Page 12

    The High Line was empty, though-maybe because it wa...orkday, or maybe because the visitors were smart and ran when they heard the explosions.

    Somewhere below us, Cacus was roaring, cursing, and offering panicked mortals deep discounts on slightly damp Rolexes...igured we only ha...ew seconds before he found us.

    I scanned the park, hoping for something that would help. Al...aw were benches, walkways, and lots of plants...ished we ha...hild of Demeter with us. Maybe they could entangle the giant in vines, or turn flowers into ninja throwing stars. I'd never actually see...hild of Demeter do that, but it would be cool.

    I looked at Annabeth. "Your turn fo...rilliant idea."

    "I'm working on it." She was beautiful in combat...now that'...razy thing to say, especially after we'd just climbe...ewage waterfall, but her gray eyes sparkled when she was fighting for her life. Her face shone lik...oddess's, and believe me, I've seen goddesses. The way her Camp Half-Blood beads rested against her throat-Okay, sorry. Go...ittle distracted.

    She pointed. "There!"

    A hundred feet away, the old railroad tracks split and the elevated platform forme.... The shorter piece of th...a...ead end-part of the park that was still under construction. Stacks of potting soil bags and plant flats sat on the gravel. Jutting over the edge of the railing was the arm o...rane that must've been sitting down at ground level. Far above us...ig metal claw hung from the crane's arm-probably what they'd been using to hoist garden supplies.

    Suddenl...nderstood what Annabeth was planning, an...elt lik...as trying to swallo...uarter. "No,&rdquo...aid. "Too dangerous."

    Annabeth raised her eyebrow. "Percy, you kno...ock at grabber-arm games."

    That was true. I'd taken her to the arcade at Coney Island, and we'd come back wit...ackful of stuffed animals. But this crane was massive.

    "Don't worry," she promised. "I've supervised bigger equipment on Mount Olympus."

    My girlfriend: sophomore honors student, demigod, and-oh, yeah-head architect for redesigning the palace of the gods on Mount Olympus in her spare time.

    "But can you operate it?&rdquo...sked.

    "Cakewalk. Just lure him over there. Keep him occupied whil...rab him."

    "And then what?"

    She smiled i...ay that made me gla...asn't the giant.

    "You'll see. If you can snag the caduceus while he's distracted, that would be great."

    "Anything else?&rdquo...sked. "Would you like fries an...rink, maybe?"

    "Shut up, Percy."

    "DEATH!" Cacus stormed up the steps and onto the High Line. He spotted us and lumbered over with slow, grim determination.

    Annabeth ran. She reached the crane and leaped over the side of the railing, shinnying down the metal arm like it wa...ree branch. She disappeared from view.

    I raised my sword and faced the giant. His red velour robe was in tatters. He'd lost his slippers. His ginger hair was plastered to his head lik...reasy shower cap. He aimed his glowing bazooka.

    "George, Martha,&rdquo...alled, hoping they could hear me. "Please change out of laser mode."

    We're trying, dear! Martha said.

    My stomach hurts, George said...hink he bruised my tummy.

    I backed up slowly down the dead end tracks, edging toward the crane. Cacus followed. Now that he had me trapped, he seemed in no hurry to kill me. He stopped twenty feet away, just beyond the shadow of the crane's hook...ried to look cornered and panicked. It wasn't hard.

    "So," Cacus growled. "Any last words?"

    "Help,&rdquo...aid. "Yikes. Ouch. How are those? Oh, and Hermes i...ay better salesman than you."

    "Gah!" Cacus lowered the caduceus laser.

    The crane didn't move. Even if Annabeth could get it started...ondered how she could see her target from down below...robably should've thought of that sooner.

    Cacus pulled the trigger, and suddenly the caduceus changed form. The giant tried to zap me wit...redit card–swiping machine, but the only thing that came out wa...aper receipt.

    Oh, yeah! George yelled in my mind. One for the snakes!

    "Stupid staff!" Cacus threw down the caduceus in disgust, which was the chance I'd been waiting for...aunched myself forward, snatched the staff, and rolled under the giant's legs.

    Whe...ot to my feet, we'd changed positions. Cacus had his back to the crane. Its arm was right behind him, the claw perfectly positioned above his head.

    Unfortunately, the crane still wasn't moving. And Cacus still wanted to kill me.

    "You put out my fire with that cursed sewage," he growled. "Now you steal my staff."

    "Which you wrongfully stole,&rdquo...aid.

    "It doesn't matter." Cacus cracked his knuckles. "You can't use the staff either. I'll simply kill you with my bare hands."

    The crane shifted, slowly and almost silently...ealized there were mirrors fixed along the side of the arm-like rearview mirrors to guide the operator. And reflected in one of those mirrors were Annabeth's gray eyes.

    The claw opened and began to drop.

    I smiled at the giant. "Actually, Cacus...ave another secret weapon."

    The giant's eyes lit up with greed. "Another weapon...ill steal it...ill copy it and sell the knockoffs fo...rofit! What is this secret weapon?"

    "Her name is Annabeth,&rdquo...aid. "And she's one o...ind."

    The claw dropped, smacking Cacus on the head and knocking him to the ground. While the giant was dazed, the claw closed around his chest and lifted him into the air.

    "Wh-what is this?" The giant came to his senses twenty feet up. "Put me down!"

    He squirmed uselessly and tried to blow fire, but only managed to cough up some mud.

    Annabeth swung the crane arm back and forth, building momentum as the giant cursed and struggled...as afraid the whole crane would tip over, but Annabeth's control was perfect. She swung the arm one last time and opened the claw when the giant was at the top of his arc.

    "Aahhhhhhhhh!" The giant sailed over the rooftops, straight over Chelsea Piers, and began falling toward the Hudson River.

    "George, Martha,&rdquo...aid. "Do you think you could manage laser mode just once more for me?"

    With pleasure, George said.

    The caduceus turned int...icked high-tech bazooka.

    I took aim at the falling giant and yelled, "Pull!"

    The caduceus blasted its beam of blue light, and the giant disintegrated int...eautiful starburst.

    That, George said, was excellent. Ma...av...at now?

    I have to agree with George, Martha said...at would be lovely.

    "You've earned it,&rdquo...aid. "But first we'd better check on Annabeth."

    She met me at the steps of the park, grinning like crazy.

    "Was that amazing?" she demanded.

    "That was amazing,&rdquo...greed. It's hard to pull of...omantic kiss when you're both drenched in muck, but we gave it our best shot.

    Whe...inally came up for air...aid, "Rats."

    "Rats?" she asked.

    "For the snakes,&rdquo...aid. "And then-"

    "Oh, gods." She pulled out her phone and checked the time. "It's almost five. We have to get the caduceus back to Hermes!"

    The surface streets were clogged with emergency vehicles and minor accidents, so we took the subway back. Besides, the subway had rats. Without going into gruesome details...an tell you that George and Martha helped out with the vermin problem. As we traveled north, they curled around the caduceus and dozed contentedly with bulging bellies.

    We met Hermes by the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center. (The statue, by the way, looks nothing like the real Atlas, but that's another story.)

    "Thank the Fates!" Hermes cried. "I'd just about given up hope!"

    He took the caduceus and patted the heads of his sleepy snakes. "There, there, my friends. You're home now."

    Zzzzz, said Martha.

    Yummy, George murmured in his sleep.

    Hermes sighed with relief. "Thank you, Percy."

    Annabeth cleared her throat.

    "Oh, yes," the god added, "and you, too, girl...ust have time to finish my deliveries! But what happened with Cacus?"

    We told him the story. Whe...elated what Cacus had said about someone else giving him the idea to steal the caduceus, and about the gods having other enemies, Hermes's face darkened.

    "Cacus wanted to cut the gods' communication lines, did he?" Hermes mused. "That's ironic, considering Zeus has been threatening..."

    His voice trailed off.

    "What?" Annabeth asked. "Zeus has been threatening what?"

    "Nothing," Hermes said.

    It was obviousl...ie, but I'd learned that it's best not to confront gods when they lie to your face. They tend to turn you into small fuzzy mammals or potted plants.

    "Okay...&rdquo...aid. "Any idea what Cacus meant about other enemies, or who would want him to steal your caduceus?"

    Hermes fidgeted. "Oh, could be any number of enemies. We gods do have many."

    "Hard to believe," Annabeth said.

    Hermes nodded. Apparently he didn't catch the sarcasm, or he had other things on his mind...ot the feeling the giant's warnings would come back to haunt us sooner or later, but Hermes obviously wasn't going to enlighten us now.

    The god manage...mile. "At any rate, well done, both of you! No...ust be going. So many stops-"

    "There's the small matter of my reward,&rdquo...eminded him.

    Annabeth frowned. "What reward?"

    "It's our one-month anniversary,&rdquo...aid. "Surely you didn't forget."

    She opened her mouth and closed it again...on't leave her speechless very often...ave to enjoy those rare moments.

    "Ah, yes, your reward." Hermes looked us up and down. "I think we'll have to start with new clothes. Manhattan sewage is no...ook you can pull off. Then the rest should be easy. God of travel, at your service."

    "What is he talking about?" Annabeth asked.

    "A special surprise for dinner,&rdquo...aid. "I did promise."

    Hermes rubbed his hands. "Say good-bye, George and Martha."

    Good-bye, George and Martha, said George sleepily.

    Zzz, said Martha.

    "I may not see you fo...hile, Percy," Hermes warned. "But...well, enjoy tonight."

    He made that sound so ominous...ondered again what he wasn't telling me. Then he snapped his fingers, and the world dissolved around us.

    Our table was ready. The ma?tre d' seated us o...ooftop terrace wit...iew of the lights of Paris and the boats on the River Seine. The Eiffel Tower glowed in the distance.

    I was wearin...uit...ope someone go...icture, becaus...on't wear suits. Thankfully, Hermes had magically arranged this. Otherwis...ouldn't have tied the tie. Hopefull...ooked okay, because Annabeth looked stunning. She wor...ark green sleeveless dress that showed off her long blond hair and her slim athletic figure. Her camp necklace had been replaced b...tring of gray pearls that matched her eyes.

    ...
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