Today's Reading

There are people who make you happy when they walk in, and those who make you happy when they leave. 
—Breton proverb

THE FIRST DAY

He was the biggest of the lot. He gave a loud cry. Brisk. Monosyllabic. His head craned arrogantly upward. The vigorous cry was to a buddy who peeped out from behind a rocky ledge and was now rushing over. It was cold, around zero degrees, and the air smelled of damp ice.

Commissaire Georges Dupin from the Commissariat de Police Concarneau was standing directly in front of him, not unimpressed. In spite of the fuss he was making, the figure opposite him really was imposing, and he was at least a meter tall.

A black head, piercing brown eyes, a black throat. Bright yellowish- orange patches on the back of his head. A long, elegant bill, dark on the top, a deep orange on the bottom. His chest a garish yellowish orange with radiant white below; his back shimmering from nape to tail, a silvery slate gray. Like the flippers. His feet and legs, on the other hand, were also jet black. The king penguin was an exquisite spectacle: royal.

By this point, his buddy, who was a little shorter than him, had joined him. Dupin knew that individual penguins could reliably recognize each other by their voices.

Suddenly they both began to cry out in a curt, clipped way. Threatening cries. Unmistakable. For a moment Dupin had thought the cries were meant for him. But he was mistaken. Three of his favorite penguins were standing on the other side of the ledge in the snow-covered Arctic pavilion: gentoo penguins who, along with a group of southern rockhopper penguins, made up the largest penguin colony in Europe here in the Océanopolis in Brest. It was why Dupin, the penguin lover, made a detour here every few months, whenever he was near Brest. Today he was with Henri, who had become his best friend in his "new hometown," a fellow ex-Parisian who had found his great love and happiness at the End of the World more than two decades before. "Everything begins at the End of the World," was what people said: "Tout commence au Finist è re." One of the Breton sayings that got straight to the heart of things: this was what people thought and felt here.

Commissaire Dupin was on his way to a police training seminar in Brest, which unfortunately was part of his "promotion," and on top of everything else, he still didn't know what exactly the promotion meant. Officially speaking, he was no longer the chief commissaire but the "supervising commissaire," although as far back as anyone could remember, there had only been one commissaire in the Commissariat de Police Concarneau anyway. A very modest commissariat, yet it was the only one in France that, according to a never-checked claim, had a panoramic view of the sea. And also of the old town in the large harbor with its enormous fortress walls. A very modest commissariat, but one whose "regional jurisdiction" had expanded bit by bit in recent years—with every retirement of a commissaire in the neighboring districts and the serious financial difficulties in the public budget. Dupin's promotion had almost coincided with his fifth anniversary of working in Brittany. During the "ceremonial" phone call, the prefect had murmured something about "not bad" and that it was "a reasonably good job" that Dupin was "putting in." That one "could certainly talk about some respectable joint investigative successes, in fact." On the first of March five years earlier, Dupin had reported for his first day at work in Brittany following his unceremonious "transfer" from the metropolis—increasingly outlandish tales were developing around the reasons for this transfer.

The topic of the current training course—it had been assigned to him personally as a "bonus" by the prefecture—was "Conducting Systematic and Systemic Conversations in Investigative Situations." Based on the latest results from academic psychological research, of course. Dupin was downright notorious for his unconventional, undoubtedly highly unpsychological conversations during investigations. They were anything but "systematic," or at least not in the usual sense.

But taking part in the course was obligatory and the promotion came with a not very generous but still attractive pay raise. So it was blackmail. This was why Dupin wouldn't have had any problem skipping the introductory meeting today, if only it hadn't fit so nicely with Henri's plans. He had to go to a meeting of restaurateurs near Brest.

The two kings were now waddling toward the three gentoos, at which the gentoos appeared to give each other signals with their flippers. They started to move a moment later and dived into the pool in one daring leap. At breakneck speed, doing crazy turns, but most importantly in a provocatively good mood, they scattered, each of them going in their own direction, before abruptly turning around, darting boldly just past each other, and then disappearing into the waterways to other pools. The little show had lasted less than five seconds. As soon as the birds who looked so clumsy on land—and who had lost their ability to fly over the course of their evolution—were in their element, they turned into by far the most skillful and swift buoyant bodies in the aquatic world. They could get up to speeds of forty kilometers an hour, Dupin knew, streamlined to perfection. They could dive for up to twenty-two minutes on a single breath, reaching up to five hundred meters deep. Dupin read everything there was to read about penguins, and he had these facts and figures at his fingertips. He was particularly impressed by the penguins' sense of direction: they used keen eyes and unrivaled mnemonics to memorize the details of an area many kilometers square under the ice sheet and on the seabed. At any given moment, they knew the location of their nearest hole to the surface—vital to their survival. As it was for a commissaire too, in a way. Just like the ability to maintain a constant body temperature of 30 degrees Celsius at a perceived temperature of a hellish minus 180, during howling storms, weeks of darkness, and without food, a thought that horrified Dupin.
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