Blood and Thunder

Jane Harper

RATING: R (language, some violence) 

SYNOPSIS: The fifteenth man has talked, someone is being stalked, someone is pursued by someone they know, and someone is doing what he should have long ago. Burma Shave. 

ARCHIVE: Sure. Just let me know where. HTML available. 

DISCLAIMER: We didn't start the fire. Please don't sue us, your attorneys would laugh when they see the balance sheet.



"Oh my God, Abbey, who did you tell?"

"The anesthesiologist. He needed to know!"

"Did you invoke any kind of confidentiality over the information? Mention national security?"

She shook her head no. "I was so upset, Leo-"

"I know."

"I told him there were only fourteen people who knew, that he'd be the fifteenth. That should have said something!"

"What did you tell him about the press, anything?"

A look of shocked recognition crossed her face. "Oh, God..."

His voice grew more urgent. "What did you tell him?"

"I said, 'tell the press, don't tell the press, it's up to you.'"

"Well it's out there. It's out there distorted, but it's out there."

Abbey put her face in her hands.



CJ came smiling into the Oval Office. "You wanted to see me?" The President was in one armchair, the First Lady in the other, and Leo was sitting on the sofa. She was a little surprised to see Abbey in the room.

"Yes, CJ," the President began. "We need to bring you up to speed on something." He nodded to Leo.

"CJ, seven years ago, the President was diagnosed with what's called relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. It's not a fatal disease, but it is a serious one and a chronic one. Abbey has been taking care of him using various drugs that decrease the frequency and severity of attacks. That was what happened to him when he collapsed a few days before the State of the Union last year. Up until that time not even I knew about it."

The Press Secretary was dumbstruck. "You mean, Danny was..."

"Almost right," Abby finished. "And we think we know how he found out. The night of the shooting, I told the anesthesiologist about Jed's disease, because it could have affected his choice of anesthetic agents. He was only the fifteenth person to know. You are the sixteenth we have told."

"OK," CJ replied, taking a minute to gather her thoughts. "We're going to have to have a strategy to manage this. Do you think this anesthesiologist is Danny's source?"

"Him or someone he told," Leo answered. "We're going to have to do some serious damage control. We're confiding in you, but the rest of the senior staff _do_not_know_."

"Thank you," she said, thinking *for once I'm not the one left _out_ of the loop!* "How do you want to handle it?"

"We're not going to offer anything, and we can categorically deny that the President has a _fatal_ disease. His life expectancy is normal. If we find that the real facts are out there, we'll do something pre-emptive. So your first job will be to find out what's out there and who has it."

CJ turned to the First Lady. "Mrs. Bartlet, forgive me, but how did you manage to keep this a secret?"

"I... kept all the documentation out of the President's official medical record."

* * * * *

It was 9:30 before Sarah got home, tossed her backpack on the dining table. She noticed the brown-paper-wrapped parcel and remembered the notes from earlier in the day, and with a smile on her face she ripped the box open.

Inside was a dead rat with its neck twisted backward.

She screamed and dropped the box back on the table. Just as she was trying to keep from hyperventilating, the phone rang.


A deep, unfamiliar voice said, "Hello. Did you like my gift?" Then the line went dead. Hands shaking, she got a dial tone and called Leo's private extension.


"H-hi Irish."

"Hi Toots, you OK?"

"N-no. You coming home tonight?"

"Doesn't look like it. We've got a problem surfacing..."

"Then can-can I come over there? I don't want to be alone..."

"Sarah, what is the matter with you? Did you have a nightmare?"

"That must be it." She was forcing herself to calm down, even though she could look over at the table at the ghoulish box and knew it was no nightmare. "Please get some sleep tonight. Promise?"

"I promise."

"OK. G'nite."


She hung up and dialed Sam's cell phone. No answer. Mallory's. No answer. *I wonder what _they're_ doing,* she asked herself with a grin. As she was putting the phone back in the cradle, it rang.


"Hi Sarah. It's Toby."

"Toby! I haven't talked to you since forever! Are you home?"

"No, I'm at work, but I'm getting ready to leave. I need to ask you something."

"Well stop by the condo on your way out and you can ask me in person!"

"You're sure it's no trouble? It's pretty late."

"Well, I'm by myself tonight, Leo is probably working through."

"Yeah, we have an early day tomorrow. You sure it's OK?"

"Toby, you have _no_idea_ how OK it is. See you in a few."

Knowing that she dare not let Toby see her gruesome gift, she put the top back on the box, threw the box and its wrapping into a plastic bag and tossed them into the freezer. *When I find out who this is,* she thought, *I'll want to give that to the cops.* Fortified after her scare with fresh bravado, she determined not to tell anyone of the macabre happenings of the day.

By the time she had finished cleaning up, there was a knock at the door. "Who's there?" she asked.

"It's me," Toby replied.

She let him in, curbing her natural impulse to hug a friend at first sight. "Thirsty?" she asked.

"Yeah," he responded; "I'll get it. You don't need to treat me like company." Then confronted with the twin refrigerators, he asked, "Which is which?"

"Depends on what you're looking for. Juice and soda in the left hand fridge, milk in the right hand fridge."

He brought two glasses of juice over to where she sat on the sofa.

"Forgetting something?" she asked.

He looked confused. "No... I don't think..."

"OK," she answered, pulling a scarf out of her pocket and draping it over her head. She began to sing the blessing for fruit juice, and out of the corner of her eye noticed Toby flushed briefly. Finished, she re-pocketed the scarf and turned toward her guest with a questioning look. "You OK?"

"Sure, why?"

"You looked uncomfortable there for a second."

"I was uncomfortable there for a second."

"Why? It's never bothered you before."

"Well," he responded, sitting his glass down on the coffee table, "That's why I came by to see you."

"OK," she responded, puzzled.

"I need your help."

"Anything, you know that."

He nodded. "This is embarrassing." After a moment, he continued. "I never had a Bar Mitzvah-"

"And you want one now? How wonderful! How can I help?" Sarah grinned broadly. "Have you talked to your Rabbi yet?"

"No, I've got an appointment with him tomorrow. I just wondered if-well, you know what my schedule is like, I'd have an awful time making any kind of commitment to a program. So I was hoping you-"

She nodded. "Of course I will. Now I don't know much about Reform liturgy, so you'll have to show me-"

"Come to shul with me a couple of times then," he suggested. "I can introduce you to Rabbi Glassman and maybe the three of us can put something together."

"I'd be honored, Toby." She raised her glass of juice in his direction. "L'chaim!"

"L'chaim," he answered, with a clink of the glass.

* * * * *

Leo and CJ were sitting together in his office, after the first prep session for the next day's news conference was over.

"I thought he did well," he remarked.

She nodded. "I feel a little funny not telling Toby and Sam about the thing though."

"We'll bring them in if there's any hint that we need to be proactive. Right now there are lots of other things they need to concentrate on; this would just distract them from giving us good answers on FOIA, and the education package, and forty-two other bills we have to be prepared to address tomorrow."

"Still, they're gonna be pretty pissed," she insisted.

"I don't really care," he answered. "They'll get over it."

Josh appeared at the office door. "What the hell is going on?" he asked.

"Josh?" Leo asked.

"Drudge has something about the President and a disease?"

CJ looked over at Leo for a moment. "Yeah, Danny says there's something about the President being deathly ill. I told him his source was delusional. And besides, like we care about Drudge."

"He says it comes from 'the President's medical team'."

The three of them went over to stand around Leo's computer as he accessed the website.

"Oh shit," CJ said.

Leo turned to Josh. "Go get Toby and Sam." He got up and went through the connecting door toward the Oval Office.

* * * * *

A tattered young man in a khaki jacket and jeans stood across the street from Leo and Sarah's condo, looking up at the bay windows. Curly mousy-brown hair stuck out from under his watch-cap and he had several days' razor stubble on his face. From his inside jacket pocket he pulled a tattered news clipping with a picture of the two of them as they arrived at the recent state dinner. The caption had been torn away.

He was talking incessantly, although no one was near enough to hear. "Sarah Sarah Sarah Sarah not very nice Sarah you shouldn't be doing that I thought I told you years ago and you never listened to me did you even though you knew I had told you and I was right…"

Meticulously, he began tearing pieces away from around the edges of the photograph.

* * * * *



Blood And Thunder - 4




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