With the unpredictability of the very drunk, her affection turned on a dime and went straight to anger. “I said, I’m not ready!”
She tried to push him away.
Gabriel clamped her to his side and began walking toward the front door. Gina’s heels skittered on the slick floor as she tried to get her footing.
Ortega came up on Gina’s other side, taking part of her weight.
His free hand rested lightly inside his tuxedo jacket.
Together they hustled her along, ignoring her slurred objections.
Gabriel pulled out his cell phone, flipping it open. It took a few precious moments to make himself heard over the din of music and voices—and then another few seconds to convince the dispatcher on the other end of the line that he wasn’t kidding.
“Back exit,” he yelled to Ortega over Gina’s bobbing head.
Ortega wheeled Gina about, changing direction so smoothly Gabriel wondered if there wasn’t some value to that ballroom dancing after all.
“Who did you call?” Ortega asked.
“I’m not kidding. I called a cab company and promised a five-hundred-dollar tip to the driver who gets to the back of this club within five minutes.”
The elegant brows rose. “If our friends are aware they were made, they’ll expect us to use the back door.”
“I don’t think so. I think they’ll stick with the Ferrari. Anyway, we don’t have a lot of options.”
Two of Gina’s girlfriends, a blonde and a brunette, noticed the exodus and fell into line behind them. Briefly Gabriel considered using them as decoys, but abandoned the idea.
Replacing one innocent in the line of fire with another wasn’t any solution, although Giovanni Contadino would have done it in a heartbeat.
An unfriendly face loomed to his right. His arm shot out, catching the thug under the chin with the heel of his hand, sending him to the floor. There were squeals of protest and angry voices behind them, but they kept moving.
“I’m tellin’ Ricco on you, G,” Gina was complaining. “You gonna be in soooo much trouble…” Her head lolled on his shoulder. He hoped she stayed on her feet long enough to reach the car. Carrying a healthy, adult-size woman would definitely impair his aim. He had no doubt that this night would not end peaceably.
The panic bar on the door popped and the heavy metal swung out into the mild night air and a long empty alley. No cab.
“Fuck!” Gabriel swore, drawing his gun.
He zeroed in on an archway ten feet down the alley and glanced at Ortega. The other man had already fastened on the same spot.
He nodded to Gabriel and shifted Gina on his arm, taking more of her weight. They trotted down the broken asphalt, the heels of the two girls trailing them clopping like horses’ hooves.
“What are we doing?” one of them asked plaintively.
Gabriel had nearly forgotten about them. “You need to go back inside,” he told them. Ortega threw him a strange look.
“Why?” asked the other one. “What are you doing?”
“Reporters, I bet.” Her friend nodded knowledgably.
“You don’t shoot reporters,” the first girl objected. “Not before they write the story.”
“Look, there’s liable to be trouble,” Gabriel said. “Will you just go back inside the club?”
He caught up to Ortega, who had reached the brick archway and was trying to prop Gina against the wall. As flimsy a shelter as the recess provided, it was the only available cover as they waited for the taxi.
“You sure the cab company believed you?” Ortega asked grimly.
Gabriel shrugged. He wasn’t sure of anything, but what were their choices at this point?
The two other girls, still bickering, joined them in the alcove.
“Madre mios,” Ortega murmured. His eyes gleamed in the sickly alley light as they met Gabriel’s.
“You’re not my G!” Gina giggled, twining her arms around Ortega’s neck. “But you are a handsome one.” Lacing her fingers through his thick black hair, she pulled Ortega’s face down to within centimeters of her own. “Your boss is very ugly,” she informed him seriously.
“Gina!” Gabriel said sharply. “Shut the fuck up.”
Gina rolled her head in his direction. “We could have a threesome, G. Me and you and Mr. O. Mr. Big O. Mr. Big O is very nice. He smells very nice…”
“Great taste in men you’ve got,” Gabriel muttered, his eyes searching the mouth of the alley. Was that movement down by the trash dumpster?
“Oh, I don’t know, Contadino,” Ortega said. “Not much worse than your own.”
Gabriel bit down on his instinctive comment. Gina might be mostly out of it, but the two other girls were still sober enough to remember this conversation. Assuming they all survived the next ten minutes.
“If she passes out, you’re going to have to carry her.” Gabriel bundled Gina completely into Ortega’s arms. Cell in one hand, he hit redial.
He expected Ortega to argue, but the bigger man said nothing.
Grudgingly, Gabriel awarded him points for practicality.
The cab company picked up. “Where the fuck are you?”
Gabriel listened for three seconds. “Listen, the tip goes down by a hundred bucks for every minute we wait here.”
He hung up.
“Let’s try to make it back inside. We’ll cut through the club and make for the parking lot on the side of the building,” Ortega said. “We’re sitting ducks here.”
He was right, but they were ducks in a shooting gallery walking back down the alley.
“I think we should stay—”
But Ortega had already swung Gina—who was now mumbling complaints—up into his arms and was carrying her swiftly down the alleyway, dodging holes and weeds poking up through the broken asphalt.
Gabriel went after him, gun at ready.
“Goddamn it! I said we should stay put.”
“As I outrank you—”
“Out rank me? We don’t even work for the same man.”
“Whoever you work for, I hope you can shoot.” Ortega hoisted Gina up onto his shoulder, hanging onto her with one arm, and drawing his gun.
Gabriel threw a distracted look over his shoulder at the two women clip-clopping along behind him. Beyond them, at the end of the alley he could see traffic cruising steadily up and down the cross street. Headlights flashed by, spotlighting fire escapes and trash bins—and picking out slinking figures moving into position.