The new Gems novel Thunderdog will be out next Tuesday on July 30th! Here’s the complete first chapter…
Miyuki looked too cute to die. Her long black hair was dyed cotton-candy pink, and her face was powdered white with pink lipstick and pink hearts added to her cheeks. She wore pink pants with white polka dots and pink high-top sneakers. Her white T-shirt had the cutest puppy dog with the words LOVE ME printed above.
She stood in a narrow street filled with pedestrians as far as the eye could see. Covered with reds and pinks, each store along this street advertised cakes, candies, and sweets of all types. It projected cuteness to the tenth power.
Miyuki adjusted her pink-rimmed glasses and observed. Some of the pedestrians were “normal” while others wore similar clothing to hers. The Harajuku Province was the absolute center of Japan’s youth and fashion culture, inspiring fashion designers from around the world with its eclectic style. A cute and childish style called Kawaii in Japanese. And here on Takeshita Street was the center of it all.
Miyuki finally spotted her target, a young woman with a Sailor Moon canvas handbag. The woman dressed normal and plain, fitting in with all the other normal and plain people. When the young woman walked by, Miyuki waited until she was farther down the street before tailing her.
Takeshita Street was crowded, but manageable. As Miyuki weaved back and forth among the people, she always presented a pleasant Kawaii smile on her face. When people held up their phones to snap a pic of her outfit, Miyuki waved and blew them each a kiss. But she didn’t stop walking.
When the young woman with the Sailor Moon bag ducked inside a nearby business, Miyuki followed her inside.
It was a small local boutique which had a section of bright Kawaii-style clothes on a row of metal racks, but there was another section full of Western-inspired fashion as well. Glancing at the tags on the clothes, Miyuki could tell they were all done by local Japanese designers. She liked this boutique and would love to hang out and shop, but she was here on business.
Sailor Moon acted nervous. She pretended to shop, but wasn’t doing a good job of selling it. Fidgeting, looking around the store, barely glancing at the clothes her hands were separating. Miyuki could tell she wasn’t a professional.
Sailor Moon then slipped something in the back pocket of a pair of white jeans before hanging up the garment on a different rack to make it stand out. Sailor Moon didn’t linger. She raced out of the business like a scared rabbit.
Miyuki resisted the urge to shake her head in dismay. She stayed in the Kawaii section of the store for a couple of minutes, just to make sure Sailor Moon wasn’t coming back. Then she moved over to the other section. Miyuki picked through some of the jeans, making a face as if they were too boring for a fun Kawaii girl like herself. Then she clapped her hands together as if she “discovered” the white jeans. Miyuki took them off the rack and put them over her own waist, pretending to see how they looked. When she did this, Miyuki slipped her fingers inside the pocket and felt the thumb drive inside. She palmed the drive before making another face, as if she didn’t like the jeans after all. She placed the white jeans back on the rack.
It was all a big production in case anyone was watching.
As Miyuki searched through another rack of clothes, her eyes scanned the business. Since she saw no one paying attention to her, Miyuki took her time moving towards the exit. She was almost through it when a Chinese woman blocked the doorway. On instinct, Miyuki backed away and bowed, letting the older woman come inside.
The Chinese woman sighed like a disgusted horse before moving around Miyuki to enter the boutique.
And that was when it hit her. Miyuki knew that woman.
Her heart pounded. Miyuki knew she should head down the street immediately and not look back. But she couldn’t help herself.
The Chinese woman had reached the white jeans and checked the back pocket. Confused, she checked all the pockets.
Now she was certain. The woman was one of the three Chinese intelligence agents who kidnapped Robert and Nadia on that train in Utah. The woman was always angry and serial-killer crazy.
After she finished searching the white jeans, her eyes went straight to Miyuki, as if the woman could smell another operative in the room. The always angry woman tilted her head, and her stoic facade switched to pure hatred.
Her cover now blown, Miyuki sprinted out of the boutique and weaved through the thick crowd on Takeshita Street. Not hiding the fact that she was running for her life.
Miyuki glanced over her shoulder.
The always angry woman was on her like a police dog, weaving just as fast through the crowd and keeping an excellent pace. The woman concealed something in her right hand.
Miyuki convinced herself it was a weapon.
She had to circle around a group of kids holding hands before Miyuki could look over her shoulder again. Now she could see the knife the woman was holding.
Miyuki gripped her woven handbag tight. It contained the only weapons she had on her. But the always angry woman was only keeping pace with her, not gaining. If Miyuki was lucky, she could lure the woman inside the Harajuku train station bathroom and knock her out. Then Miyuki could jump on the next train to escape.
But that plan fell through the moment a large Polynesian man in a blue suit impeded her path. His name was Kawiki.
He has also been on the train in Utah.
Miyuki swallowed. This made things complicated. Now two Chinese intelligence operatives were closing in on her from opposite ends of the street. Each operative quite capable of killing her. Ducking into one of the local shops could be an option. But Miyuki didn’t like the idea of getting trapped in a corner. She always preferred the freedom to maneuver.
Then what should she do?
Miyuki spotted the white rubber tire of a pink bicycle, its rear end poking out from behind one of the businesses. Most likely it was a little girl’s bike. Hope filled Miyuki’s chest. She headed straight to the business. It was an outdoor candy shop. There was a man behind the counter.
A little girl asked the man something in Japanese. It convinced Miyuki that the man was her father.
Miyuki went up to the counter and gave the man all the money she had.
“What’s this for?” the man asked in Japanese.
“For borrowing your daughter’s bicycle, Aragoto.”
Before the man comprehended what she meant by that, Miyuki grabbed the pink bicycle and hopped on.
When Miyuki looked back up…the always angry woman was ten feet away.
She raised her arm. The knife’s blade gleamed as it left her hand.
The knife sailed over her head and bit into the wood wall behind her.
The always angry woman lunged for her.
Miyuki stood on the right pedal, rolling the bicycle to her right as she brought up her left leg to kick the woman hard in the stomach. This pushed her out of the way, allowing Miyuki to pedal her way through the open end of the street.
After weaving through some pedestrians and making progress down the street, Miyuki glanced behind her. No one was in pursuit.
Miyuki’s heart slowed down and she allowed herself a grin. It was only a quick chase, but Miyuki quite enjoyed the rush of adrenaline it created. Being a Gem opened up many situations that required heavy amounts of adrenaline. She couldn’t wait to tell Emma and the other girls about her mission.
Miyuki reached the end of Takeshita Street and stopped. Here, there was a busy intersection of passing vehicle traffic. If she biked down this cross street, Miyuki was confident she could find the next train station that would take her back to downtown Tokyo. There, she could deliver the thumb drive.
Miyuki made the turn and merged into the public bike lane. These special lanes were a part of every Japanese road system since bicycles were a popular way to get around the city. Miyuki traveled a little more than two blocks before she heard an engine rev behind her.
She noted a driver was getting too close to the bike lane. At first, Miyuki thought the driver was only careless. But when she peered through the clear windshield, Miyuki noted Volleen Woo behind the right-side steering wheel. His dangerous eyes focused on her like a snake.
Miyuki’s heart raced again and she pedaled as hard as she could. Her bicycle flew down the bike lane as she passed other bikes like they were cardboard cutouts.
Miyuki took a hard left, leaning her body into the turn and allowing her sneaker to scrape across the pavement to create enough friction to turn her bike a little quicker.
As she completed the turn, the squeal of tires echoed behind her as the Mitsubishi SUV whipped around the corner and accelerated towards her.
Other bicyclists complained about the road hog by slapping his side windows as the vehicle moved up the bike lane, causing most of them to veer out of the way.
Miyuki pumped her legs as hard as she could, her butt rising from the seat as she used her leg muscles to squeeze every kilometer of speed out of the bicycle.
It wasn’t enough.
The engine raced behind her. So close that she didn’t dare peek.
Miyuki felt a hard bump that almost made her wipe out.
Another shove from the SUV and her bike wobbled.
The car horn blared. The shrill it made stabbed her eardrums.
Miyuki’s heart was pumping out so much adrenaline she knew she would be high for at least a week.
She raced along the narrow ledge between them.
Wanting more and more of it.
But Miyuki knew she would die if she stayed in this bike lane. She veered right, sending her bike straight into oncoming traffic.
There were three lanes of cars going in this direction. Miyuki aimed for the space between the lanes and pumped the pedals as hard as she could. She weaved between the three lanes of traffic as best she could. Luckily, traffic in this part of the city was heavy, so it wasn’t moving fast. Still…one wrong move and Miyuki would crack her head through a windshield.
Left, right, left again. The traffic whipped by.
She was doing well. Defying the odds. Staying alive.
The Mitsubishi raced along the left side of the street. Trying to keep pace with her. Hoping Miyuki would either crash or come to her senses by veering back to the legal flow of traffic. But the Chinese didn’t know her very well.
Miyuki kept weaving through oncoming traffic. Determined to make this work. Getting addicted to the rush of danger. Getting used to the idea of not dying.
As she approached a side street, the Mitsubishi was to her left. A clear lane to her right.
Miyuki gambled. She made a hard right at the side street, leaning her body into the forty-five-degree turn and leaving the Mitsubishi behind as it sailed through the intersection going in the wrong direction. Volleen Woo would have to do a quick U-turn, move through traffic, then take a left at the intersection against traffic to resume the chase.
Miyuki had bought herself some—
The other car came out of nowhere. Miyuki barely had time to register its existence before the Toyota pulled out in front of her and she felt herself flying over the hood like a bird. Miyuki didn’t think about it, but her gymnastics training kicked in automatically as she tumbled forward into a roll, letting herself tumble over and over to dissipate the forward momentum before her body came to a complete stop.
Miyuki stared at the sky. Yes, she was still alive.
Her hands stung, most likely due to her palms rubbing against the pavement. But otherwise, she was good. Miyuki slowly got to her feet. The pink bike lay on the ground with its front end crushed. It had taken most of the impact while Miyuki sailed over the hood. The driver was out of his vehicle. He looked surprised, as if amazed that this teenage girl wasn’t dead.
Miyuki heard more squealing tires. It was the Mitsubishi clearing the intersection and racing towards the accident.
Miyuki needed to run. She took a step forward and almost fell on her face. Her knees ached. They weren’t broken, but hitting the pavement still made them stiff and sore.
The Mitsubishi slid to a stop. Volleen Woo, the always angry woman, and Kawiki got out of the car.
Miyuki hobbled away, getting about three steps before Kawiki restrained her. She was so exhausted after her bicycle-chase workout that there was no way Miyuki could fight back right now.
The always angry woman glared at her. “Bitch,” she said in Mandarin Chinese before slapping Miyuki across the face. All Miyuki could do was hold her chin up in defiance. The woman raised her hand again.
But Volleen Woo stopped her. “Focus on the task, shall we?” he said in Mandarin.
The always angry woman restrained herself.
“Hello there,” Volleen Woo said in English. “Ruby, isn’t it? You’re a long way from Utah, aren’t you?”
Miyuki didn’t answer.
“Do you remember us? Well, we certainly remember you.”
“You threw us off a train,” the giant Polynesian man said in English, as if the girl had hurt his feelings.
“Where are your friends? Should we be expecting them to come save you?”
Miyuki said nothing.
“Give us the thumb drive and we’ll be on our way.”
“What thumb drive?”
The always angry woman slapped Miyuki again.
Volleen Woo sighed. “I bore of such repetitive games. It’s a ridiculous waste of time. We know you have it, but fine. We’ll go through the motions if you wish.” He addressed Kawiki. “Give the young lady a full body search and don’t be a gentleman about it.”