Steven was one of the newer demigods, sired by a lesser god and born to a mortal mother. He wasn’t on anyone's top ten list but he was still in the pantheon and that’s what counted. The modest apartment building where he lived was quiet for this time of day, the absence of yelling children and talking neighbours meant that as I climbed the wooden staircase I could hear the sound of arguing coming from behind his door. The shouting grew louder as I neared. Keeping to one side I pressed against the door frame, gun in hand. A loud crash sounded and I heard Steven cry out. I reached out a hand and tested the handle, it was unlocked. I pushed the door open with my shoulder and hugged the wall as I entered the small apartment. Scanning the room with my weapon I saw Steven standing by the large open window, his glass coffee table was shattered and large white feathers were strewn all over the floor. I sighed with relief and holstered the gun. Steven mostly ignored me and remained staring out the window. I crossed the room, careful to avoid the large shards of broken glass, and put a friendly hand on his well built shoulder.
‘Another visit from the old man?’ I asked following his line of sight. Straining my eyes against the bright sky I could just make out a large white goose gliding away from the building, upwards and onwards. Steven sighed and closed the window. ‘Yeah. He said to say “hi” by the way.’
It’s not easy for most kids when they have an absent father. Hel I should know, my old man only turned up for my conception and tenth birthday. I’m still hoping he’ll make an appearance at my funeral but I’m not holding my breath. Comparatively, Steven’s old man was around more often than not, it was just usually in the form of a goose. Makes it hard to have a good heart to heart when your dad is a bird.
‘How’s your mum going these days? Still knocking around with that Norse guy?’ I asked, letting my hand fall softly down his arm as Steven moved away from the window.
Steven made his way over to the kitchenette and poured us both a drink, while I retired to the couch.
‘She’s good.’ He said, handing my glass over. ‘Her and ‘Aurvandill the Valiant’ are up north vacationing or something.’ We sat in a comfortable silence for a while, just sipping our whisky and thinking about family.
I looked around the room, nothing much had changed from my last visit except the coffee table but that was never a permanent fixture. Steven liked the glass tops and his father was always trying to land on top of them. I had told him on several occasions to get a nice wrought iron one or something in oak, but I think he liked the ritual of cleaning up after his old man. Despite not having anywhere to go I checked my watch, it had just gone midday. ‘So, Steven,’ I said, hoping to lighten the mood a little, ‘what’s been happening in the world of immortal deities, anything worth reporting?’ I sunk back in the couch but leapt forward quickly as an unexpected pain dug into me sharply. I grunted as I removed the large goose feather digging into my back and resettled back into the soft cushions. Steven was usually the talker but the parental visit must have gone bad, he just sat on the couch staring blankly out the window. His long white hair was pulled up into a ponytail, exposing the short, freshly done undercut. I liked his hair like that, especially when one or two stray locks fell down to frame his sharp but friendly face. A short but noticeable stubble covered the lower half of his face, much like the rest of his hair it came in pure white, and was soft and silky to the touch. He had once grown a beard and I told him jokingly he looked like an old god. He shaved it off the next morning and I’d never seen him with one since.
‘Come on, mate. Couldn’t have been all that bad, what did the old man say?’ I asked, nudging him a little with my drink hand. The look he shot me was reminiscent of one a client gave a while back when I confirmed that his wife was indeed cheating on him and yes, it was with his brother. My ability to relate to other people in a close and intimate way might be messed up but compared to the gods I was a shining example. Honestly, who in their right mind turns into a goose, or a swan, and tries to pick up women? I personally have enough trouble looking the way I do let alone sprouting feathers and hanging about on ponds. Water fowl or not, I don’t think Steven was about to tell me his father was cheating on him with a flamingo. Although I wouldn’t put it past the randy bugger.
‘His last temple here has fallen by the side so he’s off to the states to try and set up a small cult or something. Try and get a bit of his power back.’ He said it like the old man was dying, and in a way he was. When a god became forgotten they all but fade away, thats how there are so many but we only see a few at a time. The more worshipers you have, the more power and prominent you become. There are a lot of small cults spread out all over the world dedicated to one god or another, just keeping the flame alive long enough for a revolution to come along and pick that deity as their symbol, or some idiot writer to choose an unknown and make them an overnight sensation. When you’re an immortal time is just something that gets in the way, wait around long enough and you’ll have your fifteen minutes again. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
Being a dying god was harder on the followers. No one want’s to be an outlier, that’s why you choose organised religion in the first place. As hard as it was to keep the faith of someone fading out of reality, it was a picnic compared to anything a mortal lover and their offspring would go through. You can always move on when your god disappeared, it was slightly harder when your family just stopped existing. Unless you’re a cold hearted bastard like me, but then again I suppose that’s how cold hearted bastards are created. Steven wasn’t like me though. He sat there, lamenting the fact that he probably wouldn’t get to see his father again. It probably brought up his own, albeit long lived, mortality. Despite the longevity and associated perks, being the son of a god didn’t mean Steven would live forever. He’d outlast me though that’s for sure, especially given my current situation. I offered my condolences and placed a friendly hand on his leg, ‘I’m sorry to hear that Steven. Have you told your mother?’
‘She already knows and doesn’t care much,’ he said. ‘She moved on long ago.’ Finishing his drink, Steven stood up and disappeared into the bedroom. I was still sitting down when he returned, coat in hand.
‘Fancy a walk?’ He said nodding to the door. I took him up on the offer and we headed downstairs and out into the midday sun.
It was surprisingly cool in the streets as we weaved in and out of the lunchtime crowd, aiming for nothing in particular. We had gone almost three blocks before Steven spoke, ‘word has it that you’ve been making waves around the houses.’
‘Is that what they’re saying?’ I said, pondering for a moment. ‘Waves huh? I’d probably use something bigger, you know, like a tsunami.’
That elicited a chuckle from Steven as he started to brighten up a little.
‘That’s what I like about you, James, you don’t do things by halves. If you’re going to anger a god you choose not one, but three of the most powerful goddesses in the pantheon.’ He shook his head in disbelief, ‘did you really call Hera and Athena ‘ladies’?’
I laughed, ‘it was the only thing I could think of! Plus they were six stories tall when I said it. Hera did say I had big balls though, that’s got to count for something.’
‘I’ll tell you what it counts for, that early grave you seem to have your eye on these days. Why don’t you retire James? Settle down with Ness. Raise a few kids, potter about in the garden.’ We dodged a wayward cyclist careening down the pathway.
‘A boring, easy life isn’t for a guy like me. We need complications, danger and very, very strong drinks.’
Steven shook his head, ‘I can never work you out. Just when I think I know you, something comes along and blows that out of the water. I mean who would think you of all people would be stupid enough to steal the apple of Discord? Only an idiot would even attempt a stunt like that!’ He was chucking to himself when I put a hand out to stop him dead.
‘What do you mean, I stole the apple?’ I said, my hand now punctuating my words with little jabs into his chest. ‘Who said that?’
A confused look spread over his face, ‘everyone knows you took it, James. It’s all the gods have been talking about these past few days. James Carol: the mortal with a death wish.’ He shook his head in disbelief. Stray locks of his silver hair fluttered around his face. ‘It’s a wonder you’re still walking around.’
‘Yeah,’ I hummed back. ‘Yeah, it is.’
This was new though, everyone knew I stole the apple? Or at least they thought I did.
‘Tell me then, oh wise and powerful Steven,’ I said. ‘Why would Hera and Athena feign ignorance yesterday when I said I would find out who stole the apple? Surely they both should have destroyed me on the spot.’
‘You tell me,’ he said walking on. ‘No one can quite figure it out yet, but that doesn’t stop them from speculating. Word on the cloud has it that Aphrodite is planing revenge against Hera for hiring you. Why else would the queen spare the life of a mortal who dared to lay a hand on her.’ He stopped and looked at me. ‘Now please, please, tell me that you didn’t do that.’ His face full of concern.
‘Uh, well, I sort of put my arms around both Hera and Athena.’ I shrugged at his gobsmacked expression. ‘Yeah, I’m an idiot. I know.’ What he said bugged me a little though, so I waved off his pained expression. ‘I’ve been visited by the great love goddess herself a few times since this, yet unnamed, ruggedly handsome stranger stole the apple. Not once has she mentioned my immanent death, nor has she asked for the apple back.’
Steven looked blank and shrugged in surprise. ‘Hey, I can’t tell you the will of the gods, only their gossip.’ He said with a smile. He pointed towards a small cafe and we silently decided to grab a bite to eat.
While we took a seat at the alfresco section and ordering a light lunch, Steven was practically bursting with excitement. This was the Steven I knew, always eager to tell stories and have a few laughs.
’Speaking of gossip,’ he said. ‘Did you hear about the visiting Japanese deity?’
‘One of those Shinto spirit gods?’ I asked as the waiter arrived with my coffee.
‘Kami’s, yeah. This guy, Hachiman has been over here for a summit meeting or something. Anyway, turns out he’s their warrior spirit, so Zeus buddies him up with Ares.’
‘Oh no.’ I said, guessing at the outcome.
‘Oh no indeed! Both of them get loaded up on sake and paint the town red. Luckily it wasn’t our town but sadly two countries somewhere in the middle east are at war. Again.’
‘You’re kidding? I thought the Father told Ares to stay away from there on pain of death.’
‘He had issued a decree a few years back to all the war gods to stay dormant for the time being, but you know those guys, they never listen. So now it’s an international incident, Hachiman has diplomatic immunity but he was deported none the less. The Japanese are furious saying that Ares led him astray and that we’re all corrupt megalomaniacs.’
‘Business as usual then?’ I said and we shared a laugh as our meals arrived. ‘While I’ve got you here,’ I said between mouthfuls of a rather delicious salad sandwich, ‘anything on the grape vine about a missing girl, Rosie Oliver? She was training to be one of Aphrodite’s priestesses.’
Steven thought about it for a moment, carefully chewing a mouthful of bacon sandwich. ‘No, can’t say that I have. They only discuss mortals who do interesting things, like trying to chat up Athena.’ He raised an eyebrow at me.
‘Look, a guy can try can’t he?’ I said, winking at him.
While we ate, I looked out over the street watching the dissipating lunchtime crowd return to their offices. The mess of bodies crossing roads, cars roaring past, and people streaming in and out of buildings had me thinking.
‘You know who’s suspiciously absent from all this apple business?’ I said. ‘Discordia.’
‘She’s always around somewhere,’ Steven said off handedly. ‘You won’t find her out in plain sight though, she likes to sit back and take in all the chaos she’s created. You thinking that she had something to do with it?’
‘I am now,’ I pondered out loud. ‘It would make sense though, wouldn’t it? Discordia hires me to steal the apple she gave to the goddesses in the first place. Causing just as much, if not more, chaos and disorder. Then refusing to collect which leaves me stuck in the middle between three warring goddesses, except I don’t have the charm that Paris possessed. I’m not going to come out of this with a Helen of Troy that’s for damned sure.’ I waved a fork in Steve’s direction. ‘You have no idea where she could be holed up?’
‘None I’m afraid,’ he said, wiping at his face with a napkin. ‘I do however know a guy who’s a bit of a god spotter. Here,’ he wrote down a name and address on a spare napkin and handed it to me. ‘If anyone’s had a Discordia sighting in the city recently, he’d know about it.’
‘Thanks mate, you’re a life saver.’ I put out enough cash to cover the bill and stood up to leave. ‘You coming?’ I asked.
‘No. No, I think I’ll just stay here for a while, think about things.’ I gave an understanding nod. As I left I ran an overly friendly hand along his stubbly chin. He held a hand against mine and kissed the inside of my palm softly in return, before I wandered back to my car alone.
I used the time alone to think about my next move. The name Steven had given was new to me, some guy called Ben Templeton, but if Steven said he was good then I trusted him. I checked my watch and figured I could make my way over to his address and be back in time for afternoon prayers at the Aphrodidic temple. There were a lot more questions I needed to ask and I was hoping to catch another visit from the goddess herself. The fact that the three goddesses knew who I was and what I had stolen I expected to be a lot more dead than I currently was. Paris, the lucky sod had all three of them strip to various degrees in an effort to be awarded the most fair, what do I get? A visit from some two-bit goons and a turned over office, where’s the fairness in that I ask?
The car sat where I left it, the bright green was beginning to grow on me but I missed the pitch black of my old car. I made a mental note to call in to the garage and see how the work was coming along, if these cases dragged out much longer all my profit will be gone before I can enjoy it. Then again, I could be dead before the day was out so it might be a moot point after all. I got into the car and prepared myself mentally for a trip to the suburbs.