The stairway was narrow and poorly lit. The walls were hundred year old plaster which had been painted over more times that Oliver cared to think about, but still managed to exude a faint stench of tobacco, as well as occasional beads of a mysterious brown liquid that left streaks down the pastel blue paint. Oliver could only hope that it was also a product of the cigarette smoke that had permitted the walls for decades before the restaurant below had gone smoke-free.
“When you suggested going back to your room, I imagined something a little more classy,” Jeanne remarked as they climbed.
Oliver glanced back at her and flashed a grin. “You didn’t think I was taking you to the honeymoon suite at the Hilton, did you?”
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you’ve been looking at me. I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“I’m flattered. And you should be too, this place is great.”
“Great? Oliver, we’ve got three strip clubs and twice as many bars within sight of the door.”
Oliver paused and turned back to face Jeanne down the steps. “You’re the New Orleans native, if your accent says anything about you. I’d think you would be familiar with the atmosphere of Bourbon Street by now.”
“Louisiana, but not New Orleans. I grew up in the suburbs upriver of here.”
“Close enough, but I’m just messing with you on that point. Look around you, Jeanne,” Oliver said, gesturing at the stairwell.
Jeanne gave the dim space a cursory glance, then fixed Oliver with a withering glare. “What?”
“If I handed you an uncut diamond, still covered with dirt from the ground, would you turn your nose up at it?”
“But there’s a whole lot of dirt.”
“I know a diamond when I see one, Oliver. I’ve spent my life studying and stealing gems.”
“Exactly,” Oliver said, turning to climb the steps again.
He rested a hand on the bannister as he climbed, allowing his fingers to drift across the wood that possessed a smoothness that could only be developed by a hundred years of hands touching it. His feet sounded solidly on the steps, which were constructed of wide oak boards that fit together so perfectly that they still did not creak.
“You see, Jeanne, this place is one of the oldest buildings on Bourbon Street. It has been a hotel, jazz club, restaurant, bar, you name it. Now the upper floor is a private apartment, which I’m renting from a friend who makes a habit of collecting old, unique buildings. You’re right that this place isn’t pretty, and the neighborhood appeals to the worst tendencies of tourists, but this particular loft is a lovely little time capsule from the Jazz Age.”
Oliver reached the top of the steps, pushed his key into the lock, and opened the door into a third-floor loft apartment with hardwood floors, leaded glass windows opening into a wrought iron balcony along one wall, and a large iron chandelier hanging from the intricate plasterwork ceiling. He pressed a button beside the door and the chandelier blazed to light, the LED bulbs flooding the room with more brilliance than the original incandescents ever could have when the loft was designed.