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from the August 2006 issue

from End of the World in Breslau

Breslau Monday, November 28th 9:00 a.m.

Kurt Smolorz, a sergeant in the Criminal Unit, was one of the best officers of the Breslau Police Department. His brutality was reviled by criminals, while the laconic brevity of his reports drew praise from his superiors. However, one of these superiors valued another of Smolorz's qualities above all else: his perspicacity. This morning, Smolorz had revealed the trait in a striking manner, twice. The first time was when he had entered Mock's dark wood-paneled office and seen imprinted on Mock's brow the red mark of his signet ring-an indubitable sign that the inspector had rested his tired forehead on it. Smolorz had not given his report then about the horrible crime in the Under the Griffins apartment building in the Market Square, where, on the orders of Heinrich Muhlhaus, director of the criminal division, he and his boss were supposed to appear together, without delay. He knew that Mock, at this moment, would not understand a thing.

"I'll be waiting for you in the car, sir," said Smolorz, and went out to bring the new black Adler round to the gate of Police Headquarters. This was not the only reason why the sergeant major had departed so rapidly. Mock became aware of the other motive when, cursing, he crammed himself into the passenger seat. Then he saw Smolorz's redhaired hand holding out a bottle of milk. Mock opened it and drank a few swallows greedily. Now he was ready to listen to Smolorz's story. Smolorz started the engine.

"The Under the Griffins apartment building, eight a.m."-Smolorz spoke the way he wrote-"The shoemaker Rohmig could no longer stand the smell and broke down the wall in his workshop. Behind the wall, a corpse."

From Schuhbrücke, where Police Headquarters was located, to the Market Square was not far. Mock drank up the last drops of milk and Smolorz parked the Adler in front of the Lotterie on Nicolaistrasse. Behind the Under the Griffins building, in an interior courtyard, a uniformed policeman was waiting before a small shoemaker's workshop. He saluted at sight of them. Beside the policeman stood a mustached consumptive, heroically bearing up under a heavy leather apron, and a stout matron unable to understand that there was no bench in the dirty courtyard. Every few seconds, magnesium flashes lit up a wretched room filled with the odor of sweat-rotted shoes and bone glue. Mock and Smolorz went inside and smelled another scent, one that was unique of its kind, and well known to them. The workshop was divided in two by a glue-covered counter. Two walls were covered with cellar shelves, on which stood shoes. The third contained a small window and door, while from the fourth issued the stench with which the policemen were familiar.

In this wall an irregular opening of a meter by a meter had been cut. In front of it the police photographer Ehlers was kneeling and shoving his lens into the dark cavity. Mock, holding his nose, looked inside. Out of the darkness of the small niche, his flashlight fished a hairless skull covered in decaying skin. The hands and feet were tied to hooks on opposite sides of the walls of the cell. The inspector looked once again at the face of the corpse and saw a fat worm trying to wriggle his way into a glazed eye. Mock left the workshop with a quick step, removed his overcoat, threw it to the rank and filer, and standing with his legs spread well apart, leaned his hands against the wall. Smolorz, hearing the sounds emanating from his boss, could not forgive himself for not having foreseen the combined effects of a hangover, milk, and a decaying corpse. Mock took a handkerchief, one that Sophie had embroidered with his initials, out of his trouser pocket, and wiped his lips. He lifted his face to the sky and greedily swallowed a few drops of falling rain.

"Take that pick," he said to the policeman, "and break down the wall so that the stiff can be got out. Smolorz, tie a handkerchief around your nose and mouth and search the opening and the corpse's pockets, and you, Ehler, help Smolorz.".

Mock put on his light-colored overcoat, adjusted his hat, and glanced around the courtyard.

"Who are you?" He sent a radiant smile in the direction of the heavy lady, who was shifting from foot to foot.

"Ernst Rohmig, master shoemaker," the consumptive, unasked, eagerly introduced himself. He shrugged his shoulders to adjust his leather armor.

"The building administrator," snorted the lady. Her greasy hair, wrapped on curl papers, was covered with cheap dye. "Hurry up, mister! Do you think that I can stand here forever, wondering how much I'm going to have to pay to have the wall washed that you've just dirtied? And now I'm supposed to introduce myself. I'm Mathilde Kühn, agent for the owner, and you?"

"Eberhard Mock, woman boxer," growled the inspector. He turned about abruptly and squeezed into the little room again. "Ehlers, clean up here and gather up everything important. Smolorz, take down their stories."

Having said this, Mock trotted over to the entry of the building, passing Smolorz, who was standing with the witnesses under one umbrella, trying to avoid the viper's venom and the consumptive's bacilli. In the gate, Mock greeted Doctor Lasarius from the police morgue, behind whom came two men carrying, slowly, a stretcher.

Mock stood in front of the house and absentmindedly observed the street traffic, which was already considerable at this hour. A young couple were so absorbed in one another that they did not notice him. The young man accidentally bumped the inspector and excused himself at once, tipping his hat politely. The girl glanced at Mock and quickly turned away a face that was gray with weariness.

Mock looked about and walked with a quick step to the Apelta flower shop. In the painted eyes of the plump florist he caught a glimpse of interest. He ordered a basket of fifty tea roses and asked them to be sent to Sophie Mock, Rehdigerplatz 2. On the cream card attached to the bouquet, he wrote: "Never again, Eberhard." He paid and left the florist alone with her growing curiosity.

A newspaper seller blocked his way. Mock got rid of him, handing him a few pfennigs, and, clutching the newspaper under his arm, cut across the western frontage of the market square. After a moment, he was sitting in the Adler. He smoked his first cigarette of the day, and waited for Smolorz and Ehlers. He killed the time by reading the Breslauer Neueste Nachrichten. On one of the advertising pages, an unusual drawing caught his glance. A mandala, the wheel of change, surrounded a gloomy elder with raised finger. "Father Prince Alexei von Orlov proves that the end of the world is near. The next turn of the Wheel of History is imminent-the repeated crimes and cataclysms of centuries. You are invited to a lecture by the sage from the Sepulchrum Mundi. Sunday, November 27, Grünstrasse 14-16." Mock rolled down the window and flicked his cigarette butt onto the approaching Smolorz. Smolorz brushed off the ash and got into the car, passing over Mock's excuses in silence. Ehlers, loaded with his camera stand, and Gustav Meinerer, assistant detective and fingerprint specialist, scrambled onto the back seat.

"Rohmig rented his workshop a month ago, exactly-from the 24th of October," Smolorz opened his police notebook. "From July to the end of October, so the harridan said, the workshop stood empty. Anyone could have broken in. The building guard is often drunk and sleeps instead of guarding. Now he's disappeared somewhere. He's probably nursing a hangover. The shoemaker has been complaining from the beginning about the smell. His brother-in-law, a bricklayer, told him about a practical joke that bricklayers play when they're not well paid. They brick an egg into the wall. It stinks. Rohmig thought that there was an egg behind the wall. This morning he wanted to get rid of it. He broke down the wall with a pick. That's all."

"What did you find?" asked Mock.

"This." Smolorz took a brown envelope from his pocket, pulled out a crocodile- skin wallet, and handed it to Mock.

Mock looked through the contents of the wallet. There was an identity document in it, with the name Emil Gelfrert, born February 17, 1876, musician, bachelor, residing at Freidrich-Wilhelm-Strasse 21, an address book, a washing receipt made out to the same name, a library card from the Public Library, several tramway tickets, and a postcard from the Riesen Gebirge with the inscription "To my sweetest, best wishes from the mountains, Anna, Hirschberg, July, 1925."

"Is that all?" Mock looked on while the men with the stretcher carried the "sweetest" to the van parked nearby.

"No. There was this, too. Someone pinned it to his shirt." With tweezers Smolorz held up a page from the universal calendar, date September 12, 1927. No note, just an ordinary page from a calendar, such as unfortunate people-that is, those for whom time counts-tear off every day. The card was punctured by a small pin.

"No fingerprints," added Meinerer. "Doctor Lasarius from the morgue set the time of the murder at August-September."

"Smolorz, we're going to Friedrich-Wilhelm-Strasse, to the musician's apartment." Mock noticed the discomfort of his empty stomach with relief. It meant that his organism was ready for a beer and a bread roll with a piece of peppered bacon. "Maybe we'll meet the faithful Anna there, weaving as she awaits the return of her musician from the philharmonic?"


Breslau Monday, November 28th 11 a.m.

Gelfrert occupied a small attic room in a showy apartment building at Friedrich-Wilhelm-Strasse 21. The room, besides a stool, washbasin, mirror, clothes hanger, and an iron bed, was filled, under the window, with a line of empty liqueur bottles of the Guttentag Alpine herb. On the sill stood a few books and a French horn case.

"He had a delicate palate," observed Ehlers, setting up his camera stand.

Mock gave appropriate directions to his people, went downstairs, crossed the street, and walked in the direction of the Königsplatz. The rain had stopped, the sun had come out and was lighting up the shiny sign of the Grengl eating-house. A minute later and Mock was ingesting there the craved bread roll and bacon, drowning its sharp pepper taste in beer. He drank up the last drops of beer with a sense of relief, and felt a slight dizziness. He threw some small change to the amiable bulldog wiping mugs behind the bar, and closed himself into a telephone booth. After a moment he was able to remember his own phone number. Adalbert lifted the receiver after the first ring.

"Good day, is my wife at home?" Mock drawled the syllables.

"Unfortunately, sir, Mrs. Mock left an hour ago." Adalbert spoke very quickly, he knew that he had to tell his employer everything, without waiting for questions. "She went shopping with Miss Pflüger, shortly after she received a basket of roses. She took the roses with her."

Mock hung up the receiver and left the pub. His men were sitting in the Adler, filling the inside of the car with nicotine smoke. He joined them.

"Gelfrert once had a fiancée, a large blonde around thirty years old. She visited him with a two-year-old boy." Smolorz recounted the doorkeeper's testimony. "A spinster with child. The janitor hasn't seen her for a long time. Gelfrert worked in some orchestra and went out to students. Piano lessons. Lately things had been going badly for him. He drank. No one visited him. The neighbors complained that he left the toilet in a mess. Nothing else from the janitor."

"We found a slip from the Public Library." Ehlers extended a piece of printed paper towards Mock. "September 10th, Gelfrert gave back a book entitled Antiquitates Silesiacae. The library gave him a receipt confirming the return of the book."

"So on September 10th, he was still alive. Taking into account the estimation of Doctor Lasarius, our musician was walled into the tailor's workshop in the Under the Griffins building between September 10th and 30th.

"Someone lured him there or lugged him in unconscious." Smolorz opened the window to let in a little fresh air. "Then he was gagged and tied to hooks on opposite sides of the cell, so that he wouldn't move and wouldn't break down the freshly mortared wall," added Mock. "One thing puzzles me: wasn't our Bluebeard afraid that a new tenant might move into the workshop the next day and discover the newly bricked wall, or, worse, hear some inarticulate sound made by the victim in spite of the gag?"

The men were silent. Mock, thinking about a second mug of beer, sprawled out on the passenger seat and turned to the policemen seated behind. His hat, shoved back on his head, gave him a rakish air.

"Smolorz, dig out that drunken guard from Under the Griffins and question him. Check our papers for the name of the deceased and all his acquaintances in his address book. You, Ehlers, get to work on Gelfrert's past: Where he was born, what faith, etc. Then question all the deceased's acquaintances who live in Breslau. Report the day after tomorrow at noon."

"And what should I do?" asked Meinerer. Mock considered for a moment. Meinerer was ambitious and held grudges. Once he had confided in his cups to Ehlers that he couldn't understand why Mock favored such a dullard as Smolorz. Meinerer hadn't realized that criticism of the good-natured Smolorz was a transgression it was hard to erase in Mock's eyes. From that moment, Meinerer's career had been blocked by numerous obstacles.

"You, Meinerer, I'm commandeering for an entirely different task. I suspect that my nephew has fallen into bad company. You're to follow him for two weeks, daily. Erwin Mock, Nicolaistrasse 20, nineteen years old, student of St. Mathias Gymnasium." Mock, pretending that he did not see the disappointment on Meinerer's face, got out of the car. "I'll walk, I still have something important to take care of."

He left with a rapid step in the direction of Grengl's pub.

"Sir, sir, please wait!" Behind his back, he heard Meinerer's voice. He turned around and waited for his subordinate with a neutral expression.

"Your assistant Smolorz is too reticent," Meinerer said triumphantly. "He didn't mention that a universal calendar was hanging on the wall, one with pages that tear out. Do you know which card was torn off last?"

"For September 12th?" Mock glanced with recognition at the nodding Meinerer. "The one the murderer pinned to the shirt of the deceased? Do you have that calendar with you?"

"Yes, here it is." Meinerer beamed and handed Mock another brown envelope.

"Good work." Mock put it in the pocket of his overcoat. "I'll take care of it. I'll check if the page from the shirt comes from this calendar."

Then he looked with amusement at his silent subordinate, and next he unexpectedly gave him a pat on the cheek.

"Go follow Erwin, Meinerer. My nephew is more important to me than all the walled in or not walled in corpses in this city."

From Koniec świata w Breslau (Warsaw: W.A.B., 2003). Copyright © 2003 by W.A.B. Published by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

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