Something Worth Fighting For - part 3
Josh stood in front of the smoking synagogue. Even though, it was 3:30 in the morning, there were still people everywhere. Police had the area blocked off. It had taken Josh quite some time to convince officials to let him on the scene. Now he was standing there watching agents from Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as they sifted through the rubble of what had once been a magnificent temple.
He had promised Leo that he would go home and get some good rest. Leo wanted them all back at the office in the morning, a Sunday morning, ready to work on the investigation. Josh had gone home knowing that rest was exactly what he needed in order to attack this in the morning. But when he closed his eyes, all he could see were faces. They were the faces of men, women, and children, all of them soot covered, all of them looking at him with terrified eyes.
He didn’t even have to close his eyes to see his friend Toby and the pain that this tragedy was bringing him. Abby had personally gone with the ambulance that took Toby to the hospital. She had assured everyone that Toby had probably just fainted from the shock and trauma of his injuries. Still they stood there stunned as the gurney was wheeled out of the Oval Office. Josh wished that Abby would have allowed Sam or CJ go with her. But she insisted that Toby would need only rest and quiet right now. Everyone had been too shocked by his collapse to argue with her.
Josh needed to be at the synagogue. An important lesson his father had tried to teach was that vengeance was not Jewish. He had always understood that lesson and what it meant. But Josh was also a man raised to protect those who were innocent. This senseless attack on good people left him with a rage so profound as if to consume him. He came to be at the temple to make a promise to those who were killed, to those who were injured, and to those children who would forever after be afraid of the world. And he came to make this promise to his friend who would wake up tomorrow and wonder if there was something he could have done to prevent this. Josh promised them all that he would not stop until those responsible were made to answer for this atrocity. Josh found a place in the grass and sat. He would stay here tonight and watch over the temple for his friend and for his people.
"There are three of you now." Observed Leo as he entered his front office Monday morning.
The three young women turned from their work as he entered.
"Well, you know us rabbits." Said the young woman who had handed him the note on Saturday.
"I am so sorry. I had no idea that I had said anything like that out loud." Leo’s face got a little red.
"It’s okay, sir. The circumstances of the last few days have certainly been stressful. And in the face of that, you have been quite patient with our ignorance of your expectations. We figured that three of us would be better able to keep up with your needs." She offered him a smile.
"Have you been able to familiarize yourself with Margaret’s computer? I know that Margaret’s set-up is pretty Byzantine. Tech support won’t come near it. She maintains a fairly hostile relationship with those folks."
"Yeah, we talked to her this morning. She told us what we needed to know and then she gave us assignments for the day."
"What?! You talked to her?’ Leo exclaimed. "She couldn’t use the phone yesterday and then the nurses wouldn’t let me come and visit."
"Yeah." Said the young woman. He noticed she and others exchanging looks.
"What do you know? Come on now. I am tired of not knowing what’s going on." Said Leo frowning.
"We don’t really want to get into the middle of anything." Said the young woman uncomfortably. The look he gave her made her take a deep breath. "You know, Margaret went to Bethesda on Friday." He nodded. "And you know she tried to go home against advice. A cabdriver brought her back when she passed out on the way home. They had to put her in intensive care because she wasn’t responding to fever reducers."
"Yeah, I finally got all of that information from you Saturday night."
"Okay, well they broke the fever early Sunday morning and she was moved to a regular room. We went to visit her yesterday. She should be able to go home tomorrow."
"So why am I not allowed to visit?"
"I think she feels bad, sir. She said that the two of you didn’t part on good terms Friday. Then this tragedy happened with Mr. Ziegler." She hesitated a little, looking embarrassed.
"She felt like she added to your burden." Jumped in another young woman. "Instead of being here, making sure you had all of the support you needed, she was at Bethesda with a bug she should have attended to a week ago."
Leo looked stunned.
"It sounds like she’s feeling sorry for herself. Said the third woman. "And I suppose she is a little. But it’s more about letting you down, sir. She’s sort of feeling like she is more trouble than she is worth to you."
"But she sure says a lot of great things about you." Said one of them as if this would help balance the load they were handing him.
"Would you tell her, please, that I want to talk to her. Tell her that… tell her to…just tell her to call me." Leo said humbly.
They nodded at him. He turned around at the door remembering his promise to be more sensitive.
"By the way, what are your names?"
"And I’m Cottontail." Said the first young woman unable to suppress a grin.
"Come on, guys." Said Leo smiling.
"Don’t worry about it. You won’t remember them anyway. We’ve been watching you mangle the names of other people for three days now. Besides, we’re not going to be here that long. "Hey you" will do just fine."
Sam looked up every time someone new came into the Roosevelt Room. He had gotten here early for the briefing. Butterfield indicated that they would actually have something to report this time. He knew that it was not quite 48 hours since the blast, but he was still feeling quite impatient with this whole process. He watched Leo as he entered with his three assistants in tow. He looked a little embarrassed at the spectacle of an entourage, but then he was quite careful to make sure that his assistants all had good seats.
CJ entered with Josh. Sam noted the strain etched in both of their faces. He waved them over to where he was seated.
"Is he here yet?" He hissed at them.
"Who?" Josh said.
"Toby, the First Lady is bringing him to the briefing."
"Get out!" Josh exclaimed with surprise.
"Did you get to see him?" Asked CJ wearing an odd look.
"No, Abby won’t let anyone near him. The only reason I know about this is that she called me early this morning to get some of his work."
"Well, what did she?" Josh was getting impatient.
"Says he’s rested. And that he can leave the hospital today."
"But she’s letting him come straight to work?"
"No, he’s coming to the briefing only. I guess Butterfield has some big news. He sent his people to go to get Toby about an hour ago." At that moment, Toby entered with Ron Butterfield and the First Couple bringing up the rear. Although he was still quite pale, Toby did look much better. He was wearing a sling on his right arm and his cuts had been dressed. Ron steered him to a seat across from them. He gave them a nod as greeting and then sat quietly. Once Jed and Abby Bartlett were seated, Butterfield began.
"I believe that our preliminary findings are going to answer some questions for us although there is no doubt that they will raise others." He looked at the president briefly, unsure where to start.
"This is a little unusual. None of us has been briefed on any of this stuff yet. Ron was ready with a report this morning, but I thought it would be best if we all heard it together. Maybe this will save some time. Keep us all on the same page." Reasoned Bartlett. Sam could tell by Toby’s face that he had no idea what Ron was about to say. Ron began his report by looking at Toby.
"Do you remember that New York Times interview you did about two months ago, right after the gun bill passed?"
Toby nodded at him.
"You said and I quote, "The second amendment is arcane. The circumstances of 250 years ago are not relevant today. The passage of this bill is a first step in bringing the sensibility of the constitution into the 21st century." You went onto to describe militias as a backlash against the growing diversity in this country, the issue of federal intrusion being merely a smokescreen covering up blatant racism. You also said that militias were an insignificant part of this country’s future."
"I remember you telling me that this would come back to haunt me." Said Toby.
"You have always been a fairly controversial figure, Toby. And being Jewish and close to the president is just what these guys are looking for to make you the lead villain. Every time someone reports that you have the president’s ear, your hate mail goes through the roof."
"As it has since the New York Times article."
"So, you are telling me that this bomb happened because of me."
"We got a call from an internet server two hours after the blast." Ron continued, ignoring for the moment, Toby’s loaded statement. "We had been in touch with those folks as you know due to the proliferation of hate on the web. About half an hour after the explosion, a web site went up briefly. The authors of the site indicated that they were responsible for the bombing that killed Toby Ziegler. They put details into the narrative that correspond to our understanding of the type and position of the incendiary device. The rest of the narrative was some rhetoric about preserving white America. Before the site disappeared, it was able to be flag over 1,000 visitors.
"Have you found these…people?" The President said, the anger palpable in his voice.
"No, sir. They are not amateurs. The site was quite well produced and they were able to erase their tracks effectively."
"So, we just wait around to see if they put the site up again?"
"Actually, sir, they put up another one yesterday morning. It was up for an hour only. We were able to preserve the text, but once again they were able to lose us."
"What did this one say?" Josh had an intense look on his face.
"They acknowledge that they weren’t able to kill Toby. They justify that for a while. They talk about their perception of Toby’s influence on the president. And then they put out a call for Toby’s assassination." Ron cleared his throat before saying, "They are offering $20,000 to the person or persons who succeed in that effort."
"People can’t think that they are serious." Exploded Sam.
"Are you kidding, Sam? Half of that special audience is going to believe that there is a reward and the other half don’t care. It’s a dare, a chance to be a martyr to the cause." Josh replied angrily.
"How many hits this time?" The President asked quietly.
"Crap!" Leo slammed his hand down on the table in disgust. Toby was silent through this conversation. He sighed deeply at Leo’s outburst and closed his eyes.
"What’s our next step, Ron?" The President was trying to bring his anger into focus.
"We put Toby into protective custody and the investigation continues."
"What does protective custody mean?" Toby asked warily.
"Well, Toby, we would like to hide you out for a little while. Not for long, hopefully. We are bringing the computers guys from the CIA and we hope to have these assailants in the near future."
"What about the 2,000 other idiots and their friends?" Growled Leo.
"We’re going to have to take this day by day, Leo. These things can change pretty quickly. If we put Toby out of circulation for a while, the focus will undoubtedly shift away from him."
"Sounds like there isn’t much of a choice." The president said resignedly.
"No" Toby said firmly.
"Toby…" Began Jed Bartlett.
"I said no, Mr. President. This is exactly what they want. A couple of guys with explosives and a web site can bring the government of the greatest country in the world to its knees. It’s what they want." Toby was shaking his head firmly.
"We are not going to let you be target practice for a bunch of racist goons. There is no way and no how, Toby." Leo said firmly.
"Good, because I am not interested in dying just now." Toby retorted.
"I am not sure if we can have it both ways." Ron Butterfield said slowly.
"Why not?" Said Josh. "Let’s tell people what is going on. Toby comes to work every day. He still gets to have the president’s ear. We say "Hell no, we’re not backing down" to the entire nation. At night, you guys whisk him off. I bet you dollars to donuts that you guys have a few pretty secure hideouts right in the DC neighborhood."
"With that plan, I could stay in my own apartment." Reasoned Toby.
"Whoa! Whoa! Hold on guys. There may be a couple reasons why I do security and you don’t." Butterfield looked a tad overwhelmed by the impractical ideas coming his direction.
"Ron, we may not be on the right path exactly, but I sure like the idea of showing the nation that we are business as usual despite the threats. Of course, we would need a plan that would not put your people at any undue risk." Said Jed Bartlett urging Ron to use some creativity. Ron looked like he wished he had stayed in bed that morning.
"We might be able to do something, but I am going to need a few concessions. Number one, Toby, your apartment is not acceptable. There is too much window exposure and I don’t want to have to deal with your neighbors. Second, you come to the West Wing every day only. If there is a meeting, they come to you. Everything outside of the West Wing is off limits. We are going to need to up the security for the wing. And finally, the world will know that you are leaving the White House every evening. We are going to have to vary the arrivals and departures every day. Under those circumstances, this thing may be doable." Ron looked at Toby and the president.
Both nodded their consent to the concessions.
"Alright then, I am going to need the day to set this thing up."
Toby looked hopefully at Abby Bartlett who had been quiet through the entire briefing. She responded to his look with a shake of her head.
"Sorry partner, I still own you. The Lincoln bedroom is waiting. I got a handful of pills with your name on them." Sam figured that Abby Bartlett would have made an excellent drill sergeant.
"Hi." CJ had quietly walked over to where Toby was sitting.
He looked at her as she sat down beside him.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing." She added and then felt awkward.
"I will be okay."
"Yeah. You look okay." She summoned what courage she could find and continued. "You’re not responsible for any of what…" She stopped and looked for another way at it. "It’s not your fault. You couldn’t know…" She was at a loss. "Please take it easy on yourself, okay."
"Okay." He said patiently. Abby was there. He looked at CJ once more and then got up and followed the First Lady out the door. CJ dropped her face into her hands and wished for the life of a duck.
"Josh, stop." Said Leo trying to catch his deputy. Josh slowed down so that he was walking alongside his boss.
"I got a thing for you to do. I want you to liaison with the CIA guys that Ron has coming in."
"The computer guys? Leo, I know next to nothing about computers. Wouldn’t you rather have me sitting on the interagency taskforce as the President’s representative? Like we talked about, remember."
"Yeah, I remember. But I am going to sit on that now. I heard a few attitudes last night when they met that I didn’t like."
"I can handle them."
"Yeah, but you are not gonna because I want you with the computer guys." Leo assumed an end to the conversation and walked off. Josh looked after him as left and mumbled something about how he’d like to show Leo what real attitude looked like.
"I picked up these guys about an hour ago. We have them in the sub-basement setting up. They say they have everything, but I am going to give you a couple of guys just in case, they need more equipment." Ron Butterfield was briefing Josh as they headed into the White House basement. Josh offered only a grunt in response.
"Know anything about computers?"
"Yeah, I am an amazing computer genius. Yesterday, I actually accessed my e-mail without technical assistance." Josh grumbled. Ron allowed himself a tiny smirk, although not tiny enough.
"Well, I’m glad that I can be a source of entertainment for you, Butterfield."
"Sorry, Josh, I wasn’t laughing at you. I was thinking about the meeting Leo had last night with all of the enforcement heads. It was really something."
"What the hell happened? Before that meeting, I was working on this investigation. Now I am in the basement taking lunch orders for computer geeks." Exclaimed Josh.
"This is not about you. The events of last night have convinced Leo that some people need a little more quality time with him."
"Well, Butterfield, are you going to spill or what? I deserve to know why I have been sent to White House hell."
"You know, Lester Wills, the head of the CIA."
"One of the weasels left over from the previous administration. The President hasn’t gotten around to replacing him yet."
"Well, he showed up, late, after dodging Leo’s phone calls for the first 24 hours after the blast. He immediately launches into some dinner theatre about what a terrible thing this explosion was. "A blemish on the beautiful face of lady liberty" were his exact words."
"No way." Josh had stopped walking in order to fully engage in Butterfield’s compelling story.
"Then he talks about his friend, Toby and what a great American he is."
"He and Toby hate each other. Toby called him Cold War Wills in front of the Russian ambassador last year."
"Yes, I remember that." Ron was smiling fully now.
"Oh and then he mentions that it shouldn’t be a crime to be Jewish." Butterfield added, clearly enjoying himself.
"Well we should get the Attorney General right on it then." Josh was starting to have some fun himself.
"Anyway, he says that the CIA is all about supporting this investigation. Leo growls that he needed the computer guys yesterday. And then Lester gets all slippery about the important projects these guys are on and how he thinks we can have them some time next week."
"Oh, my God!" Josh burst out passionately. "Tell me Leo stabbed him in the ear with his good pen."
"Close. Leo went nuclear. Told him that he had ten hours to get his best guys over here or he would have him arrested for treason."
"Ooooh, that must rattled poor Lester." Laughed Josh.
"He tried to suggest that Leo didn’t know who he was talking to, but Leo was ignoring him at this point. Right in front of old Lester, he starts asking Stewart Olson from Justice to explore the ins and outs of a treason charge. Olson starts nodding his head up and down and saying that it sure sounds like there might be possibilities. The whole thing ended with Lester capitulating and agreeing to get his guys over here."
"Yeah, but I still don’t get why I am on geek patrol.
"Leo told Lester that the CIA and its stupidity had begun to affect his blood pressure. Said he would be happy to see the computer guys but that’s it. No operatives. Said that if any CIA employees showed their faces at the White House, he wanted them shot. I told him that I was happy to oblige."
"Well, Ron, I have to admit that your thrilling tale has given me some energy for the task ahead."
"Okay, I am going to open the door now. But before I do, I want you to remember that these guys are really brilliant."
The sub-basement was cold, damp, and overwhelmed with fluorescent lighting. Josh blinked as he went in to greet his new charges. They were seated at a conference table looking at him. His eyes went wide and he blinked some more. He hoped that they would think it could all attributed to the lighting. "My God, they have sent us Wayne and Garth’s poor relations." He thought looking over the scruffy, long-haired individuals seated before him.
"Dude!" One of them exclaimed. Josh tried not to wince outwardly.
"Are you our new keeper, man?" Advanced another wearing a Megadeth t-shirt.
"You got any good vending machines around here, Fred?" Completed the third.
"Think brilliant." Ron hissed as he headed back out the gates of hell.