Chapter 6

            "I think we should go with Isaac Bruce of the St. Louis Cardinals for wide receiver," Donna advised.

            "Donna, I told you to make picks from the other list.  If you would just use the proper list, you will see that Isaac Bruce has already been picked by Senator Dammon," Bonnie said impatiently.

            "What about Joey Galloway?  He is a big money player, one of the last on the list," offered Donna as she peered frantically down the correct list.

            "What do you think, Ginger?" Bonnie asked.

            "Well, heís big money, but I donít like him," she replied critically.

            "Me neither.  I donít think that right knee is worth a damn," Bonnie concurred.

            Yeah, they didnít even have him running wind sprints this week.  He spent all of Monday and Tuesday in physical therapy.  Weíd be buying a lame horse," Ginger added.

            Donna looked from one to the other as if she was seeing them for the first time.

            "What the hell are you two talking about?" Donna asked in frustration.

            "Clearly, you are not doing your research," Bonnie accused.

            "Well, I am trying to keep up with all of the sheets connected to this arcane labyrinth of a game, and I am even watching ESPN, for godís sakes," she countered.

            "Then you will know what everyone else knows and you will lose Joshís money on Sunday," Bonnie informed her.

            "Come on, girl.  I know you can dig.  You, Donnatella, are the legend of title IX.  Remember when you found the obscure reference in the rule that allowed the President to double federal contributions to womenís sports.  These days, that man can catch womenís softball almost 24 hours a day.  All because of you," said Ginger trying to rally her friend.

            "There isnít time to learn all of this stuff," she complained.

            "Shoot, I know no more about football now than I did before we started.  Sources are the key, Donna. You remember sources, the lifeblood of West Wing communications.  You know writers at probably fifty newspapers around the country," said Bonnie.

            "Well none of them are sports writers," she retorted.

            "Youíre not using your imagination," Ginger warned. "For instance, have you ever heard of Wayne Chrebet?"  She waited for Donna to shake her head. "Okay, well, he is not big money, but he is having a good season with the Jets.  Plus he is playing against Kansas City this weekend.  The Chiefs have a poor defense, and Wayne went to school in KC.  Heíll be wanting to prove himself on his old stomping grounds.  The stars are all in alignment for this young man.  Heíd be my pick for wide receiver."

            "Ginger, you did that much research on everyone in 24 hours?" Donna replied skeptically.

            "Are you kidding?  My contact in Houston knows the sports writer for his rag.  That sports writer is tickled to be talking to the White House.  Then this guy hands me over to his friend, Jim Ehlers, who is the assistant defensive coach for the Oilers.  My new friend Ehlers is also beside himself with talking to someone who sees the President every day.  Pretty soon, heís telling me all sorts of interesting things including who is going to be having a good week catching balls around the league," Ginger took a breath.

            "And just to be safe, I found someone who knew someone who talked to someone who put me in touch with the guy on the medical team for the New York Jets.  This guy says that Wayne is loaded for bear.  Says heís been running college time hundreds all week.  They say heís been catching everything they throw in the air.  The guy says heís had hands like magnets all week long.  Plus Vinny Testaverde is healthy.  This guy says Vinny will be going to the air all day long come Sunday.  All of this means showtime for our boy, Wayne," Bonnie added with satisfaction.

            "Well you two have really picked up the colorful patois of football speak," Donna observed wryly.

            "Girl, we are just trying to protect the honor of the Presidentís senior staff," Bonnie declared.

            "I know, and I love you guys for it. I just canít let Josh down.  Heís going to be so mad at me, and I donít think I can bear the thought," Donna said.

            "Boundaries, Donna!" Bonnie warned.

            "Donít leave home without them," Ginger added.

            "You could use a little work in this area, Donna.  You get awfully personal about that funny looking Harvard grad you work for," Bonnie counseled.

            "Nothing wrong with his looks," she defended.

            "You donít see us fussing over that crabby old Toby Ziegler, do you?" Ginger asked.

            "WellÖ" Donna began with some hesitation.

            "No siree. We are arms length kind of people, arenít we, Ginger?"  Bonnie reported proudly.  Ginger nodded in agreement.

            Why just this morning, he comes in all scruffy looking and everything.  Says "hi" to us.  Gives us those big puppy dog eyes.  Says we are the best people he has ever worked with in all of his years in politics.  Just the whole nine yards," Bonnie reported.

            "We could tell that something big was up.  There was no other reason for him to be so darn civil and everything," Ginger added.

            "But you donít see us getting all worked up over whatever is going on with him."

            "Nope.  Our plan is to just leave him be.  Let him figure it out," said Ginger.

            Donna watched them in silence.  They were clearly not looking for any feedback.  The conversation seemed to have more of a lecture format to it.  She suspected that there was supposed to be some learning in it for her.

            "We are not at all worried.  Probably has something to do with this cigarette meeting he has this morning," offered Bonnie after a bit of thought.

            "Those guys can be rough," Ginger said slowly. "Makes sense that heís a little shaken up today."

            Bonnie looked at her for a short minute before slowing adding, "Yeah, he should be fine.  Thereís nothing out there that our guy canít handle."

            "Iíve heard stories about the cancer boys," Ginger said with a distinctly worried look growing on her face.

            "You know, maybe we need to be getting back to the bullpen.  He might be looking for us," Bonnie said nervously.

            "You know he really didnít look good to me today.  Very pale, didnít you think so," Ginger fretted.

            "Well, he was out sick yesterday."

            "I know and weíve been sneaking those iron pills in with his morning aspirin the last two weeks now. He should not have been sick at all."

            "Youíre right.  Maybe we should tell him the elevatorís out so he has to walk the stairs like we did last month.  The exercise would be good for him."

            "Oh please, Bonnie.  He almost had a stroke when he found out what we were up to the last time.  Remember all that yelling and screaming about how heíll let his muscles atrophy if he wants to.  Said that Ďit was his birthright, for Godís sakes.í" Ginger said mimicking his tone.

            "Well, weíre going to have to think of something.  We canít just let him waste away like this."

            At this point, Bonnie and Ginger had all but forgotten Donna.  She watched with some amusement as they started to walk off together intent on an anxious conversation regarding the state of Toby Zieglerís health.

            Before they rounded the corner, Donna yelled a Ďgood-byeí to them.

            They turned in surprise, and waved back.  Bonnie offered one more bit of advice before they disappeared, "Remember boundaries, Donna.  You can learn something by watching us!"

            Donna shook her head and wondered what the American Psychological Association would say if they were allowed to test even a sampling of the characters that inhabited the West Wing.

            "Toby, we need to talk," CJ said urgently.  Her tall, slim figure filled his doorway.

            "Oh!  I didnít know you were free," he said with some surprise.

            "No, in fact, I am not," she replied barely containing her anger.  "Right now, I have an office filled with Romanian diplomats.  I found them there when I showed up this morning.  The interpreter says that they are with me for the entire morning.  Says they want to see how we do Ďcommunicationsí up close.  I asked the interpreter how they got referred to me, Toby."

            "I did it," he replied.

            "I know you did.  I just donít know why."

            "Because I canít talk to you right now.  I canít have the conversation that you need to have. And, frankly, I need you out of the way this morning," he said firmly.

            "Toby, you are scaring me so much."

            "I know," he had trouble meeting her eyes.

            "Please let me help.  I can help," she pleaded.

            "No," he replied simply.

            "Why are you doing this to us?" she had trouble controlling the emotion in her voice.

            "CJ, Iím not the man you think I am," he said trying to keep his voice steady.

            "I know you!" she replied fiercely.

            "Did you know that Iím the kind of man who commits felonies?  Did you know that I was the kind of man who is willing to put this whole administration at risk?  Did you know those things about me?"

            "I donít believe you," she said softly.

            "You have Romanians in your office," he said quietly.  He kept his eyes steadily on hers.

            She stood in the doorway unable to stop the tears from filling her eyes.  Neither of them moved for a moment.  Toby seemed transfixed by the pain on her face.

            "I know that something bad has happened.  I have felt it in my gut ever since Sam called two nights ago.  I donít know what it is, but it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I am starting to believe it could destroy us all," she said as the tears fell freely down her cheeks.  He could feel the fear growing inside her.

            "CJ, I did things wrong, and now itís up to me to make them right," he talked so softly that she strained to hear him. "I wonít let my mistakes hurt you.  I wonít do that to you.  I canít."

            "You already have," she said in a whisper. She was hugging herself tightly as she leaned against his doorframe. He moved toward her a step, and she flinched.  He froze. In a moment of shock, he could see the toll taken by his secrets and lies.

            "CJÖ" he pleaded, but she was gone.  He watched from the doorway as she fled the bullpen.  "Itís the right thing," he repeated over and over in his head like a mantra.  Still his heart told a different story.

            He was heading back in to grab his stuff for the meeting ahead when he was honored with another visitor.  His back stiffened as he heard the angry tones behind him.

            "Did you get any of the 17,000 messages Iíve left for you over the last day and a half?" Josh began as way of greeting.  He marched through the bullpen and past Toby into his office.

            "Josh, I donít have time," Toby began patiently.

            "I know.  They are already in the Roosevelt room.  You switched up the meeting.  It was supposed to be in the afternoon," he accused.

            Toby stood silently before him.

            "You were supposed to be in Leoís office right now," he challenged.

            "I donít have time," Toby repeated.

            "Oh, I can see that," Josh said sarcastically.

            Toby got quiet again.  Josh could sense the immense heaviness within him.  It reminded him of burdens that he himself tended to carry.   He lowered his head for a minute and tried again.

            "I know you, Toby.  Youíre just like me.  Youíre a romantic.  You believe in all the fairy tales and everything that goes along with them; honor, glory, chivalry, duty, and all the other crap.  Youíre a regular knight at the round table," Josh took a deep breath and continued, "Toby, there is a problem with guys like you and me.  Weíre not pragmatists.  We want to do things like eradicate hunger and establish peace among all peoples.  We think that weíre strong enough to save the world and to protect it from all that is evil.  We donít often look at the reality of a situation. Weíre idiots that way," he stopped for a minute to see if he was reaching Toby.

            "Youíre up to something," he continued.  "The whole wing can feel it.  Are you going to try and save the world today, Toby?  Are you going to try it all by yourself?"

            "The only part where youíre right about is that I am an idiot," Toby replied quietly.  He turned and gathered up his things. "I gotta go.  Iíll find you and Leo later."

            "Toby, donít do this alone.  Let me help.  I am ready for a good fight," Josh appealed one last time.

            Toby said nothing as he continued to gather up his files.

            "Toby, Bernie Hanson was a romantic," Josh said desperately.  Toby stopped for a second, his files tucked under his arm.  Then he shook his head and turned to leave.

            "Talk to you later," he said brushing past Josh and walking out of the bullpen.

            He walked purposefully toward the Roosevelt Room not looking over his shoulder to see if Josh was coming after him.  He and his files were almost to the room when he heard a voice behind him.

            "I canít believe you did this." 

            Toby turned to see Sam with a frustrated look on his face walking up to him.

            "You put me in some useless meeting about pork prices, and then I find out that you rescheduled the cigarettes," he reported, shaking his head in disbelief.

            "I donít want you in there," Toby said simply.

            "Just try and stop me," Sam countered.

            "Sam, you are not going in," Tobyís voice was quiet and firm.

            "I am not letting you go in alone," Sam said holding his ground.

            "I am still the Communications Director of this administration.  If I say you are not going in, then you are not going in," Toby said adding a note of ferocity to his tone.

            "Donít do this, Toby," Sam pleaded.

            "Iíve been hearing that all day, Sam.  And yet, no one has a clue what they are talking about," Toby replied.

            "Weíre in politics, Toby.  We rely on our instincts.  Youíre going in there to finish something that started with me.  I donít need you to spell that out for me," Sam shot back.

            "What Iím doing in there started with me, Sam, not you."  Toby met his eyes with this last statement.  Then he walked around Sam and opened the door to the Roosevelt room and closed it firmly behind him.

            Then he turned to face the five men of tobacco seated on one side of the long conference room.  He dispensed with salutations and merely plopped his files down on his side of the table.  It took real effort for him to actually sit across from them, but he made it in the interest of getting this done.

            No one in the room pretended that the meeting was a friendly one.  There was silence while he situated himself among his ever present files and paper.  Then he looked up and at the men across from him.

            "Youíre joining us alone today," observed Eamonn Smith, the President of American Tobacco.

            Toby ignored his wry observation. "I believe that we are here to further discuss this administrationís stand on the danger of tobacco use in this country."

            "It should be an interesting conversation especially since you are an active smoker yourself.  In fact, I believe that my company makes a cigar of which you are particularly fond," said Smith.

            "I think that statement alone will help me far more than any patch in an effort to quit your vile drug," parried Toby.

            "Has your administration decided to soften its relationship with us or are we still at the mercy of your fascist leanings?" asked Smith sarcastically.

            "I am here to say that this administration needs more time before we can give you a decision," said Toby slowly.

            "For what, Ziegler.  Two days ago, you wanted to throw us to the dogs. Now you want time to think.  Doesnít make much sense," said Smith with none of the curiosity of his words.

            "This administration is not ready to finalize a plan.  That is what I am here to tell you today," Toby replied firmly.

            "We expected a firm response today.  This is actually quite disappointing.  We were promised a resolution," insisted Smith.

            "This requires more thought than we had indicated two days ago.  We are not ready," Toby said.

            "We may be forced to move forward," said Smith.

            "Then do it!" Toby yelled rising out of his seat.  "I canít have a decision ready for you today." He settled back into his chair and hoped that that his bluff would hold.

            "We expected better from you."

            "I donít care.  IÖwe need more time."

            "Is this room bugged?"

            "How the hell should I know?  Do you think they would tell a dubious character like myself?" Toby shot at him.

            "This is not what we expected," Smith concluded.  Toby noticed that a couple of the younger associates wore slightly confused expressions.  He suspected that some of the dirtiest dealings were kept secret from the junior associates.

            "Do what you have to do.  I am not ready to say anything more on the Presidentís behalf," said Toby doing his best to present a confident front. 

            There was silence while both sides of the table warily regarded one another.

            The silence was finally broken.  "One week," Smith grumbled.

            "I need more time," Toby replied.

            "One week is all.  Then we move forward with what we know," Smith said firmly.

            Toby surveyed his opponents carefully for a minute.  His gut was telling him that he had gone as far as he could with these guys.  Finally he took a breath and said, "My people will talk to yours.  We will meet back here in exactly one week."

            Smith nodded at him.  Then he gestured to his associates.  Collectively they gathered up their things and exited the room. 

            Toby closed his eyes for a minute and let his body momentarily relax into his chair.  He let out some of the anxiety that had been building in him all day.  He prayed that for five minutes no one would enter the room.  He needed those few minutes of solitude.  It felt like the whole world was mad at him right now, both the good guys and the bad.  Walking the tightrope between those two groups was beginning to seriously threaten his sanity.  He hoped that he could hold it together long enough to save Sam and protect the administration.



The Endgame - 7




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