Contains spoilers for Debate Camp (4.05) and seasons 6 and 7 if you don't know the winner of the Democratic nomination and subsequent national campaign.
AN: Originally intended as a purely Bartlet administration story to explain a line in 'Guns not Butter'. But then I read Janye Leigh's 'Gomer Society, Tributes and Cheese' and Frankincense Pontipee's 'Easy Silence' and I was inspired.
Polling data from the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. Citation: Borg, Sami: Polling in Finnish Presidential Elections 1994, Part 2 [computer file]. FSD1020, version 2.0 (2002-09-04). 2nd ed. Gallup Finland [data collection], 1994. Tampere: Finnish Social Science Data Archive [distributor], 2002.
Alternative word definitions from 'The Meaning of Liff' by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.
From Guns not Butter (4.12)
"Josh has asked me to work Saturdays, work Sundays, and at least once a week he has me there after one a.m. He's asked me to transpose portions of the federal budget into base-8, go to North Dakota, and dress as an East German cocktail waitress. In five years of working for him, he's never asked me to hide him from something." - Donna.
January 24th 2006 Mid Morning
Four days into the Santos Administration
Chief of Staff's Office
"You haven't fired her yet, I see."
Josh hastily stood up as he realised President Santos was in his doorway. He glanced over his shoulder before answering, to check the subject of their conversation was out of earshot.
"No, not yet, Mr. President."
"You went through six assistants during transition, all highly qualified. None of them lasted more than a week and you fired each of them for something trivial. Yet this one you keep." The President sounded bewildered by this.
"She's still learning," Josh told him with a shrug.
"Didn't she hang up on the President of France yesterday?"
Josh nodded then elaborated, "Donna wants me to give her a chance."
President Santos grinned at his Chief of Staff on hearing the true reason the fairly inept Sandy still had a job. He was still grinning as the woman in question entered the room.
"Mr. President? I just got a call from Ronna, the senior staff are waiting for you."
"Okay, do you know why?" The President inquired.
"Because Ronna told them to wait?" Sandy guessed.
"No, he meant...Never mind, it'll be a nice surprise." Josh said sarcastically, causing Sandy to beat a hasty retreat to her desk.
Santos shook his head, "The things we do for love," he smiled at Josh and gestured for him to accompany him into the empty Oval Office.
"And they're not even in here." President Santos noted.
Josh sighed as he made his way over to open the door to the outer office. As he did he could hear Bram and Otto arguing.
"But I gave it to you."
"No you didn't, I asked you if you had it and you said yes. Then I asked if I could have it and..."
"Guys. The President can see you now." Josh said to the assembled group. As they filed into the Oval Office Josh noticed Donna leaning on Ronna's desk, "Donna are you joining us for this?"
"Actually I was here for something else, but I can sit in if you want me to."
"Would you?!" Josh jumped at the chance to have another 'grown up' in this meeting with him.
Donna nodded and entered the Oval Office ahead of Josh. She smiled slightly as she felt his hand on the small of her back as they made their way over to the couch. Donna took a seat next to Sam while Josh perched on the arm next to her.
"So what is this impromptu meeting about?" President Santos asked the room in general.
Otto exchanged glances with Bram and looked hopefully at Sam before coming to the conclusion he would have to brief the President on this particular development.
"Well...ummm....You see, Mr President..." Otto began uncertainly.
"Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum here have lost the key to the stationary cupboard." Lou cut in, her patience rapidly expiring.
Bram and Otto looked at the floor, sheepishly, as Donna and Sam tried to avoid eye contact with each other and hide their grins.
"Well, I'm glad to see our time is being well spent today." President Santos muttered.
"Mr. President, if I may." Sam felt obligated to try to explain, "While governing a country requires leadership skills, the vision to devise and implement plans, like your education plan, for example, not to mention a sound understanding of foreign policy, the day-to-day running of said country requires paper. Lots of paper. And pens. And post-its."
Santos looked over at Josh, searching for confirmation. Josh nodded.
"Okay. So what, in my capacity as President, am I expected to do about this? Alert the FBI? Have them open a missing key case file?"
"Actually, Mr. President, the coastguard may be able to help. They have these search and rescue teams. Although the FBI is a good suggestion." Sam couldn't help joking, ignoring the impatient looks he was getting from Lou and the President.
"Well, surely there is some kind of strict procedure when something like this happens?" Santos asked sarcastically, failing to see the funny side of the situation.
"Absolutely, Mr. President." Josh said, getting in on the act before Sam could.
"There is?" The President replied, his disbelief evident, "What is it?"
Everyone looked expectantly at Josh.
"Everybody stand up and check they're not sitting on it." Josh dead-panned causing Sam to laugh.
"I'm glad to see you two find this so amusing. But this is no way to run a country! These sort of teething problems were exactly what I'd hoped to avoid. We have a very small window here to actually get something done.."
Sam and Josh stopped laughing as soon as the President's anger was directed at them. Bram and Otto looked ashamed and were trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, especially Lou who was glaring in their direction.
The silence extended as each member of the senior staff considered the President's words. It was broken only by the uncomfortable shuffling of people feeling guilty about letting their President down.
Donna decided enough was enough.
"8, 16, 24, 32..." She said quietly, tailing off as she realised everyone was stared at her, trying to work out what she was doing.
That is, until Josh burst out laughing. This instantly drew everyone's attention, fascinated as they were by the unusual slight and sound of Josh almost falling off the arm of the chair in a fit of giggles.
"Josh? Donna? Would someone care to explain?" The President asked, clearly confused by this turn of events.
Donna shook her head, indicating she was incapable of answering through her laughter. Sam was now also smiling widely.
Josh finally managed to compose himself enough to reply, "Sorry, sir. Donna's just reminded me of something. If you think this is bad..."
January 29th 1999 Early Afternoon
Nine days into President Bartlet's first term
President Bartlet looked up as his secretary entered the room from one direction and Leo entered, carrying something, from another.
"There's no need to shout, Mr. President. It's very unbecoming in a president." Mrs. Landingham reached the desk before Leo did, distracted as he was by his reading.
"She's right, you know." Leo confirmed, handing the paperwork to the President.
"Thank you Mr. McGarry. Although you might try sounding more sincere when you say that." She chided, gently.
President Bartlet looked at his friend, a smug grin on his face as Leo's attempt to get him in trouble with his secretary backfired. Leo shrugged unconcerned and grinned back, happy to wait for another opportunity.
"What can I do for you, Leo?" The President inquired before Leo succeeded in stirring up any trouble.
"I wanted to talk to you about the budget."
"Who's added what now? This is ridiculous, Leo. We've spent all of transition hammering out this budget request. We have to submit it to Congress on Monday. Isn't it a bit late to be making alterations...?"
"Actually, Mr. President, that's not the problem."
"Then what is?"
"There's a problem with the computers processing it."
Leo received a blank stare from the President. He looked to Mrs. Landingham for support but got none. The man may be a prize winning economist and the leader of the free world but his grasp of technology was sketchy at best. The prospect of explaining the current issue with the programming seemed suddenly too large to tackle. At least not without backup. And possibly diagrams.
"You know what, Mr. President? I'll have Josh take care of it."
"Okay. Mrs. Landingham, what's next?" The President was more than happy to move on and leave any computer related issues with his sidekick, who had beat a hasty retreat to his office.
"You've got a meeting with Congressman Phelps now, D-triple-C leadership in twenty minutes, the Alaskan delegation are presenting you with a moose at four, you're free from 4.15 'til 4.30 but Toby and CJ wanted a word about Rooker. Shall I let them know you're free then?"
"Yeah." The President agreed distractedly, his attention already on the papers Leo had handed him.
Mrs. Landingham made a note on her notepad and turned to leave the room.
"Umm...Mrs. Landingham? What was I doing at four?"
"Meeting the Alaskan delegation."
"And why would that be?" He peered over his glasses and watched as she double checked her notepad.
"To be presented with a moose."
"A real one?"
"It doesn't say. Shall I check with CJ?"
"If you'd be so kind."
Communications Bullpen/Operations Bullpen
"We've got a problem," Sam announced as he entered Toby's office.
"The thing with Rooker?" Toby put his pen down to mark his place.
"Okay, two problems." Sam took a seat on the couch Toby had managed to acquire from somewhere, "What's going on with Rooker?"
"Danny Concanon did what we told him to."
"What did we tell him...?" Sam frowned as he tried to remember.
"'If you take a thorough look at Cornell Rooker's record...?'" Toby prompted.
"Yeah. What was your problem?"
"The hybrid energy partnership."
"What's the problem with it?"
"Well, I met with Harrison from the GDC. He said DeMont threatened to add a rider."
"What?" Toby asked when it became apparent Sam wasn't going to say more. Sometimes Toby found having a conversation with Sam was like pulling teeth, especially if Sam had several things on his mind.
"I don't know. Harrison doesn't know. All I know is that DeMont is out to sabotage this bill." Sam snapped his attention back to the issue at hand, resolving to think some more about Rooker later.
"Let Josh take a pass at it. See if we can salvage it."
"Okay, where is Josh? I haven't seen him since lunch."
Toby shook his head and returned to his briefing book, confident Sam would get the hint eventually.
"Did you tell him about Rooker?" CJ poked her head into the office as she strolled past.
"Well okay then. 'Take a thorough look at his record'. I could kill that man!" She turned to leave.
"Hey, CJ? Have you seen Josh?" Sam called out before she got out of earshot.
"He's trapped in his office." CJ replied with a slight smile.
"He has an office? Where is it?"
There had been some discussion over where Josh's office should be. Initially he'd been assigned the office they were now sat in, so he'd be near Leo's office. However the decision had been made that Josh should be located the other side of the lobby, after Toby had suggested it might be a good idea to not have Josh within shouting distance of the Roosevelt Room. Leo had agreed and Toby's stuff had suddenly appeared in the office in question along with Toby. This had resulted in Josh roaming the halls for a few days bemoaning the fact everyone had an office except him. But now he had an office of his own and Sam was keen to see it.
"Across the lobby, next to mine."
Sam strolled down the yellow hall, taking the long route so he could pass the seal of the President as he crossed the lobby. He entered the operations bullpen to find Donna just leaving the coffee machine. He quickened his pace to catch up with her.
"Hi Donna, do you know where Josh is?
"He's in his office." She indicated the closed door as she put the her coffee on her desk and sat down. Sam nodded in acknowledgment and moved toward the door, only to be stopped by Donna calling out, "You can't go in there!"
Sam froze, his hand on the door handle,"What? Why not? Is he busy?"
"Well, it's not so much that you can't go in there. It's more that you can't let him out." Donna admitted as she stirred her coffee.
"He's not allowed out until he apologises."
Sam took the few steps to Donna's desk and whispered to her, urgently, "Donna, you can't lock Josh in his office!"
"I didn't!" She exclaimed, insulted by the accusation.
"Then why doesn't he just come out?"
"There's no handle on the inside," Donna told him as she made her way to her boss's door and yelled, "JOSH, SAM'S HERE."
"He's trapped?" Sam asked, surprised. "That's a new one."
"I'M NOT APOLOGISING!" Josh's voice carried to where Sam stood, next to Donna's desk.
"What's he not apologising for?" Sam stole a sip of Donna's coffee before she got back to her desk.
"You really want to know?"
Sam opened his mouth to say yes, then changed his mind, "No, never mind. I'll just..." Sam indicated to the door before moving to stand next to it, "...JOSH, I MEET WITH HARRISON FROM THE GDC..." He heard a muffled response from the other side of the door and muttered, "...This is ridiculous....JOSH, APOLOGISE TO DONNA."
"NO! SHE'S CRAZY! SHE LOCKED ME IN HERE!"
"YOU LOCKED YOURSELF IN THERE, JOSH. I TOLD YOU NOT TO SHUT THE DOOR!"
"FINE, I'M SORRY. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO YOU."
"AND I PROMISE TO LEARN HOW TO USE THE INTERCOM SO I DON'T HAVE TO YELL. NOW WILL YOU LET ME OUT OF HERE?"
Donna opened the door, walked into the room and straight over to the other door, which she opened and closed pointedly.
"For a clever man, you really are an idiot, sometimes." Donna informed him as she walked past him on her way back to her desk.
"How did you...? How long's....?" Josh stared in amazement at the other door, complete with door handle. He turned and was suddenly faced with a grinning Sam, "Mention this to anyone and I'll tell everyone about you and Christine Roberts in the tenth grade!"
Sam suddenly became serious in the face of Josh's threat. But then, he caught a glimpse of a quietly smiling Donna out the corner of his eye and pointed her out to Josh with a tilt of his head, "I don't think I'll need to mention it to anyone."
Josh looked to see Donna positively beaming at him.
"That's it! I'm moving to Mauritius."
"Okay, but before you do...."
"Oh, yeah, Harrison. GDC. Come in."
"Are you sure it's safe? I mean, I don't think I've done anything to upset Donna, but..."
"Just get in here."
Press Secretary's Office
"What's going on?" CJ asked as she noticed Toby loitering in her doorway.
CJ looked up from her reading to regard him intently, trying to determine his mood.
"Are you briefing soon?"
"Dial it back on the hybrid thing."
CJ paused before responding, "Okay, why?"
"DeMont's attaching a rider." Toby informed her.
She sighed and said sarcastically, "Well, that's good of him." CJ rubbed her hand across her eyes before asking, rhetorically, "Just what are friends for?"
"Annoying the hell out of you?" Toby responded.
"So it seems." CJ agreed. She sat contemplating the mute TV. "Why do these things always come in threes?"
"Three?" Toby scratched his head as he listed the recent problems, "Rooker, DeMont...What's the third?"
"Josh got stuck in his office. There's no handles on the inside, he had no way to open the door." CJ brought him up to date.
Toby chuckled gently.
"Of course, Josh failed to realise there are three doors in his office and only two were missing handles. So it wasn't that much of a problem."
"So the third thing's still out there...Well that's a handy a harbinger of doom to have." Toby muttered to himself.
"Yeah, and Josh is too paranoid to close the door now." CJ continued, ignoring his comment.
She indicated the partially open door, through which Josh's voice could just be made out, "...the hell! Just tell me...!"
"It's not too late to swap offices with me..." CJ offered.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," Toby replied, sarcastically.
"Are you sure I can't tempt you?" CJ asked as she stood and moved to close the door to Josh's office.
Toby shook his head, "I've just got my office organised the way I want it. And it's, you know," Toby paused, searching for the right word, "convenient having the communications department all in one place."
"Hey! I'm part of communications too!"
"Yes, well...technically, I suppose." He teased.
They both turned toward the door as Josh's voice interrupted any response CJ may have been about to make.
"...to fix it?...Monday!?!...But we need to..." Josh's voice carried through the door where he was obviously shouting down the phone. CJ and Toby exchanged a concerned look at the panic discernible in Josh's voice.
"Do you know what that's about?" CJ asked, nodding toward the adjoining door.
Toby shrugged, "The third thing...? No."
"...I don't care! We need it fixed NOW!...No! You don't understand!...2 TRILLION dollars!" Josh's voice took on a high pitch at the end.
Toby and CJ listened in silence, straining to catch as much of what Josh was saying as possible so they would be forewarned. There wasn't much more to be heard, though, as the sound of a receiver slamming down penetrated the room.
"The budget?" CJ asked after a moment of contemplation.
"We'll find out when we find out." Toby pointed out.
The door burst open to reveal a dishevelled Josh.
"We've got a problem. Leo's going to meet us in the Oval. I'll get Sam." Josh relayed.
There was silence in the wake of Josh's brief visit. Toby looked at CJ, his face clearly expressing a sentiment of 'I told you so'.
"Mr. President, the senior staff are here."
"Okay, send them in."
The four members of the senior staff filed past Mrs. Landingham, into the Oval Office and greeted the President.
"So, what's going on?" The President asked as he indicated for them to take their seats.
"Should we wait for Leo?" CJ suggested.
"What's he doing?" Sam questioned as he joined CJ on the couch.
"He's on with Rooker." Josh told him.
"Is he setting up a meeting with the President?" Toby asked.
"Are we reconsidering him?" Sam asked, buoyed by the prospect.
"We're getting slammed in the press," CJ mentioned.
"Guys? Do I need to be here for this meeting?"
"Sorry, Mr. President."
"Sir, we've run into a couple of problems." Josh began to brief just as Leo entered the room.
"Impressive, considering you've been lock in your office all afternoon." CJ muttered.
"I wasn't locked in and it was only for an hour." Josh got defensive, exasperated from the problems encountered in everything he'd tried to achieve today.
"Guys..." Leo reigned in the staff.
"Sir, DeMont is attaching a rider to the Hybrid Energy Bill." Sam began but was cut off by the President.
"You heard me, Toby, lets swallow it for now."
"We can revisit it later, then? When would that be?"
"Sir, we have a more pressing problem." Leo tried to refocus the group's attention, "Josh?"
"The computer program that calculates the federal budget has...developed a glitch."
"What sort of glitch?"
The three staffers expressed their surprise at Josh's announcement. The President remained silent, waiting for the scene to play itself out and the relevant information to reveal itself.
"The sort that introduces a lot of errors into a very important government document." Leo reported.
"I don't think I understand." The President shifted in his seat.
"I'm not entirely sure I do either, sir. As far as I understand it, the data is entered into the program which converts it into base-8 for some reason and then it does something else."
"Well that makes it a lot clearer, thank you, Josh." The President said, sarcastically.
"I've spent all afternoon on the phone with these people at the OMB and I'm none the wiser. It's like a different language. All I got was that there's a problem."
"If it's a problem with the program itself, why haven't you called the programmers to get it fixed?" Sam inquired, displaying an understanding of computers lacking in other parts of the room.
"I tried, the guy's on holiday." Josh revealed one his earlier attempts at solving the problem.
"Can't we get him back here?"
"He's on his way, but it's a thirty hour flight."
"Can't we get someone else?" Toby suggested.
"We can't just pull any computer programmer in, Toby, they have to be security checked. It's sensitive data." Josh explained, giving the others a taste of the frustration inherent in his day.
"So you're saying that we can't get the program fixed?" CJ summarised.
"Nope, at least not before Monday."
"So what other options do we have?" The President asked.
Josh sighed, as he continued to detail the problem, "The guy from OMB said the problem appears to be intermittent."
"Yeah, most of it's okay, but every so often a mistake creeps in and it doesn't tally at the end. That's why it went unnoticed for so long."
"We could check it manually." Sam suggested.
"That's what I was thinking." Josh agreed with Sam, "We know where the problem is. It's the initial conversion that's off. If we double check each conversion and correct the ones that are wrong, the rest of the program should work fine."
"So we've basically got to check the entire federal budget in two days."
"Do you have any idea about the sort of man power we need to do that?"
"Does anyone have a better idea?" The President looked at his staff, waiting for a response.
"Yeah. Okay." Josh broke the silence and stood, "I should go...start calling people in. I'm going to be so unpopular."
"What makes you think you're popular now?" CJ asked with a grin.
Chief of Staff's Office
"Here's the print out of the budget resolution you requested."
"Thank you, Margaret." Leo acknowledged.
"Josh said he's rounded up some people over at OEOB and senior staff and assistants are in the Roosevelt Room. He's got Donna researching how to convert things into base-8. That's like binary, right?"
"I guess we'll find out soon enough." Leo stood and put his jacket on, still reading the latest report from the counsel's office.
"Okay. Did you want me to divide this up?" Margaret indicated the budget resolution she was still holding.
"Yeah, also phone Jenny and tell her I'll be late."
"Can't you do that?" Margaret baulked at the prospect of telling Jenny that Leo would be late again.
"I could, but then she'll yell at me." Leo slowly made his way around his desk and paused, trying to finish the report before he left.
"But it's okay for her to yell at me?"
"Surprisingly, I'm okay with that."
"What should I tell her?"
"That I have to spend the evening transcribing the federal budget into binary."
"Give me something she'll actually believe."
"Like what?" Leo looked up at Margaret.
She hesitated a moment, before thinking of a suitable excuse, "Like you're having an affair. With me. It's a cliché, I know, but..."
"Get out. Please. Do something. Just make this conversation stop."
"Okay." Margaret scurried out the room just as Josh and Donna appeared in the other doorway.
"Geez...Sometimes, having a conversation with Margaret is like banging you head against a brick wall." Leo told his deputy.
"It burns 150 calories an hour?" Donna suggested.
"What?" Leo asked, confused.
"Nothing. We're ready in the other room." Josh informed him while giving Donna a look that she had come to associate with Josh trying to communicate with her telepathically. She gave him a puzzled expression in return and motioned that she'd be in the Roosevelt Room, which seemed to satisfy him.
"Okay, lets go." Leo indicated he was headed out via Margaret's desk and Josh should follow him, "Margaret? You coming?"
Leo handed her the Counsel's report which got filed before he had finished his question.
"Sure. Here, Josh take this," Margaret handed him a stack of paperwork, "Leo, here."
"What's this?" Josh asked, trying to read the top page which was upside down.
"The budget. Leo said it needed checking."
"Yeah, but not this copy. Ginger's got the copy we need." Josh handed the stack back to her.
"Leo...." She chided.
"How was I to know that?" Leo replied with a shrug as he lead the group into the corridor, "Which one's Ginger, anyway?" He asked, still unfamiliar with the new staff.
"Toby's assistant. She's, you know, ginger. Anyway, she split it up into bite-size chunks for me."
The three of them entered the Roosevelt Room to be greeted with chaos. The sight and sound of twenty people squeezed into the room caused the new arrivals to pause in the doorway. Leo looked around. Sam and CJ stood at the far end, huddled in conversation with Carol. Congresswoman Wyatt was perched on the table next to where Toby was seated with a member of her staff, listening to both their conversation and Sam and CJ's. Occasionally he'd call something out to his deputy but mostly he just listened. Ed and Larry were milling around, chatting to the senior staff and several people Leo didn't recognise.
"That's Ginger," Margaret told him quietly, "talking to Donna."
Leo turned to see Donna and another woman engrossed by several piles of paper, spread out on the table before them. They were joined by two other women who watched them and joked with Ginger, although Donna seemed distracted, only answering questions and comments put directly to her.
"Who are they?" Leo whispered, pointing to the women.
"Senior assistants from communications." Josh told him, not bothering to lower his voice in the din, "They're some of my staff, I think, and I don't know who they are, but Larry's vouched for them. Or was it Ed?" he continued, indicating a group sat near the wall and another group currently talking to the two Congressional Liaisons.
"Well, that's that cleared up." Leo said, sarcastically, "You don't think it's hypocritical for us both to have the words 'chief' and 'staff' in our titles, yet not know who half these people are?"
"No." Josh stated with confidence, earning him a reproving look from Margaret. "Well, yes, but I don't let it bother me. That's what I have a staff for."
Josh turned back to the assembled staff and called out, "Okay, lets get started."
There was no response from the majority of the room as the conversations continued. Toby caught Josh's eye and smirked. Josh pulled out a chair and stood on it.
"Listen up, folks!" Josh shouted. He waited while the clamour died down and people started to take a seat at the table or around the edge of the room. When he had quiet and everyone's attention he continued, "As you all know, the deadline for the submission of the President's budget resolution is Monday and there are random errors scattered through it. Ginger, if you could..." Josh looked over at Ginger who stood and started giving out pages from one of the piles in front of her.
"What you are being handed is a sheet of paper with two columns of numbers on. The first is the amount in standard decimal form. The second is the corresponding value written in base-8 notation. It's our job tonight to make sure the two values tally. I'll now hand over to my lovely assistant to explain how to convert between the two, but before I do does anyone have any questions?"
"Why me?" Toby asked causing a ripple of laughter around the room.
"What happens when we finish our page?" Carol inquired once the laughter had died down.
"Yeah, does the first one to finish get a prize?" Sam jumped in.
"Yeah, the prize is another page. We're talking about a four hundred page document here, people, and there are twenty of us. I'll let you do the math, it'll be good practise." Josh told them, just wanting to get on with the task.
"Has someone ordered food?" Andy asked.
"It's on it's way." Ed informed her.
Josh waited a few moments to see if there were any more questions.
"Okay, Donna. Over to you."
"Where are you going?" Donna whispered with a hint of panic. She had made a few presentations during the campaign, but not to a group this large with people she didn't know.
"I have to go organise the OMB staff I managed to prevent from going home. But I'll be back with you fair people before you know it!" He announced to the room in general, then dropped his voice and put a reassuring hand on Donna's arm, "Don't worry, you'll be fine."
Donna looked at the smile Josh was giving her and Sam at the other end of the table. She took a deep breath and began, "Okay, you can check the conversion going either from decimal to base-8 or from base-8 to decimal. To go from decimal to octal, we use successive division by eight. So if the number is 136 in decimal, then..."
Early Hours of Saturday, January 30th
Sam broke open the fortune cookie in his hand but did not remove the slip of paper.
"You know, in China the number eight is considered lucky." He said as he stared at the cookie in his hand.
The other occupants of the room looked up from their sheets of paper and stared at him. He shrugged. Several people chuckled as they returned to their conversions.
"This must be the luckiest room in America, then." CJ said as she ticked the last number in the column.
The room lapse into relative quiet again, the only sounds being the scratching of pens as people made notes and the movement of paper. Sam looked around the room and noticed several people were muttering or mouthing the eight times table to themselves. Sam smiled to himself as he removed the fortune from the cookie and looked at the words, not taking in it's message. His brain was frazzled, even a simple the fortune cookie message was beyond him at the moment and he suspected he wasn't the only one feeling it in the room.
"It's part of the Fabonacci sequence." He announced, suddenly. He received several blank stares so he elaborated, continuing to share the thoughts he'd had throughout the evening, "The number eight. It comes after five and before thirteen in the Fabonacci sequence."
"That's fascinating, Sam." Toby said.
"It's also the atomic number of oxygen. There are eight squares to the side of a chess board. Eight furlongs in a mile. The I-8 runs from San Diego to Casa Grande, Arizona." Sam stood and walked around the room a little way.
His random facts and movement seemed to indicate a chance for a break for most of the people in the room as they put down their pens and lent back in their chairs, stretching as they did so.
"You really are quite a freak, you know that don't you?" Toby remarked causing more laughter and Sam to nod in agreement.
Carol and Larry looked guiltily toward Josh and Leo who continued working. Ed and Cathy pulled their pages back toward them reluctantly.
Donna sat contemplating the information Sam had given them and watching Josh, wanting to get a read on his mood so she could determine what would break him out of his work based tunnel vision.
"A MacDonald's straw holds approximately 8 ml." She announced.
"Really?" Sam was impressed.
Donna's fact got no response from Josh, who continued to stare at his sheet of paper in silence. A couple more people returned to work.
"Why would you know that?" Josh asked after a moment.
"It might be useful one day." Donna shrugged.
"In what possible scenario?" Josh asked as he lent back. Leo also looked up, intrigued.
"You never know when a fact like that will come in useful, Josh." Donna defended herself with a smile.
"No wonder the President likes you." Leo pointed out, "He's driven me crazy with trivia for years. What was it the other day?" He turned to Josh.
"The change thing." Josh reminded him.
"Oh yes, what's the most amount of change you can have and still not be able to give change for a dollar?"
"99 cents, surely?" Bonnie asked, earning her admiring looks from the other assistants who were still nervous around the Chief of Staff and reluctant to volunteer anything unless asked directly.
"No, 'cause if you have three quarters and three dimes, you have a dollar five, but you can't make a dollar." Larry told her.
Everyone contemplated Larry's words for a moment. Ed started scribbling something, Bonnie lent over to read what he was writing. At the other end of the table Sam, CJ and Carol also started to confer. Leo grinned smugly.
"Got it!" Sam and CJ yelled, "It's a dollar nineteen. If you have three quarters, four dimes and four pennies you have a dollar nineteen but still can't change a dollar." Sam explained.
"That's fun, Leo, but is it useful?" Josh smirked.
"Not really, but I'd rather the President quiz me about useless stuff than test the secret service agents on their knowledge of Presidents Garfield and McKinley. It makes the agents edgy."
"Why those two, Leo?" CJ queried.
"Because Lincoln and Kennedy are too obvious." Leo answered.
"How about this one, then? There are four states that begin and end with the same letter. Name them." Toby challenged.
"Ohio." CJ replied instantly.
"Alabama." Carol added just as fast.
There was a slight pause before Cathy offered, "Arizona," to a chorus of 'yes' and 'of course'.
There was a long pause. All round the room people were mouthing the names of states while Toby just sat back patiently.
"It's got to begin with A, right?" Bonnie decided.
Toby nodded, "It carries three electoral votes..."
"Montana, Vermont, the Dakotas, Alaska... Alaska!" Josh reeled of the names of the states with three electoral votes with ease until he came to the right one.
The atmosphere in the room took on an air of satisfaction, having found the answer and most people started back at their task with renewed enthusiasm. Congresswoman Wyatt finished her column of numbers and looked up to see CJ staring into space. She watched as Ginger, Toby and Leo all appeared to finish their pages and sat back in satisfaction.
"Did you know 1 in 3 peanuts grown in the US ends up as peanut butter? I've yet to find a use for that fact, so I thought I'd share it with you guys."
"Thanks for that, Andy." Leo muttered with amusement.
"A woodpeckers tongue can extend to two thirds of its body length and wraps around its brain when not in use." Ginger joined the conversation, "I got taught that at school, I've still got no idea why its important."
"The Huntsman spider is the only spider with lungs." Ed added still engrossed in his numbers.
"There's a jail for polar bears in Manitoba." Sam kept with the animal theme.
"Oh God." Leo exhaled, standing, "I'm going to see where Margaret's got to." He headed into his office to call Margaret who had gone to check on the progress being made by the team in the OMB office across the road.
As he left he heard Ed announce, "A group of baboons is called a congress."
The remaining occupants of the room started laughing and could be heard out in the corridor.
"I learnt today, that the first written description of a moose was by Julius Caesar." CJ told the group.
"It's amazing the amount of useless information you pick up in this job." Andy noted.
"Hey, that last one's not useless! It might have come up in CJ's briefing this afternoon!" Carol defended her decision to include that fact in CJ's briefing notes.
"Why on Earth...?" Andy began.
"The President was presented with a moose this afternoon." CJ explained.
"Where's he going to keep it?" Josh asked as he put his pen down, finally finished with his current page.
"That's the first thing Danny asked too. Someone sponsored a moose on the President's behalf, so it gets to stay in Alaska. For which I'm sure everyone is grateful, including the moose. Especially as your typical Alaskan moose stands at seven foot tall and has an antler span of six foot. And I'm pretty sure that's the first and last time I'll be able to use that fact in casual conversation."
"It's weird the things that stick in you head." Cathy commented.
"Yeah. For some reason I can tell you that, in a poll conducted a month after the 1994 Finnish Presidential election, 23 % of people couldn't remember anything about the election other than the winner." Josh stated.
"Really? Well that bodes well for us." CJ remarked.
"Mmmm. Also the top two things the respondents mentioned were the allegations of media manipulation and the election promises. 10 and 7 percent respectively." Josh recalled.
"You remember polling data from a election that was five years ago and held in another country? And you call me a freak?" Sam pointed out.
"For the record, it was Toby that called you a freak. And the poll had some interesting statistics about the affect of Gallup polls close to the election." Josh tried to defend himself.
"Really?" Toby sat up, interested.
"A whole 2 % of respondents said the survey's publication affected their vote." Josh continued to recite the data from memory.
"Only 2 %?" Carol asked as she thought back to the amount of emphasis the campaign staff and the media put on public and private polling data.
"Yeah, but 23 % of respondents to another poll said they would work harder if their employer offered a $1000 spending spree in a store of their choice." CJ offered.
"So?" Sam was puzzled as to why this fact fascinated CJ.
"So, 77 % wouldn't work harder? I find that hard to believe." CJ scoffed.
"I'd work harder." Donna declared, "Josh? Can I have $1000 to spend as I want?"
"No, we haven't budgeted for it." Josh countered.
"We still can. We have the data here. Can't we work it in somewhere? No-one would notice." Donna pressed her case to the amusement of the others.
"Hard work is it's own reward." Josh parroted.
"Where did you get that? A fortune cookie?" Toby asked.
"No. It's...you know....a thing." Josh's tiredness defeated him as he failed to come up with anything resembling an answer or a sentence.
"A thing?" Ginger mouthed across the table to Bonnie, who shrugged.
"Speaking of hard work....We should get back to it." Sam announce with reluctance, looking around for the pile of pages yet to be checked.
"No need." Leo said, entering the room with Margaret. "I've just got off the phone with Jeff at the OMB. It's done. You can all go home."
"What do you mean done?" CJ wanted clarification.
"Done. Finished. Complete. It was done an hour ago."
There was a few puzzled looks being exchanged as weary minds failed to take in the good news. Josh was the first one to fully comprehend what was being said and it's implications.
"And nobody in the OEOB thought to tell us?" Josh asked, annoyed at the thoughtlessness, "We've been sat here for no reason for the last hour?"
"So it would seem." Leo agreed as he left the room.
His announcement was greeted with a chorus of groans and the noise level in the room rose as people stood and began collecting their things. Josh gathered the completed sheets intending to run them over to the OEOB before he left.
As he and Donna began their journey back to the operations bullpen, Josh said, "Start at eleven tomorrow."
"Josh, it's three am. It is tomorrow. And it's Saturday, why do I have to come in at all?"
"I want to have a quick look at the hybrid energy partnership thing before we throw it out. I was supposed to do it this afternoon but I got dragged into this..." he waved the pages of corrected budget data in his hand.
"So I have to be back in eight hours." Donna emphasised 'eight' slightly with a smile.
Josh stopped for a moment, "Make it one tomorrow."
"Okay. But this better not become a habit."
January 24th 2006 Mid Morning
"For months afterward, Donna would recite the eight times table whenever she got a sense of Ely." Sam took over the storytelling mantle from Josh.
"Ely?" Lou queried.
"Yeah, you know, that moment when you first sense that something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong." Josh filled in.
"I've never heard that word before." Otto made a note on the pad he kept for this purpose.
Lou lent over and whispered to Josh, "Is that a real word?"
Josh shook his head, unseen by Otto and allowed Sam to continue the explanation.
"It's often followed by the Wembley, which is the realisation that the disaster foretold by the ely has struck."
"Was that a common occurrence? The counting?" The President asked.
"More common that we would have liked." Josh muttered.
Sam smiled, "Yes. Although there's generally supposed to be a countdown to moments of impending doom."
"I developed a strange affection for the eight times table that night." Donna revealed, "Actually, I think, I even dreamt about giant number eights that night and I still smile when the number eight crops up in unexpectedly."
"That's a nice memento, from the evening." The President commented.
"Yes, sir. I've never thought about it that way, but you're right." Donna agreed.
"Actually, Mr. President, I have a souvenir from that night as well." Sam informed his leader.
"Really? It's not a page of the budget, is it?" Josh joked, "We were missing a page."
"No, I kept the fortune from the cookie I had that night. The message seemed fitting." While Sam had been speaking he had also been rummaging in his wallet. He handed the small strip of paper to the President.
"'Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance'" The President read.
The occupants of the Oval Office sat silently as they contemplated the wisdom of the fortune cookie.
"Well, they certainly were that night." Josh confirmed. He shifted his position on the arm of the chair. The movement seemed to signal the end of story time and draw everyone's attention back to the topic in hand.
"Well, lets do our best to avoid both the Ely and the Wembley. And in the mean time, somebody call a locksmith. And, Josh, we'll discuss why I haven't been presented with a moose later. Was there anything else?"
"Yes, sir. I got a call this morning from...." Lou told the President and the meeting continued.