Billings's chair squeaked as he leaned back and propped his feet up against the cluttered desk, one foot knocking his coffee mug dangerously to the edge. He paid no mind to the mug; Billings was busy trying to light a cigarette with one hand while flipping through the stamped papers with the other. None of this easing Rita's fears, she silently dug her nails into her palms and willed her stomach to stay put.
"Rita, get Daniel in here," Billings muttered out of the corner of his mouth that wasn't smoking.
"Yes, Mr. Billings!" Rita squeaked nervously and turned to open the door, only to find Daniel directly on the other side.
Daniel grinned down at Rita's innocently bewildered expression and looked over at Mr. Billings, who had stopped to glance at him. "Just passing by," he cockily remarked.
"Nevermind that, just come over here and make yourself useful." Mr. Billings had continued his chain smoking.
"With what?" Daniel innocently remarked. Rita remained frozen in the darker corner of the room she had slowly managed to back herself into.
"Helping Rita get ready, if you please." Rita wanted to wail. She looked at the ceiling very hard. "Rita, these papers are for you. Come take a look at them." Rita edged closer, biting her lip then stopping, realizing you probably looked about thirteen.
"The undercover ones, sir?"
"Yes, those. You see," he took a puff off his cigarette and smiled. "You see, we need a woman to go undercover for this job."
"And…you want me…to go undercover?" Rita squeaked.
"Well, Daniel can't do it."
"I'm too masculine."
"Sir! I'm offended!" Daniel was as at ease as an inebriated old man was at her family's speakeasy, but this was no comfort to Rita. She looked as if she were on the verge of trembling, but inside she wanted to bite something. Rita's dismissal was turning into something she couldn't understand far too quickly.
"I wouldn't know what to do," Rita whispered. "I'm just a secretary." The two men stopped their banter and looked at her. Mr. Billings was back to his usual chuckling self.
"That's what Daniel is good for! He'll come with you your first time, but for now, he's going to explain the tricks of the trade. Right after you fill out these forms, Rita." Rita rushed forward to gather her papers, but he stopped her. "We'll switch. You stay
here and discuss the plan with Hull, and I shall take a well deserved lunch break!"
Mr. Billings made a benevolent puffing sound as he stood up from his chair and left. Daniel and Rita made no sounds as they listened to him shut the main door with a rattle. The two of them stared at each other in silence for a minute; Daniel smiling at Rita, who was looking back at him with a continuous look of terror.
"The papers," he pointed out.
"Oh! Right!" Rita grabbed a pen and dipped it into the inkwell she had just uncovered. With a twitching hand, she began to fill in her name on the first form.
"So while you're doing that, I should tell you…" Daniel trailed off and watched her scribbling furiously. She stopped and looked at him nervously. Daniel sighed. "First of all, don't drink coffee, kid. You'll go crazy. Second of all, relax. No one's going to bite around here."
"I'm going to make a terrible mess of whatever case this is."
"No you're not. Relax, Rita." He was still smiling at her.
"I have no idea what to do!"
"That's why we're here now. I'm going to explain a few little things to you. First rule of all this: watch your mouth. Watch every word you say." Rita was silent, but had stopped writing.
"I didn't mean right now, I mean on the job. You'll get the hang of it, but take it slowly at first if you need to. Each word could be too much, but you could say too little to get any information. Don't tell them your real name this time, just to be safe. Only drink enough to let them notice you're casually sipping at it. This time, if you can't hold your liquor, you could get in a lot of trouble."
"I know that."
"No, no, you don't. Let me explain about the man you'll be meeting." Rita's pen made a terrible screeching sound across the paper.
At the end of the work day, a few hours later, Mr. Billings found himself lounging at Rita's secretary desk, tempted to pretend to answer the phone. Billings gingerly picked up the shiny handle, looking back over his shoulder at his closed office door.
"Billings Private Investigators, how may I he—" he stopped immediately when the door clicked open, leaning forward and placing the receiver down in an important manner.
Rita was rushing to the coat hanger, expertly slipping on her coat and patting her hat around her hair as she smiled at Mr. Billings. She looked like she had returned to her usual calmer state, if her calmer state had previously involved nervous hand twitching.
"See you tomorrow morning, Mr. Billings," she said in a falteringly cheerful voice. With that, she slipped out the door and shut it quickly. Billings looked back at his office door, against which Daniel was leaning. He smiled reassuringly at Mr. Billings, silently telling him it all went well, and then sighed in relief, placing Rita's new forms on the secretary desk.
"God, she looked so scared. I felt kinda like I stepped on a kitten's tail back there, you know?"
"No, this is great. I should've expected this much from that man's kid. If my expectations keep up, she'll be overjoyed by the end of the week! And I didn't even have to use the words 'new dress.'"