The Sea of Monsters – Chapter 17: We Get A Surprise On Miami Beach

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Chapter 17: We Get A Surprise On Miami Beach

“Percy, wake up. ”

  Salt water splashed my face. Annabeth was shaking my shoulder. 

  In the distance, the sun was setting behind a city skyline. I could see a beachside highway lined with palm trees, storefronts glowing with red and blue neon, a harbor filled with sailboats and cruise ships. 

  “Miami, I think,” Annabeth said. “But the hippocampi are acting funny. ”

  Sure enough, our fishy friends had slowed down and were whinnying and swimming in circles, sniffing the water. They didn’t look happy. One of them sneezed. I could tell what they were thinking. 

  “This is as far as they’ll take us,” I said. “Too many humans. Too much pollution. We’ll have to swim to shore on our own. ”

  None of us was very psyched about that, but we thanked Rainbow and his friends for the ride. Tyson cried a little. He unfastened the makeshift saddle pack he’d made, which contained his tool kit and a couple of other things he’d salvaged from the Birmingham wreck. He hugged Rainbow around the neck, gave him a soggy mango he’d picked up on the island, and said good-bye. 

  Once the hippocampi’s white manes disappeared into the sea, we swam for shore. The waves pushed us forward, and in no time we were back in the mortal world. We wandered along the cruise line docks, pushing through crowds of people arriving for vacations. Porters bustled around with carts of luggage. Taxi drivers yelled at each other in Spanish and tried to cut in line for customers. If anybody noticed us—five kids dripping wet and looking like they’d just had a fight with a monster—they didn’t let on. 

  Now that we were back among mortals, Tyson’s single eye had blurred from the Mist. Grover had put on his cap and sneakers. Even the Fleece had transformed from a sheepskin to a red-and-gold high school letter jacket with a large glittery Omega on the pocket. 

  Annabeth ran to the nearest newspaper box and checked the date on the Miami Herald. She cursed. “June eighteenth! We’ve been away from camp ten days!”

  “That’s impossible!” Clarisse said. 

  But I knew it wasn’t. Time traveled differently in monstrous places. 

  “Thalia’s tree must be almost dead,” Grover wailed. “We have to get the Fleece back tonight. ”

  Clarisse slumped down on the pavement. “How are we supposed to do that?” Her voice trembled. “We’re hundreds of miles away. No money. No ride. This is just like the Oracle said. It’s your fault, Jackson! If you hadn’t interfered—”

  “Percy’s fault?!” Annabeth exploded. “Clarisse, how can you say that? You are the biggest—”

  “Stop it!” I said. 

  Clarisse put her head in hands. Annabeth stomped her foot in frustration. 

  The thing was: I’d almost forgotten this quest was supposed to be Clarisse’s. For a scary moment, I saw things from her point of view. How would I feel if a bunch of other heroes had butted in and made me look bad?

  I thought about what I’d overheard in the boiler room of the CSS Birmingham—Ares yelling at Clarisse, warning her that she’d better not fail. Ares couldn’t care less about the camp, but if Clarisse made him look bad …

  “Clarisse,” I said, “what did the Oracle tell you exactly?”

  She looked up. I thought she was going to tell me off, but instead she took a deep breath and recited her prophecy:

  “You shall sail the iron ship with warriors of bone, You shall find what you seek and make it your own,

  But despair for your life entombed within stone,

  And fail without friends, to fly home alone. ”

  “Ouch,” Grover mumbled. 

  “No,” I said. “No … wait a minute. I’ve got it. ”

  I searched my pockets for money, and found nothing but a golden drachma. “Does anybody have any cash?”

  Annabeth and Grover shook their heads morosely. Clarisse pulled a wet Confederate dollar from her pocket and sighed. 

  “Cash?” Tyson asked hesitantly. “Like … green paper?”

  I looked at him. “Yeah. ”

  “Like the kind in duffel bags?”

  “Yeah, but we lost those bags days a-g-g—”

  I stuttered to a halt as Tyson rummaged in his saddle pack and pulled out the Ziploc bag full of cash that Hermes had included in our supplies. 

  “Tyson!” I said. “How did you—”

  “Thought it was a feed bag for Rainbow,” he said. “Found it floating in sea, but only paper inside. Sorry. ”

He handed me the cash. Fives and tens, at least three hundred dollars. 

  I ran to the curb and grabbed a taxi that was just letting out a family of cruise passengers. 

  “Clarisse,” I yelled. “Come on. You’re going to the airport. Annabeth, give her the Fleece. ”

  I’m not sure which of them looked more stunned as I took the Fleece letter jacket from Annabeth, tucked the cash into its pocket, and put it in Clarisse’s arms. 

  Clarisse said, “You’d let me—”

  “It’s your quest,” I said. “We only have enough money for one flight. Besides, I can’t travel by air. Zeus would blast me into a million pieces. That’s what the prophecy meant: you’d fail without friends, meaning you’d need our help, but you’d have to fly home alone. You have to get the Fleece back safely. ”

  I could see her mind working—suspicious at first, wondering what trick I was playing, then finally deciding I meant what I said. 

  She jumped in the cab. “You can count on me. I won’t fail. ”

  “Not failing would be good. ”

  The cab peeled out in a cloud of exhaust. The Fleece was on its way. 

  “Percy,” Annabeth said, “that was so—”

  “Generous?” Grover offered. 

  “Insane,” Annabeth corrected. “You’re betting the lives of everybody at camp that Clarisse will get the Fleece safely back by tonight?”

  “It’s her quest,” I said. “She deserves a chance. ”

  “Percy is nice,” Tyson said. 

  “Percy is too nice,” Annabeth grumbled, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, she was a little impressed. I’d surprised her, anyway. And that wasn’t easy to do. 

  “Come on,” I told my friends. “Let’s find another way home. ”

  That’s when I turned and found a sword’s point at my throat. 

  “Hey, cuz,” said Luke. “Welcome back to the States. ”

  His bear-man thugs appeared on either of side of us. One grabbed Annabeth and Grover by their T-shirt collars. The other tried to grab Tyson, but Tyson knocked him into a pile of luggage and roared at Luke. 

  “Percy,” Luke said calmly, “tell your giant to back down or I’ll have Oreius bash your friends’ heads together. ”

  Oreius grinned and raised Annabeth and Grover off the ground, kicking and screaming. 

  “What do you want, Luke?” I growled. 

  He smiled, the scar rippling on the side of his face. 

  He gestured toward the end of the dock, and I noticed what should’ve been obvious. The biggest boat in port was the Princess Andromeda. 

  “Why, Percy,” Luke said, “I want to extend my hospitality, of course. ”

  The bear twins herded us aboard the Princess Andromeda. They threw us down on the aft deck in front of a swimming pool with sparkling fountains that sprayed into the air. A dozen of Luke’s assorted goons—snake people, Laistrygonians, demigods in battle armor—had gathered to watch us get some “hospitality. ”

  “And so, the Fleece,” Luke mused. “Where is it?” He looked us over, prodding my shirt with the tip of his sword, poking Grover’s jeans. 

  “Hey!” Grover yelled. “That’s real goat fur under there!”

  “Sorry, old friend. ” Luke smiled. “Just give me the Fleece and I’ll leave you to return to your, ah, little nature quest. ”

  “Blaa-ha-ha!” Grover protested. “Some old friend!”

  “Maybe you didn’t hear me. ” Luke’s voice was dangerously calm. “Where—is—the—Fleece?”

  “Not here,” I said. I probably shouldn’t have told him anything, but it felt good to throw the truth in his face. “We sent it on ahead of us. You messed up. ”

  Luke’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. You couldn’t have …” His face reddened as a horrible possibility occurred to him. “Clarisse?”

  I nodded. 

  “You trusted … you gave …”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Agrius!”

  The bear giant flinched. “Y-yes?”

  “Get below and prepare my steed. Bring it to the deck. I need to fly to the Miami Airport, fast. ’”

  “But, boss—”

  “Do it!” Luke screamed. “Or I’ll feed you to the drakon!”

  The bear-man gulped and lumbered down the stairs. Luke paced in front of the swimming pool, cursing in Ancient Greek, gripping his sword so tight his knuckles turned white. 

  The rest of Luke’s crew looked uneasy. Maybe they’d never seen their boss so unhinged before. 

  I started thinking … If I could use Luke’s anger, get him to talk so everybody could hear how crazy his plans were …

  I looked at the swimming pool, at the fountains spraying mist into the air, making a rainbow in the sunset. And suddenly I had an idea. 

  “You’ve been toying with us all along,” I said. “You wanted us to bring you the Fleece and save you the trouble of getting it. ”

  Luke scowled. “Of course, you idiot! And you’ve messed everything up!”

  “Traitor!” I dug my last gold drachma out of my pocket and threw it at Luke. As I expected, he dodged it easily. 

  The coin sailed into the spray of rainbow-colored water. 

  I hoped my prayer would be accepted in silence. I thought with all my heart: O goddess, accept my offering. 

  “You tricked all of us!” I yelled at Luke. “Even DIONYSUS at CAMP HALF-BLOOD!”

  Behind Luke, the fountain began to shimmer, but I needed everyone’s attention on me, so I uncapped Riptide. 

  Luke just sneered. “This is no time for heroics, Percy. Drop your puny little sword, or I’ll have you killed sooner rather than later. ”

  “Who poisoned Thalia’s tree, Luke?”

  “I did, of course,” he snarled. “I already told you that. I used elder python venom, straight from the depths of Tartarus. ”

  “Chiron had nothing to do with it?”

  “Ha! You know he would never do that. The old fool wouldn’t have the guts. ”

  “You call it guts? Betraying your friends? Endangering the whole camp?”

  Luke raised his sword. “You don’t understand the half of it. I was going to let you take the Fleece … once I was done with it. ”

  That made me hesitate. Why would he let me take the Fleece? He must’ve been lying. But I couldn’t afford to lose his attention. 

  “You were going to heal Kronos,” I said. 

  “Yes! The Fleece’s magic would’ve sped his mending process by tenfold. But you haven’t stopped us, Percy. You’ve only slowed us down a little. ”

  “And so you poisoned the tree, you betrayed Thalia, you set us up—all to help Kronos destroy the gods. ”

  Luke gritted his teeth. “You know that! Why do you keep asking me?”

  “Because I want everybody in the audience to hear you. ”

  ”What audience?”

  Then his eyes narrowed. He looked behind him and his goons did the same. They gasped and stumbled back. 

  Above the pool, shimmering in the rainbow mist, was an Iris-message vision of Dionysus, Tantalus, and the whole camp in the dining pavilion. They sat in stunned silence, watching us. 

  “Well,” said Dionysus dryly, “some unplanned dinner entertainment. ”

  “Mr. D, you heard him,” I said. “You all heard Luke. The poisoning of the tree wasn’t Chiron’s fault. ”

  Mr. D sighed. “I suppose not. ”

  “The Iris-message could be a trick,” Tantalus suggested, but his attention was mostly on his cheeseburger, which he was trying to corner with both hands. 

  “I fear not,” Mr. D said, looking with distaste at Tantalus. “It appears I shall have to reinstate Chiron as activities director. I suppose I do miss the old horse’s pinochle games. ”

  Tantalus grabbed the cheeseburger. It didn’t bolt away from him. He lifted it from the plate and stared at it in amazement, as if it were the largest diamond in the world. “I got it!” he cackled. 

  “We are no longer in need of your services, Tantalus,” Mr. D announced. 

  Tantalus looked stunned. “What? But—”

  “You may return to the Underworld. You are dismissed. ”

  “No! But—Nooooooooooo!”

  As he dissolved into mist, his fingers clutched at the cheeseburger, trying to bring it to his mouth. But it was too late. He disappeared and the cheeseburger fell back onto its plate. The campers exploded into cheering. 

  Luke bellowed with rage. He slashed his sword through the fountain and the Iris-message dissolved, but the deed was done. 

  I was feeling pretty good about myself, until Luke turned and gave me a murderous look. 

  “Kronos was right, Percy. You’re an unreliable weapon. You need to be replaced. ”

  I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I didn’t have time to think about it. One of his men blew a brass whistle, and the deck doors flew open. A dozen more warriors poured out, making a circle around us, the brass tips of their spears bristling. 

  Luke smiled at me. “You’ll never leave this boat alive. ”

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