Windmills of the Gods

Chapter Seven


OTOPENI Airport, ten miles from the heart of Bucharest, is a modern airport, built to facilitate the flow of travelers from nearby iron curtain countries as well as to take care of the lesser number of Western tourists who visit Remania each year.
Inside the terminal were soldiers in brown uniforms, armed with rifles and pistols, and there was a stark air of coldness about the building that had nothing to do with the frigid temperature. Unconsciously Tim and Beth moved closer to Mary. So they feel it too, she thought.
Two men were approaching. One of them, a slim, athletic man, introduced himself. "Welcome to Remania, Madam Ambassador. I'm jerry Davis, your public affairs consul. This is Tudor Costache, the Remanian chief of protocol."
"It is a pleasure to have you and your children with us," Costache said. "Welcome to our country."
In a way, Mary thought, It's going to be my country too. "Mulfumesc, domnule," she said.
"You speak Romanian!" Costache cried. "Cu pldcerel"
Mary hoped the man was not going to get carried away. "A few words, she replied hastily.
Tim said, "Bunddimineata." And Mary was so proud she could. have burst. She introduced Tim and Beth.
jerry Davis said, "Your limousine is waiting for you, Madain Ambassador. Colonel McKinney is outside."
There was a long line waiting to go through customs, but Mary and the children were outside the building in a matter of minutes. There were reporters and photographers at the entrance, but instead of the free-forealls that Mary had encountered at home, everything was orderly and controlled. When they had finished, they thanked Mary and departed in a body.
Colonel McKinney, in army uniform, was waiting at the curb. He held out his hand. "Good morning, Madam Ambassador. Did you have a pleasant trip?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Mike Slade wanted to b ' e here, but there was some important business he had to take care of."
Mary was relieved.
A long black limousine with an American flag on the right front fender pulled up. A cheerful-looking man in a chauffeur's uniform held the door open.
"This is Florian."
The chauffeur grinned. "Welcome, Madam Ambassador. Master Tim. Miss Beth. It will be my pleasure to serve you."
"Thank you," Mary said.
"Florian will be at your disposal twenty-four hours a day. I thought we would go directly to the residence so you can unpack and relax. Tomorrow morning Florian will take you to the embassy."
"That sounds fine," Mary said.
The drive from the airport to the city was fascinating. They drove on a heavily traveled two-lane highway, but every few miles the traffic would be held up by plodding Gypsy carts. On both sides of the highway were modern factories next to ancient huts. The car passed farm after farm, with women working in the fields, colorful bandannas knotted around their heads. They drove by an ominous blue-and-gray building just off the main highway.
"What is that?" Mary asked.
Florian grimaced. "The Ivan Stelian Prison. That is where they put anyone who disagrees with the Remanian government."
At last they reached the center of Bucharest, which was very beautiful. There were parks and monuments and fountains everywhere one looked. Mary remembered her grandfather saying, "Bucharest is a miniature Paris, Mary. They even have a replica of the Eiffel Tower." And there it was. She was in the homeland of her forefathers.
The streets were crowded with people and streetcars, and the limousine had to honk its way through the traffic.
"The residence is just ahead," Colonel McKinney said as the car turned into a small tree-lined street.
The ambassador's residence was a large and beautiful oldfashioned three-story house surrounded by lovely grounds. The staff was lined up outside, waiting to welcome Mary.
jerry Davis made the introductions. "Mihai, your butler; Rosica, your housekeeper; Cosma, your chef; and Delia and Carmen, your maids."
Mary moved down the line receiving their bows and curtsies. They all seemed to be waiting for her to say something. She took a deep breath. "Bunaziua. Mulfumesc. Nu vorbesc-" Every bit of Remanian she had learned flew out of her head. She stared at them helplessly.
Mihai, the butler, bowed. "We all speak English, ma'am. We welcome you and shall be happy to serve your every need."
Mary sighed with relief. "Thank you."
"Let me show you around," jerry Davis said.
On the ground floor there was a library, a music room, a living room, a large dining room, a kitchen, and a pantry. A terrace ran the length of the building outside the dining room, facing a large park. At the rear of the house was an indoor swimming pool.
"Our own swimming pool!" Tim exclaimed. "Can I go swimming?"
"Later, darling. Let's get settled in first."
The pidce de rdsistance was the ballroom, built near the garden. It was enormous. Glistening Baccarat sconces lined the walls, which were covered with flocked paper.
jerry Davis said, "This is where the embassy parties are given. Watch this." He pressed a switch on the wall. There was a gnding noise, and the ceiling began to split in the center, opening up until the sky became visible. "It can also be operated manually."
"Hey, That's neatly" Beth exclaimed.
"It's called the Ambassador's Folly," jerry explained. "It's too hot to keep open in the summer and too cold in the winter. We use it in April and September." As the cold air started to descend, he pressed the switch and the ceiling closed.
They followed him upstairs to a large central hall that led to the bedrooms.
"The third floor has servants' quarters," jerry continued. "In., the basement is a wine cellar."
"It's-It's enormous," Mary said.
"Which is my room?" Beth asked.
"You and Tim can decide that between yourselves."
"You can have this one," Tim offered. "It's frilly. Girls like frilly things."
The master bedroom was lovely, with a queen-size bed with a goose-down comforter, two couches before a fireplace, a dressing table, and a wonderful view of the garden. Mary was so exhausted she could hardly wait to get into bed.
THE American embassy in Bucharest is a white, semi-Gothic two-story building with. an iron gate in front. The entrance is guarded by a marine officer, and a second marine sits inside a security booth at the side of the gate.
Inside, the lobby isornate. It has a marble floor, two closed circuit television sets at a desk guarded by a marine, and a fireplace. The corridors are lined with portraits of U.S. Presidents. A winding staircase leads to the second floor, where a conference room and offices are located.
The guard was waiting for Mary at the desk. "Good morning, Madam Ambassador. I'm Sergeant Hughes. They call me Gunny. They're waiting for you upstairs. I'll escort you there."
"Thank you, Gunny." Mary followed him upstairs to a reception room, where a middle-aged woman was sitting behind a desk.
She rose. "Good morning, Madam Ambassador. I'm Dorothy Stone, your secretary."
"How do you do."
Dorothy said, "I'm afraid you have quite a crowd in there."
She opened the door, and Mary walked into the room. There were nine people seated around a large conference table. They rose as Mary entered. They were all staring at her, and she felt a wave of animosity that was almost palpable. The first person she saw was Mike Slade.
"I see you got here safely," Mike said. "Let me introduce you to your department heads. This is Lucas Janklow, administrative consul; Eddie Maltz, political consul; Patricia Hatfield, your economic consul; David Wallace, head of administration; Ted Thompson, agriculture. You've met jerry Davis, your public affairs consul. This is David Victor, commerce consul, and you already know Colonel Bill McKinney."
"Please be seated," Mary said. She sat at the head of the table and surveyed the group. Hostility comes in all sizes and shapes, Mary thought. It's going to take time to sort them out.
Mike Slade was saying, "All of us are serving at your discretion. You can replace any of us at any time."
That's a lie, Mary thought angrily; I tried to replace you.
There was general inconsequential conversation, until Mike Slade said, "Madam Ambassador, the individual consuls will now brief you on any serious problems."
Mary resented his taking charge, but she said nothing.
Ted Thompson, the agriculture consul, was the first to speak. "The Remanian agriculture minister is in worse trouble than he's admitting. They're going to have a disastrous crop this year, and we can't afford to let them go under."
The economic consul, Patricia Hatfield, protested. "We've given them enough aid, Ted. Remania's already operating under a favored-nations treaty. It's a GSP country." She looked at Mary and said patronizingly, "A GSP country is-"
"Is a generalized system of preferences," Mary cut in. "We treat Remania as a less developed country so that they get import and export advantages."
Hatfield's expression changed. "That's right."
"I'll see what I can do," Mary promised, making a note to herself.
Eddie Maltz, the political consul, spoke up. "I have an urgent problem. A nineteen-year-old American college student was arrested last night for possession of marijuana. That's an extremely serious offense here. The usual penalty is a five-year prison sentence."
How awful, Mary thought. "What can we do about it?"
Mike Slade said lazily, "You can try your charm on the head of the Securitate. His name is Istrase. He has a lot of power."
Eddie Maltz went on. "The girl says she was framed, and she may have a point. She was stupid enough to have an affair with a Remanian policeman. He turned her in."
Mary was horrified. "I'll see if I can do something." She turned to the public affairs consul, jerry Davis. "Do you have any urgent problems?"
"My department is having trouble getting approvals for repairs on the apartments our embassy staff live in. Some of our people are without heat, and in several of the apartments the toilets don't work and there's no running water."
"Can't they just go ahead and have their own repairs made?"
"No. The Remanian government has to approve all repairs."
"Have you complained about this?"
"Yes, ma'am. Every day for the last three months."
"It's called harassment," Mike Slade explained. "It's a war of nerves they like to play with us."
Ambassador Ashley was beginning to get a headache.
After the meeting broke up and she and Slade were alone, Mary asked, "Which one of them is the CIA agent attached to the embassy?"
Mike looked at her a moment. "Why don't you come with me?"
He walked out of the conference room.
Mary followed him down a long corridor. He came to a large door with a marine guard standing in front of it. The guard stepped aside as Mike pushed the door open. He turned and gestured for Mary to enter.
She stepped inside and looked around. The room was an incredible combination of metal and glass, covering the floor, the walls, and the ceiling.
Mike closed the heavy door behind them. "This is the bubble room. Every embassy in an iron curtain country has one. It's the only room in the embassy that can't be bugged."
He saw her look of disbelief.
"Madam Ambassador, not only is the embassy bugged, but you can bet your residence is bugged, and if you go out to a restaurant, your table will be bugged. You're in enemy territory."
Mary sank into a chair. "How do you handle that?" she asked. "I mean, not ever being able to talk freely."
"We do an electronic sweep every morning. We find their bugs and pull them out. They replace them, and we pull those out."
"Why do we permit Remanians to work in the embassy?"
"It's their playground. They're the home team. We play by their rules or blow the ball game. They can't get their microphones into this room, because there are marine guards on duty in front of that door twenty-four hours a day. Now, what are your questions?"
"I just wondered who the CIA man was."
"Eddie Maltz, your political consul."
Eddie Maltz. He was the middle-aged one, very thin, a sinister face. Or did she think that now because he was CIA? "Is he the only CIA man on the staff?"
"Yes." Mike Slade looked at his watch. "You're due to present your credentials to the Remanian government in thirty minutes. Florian is waiting for you outside. Take your letter of credence. You'll give the original to President Ionescu and put a copy in our safe."
Mary found that she was gritting her teeth. "I know that, Mr. Slade."
HEWUARTERS for the Remanian government is a forbidding sandstone building in the center of Bucharest. It is protected by a steel wall and surrounded by armed guards. An aide met Mary at the entrance and escorted her upstairs.
President Alexandros Ionescu greeted Mary in a long rectangular room on the second floor. The President had a powerful presence. He was dark, with curly black hair, hawklike features, and one of the most imperious noses Ma had ever seen. His eyes were blazing, mesmerizing. He took Mary's hand and gave it a lingering kiss. "You are even more beautiful than you look in your photographs."
"Thank you, Your Excellency." Mary opened her purse and took out the letter of credence President Ellison had given her.
Ioneseu gave it a careless glance. "Thank you. I accept it on behalf of the ]Remanian government. You are now officially the American ambassador to my country." He beamed at her. "I have arranged a reception this evening for you. You will meet some of our people who will be working with you."
"That's very kind of you," Mary said.
He took her hand in his again and said, "I hope you will grow to love our country, Madam Ambassador." He massaged her hand.
"I'm sure I will." He thinks i'm just another pretty face, Mary thought grimly. I'll have to do something about that.
MARY returned to the embassy and spent the rest of the day sifting through the blizzard of white paper on her desk. There were the English translations of Remanian newspaper and magazine articles, the wireless file and the summary of news developments reported in the United States, a thick report on arms-control negotiations, and an update on the United Slates economy. There's enough reading material in one day, Mary thought, to keep me busy for a week, and I'm going to get this every day.
But the problem that disturbed Mary more was the feeling of antagonism from her staff. That had to be handled immediately. She sent for Harriet Kruger, her protocol officer. "How long have you worked here at the embassy?" Mary asked.
"Four years before our break with Remania, and now three glorious months." There was a note of irony in her voice. "May we have an off-the-record conversation?"
"No, ma'am."
Mary had forgotten. "Why don't we adjourn to the bubble room?" she suggested.
When Mary and Harriet Kruger were seated in the bubble room, Mary said, "Something just occurred to me. Our meeting this morning was held in the conference room. Isn't that bugged?"
"Probably," Harriet said cheerfully. "But it doesn't matter.
Mike Slade wouldn't let anything be discussed that the Romanians aren't already aware of."
Mike Slade. "What do you think of Slade?" Mary asked.
"He's the best."
Mary decided not to express her opinion. "I got the feeling today that morale around here isn't good. Is it because of me, or has it always been that way?"
Harriet studied her a moment. "It's a combination of both. The Americans working here are in a pressure cooker. We're afraid to make friends with Remanians, because they probably belong to the Securitate, so we stick together. We're a small group, so pretty soon that gets claustrophobic." She shrugged. "The pay is small, .the food is lousy,, and the weather is bad." She studied Mary. "None of that is your fault, Ambassador Ashley. You have two problems. The first is that you're a political appointee in charge of an embassy manned by career diplomats." She stopped. "Am I coming on too strong?"
"No. Please go on."
"Most of them were against you before you even got here. Career workers in an embassy tend not to rock the boat. Political appointees like to change things. To them, you're an.amateur telling professionals how to run their business. The second problem is that you're a woman. The men in the embassy'don't like taking orders from a woman."
"I see."
Harriet Kruger smiled. "But you sure have a great publicity agent. I've never seen so many magazine cover stories in my life. How do you do it?"
Mary had no answer to that. She was, in fact, disturbed by the comments she kept hearing about the amount of publicity she and the children were getting. There had even been an article in Pravda, with a picture of the three of them.
Harriet Kruger glanced at her watch. "oops! You're going to be late. Florian's waiting to take you home so you can change. Aside from President Ionescu's reception you have three parties tonight."
Mary was staring at her. "That's impossible. I have too-"
"It goes with the territory. There are seventy-five embassies in Bucharest, and on any given night some of them are celebrating something."
"Can't I say no?"
"That would be the United States saying no to them. They would be offended."
Mary sighed. "I guess I'd better go change."
As SOON as Mary arrived at the reception, President Ionescu walked over to her. He kissed her hand and said, "I have been looking forward to seeing you again."
"Thank you, Your Excellency. I too."
She had a feeling he had been drinking heavily. She recalled the dossier on him: Mained. One son, fourteen-the heir apparentand three daughters. Is a womanizer. Drinks a lot. A shrewd peasant mentality. Charming when it suits him. Generous to his friends. Dangerous and ruthless to his enemies.
Ioescu took Mary's arm and led her off to a deserted corner. "You will find us Remanians interesting." He squeezed her arm. "We are a very passionate people." He looked at her for a reaction, and when he got none, he went on. "We are descendants of the ancient Dacians and their conquerors, the Romans. For centuries we have been Europe's doormat. The.Huns, Goths, Avars, Slays, and Mongols wiped their feet on us, but Remania has survived. And do you know how?" He leaned closer to her. "By giving our people a strong, firm leadership. They trust me, and I rule them well."
Mary thought of some of the stories she had heard. The arrests in the middle of the night, the atrocities, the disappearances.
Ioneseu was about to continue talking when a man came up to him and whispered in his ear. Ionescu's expression turned cold. He hissed something in Remanian, and the man hurried off. The dictator turned back to Mary, oozing charm again. "I must leave you now. I look forward to seeing you again soon."
And Ionescu was gone.
TO GET A Head START ON no crowded day that faced her, Mary had Florian pick her up at six thirty a.m. During the ride to the embassy she read the reports and communiques that had been delivered to the residence during the night.
As Mary walked past Mike Slade's office she stopped in surprise. He was at his desk working. "You're in early," she said.
He looked up. Morning. I'd like to have a word with you. Not here. Your office."
He followed Mary through the connecting door to her office, and she watched as he walked over to an instrument in the corner of the room. "This is a shredder," Mike informed her.
"I know that."
"Really? Last night you left some papers on top of your desk.
By now they've been photographed and sent to Moscow."
"Oh, no! I must have forgotten. Which ones?" "A list of personal things you wanted to order. But That's beside the point. The cleaning women work for the Securitate. Lesson number one: at night everything must be locked up or shredded."
"What's lesson number two?" Mary asked coldly.
Mike grinned. "The ambassador always starts the day by having coffee with her deputy chief How do you take yours?"
"I- Black."
"Good. You have to watch your figure around here. The food is fattening." He started toward the door that led to his office. "I make my own special brew. You'll like it."
Mary sat there, infuriated by his arrogance. I have to be careful how I handle him, she decided. I want him out of here as quickly as possible.
He returned with two mugs of steaming coffee.
"How do I arrange for Beth and Tim to start school?" she asked.
"I've already arranged it. Florian will deliver them mornings and pick them up afternoons."
She was taken aback. "I- Thank you."
"The school is small but excellent. Each class has eight or nine students. They come from all over-Canadians, Israelis, Nigerians, you name it." Mike took a sip of his coffee. "I understand that you had a nice chat with our fearless leader last night."
"President Ionescu? Yes. He seemed very pleasant."
"Oh, he is. Until he gets annoyed with somebody. Don't let Ionescu's charm fool you. He's a dyed-in-the-wool s.o.b. His people despise him, but there's nothing they can do ibout it. The secret police are everywhere. The general rule of thumb here is that one out of every three people works for the Securitate or the KGB. A Remanian can be arrested merely for signing a petition."
Mary felt a shiver go through her. "They do have trials here?"
"Oh, occasionally they'll have show trials, but most of the people arrested manage to have fatal accidents while they're in police custody. In general, conditions here are horrifying, but the people are afraid to strike back, because they know they'll be shot. The standard of living is one of the lowest in Europe. There's a shortage of everything. If people see a line in front of a store, they'll join in and buy whatever's for sale while they have the chance."
"It seems to me," Mary said slowly, "that all these things add up to a wonderful opportunity for us to help them."
Mike Slade looked at her. "Sure," he said dryly. "Wonderful."
That afternoon as Mary was going through some newly arrived cables from Washington she thought about Mike Slade. He was arrogant and rude, yet he'd arranged for the children's school. He may be more complex than I thought, she decided. But I still don't trust him.
THE inside of the Ivan Stelian Prison was even more forbidding than its exterior. The corridors were narrow, painted a dull gray. There was a jungle of crowded black-barred cells, patrolled by uniformed guards armed with machine guns. The stench was overpowering.
A guard led Mary to a small visitors' room, saying, "She's in there. You have ten minutes."
Mary entered, and the door closed behind her.
Hannah Murphy was seated at a small battle-scarred table. She was handcuffed and wearing prison garb. Her face was pale and gauss% and her eyes were red and swollen. Her hair was uncombed. "Hi," Mary said. "I'm the American ambassador."
Hannah Murphy looked at her and began to sob uncontrollably.
Mary put her arms around the girl and said soothingly, "Every thing is going to be all right. Now, just tell me what happened."
Hannah Murphy took a deep breath. "I met this man-he was a Remanian-and I was lonely. He was nice to me, and we- We spent the night together. A girlfriend had given me some marijuana. I shared it with him. When I woke up in the morning, he was gone, but the police were there. And they brought me to this hellhole." She shook her head helplessly. "Five years."
Mary thought of what Lucas Janklow had said as she was leaving for the prison: "There's nothing you can do for her. If ghe were a Remanian, they'd probably give her life." Now Mary looked at Hannah Murphy and said, "I'll do everything in my power to help you."
Mary had examined the official police report. It was signed by Captain Aurel Istrase, head of the Securitate. It was brief and unhelpful, but there was no doubt of the girl's guilt. I'll have to find another way, Mary thought. Aurel Istrase. The name had a familiar ring. She thought back to the confidential dossier James Stickley had shown her in Washington. She remembered something in there about Captain Istrase....
Mary arranged to meet with the captain the following morning.
AuREL Istrase was a short swarthy man with a scoffed face. He had come to the embassy for the meeting. He was curious about the new American ambassador.
"You wished to talk to me, Madam Ambassador?"
"Thank you for coming. I want to discuss Hannah Murphy."
"Ah, yes. The drug peddler. In Remania we have strict laws about people who sell drugs. They go to jail."
"Excellent," Mary said. "I'm pleased to hear that. I wish we had stricter drug laws in the United States."
Istrase was watching her, puzzled. "Then you agree with me?"
"Absolutely. Anyone who sells drugs deserves jail. Hannah Murphy, however, did not sell drugs. She offered to give some marijuana to a Remanian citizen."
"It is the same thing. If-"
"Not quite, Captain. The Remanian was a lieutenant on your police force. He smoked marijuana too. Has he been punished?"
"He was merely gathering evidence of a criminal act."
"Your lieutenant has a wife and three children?"
Captain Istrase frowned. "Yes."
"Does the lieutenant's wife know' about her husband's affair?"
Captain Istrase stared at her. "Why should she?"
"Because it sounds to me like a clear case of entrapment. I think we had better make this whole thing public. The international press will be fascinated."
"There would be no point to that," Istrase said.
She sprang her ace. "Why? Because the lieutenant happens to be your son-in-law?"
"Certainly not! I just want to see justice done."
"So do I," Mary assured him.
According to the dossier she had seen, the son-in-law specialized in making the acquaintance of young tourists, seducing them, suggesting places where they could trade in the black market or buy drugs, and then turning them in.
Mary said in a conciliatory tone, "I see no need for your daughter to know how her husband conducts himself. I think it would be much better if you released Hannah Murphy from jail and I sent her back to the States. What do you say, Captain?"
He sat there turning. Finally he shrugged. "I will use what little influence I have."
"I'm sure you will, Captain Istrase. Thank you."
The next day a grateful Hannah Murphy was on her way home.
"How did you do it?" Mike Slade asked unbelievingly.
"I followed your advice. I charmed him."