The Lightning Thief – Chapter 15: A GOD BUYS USCHEESEBURGERS

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Chapter 15: A GOD BUYS USCHEESEBURGERS

The next afternoon, June 14, seven days before the solstice, our train rolled into Denver. We hadnt eaten since the night before in the dining car, somewhere in Kansas. We hadnt taken a shower since Half-Blood Hill, and I was sure that was obvious. 

  “Lets try to contact Chiron,” Annabeth said. “I want to tell him about your talk with the river spirit. “

  “We cant use phones, right?”

  “Im not talking about phones. “

  We wandered through downtown for about half an hour, though I wasnt sure what Annabeth was looking for. The air was dry and hot, which felt weird after the humidity of St. Louis. Everywhere we turned, the Rocky Mountains seemed to be staring at me, like a tidal wave about to crash into the city. 

  Finally we found an empty do-it-yourself car wash. We veered toward the stall farthest from the street, keeping our eyes open for patrol cars. We were three adolescents hanging out at a car wash without a car; any cop worth his doughnuts would figure we were up to no good. 

  “What exactly are we doing?” I asked, as Grover took out the spray gun. 

  “Its seventy-five cents,” he grumbled. “Ive only got two quarters left. Annabeth?”

  “Dont look at me,” she said. “The dining car wiped me out. “

  I fished out my last bit of change and passed Grover a quarter, which left me two nickels and one drachma from Medusas place. 

  “Excellent,” Grover said. “We could do it with a spray bottle, of course, but the connection isnt as good, and my arm gets tired of pumping. “

  “What are you talking about?”

  He fed in the quarters and set the knob to FINE MIST. “I-Ming. “

  “Instant messaging?”

  “Iris-messaging,” Annabeth corrected. “The rainbow goddess Iris carries messages for the gods. If you know how to ask, and shes not too busy, shell do the same for half-bloods. “

  “You summon the goddess with a spray gun?”

  Grover pointed the nozzle in the air and water hissed out in a thick white mist. “Unless you know an easier way to make a rainbow. “

  Sure enough, late afternoon light filtered through the vapor and broke into colors. 

  Annabeth held her palm out to me. “Drachma, please. “

  I handed it over. 

  She raised the coin over her head. “O goddess, accept our offering. “

  She threw the drachma into the rainbow. It disappeared in a golden shimmer. 

  “Half-Blood Hill,” Annabeth requested. 

  For a moment, nothing happened. 

  Then I was looking through the mist at strawberry fields, and the Long Island Sound in the distance. We seemed to be on the porch of the Big House. Standing with his back to us at the railing was a sandy-haired guy in shorts and an orange tank top. He was holding a bronze sword and seemed to be staring intently at something down in the meadow. 

  “Luke!” I called. 

  He turned, eyes wide. I could swear he was standing three feet in front of me through a screen of mist, except I could only see the part of him that appeared in the rainbow. 

  “Percy!” His scarred face broke into a grin. “Is that Annabeth, too? Thank the gods! Are you guys okay?”

  “Were . . . uh . . . fine,” Annabeth stammered. She was madly straightening her dirty T-shirt, trying to comb the loose hair out of her face. “We thought—Chiron—I mean—”

  “Hes down at the cabins. ” Lukes smile faded. “Were having some issues with the campers. Listen, is everything cool with you? Is Grover all right?”

  “Im right here,” Grover called. He held the nozzle out to one side and stepped into Lukes line of vision. “What kind of issues?”

  Just then a big Lincoln Continental pulled into the car wash with its stereo turned to maximum hip-hop. As the car slid into the next stall, the bass from the subwoofers vibrated so much, it shook the pavement. 

  “Chiron had to—whats that noise?” Luke yelled. 

  “Ill take care of it. ” Annabeth yelled back, looking very relieved to have an excuse to get out of sight. “Grover, come on!

  “What?” Grover said. “But—”

  “Give Percy the nozzle and come on!” she ordered. 

  Grover muttered something about girls being harder to understand than the Oracle at Delphi, then he handed me the spray gun and followed Annabeth. 

  I readjusted the hose so I could keep the rainbow going and still see Luke. 

  “Chiron had to break up a fight,” Luke shouted to me over the music. “Things are pretty tense here, Percy. Word leaked out about the Zeus—Poseidon standoff. Were still not sure how—probably the same scumbag who summoned the hellhound. Now the campers are starting to take sides. Its shaping up like the Trojan War all over again. Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo are backing Poseidon, more or less. Athena is backing Zeus. “

  I shuddered to think that Clarisses cabin would ever be on my dads side for anything. In the next stall, I heard Annabeth and some guy arguing with each other, then the musics volume decreased drastically. 

  “So whats your status?” Luke asked me. “Chiron will be sorry he missed you. “

  I told him pretty much everything, including my dreams. It felt so good to see him, to feel like I was back at camp even for a few minutes, that I didnt realize how long I had talked until the beeper went off on the spray machine, and I realized I only had one more minute before the water shut off. 

  “I wish I could be there,” Luke told me. “We cant help much from here, Im afraid, but listen . . . it had to be Hades who took the master bolt. He was there at Olympus at the winter solstice. I was chaperoning a field trip and we saw him. “

  “But Chiron said the gods cant take each others magic items directly. “

  “Thats true,” Luke said, looking troubled. “Still . . . Hades has the helm of darkness. How could anybody else sneak into the throne room and steal the master bolt? Youd have to be invisible. “

  We were both silent, until Luke seemed to realize what hed said. 

  “Oh, hey,” he protested. “I didnt mean Annabeth. She and I have known each other forever. She would never . . . I mean, shes like a little sister to me. “

  I wondered if Annabeth would like that description. In the stall next to us, the music stopped completely. A man screamed in terror, car doors slammed, and the Lincoln peeled out of the car wash. 

  “Youd better go see what that was,” Luke said. “Listen, are you wearing the flying shoes? Ill feel better if I know theyve done you some good. “

  “Oh . . . uh, yeah!” I tried not to sound like a guilty liar. “Yeah, theyve come in handy. “

  “Really?” He grinned. “They fit and everything?”

  The water shut off. The mist started to evaporate. 

  “Well, take care of yourself out there in Denver,” Luke called, his voice getting fainter. “And tell Grover itll be better this time! Nobody will get turned into a pine tree if he just—”

  But the mist was gone, and Lukes image faded to nothing. I was alone in a wet, empty car wash stall. 

Annabeth and Grover came around the corner, laughing, but stopped when they saw my face. Annabeths smile faded. “What happened, Percy? What did Luke say?”

  “Not much,” I lied, my stomach feeling as empty as a Big Three cabin. “Come on, lets find some dinner. “

  A few minutes later, we were sitting at a booth in a gleaming chrome diner. All around us, families were eating burgers and drinking malts and sodas. 

  Finally the waitress came over. She raised her eyebrow skeptically. “Well?”

  I said, “We, um, want to order dinner. “

  “You kids have money to pay for it?”

  Grovers lower lip quivered. I was afraid he would start bleating, or worse, start eating the linoleum. Annabeth looked ready to pass out from hunger. 

  I was trying to think up a sob story for the waitress when a rumble shook the whole building; a motorcycle the size of a baby elephant had pulled up to the curb. 

  All conversation in the diner stopped. The motorcycles headlight glared red. Its gas tank had flames painted on it, and a shotgun holster riveted to either side, complete with shotguns. The seat was leather—but leather that looked like . . . well, Caucasian human skin. 

  The guy on the bike wouldve made pro wrestlers run for Mama. He was dressed in a red muscle shirt and black jeans and a black leather duster, with a hunting knife strapped to his thigh. He wore red wraparound shades, and he had the cruelest, most brutal face Id ever seen— handsome, I guess, but wicked—with an oily black crew cut and cheeks that were scarred from many, many fights. The weird thing was, I felt like Id seen his face somewhere before. 

  As he walked into the diner, a hot, dry wind blew through the place. All the people rose, as if they were hypnotized, but the biker waved his hand dismissively and they all sat down again. Everybody went back to their conversations. The waitress blinked, as if somebody had just pressed the rewind button on her brain. She asked us again, “You kids have money to pay for it?”

  The biker said, “Its on me. ” He slid into our booth, which was way too small for him, and crowded Annabeth against the window. 

  He looked up at the waitress, who was gaping at him, and said, “Are you still here?”

  He pointed at her, and she stiffened. She turned as if shed been spun around, then marched back toward the kitchen. 

  The biker looked at me. I couldnt see his eyes behind the red shades, but bad feelings started boiling in my stomach. Anger, resentment, bitterness. I wanted to hit a wall. I wanted to pick a fight with somebody. Who did this guy think he was?

  He gave me a wicked grin. “So youre old Seaweeds kid, huh?”

  I shouldve been surprised, or scared, but instead I felt like I was looking at my stepdad, Gabe. I wanted to rip this guys head off. “Whats it to you?”

  Annabeths eyes flashed me a warning. “Percy, this is—”

  The biker raised his hand. 

  “Sokay,” he said. “I dont mind a little attitude. Long as you remember whos the boss. You know who I am, little cousin?”

  Then it struck me why this guy looked familiar. He had the same vicious sneer as some of the kids at CampHalf-Blood, the ones from cabin five. 

  “Youre Clarisses dad,” I said. “Ares, god of war. “

  Ares grinned and took off his shades. Where his eyes shouldve been, there was only fire, empty sockets glowing with miniature nuclear explosions. “Thats right, punk. I heard you broke Clarisses spear. “

  “She was asking for it. “

  “Probably. Thats cool. I dont fight my kids fights, you know? What Im here for—I heard you were in town. I got a little proposition for you. “

  The waitress came back with heaping trays of food—cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, and chocolate shakes. 

  Ares handed her a few gold drachmas. 

  She looked nervously at the coins. “But, these arent. . . “

  Ares pulled out his huge knife and started cleaning his fingernails. “Problem, sweetheart?”

  The waitress swallowed, then left with the gold. 

  “You cant do that,” I told Ares. “You cant just threaten people with a knife. “

  Ares laughed. “Are you kidding? I love this country. Best place since Sparta. Dont you carry a weapon, punk? You should. Dangerous world out there. Which brings me to my proposition. I need you to do me a favor. “

  “What favor could I do for a god?”

  “Something a god doesnt have time to do himself. Its nothing much. I left my shield at an abandoned water park here in town. I was going on a little . . . date with my girlfriend. We were interrupted. I left my shield behind. I want you to fetch it for me. “

  “Why dont you go back and get it yourself?”

  The fire in his eye sockets glowed a little hotter. 

  “Why dont I turn you into a prairie dog and run you over with my Harley? Because I dont feel like it. A god is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself, Percy Jackson. Will you prove yourself a coward?” He leaned forward. “Or maybe you only fight when theres a river to dive into, so your daddy can protect you. “

  I wanted to punch this guy, but somehow, I knew he was waiting for that. Aress power was causing my anger. Hed love it if I attacked. I didnt want to give him the satisfaction. 

  “Were not interested,” I said. “Weve already got a quest. “

  Aress fiery eyes made me see things I didnt want to see—blood and smoke and corpses on the battlefield. “I know all about your quest, punk. When that item was first stolen, Zeus sent his best out looking for it: Apollo, Athena, Artemis, and me, naturally. If I couldnt sniff out a weapon that powerful . . . ” He licked his lips, as if the very thought of the master bolt made him hungry. “Well . . . if I couldnt find it, you got no hope. Nevertheless, Im trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your dad and I go way back. After all, Im the one who told him my suspicions about old Corpse Breath. “

  “You told him Hades stole the bolt?”

  “Sure. Framing somebody to start a war. Oldest trick in the book. I recognized it immediately. In a way, you got me to thank for your little quest. “

  “Thanks,” I grumbled. 

  “Hey, Im a generous guy. Just do my little job, and Ill help you on your way. Ill arrange a ride west for you and your friends. “

  “Were doing fine on our own. “

  “Yeah, right. No money. No wheels. No clue what youre up against. Help me out, and maybe Ill tell you something you need to know. Something about your mom. “

  “My mom?”

  He grinned. “That got your attention. The water park is a mile west on Delancy. You cant miss it. Look for the Tunnel of Love ride. “

  “What interrupted your date?” I asked. “Something scare you off?”

  Ares bared his teeth, but Id seen his threatening look before on Clarisse. There was something false about it, almost like he was nervous. 

  “Youre lucky you met me, punk, and not one of the other Olympians. Theyre not as forgiving of rudeness as I am. Ill meet you back here when youre done. Dont disappoint me. “

  After that I must have fainted, or fallen into a trance, because when I opened my eyes again, Ares was gone. I mightve thought the conversation had been a dream, but Annabeth and Grovers expressions told me otherwise. 

  “Not good,” Grover said. “Ares sought you out, Percy. This is not good. “

  I stared out the window. The motorcycle had disappeared. 

  Did Ares really know something about my mom, or was he just playing with me? Now that he was gone, all the anger had drained out of me. I realized Ares must love to mess with peoples emotions. That was his power—cranking up the passions so badly, they clouded your ability to think. 

  “Its probably some kind of trick,” I said. “Forget Ares. Lets just go. “

  “We cant,” Annabeth said. “Look, I hate Ares as much as anybody, but you dont ignore the gods unless you want serious bad fortune. He wasnt kidding about turning you into a rodent. “

  I looked down at my cheeseburger, which suddenly didnt seem so appetizing. “Why does he need us?”

  “Maybe its a problem that requires brains,” Annabeth said. “Ares has strength. Thats all he has. Even strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes. “

  “But this water park . . . he acted almost scared. What would make a war god run away like that?”

  Annabeth and Grover glanced nervously at each other. 

  Annabeth said, “Im afraid well have to find out. “

  The sun was sinking behind the mountains by the time we found the water park. Judging from the sign, it once had been called WATERLAND, but now some of the letters were smashed out, so it read WAT R A D. 

  The main gate was padlocked and topped with barbed wire. Inside, huge dry waterslides and tubes and pipes curled everywhere, leading to empty pools. Old tickets and advertisements fluttered around the asphalt. With night coming on, the place looked sad and creepy. 

  “If Ares brings his girlfriend here for a date,” I said, staring up at the barbed wire, “Id hate to see what she looks like. “

  “Percy,” Annabeth warned. “Be more respectful. “

  “Why? I thought you hated Ares. “

  “Hes still a god. And his girlfriend is very temperamental. “

  “You dont want to insult her looks,” Grover added. 

  “Who is she? Echidna?”

  “No, Aphrodite,” Grover said, a little dreamily. “Goddess of love. “

  “I thought she was married to somebody,” I said. “Hephaestus. “

  “Whats your point?” he asked. 

  “Oh. ” I suddenly felt the need to change the subject. “So how do we get in?”

  “Maia!” Grovers shoes sprouted wings. 

  He flew over the fence, did an unintended somersault in midair, then stumbled to a landing on the opposite side. He dusted off his jeans, as if hed planned the whole thing. “You guys coming?”

  Annabeth and I had to climb the old-fashioned way, holding down the barbed wire for each other as we crawled over the top. 

  The shadows grew long as we walked through the park, checking out the attractions. There was AnkleBiterIsland, Head Over Wedgie, and Dude, Wheres My Swimsuit?

  No monsters came to get us. Nothing made the slightest noise. 

  We found a souvenir shop that had been left open. Merchandise still lined the shelves: snow globes, pencils, postcards, and racks of—

  “Clothes,” Annabeth said. “Fresh clothes. “

  “Yeah,” I said. “But you cant just—”

  “Watch me. “

  She snatched an entire row of stuff of the racks and disappeared into the changing room. A few minutes later she came out in Waterland flower-print shorts, a big red Waterland T-shirt, and commemorative Waterland surf shoes. A Waterland backpack was slung over her shoulder, obviously stuffed with more goodies. 

  “What the heck. ” Grover shrugged. Soon, all three of us were decked out like walking advertisements for the defunct theme park. 

  We continued searching for the Tunnel of Love. I got the feeling that the whole park was holding its breath. “So Ares and Aphrodite,” I said, to keep my mind off the growing dark, “they have a thing going?”

  “Thats old gossip, Percy,” Annabeth told me. “Three-thousand-year-old gossip. “

“What about Aphrodites husband?”

  “Well, you know,” she said. “Hephaestus. The blacksmith. He was crippled when he was a baby, thrown off MountOlympus by Zeus. So he isnt exactly handsome. Clever with his hands, and all, but Aphrodite isnt into brains and talent, you know?”

  “She likes bikers. “

  “Whatever. “

  “Hephaestus knows?”

  “Oh sure,” Annabeth said. “He caught them together once. I mean, literally caught them, in a golden net, and invited all the gods to come and laugh at them. Hephaestus is always trying to embarrass them. Thats why they meet in out-of-the-way places, like . . . “

  She stopped, looking straight ahead. “Like that. “

  In front of us was an empty pool that wouldve been awesome for skateboarding. It was at least fifty yards across and shaped like a bowl. 

  Around the rim, a dozen bronze statues of Cupid stood guard with wings spread and bows ready to fire. On the opposite side from us, a tunnel opened up, probably where the water flowed into when the pool was full. The sign above it read, THRILL RIDE O LOVE: THIS IS NOT YOUR PARENTS TUNNEL OF LOVE!

  Grover crept toward the edge. “Guys, look. “

  Marooned at the bottom of the pool was a pink-and-white two-seater boat with a canopy over the top and little hearts painted all over it. In the left seat, glinting in the fading light, was Aress shield, a polished circle of bronze. 

  “This is too easy,” I said. “So we just walk down there and get it?”

  Annabeth ran her fingers along the base of the nearest Cupid statue. 

  “Theres a Greek letter carved here,” she said. “Eta. I wonder . . . “

  “Grover,” I said, “you smell any monsters?”

  He sniffed the wind. “Nothing. “

  “Nothing—like, in-the-Arch-and-you-didnt-smell-Echidna nothing, or really nothing?”

  Grover looked hurt. “I told you, that was underground. “

  “Okay, Im sorry. ” I took a deep breath. “Im going down there. “

  “Ill go with you. ” Grover didnt sound too enthusiastic, but I got the feeling he was trying to make up for what had happened in St. Louis. 

  “No,” I told him. “I want you to stay up top with the flying shoes. Youre the Red Baron, a flying ace, remember? Ill be counting on you for backup, in case something goes wrong. “

  Grover puffed up his chest a little. “Sure. But what could go wrong?”

  “I dont know. Just a feeling. Annabeth, come with me—”

  “Are you kidding?” She looked at me as if Id just dropped from the moon. Her cheeks were bright red. 

  “Whats the problem now?” I demanded. 

  “Me, go with you to the . . . the Thrill Ride of Love? How embarrassing is that? What if somebody saw me?”

  “Whos going to see you?” But my face was burning now, too. Leave it to a girl to make everything complicated. “Fine,” I told her. “Ill do it myself. ” But when I started down the side of the pool, she followed me, muttering about how boys always messed things up. 

  We reached the boat. The shield was propped on one seat, and next to it was a ladys silk scarf. I tried to imagine Ares and Aphrodite here, a couple of gods meeting in a junked-out amusement-park ride. Why? Then I noticed something I hadnt seen from up top: mirrors all the way around the rim of the pool, facing this spot. We could see ourselves no matter which direction we looked. That must be it. While Ares and Aphrodite were smooching with each other they could look at their favorite people: themselves. 

  I picked up the scarf. It shimmered pink, and the perfume was indescribable—rose, or mountain laurel. Something good. I smiled, a little dreamy, and was about to rub the scarf against my cheek when Annabeth ripped it out of my hand and stuffed it in her pocket. “Oh, no you dont. Stay away from that love magic. “

  “What?”

  “Just get the shield, Seaweed Brain, and lets get out of here. “

  The moment I touched the shield, I knew we were in trouble. My hand broke through something that had been connecting it to the dashboard. A cobweb, I thought, but then I looked at a strand of it on my palm and saw it was some kind of metal filament, so fine it was almost invisible. A trip wire. 

  “Wait,” Annabeth said. 

  “Too late. “

  “Theres another Greek letter on the side of the boat, another Eta. This is a trap. “

  Noise erupted all around us, of a million gears grinding, as if the whole pool were turning into one giant machine. 

  Grover yelled, “Guys!”

  Up on the rim, the Cupid statues were drawing their bows into firing position. Before I could suggest taking cover, they shot, but not at us. They fired at each other, across the rim of the pool. Silky cables trailed from the arrows, arcing over the pool and anchoring where they landed to form a huge golden asterisk. Then smaller metallic threads started weaving together magically between the main strands, making a net. 

  “We have to get out,” I said. 

  “Duh!” Annabeth said. 

  I grabbed the shield and we ran, but going up the slope of the pool was not as easy as going down. 

  “Come on!” Grover shouted. 

  He was trying to hold open a section of the net for us, but wherever he touched it, the golden threads started to wrap around his hands. 

  The Cupids heads popped open. Out came video cameras. Spotlights rose up all around the pool, blinding us with illumination, and a loudspeaker voice boomed: “Live to Olympus in one minute . . . Fifty-nine seconds, fifty-eight . . . “

  “Hephaestus!” Annabeth screamed. “Im so stupid. Eta is H. He made this trap to catch his wife with Ares. Now were going to be broadcast live to Olympus and look like absolute fools!”

  Wed almost made it to the rim when the row of mirrors opened like hatches and thousands of tiny metallic . . . things poured out. 

  Annabeth screamed. 

  It was an army of wind-up creepy-crawlies: bronze-gear bodies, spindly legs, little pincer mouths, all scuttling toward us in a wave of clacking, whirring metal. 

  “Spiders!” Annabeth said. “Sp—sp—aaaah!”

  Id never seen her like this before. She fell backward in terror and almost got overwhelmed by the spider robots before I pulled her up and dragged her back toward the boat. 

  The things were coming out from all around the rim now, millions of them, flooding toward the center of the pool, completely surrounding us. I told myself they probably werent programmed to kill, just corral us and bite us and make us look stupid. Then again, this was a trap meant for gods. And we werent gods. 

  Annabeth and I climbed into the boat. I started kicking away the spiders as they swarmed aboard. I yelled at Annabeth to help me, but she was too paralyzed to do much more than scream. 

  “Thirty, twenty-nine,” called the loudspeaker. 

  The spiders started spitting out strands of metal thread, trying to tie us down. The strands were easy enough to break at first, but there were so many of them, and the spiders just kept coming. I kicked one away from Annabeths leg and its pincers took a chunk out of my new surf shoe. 

  Grover hovered above the pool in his flying sneakers, trying to pull the net loose, but it wouldnt budge. 

  Think, I told myself. Think. 

  The Tunnel of Love entrance was under the net. We could use it as an exit, except that it was blocked by a million robot spiders. 

  “Fifteen, fourteen,” the loudspeaker called. 

  Water, I thought. Where does the rides water come from?

  Then I saw them: huge water pipes behind the mirrors, where the spiders had come from. And up above the net, next to one of the Cupids, a glass-windowed booth that must be the controllers station. 

  “Grover!” I yelled. “Get into that booth! Find the on switch!”

  “But—”

  “Do it!” It was a crazy hope, but it was our only chance. The spiders were all over the prow of the boat now. Annabeth was screaming her head off. I had to get us out of there. 

  Grover was in the controllers booth now, slamming away at the buttons. 

  “Five, four—”

  Grover looked up at me hopelessly, raising his hands. He was letting me know that hed pushed every button, but still nothing was happening. 

  I closed my eyes and thought about waves, rushing water, the Mississippi River. I felt a familiar tug in my gut. I tried to imagine that I was dragging the ocean all the way to Denver. 

  “Two, one, zero!”

  Water exploded out of the pipes. It roared into the pool, sweeping away the spiders. I pulled Annabeth into the seat next to me and fastened her seat belt just as the tidal wave slammed into our boat, over the top, whisking the spiders away and dousing us completely, but not capsizing us. The boat turned, lifted in the flood, and spun in circles around the whirlpool. 

  The water was full of short-circuiting spiders, some of them smashing against the pools concrete wall with such force they burst. 

  Spotlights glared down at us. The Cupid-cams were rolling, live to Olympus. 

  But I could only concentrate on controlling the boat. I willed it to ride the current, to keep away from the wall. Maybe it was my imagination, but the boat seemed to respond. At least, it didnt break into a million pieces. We spun around one last time, the water level now almost high enough to shred us against the metal net. Then the boats nose turned toward the tunnel and we rocketed through into the darkness. 

  Annabeth and I held tight, both of us screaming as the boat shot curls and hugged corners and took forty-five-degree plunges past pictures of Romeo and Juliet and a bunch of other Valentines Day stuff. 

  Then we were out of the tunnel, the night air whistling through our hair as the boat barreled straight toward the exit. 

  If the ride had been in working order, we wouldve sailed off a ramp between the golden Gates of Love and splashed down safely in the exit pool. But there was a problem. The Gates of Love were chained. Two boats that had been washed out of the tunnel before us were now piled against the barricade—one submerged, the other cracked in half. 

  “Unfasten your seat belt,” I yelled to Annabeth. 

  “Are you crazy?”

  “Unless you want to get smashed to death. ” I strapped Aress shield to my arm. “Were going to have to jump for it. ” My idea was simple and insane. As the boat struck, we would use its force like a springboard to jump the gate. Id heard of people surviving car crashes that way, getting thrown thirty or forty feet away from an accident. With luck, we would land in the pool. 

  Annabeth seemed to understand. She gripped my hand as the gates got closer. 

  “On my mark,” I said. 

  “No! On my mark!”

  “What?”

  “Simple physics!” she yelled. “Force times the trajectory angle—”

  “Fine. ” I shouted. “On your mark!”

  She hesitated . . . hesitated . . . then yelled, “Now!”

  Crack!

  Annabeth was right. If wed jumped when I thought we shouldve, we wouldve crashed into the gates. She got us maximum lift. 

  Unfortunately, that was a little more than we needed. Our boat smashed into the pileup and we were thrown into the air, straight over the gates, over the pool, and down toward solid asphalt. 

  Something grabbed me from behind. 

  Annabeth yelled, “Ouch!”

  Grover!

  In midair, he had grabbed me by the shirt, and Annabeth by the arm, and was trying to pull us out of a crash landing, but Annabeth and I had all the momentum. 

“Youre too heavy!” Grover said. “Were going down!”

  We spiraled toward the ground, Grover doing his best to slow the fall. 

  We smashed into a photo-board, Grovers head going straight into the hole where tourists would put their faces, pretending to be Noo-Noo the Friendly Whale. Annabeth and I tumbled to the ground, banged up but alive. Aress shield was still on my arm. 

  Once we caught our breath, Annabeth and I got Grover out of the photo-board and thanked him for saving our lives. I looked back at the Thrill Ride of Love. The water was subsiding. Our boat had been smashed to pieces against the gates. 

  A hundred yards away, at the entrance pool, the Cupids were still filming. The statues had swiveled so that their cameras were trained straight on us, the spotlights in our faces. 

  “Shows over!” I yelled. “Thank you! Good night!”

  The Cupids turned back to their original positions. The lights shut off. The park went quiet and dark again, except for the gentle trickle of water into the Thrill Ride of Loves exit pool. I wondered if Olympus had gone to a commercial break, or if our ratings had been any good. 

  I hated being teased. I hated being tricked. And I had plenty of experience handling bullies who liked to do that stuff to me. I hefted the shield on my arm and turned to my friends. “We need to have a little talk with Ares. ”

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