Frank looked at the crowd of people huddled on the pebbled shore of the lake. Everyone was dressed in their Easter finest. Not that you could tell. Most were cocooned in their warm, woolen coats and their knit scarfs. Their breaths rose upward like puffs of smoke from chimney stacks. Boot-clad feet stomped on the ground and gloved hands were burrowed into warm pockets. Despite the frigid temperatures, the women still found a way to gussy up their outfits. Their Easter bonnets, a colorful array of pinks, purples and yellows, was a bright contrast to the bleak spring day.
The calendar might say spring but winter still held the town in its icy grip. Evidence of it was everywhere. Snow, freshly fallen from the brutal storm that had ripped through town just three days’ past, blanketed the trees and bushes. Chucks of ice, bobbed on the surface of the frigid lake and a fierce wind sliced through the trees, chilling a person straight to the bone.
Off to the side, and decidedly much colder, were those to be baptized. None were babies. No one wanted to put someone so tiny through such an ordeal. No, the people who bunched along the shore, looking at the lake with a mixture of dread and worry on their faces, were adults, ready to become full members of the Catholic church. Frank couldn’t blame them for their lack of enthusiasm. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of sticking his toes in the ice-cold water either.
Unlike the parishioners and guests, the candidates stood dressed in their Easter finest without the benefit of warm coats, wool mittens and scarves or Easter hats to warm their heads. They stood with their dresses flying about, their legs chilled in nylons and slacks, their heads bare.
Hard plastic chairs ran in rows, a few feet from the edge of the water clear to the top of the sandy embankment of Lake Pleasant. Cars lined the edge of Lakeshore Drive, filled the parking lot and overflowed into the parking area of The Beach House, the only high end restaurant on the lake. In fact, it was the only high end restaurant in town.
Frank wasn’t surprised by the crowded lots. Between the baptism and the annual ice fishing awards ceremony held in The Beach House, there was hardly a space available for parking. Frank just wished the banquet had been held on a different day. It certainly would have prevented all the confusion that was occurring. Lord knows how many people had wandered into their area thinking it was the location for the banquet. He had directed so many people to the Beach House, that he’d lost count. Eventually, he’d given up and decided to let them figure it out on their own. At least, Frank had reserved a parking spot for the bishop. Otherwise, he’d have nowhere to park.
“Well, let’s get this show started,” Abe Drummond announced as he hopped from one foot to the other. “If we wait much longer, you won’t have to worry about baptizing anyone, Frank. You’ll be burying us all.”
Frank pulled his attention away from the parking space, still vacant and turned to Abe. “We’re not starting until Bishop Pellicant arrives.”
“Not him!” Kitty exclaimed. At nearly ninety, Kitty Buckman was still as feisty as ever.
“What’s wrong with the bishop?” Frank asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong,” Kitty announced. “The man’s nothing but trouble.”
“What?” Frank burst out, stunned.
Sure, the bishop was a bit persnickety and prone to ostentation. And yes, he tended to be critical of things and expected people to kowtow to him. But he was a bishop. Shouldn’t that be expected?
“It’s true,” Abe insisted. “Don’t you remember Vegas Night at the church? He took us for a thousand dollars! I warned you we shouldn’t let him play blackjack! He has God on his side. He was bound to win.”
“I don’t think it was God, who helped him win as much as it was the card counting,” Kitty retorted. “That’s not allowed in Vegas,” she added. “When I was there, if the Mob found out you were cheating, you were as good as dead.”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Claire, Kitty’s niece, exclaimed. “They wouldn’t kill a man of the cloth!”
Kitty gave Claire a look like she was a small, mistaken child. “You wanna bet? Let me tell you, Sam had strict rules. If he caught you cheating, his goons would take you out to the desert and whack you. I lost plenty of customers that way.”
“Sam who?” Frank asked.
Kitty rolled her eyes. “Jeez, don’t you know nothing? Sam Giancana. The owner of the Desert Inn Casino.”
“Kitty, would you stop telling that story! You were not Sam Giancana’s girlfriend,” Claire insisted.
“You’re right, I wasn’t,” Kitty agreed. “I was Frank Sinatra’s.”
Claire rolled her eyes at Kitty’s ridiculous statement. No one believed for a moment Kitty’s outrageous claim that she had been a casino showgirl back in the day, let alone Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend.
“Well, I assure you Bishop Pellicant is not a card sharp,” Frank told the group. “He just had a good night!”
“Hey, maybe it was the lack of alcohol that helped him?” Abe wondered. “It was probably the first time he had a clear head in who knows how long.”
“What do you mean?” Frank wondered.
Abe shrugged, negligently. “Everyone knows there’s not a sober priest in the bunch.”
“What?” Frank exclaimed.
“Think about it. There’s two Masses on Sunday, one on Saturday and one every day during the rest of the week,” Abe explained. “The way I see it, that’s eight occasions to drink. And we’re not even talking about what they do when they’re stuck in the rectory.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Abe,” Frank exploded. “That’s not wine. It’s the blood of Christ!”
“Hey, you call it what you want, but booze is booze,” Abe sniffed.
“Abe is right,” Kitty agreed. “And frankly, in this cold weather I could use some booze myself.”
Burt, Kitty’s elderly husband, looked around the crowded area. “Where’s the table anyway.”
Frank had no idea what Burt was talking about. “What table?”
“The booze table,” Burt repeated.
Frank gritted his teeth. “There’s not going to be any alcohol here. This is a baptism not a . . . a . . .beer fest.”
“No one said anything about beer,” Kitty told Frank. “We’re wanting the good stuff, like Jack or Jim.”
“Whiskey? You want whiskey at a baptism?” Frank whispered in a stunned voice.
“Preferably,” Burt retorted. “If not that, then vodka. It seems to work for the ruski’s in the frigid cold.”
“We can’t have alcohol here! This isn’t that kind of event,” Frank muttered stunned.
“Without alcohol, it’s not any kind event,” Burt grumbled. “Let’s go get warm up and get some booze at the bar,” he told Kitty.
Frank watched them leave, relieved. At least they wouldn’t be here to embarrass him in front of the bishop.
It took another ten minutes for Bishop Pellicant to arrive. He parked his vehicle in the space reserved for him, then climbed out. He was dressed as if he was in the Antarctic. He had on a heavy wool coat, a thick knitted scarf wrapped around his neck, and upon his head was a Russian bear hat. The bishop flew down the pebbled beach, his wool coat and black cassock flying behind him.
“So sorry I’m late,” Bishop Pellicant huffed as he rushed up to Frank. “The roads . . .terrible . . .just terrible . . .” he said, gasping for breath.
Secretly, Frank was thrilled the roads had been terrible. At least the bishop hadn’t been around to hear the embarrassing comments of earlier.
“I’m just thrilled you made it,” Frank said. “We’ve got quite a group here today.”
Frank would be baptizing not only the few parishioners from his church but those from The Church of the Blessed Mary over in Newton. Every year, Father Gordon and Father Frank held a combined baptism on the lake. Normally, Father Gordon would be here to help. However, he’d gone out of town on Monday to see his ailing sister and hadn’t made it back in time for the baptism. Frank agreed to baptize both churches.
“Well, let’s get this started,” Frank said.
The baptism was a simple affair. No sense keeping everyone out in the cold. Normally, they’d have Mass before the baptism. But considering the weather, and the worry Abe’s words might prove true, Frank decided to forgo the Mass and head right to the baptism.
Frank lined the candidates up along the shores of the lake, preparing for the baptism. This was the part he dreaded. He could only imagine how they were feeling. While his toes might be dipped in water, their whole body was going to be submerged. Frank shot a quick glance at the lake. A shiver rolled from the top of his spine straight down to his toes. Thick, blocks of ice floated on the surface of the water. Yes, his toes were certainly going to freeze.
He blew on his hands, and whispered a prayer to the good Lord that this whole thing would be quick and easy. When he was finished, he walked up to the first man.
Frank would never claim to be a large man. At five foot four and one hundred and twenty five pounds, Frank was diminutive at best. But the man standing in front of him looked like Paul Bunyan. At nearly twice Frank’s weight and a good foot taller than Frank, the man looked like he could fell a tree just by leaning against it. He appeared to be somewhere in his fifties, with a touch of grey dusting his grizzly brown hair. He had a grizzly beard, which just added to his lumberjack appearance.
He was dressed like a lumberjack too. In a heavy, blue and grey flannel coat, tan dungarees, and work boats that looked like they’d seen better days, he was a dressed quite a few notches down from the other candidates for baptism. Still, it wasn’t Frank’s job to judge the way he dressed. The man was here to be baptized not to win a fashion contest.
Frank craned his neck back and smiled at the man. “What is your name, son?”
Bushy brows furrowed for just a moment before the man shrugged and stuck out his hand. “Amos,” he said.
Frank looked at the outstretched hand in surprise. This was a first. He’d never had a candidate offer to shake his hand before the baptism began. Then again, Frank figured the man was nervous. He couldn’t blame him. With the bishop standing just off to the side, Frank was pretty nervous himself. He decided the least he could do was ease Amos’ nerves.
Frank accepted his hand shake, asking, “And by what name will you go?”
This caused consternation to cross the man’s face. “Amos Bunker?” Amos replied, as if one of them were stupid and it wasn’t Amos.
Frank decided to ignore the tone in the man’s voice. People did strange things when they were nervous. Frank decided to take sympathy on Amos. He reached out to dip Amos in the water only, much to Frank’s surprise, Amos slapped Frank’s hands away. Frank, thinking it was the fright of the frigid water, gave Amos a sympathetic look.
“I understand completely,” he told Amos. “But I promise you it will be over and done with before you know it . . .” he added reaching for Amos.
“Like HELL it will . . .” Amos roared, as he started to turn away from the group.
Frank wasn’t about to let one of God’s children get away just because of a little cold water. So, putting all of his one hundred and twenty-five pounds into the effort, Frank lunged at Amos. They both landed in the water with a loud splash. Frank nearly died in the process when Amos landed on top, submerging them both.
They both popped up at the same time, shivering with goose-pebbled flesh. Frank shot a victorious smile in Bishop Pellicant’s direction. The look on Bishop Pellicant’s face was a mixture of shock and horror.
A bellow so loud, Frank thought the leaves on the trees shook. He turned to see Amos, sputtering invectives.
“I didn’t come to be baptized. I came for the fishing banquet,” Amos stammered out, his teeth chattering like a windup toy. “I’m an atheist! I don’t want to be a Catholic.”
Frank stood rooted to the ground. Ice cold water dripped off his clothing and his body felt like a block of ice. A sinking feeling landed in the pit of Frank’s stomach. Good Lord, what must the bishop think? Frank had never been so embarrassed or humiliated as he was right at this moment.
Suddenly, a loud, cackle of laughter erupted from the crowd. Frank turned to see Kitty, with a glass of amber liquid in her hand.
“Bet you wish you had some booze now!” Kitty yelled out, lifting the glass in salute to Frank.