Shades of Grey
The dining room was at least ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house. It still wasn't all that warm, but it was enough to make Josh shuddered at the shift in temperature. He glanced at the nearest guard. "Guess you guys aren't too fond of the cold, huh?"
It was Raj who answered. "They are here to do a job, not to be concerned with the cold." He stopped by the long table and picked up a piece of cheese from the platter at its center. "Sit down. Eat."
Josh approached the table. The platter held a combination of cheese, fruit and nuts. He shook his head. He was too nauseous to eat. Besides, even if he wanted to, he couldn't possibly eat knowing that Sam had nothing. "I'll pass. Thanks."
Raj shrugged, popping the bite-size morsel into his mouth.
Josh pulled out a chair, turned it, and then straddled it, leaning his arms on the backrest. "How did you get mixed up with these guys in the first place?"
"I told you," Raj said, "they were hired for the job." He sat across from Josh and reached for a strawberry,
"You didn't know any of them before hand?"
"Not all of them. Is there a point to this line of interrogation?" His eyebrows arched in curiosity as he took a bite of the fruit.
"My point is this" Josh glared at his old friend. "When you give somebody a gun, you better be damn sure you can trust them."
Raj stopped chewing.
Ah-ha! Got him. Josh continued before he lost his momentum. "I worked for Bartlet for two years before we reached the White House. In that time we got to know each other, trust each other, learned to work together. That's what makes us a winning team. It's what makes the White House work."
Raj chuckled. "You've had your share of losses."
Josh rolled his eyes. "You're missing the point."
"I know what you are trying to do, Joshua." Raj leaned forward, smiling. "You are trying to instill doubt. Just as you did in Debate. It won't work. My men and I have a common goal." He tapped his right index finger on the table for emphasis, his smile fading. "When you put an army together, do all the men know each other? No. Are they friends? No. But they work towards a common goal. They fight for a common cause."
"Don't you think it makes a difference whether the guy watching your ass likes you or not?"
"When an army rushes a position, men fall. The rest keep going. The White House will keep going without you, Josh. Whether you like it or not. But that won't be the end of the battle."
Josh opened his mouth, then closed it. The White House would go on without him? Was that a threat? It suddenly occurred to him that he had never won a debate against Raj. They had always ended up in a stalemate.
Josh sighed. "You know, I often wondered what you were doing. I thought you might have opened your own law firm, or gone into politics. I never thought you'd end up a terrorist."
"A terrorist?" Raj snorted in derision, sitting back in his chair. "Is that what you think I am?"
"Well...yeah." Josh didn't need to say 'duh'. His tone said it for him.
"I didn't strap a bomb to myself and walk into the White House."
Josh reached out and rapped on the tabletop. "Hello?" He resisted the urge to ask if anyone was home. "Terrorism is the act of using fear to coerce someone into doing what you want. By kidnapping us, you're trying to scare President Bartlet into letting Riaz go. That's terrorism, Raj. Look it up!"
Rashid shook his head, but it was more a gesture of pity than disagreement. "Terrorism goes way beyond the dictionary definition, Joshua. There is an element of fanaticism involved. I don't want to die here."
"Then let me help you!"
Rashid laughed. "Everything with you is so black and white. Never any shades of grey. You're so naive, Josh."
With a frustrated sigh, Josh covered his face with his hands. He was getting nowhere. How many hours did he have left? It was going to be a long day...
Jed looked up from the notes he was reviewing with Leo. Mrs. Landingham was standing in the doorway with Ron Butterfield behind her. Jed gave his secretary a nod as he walked toward them.
Jed was the first to admit that he was not a patient man. The fact that Ron had kept him waiting for half an hour was unbelievable. Had it not been for Leo's quiet reassurances, Jed knew he would be ballistic at this point.
"Ron" He cut off the reprimand. Butterfield stepped into the Oval Office, but he was not alone.
"Mr. President," the Secret Service Agent said, "I apologize, sir. I got a phone call from Rob this morning. We have information."
Jed stopped, his eyebrows climbing. "Good news, I hope?" He glanced from his Chief Agent to Rob Conrad, the Director of the CIA.
"We know where they are, sir," Conrad said after a brief pause.
There was something wrong. "What aren't you telling me?" Jed asked, feeling Leo step up beside him.
Conrad cleared his throat. "We've known where Riaz's people are for about six months now, sir."
"What?!" Leo shouted before Jed could respond.
So much for the calming presence.
"Six months ago we were alerted to their activity," Conrad explained. "We had them under surveillance for four months but there was no illegal activity. Two months ago, we put them on intermittent surveillance. They did nothing wrong."
"Until now." Jed folded his arms across his chest.
"So I guess they weren't under that intermittent surveillance when two of my staff members were dragged into...wherever they are?!" Jed could feel his blood pressure rising.
"Now let me ask you something else..." Jed pierced Conrad with a glare. "If we know where they are, what the hell are we doing standing in my office discussing it?!"
"Our men are downstairs as we speak, sir," Ron said quickly. "Tom Connolly's there too. We're mapping out a plan of action. The local police have been notified. We'll be ready to move in an hour."
"See that you are."
The two agents turned to go.
"Ron." Jed waited until Butterfield turned back to face him. "Get them out of there alive, Ron."
Butterfield heaved a sigh. Jed could almost hear what he was thinking. 'We'll try, Mr. President.' 'We'll do our best, Mr. President.' But Ron was too good a man not to say exactly what Jed wanted to hear. Jed wasn't disappointed.
"Yes, Mr. President."
Josh was pacing. His throat was raw. He wasn't sure how long they'd been at this, but it had to be over an hour. This was ridiculous. It was insane. His head was going to explode.
"Are you listening to me?" He tried not to yell. "Have you heard a word I've said?"
Rashid rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers. "Every single word, Joshua. And you're giving me a headache."
"I knew this was a bad idea."
Josh wheeled on him. "Why? Why, Raj? The same reason you had me locked up last night? What's the matter, Raj? Afraid I'm going to break through that barrier you've built up?"
There was a warning in Raj's voice, but Josh plowed right over it.
"You know what, Raj? You're being used! Just as much as you're using Sam and me. Riaz used you to get to me. But it's not as easy as you thought, is it? And where do you go from here? I'll tell you, Raj. Straight to hell!"
Rashid's chest was rising and falling rapidly. "Don't push me, Josh."
"Is that another threat?" He was yelling now. His throat was on fire, but he didn't care. This was crazy. "'Cause I'm telling you, Raj, I'm tired of the threats. This isn't going to work! The President isn't going to negotiate!"
"Then you are a dead man."
Josh could feel himself shaking with rage. "Oh, that's just great. Just great, Raj! Well, when the time comes, you should pull the trigger."
Rashid stood up so fast his chair clattered to the floor. He glowered at Josh from across the table. Josh could see him shaking.
"What's the matter, Raj? Is that not in your job description? Oh, that's right. You have hired guns to do your dirty work. You're a coward. I never would have believed you could do this."
A stream of Urdi shot from Rashid's mouth, the sentence punctuated by his fist striking the table.
Josh could barely catch his breath. He breathed in through his nose, trying to suppress a cough. Oh, yeah. He'd struck a nerve. It just needed time to sink in...
Footsteps pounded on the stairs outside the door. Josh turned toward the sound. The guard was gone. Oh, God! No!
He whirled back to find Rashid holding out the cell phone.
"Call your President, Joshua." Raj's voice was low. "Call him now."
Sam pressed his hands against the door and turned his head to one side trying to distinguish the words. Josh was yelling. That wasn't a good sign. When Josh got this upset, he said things...
"...Straight to hell!"
...things he was going to regret. When Josh was this upset, he didn't think before he opened his mouth...
"The President isn't going to negotiate!"
Jesus Christ, Josh, shut up!
There was more, but Sam couldn't
A new voice. Shouting. Rashid? Oh, shit...
Footsteps pounded on the stairs.
Voices outside the door.
Sam backed away, shaking his head. This wasn't happening. Josh...
The door opened. Sam caught his breath. Gun Guy was there, and someone else. They moved towards him.
He kept backing away until he hit the wall. There was nowhere to go.
"No, please! Wait!"
Gun Guy grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him away from the wall. His arms were pulled behind his back.
Jesus, they're going to tie me, Sam realized in a panic. He yanked from their grasp and turned.
Gun Guy was there too fast. Sam couldn't escape the backhand to his face that sent him reeling to the right. He tasted blood.
And like a shark on the scent, Gun Guy was on him.
A fist slammed into Sam's midsection, doubling him over and driving the air from his lungs. Something hit him between the shoulder blades with such force it knocked him flat on the floor.
His arms were yanked behind his back again. This time he couldn't fight it. There was pressure on his back, pinning him to the floor. He couldn't breathe. The blood in his mouth was making him sick. He spit it out.
He managed to gasp in a few short breaths, but it wasn't nearly enough. His vision was darkening around the edges. What was taking them so long? Just get it over with.
Sam's fingers flexed and curled, the only part of his body he could still move freely. He felt something wind around his wrists, not rope, not tape. What was it? There was a ratchet sound as the binding was tightened.
Finally, the pressure eased on his back.
The surge of air his lungs tried to draw in made him cough, sending a wave of pain through his gut. He tried to curl up, but the instant he moved, they were on him again.
A hand grabbed his hair and another his collar. He was hauled to his feet, and found himself face to face with Gun Guy. He could feel himself trembling; he couldn't stop it. But he refused to look away.
Gun Guy moved. His weapon came up.
Sam winced as the muzzle pressed into the soft flesh beneath his chin. His head was being forced back. He felt the rifle move.
Sam jerked at the shout, a startled cry escaping his lips.
They were laughing at him. The sick bastards were laughing at him.
"You son of a bitch," he spat, the blood from his lips spattering Gun Guy's face.
He prepared himself for another blow, but it didn't come. Gun Guy was smiling.
The rifle was pulled away, and Gun Guy stepped impossibly closer. "You die," he said.
He spoke English.
"Oh, God, please..." Sam pleaded as he was hauled from the room.