THE MURDERER

When Marowitz arrived at the station-house to report for duty, the
sergeant gazed at him curiously.

“You’re to report at headquarters immediately,” he said. “I don’t know
what for. The Chief just sent word that he wants to see you.”

Marowitz looked bewildered. Summons to headquarters usually meant
trouble. Rewards usually came through the precinct Captain. Marowitz
wondered what delinquency he was to be reprimanded for. He could think
of nothing that he had done in violation of the regulations.

Half an hour later he stood in the presence of the Chief.

“You sent for me,” he said.

The Chief looked at him inquiringly. “What is your name?” he asked.

“Marowitz.”

The Chief’s face lit up. “Oh, yes,” he said. “From the Eldridge Street
station. Do you speak the Yiddish jargon?”

Marowitz drew a long breath of relief.

“Yes, sir,” he answered. “I live in the Jewish quarter.”

“Good,” said the Chief. “I want you to lay aside your uniform and put on
citizen’s clothes. Then go and look for a chap named Gratzberg. He is a
Russian, and is wanted in Odessa for murder. He is supposed to be hiding
somewhere in the Jewish quarter here. You’ll have no trouble in spotting
him if you run across him. Here,”—the Chief drew a slip of paper from
his desk—“here is the cabled description: Height, five feet seven;
weight, about 150 pounds. Has a black beard. Blue eyes. Right ear marked
on top by deep scar.”

He handed the paper to Marowitz.

“Keep your eyes open,” he said, “for marked ears. It’ll be a big thing
for you if you catch him. When I was your age I would have given the
world for a chance like this.”

When Marowitz left headquarters he walked on air. Here was a chance,
indeed. He had been a policeman for nearly six years, and in all that
time there had come no opportunity to distinguish himself through
heroism or skill, or through any achievement, save the faithful
performance of routine duty. His heart now beat high with hope. How
pleased his wife would be! His name would be in all the newspapers. “The
Murderer Caught! Officer Marowitz Runs Him to Earth!” Officer Marowitz
already enjoyed the taste of the intoxicating cup of fame.

In mounting the stairs of the tenement where he lived Marowitz nearly
stumbled over the figure of a little boy who was busily engaged in
playing Indian, lurking in the darkness in wait for a foe to come along.
The next moment the little figure was scrambling over him, shouting with
delight:

“It’s papa! Come to play Indian with Bootsy!”

“Hello, little rascal!” cried the policeman. “Papa can’t play to-day.
Got to go right out after naughty man.”

Suddenly an idea came to him.

“Want to come along with papa, little Boots?” he asked. The little
fellow yelled with joy at the prospect of this rare treat. He was six
years old, and had blue eyes and a winsome face. His real name was
Hermann, but an infantile tendency to chew for hours all the shoes and
boots of the household had fastened upon him the name of “Boots,” by
which all the neighbourhood knew him and loved him. An hour later, and
all that day, and all the next day, and the day after for a whole week,
Marowitz and his little son wandered, apparently in aimless fashion, up
and down the streets of the East Side. The companionship of the boy was
as good as a thousand disguises. It would have been difficult to imagine
anything less detective-like or police-like than this amiable-looking
young father taking his son out for a holiday promenade.

Occasionally they would wander into one or another of the Jewish cafés,
where little Boots ascended to the seventh heaven of joy in sweet drinks
while Marowitz gazed about him, carelessly, for a man with a dark beard
and a marked ear. In one of these cafés, happening to pick up a Russian
newspaper, he read an account of the crime with which this man Gratzberg
was charged. It appeared that Gratzberg, while returning from the
synagogue with his wife, had accidently jostled a young soldier. The
soldier had struck him, and abused him for a vile Jew, and Gratzberg,
knowing the futility of resenting the insult, had edged out of the
soldier’s way, and was passing on when he heard a scream from his wife.
The soldier, attracted by the woman’s comeliness, had thrown his arms
around her, saying, “I will take a kiss from those Jewish lips to wipe
out the insult to which I have been subjected.” In sudden fury Gratzberg
rushed upon the soldier, and, with a light cane which he carried, made a
swift thrust into his face. The soldier fell to the ground, dead. The
thin point of the cane had entered his eye and pierced through into the
brain. Gratzberg turned and fled, and from that moment no man had seen
him.

Marowitz laid down the paper and frowned. He sat for a long time,
plunged in thought. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he muttered,
“Duty is duty.” And, taking little Boots by the hand, he resumed his
search for the man with the black beard and the marked ear.

It was a long and tedious search, and almost barren in clues. Two men
whom he approached—men whom he knew—remembered having seen a man who
answered the description, but their recollection was too dim to afford
him the slightest assistance. In the course of the week he had made a
dozen visits to every café, restaurant, and meeting place in the
neighbourhood, had conscientiously patrolled every street, both by day
and by night, had gone into many stores, and followed the delivery of
nearly all the Russian newspapers that came into that quarter. But
without a glimpse of the man with the marked ear.

There came a night when the heat grew so intense, and the atmosphere so
humid and suffocating that nearly every house in the Ghetto poured out
its denizens into the street to seek relief. Numerous parties made their
way to the river, to lounge about the docks and piers, where a light
breeze brought grateful relief from the intense heat.

“Want to go down to the river, Boots?” asked Marowitz.

The lad’s eyes brightened. He was worn out with the heat, and too weary
to speak. He laid his little hand in his father’s, and they went down to
the river. Marowitz walked down a long pier, crowded with people, and
peered into the face of every man he saw. They were all peaceful
workingmen, oppressed by the heat, and seeking rest, and none among them
had marked ears. The cool breeze acted like a tonic upon little Boots.
In a few minutes he had joined a group of children who were running out
and screaming shrilly at play, and presently his merry voice could
plainly be distinguished above all the rest. Marowitz seated himself on
the string-piece at the end of the pier, and leaned his head against a
post in grateful, contented repose. His mind went ruefully over his
week’s work.

“He cannot be in this neighbourhood,” he thought, “else I would have
found some trace of him. I have left nothing undone. I have worked hard
and faithfully on this assignment. But luck is against me. To-morrow I
will have to report—failure.”

It was a depressing thought. He had had his chance and had failed.
Promotion—the rosy dawn of fame—became dimmer and dimmer. Now suddenly
rose a scream of terror, followed instantly by a loud splash. Then a
hubbub of voices and cries. Then, out of the black water, a wild cry,
“Papa! Papa!” Even before the people began to run toward him Marowitz
realised that Boots had fallen into the river. A swift, sharp pang of
dread, of horrible fear, shot through him. He saw the white, upturned
face floating by—sprang swiftly, blindly into the water. And not until
the splash, when the shock of the cold water struck him, at the very
moment when he felt the arms of little Boots envelop him, and felt the
strong current sweeping them along—not until then did Marowitz remember
that he could not swim a stroke.

“Help! Help!” he cried, at the top of his voice. But the lights of the
pier had already begun to fade. The cries of the people were rapidly
dying out into a low hum. It was ebb tide, swift and relentless as
death. A twist in the current carried them in toward another
pier—deserted—and dark—save for a faint gleam of light that shone
through an aperture below the string-piece and threw a dancing trail of
dim brightness upon the water.

“Help! Help!” cried Marowitz, in despair. He heard an answering cry. The
faint light had suddenly been cut off; the opening through which it had
shone had suddenly been enlarged; Marowitz saw the figure of a man
emerge.

“Help! For God’s sake!” he cried.

The man climbed quickly to the top of the pier, shouting something which
Marowitz could not distinguish—seized a great log which lay upon the
pier, and, holding it in his arms, sprang into the water. A few quick
strokes brought him to Marowitz’s side. He pushed forward the log so
that the policeman could grasp it. Then, allowing the current to carry
them down the stream, yet, by slow swimming guiding the log nearer and
nearer toward the shore, the man was finally able to grasp the rudder of
a ship at anchor in a dock. A few moments later they stood upon the
deck, surrounded by the crew of the ship; the loungers of the wharf
alongside gazing down upon them in curiosity. Boots was safe and
uninjured. The moment he felt his feet firmly planted on the ship’s deck
he burst into wild wailing, and Marowitz, with his hand upon his heart,
murmured thanks to God. Then he turned to thank his rescuer, who stood,
with the water dripping from him, under a ship’s lantern. The next
moment Marowitz’s outstretched hand fell, as if stricken, to his side,
and he stood stock still, bewildered. The lantern’s rays fell upon the
man’s ear, illuminating a deep red scar. The water was dripping from the
man’s long black beard. And when he saw Marowitz draw back, and saw his
gaze fastened as if fascinated upon that scarred ear, a ghastly pallor
overspread the man’s face. For a moment they stood thus, gazing at each
other. Then Marowitz strode forward impetuously, seized the man’s hand,
and carried it to his lips, and in the Yiddish jargon said to him:

“You have saved my boy’s life. You have saved my life. May the blessing
of the Lord be upon you!”

Marowitz then took his son in his arms and walked briskly homeward.

“What luck?” asked the Chief next day, when he reported at headquarters.
Marowitz shook his head.

“They must be mistaken. He is not in the Jewish quarter.”

The Chief frowned. Then Marowitz, with heightened colour, said:

“I want to resign. I—I don’t think I’m cut out for a good detective.”

“H’m!” said the Chief. “I guess you’re right.”