Title: Night Watch
Rating: PG--adult themes.
Feedback: Yes. Be ruthless. firstname.lastname@example.org
Night Watch by Nola
The motel door boomed from a knock with all the subtlety of the DC police at a drug raid. I jerked upright, nearly leaping out of my skin. Heart pounding, I ran to the door. I dashed to the full-size window instead. I pushed back a tiny edge of the blinds and peered out.
A hooded figure was sprinting away in the parking lot. I stood in shock as I recognized the car as it started.
I opened the door and flew out into the storm. Icy rainwater plastered my hair and flooded my eyes. I screamed. "Jenny!" Her car was gone. My skin prickled in gooseflesh from the cold.
On the ground was a box near the concrete walkway. It sat just outside my motel door. The covered awning that ran above all the motel doors on the first floor kept the package mostly dry.
It was immaculately wrapped in brown paper--or it was until some of the rain drops got to it. The letter that was taped on the top looked like it was slapped on as an afterthought.
Awkwardly, I brushed away the raindrops with my cold-numbed fingers. I carried it inside to the minuscule bathroom of my motel room and settled for drying it off with an oversoft bath towel.
I patted my hair and wrapped the bulky towel around my neck.
It was after two in the morning. I was exhausted but my mind wouldn't let me sleep. The endless cups of stale coffee I had earlier in the day caught up with me.
I turned up the heating--my feeble attempt to pretend that I stood before the soothing flames of an open fire. I dropped to the bed fully clothed. God, what a day. How I needed the sleep.
I couldn't fight it any longer. I had to know what was inside the box.
Sighing, I went over to my leather attache case and took out my letter opener and used it to slice open the envelope. With a shock, I recognized the stationary. It was Jenny's. Who else would it be?
She wrote on heavy, cream colored paper, the kind you use to write rambling thank you's as you fumble for the right words.
I groped my reading glasses out of my shirt pocket and laid back with a sigh.
"Leo: "I want a divorce..." With a sigh, I laid the letter face down on the bed. I got up and started pacing.
Why couldn't anything be simple?
Like Jed's wedding?
Hah. What a laugh.
Funny, I could still remember the day that Jed Bartlett got married to Abigail. What a hellova day that was. My best friend marrying the girl of his dreams. At first I put my foot down. I'd be goddamned if I'd stood meekly by and watch Mr. Josiah Bartlett take the easy route, leave and grab for the straight life ahead.
But Jed did. And I, fool that I was, was his best man. I smiled, I congratulated the blushing bride, the *rich* blushing bride.
And hated every minute of it.
Still, if there had been no Abbey, there would not have been any push. Without the push, no "The Night."
Ah yes, The Night. I remembered it as if my brain had been scored by acid--battery acid.
Jed was seated at the dinner table with Abbey. Fine china, heavy cloth tablecloth and napkins. Hell, there was even a centerpiece.
With the kids almost grown, Jed was hankering for something to do. Like men the world over, if they don't have something to do, some hobby to eat up their free time, they will talk. And talk. And talk. To be fair, I wasn't exactly on my best behavior. This was back in the days of "pre-recovery." I was on my second glass of wine just as the Valium kicked in.
"And that's another thing," said Jed, "If *I* were running the country, I would show those idiots in Washington a thing or two about economics."
*Thank you Professor*, I thought. "Jed, If it hasn't escaped your notice, I do work in Washington, in the friggin' cabinet no less."
"Oh, excuse me, Secretary McGarry. I didn't mean you. I meant the other fumblethumbs like Elverswarren and Jean Merwin--"
I threw down my napkin. What ticked me off more? Jed's arrogant assumption that he, Josiah Bartlett, Professor of Economics par excellence, really knew the score as he played armchair politician? Or his condescending tone? sung to the tune of, We Don't Mean You.
"Yeah, Professor, why don't you tell us numskulls all about it? Tell us your arcane secrets of saving the economy of this great country. And while you're at it, why not take my job as Secretary of Labor as well? since you'd obviously be so much better at it than I? But why stop there? Why the Presidency of the United fuckin' States? Instead of the lightweight we have now with his finger on the button? That'll show them."
I grovelled to him later.
That's one of the fabulous advantages of being an alcoholic and drug addict: you become real good at apologizing. You do it so often.
That was the easy part.
The hard part was convincing Jed that I really meant about what I said... about how he should run for President.
As they say, the rest was history. Jed's new job title was Governor Bartlett.
Then the November elections came and went and Jed wound up with yet another job title.
That early November, I was watching post-election commentary on the TV with the sound turned low. Josh, Sam and the others killed time by playing poker, three-card stud.
C.J. was creaming them. When she smiled she looked positively evil. The boys, real men to the end, sat back and took it.
I turned and addressed them. Sternly. "You should go to bed. All of you. "
And let C.J. walk away with a pot as large as this?" said Sam. "She'll never let us live it down."
I rose to my feet and gazed thoughtfully at Toby. His bearded visage was scowling and frowning in thought.
I opened my mouth in disbelief, "Surely Toby. you're not going to tell me, that your entire ego is wrapped up in a game of chance?"
Toby's cards fluttered nervously in his thick fingers. "If you had been watching the game, sir, instead of engaging in that mind-numbing exercise known as watching "post-election commentary" you would have noticed that I do not play to win--"
C.J. snorted. "That's the truth!"
"...I am monitoring the game to endeavor to discover how C.J. cheats."
"I do not cheat!" said C.J."
"You could join us, Leo." said Josh. "Yeah, he needs all the help he can get." said Sam. "Toby, you couldn't calculate your way out of a paper bag."
I scooped up my coat from the back of my chair. "On that note I'm calling it a night."
A gopher came to me with a message. President-Elect Bartlett wanted to see me. Alone.
Jed's hotel suite was huge. I would have needed a lantern--and possibly a trail of bread crumbs--just to find my way to the john. The air conditioner was in overdrive--but that was the way he liked it. He thought "snow" and "cold" were synonyms.
Jed was a stocky man of medium height, with brown or gray hair, depending on his hair appointments, and eyes so blue they could see right through you like twin laser cannons. He was dressed for bed, striped pajamas and a blue robe but he was wide awake. On somebody else I would have said he was "wired."
It's not every day that one is made leader of the free world. "Leo, I wanted to wait until morning but I couldn't. Besides, there might not be enough time before the early flight."
"Time for what?"
Nervously he held out a beautifully wrapped gift, complete with a satin ribbon.
"Happy Birthday, Leo." He handed me the gilt-wrapped box hesitantly. For something so small it sure had weight.
I frowned. "It's not my birthday...sir. What is it?"
"If you think I'm gonna stand here and tell you, you're full of beans." Jed's infectious smile became a full-bodied grin. "Open it already."
The wrappings fell away. In my palm was a pocket watch. Not just any timepiece but the kind you hungered for in your dreams...if you dreamed about pocket watches. It was a perfect weight and balance and size, made of a dark gold material. It felt solid, real, in the palm of my hand.
On its front lid was a raised image of a lion.
I felt my mouth drop in surprise.
"Open it," said Jed eagerly. "Read me the inscription."
"'May the road rise up to greet you May the sun be ever at your back...'"
What followed were the familiar words of an ancient Irish blessing.
"A little corny I know," Jed continued, "but I say, when in doubt, go for the classics."
I looked back down at the watch and read: "'To Leonard Thomas McGarry, the best friend a man ever had.'"
My throat closed up. I pushed the watch away from me towards...The President. I rasped, "I can't accept this." I blinked. Hard. My eyes hurt.
"Of course you can, Leo. If you don't, it's an insult and why would you want to snub me? I'm too nice a guy. Besides, if it hasn't escaped your notice, I'm now the President of the United States of America."
I fought down a laugh and tried for sternness. "Not for another two and a half months, when you're inaugurated in January. It might be seen as a bribe, sir."
"Don't be an ass, Leo. I bought it months ago when I was back home vacationing in New Hampshire. I even saved the receipt."
"C'mon Leo", he whined, "Take the watch.
As the rain pounded on the roof, I sighed. I should have known better than to go back to this particular motel. This was my old "crash space" when I was too drunk to the gills to drive home. The bar was just a quick block away. All I had to do was slip out of my room, and I would be there. Who would know?
It was either use this motel or be reduced to hunting for one in telephone booth in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain. Worse, I had left my umbrella back at the White House.
I could not use a cellular phone. Too risky. I could not take the chance for the same reason I dared not call Jack. Inwardly, I shuddered at the thought. That's all I need. Me call up my AA buddy on my cell phone...and be picked up by somebody's scanner. Remember what happened to Congressman What's-his-name?
After a day like today, I wanted nothing more than to disappear off the face of the earth. Logical or not, motels offered me the sanctuary of the anonymous.
At times like these, fame was a double-edged sword...hanging right over my head.
Face it, Stupid. It wasn't the coffee and it's not wanting 10 drinks that's keeping you awake, though some Valium would be absolutely perfect right now. It was that kinda day.
First there was that trial by fire known as a "press statement" where I got to share with the whole world my little problem with alcohol and Valium. It was followed by that little face-to-face with Jed who got to tell me his deepest, darkest secret--that he had an incurable neurological disease.
Why is it always the good ones? Why the hell couldn't it have been me?
I walked to the window and opened the blinds. I stared, unseeing at the rain. For a moment I rested my forehead on the chill glass, then caught myself. If my wife could find me here, the paparazzi wouldn't be far behind. I closed the blinds, and turned my back. I paced the tiny, box-like room as my mind went over last month's events--and the second to the last night I spent with my wife.
Four Months Ago:
Jenny loved fresh flowers. For her, no day was complete without them. When I came home there sat the usual vase of blooms on the side table as I came in the foyer. They were a little on the extravagant side, though. Next to them was a open box. I heard movement from the top of the stairs. It was Jenny, dressed in my favorite nightgown.
"What is this?" I said. I held up the box for her inspection.
"What does it look like?" her weary voice floated down from the top of the stairs.
"It's a watch," I said. "A Rolex." Did I sound as stupid as I felt?
Her voice was an anchor, dragging me down. "It's our wedding anniversary, Leo. You forgot. Again. Come to bed, Leo."
The next night with her was worse--if that was possible. The vase of flowers was still on the table, reproaching me. Dead rose pedals littered 'round the container. Had she ordered her staff not to touch them? She was always so fastidious. The hot meal I had ordered and had delivered to our home still sat on the dining room table--untouched.
She begged me to not go back to the White House as if I were her last rope cast out to sea. I could not stay. I just couldn't. As Chief of Staff the President needed me. That was the week the gun vote was on the Hill and we were five votes short.
In the end I was the one who wound up begging her. I pleaded her to call me once she got settled in the her new hotel room.
For the next month neither of us went home. We could not bear to be inside the wood and brick mausoleum that once housed our marriage.
Then, this week, she moved back into the house and, according to my daughter Mallory, Jenny began boxing my stuff up in earnest.
I don't know why Jenny changed her mind. Or rather, what cemented it.
Sighing, I went back to Jenny's letter.
..."I'll have my lawyer draw up the papers in the morning.
"I wanted to vomit when I told Mallory how I wanted to be there with you this morning at your time of need. Just an hour earlier it would have been the truth. Just an hour earlier I would have meant every word. But that was before I excavated the great lie that is your life. I don't mean the drugs, I don't mean the alcohol. And I don't even mean the long hours you spend at the West Wing.
"Go Leonard. Go back and service that sicko who sits in the Oval Office. You two deserve each other."
I sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the box and placed it on my lap. With trembling hands and shaking knees, I tore it open. It contained a shoe box and inside, a smaller box.
In the shoe box were the letters from the love of my life. The only light of my life.
In the smaller box was my watch. I thought I had taken it to the watch repair to get it fixed. No, I had asked Jenny to take it in to get it fixed.
Pieces of crystal fell from its face and stung my fingers. The lion on its cover was unrecognizable.
- The End -
Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page