"Sam, what the hell is going on?" Josh demanded as he approached Sam in the underground parking garage of the White House.
"I needed some place private," Sam said absently. He looked as pale as he had yesterday morning. There was a newspaper on the ground next to him. He kept glancing at it with apprehension.
"You know, you and your crazy boss are really beginning to freak me out," Josh said in irritation.
"I have been trying to tell myself that nothing is going on. I convinced myself that it was over when he called me yesterday and said everything was okay. Did you know heís meeting with the cigarette boys by himself?" Sam asked as he paced up back and forth between the concrete columns.
"Yeah, I did," Josh softened his approach upon noticing the extent to Samís agitation.
"Everything is not okay, is it?"
"No, something is going on, and Toby is pulling himself in deeper and deeper with each passing hour," Josh replied softly.
"We need to find a way to help," Sam insisted.
"Toby wonít let us and itís gotten too big. Leo and the President will be meeting with him as soon as heís done with the cigarettes. If he doesnít fess up soonÖ" Josh shook his head softly.
"Heís in that much trouble?" Sam cried in disbelief.
"There is no room for secrets in this administration. We have no idea what heís up to," Josh justified.
Sam slammed his hand against a concrete wall. The parking garage reverberated with echoes of the sound. He stayed suspended there against the wall for a minute and thought. Finally he spoke to his best friend in a voice akin to a whisper, "I have a secret too."
"Sam?" Josh asked apprehensively.
"I thought it would be trouble to say too much. It might make you accomplices. I was thinking like a lawyer. You know, never volunteer too much and all that."
"What is it, Sam?"
"When I woke up two nights ago, there was more in my apartment than just a matchbook to give me a clue that something was up," he said quietly. He had his face half turned away from Joshís as he spoke.
"Iím listening, Sam," Josh said softly.
"I donít know," Sam hesitated.
"Sam, give me your wallet," Josh ordered. Sam looked at him in confusion. "Give me your damn wallet, Sam!"
Sam pulled out his wallet and handed over to Josh. Josh rifled through it and grabbed a dollar bill. Then he tossed it back to Sam.
"You have just retained me, Sam. I am not obligated to report anything you tell me," he reported.
"You are not a lawyer in this administration. You are the Deputy Chief of Staff. This wonít work," Sam argued.
"I am a lawyer and the Deputy Chief of Staff. As far as Iím concerned this concerned this conversation falls under the auspices of client privilege."
I donít know," Sam said warily.
Well, I do. You trust me, donít you?"
Sam stood silently staring at the ground for some time before responding, and when he did, he left no doubt as to his trust. "There was a bloody shirt in my apartment when I woke up. It was my shirt, the one I had been wearing that evening."
"Whose blood?" Josh asked breathlessly.
Sam shook his head silently.
"You still have it?"
"They were trying to scare you. It could have been anything," Josh reasoned.
Sam ignored Joshís optimism. "The matchbook cover was from the Hotel Amsterdam."
"Not a great address, Sam," Josh admitted.
Sam leaned over and carefully picked up the newspaper from the ground. He handed it to Josh and pointed to a story on the inside of the metro section. "I read this an hour ago."
Josh looked at the article. It told of a young woman murdered at the Hotel Amsterdam early Tuesday morning. He read it carefully looking for any information that could give him some peace of mind. None of it did. The article indicated that the police had only one lead. A cleaning lady reported seeing a dark, balding, bearded man in an expensive suit exit the room at 6:45 a.m. that morning."
"Josh, are they capable of this?" Sam asked.
Josh ignored his question. "Toby went to the hotel that night, didnít he?"
"And he told you what?"
"He called me the next morning and said that everything was okay. He told me not to worry."
"And then what?" Josh asked and then answered his own question. "He stayed as far away from everyone as he possibly could and decided to deal with the cigarettes himself."
Josh began to do some pacing of his own. After a minute, he stopped and looked at Sam, saying slowly, "I think Toby made a deal with the devil,"
"No way, Josh. He wouldnít do something like that for love or money or even for his life," Sam protested.
"Yeah, but would he do it to save your skin?" Josh said looking Sam in the eye.
"I canít believe it," Sam said shaking his head furiously.
"Knowing Toby as I do, he is probably trying to protect you and the administration all at the same time," Josh said with some certainty.
"We gotta tell, Leo."
"No!" Josh said instinctively.
"Donít protect me, Josh. This is too big. We canít keep this a secret."
"Sam, weíre contaminated. Each person that knows after this will likewise be contaminated. We canít let this get near the President."
"It doesnít matter if he hands you straight over to the authorities. He would be infected. He would become a part of this," Josh hissed fervently.
"We donít tell Leo?" Sam asked in confusion.
"I donít know, Sam. Weíre going to have to take some time to think about that."
"How about CJ?" he asked with some hesitation.
"Neither of us really wants to go there, Sam. CJ doesnít do jugular all that well. Weíd be only doing it because sheís a peer and an equal. Right now, I see no reason why she should get dragged into this."
"Yeah," Sam agreed.
"Is the shirt still in your apartment?"
"God in heaven above!" Josh invoked.
"I didnít think I needed to hide it."
"Sam, you get over there right now. We need to do something about that shirt. Iíll meet you there. Then weíre gonna track down Toby. Heís gonna get some help whether he wants it or not." With that, Josh turned and headed out of the garage, leaving Sam standing there alone next to his newspaper.
"Whereís Toby?" CJ asked as she entered the bullpen.
Ginger looked at Bonnie and then said. "Heís in with the President."
"Did he take either one of you into his meeting with the tobacco companies?"
They both shook their heads slowly. CJ knew that Toby would not make either one of them his confidante for whatever was going on, but she also knew the powers of deduction employed by any first rate junior staff. She gestured to them and headed into Tobyís office. They gave each other a look and then followed her in, closing the door behind them.
"Do you know anything? Iím really worried about him. I think something big is up," she began.
"Toby doesnít like it when we get nosy," Ginger responded weakly.
"Come on, you work for Mr. Enigma. Are you saying that you never employ a little detective work to figure out whatís going on?" CJ urged.
She could see their discomfort. "He doesnít ever know where it comes from. And I wouldnít ask if I wasnít so worried about him.
Bonnie stepped forward. "We donít know that much, CJ, but weíll give you everything."
"Okay," CJ said with relief.
"We know heís really scared about somethingÖ" Bonnie began.
"He gets really soft-spoken," Ginger finished.
"Whenever he gets this way, itís time to really pay attention," Bonnie explained.
"Before he went in to see the President, he was in his office reading the Post. He saw something in there that really upset him. We could tell from out here. Then he came out and wanted to know where Samís copy was. When we gave it to him, he threw it away. Then he took off," Ginger told.
"Sam comes in later and within a few minutes he wants to know where is his copy of the Post. We played dumb. He went out into the hallway and apparently took someone elseís copy. Then he goes to his office and starts to read the thing. He stops when he gets to the metro section. I found some reports to take in there, and saw that he was reading something on the upper left part of page 3," Bonnie added.
"He stared at that page for probably thirty minutes. Then he called Josh and ran out of here. He came back twenty minutes ago, grabbed his coat, and said heíd be gone for the day."
"I need a copy of the Post," CJ said.
"A lot of people had their copy stolen today," reported Bonnie producing yet another copy from a drawer in her desk. She handed CJ the metro section with a story circled on the upper left quadrant of page 3. CJ perched her glasses on her nose and started to read.
"At first, we thought it was his friend Laurie, you remember her, the prostitute lawyer friend of his," Ginger offered.
"But the description doesnít fit. Besides Sam says that she is 100% legit these days," continued Bonnie.
"Whateverís going on, it doesnít look good especially when you get to the part about the description of the man leaving the hotel room," Ginger concluded. Bonnie shot her a glare.
CJ was silent for a long time after reading the article. She stood there with her glasses still perched on her nose staring at the newspaper.
"CJ, we know that Toby and Sam didnít do anything wrong. We have a lot of faith in those guys. If Toby is involved in something, itís because heís trying to make it right," said Ginger softly.
CJ began to work her bottom lip in and out as she thought about this. Then she shook her head and focused her attention on the two people in front of her. "Two things. One, you donít talk to anybody about this. Two, anything more you find, you come straight to me, no one else. Is that understood?"
"You got it, CJ," said Bonnie answering for the both of them. CJ nodded. Then she grabbed the metro section of the Post and headed out of the bullpen.
Toby sat on the couch like a kid in the principalís office. Leo and the President had called him into the Oval Office a few minutes previous, and thus far, he was proving to be immovable.
"Toby, Iíve asked you in just about every way imaginable to tell us whatís going on and we are no closer to understanding this than we were before you slinked in here," Leo yelled in exasperation.
"I know," Toby returned miserably.
"Toby, are you doing this to protect me?" Jed Bartlet asked softly. Leo rolled his eyes at Jedís conciliatory tone and went over to fume at the other end of the room.
Toby gave a vague nod before returning his eyes to the carpet in front of him.
"Thatís admirable, Toby, if a little misguided. I really canít have an administration where my people run around cultivating their own agendas, can I?" Jed reasoned.
"That little stunt that you pulled in the Roosevelt Room was not something that you and I talked about, was it?"
"Because I donít know what the hell is going on here, I have no idea why we would want to hold off a week on the cigarettes, do I?"
"Toby, what are you asking of me here?" Jed inquired.
"That you trust that I have the best interests of the administration at heart," Toby responded weakly. Leo snorted from his spot near the door. Jed shot him a look before returning to Toby.
"I think Iím going to tell you a story,"
"SirÖ" Toby began. Behind him, Leo let out an audible groan.
"Excuse me, both of you, am I still the President here? If the building is on fire and I feel like telling you a story then, by God, youíll sit there among the burning embers and listen."
"Ego feeling a little healthy today, Mr. President," Leo shot back.
"Sit down and shut up, Leo," Jed returned before focusing in on Toby who wore the face of a condemned man.
"Iím going to tell you an old family story. Actually itís more of a family secret, and it better damn well stay that way," he began. Leo resisted an urge to assure him that no one could possibly be interested in his old founding father stories. "My grandfather, John Benjamin Bartlet owned a mill in a pretty small town. It was the townís largest employer. Well, my grandfather was a much better dreamer than he was a businessman. He was all heart, but not much on brains. He spent many years mismanaging the business passed on to him from his father. Now, I want you to understand that my granddad was a good man and very hardworking. He put in long hours, but he had no savvy, and he was the kind of guy who tended to give away the store. At some point, he put this woman in charge of the books. She had no real experience, but she was a recent widow and needed a job. Anyway, together the two of them managed to screw up what was left of the business. An audit was done and $50,000 came up missing. My grandfather was at a point of losing the business, and he figured it was all his fault. He started to think about all of those people that were going to laid off all because of him."
He paused for a minute and dared them to comment. They both just returned sullen looks.
"So being the true definition of a Catholic martyr that he was, he decided that other people shouldnít suffer for his mistakes. At some point, he got it into his thick skull that he should use the little savings that he and my grandmother accumulated to pay off the debt. But seeing as it was not going to be quite enough, my addled grandfather used it on the horse races. His intention was to double his money with a few short bets. Well, that strategy worked about as well as you can imagine. So at this point my grandfather had not only ruined the business, he had also decimated his savings with a large family to feed. Do you suppose that we are getting to the part where he wises up and goes for help?"
He looked at Toby who returned a confused shrug.
"My grandfather did not, in fact, take that opportunity to reach out. No, instead, my foolish progenitor let himself get despondent. He convinced himself that he was ruining the lives of every person in the town as well as all of the members of his family. He decided that he was responsible for everything wrong. Once he had accomplished that feat, he remembered that he had a sizable life insurance policy, and somehow, he managed to convince himself that the world was better without him. So then my idiot grandfather plotted his own demise. He decided he was going to drive off into the quarry near our home."
He fixed them with one more look before completing his tale.
"Luckily, he was a terribly absent man. He scheduled his death on a Tuesday, and then forgot to go ahead with it. What he had remembered to do, though, was leave the suicide note for his wife explaining the depth of his ignominy. Once she got a hold of the note, she did three things; she took his keys away, cancelled the life insurance policy, and took over the business. Within two years, the business was solvent again."
"And the parallels to my situation areÖ" Toby began.
"That you are an idiot just like his grandfather," completed Leo.
"That every time I have looked at you today, I have had to suppress an urge to take your car keys and cancel your life insurance," corrected the President.
"Sir, I can assure you that I have no plans to end my life."
"You have the eyes of a desperate man, Toby. And I am here to tell you that desperate men rarely are able to see more than a few feet ahead of them at any one time. Donít walk around in that kind of a fog, my friend," Jed Bartlet said softly.
"Yes sir," Toby returned.
"Do you need time to think?"
"You have 24 hours, Toby. If you canít be forthcoming by then, your time in this administration will have to end," Jed said firmly.
"Thatís a nice way of saying youíll be fired," added Leo to Jedís consternation.
Toby swallowed hard. "I understand, sir."
"I need you, Toby. Donít disappoint me."
Toby got up slowly showing the immense weight he was bearing. He nodded at both of them and walked to the door. He stopped for a moment, and then turned.
"Your grandfather, sir. What ended up happening to him?"
"He lived a long life. He stayed at home and let my grandmother run the business. In his old age, he took up poetry. I got my love for good literature from him. Iím sorry you never met him. He would have enjoyed discussing the classics with you, Toby," said the President offering him a sad smile.
Toby tried to return the gesture, but he only managed a sort of grimace. As the door closed behind him, Leo looked at Jed. Jed gave him a nod and Leo took off after Toby. He caught him going down the hall to the bullpen. Toby was surprised to find the Chief of Staff jogging after him.
"I have something to say, Toby," Leo said upon catching him. "You may be more brilliant than I am, but I am a hell of a lot smarter than you are." Toby blinked at the complexity of this logic.
"What Iím saying is that youíre probably going to need that. We can still protect him if I know. Think about that," Leo urged.
"You know how to find me, right?"
Leo reached over and squeezed Tobyís arm. Toby gave him a look of gratitude before turning to walk away down the long hallways of the West Wing.