Windmills of the Gods

Chapter Nine


OVER the swiffly moving weeks the dancing March winds had given way to spring and then summer. Trees and flowers blossomed everywhere in Bucharest, and the parks were green.
In Buenos Aires, it was winter. When Neusa Muez returned to her apartment, it was the middle of the night. The telephone was ringing. "S(?"
It was the gringo from the United States.
"May I speak with Angel?"
"Angel no here, senor. Wha' you wan'?"
"Tell Angel I need him for a contract in Bucharest."
The Controller found his irritation mounting. "Bucharest. Romania. Tell him It's a five-million-dollar contract. He has to be in Bucharest by the end of June. That's three weeks from now. Do you have that?"
"Wait a minute. I'm writin'. Okay. How many people Angel gotta kill for five million dollars?"
"A lot. . . ."
THE daily long lines in front of the embassy continued to disturb Mary. She discussed it again with Mike Slade.
"There must be something we can do to help those people get out of the country."
"Everything's been tried," Mike assured her. "We've applied pressure, we've offered to sweeten the money pot.... Ionescu refuses to cut a deal."
"I'm going to have another talk with him."
"Good luck."
Mary asked Dorothy Stone to set up an appointment with the dictator. A few minutes later the secretary walked into Mary's office. "I'm sorry, Madun Ambassador. Something weird is going on at the presidential palace. Ionescu isn't seeing anybody. In fact, no one can even get in."
"Dorothy," Mary said, "see if you can find out What's going on there."
An hour later Dorothy reported back. "They're keeping it very hush-hush. Ionescu's son is dying."
Mary was aghast. "Nicu? What happened?"
"He has botulism poisoning. There was an epidemic in East Germany a few months ago. Apparently Nicu visited there and someone gave him some canned food as a gift. He ate some of it yesterday."
"But there's an antiserum for botulism!" Mary exclaimed.
"The European countries are out of it The epidemic used it up."
"Oh, my God."
When Dorothy left the office, Mary sat there thinking, It, might be too late, but still ... She remembered how cheerful and happy young Nicu was. He was fourteen years old-only two years older than Beth. She pressed the intercom button. "Dorothy, get me Walter Reed hospital in Maryland."
Five minutes later she was speaking to the director.
"Yes, Madam Ambassador. We do have an antiserum for botulism poisoning, and I'll be happy to supply some. But botulism poisoning works very rapidly. I'm afraid that by the time it gets there . . ."
"I'll arrange for it to get here. just have it ready. Thank you."
Ten minutes later Mary was speaking to air force general Ralph Zukor, in Washington.
"Good morning, Madam Ambassador. Well, this is an unexpected pleasure. My wife and I are big fans of yours. How are-"
"General, I need a favor. I need your fastest jet."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I need a jet to fly some serum to Bucharest right away. Can you do it?"
"Well, yes. But first you'll have to get approval from the Secretary of Defense. There are requisition forms to fill out."
Mary listened, seething. "General, a boy's life is at stake. He happens to be the son of the President of Remania. If that boy dies because some form hasn't been filled out, I'm going to call the biggest press conference you've ever seen. And I'll let you explain why you let Ionescu's son die."
"I'm sorry, but I can't possibly authorize an operation like this without an approval from the White House. If-"
Mary snapped, "Then, get it. The serum will be delivered to Andrews Air Force Base. And General ... every single minute counts."
She hung up and sat there, silently praying.
General Zukor's aide said, "What was that all about, sir?"
"The ambassador expects me to send up an SR-71 to fly some serum to Remania. It's ridiculous. But we might as well cover ourselves, Get me Stanton Rogers."
Five minutes later the general was speaking to the President's foreign affairs adviser. "I just wanted to go on record with you that the request was made, and I naturally refused. If-"
Stanton Rogers said, "General, how soon can you have an SR-71 airborne?"
"In ten minutes, but-"
"Do it."
Nicu lonescu's nervous system had been affected. He lay in bed, disoriented, sweating and pale, attached to a respirator. There were three doctors at his bedside.
President lonescu strode into the room. "What's happening?"
" Your Excellency, we have communicated with our colleagues all over Eastern and Western Europe. There is no antiseam left."
"What about the United States?"
The doctor shrugged. "By the time we could arrange for someone to fly the serum here. .." He paused delicately. "I'm afraid it would be too late."
Ionescu picked up his son's hand. "You're not going to die," he said, weeping. "You're not going to die."
AN A= helicopter delivered the antibotulism semm, packed in ice, to Andrews Air Force Base. Three minutes later the SR-7]L was in the air, on a northeast heading.
The SR-71-the U.S. Air Force's fastest supersonic jet-flies at three times the speed of sound. It slowed down once to refuel over the mid Atlantic. The plane- made the five-thousand-mile flight to Bucharest in a little over two and a half hours.
Colonel McKinney was waiting at the airport for the serum. An army escort cleared the way to the presidential palace.
MARY had remained in her office all night, getting up-to-the minute reports. At six a.m. McKinney telephoned. "They gave the boy the serum. The doctors say he's going to live."
"Oh, thank God!"
Two days later a diamond-and-emerald necklace was delivered to Mary's office with a note: "I can never thank you enough. Alexandros Ionescu."
"I don't believe this!" Dorothy exclaimed when she saw the necklace. "It must have cost half a million dollars!"
"At least," Mary said. "Return it."
The following morning President Ionescu sent for Mary.
When she arrived, an aide said, "The President is waiting for you in his office."
"May I see Nicu first?"
"Yes, of course." He led her upstairs.
Nicu was in bed reading. He looked up as Mary entered. "Good morning, Madam Ambassador."
"Good morning, Nicu."
"MY father told me what you did. I wish to thank you."
"I couldn't let you die. I'm saving you for Beth one day."
Nicu laughed. "Bring her over, and we'll talk about it."
President Ionescu was waiting downstairs for Mary. He said without preamble, "You returned my gift."
"Yes, Your Excellency."
He indicated a chair. "Sit down." He studied her. "You saved my son's life. I must give you something." " Mary said, "I don't make trades for children's lives.
"You must want something! Name your price."
Mary said, "Your Excellency, there is no price. I have two children of my own. I know how you must feel."
He closed his eyes for a moment. "Do you? Nicu is my only son. If anything had happened to him-" He stopped, unable to go on.
"I went up to see him. He looks fine. If there's nothing else, Your Excellency, I have an appointment." She rose and started to leave.
"Waitl You will not accept a GIFT but-"
"No. I've explained-', IonesCu held up a hand. "All right, all right." He thought for a moment. "If you were to make a wish, what would you wish for?
Anything you want."
Mary stood there studying his face. Finally she said, "I wish that the restriction on the Jews waiting to leave Remania could be lifted."
"I see." lonescu was still for a long time before he looked up at Mary. "It shall be done. They will not all be allowed out, of course, but I will make it easier."
When the announcement was made public two days later, Mary received a telephone call from President Ellison himself "I thought I was sending a diplomat, and I got a miracle worker.
Congratulations, Mary, on everything you've done over there."
"Thank you, Mr. President." She hung up, feeling a warm glow.
IN CELEBRATION of her diplomatic coup Louis invited Mary to a candlelit dinner in the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental. They saw each other whenever possible now, and more and more Mary had come to rely on him as an island of strength and,sanity. Before they parted that night, Mary found herself accepting an invitation to go away to the mountains with Louis the following weekend.
Once she got into bed, she lay in the dark talking to Edward: Darling, I'll always, always love you, but it's time I started a new life. You'll always be a part of that life, but there has to be someone else too. Louis isn't you, but he's Louis. He's strong, and he's good, and he's brave. That's as close as I can come to having you. Please understand, Edward. Please....
"JULy is just around the corner," Harriet Kruger told Mary. "In the past the wnbassador always gave a Fourth of July party for the Americans living in Bucharest. If you'd prefer not to-"
"No. I think it's a lovely idea."
"Fine. I'll take care of all the arrangements. A lot of flags, balloons, an orchestra-the works."
"Sounds wonderful. Thank you, Harriet."
A big party would eat into the residence's expense account, but it would be worth it. The truth is, Mary thought, I miss home. She had been here for only four months, but it seemed an eternity.
junction City had meant peace and security, an easy, friendly way of life. Here, there was fear and terror and a death threat scrawled on her office wall in red paint. Suddenly Mary felt a sharp pang of loneliness, a sense of being totally isolated from her roots, adrift in an alien and dangerous land. Then she thought about Louis, and the loneliness began to disappear.
MARY WAS HAVING HER USUAL morning coffee with Mike Slade, discussing the day's agenda.
When they finished, he said, "I've been hearing mmors about you. It seems that you're seeing a lot of Dr. Desforges."
Mary felt a flare of anger. "Who I see is no one's business."
"I beg to differ with you, Madam Ambassador. The State Department has a strict rule against getting involved with foreigners, and the doctor is a foreigner. He also happens to be an enemy agent."
Mary was almost too stunned to speak. "That's absurd!"
"Think about how you met him," Mike suggested. "The damsel in distress and the knight in shining armor. That's the oldest trick in the world. I've used it myself."
"I don't care what you've done," Mary retorted. "He's worth a dozen of you. He fought against terrorists in Algeria, and they murdered his wife and children."
Mike said mildly, "That's interesting. I've been examining his dossier. Your doctor never had a wife or children."
THEY stopped for lunch at TimiSSoara, on their way up to the Carpathian Mountains. The inn was decorated in the period atmosphere of a medieval wine cellar.
"The specially of the house is gone," Louis told Mary. "I would suggest the venison."
"Fine." she had never eaten venison. It was delicious. There was an air of confidence about Louis, a quiet strength that gave Mary a feeling of security.
After lunch they started out again. They passed farmers driving primitive homemade wagons, and caravans of Gypsies.
Louis was a skillful driver. Mary studied him as he drove. He's an enemy agent. She did not believe Mike Slade. Every instinct told her he was lying. She trusted Louis. No one could have faked the emotion I saw on his face when he was playing with the children, she thought.
The air was getting noticeably thinner and cooler. The mountains ahead looked like pictures she had seen of the Swiss Alps, their peaks covered by mists and icy clouds the color of steel.
It was late afternoon when they reached their destination, Sio plea, a lovely mountain resort built like a miniature chalet. Their suite had a comfortable living room, simply furnished, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a terrace with a breathtaking view of the mountains.
"For the first time in my life"-Louis sighed-"I wish I were a painter."
"It is a beautiful view.
He moved closer to her. "No. I wish I could paint you."
He took her in his arms and held her tightly. She buried her head against his chest, and then Louis's lips were on hers, and she forgot everything except what was happening to her. He led her to the bed. There was a frantic need in her for someone to reassure her, to protect her, to let her know that she was no longer alone. She needed to be one with him....
After a long, long time they lay contented. She nestled in his strong arms, and they talked.
"It's so strange," Louis said. "I feel whole again. Since Renee and the children were killed, I've been a ghost, wandering around lost."
"I've felt helpless too. Edward was my umbrella, and when it died and he wasn't there to protect me, I nearly drowned."
It was almost perfect. Almost. Because there was a question Mary dared not ask: Did you have a wife and children? The moment she asked that question, she knew everything between them would be over forever. Louis would never forgive her for doubting him. Curse Mike Slade, she thought.
Louis was watching her. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing, darling."
Saturday they went on a tram to a mountain peak. In the eyening they drove to Eintrul, a rustic restaurant in the. mountains, where they had dinner in a large room that had an open fireplace mlith a roaring fire. There were hunting trophies on the wall, and through the windows they could look at the snow-covered hills outside. A perfect setting, with the perfect companion.
And finally, too soon, it was time to leave.
As they neared the outskirts of Bucharest they drove by fields of sunflowers, their faces moving toward the sun. That's me, Mary thought happily. I'm finally moving into the sunlight.
THE next MORNING WHEN MARY arrived at her office, there were a dozen red roses with a note: "Thank you for you."
Mary read the card. And wondered if Louis had sent flowers to RencSSe. And wondered if there had been a Rent-e and two daughters. And hated herself for it. Why would Mike Slade make up terrible lie like that? There was no way she could ever check it.
And at that moment Eddie Maltz, the political consul and CIA agent, walked into her office.
They spent some time discussing a colonel who had approached Maltz about defecting.
"He'd be a valuable asset for us," Maltz told her. "He'll be bringing some useful information with him, but be prepared to receive some heat from lonescu."
"Thank you, Mr. Maltz."
He rose to leave.
On a sudden impulse Mary said ' "Wait. I wonder if I could ask you for a favor? It's personal and confidential."
"Sounds like our motto." Maltz smiled.
"I need some information on a Dr. Louis Desforges. He's attached to the French embassy." This was more difficult than she had imagined. It was a betrayal. "I'd like to know whether Dr. Desforges was once married and had two children. Do you think you could find out?"
"Will twenty-four hours be soon enough?" Maltz asked.
"Yes, thank you." Please forgive me, Louis.
A short time later Mike Slade walked into Mary's office and put a cup of coffee on her desk. Something in his attitude seemed subtly changed. Mary was not sure what it was, but she had a feeling that Mike Slade knew all about her weekend. She wondered whether he had spies following her.
She took a sip of the coffee. Excellent, as usual. That's one thing Mike Slade does well, Mary thought.
"We have some problems," he said. And for the rest of the morning they became involved in a discussion that included the Remanian financial crisis and a dozen other topics.
At the end of the meeting Mary was more tired than usual.
Mike Slade said, "The ballet is opening tonight. Corina Socoli is dancing." She was one of the leading ballerinas in the world.
Mary had met her once at a party at the presidential palace. "I have some tickets if you're interested."
"No, thanks." She thought of the last time Mike had given her tickets. Besides, she was dining at the Chinese embassy.
. As MARY was dressing for dinner that evening she felt suddenly exhausted. She sank down on the bed. I wish I didn't have to go out tonight, she thought wearily. But I have to. My country is depending on me.
The evening was a blur of the same familiar diplomatic corps faces. Mary had only a hazy recollection of the others at her table.
She could not wait to get home.
When she awoke the following morning, she was feeling worse.
Her head ached, and she was nauseated. It took all of her willpower to get dressed and go to the embassy.
Mike Slade was waiting in her office, coffee in hand. He took one look at her and said, "You don't look too well. You okay?"
"I'm just tired."
"What you need is some coffee. It will perk you up. No pun intended." He handed her a cup. "Maybe you should fly to Frankfurt and see our doctor there."
Mary shook her head. "I'm all right." Her voice was slurred.
The only thing that made her feel slightly better was a visit from Eddie Maltz.
"I have the information you requested," he said. "Desforges was married for fourteen years. Wife's name, Ren6e. Two daughters, Phillips and Genevieve. They were murdered in Algeria by terrorists, as an act of vengeance against the doctor, who was fighting in the underground. Do you need any further information?"
"No," Mary said. "That's fine. Thank you."
By midafternoon Mary was feeling hot and feverish, and she called Louis to cancel dinner. She felt too ill to see anybody. She wished that the American doctor were in Bucharest. Perhaps Louis would know what was wrong with her. If I don't get over this, she told herself, I'll call him back.
Dorothy had the nurse send up some aspirin from the pharmacy.
It did not help.
Somehow Mary managed to struggle through the rest of the
evening and when she finally arrived home, she fell straight into bed.
Her whole body ached, and she could feel that her temperature had climbed. I'm Yeally ill, she thought. I feel as though I'm dying. With an enormous effort she reached out and pulled the bell cord. Carmen, her maid, appeared.
She looked at Mary in alarm. "Madam Ambassadorl What-" Mary's voice was a croak. "Please call the French embassy. I need Dr. Desforges."
MARY opened her eyes and blinked. There were two blurred Louis figures bending over her.
"What's happening to you?" He felt her forehead. It was hot to the touch. "Have you taken your temperature?"
"I don't want to know." It hurt to talk.
Louis sat down on the edge of the bed. "Darling, when did you start feeling this way?"
"The day after we got back from the mountains."
Louis felt her pulse. It was weak and threatly. He smelled her breath. "Have you eaten something today with garlic?"
She shook her head. "I've hardly eaten all day."
He gently lifted her eyelids. "Have you been thirsty?"
She nodded.
"Pain, muscle cramps, vomiting, nausea?
"Yes. What's the matter with me, Louis?"
"Do you feel like answering some questions?"
She swallowed. "I'll try."
He held her hand. "Do you remember having anything to eat or drink that made you feel ill afterward?"
She shook her head.
"Do you eat breakfast here at the residence with the children?"
"Usually, yes," she whispered.
"And the children are feeling well?"
She nodded.
"What about lunch? Do you eat at the same place every day?"
"No. Sometimes the embassy, sometimes restaurants."
"Is there any one place you regularly have dinner, or anything you regularly eat?"
She closed her eyes.
He shook her gently. "Mary, listen to me." There was an urgency in his voice. "Is there any person you eat with constantly?"
She blinked up at him sleepily. "No." Why was he asking all these questions? "It's a virus," she mumbled. "Isn't it?"
He took a deep breath. "No. Someone is poisoning you."
It sent a bolt of electricity- through her body. She opened her eyes wide. "What? I don't believe it."
He was frowning. "I would say it was arsenic poisoning, except that arsenic is not for sale in Remania."
Mary felt a sudden tremor of fear. "Who-who would be trying to poison me?"
He squeezed her hand. "Darling, you've got to think. Are you sure there's no set routine you have where someone gives you something to eat or drink every day?"
"Of course not," Mary protested weakly. "I told you, I Coffee. Mike Slade. My own special brew. "Oh, no!"
"What is it?"
She cleared her throat and managed to whisper, "Mike Slade brings me coffee every morning."
Louis stared at her. "Your deputy chief? But what reason would he have for trying to kill you?"
"He-he wants to get rid of me."
"We'll talk about this later," Louis said urgently. "The first thing we have to do is treat you. I'm going to get something for you. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Mary lay there trying to grasp the meaning of what Louis had told her. What you need is some coffee. It will make you feel better. I brew it myself.
She drifted off into unconsciousness and was awakened by Louis's voice. "Mary!"
She forced her eyes open. Louis was at her bedside, taking a syringe out of a small bag.
He lifted her arm. "I'm going to give you an injection of BAL.
It's an antidote for arsenic. I'm going to alternate it with penicillamine. Mary?" She was asleep.
The following morning Louis gave Mar)i another injection, and another one in the evening. The effects of the drugs were miraculous. The symptoms began to disappear. The following day Mary felt drained and weak, as though she had gone through a long illness, but all the pain and discomfort were gone.
"This is twice you've saved my life."
Louis looked at her soberly. "I think we'd better find out who's trying to take it."
"How do we do that?"
"I've been checking around at the various embassies. None of them carries arsenic. I have not beenable to find out about the American embassy. So what I want you to do is go to the embassy pharmacy. Tell them you need a pesticide. Say that you're having trouble with insects in your garden. Ask for Antrol. That's loaded with arsenic."
Mary looked at him, puzzled. "What's the point?"
"My hunch is that the arsenic had to be flown into Bucharest. If it is anywhere, it will be in the embassy pharmacy. Anyone who checks out a poison must sign for it. When you sign for the Antrol, see what names are on the sheet."
MARY walked down the long corridor to the embassy pharmacy, where the nurse was working behind the cage. "Good morning, Madam Ambassador. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Can I get you something?"
Mary took a nervous breath. "My-my gardener tells me he's having trouble with insects in the garden. I wondered whether you might have something to help, like Antrol?"
" Why, yes. As a matter of fact, we do." The nurse reached toward a back shelf and picked up a can with a poison label on it.
"You'll have to sign for it, if you don't mind. It has arsenic in it."
Mary was staring at the form placed in front of her. There was only one name on it. Mike Slade.