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STOLEN: Zeus' Master Bolt

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Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

If you're reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: exit out of this story right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.

Being a half-blood is dangerous. It's scary. Most of the time it gets you killed in painful, nasty, terrible ways. 

If you're a normal kid reading this because you think it's fiction, great. My friends and I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.

But if you recognize yourself in these pages, if you feel something stirring inside, take mine and Nora Queen's advice, and stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

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MY NAME IS PERCY JACKSON.

I'm twelve years old. Until a few months ago, my best friend Nora and I were boarding students at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in Upstate New York.

Are Nora and I troubled kids?

Yeah, you could say that.

I could start at any point in our short miserable lives to prove it, but things really started going bad last May, when our sixth-grade class took a field trip to Manhattan--twenty-nine mental case kids and two teachers on a yellow school bus, heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at ancient Greek and Roman stuff.

I knew Nora was super excited about this trip because she absolutely loved learning about the Greek myths. Me? I thought it sounded like torture, as with most Yancy field trips, but I wasn't going to say that to her face. No way.

But, Mr. Brunner, our Latin teacher, was leading this trip, so I had some hopes.

Mr. Brunner was this middle-aged guy in a motorized wheelchair. He had thinning hair and a scruffy beard and a frayed tweed jacket, which always smelled like coffee. You wouldn't think he'd be cool, but he told stories and jokes and let us play games in class. He also had this awesome collection of Roman armor and weapons, so he was the only teacher whose class didn't put me to sleep.

I hoped the trip would be okay. At least, I hoped for once I wouldn't get in trouble.

Boy, was I wrong.

See, bad things happen to me and Nora when we go on field trips. Most of the time, they're kind of my fault. Like at our fifth-grade school, when we went to the Saratoga battlefield. I had this accident with a Revolutionary War cannon. I wasn't aiming for the school bus, but of course, I got expelled anyway. Nora, too, since she was standing next to me. I thought it was pretty unfair, the teachers expelling Nora when she hadn't even been doing anything with the cannon, but whatever.

And before that, at our fourth-grade school, when we all took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Marine World shark pool, I sort of hit the wrong lever and our class took a very unplanned swim. After that, Nora didn't talk to me for an entire week, which was hard, considering our rooms are right across the hall from each other. It's not really my place to say, but she is almost deathly afraid of water.

You see, Nora's lived with my mom and I since she was four, after her dad, who was this big-shot trick show pilot, presumably died in a plane crash when he was flying the Caribbean, caused by a freak storm. They never found a body. And, since Nora had no other living family since her mom left right after she was born, Nora moved in with me.

This trip, Nora had made me promise to be good, and I wanted to respect that.

So, all the way into the city, I put up with Nancy Bobofit, Nora's roommate at Yancy, who was this freckled, redheaded kleptomaniac kid, hitting our other best friend, Grover in the back of the head with chunks of her peanut-butter-and-ketchup sandwich.

Grover was an easy target. He was scrawny. He cried when he got frustrated. He must've been held back several grades because he was the only sixth grader with acne and the start of a wispy beard on his chin. On top of all that, he was crippled. He had a note excusing him from PE for the rest of his life because he had some kind of muscular disease in his legs. He walked funny, like every step hurt him, but don't let that fool you. You should've seen him run when it was enchilada day in the cafeteria.

Anyway, Nancy Bobofit was throwing wads of sandwich that stuck in his curly brown hair, and she knew I couldn't do anything to her because I was already on probation. The headmaster had threatened me with death by in-school suspension if anything bad, embarrassing, or even mildly entertaining happened on this trip.

"I'm going to kill her," I mumbled.

Grover tried to calm me down. "It's okay. I like peanut butter."

He dodged another piece of Nancy's lunch.

"That's it," I started to get up, but Nora, who was sitting in front of us, turned around in her seat and grabbed my wrist.

"Percy, don't," she whispered, and I glanced up, meeting her eyes. Nora was prettier than most twelve-year-old girls I knew, which frankly didn't account to many. She had straight dark hair that was maybe a little bit browner than mine, tan skin, and strange violet-colored eyes. 

I had never seen anyone who had the same color eyes as Nora. Around her neck hung a necklace that her mom had apparently left for her. The charm was a strange-looking wheel, with a six-point star in the center.

As far as I knew, she never took it off. When we were eight, in second grade, our teacher had us all make friendship bracelets, using the cords that you tighten by pulling two strings. Using the charms our teacher had given us, Nora and I now had matching bracelets on our left wrists, each with a small metal sea turtle charm in the center.

I would never admit it to anyone, but I loved it. And would probably never take it off.

"Nora's right, Perc," Grover said, drawing me from my thoughts. "You're already on probation. You know who'll get blamed if anything happens."

Looking back on it, I wish I'd decked Nancy Bobofit right then and there. An in-school suspension would've been nothing compared to the mess I was about to get myself and Nora into.

 

MR. BRUNNER LED THE MUSEUM TOUR.

He rode upfront in his wheelchair, guiding us through the big echoey galleries, past marble statues and glass cases full of really old black-and-orange pottery. Behind me, Nora wasn't paying much attention, instead deciding to flip through a book of Greek myths she had swiped from Yancy's library before we left.

Mr. Brunner gathered us around a thirteen-foot-tall stone column with a big sphinx on top and started telling us about how it was a grave marker, a stele, for a girl about our age. I don't think Nora realized we had stopped because she suddenly ran into my back. Mr. Brunner began to tell us about the carvings on the side of the stele.

I was trying to listen to what he had to say because it was kind of interesting, but everybody around me kept talking, and I could see Nora starting to get frustrated because she was still trying to read her Greek myths book. But, every time I would tell everybody around us to shut up, the other teacher chaperone, Mrs. Dodds, would give me the evil eye.

Mrs. Dodds was this little math teacher from Georgia who always wore a black leather jacket, even though she was fifty years old. She looked mean enough to ride a Harley right into your locker. She had come to Yancy halfway through the year when our last math teacher had a nervous breakdown.

From her first day, Mrs. Dodds loved Nancy Bobofit and figured Nora and I were devil spawn. She would point her finger at one of us and say, "Now honey," real sweet, and we knew we would be getting after-school detention for a month.

One time, after she'd made me erase answers out of old math workbooks until midnight, I told Grover and Nora I didn't think Mrs. Dodds was human. Grover had looked at me, real serious, and said, "You're absolutely right,"

Mr. Brunner kept talking about Greek funeral art.

Finally, Nancy Bobofit snickered something about the naked guy on the stele, and I turned around before Nora could stop me and said, "Will you shut up?"

It came out louder than I meant it to.

The whole group, except for Nora, laughed. Mr. Brunner stopped his story.

"Mr. Jackson," he said. "did you have a comment?"

My face was totally red. I didn't speak for a few moments, but after Nora stepped on my foot with her heel I said, "No, sir."

Mr. Brunner pointed to one of the pictures on the side. "Perhaps you or Miss Queen would be able to tell me what this picture represents?"

Nora and I exchanged a startled glance before I turned to look at the carving, and I felt a flush of relief because I actually recognized it. "That's Kronos eating his kids, right?"

"Yes," Mr. Brunner said, obviously not satisfied. "And he did this because..."

"Well..." I racked my brain to remember, positively sure that Nora and told me this story at one time or another. "Kronos was the kind god, and--" 

"God?" Mr. Brunner asked.

"Titan," Nora spoke up, and I gladly let her take the reins for explaining. "After Kronos and his siblings, the other Titans killed their father Ouranos." another round of snickers. "Kronos was given a prophecy that said his children would overthrow him, just like how he did his father. Said children were the Olympian gods and goddesses, and, fearing that the prophecy would come true, Kronos ate them,"

I continued the thought, mainly because I didn't want Nora to have all of the glory. "But, his wife hid baby Zeus and gave Kronos a rock to eat instead. And later, when Zeus grew up, he tricked his dad, Kronos, into barfing up his brothers and sisters--"

"Eeew!" said one of the girls behind me, but Nora only rolled her eyes.

"--and so there was this big fight between the gods and the Titans," I continued. "and the gods won."

Some snickers from the group.

Behind Nora, Nancy Bobofit mumbled to a friend, "Like we're going to use this in real life. Like it's going to say on our job applications, 'Please explain why Kronos ate his kids.' "

"And why, Mr. Jackson, Miss Queen," Mr. Brunner said. "to paraphrase Miss Bobofit's excellent question, does this matter in real life?"

"Busted," Grover muttered.

"Shut up," Nancy hissed, her face even brighter red than her hair. 

At least Nancy got packed too. Mr. Brunner was the only one who ever caught her saying anything wrong. He had radar ears.

I thought about his question before glancing over at Nora, who looked more than confused. I shrugged. "We don't know, sir,"

"I see." Mr. Brunner looked disappointed. "Well, half-credit to both of you. Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children."

Nora's hand suddenly flew up into the air. "Yes, Miss Queen?"

"Mr. Brunner," she began, raising an eyebrow. "How was Zeus able to give Kronos mustard and wine, if wine wasn't even going to be invented, so to speak, until Zeus turned Dionysus from a demigod into the god of wine?"

"That is a very excellent question, Nora," Mr. Brunner told her, before shaking his head. "Some stories say wine, the others say nectar. But, the mixture that Zeus gave to Kronos, in any case, made the Titan King disgorge his five other children, who, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in the Titan's stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him up with his own scythe, and scattered his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld. On that happy note, it's time for lunch. Mrs. Dodds, would you lead us back outside?"

The class drifted off, the girls, except for Nora, holding their stomachs, the guys pushing each other around and acting like doofuses.

Grover, Nora, and I were about to follow when Mr. Brunner said, "Mr. Jackson, Miss Queen,"

I knew that was coming.

I told Grover to keep going. Then, Nora and I turned towards Mr. Brunner. "Sir?"

Mr. Brunner had this look that wouldn't let you go--intense brown eyes that could've been a thousand years old and seen everything.

"You two must learn the answer to my question," Mr. Brunner told us, and Nora raised an eyebrow.

"About the Titans?"

"About real life," he answered. "And how your studies apply to it,"

"Oh,"

"What you learn from me," Mr. Brunner continued. "is vitally important. I expect the two of you to treat it as such. I will accept only the best from you, Percy Jackson, Nora Queen,"

I wanted to get angry, this guy pushed us so hard.

I mean, it was kind of cool on tournament days, when he dressed up in a suit of Roman armor and shouted: "What ho!" and challenged us, sword-point against chalk, to run to the board and name every Greek and Roman person who had ever lived, and their mother, and what god they worshipped. But, Mr. Brunner expected me and Nora to be just as good as everybody else, despite the fact that we both have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and I had never made above a C- in my life, Nora a solid B.

No--he didn't expect us to be as good; he expected us to be better. Nora might be able to do it if she tried hard enough, but I couldn't for the life of me learn all of those names and facts, much less spell them correctly.

I mumbled something about trying harder, while Mr. Brunner took one long sad look at the stele as if he'd been at this girl's funeral.

He told us to go outside and eat our lunch.

As we walked away, it seemed like, subconsciously, I had grabbed Nora's hand. As soon as we were out of sight of Mr. Brunner, I dropped it, and she turned to me, eyes alight with concern.

"You okay?" she asked quietly, cautiously, probably trying not to upset me anymore. 

I appreciated it.

I thought about Nora's question. Was I okay?

"Yeah," I whispered finally. "Yeah, I'm okay,"

I knew Nora didn't believe me, but she backed off, and we started walking outside again. Somewhere along the way, I grabbed Nora's hand again, but she didn't complain. Right now, I needed comfort after Mr. Brunner's confrontation, and she provided it.

 

THE CLASS GATHERED ON THE FRONT STEPS OF THE MUSEUM, WHERE WE COULD WATCH THE FOOT TRAFFIC ALONG FIFTH AVENUE.

Overhead, a huge storm was brewing, with clouds blacker than I'd ever seen over the city. I figured maybe it was global warming or something because the weather had been weird since Christmas. We'd had massive snowstorms, flooding, wildfires from lightning strikes, etc. I wouldn't have been surprised if this was a hurricane. Nora must have been so happy about that.

But, nobody else seemed to notice the strange weather. Some of the guys were pelting pigeons with Lunchables crackers. Nancy Bobofit was trying to pickpocket something from a lady's purse, and, of course, Mrs. Dodds wasn't seeing a thing.

Grover and I sat on the edge of the fountain, away from the others. Nora sat on the ground in front of me, facing the two of us. She was so scared of water, she wouldn't even sit on the edge of a fountain. I thought that if the three of us sat like that, everybody wouldn't know we were from that school--the school for loser freaks who couldn't make it elsewhere.

"Detention?" Grover asked, and I glanced at Nora, only to find her staring at me. 

I shook my head. "Nah, not from Brunner. I just wished he'd lay off me sometimes. I mean--it's not like Nora and I are geniuses," I returned the small smile Nora sent me before we both turned to look at Grover.

Grover didn't say anything for a while. Then, when I thought he was going to give me some deep philosophical comment to make me feel better, he said, "Can I have your apple?"

I didn't have much of an appetite, so I let him take it.

I watched the stream of cabs going down Fifth Avenue and thought about my mom's apartment, just a little ways uptown from where the three of us sat. Nora and I hadn't seen her since Christmas. I wanted so badly to take Nora and drag her into a taxi, having it take us home. She'd hug us and be glad to see me and Nora, but she'd be disappointed, too. She'd send us right back to Yancy, remind me that I had to try harder, even if this was our sixth school in six years and I was probably gonna get Nora and I kicked out again. I wouldn't be able to stand the sad look my mother would give me.

A hand on my arm drew me from my thoughts, and I turned to see Nora sitting on the fountain's edge next to me, her purple eyes meeting my sea-green ones. We had known each other our whole lives, I'm positive she knew what I was thinking.

"Percy," she began softly. "you don't need to beat yourself up about this. I'm sure Mr. Brunner had a good reason for cornering us like he did. I'm sure it wasn't you. At least," Nora added at the last second. "Not this time."

Despite it all, I found myself laughing. Nora always found a way to cheer me up. She held up the remaining half of her turkey sandwich and waved it in front of my face.

"Want to split it?" she asked, giving me a small smile, and I laughed again.

"Sure," she went to break the sandwich in half, but Nancy Bobofit appeared in front of us with her ugly friends. I guess she'd gotten tired of pickpocketing tourists.

At first, I thought she'd dump the rest of her lunch in Grover's lap (it wouldn't be the first time), but instead, she turned to Nora, one hip cocked out.

"Hey, roomie," she crooned. "Got anything valuable for me?" Grover and I tensed, while Nora stared at Nancy strangely.

"Uh," she began, narrowing her violet eyes. "No?" Nancy's face turned into an ugly scowl, which oddly improved her facial features before she abruptly lurched forward and ripped Nora's necklace from around her neck.

"Ooh!" Nancy said mockingly. "What sort of trinket is this? Some rip-off from Coney Island?" I was just surprised Nancy Bobofit had 'curio' in her vocabulary.

"That's mine!" Nora cried out, fists clenching at her sides. "Give it back!" That necklace was the only possession of her biological mother's that Nora had left. Aside from the turtle bracelet, the necklace was her pride and joy.

But, Nancy just held it over her head and considering Nora was at least two inches shorter than me, her arms didn't reach far enough.

I tried to stay cool. The school counselor had told me a million times, "Count to ten. Get control of your temper." But I was so mad my mind went blank. A wave roared in my ears.

I don't remember touching her, but the next thing I knew, Nancy was sitting on her butt in the fountain, screaming "Percy pushed me!"

Mrs. Dodds materialized next to us.

Some of the other kids were whispering, but I wasn't paying attention to them. Nora now stood in front of me, her eyes wide with shock. She reached forward, grabbing my right hand, which was clenched into a fist, and turned it palm up.

Inside, was Nora's necklace, that I had somehow grabbed off of Nancy Bobofit in all the commotion.

"What happened, Percy?" she whispered as we both stared down at the necklace. "How did you do that?" 

I flicked my eyes down to meet her violet ones, confused beyond belief.

"Nora," I began quietly. "I don't even know what I did," Nora bit her lip, thinking, but before she could say anything, Mrs. Dodds appeared next to us. There was a triumphant fire in her eyes as if I'd done something she'd been waiting for all semester.

"Now, honey--" she began, and I rolled my eyes.

"I know," I grumbled. "A month erasing workbooks."

That wasn't the right thing to say.

"Come with me," she said.

"Wait!" Grover yelped. "It was me. pushed her," Nora and I both stared at him like he was crazy. I couldn't believe Grover was trying to cover for me. Mrs. Dodds scared him to death. She glared at Grover so hard his whiskery chin trembled. 

"I don't think so, Mr. Underwood," she said.

"But--"

"You--will--stay--here."

Grover looked at me desperately.

"It's okay, man," I told him. "Thanks for trying,"

"Honey," Mrs. Dodds barked at me. "Now. You too, Miss Queen," I saw Nora's head snap up, and I sent her a sympathetic glance.

Nancy Bobofit smirked.

I gave her my best I'll-kill-you-later stare. Then, Nora and I turned to face Mrs. Dodds, but she wasn't there. She was standing at the museum entrance, way at the top of the steps, gesturing impatiently for me and Nora to hurry up.

"How'd she get there so fast?" I asked, but Nora only shrugged. She didn't know.

We have moments like that a lot when our brains fall asleep or something, and the next thing I know I've missed something as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank place behind it. The school counselor told me and Nora this was a part of our ADHD, our brains misinterpreting things.

I wasn't so sure.

Nora and I went after Mrs. Dodds anyway.

Halfway up the steps, I glanced back at Grover. He was looking pale, cutting his eyes between me and Nora and Mr. Brunner, like he wanted Mr. Brunner to notice what was going on, but Mr. Brunner was absorbed in his novel.

I looked back up. Mrs. Dodds had disappeared again. I grabbed Nora's arm. Our math teacher was now inside the building, at the end of the entrance hall.

Okay, I thought. She's going to make me buy a new shirt for Nancy at the gift shop.

But apparently, that wasn't the plan.

I exchanged another glance with Nora before we followed her deeper into the museum. When we finally caught up to her, we were back in the Greek and Roman section.

Nora suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, almost ripping my arm from its socket as she yanked me to a stop in the doorway.

"Percy," she whispered frantically, starting to drag me backward. "We have to go," I glanced down at her, confused as to why she suddenly looked so scared.

"Nora, we can't just leave," There was absolutely no way that I was going to skip out of getting metaphorically skinned alive by Mrs. Dodds, not when the punishment for not going might be a whole lot worse.

Except for the three of us, the gallery was empty.

Mrs. Dodds stood with her arms crossed in front of a big marble frieze of the Greek gods. She was making this weird noise in the back of her throat, like growling.

Even without the noise, I would've been nervous. It's weird being alone with a teacher, especially Mrs. Dodds. Something about the way she looked at the frieze as if she wanted to pulverize it...

"You've been giving us problems, honey," she said.

I did the safe thing. I said, "Yes, ma'am." Nora didn't say anything, only echoing my words once I lightly nudged her ribs with my elbow.

Mrs. Dodds tugged on the cuffs of her leather jacket. "Did you really think you would get away with it?"

The look in her eyes was beyond mad. It was evil.

As thunder rumbled outside, I felt Nora edge a bit closer to me. 

"We are not fools, Percy Jackson, Nora Queen," Mrs. Dodds said. "It was only a matter of time before we found you out. Confess, and you will suffer less pain."

I didn't know what she was talking about.

All I could think of was the teachers must've found the illegal stash of candy I'd been selling out of my dorm room. Or maybe they'd realized that Nora and I had both got our essays on Tom Sawyer from the Internet without ever reading the book and now they were going to take away our grades. Or worse, they were going to make one of us read the book.

"Well?" she demanded.

"Mrs. Dodds," Nora cut in before I could say anything. "what are you talking about?" our teacher's head snapped towards her, and her eyes seemed to burn like coals.

"Charmpseaker," Mrs. Dodds' voice was like a throaty growl. "You can see through the Mist,"

Then, the weirdest thing happened. Her eyes glowed even brighter. Her fingers stretched, turning into talons. Her jacket melted into large, leathery wings. She wasn't human. She was a shriveled hag with bat wings and claws and a mouth full of yellow fangs, and she was about to slice me and Nora to ribbons.

Before Nora or I could blink, Mrs. Dodds, whatever she was, shot forward and slammed straight into Nora, knocking her off her feet and making her back hit the ground hard.

"Nora!" I shouted, sure that my best friend was about to die.

Then, things got even stranger.

Mr. Brunner, who'd been out in front of the museum a minute before, wheeled his chair into the doorway of the gallery, holding a pen in his hand.

"What, ho, Percy!" he shouted and tossed the pen through the air.

A bright flash came from between Nora and Mrs. Dodds, blinding me for a moment, and throwing the shriveled hag that was our pre-Algebra teacher backward. It took a moment or two for her to regain her bearings, but when she did, Mrs. Dodds looked absolutely murderous.

"Die, sorceress!" she screamed and began to fly straight at Nora.

I snatched Mr. Brunner's pen out of the air, but when it hit my hand, it wasn't a pen anymore. It was a sword--Mr. Brunner's bronze sword, which he always used on tournament days. 

Nora's arms flew up to protect her face from Mrs. Dodds' extended claws, and as terror raced through me, I did the only thing that came naturally: I ran towards Nora and Mrs. Dodds and swung the sword.

The metal blade hit Mrs. Dodds' shoulder and passed clean through as if she were made of water. Hiss!

She was a sandcastle in a power fan. She exploded into yellow powder, vaporized on the spot, leaving nothing but the smell of sulfur and a dying screech and a chill of evil in the air, as if those two glowing red eyes were still glaring at Nora.

Nora.

I whipped around when I heard her sneeze, and sighed heavily in relief when I saw she was remarkably unharmed, except for some faint scratches on her shoulder. Her dark hair had come out of its ponytail, and now it lay against her shoulders, going down past her chest.

I pressed one of my hands against the side of her face, making sure she was all right.

"Nora," I said quietly, eyes flicking all over. "Are you okay?"

After a moment, Nora put her hand over mine, giving me what I'm sure was supposed to be a comforting smile.

"Yeah," she said quietly. "I'm okay,"

I exhaled a breath I hadn't realized I was holding before I hugged her as hard as I could. She wrapped her arms around me, squeezing back just as tight.

Then, we went back outside, where it had begun to rain.

Grover was sitting by the fountain, a museum map tented over his head. Nancy Bobofit was still standing there, grumbling to her ugly friends. When she saw the two of us, she said, "I hope Mrs. Kerr whipped your butts," 

I said, "Who?"

"Our teacher. Duh!"

Nora and I both blinked. We had no teacher named Mrs. Kerr. I asked Nancy what she was talking about.

She just rolled her eyes and turned away.

I asked Grover where Mrs. Dodds was.

He said, "Who?"

But, he paused first, and he wouldn't look at me, so I thought he was messing with us. I didn't find it very funny.

I glanced over at Nora to see her staring hard at Grover, her eyes narrowed. She didn't believe him. Ever since we were little, Nora had always had this uncanny ability to automatically tell whether or not people were lying to her.

"Not funny, man," I said firmly, crossing my arms, not even noticing that I didn't even have the sword in my hand anymore, just the pen. "Nora almost died," I was sure I would have nightmares about Mrs. Dodds attacking Nora for weeks after this.

Grover's head snapped towards her, eyes wide, but Nora only sent me a look.

"It wasn't that bad," she said, but I raised an eyebrow.

Had she not seen Mrs. Dodds turn into a shriveled old bat-lady?

When I didn't say anything, Nora just plucked Mr. Brunner's pen, which I only now realized I was holding, away from my hand and walked over to our Latin teacher, who was sitting under a little red umbrella reading, as if he'd never moved.

Nora said something to Mr. Brunner, and he responded, looking concerned before Nora walked away, a mass of emotions flickering over her face.

"What is it?" I whispered to her as Grover began to eat Nora's leftovers from lunch.

She sent me a nervous look. "Percy," Nora began. "Mr. Brunner's lying,"

I glanced at her. "About what?"

"About Mrs. Dodds."