"Dear Edna," Archie read, "while I write this I can hear soldiers groaning from the wounds they got fighting. Some have been shot and gassed. I ain't hurt though. I almost got shot this morning but the bullet hit the wall so I dug it out and am keeping it for good luck." Archie lowered the letter, shaking his head. "How do you come up with this jive, Frank?"
"Pretty good, right?" Frank said, smiling.
"It's stupid," Sol said, chewing on a crusty bread roll. "You really gonna send that?"
Frank scowled at him. "Course I am. Why wouldn't I?"
"Because the only thing that's true in there is your wife's name!"
Frank snatched his letter back. "You think I'm gonna tell her the truth? That all I been doing for the last month is swinging a pickaxe and pushing a wheelbarrow? I told her I was coming over here to fight! Before I left home, she told me she was proud of me. That's the first time she said that since the day I met her."
"You think she'll still be proud when she speaks to the other men's wives and finds out we're two hundred miles from the front line?" Archie said.
Frank shrugged. "If she does, I'll just tell her the other men were lying cos they didn't want their wives to worry about them."
"But you want yours to worry about you?" Sol said.
"Better worried than ashamed. I'd never have signed up if I knew all we were coming over here to do was work. I could've laid railway tracks back home. I still don't understand why we can't just go and fight."
"Uncle Sam doesn't want us fighting with the white troops," Archie said, "and there ain't enough black troops to form a division."
Frank made a face like Archie had just spoken French. "But there's two thousand of us. Why do we need a division when we got our own army right here?"
Sol smirked. "It takes more than a couple thousand men to fight a war, Frank."
"Try to be patient," Archie said. "Colonel Hayward's got us this far; he ain't gonna give up on us now."
Frank shrugged and tucked his letter in his pocket. "Yeah, well, I told Edna I'm a soldier, and a soldier's what I am." He got up and marched away from their table and out of the canteen.
As Sol watched him leave, he found his thoughts turning to Valerie. She'd been in his head a lot lately. He regretted not telling her he'd enlisted and thought often about writing her a letter, but he could never find the courage to pick up a pen. She would have moved apartments by now, he'd convinced himself. Or she'd simply forgotten about him. And even if she hadn't, no good could come from writing her, anyway. It wasn't like they had a future together.
"I know that look," Archie said.
Sol surfaced from his thoughts. "What look?"
"The kind someone gets when they thinking about someone else."
Sol smiled and shook his head. "I was just thinking about home."
"And who's back home?"
"Do you really think Colonel Hayward will be able to figure something out? I don't see what he can do."
"The Colonel's as smart as any man I ever seen. If anyone can get us into this war, it's him."
"Yeah," Sol nodded as he picked up another bread roll. "I hope you're right."
YOU ARE READING
* Updates every Wednesday * Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a sing...