I left Mother and Aunt Demeter in the lobby, discussing the pros and cons of Mother having a flying carpet. This whole thing had disaster written all over it. I decided it was best to let my aunt talk her out of it.
As I headed back to the forge, a middle-aged woman, her face creased with worry lines, stepped in front of me, stopping me in my tracks. “Please, sir,” she said, her voice trembling, “may I have a moment of your time?”
At one time, I’m sure she was a very beautiful woman. I could still see that beauty in her face. But there was fear in her eyes, her hands were shaking, and upon closer inspection, I could tell she had been crying. “Of course, ma’am,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”
“I need your help.”
“My help? With what?”
“My daughter has been kidnapped.”
I escorted the crying woman into the lobby of the God Complex. Looking around for Mother and my aunt, I saw them in the elevator, but the doors closed before I could get their attention. I led the poor woman over to a quiet corner table, handed her my handkerchief, and went to Dark Sparks to get her some tea.
As I walked in, I spotted Moxie waiting in line. I hurried over to her. “I need you,” I said.
She turned to me and smiled. “Right here? This is hardly the appropriate place, Ares.”
“Unfortunately, that is not what I have in mind right now. A woman just approached me on the street and told me her daughter has been kidnapped.”
“That’s terrible! But I’m not sure why she told you, or what this has to do with me.”
“Let’s just say I’m a bit skeptical,” I replied. “I want to make sure I’m not being played. I was wondering if you’d be able to tell if she was lying to me or not.”
“Do you really think she’d lie about something like that?”
“People have done it before. If I decide to help her, I want to be sure I’m not being led down the garden path to a gruesome discovery or being set up for murder.”
She shook her head. “Not very trusting, are you?”
“After what happened during the recent sabotage situation, when it comes to mortals, no, I’m not. Will you help me out here?”
She thought about it for a moment. “Very well, I’ll listen to her story. If she’s lying, I’ll shake my head. If she’s telling the truth, I’ll nod.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“You’ll owe me for this, of course,” she smiled slyly.
“Why do I have a feeling that is going to have something to do with publicity?”
She gently patted my cheek. “You know me so well, Ares.”
We ordered our drinks and carried them back to the table. The woman had quit crying and had nervously shredded numerous napkins. Brushing them to the side, I put the chamomile tea in front of her. “Here you go, ma’am,” I said, sitting down. “Take a couple of sips of that, then we’ll talk.”
She gave me a small smile and did as I asked, then took a deep breath. “I apologize for approaching you like that on the street,” she said. “I’m just so worried and anxious, and when I saw you, I just…”
Moxie placed her hand on top of the woman’s and smiled. “He understands, believe me. I’m Moxie, and you are…?”
“Where are my manners? My name is Meredith Fletcher.” She looked at me. “And you’re Ares.”
“Yes, ma’am, I am.”
“I was on my way to your office. The man who took my daughter told me that I should go find you.”
I looked at Moxie, who nodded slightly. “Did this man tell you his name?”
Meredith shook her head.
“Could you tell us what happened?” Moxie said gently.
“My daughter, Kara, and I were out shopping, just spending some time together. When we were in a dress shop, I noticed a man staring at us through the window. He wasn’t shy about it, rather brazen actually. I mean, normally when you’re caught staring at someone, you have the decency to look away; he didn’t. He just kept watching us. When we left the store, I glanced around, but didn’t see him. Kara thought I was just overreacting. There was no sign of him for thirty minutes, and I started to relax. Then we stopped at an outdoor cafe for some lunch, and he sat down at our table!”
“That was rather bold of him,” Moxie said, nodding at me.
“What did he have to say for himself?” I asked Meredith.
“He said that he had been captivated by Kara’s beauty, and wanted to get to know her better. Kara told him that there were better ways to introduce himself than by sitting down uninvited at our table. He agreed and asked her out on a date. I won’t repeat the exact words she used, but she basically told him that she wasn’t interested, and asked him to leave.”
“What was his reaction to that?” I said.
“He didn’t seem to have one. Just got up and walked away.”
“We ate lunch and decided to go home. The whole thing was a bit unnerving. We hadn’t gone very far from the cafe when he suddenly stepped in front of us, grabbed Kara, and pulled her over to him. Then he said, ‘Tell Ares this girl will serve as a sacrifice, and I will claim what it is rightfully mine. He and his father will not be able to keep me from taking my rightful place in the pantheon. He will know where to find me.’ Then they just disappeared.”
“Poof…into thin air, like a magician. Just…gone.”
I looked at Moxie, who again nodded.
Meredith looked at me. “Who is this man? What did he mean by ‘sacrifice’? Is he going to kill my daughter in some freaky ritual you people do?”
“Ma’am, there have been no sacrifices made to the Gods in eons,” I assured her. “No one I know of has been denied membership in our pantheon.”
“Obviously it’s someone you know, though,” she persisted. “He named you specifically.”
“Could you tell us what he looked like?” Moxie asked.
“He was about his height,” she replied, pointing at me, “muscular, about 180-190 lbs, black hair, icy blue eyes. Well-dressed, too: black pants, a black silk shirt, black leather jacket, black Italian loafers.”
“And he never said his name?” I said.
Meredith shook her head. “Not once. You haven’t answered my question. Who is this man?”
“I have no idea, ma’am,” I admitted, “but I promise you I will find out.”
“What about my daughter?”
I took her right hand in mine. “On my honor, I will find her and bring her home. You have my word on that.”
She stared at me for a minute, then nodded. “I believe you.” Squeezing my hand gently, she pulled it out of my grasp and stood up. She dug around in her purse and handed me a business card. “This is how you can get in touch with me. Please find her. She’s all I have in this world worth giving a damn about.” She looked like she was about to cry again, but she hurried away before we could say anything else to her.
Moxie leaned back in her chair. “She was telling you the truth, and she gave you a very accurate description of the man. I could see the image of him in her mind.”
“Was it anyone you recognized?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “But those icy blue eyes of his look familiar, no pun intended. I’ve seen someone else with eyes like that, but I’m just not sure where.”
“That’s not much help.”
“I’m sorry. What are you going to do?”
“Exactly what I said I would: find her daughter.”
I just had to figure out how.