Dan was deep in a critically important analysis of the works of Lou Holtz when he heard the office door open. He kept his head down, reaching for that perfect sentence, but his ears tracked Casey as he entered, threw his coat at a hook, missed, picked it up, hung it up, tripped over the coat rack, swore, and finally navigated across the office.
Casey paused near the desk. "What are those?" he said, loudly.
Dan tried to cling to his train of thought. "What are what?"
"Those things. Here. On my desk, where I should be writing a national sports-news show."
Dan threw Lou Holtz to the fates, who would probably not know what to make of him either; Casey's comment could not stand. "If you check the building directory, Casey, I think you'll find that that is my desk."
Casey shook his head. "Ah, no, my friend. That is your desk."
"This is a table, Casey. I'm letting you have the desk today, because you're having a bad day, but I want you to know that it's my desk that I'm letting you have."
"It is not your desk, and you are not letting me have it. I sit here at least 55% of the time, which makes it my desk, and you couldn't move me with a team of huskies, which means that you are not letting me have it."
Dan pushed his chair back from the table and stretched out in it, toying casually with a pen. "Have you seen the women at UConn? I think they could move you. Or were you talking about the sled dogs? Because, if you remember what happened when we did the Susan Butcher piece, I think it wouldn't take a whole team to move you to another state. A tiny newborn puppy would probably do it."
"You promised you wouldn't bring that up ever again."
Dan gave the pen a casual flip. "I lied."
"Forgotten, you said. Wiped from your memory, you said."
"You can't expect me to let material like that go to waste. I'm a writer, Casey."
"Apparently you're also a liar."
"Well, all I'm saying is, Susan Butcher liked me better, and so did Nadik."
"I'm not talking about Susan Butcher, and I'm definitely not talking about Nadik."
"But are you talking about the dog that piddled on your shirt on live television?"
Casey finally sat down. "No. I'm talking about these things all over my desk. What are these things?"
Dan walked over and began pointing at things. "That's a keyboard, Casey. That's a pencil. That's a notebook."
"Fine. What is this?"
Dan looked at what Casey was holding up. "That's a package of post-it notes."
"That say TEAM."
"Yes, they do seem to say TEAM. Is that an acronym?"
Casey began taking individual sheets off the post-it notes and sticking them to the desk. "It's a word, Danny. It means a group working together toward a specific end."
Dan pulled his chair over and sat down at the other side of the desk. "Actually, I'm sort of surprised you know that, Casey. I mean, you probably don't even know that Connie had her baby, so -"
"I do too know that Connie had her baby. Last night. Boy."
"You knew that?"
"Of course. Remind me - which one is Connie?"
"Redhead. In IT."
"Oh. She had a baby?"
"Last night. Boy. She named him Daniel Casey Alexander, so you better get him a good gift."
Casey looked up from the post-it notes, frowning. "Who's Alexander?"
"It's her last name, Casey."
"She did not name him that. Anyone would put Casey first, then Daniel."
"Maybe she didn't want the other kids to make fun of him."
"And they'd make fun of him if his name was Casey?"
"Oh, indeed they would."
"Indeed they would not."
"I think they would."
"I think they would not."
Natalie poked her head in the door. "What are you two arguing about?"
Casey returned to whatever he was constructing with the post-it notes. "Danny thinks that the other kids would make fun of Carrie's son if his first name was Casey."
Natalie walked forward, clutching a clipboard to her chest. "Who's Carrie?"
Dan sighed. "It's Connie."
"Oh. Why would they make fun of him if his name was Casey?"
Casey pointed at Dan, looking justified. "See? I told you. Kids don't make fun of kids named Casey."
Dan leaned back in his chair. "They don't if the kid is a girl."
"Casey is a boy's name. I am named Casey, and I am a boy, so -"
"You're a boy? Are you sure your name isn't Peter Pan?"
"I am MALE, and my name is Casey, so -"
Dan moved in smoothly. The key to driving Casey up the wall was never letting him finish his talking points.
Well. One of the keys, anyway.
"And we're all very proud that you know your name, Casey, but it so happens that Casey is a girl's name. Now, I don't know what this says about you, although I would like you to know that I'm going to be asking some pretty searching questions of the people in Wardrobe, but it definitely means that Connie shouldn't name her baby Casey. Because he is a boy, and so it would be wrong to give him a girl's name."
Casey frowned. "It is not a girl's name."
Natalie waved her hand between them. "Is this going to go on all day?"
Casey nodded. Dan said, "It might, Natalie, it very well might."
Natalie looked down at her clipboard and made a note. Dan tried not to suspect that it said something like all anchors are doo-doo heads. "We're meeting in the conference room," she told them.
Casey's brow wrinkled. "Rundown isn't for another hour."
"I didn't say we're doing rundown in the conference room. I said we're meeting in the conference room."
"And, just to be clear, this would be a totally separate meeting than the rundown?"
"Yes, Casey. And it's happening now. And Dana wants you in there. So shake a leg."
"That's going to make it hard to walk, Natalie," Dan said, shaking a leg demonstratively.
"I said shake a leg, not have a seizure. Come on!" She grabbed their hands and towed them along.
Dan and Casey followed Natalie into the conference room and looked around for some sign of what might be going on. Dan waved at everyone and noted that whatever kind of meeting this was, it was the kind that Isaac was allowed to abstain from.
Just as they settled into their seats, Dana entered the room, followed by a tall, balding man in a really unfortunate checked suit. She stopped at the head of the table and gestured at the man in a way that indicated that she didn't want to look directly at him. "People, I'd like to introduce you to Alan Giverny." She gave them all a very brief, pained smile and sat.
The man - Alan Giverny, obviously - stepped forward and showed them many teeth in a wide, wide smile. It made Dan think of used cars. Junk bonds. Snake oil. "Thank you, Dana. As Dana said, I'm Alan Giverny, and I make teams happen. I don't want you to think of me as an interloper, a substitute pitcher, someone you can't trust. I want you to think of me as your friend, as a member of your family, as a member of your team, pulling on the same oars you're pulling on. I want you to think of me as someone who wants what you want. Because we all want a better show, am I right?"
Largely to see if the flow of words could ever be stemmed, Dan said, "I don't know, Alan. I think the show we've got now is pretty darn good."
Alan Giverny smiled at him, managing to show even more teeth. "You'd be Daniel McCall?"
"No, I'd be Dan Rydell."
Natalie leaned across the table and stage-whispered, "They're not married."
"True," Casey said, nodding. "Natalie would know if we were."
Dan watched Alan Giverny turning an interesting shade of red as he continued the conversation. "And even if we were married, I wouldn't take his name."
Casey turned to him. "I think you would."
"I think I wouldn't. Danny McCall sounds like a wee leprechaun from dear old Eire." Dan was looking at Casey but watching Alan Giverny in his peripheral vision; the man appeared to have some kind of blood pressure problem. Maybe he couldn't handle being interrupted. If so, he'd never last with Sports Night.
"Well, I'm certainly not taking your name." Casey, Dan noticed, was also paying some attention to Alan Giverny.
"You're not? It's a fine name."
"Do I look like a Rydell to you?"
"No. You aren't cool enough to be a Rydell, nor are you handsome enough. But we make exceptions for relatives by marriage."
Alan Giverny cleared his throat. If Dan was any judge, and he was, he looked distinctly pissed-off and uncomfortable. "Uh, guys, could we sort of re-focus here?" He was clearly going for a casual tone but not quite hitting it, and the smile he showed them was all teeth.
Casey nodded. "Glad to."
"More than glad to."
"No matter how glad he is, I'm gladder."
Alan smiled at them. Again. Even bigger and faker than the last time. Dan began counting his teeth. "I can certainly see why you two are the anchors! We've got some real on-air personalities here!"
"We do?" Dan made an elaborate show of searching the conference room, checking under the table, prodding Jeremy aside so he could look behind him. "We do?"
Alan Giverny made a gesture that was probably intended to reassure Dan of his exceptional personality. "We do, gentlemen, we surely do. And I'm sure it's as important to you as it is to me that you guys really expand your horizons, really get back that 110% you're giving, really put out there what you've got in here, really think outside that box, really rally 'round the proverbial white flag, really hit a home run out of the rink, really play the game as it was meant to be played."
Casey made a small, desperate gagging noise. Dan grabbed Casey by the shoulder and clapped a hand over his mouth. Jeremy leaned forward and gave them both supportive pats on the back, causing Casey to whimper softly. Dan smiled at Alan Giverny - not a real smile, and not even an anchor smile - and said, "He has an allergy."
Alan Giverny forged ahead. "Which is why Quo Vadimus has brought me in. Because, folks, what it comes down to? Is teamwork. And I think we've got the team right here, people. We just need to bring it all together, just need to learn to sing in tune. Because if you're taking the melody, someone's got to provide the rhythm, am I right?"
Jeremy cleared his throat. "Actually, Alan, I think you mean that someone's got to provide the harmony."
"That's Jeremy," Natalie said helpfully.
"Jeremy, it's good to meet you. Good to meet you."
"And I'm happy to meet you, too."
"No, not a lot. I mean, unless you're talking about the metaphor you were using before, in which case I sing a lot. I mean, in the harmony sense, rather than in the melody sense, because -"
Danny shifted his chair back far enough that he could slap his hand over Jeremy's mouth. "He's got a lingual disease," he said to Alan Giverny.
"He does not!" Natalie said, looking deeply offending. "His linguals are fine."
Jeremy made placating gestures in Natalie's direction, and Dan decided he could - provisionally - be given the gift of speech once more.
Alan Giverny pretended not to notice, which made him one of the champion not-noticers of the year in Dan's book. "So, what I think Jeremy is saying is that he's an important part of this team. Which is what every one of you are."
Casey paled, winced, and mouthed "is" at his notepad. Dan patted him sympathetically with the hand that had been over Jeremy's mouth. Dana kicked Dan under the table. Hard.
"And to that end I've got a little program here that is going to get us all working together, singing for the same choir, pitching in and helping out, reaching out a helping hand. Rowing the boat in tandem, if you know what I mean." Dan covered Casey's ears, but not quite in time to prevent him from emitting a hopeless squeak of despair, which Alan Giverny actually seemed to pick up on, since he turned to him and said, "You'll like it, Casey. The program is called 'There Is No I in Team.'"
There was a pause in which Jeremy developed a sudden need to commune with his shoes, Danny and Casey both pasted on fake announcer grins and fake announcer faces, and Dana kicked them both. Dan was impressed by that. Not many women could kick two different men at the same time, he thought - just Michelle Yeoh, maybe, and Dana Whitaker. And Natalie, but she could probably kick four men at the same time, even though she only had two feet. He started doodling little stick figures. They were supposed to be Dana and Natalie and Michelle engaging in martial arts. When he looked, though, it wasn't obvious who they were or what they were doing, so he added some "hee-yah" balloons over their heads, and then some boards and blocks and nunchuks and, oh, lots of things.
When he looked up, twenty minutes had passed and Alan Giverny was gone. Jeremy was watching the progress of the doodle with unseemly interest, and Casey had his head down on the table and was moaning. Dan passed his doodle to Jeremy, who immediately began making corrections, and moved into full-bore Placate Casey mode. He patted him gently, which increased the volume of the moans, and said, "Casey, we'll get through this."
Casey raised his head slightly, enough so that his desperate eyes could fasten on Dan."And how will we get through this, Casey?" Casey's eyes looked interested in that question. "We'll get through it as a team."
Casey's head hit the table with an audible thunk.
The next day, Dan walked in to find Casey sitting at the table, which was sort of alarming, given his usual determination to cling to the desk at all costs. Casey wasn't doing anything, which was more alarming. Dan eased his way into the room, hung up his coat, and studied Casey carefully before eventually firing an opening salvo.
No reaction from the Casey statue. Dan sidled slightly to the left to make sure that this wasn't actually one of the cardboard stand-ups of Casey that Publicity had had made the previous year for reasons still unknown.
It wasn't. It sure acted like one, though.
"Um. Casey? Sorry I missed the rundown, but I had no time to get gas so I took a cab and the cab driver didn't speak English and there was this whole thing where suddenly we were heading to the Bronx and going the wrong way on an off-ramp and - Casey?"
Dan was beginning to be seriously worried.
Casey moved. Finally. He moved to look at Dan, and his eyes had an expression that Dan was accustomed to seeing on refugees on the evening news.
"Casey? You, um - what's wrong?"
Casey stood up suddenly and hugged Dan.
It was quite a hug. It was actually something that Dan, if he were going to report on this, which he was not, would have described more as an embrace. Casey wrapped his arms around Dan's chest, buried his head in Dan's neck, and whispered, "I love you, Danny."
"Um. Love you too, Case, you know that. Um." Dan mentally measured the distance between where he was and the phone, because if he could just get to that phone, he could probably call someone to come sedate Casey. Which was clearly what was needed at this time. He couldn't possibly anchor the show tonight with Casey - attached to him like this.
Dan wiggled slightly. Casey held on tighter. Dan wiggled a bit more. Casey told Dan's neck, "I want you to know that I love you, because today will be the last day I'll ever see you."
"What?" Dan clutched Casey reflexively.
Casey let go of Dan, although now Dan didn't want to let go of him, gripped Dan's shoulders, and looked him square in the eyes. "I'm going to have to kill Alan Giverny."
Dan couldn't see the bad there, honestly. "Oh. Well, I'll be your alibi."
"You're a true friend, Danny. But the thing is, I want the world to know what I've done, and why."
"Danny, I'm baring my soul here. It's not a good time for "Who's on First." And, anyway, you started wrong."
"I meant." Dan took a deep breath, modulated his voice, and started again. "I meant, why are you going to have to kill Alan Giverny? If you can tell the world after, you can tell me before. I mean, apart from anything else, I'll probably spend the rest of my life doing the show with Paul Catterman, and if you're going to make me do that, you owe me an explanation."
Casey dropped his attitude of despair just slightly and crossed his arms. "I don't understand why you can't get along with our substitute anchors. You feared Bobbi Bernstein for the longest time, and you got over that, and we were all glad. All of us, Danny. And then about four days after you're finally over the Bobbi thing you start fearing Paul."
"Paul Catterman has three thousand teeth. And when I met him, he told me he was my number one fan." This was all true - Dan had nightmares about those teeth sometimes. But Dan was feeling good, because the banter with Casey was almost normal.
"So the man likes you. Danny, he'd been doing weather in West Virginia for three years. Anyone could develop an irrational fixation or two."
"That's not the point. Have you ever read Misery?"
"Yes. But, newsflash: Stephen King is not writing our lives."
There was a pause while they both considered that and looked fearfully around the room, waiting for evil clowns or possessed trucks to show up.
Dan shook himself and returned to the point. "Are you sure? Because you just said you were going to have to kill Alan Giverny, and that's not something you normally say to me when I come in late."
Casey gestured towards the desk. Dan walked over and studied it. Apparently the post-its had just been the opening salvo, the distant early warning of the impending Alan Giverny disaster.
Every single item on the desk now featured the word TEAM. Pencils, pens, the pen-and-pencil holder - they were all yellow, and they all said TEAM. The desk blotter, once the repository of important phone numbers, had been changed to a brand-new one that said TEAM. And, fuck, the desk calendar - which had once been packed with all their joint appointments, the rotation of sports through the "You Should Know" and "Great Moments In" segments, and notes for upcoming features - was now shining and new and empty. Dan flipped a few pages and discovered that every page contained only TEAM - in four places - and, along the bottom, "There's no I in TEAM." Dan had liked the calendar better when it was old and messy and had had his notes on his interview with Lars Kopechne in it. Dan had liked his life better when it had had the old calendar in it.
In a daze, Dan looked at the telephone, wondering if there was someone he could call to come sedate Alan Giverny. Or maybe himself, because without the desk calendar he was going to need something powerful to anesthetize him from the pain the day would surely bring.
The telephone was new, and bright yellow, and it had three stickers on it that read TEAM.
Dan shifted his gaze to Casey, who was standing as far away from the desk as possible, watching him sympathetically. "When I got here and I saw that and saw that you weren't here, I was afraid you'd killed yourself."
"Not without taking Alan Giverny with me," Dan said grimly.
"That's taking one for the team, Danny," Casey said, and they both winced.
"My notes! My notes on my interview with Kopechne, which I stayed until four in the morning to get because he's living in Sri Lanka! The trivia pieces that the Only Decent Intern researched! The daily talking order! Oh, God -" Dan flipped hopelessly to the end of the calendar "- Oh God and His merciful works, where is the password for the editing computer?"
"I know." Casey gave him a sympathetic look. Welcome to Hell, that look said. Sorry about the accommodations.
"We can't - we've lost - oh, God. Without that password, Casey, our account is gone. Without that password, we have - we have -"
"No footage for tonight." Casey's voice was flat, dead, the tone of a man who'd seen the end of the world in a dream last night and was watching it all play out in reality now.
"No footage for tonight," Dan echoed, moaning.
"No footage for tomorrow night."
"No footage for tomorrow night. Oh, god, the baseball opener retrospective is gone."
"No footage for ever and ever amen," and there was a strange acceptance in Casey's voice. Things are bad, yes, said that tone, and they will never get better, but on the other hand, how can they get worse?
"No footage for - no. Oh, God. The obituaries. The Heroes and the Greats. All the best-of pieces. The Lamest Moments in Sports. Oh. Oh. Oh." Dan sank into the chair behind the desk and brought his hands up to cradle his forehead. His eyes focused on a sticker attached to the monitor. It said 'There's No I in Team.' Dan closed his eyes.He could hear Casey moving, so it wasn't a surprise to feel Casey's hands on his shoulders.
"Do you understand now, Danny? Why I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life in prison?"
"Because the other alternative is building a show from scratch. In -" Dan checked the clock, the new yellow clock that told the time from the 'a' in TEAM " - eight hours. And trying to recreate the footage from memory. And going out there without anything rehearsed or practiced or reviewed. And living through the inevitable disaster on live national television. And then coming in tomorrow and doing it all over again."
"Yes. I don't want you to think I'm leaving you to this, Danny. You can help me kill Alan Giverny. We can call the police together. Maybe we can share a cell. It won't be so bad."
"I watched Oz, Casey. Every bit of it. You know that."
"Speaking as the one who fielded your late-night phone call after Keller broke Beecher's arms and legs, yes, I do know that. Your friends - both of us - begged you not to, but you did in fact watch every bit of it."
"So I'm telling you: it will be bad."
"But it will not be nationally aired, Danny. Whereas tonight's impending humiliation will be."
"Okay. Point. So - you thinking poison?"
"Actually, I'd pretty much decided on flaying."
The door opened. Dan didn't look up. Casey didn't look up, either; Dan knew that without even opening his eyes because of the way the pressure of his hands didn't change.
"Dan, you weren't in rundown this morning." It was the Disapproving Teacher voice, which normally made Dan quail like a frightened Coturnix coturnix, but today it couldn't touch him.
"No, and I won't be for the rest of my life," he told the desk blotter. Every single day in the month of April had the word TEAM under the date. "It's been good working with you, Dana, but I'm afraid I won't be able to work the show into my new life behind bars."
Dana's voice switched to Stressed-Out Producer. "Casey, what the hell is wrong with him?"
"Don't look at me. I'm going to prison with him." Dan heard the movement as Casey sank into a heap on the floor next to him and felt the weight as Casey leaned his head against Dan's thigh. Normally Dan would be alarmed by the sudden change in their level of physical closeness - because he knew, deep down, that they already had very little in the way of personal space with each other, and anything more and they might as well move to Canada and learn to, learn to, he wasn't finishing that thought at all, not at all, and definitely not while Casey's head was where it was - but today he felt it was only right, because the world was ending. Or at least he wished it was. These weren't the last days of a war - they were the last days of the universe. He whimpered.
"What - what - what -" Dana stuttered into silence.
"Feeling articulate today, I see," Dan observed, not even caring that he would surely pay for it.
"She's probably been increasing her word power," Casey told him from the vicinity of his - knee. It was probably best to think of it as the vicinity of his knee.
"NATALIE!" The scream made them both twitch and made Casey's hand close tightly on Dan's ankle; it felt - strangely good, actually. Dan let his forehead drop all the way to the desk, which freed up one hand to pat Casey on the head and the other hand to grope along the desk for something with which to kill them both. No, he thought grimly, no. I'm not breathing my last with a yellow letter opener that says TEAM in my heart, no matter how poetically apt that may be.
"What? I'm trying to find Jeremy's - oh. Oh my God. What happened to him?"
"And Casey's under there, too." Dana was sounding better now that she'd shifted the burden of worry to someone else, Dan noted.
"Under there? Doing what, exactly?"
"I'm wishing for death, Natalie." Casey's voice was muffled against Dan's thigh. "Wishing and praying for death."
Natalie's voice adopted a tone Dan had last heard her use during Casey's divorce. It was sort of calming. Placating. Like she was trying to talk a crazed sheep off a cliff. "Why, Casey?"
"Because death is the only option left to me now."
Dan snapped his head up and looked her right in the eye. "Natalie," he said, and the testiness in his voice didn't scare him at all, which did scare him a little, but that was just because he wasn't dead. Yet. "Natalie, look at our desk."
Both women approached the desk carefully and slowly, like they were afraid it would explode. Their eyes dropped in unison from Dan to the contents of the desk. Natalie gasped, and then silence reigned for a long moment.
"Alan Giverny," Dana observed thoughtfully, "has been here."
"Yes," Dan confirmed.
"Yes," Casey echoed sepulchrally.
"Alan Giverny has replaced your desk items with TEAM ones."
"Alan Giverny has - Holy Mary Mother of God, Alan Giverny has stolen your desk calendar."
"Mmmm." Dan couldn't even agree to this; it hurt too much.
"Ohhhh," Casey moaned from under the desk. Apparently he was suffering, too.
Dana didn't seem to have anything more to say.
Natalie, however, did. "Alan Giverny," and she was clearly brimming with purpose now, "will suffer for this. He will pay and he will suffer and he will regret that he ever set foot on this earth, never mind this city, and definitely never mind this building. I will make him regret that his species ever evolved from the toxic radioactive mud that spawned them!"
Dan was touched. "Thank you, Natalie. Thank you."
She pointed at him. "And you two - you two are going to stop with the self-pity and the moaning right now. You have less than eight hours. You are going to put together a show, or I swear I will make Alan Giverny the least of your worries."
Dan jerked. Casey jolted up so fast that he whacked his head on the desk. Loudly.
Natalie added, "But first I'll get you an ice pack. You okay there, Casey?"
"No. But don't worry, it's fine; a concussion is the least of my worries today."
"Are you done with the script?"
"I have been contemplating the ruins of my life for the last two hours, Natalie, so no."
Dan was already clicking through various files on the computer. "Well, I started it last night while I was waiting to call Kopechne." He didn't think now was a good time to mention that he'd gotten as far as the day's date and "I'm Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall."
"You wrote six words last night, Danny." Or maybe Casey already knew that.
"You checked the computer before you started with the catatonic routine?"
"No, I just -"
Dana leaned on the desk and offered them a vicious smile. "Guys? Write. Right. Now."
Dan said, "Would that be write write now, doubling the w-r version of write to emphasize it, or would that be write -"
Dan hit a key, and then another, and then sentences started to form under his fingers. He didn't even notice when Natalie and Dana left.
"Um. Guys?" Natalie was hovering in the doorway.
Casey hit control-s and glanced up. Dan made an expansive gesture at the couch. "Our couch is yours, Natalie, if you want it. Our time, though, is pretty well booked today."
"Meeting room. Now."
Casey ostentatiously checked his watch. "Natalie, it is not time for any rundown meeting, and unless they're handing out finished scripts for the forties, complete with fully edited game footage, we're kind of busy."
"It's another meeting with Alan Giverny."
"I'm definitely too busy for Alan Giverny."
"I will always be too busy for Alan Giverny," Dan added in agreement. "Forever and ever. And it's his fault." He ran his hands through his hair and tried to think of something to say about NASCAR.
There was an ominous rumbling sound from the doorway. Dan and Casey both jerked their heads up in astonishment, to find Natalie still standing there. Dan tried to figure out if that had been a growl or a throat-clearing.
Natalie said, "You will go to the meeting room. You will go because I say so, and because Alan Giverny may be able to make your lives hell, but I can make everything he does to you seem good in comparison."
Dan and Casey exchanged looks. Dan was hoping that Casey would say something about how unfair this all was. From the expression on his face, Casey was hoping Dan would do the same.
Neither of them did. There was still a slight chance they'd have a show by air time, but only if Natalie stayed on their side. With a shared sigh, they hauled themselves out of their chairs and headed for the conference room.
1. START WITH A CLEAN SLATE
Alan Giverny finished writing, turned around, and smiled happily at them. "Do you know what this means?"
"It means you want us to find chalkboard erasers," Jeremy said. Dan eyed him in surprise; he looked unusually depressed. Dan slewed around to look at Natalie, who looked like she was about to sprout extra arms and go into her world-famous Kali impression. Which meant that Jeremy was indeed depressed, but it was not Dan or Casey's fault, as she hadn't yet killed them. (Dan had never been able to convince her that it wasn't fair that they should both pay no matter which of them committed the crime.)
Alan Giverny looked surprised. "Well, that's a mighty good guess, Jared, and in a way I suppose you could say that. It is, as I think you said yesterday, a metaphor."
"His. Name. Is. Jeremy," Natalie said, somehow managing to make those four words sound like a death curse. Dan hoped no one had ever taught her about bone-pointing; apart from anything else, Giverny was too dense to die from that, and some people in this office were sensitive enough to die just from being in the vicinity of it.
"Whoops! Sorry, Jeremy. My point is, we are erasing the blackboard - wiping it clean, scrubbing it down, cleaning the clock, as it were. Which means starting afresh, starting anew, starting again, being reborn in teamship - we're in the bright early spring of teamhood, here, people, and this is just the most exciting, pulse-poundingest, heart-thumpingest place to be! So let's begin by saying a formal goodbye to our outmoded ways of thinking, our cold dead grudges, our flat stale old world."
There was a pause. Dana had one eyebrow raised so far it looked like it might emigrate to her scalp, and Natalie had her arms folded and her eyes viciously narrowed. Jeremy was staring gloomily at his notepad and doodling - Dan craned his head to see - a graveyard where all the stones said Jeremy.
After a few seconds' thought, Dan decided he could relate to that. He was considering picking up his own pen and adding some Dan and Casey graves in amongst the Jeremys when he noticed the silence.
He looked up. Alan Giverny was looking expectantly at everyone.
Kim said bitterly, "Could we just assume we've already said goodbye to the flat stale old world? I mean, I've said goodbye to my desk organizer. I won't miss the flat stale old world half as much."
Alan Giverny grinned warmly at her. "Aren't the new desk sets fantastic?" Dan wondered if he and Casey would even get a chance to kill the man; the line to get the first cut in was probably growing longer with every passing second. "But that's getting ahead of ourselves. The first step to a clean slate is forgiving each other - forgiving each other for the weaknesses and pettinesses and insults of the past, shedding the skin of old grudges and blossoming into a butterfly of openness and sharing. So why don't we all stand up, turn to our teammates on either side of us, and really show our beautiful new feelings. Daniel, Jerry, why don't you start."
Dan stood up very slowly, hoping that by the time he got all the way up Jeremy would have decoded the instructions and figured out what to do. After a few seconds of standing, though, he realized it wasn't going to happen, and he turned to Jeremy. "Hi," he said. "I'm Dan Rydell. And you are?"
"JEREMY GOODWIN," Jeremy said. Very, very loudly. If Dan was reading the signs right, Jeremy was fairly angry about something.
"Great to meet you," Dan said, watching Alan Giverny out of the corner of his eyes. "I'm an anchor here at Sports Night, have been since the show went on the air about six years ago."
"I'm an assistant producer. And I have been here for just under three and a half years. And this morning I lost three and a half years' worth of research data, not to mention all the statistics I calculated in preparation for the baseball draft, the script for my upcoming piece on NASCAR, and the three hundred Daily Listmonsters I had ready for our website, because someone stuck an inspirational poster of parachute jumpers to my hard drive with an industrial-strength magnet." Jeremy breathed hard through his nose for a second, then added, "And I'm afraid of heights."
Dan stared at Jeremy in horror. No wonder he looked so bad: the man was grieving. After a moment, he hugged Jeremy. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said, quietly and with considerable dignity. Jeremy put his head on Dan's shoulder and snuffled, and Dan patted his back soothingly. Natalie, eyes soft, pushed a box of tissues across the table. Out of the corner of his eye, Dan could see Alan Giverny staring at them, eyes narrowed, mouth in a thin, flat line.
Eventually, Alan Giverny cleared his throat. "That was, um, very moving, Dan, and, uh, Jonathan, but -"
Jeremy jerked upright. The expression in his eyes obviously meant that you could only push a geek so far. "It's JEREMY. I don't ask that you remember my last name, or that you apologize for destroying my data, or that you stop wasting my time, or that you stop ordering the producing staff to get you coffee, but do you think you could get my first name right? Please? It's JEREMY." Dan could feel Jeremy shaking with anger. He stared at Alan Giverny - with hatred, yes, that was a given at this point - but also with astonishment. Most people couldn't piss off Jeremy given a week and a work order. This guy had managed it without any effort at all.
Maybe Alan Giverny was some kind of supervillain: The Motivator.
Alan Giverny chuckled. "Whoopsie! Sorry, Jeremy. Good to see that you know how to be assertive, because that's one quality that is going to pull us all together as a team. And thanks for sharing your recent disappointment with us - let me express my own sadness for your loss as well." Dan couldn't even believe it; he sounded sincere. "Sharing is another key to teamwork." Alan Giverny was beaming at Jeremy like a mother at her favorite child. Dan began to wonder if Alan Giverny was maybe an alien supervillain, part of the first wave of an invasion squad, on a mission to soften up the people of Earth by making their lives such hell that they'd welcome evil overlords. Sure, enslavement, iron fist, whatever, but at least there'd be no more talk of teams. You knew where you were with a traditional supervillain, Dan thought.
"And Dan, you seem very comfortable with your teammates, very sensitive, very in tune with their needs. I can already see where the emotional core of this team is. So why don't you continue the exercise with Casey? Only this time there's no need for introductions. Just share." Dan lined share up next to team in the mental list of words he never wanted to hear again.
Alan Giverny looked at them both still sitting there, staring at him in horror, and made an encouraging hand gesture. "Dan, start with your feelings for Casey and then move on to your feelings about the team, and then Casey can reciprocate."
Casey stood woodenly and turned to Dan, his mouth set. Dan said, "Hi, Casey. I'm thinking that that prison cell is looking better all the time, so any time you want to commit a felony, just give me a sign. And those are my feelings about you." He paused, waiting for Casey to take his turn, and Casey mouthed 'team' at him. "Oh, right. And…" Dan looked around the table, hoping for some kind of inspiration, and found it in their grim faces "…and as far as the team goes, well, I think we probably won't have to worry about accomplices."
"Excellent!" Alan Giverny clapped his hands together. "Dan, thanks for showing us what teamwork is really about - backing each other up, helping each other out, pulling each other's weight. Being each others' accomplices. And now, Casey, let's see some of that openness, honesty, and caring from you!"
Casey's mouth dropped open in astonishment, and for a moment Dan was afraid he'd actually been stuck mute because of over-exposure to unbelievable idiocy. Pretty much the same thing had happened to him during an interview in which John McEnroe had claimed to be, "a man of peace and love for all mankind."
"Casey? How about just starting out with some simple 'I feel' statements? 'I feel' statements are a good tool for people who have difficulty getting in touch with their feelings or a hard time talking about them. Just start out with 'I feel' and then complete the sentence."
Casey's expression changed, and Dan knew he was making a list of talking points. "Hi, Danny," he said. "First, I feel that you are only person, place, or thing that could keep me even coming to this job after the disaster today has been. Second, I feel confident that prison is not in our future, because no jury in the world would convict us. Third, I feel pretty damn nervous, since we have no footage or script for tonight and the show is a mere seven hours away. Fourth, I feel like I might die if I have to spend one more minute in here. And, finally, I feel that if I do die I'm not going out alone."
"Wow." Alan Giverny applauded vigorously, and everyone else in the room winced. "Impressive, Casey, impressive and powerful. Dan, maybe you could respond to that, get a dialogue going with Casey?"
Dan was honestly touched. "Casey," he said, "I feel really good about everything you said."
"I feel happy that I managed to give you a good moment to remember in the dark, despairing, Beckett-esque world ours has become."
"I feel that the literary reference was a little bit gratuitous."
"I feel that it was, if anything, an understatement."
"Oh, I feel that you're completely correct. I just feel that you might have been talking over the head of one person in this room."
"I feel comfortable with that." Casey, Dan could tell, had hit his stride. They could stand here all day and share their feelings now.
"I feel hungry," Dan confided to Casey.
"I feel like I need, at minimum, ham and American cheese on white to get through the rest of today."
"I feel, as always, that it is both disgusting and tragic that that is your comfort sandwich. A true New Yorker prefers tongue, the lunch meat of kings. But I also feel that today you should have whatever you need. Even extra mayonnaise."
"I feel that you're a good man, Danny, and a good friend."
"I feel like I've earned tongue on dark rye."
"I feel like you're right."
"I feel like we're leaving."
They turned and headed for the door of the conference room. Just as they were leaving, Dan noticed - possibly because he was now so in touch with his feelings - a hint of guilt. Jeremy had suffered as much as they had, but he wasn't escaping: he was sitting at the table, looking bereft. "Jeremy?" Dan said, and was a little surprised by the sudden look of hope in Jeremy's eyes. "I feel like you should come along. I feel like I might even slip you some tongue if you do." Alan Giverny twitched in apparent revulsion; apparently yet another person who didn't understand the allure of tongue.
Jeremy glanced at Dana, got a nod, and stood. Dan felt Alan Giverny's eyes on him, all the way to the door.
They survived the show. Under the circumstances, this had to be counted as a success. Afterwards, Dan and Casey spent twenty minutes in their darkened office, refining their Kill Giverny plot and trying to work up enough energy to change out of their air clothes. When they finally did, they emerged to find an impromptu party under way in the bullpen.
Dana walked up to them and gave them two beers each. "You are my favorite co-anchors ever," she told them happily. "I thought for sure we were dead. Dead in the water, dead air, dead. But you guys - you are the best." She kissed both of them.
Dan looked at her. "Did you miss the part in the twenties where Casey said the same thing twice? Or the part in the thirties where I hiccupped? Or the part in the forties where Casey was talking about track and I was talking about cycling?"
She put her arms around them. "You guys walked in here this morning and found out you had nothing. You managed to put together a script, re-edit fourteen hours of footage, and save Jeremy from the clutches of Alan Giverny. Tonight, you can do no wrong."
Kim wrapped her arms around them from behind and poked her head between them. "But next time, could you rescue me, too?"
"Next time," Dan promised, "we will rescue whoever has the worst Giverny trauma. We don't play favorites."
"I think I definitely have it worst," Kim said. "He's asked out Dana and Natalie and Sally and Alyson and Jody and Monica and Rachel, but not me."
Dan gave her a long up-and-down survey, then said, "Clearly, in addition to his many other flaws, Alan Giverny is blind."
"Thank you, Dan. That helps." Kim patted his arm.
Dana said, "I think being asked out by him constitutes more of a grievance than not being asked out by him. And he's tried to sign me up for seven different seminars on organization. Oh, and one retreat that coincided with baseball's draft day. Apparently he thinks I'm a bit disorganized."
Dan whistled. "And the man still lives?"
"Rumor has it he's a friend of Tony Maxwell's," Dana said. "I can't kill him until Natalie and I perfect the undetectable crime."
"Tony Maxwell?" Casey said.
"New VP of the North American division of Quo Vadimus and very buddy-buddy with the home team," Dana told him. "Tony's apparently sending Alan Giverny to all the major North American sections. We're first."
"Quo Vadimus will be bankrupt within a year," Casey said. "Giverny's like the curse on the House of Atreus."
"You've been very literary today, my good friend," Dan told him, impressed.
"Possibly because I'm trapped in a novel by Stephen King."
Dan cringed. "We agreed we wouldn't say that," he said. "We agreed we'd pretend we weren't."
"Guys, we're supposed to be celebrating," Kim said. "Drink up."
"And no more talking about literature, horror, financial disaster, or Alan Giverny." Dana walked away from them backwards. "We're celebrating."
"Can we talk about tornados?" Casey called after her.
"No! No disasters of any kind!"
Kim said sympathetically, "Maybe you should just drink and eat for a while."
"Good idea," Dan said, and they headed to Natalie's desk, covered for the occasion with many bottles of alcohol and the remains of the food from the craft services tables.
Natalie appeared in their office at eleven the next morning.
"Not again," Casey moaned, thunking his head gently on the desk.
"Actually, no," Natalie said brightly. "It's just Dan this time."
"I have to see Alan Giverny alone? Don't OSHA regulations forbid that?"
"Isaac. Isaac wants to see you." Dan eyed her warily, and she added, "I don't know why, but Alan Giverny isn't in there."
Dan headed for Isaac's office. Alan Giverny was indeed not there. Isaac was, however, and Dan wasn't too sure he liked the expression on Isaac's face.
"Dan, sit down," Isaac said. "Would you like a drink?"
"Uh, no. Something wrong? Am I in trouble?"
"All right. But I'm going to have one." Isaac got up, poured out two double bourbons, and passed one to Dan. Then he returned to his desk, sat down, and said, "Dan, your private life is none of my business."
"Okay," Dan said cautiously.
"I don't give a damn what you do in the bedroom," Isaac continued.
"Uh, thanks, Isaac."
"But when a rumor comes to my attention, my official attention, I've got no choice but to let the people involved know about it. Especially when it's a rumor that could damage a career, or the show."
"I don't think I've done anything damage-worthy in the bedroom lately."
Isaac sighed. "I hate like hell having to have this talk with you, Dan. But the fact is, it could damage the show. So I'll just ask you, point-blank: are you involved with Jeremy?"
Dan, who had been drinking some of his bourbon because it seemed like he might need it, choked. "Jeremy? Jesus, Isaac, do you think I want to die at Natalie's hands?"
"That was the aspect of this that I thought might damage the show. Homicide between staff members tends to do that."
"It'd damage more than the show," Dan said with an inward shudder. Then he started to think. "Wait. Jeremy? He's the straightest man ever to work in sports, and he's engaged to Natalie. Who would even think I'd…wait. Was it Alan Giverny?"
"You know I can't tell you that."
"Just tell me this: did whoever it was say anything about me kissing Jeremy?"
Dan sat back and slammed the rest of his drink. "Isaac, the man is crazed. Yesterday, when we left the meeting, Casey and I were going to order sandwiches for lunch, since we had to work all day without a break to repair just a portion of the damage Giverny did to us, not that I'm bitter. And because it was a hard day we were going to order from that place on Second so I could have tongue. As we were leaving the conference room, I remembered that Jeremy also likes tongue, and I offered to slip him some, because normally he doesn't get to have it. Natalie thinks it's gross to eat something that's tasting you back."
Isaac stared at him. "That story is too stupid for you to be making up."
"It is. But my point is that the tongue in question belonged to a cow and it was dead and in a sandwich. Not that I'm sure Jeremy isn't a great person and all, but -" Dan broke off as the door opened.
Isaac said, "Thank you, Daniel, I believe we've got that problem solved." Dan stood up and headed out, passing by Jeremy on his way in. As the door closed, he could hear Isaac saying, "Jeremy, your private life is none of my business."
Dan walked back in and threw himself into his chair. "That man is - really, Casey, I think he sets some kind of record."
Casey didn't stop typing. "I thought you were going to talk to Isaac."
"I was. Because Alan Giverny told him that I was having sex with Jeremy." Casey stopped typing but didn't look up from his computer screen; his face looked oddly intent, and Dan watched him carefully as he continued. "Isaac wanted to know if he should call in the police now and save us all a lot of time-consuming post-homicide investigations."
Casey finally looked up. He stared at Dan. "You're kidding."
"I wish I was."
Casey continued to stare. Dan wondered if he planned on blinking at any time before the broadcast. "Did that, uh…" Casey trailed off and shifted his eyes to his hands. "Didn't that, uh, bother you?"
"What, the strong implication that I would make public indecent suggestions to a co-worker who is engaged to be married to another co-worker?"
"Well, uh, um..."
Dan was going to have to get to the bottom of this weird stutter of Casey's at some point soon. But as he tried to frame a useful question - since historically he hadn't had much luck with 'what the hell is wrong with you, Casey?' - the door to their office popped open and Jeremy staggered through it, heading for their couch. He fell more than sat on it, pressed his face to the cushions, and began laughing.
"Jeremy," Dan observed to Casey, "appears to have cheered up considerably."
"Jeremy," Casey observed to Dan, "appears to be verging on clinical hysteria."
"Would you like to share with the class, Jeremy? Because I could use a good laugh."
After a long, painful minute, Jeremy managed to choke back his laughter. He hauled himself into a nearly sitting position and wiped his eyes. "Alan Giverny," he said, and then had to pause for a moment to fight back another bout of laughter. "Alan Giverny is a very special man," he finally finished.
"Because he told Isaac we were involved?" Dan asked.
"Well, yeah, partly. I refused to confirm or deny, of course," Jeremy added.
Casey said, "What?"
"It's not relevant to the work we do here, Casey. If I want to have dirty hot sex with Dan outside of work hours, well, I can already tell you there's no company policy against workplace dating, so it's no one's business and Isaac has no right to ask."
"And you told him that?" Dan was experiencing a new level of respect for Jeremy's courage. He was also fairly shocked by Jeremy's vocabulary, as evidenced by his apparent ability to say 'dirty hot sex' without so much as blushing.
"He already knew that. But, yes, I told him that was why I couldn't possibly answer his question."
"Wow. Jeremy, you are indeed the man," Casey said.
"My point is, Alan Giverny - Alan Giverny is a man of hidden depths."
"You mean there's more to him than homophobia, evil, world destruction, and secret plans to take over the galaxy?" Dan asked.
"You know about the homophobia?"
"Well, Jeremy, I didn't assume he informed Isaac so that they could go in on a wedding present for us."
"Good point. No, I didn't think of that. I just did an internet search on him."
"He's never worked in the industry before."
"Not a surprise. If he had, we'd know, because the industry would've collapsed."
"Most of his previous work has been with groups like Focus on the Family."
"Who?" Casey asked.
"Colorado homophobes, Casey," Dan explained, reminding himself that he shouldn't be hurt; Casey, as far as he knew, had no reason to know who they were. He covered by adding to Jeremy, "He's from the Midwest, so these things get past him."
Jeremy sighed. "I take it you told Isaac we weren't involved?" He sounded wistful.
"It's probably for the best. But it's a pity we're not."
Dan was completely lost. There was no possibility on this earth that Jeremy could be hitting on him, no matter what that sounded like. Casey, to his surprise, was nodding thoughtfully. "You two would be excused from every future Alan Giverny meeting," he said.
"Yeah," Jeremy said, and he sounded really wistful now.
"And very likely he'd refuse to touch anything either of you owned," Casey added, even more thoughtfully.
"Yeah," Jeremy said. "Although that's not so much of an issue now that I'm taking it all home with me every night."
"What, your entire office?" Dan said, surprised.
"Just my hard drives, my files, and my video." At Dan's shocked look, he added, "What? I can't lose it all again, Dan. The first time through nearly killed me."
"That's some dedication. We've just been locking everything in Isaac's office every night."
"Natalie and Dana are hiding all their work stuff underneath the couch in the women's room. Kim won't even say where she's putting hers, but I suspect the lockers on the seventeenth floor."
Casey said, "Elliott slept here last night so Giverny couldn't get at his control board and rearrange all the labels again."
Jeremy said, "I wouldn't put it past the man to do it without waking him up."
"He slept on the control board. He took those four blown cues in last night's show pretty hard."
"Isn't Elliott married?" Jeremy said.
"He says his wife understands. She does sound on Broadway. Apparently, if this keeps up, she'll come sleep on his control board with him."
Dan stated the obvious. "Alan Giverny is a menace."
Jeremy made a speculative noise. "He's sure pulling us together as a team, though, isn't he?"
"A team of homicidal and suicidal lunatics afflicted by backaches and paranoia and dedicated to bringing about his death by pain, yes."
Jeremy sighed. "I should get back to my data recovery efforts, since we aren't dating or anything." He hauled himself out of the couch, sighed again, and departed.
The next person to arrive in their office was Natalie, and she wasn't looking amused. Dan, looking up, judged that her expression was a 70/30 blend of rage and horror. He immediately bolted out of his chair, trying to keep the table between them.
"I didn't, we didn't, we're not," he told her hectically.
"Dan," she said. "Sit down, because we have to talk."
Dan whimpered in fear.
Casey, stepping nobly into the fray, said, "Alan Giverny is insane, Natalie. He and Jeremy are not involved." Natalie blinked at him, and he corrected himself. "Danny and Jeremy are not involved."
Natalie, still blinking, said, "What?"
Dan winced. "Just…you didn't hear about me and Jeremy?"
"I heard you told Isaac that you and Jeremy aren't dating. And, by the way, why not? What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing, nothing. I love Jeremy dearly, you know that, it's just - it's just - he's straight, and he's dating you, and so that love will remain forever platonic."
She frowned. "You could've faked it."
"Not so much, what with the fear of dying by your hands."
"Huh." Then her eyes widened, and she looked like she had remembered something awful. "Speaking of death, what do I do?" She actually sounded vaguely panicked. Dan, petrified, mentally rehearsed every emergency procedure he could remember from grade school. Duck and cover, he thought.
"What do you do about what?" Casey asked cautiously.
She held up a three-ring binder. It was yellow. It said TEAM on it. In three places that Dan could see.
Casey averted his eyes. "My advice is, hide it somewhere. I'm starting to feel queasy every time I see that color. Or that word."
"No, I mean, look." She handed Casey the notebook. He very carefully opened it, using only the tips of two fingers. Dan crept fearfully up to the table and watched him do it, feeling an inexplicable urge to wrest the thing from Casey's hands and do it himself.
Casey flipped the first page, and he and Dan both gasped in shock.
"Holy cow," Casey said.
Dan couldn't remember how to speak.
"Holy…holy…cow," Casey said again.
Dan recovered his powers of speech and said, "That's Dana's book."
"It was," Natalie said grimly.
"That's Dana's master book," Dan explained urgently. "It can't - it - Alan Giverny wouldn't touch that, would he?"
"Alan Giverny," Natalie said, and there was awe as well as disgust and fury in her voice, "did touch that. What's more, he had his assistant cut it all up and paste it into his special organized, efficient format, thus destroying the master for every show so far this season and all the notes and information Dana had ready for every show coming up."
"Holy…" Casey said wonderingly.
"He showed it to me. He came up to me and he bragged about it. And I grabbed it and ran, but then I opened and realized it was too late, he'd already gotten his foul…" Natalie appeared unable to think of any word bad enough, and eventually gave up. "his appendages on it."
"Dana will die," Dan said.
"Dana will die, and she will take us all with her," Casey said.
"I can't show this to Dana. She'll die. What do I do?" Natalie said helplessly, and it was the first time Dan could remember hearing Natalie sound helpless. It was indescribably terrifying. Alan Giverny had made Natalie sound helpless. Clearly, the man was not of this earth.
Casey was looking at Dan hopefully. Clearly, this was the kind of problem Dan was expected to solve. Except that he couldn't imagine how it could be solved. He took a breath to give himself time to think, and when that didn't help he just opened his mouth and started talking. That didn't work so well when he was on the air, but otherwise - well, some of his best ideas had come out of his mouth without any input from his brain.
"Natalie," he said, and she looked at him. "Is there any way to re-create it? I don't mean all of it. Just tonight's."
"Tonight isn't the problem, Dan. I have a copy of tonight's master that I made last night before I left. It's all the other days."
"Okay, so what you are going to do is tell Dana about this now." Natalie opened her mouth to protest, but Dan overrode her. "I know it's her day off, but better to tell her now than explain tomorrow why you didn't. So you're going to call her and tell her today is already covered. That gives her two days to deal with the rest of the week. And after you call her, you're going to make photocopies of what you have and hand them to Alan Giverny's assistant with orders to make them like they were. If he can't, at least he'll be distracted. And then -"
"And then," Natalie interrupted, her voice suddenly purposeful, "we will have a meeting in the conference room."
"Yes," she said, and maybe it was Dan's imagination, but she seemed - scary. Scarier. Were those actual flames dancing in her eyes? "We will have a meeting, and the subject will be: war."
When Dan and Casey entered the conference room, the rest of the crew, minus Dana and Isaac, who they had decided should be kept in the dark for purposes of deniability, had already assembled. Natalie was at the front with a big notepad on an easel. On it, she had written:
- All warfare is based on deception.
- Straightforward actions generally lead to engagement; surprising actions generally lead to victory.
- To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.
- Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
- Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
- Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
As Dan slid into his seat, Jeremy said, "I think I'm a little alarmed. Sun Tzu, Natalie?"
"What?" Elliott said.
"Sun Tzu," Jeremy said. "A great and possibly apocryphal strategist, thought, if he did live, to have been a general under the King of Wu. He is credited with The Art of War, one of great texts on military strategy." He pointed at the pad of paper. "And all those quotes come from The Art of War, except the third one down, which is incorrectly attributed to Sun Tzu."
Natalie said, "Even if he didn't write it, it's still good advice."
"I prefer Sun Tzu's original." Jeremy cleared his throat. "'If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.'"
Natalie said, "I prefer my version," and underlined "To know your enemy, you must become your enemy." She said, "The point is, this is war, people. And this -" she pointed at the blackboard "- is how we're going to win."
"Oh, good, we're going to win," Kim said.
"We are going to crush him beneath our boot heels and drive him weeping from the face of the earth."
"And Sun Tzu is going to show us how?" Casey sounded doubtful, which surprised Dan: if there was one thing they'd both learned over the years, it was that Natalie was a force to be reckoned with.
"Yes," Natalie said. "Like, right here?" She pointed to the first line. "Sun Tzu is telling us that we have to pretend we're going along with Alan Giverny, and not let anyone outside this room know of our plans. And on the next line, he's telling us that we have to blindside him. And the thing that Jeremy said a few minutes ago means that we have to learn his weaknesses so we can hit him hard and fast."
"I know one of his weaknesses," Dan said.
"Yeah," Jeremy agreed. "Homophobia."
Will agreed, "His flesh crawls at the mere mention of man-on-man loving." Everyone looked at him, and he said, "What? He asked me if I thought Dan and Jeremy were doing it, and he looked like he wanted to claw his own skin off just asking the question."
"Good." Natalie wrote it on the board, in big block letters: HOMOPHOBIA.
"Racism!" Kim called. Natalie added it.
"Stupidity," Casey added.
"Religious intolerance," Chris said. "When he asked me if I was going home for Christmas this year, and I told him no, because I'm Jewish, he took two steps back and looked like he wanted to wash his hands."
"And he lacks knowledge of the terrain," Jeremy concluded.
"See?" Natalie said. "We're three quarters of the way to a plan already."
On the way out of the conference room, secret notes in hand - "I expect you to eat them if you're caught, you know," Natalie had said - Dan saw Jeremy pull Natalie to one side, and stopped, pretending to study his notes while he eavesdropped.
"Sun Tzu?" Jeremy asked her quietly.
Dan glanced up for a second and saw that Natalie was staring straight ahead, at nothing. She said, "When I was in high school, I was co-captain of the debate team and the assistant editor of the newspaper. When I asked why I was co-captain instead of just captain when I did all the organizing and won the most debates and even raised the money for our trips, Mr. Burnside told me that Andy Silberg needed a captaincy on his college applications, and he knew I was the understanding kind."
Listening, Dan winced. But she wasn't done.
"In my senior year, I got a great scoop - we had this massive supplies shortage, and I worked the numbers and knew we shouldn't, and I hunted down the discrepancies and I had the suppliers cold, and I worked my ass off and we had real news for once. When I turned in my story, Johnny Frank ran it as 'by Johnny Frank with Natalie Hurley.' I complained, and Mr. Coughlin told me that I couldn't have done it all myself, with all those numbers." She paused, then continued. "And I realized that I was always going to be little and cute, so I would have to learn to be mean."
Jeremy was silent for a minute, and then he said, "I read Sun Tzu in the library where I spent every lunch period from sixth grade to twelfth, because if I'd gone to the lunchroom I would never have been able to eat my lunch anyway. I was a grade ahead and smaller than everyone and I broke every curve, and I was only safe in the library because the school librarian ruled with an iron fist." He wrapped his arm around Natalie's shoulder. "Believe me, I appreciate mean."
Dan smiled to himself. All was truly well in the world of Sports Night.
And soon Alan Giverny wouldn't know what had hit him.
The next morning, Dan found Natalie waiting for him in the lobby.
"Your assignment," she said, handing over a sealed manila envelope. "Maintain secrecy at all times."
The envelope had some serious heft to it. "Were you up all night working on this?"
"Alan Giverny shall not prevail," Natalie said. "Also, Dana's coming back today, and I couldn't sleep thinking about the master book."
Dan flinched, nodded, and started for the elevators. "You coming?"
"I still have to catch Elliott and Will. They were going shopping for some equipment before they came in."
In the elevator, Dan opened his envelope. It contained a folder with black covers. Inside, the title page read ASSIGNMENT: LOVE-IN. She'd decorated it with little pink hearts. He stared at the page for a long, long moment. And then he took a deep breath, and he turned it.
Having taken a moment in the hallway to decide on his strategy, Dan entered the office already talking. "So we're supposed to 'express our intimacy.'" He hoped he had said it in a light, amused, boyish tone, rather than the sepulchral tones of doom he would have liked to use. Because the truth was, Natalie couldn't have picked a worse or more difficult assignment for him; there was no subtle, we're-all-guys-here way to have a fake love-in with a co-worker you were more than a little attracted to.
Casey frowned. "Is that what Natalie wrote in your playbook?"
"No, that's what Jill - remember Jill? - used to say I had trouble doing. I'm not repeating what Natalie wrote in my playbook."
"Good. Because I'm certainly not repeating what Natalie wrote in my playbook." Casey continued to stare intently at his screen, obviously not looking at Dan. Dan couldn't exactly blame him for not being sympathetic, since he didn't know Dan's plight at all - that was the whole point - but it still hurt, for some reason.
"I choose not to repeat what Natalie wrote in my playbook, because I am a professional man of dignity and - and - " Dan choked. He hadn't planned his strategy this far ahead, and he'd just run out of words. He looked around for a teleprompter.
Casey finally looked up, eyebrows raised. "Of dignity and?"
Dan tried to shake it off and keep going. "I'll think of it, give me a minute. The point is the dignity. A man in my position obviously has to have it, whereas an assistant producer can write -" Casey winced preemptively "- can write what Natalie wrote."
"Obviously she can. She did. But can two men of our admittedly great dignity do what Natalie wrote?" Casey was back to not looking at Dan, which gave Dan a very good view of Casey's ears. They were turning a little pink along the edges. Dan stared at them for a long, long moment, thinking about all kinds of things.
"Casey, I would do anything. I would lick the toes of Ron Artest to get rid of Alan Giverny." Dan, watching Casey's ears, caught a strange movement of his shoulders, not so much tension releasing, as - disappointment? Huh.
"Good news," Casey said, but it sounded false. And it was off the beat, too; anyone who didn't react to the mental image of licking Ron Artest's toes either wasn't paying attention or had something major on his mind.
Dan, eyes narrowed in thought, watched Casey while he pretended to type. Definitely something up there, something more than just Natalie's unfortunate orders; Casey was ignoring him. After several minutes of Casey obviously typing nonsense words, Dan snapped his fingers. "Stature!" he said.
Casey jumped a little, glanced up, and then looked back down at his keys. Still avoiding Dan's eyes, he noticed. "Ah. In addition to dignity, we also have stature?"
"Indeed we do. Indeed we do, my friend."
Casey tilted his head, considering. "Do I have more than you, since I'm two inches taller?"
Dan, giving up on the Eternal Mystery of Casey for the moment, threw his pencil at him, and they both got to work.
Dave poked his head in the office door. "Stage one of Sun Tzu Does Sports Night has begun," he intoned.
"Really?" Dan reached for his playbook, remembered what it said he was supposed to do, and decided against it. "What was stage one again?"
"Will and Elliott have converted to paganism." Dave smiled evilly. "It's worth seeing."
Casey said, "I thought the entire technical staff was becoming un-Christian." He did not, Dan noticed, choose to check that in his playbook.
"Will and Elliott are - they went with paganism, since Elliott's wife practices anyway, so she could give them tips. I myself did not have to."
Casey blinked at him. "What religion are you?"
Dave grinned at them. "I am a wicked unbeliever. Behold the power of my skepticism!"
Dan felt a smile creep across his face. "We should get you one of those Darwin fish."
"Already installed on my computer," Dave said smugly. "Right underneath the sticker that says TEAM."
Casey high-fived Dave.
Dave said, "In the competition of tech staff versus editorial, I think it's safe to say we're winning."
Dan leaned forward. "Not for long, Dave, not for long. Casey and I have been discussing it, and we've concluded that editorial has dignity and stature."
"You'll get a chance to prove it. Natalie said for me to tell you it's time for stage two."
"What's that?" Dan asked.
Dave's eyebrows wrinkled a little bit. "You are." Then he settled back into a smile. "Can't wait to see you strut your stuff, guys." He gave them a little wave and left.
The office became very, very quiet.
Dan followed Casey. Casey was tiptoeing around the bullpen, peering over cubicle walls and ducking behind computers. Dan pretty much just walked; he figured Alan Giverny probably already knew they worked for Sports Night.
"I have sighted the enemy," Casey whispered.
There was a frozen pause, and then Dan lurched forward and grabbed Casey's hand. Casey stared at their joined hands and took a deep breath. Then he started walking. Dan moved up next to him.
"So," Casey said, swinging their hands a little bit. "Here we are."
"Yep," Dan said.
"Walking in the bullpen. Holding hands."
"Yep," Dan said. They strolled toward the office Giverny had claimed as his own.
"It feels a little -"
"Seventh grade?" It did feel like seventh grade to Dan - strangely like seventh grade, like holding Melissa Weinberg's hand and feeling suddenly invulnerable.
"I was going to say risky, but that works, too."
As they came level with the door leading to the Lair of Giverny, they slowed considerably. When they passed, Giverny looked up. Dan gave him a little wave with his free hand. Casey imparted a little extra motion to their joined hands, just to underscore the point.
Ten feet down the hall, Dan turned to Casey and said, seriously. "This makes me uncomfortable." Because they were still holding hands, Dan could feel Casey tense. "You're taller than me. From now on, I think you should have to wear flats."
Casey relaxed partway and smiled at him. "Dan, I am wearing flats. I always wear flats, for three reasons. First, I am tall enough that I don't need to resort to artificial height enhancers. Two, I'm a man. Three, the woman in this relationship is clearly and definitively you." They rounded the hallway and headed past the elevators, still holding hands.
The doors opened as though the god of news anchors was on Dan's side.
"Casey," Dan said, "I can't be the woman. Because I sent you flowers." He pointed at the delivery man stepping out of the elevator with the extremely outsized bouquet of red roses.
Casey dropped Dan's hand, folded his arms, and narrowed his eyes. "You realize that this means war."
Dan had been a close observer of Casey for many years, so he knew that Casey had a specific approach to gift-giving. The first time he gave someone a gift, he panicked. He spent many hours trying to determine what gift the recipient would most like, and he consulted people and fretted and researched and generally made a huge production out of it. But once he'd selected a gift, given it, and gotten an appropriately pleased response, he was done: he gave that person the same gift twice a year forever. Casey had even followed this approach with Lisa: he'd sent her flowers for their anniversary and given her a gift certificate to a spa for her birthday and Christmas.
It had made Lisa crazy, but Dan liked it. Casey's gifts were safe. That was how Dan thought of it.
So Dan wasn't sure where Casey had been concealing his incredible knowledge of gifts available for same-day delivery, but it was clear he had hidden depths. Over the course of the afternoon, Dan received flowers, balloons, four dozen brownies, a very large bouquet of fruit cut to look like flowers, and a gift basket containing a complete Italian dinner for two, including a bottle of red wine, with a card reading, "Congratulations on the new house!" It was signed "Angelicious."
"It was supposed to say, 'To my darling Danny,'" Casey said, coming to look at it over Dan's shoulder.
"You had me worried there for a minute. I was afraid the next delivery was going to be real estate."
"I don't think I love anyone enough to give the gift of New York real estate."
Dan was busy plotting elaborate revenge and didn't really follow through on the comment. "Entirely understandable," he said, a beat too late.
"How are my two very special team members doing on this fine afternoon?" Dan looked up; Alan Giverny was entering their office. Both Dan and Casey flinched and took a step back.
There was a painful pause, and then Casey said. "We're fine."
Alan Giverny surveyed the table, covered in various gifts, most of them with the bows and plastic wrapping still on. "Is it your birthday? I have a special celebration I do for team members' birthdays. It builds teamship and raises spirits. It's fantastic, if I do say so myself, and I'd be happy to implement it for you!"
Dan and Casey exchanged looks. The concept was terrifying.
"No," Casey said, and then he took a deep breath and soldiered bravely on. "No, I just, uh, felt like it was time to let Danny know how I really feel about him."
Dan felt like applauding. And then Alan Giverny launched himself forward and embraced Casey - in a classic A-line hug, Dan noted sourly. "Casey!" he cried, pounding Casey's back. "That's what we like to see."
"We do?" Casey said. He was rigid, still in Alan Giverny's arms. His body vibrated slightly with each thunk on his back.
"You know," Giverny said, finally releasing him, "I thought you were going to have some trouble with teamship. Some people take a while to warm up - though they do come around, trust me, they come around in time. But you've surprised me, Casey! You're the office dark horse - coming from behind to take that early lead." Casey blanched. "You're coming in on long odds, Casey, and I could not be more proud."
"Oh," Casey repeated woodenly. Obviously it was time for Dan to step in.
"We've been bonding," he said.
"Unfortunately, now we need to go to editing. Footage, you know. Urgent footage that needs immediate editing." Dan made an urgent-footage-editing hand gesture.
Alan Giverny stepped back. "Don't let me stand in your way. But let me just say, before you go, that I really think that you two are the key to this team - team leaders, not that every member of the team isn't equally important, but it's obvious that you bring something special to this office. Something very special. And I just want to commend you. You're fine young men."
Casey had assumed a deer-in-the-headlights expression. Dan reached forward and grabbed his hand. "Thank you, but we need to go now. Come on, Casey."
They fled. Alan Giverny, apparently not satisfied with his clean win, called after them, "It's great to see the teamage you've managed to synergize!"
A half-hour in the editing room with the lights off helped a little, although sitting in the dark with Casey was something Dan tried to avoid if he possibly could. It sent his mind to places he tried not to let it go.
Dan started to feel slightly less traumatized. "I'm going to need to go back to therapy," he said out loud. "I'm not going to be able to sleep. I'm going to close my eyes at night and see you hugging Alan Giverny."
Casey, stretched out on the couch with one arm over his eyes, said, "First, I did not hug Alan Giverny. He hugged me. I was an innocent bystander. And, second, shouldn't we be focusing on my trauma?"
"I'm trying. And then I think of him hugging you, and I'm right back to my trauma again."
The editing room door slammed open. Both of them flinched and looked for a place to hide from Alan Giverny.
And then they looked up. "Natalie!" Casey said, relieved.
"Hi, Natalie," Dan said, a little more cautiously. She did not look pleased with them.
"Guys, come sit with me on the couch for a second." Natalie gave them a big, fake, scary smile.
"Uh," Dan said. "Okay." He crossed over, pushed Casey's legs aside, and sat down.
"I'm already on the couch," Casey pointed out.
"And you're not," Dan added. She was still standing, holding a clipboard and a folder and looking like the Wrath of Assistant Producers.
"I want to review our playbook," Natalie said in a steely tone.
Casey said, "Natalie, Alan Giverny hugged me. I've had all the trauma I can take today."
"That's exactly what I wanted to talk about, Casey. Will and Elliott have terrified Giverny with their new pentagram jewelry and image of Hecate. Giverny asked Dave about it and Dave told him all about his attempts to convince them that all religion was bunk and then invited Alan Giverny to come to a meeting of the American Skeptics Society. Chris and Jeremy are wearing their yarmulkes at work today, and Jeremy arranged for Alan Giverny to be trapped in an elevator for fifteen minutes with Kim, who took the opportunity to speak extensively about her family's traditions. Everyone is doing their part, guys."
"Good?" Casey said. He sounded like he was guessing.
"Everyone except you. I talked to Alan Giverny ten minutes ago, and he told me how proud he was of you two, how you're the core of our team, and how you're 'moving along in the process.' You're not supposed to be 'moving along in the process.' You're supposed to be making out."
"Wait. What?" Casey's voice squeaked a little.
"Nothing was said about making out in the playbook, Natalie."
"Yes, it did."
"It said to get our love machine running in high gear. It did not say a word about making out."
"What did you think that meant? I just put that down instead of making out because I thought if I left if open-ended you guys might take your shirts off." She looked around. "It's going to take making out, guys. According to Dana, Alan Giverny believes a former marriage is proof of total heterosexuality, or that's what she assumes from the way he keeps flaunting his whenever Jeremy is in the room."
Dead silence reigned in the editing room. Casey was staring blankly at Natalie. Dan couldn't take his eyes off Casey.
"Nothing wrong with a little skin," Natalie said.
"We're talking about our skin," Dan pointed out.
"Sun Tzu would want you to."
Casey lurched back into speech. "Dead Chinese generals do not get to dictate my level of attire, Natalie. That is a privilege I reserve for the living."
"Well, I'm living, and I'm dictating. Show some skin. Swap some spit." Natalie leaned forward and yanked off Casey's tie. He yelped. "You guys have fifteen minutes to get it on, and then Jeremy is bringing Alan Giverny by the window, and I expect him to see something worth seeing." She headed out, but she turned at the door and yelled "SKIN!" at them.
And then she was gone, and the room was very very silent once again.
Dan looked at the clock. But he caught Casey looking at the clock, so he looked at his hands instead.
It wasn't that he had any objection to kissing. Or any objection to Casey, for that matter. It was a simple problem of timing and audience. Every sportscaster knew that even the best jokes fell flat when they were told at the wrong time or to the wrong audience.
"It's a simple problem of timing and audience. Even the best jokes fall flat when they're told at the wrong time or to the wrong audience," Dan observed.
"If you're comparing this to a joke, I think you are so right and yet so very, very wrong," Casey said.
"Every aspect of my life has been a joke since the day Alan Giverny walked into this building."
"If this is your definition of a joke, you must have been laughing all the way through the 2006 Rose Bowl."
Dan glanced at the clock. Ten minutes.
"Think of it like batting practice?"
Casey stared at him. "What are we practicing for?"
Dan went back to staring at his hands.
A minute later, Casey cleared his throat. "It's not that I'm, um," he said. He sounded strangled. "It's just, uh."
Dan could not remember the last time Casey had failed to finish his sentences in Dan's hearing. It was a given with Casey: he started a sentence, he finished it, even if the newscaster next to him had just fallen to the set floor with a thump that shook the cameras.
"Uh, have you ever?" Casey said, making a hand gesture Dan could only interpret thanks to his years of dedicated Casey-watching.
"Kissed someone? I think I have."
"Kissed a man, Danny." Dan was impressed. He hadn't thought Casey would actually have the guts to say it. He'd been kind of counting on that, actually.
Dan hesitated, still not looking at Casey. But the thing was, he tried not to lie to Casey. Not telling the whole truth was one thing, but lying … and it wasn't like it wasn't relevant. He took a breath. "Brian Wetherall. Mark Buerhle. Oh, and Jon Chambers."
Casey blinked at him. "You had sex with Mark Buerhle? Was this before or after he pitched the perfect game?"
"After. And, you know, I didn't say I had sex with him. I just said I kissed him."
Casey considered that. "If you kissed Mark Buerhle, who pitched the most beautiful perfect game it has ever been my privilege to see, and you didn't put out, I don't think I can work with you anymore."
"Of course I had sex with him, Casey. I just don't think you should make assumptions. There are lots of people I've kissed that I haven't had sex with, and to equate the two is -"
"Danny," Casey said.
"I'm just saying -"
"Danny, you didn't ask me."
"I didn't ask you what?"
"If I'd ever done this before."
It was a mind-boggling concept, something Dan had been fighting for years not to contemplate or even dream about, but Casey had, after all, raised the question. "Casey," Dan said, and it felt braver than it probably was. "Have you ever kissed a man?"
"Remember Tim Chang?"
"I remember hating Tim Chang."
"Do you remember why you hated him?"
Dan remembered the whole episode with a painful, crystal clarity. He'd never irrationally hated anyone quite as much as he'd irrationally hated Tim Chang. "Suddenly you two were such good friends I couldn't shove a stick between you for two months. Then one day it was like he'd moved to Antarctica, and I figured you'd discovered his wall of crazy."
Casey shrugged, faking casual so badly it looked like his shoulders had rusted. "We broke up. Rebound relationship, you know."
Dan raised his eyebrows. "Casey, Casey, Casey. You're telling me your first post-Lisa relationship was with a hedge-fund manager?"
"Yeah." Casey cleared his throat, but he didn't say anything else.
Dan stared at him. "Maybe you should stop picking out your own dates."
Casey looked at Dan, looked him right in the eyes for what felt like the first time in hours, and smiled at him. "Five minutes, Danny."
Dan had never been good at taking great opportunities handed to him on a platter. He hesitated. "It's not too late to take up a life of crime," he said, because this felt - almost too easy. Almost too right. And really, really dangerous.
"And disappoint Natalie? Come on, that game plan took work." Dan felt himself relax and lean into Casey just a bit. Casey reached his hand out for Dan's shoulder, and then they were turning towards each other.
The first kiss was just a gentle press of lips, completely deniable except for the part where they were kissing in the editing room, holy fuck. Dan reached for Casey's tie, and then remembered it had fallen to Natalie and grabbed his shoulders instead. If they were doing this - and they were - they were going to do it right.
Casey had apparently had the same thought and was prepared to be more aggressive about it: he put his hands on Dan's face, adjusted their angle slightly, and went for it, kissing Dan like he was five yards from the endzone on a 97-yard kickoff return, licking at his lips until Dan opened his mouth and let Casey in. Casey fucked Dan's mouth with his tongue, kissing hot and wet and hard, until every part of Dan had a very clear idea of where this was going, and then bit him, bit his lower lip.
"Oh, fuck," Dan said. His cock got hard so fast he felt dizzy with it. Dizzy with wanting Casey. Dizzy with being allowed to.
"Hundred-dollar charity donation for swearing," Casey said breathlessly, and Dan laughed and pushed on Casey's shoulders until he got the idea and sprawled backwards on the editing room couch.
Dan reached for the buttons on Casey's shirt. He got three undone, and then he was distracted by the need to pay attention to Casey's nipples, and then Casey grabbed him for another kiss that was pure sex, and right about then was when they heard the shouting from the hallway.
Casey was still buttoning up his shirt when Natalie pounded on the editing room window. "That was perfect!" she said. "He totally bought it! You guys are pros."
Dan blinked at her, still half-hard and feeling like he'd just decompressed a little too fast.
Natalie looked at them. "Well, come on," she said. "Don't you want to see? He's yelling at Isaac right now!"
"He's yelling at Isaac?" Dan said, horrified.
"Yes! In front of everyone! Come on!" Natalie grabbed them by the hand and began towing them toward the bullpen.
"...A DEN OF INQUITY AND GODLESSNESS," Alan Giverny was bellowing. People from as far away as costuming were coming in to watch in fascinated horror. "Mr. Jaffe, I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. This is a place of business, and you're running it as -"
"Thank you," Isaac said.
Alan Giverny stalled out. "What?"
"I said, 'Thank you.' Thank you for acknowledging that I am the one running this place of business."
Alan Giverny took a deep breath and tried to get back on the horse. "As I was saying -"
"I think you've had plenty of chances to speak. Now it's my turn." Isaac cleared his throat. "Tony Maxwell asked me to give you a chance, and he's a good man and a good friend, so I said I would. But I don't think you understand what you're dealing with here, who these people are or how we do what we do.
"You think you can teach us something about being a team. You can't." Isaac stepped forward, holding Alan Giverny's focus.
"If there's one thing I've always known about my people, it's that they are a team. Now, 'team' doesn't mean one big happy family, and it doesn't mean they're clones. It means that, in the clinch, they're there for each other. Every time. They work together. They do what it takes. And I'd say they've proven that today. Mr. Giverny, I thank you. We didn't need you to make us a team, but you sure did help us all remember why we are one. And your job here is now finished."
Isaac took Alan Giverny by the elbow and began walking him to the door. The bullpen erupted in spontaneous applause.
"I love Sun Tzu!" Jeremy shouted over the din.
"I love you, too!" Natalie shouted back.
"I love everyone," Dana said, wrapping her arms around both of them.
Dan ducked past the group hug, grabbed two cups of the extremely dubious punch Dana and Chris had put together, and headed for the office, shutting the door firmly behind him.
"It's a madhouse out there," he said. "Will asked if we could stage another kiss for the Bulletin Board of Triumph."
Casey took the punch and slugged down half of it. "I'm swearing off staged kisses. They don't go to the places I like my kisses to go," he said.
Dan looked at him. "You know, last year, I got a splinter in my ass." Casey choked on his punch, but Dan sailed on. "And while I was conducting the extremely painful self-surgery required to extract it, I discovered that if you move the couch over about three feet and go behind it, no one out there can see what you're doing."
Casey stopped coughing and put down his cup. "That is an observation commensurate with your usual brilliance." He grabbed the couch and pushed.
Ten seconds later, Dan pulled Casey down behind the couch.
"You know," he said, "I keep trying to figure out if we should thank Alan Giverny."
Casey froze, his mouth halfway to Dan's. "Do you mind not saying that name? I'm trying to do something here."
"Sorry," Dan said, and kissed him instead.