Lawrence Russell


§ Life is just a series of sensations, and all that's required is to separate the good ones from the bad ones. That's what Lieutenant Malvino says, and what do I know, I'm just a lowly airman, even if I'm entrusted with this special detail. When I go on Friday evenings to the Tango Cafe and dance with Desi or one of the other girls, these are good sensations. Drink a little tinto or cerveza Iguana, these are good sensations. But today, Monday, when I fly with los desaparecidos, these sensations are... well, not good. I try my best, though. I'm a professional. I'd rather be a dancer but this is my job. The military has been good to me, man.

Malvino is standing on the cargo ramp in his usual jump suit and shades, having a quick cigarello.

Here they come, Sergeant, he says. Any you fancy?

Wise guy. Naturally I have to respect his rank. Hard-ass, Triple A all the way.

Here they come, yes. About ten this fine morning, shuffling like zombies over the tarmac, herded by a couple of bad-time grunts. They've been drugged, so they'll be falling down by the time we get them loaded. Doc tells them it's an inoculation after being confined, something they need for the transfer, and most of them believe it. They're hooded for security reasons until they get to the release point, so they have to be guided onto the plane. Some women, I see, maybe four today.

Dogs, says Malvino. All we get are dogs.

Well, the Lieutenant is right or mostly right. He never looks at them that closely. I'm the guy who gets them seated, removes the hoods when we're airborne. We get some beauties. Not many, but some.

We usually fly a pattern over the ocean, then land at the secret naval airstation at Punta Condor, refuel, head back to Aires. Usually. Sometimes there's a detour if a General wants a few crates of Malbec and Cubanos.

Malvino signs the manifest, and we close the door and off we go. Pilot banks near the river, starts climbing to 6,000... low, sure, but that's the height we operate at. Can see many familiar places around the city... there's ESMA, the Navy mechanics training school, where I started my career... and there's the barrios San Telmo where I like to party. There isn't much talking. Malvino sits up front, reads La Prensa, makes jokes with the pilots. I stay aft with our passengers, all conked out now, lying against the bulkhead like dead fish.

I'm feeling down, now. I think I must be in love. Desi, can't stop thinking about her. We dance so well, we're a nice fit. Love it when we assume the position, embrace, my hand on her hips, embrazo, and when she draws her long leg against my thigh, and our lips almost meet before we break with a volcado. Yeah, we've got something going. Nice feel, all animal la la la.

But we haven't met for nearly a month. She said things were getting too hot, too out of control. Nobody at the Cafe knows where she is. I've been checking the clubs, looking around. Damn her -- why'd she do this? I'll find her, go gaucho, show her my love, man. Believe it.

The engines throttle back, and we descend to one thousand meters, the usual routine. The rear cargo door drops, and, without looking at Malvino, I start removing the hoods. These sleeping people, who are they? Commies, journalists, students... fools. I scarcely look at their tired faces as I've seen them all before, once a week, every week, just like the man who delivers the milk. As Lieutenant Malvino says, they are neither dead nor alive, they disappear. Yes, I drag them to the door, push them out, and they disappear. Dirty work, but I'm a professional. Eh, I'd rather be a dancer but this is my job.

I check their pockets, if they have pockets, part of the routine, just in case, you know. We don't want any floaters showing up on a beach with a special message, do we? So as I frisk this guy, one of the last, I'm looking at him and he reminds me of someone. The face is a mess, looks like they cabled him, some bad electrical burns, but yes I think I know him. Munoz, used to hang out at the Cafe. Good dancer, old school, his moves are pure milonga.

What's the problem? says Malvino. Too heavy to lift?

He's right at my shoulder.

I think I know this one, I say.

Is that a problem, Sergeant? says Malvino.

What was his crime? I say.

He's an asshole, says Malvino. I don't know, just get on with it.

I hoist Munoz onto my shoulder as dragging would seem disrespectful. He launches quite beautifully, his arms extending in a cruzado as he glides downwards. Adios compadre. While I didn't know him well, I don't feel good about this. Bad sensation, man. Thank God there's only one left, as all I want to do now is get home, have a drink.

It's a young woman, and when I remove the hood, I really get a shock. It's Desdemona.

There a problem with this one too? says Malvino.

He's smoking a Dorado, despite the flight rules, and I can see myself reflected in his shades.

Respectfully, Lieutenant, I can't, I say.

The executioner fucks the prisoner, says Malvino brutally. There is no other way. Move her, soldier!

But what was her crime? I say.

I've given you an order, says Malvino. Move this puta.

Suddenly I want to kill this bastard Malvino, even though I'm not so stupid as to see this situation is much bigger than I can comprehend in this fatal moment.

I pull Desi to her feet, hold her in my arms in the familiar abrazo. Her eyes roll open briefly and she seems to smile before her face falls forward, presses against my neck. I drag her onto the ramp and by God, it's like we're in the tango. Her foot drags -- barrida. We turn -- giro. I can see the water racing below as the plane holds course.

Malvino has unholstered his pistol, his favorite Glock. He let me fire it once, you know. We were almost friends.

Good dancer, eh, Juan? he says. Makes you see the music.

Are you mad? I say. Is tango now a crime?

Malvino seems to consider this, as he's the philosopher.

Eh, he says. She can be Our Lady of Fair Winds.

For the love of God, I say. Carlos.

As I said, we were almost friends.

He gestures with his pistol, says: giro, keep dancing.

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