This story appeared in Winning Magazine, Bicycle Racing Illustrated, and in my book Tales from the Bike Shop. It seems timely while the new James Bond movie is still in first-run theaters. Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy the story!
He lived there in a cabin in the Vermont woods, riding the fixed-gear into town once a week for groceries. He saw no one. He tried to forget.
Mornings he’d sit in the sunlight that beamed through an opened window, eating whole-grain cereal with very little milk.
He kept himself fit because he knew no other way. No, not as fit as when everything was at stake, but fit. Fit enough. Weights in the morning, it was, then a plain yogurt and half an apple before the 10-mile run in spiked ‘cross shoes, carrying a rusty Varsity on his shoulder. Enough; that was enough.
His life was good, he thought, except when he’d climb off the wind trainer at 2:30 in the morning and just have to have sushi. Except for then it was almost too good for too long.
The message surprised him, though it was delivered the usual way. Messages were not coming, not supposed to come. He was past it now. He found this one in his mailbox inside what appeared to be a dandruff shampoo sample.
Inside the sample box he found a Campy Super Record derailleur. Inside the derailleur, wrapped around the lower pivot bolt, inside the spring, he found an oiled paper. Written on that paper was a date, a time and the initials of (so-called) Inspector 22.
“Here it is,” he said to himself. “Here it is.” And sure enough there it was.
His deeply hooded, grimly dark but warmly sensitive eyes scanned the leafy Vermont distance.
“The world,” he thought, “is a small place indeed.”
[Author’s note: The world is small. Small, that is, until you’re hungry and out of food on a lonely country road, your only spare already flat, and you’ve got 18 mountain miles to ride just to get to the first place you can buy a Hostess Fruit Pie. And it looks like rain. Then, the world is big.]
He sat at his perfect rolltop desk to set his affairs in order as he always did before these “trips.” He reread his will - everything to Pedali Bodiddley Bicycle Club. He’d never met a member but he liked the name.
He scanned his insurance policies and checked for mistakes on his USA Cycling license. He found the word “united” misspelled twice but quickly forgave the federation its error. “It’s their second language,” he said to himself.
Satisfied now that his papers were in order, he rose and entered his library. Leaning on a perfect antique chair was an old Frejus racing bicycle with a rod-operated front changer. When he deftly pivoted the changer lever seven millimeters toward the old bike’s seat-tube, a wall of books slid noiselessly aside.
The varnished bookcase revealed a secret, flat-gray hidden wall densely mounted with gleaming cycling gear. The hardware glistened against the dull finished wood, lightly oiled, ready.
“Ready,” he thought, redundantly.
He looked at the wall and saw several complete bicycles: road bicycles, track bicycles and some that were said to go both ways. He saw wheels: disk wheels, spoked wheels, jockey wheels and freewheels.
He saw special tools for every imaginable cycling need and some for which, if you can imagine them, shame on you. He saw tools to fix things that, as of this writing, have never broken.
He saw conical stacks of freewheel cogs, bundles of butted spokes, six dozen stems and seven spare saddles. He saw a gallon of Phil Grease and two hats-full of headsets. He saw supplies enough to last the clumsiest novice racer through his first season. He surveyed the plethora of cycling paraphernalia and grunted. Good.
His hand, which could be cruel, gently brushed the top-tube of a Gios. He snapped back the bike’s rear derailleur, listening to the solid thunk as it sprung forward.
He spun a freewheel, listening to its smooth ratcheting whirr. He squeezed and released a brake lever, click, click. He slipped a wheel into the Gios fork and tightened the skewer: noise of tightening skewer.
He selected his favorite wrench, a Campy T-tool. It had been painstakingly smoothed, polished and black-chromed by an aged Austrian bike mechanic whose identity had vanished from the world’s computers. He looked at it, a perfect, realized T-wrench. He smiled.
He began to pack items from the wall into cases built by another old European craftsman, a Spaniard unknown to the Austrian or to anyone outside a select society, all of whom zealously guarded his identity and whereabouts. Always referred to by number, the Spanish artist’s skills remained enveloped in mystery, even to his wife, who had no idea what he did all day.
The cases were designed with infinite patience and cunning to look like shoddy copies of inauthentic replicas of cheap designer luggage. Inside though, ingeniously fitted high-density foam protected each handcrafted glistening component. Cases full, he snapped each latch closed. He smiled again.
He imagined the cold curve of the plastic-wrapped handlebar in his inhumanly strong but strangely graceful hands.
He smiled once again, a thin smile, almost cruel, and carried the cases out to the car.