Buenos Aires Triad Chapter 1

THE SPOTTER

A phalanx of drivers waited at the front of the arrivals hall. Standing with the others, Lucas had a sign for a certain Jorge Martínez: a passenger who would never arrive. Lucas was there to make an important decision, not to drive somebody into town. He thought it would be agony to choose. Who in the sea of heads would have a valuable watch, cash, and other expensive items on them? Even taking the precaution of staying away from Rolexes, he still might choose someone with a fake watch. What then? Once people started coming out the gate, his doubts faded and he found himself enjoying the experience. A tall man, he had a clear view over the drivers in front of him. Because flights from the USA and Europe had landed at the same time, passengers flooded into the terminal. The earrings and minimalist gold watch of an elegant woman, likely French, drew his attention. So did the iPhone of an American in puke-green shorts; a character already filming his holiday. With many potential targets on display, this was people-watching with a purpose. For Lucas, it was like observing beautiful women entering a crowded bar – each of them left unengaged would cause a small feeling of loss, quickly forgotten when the next one came into view.

He didn’t take long to make his choice: an old European couple. Lucas had to get right up next to the man to confirm he was wearing a very expensive Philippe Patek, but in the crowded terminal this wasn’t hard. He could sense the tiredness of the old man, a level of fatigue unknown to someone Lucas’s age. What a watch! Why arrive in Argentina with such a target on your wrist? Following the couple to the taxi counter, he sent a message to the Venezuelans waiting outside: “Man short and bald, woman with long grey hair, red blouse. His watch is most important.” At the counter the old man yelled out, his face angry. This didn’t surprise Lucas – he could guess what was going on. Lucas didn’t leave the terminal because he didn’t want the Venezuelans to see his face. He worried that the target would get lost in the crowd, but soon enough a reply came: “We’ve got them, following.”

Thirty minutes later, Lucas took an Uber into town. Although already after midday when he opened the shop, it was unlikely he’d lost much business – maybe somebody wanting a new strap or battery. Apart from watches, he sold small soft toys: pumas, bunnies, condors, and deer. He’d got a good deal on them. With no toy stores nearby, sometimes a kid saw the animals in the window and dragged their mum or dad into the shop. He’d also branched out into cell phone cases, but respected his father’s wish not to sell jewellery. “Watch shops and jewellers should be separate,” his old man had said. Lucas never got to the bottom of why his father had this rule.

From his spot behind the counter, sunlight showed streak marks on the glass display cabinets – they needed wiping, vinegar might work, but could he be bothered? His father wasn’t there to shout at him, to tell him to get on with things. Half a block away the brakes of a bus screeched, causing Lucas a nails-down-the-blackboard shiver. He looked outside to see if anyone who had got off the bus would walk by. Nobody did. The view of the cobbled street bathed in sunlight lifted his spirits for a moment – thinking of the hours before closing time brought him back down.

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