"So you had a bath?" Verity asked Dallas, when she saw her coming outside.
Dallas grabbed her messenger bag tightly and looked at Verity. Verity had changed into a washed out denim dungaree and a sheer tank top. She was working on the garden near a few large palm trees. She was planting what looked like marigolds. She dropped a shovel and walked towards Dallas pulling her cap over her head.
"Did you have your bath?"
Dallas nodded, "Yeah, I did. Thanks."
"So, where are you off to," she looked at her watch and continued, "at nine in the morning?"
"I don’t know." Dallas shielded her eyes from the sun and crossed her arms. "I just felt like going for a walk. Where’s Eli?"
She dusted her overalls and replied at full volume, "He went off to Viagra to meet somebody."
"Yup. He didn’t tell me anything else."
"Okay, then. I’ll see you later." Dallas waved at Verity and walked out of the large white gates.
Dallas sighed. This was not just "a walk". She was going to meet Mitch Nilsson, the man whom Gabriel recommended to go to speak about The Grove’s skillful crew of editors and reporters. She did not want to be mistaken; she was going to get some advice on how to attend the interview to impress, not to bribe him or anything. Dallas would never think of something like that. She had always believed in earning what you want, not getting it the wrong way.
She walked toward a grocery store and went into a bar. The name ‘Viagra’ was engraved in large letters in a golden material. She took a deep breath of the fresh air and stepped into Viagra.
Viagra definitely smelled different than how the outside smelled. The outside smelled like roses and fresh air. But, inside Viagra, it smelled like reeking alcohol and pungent cocktails. That was when Dallas realized that the customers inside Viagra looked like they had drunk about a dozen, the above mentioned. Dallas quickly pinched her nose to avoid smelling the obnoxious smells.
She looked around; there was nothing much to see though. It looked like any normal bar, the people looking as lost as ever. What surprised her was the fact that it was still nine and people were already drunk. Dallas tried to smile, but slowly slithered toward the bartender.
The bartender fortunately looked like a kind and polite woman. She introduced herself as Lee Otero and asked Dallas what she wanted. Dallas sat on a stool and leaned against the table. "Can I have some water, first?" She asked Lee, inaudibly.
Lee nodded and tossed her a bottle of mineral water from under the table. Dallas quickly popped it open and gulped a mouthful. Lee looked at her fixedly and asked her, "Yes?"
Dallas put away the bottle and asked her, "Has Eli Griffin come here to meet somebody?"
Lee looked confused. She scratched her dark eyebrows and allowed her black tresses to fall over her shoulder. She suddenly snapped her fingers. "Yes, he did. But…" She thought for a moment and looked at Dallas, "Why do you want to know?"
"I’ve come here for some time and I stay at the Griffins’ place. I want to talk to him."
"Go ahead." She gestured toward the vast room. Now that she looked at the tables and chairs properly. She noticed that there were only a few people who had drunken so much. She moaned and moved towards them. She looked at each of them; they were all lifeless bodies. Secretly, she hoped that Eli had not drunk any alcohol or was hangover.
She moved past all the people and suddenly came across the sounds of people talking. She quickly walked towards that and saw Parker and Eli talking to one another. "Eli!" Dallas cried out and ran over to Eli. He turned around, swept her to her feet, and pulled her into a bear hug. Dallas buried her face into his chest and shed a few tears. "Dallas, not here," he told her, wiping away her tears and pointing at Parker.
"Please call me Parker."
He sighed. "Now that that’s settled, can we talk about the banquet?" Eli nodded and Dallas asked them instantly, "What’re you planning to do in the banquet?"
Eli and Parker looked at each other and Parker spoke up, "So, let’s just get this over with." His voice was gruff and his throat was rough. "Veronica is cheating on Gabriel."
"What?" Dallas stood like a statue. She dropped on a chair and asked him again, "What?"
"Guess who she’s cheating with?" He took a sip from a glass nearby. "Felix Bell. Her son-in-law."
"Oh my goodness, how could she? Her own daughter? And she’s so old!" She looked at Eli and exclaimed loudly, "No offense, Eli!"
"You keep forgetting she’s not my mother!" He screamed at her softly.
"Okay, guys. I told you, we are getting over with this. Let’s gain composure." He slightly clinked his glass and continued, "So this is what we are going to do. When Veronica gives away her speech on the charity, we basically play the pictures we had taken in a presentation format across the projector screen. I think the other people will take care of the rest." He looked at Dallas. "What do you think?"
Dallas inhaled deeply and extremely slowly exhaled. "It’s fine, but won’t they check the tapes before playing the presentation."
Eli smiled and looked at Parker. He smiled too. Dallas thought she had gotten it. "It’s Bridge, right? She is in with us, right. I knew it!" Eli shushed her and said quietly, "No, Dallas. She’s not in with us. She doesn’t know anything."
"That’s why we have you," Eli and Parker said in unison.
Dallas was confused. She looked at Eli with pleading eyes. "You have to put them in disguise."
"Isn’t that noticeable? Veronica and Gabriel will definitely keep an eye on me, won’t they?"
"Don’t worry. We’ll have a distraction, just like last time. But, this time, Parker won’t screw it up, will you Parker?"
As Parker shook his head obediently, Dallas asked again, "That’s why you shot Felix and you were planning to expose Veronica then." Everything seemed to piece up in her mind. She had her "ohs" going for a good five minutes.
After her last "oh", Parker passed a few notes to Eli and Eli slipped them into his pockets. "This is for the whole of her disguise." Dallas sat down and watched as Parker passed Eli a few more green bills. "But, this time, make sure the distraction isn’t too harmful," Eli warned Parker, "There are a lot of wealthy peers and members of the aristocracy coming to the banquet. So if the commotion is a little harmful, they wouldn’t want to make a stir about it."
"Don’t worry, Eli, you just get her ready and tell her what she has to do. Everything will be fine."
Parker said his goodbye to Eli and Dallas and left.
Eli and Dallas were facing each other now. It was awkward at first, but Eli broke it quickly, "How’d you know I was here?"
"Verity told me. I was actually on my way to meet Mitch Nilsson. Then I thought about going there with you."
He laughed and widened his eyes. "You’re honestly taking Gabriel’s suggestion?"
Dallas placed her hands in denial and exclaimed, "No, Eli, no. I just wanted to talk to him about the interview and how to approach it. Tips and stuff." She noticed his perplexed look and asked him, "What’s wrong?"
"Mitch Nilsson. I know that guy. He’s a player."
Dallas giggled. "Wow, that’s your concern." She thought for a minute sarcastically and held his hands over the table. "You can come with me, I told you so. You can protect me." She pulled his hands to her face and gave them a little brush with her lips. She was hesitant at first. She was afraid of rejection. Of hurt and pain. But, it was time for her to break out of her shell. She could trust Eli. Only Eli.
She slowly gave his hands a kiss. She looked at him and saw him getting red.
He quickly pulled her up and said to her, "We better go to Mitch. I’ve heard he’s a snob."
"Ma’am, you’re next," a man as tall as Dallas said to her, loudly.
Dallas went inside the office with Eli leading the way. They went through a couple of offices and finally met a man, with black hair and huge eyes. He looked charming and had cocky written all over his face. Dallas stepped inside with Eli beside her. The man looked at Dallas interestingly and extended his hand, much to the distaste of Eli. "Hello, I’m Mitch Nilsson."
Dallas shook it slowly. Eli winced at the fact that she might be intrigued by his charms. Wasn’t Eli as charming as Mitch? Mitch shook her hand slowly too. He looked into her eyes and she looked into them too. She was captivated, alright, Eli decided. He cleared his throat and coughed noisily. "I’m Dallas. Dallas Fletcher."
"Nice to meet you Miss Fletcher." Dallas blushed and smiled.
"Please call me Dallas."
Mitch beamed and flashed one of his charismatic smiles. "Well then, you can call me Mitch. So, may I know why you’re here to meet me?"
Dallas nodded and handed him the business card Gabriel had given him. "Mr. Griffin gave me your business card. I have finished journalism school in Olive Grove and I have applied for a job for The Grove as a reporter. Mr. Griffin told me you were the chief editor and I could get some advice to how to attend the interview and impress the interviewers."
"Well, you seem like a very refined and well-educated woman, you’ll have an immense advantage over other candidates," he began. Eli knew what he was saying was true, but Mitch was overdoing it to the maximum. He was clearly flirting with her. He began to offer her his "advice". But, Eli was sure what he was telling her were stuff they weren’t supposed to do. "Use clear vocabulary and be confident with your thoughts," seemed like something you shouldn’t do in an interview, right?
Eli huffed every time Mitch spoke.
When Mitch had finished, he smiled at Dallas and shook her hand again. "It’s been an honor meeting you."
"Oh! It has been a privilege meeting you," Dallas said, pointing at Mitch.
"It’s great meeting you too." A blunt voice joined the conversation. Eli crossed his arms and shook Mitch’s arm unsteadily. "Ah… Eli Griffin, what a pleasure to finally meet you. Gabriel has told me all about you." Eli smiled and held Dallas’ hand. "Well, Dad told me about you as well. Now that we’ve sorted this out, we can go."
Dallas waved at Mitch and followed Eli towards the door. Mitch suddenly stepped out of his workspace and walked to Dallas. He gave her another card. She grabbed it and looked at it and back at Mitch. He grinned, "This is my personal card. That was my business card."
Dallas smiled and Eli seized it from her and scrutinized it. "What’s this for?"
Mitch walked a little closer and replied, "Well, if you have any doubts about The Grove or getting into its team, you can give me a call and," he licked his lips, "we can talk about it." Mitch pursed his lips and watched Eli drag Dallas out of the office.
Mitch picked up the receiver of his phone and pressed a button gingerly.
"Sir?" A voice spoke at the end of the line.
"This is Nilsson."
"There’s a pair of people including Eli Griffin walking out of the office." He paused and smacked his lips. "I want you to keep an eye on both of them."
"Sure, sir. Yes, thank you."
Mitch placed the receiver down and went back to his work with expert indifference.