We flew to Timisoara, a city of about 300,000 in western Transylvania, suffering the flight in an old recycled Tupolev turboprop now belonging to Tarom, the state airline. The authorities would not allow my Lear to fly from city to city in the country. We were lucky; the daily flight was delayed only an hour and a half. We flew through cloud for most of the way, and there were no interior lights on the plane, but that did not matter because there were neither flight attendants nor the interruption of a meal or snack. Dr. Paxley grumbled most of the way, but the scream of the turboprops and the groaning of metal as we bounced and bucked our way through updrafts and storm clouds muffled most of his complaints.
Just as we took off, seconds before entering the clouds, Fortuna leaned across the aisle and pointed out the window to a snowcovered island on a lake that must have been about twenty miles north of Bucharest. “Snagov,” he said, watching my face.
I glanced down, caught a glimpse of a dark church on the island before the clouds obliterated the view, and looked back at Fortuna. “Yes?”
“Vlad Tepes buried there,” said Fortuna, still watching me. He pronounced the last name as “Tsepesh.”
I nodded. Fortuna went back to reading one of our Time magazines in the dim light, although how someone could read or concentrate during that wild ride, I will never know. A minute later Carl Berry leaned forward from the seat behind me and whispered, “Who the hell is Vlad Tepes? Someone who died in the fighting?”
The cabin was so dark now that I could barely make out Berry's face inches from my own. “Dracula,” I said to the AT&T executive.
Berry let out a discouraged sigh and leaned back in his seat, tightening his belt as we began to pitch and bounce in earnest.
“Vlad the Impaler,” I whispered to no one at all.
The electricity had failed, so the morgue was cooled by the simple expediency of opening all of the tall windows. The light was still very thin, as if watered down by the dark green walls and grimy panes of glass and constant low clouds, but was adequate to illuminate the rows of corpses across the tabletops and filling almost every inch of the tiled floors. We had to walk a circuitous path, stepping carefully between bare legs and white faces and bulging bellies, just to join Fortuna and the Romanian doctor in the center of the room. There were at least three or four hundred bodies in the long room . . . not counting ourselves.
“Why haven't these people been buried?” demanded Father O'Rourke, his scarf raised to his face. His voice was angry. “It's been at least a week since the murders, correct?”
Fortuna translated for the Timisoaran doctor, who shrugged. Fortuna shrugged. “Eleven days since the Securitate, they do this,” he said. “Funerals soon. The . . . how do you say . . . the authorities here, they want to show the Western reporters and such very important peoples as yourself. Look, look. “ Fortuna opened his arms to the room in a gesture that was almost proud, a chef showing off the banquet he had prepared.
On the table in front of us lay a corpse of an old man. His hands and feet had been amputated by something not very sharp. There were burns on his lower abdomen and genitals, and his chest showed open scars that reminded me of Viking photos of the rivers and craters of Mars.
The Romanian doctor spoke. Fortuna translated. “He say, the Securitate, they play with acid. You know? And here . . .”
The young woman lay on the floor, fully clothed except for the ripped clothing that extended from her breasts to pubic bone. What I first took for another layer of slashed, red rags, I now realized was the redrimmed wall of her opened belly and abdomen. The sevenmonth fetus lay on her lap like a discarded doll. It would have been a boy.
“Here,” commanded Fortuna, stepping through the maze of ankles and gesturing.
The boy must have been about ten. Death and a week or more of freezing cold had expanded and mottled flesh to the texture of bloated, marbled parchment, but the barbed wire around his ankles and wrists was still quite visible. His arms had been tied behind him with such force that the shoulder joints were totally out of their sockets. Flies had been at his eyes, and the layer of eggs there made it look as if the child were wearing white goggles.
Professor Emeritus Paxley made a noise and staggered from the room, almost tripping over the bodies set out for display there. One old man's gnarled hand seemed to tug at the professor's pant leg as he fled.
Father O'Rourke grabbed Fortuna by his coat front and almost lifted the little man from the floor. “Why in the hell are you showing us this?”
Fortuna grinned. “There is more, Father. Come.”
“They called Ceausescu `the vampire,”' said Donna Wexler, who had flown up later to join us.
“And here in Timisoara is where it started,” said Carl Berry, puffing on his pipe and looking around at the gray sky, gray buildings, gray slush on the street, and gray people moving through the dim light.
“Here in Timisoara is where the final explosion began,” said Wexler. “The younger generation has been, getting more and more restless for some time. In a real sense, Ceausescu signed his own death warrant by creating that generation. “
“Creating that generation,” repeated Father O'Rourke, frowning. “Explain. “
Wexler explained. In the mid1960s Ceausescu had outlawed abortion, discontinued the import of oral contraceptives and IUDs, and announced that it was a woman's obligation to the state to have many children. More importantly, his government had offered birth premiums and reduced taxes to those families who obeyed the government's call for increased births. Couples who had fewer than five children were actually fined as well as heavily taxed. Between 1966 and 1976, said Wexler, there had been a forty percent increase in babies born, along with a huge rise in infant mortality.
“It was this surplus of young people in their twenties by the late 1980s who provided the core of the revolution,” said Donna Wexler. “They had no jobs, no chance for a college education . . . not even a chance for decent housing. They were the ones who began the protests in Timisoara and elsewhere. “
Father O'Rourke nodded. “Ironic . . . but appropriate.”
“Of course,” said Wexler, pausing near the train station, “most of the peasant families could not afford to raise the extra children . . . “ She stopped with that diplomat's tic of embarrassment.
“So what happened to those children?” I asked. It was only early afternoon, but the light had faded to a wintry twilight. There were no streetlights along this section of Timisoara's main boulevard. Somewhere far. down the tracks, a locomotive screamed.
The embassy woman shook her head, but Radu Fortuna stepped closer. “We take train tonight to Sebes, Sibiu, Copsa Mica, and Sighisoara,” the smiling Romanian said. “You see where babies go.”
Winter evening became winter night beyond the windows of our train. The train passed through mountains as jagged as rotten teethwhether they were the Fagaras Range or the lower Bucegi Carpathians, I could not remember right then and the dismal sight of huddled villages and sagging farms faded to blackness broken only by the occasional glow of oil lamps through distant windows. For a second the illusion was perfect and I thought I was traveling through these mountains in the fifteenth century, traveling by coach to the castle on the Arges, hurrying through these mountain passes in a race against enemies who would . . .
I realized with a start that I had almost dozed off. It was New Year's Eve, the last night of 1989, and the dawn would bring what was popularly thought of as the last decade of the millennium. But the sight out the window remained a glimpse of the fifteenth century. The only intrusion of the modern age visible in the evening departure from Timisoara had been the occasional military vehicle glimpsed on snowpacked roads and the rare electric cables snaking above the trees. Then those slim talismans had disappeared and there were only the villages, the oil lamps, the cold, and an occasional rubber-wheeled cart, pulled by horses who seemed more bone than flesh, guided by men hidden in dark wool. Then even the village streets were empty as the train rushed through, stopping nowhere. I realized that some of the villages were totally dark, even though it was not yet ten P.m., and leaning closer, wiping frost from the glass, I saw that the village we were passing now was deadbuildings bulldozed, stone walls demolished, farm homes tumbled down.
“Systematization,” whispered Radu Fortuna, who had appeared silently next to me in the aisle. He was chewing on an onion.
I did not ask for clarification, but our guide and liaison smiled and provided it. “Ceausescu wanted to destroy the old. He break down villages, move thousands of peoples to city places like Victory of Socialism Boulevard in Bucharest . . . kilometers and kilometers of tall apartment buildings. Only buildings, they not finished when he tear down and move peoples there. No heat. No water. No electricity . . . he sell electricity to other countries, you see. So village peoples, they have little house out here, be in family three, maybe four hundreds of years, but now live on ninth floor of bad brick building in strange city . . . no windows, cold wind blow in. Have to carry water a mile, then carry up nine flights of stairs.”
He took a deep bite of the onion and nodded as if satisfied. “Systematization.” He moved on down the smoky aisle.
The mountains passed in the night. I began to doze again . . . I had slept little the night before, dreamlessly or otherwise, and I had not slept on the plane the night before that . . . but awoke with a start to find that the Professor Emeritus had taken the seat next to me.
“No goddamn heat,” he whispered, tugging his muffler tighter. “You'd think with all these goddamn peasant bodies and goats and chickens and what have you in this socalled firstclass car, that they'd generate some body heat in here, but it's as cold as Madame Ceausescu’s dear dead tit.”
I blinked at the simile.
“Actually,” said Dr. Paxley in a conspiratorial whisper, “it's not as bad as they say.”
“The cold?” I said.
“No, no. The economy. Ceausescu may be the only national leader in this century who actually paid off his country's foreign debt. Of course, he had to divert food, electricity, and consumer goods to other countries to do it, but Romania has no foreign debt at all now. None.”
“Mmmm,” I said, trying to remember the fragments of the dream I'd had in my few moments of sleep. Something about blood and iron.
“A onepointsevenbilliondollar trade surplus,” muttered Paxley, leaning close enough that I could tell that he'd also had onion for dinner. “And they owe the West nothing and the Russians nothing. Incredible.”
“But the people are starving,” I said softly. Wexler and Father O'Rourke were asleep in the seat in front of us. The bearded priest mumbled slightly, as if battling a bad dream.
Paxley waved away my comment. “When German reunification comes, do you know how much the West Germans are going to have to invest just to retool the infrastructure in the East?” Not waiting for my reply, he went on. “A hundred billion Deutschmarks . . . and that's just to prime the pump. With Romania, the infrastructure is so pitiful that there's little to tear down. Just junk the industrial madness that Ceausescu was so proud of, use the cheap labor . . . my God, man, they're almost serfs . . . and build whatever industrial infrastructure you want. The South Korean model, Mexico . . . it's wide open for the Western corporation that's willing to take the chance.”
I pretended to doze off again, and eventually the Professor Emeritus moved down the aisle to find someone else to explain the economic facts of life to. The villages passed in the darkness as we moved deeper into the Transylvanian mountains.
We arrived in Sebes before dawn and there was some minor official there to take us to the orphanage.
No, orphanage is too kind a word. It was a warehouse, heated no better than the other meat lockers we had been in so far, undecorated except for grimy tile floors and flaking walls painted a vomitous green to eye height and a leprous gray above that. The main hall was at least a hundred meters across.
It was filled with cribs.
Again, the word is too generous. Not cribs, but low metal cages with no tops to them. In the cages were children. Children ranging in age from newborns to tenyearolds. None seemed capable of walking. All were naked or dressed in filthcaked rags. Many were screaming or weeping silently, and the fog of their breath rose in the cold air. Sternfaced women in complicated nurse's caps stood smoking cigarettes on the periphery of this giant human stockyard, occasionally moving among the cages to brusquely hand a bottle to a child . . . sometimes a seven or eightyearold child . . . or more frequently to slap one into silence.
The official and the chainsmoking administrator of the “orphanage” snapped a tirade at us which Fortuna did not deign to translate, and then they walked us through the room and slammed open tall doors.
Another room, a larger room, opened into the cold-shrouded distance. Thin morning light fell in shafts onto the cages and faces there. There must have been at least a thousand children in this room, none of them more than two years old. Some were crying, their infant wails echoing in the tiled space, but most seemed too weak and lethargic even to cry as they lay on the thin, excrementsmeared rags. Some lay in the foetal grip of near starvation. Some looked dead.
Radu Fortuna turned and folded his arms. He was smiling. “You see where the babies go, yes?”