The first thing I did after recovering was sort out my desk. Righting it took some work but eventually I was able to call the place an office again. Although I’m sure some would object to this description, the landlord mainly. Speaking of which he was suspiciously absent, I suspect whomever had made this mess didn’t do it silently. Something like that would have had him running up those stairs quicker than you could say ‘lease violation’. I made a mental note to pay him a visit after I got my money from Aphrodite. No sense in pre-empting the inevitable. I plugged the remains of my phone back in and made a call to Ness letting her know I wouldn’t be available for dinner. I also asked if she wouldn’t mind collecting my car.
‘You left it where James?’ She was having a little trouble parsing my recount of events so far. Eventually she relented and agreed. ‘You owe me a dinner out Mr Carol and not some little cafe across the road either, a nice place, with waiters and everything.’ She hung up with out too much fuss after I swore to take her out as soon as the case was over. Secretly I didn’t mind, after being alone for a while it was nice that someone actually cared enough to worry about me. Although with Ness you could never be sure if she was worrying about you or your ability to show her a good time. Either way I didn’t mind all that much. I decided it would be too late to hang around and wait for the car so I called a taxi to take me out to the warehouse district to follow the only solid lead I had.
Sure, I could have spent the next few hours questioning Hera and Athena over the apple but I had a gut feeling that they weren’t behind it at all. Neither of them seemed the hands on type and if Aphrodite was any indication they would have delegated the task to some poor mortal. At the moment all signs were pointing towards the absent goddess, Discordia. How much actual involvement she had was what I needed to find out. It was definitely her style to come in at the last moment and throw a golden spanner in the works. The taxi ride was long and quiet, more so after I slipped the cabby extra to turn off the radio. His choice of music left much to be desired and at the level he was playing it at I would lose any element of surprise I had, and my hearing.
We rolled silently into the darkened streets of the empty district. Hulking grey metal structures lined both sides of the road, some big enough to hide a city block in. Their shape reminded me of Aphrodite’s temple albeit on the cheaper, ultra utilitarian side of things. I told the driver to do a few slow laps of the area, I was looking for lights or any other sign of life. Half way through our third lap I spotted it. I had the driver kill the engine and we sat quietly as three black cars drove up to the wire gates of a small warehouse. A passenger got out and held the chain link gate open, closing it behind him as the last car passed. The large metal door cut into the side of the warehouse slid open on its own as the first car approached and the other two followed the leader, driving inside the building leaving the gate man to follow them in on foot. My gut was telling me this was the place. I wrote out a note and gave it and ten bucks to the cabbie with the instructions to take it to Ness on his way back into town. I got out on foot and hid down the side of the closest building, keeping to the shadows until the taxi had well and truly left the area.
If the people in the warehouse had heard the engine start up they paid no attention to it. Quietly I stalked through the district looking for a way through the tall wire fence surrounding the warehouse. I had all but given up when I noticed a section of wire missing towards the back, judging by the discarded cans of spray paint and the mural painted on an outlying shed I was guessing it was a regular meeting place for our city’s more artistic youth groups. I crept under the bent wire and felt my jacket catch and rip on an exposed wire. Ignoring it, I cased the area looking for some sort of vantage point or window that would let me see what was going on. The warehouse looked like it had been abandoned for a while which worked to my advantage with the large amount junk and discarded boxes strewn about the place, perfect for climbing on and breaking your neck. From the corner of my eye I saw a faint glow emanating from under the door of the old loading dock to the rear of the property. The cracks and rust holes in the large roller shutters bled with escaping light, and with all the accessible windows boarded shut this looked like my best bet.
With each hollow footfall the concrete steps echoed in the crisp night air, the sound echoing loudly in my quiet ears. The back wall of the loading area was divided by two large, rusting roller doors, each independent of the other, with a smaller door labelled with a fading sign declaring it was the office. Careful to avoid any large patches of light filtering through the holes in the metal, I made my way to the roller door closest to office and pressed my ear up to the cold metal. Expecting to listen in on hushed conspiracies being thrown back and forth, I was surprised to hear what sounded like low rumble of a group prayer. Muffled by the distance it was still the unmistakable sound of several worshippers going about their daily ritual of worship and sacrifice. I stuffed over to the office door and applied a little pressure, it moved inwards without too much sound. Luckily I spotted the chain tethering the door to the frame before I pushed any further, the ageing metal was aching to scrape and clatter against the dusty concrete floor. Light now poured out of the warehouse bathing me in the dirty orange glow of ageing industrial lighting. Taking off my hat I leaned in closer trying to get a good look at the worshippers.
From my vantage point I was able to see most of the warehouse from the gap in the door. Stripped and gutted long ago it was just one large empty space, spare for a few remaining shelving units and the largest dust farm this side of the great depression. The three black cars sat by the main entrance parked in the same order they had arrived in, I could tell that this wasn't their first visit due to the numerous tire marks littering the place. Not too far from the vehicles was a makeshift alter using discarded packing crates and an old wooden door. Their alter was covered in fresh fruit and various pieces of meat while several sticks of incense covered the area in a fine mist of what smelt like jasmine, the perfect sacrifice for a Friday evening. Kneeling before the offerings were the worshippers, their distinctive black suits and hair instantly recognisable as the ones who chased me around the city the day before. The sound of the prayers reached a crescendo, echoing against the sheet metal walls of their temple, the chants sounding more Latin than Greek to me. Which made sense when I spotted who they were worshipping.
Eris had long ago adopted her Latin name of Discordia and her worshippers took the name of Discordians. She stood off to the side, arms outstretched, breathing deep the power of her worshiper’s prayers. She walked over to the alter running a hand over her offerings. The smoke from the incense parted like a low fog over a moonlit lake as she swept through it. Her lips moved but any sound she made was drowned out by the continuous chanting of the worshippers. Despite being unable to hear I managed to catch the drift as Discordia selected a piece of the offering and held it aloft. The apple shone golden even in the dingy warehouse, I was unable to appreciate its beauty while it was in my short lived care but now I could see he power the apple had. Before my eyes Discordia began to grow, just slightly but enough for me to notice the change, the power of belief was everything in the game of gods and goddesses.
While they were all busy I took the chance to scan the warehouse for the missing Rosie. I had a developed a working theory and this was the last piece of the puzzle. Despite shifting angles for a better view I couldn’t see the girl anywhere, which wasn’t to say she wasn’t there, for all I knew she could be tied up in the boot of one of the cars. I hoped that wasn’t the case though, I’d been there a few times an it is not an entirely pleasant experience. One time the car happened to also be underwater which doesn’t help the situation. I brought my wandering mind back to the present, I needed a way in. Silently creeping away from my vantage point I started to case the warehouse again, this time looking for an unlocked door or window. Something for me to sneak in through. My search came up empty handed. The only way I was going to get inside was with a lot of noise. I checked my trusty nine millimetre, it was loaded and ready to go. Breathing deep I decided it was guts or glory, I just hope it’s not my guts that get all the glory.
Three loud raps on the large steel entrance doors rang throughout the quiet street. Silence was my only response, so I knocked again. ‘Hello?’ I called out. ‘Warehouse inspector.’ It was all I could think of besides it didn’t need to sound official they were probably going to shoot me on sight anyway, may as well make an interesting story on the way. ‘Hey!’ I called out again. ‘We’ve had a level three noise complaint coming from here.’ I stood out in the darkness for a solid minute. Where were these guys? I know they couldn’t have got the cars out as I was standing in front of the only exit. I was about to knock again when I found my answer. All six of the worshippers, a mix of men and women all in the exact same style suit appeared behind me. They were taking their time to unlock the back door and sneak around to take me by surprise. I held my hands up. ‘Hey, guys’ I said taking a step backwards. Their knives glimmered in the moonlight like the eyes of a wolf, hungry and cold.
They began to close in, a step at a time, forcing me back against the doors. The noise as my body hit the metal shocked me more than the impact, my voice timbered as I tried to talk my way around the situation.
‘Look, maybe we can just ignore the noise complaint. I mean, who really cares that you lot are even out here? I’m just doing my job and I’m sure you’re all just doing yours.’ One of the women lunged at me, her pitch black hair hanging low across her face as the sudden movement knocked her fringe out of place. ‘Ok, ok. I lied. Obviously I lied, I’m a terrible lier. I’m just here for the girl, you can keep the apple, it’s given me enough trouble as it is.’ The mere mention of the apple caught their attention, they stopped and hung back waiting for guidance. It came in the form of Discordia’s mild voice. Her husky tones echoing out from inside the warehouse. ‘Bring him to me.’
I smiled. ‘ See I’m invited. No need for knives.’ I stepped forward just as the door behind me was noisily rolled open, receding behind the external walls of the warehouse. Even in full light the knife wielding suits were still quite imposing, they forced me inside shoving me down onto the ground before the alter. With my knees under me my head just made its way above the offering of fruit and meat. Discordia joined us from the back of the warehouse floor where she had retreated during my entrance. The click clack of high heals against the solid concrete floor was both unnerving and slightly arousing. Although that last part might have more to do with spending far too much time with Aphrodite. In the way known only to the gods themselves, Discordia had managed to change outfits in a moment. The flowery gown she wore for the ceremony was gone, replaced now by a black suit matching her followers. It had the affect of giving an androgynous look to the goddess, one I believed suited her nature and obviously she felt the same way. The golden apple sat in the palm of her hand, cradled against her chest. She paced before me, meticulously counting the steps out loud. ‘One. Two. Three...’ I was trying to watch the goddess and keep an eye on her followers at the same time. Obviously she was looking to lull me into a false sense of security, which frankly was not going to happen any time soon. Surrounded by knife wielding cultists and by her very nature an unstable goddess, security was not coming to me, falsely or otherwise.
It was about the thirtieth or forty third step that she chose to strike me. I was ignoring her counting and watching the woman who struck out at me earlier, she seemed rather eager to have another go and it was rather off putting. My head felt like it was going to collapse in on itself and then the burning pain started. Within moments my vision was pure red and I collapsed in a heap. How long I stayed there I couldn’t tell. My entire body went numb and there was a ringing in my right ear that would not quit. Groggily I woke to water drenching me, head to toe. My eyes stung with tears and I thought I could feel the sticky warm trickle of blood running down my face, although it was hard to tell with all the water. I tried to focus on the blurred woman in front of me but before I could regain enough control I was struck again, this time on the left side of my head. My last thoughts before blacking out was how nice of her to even it out.
I must have said some of it out loud as I woke to a violent shaking and Discordia’s raspy voice grating in my head. ‘I’ll even you out, worm.’
Before I knew it I was flying across the room unassisted. I hit the far wall, hard. My back made a crunching sound as my soft flesh met the cold hard sheet metal, narrowly missing the steel girder to the right. The force from the punch had cracked several of my ribs and pain flooded through me with every ragged breath as I sat slumped on the cold, dusty floor. The blood from both sides of my head trickled down my cheeks and all I could taste was a dull metallic tang coming from the back of my throat. I knew I had to open my eyes at some point but I couldn't bring myself to wrench them open knowing that my next vision could be my last. Breathing shallow helped the pain across my chest and back but did little for the growing ache behind my eyes.
Those clicking heels echoed through my brain as Discordia grew closer, she took her time safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going anywhere. The foot steps grew increasingly louder until suddenly they stopped. I could feel her standing over me and every unbroken bone in my body screamed at me to run, to get as far from her as possible but I knew I had a job to do. With the last remaining ounce of strength I opened my eyes and cleared my throat, spitting blood onto the ground. ‘Where’s...where’s the girl?’ I could make out the crowd around me, their black suits all melding into one giant mass, Armani the god of fine menswear. A croak of a laugh escaped my broken body as the thought passed through my mind.
‘You think this is funny? The little whore in training didn’t think it was very amusing.’ She snapped her fingers and the black sea was parted to reveal a teenage sized dot. Instantly recognisable by her school uniform, the once lost Rosie Oliver stood before me and even with my distorted eyesight I could see she was terrified.
‘Don’t worry kid, I’ve found you.’ I said through tired wheezing. I tried for a smile but I had the feeling it didn’t quite put her at ease like I had hoped it would. The goddess glared at me and barked an order to her nearest followers.
‘Tie our guests up in the booth. I’ll deal with them later.’ Two of the suits broke rank and picked me up off the floor, my feet dragged numbly behind me leaving a trail of boot polish that cut through the thick dust. As I was dragged towards the old manager’s booth that sat lonely in the corner of the warehouse, I noticed they had left the back access door unchained. I made a mental note of the exit before being manhandled into a sitting position inside the glass and panelled room. Soon I was bound and left in an agonising heap on the floor. My arms tore at my chest as they stretched behind me, bound with rope. Taking no chances my feet had also been secured. For the moment I decided to give in to the pain and awkward angle at which I had been positioned in and embrace the coolness of the dirty floor. Closing my eyes momentarily I welcomed the black envelope that surrounded me.