On the Road to the Real Thing - 11

***

You've got to be kidding me. You have got to be kidding me. I don't care what it's made out of - this is an uncomfortable piece of shit. And it's going to make me look like goddamned Quasimodo.

Wait. There. No.

Ow!

Why the hell can't they put more padding on 'em? Goddamn...

There. Better.

"Give me the other one."

It wavers in his hand, floating forward, then wrenching back. "Uh...no. Sir. No, sir."

I look up.

No. I think not. I think I did not just hear what I thought I heard. No. "What did you just say to me, Brody?"

"I said...uh..."

Oh, yeah, you'd better be sweating, you little runt. No, sir. I'll show you a 'no, sir.' Right up your puny behind, I'll show you, that's where! "Give me that goddamned crutch, Brody, or I'm gonna – "

It comes forward again, almost hitting my wrist. "Yes, sir...here, sir. I just... I thought..."

Give me that. "Don't think."

"Yes, sir."

I shake my head and try to balance. I can see his hand reaching over to me, tentative and slow. "Back off!"

"Yes, sir."

The hand disappears.

Head up. Deep breath in.

I can do this on my own. Most undignified way of having to...

Oh, for crying out loud! "I can do this on my own, Brody!"

He nods, his head moving up and down, too fast. "Yes, sir."

He is going to make me angry. I know it, I know it. He is going to make me angry. "You have a lot to learn, Brody."

"Yes, sir."

Okay. Head up. Deep breath in. Ready to...

Oh, now, really, this is absurd. "Step back, Brody! I can't move with you hovering right in front of me like that."

"Yes, sir."

He steps back and holds out his arms.

He thinks I'm going to fall.

I think I'm going to brain him with one of these crutches. "For the love of God, put your arms down, Brody."

"Sir, Agent Buxton ordered me to make sure you didn't hurt yourself –"

"I AM NOT GOING TO HURT MYSELF!"

"...yes, sir..."

My headache is coming back. My headache is coming back, and it had almost been gone. This is not making me happy.

And look at him. Got that droopy face now.

Goddamnit. "You look like hell, Brody."

His eyes are fixed on some point past my shoulder. "Yes, sir. Long day, sir."

Long day? Yeah, I'll say. "That's for damned sure."

"Yes, sir."

I sigh and stare at the wall on the other side of the room. It's crowded with telephone and computer wires now. I don't need all this junk crowding up my room, but Josh Lyman never does anything half-way.

"Listen, Brody..."

"Yes, sir."

I take a breath, lick my lips. There's a bruise just above the left side of his chin. "You did good out there today."

He looks at me, almost startled. "Thank you, sir."

I nod, wind my fingers around the hand bars on the crutches. Now he's blushing. This is getting entirely too...just...

Goddamnit. "Brody."

"Yes, sir?"

"I'm gonna try walking with these things, so I want you to go stand in the corner." That should keep him out of my way.

He nods again, looking a little unsure. "Okay." He backs up a few steps. "But..."

I position the crutches and start to lean my weight on them. "What?"

"Be careful, sir."

I would roll my eyes, but I don't want to make my headache any worse. I nod instead. "Whatever. Just try not to talk. Gonna make me lose my concentration."

"Yes, sir."

Whatever, whatever, whatever... Okay, there we go...

Forward. Step. Forward. Step.

Not bad, not bad. I can do this. Slowly, but I can do this.

The door opens.

"Sir?"

I look up. "Well?"

Nathan eyes my crutches. "Sir, the doctor advised you to stay in your bed –"

"I don't care what that doctor told me –"

"I can see that, sir."

He steps to the side and stands next to the door.

Forward. Step. "Well?"

He keeps his gaze on the crutches, his eyes moving up and down. "You handle those well, sir."

He's stalling. I hate that. That makes me nervous. "I believe I asked you a question."

Nathan lifts his eyes to meet mine. "He's still in surgery."

Still in surgery. "It's been almost nine hours."

He nods. "Yes, sir."

"They say anything else?"

Nathan's eyes return to the crutches, and he gives me the highlights. Spleen – out. Lung – collapsed. Ribs – broken.

I can see Brody out of the corner of my eye. He's silent, staring at the floor.

Leg – he'll be lucky to keep it. Spine – might make the whole leg issue irrelevant. Brain – they'll see when he wakes up.

My face feels hot. I swallow. It's hot in this hospital. They keep it too warm here. Now would be an excellent time for a whiskey, on the rocks.

Now would also be an excellent time for a poker game. It's Wednesday, and if I were back in D.C., there'd be a poker game for me to go to tonight.

I sigh, then nod in acknowledgement when Nathan finishes. "Well. That's a fine mess."

"Yes, sir."

A fine mess, indeed. "They think he'll live?" Even my eyes feel hot.

"The nurse I talked to said that he's made it this far, so..."

So...

So, no one wants to say anything.

So...

So, he probably won't make it.

So...

So, even though we got him out of that wreck, he probably still won't make it.

So...

So.

Forward. Step. "That's one annoying piece of bull, don't you think, Nathan?"

"I sure do, sir."

Turn. Forward. Step. So. So, nothing I can do about it now. But if he doesn't make it, I...

No. No, I can't think about that now. "Where're McGarry and the others?"

Nathan clears his throat and gestures at the television. "Mr. McGarry is about to hold a press conference." I nod at him, and he turns it on. He keeps the volume low. "Mr. Lyman is upstairs in the Intensive Care waiting room," he tells me, "and Mr. Ziegler was at the accident site. Now he's at the Clear Vision Optometry Center. It's about five minutes from here, just down a few blocks..."

The clear what? What the hell is he doing at a... "'Scuse me?"

"I don't know what that's about exactly, sir."

Why would he be at an optometry center? It's probably nothing, but I want to know, just for curiosity's sake. "Keep trying to find out."

"Yes, sir."

Wait. "He was at the site?"

"Yes, sir."

"Doing what?"

"Inspecting the wreck, sir. From what I understand, he also collected some items off the bus." He holds up his hands. "I don't know yet, sir."

He took items off my bus... If he took anything personal, I'll fry his ass for dinner. "Find out."

"Yes, sir."

"Sir?" Brody's moving to the television, turning up the volume. "The press conference, sir."

Turn. Forward. Step. A few more steps, and I'll back to the bed...

"...Good evening. I'm Leo McGarry; I'm the White House Chief of Staff. I'd like to share with you some information regarding Vice-President Hoynes and the accident in which he was involved earlier this morning..."

Forward. Step.

No.

I want to be standing for this.

***

{{{Channel Seven News Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"...thanks, Gwen. For viewers just tuning in, I'm Trisha Talbott, and I'm here at Ann Arbor Memorial Hospital, where there is a press conference currently being held by Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff. Along with Mr. McGarry are several doctors, all of whom worked on Vice-President Hoynes and the other victims of this morning's deadly bus accident...

"...Mr. McGarry has just finished a short statement outlining the details of the accident and the Vice-President's injuries...Mr. McGarry also briefly summarized the injuries of the Vice-President's staff, but he has not really mentioned...uh, just a moment... Okay. He's now stepping away from the podium, and he's gesturing, as you can see, for one of the doctors to take some questions. Let's listen..."

{{{Channel Seven News Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"...Dr. Kevin Romer. He's the head of orthopedics here at Ann Arbor Memorial, and I'm going to refer the rest of the medical questions regarding the Vice-President to him."

"Thank you, Mr. McGarry, and good evening to you all. The Vice-President's injuries, though acute, were not severe. He has several torn ligaments and some cartilage damage throughout his left leg, particularly affecting his left knee..."

"Will he need surgery?"

"Yes, he will. Not now, but eventually. I believe that the Vice-President will schedule that surgery at George Washington University, but I'm not exactly sure of his plans – "

"How long will he be on crutches?

"Is the damage permanent?"

"Will he –"

"He'll be on crutches probably for the next several weeks, but the damage is not permanent, and it will heal with time...and....excuse me , no, I didn't hear that last – "

{{{Channel 7 News Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"...This is Trisha Talbott again and... Yes, okay. Mr. McGarry is standing up now. A hospital official just handed him a note, and... Mr. McGarry has read it, and he is preparing to leave...uh... Many of the reporters are now shouting out questions before he leaves, and... Okay, let's see if he'll take just one more question..."

***

"Brief. Vague. Lacking the usual McGarry panache, I'd say."

Carl's voice sounds strained and tinny over the telephone, but it's far stronger than when I talked him to him this morning. I lean forward a little more, edge the crutches along the linoleum as I watch the television. McGarry's getting up. "Where's he going?"

I hear Carl give a non-committal grunt. "I want to know what the note was all about."

Me, too. I look to my right. "Brody?"

"Yes, sir?"

I gesture at the door. "Go find out about that note."

He moves swiftly and gives me a brisk nod. "Yes, sir."

I hold the phone loosely. "We'll find out –"

"Wait, wait. They're all shouting at him. I think he's gonna answer another question."

***

{{{Channel 7 News Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"Wait!"

"Mr. McGarry!"

"Wait! Mr. McGarry!"

"Mr. McGarry, one more question! Before you leave, sir, one more question!"

"Mr. McGarry!

"Wait, Mr. McGarry!"

"Mr. McGarry!

"Okay, last question. Over there. You."

"Mr. McGarry, you've given us information about the cause of the accident. I'm wondering if you could speak briefly on the aftermath and the Vice-President's actions – "

***

"My actions, huh? He probably wants to know about reimbursement for those damned coats."

Carl shushes me. "Be quiet."

***

"I don't really have any –"

"Well, many of the reporters who were on the press bus following the Vice-President have spoken about what they witnessed, what happened after the accident...and as I understand it, the Vice-President did not really follow protocol as far as his safety was concerned –"

***

"What the hell? Protocol?" I hold the phone an inch away from my ear as Carl attempts to shout. Cracked ribs make it hard for him. "Fucking protocol – we don't have protocol for bus accidents, jackass!"

Now I'm the one shushing Carl. "Shut up."

***

"The White House doesn't have protocol for bus accidents. Although, I'm sure we –"

"Well, protocol obviously would have required the Vice-President to be put in a secure position, under armed guard –"

"His bus crashed in the middle of a highway, that's true. But he was quite secure, and he was under a great deal of security. At no time was the Vice-President in danger of further harm."

"Well, I'm wondering if the White House has any comment on how the Vice-President handled himself at the crash site. Any comment on some of the risks the Vice-President took –"

"I'm sure that the Vice-President regarded any risks that he might have taken after the accident as necessary. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

***

Carl's voice is low. I almost can't hear him. "I don't like this..."

I nod and stare at the set. Move faster, Leo. Get out of there.

***

"Some sources here at the hospital have indicated that Sam Seaborn might have suffered spinal injuries. Do you believe that the Vice-President's 'necessary' risks might have contributed to those injuries?"

***

"Shit!"

"Goddamnit."

***

"Absolutely not –"

"It was under the Vice-President's direct orders that Mr. Seaborn was moved out of the bus –"

"The bus was on fire. It was hardly the best place to be at the time."

"Well, perhaps some of his injuries could have been avoided had the Vice-President –"

"Well, I can tell you that my own sources here at the hospital have assured me that had the Vice-President left Sam Seaborn on that bus, Mr. Seaborn would be dead right now. And I believe that the Vice-President was correct in assuming that that was not an option. Look, risks and protocol aside, let me make something clear: President Bartlet and the rest of the staff at the White House, including myself, are grateful to John Hoynes for taking the risks he did and for breaking whatever protocol might or might not exist. The truth is, without his quick thinking and courageous actions, other people...other people might have died on that bus. John Hoynes saved a life, and he should be commended for it. He's a hero. Now that's all. Good evening."

***

"Is it just me, or did Leo McGarry just call you a hero?"

I nod again. My mouth feels dry; it's open.

"John?"

Carl almost never calls me John. He used to, before the election. Now it's always 'Mr. Vice-President.'

"John?"

I clear my throat. "I'm here. And yeah, I think he did."

"You stay on the local station; I'm gonna switch over to CNN for the post-game."

I can hear Carl fumble with the remote as he flips through the channels. "Fine."

"This should be good."

Yes. It should. It... "Carl?"

"Yeah?"

"Did I tell you I talked with Bartlet earlier?"

"Yes, you did."

Yes, he's right. Strange conversation. It went much differently than I'd expected.

I'm in your debt.

(Concentrate.)

"Carl?"

"Yeah?" His voice is a mumble, and I can tell he's paying more attention to the television than to me.

"Carl, Leo McGarry just called me a hero."

"Uh-huh. He sure did, John."

He's calling me 'John.' He only does that when it's big. When I announced my candidacy, when I submitted to Bartlet, when Bartlet won. When he told me that it should have been me.

When he told me that it still could be me.

When he told me that three, almost four years ago.

***

{{{Channel Seven Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"Okay, as you just heard, Leo McGarry just declared that the White House is looking upon Vice-President John Hoynes as a hero...a hero for the, and I quote, 'courageous actions' that he took after the horrifying accident that occurred early this morning...

"...to recap, White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry just held a press conference here at Ann Arbor Memorial Hospital. During his short statement, Mr. McGarry gave us more detailed information concerning the Vice-President's...and I quote one of the doctors who spoke, 'acute but'...uh, 'not severe' injuries to his left leg. Mr. McGarry also outlined some of the injuries sustained by some members of the Vice-President's staff, including the Vice-President's own Chief of Staff, Carl DiMarcato, and the Vice-President's assistant, Janeane Lindley...

"Trish, can you highlight some of the more important points that Leo McGarry just made?"

"...yes, Gwen. Mr. McGarry was just asked about risks and safety protocol. His answer was terse, almost as if he was annoyed with the question...which was asked by Joe Svebdik of Channel Two News in Detroit...uh...Mr. McGarry seemed annoyed with the implication that the Vice-President's actions following the accident were unnecessary or possibly ill-advised. Mr. McGarry responded to the question by saying that President Bartlet and the White House are, and I quote, 'grateful to John Hoynes'...uh, 'for taking the risks he did'...for his 'quick thinking' and, and I quote again, 'courageous actions.' Then Mr. McGarry, clearly annoyed by the question, called Vice-President Hoynes a hero."

"Quite a statement of support, Trish, considering that it's common knowledge that the President and the Vice-President do not always see eye to eye."

"Absolutely, Gwen, absolutely. And I believe that this expression of gratitude really stems from the Vice-President's actions on behalf of White House Deputy Communications Director Samuel Seaborn, who was one of the victims trapped in the bus after it overturned and caught fire. The Vice-President and one of his Secret Service agents re-entered the bus and helped to free Mr. Seaborn from the wreckage."

***

I'm in your debt.

Strange words, and it was different, so different than what I'd expected.

"Sir?"

It's Brody, slipping inside the room.

"What?"

"The note to Mr. McGarry –"

"Yeah, what'd it say?"

"That Mr. Seaborn was out of surgery and has been transferred to the ICU."

He left as soon as he found out then. "How is he?"

***

"...uh, Trish, just for our viewers, I'll explain that Mr. Seaborn works mostly as a speechwriter and domestic policy advisor for President Bartlet. He does not work for the Vice-President, and so what I'm wondering is, Trish...is there any information on why Mr. Seaborn was with the Vice-President?"

"No, Gwen, so far there isn't. All we've been able to gather is that he was traveling on this short tour of the Midwest as a special advisor to the Vice-President. There's some speculation that he might have been helping to formulate some of the Vice-President's remarks on the tour...possibly even those that had been planned for tomorrow's rally in Detroit, which the Vice-President will, most likely, be unable to attend, of course. Beyond that, we don't have any information."

***

"The next twenty-four hours will be critical, and he's being monitored closely."

I glance at him. "What the hell's that mean?"

Brody ducks his head, and I can see his shoulders flinch with an aborted shrug. "He's alive, sir. But he's on a ventilator, and he's being kept sedated until his condition improves."

Twenty-four hours.

It's about seven o' clock now. Twelve hours ago I was breathing for him. Now there's a machine doing that job.

He's alive.

***

"And I noticed that Mr. McGarry did not really mention Mr. Seaborn's injuries until the end there..."

"No. No, you're right, Gwen, he did not. He really skimmed over that subject in his statement, just mentioning that Mr. Seaborn was under, and I quote, 'excellent care' here at the hospital, and that he had the 'support and prayers' of President Bartlet and everyone at the White House. That's...a little vague, but from what we understand from sources here at the hospital, Mr. Seaborn was still in surgery as this press conference began, and his injuries are said to be quite severe...we know that he suffered internal injuries and possible spinal injuries as well."

"Yes, and the issue of those injuries just came up in the exchange with Joe Svebdik –"

"That's right, it did. Joe Svebdik asked Mr. McGarry whether some of the injuries that Mr. Seaborn sustained might have been exacerbated by the Vice-President's decision to remove Mr. Seaborn from the wreckage. Mr. McGarry came back with a stinging rejoinder, saying that had the Vice-President not done what he did at the crash site, Mr. Seaborn would be...and I quote, 'dead right now.' Mr. McGarry then stated that Vice-President Hoynes should be commended for having saved a life...that of Mr. Seaborn. Really, a firm statement from Mr. McGarry and the White House."

***

Twenty-four hours, but he's alive.

He's alive.

I'm in your debt.

(Concentrate!)

Twenty-four hours, twelve ago, twelve hours from now...seven o'clock... "Carl?"

"Yeah?"

"We were supposed to leave for Detroit at seven o' clock tomorrow."

"Yeah."

"That's twelve hours from now."

"Mmm-hmm."

Twelve hours ago, I breathed for Sam Seaborn for almost ten minutes.

Ten minutes, twelve hours ago, twelve hours from now, twenty-four hours, and Leo McGarry just called me a hero.

Three, almost four years ago, Carl was right.

"Nathan?"

He's not watching the television. His job is to watch me. "Yes, sir?"

I stand up a little straighter, grip the crutches. "Hand me that other phone over there. I need to make a call. And find Leo McGarry, tell him I'm coming to talk to him in fifteen minutes."

"Yes, sir."

***

"It certainly was. Now, Trish, do you think that Mr. McGarry's abrupt departure might have had anything to do with Mr. Seaborn's surgery?"

"That's a good question, Gwen, and that...uh, that's something that we will try to find out for all of you... I'm Trisha Talbott, here at Ann Arbor Memorial Hospital for Channel Seven News. Back to you at the studio, Gwen."

{{{Channel Seven Special Report: Crisis on the Road – The Vice-President's Accident}}}

***

The ICU waiting room is bright, and it has a window and a table and chairs. There's a long, large couch against one wall. I ease myself into a chair, lean the crutches against the table.

Nathan is standing near the door. He moves aside as it opens.

"Hello, John. What do you need?"

His suit is neat, but wrinkled. His words sound clipped.

I keep my voice quiet. "I'm sorry to call you away from him."

He shrugs, waves a hand. "Only one person allowed in at a time. Anyway, Josh is with him right now."

"How is he?"

"Sam?"

I nod.

"Sedated, thankfully." Leo takes a breath and moves towards the table. He pulls out a chair to sit across from me. "I hate hospitals."

I watch him and nod again.

He sighs, rubs his eyes. "So, what do you need?"

I keep my gaze on his face. "I'd like to go to Detroit."

He looks at me and shakes his head slowly. "Your appearance has been canceled, John. Josh made the call hours ago."

My voice is still quiet. "I know. I just spoke to Tom Chafey, the President of the AAWU. I'm back on the schedule."

Leo shakes his head again, keeps his eyes on me. "Don't do this. Don't do this now."

"You owe me."

Both of his hands are on the table. "I owe you nothing."

"You owe me Sam Seaborn."

He leans back in his chair, folds his arms over his chest. "You're a bastard."

I nod. "Yeah, but as you pointed out earlier, I'm also a hero."

He takes a breath, holds it, and lets it out. "I shouldn't have taken that last question."

"No, you shouldn't have."

He shrugs and stands up. "Well, fine. Do what you want. Go to Detroit." He looks down at me. "You're still doing the drop-in, though."

Excuse me? "Seaborn never gave it to me."

Leo smiles, and the gesture is flat. "Toby Ziegler's in the other waiting room. He's got Sam's laptop. It's broken, but Toby says he can fix it. And I'm sure he can find a copy of Sam's draft for you."

This isn't good. On many levels, this is not good.

(Concentrate!)

Ziegler has the laptop. Seaborn told me he'd completed a rewrite of the speech.

Twelve hours ago, Sam Seaborn asked me to do two things. One, not to do a drop-in or a rewrite. Two, not to let Josh Lyman or Toby Ziegler find his letter of resignation.

He asked me those two things, and then he died.

(Concentrate!)

"Have a good trip, John." Leo's almost at the door now.

Sam Seaborn talked about Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler. But he never said anything about Leo.

His hand is on the doorknob. I take a breath. "I hear that the doctors are saying the next twenty-four hours are going to be critical."

His back is to me, and he nods. "Yes, they will be."

...I...I th-th-thought it'd b-be diff-different...

I swallow.

What'd you think would be different?

(Concentrate!)

I'm in your debt.

I lost my turn in '98.

...j-job...

So did I. My job, I mean.

(Concentrate!)

He's a hero.

I don't want to lose it again.

...I l-lied...b-before...I l-lied to y-you...

You know...you can't always be honest...

I'll try harder.

(Concentrate!)

I won't lose it now.

He's turning the doorknob, opening the door.

I reach for my crutches. "You should know, Leo, that Seaborn was about to resign. Couldn't handle the job. I think a lot of it had to with what happened at the GDC. I think he was ashamed of that."

The door shuts, but he keeps his back to me. "Excuse me?"

I position the crutches at my sides. "And Seaborn didn't do a drop-in for me. He rewrote the speech. When we got him off the bus, when he was bleeding all over the ground, when he was calling for Toby Ziegler to help him and for Josh, he told me it was bad." I shrug. "He's a writer. I guess he would know."

He's turned around now, facing me. The wrinkles around his eyes are deep.

(Concentrate!)

I lean on the crutches and stand up. "He wrote a letter of resignation, Leo, and it's on his computer." I keep my voice quiet. "He wrote it early this morning, about four hours before the accident. I have no doubt that if Toby Ziegler says he can fix Seaborn's laptop, then he can. And I have no doubt that if Seaborn dies in the next twenty-four hours, then you'll have two more letters of resignation on your desk by Friday morning."

He's still, completely still, and I wait. Then, after a long minute, he turns around again and opens the door.

Forward. Step. "Leo?"

His shoulders are straight. "Sam's laptop is broken. Toby won't be able to fix it. You'll have to do your own speech in Detroit."

The door closes shut before I can tell him anything else.

Part 12

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings