Mulch Diggums was almost ready for Christmas. A few years ago, the only reason Mulch had liked Christmas was for the improved loot afterwards—some mud men would insist on giving out gold and jewels for every Christmas. Jewels required a lot of responsibility from the receiver; they were valuable and hard to care for. Mulch had enjoyed kindly relieving the receivers of the burden.
Not anymore, though. For the past few years, Mulch had been the co-owner of a detective agency. His partner, pixie Doodah Day, was only one of the people on Mulch’s gift list. A dwarf working with a pixie to fight crime. Imagine! Dwarves in general were not known for working with others, especially not against thieves. And now Mulch was even going as far as calling Doodah a friend. Sure, they’d had their arguments, but all friends had. Maybe it was time for the stereotypes against dwarves to be changed.
The dwarf looked at the pile of presents on his floor—for Holly, Doodah, Foaly, and even Commander Kelp—and smiled. The only thing left to do was to make a rather special delivery. Mulch headed over to Police Plaza for the package.
Foaly, Holly, and Commander Trouble Kelp were waiting for him in Ops, just as they’d promised. Though this was one delivery that Holly would have liked to make on her own, working for the LEP did have its disadvantages. In this case, it was working over the holidays. As it was, Mulch had been specially requested for the delivery job. After all, the Commander didn’t want too many people in on what they were doing—and Mulch was already in the know. No need to spread the word. The majority of the population might be concerned with police actions, and that in turn might threaten the Commander’s career. However, as Foaly had so aptly put, what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And so it was decided.
Mulch grabbed the small, nondescript package off the table and, after a few last-minute instructions and cautions from Holly, skipped out through the doors and headed toward the shuttleport. Having the LEP commander in on the situation certainly helped; Mulch had gotten a surface visa and a first-class ticket for the most popular shuttle out of Haven. He had also been able to completely bypass the months-long waiting list, thanks to the Commander’s influence.
After making it safely through customs and into the shuttle, Mulch strapped himself in and sat back to enjoy the ride.
Sixty-seven minutes later, Mulch climbed gratefully out of the shuttle. Though he didn’t exactly hate being inside, dwarves were more comfortable in the soil. Mulch had been feeling slightly claustrophobic for the past hour, and the fact that he was seated next to an overlarge gnome hadn’t helped his composure either. Mulch shuddered. Gnomes, he couldn’t stand them. Holly had told him once how she had been stuck in a shuttle filled with pizza-obsessed gnomes for a whole flight. She had had the misfortune to be assigned a mission on the anniversary of Bog’s aboveground pizza parlor. What a trip that would have been. Mulch smiled slightly at the thought, and continued toward the doors. Time to play San D’Klass.
After a solid hour of tunneling, Mulch had reached his destination. He popped up in the middle of the flower arrangement below the Fowl Manor sign. He hoped Artemis didn’t care to much about the petunias. At the moment, the dwarf had more important things to worry about. Mulch scanned the area, making sure on one was near. Though if any uneducated mud men saw him, he could always pretend to be a garden gnome. In truth, mud man garden gnomes looked more like dwarves than they did gnomes. The tradition had probably been started back when dwarves were frequently seen. Some used to actually help mud men plant their crops. Nothing like a dwarf for aerating and fertilizing soil! But back to the mission at hand. Once Mulch had ascertained that no one was near, he quickly hauled himself out of the soil and scampered for the safety of the bushes near the fence.
As Mulch neared the bushes, he groaned. Rosebushes, wouldn’t you know it. Attempting to walk through them would guarantee him a painful trip home. Nothing for it, then, just around to the delivery entrance as quickly as possible and hope no one sees. He would have preferred to be underground, but the mud boy had protected his manor from dwarf assault since the last time Mulch had visited, and the dwarf had no wish to be blown up. He glanced up at the sky; the sun would come out from behind the clouds any minute now. Best to not risk his skin any more than he had to, even with the dwarf sunscreen he was wearing. Finally, Mulch slipped through the delivery entrance and on to the grounds.
Once he was hidden from the outside world, Mulch became more confident. Angeline and Artemis Sr. had taken the twins on a vacation, leaving Artemis and Butler alone for the week. Foaly had continued to keep an eye on Artemis; that was why this information had been readily available. Though the centaur had told the mud boy that he would not snoop at least three times before, all activities in Fowl Manor were still being monitored. Mulch had a hunch that the mud boy knew this; after all, he was a genius. Hopefully, the boy had not set false data over to the LEP. If that was even possible. Suddenly, the Fowl lawn was looking too large for Mulch’s liking. I hope the centaur’s information is correct, said a voice in Mulch’s head, and that I’m not about to get blown up by angry and confused mud men.
Too late for second thoughts, chided another voice in his brain. Maybe you should have thought about that before you agreed to the mission. Acknowledging the truth of this second voice, Mulch sprinted the last few meters, ran up the steps, and rang the bell. Here’s to hoping Butler or Artemis answers the door, thought his pessimistic side, and not some other mountainous violent mud man. But before Mulch had time to finish processing this thought, the door was pulled open
Butler seemed slightly confused for a second as he looked for the mystery caller. After all, most people were fairly close to Butler’s height. Or, more accurately, closer than Mulch was. As soon as the bodyguard spotted Mulch, he smiled widely.
“Mulch. So nice to see you again. Come on in.”
Mulch obliged, stepping smartly through the door and into the shade of the house. Already his sunscreen was wearing thin. Foaly had only guaranteed it to last for an hour outside, and Mulch was close to that already.
“Let me inform Artemis that you’re here.” Butler’s voice interrupted Mulch’s continued fretting over the state of his skin. Mulch was a tad more self-conscious than other dwarves. Perhaps Doodah had been rubbing off on him. The bodyguard turned to walk down the hall.
“No need.” A boy stepped from the shadowy door frame. He addressed his next words to Mulch. “I saw you on the cameras. Foaly hadn’t thought you’d arrive for another half an hour.” Artemis smiled ever so slightly. “I wondered what you could be up to.”
Mulch sighed in his normal melodramatic fashion. “Oh, just running errands for the higher-ups. Higher-ups that might be interested if I informed them of a certain information leak up on the surface. Maybe they’d actually pay me for that. I’m not getting paid to waste a whole day delivering this, you know. The LEP can’t seem to spare any gold at the moment.”
Butler felt a grin tugging at his lips. He doubted that Mulch actually disliked his assignment. Or errand. Whatever it was.
Artemis was also smiling at the dwarf’s words, though for a different reason. “How about you don’t tell the LEP about my harmless hacking, Mulch. You know as well as I do that Foaly started it. I wouldn’t have been able to access the LEP computers without first finding Foaly’s spike in mine.” Actually, the dwarf probably didn’t know as well as Artemis did what exactly could be done with a reversed spike. If he had known, he probably would have informed the LEP. Best to keep it short and simple.
Mulch nodded. It was fair enough. “I was asked to bring you this,” said Mulch, drawing the small package out of his bag. It was hardly bigger than a rubix cube, and wrapped very simply. “Merry Christmas from Haven. And by the way, don’t open it in front of everyone else.” He glanced at the giant still watching from the doorway. “Well, except for maybe him.”
“Thank you, Mister Diggums,” said Artemis. “Though I must admit, I am rather surprised. Is this all? No Christmas time stop? No present-carrying pixies?”
Mulch chuckled. “This, mud boy, is Christmas on a budget. It is and LEP operation, after all.”
Artemis smiled as well. “Very well then. I see your flight leaves in a couple of hours. Would you care for some refreshment before you go?”
“I never thought I’d say this,” said Mulch, “but no thanks. I should leave now…I have quite a long dig back.” The dwarf turned to leave, then looked back at Artemis and winked. “Enjoy!”
As soon as he was outside, Mulch gladly launched himself into the soil, leaving a slightly bewildered-looking Artemis to watch him go. Time to get back underground.
Artemis slowly walked back to his room, itching to know what had been sent but at the same time looking nonchalant. Once ha was positive he was on his own and secure, Artemis slit the paper with shaking fingers. What had the fairy people given him? He pulled out a small box that had a note on top.
We confiscated this from you right before the mind-wipes.
Foaly, the Commander, and I all thought it was time for it to
be returned to its rightful owner. I hope we made the right decision.
Eagerly, Artemis pulled the top off of the box. Inside was exactly what he’d hoped for.
“Yes, Holly.” he whispered, pulling the C-Cube out of the packaging. “You did make the right decision.”