Chapter 22

Toby sat quietly at the table and considered his surroundings.  The walls were bare and dirty, and they seemed more capable of conducting sound than they were of blocking it.  There was a large mirror directly in front of him that he imagined they used for observation.  It was disconcerting.  He had no idea how many people were on the other side of that mirror right now analyzing his every move.  He thought it would be hard to keep his composure under these circumstances, but he was finding the contrary to be true. He was so numbed at this point in the process that he was finding difficult to muster up any emotion at all.

This whole thing had already devolved into a circus.  There were people coming in and out constantly, whispering to one another, asking him the same questions repeatedly, peering at him like he was a freak show.  He did his best to answer honestly and clearly despite the fact that his story was a nightmare of incredulous circumstance.

He wondered where Jacobs was.  The detective had begun the interview, but then had been slowly elbowed out when all of the bigger guns had shown up to the party.  Toby was unsettled by his absence.  He sensed that Jacobs had an understanding of the situation that was not going to translate to his colleagues.

The only two other people in the room at this point were his lawyer and the assistant district attorney assigned to the case.  They were in a corner arguing in fierce whispers over the protocol for his arraignment.  He could hear their conversation clearly and yet, they carried on the charade of a private aside.

He wondered about Lionelís choice of attorneys.  Who had shown up after his call to Lionel was a pale little man with the startling name of Nathan Shenandoah.  So far, this guy had presented nothing that matched the flair of his moniker other than an amazing air of mediocrity.  He spoke in an annoyingly high-pitched voice, and everything about him was as dry as a piece of burnt toast.  Toby hoped that there was something going on behind those thick wire rimmed bi-focals.

 

 

Every move that Leo made was analyzed carefully for content by the group of people who were now crowded into his office.  If he felt any discomfort with the attention, he didnít show it.  Instead he stayed focused on the documents that a bleary eyed CJ had dropped on his desk half an hour earlier.

Around his desk, they sat, stood, and leaned as he studied Bernie Hansonís evidence.  Josh and Sam had been summoned to Leoís office for the event, and were treated to the sight of all of their assistants and CJ drooped over the furniture in the room.  They all had puffy, red eyes, and dusty clothes. And they carried in a smell akin to a damp basement. Josh had wrinkled his nose when he had first entered Leoís office, and was about to make comment when Donna fixed him with a look of pure danger.  Sam had shown a little better judgment.  He merely came in and found a seat close to his two assistants.

Other than a few words of explanation of how they had spent the night, nobody said anything the entire time.  The pain of Tobyís current ordeal was communicated through their eyes only.

Leo finally looked up and surveyed the bedraggled group in front of him.  He gave them all a tired smile.  "This was very good work.  I canít believe that you found this. Itís amazing."

"What exactly is it?" Sam said as he tried to rein in his excitement.

"Itís a memo and agenda from a retreat that happened eleven years ago.  The heads of the four largest tobacco companies appear to have gotten together for secret meetings.  These papers outline the outcome of this retreat," Leo explained.

"Anything especially exciting?" Josh asked hopefully.

"They discussed nicotine.  From these documents, it is clear that they not only understood the addictive nature of the drug, but they were looking at strategies to increase its potency in cigarettes."

"And itís all clearly outlined in the papers you have," Josh inquired breathlessly.

"Clear as glass."

"This is gold," Josh replied reverently.

"We can use this!" Sam said punctuating the air with his arms.

"Itís good stuff.  I can understand why Bernie was excited," Leo said in a much more muted tone than his young associates.

"Leo, you donít act very confident," Margaret said warily.

"This is good stuff.  It may get us some leverage somewhere," he explained carefully.

"Itís too old," Ginger cried in despair.

"No, itís not.  Our problem is that itís unsubstantiated," Leo replied.

"I donít understand," Bonnie asked.

"We need someone who was at the meeting to verify that this happened.  This is only paper."

"If we take it to them now, it will make them uneasy, but it is no yet proof of anything," Josh elaborated sadly.  CJ wondered if it was possible for her to shoulder one more disappointment.

"There must be someone we can push," Sam insisted.

"Thereís a list of all who were present.  Letís take a look and see if anyone stands out," Leo said.

"Leo?" CJ said with a look of despair.

"This is a good thing, CJ," he began gently. "Weíre going to do everything we can to make this work for us."

"How soon?"

"I think this is going to take us some time.  I wouldnít expect any miracles just yet."

"Is heÖis there anything I should be doing right now?" she struggled.

"Go home, CJ.  All of you go home. Sleep.  You all look like you could use a good rinsing.  Besides, my office is starting to smell like a cellar."

"Please Leo," she begged.

"Sleep will help, CJ.  I promise you.  There isnít anything more I can offer right now.  Sam is going to do the briefing.  Come back when you can see straight," he said gently but firmly.

"I should do theÖ" she began.

"Forget it.  You look like a coal miner.  Go home.  I mean it."  Leo gave them all one last look and then bent down over the document again.  Sam and Josh crowded around behind him.

CJ swallowed hard.  She wanted to stay and participate.  She wanted to be a part of something that would help Toby now.  Only they werenít acting like the cavalry, not at all.  They were being cautious, so cautious she thought she was going to have to reach out and explain this to Leo with her hand around his neck.  She stewed for a few moments more until she felt a hand on her shoulder.  She turned to find Donna who was patting her gently on the back.  Donna nodded at her and CJ knew Donna was urging her to scrape up the residue of what patience remained in her.  CJ wanted to resist that idea, but she knew it was only real thing to do right now.   The other women had gathered around them now, and together, they gently steered CJ out the door. 

 

 

 

It wasnít until she actually knocked on the door that Margaret realized that she hadnít really thought this through.  A wave of anxiety went through her body and she was turning to leave when she heard the chain on the door sliding back.

She wasnít about to have him see her trying to make a quick exit, and so she smoothed the front of her coat and waited nervously.

Steve Werner opened the door halfway and regarded her out in the hallway.  "Hello Margaret," he said with a touch of impatience.

"Hello, Steve."

"I thought we already had our little showdown.  To what do I owe this dubious pleasure," he said warily.

"I need to talk to you."

"Okay."

Margaret waited while Steve continued to peer at her from behind the door.

"Are you going to let me in?" she asked boldly.

"Margaret, this is my hotel room."

Well, Iím not an idiot, you know.  You have chairs in there, donít you?" she inquired with more than a little annoyance.

He stepped aside and waved her into the room.  She stepped in and looked around.  It was clear that the tobacco companies knew how to travel in style. She noticed his luggage in the corner of the room.  It was packed and ready to go.

"Youíre leaving?"

"I have a flight in a couple of hours," he replied soberly.

"So I wonít take so much of your time," she said firmly.

He gestured toward a chair and she tentatively sat down.  He sat on the bed across from her and waited.  It was disconcerting to be meeting him on his home turf.  She wished she had the time to coax him back to the coffee house. 

"I know why you came to see me while you were here," She blurted out clumsily.

"I thought we had covered all of this, Margaret.  I wanted to say I was sorry. Thatís all," he said impatiently.

"You came to me because youíre having trouble living with yourself," she continued.

"I was sorry I hit you.  I wanted to make amends."

"It was more than that, Steve.  I didnít understand what it was until I thought about our conversation in the coffee shop.  You donít like what youíve become.  Maybe you were able to justify it for a while, but itís not working anymore, is it?  You need me to be okay with what you stand for."

"Margaret, I gotta tell you.  Donít quit your day job, okay.  Iím pretty sure that youíre not the therapist you think you are," he said sharply.

"Iím not wrong about this," she continued.  She tried to stay oblivious to his growing anger. "Is it hard to sleep?  Enjoy life?  Are you proud?"

"Margaret, itís time for you to go."

"Idealism is not necessarily a fantasy, you know.  Your dreams were never impossible.  You only stopped believing in them," she said fiercely to him.

He was on his feet and in front of her chair.  "Get out of my room now!" he shouted.

Margaret was trying not to panic as he hovered over her.  "Steve," she said keeping her voice steady. "You need to back off and you need to do it now."

"You want to tell me to back off.  You need to keep your nose out of my life." He stepped back for a moment and let himself catch his breath.

"Steve, you want to believe in something again.  Like you did when we were young and used to walk the days long talking about how we were going to change the world," she said softly.  She was trying to control her breathing.  Everything was happening much as it had twenty years ago when she left his room with a black eye and broken ribs.

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye.  Then he shook his head and walked away.

"I go to parties and everyone talks about their kids and their boat and where they are going for Labor Day weekend.  I never join those conversations.  I donít have those kinds of things in my life.  I just listen politely and nod.  Sometimes, I know they are feeling sorry for me.  To them, I am Margaret, the secretary who slaves away at The White House while they lead active, happy lives.  One time, my friend, Martha, said that she invited me to things so she didnít have to think about me sitting at home by myself."  Margaret talked rapidly, unsure of how much time she had left.

Werner had retreated to the other side of the room.  He was staring out the window.

"I never had the heart to tell her that I actually feel sorry for them sometimes.  They tend to hate their jobs.  Thatís they focus so much energy on their personal lives.  I wonder what they believe in beside themselves. Iím a part of something.  And while itís not everything, it is enough for me.  It fills my spirit."  She stopped for a minute to settle her breathing.  She stayed hyper-conscious of any movement from his side of the room.

"Youíre empty, Steve.  You have a hole in you, and nothing you have done seems to fill it.  Even with your fancy cars, beautiful house, family, country club membership.  Iím sorry for you," she finished softly.  There was no movement from the window.

"There is nothing that can be done," he replied after a moment, still looking out on the city.

"Courage is hard, but it feels right.  It would rejuvenate you in a way that no new car ever could."

"You make it sound so simple."

"Donít complicate it with excuses, Steve," she said gathering steam.  He was actually interacting with her.  "Picture the worst case scenario.  You lose your job.  You have to move out of your house.  Your kids start going to public school.  Why do I suspect that these scenarios donít scare you?  They probably sound attractive."

"Starting over?  My wife would hate it."

"Is living a lie worth the agony?  I can see the desperation in your eyes.  Steve, I have the medicine.  I know what will cure you."

He turned around and she could see that she was reaching him.  He walked over and knelt before her chair.  "I came to find you, Margaret, because I knew you would understand me.  You remembered who I was.  I knew you would remind me of what I could be." He was talking softly now, and then he reached out and stroked her hair.  She struggled to keep her composure.

"Steve, courage is more than just words."

"Why do you need from me?"

"There was a meeting some years ago.  You were there.  I saw your name on the agenda.  We have the minutes.  I just need you to verify what happened at that meeting."

"I need more.  What meeting?"

"No, Steve.  You come to the White House and look at what we have.  Then and only then will you know more."

"I need to think," he said still brushing through her hair softly with his fingers.

"We donít have a lot of time, Steve."

"Stay with me, Margaret.  I need you beside me.  I donít think I can do it alone."

"Steve," she began, her heart pounding a hole in her chest.

"I canít do it without you," he said breathing into her neck.

"Then you canít do anything," she said fiercely breaking away from him and standing up. "I donít feel anything for you.  If you show some courage, I might find some respect for you, but thatís all."

He stepped back with a startled look on his face.

"Damn it.  Do it so you can hold your head high.  Do it because itís right.  There is no other reward," she spoke passionately.  She was trying desperately to hang onto the small seeds she had planted.

He hung his head and turned away.  She wanted to reach out one more, but she suspected that she had gone as far as she could.  She had tried and failed.  Silently, she gathered up her coat and left his room.

 

 

The Endgame - 23

 

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings