Part 11. Disclaimers in Part One.
Once they were alone, President Josiah Bartlett and his chief of staff both sank onto the sofa.
"Man oh man," Leo said. "This just doesn’t get any better, does it?"
The President shook his head. "No, it gets worse and worse. I just had the British Ambassador and Prime Minister Blair on a conference call. They think this is a rogue mission. Their IRA people say its not sanctioned and they have no reason to lie. Plus there’s heavy religious rhetoric coming from the leader. He’s been spouting about Catholic values. The IRA is usually more political." Jed Bartlett laid his head in his hands. "This could go very badly very quickly."
For a long moment Leo McGarry said nothing. Like his president he was a Catholic. He had true difficulty getting his mind around religion as an excuse for violence. He always had. Even in school he’d never understood the Crusades.
The news the President had given him was not good. Professional terrorists were somewhat predictable and made negotiations easier. They had points to make. They generally did not want to die. Rogues, especially fanatics, were different. Causes often meant much more than lives.
Rousing himself from his stupor, Leo turned to Jed Bartlett. "How much are the British willing to listen to us?"
Jed looked at his best friend, knowing almost exactly what he was thinking. "Blair was congenial. He agreed that it is an American Carrier, and American destination, and mostly American passengers, but he did remind me that the attack happened on British soil and the dead airport workers are British. I offered all possible assistance on the ground and in the air. He said the only demands so far were procedural and he was working on that. Apparently they want to fly to Belfast before talking more. Blair was not sure they were going to allow it." Silence followed as both men considered the implications of that statement.
"What about the inside help that you mentioned earlier?" Leo asked finally.
"The security guard that helped them get to the plane is aboard with them. He’s a long-time Heathrow employee. British. Catholic. Lost a son in Northern Ireland. Beyond that they do not know much. They are investigating all of his known associates."
"At least the Brits know what they are doing," Leo commented.
The President nodded, the hesitated. Finally he made the decision to share his fears with his Chief of Staff. "If this starts to go badly, the Brits will go in shooting. They have a lot at stake. No one’s so much as tried an attack out of Heathrow since Pan Am 103. They’ve always been hard edge against domestic terrorism over there since Lord Mountbatten was murdered in the 70s. They will not hesitate to take that plane."
"If they do that, a lot of people will wind up dead." Leo said.
"I know." Jed stopped. "I haven’t told Blair about Josh. I’m going to, though. He might think a few seconds longer before attacking a plane with one of my friends and advisors aboard. Those few seconds might save lives."
"I hope you’re right, Jed. I really hope you are." The phone on Leo’s desk began to ring. He picked it up. "CJ? When are you briefing? Okay. We’ll watch. What bad news CJ? I really don’t need any more... How the hell did that happen? Well find out and I mean now!" Leo slammed down the phone and turned to his president. "CJ and Toby think that Danny Concannon knows about Josh"
From the sofa the President of the United States unleashed a string of profanity that made Leo cringe.