Gabe pushed himself upright. His bad knee tended to stiffen in damp weather. He was just reaching for the door handle when it was jerked open from outside. "Out," came a gruff order.
He paused in the doorway and cast his most supercilious look on the navvy who'd spoken. Slowly he stepped down, with all the arrogance and conceit he'd learned in years of rubbing elbows with the rich, famous, and crooked. "Ou est Heureaux?"
The man jerked his chin to the left.
"I am here." Heureaux stepped from the shadows. "You have brought the money?"
Gabe lifted the small valise. "Here. Where are the women?"
"They are here. Unfortunately there is little space. Your carriage must retreat to give room for the wagon you were instructed to bring."
Well, hell! He'd counted on Alain and Dom to lend a hand if the situation went to hell. He stepped to the front of the carriage, ordered Alain to take it out of the stableyard and park it in the nearby lane. Alain's expression made it clear he was no happier than Gabe.
Shortly the heavy wagon, with Peter at the reins, appeared out of the alley. The navvy gestured for Peter to turn it around, with the horses in the alley and the tailgate open into the stableyard. As soon as it was in place, two men rolled a beer wagon out of the stable's wide door. It held four barrels, larger than hogsheads. My God, they really do pack them in barrels!
He banished the thought of Gina, stuffed inside a reeking cask, probably drugged and possibly bound and gagged. With any luck, we'll have her safe within the hour.
The wagon holding the barrels was pushed close to Peter's. Heureaux's two helpers climbed in and unhooked the ropes holding the barrels in place. Quickly they rolled them from wagon to wagon, taking no care to be gentle.
Once they were tied securely in Peter's wagon, Heureaux said, "You have your merchandise, M. Basilio. Do you wish to inspect?"
"I do," he said, wondering how it would be possible to ascertain the women were alive and uninjured.
"Maurice, show him."
The lids of the barrels were, it turned out, hinged so that about one-third would fold back, allowing a view of the interior. One by one, Gabe looked inside, reached inside and felt a warm, living female. As dark as it was, he couldn't tell if any of them were Regina, and none of them moved when he touched them. "These are the women I saw?"
Heureaux tossed him a leather pouch. "Here are the contents of their purses and pockets. Less, of course, any coins or bills. We are, after all entitled to be paid for their food and wine." His tone held a sneer.
Quickly Gabe went through the contents. One was a silver card case. Regina's. Her initials were clearly visible. He fought back a relieved exhalation and handed the valise to the Frenchman. "You will want to count this, I presume."
"Not at all. You would be a fool to attempt to cheat me. Merci, M. Basilio. It has been a pleasure dealing with you." Waving his men before him, he faded into the dark maw of the stable.
Gabe mounted the wagon and sat beside Peter. He put the items Heureaux had given him into a valise and stowed it under the seat. As the wagon slowly rolled away from the rendezvous, he sat back in a vain attempt to relax.
Those icy fingers were once again scrabbling up his spine.