The Influencer

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Chapter 11

Breezy Point Tip, Rockaway Peninsula in Queens Borough—Three Hours Later

Yoma looked up at the number on the house, hoping she’d remembered it right. When they’d first started—well, whatever the hell it was that her and Hezzy were doing—she’d been drilled over and over and over again, until she was sick, on certain things she had to commit to memory. This was supposed to be a safe house.

She checked her peripheral vision to see who else was around—nobody; street’s empty—before mounting the stairs. She knocked on the door. A squat, elderly man with grotesquely prominent veins protruding from too-thin arms opened the door. He was tiny; not just skinny, but short, too. Before Yoma could say anything, the man sputtered, “No solicitors, sweethaht,” and slammed the door. Yoma’s face went flush, but before she could knock again a note came out of the mail slot:

walk to end of block to broken streetlamp

wait for white/gold fleetwood with tiny old lady

get in car soon as door opens

Yoma picked up the note—which lucky for her was printed on rice paper—and ate it.

She walked to the end of the block. It was an overcast night in Breezy point—dark as Death’s cloak; when the Fleetwood drove by, Yoma didn’t see it, she heard it. The door opened, but the car didn’t even stop. Yoma jumped in and carefully pulled the door shut, pulling out the door handle and then letting it retract once metal was against metal, making as little sound as possible. She tucked herself down—rolled back.

Yoma saw the tiny old lady driving. “You must be Yoma. Pleasure to meet you. Hezekiah’s told us about all the wonderful work you’re doing.”

“A pleasure,” Yoma replied, holding out her hand for the woman to shake. But that handshake didn’t happen, as the car hit a speed bump and drove down a rather steep decline.

“You can sit up now, if you want.”

Yoma complied. They were driving down a spiraling driveway. There was barely any light... a blue-white marker faintly glowing every thirty feet or so. But she could tell from the momentum and the movement that they were corkscrewing down.

Once they got to the bottom, their surroundings were pitch black. The old lady who’d driven her down unceremoniously turned the key out of the ignition, left the car and disappeared into the blackness.

What the—what is goin’—what the fu—

She felt movement again, like she was in an elevator. She looked around and saw a rectangle-shape of white light opened at the seams of a huge hydraulic platform.

The platform clicked into place with a loud, clanging shunt. She heard something sliding above. It took a second for her eyes to adjust to the light. When she looked to her side, she saw Hezzy. She tried to exit the car, but it was locked and the buttons wouldn’t pull. Hezzy held up his index finger, print-side facing her; untutored sign language’s version of just a minute. A red light in the form of a long sweeping beam scanned over the car a few times. Yoma heard a beep and then the doors unlocked. She got out and stood up.

“What the hell was that?”

“Had to make sure there was no one in the car,” Hezzy replied before rushing over to a table nearby. “Hurry up,” he said, waving her over without looking back, “we have no time.” He hit a timer and started throwing things into a large canvas backpack.

“Hezzy, what’s going on?”

He stopped, turned to her. “Kiddo, it’s time.”

“Time for what?”

He raised an eyebrow and did that bitter, nervous smile he did when something was very wrong. She’d only seen that look three, maybe four other times.

“You know. Don’t start yelling. It’s not going to do anything. We talked about this. Talked about it in the very beginning, knew it was gonna come. Always knew it.” He slowed down and breathed out the words in a way that spoke to the finality of it all. “Always knew it.”

Yoma was stunned. In the abstract, sure, she knew this day was coming. She wanted to say something. Something meaningful. Something about her and her real daddy and Hezzy and how he—well, she couldn’t put it together right. Something about how she knew even though he never gave compliments or showed affection, she still knew—

Hezekiah pulled out a menthol and lit it, talking while the square wavered about on his lips, like a graphite No. 2 when grade-schoolers did the magic-wavy-pencil-trick. Quivering. Lips were quivering.

“Come here,” he said, waving her closer to him. They were already close; closer still.

She walked toward him, anticipating a great, heady moment. A release. The grand slam-bang, the home-run-to-win-the-pennant moment—I love you, I’m glad I found you, kid.

Yoma was about to raise her arms to embrace him when he grabbed her by the shoulder—really, by the neck—and pointed to the steel table. “There’s the dossier. Read the whole thing. It tells you what I know and what you need to know. It’s down to you now, kiddo. I’ve been burnt; time to go dark. This place is yours. The Gradys upstairs will help you for the first week, then they’re gone. There’s a new skell, it’s in the tube by the wall; it’s got an EMP in it. They’re a hive. Do you understand me?” He said this reaching up, grabbing her face between his hands. “Do you understand?”

She nodded, almost in tears, holding it down.

“Good. Everything you need is here. Don’t go back to Sunset. Don’t go to Smitty. Not the VFW—nothing. We’re ghosts now. I’m gone, and you have to live underground.” Hezzy held his hand to the back of his neck, muttering to himself more than anyone else, “But you’ll have to find another... someone else. Like I did. Oh, fuck it! It’s your time now, kid.”

He grabbed Yoma’s hands hard and looked her right in the eyes. The timer beeped loudly—time’s up. Hezekiah swept his arm over the top of the table, knocking everything into the bag. “Goodbye,” he said, holding his hand out.

Yoma felt limp, paralyzed. Not angry yet, though (that would come later). She languidly lifted her hand to shake his, devastated in some way—but he loves me, I know he

“Yoma, one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

Hezekiah leaned in, burrowing his bearded face into her neck. What he said next came out unnaturally; he would have done nearly anything to avoid saying it, but he knew he had to.

“There aren’t words, Yoma. I am so damn proud of the person you are; the person you’ve become.” She started crying as he went on. “I want you to know that before I met you, I was lonely. And since you’ve been with me, I’ve never been lonely. I’ve been aggravated, frustrated, worried, terrified... but never lonely.”

Yoma choked as she laughed through her tears. She whispered down, absurdly speaking to the top of his head. “I wish we had more time.”

“So does everyone,” he said as he pulled back. “But if wishes were flies, frogs would be fatter.”

“If wishes were sugar, it’d sweeten the batter,” she replied.

“Time to cut the cord,” Hezzy said and ran off toward a circular safe door that Yoma knew must lead out to the sewer. She was about to let go and start sobbing when Hez stopped before clearing the exit and turned back to her.

“Hey...”

“Yeah?”

“I do love you, Yoma. I know you know that. You’ve been my little girl since your daddy died. I hope I did right by him.”

He disappeared into the dark.

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