We got up with rosy fingered dawn the next morning (by the way whatever you do, do not mention 'rosy fingers' to Eos if you happen to meet her. She may become violent) and bought ourselves three airline tickets to San Antonio Texas.
"Um, why San Antonio?" I asked Del.
"Because the flight leaves in ten minutes," he answered.
"We really have no idea where we're going do we?" said Threnody.
"Nope," said our brother.
I'd grabbed a couple of copies of the Nashville paper before boarding so we spent the first part of our flight reading all about the outrage at the Parthenon. The statue was apparently a complete loss – hurray!
"Good thing we got out of Dodge," Del remarked.
"Come on, how would they ever trace it to us?" I argued.
"Look at this," Threnody rustled the paper pointing to a small inside article. "Miss A.P. Devine, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, has donated fifty thousand towards a new statue." We snickered.
"Let's hope she gets a better sculptor this time around," said Del.
"First thing to do is rent a car," Del said as we came out of the terminal at San Antonio.
"Not rent, buy," said Threnody and Del and I stared at her like she'd gone crazy. "No, seriously guys, what're the chances of it making it to the end of the quest? We total it we pay for it anyway."
Del looked at me. "She's got a point."
So we bought ourselves a Dodge Ram in a bright and sunny orange, figuring if we were going to play cowboy we might as well look the part. The expression on the salesman's face when we said we'd pay up front and Threnody handed over her gold card was seriously hilarious.
"How are you going to explain buying a car to your mom," I asked my kid sister while the guy was processing our payment.
She shrugged. "I'll think of something."
It wasn't exactly a priority. I mean there was always the chance we wouldn't survive to explain. The sales guy came back with Threnody's card. We slung our backpacks in our new Ram and hit the first road west out of town.
"I really hate to bring this up," I said when I'd finished merging. "But Texas is a pretty big place you know."
Del ignored me, leaning out the window and looking up. After a minute he pulled his head back into the cab.
"Did Dad look happy?" I asked.
He snorted. "I guess. He did a victory dance."
"He should watch the road," I said. Yes there is a road up there!
"That must mean we're on the right track," Threnody said hopefully.
"We just don't know where to." I answered.
We'd been rolling along through the cactus and tumbleweed, nice and peaceful, for maybe an hour when out of the blue Threnody screamed; "Laurel, stop!"
Well it was just lucky there was nobody else on the road. I slammed on the brakes and we went into a skid ending in the roadside ditch.
Del had his bow out – it was a wonder he hadn't skewered himself with the arrow – looking madly around for a target. "What? Where?"
"There!" Threnody shrieked pointing.
It was a half dozen of the weirdest looking monsters I'd ever seen, and I've seen a lot of monsters. They had the head and forelegs of horses – well more like Shetland ponies – and believe it or not the wings, claws and feather tail of chicken!
"What the…" words failed Del. Me too, and Threnody. We stood in a row next to the truck, lodged askew in the ditch, bows and arrows hanging at our sides, staring.
"Brother," I said at last, "Sister, we can now say honestly that we've seen everything."
"I think we're there," said Threnody.
Sure enough, just a little way down the road we came to a gate. Squinting hard to the keep the letters from floating away I could just make out the words 'Triple G Ranch'. Yup, we were there all right, "Now what?"
Del shrugged. "We follow the dirt road, what else?"
We didn't get very far before we heard the hounds of the Baskervilles' howling in the distance and coming on fast. Then they burst out of a little stand of trees just ahead.
Del knocked up my arrow. "Don't fire!"
The dogs, sorry dog, stood blocking the road, bristling and growling in stereo with its two heads. Of course after the chicken-ponies this seemed barely worth a blink. The guy who appeared out of the trees a few seconds later on the other hand…
He was about seven feet tall and maybe half as wide across the shoulders and I didn't need the 'Don't Mess With Texas' shirt to tell me taking on this guy was a bad idea for all the white hair long white beard – the big spiked club he was swinging kind of clinched the deal.
"Eurytion right?" said Del. "And that's Orthus. I get it; Triple G – three bodied Geryon!"
"The tenth labor of Heracles," I said. Dad is the god of poetry. There isn't a Greek epic extant we don't have by heart.
"I thought the Heliades guarded the cattle of the sun," said Threnody remembering another epic.
Eurytion snorted. "They got fired after the business with Odysseus. What you want here, Half-bloods?"
"I'm Delos Archer, son of Apollo, and these are my companions Laurel Fleetwood and Threnody Jones, daughters of Apollo. We're on a quest for our father's cattle."
"Well you've come to the right place," Eurytion admitted, rubbing the back of his big red neck. "But the boss ain't going to just take your word for it. We can't hand out cattle of Apollo to anybody who asks."
"We understand. Can we see him?"
"Sure. It's your funeral." Not the happiest choice of words there.
The ranch house was all sleek and modern, built of white stone, natural wood and glass like Dad's place at Malibu. We found Geryon lounging across three lawn chairs on the stone flagged terrace. He was built like Siamese triplets with one head and one pair of really big legs and two big beefy arms and how he got a shirt on his middle torso I couldn't even guess.
He heard Del out then heaved himself onto his XXXL cowboy boots. "Fine, come along, kiddies and I'll show you some of your daddy's cattle."
Geryon did not drive a Dodge Ram, or any other kind of truck, instead he loaded us into this totally embarrassing kiddie train. The three passenger cars were painted black and white like Holstein cows and there was a pair of long horns mounted on the hood of the driver's car. Let's just say it didn't at all go with the aesthete of the house!
Orthus acted like a typical dog, two headed or no, jumping in next to Geryon, barking happily and sniffing the air. Eurytion wedged himself into the back car, propped his club on the seat next to him and pulled down his cowboy hat like he was going to nap. And all three of us just fit into the car behind Geryon who immediately launched into what sounded like a much practiced spiel:
"We have a huge operation here; horses and cattle mostly, but all sorts of exotic varieties, too."
"We saw the chicken ponies," I said.
He laughed. "The Hippalektryons? Very rare, and the eggs -" he smacked his lips. "You haven't lived until you've tasted the omelettes they make!"
"Yeah, right," Del tried. "About Apollo's cows -"
Geryon ignored him. "If you look to your left you'll see one of our star attractions the horses of Diomedes." The wood of their corral was covered by a thick coating of some white stuff. I couldn't figure out what it was until a couple of the horses giving us curious looks snorted out little plumes of flame. Oh, right, asbestos.
"We're impressed," said Del. "Now about those cows -" We rolled over a hill and into a sort of shallow valley twenty or thirty acres across and dotted with hundreds of fat, sleek bright red cattle. Del swallowed a couple of times; "Big herd."
"Yeah, breed like rabbits," Geryon said casually. "You understand I've got to have some kind of proof you are who you say you are before I hand over even one cow, much less a hundred."
"Yeah, yeah, you said." I knew the run up to a challenge when I heard one. "What do you want us to do?"
I swear to the gods he stroked his pencil line of a moustache like he was some old movie villain. "Nothing too difficult," he waved an arm towards a line of trees beyond the pastures. "Just go into that little wood. You'll find somebody there who can identify you for me."
"It's a trap," said Eurytion from under his hat.
Del rolled his eyes at me. "Of course it's a trap. This is a quest everything is a trap. What's your point?"
"No point," Eurytion mumbled, "just an observation."
"Weapons allowed right?" I said to Geryon.
"Oh, absolutely," he beamed with a strong subtext of 'for all the good it'll do you'.
"Fine then," Del climbed out of the car and we followed. "See you later."
"That's the spirit!" said Geryon with a truly evil grin.