Let the Games Begin
Chapter 20 - HATWALK HOLIDAY
"Woohoo!" Connor gave a celebratory cheer as he flopped down on the sofa the moment they arrived home the next morning. "We don't have to be back at work for 24 hours. It's like we're on holiday!"
Becker rolled his eyes, and Jess could tell that the soldier didn't consider having a mere 24 hours off much of a holiday, especially after having worked two double shifts in the last few days. And the traffic driving home just now through the morning rush hour had put him in a foul mood, which was obvious when he pointed out grumpily, "Technically, less than 23 hours."
"Whatever," Connor said with a shrug, his happiness not to be deterred. "It still feels good. So what we gonna do with our day off anyway?"
"Sleep," Abby said with a yawn as she disappeared up the stairs, and Jess couldn't help yawning as well.
"Ah, don't be like that," Connor whined, trying to fight off a yawn of his own. "We're free - we've oughtta DO something today. Otherwise there's no point to us being off."
Jess was still feeling guilty that they even had so much time off, as they'd originally been scheduled to be back at work that night, but Connor's enthusiasm was infectious. "Well, there's always Hatwalk," she suggested.
Connor gasped, leaping off the sofa excitedly. "Is that still on? Blimey, these weird shifts have me all confused as to what day it is."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Jess agreed. "But yes, it's only Tuesday."
"All day," Matt added drily as he grabbed his pillow and blanket, obviously planning to follow Abby's lead.
But not Connor. "Then that's it - we've GOTTA go do Hatwalk!"
"What is 'Hatwalk'?" Emily asked.
"It's part of the London 2012 Festival," Jess explained.
"Yeah, they got milliners from all over Britain to make hats for the statues," Connor said. "It'll be brilliant. They even put one atop Nelson in Trafalgar Square. We've gotta go check 'em out."
Emily looked surprised. "Lord Nelson's Column is still standing?"
Jess nodded. "Of course! Haven't you seen it? It's a huge tourist attraction - they're always filming shots of him and the lions."
"Lions?" Emily asked blankly, making Jess suddenly wonder if the famous bronze statues at the base of the column were a later addition.
"So what do you say, Emily?" Connor asked. "You in?"
Emily nodded. "I would very much like to join you for this...Hatwalk. It sounds quite enjoyable. In fact, hats are one of the things I miss the most about home - it is sad that no one wears them anymore."
Connor cleared his throat loudly. "Excuse me?" he said, gesturing to the trilby currently sat atop his mussy hair.
"I meant...they are not worn by the general populace," Emily corrected with a smile, clearly appeasing Connor. "Just let me go upstairs and change, and then I am ready."
Connor nodded and eagerly turned to Jess. "So how 'bout it?"
Jess was in the middle of a yawn but frantically nodded until she could speak. "We should all go - make a day of it. I know where there's a map on-line of all the statues. We can even take sandwiches and picnic on the Embankment somewhere."
"Brilliant!" Connor said. "I'll run up and tell Abby."
As he ran up the stairs, Jess turned to Becker. "So this will be fun, yeah?"
But Becker did not look excited at the prospect. "Hats? On statues?"
"C'mon! We'll have fun! I promise!" She gave him a quick peck, which somehow turned into a longer kiss.
When their lips finally parted, Becker rested his forehead to hers, saying, "I can think of other ways to have fun...especially if we're to have the flat to ourselves."
Jess smiled at the idea, but she was looking forward to spending a relaxing day with her friends to get her mind off the schedule changes. Besides, she didn't want to disappoint Connor, so instead she offered the handsome soldier a compromise. "What say we go do Hatwalk with everyone this morning, and then, this afternoon, you and I can kip together in my room, just the two of us - I'm sure the girls won't mind."
"Kip?" Becker asked, raising a suggestive eyebrow as if she might be using the word euphemistically. But as he leant in to give her another kiss, she accidentally yawned in his face. "Oh." He pulled back, sounding disappointed. "Kip."
As soon as she finished her yawn, she stood on her toes and whispered in his ear, "We can definitely snog a little, too."
Becker smiled and kissed her again, but they were interrupted by something thwacking into Becker's arm. Jess looked down at where the object had landed and realised Connor had just tossed Becker a trilby.
"That's for you," Connor explained as Becker picked it up with disdain. "You gotta wear a hat if we're doing Hatwalk."
Becker gave a frustrated sigh and turned to Jess, who smiled reassuringly. "It's okay," she said, "you don't have to wear it if you don't want to."
The soldier smiled at this and tossed the hat on to Matt, who was making a nest for himself on the floor in the corner.
Matt, however, was not amused. "I don't need it."
Becker shook his head. "If I'm going, you're going."
"Yeah, Matt," Abby said, having just come downstairs, unhappily donning a baseball cap herself. "It's a group outting - we're all in this together."
Jess tried to think of a way to persuade Matt to join them, since he'd clearly had other things on his mind since last night. "You know, Matt," Jess began, "Ravi promised to call us the instant there's an anomaly, whether we're needed or not. Lester and I both made a point of reminding him before I left this morning. And if we do get a call, we can always head straight for the ARC from the city centre if we need to - it won't add that much travel time."
Jess still wasn't sure why Matt was suddenly so uptight about the anomalies, but her comments seemed to catch his attention.
As did Becker's. "Besides, Matt, if you sleep all day, you won't sleep tonight. You know how it works. We've got to stay up to help get us back on a regular sleep schedule."
Jess smiled gratefully up at Becker - she knew he didn't really want to go either, so the fact that he was trying to help persuade Matt to join them meant a lot.
And persuade him he did, for Matt heaved a heavy sigh and reluctantly stood up. "All right," he said, kicking his bedclothes aside, "but I'm not wearing a hat."
"I cannot believe that someone stole Shakespeare's hat." Emily sounded personally affronted by what was probably just a drunken dare.
"Yeah, who'd wanna nick such a thing from the Bard?" Connor agreed. "That is so not cool!"
Jess nodded in agreement, which Becker couldn't help but notice since she was practically glued to his side. He wasn't sure if her closeness was due to her merely wanting to be near him...or simply because she was trying to keep herself upright, still sleepy from having worked all night. Not that he cared about the reason - he simply liked having her at his side.
"At least no one's likely to steal Nelson's bicorn," Jess pointed out. "Apparently there are only two cranes in the entire country that go up that high."
"Pity there was even one," Matt grumbled quietly under his breath, though Becker heard. While there were definitely ways he would've preferred to spend his day off, Becker was at least enjoying being in the fresh air...and stealing periodic kisses from Jess when the others weren't looking. But Matt's mood from last night clearly hadn't improved any, and nothing they'd seen today had seemed to cheer him up.
Of course, Becker hadn't been forced to wear a hat all day!
Jess, however, either hadn't heard Matt's comment or was politely ignoring it for she went on, "You know, a lot of consideration went into these hats. They had to be bigger than real life in order to fit the statues, obviously, plus they had to undergo strict safety tests to ensure they wouldn't get blown off in the wind and crush some unsuspecting Olympic tourist."
"Yeah, that would be BAD!" Connor concurred.
"What kind of safety tests?" Emily asked, intrigued, and Becker had to admit he was curious himself.
"It seems they made replicas of the statues - or at least of their heads - and then tested the hats upon them in the MIRA wind tunnel."
"Seriously? MIRA? They have, like, the only full scale aerodynamic wind tunnel in the country," Connor said enviously. "I would KILL to see that!"
"No need to kill," Jess teased. "You just need to become a milliner."
Abby smiled. "I can see that. What do you say, Connor - a second career?"
Connor nodded. "I think I'd make a pretty good hatter."
"He's definitely got the 'mad' part down," Matt said, speaking aloud Becker's very thoughts.
"And listen to this," Jess said after glancing at her map. "Apparently Nelson's hat was made by Lock & Co...both now AND back in his day."
Emily started with surprise, causing Connor to ask, "You heard of 'em?"
She nodded. "I am...familiar with the firm," was all she said, though clearly there was more to it than she was sharing. Emily was rarely forthcoming about her past, which, frankly, made her a perfect match for Matt. On the surface they seemed like total opposites - she had stumbled upon the anomalies 150 years ago completely by accident whilst Matt had trained his entire adult life specifically to travel back here - yet they both had seemed to adapt well to this time. Becker was proud to fight alongside both of them...even if they both drove him crazy at times.
Of course, that could easily be said of all his coworkers.
"So what's next, Jess?" Connor asked eagerly.
"Sir Arthur Sullivan," Jess said, referring to her map again.
Abby let out a disappointed sigh, and Connor turned to his fiance, asking. "What? You don't like G&S? 'And now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navy'," he sang cheerily, causing Becker to roll his eyes in annoyance.
"No," Abby explained, "I just was hoping that we might have our picnic soon - I'm starting to grow more than a little peckish."
"Oh, absolutely," Jess said. "I'm sure we can find someplace in the gardens to sit and eat."
Becker was glad to hear it, as he'd somehow been talked into carrying the rucksack full of picnic supplies. Not that he was complaining - it was certainly better than wearing a hat - but it was starting to feel rather heavy.
"Is that it?" Emily asked, pointing up ahead to a bronze bust atop a moderately high pillar. Beneath it leant a bronze statue of a weeping lady, and bright red hats adorned both their heads.
"No, it's some totally unrelated statue wearing a hat," Matt snarked.
Emily glared at him as the team walked towards the memorial, staring up at the remarkable creations. The lady's hat had beaded tassels extending down to her knees and a thin red feather reaching up nearly a metre. The man's, on the other hand, appeared almost Oriental in theme.
"Sullivan's hat," Jess read from her map, "was apparently inspired by The Mikado."
So that explained it.
Although not to everyone. "What is a mikado?" Emily asked.
"You know - 'Three little maids from school are we'," Temple sang in a bad falsetto, stopping abruptly at Emily's blank look. "What? No?"
Abby gave Connor a reassuring pat on his shoulder. "That was after her time, remember?"
"Oh, so Sullivan was a musician," Emily deduced before another lightbulb seemed to come on. "You know, I do believe I attended a ballet of his at Covent Garden."
"You very well may have," Jess said, looking it up on her mobile. "It says here that L'lle Enchantee was one of his first works."
Connor was clearly impressed. "That's super cool! You knew Sullivan before Gilbert!"
Abby glanced at the words embossed on the side of the plinth and read them aloud: "'Is life a boon? If so, it must befal That death, whene're he call Must call too soon - W.S. Gilbert."
"That's cheery," Matt grumbled sarcastically.
"That's Yeoman of the Guard," Connor corrected.
"So who's the lady?" Becker asked quickly, hoping to stop Temple before he sang again.
"She's supposed to represent the angel of music," Jess explained, "weeping at Sullivan's passing."
"I'd like an angel to weep at MY passing," Connor said, quickly turning to Abby to add, "besides you, I mean." Abby laughed and gave him a quick peck before he asked, "So...who's gonna pose with me for this one?"
Abby gave a sigh. "Connor, I told you before, you're the only one who likes posing as statues."
"But Abby, the statue's of two people. Someone's gotta pose with me - I can't do it by my lonesome. Please?" he pleaded.
Abby shook her head, holding up her mobile. "I can't, Connor. Who's gonna take the picture?"
Becker tried not to laugh, as clearly there were four other people who could easily take it. Jess, however, recognised the pathetic excuse as a cry for help for she quickly jumped in, "I'll pose with you, Connor."
"Ah, you're the best!" Connor said, grabbing her hand and leading her over towards the statue. "Now just come over here and lean against that there...yeah, that's it...and you need to bury your head more in your arm...right, but turn out a bit...no, back a tad...not quite...yeah, right there, hold it...though, hmmm...you know, if we're really gonna do this proper, you should take off your shirt."
"Connor!" "Temple!" Abby and Becker both cried out as Jess truly did bury her head in her arm, though Becker could still see her red cheeks peaking through.
"Hey! I was joking, obviously," Connor quickly defended himself. "I mean seriously, if we was trying to be completely accurate here, you'd have to cut me in two, yeah?"
"Not such a bad idea," Matt grumbled under his breath.
Becker wondered if perhaps Matt's blood sugar was getting low, as his remarks were becoming more frequent, so the soldier quickly suggested, "While you do your pictures, we'll set up the picnic over on the benches, yeah?"
"Oh, yes, that'd be lovely," Jess said encouragingly, and Becker led Matt and Emily away from the photographing trio to the bench near the hedges. He brushed off the few remaining raindrops from this morning's shower before setting the rucksack down and beginning to remove its contents.
Being away from the others, Emily decided to take the opportunity to dress down Matt. "There is no reason for you to behave in such a way," she scolded.
"You're the one who made me come," Matt said, sounding almost like a petulant child. "I didn't want to be here, remember?"
But this argument didn't hold water with Emily. "Often in life one is forced to do things which one would rather not do, but that does not give one the right to be rude. Consider Captain Becker, for example - he also wished to stay home today, but nonetheless he is being pleasant, helpful even."
Becker sighed - why was it that he was always being dragged into the middle of other people's rows?
Matt seemed to agree. "Don't drag him into this - we both know he'd pretty much follow Jess anywhere without complaint."
Becker knew that wasn't true, but he wanted to stay out of it so he merely put his head down and continued to unpack the food from the rucksack, trying to ignore the stony silence that followed. As he pulled out item after item, he began to see why the rucksack had felt so heavy - Jess had packed enough food for a T-Rex! He was just starting to pull out one final object, wrapped in cling film, when Jess came scurrying over and forced him to drop it back inside.
"That's not for everyone," she whispered, and he glanced inside the rucksack to see that it was, in fact, some kind of chocolate. As he turned to give her a look, she said, "What? If I'm the one packing the food, I get to pack what I like."
Becker nodded. "And then you get ME to carry it."
Jess smiled. "Thank you!" she said, giving him a quick peck. "And I'm happy to share my chocolate with you."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh yes, because it would be such a sacrifice to have to kiss someone who tasted of chocolate."
"I hadn't even thought of that!" she grinned. "You're right - you MUST start eating more chocolate. Every day!"
Becker laughed, handing her a sandwich instead.
"You know, this was a brill idea, Jess," Connor said, grabbing a sandwich himself and sitting down on the damp grass.
Emily turned to Jess, adding, "Indeed, the picnic was a fine suggestion."
"Thanks," Jess said, obviously pleased with herself. "And please, everyone, eat up - we've loads of food."
"Yeah," Becker added, "and the more you eat, the less I have to carry back."
"Well, in that case," Temple said, reaching over and grabbing another handful of crisps from the bag.
"So," Becker asked, turning to Jess, "how did the photoshoot go?"
However, it was Temple who answered. "It was brilliant! And after we eat, we're definitely going back to George IV. Thanks to Jess's suggestion, now we gotta redo that photo, only this time with me as the horse."
Becker waited, expecting Matt to make some comment, but the team leader simply bit into his sandwich.
to be continued
[Author's Note: Hatwalk was a real thing - you can find photos of the hats, maps, and info about their testing in the wind tunnel at the Mayor of London Presents website!]