The rain fell in torrents as Jorge Vasquez ascended from the Bolívar subway station to the street above. He made his way through the Plaza de Mayo, holding his umbrella in his left hand, all the while thinking that the weather was parallel with his mood. It had been a week since Jorge’s father, Almirante (Admiral) Carlos Vasquez, had passed away. In the past few years, neither of them had spoken much to the other, but Jorge was deeply sadden by the loss. Maybe even more so because of the silence.
What puzzled Jorge was that the evening preceding his father’s death, he had been woken up by the Admiral who had shown up at his front door holding a manila envelope. The old man looked pale; the skin on his face seemed to hang limp from his skull. His eyes laid deep in their sockets. Before Jorge could invite his dad inside, the old man had thrust the envelope into his hands and walked away.
The next morning the envelope was completely forgotten because as he was preparing to go to work, the phone rang and he was informed that his father had died in his sleep. He would not remember the large envelope again until this morning when he finally got the energy to look through the stack of mail on the table in his entryway.
Jorge shook as he opened the envelope and removed its contents. A single tear fell onto the paper as he read:
I am sorry for staying away for so long. The enclosed key is to my private office in Buenos Aires. As a young boy you enjoyed accompanying me there. However, this is not a gift for the sake of nostalgia but for your education. Open the third file cabinet from the right as you enter and read the Olivos case file.
Now dripping in the lobby, Jorge waited for the iron cage elevator. It must have been twenty years since he had last been here, but as he looked from the marble floor up to the spiral staircase that wrapped around the elevator, it seemed to him that time had stood still. It was the clang of the metal elevator stopping in front of him that pulled him from his observation.
The office smelled like dust and paper. Jorge sneezed as he closed the door, complete with frosted glass, behind him. He walked to the windows. From the fourth floor he could see the mix of protestors and tourists that, even in these inclement conditions, stood behind the security fence in front of the Casa Rosada. He sighed and shook his head as he turned away from the window. Jorge walked to the large antique desk and sat down.
Jorge became overwhelmed by a flood of memories as he sat there. There, on the Persian rug in front of the desk, he would draw for hours as his father worked. Sometimes he’d push his Matchbox cars along the windowsills. And on the desk was a picture of his mother. The tears now raced down his face with each following recollection. He didn’t stop crying until the wall clock chimed three.
Jorge pulled his handkerchief from the pocket of his tweed jacket and blew his nose. He stood up and moved towards the dark wooden file cabinet that was described in his father’s letter. He decided to open the top most drawer first. Inside were files bound in ribbon and sealed with wax. His fingers moved along the papers until he came to a thick sealed folio with the word “Olivos” written on it.
The young man return to the desk and removed a small pocket knife from his front trouser pocket. Jorge cut the ribbon that bound the folio close. Inside was a large bound report, two envelopes which were sealed in wax and an ancient-looking leather book. Despite the large window, the room seemed darker than it had been just a moment before. He turned on the brass desk lamp and opened the bound report.
On the first page was another short, handwritten note from his father:
I, Capitán de Corbeta (Corvette Captain) Carlos Vasquez division of Naval Intelligence, bequeath to you, my son, on this day, Tuesday, 13th of February, 1979, this office and its contents. I have kept detailed notes and journals thus far in my service of the Republic and I intend to keep doing so throughout the remainder of my career. For the preservation of the nation, I have had to omit, as well as rearrange, the facts in many of my missions. Only here will you find the truth, my son. Though I have been an operative in Naval Intelligence (N.I.) since 1968, I feel you must begin with the Olivos case that I have just completed.
As he wiped a tear from his eye and turned to the next page, he realized this was around the time he had taken his first steps, and with a deep sigh he continued reading:
On the evening, Wednesday, the 25th of October, 1978, I reported to my superior, Contraalmirante (Rear Admiral) Esteban Fortuna, Chief of N.I. at his home. His hair was an unnatural shade of black and was always combed in a manner so as to cover a bald spot. Evidence of a vain man gone to seed. In all the years I have served under his command, he never showed any emotion. Seeing him look so strained (and his hair disheveled) was very much out of character for him.
He invited me into his lounge and asked me to be seated. On the spindle-leg end table nearest to the chief, I noticed a rather thick file with “TOP SECRET” stamped in red. The admiral noticed my stare and chuckled before saying, “My young Carlos, your powers of observation are amazing.” He reached over and gently patted the secret file before handing it to me. The aged officer then explained my mission, “Capitán Vasquez, there have been several high profile disappearances in the barrio of Olivos very near the presidential residence. President General Jorge Rafael Videla and the rest of the junta are of the opinion that a cell of communist terrorists are responsible. Because of your successful counter operations in Tucumán and Rosario, I am ordering you to take whatever means necessary to neutralize the threat, and if possible, recover the high-ranking civilian kidnapees.”
I rose, saluted Contraalmirante Fortuna and left without any further fanfare. The file he gave me contained the dossiers of the missing residents of Olivos and those of several suspects, all of them known communists who were also already in custody. I was frustrated by the ineptitude of the agents who had prepared this intelligence. It was symptom of the ultranationalist military government and its reign of terror that works to control the populace with fear.
I was still a junior officer and newly married in 1976, when the junta had overthrown the Democratic Republic. I have been a suspect since, due to my family’s loyalty to the old regime. It was only my effectiveness in counterterrorism and infiltrating subversive groups that kept me thus far in my post and out of a prison cell.
The following morning, the sky was overcast. Three doors down and across the alley, the neighbor was burning their garbage. The black plume of smoke lazily rose toward the heavens and, as the acrid effluvia struck my nose, I closed the door on my dark blue Peugeot 504. I drove north towards Olivos. The radio reported that several protests were blocking all major thoroughfares in and out of the capital.
As I took the exit from the elevated highway to the surface streets below, I instinctually reached into my coat pocket and made sure that the safety was off and the hammer pulled back on my service pistol. Even though I was not in uniform, it was never wise to be in the general vicinity of an anti-government manifest unarmed. It was closer to midday before I arrived at my destination.
I spent the next few hours inspecting each crime scene and interviewing the families of the missing. Nothing pointed to a communist plot. As a matter of fact, there was no evidence of foul play at any of the residences. But what I did notice was the same silver Ford Coupe parked down the street at each of my stops.
By the final crime scene, there was no doubt that I had someone tailing me. The victim’s home afforded me cover so I was able to escape by hopping the brick wall in the backyard. I worked my way back to the street and moved in just behind the Ford. The passenger side door was unlocked and as my left hand went for the handle, my right was removing the pistol from my coat pocket. Before he knew it, I was sitting next to the man who had been following me. I pressed my pistol into his side and said, “Who the fuck are you?!”
To be continued.