The S.S. Monterey steamed into Buenos Aires on a fine, windless day, a trail of black smoke stretched from its funnel across the Atlantic to the horizon.
“You steppin’ ashore, Mr. Culver?” asked Willis in his usual tremulous voice.
“I’ve got to see some people about a debt,” said Jim, and added reassuringly, “but I shan’t be too long.” He could tell that the cabin boy was in a nervous state. “Look, Willis, I’ve gotta go, it’s important. I’ve spoken with Ho Shien, and you can stay with him in the galley while I’m gone. He understands …and has a cleaver–just the thing to remove Harper’s guts with!” he grinned, and eventually Willis did too.
On his return route to the docks and his ship Jim strolled along Barrio Norte avenue, admiring its palatial buildings. An old woman tugged at his jacket’s sleeve.
“El músico negro. Vamos, vamos!” her eyes implored Jim to do as he was bid. Chance encounters often have a significance he thought, so he humoured her, ducking out of sight.
In the cellar a party was in full swing. The rhythm of the music, the crowd of dancers, and the Fernet beer—Jim disliked its distinct licorice taste—combined, creating a hypnotic atmosphere. The old woman from the street scribbled upon a newspaper, handing it to a flapper, she sported a fashionable bobbed haircut and she wore a slinky satin dress, the flapper read the scribbles. Enthused, she whirled round and round like a dervish, her eyes sparkled and flamed, exulting as she went faster and faster.
Jim picked up the newspaper from where the flapper had let it fall, beneath the scribbles he saw a disturbing photograph of a snake-like reptile. He puzzled over its significance.