Frame-up on the Bowery

A Houdini & Nate Mystery

Houdini and Nate Mysteries (Volume 3)

Tom Lalicki

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Prologue
Hearing the scream, Nate flew down the back stairs and dashed into the kitchen, expecting to find Marina bleeding uncontrollably. Or on the floor with a broken bone sticking out of her skin. Something ghastly and life-threatening.
Instead, the cook sat in a chair near the stove, where she sighed and sobbed, pressing a copy of the New York World to her chest. Marina’s daughter, Beatrycze the maid, gestured at the newspaper page. Mother and daughter had recently immigrated from Poland and spoke little English.
“Murder!” Marina sobbed deeply. “Murder next block Grocer boy told me it is in this paper.”
“Ya, ya! Grocer delivery boy said murder,” Bea agreed, making it sound like moor-dur.
Nate took the paper and smoothed out the wrinkles on the surface of the kitchen table.

 
“New York, December sixteenth, 1911,” he began, and read the headlines with growing dread:

BRUTAL MURDER ON EAST 54TH STREET
PROMINENT STOCKBROKER
TORTURED AND MUTILATED
NO SUSPECTS IN DEMONIC CRIME

“One block away? Is true? One block?” Marina asked feverishly
“Let me read the story and then I’ll tell you all about it,” Nate said, trying to reassure her.
But it was a grisly story. Frightening.
A criminal the newspaper dubbed the “Fifth Avenue Slasher” had killed Carl Templeton Cramer, a stockbroker. The murder happened in Cramer’s splendid home on East Fifty-fourth street and Fifth Avenue—only a block away.
That explained why the grocer’s delivery boy had thoroughly frightened the servants. He probably felt like he was doing a public service, while picking up a few extra pennies, by selling copies of the newspaper to unlikely customers such as cooks and maids.
The New York World’s story went on to say that the victim had returned home unexpectedly, having left the Astors’ Christmas ball early. Police assumed that Cramer stepped into his library and discovered a thief ransacking the room. The burglar bashed his head in—probably with a statuette taken in the robbery—and tied him up. The villain then tortured Cramer, dragging a sharp knife across his face and neck dozens of times, presumably to get the combination to his safe. When called to the scene, police found the safe open—and emptied.
The story became more frenzied and fear-provoking at this point:

His bloodlust satisfied at long last, the fiend inflicted his coup de grâce—a slash from one side of the neck to the other. Mercifully, death followed swiftly.
Police at the scene determined that the victim’s person had been robbed of watch, rings, tiepin, billfold, and even his cigars. “Cool as a cucumber this Slasher was,” a detective lieutenant told this reporter. “Put all his swag in a satchel, I’d guess, and went to the kitchen, unbolted the door, and walked away free as a bird.” This reporter saw bloody footprints—made in the blood of his innocent victim—that confirm the Fifth Avenue Slasher’s unhurried mode of egress.

“One of our city’s most successful, personable, and charitable citizens, Carl Templeton Cramer will be sorely missed,” the paper’s reporter added in an editorial.
In an adjoining story, the World wondered whether the criminal responsible for a number of recent but nonviolent burglaries that had taken place in Nate’s neighborhood had turned into a bloodthirsty maniac.
If that theory was true, no homeowner was safe. Nate peeked over the top of the paper at the cowering women. They don’t need to hear this part of it.
The detective lieutenant had no comment on the World’s speculation, but assured the public that everything humanly possible would be done to find the Fifth Avenue Slasher.
Nate lowered the paper, took a deep breath, and summarized the story for Marina and Bea in the least frightening words he could find. Privately, he guessed many people in the neighborhood would sleep uneasily until the police made an arrest.
Text copyright © 2009 by Tom Lalicki