The digging took hours. His back felt like it was breaking and he was growing tired. But the pit had to be deep enough.
When it was, he planted the shovel and pulled the body in, feeling the vibration of the orange tarp in his hands as it rolled over some small pebbles in the dirt. Trying to resist him. But failing.
With one last groan, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, he managed to get the body of the bleached blonde punk-ass drug dealer plopped into the pit. The one who had made problems for her. Alice.
He stood up and stretched his back. But only for a second.
The bag of lye he had brought with him that night was waiting. Open. Ready to do its job.
"Dad, Betty and her mom are in trouble," Jughead had told him anxiously earlier that night.
"What are you talking about boy?"
After Jughead explained that Alice and Betty had the body of a drug dealer that needed disposing of FP realized that it wasn't just he who was dragging his son down into a life he may not escape from. The Coopers were too. He needed to fix this. This time he could fix it. Right?
Unbeknownst to him, Jughead had been researching ways to dispose of bodies online before he even came to him, and he went back to his laptop once he had. He only said something to him again once he thought he had found something promising.
"Dad, what about sodium hydroxide?"
"Lye? What about it?"
"Well, it says right here –"
"What are you doing, boy?" FP practically bellowed once he realized what Jughead was up to. "Put that away – don't you know that they can trace your history? You don't want to be found researching that."
Jughead turned a little green and powered down his laptop.
FP knew all about lye, caustic soda. Why hadn't they used it with Jason? Could have saved him a lot of trouble.
FP grabbed the brown paper sack of pellets carefully, keeping his hands on the outside of the bag. Lye was caustic - just as one of its monikers implied.
The dust rose up a bit as the pellets hit the body and he turned his head away, not wanting to breathe it in. But it got all over his leather jacket.
Then he leaned forward to gather up the tarp so that he could wrap up the body, the white pellets of lye slipping over his hands. They were so very slippery. But he didn't feel any burn, no sting of the corrosion that the warning label cautioned of.
He paused for a second, thinking of what these innocuous looking caustic soda pellets would do to this man and suddenly realized why he hadn't used them with Jason. Jason's body had been recoverable – and given enough time, this man's would not be. It would just become a pile of goo, organic flesh dissolved away by a relentless, unforgiving chemical.
He knew he couldn't have done that to Penelope Blossom. Even though deep down he had probably known it could lead to him getting caught for his part in the cleanup, he couldn't bear to take away a mother's chance to say goodbye, to know that her son was really gone, and not just missing. He knew he couldn't bear the uncertainty if it was Jug . . . or Jellybean.
But this man? He didn't know him.
FP wrapped him up and began the arduous task of shoveling all that dirt back on top of him.
As he drove to Pop's, the stink of the sodium hydroxide dust from his clothes burning into his nose, he thought of her. Alice.
She had never liked to admit when she needed help. But tonight, she had - coming to his door with her daughter in tow. To make it easier on her, he interrupted her before she even had to ask, assured them both that he would take care of it.
And he had.
And now he walked into Pop's, the deed done.
She held onto her coffee cup, staring into it solemnly, not saying a word to her daughter or FP's son across the table. She was worried about him. About what he was doing out there in the dark, cold night.
He had always stuck his neck out for her, always protected her, always been there when she needed him. Their entire life. Even after she had thrown her union with Hal in his face and left the Southside and the Serpents behind forever. Even after she left him. . .
The chimes over Pop's door rang and she turned back to look. FP stood there in the shadows for a second as her heart leapt.
He came to sit down by her side, running his fingers through his hair. He sighed deeply and said, "It's done."
A sickly-sweet smell overpowered them all. Cloying. Intense.
Jughead looked worried. "Geez . . . Dad, you reek."
FP replied in a gravelly voice, "It's the sodium hydroxide. In a week there'll be nothing left. Not even his teeth."
Jughead looked mortified. FP looked over at her and she looked down, away, trying not to cry. How could she have asked this of him? He sounded terrible.
But when she turned back to him she did have tears in her eyes. "Thank you, FP. I'm sorry for involving Betty . . . and that she pulled Jughead into this."
Before she could say anything more, his hand was on hers. His thumb went under her palm and he only hesitated slightly as his fingers made contact with her rings. The wedding and engagement rings Hal had given her all those years ago.
His hands were sticky.
"We take care of our own," he said firmly, looking at her, at all of them.
You take care of me, she thought and watched her daughter lean into his son for comfort. She wished she could do the same, like she had back when they . . .
But she had his hand entwined in hers and that was enough for now.
He took a nice long shower when he returned to the trailer with his son. Dawn was already breaking. It took a helluva long time to dig a grave – even a shallow one. His back ached, his shoulders ached, his hands . . . The hot water felt good.
As he got ready for bed, there was still a bit of lingering stickiness on his hand – the one that had held hers. He must have missed a spot. Oh well, at least it didn't burn. He was too tired to move. He fell asleep to the faint smell of sodium hydroxide. Sickly sweet and cloying.
She noticed that her rings were stuck together with whatever that sticky mess it was that he had used to dispose of the body. She shivered and took them off. She rinsed them and placed them on the rim of the bathroom sink, semi-hoping they'd fall down the drain overnight.
As she got into bed, she noticed a that little bit of stickiness was still left behind on her hand. Where he had held it. She didn't want to wash it off. It wasn't doing any damage anyway. She fell asleep to the faint smell of sodium hydroxide. Sickly sweet and cloying.
When they both woke up the next day, late in the afternoon, they each noticed a stinging sensation along their fingers. And when they inspected them more carefully, both of them noticed that they had slight burns where they had held hands the night before.
Alice looked out her window to the South. FP looked out his window to the North.
It was in that moment that both of them realized they were indelibly linked by sodium hydroxide and the deeds they had committed that night.