*********

Part 8

"Checkmate."

The President looked up from the chessboard to glare menacingly at his opponent. With an indignant puff of his cigar, he growled in a deep voice. "You know, sometimes I really regret teaching you how to play."

His tone only served to make the other man's smirk grow. "And by 'sometimes', you mean?"

"When you beat me."

"We could have played pool."

The President snorted derisively. "I taught you to play chess, because I was tired of you hustling me at pool." He scowled as his oldest friend laughed. "Leo, I've spent half of the day promising the public that we're going to pass 203, and the other half reassuring our bigger financial supporters that we're not turning our back on them. I have like 400 pages of nonsense in my office to read. Abbey is out of town and my youngest daughter is on a date."

"Charlie's a nice boy," said Leo.

"That doesn't change the fact that he's a boy and he's out on a date with my daughter," the President continued. "All I ask is for a relaxing game of chess with my best friend and instead you-"

"Pummel your ass," Leo finished, still smirking.

Jed threw his hands up in the air. "I get no sympathy."

The Chief of Staff laughed again. "Not when I've spent the day talking to members of the House; pleading, imploring, threatening, and basically blackmailing some of them to get 203 passed; when I have about 500 pages of nonsense in my office to get through; and when my only daughter is on a date with Sam Seaborn."

"Sam's a good guy," teased Jed.

"He's a guy and he's on a date with my daughter."

The President looked thoughtful, then slowly smiled. He was waiting for just the right time to tell Leo his newest discovery and it looked the perfect opportunity just presented itself. "It's spring, Leo. Love is in the air."

"You're are suspiciously cheerful about that, sir," Leo observed and began to reset the board, "considering your youngest daughter appears to be affected."

"Zoey and Charlie, Sam and Mallory," he paused, "CJ and Toby." The President looked up to catch the look of shock, horror, and astonishment only to see a very sang froid expression on his friend's face.

"Yeah," Leo agreed offhandedly. "Makes you wonder who's next. Even Margaret's met some doctor."

"You already knew," charged Jed.

"Of course I knew," Leo replied, deliberately misunderstanding. "She hassled me all day to give her Saturday off. He's taking her to some play," he said, trying to sound annoyed.

"I mean CJ and Toby," Jed cut him off with an accusatory tone. "You knew they were seeing each other."

Leo shrugged, the only indication of amusement at his friend's expense was the mischievous gleam in his eyes.

"You're content on ruining my fun," declared Jed dramatically.

"I try," Leo smiled.

"There has to be someone I can tell that doesn't already know." He snapped his fingers. "Abbey! I can call her in Argentina and-"

"She already knows."

The President sighed dishearteningly. "I never get to have any fun."

"Yeah," Leo said, feigning sympathy. "If it makes you feel any better, Josh and Sam are still stumbling around in the dark."

*********

Four pairs of wide eyes peeked over the tops of their menus at the two couples now sitting across the room.

"Josh!" Donna hissed.

Mallory covered her eyes. "I don't believe this."

"Who's that?!"

"Juliana Schaffer, I imagine," Sam answered calmly, in direct contrast to his best friend's frantic tone.

Josh looked confused. "Who is Juliana Schaffer?"

"I think Sam is trying to say she's the beautiful woman sitting to Toby's left," deadpanned Donna.

"Sam," Josh sighed with a hangdog expression.

"Toby's rolodex says she's a history professor at CCNY," Sam replied quickly. "Ginger overheard Toby on the phone with her this afternoon." He paused, then said meaningfully, "He called her Jules."

"You had Ginger spy on Toby for you," Mallory asked incredulously.

"All assistants spy on their bosses," Donna shrugged.

"You spy on me?"

"Of course not, Josh," she reassured him.

"Wait a minute," Sam interrupted, grabbing their attention. "Where's Toby?"

Donna, Josh, and Mallory followed Sam's gaze to the table where now only three people sat. Toby's chair was empty.

"Where did he go," Josh breathed, his eyes searching the crowded room.

"I don't see him."

Suddenly, Mallory's eyes grew wide. "Hide!''

*********

"I found them," Toby said softly as he returned from checking in at the office.

CJ smiled. "Where?"

"Five o'clock. Dark booth along the wall."

His companions casually looked where he directed to see three people suspiciously holding menus in front of their faces and a red-headed woman frantically searching through her purse, with her head down so they couldn't see her face.

"Smooth," CJ chuckled.

*********

"Do you think they saw us?"

Donna rolled her eyes. "Well, I don't know how they could miss us with our clever subterfuge, but since Toby isn't stalking over here in a murderous rage, my guess is no."

Mallory was about to say something when their waiter reappeared. "I noticed you were studying your menus. Would you like to place an order?"

"No," Josh answered quickly. "We'll let you know when we're ready."

"I don't understand," Sam said as the waiter left. "Is Toby with CJ or the other woman? And who's the guy?"

"Well, of course he's with CJ," replied Donna. "The other two must be friends."

"Are you sure about that," Josh asked, nodding his head towards the subjects of their surveillance. They looked to see Toby kissing the cheek of the raven haired beauty sitting next to him.

*********

Juliana Schaffer couldn't help but laugh quietly as her cousin kissed her cheek softly after he and CJ explained the situation with their friends. "I knew something was up when you called me 'Jules,'" she told Toby. "You haven't called me that since I was twelve."

The corners of his mouth curled up. "My assistant was loitering around. I knew that would get her attention."

She laughed out loud. "Toby, I'd forgotten how much fun we used to have pulling pranks on people." Julie turned to her boyfriend, Richard, and CJ and explained. "We grew up next door to each other in Brooklyn, and we would play tricks on everyone. He'd come up with the plan, and I would do whatever he told me to do." She looked back to her cousin, whom she had always thought of as an older brother. Toby had a rare smile as they remembered their shared childhood. "Our favorite victims were David and his girlfriend of the moment."

*********

They watched as the entire table broke out in laughter. Even Toby was smiling, Sam noted with shock.

"This is just surreal," Donna finally said, speaking for all of them.

*********

"Well, I think we've fulfilled our goal here," said Toby. "There's a little Italian place a few blocks away that's pretty good. We have dinner there, talk, and I can put my arm around CJ without the world's worst spies watching us."

"Sounds great," Julie and Richard agreed as Toby waved over their waiter and paid for their drinks.

Just as the waiter was about to leave, however, CJ called him back. She smiled at Toby slyly. "I have an idea."

*********

"They're leaving," Sam announced.

"Look! Toby is helping CJ with her coat," observed Donna. "I still say they're seeing each other and the other two friends."

Josh quickly threw some money on the table to pay their bill and started to put on his coat. "We'll follow them."

"No," Mallory and Donna ordered simultaneously.

"We have to," he insisted and looked to Sam for support.

Before Sam could reply, though, another voice spoke. "Mr. Lyman?"

Josh turned to see a waiter standing behind him. "Yeah?"

Without a word, the young man placed a large green drink on the table and walked away.

"Hey, I didn't order this," Josh called after him.

"Josh?"

He looked back to Sam in confusion. "What?"

Sam's eyes were fixed on the drink. "It's a grasshopper," he said, then looked up to his best friend.

Josh's eyes narrowed as he caught Sam's meaning. "It must be a mistake."

"There's writing on the napkin," said Donna, moving the glass to reveal a distinctive scrawl on the white napkin.

Josh read aloud. "Enjoy. Love, CJ." He looked back to his friends. "Well, now I'm really confused."

 

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings