Notes: Temporary hiatus? What temporary hiatus?
Scanning through my Documents the other day and found this - became very sad it had never been finished, and the Jets had been left to linger here, semi-permanently in limbo, with Action still unwittingly as their leader. It seemed to harsh to abandon them. So here's the next installment, in which things go from particularly bad to particularly worse.
Oh, and one of Didge's lines in particular is stolen from Frasier, if only because it's most brilliant rebuff that anyone could use...
3: There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame
Alright, so it was one setback. One little, tiny mistake. Anyway, it didn't matter – no-one had mentioned it. He didn't have to take nothing from nobody, and everyone knew that, which was why the Jets had just pulled Mouthpiece and Joyboy apart, very quietly, and returned the brass knuckles to Tiger. Action had pointedly looked the other way when that happened.
The only problem was, Ice was giving him that Look. The unpleasant, not-gonna-let-up Look. He didn't say anything – every time he demanded to know what the hell he was being glared at for, Ice spread his hands innocently and shook his head – but then again he didn't have to. That Look was bad enough.
Goddamn Joyboy! If he hadn't taken those knuckles none of this would have happened. Alright, so maybe they'd have still ended up beating several different types of shit out of each other, and – he shifted awkwardly – alright, so maybe the chicks would still have been pissed with them, but at least Ice wouldn't have been trying to x-ray him with his eyes round about now. And that silence – that edgy, doubtful silence from the Jets, that was beginning to get on his nerves.
Flicking up the collar of his jacket, as if that would stop him from feeling Ice's eyes zapping into the back of his neck – Jesus H Christ, he was starting to think like Baby John and those comic books of his – Action led the Jets around another corner of the block, grinning with satisfaction despite himself as A-Rab and Tiger fell into step alongside him. Alright so maybe he didn't have quite the same knack as Riff did for keeping the gang as one big sickeningly happy family, but he could do this. Be on patrol, keep an eye out for Hawks. Fight. Action wasn't one for the touchy feely feelings stuff, but he could do this.
"Ok, Daddy-O?" Unlike Graziella, A-Rab's voice held a note of underlying concern and respect. Despite his hardened shell, Action couldn't help but feel a sense of relief lighten his step. He wasn't a sissy, but it still felt good to have his buddy on his side.
Not that he'd say that, of course. Grinning, he merely looped his fist in a roundhouse punch, catching A-Rab on the shoulder. "All we need's a coupla Hawks and the night'd be pretty much perfect."
A-Rab smacked a fist into his palm eagerly. "Anythin' you say, Action."
All in all, it was turning out to be a good night. Alright, so they'd spotted no Hawks yet, but that only meant they were keeping their fat noses out of their turf. 'Sides, the night was young, and if Action caught a single Hawk he was going to make some pretty poor fish out of him tonight. Trooping down the sidewalk, feeling the reassuring thuds of the Jets' footfalls behind him, Action smirked as a smartly dressed businessman and his dame stepped smoothly out of the way, the man's arm looping protectively around his girl's waist. Boy, it was worth not coming across any action just to see the terrified looks on their faces! A slightly smug swagger in his step, Action nudged Mouthpiece with a grin, tempted to knock the square on his ass just to show Ice that he knew how to handle guys like that…
"Well, well, well – isn't this a little past your bedtime, fellas?"
…and promptly groaned, because those censorious looks from Ice and A-Rab were telling him what he already knew, that he had forgotten to set the lookout.
Seething, Action swivelled around on his heels, a sharp snap from his fingers telling the gang to fall in behind him. Fuck. True to form, there was Lieutenant Shrank, leaning casually against his car with a fat stogie clamped between his teeth and a smirk dancing over every inch of his face. Goddamit, they'd walked straight past him! Fuming, Action cracked his knuckles. It wasn't like they were doing anything illegal, hell, they were on their own turf and for once not getting into any kind of jazz. But that didn't matter – Shrank had caught him off guard, and the sonofabitch knew it. Action didn't like to be caught on the raw…why the hell had he forgotten to set a lookout for Shrank and his ilk?
"We don't got no curfew to stick to tonight," Action retorted coolly, feeling a little – but damn well not much – buoyed by the feeling of the Jets clustering behind them. Man, if he could just keep his cool with Shrank then wouldn't that just put Ice in his place? It would certainly get the Jets believing in him, once and for all. Setting his jaw, he reached back to thump Baby John on the shoulder. "And don' worry, we'll get the kid home before he needs his beddy-byes."
Shrank just sneered. "Your parental concern touches me. And quit lookin' so snotty, A-Rab."
"Unfortunate me, it's my natural look," A-Rab, who was glowering at Shranke with all the fondness that one would regard a squashed frog, protested.
Clicking his tongue, Action stepped forward, bringing up his jaw in a silent challenge. "You got anythin' else we can assist you with, Lieutenant?"
The sonofabitch took his sweet time in looking Action up and down, smirking all the while. "Assist, Action? What a lot of big words we're learning." He chuckled, and took another puff from the stogie, making sure to blow the smoke into Joyboy's eyes. "Not for the moment, no. I'll be sure to drop by and talk later, fellas, if something springs to mind." With one last smirk he tossed the cigar at the nearest pair of shoes - which happened to be A-Rab's – and sauntered off, whistling out of tune as he did so.
Jesus, but that guy got under his skin! As Tiger began to mutter that the next cop that walked into their turf would be walking out again on two broken legs, he jammed his hands down into his pockets – hard – and made a big deal of not meeting the reproachful gazes of the gang. Lookout…well for Chrissakes, what did they expect him to do about it? Riff and Tony were the ones who sorted out all that junk, it wasn't his responsibility – alright, so it was now, but that didn't mean this was his fault! I mean – well – look, everyone knew this wasn't his strength, and why did a leader have to deal with this crap anyway? He should be fighting, ordering, leadering…when did details start coming into it? Why the hell did he have to deal with stuff that made him make mistakes?
And, like all good leaders of men who have made a mistake and know it, he looked around for a scapegoat.
His eyes found Baby John, still staring after Shrank with that goddamn dopey look on his face, and promptly narrowed. "Baby John, weren't you the last one to be lookout?"
The boy blinked. "Uh…well yeah, but…"
"Well until I say otherwise, you're still lookout, you got that?"
Baby John's head drooped noticeably, and he nodded.
A-Rab nudged Action gently as they swung into step again. "Hey, go easy on the kid, he's on our side."
He gritted his teeth. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell his best friend exactly where he could stuff it, but Ice was watching and he was pretty damn sure that Ice wouldn't shut up when A-Rab would. Instead he rubbed his neck irritably, casting a look over his shoulder. Baby John was dragging his feet slowly, Mouthpiece and Joyboy were glowering at each other even as they walked along side by side, and Big Deal – well, he didn't know who'd spat in his coke, but if the guy kept on staring at the sidewalk like that he'd trip over his own stupid feet. "I know," he growled, and shrugged. To hell with it. It didn't matter. He was leading the gang, goddamn it, and he was going to damn well make a good job of it even if the rest of the sodding gang weren't willing to go along with it. After all, this was America, this was a democracy. Everyone was entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age, gender, or not being Action.
"Doc? Hey Doc, how's it kickin'?"
Doc smiled reluctantly into the receiver of the telephone as he balanced the contraption in the crook of his ear, Riff's broad voice crackling and jumping over the line. He had two customers waiting and Baby John perched at the counter and ingesting far more sugar than could be legally good for him, but nevertheless he turned to the wall. Anyone was willing to make time for Riff.
"Is that even grammatically correct?"
Riff's laughter was loud and indulgent. "Yeah, yeah, I get it; I'm an ignorant JD. Say Doc, any of my boys down there with ya?"
Smoothly Doc extended his arm, dropping the telephone into Baby John's sherbet-encrusted hand. "He wants to talk to you."
Baby John slurped down the remnants of his sherbet, his voice sticky and thick when he eventually brought the 'phone to his mouth. "Hey, Daddy-O!" Nearly bouncing up and down with excitement at being the first one to talk to their second in command, he flashed a gleeful grin at Doc. "How's the holiday?"
"A blast, Baby John, a blast - I got Tony's ma wrapped right roun' my little finger." There was a crackle, as if Riff was shifting the receiver from one ear to the next. "How's the action at home?"
"Oh, great!" He briefly ran a reel of the events over the last couple of days, the highlights of which included Action forgetting to set a look-out three days running, Action sending Gee-Tar scouting into enemy territory straight into the waiting arms of Officer Krupke, and Action rejecting a possible peace treaty with the Hawks. Events over the past week included a lot of Action. "Fine…pretty good…erm, when're you comin' back?"
"Couple more days. How's Action doing?"
"He's…he's trying real hard. When did you say you were coming back?"
Riff laughed. "Aw, Baby John, can't get along without me, huh? Listen kiddo I've got to run, but tell the boys to behave themselves, you hear me?"
"Well hurry back, everybody here misses you – they're all asking 'when's Riff coming back?" Baby John hung up the phone and grimaced noticeably.
Maybe if he hid down in the cellar for the next few days…
He didn't even have to order a coke the next morning before his headaches kicked in. Rounding into Doc's, a whistle dying on his lips, Action groaned as he saw the girls clustered around the counter behind Graziella, muttering hastily amongst each other and casting him some very unhappy looks. Even Anybodys was there, her pallid arms folded sullenly across her chest, her miserable mug even more sour than usual. Beside her Bridget was flinging a particularly dirty glare in his direction, Pauline was tapping her foot impatiently, even Velma was scowling.
Ooh, goody, he thought blackly, maybe they'll kill each other and put them out of my misery.
Honestly, who forgot to tell him that leadering would be so damned hard? Mouthpiece and Joyboy kept sniping at each other no matter how many times he told them to knock it off, Tiger insisted on going over the armoury every damned day, and Baby John had taken to slinking around him like a kicked puppy and flinching every time he spoke. And Shrank and Krupke kept on popping up like jack-in-the-boxes, and grinning like them too. Doc kept looking at him, which was bad – though not as bad as Ice, who had begun asking the stupidest questions as if he was some kind of an idiot. Did you make sure to check where the lads are scouting, Action? Did you set a look-out, Action? As if he would forget…again.
And now here were the girls. If only they took Ice with them too…
"We," Graziella announced grandly, "are getting' mighty sick of being given the brush-off all of a sudden, Action."
He glared coolly back at her. "Well jeepers, Graz, I didn't realise you felt that way."
The redhead's hands smacked down hard against the table. "You know what I mean! Ever since Riff and Tony left town you've been swannin' around like you're the queen bee, ordering us around and kicking us out when it don't suit ya. This candy store ain't just your own private clubhouse, ya know."
"Funny, I thought it was."
Clarice shook her head angrily. "All this 'ditch the dames and expect them to come running when we snap our fingers' crap. You're treating us like trash!"
Action opened his mouth, and then wisely shut it again.
There was a limit to how much a guy could put up with dames, when all was said and done. Alright, so they were good for one thing in particular, but when that was over all they wanted to do was talk, and spend time together, and in short hang around so tight that it made a guy old before his time. And this lot, who had made it their role in life to attach themselves to the gang twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week….He gave a shudder. Chicks, more trouble than they were worth. He couldn't be the only one; he had heard the guys grumble about it enough, even Riff started getting antsy when Graziella hung around too long. Glancing around at the guys he caught mirroring looks of exasperation on their faces – apart from A-Rab, who was leaning on the counter next to Pauline and trying to look cool.
"We're sick 'n tired of being bossed around by you fellas."
If this was how Graziella treated Riff, Action thought with all the world-weariness of a battle-worn soldier, no wonder he hared off God-knows-where with Tony and his family.
"Does this have a point?"
"They're sayin' you make a lousy leader," Anybodys snapped.
Action narrowed his eyes darkly at the skinny little tomboy. She was doing this on purpose, he just knew, this was just some new way of her trying to torment him. "What the hell're you playing at? You never sided with the dames before."
"Riff never hit before!" Anybodys rubbed the back of her head sullenly.
"Quit your whining. You're always saying how you're as tough as any of the guys."
"Then let me in the gang! Come on Action, I can prove it to ya, let me just show y – "
"Alrighty, that does it." Without warning Action jerked himself from his seat, catching Anybodys sharply around the waist and bodily dragging her to the door. To the accompaniment of great cheers and catcalls he pushed her sharply out of the candy store, ignoring the barrage of curses, and slammed the door shut. "And you can stay out until you learn howta be a girl, you got that?"
His answer came in the form of a hail of gravel flung from Anybody's freckled hand, leaving scratches and dents across the glass screen of the door. For once his act as leader was met with a rousing chorus of applause, even a dry chuckle from Ice. Bizarrely enough it was his best friend who was pouting.
"What the hell's your problem?"
"You can't get rid of her!" A-Rab exclaimed indignantly. "She's my entertainment. What am I s'posed to do for kicks now?"
"A-Rab, you're a creep."
"Sure you're not just lookin' in a mirror?" The teenager gestured miserably to Didge, who had spoken. "Y'see, it's just not the same!"
Action turned to his cousin. "And what've you gotta say in all this?"
He was starting to get more than a little worried about Didge. Alright, so she hung out with Anybodys, who was a pill but more interesting in busting up any guy than dating them, but she'd also taken to spending time with Pauline and Clarice, and girls who actually, y'know, did….stuff….with the guys. Which meant that Didge had probably contemplated doing…stuff. With the guys. As in his guys. As in the Jets. And that was Wrong. In so many, many ways. Action would be the first to admit he wasn't exactly a family guy, but there was family and then there was family, and Didge was his cousin, and there were certain things that were Not Gonna Happen. Fortunately as leader he'd found a simple and easy solution to the problem: grab the offending Jets – in this case Big Deal and Mouthpiece – by the scruffs of the neck, take them to one side, and explain just exactly what parts of their anatomy would be being fed to them if they ever, ever started making eyes at his cousin again.
Judging from the look on his cousin's face, the subject in hand hadn't been far from her thoughts either. "Betcha know exactly what I've 'gotta say in all this'. You keep scarin' my dates away. I've never seen so many guys run away from me!"
"I'd've thought you'd be used to it." A-Rab shook his head sadly. "Nope. Just don't feel right."
Didge patiently patted the Jet on his curly head and ignored him. "The last guy that came to the door you nearly made piss his pants, and he wasn't coming to visit me!"
"But Action – "
The older boy gritted his teeth. Prospective presidents of the best gang in the whole damn city should be worrying about things like cops and rival gangs and rumbles and suchlike. They should not have had to worry about who was doing what to their baby cousin, who by all rights should still be playing with her colouring sets and train tracks and not…well, not with the Jets. "Nuh-uh," he growled, and saw her eyes roll. "You're still a kid, you're gonna act like a kid until I say so. And that means behaving yourself."
With a cocky grin, A-Rab hooked a finger through the belt buckle on Didge's jeans. "Hey, if you're so hungry for some good-lookin', tough guy, why don't you go out with me?"
Snowboy let out a low whistle; Action scowled. And Didge, God bless her, without so much as a blink, held her hand a couple of inches over both of their heads and stared him straight in the eye: "If you ain't at least this tall, you can't get on this ride."
That was why he loved his cousin. Action cuffed her lightly across the shoulder. The elbow delivered to his buddy's gut was considerably less affectionate.
"Gee, you seem to be doing a real nice job there, Action."
He grit his teeth solidly at Velma's comment. Hell, maybe he wasn't doing the best job in the world, maybe – as everyone seemed oh-so keen of letting him know – he was a stuff-up, but at least he was damn well putting in the effort. Something that was increasingly difficult with the girls giving him hell every few minutes. "Yeah, well, I'm doin' my best," he retorted hotly. "And maybe it'd be plenty easier if you lot weren't getting under my feet all the livelong day. We're all sick of you gettin' in our way all the time, me and the rest of the boys. Ain't that right?"
He cast a sharp look at the guys, daring them to disagree.
"You got it, Action."
He flapped a hand irritably at the offending Ice. "Stuff it, Camille. And that's a yes, as well."
"We thought you might say that." Graziella smiled that sickly saccharine smile of hers and exchanged a Look with Velma. Which, as all of the Jets agreed upon after, was your first warning: you could never have chicks discussing things and sharing ideas, they might get round to actually thinking, and that only led to trouble. "So we girls decided to cool it for a while."
"Beg your pardon?" Snowboy demanded.
Pauline batted her eyes in a dumb show of ignorance. "Well, you boys seem to be lovin' your own company so much, so we thought we'd stop playing the gooseberry and leave you to it."
O….kay. Action could feel the atmosphere of Doc's drop sharply ever-downwards. Graziella's words had introduced an electric hairdryer into the bathtub of life. This, he thought, could be set to go very wrong very quickly.
"What we're saying," Graz continued sweetly, "is that things're gonna get very cool around here."
"Very – "
"And very lonely."
A-Rab nearly choked. "You wouldn't dare!"
The redhead widened her eyes innocently. "Us? What did we do? We're just doin' exactly what you tell us to – leaving you alone." With a saucy whistle, Graziella jerked her head, tip-tapping her way to the door.
Never in the history of mankind had such long faces accompanied such a triumphant exodus. Didge ducked around A-Rab with a jaunty toss of her hair, head held high; Minnie and Pauline tapped their feet side by side, skirting past their guys as they did so. Gee-Tar and Tiger gaped after them as, one by one, they filed from the store; Snowboy was pouting, even Baby John looked particularly mournful. Ice, his girl still entwined in his arms, was blearily chuckling - right up until the very moment when Velma blew him a kiss and hastened after the girls, slipping a slender arm through that of her best friend.
Action turned. And ever eye was looking particularly unhappily at him.