Title: Rough Magic
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: November 2003
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org I've not ever written anything like this before so it would be good to know what you think if you've got a moment to drop me an email.
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: Series one and two
Warnings: I've invented a country, a Republican President and a nasty war. The Republican President doesn't behave particularly well so please don't read if this aspect is likely to cause offence. It is just a story though and not grounded in reality (as will become clear!).
Summary: Mandy disappeared on the day they shot Josh. Then Sam just vanished, leaving Josh lost and desolate. Josh had always put it down the curse of the Bartlet Administration but was there more to it than that?
Rough Magic by Jackie Thomas
Josh took the underground from Knightsbridge to Holborn. He found his way by the spider's web Tube map the hotel receptionist had given him, travelling on trains still half- empty before the Monday morning rush hour truly started.
He glanced at his watch. He had ten minutes to spare and he stopped outside the station to understand his surroundings. The grey offices and bright shop fronts, the bustle of people on their way to work should all have given him a sense of familiarity. And though there was nothing alien about the scene, he found himself lost as if he had emerged not into a London street but into a different universe.
He paused for too long amid the stream of people and behind him a man talking into a cell phone put a hand on his arm to move him out of the way.
"Sorry," he said standing aside as the oddly gentle touch drew him back to earth.
The man continued his conversation and disappeared around the corner without glancing back. He had black hair and a suede jacket so as usual Josh looked twice and as usual he was disappointed.
The last time he had seen Sam he had touched Josh's arm in almost this way. To say goodbye before they went to their separate meetings. A small, familiar gesture when his decision must already have been made.
His hand in his pocket closed around the note and he pulled it out to look at it. 'Smith's café, Kingsway, Holborn. Monday, 7.30am'. He shivered as his coat failed to keep out the knife-edge of icy February wind and he read the sentence again.
Since yesterday when the note arrived at the hotel the words had haunted him. Holding the poetry of the unfamiliar they had soon lost their meaning and become a code he couldn't break. But now looking up at a street sign Josh saw he was standing in Kingsway and was almost surprised to find it a real place. Here it met another main road called High Holborn so he was sure the café couldn't be far.
He had no further directions to follow so he turned right at random and started walking. There was nothing clever about what he was doing, there was plenty that was risky and foolish. A typed, anonymous note left at the hotel for him and here he was. Under normal circumstances he would have handed it to the nearest Secret Service Agent and not given it a second thought. The only thing that stopped him was the name of the café.
He crossed High Holborn and walked along looking at both sides of the road at the names of the many cafes and bars. Half way to the top of the street a grey, modern box of a hotel called The Grange loomed into view and the street signs now said Southampton Row. He turned and walked the other way.
Black cabs glided passed as he walked and he thought about hailing one. If he set off now he might be at the hotel in time for his breakfast meeting with senior staff and no one would even guess he had strayed from the schedule. But he knew he would not turn back, he knew that the possibility of what he might find was enough to keep him walking.
Once, when they had just fallen in love they decided to take a weekend away together. Josh had been struck by the clandestine purpose of their trip and had booked them into the hotel under the names of Smith and Jones. This despite the fact everyone knew they were going away together, just not the true purpose of the weekend and despite the fact that he had taken the precaution of booking two separate rooms. Sam had never let him hear the end of it and insisted on calling him 'Jones' for the whole of the weekend. Since then the assumed names had stuck, in private at least.
The memory of that weekend came back to him as a knife twist of painful nostalgia. He was sure Sam had been happy. Happy, right up until the moment he disappeared taking nothing with him but the clothes he stood up in and leaving nothing but a cryptic note that many people, though never Josh, had interpreted as a suicide note. Six months had passed and Josh tried to accept there was little hope of seeing Sam again, not alive at least. And yet, someone had summoned him to Smith's Café.
He noticed the Starbucks and the Coffee Republic on the other side of the road before he noticed the tiny café squashed unhappily between them. It was in a space barely wide enough to accommodate its name on the sign above the door but it was the one he was looking for.
He crossed the road, pausing before going in. The place looked welcoming enough, nothing about it seemed strange or dangerous. A sign outside advertised cappuccinos and English breakfasts and the smell of cooking bacon and the sound of a Mediterranean love song drifted invitingly out. He made a last decision to keep the appointment and went inside.
The café was a narrow corridor, half-panelled in an ancient looking dark wood but otherwise freshly painted. The art on the wall all had a Don Quixote theme which added to the appealing cultural confusion. There was a counter to his left. Staff behind it made toast and rolls and produced hot drinks from an Italian coffee machine.
Beyond the counter was a row of small round tables. At one a suited man read a newspaper and ate toast. At another a woman glanced up from her paperback, momentarily meeting his gaze before looking away. Neither showed any interest in him and there were no other customers.
He ordered coffee from one of the waitresses, a young girl who spoke with an Eastern European accent he couldn't identify. He must have looked lost because she directed him with smiles and hand signals to take a seat. He went to the table at the furthest end of the room, near a tiny kitchen, where he could see anyone who came in.
The coffee, when it arrived, was hot and bitter and warmed him immediately. The suited man folded his newspaper and left. His table was quickly occupied by three workmen who drank mugs of tea while they waited for breakfast and talked about how they couldn't get any work done yesterday afternoon because of President Bartlet clogging up the streets.
Josh realised then he had been on this road just yesterday. The London School of Economics must be nearby and there had been a ceremony there to honour the President, one of the more successful former students. It reminded him of the recklessness of his actions in coming here. What if an activist student had seen him as he left the event yesterday, followed him back to the hotel afterwards and summoned him back for some personal agenda.
He cursed his stupidity and decided not to compromise himself further. But before he could get up and leave, a deliveryman came in carrying an unstable pile of boxes of potato chips. He stopped next to Josh, shouting 'Morning girls,' into the kitchen while the tower leaned precariously. Josh waited for the inevitable box of hula-hoops to land on his head. But the man was admitted to the kitchen without event. But then, as Josh stood, a second man in jeans and denim jacket stopped at his table.
In the moment it took for Josh to look and look again and realise this was not a hallucination, this really was Sam he had gasped out his name and clasped him into his arms.
"Thank God," he held him tightly. "Thank God."
"Ssh, ssh." Sam kept saying. His arms around Josh trying to comfort him and also, Josh eventually realised, to keep him calm.
Sam soon drew them apart. He glanced nervously around and Josh followed his gaze. Everyone was politely not noticing this astonishing display of emotion so early in the morning. Apart from one of the workmen on the next table whose tea they had upset who muttered, 'don't mind me, mate' to Sam's quick apology.
"Sam, what happened? Where have you been?" Josh said when he could speak again. "That note you left."
"Ssh, just wait," Sam said. "Can we…let's get out of here."
Sam kept his hand on Josh's arm as he left a handful of coins he couldn't identify on the counter and then, with an urgent hand at his elbow, led him out of the café.
Sam didn't speak as he guided them swiftly across Kingsway and down a side street and all Josh could do at first was follow him.
The street opened out into a square with a park at its centre which Sam took Josh into.
"I knew you'd get it. I knew you'd get Smith's," Sam said.
He kept them walking, deeper into the park, looking around to satisfy himself they were alone.
"Sam, just stop a second," Josh said. "Speak to me."
"Just a little further. How long before you have to get back?"
Josh stopped then, forcing Sam to do the same. "You're coming back with me."
Sam's eyes met his for the first time and then his gaze flickered away to watch a homeless man make his way along a different path. "I can't."
"Sam. I'm not leaving you."
"Don't use my name here," he said. "How long have you got?"
Disorientation had numbed him and he couldn't have said whether he had half an hour or half a day before his next meeting.
"Come this way," Sam said, giving up on the answer to his question.
A few steps away there was a planting of bushes and trees, green despite the depths of winter. Sam led them in, and they were concealed on either side from both the road and the path.
Sam looked away from Josh to watch a woman walking her dog pass by. Josh touched Sam's face to draw him back. Sam gazed at him for a moment then pulled him into a kiss. It was deep and desperate, his hands finding their way around Josh, his body pressing against him.
He only stopped the kiss when Josh could no longer control the sobs that had risen in his throat the moment he saw Sam.
Josh hadn't cried. Through all those months when Sam didn't come back, when people started to talk about him in the past tense, when the long days ended in a glass of scotch and an empty bed. Crying was too much like grieving and he had refused to do that when he was sure Sam was alive. Now all the stored up pain was escaping in sobs that hurt his throat and wrenched him in two.
"Don't Josh, it's okay." Sam cradled Josh against the grey warmth of his sweatshirt, held him like that until the sobs subsided. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.
When he could speak again Josh lifted his head. "How did you get here? Sam, what happened?"
Sam stood close, his fingers wandering through Josh's hair, his thumb brushing across his cheek to smooth tears away. He kissed Josh again, but softly.
"I'm not telling you anything."
"Why not, Sam? You can trust me. Why don't you trust me?" This question had much occupied his thoughts over these months but Sam dismissed it.
"Its not a question of trust…Josh, you should know that. It's a question of..." He hesitated. "I shouldn't even have done this, its dangerous for both of us."
"I just couldn't stand that you thought I was dead…"
"I couldn't stand being so close and not seeing you but I've put you in danger just by meeting you."
"I don't care." Josh practically screamed at him. He lowered his voice as Sam gestured to him to quieten down. "You have to tell me what's been going on. Whatever it is we can deal with it. But you have to come back with me."
Sam didn't speak, just shook his head.
"Come on, don't do this."
Sam's hands dropped down to take Josh's and Josh realised he would not speak. "Jones," Sam breathed, falling easily into their private language. "I wouldn't if I had a choice."
Josh looked more carefully at Sam now. Whatever it was he had been through in the last six months had taken its toll. He was thinner and his clothes were cheap and shabby, his hair untidy with flecks of grey, his eyes lined in weariness. It seemed to Josh the Sam he knew was fading away.
The aimless, homeless man they had seen before ambled blindly passed them on the path, two joggers followed. Josh brought one of Sam's hands up to kiss its palm. "Are you…have you got somewhere to live? Got some money?"
Sam half-smiled and nodded. "I don't want you to worry anymore," he checked himself. "That's dumb. I apologise for that. But I'm alive, I'm safe," he brightened a little. "I've even got a job."
"What job?" Josh asked dazedly, guessing from the unfamiliar calluses on Sam's hands it was some kind of physical labour.
"Just a job."
Shock had left Josh drained of energy and the ability to rationalise but he noticed minutely how cold Sam's hands were in his. Josh was wearing his heavy winter coat over his suit and released Sam to take it off. Sam resisted at first but then let Josh help him into it.
Sam dropped his head on to Josh's shoulder and Josh put his arms around him. They stood like this for a long time.
Finally Sam lifted his head, "You've got to go back."
"Let me stay with you."
"You can't Josh, you've probably already been missed. How long are you in London?"
"Can you get away tonight?"
"Yes," he said without being able to recall a single detail of the President's evening itinerary.
"Then we can meet."
Josh nodded. "Where?"
"Here. No this'll be locked up." Sam smiled suddenly. "I know, come with me. I'll show you where we can meet. Then you can get a cab back to Knightsbridge."
When they left the park, there were many more people about on their way to work and Sam took his hand from Josh's and instead rested it on his shoulder. He led them passed elegant Georgian terraces and public buildings with pillars and domes and a solidity Josh couldn't begin to match.
He found himself in a passageway coming off the square. Sam stopped in front of a tiny shop which had apparently arrived in tact from the sixteenth century.
Sam's eyes twinkled and a little of his old self surfaced. "We'll meet here. It's the Old Curiosity Shop. Seriously. Well probably. Whatever, it's from the sixteenth century. >From before the Great Fire. Jones, it's the oldest shop in central London. We'll meet here."
Josh looked up at the irregular structure, its overhanging upper storey, the strange art in the windows.
"Am I hallucinating this entire morning?" He asked. It was a genuine question.
"I can't believe you're here either," Sam said and his eyes wandered over Josh again, then he blinked. "What time can you get away tonight?"
Josh tried to focus on reality. "There's a thing. A reception at the Embassy. I'll get out of it at 9."
"Okay, bring money. We can maybe get a hotel room. Bring cash."
Josh smiled weakly. "We can be Smith and Jones again."
"You're such a dork," Sam said tenderly.
Josh thought of something then. "Can I just ask you one thing?"
"Not that. What's Rough Magic?"
Fear flickered across Sam's eyes again but he shook his head. "I don't know, is it from Shakespeare?" Josh hadn't slept for two nights when Sam had first disappeared. On the third night he went back to his apartment and had fallen into bed. When he woke he noticed a scrap of paper, a torn page from a notebook. It was on the night table on the side Sam usually slept when he was able to stay. The words Rough Magic were written on the paper in Sam's handwriting. He had no idea of their significance but felt they held the key to Sam's disappearance.
"Anyway you should…" said Sam, changing the subject deliberately.
Josh nodded, "All right." Sam began to take off the coat Josh had given him but Josh stopped him. "Keep it."
"Thank you," he looked down at it, it was just a little too long for him and was hanging loosely because of the weight he had lost. "Thanks."
Sam went through the pockets of the coat and handed Josh his phone and wallet. In one of the pockets Sam found the note he had left at the hotel.
Josh handed it back. "Write down where we are or I'll never find it again."
Sam hadn't changed that much. He was never without a pencil. He took one out of the pocket of his denim jacket. Josh saw but didn't register the words 'Grange Hotel, Holborn' in gold letters printed on it's side.
"You're in Holborn," Sam said. He pointed to the square. "That's Lincoln's Inn Fields, this is Portsmouth Street. The LSE is round there - where you were yesterday." He scribbled down the address and pushed it into Josh's pocket. He touched Josh's arm. "You won't tell anyone anything will you, Josh? I mean, this is dangerous enough…seriously."
"I won't say anything. But Sam…you're safest with me. You're safest at home." The thought of Sam at home brought the tears brimming again to his eyes. He swallowed them as Sam's touch turned to a discreet caress.
"Its not just me who's in danger, believe me," Sam stopped himself as if even this was revealing too much. "Just promise you won't say anything. We'll talk a bit more tonight."
Then he guided him back to Kingsway where he hailed a cab and deposited Josh inside, giving instructions to the driver when Josh didn't seem able to.
Donna was waiting in the hotel reception and talking into her cell phone. "Its all right, he's here," she said and disconnected. "Josh! Ohmigod. Where have you been?" His phone had been ringing but he had ignored it.
"I uh, went for a walk. Where is everyone?" The traffic had crawled and now it was almost nine.
"A walk! You just got out of a cab. Josh what happened? Leo was about to call Scotland Yard. You missed senior staff and now you're missing European finance ministers."
"Oh right!" she pinned him with an accusatory stare. "Are you okay? You're not okay. Have you been crying? You haven't been listening to Bach have you?"
"Donna, help me," he said hopelessly. "What am I supposed to be doing?"
She looked at him for a moment and then switched into assistant mode to give him a detailed account of his next twelve hours. By the time she had finished he had managed to focus his thoughts, put what had happened aside and steel himself to do what Sam had asked him to and not let anyone suspect anything.
He collected himself to the extent that when he arrived at his next meeting he generated only a glare from Leo and a raised eyebrow from Toby but no further comment.
An hour had been scheduled in the afternoon for a meeting in Whitehall at the Foreign Office involving a representative of the Amaran government, a British civil servant and Leo and Josh.
The meeting was informal, designed to start off negotiations between the US and Amara to improve diplomatic relations and lift economic sanctions.
The war, which started when a US military aircraft was shot down over Amara, had ended a couple of days later with an attack by the US on Amara's capital. This happened eleven years previously and President Bartlet thought it high time the wrongs of that era were put right. The British were involved as the old colonial power and because they were as anxious as the President to resolve the situation.
The Amaran representative was a white bearded gentleman, casting a benign presence over the proceedings.
"I am very pleased to meet you Mr McGarry," he said as he took his seat.
"Please call me, Leo."
"Leo. We always remember how President Bartlet spoke against the attack on our country when he was governor and we were grateful."
"It's an honour to meet you. The President has asked me, Mr Adjei, to convey to your government that he is anxious relations between the US and Amara are normalised as soon as possible."
"You must call me Sa'ad. This is the wish of our government also but of course we are in your hands."
"On the contrary, Sa'ad."
Josh leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "We're under pressure at home, sir. Any steps we take must be agreed with Congress and that's even before we go to the United Nations."
"And your congress is still in the thrall of the old regime and wishes to keep Amara subject to the United States."
"Well…" It was an interesting way of expressing the problem. "Congress is republican at the moment, like President Paterson's government. It won't countenance any easing of sanctions or relinquishing of military influence without Amara admitting responsibility for the attack on the aircraft and the death of our servicemen."
Adjei's expression darkened. "Josh, 131 of every thousand babies born in my country die before they are five years old. Before sanctions began the number was 30 and yet we were not responsible for your soldiers' deaths. We did not shoot them down. We did not."
The young Londoner representing the British government stirred his coffee and asked, "Is there room here for an agreed form of words?"
Leo shook his head, "Anything that looks like a fudge will just harden the positions."
"Even if the Amaran government allowed the US to maintain a military base in the area and granted favourable trade terms?"
Mr Adjei eyes twinkled. "You wish us to hand over our country Raymond?"
"Of course not, Sir. Would your government be amenable to a face-saving admission for the attack?"
"We too have politicians with a public to appease. Our people believe the US takes these harsh measures because we are strategically valuable and because we are rich in minerals and must sell cheaply to the West to survive."
Josh privately thought the same thing.
Raymond looked at him. "Perhaps the United States has something to offer that may make an admission of guilt easier to swallow."
Josh said, "A negotiated package of aid and assistance in rebuilding the infrastructure and, of course we would urge the United Nations to lift sanctions."
Mr Adjei made a gesture of reluctant acquiescence. "I will take these discussions back to the Prime Minister."
They were interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Margaret with a message for Leo. He read the note she handed him and stood.
"My apologies. Will you excuse me? Josh, will you…"
Leo shook hands with Mr Adjei, "Sir, I know it's hard to believe but we do want to move this forward."
Adjei smiled, "I do appreciate the difficulties you face. I fear we are in the same position."
After Leo had gone they talked around the issues for a little longer. Josh could not understand why the Amarans were so adamant they would not admit responsibility for the attack. Even the barely concealed offers to buy them off were not working as they normally would. But it was ridiculous, who else could have fired at the plane? Why not admit to an accident or a rogue element in the military and the first steps could be taken?
Mr Adjei spoke to Josh when the meeting came to end. "Josh," he said. "May I ask you a question?"
"Of course, sir."
"92/132. Do you recognise this combination of numbers?"
Josh frowned. "In what context?"
"We think it is an American code of some sort relating to Amara."
He shook his head, it meant nothing to him. "Sorry, I don't recognise it, but I'll ask around."
Josh found Donna waiting for him outside the meeting room with a message from Leo. He wanted him to go directly to the hotel to meet him there. Leo had also instructed Donna to arrange immediate flights back to the States for herself and Josh but he had not told her why.
When Josh arrived at the hotel Leo was involved in another meeting but left it to talk to Josh. He insisted they spoke in Josh's own room and his manner was uncharacteristically gentle.
"I've had some bad news," he said. Josh stared at him wandering what else could possibly have happened. "A body's been found."
"Sam?" Josh whispered.
"No, not Sam," Leo said. "Josh its Mandy. They found her off Route 11. She had been shot in the head and buried in wasteland."
Josh inhaled as one horror replaced another, as a far older fear became realised. "How long…?"
"Three years is the first guess. Josh, she was on the Rosslyn route."
"But that's impossible. She was last seen in Los Angeles days after Rosslyn, her bank account…"
"That's something that needs to be looked into. Although whoever killed her tried to conceal her identity there's no doubt the remains are Mandy's. I'm sorry."
Josh thought of the last time he had seen Mandy. It was before they left for Rosslyn and she had been uncharacteristically quiet. He had always assumed this was because she was making her decision to leave.
Josh found a drink pushed into his hand as Leo gave him time to adjust to the news. He sipped cautiously.
"What was it, a robbery? She wasn't…?"
"Raped? No. It doesn't look that way." Leo sat back in his chair. "Someone definitely wanted to make it look like a robbery. Her jewellery and her purse were gone, but the police think there must have been more to it than that."
"It looks like a professional hit. The way she was killed, the lengths the killers went to ensure she wasn't found."
"A hit? But that's unbelievable. Why would anyone do that, she was PR, not, you know…" Josh imagined Mandy struggling as she was dragged out of her car, imagined her outraged resistance, her lonely death with no one to help her. "Poor Mandy."
"Josh, I know you and she were friends but I need to talk implications with you."
Josh squeezed his eyes shut, wondering how many more shocks he would have to withstand today and still keep hold of his fragile sanity. "I'm fine," he said.
"The FBI will be conducting this investigation. The focus clearly is going to move from Los Angeles to DC and to the White House. They are going to want to speak with staff and go through her paperwork, find out what she was working on, who she was seeing and so on."
Josh nodded. "You want me to go back and deal with that?"
"Yes. Be the liaison with the investigators, facilitate the interviews. We're cooperating in anyway we can. I doubt its an issue as far as Mandy's work was concerned but you'll need to be careful of any confidential documents, get the White House counsel involved and also manage any press interest. You'll work with Henry on that until we get back next week." Leo cast an anxious eye over Josh. "You're up to this? I can send Toby."
"I'll be fine. Really." Since Sam had disappeared he'd had the sense people were being particularly careful with him. "I guess there's going to be some press interest."
"Josh, think about it, it looks a lot like she was shot dead on the way to Rosslyn. It makes Rosslyn look different. It makes it look different to me."
Leo left and Josh stared into his drink. He did not move from his chair and Donna came in a few minutes later. She sat next to him, taking his hand.
The taxi drew up at the London School of Economics at a few minutes after nine. "Josh," Donna said, looking at her watch. "You've got five minutes. We are so going to miss this flight. I mean, what could you possibly…?"
"Just…Donna, just wait here. Don't follow me, okay."
Josh hadn't been able to arrange flights to give him the night with Sam but at least he would be able to say goodbye to him.
He followed the road round to Portsmouth Street, to the Old Curiosity Shop and found Sam waiting for him. He was leaning against the wall, his hands deep in the pockets of the coat Josh had given him. The road was quiet and empty except for the homeless man they had seen before shuffling by.
Josh and Sam hugged for longer than was acceptable in a public place.
"I can't stay," Josh said. "Something's come up, Leo's sending me back early. There's nothing I can do without rousing suspicion. Donna already thinks I'm tipping over the edge."
Sam cupped his hand around Josh's face, "Josh, its okay, I know how it works. I was there, remember." But he could read the disappointment in Sam's face, mirroring his own.
"I just so wanted…"
"I know, me too."
"Sam, I know you're not going to tell me anything but…"
"Please don't keep asking me…"
"I'm not going to. Just, do you think you'll ever come back?"
Sam looked surprised as though he had not contemplated an end to his exile. "I think…maybe one day…maybe one day…"
"I'll be waiting for you. You know that."
"It might be years."
"I'll be waiting for you."
"You're not beholden to me, Josh. You've got to do what's best for you."
"You're what's best for me. Don't you know that?"
Sam frowned. "Jones, are you looking after yourself? You don't look so good. Why is Donna worried about you?"
"Can you even ask that?"
"But you have to promise me, you won't let yourself get ill."
"I'm fine, Sam. I just need you to…" He stumbled over the words. "I just need you."
"Jones," he breathed.
"Now I know you're alive will you telephone me now and again, send me an email, write me a letter?"
"It's too dangerous."
Josh stared at him. "I can't even begin to guess what you're dealing with, Sam…I just can't imagine."
"That's how I want it. That's how it has to be."
"If you asked me to stay, I would," Josh said.
Sam shook his head softly, "I know you would."
"Then let me do something for you. Please, just let me help you somehow."
Sam closed his eyes. "Call me by my name, Josh. Just let me hear you say my name again."
Josh pulled Sam closer with a finger hooked in his coat pocket and his other hand moving through his hair. "My own Sam," he whispered.
Eventually Josh had to say. "I've got to go, Donna's going to be round that corner any minute."
"What is it you have to go back for?" Sam asked and misinterpreted Josh's hesitation. "I shouldn't ask, I just miss it…"
Josh knew he ought to tell Sam about Mandy. They had been friends of sorts. But he didn't want to drop the news on him and then leave him to deal with it alone.
"Just something that happened."
Sam nodded. "You'd better…"
"Oh hey, I brought hotel money…"
"I won't need it now."
"Take it anyway." He had taken out as much cash from an ATM as it would allow him to. He pulled it out of his pocket and gave it to Sam.
"Am I buying a hotel?" Sam asked looking at the cash in his hand.
"Its enough for a flight home."
Sam nodded again and looked lost. "Go on now, you'd better just go."
Josh squeezed Sam's arm briefly before starting for the main road, turning back once to see Sam watching him unmoving.
Josh gazed out of the cab window to avoid Donna's questioning glances. They passed Smith's café on the left, closing up for the evening and further ahead they passed a hotel. It was called the Grange Holborn and Josh wondered briefly why the name was familiar to him.
After a while Donna said, "Josh, where's your coat?"
Sam watched Josh until he turned the corner and was out of sight. He gazed into the empty street, unwilling to move when it was still possible Josh might change his mind and return to him.
Sometimes when he stood on this spot he could rally the ghosts of all those who had passed by in the last four hundred years. The shades of those who had stopped to linger over curiosities on cool February evenings and then moved on. But the centuries of solicitors and barristers from the Inns of Courts stayed away tonight, as did Dickens in greatcoat and hat against the London fog, as did the President in his student days, remaining aged and grey in Sam's imagination despite his youth.
But it was just himself alone tonight with the memory of Josh, his eyes red from crying asking if it wasn't all an illusion.
He had spent the day in the kitchens of the hotel where he worked wondering the same thing. Hoping a night with Josh, or at least a few hours, might prove the other life he used to live was real and not something he had conjured during a break spent on the kitchen steps by the dustbins.
He pushed the money he had been given into his pocket and turned to walk back across the square. He kept to the back roads until he was sure Josh and, more importantly Donna, would be far away and when he judged it safe he joined the bustle of Kingsway to wait for a bus.
It was a cold evening, spots of icy rain had begun to fall and it would have been quicker to go by underground. But the bus he caught would wind its way through the slow traffic across the Thames and that was reason enough to wait. On one side of the river he passed Parliament, softly lit in the darkness, on the other St Paul's was a grey outline barely seen. The bus continued then through Waterloo and into the neighbourhoods in the South of the city.
Sam got off the bus at Brixton, the place he had been living almost since his arrival in London. It had once been a genteel area but that was in Victorian times and it now housed an unimaginable urban mix. It was a place that absorbed the world and was the perfect refuge for an anonymous, fugitive American.
Sam lived away from the high street in a large, but shabby hundred year old terrace house. The house had been converted into lodging rooms where the occupants lived cheaply, sharing kitchen, bathroom and living room.
It was not yet eleven o'clock when he put his key in the lock and let himself in. A light was on in the living room and he stopped when he saw Vic, sitting on the sofa with a beer in his hand.
"Phil," said Vic, addressing him by his assumed name.
"Hey," Sam said stopping in the doorway, too tired to start the trek upstairs to the top of the house, too tired to stop and talk.
"Nice coat," Vic said. "Where'd you get that?"
"Oxfam," he said, lying automatically. Vic gave Sam an appraising stare as he got up from where he had been lounging on the sofa and wandered over to the adjoining kitchen.
"Has your hair changed colour again?" Sam asked. He was sure Vic's shock of spiky hair hadn't been white blond this morning.
"Yes and Phil, my good friend, my best friend. I might have dyed your blue towel a bit."
"That's almost surprising." Sam found it impossible to be irritated with Vic.
Vic had his head in the fridge. "Want a beer?"
He was about to refuse when he realised he did not, in fact, want to be alone. He went into the sitting room, named because of the old sofa and TV it was furnished with. "Sure."
He sat down, undoing the buttons of the coat but leaving it on. When he closed his eyes he could believe Josh's arms were around him, he didn't know when he would take it off.
Vic gave him a beer and sat down next to him. "I thought you were working tonight?"
"They didn't need me in the end."
"Well don't get upset, mate you can go back tomorrow. You want to know what you've been up to on 'Enders?"
When Sam needed a false passport and documents to travel with he had adopted the name Philip Mitchell as he considered it nicely anonymous. After receiving a constant stream of baffling comments when he told people his new name he found out it also belonged to a character in one of the soaps, Eastenders. A man with a chequered past and a formidable reputation for violence and mayhem. As a result he became instantly memorable to all.
"You haven't pushed your girlfriend off a cliff or anything like that."
"How many times do I have to tell you it was an accident, she slipped."
They watched TV for a while, settling on the news as Bartlet's visit to the UK received a lot of coverage. Sam watched as the President and First Lady met with the Prime Minister and his wife and both leaders addressed the press. He saw Josh and Toby at the edge of the shots and it occurred to him again just how unwell Josh looked. He had seen that pain in his eyes before and he had never wanted to see it again.
Vic startled Sam by asking, "So did your President give you a call now he's in town?"
"Yes, we're playing golf tomorrow."
Vic watched the proceedings for a while. "So what did you think about this MS business?"
He had a habit of asking exactly the right question. "I would have voted for him anyway," Sam said carefully.
"Yeah he seems like a decent bloke. Better than that other lot. Whathisname Paterson. That whole Amara thing was out of order."
"That it was," Sam absently agreed.
He became aware of Vic staring at him. "Well, I always enjoy our debates. It's like the United Nations round here."
"Sorry, I was just…" it was another sentence he didn't know how to finish. "Oh hey, Vic…" He pulled the money Josh had given him from his pocket. "I can pay you back what I owe you."
He held out some notes to him. Vic didn't take them but gazed wide-eyed at him. "Did you get that lot from Oxfam as well?"
"No I, no." He hadn't thought this one through. "Don't worry, I didn't steal it."
"I know that, you're not exactly Mr Stealth are you?"
"Why not?" Sam objected. "I could be."
Vic didn't grace this with a response. "Where did you get it? Or is it part of the whole secret life of Phil I don't get to hear about."
Josh was in work before midday. He hadn't slept and was entirely bewildered by the time difference. He found the West Wing quiet. It always was when the President was away but the news of Mandy's death had reached the staff and the atmosphere was subdued.
He went through phone messages and emails and talked to his deputies before setting aside the rest of the day to deal with what people were starting to call the Mandy situation.
The New York Times carried a picture of Mandy above a two- paragraph report of her death. It was a good picture he thought; Mandy was looking directly at the photographer, her gaze constantly challenging and perfectly beautiful.
Josh remembered her that way. A fine adversary, capable of equalling him in both passion and irrationality in any argument. He wondered who it was who had chosen to settle her final fight with a bullet.
He didn't regret any of his history with Mandy, no hearts had been broken when they parted, none of their fights had meant more than their face value. But he did regret their last conversation.
She had spoken to him before he left for the Newseum, saying she wasn't sure she would be able to make it. He had been surprised because of all the work she had put into the event but not questioned her because he was in a hurry himself. The last words he remembered her saying were, "Can I talk to you about something, tomorrow maybe." And he had said, "Sure."
He wished he had stopped to find out what it was that had so flattened her spirit. It may even have saved her life.
There had been another conversation by cell phone as he left the Newseum. She had called him, just before he himself was shot, possibly at the moment he was shot. Her cell phone records proved that. But he had no recollection of the call and by the next day he was in a hospital bed slipping in and out of consciousness and Mandy was gone. He poured himself a second cup of coffee and took it round to Communications. He wanted to find out what had become of her papers and personal items after she disappeared. He had a distant memory that despite his vocal opposition Mandy had acquired a desk in the Communications section of the OEOB. He wasn't sure now why he was opposed to it, just the principle he supposed. Ginger was in Communications covering for Bonnie and Toby who were both in London and also for the currently missing-in- action, Deputy Director. She was searching for something on Toby's desk when he found her.
"Hey Ginger, you look busy."
"Oh. Josh, hi," she crushed some papers to her breast. Ginger always looked like she was about to cry, even at the best of times and now she looked like if she started, she'd never stop. "I'm real sorry about Mandy," she said. "I just can't believe it."
"I know." There was silence while they each searched for something to say which Josh finally broke. "Leo asked me to help the FBI with their investigation into Mandy's murder."
"Oh, sure. You need some help with something?"
"I wondered what happened to Mandy's files after she disappeared, the contents of her desk. Did Daisy take it away? You remember, her assistant."
"Sure." Ginger thought for a moment. "Daisy came by to say she was closing up the office till Mandy, well, till Mandy came back. She had a quick look through the files on her desk and said it was all ours."
"Did you see the files she was working on?"
"It's hard to remember but I think most of it was policy stuff you were all working on at the time. She just used to refer to our files on whatever the subject was – education, employment, inflation."
"So you guys just put stuff away where it belonged?"
"Yes," she pushed back an errant strand of hair as the recollection came back to her. "About a couple of months later we needed the space so we cleared everything out of her desk. There was some other stuff too, papers that weren't allocated to a file, her own work. We boxed it up and hold on…"
She went out into the main office and opened a draw of index cards. "It might be filed down in the archives," she flicked rapidly through. "Oh no, it was last with Sam. Yeah, we gave the stray stuff to Sam in case it was something. I guess he didn't have time to go through it. Its probably still in his office."
Toby had refused to let anyone touch anything in Sam's office. Like Josh he had never bought the idea Sam had committed suicide and was superstitious about the room remaining the same as when he left it. No one was inclined to argue with him.
"You want me to try and find it?" Ginger asked.
"Its okay," he said, as Ginger reached to answer one of the phones that had started ringing. "I'll look."
Josh always liked to go into Sam's office. He was inexpressibly grateful to Toby for refusing to allow anyone to clear it and although it was regularly used for desk space it remained very much Sam's. Josh could come in here, late at night when no one else was about, sit at Sam's desk and believe he might walk in at any minute ready to regale him with some allegedly fascinating fact he had come upon.
Now he knew for certain where Sam was, or at least which country he was in, the feeling became all the more distinct.
He started to poke about on shelves and in cupboards for the missing filing box. The search became more thorough when he failed to find anything after the first look.
He was not surprised Mandy's papers might be in here after all this time, waiting to be sifted through. It was a low priority task since everyone assumed she had gone straight from DC to California.
This was because some money was withdrawn from her bank account there shortly after she disappeared and because she had been recorded on CCTV leaving the bank. And yet it was now clear the person caught on camera could not have been Mandy.
Finally Josh gave up on the search. He would ask Ginger to have a proper look around Communications and in the archiving room.
He had a few minutes until his meeting with Mike Casper so he found his coffee and sat in Sam's chair to drink it. He hadn't much to give Mike so he took some time to try and remember as much as he could about the last few days before Mandy disappeared. It was difficult, they were the days before his own life changed immeasurably but he remembered there was a problem with a pilot who had crash-landed in the desert in Iraq. There was prep for the meeting at the Newseum. He had been involved in campaign finance stuff. Really nothing sprung to mind as significant for Mandy and she had been fine right up until they were ready to get on the bus.
He stretched his legs and his foot hit something under the desk. Whatever it was had been there ever since Sam disappeared but he had never bothered to look at it before. He reached under and pulled out a White House filing box. A post-it note stuck to it said - 'Mandy's paperwork – Sam to check.'
"Wow," Josh muttered. "What are the chances?"
He was surprised Sam would have had the box so close at hand when it would have been the least important job he had to do on almost any day.
"Josh." Donna was at the door. "Mike Casper's in your office."
He picked up the box and walked back with Donna. Mike was an FBI agent but also an old friend of Josh's. No doubt he had been given this assignment because he was known and trusted in the White House. They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
"Have you got anything yet?" Josh asked.
Mike shook his head, "Not much, the crime scene hasn't given us a lot after all this time. She was shot once in the back of her head which would have killed her instantly." He caught Josh's expression. "Sorry, Josh. We don't have to…" Josh motioned to him to go on.
"She had no personal items on her at all, no purse no jewellery. There were no signs of any other kind of violence. She was buried pretty efficiently and her car was nowhere around."
"How was she found?"
"Some City workers were down there clearing trash. Rain had shifted the ground, it was lucky really."
"Leo said she was found on the Rosslyn route?"
Mike nodded. "From her location and from what her assistant told us about her movements on the day she disappeared it seems probable Mandy had made a last minute decision to go to the Newseum. We're going to investigate any connection between what happened to her and the shots fired at the President's party."
"Its hard to see how there could be a connection given the motivation of our shooters."
"Quite a coincidence though, don't you think Josh? You and Mandy were shot on the same night, possibly at the same time."
Josh sat back and folded his hands together. Put so bluntly it was hard to explain. "Charlie was the target at Rosslyn."
"All I'm saying is it's something which has to be investigated. Can you think of anything you and she were working on that might have made you both targets?"
Josh shook his head. "We'd just brought in new gun control legislation but that was a while before and it was the whole administration not just the two of us. I honestly can't think of anything."
Mike gestured at the box Josh had brought in with him. "Donna said you were looking for Mandy's paperwork."
"Oh yeah. It looks like this is what there is," he put his hand on the box. "Do you mind if we go through it together and make an inventory of anything you're taking out of the building. Mandy was a media consultant so there shouldn't be anything with security implications but we'd like to check."
They spent the next hour going through Mandy's papers. They were mostly her personal notes of meetings, some annotated briefing notes about the issues current at the time. There were files relating to the projects she had been working on – the President's media image, the use of polling data, the Los Angeles trip and so on.
They came to a sheaf of papers which seemed older than all the others. It was a bundle of documents about issues current long before Mandy came to the White House in fact long before Bartlet had. They were all in the distinctive font of the Paterson Administration and on paper yellowed with age. They were memos, briefing notes and other random documents from the era and covered a number of areas including, Josh noticed, the war with Amara.
Josh shook his head. "I haven't any idea why Mandy would have had these. In all the time she worked here Amara wasn't a current issue, especially not for a media consultant."
Donna had been busy compiling a list of Mandy's documents. She looked up. "When were those papers put in the box, Josh?"
"Uh, Ginger and Bonnie cleared her desk a couple of months after she disappeared."
"So that's what was in her desk, not necessarily what was hers." Donna shrugged. "When I started here, I had a drawer full of stuff which the previous owner hadn't cleared out."
"Surprisingly. A good point." Josh said, earning a dirty look from Donna. "Unless Leo or Toby gave Mandy something to work on I didn't know about, which I don't think is likely, that is the best explanation."
"Okay," said Mike beginning to pile everything back into the box. "I'll take these for now. We're going to want to talk to the senior staff, everyone in Communications who was here at the same time as Mandy and anyone else she had regular contact with."
Donna offered to set up the interviews and when Mike left, Josh called Leo and let him know what had been going on. He had a meeting with CJ's deputy, Henry after that. The press had begun to take an interest in Mandy's murder. They hadn't yet picked up on the Rosslyn connection but it was only going to be a matter of time.
The investigation moved slowly over the next three or four days. Having expected to be away Josh found himself with some time to work on neglected projects. Leo had also asked him to formulate a strategy for taking forward the Amara situation. He pulled all the files on the subject and start drafting a compromise agreement. He felt that despite Mr Adjei's words the country was in no position to refuse an offer from the United States to recommend an end to sanctions.
One evening, about four days later he left work early and went back to what used to be Sam's apartment and was now his. He hadn't been sleeping well and he hoped an evening relaxing surrounded by Sam's stuff might help.
When nothing had been heard from Sam two months after his disappearance his family began to suggest the apartment was given up and his possessions placed in their care until such time as he was declared dead.
Josh resisted this doggedly. Sam's family did not know the nature of Josh and Sam's relationship so they thought it odd he should try to have a say in the matter but finally, they agreed to Josh simply taking over the rental of the apartment and having care of most of the contents. Once they had retrieved the items of value Sam possessed they were happy with the arrangement.
So Josh gave up his own place, moved his things into Sam's spare room or into storage and otherwise left the place exactly the same as Sam had kept it. When the family wanted to sell Sam's car Josh bought it and used it instead of his own, which was making weird noises anyway.
Untouched, the essence of Sam's place was preserved, his clothes and books, the spare but elegant furnishing. Josh tried to avoid leaving his own mark on the apartment. It was one of the ways he had of stopping Sam fading into memory. Sometimes he put on Sam's aftershave in the morning or wore one of his shirts to work but mostly he liked to live in Sam's space in just the way they had never been able to manage when they were truly together.
That evening he brought some Amaran paperwork home with him and he sat on Sam's sofa with a beer to read it.
It was not a happy read. The history of the country, which should have been wealthy and well fed, was a history of poverty, war and empire. The British exploited it from the middle of the nineteenth century for diamonds. Then after unceremoniously giving it independence when the source dried up the West basically helped themselves to cheap supplies of iron ore, rubber, coal and lately uranium. Like so many other third world countries its farming and fishing had been virtually destroyed by cheap imports from the West.
The last nail in Amara's coffin was placed in the eighties when its strategic position made it an interesting prospect to the United States. President Paterson failed to get his man into power in 1991 and the country began to boast rogue nation status when it fought an unjustified war with a neighbour over land.
He read about the war ten years ago provoked by the downing of the US army aircraft. The ferocity of the revenge attack was exceptional, government and public buildings were destroyed as were some residential areas that supposedly concealed terrorists. The capital was without power and clean water for several weeks, and more people died from the consequences of this than from the bombings.
The war failed to topple the government and sanctions were introduced. The country was allowed to trade for humanitarian supplies but not for money, to the benefit of mostly American corporations. It was an unpleasant affair by any standards and many democrats and moderate republicans had been against it from the start. The political climate had just reached a stage where something could be done. If the Amarans would just own up to the original attack.
He wandered over to Sam's desk looking for something to make a few notes on. He found a notebook in one of the desk drawers and took it back to the sofa.
The first page of the notebook was half torn out and the remaining half had one word written on it – 'Shubber'. He flicked over the page and started making his own notes. When he found himself writing Ahmed Shubber himself a little while later he realised this was the name of the Amaran ambassador in Washington.
He stared at the entry in Sam's book. It was definitely his handwriting.
Something else occurred to him. He had kept the piece of paper Sam had written the words Rough Magic on. When he unfolded it and smoothed out the creases he found it matched exactly to the torn page in the notebook.
It occurred to Josh he had stumbled upon Amaran references in both Mandy and Sam's papers when neither would have been officially working on anything related to it. He wondered about visiting Mr Shubber himself. He certainly had grounds to now the issue was about to be revived.
Josh's cell phone rang then. It was Mike Casper.
"Hey Mike, what's up?"
"Can we meet? Not at the White House."
"Now? Do you want me to come to your office?"
"No, look its got to be somewhere private."
Josh paused. "Are you all right, you sound a bit…?"
"I've found something. I have to talk to you."
"About Mandy but also about Sam Seaborn."
Josh looked at the notebook in his hand. The scribble of Sam's handwriting across the page.
"Sam? Is there a connection?" There was a long pause when Mike didn't reply. "Don't go quiet on me, Mike."
"Sorry, I don't mean to…can we just…?"
"Okay, come over to my apartment."
"No. Sorry, I'll explain when I see you, but not your place."
"You're not going to have us meet in an underground parking lot are you? Because you know…only if I get to be Robert Redford."
"All right, you know that coffee shop on Connecticut…next to the cinema?"
"Yeah, I know it."
"How about in an hour?"
"I'll be there. Hey Mike, do the words Rough Magic mean anything to you."
"Christ," said Mike, sounding even more agitated. "Don't say that to anyone else, do you understand?"
"No, I don't understand, but I guess I'll see you in an hour."
Josh took a cab to the coffee shop and found a table by the large front window where he could keep an eye out for Mike. It was a busy place in a busy part of town, a place to get lost in a crowd if that's what you wanted to do.
He ordered a decaffeinated coffee, though by now he had given up on his early night. He thought back to his equally mysterious meeting with Sam in London. Here he was again, a cup of coffee cooling in front of him and a head full of unanswered questions, watching a city pass by oblivious.
This time it was the city he had come to think of as his own, in all its dirt and glory and with all its carefully guarded secrets. Some of the secrets he diligently kept himself, others he would never know.
He thought about the secret Mandy died with and about a connection between her disappearance and Sam's. Josh had always put it down to yet one more aspect of the curse of the Bartlet Administration but it was a strange coincidence.
He so much wished he could remember the call Mandy made to him before she died, seconds before he was shot. He felt sure some of the answers to her mystery could be found in whatever it was she said to him.
He thought again of his surprise at Sam having Mandy's file of papers so close at hand in his office, almost as though it was the last thing he looked at before he chose to flee the country without a word. Perhaps Mike had found something in those papers.
He looked at his watch. Mike was late and Josh began to be concerned. It was only half an hour but he was normally totally reliable and clearly regarded their meeting as urgent. He called Mike's cell phone and then his office. He was met with voicemail on both numbers.
Josh was still waiting when the café closed an hour and a half later at eleven. He went home and got on the phone again trying both the numbers and leaving messages. He dialled FBI headquarters' switchboard and was transferred to one of Mike's colleagues. He told him Mike wasn't in his office and hadn't been since his shift ended. The agent wouldn't give him his home number but promised to call and check he was okay and to call Josh back.
Josh did not sleep but sporadically dozed on the couch while staring at his telephone. Mike's colleague didn't call him back and Mike didn't telephone either. He was sure something had happened to his friend and he was sure it was connected to all the other mysteries he had been coming across lately.
He left the apartment at seven and went directly to FBI headquarters. It was too early for normal opening hours and a security guard reluctantly admitted him when he refused to go away. The guard called down an agent from Mike's department who said he would go and see if Mike was in yet. Josh waited in the reception area for an hour until he had to point out to one of the receptionists, who had just got in, that he was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. An agent appeared shortly afterwards to speak to him. Not Mike.
He was a young, dark haired man who identified himself as Special Agent Webster.
"I've been working on the investigation into Miss Hampton's murder with Agent Casper. Is there something I can help you with Mr Lyman?"
Josh shook his hand, there was something familiar about him and Josh wondered if they had met before. "Its good to speak to you Agent Webster. I'm a little concerned about Mike, we had arranged to meet yesterday evening and he didn't show up."
"Agent Casper was called out of town on another case. An urgent assignment. He must have forgotten your meeting."
"That's impossible," Josh said flatly.
"I apologise for any inconvenience caused, there's obviously been a misunderstanding."
Josh blinked. Why was he talking like an automated message?
"Hey look, can you just check he's all right and get him to call me."
"He is all right, I assure you, he asked me to apologise for breaking his engagement with you?"
"He did? You just said he must have forgotten about it."
The agent didn't miss a beat. "Yes sir, he must have and now he wants to apologise. There really is nothing to concern yourself about."
Josh looked at him more carefully, there was definitely something about him. "Have we met before, Agent Webster."
"No sir, not to my recollection," he replied, again without hesitation.
Josh plunged his hand into his hair, he needed some sleep. "You've been working the case with Mike?"
"Yes sir, I have."
"Mike told me there was a development. He was going to go through it with me at our meeting. Could you tell me what the development is?"
"Of course, sir. Did he give you any idea what the development was?"
"Sir, we believe Mandy may have been murdered by your friend, Sam Seaborn."
Sam stood, arms folded, in front of the television as the news came to an end. There had been stories about the President in Paris but nothing about Mandy. That meant the press hadn't figured it out yet. If they had it would be international news.
The International Herald Tribune and the New York Times were open on the floor, dismantled and haphazardly reassembled. The Times had carried a couple of paragraphs which was how he found out they had discovered her body.
He had wondered if it would ever happen, as the time passed it seemed less and less likely. In the beginning he had checked the papers every single day. Now it was more because he couldn't lose the habit of reading newspapers article by article and because he liked finding the occasional photograph of Josh, CJ or Toby that he bought The Times or The Post whenever he could get hold of them and the Tribune every day.
But this morning on the tube on his way to work, as he leafed through the newspaper, it had been her photo that caught his eye. She was staring straight at him, a characteristically direct gaze, wearing the expression that used to scare the life out of him.
He knew now why Josh left for the States early. Leo would have asked him to get involved with the investigation, probably FBI. Couldn't Leo see Josh was barely clinging on? Why couldn't he have sent Toby?
He knew that every day Josh would be getting closer to the truth. If he found out it would be disastrous.
"You think Sam killed Mandy?" Josh worked to keep his voice careful and neutral.
"Yes sir, we think they had a private reason to dislike each other."
"And what reason would that be?"
The man seemed to be leering at Josh.
"The investigation is still in early stages but that's the angle we'll be looking at."
"Right, well that's pretty shocking." He wanted to punch Webster, wanted to point out Sam had pretty good alibi. He had been ten feet away from the President of the United States when Mandy was killed, diving to duck bullets himself.
For once in his life he decided it might not be wise to speak his mind. "Well you're right they never got on and it would make sense. What with Sam committing suicide like he did. He must have thought you were on to him."
A glimmer of hope mixed with mistrust passed across Webster's face. "Yes," he said, more uncertainly.
They shook hands again. "You'll keep me informed of any developments."
"Of course, sir."
Josh left the building knowing that when this man thought through what he had said he would realise he had made an error. What he would do with that realisation concerned Josh a great deal. He was also extremely concerned for Mike. He had no idea what was going on but he knew one thing without any doubt, Mike would have had to be in serious trouble not to keep their engagement.
He had meetings in the morning but before he joined them he asked Donna to contact Agent Casper's senior officer and formally request the return of Mandy's papers. He felt sure his first stop should be an examination of them. He asked her to do it straight away, guessing that with Mike out of the picture there might be some confusion about who was dealing with what which he could take advantage of.
As an afterthought he asked Donna to find out who was now in charge of the case.
"What about Mike?" she asked.
"He's been called out of town on a different assignment," he said neutrally. Donna nodded and picked up her phone.
Josh was on his way to the Roosevelt Room when he began to taste adrenalin rising in the back of his throat and he had his first flashback in more than a year. For a split second he was back at Rosslyn reliving the moment just before he was shot, or perhaps just after, when someone crashed into him knocking him sideways. It lasted only a second and he was able to take a deep breath and put it aside. "Dammit, not now." He gathered himself and joined the meeting.
Afterwards he asked Donna how she had got on with the request for Mandy's documents.
"They're sending the box over this afternoon."
"They are?" Well that was too good to be true.
"They were fine about it. Someone called…" she checked her notes. "Agent Jean Thompson is in charge of the case now."
"Jean Thompson? Can you get me Special Agent Webster on the phone. Same number."
Donna stuck her head round the door a few minutes later. "No such person at the FBI Josh, are you sure you got the name right?"
It wasn't until five o'clock that Josh was free of meetings and able to close his office door to go through Mandy's paperwork, which had duly arrived that afternoon.
He pulled the bundle out of the box and immediately noticed one thing. The old administration papers were still there but the ones specific to Amara were gone. He checked off each item against Donna's list to confirm it.
If he had any doubt at all it was now gone. Mandy had been killed because of Amara. He didn't know the connection with Sam, but he was certain there was one. Mike had said as much on the telephone yesterday. Plus the name on Sam's notepad and the phantom Agent Webster's extraordinary accusation all confirmed it.
He began a slow, meticulous examination of Mandy's papers. He went through them page by page; the press releases on education, lists of friendly contacts in Congress, the faxed correspondence between Mandy and someone organising a fundraiser in San Francisco, the annotated drafts of speeches. Josh had nothing else so he read every word of every document. He found nothing.
At about midnight he woke with his head on Mandy's notebook. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, took a last drink of cold coffee and absently turned the pages of the book looking at words he had already read, deciding to go home.
It was a hardback, lined pad Mandy used to take notes at meetings and record telephone conversations. He saw a note in the corner of one page saying 'You suck'. He remembered sitting in a meeting with Mandy when she had passed this to him because he had loudly disagreed with her about something. He had written 'your hair looks really weird today' and passed it back.
He allowed himself to shed some tears for Mandy and admit he had once loved her. She had been a version of himself so no wonder they had been a national disaster together. But he had loved her. He turned the book upside down and turned to the back page. In Mandy's tidy hand in the corner of the page was written 92/132 in black biro. The numbers had been circled in blue.
He sat back, his head swam. The five numbers took him straight back to the meeting in London with Sa'ad Adjei. Mr Adjei had asked him what the numbers signified and had thought them an American code for something. Josh stared at them, they were not in a format he recognised. They were not office numbers or staff numbers and the filing system at the White House worked by letters and numbers. He toyed with the idea they could be legislation. The 92 was probably a year but it was not a way he was accustomed to seeing Statutes expressed.
He focussed on the blue circles around the numbers. Because he had been reading things Sam had written for the past hundred years he took a guess they were in Sam's hand.
The West Wing was deserted when he left his office and crossed to Communications. Sam's office was in darkness and he switched on the light. Though it had been periodically occupied over the last six months no one was using the room at the moment. The papers and files stored there were all Sam's and there was no file named Amara. This was the first thing he established. That would have been too easy.
When he had thoroughly searched the shelves and cupboards and found nothing he sat at Sam's desk. In one of the drawers he found the book Sam used to record the name and contact details of practically everyone in DC. It was an impenetrably personal system and Josh could not see anything relevant. Sam's leather-bound notebook was there too. It broke Josh's heart to see it without its owner. Sam always had it with him when he was working.
Unlike Mandy's book it had a loose leaf pad inside. Sam would tear out the pages as he used them, this made it less useful for Josh's purposes as the top sheet was blank. Not without some embarrassment he ran a pencil over the imprints in the sheet from previous pages. Apparently this only worked in the movies, as the only words that clarified themselves on the page were 'tell J, hair looks weird from back'. Josh knew this already.
He closed the notebook and put it away. After a further fruitless search of the desk drawers he opened Sam's laptop. It had been examined when he disappeared but Josh now had a clearer idea of what to look for.
He checked the recent Word documents where he found drafts of the speeches Sam had been working on at the time of his disappearance. He checked email and found nothing of any interest in any of the folders. He went onto the internet and pulled down Sam's bookmarked pages. Amongst the expected web sites was selection upon selection about the shooting down of the US army aircraft over Amara. Sam must have spent hours looking at these. Josh selected a few of the sites. They were mostly accounts of what had happened in Amara when the helicopter had been shot down and the steps to the subsequent war. There were quite a few campaigns going on to have sanctions lifted and the US grip on the country relinquished. Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore had a few things to say about it all.
In one of Sam's drawers there were dozens of floppy discs where he kept much of his work. There was a disc named 'working' which Josh pushed into the drive. He pulled up a list of documents, the last one was dated a week before Sam left and was called 'file request'. He clicked on it and the document that appeared sent his heart into his shoes.
Sam was writing to CIA Headquarters to formally request file number 92/132.
So it was a CIA file. What had they got to do with it all? He added it to his list of scary things he didn't understand.
Sam was writing as Deputy Director of Communications but that he was typing the letter himself rather than getting one of the assistants on to it made it clear to Josh this was a personal request.
He amended the document to change the date and replaced Sam's details with his own. He printed the letter on White House paper and faxed it to a White House contact at Langley. The Chief of Staff's office had a reasonably high security clearance and he had seen CIA files before so it was possible he would be successful. As the page disappeared into the fax machine he remembered he was supposed to be being careful.
Josh's sleep was fitful that night and when he did sleep he was woken by nightmares. He hadn't had these dreams in months but they were familiar ones. The images and distorted emotions of Rosslyn visited him until he was finally awake in a wild panic with the memory of the bullet constricting his breathing.
He got up and went to the couch, trying to calm himself. He had been taught to breathe deeply, to focus his thoughts. None of it worked, the memories just replayed themselves endlessly and randomly in his mind.
Without warning the confusion of images clarified into his second flashback. He had not had this one before. It was an image, brief and unclear, of the moment when he was outside the Newseum walking with the others. His cell phone rang and he stopped to answer it. Up until then he had had no memory of Mandy's call.
The phone ringing in the apartment startled him out of the vision and his voice cracked as he answered.
"Josh is that you?"
"Sam," he coughed and found his voice.
"Are you all right? You sound…"
"I'm fine. Are you? Where are you?"
"I heard they found Mandy's body. I've been worried about you. I wanted to tell you to be careful. I wanted to tell you not to trust anyone. Talk to Leo or Toby or CJ but don't talk to anyone else."
"Tell me what this is about?"
Sam whispered then. "Amara."
"Did you ever get the file you requested?"
"Oh God, Josh."
"It's all right, tell me."
"Leave this alone, just don't touch it," Sam's voice was filled with fear. "I shouldn't say this over the phone but I believe there is a secret being protected over Amara, it got Mandy killed and you almost killed."
"At Rosslyn you mean?"
"No, look I can't explain. Just promise me you will leave this to the FBI. Promise me."
Josh recalled the moment the letter to the CIA passed through the fax machine. "I promise. What's the secret?"
"I never found out. Damn, my change is running out," his voice softened. "I love you, Jones."
"I love you Mr Smith, I wish you were with me now." But the line had already gone dead.
The next morning he had one thing to do, it was his last idea. He drove to the Amaran embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. One of the smaller buildings on the embassy strip but a fine one nevertheless.
He knocked hard on the door and rang the bell until an official admitted him to the foyer, elegantly decorated with Islamic art.
"I need to speak to Ahmed Shubber," he said.
The official looked like he had been woken up. "It is half past six, the embassy is closed."
Josh looked in surprise at his own watch. He sometimes forgot the rest of the world slept at night and went to work at a decent hour. "I'm sorry. I didn't…Look, is he here? I need to speak to him urgently."
The young man began to wear the guarded expression of someone who has realised he is dealing with a lunatic. "The ambassador does not see people without an appointment. What is the nature of your business?"
Josh took his White House pass from the pocket of his Mac. He had been hoping not to identify himself to anyone except the ambassador but he clearly had no choice. He could sense Sam, far away, shaking his head in despair.
The pass had an instantaneous affect on the man. "I apologise, Mr Lyman," he said. "Come this way, I saw the ambassador's light on as I passed his office. So I believe he is at his desk already."
They followed a dark corridor to one of a line of ornate doors, the only one with light shining from underneath. The official knocked. When there was no answer he cast an anxious glance at Josh. "Perhaps he is not there. I will check."
He knocked again and opened the door a crack to look in. He then let out such an agonised moan that Josh moved him out of the way and pushed the door open.
The sight that greeted him was an appalling one of blood and chaos. A man was slumped over the desk and the back of his grey suit was red with blood. Josh put a fisted hand to his mouth.
Washington's bitterly cold winter flooded in through an open window. A weak wind rustled drapes and stray paperwork, but these were the only movements. The office had been turned over. Chairs were upturned and papers scattered across the floor and every surface. Books had been pulled off the shelves and pictures thrown on the floor and punched through.
The young man said something which sounded like. "It is the Ambassador." Josh gripped his arm.
"Go and call an ambulance and the police."
"He's dead," the man whispered.
"Call anyway. Go." The official ran off.
Josh was alone in the room then. He approached the body carefully and touched it tentatively. "Sir. Mr Shubber," he said hoping to provoke some movement, there was none. He put a finger to the ambassador's neck and felt for a pulse. Again he found nothing. But it was the coolness to his touch that finally convinced him the man was dead. Though he couldn't really be anything else with the hole he had in his back. Josh stared for a moment at the blood on his fingers and stepped back from the body.
The window was directly behind the desk and he moved closer to it instinctively looking for a source of unpolluted air. The window opened to a garden and seemed to be how the killer had gained entrance and, judging by a bloody footprint, how he had escaped.
It was clear the room had been searched. Every shelf was empty, every drawer and cupboard were open. The wreckage was too comprehensive to be random. He wondered if the killer had found what he was looking for. Perhaps Shubber had found out the secret Sam had spoken of and that was why he was dead.
He closed his eyes for a moment. He had already seen enough of the body to know it would feature in his nightmares for years but his eye couldn't seem to avoid it.
Was there ever a time when he could have dealt efficiently with something like this? When he could have used the minute or so left to him before the room would fill with people to conduct his own methodical search? Perhaps before he himself was shot, perhaps before the nightmares started.
Mandy, Sam, Mike Casper and Ahmed Shubber. He owed it to all of them to move from the spot he was standing in and do something. He couldn't move, he found his hand gripping the curtain as the room swam in and out of focus before him.
Perhaps it was all a coincidence. Perhaps Mike really was on an urgent assignment out of town and would call Josh in a day or two to explain. Perhaps a jealous husband or a sneak thief had shot Ahmed Shubber in the back. Perhaps there was no connection between what killed Mandy and what scared Sam halfway across the planet. Perhaps the document he now noticed under his foot wasn't really headed 'Operation Rough Magic' and numbered 92/132.77 in some careful administrator's handwriting.
To his surprise he found he was able to let go of the curtain, move his foot and pick up the piece of paper. He folded it twice and put it in the breast pocket of his Mac. Then he left the office keeping a steadying hand on the wall or convenient piece of furniture, hardly trusting his legs not to give out beneath him.
Outside in the corridor he leaned against the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor. Far away in the distance he heard an explosion. He put his head in his hands. Another hallucination. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the task of not passing out or throwing up.
The area soon began to fill with people. He was aware of feet on carpeted floor and a confusion of voices expressing horror and disbelief in a language he could not comprehend.
He was left alone until the emergency services arrived. The paramedics, finding a corpse and nothing to do hovered around Josh.
"Are you all right, Sir? Have you been injured?"
He looked up at the concerned faces. "No. I just need to…"
Two of them held him on either side and helped him up. He found himself in a chair in the embassy foyer. Cool, efficient hands examined him for injury where blood had found its way from his fingers on to his face. They cleaned the blood away, put a blanket around his shoulders and left him alone.
At some point someone gave him a cup of sweet, spiced tea. It's taste transporting him to an Egyptian veranda where he and Sam had once shared a stolen hour.
He closed his eyes and listened to the sirens from the police cars gathering outside. Fought off Mandy's voice in his head. On crackling cell phone, with the sound of her car engine in the background saying, "I think I'm being followed."
"Sir." He started as someone called him. A man was standing over him. He identified himself as a Detective from the first district, Homicide department. "Are you Josh Lyman, from the White House?"
"Yes." What the hell, everyone knew now.
"Is that your car parked outside, a black BMW?"
His eyes widened and his voice raised an octave. "What happened?"
"It was before the police arrived. It's trashed."
"What...what caused it?"
"We don't know yet, we're just sweeping what's left into a couple of brown paper sacks. Sir, do you know why someone might sabotage your car?"
"Apart from I work in the White House?"
"Good point. Any way of narrowing that down from - almost anyone?"
"I don't know who blew up my car," he said truthfully.
The Detective sat down, notebook in hand to ask him when he had arrived at the embassy, what the purpose of the visit was, how he had found the body and so on. Questions he could answer relatively easily without touching on the real mysteries.
"So why turn up without an appointment before office hours?" The detective asked.
He heard himself say, "I lost track of time." The Detective regarded him silently for a moment. "You don't look all that well. We need to take a more detailed statement from you but we can do it later. Would you like a ride somewhere?"
He waited outside among the police cars and ambulances and stared in a dull haze at what used to be his car. Sam's car. It was cordoned off with yellow tape and guarded by a police officer. It was a black shell now, reeking of smoke and burning metal. It was evidently the engine that had exploded. Its parts, which had scattered over the area, were being collected by law enforcement into plastic evidence bags. Some of them had tweezers. No wonder Sam never let him borrow his car.
A uniformed policeman drove him home and left him outside his apartment. He let himself in, picking up an envelope that had been pushed under his door. He took off his Mac, poured himself a scotch and sat down to drink it. Breakfast.
He telephoned Donna.
"Hi Josh. Where are you? Agent Thompson's here to interview you."
"Can you apologise for me. I'm not going to make it in today. Can you clear my day." He had been pleased at how steady his voice sounded until she replied.
"What's the matter? You sound weird."
"Flu or something, I guess."
"You've looked like crap ever since we got back from London."
"Yeah, thanks Donna."
"You want me to bring you anything, I can come by later."
"No thanks, I'm just going to sleep."
"Well, all right," she said. "But call me if you need anything."
He rang off and went to the sofa to lie down, covering his face with crossed arms. He needed to calm down. He couldn't do anything until he was calm and focussed. Eventually he drifted into a half-sleeping state and in his dreams Mandy repeated and repeated. "I think I'm being followed."
He didn't feel much better when he woke an hour later but was at least beginning to think coherently. He still had little idea of what was going on but decided to spend the day writing a statement of what he did know. In it he would include everything that had happened in the last few days, throwing in the contents of his flashbacks for good measure. He would give the statement to Leo, send it to the police, to the FBI, the Amarans, his psychiatrists past and present and anyone else he could think of. He wasn't going to stand near a window until the whole story was in a newspaper.
He took a shower and as he dressed his cell phone rang.
"Josh?" It was the most reassuring voice he knew.
"Leo, its really good to hear your voice."
"Is it?" Leo said suspiciously. "Josh, my phone just rang."
"It was the Secret Service."
"The DC police informed them that your car exploded outside the Amaran embassy while the Amaran ambassador was inside shot dead. Please tell me that's not true."
"Uh…its true. But I'm reasonably certain none of it was my fault."
"And why the hell should I believe that? You weren't near the car when it exploded?"
"No, I was with the ambassador."
"Dead one, yes." There was a silence. "Leo? Are you still there?"
"Yes. I'm trying to remember if anything I asked you to do about Amara could be interpreted as an instruction to assassinate their Ambassador. Josh, do you want to tell me what's going on?"
"I do. I really do. When are you coming back?"
"We're getting on Air Force One in a second." Leo's tone implied this was a fact he would have expected his Deputy to have known without asking. "Are you in any way okay?"
"I'm freaked out. In a really serious way. I mean I'm really…you've got no idea the…"
"All right, calm down. Are you at home?"
"Yes, sorry," he sat down on the couch, rubbing his eyes. "Yes, I'm home."
"I'm going to call Mike Casper, get him to talk to you."
"Leo, there's a pretty good chance that Mike's in the Potomac with bricks in his pockets."
"Right. Now I'm freaked out. Are you safe? I'm going to put a security detail on your apartment."
Josh was about to protest but then he said. "Thanks."
"You're okay alone, you want Donna to come round?"
"No. I'm okay here. I'm working on something."
"What something? Does it involve semtex?"
"Okay. Sit tight for now, don't go anywhere."
As he rang off Josh noticed the envelope he had found pushed under his door. He reached for it and examined the front. It had not come through the post but had been delivered by hand.
He tore it open and found a photograph that almost sent him back into shock. It was of Sam and Josh together outside the Old Curiosity Shop in London. Josh was hugging Sam and judging by the way they were standing it was taken during their second meeting late on Monday evening.
It meant Sam's whereabouts were no longer a secret. If they ever had been.
He knew this was a message to him to keep quiet, to leave things alone or Sam would be harmed. They could blow up as many of his cars as they liked he would never do anything to risk Sam, and they seemed to know this.
He now understood what had caused Sam to leave so suddenly six months ago. He had received an implied threat to Josh. He hadn't gone for his own safety he had gone for Josh's.
Josh went into the bedroom, finished dressing, packed a bag, found his passport and left the apartment. He took a cab to the airport and bought a ticket for the next flight to London. He forgot his fear and sickness, he had to find Sam and warn him.
It was raining when the black cab he had taken at Heathrow dropped him on Kingsway outside Smith's café. It was about three in the afternoon and the thoroughfare was crowded with people. Despite this the café was quiet and he took a seat inside ordering coffee and a sandwich. When one of the waitresses brought the order he showed her a picture of Sam he had brought with him.
She nodded her head. "I recognise him, yes he comes here. Early in the morning with all the American newspapers."
Josh smiled. "That sounds about right."
"He looks different now, not so smart."
"Does he come in much?"
"He used to come in a lot, every day sometimes but I haven't seen him since last week."
Josh understood immediately Sam would stop coming here because he feared he might have been recognised with Josh. The café was a good place to wait until the rain passed, but he couldn't rely on it as way to find Sam. He had to start searching and he was beginning to realise the impossibility of the task he had taken on.
When he had paid he went out into the street. Following the route he had taken with Sam he crossed into Lincoln's Inn Fields, he walked through the park and then back around the edge of the square. The buildings he passed yielded no clue except a certainty Sam loved it here, a museum in a Georgian house, the Land Registry, The Royal College of Surgeons. If he stood here long enough Sam would walk by, absorbing the antique strength of these institutions. So far, he had to admit it was his only plan.
He found The Old Curiosity Shop, it was still closed and there was no Sam waiting for him this time. No Sam, no Little Nell, nobody.
He stood for a while and watched the world go by. Josh saw young, dark men in suits and coats going about their business. He had to look twice before knowing they were not Sam. London was a big city, London was one of the biggest cities. It would be virtually impossible to find someone in the best of circumstances. When they were deliberately hiding, what chance was there?
He remembered standing here as Sam had written directions on a piece of paper for him. Why hadn't he grabbed hold of him there and then and refused to let him go?
He followed the haphazard curves of the streets passed the London School of Economics. Students milled about outside clutching books and files and soggy umbrellas, none of them were Sam.
He walked up Kingsway again, passed Smiths, passed shops and offices and Holborn underground. Sam knew this area well, he knew the back streets and the cafés. Josh was certain he either lived or worked here. Josh formulated a plan to go from door to door asking for him. Brilliant. Plan B. That should only take about a year.
Kingsway ended at High Holborn and walking up Southampton Row, he was faced with a hotel. A large modern building called The Grange, which looked like half the hotels he had ever stayed in. Josh stared at it, he had no idea why the place should be significant to him but it was. He looked down at the overnight bag he had brought with him. It was weighing heavier with every step and he had to stay somewhere.
He crossed the road and was greeted and admitted to the hotel by a doorman in an aubergine bellboy suit and top hat. He checked in and, as an afterthought, showed the receptionist the picture of Sam. She shook her head and informed him it was her first day.
"Ask Vic over there." She directed him back to the doorman. "He reckons he knows everyone."
Josh approached the doorman who, enjoying a quiet moment, had taken off his top hat and was twirling it in absentminded circles, revealing a violent mass of spiky blond hair. Josh showed him the photograph of Sam which he took willingly. For a moment Josh thought he saw a flicker of recognition in the young man's eyes but he shook his head.
"Sorry mate, I've never seen him."
"He could have been a guest or an employee in the last six months."
"No, I don't remember him."
Josh took the picture back, realising again how hopeless his task was. "Thanks anyway."
He went up to his room, peeled off his Mac and pulled a bottle of something out of the mini bar. He drank it while flicking through channels on the TV and when the bottle was empty he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.
Once again, sleep defeated him. Dozing briefly he had to fight his way out of a nightmare and anyway he was aware he had to phone Leo. Who would be beginning to wonder if all his Senior Staff would disappear one by one at six monthly intervals. Taking a leaf out of Sam's book he decided to use a public payphone so the call would be marginally less easy to trace.
He got up again after an hour and took a hot shower. It didn't revive him. The lack of sleep began to linger in his bones, in a tightness in his chest, in a sore throat.
He constantly had Mandy's voice in his ear now and when he stepped out of the shower the phone ringing in his room triggered the most detailed memory he had had so far of her final call to him.
"I think they might try to kill you." Her voice was clear over barely suppressed terror. "They think you know. Oh -." An explosion of shattering glass and guns firing terminated the call.
When he came out of the flashback he was kneeling on the bathroom floor, clutching his head in his hands and crying with the pain the vision brought. He turned quickly and vomited into the lavatory.
The phone continued to ring as he stood at the sink and splashed water on his face. He abandoned an attempt to brush his teeth with trembling hands. The phone stopped for a moment then started again and he gathered himself sufficiently to answer it. It was the receptionist who had checked him in.
"Mr Lyman, I've got Mr Seaborn in reception for you."
He didn't answer immediately, not fully believing what he had heard.
"Are you there?"
"Seaborn, you said?"
"No kidding, send him up."
There was a muffled conversation. "He says would you mind meeting him down here."
"Sure, I'm on way." He knew he hadn't mistaken the look on Vic's face when he first saw Sam's photograph. He had clearly been protecting Sam from unwanted visitors but had immediately contacted him.
Josh dressed in jeans, a T-Shirt and black sweater. He grabbed his Mac in case Sam wanted to make out in the park again.
Sam wasn't in the foyer or the lounge that adjoined it. When the receptionist saw him she pointed at a side door. "He said he'd meet you outside."
This didn't surprise Josh, given how careful Sam had been when he had last seen him. He pushed open the side door and found himself in a small bay for loading and unloading taxis and coaches.
There was one taxi there taking payment from a fare and a man stood near the door smoking. There was no sign of Sam.
When the taxi drove off and the passengers had gathered their luggage and gone inside Josh found himself alone with the man. There was a stillness about him which drew Josh's attention and it was then as the man dropped his cigarette and took a step nearer to Josh that he realised he had walked into a trap. The man was Agent Webster.
Before he could move he felt something jab into his side and restraining hand gripped his arm. Looking down he saw a glint of metal. Webster spoke in a whisper. "Don't move, Josh. It's a gun."
Josh sighed. "Perfect, that's just perfect," he muttered. "I'm still the Deputy Chief of Staff you know, do you really think this is a good idea?"
"Shut up. You've got something of ours."
"What have I got?" He demanded. "I haven't got anything."
The gun making a disturbing clicking noise reminded Josh he had been told to shut up. "Lets walk to the car."
He had started to pull Josh along when they were both distracted by a car screeching to a halt next to them and a top hat flying past their heads. The hat was followed by a tumble of two male bodies, bulldozing into them. Josh stumbled and Agent Webster was knocked to the ground, the gun flying out of his hand. Before Josh fell he was grabbed by one of the men and bundled into the back of the car. The man got in with him and the second who couldn't be anyone but Vic with that hair, scooped up the gun and his hat and leapt into the drivers seat taking off with more screeching.
"Fantastic, Fantastic. Fucking brilliant." Vic yelled as Josh shook off his dizziness and looked up to see who it was who was holding him with such steadying hands.
"Sam," he said in wonderment.
"Josh, I can't believe you're here." Sam touched his face. "Vic phoned me to tell me you were staying in the hotel and asking for me. We just saw what was happening. Who was that?"
"I don't know. Could be one of any number of people who seem to hate me."
"So you left well alone with the Mandy thing, just like I asked you to."
"Uh…yeah. As in, hardly at all." Josh shivered as a ripple of delayed shock reverberated through him. He looked at Sam. He was energised by what had happened, his eyes were flaming with suppressed anger and he looked utterly, devastatingly gorgeous.
"Josh," Sam said. "This is so dangerous. Why did you come here?"
"To rescue you. You know…obviously."
Sam sighed in understanding. "My hero."
"Sam, I was sure one of us would be dead by now." He gathered Sam into an embrace while Vic followed a circuitous route round back streets at great speed.
"Whose Sam anyway?" Vic asked when he finally slowed to a halt outside a block of flats on a side street.
Josh let Sam go and Sam looked behind to see if they had been followed. Then he turned back to Josh, concerned eyes wandering over him. "Did you get hurt there?"
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Because you look a bit, you know, not very well."
"I'm getting that a lot."
Vic turned back hooking his arm over the back of the seat. "So not Phil but Sam?"
Sam nodded. "This is Josh, I'm Sam. It's quite a long story but I'm not in fact an East End gangster."
Vic nodded at Josh. "Is your mate all right, he looks a bit rough?"
Sam turned back to Josh, who was trying to quell another wave of dizziness. "Josh, what's happened to you?"
"That's a fun story."
"Have you had a death threat?"
"Brilliant," said Vic enthusiastically.
"No, you have. And they know you're here?"
"They do?" said Sam. "Oh. Do they know where I live?"
Josh shrugged. "Maybe. But you're still alive so maybe not."
"What the fuck are you guys in to?" Vic asked and no one replied.
"Vic, you've got that man's gun." Sam reached and carefully picked it up. He examined it thoughtfully.
"Josh, can you use a gun?"
"Yeah, from when I was bagman for the mob."
"I was just asking."
"I come from Connecticut not Dodge City." Josh rubbed the back of his neck, he was feeling worse by the minute.
"Maybe I'll hold on to it," Sam said thoughtfully.
Vic and Josh exchanged a glance, each haunted by almost identical images of Sam tripping over his own feet and said in unison, "that's a really bad idea."
Sam looked up. "What, I'm getting it in stereo now?" He looked at the gun. "Okay."
Vic took it back from him. "I'll sling it in the river. I've always wanted to do that."
Josh closed his eyes. "What are we going to do?"
"I think we should go back to my house. I have a passport there and then we should go straight to the airport and go home. We'll be safe at the White House, until we get this thing out into the open." He frowned. "That's if they don't kill us on the way," he paused to dismiss his train of thought. "Do you have anything you need in your hotel room? Have you got passport and money on you."
Josh patted the pocket of his Mac. "Yes."
"I can get your stuff out of your room, no problem," said Vic.
Sam said. "Don't, someone will be watching the room. Don't risk it."
"Jesus, are you sure you're not an East End gangster?"
"You'd better get back to work, Vic. Or you're going to get into trouble." Sam ran cool fingers through Josh's hair, rested his hand on Josh's forehead. "I'll have to take your car. I don't think he can get on public transport." Josh hadn't realised he was drifting out of the conversation until he heard them talking about him.
Vic said, "I'll drive. My shift's finished now anyway."
Josh found himself being eased into Sam's arms, and his head fell against his chest. "Take it easy, Jones," Sam whispered. "It'll be all right."
"Er, Phil. Is he your bloke by any chance?"
"Yes. He's my bloke and I should never have let this happen to him."
When Josh opened his eyes he was lying in bed in a small room. It was simply furnished with a single bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and an armchair. It was an attic room with a softly sloping ceiling and the walls were newly painted white. A lamp on the bedside table lit the room in shadows and it was dark outside.
He sat up and a wave of dizziness overcame him. He recalled he had been ill with a fever and when he had opened his eyes through the hallucinations and the nightmares he had seen this sloping ceiling and Sam. He wandered momentarily if that had been a hallucination too, that the vast impossibility of finding Sam so easily was just a symptom of his fever.
He looked around the room, his Mac hung on a hook on the door next to the coat he had given Sam. A small television on the wardrobe was piled with newspapers. Otherwise the room was clean and ordered. He was reassured he was in Sam's territory.
He was wearing underwear and a T-Shirt that were not his. Sam must have put them on him and he wondered how long he had been ill. He carefully got out of bed, found his jeans which had been washed and laid over the back of the armchair and put them on.
Opening the door he saw the room was on its own at the top of a flight of stairs, there were three doors on the next floor down and a floor below that. He had no memory of walking up the stairs.
On the floor below he found the bathroom he was looking for and after he had relieved himself he washed his face and looked at his reflection in the mirror. He was pale with deep circles around his eyes but he was aware of feeling rested for the first time in a long time. The trip down the stairs had, however, knocked the energy out of him and he sat down on the edge of the bath.
There was a knock at the door. "Josh."
He opened it and found Sam there. "Hey, you're not supposed to be up." Sam put his arm around Josh and helped him back up the stairs and into bed.
When he had settled Josh sitting up against pillows he gave him a drink from a bottle of mineral water. Then he got into the bed with him and Josh gratefully let him pull him into his arms and he rested his head against Sam's shoulder.
"How long have I been out?"
Sam's fingers stroked through Josh's hair. "You've been in and out for two nights and two days."
"You had me worried for a while but you've mostly been sleeping. You must have been exhausted."
He remembered Sam's constant presence soothing away the harsh edges of his nightmares. Other memories returned incrementally. "We were going home."
"There's no way you could have travelled. But it looks like whoever stuck a gun in you doesn't know we're here."
"I was supposed to call Leo, he's going to think…"
"I already did."
"You called him? I bet he took that well."
"I think he got a bit tearful, it was sweet."
"Did you tell him anything?"
"No and I didn't dare tell him where we were because you don't know whose listening, but I said we were safe."
"Define safe, Sam."
Sam leaned down and kissed Josh's lips. "No one was actually pointing a gun at us while I was on the phone to him."
"Josh, what happened to Ahmed Shubber? I read in the papers he was dead."
"Did you know him?"
"Yes. We spoke a few times in our first year and I went to see him after I came across papers from the old administration in amongst Mandy's work when I was working on the polling project."
"I thought that must have been what happened."
"I felt like I could trust him. He was a good guy."
"I'm sorry, Sam. He was shot in the back by someone who broke into his office and ransacked the place. I found the body."
"What's going on Sam? What did you discover from Mandy's papers. What did Shubber know?"
"He didn't know anything when I met him. He had some photographs which indicated a US presence in the country without permission on the day of the attack on the helicopter."
"Anyone could fake a date on a photograph."
"That's what he thought, that's why he never took it any further."
"But you found something?"
"Well, in amongst the paperwork I found memos from the CIA to Paterson's Chief of Staff. The memos were highly confidential - no copies to be made on pain of pain etc. They all referred to Operation Rough Magic and confirmed a presence in the area prior to the shooting down of the aircraft. One memo was a report on the operation, basically a list of numbers and codes I didn't understand. But someone had written on it 'all in place for 30 May'. The day the plane was shot down."
Josh considered the interpretations that could be drawn from this, didn't dare express them. "What happened to that memo?"
"Well when I went to see Shubber he asked me about 92/132. I recognised the form of letters as a CIA file reference and I faxed a request for the file. Which was a brilliant move because that was probably exactly what got Mandy killed."
"I guess I know what's coming next."
Sam held Josh tighter, "When I got to work the next morning there were two men in my office. Ginger told me CJ had arranged a meeting with two representatives from an Australian newspaper I'd never heard of to be screened for pressroom credentials. As soon as I went into the room they closed the door."
"No, its okay, they didn't do anything. They didn't identify themselves but said 92/132 was highly classified and asking me extremely politely not to look any further into its contents. I gotta say they were pretty scary guys and I wasn't about to argue with them."
When they left I had a look through Mandy's papers and I found all the Amara memos gone, all that was left were the briefing notes that would have been in our files anyway and a few other non-controversial documents. There was also a picture of Mandy in the box that hadn't been there before and also…well, a picture of you."
I was terrified. I took it as a threat, I thought they were going to try and kill you as a warning to me. I was sure by then Mandy's disappearance was connected to these Amara papers so I knew they were capable of it. Mandy must have got closer to what happened than I did, she must have come across some very strong evidence."
"She wanted to tell me about it," Josh said. "It was practically the last thing she said to me before she disappeared, she said she wanted to talk to me."
"And she wanted to warn you didn't she?"
"How did you know?"
"You've been talking in your sleep."
"All I remember is my phone rang at Rosslyn and it was Mandy. She was saying they thought I knew something, and that she was being followed."
"In your fever you kept saying, 'the CIA shot it down.'"
He stared at Sam, then the mist fell away and the conversation with Mandy flooded back to him. He shot up. "That's right! I remember now. She was saying she found out the CIA were ordered by President Paterson to shoot down the…. My God, 12 men died. Sam they provoked that war deliberately."
"Are you surprised, Josh? That Administration was completely cynical, they'd wanted a foot in Amara from the beginning." Sam sighed. "I wonder what Mandy had? What I have doesn't amount to proper evidence."
Josh was still stuck on their discovery. "Sam this is huge. Do you realise? People need to go to jail for this."
"People have been alleging this for a long time. There are lots of campaigns back home but you know, without evidence. I don't think your flashbacks count, Jones."
Josh sighed and lay back. "You haven't told me how you came to leave."
"Well, they tried to kill you."
"I don't know about Rosslyn but after, just before I left."
"Uh, I think I would have noticed."
"You did. Remember when you came in to work cursing because a car had almost hit you when you were crossing the road outside your apartment. And the car just drove off."
Josh remembered it well and had complained so vociferously about it that Donna started calling it his 'latest near death experience'.
"I think I just wasn't looking where I was going."
"That goes without saying, darling. But the next day I got a photograph of what happened through the post, of the car just missing you."
"Sam. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I know I should have. I was in a panic though. I thought the only thing I could do to stop them killing you was to get out of the country, to just disappear. It would have looked too weird publicly if you were to be hurt shortly after I left and at least they would have the security of knowing I wasn't about to tell you about it."
"But you went through it all alone."
"Once I had made up my mind to go it stopped me panicking. I had a plan. I have one or two contacts in New York and I used them to get a false passport. That took about four days to sort out. I took a bit of money out each day and bought a plane ticket with some of it, I knew I wouldn't be able to touch my money once I was gone."
"So you just landed here with nothing? I don't understand why you wouldn't call me and ask for help. I would have done anything."
"Ssh, babe. Don't get upset. I couldn't call you. I don't think I would have been strong enough then not to tell you everything. And you would have raised hell and then you would have been killed. I couldn't see it working out any other way."
"What did you do when you got here?"
"I just walked around the streets for a day or two. It was pretty grim but I didn't dare spend my money on a hotel. I was lucky though, I stopped at the Grange to see if I could get some work and I got talking to Vic, who was on the door. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met him. He let me stay on the couch downstairs until this room became vacant and he got me a job at the hotel, casual work so I didn't need papers."
"You work at that hotel?"
"I thought you knew. How else did you find me?"
"I'm not exactly sure." Josh perked up. "Have you got one of those cute uniforms?"
"I work in the kitchens, Jones."
"Oh. You don't wear a hairnet do you?"
"Food safety is everyone's responsibility, Josh."
"I love it when you talk dirty. So tomorrow then, we go home and bring this into the open. Even without actual evidence we've got enough for an investigation."
Sam nodded in the darkness. "You realise how big this is?"
Josh ran his fingers along the line of Sam's jaw bringing him down into a kiss.
"And you know what's going to happen?" Josh said. "We're going to be outed to discredit us. Are you ready for that?"
"Well I'd already decided I wasn't going to let you alone ever again, so people would have noticed anyway. I'm sorry for leaving you like I did, Josh. I should never have done that."
Josh kissed Sam, savouring the taste of him after so long and Sam's hand began to wonder beneath Josh's T-Shirt. They made love slowly and gently, each refamiliarising himself with the other after so long, melting into each other in the small bed in the Winter darkness. Then, exhausted once again Josh was aware of falling asleep within Sam's embrace.
Josh was woken by noise coming from somewhere in the house. Opening his eyes he saw Sam was not with him. It was day but the light was dimmed by drawn curtains and rain was loud against the window.
He got out of bed and found his jeans and sweater and was pulling on his trainers when the door of the room was flung open.
Two men burst in. One of them was Special Agent Webster, the other an older man he did not recognise. They were both wearing suits and raincoats and although they weren't holding guns Josh had no doubt they were armed.
Webster grabbed Josh and pushed him round to face the wall. He searched him, checking the pockets of his jeans and then he was turned round again and pushed into the armchair.
"All right, where's Tonto?" He asked while the second man began to search the room. "Come on Josh, where's Sam?"
Josh shook his head, his first attempt at speech failing. He stared at Webster. It struck him again there was something familiar about him.
The second man began going through the pockets of the coat Josh had given Sam, which was still hanging on a hook on the door. Finding nothing, he used a penknife to tear open the lining of the coat. There was going to be no stone unturned.
Webster sat down on the edge of the bed. "Josh, you must understand the serious position you are both in. You have stolen classified documentation. You have committed a crime. If you want to help yourself you should cooperate."
"Wait a minute," Josh said, his voice surfacing from the depths of his fear. "What document and what are you? CIA? Show me some ID. What's your jurisdiction here?"
Webster's response was to punch him squarely on the jaw. The pain was quick and intense and had the opposite affect to that intended as Josh instinctively lunged back at his attacker.
He was restrained by both men without any difficulty whatsoever.
"Lets all stay calm," Webster said quietly, letting Josh see the hilt of his gun under his coat. "Now tell me what you've done with the classified material."
Josh watched the older man resume his search, emptying the chest of drawers item by item. "I don't have any classified material. I don't know what you're talking about. Honestly. I wish I did."
"All right then an easy one, where's Sam?"
"Christ, almighty," he said. "We're obviously going to have to do this properly somewhere else."
Josh really didn't like the sound of that. He sighed and launched into what Sam called his Woody Allen riff. "I swear to God, I do not know what you're looking for. If I had a shred of evidence against you murdering bastards I wouldn't be hiding in a rented room in…in…wherever the hell I am, I'd be doing something about it."
Webster sighed. "Okay, finish putting your shoes on. We're going now."
Josh did as he was told. He began to realise with a cold certainty he was unlikely to survive the day. Once these men realised he did not have what they were looking for they would have no choice but to kill him. He knew too much and knew their faces.
This was basically just finishing the job started many months ago. If there was one thing he should have learned from all those nightmares and flashbacks it was that he was living on borrowed time and it was running out. He just wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible so Sam wouldn't accidentally walk in on them.
Even as the thought crossed his mind the door opened and Sam flung himself into the room. He was a white blur, dripping wet from the pouring rain and wearing Josh's Mac.
The second man reacted first by pulling a gun. Josh moved next by shaking Webster off and rushing forward, pushing Sam out of the room. They tumbled down the staircase together.
"Down here," Sam said getting to his feet and pulling Josh with him. The two men were close behind and one of them fired a gun. But Sam got them down another flight of stairs and into the bathroom locking it behind them and leaning a chair up against the door handle.
The bathroom window opened easily and led out onto the roof of an extension which housed the kitchen. They climbed out of the window, hearing the bathroom door being broken open behind them. They had a second or two before the pair would negotiate the chair and in the meantime Sam had pulled Josh to the end of the extension and pushed him off, jumping with him. Josh landed in rain-soaked mud and did not have time to adjust to his surroundings before Sam had pulled him through a loose slat in the fence into the yard of the church opposite. Sam pushed the slat back into place but slipped in the mud pulling Josh down with him.
Josh got up quickly, it wouldn't be long before they would be found and they would be safest in a public place. He could hear the sound of traffic nearby and he pulled Sam up from where he had fallen. They could go round the side of the church out onto the street. But Sam was having trouble standing and Josh stopped to see what the problem was. It was then he noticed the red seeping through Sam's jeans and he realised he had been shot.
"Oh God," he supported him to stand and pulled back the Mac. He saw that the wound was in Sam's left leg, and was starting to cause him pain. "Sam, we have to move. Lean on me."
"Okay, I'm okay," Sam breathed. Josh grabbed him round the waist but in the driving rain, through the muddy ground they made slow progress. Josh thought he could hear the sound of shouting in one of the neighbouring backyards and guessed the two men had mistaken where he and Sam had gone. This gave them a little more time but he needed to get them out of sight. He saw the back door of the church and taking Sam the couple of steps up to it he tried it and found it locked.
He lowered Sam to the ground and tried to shoulder it open. It didn't budge and it really hurt his shoulder. It never looked that hard on television.
"Josh," Sam shouted. "Lets go round the side. We can get right out into the street."
Josh leaned down to help Sam up just as he heard the explosion of a bullet being fired. He turned and as he saw Agent Webster approaching he was momentarily lost in a flashback. He realised this was the man who he recalled crashing into him at Rosslyn. The man he now realised had shot him as he pretended to be running away from the bullets. At least that explained how Josh was the one to be shot so accurately when he was furthest away from the gunmen.
The flashback swam away and he found he was still alive and amazingly unhurt. He was crouching on the ground his arms around Sam, Sam's head crushed to his chest, Josh's back to the gunman protecting Sam from any more bullets that might come their way.
But he didn't hear any more shooting. The next thing that happened was that someone laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Its all right guys, its over." He began to wonder if he was dead because the voice was calm and certain and sounded like Leo. He wouldn't have been surprised if God sounded like Leo. He slightly relinquished his hold on Sam and turned to see who was behind him. Leo was standing there, in the flesh, sheltering under a black umbrella. Agent Webster was sprawled on the ground and the churchyard was full of Metropolitan police.
He couldn't see Webster's partner. "There's another one…"
"He's been arrested." Leo saw the blood on Sam. "You're hurt son, hold on. I'll get someone to call an ambulance." He went away to speak with one of the police officers, leaving the umbrella with Josh.
Josh sat down next to Sam holding the umbrella over both of them. Sam leaned against him and he kissed Sam's cheek and whispered. "Who said you could borrow my raincoat?"
"You see, you should have let me keep that gun."
"Then you would have had a hole in your foot as well as your leg."
"Possibly." Sam acknowledged. "Josh," he continued in a voice starting to weaken. "Why didn't you tell me you had a page from 92/132?"
"Don't you start, I haven't got a..."
"Here look." Sam reached into the breast pocket of Josh's Mac and pulled out a piece of paper. Folded twice and splattered with blood.
Josh instantly remembered the paper he had picked up in Ahmed Shubber's office. He took it from Sam and opened it. It was a memo from President Paterson's office to the CIA authorising covert operations in Amara on the day the US Air Force helicopter was shot down.
"So that's what they were after," he said. "Ahmed Shubber must have got hold of the file, or maybe a copy. They wouldn't have hesitated to kill him. They wouldn't have wasted a moment." He folded the paper in two again and slipped it back into Sam's pocket. "So that's probably quite important then," he said.
"A little bit important."
"I guess I forgot."
"Anything else you forgot to tell me, Jones?"
"You know you used to have a car…?"
Sam mumbled something.
"Did you say something, Smith?"
"Yes. I said, we suck at this."
Sam spent the night in hospital while Josh sat in the hospital café, explaining to an increasingly incensed Leo what had been going on, or as much as he knew of it.
Leo had then done the trickier work of convincing the relevant people in the Home Office and the police that Sam and Josh should be allowed to go home despite the dead body, the man in custody who would not give his name and Sam's questionable immigration status.
So the next morning Josh and Sam waited outside the hospital in bright, winter sunshine for Vic to bring his car round to pick them up. St Thomas' Hospital overlooked the river and the Houses of Parliament and for a while they watched the minutely slow turn of the London Eye on the south bank. Sam leaned against Josh having not got the hang of the stick he was supposed to be using while his wound healed.
"I'm stealthier than you," Sam said. "I think that's been established."
"Right," Josh said. "I particularly noticed the stealthy way you came crashing into the room full of enemies with guns yesterday."
"Yes, but at least I didn't leave a trail, fluorescent enough for Leo to find me in a day."
"Well clearly someone knew you were here. I got a picture of you under my door, remember."
"That, that's so…well, true."
In the morning papers the story was beginning to break. There was a report on Ahmed Shubber's murder which made a tentative connection to Mandy's death and Sam's 'mysterious disappearance'.
"Mysterious, see," said Sam.
The article further outrageously suggested the President's 'accident prone' Deputy Chief of Staff might somehow be at the centre of it all. There was a nice picture of his post- explosion car to illustrate the point.
The best news though had been from Leo. He said Mike Casper had written a letter to the President giving details of what he had discovered during the early days of his investigation. He had asked the right questions and consequently an attempt had been made to drive him off the road on the way to his meeting with Josh. He had survived this attempt on his life and, through contacts, found a place to hideout. He was alive and safe.
"So," said Sam. "While I've been away you've stolen my apartment and killed my car."
"Well I wouldn't have expressed it exactly that way, but yes."
"Then we're a one apartment, one car family?"
"I think that's right. I also broke your VCR."
"So, we might as well make this permanent. I mean rather than buy all this extra new stuff and pay all that extra rent."
"Are you proposing to me, Mr Smith?" Josh asked.
"Yes, Jones, I think so."
"I can't be without you," Josh said emphatically. "I just can't. You've got to not go away again. You've got to take me with you if you do. I mean, have I made that clear?"
"I get it. I completely get it." Sam was so close to Josh now he was whispering into his ear and Josh had both his arms around him and all the Londoners passing by were politely not noticing this astonishing display of affection so early in the morning.
"Okay. Then…" Josh dropped his head to kiss Sam ignoring a wolf whistle from Vic's car, which had drawn up on the curb beside them.
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