See part one for notes and disclaimers.

Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be
Part Three

Toby's office door was closed.

C.J. lifted a hand uncertainly, dropped it, then made up her mind and knocked.

"Yeah," he said, but his tone was forbidding.

She opened the door. "Am I interrupting something?"

He was sitting at his desk, a hand on his forehead. "Doesn't matter."

"Are you sure?" She edged into the office. "If you're busy--"

"I'm reading background on the shooter."

"Oh. Anything I need to know?"

He had already memorized the basic information. "Melissa Tompkin. Fifth-grader at Stanton. Parents, Julie and Roger -- a two-parent family, which is unusual enough in itself. She told the cops she got the gun from her cousin."

"Were there any...." C.J. repressed a sigh. "This is going to sound stupid."

"That doesn't usually stop you," Toby said, but there was no real harshness in his voice.

C.J. paid no attention. "Were there any warning signs?"

"Nothing in the school counselor's files, no previous police record. The parents are in shock."

"Nothing to show she was anything but an ordinary adolescent girl."

Toby picked up his coffee mug and held it without drinking. "Ordinary adolescent girls don't kill people."

"They want to," C.J. told him. He looked up sharply. She held up her hands. "I'm just saying, Toby. Girls that age -- this was probably only a matter of time."

He held eye contact with her for a beat, then broke it. "What do you need?"

She considered the question carefully before making a reply. "I'm not sure. I talked to some people in Nebraska."

"Tell me."

"An old neighbor, a disgruntled former employee. Not your most reliable sources, but their stories are the same and it's starting to sound solid. And I think I was right."

"You think?"

"Well, I couldn't prove it in court." She leaned forward slightly, her fingertips touching his desk. "Trina Verrien had an abortion after the rape, Toby. I'm pretty much convinced."

Toby toyed with the cup in his hands, letting this sink in. "What do you want to do with it?"

"I don't know that I want to do anything with it. This is highly personal information."

"Maybe we just point the dogs toward the scent," he suggested. "Sources inside Personnel?"

"It's her choice, isn't it?" C.J. said. "To tell her story, I mean. If she wants to keep her experiences private--"

"Then she shouldn't have stayed married to a United States Senator," Toby argued, half-rising from his chair. "The man's loudly and publicly snubbing the President, not to mention he's on a crusade against personal freedom. Don't we have a responsibility to point out to the American public that he's a hypocrite?"

"She's not a public official. She's just his wife. You don't think she deserves to keep her secret?"

"It won't stay a secret. You know that. I'm surprised no one broke it during the last campaign. And we're going to look weak for sitting on our hands when this hits the news."

"I don't want to sit on it. I just...." She trailed off awkwardly and drew back. "Don't tell anyone about this yet. I've got to keep looking into it."

Toby lowered his eyes to his desk. "I have to finish all this."

"Toby."

"When they ask at the afternoon briefing, tell them the district attorney hasn't given us word yet on how the girl's being charged."

C.J. watched him, doubtful. He fought the urge to return the gaze. As she left, she pulled the door shut behind her. Toby sat back in his chair, took a sip of his coffee, and made a face. It had gone cold.

* * *

"Hey."

"Hey." C.J. looked up from her desk and saw Donna standing in her doorway. "What's up?"

"Do you want to go to lunch?" Donna gestured with her thumbs, pointing them towards the hallway.

In response, C.J. held up a partially eaten roast beef sandwich. "Another time?"

Donna nodded. "Sure." She paused, then walked into C.J.'s office and shut the door behind her. "I saw the article."

"Which--"

"About Senator Verrien's wife. I saw the article." Donna began walking around the office. "I heard Josh earlier, and then I went to make a copy, and the article was in the machine." She looked at C.J. "I saw the article."

"Okay." C.J. placed the sandwich on its wrapper.

"Before the campaign...." Donna took a breath. "They made me put on one of those paper gowns. I thought I'd be cold, but the heat was overwhelming. The doctor didn't really talk. At first, he told me to relax my legs, but that was it...."

"Donna?"

She stopped pacing and stood in front of C.J.'s desk. "I saw the article and I wanted to tell you."

C.J. slowly nodded. "Thank you." She studied the papers in front of her for a moment before gathering them up and shutting them in her drawer. "Do you want to have lunch tomorrow?"

"Sure." Donna smiled. "Thanks."

* * *

Sam sat amid ruins. Small mounds of crumpled paper littered his office, and several chewed-up pencils sat on the floor by the wastebasket, landing there when he tried to throw them in the trash and missed. He reached for another pencil and made contact with his mug, sending lukewarm coffee cascading into his lap.

"Gaaaaaaaaah!" Sam jumped from his chair and tried to absorb the coffee from his pants with pages from his legal pad.

Josh stood in the doorway, amused. "Have a little accident there, pal?"

"I was multitasking." He rummaged in his drawer and came up with a handful of napkins, cleaning himself up as best he could.

"Unsuccessfully. How's the thing coming?"

Sam waved a hand at the debris on the floor as he sat down. "Judge for yourself."

"That bad, huh?" Josh kicked aside a wad of paper. "Want me to help?"

"You're not a writer."

"I can write," Josh asserted.

"So can your average six-year-old."

Josh snorted and sat down on Sam's couch. "Come on. You welcome the guests, crack a few jokes, make noises about honor and commitment, everybody clinks glasses -- what's the big problem?"

Sam scowled. "The big problem is cracking a few jokes on a day like today. The big problem is it has to be coherent and concise and clever. The big problem is that if you're not careful when you're talking about honor and commitment, you sound like a bad cop show."

Josh smirked and held his hand up in imitation of a two-way radio. "One Adam-twelve. One Adam-twelve. We have whining in progress."

"How do you have time to watch this much television?" Sam inquired.

"I'm a man of many splendors. You're really having this much trouble?"

"I can't write anymore," Sam complained. "I'm useless. Just take me out behind the shed and put me out of my misery."

"We have a shed?"

"It was a joke. Apparently, not a good one."

Josh shrugged. "You'll think of something by tonight."

"Maybe." Sam looked at his own scribbles on a wrinkled bit of paper. "I want to talk about how we have to temper our enthusiasm for the occasion with some thoughts about today's tragedy."

"Temper our enthusiasm?"

"Yeah, that sounds really awful out loud." Sam began to chew on his fresh pencil.

"Hey, if you're stuck, you can just make fun of Neil Sedaka and Ahmet Ertegun."

"To their faces?" Sam deadpanned. "I don't think so. Those guys are dangerous."

"Which one do you think would win in a fight?"

"Street fight or ring fight?"

"Street."

"I'd put my money on Sedaka," Sam decided.

"Why, is he bigger?"

"I don't know, but I think Ahmet Ertegun's about eighty years old."

"Josh." Donna appeared in the doorway. "You're late."

"For what?"

"Your meeting with Dashowitz and Ramsey."

Josh grinned at Sam. "Which one do you think would win in a fight?"

"I don't know. Dashowitz has the height advantage."

"Yeah, but Ramsey's kind of wily."

"Josh!" Donna tapped her foot impatiently.

"Okay." He shot a parting glance at Sam. "You'll get the toast done."

"Thanks," Sam replied.

"You're gonna change your pants before dinner, right?"

Josh walked away laughing, as Sam folded his arms and put his head down on the desk.

* * *

"What are you up to?"

C.J. raised her head. "There's a briefing in five minutes, Danny."

He leaned against the door frame. "I wanted to--"

"Briefing in five minutes."

"Are you listening to me?"

"Are you listening to me?" She enunciated carefully, as if he was deaf or distant. "There's a briefing in five minutes. Whatever you want to know, can't it wait?"

"Sure." He took an exaggerated step backward into the hall. "Push me away, then. Leave me out in the cold. See if I care. See if I even notice."

"Okay." She pushed her chair back, surrendering. "What is it?"

Danny came back in. "Todd Verrien's not coming to the state dinner."

"That's a real bolt out of the blue there, Concannon."

"He's being very clear about his reasons."

"I really am going to deal with this at the briefing, so--"

He advanced to her desk. "And I know about his wife, and pretty soon so will everyone in there."

C.J.'s eyes widened. She forced herself to sound casual. "What about his wife?"

"You know what I'm talking about," Danny said. "I wouldn't tell you I had it if I didn't think so. It's going to break. Maybe not today, but it's going to break."

Her throat had gone dry. She swallowed. "Okay."

"I thought you'd be glad to know."

"I'm thrilled," she said in a bleak tone.

"Yeah," he said gently. "I could tell that, because of the way your face lit up with gratitude."

"Danny--"

"Face just lit right up."

She rubbed her eyes. "You didn't have to give me the heads-up. Thank you."

"No thanks necessary." Danny retreated cheerfully toward the door.

"See you in five," C.J. replied, distantly.

* * *

C.J. did not hesitate, this time, to throw open the closed door. Toby barely looked up. "You saw the briefing," she said flatly.

He gestured noncommittally at the television, playing C-Span at a low volume. "I tuned it out when you started getting questions about people's shoes."

"Well, between haute couture and the dead little girl, you might have noticed a couple pointed questions about Todd Verrien." She glared at him expectantly. "When were you going to tell me?"

Toby stood up and paced over to the window. "No one asked anything about his wife."

"Not yet. Danny has it."

"You suspect--"

"I know." She circled Toby's desk and stood next to him, speaking in a barely controlled voice. "He told me, which he certainly had no obligation to do. Danny has it, and you know that means Katie's about two phone calls behind him. That means it'll be everywhere in a few days. God, Toby, why didn't you just rent a billboard?"

He frowned. "You knew it wouldn't stay a secret."

"And you knew I didn't think we should--" She stopped abruptly, kneading her hands together in frustration. "Clearly, you didn't listen. You went over my head."

"I told you--"

"You threw Trina Verrien to the sharks without giving her perspective a second thought -- or mine, for that matter. So when were you going to tell me?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was actually trembling with anger. It was unnerving. He shifted his focus back to the window, staring into the descending sun. "I did think about your perspective."

"And then you ignored it!" Her voice rose. "I abhor what Senator Verrien
stands for, and you know that. But this isn't about discrediting what he believes in. This is an attack on something private, something personal, and it isn't fair or -- or decent to go there. You had no right, Toby. I trusted you on this! I trusted you, and you just...."

C.J. was quiet for long enough that he finally faced her. She was motionless. He reached out cautiously and touched her arm just above the elbow. She tensed and pulled away.

"You didn't even come to me and try to argue your side," she said miserably. "You just went over my head."

She whirled around and hurried out. Toby stood still, grimly looking at the space she'd left, deep in thought. When he turned, Bonnie and Ginger were peering into the office with curiosity.

"Any chance either of you are getting any work done?" Toby called to them.

"No," they replied in unison.

"You fit right in," he muttered, and ignored their irritation as he picked up
the police report again.

* * *

To be concluded in part four. Feedback is much appreciated.


Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be - 4

 

 

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