It is the most dramatic and tumultuous period in Argentina's history. Colonel Juan Perón, who had been the most powerful and the most hated man in the country, has been forced out of power. Many people fear that his mistress, radio actress Evita Duarte, will use her skill at swaying the masses to restore him to office. When an obscure young woman is brutally murdered, police detective Roberto Leary concludes that the murderer mistook the girl for Evita, the intended target of someone out to eliminate the popular star from the political scene.
The search for the killer soon involves the murdered girl's employer, who is Evita's dressmaker; her journalist lover; and Pilar, a seamstress in the dress shop and a tango dancer. The suspects include a leftist union leader who considers Juan Perón a fascist and a young lieutenant who feels Perón has dishonored the army. Their stories collide in this thrilling and sensuous historical mystery.
Annamaria Alfieri's historical mysteries set in South America paint a vivid portrait of life at the time, in which the characters' motivationslove, fear, and ambitionall compete to create an evocative tale. Blood Tango is her finest achievement yet.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Annamaria Alfieri is president of the Mystery Writers of America–New York chapter. She lives in New York City. Blood Tango is her third novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Annamaria Alfieri
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Annamaria Alfieri
All rights reserved.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10
Trouble was closing in on Buenos Aires — like a huge jaguar charging toward the coast from the vast interior plain of the Pampas, with blood in its eyes and mayhem in its heart.
On that day of the 10th, thousands of people made their way to the center of the most elegant capital in all of South America. Their goal: a rally at the intersection of Alsina and Perú, where nineteenth-century buildings of scale and grace had earned the city its sobriquet — Paris of the South.
Among the throngs were six — three women and three men — whose futures hung in the balance. Two were obscure girls, oblivious to the scent of the approaching beast. Two young men, with axes to grind, felt the giant cat coming and feared it. Evita Duarte prayed it would be an angel bearing gifts; she opened her heart as it neared. Juan Perón imagined he himself might embody its power and decide the fate of the nation.
On that cloudy afternoon in spring, Argentina's destiny was ripe for the picking. No one was happy with the government, not even the men who were running it. The country's divided citizenry had never chosen sides in the worldwide conflict just ended in Europe and Japan. The upper classes, who spoke Spanish but otherwise comported themselves like British aristocracy, had favored the Allies. The Axis-leaning generals of the military regime had no idea how to maintain their power after having backed the wrong horse in World War II. Every move made by either side — the army or the clamoring populace — merely increased the level of national dissatisfaction and confusion.
Turmoil had stalked the nation for over two years. Now chaos prowled ever nearer and threatened to grab Buenos Aires by the throat. It would take a week before the crisis played out and Argentina's destiny was sealed.
The event, which drew fifteen thousand, began as a seemingly innocuous occasion: a farewell rally to see off Juan Domingo Perón. Until the day before, Perón had been the most powerful, and therefore the most hated, man in Argentina: its vice president, minister of war, and secretary of labor. The populace massing in the plazas and storming along the avenidas had demanded his fall from grace. Finally, a reluctant President-General Edelmiro Fárrell deposed Perón. Many in the army hierarchy imagined that this sop to the protestors would actually save the day.
Colonel Perón, less put out than one would have imagined, approached the rally in the backseat of a chauffeur-driven, gleaming black Packard touring car; the speech he was about to give lay in his lap. He gazed out at the blooming jacarandas along the streets, the Beaux Arts apartment buildings, the leafy parks as they passed. He felt the jaguar nearing. Soon he would either become one with it, or it would bloody his dreams and devour his future.
The tiny, pensive woman next to him on the plush leather seat, his mistress, the radio soap opera actress Evita Duarte, held his hand and stared out the opposite window but took no notice of the elegant architecture and fancy restaurants. She clenched her teeth on her bottom lip.
Perón was angry with her. At home that morning, she had stamped and stormed over her colonel's loss of might. She wanted to keep quiet now, but her outrage threatened to boil over, again.
When General Avalos had come to their apartment, as President Fárrell's emissary, to demand Perón's resignation, she had tongue-lashed the miserable bastard. Insulting words had flown out of her mouth. Avalos had stared, stupefied, as if he had been scolded by a lapdog. Perón had not berated her for that outburst, merely raised his eyebrows. But she was sure he had been extremely displeased. She had gone too far.
She let go of Perón's hand and tugged the hem of her tweed skirt toward her knees. "Avalos calls himself the commander of a garrison? He's a stuffed cuckoo. He looked like a gnome standing next to you. If that parley in our living room had been a scene in a movie, everyone watching would have seen you as the tall, handsome hero and him as a squat dope, without brains or cojones. I don't know how you keep your temper with them, Juan. Why are you so calm?" She bit her lip again.
Perón took her little hand back into his and squeezed it hard. It did not seem to either of them purely an act of affection. He considered her. With her enormous power to sway ordinary people, she might help him regain his position, but her passion would be useful only if she contained and he directed it. Otherwise, her impulsiveness would destroy his balance as he walked a tightrope back to the seat of government. Everything depended on the purity of her belief in him. He had to be careful which of her strings he pulled. Best to keep her off balance for now: insecure enough to remain on the sidelines but sure enough of him to stay close and be ready to help when he wanted her. What a dance he had to perform to keep her within bounds. But if it worked, she would be worth it.
He reached into the left breast pocket of his suit jacket and took out a package of Gauloises and the gold cigarette holder his men at the War Ministry had given him for his fiftieth birthday. That was only two days ago — when he had still controlled the most important parts of the regime, including the president himself. Not anymore. Perhaps never again. He held the trinket out in the palm of his hand. "This may be the last such gift I receive," he said.
"You are tired," she said.
"I am discouraged." He gave her a regretful smile. "You are young. When you are young and tired, you feel tired. When you are old and tired, you feel old."
"You are not old," she said, though his age was just under double hers. "Perhaps you should take some time to rest."
"I think I need a permanent rest." The words were out of his mouth before he considered whether they would move her toward being more useful or less.
She took in her breath in alarm and looked at him in shock. Her heart skipped a beat.
"No, no." He waved his hand as if to erase what he had spoken. "I don't mean giving up on life. But we could go away, live quietly together, and not have to contend with all this turmoil. To Uruguay. To Paris, even, now that the war is over. We could have a nice time, just the two of us." He knew the image was a fantasy, a pretty picture he would never truly inhabit. It could, however, be a prize he dangled, a carrot to get her to control her temper. He watched her eyes in the rearview mirror in the center of the windshield. He could not tell if she was taking the bait. He put the cigarettes and holder back in his pocket without lighting up.
Evita heard longing in his voice. He spoke of a life for them together. She wanted that. She needed him. More than he needed her. Where would she go if she lost him? And where would her future go if he lost out? She wanted the safety a man of power could give. She deserved it after all she had suffered. "Will you abandon the poor workers?"
He patted the yellow foolscap pages of the speech on his lap. "I have one more gift to give them today. After this, I may be beyond helping them."
She almost called him a coward. She wanted to see him fight like a tiger. For his position. For what he could do for the poor. "What will those boys down in the slaughterhouses do without you to be their champion?"
He smiled. Her power would come from this anger at injustice. For now, he must kindle the flame without letting loose its fury — keep her off balance and tip her in the right direction when the time came. Like firing an artillery shot when the enemy was close enough to die. "If I have the poor workers' complete support, perhaps I will have the future we all want. Sometimes I think no one can destroy me if they are on my side."
She searched his eyes in the reflection for a clue to what he wanted her to say. She felt danger in the touch of their hands. If she pushed him too far, he would throw her over. She was not his wife. One word from him and she would be gone.
They never talked of marriage; they both knew why: as long as he needed the support of his so-called superiors, he could never marry such a wife: a common actress, especially an illegitimate child like herself. But she spoke about her origins to no one — especially not to him. For over a year now, he had defied the army's stuck-up morality and lived openly with her. She knew his fellow officers despised him for it. "Those army snobs have forced you out because of me. It's true, isn't it?" She bit her lip, as usual after she had said entirely the wrong thing.
He patted her knee. It was like her to think she was the reason for everything that happened, but in this case she was more than half right. True, everyone in the country seemed to have one reason or another to get rid of him. The upper classes because he pushed through laws forcing them to pay their workers more. The crowds in the streets blamed the army for imposing the state of siege and suspending the constitution. They singled him out as the most visible symbol of military rule. The worst fools insisted he was a Nazi. How could he be a Nazi? He did not have a single drop of German blood in his body. Those who called him one were a bunch of communists. He sighed. All that was true, but his enemies focused more on her than on anything else about him. Which could be good as well as bad.
She shifted in her seat as the car turned south toward the center. His silence made her nervous. "Those disgusting vultures who oppose you," she said. "They deserve to be horsewhipped. Even a horse deserves better treatment than they do." She fingered the oversize ring on her right hand. She wanted the chance to seduce crowds for him, make them gather in the plazas and chant his name. She had talked on the radio about his greatness, but no woman could take a platform in public, especially a woman who was his mistress, not his wife.
He kissed the back of her hand. She was puzzled, off balance. Which was where he wanted her. For now.
* * *
While Perón's Packard left the sycamore-lined streets of the Barrio Norte and entered the commercial district, Lieutenant Ramón Ybarra, handsome and elegant in civilian clothes, carried his hatred to the rally by underground train. As he exited the Subte's A Line at the Perú Street stop, he looked up approvingly at the gray skies, so fitting for the mood of the nation. He wished he could draw a downpour from those clouds to wash out Perón's speech or, better yet, a lightning bolt to strike down both him and his actress mistress.
Ybarra had come to watch, firsthand, the next act in the drama that threatened to plunge the country into chaos. Earlier he had left the Palacio Paz, the army's headquarters in Buenos Aires and supposedly the center of its power, but these days the mahogany-paneled rooms seemed to Ybarra more like a dovecote for an emasculated flock of cowering pigeons. Over the past two years, his army superiors had allowed Colonel Juan Perón to dilute the army's power and to aggrandize his own. Whoever heard of a military government that supported Bolshevik labor unions? What the fuck had happened to the army's campaign for public morality? Could the military demand that ordinary people stop acting like animals if the most powerful man in the service lived openly with a common actress?
The downward spiral of the nation had been troubling Ybarra for months. But while the country tottered on the edge of an abyss, the senior officers had stroked their mustaches, talked about trouble brewing but had done nothing to quell it. Now they had forced out Perón, but was he gone forever? On would he return with more might than before?
The scene around Ybarra increased his fears. The streets were packed. There were thousands here. Perón, the clever bastard, had put his farewell gathering at a spot easily reached by many. If the rabble decided to bring their outrage to the seat of government, they would have only a few blocks to march to the Casa Rosada: a pink palace. Not a proper color for a national headquarters, but it seemed to suit the current resident. President Edelmiro Fárrell was more interested in women and song than showing force and ruling Argentina.
Ybarra pulled down the brim of his hat to hide his identity. Making sure he would not be recognized was one of his main objectives this afternoon. The other was to get the goods on Eva Duarte, evidence that she would fight to restore Perón to power. After those shameless paeans to her lover that she broadcast over the radio, Ybarra was sure the puta would stop at nothing to make sure her sugar daddy had the connections to keep her in the sweet life.
The tall lieutenant in the civilian suit moved with the throng down Perú to where a platform had been erected, complete with microphones and decorated with blue and white bunting and Argentine flags. As if Perón were a patriot. It made Ybarra want to vomit.
Suddenly, he could have sworn he saw Perón's mistress ahead of him in the crowd. Just there, a little blond in a straw hat. He was amazed. He had expected Evita to come, but he had imagined the little slut would arrive in Perón's fancy car. What could she be doing out here with the mob, wearing a green dress, and chatting with another girl, acting like the common woman she was? He tried to get a closer look but failed to make any headway in the press of people jamming the intersection.
Keeping his eye on the spot where he had seen her, Ybarra settled for a place on the fringe of the crowd, among a bunch of unionists carrying signs that said WORKERS' RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.
Why the bastard was being allowed to stage this farce was beyond understanding. The generals should have muzzled him, not given him a platform at government expense. And from the looks of the big square microphones and the heavy wires coming from them, Perón and his minions were going to broadcast whatever he said, so there would be no censoring him. This was a huge mistake.
Perón's Packard pulled up across the intersection, and the colonel got out. He was tall enough to be seen over the heads of his cheering supporters. When an old man in an ill-fitting suit appeared on the platform and started to fiddle with the sound equipment, the mob began to chant, "Sindicato. Sindicato." Others, not satisfied with praising their Trotskyite unions, took up the eminently chantable name of the son of a bitch who had raised their wages and used the business owners' money to buy their love. "Perón. Perón."
Ybarra craned his neck to see if he could catch sight again of the actress, but the crowd was too thick. As Perón mounted the stage, they surged forward, stamped their feet, and clapped their hands. "Perón, Perón."
The man of the moment approached the microphones to tumultuous applause. The puta was not with him. That must have been her Ybarra had seen in the crowd. Someone had had the good sense to keep her in her place — in a manner of speaking. If she was really kept in her proper place, she would have been cleaning someone's house. Or lying dead in a coffin.
The whole scene boiled Ybarra's blood.
* * *
On the other side of the chanting crowd, an equally angry Tulio Puglisi was one of the unionists in the ranks, shouting, "Sindicato! Sindicato!" only to be drowned out by people he thought misguided at best. They called not for justice for workers but for one man only. "Perón. Perón."
Too short to see over the masses, Tulio stood on the tips of his shoes — the best the leather workers of his union could produce — and fumed in his heart over this outpouring for a man he considered a devil.
At a ten-hour-long meeting of the various unions the day before, he had repeatedly begged the other officials to stand down from this circus, to wait until October 18, when they could organize a demonstration for something other than the power of Perón, Argentina's prime fascist. Puglisi had dragged out every possible argument: reminded them that their Juancito Perón fell in love with Mussolini before the war started; that, like his fellow army officers, he loved the Germans.
Tulio's friends had looked at him in horror. Many of them were cowed by the threat — present though not certain — that a person who spoke such thoughts could disappear and not be seen again. But Tulio's family had resisted intimidation in Italy, and right here in Argentina during the war, they had stood up to the fascists who with their Nazi counterparts had prowled immigrant neighborhoods, trying to force Germans and Italians to support their dictator-heroes. He was his father's son and no coward. What was it to be a leader if you refused to take a risk for what you believed?
The pro-Perón so-called unionists at that meeting had given him smug looks, as if they had his number. They countered his arguments with a laundry list of Perón's "gifts" to the workers: better wages and working conditions, paid vacations, free health insurance. True, the colonel had arranged those benefits, but with only one purpose — to enthrall the most ignorant among the union members.
Excerpted from Blood Tango by Annamaria Alfieri. Copyright © 2013 Annamaria Alfieri. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Buenos Aires 1945,
Wednesday, October 10,
Thursday, October 11,
Friday, October 12,
Saturday, October 13,
Sunday, October 14,
Monday, October 15,
Tuesday, October 16,
Wednesday, October 17,
Monday, October 22,
Also by Annamaria Alfieri,
About the Author,