A sudden streak of light made me blink, as if someone had flashed a mirror in my face. I looked around and I saw a brown delivery truck parked in the middle of the Great Lawn where no cars were allowed. Lettered on the side were the words: HERNIAS ARE US Wait…sorry. I’m dyslexic. I squinted and decided it probably read: HERMES EXPRESS “Oh, good,” I muttered. “We’ve got mail.” “What?” Annabeth asked. I pointed at the truck. The driver was climbing out. He wore a brown uniform shirt and knee-length shorts along with stylish black socks and cleats. His curly salt-and-pepper hair stuck out around the edges of his brown cap. He looked like a guy in his mid-thirties, but I knew from experience he was actually in his mid-five-thousands. Hermes. Messenger of the gods. Personal friend, dispenser of heroic quests, and frequent cause of migraine headaches. He looked upset. He kept patting his pockets and wringing his hands. Either he’d lost something important or he’d had too many espressos at the Mount Olympus Starbucks. Finally he spotted me and beckoned, Get over here! That could’ve meant several things. If he was delivering a message in person from the gods, it was bad news. If he wanted something from me, it was also bad news. But seeing as he’d just saved me from explaining myself to Annabeth, I was too relieved to care. “Bummer.” I tried to sound regretful, as if my rump hadn’t just been pulled from the barbecue. “We’d better see what he wants.
have exactly one hour to find your runaway table, get back your synco-whatsit, and install it in this engine, or the Argo II explodes, destroying Bunker Nine and most of the woods.” “Basically,” Leo said. Jason frowned. “We should alert the other campers. We might have to evacuate them.” “No!” Leo’s voice broke. “Look, the explosion won’t destroy the whole camp. Just the woods. I’m pretty sure. Like sixty-five percent sure.” “Well, that’s a relief,” Piper muttered. “Besides,” Leo said, “we don’t have time, and I—I can’t tell the others. If they find out how badly I’ve messed up…” Jason and Piper looked at each other. The clock display changed to 59:00. “Fine,” Jason said. “But we’d better hurry.
Yep,” Annabeth said weakly. “He really did it.” The giant belched. He wiped his steaming greasy hands on his robe and grinned at us. “So, if you’re not breakfast, you must be customers. What can I interest you in?” He sounded relaxed and friendly, like he was happy to talk with us. Between that and the red velour housecoat, he almost didn’t seem dangerous. Except of course that he was ten feet tall, blew fire, and ate cows in three bites. I stepped forward. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted to keep his focus on me and not Annabeth. I think it’s polite for a guy to protect his girlfriend from instant incineration. “Um, yeah,” I said. “We might be customers. What do you sell?” Cacus laughed. “What do I sell? Everything, demigod! At bargain basement prices, and you can’t find a basement lower than this!” He gestured around the cavern. “I’ve got designer handbags, Italian suits, um…some construction equipment, apparently, and if you’re in the market for a Rolex…” He opened his robe. Pinned to the inside was a glittering array of gold and silver watches. Annabeth snapped her fingers. “Fakes! I knew I’d seen that stuff before. You got all this from street merchants, didn’t you? They’re designer knockoffs.” The giant looked offended. “Not just any knockoffs, young lady. I steal only the best! I’m a son of Hephaestus. I know quality fakes when I see them.