Wise Guy – Frederick Nebel (1930)


The first paragraph of this story might be the most brutal thing in this collection so far.

Alderman Tony Maratelli walked up and down the living room of his house in Riddle Street.  Riddle was the name of the one-time tax commissioner. Maratelli was a fat man with dark eyes and two generous chins.  His fingers were fat, too, and the fingers of one hand were splayed around a glass of Chianti from which at frequent intervals he took quick sibilant draughts.  Now an Italian does not drink Chianti that way.  But Maratelli looked worried.  He was.

Up and down the living room, not just around it?  Is it shaped like a lap-pool?  He lives in the street?  I assure you, the tax commissioner has absolutely no role in this story, and there is no irony later in the story concerning his occupation or the name [1].  The paragraph veers towards coherence in describing his weight problem, but just as quickly goes back off the rails.  What’s with the conversational Now all of a sudden?  Beginning a sentence with But is OK to punctuate an idea, but the incredible shrinking sentences at the end would normally convey an anxiety that does not exist here.  Not sure about the use of draught, but I’m willing to call it colloquialism.

He has invited Police Captain MacBride over to talk about his son Dominick.  Maratelli’s son, I mean; but was anyone really thinking MacBride was the one with a son named Dominick?  Maratelli assures MacBride, “Look, Cap, I’m a good guy.  I’m a good wop. I’ve got a wife and kids and a business and I was elected Alderman.”  He is concerned that his son is hanging around with Sam Chibarro whom he also calls a wop.  But not a good one, I guess, as he is mixed up with the mob.  Maratelli wants MacBride to make sure his son his safe.


Did this story opt for the Roman Numeral chapter headings because of the many Italian characters?  There were no Arabs in the other stories, so who knows?

MacBride heads down to the Club Naples where Chibarro hangs out with his entourage. He spots Chibarro and Dominick immediately.  The two tuxedoed gangsters are hanging out with another thug, Kid Barjo and some floozies, although hot women hanging out with bad boys who play by their own rules flashing cash is a little hard to buy.

MacBride has barely had a chance to enjoy the Canadian whiskey and cigars offered by the manager Al Vassilakos when the group disappears into a back room.  When MacBride goes to check them out, he finds Kid Barjo dead with a “two stab wounds in the front of the neck” or what we non-professionals call “the throat.”


Dominick and Chibarro got away, but the cops haul in the manager and the dames.  The girls are Bunny Dahl who sounds like a doll, Flossie who sounds like a floozy, and Frieda Hoegh who sounds like a ho [2].  We are also introduced to MacBride’s sidekick from a number of short stories, a drunken reporter named Kennedy.  Well, I’m assuming he’s drunken because he’s a 1930’s reporter.  And a Kennedy.  But mostly the Kennedy thing.  Hanging out at the police station, they get news that Tony Maratelli’s house was blown up.



MacBride and Maratelli look at the smoldering ruins.  It had been more than a home to Maratelli, it was a symbol of his success as a building contractor.  The good news is, like Trump, he will build new walls and other people will pay for them . . . by diverting materials bought for other people’s homes on cost-plus contracts, I mean.  Because he’s contractor.  Moving on . . .

Maratelli confesses that Dominick had been hiding at the house when it was fire-bombed.  He says Dominick did not kill Barjo, but he just couldn’t tell MacBride he was there because he was his son.  MacBride tells him, “I know you’re a good guy — the best wop I’ve ever known.  But you’ve got to come clean.”


Back at the police station, the detectives are looking for a pattern.  Like a straight or a flush, for example, as they seem to just be hanging around playing cards.  The detectives and Kennedy workshop a few theories about who actually committed the murder.  MacBride manages to call Maratelli a wop two more times, then he breaks out a bottle of Dewar’s.  I think I can profile him already.


MacBride beefs up the task force with Moriarty, Cohen, some plainclothesmen, some flashyclothesmen, and some uniformed cops.  MacBride returns to Club Naples to talk to Al Vassilakos.  He isn’t there, or maybe is just trying to hide as he is apparently going by the alias Al Vasilakos now [3]. Having been fooled by this impenetrable ruse, MacBride leaves.  He does see Dominick and Vasilakos in the alley though.  Maybe he should have changed his appearance by wearing different cuff-links.  Both are hauled downtown.


At the station, MacBride chews Dominick out for causing Moriarty’s house to burn down, Moriarty losing his position as Alderman, not revealing who killed Barjo, and for hitting on 16 with the dealer showing a 5.  Dominick denies everything.  Just as MacBride is about to get out the rubber hose, they get a new lead.


Bunny Dahl is discovered passed out from a gas leak.  She regains consciousness just long enough to say Chibarro did this to her.  MacBride, Moriarty, Hogan and Kennedy pile into the police car, but wisely do not let Kennedy drive.

X. – XII.

Back at the station, Vassilakos is also refusing to talk.  Unlike Dominick, he is not saved by the bell.  Moriarty roughs him up until he spills the address where Chibarro is hiding. They go to the address.  There is chasing, fighting, gunplay and finally Chibarro is hauled in.  New evidence actually proves him to be innocent of killing Barjo.  Bunny Dahl snapped out of her coma to write a confession longer than my high school valedictorian speech — the one I had to sit through, I mean — then croaked.  She admits she killed Barjo, clearing Chibarro.  But then she busts Chibarro for attempting to murder her.  D’oh!  He was afraid she would spill the beans about some of his other shenanigans.

Despite the rocky start, this one turned out to be pretty good.


  • [1] OK, I suppose the mystery genre suggests a riddle, but are you going to have a Riddle Street in every entry of the genre?
  • [2] or phlegm.
  • [3] Upon closer examination, just a typo.
  • First published in Black Mask in April 1930.  Also that month:  Yeoman Rand from Star Trek is born.

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