She was a lovely thing, and before either of us knew it my arms were around her and her deep eyes were all tangled up in mine. I held her a little too close a little too long, I guess; she squirmed away, got her balance and brushed me off like so much pretzel-juice.
"Sorry," I lied.
A winged eyebrow went up as two heavy lids went down.
"That's all right," she said in a voice like the sound of a cello whispering in the low register. "But you really ought to signal for a turn." I'd been trying to whip in front of a rotund individual who was about to climb into the taxi I wanted to get, and in doing so had almost knocked the girl off her feet. She turned away just in time to miss the practiced click of my heels as I tipped my hat. I sighed and flagged another cab. I had a lot of friends and knew a lot of glamour, and until this minute I had flattered myself on having a pretty picturesque string of 'em in my little black book. But now--well, I could only wish I had seen her somewhere before. She reminded me of someone I used to know a few years back, when I really was a bigshot. Instead of running an all-night radio program and writing feature articles on the side, I used to be a Power. I was in high school and managed the basketball team. I cut a lot of ice and a lot of corners.
I stepped into the cab and gave the address of the restaurant where I was supposed to meet Sylvia. That was a date I'd worked hard to get, and now for some strange reason, I had little stomach for it. I stared out of the side window as the taxi drew past the girl I'd just run into. She was walking slowly, apparently looking at something beautiful two miles away and two hundred feet up, and there was an entrancing half-smile on her face. Her hair was long and black and it turned under just about where her straight back started to make her waist so slim; I'd never seen hair like that, but there was something about the strong, clean curve of her jaw and the way the inside corners of her eyes were lower than they should be--
"Stop!" I screamed to the cabby. He must have thought that I was about to have some kind of an attack. He was wrong, then. I had already had the attack but it had just now hit me. Anyway, he did a dollar and a half's worth of damage to his brake linings, took the dollar I threw at him as I dived out, and went his unprofitable way.
I ran to her, caught her elbow. "Hey! I--"
"Ah," she contraltoed. "My friend the Juggernaut."
"Amend that," I said quickly. "Your very dear friend Eddie Gretchen."
"Oh?" said her eyebrow, and she said, "And when and where did Eddie Gretchen become my very dear friend?"
"Damfino," I said, and we began walking. By glancing at me without turning her head, she conveyed the general idea that we were walking the same way but not together. "That's for you to figure out," I went on, "and in all sincerity I wish you would. I know you. I used to circulate around you like a bloodstream. But I honestly can't remember when it happened. You're a dream that got broken up by an alarm clock. Come on now--you have my face and you have my name. What do they mean to you?"
"I was never married to you," she said distantly. "So I haven't your name. And I don't want your face."
"With a face like yours," I said, "I can't blame--"
She actually smiled at me. "You haven't changed a bit, Eddie."
I glowed for a second and then realized that she didn't intend to help any. "All right--when was it?"
"The year Covina High beat your Filthy Five 48 to 17."
"It was 48 to 19," I said furiously, "And they were the Fighting Five."
"They were filthy," she said, and laughed richly.
"Fighting," I growled. "And besides, the referees--hey! You're not Underhanded Mazie?"
"I am not! No one knows me well enough to call me that! I'm Maria Undergaard--Miss Undergaard to you, Mr. Gretchen."
"Aha! Er--Mazie, m'love, what was it they called the team?"
"The Fighting Five," she acknowledged.
"Okay, Maria." I took her arm happily.
"But they were filthy," she muttered. I let it go at that.