Sam paced back and forth the length of his apartment lobby. His clothes hung on him rumpled and loose. He had tried unsuccessfully to calm himself, but in his heart he felt that something bad was happening and he had no handle on what exactly it was. Sam Seaborn, the guy who had placed first academically in every class he had ever been in, could not put together any kind of a lucid picture of the last eight hours in his life.
There was the bathroom to think about, but he couldnít do it just yet. It was too much. He needed some sense of memory before he could reason about the bathroom.
Every few minutes, he attempted to clear his head and remember the events of the evening, but he couldnít organize those thoughts. Everything was hazy and confused. He remembered moments of time, flashes of cognition, but he couldnít connect them together and form anything coherent. The snapshots of time that he was receiving resembled nothing that made any sense to him. A dark and terrible dread had settled itself deep within him. It seemed to be competing with his lungs for the oxygen he needed to breathe.
A dark figure hunched over against the cold of late October appeared on the sidewalk in front of his building. Sam rushed to open the door. He pulled Toby Ziegler into the lobby.
"It felt like you were taking forever," he blurted out.
Toby was taken back by the near panic showing in Samís eyes. "Whatís going on here, Princeton?" He spoke softly, but firmly, hoping to impose some of the control he saw lacking on Samís face.
"Toby, I canít remember anything about this evening. I went out to dinner with some people. I remember that. And then poof! I wake up on my couch, and itís 1:30 a.m." Sam said. He had already pulled Toby into the elevator.
"Sam, did you do any drinking?" Toby asked slowly. He allowed himself to be herded around by Sam.
"Jesus, Toby! Would I call you in the middle of the night like this if I was having a hangover?" Sam exploded.
Toby didnít blink. "Were you drinking, Sam?"
Sam could see by the look on Tobyís face that they were going to do this his way. "I had a couple of beers, I think. I really donít remember. Toby, please know that this is not about drinking."
The elevator stopped and Sam jumped out into the hallway. Toby trotted after him as he headed for his door. Once inside, Sam began to pace his living room. Toby found a spot on the couch and resisted the urge to tell Sam to be still.
"Sam, who are these people you were out with tonight?" He began again.
"I donít know. People from law school, I guess," he returned never interrupting one step of his pacing.
"What the hell do you mean, "you donít know?" Leo said that now is not the time to do anything but the familiar. Do you remember that, Sam?" Toby accused.
"I know them a little. We went to school together. Well, I did with him anyway," Sam explained cryptically. He tried to organize his thoughts. "This guy, I didnít know him well, John Thyer. He was a year behind me in law school. He shows up today. Says that he was appointed as assistant legal counsel to the armed services committee. He seemed really excited. I didnít know him well, but I thought I could be happy for him." Sam took a breath and then continued. "He wanted to celebrate. Wanted me to come with him and his fiancťe. I tried to get out of it, but he was so excited. She was too. They seemed very nice. TheyÖI donít know. Before I knew it, I was getting in a cab with them and we were headed to some restaurant on Wyoming St."
"Whatís the last you remember?"
"I have little pieces of things, but I canít put it together. We drank, but only a little. Then it gets foggy and jumbled. Thatís all I know," he said frantically.
"You need to calm down, Sam. This is probably a whole bunch of nothing. Maybe they slipped you something, maybe not. But the fact is that you are okay," Toby assured him.
"God, Toby. I wish that were a possibility," he said with meaning.
"Sam?" Toby could sense that there was another shoe waiting to drop.
"Look in my bathroom," Sam said quietly. Toby could tell that this was the source of Samís panic. With some trepidation, he entered the bathroom. As with everything in Samís life, the bathroomís contents were all in their expected places. That is except for the contents on his counter. Toby picked up a shirt that was left in a heap. There were stains, dark red and still wet. As he lifted the shirt, a matchbox and a room key fell out, bouncing off the counter and onto the floor.
"Whatís on your shirt?" Toby asked apprehensively as he surveyed the deep red spatters that littered the white dress shirt front.
"What does it look like, Toby?" Sam shot at him.
"We canít know for sure that this is blood. Not by just looking at it anyway," Toby said slowly.
Sam ignored Tobyís efforts to placate him. "Look at the matchbook. Itís the Amsterdam hotel on Grand Ave. I wouldnít be caught dead in that neighborhood, Toby. To even use the gas station in that neighborhoodÖitís like begging for a tabloid headline. And a room key, for Chrisísakes, Toby. What the hell went on tonight?"
"Sam, you need to get a hold of yourself," Toby instructed.
"Stop it, Toby. Donít talk to me like you know whatís going on here," Sam shouted angrily. "You donít have a pat explanation for this. There isnít one."
Toby reached down and picked up the matchbook and the room key from the floor. "What time is it?" he asked.
"Sam, Iím going go and check this out, okay."
"Iím going with you," Sam said.
"No Sam, we donít take any chances. Let me go. Iíll see if there is anything to see and then Iíll call you, okay," Toby spoke slowly and firmly trying to mask the apprehension that was building within himself.
"I mean it, Sam," Toby returned in a low voice. "I am going to go and find out if this key and matchbook mean anything. For you to come along would be pure folly. You need to stay here and concentrate on your memory. Have some coffee. Lay the couch. Relax! See if that helps. Oh, and put this shirt in a plastic bag, but donít touch it with your hands." Toby knew that the best thing he could offer Sam right now was some direction, no matter how meaningless it might be.
Sam looked exhausted and defeated. Toby put a hand on his shoulder and steered him into the kitchen. "Sam, I will call the minute I am done checking this out. We donít have to think the worst. This could be some sick joke that your classmate orchestrated. In any case, letís save our drama for after we know the facts. Okay?" Sam nodded reluctantly and disappeared into the kitchen.
Toby looked down at the two items in his hand. He knew in his heart that this was going to turn out to be no prank. Searching himself for the courage he would need for the task ahead, Toby headed out into the night.
He stood outside in the dark, dirty hallway before trying the room key. For a while, he had convinced himself that he should formulate a plan before entering the room. Then he had argued with himself about whether he should knock or just let himself in. Finally he realized that he was just forestalling what he and Sam needed to know, good or bad.
Thus far, his foray into the world of political intrigue had been uneventful. No one had recognized him thus far. This was no surprise to Toby. He found that his dark beard offered a sort of anonymity. He hoped that the next step of his adventure would prove to be equally uninteresting.
The key slid easily into the lock and he entered apprehensively. The room was dark, the only light coming from the bathroom. In the shadows, he could see the wildly rumpled bed. There was a sweet, pungent smell that hit him as he walked in the room. He looked around anxiously to see if he could spot anything in the shadows, but the room was still.
Toby stood for a minute in the dark shadows and then approached the bed. There was a shape, a mound that suggested that someone was there. Tobyís breathing was coming in sharp, shallow bursts. He gripped the end of a blanket and tugged violently. The blanket pulled free revealing a young woman lying awkwardly across the bed. Toby gasped as he saw dark stains spreading out from her body.
Toby stood there with the blanket still in his hands, unable to do anything but stare at the horrific sight. He could sense the shock taking hold and he shook his head violently hoping to wake his senses. Then he reached for the phone in his pocket, fumbling with it as he struggled to see the numbers. He was about to put the phone to his ear when yet another surprise revealed itself.
"Put the phone down," came a dry voice from inside the room. Toby whirled around and tried to pinpoint the voice. A bright light ignited from the far corner.
"Put the phone away and sit down," directed the voice.
Toby was unsure what he was facing. Slowly he returned the phone to his jacket and then found a chair next to the bed.
"Who are you?" he asked breathlessly.
"Whoever you want me to be, Mr. Ziegler," returned the voice.
"This girl needs help," Toby pleaded.
"The girl has been beyond help for a few hours now," said the voice dispassionately.
"What happened here? Why did you kill her?"
An amused chuckle answered him. "Why would you think it was me? No one else will."
"This is a set-up, isnít it?" asked Toby still trying to orient himself.
"Call it what you like," returned the low, smooth tones.
"Why did you kill this woman?" Toby asked again vehemently.
"Let me tell you a little story, Mr. Ziegler. It may serve to answer some of your questions," he returned. "There was a young man who was not yet as jaded as his colleagues. It was endearing quality in the world in which he lived, but it wasnít well respected. Because he was good, people felt they could take use that to their advantage. This young man would follow his colleagues blindly into any situation. Loyalty was a virtue for this man. But this young man had no idea the depth of consequence to some of the activities with which his boss involved him. He didnít yet understand that good and evil could be relative terms." Toby began to feel the fear and confusion replace itself with anger. "One night, this young man said yes to people he didnít know well. They took him under the guise of a celebration. Yet they were not forthcoming about everything served to him that night. The young man became highly confused and disoriented. He was open to suggestions of all kinds including an invitation to this very hotel room. A young woman was invited to join the party. She was a young woman of some potential from a family of influence, and yet her life was one of struggle. She was ruled by a need for drugs. They were promised her at this party. Many things happened that night. Pictures were taken. The young woman was given the drugs that were promised. These were very strong drugs. She was not able to control herself. There was a fight and there was a knife. And now she lies dead."
Toby wanted to rush forward and grab hold of whoever sat behind that bright light. He felt a rage born out of powerlessness begin to grow inside him. It was only by the greatest of effort that he was able to stay seated.
"You canít blackmail me," Toby hissed at the light.
"Thatís what we thought. We were pretty sure that you would fall on your sword if necessary to protect the President. Then we wondered if you would be willing to push Sam onto his sword. Thatís what weíre going to find out tonight, Mr. Ziegler."
"Sam would never be charged or convicted in an atrocious set-up like this," Toby shot back.
"Are you sure? The whole country knows that your young friend has a penchant for high class whores. Do you really think no one will believe that Sam would be here with somebody?"
Toby looked away in the face of the manís logic.
"It is certain to make for some fascinating television. Sam the White House staffer, all squeaky clean, becomes Sam the murderer. There will be enough evidence to leave little doubt in peopleís minds. I wonder if they will be lenient or if they will make him an example to others. It would be a pity if it became a national issue, but I would imagine that it will be inevitable."
Toby found himself unable to respond. He tried to convince himself that none of these outcomes were possible, but he knew the reality of what was being told to him.
"Now we come to the part where we decide if there is a way out of this mess," the low voice offered. "Are you interested in knowing what that might be?"
Toby sat silently with his head down.
"If you find a way to make Wednesdayís meeting with the tobacco companies go belly up, I think we could work something out," the voice soothed.
"Never," croaked Toby.
"Do you prefer the alternative? Are your really ready to offer Sam as the sacrifice for the cause?"
"Youíll own me," Toby answered.
"And then we go back to the way things were. Everyone gets to lead their lives again. The status quo is maintained. You, Toby Ziegler, will get go out and find a new dragon to slay. Nothing lost," he reasoned. "Is the choice that hard?"
Toby didnít answer him.
"I can see that youíll need some time. ItsÖ4 a.m. now. You have 7 hours before the cleaning lady comes knocking on the door. Iíll let you take some time to think," said the man patiently. The light disappeared and the room fell into darkness again. A moment later, Toby heard the man speaking from the entrance to the room. "If you want to save your young protťgť then you will leave this room as it is. If not, then you should call the police. In the event that you choose this, be aware that they will have photos of Sam entering the hotel as well as his finger prints lifted from all major pieces of evidence by the end of the day." Toby could see the door open, briefly letting in the light, and then close, plunging him back into the darkness of the room and of his soul.
"Toby, I havenít heard from you in six hours. Itís almost 9 a.m. Leo is screaming bloody murder because no one knows where you are, and I canít even see straight, Iím so crazy," Sam blurted into the cell once he heard Tobyís voice.
"It took longer than I thought," came a weary, slow voice.
"It was nothing reallyÖan attempt by the tobacco folks to discredit you. I got there just in time to put theÖscrews to those guys," said Toby haltingly.
"Are you okay?"
"So everything is okay, right?" asked Sam hopefully.
"Yeah, Sam. Youíre going to be okay in all of this. Donít worry about a thing."
"Wait until I see Leo. Heís going to flip," said Sam with the kind of giddiness that comes with relief.
"Donít talk to Leo about this, right now. Do you understand?"
"Okay," replied Sam with some confusion.
There was silence.
"Iím not coming in today," Toby said and then hung up the phone. Sam felt his apprehension returning. He had never encountered a Toby like this before. He tried to concentrate on the relief he felt, but he couldnít shake the strange lilt to Tobyís tone. Sam had a feeling that this nightmare was far from over.