07/02/09 4:00am

The two men unbuttoned their suit jackets when they slid across the taxi’s backseat. A woman in a skirt and tights and heels handed a large wicker basket to one of the men through the open door, and then tucked herself into the remaining space. She pulled the door shut with a satisfying clunk. The basket sat on the lap of the man in the middle, and its prongs and fronds extended nearly to the roof of the car.

“24th and 3rd,” the woman said. “Right side. Thanks.” She was in charge. It was after lunch on the last weekday before Christmas. Everyone in New York was on a tight schedule.

“I think that went well,” said the man with the basket.

“Really well,” said the man at the window.

“Really really well,” said the man with the basket.

The woman stared out the window. Third Avenue moved by, no faster than a brisk stroll. She sighed. “I suppose. I hate these parties. No one ever wears their name-tags. It’s like they’re daring you to forget.”

Both men laughed. The woman looked weary, and closed her eyes.

The taxi jerked forward. Ahead, all the lights were green.

“Straight shot down to you, that’s pretty nice,” the man at the window said. He was the handsomer of the two, and spoke with confidence.

“What?” The woman said. “Oh. Yes.”

They passed 42nd Street, too far east for tourists. They passed 34th Street, and all the girls with strollers and shopping bags from Macy’s and Conway. The woman lived near Gramercy Park, though not so close that she had a key. People in the office knew this for sure. The two men seemed uncomfortable being knocked together by the movement of traffic, and the prickly wicker wasn’t making anyone feel better about the situation.

When they were getting close, the woman said, “Thanks, guys. Really good work. I appreciate it.” She tried to pull money out of her purse, but they both waved their hands and shushed her as politely as possible. The taxi slowed down, and pulled over to the curb. “Have a great Christmas.” She hoisted the wicker basket off the man’s lap and stepped out of the cab gracefully. She was well-rehearsed. It was like watching someone ride side-saddle.