March 30, 2016 § 27 Comments
I was riding along, minding my own business, trying to look like a very excellent profamateur. The four riders in front of me were all very excellent profamateurs and one of them was actually a professional.
I was feeling highly excellent, as this was my second Donut Ride back after my terrible bicycle-falling-off-incident in which I tumbled off the bicycle and broke my left nutsack. We were on PV Drive North and, as I believe I have already mentioned, I was doing very excellently.
Suddenly my profamateur suplesse was shattered by a horrible grinding and clunking and thunking and greenking and scranking noise that leapt up from the throat of my rear wheel like a terrible, garlic-and-onion-and-pizza-infused beer belch that will not be denied. “Here I go again,” I panickedly thought as I stopped pedaling with excellence and my face froze in a rictus of terror as I contemplated falling off my bicycle again and re-cracking my barely healed nutsack.
The others looked back to see why I had suddenly decided to set off a string of firecrackers and I coasted to a halt. I gingerly put my foot down and saw my chain hanging limply, with pieces of my SRAM Red derailleur cage attached. I was shaking, so certain had I been that a falling-off-incident was imminent.
Destroyer began examining the expired derailleur as Holloway went back to collect the shards of derailleur. Charon somehow had an extra plastic baggie and put the pieces inside. Destroyer called Uber and in a few minutes I was on my way home.
That afternoon I got a call from French Toast Ride Director Sportif Dave Jaeger. “Dude,” he said. “I heard you broke a derailleur.”
“Word travels fast.”
“I got a brand new SRAM Red 10-speed still in the box. It’s yours. Come and get it.”
“Really? How much? I’ll need to check behind the couch cushions.”
“It’s yours. I upgraded to 11-speed and don’t want or need it. If you can warranty the broken one, I’ll take it, but if you can’t, no worries.”
I got the new derailleur and went over to Boozy P.’s. “Dude,” he said. “What happened?”
“Obviously, the SRAM Red 10-speed is highly defective.”
“Yeah. I’ve only had it for about five years and it’s only got about 65,000 miles on it. It’s practically new.”
“Of course it is,” Boozy P. said, putting down his morning beer. “But isn’t that the same derailleur you crashed on in November and ground half of the derailleur body off when you slid across the road?” He had emptied the plastic baggie and was looking at the mangled parts.
“Yes, but it’s still clearly defective. Plus, all the stuff that got ground off was non-essential vitamins and minerals.”
“All vitamins are essential, Wanky.”
Boozy P. slurped down a few more essential vitamins, then slapped on the new derailleur and handed me back the baggie. He paused for a second. “Wasn’t this also the same derailleur that King Harold had to disassemble for you on the Donut a few months ago because you’d been trying to adjust it with Old. No. 72?”
“Coincidence,” I snapped.
“Be careful out there.”
I got home and took out a padded envelope, addressed it to RIDE Cyclery in Encinitas, and penned this short letter.
“Hi, Brent. I bought this new in 2012 and it appears to either be defective or I crashed the shit out of it and destroyed it. Most likely the latter. I know it’s a long shot, but could you send it back to SRAM and see if they will warranty it for its defective failure not to withstand sliding 100-yards across the pavement at 30 mph?”
A couple of days later Brent sent me a terse text message. “Lovely package received. On it.”
A couple of weeks later a nice brown unmarked box not filled with a bag of dicks arrived at my office. Brand new derailleur.
So when people tell me that the Internet is killing their bike shop, I think about Brent and his shop that is doing so well in Encinitas that he opened another one in Carlsbad. Off the hook service is his standard, and standing behind what he sells is a principle, not a slogan. And when I think about standing behind their product and giving the customer the benefit of the doubt I think of SRAM.
Maybe Internet bike shops aren’t so invincible after all.
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December 21, 2014 § 16 Comments
If you want to be a profamateur in SoCal you had better follow these rules.
- A week has two days: off days (1) and ride days (6).
- Buy full-carbon wheels for the annual fun ride.
- Never test, try out, or adjust trick equipment until five minutes before the race begins on race day.
- Always wear skinsuit, teardrop, and shoe covers on the coffee ride.
- Call the plumbing shop, ambulance chaser, and web designer on your jersey “my sponsors.”
- 5-10 minutes after getting shelled and falling into a grupetto, talk about who you think is doping.
- Whenever anyone suggests anything (movie, anniversary dinner, child’s talent show, free vacation to Monaco) ask yourself, “How will this affect my training plan?”
- Have at least one coach to analyze, critique, and fine tune the training plan of your other coach.
- The off season is when you train at race speeds and intensity.
- The race season is when you recover for the off season.
- Don’t ever acknowledge on or off the bike anyone you’ve ever beaten in a race.
- Hire a dietician.
- Often say, “They can test me anytime, anywhere.”
- Always color-coordinate.
- Wrap your car, or better yet, your Mercedes Sprinter van.
- Anything done by Prez or Charon.
- [Add your SoCal profamateur rule here.]END
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September 25, 2014 § 14 Comments
“Manslaughter and I are going for a slow spin around the hill. Leaving in five minutes.”
I read the text and started changing. I caught them in downtown Redondo, flipped it, and we started around the peninsula. It was 9:30 AM on a Wednesday, and too early on-a-day-that’s-not-a-Friday to contemplate drinking. The chatter was the same as always. Derek talked about losing weight. Manslaughter giggled. I wondered what I was going to blog about.
Manslaughter began talking about Santa and Jesus, and how he didn’t believe in either. Then Derek turned and said, “That’s fine, being an atheist and all, but then what exactly is your plan for getting into heaven? You don’t cruise across the line into heaven in the middle of the pack, sucking wheel. Getting into heaven is a time trial, and Jesus better be in your support vehicle.”
“Not to mention your water bottle,” I added.
Manslaughter giggled and suggested taking a “dirt road.”
“What kind of dirt road?” I asked.
“A flat one,” he lied.
Derek and I agreed since we were on our road bikes and, hell, we had done the BWR, right? How bad could it be? Manslaughter turned off the pavement to the left of where Tink had once splatted and where Toronto’s daughter had hit the seam in the road and launched into the curb and where Little Sammy Snubbins had flipped into oncoming traffic at 30. Ah, memories.
The dirt was fine until it turned up, then up again, then massively up. Manslaughter, currently ranked #23 in the nation for mountain biking, and therefore a never-miss descender and climber, misjudged a turn, fell off his bicycle, and ended up looking like a pubic crab on its back wiggling a very tiny bike in the air. We laughed and passed him, trying and failing to run over his neck.
Derek slowed, having lost too much weight the night before, and I raced by. I kept him behind me by weaving all over the steep and narrow trail. I’m not sure why he kept saying “motherfucker,” but he did. After a while we caught a rider on horseback.
“That horse is pretty sketchy,” I thought. “If I sneak past it I bet it freaks and maybe kicks and kills Derek and I win to wherever the fuck this climb goes.” Manslaughter had been dropped a long way back, which was fine, except that he was the only one who knew the route.
I picked a tight passing lane and went to shoot through it. The horse sensed my presence and looked like it was going to turn away from me, which was fine, until I realized the pivot was actually an aiming maneuver. The last thing I saw was its rump rising up to make room for its rear legs to clear and then lash out.
The next thing I knew, I wasn’t on a hot dirt road in Palos Verdes anymore. It was cool out and cloudy, but I was above the clouds. I saw a big pair of gates. I could see through them. There was Prez, wearing a halo and what appeared to be a peacock suit made of lycra, winking at me and holding a pair of new Michelin tires over his head with no video camera. There was Erik the Red, waving. Those were the only two people I knew.
Then I saw Charon manning the gates. He had a big book in front of him. “Wanky! You signed up for the wrong race again! Better head on down to your proper category.”
I felt myself falling. Now it was hot again, really hot, but at least I saw more people I knew. Hell, I knew everyone. But there was a black river of steaming hot energy gel to cross in order to get to them. I climbed into the boat waiting on the shore as a hooded guy started to row me across. “Brad?” I asked. “Brad House? Is that you?”
“Naw,” said the oarsman. “He went to somewhere really hot and miserable and filled with sinners. He’s in Texas.”
I debarked and got into a long line. “Where do I sign up for the 50+?” I asked.
Lane, who happened to be standing next to me, said, “I don’t know. I’m here for the Strava competition.”
“Who the hell is in charge around here?” I demanded. Soon enough I got to the sign-in table.
A huge three-headed angry Marine wearing an FBI men-in-black suit and Blues Brothers SPY shades glowered at me. “What the fuck do you want, cupcake?”
“Chris?” I said. “Is that you?”
“Who were you expecting to meet? Mitt Romney? You just signing up for eternity? Only $10 for the second eternity.”
“There’s been some mistake,” I said. “Manslaughter’s the atheist. He’s the one who wanted to suck wheel on Jesus. I’m always at the front. How do I get back up to Prez and those tires?”
“Ha, ha, cupcake,” Chris laughed as he gave me my number. “You’ve just been entered in the BWR from Hell.”
I shuddered. There in the distance stood MMX with a whip and a giant purple card, beating a drum that was slightly out of tune. He sneered at me. “What’s wrong, Patsy? There’s only 8 billion miles of dirt through a live volcano this time.”
“No!” I screamed. “Noooooooooooooooo!”
Suddenly I was lying on my back and the horse lady was saying, “He didn’t give me three feet when he tried to pass. He’s lucky poor old Sukey didn’t kill him.”
Manslaughter and Derek were splitting a bag of sport beans waiting for me to wake up. “If you help me wipe up the blood,” I said to them, “I’ll have Mrs. Wankmeister pick up a case of Racer 5 and make us some quesadillas with mushrooms and salsa.”
It sounded like a good idea to Derek and Manslaughter. Suddenly it was okay to drink before noon on a not-Friday-day. And we did.
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December 22, 2012 § 5 Comments
Too many days there are too many things that happen for me to organize them into a theme or even a coherent thought, so the day goes by and so much that needs saying goes unsaid, or in my case, unblogged!
Today, in no particular order except the first item:
- Prez showed up for the Donut Ride in full Santa kit. No, you don’t understand. I mean full Santa kit. His tall black Santa boots were fitted over his cycling shoes so that his cleats could lock into the pedals. His Santa hat was fixed to his helmet so that it flopped but the helmet was rock solid (protecting what, we’re not sure). He had red cycling shorts. Yes, red. As in the color red. He had a red jersey. He had red gloves. Aside from being the most amazing get-up I’ve ever seen on a bike, he did the genuine Santa impersonation by Going to the Front as we rolled out of Redondo Beach, then pulling the other reindeer (all 100 of them, including Dopey, Stinky, Lazy, Bashful, Twitchy, Flinch, Crazy, Stupid, Slothful, Sexy, Naughty, and Embroey) up out of Malaga Cove and all the way to Lunada Bay. Santa, I’ve been naughty this year. I hope that means I get a whip or some handcuffs.
- Stathis the Wily Greek unleashed a tour de force on the Switchbacks. The wankoton sucked eggs all the way to the bottom of the climb. Then he let loose. I followed for ten seconds before blowing. It shattered the entire field. None could follow. John Hall, Craig L., and several others duked it out for the scraps. Mark Alvarado got shelled, but then blasted by me at the end in an amazing show of speed. Eric Anderson climbed with the climbers. Keith, Marco, Rico, others all represented.
- Marshall P. rode like a champion up Zumaya. At the tail end as I was about to overhaul him he gave a big kick and was gone. Kudos!
- Tink is riding “at power.” This means she goes faster than 99% of all the other riders but doesn’t ever accelerate or attack. 2013 is going to see some scalps hanging from her coup stick. Glad I don’t race against her.
- The Serfas handlebar-mount headlight (500 lumens) is awesome. More about that in a separate post.
- Nite Ryder lighting systems just went from fave to frown. More about that in a separate post.
- Todd Buckley and Rahsaan Bahati put together an all-day ride to Camarillo. All-star cast included Charon, Suze, and many others. Wish I could have made it.
- Pischon Jones is down at least 15 pounds. I saw more lean meat on that boy than you could find at a Weight Watchers convention. Dude has the discipline hat on. Props!
- SoCal cyclists are so weather-wussified it’s hilarious! MS, before the Donut started: “Gosh, I’d forgotten how cold it is here in SoCal!” It was about 50 degrees. He’s coming from two years of school in Jamaica, and after the holidays is moving to Chicago. Does it ever get below 50 in Chicago in the winter? Har!
- Joe Yule got the hardware out of his elbow this week, and he and Manny Guzman got into a “Whose 13-inch elbow scar is gnarlier?” photo contest on FB. Not for the queasy of stomach…
- Great bike sales and seasonal deals in the South Bay at Bike Palace, Sprocket Cycles, PV Cycle Center, and Manhattan Beach Cycles.
- Super nice waves this morning at the Cove. Indicators was breaking, and so was Lunada Bay. SoCal cyclists may be weather wussies, but it’s pretty cool to be pedaling your bike in late December in sunny, warm weather while gorgeous sets roll in on the point.
- Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride approaches. It’s going to be grim.
- SPY Optic and Ride Cyclery have two big holiday rides, one on 12/24 and one on 1/2. The 12/24 ride will be a swords-drawn survival of the cruelest. You have been warned!
‘Nuff for now. Gotta shop. My, uh, favorite family activity…
October 16, 2012 § 16 Comments
My phone rang at 5:30 this morning. “Hello?”
“Hey, WM. Have you heard anything?”
“Who is this?”
“Thunky. Thunky Sneedles.”
“Oh, it’s you again. No, man, I haven’t heard anything since your last call two hours ago. It’s five-fucking-thirty, dude.”
“I just thought you’d maybe, you know, gotten some offers or something.”
“No, man. Crickets.” I’d agreed to act as Thunky’s agent in the off-season, and even though the trades had started in earnest, Thunky was still out in the cold, and he was nervous. “Look, let’s go over it again. I know you’re nervous, but you have to be patient. These things take time. When some of the bigger fish get their contracts, it’ll loosen up the purse strings for the domestiques like you.”
“But what if I don’t get an offer from anybody? What if I have to stay with Team D’oosh next year? My career’s too short for that, man. I’ve only got a couple of good years left, and I need to ride for a winner.”
“I know, I know. Nobody said being a professional masters racer was easy.”
“Fuck, ain’t that the truth.”
“Why are you so down on Team D’oosh? You fit right in.”
“They suck and their bro deal is so lame.”
“Really? Even with that bike and those five free kits and the travel reimbursements? And don’t they cut you in on the winnings even if you’re OTB?”
“Yeah, it sounds great. But it sucked this year. I mean, no one ever fucking wins. They suck. And the frame? It was the Specialized SL4 instead of their top of the line Venge. Charon gets the Venge on his team. How’m I supposed to take that dude on riding an SL4? It’s like bringing a full set of teeth to a dicksucking contest.”
“Are the bikes really that different?”
“Hell yeah. The Venge has this really cool paint option. It’s so fuckin’ rad.”
“Well, at least getting the whole $8,500 rig with Di2 on loan for a whole season and then swapping it out for a new one in ’13 saves you some money.”
“Dude! It’s not about the MONEY. It’s about the wins. You get the wins, the money flows. That’s how the pro scene works.”
“Even in the men’s 35+?”
“Well, what about the kits? That’s a grand right there, easy, free. You gotta be happy about that.”
“Those kits were so last year. The leg elastic band was at least 1/4 inch shorter than the pro stuff Paolinetti was wearing on Monster. Like I’m gonna take that guy on with short elastic bands? And the design was, like, puke.”
“I guess they screwed you pretty bad, huh?”
“I’ll say. The travel reimbursements only kicked in after you’d done five races. I fuckin’ told ’em that I was gonna do a full schedule, but for me that’s four races, including our Team D’oosh club time trial in January. They have to understand that if you want results, you gotta be rested between races. Real rested. Recovery is just as important as training, prolly more so, even.”
“Look, Thunky. I’m gonna try to get you on Amgen this year. You’ll be a domo for Thurlow, Meeker, Brett, Strickie, Malcolm…the big boys. But you gotta bring something to the table. What do I tell them about you?”
“What do you tell them? Duuuuude! Aren’t you my agent? Fuckin’ tell ’em about what we did this year! Tell ’em how the race went down when Clunky Thunky brought the A-game and stuffed the clowns into the hurt locker! Tell ’em that!”
“Ah, what race are you talking about, Thunks?”
“What race? San Dimas! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten San Dimas?”
“Was that the one where you launched off the road and hit that parked car? At, like three miles in or something?”
“You always gotta bring up the fuckin’ parked car. Fuck the parked car! Dude, I stretched the field like a teenage dick on its first handjob. Ask ’em, man, any of those dudes’ll tell you about the Thunky Beatdown. Thurlow was there. Meeker was there. Worthingtons were there. Fuckin’ Leibert was beggin’ for mercy I had everybody on the rivet.”
“Okay, maybe I’ll remind them of that later, you know, like when we’re talking signing bonuses and stuff. What else happened in 2012?”
“I did that one 35+ race and laid the fuckin’ wood to Tintsman and Paolinetti.”
“Phil Tintsman? You? Really? That’s pretty awesome, cause those two guys are the real deal. Which race was it?”
“Hellz. It was at Ontario, I think. Maybe CBR. I attacked from the gun like always.”
“Then you got in a break with Phil and Jamie? Sweet!”
“Nah, I didn’t get in no fuckin’ break. I’m a sprinter kind of rouleur. You know, a puncheur climber type time trialist, all ’rounder with an emphasis on track and ‘cross.”
“So what happened?”
“It was like on the second or third lap. I was fuckin’ railin’ it, dude, 54-11, hittin’ the headwind section like a fuckin’ freight train. Field was comin’ apart at the seams, everybody strung out in the fuckin’ gutter, dudes frying off the back like fritters in a fryolator. Tintsman and Paolinetti were in the hurt locker. The pain cave. Beggin’ for fucking mercy, they were my bitches, dude. That’s what I’m talking ’bout.”
“I finished my solid half lap and then Tintsman and Paolinetti and Charon and a bunch of other dudes, I think Brauch and Wimberley, and you know, five or six other Monster dudes, and a few other guys rolled off in a break. There was like sixty of ’em. No way we were bringing them back. But you can ask Tintsman, that shit wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t softened ’em up.”
“Sixty dudes? In one break?”
“Yeah, man. It was fucking righteous. Me and Stimp Twitchers–you know him? Rides for Soft Longies, he’s a badass. Me and Stimp fuckin’ motored with the field on our wheel the rest of the race.”
“How many guys were left in the field?”
“About seven or eight. Coddles McGee, Woodenhead, Dorcas Johnson, Tubbs, you know. The dudes you can count on.”
“Okay, I’ll make the pitch for you. What should I tell them your goals are for 2013?”
“My goals? Do you even have to ask? Tell ’em this: I’m comin’ for Charon if they can find me a Venge just like his. Black shorts, with the cool elastic thingy like Paolinetti and Tintsman have. And $10k in travel reimbursements. Up front, Jan. 1, like in the pros. And a cut of everything everyone wins, even if I have to miss the race because of my Saturday yoga class. And free massage sessions–and I pick the fuckin’ masseuse. Don’t give me some hairy dude named Jacques. I want a smoking babe who only works nekkid or in a thong. Happy ending for Thunky, you got that? And a 401k and a team car. That’s my starting offer. See what you can do from there.”
“And what can they expect in return?”
“I’m gonna take Charon down next year. I’m gonna ride Tintsman off my fuckin’ wheel. I’m gonna give Meeker a sprint clinic every fuckin’ weekend. You tell ’em that, Wanky, and you tell ’em Thunky sent you.”
The phone went dead.
A few minutes later it rang again.
“Yo, it’s me again. Any offers?”
“Not yet, buddy. But they’re comin’ any minute. Any minute.”
August 31, 2012 § 2 Comments
Thanks, Chris. Thanks for being dependable. Thanks for always putting on a race that’s timely, that’s safe, that’s fun, and that’s smack dab in the middle of where so many SoCal cyclists live and train.
Thanks for not putting up with any shit, and for calling things like you see them. Thanks for caring enough about local racing to do this over and over and over, even though you sometimes sleep overnight in your car because things get underway so early.
Thanks for helping ensure that the races are properly officiated and, for the most part, drama free. Thanks for running events where the check always clears and where the primes are something a lot nicer than a cheap water bottle with a lousy nipple. Thanks for enduring the politics and for doing your best to make sure your vision prevails.
Thanks for your funny Facebook posts, and for your unflinching willingness to hold views even when it pisses off people who might otherwise scratch your back. That takes guts. Thanks for not bowing down to all the “-isms.” Thanks even more for not holding it against people whose beliefs are different, and for being a big enough man to take it just as much as you dish it out.
Thanks for caring about homeless creatures. The way a person treats animals says as much about their character as the way they treat people.
Thanks for giving us the opportunity to race our bikes. If you weren’t out there putting on these races, our calendar would be a whole lot thinner. If you could come up with a deal so that Charon, Meeker, Rudy, Justin, Jamie, and some of those dudes all had to do an extra couple of laps so that the rest of us would (mathematically) have a chance, that would be cool. Just a thought.
Pay it, don’t say it
This Sunday, September 2, 2012 at the world infamous Dominguez Hills CBR course, Chris puts on the final race of the SoCal Cup. I hope you’ll show up, pay your money, and do a race or two, even if, like me, you’ve got a snowball’s chance.
Most of all, though, I gotta say thanks to Vera, not just for all the work she does…but for putting up with Chris!
July 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
As I pulled myself up into the cab next to Holmes, a chill went down my spine in that typically British, closeted homosexual way of two men pushed shoulder to shoulder and imagining how the other would look dressed in leathers, tied to a tree stump, and barking like a dog while the other spanked him with a wet baguette.
“What could have happened to him, Holmes?” I asked as the cab rattled across the cobbled streets.
“Do you suppose that’s the correct question?” Holmes riposted, and I could see his face turn towards mine in the dark.
“Dash it, Holmes, aren’t you the one who said the poor wanker had vanished without a trace?”
“I did, indeed, my dear Watson.”
“Then what else in blue blazes could the question be? He was here, now he’s gone. What on earth happened to him?”
Holmes chuckled that maddening chuckle of his, when his rapier-like mind has fastened onto its prey like a hungry mastiff, and no goading can loose its grip. I wondered if he’d ever paid to see a grown man naked. “I’ll be at your service when you need me, then,” I said, somewhat gruffly, and pained by Holmes’s sudden turn of silence.
Soon the cobbled roads of London gave way to the rutted unpaved roads leading out of that great city, and my mind drifted, then dozed, until I awoke with a start. “We’ve arrived, Watson,” said Holmes as we both exited the cab.
There before us was a quiet home, to all appearances as normal a place as you could ever hope to find. A tall hedge was in front, and a pretty garden filled with trees suggested the blissful hearth of that happiest British convention, the country home. Holmes rapped on the door, which was swiftly answered by the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Dark haired, voluptuous, and radiating sorrow, she cried out, “Oh, Mr. Holmes, thank you for coming! I thought you’d never arrive! Please do come in!”
The wanker’s abode
Holmes strode across the threshold with the piercing look I have seen so often, when the genius of his mind misses no detail, and when what to others is a mass of confusion is, to him, an ordered story legible only to him.
The lovely lady stood there, uncountenanced somewhat as Holmes had not bothered to introduce us, and the awkwardness was furthered by her stare at the giant bulge in my trousers where I had placed my revolver. “Pleased to meet you, madam. John Watson.”
She blushed and held out her hand. “Mrs. Prez. It’s a pleasure, my good sir.”
Holmes turned to us, startled to realize that there was anyone in the room, so raptly had he focused on the living room. “Do you mind,” he asked, “if I have a look in the bedroom?”
“By all means,” said the lovely lady, blushing again.
“Watson, if you would,” Holmes motioned me to follow.
We entered the bedroom of the wanker and Holmes went straight to the closet. Rapha clothing of every variety, Assos bibs and jersey of every color under the rainbow, and cycling shoes in green, yellow, pink, orange, and mucous filled the closet. “Great gods,” I exclaimed. “The man’s a fashion model!”
Holmes shook his head. “As usual, Watson, you cannot see the trees for the forest. There’s nothing here.” He turned back, and took a quick look beneath the coverlet on the bed as he left the room.
“Can you find my husband, Mr. Holmes?” the distraught woman asked, her tear-streaked bosom heaving in worry and fear.
Holmes smiled at her in that comforting way a man has of reassuring a woman, as if to say “You can trust me, my dear, I’m thoroughly gay.”
We remounted the cab, and Holmes let out a short, satisfied laugh. “Well, Watson, what do you make of it?”
“Make of it? Deuce it all, Holmes, it’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle ensconced in an enigma, that’s what I make of it!”
“Come now, Watson, surely you jest? Isn’t it clear what happened to the poor man?”
“Holmes, if I didn’t rate you as my closest friend, I would be so exasperated as to refuse all further attempts at conversation! Don’t tell me you have figured this out? The poor wanker had a terrible wardrobe and even worse fashion sense! What else was there?”
“In the main, the mystery is solved, Watson. There are but two small details I should like to make certain of before we retire for the evening.”
The shanties of London
Before long our cab had brought us back to the outskirts of the city, and from the dim lights of the gas lamps I could see that we were in the slums of Chutney, London’s most notoriously impoverished shantytown, where life’s outcasts, men who had gambled all and lost, dragged themselves to die amidst the stink of filth and the reek of gin. I braced myself as we got out in front of the most wretched, dilapidated tenement I had ever seen, and did all I could to hold my breath as Holmes banged on the door with his walking stick.
A bedraggled, besotted, broken, and surly fellow came to the door, his long greasy locks covering a pock-marked face in which two red, sunken eyes stared out from his gaunt and deathlike skull, the last embers of a spirit that was all but quenched.
“Mr. Smith, I dare say?” said Holmes.
“And what is it to you if I be?” snarled the man.
“It could be nothing, or it could be this and bit more,” said Holmes with a wicked smile, carefully tucking a sovereign into the man’s curled paw.
In a flash we were over the threshold, and never have I seen a more horrid den of iniquity. Floozies lay draped in whatever position their drunkenness or opium stupor left them, while similarly stupefied patrons lounged on the couches, awaiting the dawn that would force them out again into the world they had shunned for a few brief hours of night.
“Come in ‘ere, guv’nor,” said Mr. Smith. “An’ tell ol’ USCF district rep Smithy ‘ow ‘e can be o’ service to the guv’nor.”
“Mr. Smith,” said Holmes. “It can come as no surprise that we’re here to inquire about a certain Prez. Wanker of all on two wheels.”
“Prez!” shrieked the old man, his body shivering with rage. “Prez! O, guv’nor, don’t come ‘ere an’ ask me about ‘im! It’s all I been ahearin’ these last five years, guv’nor, ‘Force upgrade the lad, Smithy!’ an’ ‘E’s winnin’ all the Category 3 races, Smithy, damn ‘is eyes, force upgrade the lad!’ ’tis all they can say from dawn to sunset, guv’nor! An’ what uz I to do, guv’nor? One minute some young lad’s father’s a’ breathin’ down me neck, ‘Force upgrade Prez or I’ll have your hide, Smithy!’ an’ the next it’s Prez ‘imself, guv’nor, writin’ letters and callin’ the higher-ups and takin’ me aside on Sundays an’ sayin’ ‘Now see here, Smithy, you keep me here a Category 3 ’til the SoCal Cup’s all said and done and see here, Smithy, I’ll make it worth your while, eh, Smithy?’ until ol’ Smithy’s been pulled and stretched like a piece of good English taffy in the Indian sun, guv’nor!”
“I’m sure you’ve done your very best, my good sir,” said Holmes in that sympathetic way he had. “But pray tell, what did you decide?”
“What did I decide, guv’nor? Odds bodkins, I force upgraded the lad! I ‘ad to, guv’nor! I ‘ad to! Oh, may the lord have mercy on me wicked soul!” With that the anguished man collapsed in a heap, sobbing inconsolably. Then he sat bolt upright. “But I didn’t do away with ‘im, guv’nor! An’ y’can’t say I did! P’raps one o’ them Cat 3 fellows did ‘im in, guv’nor, but me ‘ands are clean!”
“I thank you for your time, Mr. Smith. Here’s something for your trouble.” The old wretch’s trembling paw accepted the gift, and we left.
“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “Won’t you arrest the man? He’s the killer as plain as day. Either that, or he knows who is!”
With his maddening chuckle, he replied, “Watson, I’m surprised you don’t see it. It’s as plain as day. Let us make one last stop. I think you shall find this amusing enough to place it in that little history of my cases at which you apply yourself so assiduously.”
Palace of the lord
“Cabbie, take us to Kensington!” Holmes shouted to the man.
Before long we found ourselves in front of an iron gate, with a watchman who was none too pleased to see us pull up in our shabby hack. With all the ease of a man who had lived there his entire life, Holmes handed the man his card. “Please tell Lord Smythington that Sherlock Holmes desires the honor of a few moments of his lordship’s time.”
“You can’t be serious, Holmes!” I said. “Lord Charon Smythington? At this hour of the night, uninvited and crudely announced?”
“Let us see,” he said with a smile, “whether Lord Smythington can fit us into his busy schedule, even at such a late hour as this.”
In minutes the watchman led us to the front door of the great home, where the butler ushered us in. “Lord Smythington is taking his evening massage. If the gentlemen have no objection, milord will see them in the massage parlor.”
As we entered, the great man barely nodded his head in greeting. His massive legs, covered in massage oil, were being assiduously worked by his masseuse. “Mr. Holmes?” he said. “To what do I owe this unusual, late night visit?”
“We’ve come for Prez,” said Holmes, his steely blue eyes matched with razor thin lips that meant only business.
“Prez? The wanker? I’ve not seen him since the forced upgrade back in April. It’s a bit of a mystery, really, and I can’t imagine why you’ve come to me.”
“Lord Smythington,” said Holmes “you can either show us to him or we will request official assistance. I’m not certain that the publicity would be welcome to a man such as yourself.”
Smythington looked up. “How did you know he was here, Mr. Holmes? I thought I’d covered my tracks quite professionally.”
“Indeed, sir, you had, but you made one fatal mistake.”
“Ah, yes. And it was?”
“The coverlet, of course. Prez slept every night with pictures of Your Excellency taped to the underside of his coverlet. As soon as I saw them, I knew it was you who had kidnapped him, fearful that with an upgrade he would now become your biggest threat at the Dominguez Hills crit. I needed only a brief chat with Mr. Smith, the district rep, to confirm that Prez had received a forced upgrade, and from there to conclude that it must have been you.”
I couldn’t hold back my admiration. “But Holmes, why didn’t you suspect one of his fellow Cat 3’s? Or one of the junior riders whose parents complain after every race because their boy never gets a chance to win?”
“Elementary, my dear Watson. The 3’s had no reason to do away with him, as he’d been upgraded. From there it was child’s play. Despite his matchless string of victories, Lord Smythington was still concerned about Prez in the 35+ or Cat 2 peloton, if only because of his propensity to fall and crash everyone else out. So he brought him here.”
Lord Smythington looked at Holmes. “And how did you know he was here?”
“Prez went to bed each evening staring longingly at your pictures beneath his covers, Lord Smythingon. You sent a messenger to him, inviting him to come to Kensington to learn the ‘sprinter’s secret.’ He couldn’t resist. Once here, you placed him in the basement with ten years’ worth of cycling magazines, and told him that once he had finished reading them, he would finally win a 35+ masters race. And the poor fool believed you.”
“Yes,” Lord Smythington said, laughing, “he certainly did. I also told him that if he rode all over the peninsula in a giant gear and lifted huge weights in the gym he’d be invincible.”
Even Holmes, ever the steely investigator, broke into a smile at the thought of poor Prez, pushing a 53 x 11 up Hawthorne in the middle of December. Lord Smythington bade us adieu, and we left the great house, Prez in tow.
The following racing season, shortly after I had been apprehended while watching another gentleman through a small hole I had cut in a public lavatory, but prior to sentencing at the Old Bailey, I ran across Prez. He looked to be in the finest of fettle. “How are you, my boy?” I asked.
“Never been better!”
“Oh really? Be a good fellow and do tell.”
“I’ve won every 35+ crit of the season so far! And no crashes!”
“It appears your hard work has paid off, then.”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “It certainly has.”