Set after "20 Hours In L.A." ~~ next

Characters property of Aaron Sorkin and NBC. No infringement intended.

Human Starting Gun

"Mr. President, there's a chance we might have a problem concerning the flag-burning -- thing, whatever it was, the meeting."

The President turned slowly to look at CJ. "Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry, sir, were you sleeping?"

"Let's pretend I was."

"You weren't, though?"




CJ blushed. "Just -- because I wouldn't want to have woken you, sir."

"Just out of curiosity, we are still on the airplane, right?"

"Yes, sir, we'll be landing shortly."

"And already there's a problem with -- what was it?"

"Not so much a problem, sir, as it is a -- sommeil of possible upset."

The President stared her down. "Do you even know what that word means?"

"I happen to know a spot of French, Mr. President."

"Sommeil means sleep. I think you're looking for sommation."


"Yes, ma'am."

"I think that's what they call a 'Freudian slip.'"


"Anyway. Somebody in the meeting was apparently rather --"

"We're not talking about Kiefer."

"No, sir, the first meeting."

"Go on."

"Apparently someone in the meeting was a little bit bothered by your -- let's call it your 'air of detachment' during the discussion."

"Do we have to call it that?"


"Do we have to call it my 'air of detachment'? Can't we call it my utter lack of interest in anything that those people might possibly have been saying to me?"

"No, sir, I don't think we can."

"All right."

CJ waited for a moment and then said, "Mr. President, I --"

"We will deal with it when we land, CJ. Is there anything else?"

"No, sir."

"All right."

"Thank you, sir," CJ said. He could hear her making her way back toward the press area. Air of detachment. Holy God. His press secretary tried her best, but at the end of the day -- or the beginning, as he realized was the case -- he had a psychotic bunch of reporters in the press corps.

The plane was landing. The President had not slept. And in the irrational panic of being the only one awake, he had done his best to wake the staff, but they resisted. Apparently Sam Seaborn could sleep through his own attempted homicide. Aah, but for the voice of reason and the Secret Service.

Even Zoey had abandoned him, but she joined him as they left the plane. "G'morning, Dad!"

The President grunted in response.

"Smile!" Zoey chided. "People are taking pictures, and Mom's going to be looking at them!"

"Your mother is going to be looking at pictures of me getting off of an airplane at this ungodly hour?"

"It's seven."

"Your mother is going to be looking at pictures of --"

"She might."


"She keeps up with the press on you when she's out of town."


"'Cause she misses you. Smile at her."

"Were you always so cheerful in the morning, or is that something you've developed recently, just to bother me?"

"I'm not cheerful. You're unusually grumpy."

"Okay." He patted his daughter's elbow and joined Leo, who was waiting nearby.

"Welcome back, Mr. President."

"How you doing, Leo?"

"Hoynes is in a good mood this morning."

"Ah! Was I, in some sleep-deprived stupor, decent to him last night?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm going to have to remember to smack him around some this week. Speaking of which, did you know my staff seems to have an uncanny ability to sleep through threats against their lives?"

"Well, as long as the Secret Service doesn't, sir."

"Yeah." The President got into the car beside Leo and sat back. "Soooo. What's new?"

"The press is happy this morning."

"The press is sleepy this morning."

"Their editors, meanwhile, are happy. Did you mock a gathering of the sincerest of citizens on the basis that there is not enough flag-burning going on to warrant a law prohibiting it?"

The President looked at him in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"I'm just asking, 'cause the Times thinks you did."

"Swear to God, Leo, I am never opening my mouth again."

"Not much chance of that, Mr. President."

Bartlet rolled his eyes as he said, "I suppose every newspaper in America will know about this by noon?"

"If we're lucky. Which is to say if they don't know about it right now."

"So, what else is happening, Leo? Why are you meeting me at the plane? I assume if it were anything that threatened the democracy, you'd have mentioned it already instead of making all this small talk."

"Sir, I thought I might turn this brief drive into an opportunity to bring to your attention a situation that may or may not affect a vote on the auto thing."

"The auto thing?"

"The thing about the autoworkers and the foreign fuel."

"We're calling it the auto thing?"

"I can barely remember what to call it."

Bartlet sighed. "The bill isn't going to make a difference."

"It's going to make a difference to unions. It's going to make a difference to the coal mining industry."

"It's not going to make a difference, Leo. It's not going to pass."

"I know."

"Then why are you worried about a vote that isn't going to --"

"Because if he's vocal about why he's opposing, we've got yet another PR problem," Leo said. "And coming on the heels of the thing in Cincinnati, not to mention you mocking a group of citizens trying to pass a flag-burning law --"

"Oh, for godsakes, Leo!"

"If he's vocal about it, it's going to cause us headaches we don't need right now."

"If who's vocal? Who are we talking about?"


The President's eyes widened. "No."

"Yes, sir."

"Senator Mitchell?"

"Senator Mitchell is concerned about --"


"Sir --"


"Mr. President."

"We're not going through this song and dance again, are we?"

"Mr. President."

"Global warming?"

"Yes, sir."

Bartlet threw his hands in the air. "Does he think I'm personally climbing some hidden ladder up to the ozone layer and breathing on it till it gets warm?"

"Well, he certainly wouldn't put it past you, Mr. President."

"He knows the bill isn't going to pass. He knows it doesn't have a snowball's chance in, apparently, the ozone. He was voting 'yes' because it's a good bill and he supports it when he's not with his friends. What does he want from me?"

"He or perhaps one of his friends is concerned the statement you made to the press will lead people in his party to think he's only supporting this bill to gain the political spotlight, when he knows there's no chance the law will pass."

"The people in his party would be right about that."

Leo nodded. "I know."

"So why are we playing to this guy?"

"Because we need him to vote yes."


"So the people in his party, and by that I mean our party, will think he's only supporting the bill for political reasons."

"Why do we need --"

"Because it's the truth, and we owe them one."

"We owe who one?"

Leo met his gaze. "The public."

"Since when did you major in public relations?"

"I've been hearing this all week from CJ and Josh; I was waiting for an appropriate moment to address it."

"Since when did CJ and Josh major in --"

"Mr. President?"

Bartlet sighed. "All right."

"Thank you, sir."

Bartlet continued to mutter under his breath. "Can't say a damned word in public without someone deciding I'm out to villianize their side of the --"


"Are we there yet?"

"A few moments, sir."

The car stopped outside the west wing entrance, and the President followed Leo into the building. Mrs. Landingham met him in front of the Oval Office. "Welcome back, Mr. President."

"You are a traitor, Mrs. Landingham."

"Now, Mr. President."

"Did you know they wouldn't serve me any red meat on the plane? I had to get Agent Willis to sneak in there and find some for me. Did you have anything to do with that, Mrs. Landingham?"

"Why, no, sir, of course not."

"I don't believe you, Mrs. Landingham."

"I'm going to have to have a word with Agent Willis, now, aren't I?"

Bartlet pointed. "I thought so."

"Mr. President, you've got a call waiting."

"All right."

The President entered the Oval Office and sat at his desk. The light was blinking on the phone; he hadn't even asked who was on the line. Didn't matter. Whoever it was, they were no doubt upset by his tone or his expression or something he'd said without thinking last week. With a sigh, he picked up the receiver. "Yes?"

"Jed, you certainly didn't look very happy on camera just then. Have you been sleeping?"

The President grinned. "Aaaah, Abbey."

"I'm serious, Jed."

"No. I haven't been. How about you?"

"Jed --"

"I'm saying, if you're watching me on television at this hour -- Wait, you're telling me there was a reporter who thinks my regularly scheduled return to D.C. from L.A. is all that important?"

"On like the eighth copy of C-SPAN, yes. I'm also telling you I'm sure the people in L.A. were exaggerating, but in case they weren't, maybe you ought to acknowledge that they're not just raving lunatics."

Bartlet blinked. "How did you hear about that so fast?"

"I have special powers."

"Abbey --"

"You're the President, babe. Word gets around."

"You're reading the Times?"

"The Post."

"All right." The President put his head down on his desk and sighed. "Is there anything else that's gotten around this morning I should know about?"

"Is there any chance you've been soaring into the atmosphere with a box of matches and single-handedly destroying the ozone?"


"Then I guess there isn't."

"Did you call for a reason, or do you just enjoy mocking me?"

"I called to remind you to give Annie a call. It's her birthday."

"What is she, thirteen?"



"How old is Zoey, then, Jed?"

"She's nine. And I don't want to hear another word about it."

He could almost hear Abbey smile. "I just called to remind you about Annie," she said. "I've got to hang up now; I've got things to do."

"All right. Thanks, hon."

"Go to sleep, Jed."

"It's morning."

"Go to sleep anyway."

"I'm the President."

"Go to sleep anyway."

"All right."

"Don't brush me off."

"I'm not."

"Don't forget to call."

"I won't."

"I meant me that time."

"I know."

"I love you."

"I love you."



The President hung up the phone and sat back with a sigh. It was good to hear Abbey's voice. And it would be good to hear Annie's voice later today.

Except that Annie, hooked on CNN in a way that was unnatural for someone her age, would already know all the things that had gone wrong this week, and she would want to talk about them. Annie had already decided to major in political science after graduating high school, and she wouldn't even enter high school until next year.

Jed sighed again. The ozone. Abbey had even known about that one. "Charlie," he called, and Charlie appeared it the doorway.

"Yes, sir?"

"Why is it that everything I say gets blown so far out of proportion that I don't even recognize it by the time it comes home?"

"You talking about global warming?"

Bartlet's eyes widened. "You, too?"

"Is it true you've been catapulting yourself into the ozone layer with a blowtorch with the intent of destroying the environment?"

"See, that's what I'm talking about! Why do people want to spend their days talking about this stuff?"

"You're the President, sir."

"Yes, Charlie, I know. And everything I say is weighted by that fact."


Bartlet looked at him sadly. "Everything I say is weighted by the fact that I'm the President."

"Not everything, sir."

"Name something that isn't."

"Name something you say that isn't weighted by your office?"

"Yes, please."

Charlie faced him seriously. "You remember when you were the governor of New Hampshire, and Zoey was fourteen?"

"I believe I have a vague recollection, Charlie, yes."

"You told Zoey she looked better in green than in black."

"I did?"

"She was dressing to go to the movies with her friends. She asked you which sweater you liked best, the glitter black or the hunter green with stripes, and you said the green, that it made her eyes dance."

"I said that?"

"Yes, sir."

Bartlet nodded. "It's true. But I don't remember saying it."

"Well, she does, Mr. President."

"She told you this story?"

"To this day she prefers the green to black."


"Yes, sir."

"I wasn't President then," Bartlet commented.

"No, sir, you weren't."

"But I am now, and everything I say is weighted."

"Not to Zoey, Mr. President. And not to me or to your staff."

"The things I say to you and to my staff aren't weighted by the fact that I'm the President?"

"Sir, the things you say to me and to your staff are weighted by the fact that you're Josiah Bartlet, one of the smartest and most educated men we've ever known. And while that may not mean a whole lot coming from me, if you ask Josh Lyman or Toby Ziegler the same question, I can just about promise you you'll get the same answer."

Bartlet looked startled, and was silent for a moment. "Thank you," he said quietly, and Charlie answered, "Thank you, Mr. President." He was halfway out the door when Bartlet spoke.

"It means plenty coming from you, Charlie," he said, and Charlie turned to face him for a moment.

"Thank you, Mr. President," he repeated.

Charlie closed the door behind him and nodded to Mrs. Landigham. She smiled at him and then stood and started toward the Oval Office. If the President were going to insist on working, despite the hour and the long trip he'd just completed, she could at least ensure that he was working on the simpler matters, not the ones that were going to require his full thought and attention--

But it didn't matter. When Mrs. Landingham opened the door, she found President Bartlet asleep at his desk. Softly she closed the door again, and went to find his staff. This meant they could sleep, too.

10 December 2000

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