Warnings/Spoilers/etc: See pt 1

Eleanor Cregg: Mine. Everyone else: Sorkin's.

---

Later that day, Eleanor and C.J. were talking in the press secretary's office as she waited for a call, when the vigorous knock came on the door. "C.J.?"

"Yeah, come in."

Leo McGarry entered in high dudgeon, slamming the door behind him. "Can you believe it? Can you honestly believe it?"

C.J., sensing a problem, got to her feet. "Believe what, Leo?"

He turned to face her, ignoring Eleanor. "Sam and Josh. Have you been watching the confirmation hearings?"

"Oh, hell," Eleanor mumbled under her breath. What had she done? She got to her feet and began to elucidate. "Mr. McGarry, if you'll allow me to explain –"

He cut her off. "Who are you?"

"My name is Eleanor Cregg. I'm a freelance political consultant, right now with Senator Jacobs." Eleanor squirmed under his gaze, which surprised C.J. Her mother didn't do that often. But she had to admit, the way Leo was staring at Eleanor was unusual. It wasn't his usual angry look. There was something else in it.

Indeed, Leo spoke in a deceptively quiet tone. "And, judging from the name, you're related to C.J. here, right?"

"Yes, sir. I'm her mother." Eleanor had her composure back. If he was going to throw her out of the White House, so be it. She'd done what she came for.

Thus she was very surprised when he stuck out his hand for her to shake. "Then it's you I have to congratulate."

Eleanor was astonished. "Beg your pardon?"

Leo smiled as warmly as he would allow himself to. "Sam told me that their hardball stance on abortion with Sherman was due to 'Mrs. Cregg.' I thought I was mis-hearing him, and he was talking about C.J. But since she hasn't said anything and you've ventured to try and explain, it's probably you."

"Yes, sir."

"Leo, please. Leo McGarry."

"Then I'm Eleanor."

"Fine," Leo said gravely. Interested, he asked, "What makes you know Sherman so well? Sam told me you said he'd back down, and he did, like someone was holding a knife to his gut."

"Well, I knew him," Eleanor answered. "Joseph Sherman is the same man he was when he was elected eleven years ago. And eleven years ago he knew when he was beaten he had to step down as well."

"But it takes a smart person to remember that."

"Not so much." Eleanor grinned. "Just a photographic memory."

C.J., meanwhile, was watching, distinctly unnerved. Was that flirtation she glimpsed in her mother's eyes? And was Leo answering back? It was too bizarre. She knew her mother had been lonely for a while. Ever since the relationship with the lawyer from Richmond had fizzled. And now that her only daughter was getting married, Eleanor had to be feeling her age.

But still... *Leo?*

She spoke. "Leo, is there anything else that needs to be done today?"

"Not that I know of."

"Then my mom and I are going home." C.J. began to fumble for her papers. "Will I see you in the morning, Leo?"

"Yeah, I'll be in. See you then, C.J." Leo turned to the other woman. "It was nice to meet you, Eleanor."

"You too, Leo." C.J. all but dragged her mother out of the office and down the hall.

Once they were out of hearing range, Eleanor spoke. "I like him."

"Leo's a great guy." C.J. didn't speak of the nervousness she felt.

Meanwhile, Sam and Josh were in the latter's office, discussing the morning's hearings. "Did you see the way Sherman just sort of swallowed his tongue?" Josh said gleefully. "Fenton got him right back on his heels, with that answer."

"Yeah." Sam closed his eyes, relishing the triumph. "I couldn't have written any better."

"Well, it was a huge triumph." Josh couldn't stop grinning. "And it's all because of C.J.'s mom."

Sam whistled through his teeth. "I know!" He shook his head. "Her logic was correct in every particular. If I didn't know better I'd say she was some kind of spy."

"No spy she," Josh said. "Just a damn good political operative."

Sam was about to answer when Leo opened the door. "Josh, George Fenton's press secretary is on the phone in my office. He wants to know about how to handle the dust-up over Senator Sherman."

"Tell them we'll get back to them," Josh said. There was an insane gleam in his eye all of a sudden. He abruptly asked, "Leo, have you met Eleanor Cregg?"

"I have." Leo nodded.

"What do you think of her?"

Leo paused a moment to think about the question, which thoroughly astonished Sam as he stared at the older man. Instead of his usual direct response, Leo turned to stare at the floor, seemingly avoiding the question.

Then Sam saw it. Was that *blushing* creeping up Leo's face? Could there be something that the reticent Chief of Staff wasn't saying? Because he might not have spoken, but his flush told the two staffers many stories.

Finally Leo responded. "I think she's a very intelligent, well put together woman." He sighed, regaining his composure. "Why do you ask?"

"Cause." The crazy sparkle was back in Josh's eye. "I wanna hire her."

"Hire her?" Sam echoed.

"Yeah, why not?" Josh turned to his friend. "She said she's finished with Jacobs. And if she follows through on her promise we can have the names we need to lean on in less than forty-eight hours."

"True," Sam mused. "And she did just give us the tip we needed to get round one of Fenton's most vocal opponents."

Leo surveyed his two subordinates. "You wanna hire her for the confirmation hearings?" he asked rhetorically, conveying no emotion outwardly. Inside he was confused. He didn't know what Eleanor Cregg did to him, but it would be interesting to have her around.

Josh, meanwhile, had made up his mind. "Yeah. Definitely. I'm going to call her and hire her tonight."

"I can do it." Sam spoke up. "She's staying with me and C.J., remember."

"Yeah, you're right." Josh chuckled. He always got a bit carried away whenever one of his "great ideas" surfaced. "That'd be easier, I guess. Thanks, Sam. But I'll talk to her at some point soon."

"Right."

"Let's get out of here; it's pretty late. See you tomorrow." Leo turned away, leaving Josh's door open. So his deputy was going to hire Eleanor Cregg! This would make the next few days extremely interesting.

Now if he could just figure out who she reminded him of. There was something in her eyes that seemed extraordinarily familiar to him – and he didn't think it was just C.J. Eleanor's eyes seemed to hold something that very few people had. Those steely hazel eyes of hers seemed to smile at a person. Why, the last person's eyes that Leo had stared into had been...

Jenny. It was Jenny, his ex-wife, that she reminded him of.

The realization came to Leo quickly: He was in far over his head.

 

Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown - 5

 

 

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