A Cunning Gendarme
Milosh had often shown resourcefulness while he was at the Police Academy. He was always first to come up with a novel solution to a seemingly impossible problem. When other cadets were baffled by the riddles of crime solving, Milosh had already worked out one or two angles. It was uncanny.
He had just been given the post of Police Chief, a new stage upon which he could display his skills. People would be dazzled.
To celebrate his new found position, he’d taken up the practice of smoking cigarettes with a cigarette holder. Cigarettes, for the most part, didn’t have filters before World War II. Viceroys would have cork filters as early as 1936, but they weren't the norm. And then, many people rolled their own. A cigarette holder was a good accessory. It added a nice metropolitan touch, so Milosh naturally acquired one. It was a very attractive ebony-shafted beauty. It eliminated the need to spit out loose bits of tobacco, and, he felt that it made him appear polished and refined. After all, he was Chief of Police.
Lucky for him, he was assigned to a town not far from his boyhood home, the mountain village of Mokra Gora. He could have spent the rest of his life herding sheep like the rest of them up there, but he was deserving of better things, he thought. He was different. With this new job, he could be close enough to his family to see them if he wanted, but far enough away to live his life the way he wanted.
He patrolled the street that night as he usually did, looking for things out of the ordinary, things that needed to be made to conform. He liked it when things conformed. It made life orderly. Nothing on this night, though, seemed to be out of order. Nor did it require Milosh’s cleverness. There was a stray dog, but he just ignored it. Dogs always wandered the streets. It was nothing unusual.
Sometimes there was a fight between a couple of drunken villagers. That would require cleverness from Milosh because a fight between two drunks is a very delicate thing. A typical policeman — he and his colleagues referred to themselves as gendarmes — would be almost helpless trying to communicate with a drunk. Milosh, a cunning gendarme, was quite skilled and cagey when addressing drunks. Rather than simply clonking them on the head with a baton like a typical policeman, Milosh was able to somehow enter the hallucinatory world of the drunk and speak to him as a peer. There he could say things that the drunk would understand, then the drunk would behave.
Milosh was like one of those people in fairy tales that can talk to animals, and a drunk was like one of those animals. He was a Dr. Doolittle to the inebriated. He could, in a manner of speaking, get the drunk to roll over on his back and beg for a treat. The most difficult thing, though, was to get this animal to walk on his hind legs. That’s because drunks frequently move about on all fours... a by-product of their drunkenness.
What concerned Milosh more than anything on his route was curfew. It was important for people to conform to the curfew, otherwise chaos would certainly follow. It was 1933 and there were things to worry about and mischief for people to get into. To use the term mischief, though, is to severely understate the general political climate of the region. These were turbulent times, and the Slavic region of Europe is prone to turbulence as history has shown.
The less pressing, but still essential concern if we are to think in terms of mischief, was to keep tabs on the vexatious Gypsies. Ironically, the Gypsies were both admired and condemned at the same time. They were admired for their beautiful, spirited, infectious music, yet shunned because of their chronic tendency toward larceny. One would think that one characteristic had nothing to do with the other, but by a mysterious necessity, the two coexisted.
One might argue that society made the Gypsies larcenous. If it could only embrace them, society that is, there would be no reason for them to resort to their pilfering and slight-of-hand trickery.
Others might say they did it to themselves, that they chose their wild lifestyle simply to separate themselves from the rest of dull, sober Europe. The Germans could goose-step all they wanted. The Gypsies were earthy and unpretentious, living off their sweat and their wits.
But, perhaps, the music was a symptom of their recklessness. It may also have been the cause of it for all we know. They may have fallen prey to a spell that they had unwittingly cast upon themselves. They would crawl inside the soul of their muse and peer out from her eyes, watching revelers twirl and swoon to their music. They'd watch peasant women become beautiful seductresses as they danced. Ordinary men would leap like gazelles under the Gypsy spell. You could say that the Gypsy was a puppeteer, drunk on his puppetry. He loved playing the crowd by their puppet strings, making them spin and tumble.
When the night was over, the revelers could simply go home. But not the Gypsies. They were the slaves of their muse, hopelessly possessed as if by madness to live eternally in her world.
Of course, they may have just been irresponsible ne’er-do-wells and nothing more.
Occasionally, a Gypsy might pilfer some fruit from a tree or tomatoes from a garden. Other times they might skulk into a chicken coup to snatch some eggs, or the whole hen. But it was risky. Chickens were difficult to snatch. Not only did they run the other way when you came near them, they also didn’t like having intruders in the hen house. And when one chicken squawked, they all squawked. You might as well have been a weasel or a fox. In the terror of the moment, they’d put up a fracas, flapping around the coup, feathers flying everywhere. Then there'd be the humiliation of being chased around the barnyard by a maniacal, shrieking housewife swinging a cast iron skillet.
Milosh didn’t see anything like that tonight. This night, there was no fight. No Gypsy celebration, just the rustling leaves and Milosh's footsteps. He chose a cigarette from his stylish, gold-colored cigarette holder that he kept tucked in his vest pocket. The moon was about three quarters full, illuminating the engraved letter M on his cigarette case. Stars peeked down from behind the clouds that glided across the sky. The moonlight made their edges glow silver. The leaves rustled and crackled underfoot as he walked. "Never was there a better time to be alive," he thought to himself as he tilted his head back and sniffed the air. It was wonderful.
With the fancy store-bought cigarette in one hand, he pulled a pocket knife from his side pocket. He sat down on a bench in front of a great oak tree on the side of the street. Carefully, using the inside of his open cigarette case as a cutting surface, he cut the cigarette in half. He thought it would be healthier to smoke only a half a cigarette at a time. It would save money too.
With all this on his lap, he folded up his knife and slipped it back into his pocket. He was quite proud of his pocket knife. He was able to hone it to such a degree of razor-sharpness that a person could practically shave with it. In fact, he used to cut his nails with it as perfectly as a French manicurist.
He put half of the cigarette under the clasp of the cigarette case, then tucked it into his pocket. Then he pulled out a black cigarette holder and carefully worked the other half cigarette into the end. Then he pulled out his lighter, flipped back the top and lit the cigarette. Just as the first puff of smoke cleared, he saw a movement in the distance.
It soon became obvious that it was a person... a drunk. Every step he took was a near-fall, and every subsequent step was a recovery from that near-fall. It was amazing, Milosh thought, that a person could travel any distance at all with his body continuously tilted at a 45 degree angle. The stranger would tip this way, then that, then suddenly change course and recover just before landing in the dirt.
Milosh felt for his pistol, still in its holster. “Halt!” he ordered, with his cigarette holder poised, palm up, in his left hand. The stranger stood at attention and saluted the aristocratic Milosh while swaying like a tree in gale. Milosh, with his right hand still resting on his pistol stepped closer to the stranger. “A damned Gypsy!” he thought to himself.
“Forgive me Your Honor,” slurred the Gypsy. “I’ve had a bit too much to drink.”
“Don’t you know that there’s a curfew?” asked Milosh.
“I am terribly sorry Your Excellency. If you don’t mind I believe I must sit down now.” With that, the Gypsy toppled to the ground with a thud. He managed to sit himself up after a few seconds, taking time to reorient himself there in the dirt. He patted himself on the chest as if to reassure himself that he was there there.
“You know I could arrest you,” Milosh told him. “The curfew was an hour ago.”
A sound came from down the street. They both looked around. Someone else was coming, another stranger. “How can I handle two people at once? This one’s bad enough,” Milosh thought. But being a clever fellow, an idea popped into his head.
He pulled the pistol from its holster and pointed it at the Gypsy. “Lie down in that ditch and don’t move! And if you do, so help me, I'll blow you full of holes.”
Amazingly, the Gypsy, at the sight of a gun, suddenly became surprisingly sober. He scuttled over to the ditch and lay face down, quivering in the wet grass. "Not a peep!" Milosh ordered.
Milosh turned toward the newcomer. "Who goes there?" he bellowed with his cigarette still in hand.
The second stranger froze in his tracks. "Come closer !" commanded Milosh. The stranger cautiously edged forward, close enough for Milosh to look into his terrified eyes. He was also a Gypsy.
"Who are you and why are you out after curfew?" demanded Milosh.
"I... I... I...," stuttered the second Gypsy. Milosh could see that the poor fellow had a loaf of bread in his hand and some potatoes in a sack hanging from his shoulders. "Speak!" demanded Milosh.
"I went to buy some bread for my family in town. My cart broke down. I tried to fix it. Really! It's still back there. My family's waiting. My children haven't eaten all day!" pleaded the Gypsy.
Normally, a Gypsy would tell you anything just to pull something over on you. Who could tell? For all Milosh knew, this guy had just stolen the bread and snatched the storekeeper's pocket watch in the process. He might even be wearing his coat, and there might be a gun in the pocket.
But this man seemed earnest, and Milosh wasn't a bully. He noticed a wedding ring on the Gypsy's right hand. It pinched his ring finger the way a ring does when its been worn many for years. Not stolen. It was bent and scratched from hard work.
"I'll tell you what..." said Milosh. "Where do you live?"
"Just outside of the square," said the stranger. "It's not far."
"I'll give you to the count of ten to get out of here. And I don't want to see you out after curfew again. Understand?"
"Yes sir!" said the second Gypsy.
"And if I see you again tonight..." Milosh warned. "You see that guy in the ditch?" waving his pistol toward the other Gypsy.
The second Gypsy recoiled when he saw the motionless body of the man in the ditch. Milosh looked him sternly in the eye. "If I see you out here again after curfew, I'll shoot you full of holes like I did him." Milosh paused a moment, then said, "One..."
And with that, the second stranger bolted into the darkness. The night was silent once again, except for the sound of rustling leaves... and the man snoring in the ditch.