Ta da! One whole, complete, entire mystery story. With not one jot of romance.
Well, maybe an 1/8 of a jot. Anyway.
It's been good, I love you all, thanks for sticking with me through my various questionable persuits, write tons in the next few months or I'll be severely disapointed!
Thank you x a million to Ilex-ferox who betaed this super-rush-job-style.
January 11th, 2011, Heyer's Antiques and Rarities, London, England
For several minutes there was absolute chaos. A horde of fully kitted out Retrieval officers swarmed in from all sides, each seeming to think it was their Frond-given duty to handcuff as many people as possible.
'Hey! What the- Grub? Is that you? I could recognise that weak spine anywhere. Get those cuffs away from me, I'm not- Oi! Get off Artemis, or Butler'll have your neck-' Holly winced as, distracted, Freya finally released her magical hold on Butler and the big man regained consciousness to see a fairy trying to tie up his charge. The fairy soon found himself eye to eye with bottom of the garbage bin. 'Vein, you idiot,' Holly sighed, still swatting Grub away with her tied hands. The younger Kelp brother tried in vain to catch hold of one of her flapping hands, whimpering if one of her nails accidentally made contact.
Meanwhile, his brother had managed to secure Loki and the dwarves, while the rest of the squad sedated the terrified humans. Lili Frond, originally having been grabbed in a headlock by an over-eager Lieutenant Rapeseed, now sat trussed up like a thanksgiving turkey next to her glowering aunt. She sighed and ran her thumbs over her fingers; checking that all her nails were still there and undamaged.
As the dust settled and everyone was once again able to focus, Commander Root made his entrance. His uniform boots clicked ominously across the wooden floor as he paced the office, glaring at anything that moved.
Unsurprisingly, it was Artemis who spoke first.
'What a lovely surprise to see you again so soon, Commander.' His lips stretched into something that could, under duress, be classified as a smile. From where he half-stood, half-kneeled beneath a dozen buzz-baton wielding officers, Butler groaned at his charge's deliberate Commander-baiting.
Root's brown eyes swung in the human's direction faster than Mulch into a pile of fresh clay. From the boy's face they went directly to Holly's. She thought the implications of that were rather unfair.
'Sir, I didn't-'
Root held up a hand. Holly closed her mouth. 'Words,' he began, glaring at the pair of them, 'can't even begin to express how much I really do not want to know.'
Holly nodded, mute.
'Now,' he turned back to the room at large, 'first things first. The humans. Get the techies in here, Verbil, they need to be wiped.' He cocked an eye at the apparently unrepentant Loki. 'Humans, Loki? Wasn't that a bit much? Even for you?'
The pixie shrugged with a "what can I say?" expression on his pointed face.
Root sighed through his nose. 'Alright. Vein, Kelp, you're with Loki. No, not you Grub, Major Kelp. You can take Lili, Grub and- wait, no, on second thought, that was a spectacular punch she just threw, Verbena, you take Corporal Frond.' On he went until only the four usual suspects remained.
'Do you want me to mind-wipe these 'uns as well, sir?' The techie waved a hand at Artemis and Butler. 'Only, we'll need Foaly for that.'
Root ground down on his cigar. 'Do I ever,' he said. The techie moved forward, as did Holly, and Root held up his hand before he had to arrest his officer for assault. 'Unfortunately, it won't do any good, Loopwood. If Fowl's got out of it once, he'll do it again. Besides, I have a sinking feeling I may owe him a favour.'
The Commander chewed on his cigar a moment longer as he contemplated the motley bunch before him. At last he said, 'Come on then, we're going downstairs. I want to know just what has been going on. Your message never came,' he glared at Mulch.
The dwarf raised his hands and shrugged.
Once settled on a mismatched group of chairs at the back of the shop, Root took off his communicator and laid it on a nearby rocking horse. From the screen, Foaly projected a 3D image of his head, dangling beetroot and all.
'Well, well, well,' he whinnied. 'I'm getting the funniest sense of déjà vu. I wonder why that could be? Aren't you two supposed to be happily mind-wiped?'
'Which one of you two reversed it?' Root gnawed his cigar in the direction of Holly and Mulch. The two traded looks. The dwarf sighed.
'I did,' he admitted. 'But only for Holly's sake! She was going to need help!' He opened his dark eyes very, very wide.
Root looked unmoved. 'Uh-huh.' He turned to the captain. 'And you were aware of Mulch's plan, were you?'
'Well,' she squirmed in her seat, 'no, sir, not exactly, but once I found out I did ... I did go to Artemis for help. Sir,' she added belatedly.
'Right.' Now facing Artemis, 'And just what are you asking for in return for your help, Mud Boy?'
'Nothing,' Artemis shrugged. 'Undoubtedly I owe Holly a favour or two.'
'Oh, "Holly" is it now? Owe "Holly" a favour or two, do you? Well, you two've got awful chummy, I must say.' He glared at the pair of them.
Holly opened her mouth to protest but Artemis beat her to it. 'Bonded by trauma,' he said. 'Not our fault, really. Can't help ourselves.'
'Bonded by trauma? Bonded- oh for the love of Frond.' So disgusted was Root that he threw his cigar to the floor for emphasis. A moment later he seemed to regret this decision, reducing him, as it did, to merely grinding his teeth. He looked from one unrepentant face to the next. He glanced at Foaly. Hiding it behind the last of the beetroot leaves, the centaur smiled.
'Well, I suppose I can't very well mind-wipe you for helping my officer and bringing in a criminal, can I now?' Root spoke at last. A collectively held breath was released. The commander's lips may have twitched at that, but the lighting was dim, so no one could be sure. 'I have got a question for you though, Fowl. Why wait until you did to do your grand finale? Surely you could have got things sorted out with Freya before she started waving that gun about?'
'Yes, I could have. But the LEP would have needed proof of Holly's innocence and Loki's guilt and so I waited until you arrived as I didn't want to have to explain everything twice.'
Root blinked. 'How did you know the LEP had arrived?' he asked.
Artemis' lips quirked. 'There was a familiar tint to the sky: that faint blue the time stop has. I must say it's really quite lovely against the clouds.'
Root raised his eyes to the heavens.
'That's all well and good, Sherlock,' Foaly had swallowed the last of his tuber, 'but how did you know we were coming at all?'
'Well, Mulch had missed his deadline with Root, so I knew the commander would have half of Retrieval up here at the first hint of trouble. I also know that Mulch keeps his mobile in his trouser pocket and, if I were him and standing about in a hostage-taking with my hands in my pockets, I wouldn't waste my time twiddling my thumbs. Am I right, Mulch?'
'In one, Mud Boy. I called Foaly direct and just let Freya talk and talk. Figured that'd have the cavalry up here in no time.' Mulch looked inordinately pleased with himself.
'Clever little convict,' Foaly chuckled. 'I traced the call and had Retrieval on their way up there in under five minutes. Record timing, if I do say so myself.'
'Yes, yes, you're all too clever for words,' Root agreed quellingly. 'But what I need to know, Fowl, is what you intend to do with your memories.'
'Well,' Artemis glanced briefly at Mulch, then Holly. 'I believe my primary intent is to ... well, I would like to be a friend of the People, Commander. Besides, you must admit that together,' he motioned to Holly, 'we yield very good results.'
'Yes,' Root's lips twisted into something between a smile and a grimace, 'you're quite the little crime-fighting team, aren't you?'
'Well, with my brains and her brawn, how could we not be?'
'Oh, I'm the brawn, am I? That's all? Well! Thank you very much, Master Fowl.' Holly whacked him playfully on the arm, 'I'll give you brawn, buddy.'
Root raised an eyebrow. 'Friends, is it, then, Fowl?'
'I could be a very good friend, don't you think, Commander?' Artemis asked. 'Not to mention Butler.'
Root was vaguely impressed that the teen had somehow managed to turn his offer of friendship into a threat. He looked at Holly. She did a sort of half-shrug, half-smile, head twitch routine and he sighed.
'I suppose it could be useful for us to have a contact in the human world,' he said at last. 'But the minute I get wind of something iffy, Fowl...'
'Don't worry, Commander, you won't.'
'That's what I'm afraid of,' Root muttered.
Artemis smiled his vampire smile.