"Did anyone else have the fish?"
Toby was standing behind one of the grey-beige armchairs, leaning on the backrest with his elbows propping up his head. He looked vaguely ill.
"I had a very nice green salad," CJ said. "With pine nuts and chevre. Which, by the way, is just a fancy word for goat cheese."
"I know what chevre is," Toby said. "Please don't say chevre to me when I feel this way."
"You think it was the fish?" Sam said from the couch, looking up from his clipboard.
He nodded. "I gotta talk to someone," he said, pushing off the chair and sending it rocking back and then springing up into its original position. Walking sort of hunched over and moaning plaintively, he stumbled out of the staff room and into the starboard corridor of Air Force One.
CJ sat down in the springy grey-beige chair and crossed her legs. "So," she said.
Sam set down his clipboard. "Yes?"
"There were sun-dried tomatoes in it, also," CJ said.
"CJ," Sam said. "I really need to finish this thing. Do you have --shouldn't you be someplace?"
"It's a small plane," CJ said. "And no. And I'm bored."
"Actually," Sam said. "At 231 feet, ten inches, with a wing span of 195 feet, eight inches, it's a fairly large plane. It's a 747-200B, manufactured by Boeing and given the Air Force designation VC-25A. It's propelled by four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 jet engines. I'll bet you didn't know that."
"Artichoke hearts too, Sam," CJ said. "I'm telling you this because it reminded me of home."
"I was never a big salad fan," Sam said.
"And you call yourself a Californian!" CJ slapped the arm of the chair and it wiggled a little.
"Only under duress," Sam said. "And during the winter. And when Josh tries to talk about the leaves changing in New England -- "
"Sam! Open this door!" Ainsley shouted, pounding on the glass door with one hand.
CJ turned in her chair to watch Ainsley. "Should we tell her it opens inwards?"
Sam looked like he wanted to hide under the table or maybe in the cargo hold. "No, please don't."
"I can SEE you in there!" Ainsley yelled, giving the door a kick. It popped open. "Oh."
"Damn," Sam muttered.
Ainsley came striding into the room and then stopped, looking confused.
CJ smiled at her. "Hi, Ainsley."
"CJ," Ainsley said thoughtfully. "I was supposed to tell you that --" Sam had pulled his papers together and was attempting to slink from the room. Ainsley noticed and pointed at him. "YOU! I am VERY upset with you, Samuel Aloysius Seaborn!"
"Aloysius?" CJ repeated with a snort.
"That's not, that's not my name," Sam said.
Ainsley seemed to deflate. "It's not?"
"Is there something you need, Ainsley?" CJ asked her.
She tossed her head, rallying. "Sam has besmirched my name, and I demand satisfaction!"
Sam shook his head. "Are you challenging me to a, to a duel?"
"Well, no," Ainsley allowed, "I'm not as much challenging you to a duel as I am just very very upset with you."
"Okay," Sam said, sitting down again.
Ainsley frowned. "Okay." Then, spinning on one heel, she left.
CJ swiveled her chair around with her toes. "What was that all about?"
Sam put his glasses on and opened his folder. "She is, apparently, very very upset with me."
"I noticed that. Particularly when she mentioned it three times."
"She really only mentioned it twice," Sam corrected, underlining things.
"You besmirched her name," CJ reminded him. "You're a besmircher."
Ainsley came back in. "Okay."
"He's a besmircher," CJ said to Ainsley. "I'll tell you, I always suspected that about you, Seaborn."
"Hmpf," Ainsley said. "Hmpf. Hmpf." She walked over to the couch, picked up Sam's legs and dropped them on the floor, and then sat down on the couch beside him. "Hmpf, Sam Seaborn," she said.
"Out the window!" came a voice outside the door. "Out the window into the unforgiving American air! Sucking your pea-brained peers right behind you!"
Lionel Tribbey burst through the door, holding a deflated life-raft in front of him like a cowcatcher. Danny Concanon followed a pace behind.
"Look, Counselor, I'm just askin' --"
Tribbey spun on his heel, swinging the life-raft and forcing Danny to duck to avoid being hit in the head.
Danny stood up again, his palms out in surrender. "All right, all right. It's none of my business."
"You're damned right it's not," Tribbey boomed. He shot Ainsley a look. "Hayes, are you slacking off?"
She stumbled to her feet, her hand on Sam's shoulder to steady her. "Uh, no, sir, I am not."
He handed her the raft. "Good," he said.
Danny crossed over to CJ, and sat down on the arm of her beige chair. It sank a little with his weight. "Though, to tell you the truth, it's totally my business," he said, smirking. "Ainsley, maybe you can tell me why the President feels he needs --"
Tribbey grabbed the raft back from Ainsley and held it up, threateningly. "So help me god before this trip is over I will have thrown you out the window of this aircraft. Maybe when we're over the Rockies. Yes. That's good."
Ainsley sat down again and folded her hands in her lap, like a schoolgirl.
CJ looked up at Danny and raised her eyebrows. "Are you pissing people off, Danny?"
"Naturally," he said.
Sam slapped his palms on the table and stood up. "Okay," he said. "I'm definitely going to need to find a quieter place to work. Like, perhaps, outside on the wing."
"Whatcha workin' on there, buddy?" Danny asked. "'Why President Bartlet Likes Green Beans,' the musical?"
"Please throw him out the window," Sam said to Tribbey.
He pushed his way past Ainsley and then past Lionel and was halfway out the door when Toby came blustering in, waving his hands and sending Sam backwards into Tribbey's yellow life-raft.
"I seem to be," Toby said. "The only member of this ship's complement who was dumb enough to have the fish. How can that be? I'm asking you. Mathematically it doesn't, it doesn't seem possible."
"I had the fish," Lionel Tribbey said. "With a little bit of lemon. And an insulting amount of tarragon."
"You were insulted by the tarragon?" Sam asked.
"Out the window with you next, Seaborn," Tribbey said, waving his raft.
"You had the fish!" Toby looked thrilled, nauseated and thrilled. He stumbled to the couch and sat down next to Ainsley. "And you're -- how do you feel? How do you, how do you feel, there, Counselor?"
"I feel like a million bucks," Tribbey said. "I was insulted by the tarragon, and the wine, I'll tell you, ten to one it came from a box --"
"This president doesn't drink box wine," CJ put in. "He's very particular."
"Well, then, particularly ignorant about vintage," Tribbey said.
"But the fish didn't make you ill?" Toby moaned.
"No, Mr. Concanon here did that all by himself," Lionel said. "The Rockies, Danny. The snowbound Rockies. And if you're very good I'll toss the rest of the press corps after you so you can eat them before you freeze to death."
Tossing his raft onto the table, Tribbey spun on his heel, pushed Sam aside, and left the room.
"If there's a part of this plane where there are fewer people with flotation devices," Sam said, "then that's where I'll be." He left.
"I hope the green bean joke didn't upset him," Danny said to CJ. "Because he looked a little upset. You know, when I said green bean?"
"Could you possibly, I don't know, not say 'green bean' anymore?" Toby complained, holding his stomach and slipping sideways on the couch.
Danny leaned over CJ. "Toby doesn't like green beans either? CJ, what does the White House staff have against green beans?"
CJ leaned backwards. "We have nothing against green beans, Danny. I'll have you know they're high in fiber, as well as vitamins A and C, and there's only 31 calories per cup. And you know how I know that? Because I was forced to stay up late and read about green beans well into the night because some asinine reporter thought it was news that the President doesn't like green beans! Everyone else got to go home, but I had to read about green beans!"
"Because, like, you all tend to get a little upset whenever someone mentions green beans," Danny continued.
Giving a loud sigh, Ainsley got up and left. In her absence, Toby slid down the couch until his head rested on the arm.
"See?" Danny said, pushing with his feet until CJ's chair faced the door. "She seemed upset to me."
"That has nothing to do with green beans. It's just that Sam's a besmircher," CJ explained.
Danny leaned an elbow on the back of the chair. "Excuse me?"
"Yeah, I don't really get it either," CJ admitted.
Danny nodded. "So it's possible she could just be upset about the green beans."
"I'm wondering, should you even be back here?" Toby grumbled from the couch.
"Course I should," Danny said, leaping off CJ's chair and watching her bounce and glower. "I'm a most favored nation. Or I'm CJ's, anyway."
"Careful there, pal," CJ said.
Toby looked even more put out. "Whatever," he said.
"So CJ," Danny said, finding his own chair and swiveling it to face her. "Anything I should know about those two?"
"Which two would that be?"
"C'mon," he said, rubbing his beard. "Lucy and Ricky, there."
"Ainsley Hayes is an Associate White House Counsel, Danny," CJ said.
"Yeah, yeah, and Sam's a besmircher. I pay attention. I'm just sayin'."
"What are you just saying?" Toby opened his eyes.
"Mark my words," Danny said, with a knowing nod. "I'm an investigative reporter, at least that's what it says on all my socks. There's somethin'. And I think it's only fair I should get the exclusive story."
"Yeah, you can count on that," CJ said.
"Can we, maybe, stop this inane line of inquiry and pay some attention to the fact that I'm dying here?" Toby groaned.
"You had the fish, then?" Danny asked.
"You want to write about something, Concanon, this is a good story for you. White House Communications Director Slain by Filet of Sole."
"Yeah, that's front page news, there, Toby," Danny said. "I'll even reserve a sidebar for the horrors of improper tarragon use."
"CJ!" Toby whined. "Please, please make him go away."
She shook her head. "He's amusing me," she said. "And I'm deeply bored, here."
"See that, big guy?" Danny said. "She likes me."
"She doesn't like you!" Toby said. "She's amused by you. Like watching a, a demolition derby, or some sort of, of Entertainment Tonight."
"She likes me better'n she likes you," Danny said.
CJ raised her eyebrows, thought about speaking, and then decided listening was far more fun.
"Oh, you think?" Toby said to the ceiling.
"I think," Danny said.
"Yeah," Danny said. "Because you're a big sourpuss and I'm adorable and charming."
"I'm adorable," Toby said. "I'm charming. And I'm also one of the most powerful men in the country, so put that in your pipe and smoke it."
"I prefer cigars," Danny said.
Toby clutched his stomach. "Don't say cigars!"
CJ laughed. "I should be selling tickets. Josh Lyman would kill to get an earful of this particular debate."
"Josh Lyman likes me too," Danny said.
"Josh Lyman likes Jerry Springer," Toby said. "So you're in good company, then."
CJ picked up the phone, punched some numbers, and dialed the non-emergency line for the Chief of Staff's bullpen.
"Yeah, hey, Josh there?" she said when Donna picked up.
"Hey, CJ," Donna said. "How's the flight?"
"Danny and Toby are fighting over me," CJ said.
CJ covered the phone with a hand. "Hey guys," she said. "Donna wants to know who's winning."
"I am," Danny said.
"He is," Toby croaked. "I'm busy dying."
The door swung open and Ainsley breezed in.
"That man," Ainsley said, throwing her hands up in the air. "That man has locked himself in the restroom. And he will not come out. I think -- I think something has to be done. Don't you all think something has to be done?"
CJ took her hand off the phone. "Sam locked himself into the bathroom," she told Donna.
Donna giggled. "I'll get you Josh," she said. "He's not gonna want to miss that."
CJ jiggled her foot while waiting for Josh to pick up the phone. Toby practiced moaning.
"Do you think the pilot has a key to the restroom?" Ainsley was asking Danny. "What if he never comes out?"
"Sam locked himself in the bathroom?" Josh sounded like he'd been running. "Is he crying?"
"No! Why would he be crying?"
"I dunno. Why would he lock himself in the bathroom?"
CJ moved the phone to below her chin and took a breath. "Was he crying?"
Ainsley frowned. "Who?"
"Sam!" grunted Toby. "Sam, on whom the fate of this administration rests, as I am no longer able to perform my duties as Communications Director. The same Sam, who has, god only knows why, locked himself in the bathroom. That Sam." Toby rubbed his face against the couch cushion. "Am I dead? Why aren't I dead?"
"Is that Toby?" Josh asked.
"No," CJ said, "that is a 200-pound baby having an attack of paranoid hypochondria."
Toby ignored her. "I'm dying here, and yet, in a room full of people that I would call friends, no one seems to care."
Josh sputtered. "Tell him to stop whining, because I'm the one stuck here at five o'clock in the morning and Donna's been playing some sort of, like, girly breakup music all night, and I swear, if I hear the words 'Lilith' or 'Fair' again--"
"Josh says hi," CJ reported.
"You sure talk a lot for a dying man," Danny commented. "It's almost Shakespearean."
Toby pushed himself to a sitting position. "That's it. I don't have to take this. I am going to escort you out, and then," he swallowed, "most likely I'm going to throw up." Hauling himself to his feet, he edged along the wall until he reached the door. "March!"
Danny mouthed something at CJ that she couldn't make out, then allowed Toby to herd him out of the room and down the hallway to join the rest of the press corps.
Josh cleared his throat. "So, uh, how's the, the green bean thing going?"
"It isn't. I'm bored," CJ declared.
"She's bored!" came a new voice.
"Gotta go," she said, hanging up on Josh and jumping out of her chair. "Mr. President."
"I'm so terribly sorry you're bored, CJ. Is there anything I can do to entertain you?" Bartlet asked. "A magic trick? I could tell you a joke or -- I could perhaps juggle?"
CJ tried not to smile. "No, sir, actually you can't juggle."
"I can juggle," Bartlet insisted, patting down his pockets as if he expected to find something to juggle there. "I once won an award for juggling. No, I'm sorry, that was the Nobel Prize for Economics." He sighed. "And now I have to go to Oregon and pretend I like green beans or Leo will send me to my room without the support of 10,000 Oregon green bean farmers. What part of that seems fair?"
"None of it?" CJ guessed.
"Besides, weren't we just in Oregon?"
"That was California, sir."
"But surely the time before that?"
"That was still California."
Bartlet frowned. "It seems like we're always going to Oregon these days."
"If you say so, sir."
He sat down on the couch. "CJ, where are all the hard-working people I have working for me?"
"Ainsley was--" But Ainsley wasn't. She must have slipped out of the room while CJ's back was turned.
"I often say to people, I tell them, 'I have some of the brightest and most dedicated people in the country on my staff.' I say only good things about you people, but here, now, I look around me, and I know I brought some of you with me expressly for the purpose of guiding me through the impregnable world of green beans, but yet there's no one here except you, and me, and you're bored, CJ. Bored. And the really depressing thing, is that I know Josh is playing field hockey in the halls of the West Wing. And even with that, he's probably still getting more done than I am today."
Ainsley ran into the room. "Sam is still locked in the bathroom. From what I can tell, he has barricaded the door or otherwise wedged something -- oh! President Bartlet!"
"Well, hello there, Ms. Hayes," Bartlet rose and stuck out a hand. Ainsley wiped her palm on her skirt before offering it to the President.
"Mr. President," she said. "I should not have -- I mean, what Mr. Seaborn chooses to do with his -- excuse me." She took her hand back. Bartlet waited. "Are you enjoying the flight, sir?"
He chuckled. "To tell you the truth, I'm bored as paste," he said. "But it certainly seems like this is where the excitement is. You say Sam's locked himself in the men's room?"
She nodded, and then curtseyed, and then blushed, and then nodded again. "Yes, sir."
"And we think this is because--"
"We do not know, sir."
"He's working on the Great Green Bean Apology of two-thousand-and-one," CJ said.
The President nodded, sitting down again. "Glad someone is," he said. "I'd hate to end up in Oregon and have to ad lib about vacuum planters and seeding depths."
"Oh, please don't, sir," CJ said, sitting back down in her springy armchair. "You'll have a salad, we'll snap a few pictures, you'll...bless a farm, and then we're turning around and coming home."
"I'm going to bless a farm, you say?"
"You'll be speaking from a converted chicken house on Eugene Galbraith's farm in Corvallis. You'll salute the hard working farmers, you'll eat a green bean, there will be cheers and applause. You're not there to get into a discussion about agricultural technology."
She shook her head. "No, sir."
"And why is that?"
"Because you don't know anything about agricultural technology," CJ said. "You're from New Hampshire."
"We have farms in New Hampshire, CJ," the President said. "My great grandfather--"
"It's a three minute speech, Mr. President," CJ cut him off. "I think if we can congratulate the farmers and root for the OSU Beavers we'll be pretty much good to go."
He thought about it for a second. "A converted chicken house?"
"That's the plan."
"What's it converted into?"
CJ reached into her bag for the itinerary and gave it a quick scan. "It doesn't say."
"It doesn't say."
"So it could very well be converted into, simply, a larger chicken house, is that right?"
She pursed her lips. "I suppose it could be," she said.
"CJ," he said. "These are brand new shoes. My wife picked out these shoes. Can you make sure you find out what this chicken house was converted into?"
She made a note. "That I can, sir," she said.
The President looked over at Ainsley, who was still standing near the door, her fingers twined in front of her. "And Sam's locked himself in the bathroom."
"Yes, sir," she said.
Toby slunk in, nearly swinging the door into Ainsley's back. "Oh, hello, sir," he said to the President. "I didn't know you were in here."
"You're lookin' a little pale, there, Toby," the President said. "You should sit down."
"I had the fish," Toby said.
"Damn good cut of sole," Bartlet said. "Just the right amount of tarragon, don't you think? My chefs, boy..."
"Yes sir," Toby nodded, sitting down in a chair next to CJ. "Absolutely."
The door swung open again, and Sam came in, waving his clipboard like a flag. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'll have you know that under adverse conditions, on no sleep--" He stopped when he saw the President seated on the couch. "President Bartlet. I have -- here's your speech." He set the clipboard on the table.
"You wrote this in the men's room, Sam?"
Sam nodded tersely. "Yes, sir."
Bartlet shrugged. "Whatever."
"I'm still very very upset with you, Sam Seaborn," Ainsley muttered, poking him.
"Ms. Hayes?" Bartlet looked up. "Not to sound unwelcoming, but why exactly are you coming with us to Oregon tonight?"
Ainsley froze. "Well, sir, I--" She opened and closed her mouth a couple times, like a fish.
"We thought it would be wise to have legal support on this one, sir," CJ said. "In case someone tries to nail you for lying."
"Lying about green beans?"
"Tell me, CJ. Is the entire country even more bored than we are?"
"Absolutely, Mr. President," CJ said.
"And this is very, very sad, right?" Bartlet asked.
"Some people feel very strongly about green beans," CJ shrugged.
Danny came racing into the room. "I swear to god, he's really gonna -- Mr. President."
"Hey there, Danny," Bartlet said, not getting up.
"Didn't know you were in here, sir," Danny said.
"It's quite all right," Bartlet said. "We were just talking about how bored everyone is."
"Well, with all due respect, I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm not bored at all," Danny said. "Instead, I'm busy being chased by a lunatic with an inflatable raft."
"Tribbey?" Sam asked.
"Tribbey!" Tribbey bellowed, thundering into the staff room with his raft. "Mr. President, may I have your permission to toss the press corps out an airlock?"
Bartlet nodded. "Be my guest, Lionel."
Danny ducked behind CJ, clutching at the back of the chair. Tribbey waved his raft and growled, but didn't move.
Bartlet pulled himself to his feet, and everyone followed suit.
"First of all, I don't know what's going on between the two of you, but Ainsley we're glad to have you aboard, so forgive Sam for whatever he did, and Sam, if you're being mean to this poor girl, I'll have Tribbey throw you out after Danny."
Sam looked about to argue, but Ainsley elbowed him. "We're fine," Sam said.
Bartlet nodded. "Also, I know a lot of us are bored now, and that's okay, but we're going to get off this plane in an hour, and our people are going to be out there, and we have great things we have to do for them. We have to provide them with good public schools and quality health care. We have to make sure they have jobs, and homes, and the right to speak their minds. And we can't do that if they're too busy holding a grudge because I once said I didn't like green beans. This puts me in mind of a joke. Two lawyers, two writers, a reporter, the Press Secretary, and the President of the United States were on an airplane--"
"We're on our way to Oregon to tell some people I like green beans. To tell you the truth, right now, I have no idea if I like green beans or not. Asked me a month ago, I'd've said I hated the things. Toby ate some sole that made him white as a ghost. Me, I loved the stuff. Does this mean Toby and I can't be friends? Does this mean I don't trust his judgment, his honesty, his loyalty to this administration and his country as much as I did yesterday? Of course not. So today I like green beans, because good American people are growing green beans and I don't want them to stop being good American people. Now. What do you call two lawyers, two writers, a reporter, the Press Secretary, and the President of the United States on a plane to Oregon to eat green beans? Anyone? Sam?"
"A good start," Sam said, with a grin.
Bartlet nodded. "A good start," he said. "Now," he went on, looking around the room. "We're gonna be landing soon, and I've got a speech to look over. And you've all been bored for five hours, but when the sun comes up we're gonna be in Corvallis, Oregon, and we've all got work to do and things to prepare for. It's been a good night flight across this country of ours. But it's morning now."
"Yes, sir," Toby said.
"Yes, Mr. President," CJ said.
"Indeed," Lionel Tribbey said, setting down his raft against the wall.
And Sam reached up to take Ainsley's shoulders, gently, and steer her away from the door so Bartlet could pass. When he left, Toby followed, and Sam and Ainsley after that. Tribbey shot Danny a look, and it could have passed for a smile, and Danny nodded and might have smiled back.
And outside the sun was pink and orange over the Rockies, and no one was being thrown out the window.
Tribbey left through the open door, and Danny left to rejoin the press, and CJ stood in the empty staff room with the faint glare of sunrise coming in.
And then she left too.