Celie wanted to run up Saint Ann street, but she forced herself to keep a stately pace. Damp air rushed from the river and pushed at her back, unsettling her clothes. She cradled a bouquet of flowers in one arm and tried with her other hand to hold her cloche on her head and keep her skirts from flying up. She relaxed as she turned onto Dauphine; it was calmer there with tall warehouses blocking the wind. The windows were mostly dark at this hour, the buildings quiet behind hinged doors. But as Celie neared Canal Street she heard the sounds of brass blowing and bass drum spilling from between the slats of turquoise shutters.
Jazz and tango and men.
Her house was closed tonight. Closed to all but the most loyal and important customers. Celie looked around, then quick-stepped into the alley and let herself in the side door. Candles in jelly jars lined the stairway, one flickering on each step. Lanterns hung at each turn. At the third level Celie was breathless and hot. She could hear Burtie Boy's trumpet jump and swing.
She burst into the room and smiled her famous, room-lighting smile. Her chest tickled with happiness at the full sound of the band and the sight of three tables piled with food from the best chefs in town. Constable Stone, Celie's favorite customer, was loading his tray with lobster and crawfish and piles of luscious tropical fruit. Celie held the scented lillies and white jasmine to her face and peeked at him. He grinned, boyish and mischievous, and motioned to her. Celie ran to him. Her cloche fell, and she left it. The constable pulled a bit of white jasmine from the bouquet and tucked it behind Celie's ear. She ate a sliver of papaya from his fingers. Her feet began to move to the music, and she caught the eyes of all the happy, hidden citizens. They were safe here. No one could prevent the advent of tango in New Orleans, now.