Something Worth Fighting For - part 5
Josh was trying to breathe in short bursts. His rage was threatening to get the better of him and he needed his head for the hours to come. The Secret Service had let him into the Oval Office to wait for the president and everyone else he had woken at four in the morning.
He had sat with his guys for an hour in front of the computer reading the information on the website before it had disappeared. Red Eye had determined that the site was coming from several false addresses and so there was no place to send enforcement at the moment. That didnít stop them from gathering information and tracking addresses. He had called Butterfield to inform him of the site. Thatís when he heard that CJ was missing. That in conjunction with what he was reading on the site was horrifying. He got on the phone and woke everyone.
As he paced, they stumbled in one by one. Sam came in a t-shirt and jeans. Leo and the President came in together, Leo having collected him from the residence. Toby and Ron came in through the side door almost simultaneously. Toby still wore yesterdayís suit.
"Have you found her?í Josh pounced on Ron and Toby.
"No." He said darkly.
"What do you know, Ron?" The President asked grimly.
"Toby tried to reach her at 11 p.m. and she was not answering her phone. I had already dispatched agents due to the news coverage focused on her. The agents did not find her at home. They did find her car parked in its usual space. There was no sign of forced entry to the home. We have no information of any foul play." He said looking at the President.
"Nevertheless, she should be at home." The President replied.
"Yes, sir. It was agreed upon that she would not leave her home."
"Does anyone in this room know where she would go at 11 p.m. at night without her car?" The President asked the assembled. Everyone shook their heads in response.
"So she could be out jogging or a friend could have picked her up." The President reasoned.
"Itís four in the morning, sir. Sheís not out jogging." Sam said anxiously.
"You have news about a new web site." The President had turned his attention to Josh.
"Itís the same site, actually. It has been updated and it was up for two hours this morning."
"Same old garbage." Leo growled.
"And some new stuff. The price on Tobyís head continues. There is propaganda related to that. Then there is a video clip of the press briefing. A chat room was opened briefly, maybe fifteen minutes, and they discussed Toby and the video clip."
"Is there something you would like not to tell us?" Queried The President.
"They said some pretty rough things about CJ." Josh said slowly.
"What kinds of things?" Tobyís eyes looked feverish.
"Mostly things they wouldnít follow through with." Josh tried to minimize the impact. "They didnít talk about killing her. It was bravado, really."
"Tell us, Josh." Leo said sternly.
"They talked about what they would do if they had a woman who was being controlled by someone else. They talked about kidnap and assault. I am telling you guys, it was mostly a bunch of dick waving." His information was greeted with silence. The energy in the room was at a point of combustion. Everyone in that room felt as close to CJ as if she was a member of their own family. Indeed, all of them in that room were a family. The idea that strange men were discussing her in this way choked them with outrage."
"Ron, your people are out looking for CJ?" The President was controlling his voice. "You have notified everyone you can for this?"
"Yes, sir. Although, we have not put out an APB. That would alert the press. Though at this point, I am not so worried about the press and we would issue one, but we have no description of anything for them to find, except a six foot tall woman. It really wonít be much help."
During all of this, the men in the room had withdrawn into themselves looking for ways to control their rage. Sam was pacing back and forth. Toby surprised him. He seemed so calm. And for once, he wasnít even fidgeting. He stood silently at the French doors and looked out onto the courtyard.
"What have we not thought of, Ron?" The President was famous for his ability to focus at times like these.
"We should make a list of friends, anyone she talks to on a regular basis. She may have needed someone for support. I am assuming that she may have seen the theatrics on TV last night. We will wake everyone up. Oh and her assistant, Carol, she might know something."
"Sam," Leo began. "Get Carol in here. Toby, you and Josh make a list of everyone she knows. Get your people in here. They can help us with phone calls."
Everyone went into action, grateful for the chance to direct their considerable energies.
CJ hoped that it was still too early for her to run into anyone as she moved quietly through the dark early morning hallways of the West Wing. She was still wearing last nightís running gear. She looked down at her watch. It was 6:15 a.m. She was sure that she had time. On Wednesdays, Leo didnít start staff meeting until 9 a.m. So it was sort of a sleep-in day for everyone. She would run in and grab her pager. If there were no messages, she could go home for a quick shower and a change. No one would have to know that she forgot her pager again.
As she passed the communications area, she saw Bonnie and Ginger already at their desks talking on phones. She shook her head as she snuck past. "Toby really works them too hard." She thought. She turned the corner to her own office and ran right into Donna. Donna yelped and blinked at her. Then she pulled her into a big bear hug.
"Oh, my God, CJ. We were so worried." CJ had trouble untangling herself from the excited Donna.
"What the hell is going on here?"
"Youíre okay. Thatís all that matters now." Donna said, head nodding supportively.
"Why wouldnít I be okay? Have something happened? Why is everyone at work this early? Donna, whatís going on?"
"CJ, they have been looking for you all night long. Right now, Carol is at your house helping the agents determine if all of your things are intact. They are looking for clues to your disappearance." Donna said pulling CJ into her office and closing the door. Donna took a few minutes to fill her in on the events of the last seven hours. CJ took a few minutes to collect herself after Donnaís narrative. While she was upset about the web site they had found, she was even more horrified that her friends and colleagues had been up all night frantic for her safety. She took a couple of deep breaths and headed for the Oval Office.
She was intercepted before she even got through the door. First Sam was pulling her in. Then Josh hugged her so tightly, she started to choke. Leo was there trying to pry her enthusiastic colleagues off her. The President stepped in and held her briefly. Her eyes searched the room and found Toby. He was still standing away from everyone clutching a curtain from one of the French doors in his good hand. For a moment, he looked unsteady. Then he moved toward her awkwardly. He stood before her, careful to not get too close. He was afraid that with one wrong step, he would betray everything that he had held privately for so long. At last, he reached his hand up to her face and rested it on her cheek. Looking into his eyes, her hand joined his.
"CJ," Donna was at the door. "Danny is wondering if he should wait for you or if he should go." Toby dropped his hand back to his side. The moment was shattered. CJ closed her eyes briefly and sighed.
"Please tell him that I am going to have to stay. Thank him for waiting."
"CJ, where were you all night?" The President had adopted a stern, "you are about to be grounded" tone with her.
"I am so sorry. This is all my fault." She was starting to feel overwhelmed.
"CJ, come here and sit down. We just want to know what happened." Leo was gently leading her to a couch.
"I saw such garbage on the TV last night. I got upset. This man was speaking about me as ifÖ well, it was bad. I needed to do something. I couldnít reach Toby." She looked at him briefly before continuing. "I was going to explode. So I went running."
"For seven hours?" Josh looked skeptical.
"After an hour, I realized that I had run too far. I called Danny. He lives nearby. He came and picked me up. I wasnít ready to go home. We sat in Jefferson square and we talked." She imagined their thoughts and hurried to explain. "Weíre friends, nothing more. I know that having this friendship is risky considering the roles we play in the pressroom every day. I donít know. I suppose I should have called one of you. When I realized that my pager was at the office, and I thought about the craziness of this week. I asked Danny to bring me to the White House right away so I wouldnít out of contact with you."
"CJ, where was your cell phone?" Sam asked.
"Marilyn Hooper called me yesterday after the briefing. She wanted to gloat or something." CJ paused as if embarrassed. "I guess my cell phone sort had an accident with the wall."
"And your panic button?" Sam continued.
"In my desk." She softly admitted.
There was silence for a minute. The President surveyed his people. He had been through so much with them. The campaign had brought them together. The White House had solidified their connection to one another. And the last six months had made them a family. He knew what he had to do.
"CJ, you are going into protective custody." He said firmly.
"Sir, I realize that I screwed up. I wasnít thinkingÖ."
"Weíre not discussing this, CJ. This is not a decision I am asking you to ponder. I am making it for you. We have tempted fate one too many times. I canít pace this office one more night wondering if you or Toby or someone else in this room has been killed or maimed or whatever. I wonít do it. Your life is not just your concern. It is the concern of everyone in this room."
"I am really sorry." CJ said with tears building in her eyes. Jed Bartlett put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to him.
Toby took every opportunity to glare at Sam as they walked down the hall together. Sam was pretending not to notice. He was pretty pleased with himself. He considered his idea a thing of beauty. Others considered it that as well. The fact that Toby was not yet able to see its simple elegance didnít detract from his pride.
"Did someone ask you to open your big mouth?" Shot an irritated Toby.
"No, but thatís me. I always take initiative." Sam answered cheerfully. "Itís one of the best things about me."
"This is a bad idea. It will bring nothing but trouble."
"You could have fought against it harder."
"It has everything, Toby. Itís easier for the Secret Service. It costs the taxpayers less money. It is better use of all that space you keep telling me about. You can prepare briefings with CJ all evening long if you want. And the President really liked it." Sam smiled at him and then added. "I think that Ron Butterfield has a new level of respect for me."
"Sharing a safe house with CJ is not such a smart thing for me to do." Toby mumbled.
"It will be good for you."
"Do you know what I want to do to you right now?"
"Donít tell me. Let me guess. You want to gut me like a fish and hang my entrails on your office door."
"Whereíd you get that? Iíve never said anything that graphic to you before." Toby made a disgusted face at Sam.
"Donít you remember the time that I accidentally gave the President the Republican Womenís speech to read at the National Organization of Women luncheon?"
"Oh, my God. I had blocked that out because of its traumatic nature."
"Both speeches were for women. Itís not like the sky fell or anything. Only half the room walked out. And the women who stormed the podium were easily subdued. Toby, where you going? Toby, I promise you, we are going to laugh about this one day. Hey, wait up."
"Exactly, why am I coming with you again?" Donna was walking fast to keep with her boss as he strode through the hallways of the White House netherworld.
"Donna, Iíve explained this to you six times already. The FBI doesnít care about my guys. They say they got their own guys working on-line. They say my guys are rogues and criminals and they donít want anything to do with them. They want me to give them back to Lester."
"So, letís do that."
"My guys found the web site before their guys. My guys didnít get kicked out of the chat room either. Plus the feebs are tying this thing to some other related thing where they got deep cover and theyíre going to "slowly infiltrate their organization." Josh said mimicking the FBI directorís words.
"Well they probably donít want you interfering."
"Iím not interfering. My guys and I are going to make sure that information isnít overlooked and so forth. Besides Leo and Butterfield know what Iím up to." He added a "sorta," under his breath.
"But I am here for what reason?" Donna persisted.
"Because you are my assistant and I have determined that you will assist me in this endeavor."
"Okay, now Iím clear." Donna said rolling her eyes.
They entered the sub-basement and found Joshís guys laying on the conference table blowing gum at the ceiling. Somehow, they had managed to paint a crude bulls-eye up there. Red Eye spotted them amid razzing Bob who had just missed the ceiling completely.
"Hey Fred." He called. Donna looked at Josh. All three were pulling themselves upright onto the table.
"Hey, whoís the hot momma?" Rupert exclaimed getting a good look at Donna.
"What a nice little twinkie you brought there, Fred." Red Eye observed.
"These guys not get out much?" Donna looked at Josh.
"Sheís just like Pamela Lee except with pearls and real boobs." Bob was staring rudely.
"Hey!" Josh thundered. "Show a little respect. I swear to God. Someone should put you animals in a cage and just throw away the key."
"They already did throw away the key. Why do you think we work for the CIA?" Red Eye retorted.
"This is my assistant, Donnatella Moss. She is here to help us out, unless, of course, she is harassed or objectified in any way. Do you understand?"
"Uh, sorry Miss Moss." Rupert ventured.
"Call me Donna, guys." Josh gave her an admiring look. She wasnít even the least intimidated by these Neanderthals.
"Just for you to know, sheís way too classy for the likes of any of you." Josh was marking his territory.
"Then whyís she hanging out with a specimen like yourself?" Bob challenged.
"Donna says Iím a project." Josh declared.
"Well, I want to be a project too." Bob pouted.
"Believe me guys, Fred is more than enough of a project for any one person." Donna explained.
Toby winced again as more pain shot through his shoulder. He tried to write carefully with his right hand, but he was tired and his shoulder was aching with a pounding intensity. In addition to that, Toby was having no luck writing the Presidentís speech for the Governorís conference. He had been writing the same paragraph for the last hour and it still sounded lousy. He finally threw down his pen and legal pad in disgust. It was gearing up to be another miserable night at Chez Safehouse. "What a perfect ending to a perfect day." He murmured, staring at the TV screen he had shattered last night with the phone. The agents had wanted to have it replaced, but he assured them that it would be sometime before he would want to turn on a television set again. Besides, as punishment for the safehouse idea, he had given Sam the responsibility of watching all the political shows.
He glanced over to the door farthest from his bedroom. CJ was in there. She had claimed it as hers shortly after arriving. She had been silent all the way over from the White House. She still felt bad about the crisis of the night previous and had apologized repeatedly to people throughout the day. Even the palatial accommodations hadnít sparked conversation from her.She had just dragged her things into her room, muttered good night, and shut herself in.
Toby knew he should probably do the same. He hadnít had any sleep last night and he knew that Abby Bartlett stalked him daily with her blood pressure cuff. But it had been a hard day, and he was feeling far too morose to do anything as refreshing as go to sleep.
Today had been the funeral for the four people killed in the explosion. All of them had a service together at Mount Sinai, another synagogue in the DC area. It had been a huge gathering. News reports estimated 20,000 people in and around the temple. Due to his situation, Toby hadnít been able to attend. He still felt that he should have been there. The only thing that calmed him was the fact that everyone was safer with him absent.
He had called all of the families. Every one of them had been kind to him despite their own pain and possible questions. He marveled at the capacity of their spirit to be so gracious with him under such circumstances. It turned out that Alexandra Wise had only one close living relative, a grandson named Russell Strong. He had been the hardest family member to reach. From the obituary, Toby learned that Russell did street outreach with homeless youth. He was finally able to find him through an agency for runaways. Russell had been quiet through most of the call. Then he thanked Toby and hung up. Toby kept replaying the phone call in his head. He wondered what the young man was not saying out loud to him. He pondered this last thought as he laid his head back on the living room sofa and closed his eyes.
The words on the downloaded material were beginning to blur again. Reading all of this hate had left her with a dull, persistent headache. Donna looked down at her watch and realized that she had been at this for 8 hours straight. She looked over at Josh and he was still fiercely concentrating on his sheaf of material. He didnít even act tired. It amazed her sometimes that he could focus like this. She imagined that most people were pretty willing to write him off as nothing more than a bulldog for the President. He was always so quick to jump into whatever fight was at the ready. However, the truth about Josh was a great deal more complex than that. He was impulsive to be sure. But he was also fierce and persistent. She knew that he would doggedly pursue this injustice to a satisfactory conclusion no matter how long or how much work it took. She smiled a little to herself and thought about what a good man he was.
She sighed and prepared to bury herself once again in the transcripts of chat room conversation that the guys had downloaded. They had followed a few of the screen names from the Toby chat room to Hate chat rooms around the web. They hoped that one or all of the perpetrators were spending time on-line listening in to the commentary on their exploits. They would not be so obvious as to actually admit culpability, but they might reveal something in other comments. Eight hours into it, Donna was still shuddering when she read some of the cruel and ignorant commentary that came off these sites. She thought she would read at least some opposition to the viciousness of some of the comments, but there was nothing other than fawning praise for the temple murderers. Her faith in humanity had taken a step backward since she had begun reading on this day. Her attempt to return to the transcript was interrupted by shouts from the guys who were clustered around computers at the other end of the conference table.
"Fred, the FBI is un-fucking-believable." Red Eye shouted. Bob slapped him upside the back of the head as a reminder that there was a lady in the room. Bob believed that Donnaís presence was tenuous at best, and he was willing to risk nothing in his fervent hope that she stay.
"What do you got?" Josh said looking up.
"We found the FBI deep cover." Rupert reported with satisfaction.
"How could you have done that?" Donna was puzzled.
"We have been tracking the most virulent of the screen names all day long. There are two, Rriot921 and Hadenough, that we had some trouble following." Said Red Eye.
"But not so much trouble that we couldnít do it." Bob said defiantly.
"These guys are feds." Red Eye said.
"How do you know?" Said Josh.
"Because they are using government computers. As we speak, they are probably sitting in a basement over at Quantico." Said Rupert.
"No way, guys. The feds are not that dumb. Thereís no way that they would be that clumsy." Josh was unwilling to accept this. The three hackers gave each other a look.
"Fred, trust us on this. We have first hand experience both being tracked by and tracking for your illustrious government." Said Red Eye.
"The trouble with the feds is not that they are dumb. Itís that they assume that everyone else is. You should see the stupid things we are asked to do and they think no one will figure it out. Read some of this chat room stuff they participated in. Itís like they assume that you canít hate unless your IQ is under 90 points. Who the hell do they think that they are going to attract with phrases like, "I would do anything to protect my mother country. I am a foot soldier waiting for orders." Rupert was giving Josh a pointed look. Josh shook his head in disgust.
"You know, there is a lot of that on these sites. The really ignorant stuff, I mean." Donna said. Everyone looked at her. It was clear she was thinking something. They waited for her to finish her thought.
"If they are watching and reading, I wonder how they sift through all of the ignorance. I mean, we know that they are probably really smart guys. The FBI says that the bomb was pretty sophisticated. And they were able to convince the janitor that they were there on Rabbi Glassmanís orders to evaluate the wood for refinishing." Everyone continued to stare at her. Donna knew she would lose them soon. She tried to come to the point.
"It just seems like if they only want to hear praise, they have had several days of the same insipid comments. And they havenít bitten on any of them. What if they heard something new? Sort of like, you know, how David Duke was new." She looked around and could tell that they were intrigued but confused. "Remember when David Duke remade himself?"
"Yeah, I remember when he ran for the senate. He had a whole new face and everything." Bob was trying to help the lovely Donna.
"He looked like a cross between Bo Derek and George Hamilton. It was weird to see him like that after all his years as a pasty-faced KKK leader." Offered Rupert.
"Okay, my point is this. He reinvented himself. He dropped the obvious rhetoric. He disconnected himself from everything that was perceived as ignorant. He even pretended he didnít know anybody in the KKK. Denied pictures of himself in robes and everything."
"Where are you going with this, Donna?" Josh wondered.
"Maybe our bad guys have a little David Duke in them."
"They are reinventing themselves?"
"No, more like they are too good for most of what defines white supremacy. They are above that. They donít need to reach out to the rednecks. They donít need them. Just like David Duke pretended he didnít need them. Maybe they are a little arrogant. Waiting for something worth responding to?"
"Okay, I get it. These guys havenít been challenged in any meaningful way."
"So how do we challenge them?" Asked Red Eye.
"Well, you know, arrogant guys can never seem to resist other arrogant people. They get all competitive. Canít disengage." Donna snuck a quick look at her oblivious boss. The others took her cue and rested their eyes on Josh as well.
"Wait a minute, would you all be implying that I am arrogant." Josh gave them offended.
"No, gumdrop, not really." Donna was at her most saccharine. "But your ego can be awfully healthy at times. And that is probably the best we can do at the moment."
"Fred, it is our collective opinion that you fit the bill for this assignment." Red Eye announced.
"Well, thanks everybody." Josh muttered darkly.
"Now, donít tell me that you are not itching for a crack at these idiots, Mr. Fullbright Scholar. I am 100% sure that if anyone could shake these guys out of the trees, it would you." Donna was applying deep verbal massage.
"I have never been in a chat room." Joshís capitulation was almost complete.
"We got you covered there, Fred. You do the talking, we do anything technical." Bob assured him.
"Alright, letís get to work. Weíre going to need reference material. Can you get download Mein Kampf and whatever writings there are by George Lincoln Rockwell? Great. Oh, and the Turner Diaries, I need a copy of that. Donna, you are going to have to be my resource person." He motioned for her to sit next to him at the monitor. "Okay, Donnatella," He whispered to her as she sat down. "letís see exactly what sort of monster you have created." He winked at her and gave her a playful push.