Ben the god spotter, lived an hour outside the city in one of those quaint outer suburbs that was nice enough. Sturdy but bland houses that all looked the same lined either side of the road. There was more open lawn between the houses and the street than in most inner city parks. I could hear the rattle and clank of my rental car as I toured slowly along the winding suburban streets looking for Ben’s house. I held up the scrawled napkin in the bright afternoon sun and compared it against the polished gold numbering on the letterboxes. Five hundred and fifty five, this was the place. An almost exact copy of the majority of the surrounding houses, the Templeton home was painted a shade paler than my car and it sadly wasn’t out of place amongst the street. Small toys and bikes littered the front lawn, a tell tale sign of suburban bliss or so I’ve been told. I almost twisted an ankle as my foot landed on a discarded Ares action figure, the plastic shield bent at a right angle exposing the miniature god’s rippling torso. I tossed it into a pile of other toys collecting around the front door, all of them just waiting to spring on unsuspecting guests. As I was tending to my injury two small children careened around the side of the house screaming and throwing sticks at each other. They ran past me like I was a piece of furniture and disappeared around the other corner, their screams fading as they returned to the backyard.
The front door was open on the inside leaving a locked screen door to protect the inhabitants from insects, sales people, and possibly small children. I knocked on a solid part of the door frame and waited.
‘Boys!’ Came a maternal yell from deep inside the house. ‘Boys! I told you not to bang on that door again!’ I waited a moment before responding with my own call.
‘Uh, excuse me, ma’am? My name is James Carol and I’m looking for a Mr Templeton.’ I waited a second before knocking again, a little louder this time, in case she couldn’t hear me. Soon a heavy foot step could be heard echoing against the hard wood floors. I instinctively removed my hat gripping it firmly in my hands as I waited for, whom I could only assume was Mrs Templeton, to come to the door.
A woman in her late twenties greeted me at the door, her long brunette hair pulled back into a messy bun. She wore a full length light blue apron, which was covered head to toe in flour. The warm air that followed her smelt like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies which reminded me of childhood and better days. She seemed a little surprised but greeted me none the less.
‘Mrs Templeton I presume?’ I said, offering a hand through the now open screen door. ‘I’m looking for your husband, Ben. A mutual friend of ours, Steven, said I could find him here.’
What doubtful look she had when first spying me disappeared at the mere mention of Steven’s name. ‘Steven? Steven Moore?’
I nodded in agreement. ‘Thats the demigod.’ I said with a smile.
‘A friend of Steven’s is a friend of mine, Mr?’ She waved me in with a floury pat on the back.
‘Carol,’ I offered, ‘James Carol. I did call out earlier but I don’t think you heard me.’
I was ushered through a fairly neat family home towards the kitchen where the baking smell was strongest. What lay before me was a home makers heaven. Scones, biscuits, and cakes of all shapes and sizes littered almost every available counter space. I had to resist the urge to pick at the pile of piping hot chocolate chip cookies in front of me. ‘It’s a lovely home you have here Mrs Templeton.’ I said, taking it all in.
‘Sandra, please, and thank you Mr Carol. I do try to keep it clean but with the boys, it’s a little difficult. Excuse me for a moment.’ She busied herself with the oven, removing a fresh batch of cookies from the hot depths and replacing it with another waiting batch of dough. As the oven door slammed shut she offered me coffee and excused all the baking. ‘You’ve caught me on a rather busy day, usually I’d still be at work but it’s the schools annual bake sale. We’re raising money to build a new library after the last one tragically burnt down. The PTA told the local council not to invite two waring gods to the opening, but would they listen?’ She shook her head sadly. ‘Still, we had the best time that night. Crossed off two gods and got to see them in action to boot.’ She grinned widely and pointed to a framed picture hanging on the wall. The image perfectly captured a lighting bolt as it struck the newly built library, while large flames sprouted from previous strikes. Two giants locked in combat straddled the fleeing crowd. I shuddered involuntary. Unlike birds or trains, god watching is a very dangerous sport, catch one at the wrong time and in an instant you could be ash. That’s why watchers with large counts are usually held in high esteem, and idiots like myself are given a wide berth.
‘Are you a watcher as well Mr Carol?’ Sandra asked.
‘Please, James will do, and I’m more of a… liaison. I tend to find myself involved with them one way or another. I’m sorry to drop by unannounced by the way, I didn’t know when Ben would be home and I need some advice rather urgently.’ Outside the two boys were still running around in the very green and neat backyard, only now I could tell that the sticks they were throwing were make believe lightning bolts. They squealed happily as they thundered into the sand castle village they had made.
‘Ben works in the city and won’t be home till well after six.’ She said handing me a freshly brewed cup of coffee. ‘I could give you the address if you wanted though?’
‘That would be wonderful, Sandra. Thanks.’
‘Unless of course I can help, that is?’
‘Well, that depends,’ I said, taking an experimental sip of coffee, it was damn good. ‘Do you know anything about Discordia?’
‘Goddess of strife and discord?’ She said whilst mixing a bowl of bright green icing. ‘Also known as Eris. Most famous for her involvement in the beginning of the Trojan war with her apple of Discord. A big deal back in the early days but she sort of fell out of favour there for a while. Until recently that is, she’s been rumoured to have picked up some followers by the newly established cult of Discordianism. That Discordia?’
She said, shooting me a look that said “have I passed your test, little man?” and I gulped slightly.
‘Uh, yeah, that Discordia.’ I said sheepishly into my coffee.
‘Mr Carol, how do you think got my husband into god watching in the first place?’ She pointed with a icing covered whisk at another frame hanging on the wall and turned her attention back to the mixing. I looked over at the wall and saw the framed masters in theology made out to Sandra Pearson. I couldn’t see any equivalent degrees with Ben’s name on them. ‘It seems Stephen neglected to mention there were two people I should talk to, Mrs Templeton.’ I said apologetically and she huffed dismissively.
‘Would you happen to know if Discordia’s been spotted around here recently?’ I asked, mentally cursing Stephen under my breath.
‘Define recently?’ Sandra replied.
‘Some time in the last week or so.’
‘Hold on a moment,’ she said walking out of the kitchen. I lent around the corner on my stool to see where she had disappeared to but my vision was blocked by a wall, I could hear her digging around through loose papers though. The distinct shuffle of a well organised filing system reminded me of the background noise at the police station, it sure as Hel wasn’t a noise I had heard in my own place of business for a long time.
‘Ah!’ She exclaimed. A small piece of paper was handed to me on her way to rescue a tray of cookies from the oven.
It was a page from a god watcher’s field notebook. The notebook template held all the vital information one could need: time, date, weather, location, even a small area for a sketch if you wanted. The handwriting that completed the form was in a meticulous print, clear and crisp. This sheet belonged to Ben and was dated four days ago, about an hour or two before I got the apple job. According to the notes, Discordia was spotted in the city. The weather was clement apparently, but what interested me the most was where the sighting was. If the record was to be believed, and I had no evidence to the contrary at this point, she was spotted outside Cerauno College. ‘What was Ben doing outside this school?’ I asked a little more accusingly than I had intended.
‘Cerauno? He’d been given a tip off that she had been seen around the area a few days in a row. Spotters all talk to each other you know, someone sees Zeus and soon everyone and their dog knows. Plus it helps if someone else can confirm your sighting. Ben got a call about Discordia the night before so he took a trip out there and came up trumps, sadly the boys were sick and I lost the coin toss.’ She sounded quite disappointed. ‘Minor gods are sometimes a little tricky to catch, they frequent populated places rarely when they only have a small power base.’ She spoke with the enthusiasm and joy of a collector.
‘I don’t suppose anyone has seen or heard of her since?’
Sandra waved a metal whisk in my direction as she thought about it for a moment. Bright green icing dripped in thick clumps as she moved it about. ‘No, nothing since. Which is quite odd considering whats happened recently. I must admit James, your reputation has preceded you in this case. Playing with both Hera and Athena? Not many men are that stupid.’ She gave a playful wink as she licked icing from the whisk.
I shrugged and smiled sheepishly. ‘So no idea where she could be at the moment, no local temple she could be holed up in, or safe house in the area?’
Sandra moved trays and bowls around to clear space on the bench. ‘Ben did say it looked like she was headed towards the old industrial area that night. It’s pretty isolated, a good place for a god to lay low, if one was so inclined that is.’
‘Thank you, Sandra. You’ve been most helpful.’ I pulled out a large note from my wallet and put it on the table, picking up a few cookies from the bench. ‘A little something for the new library.’ I said winking.
‘You are most kind James. It’s been a pleasure.’ She said secreting the money into the deep pockets of her apron. I was shown the door and bid her farewell, careful to avoid the discarded stick lightning bolts strewn about the place.
I was pushing it for time on my way back into the city. The sun was already slowly setting behind the line of tall grey buildings, its orange light filtering through the cracks where streets separated the urban monoliths. By the time I reached the Aphrodidic temple, prayers had already started and I was unlikely to get any answers while they were busy worshiping the goddess. I silently resolved to go see about my car first and circle back past the temple afterwards. You never know, they may be more agreeable after their evening mediation and a good round of offerings. I know I would be.
As I pulled the shaking heap of rust up to the garage, the owner recognised the incandescent paint job and came out to great me. ‘Mr Carol! I’ve been trying to reach you all day but there was no answer at your office or home.’ We shook hands in the faux manly fashion that one reserved for mechanics and tradesmen in a strange effort to retain some aura of ‘masculinity’. Like a handshake could convey the phoney sentiment that, while I wear a dress shirt and wouldn’t know one end of a spanner from another, I’d rather be fixing cars or building things with my hands. ‘Sorry Jim,’ I said, giving him a quick pat on the shoulder. ‘I’ve been out on business.’ I didn’t feel like getting into the comings and goings of the hired muscle that has driven a wedge between my home and I. ‘How’s the repairs coming along?’ I enquired.
‘We’re all done. Ran into a bit of trouble getting genuine replacement parts though. Luckily I was able to get some from a friend of mine a few towns over otherwise it would have been at least a two month wait.’ He frowned in the indicative way of all mechanics as they are about to tell you how much debt you are in and that they take cash, card, or first born son. I steeled myself against the number of zeros that were about to fly forth from his mouth. ‘What’s the damage, then?’
‘Let’s just have a look at the car first, then we can talk money.’ He said smiling.
As he lead me towards the parking lot, could tell that this was going to cost a lot more than I could afford. Tradespeople always show you what a wonderful job they’ve done, then once you’re taken in by the pure artistry and magic they have preformed you’re too appreciative to cast aspersions on the bill. Honestly though, I was only jealous that the trick didn’t work for me, I was lucky to get paid a third of what I was owed at the end of a job. The reveal was all I had hoped it to be. Polished black metal smoother than the day it rolled out of the factory. All the windows had been replaced as had each of the light fittings with their chrome trim lovingly buffed out or replaced with original parts. Jim had even managed to fix the passenger door which never closed properly since I bought the car. I’ll admit it, this was a work of art, unfortunately it was going to cost just as much. I stroked the dent free bonnet softly as I asked for the bill.
‘More than you could afford, James.’ He laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it though, it’s all been taken care of.’
My head involuntarily spun as I did a double take.‘Taken care off? What does that mean exactly?’ I really didn’t like to be in anyones debt. Actual debt such as overdue rent, and bar tabs were fine, they were expected, but pure obligation was another thing altogether. Too many people I knew owed me favours and I wasn’t about to start owing them, that can lead to a whole different type of mess. ‘I’ll pay for the repairs, I don’t need anyone’s charity.’ I said. Jim held up his hands in mock surrender.
‘Hey, hey.’ He said backing away slightly. ‘Look, some lady came in and paid off your bill. I told her you wouldn’t like it one bit, but she insisted, even gave me a really nice tip.’ He moved a little closer and put a firm but rough hand on my shoulder. ‘James, I refused her three times before she practically threw the money at me. I’d just take the lucky break if I were you.’
‘Was it Vanessa?’ I asked looking up into his rough but friendly face.
‘That leggy redhead who hangs around the bar with you? Naw, wasn’t her. This one was blond, pretty. Damn pretty. Put all my men off their work for the rest of the day, they couldn’t stop talking about her, had to send them all home early after they almost dropped a car on one of the apprentices by accident. Useless bunch…’
He pulled a note from his overalls. ‘Here, she gave me this to pass on. Said she’d see you soon, or something like that.’ I turned the paper over in my hands, it was a scrap ripped from a prayer book, it even had half a verse on the other side. Judging by the language it was Aphrodidic, no other temple uses such flowery language. The handwritten note said in a perfect flowery calligraphy ‘Diner’. I knew instantly who paid for my repairs. I chucked the rental’s keys towards Jim and in return he tossed mine back. ‘You’ve done beautiful work as always,’ I said quickly slipping behind the wheel. ‘Thanks again, Jim.’ The faux new car smell hit me as the leather creaked under my weight and I turned the ignition over. The gears slipped easily from one to the other as I slowly pulled away from the garage and entered the evening traffic. A token wave ended my dealing with the mechanic and my mind switched its focus to meeting my benefactor.