David R Ewens

Flirtation with Murder

1st July 2007

I watched Ed’s well-muscled, lycra-clad legs and backside disappearing steadily in the distance as I made my own laborious way up the steep tor. I was out of breath and ill-tempered, a physical and emotional state that I’d become absolutely familiar with right from the beginning of this ill-fated cycling holiday. We’d left our bikes and packs at the bottom, hidden behind a clump of bushes, and begun our scramble through the rocky outcrops fifteen minutes before. The guidebook promised one of the best views in the Dordogne at the top of the tor, and this is what we were aiming for. Ed and I had been acquaintances for years, but it’s only when you go on holiday with people and spend twenty four hours a day with them that you really get to know them.

I was in no doubt that I knew Ed now. The main new discovery was his one- upmanship. Not only did he know everything, but he was an expert in it. With a lectureship in Modern History at a red-brick university, and a research and publications record that was the envy of my department, I felt I knew my main research interest, British naval rearmament in the 1900s, but with Ed, it was as though I had achieved a mediocre GCSE in the subject. He pontificated about the Edwardians as if he had been transported back in time and lived amongst them.

It wasn’t just early 20th century British history. He was an expert on the stock market, bragging about his gains at the peak of a bull market, and how he managed to buy back in just as a bear market was ending. If you happened to own a 16 valve two litre Mercedes, he owned the BMW equivalent that got from 0-60 in .5 of a second less. If you had been in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he had been in European Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. My touring bike sported 21 gears. His had 27, with ratios set perfectly to get him triumphantly up the steepest of hills. I had spent the first four days of the holiday labouring behind as he regularly became a tinier and tinier speck in the distance (a bit like the present moment) and then waited at the top of a rise, his pose on his bicycle a mixture of condescension, patience and pity. I had come to hate him.

I forced myself on and upwards, my breath in short gasps, my ears popping, my face red and streaked with sweat. Inevitably, as I crawled over the last part of the steep incline, there he was, as relaxed and cool as if he had arrived in a golf cart. I had discovered that he had a thick skin too – oblivious to the bile I felt in my heart.

‘Looks like your fitness levels need a bit of a boost in the hill-climbing department as well, Jack,’ he grinned. ‘God, you should see your face. If it was any redder I’d have you down as a hopeless alcoholic! Anyway, never mind that – just drink in the view.’

At this point, I was on my hands and knees, and just about ready to retch. But when I had recovered a bit, I could see what he meant. The valley stretched out breathtakingly before us, but even more interesting, given the hatred and bile I felt, was the sheer drop below us. Murder was in my heart. He was engrossed, not paying me the slightest attention after the patronising first greeting. His eyes restlessly scanned the panorama. In a moment, he’d tell me that he’d spotted a rare greater-crested black narrow-billed curlew (he was an ornithological expert as well, of course). Just one little push. There was no-one within miles. I was just behind him. There would be no further humiliations. It would be so easy. Just that one little firm push…

I flexed myself into a crouch. I was ready to spring, and then that tiny voice of reason began its nagging monologue. ‘Is the hatred and anger you feel actually worth murder? And, more importantly, what about the disruption to your holiday? It’s France you’re in. Don’t you know that an examining magistrate would be appointed, and the interrogations would stretch days into the future? A forensic team would be all over Ed’s corpse – some eager beaver tyro might even find your fingerprints on Ed’s Lycra!’

Though my hatred didn’t really subside, my anger did. Tense crouch relaxed into resigned slump. OK, no murder, no interrogation, no house arrest – but nevertheless four more days of Ed’s intolerable superciliousness.

It was when we got to the bottom, one hundred meters of smooth grass between there and the bushes in which the bikes were hidden, that I had the flash of inspiration greater even than the finest ‘Eureka!’ moments of my research.

‘Race you to the bikes!’ I yelled.

Ed didn’t have time to think. He was swept along on the crest of my urgency and enthusiasm. We were running, sprinting, every sinew straining, the wind smacking our faces and roaring in our ears. He had no chance. His thick, chunky legs and torso were built for cycling and scrambling. I had no stamina, but the frame of a human whippet and a low centre of gravity. I reached the bushes a good seven metres in front. The boil of four days of humiliation was lanced, and better still, lanced without mortal harm. There was no question who won here. Who was the red-faced alcoholic now?

David R Ewens

 

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