On the Road to the Real Thing - 10

***

I can't find it. I had it right here, on my desk, last night. It was right here, I swear it was, and now... Neat piles. Too many neat piles.

Margaret.

I don't know why she has to do this to me so early in the morning. "Margaret!"

"Yes, Leo?"

Ah, yes. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As usual. "Are you trying to make me crazy?"

"No, Leo."

Liar. "Then where'd you put the file on HR 492? I had it right here on my desk last night, and now – "

"It's still on your desk, Leo."

"Well, I don't see it on my desk, Margaret."

Don't roll your eyes at me. Yes, I saw you do that. Oh, that's it. You're on my list now. First the file, then the cheery attitude, then the eyes, and...

You'll be having a bad today, Margaret.

"I just cleaned up your desk a little. It's supposed to make it easier for you to find things."

"Well, considering I can't find what I'm looking for, I guess that experiment didn't quite –"

"Ahem. Here. The file. Right here. On your desk. In front, on top. Right where one can see it most easily."

You! Give me that file! Holding it in front of me like... And don't smile at me, and put your eyebrows down. Every single morning, Margaret, I swear...

"Don't expect any birthday present this year. You're a terrible assistant, and frankly, I can't stand you."

"And a good morning to you, too, Leo."

"Get out."

"Yes, Leo."

Great. Now the smile's bigger. I'm not paying attention. No.

"We'll do messages in five minutes. Try not to get all excited about it."

"Yes, Leo."

Okay, where'd I leave off yesterday...oh, here. Okay.

...the bill will assist low-income families with securing appropriate employment and provisions...

Mm-hmm, did they include the other bullet-point? Yep. There it is. Good, good –

"Leo?"

Second page is good, it'll sound good coming out of Jed's mouth, and we can use that in the...hmm?

"What?"

"Ron Butterfield is on line three."

Probably about the address at the forum next Tuesday. "'Morning, Ron. What can I do for you?"

"Leo, there's been an incident involving the Vice-President."

Incident. An incident. "What kind of incident, Ron?"

"Approximately twenty minutes ago, the Vice-President's bus skidded off the highway about seventy miles outside of Detroit – "

Shit. Bad. Today is bad. "Is he injured?"

"Yes, he is. I don't know how badly, but he's conscious. I've got the agent in charge of his detail on the other line. They're waiting for the ambulances and rescue crews right now – "

Waiting.

*Waiting?* "What do you mean, they're waiting?"

This isn't good, this is not good, this is not good at all.

"The rescue crews are having some difficulty getting to the crash site, and – "

"Crash site? What kind of crash? I mean, how bad?"

Crash. Vice-President. Bad. Bad day.

"The bus skidded, it was broad-sided by the press bus, it went off the road and flipped over – "

"MARGARET!" John Hoynes never does anything half-way. Bastard. And if he has more than a scratch on the knee, I'm gonna kill him myself. "GET IN HERE!"

FBI first, then the President, then –

"I'm here, Leo."

Good girl. "Find out if the President is awake yet, and if not, have someone wake him up. Tell them I'm coming over to the Residence right now. Get me Wayne Noyce at the FBI; tell him we've got a situation, and he needs to get his Detroit people in order. And get Governor Roland from Michigan on the phone. Tell him I need the state troopers, fire department, police, everything. Then get... Is Josh in yet?"

Wide eyes, worried face. "I'll find out."

Good girl.

"Get him in here, and get Toby, and CJ, and Sam –"

Shit.

Shit!

Sam. Sam is with Hoynes, I sent Sam with Hoynes, Sam was probably on that bus, I sent Sam to be on that bus.

"Ron? Ron, you still there?"

"Yeah, yeah, okay, tell him the state troopers have been called. It shouldn't be more than another few minutes. We're on it..."

He's talking to someone else, on another phone.

Stop talking to them.

"Ron!"

Start talking to me.

"What? No, I want a full-scale... Yes, that's it." Pause. Chair legs scraping on linoleum. "Yes, I'm here, Leo."

"Ron, I had Sam Seaborn on that bus. Is he okay?"

"Hang on."

More hurried conversation in the background, more scraping. I wait. I'm the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States, and I'm waiting.

Margaret is running-walking between her office and mine.

And I'm still. Because I'm waiting. I'm waiting.

She's waving at me. What?

"Josh is here."

Josh is here. Good. He can get hold of Roland's office and...

No. Not good.

Shit. I swear, if Sam has anything more than a scratch on the knee, I'm gonna... "Get him in here. Now."

"He's on his way."

"Where're Toby and – "

"Leo."

"I'm here, Ron."

Ron, please don't make my day any worse, please don't.

"Leo, they're doing everything they can for him."

Calm voice. Calming voice. Ron is using the calming voice on me, and...

Bad day. Worse. "What the hell do you mean, Ron?"

"He was injured. He's not breathing. They're doing CPR."

Oh, god. Oh, god –

"Hey, Leo. I didn't even have a chance to take off my coat, and people are yelling at me to get in here. It's way too early for a crisis –"

No. Be quiet, Josh. "Sssh!"

Quiet now. Good. He knows this is serious. I don't know how I'm going to tell him. "Ron, do we have an estimate on the time for the rescue –"

"Five minutes, Leo."

Five minutes. "MARGARET!"

The lights on the phone are all lit up, blinking, flashing. Margaret is making more calls, getting information. She's shouting back at me. "He's awake. He's already downstairs and headed to the Oval."

Saves me a trip, I guess.

"Leo?" Prompting voice. He's worried now. He wants to know. Josh wants to know, and I'm going to have to...

Okay, can't wait forever. "Josh."

"Yeah?"

"The Vice-President's bus has been involved in an accident. The Vice-President is injured – "

"Oh, shit..."

"And Sam is injured, too."

There's a beat. He takes a short breath and holds it.

"How bad?"

I don't think I should tell... Not yet. "They're doing everything they can."

"Everything they... I don't understand. What's that mean? What do you mean? How is he – "

Okay, that worked about as well on him as it did on me, but...

"Josh, I really don't have any more information than that right now, so let's just hang on – "

"Leo. What kind of a bad day are we having?"

Great. Couldn't wait for me to come see you, huh, Jed? No, you just storm into my office before I've even had a chance to think of anything to say, and...

"Mr. President, we have a situation with Vice-President Hoynes."

"Leo? Leo, please you've gotta tell me – "

"Josh..." Don't look at him. Not now. President first. "The Vice-President's bus went off the road, sir. The Vice-President is injured, and Sam is – "

"Leo? I have more information on the – "

"Ron?"

"Leo?"

I shake my head. No. Wait a minute, Jed.

"Leo, the rescue crews and paramedics have arrived, and – "

Good. Okay. Better. "Mr. President, we've got rescue crews out there right now. The Vice-President's secure, and he's being taken care of." Rescue crews, ambulance, security, where... "Ron, where are they going to take them?"

"Ann Arbor Memorial. That's the closest trauma center."

Trauma center. Bad. That means someone's hurt very, very...well, obviously, if they're doing CPR, and...trauma center's the best place to go for that sort of...

Okay. Not now. "Get security over there set up, Ron."

Security, then I'll need to...

"Leo..."

What? Jed. "Sir, they'll be going to Ann Arbor Memorial."

"Leo..."

What? "Sir, I don't know."

"Leo..."

What? "Josh –"

"When you said...please tell me what you meant..."

Josh. Not now.

I can't tell him. He doesn't need to know...he doesn't need to know about that. Better that he doesn't know –

"'Morning, sir."

Toby.

"Okay, what'd I miss?"

CJ.

"Leo..."

Josh.

"Leo, they've left for the hospital. ETA is about twenty-five to thirty minutes. Listen, I'm going to call you back with the security stats in about five minutes, okay?"

"Yeah."

Dialtone.

"Leo."

It's barely seven in the morning, and this day has already gone to hell. That must be a record, even for us. Bad day. "Mr. President, here's the situation..."

***

***

I want them. I want them right now.

I'm going to go and get them.

I know they're in there, so I will just...go in there and get them.

Just.

Like.

This.

"Hey!"

Tight. This will be a tight fit. I should start going to the gym. I should have started a long time ago. Sam said so a while back. I really should have listened to him. I should have –

No.

No. Do not think about...do not think. Not now.

"Hey!"

I am not thinking about that right now. I am not. No. I will only think about what I need to do right now, which is getting these things, because he will want them when he wakes up, and I want him to have –

"Get away from the... Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing? I said that you have to stay away from– "

Excuse me? Oh, I think I'll do whatever the hell I want to do. "Get your hands off me."

"I told you that you can't – "

"I can do whatever I want." So, shut up. I heard you the first forty times you told me that crap. And it was crap then, and it's crap now, so... "And let me tell you why: I WORK FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!" Crap. And you can shove it up your... "That's why."

"I don't care who you work for, you can't just..."

Oh, you will care. You will care after I get your ass fired. Which will be exactly the next thing I do, if you do not get out of my way.

"Let me explain this to you, so that you will understand. A member of the President's Senior Staff was on that bus, and there is sensitive material that he had with him. So, unless you'd like EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to know all kinds of IMPORTANT information that really shouldn't be made PUBLIC, then you'll let me get in there."

Okay.

Complete rubbish.

Sam had nothing politically sensitive with him. He didn't have much of anything with him that was important. Just his laptop and his glasses, and that was all I saw before he left. And that's why I want them. Those items belong to him, and he's going to want them...later...and I'm going to get them for him. So that when he wakes up, they'll be there, ready.

And that, quite simply, is that.

"I...uh...let me just go find my supervisor –"

Yes. You do that. Excellent. I will wait here and think of ways to dispose of your body after I chop it up into little pieces. Little, little idiot pieces...

"Mr. Ziegler? Mr. Ziegler, is there a problem?"

Is there a problem? Is that what we're calling this?

Okay.

Well, let's review, shall we? I screwed up the leadership breakfast, then I screwed up the GDC, so now I'm staring at a very large piece of banged-up, twisted, mashed metal. My deputy was in afore-mentioned very large piece of banged-up, twisted, mashed metal because I couldn't get my shit together, so now afore-mentioned deputy is in surgery with God-knows what sorts of...

No.

Not going there.

"Mr. Ziegler?"

Problem?

Yes.

"Yes. Yes, there is a problem. I need to get in that bus."

I need to get in there. Now.

"I'm sorry, but you can't. It's too dangerous."

You must have a mental problem. You all must have mental problems, because you do not understand me, and I CANNOT MAKE MYSELF ANY CLEARER THAN THIS!

"I don't care."

I do not care, do you understand me? I do not care –

"Well, I do."

Well, I hate you. How's that for ya?

"Look, a member of the President's Senior Staff was on that bus, and he had –"

"Okay, just calm down. If the battalion commander says it's safe, then I'll have one of the firefighters go in there and retrieve whatever you need, alright? What are you looking for anyway?"

"A laptop. Powerbook, dark gray, little apple on the top. Also, a pair of glasses. Reading glasses, wireless frames. They're probably somewhere near the laptop – "

"Alright, alright, just stay here, and I'll go talk to the commander."

Yeah. Yeah, you go talk to him. "You tell him he'd better say yes!"

I will just wait here. I will wait here, and not think. About anything.

Or anyone.

At all.

***

***

This is a very nice chair. Do not think. This is a very nice chair. Do not think. This is a very nice chair. Do not think.

The walls are very white. And blank. Blank thoughts. The walls are very white. And blank. Blank thoughts. The walls are very white. And blank. Blank thoughts.

Please, God, let him be okay. I wasn't a very good friend. Please, God, let him be okay. He was angry with me. Please, God, let him be okay. I'll do anything, just don't let him –

"Mr. Lyman?"

What? Oh, god. "What?"

Nurse.

What?

Something bad. Don't tell me anything bad. He died. Don't tell me anything bad. He's dead. Don't tell me anything bad –

"You have a phone call."

Phone call?

Oh.

Yes, I can handle that. Ignore thumping sound in ears. I can handle that. Nod. I can handle that. Smile.

"If you'll follow me."

Yes. Stand up. Yes. Begin walking. Yes. Follow.

"Here we are. And...there we go. Line one. I'll leave you alone."

Alone. Pick up phone. Alone. Open mouth. Alone. Say something. "Hello?"

"Josh?"

CJ. Good. CJ. Make me feel better. "CJ."

Please.

"Josh, I've been trying to call you for the past ten minutes. Why aren't you answering your cell phone?"

What? My phone. Right. My phone...low battery. I didn't charge it when I got home from the office last night. Huh. "Out of juice, I think."

"Josh?"

Josh. That's me. Josh. I was supposed to call him last night. I told him yesterday morning that I would call him later. Josh. That's me. Worst friend ever.

"Josh?"

It is too hot in this hospital. I will do anything. It is too hot. Anything, just don't let him... Too hot. It'll be my fault if anything...

"Josh, are you there?"

I don't want to be here. I shouldn't be here. I don't want to be here. He shouldn't be here. I don't want to be... "Yes."

"Have you heard anything?"

Have I heard? Well...sort of...I don't really...I just haven't been able to think... "CJ, I..."

"Josh, you need to just...you know, you need to..."

What? What? What? What do I need to do? What do I need to do? What do I need to do to make this not be happening? He's my... "He's my best friend, CJ." It is too hot to breathe in here. I am going to suffocate. It is too hot. "My best friend, CJ."

It is too hot. I cannot stand it.

"I know, Josh. I know."

You don't know. He was angry with me. You don't know. He probably hates me. You don't know... "He was really, um...I think he was a little...you know, kind of angry, maybe...with me..."

"Sam doesn't...it's...you know what, Josh? It doesn't matter. That doesn't matter now."

It does. He was angry. It does matter. I wasn't a good friend to him. It does matter, CJ.

"Okay?"

No. No. No.

"You have to stay calm, Josh."

I am calm. Maybe if I say it to myself enough times... I'm calm. No, it isn't working. I'm totally calm. I'm totally lying.

"Josh?"

Okay. She's right. Okay. Calm. "Okay."

"I have to do a press briefing in about ten minutes."

Ten minutes. The bus crashed. Ten minutes. They had to pull him out. Ten minutes. Leo said, he told me. "They said that they had to do CPR for about ten minutes or so." Ten minutes. Ten minutes. Ten minutes. "I mean, technically he was, like...dead...for about ten minutes. Can you believe that? He was actually – "

"Okay. Josh? Josh, you can't do this right now – "

Right now? Seems like as good a time as any to me. Right now? Why not? "Well, when the hell can I do this, CJ?"

"Josh, don't yell at me. Do. Not. Yell. At. Me. You are not his only friend, you're not the only one who – "

"He's my best friend. Do you understand that?"

"...I understand that, Josh."

Don't talk like that, CJ. Don't use that voice. Don't, don't, don't. Don't use the quiet voice, CJ. Please don't use the quiet voice. "I'm sorry."

"I never thought I'd have another day like this."

Another... What? Another...

Oh.

Another day...that day. That Day. I don't like to think about That Day, CJ. I don't even remember everything that happened That Day, I don't even know...I don't... "When you were all...you know, waiting...for me...what did he – "

"He stayed calm, and he did his job. He even did mine."

"Your what?"

"My job."

"Your job?"

"Yes. Part of it."

"Why?"

"I couldn't do it. At the time. I couldn't do it."

"Why not?"

"Because."

"Because why?"

"Because I couldn't remember."

"Because you couldn't remember what?"

"What happened. I couldn't remember what happened when...it happened."

"But he could?"

"Yes."

"And so he did your job?"

"Yes. The morning shows. I asked him to."

"So...while I was...you know...he – "

"He stayed calm, and he did his job and part of mine."

"Was he..."

"He was very upset, Josh. As upset as you are now. As upset as we all are right now. But he did his job, and he stayed calm, and he was strong."

He was strong. Yes, he is strong. Yes. Sam is a very strong man, always has been. Yes. Stronger than me, I'd bet.

"And you have to be, too."

I have to be... Yes. I can't. Yes. Have to try. "Yeah."

I can be strong. Try harder. I can be strong. I'll just...I'll just be like Sam. Try to do what he would do. He would know what to do now. That's how I'll do it. I'll be like him. I can be like him. Be like Sam.

"Okay."

"I have to go to the briefing now, Josh. You gonna be okay?"

Be like Sam. I am not okay. Be like Sam. But maybe I can fake it. Be like Sam. "Yes."

"Good. Find someplace to charge your phone, okay?"

Clear throat. "Yeah."

"I'll talk to you in about a half-an-hour."

Deep breath. "Yeah."

"'Kay. I'll talk to you soon."

Push air through throat, make voice even. "Yeah."

"Bye."

I can do this. "Bye."

I will do this.

Now.

What would he do?

Job.

Job...Hoynes! Speech! Someone should take care of that. Someone should probably talk to him, too. Someone...

Me.

I will take care of that. It's my job.

And I will do my job.

***

"Okay, just back out. Real easy now."

Well, it's about time. Morons. Idiots. I could have found them in half the time. But no, I had to stay out here, because you all said it was too dangerous.

Too dangerous. It's a bus. A bus isn't dangerous. A bus isn't supposed to be...

Dangerous will be when I have all of you transferred to...to...

Whatever.

Just come over here. And give them to me.

"Mr. Ziegler?"

Standing right in front of you. Give them to me.

"Here's the laptop. It was probably thrown around when the bus got hit and flipped over – "

"Thank you." Stop talking. I don't want to hear –

"It's pretty beat up. I don't know if you'll be able to get much off of it..."

Shut up. "Where are the glasses?"

"Uh...here. Are these his? I mean, it's hard to tell because they're broken, but..."

Shut up. Just. Please. Stop talking. "Thank you. I'll be leaving now."

Now.

As in now.

Small evidence bag, unlabeled. Lenses and thin, bent pieces of metal. Fragile. Easily broken, and he's sat on them any number of times, so no surprise there.

Just tuck the bag into my pocket. There's probably a place to get them repaired near the hospital. I can find a place when I get there, and then I'll get them fixed.

Hey. You! Here. Now.

"Yes, sir?"

"I need transportation back to the hospital."

Transportation that involves absolutely no talking.

"Yes, sir. If you'll follow me."

Fine.

"The car's right down here."

Whatever.

"Say, do you want a bag for that?"

"For what?"

"You know...uh...your laptop there. It's all, well..."

No talking!

"...and the car is near the press line, so maybe you don't want them to..."

Press line? Shit.

My eyes are moving down. I didn't tell them to do that. They're looking at it. I didn't want to do that. Not yet.

Oh, my god.

Freaking titanium-deluxe-indestructible-army-issue model, and look at this! It's all...

And if it looks like this, then...

Sam is...

God, oh, god, oh... "Yeah. Yeah, if you could get me a bag, or maybe just a blanket. I'd appreciate that."

"Yes, sir. Just one minute. I'll be right back."

Okay. I'll just wait here. I'll just wait here and look at this, and I won't think. No. No thinking. I will not –

Sam.

***

***

"Ten minutes till air, sir."

Yeah. Great. Thanks. You can go away now.

I am pooped. I can't believe it. It's like, what? Three o'clock? Four? Five?

Did I reset my watch, or is it still on D.C. time?

Oh, who gives a crap. It's late. Somewhere, it's late. And it's been an indescribably bad day. A bad day, a rotten day.

I'm tired.

"Mr. McGarry?"

For crying out loud.

"What?"

"We're setting up pitchers of water on the conference table. Is there anything else you'd like?"

Whiskey. Double. "No."

"Yes, sir."

The door creaks shut. Someone should take care of that.

More creaking. Now what?

"Mr. McGarry?"

"Yes?"

"I'm Dr. Trakowksy."

I thought I met everyone who worked on John when he was brought in. "Were you part of the Vice-President's medical team?"

"No, sir. I worked on Mr. Seaborn."

Oh.

"I was told you wanted to see me."

Right. That's right. "Yeah." God, what a bad day. "Listen, it's been hell getting any news from the folks up in surgery, and I was wondering –"

"I haven't heard anything."

You haven't heard anything. "But you saw him when he was brought in."

"Yes, sir."

"And?"

Impassive face. You'd make a good politician. Or a good poker player. Whichever.

"Mr. Seaborn's injuries were extensive. I really can't say what his prognosis will be."

Injuries. Extensive. Prognosis. Bad day. "Well, make an educated guess."

Nothing. No, shrugging isn't an answer.

"'Scuse me? Mr. McGarry?"

What? What is it?

"Eight minutes to air, and the press cameras are set up."

Fine.

"Look, Dr. Trakowsky, I've got about a hundred and fifty reporters in the next room. When they ask me about Sam Seaborn, I can't say, 'Well, gee, I just don't know.' That'll sound stupid, you know?"

"I really can't say, Mr. McGarry, but..."

Big sigh. I hate big sighs.

"He was injured very badly. I don't think..."

Tell me, damn you.

"Okay. They would have had to take out his spleen, and one of his lungs was collapsed, but we put in a chest tube in the ER. They're still going to have to look around for more damage, if there's any...and there probably is, from the CPR, if not from the accident. His arm is broken. That wasn't too bad. That'll heal. His leg, though...if there was too much damage...the bones were fractured in a number of places, and if there was too much arterial damage, then...I don't know, they might have to...they might..."

"Amputate it?"

"Yes."

Bad day. Worse. "What else?"

"There might have been spinal damage."

Ah. So, basically, there's a good chance that he's gonna be a cripple. Swell. Just swell. "Anything else?"

"The blood loss was significant."

Yeah. No shit. I got six reporters who are asking if they can get reimbursed for their ruined coats. "And?"

"Surgery is very taxing on the body."

"So, you're saying..."

Say it. Go ahead, make my day. Worse.

"That would be enough."

Back to shrugging again, are we?

"You don't expect him to make it out of surgery. Is that what you're trying to say?"

"I'm saying that if he makes it out of surgery, the next twenty-four hours will be critical."

How about the last twenty-four hours? Or the last month? How about the last three, almost four years? All that time...all of it was pretty damned important, too. So, this doesn't seem quite fair, it's not balancing out, and when I got into the office this morning, there were all these neat piles on my desk, all of them balanced just right and –

Rein it in. Rein it in, McGarry. Just keep it cool. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks. Thanks for coming in and speaking to me. I appreciate it."

"He's young, and he's healthy. That works in his favor –"

"Yes." My mother always said that if you can't lie convincingly, then just keep your mouth shut. "Thank you."

You can go away now.

Nodding. Creaking. Alone.

Deep breath. Suck it in. Push it out.

Creaking again.

"Five minutes to air, Mr. McGarry. Are you sure you don't need anything else?"

Oh, yes. Yes, I need something, but... "Yes. I'm sure I don't need anything else."

What I need you can't get me. Not unless you've got magical powers or a time machine.

Time. "Wait!"

"Yes, sir?"

"What time is it?"

"Our time or your time?"

"I..."

It doesn't matter, it doesn't.

"Never mind. Look, if anything happens with Sam Seaborn, please – "

"I know, sir. Come and get you immediately."

Good girl. Not Margaret, but still. Good girl. "Thanks."

"Yes, sir. And sir?"

What. "Yeah?"

"It's almost six o'clock. The day's just about over."

Yeah. "Thanks."

"See you in four minutes, sir."

"Yeah."

Four minutes till air, ten minutes when they were out there, twenty-four hours ago, the next twenty-four hours...not enough time, and this day has been too long.

Too long and too bad.

***

***

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Where is it?

Right foot. Move to the side. Left foot. Nod. Right foot. Smile. Left foot.

There's got to be one somewhere.

Right foot. Push it down. Left foot. Hold on. Right foot. Back up. Left foot.

Found it!

Right foot. Hurry now. Left foot. Push door open. Right foot. Check stalls. Left foot.

Empty.

Right foot. Last stall. Left foot. Kneel. Right foot. Lean over. Left foot.

Throw up.

...

"Josh? Josh, you in here?"

Right foot. Can't get up yet. Left foot. Tap on floor, spit. Right foot. Move forward, flush. Left foot. "'m right here."

"Josh...are you okay?"

Right foot. Move to the side. Left foot. Tuck under and sit. Right foot. Push out, lean against wall. Left foot. Stop shaking, nod.

"Hang on...lemme get you something...I've got a handkerchief, I think..."

Close eyes...no! Don't close eyes.

"Here you go."

Leo.

Leo's kneeling in front of me. He's holding a handkerchief. It's wet, and he's wiping my face.

"You okay?"

Nod. Say something. Oops, clear throat. Nod. "I'll be fine."

He's nodding back at me, but doesn't say anything. Good.

Breathe. Swallow. Yuck. Stand up.

"Whoa, take it easy there."

Right foot. Step. Left foot. Step. Right foot. Step to sink. Left foot. Almost there.

Turn on the water. Rinse out mouth. Spit. Breathe. "Saw the press conference."

The handkerchief is on the back of my neck now, along with the steadying pressure of Leo's hand.

"Oh, yeah?"

Nod. "Yeah. Part of it, 'fore they brought him down. You did good."

Hand is squeezing my shoulder.

"Yeah, well, couldn't have you do it. Reporters hate being barfed on."

Hah! Yeah. Yeah, that would have been funny.

How is Mr. Seaborn?...Well, he's just bleh-ah-ech...

Ha, ha, ha... Grip sink. Don't fall down.

"I gotcha. Take it easy."

Nod. Smile. Fake it. Deep breath. "I'm okay."

"Yeah. Well. Then, you just lean back over there. I'm gonna throw some water on my face. Damned hospital is too hot."

No kidding. Like a freaking sauna. Sweating like a pig.

Splash. Splash. Splash. "When they told me he was out of recovery, I left the conference, went to the ICU."

Nod. "You see him?"

"Yeah."

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. "What'd you think?"

"He looks like shit."

No shaking. No shaking allowed. Keep breathing. Fucking hot in here. Don't pay attention. "Yeah."

"Did they say how long he'll be on that ventilator?"

Tie is too tight. Loosen tie. "Said they don't want him moving around, not even a little. 'Cause of the chest tube, his leg, and his back, and they said... They want to keep him sedated and on the ventilator till he's doing better."

Splash. "Probably a good idea." Rusty faucet turning off. "His leg looks nasty, though."

"Yeah." Grab a paper towel. "Here."

"Thanks."

Sound of crumpling paper. Whoosh. Right into the waste bin. Nothing but net.

"Josh."

Blink. Focus. "Yeah."

"He's gonna be fine."

Nod. Look in his eyes. "Okay."

Hard eyes. Pale eyes. Blue eyes. Cool eyes. "I mean it. The doctors told me that he got through the surgery really well, and that –"

"They said the next twenty-four hours are critical – "

"They just meant that's the most likely time for an infection to set in. But that's not gonna happen, and they all think...and I think...he's gonna be fine."

Cool eyes. Steady eyes. Yes. Stand up straight. Nod. "Yeah."

Hand is back on my shoulder.

"Good. C'mon, let's go."

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

"Where's Toby?"

Right foot. Step. Left foot. Think. Right foot. Point down hall. Left foot. "There's another waiting room or something. Other end of the hallway. He's in there."

"He seen Sam yet?"

Right foot. Maybe; not sure. Left foot. Wait, no. Right foot. Shake head. Left foot. "I don't think so."

He's fixing his collar, straightening his tie. "What's he doing?"

Right foot. I should straighten my tie, too. Left foot. Push the knot up a bit. Right foot. Can't look like a mess. Left foot. "Don't know. He's got Sam's laptop. I think he's trying to fix it or something."

One of his eyebrows is up. "Why? It must be broken."

Right foot. Fix collar. Left foot. Roll down cuffs. Right foot. Shrug. Left foot. "Said he could fix it."

He's sighing. Shaking his head. "When'd he get back?"

Right foot. Hair is sticking up. Left foot. Smooth it down. Right foot. Futile attempt; need comb. Left foot. "'Bout an hour ago."

He's slowing down. Stopped. "Where's he been all this time? I sent him to the site after we got here. He wasn't there this entire time, was he?"

Shake head. Blink. Focus. "No. He said he had something else to do. He went to some optometry place or something. Then he came back here."

His eyebrow is higher, and there's another sigh. Moving again. "Okay. Listen, I'm gonna go check on him, then I'm gonna call the President." Appraising look. "You go outside and call CJ. She's pissed at you."

My eyebrows are up. They feel stiff. "Why?"

He's rolling his eyes, reaching into his pocket. Pulling out a cellphone. "Something about your phone being out of juice. Use my spare." Finger's pointing at me. "Call her, give her an update."

Nod. Try to smile. There. Wobbly, but not bad. "'Kay."

Pat on the arm. "Go outside. Get some air. Cool off."

Nod. Say thank you. "Yeah. Thanks."

Right foot. Turn. Left foot. Step. Right foot. Elevator. Left foot.

"Wait."

Right foot. Turn around.

"You talk to Hoynes?"

Nod. "Yeah."

"He okay?"

"Yeah. I got his room all set up a few hours ago. Another phone line, computer, fax. The works. He's fine." Hold up phone. "I'm gonna call the AAWU after I call CJ, cancel his appearance."

"You tell him that?"

Shrug. "Yeah. Didn't argue."

Both eyebrows are up. "Really?"

Nod. "Yeah. He was tired, said his head hurt. Also said I was annoying him. I think he's sleeping now."

He's letting out a breath. "Good. Well, that's good." Looking up at me. "Okay, go. Make your calls."

Nod. Small wave. Smile. Better.

Right foot. Elevator. Left foot. Lobby.

"Mr. Lyman!"

"Mr. Lyman, how is the Vice-President?"

"Mr. Lyman!"

"Mr. Lyman, how is Sam Seaborn?"

"Mr. Lyman!"

"Mr. Lyman, will the Vice-President appear at tomorrow's rally?"

"Mr. Lyman!"

Right foot. Back entrance. Left foot. Head down; avoid press. Right foot. Exit. Left foot. Clear.

Right foot. Alone. Left foot. Deep breath. Right foot. Rub eyes. Left foot. Blink.

Stop here.

Focus.

The cold air feels good.

Part 11

 

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