On the Road to the Real Thing - 4

It's quiet when the plane lands, quiet inside and outside. That's good. After spending the past three hours wishing for a Bloody Mary, I'm feeling quiet, too.

"Sir?"

I raise my head. Carl. "You know what?"

He smiles. "What?"

"Plane rides just aren't the same without the alcohol."

There's a snort, and I watch him settle into the seat across from me. "Tell me about it."

It's silent for a beat.

"Sir?"

"Yeah?"

"What're we going to do about-"

"Seaborn?"

He nods.

I shrug. Not much we can do. I wasn't expecting anyone to come along with us; I must have pissed off McGarry more than I thought. The thought makes me want to smile. But it also makes me want to hit something.

"Let's leave it be for now," I say. "We've got a day-and-a-half until Detroit. We'll work on him."

"He's been quiet."

What? Oh, we're still on Seaborn, I guess. I was back to intense alcoholic yearnings. I'm going to miss my weekly poker game because of this tour.

I shift in my seat, tap my fingers against the armrest. I don't like missing that poker game.

"He's been quiet?" I prompt him.

"Yeah. Not really so much as a peep out of him."

"I'd expect that to change, if I were you, Carl."

It's dark out, so early in the morning that it's still night.

"You give him a copy of the speech?" I ask.

"Forgot."

"Oh, really?"

The corners of Carl's mouth twitch. For a moment, I think he might grin, but he holds it in. "In my advanced age, I guess my memory is just fading, sir."

"You're forty-six."

"I feel at least one hundred."

"Me, too." I sigh. "Give him the speech. We don't want him to do some last minute hack job on this like they did with the GDC."

Carl's face is blank. He's concerned. "We let him work on this too long, and he'll rewrite the speech."

"It'll keep him busy and off our backs."

"True."

"Leo McGarry's won this one for now."

Carl leans forward, and his voice drops to a near-whisper. "If you want, I can make sure that Seaborn's left behind at the airport."

I laugh. I can feel some of the tension drain. "And we can blame it on the fading memory, Carl?"

"Hell, why not? We drive fast enough, he'll never catch up."

I consider it for half a moment, but I've got a funny feeling in my gut. Much as I hate to admit it, I wonder if Leo might just be right about Seth Gillette.

I look out the window. It's flat land around the airport, flat and clear. Much like the land where I was raised in Texas.

I live in Washington, D.C., but it's not my home.

I stand, and Carl stands with me. He reaches for my jacket, holds it out for me to slip into. "Let him on the bus, Carl. Let's try to control the situation instead of the other way around."

"Yes, sir."

***

Goddamn, it's bright in here.

"Sir?"

Jesus H. Christ...who's got the bullhorn?

"Sir?"

Shut up.

"Thomson, get the nurse."

What'd I have to drink last night? A whole bottle of Tequila?

"Sir?"

I would tell whoever's talking to me to shut up, but my mouth feels like someone stuffed a dead rabbit in it. Tastes like it, too.

"Mr. Vice-President, sir, please open your eyes. Mr. Vice-President, sir, time to wake up."

That's not Marcia, and it's not Janeane, and I can only hope the woman behind that voice is prettier than she sounds.

"Mr. Vice-President, sir..."

I'm going take a deep breath...like so...and then I'll open my eyes, maybe just a little...like so...

Oh, dear Lord in heaven! I'm going to close my eyes again.

Her voice must be her most attractive feature.

"Well, yes, Mr. Vice-President, many people have commented on the distinctive quality of my voice, but none so distinguished as you."

Oh, shit. Am I talking out loud?

"Why don't you get the doctor, ma'am, and I'll stay with him."

Nathan. That you?

"Yes, sir."

Am I still talking out loud?

"Yes, sir."

I crack my eyes open again. The face in front of mine is familiar, if a little blurry. "I should probably stop that, shouldn't I?"

"I'm sure that would be advisable, sir."

"You have no sense of humor, Nathan."

"I'm gratified that you've finally noticed, sir."

I sigh. One day, Nathan, one day... "Where are we?"

"Ann Arbor Memorial Hospital, sir."

I look around the room. Damn, my head feels strange. White walls, white floor, white sheets, paper-thin gown. Shit. "Why are we in a hospital, Nathan?"

He pauses and watches me. "Our bus overturned this morning."

Bus. Bus. Bus.

(Concentrate!)

Concentrate. Loud screeching tires, skidding, falling, falling...

I remember people screaming. "We all okay? You okay? Anybody hurt?"

"I'm fine, sir. You have a concussion."

"I do?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, that would explain why my brain feels like someone sucked it out and spit it back in, huh?"

"I'd assume so, sir. You also tore several ligaments in your leg."

I look down. They're both there, but there's a blanket on top. "Which one? I don't feel anything hurting down there."

He points at my hand. There's an IV stuck in it. "You're on morphine, sir."

"Damn good stuff." When the doctor comes in, I'll tell him to stop it. Don't want to have to start going to poker games for drug addicts, too. I go to too many weekly poker games, people'll start to think I've got some sort of gambling addiction.

The light in here is bright, and I feel restless and warm. There's a butterfly strip over a cut on Nathan's forehead. It's surrounded by a red bruise. "You okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who else was hurt?"

"Ed Miller is dead, sir."

Oh, god. Oh, god. I knew that man since he was just a boy. Not the smartest bulb in the bunch, but he could drive. That was enough.

I grip the bar at the side of the bed. It's cold and smooth.

Nathan reaches out a hand, touches my shoulder. "It happened immediately, sir. He didn't feel anything."

Yeah. Yeah, I'll believe that later.

But not now.

"Who else?" My voice sounds far-away. I almost can't hear myself.

"No one else was killed, sir."

Thank the good Lord.

"Carl DiMarcato has some broken ribs and such, but he's okay. Janeane's got a broken ankle, I think. And she's been crying. She wants to see you."

I shake my head. Not now. Later.

There's silence, and I look at Nathan. "Who else?"

"A lot of scrapes and bruises, mostly..."

He's stalling. My head is starting to ache. "Who else?"

"Sam Seaborn, sir. He was hurt pretty bad. Internal injuries. He's still in surgery."

Oh, shit.

"Has someone called the White House?"

"The White House has been informed, sir, and-"

"Who was told?"

"Me."

I know that voice. I hate that voice.

Leo McGarry.

I look up. "Leo."

"John."

Nathan straightens beside me, but doesn't leave. He must think I need protection.

That thought is both funny and frightening.

Leo ignores him and steps into the room. "How're you feeling?"

Like shit, you asshole. What do you think? "I've felt better."

"I'm glad to see you awake. You had us a little worried."

I'll bet. "Ed Miller's dead."

"I know."

"I want to call his momma and daddy, tell them myself. And I want him to get a good funeral."

"I'll take care of it."

I sigh and look around the room. White, white, white...it's all a little fuzzy, and I blink. Nothing much to look at, anyway. "Seaborn's still in surgery, I hear."

There's a pause. He's off his game. Welcome to the club. "Yeah. Doctors told us that he's...he's not looking too good."

There's another pause. Nathan's arms are rigid, elbows locked in place.

McGarry opens his mouth and closes it, then opens it again. "Listen, John...thank you."

"I don't understand." I'm having some trouble thinking. Thank you for what? For getting into an accident?

His hands are in his pockets, and they come out now, hanging loosely at his sides. "For saving Sam's life back there."

Everything's too jumbled in my head. I don't know if it's the morphine or the concussion, but I have no idea what he's talking about. McGarry's not looking at me, so I steal a glance at Nathan. He gives me an almost imperceptible nod.

"Sure," I say. "No big deal."

McGarry chews his lip and takes a deep breath. He walks to the window, his eyes squinting against the light. "Yeah, well...it is to us. Me, and Toby Ziegler, and Josh Lyman, and CJ Cregg, and the President. So, thank you."

"Yeah." I can't think straight, and I'm starting to feel irritable.

"Mr. Vice-President?" The door is pushing open, and there's a pale-skinned man in a white coat entering the room. "It's good to see you awake, sir."

McGarry nods at me, meeting my gaze for a moment. "Anyway...I'll go. You need anything, just let me know."

"Yeah."

He nods again at me and at Nathan and edges past the doctor with another short nod before walking out.

"How are you feeling, sir?"

I look at the doctor. He's middle-aged, and he's got a dimple in his chin. "Get me off this goddamned morphine."

The doctor looks like he wants to argue with me for a moment, but he thinks better of it. Smart. I turn to Nathan, and he watches me steadily. Good man; he understands. After the doctor leaves, Nathan'll fill me what I need to know, what I've missed.

My brain is addled, but it's slowly coming back into order. I only remember bits and pieces right now – loud noise, screaming, darkness, someone was moaning, and there was talking, I was talking...I was asking someone something...asking them to stay awake...Seaborn...

Seaborn.

Damn. What a rotten day.

***

The flashlight flickers, and for a moment, I consider throwing it back at Thomson. I shake it, though, and it comes on, bright and strong.

I turn around, following the line of light as I move it over upturned seats and tables. There're papers everywhere. Stuck on the windows, on the floor, on the ceiling...

The ceiling is the floor now. The bus is upside down.

I crawl forward. The metal below me creaks and groans.

"Sir, your leg is bleeding. I think you should come out --"

"Shut up, Thomson."

"Yes, sir."

He crawls behind me. The creaking becomes louder, more insistent.

It's tight here, between these two seats. I put the flashlight down on the surface in front of me, and I move slowly. Something shifts, more creaking. The flashlight rolls. I reach to catch it –

Oh, god.

Ed.

"Ed? Eddie?"

"Sir, he's...he's gone."

Oh, damn. All that blood. Oh, damn.

"Sir? Sir? Sir, you okay?"

I grip the flashlight harder. "No, goddamnit, I am not okay."

I close my eyes. It's silent except for the noises outside.

Thomson doesn't say anything. I'm grateful for that.

Just need to concentrate here.

(Concentrate!)

Concentrate, find Seaborn, get out of this wreck, and go home.

I move past Ed's body, edging towards the middle of the bus. It's hard to see around the seats. I hold the flashlight ahead of me, my eyes straining.

"Seaborn? Seaborn, you hear me?"

"Mr. Seaborn? Mr. Seaborn?"

There's a knocking sound, and I turn to my left. "Seaborn?"

"Sir?" Distant voice, muted and hollow.

It's Nathan. I can see his face from outside the window. He's pointing.

"Sir, I think we can see him from here. Go to your right!"

I can tell he's shouting, but his voice sounds small. Bulletproof glass. Supposed to shield from all the elements – wind, rain, bullets, bombs, most noise.

I follow his direction, and move to the right. There's a table in front of me, and I make room for Thomson to come up beside me. We'll have move it together. He's next to me in a moment, and I can hear him breathing hard, smell him sweating.

"On three. One. Two. Three. Heave!"

It's heavy, and it doesn't want to move.

"Again! One. Two. Three. Heave!"

It falls with a thud to the other side of the aisle, and I can feel the bus tip a little from the weight. I lay my hands flat on the floor - ceiling – until the movement stops.

"Aw, heck."

I look at Thomson. "What?"

He points ahead. "Sir."

I turn my head. "Goddamnit."

Seaborn.

Part 5

 

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