Josh turned to face Donna with a frown. "I reek?"
"You reek of alcohol, at any rate."
"You sure that's not, you know, the room itself?"
Donna surveyed the dance floor, where a throng of drunken lawyers and politicians milled and danced.
"Could be," Donna shrugged.
"Did you just call me your friend?"
Donna frowned. "Just then, I said 'could be.'"
"Before that I said 'You reek of alcohol, at any rate'."
Josh raised his eyebrows. "Can you really just play back an entire conversation in your head?"
"Yeah, I seem to have developed that skill out of necessity in the last year and a half," she said pointedly.
"Did you just call me your friend?" he repeated.
Donna considered it again, and at last came up with, "You reek, my friend."
"Aah, hah, I thought so," Josh said, pointing triumphantly.
"So I was just ... you know, curious."
"Okay." Donna grabbed Josh's beer and took a drink, then skipped away to catch up with Ginger, who was hitting on a couple of Green Party spokesmen. Josh stayed where he was. Behind him, someone dissolved into a flurry of giggles.
"This is so funny," Ainsley laughed. She was studying the label on the beer bottle. "I mean ... It's just funny. Look at this little picture. You see? You see how funny it is?" It was Sam she was showing, and he was laughing as he looked. It had taken Ainsley about a minute and a half to prove that her system was even more delicate than Josh's. Josh grinned, but his smile vanished when he realized that Donna, sorcerer that she was, had made off with his beer.
At the bar, Sam turned to CJ. "There's just something about beer and a southern accent," he said, and CJ hit him.
"Hey," he protested.
"She thinks it's sexist," Toby explained.
"She thinks what's sexist?"
"The whole southern ... republican ... Oh, how the hell do I know, Sam? Ask her."
"Southern republicans are sexist?" Sam asked CJ.
"No, Sam, I'm saying -- well, yes," CJ said, stepping closer to be heard. "Yes, many of them are, but that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying people were upset because Ainsley was hired, but not just because she was hired, but because -- how many was that?"
"How many .. what was that?"
"In my sentence just then. How many conjunctions did I use?"
"One," Toby said.
"I didn't use two?"
"She used two," Sam said.
"She used one."
"'...but not just because she was hired, but because ...'"
"She used one conjunction. She used it twice."
Sam looked confused for a moment as he tried to count parts of speech; Josh cut in by pulling CJ from between them. "Care to dance?" he asked lavishly, and she peered down at him critically across her beer.
"Do you think people think the White House hires women just because they're women?"
"I think that's what people are going to think once they read Danny's article."
CJ closed her eyes. The article had come out that morning. Granted, no one read the paper on Saturday ... but people still read the headlines on Saturday, and she was mad as hell at Danny.
"How much have you had to drink?" she asked Josh.
"Well, it's Saturday night, so I wouldn't worry about it."
"I have to worry about it."
"Because we have a thing tomorrow morning, and I would prefer you didn't show up in this same mockery of an outfit, reeking of Jack Daniels and alley debris."
"We have a thing?"
"With the scholarship board, and the President --"
"Ah, I forgot about that."
"Happens every year, Josh."
Josh hesitated. "Okay, the Jack Daniels is fair, but when have I ever reeked of alley debris?"
"Have you forgotten election night?"
"I actually never remembered it to begin with," he admitted.
"Let's dance, CJ," he pleaded, knowing he was drunk but still enjoying her reaction. "You can lead."
"I have to lead, Joshua," she said, sighing deeply while she accepted the dance. "You have a serious lack of knowledge about the length of my toes."
"I do who?"
"And you're asking me if I'm drunk?"
"Josh, you're swooning."
"I like the music."
Donna walked by, and Josh snatched his beer back from her.
"Don't let him finish that," Donna warned CJ. "He's already had one, and he has a very delicate system."
"I certainly know that," CJ said. "I was the one who had to get him down off the dumpster the night the President was elected. I was the only one who could reach, and anyway Sam and Toby were --"
It was so loud in the room that it took Donna and Josh a moment to realize CJ had stopped talking. Her eyes had locked with those of someone outside, and she suddenly let go of Josh and pushed past him, out the door.
Josh, tipsy but certain he was still up for a dance, turned to Donna.
"Yes," she sighed. "Before you ask, because I know you're going to shout when you do."
Josh nodded and said nothing, grinning like an idiot as she moved into his arms.
On the sidewalk outside, CJ was shivering. She hadn't realized the temperature had dropped so much since the staff asked Ainsley for a drink when they all left the office. Vaguely she remembered wearing someone else's coat on the way; everything seemed vague tonight, as though she had already been drunk, or sound asleep when they left the office.
Danny Concannon stood a few feet away, but he knew better than to speak.
"Shut up," CJ said anyway, just to be sure. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"No, Danny, what the hell were you thinking, printing that?"
"I got it from another reporter, CJ. I asked you a direct question, which you refused to answer, and two minutes later I'm learning that, apparently, I'm the only one in the room who doesn't already have this common information."
"How come they weren't asking me about it?"
"They were asking you about it!"
"You asked me about it!"
"I asked you directly," Danny said.
CJ stopped suddenly. "Ainsley?" she asked.
"Those questions about Ainsley were --"
"My story included hiring practices, and anyway it's not, like, a huge secret, CJ, that she's the reason the article got written --"
"We see the White House, we see who works there, and then we ask ourselves --"
"It's not your job to --"
"--we ask ourselves, who can we talk to about this? Who can we ask about this? Who will answer?"
"And you obviously chose someone who gave you the wrong answer, Danny!"
"I asked someone I trust."
"And then you printed that?"
"And then she didn't answer, and I asked someone I had no reason not to trust."
"And so you printed that instead!"
"Well, I didn't set the type or anything, but --"
"You're going to joke with me now? You're going to make jokes to me?"
"This is a hell of a time to get funny with me, Danny. You screwed up, huge."
"I did nothing of the sort."
"Well, in what way didn't you?"
"CJ, we've been over this, and we've been over this, and no matter where you feel my loyalties should lie --"
"I should accept the fact that they lie nowhere?"
"I wrote the news."
"You wrote crap, Danny!" CJ glared at him.
"Mandy leaves under mysterious circumstances; not a half a minute later you've hired a counselor from the lawschool at Capitol Ballet!"
CJ blinked angrily. "First of all, Mandy left for personal reasons, and there is nothing mysterious about them, and if you had had the decency to ask me before you made up your own story, I would have told you that!"
"I did ask you; you declined comment!"
"You asked me why she left; you didn't ask me why I wouldn't tell you why she left, and would you like to know why that was, Danny? Because, although I am the White House Press Secretary, once in a while I try to take it upon myself to, you know, not announce to my room full of vultures every detail of the staff's personal lives!"
"Vultures, CJ? You're in the wrong business if you can't deal with the press asking questions!"
"Second of all, and I say this in all seriousness, Danny, Capitol Ballet?"
"Just a second ago. Capitol Ballet? Ainsley Hayes has long hair and long legs and you throw her into a category --"
"For God's sake, CJ, I was --"
"--into a category with those you assume are nothing but a pretty face; and God forbid you learn they're athletes, too! You've gone so far into your stereotypical little --"
"You think I'm sexist now, CJ? Because I print what I know to be true, and I tell jokes to try to lighten the mood when the Press Secretary is --"
"--biting my head off for doing my job?"
"Third of all," CJ said, pointing at him.
"Can we stop this?"
"Third of all, your job is not to make up stories, and I'm betting it's not to run a gossip column, either! It's to report the news from the White House, and what you know to be true notwithstanding, your vague speculation isn't newsworthy!"
"Well, it certainly sold a lot of papers this morning, didn't it, CJ?"
CJ was breathless; Danny ran a hand through his hair and took a step back. "CJ, I wrote the story because no one else on my staff could have gotten a comment from anyone inside. You know that's true. My editor heard about the story; my editor wanted the story, and she sent me out to get it."
"And your sources said --"
"--exactly what I printed. And I think I made that clear in the article, CJ."
"You trusted them."
Danny hesitated. "What?"
"You trusted them. You trusted your sources. A couple of guys who got booted out of 1600 yesterday and are probably pretty pissed off. You trusted them."
Danny took CJ's arm and led her away from the door, to be certain no one could hear them when he said, "How did you know that?"
"How did I know what?"
"My sources. How did you know who my sources were?"
"Two staffers at the White House who were --"
"How did you know who my sources were or where they worked?"
"You used 'worked' in that sentence, Danny; you used 'worked' in your article, as well. They are not, like, perfect gentlemen, Danny, and if you want to write about something, write about how welcoming they were to our Capitol Ballet lawyer. God forbid the woman be granted a little courtesy, to say nothing of privacy, to say nothing of respect. God forbid we all act professional, for once!"
"Tearing apart a reporter for reporting the news, outside on the sidewalk with God knows how many people listening --"
"Shut up, Danny."
"CJ, I wrote what I was told. And I checked every fact at least three times, so don't stand there and tell me I was wrong in what I said."
"You were wrong in what you said! That Mandy left mysteriously, possibly because of a conflict with someone on the senior staff? Possibly, Danny? It's not your job to speculate!"
"You know, why the hell do you keep telling me what my job is?" Danny asked. "I've been doing this a while, CJ. In fact, I've been doing it longer than you have, so don't stand there and --"
"Danny, I swear --"
"Mandy didn't even show up to see Josh when he'd been shot! Do you think people don't find that a little strange?"
"I think people don't know, or care that much. And if they do, then you should tell them it's none of their business!"
"It's their business when it's the White House!"
"It's not their business that Mandy didn't like us that much! It's not their business she had family obligations to attend to, and it's not their business that she got a better offer! And it is most certainly nobody's business whether our new employee is attractive, as long as she is doing her job; which she is; which is more than I can say for you!"
Danny paused a long moment before he said quietly, "That was too many."
"Get away from me," CJ demanded without looking at him.
"You came out here."
"I'm going inside again."
CJ took a few steps and then turned. "Too many what?" she asked.
"Conjunctive adverbs," he said, and she took a deep and angry breath and went inside.
Too charged with adrenaline to stand still, CJ stormed over to Toby and grabbed his hand. "Dance with me," she commanded.
"I need to keep moving or steam's going to start pouring out of my ears. Dance with me now."
"Okay.." Toby said, uncertain, and followed CJ onto the dance floor, where Josh and Donna were still at it while Sam tried to keep Ainsley on her feet.
"CJ, you're ... leading, you know," Toby said, still uncertain.
"I know," CJ said shortly.
"Is, uh, is something wrong?"
"She's mad at me," Danny Concannon said from a few feet away.
"So am I," Toby answered without hesitating in the dance. He tried to spin CJ and nearly broke his arm when he realized just how tall she was. "Mandy left us because of the sexist atmosphere of the office? Where in the world did you get that, Danny?"
"That's not exactly what I said."
"Yeah, but it is -- what you implied. And a few months later we hire a Republican --"
"Who people seem to think you ripped straight from the pages of a magazine; and anyway I never mentioned her in the article."
"Your sources were wrong," Toby said. "And, yes, it's not entirely your fault your story was so bad. You did, after all, receive bad advice. And I'll bet I know from whom. But you do ... know us, Danny. I'm not mistaken about that, am I?"
Danny turned to CJ. "How does everyone know --"
"Shut up," she replied, still determined to ignore his very existence, and this time she spun Toby.
"If I was wrong," Danny said, "then I do apologize. But you cannot fault me for writing what my editor tells me to write, and you cannot fault me for writing what is newsworthy. If I was wrong, I'll take it back, but you'll have to convince me of it first."
"Oh," said a soft voice from nearbye. "I'll bet I know who you are."
Danny turned and came face to face with Ainsley.
"And I'll bet I know who you are, too," he answered.
CJ finished her beer and grabbed Toby's, then wondered briefly if tomorrow's headline would involve the press secretary's budding alcoholism. Which wasn't entirely fair. Danny had always written nothing but the news, and he had always been kind to President Bartlet. And now he had trusted bad information, which was bound to happen eventually.
But it had been such a wonderful day. It was a bad night to have to deal with this.
Ainsley was smiling sweetly at Danny; Sam discreetly held her arm in case she should lose her balance.
"You wrote that story about inequality in the White House," Ainsley said.
"And you are Ainsley Hayes," Danny guessed, and shook her hand.
"Okay," Ainsley said, and started to walk away. But two steps later she turned, and raised her voice just enough to be heard over the music. "You might have asked me for a comment," she said.
"Why?" Danny asked. "You're not the one who hired you."
"Yes, well," she answered.
Danny waited until she was a few steps farther away before he asked, "What would you have said?"
Ainsely turned, and, so deliberate that she was almost steady on her feet, walked back to Danny.
"I would have said that I was offered this job for a reason, and it was not because of my hair," she said. "I would have said that I admire your support of this administration even though I usually disagree with you, but as far as that's concerned, why stop supporting these people on a whim? I would have told you that I dislike Joyce and Brookline, and while that isn't cause for throwing out their opinions, I would have warned you that any fact they tried to present to you was probably wrong. And I would have told you not to write your story, because there is no story, and if there was, I would surely know about it, don't you think?"
"You work in the council's office," Danny said. "I don't think you're privy to the kind of information you're suggesting."
"Oh, you know what I mean," Ainsley said firmly.
"Yes," Danny admitted.
"I'm sorry if I --"
"Yeah." Ainsley turned back to Sam.
"Okay, let's dance," she said, and, figuring she needed to keep moving before steam started pouring out of her ears, Sam complied.
Danny backed away from the dance floor and watched CJ as she and Toby danced. She was impressed with Ainsley; he could tell from the look on her face.
Danny sat down at the bar. Absently he ordered a drink, and then he found himself reaching for his pen.
'If I was wrong, I'll take it back,' he'd said. Across the restaurant someone broke into song. CJ laughed aloud when she saw Josh climbing onto a chair despite Donna's best efforts to stop him.
"And it's greatly to his credit, that he is an Englishman!" Josh bellowed from his new height. Sam and Ainsley, CJ and Toby joined in.
"And you are surely drunk, my friend!" Donna shouted at Josh, but when he continued singing, she joined in as well.
Danny watched them. He watched Toby, smiling for perhaps only the second time since Danny had met him. CJ, taller by a head, bending down to whisper something in his hear and then laughing -- and she even laughed with class. Josh singing, and Donna only pretending to try to stop him. Sam attempting to dip Ainsley, and nearly dropping her. He did know them, as Toby had said. He knew them all but Ainsley. And the problem was that he knew Joyce and Brookline, too.
"For he is an Englishman, and he himself hath said it ..." they bellowed.
Danny's eyes traveled from his page to the musical White House staff and back again as he wrote. Then he ordered another drink. It was going to be a long night, and he had a lot of writing to do.
01 November 2000