Something Worth Fighting For - part 4
Danny Kincannon watched CJ closely during the press briefing. He had tried to reach her over the last couple of days, but she had avoided most of his phone calls. When he was able to get through, she was distant, almost distracted. Danny wondered how much more trauma she could take. He knew how much she cared about these guys and he remembered how hard the shooting had been on her. She certainly didn’t need to deal with a bombing a short six months later especially if the intended target was Toby. For some time now, Danny had resigned himself to the fact that it would be a long time before CJ Cregg got Toby Ziegler out of her system. He was now at a point where he hoped that there would come a day when she would stop trying.
"I wish she would finish." Growled Toby. He couldn’t stay seated despite Sam’s insistence that he do so. They were watching from CJ’s office so there wasn’t much room for him to rave.
"She’s just doing her job." Josh was trying to soothe Toby.
"I know that! I just don’t like how public she has to be right now." Toby threw Ron Butterfield a glance as if to remind him that the two of them had just spoken of this earlier. Ron looked back at him calmly. The trick with Toby was not to be sucked into his energy when he was like this.
"She’s just about done." Sam had joined the other two in their soothing tones.
"They act as if she should have the investigation file in front of her reading off every last detail."
"It’s what they do." Josh said unnecessarily. He had traded his melodic voice for one of impatience.
"How’s she doing?" For the first time that week, Leo entered a room not looking like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.
"Where’s your harem?" Josh teased.
"I swear to God, Josh, you call them that one more time…" Leo warned giving him the stink eye. Josh tried to keep his smirk under wraps.
"Does Masahi really think she would compromise the whole investigation in order to answer his idiot question!" Toby’s face was red and he was trying to gesture with his bad arm.
"How long has he been like this?" Leo asked Sam.
"Since it started." Sam replied. "I have threatened to get Abby down here, but he just ignores me."
"He knows you’d never do it."
"I would." Sam said indignantly.
"Right, Sam." Leo said sarcastically. "I say we let him re-injure his shoulder. And then we will let Abby tie him to a hospital bed for a week. Then we can have some peace around here." Toby shot them both a look. Leo glared back and Toby went to find a chair.
"Okay, we only have time for two more questions." CJ said. She told them she was only allowed to share a small part of the investigation. However this didn’t stop reporters from asking for a world of information. She wished she could exit to a quiet office instead of the group of colleagues now seated there with Toby no doubt putting on his Blanche Dubois routine complete with melodrama and arm waving.
"Yes, Marilyn, welcome. This is your first question at a press conference, isn’t it?" The young woman from the Real American Magazine smiled back. Everyone had been anxious before she arrived, the Real American being an ultra-conservative rag. But in the month she had been there, she had been nothing but friendly and gracious.
"Thanks, CJ, for the lovely welcome." She said nicely. Danny shifted uncomfortably in his seat. There was something about Marilyn Hooper that had bothered him since the day she first came up to him. Her naive didn’t ring true for him.
"CJ, the readers of the Real American are devastated by the Temple Zion tragedy." She said sympathetically. CJ nodded at her.
"I would like to know if there is concern that this was a provoked attack." She asked in her same gracious tone.
"Excuse me. What sort of provocation could there have been?" CJ seemed bewildered.
"You are aware, of course, that Toby Ziegler made incendiary comments a couple months ago, comments that were quite insulting, threatening, in fact, to some Americans. There was the perception in some corners of this country that Toby Ziegler was declaring war on the heartland. Do you think that these attacks may have resulted in the temple tragedy?" Marilyn looked expectantly up at CJ. A hush fell over the room. Danny tried to channel some good sense in CJ’s direction.
"Marilyn," She was surprised but calm. "Your question is both ridiculous and insulting."
"You have to admit, CJ," She persisted. "That Toby Ziegler has been instrumental on many different fronts in limiting the rights of all Americans."
"You’re talking about gun control, right?" CJ’s voice had an unfamiliar resonance.
"Uh, CJ, I have a question." Danny tried to intervene.
"Sorry, Danny, I got to finish up this one first." She didn’t even break eye contact with Marilyn Hooper during this exchange.
"There are also his attempts to limit a parent’s right to discipline his children as well as school prayer. He has been vocal on all of these fronts. Some Americans in the South and the Midwest think that he brings too much of an Eastern perspective to the White House. It is so tragic that his controversial views should be visited on the innocent lives of his fellow congregants."
"That is enough!" CJ was moving like a freight train. "I have never heard such vile propaganda in my life. You don’t know the first thing about Toby Ziegler and the contribution he makes to this country. He is a man of integrity who fights for all Americans. Where do you get this garbage?"
"CJ, I was told that there was room for all perspectives in this White House." Marilyn said feigning innocence.
"To suggest that he was culpable in the temple bombing is just stupid." CJ was beginning to forget herself. "Toby Ziegler is probably the best man I will ever know."
"Oh my God! Get her out of there!" Toby was up and trying to get to the pressroom. Ron Butterfield was at the doorway in a flash. Leo looked up from a phone call he had taken.
"Outta my way." Toby said in a sinister voice.
"It is not a secured area, Toby. It’s not going to happen." Ron looked at him steadily.
"Sam!" Toby yelled.
"Leave her alone. She’s defending you for God’s sake." Said an irritated Josh.
"Sam," Toby cried again, "Please tell me you understand what’s happening out there?"
"I’ll get her, Toby." Sam was out the door and running.
"That was a trap." Toby tried to explain with wild eyes. "The Far Right. They want her frazzled. They want her to be defensive. Her defense will be the sound bite across the whole country this evening. Only it won’t sound like a defense by the time it gets on the air. It will be a ranting against the Right. "
"Sam’s got her." Leo was off the phone and by his side, trying to calm him. On the screen, there was CJ finishing abruptly after a signal from a clearly visible Sam. Josh had understood Toby’s concern by this point and he too watched the screen anxiously. Then came the yelling.
"Carol!" They heard a familiar female voice coming down the hall. "You get her on her broom and off the grounds in ten minutes! I swear to God that if I see her again…"
"And if she wants to speak with you?" Her assistant interrupted in an effort to slow down her angry boss who had not sought the privacy of an office for this conversation.
"You tell her that she and I just finished the last conversation we will ever have!" Sounded the hallway.
"She’s coming." Said Sam unnecessarily as he arrived back at the office a few seconds ahead of his angry colleague.
"Could you believe that!" CJ came in flushed and upset.
"You okay, CJ?" Josh asked.
"That was unbelievable!" She replied, her hands shaking slightly.
"It was an ambush, CJ." Toby was looking at her intently.
"Don’t you think I know that." CJ was pacing back and forth.
"Sit down, CJ. Let’s figure this thing out." Leo said calmly. CJ deposited herself against a wall. Leo could see that she wasn’t about to sit anywhere.
"CJ, you let her get to you…" Toby began.
"Don’t start, Toby! For once, don’t start." CJ was taking deep breaths. Toby got quiet and just looked at her.
"I know what happened. I saw it happening and I couldn’t stop myself."
"And the whole world saw it. This puts you at such risk…" Toby persisted.
"Would you stop! Don’t I get any points for defending you? Can’t that mean something to you?"
"CJ," Toby said softly. "Protecting me is not what you should be doing. You can’t win at it. You must see that. Your exchange has done two things. It has given the Radical Right ammunition against us. And it has propelled you into the spotlight."
"I know that. Do you think I am an idiot?"
"I do not."
"All right. Let’s move to damage control. Josh, Sam, what do you think?" Leo was looking for focus.
"If we lay low, this is gone in a couple of days. For the rest of the week, we do shorter briefings, only go to questions from people we know and can predict." Suggested Sam.
"I say we talk to the shows, give them the tape, let them see the context for CJ’s outburst." Interjected Josh.
"No, definitely not. They will want to debate us. The conversation will escalate. It will get too big. That tape will replay all day long for two weeks at least." Sam was shaking his head. CJ sighed at the thought of her fight being broadcast repeatedly over network and cable TV.
"I agree." Toby said.
"We should talk about security issues." Ron added firmly. "CJ, there will probably be a lot of people discussing the meaning of the passion you displayed in there."
"A colleague was being maligned publicly and unfairly. I was defending him. What is there to discuss?" Said CJ. Josh exchanged a meaningful look with Sam.
"Some people might interpret that energy differently. It’s not such a good thing to be linked to Toby right now." Ron tried to sound smooth under CJ’s defensive glare.
"He’s right, CJ. That fight puts you at risk. You need protection." Toby added.
"No! No way! You are not going to Salman Rushdie me. It’s not going to happen. Toby, you are the one they want to hurt." CJ regretted her comment the minute she saw the look in Toby’s eyes.
"We should take precautions." Ron said firmly.
"Okay, let’s talk about what is reasonable. Everyone knows that Toby is under your protection. If you do that with me too without knowing if it is warranted, this whole place will look like it’s under siege. I don’t think we’re ready to put out the message that we are under attack, are we?" CJ looked around the room.
"What do you think, Ron?" Said Leo.
"We will watch for reaction." Said Ron carefully. "In the meantime, CJ, you go home and you go to work. That’s all. We’ll give you a panic button. You use it if you see anything suspicious."
"I’ll do it." She said firmly looking at the men in the room. "Now, if you will excuse me, I better make sure that a certain reporter has been shoved out the door on her ass." With that, she turned and left the room. Leo gave Josh a quick sign. He immediately trotted after her. Nobody wanted to risk another exchange between CJ and her new archenemy.
"I don’t like it." Toby growled menacingly.
"Yeah, well you tell me one likable thing about this entire week." Leo shot back before walking off to deal with the other screwed up situation in his life.
"Fun time at the monkey museum." Josh thought as he looked over his geniuses. When he had arrived Tuesday morning, they were sprawled on the leather couches in the corner of the old conference room. He had tried to roust them but they weren’t having it. They told him they had been hunting all night. "The best prey comes out at night, Fred." They reasoned with him. He let them sleep during the day and returned later in the afternoon after the press briefing fiasco to find them lounging among countless Hostess cupcake wrappers and pizza boxes.
Bob, Rupert, and Red Eye were their names. He continued to be Fred despite numerous attempts at correction. They weren’t interested in going anywhere and seemed content to just set up camp in the back of the room. For a while he had suspected that Lester was having a little fun with them. Maybe he had sent a few guys from the Salvation Army. But there was something about them that suggested to Josh that they could coast through anything he could send their direction. Despite his menacing moniker, Red Eye looked to be the most familiar with the concept of hygiene and so he was the one to whom Josh directed most of his comments.
"How’s it going, guys?" He asked warily.
"Well, Fred, the accommodations are stellar and the take-out is superlative. This whole experience thus far is a definite thumbs up." Returned Red Eye as he flicked Twinkie wrappers off his chest.
"How’s work?" Josh clarified.
"Nothing solid, Fred. But we got ideas." Red Eye gave him an amused glance.
"Tonight’s the night, Fred. I can feel it." Bob added, looking at Josh through a tangled mop of curly hair.
"Okay, but what have you accomplished? What are you doing?" Josh asked impatiently.
"We are tracking, Fred. We are retrieving code. We are looking for a trail to follow. We are in chat rooms looking for names that correspond with the transcripts we have made of the Toby sites." Red Eye looked at Josh defiantly, "So, Fred, besides hooking us up with the always quality Dominoes Pizza, what are you doing?"
"Protecting the interests of the President of the United States of America." Josh looked right back at him. Rupert gave him a nod as if to acknowledge that he might not be the complete imbecile they originally thought he was.
"And making sure that you guys come as advertised and aren’t sitting down here playing solitaire all day." Added Josh ruining, in that moment, the beautiful connection that had been forming.
"Not the dreaded solitaire." Deadpanned Bob.
"Well, you know, Fred. That is a very legitimate concern." Red Eye said mockingly.
"You know, I helped developed the most sophisticated game software in the industry today. You heard of Lady Bond, Star Tech, maybe Jungle Fury?" Said Rupert rattling off some of the most popular titles on the software games market.
Josh didn’t move a muscle.
"I tell you this, Fred, because all of that technology is nothing compared to the crafty simplicity of solitaire." Rupert was wading through the wrappers in search of his computer.
"Yeah, we’re like addicts. And now that you know our secret, we might as well give in to the sickness." Bob piped in. He sidled over to where Rupert was.
"Solitaire looms large in our reality, Fred." Red Eye said as he joined them. Josh imagined that they were now about to play a round of the dreaded game for his benefit. He more than suspected that these three were a monumental waste of his time.
"Can I pick the deck? Let’s get flowers."
"How does the design of this thing work?"
"Let’s rig it so that the queens annihilate kings of the same suit."
"Yeah, and let’s add some traps. All diamonds explode if they come in contact with odd numbered spades."
"Where’s Fred going?" Bob asked innocently.
"Margaret? How are you? Are you resting comfortably at home?…I am not angry, you know….Well you couldn’t have known….They are doing fine. Although, it is a little unwieldy to have three women following me all day long…I would, but they seem to do better if they travel as a pack…Yes, I’ll tell them. Margaret, when you are coming back?….Where do you get that idea? I am not doing fine….Josh calls them a harem and all three of them together don’t get as much done as you do all by yourself…Yes, I have punished Josh, but you didn’t answer my question?…I don’t want another assistant, Margaret. You are the best…Well, sure, you annoy me…Everybody annoys me, Margaret! Just yesterday, I yelled at the President…I know I shouldn’t…Well, there is no need for an apology, he understood…All right, I will tell him that I should not have let my frustrations out on him, okay…Is next week too soon?…Do you need anything, some soup, maybe?…Do you need magazines?…Okay, okay. But you’ll come back Monday if you are feeling better…Take care, Margaret…Hey, Margaret… I miss you. Good-bye."
"A gilded cage" would be a good way to describe this place." Thought Toby as he looked around his cavernous suite. There were several bedrooms and baths. The living room was incredible. He had anticipated a cheap hotel room somewhere, but the Secret Service had other plans. Initially, he had objected, worried about the cost to taxpayers. But Butterfield had assured him that this location was perfect. It was the penthouse floor of an area hotel and could be easily defended. Ron told him that the cost to taxpayers would be greatly increased if they had a less secure location and lives were lost as a result. Toby vowed to ask no more security questions after that. He would have to put up with his luxurious digs.
Despite the swank surroundings, Toby didn’t look forward to his evenings here. It was only his second night there, but he already felt trapped and lonely. There was a phone he could use, but he couldn’t get over that fact that it was monitored for bugs by the agents stationed outside his door. He just did his work and waited for the time to pass. Part of his work was a nightly look at the news shows. Some people might see it as relaxing, but Toby saw it as a chore. He hated the news shows especially if they did analysis. Invariably, he was watching people who billed themselves as Washington insiders who postured and competed for sound bites. He generally did other work in front of the tube and gave it his attention only if someone was spectacularly stupid with their analysis.
This evening he was a little more diligent. He wanted to know what they would have to say about today’s press briefing. So far, they had been pretty objective. CNN had fairly included Hooper’s questions and background with their report. Crossfire had focused most of their time on the investigation. They didn’t even dignify the idea that Toby was responsible for deaths. He worried more when he moved to some of the cable shows. They tended to be a little more off the wall. Most of the panel was unknown to him. Then he winced when he saw Senator Albert Fallschurch on Geraldo. Most senators wouldn’t appear on such a show, but Fallschurch was a different matter. He made Jesse Helms look like a reasonable man. He had been around forever. Most people took him with a grain of salt and he was generally not invited to appear on the serious news programs. He squinted at the TV with one eye as he waited for Fallschurch to say something outrageous. But Toby was in for a surprise. There was a young man on the panel who was identified as Robert Edwards from a group called Promised Americans. He was waving a sheaf of papers in his hand claiming them as evidence. Geraldo was looking a little shell-shocked and Fallschurch was scowling at the young man who had stolen his spotlight.
"Ziegler has been an enemy of the state for years," He proclaimed with satisfaction. "Here are affidavits of people who remember his days as a communist."
"Of course, Ziegler was a communist. The whole West Wing is littered with ne’er do wells. I have had documents proving this for years." Fallschurch had adopted an irritated tone with the young man as he tried to reclaim the attention from him. Toby shook his head a little. Fallschurch wasn’t even lying well. He hadn’t even heard of most of the staff until last year. Toby tried to concentrate on the paperwork in front of him. They weren’t saying anything he hadn’t heard for the last two years.
"And we now can go public with evidence we have had for some time that Ziegler is having an affair with CJ Cregg. He controls her. We have evidence that he used her to break up his marriage to Congressman Andrea Wyatt." Edwards was waving different papers now. Toby jerked his head up at the TV.
"Today, she let her feelings show." Edwards continued cuing a tape that showed only CJ, red-faced and yelling that Toby was the best man she will ever know. Fallschurch was wide-eyed as he pondered the direction that TV politics had taken. Geraldo attempted to bring the show back to a more acceptable state of sensationalism.
"What do their private lives have to do with anything?" Geraldo suggested reasonably.
"Ziegler is a smart man." Toby noticed that Edwards never used his first name. "CJ Cregg is a pawn in his game. He controls her in bed. He controls her in front of the cameras. You saw that today. We have another clip that shows one of his lackeys, Sam Seaborn, effectively pulling her off the stage when she allowed an American to speak…."
Toby shut off the TV. He felt sick to his stomach. It was maddening to have CJ used as a victim in the game against him. He wondered if she had seen this. He wondered if the people who wanted him dead had seen this. He grabbed for the phone.
CJ sat there with the remote in her hand, her mouth wide-open. This had just played on national TV. She wondered if Toby had seen it and reached for the phone to call him. Then she remembered that she couldn’t. She didn’t have the number to his safe house. She had been vilified on TV before for her work as a press secretary. But this was different. She felt violated. He had spoken of her private life. He had called her a pawn. He had referred to her as if she was a whore. In front of everyone, he had done this thing. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. She needed space. She got up and her stomach lurched. She ran for the bathroom.
Toby called her three times on her home phone before giving up. He had tried her cell and her pager. No response anywhere. He tried to stay calm. His first call had been to Butterfield telling him of the TV spectacle. He figured this would convince him of the increased risk. He was right. Butterfield arranged for agents to go to her house. Now he prayed that the agents got there in time. He hoped that there was a simple explanation for her ringing phones. A wave of frustration and fear surged through him. He grabbed the phone and threw it at the TV.
Josh worked his way into the sub-basement. He was livid. It was 2 a.m. and these jokers were going to play a little game with him. Having the Secret Service wake him out of his bed would be just their speed. It was his plan to kick them out of the White House and onto the street. Then Leo could make arrangements to have Lester Wills executed. He opened the door prepared to begin his tirade. The lights were down so low that he could barely make them out at the conference table. They were all hunched in front of one of the computer screens, the blue light from the screen illuminating them. Rupert saw him enter and ran over.
"We found it, Man. The site is active and we are logged on." He was urgently pulling Josh over to the table.
"You are not going to believe this, Fred." Said Red Eye looking up.