West Side Story
The Worth of Souls
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It takes place sometime after the movie, and though it briefly references another fic I did called The Things You Don't Say, that one doesn't have to be read first. As per the 2009 Broadway revival, which, among other things, took the setting out of what looked like the 1950s and stuck it in an even more undefined time period, I felt bold enough to make a passing mention or two to more modern devices in important scenes. As for Krupke's rank, he is canonically called both Officer and Sergeant, which are two distinct ranks, and I have determined that he is really supposed to be a sergeant. Thanks to Ladyamberjo and Viennacantabile for plot help!
There always had to be a gang.
That was what was going through Lieutenant Schrank's mind as Sergeant Krupke parked the squad car at the playground. The red lights flashed, illuminating the rival street gangs positioned to start their rumble. The teens looked to the unwelcome arrivals, at first resembling deer caught in the headlights before their expressions turned to anger.
Schrank exited the car, slamming the door behind him as he ran towards the playground. How many times had they been through this, with one gang after another? It was always the same, an endless cycle that repeated with each new gang that sprung up in the neighborhood. Many of the gang members never did reform, either, instead moving on to bigger crimes as they got older. Sometimes Schrank wondered if the police accomplished any good in this area at all.
Frankly, he was tired of the whole thing. He had started to wear down years earlier, when he had first begun to realize that he could not get through to these kids. And he had reached the end of his rope long before now. But he pressed on anyway, for reasons even he was unsure of.
Breaking up rumbles was what he hated most of all. There was never any way of knowing for certain what kinds of weapons the gangs would be using, so it was difficult to be prepared. And no matter how often Schrank and Krupke stopped them, someone managed to get hurt or killed sooner or later.
He drew his gun. "Alright, you guys!" he yelled as he ran through the gate. "Break it up!"
One of the gang members turned, firing a gun of his own without a second thought. The thunderclap echoed through the area.
Schrank never had a chance to defend himself. He fell back, pain shooting through his chest. The squad car's lights, still sending beams of red across the playground, bathed the gunman's wide-eyed, frightened features in an eerie hue. The kid dropped the revolver, trembling. He could not have been older than fifteen.
That was the last thing Schrank saw before he collapsed.
He gazed up at the darkened sky, his breathing heavy and racked with agony as he pressed a hand over the wound. Both his vision and his hearing were starting to fail.
"You shot a cop, man!" one of the gang members was yelling.
"He deserved it," a second said.
"I didn't mean to do it!" the shooter cried. "He was just there and I panicked and I . . ."
"Come on, let's get out of here!" exclaimed another.
"You boys get back here!" Krupke shouted after them. But he did not keep his attention on the fleeing gangs. He dropped to his knees at Schrank's side, still in numbed shock.
"Lieutenant? Lieutenant, can you hear me? Say something!"
Somewhere in his mind Schrank was aware of Krupke calling to him and trying to pry his hand away to see the wound. He let his hand fall away, no longer having the strength to hold it in place.
Krupke swore in horror under his breath. "Officer down!" he screamed into his walkie-talkie. "We need an ambulance at the playground now! Repeat, Lieutenant Schrank has been shot!"
The darkness, which had been creeping over Schrank's senses, now fell over him the rest of the way.
It had been a normal day at the 21st Precinct, which for Lieutenant Schrank and Sergeant Krupke meant patrolling their beat, encountering some of Manhattan's notorious street gangs, and looking for the location of a rumble between two of them. As it grew late into the night, they continued to search.
"It figures," Schrank muttered in disgust as Krupke drove around another block. "The Hawks and the Emeralds both got beaten by the Jets, so they decided to face off against each other instead. They couldn't form a truce; oh no, that'd be asking too much. They'd rather beat each other's brains out. That makes them feel big and brave. But it really just makes them small and stupid."
The Jets had not been as much of a problem ever since the disastrous rumble with the Sharks. It had ended much the same as Schrank had known it would, with death and grief and heartache. But after that hard lesson both gangs had changed. Their new leaders were trying to steer them on different paths, away from the courses they had previously followed. Not all of the members were in agreement to the alteration; some still wanted to fight. That was probably another can of worms that would blow open sometime.
But for now the main problem was the Hawks and the Emeralds, which had taken the lull in gang activity as a great opportunity to come forward and take center stage.
Schrank had known that something like that would happen. One fading gang was always replaced by another coming into its own. He had seen it time and time again through the years.
Krupke glanced at him before steering the squad car around another corner. Schrank was tired of their inability to prevent this from happening. And Krupke was growing fed up as well. It seemed like all they could ever do was pick up whatever pieces were left when it was over. Even when they managed to stop a rumble, the gangs saw to it that another was carried out later.
In the car, unless discussing a case or what they should do about it, Schrank was usually quiet. It was a sharp contrast to his frequently snapping temper around the gangs. Krupke generally let him have his silence when he wanted it, although at times Krupke tried to engage him in conversation. This was met with varying levels of success, depending on both the topic and Schrank's current mood.
Right now he was tense, staring out both his window and the windshield as he looked for any sign of the warring gangs. Seeing nothing, he only grew more upset.
"We'll probably find some bodies in an alley," he growled, "just like last time."
Krupke could not deny the possibility. Schrank had been furious when they had discovered the bodies of the Jets' and the Sharks' leaders. He had tried so hard to find out where the rumble would be, even appealing to the gangs themselves, but nothing had worked. And their long sweep of the city had only yielded the location when it had been too late.
They had been by the playground dozens of times already, but when Krupke steered them past again, something was different. Schrank leaned forward.
"Stop!" he commanded. "I see them; they're just getting ready to go now."
And there they were, just as he had announced—trickling in from both sides and standing defiant and nervous, facing each other. Metal gleamed in their hands.
Krupke brought the car to a swift halt. Schrank leaped out, drawing his gun. Krupke followed suit.
The gunshot rang through the night.
It did not take long for word of the shooting to reach street gangs throughout the city. Some were surprised, others pleased, and still others not sure what to think. The Jets soon heard as well, and just as with all the rest, opinions were mixed.
"Hey, did you guys hear?" Anybodys exclaimed as she ran up to the rest of the gang. "Lieutenant Schrank and Sergeant Krupke were trying to break up a rumble between the Hawks and the Emeralds and one of them shot Schrank down!"
Ice jerked to attention. "Is he dead?"
Anybodys shrugged. "I don't know. Probably! They're saying it was bad."
A-Rab took the news with his typical, joking approach. If he was bothered, he was not about to make it known—especially since Schrank had been their enemy for so long. "I wonder where he's going to end up?" he said. "I bet they throw him out of Heaven once they get a load of his short-circuit. Can you imagine him part of any Heavenly choir?"
There were a couple of snickers in the dark, but most of the Jets took the news with seriousness.
"I hope he is dead," Action muttered. "He's always meant trouble for us."
"He just does his job," Ice said, crossing his arms. "And anyway, even if you don't care about him, think about what this is going to do to us."
Action frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Don't we have a bad enough rep already?" Ice said. "Now a rival gang member just gunned down a cop. That's never looked on well."
"You're right!" Baby John exclaimed. "This is going to be terrible for us! Maybe some people will even think one of us did it!"
"I wouldn't care if they thought it was me," Action said.
"If they dragged you off to the pen, I bet you'd care!" Anybodys said. "They'd lock you up for life! Or maybe you'd even get the chair!"
Tiger stared thoughtfully at the opposite wall. "You know, it'll be a lot different if we get some other cop on this beat," he said. "Maybe we'll end up with a guy even tougher than Schrank."
"Could that happen?" Baby John wondered.
"It could happen," Ice nodded. "Schrank hasn't been pleasant to deal with, but we could end up with someone a lot worse."
"I hate him," Action muttered.
"My old lady says he used to be different," Anybodys said. "All the gang wars made him bitter or something."
"That's his problem," Action said.
"It's our problem if it involves us," Ice said. "We should try to find out how he's coming along—if he's coming along at all."
"I can find out easy!" Anybodys volunteered.
"Then get to it," Ice said. "Report back when you know something."
Anybodys hurried off.
It was easy for the slender tomboy to sneak into the hospital and from there, to hide behind a magazine in the waiting room. Sergeant Krupke was pacing the floor, too upset and caught up in his thoughts to notice. Anybodys frowned. She had never seen the policeman look so distressed. After a moment his phone rang and he stepped near the doors to answer it. Anybodys perked up.
"Hello? . . . No, I don't know anything more yet. He's still in surgery. . . . The doctor didn't have much hope. That kid got him good. The street gangs are probably celebrating tonight." Now he sounded bitter.
Anybodys quietly turned a page of the magazine. She did not like Schrank, but she did not want him to be dead, either. Anyway, Ice had a point that it could look bad for them.
"I tried to find the shooter before I came here. It's just the same story as always—neither gang is talking."
Well, of course, Anybodys thought to herself. As far as the gangs were concerned, even if they were rivals, they had a common enemy in the police. None of them wanted to rat out anyone to the cops.
Krupke hung up moments later. He turned away, staring blankly out the window. A silent prayer, just one of many offered in the last few hours, ran through his mind.
Everything had happened so fast. He was still a bit in shock from what he had witnessed. The kid had just turned and fired. Schrank had stumbled back and fallen, stunned. When Krupke had come to Schrank's aid only seconds later, he had already been fading. Krupke had been afraid that he was dying then and there.
But Lieutenant Schrank was stubborn. Even with the bullet so dangerously close to his heart, and with the concerning amount of blood he had lost, he was still fighting to stay alive.
It was ironic, that after all the years Schrank had put in trying desperately to curb the street gang problem in the city, one of those punks would end up shooting him down. He had never before been seriously injured while trying to break up a rumble.
Well, at least not physically. Krupke had been with the 21st Precinct for quite some time. He had heard whispers of how Schrank had started out years ago, optimistic and confident that he could find a way to help fix the street gang problem on his beat. It was strange to think about. That Schrank was light-years apart from Krupke's cynical, world-weary partner. Krupke had to wonder what it would have been like, to have known him before the struggle against the gangs had taken its toll.
Maybe that would have been too depressing. Then he would have also witnessed Schrank's descent into embittered helplessness. Schrank was a good person, but he was not well-liked due to his bursts of blunt, frustrated, and angry comments. He himself was not proud of many of the things he spat in his venom and fear.
He and Krupke had both been counseled to try to understand the gang members' points-of-view, but that was easier said than done. They were disgusted and unable to grasp what could possibly possess the teens to kill each other over the use of public streets.
Krupke frowned. When the shock wore off more, he would probably be outright angry over what had happened tonight. Right now it still seemed too unreal, like a bad, surreal dream.
He glanced around the room. He was the only one there, but that was not a surprise. The other police at the precinct were already tied up. And Schrank did not have any living family—at least, not that Krupke knew about.
. . . Wait a minute.
He was not the only one here after all. Some kid was darting for the doors. And she looked familiar.
He ran over, snatching the teen's arm before the escape could be completed. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. His gruff voice blended with her high-pitched cry of "Let me go!" but he held fast. "Answer me!"
Anybodys looked up, glowering at him. "I just came in for a few minutes to check something," she said, defensive. "And now I don't need to be here anymore, so I'm going." She jerked her arm free.
Krupke was not satisfied. "You know the Lieutenant was shot tonight, don't you?" he said.
"Word's been going around the streets, yeah," Anybodys retorted.
"Do you know who did it?" Krupke's eyes bored into hers, as though he could command the answer to come forth by reading her mind.
"No!" Anybodys snapped. "And that's the truth. Ice is worried about it. Says it'll make us look bad."
"He's right." Krupke's hands went to his hips. "If I find out you're sheltering the kid who did this, I'll drag the whole bunch of you in to jail."
"You and Schrank are like peas in a pod," Anybodys said as she headed for the doors. "You learned a lot from him on how to handle us juvies, didn't you?"
"Oh, go on," Krupke growled, gesturing for her to make her exit. If she honestly did not know anything, then he was not in any mood to deal with her tonight.
He turned at the sound of the voice. The doctor was standing at the doorway of the waiting room, tiredly pulling down the mask that had covered his nose and mouth. His weariness, and the blood splattered over his surgical gown, served to make Krupke uneasy as he went over. Forgotten now, Anybodys lingered, curious.
"What's going on, Doctor?" Krupke asked. "How is he?"
The physician sighed. "That bullet almost killed him more than once tonight," he said. "He lost a lot of blood, so much that we had to give him a transfusion. And during the operation his heart stopped."
Krupke froze. "Is he . . . ?"
In the doorway, Anybodys stared with wide eyes.
The doctor managed a slight smile. "I said it almost killed him," he said. "We were able to get him revived." He gestured to the hall behind him. "He's in a room now, but his condition is still grave."
"Do you think he'll make it?" Krupke worried.
"I couldn't say," the physician replied. He paused. "But I'll say this for him—he's stubborn."
"He's that, alright," Krupke agreed.
"That may be his saving grace. He doesn't want to die."
Anybodys decided she had heard enough. She turned, slipping through the doors and outside.