In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have intervened. Hel, I shouldn’t have woken up this morning, I could have been laying in bed with Vanessa curled around me, content in the knowledge that this is as good as it gets. But no, I had to be chased around the city by thugs, find out I’ve stolen from the goddess of love herself and to cap it all off, interrupt the throw down of the century between the virgin warrior goddess and the queen of the gods. A bold move from me, considering I was stone cold sober and absolutely pissing myself.
The hairs on the back of my neck were dancing the rumba and sending electric shocks down my spine as the eyes of the goddesses bored into my very soul. Their faces frozen in a contortion of surprise and abhorrence aimed squarely at me. I swallowed hard, my arm shaking slightly as I held out the picture towards them.
‘Young girl, pretty, goes by the name of Rosie.’ I said trying to will my voice not to break. They remained perfectly still in response. I quickly looked at the photo in my hand to make sure it was the right one. It was.
‘You…you haven’t seen her?’ I stammered. With the lack of response I shrugged and put the image back into my dusty jacket. ‘Sorry for the interruption, ladies.’ I said giving a dismissive wave, ‘please, carry on.’ In one fluid motion I turned and walked quickly but cautiously towards the door. I almost made it before one of them, Hera I think, called out to me.
‘You! Who are you, mortal?’ Her voice boomed around the hall, I could feel the air compressing against the back of my chest like I was standing in the mosh pit of a heavy metal concert.
‘Uh, names Carol. James Carol. Of Carol Investigations.’ I said turning. ‘Pleasure to meet you.’ The smile I had forced onto my face disappeared quickly as I watched both gods shrink down to just above my size and sweep towards me.
Both towered over me, their feet not bothering to touch the ground. I pulled my hat from my head and gave a long bow. It was all I could do to stop my legs from collapsing under me. I held my bow but moved my head upwards to see how close to death I actually was. Surprisingly both had continued to shrink to down to my size and were curtsying before me. Well, Hera was curtsying and Athena offered a curt bow. It was a shocking development to say the least. Stunned I straightened up. Clearly something I was doing was working, maybe they responded well to confidence?
‘My dearest Hera, Athena, it is a pleasure to meet you both. I’ve heard so much about you.’ I said nodding to each.
‘And I you, mortal.’ The goddess Athena spoke. Even though her deep voice crackled with left over energy it still managed to be quite charming. Hera remained silent, eyeing me cautiously. It was all getting rather awkward to be honest. I coughed to break the tension and dislodge some marble dust at the back of my throat.
‘Uh, could either of you two help out…’ I gestured vaguely at the man and his crushed face. ‘There’s another on the alter outside, she’s in better condition but urgently needs a doctor or the kindness of the gods.’
‘This one is already lost.’ Athena’s straight forward manner dismissed the dead man offhandedly, while Hera wordlessly stalked towards the outer chamber. I shrugged at the warrior goddess and followed her queen out.
The priestess was where I had left her, stretched out under the large marble effigy of her god. It looked like Lucy had managed to remove most of the marble lodged in woman’s torso, resulting in blood flowing freely from the large wounds, staining her robes a sticky, cherry red. A crowd of identically dressed women circled around their fallen sister, some busily wrapping bandages on her wounds while others prostrated themselves on the ground calling for Hera’s assistance. And lo, she arrived before them, a god amongst mortals. The women scurried out of the goddess’s way, careful not to touch her or make eye contact. The marble likeness of Hera bore down over both goddess and priestess. It was an odd thing to see the subject next to the artwork. The resemblance was uncanny leading me to think she had posed for the artist, and after witnessing her display with Athena it was to assume it was probably a life sized replica as well.
My attention was drawn back down to the priestess, sprawled on the alter, as Hera placed a hand on her bloodied stomach. I leaned in without realising, hoping for a first hand look at this godly magic. I wasn’t disappointed. A reddish glow began to slowly grow out from the woman’s stomach and within seconds it had tripled in size, the light blinding in its intensity. Quicker than it took for me to shield my eyes from the blinding light and it was over. A strong wheeze emanated from the priestess as she bolted upright gripping her chest in shock. She looked down and saw the blood and then her goddess smiling down at her. The crack as she hit her head on the stone alter was sickening, but she was ok, just dazed. Ouch, fainting in front of your deity, how embarrassing. Hera waved at her attendants to remove the now healed woman. Silently and with heads lowered several white robed women ushered forward and removed their sister, a second dismissive wave cleared the room of everyone else, bar myself and Athena. The sensible part of me was already running out the front door, the other half was wondering how far I would actually make it if I did.
Caught between a goddess and a hard place I remained standing and waited. It was Hera who spoke first. The pure godly voice of the queen echoed around the atrium. ‘You have some rather large όρχεις to come in here and interrupt us.’ She said.
The Geek threw me for a moment. ‘Rather large...?’ I expressed my confusion towards Athena.
‘Cōleus.’ She replied.
I looked at her blankly. Latin didn’t help.
‘Balls.’ Athena spat the vulgar word from her mouth.
‘Oh!’ I coughed nervously and kicked at the ground, ‘yeah, so I’ve been told.’ We stood around looking at each other. To be more accurate, they were looking at me. Staring actually. Really staring.
‘So...’ I began, trying to shift the mood from what was surely my impending death. ‘What was the fight about?’
Athena looked down her nose at me. ‘That was no fight, a meer squabble. I barely even scratched her!’
Hera shot her a truly evil look. ‘Yes, if it was indeed a fight, there would be very little left of the virgin warrior.’
‘Say that again, you old hag!’
‘You couldn’t get laid if Aphrodite gave you her girdle!’
Speaking aloud the goddess of love’s name set them both off again. Their anger manifesting and spilling into the very air around them as wind and sparks swelled and clashed in thunderous applause between the two. I instinctually rushed between them, my hands outstretched as they slowly began to grow in size. I yelled for them to stop. They only calmed as I placed my hands upon both their shoulders. Not for the first time this day, I was at the wrong end of a supremely annoyed goddess, and something told me that this wouldn’t be the last time either.
Looking down at my hand on her shoulder, Heras eyes flickered with renewed anger and moved her arm back ready to strike. For a brief moment I was unsure if it was aimed at me, Athena, or both of us. Fortunately, before she could attack, the now healed priestess came running in to the atrium with young Lucy close behind.
‘Great and powerful Hera! Please, stop! He is the one we spoke of.’ Both priestesses immediately threw themselves upon the ground in a way that could only be described as both cowering and worship. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, especially around Hera. The goddess lowered her arm and commanded her priestess to speak.
‘This is the James Carol I spoke of before you and the the goddess Athena, had a disagreement.’ She pointed accusingly at me. ‘He is the one who has stolen the apple of Discordia, my goddess. He is the one that your servants had been following.’
So, the guy in the suit must have been one of the men chasing me earlier. Can’t say that I’m entirely sad he head butted a piece of marble, but in hindsight I probably owed my life to him. That flash of recognition when I said my name earlier was probably what prompted the mood change in the goddesses. For once, having my reputation precede me was a good thing.
‘Ladies,’ I said brushing off invisible dust from the goddesses perfect shoulders and quickly withdrawing my hands. ‘You’ve clearly got the wrong guy. If I had the apple wouldn’t I be as far away from here as possible?’ It sounded plausible in my head, but none the less I started walking backward towards an exit.
‘Stand still, mortal.’ Called Hera, her voice freezing me to the spot in fear. ‘This is the truth?’ She asked her priestess. She swore it to be so, never lifting her head from the ground.
Athena drew her attention to me. ‘So it was you who stole the apple from that whore of Olympus.’
I held up my hands in defence. ‘Look, stole is such a loaded word, I’d say more like liberated. Not that I’m confirming or denying that I had any part in this whole sordid affair.’ I could feel the sweat falling down my forehead as I mumbled on. ‘Sure, the apple may have been removed from it’s owner, but you need to realise that maybe whom ever did it had good reason to do so.’
‘And what reason would that be?’ Hera asked, taking a step forward.
‘I too would like to know the reasoning behind this act of defiance.’ Chipped in Athena, also advancing towards me.
‘Well, and I’m only guessing here, but we could probably all agree that no one in their right mind would steal such an important relic. Especially when said object was tied up with not one but three of the most powerful goddesses in Olympus. It would be suicide.’ I nervously laughed. They both continued to glare at me, inching forward with every pause in my speech. I loosened my tie as my body temperature began to rise. ‘Now, for arguments sake, let’s say that said thief was not really a thief, but someone who believed what they were doing was the right thing and returning the item to its rightful owner.’
‘It was already with its rightful owner.’ Objected Athena.
‘Only if you’re to believe that weak willed Paris.’ Said Hera. ‘Flash him your tits and offer the world but lose out to love. Give me a break.’ She rolled her pure grey eyes at the thought.
‘Ok, well then,’ I continued, ‘what if our intrepid do-gooder was tricked into stealing the apple. It’s quite possible that someone hired them to stir up trouble between the three of you? Did Aphrodite not just desecrate your temple, Athena?’ The goddess looked ashamed and nodded solemnly, reluctant to show weakness in front of her queen. I looked at Hera. ‘Has anything like that happened around here?’ A sudden thought came to me, ‘was that why you two were fighting?’
An idea began to form in my mind that might just save my skin, but I decided to use this opportunity and try to find out more about this whole mess.
‘We were merely disagreeing over the way to handle the situation.’ Offered Athena, her proud warrior’s face hardened in the atriums dwindling light.
Hera snorted. ‘Disagreeing is an understatement. We were arguing because you accused me of stealing the apple and brining the vile temper of that sea spray borne harpy upon you.’
‘You see what’s happening?’ I interjected before Athena could retort. ‘By stealing the apple someone has pitted all three of you against one another.’ I used up what remaining confidence I had and moved closer to the two gods. ‘I can help you all though.’
‘How?’ Asked Athena dragging her anger filled eyes away from Hera.
I smiled. ‘I’m a detective. I can do what I do best and track down the thief and their employers, if they exist. Then you’ll get your apple back, and know who’s trying to screw with you all.’ It was a pretty sweet deal for me, as long as they ignored the fact that I was most certainly the thief before I could find out who set me up. I briefly thanked Zeus for not giving them all the power of omniscience.
I turned both goddesses around and started leading them towards the entrance, my arm hovering just above their shoulders. ‘Give me a couple of days and you’ll get your apple back, a thief to lightly reprimand, and a conspirator to fry. Of course I’ll do this all pro-bono, but if you want to extend a little bit of divine light over me then by all means go ahead.’ Before either of them could respond I had left them at the entrance to the temple and was walking backwards down the red carpet towards my car. I waved as I called out, ‘don’t call me, I’ll call you!’ Climbing into the car I coaxed the motor to life and didn’t stop driving till I had safely reached Ness’s place, never once looking back for fear of being struck down by a lightning bolt or golden arrow. For some unknown reason I was fine and Ness had just topped up on whisky in her apartment. That night I lived and loved like it was my last. Not so secretly hoping it wasn’t.
Laying in Ness’s soft arms with the cool night breeze caressing us both I could almost believe the last few days to be a dream brought on by too much drink. Sadly this was my reality, trapped in a deadly ménage à trois with three goddesses, all powerful, all wanting me dead or worse. I must have been sighing heavily as Ness sleepily asked me what was wrong.
‘It’s nothing.’ I lied. She ran a gentle hand down my arm and coddled me. While we lay in comfortable silence, my troubles began to compound in my head until I couldn’t contain them any more. ‘Here’s the thing,’ I said shifting to sit up. ‘A few days ago a young girl was kidnaped.’ I began.
‘The one from the temple?’
‘Yeah, Rosie Oliver. She was being groomed by the High Priestess there to enter the order after high school. Apart from being mixed up with the Aphrodite cult she was a normal, everyday teenager. Her best friend was, is, the daughter of the High Priestess. Now she’s a little dodgy, but it’s more teen angst than criminal mastermind.’
‘You obviously haven’t been around many teenage girls then.’ Said Ness as she leaned over and poured us both a night cap. I held the glass and let the story unfold, it was good to work these things out loud, it really helps to see connections I’d might have otherwise missed. ‘Now, the very next day, someone hires me to retrieve…’
‘...steal.’ Interjected Ness.
‘Liberate,’ I corrected back with a glare. ‘The Golden Apple of Discord out from under Aphrodite’s security team. This causes Aphrodite to blame Athena and, let’s just say she desecrated her temple, in retaliation. Which in turn causes Athena, whom we could assume had nothing to do with the theft, to blame Hera and they both have an altercation.’ I sipped on the cool whisky while I mentally put the pieces together. ‘By her actions we can say that Athena is probably innocent. Aphrodite already had the apple, which leaves Hera as the obvious choice. Although I still don’t think she was behind it.’
Ness curled up in the crook of my body and lay her head on my exposed chest.
I played with her long red hair, running my rough fingers through the silken tangle.
‘What makes you think she’s innocent?’ Asked Ness, her breath ran warm currents along my torso.
‘If she was the one who hired me then she would have known who I was. Knew my name and exactly where my office is. So why did she have a security team out looking for me? That priestess told Hera who I was, and she looked genuinely surprised.’
‘Maybe she just didn’t want to pay you?’
I shook my head. ‘With the amount of money the temples drag in every day my lousy ten grand would have been nothing to them. Still, I can’t figure out how Rosie fits into all this. She was kidnapped before I was hired and she was Aphrodite’s priestess, or soon to be priestess, so it wasn’t in retaliation to the apple. Unless someone has a grudge against her and is escalating the situation. Even then though, you’d kidnap someone important like the High Priestess herself not some snotty school kid who wasn’t even ordained yet.’
We lay in silence for a while. My hand tracing small circles absently along Ness’s arm. The soft exposed flesh of her back was marred slightly by ancient scars, a harsh reminder that you should always pay your gambling debts and that men are pigs. The thick, pondering silence laid over us like a warm blanket, made warmer by the closeness of our bodies.
‘What if they’re not connected?’ Ness asked, propping herself up to look at me. Her slightly freckled face glowing in the dull light of the table lamp and her deep eyes pulled me in.
‘What do you mean, not connected?’ I asked as my eyes wandered absently over her naked form.
‘Well, who says that the kid was kidnaped in retaliation or as an aggressive act? What if it was just bad timing on the kidnappers part?’
‘Are you saying I should treat the two as separate cases? I’ve been doing that but so far there’s been no reason for Rosie to be bumped off. She’s well liked, good in school, no wayward boyfriends hiding around the corner. The only odd thing about her is the connection to the temple, but even there she was top of the class.’
My interest in discussing the case any further was waining, possibly due to the beautiful woman who sat naked before me. Sadly, Ness was just getting warmed up and not in the same way as I was. ‘What about her friend, the daughter of the High Priestess. Anything there?’
I sighed and reached for another drink. ‘There was some jealousy between the two, but from what I could tell it was just normal teenage girl crap.’ I took a sharp swig and offered the rest to Ness.
She took it and after a thoughtful sip asked, ‘what if I come along next time, have a girl-to-girl chat with, what’s her name...’
‘Scarlett.’ I offered. ‘Scarlett Oporto. And that sounds like a good idea. I knew I kept you around for more than your looks.’ I gave her a playful grin and took the empty tumbler from her hand. She smiled playfully.
‘Looks like you’ve got a good idea happening yourself.’ She lent in close and planted a kiss lightly on my lips. The peaty smell of the whisky danced with her perfume and sweat filling my nose as I rose up to the kiss and sliped an arm behind her back, turning the playful kiss into something more.
‘Just promise me something James,’ she said as we broke for air. I swept back her hair and started to kiss the inside of her neck. ‘Promise me you’ll get rid of that apple as soon as you can. Those three will do anything to get it back.’
I mumbled something that might have sounded like ‘sure thing’, before the passion took us both. I reached a hand out and plunged the room into darkness, forgetting about work and my impending death or disfigurement at the hands of three very vengeful gods. Instead choosing to focus on the warm body currently writhing under me. If I was going to die tomorrow, this was a good way to spend my final few hours.