Excerpt from The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Convert's Song

by Sebastian Rotella

The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella X
The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Chapter One: Cafetín de Buenos Aires

The whole mess started ten years later on a sunny fall day when Valentine Pescatore was feeling at home in Buenos Aires.

He got up and put on a warm-up suit. He took a quick cab ride on Libertador Avenue to the sports club in Palermo Park. At eight a.m., he had the red rubber track to himself. His breath steamed in the morning chill; May was November in Argentina. He was not as fast or strong as he had been while serving as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Yet he was healthier than during those crazy days at the Line. He had lost the weight he'd acquired eating home-cooked Cuban meals while living in San Diego with Isabel Puente. Arroz con pollo, ropa vieja, fried plantains. Washed down with drama and heartbreak.

Leaving the club, he caught a whiff of horse smell on the river wind. A nearby compound of the Argentine federal police housed the stables of the mounted division. Facundo had told him the compound was also the headquarters of the police antiterrorism unit.

Pescatore reclined in the cab, invigorated by the run. The driver was a grandfatherly gent with well-tended white hair encircling his bald spot. His shoulders in the blue sweater-vest moved to the tango classic on the radio, "Cafetín de Buenos Aires" ("Little Café of Buenos Aires"). The cab stopped in front of Pescatore's building on a side street as the song ended in a flourish of bandoneon and violins. It was an homage to a neighborhood café—the best thing in the singer's life except his mother.

"That was great," Pescatore said. "What was that last line? 'In the café I learned philosophy, dice and . . . '?"

The cabbie studied him over his spectacles. He recited crisply: " 'The cruel poetry of thinking of myself no more.' "

Pescatore took the elevator to the tenth floor. He had found the furnished rooftop apartment through Facundo Hyman Bassat, his boss. The landlord had described it as a penthouse. It was cobbled together from a converted maid's quarters and a storage attic. The front door opened into the middle of a narrow hallway that led left to a galley kitchen and living-dining area. A bookshelf held his old collection of compact discs and his new collection of books. At the other end of the hall, a skylight in the low slanted ceiling made the bedroom less claustrophobic. Glass sliding doors opened onto a little balcony-patio.

Rain tended to flood the patio. The sun took no prisoners. The wind was noisy. There were bats. But the apartment was cozy. It got plenty of light. From the railing, you could see the river. Bottom line: he was living in a penthouse in La Recoleta, the swankest neighborhood in town.

Forty minutes later, he hit the street showered and shaved. He wore his Beretta in a shoulder holster under a brown leather jacket. He had let his curly hair grow longer than when he was in the Border Patrol, though he drew the line at slicking it back like the locals. If he didn't talk much, people took him for a local. He preferred it that way.

He turned onto a tree-lined street where a hotel faced a shopping center. Ragged kids from the riverfront slum worked the taxi stand in front of the shopping center, jostling and begging and carrying bags. The high-pitched melodic whistle of a mouth harp echoed among high-rises: the call of the afilador, an itinerant Galician knife sharpener in a brimmed cap and blue smock who looked as if he had been pushing his cart for a century.

In the middle of the street, a paunchy police officer stopped traffic so a couple of lean ladies in short fur jackets could jaywalk. Two cops in boots and helmets stood smoking cigarettes near their motorcycle. They were in an anticrime tactical team. Pescatore had seen them zooming the wrong way down Callao Avenue with siren and lights blasting, the driver hunched like a human rocket, the rider with his shotgun at the ready.

Excerpted from The Convert's Song by Sebastian Rotella. Copyright © 2014 by Sebastian Rotella. Excerpted by permission of Mulholland. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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