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Early Returns

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In the 18 months since Proculus Media had swallowed up the paper, Dom Cobb has (a) offered Saito, their new publisher and overlord, oral sex to keep ads off the front page (it hadn't worked), (b) started crying actual tears of exhaustion at a redesign meeting the fourth time Yusuf brought up page gutters to try and guilt him into ceasing his reign of terror (it hadn't worked) and (c) tried to get Arthur to agree, peacefully, to work election night.

As far as Arthur is concerned, that's not going to work either.

"There's free food on election night," Dom says, pleading, and Arthur ignores him in favor of deleting all the cutlines the copydesk intern had written and sending her an e-mail saying: NO GOOD. TRY AGAIN. "There might even be free pizza on election night."

Ariadne, who drops by long enough to drop off a handful of roughed-up charts, says, "Dom, please, I think we can all see from his waifish figure that Arthur doesn't actually eat food."

Arthur slaps the charts out of her hands. "Are you sure you want to be pissing me off before I keep you from embarrassing yourself with these?" he asks, already spotting two split infinitives, an obvious their/they're mistake, and a weird line-break issue that would introduce profanity onto page five.

"Arthur, I know you're too much of a consummate professional and love me too well to ever be that petty," Ariadne coos at him. She presses a kiss to his cheek before dropping a dollar in the sexual harassment jar and darts off back to the design bloc, where graphics and photo and layout have hogged every window with natural light claiming somehow that they need them for work.

Dom reaches in the jar for the dollar. "Do you mind if I take this?" he asks. "I want candy. As a last meal. Before I kill myself because you won't work election night."

Arthur shrugs. "Go ahead," he says, distracted, because Nash has just filed something with a headline that reads, City Council Awards Titty Contract to Known Groper and he can already feel a migraine building up, "Eames'll be around to fill it up again five minutes, I'm sure."


Arthur has standards for the paper. He likes for there to be a minimum of fact errors, for their reporting to be clean and concise and engaging and fearless. He likes that he has an iron grip on the collective testicles of the bullpen, and that as a result it only takes even the thickest of assholes, max, 2 minutes to realize that making fun of him for being newsroom slot is going to lead to their untimely demise. Also, there is the embarrassing but sacred bullshit of the business of the fourth estate, and how even years of cynicism didn't numb how much it hurt when Proculus had taken over and started compiling metrics on their reporters and administrative staff as if papers were made up solely of pageviews and not people or principles. But the point is, Arthur likes running the copy desk. He likes being the last set of hands a story passes through before it's sent along to layout and then to the printers. Dom tells everybody Arthur's his pointman, which of course in newspapers is applicable in reverse; in the military, the first one in is the least likely to make it out alive — in journalism, the last one holding the copy is the first to get reamed the next morning when the governor calls shrieking for a correction.


At half past nine, Georgia from the business desk sends Arthur her standard mid-morning note:

To: Arthur
From: Georgia
Subject: GBP-USD 1.5594

[No body text.]

And Arthur, at five past half past nine, jots it down on a Post-It note and sticks it to the sexual harassment jar, just in time for Eames to sweep in at quarter-till, ten grand of photography equipment hanging off of him smelling like Axe bodyspray and sleaze as he drapes himself along the back of Arthur's chair.

"Arthur, my dearest slot," Eames purrs, "you are particularly gorgeous this morning, have I said?"

Stabbing at his keyboard, Arthur wishes desperately someone would file some God damn copy, so at least he could have an excuse to sit here and ignore Eames, who in probably ten, nine, eight, seven…is going to point out that the edit queue is empty as Arthur's savings account and ask him if he wants to go for coffee and frottage in the break room.

"Come on, I'll buy you a cuppa," Eames whines.

"Firstly," Arthur says, hating himself for always, always, always giving in and engaging even though he knows better, "the shitty break room coffee is free. Secondly, I'm not having sex with you at the office. And thirdly, does photo know you stole their equipment?"

"What photo doesn't know can't hurt them," Eames answers, because he's insane, and apparently all right taking his life into his own hands. "And does your very precisely worded answer mean that you might have sex with me outside of the office?"

"I'm not fucking you by the smoking dumpster, either," Arthur answers, purposefully obtuse because it's one of the only ways to infuriate Eames and, frankly, Arthur is just as petty. He just hides it incrementally better. "And I recommend you return that camera before Mal sees you running around with it."

"I'm a proud Englishman, Arthur," Eames says. "We do not cower before the French."

"Okay," Arthur says, pulling up an e-mail window. "So you should be okay if I — "

Eames stills Arthur's fingers on the keyboard, wincing as he says, "Darling, must you be so unrelentingly bloody all the time? It will give you wrinkles."

"Watch it, Eames," Arthur says, feeling very chirpy all of a sudden, "I'm still requiring you to pay me in your native currency or equivalent amount in U.S. dollars."

Shrugging, Eames digs out a five dollar bill and dumps it into the jar. Arthur raises an eyebrow, and Eames says, "Well, let's be honest, I'll do at least that today."


Every highly dysfunctional office environment is like a family constantly on the edge of Thanksgiving dinner, rife with petty disagreements and enormous emotional blow-ups and recriminations and weeping in bathrooms. Just like the vegan cousin nobody likes hides in the office and your mom gets hammered in the kitchen pretending to baste the turkey, newsrooms have designated areas for different types of drama and specific intervals during the day when they flare up.

The two hours between 8 a.m. — when Arthur gets in — and 10 a.m. — when the majority of the reporting staff gets in — is peaceful, zenlike, the province of the morning web editor and upper-level administration and sales, and everything is very collegial. Arthur sits at his desk and works through the morning correction report before shipping it off to Dom (who won't look at it), Miles (who also won't look at it) and Saito (who will look at it, won't understand, blow it out of proportion, and then want to have a meeting about how to avoid future errors — the answer to which inevitably involves teaching robots journalism and removing humans from the equation). At about 10:30 is where everything starts getting busier, with metro staff scattering after their morning coffees to council meetings and at their desks making cop calls and state and national reporters staggering in to start filing and the wire editor beginning his daily bombardment of shitty AP copy. Around 11 a.m., Arthur, Dom, Yusuf, Charlotte, and Cary have an informal caucus in the breakroom as a pre-budget meeting meeting, which is usually interrupted about 48 times by everybody in the known fucking universe, so they give up and go back to their desks and arrive, at 11:30 a.m., to the actual budget meeting in the conference room wholly unprepared.

Budget, even though Dom had made an executive ruling to limit attendees to non-smartasses, is always a total shitshow of hurt feelings and melodrama, all of which are turned up to 11 with the prospect of a Thursday paper contorted to fit the shedload of elections coverage that has to run in the A and city and state sections tomorrow. Margaret, the hateful battleaxe who heads the state/national desk, is revoltingly smug in the knowledge that she more or less has free reign of the newspaper tomorrow. Becky from business isn't even pretending to pay attention to the meeting, doodling in her reporter's notebook, which is still better than Kelly from features, who's actually playing Angry Birds on her iPhone — not even under the table. Arthur would be mad at them, but he's too busy trying to make like Switzerland.

"Dom, you know and I know that speaker shots are boring — let us try something more creative for election night art," Mal says, trying to sound reasonable and actually sounding just on this side of murderous.

Dom grits his teeth. "It's elections coverage, not your senior art project, Mal."

Arthur subtly pushes his chair two inches further to the left, which is — sadly — two inches to the left closer to Eames.

chances this descends into a screaming match? Eames writes on his legal pad, angling it so Arthur can see. He can also see how the top half of the page is covered in Eames's neat copperplate longhand spelling out 50 "NHI" files as of 7/2010 and police chief interview @ 5 p.m.

Arthur, because he drafted a master plan for handling election night copy flow four weeks ago and has already set his team on two (flawless) dry runs, leans over the notepad and writes, EVEN ODDS. WE'RE DUE FOR SOME SHOUTING.

did they ever decide which one of them gets you in the split? Eames writes in return, which Arthur would find insulting if he wasn't electing to be neutral because he'd been the object of a real, actual pulling fight between Dom and Mal five months into their first separation.

Nothing seasons a contentious divorce better than insisting you're professional enough to continue working together, Arthur thinks mildly, and writes in return, NO. MAL ARGUES THAT SINCE I WAS AN ASSET SHE CAME INTO THE MARRIAGE WITH, EVEN BY FEUDAL LAW SHE WOULD GET TO TAKE ME WITH HER. DOM LIKES TO POINT OUT HE SIGNS MY PAYCHECKS.

Eames huffs a laugh at that. except that dom doesn't sign your paychecks.

I'M WAITING UNTIL THEY'VE HAMMERED OUT A CUSTODY AGREEMENT ON THE KIDS TO BREAK THAT TO HIM, Arthur returns, and zones back in on the meeting just in time to hear Dom say, "What the fuck do you want? Some sort of bullshit post-modern reconstruction of the U.S. electoral process? Take some pictures of the candidates and some sad ass VA halls for the losers and we'll fix the lighting in Photoshop and call it a God damn day, Mal."

Arthur pushes his chair another two inches away for safety, and Eames, betraying his good breeding in one of those rare, unguarded moments, makes room for him.


After that kind of budget meeting, it is wholly unsurprising that Arthur spends twenty minutes during his lunch of black coffee and some Cool Ranch Doritos hanging around the smoking dumpster with Mal. It gives him vivid, terrible flashbacks to being a 17 year-old summer exchange student and the game of increasingly stupid hipster chicken he and Mal had played, where they'd first pretended to dislike each other, and then pretended not to be virgins, and then pretended they knew how to smoke. It had been a summer fraught with poor decision making.

"I should have married you," Mal swears, snagging another Parliament out of what she claims is her last-ever pack. It's a last-ever pack the same way Arthur has a last-ever pack: he only means that as far as the next shitty, impossible deadline at work where they have to redesign the entire front half an hour before print deadline.

Arthur exhales a plume of delicious, delicious carcinogenic smoke. "Well, I did offer," he says, because he had.

"You did, too," Mal says, mournful, because when she'd gotten knocked up the summer she was visiting Arthur, foolishly mixing Makers Mark, antibiotics and birth control and having no-strings-attached sex with Dom during Arthur's last year of college, Arthur had offered like a champion. "Why didn't I say yes?"

"Well, Dom found your pregnancy test in the bathroom and started crying, and I had to leave because feelings give me hives," Arthur answers and checks his watch. "I've got to run — are you going to be okay?"

Mal waves him off. "I'm fine, go," she tells him, waving a five dollar bill at him. "Here, Eames was soliciting for his sexual harassment jar tab earlier and I said I'd just pay you directly."

Arthur cocks an eyebrow.

"Really? You know he 'borrowed' some of your camera equipment this morning for…I don't know what," Arthur says, because he never knows what the investigative team is doing until Dom hauls him in and hands him a 20,000-word opus and a fistful of overtired and cranky veteran reporters to fact check, a lawyer on speakerphone the entire time.

Mal takes back the money. "I will end him," she says calmly, snubbing the cigarette out under the toe of her boot and sailing back into the office.


They're a major regional market in a lavender state with a handful of House districts up for grabs between a mix of party plants from the Democrats, Republican efforts and a trio of Tea Party members who keep calling the newspaper subscription line to demand retractions. Dom still subscribes to the abject naivete of the unbiased journalist, and — accordingly — hasn't voted in as much as a PTA election since 1987, but even he's gotten to the point that whenever Molly from circulation calls burbling with tears he goes from polite to postal faster than an Italian sports car. Anyway, all it means is theirs is a contentious election, and the coverage plan for it was carefully crafted between Dom and Harlan, the digital editor, to be a constantly refreshing 16 hour stream heavily reliant on impoverished recent j-school grads willing to suffer all kinds of abuse to see their names in print.

"You know, it won't be all bad," Ariadne says to Arthur when he drops by her desk in graphics to give her a sheaf of marked-up mock-ups and collect her for the afternoon layout meeting. "I'm going to make a cake and everything. It'll be fun."

He uses the word "desk" generously, because actually, Ariadne, like every other graphics editor he's ever met in the business, lives inside a man-made cave constructed out of stacks of A4 paper, binders, Prismacolor markers she probably bought with her own money, three Wacom tablets (only one of which is working) and heaps of folders reporters turn into her after pressers so she can get all company logos correct. There's also a line of effusively green ferns on her windowsill, all the mid-afternoon light pouring in and bleaching out the mock-up pages of election districts in blue and red and pale purple.

"I'm not working election night," Arthur says, rote, because he's not. He's not.

Ariadne smiles at him kindly, gathering up an armful of papers and tucking a pencil behind one ear. "I'll make those mini carrot cakes you like," she tells him, falling into step next to him as they meander out of the warren of cubes toward the main bullpen.

"I'm not!" Arthur retorts, walking past Gavin, who's saying into his desk phone, "Well, did you actually see the tranny sucking him off or did you hear a rumor in the bathroom? Because people talk shit in the state house all the time, okay?" and the wire editor, who is telling one of the copy interns, "Look, I know that it's terrible or whatever, but we don't really brief dead Chinese miners unless there're more than 50 of them, anyway — why don't you write something about that bus plunge?"

Every year he works election night it's total fucking chaos wrapped inside a shitstorm hurled at a bullshit tornado. His first year ever working election night he'd ended up sleeping at work to avoid driving near pass-out levels of exhaustion and gotten into a fucking car crash anyway the next morning when his then deputy managing editor had rear-ended him leaving the parking lot. The second time he'd ever worked election night, he'd moved papers two weeks beforehand and — in the glory of navigating the chasm between QuarkXpress and the early magically shitty and fail versions of InCopy — managed to get a story with the headline INSERT HED HEREY HEREY HEREY onto the third page of a major regional. The third through fifth times he worked election night, he had fucking consumption and coughed through all of the early returns. The first year he'd worked with Dom in the current newsroom, he'd fallen down some stairs, and then the year after that, he'd gone to the bar afterwards, gotten shitfaced and went home with some hot British guy only to wake up alone the next morning and drag into work just in time to see Dom introducing the hot British guy as Eames, the new hire on their investigative team. Arthur hates election night — hates it.

Patting his hand, Ariadne says, "Okay, sure, but remember, Dom signed you up to bring forks."

"Fuck you, I could bring food," Arthur retorts. "But I'm not going to, because I'm not working tomorrow night."

Bringing forks to election night is the province of people who are so deficient in cooking or grocery shopping that anything edible they touch is thought to bring about botulism. He's not that bad.

In the conference room, Mal and Yusuf and Dom already huddled together at the around the table — much more sparsely populated for the design meeting than the budget — trying to pick art for front.

"Sure, okay," Ariadne dismisses, and says to Mal, "By the way, I was tooling around the photo basket this morning and the only non-shit piece of election day art we have is that drunk passed out on a stack of highway signs."

"I don't know," Dom says, squinting at the picture unhappily. "Maybe if he were shot and there was some blood — this just seems cheap and not tawdry."

Mal sighs. "Also, he's so ugly."

"We're all going to hell," Yusuf mumbles.

Front ends up being an ugly patchwork compromise: the drunk photo's running below the fold across 3 inches of column next to the story about voter engagement. They'll tease the package on three over the masthead next to the Dancing with the Stars recap, the weather box, that tearjerker about the high school student missing some limb who keeps playing some sport one of the overly enthusiastic interns wrote, despite Arthur's vocal protests that it's shit and that's an inch of front that could be used to show off something worthwhile instead. The main bar about the delicate balance that keeps the state slightly bluer than it is currently red goes on the right of Ariadne's monster graphic. Yusuf and Arthur make a gentleman's promise not to discuss the issue of drop-heads running into one another, because they know how ugly and gauche that shit is, but Dom's too stupid to wrap his mind around it, and he'll just have to carry that shame to the grave.

"Hey, see you tomorrow night, yeah?" Yusuf says, when they break for the afternoon rush. "I'm making a key lime pie — what are you bringing?"

"Forks," Arthur answers, reflexive. "But it doesn't matter, because I'm not working tomorrow night."

"Okay," Yusuf says, but he's rolling his eyes, and Arthur decides he fucking hates everybody as he retreats to his desk to deal with the pre-election tab section because nobody but nobody can remember the over/under versus more than/less than rule ever — despite the massive, fading banner his predecessor had printed and hung over the copy desk.


After layout, Arthur stops keeping time through the dozens and dozens of wall clocks throughout the bullpen, his watch, his cell phone, the tray on his Windows 2003 machine running Word 2007 with a fuckton of specialized macros for newsroom copyflow. After layout, Arthur can pretty much tell what time it is by how backed up the copy basket is.

At 3 p.m., the copydesk queue is deserted. There are tumbleweeds and three briefs and a 50 inch-long story about who the hell even knows filed by Jennifer, one of the more annoyingly enthusiastic interns. Jennifer's three semesters away from being booted out of Medill with a degree and was starting to get that manic look all soon-to-graduate j-school kids get when the clue train hit them at "this industry is going down the toilet" miles per hour. None of those stories count, really, because Arthur has to save the briefs for the copy desk interns (by far the best slate of interns in the newsroom) and seriously, no one's editing that fucking 50 inter. Nobody. Arthur reads Slate and Romanesko and exhausts the day's Overheard in the Newsroom and Salon and then he goes through last week's Gorkana alerts looking for news about people he hated at his last few jobs.

At 4 p.m., there's an urgent trickle, stories from the city desk pouring in by twos and threes, and the amount of shouting coming from that corner of the room is rising in decibels as Beth and Tom call for reporters to com look over their shoulders, and where did they get that? And are they sure that's how you spell this guy's name? And is this a guy or is this a girl, because that's happened before and Arthur would cheerfully go the rest of his fucking life without having to run a gender correct again.

Half an hour after that, the bottom drops out of state and national — all pre-election stories — and along with it comes a flood of early AP copy.

He leans back in his chair. "Trish — are there any of these I can't cut anymore?"

She waves a hand over her shoulder and doesn't bother to turn around. "Hack away on all of them except for the thing out of California, that's kind of an all or nothing deal, but it's only 6 inches."

"Got it," Arthur says, and pulls up a chat window.

Arthur: You ready for this?
Yusuf: magical jigsaw powers activate or whatever
Arthur: Most of the wire copy can go shorter
Arthur: except for Cali.
Yusuf: ok, I have space for two 10s on 3 and probably about 14 below the fold

Arthur's been doing this long enough that he goes into sort of zen state. He edits on the page in InDesign, lopping off writerly affectations to make things fit and adding in details to fill in ugly white gaps and reporters from all over the newsroom end up making the pilgrimage over to copy, hailed by phone or email or Arthur, shouting over to the city desk, "John, get over here," and ignoring their suggested headlines.

"Wow," Eames says over his shoulder. "I thought Mal was lying, but you really do just de facto delete everybody's headlines when they turn copy in."

"Reporters don't know how to write headlines," Arthur says, rote.

He tries not to notice how Eames somehow doesn't smell like Axe bodyspray anymore, but instead like clean cotton and faintly of cigarettes. He's proximity-warm and Arthur can't help the way his heart flips up into his throat when Eames is this close, mouth next to his ear. No matter how many times he reminds himself what it had felt like to wake up that next, awful morning in the destruction of his bed, his chest and his throat and his thighs scraped red from stubble and humiliatingly alone, he can't shake his reflexive want, like a punch to the gut.

"Of course we know how to write headlines, Arthur," Eames says patiently. "Copy editors just don't know how to remove the very large poles from their backsides and enjoy being unnecessarily nitpicky about style, about which nobody cares except for them, which, of course, is why you all go into this line of work."

Arthur slants him a narrow-eyed look. "How close did you come to publishing a front-page story with the governor's name spelled wrong in it again?" he asks sweetly.

"I'm a reporter, Arthur," Eames says reasonably, "we're not supposed to know how to spell."

Turning his attention back to his screen, where he's accidentally typed in ARRRRRRRRRRGH as the headline for the electoral redistricting story for page seven, Arthur clears his throat and says, "Are you here for a reason, Eames? Or did you think the money in the sexual harassment jar looked lonely?"

"Stand down," Eames laughs. "I'm here because Janice had a question."

Arthur must make an extraordinary face, because Eames laughs again.

"I did not know that eyebrows could do that, Arthur," he says.

"You?" Arthur can't help but ask. "You wrote a daily story?"

"I have been known to do it in the past," Eames confides, and tipping a wink over to Janice — cat lady, keeps her knitting at her desk, too easily swayed by Eames's roughish charm by half, Arthur should do something about that — he says, "But I also wanted to solicit your advice about what to bring for election night tomorrow."

"Bring vodka," Janice calls over.

"Bring nothing," Arthur says. "Why the hell are you working election night?"

"S' exciting," Eames says. "I'm told it's like a party."

Horrified, Arthur says, "It is not like a party."

"It's like a terrible, depressing party," Ariadne agrees, there suddenly, and in Arthur's face, saying, "You need to dump the drop hed on C6 or else there's going to be some serious hardcore New York Post style fug happening."

"I thought we fixed that already," Arthur says, and while InCopy struggles desperately on Arthur's 800 year-old desktop to pull up the right file, Eames says to Ariadne:

"What do you think, then, petal? What shall I bring for election night?"

Ariadne brightens. "You're working it? Bring trifle."

"Bourbon," Janice insists, adding, "And stop trying to pull up C6, I'm on it and my InCopy is trying to crash," which, like a strange Goldberg Machine, prompts Nash to holler across the entire bullpen, "Everybody save!"

Eames, displaying the sort of total lack of attention to detail that makes for a truly fabulous reporter, ignores the ensuing panicked dive for CTRL+S happening simultaneously throughout the entire newsroom and says to Ariadne, "My skill in the kitchen is pretty much limited to an exceedingly fine omelet and sausage."

"There are so many sex jokes I want to make about that," Ariadne says longingly, and Arthur just elbows the sexual harassment jar in warning.

"Separately," Eames says, turning back to Arthur, "I'd be happy to make you either — or both."

And in one of those moments that Arthur couldn't possibly have anticipated and tries to prevent, he suffers a spontaneous, unstoppable burst of honesty, and says:

"You didn't seem eager to make me a fucking omelet that other time."


For reasons that don't bear discussion, Arthur ends up at Safeway at a 6:30 p.m. on his way home for the night still carrying his messenger bag with his headphones around his neck, standing in one of the aisles looking at 200 different brands of plastic tableware and double-ply picnic dishes. He's been a journalist his entire professional career, so of course he's been this depressed before, but there's something profound when you mix the sinking misery of mortification with the heady, dizzying blur of self-directed fury, and it makes him feel numb down to the fingertips and toes.

He remembers that Eames had gone stiff at his side and Ariadne had gone wide-eyed and disappeared, just as suddenly as she'd popped up, and then he remembers very little other than Janice — bless her — intervening to say, "Can everybody just go back to work, please? Jesus Christ." Arthur takes back every mean thing he's ever thought about drunk knitters. He loves drunk knitters.

And because he's a professional, he'd powered through the remaining inside copy and then excused himself at six to head out, watching the second batch of wire stories and odd stray business and feature piece filter into the basket as he'd put on his jacket and grabbed his bag and fled.

Which brings him here, to Safeway. Having a fucking meltdown in the disposables aisle because having read thousands of articles, he knows exactly how a reporter would lead this story: with a pun, because he'd been discarded as easily as all of the fucking forks he'll bring to election night will be.

Arthur ends up buying two hundred plastic forks and napkins and plates and cups and plastic knives and spoons, and when he gets home he leaves them in the bag by the door and lies on his bed to stare at the ceiling.

In the immediate, shitty aftermath of the unspeakable election night, Arthur had been left sitting very still at his desk in his corner of the bullpen mainlining scorchingly awful black coffee and trying to order his thoughts into a reasonable facsimile of logic. It had been bad enough to wake up that day feeling excellently used and wonderfully sore to realize Eames hadn't just left, he'd left without leaving a note, and Arthur had thought, "Okay. It didn't mean anything. We were drunk," except it had, and they hadn't been. Arthur had driven back to his apartment and Eames had played with the radio the entire time, flicking and flicking like an irritating fuck until they'd found an oldies station and Elvis, Fever had filled up the cabin of the car.

So yeah, Arthur had been left staring at his computer — at the empty copy basket — hoping simultaneously that Eames hadn't noticed him in the crowd of new coworkers, and hoping Eames had, and would come over any minute now to fucking explain himself.

It didn't happen that first day and it didn't happen the day after. It didn't happen for weeks after, almost a month, until Dom had pulled Arthur into the monthly investigative team meeting to talk about something and Eames, walking in late, had stumbled into a chair, spilt his coffee all over the intern, and gone ashen with recognition.

"I didn't realize," Eames had said later, cornering Arthur by the men's room.

"It was a mistake," Arthur had said, because clearly, it had been. "Let's just — "

Except Eames had put a hand on Arthur's wrist then, imploring. "Let me make it up to you. Dinner? A drink? How do I make it up to you?"

"Leave me alone," Arthur had said, because at that moment, that had literally been the only thing in the world he wanted. He'd been left as an injury and overlooked for ages as further insult, and he didn't want Eames to make it up to him; he wanted to stew in his self-pity and indulge in some much-deserved loathing and never, never have sex with anybody again.

"Oh, Arthur," Eames had said, sounding hollowed-out.

At which point Mal had proven her worth as a friend and hurled Dom's ASNE award out of his office window, shattering the glass and making such a fantastic racket that all attempts at having feelings in other corners in the newsroom screeched to a halt.

And even though he'd known he was acting like a heartsick teenager who'd been tricked into putting out on prom night, it had taken another two months before Arthur could make eye contact with Eames. Another month after to sustain it. At five months, when Arthur had more or less pulled an overnighter with Eames and Dom and Maxine, Eames's cowriter on his first official investigative piece for the paper, it had felt like the tension was starting to seep out, finally. The next day, looking busted, Eames had brought Arthur a pumpkin scone and a massive quad-shot latte from Starbucks, and they'd huddled together with Dom at the general newsroom line staring at the phone waiting to find out if they were going to be sued.

"I'm impressed," Arthur had said later, after Dom and Miles had dragged Maxine and Arthur and Eames out for a celebratory drink when all the threatening phone calls they'd gotten turned out to be legally baseless. "Good work, Mr. Eames."

Eames had smiled. "Thank you, Arthur. Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated," he'd retorted, and Arthur had burst out laughing and thought that it would be fine for real now, that they could work together after all.

So it's not a surprise that the hugeness of the error he's just made won't leave him.

Reporters are professionalized gossips, which means they won't just convey the information, they'll look for corroborating evidence. Someone will remember Arthur that night at the bar, drunk and warm and easy, letting Eames stroke a thumb over the back of his ear. Or maybe they'd snuck outside in the brisk evening, too, to have a smoke, and had seen the way Arthur had pushed Eames against the brick of the bar — drunk mostly on adrenaline by then — and kissed him comprehensively, curious and laughing into Eames's lush and giving mouth. Probably someone remembers Arthur's face the next morning, and late shift on copy must be a fucking circus of rubberneckers at this point, with Janice holding court and filtering and redistributing rumor. Right now, probably, Mal is huddled with Yusuf and Ariadne near her line of ferns talking about how could this be? And when Tom from city or Gavin, or hell, Nash, comes along to pool information, they will, because they can't help themselves.

He feels, if anything, just a mild sense of inevitability. Asking people in a newsroom not to gossip about each other is like asking people to stop being tall, or allergic to peanuts, and the more Arthur thinks about the more nauseated he feels, the sicker he gets, and after 20 minutes of this swirling round and round in his head he gives up, chases two Benedryl with a shot of JD and passes out.


He wakes up the next day because Mal is sitting on his bed shaking him violently.

"Oh, God," he says, and tries to curl up like a centipede.

She just shakes him harder. "Get up," Mal says. "You're five hours late for work and if you don't come in, everyone will have to eat with their hands."

"Great," Arthur says into his comforter. "I have so much to live for."

But since — much to their mutual horror — between the two of them Mal has always had a weight advantage and now the additional endurance training of raising two kids under the age of 8, half an hour later Arthur is showered, dressed, and in the passenger seat of Mal's Volvo. It's silver-gray and too small for everything she carries around in it between the car seats and photography equipment and three boxes she's been meaning to leave at Dom's depressing bachelor's pad for months now, but driving it means Dom's left with the eggplant-colored minivan, and Mal is mean and still angry enough about their separation to carry on out of spite.

Arthur just claws at the denim of his jeans and stares at the Safeway bag of forks and napkins and plates in his lap. Mal doesn't insult his intelligence by pretending that by now, she (and probably everyone from sales to circulation to Miles) doesn't all the gory details, and Arthur doesn't start the directionless fight that's bubbling up underneath the skin.

"You know Arthur," Mal says, when they pull into the parking lot behind the office, "he did an awful thing back then, but that doesn't mean Eames doesn't mean it now."

Arthur looks at her, bewildered. "Mean what?" he asks.

Mal gives him a pitying look. "You must know he likes you."

"Clearly not," Arthur says.

"He didn't know you back then," Mal argues.

Clutching at the forks, Arthur retorts, "He knew me biblically, and I wasn't good enough to hang around for," and doesn't realize he's given away too much until he sees the look on Mal's face in the dead silence after.

"Oh, Arthur," Mal says, and Arthur mutters, "Fuck, I fucking hate it when people say that to me," and gets out of the car.

He badges through security, takes the seven flights up stairs up to the bullpen because Mal is a pussy and too lazy to climb up after him and make him talk about his feelings in the stairwell. He adds his bag of utensils to the growing stack of offerings to the election night gods in the employee kitchen/break room, where he already sees Ariadne's famous carrot cake snuggled next to Yusuf's brownies, a Coleman cooler of baked pasta and an empty slow-cooker, which means that Gavin's made his infamous 56-alarm chili again. Dom, because he's probably the saddest, most pretentious man in the world, has left a note on the break room white board saying: PLEASE DO NOT DO TRY THE CAVIAR PIE IN THE REFRIGERATOR, IT IS FOR STAFF WORKING ELECTION NIGHT. (SAME GOES FOR THE WATER CRACKERS) — THX, COBB.

Election night is chaos from even before it's night, so thankfully almost everybody is too balls-deep in whatever they're doing to try and talk to him as he picks his way to his desk. When he gets there, next to his mousepad is a cold-to-the-touch venti quad-shot latte and a pumpkin cream-cheese muffin on a Starbuck's napkin, two Excedrin perched on the white lid of the coffee, and a Post-It note stuck to the cup with a sad face drawn on it.

He's too decaffeinated and grouchy to question its origins too much, so he just chases the painkillers with the coffee and finishes the muffin in about five big bites and continues to assiduously avoid eye contact with everybody.

It's a testament to how well trained Arthur has the copy desk that his being five hours late for work has apparently had de minimus impact. Assigning defaults to Janice, who picks up from Nasreen when she gets in in the morning, and everybody from Nash to their fall intern are busily and quietly at work — which leaves Arthur nothing to do and nobody to yell at and no excuse not to answer when Dom e-mails.

To: Arthur
From: Cobb
Subject: [none]

Is this something I need to talk to hr about?

"Fan-fucking-tastic," Arthur says under his breath.

To: Cobb
From: Arthur
Subject: Re: [none]

No. Leave it alone.

Which is when a chat window pops up.

Cobb: Are you sure?
Arthur: yes
Cobb: really sure
Arthur: YES
Cobb: because we could arrange a meeting with hr if we have to
Arthur: if you do it will be because you've driven me to suicide on election night
Cobb: did you bring forks?

Arthur closes the chat window.


It is a small but much appreciated blessing that in addition to it being election night, there is a triple homicide, so when Eames had wandered into the main bullpen, looking guilty and lost, Tom had grabbed him by the elbow, tossed him a set of newsroom press credentials for the local PD and sent him to go find 20 inches on three dead people.

"Twenty inches?" Arthur asks him, skeptical, because given tomorrow's paper, they'll be lucky to get a 10-inch story about the murders into the A section, and that's if Arthur surrenders 3 inches of column on front and jumps the rest of it to the C section.

And Tom, who probably ate kittens for breakfast, had blushed like a little girl and muttered, "Can't hurt, and he was making himself a nuisance."

"You're a nice man, Tom," Arthur had told him, and Tom had blanched, hissing:

"Jesus Christ, Arthur, don't say shit like that — what if someone fucking hears you? God damn it."

They've been shortstaffed since 2001, when the paper more or less unofficially froze aggressive hiring, and desperately shortstaffed since 2004 when they'd endured their first mass newsroom layoffs, which means Arthur lends out three of his editors to help process copy from the reporters out in the field, and takes over the majority of the last edits and page placement himself. It's not quite breakneck, yet, and inch by inch, boxes and columns turn gray.

Election nights are one of those strange evenings with the regular rhythm of the newsroom goes off, and 4 p.m. comes and goes without the usual influx of copy, just an increasing sense of anticipation. They're three hours out from a locus of districts closing up shop — school gyms and post offices turned over to voting booths — and probably five away from having any reliable early returns, and the newsroom is fielding enough string from all corners of the state to build a horror-movie spider web. Everyone's compiling a volume of quotes from every corner, names and thoughts on the election, color from parking lots and strip malls and candidates themselves, huddled in hotel room suites clutching diet Cokes and a string of pearls, watching the 24-hour news cycle.

Working in a newsroom these days feels like shoveling shit nine times out of ten, just filling up the spaces in between a dwindling numbers of ads, but Arthur likes it when it feels like this, when every time the phone rings it's something else that reminds him why it's important that they do this. It's one thing to have total freedom of information but another to have people who drive six hours to the most rural of all voting districts and another camped out in a downpour at the heart of the inner city ghetto with the same questions. Nobody gets into journalism for the money and people who think they're in it for the glory will always be disappointed. Most times journalists don't even like journalism, but Arthur knows he's lucky to work with people who do the work for the love of it — not many people can say that.

One by one, the day staff starts to head out: Janice first, taking her knitting bag and pulling on a coat, Nash next, head bobbing along to Nordic death metal playing loudly enough it's filtering out from his ludicrously expensive headphones. About half the interns leave, looking torn between gratitude and put out, like they're being excluded from some sort of glorious newsroom tradition.

Tom's openly playing Bejeweled on his computer and Margaret's reading yesterday's paper. The rest of the room is pretty much deserted, almost everybody gone around back to the design department to gossip about Arthur away from Arthur, and there's a sort of disconnected serenity about the whole thing.

At five till, Ariadne walks over, pulling the battered cuffs of her SCAD sweatshirt down over her fingers, and hands Arthur a grocery store cookie. She sits on the edge of his desk, legs swinging, and they watch the clock tick down.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asks, and she doesn't look away from the clock mounted next to the muted televisions, the anchors' mouths moving and spilling out black ribbons of subtitles.

"No," Arthur says around the cookie. Ariadne's first year at the paper she'd gotten hellaciously drunk at the Christmas party and tried to kiss Dom, so Arthur thinks that if there's anybody in the newsroom he'd talk to about how to brazen through crippling embarrassment, probably she's the one.

Ariadne shrugs. "Okay," she allows. "Can I yell it this year?"

"Sure," Arthur says. "Why not."

At seven, she yells, voice ringing through the entire floor like a bell:

"Polls just closed — start working the phones!"


Dom is actually a terrible managing editor, and one day soon, when Miles retires, he'll be a terrible editor in chief. Instead of staying in his office quietly working on administrative issues or writing Miles's editorial for election day, he keeps roaming the newsroom floor interrupting everybody and generally making a nuisance of himself.

He sits next to Arthur. "Nobody will let me call anyone," he complains.

Arthur pulls the face that deserves.

"Can I copyedit anything?" Dom persists.

"Stay the fuck away from my basket, Dom," Arthur warns.

"I'm bored," Dom mumbles, which is how Arthur dispatches him to go move all the food out of the break room and into the bullpen. "I'm so glad my masters in journalism from Berkeley is being utilized this way," Dom says, but he still does it, laying out the Swedish meatballs and foot long sandwiches and casseroles and cold fried chicken and four kinds of pasta salad. And because he's Dom Cobb, he also arranges Arthur's forks in a basket lined with Arthur's napkins and sets up a little buffet — for which Arthur would give him shit except he's too busy whipping through stories to pass along to Harlan to place on the website.

Finally, after another 15 minutes of enduring Dom looking pathetic, Arthur says, "Okay, do you want to update the Twitter feed?"

"Yes," Dom says, thrilled.

Arthur gives Dom the login to their newsroom TweetDeck account and dives back into the basket, where Tom and Charlotte and Margaret are doing most of the filing, knitting stories together out of templates reporters have pre-written and quotes and string that had been pre-filed. There's not an empty seat now, everybody camped out at their desks and back in their cubes and it feels like a solar eclipse: the newsroom at its busiest zenith even though it's dark outside, rain lashing the windows, and the too-quiet gets scraped away one irritating telephone ring at a time. The first couple of phone calls increase logarithmically, doubling up on top of each other and a crescendo of voices, until everybody is hollering back and forth — editors are basically just people who refuse to use a fucking telephone, Arthur thinks, swearing to rip Margaret's throat out if she yells, "Jackson! Over here!" one more fucking time — and the clatter of computer keyboards is nearly deafening.

"Arthur," Yusuf says, urgent and in his face, looking manic.

"Go away, I hate you," Arthur says, reflexive. He's said that to the last 12 people who've been by his desk, including Miles, who'd wanted to tell him what a superlative job he's been doing this elections season. Fuck Miles. Miles — tone deaf to the last drop — had driven to work in his new BMW the day the last round of buyouts pre-Proculus had been announced.

Ignoring him, Yusuf says, "Have you been looking at our Twitter stream?"

"I told Dom to update it," Arthur says, distracted.

"6:50 p.m. Election nights are always challenging," Yusuf reads off of his iPhone screen. "That's why I made caviar pie."

Arthur's body's already shoving away from his desk by the time his mouth catches up to say, "Jesus fucking Christ."


Hi, my name is Dom Cobb, managing editor, I thought I would give some unique perspective on election's night in the newsroom. — 6:15 p.m.

Only about half of our elections coverage staffing is in-office; everyone we can spare is out in the field. Blogs don't do that. — 6:16 p.m.

Blogs also don't have much of a copyediting process — Arthur, our chief copyeditor, is talent that helps us stand out. — 6:20 p.m.

Phones are ringing off the hook! Early return numbers coming in! — 6:22 p.m.

And also, security calling to let us know pizza is here. Bet you didn't know that was part of my job description. To get pizza. — 6:25 p.m.

@jabberwonky all our reporters operate to the highest ethical standards and work hard not to let bias cloud their reporting. — 6:30 p.m.

@jabberwonky in short: we are not fascist pigs, nor the Ministry of Truth. — 6:30 p.m.

@yusufine Arthur gave me the log-in to the Twitter. Everyone has to pitch in! It's election night! #democracyinaction! — 6:40 p.m.

@jabberwonky I'm not going to get into an argument with you on the internet. Do your parents know you're online right now? — 6:43 p.m.

Like I was telling our layout editor @yusufine, election nights are always challenging. That's why I made caviar pie. — 6:50 p.m.

Sorry about that. Back to our regularly scheduled NEWS-RELATED TWEETS. — 6:52 p.m.

Three Dead in Election Murder-Suicide Pact; Police Say Fourth Victim in Critical Condition: — 6:55 p.m.

Early Returns Show Possible Republican 'Landslide': — 7:01 p.m.


Eight o'clock is kind of the the absolute worst parts of election night all smashed into one incoherent hour. All polling stations have officially closed but there're no solid numbers yet, just the same fucking early returns that, by this point in the night, are an insult to computers and universally baffling. Arthur likes to think he evolved into a copyeditor because he got sick of how epically impatient reporters are, but when it comes to election results, he doesn't understand how a world that can leak a fucking sex tape in 6 minutes flat can't tell him who won district 27 an hour after polls have closed. So everyone is antsy and annoyed and everything is hemorrhaged while they wait (and wait and wait), with reporters pouring back into the newsroom collectively drenched and bitter that the buffet's been pretty picked over and that all their cheap pizza is cold — which of course is how the shit-talking portion of the evening begins.

Arthur walks back into the office from a 20 minute trip home to get his own car just in time to hear Mandy, sitting at the conference room stuffing reheated pizza in her mouth, complain:

"I've been here forever. I feel like I crawled out of some primordial newsroom guck and taught myself to breath through my gills and have existed my entire conscious existence in this fucking room."

"Fucking word," James says, and eats some cookies. "I feel like this entire office is a giant God damn ass groove."

Tom, because he goes from too busy to talk to you, fuck off, to murderously bored in about 2.5 seconds flat, grabs another piece of fried chicken and says, "I don't know about you guys, but I love my ass groove. You would have to pry me out of my ass groove by removing my cold, dead — "

"Morbidly obese," Mandy interrupts.

" — Morbidly obese," Tom agrees cheerfully, "body."

"Maybe they will," James says, gallows humor on full alert. "There's probably going to be another round of layoffs."

Half-hysterical, Mandy says, "What are you talking about — didn't you hear? We put ads on the front and now everybody has to blog! The industry is saved!"

"I could have been a doctor," Tom says.

"I could have been a lawyer," James says.

"I should have become someone's kept woman," Mandy says.

"I'm going to be going to jail for a triple homicide if you three assholes don't get away from my desk and stop interrupting me," Arthur tells them all seriously, and they scatter resentfully back to their desks and their corners.

There's been all of 2 minutes of uninterrupted peace when Arthur hears Tom saying, "Jesus Christ, Eames. I said 20 inches — and I was lying about that."


"Let me get this straight," Dom says, red-cheeked with nearly orgasmic delight, "we have a triple homicide."

Eames nods. "Well, attempted murder-suicide."

"A triple murder-suicide where the candidate's wife offed the candidate, the mistress, the candidate's body man, and then tried to kill herself," Dom continues, totally ignoring the way Arthur and Yusuf are miserably rearranging the front page and deep-sixing briefs left and right to eke out as many column inches as they can.

"Tried being the operative word," Eames clarifies. "I think she blew off her own ear."

"Okay but the most important part being," Dom says, "the most important part being that you are the only person who knows the identity of the victims tonight?"

Eames shrugs. "You wouldn't guess if you didn't see them before the coroners got there — it was just a rental car on the side of the highway."

"You beat the coroners there?" Arthur asks, because he can't help himself. "How fast were you driving?"

"Arthur, if you don't want to know the answers to these questions, you really shouldn't ask them," Eames scolds, and holds up his BlackBerry. "Also, I got photos."

"Eames, I could kiss you," Dom tells him earnestly, and takes the phone away, stroking it lovingly.

"Please don't," Eames says.

Harlan leans into the conference room. "Hey, Eames, you want one last look at the four-grafer I'm about to slap up to replace the brief from earlier tonight?"

Instead of saying yes, or no, or leaping up to his feet to argue that when it had been filed, it had been eight paragraphs, Eames just glances at Arthur and asks, "Did you take a look at it?"

"I — yes," Arthur says.

Eames smiles at him and says, not turning to look at Harlan, "Then no — I trust Arthur."

"Ugh," Harlan says, leaving, "I think I just threw up in my mouth."

Which leaves Arthur blushing furiously and staring at Eames, who's wet and pale but smiling faintly back. Dom is paging his way through Eames's soaked reporter's notebook and looks like he wishes he could make love to it, like he could roll around in a field of flowers with it, like he could take it to prom and have unprotected sex with it in his dad's hatchback.

"All right," Yusuf says, "I think I have an idea — Arthur, I'll have the pages back in in 20 minutes, tops," and darts out of the bullpen, papers flying all over the place, and when he rounds the corner he nearly takes out the janitor, who appears to be looking at the entire newsroom with barely contained hate.

Arthur coughs. "Um, I should go — "

"Tom's editing it," Eames says. "The big version. He'll call me over when it's ready."

"Right," Arthur mutters. He wants to say sorry about making this awkward between them again after they've worked together so well for so long already, for reintroducing his own petty bullshit into the mix, but he can't get any of it out of his throat, which makes it all the worse when Eames says:

"I am sorry, you know."

Arthur stares at him, and Eames squirms in his seat.

"You never let me say it, really, before," he continues.

"Dom is actually still in the room, right now," Arthur says, desperate.

"Pretend I'm not here," Dom says generously, at which point Arthur gets to his feet and heads for the break room, mumbling, "Gotta go," and then cursing the entire time. Sadly, Eames follows him — through the bustling hallways where everybody's staring at them, Arthur can feel it — still dripping rain and saying:

"Look, can we please talk about this, at least?"

Mal, wearing a hideous LOW COUNTY STATE FAIR plastic rain poncho, and Ariadne and Charlotte are in the kitchen bitching about Dom, probably, but they all get silent and very still when Arthur crosses over the threshold and goes straight for the coffee pot.

"There's nothing to talk about," Arthur says, pouring shitty black coffee with way more focus than the task demands. "Look, I'll get over it. Sorry."

Eames huffs. "Get over — Arthur, look at me, please."

"No, look, this is moronic," Arthur decides, matter-of-fact, because it is.

This is stupid, and a shocking waste of time besides, and so enormously unprofessional it's making his skin crawl. After all the petty infighting and ill-thought-out office flings that he's watched go down in flames over the years, he'd always thought he'd be more or less immune to it, and maybe he would have been if the first time he'd met Eames he'd already known this was the guy who'd been nominated at the Guardian as Most Likely to Fuck a Source for a Tip seven years running, but he didn't and there's no point in romanticizing it or imbuing the thing with more weight than it deserved. The problem now, and the reason he's so embarrassed and mad, is the same reason he's always been so embarrassed and mad: he fell for it, hook — line — sinker.

"This is on me, okay, Eames?" Arthur says. "Just let it go."

"Let it go," Eames repeats, narrowing his eyes. "On you."

"Yes, all right?" Arthur sighs, feeling too tired to be humiliated at this point. "Just — I've been in this business long enough to know that thinking a reporter really likes you is right up there with thinking a stripper really likes you, all right? I was a dumbass. I've been acting like some…jilted…I don't even know what — can we just let it go?"

Eames just stares at him.

"Can we just let it go?" Arthur pleads.

"Stripper," Eames says.

"That is a sick burn, dude," Ariadne says, from where oh my God she and Mal have been in the corner the entire time.

Ignoring that, because probably in England they don't know what sick burns are, Eames says, urgent and strange and a little wild around the eyes, "But that means you like me — " he falters " — that you did like me?"

Arthur's clawing at his own face, muttering, "Jesus Christ," when Mal butts in and says, "He did take you home, didn't he? But, I guess that doesn't actually mean anything to you," after which it takes Arthur an eternity-long minute to recover enough to say, "Mal, shut up. Christ."

Eames just keeps staring at Arthur like he's the secret, magical, integrated public records database every investigative journalist wants — like Arthur has every answer and all the cross-references and won't charge him 5 cents a page for printing like City Hall, and it takes everything in Arthur not to throw his coffee at Eames and run.

"Please," Arthur says. "Just — let it go."

And Eames looks like he's a hairsbreadth away from going totally belligerent about this when Tom, because he continues to be a good person, storms into the kitchen, barking, "Eames!" and Eames goes — an absolutely mutinous look on his face.

Mal and Ariadne and Arthur all stare at the ugly tile floor of the break room for a beat, cooling coffee mugs in their hands, before Mal clears her throat and reaches underneath her horrifically ugly poncho. She comes back with a flask.

"Here," she says to Arthur kindly. "You need this more than I do."


Yusuf's magical plan to fit everything in the paper is actually a horrible plan that requires Arthur to re-edit most of the A section and B section and C section, shaving and kerning and generally copyediting at 100 miles per hour without a handbrake, shoving things into awkward spaces and losing entire stories and filling in awkward gaps with shitty 1 inch AP briefs about — Christ, is this brief about dildos? Doesn't matter, it fits the space. And in the mania of organizational panic, it's easy to ignore the fact that Eames is just the length of the bullpen away, sitting in an OSHA-condemned computer chair arguing with Tom over every single comma and clause because he's an asshole and a long-form journalist and that's what they do.

Dom, because he's a diabolical evil genius, calls up his guy at the police department and tells them he has pictures of the crime scene from before the coroners got there. Kindly, he also points out that he has pictures of the crime scene after the coroners got there, and that he'd be amenable to using them if the police give the paper an exclusive timeline of events for tonight.

"You're a fucking piece of shit, Dom Cobb!" the public information officer shouts, his voice apoplectically furious over the crackle of Dom's speakerphone, because of course Dom is doing this over speakerphone while Arthur is in his office.

"I'm a piece of shit who has pictures that I would love to run front page, full color, in the absence of a detailed timeline of events tonight," Dom says, silky.

"You'll have your motherfucking timeline in half an hour, unnamed sources," the PIO spits. "I want the pictures."

Dom opens his mouth, and Arthur stops him with an open hand, leaning over the phone to say, "You'll get the pictures when we get a timeline. We can do a physical drop if you want — parking lot at our office, half an hour from now?"

"I should have fucking known you were in on this bullshit, too, Arthur!" Johnson roars, and Arthur spares a minute to think about the guy's blood pressure before saying blandly:

"I just walked in the room. I'm not even doing anything."

"You fucking enable his shit," the PIO spits, and huffing, grinds out, "Fine — parking lot. Half an hour."

Dom does the drop, because he grew up wanting to be Woodward and Bernstein, and comes back rapturous about how it was like a drug deal, sailing into graphics to leave the timeline with Ariadne, who has the look of a woman seriously reconsidering what she finds sexually attractive as she watches Dom wax poetic about professional blackmail. She puts up with it for longer than Arthur would, but eventually she must get sick of him because Dom's kicked out back into the bullpen where he's hovering over Arthur's shoulder, making asinine headline suggestions.

"Dom, do you remember what I told you when I used to write headlines for your articles?" Arthur asks him patiently.

Dom purses his lips.

"That's you remembering, right now," Arthur says, pleased, and rolls his chair back until one of the wheels on it is crushing Dom's toes. "Now, leave me the hell alone."

"I'm your boss," Dom says, snippy. "I sign your checks."

"I didn't want to have to tell you this until your custody agreements were already finalized, but you really, really don't," Arthur tells him, distracted, and calls over his shoulder to Tom, "Hey, did you put the story in the basket?"

"It's going in!" Tom calls back.

"What?" Dom squawks. "I do! I'm — "

"Right," Eames says, popping up next to Arthur and glowering at Dom. "Where's my phone?"

Dom's too quiet. "Um," he says.

"Dominic Cobb," Eames says, quiet and dangerous, "where is my phone?"

When Arthur wasn't looking, all the hours had crept by, and Yusuf makes the newsroom rounds saying, "Guys, inside deadline in two hours — front deadline in 45 minutes," so Tom and Arthur huddle around Arthur's computer making last changes directly on the page. They're double-trucking the triple homicide across two pages in the A section, and Tom and Arthur hog the page so long that Ariadne gives up trying to call and tell him to drop it so she can place an image, and storms over instead, joining Tom over Arthur's shoulder so she can point and harass and get the timeline situated where it will occupy a place of honor just beneath the fold in a somber gray-blue and gray-purple color scheme on the front page and flow over the jump.

"Only Eames," Tom marvels, when Arthur is putting the page into preview mode for hopefully the last time. "Gets tossed out of the office for being a walking HR violation, comes back in with a fucking scoop."

"He's wonderful," Ariadne sighs, starry-eyed.

In the background, Eames is shouting, "What the fuck do you mean you gave my fucking cell phone to the PIO? That was my fucking cell phone, Dom! That has numbers for all of my fucking sources on it, you twat!"

"I know," Arthur admits, gritting his teeth, and ships the page off back to layout.

Dom is saying, "I'll buy you a new one — what kind do you want? Do you want one of those Apple phones?"

"I want my fucking phone back, Cobb!" Eames roars back.

"You could do worse," Ariadne muses, watching the pagination process slowly, ever, ever so slowly. "I heard a rumor he's a viscount."

"Oh come on, it's just a phone," Dom is saying, trying to be soothing. "I'll replace it!"

Tom glares at Ariadne. "You have read way, way too many romance novels."

"If Eames is a viscount, I'm an Astor," Arthur says bitterly. "Could this program possibly run any more slowly?"

"Oh," Tom suggests, "maybe he has dirty pictures on the phone."

Ariadne gasps. "Maybe he has dirty pictures of you on the phone," she breathes to Arthur.

"Nobody has dirty pictures on their phone!" Arthur yells at both of them.

"Do you?" Dom asks Eames, picking up on the other thread of conversation in their vicinity to sound instantly, salaciously interested and puritanically disapproving at once.

Eames just stares at him. "What?"

"Have dirty pictures of Arthur on that phone?" Dom asks.

"I have never, never in my life wanted to be dead more," Arthur tells his computer monitor, which responds by pinging cheerfully to say that at least A6 has been fully paginated. He turns to Ariadne, sighing, "Go, it's done," and she's off like a shot before he's even finished saying the words.

Eames grabs his coat again, "Do you lot need me anymore?"

"We're good," Tom says. "It's on the page."

"Right then, I'm off," Eames declares. "Arthur, that conversation you're avoiding will have to be carried out at a later time."

"My heart's breaking," Arthur promises at the same time Dom says, "Where are you going? You need to write a blog about this."

Eames reaches for his car keys. "I," he declares, "am going to get my fucking phone back."

Tom stares after him. "This can't end well."


The state board of elections calls it on all but three districts by 1 a.m., and the business of piecing together the last bits and pieces of the election narrative are sort of subsumed into putting together an appreciation of the dead candidate (who had lost by a sliver in the 21st), whipping up background on the wife and mistress. Under tomorrow morning's budget file — an InCopy document living on the general newsroom server labeled CAT HERPES 3.3.98 DCOBB because it was the funniest slug to ever exist, and Arthur has forbidden anyone from changing it — there's already a note to dispatch at least one warm body to find out if anything untoward was happening with campaign funds. Almost everyone is winding down for the evening, and Margaret is the first editor to make her official escape from the office, followed in short order by Trish and a few of the baby copyeditors, who Arthur had already watched napping at their desks for half an hour before taking mercy. By 1:30, it's only Tom and Arthur and Dom and Harlan hanging around, eating objectionable food off of the newsroom conference table out of boredom and exhausted insanity at this point — Dom's caviar pie mostly untouched.

"I don't know why," Dom says, eating it morosely. "It's really good."

"It's terrible," Tom tells him, with his usual tact. "It's like being punched in the face with bilge water, mayonnaise and onions."

Arthur sips his nth coffee for the night. "Yeah, for the record, Dom, you're supposed to sweat the onions out in butter and let them cool before you put them in, otherwise, you get the face-punching effect."

Photo and graphics are about three-quarters staffed, still, but Yusuf and layout look like they're going to be in for the long haul, which probably explains why at around 1:45 a.m. — while Arthur is idly killing string out of the copy basket — he can still see Yusuf pitching a shitfit in the background, voice clearly audible over the cubical farm.

Dom stares over at where Yusuf is waving his free hand violently.

"Do you think there's something wrong with the printing plant?" he asks.

Arthur glances over his shoulder.

Now, Yusuf is kicking a cube wall, shouting, "No! No! That is totally unacceptable! I know we're not a magazine but the color quality still matters for front."

Shrugging, Arthur says, "Maybe you should go ask him what's up."

Dom shakes his head. "I don't know. I'm all out of give a fuck at this point."

"Well if you guys hadn't torn the fucking web to begin with — " Yusuf is saying, a note of genuine hysteria entering into his voice. Yusuf has 48 hours off after tonight, which will of course make the job of whomever is liasing with the printing plant for layout very fun tomorrow, and the day after, when the printers are still bitchy and feeling wronged and putting the paper on the metaphorical couch.

As Arthur also has the next 48 hours off, he decides Yusuf can abuse the printers as much as he likes.

"I wonder where Eames is," Tom says, more philosophical than anything else.

"Probably dead," Arthur says.

"Probably arrested," Tom speculates, at which point the general newsroom line starts ringing, and he reaches over to snatch the receiver, saying, "'Lo?" There's a long pause before Tom says, "Holy shit, I'm psychic."


"Of course they don't have any reason to hold him, I'm sure Eames knows better than to get into a physical altercation with the police," Dom is saying into his cell phone, huddled in the backseat of Arthur's Prius with a sheaf of documentation their newsroom lawyers have instructed them to bring to the police station.

Tom and Arthur trade looks in the front seat.

"I don't think he knows better," Tom confides.

"That's a very diplomatic version of what I was going to say," Arthur agrees.

"To be fair, it is his cell phone, I gave it to the public information officer in trade for some information — no I was not blackmailing the state police," Dom says, sounding deeply offended.

"That's lie number two," Arthur mutters, and comes to a rolling stop at a red light.

"This is a first for me," Tom says, sounding conflicted. "On the one hand, there's something romantic about having to bail a reporter out of jail because he crossed the law and the Man wanted to put him down — on the other hand, I'm pretty sure Eames would be uncomfortably good at jail."

"I'm getting a migraine," Arthur says, "which is why I am going to ask: how is one 'uncomfortably good' at jail?"

"Blowjobs for cigarettes, man," Tom says. "Don't you watch Oz?"

Dom thumps the back of Arthur's seat. "Eames is not sucking people off for cigarettes!"

"I didn't even say it!" Arthur protests, over the sound of Dom saying into his cell phone again, "Well even if he is, how are we liable for him trading BJs for prison currency? We have to be indemnified against collateral costs of his incarceration, if it comes to that, right?"

"Wow," Tom comments, "that is cold as hell, Cobb."

When the get to the station, they get a slow clap all the way to the intake desk, where their lawyer meets them looking hassled and deeply annoyed, trapping Dom into one of those conversations about placing blame and who's getting their ass reamed, here, and Tom — solicitous and the former cops reporter — gets someone to let them back into the holding area.

The thing Arthur made himself forget about Eames is that the first night they met, when it had just been smokey and meaningful flirtation at the bar and the luminously hot burn of temptation, Eames had looked like he'd crossed into city center from the wrong side of the tracks via an Ivy League university. He'd talked about press freedom — "This is a filthy journo dive, is it not?" he'd laughed — and told Arthur about his ink. Later that night, he'd let Arthur trace them out: the black and colored-in lines across the broad stretch of his back, the tight bulk of his chest, and he'd said, "Darling, please tell me you're not just sleeping with me because you think I'm a thug of above-average intelligence," and Arthur had laughed and tackled him into the bed for round two, because to simplify the slow burn lit between them into a one-night stand had sounded so utterly ludicrous at the time Arthur hadn't even considered it.

Anyway, the point is, Eames fits in with the thugs of below average intelligence just fine, apparently, because he's sitting around in an A-frame — his button-up from earlier all day abandoned — playing poker with a bunch of drunks and drug dealers.

"Eames," Tom says, going up to the bars and squinting down at whatever game they're playing, the cards all ratty and soft from years of loving abuse, "are you cheating at cards in jail?"

"No," Eames answers, too quickly.

"Shit, homes," says Eames's opponent, a twig-thin white kid with a Jewfro and an obvious case of the shakes. "Tell me you are not trying to rip my ass off in holding."

"I would never," Eames retorts, managing to sound horrified just by the implication.

"Because I will beat your ass if you — " the kid continues, rising to his feet, and going for threatening. It must be working, because Eames's eyes widen slightly, and before Arthur can stop himself, he's wrapping his hands around the bars of the holding cell and saying:

"Hey, asshole, what you're going to do is shut the fuck up before a cop walks over, opens up this cell, and I get in there and tear that fucking four-gauge right out of your ear and string it through your dick, do you hear me?"

Eames, Tom, and the kid stare at him.

"Do you think I'm fucking around?" Arthur asks, conversationally murderous. "Because I'm not fucking around." The kid swallows hard, because the kind of exhausted insanity Arthur is feeling is universal and telegraphed in the tightness of his shoulders and the fierce craziness of his eyes. "Now, sit down."

The kid sits.

"He's a copy editor," Tom explains to the holding cell at large.

Turning to Eames, Arthur says, "Dom is getting you out."

"I'm very touched you came for me," Eames says sincerely.

"Don't be, I can't believe you tried to fight the intake officer," Arthur snaps at him.

"They were holding my phone hostage!" Eames protests. "A mobile that was stolen from me by my ungrateful managers."

Arthur looks at Tom. "We should just leave him here."

Eames is still busy looking hurt by that when Dom and their lawyer sweep in, tailed by a sulking PIO and a couple of uniforms, and there's generalized chaos as they open the cell and release Eames, who's a total shit about it and does a three-part bow as he collects discarded clothing and shuffles backward out of the cell.

"Eames, for the love of Christ," Dom moans.

"Norah," Eames says to the officer holding the cell door open, "it has been an honor to be subject to your particularly attractive brand of police brutality."

"Hah," Tom says, the same time Arthur gives up, grabs Eames by the back collar of his shirt, and hauls him out of the police station.

The drive back to the office is awkward as hell, Tom calling shotgun as soon as they were out of the lobby of the police station, and Arthur transferring possession of Eames to Dom, who more or less shoves him into the backseat of Arthur's car like a child abductor and begins to terrorize him. Arthur puts on NPR out of deference, and also because there's no universe in which he wants to hear Dom Cobb try to tear Eames a new one, or Eames — because he's good at not letting himself get walked all over — snarl back. It's layers upon layers of uncomfortable, rapidly escalating to the levels of fuck-me-get-me-out-of-this-room Mal and Dom's separations and divorce had engendered. Arthur just tries to block all of it out, drives with textbook precision along the inky streets, through hazy orange pools of street light, listens to Michele Norris murmuring the day's headlines.

Yusuf, when they get back to the newsroom, is still on the phone with the printers, at which point Dom figures he's probably obligated to intervene, and he gives up scowling at Eames to stalk off for design. Tom gathers up his things and says, "Night, folks, let's never do this again," and heads for his beat up Honda, and when Arthur is trying to vanish into the shadows and slither off home, Eames closes a hand over Arthur's wrist like a vice and says:


"God, really?" Arthur asks.

Eames favors him with a wry and hungover smile, and his hand doesn't loosen at all. "We could put it off, but you know how persistent I am," he said.

In addition to Most Likely to Fuck a Source for a Tip, Eames had also won Most Likely to Be Convicted on Stalking Charges and Most Likely to Resort to Arson, so Arthur relents, letting himself go limp with all the day's accumulated defeats, and say, "Fine — say your piece."

Eames actually falters, the overly relaxed set of his face and his too-casual smile evaporating. For a minute his fingers go lax on Arthur's wrist and he looks bowled over, stunned, and he says, "Right. I…didn't actually expect you to give in."

Recognizing that he sounds unbearably self-deprecating and bitter, Arthur smirks and says, "Really? Come on. I was easy."

That actually makes Eames flinch. "Right," he says, under the breath. "I just — "

Arthur waits, in the humming quiet of the newsroom, the computers forming the baseline and the tick of the clocks their percussion, until he feels like entire hours have gone by with them standing here in the half-dark of the bullpen and Eames's hand getting damp on Arthur's skin and still nothing. But he's got that shitty, grimy feeling from being awake too long and he's been pretty much consistently mortified for more than 24 hours now, been forced to rearrange the front page last minute, run the copy desk on an election night he wasn't supposed to be working, picked someone up out of jail, and he's so done with this bullshit. If this is going to hurt, he wants it to hurt fast so he can ache in private and let it fade.

Arthur prompts, "You just?"

Eames looks away, at the floor, at his toes, at the place where the pads of his fingers are stroking against the white skin and blue veins on the inside of Arthur's wrist.

"I just wish we hadn't met like that," Eames says finally.

Arthur blinks at him. "What?"

"It's just that it's such a shame all we had was one night," Eames goes on, still looking at their joined hands.

"What," Arthur says, "are you about to tell me you meant to call? That you left a note and I never found it?"

Eames snorts. "Please, I wouldn't insult your intelligence," he mutters, his voice a sandy curl of posh vowels. He cultivates another one of those interminable silences, and just as Arthur is preparing to kick Eames in the shin and make a break for it, Eames clears his throat and says, "It's just that — that first night, when we met, yeah. It was sex. You were — and are — unbearably hot."

"I'd just worked like 30 hours straight," Arthur hears himself say, even though his cheeks are burning and his ears are burning and his throat is burning, not with embarrassment but hideous and long-banked regret.

Grinning, Eames says, "You were ravishing, and mean, and a fantastic, fantastic fuck and — "

Arthur feels something in his chest clench at that, because of course he'd worried about that, too, that Eames with his heavy-lidded gaze and plush mouth had had better, that Arthur had embarrassed himself by being too eager, graceless.

" — and I'm a shit, Arthur," Eames tells him, "a total fucker, because I got up and kissed the back of your neck while you were sleeping and snuck out to shower because you were fun and sexy but I didn't think anything else of it."

"For the record, this is the worst apology I've ever gotten," Arthur says.

"Except that then you were working here," Eames explains, looking up finally now, curiously bashful, and it's not a look Arthur's seen on Eames's face very often before. "And you were still brutally mean and untouchably attractive and I started to figure out other things. Like how funny you can be, in a mean way. And so uncompromisingly competent, also in a mean way. And the way you charge me the British exchange rate even though I'm compensated in local currency, which is also mean, in its own way — "

Arthur pulls his hand away from Eames, and Eames lets him go.

" — but all of it, all through it, and more and more, all I could think was how it was such a terrible fucking shame we'd only ever have a night together," Eames says, that bashful look gone rueful now. "I mean, you hated me for being a using twat, and rightly so, and all I could think was how much I wish I'd asked if you wanted to get dinner that night, instead of just, did you want to get out of there."

Arthur feels his lips part. "I — Eames."

Eames shrugs. "Anyway," he mumbles, back to looking away now. "I thought you should know."

There's of course the chance Arthur's being played, here, because Eames is good at that. He makes people like him and tell him things against their better judgment for a living. He's nosy and inconstant and easily bored and is involved in an active war of internet slander with Jack Schafer and there's a rumor that the city DOH has a hit out on him. Eames has won a Goldsmith for his work on private prison contracts and an IRE Award for his series on the horrific number of unprocessed rape kits in Georgia. One day Eames will win a Pulitzer. One day, he'll go back to England. One day he'll get bored of the mystery of Arthur the way he gets bored of every mystery and look for another one.

But, Arthur thinks, until then. He says, "Eames."

And then the overhead newsroom lights flick on.

Arthur's head swivels to the doorway, to the bank of switches and to Nash, who is standing there holding a bagel and a massive cup of coffee and looking trapped. "Uh," he says, clearly sensing his imminent demise, when Dom walks back into the bullpen, herding a haunted-looking Yusuf along and saying, "Look, so what? The first couple hundred — "

"Couple thousand," Yusuf says, sounding cored, broken, like he's seen things no man should ever see.

" — couple thousand copies have weird color," Dom revises. "We'll live with it. It's fine."

"Ah, timing," Eames muses. "I clearly don't have it."

"No," Arthur agrees, and he can't help the smile that twitches across his mouth.

Eames jerks his chin toward the door. "I should…"

It's nearly 4:30 a.m. Any minute now, the early shift web editors will trickle in, too, and Arthur nods reluctantly, because Eames should, and so should Arthur, but he thinks if he lets this moment go, lets Eames off the hook, that might be it, it might be gone forever.

"You should try asking again," he blurts out, arresting Eames mid-step, and he turns back, eyes round with surprise as he asks:

"I beg your pardon?"

Arthur curls his hands into fists. "Ask," he says. "Again — you should ask again. The right question this time." He coughs. "I — if you still wanted to."

"And you wouldn't hit me if I did?" Eames asks, a grin creeping across his face. "Wouldn't make me pay into your hideous sexual harassment jar?"

Cocking his eyebrow, Arthur says, "Well, you'd have to make it good."

"Give me two days," Eames promises, and Arthur finds himself smiling so hard he barely hears Dom saying in the background, on the phone, "Wait — how pink is the front page?"


When Arthur gets in to work 48 hours after that, it's to face a truly remarkable number of really terrible newspapers from the day before. The election day coverage, Eames's triple-murder scoop front page, above the fold, a gruesome photo flanking the column, all of it is tinged a nauseating salmon color, and copies of it are tacked up all over the newsroom, with Yusuf's slanting handwriting scrawled across in dark blue marker reading: THIS IS WHY WHEN I SAY WE HAVE TO DISCARD THE FIRST FEW HUNDRED COPIES, WE HAVE TO DISCARD THE FIRST FEW HUNDRED COPIES. On the break room white board, there's a handwritten note saying: NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE CALLED TO ASK IF THE NEWSPAPER WAS GAY ON FRIDAY: 78. Beyond the sexual orientation of the Friday paper and Yusuf's obvious descent into embittered madness, there's a series of asinine corrections that have to be dealt with — spelling, math error, skittish source being an asshole — and so Arthur backburners the corrections notes for later in the day and gets on the with the business of assiduously not thinking about Eames, or his two day deadline.

He stops a potential Mal and Dom argument in budget; he teaches an intern to accept the love of AP style into his heart. He removes roughly 800 serial commas. He collects $6 from Janice, Nash, Tom, and Becky, who has to sit with Arthur for forty minutes in the middle of the day explaining every single sentence of the banking story that got filed. He reads Slate. He reads Romanesko. He sees that his least-favorite ex has just "begun freelancing" — translation: got shitcanned from his last job — on Gorkana and treats himself to a Starbucks quad-shot latte in the afternoon for it, and he floats through the afternoon rush of copy on a haze of pleased caffeine and smugness. It's never too late to win the breakup.

Except then people start coming up to his desk grinning.

"Well?" Ariadne asks.

Arthur frowns at her. "What?"

"Oh," she says, disappointed. "You haven't seen it yet."

"Haven't seen what?" he asks, but she's already left.

This gets repeated, over and over again. By Mal, by Tom, by Mandy. By Dom. By people Arthur hasn't ever spoken to. Half of sales drops by to stare at him with gleaming, expectant eyes, and it makes Arthur so paranoid he actually gets up, does a circuit of the newsroom looking for obvious and embarrassing things — his heart roaring in his throat the whole time, because it's Eames, Eames has been quiet all day, it has to be him — only to find nothing of any particular fucking interest and to return to his desk bitter and annoyed.

It's not until Eames comes up to his desk and says, too dismissive, "Have you done the corrects yet, darling? I admit I had to file one myself," that the penny drops.

There, nestled in between correct_name 11.16 and correct_date 11.16 and correct_actuallyawomancouldhavefooledme 11.16 is CORRECT_ONLYFORARTHURDONOTLOOK, which means of course everybody in the newsroom has seen it and forwarded it to all of their friends in the building who don't have access to the shared files.

Great, Arthur thinks bleakly, and clicks.

Owing to the reporter having grown up in one of those distant, emotionally stunted families and maturing into one of those destructive hedonists, Mr. Eames mistakenly left a deliciously rumpled Arthur in bed. What he should have done was woken said deliciously rumpled Arthur for rounds three and optimistically four, carried on from there by offering to make one of his delicious omelets, ask for a ride home, and discover during the trip that they would be sharing an office henceforth and request Arthur to be a dear and give him the grand tour of the newsroom with strategic pauses for making out. Ideally, Mr. Eames would have then asked Arthur to share a meal with him, and maybe desert, or to move into his flat, or if he could move into Arthur's flat and if they couldn't get a cat, or a dog, but perhaps now he's getting ahead of himself. Anyway. He didn't. He regrets the error, and hopes by that by asking now — Arthur, darling, would you have dinner with me? — he can get this kissing/desert/cat-or-dog/flat thing underway.

Arthur opens a chat window.

Arthur: You filed this to a public directory.
Eames: is that a y or n?
Arthur: You also spelled dessert wrong.
Eames: dslkfjslfjdfsdf why are you so endlessly fucking bloody all the time

And Arthur is still grinning like an idiot at his monitor, holding down the Y key and watching it fill in row after row in the chat client, miles away from ever hitting the return to send, when he looks up to see Eames smiling down at him in wonder.






(1) BEACON STREET FIRE, 24 in, fire at Beacon Street condos caused by nearby construction work, no casualties except that now our chief copyeditor is homeless. Sorry, Arthur.
(2) FARADAY TRIAL, 34, Joanna Faraday finally goes to court after offing her husband, her husband's aid, her husband's girlfriend on election night.
(4) STATE PROVOSTS, 20, state university provosts meet to discuss funding apocalypse
(5) IRAQ HANDOVER, 15, self-explanatory


(2) HIGHWAY PATROL OVERHAUL, 20, two-year review finally culminates!
(3) MIXED-USE HOUSING INITIATIVE, 40, finally got zoning clearance for downtown, should be a nice package, Yusuf has double-truck already set up with diagrams/photos
(4) SUNSHINE LAW/STATE HOUSE, 15, too boring to sum
(5) RAPE CRISIS CENTER FUNDING, 25, held from last week
(6) TEACHER PAY, 15, held from last week


(2) AFGHANISTAN UPDATE, 20 (?) AP wire
(3) SUDAN, 10 (?) AP wire
(5) CHINA NOBEL PEACE PRIZE/CONFUCIUS PRIZE, 10, are you fucking kidding me? AP wire
(6) DC ROUNDUP, 15 (?) AP wire


(2) IBM 3Q ERNS, 10 (?) Reuters
(3) GOOGLE 3Q ERNS, 15 (?) Reuters/AP
(4) BEIGE BOOK MOTHERFUCKERS, 16, hasn't been a good quarter, folks
(5) CHINA MANUFACTURING, 10 (?) Reuters


(2) SOTHEBY'S AUCTION, 26, OMG GUYS! Someone broke LF's living artist record!


(1) HARDY, not sure, to be honest, but he was raving about 4chan when I checked his office, so you know, prepare for a lot of really pissed off reader letters
(2) KATHLEEN, sex ed needs to be comprehensive and mandatory
(3) JAMES, writing about the bullshit farce of China's Confucius prize in the face of the Nobel, but, more importantly: seriously, Eames. Damn.






Couple of notes:

— Seriously, double-check gender. I'm going to punch the next person who files a gender cx.
— Over/under for spacial relationships ONLY: "My apartment used to be OVER a coffee shop. Now all my belongings are UNDER flaming rubble." More than/less than for amounts/volumes/everything else.
— Don't hyphenate adverbs!
— Celebrate: AP officially switched to website versus Web site. Now stop complaining at me about it. No, you are still not allowed to use tweet as a verb and Internet still takes an uppercase I.

— Separately, anybody who wants to earn karmic points (MAL, DOM) can feel free to drop any of my stuff you may have flagrantly stolen over the years with Eames, although I am by no means confirming or denying my future household status.