On the Road to the Real Thing - 12

***

There's the dull sound of metal on metal. Soft scraping. Runs up my back. "I think Josh could use a break."

"I'm busy."

I lay my coat over the edge of the table. I loosen my tie. It's really too tight, and it's just making me feel like...

Rotten day. "I want him to go outside for a few minutes." Scraping, scraping, and I hate that sound. "Anyway, you should go see him."

He shakes his head, adjusts his grip on the screwdriver. "I'm almost done with this."

That's it. It's been a rotten day, and I have no more patience.

I take another step to stand next to him, close my hand around his to stop the scraping sound. "Go see him. Now."

A rotten day. A really rotten day, and I have no more patience.

He looks up now, but his eyes don't meet mine. His eyes are focused on my shirt collar, or maybe my tie, something, but not my eyes. He licks his lips, tries to pull his hand away.

"Go see him."

He motions with his other hand, shakes his head. "I don't think that's a good idea." He scratches his chin, rubs his hand over the top of his head. "I'm really not ready to... I mean, I'm almost done with this, and..."

He pauses.

"I don't want to do that yet," he finishes.

Rotten day. No patience. I stare at him.

He takes in a breath, lets it out. Does that again and again.

I watch him. "Toby."

He starts to stand up, and I release his hand. He leans a little on the table. "I shouldn't have asked him to do this. I shouldn't have asked him to come out here and do this."

I shrug. Not too fast, not too slow. "You didn't ask him. I did."

He shakes his head again. "No. No, it was me."

"It's not your fault."

"He was really angry at me."

I lay my hand on his shoulder and take a step towards the door, pushing him slightly. "Go see him, Toby."

He nods, swallows, blinks, clears his throat, finally moves.

When the door shuts, I turn around. The laptop is open, and the cursor is blinking. I reach around to the back of the machine and unplug the wires that Toby connected.

The screen goes black.

I close it. Then I take my coat and wrap it around the computer, pick it up.

Out the door, down the hall, in the elevator, out the elevator, out the big doors, to the cars.

"Can I help you, sir?" The driver hurriedly jogs over, holds the door to the limo open.

I shake my head, lay my coat inside. "No. Thanks. Just wanted to put this away."

***

***

"Anyway, like I was saying... They wouldn't let me bring a cell phone in here. You know, interferes with everything, and that's not good. But it's been ringing off the hook. I think CJ's called about twenty or thirty times, she just keeps yelling at me. You know how she enjoys doing that."

I don't think I've ever seen anyone look so bad. I mean, I don't know what I looked like...when...

But he looks bad. Really bad.

"She sends her love. She keeps reminding me to tell you that, so I am. Now. She sends her love. Donna does, too. And Ginger and Bonnie, and...and Cathy, of course. She does, too. Everybody does."

Okay, he just looks bad, terrible. God-awful. And there's that tube in his mouth, and it's just...bad. And his leg is...there's a metal...thing, holding the pins in place, and it...

Swallow. Breathe. Can't look at that.

Breathe.

He can't even breathe on his own. That sound is grating, makes me want to shiver. I can see the pump going up and down and up and down. It's just in the corner of my eye.

"Oh. Uh. Cathy told me that Mallory O'Brien called. I thought that was funny. Cathy said she was really upset. You know, really upset. I mean, I didn't think it was funny, just... I thought you two weren't really, you know..."

I can't really see the chest tube. I'm sitting on the other side of the bed, thank God. I don't want to see that.

"...I didn't know you two still kept in touch, but I guess you do. That's good. That's nice. I just wish I had known that. I don't know why you didn't tell me that. You usually tell me stuff like that."

There's an IV in this hand here, on my side. They couldn't put it in the other hand. That arm's broken. So, dark bruising on this hand, and I don't know if it's from the IV needle or from the accident. Maybe both.

"Hey, you know what? I should... I should give you some advice about this whole hospital thing. Like what to expect, so you'll be prepared. You know, because the doctors said...you're probably gonna be here for a little while, and..."

I just need to clear my thoat. 'Cause I had too much coffee today, and when I do, it always gets caught up in my throat. That's why.

"...you're gonna hate the whole catheter business. That sucks. Really, it does. I mean, it seems like it should be kind of convenient, but really it's just...you know, a pain in the ass. Really. And, uh...don't mess with those nurses, no sir... Be nice to them, 'cause they're the ones who give the sponge baths...which, by the way, are not as much fun as you might expect."

Bruising on his face, too, and a big cut near his hairline. I can't see it, though. There's a bandage over it. I can see the other cuts and bruises, though, and they're...everywhere, really, but smaller.

"Hey...you know, that cut on your head's not so bad. They...uh, the doctors...they said that if it doesn't heal up nicely, then they'll just call in a plastic surgeon. No problem. Won't be a problem at all."

"Hey."

I look up. I didn't hear him come in. "Hey."

"Leo wants you to take a break, go outside or something," he says to me, and he gives a vague gesture. His eyes are trained on the wall just behind me. "I'll stay here for a while."

I nod and stand up. I need some air. It feels close in here. "How's the computer?"

He edges past me as I walk towards the door. I watch him sit down in the chair. He shrugs. "Almost done."

"Good, good."

He reaches into his front pocket, pulls out a pair of glasses. Wireless frames. Sam's glasses. He holds them up to his face, breathes on the lenses. I can see them steam up from where I'm standing.

He's still not looking at anything, not me, not Sam. Just the glasses.

Everybody's got their own way, I suppose.

He wipes the lenses with the cuff of his sleeve and sets them on the small bureau next to the bed.

"Go. It's okay. I'll be here." He looks up at me, and he motions with his hand for me to leave.

I nod and walk through the open door.

The elevators are across from the nurses' station. I wait for a minute until I hear the soft ring. Going down?

Going down.

The doors open. I step into the lobby.

"Mr. Vice-President!"

"Vice-President Hoynes!"

I blink as a camera flashes, as several cameras flash. What the hell?

Somebody shoves past me. A reporter. I follow him down the corridor to the exit.

It's cold outside, and there's a whole crowd of them, of reporters.

I can see Hoynes standing in front of a limo, leaning on some crutches. He's waving as the cameras flash. His expression is serious, and his brows are drawn and his mouth is set. He gives a thumb's up sign.

I weave my way through the reporters. An arm reaches out and blocks me, stops me. One of his Secret Service agents. Dark eyes flicker over me briefly, and then the arm recedes, letting me through.

"Hey!"

He looks at me and nods. He gives me a sober smile. "Well, hello, Josh."

I keep my back to the cameras, keep my features controlled and my voice low. "What the hell are you doing?"

He hobbles closer to the limo, shoves his crutches inside. "I'm going to Detroit."

Going to Detroit? "I canceled your appearance!"

He nods. "Yeah, that's changed now," he says. He waves again.

"What do you mean – "

He pats me on the shoulder. "Talk to Leo. We thought it'd be best if I kept to the tour schedule. Don't want the public to think I'm incapacitated in any way. Wouldn't be good."

I don't get this, I don't understand. "But what about..."

I mean, he can't just leave. Not now.

His hand is still on my shoulder. "Seaborn and I talked...you know, when we got him out of the bus. And he told me that he thought Detroit was important, that he thought it was important I do it, that I stick to this job." His hand squeezes my shoulder. "I don't want to disappoint him. Not now."

He squeezes my shoulder once more, and carefully lowers himself into the car. I lean forward to help him balance.

"Thanks, Josh."

"Yeah."

I can feel the Secret Service agent behind me, pressing close and edging me out of the way.

He looks up at me from the darkness of the car. "I'm praying for him, Josh. And for you, too. He's made it this far. He's going to be fine."

I nod, and the door is closed. I can't see him anymore, just my reflection in the tinted glass. The car starts up and moves away, slowly, haltingly as reporters jog to keep up, cameras still flashing.

I stand in the driveway in front of the hospital.

It's cold out here. Too cold, and I should go back inside.

"Mr. Lyman!"

He's made it this far...

The way he said it...

"Mr. Lyman, any comment on the Vice-President's decision to go to Detroit?"

He was so close in '98.

"Mr. Lyman, how is Sam Seaborn?"

It could have been his, and I know why...

"Mr. Lyman!"

...he's going to be fine...

Because the way he said it...

"Mr. Lyman!"

Makes me want to believe him.

***

***

"...and I knew then that I'd never make it to the majors. Or the minors. So, I went into politics. True story."

True. All true, and...

Okay.

Admittedly not the most inspiring story. But totally, utterly, completely true.

If I don't look at his leg, and if I don't look at his face, then...

Then I can still see the cuts and bruises everywhere else. No. Not everywhere. There's a blanket. Should be up a little higher.

There.

But under the blanket, I know: there are more bruises, and there are bandages.

"I could have been a...hey, I coulda beena contenda...you know?"

My Brando impression definitely needs some work. I won't argue that. It's true. It needs some work. Definitely. True. Needs work.

This arm here, for example. Big bruises, scrapes, little cuts. Probably from the broken glass, I don't know. The other arm, I can't see. There's a cast covering it.

"...so..."

I need another story. Something real, something true, something like...

"Hey...let me tell you a story about...about...about when I first met you."

I clear my throat.

My eyes wander over to stare at his face. I didn't want them to do that. I didn't want...

"...and Leo said, 'Hey, I want you to meet a guy. His name's Sam Seaborn.' He said that you were Josh's friend, and I said swell, and then he told me that Josh had just picked you up at the airport, that you two were on your way to the campaign office..."

Hair is falling over his forehead, look at that. Wouldn't like that. Wait. Just smooth it back a little. Gently, gently.

There. Better.

"...and okay, I'll admit it...when I met you, I was a little jealous. I mean, it was the hair. You've got all that hair, and I have...well, I don't have so much. I'm not usually sensitive about it, but you know...there you are, really young, lot of talent, lot of drive, more hair than me...a lot more hair than me, than I have, than I ever had...and...a lot of hair, I wish I could have that much. Have I told you that you need a haircut? Because you do. Really."

I lick my lips. It's too dry in here.

"Anyway, I was a little jealous...of the hair, that is...and I guess that maybe I was...just a bit, not really a whole lot...maybe I was a little...gruff...at work those first few weeks, but I think that – "

"Hoynes is going to Detroit."

Excuse me, I was in the middle of a story here, and I... "Huh?"

Josh stays in the doorway, glancing at the nurses station. He shakes his head, motions for me to come to him.

I don't care about Hoynes. I don't much care about any of this anymore. It's insignificant. I don't care. I stand up, walk to Josh.

That can be my next story. Politics – why I don't care. Because I don't. Not right now.

He leads me out into the hallway, near the elevators. "Hoynes is going to Detroit."

The lights are bright out here. I squint until my eyes can adjust. "I thought you canceled his appearance."

He nods, looking confused. "I did."

I don't care. "I don't care."

He starts to say something, then shuts his mouth. He shrugs. "Well, somebody should tell CJ."

I don't care. "You do it."

"I don't –"

The elevators ring, and we both step out of the way as the doors open. "Hey."

Josh runs a hand through his hair. Sam never does that, and Josh needs to stop doing that. It makes him look weird, unnatural. Then again, he's not my deputy. So, I don't care.

Josh's foot is tapping against the floor. "Leo," he starts in, "what's going on with Hoynes?"

I don't care. I give Leo a short wave. "Tell him. I don't care." I turn to Josh. "Are you going back in there?"

He nods. "Yeah."

"Okay, then I'm going to finish fixing his computer."

"Wait!"

I turn around. Leo is standing next to me now. "Toby, I think you should stick around for a minute."

But I don't care. I don't care about Hoynes, I don't need to hear this story, any story. I don't care. "I'm almost done with it, so it really won't take too –"

***

***

Toby.

I know he cares about Sam, I know that's why he wants to fix that damned computer, but it's been a long day, a rotten day, and he...

"You can't."

"Excuse me?"

He can't. I can't let him. And I'm exhausted, and I have very little patience for this. It has been a rotten day. He can't see that computer. I cannot let him see that computer.

"Toby, it's broken, leave it alone. You should stay with Sam, not toy around with his –"

"He's going to want it when he wakes up." He shakes his head and starts to move past me.

No, Toby. Sam will not want it when it wakes up. If what Hoynes told me was true, then the last thing he'll want to see is that computer.

And I have to believe him, I can't not believe him, because if he's right...

It has been a rotten day. And I just don't have any more patience.

I take hold of his arm. He stops. Listen to me, Toby. "No, he's not. When he wakes up, he's going to want his parents and a lot of morphine. He's not gonna want his damned computer. He's not gonna want to work –"

"Of course he's going to want to work. Not right away, but later, after he's a little better, he's going to want to... You don't understand, this is his job, this is his –"

"HIS JOB IS WHAT GOT HIM HERE!"

Shit.

"Leo..."

Josh. Not now.

Toby, I didn't mean to...

It's just that it's been a rotten day, and I have no...

"You're going to have keep your voices down, or you'll have to leave." The nurse's face is flushed red. She's angry.

I spare a nod at her, and she walks away. She glances at us over her shoulder.

I didn't mean to.

He looks stricken. He looks stricken, as if I hit him. His eyes are wide, and his mouth is open, and it's as if I'd hit him, or worse.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Toby, I didn't mean that the way it –"

"No, it's fine. You're right."

His voice is wavering, and if I didn't know better, I'd think I'd actually made Toby Ziegler cry.

Rotten day.

I shake my head. "No, I'm not. And that's not what I mean, when I said that. That's not what I meant." I've dug myself into deeper holes than this. Like when I was drinking, or with the drugs. Oh, but then, at least, I had the pleasure of...

No. Not now. "I just meant that his computer isn't really a priority right now, and –"

"Yeah, but..." He turns away, shoves his hands in his pockets. He shrugs, but his shoulders don't all the way back down again. His voice is soft. "I don't...I don't have anything else to do."

I can only nod, and...

God, I want a drink.

This has been a rotten day.

***

***

"You should be doing your job." It's out of my mouth before I can stop it. It doesn't even sound like me when I say it, it doesn't even sound like me, and I don't know where that came from.

"What?" Toby turns from Leo to look at me.

I swallow. "Call CJ, find out if she needs a statement from you. He's out of surgery, and Hoynes is going to Detroit, so," I say. My voice sounds like it's coming from somewhere down the hall. "So she's going to need a statement."

He looks at me. For a moment, there's silence, then he opens his mouth. "Yeah."

I nod, try to smile. "You should go do that now. I'm going to stay here, so it's okay."

"Okay." He doesn't move.

I reach out from where I am, brush my hand over his arm. Barely touch him. He steps back. "It's really okay."

"Yeah."

"He's going to be fine."

"Okay."

"I mean it. He's going to be fine."

His eyes have drifted down to look at the floor. He starts to move, and his feet shuffle against the floor. "You set up in the other waiting room?"

His back is to me, but I nod anyway. "Yeah. Everything's in there."

I watch him nod in response, and he disappears down the corridor.

I shift to look at Leo. "It's been a long day. Bad day. That's all it was. Just a real long, bad day."

He smiles at me, and I can see the wrinkles around his eyes deepen. For one moment, just one moment, he looks old to me. "You're right."

I take a breath. "What's going on with Hoynes?" I ask.

The smile dissipates, but the wrinkles remain deepened and sharp. "The Vice-President and I decided that it was best that he continue his tour. We don't want there to be any doubts about his ability to perform his job."

He's lying to me. About Hoynes, he's lying to me. And I think there's something, I think there might be something going on with Sam's laptop, and I think he's lying to Toby about that, and I think he's lying to me, but...

It doesn't matter. It doesn't make a difference. Not now.

Whatever it is, it's something he doesn't want me to know. At least, not yet. And I trust Leo. I trust him. And...

It doesn't make a difference.

***

{{{Channel Seven News Special Report: The Vice-President's Accident}}}

"...will be a cold but clear day, and we're going to turn now to Trisha Talbott, who's at McConnell Square. Trisha? Trisha, how is the mood out there?"

"Well, Gwen, the mood is energetic, despite the cold weather. Lots of people have turned out, and –"

"Almost fifty-five thousand, is that correct, Trisha?"

"Yes, it is, Gwen. Almost fifty-five thousand people are here. Quite a crowd. Most of them are here to support labor issues and workers' rights in the U.S., but several people have turned out to see the Vice-President."

"It's hard to imagine that it was only yesterday that he was involved in horrific accident that nearly claimed his life and the lives of many others."

"Absolutely, Gwen, absolutely. But as the Vice-President's representatives told the press late last night and early this morning, the events that occurred yesterday only heightened his awareness of major problems in the labor industry and further convinced him that it was necessary to come to this rally today."

"And what are some of these 'major problems,' Trish? Did the Vice-President have anything to say on that?"

"Well, his representatives told me that Vice-President Hoynes feels that labor is what helps this country keep moving along what they termed, and I quote, 'the road to success,' and that the role of labor is too often overlooked. Members of the press were given advance copies of the Vice-President's speech; in fact, I'm holding a copy right here in my hand. That 'road to success' is the major theme of the speech, but it is believed that Vice-President Hoynes will also be referring to yesterday's events as well, possibly reworking or adding material to the speech as a reflection of that heightened awareness of which I just spoke."

"Sounds like it will be quite a speech, and quite an event. One that we will be carrying live, of course, here on Channel Seven News!"

"That's right. Oh, and here's the Vice-President. He has been introduced by Tom Chafey, the National President of the American Auto Workers Union, and the people are... Everyone is on their feet. Just listen to that crowd...this is amazing... Okay, the Vice-President is shaking hands with Mr. Chafey, and he is approaching the podium. He is about to speak..."

"Good morning, Detroit! I am glad to be here, so that I can speak to you today. The issue of labor is an important one, and one which must not be ignored in our society. For all Americans, for all people, we must ensure the future..."

***

Hey, turn off the bright lights... I blink my eyes open.

Oh, shit. Must have fallen asleep. Is he...?

Still there, and everything looks the same. Monitors blinking, beeping, everything's just like it was when...

What the hell time is it anyway?

It is...

Well, if we left D.C. at ten o' clock yesterday...so, subtract two?...I don't know, Sam's much better at this than I am...so subtract, and that's eight o'clock their time...and now it's...wait, I'll just look at my watch...

Duh.

Look at my watch. Good move, real smart.

Back home, it's...okay, so it's eleven o'clock here.

Eleven o'clock.

That would make it sixteen hours.

I sit up in the chair, rub my eyes. They feel grainy, sore.

"Hey, sleeping beauty."

I turn to the door. Toby. He shrugs. "I mean you, not him. Didn't think there'd ever be a day when your face looked better than Sam's, but..." He shrugs again, and the movement is sudden and jarring to my eyes.

I stifle a yawn at the insult, rub my eyes some more.

He gestures at me. "Leo wants to see you."

I nod and stand up. It takes a moment to get my legs under me, and I look down. I clear my throat. "Well, he looks a little – "

"I hope you're not going to say he looks better."

I shake my head. My voice sounds gravelly. "A little less shitty. That's what I was gonna say."

"Okay."

I maneuver around the bed, pat Toby's arm on the way out. "Hey, he's the quiet type. Don't be bothered by it if he doesn't talk too much."

"Yeah," he says. "Sixteen hours now."

I nod, step out of the door.

Toby takes my place.

Eight more to go.

***

"The road to success is not a simple one. It is not a clear one. For me, in my job, it has often been a hard road, a difficult road. I thought it would be different, I thought my job would be different, I thought my life would be different, and I thought my road would be different. And it's been a long, rough road to get here to Detroit today. It's been a road that has been...painful, to say the least. But, in the past twenty-four hours, I have learned something..."

***

"Hey."

"Hey, sit down, have some coffee." Leo moves over, makes room for me on the couch.

There is a large portable canister of coffee and a stack of cheap china from the cafeteria downstairs. I reach for a cup and fill it before easing myself down onto the couch. My back hurts from sleeping in that small plastic chair.

I focus on the television. "How's he doing?"

Leo shakes his head. "I got a fax of his original speech. The last line was about thirty seconds ago."

I take a sip, a large sip, and the coffee burns down my throat. "But he's still talking."

Leo has a dour look on his face. "I know."

***

"...I have learned that no matter how hard we work, no matter how we labor, the road can never, will never be simple, will never be straight. But we must still work, and we must keep trying. We must try harder."

***

"So...you should know...I was going to fix your computer, but...work came up."

Or rather, Leo. Who has suddenly become quite the advocate for personal privacy. Interesting, but in the end, inconsequential. I don't care.

"I'll have it done real soon, though, and then you can get back to...well, it'll probably be a while until you get back to work, but you're going to have to keep up with everything. I'll need you to proofread...not for grammar, but for everything else, of course."

Josh is right. He does look just a little less shitty today. Not a lot, just a little.

When he wakes up, he's going to want his parents and a lot of morphine. He's not gonna want his damned computer. He's not gonna want to work...

...I don't need any help...

"...I mean, that is...if you wanted to do that, then that's how we could work it. Shouldn't be a problem. If you want to do it like that. Maybe you won't want to, though. That's okay. That's okay, too."

I don't need any help.

He never did, really. All I ever helped him with was his lack of experience. A certain sense of naivete, a fast-diminishing lack of political know-how; sometimes I'd check that for him. But not much else.

"...I hope you'll...I mean, I've just gotten too used to having you around, I guess...at my beck and call, of course..."

Don't ever ring that bell at me again.

"So...you should know...I got rid of that bell..."

***

"...on a cold day here in Michigan, I learned that we all must work together. Because sometimes, the unexpected happens, the bad happens, the terrible and the frightening happen, and we must know upon what and whom we can depend. I learned that if we want to keep our roads safe, our homes and property secure, our lives protected, then we must have respect for one another, for the jobs that we each do, for the labor that we invest in our family, in our friends, in our jobs, and in our lives..."

***

Josh nods slowly, not really paying attention to me. He's staring at the television, watching. His body is slanted forward, elbows on knees, and he's holding his cup of coffee loosely.

"Hey, Leo," he says, and his voice rises a little on the last syllable.

I sit back on the couch, keep my eyes on the set. "Yeah."

"Why'd you come and get me in '97?"

I shrug. "Knew you were the right man for the job."

"How'd you know Bartlet was the right man for the job?"

I can see the wind blowing, and Hoynes' collar is turned up. "I just knew, I guess."

"What do you think of Hoynes?"

"I try not to."

The cushions on the couch dip, and he turns to face me. I stay still, feel him look at me.

There's a hesitation, a tension, and I can feel that he wants to say something. "What's on Sam's laptop? What is it that you don't want Toby to see?"

I had the whole night to think about this. Good thing, too...because sometimes it takes a lot of work, a lot of preparation to tell the truth. "He rewrote Hoynes' speech, but he didn't like the draft. He didn't want anyone to see it."

"How do you know that?" Josh's voice is quiet.

I nod easily. "He told Hoynes, and Hoynes told me." He told me that and more, but there's only so much Josh needs to know. And this is enough.

"Oh." The cushions dip, and he's facing the television again. The tension is still there. He's going to ask something else.

"What do you think of Hoynes?"

I take a breath. "I think John Hoynes is..."

***

"...It was a cold day, yesterday, and it was a terrible day. A day that started off in the blackness and comfort of sleep, and that ended with one man dead, and another man lying on the highway, bleeding, struggling to breathe, barely able to speak. A man, who even as we speak, is still fighting for his life, in a hospital, surrounded by his friends, by the people he trusts and cares for and who care for him. A man who came with me here to Michigan, on this tour, to do his job, as we all must do, to work, to labor, as we all must..."

***

"I think John Hoynes is probably going to be President in another five years."

"Yeah."

His voice is trembling, high.

"He'll be fine."

"He didn't trust me anymore. I didn't give him any reason to trust me anymore."

"You'll try harder. You'll work, and you'll try harder."

"Seven hours, Leo."

Seven hours. We got here twenty-four hours ago. Our time, of course.

"He'll be fine. He has a job to do."

Josh lets out a breathy laugh. The sound of it doesn't rise over Hoynes' voice on the television. "I don't think he's thinking about work right now."

No, he's not. But later...when he's well again...and he will be...I'll talk with him, give him back what belongs to him, and I'll talk with him. See if I can't help to make work...work for him.

"Thank you, Detroit!" Hoynes is finished now. I watch him, a small figure on the set. He waves and waves. I can hear the crowd cheering.

Josh continues to stare, his chin cupped in his hand. He sighs.

Seven hours.

I'll have to help make it work for Sam. And I'll have to keep him working. Because we need him.

***

Part 13

 

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