An except from Chasing the Devil's Tail
It was after three A.M. when the trouble started.
Valentin St. Cyr was working the floor that night. He never caught the fine lines of the spat, but it had
something to do with a certain pimp and some citizen’s sister or daughter. The offended brother or father
walked in off the street, stepped up to the bar, put a foot on the brass rail and ordered a glass of rye
whiskey. He surveyed the room until he spotted the pimp, a ratty Creole named Littlejohn, standing not
fifteen feet away.
Ferdinand LeMenthe, taking a few minutes away from the grand piano in Hilma Burt’s parlor next door,
glanced up from his seat at the bar to see a dapper-looking white man waving him out of the way with the
blue-black muzzle of a Colt .22.
Valentin saw the whole thing from the other side of the room, but it happened so fast there was nothing he
could have done, even if he had been willing to risk taking a bullet for a piece of shit like Littlejohn. In one
instant, the pistol appeared, he heard a sharp bang and saw LeMenthe jump back as the shot whistled by to
catch the pimp neatly at the base of the skull.
The music wound down in three jagged notes and the card players froze in mid-deal. All heads turned to
watch the pimp crumple against the bar and then raise one hand as if asking for a moment’s pause while he
ordered a drink. His eyes fluttered and he fell forward stiffly, landing on the floor with a face-down thud.
The dapper fellow peered complacently over the end of the bar, laid the smoking pistol down and picked up
his glass of whiskey. Valentin stepped to his side, slid the weapon out of reach, and sent for the coppers.
Someone threw a rug over Littlejohn. The music started up again, the rounders went back to their hands, and
the revelry resumed.
It lasted until New Orleans Police Lieutenant J. Picot arrived and promptly cleared the room. The fellows in
the band called it a night, put up their horns, and stepped down yawning from the low stage. The gamblers
pocketed their winnings, the suckers counted their losses, and they all pushed back from the tables. There
was a scraping of chairs, a shuffling of feet and a babble of low laughter and goodnights. St. Cyr and
LeMenthe tagged onto the tail of the crowd heading for the street.
“Hold it up, there!” Picot called. The two men turned to see the policeman standing over Littlejohn’s body,
crooking a fat sausage of a finger. Valentin walked back to the bar.
“You, too, piano man,” Picot said, and LeMenthe joined him.
Picot regarded both characters with annoyance, then fixed a hard eye on the private detective. “Ain’t you
hired to prevent this kind of thing?” he said. “Ain’t that what Mr. Tom Anderson pays you for?” He
glanced at LeMenthe, taking in the piano player’s light skin, wavy locks, and fine tailored suit. “And what
are you doin’ in the middle of this?” he asked.
LeMenthe, a young man who almost never stopped talking, opened his mouth to explain. But Picot wasn’t
really interested. He said, “Shut it, now,” and LeMenthe’s mouth closed. He returned his attention to the
Creole detective St. Cyr. “I want to know right now what in hell happened here,” he demanded. “I want to
know where is the man what shot Littlejohn.”
Valentin said reasonably, “I believe you just chased him outdoors.”
Picot stared for a moment, then looked at LeMenthe, who was trying not to smile. “Go,” he said and the
piano player went. Picot leaned his head toward St. Cyr as if indulging a secret. “I don’t like you,” he said.
“And I don’t care to see you any time soon.”
“That suits me fine,” Valentin said and turned away. He walked with LeMenthe to the door of Hilma Burt’s
mansion and then went home.
Within the hour, one of Picot’s patrolmen found the fellow who shot Littlejohn the pimp, strolling calmly
along St. Louis Street, enjoying the sights. He surrendered without resistance.