'And let the games begin,' Sam thought gleefully as he looked up to see CJ join him in Leo's otherwise empty office. "Good morning, CJ" He watched as she settled into her usual spot on the couch and began to help herself to the muffins and coffee set out for the staff meeting. "Congratulations," he said.
Without missing a beat, CJ replied evenly, "Thank you."
Before she could inquire about the cause of his praise, he continued, "You and Toby must be happy." Sam studied her face intently as she looked up from the wire reports she was reading. Her eyes narrowed in what looked to Sam like genuine confusion. She brushed a stray strand of hair from her cheek.
"Well, I'm sure we are, Sam, if I had a clue as to what you were talking about," said CJ, her tone tinged with amused exasperation.
She's good. Of course, Sam didn't expect anything less. One didn't rise to the position of White House Press Secretary by being an open book. Transparent was a word rarely used to describe CJ Cregg. "I was just referring to the work you did with the Times," he smiled innocently. "You got the story buried on page 16. And I don't know how you and Toby did it, but you managed to successfully spin Caddell's bombshell into an argument for campaign finance reform."
CJ smiled. "That's why they pay me the big bucks," she said sarcastically and went back to reading the wires.
'And the first hand goes to Ms. Cregg,' the small voice in Sam's head announced. That was okay, though. The plan wasn't to declare victory immediately. No, he and Josh had much more interesting ideas. Sam didn't even try to cover the smile that lit his face at that thought. He was about to say something more, maybe casually mention the blonde that was flirting with Toby at the thing on Friday, when the man in question entered the room deep in conversation with Leo.
"You want me to get into it in my meeting with him today?"
"Take his temperature," answered Leo. "How firm is his stance."
"Yeah," Toby sighed as he reached across the table for a blueberry muffin. Sam thought he saw Toby's hand brush against CJ's knee, but the movement was so quick, he couldn't be sure. Their expressions didn't give anything way, either. This wasn't going to be easy. But if it were easy, then it wouldn't be any fun.
His head snapped back to look at Leo. "Yeah?"
The older man glared at him over the rim of his glasses. "EPA and air standards?"
"Yeah, it's finished," Sam answered. "Although, it would help if I knew exactly where we were coming down on this."
"Well, we don't yet," replied the Chief of Staff, glancing over the President's schedule for the day. "So deal with it."
Leo looked up. Something was missing. He counted the people in the room. "Where's Josh?"
"He'll be here in a moment," Sam answered. "He's working the phones, trying to get a nose count on 203."
"You guys won't believe this," Josh bursted into the room.
"We gained votes," Leo said, while Margaret handed him a stack of phone messages.
"We gained 11 votes," Josh announced breathlessly, undaunted by the lack of excitement in his boss' voice. "And," he continued, "you'll never guess who lead the way."
"John-" Josh stopped, as all eye's in the room, except Leo's, went to Toby, who wore an innocent expression on his face and took another bite of his muffin.
"So that's where you went," CJ said softly.
"How'd you do it," Josh asked incredulously. "Oliver wasn't loud in his opposition to the bill, but I talked to him a couple times and he was damn solid in the nay column."
Toby glanced over at Leo, who answered, "Let's just say that Davidson isn't the only Congressman with questionable campaign finances."
Sam looked back to Toby. "How did you find it?"
CJ couldn't help but chuckle softly, as she watched the corners of Toby's lips curl up in a smug smirk. "One of Oliver's aides doesn't quite agree with his boss' stance on the bill and directed me where to look."
"Okay," Leo said, directing their attention back to him. "So, at last count we're 17 votes up on 203. According to the overnight polls, the Times story hasn't had much impact, but I don't want to lose our momentum. CJ - work with the President on his answer if and when he gets a question at the thing."
CJ nodded and scribbled a few notes on her notepad. Toby added, "Get the focus back on the bill. We can't afford to antagonize Davidson. We need him on a lot of other things besides 203."
"Josh," Leo said. "I need you to go to the thing today with CJ and the President. Carolyn Black will be there and wants to talk to someone about midterms."
"'Kay," agree Josh.
Leo took off his glasses and looked at his staff. "What's next?"
Ginger was hanging up the phone, when she saw her boss return from his lunch meeting. "What's my schedule," asked Toby as he set a turkey sandwich on her desk.
She rolled her eyes with amusement while pulling up his schedule on her computer. This had become their daily routine since she started working as his personal assistant almost two years ago. Every day, when he would go for lunch, Ginger would ask him to bring her an apple or banana from the mess. Every day, he would mumble something inaudible. And every day, he would come back with some kind of sandwich. Then, to counter any argument that he was being sweet, he would demand something as gruff as possible.
"You have a meeting with Ed and Larry in an hour," she replied. "A budget meeting at two; conference call with Congressmen Stewart and Walker and Kantor at Justice at three thirty-"
"What about," he interrupted.
"Uh," Ginger searched the screen for the answer, "stronger antitrust legislation."
Toby scratched his forehead and sighed heavily. "What else?"
"Staff at five."
"Is that it?"
"Yeah," she replied, and handed him a stack of papers. "Here are your messages."
"Okay, don't schedule anything after staff tonight," Toby instructed as he shuffled through some files on her desk, generally making a mess of her system. "And hold my calls," he said as the phone began to ring.
"Toby Ziegler's office," Ginger answered. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ziegler is busy at the moment. If you will leave your name and the nature of your call- And at what number can you be reached, Ms. Schaffer?"
His head snapped up. "Ginger," he barked. "I'll take it. What line?"
"One moment, m'am," she said into the phone, then covered the receiver and yelled back to Toby. "Line two."
It wasn't the fact that the caller categorized the message as personal, that piqued Ginger's curiosity, or even that the voice sounded like a young woman. It was something about the tone of her boss' voice. She tried to put her finger on it. It had a sense of urgency to it; which, considering the work place, wasn't that unusual. No, this time his voice didn't have his typical tone of irritation or annoyance. In fact, it almost sounded like he was happy to get this call. But, that couldn't be right, could it?
'I'm telling you, he's got a girlfriend,' she heard Sam's voice echoing in her mind. She jumped up, grabbed a few random papers, and then rushed into Toby's office.
Accustomed to his assistants walking in and out of his office for various reasons, Toby didn't give her a second glance as she walked over to the file cabinets and began to sort through some files.
"That's fine," he said into the phone. "We'll just move it back an hour. I'm looking forward to it, too. Okay, the Four Seasons at eight. See you then, Jules."
Placing the file she was pretending to look through back in it's spot, she closed the cabinet drawer and started for the door.
Nervously, she turned around to see Toby already engrossed in some papers. "Yes?"
"Close the door on your way out," he said, without looking up. "I'm going to make a few calls, then I need you to take down a letter before my meeting with Ed and Larry."
He didn't look up from the copy of Sam's air pollution speech, until he heard the door shut. An evil grin crossed Toby's face as he reached for the phone and began to dial.
"Who am I talking to," the President asked. "And please, don't tell me it's the National Association of Salmon Fisherman or the Organization of Elk Hunters or something."
"No, sir," CJ said, smiling. "It's-"
"Hunters don't like me too much," he interrupted. "I can't figure out why."
"Well, I'm sure it has nothing to do with your position on gun control, Mr. President," replied Josh sarcastically.
The President nodded seriously. "I'm sure."
"You're talking to members of Citizens for Clean Politics," CJ answered. "Charlie has your speech."
The President took off his glasses. "I'm giving a speech strongly advocating campaign finance reform to a group of people who've paid $1,000 a plate?"
"You've gotta love politics, CJ."
She laughed as they started to climb out of the limousine. "Yes, sir."
"And why are you here," the President asked Josh.
"Uh, Leo sent me to talk to Carolyn Black about-"
"Carrie Black is here?"
"Yes, sir. She wants to talk about midterms," Josh explained as they entered the lobby. It had already been cleared by the Secret Service, except for an older, diminutive woman and a couple of men. When she saw the President, she said a few words to the men, who nodded and walked a respectable distance away to wait.
"Carrie," President Bartlet greeted her warmly.
Like Mrs. Black's aides, CJ, Josh, and Charlie stood several feet away, while the President and the National Chairwoman of the DNC talked.
"So," Josh started. "How's your Man of Mystery?"
"Josh-" The ringing of her cell phone stopped CJ.
He watched as she quickly turned, her back to him, and walked away a few steps. Used to the antics of the senior staff, Charlie paid little attention as the Deputy Chief of Staff hid behind a marble pillar near CJ and strained to hear her conversation.
"We just got here. No. An hour or so, I guess. The Four Seasons at eight? Yeah, that's fine. Okay."
He whipped around to see the President eyeing him inquisitively, Mrs. Black standing beside him. "Yes, sir?" Josh replied sheepishly. By this time, CJ had hung up and joined the group.
"Hello, Mrs. Black."
"CJ, it's good to see you." She turned to Josh. "Shall we?"
"Mr. President," Charlie called, holding the President's speech in his hand.
"One moment, Charlie." He turned to CJ who was still watching Josh with a pleased expression on her face. "I trust you won't be too hard on the boys."
"Excuse me, sir?"
A small smile danced on the President's lips. "You know what I'm talking about Claudia Jean. Whatever it is you and Toby have cooked up to teach Sam and Josh a lesson."
Her eyes grew wide with surprise, and her mouth opened then shut without saying a word. Finally, CJ laughed unbelievingly. "What did you have to promise Mrs. Landingham for her to tell you?"
"CJ," he said, acting hurt. "I have the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service working for me. I don't have to bribe my secretary for information." When it was clear she wasn't buying it, he sighed dramatically. "I haven't seen red meat for two weeks, CJ. She's turning me into a vegetarian without my consent, and now I'm not even allowed to complain."
"A high price to pay, sir," CJ feigned seriousness.
"Mr. President," Charlie called again, this time slightly more insistent.
"Yeah," President Bartlet replied, then turned back to CJ. "Especially for confirmation on something I've been expecting since the campaign."
Shocked, she stood motionless as the doors to the grand ballroom opened.
"The President of the United States!"
Covert Operations - 7