The Oil FieldsSerebin had called the number earlier, with no success, and drawn a line through the entry: Gheorghe Musa --- senior civil servant. On the right-hand side of the page, no indication of payment. Now, the morning after they returned from Brasov, he tried one last time. Dialed, then stared out the window and waited as the double ring, a dry whispery vibrato, repeated itself again and again. It would, he knew, never be answered.
But it was.
"Yes? Who's calling, please." It was the voice of an old man. Perhaps, Serebin thought, an old man whose phone had not rung for a long time.
"I hope I'm not intruding," Serebin said.
"No, sit, you are not."
"My name is Marchais, I happen to be in Bucharest, and I'm calling at the suggestion of a friend in Paris."
"Yes, that's right."
In the silence on the telephone Serebin could hear the silence of the old man's apartment. He knows, Serebin thought. Knows perfectly well what kind of telephone call this is, and he's thinking it over. At last, a voice. "How may I help you?"
"Would it be convenient for us to speak in person?"
Another pause. "All right. Would you want to come here?"
Serebin said he did, and Musa gave him a tram number, a stop, and an address.
The apartment occupied an entire floor, up six steep flights of stairs. Inside it was dark, and so quiet that Serebin was conscious of the sound of his footsteps. It immediately occurred to him, though he could not have said how he knew, that no woman had ever lived there. Gheorghe Musa was a small man, frail, with a few wisps of white hair and a pleasant smile. "You are a rare visitor," he said. For the visit, or perhaps it was his usual habit, he had dressed formally; a heavy, wool suit, of a style popular in the 1920s, a white shirt with a high collar, a gray tie.
Musa walked slowly to a room lined with bookcases that reached the ceiling. When he turned on a lamp, Serebin could see, by his chair, well-used editions of Balzac and Proust, a Latin dictionary, a set of German encyclopedias.
"And, so, what brings you to Bucharest?"
Serebin mentioned folk art, Brasov, then DeHaas.
"Oh yes," Musa said. "Some years ago, I used to see a gentleman who worked for that organization. Owned by --- he calls himself Baron Kostyka now, I believe. We used to pass information to them, now and then. Depending on what we wanted them to do." His smile broadened in recollection. "Influence," he said. "A ministry word."
"Oh I worked for several ministries, over the years. I was at Interior for a long time, then, eventually, the Foreign Ministry, with various titles, until I retired. 1932, that was."
"It's that old?"
"DeHaas? Oh yes, very old, and venerable. A local institution, really. And why not? Kostyka's financial arrangements were large enough to have an effect here, in this country. We tried to make sure his manipulations were favorable to Roumania. We didn't always succeed, but that's the game, as I'm sure you know. One must always try."
"So, you're retired." Serebin prepared to leave.
"Yes. For a time I stayed active --- a special assignment, once in a while, but that's all gone now. I'm a Jew, you see, and that's entirely out of fashion here."
"Not quite that bad, not yet. But there are, restrictions. I had to give up my radio, last month, and one does miss it terribly. But you wouldn't want Jews having radios, would you. We are also forbidden servants, and, lately, there's talk about housing. I have no idea where I'll go if they take this place away from me."
"What would they do with it?"
"Give it to their friends. It's a way they've found to improve their lives. You're surprised?"
"Unfortunately, no. It's everywhere, Germany's influence."
"Yes, that, but we have our own enthusiasts. The Legion staged a grand event last November, the Day of the Martyrs they called it. The remains of Codreanu and his henchmen were supposedly dug up, two years after their execution, and reinterred, here in Bucharest. Fifty-five thousand Iron Guardsmen marched and a hundred thousand sympathizers cheered them on. The schools were closed, Codreanu and his thirteen followers were declared 'national saints' by the Orthodox church, the newspapers were printed in green ink. The ceremony was attended by official delegations from all over fascist Europe --- Hitler Youth from Germany, Spanish Falangists, Italians, even a group of Japanese. As the coffins were lowered into a mausoleum, German war planes flew overhead and dropped funeral wreaths-one of them hit a legionnaire on the head and knocked him out cold. Then the Legion marched for hours, singing their anthems, while, in the streets, people wept with passion."
He paused, and Serebin realized that he had actually seen it. "Yes," Musa said. "I was there."
Serebin could see him in the crowd, old, invisible. "I had to do something."
After a moment, Serebin said, "Will Roumania be occupied? Like France?"
"We are occupied, sir. The Germans began to arrive in October, even before the king ran away. Just twenty or so, at first, in residence at the Athenée Palace, their boots lining the hall at night, set out to be cleaned and polished. Then more, and more. 'The German Military Mission to Roumania,' a euphemism taken from the language of diplomacy. A few thousand of them, now, housed in barracks, and they keep coming. But it will never be an official occupation, we've signed up as allies. The only question that remains is, who will govern here? The Legion? Or Marshal Antonescu? It's Hitler's choice, we await his pleasure."
"Will there be, resistance?"
Musa smiled, a sad smile, and shook his head very slowly. "No," he said softly. "Not here."
Serebin didn't want to go, but sensed it was time to leave. Gheorghe Musa would do for them whatever he could, but what that might turn out to be was for others to decide.
"Perhaps you will tell me something," Musa said.
"What precisely interests you, at this moment?"
Serebin hesitated. Hard to know, right now. Of course, as events unfold ... That was the established line and Serebin knew it was correct --- the question had to be deflected. But then, for a reason he couldn't name, he said, "Natural resources."
"Oil and wheat."
Musa stood and walked to the bookshelves on the other side of the room, peering at a long row of red cardboard binders with handwritten labels on their spines. "If I have to leave here," he said, "I suppose I will lose the library. It's not the kind of thing you can take to, to --- wherever it might be."
He turned to a floor lamp, tugged on the chain again and again until the light went on, then went back to the binders. "One thing about governments," he said, "think of them what you will, but they do write reports." He ran his finger along the row. "For example, wheat and rye production in the province of Wallachia in 1908. Read that one? Bet you haven't. There's a drought in the final chapter, it will keep you up all night. Certainly kept us up. Or, let's see, Ethnic Census of Transylvania --- the date gives that one away, 1918, after they chased the Hungarians out. Or maybe you'd like ... Petroleum Production and Transport: Report of the General Staff. The date being, uh, 1922." He slid the binder out, brought it over to Serebin, and handed it to him.
Serebin turned the pages. The text in Roumanian he couldn't read, but he found a map, with boundaries in dotted lines, and underlined names. Astra Romano. Unirea Speranitza. Dacia Romana. Redeventa Xenia. Standard Petrol Block. Romana Americana. Steaua Romana. Concordia Vega.
"The oil fields," Musa explained. "With the names of the concessions."
"What is it?"
"A study of our vulnerabilities, undertaken by the General Staff of the army. After the British raid of 1916, we had to look at what happened, what had been done to us, and what might happen in the future. For the British, of course, the destruction was a great success, a triumph. But for us it was a national humiliation, the more so because we did it to ourselves, we were forced to do it, and we had to ask, will this happen every time we go to war? Can we stop it? It's our oil, after all. It's owned by foreigners, but they must pay us for it, and it belongs to us."
Serebin read further; long columns of numbers, percentages, paragraphs of explanation, a map of the Danube, from Giurgiu in Roumania all the way up to Germany.
"That's the transport route," Musa said.
Serebin leafed through the pages until he came to the end, then offered the report to Musa.
"Oh, you might as well take that along," Musa said. "It's no use to me anymore."--- From Blood of Victory
©2003 Random House