This story takes place a few years after Katrina Raast, from Reckless (Benson Security Book 1), moved to Invertary.
“Isn’t anyone going to stop this?” Katrina asked her boss, Jodie, the owner of Invertary’s spa, as they gathered with the rest of the crowd behind the Scottie Dog pub.
It was almost noon on a regular Saturday in summer, and it seemed like the entire population of the Highlands had heard about the joust.
Katrina eyed the crowd, but nobody appeared to be particularly bothered that two pensioners were about to rush at each other on their mobility scooters, trying to inflict mortal injury with the pointed end of an umbrella.
“Somebody needs to step in. What if one of them actually dies?” Although, to be fair, that did seem unlikely. Especially since both geriatrics could barely hold up their weapons of choice. She shook her head as she watched the Domino Boys, a group of old men, duct taping the umbrella to their leader’s arm.
“Make it tighter,” Archie ordered, and then paused. “Run the tape around the arm of the chair too. It’ll give me some support when I hit her. I don’t want to break my arm.”
“You know.” Fergus considered the mobility scooter as he leaned over his silver-framed walker. “You don’t have tae hold it at all. We could just attach it to the scooter. There’s nothing in the rules about the umbrella being manually steadied.”
“There are rules?” Katrina’s eyes widened as she looked at Jodie.
Jodie patted her on her shoulder. “You sweet summer child. No, there are no rules. Just two octogenarians trying to kill each other with umbrellas. You want an ice cream? I’m grabbing one for myself before things get started.”
“No, I don’t want an ice cream. I want somebody to stop this insanity before people get hurt.”
“It isn’t people. It’s Archie and Betty. Trust me, when you’ve lived here long enough, you get used to things like this. These two have been at each other’s throats for decades.”
“I’ve been here years,” Katrina pointed out. “Only the truly disturbed would get used to something like this.”
Jodie just grinned before heading for the ice cream shop on the high street.
As Katrina watched her go, she spotted the town’s lone police officer standing at the edge of the crowd. He was in uniform, which meant he was there officially. She headed straight for him. There were only a few men in town she felt completely safe around, and Matt Donaldson was one of them.
“Please tell me you plan to stop this,” she asked as she neared him.
“No can do.” He folded his arms over his uniform shirt, his gaze scanning the crowd. “Nobody’s broken any laws.”
Was he serious?
“They’re going to ride straight at each other while holding weapons.”
“Weapons? Really? Most umbrellas can’t even cope with a good Scottish wind. Let alone the force of an assault. They should have used brooms. Those would have been hardier.”
“Wooden-handled brooms? Are you crazy? Think about the damage they could have caused with those.”
“I think the key word here is could,” Matt said. “Let’s face it. We’ve got two people who’re generally full of hot air threatening each other for the millionth time. If this gets past the insult-yelling stage, I’ll be shocked.”
As if she’d heard them, Betty McLeod’s age-roughened voice rose above the crowd. “Somebody go into the pub and get some chalk for the top of Archie’s helmet. He looks like a pool cue.”
The crowd parted enough for Katrina to catch sight of Archie. He now wore a bright blue plastic hard hat that’d obviously come off a construction site. It didn’t have an under-chin strap, so one of his friends was duct taping it to his head. Betty was right. With Archie’s slender build, if he stood beside the pub’s pool table, he’d blend right in.
Katrina pointed at the aged domino player. “They’ve duct taped him to his helmet and chair. There’s no way that’s safe.”
“Do I look like the health and safety division? No. I’m a cop. I’ll arrest one of them if they actually manage to assault the other. Up until then, they’re on their own. There’s no law against stupidity.” He snorted. “If there was, most of Invertary would be locked up.”
Matt held up a hand. “Talk to Dougal. They’re on his property and are legally entitled to sue him if they get hurt out here.”
“Dougal. Of course.” She eyed the pub. At this time of day, with everyone out in the car park, there wouldn’t be many people inside. She could handle that. And Dougal, although loud, had never been anything but lovely and gentle with her.
Straightening her shoulders, she headed for the back door.
The pub’s owner, and town’s mayor, stood behind the bar, as usual, holding court with regulars and tourists alike. Dressed in a pale blue paisley pattern shirt that sparkled when the light caught it, Dougal looked more demure than usual.
“Katrina.” His Santa face beamed at her. “We don’t often see you in here unless it’s a ladies’ night. What can I get you?”
“Thanks, but I’m not here to have a drink,” she said, keeping a distance from the people she didn’t know.
“Well, what can I do for you then?”
“You need to come outside and stop Betty and Archie from killing each other, or themselves,” Katrina said.
His white eyebrows shot up his forehead. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Aye, why indeed,” said one of their regulars. “I’ve got ten pounds on Betty.”
He pointed at the specials blackboard, and Katrina rolled her eyes when she saw it’d been turned into a betting table. The bets seemed to cover every eventuality—from each participant getting injured through to neither scooter working and everybody just going home.
“Haven’t had a decent bet going in this town since Jena stopped injuring her dates and married Matt,” Dougal said.
There were nods and murmurs of agreement.
“Good times,” one of the older men said before sipping his pint.
“Matt said that you’re liable if anyone gets injured out there. It’s your property they’re jousting on.”
Dougal threw back his head and bellowed a hearty laugh. “Matt Donaldson is yanking your chain. Nobody’s going to sue anybody. It isn’t the Invertary way.”
“No,” Margaret Campbell piped up from a booth, where she sat knitting. “They’re more likely to picket the pub or demand a lifetime of free drinks or yarn bomb the toilets.” As leader of the town’s strangely activist knitting group, she knew what she was talking about.
Dougal pointed at Margaret and frowned. “No giving them ideas. I have enough problems around here with your lot.”
“You can buy my silence with another shandy.” Margaret batted her lashes at the pub owner, who flushed a deep shade of pink.
“Small price to pay,” he muttered as he fetched her a drink.
Wait? Were they flirting? When had that happened?
Jodie was right—she didn’t get out of the spa enough.
“Just a minute,” Katrina said. “Are you seriously going to ignore that there are two geriatrics outside, about to fight to the death in your car park?”
Dougal glanced at his regulars before shrugging. “Well, aye.”
Katrina threw up her hands in disgust. “Where’s Caroline?”
The deputy mayor would sort things out. Nothing got past Caroline McInnes. She handled the biggest problems with a clipboard and a polite reminder of the rules. Actually, now that she thought about it, Katrina wasn’t sure what magic Caroline wielded over the town. She just knew that no one messed with her.
“You’re out of luck,” Dougal said. “She’s in America. Josh is on tour, and they took the kids with them this time. Why do you think Betty organized the joust for this weekend? She might be evil, but she isn’t daft.”
And there went that plan.
As the folk in the bar discussed whether Josh would sing better or worse with his kids in the audience, Katrina went back outside. It was clear that if nobody else was going to step in and do the right thing, it was up to her.
She didn’t like drawing attention to herself, but Betty—or Satan as most locals called her—was a huge supporter of the women’s refuge where Katrina had been living since arriving in Invertary. The least she could do was ensure that Betty knew the risks of her latest scheme.
With effort, Katrina negotiated her way to the front of the crowd. Just in time to see two screeching pensioners on mobility scooters speeding at each other.
Well, if eight miles an hour could be considered speeding.
And if they could both manage to keep their scooters going in a straight line.
“To the left,” Fergus shouted at Archie. “No. Your other left!”
It was like watching drunk snails attack.
It appeared Archie hadn’t taken into account that he’d need his right hand to work the scooter’s controls. Instead, he’d insisted that particular arm be taped to the chair—and to the handle of his golf umbrella. It severely limited the range of movement needed to control his scooter. Hence the zigzagging across the concrete.
Betty, meanwhile, was cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West. Unlike Archie, her head was only protected by a hairnet that kept meager hair in place. Although, it was possible super glue was also involved. Her umbrella was in her left hand, leaving her free to steer her scooter with her right. Obviously, she’d thought this through, unlike the Domino Boys.
“Watch out, Archie,” Fergus bellowed.
“I cannae see a bloody thing,” Archie shouted back. “The helmet’s slipped.”
Sure enough, while the duct tape did a good job of keeping the hard hat on his head, it did nothing for the angle it sat at. Which was currently forward and against his nose.
“I’ll be your eyes.” Fergus used his Zimmer frame to attack the shins of the people in his way as he made it out in front of the crowd. “Right, go right.”
Archie swerved right.
They were playing dodgems. In slow motion.
“That’s too far right,” Fergus shouted so loudly he strained his throat and launched into a hacking cough that made Katrina want to call the doctor.
Katrina was torn between making sure Fergus didn’t cough himself to death and trying to end the joust before there was carnage. Thankfully, somebody handed Fergus a drink—beer, of course—and he seemed to get better. Unfortunately, the distraction meant that any opening there’d been to end things was now gone.
“She’s at your eleven o’clock.” One of the other domino players took over issuing instructions.
The crowd oscillated between fascinated horror and hysterics. Although, from the sound of it, laughter was winning.
And they were all so busy watching Archie screw everything up that no one kept an eye on Betty.
Which was always a mistake.
Katrina turned toward Betty and noticed something odd. The woman was very much focused on Archie, and there was an evil gleam in her eye, but she was holding her umbrella the wrong way around. Instead of the pointy end facing her opponent, it was the curved handle.
And it looked a whole lot chunkier than it should have.
It took a second for Katrina to register what she was seeing, and then it hit her. Betty had rigged a stun gun to her umbrella.
“Stop!” Katrina shouted, but the sound was lost in the noise of the crowd.
What happened next took place in slow motion.
As Archie veered in front of his opponent’s chair in what looked like an accidental U-turn maneuver, Betty pressed the end of her umbrella to his side.
There was a crack and a sizzle. One that Katrina heard only because she was close and expecting it. Archie’s chair stopped dead as he shuddered in his seat. His jaw clenched, and a strangled moan escaped his fused false teeth.
“He’s having a heart attack,” somebody shouted.
“Don’t be daft.” Betty raised her voice to answer. “You’d need a heart for that.”
“She zapped him!” somebody else shouted, which provoked a stream of boos.
Katrina rushed to Archie’s chair and felt for a pulse. He bolted upright, making her jump.
“What the hell?” Archie pointlessly tugged at his helmet with his free hand.
He was shaking, and a faint smell of burning rubber came from his scooter, but at least he was alive. Some guy Katrina hadn’t met stepped forward to unpeel the duct tape holding the hard hat over Archie’s eyes.
“Watch the skin!” Archie screeched and batted him away. But not before the man managed to free the helmet, if not all of the duct tape. There was still a layer plastered to Archie’s jaw, which flapped around every time he moved.
Hair standing on end, eyes red and manic, he turned on Betty. “You tried to kill me.”
“You’re daft as a brush,” she said with glee. “I challenged you to a duel to the death. It’s no’ like I hid my intentions.”
“I thought that was just…” He waved a hand.
“Hyperbole?” Fergus offered.
“Aye.” Archie nodded furiously.
“Numpty,” Betty said.
Fury brought some color back to Archie’s cheeks, and he pressed the controls of his scooter to get closer to his mortal enemy.
“You’ve fried the electrics.” He was outraged, blustering as he searched for the right words. “You can bloody well pay to have it fixed.”
“Good luck with that.” Betty cackled again.
“Betty McLeod,” Matt said as the crowd parted for him, “you’re under arrest for—”
He never got the rest out. Betty jabbed him with the electric umbrella, and he hit the ground, where he convulsed in place.
“Who’s next?” She brandished her makeshift weapon.
As one, the crowd scrambled out of her way.
“Going. To. Kill. Her. This. Time,” Matt managed to get out through clenched teeth.
“Auch, it’s no’ even at full power. You’re still conscious, aren’t you? Bunch a wimps,” Betty muttered, brandishing her umbrella. She made her way through the wary throng with a glint in her eye.
“Tell Dougal I’ll be in to get my winnings in the morning,” she called over her shoulder while zooming around the corner to the high street.
“Did that just happen?” Katrina asked anyone who’d answer as she watched Betty disappear.
Jodie’s hand clasped her shoulder. “The real question is, why are you surprised?” she said, before continuing to eat her ice cream.
“Should we get a doctor?” Katrina looked down at Matt, who seemed to be recovering, although his face was still very red.
“Doc’s already here, look.” Jodie pointed through the crowd, and sure enough, the doctor was grinning as he made his way into the pub. “Heard he bet on Betty.”
“Beers are on me,” the doctor shouted.
“Me first,” Archie called back. “I deserve a beer after that.” Then he got out of the chair and stalked into the pub.
“I thought he had trouble walking.” Katrina watched him go.
“No, he’s fit as a fiddle. He hired the chair for the day.” Jodie glanced at the scooter. “I hope he paid for insurance.”
“This town is nuts,” Katrina muttered.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Jodie grinned.
If you haven’t read Reckless already, you can find out more about it here.