(Please see the first section for disclaimers, summary, ratings, etc.)

CJ, Josh and I storm into the hallway and march across the bullpen,
just as Sam comes out of his office with a weary, `What next?'
expression on his face.

"You rang?" he says dryly.

CJ continues forward, making it clear that she's going to plow him
under if he doesn't precede her into his office. Josh and I are right
on her heels.

I close the door and CJ launches into a recap of the phone call she
just received. Sam looks at her like she's just grown another head.

"CJ, what are you talking about?"

"Do we need to get you a hearing aid, Sam?" she snaps.

"That's not possible. She couldn't be doing any interviews. That's
crazy."

"It's not crazy, Sam," I tell him, shaking my head. "I was with CJ
when she got the call."

Sam looks at me for a moment, and then reaches over and picks up the
phone and starts dialing. Josh leaps forward and grabs the phone from
his hand, slamming it back on the receiver.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Josh demands incredulously.

"Trying to call Lisa. What the hell do you think you're doing?" Sam
is behind his desk now, Josh in front of it, and for a few seconds,
they stare at each other so intensely that I think I'm about to
witness one hell of a shouting match.

Josh breaks the staring contest by looking down and sighing. He still
does not move his hand from the phone. "I'm trying to look out for
you, buddy. Do you really think that calling her is a good idea right
now?"

My brother continues to glare at his best friend for another moment
before he makes up his mind that Josh is right. Some of the tension
leaves his shoulders and he sighs. "Sorry, Josh."

Before Josh can respond, the door opens and Toby comes in. He's got
that look on his face that says he knows something is going on and
wants to know why he hasn't been invited to the party.

"Is there something I should know about?" Then he notices me. "Hey,
Sabrina. I heard you were here."

I nod and CJ and I move aside to make room for him in our circle.
We're now pretty much ringing Sam's desk. My poor brother wears the
expression of a trapped animal.

CJ fills Toby in on the details. Toby looks like he wants to hit
something. "Sam, do you have any idea why Lisa is going on TV tonight
or what she might have to say?"

"Toby, I swear, no one is more surprised by this than I am."

Toby looks to me. "Sabrina?"

I shake my head. "I honestly don't know, Toby."

Instantly Toby starts giving orders. Josh is dispatched to find Leo,
and CJ to work her sources. Toby announces that he's going to make
some phone calls and put together some preliminary statements for CJ
should she need them after the broadcast. As he turns to leave, he
pins Sam with a fierce stare.

"I want you to spend the time between now and then trying to come up
with any reason Lisa might have for going on national television to
talk about you." He ignores Sam's nod as he turns his attention
toward me. "And I want you to make sure he doesn't do something
stupid, like call Lisa." With that he turns and charges out of the
room.

Josh fixes Sam with a pointed look before he follows Toby out the
door and blasts off in the opposite direction. CJ heads back across
the bullpen and Sam and I turn to each other and exchange worried
looks. It's going to be a really long afternoon.

<><><>

Josh is already cursing when Sam and I reach the bullpen for the
broadcast. He's running his fingers through his unruly hair and
muttering every vile name he can think of. I don't know whether
they're directed at Lisa, or at the television, where Mitch Wheeler
is sitting in all his smug, Armani-suited glory. All I know is, no
one had any luck finding out just what the hell is going to happen on
Tonight in America.

Mitch has just announced the next guest, Mrs. Lisa Taylor-Seaborn,
wife of the White House Deputy Communications Director. He has the
newscaster's glow all over his face: He's got a big scoop and he's
practically wetting himself, he's so excited.

I want to drop kick him down an open well. Preferably more than once.

CJ arrives with Toby at her side. She looks stricken, obviously still
reeling from the telephone call alerting her Lisa was going to be on
the show in the first place. Toby has his usual implacable expression
on, but when you look into his eyes, there's a hint of trepidation.

Donna and Josh stand supportively on either side of Sam, all of them
gaping at the screen above us, where Lisa Taylor-Seaborn is now being
shown seated across from Mitch Wheeler.

Lisa has outdone herself. She looks stunning; every long black hair
is in place, every pore carefully concealed, every silken thread of
her Prada suit in perfect order. I know they have people to make the
guests look this good, but for Lisa, this is pretty standard. She
never left the house without being decked out in full battle regalia.

Mitch Wheeler is giving Lisa's intro: how she and Sam met, the
circumstances of their courtship, their wedding, and their subsequent
marriage, and as I watch, I'm struck by his tone of voice. He's
speaking in that annoying newscaster tenor, with the awkward
inflections and heavy pauses. But there's something more.

I can't quite place the strange feeling coming over me, but even if
CJ had not received that portentous phone call, I think I would still
tie it to that sound in Mitch Wheeler's voice.

And then Donna nails it. "It's the voice of impending doom," she
whispers to me. "You know, the one they use when they're getting
ready to tell you that the doting father of four was actually a
former Nazi commandant?"

God, she's right.

"Sabrina," she murmurs worriedly, "what is she going to say about
Sam?"

But I don't reply, because Mitch Wheeler has just posed his first
question to my sister-in-law.

"Lisa," he says meaningfully, "can you tell us where it all went
wrong?" Replace soft return.
Replace soft return.
The camera swings around to Lisa. She allows a moment for the
lingering close-up and then opens her mouth, lower lip trembling.

"Honestly, I would say it all began when Sam left his job at Gage
Whitney Pace to join the Bartlet For America campaign."

"Gage Whitney Pace is one of the largest law firms in Manhattan,
correct?"

Lisa nods. "The second largest, in fact. Sam was a month away from
making partner." She flashes a shaky smile as if to hint that those
were happier times.

"So, he's a month away from making partner," prods Mitch. "A good job
with good pay –"

"Excellent pay," Lisa interrupts sharply. Then she seems to think
better of it, and smiles another tremulous smile. "It was a wonderful
opportunity for a young couple to save up enough money to accomplish
their dreams."

Across the room I see Cathy making a gagging gesture with her finger.

"Excellent pay, then," acknowledges Mitch with a nod. "And one would
assume the hours were long, but fruitful?"

"Definitely," agrees Lisa.

"And he seemed happy?"

"He seemed happy and content. He found the work very fulfilling."

"Liar," I hear Josh mutter.

"Sam was miserable," Donna whispers to me in protest. "Josh told me."

"So tell us, Lisa, when did you begin to notice these changes in your
husband?"

Lisa pretends to draw her strength from some deep, inner reserve. She
draws in a shaky breath. "Well, it was very gradual, at first. Of
course, I'd always noticed a certain – well, a certain uglier side of
Sam."

My mouth falls open. "I have to sit down," I tell Donna.

"A darker side, if you will," Lisa continues. "But he was always so
sweet about those darker periods that I was able to overlook them."
Then she pauses, waiting for the inevitable question from Mitch.

He rewards her with a flair for the dramatic that would do Oprah
Winfrey proud. "And tell us, Lisa – what happened during those dark
periods?" Mitch is leaning so far forward he's practically in Lisa's
lap.

She blinks rapidly, warding off further tears. She touches one finger
elegantly to the corner of her eye and sniffles. "I don't know if I
can...talk about that," she replies breathlessly. Then she plows
onward, negating that statement. "He had these black moods," she says
in a stage whisper, as if it's all one big secret between her and
Mitch. "These moments when he would suddenly turn into someone else
before my very eyes –"

"'Before my very eyes'?" repeats Toby, practically spitting. "What
the hell kind of drivel is this?"

Onscreen, Lisa is still speaking earnestly, her eyes slightly damp
now with their earnest (repetition?) effort to hold back the
tears. "Outwardly he was all sweetness and light; he was nothing but
cheerful with his co-workers. But at home – at home he could be
something else entirely. He was callus and belligerent, and found
fault with everything I said and did."

"Who wouldn't?" Josh mutters darkly.

"Lisa." Mitch gives my sister-in-law a meaningful look. "Was Sam
Seaborn ever –" Heavy, dramatic pause. "Physically abusive?"

In answer, Lisa gives a slow but firm nod.

And that's all it takes for the bullpen to erupt in a cacophony of
outrage. Everyone in here, from CJ right on down to her deputy -
everyone is booing and hissing and making noises of fury.

"We'll crucify her," Josh is saying when the noise has died down. "We
will take her to court and we will crucify her."

Someone begs for silence. In all the chaos we've missed what was most
likely a key piece of Lisa's interview.

They've moved on to the campaign.

The camera is focused on Lisa again. "But then...Josh Lyman, who is an
old friend of Sam's – "

"And the White House Deputy Chief of Staff," adds Mitch, determined
not to let the many connections to the President go unmentioned. I
find myself wondering whether or not he voted Republican in the last
election.

"Yes. He arrived in New York shortly before joining Josiah Bartlet's
campaign for the presidency. He urged Sam to join him."

"And Sam did."

Lisa is beginning to look annoyed with the over-zealous newscaster.
Obviously he can hardly contain his excitement.

The only joy I'll get out of this entire broadcast is the knowledge
that Mitch Wheeler is doing his best to steal Lisa's dramatic thunder.

"Yes. Sam joined the campaign, writing speeches along with Toby
Ziegler."

"Who is currently the White House Communications Director."

"Yes," Lisa says testily, obviously as irritated as any reasonable
viewer with Wheeler's incessant interruptions. Then she recovers and
smiles.

"Lisa, when we contacted White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg, she
indicated that the Administration had no comment on the allegations
of abuse."

CJ explodes then and flails a fist in the direction of the TV. "Lying
bastard! No one said anything about allegations of abuse!"

"You don't look surprised," Mitch says to Lisa, who sits with a stony
expression on her face.

"I'm not," she agrees. "My ex-husband is friends with some of the
most powerful politicians in the country. It doesn't surprise me in
the least that they would rush to protect him."

"You're saying you believe the Bartlet Administration will rush to
protect Sam Seaborn?"

"Well, I don't know anything about politics," she says modestly. "But
you have to protect your friends, don't you?"

I don't know anything about politics, either, but I've lived in this
city long enough to know that most so-called `friends' are the first
to kick you when you're down. As Josh has so often remarked, this
ain't no Disneyland.

My brother's friends are the exception to the rule, but Lisa's
statement is enough to plant a seed of doubt into any layperson's
brain. After all, what's it going to look like to the public if they
think the big, bad government is ganging up on a long-suffering wife?

Not too damn good, that's for sure.

"And you say that it was due, at least in part, to your husband's
involvement in politics that your marriage began to fall apart."

Lisa sniffles. "Yes. I loved him so much, and we were happy enough;
as happy as most people are, I suppose."

"Until the campaign."

Lisa has enough poise not to glare at him, but her frosty silence
speaks volumes. Mitch seems to finally realize he's stepping on the
toes of his VIP. His body language relaxes into a posture of
retreat. "And you say things went downhill from there."

My mind flickers on the memory of Toby telling me that anyone—
politician, reporter, or otherwise—who uses clichés in a public forum
deserves the very fullest punishment allowed by law. For a second I
almost smile.

"He became a stranger to me." Lisa dabs at the corner of her eyes
with a handkerchief. "His temper would spiral out of control. Before,
it was just flashes of anger, but after he joined the campaign, it
was outbursts. Prolonged outbursts, and he would just yell at me for
what seemed like hours. I think it was the stress," she says,
attempting to be magnanimous. "I think he wasn't handling the
pressures of holding such a stressful job."

"He kept us all sane half the time!" exclaims CJ in disgust.

"And when did the physical abuse begin, Lisa?"

All stirrings and whispers have stilled. We are all completely
silent, waiting, everyone holding his or her breath.

For the tiniest of moments I see a flicker of uncertainty in Lisa's
eyes. She hesitates and licks her lips, gaze focused on Mitch.

Come on, Lisa, I beg her silently. Of all the things you've said,
this one will hurt him the most. Take it back. You can still take it
back. Tell Mitch he misunderstood. Tell him Sam never laid a finger
on you. Do it, Lisa. Do it and maybe I won't be forced to kill you.

I'm hoping against hope that she'll take it all back, even as a
little voice in my head reminds me that this show was taped hours
ago; it's a done deal. No amount of begging and pleading with psychic
powers will do me any good. If she's going to destroy my brother,
she's going to destroy him.

And that's exactly what she does.

 

TBC

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings