FREDERICK NEBEL “Hell’s Pay Check.” Cardigan. Novelette. Published in Dime Detective Magazine, December 1931. Reprinted in Hard-Boiled Detectives, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (Gramercy, 1992). Collected in The Complete Casebook of Cardigan. Volume 1: 1931-1932. Altus Press, February 2012).

   From the second paragraph in this story, we learn that Cardigan is “a big, shaggy-headed man with a burry outdoor look,” getting off a train wearing “a wrinkled topcoat” and “a faded fedora that had seen better days.” He’s in Indianapolis on a case, but his home office, that of the Cosmos Detective Agency, is in New York. He comes with a reputation that the local cops are aware of, but it also helps to be working with an agency that has some clout. Local cops are not at all leery about pushing around independent operators.

   His job in “Hell’s Pay Check” is to help the mayor retrieve a check that he paid to a “notorious woman” on behalf of his son, a check that she didn’t cash at a bank; she seems to have gotten paid by another party who has kept the check. If it gets into the wrong hands, the mayor’s career is over.

   The story begins with a bang, and never stops moving. He’s picked up at the railroad station, but when he gets into the mayor’s car, he quickly realizes that the chauffeur is a phoney. A subsequent car chase through the back streets of the city leaves the driver dead, shot to death by his fellow gang members, who think he has turned on them.

   If you’re looking for a hard-boiled detective at work, you need not go much farther than any of Cardigan’s cases, and this is a prime example. He has a nose for trouble, and likewise trouble is never very far behind him. Nebel’s prose has a ferocity and drive to it that simply can’t be matched. Luckily for us,  all of his cases have now been published in total by Altus Press (now Steeger Books) in four thick handsome volumes.