Top global technology lawyer Tornait “Torn” Sagara knows he shouldn’t get involved with his beautiful client, Saya Brooks, whose revolutionary lightning-on-demand invention will solve climate change and render all other energy sources obsolete. But their shared connection as hafu (half Japanese, half American) draws them irresistibly together.
Saya’s technology could save the world, but what’s good for the planet is bad news for those who profit from the status quo. Now, someone wants to stop Saya from commercializing her invention and will go to any lengths—even murder—to do so. When Torn takes Saya for a spin on his motorcycle, they are viciously attacked. That death-defying battle on a crowded Tokyo expressway is only the start of Torn’s wild ride.
As the violence escalates, Torn discovers that everything he values—his reputation, his family, and even his life—is on the line. Racing from the boardrooms of Tokyo to the wilds of Russia in a desperate search for the truth, Torn is forced to face his own flaws and discover what really matters most.
Saya startled Torn when she tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Wow, that’s quite the bike. It looks like something Batman would drive.”
He was surprised again when he turned around, but this time by her piercing green eyes, which he never grew tired of seeing. Sometimes he wondered whether they were real or contacts, but he’d never seen her eyes any other color. She had let her dark hair down and wore a navy-blue leather jacket, dark blue jeans and black boots with relatively flat heels.
He tried not to stare at her. She was a client, after all. And not just any client, but perhaps the most intriguing client he’d ever had. “That’s quite a departure from what you were wearing a few minutes ago,” he said, his voice echoing slightly in the underground parking garage.
She looked at him for a moment, trying to decide again whether his mixed-race features were more Japanese or Western. “Is it appropriate for motorcycle riding?”
“It’ll work, and the boots with flat heels are a great idea. All motorcyclists, at least the men, dread women dragging their high heels across the seat when they mount the bike.”
“Did you say mount?”
He grinned. “Sorry, I mean when they get on their steed. Is that better?” He was struggling to avoid being too jocular with his beautiful client.
“I get the point. Don’t worry, my high heels are in this bag with the rest of my clothes for the dinner.”
“What about your potential investors? Shouldn’t you be schmoozing with them in the car?”
She cocked her head and smiled. “The technology does all the schmoozing necessary, don’t you think? It’s like showing someone lightning in a bottle.”
“Well, I was impressed with the demonstration even though I’ve seen it before,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. He thought for a moment and added, “I like the imagery of selling little bottles of lightning at combini,” convenience stores.
Saya added, “Besides, I told them I needed a few minutes to discuss an IP matter with my lawyer before I meet them at the hotel. So…” She paused playfully. “Do I get a ride or not?”
“Sure, but how did you know I’d have an extra helmet?”
Still smiling, she said, “Oh, Torn, I know you’re prepared for every eventuality.”
He smiled. “But the ride’s not that interesting. It’s mostly straight expressway.”
“Not a problem. Just go fast! It’s a beautiful bike and I want to see what it can do.” Saya ran her index finger along one of the hard rubber fins protruding from chrome sheaths attached to the side of the fairing. “Hey, what’re these for?”
“Those protect the rider, engine, and fairing if the bike gets dropped.”
“They’re cool. They make the bike look even more aerodynamic, but please don’t drop it.”
Torn swelled with pride about his BMW K 1200 LT. Nothing pumped up a biker, particularly someone who took his riding as seriously as he did, more than compliments about his ride.
“Here’s your helmet.” He took her bag and placed it in the top case where he kept the extra full-face helmet.
After closing his face covering and securing his chin strap, Torn helped Saya with hers. “By the way, we’ve gotta exit the expressway when we get into the city because tandem riding’s illegal past Hatsudai.”
She could hear Torn’s low voice through the helmet’s speakers located near her ears. It made her feel like an astronaut.
“That’s strange. Why’s that?” she asked through the mic in her helmet.
“Short story long, Japan banned tandem motorcycle riding on expressways for decades, starting in the seventies, because motorcycle bosozoku used to attack cars on the expressway with chains back in the sixties and early seventies.”
He looked at her through his helmet visor. “You’ve really lived a sheltered life, haven’t you? They are car and motorcycle gangs. Anyway, when the ban was finally lifted for most expressways in Japan, it was maintained for central Tokyo, ostensibly for safety reasons. Those crowded, narrow and winding expressways in the city center were deemed too dangerous for tandem riding. I think it’s because of the number of deadly motorcycle accidents from late night racing on the Circuit. But it’s not as if the narrow local streets choked with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians are any safer.”
She watched him get on the bike. “Well, it seems silly to me. They should crack down on the illegal racing, not riding with a passenger.”
“You’re preaching to the choir. Are you ready?”
Torn put the retractable passenger foot pegs down and explained how to get on.
Light on her feet, Saya mounted the bike successfully the first try without scraping the seat or kicking the top case behind her or Torn in front. She was surprised at how stable and comfortable the large well-padded seat and backrest felt. She grabbed handles built into the side cases because she felt like she should hold on to something even though she didn’t need them for balance.
Torn checked his phone one last time and saw that Mayumi had called and Kiwako had texted. He stored it in the small compartment in front of his seat and exited the garage onto a street lined with cherry trees.
On their right flowed a mountain stream strewn with moss-covered boulders. The bike’s windshield and Torn’s body protected her from the wind, but she could still smell the cherry blossoms. They glided along the winding road past rice farms and orchards. The entire scene was bathed in gold from the setting sun. She could not believe how completely secure she felt. It was not a feeling that would last.
“Shall I turn on some music?” He almost didn’t suggest it because he knew he should focus on driving given that he had a passenger, a client no less.
Despite the noise of the engine and the rushing wind, she could hear Torn’s relaxed unrushed voice clearly through the speakers in her helmet. “Definitely.”
Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis poured from the speakers in their helmets, two speakers imbedded in the fairing in front, and two on the sides of the passenger backrest. Saya felt the subtle vibration of the outside speakers on the sides of her backrest.
Torn selected his music based on whether it worked with the acoustics of the bike. Some music was more bike-appropriate than others. One of his favorite things about listening to music on this bike was that the volume automatically increased as the bike accelerated, to compensate for the louder engine noise.
As Torn accelerated the bike out of a turn, Saya’s excitement changed to euphoria. She released the handles and wrapped her arms around Torn’s broad chest.
Once on the expressway, Torn accelerated to ninety kilometers an hour as they drove down the on-ramp to merge into Tokyo-bound traffic.
Giving in to the fun, he laughed. “No need to yell. I can hear you just fine!” He throttled up to 120 and seamlessly moved from the left lane through the middle lane to the outside passing lane.
“Can you go faster?”
He accelerated to 140, taking advantage of any openings in the three lanes to pass slower traffic in the other lanes.
Saya found the frequent weaving in and out of traffic exhilarating—like a motorcycle in the movie Tron—and didn’t want Torn to slow down. She giggled. “Can you go faster?”
He turned off the music, raised the adjustable windshield to its maximum height and accelerated to 180. The aerodynamically shaped fairing and the bike’s weight kept the rubber side down. Even this speed didn’t feel too fast, because of the bike’s stability and the wind protection provided by the windshield. However, the louder engine and much faster rate at which they passed the guardrail posts were proof of their significantly greater speed.
“Oh my God,” she squealed as she wrapped her arms more tightly around Torn and put her helmeted head on his shoulder.
Torn smiled. It was intoxicating when the bike had the desired effect of lowering a woman’s inhibitions. “No need for the death grip.”
“Oh, sorry.” She tried to comply, but she liked holding onto him tightly.
Torn sensed her interest in him was more than just as her lawyer. For the first time in his career, his resolve never to become romantically involved with a client began to waver.
Traffic reappeared as they got closer to Hachioji.
“Don’t slow down!”
Ignoring her, he throttled down, knowing there were tollbooths ahead. He weaved in and out of the cars, again using all three lanes to keep progressing faster than the flow of traffic until they had reached the toll plaza.
Just enough traffic remained after the tollbooths to make things fun. He pulled into the left-hand lane and toggled to Imagine Dragons. Demon played from the bike’s speakers. Saya squeezed her arms more tightly around Torn’s waist and closed her eyes. “This is more fun than I ever dreamed.”
Torn felt warm all over.
A few minutes later a big black Mercedes pulled up behind them, its front bumper almost touching the bike’s license plate. Torn sped up but the car continued to tailgate.
Saya, eyes closed and lost in the music, didn’t notice the car right behind her.
Then it sped up, passing them closely on the left. Torn swerved into the middle lane to avoid a collision. He turned off the music, causing Saya to open her eyes. The Mercedes pulled in front of them and slowed down, forcing Torn to decelerate and swerve back into the left lane. It had no rear license plate, rare and illegal in Japan.
“What’s that guy doing?”
“I don’t know.”
The big Mercedes changed lanes, slowing down in the middle lane until it was parallel with them. The tinted passenger window opened. Before Torn could react, a man stuck a gun out of the window and fired. The bullet passed through the soft padding under Saya, exiting the other side of her seat.
With well-practiced fluidity, Torn squeezed the left handle bar lever to open the clutch and shifted down to fourth gear with his left foot, then throttled up with his right hand while releasing the clutch lever with his left hand. The Beemer raced away from the Mercedes. He shifted back up to fifth gear as the RPMs shot up.
“Oh my God!”
“Are you hit?” he asked as calmly as he could while breaking into a cold sweat.
“I don’t think so.”
Things were moving in slow motion for Torn. He thought, No one has a gun in Japan except yaks. All at once he was relieved neither one of them had been hit, scared shitless about being chased by yakuza types, and pissed off at the damage to his motorcycle.
The big car again appeared next to them in the center lane.
Torn slammed on the brakes with his right hand and foot, letting the Mercedes fly by. He shifted down two gears to third and throttled up, accelerating to 120 so fast he almost popped a wheelie. He flew by the driver’s side of the car, the high RPMs making the bike’s engine scream. Shifting up to fourth gear, he rocketed to 160.
The powerful car caught him quickly. He sped up to 180 but the big Mercedes stayed on them. They approached more traffic, forcing both vehicles to slow down. As they reached the Mitaka Highway Bus Turnout, the three lanes of traffic became two, creating a traffic jam.
Torn threaded between the two lanes of stalled traffic. Their pursuer briefly flanked them on the left shoulder until being thwarted by a soundproofing wall built to protect the surrounding homes from expressway noise.
They were safe, but only for a moment. He heard a motorcycle engine being revved until the ugly sound was deafening. It was the sound of a bike with its muffler illegally removed. At the same time he saw the blinding light of a single high beam behind him and heard loud death metal music. His heart sank.
“Motherfucking Yankee,” he muttered, momentarily forgetting his mic was still on.
“What’s a Yankee?”
“The scourge of the roadways. Over-the-hill punk motorcycle gang members who belonged to bosozoku gangs in their teens and early twenties.”
He doubted this was a coincidence. He wasn’t even sure if it was a real Yankee. He had encountered them many times, and while always obnoxiously loud, they’d never hassled him before.
The Yankee motorcycle veered left onto the narrow shoulder and flanked them, barely squeaking by between cars in the left lane and the five-meter-high soundproofing wall.
Torn saw that the hot-pink bike indeed had the Yankee trademark Norton Commando-like fairing with the headlight recessed into a bubble in the fairing’s front and a heavily padded extra-long sissy bar attached to the back of the unoccupied passenger seat. The rider wore a silver Nazi helmet and black mask. Torn saw what looked like a long PVC pipe attached to the side of the bike.
Another screamingly loud bike with its high beam on appeared immediately behind them, revving its engine. It pulled into the right lane and flanked him on the narrow shoulder between the cars and the center guardrail separating the two lanes of inbound traffic from the two lanes of outbound traffic.
Torn accelerated to get ahead of them, then swerved slightly to the right and left in front of cars in each lane. As expected, the cars moved towards the outside of their lanes, leaving no room for the pursuing bikes to proceed between the cars in the left lane and the wall on the left and the cars in the right lane and the central guardrail on the right. Still, this slowed the Yankees down for only a moment and they soon caught up to Torn and Saya yet again.
With the Yankees continuing to flank them on both sides, they approached the Eifukucho Exit, a connector between the Chuo Expressway coming into the city center from the west and the inner-city Metropolitan Expressway.
“Why didn’t you exit?” she screamed.
The fear in her voice made Torn’s heart beat even faster. He took a deep breath and responded, without emotion, “They would catch us at the first light. They’re smaller and more maneuverable.”
The matter-of-fact nature of his response worked. She lowered her voice. “We could find a cop.”
“Not before those guys would be on us. And don’t squeeze so tightly. I can barely breathe. Try to squeeze the bike with your knees and move with the bike. Don’t fight it.”
Saya loosened her death hug.
On the other side of the Eifukucho Tollbooth, traffic thinned for a moment as more cars exited. But traffic would soon increase again, and it would be difficult to lane split with the big BMW because the lanes were narrower on the much older inner city expressway than on the newer feeder expressways entering the city.
The Yankee bikes pulled up next to them. The driver on the left pulled from a sheath a long lead pipe with a chain and spiked ball.
“Is that a mace on the end? He has a mace!” she screamed.
It’s actually a flail, he thought to himself, but this was no time to be a stickler for ancient weapon accuracy. “Yes, I see it. No need to shout. I have speakers next to my ears too.” He regretted correcting her almost before the words had left his mouth.
Torn decided to go on the offensive with his much larger bike, which was surprisingly nimble for its size. He swerved the BMW at the biker wielding the homemade weapon.
“Are you crazy?! What’re you doing?!”
His move had the desired effect. The smaller bike swerved away. Torn accelerated like a rocket, pulling away from both Yankee bikes, but he soon heard them gaining on him. He could not outrun them in the afternoon traffic. They again pulled up on either side of him with their ridiculous—but lethal— weapons in hand. Torn slammed on both the hand and foot brakes so hard he thought he might pop a back wheelie, but the Beemer only skidded slightly before the antilock brakes did their job. The Yankee bikes flew by, then quickly slowed down.
Now Torn needed to pass them. He aimed for the left side of the bike on his left. He calculated that, because the biker held the threatening pipe in his right hand, placing himself and Saya on the left would make it difficult for the assailant to swing at them across his own chest.
Torn forced his way between the Yankee and the wall. Despite the maneuver, Torn had underestimated the biker’s resolve and dexterity; he was able to swing at them across his body and shatter the BMW’s windshield, spraying safety glass on Torn and grazing his right arm. Torn grimaced when the flail’s spikes tore through his jacket and into his right triceps, while his body shielded Saya from harm.
Torn knew he couldn’t avoid them much longer. The Yankees would get them sooner rather than later.
“I’m going to crash into them. Watch your legs,” he warned.
“Can’t you outrun them?!” her voice now a high-pitched scream.
The other biker approached on their left, swinging his flail with his right hand. Torn shifted down and countersteered the left handle bar hard, instantly flicking the BMW left into the other bike. The Yankee tried to avoid the big bike but it was too late. The motorcycles collided with a hard fiberglass-on-metal crunching sound. The smaller bike, already headed towards the soundproofing wall as the driver tried to avoid Torn’s bike, slammed into the wall with a loud crash followed by the clanging of metal scattering across the road. The rider bounced off the wall and cartwheeled across the expressway at an angle before hitting the center guardrail. The BMW’s fairing and front left fin had protected Torn and Saya as it hit the other bike, leaving them unhurt.
One to go.
Traffic increased again as rush-hour cars merged onto the expressway from the local roads.
“Look at that sign. Aren’t we supposed to get off?!”
Torn saw the sign showing a bright red circle-backslash symbol over two figures on a motorcycle. He saw another sign directing tandem riders to exit at Hatsudai.
“Driving tandem may save us if we stay on.”
“I feel much better now,” she said, totally deadpan.
“Your sarcasm’s not helping,” he replied without emotion.
She hugged him tighter.
They passed Hatsudai on the right. Torn could see the remaining Yankee gaining on them in his sideview mirrors. When they reached the Shinjuku on-ramp, traffic slowed to a crawl as more cars merged onto the two narrow curved expressway lanes. The moment of truth.
He maneuvered the bike to the centerline.
“You can’t be serious! There’s not enough room!”
“Who needs mirrors? Keep your legs in tight.”
He sped up. The right mirror was the first to go, then the left, followed by angry honking from the cars his mirrors hit as he threaded the needle between the narrow lanes. The bike remained upright because the big mirrors were designed to pop off on impact.
Torn saw the Yankee’s high beam in the side-view mirrors of the cars between which he drove, and heard the bike’s screaming engine.
“He’s right behind us!”
No shit, thought Torn.
Traffic thinned out right before the Yoyogi Rest Area. Torn accelerated. Please be there.
As he passed the on-ramp from the Yoyogi Rest Area, he heard a siren.
Yes! And there’s our savior.
The patrol car pulled up next to them.
“What’s he doing?” Torn asked, his eyes trained on the road.
“He’s waving you over!”
Then they heard the loud speaker command. “You there, on the blue motorcycle. Safely pull over at the next exit.”
Torn exited at Gaienmae. He stopped at the bottom of the off-ramp and told Saya to get off.
The police car pulled up behind them, lights flashing.
Torn stood while straddling the bike as he pressed a button to lower the electric center stand. The bike lifted slightly as the electric motor whined and then dropped back down when the center stand locked into place. He dismounted and removed his helmet.
The Yankee bike followed them off the expressway and passed by. Torn couldn’t see the driver’s face, his head covered by a helmet and his face with a bandana. There was no license plate.
Torn wished he had a gun. He made eye contact and flipped the guy off as he passed.
Turning to Saya, “Are you alright?”
She was shooting the Yankee with her phone as he drove by.
“Great idea. Please AirDrop those to my phone.”
Saya hugged Torn as hard as she could, burying her head into his chest for what felt like an eternity. She was shaking.
He wondered if he was shaking too.
Saya looked up and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re amazing, and here I thought you were just a lawyer.” She kissed him again, but this time on the lips.
Torn didn’t know what to say. His heart pounded, his pulse raced, and his arm started to ache. His skin felt clammy and he felt sick to his stomach. “Don’t barf now,” he told himself.
Two uniformed police officers, one visibly much younger than his partner, approached.
Releasing Saya, Torn turned and said emphatically to the police officers, “That guy on the Yankee bike tried to kill us!”
The young officer, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, stopped for a moment and then said, a bit shakily, “You’re under arrest.”
Excerpt from Bottled Lightning by L.M. Weeks.
Copyright © 2022 by L.M. Weeks
All Rights Reserved.
L. M. (“Mark”) Weeks is uniquely qualified to write this international legal thriller. Like Torn, (the protagonist in Bottled Lightning) Mark was born in Alaska and for many years has practiced law in Tokyo, representing technology companies from all over the world in connection with their fundraising, intellectual property matters, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and related disputes. For more than10 years, Mark was the Managing Partner of the Tokyo office of the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. He speaks, reads, and writes fluent Japanese, was an International Rotary Club scholar to Japan during high school, and graduated from International Christian University, a Japanese liberal arts college. Mark attended Fordham University School of Law in New York City, where he practiced law for almost sixteen years before relocating to Orrick’s Tokyo office in 2004. During his formative years in Japan, Mark earned a black belt in aikido. Also like Torn, he is an avid motorcyclist, and his adult son is biracial and bilingual and lives in Tokyo. In addition to riding motorcycles and writing, Mark’s other passion is saltwater fly fishing.