Sam and Toby sat in silence while talk and laughter drifted left and right around them. They didn't look at one another, and if they had, they wouldn't have liked what they saw.
Sam wanted to look at Toby. But when he did, he got mad all over again, and he didn't want that. He'd been left out; the audience remained seated; but that was today and this was tonight and he just didn't want to be mad anymore.
Toby wanted to look at Sam. But when he did, he felt so awful with guilt he nearly had to leave the room each time. And that would be too easy. He deserved this. He deserved to sit here in the circle of his best friend's anger.
So they sat in silence, and then, after a very long time, Sam spoke.
"You're apologizing for something that you're going to insist is my fault?"
Toby looked up slowly. "I didn't speak."
"You were thinking it."
"Sam, what the hell --"
"You were going to apologize for not telling me, but blame me for going ahead with this thing in the first place," Sam accused.
"I'm saying I wasn't going to apologize."
"You really think saying you weren't going to apologize is the way to get back on my good side?"
Toby cleared his throat a little. "I am back on your good side," he ventured.
"Which side's my good side?"
Toby shrugged. "The side where you loathe me but acknowledge my existence."
"In that case, you're on my good side in your head far more often than you're on my good side in mine."
"On your what?"
"On your side?"
"In my head."
"What are we talking about?"
Sam sighed and shook his head. This didn't feel right quite yet.
"I don't want to do this," Sam said.
"I don't want to have this conversation."
"Do you know why I don't want to have this conversation?"
"Because it's a ridiculous conversation."
"It's a ridiculous conversation and I don't think we should be having it."
Sam sighed. "Are you just going to sit there and agree with everything I say?"
"Because I'm apologizing."
Sam softened a little. "Okay."
They were silent for another minute, and then Toby said, very quietly, "I am sorry."
"You should be."
"It was wrong, and stupid, and I apologize."
"Yes it was."
They sat still for another moment. Sam finished his drink and leaned back for just an instant, then sat up again, angry at more than just Toby. "We were supposed to have a good day today."
"All of us."
"We were supposed to have a good day today?"
"The speech was good," Sam said. "We were supposed to have a really good day."
Toby cleared his throat. "I know."
"Nobody had a good day today."
"The environmentalists were supposed to go to bed happy. So of course we wrecked their evening."
"Leo keeps after that defense system, and it took another hit today."
"If I were CJ I'd probably be out looking for a better group of friends. Did you happen to congratulate her on winning that award?"
Toby closed his eyes. "No."
"Neither did I." Sam waved a hand. "Just never got the words out."
"She won the Matrix award from the New York Women in Communication."
"We totally ignored it."
Sam paused, then added, "Josh got hit in the face with a door."
Toby grinned, and Sam joined him after a second.
"A lot of new Ambassadors had a good day," Toby reminded him.
"They're probably all still at the reception," Sam said.
"Should we go?" Toby asked.
"Yeah." They lingered for a moment and then stood and gathered their coats.
The first person they saw when they got to the reception was Lord John Marbury, standing to regale the group with some sort of intricate narrative tale.
"He's been at it for an hour," Josh confided, leaning close to them. "Our women are swooning."
Toby slowly turned to face Josh. "Our women?"
"Our women. You know. Donna. CJ. Ainsley. Hell, Mrs. Landingham looks positively lovesick. Our women swoon."
"I am not swooning," CJ said from beside Josh. He jumped a mile, and spun around, confused. "How do you do that?"
"Appear as if solidifying from an all-seeing mist."
"A little trick I picked up from the press corps. What are we doing?"
CJ shrugged. "It's eleven something. There's usually still work to be done at eleven something. And we're all still here. So what are we doing?"
"Well, the President asked us to look up 'pharisaical'. He says he doesn't think it means what the environmentalists think it does."
"How should I know?" Josh protested. "I've been busy."
"Defending myself against Lord Donna Mossbury over there."
"Over here," Donna corrected, tapping Josh on his other shoulder and grinning when he jumped another mile. "And it's Lady Moss to you, you insensitive jester."
"I'm what, now?" Josh was happily amused.
"You know, the jugglers. With the hats. And ... bells, maybe."
"Leo needs to see you."
"Leo's still here?"
"No. I'm just sensing that special 'Leo needs to see Josh' vibe from all the way across town."
"Is it possible that you're ever going to respond to something I say in a serious manner?"
"Try saying something in a serious manner and I'll --"
"Tell him I'm on my way."
Josh ducked around them and headed for the door, while behind him Lord Marbury was wrapping up his tale and allowing the President to launch into another.
"Josh!" the President interrupted himself to call.
Josh turned back. "Yes, sir?"
"Look up 'tartuffish' for me. I don't think it means what the environmentalists think it does!"
"Yes, sir," Josh laughed, and left the room.
He found Leo in his office, sifting through a stack of papers. "Hey. I sent Margaret for you like a half an hour ago."
"She's busy swooning. Donna too. What do you need?"
"Lord Marbury's work, I presume?"
"His Lordship's telling tales the likes of which you and I have never imagined. What do you need?"
"A copy of your memo on the Argentina thing."
"You need it tonight?"
"Tomorrow's fine. But I wanted to catch you before you left for the night."
"There's going to be a thing in the papers tomorrow."
"What kind of a thing?"
"Our favorite critic."
Josh's eyes widened. "Christian Kelly?"
"I got the call a half an hour ago."
"Oh, come on!"
"He has some concerns."
"He knows we're about to get serious on getting 455 on the books."
"Is he nervous?"
"He's pissed as hell."
"Is he trying to stop it?"
"He's going to come out tomorrow with one of his back-pocket obscure self-proclaimed PR disasters. Which is usually not much of a problem, but this one's sure to have to do with the environment, and we got creamed on that today." Leo paused. "What do you think we ought to do?"
Josh shrugged. "Lie."
"Flat-out lie. Tell him he's wrong."
"And when he finds out --"
"He won't. 455 doesn't have to be about the environment. Not if you read it from another direction."
"We're going to convince him it's the new jobs?"
"We want new jobs to open up. 455 will create hundreds of positions."
"Fair enough." Leo nodded. "Okay. Send CJ in, would you?"
"Sure." Josh left Leo and went to his own office to leave himself a note about the memo. As he left the office, he all but collided with CJ.
"Hey. Leo needs you," Josh said.
"You all do," she reminded him.
"Okay. How was New York?"
"Lovely, the 15 seconds I saw of it. What are you doing?"
"Leaving myself a note about the Argentina memo. Leo wants a copy."
"You're leaving yourself a note to remind yourself to photocopy a memo?"
She waved her hands. "Do you want me to fax it to you, too? Maybe digitally scan it and attach it to an e-mail?"
"What are you doing on this side of the building?" Josh ignored her.
CJ rolled her eyes. "The President wants me to look up 'mendacious'. He says he's not sure it means what the environmentalists think it does."
"Shouldn't you be herding the press?"
"They've got it covered."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
CJ pushed herself off the wall and started to walk toward Leo's office. "I'll go back in a minute," she promised.
"Hey," Josh said. "CJ."
"He's going to want to talk to you about tomorrow's papers."
CJ rolled her eyes. "Chris Kelly?"
"He's going to want advice."
CJ studied Josh. "What's your advice?"
"We can't be straightforward about this," Josh said.
"So your advice is to lie."
CJ was already shaking her head. "We can't do it."
"Because -- I said so. Because when did our policy become lying when we don't have to?"
Josh laughed. "Since we met!" he reminded her.
"We lie about everything now," she said.
"We lie about hardly anything now."
"Green beans!" CJ growled. "Green beans, Josh! We've become ridiculous!"
"We didn't lie about the green beans."
"And it took us half a day to figure out we didn't have to."
Josh was frowning. "What's bothering you?" he asked.
"Why are we like this?" she demanded.
"Because we're in politics."
"I'm serious! CJ, what's bothering you? Really."
"It isn't enough we've become the very image of the cynics' description of politics? Something has to be bothering me now?"
Josh rubbed his eyes. "CJ, there's no crime in misdirection. And there's no crime in throwing Christian Kelly off the scent. But to let that man make the President look bad coming into an election --"
"It's two years away."
"One year, 10 months, and don't think we're not going to be counting every day from here on out. It's a board game, CJ, and you know it. And Chris Kelly knows it. And he's playing his hand and there's no shame in playing ours."
CJ sighed, and bit her lip. After a moment, she said, "Josh, it's not like I don't understand the, you know, theology --"
"You're looking for ideology."
"Or possibly weltanschauung --"
"It's not like I don't understand the reasoning behind the things we do here. I get that. But I also get ..." She huffed a short sigh and lowered her voice. "Corey Sykes is a good guy, Josh, and we lied to make him look worse than what he is. I lied."
"About Corey Sykes?"
"I said the President didn't laugh at the joke when the President did laugh at the joke."
Josh nodded. "You couldn't have said anything else."
"I could have been, you know, honest, or ..."
"CJ, it was the right thing to do."
"Not if you're Corey."
"You don't work for Corey. And Corey isn't running for any kind of office."
"But he does have a career, and I damaged that."
Josh looked closely at her. "You're really bothered by this."
"I need new friends."
Josh blinked. "Okay. What's wrong with your old ones?"
"You're standing here scoffing at the --"
"I am not scoffing."
"I need friends who don't work in this building."
"And good luck finding time to see them."
"Well, maybe if I cut all the time I spend misdirecting --"
"What else is bothering you?"
"Because --" Josh shrugged. "It takes a lot to make you feel small."
CJ looked up at him quickly, and held his gaze for several seconds before she looked away. "I don't," she lied.
"I'm going to talk to Leo now."
Josh watched her walk toward Leo's office, and then went back to the reception.
"Leo," CJ said, knocking lightly on the door frame.
"CJ. Can you copy the Argentina memo for me?"
"I thought Josh was --"
"Then why --"
"We've got two different memos going around."
"Are we supposed to?"
"How are they different?"
"On one of them we spelled Argentina wrong."
CJ raised her eyebrows. "Ah."
"We should probably fix that before it's released into wide circulation."
"It'd be in our best interests, yeah," Leo agreed.
"Is tomorrow soon enough?"
CJ started to leave, and stopped with her back to Leo. "I was talking to Josh," she said, and stopped.
"Yeah?" Leo prompted after a minute.
She stopped again. "No. I was talking to Josh. And he told me --"
CJ faced him. "When did we start being dishonest about everything that can be made easier that way?"
Leo met her gaze steadily. "We haven't started that yet," he replied.
"It seems like we did."
"We're honest when it counts."
"No we're not."
"We're honest when it counts, and when it doesn't count and it's going to hurt the President, we do it this way."
"It shouldn't be."
"It's what we do."
CJ sighed. "He laughed at the joke."
"The President. Two years ago. He laughed at the joke. Why do we have to --?"
"Because we're the leaders of a nation and we want to stay that way for as long as we possibly can."
"At the risk of damaging people like Corey Sykes?"
"No," Leo said. "And that was a bad call on my part. But you know what?"
"It was probably best thing for the President."
CJ sighed. "All right. Just -- we've kept the sensible people at arm's length long enough."
"Okay." Leo nodded, and CJ did, and she started for the door.
"Oh, hey," Leo said. "Would you please tell the President that 'Machiavellian' means exactly what the environmentalists think it does, and he knows it?"
CJ chuckled. "Thanks, but I like my job."
"You had a good day today," Leo said after her.
"No," she corrected him after a moment. "Nobody did."
"I'll see you later," she said.
She hesitated, almost hopefully. "For what?"
"You said --"
"On your award."
CJ flashed him just the tiniest edge of a smile, and it occurred to him that maybe this was the first time anyone had offered her congratulations. At least in this wing.
"You deserve it, you know," he said, and her smile widened as she ducked her head a little, the tall woman's alternative to blushing.
"Thank you," she said. Then, "We'll lie to Kelly. But we can fix this for Corey Sykes." He watched her leave, for just a minute thinking she was right.
Before he could think about anything else, he noticed a figure in the doorway.
"Good evening, your Lordship," he greeted him.
"Gerald, I apologize. It was not my intention to eavesdrop, nor was it to startle you."
"My name is Leo."
"Yes, yes. Lovely. You know what I think you ought to do?"
"What's that, John?"
"I think you ought to march into the Oval Office and ask the President his, ah, take, on his Press Secretary's most valid opinion."
"And why should I do that, John?" Leo asked wearily.
"Because she's right," John Marbury replied. "And she's right when she wonders, why can't you make it your policy to, ah, brave the course of honesty on your public face?"
"From what I hear, you were in there wooing half the White House with tales of your boyhood, Your Lordship. You want to talk honesty now?"
Lord Marbury smiled, just a little. "Every word true," he assured Leo, raising one finger. "And on that note, I query you: Why can't you--"
"Because we can't," Leo said. "And we won't. Because this end of the building has that problem every day."
"Well, and why is that, now?"
Leo shrugged. "Because it's never the best day to try it."
"Is today a bad day?" John Marbury asked.
"No, it's not."
"Whatever you say."
"You've done well, Gerald."
"Yes, well. Good, then. On we go."
"John," Leo sighed.
"You tried your best today."
"That we did."
"You all tried your best. To succeed. To relax. You were honest, and true. You fought your battles, did it side by side." He waved his hand theatrically.
"Yes, Your Lordship."
"It was a good day, Gerald."
"It was a good day in this part of the building, and in all the world around it."
Leo grinned a little. "Yeah."
John Marbury grinned, as well, and then announced, "In any case, I must go. Your President has retired to his office, and I've plenty matters of importance to attend to. I, ah, am quite certain there must be something you can still be doing, within these last moments of a wonderful day." He bowed slightly and with a flourish he was gone.
Leo watched him go, and then turned to face the door to the Oval Office. Yes. There was still something he could do.
25 January 2001