No Way to Peace
A novel about the courage of five women in Argentina’s war of terror during the 1970s. Their lives are observed by an American banker who has stayed in Buenos Aires after most foreigners have been evacuated. He meets a young woman, a refugee from another country who is living in Argentina under a false identity, and they fall in love. They try to build a life together but are drawn into the war between the guerrillas and the military.
On Wednesday he was awakened in the early morning by the sound of the telephone ringing. As he dragged himself out of bed he checked his watch and saw that it was a little after three. He headed for the family room, where the phone was located, assuming it was a wrong number. His phone was listed in the name of the man who had sold the apartment to the man from whom he was renting. When apartments changed hands the phone would either leave or stay, depending on the deal. If the phone stayed, you never went to the phone company to change the listing. If you did, they would take away the phone, and you might have to wait twenty years to get another.
“Hola?” he mumbled.
“Stephen?” said a terrified voice.
“Yes. Teresa? What’s wrong?”
“They’ve arrested Mario.”
“They took him away.”
“Where are you?”
“I’ll come right over. Don’t go out, and don’t let anyone in. Okay?”
“Okay,” she replied, sounding utterly subdued.
As he headed back into the bedroom he almost ran into Cathy, who was standing in the doorway. He told her what had happened.
“Should I go with you?”
“No. Stay here. I’m going to bring her home with me.”
“You don’t want her to stay in their apartment?”
“They might come back for her.”
“Okay. I’ll make up a bed.”
He had to walk over to Santa Fe to get a taxi. He gave the driver the address in Almagro where Mario and Teresa lived. On the way he thought about how to get Mario released, and by the time he arrived he had a rough plan.
He asked the taxi driver to wait, and then he went into the apartment building. It had no security and no portero, so you could walk right in. He took the elevator to the fourth floor, and then went down the hall looking for the number that Teresa had given him. Though he had known Mario and Teresa for almost five years, he had never been to their apartment before. It was usual for people who lived in the city not to invite friends to their homes. It was as if friends were outside the bounds of privacy that reserved the home for family.
“Who is it?” Teresa asked after he had rung the bell.
“It’s me. Stephen.”
As he entered the apartment she flung herself against him and sobbed: “I’m so afraid they’re going to hurt him.”
“They won’t,” he said more confidently than he felt. For a long time he held her in silence, trying to comfort her simply by being there. Then he told her: “Pack some things. I’m going to take you home with me.”
“Shouldn’t I stay here?” she asked.
“No. They might come back.”
“But what if they let him go? What if he comes home and doesn’t find me here?”
“Leave him a note. But don’t tell him where you are,” he added, thinking that the police might find the note and learn where she was hiding from them. “Just tell him you’re safe.”
“Okay.” She packed a small suitcase and then, with a trembling hand, wrote a note for Mario.
Carrying the suitcase, he led her out and down to the taxi. Before they got in he warned her: “Don’t tell me anything until we get to my apartment. I don’t want the driver to hear what happened.”
As they rode in silence he wondered what the driver was thinking. That Teresa had left her husband in the middle of the night and was moving in with her lover? It was a plausible explanation, and it was what a New York taxi driver might have assumed since there wasn’t a war going on there.
Cathy was waiting for them, and she hugged Teresa consolingly.
He carried her suitcase into the guestroom, where Cathy had already made up the bed, and then he went to the dining room, where he kept his liquor. He poured a small glass of anisette and brought it to Teresa.
“Here,” he said, offering it to her.
She took it. “Thanks.”
They sat down in the living room, with Cathy on the sofa next to Teresa, who started telling them what had happened.
“We were both asleep when I heard them knocking on the door. I woke Mario, and he got up and went to the door. I knew who it was. And they came barging into our apartment.”
“How many were there?”
“Three,” she said.
“Were they in uniforms?”
“No. They were in plain clothes.”
“Did they show you any identification?”
“One of them did. It looked like a police badge. But I don’t know. I never saw a police badge before.”
“What did they say?”
“They said—” Her voice cracked. “They said they were arresting Mario because he was involved in subversive activities.”
“Did they say anything specific about these activities?”
“No. They didn’t. That’s all they said, and they took him away.”
“Did they tell you where they were taking him?”
“No.” She started sobbing as if she could imagine what they were doing to him.
“Well, I’ll find out where they took him,” he said, again more confidently than he felt. “But there’s nothing we can do tonight. We have to wait until morning.”
“So why don’t you lie down and rest for a while,” Cathy suggested.
“Okay,” Teresa sighed.
Cathy helped her up from the sofa and gently led her into the guestroom and stayed with her for a long time.
Returning, she said: “She’s resting now.”
“I’m sure she won’t sleep.”
“I won’t either. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to talk with everyone who might be able to help us. Elena, Carlos, the embassy guys—”
“I’m going to pray.”