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Chapter 3: Au contraire, mon frère

September 29, 2008- Paris, France

Butler did not like the look Artemis was giving him. He had seen that smile on his face before, and it tended to show right before his charge did something terribly clever. These "terribly clever" things tended to put his friends (and occasionally a good portion of the world) in incredible danger did little to alleviate the Eurasian bodyguard's nerves.

Butler also did not like that they were standing in the middle of a crowded Parisian street. The fact that this section of the city seemed to be play-acting as the stereotypical outsider's view of Paris (complete with a bakery selling little beyond croissants and baguettes; a waiter in a black and white striped shirt, beret, and obviously fake mustache; and at least five pink-dyed miniature poodles) merely served to irritate him.

Artemis glances at this watch, shooting Butler an exasperated look. "Well?"

Butler spread his arms, palms up in a pleading gesture. "This is a tricky situation, Artemis. You are dealing with a very insular society, and you are not exactly their 'favorite person' of late."

Artemis, who had decided to go casual on this trip, flicked imaginary dust off his charcoal sport coat "While I do appreciate the secretive nature of Madame Ko, I can only respect the wishes of one insular society at a time. The People take precedence. Call her, if you please."

'Wilting' would be a good adjective to describe Butler's reaction to Artemis's request. He actually slouched, putting a series of unsightly wrinkles in his suit and reducing his height by a good 15 centimeters. Even his bald head, normally shaved and shined to an impressive gleam, seemed to dull. "Well...to tell the truth, Artemis...I'd rather you didn't see this."

Artemis looked affronted, but he was somewhat intrigued. The bodyguard never willingly left his side when off Fowl Manor grounds. In fact, Butler actually had to be ordered to not stand outside a stall door should his charge need to use a public restroom. For Butler to admit that he did not want Artemis around indicated that the situation was either very dangerous or otherwise uncomfortable for the generally unflappable man. "What is the matter, old friend? You never discussed this...hindrance before, and there was certainly enough time on the Cessna."

"Well, I had hoped you would have come up with something else by now. I mean, Foaly is a technical genius, and even the Academy isn't completely trackless."

Artemis nodded at this, but flapped his hand, as if to dislodge the statement. "Madame Ko will be displeased enough with our arrival without having us mysteriously appear with no reasonable explanation for how we found her."

Butler sighed and rubbed his head, his fingers actually faintly squeaking on the smooth surface. "Well, I already said she's irritated with us. And...well, Madame Ko has an interesting sense of humor. I'd really rather you—"

"Butler." Artemis laid a hand on his bodyguard's forearm. "Which would be more dangerous for me, standing next to you or hiding away while you contact your sensei?"

Sighing, Butler hung his head. "I suppose more people have died from a Softnose Laser than from embarrassment..." He caught Artemis's eye. Despite technically being the employee of the Fowl heir, his next words were unquestionably an order. "You will tell no one about this. Not even Holly, and especiallynot Juliet. She'd fly here just to see the video."

After spending a few moments being taken aback, Artemis nodded and rested with his hands behind his back, waiting for his bodyguard to use whatever signal he was so reluctant to give. Perhaps he should have brought a miniature camera of his own, though he knew it would simply be confiscated once they entered Madame Ko's current stronghold. Still, a LEP iris-cam, perhaps...

Butler straightened up, pulling on the bottom edge of his suit jacket to make it fit more snugly against his massive chest. He cleared his throat into one hand and hummed, his tone moving up and down the scale before settling on a near-perfect B-flat. This was unfortunate for Artemis, who had perfect pitch, and who found this minor flaw in tone almost as irritating as the proverbial 'nails on a chalkboard'. Before he could urge his bodyguard to adjust slightly sharper, Butler moved from his side and Artemis spent the next three minutes in stunned silence.

Butler stepped forward, bringing his hands together in a double fist directly below his sternum. He raised his head slightly, aiming his mouth at the row of apartments above the shops. Then he opened his mouth and the square was filled with a booming song in a perfect Parisian accent.

"Frère Jacques, frère Jacques, Domovoi? Domovoi? Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines! Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, DONG!"

At the last note, he stepped even farther forward, spreading his hands in front of him and holding for several bars. The short song ended, and the street was filled with an embarrassed silence for quite a few moments before one confused tourist clapped. The rest of the crowd quickly joined in and Butler bowed, his face a deep red. From the back of the restaurant (Artemis suspected the waiter, but did not look in time to make sure), someone yelled "It's 'dormez-vous'!" Butler coughed at this and darted his eyes around, hoping his contact would appear before anyone else lectured him on his musical prowess.

Artemis began to feel a slight twinge in his stomach when no one approached them following the song. He was about to suggest that they leave the area (having quite spectacularly brought the attention of an entire crowded Parisian street upon them) when a lithe woman passed by, rather unnecessarily slamming her shoulder into Butler's chest. Artemis caught the barest hint of a blue diamond on her shoulder, under her opaque white shirt. A few seconds after she passed, Butler veered off after her and Artemis found himself forced to jog after the pair. Panting slightly at the exertion, he finally broke his trance and addressed the manservant. "If that is what Madame Ko makes you do when she is irritated, I would certainly hate to truly anger to woman."

Butler nodded. "I saw someone who did that once. Lost a principal. Literally, just lost him in the middle of a convention. He has a few...er...public indecency charges against him in about a dozen countries, now."

Artemis tried not to think of this, especially considered the rather progressive public nudity laws in the last few countries Madame Ko had placed the Academy. He finally managed to take his place beside Butler as they entered the back alleys, looking up at his bodyguard and smirking. "Still...nice baritone, old friend."

"Shut up, Artemis.


Next week on Fowl Shorts: Everybody, look at your hands.