When in doubt, I thought, hit the god button.
I pushed on the fourth symbol, but nothing happened.
The storm was failing. The crocodile started to turn against the current, facing Percy. Out of the corner of my eye, throu
gh the haze and mist, I saw Percy drop to one knee.
My fingers passed over the third hieroglyph—the wicker basket (Sadie always called it the “teacup”) that stood for the K sound. The hieroglyph felt slightly warm to the touch—or was that my imagination?
No time to think. I pressed it. Nothing happened.
The storm died. The crocodile bellowed in triumph, ready to feed.
I made a fist and slammed the basket hieroglyph with all my strength. This time the clasp made a satisfying click and sprang open. I dropped to the pavement, and several hundred pounds of gold and gems spilled on top of me.
The crocodile staggered, roaring like the guns of a battleship. What was left of the hurricane scattered in an explosion of wind, and I shut my eyes, ready to be smashed flat by the body of a falling monster.
Suddenly, the cul-de-sac was silent. No sirens. No crocodile roaring. The mound of gold jewelry disappeared. I was lying on my back in mucky water, staring up at the empty blue sky.
Percy’s face appeared above me. He looked like he’d just run a marathon through a typhoon, but he was grinning.
“Nice work,” he said. “Get the necklace. ”
“The necklace?” My brain still felt sluggish. Where had all that gold gone? I sat up and put my hand on the pavement. My fingers closed around the strand of jewelry, now normal-size…well, at least normal for something that could fit around the neck of an average crocodile.
“The—the monster,” I stammered. “Where—?”
Percy pointed. A few feet away, looking very disgruntled, stood a baby crocodile not more than three feet long.
“You can’t be serious,” I said.
“Maybe somebody’s abandoned pet?” Percy shrugged. “You hear about those on the news sometimes. ”
I couldn’t think of a better explanation, but how had a baby croc gotten hold of a necklace that turned him into a giant killing machine?
Down the street, voices started yelling: “Up here! There’s these two guys!”
It was the mortal kids. Apparently they’d decided the danger was over. Now they were leading the police straight toward us.
“We have to go. ” Percy scooped up the baby crocodile, clenching one hand around his little snout. He looked at me. “You coming?”
Together, we ran back to the swamp.
Half an hour later, we were sitting in a diner off the Montauk Highway. I’d shared the rest of my healing potion with Percy, who for some reason insisted on calling it nectar. Most of our wounds had healed.
We’d tied the crocodile out in the woods on a makeshift leash, just until we could figure out what to do with it. We’d cleaned up as best we could, but we still looked like we’d taken a shower in a malfunctioning car wash. Percy’s hair was swept to one side and tangled with pieces of grass. His orange shirt was ripped down the front.
I’m sure I didn’t look much better. I had water in my shoes, and I was still picking falcon feathers out of my shirtsleeves (hasty transformations can be messy).
We were too exhausted to talk as we watched the news on the television above the counter. Police and firefighters had responded to a freak sewer event in a local neighborhood. Apparently pressure had built up in the drainage pipes, causing a massive explosion that unleashed a flood and eroded the soil so badly, several houses on the cul-de-sac had collapsed. It was a miracle that no residents had been injured. Local kids were telling some wild stories about the Long Island Swamp Monster, claiming it had caused all the damage during a fight with two teenage boys; but of course the officials didn’t believe this. The reporter admitted, however, that the damaged houses looked like “something very large had sat on them. ”
“A freak sewer accident,” Percy said. “That’s a first. ”
“For you, maybe,” I grumbled. “I seem to cause them everywhere I go. ”
“Cheer up,” he said. “Lunch is on me. ”
He dug into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out a ballpoint pen. Nothing else.