Bernstein cupped his hand around his cigarette, one foot bent up on the dashboard, and took a long drag. He snapped the lighter shut, pocketed it, and said, “Now there’s a dirty name,” jerking his head in the direction of a motel on the right.
Bob let his eyes flicker towards it as they went by. The sign said PINK SHELL MOTEL in flashing neon letters. Pink, obviously. He raised his eybrows. “Pink Shell sounds dirty to you?” He didn’t take his eyes off the road, but he knew what Bernstein’s expression would be; half-grinning, half-rueful, mouth twisted to one side.
Bernstein shrugged. “It’s getting late, it’s a motel, of course it’s gonna seem dirty.” He paused, and Bob caught the smell of cigarette smoke. “Sally told me that there’s a certain well-known political figure who rendezvous’s there with the ladies of the night.”
Bob glanced over at him. “Really?”
“Do you smoke everywhere?” Bob said.
“You asked me that before,” Bernstein replied.
“You didn’t exactly answer me before,” he said, and he knew he’d just said it to be obnoxious.
Carl just kept staring out of the window.
And yes, Bob was letting himself gripe a little, which was all kinds of unfair on Bernstein, but it was just that they’d been on the job nonstop, both of them working what felt like eighteen hours a day with nothing but a list of crossed-off names to show for it and a whole lot of notes saying idiotically unhelpful things like SUSPICIOUS?!!?? and FINANCE! and TRY 305 AGAIN; all inference and deduction and off-the-record confirmation. Nothing solid, nothing concrete – nothing Bradlee wanted the Post’s reputation on the line for. And christ, but he was tired, and with Bradlee getting steadily more irritated, Bob had felt like they deserved a decent day.
At first it had looked like today was that day, because he’d felt like they were getting somewhere, that finally things were clicking into place, and then Bradlee had called them in and asked them what they had. So sweet, so goddamn sweet the way it had all fallen into place; both he and Carl knew they were onto something and Bob couldn’t not believe it was true.
Apparently Bradlee could, and told them in no uncertain terms to go home and come back when they had something he could print.
“Woodstein,” Bradlee had said, wearily, standing with his palms flat on the desk in front of him, “Look. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but no one ever said you have to be wrong to screw up. You guys haven’t been wrong yet. You should be scared shitless. Take a day or so. Get this story straight. Here’s an idea- find a source you can actually quote, for chrissakes.”
In the muffled silence of the lift, Bob let his head thunk back against the panelling as the doors slid shut. He felt rather than saw Carl glance over at him.
“You really want to go home?” Carl asked.
Bob shook his head. “You want to get a bite to eat?”
And just like that, barely articulating the idea, they’d understood that they were going somewhere they could keep working. They were both too wired to even contemplate sleep; Bernstein just got in Bob’s car, as usual, and they spread out all their notes in the booth of a fast-food joint round the corner.
“Hey,” Carl said over the cheeseburgers and bad coffee, which somehow weren’t helping as much they usually did, “all I keep thinking is maybe we haven’t got the story solid for tomorrow, maybe no one’s even gonna care tomorrow, but the day after is when we take them down for good, above the fold on page one. That’s all I’ve got.”
Bob nodded, taking the words the way they were meant, as comfort. Bernstein had kind of wormed himself into the story, sure, but without Carl Bob would’ve got nowhere; he had the best ear for a lie Bob had ever encountered, and was probably the most persistent person he’d ever met. They both knew they were onto something; he kept telling himself the reason no one else gave a shit was because all the political reporters were tight with the senators and congressman, and didn’t want to screw up their connections, which were all they had-
“You realise you’ve just eaten three cheeseburgers without getting a single stain on your shirt,” said Bernstein, staring at him fascinatedly.
“Nice clean Republican boy,” said Bob, coming back to himself. “That’s me. Just like Nixon.”
“Well,” said Carl, straightfaced. “You voted for him.”
Bob sighed. “Yeah, and now maybe I get to tear his whole administration down. Assuming we’re actually right on this. Is your place or mine nearer?”
"Yours,” Carl said, and if Bob thought it was a little strange that they still wanted to spend time with each other, he didn’t think about it too hard.
They drove on in silence.
“Your block’s off to the left here, isn’t it?,” said Carl, putting out his cigarette, which meant that no, he wasn’t going to hold Bob’s irritability against him, something for which Bob was inexpressably thankful. He turned off towards his apartment building as the Pink Shell Motel hovered in the corner of his mind.
“Do you think there’s something screwed up about our inability to stop working on this thing?” Bob said, flicking on the lights in the apartment.
“Course not,” said Carl, glancing around. “You mind if I just spread all the stuff out on the floor, cause I don’t think you’ve got enough table space for this.” It wasn’t a question; he’d started laying notes out before he’d finished his sentence. “`Anyway, this is terrific work we’re doing here.”
“Terrific, if you like rejection,” said Bob, putting the typewriter down on the floor in front of him. “Pass me what you’re done with, will you?”
They worked pretty much in silence for a while, except for the clacking of the typewriter keys and the rustle of paper; both sitting on the floor, facing each other but on opposite sides of the room, not having any cause to look away from what they were doing. It wasn’t exactly the first time they’d worked late, or that one or other of them had stayed practically overnight, even. But there was a moment where he glanced up and saw Carl looking straight at him, an odd expression on his face, and a thought crossed his mind, one that he immediately tamped down; that wasn’t somewhere he was going to go, not ever.
Carl eyed him, looked away, and finally said, “You know what really stings?”
Bob exhaled. “Fine, tell me.”
“Bradlee never even complimented me on the wonderful job I did covering that Virginia legislature story.”
“Holy shit. You turned in the story?”
“Yeah, I turned in the story.” Carl wrapped his arms around himself mock-defensively.
“Well, you should be proud of yourself,” he said.
“Well, I am.” And there they were, sitting on the floor of his apartment, twelve- thirty at night, surrounded by piles of paper and tomorrow they were going to do the same thing they did every day; go from door to door asking, and asking again, and trying to fit it all together because god help them, they were going to figure it out, but it never felt like they had enough time.
“I think I should- ” Carl began, and didn’t finish his sentence.
“I think you’ve been awake too long. Maybe we should go to sleep,” Bob said- inanely, because he was pretty sure both of them had evolved or something; got to the stage where they didn’t even need sleep. “I can’t hear a thing from the rest of the building.”
Carl grinned and said something about how of course they were the only ones left awake now, they always were, it was the insane job they did. Everyone sensible had given up and gone to sleep, even the really dedicated ones, the ones who’d gone to that goddamn motel to fuck – “but I bet that never even occurred to you, Woodward-”
“I wish,” said Bob offhandedly, rubbing at his eyes, barely thinking at all, except god, but it had been a long time- but then Bernstein went still, and it was like everything had shifted, like a jolt of electricity or the shock of cold water, and he wasn’t sure what was happening at all.
“You want to go, Woodward?” said Bernstein in an undertone, looking straight at him. “Because we can leave it if you want, don’t get me wrong, we can always leave it-”
Woodward shook his head and said, “Yes.” He was dry-mouthed, Bradlee’s words running through his head; “I don’t- Carl, look- you can screw up without being wrong,” he said hopelessly, and now he thought he knew what that would be like.
Bernstein just stared at him. “Fuck that,” he said scratchily, and closed the distance between them.
He tasted like cigarettes and ink and sleeplessness, but he was warm and near and knew him better than anyone else in the world right now, and Bob wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Jesus Christ, this is fucked, we’re fucked, you know that?” Carl said, half-laughing, as he loosened Bob’s tie. He started unbuttoning Bob’s shirt, but his hands were shaking, so Bob just covered Carl’s hands with his own, dizzy with relief, and he leaned forward to kiss him again, just to make sure; Carl shifted position and he ended up pressing an awkwardly misaligned kiss somewhere below Carl’s ear.
“This is the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever done,” said Carl breathlessly, and he drew Bob up towards him, took Bob’s face in his hands and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him, slid his hands under Bob’s shirt, pulling away his clothes, fingers skuttering over his spine, touching him everywhere, everywhere-
“Well, if you want us to reconsider our motives,” said Bob, panting open-mouthed against Carl’s temple as Carl got one thigh between Bob’s legs, and god, that was Bernstein’s dick kissing wetly at his belly.
“Nice clean Republican boy,” said Carl distractedly, kissing his jawline. “Who’d have thought it. I swear, you’re the hottest fucking thing I ever- ” - and with that Bob was gone, shuddering out his orgasm with Carl’s thumb still making agitated circles over the head of his dick, and then Carl was coming too, his face pressed into Bob’s neck.
Bob took a deep breath. “We should probably talk about this.”
Carl said “Well,” and then, “See, the thing is,” and then cut himself off, started again- “I mean, we don’t have to, but I was hoping you’d want- ”
“Good,” said Bob, gratefully - and then they were kissing again, deep and sweet and slow, like they had all the time in the world.
And after that came the whole sequence of discoveries you only make when you have to sleep in the same bed as someone else- Carl talked in his sleep, and had a sprinkling of freckles on his left shoulderblade, and seemed to have a thing about Bob’s ears. He also woke up every couple of hours fidgeting and needing to check the time; Bob found himself drifting in and out of wakefulness with Carl saying incomprehensible but strangely comforting things.
“Hey,” said Bob at one point, staring at the ceiling. Carl’s hand was warm on his hip. “Did it ever occur to you that if we’re right someone might have us under surveillance?”
He felt Carl’s smile curve against his shoulder.
“Yeah, of course, because the sensible thing to do when you think someone’s watching you is to jump the guy you’re working with. No, it did not occur to me.”
Bob rolled over and half-heartedly cuffed him.
“Carl?” he said, yawning. The sun was almost up. An hour or two and they’d be back in the office.
“Fuck you, Carl.”
“Exactly,” said Carl, hooking one leg over Bob’s hip to draw him closer, and maybe they hadn’t screwed up so badly after all.