The first two weeks after Jughead Jones is taken in by the Cooper family, Hal stays late at The Riverdale Register and Jughead goes to sleep with no problems in what was formerly the guest bedroom downstairs. It took no time at all to be covered in plaid shirts and the smell of teenage boy, which Alice despairs of ever getting out of the mattress. She usually shuts the door on the mess and tries to forget about it with a glass of merlot as she edits another article for the paper.
The first night Hal is home brings something different than the routine she's fallen into.
Alice readies herself for bed, taking off her earrings and necklace at the double vanity off the master bedroom. Next, she will wash her makeup off followed by a quick brush and floss of her teeth. She waves a hand at her husband as he goes down the stairs to heed Jughead's quiet summons.
Hal comes back up as she spits in the sink, face drawn and turning away from Alice's eyes when she makes eye contact in the mirror.
"What is it, Hal?" Her reporter's instinct is jumping. "Does Jughead need anything?" They are the perfect family on paper, if one doesn't look too closely. Alice could say it's just keeping up appearances to take in Jughead Jones instead of leaving him to the system. But Alice also sees herself in the young boy because of where he's grown up. He loves her Betty too, anxious and caught up in flights of petty drama as she is, and Alice is thankful for that.
"It's just some guy stuff, don't worry." Hal kisses her cheek on his way out of the bathroom and Alice flosses her teeth in troubled silence.
She wakes up to prepare breakfast for everyone, part and parcel of the perfect family the Coopers show to the rest of Riverdale. It's nothing more than a large pot of oatmeal with cinnamon and freshly diced apple but Jughead wolfs it down like it's a feast. Alice's stomach turns over as she thinks back to the dim hunger-filled days of her own past before she wore the leather jacket. She puts an extra orange in Jughead's lunch bag and mentions it to no one.
That night, Hal trods down the stairs to answer another of Jughead's "guy" talk. It ends with a slammed door and Alice raises a perfectly plucked brow in response when Hal climbs into their shared bed.
"Interesting talk, I thought you were going to wake the neighbors." she comments dryly as she scrolls through the Times on her tablet.
"Jughead and I are going to get some things straight this weekend," Hal says in a near-growl and turns off the light at his bedside table with a jerky movement. Alice's lips thin at the rebuke and she sets down her tablet with a thump on her own nightstand.
Relations between Alice and her husband are still frosty the next morning, notable by the way she bites viciously into her jam-smeared toast while glaring at her husband.
"Do you have any homework, kids?" Alice asks cordially, tearing her eyes away from the man at the end of the table. "I believe Hal has something planned for Jughead in the garage after breakfast but then I want you all studying for the afternoon. It's supposed to rain starting at 11."
Her eyes dart to the teenage boy on her left and she takes in the suddenly pale visage at her words. Jughead doesn't touch the remaining triangle of toast on his plate and only moves the eggs around without taking a bite. Alice frowns to herself and drains her orange juice in lieu of words.
Her girls, considerate as Alice has raised them to be, gather up the dishes once everyone is done eating and begin to load the dishwasher together. Jughead rises from the table, pushes his chair back in with shaking hands, and follows Hal to the garage. The door shuts behind them and Alice darts out to the backyard to watch the drama unfold from the door that connects the backyard to the garage. There's enough clutter - bikes that the Coopers only take out in the summer, children’s boogie boards and the boxes of Christmas decorations - that Alice is able to slip in without being noticed.
"What happened last night will not happen again," Hal is saying in a serious tone. Jughead sits on the steps between concrete garage floor and kitchen, listening raptly. "I don't care what a thank you looked like in that heap you called a home on the Southside, on this side of town we use our words."
Jughead nods, red effusing his face as he looks at his sneakers. "I understand, sir." It's barely a whisper. "But I think you'd really like my mouth, Rolly never had any complaints."
Hal takes a deep breath and spins on his heel. It's an impressive reining in of his temper, Alice notes. "No, kid. We, Alice and I, took you in to give you a stable home and let you finish out the semester with Betty and the other kids. You are not going to thank me with your mouth, your jailbait ass, or any other body part. Nor-," Hal leans in to grab Jughead's chin and force his face upward to Hal's lecture, "are you going to try and entice my daughter into any of these shenanigans. Not under my roof!"
Alice has heard enough and lets herself into the backyard without a sound. Her mind is whirring at the few words Jughead spoke. She knows Rolly; a Serpent a few years older than herself and a man she had stayed away from during gang business. Avoiding him hadn't been difficult when he was sent upstate for a stretch,more than earning his nickname.
She joins her daughters in the kitchen just as Polly is closing the refrigerator door on the jam that had been abandoned on the counter. Alice presses a kiss to each blonde head of hair and continues upstairs. She smiles to herself when she hears Betty wonder aloud what the reason for the unexpected affection had been. Sometimes, a mother only needs to reaffirm that her children are safe.
Alice goes to Jughead that evening, when he's tucked into bed and nearly asleep. She finds that's the best time to get the truth from Betty and Polly and sees no reason why it won't work on FP's kin.
"Jughead?" Alice calls quietly into the darkened room. She took a look in there earlier, so she knows where to place her slippered feet so they touch the wooden floor and not old t-shirts.
"Mrs. Cooper?" Jughead is understandably confused but he moves his legs towards the wall when she takes a seat on the double bed to give her room. "Is something wrong?"
"You tell me," Alice says with a look that forbids any other chatter. Jughead's skin is washed out by the waxing gibbous moon. "How do you know Rolly?"
The boy bolts upright at the question, reaching over to turn on the small lamp. It bathes everything in artificial light and allows Alice the chance to see Jughead's eyes without the shadow of night. They're large and haunted, Alice chastises herself a little for not seeing it before despite her limited interactions with the boy.
"He uh, you know the Serpents, right?" Jughead deflects. Alice nods, not mentioning the fact that her jacket is in a dry cleaners bag in the back of the walk-in closet above his very head.
"FP sometimes had ‘business trips’ to take, or so he told me. It started right after mom left us." Jughead's long fingers twist in the dark blue comforter covering legs. "More often than not, a Serpent would stay the night and Rolly was usually the one to draw the short straw."
Alice's eyes narrow. "And you would have to thank him?"
Jughead looks miserable about this secret coming to light. "It was only for a few years. Not even once a month." He tries to reassure her but Alice can hardly pay attention because the admittance has set her blood boiling in her veins.
"And he expected this thanks with only your mouth or your hand?" Alice tries to remain clinical, voice clipped. She doesn't want there to be more but she needs to know the full truth.
Jughead shakes his head and Alice sighs in relief. She rests a hand just to the left of the boy's leg over the covers and squeezes gently. "Let me reiterate what my husband said earlier: That is not the policy in the Cooper household, or any other place where you may lay your head. Do I make myself clear, Jughead?"
He nods like a bobblehead, bottom lip caught between his teeth. Alice smiles in response, she knows the instruction is going to take some time to sink in.
"Now that we’ve covered that, you can help around the house instead. You can be added to the chore chart starting tomorrow. If you're unfamiliar with anything, Betty can show you." She glances around the room and while it's not as messy as it could be, it's nowhere near the standards she holds for own daughters.
"Also I’m going to be seeing your father tomorrow." Alice continues and pauses for the expected outcry. It doesn't disappoint, even though Jughead's biting tone is reduced to a furious whisper when he remembers the late hour.
"Stop." Alice commands, cutting off the accusations of unfairness and how-could-she. "You have absolutely no idea how this is going to devastate your father."
"That's why you shouldn't tell him!" Jughead fires back. "He's got enough going on with the trial stuff and just being in jail is awful. He was turning his life around again before this all happened."
"And let Rolly coerce another Southside child?" Alice replies heatedly and Jughead wilts before her eyes. His bravado is gone and Alice opens her arms for an embrace. She holds the boy tightly, head against her shoulder.
"I will discuss this with FP tomorrow, no need for you to relive it all. You have a set of algebra problems to do, I believe?" Alice raises an eyebrow and Jughead rubs at his eyes even as he nods in agreement.
Alice pats the comforter instead of making contact with Jughead again and stands from the bed. "Get some sleep, Jughead Jones. Tomorrow's a new day."
"Good night Mrs. Cooper." He says softly and Alice turns the light off before picking her way across the floor and shutting the door to what is now Jughead's room in the Cooper household.
Alice sets her face as she climbs the stairs to the master bedroom. Hal isn't prepared, not that she expected any less. She turns on the overhead light and glares as her husband blinks in the sudden glow.
"Guy talk?" Alice's voice is scathing. "This has been going on for a week and you didn't see fit to inform me?"
"Did that little Southside snake bother you?" Hal swings his legs over the side of the bed and Alice crosses the room to push him into the mattress before he can find his feet.
"No, Hal, Jughead was perfectly normal for a traumatized boy. You took those parenting classes alongside me, were you asleep for all of them?" Alice is furious at the thought of a prepubescent Jughead in a trailer, kneeling on dirty carpet. "This is the sort of thing you share with me, Harold!"
"Next time I will, Alice! I was just a little blindsided at my daughter's boyfriend offering to suck my cock every night and twice on Sundays!" Hal says, glaring up at her.
"Did you have any plan on how to solve this situation?" Alice asks. Hal's sudden muteness isn't a surprise and she sneers at the blush of shame that crawls over his skin. "A boy begs for you to let him suck you off in thanks for the roof over his head and instead of going 'hey honey this is kind of strange' you stay silent-" she breaks off and her nails dig into Hal's chest. She wishes it would draw blood.
"Tell me you did not commit a felony with that boy under my roof!" Alice is horrified at the very thought and made worse that she has to voice it aloud to get a response.
"Jesus," Hal's eyes are wide. "of course I didn't let him touch me! He just wouldn't give up, so I had to set him straight this morning after breakfast. With words, I didn't touch the kid!" Alice lets him up, taking a step back and then another.
"I can't sleep next to you," she says firmly. "You know where the blanket is in the hall cupboard."
"Oh for-" Hal cuts himself off because Alice clearly isn't listening, heading into the bathroom to start her routine. Hal shakes his head and gathers his pillow from the bed.
If the previous morning was cool, it was positively balmy at the breakfast table the next morning. Alice notes that Jughead keeps his eyes focused on his plate while Betty fills the air with a stream of inane chatter about the weather forecast, her Blue & Gold assignment due next week, and if Pop would ever add a new item to the diner menu. Alice eats her boiled egg in neat bites and takes her plate to the sink herself. She doesn't look at Hal once and leaves the pillow and folded blanket on the couch as she passes by on her way out the door.
She drives to the jail in silence, thinking about how she wants this conversation to go. It's been at almost a month since she saw FP skulking around outside when Betty was throwing that ill-fated party for her boyfriend. A lot has happened in the intervening time, but not even Clifford's suicide holds a candle to the bombshell Alice is going to drop in his lap today.
She stands still for the guard to wave a wand over her clothing, signs in at the desk, and pulls a notebook and pen from her purse as she waits for FP to be recalled from wherever he is at the moment to meet her at a phone. She stops herself short of tapping her foot but grows increasingly impatient.
FP picks up the phone and the first word out of his mouth is his son's name.
"-is fine." Alice finishes the answer before FP can ask the full question. "I see you're thriving in here." FP looks better than she remembered, or maybe it's because jail is a mostly dry residence.
"I do what I can to get by." FP demurs with a smirk. Neither of them need to say it's good to be the man at the top of the food chain, which is exactly what the Serpents leader is in a regional jail. Alice crosses her legs and leans forward toward the criminal.
"You took some business trips in Jughead's youth," Alice starts and FP blanches before flicking his eyes at the guard behind his left shoulder. It's a clear signal to be careful what she says over this jail-issued phone and it deserves the eye roll Alice makes in return.
"Recently, I became aware that you let Rolly baby sit your son on these trips." Alice spits the name out. "I know you were never father of the year material but your drinking habit really pales in comparison."
FP is visibly confused and Alice wishes there weren't glass an inch thick between them so she could shake some sense into him.
"Rolly babysat your son when you left town and he had a particular way of how his little charge said thank you. Thankfully, it was only with his mouth." Alice says, regaining her sense of calm. She watches the words process across FP's face and hisses into the phone the moment he opens his mouth to register his displeasure.
"This can go one of two ways, Jones." Alice smiles a shark grin at FP's wordless rage. "If Rolly is an inmate somewhere it gives you the chance to play messenger yourself." FP nods his head with a smirk. "If Rolly was released, then you can pass the message along."
"Either would be okay." FP agrees. "You can get the intel, being an investigative reporter and all it should be like a dog with a bone?"
"It would be my pleasure to dig this bone up." Alice responds and her grin widens. FP matches her expression but his eyes remain cold.
He hangs up the phone. ‘Dead man walking’ he mouths through the glass before the guard comes to collect him and lead him back to the rest of the inmates. Alice moves her head down the barest amount. It can hardly be called a nod, but she knows FP sees it.
Going through the tedium of leaving the jail is an exercise in patience. Alice keeps to the posted speed limit as she drives out of the jail yard and down the road. She pulls into her spot at The Register and turns on the computer in the back office. First, she'll find out if Rolly is currently incarcerated. Then she'll start knocking down doors to find out where the degenerate is living. Alice hopes he's stupid enough to still be on the Southside.
It's nearing dinner time in the Cooper household when Alice wipes the browser history and shuts the computer down. Rolly isn't an inmate in the state of New York, which is both good and bad. Good because jails take a dim view when an inmate is murdered inside its walls. Bad, because Alice will now be taking a trip to the Southside next weekend. She's managed to avoid that side of town for nearly twenty years, trips to the Twilight Drive-In aside.
She locks up the newspaper’s office and goes home to Hal, her children, and Jughead. She sits at the dinner table, joining in the discussion about the sudden rise of jingle-jangle at the high school. It’s when she’s laying in bed, waiting for sleep, that she gives thought about where to start looking for Rolly. Alice decides to start at the soup kitchen on Pickens Street, then the condemned apartments across the street from the White Wyrm. If Rolly is not in any of those, she'll start banging on trailers.
Alice sighs and rakes her fingers through her hair as she crosses the trailer park. She's knocked on three doors, been greeted with no less than two guns and no one has seen Rolly let alone knows what trailer he's shacking up in. It's a common misconception that everyone who lives in the Southside trailers is a member of the Serpents gang; Alice knows that less than 20% are members or related to one.
Someone finally snitches that Rolly was last seen picking up groceries at the gas station closest to the park, but no one can say where his new girl lives since Rhonda dumped him two months ago or is living somewhere in Greendale. Alice has already been by the two unoccupied trailers in the southwest corner of the lot, they’re dusty and there’s no sign of anyone inhabiting them. Her boot pauses on the last step of yet another trailer as her brain whirls.
There is one other unoccupied trailer in the park. It belongs to FP Jones.
Alice marches across the dusting of snow and trampled brown grass to the double-wide Jughead grew up. If Rolly is there, she might kill him where he stands just because the sheer nerve of moving into the Jones’ space. She tugs her leather jacket down over her wrists and tries the door before she knocks.
It opens, not that Alice is surprised. Hardly anyone around here will think of using FP’s space, no matter that he’s in jail for the foreseeable future.
Alice walks in and wrinkles her nose. The trailer reeks of cheap beer soaked into faded carpet and unwashed clothes that lay over every available surface. There’s cartons of half-eaten Chinese in the fridge, too new to belong to FP. That’s all Alice needs to see to confirm Rolly’s presence. She shuts the door behind her and is walking out of the Southside trailer park as the sun sets.
She picks up two pizzas on the way home, to the surprise and delight of the Cooper household.
FP isn’t pleased to hear Rolly has been staying in his trailer when Alice visits him the following weekend. He slams his fist against the glass and Alice conceals her flinch under a sneer that’s becoming second nature.
“I’ve found our zombie,” Alice redirects the conversation once FP has waved off the guard rushing to his side. “What do you want to do about him?”
“I can get Penny,” FP muses. “She can contract out.”
“Yeah, and what’ll be your payment?” Alice counters, nails tapping on the counter in front of her. “I’ll call Penny, she can also handle the paperwork for me to be Jughead’s guardian while you’re inside.”
“Alice,” FP says and it’s heartfelt, low and warm like they’re teenagers again. Alice rises from the hard plastic chair and goes to fetch his son from the visitor waiting room before he can say anything else in that tone of voice.
She drops off Jughead at the library for a study date with Betty, Archie and the Lodge chit before calling the Serpent’s resident lawyer.
“The prodigal daughter is calling me?” Penny practically purrs down the line, amusement clear in her voice.
“Cut the shit, Penny.” Alice says briskly. “FP wants you to sign a warrant but bill it to me.”
“Yeah, I heard you were making waves in your old stompin’ grounds over Rolly of all people. What’re the details?” Penny is all business now and it’s not hard to imagine she’s got a pen and paper ready to dictate the orders.
“FP wants him in yesterday’s trash, he’s not picky about details. I want his hands cut off.” Alice pulls into an empty parking space at the grocery store and checks her lipstick in the mirror as she chats with Penny about her fee and handling the paperwork over Jughead as well. It won’t cost as much as she thought, once Alice reminded the lawyer who had sponsored her initiation some years ago.
She hangs up and doesn’t slam the car door shut only to save face. Alice Cooper’s lipstick is perfect as she navigates the aisles and townspeople of Riverdale to get steak for tonight’s dinner.
The call comes in on the police broadband eight days later. A body was dumped on the construction grounds of what was the Twilight Drive-In. Alice sips her coffee and smirks at the radio on the kitchen table as the men in uniform chatter on the other end about calling an ambulance; they need more cops on the scene; where are his hands; someone notify a coroner. The headline for The Register is going to write itself: Serpents Member Found Dead, Riverdale Is Safe Once More.
She leaves a copy on Jughead’s pillow.