Back in the Oval Office, Mark was taking a meeting with White House Head of Operations Marian Jefferson. She was not an imposing woman, about average size, with light coffee skin and dark gray hair cut even with her chin and parted on the side. Mark often wondered how she managed to work her magic, because she was a genius at quelling turf wars, goading reluctant department heads into trying something new, and re-organizing an office’s work-flow for greater productivity. Her one weakness, which she readily admitted, was dealing with the creative and intuitive personalities of the advisory group.
“They are the most productive group in the White House,” Mark pointed out. “If they weren’t, I’d have you raking them over the coals.”
“I wouldn’t do that, sir,” Marian replied. “But there are times when I cannot make exceptions, and the weekly group heads meeting is very important to keep everybody up to date.”
“And the advisory group would argue that they not only already know what everyone else is working on, they’re way ahead of them.”
Marian sighed. “And I know they are. However, it is getting harder and harder to get Mr. Llewellyn to the meeting and he most needs to be there.
Earl Llewellyn was the head of the Budget Office, and while an expert at budgeting and crunching numbers, he was also rather famously anti-social and prone to seeing everything from his own peculiar perspective, then acting shocked and insulted when someone didn’t.
“And not having the advisory group represented just makes it easier for him to skip,” Mark nodded. “All right. You’ve got a point. I’ll get a couple reps from the advisory group.”
Marian thanked him and was dismissed. Mark checked in with Riff Butler and found out that Rose had well and truly left the White House and was on her way to the airport. And there was another tidbit of news, as well.
Mark called Sharon in for a briefing later that afternoon.
“Some of the other group heads are complaining that the advisory group is not represented at the weekly group heads meeting,” Mark told her apologetically.
“Oh, no,” Sharon groaned. “Let me guess. You want me to start showing?”
“You and Johnny Whitesand are the most diplomatic. And Eddie just isn’t around often enough.”
“Plus he and Earl Llewellyn are a match made in Hell.” Sharon closed her eyes and grimaced. “All right. I’ll do it.”
“And one other fun thing before we get down to business.” Mark hesitated a moment. “I heard my mother dropped by your office for a visit this morning.”
Sharon chuckled grimly. “Yeah. No surprise, she was not thrilled by Saturday night, but seemed to have appreciated the brinkmanship. She still warned me off you. Said she was protecting her son.”
Mark nodded. “What did you say?”
“That it was pointless since I didn’t particularly want to hook up with you, but if she wanted to protect you from me, she could.”
“You what?” Mark laughed. “Good for you.”
“It did seem to throw her off-stride,” Sharon said, fidgeting with her laptop. “Of course, she also pointed out that I don’t want her as an enemy.”
“You don’t.” Mark sighed. “She can cause some pretty nasty trouble.” He paused, debating whether he should say more. “In any case, you said the right thing. I mean other women have denied being interested in me and she hasn’t believed it. But I don’t think anyone has given her permission to protect me anyway.”
“I just hope I haven’t made things worse for you,” Sharon said.
Mark again debated saying more, but decided to hold off. “I doubt you have. It’s a long story, but you’re fine. Don’t worry.”
Sharon took a deep breath. “Good. I also have a briefing for you. We leave on Wednesday for Rome and the Western European tour.”
“Already?” Mark sighed and looked at the laptop on the coffee table, with the buzzing iPhone next to it. “I was hoping to be further ahead than this before we left.”
Sharon nodded and opened her laptop.
Two hours later, she fretted as she sat in the huge conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She sat toward the back, trying to unobtrusively check her email and answer text messages while Earl Llewellyn droned on about his latest budget discovery. He was a tall, scrawny man, whose head was balding, but whose remaining dark gray hair looked remarkably unkempt.
“Any questions?” he asked, glaring as if he dared anyone to comment.
Sharon frowned. “Mr. Llewellyn, do you have Dr. Cooper’s updated figures?”
He sniffed haughtily. “My figures are perfectly up to date.”
Sharon flashed a weak smile, debated challenging him since she was looking at the more up-to-date figures on her laptop, then decided to let it go and have Eddie email the updates to Llewellyn.
As they finally left the board room, Message Director Yesmenia Alvarez came up to her, giggling.
“Looks like you just made an enemy,” she said.
“Oh, crud,” sighed Sharon. “I seem to be doing a lot of that today.”
“Don’t worry about Screwy Llewy,” Yesmenia said with a wink.
“That’s what we call him behind his back. Trust me, even his team hates him. But he’s really good at what he does. When he has the right data.”
“I got that.”
Yesmenia grimaced. “Too bad you can’t fire someone for being a jerk.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a problem like that in my office, too.” Sharon looked down the hall, then at Yesmenia. “Are you ready for Wednesday?”
“The big Europe trip?” Yesmenia all but bounced up and down. “I can’t wait. And, hey, you and I have a night off in Rome.”
“That’s right. Nina Collodi pulled duty.” Sharon looked thoughtful.
“And I know an awesome little trattoria not far from the Coliseum.”
“I know plenty of awesome little trattorie all over Rome.” Sharon grinned. “I guess we’re just going to have to do the trattoria smack down that night.”
“Woo-hoo!” Yesmenia squeaked. “We are going to have so much fun.”
“Listen, I’ve got to get back to work. All that last minute stuff. Not to mention the rest of the world to keep track of.”
Yesmenia laughed and Sharon hurried back to her office in the West Wing.