Chapter One

Sam breathed deeply and tried to disperse the rage that surprised him with its ferocity. He could still picture Josh sitting at the table glibly trying to explain away an action that Sam found reprehensible. He took another deep breath and watched as it dissipated beneath the lights of the restaurant awning. Josh wouldn't follow him, he was certain of that. Toby and CJ had looked shocked as his chair had scraped backwards and he'd thrown his napkin onto the table. He looked up the street and thought about hailing a cab but realising this needed to be sorted out tonight he decided to walk around the block, calm down and then go back in. CJ and Toby had organised this meal in a bid to get Sam and Josh back on speaking terms and the least he could do was give it another go. He stuck his hands in his pockets, sighed and then stepped away from the restaurant's warm entranceway.

The arm that crossed over his chest and pulled him backwards took him so much by surprise that he could do nothing but follow the momentum of the pressure until he hit the wall of the alley behind him. At first he thought he had somehow got tangled up into someone else's fight or that a drunk had staggered into him. He was winded from hitting the wall and in the brief seconds it took for him to make sense of the danger he was in, it was too late to react and the arm that had pushed him backwards was now crushing into his neck. "Make a sound, you're dead." The voice was rough but the words were whispered into Sam's ear. The street light at the end of the alleyway was fading, turning into a dull yellow circle. Sam's knees started to sag and he told himself not to struggle to just drop to the floor, not to move and let them take whatever they wanted.

They didn't want anything though. That much became clear when the arm was removed and was followed by a swift punch to his stomach. It wasn't a punch born of desperate violence but a calculated, skilful punch that managed to knock what little air was left out of Sam. He wrapped his arms around his sides and tried to take a breath. A pair of hands hoisted him up and dragged him further into the dark alley. Sam recovered enough breath to let the man finish dragging him before lashing out. It was too dark to make out anything but shadows but Sam swung his arm back into what he thought was his attacker's stomach. He heard a satisfying gasp and turned towards the light from the street but another pair of hands grabbed him and again he was slammed into the wall. He heard a quick exchange and realised that there were two men. One of them pinned his arms behind his back while the other struck blow after blow. Sam's knees gave way but he was hoisted back up. Two more blows to his stomach and two to his face were struck before the man behind him finally let go and let him fall to the ground. Blood rose in Sam's mouth and he spat some of it onto the ground.

"Come on, man, that's enough." The words were spoken urgently and Sam tried to match their meaning to the footsteps he could hear beside him. A figure appeared before him backlit by the street lamp. "We were told to rough him up. He's had enough, leave it." The figure retreated slightly. "Fuck this, man!" Feet splashed through the puddles and the man was gone.

Sam closed his eyes and groaned. He tried to reach for his cell phone but his arm wouldn't cooperate. He managed to pull himself slightly from the ground but collapsed again and focused on breathing through the pain that ripped through him. The sound of something being broken behind was quickly followed by the sound of someone approaching him. Sam closed his eyes again, this time in relief and waited for the person to find him and help. The thought that there had been two men and he had only seen one leave, struck him at the same time as the metal pipe. He curled into a ball desperately trying to shrink away from this new assault. The pipe crashed down again, this time on his back. He tried to roll away. Pain punctuated by even sharper pain was all Sam knew. He heard himself begging and felt no shame at it. He would die in this alley, was all he could think. Silence then metal landing and rolling away abruptly stopping as it hit the wall. A hand grabbed hold of Sam's collar and yanked him up. The man's face was so close that Sam could feel his breath on his face. "Tell Josh Lyman that this is for Gillmore." Sam felt a pain sharper than any before in his arm and then a tug. Desperate to make the man see that he had understood he nodded frantically. He was flung to the ground then felt one more blow to his ribs. The man's footsteps faded and then only the sound of traffic was left to accompany Sam's rattling breaths.

Toby pulled his collar up and stood below the awning. Sam's number was ringing and hadn't gone to answer phone. He dialled again and looked at the screen to check it was Sam he was calling. A few weeks ago he had called his accountant, also called Sam, and demanded to know if he had ever had the pleasure of meeting a comma or apostrophe. Sam the accountant had replied that he'd come across a few but personally preferred semi-colons.

It had started to rain, and as he stared at the screen a drop of water fell onto it from the awning above. Toby rubbed the phone on his trousers. He stopped mid-movement and listened. In the gaps between the passing cars he was sure he could hear a cell phone ringing. He waited for another gap and then ended the call. The distant ring tone ended also. He stepped out of the awning and onto the street as he dialled again. The same ring tone answered and Toby looked around for Sam. He looked up and down the street and across to the other side. Turning in a full circle he almost missed the flash of green in the alleyway. He turned back and saw it again. He took a few steps towards it and the ring tone volume increased. "Sam?" He walked into the opening of the alleyway and called again. Toby tried to think of possible logical reasons for why Sam's phone would be on the floor in an alleyway and then the cold realization that Sam might also be here forced him into a run pulling up shortly before the cell phone's flashing light. He bent down and reached out for it, feeling around the surrounding ground for Sam or more of his belongings. As his eyes became accustomed to the dark Toby stepped forward more confidently. His foot brushed against something and he stooped down. He heard Sam's moan before he felt his body. He cursed and knelt down beside the still form.

Toby reached out tentatively and placed his hand on Sam's shoulder. He recoiled in shock as Sam flinched violently away form him and moaned again. "It's okay, Sam, it's me, Toby. It's okay now." He reached for his own cell phone and started to dial for an ambulance. It clattered to the ground and Toby cursed his shaking hands as he picked it up. He couldn't make out much and although the sound of a door opening made him jump, he was glad for the sudden light that swept into the alley.

A cook from the restaurant emerged from the doorway and lit a cigarette. Toby, blinded by the light, squinted up at him at the same moment the man saw him and Sam.

"Hey! What're you doing? Get away from him, man!"

"No, it's not…he's my friend, he needs help. Can you phone for an ambulance…he's bleeding? Get some towels or something?"

The man flicked his cigarette across the alley and hurried back inside. Toby looked back down at Sam and instantly wished for the darkness to return. His face was bloody, the rain that ran over it caused a fountain effect of watered down blood to wash over it and collect on the ground beneath him. One arm was wrapped around his waist and the other lay awkwardly beside him. His legs were curled into his stomach, the knees of his trousers ripped and one shoe missing. Toby placed his hand on Sam's head and called to him and although Sam's eyes opened, he wasn't able to respond to the familiar voice.

"Here," the cook was suddenly beside Toby, handing him the towels. "The ambulance is on its way."

Toby nodded. He reached out to hold Sam's hand. It was soaking but Toby gripped it tightly. He thought of Josh and CJ still inside and reached for his cell phone. It slipped out of his hand and it was only as Toby looked down to retrieve it that he saw his hand was covered in blood. He looked up at the cook who had seen it too and together they reached for Sam's hand and pulled it away from his body. Blood was rushing down it and seeping into one of the towels that lay by him. Toby started to try to remove Sam's jacket but the cook stopped him and went running back inside. He returned with a pair of scissors and carefully cut along the sleeve. Just above Sam's elbow he stopped cutting; the blood soaked shirt turned white at that point. There was a small slit in the material and behind that a wound that was gushing blood freely now that the jacket had been removed. Toby grabbed for a towel and placed it firmly on it. Sam became aware of the pressure and shrugged away. He moaned and tried again to escape from Toby's grasp. "It's okay, Sam, it's Toby, you're safe now."

"My name's Michael, by the way," the cook said as he took the towel from Toby's grasp and wrapped it tightly around Sam's arm. Toby told Michael his name but his attention never left Sam who had calmed slightly now and was searching for Toby's face but was unable to focus.

CJ lifted her glass. The chinking as its stem hit her plate was the only sound at the table. Since Toby had left, Josh and she had said few words. Josh stared across the room at the other diners and sighed before turning his attention back to CJ. "You think I'm wrong too."

"I think you did what you thought was best at the time, but now I think you regret it. There's not much anyone can do about that, Josh." CJ placed her glass back down and reached for Josh's hand. "You saved Leo from exposure that he would not have survived. That's not a bad day's work."

Josh nodded and tried to smile. "I hate how Sam gets about things like this. I hate that he has to get on his-" Josh's words were halted by a waiter's appearance at their table.

"Miss Cregg, Mr Lyman, will you come with me please."

Josh sent a puzzled glance at CJ who looked just as confused.

"Mr Ziegler asked me to fetch you. He's outside. Please." There was a tone of urgency to the waiter's voice which made them stand without question and follow him through the kitchen and out to the alleyway. CJ saw Toby first and she called his name. Toby glanced up, his face illuminated by the light from the doorway. Josh cursed as he saw the look of horror on Toby's face. He had seen that look before; he remembered seeing it clearly when everything else had been a haze of fear and pain. He stood for a few seconds unable to bring himself to look at the form lying on the ground. Michael leaned behind Toby to reach for another towel and as he did so Sam's face could be seen clearly. CJ's hand rose to her mouth. The expensive wine Josh had been enjoying moments before rose in his throat and he swallowed compulsively. He felt CJ push beside him and watched as she hurried over to Sam.

Toby scooted sideways slightly so that she could sit beside him. "I came out to find him…I phoned him…found him here…found him like this."

CJ looked at Toby's hand holding the towel tightly against Sam's arm. She removed her jacket and placed it under Sam's head. "Sam, can you hear me? It's CJ."

Sam's eyes opened and settled on Toby. His brow furrowed in confusion and CJ moved closer so that he could see her. "CJ." A small smile flickered across his face but it quickly turned to a grimace. He tried to shift away from the pressure on his arm but felt hands behind him holding him in place. "Your dress…ruined," Sam said as he looked at the blood that had already started to soak into the delicate material. "Who's bleeding?" Sam asked. CJ wasn't sure what to say. She wasn't sure if telling Sam that he was would be the most comforting thing to hear.

"You are," Toby answered for her. "You're okay now though, we found you and it's going to be okay."

Sam looked across at Toby and nodded. "Okay," he mumbled and then his eyes closed. "Going to close…close eyes bit, Toby."

"No!" Toby shook Sam until his eyes opened again. "Don't sleep, Sam, you can't close your eyes."

Sam looked at Toby in confusion before settling his gaze on CJ. "Don't sleep," he told her. CJ's look of horror was not caused by his words but by the blood that gushed out of his mouth as he spoke them.

"Oh God, Toby, do something!" It was Michael who responded. He darted around to kneel next to CJ, straightened Sam's legs, pulled his hand up to his face and then grabbed a handful of Sam's pants to help pull Sam onto his side and into the recovery position.

CJ picked up one of the towels and wiped the blood away.

"Toby says…don't…don't sleep," Sam repeated to CJ and she stroked his head and told him Toby was right.

Josh had watched it all but hadn't moved. He heard the sirens before he saw the lights and then heard the clunk as the ambulance drove over a loose drain in the alleyway. Only when the paramedics surrounded Sam did he walk over to him. He stood beside CJ who was watching silently as Toby reluctantly relinquished his position to give them more room to work. He listened to the quick-fire conversation between the paramedics and watched as Sam was lifted onto a gurney and wheeled at a dizzying speed toward the ambulance. He turned away from Toby and CJ and followed the ambulance which was forced to drive slowly back up the narrow alley. Toby saw Josh's outstretched arm and the cab that pulled up beside him. He grabbed CJ's elbow and hurried to join him.

"Is there anything on my schedule tomorrow that involves hats?" President Bartlet asked a bemused Charlie who picked up a clipboard and scanned the information on it.

"No, Sir." Charlie placed it back down but then something caught his eye. "Having said that…" Charlie scanned the list again. "Yes, you have a meeting with Governor Trilby."

"Ah ha!" Bartlet cried triumphantly. "Cancel it."

Charlie turned around in his chair to face him. "Cancel it?"

"Yes. I had this dream and I don't mind telling you, Charlie, that it's conjured a sense of dread when having anything to do with ha-"

"This is a little like the time you cancelled a meeting with Ambassador Pien because someone told you that a man with a beard would bring you great hardship."

"He did bring me great hardship and you just interrupted the President of the United States, I don't think you're supposed to do that."

"He beat you at chess," Charlie continued.

Bartlet stuck his hands into his pockets and nodded. Charlie groaned inwardly at the move by move account of the game he was certain he was about to be given. He was relieved when Leo appeared from his office. That relief was soon replaced by concern though when he saw the expression on Leo's face.

Bartlet saw it too. "Leo?"

Leo nodded towards the Oval Office and Bartlet followed him inside. "What is it?"

"I just got a call from Toby. Sam was beaten up an hour ago." Leo watched as Bartlet slumped against his desk and waited before continuing. "He's in the ER now. Toby says as well as beaten, he was stabbed. CJ's at the hospital but she'll be on her way when she's spoken to the doctor."

Bartlet shook his head and folded his arms he looked up at Leo and saw the fury he felt being contained in his friend's expression. "How bad?"

"We don't know yet but Toby said he was bleeding a lot and lost consciousness in the ambulance. The press don't have it yet but they soon will. The attackers haven't been caught."

"Do we know why they did it? Was it a mugging?"

Leo stepped closer to the President. "They didn't take a thing. We should get Ron up to speed."

Bartlet agreed and Leo left to contact him. Even on the scant details he had so far, Bartlet knew there was something very wrong about this. He sat at his desk and tried to think what Sam had been working on recently and whether he had been in the public eye over any particular issues. He tried to think of some way to make sense of what had happened. He could not.