“Lookee here,” said Cade. “Some cash and an ID for…Lester Papadopoulos.”

Mikey laughed. “Lester? That’s even worse than Apollo.”

I touched my nose, which felt roughly the size and texture of a water-bed mattress. My fingers came away glistening red.

“Blood,” I muttered. “That’s not possible.”

“It’s very possible, Lester.” Cade crouched next to me. “And there might be more blood in your near future. You want to explain why you don’t have a credit card? Or a phone? I’d hate to think I did all that stomping for just a hundred bucks.”

I stared at the blood on my fingertips. I was a god. I did not have blood. Even when I’d been turned mortal before, golden ichor still ran through my veins. I had never before been so…converted. It must be a mistake. A trick. Something.

I tried to sit up.

My hand hit a banana peel and I fell again. My attackers howled in delight.

“I love this guy!” Mikey said.

“Yeah, but the boss told us he’d be loaded,” Cade complained.

“Boss…” I muttered. “Boss?”

“That’s right, Lester.” Cade flicked a finger against the side of my head. “‘Go to that alley,’ the boss told us. ‘Easy score.’ He said we should rough you up, take whatever you had. But this”—he waved the cash under my nose—“this isn’t much of a payday.”

Despite my predicament, I felt a surge of hopefulness. If these thugs had been sent here to find me, their “boss” must be a god. No mortal could have known I would fall to earth at this spot. Perhaps Cade and Mikey were not human either. Perhaps they were cleverly disguised monsters or spirits. At least that would explain why they had beaten me so easily.

“Who—who is your boss?” I struggled to my feet, coffee grounds dribbling from my shoulders. My dizziness made me feel as if I were flying too close to the fumes of primordial Chaos, but I refused to be humbled. “Did Zeus send you? Or perhaps Ares? I demand an audience!”

Mikey and Cade looked at each other as if to say, Can you believe this guy?

Cade picked up his knife. “You don’t take a hint, do you, Lester?”

Mikey pulled off his belt—a length of bike chain—and wrapped it around his fist.

I decided to sing them into submission. They may have resisted my fists, but no mortal could resist my golden voice. I was trying to decide between “You Send Me” and an original composition, “I’m Your Poetry God, Baby,” when a voice yelled, “HEY!”

The hooligans turned. Above us, on the second-story fire escape landing, stood a girl of about twelve. “Leave him alone,” she ordered.

My first thought was that Artemis had come to my aid. My sister often appeared as a twelve-year-old girl for reasons I’d never fully understood. But something told me this was not she.

The girl on the fire escape did not exactly inspire fear. She was small and pudgy, with dark hair chopped in a messy pageboy style and black cat-eye glasses with rhinestones glittering in the corners. Despite the cold, she wore no coat. Her outfit looked like it had been picked by a kindergartener—red sneakers, yellow tights, and a green tank dress. Perhaps she was on her way to a costume party dressed as a traffic light.

Still…there was something fierce in her expression. She had the same obstinate scowl my old girlfriend Cyrene used to get whenever she wrestled lions.

Mikey and Cade did not seem impressed.

“Get lost, kid,” Mikey told her.

The girl stamped her foot, causing the fire escape to shudder. “My alley. My rules!” Her bossy nasal voice made her sound like she was chiding a playmate in a game of make-believe. “Whatever that loser has is mine, including his money!”

“Why is everyone calling me a loser?” I asked weakly. The comment seemed unfair, even if I was beat-up and covered in garbage; but no one paid me any attention.

Cade glared at the girl. The red from his hair seemed to be seeping into his face. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Beat it, you brat!” He picked up a rotten apple and threw it.

The girl didn’t flinch. The fruit landed at her feet and rolled harmlessly to a stop.

“You want to play with food?” The girl wiped her nose. “Okay.”

I didn’t see her kick the apple, but it came flying back with deadly accuracy and hit Cade in the nose. He collapsed on his rump.

Mikey snarled. He marched toward the fire escape ladder, but a banana peel seemed to slither directly into his path. He slipped and fell hard. “OWWW!”