The Influencer

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Chapter 4

Sunset Park, Brooklyn—5:37AM

Yoma was a big woman and she rode a big bike—a Triumph Rocket Roadster. The thing had an engine the size of a small sedan, moved from 0-60 in less than three seconds, despite the bike’s weight (650 lbs.), and despite Yoma’s weight (more than three-hundred pounds).

The VFW bar still had the lights on inside. Smitty was outside smoking a Newport, likely the last of a pack that had only been opened a few hours ago.

“Yoma.” Smitty nodded to her as she clutched into neutral and ankled out the kickstand.

“Smitty. How’do?”

“Still kickin’.”

“Righteous, Smitty. Righteous.”

Yoma leapt off the bike with an impressive agility. This would’ve surprised Smitty if he hadn’t seen her handle herself well, bouncing drunks and kicking the shit out of men of all sizes.

Most people who saw Yoma on the street had something to say about her. Back home, they did. Here, they didn’t say shit except in Brownsville and Flatbush and the like. When she was in Astoria or Williamsburg, folks would go out of their way to pay her over-the-top compliments. White guilt perhaps? Hell if I know. Yoma found it amusing for the most part. But back home, nobody had a problem reminding her she was a huge bitch, that she was the Mulatto Mammoth, that she had thunder-thighs.

Every once in a while a drunk would say something. You’re one big black bitch, ain’t’cha? But there was no conviction behind it. Sometimes she just laughed (which made them even angrier).

But Smitty wasn’t like that. None of the guys at the VFW were. Yoma’s daddy had saved more than a dozen men throwing himself on a grenade in Basra. Even before that, Daddy had stuck his neck out enough to gain a rep. Yoma was her daddy’s daughter, and vets took care of vets and their kids. It was the rest of the world that had the fucking problem.

She walked up to Smitty and put her arm around his shoulder. Smitty had the rep of being the angry old man—that old dude had been in Korea. But he liked Yoma. Liked her just fine, even if he pretended to hate her as much as he hated everyone else.

Dayum, Smitty. Nigga, you been workin’ out?”

Smitty snorted, tried not to smile. He was thin and dry as straw. “Only fer you, Yoma. Hopin’ to slip you the Tallywhacker Special.”

“Ewwww. You. Are. Gross.”

“Well you ain’t a princess neither, Yoyo.”

She leaned down and rested her head against the top of Smitty’s. His head was warm, smelled like smoke, like old man. Smelled like nice people and decency. “No I ain’t, Smitty. But that make us a pair, huh?”

Smitty blushed. “Guess it does.” Yoma squeezed, pressing her face down on Smitty’s head, hugging him tight. Finally, he half-seriously flung his arms out. “Get off! Get off me now, girl. I’m too old to be playin’ with you the way you like to play.”

She slapped him on the ass as she opened the door to the VFW. “Smitty, you don’t know how I play.”

He tried to hide his smile long enough for the door to close behind her, shouting, “And I don’t want to neither!”

* * *

Several Floors Below the VFW

Hezekiah was muttering to himself.

“Fuckin’… fuckin’ ass. This goat-fucking suckshit. Fuckin’… fuckin’ SUCKSHIT!”

He was sitting at one of the many workstations inside the vast subterranean workshop that doubled as his living space. Hezekiah pressed the drill harder, harder, until finally the bit snapped. “FUCK!

At the exact same time, the industrial elevator opened like a rectangular mouth. Yoma stepped out.

“Ol’ man. I can hear ya cussin’ from two levels up.”

“Yeah, I know. Because I’m busy fixing your shit so you don’t die.”

“Ain’t never gonna die, ol’ man. The spirit lives even if the body’s gone. You know that well enough. Some ragin’ ol’ hermit told me as much.”

Hezekiah looked up and begrudgingly smiled at her. “Fair enough, kiddo. Come on over here and help me out.”

He dropped back into the chair behind him, patting the seat next to that, inviting Yoma to sit. She did.

“What’s this, Hezzy?”

He pulled out a menthol and lit it, let the cigarette stay on his lip while he spoke. “Futzin’ around with the hydraulics. Trying to reduce the resistance in the arms and legs mostly—the goal is for the skell to do the heavy liftin’. Don’t want you to be on that junk forever.”

“I don’t mind.”

Hezekiah sucked the smoke in through his nostrils and breathed it back out like a cartoon bull. “You’re too young to know better yet, kid. But that junk isn’t too kind on the mood. Yeah, you can stay up all night, and yeah, you’ll have the endurance of a Clydesdale, but it impairs judgment.”

Yoma usually tried to think of some nonsense to spit out when Hezekiah grew quiet. Now she just waited for him to talk.

“I saw you cut the feed.”

Yoma looked away. “Thought you was goin’ off to sleep.”

“That’s not why you cut it,” he answered before lighting another smoke. “That’s not why.”

“So?”

So?

“Yeah,” she answered, “so what? I can’t have you up in my head, tellin’ me what’s right, what ain’t right. I got a way of doin’ things. So what?”

“Don’t talk to me like–”

“And all you do is sit here in this place, foolin’ arou–”

“QUIET!” Hezekiah screamed. Smoke spewed from his mouth and nose.

Yoma thought of saying something to push the old man’s buttons further. But she didn’t.

“Talk to me like a human being, Yoma. What’s the point of communication?”

“Hezzy–”

What’s the point?”

Yoma sighed. “To communicate meaning.”

“And what’s the meaning of chest-thumping and being argumentative?”

She sputtered air through her lips. “Not much at all, I guess.”

“Okay. Okay.” He sat for a second. He looked at her—looked into Yoma—and asked again, “Why’d you cut the feed?”

Another sigh. “I didn’t want you to see.”

“But you know… you know I can see. There isn’t an eye in this city I don’t have access to.”

Yoma nodded. “I know. I know, Hezzy. But the feelin’s still the same. I don’t want you to see it up close like that. Even if you do see anyway.”

Hezekiah nodded. “I understand what you mean, kiddo. I do.” A lengthy, violent cough punctuated his remark—he ended the fit by hacking up sputum. “But if you can’t tell… I’m not going to be around forever. I’m going to be around less than forever. A lot less. And a lot less could be real soon.”

“Don’t say–”

“It’s true, Yoyo. It’s true. It’s probably coming soon. When I’m gone… who’s going to keep all this? Who’s going to do the work? You are. And I can’t rest easy in my grave if you’re getting out of control. We aim for justice, not vengeance. We have plenty of other ways to deal with scumbags out there.”

Inaction.”

“Yes…” Hezekiah sighed, looking away, as if his memories lingered somewhere in the blue-grey cigarette smoke. “But inaction or action have their moments. They have their qualities. And if the quality of our actions are piss poor, then we might as well not act at all.”

“Can I ask you somethin’?”

Hezekiah nodded.

“Why did we start to begin with? ’Cause all I’ve seen out there is the same ol’ criminals doin’ the same ol’ rapin’ and killin’. Nothin’ new about it.”

“I…” he paused, looking as though his mind had lapsed.

“Hezzy?”

He was silent for almost a full minute. It unnerved Yoma. “Something is coming, kid. Something big. Everything you’ve done… it’s the minors. Whatever’s going to come at you—well, that’s going to be the big leagues.”

Yoma nodded. Then she said, “I’ll try’n keep cool, Hezzy.”

He lit another cigarette. “Just… try not to mutilate anyone.” A smirk formed on his face. “Not unless they really deserve it.”

Yoma smiled.

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