Well, I know it's been a while. I am less than a fortnight from finishing my degree, so I've been pretty busy.
I know I said I would be ending it with this chapter but... I'm not. I'm guessing half of you will be happy at this (judging from some of the reviews) and the other half will be wanting to strangle me through your screens but... tough :)
So here's the start of a two chapter (hopefully) sort of RA prequel - because I feel it's important to take you back to the true start of this story before finishing it for good.
Hopefully you'll enjoy.
Disclaimer: Yup, still not Eoin damn pills just ain't working...
Soundtrack: Bones - MSMR
AND THIS IS CHAPTER IS ACTUALLY BETA'D BY THE MASTER OF BETA-ing ilex ferox! Thanks so much, ilex. You knocked me right in the gut with your grammar book, but now I've got my breath back I realise before I was breathing shite. (I've been revising all day - I'm not at my best).
WARNING: THIS CHAPTER IS AN 'M' FOR OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AND SUBJECT MATTER.
'Do you care to shoot, Miss Chastain?'
'Only the people who truly displease me.'
Chapter Seventeen - The Business of Hearts
December 31st 1983 – The Ivy, London
"No," laughed Angeline, shaking her head, "tu m'as trompé."
Benoit clutched his chest as if shot.
"Oh, go on, Angie," said Fran, nudging her with a pointed elbow, "you did say you wanted a dance..."
"And when did I say that?"
Fran scoffed. "Only during the whole performance, 'Oh, just look at them, Franny! Aren't they beautiful? Wouldn't it just be wonderful to dance like them!'"
The small crowd gathered around them, all after-ballet drinkers turned New Year's revellers, tittered as Angeline narrowed her eyes. Fran plucked the olive from her martini glass and smirked.
"Come, Anjuline," lisped Benoit, holding out a large, darkly-tanned hand. "I thall thweep you away into the night!"
There were a few murmurs of encouragement from the people gathered around her.
"Vraiment, non," said Angeline, taking a slight step back, "I couldn't. But perhaps Fran would like to take you up on your offer?"
Benoit's head whipped around.
Fran raised a hand. "No. Not me. I have hip problems."
"Really?" said Angeline lightly. "Since when?"
"Since around three seconds ago."
Both girls' smiles tightened.
Five minutes later and they were weak with mirth, staggering through the party crowd with their arms linked.
"Mon Dieu!" gasped Angeline, wiping a slender finger beneath her eyelashes.
"That was awful."
"My name ith Benoit!"
Angeline screamed with laughter, causing a moustachioed man to her left to start and spill his wine.
"Hush," hissed Fran. "Really, Angie, you ought to have better control of yourself…"
They dragged themselves around the bar, slaloming older couples and the occasional disgruntled waiter, until they found themselves in a curtained alcove.
"Oh dear," whispered Angeline, slamming her back against the wall. "I do feel sorry for him in many ways."
They both cackled with laughter.
"He is harmless, though," conceded Fran, taking a pre-rolled cigarette out of her clutch-bag. "Unlike others I could mention…"
Angeline smirked knowingly.
"And how is cher Guillermo?"
Fran found her matches, struck one, cupped her hands briefly around her cigarette and fanned away the smoke.
"Well, thank you."
"And how is le petit Guillermo?"
Angeline's snickering mouth was swiftly smothered by Fran's free hand.
"You are incorrigible," she whispered, lipstick smudging against her fingers. "Honestly, Angie. You go around all angel curls and white dresses," she flicked at the skirt of her friend's ivory evening dress, "when you're really a dirty bitch: all fur coat and no knickers."
Angeline snatched the cigarette from her friend's mouth and took a loving drag.
"Ah," she said, blowing away the fumes, "but you would not change me."
"No," sighed Fran, leaning back against the wall. "For all your sins…"
THIS CHAPTER IS 'M' RATED!
Then the curtain swept back.
"There you are," grinned a lanky, brown-haired young man with a freckled nose and mischievous eyes. "I knew you were hiding."
"Oh bugger off, Jean," groaned Angeline. "Can't a woman have a fag in peace?"
"How about this fag?"
He shouldered his way in between them despite their grumbled protests and stole the cigarette from between Angeline's lips. Fran leant forward and pulled the curtain to again.
"Benoit's looking for you," said Jean, folding his arms and flicking out ash. "He says that you owe him a dance."
Angeline fingered the wrinkles that had just gathered between her eyebrows. "Does Mama know?"
"Oh, yes. She's looking for you too, by the way, but I told her you had gone back to the hotel."
She sighed and tipped her head against his arm. "Thank you."
"Anything for you, dearest sister."
"And have you had any success tonight, Jean?" asked Fran, who had given up the hope that her cigarette would ever come back to her and lit another instead.
"No," he replied.
Angeline frowned. "Jean?"
He tossed back his head, jostling neat chocolate curls. "No, Angie…and don't look at me like that."
Angeline's lips pursed. Her brother had folded one arm about his stomach and a flush was rising in his cheeks.
"It is nothing," he snapped, after a sustained moment under his sister's scrutiny. "I had a little run in at the hotel earlier… that is all."
Fran's expression darkened. She glanced at her friend and saw that something dangerous was beginning to stir behind Angeline's eyes too.
Jean sighed. "Artemis Fowl," he said in sharp, staccato syllables before taking another drag of Fran's cigarette. "Just a boy, well, man now, from St Bartleby's. He was in the year above me. I had always thought… well, I was swiftly corrected."
"He kindly introduced me to the kennels back at the Dorchester and told me that if I was looking for something to fuck then I was welcome to start with his father's Labrador."
Both girls' eyes widened.
"Oh, he's a charming fellow," said Jean, catching sight of their expressions, "always had a certain… façon… with words."
The curtain swept back for a second time.
"Aha! Here you are!"
"Papa!" squealed Angeline, flinging her arms around their intruder's neck, giving time for Jean and Fran to hastily stub out their cigarettes.
The white-haired man closed his eyes and hugged his daughter back warmly.
"I have been looking all over for you, ma petite!" said Monty Chastain, breaking away and brushing a gentle hand against her face. "Jean, you told me she had gone back to the Dorchester…"
"I thought she had," explained Jean easily, "but she was simply hiding."
Monty Chastain huffed. "No matter, no matter, I've got you now." He stepped back and ushered the three children out with a wrinkled nose. "Why would you be skulking in here? It is so smoky…"
But Angeline didn't reply as her father led her back through the crowds, Fran walking beside her, Jean behind. She glanced back at her brother and saw that his usually cheery face was still taciturn and disturbed. Jean Chastain was not made to be unhappy. He had been the sunshine in Angeline's life for as long as she could remember. Only two years older, he had been her playmate, her protector, her one true friend for sixteen out of his eighteen years. If somebody had taken issue with Jean, they had taken issue with Angeline. And one did not take issue with Angeline Marcia Rosalind Chastain.
"Ah, Granville," called Monty to a tall, grim-faced man they were approaching through the crowd. "I have finally found you some of my family to meet!"
The stranger turned towards them slowly and coolly, his clear blue eyes grazing over their faces in turn.
"This is my eldest," said Monty, smiling and gripping his son's shoulders proudly, "Jean. He's recently received an offer from Queen's Cambridge, starting this September. And this, here, is Angeline, my youngest; she's still at St Mary's. And this is Miss Fran Keller, Angeline's friend."
"How… delightful," said Granville in a slow, flat voice that did not support his statement.
"Jean, Angeline, Fran – this is Mr Granville Fowl."
Angeline's pupils contracted. She saw her brother's posture stiffen out of the corner of her eye, his soft hands clenching into fists.
Granville inclined his head to them briefly before drawling back over his shoulder, "Artemis…?"
A young man, as tall as his father, with features that would have been as near to perfect as a particularly handsome seraphim's if it were not for the pinched twist of cruelty ruining the line of his mouth, turned and detached himself from a group of other young and beautiful creatures to fall in at Granville's side.
"You called, sir?" he asked, cold eyes fixed on his sire.
"Yes, Artemis," said Granville, "may I introduce you to Monsieur Chastain? We attended St Bart's together many years ago."
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance." Artemis Fowl dipped his dark head and gave the Chastain patriarch's hand a firm shake. "I only left St Bart's myself a year ago."
"My son," said Monty eagerly, gripping his boy's dinner jacket and pulling him slightly forward, "why, he must have been in the form just below yours!"
Upon noticing Jean, Artemis Fowl's face split into the widest and seemingly most genuine of smiles.
"Jean? Is that you?" he gasped. "Good God! How are you, old chap? I haven't seen you in… gosh…"
Five hours? thought Angeline, as her brother's face turned the same colour as the tepid merlot in a nearby dowager's wineglass.
"Too long anyway," finished Artemis Fowl with an endearing, self-conscious laugh that made Angeline want to gouge his pretty eyes out. "You really must come over to the manor this year and hunt with us. We're sure to have some fine young bucks to stalk come Autumn." He caught Angeline's look then and inclined his head. "And you, of course, Miss Chastain, if you care to shoot?"
Angeline smiled pleasantly. "Only the people who truly displease me," she replied.
Monty Chastain laughed and placed a hand on his daughter's arm whilst Jean glanced at his sister warily.
"She has a sharp wit, Master Fowl," said Monty jovially, attempting to share a wink with Fowl Senior but not succeeding. "You should know to be wary of it."
"I shall consider myself warned, sir," replied the Fowl heir, looking at Monty Chastain's daughter with a mixture of amusement and undeniable fascination. "And if I should ever meet the lady…"
"Angeline," supplied Angeline instantly, holding up her small hand to place in his larger one.
Fran looked at her as if she had just licked a toilet seat.
"…the Lady Angeline," he acknowledged, gently accepting her fingers, "then I shall be sure to watch my mouth..."
He brushed a light kiss against her skin and Angeline was hit with the full force of Artemis Fowl's kyanite-blue gaze. She stared steadily back. "In fact," said Artemis suddenly, straightening back to his full height. "I was just about to take some air out on the top balcony if Miss Angeline would care to join me? I was hoping to catch the midnight fireworks, and I have a feeling her conversation would be second to none."
Angeline swivelled and hit Monty Chastain with the full power of her own, blue, stare, ignoring Fran's incredulous glare. "Oh, yes, Papa," she gasped, "that sounds charmant!"
Monty, never one to deny his daughter anything she asked of him, merely looked flustered and bobbed his head. "Yes, yes, be off with you! You two young things go and talk. You don't mind do you, Granville?"
"But you'll miss the countdown," blurted Jean.
"You'll always have next year's, old boy," said Artemis, as Angeline slid her arm smoothly through his.
"Just be back before one, Artemis," drawled Granville. His face as sombre as his son's was handsome. "We are leaving for the Manor tonight."
"Of course, sir."
And with a brief nod to Monsieur Chastain, and another to the stricken Jean, Artemis turned both himself and Angeline back through the crowds.
She did not glance back at the repulsed Fran or her devastated brother. She allowed herself to be steered, with Artemis Fowl's practiced ease, through the milling shoals of party goers, holding gently but firmly to his arm. They had soon reached the stairway door and she smiled, just passing by him, when a huge man, the biggest man Angeline had ever laid eyes on, appeared almost instantly at Artemis Fowl's side.
"Sir," said the giant, with a voice tailored from rainforest thunder.
Artemis glanced at him coolly. "Problem, Major? We were just on our way to the roof."
"I had noticed, sir," replied the giant.
"Good, now I no longer have to find you to notify you. I shall be back in a little while."
"The roof, sir?" repeated the giant, placing a massive hand on Artemis's sleeve.
Angeline was not sure whether to be alarmed or not. This golem of a man looked like he could kill with just a flick of his finger (and had), but she was no stranger to towering bodyguards and the Fowl heir did seem to be the one in charge.
"Yes," confirmed Artemis softly, "the roof. It is New Year's Eve and I would ask that you grant me a little privacy. I don't need you hovering over my person tonight."
Something flickered a warning in the giant man's eyes; Angeline could see it, even if Artemis could not.
"Angeline," she interrupted quickly, deciding to break the tension and smile pleasantly into the giant's face, "Angeline Chastain."
She felt the man give her a professional once-over with those wary eyes. He was far more thorough than the usual pit bull, she noted.
"I'm sorry, Miss Chastain," he said, gruffly, "I don't wish to be in your way."
Angeline shook her head. "Really, you couldn't be. You just do whatever you need to carry out your job, Major."
She saw the wry look in his eyes before long-fingered hands pushed at her back, encouraging her to ascend the stairs. She climbed, with Artemis following closely at her back, and emerged onto a wind-swept roof space. London was laid out before her, a labyrinth of yellow light and hectic, swirling snow drifts. She immediately clapped her hands to her arms, errant flakes whipping about her evening shoes. Artemis Fowl swept off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders.
"Here," he said, directly into her ear, "you'll freeze."
He smiled at her and walked to the balcony railing, his raven hair flying about in the gale.
The roof was deserted except for them, the cold having driven all smokers inside to smoke, all lovers inside to embrace. Angeline would have gone happily back inside herself if she didn't still have business with Master Artemis Fowl…
"So, you are Irish," she started, as she came to lean beside him against the balcony rail. The iron was rusting and more suited to the safety of someone her height than his.
"How did you guess?" he joked, his accent clear even over the wind.
"Your smell," she replied primly. "You smell of gold… and luck."
She looked at him. "Aren't the Irish meant to be lucky?"
"Some of us," he agreed.
Angeline looked down.
The roof slanted off beneath them, ending ten metres away, after a forty-five degree slope, to shoot off into nothingness towards the glass ceiling of a penthouse apartment in the building just next door. Angeline could see the owner's giant, leopard-print sofa through the designer panes.
"Tasteful," commented Artemis, following her gaze.
Angeline snorted. "Hardly anyone has style anymore."
"You give your opinion very readily for a… how old did you say you were?"
"I didn't. Sixteen."
"Sixteen." He looked away over London. "I have a feeling that I don't quite know what I'm dealing with, Miss Chastain. What are you? A school girl? A gold-digging debutante?"
"Do I look like a debutante to you, Fowl?"
Artemis genuinely laughed. "No, I have to admit you do not." He looked at her cold, wind-burnt face as if attempting to predict her reaction before uttering his next words. "I myself am a thief," he said. "I steal hearts." She didn't react at all so he looked back out to the city. "I've made rather a business of it over the years."
"Then you must be very good at it."
"I am rather."
"I'm in the business of hearts myself."
This drew his attention again. Artemis Fowl leant more of his weight on the creaking handrail, leaning towards the girl with the white dress flapping about her ankles.
"Ten!" cried a dozen drunken voices from beneath them, beginning the traditional countdown to midnight. "Nine! Eight!"
"Are you?" he asked with interest.
"Oh yes. But in a different line of work…"
"I don't steal hearts you see..."
"I break them…"
"And when I can't get hearts..."
"I settle for bones."
And Angeline wrenched back, kicking her foot at the joint of the handrail, right where the metal was weakest.
Artemis Fowl hit the ice-slicked slope of the Ivy's roof tiles just as Big Ben began to toll. The frosted slate was unforgiving and ignored both his clawing hands and his screaming mouth as it shot the Fowl heir down, faster and faster, before delivering him casually into the abyss. Fireworks were blossoming across London's sky line but Angeline had eyes only for the entertainment below, smirking, satisfied, as Artemis Fowl crashed through the ceiling of the opposite penthouse suite, landing in a bloodied heap of glass, torn silk and, as she had promised, broken bones on the leopard-print sofa.
The door to the roof banged open. The Major stood silhouetted in the light from the stairwell behind him, a huge pistol cocked and extended in his hands. Angeline could just hear the first verses of Auld Lang Syne floating out from the party beneath him.
"Where is he?" demanded the Major. "What have you done with him?"
"Calm yourself, Cerberus," said Angeline in a smooth drawl, clacking across the rooftop towards him. "Your master has just stepped out for a walk."
She blinked at him innocently "I suppose he just wasn't one of the lucky ones. And that handrail was treacherously unstable…"
The Major's jacket sleeve brushed against Angeline's as he sprinted towards the point where his master had fallen. The teenager shrugged out of the borrowed dinner jacket and let it fall and crumple to the rooftop. She returned to the party with the smile still fixed to her face, dusting a few lingering rust flakes from her palms.
24th August 1985 - Westlake House, Lancashire.
"Four o'clock," muttered her brother in her ear, "show poodle."
Angeline glanced over the arm of her deck chair, pretending to be examining a nearby ice sculpture. She spotted the woman in her mid-sixties stuffed into a too-tight grey cocktail dress twinned with a fluffy pashmina. Her white hair was a backcombed tower of carefully sculpted frizz and hairspray.
"The man to her right," whispered Angeline from the corner of her mouth, "train conductor."
Jean glanced casually backwards and saw a yawning old man with a flat cap checking his pocket watch.
"Six o'clock, wardrobe," he murmured.
Angeline swivelled and spotted an obese woman in a brown, floor-length, kaftan.
"You are so harsh," she gasped, slapping Jean's chest as he giggled behind his sunglasses.
"Says Ms Train Conductor."
"It certainly beats Madame le Caniche!"
"In your opinion..."
Angeline sighed and let her head rock back against the canvas.
The whole Chastain family were in attendance for their Great Aunt Hannah's eighty-sixth birthday party. The lawns of Westlake House, her father's old stamping ground and now his elder brother's home, were bedecked with streamers and ornamental bushes, solar lamps and pretentious, Grecian-themed, ice sculptures. There were a hundred little outside tables set under dozens of huge white umbrellas, with two dozen tea and cake stations manned by smartly uniformed staff. Angeline had been to seven of these affairs, but had only been sober through four.
"I need drink," she decided, after ten minutes of letting her skin cook in the sun. "Pimms?"
Jean looked at her over the top of his Versace lenses. "Do you really need to ask?"
Angeline heaved herself out of her chair and started across the lawn towards the bar station.
The party guests were mostly comprised of her Aunt's old crowd: as many friends as a rich, moody-but-generous woman could garner over eighty-odd years of life. They all had one foot in the grave (or at least a few toes) and were uncompromisingly boring. She reached the bar, wishing she were back in Corsica enjoying the sun with her French friends, and ordered two jugs of Pimms.
"What were you laughing at?"
Angeline started, the voice having come from just over her shoulder. She whirled around and was almost chest to chest with the speaker.
"Merde," she hissed, taking a step back so her spine touched the polished wood of the bar, "didn't your mother ever tell you not to sneak up on people?"
"My mother is dead," said Artemis Fowl. "Now, what were you laughing at?"
The Fowl heir had changed in a dozen, none too subtle, ways since Angeline had last seen him.
Two years ago, he had worn formal attire almost identical to every other man's in the room, but Angeline had spotted the chased gold cufflinks and the oversized sunglasses he had tucked into his jacket pocket despite it being the middle of winter. She had imagined that outside of formal evening wear he would be an immaculate poser, always dressed in the latest fashions, always plucked and groomed according to the latest upper-class fads. Not so.
Now his chin was unshaven, his hair lank and in desperate need of a trim. He was dressed in a dowdy polo shirt and brown chinos that were only keeping him decent because of the black belt he had buckled around his too skinny hips. His shoes were scuffed, his eyes dull, and Angeline could smell the familiar oaky bouquet of high quality whisky fumes on his breath.
"It's a game we play," explained Angeline, turning back to the bar. "We look at people and try to guess who or what they would have been in a previous life."
"What about me then?" he asked. "What would you say I was?"
Angeline glanced back and deduced that yes, he was most certainly drunk.
"A bar fly," she replied, accepted the two Pimms jugs from a smiling waitress, and walked away.
"Oh, that's right!" called Artemis Fowl, stumbling after her as she crossed the lawn. "Mock the grieving man! Go on! Just like a decent little schoolgirl."
Angeline turned on her heel. "Firstly," she spat, well aware of the dozens of rheumy-eyed gazes turning towards them, "you are not grieving. You are feeling sorry for yourself. Secondly, why on Earth do you think it is acceptable for you to follow me? I'm going back to my brother, and the last time you were both in contact I had to throw you off a roof in consequence." She started walking away from him again. "And I am just going to ignore the 'little prep-school girl'comment."
Artemis Fowl was undeterred. He staggered after her for another dozen steps, Angeline walking as swiftly and gracefully as her sequinned wedges would allow. A dark shadow appeared suddenly in her path.
"Ah, Cerberus," she said pleasantly, "I was wondering when you were going to pop up. Would you mind taking your master away and dousing him with a bucket of iced water?"
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" jeered Artemis with an unmistakable slur. "Just humiliate me all over again? Well, there aren't any roofs around this time, sweet heart. There's just you versus me, on flat, level ground–"
She spun and launched the contents of both Pimms jugs into his face.
"Grow up," she spat, hovering over him, the Major's hand on her arm, bits of orange, strawberry and lemon clinging to Artemis Fowl's hair.
He just blinked at her stupidly and watched as she wrenched her arm away from his bodyguard and stalked off.
"You. Could. Have. Stopped. That," he spat through gritted teeth as his bodyguard hauled him to his feet.
"You're right," agreed the Major, "I could have."
Three hours later and Angeline had cooled off considerably. She had returned to her brother, sans Pimms, and told him what had happened. He had, predictably, got a bit of a kick out of it.
"He's an utter shit," Jean had said after he had calmed from his fit of hysterical laughter. "He deserves all he gets, Angie, honestly. He's a spoilt, stuck-up, nasty little inbred… and a tragic waste of good booze. Couldn't you have grabbed an ice bucket instead?"
She had gone for a walk, taking out some of her anger on her Uncle's wild flowers.
"Angeline?" said a soft voice from the doorway.
Angeline looked up. She was bending over a capacious basin, filling a flower vase with cool water. A bouquet of poppies and summer grasses was bunched on the worktop beside her, ready to put in the vase once she was done.
"Fowl," she replied tightly, shutting off the tap.
"May I… may I talk to you?"
He was dry and clean, his hair slightly fluffy due to a recent shower. Someone had lent him new clothes, old fashioned but of better quality and fit than the ones he had come to the party in. Someone had given him a razor too, and he had shaved off the several weeks' worth of beard growth. It made him look twenty years younger.
Angeline pulled the vase out of the basin. "What about?"
"About… about earlier. May I come in?"
"It's a free kitchen."
He stepped over the threshold and Angeline grabbed the stems of her wild flowers with two hands.
"You should cut the ends off on a slant," said Artemis, "it makes them last longer."
Angeline raised an eyebrow. "And how would you know anything about flowers?"
He looked suddenly awkward. "My mother. She… she used to love having flowers about the house when I was little. She would have the gardeners chop down… well… whole gardens of them and bring them to the flower room so she could trim them and arrange them herself. She used to call it… her hobby…" Artemis Fowl looked at her. "Angeline… Miss Chastain… I apologise unequivocally for my earlier behaviour towards you. It was shameful and I have no excuse. Please forgive me."
Angeline just stared back.
"And for that night," he continued, wincing, "on the roof. I deserved what you did to me, that and more–"
"I could have killed you," said Angeline.
"And I would have rightly found my place in Hell. What I said… what I did to your brother–"
"Was childish and ill-judged," interrupted Angeline, "but not really… not really deserving of a death sentence."
Artemis Fowl blinked.
Angeline slid her flowers into the vase, straightened a few Shasta daisy heads, and said in a soft voice, "I'm sorry about your mother…"
They were quiet for a moment.
Angeline fiddled with a scarlet petal that had fallen to the worktop. "How did… How did she die?"
Artemis Fowl's focus on the kitchen's doorframe grew suddenly misty and blurred.
"I'm sorry," he muttered quickly. "I am wasting your time. I have said my piece. Excuse me–"
He looked back into the kitchen to see that Angeline had moved several steps across the floor tiles.
"Artemis." She hesitated, looking at this man who had so far been nothing but a thorn in her side. "I'm sorry. Please… I should not have asked. I… stay, please."
He studied her for a moment and Angeline wished she had not opened her mouth.
"No," he said finally, breaking the swelling silence, "but… do you think… perhaps… that you could take another walk with me? I feel… I feel somehow… that we should…"
Angeline was vaguely aware of the voice in her mind reminding her that no, this was an appalling idea; Artemis Fowl was a despicable human being whether he was grieving or not. He had insulted her brother; hurt so many others in so many cruel ways, according to the tales she had garnered from her brother's school friends. He was a thief.
I am in the business of hearts…
But she took his hand this time, not his arm, and inhaled sharply as an intense heat, as surprising as it was damning, flashed across her skin at the touch of his palm.
"We shall stick to level ground," she managed to say, trying, and failing, to keep her voice playful. "The East Meadow perhaps? Somewhere with a soft landing available."
She was chuckling when Artemis reached up, his expression strangely curious, and stroked a thin finger against her cheek.
Her laughter cut off abruptly.
"Yes," he whispered, looking into her face as if it was a puzzle he was struggling to decipher, "let's."
Neither party moved.
Angeline's former opinion of Artemis Fowl was gradually dissipating. Her brother's anguished face at the New Year's party, a rooftop and a rusty handrail, two glass jugs – all those images were flickering and breaking up as if seen on a badly tuned television set. She could no longer remember the rumours of a family steeped in corruption and vice; the whispers of blackmail; the warnings of thieves: the near-certainty of a graveyard hidden away at the back of ancestral property where those who crossed the family were buried, deep, along with their darkest secrets…
"It is strange," said Artemis Fowl, in a voice that had grown hoarse and rough with emotion. "Whenever I am with you… I appear to be falling in some way."
Mon Dieu, she thought.
And they reached for each other at the same time.
A life built itself behind Angeline's eye. Bricks made of memories and emotion towered up ahead of her, every one of them made of him. Him, sun-drenched, laughing as he carried her through a meadow of whispering grasses, holding her as he pushed himself, breathlessly, against her, brushing her hair back, whispering to her, lifting her high; holding a bundle to his heaving breast, "Artemis". Crying, kissing her, as a moonlit car sped them away together to some unknown pleasure; playing with their faceless children in a stone courtyard carpeted in snow; squeezing her hands as the years churned into decades; lying down beside her as their life's light burnt out…
They broke apart.
Their hands were still cradling each other's faces, their chests heaving, their bodies alive, and Angeline knew, somehow, that she could now never leave Artemis Fowl's side – for better or worse.
November 16th 1986 – Le Maurice, Paris
It had been ten years since Angeline had last taken thé at Le Maurice. When she had been a child, her mother had brought her there at least three days a week for cake and hot chocolate, high-fashion and fresh, steaming gossip. Angeline could remember the feel of her mother's arm through the soft white lace of her gloves, and the way Maria Chastain would smile as their customary waiter led them to the same reserved corner table they occupied during every visit.
Angeline was sitting at that same table now, sipping from a bone china cup decorated with the pattern she remembered from her childhood. Rich, twittering groups of women were gathered around the tables that arced out from hers like ripples in lake water, dividing the dining room into smooth, elegant curves interrupted only by flower arrangements and the occasional white-clothed waiters' drop. And what elegance it was. Who needed Paris fashion week when you had Paris tea rooms? Almost the entire Winter collections for Chanel, Saint Laurent, Givenchy were hanging from the long, pale frames of the young and the rich Parisians twittering around her. They laughed from beneath Versace sunglasses, gestured with manicured fingers weighed down beneath Cartier rings. Angeline had watched people like them since infancy, and learned style sitting at their Laura Ashley skirts.
Angeline looked up, her name startling her from her daydreams.
"Jean," she said. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
Her brother sat down in the chair a slick-haired waiter had just pulled out for him.
"Were you?" he replied, in easy French. He gestured to the waiter with two crooked fingers. "Ici, garçon..."
Angeline frowned as Jean ordered his tea. She had not seen her older brother in many months. He looked strained, she thought, and unwell; his grey skin was stretched too tightly over his high cheek bones.
"Jean," said Angeline, concerned, as the waiter turned away towards his trolley.
Jean's eyes darted towards her. "If I look somewhat dishevelled, then it is your fault," he hissed.
Angeline blinked and sat up straight as the waiter returned to arrange Jean's teacup, and condiments at the table. Both brother and sister smiled tightly.
"Do you require anything else, sir?" asked the waiter, setting the teapot down onto a stand in the centre of the table.
The waiter inclined his head and retreated.
"What do you mean?" demanded Angeline, when they were alone again.
"What I said," replied Jean. "This is what you've done to me, see?"
Angeline saw the tremble in his fingers as he raised his teacup to his lips.
"I don't understand."
He gasped, half from the heat of his beverage and half from apparent disbelief, before slamming his cup back to his saucer.
Angeline raised a well-groomed eyebrow. "Could we skip the histrionics, please?" she drawled, raising her own cup to her mouth. "We are in public, for God's sake…"
"And does he know that we're here?"
"He's at some meeting in Bucharest," said Angeline offhandedly. "I don't have to tell him about my every social call, Jean – he is not my handler–"
Angeline looked at her brother with an expression as frigid as the icicles dripping from the railings outside the window.
"Ah," he said wryly, sitting back in his chair, "now there is something truly 'Fowl'. You will fit in well with them, my dear – you have clearly been practising your sourire perfide."
Angeline reached for her handbag.
"Garçon!" she called, and several glamorous heads stopped talking and turned to look her way. "L'addition, s'il vous plaît!"
Jean grabbed for her wrist. "Angeline," he hissed, his face serious once more. "Stop. I truly need to speak with you."
Angeline glared at the fingers preventing her from leaving the table.
"Is this gentleman bothering you, Mademoiselle?"
Brother and sister looked up to see the elderly and dolichocephalic maître d'hôtel looming over their table flanked by two six-foot gorillas in dinner jackets.
"Non," said Angeline, leaning out of Jean's suddenly loosened grip. "There is no problem, gentlemen. I am fine."
The senior waiter nodded and led his ape-like security team away.
Angeline's gaze snapped back to her brother.
"I did not come here to relive old arguments, Jean. I already know all your theories. Do you wish for me to stop seeing you again? Is that it? Timmy says that you have been contacting his associates, poking your nose into his private business affairs."
"To gather proof!" insisted Jean, his bloodshot eyes suddenly wide with desperation. "To get enough evidence to finally convince you, Angeline!" His voice dropped. "The man is a monster, Angie. His associates are not merely business people they are felons, some of them proven murderers. I have researched the Fowls, and their reputation for crime spans generations. The authorities of a dozen separate nations have been tracking them since the fourteen-hundreds."
Angeline looked away impatiently as Jean dug a hand inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of folded papers.
"Here," he said, laying them flat with shaking hands. It was clear he had been preparing for this moment for weeks. "Here, Eustace Fowl the Fourth, escaped conviction for the murder of Cameron McNaigh–"
"When was this?" demanded Angeline.
Jean looked at her. "1546."
She laughed. "So, I should break with Timmy because his great grandfather's great grandfather's great grandfather was not convicted of murder? Truly, Jean, you disappoint me."
Jean scowled and shuffled his papers, skipping directly to the back page.
"1963," he said, jabbing his finger at a poor reproduction of an English newspaper article. "Billionaire family implicated in the disappearance of housemaid, Artemis Killough, last seen on the evening of June 6th at their family estate."
Angeline frowned. "I am still failing to see why–?"
"All police reports listed your precious Timmy's father as their number one suspect. He knew her, had apparently spoken to her often, and it was strongly suspected that they were having an affair. Workmates and friends of Artemis Killough also testified that she had been acting strangely around the young Mister Granville, especially since the recent announcement of the new Mrs Granville's pregnancy.
"But, the case was suddenly dropped a week later. They found her car and inside it a body, badly burnt but wearing some of Miss Killough's belongings. The police put it down to a freak accident."
Angeline was repulsed. "Why are you telling me such awful–?"
"Do you know what is most awful?" demanded Jean, leaning over the table towards her. "Seven months later, Granville Fowl named his firstborn boy 'Artemis' as a heartfelt tribute to the woman whose death he had patently orchestrated."
"It is all here!" he insisted, thrusting his remaining papers down onto the table, causing the sugar bowl to tip and their saucers to rattle. A few more Parisian heads raised and glanced up in their direction. "Disappearances, mysterious killings, almost always preceding a sudden inexplicable jump in family wealth. There is hardly ever a conviction – cases are dropped, investigations indefinitely postponed. They have got cleverer over the centuries, excluding Granville's blip, and now have a hundred 'business associates' to carry out their dirty work for them." Jean chuckled. "But the thievery they apparently still keep personal. I really should have taken Artemis up on his offer to join the hunt last month – I suspect his house is home to some particularly impressive works of art–"
Angeline grabbed wildly for her bag and for one mad moment Jean thought she was reaching for a weapon.
"There," she declared, whipping out her left hand and showing him the offensively large diamond ring she had just thrust onto her third finger. "There. You see?"
Jean's mouth dropped open.
"Thank you," she smiled cruelly, "for researching my family."
"No," whispered Jean.
"I have heard enough!"
"My fiancé!" Her chair scraped back as Angeline got to her feet. "I knew you were desperate to break us apart, Artemis had told me as much, but now I can truly see it."
"Angie–" Jean's eyes were darting around the room, well-groomed faces turning to glance at his.
"And yes," continued Angeline, regardless of their new audience, "it was he who suggested that I meet you here today. He told me to come and prove to him that he was wrong. But now I can see what jealousy has led you to."
It was Jean's turn to stand. "Jealousy?"
"Is there a problem, mademoiselle? Monsieur?"
The maître d'hôtel and his gorillas were back.
"Non," snapped Angeline and Jean at the same time.
"Yes, jealousy," hissed Angeline, as the maître d'hôtel hurried away, speaking rapidly into a bulky walkie-talkie. "You've wanted him ever since your first clumsy advances in the Dorchester Hotel. I've seen the way you look at him–"
"I look at him with utter bewilderment," retorted Jean, "because he is named after a woman his father killed, and has still managed to seduce my baby sister."
There were a few gasps uttered around them, and mouths were suddenly whispering behind well-moisturised fingers. A huge man, who could only be the leader of the whoop that the two previous hotel gorillas belonged to, suddenly appeared at their tableside.
"I am going to have to ask you to leave," he grumbled.
Angeline snatched up her bag again.
"You don't need to marry him," pleaded Jean, scrunching his research together and running to catch up with her. "Angie, you could have any man–"
"I want him," replied Angeline, clacking quickly up the dining hall, weaving between tables. "And, I might add, you have yet to mention a way in which Artemis has done a single thing wrong. Our Aunt Leah once killed a horse, you know – should Artemis fear to marry me?"
Jean followed her into the main lobby, the maître d'hôtel hot on their heels. "Horses and young women are two separate things, Angie!"
Two cloakroom assistants held out Jean's and Angeline's coats as they swept by, just as two porters held the doors wide for them to leave.
"Stop it!"screamed Angeline, when they both stood outside on the pavement, the freezing winter winds pulling at their hair, the afternoon traffic on the Rue de Rivoli honking and throbbing beside them. "I am sick of this, Jean! Why can't you just be happy for me?"
"Because I'm afraid!" shouted Jean, still clutching the papers in his hands. Pedestrians were staring at them as they passed, their necks drawn back into their collars for warmth. "I am afraid that he will hurt you."
"He won't." But even to Angeline, this retort sounded weak and childish.
"Take these," said Jean, thrusting the thoroughly crumpled papers towards her. "Look at them, Angeline, please. I can't find anything to firmly incriminate Artemis, I'll admit it, but I'm scared that that is simply because he's too clever for me."
Angeline had wrapped her coat about her shoulders, clutching the faux-fur to her throat. She simply stared at her brother, swaying slightly in the gale. Jean stretched his dossier towards her.
Angeline swallowed and reached out an open hand… only to close it into a fist just at the moment Jean released the papers. He gave a cry as each page was immediately stolen by the wind, blown away down the street like a flock of dissipated seagulls. They stuck to wet car windows and the damp concrete of buildings and roads, the ink bleeding, uselessly, into smudges of well-researched pulp.
A black Bentley pulled up beside the pavement.
"Goodbye, Jean," said Angeline quietly.
Jean turned away from his escaping research and gave another strangled yell.
"No!" he cried. "Angeline! Please!"
Her brother's voice was silenced as Angeline pulled the door shut behind her.
"How did it go?" murmured her fiancé, taking one of her ruddy hands.
Angeline smiled and stroked her fingers lovingly against his. "It is just you and me now, my love." There was a faint slap against the outside of her tinted window ("Angeline! Angeline, please!"). "Just you and me."
Artemis Fowl smiled.
"Major, drive on."
Young Angeline is such a HBIC in my head.
Review, please? :)