Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, obviously, because if I did, I wouldn't have
quite so many college loans to pay off...
Note: This is the "real" sequel to "In the Poppy Fields", and takes
place before "Needy Child". Rules of my universe apply.
"Leo, I need *staff*...and money. It's not like I'm complaining, but I really do need both of those things. We need to get moving, fast," I said plaintively, looking at Leo.
"I know, I know. But it's hard to get staff without money," Leo replied. When I shot him one of my patented "no, really" looks, he held up his hands in a truce. "CJ, I understand what you need. If I had the money, you'd have a full staff. But at the moment..."
I interrupted, "At the moment, we don't even have someone to tell me how much money we have, Leo."
"Right." Leo sighed, and I felt bad for badgering him, but the New Hampshire primary is only about two months away. I'm not terribly concerned with campaigning in New Hampshire- God knows every resident of the state knows who Jed Bartlet is- but I am worried about what comes next. Besides, if we do badly in New Hampshire, then I don't want to think about the humiliation that we'll go through. "Look, Toby and Josh will have money for you tomorrow. Or, if they don't, you can feel free to let them face your wrath, ok?"
"Can I hire a money person at least?" I asked. Leo hesitated, and I continued, "Leo, right now the campaign staff consists of me and a 25 year old assistant with no campaign experience. I know I've done money before, but honestly, I can't do that and everything else, too!" I exploded.
"What's up?" Sam asked, coming into the room.
"I have no money," I sighed as I slumped down on the couch. "And no staff."
"Oh," Sam said. "That's a problem."
Sam got one of those "no really" looks of his very own. "Right now, I'm less concerned about communications and outreach. I need a money person."
"Why can't she have a money person?" Sam asked.
"Because we need money for communications and outreach," Leo replied.
"Yeah, you know what? I'm thinking we're pretty well known in New Hampshire," I told him. He rolled his eyes at me as Sam chuckled.
"All right, all right. Get a money guy," Leo acquiesced.
"Thank you!" I said, grinning.
"Do it cheaply," he said.
"Planning on it. Any suggestions?" I asked.
"I've heard of a guy named Scott Morley. He was assistant treasurer for Senator William's campaign," Sam offered.
"Contact info?" I asked. "And how much did he get for that?"
"Oh, hell, CJ, I don't know," Sam said. "I'll ask someone to find out."
"Today?" I asked hopefully.
"Yeah, sure." He looked about to say something else when my cell phone rang. I glanced down at the phone and frowned.
"Leo, I'm sorry, but I think I need to take this," I told him as the phone rang again.
Leo nodded. I moved away from Sam and Leo and answered the phone, "CJ Cregg,"
"Ms Cregg, my name is Dr. Sara Miller from Barstow Community Hospital in Barstow, California. I'm afraid I have some difficult news for you," she said.
"Did something happen to my dad?" I asked worriedly.
"I'm afraid so, ma'am. There was an incident," she began, but I interrupted.
"An incident?" I asked. I dealt with the press on a daily basis for nearly four years. I've been working in politics for about ten years. I almost always use the words "an incident" to refer to something much more serious than I want it to appear.
"Yes ma'am. We worked on him for almost three hours, but we just couldn't get him stabilized. There was too much blood loss, and just too much damage," she continued.
"Wait, wait. Are you trying to tell me that my father is dead?" I asked, scared.
"I don't like delivering this sort of news over the telephone, but yes, ma'am. We could not save your father, and he died." I sat down hard, but forgot to make sure there was a chair behind me and wound up collapsing on the floor.
"What happened?" I whispered.
"I'm afraid the police will need to inform you of that," she replied.
"Well, is there a cop there who can talk to me?" I asked.
"Unfortunately, no, there's not," she said. I was absurdly grateful she didn't use the phrase "I'm afraid" again. My inner speechwriter critic had begun to cringe.
"Is there a number I can call?" I asked.
"The police generally prefer to have these discussions in person. Maybe it should wait until you can get here," the doctor suggested.
Get there. Get there? My father was dead. I needed to go to California. I needed to go to California three days before I was supposed to attend the trial that should put Adam Cardington in prison for assaulting me. I needed to go to California when I needed to hire a money guy. My father was dead. Dead. "Right. Get there. Um, I'm in Washington, I have to get a flight," I explained.
"Yes, right," she replied. "Please, take your time. There's no need to rush."
Right. Because it's not like he's gonna go anywhere, I thought. "What do I do?" I asked.
"Just come to the emergency department when you get here and tell them who you are. Someone will find me or one of the other doctors who worked on your father," she answered, sounding slightly relieved.
"Ok. I don't know how long it will be," I told her.
"That's fine. Someone will be here to meet you," she assured me.
"All right then," I said softly.
"Ms. Cregg? I really am very sorry," she said, just before I hung up.
"Thank you," I managed before clicking the phone off. I sat still on the floor for a long moment, ignoring Sam and Leo's concerned looks behind me. My mind was spinning, both with the news and travel arrangements. There were three airports I could fly into, all of which would mean at least an hour drive to Barstow itself. It would depend on which would be the earliest flight. I could fly into LAX, Vegas or maybe Ontario. I'd prefer Vegas, since it was usually cheaper, but Ontario was closer.
"CJ?" Leo finally asked, hesitantly.
"My...my dad died," I said in a somewhat strangled voice.
"Wow," Sam said.
I managed to turn so I could see them from my place on the floor. I didn't want to try and stand up just yet. "I'm so sorry," Leo said quietly. I nodded. "What happened?"
"I don't...I don't know. They wouldn't tell me over the phone. Something happened to him, I don't think it was a heart attack or something," I replied, starting to regain some semblance of control.
"Can we do anything?" Sam asked.
"I don't know," I admitted.
"Do you need to call anyone? Someone to meet you out there?" Leo asked gently.
"It's just...just us...just me, I guess. My mother hadn't talked to him in almost twenty years," I replied. "And I don't know where my brother is, or how long it's been since he saw my dad."
"Maybe you should call your mom anyway," Sam suggested.
"I haven't talked to her in twenty years, either," I explained quietly.
Leo got up and walked over to me. He held out his hand and waited for me to take it and pull myself up. "You should still let her know about this," he said.
"Would you want to know? I mean, if it were Jenny?" I asked him.
"Yes." He nodded firmly.
"Ok," I replied, not looking at him. "Ok." I let him guide me to a chair.
"You don't know where your brother is?" Sam asked.
"I haven't seen him since I was ten," I admitted.
"Do you want to let him know about this?" Sam asked. "Because we can call the FBI or the IRS and find him, if you wanted."
I thought about it for a moment. I had wanted to look for my brother almost since we got to the White House. I could have started looking for him anytime, but when we got to Washington, I had more resources. However, I wasn't sure using those resources would be an abuse of power. On the other hand, this was something of an emergency situation. I tried to think how I would feel if I was in his place and he had information like this and didn't try to find me. Besides, if I was going to attempt to call my mother, this couldn't possibly be any worse than that. "Yeah. He should know."
"Ok. What can you tell me about him?" Sam asked.
I think quickly. "Steven Raymond Cregg, born in...um...New Madrid, I think. December 13, 1958. The last time I saw him was in 1976 sometime. I don't know if he stayed in Missouri or not."
"New Madrid is in Missouri?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. You've been there," I tell him.
"All right. Anything else?" he asked.
"I don't think...no, wait. If nothing comes up under my last name, try Martensen. I don't know if he ever changed his name back," I replied, frowning.
Sam nodded. "How do you spell that?"
I sighed, "M-A-R-T-E-N-S-E-N"
"Got it," Sam said, getting up and leaving the room.
There was a quiet knock at the door, and Charlie poked his head in. "Leo, he wants you."
"Thanks," Leo replied, shooting me a look. I didn't move from the chair, but Leo left the room anyway. He must have said something to Charlie, since Charlie stayed and sat in the chair next to me, not saying a word.
We looked at each other for a very long moment. "There's nothing anyone can say that doesn't sound stupid right now," he said finally.
"No. There's not," I agreed.
"Do you know what happened?" he asked.
"No. They said the police would have to tell me, but that they wouldn't over the phone." I tilted my head and regarded him a moment. "Your mom was a cop."
"Yes." He nodded.
"Do you know what they *would* tell me over the phone?" I asked, half desperate to know what I was going to be walking into.
Charlie thought a moment. "Well, if it were a heart attack or something like that, they probably would have told you."
"No, no, it's not that. The doctor said there was too much damage and that he lost too much blood," I said, shaking my head.
"So, it wasn't that. They tell you if it's a car accident," he replied.
I nodded, thinking about how we'd found out about Mrs. Landingham. "So it probably wasn't a car accident."
"Right. And if it were a fire, they probably would have said that, too." He looked at me, seriously.
I took a deep breath. "That leaves homicide."
Charlie nodded. "Or some sort of assault."
"All right, then." I said, nodding firmly. Ok. My father died a violent death. I couldn't panic; there wasn't time. I swallowed back blurry images from my nightmares and took a deep breath. "How old were you?" I asked, suddenly.
Charlie doesn't seem startled by the question, but I doubt he would have shown it if he was. "Twenty." He paused and asked, "How old are you?"
"Thirty-five," I said softly, glancing at my hands. "Sorry."
"It's all right," he shrugged, then asked hesitantly, "Is your mom there?"
"Is my mom where?" I asked, confused.
"At the hospital. With your dad," he explained.
"Oh. No." I licked my lips nervously, then said, "She's...not so much in the picture."
"Oh," Charlie said. "I understand."
I looked at him, and realized that my childhood and Charlie's probably hadn't been all that different. "Can I ask you something else?"
"Sure," he said.
"When your mom died, did you try to let your dad know?"
He sighed. "He was long gone, but I did ask around a little, to see if...anyone knew where he was, at least. He never showed up, so I guess he either didn't know, or didn't care." I nodded. "If you think you might regret not telling her, you should at least try to find her," Charlie finished, quietly.
"Yeah. I guess so." I took a deep breath. "I need to find a flight."
"Want some help?" he asked. I nodded. "Ok, well, let's see if Margaret can help us," he said.
We went out to Margaret's desk and she looked up at me and smiled sadly. "CJ, I'm sorry."
"It's all right," I replied. "Do you think you can help me find a flight?"
"Of course," she said, turning back to her computer. Charlie dragged a chair over for me, and leaned against the desk. "Where are you going?"
"Barstow, California. But there's not an airport there. I usually fly into Vegas, but the Ontario airport is closer. I'll take whichever one is leaving soonest," I sighed.
Margaret brought up a website and started typing. "How soon do you want to leave?"
I needed to pack, I realized suddenly. I also needed to make several phone calls, not the least of which to my new assistant, Melanie. "What time is it?" I asked.
"It's 1," Charlie supplied.
"Not before 3," I said. "I need to pack, and get to the airport and everything."
"Ok. Where are your frequent flyer miles?" she asked.
"Don't have any right now. I used them all this summer," I replied, rubbing at my face.
"All right. Do you care which airline?" I shook my head. "And you want an open ended return, right?"
"Yeah, that would probably be best," I sighed.
"Ok, then." She studied the website for a moment and frowned. "Well, there's a 3:30 from Dulles to Pittsburgh, where you can catch a...no, wait, that's going to Canada. Nevermind."
"Ontario, California," I say.
"Right. Gotcha. Ok, here, we go," she says, switching windows. "There's a 4 from Dulles to Norfolk, then you catch a 5:45 to Atlanta, and from there, catch a 8:30 to Ontario. You'd get to Ontario around 10:15," she said.
"Where are you *going*?" Sam said from behind me as he reached around to wave a piece of paper in my face.
"Barstow," I answered, tipping my head back to look at him and grabbing the paper.
"I thought your dad lived in Napa," he said.
I shook my head. "We went to Napa for his birthday because he'd never been there."
"Oh." Sam started rubbing my shoulders gently. "How many planes is that?"
"Three," Margaret asked. "But they're all non-stop."
"And she'd get to Barstow at what time?" Sam asked.
"10:15," she said.
"Eastern or Pacific?" Charlie asked.
"Um, I would guess Eastern, but hang on, I'll check." She clicked quietly for a moment, frowning. "Nope. All times are local to the airport. So that's 10:15 pm Pacific."
"That's what time I'll get to Ontario," I said.
"Right," Margaret nodded.
"Is Ontario a suburb of Barstow?" Charlie asked.
"No, Ontario is near LA," Sam replied. "Barstow, however, isn't anywhere near LA, unless they've moved it."
"They haven't moved it. And it's not all that far away. Two hours from LAX, a little over an hour from Ontario," I sighed. Sam didn't reply, but he squeezed my shoulders a little harder.
"CJ, do you want this flight, or do you want me to see if I can find an earlier one?" Margaret asked.
"How much is this one?" I asked, cringing.
Margaret whistled under her breath before answering. "$750"
I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Yeah, ok, I'll go with this one. Anything earlier is probably going to be more expensive, or have a longer layover somewhere else. There's only so many flights to Ontario." Thank God for American Express. I fumbled around for my bag, not remembering that I'd left it in Leo's office. Charlie got it and handed it to me. "Thanks," I said, digging through it for my wallet.
"I'm beginning to understand why you don't go home for holidays," Sam said quietly, looking at the computer screen.
"It's not usually that much. If I want to go to my dad's, I book really far in advance, and I usually fly into Vegas, which is much cheaper, but it's a longer drive," I said, handing Margaret my drivers license and credit card.
"How far is the drive from Vegas?" he asked.
"About two hours. Margaret, can you get a rental car from this site too?" I asked.
"Yeah, you can. Hang on, let me book your flight, first," she replied.
"What are you doing?" Leo asked.
"Travel arrangements," I said. I didn't look up until Sam nudged me, and I saw the President standing there. Jumping up, I said, "Sorry, Mr. President. I didn't see you come in."
"It's fine, CJ, sit down," he assured me. As I did, he looked at me sympathetically. "I'm very sorry about your father, CJ."
"Thank you, sir," I said.
"Is there anything I could do to help?" he asked.
"I honestly don't know, sir," I admitted. "Right now, I'm not even sure what happened."
"Leo told me. Is anyone going to be out there to meet you?" he asked.
I looked down. "I don't know. Probably not."
"You mean you're doing this alone?" he asked, concerned.
"Well, sort of," I said. "There's probably friends of my dad out there who'll be able to help, but I'm basically all the family there is."
"CJ, you shouldn't have to do this alone," Leo said.
"Leo, it's all right," I replied. "I'm all he has, there's really no one else to do it."
"No, what Leo is saying is someone should go with you," the President said.
I nodded. "I know. But there's no one to go. Sam needs to stay here because he's writing the speech for tomorrow night's fundraiser. Josh and Toby are in Indianapolis, and Leo needs to stay here to keep everything going."
"Abbey could go with you," he suggested.
"No, sir, she really couldn't. She needs to be here to go to the fundraiser with you. We can't afford for her to miss it any more than we can afford for you to miss it," I tell him. There have been enough rumors about the state of their marriage. The last thing any of us needed was to field the questions again. "I can miss it, since Leo will be there."
He nodded. "All right then. You'll keep us up to date?" he asked.
"Of course," I nodded.
"Good. Because I would like to attend the funeral," he said in a tone that brooked no argument.
"I would like that," I said. "I'll make sure you know when it is."
"Good." He nodded. "Travel safely."
"I will, sir," I said as he went back to the Oval Office. I turned to Leo who was shaking his head. "I'm fine."
"Of course you are," he said, nodding.
"Leo, she can call us if she runs into trouble," Sam spoke up. I was surprised, since I figured he didn't want me going alone either.
"And she will," Leo said, looking directly at me.
I nodded. "Yes sir."
"Ok, then. Sam, you're going to take her to the airport," Leo said.
"Your ticket will be at the American Airlines counter," Margaret said, giving me my cards back. "And I rented you a car," she added. "It'll be at the Hertz counter in the Ontario airport."
"Thanks, Margaret," I said, smiling a little at her.
"You're welcome. You should get to the airport by 3, though," she said.
"Right. Thanks." I stood up and Charlie nodded at me before going back to his desk. There's nothing he could say that wouldn't sound stupid and he knew it. I looked at Leo again.
"All right. Call us when you get there," he said.
"I will. Thank you, Leo," I said. He nodded and I followed Sam out of the office.
"What happened?" she asked.
"My dad died. I'm catching a 4pm flight out of here, and I don't know exactly when I'm going to be back," I explained.
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said. "What do you want me to do?"
I think for a long moment to organize it all before giving her instructions. "I got the go-ahead to hire a money person. I have a name- Scott Morley. Sam Seaborn's office should be calling at some point today to give you contact information and some other details. I need you to check him out, quietly. See if you can find out what he's doing now, and if it might be possible that he's looking for campaign work. Ask around, see if you can get any references for him. Last resort, call the last person he worked for and see if they'll give you a reference. But keep it under the radar, I don't want any stir."
"Right. Anything else?" she asked.
"Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler should have money for us tomorrow. Someone from one of their offices will probably be over with a check or a deposit slip, depending on what's easier. If it's a check, go ahead and deposit it. If not, then just file the slip. Other than that, keep doing what you've been doing. I'll check in, but if you run into trouble, just call Leo McGarry's office and talk to Margaret, ok? I think you'll be fine," I said, confident that she would be. Melanie may have never worked on a campaign before, but she'd been working on the Hill since she graduated from Georgetown. She knew people and knew how things worked.
"All right. Am I still deflecting the press?" she asked.
"God, yes. Give 'em to Simon. I'm gonna try and persuade Henry to come over to our side, but I haven't had the chance to talk to Leo yet," I told her. "You shouldn't have to deal with the vultures. Besides, it's going to be pretty obvious I'm not around, and most of the White House press corps knows better than to try to get things from anyone but me or Senior Staff. Hell, they know better than to ask anyone but Simon or Henry."
"There have been a couple of calls. I told them the words "Press Secretary" don't come close to anything in my job description," she said, sounding proud of herself.
"Great answer. Keep it up," I said.
"Thanks," she said.
"Ok, Mel. I've gotta pack. I'll call you tomorrow, all right?" I said as I got out of the car.
"Yeah, sure. Don't worry about me, I'll keep us standing," she said.
"I know you will. That's why I hired you," I told her, smiling a little.
"Yup. Talk to you later," she said.
"Yeah, bye," I said, clicking my phone off.
Sam looked at me as I unlocked the door of the building Josh and I now both live in. "Did someone call Josh and Toby?"
"No, and I'm not going to right now," I said, leading him up the stairs. Josh lives on the first floor, I live on the third.
"CJ..." he started, but I interrupted him.
"Sam, I will call them later tonight. Right now, I don't want them worrying about me, I want them to get us the money. That's more important at the moment."
"Ok," he acquiesced.
"So don't you go call them, you hear me?" I shot him a "don't you dare test me on this" look.
"I won't," he promised.
"All right then," I said, unlocking the door to my apartment. I sighed and looked at the messy kitchen table. There were still boxes in the living room that I hadn't had a chance to unpack yet. I pointed at the couch and told Sam, "Have a seat, I won't be long."
"All right," he said, and sat down.
I went into the bedroom as I heard Sam turn on the television. What to take, what to take? Opening my closet, I wondered if my good black suit fit. Or if I could make it fit with a minimum of difficulty. For the record, I now weighed 139 pounds, or almost 15 pounds more than I had in August. However, since I'd bought most of my clothing when I weighed closer to 150 pounds, most of them were still too big. The options were expanding day by day, but at the moment, the selection was somewhat limited to things that I could wear with belts or that looked all right if they were a bit baggy, like khakis or jeans. I shook my head, dragged a suitcase out from the bottom of the closet, and started folding dress clothes into it. If all else failed, there was a mall.
Fifteen minutes later, I emerged with a full suitcase. "Ok, let's go."
"It's only 1:45, CJ," Sam looked up from CNN.
"Oh." I said, sitting down on one of the kitchen chairs.
"You need more furniture," he said, glancing around at the boxes.
"I know, I haven't had time." I'd only moved into the apartment at Thanksgiving.
"Yeah, I know." He looked at me. "Do you want to get something to eat?"
I wasn't hungry, but it would be my last chance at a decent meal until I got to Ontario at least. "Yeah, that would probably be a good idea."
"All right, let's drive out to the airport and get something out there," he said, turning off the television.
"Wait a minute, let me make sure there's nothing in the fridge that's going to spoil," I said, realizing that I wouldn't be back for awhile.
"Good idea," Sam said, following me into the kitchen. We tossed the leftover pasta and the milk. I hesitated over the vegetables, but tossed them, just in case. I'd rather not come home to a fridge full of rotting vegetables.
"Oh, and I should call Monique," I said as I tied up the trash.
"Right," Sam said. "You do that, I'll take this out," he told me.
"Take the keys," I called as I walked back into the living room.
"Got one," he called back.
I scooped up the cordless phone and dug around in my bag for my address book. Monique Damien's card was stuck under the flap, and I slid it out far enough to dial the number. "District Attorneys' office," a pleasant voice greeted me.
"Hi, this is CJ Cregg. Can I speak with Mrs. Damien, please?"
"One moment, please." I tapped my fingers against the phone as I listened to the annoying hold music.
"Monique Damien," she answered.
"Hi Monique, it's CJ Cregg." We'd moved past last names about 10 minutes into our first meeting.
"Hi CJ, what's up?" she asked.
"My dad died this morning, and I'm about to fly out to California to make arrangements for the funeral. I don't know if I'll be back by Thursday," I said.
"Oh no! Are you all right?" she asked.
"For the moment. It hasn't really sunk in, but I don't expect it to until I get there," I admitted. "I just don't know how long I'll be gone."
"Not a problem. You don't need to be there on Thursday, that will just be jury selection, and that might stretch out until Friday. How about you give me a call when you have a better idea of when you'll be back. If it's before Thursday, I can try to get a continuance. Otherwise, we might just have to move your testimony," she said.
"I'm sorry," I told her.
"No, no, don't be. Not at all. It's not something you could have foreseen, you know?" she assured me.
Not so much, no. "Right."
"Ok, then. Have a safe trip, and I'm really very sorry," she said.
"Thanks. I'll be in touch," I said, as Sam came back into the apartment.
"I'll talk to you later then. Bye CJ," she said.
"Bye, Monique," I said, hanging up the phone. "She says it shouldn't cause a problem," I told Sam.
"Good," he replied, going to wash his hands in the kitchen sink. "Ready to go?" he asked when he was finished.
"Yeah. Let's go," I said, picking up my suitcase and my bag.
I attempted to shake some of the wet from my hair, but I wasn't very successful. I sighed as I approached the front desk of the emergency department, trying unsuccessfully to disengage myself from the gnawing fear that I always felt in a hospital. A older woman in scrubs looked up at me as I walked up. "Excuse me, my name is CJ Cregg. My father died here this morning. A doctor named Sara Miller told me I should ask for her."
"Of course," she said smiling. "I'm awfully sorry, but Dr. Miller isn't on now. I can show you somewhere where you can dry off and wait for me to try and call her, if you like."
I closed my eyes. It was almost midnight here. I'd been awake since 5:30 my time, which was approximately 22 hours ago. Of course the doctor still wouldn't be on duty, it had been almost 12 hours since she'd called me. "Ok," I finally managed.
"Ok, then. I'm Colleen. Why don't you come with me?" She led me down a hallway to a small room where there was a couch and a television. "Just wait here a moment, I'll try to find you a towel or something."
I stood dripping in the middle of the room until she came back with several towels and handed them to me. "If you'd like to change, there's a restroom right across the hall. I'll go see if I can't get ahold of Dr. Miller for you, all right?"
I nodded numbly. I'd brought my carryon in with me, and there was a set of pajamas in it, but I didn't think I wanted to change into them. They weren't revealing or anything, but they were older than God and the sweatpants had holes in the knees. Not clothing I was comfortable wearing in public. So, I just dried off the best I could. The t-shirt under my blouse wasn't too wet once I took off the blouse, and my jeans were really only damp around the bottoms. I dried my hair as best I could, and sat down to wait.
"Claudia?" I looked up at an unfamiliar voice, and saw a priest with red rimmed eyes standing at the doorway. "I'm Father Ben Saunders. I don't know if you'd remember meeting me."
"Oh, of course," I said, standing up to shake his hand. "It's nice to see you again," I said, mechanically polite. Fr. Ben was one of my dad's closest friends in town, despite the fact he was only about ten years older than me. He sat down next to me on the couch.
"I told the nurse to page me when you got here. I'm on call tonight," he explained. I nodded. "Has anyone told you what's going on yet?"
I shook my head. "I guess they're trying to track down one of the doctors."
"Yes. What did they tell you?" he asked.
"Not much. Just that there was an incident and they couldn't save my dad." I said softly.
He nodded. "Would you like to wait for the doctor, or would you rather know now?"
"Now," I said without hesitation.
"All right." He paused for a moment, and seemed to be gathering his strength. "This morning your father went for a walk in the park. I usually go with him, but it was the school Mass day, so I couldn't. While he was walking, he came across a young couple. The man was yelling at the young woman and beginning to attract a crowd. No one interfered until he shoved the girl and your father must have gotten angry. Apparently, he walked over to the couple and told the young man that was no way to treat a lady and he should be more respectful. The man had a knife and he turned and stabbed your father before running off. One of the other passersby was already on her cell phone calling the police. The ambulance was there within five minutes, but the knife severed an artery and they weren't able to repair it in time," he finished softly.
I sat numb. "Did the police find the guy?"
"Yes. He'll be charged with aggravated assault and manslaughter. Possibly murder, but it's hard to know." he answered.
I nodded. "Did...did it hurt him a lot?" I remembered Josh telling me that he hadn't felt the pain at first, he just knew something had happened to him. I hoped it was the same way with my dad.
"I'm afraid I don't know," Fr. Ben said gently. "He lost consciousness before the ambulance got there and never regained it."
"Oh." I said. After a moment I looked up and asked, "Can I see him?"
"Sure. Let me see what I can do." He patted my arm and left the room.
I managed not to cry, or throw up, or scream as I stood stock still and stared at the body on that table. I even managed to say "Excuse me," to Fr. Ben and the doctor who had accompanied me before bolting out of the room and up the nearest set of stairs for a door, any door to get me out of the hospital. I was dialing my cell phone before I even hit fresh air. I had no idea what number I dialed until I heard a somewhat familiar female voice on the other end.
"Ginger?" I asked around the tears that weren't letting themselves get blinked back this time.
"CJ? Is that you?" she said, sounding worried.
"Yeah..." I trailed off as it began to sound more like a sob than a word.
"Oh, sweetie. Ok, ok, hang on a moment, I'll wake Toby up. Just hang in a moment," Ordinarily, I wouldn't have thought I'd inspire Ginger to call me sweetie, but just then, I didn't care.
And then I completely broke down sobbing. I heard Toby's voice in my ear, but I couldn't make any sense of what he was saying. Whatever it was, it was soothing, and I eventually calmed down. "Toby?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it's me," he said gently.
"God," I whispered. I took a shaky breath and said, "I didn't mean to wake you up."
"It's all right. You're allowed to not know what time it is," he replied.
"What time is it, anyway?" I asked.
"It's about 5:30 here, so I think it's probably about 2:30 there," he answered.
"What was Ginger doing up at 5:30 with your cell?" I asked, wiping my nose on a piece of tissue I unearthed from one of my jeans pockets.
"I was taking a nap. We never actually went to bed," he explained. "We got the money."
"Good," I said. I was having a difficult time believing that a little over 12 hours ago, my chief concern had been Toby and Josh getting the money.
"Yeah," he said, and was quiet a moment.
A thought occurred to me just then. "How did you know where I am and what's going on?" I asked. I hadn't called Toby and Josh, despite the fact I'd told Sam I would. One of my flights was late and I almost didn't make the connection in Atlanta, so I hadn't had a chance to call them until I got to Ontario, and at that point, it was after midnight, so I hadn't wanted to bother them. I had planned to call at some point later in the morning.
"Leo told us," he said.
"So long as it wasn't Sam," I muttered.
"It wasn't Sam," Toby confirmed, used to deciphering my under-my-breath comments.
"He listened for once," I sighed.
"Apparently. Speaking of which, is anyone there with you?" he asked.
"One of my dad's friends is here at the hospital with me. No one is here with me right now, though." I had sat down on the curb under the awning of the doorway. It had stopped raining, but it was still chilly.
"Ok. Are you staying at your dad's?" he asked.
"Yeah. I don't want to pay for the hotel," I shrugged. "It'll be ok."
"If you're sure. Because I can pay for a hotel room if you would be more comfortable," he said. I wasn't terribly surprised at the offer- I've long since discovered that when it involves someone's relative or close friend in the hospital, or a death in the family, no matter how loosely family is defined, Toby will move heaven and earth to make sure a friend of his in that situation is taken care of and comfortable. I remember how he took care of me after Grace and Jack died, and how he took care of Andrea when her aunt was in the hospital.
"No. Thanks, though." I said.
"Ok," he said softly.
"I should go," I said after a moment. "I probably need to do paperwork or something."
"Give me the number to your dad's," Toby said.
I sighed and rattled off a number. "I'll have my cell, you know."
"I know. I also know you probably forgot to pack the charger for your cell, since you do so with frightening consistency for a woman who is otherwise impeccably organized," he said, in his usual astringent manner.
"Shit," I mumbled, realizing that I did, indeed, leave the charger for my cell phone on the kitchen counter.
"Want me to bring it when I come out?" he asked, a little more gently.
"Please," I sighed and stood up. "No, don't bother, unless you're coming out before the funeral."
"When is the funeral?" he asked.
"No idea. Probably Thursday, maybe Wednesday, depending on how long it takes to get everything settled, and how many viewing days, etc. I think more than one is customary, but this is really my first funeral, so I don't know," I told him.
"Ok. I'll call you later, then," he said.
"Yeah, ok." I hit the off button without saying goodbye, because I never say good bye to Toby on the phone. Fr. Ben was waiting in the lobby when I walked back into the building. "Sorry about that."
"It's fine. Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah. I'm fine," I answered, more or less automatically. "Do I have to fill something out or anything?"
"Well, you need to choose a funeral home," he said. "And the hospital will arrange to have your father's body moved to the home."
"The cops are done with...well, whatever it is they need to do?" I asked. I didn't have much experience with violent crime outside of the shooting, but I have seen Law and Order more than once.
"Yes, it's all taken care of. You just need to sign the paperwork and let the hospital know where to call," he assured me.
"What funeral home does the parish use?" I asked, wearily. I couldn't see my father having an opinion about which funeral home he used, but I knew he patronized parish businesses as much as he possibly could.
"There's Sims, or there's the Witten Family," he told me.
I shrugged. "Which would you pick?"
"I'd go with the Wittens. They know...knew, your dad," he told me.
I nodded. "All right. Where's the paperwork?"
Fr. Ben led me back down the hall to the nurses' desk, where they handed me some sheets of paper that I had to sign several times and initial in several more places. Fr. Ben supplied the name and phone number of the funeral home and I gave the administrative aide who took care of the paper work my cell number and my dad's number, just in case the cell died. Once that was taken care of, a nurse handed me a small bag.
"We had to throw away the clothing, but these were in your father's pockets," she said.
"Thanks," I said, gripping the bag rather tighter than necessary.
"Would you like a ride," Fr. Ben asked me.
"No thanks, I'd just have to come up here and get the car anyway." I said softly as we walked out of the hospital. It had begun to drizzle again, and I winced as the chilly water hit my face.
"All right. Call if you need anything. The number is on your dad's phone," he said, mercifully deciding to leave me on my own.
"Thanks. Can I come by later and take care of the Mass arrangements?" I asked.
"Sure. Give me a call when you're ready," he said nodding.
"Thanks," I said again and got into the car. I put the bag of my father's effects on the passenger seat and managed to pull out of the parking space before the tears started to prick at my eyes again. I swiped an angry hand across my face as I maneuvered the car down the street and towards my father's house. I sighed as I pulled into the driveway, and put my head down on the steering wheel before gathering what little energy I had left and getting out of the car to gather my luggage. I struggled with the unfamiliar door key and eventually succeeded in falling into the small foyer of my dad's small split level house. Sighing, I dumped my luggage onto the floor and took a deep breath.
On the first door in the hallway there is a laminated piece of tag board with my father's handwriting. In the dim light of the hallway nightlight, I couldn't read it, but I knew what it said. "Claudia will always have a room under my roof, no matter where I go and no matter how old she is." He had written that promise one night when I burst into tears because I was scrambling to finish term papers and projects before I graduated and I was suddenly afraid that when I went off to Berkeley, he'd move and not tell me where he went. It wasn't a completely unreasonable fear- the custody agreement my parents had renegotiated when I was sixteen said that my parents would only be legally responsible for me until I graduated from high school, whether I was eighteen at that point or not. If I wasn't, I'd be granted my emancipation from the court, which is what actually happened, since I had just turned seventeen when I graduated. My father had kept his promise. That sign had traveled to every apartment he'd had since I graduated. I rested my hand on the doorknob, but didn't turn it. I didn't want to go in there. I turned back towards the steps to the living room and decided to go sit on the couch for awhile, since I wasn't all too sure I actually wanted to sleep.
My eyes must have closed as soon as I sat down on the couch, because when I opened them, it was light outside and there was a loud banging noise coming from above me. I stumbled up the stairs and opened the door before I was really awake enough to consider whether I wanted to talk to whoever was on the other side. Josh stood on the doorstep, ready to knock on the door again.
"What? What are you doing here?" I mumbled, surprised.
"My best friend's father died. Where else should I be?" he asked gently. I just blinked at him. "You were asleep?"
"I must have been. I don't remember falling asleep, though." I stepped back to let him into the house. My hands were shaking and my head felt like it was two sizes too small.
He nodded, and gently took my arm and guided me to a kitchen chair. "Sit down, you look like you're ready to pass out."
"Yeah," I said, putting my head down on the kitchen table. The wood was cool under my cheek and I felt a little bit better. Josh reached out and started rubbing my back and I was suddenly crying again.
"Shh, It's all right," he whispered as he bent down to pull me into a hug.
"I didn't want anyone," I blubbered. "I didn't want to..."
"Be trouble," he said, nodding as he continued to rub my back. "It's not trouble at all. You don't want to do this alone, trust me."
"No. I didn't. Not really." I said, beginning to calm down.
He nodded knowingly. "So then. You're not alone." He handed me a box of tissues. "How about you lie down for awhile yet? I imagine you could use the sleep." I nodded reluctantly. "Ok. Which one is your room?" he asked.
I let him lead me down the hall to my bedroom. Somehow it wasn't so scary to walk into my room now that someone else was in the house with me. Josh coaxed me into changing my clothes and tucked me into bed, brushing my hair off my face before kissing my forehead gently. "You sleep for awhile. I'll wake you up in a couple hours."
"What time is it, anyway?" I asked.
"Almost 8. I'll wake you around 11, ok?" he said.
"Yeah," I said, fighting against my eyelids.
"Ok, then. Yell if you need something," he said, as he slipped out of the room. I was asleep before he closed the door again.
Josh looked up at me in surprise as I slumped into the chair across from him. "Hey."
"Hi," I said, looking at him blearily. There was a basket of fruit on the table, and I grabbed a banana and peeled it. "Did you eat?"
"I ate breakfast after I landed in Las Vegas," he explained.
"Ah," I said, swallowing a mouthful of banana. "I didn't eat yet."
"I can tell," he said, eyeing the way I was devouring the banana.
"Hush," I muttered, looking around the kitchen. "I need to make a list."
"Yeah, probably," he said gently. I started to look around for a piece of paper, but he slid a notepad towards me and tossed me a pen.
"Ok. First thing, call the funeral home," I said, glancing up at him to see if he had any suggestions.
"Don't look at me. I don't know how a Catholic funeral works. Jewish people bury their dead within 24 hours," he pointed out.
"Well, I don't know much about funerals, either," I sighed. "That seems like a logical starting place, though."
"Ok," he said.
"Right then. Then, I call the church, and I have to call the people in his address book and let them know what's going on." I scribbled as I talked.
"Did you try to call your mother?" Josh asked, hesitantly.
I shook my head. "Not yet."
"Are you going to?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I don't know."
"All right," he said, sounding a little concerned. I ignored him as I kept writing things down on my list. Flowers. Food. Hotel rooms for out of town people. Will. "You know those legal will kits they advertise on the radio?"
"Um, yes," Josh said.
"Are those, you know, actually legal?" I asked.
"I would think so. It would probably depend on the kit and the state you're in," Josh shrugged.
"My dad doesn't...didn't have a lawyer," I explained. "He was a do it yourself kind of guy."
"Did he have a will?" Josh asked.
I sighed. "He mentioned something about those kits to me once, but he never told me if he actually got one or anything like that." I got up and walked down the stairs to the living room. If he had written a will, it would probably be in the bottom left hand desk drawer with the rest of his important papers. I rooted through the drawer for a couple of minutes before finding a folder that said "Will and Testament". I glanced through the contents as I walked back up to the kitchen. "Well, this is what he had."
Josh took the folder from me and looked through it silently for a moment. "So far as I can tell, this is all in order. You might ask Sam, though. He's probably more familiar with California law than I am."
"Ok," I said, putting the folder aside for a moment. There was a church bulletin tacked up on the refrigerator. "I'm going to start making calls," I said, reaching out to snag the bulletin.
"Sure. Yell if you need help," Josh said, getting up and moving towards the stairs. I looked at the advertisements on the back of the bulletin to find the number for the funeral home and started in on my list of calls.
"This all that's left?" Josh asked. He'd admitted about three hours ago that he couldn't actually read my list. It was so badly scribbled that I was surprised I could read it. But he could tell as well as I could how many things weren't crossed off.
"Yeah," I nod.
"What do you need me to do?" he asked, as he has after every task we've completed.
"You can't do anything on this one," I said softly.
He nodded with realization. "Want me to leave?"
I shook my head quickly. "No."
"Ok, then." He handed me the phone and I took a deep breath as I dialed it.
"Yeah?" A male voice asked on the other end of the line.
"Is Sara Jane there?" I asked, feeling the vowels in the words start to relax.
"Minute," the voice said laconically. As I waited, I couldn't help but wonder who he was. Was he like my stepfather? Was he like my brothers? Was he my brother?
"Hello?" Her voice was still low and thick, just like always.
"Mama?" I asked, unable to help myself.
"I'm sorry?" she asked.
"This is Claudia," I said slowly, not sure what to expect.
"Oh." The word was flat, but not completely uninviting. "What do you want?"
"Daddy died yesterday," I said, hearing my voice get lazy in response to hers.
She didn't answer right away. "How?" she asked, finally.
"Someone stabbed him," I said calmly, just as I had for a couple dozen people before her.
"Ok." She didn't say anything more for a long moment, and I was about to ask if she was still there, but then she said, "You're not the news girl anymore."
"No," I replied. "I'm not." I wasn't sure why she asked, but part of me was vaguely comforted at the knowledge that my mother had seen me on TV. It was a short lived comfort, though.
"Get fired, did you?" she asked.
"No. I got sick, so I resigned," I answered, slowly. It was the simple explanation I gave people to explain Adam and my decent into anorexic hell.
"You stopped giving it up like a nice girl, didn't you?"
Her voice stung me in ways I hadn't remembered. I spit out my answer before I could identify the pain. "I never did that. Not once, not ever." My own voice was venomous.
"More like no one would take from a smart mouthed little girl," she replied, almost idly. I closed my eyes. This had been a mistake.
"I got my job because I was good at it," I replied. "I didn't have to spread for it." Unlike you, mother, I thought, but didn't say. Josh looked up at me in alarm, but I didn't acknowledge him.
"You were never good at anything but causing trouble. I'm just surprised it took them so long to figure that out. I imagine your father never did," she said. Something in her voice sounded a little strange to me, yet familiar. I closed my eyes against the sudden tears and willed them away. Suddenly, I realized what I had never recognized as a child. My mother was drunk. Or high. And she always had been. And I was 35 years old, not 7. And I didn't have to continue this conversation.
I forced my voice back to "normal", concentrating on the somewhat elusive accent I'd picked up over the years and long exposure to Toby and other northern acquaintances and friends. I clipped the vowels back into their New England formations, and found that tiny hint of Britain again as I said, "Well, I just thought you would want to know about my father. Apparently, I was mistaken. I'm sorry to have bothered you and sorry that I wasted my time."
"Don't you back talk me, young lady," my mother snapped.
"I'm not back talking," I said, calmly. "I'm saying goodbye." I paused for a moment, but she didn't say anything further. I hung up the phone before I could change my mind.
Josh stirred uncomfortably in his chair. "Well, that was fun," I remarked dryly.
"CJ," he started.
"Don't. Don't say it," I said, my voice getting higher. It was becoming difficult to sit still in the chair and I tried to take a surreptitious deep breath.
"Claudia Jean," he tried again.
"No, Joshua. I don't want to talk about it right now," I said in the most controlled voice I could manage. I dug around in my jeans pocket to avoid his gaze. I found the piece of paper that Sam had given me. "I gotta make this call," I said. He didn't respond as I dialed the number on the paper. I fidgeted with the torn edge as I listened to the phone ring. After six rings, an answering machine picked up.
"Sorry, I'm busy right now, but let me know how to get back to you and I will when I get the chance. If you're looking for Evan or Chris, try 513-254-1654. Thanks."
I swallowed as the machine beeped. "This message is for Steven Cregg. My name is Claudia, and, well..." I paused for a moment, not sure what to say. "I don't know if you remember, but...ok, I'm not doing this very well. Um, if this is the Steven Cregg who grew up near Three States, Missouri, please call me at 202-431-8972. I'd really like to talk to you. If that's not you, or there's no Steven at this number, I'm sorry, please excuse the ring. Yeah...ok, bye," I said hurriedly, as I hung up. I hadn't recognized the voice, but I had hardly seen or talked to Steven since he was 15, so it was likely I wouldn't have. I slumped down in the chair with a sigh.
"CJ, I'm sorry," Josh whispered.
"Me too," I whispered back.
"Yeah?" I asked, poking my head around the door.
"They're going to be here in about twenty minutes," Donna said.
"Ok, thanks," I said as I started to smear moisturizer on my face. My hands shook and I tried to quell the feeling in the pit of my stomach so I could put on my makeup without ruining it. I could hear Donna moving around in the kitchen and was suddenly very glad she had volunteered to stay with me while I got ready for the funeral. The last two days had been a blur of activity and condolences. I'd barely slept, and I wouldn't have eaten if it weren't for Josh. And even then I'm not sure I'd have eaten as much as I did if Toby hadn't come out the next day. I checked myself in the mirror one last time before leaving the bathroom and heading to my room to finish getting dressed. The black suit was a bit loose, but not overly large, and a safety pin made it wearable, thankfully.
Donna was answering the door as I emerged from the bedroom. "CJ," she said, turning to me as she let my father's next door neighbor into the house.
"Hi, Mrs. Morgan," I said, smiling a little.
"Hello, CJ. Quite a day, isn't it?" she asked, returning my smile.
"Yes. Yes, it is. The casserole was very good, thank you," I said. Actually, I had no idea what the casserole had actually tasted like, but Josh had liked it, so I assumed it was good.
"Oh, you're welcome dear. Are you staying long after the funeral?" she asked.
"No." I shook my head. "I'm going back to Washington tonight with everyone." Opening arguments started tomorrow, and I needed to be back for them.
"The trial," she said, nodding.
"Right." I knew my father would have told Mrs. Morgan about the trial. They had lunch twice a week.
"Your father intended to go to Washington for it, you know," she said softly.
I blinked. "He did?" I asked.
"Mm-hm. He was going to pick the tickets up that day," she replied.
"He didn't say anything," I said, startled.
"He didn't want you to tell him not to come," she said. Outside, a horn honked. "We should go, dear."
"Right," I said, dazedly. Donna handed me my coat and my purse and I locked the house up as we left.
The ride to the funeral home was a blur. I barely paid attention to what I was doing as one of the women from the church began the rosary. I stood between Josh and Toby, two silent witnesses. The man from the funeral home chased everyone out and let me have a moment before he sealed the coffin. I pulled a small envelope out of my purse and slipped it into the coffin along with the rosary I'd used- it was his. And then the next I knew, I was at the church singing the responsorial psalm in a tremulous voice. Someone's hand squeezed my shoulder. It might have been the First Lady's, but I didn't know. Fr. Ben talked about how much my father had loved being a part of the church and the community, and then he was beckoning me to come finish the eulogy.
I slipped out of my pew and walked carefully around the coffin to the lectors' stand. The church wasn't packed, but it was fairly full and my vision blurred as I looked around. Taking a deep breath I began.
"For the first fifteen years of my life, I thought my father had abandoned me. But that idea was hard to reconcile with the fact that he was genuinely happy to see me standing on his doorstep on a hot August day, needing a place to stay. I was a stand-offish child, a very angry young lady who didn't think she needed anyone. I didn't recognize that I needed him just as much as he needed me. I didn't trust him, not even when he promised I'd always have a place in his home. Yet, he still loved me, and took the time to talk to me every evening, even if he got nothing but monosyllables in return. When I left for college, he wrote me every single week, not missing once. And he did the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me. In the first four months I was at Berkeley, I grew nine inches. I was broke, and didn't have the money to replace the clothes I'd outgrown, so I was borrowing clothes from my roommate. He came to visit for Parents' Weekend and was surprised at how much I'd grown. Two days after he left, there was a package for me- the first package I'd ever gotten. In it, were three pairs of blue jeans, a sweater, a button down shirt and three t-shirts. He had gone to a department store, told the saleslady how tall I was, and between the two of them, figured out what size I was and found me some clothes. I still have a pair of jeans from that package. They were the first brand new clothes I could ever remember getting, and something about that package convinced me that my father really did love me. I couldn't deny the fact that I hadn't known who he was for fifteen years, though, and I confronted him once. When I accused him of skipping out on his child support obligations, he simply walked over to the desk and pulled a folder out of a drawer. In that folder, were cancelled checks for every single month from the time I was three. And on the memo line of each check, he had written, "Child support for my boys, Mark and Steven and for my Claudia." He hadn't abandoned me. I just hadn't known it." My voice broke, and I took a deep breath, blinking back the tears. "I am so very glad I found out when I was eighteen, and not now. I am so very glad I had seventeen years of knowing and believing how much my father loved me, and letting him know how much I loved him. He told me, when we went to Napa for his birthday, he wished he'd fought harder, longer for me, and that his only regret in life was that he believed the lawyer who told him getting custody of his children would be impossible. I told him...I told him I forgave him, and I think that might have been the best birthday present I could have given him, even if I was a day late. I only wish my brothers could have known him, like I did." I looked at the coffin and smiled a little bit. "He wasn't perfect, but he sure tried." I looked out over the congregation and nodded a little. As I passed the coffin on my way back to my seat, I whispered so softly I could barely hear it, "And flights of angels sing you to your rest, Daddy. I love you."