An injured Lara Croft must track down a missing amulet.
|Lara arrived at Portland International Airport around noon. No one appeared to be following her but she kept a wary eye out anyways. An airport employee—a woman with a blonde bob—put her luggage into the trunk of the black Honda Civic she rented from Hertz Rent A Car.
Lara started the car and steered toward the city. Green fields and groups of stores and buildings rushed past her as she headed south east down NE Airport Way. The car had GPS installed but she preferred using the map and GPS on the smartphone that Edgar gave her. She stopped to check her location two times and then turned onto another road heading south past the Colwood Golf Center. A strong breeze beat at her face through the open window, pushing all worries aside. She smiled. Air conditioning was for the weak.
Traffic bustled with cars and people running lunch-time errands. Everyone drove on the wrong side of the roads but she had travelled to America enough that she was used to it. Soon she reached a suburban area with winding roads, lush landscaping and expensive houses.
She rung the intercom at the gate of twenty-four Meadow Drive and took a deep breath. This was a long shot that would all be for nothing if no one spoke to her.
“How may I help you?” an elderly man’s voice asked.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about the robbery. My name is Lara Croft,” she said. “May I come in?”
There was a short pause.
The front gate swung open and Lara drove up a cobblestone lane, toward a villa. The lane was flanked by rows of well-groomed bushes. A large fountain stood in the centre of a small cul de sac. Purple, red and orange flowers ringed it. She parked her car between the front door and a group of three garages and got out. Her knee was feeling much better but she grabbed the cane from the passenger seat just in case.
She locked the car door and studied the villa. Six narrow windows were built into the front wall, each one very tall. Sunlight bounced off the panes, giving it a glamourous look. The two windows on the second floor each opened out onto two verandas. The entrance was underneath a large archway, up a short flight of stairs. She made her way up the stairs—she was beginning to hate stairs—and rang the doorbell.
An elderly butler answered the door.
“Good day Ma’am,” he said politely.
There was a hardness about his eyes that made Lara uneasy. She flashed him her best smile. “Good day, sir.”
“Come in, come in,” he said, his tone a little more friendly.
She stepped into a large foyer.
A tall, woman with straight, brown hair approached the door. The smell of Chanel perfume wafted ahead of her, like a skunk. “Thank you Joel,” she said barely glancing at the butler. Her voice was low with a small burr and her dress was entirely leopard print that made her look somewhere between trashy and chic.
Joel the butler nodded, headed into down a hall way and disappeared into a room near the end.
“My butler said you had some questions about the robbery?” She asked.
“I’m Caprice Gregori, by the way,” she said. “How can I help you?”
“I’ve been hired to find a stolen amulet. It’s extremely valuable,” Lara said. “I have reason to suspect that the burglar who hit your place might have it.”
“Oh right, I saw a necklace around the burglar’s neck in the footage.” Caprice lit a cigarette and began to smoke it. Suddenly, she spun around to cough a loud phlegmy cough into her arm. Then she leaned past Lara and spit onto the doorstep outside. “Sorry, I can’t stop smoking today. I don’t feel safe in my home anymore.”
“That’s understandable.” Lara kept a neutral face. “Can you explain to me what happened?” She hoped to be invited to sit in the living room.
“Come into the foyer, where it’s cooler,” Caprice said.
Lara stepped inside.
“We were robbed in broad daylight,” she replied, her voice suddenly sharp with anger. “Well, it was early evening, still sunny. My son went to my husband’s office to look for a spare pen. The safe was open and a pearl necklace was inside. My son was smart enough not to touch anything. I called the police right away. The thief has my wedding tiara and other heirlooms. I hope you can find him.”
“How dreadful.” Lara shifted her weight to her good leg. She needed to sit down but refused to ask for a chair.
Caprice noticed the movement but said nothing.
“Did anyone see anything suspicious during the days leading up to the robbery?” Lara asked.
“No, nothing strange happened before the robbery.”
“I was lounging near the pool at the time. I went out at 4 pm. The pool man was in the same area getting our pool ready for the summer. The maid, also a fabulous gardener, was busy planting roses. After my son found the safe robbed, we found the front gate open too.”
“And your son doesn’t know the code to the safe?” Lara didn’t think the questions were necessary—the burglar had probably talked to the dead to get the codes—but she had to act the part.
“No, he’s a tween—too young to care about money. Besides, my husband would never give out the code to anyone, not even me.”
“It’s a total mystery.” Caprice tapped the ashes of her cigarette into an ashtray on the closest foyer table.
“Indeed.” Lara rubbed her chin, pretending to be deep in thought.
“You’re welcome to talk to the staff,” Caprice said.
“Don’t mind if I do.” A thought struck her. “Where was the butler?” she asked.
“Out getting groceries,” Caprice replied. “I’m pretty sure he had nothing to do with it. He was so upset that it happened. He wouldn’t stop threatening to kill the burglar for us.”
“He sounds very loyal.” Lara smiled.
“He is.” Caprice brushed a lose strand of hair from her face. “Our maid, Frankie, is outside in the back somewhere and so is the pool man. I’ll take you to the back.” Caprice turned and started down the hall.
Lara followed her.
Once they reached the end of the long hall way, Caprice led Lara through a stylish living room and through a set of large glass doors, onto a giant patio made up of intricate stone work.
“You have a lovely home,” Lara said while admiring a brass statue of a lion.
“Thank you. I decorated it myself,” Caprice replied.
“I see the pool man,” Lara said. A heavyset man knelt beside one of the pool filters. He lowered a hand to the patio and a tiny frog hopped away.
“I’ll be inside if you need me,” Caprice said and headed back through the glass doors.
Lara crossed the patio and introduced herself to the man who went by the name Mickey. She went through a series of questions but he hadn’t seen anything strange. She spotted the gardener and made her way across the lawn.
“Hi, you must be Frankie,” Lara said and held out a hand.
The gardener removed her gloves and shook Lara’s hand.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about the robbery.”
“Sure, ask away,” Frankie said.
“Did you see anything strange in the days leading up to the robbery?”
“No…” A flicker of guilt crossed the woman’s face.
“Anything you could tell me could be helpful,” Lara pressed in a gentle voice.
The woman turned and walked behind a large shrub, concealed from the villa. She gestured for Lara to come closer. “I didn’t want to tell anyone because it could get a fellow maid in trouble.”
“I was trimming bushes near the gate the day before the robbery when I saw the strangest thing.”
“What did you see?” Lara felt a kernel of excitement unfurl inside her. She kept her face professional and friendly.
“I saw a woman standing on the other side of the gate having a conversation with no one. After about five minutes, A black limo picked her up and they drove off.”
“She wasn’t on a phone?” Lara asked, hope growing inside her.
“No. I saw no phone or wires in her ears.”
A chill ran through Lara. “Do you know who she is?”
“The maid works for the same company I do: Betty’s Maid Service,” Frankie continued. “A few houses in this area hire part-time maids though this company. Her name is Vina, I think. I don’t know her very well.”
“What does she look like?”
“Wavy black hair. Green eyes.”
“Do you think I should tell the police?” Frankie whispered. “I don’t want this woman to get into trouble because of me.”
“It’s up to you.” Lara didn’t want to hamper a police investigation but maybe she could find Vina before the they did.
“Thank you for your time, Frankie.” Relief settled in like a welcome friend. She had another lead! Even the nicking pain of her knee seemed more tolerable.
“Ciao.” Frankie picked up her gardening gloves and went back to work on the flowers near the side of the shrub.
Lara made her way back inside the house. She questioned the butler so that she looked like a thorough investigator. After that, Caprice showed her to the front door.
“Let us know if you find him or her.”
“Sure thing.” Lara descended the stairs as quickly as she dared and got into her rental. She grabbed her phone and searched for the address of Betty’s Maid Service. She drove out through the front gate and headed to a business district on the other side of town.
Lara found the cleaning company quickly. Betty’s Maid Service sat between a tailor and a computer store, its bright, bold blue lettering on a white background won the silent competition for attention against the other signs. The inside had a shiny blue linoleum floor that looked freshly waxed. She inhaled the scent of lemon cleaner. Everything else had been cleaned to a shine as well. There was a small waiting room and a reception desk on the left, in front of a long hall with doors leading to other rooms.
She went to stand in front of the empty desk. A plump middle-aged woman with curly blond hair scurried up to her.
“Hello, hello!” she said with an exuberant smile. “What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if you could tell me anything about a woman named Vina.”
The receptionist looked down the empty hall behind her and leaned forward. “Vina’s been missing for a week,” she said in a low voice. Lines of concern were etched across her face. “I’m getting worried. Our boss has talked about firing her. I hope she’s okay. The police haven’t been able to find her.”
“Can you tell me anything else?”
“Are you an investigator?”
“You could say that,” Lara replied. “I’m doing a favour for a friend.”
“Let me think for a moment.” The receptionist took a sip of her coffee.
“A man came into the office to see her many times over the last month while he was getting clothing alterations next door,” the receptionist said, her face lit up with pride for remembering. “I think he’s her boyfriend. She told me he had been dating her sister. The sister has been missing for over a month.” The receptionist rubbed her bare arms. “Isn’t that creepy?”
“Do you know his name?” Lara asked.
“No, but I have his photo,” the receptionist replied. “It’s in the back, just give me a moment.”
A minute later she returned with a photo.
“This was in Vina’s locker.” She handed it to Lara.
A couple smiled back at her. They made an attractive pair. Vina’s pale eyes were striking against her dark skin. The man looked like an Italian Adonis with a square jaw and dark, intense eyes.
“Can I keep it?”
“Do you have her home address?”
“Yes, but I already went over to check several times. She was living with a man named Bruce at one point. No one was ever home.”
“I’d like to drop by her place just to see if she’s back.”
“Very well, then.” The receptionist grabbed a post-it and jotted down an address. Vina’s last name was Willis.
Lara thanked her for the help and headed out the door. She turned right and entered The Happy Tailor shop.
An elderly woman sat at the counter of The Happy Tailor chatting on the phone with someone. Like the sign suggested, the tailor talked with an animated enthusiasm that put Lara in better spirits. The shop was a mess in contrast to the maid company. Clothing hung on a series of racks behind the seamstress. Some of it had fallen to the floor. Shreds of cloth covered the front counter in colourful strips. The woman wore a headset and was taking up a pair of pants with quick movements.
Her name tag said “Marceline.”
Marceline ended the called when she noticed Lara, and greeted her with a gray, broken toothed smile.
“Excuse me, can I ask you a few questions?” Lara asked.
“Of course, dear,” Marceline replied.
Lara showed her the picture of Vina and her boyfriend. “Can you tell me who the man is?”
The old woman’s eyes flashed wide with fear, then a pinched scheming look settled into place.
“What will you give me in exchange for his name?” she asked.
“Well…” Lara tried to think of something. She had forty dollars in her pocket. Her emerald ear studs could buy the information too but they were worth three-hundred dollars and she didn’t want to part with them.
“What colour is that lipstick?” The woman leaned over the counter to study Lara’s face. “You’re a beautiful woman, dear.”
“Plum Show by Lancôme.” It was worth about thirty dollars.
“Do you have it on you?” The old woman’s eyes lit up with anticipation.
“Yes.” Lara reached into a side pocket of her purse and pulled out the tube of lipstick.
Marceline snatched it and went over to a long mirror to try it on. “Ooh, very nice. Very smooth,” she said and came back to the counter.
“About the photo…” Lara put it on the counter and pushed it toward Marceline.
“That’s Alonzo, the son of the local crime boss, Mario Palamara.” She handed the photo back to Lara, cautiously, as if it were going to bite. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”
“Good lord.” Was she getting in over her head? She pushed the fear aside. She had an amulet to track down. “Do you know where he works?”
“What’s that information worth to you?”
Lara placed her emerald studs on the counter.
“Good, those are good.” Marceline removed her own small pearl earrings and inserted the emerald ones. “He sells cars at Alonzo’s Car Dealership.” She gave Lara a plum lipstick framed smile, one that would make the devil squirm. “But I never told you that.”
“Thank you for your help.” Lara turned and limped out the door.