1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 42

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 42

If Christin had been a tourist who hadn’t spent almost two weeks traveling on horseback in winter, with two no-longer-delighted young children complaining most of the way, she might have been interested.

Maybe. On her bucket list of things I’d like to see before I die–which she’d left up-time, anyway–cathedrals had ranked pretty low. Below Universal Studios; way below the Daytona 500.And then they started with Notre Dame in Paris, not a cathedral she’d never heard of in a city she’d never heard of either, before the Ring of Fire.

“Bed,” she said.

“I haven’t forgotten. The thing is, if you can find both the royal castle and the cathedral, you’re immediately oriented. The royal castle is on the western side of the city, right next to the wall, and the cathedral is to the northeast, on Ostrów Tumski. That means ‘cathedral island.'” He frowned. “It’s outside the walls so the damn Swedes probably hold it now.”

She’d thought she’d recognized the word for island, “ostrów.” Someday, if she decided to stick around with Jozef and he reciprocated the desire, she’d have to learn Polish, not just a few words and phrases in the language.

That day was not today, however. “Bed,” she repeated.

He smiled. “Not long, now that I know where I am.”

****

Josef proved true to his word. True enough, anyway, that Christin didn’t complain at any point. Or issue any threats or warnings. Less than fifteen minutes after he set off from the intersection, they were pulling up before an inn that looked…

Pretty good, actually. Better than Christin had expected.

It turned out that Jozef was known by the proprietor, a man named Niestor. No surname was given, but he might not have had one. Many commoners in Poland still followed the medieval custom of using patronymics only.

Niestor’s wife and son were there as well. Her name was Helzbieta and his was not provided. Clearly, they too were familiar with Jozef.

Jozef waved Christin forward. By then, the two children were awake and she had them by the hand.

“This is my new wife, Cristina.” That was the closest they’d been able to come to Christin in German. “I met her in Nürnberg.”

With a smile, he added: “They’re her children. She was a widow. But I’m going to adopt them.”

Niestor and his wife and son stared at Jozef; then, at Christin; then, down at Pawel and Tekla; then, back at Jozef. You could have hung a sign around their necks that read: Dumbfounded.

Very familiar with Jozef, obviously. If Christin weren’t so tired, she would have laughed.

****

The tavern was as full of customers as you’d expect, in a city with this population density, but Jozef was able to get them a small room. It cost him a lot, but they had a sizeable purse.

The room was not actually a guest room but one of the proprietor’s own. The four children who inhabited it were summarily ousted. They didn’t even complain. Clearly, well-trained offspring of a tavern-keeping family.

The bed was softer than Christin would have preferred, but she was used to that by now. All down-time beds were soft and squishy, by her standards. The important things were that the room was warm enough and there were no bugs. Of course, she was using their own bedding, taken from one of their packs. Only a dimwit would use the bedding provided by an inn. You might as well get a tattoo that read Free food in Bugese.

She was asleep within two minutes of lying down. Pawel and Tekla, nestled on either side of her, had fallen asleep within two seconds.

****

The next morning, Jozef set out to find the radio operator who’d sent the message warning him that Grand Hetman Koniecpolski had been murdered. That was Czesław Kaczka–or, at least, that was who Jozef thought was most likely to have sent it.

It might not have been, though. The last Jozef had known, Koniecpolski had had four radio operators all told. That might have changed, since his information was quite dated by now. But assuming the Grand Hetman had still had just the four, and assuming none of the personnel had changed, Jozef could eliminate one of them immediately.

Lucas Wojciechowski, that was. A sniveling, slovenly toad of a man whom Jozef wouldn’t trust any farther than he could throw the fat swine. The only reason his uncle had given Wojciechowski the prestigious position of radio operator had been the man’s family connections and the fact that, admittedly, he was capable with technical matters.

If Jozef approached him, only two things would happen: Wojciechowski would know nothing and he’d immediately rush to the authorities to report that Jozef Wojtowicz was back in town and asking suspicious questions. With his hand outstretched for a bribe.

The first of those outcomes mattered to Jozef more than the second. He wasn’t planning to keep his presence in Poznań a secret anyway. What was there to be secretive about? Between his bastard origin and the nature of his work, few people knew of his connection to Koniecpolski in the first place. And those few who did know wouldn’t think it suspicious that he’d returned to Poznań to pay his respects to his uncle’s memory. Jozef was planning to do that in any event, once he found out where the Grand Hetman was buried. 

That left Caspar Kowalczyk and Janko Nowak as the other two possibilities.

Nowak was unlikely, though. Jozef didn’t distrust him, it was just that the man was… odd. The Americans had a term for a mental condition that, when it had been explained to Jozef during his stay in Grantville, immediately made him think of Janko Nowak. “Asperger Syndrome,” they called it.

Jozef didn’t know if Nowak had that condition or not. He had a wide streak of skepticism about American theories, especially when they involved what they called “psychology”–another theoretical concept he was skeptical of. Why couldn’t a man just be what he was? Why look any deeper than the sturdy term “odd fellow?”

Whether Nowak’s mind could best be described with one syllable or five, there was no chance he would have become suspicious of a man’s death due to what appeared to be natural causes. His thinking just didn’t work that way.

So. Kaczka or Kowalczyk? Which one had sent him the radio message?

It would be a bit risky to seek them out where they worked–whose location Jozef probably didn’t know anyway. The radio operations were likely to have been moved since he was last in Poznań. He could find out, easily enough, but that would add another layer of risk. A thin layer, granted, but all such layers were to be avoided.

There was no reason to take the risk when he knew for sure where he could find all three of the men at one time or another–that depended on what shift they worked–almost every day of the week.

He reached the entrance–down a flight of stairs to an outside cellar door–and went into Felix’s Tavern.

****

Czesław Kaczka and Caspar Kowalczyk were both there. As it turned out, Kowalczyk was the one who’d actually sent the message.

“We knew something was wrong right away,” Caspar explained, over a mug of beer. He jerked his head in the direction of the man sitting to his left. “Me and Czesław talked about it–“

“Right here,” said Kaczka, rapping the table surface with his knuckles. “Right in these very seats.”

“–the day after the Grand Hetman died. We both agreed it couldn’t have been what the lying chirurgeon claimed to be spoiled food. You know what your uncle was like. That man could have eaten the most rotten food in the world and all it would have done was give him the shits. Tough, he was.”

That analysis probably wouldn’t have been accepted by up-time doctors, but they thought too much. It made perfect sense to Jozef. To describe Stanislaw Koniecpolski as “tough” was like describing gristle as “chewy.”

“Lots of men are suspicious,” said Kowalczyk. “There was almost an outright revolt among some of the hussars. Would have been, I think, if they’d been able to figure out who was responsible.”

Which ones? wondered Jozef. He’d have to look into that later.

“How about the two of you?” he asked. “Are you ready to revolt?”

Caspar and Czesław looked at each other. Then Caspar shrugged. “Sure, but against who, Jozef? I know the Grand Hetman was poisoned, but I don’t know who did it.”

“Yes you do–and you know it.”

“Name him,” challenged Kaczka.

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1 Response to 1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 42

  1. Geoffrey Nichols says:

    “The next morning, Jozef set out to find the radio operator who’d sent the message warning him that Grand Hetman Koniecpolski had been murdered. That was Czesław Kaczka–or, at least, that was who Jozef thought was most likely to have sent it.”

    I wonder if Jozef would have recognized the “fist” of the operator who had sent the message if he had received it directly instead of a transcript from Gretchen? Not that it appears to make any difference to the plot.

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