwarf.
With a penlight clipped to his shirt pocket, he browsed the station files he’d brought to keep himself awake. Most of them had the opposite effect: endless stakeout reports from his contract agents in the Buenos Aires police, wiretap transcripts, expense accounts.
One of the folders Michael didn’t recognize. Apparently filed among his by mistake, it was a source interview, dated February 1953. The source’s code name was WOLLSY, the transcript a dialogue between him and his interviewer:
INTERVIEWER: She never told you?
INTERVIEWER: Have the others looked?
WOLLSY: What do you think?
WOLLSY: I wouldn
t know where to begin.
INTERVIEWER: Well, if not you, who?
WOLLSY: You presume too much.
The transcript continued in that vein—elliptical questions and vague answers—for two pages. One part caught Michael’s attention:
INTERVIEWER: That’s all she said?
WOLLSY: At the end, yes.
INTERVIEWER: That one word.
WOLLSY: She was at God’s gate.
INTERVIEWER: Only that one word.
During his years in Argentina, Michael knew of only one person that used the old-fashioned Spanish expression “God’s gate”—Juan Duarte, Evita’s brother. Michael knew Duarte had had contacts with the embassy before Michael’s time and during his sister’s heyday. A gambling playboy forever in debt, he’d have sold them his grandfather’s watch if they’d wanted it. He had little else of interest, though; most of the Perón administration rightfully kept him at arm’s length. Michael assumed the station had
lost interest in him years ago, but this transcript was dated just a few months before his suicide. Evita had been dead since 1952, and the world had turned several times since by the time of this interview in ’53. Who would have still cared about Juan Duarte?
Michael flipped back through the file, looking for the word Juan Duarte was referring to. It wasn’t there. On the bottom of the last page was an endorsement of the case officer doing the interview. His name was Ray Tynnes, the working pseudonym for Ed Lofton.
Michael looked up. A taxi was dropping off Ara and a woman he didn’t recognize. A moment later Ara could be seen in his living room, lighting a few candles and settling the woman on a couch. Michael knew next would come the dusty bottle of wine, the one Ara specifically told his maid
to wipe off. He was not disappointed. It was followed, as always, by Stravinsky on the hi-fi, Italian
from the kitchen…
And the hatbox.
The one with the embalmed peasant’s head. And it must work with the ladies, because he does it every time.
Ara opens the hatbox and Michael’s blood freezes because it’s not the peasant’s head inside.
Only it can’t be, because Hector has her. Yet it’s an exact copy, grafted onto someone else’s skull. It’s too real. It’s
And as Ara lets the woman hold it, as the candles catch Evita’s features and bathe them in amber, Michael feels the room around him shift and speak to him of a future, and that future is only chaos and destruction.
t was a pretty night and Karen and Michael strolled Recoleta Plaza, hand in hand, past minstrels and the colonial church lit up with floodlights. It was breezy and the coral trees squeaked with birds. They walked along the old cemetery wall, resting place of presidents and magnates.
It’s easier to get into heaven than Recoleta Cemetery
, the saying went. The city’s fanciest restaurants lay in a row across the grass. Michael and Karen lingered on a park bench, watched lovers and children pass, and waited for the restaurants to open, which in Buenos Aires never happened before ten.
Recoleta Plaza. A hundred years ago they dumped the heads of slaughtered cattle here. Then came the cholera scare in the southern barrios, and the money fled north to safety among the rot of their fortunes. Michael thought of the millions of bones beneath his feet, couldn’t help thinking of his sister Maria…
“It’s a beautiful night,” Karen said.
“There are times when I almost like this city.”
She smiled, rested her head on his shoulder, and held up their intertwined hands for inspection. And for a moment it was like it once was. Easy and right, and he prayed for it not to end.
They sat there past opening time, just being with each other, and when they rose Michael picked a restaurant off the row at random, for they were all excellent. Karen and he took a quiet table in the back and only after ordering a glass of wine noticed that the other corner was filled with former FBI South: Norris,
Miller, Lofton, a handful of generals, and the usual assortment of strained wives.
Michael and Karen, slumped with disappointment, smiled politely. Tried to leave it at that. The flatfoot contingent was already happily adrift on Chilean red. Lofton started waving for the Suslovs to come over. Michael waved back, tried to laugh it off, but they were all gesturing now, even the generals.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Karen said.
“We’ll just say hi.”
They walked over. The generals stood up for Karen. Norris scrounged for chairs. “C’mon, have a seat. Pedro here was just telling us about the parties during his academy days.”
much,” Pedro guffawed.
Brittle smiles from brittle wives, drunk husbands insisting on pawing Michael’s child.
“We’ve got a table over there. We just thought we’d have a quiet—”
“Don’t be crazy, Mike, c’mon, sit down. Karen, don’t let your husband be a drip
Then a look behind Norris’s grin:
Don’t fucking embarrass me here.
“We’ll take a rain check, okay?”
A catch in Norris’s voice. “Sure, Mike. Stop by for dessert.” Another death look, and back to Pedro’s hilarious story. Suslovs dismissed.
The meal was okay, but the night was on the wrong foot. They tried to enjoy it, stuck their forks in each other’s meals, looked out at the plaza, breezy and lit up prettily with strung lights.
The flatfoot table was in full swing. Lofton slumped in his chair, head rolling against the wall, Norris on his feet, telling in a voice just under a shout about a club girl in Tijuana and the skill she showed with just a groin and Ping-Pong ball. Pedro the
general up now, to better the story—a girl in Lima—his English slipping under several vodkas.