The cleaning staff knew better than to interfere with the workings of the Senior Staff when they were working late on a project. The crew went about their jobs, cleaning the offices, vacuuming the floors, washing the windows and dusting the tables, occasionally stopping to say hello to those unfortunate enough to be working such late hours. But if the outside world knew some of the common late-night goings-on in the White House, most would truly worry about the State of the Union.
Currently, the Director and Deputy Director of Communications, the Deputy Chief of Staff and the Press Secretary and a handful of others were involved in what could only be described as a an all out dodge-ball war. All of them were either sitting in or straddling the rolling office furniture, zooming down the hallways without rhyme or reason, ducking into and out of many of the offices. None of the cleaning crew knew what started it, none really wanted to know why it started, and none wanted to become involved. The bullpen area and some of the offices could wait a little while until the silliness subsided. At least it didn't involve food… this time.
Besides, they were having too much fun trying to figure out who was winning.
"Batman doesn't count because he doesn't have super powers, C.--" Sam yelled, but the rest of whatever else he was going to say was muffled by a face full of nerf. Surprised, he fell against one of the bullpen windows. Sam's mouth was slightly ajar; he knew C.J. had an arm, knew that when she was wearing her glasses or contacts she had incredible aim, but he never expected the shot from all the way down the hall, one that did not hit the walls or the ceiling, and came straight for the side of his face. After a few silent seconds, he finally managed a perturbed, "Ow."
"Don't mess with Batman," C.J. declared.
"Who's side are you on? Batman is a DC comic!" Sam replied.
"This has gone way past comic books. Now, it's personal." C.J. wheeled backwards past Sam, turned the corner and continued down the hall. There was a manic expression on her face; Sam wondered if Josh had done a wise thing when he woke up the Press Secretary. A wound-up C.J. on little sleep and a lot of caffeine was usually a dangerous combination, moreso for herself than anyone else.
"C.J., is this an unnatural obsession with Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer or George Clooney?" Toby wisely ducked behind a desk before bellowing, "Josh, where are you hiding?"
C.J. rolled to a stop just outside Toby's office. "If you must know, the guy that does the cartoon has a sexy voice."
"I don't know which scenario scares me more. Josh, you can't hide forever! The rest of us have called for a cease fire."
Sam was still adamant about defending his argument. "I'm just saying, there's nothing extraordinary about Batman. He doesn't fly, he doesn't have X-ray vision, he doesn't move faster than the speed of sound, or light. He shouldn't be included in the overall scaling of which group is better."
"Give it up, Sam. We stopped arguing over this ages ago," Toby reiterated.
"Then why is C.J. still throwing Nerf balls at me?"
"I'm only guessing here, and it could be the one beer I had at the poker game, but maybe it's because she finds you as annoying as I do."
Another nerf ball bounced off Sam's head. He turned, rubbing the spot where the foam sphere hit. "Ow! C.J.?!?"
Skidding to a halt, Mallory retrieved the wayward nerf ball. "C.J. didn't do it, I did."
"But you're supposed to be on my side."
"That's only because C.J. joined Josh's team, and though I know you think it, you won't say I throw like a girl to my face because you're afraid of my father. And I agree with C.J.; that guy does have a sexy voice. So, no more maligning the Batman."
"Mallory, you watch cartoons? That seems so… beneath you."
"Hello, Pot, this is Kettle." Mallory bopped the nerf ball off Sam's forehead. "I watch the television programs my kids watch, up to an including WWF Raw, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cartoon-Cartoon Fridays. I like to know what things they may be trying to re-enact during recess."
Toby popped his head out into the hall, looking both ways before following with the rest of his body. "Okay, if that's what you choose to believe. Whatever happened to Sesame Street? Or The Mickey Mouse Club?"
"What black hole have you been living in?" C.J. tossed the last of her nerf balls one by one towards the nearest trash can-turned basketball hoop. Not a one came even close to the can. Though the cease fire had been pretty much assumed among all the players, the occasional need for return fire for obnoxious remarks was warranted. "And where is Josh? He pestered me into coming out here to play and then he disappears, the rat fink. It's been nearly twenty minutes."
Charlie chose that time to reappear. "I believe the rat in question has had his cheese, and that the cheese was doped with tryptophan." He pointed toward the Mural Room.
One by one, they rolled towards the Mural Room. C.J. seemed to recall that Josh had headed in that direction in order to pick up some stray ammunition. The last thing they needed was for Leo to return and find that they had been clowning around the West Wing. She was surprised that the Secret Service had not put a stop to the shenanigans long before now. Mrs. Landingham, had she been there, would have surely put her foot down.
Josh had indeed made it to the Mural Room. There were indeed many multi-colored spongy spheres on the floor. Josh had even managed to pick a few of them up off the floor and stuff them in his back pack.
Only, Josh must have decided that his back pack made a better pillow. The seat back to his chair was nearly horizontal. His back pack was braced on top of that, his arms folded over the back pack, and his nose buried in his elbow. The Nerf hoop that he had worn as a trophy medal around his neck was perched at an odd angle.
"This is too good to be true," Toby stage-whispered. He turned to C.J. and put his hands together as if in prayer. "Please, and you know I don't say 'please' often, please don't let this opportunity pass us by."
C.J. appeared to mull over the consequences of what Toby was proposing, but that didn't stop the maniacal twist to the left side of her face. "Why not? On three."
No one waited for three.
Josh's last conscious thought was that the back of his chair made an awfully nice cushion.
His next one included anatomically impossible positions involving his car and several members of the Senior Staff.
"You pull me out of my office, where I was very comfortable and happy and content, drag me into a war of comic book heroes that I know nearly nothing about and then leave me to fend for myself?!?" C.J. bounced a nerf ball off Josh's chest. "I thought you were getting more ammunition."
"You seem to know a lot about Batman, whom, by the way, is on the other side!" Josh shot back. "And I needed ammunition against you, you blockhead. You fired more shots at me than at Toby or Sam combined!"
"You must really be tired, if you're reduced to calling me a blockhead," C.J. replied. "What happened? Did your vocabulary skills leak out of your ears from so many blows to the head?"
"No thanks to you! You seemed to be fend-- ing--"
It took several quiet moments before everyone realized that Josh had stopped speaking. C.J. cocked her head forward expectantly, waiting for him to finish. Josh's eyes darted from focusing on her to a spot just behind her shoulder. The look of shock on his face must have mirrored the own that was making its way across her face, as realization dawned.
"Leo's standing behind me, isn't he?"
C.J., Toby, Sam and Mallory turned their heads around slowly, comically. One thought ran through all of their minds as they stared at the new occupants of the room. Busted.
The President stood at the threshold to the Mural Room, arms crossed over the Notre Dame emblem on his sweatshirt. There was a not-quite frown crinkling his eyes. Leo was standing behind him, a neutral expression on his face. Charlie stood off to one side, leaning against the door jamb with a cryptic smile.
"He's not the only one."
The President had seen his staff wrestle with ornery congressmen. Write and rewrite speeches until the wee hours of the morning. Handle crises with such poise it was as if they were born to do so. He knew that there were times when they needed to blow off a little steam, when there were too many things on their plates that the urgency to scream at the top of their lungs overwhelmed the sense of decorum commonly associated with the White House.
Sometimes he wished they'd let him in on the fun.
"Would you care to explain yourselves?"
The President had never seen anything more amusing than 4 staff members and the daughter of his best friend bounce to their feet, an avalanche of sponge balls still rolling on the floor and the scattering of chairs the only evidence of the mischief that had been afoot. Each stared at one another, daring each other to come up with some fluid lie to keep the group out of the dog house. Some sputters, a few stutters, mouths opening and closing like a spring door. It was all rather entertaining. Educated professionals reduced to the antics of five year olds caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
"Josh, you seem to have grown an appendage." The President pointed at the orange ring around his neck.
The Deputy Chief of Staff blindly grabbed for the orange hoop around his neck and swung it over his head. "Oh, ah, this… this is an early birthday gift from C.J."
"Josh, your birthday isn't for another 3 months."
C.J. raised her hand meekly. "I like to plan ahead."
"Again, I ask, would someone care to explain this to me? Don't make me call on you individually."
All at once, C.J., Toby, Sam and Mallory pointed at Josh and proclaimed hurriedly, "He started it!"
Josh stared at the lot of them aghast. "Fine lot you are!"
"Josh said Wolverine could beat Superman with one hand tied behind his back," Sam started.
"And that the Joker was a patsy," Toby added.
"And Sam made fun of Batman," C.J. chimed in.
When Mallory did not add her own two cents, the President stared her down until she admitted, "I was looking for an excuse to throw nerf balls at people. The school board frowns upon me firing on my students. Otherwise, I really have no opinion on whether Wolverine can beat Superman or that the Joker is a patsy."
"Except about the guy who does the Batman cartoon; you think he has a sexy voice," Sam added, much to Mallory's chagrin.
The President slowly paced around the recalcitrant bunch, enjoying every minute of their torture. "Is there a reason why my Senior Staff feels it necessary to make a capital case out of the merits of fictional characters? Isn't there something more pressing you should be attending to?"
Leo stepped forward. "Mallory, why are you here? Don't you have classes tomorrow?"
"Superintendents day. I stopped by after I tried calling you at home; I wanted to ask you to lunch tomorrow and found myself defending Wonder Woman and Storm to these male chauvinist pigs."
"That's my girl."
The President leaned over towards Leo. "Do you have any idea who they are talking about?"
"Good, glad I'm not the only one." He looked at his Staff and wondered if they honestly knew the difference between loyalty and lunacy. "Would anyone care to know the results of the school board decision in Russell, Kansas?"
Josh leaned over to C.J. and asked, "Where?"
The President continued to stare down each of his Staffers. "This is the reason why you are stayed late at work, is it not? Aren't any of you interested in the results?"
Toby looked up from the floor. "If I may speak frankly, not really. But you're going to tell us anyway, aren't you?"
"It just so happens," the President began, "that the Russell school board has put the issue on the back burner, and if any of you had bothered to contact any one down there, you would have known that the debate had been postponed several hours ago, and that all of this waiting has been for naught."
"I wouldn't say it was a total loss, Sir," Toby ventured. "We learned that C.J. has an unnatural obsession with Batman." C.J. shot Toby a look that would melt glass. He ignored her.
"I'll keep that in mind, Toby. Now, since it seems none of you mind spending extra hours here at the White House, you will be more than happy to join me tomorrow night -- or should I say later tonight, -- for homemade calzones. I found this great recipe in the paper today." He started to walk back towards the Residence. "And I won't take no for an answer. Clear your calendars; no 'things', no 'meetings', no 'emergency appendectomies'. Mallory, you're more than welcome to join us. I'm sure Zoey would love to see you again. Charlie, make sure my daughter shows up, would you? I'll see you all tomorrow."
Leo inspected the damage, the generous display of nerf balls on the floor here and in the hallway. He shook his head and muttered to himself as he walked to his office. Mallory followed him.
Josh picked up his back pack and dropped it on his chair. "It could be worse."
"Define 'worse'." C.J. slumped back into her chair.
"It could be chili again." He started to pick up the stray nerf balls. "See everybody here in about 6 hours?"