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10

"IF YOU DON'T like the route I'm taking," Murch's Mom snarled at her only child, "why don't you steal a car, find your own way to the O.J.? We'll see who gets there first."

"No matter who's driving," the ungrateful pup replied, "or how many cars we're in, I wouldn't try to drive up inside Central Park at ten o'clock at night in the summer. Do you see all these hansom cabs, all these horses crapping all over the place, all these tourists getting the experience of the real New York by riding around in a horse and buggy?"

"They're not even going anywhere," his Mom complained. Her right thumb hovered over the horn button but didn't quite touch it.

"Sure they're going someplace," her son corrected, never agreeing with anybody. He shifted a little, trying to get his knees farther from the air conditioner wind here in the front seat of his mother's cab, and said, "They're going all around in a great big circle inside Central Park at, what, seven miles an hour? And back down to Fifty-ninth Street, and thank you very much, and walk back to the hotel and call Aunt Flo back home, guess what, we just had a real New York experience, forty minutes through Central Park behind a farting horse. Making unwary people late for their appointments."

"It isn't the tourists that bother me," his Mom informed him. "It isn't the horses, the carriages. It's the cop on my tailpipe. Don't look around!"

"Why not?" Stan asked, twisting all the way around to gaze at the patrol car that was, indeed, traveling so close behind their cab he could see a bit of spinach caught in its grill. "I can rubberneck just as well as anybody else out for a mosey through the park." Facing front again, he said, "How did you let that happen?"

"I was committed to the turn into the park," she said, "nobody behind me, and all of a sudden he was there. I think maybe he U-turned. Believe me, Stanley, I do not choose to be followed through the city of New York by a cop."

"Bad luck," Stan said, which was probably meant to make peace.

Accepting the offer, at least a little, his Mom said, "These horses and carriages and tourists aren't going to get in my way, Stanley, not if I can use my horn. But with that cop behind me? They love to hassle the cabbies, especially when there's tourists around to watch."

"Well, here comes Seventy-second Street," Stan said, "slower than I've ever seen it arrive before—"

"Enough."

"When we do get outa the park, I think you oughta go—"

"I'll pick my own route, Stanley."

"Fine," Stan said.

"Good."

"You're the driver."

"That's right."

"The professional driver."

"That's right."

"Years of experience behind the—"

"Shut up, Stanley."

So he shut up, and when they finally got shut of the park, the horses, the tourists and the cop, he didn't even tell her she was making a mistake when she took the right onto Central Park West. He didn't mention that the better way was to run west past Amsterdam to Columbus, then make your right, so you're on a one-way street with staggered lights, and to get back to Amsterdam it's all right turns. No, fine, let her do it her way, up a two-way street, no staggered lights, and all left turns at the end of it. Great.

Eventually, though, they did get onto Amsterdam, but just as Murch's Mom was pulling in next to the fire hydrant down the block from the O.J., out the door of the place came Dortmunder and Kelp, Dortmunder carrying a bottle. Surprised, Stan said, "The meeting's over already? We can't be that late."

"Watch it, Stanley."

"I'm only saying," Stan said, and got out of the cab to say, "John? Andy? Whassup?"

Dortmunder gestured with the bottle. "Something screwy at the O.J."

"What, it's closed?"

"There's some guys there," Kelp said, "they seem to want privacy right now."

Murch's Mom, joining them on the sidewalk, said, "Closed for a private party?"

"Kinda," Kelp said, and a horn sounded.

They turned to look, and Tiny was just buttoning open the rear window of a stretch limousine. Since he found regular taxis too form-fitting, Tiny tended to whistle up a limo when it was necessary to go somewhere. Now, window open, he said, "Everybody's on the sidewalk."

Dortmunder, walking toward him, said, "We can't use the back room tonight, we gotta go somewhere else."

Stan said, "Somewhere else? There isn't anywhere else."

Kelp said, "John, is May at the movies?" because usually that's what she did when Dortmunder was out and about for one reason or another.

Lowering a suspicious brow, Dortmunder said, "So what?"

"So it looks," Kelp said, "like we gotta convene at your place."

"Why my place? Why not your place?"

"Anne Marie's home, and she wouldn't go for it, John."

From the limo, Tiny said, "Josey wouldn't go for it in spades."

Stan said, "You don't want to come all the way down to Canarsie," that being where he and his Mom lived.

Dortmunder muttered and growled and scuffed his feet around. "I don't see why everything's gotta get screwed up."

"John," Kelp said, "it's hot out here on the sidewalk. You got a nice air-conditioned living room."

Stan called, "Tiny, we'll meet you there. The rest of us will take Mom's cab."

"Done," Tiny said, and spoke to his driver as he buttoned the window back up.

"Come on, John," Kelp said. "You know it's the only answer."

"All right, all right," Dortmunder said, still surly, but then he said, "At least I got this bottle."

"Sure," Kelp said. "Climb aboard."

As they all did, Murch's Mom said, "You know I gotta throw the meter, I wouldn't wanna get stopped by a cop."

"Fine," Dortmunder said. "Stan can pay the fare."

"No meter, Mom," Stan said.

She sulked all the way downtown.


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