It was the summer of 1949. The night was alive with energy. The oppressive heat of the day gave way to a refreshing breeze. The clink of my cooling Maserati A6 as I pulled up. The look on the valet’s face as I threw him the keys. You could tell the kid was gassed. A red carpet ran up the steps to the clubs entrance. There I was confronted by a pretty señorita, shadowed by a man who wore a mustache shaped like the horns of a bull.
I withdrew a card from the inner pocket of my tux, and handed it to the girl with a flick of the wrist.
She looked from the card to me, inquisitively, “Miles, C-op-land?”
“Copeland, Miles Copeland,” I corrected with a smile.
She stepped to the side, nodding at the muscle, “Welcome to the Mama Rumba, Señor Copeland.”
The bouncer lifted the rope, and I made my way inside. As soon as I stepped into the main hall, the rhythm of the music hit me hard. I wanted to flip my wig and give in to the beat of the drums. Instead I made my way to the bar. The barman was busy. He acknowledged me with a nod as he continued to mix drinks for a large group of young women. Their drinks lined the counter in an impressive rainbow.
I surveyed my environment. It was a large space, held up by pillars on either side, leading to the main stage at the far end; an impressive platform, surrounded by palm trees, where a sizeable band – piano, brass, strings, drums – drove the beat through the room. Below the band, people danced the mambo. It was like voodoo. The hypnotic way those guys and gals moved their bodies. People dined either side of the hall. Their eyes glued upon on the dancers.
The song ended. The music paused. A moment of silence. All eyes were drawn to center-stage. Then, emerging from between the palm trees, out stepped a woman. A woman of considerable beauty. She wore a blue dress, sapphire to match the stones in her earrings. Her skin was milky white, and the red hair that framed her face made it obvious that she wasn’t from Mexico City. She took a clear breath, filling her lungs, and began to sing.
Her voice rang out, and her body started to move. She danced with the soul of the song. Each movement a word. It took a few seconds for the band to catch on, as they seemed just as mesmerized as the audience. Then the room was back into the full swing of things. Folk were twirling, whirling and tripping all across the dance floor. I was knocked out of my trance by the not-so-subtle sound of a cough behind me. I turned to face the bartender.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” The barman said, pointing as he cleaned a glass.
“She’s something,” I said, “Do you know her name?”
“Madame Blanche. Charlet Blanche.“ He said, with a knowing smile. “What will it be, Señor?”
“Give me a Southside.”
“And what gin would you like?” The barmen replied.
“Bluebird,” I said, “Make it a cobalt,” I continued giving the man a codeword. The bartender raised his brow ever so slightly. He made a show of mixing the gin with lime juice and syrup, then stepped away into the back. Moments later, he returned with my Southside, adorned with fresh mint.
“Enjoy your drink.” The barmen layed a square napkin down as a coaster, presenting me with my beverage. I took a few sips of my drinks as I enjoyed the ambience of the club. You have to take the time to enjoy the good things in life. As I raised my glass, I slipped the napkin out from under it. Scrawled upon the tissue was the intel I needed. VIP, 2 on door. My target. I had time. Behind me the band continued to play as I savoured the drink. The angelic voice had disappeared, but the beat was good.
The tempo picked up, and I found myself tapping my heel in time. It got me in the mood. I slugged back the rest of the drink, and stood up. You don’t get that burn with gin like you do with whiskey. It’s smooth. Which is how my movements felt as I made my way to the back of the club. Dodging people in conversation, dancing, generally having a good time. My travels led me to a more secluded area. An alcove in the wall where two shadows flickered against the floor. I moved in.
Confirmation. I saw two chuckleheads guarding a door as I turned the corner. “What do y-” One of the goons began as he moved in my direction. I flicked my wrist and pressed into my watch. A stream of liquid flew out from the device into his eyes, blinding him in what I was told would of been excruciatingly painful. To my benefit his screams were covered by the sweet sound of music. The second minion looked at me dumbfounded. “Care to Rumba?” I said to him raising my fists.
Shock only lasting for a second, he sprang at me. I’ll give him this, the man was fast for a boulder. His first punch glanced off my cheek but it was the second I was waiting for. The momentum encouraged a second blow. As it came in my direction I blocked with my forearms. Locking his elbow and lurching him forward. A resounding crack resonated through the anteroom as the hard head of the second man smashed into the, just as hard, head as the first. Strike! Both collapsed on the floor in a loving embrace.
Being the professional, I am, I checked the hallway to see if our commotion had drew any attention. Blessedly the coast was clear. I made my way to the door. Listened for any sound of alarm. Filled my lungs, ready to make my grandstand entrance. I pressed the handle down fast and swung the door open stepping into the room.
Low and behold. My target. The Nazi sympathiser laid sprawled on the floor in front of me. Unconscious. Atop of him. Pinning him down with one slender leg stood the incredible songstress from earlier. In her hand she held what I sought, the microfilm. “Madame Blanche, French intelligence I presume?” I inquired. She looked me straight in the eye as she took the microfilm and, with a wink, placed it between her cleavage.
“SOE, British on my father’s side. I guess we beat the OSS to it this time,” she replied as she threw me an audacious smile.
“It seems so,” I confirmed as I took a step towards her. “I am afraid I can’t pass the buck on this one. I’ll be needing that microfilm,” I said.
“Well let’s not flog a dead horse,” She exclaimed, to my puzzlement. “It’s a shame, you’re not a bad looker for a yank,” she continued as she also took a step forward.
I gave a shrug to indicate there was nothing I could do about what was to happen next. And truly, there was nothing I could do. As I skittered to make a grab at her, she, with a grace I’d never seen, twirled around me. By the time I realised what happened she was already moving towards the door stepping lightly over the goons I’d downed earlier. I made chase.
Madame Blanche quick stepped down the hallway. She didn’t run but neither did she dawdle. The woman moved around people with elegance. I struggled, even with all of my earlier poise, to keep pace with her. Neither of us wanted to give the game away. To my good fortune. As she made for the exit. A large party had arrived and for now had blocked the doorway. Blanche switched direction and that is when I caught up with her.
My hand caught hold of her arm; her skin, soft to my touch. She span and her eyes met mine. They were blue, as deep as any ocean; they matched the sapphire from her dress. I could see a whole world looking into those eyes. My heart stopped for just a moment, unsure what to do next. And then, she pulled me onto the dance floor.
A song had just ended and the party was still. Anticipation in the air. I had expected she would use the crowd to make her escape but she held tight. Then the song of the year came on. I remember it clearly. Dámaso Pérez Prado’s, Mambo No. 5. It’s a strange feeling seeing glee in the face of your prey and returning it twofold. And so, we danced.
I kept my body close to hers as we started to move our feet. Feeling the music. It was high energy and the rhythm infectious. To and fro we moved tapping our heels against the wooden panels. Blanche shook her hips with such distinction, such passion. I could feel the heat rise in me as she swayed. She flew from one long movement to the next. I kept pace with sharp, quick, steps always keeping her within my sights. They say that the Mambo is a conversation with the gods. I sure felt it.
The beat of the drums rose and the tempo reached its peak. I drew Blanche to me. In one fluid flirtatious motion her body was against mine. The temperature of the room soared. I spun her about me, and she kicked her long leg behind up high. Then it was all a flurry of twirls, spins and flicks. As the song came to a finale she jumped into my arms. I took her hand in mine, and dipped her low with her knee rising into the air. With that the song was over. My heart thumped hard against my chests and both our breaths were heavy.
A space on the dance floor had opened up about us. We had gained an audience. They applauded, and we both took our bows with a flourish. As we stepped apart she looked at me and said, “Nice moves there hot-shot. And here I thought you were dead-hoofed,” and gave me a smile.
“Faster than you thought?” I returned the smile.
“You make a good dance partner for a Yank, but I wouldn’t go that far,” She said sharing a ruthful grin.
I stepped back once more ensuring enough distance between us. “Is that so?” I said taking the microfilm out of my pocket and throwing it into the air before snatching it away. She looked down towards her bosom and then back at me.
“Why you devil,” She said as her gaze sharpened on me but she wore a smile.
“And with that Madame Blanche, I bid you adieu, it’s been a pleasure” I said taking a bow.
Just like that I was gone with the wind. I retreated into the crowd and made my way out of the club. The valet retrieved my Pininfarina, the Maserati, and complimented me on my choice of cars. I already knew the milage would be a deal higher than when I’d arrived. I got into the car and took one last look at the Mama Rumba. Upon the steps stood Madame Blanche with her arms across her chest. I gave her a salute and took my leave.
Back in the safety of my hotel I took the microfilm from my jacket pocket. I opened the lid to inspect the contents. I expected details on the Ratlines, escape routes that Nazi’s used to get out of europe and into Southern America. What I got shouldn’t have surprised me. Inside the container lay one blue, sparkling, sapphire earring. Who’s the devil now, I thought. I wondered then if I would ever see Madame Cherlet Blanche ever again. If we’d ever again take to the dance floor as partners. You see those in the espionage game don’t tend to live long fruitful lives.
I am one of the lucky ones. It has been many years since I left the world of secrets. Now as I lay here in my bed, well into my ninety ninth year, on this world I can only smile. I have lived a long, meaningful existence, full of laughter, dance, and all the good, little things in life. Beside me my wife rests, fast asleep. It is to her, that I am retelling the story of how we first met, how I fell in love with those Sapphire eyes.