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Chapter 5 Imprisoned

CAPTAIN Holly Short of Section 8 followed the abductors to a Land Rover Discovery, and from there to the Ravenna ferry. Their captive had been transferred from a canvas sack into a stout golf bag, which was then topped off with the heads of several clubs. It was a very slick oper-ation. Three adult male humans and one teenage female. Holly was only mildly surprised to see that a young girl was involved. After all, Artemis Fowl was little more than a child and he managed to involve himself in far more complex plots than this.

The Land Rover was returned to a Hertz rental in Italy, and from there the group took a first-class sleeper carriage on an overnight bullet train along the western coast. It made sense to travel by train. There was no need to pass the golf bag through an X-ray machine.

Holly didn't need to worry about X-ray machines, or indeed any form of human security device. Wearing her Section 8 shimmer suit, she was invisible to any kind of ray the border police could throw at her. The only way to find a shielded fairy was to hit one accidentally with a stone, and even then you would probably only get an invisible smack on the ear for your trouble.

Holly slipped into the sleeper carriage and deposited herself on an unused luggage rack over the girl's head. Below her, the three humans propped the golf bag against the table, and stared at it as if… as if there was a demon inside.

Three men and one girl. It would be easy to take them. She could knock them out with her Neutrino, then get Foaly to send in some techs to do mind wipes. Holly was itching to free the poor demon. It would take mere seconds. The only thing stopping her was the voices in her head.

One of those voices belonged to Foaly, the other to Artemis.

'Hold your position, Captain Short,' advised Foaly the centaur. 'We need to see how far this goes.'

Section 8 had become very interested in Holly's mission since the demon abduction. Foaly was keeping a dedicated line to her helmet open.

Holly's helmet was soundproof, yet she was still nerv-ous talking in such close proximity to the targets. The trick in this situation is to train oneself to speak without any of the usual accompanying gestures. This is harder than it sounds.

'That poor demon will be terrified,' said Holly, lying perfectly still. 'I have to get it out of there.'

'No,' said Artemis sharply. 'You have to see the bigger picture, Holly. We have no idea how big this organization is, or how much they know about the fairy People.'

'Not as much as you. Demons don't carry the fairy Book. They're not much for rules.'

'At least you have something in common,' said Butler.

'I could use the mesmer on them,' Holly offered. The mesmer was one of the tricks in every fairy's magical bag. It was a siren's song that could have any human happily spilling his guts. 'That would make them tell me what they know.'

'And only what they know,' Artemis pointed out. 'If I was running this organization, everyone would be told only what they needed to know. Nobody would know every-thing, except me, of course.'

Holly resisted the urge to thump something in frustra-tion. Artemis was right, of course. She had to hang back and see how this situation played out. They needed to spread their net as wide as possible in order to catch all the members of this group.

'I'll need back-up,' Holly whispered. 'How many agents can Section Eight spare?'

Foaly cleared his throat, but didn't answer.

'What is it, Foaly? What's going on down there?'

'Ark Sool caught wind of the abduction.'

The mere mention of that gnome's name drove Holly's blood pressure up a few points. Commander Ark Sool was the reason she had quit the LEP in the first place.

'Sool! How did he find out about it so quickly?'

'He's got a source somewhere in Section Eight. He called in Vinyaya. She had no option but to hand over all the facts.'

Holly groaned. Sool was the king of red tape. As the dwarfs said, he couldn't make a decision if he was holding a jug of water and his bum-flap was onjire.

'What's the word?'

'Sool is going for damage limitation. The blast walls are up and overground missions have been cancelled. No further action pending a meeting of the Council. If the manure hits the air circulator, Sool isn't going to be the one taking the blame. Not on his own.'

'Politics,' spat Holly. 'Sool only cares about his precious career. So you can't send me anyone?'

Foaly chose his words carefully. 'Not officially. And no one official. I mean, it would be impossible for anyone, a consultant, say, to get past the blast walls carrying some-thing you might need, if you see what I mean.'

Holly understood exactly what Foaly was trying to tell her.

'Ten four, Foaly. I'm on my own. Officially.'

'Exactly. As far as Commander Sool knows, you are simply shadowing the suspects. You are only to take action if they decide to go public. In that case your orders are, and I'm quoting Sool here, "to take the least complicated and most permanent course of action".'

'He means vaporize the demon?'

'Sool didn't say that, but that's what he wants.'

Holly despised Sool more with every heartbeat. 'He can't order me to do that! Killing a fairy goes against every law in the Book. I won't do it.'

'Sool knows he can't officially order you to use ter-minal force on a fairy. What he's doing here is making an unofficial recommendation. The kind that could have a major effect on your career. It's a tricky one, Holly. Best-case scenario, this all blows over somehow.'

Artemis voiced the opinion that they all held. 'That's not going to happen. This is no opportunistic snatch. We are dealing with an organized group that knew what they were after. These people were at Barcelona and now here. They have an agenda for their demon, and, unless they're military, I would bet it involves going public for large amounts of money. This will be bigger than the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and theYeti all rolled into one.'

Foaly sighed. 'You're in a fix, Holly. The best thing that could happen for you right now would be a nice non-lethal injury to take you out of the game.'

Holly remembered her old mentor's words. It's not about what's best for us, Julius Root had told her once. It's about what's best For the People.

'Sometimes it's not about us, Foaly. I'll figure this out somehow. I do have help, right?'

'That's right,' confirmed the centaur. 'It's not as if it's the first time we've saved the fairy world.'

Foaly's confident tones made Holly feel better, even if he was hundreds of miles underground.

Artemis interrupted them. 'You two can swap war stories later. We can't afford to miss a word that these people say. If we can beat them to their destination, it could be an advantage."

Artemis was right. This was not a time for drifting. Holly ran a quick systems check on her helmet instru-ments, then pointed her visor at the humans below.

'You getting this, Foaly?' she asked.

'Clear as crystal. Did I tell you about my new gas screens?'

Artemis's sigh rattled through the speakers.

'Yes, you did. Now be quiet, centaur. We're on a mission, remember.'

'Whatever you say, Mud Boy. Hey, look, your girlfriend is saying something.'

Artemis had a vast mental reserve of scathing come-backs at his disposal, but none of them covered girlfriend insults. He wasn't even sure if it was an insult. And if it was, who was being insulted? Him or the girl?

The girl spoke French as only a native could.

'Technically,' she said, 'the only crime we are guilty of is fare-dodging, and perhaps not even that. Legally speak-ing, how can you kidnap something that is not supposed to exist? I doubt anyone ever accused Murray Gell-Mann of kidnapping a quark, even though he knowingly carried a billion of them around in his pocket.' The girl chuckled gently, causing her glasses to slip down again.

No one else laughed, except an eavesdropping Irish boy two hundred miles away at Fontanarossa International Airport, about to board the last Alitalia flight to Rome. Rome, Artemis reasoned, would be a lot more central than Sicily. Wherever the demon was headed, Artemis could get there faster if he flew from Rome.

'That wasn't bad,' Artemis commented, then relayed the joke to Butler. 'Obviously there are differences in the scenarios, but it's a joke, not a quantum physics lecture.'

Butler's left eyebrow cranked up like a drawbridge. 'Differences in the scenarios, that's just what I was thinking.'

Back on board the bullet train, one of the men, the one with the miraculously healed leg, shifted on the leatherette upholstery.

'What time do we get into Nice, Minerva?' he said.

This single sentence was a goldmine of information for the listening Artemis. Firstly, the girl's name was Minerva, named presumably for the Roman goddess of wisdom. So far, a very apt name indeed. Secondly, their destination was Nice in the south of France. And thirdly, this girl seemed to be in charge. Extraordinary.

The girl, who had been smiling still at her quark joke, switched to irritated mode.

'No names, remember? There are ears everywhere. If a single person uncovers a single detail of our plan, every-thing we have worked for could be ruined.'

Too late, Mud Girl, thought Captain Holly Short, from her luggage rack. Artemis Fowl already knows too much about you. Not to mention my own little guardian angel, Foaly.

Holly snapped a close-up of the girl's face.

'We have a mugshot and a first name, Foaly. Is that enough for you?'

'Should be,' replied the centaur. 'I got stills of the males too. Give me a while to run them through my database.'

Below her, the second man from Barcelona unzipped the fake top from the golf bag.

'I should check on my clubs,' he said. 'See if they're settled OK. If they've started to move about, I might put in something to keep them still.'

All of which would have been a perfectly acceptable code, had there not been a camera pointed right at them.

The man reached into the bag, and after a moment's feeling around, he pulled out a small arm and checked the pulse.

'Fine. Everything's fine.'

'Good,' said Minerva. 'Now, you should get some sleep. We have a long journey ahead of us. I will stay awake for a while, because I feel like reading. The next person can read in four hours.'

The three men nodded, but nobody lay down. They just sat there, staring at the golf bag, as if there were a demon in there.

Artemis and Butler picked up a lucky connection to Nice with Air France and by ten they had checked into the Hotel Negresco and were enjoying coffee and croissants on the Promenade des Anglais.

Holly was not so lucky. She was still perched on a luggage rack on board a train. Not the same luggage rack. This was her third rack altogether. First they had to change in Rome, then again in Monte Carlo and now finally they were headed for Nice.

Artemis was speaking into his little finger which trans-mitted the vibrations to the fairy phone in his palm.

'Any hints as to the exact final destination?"

'Nothing yet,' replied a tired and irritated Holly. 'This girl is controlling the adults with a rod of iron. They're afraid to say anything. I am sick of lying on this rack. I feel like I have been lying on racks for a year. What are you two doing?'

Artemis put his decaf cappuccino down gently, so as not to rattle the saucer. 'We're at the Nice Library, trying to dig up anything on this Minerva person. Perhaps we can find out if she has a villa near here.'

'Glad to hear it,' said Holly. 'I had visions of you two drinking tea at the beach, while I sweat it out here.'

Six metres from where Artemis was sitting, waves swirled along the beach like emerald paint poured from a bucket.

'Tea? At the beach? No time for luxuries, Holly. There is important work to be done.' He winked at Butler.

'Are you sure you're at the library? I thought I heard water.'

Artemis smiled, enjoying the exchange. 'Water? Surely not. The only thing flowing here is information.'

'Are you grinning, Artemis? For some reason I get the feeling that you're wearing that smug smile of yours.'

Foaly cut into the line. 'Pay dirt, Holly. It took a while, but we tracked down our mystery girl.'

Artemis's smile vanished. All business now. 'Who is she, Foaly? To be honest I am amazed that I don't already know her.'

'The girl is Minerva Paradizo, twelve years old, born in Cagnes sur Mer, South of France. The bespectacled man is her father. Gaspard Paradizo. Fifty-two. Cosmetic surgeon, of Brazilian descent. One more child, a boy, Beau, five years old. The mother left a year ago. Lives in Marseille with the ex-gardener.'

Artemis was puzzled. 'Gaspard Paradizo is a cosmetic surgeon? Why did it take so long to find these two? There must have been records, pictures.'

'That's just it. There were no pictures on the Net. Not even a local paper snapshot. I got the feeling that some-body had systematically wiped out every e-trace of this family they could find.'

'But nobody can hide from you, eh, Foaly?'

'That's right. I ran a deep probe and came across a ghost image on a French TV archive page. Minerva Paradizo won a national spelling bee when she was four. Once I had the name, then it was easy to retrieve all the other wipes. Your girlfriend is quite something, Artemis. She has already completed high school, and is currently studying for two distance learning degrees. Quantum physics and psychol-ogy. I suspect that she also has a doctorate in chemistry under an assumed name.'

'What about the other two men?' asked Holly, moving the conversation on before Foaly could get in another girl-friend crack.

'The Latin one is Juan Soto. Head of Soto Security. He seems to be a legitimate security operative. Not much expertise, hardly any training. Nothing to worry about.'

'And the sniper?'

'The crutch guy is Billy Kong. A real nasty piece of work. I'm sending the file to your helmet.' In seconds the mail alert dinged in Holly's ear and she opened the file in her visor. A three-dimensional photo of Kong revolved slowly in the top left corner of the visor, while his crimi-nal record scrolled down before her eyes.

Artemis cleared his throat. 'I don't happen to have a helmet, Foaly.'

'Oh yes, little Master Lo-tech,' said Foaly, his voice drip-ping with condescension. 'Shall I read it for you?'

'If your mighty brain can bear to use simple vocaliz-ation.'

'OK. Billy Kong. Grew up in a circus, lost an eye in a fight with a tiger…'

Artemis sighed. 'Please, Foaly, we don't have time for jokes.'

'Sure,' retorted the centaur. 'Like you're in the library. OK then, the truth. Born Jonah Lee, Malibu, early seven-ties. Family originally from Taiwan. Mother Annie. One older brother, Eric, killed in a gang fight. The mother moved them both back to Hsinchu, south of Taipei. Kong moved to the city and became a petty thief. He had to leave in the nineties when a row with an accomplice turned into a murder charge. Kong used a kitchen knife on his friend. There's still a warrant out for him there, under the name Jonah Lee.'

Holly was surprised. Kong seemed harmless enough. He was a slight man with spiked, highlighted hair. He seemed more like a member of a boy band than a close-up man.

'Moved to Paris and changed his name,' continued Foaly.

'Took up martial arts. He's had facial surgery, but not enough to escape my computer.'

Artemis lowered his phone hand and talked to Butler. 'Billy Kong?'

The bodyguard drew a sharp breath. 'Dangerous man. He has a small well-trained crew. They hire themselves out as bodyguards to people who live dangerously. I heard he went legit and was working for a doctor in Europe.'

'Kong is on the train,' said Artemis. 'He was the man with the fake crutch.'

Butler nodded thoughtfully. Kong was infamous in underworld circles. The man had no morals, and would happily perform any task, however distasteful, for the right price. Kong only had one rule: never quit until the job is done.

'If Billy Kong is involved, things just got a lot more dangerous. We need to rescue that demon as quickly as possible.'

'Agreed,' said Artemis, raising the phone. 'Do we have an address, Foaly?'

'Gaspard Paradizo owns a chateau on theVence side of Tourrettes sur Loup, twenty minutes from Nice.'

Artemis finished his cappuccino in a single draught. 'Very well. Holly, we shall meet you there.'

Artemis stood, straightening his suit jacket. 'Butler, old friend, we need some surveillance equipment. Do you know anybody in Nice who might oblige?'

Butler flipped open a wafer-thin mobile phone. 'What do you think?'

TOURRETTES SUR LOUP, SOUTHERN FRANCE

Tourrettes sur Loup is a small artisans' village perched on the lower slopes of the Alpes Maritimes. The Paradizo chateau was further up the slopes, on a flattened peak below the snowline.

The chateau was originally nineteenth century but had undergone extensive renovation. The walls were solid stone, the windows were reflective and probably bullet-proof, and there were cameras every where. The road lead-ing to the chateau was typical of the region: narrow and tightly looped. There was an observation tower on the building's southern corner which afforded any sentry a 360-degree view of any avenue of approach. Several men patrolled the grounds close to the main building and the gardens were dotted with grassy dunes, but did not provide a shred of cover.

Artemis and Butler were concealed in a line of bushes on the adjacent slope. Butler studied the chateau through high-powered binoculars.

'You certainly can pick them,' noted the bodyguard. 'I think I saw this place in a Bond movie once.'

'No problem for you, surely?'

Butler frowned. 'I'm a bodyguard, Artemis. A human bulletproof vest. Breaking into fortified castles is not my speciality.'

'You have rescued me from more secure locations than this one.'

'True,' agreed the bodyguard. 'But I had intel, an inside man. Or I was desperate. If I had to walk away from here, it wouldn't trouble me unduly, so long as you were walk-ing away with me.'

Artemis patted his arm. 'We can't walk away, old friend.'

Butler sighed. 'I suppose not.' He handed Artemis the binoculars. 'Now, start at the western corner and sweep east.'

Artemis raised the binoculars to his eyes, then adjusted the focus.

'I see two-man patrols.'

'Soto's private security company. No weapons showing, but they have bulges below their jackets. Basic training, I imagine. But with more than twenty of them on and around the premises it would be very difficult to overpower them all. And even if I did, the local police would be here in minutes.'

Artemis moved the binoculars a few degrees. 'I see a little boy wearing a cowboy hat driving a toy car.'

'Paradizo's son, Beau, presumably. Nobody pays much attention to him. Move on.'

'Sensors in the eaves?'

'I've actually researched that particular model. The very latest sealed security pods. Closed circuit, infrared, motion sensors, night vision. The works. I've been meaning to upgrade Fowl Manor.'

There were small speakers on spikes dotted around the chateau.

'A sound system?'

Butler snorted. 'I wish. Those are waffle boxes. They transmit interference. Our directional microphones are useless here. I doubt even Foaly could pick up anything inside that building.'

Holly shimmered into visibility beside them. 'You're right. He's pulled one of our shrouded satellites out of orbit to get a look at this place, but it's going to be several hours before the chateau is inside its footprint.'

Butler took his hand off his gun butt. 'Holly, I wish you wouldn't appear like that. I'm a bodyguard. I get jumpy.'

Holly smiled, punching him on the leg. 'I know, big man. That's why I do it. Think of me as on-the-job train-ing.'

Artemis barely glanced up from the binoculars. 'We need to find out what's happening in there. If only we could get a man inside.'

Holly frowned. 'I can't go into a human dwelling with-out per mission. You know the rules. If a fairy enters a human dwelling without an invitation, they lose their magic, and that's after a few hours of painful vomiting and cramps.'

After the battles atTaillte, Frond, the king of the fairy People, had tried to keep mischievous fairies away from human dwellings by imposing magical geasa or rules on fairies. He had used his warlocks to construct a powerful spell to impose his will. Anyone attempting to break these rules would become deathly ill and lose their magic. Now, the spell was fading with time, but it was still strong enough to cause nausea and a dimming of the sparks of magic.

'What about Butler? You could lend him a sheet of Foaly's cam foil. He'd be as good as invisible.'

Holly shook her head. 'There's a laser pyramid all over the grounds. Even with cam foil, Butler would break the beams.'

'Mulch then? He's a criminal, long past the allergic re-action stage. Cramps and vomiting wouldn't affect him.'

Holly scanned the grounds with her X-ray filter. 'This place is built on solid rock, and the walls are a metre thick, Mulch could never burrow in there unnoticed.' Her X-ray vision fell on the skeleton of a small boy driving his little electric car. She raised her visor to see Beau Paradizo zigzag-ging through the guards unmolested.

'Mulch couldn't get in there,' she said, smiling. 'But I think I know someone who could.'



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