An injured Lara Croft must track down a missing amulet.
|Lara picked up a ham sandwich from a nearby grocery store and ate it in the car. The parking lot was packed but nothing suspicious stood out. She shifted in her seat triggering another sharp pain in her knee. She needed to put ice on the injury soon but for now she took an Ibuprofen and washed it down with a bottle of water.
The map on her smartphone showed that Alonzo’s Car Dealership was only two miles away. She started the car and headed west through Portland, past shopping malls and suburban neighbourhoods, and onto a road lined with several restaurants and pubs.
The dealership was on a busy corner. It looked much like the dealerships in the UK. Strands of metallic flags danced in the wind, reflecting the sunlight in a myriad of colours. Shiny cars filled the lot. Some looked mid-range while others were more expensive. She found the entrance and parked near the sales office.
The hairs on her neck stood up and she studied the lot for a moment. A salesman was talking with a young couple not too far from her. That wasn’t suspicious but she couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. Could the feeling be from the amulet of past-seeing. She sighed. Magical artifacts were nothing but trouble.
A thought hit her with an icy slap. She should have checked her luggage for GPS devices. The suitcases were still in the trunk of her car. She shouldn’t have stopped searching after she found the GPS on her crutch. Stupid. Incredibly stupid. She rubbed her brow. Searching them would have to wait until after she talked to Alonzo.
She headed toward the entrance still using the cane. The knee didn’t hurt as much as she thought it would. The painkillers were doing a good job.
The smell of new cars—leather and plastic—filled her senses as she entered the sales office. Her brain began to memorize escapes routes and places to take cover. The cars were in an area to the right, and receded in a row toward the back of the building. Two square pillars supported the entrance’s high ceiling.
Alonzo was a hard man to miss. In fact, photos didn’t do him justice. He looked like he had walked off the cover of a men’s magazine. A young woman who looked to be in her late teens was talking to him. He was over six feet tall and wore a well tailored, expensive suit.
Lara’s cane clicked on the floor conspicuously as she crossed the foyer. A row of chairs sat on the right along with several fake plants and a large statue of a lion. Was she walking into a lion’s den? She shook off the unease and continued further into the sales office.
Alonzo turned toward her when she was several yards away from him. His eyes widened in that stunned way men usually did when they saw her for the first time.
“Good afternoon, how can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m not here to buy a car,” Lara said. She took note of the bulge in his jacket as he came around the desk. He was armed.
“Okay?” He looked puzzled as he took in her cane. “Then why are you here?”
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about Vina Willis.”
Anger flickered across his face, then it was replaced by a mask of friendliness. “I haven’t seen her in a week,” he replied quickly. “I’m getting worried.”
“Do you have any idea where she might be?”
“I’d love to know,” he said. “She made off with my Rolex watch and the ten thousand dollars I hid under my mattress.” He gave her a smile but a tightness remained around his eyes.
Lara gripped the handle of her cane harder. “Do you know where she usually hangs—”
The front door swung open and three armed men burst into the foyer. One caught sight of Alonzo and yelled, “Remember Sherri?”
“Get down!” Lara grabbed Alonzo by the arm and raced behind the desk as gunshots rang out, turning the office into a mess of flying splinters and glass.
“Come out here you coward!” one of the gunmen ordered.
Alonzo drew his gun and returned fire. The men scattered and hid behind the pillars.
For a moment, the office fell into silence.
“Who is Sherri?” Lara whispered. She couldn’t believe her bad luck. Getting caught in a mob hit was not part of her plans.
“An ex girlfriend.”
Another shot hit a picture behind them. Glass rained down in fine fragments.
Lara took a quick peak over the desk. One of the men had taken cover behind the lion statue. Not good. He fired several shots, forcing her back behind the desk.
“Is there another way out?” she asked.
“There’s a back door but they’ve probably got it covered,” he replied.
“Lovely.” Lara’s hands ached for a gun of her own.
“There’s a trap door and a tunnel,” he said in a low voice.
“My father has many enemies.”
He stood up and fired off a few shots. “Let’s go!”
The enemy returned fire, catching him in the arm. He cried out and dropped the gun.
The gun was available! Lara scooped it up and returned fire. A scream from beside the lion statue let her know her aim was true. She fired another shot toward one of the pillars and was rewarded with another scream.
Alonzo jumped to his feet and headed through a door to the backrooms. Lara followed behind him and locked the door. At this point, she wasn’t using the cane for aid anymore. Adrenaline flowed through her body and she didn’t feel any pain.
She examined Alonzo’s injury. A red spot grew in size on his shoulder but he could still use the arm so it couldn’t be that bad. He knew enough about gun fights to stay low. Grateful for this, she stayed low herself.
Alonzo turned into a small supply room and fumbled for a light. The floor was hardwood and the secret door was so well hidden that Lara couldn’t make out the edges until he pressed a small button on a nearby shelf and it opened quietly.
The sound of wood breaking filled the hall. The masked men were busy trying to get through the door. “Go down the ladder first,” she said. She leaned into the hall and fired a single shot through the door. One of the thugs cursed.
Alonzo climbed down the ladder. When it was her turn, she tucked the gun into her belt and threw the cane into the opening. As she scrambled down the ladder, she noticed there was an alcove to the left. Alonzo pressed a button on the alcove wall and the trap door quickly closed without a sound.
Dim lights came on, quietly lighting up a wide tunnel that could fit two people standing side-by-side. The ceiling was about eight feet high.
Lara bent over to grab the cane. She froze as footsteps sounded in the room above them.
“Were did they go?” one voice asked.
“This room’s light is on,” another voice said.
“Maybe they always keep the lights on,” the first voice said.
“There’s not much space to hide in here.”
“Let’s check the back offices.”
The footsteps receded out of the room and down the hall toward the back of the building.
Lara let out the breath she’d been holding and turned her attention to Alonzo. “Did you kill Sherri?”
“What? No.” His eyes widened with worry.
He sounded sincere but maybe he was a good liar. “Where does this tunnel lead?” she asked.
“To my cousin’s bakery.”
“Let’s move.” Lara led the way down the tunnel. The adrenaline began to wear off and she found herself relying on the cane again.
The tunnel was surprisingly long—about fifty yards. Soon, another ladder appeared. She looked around for a button to open the trap door above. The idea of going first wasn’t appealing but she didn’t want Alonzo to close the door on her if he went first.
“No button for that one, sweetheart. You’ll have to push it open.”
“Got it.” As she placed her hands on the ladder, Alonzo pulled the gun from her belt and pressed it into her back.
“I’m sick of people sticking their noses where they don’t belong!” His voice was full of hate.
“But I’ve only just begun.” Lara tried to keep her voice calm as fighting scenarios ran through her mind.
“Who are you?” he asked. “An undercover cop? A private investigator?”
“None of those.” She threw the cane into the air behind her, in the hopes that Alonzo, confused by the distraction, would follow its path over his head. She turned as fast as she could and ensnared him in an arm-lock. She yanked upward, dislocating his arm. Now he had two injured arms.
“Crap!” he yelled. “Damn it, bitch! You’ll pay for this!” He tried to raise his fists to fight.
It looked so funny, Lara almost laughed.
“Do you have any idea who I am?” he asked.
Lara put all her weight into a right hook. It connected with his temple. He crumbled to the floor and she kicked his head, knocking him out.
“What a despicable man,” she huffed as she picked up the cane and retrieved the gun. She made her way up the ladder.
The bakery’s supply room was large and full of containers of flour, sugar and other things. She tossed the cane to the side and rolled out of the trap door. She took a relaxing breath and let her heart slow down. The smell of fresh pastry wafted through the room. She got up and made her way into a hallway.
A large man came around the corner, almost bumping into her.
“Who are you?” he asked. His jaw opened in surprise and awe.
“I came through the trap door,” Lara replied. “Alonzo is on his way through the tunnel too.”
“He’s been shot so you better go and help him up the ladder.”
“Oh no!” He set off for the supply room. Lara followed behind him. After he disappeared down the ladder Lara closed the trap door and moved several bags of flour on top of it.
She smiled and headed to the front of the store. A cashier was busy grabbing a few cheese buns off a rack. A man stood waiting to buy them. She waited her turn, then bought a bag of cinnamon rolls and headed back to the car dealership to retrieve the rental car.
On her way back to the dealership, her knee felt like someone had taken a lighter to it. Two police cars sat in the parking lot next to her car. Her anxiety jolted up several degrees.
“Hello, boys,” Lara said as she drew closer to her car. She gave them her most innocent smile and then feigned a look of surprise at the sight of the building. Yellow crime scene tape blocked the bullet riddled glass entrance. “What’s going on?”
“Why are you parked here, Miss?” a tall officer asked.
He didn’t sound overly suspicious. She relaxed a bit. The police officers probably thought she didn’t look like a threat.
“I wasn’t sure where the bakery was.” She raised the bag of cinnamon rolls with her free hand. The smell made her belly rumble.
“Okay,” one officer said.
“Try not to drive on the broken glass as you pull out,” a shorter officer said.
She looked down. Glass covered the ground like a sparkling welcome mat. “Thanks for the warning.” She deliberately exaggerated her limp as she made her way to the driver’s side of the rental car. She managed to maneuver the car around the glass and out of the parking lot. Relief flooded her body as she drove away from the car dealership.
She stopped in a drugstore parking lot to search her luggage. Just as she suspected, another listening device was stuck to one of the suitcases.
“Found you!” She pulled it off and tossed down a drain. Maybe the current would take it somewhere far away. She got back in the car and headed for her hotel to check in.
The cinnamon rolls were still warm by the time Lara got back to the hotel. After gobbling up two of them—along with two painkillers and a large can of ice tea from the mini-fridge—she flopped down onto the welcoming bed and let her mind slow its spinning thoughts. She examined some of them more closely.
It seemed likely that Alonzo had killed Sherri, and possibly Vina too. Or, perhaps not.
Lara changed into a pair of shorts and applied some ice-gel to her throbbing knee. Going out again was out of the question. She’d wait until tomorrow morning before checking Vina’s house—a task she probably should have done first. After waiting for the cooling effect of the gel to set in, she booted up her laptop and began to surf the Web for information.
She typed in “Vina Willis” and “Alonzo Palamara” into the browser. Links to a few newspaper articles popped up. One article contained a photo that showed Vina and Alonzo leaving the Weldon Hotel. Some of the articles mentioned that Sherri was missing but were careful not to accuse Alonzo of any crime. Typical.
Tomorrow, she’d visit Vina’s home and the Weldon Hotel. She shut down the laptop and drifted off to sleep.
The sounds of chirping birds filled the air. Somewhere close by, a squirrel cried. Lara opened her eyes. Streams of golden light filtered through the group of trees that she lay under. To the right, Wyuma stood in front of a large boulder. Surrounding her—to Lara’s shock—were several transparent child-ghosts.
“We’re being called away, mother,” the tallest ghost said. She was a slender girl of about fourteen. Two braids framed her narrow face.
“But, I need you all,” Wyuma said. Tears formed in her eyes and threatened to spill over.
Lara’s stomach clenched. Watching this was wrong. It was another bad dream. She tried to pull away but the scene wouldn’t change.
“I wish I could stay but I can’t.” The eldest child faded away. “I love you mother.”
“Good bye, mother,” a smaller boy said. He vanished.
The remaining children vanished with a wave of sorrowful good byes.
Wyuma collapsed to her knees. “Please stay!” she wailed and then burst into a torrent of tears.
An uncomfortable moment passed. Lara didn’t know if she should speak. What did one say to a woman who had lost her entire family?
Slowly Wyuma got to her feet. “For all my power, I can’t bring them back to the land of the living.”
The landscape sped by and Wyuma stood at the edge of a cliff, surrounded by clusters of dark-pink prairie roses, black-eyed susans and purple fireweed. Their fragrance merged into a wild mix of scents. The beauty of the scene made Lara almost miss its significance. Wyuma had come to the cliff to die.
“Don’t throw your life away!” Lara cried.
Wyuma paused, turning her head slightly as if considering the plea. “Winter is gone but my heart is trapped in ice.”
“No!” Lara burst into a sprint toward her. “You can start again!”
“All is lost,” Wyuma said and stepped off the cliff.