Benya Krik is the boss of the Jewish criminals in Moldavanka, a district in Odessa, Russia. One day, he writes to Sender Eichbaum, a rich Jewish merchant in town, demanding twenty thousand rubles. After Eichbaum ignores the attempt at extortion, Krik and his accomplices raid Eichbaum’s property and begin killing his cows. Eichbaum rushes outside to try to stop the killing, and so does his daughter Zilya, wearing only a low-cut blouse. Eichbaum pays Krik to go away, but two days later the gangster returns, returns the money, and asks to marry Zilya. After some persuasion, Eichbaum consents.
A new police chief has resolved to raid Krik’s house on the day the gangster’s forty-year-old sister, Dvoira, plans to marry. A groom had to be bought with the money Krik extorted from Eichbaum because Dvoira is forty years old and has a goiter. On the day of the wedding, a messenger brings Krik the news of the impending raid. Krik and a few friends leave the wedding for half an hour and then return. The lavish wedding feast is soon interrupted by smoke from the burning police station.
A local rabbi explains how Krik was named king of the Moldavanka gangsters. As a young man, Krik asked to join the gang of Froim Grach, then the leader of Odessa’s Jewish underworld. As a test, Grach had told him to rob the rich merchant Rubin Osipovich Tartakovsky, who was so powerful that he had been nicknamed Jew-and-a-half. The story continues: Krik first writes a...
(The entire section is 468 words.)