An injured Lara Croft must track down a missing amulet.
Lara Croft stepped out of Lloyd’s Bank and onto the short flight of stairs that led to the car park. A light rain drizzled down, glazing the rows of cars. The weather was cold for a June day, making a shiver run through her. The hairs on the back her of her neck stood up as she headed for her car. Danger was close by. She walked slower.
A few feet away, a teenage girl emerged from behind a mini-van and scurried toward her. Lara tensed up, but she couldn’t imagine what kind of threat the girl posed. The girl had a slender, elf-like body. Her short, blond hair lay flat and soaking wet against her scalp. Enthusiastic ice-blue eyes peered out of a round face.
“Someone just robbed me!” the girl cried.
“Oh dear.” Lara took a step back.
“The bloody wanker stole my jacket.” The girl raised an arm to display the goose bumps on her exposed skin.
“I’m sorry to hear tha—”
“Do you have a few pounds I could borrow, Ma’am?” The girl stepped closer. “I need a cab to get home.”
Lara reached for her purse and then stopped. There was something insincere about the girl. It was as if she had rehearsed what she was saying.
“I’m sorry,” Lara replied, with only mild regret. “I don’t have anything to give you.” The lie was necessary. There was no way a teen was going to hustle her.
“You just came from a bank!” the girl said, her voice edged with disdain.
“How convenient for you.” Lara reached into her purse and the girl’s eyes lit up with hope. Lara pulled out her smartphone. “I could call the police for you, if you’d like.”
Panic flashed through the girl’s eyes. “Um, no, that’s okay.” She glanced back to one of the cars.
Lara followed her gaze. A man with a brown goatee was waiting in a run-down silver Toyota.
“Maybe I should be reporting your behaviour,” Lara added. “You’re not a very good actress.”
“I…” The girl slumped her shoulders and put her hands into her pockets. She pulled out a four inch knife. Its blade flashed in the light of the entranceway.
Adrenalin flooded Lara’s body.
“Give me your money!” the girl yelled, slinking closer Lara.
“No.” Lara smiled.
The girl lunged forward.
Lara glided out of the way as the girl tried to cut the strap of her purse. She skipped to the side and threw a sidekick into the girl’s arm, contacting with her elbow. The girl shrieked and dropped the knife. Then she made the mistake of leaping after it.
“Oh no you don’t.” Lara raced after her and grabbed the girl by the arm. She yanked her backward and kicked the knife under a car.
The girl turned and threw a surprisingly fast left hook at Lara’s face. She ducked it and backed away.
“So, you know how to fight?” Lara asked.
“Yeah, lady, I took boxing,” the girl replied.
“You look about sixteen.” Lara didn’t want to hurt her badly. “Too young for the life of a criminal.”
“What’s it to you?”
“I can help you get off the streets.” She circled the girl. “My name is Lara.”
The girl’s face softened for a second, then turned hard like steel. “My name is Tiger!” She attacked with a flurry of jabs and a right hook. “And, I don’t need your help!”
Lara managed to block most of the punches but the last one caught her in the cheek. Tiger jumped out of range as Lara tried to counter with some punches of her own.
“Not bad.” Lara circled her.
Tiger moved in for another attack. Lara stepped in, catching her in an arm lock. She could easily dislocate the arm but didn’t have the heart. She released Tiger and shoved her backward. Tiger tried to kick Lara in the stomach but Lara blocked it with both hands. The girl was stubborn! Lara countered with a roundhouse that smacked Tiger solidly in the side of the head then she did a second kick but her boot slipped on the wet pavement. Her knee hit the ground first, making her gasp. A sharp pain shot through it.
“Yes!” Tiger sprinted for the discarded purse.
“Stop right there!” A security guard appeared at the front door of the bank.
The girl froze for a minute, staring at the guard. She gave the purse one last longing look and then bolted for the silver car.
“Go! Go!” she cried and jumped into the car. It sped off. The sound of screeching tires filled the air.
Lara got to her feet and winced. Her knee was definitely injured, though nothing major.
“Are you all right, miss?” the guard asked.
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you,” Lara said. “I’m glad you showed up. The little mouse—or shall I say ‘Tiger’—almost bested me.”
“I should be fine with some ice.”
“Should I call the police?”
“No, I’d rather not report it.”
“Alright, if you’re sure…”
The guard nodded and went back inside.
A clap of thunder shook the sky. The light rain turned into a downpour. Cursing, she picked up her purse and smartphone—careful to put her weight on her uninjured leg—and limped to her black Volvo. She was sopping wet by the time she got into the driver’s seat.
She closed her eyes and willed her muscles to relax. Her heart pounded like a drum, drowning out all other noise. When she opened her eyes again, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. The rear-view mirror showed the face of a tired but beautiful woman; a face that drew way too much attention from men. Her large brown eyes were striking even without makeup. Full and shapely lips sat above a strong jaw. Her throbbing cheek was red and starting to swell. Well, at least the girl didn’t clock her in the eye. Sighing, she started the car, pulled out of the car park and headed home.
The rain had stopped by the time Lara reached the front gate to her manor. She brought her car to a stop and pulled an ID card out of her purse. After opening her window, she held it up to a sensor. The gates swung open. She headed down the long lane way to the manor’s front door instead of the garage. It was much closer to the kitchen where she could get an ice pack.
Her manor rose up against a sky of swirling, dark clouds almost like a mountain in itself. The outer walls were a combination of red brick and light-grey edging. Lightening reflected against the rows of large, multi-panelled windows that graced both the ground floor and the second floor.
Bryce, her computer expert, opened the front door as Lara pulled up to the walkway. He fumbled with an umbrella for a moment, then tossed it back inside the door.
“Lara!” he called. “What’s wrong?” He jogged down the steps and walkway to the driver’s side.
“I injured my knee,” she replied.
“Someone tried to rob me outside the bank.”
“You don’t say!”
“Where’s Hillary?” Lara asked.
“Gone to shop at Marks and Spencer.”
“Bryce, help me get inside the house.” Putting most of her weight on her right leg, she hauled herself out of the car.
“Of course.” He closed the door of her car and held out an arm for her.
“Ow!” She gritted her teeth and leaned on him. Together, they hobbled up the stairs and into the manor.
Relief flooded her as she entered the foyer. The large fireplace in the living room blazed in orange, enveloping her with warmth. She inhaled. The scene of new oriental rugs and lemon scented furniture polish hung in the air.
“Help me to the couch?” she asked. It was times like this when Lara craved a smaller manor or even a flat. The couch seemed so far away.
Within minutes, he helped her into a seat close to the fire. “I’ll get you some ice,” he said.
“That would be wonderful.” She put the foot of her injured leg on one of the footstools.
“Oh, Lara,” Bryce said, returning to the side of the couch. “Someone from the US called earlier.”
“It was a man by the name of Jack Grey Wolf. He says he has a business offer for you. He’s offering quite a lot.”
“Jack Grey Wolf…” Lara said. “Where have I heard that name before?”
“He wants you to call him back,” Bryce continued. “And he doesn’t care what time it is.”
“Well, that makes things easier.”
“I’ll get your laptop and some ice.”
“Thank you.” She lay back into the couch and waited for Bryce to return.
Lara settled on the sofa with a cup of Earl Grey tea. An ice pack numbed her knee, almost to the point of pain. The ticking of a grandfather clock marked the pass of seconds. It was time to get down to business. She pulled on a headset and dialled Grey Wolf’s number on the living room phone.
“Jack Grey Wolf here,” a male with soft but firm voice said.
“Hello, Mr. Grey Wolf, it’s Lara Croft returning your call.”
“Ms. Croft, thank you for getting back to me,” he said. “Please, call me Jack.”
“How can I help you, Jack?” Lara asked.
“Someone stole a very special artifact from my brother’s museum in Fargo, North Dakota.”
“Have you called the police?”
“We wish to handle things privately.”
“I see.” Lara had read about Fargo. It was one of the fastest growing small towns in the US. She had never been there before but she’d been to California and a few other states.
For a minute, there was silence on Jack’s end.
“At the risk of sounding crazy,” Jack continued. “I’ll come right out and say this, and you may not believe it: The amulet grants its wearer the power to speak to the dead. It could be very dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“I believe you.” A chill ran down Lara’s spine. Would it allow her to talk to her dead loved parents? The teacup she held started to tremble and slosh. She put it on the table beside the couch.
Jack cleared his throat lightly. “The private investigator I hired was unable to find any leads. It’s been two months since I hired him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lara said. “But, I’m from another country; surely you don’t think I could do any better?”
“I heard that you have connections to people who may know things,” he replied vaguely, “Our mutual friend Lucas Mills, the art collector from New York, said you’d be in Chicago for a major exhibit in three weeks.”
Lara tensed. It was getting more and more common for people to know she had connections in the underworld. “Both of those things are true,” she finally said.
“I’m willing to buy you a plane ticket and cover any hotel expenses,” Jack added. “If you find the amulet, I’ll give you three million in US dollars.”
“That’s very generous.” Money wasn’t that important to her but the challenge of finding the amulet made her heart speed up.
“The amulet has been in my family for generations and was a prominent piece in my brother’s museum.”
“I understand.” Lara shifted to find a more comfortable position. Her knee protested with a sharp, stabbing pain. She clenched her teeth to prevent a whimper.
“So, are you willing to help my family?”
“The assignment sounds interesting,” she replied. “But there is one problem.”
“What’s that?” he asked. His voice continued to hold a professional note of kindness.
“I have a knee injury,” Lara replied. “Someone tried to rob me earlier today.”
“Oh.” His tone was surprised.
“I bashed my knee.”
“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “Can you still walk?”
“Right now, barely,” Lara said. “I should know by tomorrow how bad it is.”
“Will you let me know tomorrow if you can take the assignment?”
“I’ll phone you before noon UK time.”
“Good bye, Jack.”
She ended the call and shifted position again. Nothing helped. Cursing, she focused her attention on the assignment. It was an interesting one, for sure. But could she face the thief, or thieves, while injured? She hadn’t seen her doctor yet but she’d probably recommend that she stay off the knee for a few days. A plane ride to the US might give it time to heal a bit. Or maybe not. A pair of crutches were stashed somewhere in the manor. Finding them could wait until tomorrow though. She sat back, sipped at her tea, and waited for the Ibuprofen to start working.