It started as a one-off, a passing conversation in the back of a Wellington craft-beer bar, the waft of warm knee-pads rising through the crowded seating, mud-flecked bikes gathered at the door like horses outside a saloon.
This guy had a plan, an objective, and he was used to getting his way. The light flashed from his gold watch, and his darting eyes skipped from the floor to his carbon Nomad and back.
“I like smooth,” he said, spreading his chubby pale hands across the sticky bar top. “But you know what it’s like when there’s that one thing that gets in the way. The wrong place at the wrong time. If we could, you know, take it out, the world would be better for everyone.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I knew what he was saying. I nodded. When someone who earns more in a week than I do in a year says something, I find it pays to nod. He offered to get the next round.
He returned with a double XPA. “You can never please everyone,’’ he continued, “so sometimes someone just has to make the call. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. The thing is, I need a chef.”
Next thing I knew, he was handing me an envelope full of money and a handful of grainy A4 photos—a location for interception, and the times when he knew it would be quiet. I’d need lights, he said.
The first one was the hardest. Under the light of a waning moon, I checked and rechecked the photos. Imagine if I got the wrong one. Looking over my shoulder, I closed in. I did it with a saw, a ten-dollar special from the local hardware store. I never imagined the mess it would make. I dragged the corpse down the hill and hid it deep in a thicket of blackberry.
The barbs dragged at my flesh, but I barely noticed. A few parts had dropped off, and I flung them as far as I could. But there was still so much mess. If only I had brought a shovel. I scraped dirt with my hands and feet, desperate to cover the evidence.
Suddenly I heard the buzz of tyres, and saw a pair of lights up the hill. I ran into the bushes and cowered. The lights flashed past, none-the-wiser. I had got away with it. I skipped off of the hill and straight on to the internet, keen to spend my hard-earned cash.
My client was happy. He achieved his goal. Word got around, and before long I was busy. It turns out there was always something that needed fixing, that required the delicate touch of a specialist like me.
But my actions didn’t go unnoticed. The internet forums thrummed with debate—who was the perpetrator, what was the need, would this be the downfall of the whole community?
The authorities stepped up their game, with signs and cameras, words to the local clubs. But I was too smart for that. Everywhere I went, the authorities went after. I skipped from forest to park, dispatching my victims with ease. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, I reminded myself, and I was a professional omeletteer.
Generally my clients just wanted individuals taken out, but I had grander designs of my own.
They wanted to ease their efforts down an existing path, but I wanted to blaze a new trail. I mastered a plot where I took out whole groupings, two-dozen fully-grown specimens all felled in a line. The power was intoxicating.
People who knew what I was up to begged me to be discreet, to consider my actions, to keep it away from the public eye. They couldn’t see what I could see, how it would all be worth it when I was finished. At night I hacked and I slashed, I sawed and I dug. This wasn’t just taking out a tree from the inside of a corner, or fixing a slippery root. I was reinventing mountain biking, and the whole world would tremble from my gnar.
Turns out the council didn’t see it that way. A week after cutting my new line on a popular hill above the city, they planted seedlings over almost every other existing track. The network had been decimated. My commute into town has gone from a loam-filled adventure to a greasy clay road.
As the leaves brown and curl up on my victims, and I ride past the signs at the head of the freshly closed trails, I can’t help but feel a jarring pang of remorse.
PLEASE, DON’T CUT TREES DOWN, REMOVE ROOTS OR MODIFY TRACKS THAT AREN’T YOURS.