6. How Chapkin Halid Became Chief Detective

In Balata there lived, some years ago, two scoundrels, called Chapkin Halid and Pitch Osman. These two young rascals lived by their wits and at the expense of their neighbors. But they had ever-increasing difficulties in getting the few piasters they needed daily for bread and beer. They had tried several schemes in their own neighborhood, with exceptionally poor results, and were almost disheartened when Chapkin Halid came up with an idea that seemed to offer every chance of success. He explained to his chum Osman that Balata was “played out,” at least for a time, and that they must go elsewhere to satisfy their needs. Halid’s plan was to go to Stamboul, and pretend to be dead in the main street, while Osman was to beg for the funeral expenses of his friend Halid.

Arriving in Stamboul, Halid stretched himself on his back on the pavement and covered his face with an old sack, while Osman sat himself down beside the supposed corpse, and every now and then bewailed the hard fate of the stranger who had met with death on the first day of his arrival. The corpse prompted Osman whenever the coast was clear, and the touching tale told by Osman soon brought contributions for the burial of the stranger. Osman had collected about thirty piasters, and Halid was seriously thinking of a resurrection, but was prevented by the passing of the Grand Vizier, who, upon inquiring why the man lay on the ground in that fashion, was told that he was a stranger who had died in the street. The Grand Vizier then gave instructions to an Imam, who happened to be passing, to bury the stranger and come for the money to the palace.

Halid was carried off to the Mosque, and Osman thought that it was time to leave the corpse to take care of itself. The Imam laid Halid on the marble floor and prepared to wash him prior to burial. He had taken off his turban and long cloak and got ready the water, when he remembered that he had no soap, and immediately went out to get some. No sooner had the Imam disappeared than Halid jumped up, and, putting on the Imam’s turban and long cloak, went to the palace. Here he asked admittance to the Grand Vizier, but this request was not granted until he told the nature of his business. Halid said he was the Imam who, with the instructions received from his Highness, had buried a stranger and that he had come for payment. The Grand Vizier sent five gold pieces (twenty piasters each) to the supposed Imam, and Halid made off as fast as possible.

No sooner had Halid departed than the cloakless Imam arrived in breathless haste, and explained that he was the Imam who had received instructions from the Grand Vizier to bury a stranger, but that the supposed corpse had disappeared, and so had his cloak and turban. Witnesses proved this man to be the genuine Imam of the quarter, and the Grand Vizier gave orders to his Chief Detective to capture, within three days, on pain of death, and bring to the palace, this fearless evil-doer.

The Chief Detective was soon on the track of Halid; but the latter was on the keen lookout. With the aid of the money he had received from the Grand Vizier he successfully evaded the clutches of the Chief Detective, who was greatly frustrated. On the second day he again got scent of Halid and was determined to follow him till an opportunity offered for his capture. Halid knew that he was being followed and understood the intentions of his pursuer. As he was passing a pharmacy he noticed there several young men, so he entered and explained to the druggist, as he handed him one of the gold pieces he had received from the Grand Vizier, that his uncle, who would come in presently, was not right in his mind; but that if the druggist could manage to soak his head and back with cold water, he would be all right for a week or two. No sooner did the Chief Detective enter the shop than, at a word from the druggist, the young men seized him and gave him a good soaking. The more the detective protested, the more the druggist consolingly explained that it would soon be over and that he would feel much better, and told of the numerous similar cases he had cured in the same manner. The detective saw that it was useless to struggle, so he allowed himself to be treated. In the meantime Halid made off. The Chief Detective was so disheartened that he went to the Grand Vizier and asked him to behead him, as death was preferable to the annoyance he had received and might still receive at the hands of Chapkin Halid. The Grand Vizier was both furious and amused, so he spared the Chief Detective and gave orders that guards be placed at the twenty-four gates of the city, and that Halid be seized at the first opportunity. A reward was further promised to the person who would bring him to the palace.

Halid was finally caught one night as he was going out of the Cannon Gate, and the guards, rejoicing in their capture, after considerable discussion decided to tie Halid to a large tree close to the Guard house, and thus both avoid the loss of sleep and the trouble of watching over so terrible a character. This was done, and Halid now thought that his case was hopeless. Towards dawn, Halid saw a man with a lantern walking toward the Church, and rightly concluded that it was the priest going to make ready for the early morning service. So he called out in a loud voice:

“Priest! Brother! Priest! Brother! Come here quickly.”

Now it happened that the priest was a poor hunchback, and no sooner did Halid see this than he said, “Quick! Quick! Priest, look at my back and see if it has gone!”

“See if what has gone?” asked the priest, carefully looking behind the tree.

“Why, my hump, of course,” answered Halid.

The priest made a close inspection and declared that he could see no hump.

“A thousand thanks!” fervently exclaimed Halid, “then please undo the rope.”

The priest set about to free Halid, and at the same time earnestly begged to be told how he had got rid of the hump, so that he also might free himself of his deformity. Halid agreed to tell him the cure, provided the priest was prepared to pay a certain small sum of money for the secret. The priest agreed, and the latter immediately set about tying the hunchback to the tree, and further told him, on pain of breaking the spell, to repeat sixty-one times the words: ‘Esserti! Pesserti! Sersepeti!’ if he did this, the hump would certainly disappear. Halid left the poor priest religiously and earnestly repeating the words.

The guards were furious when they found, bound to the tree, a madman, as they thought, repeating incoherent words, instead of Halid. They began to untie the captive, but the only answer they could get to their host of questions was ‘Esserti, Pesserti, Sersepeti.’ As the knots were loosened, the louder the priest in despair called out the charmed words. No sooner was the priest freed than he asked God to bring down calamity on the destroyers of the charm that was to remove his hunch. On hearing the priest’s tale, the guards understood how their prisoner had got free, and sent word to the Chief Detective. This gentleman told the Grand Vizier of the unheard-of cunning of the escaped prisoner. The Grand Vizier was amused and also very anxious to see this Chapkin Halid, so he sent criers all over the city, giving full pardon to Halid on condition that he would come to the palace and confess in person to the Grand Vizier. Halid obeyed the summons, and came to kiss the hem of the Grand Vizier’s garment, who was so favorably impressed by him that he then and there appointed him to be his Chief Detective.