Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Warning: Themes of violence.
Schemes, Schemes, and more Schemes
"Hey you two, I need to talk to you," Toby said in a conspiratorial tone. He motioned them into his office. Bonnie and Ginger exchanged confused looks and followed him into his office. Toby closed the door behind him and began to pace.
"I need a favor," he announced finally looking at them out of the corner of his eye.
"Okay," Ginger said hesitantly.
"But you donít have to do it. Itís not a job related thing. There is absolutely no obligation. Do you understand?" he imparted emphatically.
"Toby, what do you want us to do?" Bonnie asked impatiently.
"You can say no," he responded.
"Toby!" Bonnie shouted in exasperation. "What do you want?"
"I want you to take a long lunch today, a very long lunch in fact," he informed them.
"What!" they replied in unison.
"And I want you to use my cash card," he insisted.
"Toby, you should sit down. Take a deep breath. You have been under extraordinary pressure lately. Weíre going to make a couple of phone calls. Donít touch anything. Weíre going to be right back," Bonnie said slowly as she offered her instructions.
"Huh? What? You think Iím crazy? I absolutely could not be doing a nice thing, is that it?" Toby challenged them.
"Well, this is a little out of character," Ginger suggested.
"A lot out of character," Bonnie clarified.
"Iím disappointed. Iím shocked. Iím hurt," Toby claimed.
"Youíll get over it," Ginger replied.
"What do you really want?" Bonnie insisted.
"Okay, well I do want you to take the long lunch and to use my cash card, but I need you to do a few other things as well," he admitted.
"Well that certainly is a surprise," Bonnie announced sarcastically.
"Give us the gory details, Toby," Ginger said, her arms folded across her chest.
"Okay, gather Ďround my most trusted and valuable assistants. This is top secret stuff. I am going to need your utmost discretion on this. I know that I can count on you two above all others to complete this mission." Bonnie rolled her eyes while Ginger emitted a deep sigh.
"Promise us that we donít have to kill, maim, steal, sell ourselves, or commit espionage," Ginger said in response.
"Iím wounded," Toby gave them a look of mock hurt. "How can you think those things of me? Besides youíll like this. I promise. Here are the details. Oh, and by the way, remind me that I need to talk to Carol. I have a thing for her too." He finished cryptically before he began to outline his latest scheme.
"Hello, Mrs. Landingham," Margaret said brightly as she stood before the Presidentís Secretary.
"Hello Margaret," said the older woman peering at her from over her glasses.
"You are looking quite nice today, Maíam. That tan blouse really sets off your hair," continued Margaret in an unnaturally sunny tone.
Mrs. Landingham didnít even bat an eye at the compliment. "Well, Margaret, I wish I could say the same about you, but Iím afraid you still look like you did ten rounds at the Garden."
"Yes maíam," Margaret said. She had yet to find a way to appear before Mrs. Landingham without getting as nervous as a new recruit at boot camp.
"You donít have the crutches today."
"Yes maíam. The doctor says I can go without if Iím careful."
"Well, he must not know you very well, Margaret."
"Yes maíam," Margaret replied shifting from one foot to another.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, I want to tell you about something. I donít know if anything can be done, but I thought that if anyone would have ideas, it would be you," Margaret mumbled at the floor.
"Will it include an explanation as to how you ended up in this condition?" she asked sternly.
"The President is having his lunch in the residence today. How about you and I take our lunch together today?"
"Yes maíam," said a surprised Margaret. Mrs. Landingham was a private woman. She almost always ate at her desk alone.
"Weíll go to the cafeteria."
"You eat like a bird, Margaret. I donít like eating with people who treat food like the enemy."
"Well maíam, Iíll eat whatever you eat," Margaret said willingly.
"Good, then weíll have you back in shape in no time. Grab your notebook. Youíll need it. Iíve been thinking on your problem all morning."
"But maíam, you donít know what it is," Margaret insisted.
"You wanna bet? Thereís not much that gets past these old eyes, Margaret. I have already talked to other girls and they have all agreed to the plan. We were just waiting for one of you to come to us," Mrs. Landingham said matter-of-factly as she picked up her suit jacket and walked past Margaret who was standing with her mouth wide open. She stopped at the door and glanced back at Margaret who was still standing there with a stunned look on her face. "You are coming, arenít you?" she said which woke Margaret and sent her scurrying after her. Mrs. Landingham quickly hid the smile that was overtaking her face. It was nice to still have a few tricks up your sleeve.
"Josh, Iím not comfortable with this," Donna said.
"Donna, she wonít talk to us. I canít think of another way to find out what she has," Josh urged. Jacobs stood behind him.
"Josh, I donít want to coerce her and make her feel guilty for protecting herself. I donít blame her for what she is doing. I would probably do it too if I could," Donna insisted.
"So thatís final? We do nothing," Joshís voice rose in frustration.
"No, Iím not saying that. I just donít want to treat her like she is doing something wrong. Itís not fair."
"Okay, what does that mean?" Josh waited.
"Iíll talk to her. But I wonít push her. Is that understood?" Donna looked at both men with her arms folded across her chest. They knew enough to recognize the end of a conversation. Both of them nodded.
"Where is my beautiful wife?" Jed Bartlet announced as he entered the sitting room of the First Residence.
"Right here, my handsome husband," Abbey Bartlet was enjoying a lemon-aide on the couch.
"When was the last time you and I were able to sneak away for a lunch for just the two of us?" he joined her on the couch and put his arm around her.
"Actually Jed, today is not what you mightÖ" she began.
"My idea is that we have them serve us a little something in the bedroom. Who the hell cares what they think? Weíll lock the door. Itíll drive Ron Butterfield nuts. And then weíll put our tray outside the door like room service. Itíll scandalize the housekeeping and the kitchen staff," he plotted cheerfully.
"Jed, Honey, today is not going to work for that incredibly appealing idea," she approached cautiously.
"How come?" he scowled at her suspiciously.
"We have guests, Sweetie," she tried to be nonchalant.
"What! Abbey! No way. Send them home," he dictated.
"They are my guests, Jed. I will do no such thing."
"I hate it when you blind side me like this, Abbey," the President complained loudly.
"Jed, this was last minute. Now I am going to need you to pull yourself together and be flexible about this. ĎCause I know we do not want to compare notes on who has been more flexible in this relationship. I still remember you showing up at the house for dinner with three colleagues in tow. Do you remember that? You gave me no notice and I had three cranky little girls on my hands. I can see you have something to say so I will just leave you with the information that I am not recounting to you an isolated incident in the long and speckled history which is our marriage," she said firmly while she watched the most powerful man in the world fidgeting on the couch next to her.
"You did this with Zoeyís friends a couple of months ago and you know I donít like surprises. Tell me itís not Zoeyís friends again. The last thing I need right now is a room full of teen-age girls," Jed Bartlet had settled into some low-level grousing.
"Itís not Zoeyís friends, but you are going to find it funny that you think that adolescent girls are the last people you want to see," she laughed nervously.
"What are you talking about?" he asked impatiently.
"Well, Jed, I really should prep you a little before we go into lunch," she suggested.
"Who the hell is in my dining room?" he thundered.
"Do not adopt that tone with me, Josiah Benjamin Bartlet," she warned.
"Well then, donít beat around the bush," he justified.
"Then find out for yourself," she folded her arms and looked at him defiantly.
Jed Bartlet looked at his wife in exasperation. She was going to be stubborn and he was going to lose. He knew that when he saw her fold her arms. She was immovable at this point. She would win and he would be punished for his insolence. The sooner he accepted that, the sooner he could get on with his day. He sighed, got up, and reached for his wifeís hand.
"Iíll be in shortly," she said curtly not accepting his extended arm. He understood that part of his punishment would be that he would meet them alone. Jed went to the dining room door wondering who was sitting at the long mahogany table waiting for him. He swung open the door and was treated to the sight of ten of the "last
things he needed right now" and Sam. They immediately started to squeal and shout.
"Heís smaller than I thought."
"Man, Iím almost as big as he is."
"Letís show some respect, okay everybody."
"Hi, my name is Janice. My mom voted for you. She said that you looked less criminal than the other one."
Jed Bartlet tried to sort through the cacophony of different voices coming at him simultaneously. The last thing he wanted to do was to start shouting down a group of young girls he didnít even know. So he settled on the next best thing. "Abbey!!!!" he howled above the noise.
Donna found see her sitting on a park bench near a water fountain. She was a petite woman with dark hair and sharp features. Donna thought she looked lonely sitting there by herself with a hot dog in her hand. She seemed to be staring at the fountain as if in another world.
Donna made sure that Josh and Jacobs were waiting somewhere well out of sight before she approached Lydia Sparks. She didnít want this woman to be further pressured by their presence. She walked up to her timidly unsure of how she would have this conversation.
"Excuse me, are you Lydia Sparks?" she began.
The womanís head jerked her direction. Donna could tell that she had surprised the woman. She hadnít heard her coming.
"I am Lydia Sparks. Who are you?" she asked apprehensively.
"My name is Donna Moss."
"What do you want?"
"Two men came to visit you yesterday. I work with them."
"You want me to tell you what I know about Grey, right?" she asked.
"Yes, thatís right."
"I wonít do it. Please leave me alone," she looked at Donna with haunted eyes.
"Okay, I understand. I donít want to force you to do anything," Donna acquiesced.
"Itís just that I canít. I have to keep my job. I canít go through it again."
"We can protect you. We work for the White House. Did you know that?"
"It doesnít matter. That man does not care what authority is before him. Heíll do something to me. I know it," Lydia was unable to meet Donnaís eyes any longer.
"I know first hand what he is capable of doing. You have to do whatís best for you," Donna assured her. She began to turn around and leave.
"What do you mean when you say that you understand? Do you know him?" Lydia said to Donnaís retreating back.
"Yeah," Donna turned to her again. "He, uhÖI know him."
"Are you the one they were talking about? Are you the one he hurt?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yeah, Iím the one," Donna said softly.
"Oh my God. They sent you to plead with me. Their plan is to shame me into doing the right thing. I canít believe this," Lydia said incredulously.
"Please, donít think that. No one wants you to feel bad. In fact, I didnít want to come here. I understand what youíre doing. I wish I was in a position to do it myself right now," Donna said sympathetically.
"Is he trying to ruin you?"
"Do you know what happened to the last one who tried to stand up to him?" Lydia was getting teary.
"Yeah, I do."
"You have to understand. Heíll do anything. He can. He has so much money and power. No one makes him stop. You should do what you have to in order to get out of his way," she told Donna with wet, wide eyes.
"Itís too late. I canít hide anymore. I think even if I could, hiding would damage me more than he ever could. I have to stand and face him. There is no other way for me."
"I remember feeling like that," Lydia said slowly.
"Donít feel bad about this. You owe me nothing. I am so sorry that he hurt you and I hope that you find some peace for yourself," Donna told her sincerely. She gave her a sad smile and turned to walk away.
"Okay, now I know that none of you could name 10 German generals from World War II. Donít worry about it. I stump Congresspersons all the time with that brainteaser. But how are you with the Korean War, can you name any of those generals?" Jed Bartlet asked cheerfully. He was surrounded by the blank faces of young women who had become stupefied by his ongoing litany of trivia questions. Sam, of course, was eager to participate. He was just as nerdy as his commander-in-chief. However, the President had barred him from this competition. ĎCause nobody likes the guy who has his hand up all the time with the right answer.
"Colin Powell?" advanced Janice carefully.
"Not quite, my dear. Anyone else?" said the happy professor oblivious to the lethargy that had settled around the table. Abbey could see that it was time to take action.
"Jed," she said brightly. "Donít you want to hear about the book that these girls wrote?"
"So, what did you write about? Boys I bet," he said deeply embedding his foot in this mouth. Abbey winced. She now wished she had taken the time to brief him properly.
"Mr. President, sir," Freida came to the rescue. "These girls are a part of a group called Young Sisters with Voice. Itís a group of girls from across the United States and Canada who come together on the internet. There are currently 3,000 members. They share their stories and their feelings. The one thing they all have in common is some personal experience with violence."
"What kind of violence?" Jed Bartlet asked.
"Physical, sexual, or emotional, sir. We have put together some of the most compelling of these stories together in a book called Young Voices. We hope that these stories can help other girls, many of whom feel very alone after experiencing violence."
"You guys wrote a book?" Jed was looking at the many young faces at his table, faces of different skin color, with different thoughts, cultures, and traditions, brought together all of them by the atrocity of violence.
They nodded at him seriously.
"Can I see your book?" he asked gently. Serenity came forward with a copy for him. Jed picked it up and started to leaf through it. There were a few moments of silence.
"Sir," said Sam finally breaking the spell. "These girls are in town this week lobbying on behalf of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women legislation."
"Not the greatest bill in the world, you have to admit," Jed said.
"Yes sir. We would be delighted to see a stronger and more comprehensive bill. However, we have to take what we can get," responded Freida.
"Yes," he said regarding her carefully.
"Sir," Sam interrupted. "We do have time for you to hear a story if you would be willing."
"Of course, I would be willing. But are you sure that you girls really want to talk about something painful in front of someone you donít know well?"
"Well, I see you on TV more than I see my own dad. Itís no problem," Janice replied matter-of-factly.
"We decided before lunch that Pi-Ying would be the one to tell her story," Sam said looking at Pi-Ying. Soon everyoneís eyes were on the young girl. Her face reddened and she had trouble looking up from the table.
"It started when I was 9 years old," she stopped and swallowed. Everyone waited silently.
"Remember what I told you," Heather said from across the table. With that Pi-Ying burst into tears. Abbey was sitting next to her and instinctively reached over to her. Soon the girl lay sobbing in her arms.
"That wasnít such a good idea," decided Jed.
"Itís Heatherís fault." announced Janice. "She told her that all the girls in Young Sisters with Voice would be counting on her so she better not screw up."
"Well itís true," Heather said in her own defense.
"Heather, itís not fair to put pressure on Pi-Ying," Freida explained patiently. "Itís hard enough to talk about the violence without any other kind of added stress."
"Perhaps, we should do this another day," said the President with a touch of anxiety. Sam nodded at him.
"Sir, Mr. President sir," Latasha tried to get his attention. "We came a long way to see you. I came all the way from Alabama. This was the first time I had been further away than Mobile. I really want you to know what weíre talking about. Will you let me tell my story? I promise not to cry."
Abbey hoped nobody expected her to make the same promise as she listened to the young girl plead for Jedís time.
"I would be honored to hear your story," Jed said quietly as he settled himself back into his chair.
Latasha sat up and looked at Freida for a minute. Freida gave her a nod. Then Latasha turned her head to the President of the United States and she began.
"It happened about a year and a half ago. There was a party and I wanted to go so badly. Everyone was going to be there and I didnít want to miss out. My parents are pretty strict so I had to make a lot of promises before they let me go. I knew that there was going to be drinking. It didnít bother me. I thought it would be cool to get drunk," she hung her head for a moment. The President reached across Janice and put his hand on her arm. She looked up in gratitude and continued.
"All of the jocks were there. I felt like anybody who wasnít there was nobody. There was a guy. He was the quarterback on the football team. We have a very good team, you see. Anyway, I wanted him to notice me. I wanted that pretty bad. After I had a couple of beers, I was feeling, I donít know, confident maybe. So I started talking to him and he paid attention. He treated me like I was the only girl there. He kept getting more beers." She stopped and looked at Freida.
"I donít want to go into details," she said.
"Thatís fine," Freida assured her.
"I guess he took me upstairs. I donít remember much. I do remember him and three other members of the football team with me in a bedroom. When they were finished, they took me in a car and dropped me off ten miles from town. I still donít know why they did that. It took me four hours to get home in the dark," she was having trouble making eye contact with the President. He had kept his hand on her arm and he gave it a little squeeze. She smiled a little.
"I told my parents right away and then I went to the police to press charges. When I went to school on Monday, everyone seemed to know. I had only told two friends, but you know how that is. Everyone just looked at me all the time. At least my friends stuck with me. The weird thing was that the four guys were in school too. I still had them in my classes. Only one teacher, Mr. Miller, had the guts to ask me how I was and if I wanted them out of his class. I was too embarrassed to say yes."
"A few nights after this whole thing started, some people came to the house. It was the mayor, the police chief, the football coach, and the county prosecutor. They wanted to speak to my dad. My parents told me to go to my room. About an hour later, they asked me to come out. When I did, the mayor asked me how I was. I told him I was okay. Then he said that the whole town was talking about what happened and everyone was really sorry that I had been hurt," she took a deep breath before continuing. "Then he said that this whole thing had been tough on the boys too. He said that they were pretty upset too." Jed shook his head angrily.
"The coach said that this was the year they were going to state, and this thing would ruin the whole year for the school and the town."
"My God!" Abbey said out loud before she could stop herself.
"They said that I had the power to make everything alright. Then my own dad reminded that I had been drunk and shouldnít have gone with the guys in the first place. It was really hard. I donít remember feeling anything. It was all just happening to me. Finally I told them to drop the charges. I thought that if they went away, I would start to feel better," she reached up a hand to rub her wet eyes.
"Nobody in school wanted to talk to me anymore. The boys told everyone that I had to drop the charges Ďcause I made them up. At home, my parents told me to forget it and to not think about it anymore. It was a pretty bad time for me," she stopped.
"Latasha, are you telling me that this kids werenít charged with anything?" Jed asked trying to keep his rage suppressed.
"Yeah, it was supposed to be for the good of the town. They did end up going to state that year and the quarterback sat at the head of the parade when they returned."
"Did your parents become more supportive?"
"No, they never wanted to talk about it. It made me sad and angry. I wanted to die. It was a really bad time. One night after they had gone out for the evening, I got my dadís gun out. I thought it would be the best thing for everyone. I knew it was loaded and I was ready," Latasha stared ahead blankly. The President got up and knelt beside her with one hand on her arm and the other across her shoulders.
"Something weird happened. I started to think about my aunt Mary. To this day, I donít know what made me think of her. I hardly ever saw her. She lived up in Birmingham you see. But I liked her a lot and I decided to call her and say good-bye. I tried to sound okay, but she could tell that something was wrong. Pretty soon, she got the whole sad tale out of me. She made me promise that I would be okay for the next couple of days and then she would call again."
"The next day I came home from school and she was at the house. I was so surprised. She was fighting with my parents and packing my clothes at the same time. She told me I would be going to stay with her. It was the best moment of my life. My parents tried to fight her, but she was stronger and angrier. I left with her that evening and Iíve been staying with her in Birmingham ever since." The room was filled with a heavy silence.
"Do you talk to your parents?" Abbey finally asked.
"Yeah, sometimes. They still donít want to talk about what happened so itís hard. I want them to understand how I feel. I think that itís going to be okay though. My aunt said that I can stay with her forever. She says she would really like that."
"Thank you," the President said softly to Latasha. She turned to him and he took her into a bear hug. Everyone smiled. It was the kind of moment that sent chills through people. And the warmth they felt from each other gave everyone strength for another day.
"Latasha, I promise you and everyone else here that I will never forget your story," he said holding the girl and looking at the others. "You are very brave and I will remember your bravery when this reauthorization comes up in the next two months. You should have been protected from that insanity. You should have been protected by your parents, by your town, and by the legal system. We have to have something in place when all of those pieces fail us. I will remember that. I promise you," their President told them. Abbey smiled through her tears with pride at her husband. Sam gave Freida a hug that both surprised and amused her. Then the girls started to cheer.
Feedback is appreciated. Sheila