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“All right,” I said, grinning at Gunnar. “Lock the door. Let the good times roll.”
“Laissez les bon temps rouler,” he agreed.
Blacks, grays, taupes. There weren’t many civilians left in New Orleans these days, especially in the Quarter, and we tended to wear neutral colors. Military colors. Our clothes blended with theirs, and that was fine by me.
Stay quiet; work hard. That was my motto.
But this was War Night. War Night deserved more than camouflage, so I’d donned a pale violet dress sprigged with white flowers. While Gunnar waited downstairs, I changed from black and gray into NOLA-appropriate purple that worked pretty well against my green eyes and long red hair. Fortunately, I was happy with it straight, because it wouldn’t hold a curl if you begged it.
When Gunnar finished off the tea and the store was locked up tight, we followed Royal Street past brick buildings still half-destroyed, then turned onto Canal. As Gunnar had reported, the crowd was already huge.
The few remaining palm trees swayed, the air cooling as the sun dropped toward the horizon. The sounds and smells of War Night were carried on the breeze—the rhythms of brass-heavy jazz, the fruity scent of tonight’s Drink, lingering smoke from the fireworks.
The Vanguard stood at the head of Bourbon Street, scepters waving beneath a homemade arch of metal scraps, paper flowers, beads from prewar Mardi Gras parades. This year’s War Night theme was “paradise,” so they’d also stuck in palm fronds, Spanish moss, and flowers made of cut soda cans.
The parade would zigzag through the Quarter, down Bourbon to St. Anne, and then over to Jackson Square, a gorgeous park even war hadn’t managed to destroy. At the Square, the parade would turn into a block party that would last until the band got tired, the booze ran out, or Containment shut us down.
We looked over, found Tadji waving from a spot in the middle of the street. She was tall and slender, with velvet-dark skin and curly hair that framed a face dominated by enviable cheekbones and a wide mouth. Tonight she wore a gauzy purple tunic over a saffron bodysuit, and a dozen thin golden rings on her fingers that sparkled in the light. The ensemble—fluid fabric over her long, strong form—made her look like a pagan goddess.
She was absolutely gorgeous, crazy focused on her work, and usually unflappable.
Except when it came to magic.
Tadji was a couple of years older than me. She’d been born in a small community in Acadiana, the French-speaking part of Louisiana, but left the state after high school. Her mom and aunt, and her grandmother before them, had practiced voodoo, preparing gris-gris and cure-alls for neighbors, helping them summon loa and saints.
Tadji thought they were con artists, and had been angry and embarrassed that they’d wanted to bring her into the family business. It wasn’t until the Veil opened that we learned magic really did exist, that some of the voodoo and hoodoo practitioners, psychics, and magicians really did have some power. I wasn’t sure whether Tadji’s relatives fell in that category.
She’d eventually made peace with her mom and aunt. But she didn’t talk about them much, except to say they moved around a lot. She never wanted to discuss them, or magic.
Tadji was now in grad school, studying linguistics at Tulane, the only college still operating in southern Louisiana. She was interviewing survivors in southern Louisiana to investigate how war affected language in the Zone.
I hadn’t gone to college, but I knew how to make do. I read as much as I could on my own, and I’d learned some things on the streets that couldn’t be learned in a classroom. But I was still in awe of how much Tadji knew about so many things. Jealousy bit me sometimes, even though I knew I’d made my choice to focus on the store.