Behind the Mask
Gloucester Road Underground Station, London
Artemis Fowl was not the type of person to be found on a bus, taxi or any other type of public transportation. Nevertheless, he now found himself on the filthy platform of Gloucester Road Tube station in London. Under any other circumstances 15 year old Mr. Fowl would not have been able to put up with the extremely poor condition of his current whereabouts, but Butler had been ill and Artemis had been forced to take the trip to England, accompanied only by Juliet.
A business contact of Artemis', a certain Dr. Phillip Robson, had called the day before and said he had an urgent message for him which could only be handed over in person. Butler had warned Artemis (in between fits of coughing) that it was destined to be a trap. Artemis agreed, but said it was too great an opportunity to miss. Butler tried to protest, but was interrupted by a mammoth sneeze which nearly lifted the quilt off of his bed.
So here they were, sitting on a bench in the London Tube, waiting for Dr. Robson. Juliet, in her jeans and Billabong t-shirt, sat, leaning nonchalantly against the column behind the bench and chewed on her lower lip. Apparently, some of the local youths found this very attractive, as some wandered over with wide grins on their faces. These grins instantly vanished as they noticed the pale teenager sitting beside her, drumming his fingers on his knees and boring holes in the sticker plastered floor with his gaze. When they noticed him, they turned around and kept on their various routes.
Artemis glanced at his watch. 14:06. Phillip was 6 minutes late. Ridiculous really, Artemis could have spent the last few minutes rereading The Lord of the Flies for the fourth time or finishing memorizing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. He glanced over at Juliet, she was only a few years older than him and sometimes (very rarely) he wished for the company of someone his own age. He assumed that now was one of those occasions because he struck up a conversation with her, without even thinking about it.
"It's a bit hot today, isn't it?" The question seemed to surprise Juliet. Artemis making small-talk? Queer.
"Yeah." She answered, unsure of what to say.
"Because I was even considering going over to that pathetic looking man over there to buy a bottle of water."
"You know they only have plastic bottles, don't you?"
"I think I may have to risk consuming several milligrams of plastic residue. My mouth in parched. Perhaps if you had not forced me to ware such ridiculous clothing..." He looked over his jeans, t-shirt and blazer. "Hardly suitable for a business meeting."
Juliet grinned, "Forced you! When was the last time anybody 'forced' you to do anything."
Artemis couldn't help it, he smiled to. It felt good. "This morning."
"Whatever you say. Anyway, it looks good...Arty."
Artemis blushed. Something which also very rarely happened. He would have his own Chapter in the Guinness Book of World Records soon. Juliet did that to him, they were Polar opposites and yet they where somehow...the same. He didn't stop to ponder it but got up hurriedly and went to get himself his water, muttering something about girls.
Juliet found herself gazing at his back as he walked away. He had put on a few pounds of muscle over the past few months in the newly redesigned gym at Fowl Manor and his face wasn't quite as pale as before. All in all Artemis was almost handsome.
Juliet was shaken from her thoughts by someone looking down at her. She looked up and saw a slender man of perhaps forty, with messy blond hair and a pleasant face, slightly tanned face. He was smiling apologetically.
"Sorry, Miss," he said with an American accent, "I know I'm late. Traffic's horrendous down Cromwell."
"No problem. How'd you know who I was?"
"Not many teenage girls run around with a Sig clipped to their belts."
A cold voice spoke from behind Phillip Robson, "Dr. Robson, I would like to inform you that you are almost precisely twelve minutes late. What is your excuse for such behavior?"
"Ah, Mast- Mr. Fowl, I was just telling your...uh...your comrade here...um...the traffic on Cromwell roa-"
"Sit down." Robson complied, but not before brushing some of the dust off of the bench. The spark of fun which Juliet had witnessed just minutes before was now completely gone from Artemis' voice. He was his usual self again.
Juliet knew her job. She looked down the length of the man's back, searching for weapons. Nothing. She shook her head at Artemis. He nodded.
"Dr. Robson, you told me over the phone that you wished to speak with me about a matter of some urgency. If this is to be discussed in private, then I suggest we move our persons to a nearby cafe. If not, then please proceed."
Robson took a deep breath, "No, it doesn't matter if the people around here see this...err...if I could please ask you to move to the side...perfect. Now...well, as you may know, I...um...I have a PhD in Physics from the Universit-"
"I know of you Degrees. Continue."
"Well..." He said, while opening the backpack he had brought with him, "I...uh...devised a device which could, in theory, actually reverse the flow of life on this planet...um... Impossible, you say...but...but no. I have managed to stop the movement of time for six point two-two-one nanoseconds."
"Sounds a little too much like Back to the Future to me." said Juliet.
Robson laughed nervously, "No, no. If the magnetic field of the earth could be forced to rotate at a fast enough pace we could be lifted out of the 'time zone' of the rest of the universe. For example..."
Artemis had heard enough, it was time to act. Humans had almost caught up with fairies. They had discovered the Timestop.
"Excuse me for a moment." said Artemis, getting up. He looked over his shoulder. Dr. Robson was showing Juliet a shiny silver tube which she was only half looking at. She looked at Artemis quizzically. He didn't return the glance but hurried off to the Men's WC.
If possible, the stench in there was worse than on the platform. Artemis nearly gagged and proceeded to breathe only through his mouth. The filth was worse there too, but he didn't have time to think about it. He had business to not and not the kind which that particular chamber was usually used for.
He stepped into one of the stalls and shut the door. For a moment he considered sitting down on the toilet seat but seeing that it was covered with stickers of Vladimir Lenin, he decided not to. Instead, he leaned against the the wall of the stall and pulled Holly Short's communicator out of his back pocket.
He opened the address book. There where three names listed there in bold, black lettering:
He selected the first one and waited. The centaur's familiar features crackled to life on the screen.
"Well, if it isn't the Mud Weasel himself. Why do I have the honor?"
"I try to do my part."
"You can do your part by giving me everything you've got on Dr. Phillip Robson. Degrees in physics at UCLA and Northwestern."
"Since when do you give the orders 'round here?"
"Just do it, Foaly!"
"All right, all right. No need to get worked up about it." He added in an undertone, "At least he's not Sool."
As Foaly began typing away furiously at his keyboard, Artemis filled him in on the situation. Foaly paled as Artemis told him what he suspected. "Maybe you Mudmen aren't as stupid as you look. Hang on, I've got two hits on the Robson man. Let's see, one's a Hermit in Venezuela. The other...oh you're not gonna like this, Artemis."
"Do me a favor Foaly and tell me."
"Philip Robson, 42. Former President of Fission Chips, under CEO Jon Spiro."
Artemis blew out his cheeks, "Spiro's henchman. Just what I needed."
Just then, a man's head poked out from under the door, "You all right mate?"
"Good, cause you was talkin' to yerself. You never know with them types. Anyway, cheers."
The head retreated and Artemis hung up the communicator. It was time to go. He had spent enough time in this dung heap.
Artemis walked out of the bathroom and took a deep breath of the "fresh" air outside. He went quickly back to the spot where Juliet was listening to Robson's ramblings.
As he came over the doctor looked up, "Ah, you're back. As I was just telli-"
"Doctor, why exactly are you showing me your masterpiece?"
"Well, I was...err...I was just getting to that. The rights are worth a pretty penny...if you catch my drift. Um... I was going to give you some time...before this hits the market."
"Aha, so this is Spiro's revenge. How unfortunate that it will be not completed."
Robson froze. His pupils contracted. His gaze darted from side to side, like those of a trapped animal, searching for a means of escape. Sweat beaded on his upper lip as he clutched the silver cylinder.
The situation was not good. Armed teenage girl on his left, freaky vampire kid in front of him, train tracks on his right.
"Artemis, what does this have to do with Spiro." asked Juliet.
"Meet Spiro's buddy-boy, his partner-in-crime."
"No...no, not true! I have no idea who your talking about!"
"Really? Lets see." Artemis said, reaching into the man's open backpack and pulling out a PDA.
"Give me that!" barked Robson, but Juliet pinned down his hands.
Artemis opened the assistant's contacts page and selected deleted entries. There, at the top of the list stood two words: JON SPIRO
Artemis placed the screen directly in front of the physicist's nose, "And who would this be?"
Artemis didn't wait for an answer, "Juliet, please 'assist' Phillip in walking."
Robson struggled furiously but he was no match for Juliet, "I've got a good lawyer, boy. I'm gonna sue for this."
Something about his voice seemed familiar to Artemis but he dismissed the thought, "I have fourteen and they are at least twice as good as yours. Now, follow."
Artemis led them across the platform and down several flights of stairs. Knowing the route from Butler's (stolen) collection of blueprints. They passed at least six "Authorized Personnel Only" signs along the way, to which Artemis paid no heed.
Once they reached the bottom, there was a choice of four closed doors. Artemis picked an unlocked one on the second try and they all filed inside, Juliet closing the door behind her and switching on a bare light bulb hanging from the concrete ceiling.
They were in a large Janitor's closet. Mops and cleaning supplies where everywhere.
Robson now looked truly scared. Juliet let him go and he collapsed to the floor, shivering. "Please, let me go! What have I ever done to you?"
"Oh, nothing." said Artemis, with mock pity, "Nothing...except conspiring with Jon Spiro, except going out the do your partner's dirty work. Oh, nothing at all."
"Dr. Robson, here are your options. One: You give me the time stopping device and I let you go free. Two: You keep your little toy and you die! Make you choice."
To Artemis's surprise, Robson was actually grinning, "Hey Fowl!" he said, his voice completely changed, "What if I don't like your conditions? What if I chose option three?"
Jon Spiro reached up and tore the prosthetic mask of Phillip Robson off of his face, "Long time, no see, Arty-boy."
He stood up, holding out the silver tube, "This aint no time-stopping thingamajig." A number lit up on the tube's side. Fifteen seconds. A countdown.
Juliet lunged at Spiro, gun drawn. Spiro pulled a miniature pistol out of his loafer. They waited, neither moving.
They waited fourteen seconds too long.
"Revenge is so sweet!" Spiro whispered, the madness glinting in his eyes.
The detonator blew.