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Chapter 7 Bobos Run

THE PARCHATEAU, SOUTHERN FRANCEBY the time Mulch and Doodah landed outside Tourrettes sur Loup, the dwarf was a nervous wreck.

'He's crazy,' he gibbered, tumbling from the hatch of a tiny titanium pod, which had been landed expertly on a flat patch not much bigger than a postage stamp. 'The pixie is crazy! Give me your gun, Holly. I'm going to shoot him.'

Doodah Day appeared in the hatch, hopping nimbly to the ground. 'That ship is fantastic,' he said in Gnommish. 'Where can I get one?'

His grin withered and died when he noticed that the thing he had previously believed to be a tree moved and spoke in one of the primitive Mud Man tongues.

'This would be Doodah Day, I presume. He makes a lot of noise, doesn't he?'

'Arkkkk,' said Doodah. 'Big Mud Man.'

'Yes, he is,' said another Mud Man, or maybe a Mud Boy. This one was smaller, but somehow seemed even more dangerous.

'You speak Gnommish?' asked the terrified pixie, in case the big one would eat him for not being polite.

'Yes,' said Artemis. 'I do, but Butler is not so fluent. So English, if you wouldn't mind.'

'Sure thing. Not a problem,' said Doodah, grateful that he still had the tiny spark of magic left in his brain neces-sary to fuel his gift of tongues.

Doodah and Mulch had flown across the lower peaks of the Alpes Maritimes in a pod built for riding the magma flares from the Earth's core. These chutes had rudimentary shields, but they were not intended for above-ground travel. Doodah's instructions had been to ride the hotshots to a small port near Berne, Switzerland, then strap on a pair of wings and low-fly the rest of the way. But once Doodah "got behind the pod's wheel, he decided that it would be much faster if they did the second leg on board the tiny ship.

Holly was impressed. 'You fly pretty well for a smug-gler. Those pods handle like a three-legged pig.'

Doodah slapped a titanium fin fondly. 'She's a good girl. You just need to treat her right.'

Mulch was still shaking. 'We came this close — this close to being incinerated! I lost count after the first dozen times.'

Doodah chortled. 'That's not all you lost, dwarf. Someone is going to have to swab the decks in there.'

Holly looked Doodah in the eyes. OK, they were making small talk, but there was a little history between them.

'You could have killed me, pixie,' said Holly evenly, giving the little smuggler a chance to explain himself.

'I know. I nearly did. That's why it's time for me to get out of the business. Review the situation. Take a long hard look at my priorities.'

'Horse manure,' tutted Holly. 'I don't believe a word.'

'Me neither,' said Doodah. 'That's my parole board spiel. With the big eyes and the wobbly lip, works every time. But seriously, I'm sorry about the multimixer thing, Officer. I was desperate. But you were never in danger. These hands are pure magic on a wheel,'

Holly decided to let it go. Nursing a grudge would only make a difficult mission next to impossible. And anyway, now Doodah would have a chance to make it up to her.

Butler lifted Mulch to his feet.

'How are you doing there, Mulch?'

Mulch glowered at Doodah. 'I will be doing fine once my head stops spinning. That ship is only built for one, you know. I've had that little monkey on my lap for the past few hours. Every time we went over a bump, he butted me under the chin.'

Butler winked at his dwarf friend. 'Well, look at it this way. You had to take a ride in his environment, but now he has to take a ride in yours.'

Doodah caught the end of that sentence. 'Ride? What ride? Who has to take a ride?'

Mulch rubbed his hairy palms together. 'I am going to enjoy this.'

They lay down in a row in a low ditch overlooking the chateau. The land sloped gently downwards and was dotted with the twisted forms of ancient olive trees. The surface soil was dry and loose, but reasonably tasty according to Mulch.

'The Alpine water is pretty good,' he explained, spit-ting out a mouthful of pebbles. 'And the olives give the clay a nice tang.'

'That's very nice,' said Artemis patiently. 'But all I really want to know is can you make it to the septic tank?'

'Septic tank?' said Doodah nervously. 'What are we talk-ing about septic tanks for? I ain't going into no septic tank. Forget the deal.'

'Not into the tank,' corrected Artemis. 'Behind it. The tank is the only cover before the chateau itself.'

Holly was scanning the terrain with her visor. 'The tank is buried as close to the house as possible. After that it's just rock. But you have a nice thick vein of soil as far as that point. What you need to do is lure that boy in the Cowboy hat in behind the tank with a bar of chocolate, then Doodah takes his place.' 144

'Then what? That toy car isn't going anywhere fast.'

'It doesn't need to, Doodah. All you have to do is drive inside the house and wind this round any video cable you see.'

Holly handed Doodah a cable tie with tiny spikes along its length. 'This is loaded fibre optic. Once it's in place, we own their surveillance.'

'Can we rewind to the bar of chocolate?' said Mulch. 'Does anyone have one?'

'Here,' said Artemis, handing him a flat bar in a green wrapper. 'Butler bought this in the village. It's very low quality, not seventy per cent cocoa, or fair trade for that matter, but it will do.'

'So what about after the kid eats the chocolate?' asked Mulch. 'What do I do with a kid?'

'You are not to injure him,' said Holly. 'Just entertain him for a minute.'

'Entertain him? How am I supposed to do that?'

'Use your dwarf talents,' suggested Artemis. 'Young children are inquisitive. Eat some rocks. Pass wind. Little Beau will be fascinated.'

'Couldn't I just shoot him?'

'Mulch!' said Holly, horrified.

'I don't mean kill him. Just knock him out for a few minutes. Kids like naps. I'd be doing him a favour really.'

'Knocking him out would be ideal,' admitted Holly. 'But I don't have anything safe, so you'll have to keep him busy for five minutes tops.'

'I am a charmer, I suppose,' said Mulch. 'And if worst comes to worst, I can always eat him.' He grinned widely at Holly's horrified expression. 'I'm kidding. Honest. I'd never eat a Mud Kid, they're too bony.'

Holly elbowed Artemis, who was beside her on the bank. 'Are you sure about this?'

'It was your basic idea,' replied Artemis. 'But, yes, I am sure. There are other options, but we don't have the time. Mulch has always displayed initiative. I feel certain he won't let us down. As for Mister Day, his freedom is on the line. A strong incentive to perform.'

'Enough of the chatter,' said Mulch. 'I'm starting to burn here. You know how sensitive dwarf skin is.' He stood, unbuttoning a bum-flap on the seat of his pants. Where else would a bum-flap be? 'OK, pixie. Hop on.'

Doodah Day seemed genuinely frightened. 'Are you sure?'

Mulch sighed. 'Sure I'm sure. What are you afraid of? It's just a rear end.'

'Yeah, maybe. But it's smiling at me.' 'Perhaps it's happy to see you. You don't want to be there if it gets angry.'

Holly punched Mulch on the shoulder. 'That is a really bad habit,' complained Mulch, rubbing his upper arm. 'You should see someone about your anger issues.'

'Could you please quit the bum talk? We're on a tight schedule here!'

'OK. Get on, pixie. I promise it won't bite.' Butler lifted the tiny pixie on to Mulch's back. 'Just don't look down,' advised the bodyguard. 'You'll be OK.'

'Easy for you to say,' grumbled Doodah. 'You're not the one riding the whirlwind. You never mentioned this in the restaurant, Diggums.'

Artemis pointed at the pixie's backpack. 'Do you really need that, Mister Day? It's not very streamlined.'

Doodah held on to the strap. 'Tools of the trade, Mud Boy. They go where I go.'

'Very well,' said Artemis. 'A word of advice. Get in and out as fast as you can.'

Doodah rolled his eyes. 'Wow, that's great advice. You should write a book.'

Mulch chortled. 'Good one.'

'And avoid his family,' continued Artemis. 'Especially the girl Minerva.'

'Family. Minerva. Got it. Now, let's go if we're going, before I lose my nerve.'

The dwarf unhinged his jaw with wince-worthy cracks, and dived head first into the mound of earth. It was some-thing to see, scythe-like jaws chomping through the dirt, excavating a tunnel for the dwarf and his passenger.

Doodah's eyes were tightly shut, and his expression was one of absolute shock.

'Oh, gods,' he said. 'Let me off. Let me —'

Then they were gone, lost under a blanket of vibrating earth. Holly elbowed her way atop the mound, following their progress through her visor.

'Diggums is fast,' she proclaimed. 'I'm surprised we ever caught him.'

Artemis lay beside her. 'I hope he's fast enough. The last thing we need is for Minerva Paradizo to add a dwarf and a pixie to her fairy collection.'

Mulch felt good underground. This was a dwarf's natural habitat. His fingers absorbed the rhythms of the earth, and they calmed him. His coarse beard hairs, which were actu-ally a series of sensors, dug into the clay, worming into cracks, sending out pings and reporting back to Mulch's brain. He could feel rabbits digging half a mile to his left.

Maybe he could snag one on the way back, for a snack.

Doodah hung on for dear life. His face was a rictus of desperation. He would have screamed, but that would have meant opening his mouth. And that was out of the ques-tion.

Just below Doodah's toes, Mulch's behind churned out a rapid-fire mixture of dirt and air, driving the pair deeper into the tunnel. Doodah could feel the heat from the reaction spreading up his legs. Every now and then, the pixie's boots dropped too close to the dwarf's rear exhaust and Doodah would have to jerk them up or lose a toe.

It only took Mulch a minute to reach the septic tank. He eased himself from the earth, blinking mud from his eyes with thick corkscrew dwarf lashes.

'Spot on,' he mumbled, spitting out a wriggling worm.

Doodah hauled himself over the dwarf's head, clamping a hand over his own mouth to stop himself screaming. After several deep breaths, he calmed down sufficiently to hiss at Mulch.

'You enjoyed that, didn't you?'

Mulch rehinged his jaw, then released a final burst of tunnel gas, which popped him out of the earth.

'It's what I do. Let's say we're even for the pod ride.'

Doodah disagreed. 'Let's say I still owe you one for swal-lowing me.'

The bickering would probably have continued, in spite of the urgency of their mission, had not a little boy in an electric toy car come trundling round the corner of the tank.

'Hello. I am Beau Paradizo,' said the driver. 'Are you monsters?'

Doodah and Mulch froze momentarily, then remem-bered the plan.

'No, little boy,' said Mulch, glad he still had the tiny spark of magic necessary to speak French. He tried to smile endearingly, something he didn't spend a lot of time prac-tising in the mirror. 'We are the chocolate fairies. And we have a special gift for you.' He waved the chocolate bar, hoping the theatrical presentation would make the cheap candy seem more impressive than it was.

'Chocolate fairies?' said the boy, climbing from his car. 'Sugar-free chocolate, I hope. Because I get hyper with sugar, and Daddy says that God knows I'm already hyper enough without it, but he still loves me.'

Mulch glanced at the label. Eighteen per cent sugar.

'Yep. Sugar-free. Would you like a square?'

Beau took the entire bar and demolished it in less than ten seconds.

'You fairies stink. Especially you, hairy. You stink worse than the blocked toilet in Aunty Morgana's. Stinky fairy.'

Doodah laughed. 'What can I tell you. The kid tells it like it is, Mulch.'

'Do you live in a blocked toilet, Mister Fatty Chocolate Fairy?'

'Hey,' said Mulch brightly. 'How about a nap? Would you like a nap, kid?'

Beau Paradizo punched Mulch in the stomach. 'I had a nap, stupid. More chocolate! Now!'

'No punching! I don't have more chocolate.'

Beau punched him again. 'I said more chocolate! Or I'm going to call the guards. And Pierre will reach down your throat and pull out your guts. That's what he does. He told me.

Mulch sniggered. 'I'd like to see him reach into my insides.'

'Really?' asked Beau brightly. 'I'll get him!' The little boy sprinted for the corner of the tank. He moved with surprising speed, and Mulch's instincts took over from his brain. The dwarf leaped towards the boy, unhingeing as he went.

'Pierre!' shouted Beau once, but not a second time, because Mulch had enclosed him in his mouth. All except the cowboy hat.

'Do not swallow!' hissed Doodah.

Mulch worked the boy round his cheeks for a' few seconds, then spat him out. Beau was dripping wet and sound asleep. Mulch wiped the child's face before the dwarf spittle could harden.

'Sedative in the saliva,' he explained, hooking up his jaw. 'It's a predator thing. You didn't fall asleep yesterday because I didn't do your head. He'll wake up completely refreshed. I'll peel this stuff off when it hardens.'

Doodah shrugged. 'Hey, do I care? I didn't like him anyway.'

A voice drifted over the tank. 'Beau? Where are you?'

'That must be Pierre. You better get moving, lead him away from here.'

Doodah poked his head above the embankment. A large man was headed their way. Not as large as Butler, true, but plenty big enough to squash the pixie under a single boot. The man wore a black security jumpsuit with matching hat. A pistol grip poked from between the buttons. The man squinted towards the tank.

'Beau? Is that you?' he said in French.

'Oui. C'est moi,' replied Doodah in a warbling falsetto.

Pierre was not convinced. The voice had sounded more like a talking piglet than a child. He kept coming, reach-ing inside his jumpsuit for the gun.

Doodah bolted for the electric car. On the way he picked up Beau's cowboy hat, jamming it on to his head. Pierre was barely a dozen steps away now, and quickening his pace.

'Beau? Come here now. Minerva wants you in the house.'

Doodah slid over the bonnet into the car, hillbilly style. He could tell from a single glance that this toy wouldn't do much more than walking speed, which would be zero use to him in an emergency. He pulled a flat black panel from his bag, suckering it on to the little car's plastic dash. This was a Mongocharger, something no self-respecting smuggler would leave home without. The Mongocharger was equipped with a strong computer, omni- sensor and a clean nuclear battery pack. The omni-sensor hacked into the toy car's tiny chip and took over its workings. Doodah pulled a retractable spike cable from the Mongocharger's base and plunged the tip into the car's own power cable beneath the dash. Now the toy car was nuclear-powered.

Doodah revved the accelerator.

'That's more like it,' he said, satisfied.

Pierre came round the right side of the tank. This was good because Mulch and the dozing Beau were on his blind side. It was bad because Pierre was directly behind Doodah.

'Beau?' said Pierre. 'Is something wrong?' His gun was out, pointed at the ground.

Doodah's foot hovered over the accelerator, but he couldn't punch it now. Not with this goon staring down his neck.

'Nothing's wrong… eh… Pierre,' he trilled, keep-ing his face hidden under the cowboy hat's brim.

'You sound strange, Beau. Are you ill?'

Doodah tipped the accelerator, inching forward.

'No. I'm fine. Just doing funny voices, the way human kids do.'

Pierre was still suspicious. 'Human kids?'

Doodah took a chance. 'Yes. Human kids. I'm an alien today, pretending to be a human, so go away or I will reach down your throat and pull out your guts.'

Pierre stopped in his tracks, thought for a moment, then remembered.

'Beau, you scoundrel. Don't let Minerva hear you talk-ing like that. No more chocolate if you do.'

'Pull out your guts!' repeated Doodah for good measure, accelerating gently across a gravel bed on to the driveway.

The pixie pulled a stick-on convex mirror from his pack, suckering it to the windscreen. He was relieved to see that Pierre had bolstered his weapon and was headed back to his post.

Even though it went against all his smuggler's instincts, Doodah kept his speed down on the driveway. His teeth knocked together as he drove over the uneven granite flagstones. A digital read-out informed him that he was utilizing one hundredth of one per cent of the engine's new power. Doodah remembered just in time to mute the Mongocharger. The last thing he needed right now was the computer's electronic voice complaining about his driving skills.

There were two guards in front of the main doors. They barely glanced down as Doodah swept past.

'Howdy, Sheriff,' said one, grinning.

'Chocolate,' squeaked Doodah. From the little he knew about Beau, it seemed the appropriate thing to say.

He tapped the accelerator to bump him over the lintel, then drove slowly across a streaked marble floor. The tyres spun for grip on the sleek stone, which was a bit worrying — it could cost crucial seconds in the event that he had to make a quick getaway. But at least the corridor was wide enough for a U-turn if one became necessary.

Doodah motored down the hallway, past rows of tower-ing potted palms and several bright abstract works of art until he came to the corridor's end. There was a camera mounted over an archway, pointed directly at the front hall. A cable snaked out from the box and into a conduit which ran down to the base of the wall.

Doodah pulled up by the conduit, hopping from the car. So far his luck was holding. Nobody had challenged him. This human security was lame. In any fairy building he would have been laser-scanned a dozen times by now. The pixie yanked a section of conduit away, revealing the cable beneath. It took him mere seconds to twist the length of loaded fibre optics round the video cable. Job done. Smiling, Doodah climbed back into his stolen car. This had been a sweet deal. Amnesty for five minutes' work. Time to go home and enjoy a life of freedom, until he broke the rules again.

'Beau Paradizo, you little brat. Come over here, right now!'

Doodah froze momentarily, then checked his mirror. There was a girl behind him, glaring his way, hands on hips. This, he guessed, would be Minerva. If memory served, he was supposed to keep far away from Minerva.

'Beau. It's time for your antibiotic. Do you want to have that chest infection forever?'

Doodah started the car, rolling it towards the arch and out of this Mud Girl's sight line. Once round the corner, he could floor the accelerator.

'Don't you dare drive away from me, Bobo.'

Bobo? No wonder I'm driving away, thought Doodah. Who would drive towards someone calling them Bobo?

'Eh… chocolate?' said the pixie hopefully.

It was the wrong thing to do. This girl knew her brother's voice when she heard it, and that wasn't it.

'Bobo? Is there something wrong with your voice?'

Doodah swore under his breath.

'Ches' inflec-chun?' he said.

But Minerva wasn't buying it. She took a walkie-talkie from her pocket and took rapid strides towards the car.

'Pierre, can you come in here, please? Bring Andre and Louis.' And then to Doodah, 'Just stay there, Bobo. I have a nice bar of chocolate for you.'

Sure, thought Doodah. Chocolate and a concrete cell.

He considered his options for a second and came to a conclusion. The conclusion was: / would rather escape quickly, than get captured and tortured to death.

I am out of here, thought Doodah, and floored the accel-erator, sending several hundred horsepower shuddering down the fragile driveshaft. He had maybe a minute before the car fell apart, but by then he could be far away from this Mud Girl and her transparent promises of chocolate.

The car took off so fast that it left an image of itself where it had been.

Minerva stopped dead. 'What?'

There was a corner coming up quickly. Doodah pulled the wheel in as far as he could, but the vehicle's turning circle was too wide.

'Gotta bounce it,' said Doodah through gritted teeth.

He leaned hard left, eased up on the accelerator and hit the wall side-on. At the moment of impact he shifted his weight and stepped on the gas. The car lost a door, but shot out of the corner like a stone from a sling.

Beautiful, thought Doodah as soon as his head stopped ringing.

He had maybe seconds now before the girl could see him again, and who knew how many guards stood between him and freedom.

He was in a long straight corridor, opening on to a sitting room. Doodah could see a wall-mounted television and the top rim of a red velvet sofa. There must be steps down into the room. Not good. This car only had one more impact left in it.

'Where is Bobo?' shouted the girl. 'What have you done with him?'

No point in subtlety now. Time to see what this buggy could do. Doodah jammed his foot on the accelerator, then made a beeline for a window behind the velvet sofa. He patted the dash.

'You can do it, you little junk box. One jump. Your chance to be a thoroughbred.'

The car didn't answer back. They never did. Though occasionally in times of extreme stress and oxygen depri-vation, Doodah imagined they shared his cavalier attitude.

Minerva came round the corner. She was running hard, and screaming into a walkie-talkie. Doodah heard the words apprehend, necessary violence and interrogation. None of which boded well for him.

The toy car's wheels spun on a long rug, then caught. The rug was shunted backwards like a length of toffee from a roller. Minerva was bowled over, but kept talking as she went down.

'He's headed for the library. Take him down! Shoot if necessary.'

Doodah held on to the wheel grimly, keeping his line. He was going out of that window, closed or not. He entered the room at seventy miles per hour, flying off the top step. Not bad acceleration for a toy. There were two guards in the room, in the act of drawing their weapons. They wouldn't shoot though. It still appeared as though the car was being driven by a child.

Suckers, thought Doodah — then the first bullet crashed into the chassis. OK, maybe they would shoot the car.

He flew in a gentle arc towards the window. Two more bullets took plastic chunks from the bodywork, but it was too late to stop the tiny vehicle. It clipped the lower frame, lost a fender and tumbled out through the open window.

Someone really should be filming this, thought Doodah, as he clenched his teeth for impact.

The crash shook him all the way from his toes to his skull. Stars danced before Doodah's eyes for a moment, then he was in control again, careering towards the septic tank. 158

Mulch was waiting, his wild halo of hair quivering with impatience.

'Where have you been? I'm running out of sunblock.'

Doodah did not waste time with an answer. Instead he extricated himself from the all but demolished car, prising off his Mongocharger and mirror.

Mulch pointed a stubby finger at him. 'I have a few more questions.'

A bullet fired from the open window ricocheted off" the septic tank, throwing up concrete splinters.

'But they can wait. Hop on.'

Mulch turned, presenting Doodah with his back, and more besides. Doodah jumped on, grabbing thick hanks of Mulch's beard.

'Go!' he shouted. 'They're right behind me!'

Mulch unhinged his jaw and he went into the clay like a hairy torpedo.

But fast as he was, they wouldn't have made it. Armed guards were two paces away. They would have seen the gently snoring Beau and riddled the moving tunnel mound with bullets. They probably would have tossed in a few grenades for good measure. But they didn't, because at that precise moment all hell broke loose inside the chateau.

As soon as Doodah had twisted the loaded fibre optic round the video cable, hundreds of tiny spikes had punctured the rubber, making dozens of strong contacts with the wiring inside.

Seconds later in Section 8 HQ, information came flooding into Foaly's terminal. He had video, alarm systems, waffle boxes and communications all flashing up in separ-ate windows on his screen.

Foaly cackled, cracking his knuckles like a concert pianist. He loved those old fibre optic twists. Not as fancy as the new organic bugs, but twice as reliable.

'OK,' he said into a reed mike on his desk. 'I'm in control. What kind of nightmares would you like to give the Paradizos?'

In the south of France, Captain Holly Short spoke into her helmet microphone. 'Whatever you have. Storm troop-ers, helicopters. Overload their communications, blow out their waffle boxes. Set off all the alarms. I want them to believe they are under attack.'

Foaly called up several phantom files on his computer. The phantoms were one of his own pet projects. He would lift patterns from human movies, soldiers, explosions what-ever, and then use them universally in whatever scene he chose. In this case he sent a squad of French Army special forces, the Commandement des Operations Speciales, or COS, to the Paradizos' closed-circuit system. That would do nicely for starters. 160

Inside the chateau, the Paradizo chief of security, Juan Soto, had a little problem. His little problem was that a couple of loose shots were being popped off in the house. This can only be seen as a little problem in relation to the very big problem that Foaly was sending his way.

Soto was speaking into a radio.

'Yes, Miss Paradizo,' he said, keeping his voice calm… 'I realize that your brother may be missing. I say may be because that may be him in the toy car. It sure looks like him to me. OK, OK, I take your point. It is unusual for toy cars to fly that far. It could be a malfunction.'

Soto resolved to have strong words with the two idiots who had actually fired on a toy car on Minerva's command. He did not care how smart she was, no child was giving orders like that on his watch.

Even though Miss Minerva was nowhere near the secu-rity centre and could not see his face, Chief Soto adopted a stern expression for the lecture he was about to give.

'Now, Miss Paradizo, you listen to me,' he began, then his expression changed completely as the security system went ballistic.

'Yes, Chief, I'm listening.'

The chief held on to his radio with one hand; with the other he flicked numerous switches on his security console, praying for malfunction. 'There seems to be a full squad of COS converging on the chateau. My God, there are some in the house. Helicopters, the rooftop cameras are picking up helicopters.' Transmissions suddenly squawked through the band monitor. 'And we have chatter. They're after you, Miss Paradizo, and your prisoner. My God, the alarms have all been tripped. Every sector. We're surrounded! We need to evacuate. I can see them in the treeline. They have a tank. How did they get a tank up here?'

Outside, Artemis and Butler watched the chaos Foaly had created. Alarm klaxons ripped through the Alpine air and security men sprinted to ordained spots.

Butler lobbed a few smoke grenades into the grounds to add to the effect.

'A tank,' said Artemis wryly into his fairy phone. 'You sent them a tank?'

'You've hacked into the audio feed?' said Foaly sharply. 'Just what else can that phone of yours do?'

'It can play solitaire and minesweeper,' replied Artemis innocently.

Foaly grunted doubtfully. 'We'll talk about this later, Mud Boy. For now, let's concentrate on the plan.'

'Excellent suggestion. Do you have any phantom guided missiles?'

The security chief nearly fainted. The radar had picked up two tracks spiralling from the belly of a helicopter.

'Man Dieu! Missiles. They're firing smart bombs at us. We must evacuate now.' 162

He flicked open a perspex panel, revealing an orange switch below. With only a moment's hesitation, he pressed the orange switch. The various alarms were immediately cut off and replaced by a single continuous whine. The evac alarm.

The moment this was sounded, the guards changed course, heading for their assigned vehicles or principals, and the non-security residents of the chateau began gath-ering data or whatever was most precious to them.

On the eastern side of the house, a series of garage doors opened and six black BMW four-wheel drives sprang into the courtyard like cougars. One had blacked-out windows.

Artemis studied the situation through binoculars.

'Watch the girl,' he said into the tiny phone in his palm. 'The girl is the key. I'm guessing hers is the vehicle with the tinted windows.'

The girl Minerva appeared through patio doors, speak-ing calmly into a walkie-talkie. Her father trailed beside her, dragging a protesting Beau Paradizo by the hand. Billy Kong came last, bending slightly under the weight of a large golf bag.

'Here we go, Holly. Are you ready?'

'Artemis! I'm the field agent here,' came the irritated reply. 'Stay off my band unless you have something to contribute.'

'I was just thinking…'

’I was just thinking that you should change your middle name to control freak.'

Artemis glanced across at Butler, who was lying beside him on the verge and couldn't help overhearing the entire exchange.

'Control freak? Can you believe that?' 'The nerve of some people,' replied the bodyguard, without taking his eyes off the chateau.

To their left, a small patch of earth began to vibrate. Mud, grass and insects were thrust upwards in a sudden gush, followed by two heads. One dwarf and one pixie.

Doodah climbed over Mulch's shoulders, collapsing on the ground.

'You people are crazy,' he panted, plucking a beetle from his shirt pocket. ‘I should be getting more than amnesty for this. I should be getting a pension.'

'Quiet, little man,' said Butler calmly. 'Phase two of the plan is about to start, and I wouldn't want to miss it because of you.'

Doodah blanched. 'Neither would I. Want you to miss it, that is. Because of me.'

Outside the chateau's garage, Billy Kong popped one of I the BMW's boots, hefting the golf bag inside. It was the car with the tinted windows.

Artemis opened his mouth to issue an order, then closed it again. Holly probably knew what to do.

She did. The driver's door clunked open a fraction, apparently all on its own, then closed again. Before Minerva or Billy Kong could do more than blink in surprise, the four-by-four started up and laid down a six-metre length of rubber skidding towards the main gate.

'Perfect,' said Artemis under his breath. 'Now, Miss Minerva Paradizo, would-be criminal mastermind, let us see exactly how smart you are. I know what I would do in this situation.'

Minerva Paradizo's reaction was a bit less dramatic than one might expect from a child who has just had her prize possession stolen. There were no tantrums or foot-stamping. Billy Kong also defied expectations. He did not so much as draw a weapon. Instead he squatted on his hunkers, ran his fingers through Manga hair and lit a cigarette, which Minerva promptly plucked from his lips and squashed underfoot.

Meanwhile the four-by-four was getting away, barrelling towards the main gates. Perhaps Minerva was confident that the reinforced steel barrier would be sufficient to halt the BMW in its tracks. She was wrong. Holly had already weak-ened the bolts with her Neutrino. One tap from the vehicle's grille would be more than sufficient to barge the gates out of the way. If it got that far. Which it did not.

After she had crushed Kong's cigarette, Minerva took a remote control from her pocket, tapped in a short code, then hit the 'Send' button. In the BMW's cab, a tiny charge detonated in the airflow system, releasing a cloud of sevoflurane, a potent sleeping gas. In seconds, the vehicle began to weave, ramping the driveway bushes and cutting a swathe through the manicured lawn.

'Problems,' said Butler.

'Hmm,' said Artemis. 'A gas device, I would guess. Fast-acting. Possibly cyclopropane or sevoflurane.'

Butler knelt, drawing his pistol. 'Should I stroll in there and get them?'

'No. You shouldn't.'

The BMW was careering wildly now, following the dips and slopes of the grounds' topography. It destroyed a mini-golf green, pulverized a gazebo and decapitated a centaur statue.

Hundreds of miles below ground, Foaly winced.

The vehicle finally came to rest in a lavender bed, nose down, rear wheels spinning, spitting out hunks of clay and uprooted long-stemmed purple flowers, like missiles.

Nice action, thought Mulch, but he kept the notion to himself, fully aware that this might not be the time to stretch Butler's patience.

Butler was raring to go. His gun was out and the tendons in his neck were stretched, but Artemis held him back with a touch to the forearm.

'No,' he said. 'Not now. I know your impulse4s to help, but now is not the time.'

The bodyguard jammed his Sig Sauer handgun back into its holster, scowling. 'Are you sure, Artemis?'

'Trust me, old friend.'

And of course, Butler did, even if his instincts were not so sure.

Inside the grounds, a dozen security guards were warily approaching the vehicle, led by Billy Kong. The man moved like a cat, on the balls of his feet. Even his face was feline, smug grin and flat eyes.

On his signal, the men rushed the car, reclaiming the golf bag and hauling an unconscious Holly from the front seat. The elf was cuffed with plastic ties and hauled across the garden to where Minerva Paradizo and her father stood waiting.

Minerva removed Holly's helmet and kneeled to exam-ine her pointed ears. Through his binocular lenses, Artemis could clearly see that she was smiling.

It had been a trap. AH a trap.

Minerva tucked the helmet under her arm, then walked briskly back towards the house. Halfway there, she stopped and turned. Shielding her eyes from the sun's glare, she scanned the shadows and peaks of the surrounding hillsides.

'What's she looking for?' Butler speculated aloud.

Artemis did not wonder. He knew exactly what this surprising girl was after.

'She's looking for us, old friend. If that was your chateau, perhaps you might have wondered where a spy would conceal himself.'

'Of course. And that's why I picked this spot. The ideal location would have been further up the hill, in that clus-ter of rocks, but that would also have been the first spot any security expert would booby-trap. This would be my second choice, and so, my first choice.'

Minerva's gaze swept past the rock cluster and rested on the line of bushes where they were hiding. She couldn't possibly see them, but her intellect told her that they were there.

Artemis focused on the girl's pretty face. It amazed him that he could appreciate Minerva's features, even as his friend was being hauled into captivity. Puberty was a power-ful force.

Minerva was smiling. Her eyes were bright and they taunted Artemis across the vale between them. She spoke in English then. Artemis and Butler, both expert lip-readers, had no difficulty interpreting her short sentence.

'Did you get that, Artemis?' asked Butler.

'I got it. And she got us.'

'Your move, Artemis Fowl,' Minerva had said.

Butler sat back in the ditch, slapping mud from his elbows.

'I thought you were one of a kind, Artemis, but that girl is a smart one.'

'Yes,' said Artemis, musing. 'She's a regular juvenile criminal mastermind.'

Below ground, in Section 8 HQ, Foaly groaned into his microphone.

'Great,' he said. 'Now there are two of you.'


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