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BABEL, Isaac

The King

Before the feast began, a young man unknown to the guests wormed his way into the courtyard. He asked for Benya Krik. He took Benya Krik aside.

‘Listen, King!’ the young man said. ‘I have a couple words I need to tell you. Aunt Hannah from Kostetskaya Street, she sent me.’

‘So?’ Benya Krik, nicknamed ‘the King,’ answered. ‘So what’s these couple of words?’

‘Aunt Hannah, she sent me to tell you that a new chief of police took over the police station yesterday.’

‘I’ve known about that since the day before yesterday,’ Benya Krik answered. ‘Well?’

‘The chief of police called the whole station together and gave a speech—'

‘A new broom is always eager to sweep,’ Benya answered. ‘He wants a raid. So?’

‘King, it’s going to be today! The chief called the whole station together and gave them a speech: “We must finish off Benya Krik,” he said, “because when you have His Majesty the Czar, you can’t have a King too. Today, when Krik gives away his sister in marriage, and they will all be there, is when we raid!”'

‘Good, you can go,’ the King said.

And the young man left. Three or four of Benya’s friends followed him. They said they would be back in about half an hour. And they were back in half an hour. That was that.