Exit Tax

Toby is already yelling at her when she steps inside the building. He has one hand on his head, as if removing it would mean forgetting he is angry. He has already forgotten he is just one man, a man that walks nearly stooped from always walking with his hand on his head.

She is tall, and can walk fast without appearing to sprint. She does so and he has to hurry to keep up.

He is yelling about trade deficits or day care for single mothers. He uses the word "dissonance," and she wonders about his hair. If he is bald because he rubbed his hair away during the days and months and years of being worried. A lifetime of being worried and holding his head in his hands while the world went on without his permission, making bad decisions, making stumbled apologies.

It is her job to apologize. Her job to make things better, or at least tolerable, or barring that to just keep them afloat on the bad days. Today Toby doesn't know what he's upset about, all he knows is that he is angry and life isn't fair. He tells her to do her job and then breaks off down another hallway.

Carol is sitting at her desk, and when she spots CJ she hops up with a handful of phone messages. CJ doesn't want to put down her coffee to grab them, so she sticks out two fingers and lets Carol stick the notes between them. She knows her hands will have the sickly sweet smell of NCR paper on them for the rest of the day. She's gotten used to this. She smells like xeroxed copies and eraser crumbs, like paperclips and yellow highlighters. She sometimes finds lost pencils in her hair and her pockets are usually filled with scraps of paper and notes that stopped being important the moment she put them in her pocket.

The phone message on the top of her stack is from Danny Concanon, and she can only imagine what he might have to say to her at seven in the morning on a Tuesday when the President is at Camp David. It can't be good. The only thing that will surprise her is its specific level of bad, it could be anywhere from mildly annoying to extra terrible.

She gets into her office and realizes she doesn't want to let go of anything just yet, so she sinks down into her couch, still holding her bag and clutching her cardboard coffee cup to her chest. It's one of those days where she wonders why she doesn't have a normal job, a job where she could call in sick, or hide in her office with the door shut. She can close her door here, but the only difference that makes when people barge in to disturb her is that they always say, "Your door was closed." She has a face for this, a half-shrug, half-scowl. But that's just another thing no one ever notices.

Sam comes by while she's sitting on her couch, wrinkling her phone messages each time she drinks her coffee. The heat from the cup might be making them melt together. She'd be more worried about this if the lights were on and she could tell for certain.

Sam asks her why she's sitting in the dark, saying she looks like a grumpy kindergartener on her way to the first day of school.

Sam is in a good mood, and she wishes he weren't because he makes it look so easy. She could argue with him, say she really doesn't look like a sullen five-year-old, but she knows that she does. Toby was yelling at her before she'd even gotten her coat off. Her coat still isn't off. She feels rebuked, reprimanded, but she has to get beyond that, because that's part of her job too.

She stands, puts her bag down on her desk, slips out of her coat. She asks Sam where Toby is and then goes to find him, to do her job.

This time she hears exactly what Toby is yelling about because he is explaining it slowly, still holding his head. Toby is the only person she knows that can yell slowly.

"I need to see Leo, Margaret, do you get that? Harrison and Lloyd are, are trying to ruin my life and it's probably working, because I'm here --I'm standing here growing old and deranged while you -- nothing, Margaret, I'm getting nothing from you."

Margaret shrugs. "He's not here."

"Okay, you see, that doesn't help me." Toby raises his hand and hovers it above his head like a gunslinger. "You know where he is, ostensibly? That being, no matter how badly, what you do?"

"I told you. He's not here," Margaret says in her clipped voice.

Toby has no understanding of burnt bridges. Toby goes in a straight line, and when he encounters opposition he growls at it. He's learning this doesn't always work. CJ has been trying to teach him this for years, but Toby is a man who can do a lot of things slowly.

CJ clears her throat. "Toby." She jerks her head to the hall.

Now Toby shrugs, his hand settling on his head again. "I don't know what that is."

CJ throws a hand over her shoulder. Toby just looks at her.

"Toby! The hall?"

He is about to ask her a stupid, annoying question, and he knows it.

"Now!" she shouts at him, wanting to give him a little kick to get him moving.

He follows her out into the hall, but she keeps walking, getting a perverse satisfaction out of making him trot behind her. "Did you do something stupid?" she asks while walking.

"No, and the fact that you would even ask--"

"Is directly related to the fact that I know you, and I know you're thinking of doing something," she says. "Also? That something? It'll be stupid, because you're a crazy insane person and you don't know how to choose your fights!"

She walks past Josh and he's grinning. "Heh, Toby's in trouble," he says to Donna, except Donna isn't there, and Josh spins in a circle, like a dog chasing his tail, trying to find her.

"You, um, know me?" Toby asks, and she can't tell if he's making fun of her or if he's surprised. She checks over her shoulder. He looks sleepy and annoyed, which is how he always looks.

"Did you hear the part about the crazy insane person? Because I was referring to you there, buddy."

They reach her office and Carol has more phone messages for her. CJ wants one day where her phone doesn't ring, one day where Washington doesn't expect her to put her hat on and dance like some organ grinder's monkey. She doesn't even get a tin cup for spare change. She gets Toby. And she can't remember where her glasses are. She might need her glasses to have this conversation. She finds a quarter in her pocket instead. This doesn't help.

"CJ?" Toby asks.

She sighs and looks up at him. He's sitting on her couch like he isn't about to ruin her day.

"Is it important, Toby?" she asks, knowing that he'll say it is, knowing that she won't be able to stop him anyway.

Toby leans back against the couch, touches his palm to the side of his head briefly. He shrugs his shoulders like a prizefighter. "No," he finally says, not looking at her, staring at his hands. "But it should be important. Someone should care besides me. I feel like someone should care."

She remembers how much he does care, how much he tries not to. He tries to hide it, but it comes out eventually. There's always another injustice waiting for him in the day's news, and at some point it just gets to be too much. For a politician, he is remarkably unconcerned with diplomacy or compromise.

"We can make it important, Toby," she tells him. "That's sort of, you know, what we do here."

His smile comes and goes in a flash, and he glances at her before going back to studying his hands. "It wasn't anything." He shrugs and stands. "It was just -- everything. You know?"

"I know," she says. He is standing in the doorway and she still hasn't turned on any of the lights in her office, but the sun is shining through the windows behind her. She says his name.

He turns. "Yeah?"

"Someone does care."

He hits the doorframe with one hand, lightly. "Yeah." He leaves and she can hear him shout for Sam across the bullpen.

It's only 8:15 and most of the West Wing hasn't even gotten to work yet. CJ turns on a lamp and reaches for her phone. She has calls to return.

Danny isn't at his desk, and she stares at the message that says nothing about why he called or why she should even bother calling him back. She hangs up before his voice mail can give her any menu options. She's got ten more people to call and they all left exhaustive messages begging for her time.

At noon Carol pokes her head in. "It's noon."

CJ looks around her, trying to decide what this means. She finds her glasses hiding under a page of polling results from Indiana's 10th.

"The press?" Carol reminds her.

"Oh, them." CJ grabs her glasses and stands to put on her jacket. "Do you think if I ignore them, they'll maybe, I dunno, go away?"

"You've tried that before," Carol says, handing her a bunch of papers.

"It didn't work, did it?"

Carol shakes her head and they start walking to the briefing room. CJ looks through her notes.

Josh pounces on her halfway there, asking, "You're gonna -- my thing, with the--?" He yawns as if already bored with what he's saying. "Right?"

"Wrong, Joshua."

He's confused and CJ gets a few steps ahead of him while he recovers. He jogs to catch up with her. "Wha--" They pass under an archway and he jumps to slap it with his hand. "What about, uh--"

"We're waiting on some numbers."

"Uh-kay. Me and Sam are gonna play air hockey at lunch."

CJ looks at him, using her "are you sure you're not crazy?" look. He's not wearing his jacket and his sleeves are rolled up unevenly. His tie is both loose and crooked. She isn't sure he's not crazy.

"Why are you telling me this?"

He rubs the back of his neck. "I thought you might, you know, wanna come watch?"

She glares at him over her glasses. "Okay, leave my sight now."

He stops walking with them, but calls after her, "Or I could watch, and, like, you could make Sam cry like a little girl."

Ten people sit in the briefing room. The House and Senate are both off for spring work period. Not much is going to happen today and they know it. Danny winks at her from his seat up front.

"All right, folks, this is going to be a short one."

The briefing's almost over and she thinks she's going to get away without having to mention the President's trip to Camp David. Except when she calls on Steve he asks, "CJ, how is the President enjoying his time at Camp David?"

"Steve," she says, giving him a warning look.

Steve shrugs. "C'mon, CJ, we're bored."

She sighs and presses her tongue to the roof of her mouth. "You know, now that you've made me do this again, for like, the fifth time? There's a chance that if any good news does come my way, I just might not share it with you people." She finds the piece of paper and adjusts her glasses. The press laughs at her.

"The President is enjoying his time at Camp David. While there, he will be overseeing the planting of twenty purple lilacs. The purple lilac, or Syringa vulgaris--" She winces and the reporters snicker. She hasn't pronounced that right once out of the many times she's been forced to say it. Or she has and the press corps just likes laughing at her.

"The Syringa vulgaris," she says again, maybe getting it right this time but probably not, "is the official state flower of New Hampshire, which is, as we all know, President Bartlet's home state." More snickering.

"The bushy shrubs like full sun and well-drained neutral soil. Blooming in both spring and summer, they attract butterflies and heads of state alike and should be a welcome addition to the grounds at Camp David. The lilacs were a gift from the New Hampshire Plant Growers Association. There, happy?"

They applaud for her and she pretends to tip her hat. "That's it?" she asks.

Danny raises a finger.

She probably rolls her eyes, but she's expecting a lilac joke. "Danny?"

"What're you doing about the situation in Kentucky?" He has that innocent look that always means he's up to something.

"The situation in Kentucky," CJ repeats, glancing over at Carol, who shakes her head, "is something we're looking into." In the past two years, CJ has learned to be cool. She has also learned how to look very busy. This is mostly because she is. She gathers her papers. "That's all for right now. I'll see you again at four, and I swear I won't be telling the lilac story again."

"CJ!" they all call after her, and in this way she is more popular now than she ever was in school. Now everyone wants to eat lunch with her. Everyone wants to pass notes to her in class. She is the prom queen of the White House.

This time when she jerks her head toward the hallway she gets results. Danny still has his innocent look but at this range she can see the mischief there too.

"Kentucky, Danny? The situation in Kentucky? Are they trying to secede or something, you know, equally ridiculous? Because I think I would have heard about that."

Danny flips his notebook open. "Can I quote you on that?"

She glares at him and starts walking to her office. Danny follows. The men in this building tend to keep things from her and habitually ignore her advice, but they follow her when she walks and that's at least something.

"You should've returned my call, CJ. It's only polite." He waves to Donna as she rushes past.

"I returned your call, Danny. You weren't at your desk."

"I was probably, you know, out gathering news. It's my job. Sometimes I win awards."

"Okay, it's time for you to go now." Not knowing things makes her nervous. She needs him to leave so she can do her job.

"I mean, you couldn't've wanted to talk to me very badly, CJ. You didn't even leave a message. Which, you know, sort of hurts my feelings."

CJ turns a corner too fast and nearly runs into Ginger. "Maybe I had actual work to do. Ever think of that? That maybe I don't have time to play cute little games with you over the phone."

"She thinks I'm cute," Danny says to Ginger. CJ throws her hands up and pushes past.

She gets to her office and stands in front of the door so it's clear he's not invited in. Danny stands too close to her.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she frowns down at him. "Why are you still here?"

Danny tilts his head. "Should've returned my call." He raises his eyebrows at her then leaves.

"I did," CJ whines, sure she is being punished for something. Exhaling, she turns to Carol and says, "Find me stuff about Kentucky." She goes into her office and closes the door.

The next time she hears yelling it's 2:43 and she realizes she's forgotten to eat lunch. She checks MSNBC and Brian Williams assures her that the freak flooding in northern Ohio is still the most exciting news of the day. She isn't any closer to deciphering Kentucky, though she did spend an hour poking around the internet and now knows Scott County has a problem with radon and 29% of all households in Perry County live below the poverty level.

None of this seems a secret, or big news. Danny was acting like he had both. She is tempted to call him and ask about Kentucky, but she knows that's not appropriate. It's her job to have the facts before anyone else. She can't ask Danny, she can't ask anyone. She has to do this by herself. Still, she thinks it can't be that bad or she would have heard something by now. This feels like a puzzle instead, like a great Kentucky scavenger hunt.

There's some sort of anguished howl from outside her door, and she finally gets up to see whose funeral it is.

In the bullpen, Sam is sitting in a chair, watching Toby and Josh yell at each other.

"They can't do this!" Toby is shouting. "Someone needs to tell them that they can't do this!"

"We won't look good doing that, Toby! A win won't mean a thing if we look bad winning!" Josh pulls a hand through his hair. "You KNOW that."

"What's going on?" CJ asks.

Sam sighs. "Toby's thing."

"What thing?" CJ rubs her forehead. She's getting a headache.

Josh glances at her. "Good attitude, I was gonna say, there's a way we can--"

"No, really, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Sam looks surprised. "Oh, we thought you knew."

"I didn't know! They had to evacuate the animal shelter and Wal-Mart donated a hundred pounds of dog food and the fire department's sandbagging the river and the Women's Auxiliary made them cocoa!"

They're all staring at her now.

"Nobody told me!" she shouts, throwing her hands up.

Toby clears his throat. "There's, uh, a public school in Louisville--"

"You--! Kentucky! In my office now, buster!"

In her office she dry swallows three aspirin. Toby slinks in and starts pacing in front of her desk.

CJ pulls her glasses off and squeezes the bridge of her nose. "Danny Concanon knew about this before I did and that shouldn't ever happen, Toby!"

His eyes shift. "I didn't talk to Danny."

"Gimme a break," she snaps. "Danny might be annoying but he doesn't have special powers. Someone told him, which means you talked to someone and then somehow Danny ended up hearing about it."

"Did that make sense to you, what you just said?"

She sighs and collapses into her chair. "Tell me what you did, Toby. I'm just gonna sit here and try not to cry or anything."

He sits down across from her. "Okay, the, ah, short version?"

"No, I want the long version, Toby, with the Greek chorus and the, the -- people! Let's just drag this out as long as humanly possible!"

Toby rubs his cheek. "Jefferson Davis High School has a prayer club. They meet on school property on school time. Their advisor is a teacher there. I assume, also, that they're using school resources for their, meetings."

CJ leans back in her chair. "Yeah, so?"

"That's not what schools should be doing with their time and their money and, and their teachers! That room should have students in it! And that teacher should be actually, you know, teaching! What about the kid that didn't get into AP History because there wasn't enough room? Or the one that, that, had to take German instead of Spanish because Spanish wasn't offered that period? We don't have enough teachers or classrooms or hours in the day to teach these kids, and then there's, there's Jefferson Davis High School that's taking another hour and another classroom away from us!"

The headache is behind her right eye now. She pushes at it. "Who did you talk to, Toby, and when did you do it?"

"The superintendent," he mumbles, pulling at his beard. "Yesterday."

She drops her hand to the desktop. "Yesterday! Toby! You've known for -- I can't do my job if -- Toby!"

"I know," he says.

"And you did it anyway! What did you say? Who else knows about this?" She flips over a list of Texas Democrats running for re-election and it becomes a list of people she has to worry about.

"I think, I, there's a chance I was somewhat less eloquent last night than I was just now here with you."

Now CJ's the one holding her head. "You called him a name, didn't you?"

He opens his mouth, probably to deny it, and she waves him off. "Who else?"

"I -- nah, that's all I can remember. Though--"

"Take into account? That you're not my favorite person right now, Toby."

"That's it," he says, clasping his hands together.

CJ's list is very short and includes one superintendent and one Washington Post reporter. She puts a star next to Danny's name.

Toby is leaving, but she stops him. "Hold it. Give Carol the name of your superintendent and tell her which Jefferson Davis High School you need. Davis was born in that state, so, there's gonna be, you know, a couple."

The school secretary is happy to talk to CJ about "Mr. Johansen's group" and assures her that he volunteers the time he spends with them before school.

"Before school?" CJ repeats, looking at the notes Carol made for her.

"Yes, dear. They get here even before I do. They usually meet on Mondays, about an hour before school starts."

"Okay." CJ passes a hand over her forehead. "I'm looking at an article from your school paper, and it says there's a meeting this Friday at one."

"We have a half-day this Friday. School gets out at 12:35. I think Mr. Johansen is taking them out for lunch."

CJ doodles on her list and thinks about how she is going to kill Toby. "All right," she says. "Thanks for your time, Judy. Mr. Johansen sounds like a very generous man. And good luck against those Bobcats on Thursday."

Judy laughs. "Thanks, Ms. Cregg. But we don't have a prayer."

In the ten minutes before her four o'clock press briefing, CJ calls the Jefferson County superintendent, expecting the worst.

Sheila Griffin answers her own phone. "Sheila."

CJ blinks. "Superintendent Griffin?"


"Superintendent Griffin, this is CJ Cregg, White House Press Secretary. I believe you spoke to a colleague of mine recently, Toby Ziegler?"

"Call me Sheila and don't you mean 'White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler,' Ms. Cregg?"

CJ squeezes her eyes shut. "So you did speak with him."

Sheila snorts. "I didn't speak with him so much as he yelled at me while I had some chips, but yeah, we had a conversation."

"So you...?" CJ doesn't know how to say it without putting ideas in this woman's head.

"I get angry parents yelling at me all the time, CJ. I agree with some of them, and some of them are total idiots, but they all love their kids, and if that doesn't make it okay, then at least I know they're trying to do good. Mr. Ziegler has some very strong views on education and prayer in the classroom, but he's not one of my parents, and I could care less about what he thinks. So he could call up and apologize like a good boy, but I'm not going to make a big deal about it, and I'm not going to stop those kids from meeting. Now, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"It appears that we don't have anything to talk about, Sheila." CJ crosses "superintendent" off her list. "Thank you for speaking with me."

"No problem, but tell that blowhard Ziegler to learn some manners." She hangs up.

There are twice as many reporters for this briefing and the first thing they ask about is the situation in Kentucky. Danny is sitting in the back, looking strangely unhappy.

"The situation in Kentucky!" CJ starts out. "As it happens, there IS no situation in Kentucky. Next?"

"CJ!" everyone yells.

"Yeah, yeah, okay." She adjusts her glasses. "But believe me when I tell you this is so boring that by the end of it you're going to be begging for a war to break out somewhere."

The press chuckles.

"Now, Kentucky. We had a report suggesting that Jefferson County public schools were using their funds for things other than text books and butcher paper and track coaches, but after two phone calls it was clear that the information we had was misleading, and in fact Jefferson County is in the good and capable hands of Superintendent Sheila Griffin. So we just had a poorly worded account. I guess that'll teach us to get our information from a high school newspaper."

They laugh and CJ smiles at them. "And that's it for Kentucky. I told you it wasn't exciting." She looks pointedly at Danny, who seems to be enjoying himself again.

"You know what IS exciting?" he calls out.

If he says one word about Kentucky, she is going to howl. "Danny."

He grins at her. "Hearing you mispronounce the Latin name of New Hampshire's state flower."

After the briefing, Danny catches up to her in the hall. "CJ."

"In my office," she says.

On her way past the bullpen, Josh spots her and starts zagging his way through the desks. "CJ!"


"But -- my, yeah. Okay."

With the door safely closed, CJ turns to Danny and then turns back around and sits at her desk. Her list still has his name on it. Leaning an elbow on her desk, she pats the top of her head and thinks.

"CJ," Danny says, "you gotta know that Kentucky was never the story here, Toby was."

"I know," she says, thinking she should have Toby on this list of hers. He's the one she needs to worry about.

"And you're great at your job, CJ, but one day he's going to mess up and you're not gonna be able to fix it."

"I know, Danny, don't you think I know? I can't talk to you about this."

"You just were," he points out.

She sighs and pushes her glasses up to rub her eyes. "Well, I can't, so, just, pretend that didn't happen."

"Sure." He shrugs. "Hey, how 'bout that missile defense system? Gotten South Korea on board yet?"

"Look at you, changing the subject to something else I don't want to talk about. Go away." She makes a shooing motion with her hand.

There's still coffee in her mug from this morning, and she goes to empty it in the sink in the ladies room. It's left a little brown ring around the inside of the ceramic but she ignores it, setting the mug on top of the tampon dispenser and washing her hands. It's only a little past five but it feels like midnight and it's already dark outside, or she thinks it is, here in a room with no windows. She wipes her hands on her pants, grabs the mug and backs out of the swinging bathroom door, pushing it with a shoulder.

Toby's in the Mural Room, looking at four yellow legal pads on the conference table. CJ comes in the open door and feels like she's sneaking up on him.

"Hey," she says, afraid she'll scare him, afraid he'll jump. He doesn't.

"What is it, CJ?" he says, not turning around.

She's stricken by his arrogance, and then realizes he's always like this, he's always been like this and she's chalked it up to his character for the dozen years they've been friends.

She's tired of it. She feels like she's a million years old. "Turn around, Toby," she says.

He does, with a strangled and labored sigh. He waves a yellow legal pad at her. "Yeah? What?"

"I thought you should know," she begins. "That I fixed it."

"Good," he says. "Way to go, there, then."

"You were wrong, Toby," she says. "You know that, right?"

He sighs again, pressing the heel of a hand to his cheekbone. "Yeah, I heard the thing was--"

"You fucked up, Toby. It was a half day. Those kids weren't meeting on school time. They were going out to a, a, a malt shop or whatever it is good Kentucky kids do with their time." She slaps her hand against the inside of the doorjamb, feeling tall.

She takes a breath. "You fucked up," she says again. "Not just because you were off on another psycho Toby crusade, and not even really because you called Superintendent Griffin and acted like an ass. You FUCKED UP because you did all these things and then Danny Concanon ambushed me in a briefing and I'm supposed to know FIRST before anyone else, Toby. You know that. You talk to me first!"

Toby swipes a hand across his mouth. "I, ah -- I should have, should have told you."

"You shouldn't have done it, Toby. Any of it! You're so much smarter than this."

"CJ!" He twists his mouth into a smile, looking amused. "It was a -- you're freaking out, you know that? About this Kentucky thing, and you just, you just said it wasn't a big deal, right? You fixed it? So let's just get past it, okay? What's next?"

She wants to slap him. She wants to slap him twice, once for the smile, once for cribbing Bartlet. "This isn't about Kentucky, Toby," she says, evenly. "This is about me doing my job."

"You did your job!" He throws his hands up in the air and the yellow pad flaps against its cardboard backing. "Way to win one for the home team, there, CJ, right?"

"Yes," she says. "I did my job. Every single day, I do my job, Toby. And we've got lobbyists and the radical right and the abandoned left and the state flower of New Hampshire to contend with, every single day. I've got bigger problems than you. I've got worse enemies than you, Toby, this administration has worse enemies than you. Except when you fuck up so royally that I have to waste everybody's time--"

"What time, CJ? Whose time? The President, the President's at Camp David--"

"And, what, you just thought you'd shake things up? Didn't want a slow day in the West Wing so you figured--"

"It was a stupid PR mistake and you fixed it! Case closed!" Toby tosses the yellow pad onto the conference table.

"Yes," she says again. "Yes. I fixed it. And it wasn't a stupid PR mistake so much as it was YOUR stupid PR mistake, so, like, at least own up to it, maybe?"

"Yes," he says, drawing out the word. "It was my mistake, and I apologize. Is that better?"

"No," she says, approaching him. "Because I don't really believe that tomorrow you're not going to do something exactly like this again. I don't think you realize the lengths that we have to go to--"

"I do," he says. She doesn't believe him.

"I can't be your mother," she says. "I can't keep cleaning up your messes."

"Well, I didn't ask you to be my mother," he says. "But cleaning up, that's sort of, I mean, that's your job, right?"

For the first time, she doesn't know. Because cleaning up has always been her job, but this is Toby, and he's supposed to be on her side. For a dozen years, she's always thought he was on her side. Now she doesn't know.

"I've got this--" he says, gesturing at the table. "I've really gotta get back to this thing."

"Yeah," she says, walking away. "Okay. I'll go now."


She stops at the door. "Yeah?"

"You did good today," he says.

"I know that," she says. "You didn't."

"I know that," he says.

"No, you don't," she says, and goes back to her office.

It's dark again when Sam comes by. CJ is only still working because she can't get up the energy to go home.

"Rough first day of school?" Sam asks, rumpled and quiet and leaning against her doorjamb.

"I need a drink, Sam. Or possibly a drink and a week in The Bahamas." CJ puts her pen down and realizes her glasses are missing again.

"Did you know you have to pay to leave The Bahamas? There's actually an exit tax."

"Really? How much is it?"

"It's, like, fifteen Bahamian dollars."

"Hm," CJ hums. "What's that US?"

"The same. I just like saying 'Bahamian dollars.'" He grins and CJ laughs because Sam is in a good mood, and he's good at it.

"What if you can't pay?" she asks.

"Then I guess they don't let you leave. Or maybe you can work it off, you know, wash dishes?"

"Well, I can think of worse things."

Sam tilts his head. "Me too."

"Time to go home, Sam?"

"Yeah. Good night, CJ."

"Night, Sam."

He leaves and she sits at her desk a while longer, trying to settle the day so that tomorrow she can come back and start all over again. They've started to take her for granted here. She knows that in the beginning they considered her a weakness, a liability. They didn't trust her to lie to the press, so they lied to her instead. This has all changed. Now she is the one lying for them, and when lies don't work, she apologizes.

No one tells her how to do her job now, because now they know she's the best at what she does. She turns problems into minor inconveniences, accidents into quiet mistakes. She's the one that cleans up their messes. It's her job. And now she has to go home so she can come back tomorrow.

Hitting the lights, she leaves her office, and this time when she walks through the halls, there's no one yelling at her, no one yelling for her, no one even left to say good night to her. She leaves the building and walks to her car alone.