Mutant Bike Thieves’ Velociraptor Awareness Special (Episode 3)

MBT Velociraptor Cover

Quest Haswell has landed a fancy new job at a big-name Midtown Manhattan hospital doing medical massage for cancer patients and hospital staff alike. But when he notices that both the mailroom and the rehab department have been infiltrated by devious and hungry velociraptors in disguise, he must devise a plan to weed out the deadly interlopers. Will he and the Mutant Bike Thieves rescue the hospital in time to spare it from being turned into lunch meat for supposedly extinct carnivorous megafauna? Find out in Mutant Bike Thieves’ Velociraptor Awareness Special!

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by Konju/Gotham Parks

Quest Haswell drummed on Rosario Robles’ back at a high tempo with his cupped hands. He was providing tapotement in his new role as a full-time massage therapist in the recently reopened Mid-Manhattan Empire Hospital’s Oncology Department. His clients included both hospital staff and cancer patients, and he relished the opportunity to use his techniques and chatter to lull people into a sense of relaxation and sometimes learn of their wisdom or their burden.

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“You just started here?” Rosario asked in a tired voice muffled through the face cushion of the massage chair her body was cozily folded into. It was late on a Friday afternoon in August, the whole floor drowsy and eager to clock out.

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“This past Monday. I really like it so far. And you? Been here long?” he wondered as he pressed his fists into her lower back.

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“I’ve been here since April I think. I work as a physical therapist assistant, by the way. I think this place is cool, except the rehab wing has gotten really weird lately. Mailroom, too, but maybe that’s normal for them. You’re not attached to rehab, though, right? You’re more for the floor at large, right?”

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Quest noticed tight knots in her shoulders that he now tried to squeeze away. Rosario was lean and bore the appearance of a young Ethiopian marathoner in scrubs, making for a challenging job of gaining traction on her tense and tightly-bound musculature. “You need to get a massage more often, and stretch! But yeah, I float the floor with this massage game. You say rehab has only recently gotten weird?”

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Rosario seized and grunted slightly as Quest dug his elbow into her upper back to fight a stubborn trigger point. She quickly pushed her face out of the cushion to look around before collapsing back into it when she knew it was safe to speak about her colleagues. “Everything was going pretty well until a massive turnover in staff. A lot of them were agency contract people and so weren’t protected by the union. Lots of H1B visa people that always get ripped off and exploited in these jobs. Anyway those of us fortunate enough to work directly for the hospital had been working with the union to pressure more direct hires as a big recent campaign of ours. We thought the turnover – we lost a lot of good people by the way – might have been a sign of success. But instead now you have all these really shady people all of a sudden. They’re all uptight, all jumpy and shit. Always hungry. They don’t have any bedside manner at all. Sometimes I think they wanna eat the patients,” Rosario explained between sighs of pain and release.

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“That does sound kinda shady. Maybe it’s a new agency, the type that only staffs crazy people,” he surmised as he placed her hands folded behind her head to stretch her chest with a pull to the elbows. He then got in front of her to pull her arms across her face while dragging her shoulder blades with his fingers. From that position he sat on his stool and dug his vibrating fingers into her neck. “But why would they think that would make money for the hospital, a batch of anal-retentive types that the patients probably don’t like very much? I mean, do the patients like these guys?”

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“No! They all complain! They always ask for the old staff back, every day wondering where they went!”

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“Too bad. And, you know, those rehab folks have tended to completely avoid me, now that I think about it. You need people who know how to be human beings first to work in settings like this, you know? Your degree and technical expertise and academic shit don’t matter if you can’t be human with people,” he said as he gave her one last bout of chopping to the back before having her take a deep breath and stand up.

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She arose lazily from the chair, circling her neck in a steady stretch before slowly opening her eyes to the broad windows of the oncology halls overlooking the Garment District from a tenth-floor perch. “You’re not bad, Quest Haswell. Can I try this on you?” she asked with a smirk.

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“Officially, you need a license from the State of New York to do this, so no. But yes, of course! I could use it,” he said as he sterilized the headrest and plopped himself into the chair. “Ow!” he shouted as Rosario punched him in the low back in a novice move.

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“Sorry! Too much pressure,” she said before moderating her fists for a lighter pounding. “Something’s really messed up about some of the staff around here, though. And I think patients are being discharged or disappeared way too soon, even by the standards of modern insurance in America,” she whispered in his ear. “Watch out,” she admonished before letting him go as it was now time to clean up, record some session notes and clock out for the weekend.

•••

Quest had only that day arranged to keep his bike in the hospital’s underground parking garage, using his nascent powers of suggestion to command that the parking personnel keep watch on his bike and waive any associated fees. While heading down to the garage to retrieve his green Bianchi, he bumped into Rosario, who was about to grab her own white Trek that she locked to a hook on a standpipe near the garage’s outer gate.

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“Where you riding to?” Quest asked her.

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“East Harlem. You?”

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“Morrisania.”

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“Shoot, we’re almost neighbors!” she whooped.

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“Word! I know a woman cyclist who lives in Central Harlem that you ought to meet!”

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At that moment they both heard an otherworldly snarl from across the garage. Looking in that direction they saw what looked in the dark distance like some giant lizard creature in a lab coat just pulling a mask off its face and metamorphosing in shape from human to a very large leathery velociraptor. The creature shook its head and stretched its arms out as another creature in a lab coat, head of a lizard but body still in human form, wheeled out a gurney with a covered body on it. The first velociraptor stopped to inspect it before biting into the leg of the old dead woman in it with an audible crunch.

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Quest looked bug-eyed at Rosario, who clasped her mouth in shock at the grotesque scene. A third lizard-headed humanoid wearing the casual buttoned-down garb of the mailroom staff stepped out from the same door to hand the others some letters, to which they nodded and seemed to offer thanks by their body language. But before the mailroom velociraptor completely turned around to head back to his post, it noticed Quest and Rosario staring.

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The pair bolted to where her bike was still locked and then began pedaling for dear life. Quest was a relatively speedy cyclist but Rosario was leagues faster, spinning with superhuman cadence up the urban canyon of Sixth Ave and through Central Park before stopping to let Quest catch her as he quickly found himself many blocks behind.

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“Did you see that shit? I knew it! I knew shit wasn’t right with these new staff. They’re fucking velociraptors!” Rosario yelled as Quest panted in his vain effort to draft her.

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“You’re too fast!” Quest shouted through labored breathing. “Slow down for a second,” he hollered, just before a wolf-sized velociraptor was now seen gaining on them. Rosario put the gas down again, pedaling far and fast. Quest picked up the pace as well but not fast enough to keep the animal from jumping on and biting his right arm.

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Near the pool by Harlem Meer, he crashed against a tree, which dislodged the velociraptor from his arm and rendered it stunned. Quest then stood back and shouted for it to go home, to which it complied and slunk away in a daze. He then sat down to look at his arm, which only suffered some superficial bite marks, and then at his bike, whose front wheel was completely bent out of whack. By now Rosario had circled back to his position.

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“You got rid of it?” she wondered of the little reptile.

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“I sent it home. I can do that.”

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“What about the others? Can you just send them home, too? I need this job, son. I don’t want to avoid my whole department. Unless I request a transfer back down to the outpatient clinic. But still, I don’t think they’ll like me knowing their dirty little secret.”

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“You know what? We probably could do this with the other lizards. Why should we be afraid of them? We have contracts with the hospital and collective bargaining agreements through the nurse’s union. But they don’t. Those velociraptor contractors can’t just get rid of us,” Quest reasoned.

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“But you only just started. You don’t think they won’t say bad things to the heads at oncology about you?”
“So far I haven’t pissed anyone off with my massages. It won’t be that easy to fire us. Let’s see what happens on Monday first. Maybe we can all keep it on the low until these guys move on to the next healthcare facility.”

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“I think they need to be stopped outright so there’s never another gang of lizards at hospitals in New York chomping on dead people’s legs and handing each other letters,” she said, shaking her head.

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“One day at a time. Monday, let’s see what it’s like.”

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“Fine,” she agreed. “Let’s see.”

•••

Following a homebound, nervous weekend, Rosario clocked in the next day only to see one of the contract occupational therapists behind her giving her dirty, ice-cold looks as she turned around to greet him. He frowned first, then puckered his lips while wincing and looked away as if she smelled like a passing sanitation truck in a heatwave. Rosario crossed her brows angrily and flared her nostrils at him in reply before catching the elevator.

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Standing in that crowded metal chamber were the oncology director and the social worker, who greeted her by name and with a smile, to which she reciprocated. But two physical therapists from her wing stood with their arms folded, wearing airs of disgust at her warm reception from the other staff. Rosario was eager to get off the elevator, focus on her patients, and avoid speaking with her colleagues. As the word ‘assistant’ was in her job title, she could treat under supervision, which essentially meant that she could carry out the full prescribed treatment plan for clients by herself throughout her day, and any of the full-fledged physical therapists would have to sign off on her documentation to make it legit. The contract physical therapists typically didn’t like to assume such responsibilities anyway, and left it to one of the few remaining hospital-employed therapists, so Rosario was able to avoid interacting with the velociraptors altogether on a typical day.

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Today, however, the chief among the contractors, a thin middle-aged British-accented man named Gonzalo Rapice, tapped her on the shoulder as she was pushing a frail patient in her wheelchair to the treatment gym, whispering, “you know too much. We need to process this.”

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His breath smelled like a hot leather tannery, and she recoiled at his air of intrigue and at having to deal with the velociraptor issue directly now. “You’re a velociraptor that wants to bite on dead patients. What else is there to process?” she exclaimed loudly and in the presence of other staff, contract and direct-hire alike, including the rehab director, Suman Fernandes.

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Gonzalo turned away quickly as Suman approached in her white lab coat. “What’s all this? Is that guy harassing you?” she wondered, concerned.

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“The contractors. They’re all velociraptors!” she yelled, again.

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“Calm down! Everyone will think you’re crazy!” Suman said, ordering another therapist to take on Rosario’s patient and pulling her into her office.

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“I can prove it! Ask the new massage therapist, Quest Haswell! We were there in the parking garage getting our bikes last Friday when we saw them pulling off their masks! They bit somebody’s leg! Mailroom guys are velociraptors, too!” Rosario screamed.

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“Shoot. I knew something was up when the morgue was telling all the department heads about weird bite marks and missing bodies at the last meeting. Shady-ass contractors. But you sound incredible talking about them being dinosaurs. Maybe you guys were super stressed and saw everything through a heat mirage down there? And it only looked like they were lizards? I’m trying to cover you when internal reviews begin on this matter, because HR is going to think you’re a liability with this ridiculous explanation.”

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“Ask Quest Haswell!” she pleaded again. “And bring in one of the contractors so we can pull his mask off!”

•••

Across the floor and by the broad hallway windows overlooking Midtown, Quest had serviced a dozen patients and hospital staff that morning, minding his business about the velociraptor affair, until Karlo Banaga, donning military fatigues below his long black hair and bushy beard, plopped himself in the massage chair from out of nowhere, just as Quest was starting on a short break. “What the hell are you doing here?” Quest asked in amazement.

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“I sensed something. I can sense when situations start happening with people I know. But only when the situation is really fucking weird. And something weird is happening around you right now. Can you explain?” Karlo wondered.

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“Karlo, there’s velociraptors in the mailroom. And there’s velociraptors in rehab, on this floor. How do we get rid of them?” Quest asked quietly as he compressed Karlo’s mid-back while looking around for listening ears.

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“Ahhh, the old velociraptors in the hospital scenario!” Karlo sighed as if realizing deep enlightenment.

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“They’re in disguise. They look like people, people who wear lab coats. But they act cold and it seems they want to eat people.”

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“Come. Let’s go deal with it right now. The velociraptors, I’m guessing they just came here? So they’re still probationary employees?”

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“In fact they’re private contractors who started not long before I did. They’re not unionized.”

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“So let’s go make some noise! I’ll make them think I’m a patient who got did wrong because the PT wants to eat me!” Karlo suggested as he rose out of the massage chair and marched right to where Rosario and Suman had just moments before been joined by Gonzalo, who was now arguing about the issue in Suman’s office.

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“Take off that mask! Right now!” Karlo ordered of Gonzalo as he barged in uninvited to the office. Gonzalo froze in resistance to Karlo’s powers of suggestion. “NOW!” Karlo reiterated, to which Gonzalo lifted up his mask and metamorphosed in shape and form.

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Suman’s jaw dropped as Gonzalo stood there, big, dangerous-looking and reptilian, having deformed his lab coat and t-shirt to assume the proper posture of a velociraptor. “What do you have to say for yourself?” she finally asked him as everyone else stood and stared in disgust.

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“Velociraptors are everywhere and we’re hungry, girl,” Gonzalo said, now speaking with a thick New York accent. “We been oppressed too long, yo. No more! We’re eating! We’re getting big jobs! If we can’t bite dead people, we’ll pay for that good food in gourmet restaurants! Cuz we’re getting paid right now. Sending our kids to better bigger schools. The man is finished keeping us in the gutter. Starting from now, we winning.”

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“So why you gotta disguise yourselves? You should be proud to be fucking velociraptors, nah mean? Represent! Everyone thinks you’re extinct and shit!” Rosario said.

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“We tried that, kid! I don’t know if you ever heard of South Bronx Velociraptors…”

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“Shit, I’m from the South Bronx!” Quest interrupted.

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“Word!” Gonzalo said as he fist-bumped Quest. “But we had this crew, always wearing the masks. Then one day we tried to just be our real selves, big new pride initiative. But it barely lasted a day! Cops were all over us, chasing us everywhere. People throwing rotten food at us as we ran through the hood for cover. It was a total disaster. That’s why we wear the mask. Y’all humans don’t like difference, man! It’s your fault! Y’all stay hating!”

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At this point the three humans and mutants looked at each other with the quiet acknowledgment that Gonzalo had a good point. “So how do we resolve this? What do you want?” Suman finally asked with a contract negotiator’s tone.

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“What do you mean? Y’all lizards can’t stay here!” Rosario protested.

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“Rosario, this is an A-list hospital. We can’t just throw out a big chunk of the staff overnight, just because they’re different. They’ve otherwise been doing their job, and keeping their time efficiency high. In management, sometimes, you make deals, even with velociraptors. Or do you want to keep discriminating against them?” Suman suggested.

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“Look, we want to get more paid vacation days than the agency gives us. We want to be protected by worker’s comp, and not have to contribute so much for health care. We want to be more comfortable, like staff therapists. We want to be at the table when the contract is being discussed,” Gonzalo asserted.

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“What about biting dead people’s legs?” Rosario asked.

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“We can give that up. Easy. If we get better conditions and pay, we can afford to get our fix for that human leg flavor some other way. Just yesterday one of the velociraptors was talking about setting up a pop-up restaurant in Kips Bay that serves mock-meat human leg made of soy proteins and shit. If it tastes good, we’ll do more shit like that, promise. We certainly won’t eat any more legs in this facility, if we can get some more inclusion and representation around here. Fair is fair!”

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Everyone looked at each other with faces suggesting reluctant compromise. “Do I sense a deal?” Karlo wondered, breaking the silence.

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Suman stepped forward to shake the leathery claw of the unmasked velociraptor. “Let’s work with this for now. I’ll put it in writing this afternoon for all the rehab staff to review and sign. It will no longer be a secret that y’all are velociraptors, at least to staff. For now, and I know some people think you guys are kind of cold, but things are running relatively smoothly, and we don’t want to interrupt that, right, Rosario?” Rosario stared flatly back at Suman in silence.

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“Thank you,” Gonzalo offered with a genuine smiley contortion of his lizard-face.

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“Aren’t we forgetting something? What about the mailroom? What about those velociraptors?” Quest wondered.

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“Nobody seems to mind those guys. Nobody’s been missing mail or memos lately, right? And those guys actually are union. Mr. Haswell, let’s work on one thing at a time with this situation. Now let’s all get back to work, quickly. We’ve lost like an hour dealing with this issue. And Gonzalo, please, put that goddamn mask back on,” Suman ordered.

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The humans, mutants and velociraptors all cautiously fell back into their duties, each with a cautious eye about the other’s true motives and appetites.

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Mutant Bike Thieves Versus the Autonomous Tall Bike (Episode 2)

Mutant Bike Thieves Vs the Autonomous Tall Bike

Money Abimbola is interested in her new date, Kofi Neptune, AKA “the Haitian Exchequer.” But when he invents a self-driving tall bike in part to impress her, the machine winds up terrorizing the innocent children and grannies of Flatbush. Will Money be able to recruit the Mutant Bike Thieves to stop this destructive machine in time to spare Brooklyn from total obliteration and tall bike dominance? Read on to find out!

Introducing Kofi Neptune, “the Haitian Exchequer,” and Nestor Carlyle, “the Bike Whisperer.” Also starring Money Abimbola, Karlo Banaga and Quest Haswell.

By Konju/ Gotham Parks

Money Abimbola put her finger-tutting telekineses to work in her mundane chores. She got up in the morning in her cramped Harlem studio and didn’t touch her bedsheets or futon. Instead she sat in a nearby chair, closed her eyes and gesticulated her fingers every which way, to a rhythm, so that the sheets would fold in mid-air, and the futon would snap into sofa-position remotely. She would stand by the refrigerator and finger-tut the door open, finger-tut last night’s leftovers out and into the stove, and finger-tut the gas aflame to warm her breakfast.

She’d put on music on days she stayed close to home for bigger tasks. She tutted to house jams while multiple sponges scrubbed the sink, counter and stove. She tutted to punk rock as her steaming iron glided over her work clothes. She made immeasurable skills gains in this independent practice over the month since she’d met Karlo Banaga and was quietly pleased with herself, as until now the only audience to these odd domestic feats was herself.

•••

After a nourishing and savory dinner at an Ital restaurant in Harlem, Money and her date, Kofi Neptune, booked a ride on the 2 Train all the way to its southern terminus, Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College. The ride was sweaty and crowded on a hot Friday evening, but passed quickly with conversation.

“Why do they call you the Haitian Exchequer, Kofi?” Money asked as they stood facing each other while leaning against the sliding door. Money had been introduced to Kofi through a work colleague, and he turned out to be both a fellow accountant and bike enthusiast.

“There’s, like, multiple origin stories for that, Money,” he began with a pensive stroke of his goatee. “The oldest starts in second or third grade, I think. There were many Haitian kids coming up in East Orange, but everyone always bagged on me because I liked to make to do lists and wish lists to organize my thoughts and dreams, and put a big X next to the things I actually got or got done. I was proud of that. I did it everywhere, home, school, playground, wherever. So the big boys and girls one day started saying, ‘yo, x-checker’ this, x-checker that. ‘There goes the Haitian x-checker!’ That’s the first one.

“The other one is where I started studying accounting in college and got interested in the actual history of exchequers. One day I was reading an article on my laptop in my dorm about it and my roommate, a Pakistani poli-sci student, looked over my shoulder and said, ‘so are you gonna be, like, the Haitian exchequer?’ I shook my head like it sounded familiar but welcome now, whereas I was kind of embarrassed as a kid about the title. From him, it spread to our greater circle of friends and acquaintances until I was generally known by that nickname.”

“Pretty fascinating, weirdo,” Money responded with an intrigued grin.

“What about you, Money? I know your parents actually named you Money, but why? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s definitely unique and kinda course-defining, right?” Kofi asked.

“Well, think about what money is. The means of exchange. The thing everybody needs, that nearly everybody wants and that absolutely everybody could use more of. Whether you’re a socialist or a capitalist or into mixed economies, you think about money. In America or in Nigeria it’s our true deity. What, besides the want for air, water, food or sex, is more powerful than money and getting it? You could ask my parents. But that’s my theory. I am the great attractor. I’m what you want,” she theorized with a smirk.

“Indisputably! But has it ever given you pause, to be called Money all the time? You’re probably totally used to it, though.”

“No, don’t assume I’m so simple. First, kids came up with every nickname, shorthand and slur in the book because of that name! From cashorcredit to payroll to CrefloDollar to ATM, it was endless! Then, I would think about greedy people in my circle, penny-pinching, whiny, basic motherfuckers, and then think of my name and be embarrassed. I’m greedy, too. But I don’t want to be permanently associated with that tendency. It’s a headache, sometimes, when i just want to live well and get paid well for a good job and hopefully not at someone else’s expense, like truly greedy selfish bastards the world over, you know?”

“I feel you. I feel the same exact way about being the Haitian exchequer, and being associated with annoying tax assessors the world over. The guilt keeps just washing over me!”

“Will you stop!?” She said with a knuckled jab to his chest.

When they finally arrived at his moderately tidy Flatbush loft, Kofi immediately directed Money, on her first visit to his place, to a tall object under a white tarp leaning against a white wall under high white ceilings. “What do you think it is?” he asked quizzically.

“A tall bike,” she replied confidently, instantly upsetting his surprise.

Kofi frowned slightly as he strained to recover some poise. “But what kind of tall bike?” He asked, wild-eyed.

“I dunno! What kinds are there? I guess a steel one, right?”

“Well, yes, it’s steel, but how do you think it runs?”

“Will you just show it to me already? What’s the surprise? It’s a tall bike!” she hollered.

“Not just any tall bike, girl! It’s autonomous!”

“What?”

Kofi pulled off the tarp to reveal a steel fixed-gear tall bike painted matte black, one vintage road frame welded atop another, two slick road wheels at the base, and with brass spikes sticking out of either side of both hubs. Brass spikes suck out of the sides of the flat pedals as well.

“Look, check out the computer under the top tube,” he said, pointing to what looked like two Raspberry Pi circuitboards tethered to two iPhones, a solid-state drive and a DSLR battery, all crowded within a water-tight plastic case with wires leading to the crankset, the head tube, and an array of adhesive solar panels taped to the down tube. “I’ve got the program-set for the Segway and the Hoverboard in there. It’s running with the kernel for IBM’s Watson computer, the one that won Jeopardy, remember? And the operating system is modified to run Google’s machine-learning algorithms non-stop in the background. This thing is smart enough to ride itself, Money!”

“Are you serious? This is insane! How long did this take you?” she wondered after staring flabbergasted at the contraption for some time.

“I’m no welder. I bought the tall bike from some guy in Williamsburg who just collects them. The spikes I added for show just yesterday. The computer stuff and the self-balancing gear that’s in the head tube and crankset were the hard part. Like six weeks all together? Luckily, all the software I mashed together was already right there on the internet.”

“Alright, let’s see. Put it on, let’s roll. You wanna impress me? Show me this is more than a gimmick,” Money demanded.

“Now, at night? It’s all still kind of preliminary, still some code I want to double-check for anomalies, you know?”

“You kidding me? I’ll leave right now unless you power it on and show the world your magic, man! Otherwise all you’ve got here is some boring-ass tall bike with no story other than your silly circuit board experiment that never did it any good but to weigh it down more. Let’s boogie, son!”

Kofi touched his goatee, looked painfully at the tall bike, and then painfully at Money’s insistent, unimpressed face. Eager to please on their third date, he decided against caution to press the sole button on the computer for five seconds, release it, and wait.

“Nothing’s happening,” Money complained after a long minute.

“Shoot, we have to give it some momentum. Would you help me bring it downstairs so we can roll it down the street a bit?”

“No. Those spikes are gonna stab me, man. Nah-uh,”

“Fine, fine,” he muttered as he grappled the tall bike down three flights of stairs, avoiding the spikes and the narrow dimensions of the stairway so as to not damage the critical pieces.

Once they were past the lobby and on a relatively quiet Glenwood Road near Nostrand Avenue, Kofi stopped to catch his breath. “Would you do the honors?”

“Sure! Oh, and let me impress you with something!” Money replied as she closed her eyes and raised her hands. “Let go of the bike.”

Money twitched her fingers and pumped her forearms for a few seconds before throwing her arms in a single swoosh that sent the autonomous tall-bike rolling east down Glenwood Road. She then opened her eyes as a red LED light under the seat post flared up bright suddenly and the pedals started pumping by themselves. The roll was slow and steady at first, allowing the pair to follow the bike at a swift walking pace down the street.

“What the hell did you do?” Kofi asked, whispering.

“That’s my special skill and genius. I move my fingers and the objects of the world move with me. Finger tutting is the new magic around here!” she replied, very audibly.

“That’s something else, girl. That’s something else!” Kofi whispered heavily, wide-eyed and dumbfounded.

The bike began to accelerate gradually, and soon the pair were jogging, then running. “Is there any stopping this thing? A remote control or something?” Money asked, panting.

“Didn’t think of that!”

Soon the bike was just a distant red dot under the low night clouds and dim street lamps of Brooklyn. Past midnight now, as the pair stopped to catch their breath, a silence broke over them, and then, as they looked at each other, they heard one scream, then another, coming from the direction the bike was headed.

“Shit! You think the bike is cutting people?” Money screeched.

“Oooh, look at the mess we started!” Kofi groaned, clasping his face with his hands. “Should we call the cops or something?” he asked after a heavy moment of despair.

“No,” Money contemplated, eyes to the east, the red dot now an indecipherable blur among the motley urban glow of night. “No. I know some people. I’ll call them.”

•••

Karlo was playing midnight chess in Washington Square Park, Quest Haswell standing to the side bearing witness to the contours of the game, when he received a call on his aging flip-phone from Money. His opponent, Nestor Carlyle, resident street chess champion, scowled at him up and down for not having silenced the device.

“Son of a bitch! This game is no joke! Shut that shit off!” Nestor barked.

Karlo looked at Nestor, then at Quest who nodded, and finally, with a frown, put his phone ringer on silent, ignoring the call. Nestor then paused before making one devastating move that made Karlo wince. After a couple minutes of still focus on the chess board, Karlo’s old phone buzzed suddenly and shortly, shattering the concentration of all.

All parties looked at each other upset now, Nestor wearing the face of a man deeply disrespected. Karlo ignored his disapproving face now and looked at the phone, which read from a text message from Money, “EMERGENCY! ROBOT BIKE KILLING PEOPLE IN BROOKLYN! HELP!” Karlo quietly showed Nestor and Quest the message.

“What kind of cop out is this, Karlo?” Nestor asked with extreme doubt.

“That’s from Money? Call her back, yo! She’s usually pretty legit. What’s going on?” Quest wondered.

“I’m calling her now,” Karlo said as he dialed her number and got her on the line, putting on the speakerphone for all to hear. “Money, long time! Robot bikes, though? Are you serious?”

“Dead serious!” she replied with urgency. “My date built this crazy automatic tall bike and it’s running amok in East Flatbush now. Can you help me? Is Quest there with you? Bring whoever and get to Glenwood and Nostrand ASAP!”

“This is Quest, I’m here! We’ll be on our way! But how do I know you’re not punking us? Whoever heard of robot bikes?”

“What do you mean? It’s real! Segway’s been around forever now! Supercomputers, man! Machine learning! Automated power grids and satellites! Skynet is woke! Get here pronto!”

“We’re coming,” Nestor declared calmly, rising from his bench to take a picture of the chessboard with his smartphone before wrapping himself with his beige linen overcoat. He was similar in age to Karlo, mid-thirties, but had the style and affect of a man from an earlier era, or of a man from the future, as his colleagues and acquaintances couldn’t decide where he belonged on the timeline. His fedora and glasses framed a bearded brown face that now gestured for Karlo to put the phone down.

“We’ll see you,” Karlo said to the phone before hanging up. “So we’re all doing this? You guys sure?”

“The mutant bike thieves have been looking for a positive purpose for a long time, Karlo. This is our chance to go make a stand against the wickedness of violent robot bicycles that abuse the vulnerable. If we’re gonna steal any bike, it ought to be this one,” Nestor pontificated self-satisfactorily.

“Oh, shit! When you put it like that, this sounds like our best mission! This is what we’ve been destined to steal,” Quest seconded. “Now we get to see the Bike Whisperer in action! Nestor going into power mode instead of all that chess!”

The three of them boarded their nearby road bikes, powered up their bike lights and made a quick run for the Manhattan Bridge.

•••

In the half hour between Money’s call and the arrival of the mutant bike thieves, she and Kofi walked through a trail of carnage left by the autonomous tall-bike: overturned cars, torn-up baby carriages, shattered bus shelters, and bodies mangled and writhing in pain. The authorities were running up and down the street, but had no clue as to the cause or cure of the pandemonium.

“Are your friends like you? Able to move things with dancing fingers?” Kofi asked her as he fought back feelings of anguish.

“They do their own thing. Only I am like me. You’ll see,” she responded as the mutants rolled in. “Thanks for coming! You see I wasn’t fucking with you! The bike went east! Go, go!”

Karlo, Nestor and Quest pedaled hard and fast through red lights and sirens, following the mayhem until they found the glowing red dot behind the tall bike as it tore through the hood. The tall bike stopped occasionally to spin its spikes through mailboxes and chased old people onto sidewalks to gash their legs. As the mutants caught up with the tall bike, it turned around to face them as they all stopped and looked at each other.

Karlo got off his bike and walked up to it slowly. Intending to grab the frame and vibrate it apart, he almost reached for it but was stopped with a pat on the shoulder by Nestor, who began immediately whispering to the bike, “yes, relax. We can find inner peace through mindful breathing.”

“Motherfucker, that thing doesn’t breathe!” Quest yelled. With that outburst, the tall bike lurched towards them but Quest tackled it as it tried to spin away, getting scratches from the spikes on his chest and mangling his t-shirt. “Try whispering now, idiots! I can’t hold it!”

“The bike is a weapon of peace,” Nestor quietly preached to the tall bike on second approach. “All bikes are perfectly resolved in the unborn. Realize that the empty hub is actually full of everything,” he continued as Quest growled and stumbled. “The essence of bikes is intrinsically pure,” Nestor concluded, with the bike pausing just for a second.

“Amen,” Karlo said, reaching for the bike frame again to try to break it.

“Drivel!” Quest shouted as the bike righted itself and headed west now, straight towards Kofi and Money, who was already engaged in walking pantomime to force the bike off balance, crashing it into the window of a shuttered pharmacy.

Kofi sprinted for the bike’s computer before the bike could right itself, holding the switch and powering it off just before the hub spikes could start tearing into his flesh. He then found a heavy chunk of loose pavement with which to smash the computer to pieces.

“Why you messing with dudes like this?” Quest asked Money as he and the gang approached the fallen tall bike. “That’s how you handle a bad date, calling mutant bike thieves to catch runaway robo-bikes?”

“I’m the one who launched it. Blame me,” Money said in defense of her dating preferences.

“I built it! What are you talking about? I feel so goddamn guilty now. What do we do now?” Kofi asked of the group.

“It’s over. We tried to talk reason to it, but it only understood the language of violence. Why does it always come to that? I do truly believe that bikes are weapons of peace. Do we not violate that essential trait by corrupting them with machine brains driven by blind hatred? Cycling and hatred are a toxic mix. More toxic than the ingredients of the hydrogen bomb,” Nestor affirmed.

“Man, some bike whisperer!” Quest noted, shaking his head in disappointment.

“Nestor’s bike whispering saved a lot of lives in the past! Watch your mouth about that, Quest!” Karlo yelled.

With that, Karlo, Quest and Nestor bid Kofi and Money adieu as they made their separate ways home after a long summer night. Kofi collected the frame of the tall bike, but put the bits of the computer in the nearest curb-side rubbish bin. Still heavy with guilt, he and Money sat on the curb a while longer, discussing the ways in which mayhem and magic mix under the shadows of a Brooklyn night.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Mutant Bike Thieves’ Velociraptor Awareness Special!

Mutant Bike Thieves

Mutant Bike Thieves

Karlo is a mutant full of shame and self-loathing. Will he be able to realize meaning though a crimewave of the lowest order? Find out in Mutant Bike Thieves!

Starring Karlo Banaga, Escamilla Oswald, Money Abimbola, and Quest Haswell

by Konju/ Gotham Parks


 

Last night’s rain had swamped the cratered road leading to Karlo Banaga’s cramped tin garage in Willets Point. Pondering delinquency, he poked his head out of the open garage door to check the outside operating conditions. A grin broke out across his face as he rubbed his hands to the outbound clouds. His frumpy black hair and long beard danced windswept in the easterly breeze that cool autumn morning as he prepared to enter the city to burgle and steal. He’d just inherited the garage from an uncle in the past month but was putting it to unlawful uses as the nerve center for his budding band of mutant bike thieves. All of his small crew were addicts, either to the thrill of crime or designer drugs or both and then some. Notwithstanding rumors of such a grouping having existed in Newark in the early 1990s, they were the first confirmed street organization within the five boroughs that was both all-mutant and stole bicycles as of this writing.

Karlo was hungry that Saturday morning, getting suited and booted early to do some solo work before meeting any colleagues later. He wiped the floor-sleep off his face with a damp cloth and did the same over his armpits before running his fingers through his hair. He still smelled. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a capacity for proper hygiene, but rather he lacked the infrastructure for it in that industrial garage, and so didn’t bother with the contortions needed for a full bath in a large stainless-steel sink but a few times a month, and certainly not today.

Donning wrinkled army fatigues and treadless boots, he hoofed it to Jackson Heights, walking fast and to the point down to Roosevelt Avenue in the 80s. There he could count on the noisy IRT to mask his business. The elevated 7 train was loud enough to drown out the hum of his vibrating hand as it dismantled cast-iron u-locks at very high frequencies.

His taste was typically well-cultivated. High-end road-racing and practical bikes from the likes of Trek, Specialized, or Surly topped the list. But right now he just wanted to steal whatever was in front of him. So he took hold of the thin u-lock that fastened a grimy, beat-down mountain bike to a beefy cast-iron rack planted firmly in the sidewalk. The area was still very crowded, so he worked nervously, hardly able to even look directly at what he was doing.

He would buzz his clenched fist on the metal but then kids and old folks stopped and looked weirdly at his awkward posture as they heard the loud hum in spurts. Karlo would try to grin back but it always turned into a pathetic wince. He just needed a parting of the crowd for long enough to give it that real sustained college try to fracture the lock.

The situation on the street was unforgiving today, especially when a familiar hand now tugged on his olive drab sweatshirt. “Karlo? Is that you?”

Karlo turned to look at the party pooper, a galaxy of shame washing over his face as he recognized his former supervisor. “Escamilla! So nice to see you,” he mumbled.

Untitled_Artwork 8Escamilla shook her head in her gray cocoon coat and cornrows. “What the hell are you up to? You smell.” The lean middle-aged woman glanced at Karlo’s right hand still vibrating slightly over the lock as he failed to answer her in his embarrassment. “Get away from that bike. Now,” she ordered in a whisper, sharply.

Karlo let go, shaking his head at himself now. Escamilla slapped him hard across the face. Old folks noticed, and nodded.

“This is where you wound up? This shit? Stealing bikes?” Escamilla now slowly walked around Karlo as he stood frozen in scandal, sizing up his disgrace. She pointed to her small store-front stall, a pop-up Puerto Rican vegan bakery. “Look at this. We’re doing brisk business up in here, old friend. This little side hustle. Me and a couple colleagues from the City Law Department. You remember Lupe and Hugo? And just because we can, and we wanna bring that vegan bread to Jackson Heights and have fun. The kind of stuff you might have wanted in on as well. Honest work that’s fun – not even work in the end.

“I remember that first interview with you way back. Still a law school intern but you were very persuasive. Deep inside my mind with your points and counterpoints, and you were a good worker in the end, or so I thought. But then you bailed; then studied alternative medicine or something. All fine, I get that you gotta find your calling. And I thought you were probably out somewhere doing great things with your immense mind.

“But this? I catch up with you after six years of silence to see you like this? My, how far you’ve fallen, kid.” Escamilla palmed her face and shook her head. “Get out of here before I call the cops,” she muttered, no longer facing him. “I don’t ever wanna see you again.”

Wordless, Karlo turned east and ambled up the road without looking back. After a block and a half, he slowed with tears of shock blurring his vision. A further half block and he had to stop, his hands over his mouth, aghast at his great fall, and that one of his greatest mentors had confirmed it so fully. He stood like that for at least five minutes before recovering in the cold breeze and continuing on home. Old folks saw, and mostly shook their heads.

***

Karlo woke from a shallow and shiftless nap in the mid-afternoon with a recharged will to steal. He had more serious loot in mind now, and wouldn’t use the vibration technique twice in the same day but rather a more persuasive and subtle approach. He texted his newest potential colleague, Money Abimbola, to meet him at the bike racks at the Whole Foods in Gowanus. Meanwhile he boarded the 7 train towards Times Square.

Just as Karlo once was a strong persuader of other minds, he could translate that ability onto himself, mainly through allowing his craving to totally consume him. This got him out of bed again after such crushing humiliation. This and the rumble and rattle of the train through his bones to drown out his self-doubt and self-loathing.

The train screeched around the roller coaster arch that is the elevated IRT line in Long Island City, the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan skyline looming ahead before it came to a stop at Court Square. Karlo beheld the view, a thousand turned-up battle-station turrets in a tight bundle, before descending the stairs into the underground complex to transfer to the G train at its northern terminus.

He took a seat by the door and opposite the subway map so no noobs would hover over him on the way to Brooklyn. Catching his breath after a sprint downstairs and through the labyrinth to catch the soonest train, he noticed a familiar head of dreads in black denim wander onto the train and plop down right in the noob seat.

Karlo waited for the dread to catch his bearings. Then their eyes locked in recognition. “Hey, man. Is that you, Quest? Quest Haswell?” Karlo asked him.

“Yo, Karlo, yo, what’s up! Long-ass time, bro! I almost didn’t recognize you! Yo, this is so ridiculous, you were on my mind, man, and now I see you!” Quest broadcast excitedly. The two stood up to bro-hug quickly before the train’s doors closed up and the conductor began to lurch it southward. They sat across each other, each mindful that the other looked long-lost in an odd way. “So whatchu up to these days, man?”

“I steal bikes,” Karlo replied matter-of-factly.

“What?”

“I steal bikes, son. I’m one of the bad guys.” Karlo gained comfort from admitting that out loud.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope.”

The two looked around awkwardly to note anyone taking in the strange content of their brief reintroduction to one another. The train was still mostly empty.

“You’re not doing massage therapy anymore? Back at massage school I remember they used to call you the vibration king. You hated that shit.”

“Still do.”

“But you had skills. So what’s up? Why steal bikes now?

“Got bored with the routine. I was a lawyer for a little while, then a massage therapist. Wanted to try being a criminal, and honestly I kinda like it. I don’t know how much more I can get out of it, though.”

“Wow. I mean, I could never be as bold as you. I always looked up to you back in those days, all learned, wanting to better yourself, already had a law degree and just all around ace student. That’s who I was trying to be, maybe still trying to be. Just trying to be enlightened.”

“Brother, I am not enlightened. Don’t associate me with that.”

“But, you know. What’s it been, a couple years since I last saw you? I would have thought you’d had your own spa by now, with a law firm attached. Serving the hood in Woodside, doing your folks proud. Maybe there’s another way for you, though. Not linear, more fractal. That’s interesting. Whenever my assumptions get stumped, it’s just… interesting. Worth further review, you know?”

Karlo shook his head, unimpressed at the impression he’d left on Quest thus far. “You getting all philosophical. Look at me, I’m an addict. My job is burglar. I’m a fucking slob. My path leads nowhere at all. You wanna be like me or something?”

“Nah. But, where does it lead though, man? What will you learn?”

“It’s not about learning. I wish it were. But it’s not anymore. I guess I’m chasing something, but it ain’t knowledge, son.” Karlo paused. “I need help.”

They stayed silent and thoughtful for a moment, the train now a crowded ruckus deep into Brooklyn.

“So, what about you, Quest? Whatchu up to these days? And what brings you to the G train this afternoon?”

“Just wandering the city. I feel like that’s my profession nowadays. Don’t know what I’m gonna find, but it stays interesting. Other than that, working at a nursing home on weekdays. Now those folks got wisdom. Tryna learn something between these two gigs.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Wait, are you gonna steal bikes right now?” Quest asked with sudden alarm.

“Yeah. You wanna see?”

“I mean, I’m not stealing no bikes, but… I gotta see this,” Quest admitted with childish curiosity.

By now they had reached the Carroll Street stop and made their way to 3rd Street for a modest hike to the grand supermarket of the bourgeoisie. Money Abimbola was already there waiting for them, pacing around the bike racks in a well-pressed navy-blue Mao suit and sharp short fro, the sharpest looking one of the bunch. She flashed her crispy Apple Watch at them in jovial consternation.

Untitled_Artwork 9“Time is rare. You owe me eighteen minutes. Who’s this?” she asked hastily.

“Money Abimbola, meet Quest Haswell. Old classmate from my massage therapy school days,” Karlo introduced as the strangers shook hands.

“You steal bikes too?” she asked.

“No, just here for the show,” Quest replied, stepping back with his hands raised.

“Wait, so how’s this work, Karlo? Random homies can just watch?”

Karlo frowned. “The rules are written in real time, I guess. Quest, this is her first attempt at this.”

“Really?” Quest wondered, amused. “So you’re new here too? How’d you guys meet?”

“Karlo stole my bike!” she hollered. “Just this past Monday, dude! Real solid e-bike, German import.  I dropped four figures on that joint! Ain’t nobody gonna get off easy for a crime like that.

“So I tracked him down. I work over at the Seagram Building in Midtown doing accounting. They got good security cameras, sharp pictures, HD. The security guys show me the footage of the bike racks. ‘Cuz you know I lock my stuff right. I got two heavy-duty u-locks. I even have a cable just for the saddle. Plus the frame had its own lock, European style!

“And then I see Karlo in the video just holding onto the locks or something, and they open. I’m like, what? So then I look for the bike on craigslist and e-bay. And soon enough, busted! But when I confronted him yesterday after work to get my bike back, armed with peppers spray just in case, I had to ask how he did it, and he showed me. He partly deformed the sign at the bus stop where we met, and then he bowed. And then I was curious. I told him I also have irregular lock picking skills. He said he wanted to see them in action if I had an hour to spare. So here I am. With 22 minutes left cuz y’all are late and you got me explaining shit.”

“Well, I like curious people. Taking risks just to see what happens. This is a cool group, guys!” Quest offered, cornily. The others grinned and nodded. “So who goes first?”

Karlo stepped up. “Check this out, guys. No hands this time,” he said as he approached a tall red-headed young man rolling up on a minimalistic race-red Italian fixie. “Hey, bro,” he greeted the man, who looked him up and down with do-not-disturb-me-bum-type glances. He didn’t say anything, though, picking up the lock dangling from his handlebar as his feet left the pedals for the floor.

Karlo continued, looking hard into the man’s eyes with a disarming smile. “My man. Boss! You’re not gonna lock your bike,” he ordered almost bromantically.

“I’m not?” the man asked as if seeking confirmation.

“Nah. Why bother? I’ll take it.”

The man looked first at other people entering the store, then at Karlo’s audience of two, and finally at Karlo himself, his roiling confusion dissipating into compliance. “Okay. You got it, man.” The tall fellow then handed Karlo his bike before proceeding into the supermarket without looking back.

“Yooooooo!” Quest noted in a quiet tone.

“Didn’t know about that one,” Money remarked with a smirk.

“It wears off after a little while, though. So, Miss Abimbola, if you’re gonna work your own magic, do it quick.”

“Aight guys, don’t blink,” Money warned them. She then walked up the racks to a fine Dutch cargo bike. Closing her eyes after a long study of the beefy padlock fastening a thick chain, she began what looked like an elaborate finger-tutting routine that lasted almost a minute before the lock fell to the ground.

Quest and Karlo looked at each other, nodding in amazement. Money didn’t move or touch the bike.

“You’re not gonna take it?” Karlo asked her.

Money paused, then shook her head slowly. “Nah, I’m not a bike thief, man. I don’t think I can live with that.”

“Well lock it back up, then! Let’s be gone, please!” Karlo urged with growing anxiety.

“Wait! Lemme get a look at that real quick,” Quest said, squatting by the bike to inspect Money’s telekinetic handiwork.

Just then, a young policeman happened by, stopping close to Quest, who stood up and nodded in acknowledgement of his presence. “Sir, is this your bike?” the cop asked nervously. His nervousness proved contagious, causing Quest to step back slowly and run towards the Gowanus Canal.

The sky was dim as the afternoon had gotten old and the clouds returned from the west. Quest was fast but lacked any strategy for his escape in the unfamiliar parking lot. He ducked between two parked SUVs under a solar roof shelter, but the cop quickly caught up with him with his weapon drawn. Quest saw him squeezing the trigger, his mind slowing the moment to appreciate his own mortality and thus prompt him to do something to avert immanent destruction.

“Wait, you’re not gonna shoot me, man! Holster your weapon!” Quest’s voice echoed throughout the shelter with an alien vibrato. The cop was rendered completely immobilized for what seemed to Quest like an hour, still aiming and cocked to open fire right into his chest. Finally, the cop’s finger slowly slid back to release the trigger, he holstered his weapon and then stood as if awaiting further instructions.

Relieved, Quest straightened his back and approached the man like an old friend. “Go on home, mister.”

“Kay,” the cop assented, turning around and walking away. In his wake, Karlo, rolling the red fixie, and Money found Quest in the shelter, his face painted with mind-blown astonishment.

“You, too? I thought you were just a bystander. You turned that cop all the way around!” Money observed.

Karlo rested the bike on one of the SUVs and slid to the ground as the others stood before him. “I don’t know what to say. I almost got you killed. For no reason! Look at the situations I’ve put into play! But then, it turns out you have this ability, too. Amazing!” Karlo scratched his scalp and rubbed his forehead, seeking a conclusive explanation. “I wish I could stop, though. Could stop being sick, stop making others sick. That I could go back to an honest life.”

“So do it!” Money shouted.

“No!” Karlo replied. Then he stood up with a proposition. “Would you join me? In a band of mutant bike thieves? I already run with a couple other guys from time to time, but you two would make us unstoppable.”

Quest shook his head. “What do you take me for, man? I can’t be a bike thief! What kind of life is that? How petty, how small is that? I wouldn’t want anyone stealing my bike. Nope, sorry, man.”

“Can’t disagree with that,” Money said. “Bike thieves don’t even register on the moral spectrum. They’re deep in the gutter somewhere. But I’m glad I got to see all this, just once. That’s more than enough.”

Karlo’s face softened, slightly relieved. “Well, I don’t have lights, and I’ve got a good hour-plus of riding between here and Willets Point. I think I’ma head out. I want to apologize deeply for wasting your time and putting your life in danger like that. Quest, Money, don’t be like me. Use your skills thoughtfully, and watch what you get addicted to.”

With that, he took off down the road, still mad at himself that he couldn’t get off the fence about how to live, and more ashamed than at any time that day. He peddled furiously, running a series of red lights. Quest and Money took their own separate paths to the subway, pondering the odd day just lived and how to live the next one now.