“Bulldozer,” he whispered.
“Is that a code word?” I asked.
“No. I’m going to sneak over to the bulldozer. You two distract the metalheads.”
He shifted Calypso’s weight to me.
“Are you crazy?” she hissed.
Leo shot her an urgent look, like Trust me! Distract them!
Then he took a careful step sideways.
“Oh!” Nanette beamed. “Are you volunteering to die first, short demigod? You did hit me with fire, so that makes sense.”
Whatever Leo had in mind, I imagined his plan would fail if he began arguing with Nanette about his height. (Leo was a bit sensitive about being called short.) Fortunately, I have a natural talent for focusing everyone’s attention on me.
“I volunteer for death!” I shouted.
The entire mob turned to look at me. I silently cursed my choice of words. I should have volunteered for something easier, like baking a pie or post-execution clean-up duty.
I often speak without the benefit of forethought. Usually it works out. Sometimes it leads to improvisational masterpieces, like the Renaissance or the Beat movement. I had to hope this would be one of those times.
“But first,” I said, “hear my plea, O, merciful blemmyae!”
The policeman whom Leo had torched lowered his gun. A few green embers of Greek fire still smoldered in his belly beard. “What do you mean, hear my plea?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s customary to hear the last words of a dying man…or god or demigod or…what would you consider yourself, Calypso? A Titan? A demi-Titan?”
Calypso cleared her throat with a noise that sounded suspiciously like idiot. “What Apollo is trying to say, O, merciful blemmyae, is that etiquette demands you grant us a few last words before you kill us. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be impolite.”
The blemmyae looked aghast. They lost their pleasant smiles and shook their mechanical heads. Nanette shuffled forward, her hands raised in a placating manner. “No, indeed! We are very polite.”
“Extremely polite,” the policeman agreed.
“Thank you,” said Nanette.
“You’re welcome,” said the policeman.
“Listen, then!” I cried. “Friends, frenemies, blemmyae…open your armpits and hear my sad tale!”
Leo shuffled back another step, his hands in the pockets of his tool belt. Another fifty-seven, fifty-eight steps, and he would arrive at the bulldozer. Fantastic.
“I am Apollo!” I began. “Formerly a god! I fell from Olympus, cast down by Zeus, unfairly blamed for starting a war with the giants!”
“I’m going to be sick,” Calypso muttered. “Let me sit down.”
“You’re breaking my rhythm.”
“You’re breaking my eardrums. Let me sit!”
I eased Calypso onto the fountain’s retaining wall.
Nanette raised her street sign. “Is that it? May I kill you now?”
“No, no!” I said. “I am just, ah, letting Calypso sit so…so she can act as my chorus. A good Greek performance always needs a chorus.”
Calypso’s hand looked like a crushed eggplant. Her ankle had swollen around the top of her sneaker. I didn’t see how she could stay conscious, much less act as a chorus, but she took a shaky breath and nodded. “Ready.”
“Lo!” I said. “I arrived at Camp Half-Blood as Lester Papadopoulos!”
“A pathetic mortal!” Calypso chorused. “Most worthless of teens!”
I glared at her, but I didn’t dare stop my performance again. “I overcame many challenges with my companion, Meg McCaffrey!”
“He means his master!” Calypso added. “A twelve-year-old girl! Behold her pathetic slave, Lester, most worthless of teens!”
The policeman huffed impatiently. “We know all this. The emperor told us.”
“Shh,” said Nanette. “Be polite.”
I put my hand over my heart. “We secured the Grove of Dodona, an ancient Oracle, and thwarted the plans of Nero! But alas, Meg McCaffrey fled from me. Her evil stepfather had poisoned her mind!”
“Poison!” Calypso cried. “Like the breath of Lester Papadopoulos, most worthless of teens!”
I resisted the urge to push Calypso into the flower bed.
Meanwhile, Leo was making his way toward the bulldozer under the guise of an interpretive dance routine, spinning and gasping and pantomiming my words. He looked like a hallucinating ballerina in boxer shorts, but the blemmyae politely got out of his way.
“Lo!” I shouted. “From the Oracle of Dodona we received a prophecy—a limerick most terrible!”
“Terrible!” Calypso chorused. “Like the skills of Lester, most worthless of teens.”
“Vary your adjectives,” I grumbled, then continued for my audience: “We traveled west in search of another Oracle, along the way fighting many fearsome foes! The Cyclopes we brought low!”
Leo jumped onto the running board of the bulldozer. He raised his staple gun dramatically, then stapled the bulldozer operator twice in the pectorals—right where his actual eyes would be. That could not have felt good—even for a tough species such as the blemmyae. The operator screamed and grabbed his chest. Leo kicked him out of the driver’s seat.
The police officer yelled, “Hey!”
“Wait!” I implored them. “Our friend is only giving you a dramatic interpretation of how we beat the Cyclopes. That’s totally allowed while telling a story!”
The crowd shifted uncertainly.
“These are very long last words,” Nanette complained. “When will I get to smash your head in?”
“Soon,” I promised. “Now, as I was saying…we traveled west!”
I hauled Calypso to her feet again with much whimpering on her part (and a little bit on mine).
“What are you doing?” she muttered.
“Work with me,” I said. “Lo, frenemies! Behold how we traveled!”
The two of us staggered toward the bulldozer. Leo’s hands flew over the controls. The engine roared to life.
“This isn’t a story!” the police officer protested. “They’re getting away!”
“No, not at all!” I pushed Calypso onto the bulldozer and climbed up after her. “You see, we traveled for many weeks like this….”
Leo started backing up. Beep. Beep. Beep. The bulldozer’s shovel began to rise.
“Imagine you are Camp Half-Blood,” I shouted to the crowd, “and we are traveling away from you.”
I realized my mistake. I had asked the blemmyae to imagine. They simply weren’t capable of that.
“Stop them!” The police officer raised his gun. His first shot ricocheted off the dozer’s metal scoop.
“Listen, my friends!” I implored. “Open your armpits!”
But we had exhausted their politeness. A trash can sailed over our heads. A businessman picked up a decorative stone urn from the corner of the fountain and tossed it in our direction, annihilating the hotel’s front window.
“Faster!” I told Leo.
“Trying, man,” he muttered. “This thing wasn’t built for speed.”