"Jesus, you'd think with a degree in Literature from Harvard your syntax would make more sense than this steaming pile of dogshit."
"Ouch, Lieb." Webster monotoned. From the muffled sound of his voice, he was probably still stuffing potato chips in his mouth. Was Liebgott surprised in the slightest by his lack of table manners? No. Was he surprised that Webster was lying inert on his cluttered mattress? No. Selective indolence was in his nature. He was bred on green lawns and tennis clubs.
Liebgott twisted around in his chair. "I mean, c'mon. What would you do if I wasn't here to clean it up? You didn't even mention Ziegler's name until the third paragraph, and he's the subject of the story."
"I didn't go back over it."
"You—you didn't go back over it?" Liebgott echoed, incredulous. "You mean to tell me you didn't even read over this before you gave it to me?"
Webster shot him a glance nothing short of shameless.
"You're a real piece of work," Liebgott raked a hand through his hair and shook another cigarette from his pack. There was a cup of lukewarm coffee on the table next to the typewriter, which he downed hastily, despite the lack of flavor. The deadline was tomorrow morning, and it would be an understatement if he said he had a lot of work left to do.
“I don’t even know if this is salvageable.”
“Deadline’s tomorrow morning,” Webster said, helpfully.
“I feel like we’re beating a dead horse. I swear I’ve written more about Watergate than any other kind of report in the entirety of my career.”
“We can’t let the Times snatch up one of our stories. Winters will have our asses if even a single one of them ends up being a reprint."
" Webgott, you had better find someone to go on the record for this ." Liebgott imitated the mantra of their editor-in-chief.
Webster raised an eyebrow. "At this rate, you're almost as good as Luz. But that's because he's got his sports column as a security blanket. No one ever gets onto him cause his pieces are so damn boring."
"What, you don't like sports, Web? That's shocking.”
"Yeah, yeah. I know. It's primitive. It's unsophisticated. Yada yada. You’re like a broken record."
"Remind me again how a cabbie from San Francisco and a Harvard graduate ever ended up at the same post..."
"A newspaper is a meritocracy, asshole."
Webster slumped back down on the mattress and closed his eyes. Liebgott eyed him for a moment, unimpressed, before returning to the keys. Funny, he mused, how Webster had a real sense of exigency until it came to the grunt work.
"This is slave labor," Liebgott said under his breath. The rapid clicking of the typewriter was too loud; he hadn't noticed Webster's approach until the other was right behind him.
“Jesus!" Liebgott startled, leaning against the unexpected presence of Webster's hand on the back of the chair.
"Slave labor?" Webster smiled in that patronizing way of his. "I hardly forced you to be here."
"Huh, then maybe I should go since you seem to have it all figured out." Liebgott rose to his feet, stuffing his nicotine into his shirt pocket.
Webster raised his hands in surrender. “I'm kidding. Please don't go."
"That's what I thought. Hardly forced me to be here , huh? Then what am I here for? Ungrateful bastard." Liebgott sat back down, grasping one of his pens from the desk to gnaw on the cap angrily. "Who are you kidding, when you don't know shit from Shinola?”
"You're pissy today.”
"Yeah, well, keep this between you and me, but there's this putz who just asked me to completely redraft his stream-of-consciousness, shitass excuse of a story."
"Tell him to pay you," Webster suggested, the warmth on his face unapologetic, his words intentionally artless. "I'm sure he's charitable." He placed his hands on Liebgott's shoulders. Liebgott stiffened but didn’t shrug him off.
"That's what you think. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Washington, living off a nine-month-old salary from the Post . What's more, he's incredibly co-dependent."
"You don't know the half of it..." Liebgott trailed off, suddenly lost in thought. Right—he hadn’t realized he was this worked up. Maybe it was the stress. Yeah. It was probably stress. Sometimes when he thought about the fact that they’d dismantled almost the entirety of the GOP in the span of a month, he got this horrible feeling that it was all too good to be true. The fame, or the notoriety, the press—the press for the press, who knew.
He regretted being pushy. He regretted ever looking over the editor’s shoulder and making the executive (haha) decision to rewrite Webster’s piece on the Watergate burglar employed as a security coordinator for the President’s re-election committee. He wished Webster had been a little more upset with him, for being a nosy, holier-than-thou little shit. Sure, he had more experience and certainly was a helluva’ better writer, but his ego was unpardonable... Liebgott remembered with clarity the way he told Webster, steadfast, almost petulant, that his version was better. As his eyes skimmed the first few pages of the revised version, the irritation in Webster’s face had melted away. It’s better, he said, matter-of-fact. The rest was history. Liebgott remained wrapped up in the ordeal until president Nixon himself was standing there sweating at the bar. As Liebgott had watched the trial through the electric blue haze of the television screen, he had the distant thought that this had all been a mistake.
“I was just thinking maybe I should’ve kept doing my investigative series.” Liebgott drew further in on himself, his shoulders hunched and teeth grinding together. As if on cue, Webster’s hands on his shoulders began kneading gently. Liebgott went still, allowing that unpleasant tightness in his back to be rubbed out of him.
“You’re so tense.”
“Sounds like a line from a bad porno,” Liebgott said, but his voice was quiet and breathy and clearly affected. “God, that feels...”’
Liebgott nodded, his lips pressing together in a thin line. His hands were splayed out on his knees. The pen he’d chewed up abandoned on the edge of his chair.
“I hope you’re not actually thinking about going back to the classical music reviews.”
A short, wry laugh. “That was a one-time thing.”
“It should stay that way.”
“Mm...hm?” Liebgott was distracted by Webster’s hands making him feel like everything was melting away.
“I’m serious, Lieb. You know about the rumor about me at work, that English isn’t my first language.”
“Thought it was...dyslexia..?”
“All the same. I need you. We’re a team. A unit. Honestly, I think I would’ve gone insane if we hadn’t been paired up for this story. You’re clever, and a fast-talker. I don’t think I would have ever have gotten this far if I’d been working on my own. And the byline is infamous: David Kenyon Webster and Joseph Liebgott. You think we’d even be recognized if it wasn’t in tandem?”
“No way, Jose.”
Webster paused, glancing down at the other fellow who was currently too blissed out to make heads or tails of what was being said to him. “And I’m monologuing for nothing.”
Liebgott’s head tilted back. His eyes flickered open, curious as to why the feeling of pleasure coursing through his body had suddenly stopped. Webster was looking down at him. A small hard line appeared in the furrow of his brow.
“Why’d you stop?”
“Because you’re not listening.”
“I never knew you were so good with your hands. Do you treat all the chicks like this, or am I special?”
“That was a non-sequitur.”
Webster’s green eyes flashed with annoyance. He flicked the back of Liebgott’s skull with his fingers and retreated to his mattress.
“Come back.” Liebgott sulked.
“Maybe when you’re done with that report,” Webster replied, popping a potato chip into his mouth. That shit-eating grin was on his face again, clearly, he was getting a kick out of Liebgott’s state of despair and was unafraid to exploit it.