Fade to Black
Part 14

All disclaimers and notes may be found in the introduction.

I want to give a special thanks to my beta reader, Roo, who has suffered
though my bursts of inspiration, and my difficult crankiness when I can't
write a coherent sentence. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

************

This is the tenth really boring speech I've had to suffer through. I'm
just hoping the First Lady manages to jolt the crowd out of the sleepy
stupor they seem to be in, or maybe I'm the one that's in a sleepy
stupor. Lily Mays is walking up to me, and she steps up into my spot. As
soon as Mrs. Bartlet starts in, I'm going to go back to the hotel.
Tomorrow is going to be a long hard day, and Leo's sending us all off to
bed.

Josh is having these horrible second thoughts about tomorrow. I mean,
John Hoynes is a friend or something, and he and Leo are stuck in this
spot where they have to be judge, jury, and executioner. He must know
it's coming, but I'm not sure if anyone's really prepared for something
like that. Lisa and Toby have been preparing Elena Cordova to step up
ever since Hoynes pulled that stunt with the whip back in May. Bartlet
didn't make up his mind until this morning though. We're going to make
the announcement tomorrow, and cross our fingers that the ripples are
smaller than we fear. Josh keeps acting like dumping Hoynes is political
suicide, and Toby thinks it's the best thing we've thought of to date.

They're applauding the governor now, and I can see Ron's guys scattering
through the crowd below the stage. I don't think they usually do that, I
mean, when the First Lady speaks, they usually don't go out in the crowd.
Maybe Lisa said something after all. Lily smiles at me, and then joins in
the applause as Mrs. Bartlet walks out on to the stage. I let Lily take
over the show, but I can't quite leave yet. My eyes keep skimming the
crowd. He called Lisa from somewhere in this arena. Somewhere in that
crowd, there's a man who killed Laurie and Ann Holland and Donna and some
video guy, and tried to kill Jamie and my wife. Somewhere, there's a man
who might want to kill the President and definitely has something violent
in mind.

When I leave, Leo and I share a taxi back to the hotel. The walk might
not be that long, but I'm tired. Walking in the room, I see Lisa. She's
sitting in our room with all the lights off. I know I should have come
back a while ago, but Leo and I just kept walking around while Mrs.
Bartlet was speaking, watching the crowd. "Lisa?" She doesn't react, and
for a second, I think my heart hammering is the only sound in the room.
"Jamie's in a coma. They don't think he'll make it through the night."
Her voice sounds flat.... lifeless..... dead. "I couldn't sit there and
watch him die, and I couldn't keep working, so I came back here. I
thought you'd be......" Her voice dies out before she reminds me that I
was supposed to be back here.

Her shoulders are shaking ever so slightly, and don' t think I can handle
her tears right now. I just.... I can never handle it when Lisa cries,
and Stanley has me so worried about what I'll do without the pills..... I
don't want to handle Lisa's tears. I leave her there, and walk into the
bathroom. The pill bottles are scattered across the bottom of my bag, and
I dig them out, and line them up across the counter. There, in the back
of my mind, I can always see the shirt, just before I put it in the
washing machine. It's just sitting there, and there's something I'm not
remembering. Something other than getting drunk after I left the West
Wing, and I just..... every time I break down and take them, I forget
about it again. "Sam?" Shaking my head, I throw them back in the bag.
Maybe tomorrow.

She's standing by the window, and she's still shaking, but her eyes are
dry now, and when I slip my arms around her, she snuggles into them. Her
oldest friend is dying and she can't do anything. My wife does not do
helpless well. Actually, she can't be helpless. No, she definately can't
be helpless, especially when Jamie is in trouble. She's always dropped
everything for Jamie. After she quit Gage Whitney, I thought she'd come
back to politics, but she went back to the Center for Jamie. She went
back to the Center for Jamie, just like she went to work for Hoynes. She
didn't do that for Jamie though, she did that for Josh.

She liked working for Leo. She even talked about her job when she was
working for Leo. She doesn't tell me about her job anymore. Josh. Josh
talks about everything with her. They probably even talk about work. What
else do they talk about? She left her job at Labor for Josh. I couldn't
convince her to leave the Center and Quantico and the rest that mess, but
she left a job she loved for Josh. She left a job she loved for
Josh...does she love Josh. Of course she loves Josh. They're friends.
They've known each other forever...... How much does she love Josh?

She slips deeper into my arms, and I feel myself hold on tighly, as if
she's going to turn and leave at any second. Would she leave at any
second? Would she leave if Josh called for her? If Jamie did? She's
always listened to Jamie, to his advice, to his requests. She's always
trusted him more. I mean, I know they grew up together, but I...... He
doesn't like me. I don't think he likes me much at all. Lisa likes Jamie
though. She likes him and trusts him. I think she likes him and trusts
him more than she does me. Lisa trusts him more than she does me. She has
to, doesn't she? I mean, she has to trust him with her life. I do. I
trust him with her life. He adores her. She's like...... like his friend
and his sister and his first girlfriend all wrapped up in one. His first
girlfriend..... Did Lisa tell me that, or did Jamie? Does he still love
her? Like that, I mean. Does she still love him?

"Sam." Her fingers brush my face, but her gaze doesn't waver from the
stars outside the window. At least, I think they're stars, but I don't
remember being able to see that many stars past the New York skyline. I
wonder if she noticed my five o'clock shadow, but then I realize she
hasn't looked at me since I came inside, and her fingers..... they don't
feel all that much, so she probably hasn't. I want to hold her closer,
hold her closer and never let her go. I'll have to let her go soon.
She'll have to talk to Josh about the Convention and go see Jamie at the
hospital. She just..... she keeps leaving me alone. She keeps leaving me
alone for them. I don't leave her for my friends, but what if they're not
just friends? What if they're trying to take her away from me? What if
they're more than friends? What if........

"They're out there." Who's out there? What do you mean they're are two of
them? Two of who? Lisa.....

That picture, nagging me in the back of my mind.... the shirt. The shirt
and the blood and the...... I can't see it. Whatever it is, I can't see
it, but Josh might know. Maybe Josh still has the shirt, I mean, come on,
Josh isn't exactly your master criminal. "She was talking about flowers,
Sam, and I can't remember why!" I ask her then, if maybe Donna was
talking about Lily Mays. Lisa twists around in my arms, and there's this
quizzical look on her face. "Sam?" I try and settle my chin against the
top of her head, but she pulls away from me. "It wasn't Lily Mays.......
it was Peter Lillianfield. She was talking about Lillianfield." Then, the
phone rang.

*

I wish I knew who called. Lisa just started prowling the room. She was
looking for something, but she wouldn't tell me what. She just kept....
searching. Then she quit. She just quit and called the hospital and
walked out of the room. I still don't know what that was all about, but
she muttered something about needing a jacket, and she left. I keep
hoping she went to the hospital, but I just..... I'm sitting on the couch
wondering who called, and what happened to tear Lisa out of my arms, and
keep her from talking to me. So I'm sitting here, debating the merits of
turning up the thermostat and trying to figure out the exact color of
beige paint on the wall.

Enough is enough. I'm just going to go down to the lobby and wait for
her. I don't bother with my jacket or anything before I walk out. I just
pick up a few files that I'm supposed to look over, and make a beeline
for the elevator. I don't even make it out of my room though, because
lying in the hallway, just outside the door, is a small unobtrusive brown
paper package. If I hadn't nearly tripped over it, I would never have
noticed it. Picking it up, I glance up and down the hallway, as if the
person responsible would be standing there, waiting for me. It's
addressed to Lisa, but after the video..... I want to know what it is.
Tearing into the paper, I drop the brown wrapping by the door.

Opening the box, I can feel my heart hammering a bit louder. There are
only two things in the box..... two Polaroids. My mouth goes dry when I
see myself with an arm around Laurie. Flipping to the next shot, I stop
cold. I don't think I've ever been that close to my wife in public, and
I'd like to think that I'd have more sense than to....... Damn. He left
these for Lisa. The next thing I know, I'm pounding on Josh's door, and
when he opens it, his cell phone is glued to his ear. "Oh course, Mr.
Vice-President....." Josh, what did you do with that shirt! He looks at
me, and shakes his head. "Mr. Vice-President, can we continue this in
the......." Josh never finishes what he's saying, because I throw the
Polaroids across the table. The phone clicks off, and it doesn't really
occur to me that my best friend just hung up on the Vice-President.

"Sam, what did you...." I DON'T KNOW! I just don't know, Josh. Where is
the damn shirt? Josh has this look on his face, and he's just staring at
me. "The other girl. Sam, did you know her?" Josh, just tell me where the
shirt is! I need to know! "Did you tell Lisa about the shirt?" No, Josh,
I promised you. Remember? You put me on retainer for 38 cents and a stick
of gum. He keeps glancing between me and the photos, and then he fixes me
with this look. "Did you know the other girl?" Yes! Okay, yes, we went to
Princeton together. Josh, don't look at me like that. I hadn't seen her
in years. I didn't even know she was married! Please, Josh, just tell me
what you did with the shirt!

"Look me in the eye." What? Josh, what are you talking about? "Look me in
the eye and tell me you didn't do this." He's gesturing to the pictures,
and I can only hope he's asking me if I cheated on Lisa, because if he's
asking me whether or not I killed these women......... Josh, don't you
know me better than that? Tell me you know me better than that. "Look me
in the eye, because I swear, if you......" His hands are bunching at his
side, and I cannot believe Josh would even consider this. If Josh doesn't
believe me, then will Lisa? She has to know I didn't do it. I mean, I
couldn't.... I couldn't hurt her. Josh, where did you put the damn shirt!
"Sam, if you hurt them, I'll......" God, Josh doesn't believe me. How
could Josh not believe me? Josh is supposed to always believe me. Josh, I
swear to you....... "It's in my closet." Damn. We definitely aren't
master criminals, are we?

I have to get out of here. I need fresh air. I need to think. I need to
get away from that look on Josh's face. I can't handle lying to Lisa when
she comes back. I slam the door on my way to the elevator, but it takes
at least thirty seconds too long to open, because I hit the stairs
instead and take the steps four at a time the whole way down. I'm halfway
across the lobby when I hear my name. Leo's sitting in one of those
wingback chairs that seem to grow wild inside hotel lobbies, and he's
looking at me. He calls my name again, and I realize I've just been
standing in the center of the floor, almost as if I grew roots, and then
I walk over. It's already after midnight, and I can't imagine anything
that would keep Leo up. Toby's got the thing under control, and until 15
minutes ago, Josh was working with Hoynes. Did Elena Cordova back out?
Are we getting stuck with Hoynes?

I stop in front of Leo, and suddenly I get the feeling I'm being
appraised. He glances at his watch, and then again at me. "I talked to
Lisa this afternoon." I keep waiting for him to say something else, but
he doesn't, and I'm starting to feel uncomfortable standing here - very
uncomfortable. "I trust you, Sam, but my first responsibility is to the
President." Hell, first Josh, now Leo. What the hell? Leo flips through a
few papers in his lap, and it's only when I glimpse the letterhead, that
I get worried - the FBI. Why does Leo have FBI files? He glances up
sharply, and I bite my lip when I realize I said that out loud. "Sam,
where are you going?" Where do you think? I'm going to go knock off
somebody on the street corner. I'm going for a walk, Leo.

Josh and Leo think I'm capable of killing Laurie? Of Donna? Of an
ex-girlfriend? Maybe they don't think that. Maybe I'm being paranoid.
Maybe I'm just a little depressed. Should I call Stanley? Maybe I ought
to break down and take the pills. Whatever it is that's bothering me,
it's probably nothing. I'm probably imagining things. That's what I do
when I go off my pills - I get a little paranoid. Actually, Josh and Lisa
said I was pretty damn paranoid last time, but I just...... that damn
shirt.

*

I have no idea where I am, and I'm pretty sure wandering the streets of
New York aimlessly is pretty dumb. My head is somewhere else entirely,
and only the clatter of metal hitting the pavement let's me know I bumped
into a row of trash cans. I glance around, wondering if I woke anyone up,
but I think I'm in some sort of business district. Glancing around, I
wonder why I'm here. I mean, I have no idea where I am, and honestly, I
don't know much of the city beyond the area around Gage Whitney and my
old apartment.

There's something familiar about this place though, and then it occurs to
me..... Lisa used to live here. I mean, while she was at Gage Whitney and
I was at the White House. It was only that one time that I came to visit,
but she still owns the loft. She still owns it and Paul lives there. Now
if I can find it again.......

It takes close to an hour of wandering the area, but I finally catch a
glimpse of the old warehouse. The building is a bunch of old lofts now,
and I have to read the list by the mailbox to figure out which one I
want. I press the button for Paul Lloyd, and it's not until his voice
answers, that I realize I'm buzzing his apartment at three in the
morning. He doesn't sound very tired though, and I know he keeps odd
hours, so as he buzzes me in, I try to convince myself that I didn't
actually wake him up.

When I get upstairs, he's dressed and covered with paint. Maybe I didn't
wake him up after all. "Lisa with you?" No, she's...... Actually, I don't
know where she is. "Okay, well, you're here for the box, right?" He's
sitting down at his easel again, and I can't help but wonder what exactly
that's supposed to be, I mean, I thought I understood art, but I've never
understood Paul. Wait, what box? "It's in the bedroom. She called for it
this morning. I kept telling her she'd want that stuff sooner or later."
She called for what? This morning she was in my shower, and with Josh.
When did she have time to call Paul?

The small half level is more cluttered than when Lisa lived here, but
Paul is nothing if not dependable. Just like the rest of the loft, framed
canvas is propped up against the walls, and stretches litter the floor.
Like brother like sister.... both leave their work everywhere. There is,
however, a cardboard box sitting in the middle of the bed, and it's still
got the packing tape and storage markings on it. "Hey! You want a beer
while you're here?" Paul's digging through the fridge now, and before I
even say yes, he tosses one at me.

*

The box was almost entirely old textbooks, old papers, and old notebooks
of Lisa's. I could have expected as much, but this one..... she wrote it.
She wrote it for the Center to use, and I didn't even know it existed
before now. "......the subway killings appear at first unrelated, but it
becomes apparent to the agents from Interpol and Scotland Yard that the
deaths are connected by certain characteristics of the crime scene......"
I flip ahead a few pages, wondering how Lisa was involved in murders
taking place in London. "...... apparent escalation in order to perfect
skills. The killer began taking increasing risks, as if daring the
investigators to close in, but at the same time, refining his methods,
leaving less and less evidence at the crime scene. As a result, profiling
assistance from the FBI was requested....." I expect to read about Lisa
and Jamie going off to slay dragons, but it's not. She's writing about
her partner alright, but his name is Mark Shepard.

Okay, so it wasn't Jamie. She was with the Bureau for what, four years,
five? She worked with a lot of people. Hell, these killings, they were in
the eighties. Jamie was probably still in school. "....... the killer.
The escalating power struggle evident in the killings can be seen both
through the choice of the victims, moving from vagrants to working people
to executives. The killer may not have vast exposure to his victims,
because his choices appear to be based on appearance......." God, this is
awful. I'm waiting for my wife to come home, and killing time reading
about things I don't even want to imagine. "...... over time,
establishing a territory. By choosing the London subway system, he seeks
to control the fears of over a million people. His final statement of
control was predicted to be a mass killing, but while we were vigilant in
pursuit of any suspect that might smuggle large arms into the subway, we
overlooked the more obvious method of mass subway killing because it does
not, at first, fit with our profile......"

Why write about making a mistake? I guess I can't ever accuse her of
having a less than healthy ego. I don't think.... I just can't imagine
letting a bunch of trainees read about a mistake that cost lives. If we
screwed up a war or something, we definitely wouldn't publish it. "......
The bomb killed a hundred and six people during rush hour, and is still
the largest single fatality count of any serial killer......" She keeps
going, talking the people that were killed, the choice of venue, but my
eyes catch on one sentence. Mark Shepard died in the bombing. I guess
that's why she doesn't like to talk about her early days with the FBI.
".......disappeared without a trace. The London bomber demonstrates the
rare side of the serial killer, who uses his crimes in perfection of a
technique, as if refining an art form to use at some later date....."
Mark Shepard. Where have I seen that name before? I shake my head, and
close my eyes from fatigue. As I slip off to sleep, I can see it, written
in Lisa's handwriting, across the front of an old photo album.......

 

Fade to Black - 15

 

 

 

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