Lloyd Mellad interrupts a conversation to radio one of his cab drivers.

"Can you get over to Whole Foods, right now?" Mellad intones. It's more of request than a question. The owner of Lloyd's Taxi of Darien gets the response he wants. "Good, good. Terrific."

The afternoon rush hour is already under way, and the calls are pouring in -- from the steady customers, Metro-North straphangers heading out of New York City and ordinary Joes looking for a ride between Point A and Point B within Darien or from this uber well-to-do town to another one.

The scuttlebutt in the back of many of Lloyd's taxis is all about the corporate honcho William Bryan Jennings and his beef over cab fare from the Big Apple to his multimillion-dollar Darien home.

Both the cabbie and the passenger made some whopping mistakes.

"The first thing you have to do is reach an agreement on price. You take out the rate book and you determine how much the fare is supposed to be for that destination. And not only that -- get as much of the money up front as possible," Mellad says. "If a customer can't come up with that ahead of time, chances are that they won't have it to pay you when you arrive."

When Lloyd's Taxi gets calls from Connecticut to go to New York City, it runs the customer's credit card ahead of picking up the client. "If the credit card won't go through," Mellad says, "we won't take them."

With Jennings' well-groomed business look, Mellad says, he doesn't appear to be someone who might stiff a cabbie over a $200-plus fare. "Basically, I think, he might have felt like this guy is trying to pull something fast to take advantage of me," Mellad says, "and I refuse to get taken."

Jennings is the Morgan Stanley executive accused of slashing a New York City cabbie's hands with a pen knife and allegedly spewing racial slurs at the driver who brought him home and had the audacity to demand to be paid the $204 fare.

When Jennings refused, the cabbie, Mohamed Ammar, claims he attempted to call police but was unable to get a cell signal. So, he backed the taxi out of Jennings' driveway and, according to his account, went in search of the police department -- with his passenger in tow.

Jennings claims he was in fear for his life, scared that instead of being delivered to Darien, he'd be deposited in some high-crime creepy part of the city.

Depending on who's telling the story, the cabbie took his passenger on a wild joy(less) ride through Darien, and at one point the banker managed to open the minivan's sliding back door. Instead of pulling a cellphone from his briefcase and summoning police, Jennings drew a pen knife and allegedly slashed Ammar through an opening in the partition. Ammar turned in his seat, saw Jennings' fist coming at him through the partition and tried to block it from connecting with his neck or head. In the process, his hand got slashed. It needed six stitches to stop the bleeding.

Driving a taxi is an inherently dangerous business. Think of what easy marks cabbies are for thieves. They carry large amounts of cash. And even if they are in communication with a dispatcher, they always work solo in the cab.

"Once that cabbie got to Jennings' driveway, even if he refused to pay him, that driver ought to have let him out of the car," Mellad says.

"When you pick somebody up, any passenger, you never know whether they have a weapon. It's a risk. So, keeping them with you in a car once you've reached your destination is a bad decision. You raise the stakes that if they are armed and feeling trapped that they will do something dangerous to harm you.

"Even if this cab driver didn't have cell service there, he could have driven away, called the police and brought them there to work out this dispute rather than have it escalate."

mgbrown@ctpost.com; 203-330-6288; http://twitter.com/MariAnGailBrown