Leo was talking quietly with the President when the senior staff entered. After dispensing with the formalities, Toby started right in.
"Leo, do you mind telling me why I’ve spent all morning trying to revise a speech that the President is supposed to be delivering this afternoon, but my usually trusty deputy has corralled my assistants, his assistant and Josh’s assistant into some secret, clandestine mission-"
"That’s redundant," Sam said.
"Some secret, clandestine mission," Toby repeated, ignoring Sam, "while I, on the other hand, have been pulling out my hair-"
"What’s left of it," Josh snickered.
"That’s enough out of you, you reject from the ‘Hair Club for Men’," Toby growled.
"Ow. That hurts," Josh whined.
"Will you two knock it off?" CJ said, annoyed by their antics. "Josh, where have you been all morning? I’ve been trying to get an update on that education reform bill for my briefing this afternoon."
"Attending a secret, clandestine meeting," Josh said sarcastically, with a look to Toby.
"That’s enough," Jed said. "Remember me? I happen to be the President of the United States, leader of the free world, the most powerful man in the nation - and your boss."
"Sorry sir," everyone echoed.
"Thank you. That’s better. Now Sam, what have you got?"
Sam looked directly at the President. "We found the cab company. They confirmed that they picked up Deena at approximately 10:35 and dropped her off at Dulles at 11:10."
"What airline?" Leo asked.
CJ was puzzled. "Deena? Deena Young? What’s going on?"
Leo spoke up. "With apologies to CJ and Toby. We didn’t want to say anything until we knew something for sure." He brought the staff up to speed on the morning’s events.
CJ said softly, "Oh man. This is bad. Does Zoey know?"
"Not yet. And we’re keeping this between us for now. No press, CJ," Leo said. CJ nodded in agreement.
"Do I take it that the President’s schedule - including the DAR luncheon for which I have been rewriting a speech for all morning - has been cancelled?" Toby asked quietly.
"Absolutely," Jed answered. "Until we know Charlie’s whereabouts, I’m not leaving."
"You can’t do that, sir," CJ stated. At Jed’s scowl, CJ spoke directly. "With all due respect, the press already has your schedule for the day. If you cancel your appearance at this luncheon, there’s bound to be questions from the press. And short of physical illness or a national emergency, the tap dance I’ll have to do with the press corps will do nothing but put those bloodhounds on the scent. If they even sense that we’re trying to hide something, they won’t let up and we’ll have to come clean."
"We could say the President is ill," Josh said.
"We could. But he just had that bout with the flu a few weeks ago. If I tell them he’s sick again, then we’ll start them wondering about his health. If I say it’s food poisoning, then there’ll be questions about security. And we can’t say he ran his bike into a tree again," she said with a smile.
Jed smiled back. He knew CJ was right, but he still wasn’t convinced. Then Toby spoke up. "CJ’s right, sir. Rescheduling appointments is not unusual, but canceling a public appearance - especially with the DAR - would be a disaster."
"I know you want to see this through," Leo said sadly, "but they’re right. You’ve got to at least show up at that luncheon."
"Yeah," Jed answered in defeat, "I know." At that moment, the phone rang. "Yes, Mrs. Landingham? Put her through." He paused for a moment. "What happened?" He listened anxiously. "I see. When?…It’s okay. You did the right thing. Bring her here. And the tape. Thanks." He hung up the phone and leaned back into his chair, rubbing his forehead. Bad had suddenly turned to worse.
"What happened?" Leo asked.
"Zoey got a call on her answering machine from Charlie." He looked at Leo. "We’re gonna need the FBI."
Everyone’s heart sank. One thought was on everyone’s mind: kidnapping - or worse. Leo finally spoke. "They’ve already been alerted. I’ll have them here within a half hour."
Jed looked at him quizzically, then nodded in agreement. "Zoey will be here by then." He turned to the senior staff. "I know how much Charlie means to all of us, but we’ve still got work to do. Leo, you’re with me. Josh, you stick with the FBI. Find them some place to work where they won’t be obvious. Get them whatever and whoever they need to help. CJ, keep the press occupied. If they ask why the Feds are here, tell them we’re working on new security measures with the Secret Service. Sam, Toby, finish up that speck. I’ll want to see the final draft in one hour. That’s all people."
"Thank you, Mr. President," they echoed as they left.
Leo stayed behind. Jed looked at him with a mixture of admiration and accusation. "You called the FBI."
"Yeah. After I spoke with you. I wanted them to be alerted just in case." Noticing the withdrawn look on his friend’s face, Leo asked, "How’s Zoey doing?"
"She’s scared for Charlie. She’s pissed off at me."
"I’d guess it’s because I didn’t tell her about Charlie. She’s angry because I kept it from her and Gina was the one to tell her what was going on. She got ambushed by that message."
"She had to know you were only trying to protect her," Leo said.
Jed shook his head. "Right now, the only thing my daughter knows is that her father lied to her about her boyfriend. And she can’t see beyond that."
"She’ll get over it. Once we find Charlie, she’ll calm down."
Jed looked at his best friend with eyes more haunted than Leo had ever seen before. "If we find him," he said miserably. "Wait til you hear the message."