Warning: This story contains socially unacceptable language
None of us saw or heard exactly what started the brawl after the debate. One minute Josh was walking away from a discussion with Governor Rob Ritchie's campaign manager, Chuck Davidson.
The next minute he was taking a swing at him.
Davidson managed to get a couple of shots of his own in, but by the time Sam, Toby and the St. Louis Police Department pulled Josh off of him, Chuck was out cold.
Which is why Davidson is spending the night in a local hospital and Josh is cooling his heels in the city jail, charged with assault and battery. The images of the White House Deputy Chief of Staff being led away in handcuffs will lead every newscast in the country tonight. On the surface, it is a PR nightmare.
I was closest to the incident and after giving my statement to the police, I head off to tell Leo and the President I heard part of what caused Josh to turn and slug Davidson. I was about ten feet away from them, I didn't hear what caused Josh to stop but I heard Chuck call him a "fucking kike." I'd sure as hell have hit him, too.
"Come on in, CJ," Leo says when I knock on the door of his suite.
"Leo, how long are we going to leave Josh in jail?"
I need to know, because I'm going to have to tell the press something soon.
"He could rot for all I care."
My eyebrows raise at the President's words.
Leo sighs, "Mr. President..."
"Don't start this crap again, Leo. I want his resignation in my hand and he can find his own way out of jail and his own goddamn way home."
"Yes, sir." Leo looks at me and nods towards the door. We take our leave and walk down the hallway towards the suite we're using as a conference room.
"I sent Donna down to bail him out. They should be back soon. It's been an hour."
"Leo," I hesitate, not sure what to say or how to say it. Charlie walking past us gives me an idea, however. "If Charlie took a swing at some guy who called him a, you know..."
"Nigger?" Leo supplies softly.
"Yes. What would we do?"
"Demand a public apology from the asshole. Why?"
"I didn't hear all of it, but I did hear Davidson call Josh a fucking kike.'"
Leo stops in his tracks. "He did what?"
All of a sudden, the door to our left rips open and Sam sticks his head out. "Get in here, quick."
Toby is cranking the volume on the TV when we enter the room. A serious-looking news anchor is pitching to a serious-looking reporter standing outside the St. Louis city jail. The serious-looking reporter is talking about how they have exclusive footage of the altercation between "Governor Rob Ritchie's campaign manager, Charles Davidson, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Joshua Lyman."
They go to the tape, and I have to wonder how I never saw the photographer. He was between Josh and I. The camera has a perfect view of them both and you can hear every word they're saying. Josh is walking away, talking to Davidson over his shoulder.
"Chuck, I'm not talking to you about this right now. The administration's position is pretty clear on both issues. If you don't believe me, ask Sam. He'll give you chapter and verse on how it was covered in the last State of the Union address."
They must be talking about the slavery reparations legislation that we're working on in conjunction with reparations to Japanese-American citizens who were interred during World War II.
"I bet your family is crying a river the Nazis didn't finish off your grandfather at Auschwitz."
That's the point where Josh stopped dead in his tracks. You can actually see the fury rising in his face. His expression is mirrored on each of us. Especially Sam and Leo, who knew Josh's grandfather. Toby looks like he might explode.
"I mean, what did that cost you? A couple of million in reparations from the German government?"
"What did you just say to me?"
"You heard me you beep kike."
The next thing we see is Josh haul off with a roundhouse left to Davidson's nose, which explodes in blood. Then all hell breaks loose. From this angle we can see that Chuck lands more than just a couple but Josh finishes him off with another left to the temple. By then Sam and Toby are pulling him off the guy. Everyone is screaming and the cops swarming all over the scene.
"I'm going to kill the fucker myself." Leo's voice is ice cold.
There's a knock at the closed door and Sam goes over to open it, letting Donna in. She looks very young and very scared in this moment. "He's in the other suite. They let him go on his on recognizance."
"How is he?" Leo asks gently.
"I don't know. I can't read him." Her own emotions are all over the map, so it's not surprising.
"Everything is going to be okay. I'm going to talk to the President right now," he tries to assure her.
Donna just nods. If she can't figure out what's going on in Josh's head, none of us have a prayer.
I look around. "How do we want to play this, guys? I'm going to have to make a statement."
"We wait until tomorrow morning. CJ, see if you can get a copy of the tape from the TV station and find out if the DA is going to follow through on the charges. Sam, Toby, start quietly making some phone calls to the leadership, give them a heads up to keep their mouths shut until the White House issues its response. It's just after 11 in Washington and I doubt this tape has made it onto the network feeds, yet, but it's going to hit big on the morning shows. Donna, you are going to drive Josh out to the airport ahead of the rest of us. Sneak him out the back door and hide him on the plane before we ever leave the hotel. Tell him I'll talk to him once we're airborne. I'm going to talk to the President again," Leo rattles off.
I'm only able to get a copy of what the station aired, but that's enough. Carol goes to pick up the tape while I call the prosecutor at home. He says he can't give me a definite answer tonight and promises to call me before making any public announcements.
The President is still livid at Josh. Leo said he couldn't even bring the subject up, so Bartlet's not even in the loop. I seek out Donna once we've boarded Air Force One to find out where she's hidden our resident stowaway.
She leads me forward to galley. Josh is sitting on the floor, leaning against the fridge with an ice pack on his face. I crouch down next to him, pulling the ice pack away.
"Jesus Christ, Josh!"
His left eye is swollen and there's a long, thin welt across his temple. Blood is still trickling from his nose and split lip.
When he takes the ice pack back, I notice his left wrist is rapidly swelling as well.
"Is it broken?" I reach out to touch it.
Josh flinches under me and shrugs. Reaching into his jacket pocket with his good hand, he pulls out an envelope. "Donna won't give this to Leo. Can you?"
Staring at the paper like it's a snake, I ask, "What is it?"
"Put it back in your pocket." Leo's voice comes from over my shoulder. "Better yet, CJ, take it and have it shredded."
I dutifully take the envelope from Josh and stand back up. Leo takes my place at Josh's side, surveying the damage.
"Cops get a couple of licks in?" The older man asks, reaching out and tugging Josh's shirt from his pants, to reveal a mass of darkening bruises covering his torso. Donna and I both gasp.
"What happened?" Leo demands.
"I accidentally kicked one of them in the balls," Josh shrugs. "I was aiming for the fucking asshole and missed. When they got me into the paddy wagon, the prick I kicked went to town."
"Well, they can't accuse us of being cowards," Leo teases him with a faint smile.
Josh doesn't say anything. It's like all the fight has been drained out of him.
Sam slips into the galley, quietly closing the door. "Leo, the President is looking for you."
He sighs, shaking his head. "You know about the tape?" he asks Josh.
When he nods, Leo continues. "I haven't been able to tell him about it, yet. So here's the plan. Once we've all headed out, Donna's going to take you home. Stay there until I call you. Don't answer the phone; don't talk to anyone. Got it?"
Sam, Leo and I leave the galley and head to the main conference room.
Bartlet continues to be unreasonable throughout the rest of the flight. I am informed that my lead to the Press Corps tomorrow damn well better be that Josh has been fired. Sam is instructed to compose a letter of apology from the administration to Davidson and one to the Ritchie campaign that I am to read in the morning. At some point or another we all try to bring up the tape, but are each shot down.
After we land, I tell the Press Corps that we are still working on an appropriate statement and they'll get it at the morning briefing. Danny and Katie hang around after the rest of the vultures pack up and leave.
"Guys, I can't give you anything."
"It's on the wires, CJ. Most of us saw the tape. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, they all have it," Katie points out, glancing around. "You guys didn't leave Josh in St. Louis did you?"
At that point, Josh and Donna emerge from the plane, figuring forty-five minutes was enough time.
"Well, at least you weren't completely pathetic," Danny observes.
"Leave him be. He's not going to give you anything either."
Donna hustles Josh off to the cab Sam arranged. There will be a pack of reporters in front of Josh's apartment, so I think they're headed for her place.
Leaving Katie and Danny standing on the tarmac, I head to the parking lot where Toby is waiting for me. We drive back to the West Wing in silence; both of us lost in our own thoughts. I figure I'll wrap up some loose ends, check in with Leo and then give Donna a call.
Leo is waiting for me in my office. CNN does indeed have the tape and is running it over and over, along with their footage of Josh being arrested. They have a reporter live outside Josh's darkened apartment.
"Has he calmed down any yet?" I drop into one of my visitor chairs.
"Nope." Leo's view never strays from the replay of the brawl.
"He's going to blow this isn't he?" Despite the fact that Josh threw the first punch, the tape turned this into something we win.
Ritchie comes off as anti-Semitic and racist, we score a few points with the folks who believe you should defend your family's honor and we don't look like whiners.
Unless the President really fires Josh. Then we lose.
Leo doesn't answer me for a moment. When he starts to, Charlie materializes at my door. "The First Lady called. He went to bed without turning the TV on."
"CJ, do you still have Josh's resignation?"
"Yeah. It's in my briefcase."
Leo picks up a pen to sign the paper in front of him. He folds it before inserting it in an envelope. Taking Josh's letter from me, he gives five of them to Charlie.
"I'm going to pack my office. The Secret Service has orders to not let Josh into the building. CJ, would you take him his stuff once it's ready?"
I'm confused. "What do you mean, you're packing your office?"
"Donna, Toby and Sam already have." Leo gestures to the stack of letters in Charlie's hand.
"A show of solidarity?"
Leo nods. In that moment, I've never seen him look so old.
"Guess I better grab a box then."
It's 5 a.m. when I knock on Donna's door. She answers it cautiously.
"It's about time you got here," she nags at me, accepting the box of her belongings. Josh's are still in my car.
Sam and Toby have already arrived, giving the apartment the aura of a funeral parlor. Josh is stretched out on the couch, another ice pack on his face. He's dozing lightly. He really doesn't look well; I'm starting to think he needs to see a doctor. Especially for his wrist and hand. They look twice the normal size.
"Welcome to the party." Leo wanders out of the bathroom.
My reply is interrupted by the chirp of his cellphone.
Ears perk up all over the room.
"I think they are pretty self-explanatory, Mr. President."
He must have questioned the letters.
"My suggestion to you, sir, would be to turn on a damn television set."
We're all gawking at him as he turns the phone off.
"You guys know none of this is really necessary." Josh rasps, gingerly sitting up on the couch.
Toby sits next to him, handing him a fresh ice pack. "No, it is not necessary, but it is right. None of us can, in good conscience, continue to serve someone who will ignore the truth and abandon his own to advance his own perceived needs."
Josh makes eye contact with each of us in turn. "Thank you." His gratitude is simple and straightforward.
It's shortly after 5:30 a.m. when there is another knock. Donna checks the peephole before opening the door for Abbey Bartlet of all people.
"I have been prevailed upon to serve as an intermediary," she announces, leaving the Secret Service agents in the hall and coming inside.
Sam turns suddenly snarky. "What is this? Baseball? We've been sent to arbitration?"
"Sam, take it easy." Of all of us, Josh seems the calmest. It's an almost eerie sense of acceptance that sits strangely around his shoulders.
The First Lady turns her attention to him. "He wants to speak to you."
"Alone." Josh states emphatically.
"He's in the limo downstairs."
Josh gives his ever-present ice pack to Donna, carefully rising to his feet. He gestures for Abbey to lead the way.
Ten minutes later he is back, looking pensive.
Standing in the middle of the room, Josh addresses us. "He is willing to apologize to all of us, individually or as a group. That's up to us. He would like us to withdraw our resignations and show up to work this morning." He pauses, locking eyes with Leo. "You all do what you feel you need to do. I'm going to go think."
Having said his piece, Josh picks up his jacket and stalks out of the apartment.
Scattered around Donna's small living room, we make our decisions. Without speaking a word, we gather our things to return to work. I let the guys go first, pausing to give Donna a hug. She sadly shakes her head at my questioning glance. Her loyalty is to Joshua, first and foremost.
Individually, we migrate to Josh's barren office as we filter into the West Wing.
"How do you want me to play this?" A quick glance at my watch indicates it is 7 a.m. We have two hours to devise a strategy.
I end up with twenty minutes to prep for everything else. Inhaling deeply, I stride purposely to the podium. "Good morning, folks. Let me make my statement, then I'll take questions. I will warn you now, get used to hearing no comment."
A scattering of laughter fills my pause.
"By now I am sure you have all seen the tape from last night's altercation. The White House and the Bartlet for America campaign believe the tape speaks for itself. I am going to give you a bit of background information. Mr. Davidson was speaking to Mr. Lyman about HR 1096. That is the Reparations Investigation Act of 2002, which is presently in committee. The act would authorize a study into how much it would cost to pay monetary damages to Americans who were interred in California in World War II and to descendants of slaves brought to America after 1781." I take a breath before continuing.
"Jacob Lyman, Josh's paternal grandfather, was confined in the Warsaw Ghetto when it was sealed by the Nazis in 1940. The Germans later imprisoned him at the Birkenau death camp from 1943 until the camp's liberation in 1945. The Lyman family has not received any compensation of any kind from the German government, nor have they applied for any."
It turns into a feeding frenzy.
"Has Josh been fired?"
"Has he resigned?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"The only person privy to that information at the moment is Josh himself."
"How is Chuck Davidson?"
"That's a question for Governor Ritchie's people."
The questions continue. Most receive a no or a no comment. Until Katie drops one out of the blue.
"If Josh hasn't resigned, why isn't he at work today and why has his office been cleaned out?"
I blurt out the first thing that comes into my head. The only good thing about my response is that it diverts attention away from the second half of Katie's question. "Hopefully, Josh is seeking medical treatment for the hand he broke on Chuck Davidson's face."
I escape in the heartbeat of silence.
It's noon before Donna answers her cellphone. I've left a voicemail every 30 minutes. It's been six hours since anyone has heard from either of them. Everyone is worried. Especially me and Leo.
"Where are you?" I demand, worry overriding any other emotion.
"We're at GW. They're doing x-rays," she tells me softly.
"How is he?" I fire off an email to Leo that they've surfaced.
"Probably a sprained wrist, but I wanted to be sure. He's really sore."
Leo flies into the room. "Where is he?"
Covering the mouthpiece of the phone I answer, "GW."
I finish my conversation with Donna while Leo heads back out the door. She promises to call me when they get settled for the night. Some snooping tabloid reporters were hanging around her apartment when they left for the hospital, making neither of their apartments safe.
The day drags. None of us push the apology issue and by 6 o'clock the only thing abnormal about the day is Josh's absence. My ringing desk phone startles me from the wire copy I'm reading about the increased likelihood of spring flooding if the current cold snap lasts all winter.
"Ms. Cregg. Alan Westin with the St. Louis DA's office. I'm calling to advise you our office has reviewed the tape of the incident and spoken with witnesses. We will be dropping all charges against Mr. Lyman in the morning. I apologize it took us so long to call you."
"Not a problem. Thank you very much for the call."
I hang up my line and dial Josh's cellphone.
"Hey, CJ." His voice sounds a little better.
"Hey. The St. Louis DA's office called, they're dropping the charges in the morning."
"Thanks. We're at this little place in Reston. Bail out of work and come get pizza with us." I take it back, he sounds much better.
Thinking it over, I decide what the hell. I'll do the briefing a little early, call a full lid and be done.
By the time I arrive at their hotel, it's 7:30. Josh's wrist is in a splint and sling, but otherwise he looks okay. The swelling around his eye is starting to go down. Donna looks better as well; I get the feeling they've spent the day talking things over. Hopefully, about more than his resignation.
It does not escape my attention that all of their things are in one room, with one bed.
I drive us to a local pizza parlor where we order a large combo and a pitcher of beer.
"So?" I prompt him, pouring beer for us all. We're tucked together in a back booth. Josh and Donna are sharing a side and they are sitting remarkably close together. Even for them.
"I'm coming back to work tomorrow."
"What did the President say to you?"
"He said he was sorry he didn't take the time to listen to my side of the story before he jumped to conclusions. You get to demand an apology from the Ritchie people tomorrow and if it is anything other than Chuck Davidson wholeheartedly apologizes for his comments' then you get to do it again." Josh isn't telling me everything. I know by the way he's fiddling with his sling.
"That was it?" I wouldn't have come back on that.
"There was some other stuff. It was personal."
Looking at the two of them, I hope it was his blessing to be happy. "Spill it."
Josh looks at Donna, who nods her approval.
"That he understands how much we've all given up to make his administration successful and he feels we should stop sacrificing our personal lives for political expediency. He said I should follow my heart wherever it leads me, including into fights with Chuck Davidson."
"He told you that?" I can't believe it. I should have demanded my apology.
I get to demand one from Chuck Davidson in the morning, it almost makes up for it.
"What about the St. Louis Police Department?" I lower my voice. This isn't public information.
"If they drop the charges, we're going to let it go." Donna says.
We eat pizza and gossip about who's zooming who until Josh looks like he's going to fall asleep in his beer.
"Good morning, children," I call to the Press Corps as they take their seats the next morning.
"Good morning, CJ," echoes back to me.
"The first item on the agenda this morning. Now that Chuck Davidson has been released from the hospital, the Administration, on behalf of Josh Lyman, is demanding a full apology from him."
"Josh was the one who was arrested and booked, doesn't he bear some responsibility here?"
I didn't see who asked the question, but I've got an answer ready.
"Are you familiar with the term fighting words'? No? Let me explain it to you in simple terms because it is the reason the St. Louis DA's office dropped all charges against Josh Lyman this morning. In 1942, The United States Supreme Court held in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire that fighting words are, and I quote here, those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.' They are not protected by the First or Fourteenth Amendment and in many communities and states throughout this country are grounds for arrest and conviction of disturbing the peace. Missouri is one of those states."
They are all staring at me like I grew a second head. Thank you, Sam Seaborn for your legal expertise.
The first apology, if you can call it that, comes in the form of a press conference to update Davidson's condition. He's got a busted nose and a busted jaw. At least that ought to shut him up. However, he is remarkably unapologetic.
"Chuck regrets that his reasonable discussion with Mr. Lyman deteriorated to violence."
"CJ." We assembled in Leo's office to watch and the President is unimpressed.
"Yes, Mr. President?"
"That's not what I wanted to hear and I doubt that is what Josh wanted to hear."
"I'll let the press know that, sir."
Before I can open my mouth at the afternoon briefing, everyone is asking if we accept Davidson's apology.
"Is that what that was?" I reply, moving on to my update.
The afternoon version isn't any closer. "Chuck regrets Mr. Lyman chose to be offended by his arguments."
My evening briefing is equally terse. "Josh does not consider the accusation that he wished his grandfather had been killed by the Nazis to be an argument, nor does he consider the unacceptable derogative that followed to be one either. Unless it was an argument for Mr. Davidson's insensitivity and probable stupidity."
At 8 a.m. the next morning, Governor Rob Ritchie stands before the press and wholeheartedly apologizes for Davidson's comments, no strings or qualifications attached.
I accept on Josh's behalf during my morning briefing. That night, Josh follows his heart in a different direction and takes Donna out for dinner and a movie.