Shades of Grey
part 8

CJ Cregg stuck her head in Sam's office, then in Toby's. With a frown, she turned toward the Bullpen. "Cathy," she said, approaching the assistant's desk, "where is everyone? Josh and Donna weren't at their desks, now Sam and Toby? Is there a meeting I don't know about?"

"CJ," Cathy greeted, trying to sound cheerful. "No, actually—"

The phone rang. Cathy glanced at the ID screen. Josh Lyman. She picked up the phone.

 

 

The commotion from his office drew Leo's attention. He shared a confused look with the President, then headed for the door. Before he could reach it, he was met by Cathy and Toby.

"Leo," Cathy said before he could say anything. "There's a man on the phone. He wants to speak with the President. He's calling on Josh's cell phone."

Out of the corner of his eye, Leo saw Bartlet heading for the phone. "Mr. President? It's better if he doesn't speak with you right away." It gave the caller an edge to know he could get to the President of the United States on the impression of a threat. And if that threat had anything to do with Josh and Sam, there was no telling what Bartlet might say in a moment of anger.

Leo saw his assistant hovering behind Toby. "Margaret. Secret Service. Now!" He headed for the President's desk. "What line is he on, Cathy?"

"Fifty-five."

The line was blinking. Jed placed his palms on his desk and leaned forward, his jaw set. Toby and CJ approached, but Cathy remained by the door. As Leo picked up the handset, the Secret Service converged on the Oval Office. Two of them took up stance directly behind the President.

Leo tapped the speaker phone button and opened the line. "This is Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. You mind telling me who you are and what you're doing with my deputy's phone?"

"Who I am is not important. What I want is. I asked to speak with the President." The man's voice was calm.

"He's not available at the moment. You'll have to talk to me."

There was a pause, then some muffled conversation on the other end. Then, "All right. Joshua Lyman and Sam Seaborn are hostages against the extradition of Mohammad Riaz to England. We demand his release."

CJ grasped Toby's arm with one hand while stifling a gasp with the other.

"I think you know we can't do that," Leo said. It was an effort to keep his voice neutral.

"Oh, I think you can. He's done nothing wrong in the United States. Your country doesn't want him. Are you telling me foreign relations are more important than the lives of your two coworkers? Be creative. You'll think of something."

Leo held up a warning hand the instant Jed Bartlet opened his mouth. The President's fingers had curled in; his knuckles were white. Bartlet was a passionate man. He cared deeply for the people who had helped him achieve the presidency. They were family. And you didn't mess with family.

"I want to talk to them," Leo demanded. "We don't discuss any deals until I know they're alive."

More silence.

Leo's stomach flipped as he imagined the worst, until:

"Leo?"

Josh. Leo breathed a sigh of relief. "You okay, kid?"

"Yeah."

"Sam?"

"I think so. Yeah. We were separated, but...he's okay." It was a prompted response. Leo could hear the uncertainty in his deputy's voice.

Toby pulled from CJ's grasp and backed up a few paces to the sofa. CJ's fingers twined in her necklace. The President pushed away from the desk and began to pace.

"Hang in there, son," Leo said. "We'll do everything we can."

"I know." Josh knew White House policy as well as Leo did.

There was another pause, then the terrorist was back. "You have twenty-four hours to come up with a solution for our dilemma. I will call you back then." A muted click, then nothing.

"Oh, my God. It's him."

The half-whispered words were loud in the stunned silence of the Oval Office. All attention turned to Donna, who was standing in the doorway to Leo's office clutching a folder to her chest. She snapped out of her daze as if suddenly realizing she had spoken out loud.

Bartlet took a few steps toward her. "Who, Donna?" He was trying to speak as gently as possible for her sake. "You know who that was?"

"I...I spoke to him this morning. It was Josh's friend from grad school. Um...Rashid. That's who he was meeting for lunch." Her eyes were wet. "Josh was so excited. He couldn't wait to see him."

The Secret Service Agent who had documented the phone conversation tucked his notebook in his pocket and approached the assistant. "Miss, would you mind coming down to Agent Butterfield's office? Anything you can tell us would be helpful." He turned to Bartlet. "Mr. President?"

Bartlet nodded his permission, this time stepping all the way up to Donna. He laid a hand on her arm. "Is that okay with you, Donna?" Her head moved, but he couldn't tell whether it was a nod or a shiver. "Do you want someone to go with you?"

Donna drew herself up, sniffed, and shook her head. "I'm fine. Thank you, sir."

"Cathy," Leo said, "you spoke to him as well?"

"Only for a few seconds," she said with a shake of her head.

"We'd like to get a statement from you all the same," the agent said.

Donna barely had time to pass the folder she'd brought to Leo before the two assistants were whisked from the room. Silence fell again as the other agents returned to their posts.

"What do I tell the press?" CJ asked, glancing at Toby. The Communications Director hadn't moved. He was practically sitting on the back of the sofa, staring down at his shoes.

"Nothing yet," said Leo. "We'll have to wait until we hear from the Secret Service, and probably the FBI. They're going to have to look over any statements we're going to make before we make them."

"Aren't we forgetting something here?" Toby was still staring at his shoes. When no one responded, he raised his head. "Sam and Josh have been kidnapped and all we're concerned with is what we can or cannot say to the press?"

CJ shook her head, her shoulders dropping. "Oh, Toby, that's not what I meant."

"It's what you said."

"Toby," Leo said, "nobody's forgetting Josh and Sam."

The Communications Director looked up, dead at Leo. "Then what are we doing about it?"

"We're leaving it in the hands of the professionals," Leo said, his tone and gaze cautioning Toby not to pursue it any further.

Toby ignored the warning. "So what you're telling me is they're as good as dead."

Leo took a step toward him. "White House policy—"

"To hell with White House policy!" Toby was yelling now. "I'm asking what we're going to do!"

CJ moved closer to Toby and placed a hand on his shoulder. He didn't pull away.

"Toby," Bartlet said, his voice calm, sympathetic, "if we negotiate once—just once—we leave ourselves open to this kind of thing all the time."

Toby's eyes were glazed, but he managed a small nod.

Bartlet drew a deep breath and let it out, walking slowly to the center of the room. "Look, I...know this isn't going to be easy for any of us. And the next twenty-four hours will probably feel like the longest in our lives. We can't afford to be divided in this. We're going to need each other. Your staffs are going to need you." He looked at each of them in turn. They looked tired, more so than he felt. "I know it's almost time for you to be heading home, but I'd like you to stay. There's room for you in the Residence. I'll make sure each of you has protection until this is over. I don't want to take the chance of these people abducting anyone else."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Leo and CJ said at almost the same time.

CJ squeezed Toby's shoulder.

"Thank you," the Communications Director whispered.

Jed nodded.

Interpreting the dismissal, Leo caught CJ's gaze and nodded toward his own office. The President would need a few moments to himself. CJ slipped her arm around Toby's shoulders and ushered him out of the Oval Office. Leo closed the door.

 

 

The Oval Office seemed larger than usual. Or was it simply that he felt smaller? Powerless was a better word. There were many times when he felt the weight of a nation on his shoulders. This was so much more. They had attacked him on a personal level, and there was nothing he could do about it. He wasn't used to that feeling.

Abbey was away. He couldn't even remember where she was. He wished she were there. He needed her touch, her reassurance, her strength.

But his wife wasn't there, and Jed suddenly realized there was only One he could turn to at the moment. He dropped into his chair by the sofa and propped his elbows on his knees. Bowing his face into his hands, Jed Bartlet prayed.

 

Shades of Grey - 9

 

 

 

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