Bob Woodward’s blue eyes crinkle when he concentrates.
The Library of Congress is a good place as any to make and catalogue observations about his fellow human beings, but Carl’s nowhere near taking notes about his newly assigned partner as he speed-reads names and dates off each card. Woodward looks like he’s an eager student given homework by a favorite teacher, and the way he pores over the faded ink makes something in Carl shrivel up when their shoulders touch, close to each other by necessity. The wide-eyed clerk was no doubt a well-meaning idiot, but the sheer amount of work involved might mean that he’d be trapped in here with Woodward for much longer than he’d signed up for, with their shoulders brushing against each other’s as they work through the pile, through the night. Woodward doesn’t even look fazed at their workload, doesn’t even roll up his sleeves, and Carl’s been holding the same card for far too long for it to not be suspicious.
But Woodward doesn’t even notice. He’s too busy working, and that brings up something that almost feels like a pang of conscience in his soul, God save Carl Bernstein. He’s thinking about work ethic and also in cliches because of Woodward’s crinkled blue eyes and his upright posture, and he doesn’t know which is less forgivable.
They are self-contained, each methodically working through their half of the pile. Woodward is still too suspicious of Carl—and he sort of gets it. Not that many people understand his stylistic genius. Carl’s just itching for a smoke and some fresh air, but it’s sort of like Woodward is keeping him glued to his uncushioned chair by osmotic willpower. They are self-contained workers, which means that Woodward operates under no mandate requiring him to kick Carl in the shin with a small, sly smile. The pain jolts him back to reality.
“Ow, what the f—”
“Quiet,” Woodward murmurs, lips barely moving while he continues to read. He digs his elbow into Carl’s ribs in soft reprimand. “It’s a library.”
“Thanks for the breaking news,” Carl hisses back, reaching down the desk to rub at what’s surely going to bruise. He strongly considers kicking him back, but if they’re thrown out of the Library of Congress for this Rosenfeld won’t even spare them the dignity of getting their asses kicked by Bradlee—he’d do it himself. Death by local desk editor. It bruises Carl’s pride, too, since he’s worked this hard in the industry for so long. He’s angling for death by managing editor or nothing, so Carl bends his head over the cards and works again methodically, carefully.
Woodward removes his limbs from Carl’s vicinity, but his silence is smug. The bastard.
Woodward tells Carl about his intelligence source, hushed, over coffee. How he’d said to him, you can trust me, you know that, in the middle of the night in a parking garage, with no witnesses except possibly a G-man or a fraud. Woodward’s eyes had widened, darkened, while describing the encounter.
It’s hard for Carl to understand what it is exactly that Woodward is saying. “And you put a red flag in a pot and moved it to your, the—”
“Absolutely not. It’s a verandah or nothing you’ve got there—”
“—how would you know? You don’t know what my house looks like.” Woodward has him there, but Carl knows he’s right: nobody in this town can afford anything with a patio on a nine-month-old Post salary. He knows this one from life experience, but anecdotal data has no place in Woodward’s world of facts, so he changes tack.
“How do you even know this guy?”
“He’s an old friend.” Woodward even pours his coffee defensively, broad shoulders hunched together as if the splatters from their office percolator could spell out his source’s name. Carl’s heard rumors about Gene Roberts buying every reporter at the New York Times a Mr. Coffee, and briefly fantasizes about shipping off his irritating partner to the god damn place in exchange for a cup of drip coffee.
“And your old friend told you that the trick, William Potter, to not minding a fire was to ignore the fact that it burns you?”
“He said that Liddy said,” Woodward corrects, and takes a healthy gulp of black, bitter coffee. “He didn’t seem like he liked Liddy that much.”
Carl has to smile at that, at the familiar ground between professional reporter and incurable gossip. He waves off Woodward and his mild, Midwestern offense with his half-empty mug and a laugh. “That’s it. You’re watching Lawrence of Arabia.”
“I’ve seen it,” Woodward replies, and that too is defensive. He’s quick on his feet, but his Peoria sensibilities make him an easy target. “He likes the desert because it’s clean.”
“We’re working miracles,” Carl offers, and finishes the rest of his coffee.
“Blasphemy is a bad beginning for such a journey,” Woodward quotes, and Carl’s mug is empty. Woodward pours for two.
Woodward practically pushes Carl onto the plane when they find out about Martin Dardis. He has broad hands, fingertips digging into his shoulders while Carl frantically grabs his bag, mistakenly takes Woodward’s coat, makes sure he has his notebook. Woodward has a pencil behind one ear and smiles so widely his teeth blind Carl’s eyes.
“Nine in the morning, Miami DA’s office,” Carl chants, while Woodward retrieves his coat, prying it from Carl’s locked-up hands. “Nine in the morning, made the appointment myself.”
“As soon as Dardis talks, let me know—”
“Of course.” Carl is already wearing his own coat, so Woodward steers him out of the bullpen and toward the elevator. “I’ll be on the lookout for pay phones in the area.”
“I could kiss you.” He can hear the warmth in Woodward’s voice when he says that, and lets him push him out the doors. Bradlee’s lurking on their floor, most likely destroying the self-esteem of another desk reporter on the metro beat, and Carl grins, adjusts his coat, and makes sure he has his notebook again.
“Got it on record,” Carl shouts over his shoulder, and laughs himself toward a stomachache when Woodward shoves him out.
Carl comes back to Washington with triumph in his eyes and his voice. The Mexican checks, Ken Dahlberg, everything running in and out of Dardis’s office like a spiderweb tunnel. For crying out loud, Woodward has Dahlberg’s face, his photograph, on his desk. They know what he looks like. The chase, the hunt, puts electricity in his blood. Carl could stick a finger in a socket and go scot-free.
But it’s not enough. It’s not enough for any paper of record, and Carl already knows that before Bradlee, with the voice of God, tells them to fuck off. They don’t have it: they don’t have anything that the New York Times, or, God forbid, TIME goddamn magazine doesn’t have. They have suggestions, and inconclusive details that might lead to a bigger picture, but the lack of strength behind that word, might, itches at Carl like a real disease.
They’d been a little taller on the elevator ride to Bradlee’s office. The electric sense of success is gone, so Carl replaces it with pride, with bluster. They have something going on, he can feel it, but Woodward is acid, looking over at Carl with narrowed eyes when he asks, “Is there any place you don’t smoke?”
This has to be it: the moment where Woodward slugs him, or kisses him, right here and now. Carl’s never seen Woodward smoke, doesn’t think he does, so he catches Woodward’s angry stare and carefully lifts his cigarette to his lips in a calculated gesture. Filter between his lips, he inhales deeply, cigarette ash burning, flaking, cigarette smoke filling his lungs. The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts. Carl reaches out to press the ‘close doors’ button, keeps the elevator to himself as he smokes, with Woodward’s watchful eyes on his face.
He has the option of brushing Carl aside. They have to have arrived on their floor by now, but nobody is coming in, and it doesn’t look like Woodward wants to get out. Interesting. Carl smokes until the elevator chamber fills up in white, soft smoke, until it obscures Woodward’s face from his sight. But he knows he’s still watching, can feel the pressure of that stare even without having to see it, confirm it. Carl wreathes Woodward in smoke, with his exhale, but there’s no more to give. He’s already reached the filter.
Carl stops pushing the ‘close door’ button, and lets his hand drop down to his side as he idly smokes the last of his cigarette. The door chimes open, but Woodward makes no effort to move. Carl braces himself: the punch, it’s got to be the punch that’s coming.
“Kay Eddy,” Woodward says in a slow, quiet voice. Thoughtful, he sounds thoughtful. “Doesn’t she go with the guy who works for the Committee to Re-Elect?”
Kay is a pretty blonde twist of a woman with her shirt tightly tailored to her form. Kay doesn’t bat an eye when Carl brings over his ashtray and lights up another one at her desk, a wry smile forming on Woodward’s mouth at the sight. She’s sharp, and laughs at Carl when he calls her ‘honey’, for trying to weasel into her good books with his shitty pick-up lines and a smile.
Eye contact is gold when interviewing someone: sometimes it’s like practicing therapy, when someone tells you their secrets, but in reverse. Carl pries it out of them with questions, angled just enough to pierce the armor anyone ever builds up living in the world. He keys each question to an action: yes-or-no, who said what, and did which action.
A good journalist is fearless, and Carl has his years of experience to back up his methods. He’s lived the years in this job enough to know that a good journalist is also sometimes an asshole; the truth is never polite. He frames each question with a smile, with a flirtatious air that’s gotten him great returns in dimly-lit bars. Kay is clearly nervous when Carl turns his questions toward her guy, and a little defensive, but it’s still out of nowhere that Woodward, of all people, cuts their interview short when it was going so well.
“Why’d you let her get off with it, I thought she was gonna say something.” Woodward has a long stride, but Carl keeps up, mumbling under his breath just loudly enough for Woodward to hear. “She was gonna give us what we wanted.”
“It was over.” Woodward is curt, dismissive, and it’s hard to tell if he’s pissed at Carl about asking Kay some questions or his little stunt in the elevator.
“What?” But Woodward’s already moved on, put his things on his desk and fished out a pencil from the piles of paper stacked by his typewriter.
This is also probably why a good journalist works alone: they’re paranoid people who happen to move together in packs, hunting for blood in the water with the intent to feed just one person, or one paper. It’s more than about a byline—it’s about the truth, and the valuable trust someone invests in a reporter when they tell their truth to the press. It’s about pride, and Carl still has his when he turns on his heel and leaves Woodward alone to mark up his notes. He has copy to file.
When Woodward’s gambit works, Carl says nothing, and Woodward is gracious enough to pretend he’s forgotten.
At night, with Woodward’s hands clutching the steering wheel, Carl talks Woodward’s ears off. Out of courtesy, he doesn’t light his cigarette in the car.
“All right, what about all the shredding that took place right after the break-in?”
Woodward is infuriatingly reasonable. “We need to know more about the papers that were shredded.”
“I think you have some idea of what papers were shredded,” Carl shoots back. He can’t help but be reactive, not when Woodward is being so difficult. “When the former Attorney General comes into the office when it’s taking place—”
“—and it’s the Committee to Re-Elect, and he’s got a raincoat over his head, why’s he wearing a raincoat?”
“It could be raining, is what could happen.” But even Woodward senses the implausibility in that defense, so he relents a little, and Carl hunches up his shoulders in the passenger seat. “Let’s, let me go back through the story again. We’ve got a woman frightened at the door and she works for CREEP. And there’s shredding taking place. We don’t know what’s in those papers. We know that the former Attorney General comes in wearing an overcoat over his head. There’s a lawyer present. We don’t know what he asked him, she wouldn’t talk about that. Now, would you please tell me where there’s a story?” When Woodward gets going, he talks almost as quickly as Carl does, but he’s not surprised—just irritated, a little pissed off at how his partner refuses to believe in them, in their story.
“There’s a story in the fact that, that the interview did not take place in her home, but in the office of the Committee to Re-Elect—”
“How is there a story in that? It’s not enough—”
“There’s a story in there because there’s a lawyer in the office,” Carl blurts out. “I mean, you’re more resistant than she is!”
“That’s right,” Woodward grinds out, taking the accusation at face value.
Carl doesn’t bother to lower his voice. “Why?!”
Woodward’s determined stare bores holes through the windshield. “Because there’s not enough fact.”
“Well,” Carl explodes, and very nearly considers wresting the damn steering wheel from Woodward’s grip. “Let’s just turn around and go back and question her again!”
After Woodward lurches the car around, and they make the accountant cry at her own door, it still doesn’t sit right with Carl somehow. Her abruptness, and her tears—it’s all happened too fast.
“Someone got to that woman. It’s the key to the whole cover-up!”
“How can you write that there’s a cover-up! We don’t know that there’s a cover-up.” Carl would throw something at Woodward if he was able, but all he has is a pen and his reporter’s notebook, and Woodward’s car is annoyingly clutter-free.
It’s late, and they’ve been running down names for hours. “Then I don’t know what the hell you need.” It’s dark, and Carl stares at Woodward’s profile while Woodward stares at the road. Carl almost feels nervous, with the way Woodward’s acting, like he doesn’t believe in what they’re searching for. “So you tell me what you need.” The words come out a little more honest than he’d intended, pushed violently out by the itch to prove something, to prove himself correct—and to dissuade the unease that rises in his chest at Woodward’s unspoken accusations of a personal bias.
Woodward huffs an abrupt, angry sigh. “I need more fact for a story. And I think you should need the same thing.”
Undeterred, Carl starts it back up again. “Let’s say you’re in a car—”
There’s a wiseass under the facade that Bob Woodward maintains, and he blindsides Carl with it when he interjects, “I’m in a car.”
The AM/FM argument is quickly parried, and Carl almost likes this, the rush of argument, the push-and-pull. It reminds him how smart Woodward is, despite his tendency to not believe Carl when he is right, damn it, from the day Carl had applied his stylistic mastery to Woodward’s copy. It reminds him how much he likes Woodward, despite his penchant for unfaithful disbelief. If they were in an academic setting, if they were suspended in space with strict rules of debate, Woodward might have had the upper hand. But Carl is a journalist, and so is his partner, and neither of them flinch when Carl goes below the belt and makes it personal. “You don’t have a gut feeling? That the woman is trying to help us?”
“No, I don’t have a gut feeling,” Woodward says quietly, and his eyes flick from the road to Carl’s face. “I wish I did.”
Woodward has appalling—and therefore passable—taste in diner fare, and eats with his tie still neatly knotted at his neck. Carl idly eats the last of his French fries while Woodward takes up their crossed-off, crumpled list again, scans through each column as if his stomach could reveal to him a new, undiscovered secret. It’s late, or it’s early: the sky is a pale, milky color that indicates sunset or sunrise, but they’ve both spent the hours with their heads bent down to the ground, and their desks, away from the sun. Exhaustion permeates their bones, and Woodward looks miserable from it, brows furrowed as he traces a finger down each column, one by one.
Carl knows the list so well he can rattle off the names, but it’s a terrible feeling: to know so many names but never know their faces. “How can you keep going at something past the point you’d believe it?”
The question escapes him before he can catch it, propelled by exhaustion. Woodward doesn’t even lift his head from the list when he replies, speaking for them both, “You just have to start all over again.”
After finding out the White House has buried the GAO report, they split up to tackle the rest of the list with a sense of urgency that they hadn’t had before. Carl knocks at J Alexander’s house at night, with a Washington summer night sticking Carl’s shirt collar to his neck, and smiles winningly at the woman who opens the door.
Their breakthrough doesn’t even seem like it: it’s a quiet house on a quiet street, modest by all means. But the napkins and the scraps of paper in Carl’s pocket are worth their weight in gold, with caffeine pumping through his system as he unloads his notes onto Woodward’s lap, his desk, and his typewriter.
Woodward stares at the scraps of paper with a frown, picks up one by one the matchbooks and crumpled diner napkins with Carl’s hasty scrawl on both sides. “This is crazy, how am I gonna—”
“Well, you’d be crazy too if you were operating on thirty cups of coffee.”
Carl could holler the interview verbatim from the top of his lungs, if they weren’t conducting a secret investigation into the doings of an apparent national slush fund scandal inside Bob Woodward’s apartment. Woodward’s typewriter thuds steady and swift while he transcribes Carl’s notes, peppering him with questions to follow-up. Carl pats himself down, and looks for his smokes in his shirtfront pocket, in his trousers.
He also can’t find a lighter. Woodward is still asking him questions, but Carl has drunk so much coffee in that woman’s house he can operate on several mental tracks at once. He digs through his coat pocket, finds his cigarettes and his lighter, and lights up with a smile. Going through Woodward’s pantry for something else suitable to write on yields nothing but a glass jar half-empty of its cookies, and—Carl can blame it on the coffee—he retrieves one and flings it at Woodward’s head, the source of something that’s more like an inquisition than clarification.
Bob catches it with both hands and frowns, resuming his furious typing. “I don’t want a cookie.”
It’s almost childish, the way the tall bastard says it, and Carl laughs as he settles down in the only comfortable chair left in the room, content to answer his partner’s questions. He likes the look in Woodward’s eyes when he comes up with the idea to fake out the accountant, Eagle Scout face twisting into a confident smile.
When it works, Carl briefly thinks he loves Bob more than life. When they’re back in Bob’s apartment, still flushed with the exhilaration of confirmation, of success, Carl takes over Bob’s typewriter to write out the story with his fingers thundering away at the keys. He has chills running down his spine, little jolts of delight, when he types their joint byline: BY CARL BERNSTEIN AND BOB WOODWARD.
There’s a small path between a rock and a hard place, where the journalist lives. It’s the lane between suspicion and acceptance, and it’s their duty to make sure the record stays straight. Carl has a head for that, for the big-picture story, while Woodward drowns himself in the details where God—or the devil—lives. Midday is too bright for Carl’s eyes, and he’s still used to the lights of the Post bullpen instead of real sunlight, but Woodward somehow still looks presentable and crisp, as if he’d had a solid seven hours each night.
“All these neat little houses in all these nice little streets,” Carl mumbles, squinting as he wishes for a pair of sunglasses. “It’s hard to believe that something’s wrong with some of those little houses.” He betrays himself in the romanticism of his observation, despite being born and bred in DC, the most corrupt city in the country. It tinges his words, leaves a little sigh in his voice, and Woodward catches it, jabbing him lightly in the sides.
“No,” he snorts, and Carl is so relieved to hear exasperation, and fondness, in his voice. “It isn’t.”
Woodward uses details about himself like currency, offering up tidbits about himself that people—normal people—would value, and like, and remember later. They’re comforted by these things, these overtures that almost appear friendly, but they’re always a ruse. People like Hugh Sloan instinctively don’t like journalists, and Woodward always disarms people by offering up the possibility that he isn’t one, that he’s just a friend.
A friend with a very, very good memory. Carl wonders how Woodward might crack Segretti, but somehow can’t reconcile it. He looks at Segretti and recognizes what he sees: someone who’d channeled his internal rebellion into profit.
Carl borrows a leaf from the Woodward playbook and makes nice with him, gets friendly with him until Segretti calls him by his first name. He thinks about Woodward when he’s asked what he’d do after a stint in the armed forces, and doesn’t stifle his grin at the immediate answer that springs to mind: I’d fucking hitch up my ego to a typewriter and throw myself at the Washington Post, with or without Harry Rosenfeld. The image of Woodward’s offended face makes him laugh, and so does the word, ratfucking.
Carl runs after Woodward’s car at night, screaming his name, and Bob only stops the car when Carl hollers and waves in the middle of the street. Carl’s already running his mouth before he closes the passenger door behind him, words rattling off his lips and searching for a typewriter to land on.
It’s closer to his house, but Carl forgets to direct Bob how to get there halfway through as he tries to recount everything, mind still living in clarity with his body slow to catch up. It’s a left turn, or a right turn, Carl bouncing in his seat practically shaking apart with excitement. Bob’s still parking the car when and Carl abandons him at the curb to open up his apartment, fumbling his keys.
He doesn’t even say, “Come in,” just throws the door open and leaves it wide open. Carl’s already yanking loose his tie, grinning fit to burst while Bob slowly makes his way inside. He stands in the middle of the place, looking awkward and strangely docile until Carl points at the only clear space obviously available: a patch cleared from the mass of records, and books, with a small table and typewriter.
Bob doesn’t even say anything about the state of Carl’s apartment, the thrill of publication still in their blood, and Carl happily reclines next to him on the carpet. Progress, Carl tells himself, a folded-up copy of their published article and shared byline tucked into his jacket pocket. This is progress.
Bob and Carl don’t have a wife or a family or a dog or a cat. Carl actually only owns a bicycle and a typewriter, and DCPD’s impounded his bike so many times it’s practically a case of joint custody. He also owns about a million records, and probably has owned at some point over fifty lighters—that replace each other over and over, so he really has owned only one lighter at a time, probably.
“He said it’s out of Wichita, Kansas—”
“No, I get that. But I’m from Wheaton, Illinois.” Bob sounds gently puzzled, but there’s a shit-eating grin on his face that Carl recognizes as an expression of his own that, most likely, Bob’s taken for himself. They wear matching smiles and bright eyes when Bradlee pulls them into their office.
Bradlee sure as hell doesn’t give any of Clawson’s shit excuses anything, and Carl thinks that this is even better than death by executive editor after all: Bradlee’s protecting them, for what it’s worth, and Bob and Carl’s words are now the public record. Not that everything they’ve found is public: Howard Simons’s nickname for Bob’s paranoid parking garage source, Deep Throat, won’t be printed after all, and neither will the collective hours Bob and Carl have spent in each other’s apartments.
“A wife and a family and a dog and a cat,” Bradlee repeats, dry as a desert in Hell, and Carl can see why a guy like Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t want to tell him the truth. He maneuvers Clawson’s bullshit masterfully, and Carl feels a little like he should take notes.
He brushes the cigarette ash he’s dropped on Bradlee’s office couch before he leaves.
At lunch, Carl kicks Bob lightly under their shared formica table. He wants legroom, damn it, and after eating this many greasy fries at a table this small, he deserves some. Bob has that pensive, thoughtful look on his face, the look that always spells trouble for an interviewee and more red ink work for Carl.
Carl eyes him, wipes his fingers idly with the last napkin on his tray. “We’ve only got four out of the five who control the fund.”
“It has to be Haldeman,” Bob mumbles, chewing on his fingernails.
“I don’t think we got it.” It’s funny, how cyclical life is.
“We know the fifth is a top White House official.”
“But no one has said it. No one has named Haldeman.”
“No one’s denied it.”
He’s enjoying this. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling, pinning Bob Woodward down with his own favorite Facts. “That still doesn’t prove,” Carl finds a stray half-slice of toasted bread that thought it might escape. “Mmf—that was Haldeman.”
But where Carl’s reactive, explosive, in the face of denial, Bob sulks. Carl can’t help but smile, laugh a little, and soon he’s leaning in across the table to whisper a strategy in Bob’s ear. Fake him out, get him to confirm without confirming; they know this routine so well, the ins and outs, it’ll be seamless. “Wanna do it that way?”
“Yes.” Bob nods on instinct, and he looks like he’s ready to leap out of his seat. “Let’s go back and see Sloan.”
Carl sips at his water. “We can’t go now, ‘cause he’s not home yet.”
Bob’s already fishing for his keys while he replies, “He may not be answering, but he’s might be there.”
It all seems so good. They’re running along a wire, a thread stretched between fact and fiction, and the only guide they have is the gut instinct to chase the story down to the end. Carl’s days and nights bleed into each other, the only consistent patterns he can recognize forming around Bob and his stupid work habits: his doodles, his loopy scrawl, using only two fingers to jab at the typewriter like a bird. They work late into the night until Carl’s out of cigarettes and Bob’s taken off his tie, and they can finish each other’s sentences. It all seems so good, until it stops.
Carl hears Bradlee roar WOODSTEIN! from the bullpen, their executive editor holding today’s paper so tightly it looks like he’ll rip it in half, like he’s wishing it’s their heads. Bradlee makes them watch Ron Ziegler destroy the paper’s name and reputation in his office, and it’s surreal. The horror of watching the President’s Press Secretary drag Bradlee’s name through the mud on national television barely seeps in, still stymied by shock.
They fucked up. They’ve fucked up somehow, somewhere between the count-to-ten and publication. It’s Bradlee’s ass on the line, and Rosenfeld, and Simons, and Carl and Bob are only two metropolitan reporters with one of them only nine months at the paper, spitting in the collective eyes of the Republican Party and the White House. Bob looks like he’s about to set a man—very likely Ron Ziegler—on fire, and Carl’s ready to offer his lighter.
Bradlee dismisses them without a word, sits at his desk for once and doesn’t read anything at all. Bob turns on his heel and leaves Carl there, still adrift in the terrible wake of it all. “Go,” Bradlee says tiredly, puts his feet up on his desk and watches as the real world comes crashing down on Carl’s head.
He tears out of there, runs to find Bob before he can do something insane like bury himself in the archives, six phone books deep, or actually assault the White House Press Secretary. He’s betting on the first one, but if Bob’s done anything to him since that fateful-ass June morning when five burglars had broken into the Watergate Hotel, all he’s done is surprise Carl every step of the way. He’s not anywhere near the percolator, and he wouldn’t be outside smoking.
When Carl sees that familiar, neatly-combed head of hair, bent furiously over his typewriter, relief washes over him. They’ve fucked up bad, and sort of upended their careers—and their supervisors’ careers, come to think of it—but Bob Woodward’s hellbent work ethic has yet to change. Bob’s sorting through notes so quickly it looks like a tornado’s come and dumped pieces of paper over his usually neat desk, but he doesn’t even acknowledge Carl’s presence.
No—he just takes it as granted that he’s already there. “This is right, right?” Bob passes a sheaf of papers over and Carl takes it without question, scans through each and every handwritten note they’d made in his hands.
“Yeah,” he says quietly. “Yeah, it is.” He means to say we are, and answer the unspoken question beneath Bob’s fact-checking habits, but the surefire certainty he’d had that they were onto something, onto the truth, is gone. His silence burns at him, so Carl puts a hand on Bob’s shoulder and finds that, under his palm, Bob is shaking.
Slowly, purposefully, Carl pulls over a chair and sits at Bob’s desk, their knees barely touching. Without saying a single word, he divides the stack of papers and takes a pen from his shirt pocket, and settles in to work.
Carl doesn’t sleep that night. He just paces, and smokes, and paces and smokes in his apartment, waiting for Bob to come home and tell him what his source has divulged this time around. He can close his eyes and see all their interviewees, all their headlines, and somehow all their hard work isn’t coming together quickly enough. It’s either so much bigger than either of them had anticipated, or they really are being set up for something: it’s true or false, and only one of these two will ensure that everybody Carl professionally likes can keep their jobs.
Bob is wild-eyed and sweating when he finally gets to Carl’s place. He places a finger to his lips, and Carl makes way for him to get to the desk and the typewriter only to see Bob turn toward his record player.
Vivaldi blasts through the room. Dumbfounded—and a little deafened—Carl watches as Bob manages a single line on his typewriter. WE ARE BEING WATCHED.
“Jesus,” Carl breathes, his voice drowned out by the music, and moves to push Bob away and ask him just what the hell happened in that parking garage.
Paranoia now sounds like Vivaldi. Words sound like gunshots, but with each keystroke they’re getting closer to the truth: the thing that Bob’s wanted to find all along, his way, and the thing that Carl’s been wanting to write. They’re nowhere at ease, and Bob and Carl have every other reporter at the Post beat on overtime.
The television is on, but neither of them hear it. Carl can replace his heartbeat with the rhythmic staccato of Bob’s typewriter, or maybe it’s his own.
They’ll get there, to the place where they’re both right, and can meet in the middle.
Publication is validation.