“And so it was written…” Archie McPherson read aloud from a laminated piece of paper, while he stood on the side of the loch addressing a modest crowd. In deference to the rain, the retired leader of the domino boys—a group who played dominoes at the pub—wore an ankle-length oil slicker and oversized Wellington boots.
“Couldn’t we do this in the pub?” Josh McInnes shouted from the back of the group of men. “Do we need to stand in the pouring rain to hear you read this?”
As usual, the American singer was missing the point. “This is tradition,” Archie told him. “Now pipe down.”
There was muttering about dry rooms and cold beer.
“As I was saying.” Archie raised his voice. “It was written, in the journals of old Tom Savage, that on the tenth straight day of torrential rain, the town’s men would gather at the loch.” He studied the crowd. “Tom obviously had more faith in you lot than was merited because I’m counting thirty men at best. Where’s everybody else? Why aren’t they here?”
“Because they’re smart,” Josh said. “They’re warm and dry and inside—laughing at us.”
“Stop whining.” Flynn Boyle smacked Josh upside the head. The ex-footballer, and Invertary native, was losing patience with the American singer. “You want to be Scottish, this is how it’s done.”
“By freezing my balls off in the rain?”
“You’re no’ freezing anything off. That raincoat you’re wearing was designed for arctic conditions. And it looks brand new. Please tell me you didn’t buy it just for today?” Flynn was clearly disgusted. And although Archie knew they had to be getting on with things, he was curious to hear the answer to that too.
“No!” Josh was outraged. Then his face turned red. “Caroline did. She was worried I’d catch cold.”
Typical. Josh’s wife treated him like another of their children. Although, to be fair, Josh acted like one more often than not.
“She should have bought you a wet suit instead,” Flynn muttered.
“Can we continue?” Archie demanded.
“Whatever,” Josh said.
“Thanks,” Archie said. “Tom Savage was a man who understood the need to enjoy life. As most of you know, he lived through the war, keeping up the spirit of everyone in Invertary and taking their minds off loved ones on the frontline.”
“Wait a minute.” It was Josh again. There were groans from the crowd. “Are you telling me this dude didn’t even go to war and yet we’re out here in the rain honoring him?”
“It’s like you have a death wish,” Mitch Harris, Josh’s best friend and manager, said. “I’m going to start carrying around a gag for moments like these, because when the crowd turns on you, I generally get swept away in the wave.”
“It’s a serious question.” Josh wasn’t to be deterred. “This guy Tom stayed home, safe in Scotland, which makes me wonder why we’re here.”
“Because,” Archie said, “Tom Savage knew the importance of keeping up morale when all seemed hopeless. He was forced to stay in Scotland because he was managing a farm, and they wouldn’t let him enlist because he was needed to keep the country fed. But staying home and safe, while others fought, was hard for a man like him. A man who was a crack shot with a rifle, built like a bull, and could punch like a freight train. He’d been hunting and fighting his whole life and had skills that would have seen him taking down the Nazis single-handedly. Do you think a man like that found it easy to be sidelined?”
Josh seemed confused. “Uh, no?” he said, making everyone groan that it was a question.
“You know what, lad,” Archie said. “It’s a good job you’re pretty and can carry a tune.”
“What he’s saying,” Matt Donaldson, the town’s police force, said, “is that Tom could have been bitter, but instead, he threw himself into keeping up the spirits of the townsfolk who were left behind. Without Tom, Invertary might have died, but he made it a place where people wanted to live and come home to. He turned it into family.”
“That sounds like a lot for one guy to accomplish.” Josh was skeptical. “I get that you’re all sentimental about the dude, but I still don’t understand why we’re in the rain.”
“If you’d shut up for five minutes,” Archie snapped, “you’d find out.”
“But—” Josh started.
Mitch groaned and looked skyward. “No buts. No talking, full stop. You’re prolonging this and keeping me from my coffee.”
Josh let out a sigh, and at last, there was silence from the peanut gallery.
“To carry on,” Archie said. “On the tenth straight day of heavy rain, the menfolk would gather at the side of the loch and give thanks for being blessed with so much water, before asking for the rain to stop by paying tribute to the gods of wetness.”
Muffled giggles made Archie roll his eyes. Bunch of school boys.
“Gods of wetness?” Josh smirked. “Really?”
“Aye,” Archie said dryly. “I don’t think old Tom was a wordsmith, but you get the point. On this day, those who could would.” Archie continued to read. “And those who couldn’t would honor those who could by offering tributes.”
There was dumbfounded silence.
“What he means,” Archie said, pointing at the pub, “is that there’s refreshments in there after this.”
Smiles of understanding lit the faces of the crowd, making Archie think it was probably time somebody rewrote Tom’s journals for clarity.
“Now we get to the important part.” He folded the paper, put it in his pocket and held up his hands as though blessing the crowd. “All those who know, take a step.”
“What does that mean?” Josh blurted as he looked around.
Everyone but Josh and Mitch stepped back.
“And so,” Archie shouted. “The sacrifice has been chosen.”
“Sacrifice?” Josh squeaked.
“I’m beginning to get a nasty feeling about this,” Mitch said.
“In the immortal words of Tom himself, ‘Get them, boys.’” Archie called out.
It wasn’t without a small amount of satisfaction that Archie watched the men of Invertary descend on Josh and Mitch.
“What’re you doing?” Josh backed up. In his oversized parka, he looked like a man wearing his duvet. “Mitch? What are they doing?”
“I’m going to take a guess here and say they plan to throw us in the loch.”
“Hell no!” Josh put up his fists, ready to fight. Which might have come across as a tad more intimidating if the hood of his parka didn’t keep slipping down to cover his eyes. “Somebody call the cops!”
“I’m right here.” Matt Donaldson grinned when he wrapped Josh in a bear hug from behind.
“Mitch,” Josh shouted. “Do something.”
Mitch meanwhile had taken a swing at his brother-in-law, Deke Miller. Unfortunately for Mitch, Deke was former military and easily sidestepped the blow.
“Does your sister know what you’re up to?” Mitch demanded.
Deke pointed at the pub. “She’s in there making hot chocolate for you to drink when this is over. Oh, and she said to tell you not to drown.”
“Typical,” Mitch complained. “Why isn’t she here to help throw me in?”
“Tradition. No women allowed.” Deke grinned.
“And she put up with that?” That seemed to surprise Mitch more than him being singled out for a dip in the loch.
“Let’s just say she’s lodged some formal complaints, and the tradition might have to be adjusted in future.”
“That sounds more like her,” Mitch said. “Of course, she wouldn’t step in to save her husband from being dunked, but she’ll argue it’s sexist to exclude her from helping.”
“My sister is one of a kind,” Deke said.
“Help,” Josh screamed like a wean. “Help!”
“Actually,” Matt said, “I could use some help. He’s a wriggly wee fart. Flynn,” he called to his cousin. “Get his feet.”
“On it.” Flynn grabbed Josh’s flailing legs.
“Caroline!” Josh wailed for his wife.
“She’s in Glasgow.” Mitch reminded him as he backed away from Deke. “Remember? Shopping trip with Jenna and Abby.” The wives of the two men now holding Josh.
“I was set up?” Josh seemed to be the only one surprised by that.
As Archie chuckled, the big scary American who was married to Matt’s sister came up behind Mitch and lifted him off his feet. His bulky arms wrapped around Mitch, pinning Mitch’s hands at his sides. Before Mitch could kick out, Deke grabbed hold of his feet.
“Grunt?” Mitch tried to struggle out of the monster’s hold. “You’re in on this? But you’re American? How could you do this to your fellow countrymen? How do you even know about this? Whose side are you on?”
“Claire’s,” Grunt grunted his wife’s name.
Matt laughed heartily. “That’s my sister. She knows how important tradition is around here.”
“Put me down, Grunt.” Mitch ordered as he was carried to the edge of the loch. “Or I will sue your ass halfway to the moon and back.”
Grunt grunted again, clearly unimpressed with the threat.
“If I swallow loch water and damage my voice, Caroline will be pissed.” Josh threatened Flynn and Matt with his scarily organized wife.
“I can deal with whatever Caroline dishes out,” Matt said.
Josh narrowed his eyes. “I’m telling her you said that.”
They were now at the loch’s edge, with its particularly uninviting gray water. The surface was being broken by heavy fat raindrops.
“Archie?” Matt said. “You want to say the words?”
“Aye.” Archie dug Tom’s instructions back out of his pocket and cleared his throat. “Dear gods of wetness, accept our sacrifice of these two gullible idiots.” He folded the paper back up and returned it to his pocket.
“That’s it?” Josh demanded incredulously. “Those are the ceremonial words?”
“There are no ceremonial words,” Mitch snapped at him. “This was all made up by a juvenile asshole during the war.”
“Ready?” Matt said to Flynn. “On three.”
“Don’t do it,” Josh squealed. “I’ll buy you anything you want? How about a pony?”
Flynn was laughing so hard he almost dropped him. “Aye, I need another animal like I need a hole in my head.”
It was a poor attempt at a bribe because everyone knew the Boyle residence was overrun by rescue animals Flynn had been conned into adopting.
“One,” Matt said. “Two…three.”
They swung their captive back before letting him sail through the air toward the loch. He went under with a scream, making quite a splash an’ all.
Everyone stared at the surface of the water.
“That coat is probably weighing him down,” Matt said. “He’d better not drown in four feet of water.”
“He probably hasn’t figured out he can stand up yet,” Flynn said.
There was splashing before Josh’s head and shoulders broke the surface of the water. “F-f-f-freezing. G-g-gonna k-kill all o-of y-y-you.”
The men were laughing hard when Grunt, without any preamble, tossed Mitch over the wall to join Josh.
“You were supposed to count,” Deke complained.
“I’m going home,” Grunt said and left.
He wasn’t much of a joiner was Samuel “Grunt” Dayton.
As Grunt ambled away, Deke shrugged and peered over the edge to see Mitch standing beside Josh. “Should I take a picture of this to send to the tabloids?” he asked his music manager brother-in-law and the famous singer.
“Josh!” Caroline, Josh’s wife, hurried up to look over the wall. “You need to get out of there. Swim to the shore.” She pointed at the sand a few feet away. “I have a nice warm blanket for you and a change of clothes in the pub.”
“Y-you’re n-n-not s-shopping?” Josh accused, looking like he’d seen a ghost.
“Of course not,” Caroline said primly. “As unofficial secretary to the unofficial town council, I couldn’t miss Tom’s tradition.”
“Y-you lied?” Josh, along with everyone listening, was shocked.
“I certainly did not.” Caroline pointed at her purple coat. “I bought this in a sale this morning. But we cut the trip short to be here for this. Now, are you going to get out of the water before you freeze to death or not?”
“I f-f-feel s-s-so b-betrayed,” Josh said as he headed for the shore.
“Mitch,” his wife, Jodie, shouted as she arrived at the loch side. “You okay?”
“This isn’t f-funny.” Mitch glared at her. “T-Tom’s t-t-tradition sucks.”
“I agree. It’s time for a new tradition. One that isn’t sexist for a start.” And then the crazy woman jumped in the water alongside her husband.
Of course, that started the rest of them. Half an hour later, at least twenty soaked and shivering townsfolk sat wrapped in blankets around tables in the pub. They each had a mug of hot cocoa and a loopy grin on their face.
And Invertary had gained a new tradition: when the rain won’t stop—everyone goes for a swim.
Now, they just needed to find someone with more imagination, and better wordsmith skills, than Tom to write it up.