"Thin Margin" A The West Wing Story by CretKid (aka Calvin, with some help from Hobbes)

Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for the characters on The West Wing. I'm the occasional babysitter that the parents call in when they desperately need to get away, and the kids love me, since I let them get away with just about anything. Just kidding. Copyright infringement not intended, and this is for the enjoyment of myself and my friends. You could try and sue me, but then you'd discover that I make zip, zero, nada. Really, I have no money.

Archive: Certainly. Just keep my name attached, and I suppose I'd like to know where it's going.

Rating: PG-13. Language mostly. Nothing you wouldn't see on the television show. Well, that may be a lie; we'll see.

Summary: Oil tankers are not getting where they are supposed to, and the Administration is under the gun (pardon the pun) to come up with a solution.

Spoilers: "Noel", "The Portland Trip"

Thanks to: Adrienne, Kat, Leanne, Sheila, Luna and Jess, Susannah, Janie, Lida Rose, Gaggit and Hobbes, and a week spent in bed due to an acute allergy attack of some sort...I think I'm allergic to work. J I borrowed Luna and Jess' Lou Woliver very very very very briefly. They said I could.

Nerd Alert: Like "When A Bell Tolls", this story has a bit of geology in it. Congress last year passed the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000, which in essence allows for the research and development of alternate fuel sources, namely methane gas hydrates. For this story, I am assuming that this act has not yet passed.

Like this? Want to read more like it? Check out my other stories on my AOL home page: http://members.aol.com/cretkid/ Comments to cretkid@j...

"Thin Margin"

Tuesday Hannigan's Bar and Grill

"I'm just saying, it's going to come up again, that's all. Five tankers in six months, hijacked, grounded by mysterious means, or undersold to the black market? Two separate incidents of oil tankers firing on US Naval ships for no apparent reason, other than the fact they may have been carrying contraband oil. It's a trump card that is going to be played, and we're going to get screwed in the end."

Josh Lyman leaned back in his chair, rubbing his hands over his face in mock frustration as he contemplated punching the young man sitting next to him. "Why are we discussing this now? Didn't we table this back in December? And I thought this was supposed to be a no-shop-talk night. Who broke the rules?" he whined through the palm of his hands.

Two tables had been pushed together to accommodate the lot. It wasn't often that the staff of the most powerful man in the United States left the confines of their offices together. However, the last two weeks had been particularly harrowing, and after much cajoling, even Toby Zeigler was convinced to join them. His one concession was that he be allowed to smoke his cigar; therefore he had been relegated to the far end of one table. Josh along with Sam Seaborn, CJ Cregg, Donna Moss and Ainsley Hayes were clustered around the other. No one else had chosen to partake in the adventure, either out of general foreknowledge or genuine fear of how things might go when the Senior Staff were let out of their natural habitats unsupervised.

A near empty pitcher sat precariously near the join of the tables. Scattered about were half-eaten plates of club sandwiches, burgers, fries and salads. The unfortunate waitress who had their table had learned early in the evening it was best to leave well enough alone. This was after reassurances from the bartender acquainted with their antics that they would leave a very generous tip no matter how many times she offered to take their plates or bring a refill on the pitcher.

CJ speared a cherry tomato with her fork before either Josh or Ainsley could sneak it off her plate. She waved the fork in Josh's general direction. "You did, mi amigo, when you started screaming at that television over there about the OPEC thing that's been running on every news network for the last three days." She plucked the tomato off her fork.

"And why are we here instead of coming up with some counter-insurgency plan?" Josh asked.

"Because," CJ replied around the tomato, "Leo told us, in no uncertain terms, to get the hell out of the White House before we drove him crazy with all of our sniping."

"Yeah, so we get to snipe at each other here instead," Toby added, sipping his scotch "It's all your fault. You got him started," Toby indicated his deputy seated at the other end of the table, "and it went downhill from there. Princeton over there can't leave work at work. You've got no one to blame but yourself."

"So our WORK-is-a-four-letter-word plan has been shot to hell? Why didn't somebody stop me?" Josh turned to his assistant seated next to him.

"Don't look at me. I was in the ladies room when you started your temper tantrum. I can't watch you 24 hours a day," Donna replied. She gave up trying to protect her fries from Josh's pilfering fingers and pushed her plate in front of him.

"Not for lack of trying," Josh said. Donna punched him in the arm.

Bristling, Sam leaned forward against the table. "I think I resent the implication that I can't separate work from leisure."

"There was no implication," Toby responded. "I outright stated it."

"Toby, isn't that the same suit you wore yesterday?"

"Yes, Ainsley, it is."

CJ leaned closer to the Republican seated next to her. "That only works on these two nincompoops. Toby is proud of his all-nighters. It gives him an excuse for his all-around surly attitude. You'll catch on eventually."

Unhindered, Ainsley pushed on. "But doesn't that imply you don't separate work from leisure?"

"No, it means Toby doesn't believe in leisure time," Sam provided.

Ainsley turned towards Sam. "So then why is he here?"

"Because if Toby pretends to play nice with others, he doesn't have to be told to," CJ answered.

"Anyone ever notice that we can have conversations with Toby without him ever having to utter a single word?" Josh held his head up with his arm propped on the table.

Toby snapped his fingers. "Damn, you've figured out my secret. And here I was hoping I could sneak out and no one would be the wiser."

"And I noticed," CJ said, grabbing the empty pitcher, "that we need a refill." She clanked the pitcher down in front of Josh. "Your turn."

Josh pushed the pitcher towards Ainsley. "I think this is a job for the new kid on the block."

Ainsley pushed it back. "Nah-uh. I fell for that the first time you guys took me out to this place. And I was stuck with the tab."

CJ stared aghast at Sam and Josh. "You left her with the tab? I'm never leaving you two alone again."

"Why do I have to get it? I'm not even drinking." Josh shot a dirty look at Donna.

Donna stacked the emptied plates on an open spot on the tables. "You have a delicate system. How many times do I have to tell you that?"

"So speaks the Bar and Grill Gestapo. Why aren't you cutting off Sam or CJ? They polished off the last pitcher all by themselves."

"A, they don't have delicate systems like you, and even if they did, B, I don't work for them. C, the two of them are a little more than tipsy right now and would spill more bringing the pitcher back to the table. And D, it would serve Carol and Cathy right for not coming out with us. They get to deal with their hangovers."

"Hey!" CJ and Sam said indignantly.

"Just get the beer, Josh, and I'll let you have a glass. Just one."

"Oh, that's incentive."

Sam grabbed Josh's arm before he could leave the table. "Can we get back to the tanker thing for a minute."

Toby stood up. "I told you this would happen." He headed for the bar.

Josh held up the pitcher. "Toby--" Toby ignored him and Josh growled.

"Tankers?" Sam said again.

Slouching in his chair, Josh rolled his head in Sam's direction. "What about them?"

"They're going to come up."

"Yeah."

"OPEC isn't going to budge on this. The price of a single barrel of oil is going to sky rocket again, and there is no way Didion is going to stand for hitting the strategic petroleum reserves a second time in less than six months. Hart and Grenier are going to propose the Alaskan park thing again. Zaharian will start screaming about the dangers of drilling on the North Slope. We'll need a response."

"And when that happens Greenpeace's latest bulldog is going to jump at the chance to make a big stink about anything we say."

"Harold Chase is a cowardly, manipulative, lying, immature, psychotic, inadequately medicated sociopath."

"Tell us how you feelly real, Sam," CJ said. Sam sputtered, Josh snorted. CJ let her head fall to the table.

"I'm cutting you both off," Donna said in no uncertain terms.

"We're not drunk!" Sam and CJ protested.

Toby placed a pitcher of water on the table between Sam and CJ "The jury's still out on you, CJ, but Sam is drunk. If he weren't, he'd know that you can medicate a psychopath but not a sociopath." Toby replaced Sam's beer with a glass of water. "I can't believe I'm playing den mother to this scout troop expedition gone horribly awry."

"Isn't Chase that guy that dumped body bags filled with styrofoam and lots of netting into Puget Sound to stop illegal trapping a couple of years ago?" Ainsley asked.

Toby returned to his chair with a refreshed scotch in hand. "Among other things, as environmentally unsound as that is. He once staged a one-man protest outside Gage Whitney Pace because that firm was brokering the buy out of several, shall we say less than sturdy tankers to an up and coming oil company. He got a lot of news coverage for about 2 days. His fifteen minutes of fame ended around the same time he literally lost his voice."

"To make matters worse, we were also arranging the insurance policies on the same tankers. That's about the same time I left to join the campaign."

"You mean, the guy that was screaming in the rain at the top of his lungs when I went to see you after Nashua was Harold Chase?!?" Josh exclaimed. "Whoa! I thought he was some random evangelistic drunk screaming about the end of the world. That guy IS a sociopath."

CJ picked up the pitcher again and rattled it in front of Josh. "Beer."

"Speaking of sociopaths, you guys are going to be a joy at staff tomorrow." Josh stood up, his chair scraping loudly against the floor.

"Staff is postponed until 9," Donna called after him. "Leo and the President are meeting with the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Advisor at 8 am."

"And you were going to tell me this when?"

"Well, I was going to wait until five minutes before staff tomorrow, but since the subject came up--"

"No more shop talk!" CJ whined. "You're giving me a headache!"

"You're not concerned about any of this?" Sam asked.

"Look, there's nothing we can do about it right now. We've spent the last two weeks pushing our education legislation through the gauntlet. We're tired, we're cranky, and tomorrow we're going to step up to the plate again to face a possible energy crisis. Yes, the OPEC statement is news. They make a statement whenever someone gets their knickers in a knot about oil prices. They are not about to step down now, and that's not news. So, I'm going to relax, I'm not going to be concerned about anything more than how the hell I'm going to get home this evening and how I'm going to get to work tomorrow since my car is still at the White House." CJ grabbed Sam's tie and drew him closer. She planted her forehead against his and spoke with a definite growl behind her voice. "If I have to think about anything else, my head will explode and it will not be a pretty picture. And I'm taking you down with me if that happens."

Sounding slightly choked, Sam stammered, "Can I have my tie back?"

"Are you going to stop talking tankers?"

"Yes."

CJ released Sam's tie.

"Can I say something about the Alaska thing?"

CJ groaned, picked up the last of the cherry tomatoes on her plate. Ainsley intercepted CJ's arm before she could let fly and deposited the slightly squashed fruit back on the plate just as Donna pulled it and every other piece of ammunition within CJ's reach out of the way.

"Sam," Toby started, "so help me God, if you don't shut up, I will help CJ eviscerate you with a soup spoon. I will not have you be the root cause for why we are not allowed back in this establishment. CJ, you will not start another food fight."

"What did Sam do now?" Josh asked as he returned. CJ was scowling at Ainsley, who was helping Donna with the rest of the plates and motioning for the waitress. "Why does CJ look like she's going to disembowel Ainsley?"

"CJ, have another beer, it's going to be your last," Toby announced. CJ's scowl leveled on Toby. "And your evil-eye routine will not work on me, so cut it out."

"Uh-oh, watch out guys, Dad is putting his foot down." Josh handed the pitcher to Sam and started to sit down. Only, he missed his chair by a good foot to the left.

Sam stared, stupefied.

CJ tried not to laugh through her nose and failed.

Ainsley leaned over the table to see what the fuss was about.

Toby inclined his head back and sighed.

Donna just shook her head. "It's starting already. I told you this would happen."

Josh decided that he was better suited to stay on the floor with his arms crossed and resting on his kneecaps. "I'm not having this conversation with you."

"What's started already?" Ainsley asked.

"Donna," implored Josh, "don't."

Donna waved her hand at the man on the floor, dismissing him. "Josh ran over an old lady today."

"He did what?" Sam exclaimed.

Josh was staring daggers at his soon to be ex-assistant.

"He and I were walking back from that hot dog vendor on the Mall that he likes, and Josh being Josh ran over some bag lady because he was too busy arm waving and walking backwards and spouting off about this that and every other thing to see her. She put a hex on him."

"It was not a hex," Josh explained. "It was a threat. And I would have been in my right mind to have her arrested for threatening a senior aide to the President."

"You can't do that. One can be arrested for threatening the President. You are a pee-on. One cannot be arrested for threatening a pee-on," CJ said.

"Well, from one pee-on to a fellow pee-on--" Josh blew a raspberry at her for a good three seconds.

"Very adult of you, Josh. Do I need to put you in a time-out? And get off the floor." Toby put out his cigar and finished the rest of his scotch.

Donna continued with her narrative. "She said bad luck will follow him until he was truly mindful of his acts."

"I apologized! I did!"

"But was it sincere?" Donna added. "I don't think so. Face it, it's started."

Josh used the table to pull himself to his feet. "I am so not looking forward to the next few days."

END PROLOGUE ====================

Thin Margin - 1

 

 

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