People were healthier in pre-war times than they are today. They didn’t use antibiotics, and they could conquer the common cold in only a week rather than seven days. Commissioner Maciejewski, on the other hand, did not suffer from any illnesses at all, maybe with the exception of the occasional hangover. Until that unfortunate autumn came around, that is...
Our protagonist woke up with muscle pains, a stuffy noise and heavy breathing. Two alarm clocks were ringing on his night table; both were a blur, as if he were gazing at them through a dirty window pane. And it wasn’t until Maciejewski pressed the button that they merged into one, only to drift apart again a moment later. The commissioner sat up on his bed and reached for a cigarette – as he would usually enjoy a smoke for breakfast – but he was repelled by the smell of the tobacco. That was when he realized that he was ill, perhaps even fatally ill. However, as one would expect of a pre-war state official, he pulled himself out from under the covers and was at the Criminal Investigation Department within an hour.
“Who made me ill?!” he growled in greeting. In a curt military-like manner, using language unsuitable for print in “Przekrój”, he proceeded to explain to his subordinates that the loss of a detective is always a heavy blow to the entire department. The loss of a leading investigator means chaos throughout the entire station. But in the case of a commissioner, the damage would be irreparable and would constitute a threat to public safety. “So which one of you infected me?” he demanded.
Deputy commissioner Kraft, who had just been pulling out a checkered handkerchief from his pocket, promptly put it away. In a hoarse voice, he replied that, indeed, in addition to excellent marks, his daughters did bring a nasty cold home from school, but he himself was feeling just splendid. To prove his point, he handed Maciejewski an excerpt of the nightly reports, written up within a quarter-hour in neat and even handwriting, without any ink blotches or papillary line impressions to speak of.
Detective Zielny fixed his brilliantined hair a tad bit nervously. Spots of sweat covered his forehead, but not because of fever, rather from worry. For the past few days, he’d had the suspicious feeling that he may have contracted a venereal disease while he was fulfilling his social surveillance duties.
“What’s that? You were using the services of prostitutes?!” Maciejewski grunted.
“I only drank tea from a chipped glass,” Zielny stubbornly stated and did not revoke his testimony. But he did remind the commissioner that the cash desk did not reimburse him for the carriage he had hired to go conduct a search at a suspect’s home a month ago.
The second agent, Fałniewicz, burst out laughing. At a bad moment, regretfully, because the sudden stir in his lungs caused him to cough. He had an explanation though, and a logical one at that. Having been assigned to observe a winery where gambling had probably been taking place in the back room, he certainly could not have revealed himself and was forced to smoke expensive Egyptian cigarettes instead of the wild tobacco he was used to. And that’s why he was having problems with his lungs. But he strongly believed that it would pass and soon he would be ready to make further sacrifices for the service.
Silence fell. Maciejewski astutely eyed his subordinates. He would see three clear figures at one moment and six blurry figures the next. He didn’t know what to say. However, as is often the case at the end of a crime mystery, Constable Lenz from the III District station unexpectedly showed up at the office of the Criminal Investigation Department. He was lively and joyous. His ink-stained fingers held a witness interrogation report.
“Commissioner,” he said, “we have a breakthrough in the case of...”
“It’s all your fault, Lenz!” Maciejewski adjudged, and added, “Say goodbye to the holiday leave I promised.”
“But why, Commissioner?” the policeman whimpered.
And indeed, why is that, Dear Readers?
During a raging epidemic, one should pay special attention to personal hygiene, so individuals who do not wash their hands are highly suspicious. Moreover, clean hands on or off duty should be emblematic of any officer of the National Police (see: J. Hejwowski, Jak myć ręce i nogi? Zbiór instrukcyj higjeny dla funkcjonarjuszów niższych [How to wash your hands and feet? A collection of hygiene instructions for lower-rank officers], Zamość 1924).
Translated from the Polish by Mark Ordon
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