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!

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