Junya's grandfather is a billionaire who keeps the secret to his success hidden in a heavily guarded safe. His mother is a martial artist who wields a razor-sharp katana-and seems to read his mind. And a mysterious girl in a Japanese school uniform can knock him over-literally-with just a look. What do they know that he doesn't? Junya's life takes a dangerous turn on his sixteenth birthday, when someone sets out to destroy not only the family's business empire-the one that he's set to inherit-but Junya himself. He's fighting for his life, and doesn't know who to trust. What has his family been keeping from him? Junya's journey takes him from the narrow streets of San Francisco to Japan, and through hidden portals to the top of the ancient Japanese Izumo Shinto shrine, to places where death and violence are a way of life. And in a mystical world he's never imagined, he finds his true destiny.
|Publisher:||The Shokunin Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.78(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
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The Gatekeeper's Son
By C. R. Fladmark, Shannon Roberts
The Shokunin Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2014 C. R. Fladmark
All rights reserved.
I waved at the security cameras as I crossed the cobblestones and headed toward the arched gateway of the old carriage house, and the wrought-iron gates began to swing inward. A little creepy, I always thought, but convenient. Behind me, the street sloped down a steep hill lined with manicured gardens. The Crescent was home to some of the finest mansions in San Francisco, including my grandpa's.
I was about to enter the driveway when I felt a weird sensation on the back of my neck, a tingling, like hot water hitting cold hands. I turned back to the street and looked around. The street was empty, nothing out of place — except the girl.
She was sitting on a park bench in the shade of a maple tree, legs swinging, her shoes barely scraping the ground. I saw long black hair and a school uniform.
She was looking at me.
When our eyes met, the space between us blurred and rippled as if the air were a giant tarp and someone had snapped the corner. I grabbed the carriage-house wall. I felt dizzy, ears ringing, chest tight.
The gates began to close. I wanted to slip through and escape into their sanctuary, but my body was frozen. A long moment later, the feeling vanished, but it left the air clearer, colors brighter. My body buzzed with energy.
The girl was still there, but she'd stood up. She gave me one last look before she turned and walked away, her short skirt swishing under a black backpack. I stared until she disappeared behind the bushes.
The ground began to tremble and flex, accompanied by a terrible roar. I flattened myself against the carriage-house wall and stared in horror as the cobblestones buckled and rose like a tsunami, higher and higher, racing toward me. I sucked in a lungful of air just before it smashed me against the wall, tossed me into the air, and dragged me under its boiling fury. I tumbled into the swirl of it, fighting the current, feeling the scream of my lungs as I slipped deeper.
Then the wave dumped me on the ground and was gone.
It took a minute for the pain to fade. When I could finally think straight, I sat up and looked around to see how bad the destruction was.
Everything looked the same. The carriage house still stood, and the cobblestones lay undisturbed. It was quiet except for the sound of someone running toward me.
A man, vaguely familiar, burst through the gate and skidded into me, slamming me back to the ground.
"Sprout's down, repeat, Sprout's down!" the man said as he shoved his knee into my back and pressed my head against the bricks.
Sprout? I gasped, my muscles aching and my head spinning. I tried to twist around to see who it was, but all I saw was a hand and the steel-blue semiautomatic it held, pointed toward the street.
* * *
When the bodyguard finally figured out I wasn't in danger, it still took a while to assure him that "Sprout" was fine. And why exactly did the protection detail have to give me that particular code name? Couldn't they have picked something cool?
When he pulled me up with one hand, I told him I'd fallen because of the earthquake.
He holstered his gun. "What earthquake?" He touched my forehead. "I'd better call an ambulance."
"No, no. I'm fine — I guess I just tripped." I forced a smile. "Did you see the girl on the bench?" I pointed toward the park — everything there looked normal.
He shot me a look, then walked into the middle of the street. "I don't see any girl."
"There was a girl there and ... I got dizzy." I kicked my toe against the moss between the bricks.
He laughed. "She must've been one hell of a girl!"
I knew my face was getting red. I looked away and swore under my breath. When I looked back, he was smirking.
"Don't worry, Sprout, the Chairman's not home yet." He handed me my backpack. "You've got some seriously overactive hormones."
I heard him laughing into his two-way radio as he retreated into the yard. I stood just inside the gates, straightening my clothes and waiting for the heat to leave my face.
I glanced toward the bench one more time. Had I imagined the whole thing?
* * *
I climbed the wide stone staircase, but before I could knock, the front door swung open and there stood Grandpa's butler, wearing a gray apron over his dark blue suit.
"Good morning, Master James," he said in his English accent, looking down his thin nose at me.
I smiled up at him. "Morning, William. It's really good to see you."
"Thank you, ... but it's only been a week." He brushed the leaves off my coat and hung it in the hall closet, but he didn't say anything.
I handed over my backpack as if it were a newborn baby. "My new laptop's in there." It was three days old, custom-built, a birthday gift to myself. He made a show of putting it away while I waited with my grubby running shoes planted on the thick rug in the foyer. Beside me stood an ornate round table weighted down by an enormous bouquet of flowers.
Grandpa's house was large, formal, and quiet, with something fragile waiting around every corner. But there was a familiar smell to the place that I liked — old wood, I guess, and maybe Grandpa, too. Today something smelled especially good.
William noticed my sniffing. A twinkle crept into his eyes, causing little lines to appear all over his face. "I'm baking croissants."
"Awesome." William baked one hell of a croissant. "Where's Grandpa?"
"Your grandfather apologizes for being late. He had a meeting this morning."
"On a Saturday?"
William shifted slightly. "Yes."
I frowned. "Everything OK?"
His face lost its stiffness. "I'm sure it's nothing." His hands toyed with the bow on the front of his apron. "It's just ... he's been looking a bit tired lately. I think perhaps he needs to slow down." He straightened. "In any event, the Chairman will be along shortly. You may wait in his study." He started toward the kitchen but stopped and turned. "Incidentally, I saw what happened outside."
I groaned. "Does Grandpa know?"
"Probably. You caused quite a hullabaloo out there." William smiled. "He's an eager fellow, that one. But that's why the Chairman hires them. Makes us all feel safer." With that, he turned and walked away, his heels clicking on the gleaming hardwood floor. As I climbed the staircase to the second floor, I was sure I heard him chuckling.
And what the hell was a hullabaloo?CHAPTER 2
Grandpa had about as many books as a small public library. Tall bookshelves covered every wall — well, except for the walls with the large picture windows and the wide stone fireplace. But he had something the library didn't have: a rolling ladder that ran along the bookcases on a steel track. When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, I'd run it along the track too fast and derailed it. I think William was angrier about it than Grandpa was.
I stood by the ladder and ran my hand over the smooth varnished wood. I still felt a buzzing, humming energy, proof that I hadn't just imagined the weird events outside. With a sigh, I sank into the soft brown leather of Grandpa's large chair, tilted back, and lifted my feet onto his desk.
For as long as I could remember, two Saturdays every month, I'd come here to visit. After William served tea and sandwiches, Grandpa would sit back in this chair and tell me the most outrageous stories while the fire crackled and the shadows grew longer. He told me about far-off places where beautiful women with long swords watched over the shrines of ancient gods, of shamans who lived in the desert, of spies and thieves stealing secrets and gold.
These days he told different stories in a not-too-subtle attempt to educate me about his business. I didn't mind. It was interesting to watch him buy a company or build an office tower and turn it into another piece of the Thompson empire.
A computer sat on his desk, yellowed with age. I slid the keyboard out and gave it few taps. No response — it was either turned off or dead. But when I shoved it back in, something fluttered to the floor — a yellow sticky note. On it, in Grandpa's curving writing, was a list of usernames and passwords. I rolled my eyes and put the note back under the keyboard.
"James!" a voice boomed from the doorway. "Get your feet off my desk!"
I jumped out of the chair.
Grandpa stood in the doorway, hands on hips.
"You do look good in that chair though," he said, his voice softer but still loud enough for William to hear in the kitchen. A smile started to lift the corners of his mouth, but it died. He looked tired.
"Sorry, Grandpa." I turned his chair around and wiped the desk where my shoes had been. He walked into the room and waved away my apology.
"I'm sorry for keeping you waiting. Business ..." His voice faltered.
I looked away, and that's when I noticed his assistant, Ms. Lin, standing in the hallway with a black leather notebook held to her chest. Ms. Lin was in her late twenties, maybe thirties — I didn't know, or care. She was gorgeous, the sexiest real woman I knew, and the subject of more than one late-night fantasy. Today she wore a short blue skirt with a matching blazer and dangerously high heels. My eyes started at her feet and traveled up. When I finally made it to her deep brown eyes, she was staring straight at me. She smiled like the stewardess she once was.
"Happy birthday, James." Her voice was silky smooth, with a slight Asian accent.
As usual, my brain stopped communicating with my mouth, and heat flooded my face.
"Uh ... thanks." I stumbled over to sit in my usual spot near the fireplace.
Grandpa scowled at me. "When are you going to get that hair cut?"
"Leave him alone, Chairman," Ms. Lin said, gliding like an angel across the rug to rescue me. "Let him be young and carefree while he can. Were you any different at that age?"
He hitched his thumbs in his vest pockets. "This isn't the sixties, and I was never carefree."
Ms. Lin looked skeptical.
He broke into a sly smile. "At least, not that either of you will ever know about." He turned toward the door. "There's a change of plans today, James. Let's go downstairs. William!" he bellowed as he strode down the hall, his back straight as a soldier's.
Ms. Lin turned to me. "You better not make him wait."
I ran after him. Halfway down the stairs, I stopped and gaped: there was a crowd of people in the foyer below.
"Happy sixteenth birthday!" they called out, not at all in unison — obviously they hadn't rehearsed. And I was surprised. Even my dad was there. My mother — my okaasan — clung to his arm, as if keeping him from running away.
Besides my parents, the only other people I knew well were William; two of the maids; the old Japanese gardener, Mr. Sugimoto; and John and Miles, two of Grandpa's regular bodyguards. That guy who'd flattened me earlier wasn't around — probably lurking near the gate, waiting to jump someone else.
The rest of the group was senior executives from Grandpa's company. A few I knew in passing, but most were faces I'd seen only on the boardroom walls. And, of course, there was Ms. Lin, standing so close behind me on the stairs that the scent of her — a hint of perfume and lipstick — made me blush again.
"How'd you all sneak in here?" I said.
"Maybe while you were napping in my chair," Grandpa said, chuckling at the bottom of the stairs. "Come on down, my boy. I promise this won't hurt a bit."
Okaasan met me at the bottom of the stairs. She wore a kimono, peach-colored with a trail of small flowers cascading from a wide silk belt. The color complemented Dad's tie.
Okaasan bowed to me, her smile changing to something more mischievous.
"You must pay attention, Junya," she said in Japanese. "What if we were ninja, coming to kill you?"
"You'd already be dead," I said, also in Japanese.
"You wish, little apprentice."
I heard Mr. Sugimoto chuckle.
I glanced at my dad and rubbed the fabric of his suit jacket, trying to get a read on him. "Looking pretty spiffy, Dad. I didn't know you owned a suit."
"I may need one for a funeral — yours, if you keep this up," he said, but he gave me a small smile.
I moved on to shake the hands of the people I hadn't met, knowing Grandpa would expect that, but I was still close enough to hear Grandpa address my dad.
"It's been a long time, Robert. Thank you for coming."
There was an awkward pause. I held my breath.
"Good to see you, too." Dad sounded tense. "The house looks good."
I released my breath and moved on.
Mark Smith, president of the Thompson Group, greeted me with a warm smile, a firm handshake, and a pat on the shoulder. Next to him was Mr. Barrymore, Grandpa's security chief and a former Marine sergeant. He was gray-haired and in his fifties — by far the most intimidating man in the room after Grandpa.
Near the back of the group, turned away from us and whispering into a phone, was Walter Roacks. He was Grandpa's chief financial officer and the longest-serving employee of his company. And since I knew Grandpa was probably watching, I went over to shake his hand.
He snapped the phone closed and extended his hand. It was cold and clammy.
I turned away from Walter and bumped right into Ms. Lin. I reached out to catch her, afraid she'd fall off her high heels, but before I could touch her, she steadied herself. I paused, my hand in midair.
"Sorry, Ms. Lin." Not knowing what else to do, I thrust out my hand. To my surprise, she moved in close. Her delicate hands reached for my shoulders and she kissed me on the mouth.
"That's my present to you," she whispered, her lips beside my ear. "I wanted to be the first woman to kiss you now that you've become a man."
She pulled back, a bright smile on her face. I was pretty sure she'd done that to tease me because of the way I'd checked her out upstairs. I also knew I was glowing like a stoplight. I glanced around, wondering if anyone saw, but everyone else had drifted into the parlor.
The parlor was big and bright, with overstuffed leather furniture and glass doors opening onto the back gardens. Balloons and banners hung from the ceiling, and a string quartet sat near the doors. They broke into "Happy Birthday" when they saw me. I winced — this was getting ridiculous.
Ms. Lin pushed me past them and into the dining room, where caterers in crisp white uniforms were placing trays of hot food on the table. It was a birthday brunch. Grandpa had gone all out, something he'd never done before.
"Sit beside me, James," Grandpa said from the head of the table.
Okaasan sat next to me, with my dad beside her. All conversation ceased as we dug into brunch. Eggs Benedict, German sausage, Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and maple syrup from Quebec, even Japanese miso soup and broiled fish for Okaasan. And as promised, there were William's croissants, soft and buttery.
William was on hand to enjoy his creation, as were John and Miles, Mr. Sugimoto, and the maids. I was happy to have them there — I'd known them so long that they were almost like family. But why were there so many suits?
"Slow down, Edward," Okaasan said. "Didn't you have dinner last night?"
"Oh, Misako," Grandpa said with a laugh, a forkful of sausage on the way to his mouth. "That's what I like about you — and Lin. I wish the rest of my employees were so candid."
"She doesn't have to worry about getting fired."
The voice had come from down the table. When I looked up, John was whistling, looking outside. Everyone laughed, but Ms. Lin cut in.
"You do need to look after yourself better, Edward," she said, using his name for the first time that I could recall. "I've been saying that."
Grandpa grinned. "I know, but these sausages are so damn good."
"Yes, they are," Mr. Sugimoto said in accented English from across the table. "Would you pass them here, Junya?"
"Why'd you call him Junya?" Mark said.
Grandpa answered before anyone else had a chance.
"His real name is James Edward Thompson." He looked so proud. "His father named him after me."
I always suspected that Dad had slapped the name on me with about as much thought as a store clerk putting a price tag on a can of tuna. Just something to keep Grandpa happy, I suppose.
"I named him Junya." Okaasan's voice was low but strong. "It means 'the pure one.'" Then she looked up, perhaps becoming aware of the sudden silence. "And he'll stay that way if I can keep the young ladies away."
Someone chuckled, and then others joined in, a release of tension. I blushed again, my eyes still on the table. Okaasan had never called me James — like anything she disagreed with, she made her own way around it.
If anyone had bothered to ask me, I'd have said I preferred Junya. The older I got, the less comfortable I was with my borrowed name. It felt like a hand-me-down.
* * *
Grandpa started clinking a spoon against his coffee cup. I groaned as a man in a baker's hat carried in a huge cake, complete with the requisite sixteen candles.
Excerpted from The Gatekeeper's Son by C. R. Fladmark, Shannon Roberts. Copyright © 2014 C. R. Fladmark. Excerpted by permission of The Shokunin Publishing Company.
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