put his hands behind his back as they walked on. "You ever think about Buddy?" he asked ruminatively as they crossed Camp Street.
Valentin said, "I do, yes."
"They'll not make another one like him," the piano man said with a little laugh.
Valentin never knew what to say when someone mentioned Bolden, so he kept quiet. They walked the last block in silence, each thinking his own thoughts.
They stopped on the corner where the hack was waiting. Morton reached for the brass bar, then stopped to look down Magazine Street in the direction of Valentin's rooms.
"How's Miss Justine?" he inquired.
"She's well. Why?"
"I'm just asking," Morton said, and smiled curiously. "Make sure you give her my regards."
He pulled himself up into the wide rear seat. The driver snapped the reins and the carriage rolled away.
Justine opened her eyes and stared at the cracks in the plaster wall. The pillow was damp where her face had pressed into it and she pushed it away. There was sunlight through the window that opened out over the alley; it had to be late, after ten. She had missed early Mass again.
She felt Valentin's warm breath on her back and rolled on her side to look at him. She could not count the mornings when she had lain beside him in the bed, wishing they could hide there like sleepy children while the world went on without them. She knew it was silly, a schoolgirl's daydream, and of course she never mentioned it to him. She studied his profile, now unguarded in repose, his olive skin bloodless with sleep, wondering if she watched long enough, she'd be able to read something in his face. Then she thought about shaking him roughly awake to catch him unaware and ask him exactly what was on his mind.
There was a time when she didn't have to puzzle over it. He would tell her about his days and nights, about the part of his life that she didn't see. He described the cases he worked and she giggled over the gossip he brought home. He had even told her about his past, about the tragedies that had rained down on his world as a young boy.
There was more. He had listened to her stories, too, intrigued by her tales of the life she'd led before she landed in New Orleans. Unlike most rounders, who cared nothing for a girl other than to serve their basest needs, Valentin had shown true concern for her. He had taken her out of Miss Antonia's to protect her. He had stayed by her bedside while she recovered from her injuries. When it was all over, he didn't exactly invite her to stay, but he didn't put her out, either, and so there she remained.
She had a sudden memory of the moment she realized something had gone askew. He had come back from his last visit to the hospital in Jackson and there was a look on his face that she had never seen before. He wouldn't—or couldn't—tell her what was wrong. He just sat across the table from her and didn't say a thing. At one point he reached over and ran gentle fingers along her unhealed scar. His gray eyes were stricken, wounded, as if he was the one who had put it there. She never forgot that look, because it had lain so heavily on that moment.
She came to understand in the months since that he was carrying a terrible burden of guilt over what had happened to his friend Bolden—and to her. It started small, then grew to a presence between them, like a third person in their rooms, an intruder who wouldn't leave. Or so she imagined. She didn't even understand what went through her mind some days. Whatever it was, real or imagined, he had let it get the best of him.
As the time passed, they spoke less and of less important things. He didn't bring much of himself home anymore. They frolicked less often, and so she had to wonder frankly what she was doing there.
She thought of waking him up at that moment with a rough shake and asking him just that. Before she got foolish and actually did it, she slipped out of bed, maneuvering over him delicately until her feet touched the floor. She took