Monday 15 January 2007

The Bikes of New York, Part Seven

The Bikes of New York is a science-fiction novella of twelve chapters, posted serially by me, your deadline whipping host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Okay, so I worked all weekend for the second weekend in a row (which means no weekend for my wife, either), and I've worked more than slept in the last thirty hours, but the good news is that the video I've been baking for the Textile Museum is done. There might be some tweaks after further client review, but it's basically done.

This is a hard won victory because, for various reasons, this project wanted very much to remain undone. It had an undoneness strange attractor at its core, hungry to devour possibilities.

I feel like a bit of a zombie. Brains?

Meanwhile, let's get on with our story:


You and I have better places to be on a Wednesday afternoon. We're nowhere to be seen. Unless our hearts give out or we fall from a height, this is a conversation we would never overhear.

We don't care for places with dried blood smudges on the floor.

The echoey halls of Freedom Pier Hospital smell in equal measure of disinfectant and bile, cut by stale coffee in the vicinity of a bank of vending machines. In their shadow is a low table spread with decade-old magazines, printed off and jammed into plastic sleeves covered in oily finger whorls.

Dade sniffs. "I don't mean to be rude," he says, "but you smell like a sewer."

Luc Drapeau takes this in stride, nods dismissively. "There has to be a way," he says, rubbing his chin. "This gang can't run the whole city. They are how many?"

"That's a very military thing to say," says Dade thoughtfully. "Did you fight in the war?"

Luc shakes his head. "No, I was too young."

"Yeah, me too," says Dade. "I had a fake ID but it didn't pass. They laughed me right out of the recruitment office at that point." His face colours in remembered shame, but he blinks it away. "Lost my brother in Turkey."

"I'm sorry," offers Luc.

Dade's face hardens. "I should've been there."

The fluorescent lights make their complexions look green. Announcements warble tinnily from the public address system, calling nurses, paging doctors. Luc shifts in his uncomfortable chair, rasping one finger along the stubble on his throat. "Like you said, we only ever see a few or maybe five at a time. Not even a platoon."

"Them who?"

"Kala Kala."

"You think they're not out there?" replies Dade, features creased with incredulity that snaps quickly into squinty seriousness. "They're out there alright. Everytime you think there aren't enough of them to be watching everywhere, they come out of the woodwork to mess up your situation. Trust me, man, they're there."

"But that's just what it's all about, isn't it?" says Luc insistently. "Trust. We trust that their posturing is supported, though no one sees the army that backs them up. They walk around like they own the world and we believe it. We trust the city wouldn't be afraid of them it weren't true -- and so we make it true."

"But it is true," says Dade. "They beat off the Scarpellis and now the island's theirs: Kala Kala from shore to shore. I hear they're pushing into Queens, too."

"I'm not saying it's false," says Luc forcefully. "I'm saying it could be false, and nothing would change. Do you understand me? If Kala Kala disappear tomorrow, how long would it take for the people to use bikes without fear?" Luc leaves that dangling an instant, then leans forward in his chair and presses, "And when they finally did start using the bikes, would it not take just a single beating to put them back into that fear?"

Dade licks his lips quickly, blinks. He glances down at his large hands and then looks up again. "I'm going to level with you, Look," he says seriously. "My situation, intellectually, is something that I'm still working on developing."

"...What does that mean?" asks Luc, perplexed.

"Basically it means that I'm not following you."

Luc nods, rubbing his temples wearily. "Okay, okay. Let me put it like this: how do you know Kala Kala own New York?"

Dade points to a cut on his brow. "I have lots of good evidence like this."

"Before today, before you tried the bikes, did you ever hear of Kala Kala?"



"They're in the feeds. The media's always talking about them. The police have an unsolved case, they say they're investigating the possible involvement of Kala Kala. The mayor wants more money from Albany to fight Kala Kala. Who doesn't know about Kala Kala?"

Luc nods, his foot tapping with nervous energy. "Has the mayor ever met a member of the gang?"

"I don't know. Probably not, unless he likes to bike."

"What about the police -- do they arrest many members?"

"They pick up a couple of hoodlums now and again, but they usually deny having a connection to the gang."

"But the police, they know better?"

"They have their sources. You know, sources on the street."



Luc raises his brow. "People like you and me, perhaps."

"...Well, I guess. Kind of. People like us, yeah."

Both men look up as soft, swishing footfalls hiss down the corridor toward them. The doctor is a walking plastic bag, but you can see through it and he's wearing green paper pajamas underneath. Parts of the plastic are run with brown and red stains and speckles. As he approaches he hides behind a clipboard, flipping through its pages. Luc and Dade slowly stand up.

"You came in with Mr. Smith?" the doctor says, apparently to the clipboard. The doctor smells like soap and ozone, and when he moves he sounds like seran.

"Yeah," says Dade. "He's our buddy."

"He's lost a lot of blood, but his chances are good," says the doctor. He has bags under his eyes and his skin is flecked with shrapnel scars. He mumbles on, flipping the pages back and forth. "His card's got some valid medical accumulated so we'll be moving him into a room shortly."

Luc asks, "What about the belts?"

The doctor blinks. "I'm sorry?"

"We used our belts to make the tourniquet, my friend and I," explains Luc, hiking up his slacks. "Can we get our belts back?"

The doctor frowns, ruffles his papers. "Um, I don't really see anything here about belts. Did you ask the nurse?"

"Which nurse?"

"You should probably go ahead and talk to a nurse about that."

"Tabernac. My wife, she will kill me."

The doctor glances up sharply. His features are so slack and heavy it makes Luc feel exhausted to look at him. "At least you've got your legs," he says dully.

Luc says nothing.

The doctor flips back to the front page on his clipboard, slips a stylus out of his pocket. "What can you gentlemen tell me about how Mr. Smith's injuries came about?" he asks, eyes on the page.

Dade opens his mouth to speak but Luc hushes him, gesturing. He turns to the doctor and says, "He was on the bike when he get attack from a gang."

"Kala Kala?" prompts the doctor.

"No," says Luc, ignoring Dade's questioning look. "No," he continues. "They were Les Bicyclettes Libres."

"Lay Bicyclette Liver?"

"Les Bicyclettes Libres," corrects Luc. "They're from Quebec. Haven't you heard of them? They've come to wage war against Kala Kala. It's a mess out there, the streets."

The doctor nods vaguely, jotting an incoherent scrawl across the creased page. After a brief hesitation the page renders it into legible text with a little winking timestamp. "Okay, great," he mutters, yawning. "Do you have a node we can reach you at?"

"I use my church's," says Luc, spelling the address.

"I've got a union node, but at this point I'm never connecting there again," grumbles Dade. "The union can suck my balls."

The doctor doesn't pause, writing on. "I'm putting that down as no contact, okay?"


The doctor turns and shuffles away, his right foot leaving little bloody bag-prints in his wake. An old, dented vacuum scuttles out of a slot on the baseboard and follows him, erasing the marks as it goes.

Dade turns to Luc. "What was all that about?" he asks, frowning.

Luc smirks tightly. "Starting a rumour," he says.


Teddy said...

Question authority, and question authority's authority? I like how quickly he sees through the media over-blowing the story about Kala Kala. If the doctor believes him, this could go quite a ways.

Out of curiosity, do you watch the american media much?


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

Out of curiosity, do you watch the american media much?

Do you mean like American network news, MS-NBC, Fox, ABC and the like?

I don't, but I get glimpses when I visit my parents-in-law who are great lovers of CNN. They have a TV the size of a wall that's constantly bleating fair and balanced infotainment.

I tend to get my breaking news through CBC Radio 1, but I generally do my own analysis on the Web if I'm interested in a story. Reading first source documents directly, when possible, is often more informative than relying on the spins of pundits, in my experience. I do, however, listen to The Current and As It Happens when I am looking for professional journalistic analysis.

I dip into The Globe & Mail, The New York Times, and The Economist daily.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

Ah, a little fresh air in our media-saturated world. Who dares question the mighty news reporter?

I just hope Luc hasn't earned a "beat the crap out of French Canadians" response from the possibly-faking-it Kala Kala gang.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you made the long drive in the snowstorm ok. I was getting worried that your post were delayed today because your new Mini was giving you trouble.

I guess things are looking up for both you and Luc.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

It took me three hours to get in this morning, and my client meeting was cancelled. Nice.

It's 3 PM now and I think I'm going to start on my way home.

My wife says we'll be able to afford to order winter tires on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed for me...I had to get two coworkers to help me push the Mini out of my hill-slanted parking space earlier. Lucky thing the damn car only weighs 2.5 lbs.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, my favorite line of the chapter:

I'm putting that down as no contact, okay?

Anonymous said...

Hope your mini didn't get stuck behind the 'overturned tanker carrying explosive liquid oxygen' on the 400 yesterday.

Added a link to your blog and 'darth side' from my website.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

In point of fact, I'm pretty sure I was the last car to be let on the northbound 400. A bunch of cops swarmed out behind me on the ramp and I thought I was being pulled over or something, but then they just barracaded the ramp behind me.

The wreck looked pretty cool. I did not, however, get to drive through a liquid oxygen generated fireball while screaming, "Yaaaaa-hoo!" which would've made a better anecdote.

Cheeseburger Brown

Mark said...

Luc is learning to work the system. I can't wait to see whether it gets more food on his table or a severed arm.