Chapter 6 - Men In Uniform

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I stared at the phone in shock. It was a weird one, an old fashioned dially-thing. I groaned and sank my head into my hands.

“What? Who was that? Jamie, answer me,” Dad said, shaking me by the shoulders. When I didn’t reply he looked about the room and groaned. Sinking down so that his shoulders were against the battered old sofa, he put an arm around my shoulders.

“Hey, did that fella say what year it is?” Dad asked.

“1914.”

“Oh, hell.”

“And he called us soldiers.” Dad was silent for a moment. I could see that he was struggling to not burst into a torrent of swears. He failed.

Once he’d calmed down, I walked to the window. A parade was passing by, young boys following in its wake. Soldiers were marching and a voice was yelling for people to ‘join up, join up!’

“I’m going outside,” I said. Dad raised an eyebrow and joined me at the window. He whistled softly at the amount of soldiers.

“Look how young they are,” he said quietly. “Some barely older than fourteen.”

“Dad, I’m fourteen,” I replied, not taking my eyes of the parade. “Can I join?”

“No.”

“But I can pick some pockets,” I wheedled.

“But there’s enough people to pickpocket here.”

“But there’s richer people who fight.”

“But-”

“Don’t start another sentence with ‘but’. So, can I join?” I turned away from the window and looked up at Dad, my eyes shining with faked hope. If Dad noticed, he ignored it.

“Then I’m comin’ too,” Dad decided, taking his jacket off and lying it carefully on a chair. A second later he’d put it back on. I smiled and lead the way outside.

 

*

 

“Name,” a grumpy looking sergeant asked.

“William Hatchett, Billy to my friends,” Dad replied. He’d gone first and I was a few people behind.

“Friends don’t matter when you’re fighting. Age.”

“Thirty-three."

“Current job.”

Dad hesitated and glanced back at me. I pointed to myself and he got the message. “Actor.”

“Oh really? You any good?” the sergeant asked, suddenly interested. Dad grinned, showing off his sparkling white teeth.

“The best in all of Texas,” was his reply. The sergeant’s eyebrows shot up and he scribbled something down.

“Well,” he muttered, “that’s new. Have you fired a gun before, Mr Hatchett?”

“Hundreds o’ times,” Dad said, pulling his revolver from his back pocket. “Even got me own.” The sergeant took in a breath and reached out his hand for the gun. Dad reluctantly handed it over.

“Captain Roscuth,” the sergeant called. The captain walked over, stroking his ridiculous little moustache.

“Yes, sir?” Roscuth replied. The sergeant held out the gun.

“Examine this and call Edwards over.”

“Sir.” Roscuth walked away, shooting me an evil glare. I raised an eyebrow and stuck my tongue out at the retreating captain’s back. Another man walked over, a private by his uniform.

“Sir, you asked for me?” the private said, saluting. The sergeant nodded quickly.

“Yes. Measure Mr Hatchett up, please. And find out any additional information.” Thrusting the clipboard into the private’s hands, the sergeant hurried after Roscuth. The private blinked a few times before putting the clipboard back on the table.

“Mr Hatchett,” he said smoothly, “please walk this way. Stand here, please. Perfect. Now, I’m just going to see if you fit height regulations - five-three - and the right chest requirements - thirty-six inches.”

“The height ain’t a problem,” Dad said, trying to look at the metal bar as it descended onto his hair. “I’m five-seven.”

“I’m just checking, Mr Hatchett.”

“Billy, please.”

“Of course.” The private checked Dad’s height and as soon as he went to write the measurement down, the metal bar sprang back up again. I stifled my laugh. There was a line where the bar had squashed Dad’s hair flat.

“You fit the height requirements,” the private said, coming back, “so now we just need the chest measurements. Shirt off, please.”

Whilst Dad was being bossed around by someone only a few years older than me, I was listening to the sergeant’s conversation with Roscuth. They were discussing the gun.

“A fine model, and no mistake.”

“How does it fire, sir?”

“We can’t check yet. It will be confiscated and returned to Mr Hatchett in due course.”

“In one piece, sir?”

“No promises.” The sergeant smiled and Roscuth’s moustache quivered. I felt the blood drain from my face. Dad didn’t go anywhere without his gun. He even took it to his wedding. That thing made him feel confident, gave him power and made him look scarier than someone with his hair does normally. Luckily, my hair isn’t as sticking up, even though it is the same colour.

I heard giggling and someone sigh. I turned back. There was a small gaggle of girls peering through the window at Dad, and laughing. He looked annoyed.

“Hey, shove off,” I said, waving my hand at the window. One of the girls breathed on the window and drew a question mark. I sighed, told the person in front of me to save my space, and went outside.

“Hi,” one of the girls said. She smiled at me and her friends giggled. “Who are you?”

“Don’t matter. Who are you?” I replied, narrowing my eyes. One of her friends made a funny noise.

“Melody,” she said, holding out a hand. “Melody Edwards. My brother is the private in there.”

“Jamie Hatchett,” I said, raising  her hand to my lips and kissing it gently. All the other girls burst into peals of laughter and I started to smile. “My dad’s the fella in there you what were ogling at.”

“Oh,” one of the other girls said, “sorry. Is he single?”

“He’s over thirty years old.”

“Still. Is he single?”

“Rosie, go away,” Melody said, shooing her friends away. The ran off, giggling.

“Sorry about them,” Melody continued, “why did your Dad have a gun? Is he already a soldier?”

“Um, sorta,” I said, shuffling my feet and looking at the ground. I glanced through the window. Dad was being held by the sergeant and his eyes were flashing angrily. He kicked out and someone fell over. The sergeant was repeatedly kicked, but he didn’t let go. Dad raised his legs off the floor and let the sergeant support his weight. Unfortunately, Dad’s pretty light. Roscuth got up off the floor and kicked Dad, very hard, in the gut. Dad’s head fell forward and he tried to curl up but the sergeant wouldn’t let him. Edwards, the young private, was protesting, so he got thrown against the wall. Melody ran inside to see if her brother was okay and I dived through the window. Which was shut.

Glass rained down on me and I fell to the floor, rolled and stood up again, aiming my gun squarely at the sergeant’s forehead. Well, when I say my gun, I mean Dad’s gun that I pickpocketed off the sergeant.

“Let them go, don’t move, and go die in a hole,” I snarled.

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