The death of dialogue, the demise of debate prompted prosperous, educated Argentine students to morph into mass killers.
Monday, 6 August 2018
From left Massera, Videla Agosti. Navy, Army, Air Force commanders.
“We are at war.” Towering over his desk in Casa Rosada, de facto president Lieutenant-General Jorge Videla, glared at the cameras and spoke in clipped sentences. “We shall restore order by annihilating the terrorists, their accomplices, their sympathizers, the lukewarm, and the indifferent.”
It was cold, drizzly morning in March. Late the previous night, a junta of Army, Navy and Air Force commanders-in-chief deposed the government and took over the reins of the nation.
“I have appointed Colonel Cirilo Ward as the chief of national security. He will have every resource at his disposal to end the atrocities.” Moments earlier, in a tight huddle behind locked doors, the generals granted Colonel Ward carte blanche to annihilate the subversive groups.
Buenos Aires was in chaos. The airwaves crackled as television anchors, their eyes bulging in disbelief, announced the coup d’état and warned the citizens to stay home.
“They are calling it a bloodless coup!” Eugenia pointed at the television as though it were responsible for the chaos in Plaza de Mayo. “Who are they kidding?”
“Someone has to stop the terrorists, darling.” George Taylor, an oil company executive watched in shock as soldiers surrounded Casa Rosada and army trucks blitzed through city, hauling civilians arrested without charge.
“Will there be a purge?” Louise Francoeur, a Canadian from a small town in the prairies, stared in horror at the violence unfolding in the city.
“You can bet on it,” George said, “the terrorists got what they wanted.”
“Where are you going with this?” Eugenia blinked, unable to believe what she was hearing.
George said, “The terrorists have provoked the armed forces into taking over. That’s the Peronista government gone. Now the real battle begins.”
“And that is what Montoneros wanted? A war?” Louise poured coffee.
“They got what they paid for.” George sipped coffee.
“Martial law, no habeas corpus. Oh my—” Louise shook her head. She was raised in rural Canada and met her husband in Estevan, an oil town in Saskatchewan where the only serious coups came from the weather.
Eugenia frowned. “No Congress, no Supreme Court, no political parties or free press. How does one live like this?”
She turned to her father. “Dad, you are not going downtown today. Okay?” She finished her coffee, stood up and marched out of the dining room.
“Where are you going, darling?”
“I must call Alvaro and cancel dinner. After that, I might as well exercise with Anita.” The Taylors had a gym built next to the house, and the women practiced martial arts with their bodyguard Anita Stronjön. The retired Swedish wrestler shadowed the Taylor women wherever they went.
For days and weeks following the coup, ecstatic Argentines flooded the streets in cities, towns and villages, cheering, chanting and celebrating the end of agony. Mothers, teachers, vendors, businessmen—the entire nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as the mantle of fear was lifted. Three years of relentless terrorism were about to end.
But the party did not last.
Soon, a new form of torment began: Jews, gays, beards, long hair, jeans, and Rock and Roll were considered subversive. Thousands of books were destroyed. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince was banned. One after another, young people vanished, never to be seen again.
In what promised to be an unparalleled disaster, the steely jaws of Argentina´s armed forces were set to crush Montoneros’ infamous killing machine, and thousands of lives—young, old, evil and pure—would be mashed in its wake.
Buenos Aires, March 24, 1976 -- The bloodless coup.
“Be thorough and you are bound to catch your prey.” The hunter cautioned his men. “No one is invisible. Their scent is everywhere.”
At forty-five the new chief of national security, Colonel Cirilo Ward cut a distinguished figure with his neatly trimmed salt and pepper hair, ramrod straight posture and thick eyebrows knotted into a permanent frown.
Ward was a righteous man—a man with no regrets. He saw himself as the custodian of his people; a leader who must deal with every form of subversion with no doubt, no compromise, no mercy. To Ward, annihilation of all subversives was moral, ethical, and necessary. Cirilo Ward was certain of what he must do.
He pored over every detail in every suspect’s file, and anyone who underestimated his capacity for digging, uncovering and finding, or belittled his commitment to rational analysis might as well be dead.
When the coup d’état was hatched the previous year, Captain Ward, a minor bureaucrat in the State Intelligence Service known as SIDE, teetered on the edge of banishment to some remote swampy outpost teeming with mosquitos. To keep his job, he had to prove himself, and the test came soon.
The ferryboat was late, a minor detail in the days of inefficiency and corruption, but it annoyed the middle-aged couple in the car. They waited, they fumed and sweated in the humid night heat. When the ferry’s lights illuminated the pier, the couple sat up and got ready to cross the river. They were anxious to begin a blissful holiday in their country home.
General Cardales started the engine and turned to his wife. “We may be getting there after all, sweetheart.”
“I feel sick.” With no air conditioning, the dust and the mosquitos were getting the better of her.
“I’ll just have a sip of—“ Someone yanked Mrs. Cardales’s door open and pulled her out by the hair. She screamed as they dragged her along the gravel road, towards a waiting car.
Someone else opened the driver’s door and yelled. “Get out of the car. Move!”
General Cardales stared at the pistol, then at the masked man holding it. He slowly got out. “Who are you—”
The pistol crashed on his face and he fell to the ground, unconscious.
Three days later, the general’s body was found rotting in a mud hole. He had been beaten, tortured, and shot in the head. His wife was slaughtered, her body parts scattered along the highway. A rolled-up poster was ground into her mouth.
“TRAITORS!” It raged. “THE MONTONERO ARMY HAS EYES EVERYWHERE. WILL FIND YOU AND TORMENT YOU WHEREVER YOU ARE.”
At the SIDE offices, Ward with a young corporal, Camilo Cabral and a large team of investigators followed up on every scrap of intelligence, combed the streets, questioned family and friends but soon the trail went cold.
Until the case of an innocuous theft of duplicating machines from a downtown office, and a chance remark by the lowly corporal sifting through the mountains of paper generated by Ward’s investigators sparked a feeble hunch.
“The terrorists need documentation,” the soft-spoken Cabral announced. He had discovered a pattern. “Shortly after a string of terrorist attacks, there is a corresponding string of photocopier thefts, sir.”
“They are trying the leave the country!” Ward roared.
A week later, while investigators worked feverishly, a young man under torture traded a secret for salvation. He confessed that the leader of the cell suspected of killing the general and his wife was being shipped out of the country. Within days, the cell leader was singing in Ward’s cells and immediately after, the members of the cell were caught and executed.
In a private ceremony attended by the military elite, Colonel Ward was named chief of National Security and given the rank of colonel. But Ward had acquired another, more subtle reward: a young clerk with a nose for patterns.
With that victory, Camilo Cabral the timid trail-blazer from a small village in the pampas, a quiet youth who spent years in barracks polishing the officers’ boots and serving coffee, was promoted to lieutenant and earned Ward’s respect.
“Cacho!” Cabral’s friends had nicknamed him for his ability to catch the king of snakes, the yarará, a lethal viper of vast proportions which could send gauchos and horses bolting across the fields in a panic.
By age fifteen, Cabral knew what he wanted. He hopped on a bus to the city and walked into barracks but was deemed too young to enlist. Instead, he accepted a job as a cleaner. Later, having shown a facility for names and numbers he was transferred into the barracks office where he excelled as a clerk. He returned to the village, but only to see his mother and attend Sunday mass.
“Day dreaming?” Ward would keep his new recruit on his toes, unaware that Cabral was sorting and distilling information gleaned from the paperwork generated by investigators. Patterns flowed through his mind like fresh breezes.
“Sir,” Cabral would whisper and bury his face in the vast mountains of paper.
Petrified by the enormity of Buenos Aires, and fascinated by the great variety of museums and galleries, Cabral spent whatever free time he could muster gazing at works of art. He often walked through the parks and gave thanks to God, and to Pachamama for the gifts he was given. He felt safe among the trees.
Life in the village was not bad—Cabral recalled as he walked to the SIDE office—despite the floods, the snakes and the ravenous mosquitos, it was peaceful. Never deeply religious, the boy Cacho had enjoyed the Sunday church service and spent the day doing odd jobs for the owner of the local bar who rewarded him with a few pesos.
Sundays were nice, Cabral mused as he inhaled the exquisite scent of the flowering trees, but I miss Sunday mass. He pulled a dainty blue flower from a jacarandá and held it to his nose. I had to be there early to open the shutters.
The village parish would often run out of funds. As a result the church did not have windows; it had wooden shutters throughout. With the high humidity typical of the pampas, the shutters remained open during the day to air out the place. The birds twittered inside the cool church dome.
Every Sunday, the birds arrived in great numbers and gathered on the rafters above the space between the altar and the pews, watching the faithful pour into the nave, and waiting for the priest and for the music to begin.
The choir took their place in the assigned pews. The organ, which was older than the church had lost a number of keys and was in dire need of tuning but the choir members, long accustomed to its moods, ignored the squeaks and sighs and sang happily.
The organ kept to its own melody with whatever breath it had. On the rafters above, the birds tilted their tiny heads and took their time deciding whether to follow the organ or the choir.
As the organ faltered, the choir redoubled its efforts and the birds chimed in with renewed enthusiasm. When the organ bellowed and gasped, the choir felt prompted to intensify its devotions. The birds puffed their little chests and harmonized in ecstasy. Sensing competition, the choir raised its collective voice, and so did the birds, while the organ wheezed, choked and expired.
No one won the Sunday duel, but the feathered and the faithful took their leave satisfied that the Lord had indeed heard them.
Cabral chuckled at the memory. Someday I will ask the padre how he was able to remain calm in the wake of such cacophony.
“Cabral!” Ward roared from his office.
Cabral quickly rose from his chair and hurried into the office. Colonel Ward frowned at a stack of documents on his desk.
“Report on the Frías killing.”
“Sir, the young woman pushing the pram has been described as a petite blonde. A neighbor saw her as she passed below her window. Said she looks Irish.”
“Irish! Is that all you got? We have millions of Irish; they practically founded this country!”
“Excuse me, sir?” The phone rang.
Ward launched a tirade at the unlucky caller and slammed the phone down. “Never mind. Continue.”
“It was getting dark, Colonel. Witnesses heard the crash, and some heard the shots, but were too frightened to act. All they saw was a car speeding away.”
“We are looking for a petite blonde.” Ward stood up and paced the office.
“Sir, we know that most militants are university students.”
Ward stopped pacing. “Send our agents out there now. Start with Filosofía y Letras, Law and Architecture.”
“Sir, I will be looking at photos in the meantime. We might get lucky.”
“Luck is not for the brave.”
“Yes, sir.” Cabral inched towards the door.
“What about Mrs. Frías. Is she well enough to talk?”
“Not yet, sir. She couldn’t have seen much—”
“Chief Frías was a colleague and a friend. Understood?”
“Her home is in the back of the building, sir.”
Ward slammed a fist on the desk. “I will not rest until those barbarians are caught!”
“Neither will I, sir.” Cabral took another step towards the door.
“Go find that blonde.”
Almagro’s streets were slick with an early rain; its clubs were closed. In happier times, Carlos Gardel belted out sultry tangos and heavyweight champion Luis Ángel Firpo boxed here. On this night, the curfew kept people at home and only a few taxicabs circulated, their drivers tied to the clock.
Foxtrot left Filosofía y Letras early and sprinted down the street, scanning the road and sidewalks, hyper-aware of everyone around her. She crossed paths with a gaggle of students.
“Ángela!” The students waved and made the universal sign of drinking. In defiance of the curfew imposed by the new junta, the student body in the city often headed for the Café del Estudiante after evening classes.
Foxtrot waved back and wished she were going with them. She turned the corner and froze at the sight of a Ford Falcon parked a few meters away.
Seated in the Falcon, two men gazed at the girl caught in the headlights. The driver, a slender man wearing a leather jacket sat up.
“Do you see a petite blonde?”
His colleague, a large man with a pockmarked face hopped out and stood in the girl’s way.
“In a hurry, are you?”
“Not your business.” Foxtrot sidestepped him.
He blocked her. “There is a curfew, didn’t you know?”
“My mother is sick. But that is still none of your business.”
“Wrong. That is my business.” He grabbed her by the hair and smashed the butt of his weapon on her forehead. Foxtrot went limp.
While he dragged her towards the Falcon, Foxtrot began to recover, and stood up with some difficulty. She placed one arm rigid on the edge of the trunk and swiveled and buried her knee in his groin.
“Hija de puta!” He screamed and doubled over.
Leather Jacket leaped out, grabbed Foxtrot's arm and twisted it behind her back.
Foxtrot took a huge breath and screamed, “MY NAME IS ÁNGELA SUAREZ. I AM BEING KIDNAPPED.”
“Hey!” A man and a woman appeared around the corner.
“What is going on out there?” Someone yelled from a window.
The students who had crossed paths with Foxtrot appeared in front of the Falcon. Within a few minutes, the car was surrounded by an angry, screaming crowd.
Leather Jacket watched the crowd; Foxtrot shook herself free and made a run for it. She slipped on the wet cobblestones and landed on her hip. She struggled to get up, regained her balance and hobbled away.
Leather Jacket dragged his colleague into the car and started the engine. He yelled at the crowd. “Move, disperse!”
The crowd stood firm. The students crossed their arms over their chests and stared at the men in the car.
Leather Jacket seethed. “Call Ward. Let him know we’re following her.”
His colleague grabbed the radio mic. Leather Jacket stuck his head out of the window. “Out of the way. Do you want to die, you idiots?”
The crowd held firm. Leather Jacket shifted into reverse and backed into an alley.
A few blocks away, Foxtrot hopped on one foot, trying to favor a throbbing ankle. Leaning on the wall of the Salesian basilica she caught her breath.
She clawed her way around the corner when a gust of cold air blasted her off the sidewalk and onto the street. A taxicab raced around the corner and missed her by a headlight.
Gasping and cursing, Foxtrot hopped to an apartment building. Exhausted, she reached for the front door. Her keys jingled as she eased it open. She limped through the kitchen, into the living room and groped for the phone.
“Foxtrot,” she whispered, “will call in thirty minutes.” She hung up and moved carefully down the hall.
She locked herself in the bathroom. She began taking her jacket off but her injured arm cramped. She doubled over and smothered a groan. The shock of hot water helped ease the pain.
Carefully stepping out of the shower, she cleared a space in the mirror and checked for broken teeth. She tried to smile but her face twisted into a tragic smirk and she dissolved into tears. Clamping both hands over her mouth, she managed to swallow her grief.
She waved the steam away andpeered at the gash on her forehead. She dabbed some hydrogen peroxide on the wound, sucking teeth as the antiseptic bubbled and burned.
Foxtrot turned the light off and hobbled across the hall, into a tiny bedroom. She rummaged in the closet, looking for something. Finally, she found a pair of jeans and slipped them on. She grappled for a sweater when a knock on the door sent her diving into the closet.
A chubby woman with untidy hair peeked in. “What are you doing in there, Ángela?”
Foxtrot covered her forehead with the sweater. “Oh, nothing Ma, you scared me.”
“Going out again?”
“Please, Ma; we talked about this.”
“I know. I was not really asking. But, it´s cold out there. And there’s a curfew, don’t forget.”
“I’m just going for coffee.”
“Okay, sweetie. Take care of yourself.”
The door closed. Foxtrot found a wool cap and jammed it low on her forehead. Sitting on the bed, she slipped into a pair of sneakers.
“Ay!” Foxtrot limped down the hall.
Her mother´s voice rang from her bedroom. “Are you alright?”
“Sí, todo bien,” she groaned. “See you later, Ma.” She stepped out and locked the door.
Wrapped in an ancient bathrobe, Foxtrot´s mother, Clotilde de Suárez, shuffled into the kitchen. Taking a bottle of whisky from a secret place in the cupboard she poured herself a generous drink. With a long gulp and a smack of the lips she waddled back to her room.
“Coffee, my ass.”
Foxtrot made her way down a dark, filthy alley. She checked the street before hobbling across. With her heart racing, a sheen of sweat on her face, she finally entered the Café del Estudiante.
Behind the counter, Rubén Gonzalez poured coffee into a tiny cup. “Cortadito?”
Foxtrot forced a smile. “No coffee tonight, Rubén. I need a real drink.” She pointed at the phone. “May I?”
Rubén slid the phone over. “Whisky?”
Foxtrot nodded and began to dial, but a tremor rumbled through her, and she gripped the edge of the bar until it passed. She dialed again, waited for a beat then whispered into the mouthpiece.
“I need to see you. They almost put me in the trunk of a—Oscar? I need you!” She lit a cigarette with trembling hands. “The student council meets tonight? I’m in no shape to go. I’ll wait for you.” Foxtrot downed her drink and ordered another.
The hall of Filosofía y Letras wept with dampness; a chilly evening breeze swept through the broken windows. Graffiti screamed from every wall. A lone clock above the staircase pointed at three o’clock. Newspapers and debris covered the floors, unnoticed, like the chill in the air and the passing of time.
Standing by the staircase, Bravo chatted with a group of women. After Operación Traviata, Bravo became Oscar´s lieutenant. At twenty-three, she was the youngest second-in-command in the Montonero organization.
Traviata snipers Sierra and Víctor gathered nearby. Romeo scanned the crowd, hoping for a new crop of candidates.
Near the main doors someone gasped. The crowd shivered and seemed to wake as Oscar sauntered in, his eloquent eyes honoring someone with a wink, rewarding another with a nod. He glided to the table below the timeless clock.
Romeo waded through the crowd and caught up with him. “What’s up?”
Oscar turned his back to the crowd. Frowning, he placed both hands flat on the table.
“Your new recruit called the emergency number.”
“She is a little shaken, but she’s fine.”
“Two men. She fought them and got away.”
“That´s my girl.” Romeo shifted on his feet. “I like her. She´s cool under press—”
“There you go, falling in love again. You should get laid more often.”
“I try, but the girls want you. Were the goons driving a Ford Falcon?”
“Our comrade was ambushed by two men in a Falcon.”
“Colonel Ward´s gorillas. I will find a place for her to lie low.”
“There is no safe house for her.”
Romeo took a step back. “Oscar, that is a death sentence.”
“You trained her to be invisible. Colonel Ward’s men saw her, and you can bet they know where she lives.”
“No, no. You said she got away.”
“You are slipping into denial.”
“I promised I would protect her.” Romeo gave Oscar a pleading look.
“It’s a promise you had no right to make.”
“Our mission is to blitz forward until the fascists are dead.”
“Foxtrot is a loyal operative. We owe her.”
“Think. Why did Ward´s men allow her to get away?
“She’s an excellent fighter. I trained her.”
“Two of Ward’s men could not handle one skinny girl? Come on.”
“I gave her my word.” Romeo broke into a coughing fit.
“They know her name. They know where she lives. They will hound her, and her mother, until they get to us.” Oscar moved away.
Romeo sprang after him. “Where is our loyalty?”
Oscar spun around, poked Romeo in the chest and hissed. “Our loyalty is to the mission. Get me a fresh one. Tonight.”
“I can’t just leave her to the gorillas.”
Oscar growled into Romeo’s ear. “A fallen comrade isn’t mourned, she is replaced.”
The usual chaos in Filosofía y Letras
The air crackled with anticipation. Students jostled for a handshake, an acknowledgement from the man who represented them. “Welcome to the student council meeting, comrades.” Oscar relished the warmth of the crowd. He saw himself reflected in the bright young faces. “The actions of the new fascist regime merit a serious look at the state of our rights and freedoms. Tonight, we tell the generals to keep their noses out of our lives.”
The crowd applauded.
Oscar’s stomach churned as he spoke. I should have warned him about Colonel Ward’s gorillas. He smiled at the crowd while his mind repelled jagged images, sad memories, his father´s ghost. I should have seen him safely home. My mother forgave me while she cleaned my father´s wounds.
“We have the right to choose our faculty, and our curriculum. We shall hold the generals to the long-standing agreement that the student council takes an active in the governance of this university.” Oscar raised his voice. “Are you with me?”
The crowd roared back. “Damn right, we are!”
Romeo watched him intently. He had seen the Oscar effect often: the emerald eyes holding the crowd spellbound, as though he’d known them all his life.
A cluster of first-year students meandered into the hall, vacillating, looking in all directions.
They are so green, Romeo mused as he watched them. Who was I? When did I grow up?
Flames danced in his mind, and an image of his former self, Héctor Ragazzi, at age eleven masturbating in his room while in the kitchen, the oil in the frying pan overheated and popped into flames and his father tore the door down and found him, and dragged him by the hair into the smoke-filled kitchen, and hit him, breaking his nose then kicked him till the ribs cracked and the jaw hung loose. It was a miracle Héctor made it to the hospital.
Flash forward to age twelve hurling buns at his younger brothers, Nicky and Micky, while their mother cooked breakfast.
Hearing the children squeak and giggle, Mr. Ragazzi, long unemployed and into the drink, burst into the kitchen screaming, “Puta madre! Can’t you educate them?” and twisted his wife’s arm until it snapped like a twig.
Héctor leapt from his chair. “Don’t touch her!”
Holding Héctor by the neck, Mr. Ragazzi lifted him as though he were a leaf, and screamed into the boy’s face: “First you get big like me, then you play hero!” and slapped him until he lost consciousness.
Héctor snuck out one night, into the streets, staking his own turf, living in cardboard boxes. Stealing. Héctor did not go home.
One night, while sleeping in an alley, he heard scuffling, shouts. From his makeshift home, he saw two police officers beating a man. He watched the man defend his life with every ounce of strength. Within minutes they beat him to death.
Once the policemen walked away, Héctor snuck up to the body. He´s dead anyway, he reasoned while he rummaged through the victim’s pockets. Hmm, no wallet? The bastards! But the dead man’s shoe had come off and the liner had come loose. Héctor found a wad of bills, an identification card, and a picture of the man’s family. Someday I’ll be big and brave like you, he promised. The victim’s name was Romeo.
With dead Romeo’s money, Héctor bought himself a hot breakfast. Thanks, Romeo, today I will enjoy myself in your honor. Héctor browsed for a while in the public library. Picking up a couple of books, he sat down to read and fell asleep.
Someone is close. Someone is watching, his street instincts told him. With a gasp, Héctor sat up and looked around. Seated across the table, a muscular man eyed him intently. Trapped in the man’s hypnotic look, Héctor mumbled, “Are you going to kick me out?”
“Depends on what you’re reading.” The man leafed through Hector’s book with a raised eyebrow. Letter to My Father. Kafka?”
“He’s my idol.”
“Kafka or your father?”
At the thought of his father, Héctor´s throat slammed shut. He blushed, cringed, let out a cough. Finally, he stammered. “H-How many people do you know whose father is their idol?”
“Tell me what you like about him.” The library bell rang, and the security guard ushered them out.
Héctor and the man left the library together. “We’ll have coffee,” the man said.
Héctor eyed him carefully. “I don’t have any money. Are you paying?”
“Are you hungry?”
“Haven’t eaten in a week.”
When the man ordered sandwiches, Héctor took a risk. “Hey, can’t you come up with something nutritious?”
The man smiled, as though he’d known Héctor all his life.
Héctor became cautious. “You’re not a pervert, are you?”
“I am not a pervert.”
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I want to know why a street kid reads Kafka and says nutritious.”
“I can’t talk on an empty stomach.”
When the steaks arrived, Héctor talked about his life in the streets.
“I think I have become invisible. People don’t notice me. Last night the police beat a guy right next to me, and they never knew I was there.”
Héctor relished the juicy steak. “At first it was hard—begging, you know, and stealing a bit—but now I can do whatever I want, and nobody bothers me. Nobody knows I’m there.”
“It’s not a bad thing to be invisible,” the man said.
When the man asked about his family, Héctor sputtered whatever came to mind, desperate to create an instant past for himself. But the man was good: his tone was silky, persuasive; and those eyes always held him, never letting go.
The more Héctor squirmed, the more impersonal the man became, peeling the layers off, as though he were an onion. By midnight, Héctor had told him everything.
Finally, the man said, “My name is Oscar. What’s yours?”
“It feels like another attack could come at any time,” Louise Taylor’s melodious voice chimed from the dining room.
“I feel as though I am walking on ice without my curling shoes.” George Taylor joined her at the breakfast table.
George and Louise Taylor never argued. Since the oil company relocated them to Argentina they led a quiet life in Palermo but, when the wave of terrorism rolled over the city, drowning its population in fear, the arguments began.
“Another attack? What are you going on about?” Eugenia walked into the dining room, dropped her satchel and sat down.
George gave his wife a sideways glance. “Two years ago, our neighbor was kidnapped. You were away, visiting your aunt in Montana. We kept it from you.”
“I got a gun that day. We practiced target shooting.” Louise poured tea.
“The wall around the house, darling.” George poured tea for Eugenia. “We had it built then.”
“I remember asking about it, and you said it was for privacy.” Eugenia took a sip and recalled the long vacation she had in Montana. It was peaceful there, and the cousins were thrilled to see her.
George picked up a slice of toast. “He was held for ransom, and his company twelve million.”
Louise piped up. “It cost him his youth and his health.”
“The terrorists kidnapped a healthy, middle-aged company executive, and returned a dying old man.” George shook his head.
Louise shivered. “Over time, stories came out about him buried in a hole, a gun at his temple; voices screaming, “Kill the bastard! The yanquis will not pay.”
During the years of lead, Chrysler, Fiat and Peugeot dealerships were bombed, and Montonero war manifestos screamed: “DEATH TO THE OLIGARCHS AND THEIR IMPERIALIST FRIENDS.”
It was then that Louise Taylor, frantic with fear made her point. “The terrorists are financing their attacks with ransom money. Things can only get worse.” George relented, and the Taylors argued about relocating to cooler climes. Months later, Eugenia became engaged to the son of a prominent businessman, and her resigned parents hired a bodyguard.
“Ready, Mom?” Eugenia stood up, slung a satchel over her shoulder and kissed her father.
“Can’t miss my train.” She hurried through the kitchen door, into the garage. “Buenos días, Anita.”
The former wrestler, Anita Stronjön, lived in the family home, and shadowed the Taylor women wherever they went. Anita trained Eugenia and her mother in mano-a-mano combat, taught them marksmanship, and worked with them on key Swedish words they might use as code in an emergency.
Driving to the train station, Louise Taylor switched the radio on. Radio Nacional, with its sophisticated classical programming was balsam for her raw nerves.
“I would feel so much better if I could drive you to school, darling.”
Eugenia peered at her mother, then eyed Anita sitting in the back.
“Look, at it this way, Mom, for what it´s worth: Montoneros target the bloodsucking imperialists and oligarchs, the sort of people you never see on the train. I wear jeans and sneakers; I rub shoulders with workers and students every day. Don’t worry about me, Montoneros do not attack the working classes.”
Louise nodded and endured, but she was well aware that things could turn bloody at any time. Her constant fear was that her daughter, with her flaming red hair might become a target. Louise had suggested she color it, but Eugenia stated unequivocally that it was not an option.
“Mom, we need to discuss seating arrangements when I get back tonight.”
“Let’s do that. What does Alvaro think of all this?”
“Wedding or politics?” Eugenia smiled.
“Oh, he’s used to big events. His sister got married last year to a polo heir and it was a big deal—four hundred guests.” She thought for a moment. “Alvaro is focused on exams. Most of the time he’s bleary-eyed and yawning.”
Louise chuckled. “Have you finalized the guest list?”
“Almost. It’ll be ready tonight.”
Louise stopped near Retiro, the gargantuan downtown commuter station. While the vigilant Anita stood by, Louise kissed her daughter. “Be safe, darling.”
Eugenia leaped out of the car. “I’m very alert. Adjö, Anita. See you later.”
Later that day, Tati slipped into a parka and tiptoed down the hall. In the foyer, she heard the dreaded voice.
“Tatiana. Where are you going?”
She dragged her herself into the living room. “Student council meets tonight. Remember?”
Cristina flicked the newspaper. “At night?”
“That’s when the students gather. In the evening.”
“That’s crazy. Why?”
“Because most people work during the day.”
Cristina remained silent.
Tati heard herself whining.“I have to be there, okay?”
“Nothing can be that important.” Cristina glared at her daughter.
“It is to me.” Tati moved towards the door.
“That school is wrong for you.”
Tati raised her voice. “That is no longer under discussion.”
“Your father should never have let you—”
“Do not bring my father into this!” Tati screamed.
“No staying out late, you hear?”
“Loud and clear.” Tati ran out and slammed the door.
Back in Filosofía y Letras, Romeo’s inner radar buzzed, and woke him from his reverie. He focused on a sultry girl in a white parka, moving lithely through the crowd.