"How many other people have seen my scar?"
"Twelve," Donna said without slowing her step. She jumped over a stack of papers that had fallen from Josh's desk an hour ago, snatched a folder from his hands, turned off his lamp, and shoved him with the heel of her hand. "Come on."
"Twelve?" Josh asked, turning the light on and reaching for a pencil. "Really?"
Donna snatched the pencil, threw it across the room, and turned off the light again. "How the hell should I know, Josh?"
"Well, you were ... conscious." Josh dug through a desk drawer for another pencil.
"I wasn't counting," Donna said. "I'd been pacing for 14 hours." She shoved his feet off the desk.
Josh turned on the lamp again. "And yet I see you had no trouble counting the hours."
Donna took Josh's second pencil and broke the lead, then handed it back to him. "I watch the clock. It's what I do."
"It's what you do?"
"It's what I do, and at the moment it's telling me that it is time to leave this place." Donna turned off the light again.
"Well, that's ... something." Josh stood. "Oh. Wait."
"No!" Donna was halfway out the door.
Donna stopped and exhaled sharply. "Five minutes," she said, and turned the lamp back on as Josh picked up the phone.
It wasn't late yet. Only evening for these people, but the crises were under control and it was a prime night to begin an early weekend that would be nonexistant anyway. Donna wandered out into the bullpen.
"Hey, CJ," she said.
"Donna. Is Josh still in?"
"For the next four minutes."
"It's going to be a little longer than that," CJ said.
"What's going on?"
"Many, many things."
"Which thing --" Donna stopped suddenly. "What's that smell?"
CJ glanced furtively around her. "What smell?"
"The smell emanating from your jacket."
"It's, uh -- it's alcohol."
"You thought it would be easier to work if you were --"
"It's rubbing alcohol."
"That you're carrying around inside your jacket?"
"The maintenance crew was disinfecting a thing; I fell --"
Donna waved a hand. "I'll tell Josh you want him. What kind of --"
"He's on the phone now."
"Thank you." CJ turned and headed back the way she'd come. Behind her Donna pounded on the edge of Josh's door, pointed to the clock, and held up two fingers. Then she fingerspelled "C - J" to let him know who to talk to when he was finished. He nodded absently and continued tossing and catching his pencil.
"Don't put your eye out," Donna muttered as she left, and wandered down the hallway to talk to Sam.
Sam and Toby were tossing a ball back and forth between them and arguing mildy over violence in the media. "Guys," Donna said.
"Hey, Donna. Is Josh still here?"
"Not for long."
"Might want to rethink that. I need him to throw some weight around with --"
"How'd you know?"
"Quite a few of you seem to be hung up on that tonight."
Toby leveled a stare at her. "Will you see that he --"
"He's on that call right now," she said, and snatched the ball out of mid-air. "It's the middle of the night," she added.
"Come on," Sam said. "It's not even morning yet."
Donna fell backward onto the sofa. "I used to be in bed every night by 10:30. Do you know that?"
"Most people tend to go to bed early when they're in second grade," Toby conceded.
"In college," she corrected him. "In college I used to go to bed at 10:30 every weeknight."
"What a party animal you must have been."
"I was a freshman," she said. "I had a volatile GPA and classes from four separate academic majors."
"So you decided to forgo studying in favor of --"
"Let's talk about something else now." Donna tossed the ball to Toby, who tossed it to Sam, and it continued around the room.
"Why did you come in here?" Sam asked.
"Because I'm still in the building. Because you're all conspiring to keep me in the building."
"You could quit," Sam suggested. "CJ did. A few times, actually."
"I did quit. Twice today I quit. The first time, Josh accidentally stapled a Doonebury comic to the back of an in-depth anti-school-voucher argument he was about to hand to Leo. The second time, he somehow set fire to a boysenberry Danish. I decided then that the nation really does depend on me, and they just don't know it."
"Always," Josh said from the door. "Listen. Toby."
"What did he say?"
"Here's the thing --"
"What did he say, Josh?"
Josh cleared his throat and sighed. "It turns out West Virginia's mad at us."
Sam sat up a little straighter. "Why is West Virginia mad at us?"
"Something about Hoynes and black lung benefits, but that's not the problem."
"What's the problem?"
"The problem is it's Friday night, and we need Rockefeller on board by Monday morning, and we can't do that without Hoynes. So. Who gets to talk Hoynes into playing for our team tonight?"
They sat silently for a minute. Then, "You go," Toby said to Sam.
"No, I really can't. The last time I tried to talk Hoynes into anything, I tripped and dumped coffee all over his assistant. She won't allow me in her part of the building anymore."
"You're, like, Smoky Bear's worst nightmare when it comes to burning bridges," Josh said.
"Danish ..." Donna reminded him in a sing-song voice as she tossed him the ball.
"Yeah, Josh how exactly did you --"
"I was trying to have something hot for lunch," Josh loosely explained. "Listen. If we really want support for this thing as early as Monday, we're going to have to work a lot more on it. Donna, I'm talking to you when I say this. We cannot leave yet. If this is happening Monday, it's got to happen now."
"You cannot leave yet," she said.
"Which means," he continued, "that you cannot leave yet. Come on, Donna! There are matters of national importance to attend to!"
"Like whether or not West Virginia is mad at the Vice President?"
Josh shrugged. "Like that, yeah."
"I thought we had the support," Sam said. "I mean, aside from Rockefeller, I thought we --"
"We did, but then we wrote the State of the Union." Josh tossed the ball to CJ and made room for her to enter as she approached.
"Guys, we have a small but interesting problem taking shape in California," she announced.
"Please tell me it's finally divided itself from the rest of the country and will no longer be dangling 54 electorals over our heads," Toby guessed.
CJ shook her head. "Their governor was at a charity luncheon this afternoon and took it upon himself to publicly denounce 'Prince of New York.'" She threw the ball at Sam.
"You're kidding," Sam said, tossing the ball to Donna.
Donna caught the ball and flung it in Toby's general direction. "Why is that a problem?" she asked.
"It's a problem because he's a Democrat and a close friend of the President's," Toby said, launching the ball at Josh. "It's a problem because it puts the damn thing back in the spotlight."
Josh caught the ball and tossed it into the air so hard it bounced off the ceiling and hit him in the head. Without blinking he tossed it to Donna and asked, "So what do we do?"
"We go home and go to bed," Donna hoped, blindly hurling the ball.
"Or," said Leo from the hallway, catching the ball out of midair as he leaned against the doorframe, "the lot of you realize it's not late yet, and you watch the damn film."
They stared at each other for a minute as they realized Leo was right. Then Josh said, "Sam. Call him."
"Hang on," Sam said. We're giving in to Morgan Ross?"
"No, we're giving in to the news cycle."
"There is no news cycle. It's the weekend."
"Which is why you shouldn't complain that all you have to do tonight is watch a movie," Leo said. "I can think of worse ways to save face. In fact you've all exhibited worse ways to save face in the past two years, so how about we take this one as the blessing that it is."
"I don't like giving in to this guy," Sam repeated.
"We're not giving in to him," CJ assured him. "He knows better, now, than to call the President cowardly. And I'm sure you also mentioned to him I'm the Enforcer."
"And Morgan Ross knows that when he does call the President cowardly, his film gets a private viewing from the White House staff."
"Sam's right," Donna said. "He goes on Imus; he gets free publicity from us."
"The first amendment also gets free publicity," Toby said. "One of us is bound to hate the film. When asked, we're honest. We put forth the impression that it's all right to watch a film and dislike it, it's all right to say you dislike it, and you don't have to ban it from your theaters."
"What if we like it?"
"Well, then, we'll say that, too."
"'What if we like it?' Josh repeated. "What if all of us like it? You think we're all going to agree on whether or not it's a good movie?"
"Not if we never watch it," Toby said. "Sam, get us a screener from Morgan Ross as quickly as you can. I'm going to call Rockefeller and see if this can't be straightened out, but I know what he's going to say, so Josh and CJ, that leaves one of you to see Hoynes. Do it quickly and make sure he knows we're not asking. And what on God's green earth is that smell?"
"Shut up," CJ said. "Why can't Leo see Hoynes?"
"Because I'm going home," Leo told her with a maddening smile.
"Fine," CJ said. "I'll see Hoynes. Josh, you owe me a boysenberry Danish and I want it in my hand before the movie starts."
"Well, then," Sam said, defeated, as he reached for the phone. "Let's go to the movies.
Friday, 10:27 p.m.
"I need popcorn."
"It's not a movie without popcorn."
"My guess is lack of popcorn won't be the only thing that makes this not a movie," Josh said.
"And popcorn's going to be that wholesome four-course dinner you've been craving?"
Donna blinked. "Did you say 'lack of popcorn won't be the only thing that makes this not a movie'?"
"What kind of grammar is that, Josh? 'The only thing that makes this --'"
"Shhh!" Sam shushed them from behind. He and Toby were stuck in the rows, while Josh, Donna, and CJ occupied the sofas at the front of the viewing room.
The credits were barely finished when Donna said again, "I need popcorn."
"You're telling me sitting here in a darkened theater doesn't make you crave a traditional hot buttered movie snack?"
"I, yes, I actually am telling you that."
"How can you say that?"
"I hate popcorn."
"Guys, seriously," CJ said from beside them. "If I have to come over there --"
"Of course you're content, CJ," Donna said, "sitting over there happy as can be with your Danish."
"Oh, for Godssake!" Toby groaned.
"Actually," Sam said. "I'm with Donna. I need popcorn."
"Would the two of you age?" CJ pleaded. "I'm trying to watch a movie."
They fell silent for a moment, watching the opening scene. Then CJ said suddenly, "Yeah, you're right. Popcorn."
"I'll go," Sam said, relishing the opportunity to miss part of the film. He all but ran from the theater.
For about two minutes. "You've really got to love this quality time outside of work," Toby said sourly.
"Amen," CJ said, yawning and running a hand across her eyes. She kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet onto the sofa. "Wake me when it's over."
"Uh uh," Josh said. "We have to watch, you have to watch."
"I've already formed my opinion."
"When asked, I will admit that I fell asleep in the first ten minutes. That has to say something about the quality of the film."
"Yeah, or your work hours," Toby pointed out. "Eyes open, CJ."
"Ugh." CJ opened her eyes and stared blearily at the screen.
A minute later, Donna elbowed Josh awake. "Pay attention," she growled.
"Donna, aren't you always telling me to get more sleep?"
"No way, buddy. I'm here because you're here, and if I'm awake, your eyes had damn well better be open."
Then, "What if I remember how to sleep with my eyes open?"
"No, 'cause I could do that in college."
"Josh, so help me," Toby warned.
The movie dragged on as Sam returned, juggling three microwave bags of popcorn. "This was the best they could do," he announced, dropping one in front of CJ, handing another to Donna, and keeping one for himself. "How's the movie?"
"Just out of curiosity, did you happen to notice any threats to national security walking around out there?" CJ asked. "Anything we might, you know, as servants of the public, be called upon to confront?"
"Nothing," Sam said. "And believe me, I looked."
Silence. Then, "This smell is making me giddy."
"CJ, what the hell --"
"The maintenance crew was disinfecting."
"She had a great fall," Donna offered.
For a moment, the movie acted as though the pace were going to pick up, and the White House staffers kept their eyes on the screen. It was a valiant effort, and they took turns elbowing each other awake to take part.
"Isn't this enough?" Donna finally asked.
"Enough of what?"
"Enough of proving that free speech extends to bad movies, and, you know ..." For lack of words, she waved a hand dispiritedly at the screen.
"We're watching the whole thing," Toby said.
"Because if we don't, someone will find a way to categorize our brief viewing as taking the side of a subversive fringe element of Hollywood haters and tyrants."
"Well. Toby, keep the cheer forthcoming," Donna said.
"Will do," he promised.
Friday, 11:01 p.m.
"It's 11," Josh announced, startling at least two people awake.
"In the afternoon?" CJ asked.
"Seem later to you now?"
"You have no idea." Josh let out a long sigh as he leaned back against the sofa. "Donna's sleeping," he observed after a minute.
"Nobody likes a tattletale," Sam cautioned without opening his eyes.
"Swear to God," Toby said. "Who wrote this?"
"Nobody. It got stuck together out of old newspapers," CJ hypothesized.
"What are you going to tell Ross?" Sam asked.
"I'm not telling him anything. You know why?"
"Because you'll have died of boredom by the time his film is through?"
"Because I will." CJ paused, blinking groggily at the screen. "Do you think that was his plan?"
"To kill the President?"
Toby snorted, and Josh grinned sleepily. "Yeah, CJ," he said. "That was it."
"Well. It would have worked."
They watched in silence for another minute before Josh elbowed Donna awake. "Hey. Donna."
"Was it really twelve?"
"People who saw my scar who I don't know saw my scar?"
"Hmm." She fell asleep again.
"Okay," Josh said.
Tic. Tic. Tic.
"Is it over yet?" CJ moaned.
"No. Here. Have some more popcorn." Josh threw Donna's popcorn at CJ.
"I've had root canal that was more fun than this," CJ said.
"Yeah, I particularly had more fun than this the last time you had root canal," Josh agreed, and CJ threw the popcorn back at him with a little more force than was necessary.
"You know," Toby said. "Maybe it's time to re-think violence in the media. 'Cause if they'd add a little more violence I might be able to keep my eyes open."
"You don't think it's been plenty violent?" CJ asked.
"Even its violence is baffling," Sam groaned.
Friday, 11:36 p.m.
CJ frowned and turned her head sideways, as if that could possibly make what was happening on the screen more logical.
Toby squinted. Donna, just waking up, took one look at the screen and went decisively back to sleep again.
"Okay, yeah," Josh said. "I see why Charlie sent this one back."
"To the writer's credit, I'm sure this looked better on paper," Sam said, closing one eye and framing the movie with his hands.
"I think it's interesting," CJ said. "Because, really, how often do we see things like this at work?"
"Things like what?"
She squinted and turned her head the other way. "I'm still trying to figure that out."
Friday, 11:59 p.m.
Josh looked at Donna. He hadn't realized she was awake until she spoke.
"Go off. Go off, go off, go off."
"What are you complaining about? You've been sleeping the whole time."
Donna sat up groggily and looked around. "You're the last man standing," she observed, grudgingly respectful. CJ was stretched obliviously across the other sofa. Toby and Sam had leaned back in their chairs and passed out.
"No kidding," Josh said.
"Don't underestimate the far-reaching effects of this film," Donna countered. "You would not believe the dreams I've been having."
"Popcorn?" Josh offered her the last of CJ's ammo.
"Uh uh." She declined. "I'm holding out for a four-course meal."
"Maybe tomorrow," he said.
Saturday, 12:00 a.m.
"It is tomorrow," she answered.
Josh looked at his watch. "Oh."
"By the way," Donna said.
"It was twelve."
Josh ran the day's conversations through his head until he reached the one that involved the number twelve. "People who saw my scar?"
"Mm hmm," she said.
"Who were they?" he asked.
"Well, I wasn't taking notes, Josh," Donna told him.
"Would you guys shut up?" CJ moaned. "I'm trying to sleep."
"What are you going to tell Morgan Ross?" Josh asked her.
"That I hate Hollywood," CJ said. "And by the way, Josh, this is also a political first."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean we agree on this film after all," she pointed out.
Josh laughed quietly and closed his eyes as well. "But the first amendment is safe for today, so that's something."
No one was awake to see the credits roll.
23 February 2001