It’s time for today’s sneak peek of THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY!
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY comes out June 16. Preorder today from:
The book will also be available in trade paperback. Through June 11, you can enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed copies! (US only)
Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!
THE LOTUS AND THE BARLEY
Sneak Peek: The man in black
THE MAN IN BLACK ran across the plaza, and the guards followed. After all, that’s what guards do. Especially if they want to continue doing things like receiving paychecks and having a pulse.
Outside the massive building, the clanging of the alarms faded in the distance, dominated by the sounds of a vibrant city at night, and stopped cold by glass that, it was rumored, could stand up to a grenade blast. Now the sounds of pounding feet and fast breathing were all that could be heard. That, and the usual cries of things like, “Stop, Faddah Rucksack, stop!” and “We will shoot!” and “Who the hell would’ve thought he could run so fast?”
The first cry made Rucksack chuckle. Did anyone ever follow such ridiculous commands?
The second cry was something he had known going in, but it still concerned him. Ever since the incident in Hong Kong years back—the memory still made Rucksack shudder—the world had decided it was tired of guns. It was rare you saw firearms, other than with specialized military units or certain hunters. But he couldn’t allow himself the luxury of surprise. Of course Guru Deep’s guards would be armed. Rucksack thought of the small briefcase he held by the handle in his gloved left hand. Given what he’d taken, he was surprised they weren’t shooting already.
At least he could find comfort and humor in the third remark. Despite the humid summer evening making sweat bead on his bald brown head and dampen his black silk clothes, Rucksack couldn’t help but smile. Not that he liked running, but you didn’t survive as long as he had without being able to leg it faster than the people trying to kill you. Rucksack believed the world was best experienced at a rambling walking pace, though briskness was acceptable if you found yourself late for happy hour. But at his age it was nice to know he could still outpace the young guards, despite how they kept fit both by Guru Deep’s PEFFER program, the Personal Everyday Fulfilling Fitness & Empowerment Regimen, and a soul-deep fear of what would happen if their physical conditioning was found not to be up to snuff.
He couldn’t let such thoughts distract him though. The smile faded to a line as firm as the horizon. The timing now was everything, and if it was off even by a few seconds…
Rucksack ran faster.
The Maya Plaza fanned out from the Lotus in all directions. In the daytime the park was serene and lovely, a bright public square with a dark private heart. Now the shrubs and trees were black. He’d planned the escape route to keep well away from the lighted paths, but now the trees were working against him. Dark branches snagged at Rucksack’s clothes, plucking at the knotwork buttons that ran down the center of his long untucked black shirt, scraping his neck above the mandarin collar, and pressing like tripwires over his shins where long ties wrapped the bottoms of his pants for extra silence.
The shouting voices were closer.
He ducked around a tree, pausing a moment to evaluate where the guards were. By now they were converging from all sides, with some surely heading to the edge of the park to trap him inside. But if he made one slight change to his course…
Rucksack started running again, leaping a row of shrubbery and dodging more trees.
A high root grabbed the toe of his boot.
Instead of resisting the change, Rucksack followed the new direction. He launched forward, tucking his body and holding the briefcase more tightly.
He winced. The damn left hand had been all but useless ever since The Blast. He would have preferred to hold the briefcase in his other hand, but he had to keep the right free, no matter what.
Soft grass cushioned his back as he somersaulted. With the momentum came a memory, an old power, an old trick that had always worked well. Momentum to energy, energy to force. The focus was everything, and he focused now, pulling the energy from the grass, the ground, and his body, compressing it, targeting it. When his feet hit the ground, as he stood from the roll, he unleashed the force inside. A tremor like an earthquake passed through the park. Men yelled. Some stumbled and fell.
Rucksack grinned. It was almost like the old days. More importantly, it bought him time—but he knew he’d pay for it later. Assuming there was a later.
He passed through the last row of trees. Beyond the green of the Maya Plaza, the steel, glass, and concrete of London surrounded the park. Night muted the colors, but come dawn the reds and oranges, the blues and greens of the city’s bright buildings would make the park seem dim and monochrome, as if it should try harder to enjoy itself.
The voices of the guards were so near now.
Rucksack listened more closely.
So was another sound—a low, deep rumble—the difference between escape and capture, or worse.
There was still time.
The first shot rang out. Behind him, bark exploded.
The guards closed in on him. Fifteen men, all taller and broader than he was. All with guns out. It had been decades since Rucksack had seen one, let alone fifteen.
Rucksack’s boots hit the sidewalk that ringed the Maya Plaza. A few meters of concrete were now all that separated him from escape. At the far edge of the sidewalk, a low metal railing marked the edge of one of London’s busiest roads.
The guards still yelled. Another shot ruptured the air. This one passed by his shoulder blades, ending in a loud ping-bop when it hit the lamppost nearby.
But Rucksack ignored the guards and the guns. He focused only on the sound, focused only on making the timing, the angle, the momentum just right. The approach, the moment, had to be perfect. He was nearly there, and from the sound, so was it.
Then, from behind a mailbox, a sixteenth man stood and blocked Rucksack’s path. He stood taller and broader than the others. Rucksack couldn’t see his face, only a smile, only a motion that could be anything—
The tremor had been taxing. Using so much energy now was risky, potentially too risky. But it was the only thing he could do if he wanted to escape.
He swung. His left hand roared with agony as the metal briefcase hit the man’s outstretched hand. Something clattered on the pavement, out of sight, but Rucksack kept hold of the briefcase. It was still latched. Everything depended on what was inside. But he was out of time. He didn’t stop, couldn’t stop—it was everything or nothing. Rucksack hadn’t survived what he had survived only to die now, hadn’t regained what he had lost just to lose it all now, on a dark sidewalk south of the River Thames, to some patsy guard who had no idea what he was really doing or what it really meant for him, or for London, or, for that matter, all the world—perhaps all of existence itself.
Rucksack’s swinging hand led his body into a spiral. As he turned he planted his left foot. He spun his body and his right leg rose, bent—and then one kick showed the sixteen men with guns what real firepower was.
The guard flew backward, but the power behind the kick had only begun to strike. As Rucksack lowered his foot to the ground, a flat smacking sound rolled past his ears as the man bounced off the low metal railing. But the sound was more than sound.
Behind him, guns clattered on pavement as the shockwave made the other fifteen guards double over or stumble back. The guard at the railing fell to his knees and his forehead thudded on the pavement. Rucksack ran forward. The other guards recovered quickly, some running toward him while others scrabbled in the shadows for their weapons. Men lunged. A hand slid off his shoulder. Fingernails grazed his wrist.
But that could not matter. He listened to the rumble again. It was here.
One guard’s fingertips glanced off a boot and smacked the concrete. One foot braced on the back of the hunched-over guard, Rucksack’s brown-black eyes winced at the blinding gaze that stared into his very soul. The railing clanged under the next step.
With a roar, Rucksack leaped toward a red wall.
Like a charging tiger, the terrible sound paused all hearts and breath. Then Rucksack was in midair, hanging over the pavement, flying toward a street teeming with speeding traffic.
The driver of the bright-red double-decker bus shifted gears and sped up, aiming to beat the stoplight before it changed. The engine’s rumbling was the sweetest sound Rucksack had ever heard. He reached out his right hand, grabbed the handrail just inside the open doorway at the back of the bus, and stepped on as lightly as a sunbeam, swinging the briefcase to his side.
The guards stood open-mouthed and watched the bus rumble away.
Grinning, Rucksack waved to them until the Maya Plaza and the Lotus were out of sight at last.
Then, unable to stand anymore, he collapsed on a seat and began to shake.
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Tune in tomorrow for another sneak peek!