Stephen was vaguely aware of a silent, fidgeting mass somewhere in the middle of his office. He didn't look up, though. It didn't seem important enough, particularly at a time like this.
He ignored it, and kept drawing his face over a hundred dollar bill. He'd signed the Super PAC over to Jon less than a day before and already he missed his money more than he thought he would.
Now he tried to imagine what it would be like if, in some magical science fiction future, his beloved money could inherit his incredible genetics. Maybe it was possible, someday. He had enough money. He could pay enough to make it happen.
Well. He'd had enough money. He still had it. Just... not technically. But actually.
So anything was possible.
The fidgeting mass interrupted his thoughts by clearing its throat. Stephen remembered then that he'd yelled Tad into the room.
Stephen sighed. "What?"
"Sorry. It's just that I knocked on the door ten minutes ago, and you said I could come in and I've just been standing here—"
"I got those keys made that you asked for."
"Where... where should I leave them?"
Stephen put left hand out, palm up, and flexed his fingers. The right one kept drawing. With his hair and the money's green eyes, this kid would be a winner.
The keys dropped into his hand, cold and heavy.
"What do you need them for anyway?" Tad asked.
"For the new locks you put in."
Stephen dropped the keys into his desk drawer with a tinkling clang, and slammed the drawer closed.
"Why did you need all those locks put on a broom closet door?"
"To keep the door locked."
"But why did you need three different locks on—"
"Tad," Stephen interrupted sharply. "Do you know where the refrigerator is?"
"What? Of - of course I do," Tad said, looking confused (as Stephen finally saw now that he had torn his eyes away from his art project/future child).
"Then why don't you go help yourself a nice cold glass of none of your goddamned business?"
Stephen returned to drawing with fury, his pen biting into the bill with vigour.
A real winner.
"You know I have to know."
Stephen ignored him.
"It's my job to know what's going on around here."
Trying to merge his features with Ben Franklin's was way more difficult than he originally thought it would be.
"Just... you should just know that."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Stephen snapped.
"Nothing. It doesn't mean anything. I was just... saying," Tad said quickly.
Stephen glared at him until he left.
Installing multiple locks on an old broom closet wasn't that strange, really, in the grand scheme of things that Tad had done during his time as an employee of Stephen Colbert. It was even relatively normal. Normal like it was the kind of thing that a normal building manager would normally do.
Well... not exactly. But close enough to at least be less weird than some of the other stuff.
Not close enough, however, to keep Tad from making an extra copy of the keys for himself. Because something was up with this.
He was the building manager. How was he supposed to manage the building if there was any part of it that was under triple lock and key? That's why he had the keys to Stephen's personal shower as well.
At least, that's the reasoning that Stephen had given him. And he'd insisted on it. Emphatically. And repeatedly.
So, really, it was just Tad doing his job when he used his extra set of keys to look in on the old broom closet.
The old broom closet that was now a new office. A broom-closet sized office, yes, but an office nonetheless. With a card table and folding chairs and a filing cabinet and sheet of paper taped to the wall, proudly proclaiming "Colbert Super PAC HQ".
Another sheet of paper, fashioned into a nameplate on the desk.
Jon Stewart – President for Now
So that's what this was. A tiny office for a tiny man, close to Stephen's staff and secured away from Stephen's influence.
Tad dropped his set of keys into his pocket, and remembered:
Stephen had a set of keys too.
Tad frowned, and shook his head at himself. No. They were probably made for someone on the Super PAC staff still in the building, for them to get access to the room when Jon wasn't around. Jon did have a real job, after all – if you could call it that.
Tad idly ran his hands over the card table, poking at the paper name plate. He touched the filing cabinet, and wondered if maybe he could get his five dollar PAC donation back, because he didn't really like the idea of Jon being in charge of it.
The more he thought about it, the less he liked it. He felt like it was sort of like buying a ticket for a music festival headlined by the Rolling Stones, and then finding out they'd dropped off the bill and been replaced by Gallagher.
He'd given that five bucks to hear some ball-tearingly awesome version of Satisfaction. Not to let some idiot who thought he was funny hit him in the face with a smashed watermelon.
He flipped through some files, a lot of pages full of zeroes and dollar signs. There was a folder full of notes. Some storyboards, commercial ideas. A lot of post-its.
Post-its with familiar handwriting. Handwriting in all capital letters, with a lot of exclamation points and the occasional patriotic star for emphasis.
The same post-its with more unfamiliar handwriting. Handwriting he didn't recognize, but that was followed by a signature that said "Jon". So he had to assume.
The two sets of handwriting talked to each other, back and forth, page after page of questions and answers and disagreements and final friendly common ground.
A little too friendly.
So that's what this was.
Stephen had taken to wearing protective ear-gear around the office, in order to avoid hearing anything he shouldn't. He thought it was an unnecessary step, considering that he never listened to what anyone else in the office was saying anyway, but his lawyer had insisted.
So it took him even longer than usual to notice that Tad was in his office.
"Oh, it's you," he said, slipping the earmuffs down around his neck. "You're not important, I can hear you."
Tad blinked at him silently.
"Well?" Stephen prompted.
"I just want you to know I'm not jealous," Tad said.
"Of me? If I were you, I would be. It's understandable that you are. Stop lying to yourself, Tad."
"I mean of Jon."
"Why would anyone be jealous of him? I mean, aside from the fact that he technically has all my money now, but, whatever, that's really just a formality more than anything," Stephen said with a dismissive hand wave.
"I mean that you picked him to give the PAC to and not me. I'm not jealous. I get it. He has political experience... sort of."
"I have more managerial experience than him, and I really think I'd be better suited to the job since I'm here all the time and I know everyone, and... everything that goes on here. But that's really not important."
"No, it's not important. You manage the building."
"Sure." Tad shrugged. "That's what I'm saying."
"Okay, great." Stephen reached for the earmuffs, about to move them back in to place. "Good talk."
"I'm just saying," Tad interrupted. "It would be unfortunate if you'd made the wrong decision. If you'd chosen someone who wasn't looking out for your best interests. Looking out for them very closely."
Stephen narrowed his eyes. "Okay..."
"Don't you have a job to do? Managing the building?"
Tad shrugged again. "Sure. I'll do that. I'll go manage the building. All of the building. And everything in it. Because I have to know what's going on... everywhere."
Stephen gave him a thumbs up and pulled the earmuffs back on.
As soon as Tad was gone, Stephen jumped up from his desk and rifled through his bookshelf, trying to find that cheat sheet for the code he and Jon had come up with.
He had to tell him something without telling him anything. Right away.
Tad made sure to check back with the tiny man's tiny supply closet regularly. Just to monitor the situation, make sure everything in the building was being managed. And if that monitoring and management meant coming back late at night to make copies of every single document in the room that may or may not ever become evidence in a court of law, well... he was just doing his job.
He got ready with his three different keys, but it was unnecessary. The door wasn't closed all the way, just pulled to the frame. It moved when he touched it.
He pushed without thinking, and the door swung open to reveal the card table and folding chairs scraping against the floor, disrupted by two suddenly scrambling bodies.
"Occupied! Occupied!" Jon cried.
"You're fired! You're fired!" Stephen shouted.
"I knew it!" Tad gasped.
"This isn't what it looks like," Stephen said in between the flailing of trying to hide everything all at once.
"It looks like you're in here together coordinating, that's what it looks like!" Tad watched the flurry of paper as Stephen pushed past Jon in an attempt to shove all the files and pages and notebooks back in their boxes.
Stephen clutched a stack of folders to his chest and stepped over Jon (hunched in his chair, surreptitiously trying to return a notebook to his breast pocket) to get to Tad.
"I swear, Tad, nothing was happening."
"And what's that you're holding, Stephen? Is that nothing?"
Stephen's lower lip trembled, and a cough sounded behind them.
"Uh... should I – should I go?" Jon asked.
"No. No, Jon, no, you stay, because you were just showing me your screenplay, right? And we weren't doing anything wrong, you just wanted me to look at your first draft, because... because you wanted to know if it was any good, you know, if it had the right family values to appeal to anybody, because God knows that you're terrible at that sort of thing..." Stephen trailed off into a forced laugh that edged into hysteria.
"Um. Right. My screenplay. It's a – it's about a, um... a..." Jon said.
"It's a political thriller about a former Rockette-turned-senator who meets a sexy vampire at a poetry class. Then it gets even sexier. Right, Jon?"
"Right." Over Stephen's shoulder, Tad could see Jon bury his face in his hands and shake his head.
"Then why are you all locked up in the Super PAC office?" Tad asked, his eyes narrowed.
"This is just a broom closet, this isn't the Super PAC office. What are you talking about?"
Tad rolled his eyes and pointed to the sign on the wall.
Stephen swore under his breath, then caught himself. He leaned in to Tad and whispered loudly, "Jon's not very good."
"Thanks, Stephen," Jon muttered.
"I was about to tell you, but then we got interrupted, so, Tad, if you'll let us get back to it, then I can give Jon his notes—"
"No!" Tad said. Stephen recoiled, the files slipping from his hands a little, but Tad continued on. "I know what you're doing. And I know how much trouble you can get into. And I don't want that to happen."
"Great!" Stephen said, a grin breaking over his face. "That makes three of us, then. Carry on about your business—"
"I don't want that to happen," Tad continued. "At the same time, I don't want to do anything illegal. And I don't want you to do anything illegal."
Stephen dropped the files and stood tall over Tad. "What are you suggesting?"
"I want a job."
"You have a job."
"I want a job with the Super PAC."
Tad thought for a moment. "Noncoordination Supervisor."
"And what exactly does a Noncoordination Supervisor do?"
"Well, a Noncoordination Supervisor would supervise the parties who aren't permitted to coordinate, in order to ensure that they're not. Coordinating."
"That sounds kind of difficult," Jon muttered up from the floor, where he was stacking files by Stephen's feet. "What are you going to do, watch over us twenty-four hours a day?"
"No," Tad said. "I'm going to watch Stephen twenty-four hours a day."
Stephen raised an eyebrow. "Really."
"Yeah. That's the easiest thing to do. That way I'll know if you're talking to Jon, or you're talking to any of the Super PAC staff still in the building, or if you're trying to unconsciously project secret communications to any of those people while you're on the air."
"So you're going to try to stop me from talking, is that it?"
"There's no try about it. If you give me this job, I'm going to do it."
"You'll do all that."
"I just want to protect you." Tad paused. "And get a pay raise."
"And benefits. And an office. This office."
"What makes you think I'm giving you this job at all?"
"Because otherwise, I'm taking every copy I've made of every document in this office and I'm walking out of the building with it and you'll be in jail so fast there won't even be time to get a camera crew there."
"Well." Stephen held his hand out in the thin space between them. "Welcome to Colbert Super PAC, Tad."
Tad silently shook his hand.
"Hey, if I'm in charge of this thing, shouldn't I be the one doing the hiring?" Jon asked.
"I think you should go, Jon," Tad said.
"But this is the PAC office. I'm in control of the PAC. Ergo, this is my office."
"And I manage this building. And I report to Stephen. Stephen just gave me this office. Ergo, get out of my office."
"Um," Jon stacked his files and stood up from the floor. "Yeah, I'm just gonna... I'm gonna go. I've got a..." He trailed off, and looked from Stephen to Tad and back again, before hurrying out the door.
The door slammed shut behind him.
Stephen barely noticed. "So this is your office now?" he asked.
"Looks like it." Tad turned his attention to the furniture, setting the folding chairs right again.
"And I have to be with you 24/7."
"That's the idea."
"So... what am I going to do in here with you?"
Tad shrugged. "Technically, since I'm working for the PAC now, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk to you."
"So whatever we do, it can't involve talking."
Stephen nodded. He mimed zipping his lips.
Tad flipped the lock on the door.
And the next one.
And then the last one. Just to make sure.