Shades of Grey
Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman checked his watch and gave a contented sigh. He'd been stuck in his office for the past week with the phone attached to his ear and an annoying headache pounding behind his eyes.
Donna had been thoughtful enough the past few days to bring him lunch, remnants of which reminded his he needed to speak to the cleaning staff. The Styrofoam container from yesterday's sandwich was still in the trash can, a shriveled piece of lettuce at least he thought it was lettuce from his salad from two days ago was stuck to the arm of his chair, and a few dried pieces of rice from the Chinese take-away from three days ago littered the floor. Enough was enough, he thought, taking in the mess. Josh stood, stretched, and rolled his stiff neck, then left his office, looking forward to going out to eat today.
"Donna!" he called over his shoulder. "I'm going to lunch."
"Okay!" came his assistant's reply from somewhere in the bullpen.
"Make sure those papers are on my desk when I get back."
"You know!" he called, turning and walking backward. "For my two o'clock meeting!"
Donatella Moss appeared in the doorway of her office just as he reached the lobby, her arms folded across her chest, "I'm sorry, I forgot my crystal ball today."
As he stepped into the lobby and turned his back to her, he muttered, "I see you remembered your broom, though."
As Josh crossed the Yellow Hall, a plaintive "I heard that!" reached his ears and he smiled. The tensions of the week were finally easing.
The New Year hadn't started off well. Tensions in the Middle East were flaring up again. The President was being advised on whether or not to send in troops if the fighting escalated. Toby and Sam were working on speeches in case they did, and to top it off, some yo-yo had gotten himself arrested on minor charges in New York and turned out to be the leader of a terrorist group that claimed responsibility for a bombing in England. The news of his extradition had sparked a wave of terrorist threats across the country, and increased the White House mail tenfold. Most of those letters were funneled out to the Secret Service or the CIA, but several stacks of copies had ended up on Josh's desk. It was his job to decide which of the letters merited a response from the White House.
Arriving at his destination, he rapped the doorframe.
Sam Seaborn looked up from his laptop, then down at his watch. "It's lunch time already?"
"Pack it up and grab your coat," Josh ordered. "We're outta here."
"My coat?" Sam asked, saving his work then closing the computer. "Where are we going?"
Josh rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Rexy's Tavern!"
His friend looked less than enthused. "Josh..."
Josh headed him off at the pass. "Sam! Portobello mushroom fajitas."
The idea seemed to tempt the Deputy Communications Director. Sam considered it a moment longer, then shook his head. "I'm boycotting Rexy's."
Josh leaned on the doorframe and folded his arms. "Oh? Since when?"
"Since they stopped serving white chocolate ice cream."
Josh pursed his lips and thought a minute. "Tell you what. I'll have the President call the manager."
Sam pulled off his glasses and tucked them in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. "You know, I'm not so sure he wouldn't do it." He stood and grabbed his coat from its hook. "All right. But only under protest. And it's your turn to pick up the tab."
"Deal." Josh straightened with a smile. "Oh, by the way," he began as Sam walked past him to peek into his boss' office.
"I'm going out to lunch," Sam said.
Toby Zeigler didn't bother to look up from the draft he was reviewing. "Goodbye."
Josh continued quickly as they headed for the lobby. "An old friend of mine called this morning and wanted to meet me for lunch; I told him I already had plans but...do you mind? He's looking forward to meeting you."
Sam did an abrupt about-face and went back to Zeigler's office. "Toby," he said, his tone pleading for salvation, "are you sure you don't need that speech now? I really don't have t go to lunch. Really."
This time Toby did look up. He glanced at Sam, then at Josh, assessing the situation. Then he smiled. "No." He went back to his papers. "Have a nice lunch."
Sam's shoulders sagged.
Josh clapped his friend on the back. "Come on. It'll be great!"
"Yeah, great," Sam said with a sigh. "Sitting there listening to you and someone I've never met reminisce for an hour."
"It won't be like that, Sam, I swear..."
Sam folded his last fajita and took a bite. It had been nearly an hour and he'd barely said a word beyond introductions. Oh, Josh had tried to involve him in the conversation, but as soon as Sam heard the words 'Do you remember when', he knew he was lost. Thank goodness for the waitress or he probably would have had no one to talk to at all. He knew the next time she came by she would ask if they wanted dessert. He considered ordering white chocolate ice cream just so she could tell him they didn't have it any more, and then he could debate with her about it.
Putting down the rest of the fajita, Sam resisted the urge to lean his elbow on the table and rest his head on his hand. He sat back in his chair and glanced at his watch. They would have to be getting back to the White House soon. Resigned, Sam divided his attention between the news on the television over the bar to his left, and Josh and his old friend.
Rashid Ahmad was not what he had expected. He seemed okay. And he was certainly enjoying reliving old times. There was just something about him....He knew what Josh would say. Josh would laugh and insist he was jealous. Which of course was ridiculous. He wasn't the least bit jealous...not at all...
Further speculation was interrupted by the arrival of the waitress. He decided to forego the debate in favor of a hasty retreat. "We really should be getting back," he told Josh.
The Deputy Chief of Staff consulted his watch. "Wow! That went fast."
For you, Sam thought.
The waitress deposited the check on the table and wished them a good day. Sam reached for the check, but Ahmad grabbed it first. "Allow me," he said.
"Raj, you don't have to do that," Josh admonished.
Sam smiled. Okay. There was a stroke on the positive side. He stood and grabbed his coat from the fourth, unoccupied chair as Ahmad pulled out his wallet and tucked several bills into the black tab wallet.
They stepped out onto Pennsylvania Avenue and Sam waited as the two old friends shook hands.
"It was good to see you again, Raj," Josh said.
"Josh," Ahmad said, "there is one other thing I wanted to discuss with you. Do you have a moment to walk me to my car?"
"Sure." Josh glanced back at Sam.
Sam shrugged. "I'll meet you at the car."
"This concerns you as well, Sam," Ahmad said. "Please." He held out an ushering hand.
Sam tried to stifle a sigh as he walked behind Josh and Ahmad.
"Are you familiar with the political prisoner being held in New York?" Ahmad asked.
Josh snorted. "Which one?"
"Mohammed Riaz," Ahmad supplied.
When Josh hesitated, Sam said, "He's going to be extradited to England."
"Oh, yeah." Josh nodded. "Didn't he plant a bomb in the Underground or something?"
"Yes," Sam said with disgust. "He killed twelve people just to get to one guy."
"What about him?" Josh asked.
Ahmad reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his keys. The black Explorer parked at the curb bleeped as he unlocked the doors. "You asked me what I was doing now. I guess you could say I'm in politics as well."
Josh smiled. "I knew it! Who are you working for?"
Sam was very interested to hear the answer until a vice grip locked around his biceps and something hard jammed into his ribs. He turned his head and saw his aggressor, but he could only guess at what was hidden amidst the folds of his coat.
A nervous smile touching his lips, Sam asked, "What's going on?" He looked back at Josh and Ahmad praying he was simply not privy to some bad joke. The wary expression on Josh's face did nothing to calm his fears.
"Raj..." Josh said
"I work for Mohammed Riaz."
Sam's smile faded. "This is a joke, right?" he said, his stomach twisting in knots.
For a moment, no one said a word. Sam's heart pounded faster in his chest "Jesus Christ," he said on a breath. He was prodded past Ahmad and Josh to the door of the Explorer.
"Oh, God," he heard Josh say. "Oh, my God. Rashid, don't do this."
"It is already done," Ahmad said.
It was all happening too fast. Sam felt his whole body trembling as he was forced into the back of the SUV, but Ahmad's next words made him nauseous:
"Get in the car, Joshua. Your friend's life depends on your behavior."
Oh dear God, Sam thought. This isn't happening. This can't be happening. He was forced down onto the seat, and Sam got a clear view of the gun. It was centered on his chest. He balled his hands into fists to keep them from shaking.
He finally managed to tear his gaze from the gun. He glanced at Josh who was now in the front passenger seat. His friend looked back at him, and amidst the fear in his eyes, Sam saw regret.