We hit the bottom of the wall on Crest after the boiling pace up the Switchbacks had completely melted the raft of tiny pinnipeds. Bloody pelts and the dying barks of clubbed baby seals crying for their mothers was all that remained of the 60-plus hopefuls who were now left to suffer and die on the slopes of the long climb.
I looked around in amazement. Only five of us were left: We four heroes of Team Tard and the sly, strong, and unbeatable ogre from Surf City, a/k/a Derek the Destroyer. “If we work together like Jack from Illinois (not his real name) says, taking turns attacking, we can beat him,” I whispered to Furry, whose eyes were crossed and who was in the process of ejecting a large lump of bloody mess from his mouth that looked like a cross between an ass boil that had been left in the sun too long and a gall bladder.
“Unnggh,” he grunted.
About that time my phone rang. I rarely bring it with me, and I never answer it when I do. Whatever it was, it could wait.
Slotted in behind the Destroyer, who was in no difficulty at all, I leaned over to Chucky Cheese. “Dude,” I said. “That was an awesome hopeless attack back there where you pointlessly went with two guys whose wheel you’ve never been able to hold, and it was really awesome the way they punched you out the back and clubbed you for dead at the bottom of the Switchbacks, and it’s super-super awesome the way you’ve been able to hang on with your tongue wrapped around the brake calipers like that, but hanging on isn’t going to cut it. We have to soften up the Destroyer or he’s going to chop us into bits and use us for gargle juice.”
“Unnggh,” Chucky moaned.
Finally I looked over at Ray-Ban, the only one left on Team Tard who, if not pedaling squares, was at least pedaling octagons. Before I could say anything, Chucky attacked.
Like a gigantic super-cargo ship moving off its moorings, Chucky slowly pulled away from the group, coming to a rest fifteen feet ahead. “Yo, Chucky!” I shouted. “That’s not working! Pedal harder! Slay yourself! Upchuck some teeth!”
Chucky muttered something and moved another foot ahead before his ticking legs wound down as if a truckload of cement had been dumped into the movement of a fine Swiss watch.
The Destroyer looked on, amused. “Guys,” he said, breathing mostly through his nose, “it kind of takes away the element of surprise when you’re shouting to each other what to do.” He finished checking stock market quotes and wrapped up a game of Words with Friends.
“Now!” I shrieked to Furry. “Hit it you dumb bastard!”
Furry looked around, wondering who the dumb bastard was. Although he lacked the breath to attack, he was fully aired up for his strategic explanation. “I’m not sure that’s the best course of action,” he said. “Why don’t we wait a bit? I don’t know how much pop he has left anyway.”
At that moment Ray-Ban attacked. The Destroyer was ready and showed his pop by easily latching on, then countered so monstrously hard that Furry was spit backward like the first stage from a Saturn moon rocket, moving with the slow-motion pace of a teenager asked to take out the garbage.
We passed and left Chucky Cheese, and although I had some hope that he was contemplating the series of missteps that had left him bleeding and clubbed on the steeps of Crest Rd., in reality he was probably just thinking that he should have attacked, longer, harder, earlier.
The Destroyer’s counter shed Ray-Ban, and I sat tucked into his fly-like draft, my front wheel and bars getting a great rest, but the rest of me, not so much. I took a fake pull, and around the turn he made a fake jump, squeezing the last drops of adrenaline out of my system as I took the bait, then waited, only to watch him hit it for real. It was one of those jump-sprunts that leaves you feeling like you’re riding on two flat tires, or like it’s a twelve-chain day and they’re all wrapped around your nuts, or like the sour taste of spoiled milk, i.e., defeat. In between the gasps and the grinding sound of a slow chain my phone added to the misery with its insistent ring.
Afterwards Fuzzy documented each of my strategic errors and explained that the proper move would have been to let the Destroyer attack, then organize a chase and bring him back with our diesel power. “So,” I asked him, “which one of us on Team Tard can go 400 watts for five minutes?”
“Well, no one,” said Fuzzy.
“Destroyer can. And if we let him get away, that’s exactly what he’ll do. And if we stay with him and don’t soften him up, he’ll outsprunt us at the end. Which he did.”
Fuzzy was quiet for a minute. “It would be different in a flat out sprint,” he said.
“Yes, it would.” I agreed. “He’d be leading out Charon.”
Back at the coffee shop I got ready to re-re-re-re-analyze the heroic clubbing. While waiting in line I pulled out my phone to see that it had seventeen missed calls and ten text messages. “She’s in labor,” Mrs. WM’s message read.
I froze and looked at my friends. “Gotta go,” I said.
“What’s up?” asked the Captain.
“My daughter’s in labor.” I clattered out the door and began sprinting for real. Grandpa was somehow slightly more important than Team Tard.
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