CJ threw back her head and laughed for the first time in nearly a week. James was an entertaining date, with a ready stock of wickedly funny stories from his adventures in the diplomatic corps.
There was no possibility of this turning into a real relationship, and both of them knew it, but it was fun to go out on the town together.
"Care to come up for coffee?" she offered, as she unlocked her door. She knew full well that coffee wasn't exactly what she had in mind. James was handsome and it had been a long time since she had held a handsome man in her arms.
"I'd like that," James replied, following her in.
"I'll put on the coffee," CJ said, walking into the kitchen, noting that her answering machine was blinking. "Turn on the TV. I'd like to catch the last of the news."
"Sure," he replied agreeably. He, too, was a news junkie and he understood her need to know what was going to hit her in the morning.
CJ arrived with the coffee after the report on the collapse of the Mexican economy.
"...This just in." The anchor put one hand to her ear, with that look of Incredibly Important News coming in. "Washington Police just reported that a senior staff member of the White House was found shot to death near the Vietnam Memorial. We're going live to the scene..."
CJ's mouth dropped open. At the same time, her phone and her cell both went off. She ignored them, her eyes transfixed on the television screen.
"... A passerby noticed the body of a man lying near the Memorial and called police. The man had a single gunshot through the right temple. We have now confirmed his identity as Toby Ziegler, Communications Director for the White House. Police do not suspect foul play..."
CJ bolted to her feet and fled to the bathroom. She made it just in time, retching violently. James followed her and held back her hair as she threw up.
"It's okay, CJ," he murmured to her, holding her. "Shhh. It's okay."
"No, it's not," CJ replied, tears starting to fall. "It's not okay."
"... Christ, CJ, pick up." Leo's voice, on her answering machine, sounded through the apartment. "CJ, please. Pick up. Call me as soon as you get this message. It's important. Ah, Dammit!" The click was too loud.
CJ wiped her mouth and got shakily to her feet, leaning on James. She tottered to the phone and hit the speed dial.
"CJ. Thank God."
"I heard, Leo. It's on the news."
"What the hell? Leo, what happened?"
"I don't know. I got a call half an hour ago and I've been trying to beat the press in getting you guys."
"Does the President know?"
"I called her first thing."
"I'll be there as soon as I can, Leo."
"I need to know, Leo. I need to know more."
"Josh? Can I get you anything?" Donna asked, almost timidly.
"Yeah. You can turn back the clock about an hour," Josh said bitterly. He was pacing restlessly, with his arms wrapped tightly around himself. "When are we going to get information from some one official?"
"They said they'd have a report soon," Donna said soothingly, her voice catching as she tried not to break down. "The television..."
"Shut the damn thing off," Josh ordered harshly. He could not hear the endless commentary about what they were now calling Toby's suicide.
Suicide. That made no sense to Josh. Toby was not suicidal, no fucking way. He was too strong for that. Sure, he had been preoccupied and grumpy the last week or two, but he went through bouts of that sometimes. Hell, they all did.
There wasn't anything happening that could have produced this. The guy had lived through a failed marriage and many failed campaigns; everything was going fine now.
Josh started to tremble. If someone as strong as Toby had taken his own life, then what did that mean for him? He had been tempted to take that way out a few times, since Rosslyn. If Toby couldn't resist the urge, would he...?
No, that was stupid. There had to be more to this. Much, much more. Somebody had tried to kill Charlie for dating a white girl. How much did those groups hate a policy making, powerful and influential Jew? Dear God, had Toby been murdered?
"Jed, it isn't your fault," Abbey said sharply. The President of the United States was sitting with his head in his hands.
"You didn't see his face last Friday, Abbey," Bartlet said softly. "I did this. I destroyed him."
"The world doesn't revolve around you," Abbey said fiercely. "This is not your fault."
"Abbey, four days after that meeting, Toby was found dead near the Vietnam Memorial with a gunshot through his head," Jed exploded, gesturing with his hand. "Single shot, right through the temple. The gun was found next to him, with his fingerprints on it. What I told him hurt him, Abbey. I let him down."
"You didn't put the gun in his hand, Jed," Abbey shouted back, shaking. "You didn't pull the trigger. He did. If anyone is to blame, he is."
Abbey bit her lip before she could say anything else, before she said what could never be taken back. She was angry, so insanely angry, that she forgot to be afraid. How could he? How could Toby Ziegler, of all people, be so goddam vulnerable to do this? How could he hurt so many people? How could her friend, the man she could count on to be practical and sensible, possibly do this to them?
Jed Bartlet looked at his wife and gave a deep sigh. She was furious; he knew her well enough to know what fury looked like.
He was too guilt laden to feel anger. That would come later, in spurts, as would the grief. Toby was a difficult man to know, hard to get close to, but his friendship and support meant a great deal to him. He closed his eyes, shutting out what the loss of someone as brilliant as Toby to his team would mean.
He began to murmur, over and over again, the Ave Maria. He wasn't sure if it was appropriate to recite Catholic prayers for the soul of an observant Jew, but he did anyway. Toby may not need his prayers. He did.
Leo took his feelings and shut them up in that place where he put away all his pain. It wasn't easy this time, but he managed. He had work to do. He had to find out all the details, contact Andrea and Toby's family, find the staff and bring them under his wing, find a way to respond to this to the rabid press corp. He knew that most of middle America would feel that it was a real shame and be curious about the man's death, but it mattered little to them. It mattered a whole lot to Leo.
He couldn't decide which was worse, calling Toby's ex-wife or calling his mother. His mother went into hysterics, screaming in several languages, none of which he understood. His ex-wife took the news very quietly, thanked him and said she would be there to help with the arrangements.
Toby dead. He couldn't wrap his mind around that one. Toby was the first of Jed Bartlet's footsoldiers, the one who brought CJ in, the one who had crafted and directed their message from the very beginning, back in New Hampshire.
That Toby had taken his own life was completely incomprehensible, so he refused to even try to comprehend it.
"Leo." Margaret, quiet and subdued, came in. "Everyone's here. The police have just arrived with a report."
Leo almost smiled as the two police officers arrived. They had needed a police escort to get through the crowds of reporters crowding around the gates.
The vague impulse to smile vanished as he watched the faces of the staff filing in. Sam, pale and silent, with red rimmed eyes. Josh, holding himself in with visible effort. CJ, sick and bewildered. The President, aged a dozen years. Andrea Wyatt... He couldn't look at her.
The police officers didn't look a whole lot better. One of them, a young man of maybe twenty five, was obviously terrified at the identity of the faces in the room. The other, an older woman, looked grim and her eyes were haunted.
"Don't I know you?" Josh asked her suddenly, coming out of the manic haze he had been in.
"You were the one at the protest."
"Yeah. I got the call." Officer Rhonda Sachs nodded sadly. "Small world, ain't it?"
To be continued in part 2