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I left Oscar sitting in his fat, blood-red chair and made my way out of the club. Outside, instead of hailing a taxi right away, I walked slowly down the street towards the nearest cab stand while stopping occasionally to do some window shopping. Now that I had places to be I needed to lose the tail I assumed I’d grown. I wanted certain parties to be surprised when I got where I was going. I spotted a likely bird on the other side of the street. He was almost nearly clever and pretended to be window shopping, too; but after the fifth halt made in tandem with me I was sure of my man. Now I only had to make like a lizard.
I turned away from that fifth window and went straight, but still not quickly, to the cab stand. There were three hacks parked there. Two of the drivers were outside their machines. One of those two was having an argument of some kind with the party at the other end of the taxi phone. The other was reading a newspaper while leaning against his bus, as if he were keeping it from falling over onto the curb. The third was behind the wheel and reading a paperback book. By pure, blind luck he was someone I knew. I walked around the front of that cab and, as I passed the lowered driver’s window, I said, “Drive quickly, you dope.” The engine was turning over even as I reached for the rear door handle and the heap sprung away from the curb while I was still pulling my left foot in.
“Where to, Mr. Wells?” the hackie asked as he tossed his machine from one lane to another, going as quick as I could like but not, I hoped, too quick for any traffic cop we might pass.
“Keep an eye socket behind us, Soapy,” I said. “If you spot a tail, shake it but quick.”
“Sure thing,” he said. “You know me, Mr. Wells.”
“Yeah, but I’ll try not to let that worry me.”
He didn’t let that crack worry him, either. He just threw his machine forward, dividing his attention between the traffic ahead and the rear-view mirror. After a few turns Soapy was sure he’d spotted another cab following us. He growled and started working on losing it. “God damn it!” he suddenly snarled through gritted teeth after a couple of minutes. “I think that’s Jim back there. He’s got some nerve tailing me. I’ll knock holes in his head first chance I get and you can bank on it!”
“You can pull his head off if you want,” I said, “but shake him first.”
“You watch me, Mr. Wells,” Soapy said. “You just watch me.”
I did and after about five minutes of furious driving, a stretch of heavy cross traffic, and a well-timed turn, the trailing cab dropped out of sight. Soapy kept the maneuvers up for a while until he was satisfied he’d really lost our shadow. I said he’d done a great job and then asked him to take me to the Ziegfeld. He looked at me in the mirror, projecting an expression that said he thought I was out of my skull. “You put me through all that just to gawp at showgirls?” he asked, his voice rising to nearly shrill incredulousness.
“I’m having a secret love affair with Fanny Brice,” I said, “but keep it under your hat.”
Soapy snorted, said she was too pretty for me, but took me where I’d asked. When he pulled the cab in front of the theater, I got out and trotted down the alley at the side of the building and went in through the stage entrance. I got a few stares from stagehands, a handful of showgirls and a clown as I walked quickly through the backstage and out again through the loading dock in the rear of the building. I went up another alley and emerged on the other side of the block. I caught another cab and ordered the driver to take me to Diamond Maxwell’s place outside town.
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