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The Bikes of New York
A novella from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12
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The Bikes of New York, a science-fiction novella by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 7

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?"

"Sure."

"How?"

"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."

"Bikers."

"Sure."

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?"

"Yessir."

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.

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