Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) editions from Amazon. HERE
I blanked out the last few minutes. I stopped hearing when the muffled screams turned to a choking sound just before the silence; but they were still there, behind the tree. Her pitiful pleas hushed in the cold and dark; I just froze. I’m usually upright when its dark, so it felt strange lying with my front LED’s flashing aimlessly into the ground and my left pedal and handlebar grip sunk deep in the soggy turf; it felt to me that she was begging him to stop right up to the end.
The evening had started quite well. I was docked – anchored, as we call it – at the large rank on the south east corner of Hyde Park overlooking the Lanesborough Hotel where all the nice people stay. I’d only had two hires that day; one, a Thai tourist lady, who thankfully, on account of her terrible cycling, only took me for a short but shaky tour around the Park for twenty minutes or so, and the other, a lady from Liverpool, who took me on a sedate pedal along Carriage Ride to gaze up at the Albert Memorial, and then back again. So, quite nice for a cold, late September Wednesday. Around eight o’clock that evening, however, things changed.
Despite what people think, we Boris Bikes – as we’ve become known – live a pretty easy life. Most of our riders are either visitors or commuters; quite different in what they are out to achieve, but equally respectful of us; visitors try not to get themselves killed and commuters do their best to look after us. Every now and then we get taken by someone who treats us badly – one fool even rode one of us up Mont Ventoux in France! Some of us have been stolen and a few of us have even ended up at the bottom of the Thames; but mostly we just potter about the town.
I just knew that the man running obliquely from behind the darkened trees near the Holocaust Memorial Gardens in the middle of Hyde Park was wrong. Even through the gloom of the early evening, I could see he was running towards us and I just knew he was going to do something; my rider – a commuter man of around thirty, who I remember had taken me on this route across Hyde Park once before, didn’t even seem to notice him – I think was listening to Radio Four on his headphones. The hit was hard and the dull crunch resonated thought my pressed steel frame as the running man’s fist smashed into my rider’s cheek. We crashed to the ground and my rider, who I initially thought had been knocked clean out by the punch, rolled onto his back in a slow motion daze with a moan and his dislodged earphones cackling with laughter; Just a Minute , I think. I thought that would be it and we would be left there on the pavement. But it wasn’t that simple. Our assailant came and stood over us and, after looking down at my rider for a moment, leaned down, grabbed the leather satchel from his shoulder and emptied the contents onto the floor. He took a couple of things and then started to try to get into the inside pocket of the man’s jacket; the man tried to stop him but, after another punch in the face, he lay still again. With a wallet now in his own pocket, the robber picked me up, casually adjusted my saddle up a bit and rode me away. He seemed very calm and rode me quite nicely up to Marble Arch, where, after deftly weaving his way through the busy evening traffic, we sauntered along Oxford Street.
As usual, the brightly lit shops were all still open and there were plenty of shoppers about; scanning the pavements I could tell he was looking for something. Suddenly he pulled me over near Bond Street tube station and he stood and intently watched the shoppers. Moving off again down Gilbert Street, I suddenly realised what was about to happen. Up ahead, close to the kerb, was a smartly dressed woman walking away from us with three or four shopping bags in her hand. We started to speed up and as we passed her, he put out his hand and simply took her shopping bags from her grasp without missing a pedal stroke – she didn’t even have time to shout. A quick right – he didn’t indicate – along Weighouse Street and then north again up Duke Street and we were back on Oxford Street. It was the easiest crime ever committed. After putting the contents of the bags into the rucksack on his back and throwing the carrier bags into a bin, we were off again.
Next was a man holding a woman with one hand and a shopping bag with the other. Easy, again – like plucking fruit from trees! A little while later, after we’d relieved several more unsuspecting shoppers of their bags, we met with a man near Marble Arch. He gave my rider a £50 note and we rode away. It all seemed so simple. I’d never been a getaway bike before; did it make me an accessory?
I thought that would be it, but it wasn’t. We sped away from the lights and back to the darkness of the Park, heading out along North Carriage Drive. He was feeling hyper; hands too tight and legs too wayward. He was looking across to the path that ran on the other side of the grass and the trees growing alongside of the Drive. Again, I knew he was looking for something; like he knew there would be something there for him. The road was quiet with no one around. We may have been only yards away from the bustling Hyde Park Road that went from Marble Arch to Bayswater, but we could have been in the middle of nowhere; we were alone and the silence was ominous. He stopped and, still sitting with one foot on a pedal, he earnestly examined his mobile. I could hear the tiny beeps and dings as he answered texts and flipped through his Facebook. What were we waiting for?
I think I heard them first. Coming from behind us on the pathway behind the trees, I heard footsteps. Not just footsteps, but the regular scuffling sound of sneakers on autumn leaves; a late night jogger making a final sortie around the Park; people live the strangest hours in the centre of London. Then I saw her. She was tall and well built with earphones and jogging bottoms, and gently padding along the path towards us. I thought she had seen us, but her eyes were focused on the darkened pavement in front of her. He pretended not to notice as she passed us, no more than thirty feet away. But instantly she was gone he put his phone away and we started after her. Slowly, quietly, we crossed the grass strip and rode up behind her; he was picking his place and ensuring the coast was clear. Suddenly he accelerated and we were on her. He didn’t bother to stop and just rode straight into her from behind. I crashed heavily on top of her as he jumped off at the last moment before grabbing her neck and punching her face. He dragged her by her hair from the path and into the darkness behind the nearest tree. I could hear it happening, but there was nothing I could do. I heard dull thumps and ripping sounds. She started to cry out but her voice was instantly muffled. She was clearly fighting for her life and, apparently, losing. It was horrible and I just looked at the ground, helpless. The moments of silence passed as drops of water from the recent rain ran freely into the grass from the small holes in my frame.
It could only have been minutes later that I was woken from my torment of guilt and horror by an eruption of noise and lights. Two police cars with blue lights ablaze slid to a halt with their headlamps blinding the scene. Peering through my spokes as they flickered in the lights, I saw her standing there next to the tree. She was not just alive; on his knees in front of her was my rider; handcuffed, his face beaten, and bleeding.
Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE
Copyright © 2016 by Simon Bever. All Rights Reserved.