Strange Day 

By: Catherine Semerjian

 

Toby Ziegler was not having a particularly good day. The President was scheduled to deliver a speech to some group of protesters who wanted something or another. On days like these, everybody was a hassle. There had been a heat wave in Washington for the past week and he'd worn out every last nerve, which made him more irritable than usual.

Fortunately, nobody had noticed the difference.

"Morning, Toby," the short, balding man mumbled something incoherent as his colleague, Sam Seaborn, fell into step beside him.

Unlike Toby, Sam appeared to be totally at ease. His suit jacket was off and his sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, but otherwise, he didn't show any signs of discomfort. Of course, being from California, he was well accustomed to the weather. A few inches taller than his companion, Sam found that he had to slow down a little to keep in step with him.

"Did you get that final draft of the speech I sent you?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, looks fine." Toby said, noncommittal. "At least there's some punctuation." Actually, his secretary hadn't sent it to him yet, but he wasn't about to prolong this conversation.

If the heat hadn't been so oppressive, Toby might have noticed every muscle in Sam's body tensing as the two entered the elevator that was going to take them up for a last minute meeting with the President before he gave his speech.

* *

"Damnit, doesn't this place have air conditioning?" For as refined a diplomat as Jed Bartlett, that was not a particularly subtle statement. He tugged at his shirt collar, wishing that he could take off his tie. But, of course, he couldn't. He had to look happy as a clam for a bunch of people who had gotten together to tell him how much they wanted other people to stop burning flags. The issue was on the furthest political back burner, but had a tendency to pop up whenever things got boring.

"Has anyone seen Toby and Sam?" Jed asked when his last question received no response. Somehow he got the feeling that he didn't want to know the answer anyway.

"They're on their way," the President's personal aide, Charlie Young, replied. When it came to Jed Bartlett and who was going to come into contact with him, nobody knew more than Charlie. That was his job.

* *

Carla Tucker giggled as she hit the 'send' button on the email.

* *

Within moments, a Secret Service Agent was listening to something in his ear piece. A second later, the President of the United States was leaving the building through a well guarded back exit. As soon as he was safe, every other occupant of the building was evacuated.

Then the search for the bomb began.

* *

Springy elevator music was the only thing that broke the silence between Sam and Toby.

Neither man was in the mood to talk, but for different reasons.

Sam tensed when the elevator screeched to a halt.

That's when things got bad.

* *

"What in the hell happened?" Bartlett roared as he came into his office.

"Five minutes ago, every computer in the White House received this message," Leo McGarry said grimly. He handed the President a single sheet of paper.

It was an email with a chilling statement.

There's a bomb where the President is.

"We're tracking down the letter right now, but we didn't want to take any chances." Leo concluded.

"How do we know its not in here?" Jed replied, his thoughts flying to his daughter Zoë and grateful that she was safe at college.

"We've had everybody crawling over this place since the message came in," Leo assured him. "It's not here."

At that moment, two more figures burst into the room, a man and a woman. She was taller than her companion with short red hair and wearing a champagne coloured jacket and skirt combination with a white blouse. The man wore a hastily put together suit, with no jacket.

"Has anyone seen Sam and Toby?" Press Secretary C.J Gregg asked.

"Last I heard, they were coming up to see the President in the convention hall," Charlie informed them.

"Could they still be in there?" The President asked, frowning.

"Odds are good they've been evacuated along with everyone else." Leo replied.

"But they would have been back here by now." C.J said.

"Maybe they got stuck in traffic," Josh chimed in helpfully.

"I don't like this," Bartlett muttered. "I don't like this at all. C.J, I want you to try Toby's car phone and then his cell. Let's find out where they are for sure."

Not caring that this wasn't in her job description, C.J turned on her heel and walked briskly down the hall towards her office.

* *

It had been about two minutes since the emergency lights had come on and Sam hadn't stopped moving since. He was pacing back and forth around the small confines of the elevator. His breathing seemed way too loud.

Toby for his part was sitting calmly in one corner, reading a folder that had been in his briefcase. Every few seconds, he would lower the folder and look up at his frazzled coworker.

After a minute more of this, the balding man finally spoke. "While I know being trapped in an elevator with me isn't high on anyone's fantasy list, it 's nothing to panic over."

Sam ignored him, then reached up, tearing at the collar of his shirt until the top two buttons came loose. He ran a hand through his damp hair, then with sudden purpose walked over to the buttons, whose lights were dark.

With a ferocity that started Ziegler, Sam began to stab at the buttons, pounding on them with his first in frustration when nothing happened. He reached for the small phone inside the elevator, almost yanking it out of its socket. "Hello?" He screamed into the device. "Can somebody help me .please!?"

"I'm in here too," Toby said quietly. He glanced over at his agitated companion, "not that I want to be."

Sam gave up on the phone and started banging on the buttons again. Toby had had enough; he rose to his feet and spun Sam around by the elbow. The older man was taken aback by the wild panic in Sam's eyes. His skin was ashen and he was shaking a little.

"Sam, would you snap out of it!" Toby shouted. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

Seaborn wrenched away from the other man's grip and walked to the far corner of the elevator. He whirled around, his eyes wide.

"I'm claustrophobic!" He screamed.

Silence reigned for a long time as Toby thought of something to say. But really, what could one say after an admission like that? "You were fine when we got in here." He commented.

"That's before we were trapped in this . this moving coffin!" Sam shot back, resuming his crazed pacing once again.

"How long have you been like this?" Toby asked, morbidly curious in spite himself.

"As long as I can remember," Sam replied, obviously struggling to regain his composure. "I-I just can't stand being closed in like this. It drives me crazy."

"Isn't there anything you can do about it?" Toby inquired. "I've been in one of these things before and it took a while to get fixed."

"You're not helping, Toby!" Sam yelled, running a hand through his slightly damp hair.

Toby sighed and set down his report.

A wonderful day had just gotten better.

* *

"Good news, Mr. President," Leo announced as he walked into the office. "Turns out that our bomb threat was just an email sent out by some thirteen year old kid who wanted to stir up a little trouble. There's only one problem."

"We still haven't found Sam and Toby yet," the President guessed. Over the years, he'd learned to trust his gut instinct and right now it was telling him that something bad was going to happen. Unless, it was already happening right now. A new thought interrupted his reverie. "Leo, why aren 't I back giving the speech yet?" Jed asked.

"Because," Leo replied, sounding as annoyed as he looked. "The local cops are double checking everything."

"How long is that going to take, Leo?"

"Using the dogs, another two hours, an hour and a half if we're lucky." The Chief of Staff replied. When he saw his long time friend open his mouth, he held up his hand to interrupt him. "I don't like it any more than you do, but once an idea gets into their heads, there's no dislodging it."

* *

C.J was returning to the President's office, when she caught sight of Danny Concannon waiting at her door. She slowed down to let him catch up.

"C.J what's going on? Why was the convention canceled? I was all settled in to watch Jed Bartlett talk about the evils of flag burning."

"You're the reporter, Danny, you figure it out." C.J wasn't in the mood for the kind of light hearted flirting they did.

Her blunt statement told Danny that something serious was going on. "Is there anything I can do to help?" He asked.

C.J stopped and smiled at him. "Not unless you're clairvoyant."

He frowned at her and the seriousness returned to her face. "We can't find Toby or Sam right now and the last place they were seen is having some--technical difficulties."

"Have you tried calling?" Danny asked intently. He obviously didn't have the same interest in Sam and Toby as he did for C.J, but he didn't want anything to happen to her two friends.

"I'm going to try Toby's cell phone as soon as I talk to the President."

Brow knitted in concern, Danny grabbed her wrist. "You let me know if anything happens, all right?"

She graced him with a small, tired smile. "All right."

* *

Both occupants of the elevator jumped when they heard a cell phone ring. Toby reached into his jacket and answered.

* *

"Hello?" Toby's ragged voice on the other end of the line was perhaps the most welcome sound Josh, Jed, Leo and C.J had ever heard.

"Toby, it's C.J, are you all right? Where are you? Is Sam-?"

"Speaking of Sam," Toby cut in. "He's not exactly himself right now." With that, he began to tell them everything. From their location to Sam's extreme reaction. He didn't neglect to add his own inexperience with this kind of emotional problem. "Is there any way you could get us out of here?"

"We're working on that now, Toby," Leo called into the speaker phone. "Right now, you just try to keep calm."

"Keeping myself calm isn't the problem, Leo," Toby retorted.

* *

Sam found that he was too tired to pace anymore. He didn't even bother listen to Toby as he talked to C.J and the others. He all but collapsed in the far corner from Toby, panting with exertion. Even though he wasn't moving any more, he could still feel the fear churning in him. Only now he didn't have an outlet and all he could think about was how small the little space was.

Eight paces down and six across. A perfect little makeshift coffin. Sam laughed, a frightening, humourless sound.

He could sense Toby's eyes on him and that only made him feel worse. All his life, he'd tried to control this fear, but to lose it now, in front of a man he respected so much was more than a little humiliating. And now he was talking to the others, wanting to know how to deal with the basket case he'd become. Sam clenched his eyes shut, leaning his head back against the cool brass of the elevator wall. He was telling himself to keep calm, to try and get a grip.

With his eyes closed, the oppressive blackness cascaded over him. His eyes flew open and he gasped sharply, trying to regain control of himself. All he could see were the walls closing in around him. He shook off Toby's concerned hand and backed into the furthest corner of the elevator, staring around without seeing anything. He started breathing deeply, trying to suck in more precious oxygen, but it felt like he couldn't get enough. His heart began to pound against his chest, increasing his terror.

What was the matter with him?

* *

Helplessness was not a feeling Toby Ziegler was well acquainted with--in fact, he hated it.

Now, watching Sam in the throes of a panic attack, he couldn't do a damned thing. He wished to God that anybody else was in here. C.J, Josh, even Leo, they were all better equipped to deal with something like this.

After a lifetime and a half, Sam began to calm down. He shivered occasionally, but seemed to be a little more in control of himself.

He sighed, relieved. That was one problem he didn't have to worry about for the moment. Toby returned his attention to those on the phone.

* *

"Toby, what's going on in there?" Josh demanded in a much sharper tone that his friends were used to hearing.

"Oh nothing, just a little complication. Now, about getting us out of here--?"

"You're going to have to sit tight for just a little while longer," the President informed them. "Right now your biggest concern is keeping Sam calm." His voice took on a reflective cast. "When I was a lad, I happened to know a kid who didn't like closed spaces, so one day when we were out--"

"Just tell him to picture a calm blue ocean," Josh interrupted, ignoring the President's glower in his direction. "It'll get his mind off things for a little while. A nice sea breeze, birds chirping."

"No, no, no," Leo began, shaking his head. "What you've got to do is--"

"Would you two shut up?" C.J snapped. She flipped off the speaker phone. "Toby, let me talk to Sam for a minute." She waited for the distinct sound of the cell phone changing hands. "Sam?" She asked kindly.

"Y-yeah?"

C.J bit back a wince at the sound of his voice. He didn't sound like the same Sam Seaborn at all. Gone was all the professionalism, he sounded downright terrified.

"Sam," she began. "I want you to keep calm for me, all right. We're going to have you two out of there soon. I just need you to relax."

"Easy for you to say," Sam snapped. "You're not stuck in this death trap!"

"Sam, Sam, calm down!" C.J hadn't meant to yell, but she wanted to give Sam something to focus on other than his fear. When the silence continued, she began to get worried.

"It's me," came Toby's tired voice. "Sam looked like he was about to throw my phone against the wall, so I decided to grab it from him. He's not feeling too talkative. How long did you say we're going to be stuck in here?"

"At least another hour," C.J said, hearing his soft curse over the line. "Maybe a little more. The President's doing all he can to get them to turn the power back on, but so far they're being stubborn jackasses."

Toby laughed quietly.

"What, what is it?" C.J asked, noting that those in the Oval Office were giving her somewhat disbelieving looks as well.

"I don't think I've ever heard you use that particular statement before." Toby explained.

* *

A few minutes later, C.J went back to her office. Now that she knew what the situation was, she hated the fact that she was so powerless. Toby just didn't have the finesse to deal with a claustrophobic trapped in an elevator.

Not that she'd ever expected Sam to be claustrophobic. He usually seemed so calm and in control. Of course, phobias like this weren't exactly put on one's résumé.

C.J looked up when her door opened and she tried to fashion a smile for Danny. Judging by the concern on his face, she'd failed miserably.

He sat down on the chair facing her and waited patiently. C.J closed her eyes and rested her chin in the palm of her hands. She began to tell him every detail of the story.

* *

In the back of his mind, Danny was filing all of this away for a story, but his foremost concern was for Sam and Toby. While he knew they weren't in any immediate danger, just sitting there was probably worse.

The reporter would never admit it to anyone, especially not C.J, but he wasn 't exactly fond of elevators and the like himself. Just the thought of being stuck in an elevator like that gave him the creeps. He could only imagine what Sam was going through.

When C.J finished her story, he noticed how drained she looked. He smiled at her, "C.J, why don't you go get yourself a cup of coffee?"

She opened one eye. "Why are you trying to get me to leave my office?"

He grinned at her, "sheer concern." He saw her debating and decided to have a little bit of fun with her. "Don't worry, you haven't got anything in here that I haven't seen."

The look of faint panic on her face almost made his day.

As he watched her leave, Danny's mind turned towards the two in the elevator. He remembered once, when he'd first started out as a reporter, he 'd gotten trapped with his partner in a closet. After seeing his reaction, she had made him start talking about everything from his life, to his dog, to his political affiliations. Time had flown and somebody had freed them before he knew it. Danny shook his head; his friends had made 'coming out of the closet' jokes for months.

Danny got to his feet and walked over to C.J's rolodex. He thumbed through it until he found what he was looking for. Then he grabbed C.J's phone, chose an empty line and began to dial.

* *

Toby was hungry and tired, but he didn't want to go to sleep. He just couldn't shake the feeling that Sam would kill him in his sleep to conserve the oxygen supply. Toby couldn't help but snicker at the headlines that would create. 'Deputy Communications Director kills Communications Director.'

By this point, the phone ringing didn't surprise him. He just hoped to God it wasn't Josh telling him to teach Sam yoga.

"Danny?" He exclaimed, causing Sam to poke his head up in curiosity. Toby listened intently to the reporter's suggestion. It seemed a hell of a lot less far fetched than what some of the others had told him.

After the conversation, Toby sat lost in thought. His mind went over a few possibilities, then he just blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"People should be able to burn flags!"

Sam looked at him, "What?"

"You heard me," Toby lied through his teeth, making up his argument as he went along. "People should burn as many flags as they want. Hell, it doesn 't even have to be our flag! Let's burn all of them and have a big party on the White House Lawn."

"A-are you out of your mind?" Sam demanded, his voice becoming more composed with every word. "First of all, flag burning devalues patriotism in a time where our country desperately needs something to feel proud over. Secondly, flag burners are a bunch of would-be arsonist yahoos who just like to set things on fire. It's completely--"

Sam barely noticed it when the lights came back on, the springy music began to play and the elevator began its slow ascent.

* *

By the time they made it to the lobby, Sam had laid out every possible argument against flag burning, including some stuff that Toby had never even heard before.

"Not to mention the effect on the environment-"

"You know something, you're right." Toby announced.

Sam blinked at him.

Bing

The brass elevator doors opened slowly, revealing a few red faced police officers and a couple of secret service agents waiting to take them home.

* *

The next day, Toby was relieved to feel that the heat wave had broken. He also learned that the President's speech was going to be rescheduled for next week. That gave he and Sam some time to revamp a few phrases he wasn't happy with, not to mention incorporate some of the points Sam had brought up during the incident.

Fortunately, everyone was content to forget the whole thing had ever happened.

Toby was just walking past Cathy's desk, when she stopped him. "Toby," she began. "You look a little flushed, are you all right?"

Toby flashed her an uncharacteristic smile. "Let's just say that I thought a brisk walk up the stairs would do me good."

THE END


 

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