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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