Your father believes in you, she had said.
She'd also called me brave ... unless she was talking to the catfish.
I waded toward Riptide and grabbed it by the hilt. The Chimera might still be up there with its snaky, fat mother, waiting to finish me off. At the very least, the mortal police would be arriving, trying to figure out who had blown a hole in the Arch. If they found me, they'd have some questions.
I capped my sword, stuck the ballpoint pen in my pocket. "Thank you, Father," I said again to the dark water.
Then I kicked up through the muck and swam for the surface.
I came ashore next to a floating McDonald's.
A block away, every emergency vehicle in St. Louis was surrounding the Arch. Police helicopters circled overhead. The crowd of onlookers reminded me of Times Square on New Year's Eve.
A little girl said, "Mama! That boy walked out of the river."
"That's nice, dear," her mother said, craning her neck to watch the ambulances.
"But he's dry!"
"That's nice, dear."
A news lady was talking for the camera: "Probably not a terrorist attack, we're told, but it's still very early in the investigation. The damage, as you can see, is very serious. We're trying to get to some of the survivors, to question them about eyewitness reports of someone falling from the Arch."
Survivors. I felt a surge of relief. Maybe the park ranger and that family made it out safely. I hoped Annabeth and Grover were okay.
I tried to push through the crowd to see what was going on inside the police line.
"... an adolescent boy," another reporter was saying. "Channel Five has learned that surveillance cameras show an adolescent boy going wild on the observation deck, somehow setting off this freak explosion. Hard to believe, John, but that's what we're hearing. Again, no confirmed fatalities ..."
I backed away, trying to keep my head down. I had to go a long way around the police perimeter. Uniformed officers and news reporters were everywhere.
I'd almost lost hope of ever finding Annabeth and Grover when a familiar voice bleated, "Perrr-cy!"
I turned and got tackled by Grover's bear hug—or goat hug. He said, "We thought you'd gone to Hades the hard way!"
Annabeth stood behind him, trying to look angry, but even she seemed relieved to see me. "We can't leave you alone for five minutes! What happened?"
"I sort of fell."
"Percy! Six hundred and thirty feet?"
Behind us, a cop shouted, "Gangway!" The crowd parted, and a couple of paramedics hustled out, rolling a woman on a stretcher. I recognized her immediately as the mother of the little boy who'd been on the observation deck. She was saying, "And then this huge dog, this huge fire-breathing Chihuahua—"
"Okay, ma'am," the paramedic said. "Just calm down. Your family is fine. The medication is starting to kick in."
"I'm not crazy! This boy jumped out of the hole and the monster disappeared." Then she saw me. "There he is! That's the boy!"
I turned quickly and pulled Annabeth and Grover after me. We disappeared into the crowd.
"What's going on?" Annabeth demanded. "Was she talking about the Chihuahua on the elevator?"
I told them the whole story of the Chimera, Echidna, my high-dive act, and the underwater lady's message.
"Whoa," said Grover. "We've got to get you to Santa Monica! You can't ignore a summons from your dad."
Before Annabeth could respond, we passed another reporter doing a news break, and I almost froze in my tracks when he said, "Percy Jackson. That's right, Dan. Channel Twelve has learned that the boy who may have caused this explosion fits the description of a young man wanted by authorities for a serious New Jersey bus accident three days ago. And the boy is believed to be traveling west. For our viewers at home, here is a photo of Percy Jackson."
We ducked around the news van and slipped into an alley.
"First things first," I told Grover. "We've got to get out of town!"
Somehow, we made it back to the Amtrak station without getting spotted. We got on board the train just before it pulled out for Denver. The train trundled west as darkness fell, police lights still pulsing against the St. Louis skyline behind us.
15. A GOD BUYS USCHEESEBURGERS
The next afternoon, June 14, seven days before the solstice, our train rolled into Denver. We hadn't eaten since the night before in the dining car, somewhere in Kansas. We hadn't taken a shower since Half-Blood Hill, and I was sure that was obvious.
"Let's try to contact Chiron," Annabeth said. "I want to tell him about your talk with the river spirit."
"We can't use phones, right?"
"I'm not talking about phones."
We wandered through downtown for about half an hour, though I wasn't 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.
"It's seventy-five cents," he grumbled. "I've only got two quarters left. Annabeth?"
"Don't 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 Medusa's place.
"Excellent," Grover said. "We could do it with a spray bottle, of course, but the connection isn't 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-M'ing."
"Iris-messaging," Annabeth corrected. "The rainbow goddess Iris carries messages for the gods. If you know how to ask, and she's not too busy, she'll 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?"
"We're ... 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—"
"He's down at the cabins." Luke's smile faded. "We're having some issues with the campers. Listen, is everything cool with you? Is Grover all right?"
"I'm right here," Grover called. He held the nozzle out to one side and stepped into Luke's 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—what's that noise?" Luke yelled.
"I'll 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. We're still not sure how—probably the same scumbag who summoned the hellhound. Now the campers are starting to take sides. It's 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 Clarisse's cabin would ever be on my dad's side for anything. In the next stall, I heard Annabeth and some guy arguing with each other, then the music's volume decreased drastically.
"So what's 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 didn't 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 can't help much from here, I'm 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 can't take each other's magic items directly."
"That's 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? You'd have to be invisible."
We were both silent, until Luke seemed to realize what he'd said.
"Oh, hey," he protested. "I didn't mean Annabeth. She and I have known each other forever. She would never ... I mean, she's 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.
"You'd better go see what that was," Luke said. "Listen, are you wearing the flying shoes? I'll feel better if I know they've done you some good."
"Oh ... uh, yeah!" I tried not to sound like a guilty liar. "Yeah, they've 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 it'll be better this time! Nobody will get turned into a pine tree if he just—"
But the mist was gone, and Luke's image faded to nothing. I was alone in a wet, empty car wash stall.