Chapter 3

 

            Sam bounded into Leoís office ready to celebrate their victory over the cigarettes.  Inside he found a surprisingly somber tone.  Josh and Toby were seated on opposites of the room with profoundly sullen looks on their faces.  CJ was casually seated near Leoís desk between them.

            "Whatís going on?  Whereís Leo?" he queried the occupants.

            "Fitzwallace needed a few minutes of Leoís time.  Heíll be right in," reported CJ for the group.

            "Whyís everybody looking so glum?"

            "Weíre not glum," CJ clarified. "We just need Leo here before we talk about the meeting."

            "Most idiotic thing Iíve ever heard," grumbled Josh from his corner.

            "Well, Iím not going to repeat the same information 50 different times," complained Toby from his corner.

            "Weíve been over this already," she said sharply.  "Weíre waiting for Leo."  They both returned to their sulking.  Sam sat down quietly next to CJ unwilling to disturb the structure she was maintaining.  They all continued their impatient game of waiting.

            "They are in an adult version of time-out right now," she informed Sam breaking the silence after a minute.

            "CJ!" Josh and Toby complained in unison.

            "If they only knew how to conduct themselves like the important men that they are, I wouldnít have to resort to such measures," she continued.  Sam wished she were not using him as her audience for this lecture.  He was pretty sure he didnít want to get pulled into this particular situation. 

            "All right, people."  Leo stopped short at the door and listened.  The silence seemed to satisfy him. " Finally I get to enter a meeting where youíre not trying to destroy one another.  CJ, I would imagine that I have you to thank for that," said Leo.  He flashed a smile at her and then dropped into this chair.  "That must have been some meeting.  I ran into the CEO of Brown and Reynolds out there, whatís his name?" Leo looked around for help and Sam supplied the answer. "Edgar Tolliver?  Thanks Sam.  Boy, did Tolliver have a sour look on his face or what?  You guys didnít declare a ban on cigarette sales now, did you?"

            "Leo, it was amazing," Sam began. "We had Ďem on the ropes.  They are never going to think about the Bartlet administration in the same way again.

            "What did you guys do?" asked Josh trying to disguise the apprehension in his voice.

            "We put them in their place, Josh.  You guys should have seen Toby.  He was a pit bull in there," Sam returned excitedly.  Every eye in the room was on Toby now.  He had sat quietly through Samís enthusiastic introduction.  He knew they counted on him to tell the actual story.

            "They have had too many years of smug.  They came in today with a little too much confidence.  Had too many reasons why they couldnít work with us on educating the American people on the dangers of tobacco.  I had to pull out the big guns," Toby explained.

            "You had big guns?" Leo asked in confusion.

            "Yeah," Toby sighed.  "I met with the President yesterday morning with a few ideas.  He gave me the go ahead to use them if necessary."

            "What ideas?" Leo challenged.

            "I told them that if they didnít come forth with full disclosure, tightened federal regulations, and $10 billion in risk education, we were going to move ahead with a little show we have planned," Toby said to a hushed room. 

            "Spill the whole thing," Leo directed him.

            "I told them that we were going to have some hearings in December.  Weíre going to call the hearings, "Stories of Tobacco Orphans."  Weíre going to put kids on and have them talk about losing their mother or father to tobacco-related illnesses.  I told them we would do this for a full month with all of the media coverage we could get.  And then we would move on to hearings called "Dying Young."  These hearings would feature young people with serious asthma who are in the grips of a nicotine addiction and how this threatens their already precarious health.  I told them that by the end of these hearings, the tobacco industry will be vilified to an extent not seen since Hitler burned in his bunker."

            "Did the President instruct you not to talk about this with any other member of the senior staff?" Leo asked dangerously.

            "Leo, you know the President says that one of our biggest failings as an administration is that we talk too much and we think too hard about issues."

            Toby did not back away from Leoís glare.

            "Last year, the tobacco industry was sued regarding charges that their advertising focuses on children.  The evidence was overwhelming.  The plaintiffs were awarded $5 billion and the tobacco industry was warned against further advertising.  In the first six months this year, that same industry spent almost twice the money on ads that again appear to be aimed at kids," Toby informed his colleagues. "43% of this nationís adolescents smoke or chew tobacco.  This number is triple what it was thirty years ago.  500,000 people in this country will die this year from tobacco related illness.  200 million children around the world will die an untimely death as a result of the nicotine addictions they are developing today.  And with all of that, it is still one of the most unregulated industries in the country.  It was time to stop talking about it and to start doing something."

            "What happens in two days?" Leo asked in a low voice.

            "They agree to all of our demands or we move forward and put on a soap opera this country will not soon forget," Toby responded.

            "Josh is right about retribution.  They will find a way to hurt us," Leo advised.

            "Yeah, I suppose they will, but I figured that taking chances like this is why they put us in the White House in the first place," Toby returned with defiance.

            "Okay, we are all going to have to be careful from now on.  Any threats, any blackmail, anything funny or weird, and you are in my office.  Do you understand?" Leo addressed the entire room.

            "Uh, there was a thing," started Sam with an uncomfortable look.

            "What?" Leo demanded.

            "One of the Brown and Reynolds guys was talking to Margaret after the meeting.  It looked weird to me.  He grabbed her arm at one point, and she really got upset.  Sheíll probably tell you all about it, herself," he finished.

            "Thanks Sam.  I want to hear about everything that is out of place while we are dealing with these guys," Leo gave them all an intense look and marched out of his office.

            "Am I in the doghouse right now?" mumbled Toby.

            "Did the President tell you not to talk to anyone about this plan?" queried Josh.

            "Yeah."

            "Then unfortunately, we have no real reason to ostracize you," he returned bitterly.  He got up and followed Leo out the door.

            "Sam?"

            "I didnít even know that you had planned that little surprise with the President.  But then Iím used to being in the dark. Why should this be any different?" he said with more anger in his voice than he wanted to admit.

            "CJ?"

            "You know, Toby, itís not that you kept us in the dark.  Those were the Presidentís orders.  Itís that all of us know in our hearts that you agreed with, and probably even encouraged, those orders.  Thatís the thing about you. Itís so much easier for you to be secretive than it is for you to be forthcoming.  It might be a great thing for you, but itís exhausting for the rest of us," she said angrily.  She got up out of her chair and gave him one more look. "Especially those of us who try to get close to you. 

            "CJ?"

            "You made me believe that nothing was going to happen in there?"

            "CJ, I was trying to protect you from worrying about something you had no control over," he pleaded. "You can understand that, canít you?"

            "Weíll talk later," she said with a tired voice. With that, she walked out of the room with Sam behind her.

             Toby sat alone in the room illuminated only by the light of the afternoon sun.  He closed his eyes and tried to drink in the calm of a fall afternoon.  Toby knew this was only the beginning of a long battle.  He hoped that somehow, he would find a way to protect everything he held so preciously in life.

            "Leo!  It is so good to see you," said Abbey happily as he entered the residence.  "You donít come up to visit nearly enough."  She pulled him down into the sofa with her and then leaned over, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek.  He smiled back at her.  Abbey Bartlet could pack more genuine warmth into a single gesture than any other person he had ever known.

            She took his hands in hers and looked at her old friend.  At she gazed at him, her smile began to fade. "Youíre here because youíre mad about something, arenít you?  I can see it in your eyes."

            Leo gave her a knowing smile.  In addition to be warm, she was terribly perceptive.  He had known her for too long to pretend it was anything other than what it was.  "I have a bone to pick with your old man, Abbey."

            She shook her head in sympathy.  "Leo, he can be so maddening sometimes.  I hope you give him a good earful.  Let me know if I can help.  I have a long list of consequences that I can administer on your behalf."

            He smiled at her.  He wished that it could be as simple as a good scolding, but he suspected that this issue was far beyond that point.

            "Another man wouldnít know what to make of a handsome devil like yourself curled up all cozy with his wife," came a strong voice from the door.  Jed Bartlet came into the room and smiled at his wife and friend.  Leo tried to return with a stinging retort of his own, but his heart and his mind were too heavy.  Abbey noticed his solemnity and gave his hand a supportive squeeze.

            "Jed, you have done something to this good man," she scolded.  "Now, whatever it is, itís time for you to sit down and take your punishment."  With that, she stood up to leave.  She stopped at her husbandís chair and kissed him lightly on the head.  Then she was gone.

            "Do you know why Iím here?" Leo asked.

            "Well, I am hoping that you are going to let me know how the meeting with the cigarettes went," he returned.

            "Iíd say it went pretty much as expected.  Toby pulled some rabbits out of his bag of tricks.  Sam thinks we have them on the run.  And Josh thinks they will destroy all of us.  Personally, I donít have an opinion because I am so far out of the loop," Leo responded bitterly.

            "Did Toby explain why I wanted it this way?"

            "Yeah, he tried, but it all sounded like a bunch of crap to me," Leo retorted.

            "I donít want sit around thinking up strategies for these guys, Leo.  I wanted to hit hard Ďem and low without any more conversation about how they might hit back," Jed said darkly.

            "Sounds great, Rocky.  You sound like a regular hero.  But tell me, who I am in your little movie?  Am I the meek girlfriend, Adrian or am I the weak brother-in-law, Paulie?  Huh?  I must be one of those two Ďcause I know Iím not the guy who stands behind you at the ring," Leo said angrily.

            "LeoÖ" Jed began.

            "Is this how itís going to be?" Leo interrupted.  "You make an end run around me whenever there is anything big going on.  Because if thatís how it is, let me know now.  Iíll find something else to do. I do not plan on being a figurehead in this administration."

            "Leo, would you shut up for a minute?" Jed thundered at his Chief of Staff.

            Leo stopped talking, but his face lost none of its intensity.

            "Leo, I did it because they needed a swift kick in the butt, and if we thought about it too hard we would have never done it.  I used Toby because he feels the same way.  I know Josh is too wrapped up in what history heís had with the cigarettes already.  Heís no good for this thing.  And you, I donít know.  Bernie Hanson was a close friend of yours."

            "Bernie was a close friend.  So what?  Were you were trying to protect me?" Leo shot. "Or you didnít think Iíd have the stomach to fight them after what they did to Bernie?"

            "Neither or both.  I really donít know.  You just have too much history there.  Itís impossible to have a conversation about cigarettes without you becoming apoplectic," returned Jed.

            "Oh God, Jed.  You werenít there.  You have no idea.  Neither you nor Toby has been up against these guys.  And youíre right.  I try not to talk about it.  It was a bad time.  For months, Josh and I searched for Bernieís documents. We both thought we were being followed," Leo shook his head at the memory of it and continued.  "Josh had the worst of it.  He was more public about his suspicions.  His apartment was broken into twice.  And you know, I think they would have done more if it hadnít become abundantly clear that Josh had no idea where Bernie put those damn documents."

            "You believe that there were documents?"

            "Yesterday, I told the staff that I didnít think they existed," Leo admitted.

            "But?"

            "Are you kidding?  Of course, Bernie had documents.  He would never have done as much arm flapping in committee if he didnít have them," Leo said with conviction.

            "Leo, it doesnít matter if they had put the gun to his head and fired it themselves.  We have to move forward with this.  We canít let them bully this government and its people," Jed said solemnly.

            "I know that, Jed," Leo answered softly.  He got up off the sofa and faced his President. "I just wish you had enough faith in me to understand that I know that."

            With that, he turned and walked out of the residence.  Jed wanted to stop him, order him back into the room, but he knew better.  Leo was right.  He had made an end run around Leo.  He had done it because he thought Leo and Josh were too messed up about Bernie to be any good for this.  He had also done it because it was easier not to have to deal with them on this issue.  There was a good chance they could have talked him out of it.

            Jed made himself a promise when he was elected.  He promised that he would never second-guess himself after having made a decision.  There were going to be too many of them as president and they werenít all going to be the right ones.  He needed to always be moving forward in order to be effective.

            Tonight as he went over Leoís words, he broke that promise.

            Toby tried to lie quietly.  He could see the lights of the Washington Monument out of the bedroom window.  He watched as the blinking lights of planes slowly passed over the monument.  He wondered about those planes and the people they held.  Where were they going?  What part did they play in this world?  Were they happy?  Did they lie awake nights as he did? 

            He doubted that sleep would visit him on this night.  There were too many thoughts and ideas swirling around in his over active brain. Despite his restlessness, he didnít get up out of the bed. He didnít want to disturb CJ. She was a terribly light sleeper, and there was no reason why one of them shouldnít be well rested.

            She had surprised him this evening.  He had come home expecting her to want to talk about his enigmatic approach to life, and how it affected the relationships important to him.  He had, in fact, steeled himself for such a conversation.

            But it was not what occurred. She did come over, as usual, but said nothing about the anger and disappointment she had expressed earlier in the day.  Instead, she brought her work with her, and had largely ignored him throughout the course of the evening.

            For all of his skills as a communicator, Toby could think of no successful way to broach the subject with her.  And so he sat impatiently at his kitchen table ruining several drafts of the Presidentís upcoming address to the American Medical Association while CJ worked blithely across the room on Wednesdayís briefing copy.

            When she was finally finished for the evening, she went over to where he was and sat in the chair next to him.  She looked at him for a long, hard minute.  He waited for her to start the conversation that might help him to explain how he felt and what he needed, but she merely leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Then she got up and went to bed. There had been a certain sadness to it.  Or had it been a kind of resignation?  Whichever it had been, Toby felt it deep inside of himself.

            He couldnít forget how he felt in that moment as he lay in the bed beside her. For an instant, it was clear to him what was going on in her head, perhaps even more clear to him than it was to CJ herself.   She would have to decide if she could accept who he was and always would be.  Would it be too great a compromise for herself to be with someone who lived so deeply within himself?  Would the pieces of his self that he could offer be enough for her?

            It would be easy to say that he would do anything to keep this woman happy.  She was worth any sacrifice he could make.  This was all true.  But the reality of actually doing it was far more complex than the theory of talking about it.  It will go against my nature and, despite my best efforts, I will fail her, he thought bitterly to himself.   Did she have any idea what she meant to him?  Had he never found a way to express the depth of his love for her?

            As he lay there pondering these questions, the phone exploded into a ring on the night table across the bed. He jumped up, trying to reach across CJ to grab it.  But CJ Cregg was Press Secretary to the most important man in the world.  Instinctively, her long arm had shot out from under a blanket and had captured the phone before the first ring was finished.  The arm pulled the phone to an ear somewhere under hair and blankets.

            He heard some indistinct mumbling and then her head shot up from the depths of the warm bed.

            "Sam, is that you?" she asked sleepily.  "Whatís wrong with you?ÖYes, heís hereÖ.Are you okay?Ö.All right.  All right!  Hang on.  Heís right here."

            She sat and handed Toby the phone.  There was something about Samís voice that had frightened all of the sleep from her.

            "Sam, whatís going on?" Toby asked with irritation into the phone. "What?Ö Do you know what time it is?  And, do you realize that you have to be on the Hill tomorrow scaring Congressmen?ÖOkay?  Okay?ÖWhen?  Are you hurt?ÖAll right, no more questionsÖTwenty minutes, SamÖOkay."

            "What happened?" she asked apprehensively.

            "I donít know.  Something about him getting drunk and passing out and not knowing where he was," said Toby as he pulled clothes out of his closet.

            "I am going with you," CJ decided impulsively.  She jumped out of bed.

            "No!" he returned sharply.  She was stopped short by his response.  Her surprise at the vehemence of it was quickly turning to anger.

            Seeing this, Toby quickly clarified himself. "Sam was clear on that point.  He wants me to come alone."

            "Whatís going on!" she demanded.

            "I really donít know," he said defensively. "I am not trying to be evasive or enigmatic or anything."

            She threw her clothes onto the floor and sat on the bed.

            "Is it always going to be like this, Toby?  Am I always going to resent what you canít and sometimes wonít tell me?" she said in frustration.

            For a minute, he stood there silently with his shirt still unbuttoned. "I donít know," he returned softly.  "I donít know."

            She could see the struggle on his face.  Part of her knew that she should reach out and tell him that they would figure this out together, but as often happens in relationships, she felt too burdened by her own struggle.  Instead she turned away from him and crawled back under the covers.

            "I will call you as soon as I know something," he said earnestly.  She didnít move.  He hesitated for one more second, and then realized that he had neither the time nor the words to make this right.  He softly said, "I love you," and then ran out the door.

 

 

The Endgame - 4

 

 

 

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