by Frayna Robinski
It was cold and dreich, the dampness in the air clung to hair and clothes. Perfect weather for the Moniaive Duck Race.
Sunday midday calmness stirred in the village. In the Institute the gala committee toiled to organise piles of plastic ducks – grouping them and lining them up before taking out the ones not yet sold. There was Wendy, boiling up to a crisis, Sue writing everything down. There were Fraser and Scott, looking quite sober for a Sunday morning and Fraser talkative as ever. Nobody knew where John was.
Scott and Fraser made to leave: “Nae point countin’ ducks. We’ll away and put the net up. Aye, and we’ve got to catch them like last year.”
Wendy looked out the window, over roofs and the smoke of newly lit fires sadly reaching for a white sky. Outside, Fraser and Scott were talking seriously to three men, heavy-set strangers she didn’t know but had seen in the last few days.
Wendy had seen them all drinking in both pubs on Friday night, getting on very well. Drinking vodka and singing and dancing, the two local boys picking up the Russian – aye, they were Russian! – songs like, eh, ducks to water.
The last she had seen of them, Fraser was making to walk up the road with a suspiciously warm hat and juggling turnips.
It was a struggle but eventually all the ducks were sorted and taken down-stairs to the waiting tractor and trailer. Atholl was behind the wheel. The tractor and its yellow load went ahead and the gathered crowd started to stroll to the garages to see the start.
A big crowd had formed when the committee got there but there was no sign of a tractor, trailer or the ducks. It was all too much for Wendy – her mouth opened in a silent scream. Dogs howled, but through the ghostly chorus came the sound of a tractor engine, Atholl and his load turning out onto Ayr Street from The Course.
Atholl pulled up, looking sheepish. Many wondered where he had been.
“Did you get lost?,” asked Dan, menacingly.
But Atholl just reversed to the burn and tipped the trailer. The race had begun.
At the finishing point, the bridge at the end of Chapel Street, others had gathered. In the distance could be seen those following the ducks’ gradual progress along the burn, spreading out like a scene from Tolstoy, or the latest Lord of the Rings DVD.
The Russians were now parked up in a big black limousine with tinted windows. A steady stream of men went up to the passenger side window, which was open, and words were exchanged. A group of younger lads eyed the car with interest. One plucked up the courage to investigate, went up to the car and stuck his head in.
“Naw”, he shouted back, “they’re just takin’ bets on the race.”
It seemed to Wendy that a lot of the men standing around with their wives looked a bit uneasy at that.
The ducks slowly wound their way down the burn, some catching in the side, some swirling in the quiet eddys before being sucked back in, or prodded along by Jimmy, Wattie, Cha and the rest of the Fishing Club. They got closer to the finish line, Scott waiting to catch the winner.
A cry went up from Scott and he held up a duck.
“The winner is number 327.”
Everybody around checked their tickets, but nobody came forward.
All the ducks had been fished out and put in the sacks. Scott had caught them all and thrown them out to Fraser on the bank as they came down. Soon everybody had left for the Institute to find out who the winner was and see the prizes handed over. Wendy and Mabel were left on the bridge, looking at the water with a feeling that all was not well. Wendy looked in one of the bags. She stood up slowly and turned to look at the Institute, a terrible realisation dawning.
At the Institute, one of the Russians, Ivan, was getting his prize. The winning duck was his. What luck that a visitor to the village should win.
The door burst open with a bang and everybody turned to see Wendy, doubled up from the exertion of running from the bridge, trying to get the words out:
A grim-faced crowd watched the Russians, as well as Scott and Fraser, being led handcuffed to towards waiting police cars, the shock on their faces picked out by the blue flashing lights. As they were driven away, everybody clamoured for an explanation from Wendy.
Almost with a sigh, she explained:
“Their plan was simple, two-fold and quite, quite ingenious. You might have been under the impression that Scott and Fraser were just two affable local fools but they were born in a Siberian laboratory as part of a KGB experiment. Genetic modifications meant they were born with guile, adaptability and superhuman strength. With their genetically engineered cunning they could be placed in deep cover in Western society, waiting for a world Communist insurrection that never came.
“But with the break up of the Soviet Union, the threat of revolution in capitalist Europe was lost. They were cast out into Russian society when they were still very young, alone and bewildered. It was perhaps their misfortune to meet up with gangsters, the Russian mafia, who soon spotted their potential. But not for the purpose of world revolution, for capital gain.
“They hoodwinked us, let us trust and believe them, but it was all a lie.
“They switched the ducks for ones numbered all the same. Atholl was bribed to take the trailer round The Course and look the other way when the switch took place. The gangsters made sure they had the winning number and were also taking bets from all of these weak-minded fools. Who knows how much money they could have got away with?
“With Scott and Fraser co-ordinating the recovery, nobody spotted the switch. The plan was despicable but touched by genius in its simplicity.
“A submarine was waiting in Cairn Pool to pick them and their ill-gotten gains and take them back to their shadowy lair to plan another despicable crime.”
Wendy paused, almost crying as the dusk began to settle, the now-red sun touching the hilltop.
“The Duck Race is a symbol of all that is good about Moniaive. We were so close to losing that today – but justice has prevailed. HURRAH.”
There was a cheer.