Chapter Forty-six

Sam had decamped to Toby's office. The flipchart he had requested stood in the corner. Bonnie and Ginger were seated on the sofa waiting for him to finish writing on the chart. He underlined the last item on his list with a flourish and turned to them. "Okay, this is my day. The day was going well and then a man died and another man committed a lewd act outside a 7-Eleven. These two events are not connected by the way. So, this is my day. There are a number of tasks to complete within a given timeframe. So what I need you to do is-"

"You need us to get you through the day," Ginger said.

"I had a few more…it was more… Yes, I need you to get me through the day."

"Well, okay." She went over to the flipchart and turned to a new page but then changed her mind and reached for one of the pack of Post-its that Sam had asked for. "Have you got a clipboard?" Sam obediently went to his office and fetched one. "Yellow Post-its are the main things you're going to say about Dayton. Stick them on the left of the board." Sam took the pack and started to copy short sentences from his notes before sticking them on. "Now the pink ones are for Wendsworth." Again Sam wrote on the tiny sheets and stuck them onto his board.

Bonnie had taken the green pack and written '1- Visit to Beijing on one and '2- Early Childhood education Initiative'. She leant forward and stuck them at the top of the clipboard. "So, you start with the two green notes and here," she reached behind her to the sofa, "are the two statements about those."

"Then, you start with the yellow and the pink." Ginger nodded with satisfaction. "And the best thing about this system is that once you've read the Post-it you can just turn the bottom of it over without anyone seeing and move onto the next."

Sam was about to reply when Carol appeared at the doorway to tell him it was time to start the briefing. She looked, he decided, even more nervous than the time Josh had covered for CJ and that made his own nerves suddenly reappear. "I was on talkback the other day. I was articulate and knowledgeable. Why do I suddenly feel like I've gone back five months?"

"Oh, Sam," Ginger stepped forwards and placed a hand on his arm. Sam looked closer to bolting by the second.

The silence was broken by a gruff voice calling out across the Bullpen. "Sam! Haven't you got a briefing to do?"

Sam looked at Leo and nodded.

"Well get the hell out there and do it then. It's CJ, then it's you, there's no one else I'd let loose in that pressroom."

Sam knew there were a number of communications staff that could take a briefing but he nodded as Leo's words had the intended effect. Sam straightened his shoulders and took the clipboard from Ginger. "Well, here I go."

Sam hadn't really understood the Post-it system but it came into its own as soon as he stepped up to the podium. "Good afternoon, everyone." His mind went completely blank. He looked down at the clipboard and saw a fluorescent green note with number one written on it and then he pulled out the matching statement also with a florescent green note on it. "The President will arrive in Beijing on Monday, the 10th, for a three-day visit." As he continued to read, Ginger released the breath she had held since handing Sam the clipboard. The second statement was read and Sam told the press corps he would take a few questions. He then started on the Post-its. To his surprise the fact that he could turn them over as he read the notes was a big help and allowed him to pace his thoughts. Sam was dealing with a number of questions about the President's recommendation for Wendsworth which were getting increasingly difficult. "Why was the act committed outside of a 7-Eleven?" a new member of the corps asked.

"Convenience?" Sam offered, thanked them and left the podium. The overzealous reporter started to write his answer but then stopped when he realised the man sitting next to him was laughing.

Sam didn't have time to enjoy his parting riposte as he was hurried back to his office by Ginger who was keen to make sure he was ready for his meeting with Carter. More Post-its were utilised this time inside a page of his diary. These consisted of one or two words, reminders of Carter's agenda and, more importantly, of Sam's.

"Did you finish the Dayton statement?" Sam asked as he rearranged the Post-its.

"Yep, that's a big tick on the board."

"Okay," Sam waited expectantly until Bonnie realised he actually wanted her to tick the item off. "Excellent."

Sam was about to leave for his meeting when Ginger handed him the phone. "Josh."

Sam sat back down. "How's the congressman?"

"Enjoying yanking my chain. How'd it go with Carter?"

"I'm on my way now."

"I saw the briefing. Convenience. Very funny."

"Yeah, well, always leave them wanting more."

He heard Josh's soft chuff of laughter. "How you doing?"

Sam smiled at the inevitable question and real reason for the call. "Ginger and Bonnie are in charge."

"Okay, that sounds…a little frightening actually, but good."

"I'm just a puppet, a puppet with Post-its. Listen, I've got to go. When're you back?"

"Should be another couple of hours."

Sam wished Josh good luck with the congressmen and hung up. He took one last look at his notes and headed for his meeting.

Some people on meeting Sam after the accident were awkward, unsure of what to say or do. Some were full of sympathy and kind enquiries. Carter fell into the latter group. The meeting began a firm handshake which was held long enough for Sam to know Carter's words were genuine. As the meeting progressed Sam closed his diary having no need for the Post-it cues. He had worked on the Fair Start initiative, a whole raft of proposals to decrease the gap between academic attainment between rich and poor, before the accident and was keen to get Carter to agree to his district becoming one of the first to sign up. "The funding is there," Sam pointed out. "The data on first-generation college applications for your district alone is-"

"I don't need the hard sell, Sam. I need to know what happens once the first wave of funding's gone. What do we get to keep?"

Sam smiled as he explained that some of the money was coming from an organisation that was looking for a legacy of their support beyond initial funding. Carter was on board and if he was then it was likely between them they'd get more.

Sam returned to his office to find Bonnie placing a plate of sandwiches on his desk. "We added a thing to the flipchart."

Sam looked up to see 'make Sam eat' had been written between two actions. "I was going to eat. I didn't think I needed to include it in the action plan."

"We did." She placed the plate on Sam's desk along with a cup of coffee and a glass of water. "The Dayton statement has gone to the President. CJ's releasing it when she gets in which should be any minute now. Leo's coming by in a few minutes to see where you're up to with the changes to tonight's speech. But before that, you eat and you sit and you appreciate the stillness."

"Okay," Sam said. "I'd appreciate the stillness even more if you could rustle up a few Advil for me."

"He's got a headache!" Bonnie yelled to Ginger.

"What the hell?" Sam said.

"You asked us to get you through the day and that's what we're going to do. So just sit there and let us do it!" Ginger said as she entered the office and drew the blinds.

Sam pulled the plate towards him and took a bite of a sandwich. He was happy to appreciate the stillness for a while. His head throbbed and his mind was trying to work quicker than he could cope with. He was on his second sandwich when Leo came to take a look at Sam's notes. "Are you gonna take out any mention of Wendsworth?"

"I'm trying. It's not reading well without it. How would the President feel if I took out the paragraph about the drugs altogether and reworked it into an announcement about Fair Start?"

"Carter's on board?"

"Yeah," Sam put the sandwich down and rubbed at his head. "It's enough for us to be able to introduce the idea behind it and maybe call out a few districts that should be getting on board."

Leo nodded slowly and agreed it was a good idea. He told Sam to get a draft to him within the hour.

Sam pushed the plate of food away and opened the blinds. "Ginger, the last draft of the speech?"

"I'm getting it," she replied.

The wall in front of Sam slipped sideways and righted just as CJ entered the room. "Spanky, did my briefing and he nailed it!" She high-fived Sam. "I'm going to make Josh watch it."

Sam laughed as he returned to his desk, keen to sit down until the room stilled. "I had a lot of help." He went to rub at his head but thought better of it in front of CJ. "I'm introducing Fair Start in the speech tonight."

"It went well with Carter then."

"It did. I'm taking out the Wendsworth stuff, reworking Fair Start in."

"Okay." CJ walked closer to his desk and perched on the edge. "There's some food there on your desk."

Sam nodded as Ginger entered and held out the draft of the speech. On seeing the untouched sandwiches she pulled the paper out of his reach. "You haven't eaten them!"

Sam wanted to stand so he could remind the two women that this was his office and he could eat when he liked. The fact that he could see three plates of sandwiches on his desk made him think better of risking the move. He sighed resignedly and then pulled the plate towards him. "Economic class is increasingly becoming the great dividing line of American education." Sam stopped and looked up at Ginger. "Are you writing this down?" He waited whilst she fetched her pad and pencil and then started again. By the time he'd finished the sandwiches Ginger had two paragraphs down.

Sam stood and was pleased to find that everything else seemed to be staying still. "Can you take out the Wendsworth stuff and add that to the speech? I'll be in Toby's office." It was time, he decided, for him to get reacquainted with Toby's sofa.

He spied the rubber balls as he entered, tempted, as always, to throw them in the trash. He lay down slowly in order to find a position that would lessen the pain in his head. He had no sooner closed his eyes than CJ appeared again. "Josh called. Dougherty's withdrawing his support for the ONDCP Director Nomination."

Sam sat up slowly, hoping CJ would miss his measured movements. "The judiciary committee are meeting tomorrow and he's telling us this now?"

CJ walked over to the sofa. "Scoot over."

"Ooh, shall I get Carol?"

"Scoot!" CJ ordered again. Sam's suggestive eyebrow raise made her smile and shake her head. "Josh has spent two hours trying to convince him that Melissa Merson does not have a secret legalisation agenda."

"Well that's just ridiculous. By law, the director has to oppose any attempt to legalise-" Sam frowned, "I don't know why he's even arguing with him, there's no position paper, memo, report, speech or off-the-record comment from Merson that so much as suggests she's pro legalisation." Sam sat back and looked at CJ. "What's Josh planning? Does Toby know? This is bad, this is really bad. Why's Josh still there?"

"I don't know. Maybe he thinks he can fix it with Dougherty... maybe it's the sister thing?"

"What sister thing?" Sam had a fleeting urge to look for his Post-Its.

"Dougherty had a sister. She was working on Connelly's campaign and was making a name for herself and then...I don't know the ins and outs, who she was with or where the drugs came from. The campaign manager found her dead in her hotel room."

Sam wondered why he hadn't heard about it and realised it must have happened whilst he was recovering. "You think Josh is going easy on him because he feels sorry for him, no, not sorry, he feels a..." Sam finally gave in and rubbed at his forehead. "I'm sorry, I don't have the word but you know what I mean."

"Yeah," CJ turned to face him, "I know what you mean." She studied him until he looked away. "How you doing, Spanky?"

"I was going to lie down for a while. I need to finish the speech and we need to sort out the mess with Merson now, but I was going to lie down for a while."

CJ stood up and straightened her skirt. "I'm going to get you my blanket. I'll phone Josh and find out what's going on." With that she left Sam alone. He lifted his legs onto the sofa and closed his eyes. His mind wandered: gaps in the speech that needed to be filled, how mad Josh would be when he came back and realised he needed to get Dougherty on side and had wasted the opportunity to do it, what exactly the lewd act Wendsworth had committed outside the 7-Eleven was. His eyes felt heavy and he could feel himself slipping into a welcoming sleep when another thought caused him to sit upright. He clambered off the sofa and back to his office passing CJ on his way, she followed him with the now redundant blanket. She watched as Sam called for Ginger and then reached for his phone. There was an energy and focus emanating from Sam that she hadn't seen for a long time. She stayed by the doorway not even sure if Sam was aware she was there. Ginger slipped in beside her, aware too of the sudden energy in the room.

"Josh, it's Sam. Phone me." Sam placed the receiver down and started to pace behind his desk, snatching up the phone when it rang. "Josh, what does Dougherty want?" Sam nodded at Josh's reply. "Good, because this will only work if his concerns about Merson are genuine." Sam slowed his pacing and stood by the window. "Make it absolutely clear that we have no doubts at all about Merson's appointment, tell him any suggestions that she's in favour of legalisation will not be investigated or even countered and we stand by her as the nominee for Director of the ONDCP. Tell him that and then offer him the position of Director of The National Drug Control Policy." Sam looked up at CJ as he listened to Josh's response and smiled softly on seeing the blanket. "Well, tell him if he takes the job he'll have the chance to effect real change and policy." Sam responded to Josh's questions with yes and no answers before hanging up and finally sitting down at his desk.

"You worked that out in the time it took me to get my blanket?"

Sam smiled and shrugged but answered by telling Ginger he needed the speech again, there were a few more changes to make. By the time Josh called to tell him Dougherty had accepted, Sam had already rewritten the two paragraphs and added them to the final draft. "Tell Leo it's done and I'm bringing it over," he told Bonnie as he left his office, headed for Leo's.

When Sam returned he found CJ's blanket on his desk. He smiled as he straightened the tassels on it, a moment of quiet and calm that was soon disturbed by the arrival of Josh.

"Man, you did it. That was inspired," Josh said as he pulled Sam into a congratulatory hug.

"Did what?" Toby asked entering a few steps behind Josh. "You're unintelligible when you're like this? What did Sam do?"

Josh stepped away from Sam but kept his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sam saved Dougherty from wrecking the ONDCP nomination. He sailed right in there on his trusty day-saving ship and saved the day."

Sam shrugged. "I had a moment of clarity and also a banana, which may have helped."

Through the small window Toby saw the flipchart standing by his desk and returned his attention to Sam. "Is the speech okay?"

"Yeah, there were a few problems, a few rewrites. He's reading it now. I think he's due to leave soon."

"You not going?"Josh asked.

"No, I was going to lie down for a while."

Toby looked through the window again. "Is that still my office?"

Sam laughed softly. "Yeah, there was more room for us in there. I'll get Ginger to clear our stuff." Sam picked up the blanket and went to find Ginger.

"You should have heard him, Toby. He sounded like-" Josh perched on Sam's desk and sighed, "I was going to say he sounded like Sam but that's ridiculous because he is Sam but he sounded like the Sam we-"

"Took for granted?"

Josh looked up sharply, "We didn't take Sam for granted!"

"Yes we did. We take everything for granted, until it's gone. It's human nature."

Josh nodded. He watched Sam and Ginger silently removing the debris of their day from Toby's office.

An hour later Toby and Josh were in CJ's office. "He did good today. We should tell him," CJ said.

Toby nodded, "He saved the nomination, that's a good day's work right there."

"Yeah, it's more than that though. What was that scale, Josh, that Rancho Amigo thing?"

"Ah yes, The Ranchos Los Amigo Scale," Josh said as he sat up straighter and CJ groaned inwardly.

"Before Dr, Lyman here amazes us with his complete lack of medical knowledge, I was going to say, wasn't there a thing in there about multitasking or doing something multiple times or something?"

Josh frowned, it had been a while since he'd read the scale or matched Sam's progress to it. His frowned disappeared and a grin appeared on his face, "Hold on a minute. Wait here!" he said as he jumped up and left the room.

"I wasn't planning on following him," CJ said to Toby who nodded in reply.

Josh soon reappeared waving a notebook in his hand. "You may scoff Claudia Jean but in this book is a detailed and enlightening record of Sam's recovery but more importantly..." he flipped through the pages until he found his notes on the Ranchos Scale, "more importantly," he mumbled. "Here it is. Patient is able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously in all environments but may require periodic breaks. Irritability and low frustration tolerance may persist when feeling sick, fatigued and/or under emotional distress. Holy crap! He's at Level 10, he's there, he's at the top of the scale."

"Do you think he realises just what he's done today?" CJ asked. "I mean do you think he knows?"

Toby stood. "I'll go find out." As he walked towards his office he wondered if he should say anything at all to Sam. Surely if you're at level 10 then you're aware of how you're performing? Maybe making a thing of it was the worst thing they could do? By the time he reached his office he'd decided to say nothing. He would wake Sam up, tell him to get his coat and come to the bar with them. He had no doubt that Josh would have more than enough to say on the subject anyway.

He poked his head round the door expecting to find Sam on his sofa but the room was empty, the lights off. CJ's blanket had been folded up and placed on the arm of the sofa. Sam's office was also in darkness but as Toby turned away a sound stopped him. Quietly, he walked into his office and looked through the window to Sam's. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and Toby could see Sam sitting on the floor by the door. The noise he had heard was the sound of Sam's sobs. Toby stepped back from the window and listened for a few moments before carefully peering in again. Sam wiped his eyes and then ran a hand through his hair. He sighed deeply and let his head fall back against the wall.

Toby stepped away from the window, out of the room. It wasn't a smile that had crossed Sam's face, it wasn't as simple as that. The word Toby would later think of to describe Sam's expression would be peaceful.

CJ and Josh looked up as Toby entered the room. He walked over to the sofa and rocked forward on his toes before saying simply. "He knows."