On the Road to the Real Thing - 5

I pick my head up. I can hear the bell ringing, but it's moving. It's coming in my direction.

That bell is getting on my nerves.

I direct my attention back to packing up my laptop.

"Hey."

Toby's voice is punctuated by short rings, and I turn around. He's standing near my door, the bell hanging loose in one hand. His finger is hitting the small lever at the top, off-rhythm and annoying. "Hey."

"Getting ready to go?"

I close the case and turn my back to him as I gather a few papers off of my desk. "Yeah."

"Have you seen an advance copy of the speech?"

"Cathy snagged me a copy." Actually, she stole it off of DiMarcato's secretary's desk, which saves me the trouble of having to beg for it like a fool. "I'll read it on the plane."

Glasses, glasses, I need my glasses.

"You taking Cathy?"

I shake my head. She offered to come, wanted to come, but I think I'd rather suffer the Vice-President alone. "No. I need her here."

Where are my glasses?

Toby's finger punches the lever again, and the bell sounds muted as he grasps it in his hand. He takes another step into my office. "You can take her, you know. Ginger and Bonnie can cover everything that-"

"Yeah, I know they can do her job."

Where are those damned glasses?

I shut the desk drawer and move to the file cabinet. "I know that everything's covered when I'm gone."

There's a pause, and I can hear Toby shuffle his feet on the carpet. I can hear him take in a breath. "Leo wants me to set up the blue ribbon committee, call everyone in."

I rifle through the items on top of the cabinet. Still no glasses. And I have no spare pair. "Yeah, you should get started on that."

Damned glasses! Of all the times to lose them...

"I'm gonna have to think about what to do with Seth Gillette."

I edge past Toby, open up the front pocket of my suitcase. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Where are those damned glasses?

"What are you looking for?"

I resist kicking the suitcase as I stand up and look around the office. They must be here, somewhere.

"Glasses."

He nods his head at me. "Front shirt pocket."

I look down. They're there, dangling precariously out of the pocket. I take them out and hold them in my hand. "Thanks."

"You got everything you need?"

"Yeah."

I get my coat off the hook.

"You gonna fax me a copy of the rewrite?"

"Of course."

Glasses, coat, laptop, suitcase. Time to go.

"You're calling us from the road, right?"

Wallet. I pat down my pockets. Got it. "Yes."

I sling the coat over my arm and grab the suitcase, moving toward the door.

The bell rings behind me. I pivot slowly on my heel and look at Toby.

He takes another breath and pauses before meeting my eyes. Then he shrugs. "Have a good-"

"Don't ever ring that bell at me again." I turn around and leave.

***

It's quiet and dark on the plane. I look out the window. It's dark outside, too.

I read the speech. It's good. I like it.

I've begun the rewrite. It should be done sometime tomorrow morning. Lots of time to spare before the Detroit rally.

I don't want to change the speech.

There's a snore behind me, and I shift in my seat. Everyone else in this compartment is asleep. I reach up and turn off the overhead light. I should sleep, too.

I stare at the table in front me. My laptop is closed, my legs are stretched out, my seat's tilted back, I'm comfortable, I'm tired.

I can't sleep.

This is ridiculous. I need to sleep. I've got a big day tomorrow. I have to piss off the Vice-President of the United States tomorrow. I should be well rested before doing that.

I stand up and walk down the aisle.

I can't sleep.

Maybe if I eat something. Or have something to drink. Yes. A drink. I'll have a drink, and then I'll go to sleep. Where's the galley?

"Can I help you, Mr. Seaborn?"

The attendants wear the same uniforms on Air Force One. I would have thought they'd be different. Interesting. "I'd like a drink."

"We have apple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, grape juice, carrot juice-"

The galley's a little bigger on Air Force One. Probably because we have a larger press contingent with us. "No, I mean that I would like...a drink."

"We also have a variety of teas: orange pekoe, Earl Grey, green, chamomile, mint, Apple Spice, cranberry-peach-rosehip-orange blossom -"

"Do you have Scotch?"

Air Force One definitely has the smarter attendants.

"No, sir. But we have sparkling water-"

"Bourbon?"

Hoynes is from the South. They must have bourbon on board this plane.

"No, sir. But we have soda, both diet and regular-"

"Brandy?"

Please.

"No, sir. We also have milk - two-percent, skim, chocolate-"

"Beer?"

I'm desperate here.

"No, sir. We have-"

"You have no alcohol on this plane?"

"That's correct, sir."

"Why not?"

There has to be a reason. There'd better be a reason.

"The Vice-President does not enjoy his staff to partake of alcoholic beverages while flying."

That's not a good reason. It's just annoying. "While flying?"

"Yes, sir."

"I see."

Hoynes probably does it just to be a bastard. What a surprise.

"May I offer you some coffee?"

The galley is brightly lit. The white counters glisten. My eyes are wide open.

I'm awake. Totally, completely, irrevocably awake.

"Yes."

"Would you like regular or decaf?"

I'll finish the rewrite. I can be done before we touch down. "Regular."

I can sleep later.

"Would you like Colombian, French roast, Breakfast Blend, Verona, Sumatra..."

I can sleep on the bus.

***

"...from the environmental lobby, which continues to criticize President Bartlet for what they say is his weak position regarding the protection of our national resources. And those are your national news headlines for Wednesday, February 28th, 2001..."

"Good morning, Detroit. This is KDRT, one-hundred-and-one point three F.M., Detroit's best all-news station. That's right, all news, all the time. Give us sixteen-and-a-half minutes, and we'll give YOU the world!

"More national news in just thirty-five minutes. It's now seven-twenty-one a.m., and it's time for some local news, traffic, and weather. I'm Wayne LaMott, and here are Detroit's morning headlines...

"Governor James H. Roland says that he is ordering two hundred extra police officers to maintain safety and security at the American Auto Workers' Union rally, to be held tomorrow, March 1st, at eleven a.m. at McConnell Square. Over fifty thousand auto workers and labor supporters are expected to attend. Included on the lengthy roster of speakers is Vice-President John Hoynes, who will be a major crowd-pleaser. Hoynes, who won Michigan in the 1998 Democratic primary, is still a popular figure in the state, and his strong views on labor have garnered him significant support among local industries. At the rally, Hoynes is expected to give a major speech concerning domestic labor policies...

"...the weather continues to be bad and blustery. Whoo! Put on your coats, folks! This cold-front is expected to last through the week, with the possibility of precipitation tonight and early tomorrow morning...

"...icy conditions have left our roads in bad shape. If you have to drive, buckle up and drive safely...

"...and more news, traffic, weather and sports after this station break! This is WDRT, all news, all the time!"

***

"...you smell smoke?...sir, there's smoke coming from the engine...we can't wait for the rescue crews!..."

It's dark.

"...gimme that coat...don't want him to get cut up from the glass..."

Why is it so dark in my office?

"...okay...move back a little...we're gonna punch out the window on three...one...two...three..."

What was that?

"...try it again...hurry up!...yes, sir..."

Damnit, Toby!

"...one more time..."

Stop throwing those stupid balls at the window, Toby!

"...okay, okay...clear off that glass...you got it?...damnit, hurry up!..."

I thought the bell was bad, but this is absurd. I'll be right there, Toby.

"...keep his head still...try not to jostle him too much...don't know how bad he's hurt..."

I'm coming, I'm coming. Stop yelling at me, Toby.

"...goddamnit...his leg...careful!...just lay him down on the ground there...gimme another coat..."

Hey, Toby. When'd you paint your office? It's all blue and gray now.

"Seaborn?"

I'm right here, Toby.

"Seaborn, you awake?"

Of course, I'm awake. I'm at work.

"Seaborn, you know who I am?"

You're Toby. Duh.

"...he thinks I'm Ziegler...sir, he's in shock...lucky he's injured...completely insulted..."

Your office smells strange, Toby. It smells like burnt rubber. You burn those stupid balls?

"...no idea what he's talking about...careful...arm's broken...Seaborn, try to pay attention to me..."

I am, Toby.

"...dear god...all that blood...his leg...need more pressure...Nathan, open up his shirt...make sure...not bleeding anywhere else..."

You're not making any sense, Toby.

"...sir...sir...what?...oh, shit...careful, careful...get some pressure on that!...don't let him move...oh, god..."

What's the matter, Toby? You don't look so good.

"...you just stay quiet, son...don't move, okay?...just don't move..."

I'm not moving. Why would I be moving? I don't even have...Toby?

"...in shock...Nathan...as many coats as you can find...need to keep him warm...yes, sir..."

Toby, I don't feel so well. I don't...that...hurts. Oh...oh, god... Oh god, that hurts!

"...Seaborn?...Seaborn, look at me!...c'mon...open your eyes..."

Oh, god, oh, god, oh god...make it stop...oh, hell...Toby...Toby...help me!

"...shh, calm down...I got you...it's gonna be okay...shh, shh..."

Oh my god, please...I can't...it hurts! Oh, god! Toby, help me...make it stop, Toby...Toby?

"...sir, his pulse is all over the place...put those coats over him...cover him up good...Seaborn, you hang on, you hear me?..."

I...I hear you...Toby? Toby? Where are you?

"...I'm right here...everything's gonna be fine...it's okay...right here..."

Wait, no... no, no... You're not Toby! Where's Toby? Toby!

"...damnit, keep him still...Seaborn, you've got to calm down...don't let him move...Seaborn...have to calm down..."

Toby...it hurts...Toby...oh, god, it hurts...make it stop, please, make it stop...

"Seaborn! Seaborn, look at me! Damnit, look at me, boy!"

I'm looking at you, I'm looking at you...I'm...wait, no...you're not...you're...

"S-S-Sir?"

"That's it, Seaborn. You know who I am?"

"I...you're...y-you're..."

"C'mon, Seaborn, you can do it."

"Mr. V-V-Vice-Pr-r-esid-dent?"

 

Part 6

 

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