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Chapter10 Kong The King

chateau PARADIZO

Minerva Paradizo was simply furious. That odious Fowl boy had somehow stolen her research subject from right under her nose. And after all the money Papa had spent on security, even hiring that despicable Mister Kong. Sometimes Minerva wondered if all males were boors, except Papa of course.

The grounds were a mess. Master Fowl had left quite a trail of destruction in his wake. The cars were so much scrap metal. The lawns were ploughed deep enough to plant vegetables, and the stink of smoke and oil had penetrated every corner of every room. Only a hurried phone call to the police station in Vence and a few improvised fabrica-tions about a generator accident had prevented the arrival of a police car.

Once the fires were under control, Minerva called a staff meeting on the patio. Juan Soto, the security chief, her father, Gaspard, and of course Billy Kong, were in atten-dance. Mister Kong seemed more agitated than usual.

'Demons,' muttered the Malibu native. 'True, all true. I have a responsibility to my brother. Finish what he started.'

If Minerva had been paying attention to Billy Kong's words, she might have noticed a touch of the ominous about them, but Minerva was busy worrying about her own prob-lems. And in Minerva's opinion, her own problems were far more important than anyone else's.

'Can we focus here, everyone? You may have noticed that my project is in crisis.'

Gaspard Paradizo had just about had it with Minerva's project. So far, he had indulged her to the tune of one and a half million euros, but now his entire estate had been trashed. It really was too much.

'Minerva, cherie,' he said, smoothing back his silver hair. 'I think we need to take a step back from this. Perhaps quit while we're not too far behind.'

'Quit, Papa? Quit? While Artemis Fowl conducts a paral-lel project? I think not.'

Gaspard spoke again, this time with a little iron in his tone. 'You think not, Minerva?'

Minerva blushed. 'Sorry, Papa. I am infuriated, that's all. This Irish boy swans in here with his troops, and just like that, ruins all our work. It is unbearable, no?'

Gaspard was seated, as they all were, at a wrought-iron table on the rear patio overlooking the pool. He pushed back his chair and circled the table to his daughter's seat. From her vantage point there was a spectacular view over the wooded gorge and down into Antibes. Nobody was very interested in the view on this evening.

'I think, Minerva,' he said, hunkering down beside her, 'that we have gone too far in this matter. There are other-worldly forces at work here. Danger follows these creatures, and I can no longer allow you to place yourself, or others, in harm's way. We fought a noble fight, and I am so proud of you that my heart may burst, but now this must become a government matter.'

'It can't, Papa,' said Minerva petulantly. 'We have no records. No sources. Nothing. All our computer files and disks were destroyed.They even drilled the safe and burned everything in it. I think Artemis Fowl crashed Google and Yahoo. It's hopeless. How would it look, a little girl turn-ing up at the Department of Defence wittering on about monsters in the basement? I need evidence.'

Gaspard stood, his knees cracking. 'Evidence, little one? These are not criminals. I watched you talk with our visi-tor. He was alert, intelligent, he had done nothing wrong. He was not an animal. It is one thing to present the Nobel Committee with proof of an invasion through time, but quite another to hound innocent sentient creatures.'

'But, Papa!' Minerva pleaded. 'One more try. I need a month to rebuild my time tunnel model, then I can make a materialization prediction.'

Gaspard kissed his daughter on the forehead. 'Look into your heart, my little genius. What does it tell you to do?'

Minerva scowled. 'Look into my heart? Honestly, Papa, I am not a Care Bear.'

'Please, cherie,' said her father. 'You know I love you, and I respect your genius, but just for once, couldn't we go with the pony option? Couldn't I just get Justin Timber-guy to play at your birthday party?'

Minerva fumed for several moments, but she knew Papa was right. She had no business detaining intelligent crea-tures. It was cruelty, nothing less. Especially when they intended no harm. But she could not just give up. Minerva silently resolved that Artemis Fowl would be her next proj-ect. She would find out all about the Irish boy, and what he knew of demons.

'Very well, Papa,' she sighed. 'For you, I will forego my Nobel Prize. This year, at any rate.'

Next year will be different, she thought. When I know what Artemis Fowl knows. There are whole worlds just beyond my grasp.

Gaspard embraced his daughter warmly. 'Good. It is for the best.'

The surgeon returned to his seat.

'Now. Mister Soto: damage report.'

The Spanish security chief consulted his clipboard.

'I have only a preliminary report, Monsieur Paradizo. I suspect we will be finding damage for many weeks. The vehicles are completely destroyed. Thankfully we do have war-zone insurance so we should have new cars within five working days. There is shrapnel in the pool. One piece pierced the skimmer and the wall, so we have a leak and no filtration. I know a man in Tourrettes sur Loup. Very reasonable and he can keep his mouth shut.'

'How about the men?'

Soto shook his head. 'I don't know what they hit us with. Some kind of ray gun. Like Martians. Anyway, most of the men are up and about. A few have headaches. No other side effects except for Thierry, who has spent the past half an hour in the toilet. We hear the odd scream…'

Suddenly Billy Kong emerged from his mumbling daydream, slamming his palm on to the glass-topped iron table.

'No. This will not do. Absolutely not. I need another demon.'

Gaspard frowned. 'That unhappy experiment is over. I should never have allowed it. I was blinded by pride and ambition. There will be no more demons in this house.'

'Unacceptable,' said Kong, as though he were the employer and not the employee. 'Eric's work must be completed. I owe him that much.'

'Now listen here, Mister,' said Soto sternly. 'What you find unacceptable is hardly an issue. You and your men were subcontracted to do a job, and that job does not include pronouncements on what is acceptable and what is not.'

As he spoke, Kong checked his hair in the small mirror he carried everywhere.

'You need to understand a few things, Paradizo. First, you are not in charge here. Not really. Not since my men and I joined your little group. Second, I don't generally work on this side of the law. My speciality is taking what-ever I want by any means necessary. I only signed on for babysitting duty because I owe these demons a little payback. A lot of payback actually. I know little Minerva just wanted to take photos of her guests and ask them a lot of psych questions, but I have my own plan for them. Something a little more painful.'

Gaspard turned his head towards Soto.

'Mister Soto. Do you have a response to this outrageous statement?'

'I do indeed,' blustered Juan Soto. 'How dare you speak to Monsieur Paradizo in this fashion. You are an employee here, that is all. As a matter of fact, you are no longer an employee. Your contract is terminated. You have one hour to vacate your room and be off the premises.'

Billy Kong's grin was as dangerous as a shark's. 'Or else what?'

'Or else my guards will remove you. I would remind you that there are only four men in your group and five times that number in mine.'

Kong winked at him. 'Perhaps. But my four are the best.'

He flipped his jacket lapel to reveal a small clip-on micro-phone.

'I am moving up the schedule,' he said into the mike. 'Open the horse.'

Soto was puzzled.

What was this idiot talking about? Horses?

'Where did you get that microphone? Is that from the strongbox? Channels are to be kept clear for official trans-missions.'

But Minerva caught the Iliad reference. Opening the horse could only refer to the Wooden Horse of Troy. Kong had planted traitors in the camp.

'Papa,' she said urgently. 'We must leave.'

'Leave? This is my house. I have agreed to almost everything you have asked of me, cherie, but this is ridiculous…'

Minerva pushed back her chair, racing round the table.

'Please, Papa. We are in danger here.'

Soto tutted. 'Mademoiselle is in no danger. My men will protect you. Perhaps the strain of the day has made you irritable. Maybe you should take a nap.'

Minerva scowled in frustration. 'Can't you see what is happening here? Mister Kong has given a signal to his men. Possibly they are already in charge. He has come among us as a wolf in sheep's clothing.'

Gaspard Paradizo was well aware of his daughter's intelligence.

'Soto? Is this possible?'

'Impossible!' declared Juan Soto, but behind his enraged blushes was a tinge of pallor. Something about Kong's grin-ning calmness unnerved him. And, truth be told, he was not quite the soldier that his resume declared him to be. True, he had spent a year with the Spanish peacekeeping force in Namibia, but he'd been attached to a journalist for the entire tour and had never participated in any action. He had got by in this job with mere bluster and a rudi-mentary knowledge of weaponry and tactics. But if some-one were to come along who actually knew what he was talking about…

Soto reached to his belt, snicking off a walkie-talkie.

'Impossible,' he repeated. 'But to reassure you, I will double the guard and instruct my team to be on alert.' He clicked the 'Talk' button. 'Report in pairs. From the top.'

Soto released the button, filling the air with static. The empty hiss seemed more ominous than a ghost's howl. This went on for several seconds. Soto tried valiantly to maintain a jaunty confidence, but was betrayed by a bead of sweat rolling down his forehead. 'Equipment malfunction,' he said weakly.

Billy Kong shook his head.

'Two shots,' he said into his lapel mike.

Barely a second later, two sharp cracks echoed across the estate.

Kong grinned. 'Confirmation,' he said. 'I'm in control here.'

Soto had often wondered how he would react if faced with actual danger. Earlier, when he had believed that they were under siege, he had panicked slightly, but followed procedure. This was different.

Soto went for his gun. A practised pistol man could do this without looking down. Soto was not practised enough. By the time he glanced towards his holster, Kong had already leaped on to the table and knocked Soto uncon-scious.

The security chief keeled over backwards with a dainty sigh.

Kong sat atop the table, elbows resting on knees.

'I need that demon back,' he said, casually drawing a stiletto blade from a secret pocket in the sleeve of his jacket. 'How do we find him?'

Gaspard P............

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