July 4, 1985
“The river is always so peaceful this early in the day,” Cheryl commented idly, as she and Jason rowed across the Sweetwater, their canoe the sole vessel on the water. The sun had yet to fully rise, and the citizens of Riverdale had yet to leave their beds, and greet the day, which explained the absence of the others. “Oh, JJ, do we really have to mingle with the plebeians at the Fourth of July soiree later today?” She pursed her lips. “They’re so…less fortunate.”
“What Mother and Father say goes,” he said absentmindedly. Jason didn’t mind going to the Fourth of July celebration, even if it meant having to associate with the more…impoverished of Riverdale. He understood the value of networking, even if it debased himself in the process. “You know that they wouldn’t want us to attend if it hadn’t been deemed important to our social capital.”
Honestly. It was as if Cheryl had completely tuned out Mother and Father’s lectures on the subject, Jason thought to himself, grousing inwardly. He was exhausted. Cheryl had woken him up after about three hours of sleep, insisting that they take the boat out on the river, and he was regretting the fact that he had been browbeaten into doing so.
“Was there a reason you woke me up?”
“Oh, JJ. Do I really need a reason to want to go have an early morning boat ride with my brother?”
He let out a sigh. “No, of course not,” he said. “It’s just that you’ve been acting so strange lately… all that business with the other Vixens.” He wrinkled his nose. “You don’t see the Bulldogs having group sessions in our hot tub. What if Mother and Father had seen?”
Cheryl laughed. “I don’t care what they think of me,” she said, the bite evident in her tone. “You’re the heir. I’ll never compete.”
“You could still avoid antagonizing them, Cheryl,” he told her. “I don’t understand why you don’t. You know what’s expected of you—”
“What’s expected of me? Mother expects me to become a kept woman, miserable in her tower, like she is,” she hissed. “She doesn’t care that I don’t love those boys. That I can’t love those boys.”
“What you want is unnatural,” he said. “You’re a Blossom, Cheryl. Being a Blossom carries certain expectations, and you have to follow them, even if you don’t want to.”
Why was it so hard for Cheryl to understand these things? Jason didn’t understand.
“I don’t care what they want,” she said. “What you want. You’re supposed to be my twin, JJ. My other half. And if you don’t understan—”
Jason wouldn’t have paid Cheryl’s sudden silence any mind had a shot not rang out in the distance, and had he not felt her slump on to him, her mouth open in a shocked o.
“What the hell did you do???” Hermione Lodge demanded, in what Fred thought was a needlessly harsh tone, given that she had been the one to give him the command to shoot Hiram. It wasn’t his fault that he had overestimated the reach of the bullets. “You shot someone!”
“I didn’t mean Hiram, you idiot,” she hissed, even though Hiram was indeed dead, so Fred had done something right. “When I told you to make that warning shot, you told me that no one was on the lake! You shot someone on a boat! Can’t you hear that screaming?”
Fred grabbed the binoculars he had looped around his neck and put them up to his eyes, which widened as he focused his gaze on the boat that was in the river, and contained Jason and what…what hopefully was Cheryl Blossom.
“Keep your voice down,” he instructed. “We can use this to our advantage.”
“What?” Hermione demanded. “What do you mean? You shot a teenager! You need to go check on her. I don’t care that you shot Hiram, Fred. I asked you to do that. I didn’t ask you to shoot that girl.”
Fred knew that what he was going to suggest was terrible, but part of him didn’t care. Shooting Hiram was one thing. That could have been blamed away on Hermione when his body had been discovered. Shooting Cheryl Blossom? Fred really couldn’t see FP turning the other way on that.
Having his best friend as the Sheriff had had less perks than Fred had assumed it would.
“I didn’t,” he said.
“What? She’s covered in blood!” Hermione’s hands were on her hips. Her expression reminded Fred of Alice Jones. It was unnerving. “You can’t pretend that you didn’t shoot her! There was a witness!”
“A witness that we can blame,” Fred said. “I can say that Vegas and I were out for an early morning walk around the river and we heard the Blossom twins arguing and a gun shot. By the time they find Hiram, they’ll have already taken Jason into custody. It would be easy to blame him for Hiram’s death, too.”
“Surely they wouldn’t buy that.”
“Do you want to be arrested?” Fred shook his head. “FP’s gone straight. He busted me for a DUI a few weeks ago. He wouldn’t turn a blind eye to us shooting the Blossoms’ daughter.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You can go back to New York and go back to living your life,” he added. “You’d never have to come back to Riverdale ever again.”
That had been the deal, after all. Hermione had begged him to take care of Hiram, claiming that she had wanted a divorce and he had said no, that taking him out of the picture was the only way she could be free of him. Fred had never liked Hiram. He was a pompous asshole who’d come from money, and Hermione had picked him (and money) over Fred, and it was easy for Fred to believe the claims that she was making. The bribe had been enough to get him to abandon his morals. Money had been tight, with Mary off finding herself and refusing to send him enough money to live in the manner that he had been accustomed to.
There was trouble with the business, too. Fred couldn’t blame FP for giving him the loan and taking the job with the police department when he’d come back from the Army. Alice had been pregnant again, and they’d had mouths to feed. It made sense that FP didn’t want to co-own the company with him in anything but name. Things had been fine between them.
Until Tom Keller had arrested him for ‘driving erratically’ and FP had insisted on him being charged on some trumped-up drink driving charge, despite the fact that everyone did it and Fred was supposedly like his brother.
“Right,” Hermione said. “It makes the most sense to blame it on the boy.”
“And you’ll go back to New York?”
She nodded. “Yes. I’ll go back to New York.”
Hiram laid there silently, unable to contribute to the conversation.
It was better this way.
It had to be.
FP’s mind foggily acknowledged that there was a pounding on his and Alice’s bedroom door, though he elected to ignore the fact that there was someone trying to get their attention for the moment. It was his day off, and, dammit, he was going to enjoy it. He had promised Jellybean that he would take them to the fireworks later, as a family, and dammit, he was going to commit. Being the Sheriff was important, of course, but his family was more important to him than any job.
The knocking continued.
“Dad?” Betty’s voice, though muffled, could be heard through the door. “Mr. Keller’s on the phone. He says that it’s important.”
FP groaned. Alice was still soundly asleep, no doubt partly due to her sedatives, and he didn’t dare wake her so he could speak to Tom Keller about whatever idiocy the townspeople had gotten into on the holiday – already! It was barely six am.
“Bring it in here,” he called to her. “Door’s unlocked.”
The door opened to reveal his eldest daughter, clad in her pajamas, looking every bit like the phone had woken her up because she’d fallen asleep with it in her room again, probably talking to the Andrews boy. FP didn’t much like the fact that Fred’s son had decided that Betty’s agreement to marry him when they were eight had to be taken as gospel, and he really didn’t like that the girl had decided that it was okay to settle for a ring from the buffoon on her finger. FP loved Alice, he really did, but he had hoped that Betty hadn’t planned to follow in her footsteps and become a teen bride.
“What?” Betty demanded.
“We’ll talk about how you knew Tom was calling later,” he settled, and he reached out for the telephone, putting it up to his ear while he lit a cigarette with his free hand. “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Dad,” she said, and he watched her twist that ridiculous ring around her ring finger. “Mr. Keller said it was important.”
“And you want to stay?” FP was tempted to order Betty back to bed. It would have served her right for spending hours upon hours on the phone with Red. But she was his daughter. He couldn’t help that she’d inherited his stupid, impulsive, nature. “Sit,” he commanded. “Hi, Tom, what is it?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, FP,” Tom said, his voice sounding apologetic. “It’s just that there was a shooting at Sweetwater River. Fred Andrews called it in from the payphone. Said he was walking his dog and he heard fighting, and then a gunshot. And then another.”
“Who got shot?” FP doubted the veracity of Fred’s story. He was fairly certain that the shooting may have been true, but anything else that was said was suspect. “Fred?”
“No, not Fred,” he said. “Apparently Jason Blossom shot his twin.”
FP let out a groan. He didn’t want to deal with Penelope or Clifford Blossom. He wanted to deal with Jellybean’s disappointment even less.
“I’ll be right down—”
“Penelope and Clifford are saying they don’t want to press charges,” Tom continued. “That Jason was just doing what was best for the family tree, but Jason keeps denying that he shot her…the medics think he’s in shock. That he isn’t ready to face what he’s done.”
“I don’t care what the Blossoms want,” FP said. “Bring him down to the station for booking. And tell me that you held Fred?” He lit up another cigarette. “Tom?”
“He was gone by the time we showed up,” he said. FP stifled a yawn. “Should we have called him back?”
“Oh, no, of course not,” he drawled. “Why would we do that? I’ll see you in a few.”
He fumbled to end the call, and returned the phone to the base it belonged to, leaning across Alice in the process.
“Was that about Archie?”
“I don’t want you seeing that boy,” FP said. “Not today. Not for a while.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But, no, it wasn’t about Archie. The Blossom girl.”
“Why can’t I see Archie?”
“People are dying, Elizabeth.” FP recognized that his tone was somewhat harsh, and he softened it. “Look, kid, I just don’t want you to get involved in something that’s bigger than you, okay? I don’t want you getting hurt.”
He shoved off the sheet and threw on the uniform that he’d thrown on the floor the night before, not caring that he was still wearing the shorts and t-shirt that he’d slept in. The Blossoms were lucky they were getting him in a state that was semi-presentable. Alice let out a loud snore.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Betty said. “You and Mom were younger than we are.”
“Your mother and I had to get married. You didn’t think it was strange that your brother was ‘three months premature’ and the size of a full-grown newborn?” He buttoned up the shirt as he spoke. “I love your mother. I don’t regret marrying her or having to go into the service to provide for her and your brother. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want better for you, Elizabeth. You don’t have to marry Red. You can tell him to go to hell for all I care.”
“I thought the two of you thought it was cute!”
“We did, when you were eight and we thought it was a joke.” He sighed. “Look, kiddo, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s nothing connecting Fred to the Blossom girl’s death. But, until I know for sure, I want you to be safe. And that means no Archie.”
A position that would please Alice when she awoke. FP was certain of that.
“…okay,” Betty said, her gaze downcast. “I’ll go back to bed.”
“Why don’t you stay here, with your mother? Just until I come back?”
“Are you sure that headline is accurate?” Alice questioned Hal politely, her brow furrowed. “Do you seriously think that Jason Blossom killed Cheryl and Hiram Lodge? What business would he have had doing that?”
“Of course, I don’t think that,” Hal told her. “But the paper prints what the public wants to hear. They don’t want to hear about how there’s a second gunman on the loose. They want to believe that the murderer was caught.”
“Why would he kill Cheryl, for that matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“They were twins, Hal, you don’t often hear about twins killing each other, do you?”
“It’s happened before,” he said, after a moment. “With that family. Terrible, terrible, things happen with that family.”
Alice barely resisted rolling her eyes. She knew perfectly well that Harold and the rest of the Coopers were related to the Blossoms, after Harold had debased himself by getting drunk at the Register’s Christmas party and informed everyone that he and Penelope were kissing cousins, and yes, he meant that literally. Not that he had any memory of the events. Harold had woken up on the floor of the Register the next morning with no memory of the previous evening and a raging hangover.
“What about Fred?”
“What about Fred?”
“Don’t you find his explanation for his whereabouts to be somewhat too convenient? Walking that mutt of his in the pitch black at the river? Why would anyone do that?”
“You’re the investigative reporter, Alice, not me.”
“Was Hermione in town to see you?”
“Hermione wasn’t in town,” he said. “She’s been in the city for weeks.”
“Interesting. It’s just that…no. I must have been mistaken.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, as you know, I have the grand misfortune of living on the other side of Fred,” she said, and she crinkled her nose. “I couldn’t help but notice that he and Archibald had a familiar looking houseguest last night. At first, I thought it couldn’t possibly be Hermione, because, well, I thought that she was cheating on Hiram with you, and they looked pretty cozy…but you said that she wasn’t there. Hasn’t been here. Surely you would have known…?”
“She’s cheating on me with Fred?”
“Technically I think she’s still cheating on Hiram,” Alice said breezily. “I mean. Sure, he’s dead. But.”
“You’re not funny, Alice,” Hal said, his face beat red. “If I go to New York and find out that you’re playing me for the fool—”
“Don’t you want to go to New York to make sure you’re not being played for the fool?” Alice waggled her brows. “I have better things to do than toy with you.”
“I’m going with FP and the kids to the fireworks in Greendale,” Alice said. “It’s not the same as the Riverdale ones, but, obviously, in light of the circumstances…”