Characters in this story are copyrighted by the Aaron Sorkin, etc. No infringement is intended in any part by the author, however, the ideas expressed within this story are copyrighted to the author.
Flying HighToby's belligerent airline behavior results in an encounter that spells trouble.
** Notes. The characters within are all Sorkin's with the exception of our heroine, Sarah Morton. This is set at the beginning of the pilot, and then skips some time until directly after the pilot's events. The statistics that the President quotes are correct and are from www.rwanational.com**
Tray table dutifully stowed, Sarah Morton settled back down to read her novel. She glanced to one side, frowning at a balding, bearded businessman who still typed away on his laptop. The stewardess will soon take care of him, she thought, returning her attention to her novel.
The slightly raised, but ever polite of the stewardess distracted Sarah. "I need you to turn off your laptop, sir, it interferes with our radar."
Sarah watched as the businessman looked up from his computer. "You know when you guys say that it sounds pretty ridiculous to most people, right?"
"Sir-" Sarah admired the stewardess' restraint.
Another stewardess joined them and for a moment Sarah relished the thought of an army of stewardesses squashing this annoying little man sitting across the aisle.
Oblivious to the growing tension, the stewardess said with tones of wonder, "Mr. Ziegler, a message was just patched up to the cockpit for you. I'm not sure I've got it right. 'Potus in a bicycle accident'?"
"You got it right." Mr. Ziegler pulled out his cell phone.
Sarah rolled her eyes. Was there no end to this man's arrogance? "Not until we land, sir," begged the first stewardess.
With a sigh of impatience, Mr. Ziegler replied: "This is a Lockheed eagle series L-1011. It came off the line 20 months ago and carries a Sim-5 Transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?"
Sarah saw red. Unsnapping her seatbelt, she nudged the stewardesses apart. "Listen, buster," she said, ignoring the distressed murmurs of the stewardesses. "If NASA can't land on Mars without crashing, what makes you think airline technology is any better?" She slammed down the lid of his laptop. "Planes need all the help they can get, asshole."
Returning to her seat, Sarah refastened her seatbelt and took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Her face felt hot; she didn't normally speak out like that. Breathing out, she opened her eyes again and reached forward to pull her novel out of the seat pouch.
"That wasn't very nice." Mr. Ziegler spoke softly.
Sarah twisted her head around to look at him. The stewardesses had gone. "No, but neither were you."
"Thanks to you, I lost five minutes of my work."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you will be able to recover it. Word has a Recovered Document feature--"
"I don't use Word."
"Write it down, then."
"I don't have any--"
With a sigh, Sarah leant forward and pulled out her notebook. Flipping it to the first blank page, she handed it across the aisle. "There's a pen stuck in the spine. I want them back."
Nodding, his eyes already gleaming with thought, Mr. Ziegler started scribbling away. Sarah returned to her novel, pausing as the plane made its final approach to the runway. She nodded in silent approval of the pilot's excellent landing and returned to her book. She kept glancing sideways at Mr. Ziegler, wanting to be sure that he didn't read the rest of her notebook.
When the seatbelt sign had switched off, Sarah rose, reaching for her black backpack in the overhead compartment. With irritation, she noted that Mr. Ziegler had immediately started calling out on his cell phone. Some people could never wait. Trying to tune out his conversation, she checked the contents of her backpack, making sure everything was still there.
Sarah felt a tap on the shoulder and turned.
Mr. Ziegler held out her notebook with a half-smile. "Thank you," he said. "That was most helpful."
Sarah shrugged. "No problem. The least I could do."
Notebook safely stowed in her backpack, she followed him down the aisle to the exit. Once off the plane, Mr. Ziegler dropped back to walk alongside her. Now what? Sarah thought.
"You need to get over your fear of flying."
Sarah picked up the pace. "I am not afraid of flying."
Ziegler kept up with her. "Yes, you are. I noticed when we took off. You were concentrating very hard."
"So, you shouldn't be afraid of flying, and you shouldn't be afraid of some gizmo screwing up the navigational system."
"Technology is too complicated for the common person on the street to understand. I've programmed computers, I know it's too easy to make a mistake-and if my tv can go funky when I have my stereo on, I believe the same thing can happen aboard an airplane."
They stepped into the departure lounge and were separated temporarily by people waiting to board.
Ziegler appeared by her side. "Do you always bring a stereo with you on an airplane?"
"What?" Sarah huffed in exasperation and upped the pace.
"I'm just saying-"
"Listen, mister," Sarah rounded on him, "are you trying to get back at me for getting into your face earlier?"
A ghost of a smile appeared in Ziegler's beard. "Is it working?"
"Yes." Although annoyed, Sarah couldn't resist that hinted smile and her anger dissipated. "Happy?"
"Very." He bowed his head. "Enjoy your stay in D.C."
With relief, Sarah saw him head directly for the exit. She had luggage to collect.
Sarah settled in at her hotel room, curled up on the bed in a hotel bathrobe. She opened her notebook. Sarah gnawed at the end of her pen, re-reading what she had written during the flight and making slight corrections.
It wasn't sinking in. Her thoughts kept drifting back to that quixotic businessman on the airplane. Quixotic? When did he become that instead of annoying? He'd been talkative and hadn't been in her face. Just wordy.
Shaking her head, Sarah dismissed the thought of him for now. She turned the last page, reaching for the pen in her mouth, and paused. Frowning, Sarah flipped through the remainder of the notebook and back again, a sense of panic building up from within.
"Oh no!" Sarah dove for the phone and dialed out. "Operator, can you connect me with United Airlines?"
Her pen found its habitual place in her mouth as she chewed even harder. She pulled it out to speak. "Yes, I need to contact a fellow passenger on a flight I was on today?" Sarah's frown deepened. "Yes, I would imagine it's against policy, but he has something that belongs to me."
Sarah huffed, her wispy bangs flying up before they resettled on her forehead. "Yes, I am quite sure. There is absolutely no question. They were very important notes." Sarah bit her lip, listening. "His name is Ziegler..... No, I have no idea how to spell it. Z-something-g-l-e-r, I imagine..... His seat? Hang on a sec." Putting down the receiver, Sarah retrieved her wallet from her backpack, rifling through the contents and pulling out her flight stub. "Got it. I was in B3, so he must have been in B2." She listened again, chewing on her lip. "Great, just make sure you do, ok? This is life or death to me."
Sarah hung up and collapsed back on the bed. "Just don't let him throw it out," she begged to the ceiling.
Toby Ziegler, Communications Director at the White House, typed the last few words into his laptop. Normally, he'd have one of his secretaries do the transcription, but there were some incomplete thoughts he needed to finish himself.
He flipped the crumpled, many-folded page over, his attention already turning back to his glowing screen. He tilted his head to one side, catching sight of somethingwritten on the flip side. "That's not mine," he murmured, not recognizing the handwriting.
He took a closer look and paled. Toby hit the intercom. "Ginger!" he roared. "I want Ron Butterfield on the line now."
Toby sat back and re-read the page before him, shaking his head in disbelief.
In Sarah's hotel room, the phone rang. Muting the TV, she picked up the receiver. "Yes?" She listened. "Hang on a sec, I need to write that down."
Scribbling the directions to the cafe, Sarah confirmed that she would be there by noon. Hanging up, Sarah scrambled off the bed and headed for the wardrobe.
At noon, on the dot, Sarah entered the cafe, looking around for Mr. Ziegler. Not seeing him, she took a seat in prominent view of the door. Ordering a coffee and a BLT, she waited, scowling at the possibility of Mr. Ziegler not showing up.
A man came and sat opposite her.
"I'm sorry, that seat's taken."
"For Toby Ziegler?"
Sarah sat back, mollified. "He's not coming?"
"No, ma'am." His hand slipped under his dark jacket. "But I do have some questions for you." He flipped open his wallet, revealing his badge and identification.
"FBI?" Sarah could scarcely believe it. Her lips twitched. "He called the FBI." Unable to help herself, she started giggling.
"Actually, I'm from the secret service." The agent glared at her. "This is no laughing matter."
Sarah sobered up instantly at the uncompromising features of the secret service agent. "Obviously, there's been some misunderstanding here. But I am no threat to the President, I assure you."
"Then will you explain why you've written down a plan to assassinate him, using his schedule for this week?"
Sarah's lips twitched again. "Yes, I am a writer. I was trying to figure out how it happened so my heroine could solve the case. He doesn't die, you know."
The agent frowned. "You don't expect me to believe that."
"That's fair enough. Let me show you." Sarah reached for her backpack and froze as the secret service man pulled a gun. She sat up slowly. "OK, I was just reaching for my wallet."
He rose, discreetly tucking away his gun and grabbed her pack putting it on the table between them. The waiter approached with Sarah's lunch. The agent flashed his id. and waved him away.
Sarah watched, biting her lip as he went through her backpack. "There's a Romance Writers of America card in my wallet," she offered at last. "They'll confirm my credentials."
The secret service agent looked down his nose. "Romance writer? What's a romance writer doing writing about an assassination?"
Knowing she was talking to someone who hadn't read a single word of romance, Sarah replied, long-sufferingly, "It's called 'romantic suspense'."
He didn't look convinced. Putting everything back in the pack and pushing it towards her, he said, "I'm going to have to ask you to come along and answer some questions."
Sarah nodded, paling. "Sure. I guess I could always use the experience for my next book."
"You look like you're about to faint." The secret service agent rose and gestured she do the same.
She took a gulp of water before standing. "That would probably have something to do with the fact I've never been arrested before."
The agent's smile was grim. "You're not being arrested now."
Not feeling any better about it, Sarah allowed herself to be escorted from the cafe.
Sarah answered all their questions, feeling pinned down under the bright lights in the damp, concrete room. When the secret service was done, Sarah was escorted to a cell and left there.
"Hey, wait!" Sarah called, clinging to the bars, "I thought I wasn't under arrest?"
"You're not. We need to corroborate your story before we can release you."
"What?! I demand a lawyer!"
The agent delivered a narrow smile. "But you're not under arrest."
The agent registered her horrified expression. "If everything checks out, we'll release you tomorrow." He walked away, leaving her alone. Sarah retreated to the narrow bunk and curled up upon it. How could this be happening to her?
The next morning, the secret service man returned. "It seems your story checks out, Miss Morton," he said, unlocking the door to her cell. "Next time, be careful to whom you give your story notes."
"I didn't do it on purpose," Sarah replied, sullen. Her enthusiasm for using this experience for her writing had utterly vanished.
The agent extended his hand. "My name is Ron Butterfield. I'm the Head of the President's Secret Service Detail." For the first time, Sarah got a true sense of how deep she'd been in trouble. She shook the proffered hand. "I was wondering if you could do me one last favor?"
Sarah frowned. "What?"
When Butterfield told her, Sarah's smile matched his broad grin.
Sarah felt like Hester with the big red A hanging around her neck. It wasn't so bad really, the White House staffers were too busy to go about their business to pay any attention to her or Butterfield. She'd had the opportunity to change and wore her best "meet the editor" suit.
They entered a larger office. Behind a sizeable desk sat an older woman, her fading blonde hair cut into a bob. Smiling, she shook her head at Ron and gestured towards another door.
"That's the Oval Office," Ron murmured. "You ready?"
Sarah felt the butterflies hit her stomach. She was about to meet the President of the United States! She barely managed a nod.
Ron grinned, then carefully blanked his expression. He opened the door leading into the Oval Office. "Mr. President," he announced. "Here's the person you wanted to meet." He ushered Sarah in before him.
Sarah took a quick glance at the staffers who were assembled in the Oval Office before the President commanded her attention. He stopped leaning against his desk and came to greet her. "Well, Miss Morton, it's a pleasure to meet you."
"It's an honor, Mr. President." Sarah shook his hand.
"What-what--" Sarah glanced aside at the stuttering Toby Ziegler. He had risen from his seat on the sofa and stared at her. Sarah noted that the other staffers looked at Toby with interest. "What's she doing here?" he finally got out. He leveled a deadly glare at Butterfield. "You're supposed to keep potential assassins away from the President. Not introduce them to him!"
His words caused some measure of alarm among the other staffers, but the President raised his hands for silence. "All right people, settle down." He lowered his hands. "Miss Morton is a writer. Her notes were mistaken for a plan to assassinate me."
"A fictional president," Sarah interrupted, "and he survives."
The President nodded. "Glad to hear it."
"A writer?" Toby's eyebrows rose and he sat back down.
The President grinned, in a way that made the staffers hold their breath. They'd seen that mischievous look before. "She writes romance, Toby."
Toby closed his eyes and sank back on the sofa, his head falling back.
"A palpable hit, Mr. President," murmured an older, sandy-haired gentleman.
A young man with a receding hairline snorted. "A romance writer? Toby, you sicced the Secret Service onto a romance writer??"
"Hey, romances aren't that bad," protested a tall woman with reddish hair, subsiding quickly as her fellows turned to look at her.
Sarah opened her mouth to agree with her but the President interrupted. "CJ is right. Once more, quite a few of them are pretty good." He rubbed his hands together. "Did you know-" He ignored his staff's groans "--that romance novels represent 54% of popular paperback sales, and are read by 41 million people each year?"
Toby lifted his head. "Is there a moral to this humiliation somewhere?"
"Sure." Sarah grinned at him. "Don't mess with airline navigation systems."
Toby's mouth twitched. Was he hiding a smile?
Chuckling, Butterfield touched her arm. "Thank you for your time, Mr. President."
"Yes, thank you," Sarah added, a little breathless.
They exited the Oval Office, Ron leading her through the offices, back the way they came.
"Er, Ron?" Sarah halted. He turned to look at her. "I feel kinda guilty about what we did to Toby, I mean, Mr. Ziegler. Perhaps I should apologize?"
Butterfield blinked at her. "Apologize? I thought we decided he deserved it?"
"Well, yes," Sarah allowed, "but still-"
"Sure. I'll leave you in his office." They backtracked through the hallways. "I can trust you not to look at confidential information?" He pointed her through a doorway.
Sarah stepped through and sat on the couch against the wall and in full view of the office pool outside. "I won't move, I promise."
Butterfield conferred with one of the assistants outside. "He shouldn't be too much longer," he reported back. "Take it easy, and no hard feelings, eh?"
Sarah smiled. "No hard feelings."
Toby Ziegler ambled back into his office and stopped dead in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
Sarah rose, biting her lip. Toby was not pleased to see her. "I came to-"
He held up a hand, silencing her and closed the door, but not before they heard an exuberant male voice cry out: "Toby's got a romance writer in his office."
Sarah and Toby rolled their eyes at each other. He smirked. "And you don't even know him," he muttered, more to himself. He leant against his desk. "So, you wanted...?"
Sarah took a deep breath. "To apologize," she said, finishing his sentence.
"And make the disclaimer that it was all Ron's idea."
"Uh huh." Toby's eyes dropped to the papers he clutched in his hand.
"Yes, well, I'm sorry." Sarah shifted from one foot to the other.
Toby glanced up at her. "Do you know for what?"
"For making fun of you and...and humiliating you." She crossed the small space between them and extended her hand. "So I apologize, Mr. Ziegler."
"I think that now you've humiliated me, you may call me Toby." His eyes rose to meet hers and this time their gaze held.
"I think," Sarah replied, with a hint of a smile, "now that I've humiliated you, you may call me Sarah."
He smiled. "Sarah." Toby tried it out.
Sarah could have sworn his gaze dropped to her lips before he glanced out his office to the pool. Realizing they were standing too close, Sarah took a couple of steps back and Toby took the opportunity to deposit his paperwork on his desk.
Toby cleared his throat. "So," he said, "what does the romance writer recommend we do now?"
"What do you mean?" Sarah watched him closely.
"If this was in a book."
"The hero, that's you, would ask the heroine, that's me, out to dinner," Sarah replied promptly.
"To what end?"
"To make up for the fact that he'd made the heroine stay in jail overnight." Sarah's tart response caused his eyebrows to raise.
"You were in jail?"
Sarah nodded. "Uh huh."
Toby rubbed at his bearded chin with thumb and forefinger as he thought. "Then," he said, "I think I should invite you to dinner."
They dined in the plush restaurant attached to the hotel where Sarah was staying. As they ate their soup, Sarah caught a glint of gold on Toby's left hand. Damn, she thought, why didn't I think to check before?
"You're married," she said in a quiet voice, which sounded odd even to her.
Toby glanced down at his wedding ring. "Divorced."
"And you still wear the ring because-"
He looked at her through his eyebrows. "None of your business."
"How long are you staying in D.C.?" Toby asked, changing the subject.
Sarah swallowed her exasperation. She hardly knew the man. How could she demand such personal knowledge? "A few weeks. I have a lot of research to do for my new book."
"I could help with that."
Sarah nodded. No way would she turn down such a valuable source.
Continuing his non-committal manner, Toby asked, "Tell me about your book."
Sarah eyed him warily over her wineglass, trying to decide if request was sincere.
"Please?" added Toby with a gentle smile.
She placed her glass on the table. "Tell me why you still wear that ring."
"Who wants to know?" Toby challenged. "Sarah or the author?"
Sarah managed to smile. "Both."
Toby twisted the ring about his finger. Eventually, he looked up at her. "We divorced amicably." His brown eyes met hers. "It's a defense. A married man is safe from advances."
"Oh." Sarah chewed her lip. That meant she'd put her foot in it.
Toby plowed on. "It's not that I'm not interested or attracted in women. It's less complicated without them."
"Oh." Sarah wanted that moment back where he was truly interested in her work. "Well, I asked."
"Yes." Toby resumed eating. "So tell me about your president book."
At some point during the meal, their stilted, edgy banter disappeared as they grew at ease with each other.
They were still talking about her novel when the check came. Her enthusiasm had infected Toby and the two of them had been brainstorming back and forth for Sarah had uttered the fateful words: "I haven't quite figured that bit out yet."
It seemed utterly natural that he walk with her up to her hotel room door. Sarah fished for her keycard and looked up at Toby. "Well..."
"Well..." Toby regarded her seriously before he smiled. "What kind of romance do you write? I never asked if it was the bodice-ripping type or..."
Sarah blushed. "You mean sweet or sensual?"
Toby nodded. "If this were one of your books, what would happen next?"
"But this isn't one of my books, Toby." Sarah gazed at him, amused.
Toby backed off a few steps. "Right, right."
"Want to come in for some really bad hotel coffee?" After a few attempts, Sarah managed to get the door open.
"Sure." They entered her room and Toby turned to face her. His mischievous smile had returned. "You never said, sweet or sensual?"
Closing the door, Sarah leant back against it, her hands behind her back. "Guess."
Toby froze, his coat half-off. He gave her a penetrating look. "Sweet."
Sarah exhaled in relief and pushed herself off the door. "I'll make us some coffee."
Toby dumped his coat on a chair and made himself comfortable on the small sofa. The two of them studiously ignored the bed's presence. "So what would have happened if we were in one of your books?"
Sarah had her back to him as she replied. "In a sensual romance, well, you can probably guess, but that in itself would have its own conflicts and ramifications."
She turned and handed him a mug. "Milk? Sugar?" Toby demurred. She poured both into hers and sat down beside him. "In a sweet romance, there might have been a kiss but the two protagonists would have backed quickly away. After all, they hardly know each other and the heroine isn't destined to stay in town long."
"Sweet romances sound very practical." Toby drank his coffee, his eyes wandering about the small hotel room: anywhere but to Sarah and the bed behind her.
Sarah sipped at her coffee and said nothing.
Tony rose, setting down his cup. "I have to go," he said. "I have some work to do before tomorrow and..." His voice trailed away.
Sarah managed to smile. "I understand. Do you mind if I call you if I have any questions?"
"Sure." Toby fished into his wallet and handed her his business card.
He left then, with a half-smile that indicated the futility of it all. Sarah withdrew, but not before their eyes met for one telling glance. Maybe, Sarah told herself, just maybe, there's a chance.