"You must be the worst cab driver in the world! Haven't you ever been to an airport?"

Anthony Cerruti looked into the rear-view mirror, at the blazing eyes of the woman behind him. When he'd picked her up outside the Amoco Building in downtown Chicago, she'd looked so beautiful, but her appeal hadn't survived the 80-minute, rush-hour crawl from the Loop to O'Hare International.

"Are you trying to make sure that I miss my flight?"

The fare glowed red on Anthony's meter: "$48.90." That's a fair price, he thought. In fact, it would be a bargain. He would gladly pay $48.90 to get her out of his cab.

"What are you waiting for, an invitation? Pull in here!"

Ahead, a white minivan loaded down with children and suitcases was moving away from the curb. Anthony, seeing that the van's lights remained off, flicked his headlights twice. The van's red taillights lit up in response, and the driver waved.

"Come on, Mr. Good Samaritan, hurry up!"

Anthony pulled into the open space and stopped the meter.

"Airport tax adds one dollar to the fare," he said.

The beautiful woman dropped three crumpled bills into the front seat. Two $20s and a $10. Anthony didn't thank her for the 10-cent tip. She stepped out of the cab, her briefcase in one hand, a garment bag and leather satchel in the other, then kicked the door shut with such force that everyone in the unloading area looked up.

Andrea Bain was not the kind of woman whom men just glanced at. Every male in front of Terminal 1 noticed the thick, auburn hair; the figure that could not be hidden by a business suit; and the long, slender legs. She strode into the airy, blue-and-white terminal, glanced at the departures screen, and relaxed. Her flight had been delayed 20 minutes.

Andrea passed between the busy ticket counters, turned left toward Concourse B, and saw that the line at the security gate was 15 deep. She never hesitated. Walking to the front, she announced, "My flight is leaving immediately!" and placed her briefcase and bags on the conveyor belt. She stepped through the metal detector before anyone thought to object.

Heading down the concourse to Gate B5, Andrea felt the weight of the satchel, which held her laptop computer and the four thick purchase agreements - each slightly different - that she'd prepared for tomorrow's closing in Washington. This afternoon she'd devised a fifth option, but the legal department hadn't returned an approved version to her office before she left.

While sitting in traffic on the Kennedy Expressway, Andrea had decided the fifth option wouldn't work, but that didn't make any difference. If the new contract wasn't overnighted to her hotel in Washington, heads would roll. She'd see to that.

Her stride slowed as she approached a telephone bank. On a phone at the far end, facing her but not looking at her, was a man much taller than herself. He was 6-foot-4, well above her 5-foot-9, and she noticed that the public-phone handset looked child-sized in his hand. She also noted the brown hair and broad shoulders; the perfectly tailored, three-piece, charcoal suit; the red tie that wasn't subtle; and the wingtip shoes polished to a high shine.

He was in his late 30s, she guessed, noting a vitality that seemed at odds with the conservative suit. Very good-looking, Andrea thought as she continued on. That would have been interesting.

(End of excerpt)