Warnings/disclaimers/etc: see pt 1
Eleanor came striding into C.J.'s living room. She had eschewed her stylish suit in favor of a pair of black pants and simple jersey top. "Who should be my maid of honor?" C.J. asked as Eleanor settled down on the couch.
"Well, it should be the person who's closest to you," Eleanor responded. She picked up a novel she'd begun.
"That's the problem, Mom." C.J. explained her predicament. "Whoever I pick I risk offending someone."
"Well, honey, does it matter to you who you choose?" Eleanor said.
"Yeah, I'd like to pick Donna. She's my best friend, and Josh is the best man."
"There you go, then."
"But I can't say no to the First Lady." C.J. sighed. "Abbey will be offended."
Eleanor was about to say more, then changed her mind. "Claudia Jean, you're a grown woman. I can't tell you what to do anymore."
C.J. said nothing. It was true, but that also meant she couldn't exactly tell her mother what to do, either. To test the waters she said casually, "So, did you enjoy working at the White House?"
"I liked it very much, yes." Eleanor smiled. "It's sort of awe-inspiring, but I imagine that goes away quickly."
"Not 'quickly,'" C.J. said, smiling back, "but it does go away. Did you like the people?"
"Oh, definitely. Josh Lyman has a reputation stretching back a while. It was nice to finally meet him. And," Eleanor added slyly, "your fiancÚ was very sweet as well."
"I'm glad." C.J. breathed an inner sigh of relief. Good. She hadn't mentioned Leo.
In her next breath, however, Eleanor continued. "I also thought Mr. McGarry Leo was very nice."
Damn. "I don't know if I'd call Leo nice, per se." The words just sort of slipped out. "He can be very callous when he's working." Eleanor was about to answer when the door opened and Sam came in. "Hey, Claudia Jean," he said, putting his briefcase down on the table.
"Hey, Spanky." C.J. rose and kissed him.
Eleanor, however, was amused. " 'Spanky?' " she queried.
Sam began a slow flush. "I just said it one day," C.J. explained. "Now I think it's cute the way he turns pink."
"There are ways to make you turn pink," Sam teased. Changing the subject, he turned to Eleanor. "But, before I forget, I need to talk with you a minute."
"All right." Eleanor waited expectantly for Sam to begin.
He got right down to it. "Eleanor, you have no work commitments right now. Is that right?"
"Well, Josh was highly impressed with your take on Senator Sherman," Sam said, exercising his considerable charm as well as his persuasive powers. "He talked to Leo, and he wants to hire you as an extra adviser during the hearings, if you want the job."
Eleanor was thrilled. "I'd love to!" she said, eyes shining. She was an old hand in the political game, but the excitement of working in the White House had never fully worn off. She doubted at this point, despite what C.J. said, that it ever would wear off. "I would be honored to work for Josh Lyman."
"Great." Sam seemed visibly relieved. "Josh wants you there. He said that without you the hearings would have turned into a bloodbath, and I agree. Sherman is an amazingly smart man."
Eleanor shrugged. "Mr. McGarry said the same thing, basically."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "You met Leo?"
C.J. spoke up. "He came to my office to tell me what happened, and Mom was there." Inside she was distinctly ill at ease, though, and she hoped it didn't outwardly show. Now Leo would have every opportunity to get to know her mother better. Damn.
Sam nodded. "Well, thanks all the same, Eleanor. And now," he added, turning to the kitchen, "let me start dinner."
C.J. chuckled. "The kitchen smelled like lighter fluid for a week after the lasagna! You honestly think I'd let you near a stove after that?"
"Yes, because you believe in second chances." Sam's smile was as charming as he could make it.
C.J. wasn't convinced. "At least let me help you."
"Because I said so." C.J. couldn't keep her stern tone, though, and started to laugh. She laid an affectionate hand on his shoulder. "Sam, just let me help."
"Fine." Sam tried to assume an air of offended dignity, but was soon smiling. It was his nature.
Eleanor watched this exchange happily. "You two are so cute together, you know."
"Yeah, I guess." C.J. smiled, starting to rummage for ingredients. "He's my cross to bear."
"Shut up!" Sam threw a pasta noodle at her. "You have your moments too, Claudia Jean."
Eleanor laughed, the indulgent smile of a fond parent watching her children. "Allow me, dear," she said to her daughter. "Sam, you're a dork."
He laughed, as did C.J. Eleanor was about to elaborate when her cellular phone rang. "Excuse me, you two." She picked up, saying "Eleanor Cregg."
On the other end of the line was Senator Ross, who was one of Fenton's most vocal supporters on the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee. However, he spoke quietly and quickly, as though he would be interrupted at any time. "Mrs. Cregg?"
"Yes, Senator. What's going on?"
His words were a bombshell. "I thought you should know. Abramson wants to know what you got from Josh Lyman." Senator Keith Abramson was a vociferous opponent of legalizing abortion, which Fenton favored. That and a persistent shady reputation made him a force to be reckoned with during the hearings. He was interested in hiring Eleanor in a month for his own campaign. "Is he going to try and prep Fenton better, despite what Abramson has on the guy?"
What the hell was he talking about? "What do you mean, 'what Abramson has on the guy?'" Eleanor's voice suddenly became very hard and quiet.
Ross snorted, an unbecoming sound. "You know, Eleanor. He told you."
"No, he didn't."
"Oh." Now Ross was backtracking, and Eleanor smelled blood. She went on the attack as C.J. and Sam stopped cooking and listened. "Bradley, I'm working for Josh Lyman right now. He hired me. Now what the hell are you talking about?"
Ross was beaten and he knew it. "Fine." He lowered his voice so that Eleanor practically had to press the phone inside her head to hear. "I'm going to tell you this once, and only once, Eleanor. If this ever comes back to me, I'll deny it all and throw you to the wolves."
"I understand, Bradley. Now spill."
"OK, here." Ross paused, then spoke in a rush. "Abramson's blackmailing Fenton over a little corporate matter called Nova Scotia Trust, based up in Maine. Fenton invested and eventually bought out the other partners. Been a perfectly legit enterprise for years. But lately, the FBI has been getting tips that it's a front for something shady. They think it's money laundering."
Eleanor sat, staring at the wall. The one perfect nominee. No skeletons in his closet. Or so she'd been told. Finally she answered. "Thanks, Bradley. Thanks a lot. I will get this to Josh as soon as I can."
"See that you do. Abramson isn't going to wait long. Soon, whether Fenton pays or not, he'll expose it all and you guys will look like fools."
She hung up and turned to C.J. and Sam, who were waiting expectantly with puzzled looks on their faces. "This isn't good, is it?" C.J. asked her mother.
Eleanor sighed and tried to find a place to begin. Finally, she settled for, "All right, you guys. We have a problem..."