The Silver Bullet
At first, he saw only darkness. Then he saw her, sitting, lifting her brown eyes to the gun targeting her. She had no time to react.
The bullet, small and made of silver, struck at her heart, next to the left breast. Everything happened very fast, but he saw it in slow-motion. A jet of blood soaked the white fabric of her shirt. Then she began to slide off the chair.
He tried to catch her, but she fell. And she stared at the ceiling, with open eyes, dead, while beneath her a dark pool of blood widened.
He sat up abruptly, letting out a scream. He took a few moments to catch his breath.
She was there beside him, naked and asleep. It had just been a nightmare. He laid down again, fixing his gaze on the tent ceiling while the sweat ran down his back.
“You okay?” He heard her murmur sleepily at his side.
“Sleep, Lara. Just a nightmare.”
She lifted her head, and a lock of brown hair half covered her face. She pulled it away. “What did you dream?”
She smiled. “You’re such a bad liar. Maybe because your people made you take an oath against lying.”
“Did Monteleone tell you that?”
“At least through him I’d find out more about it. You never talk about yourself.”
He remained silent. Lara touched his shoulder - the burn scar which, two years before had disfigured the rough tattoo marking him as a Lux Veritatis. There was no longer any sign under the rough, scarred skin. “Have you ever thought about redoing the tattoo?”
“What for? There’s no one left to account to.”
“But you’re still hunting demons.”
“Because they’re after me, attracted to me. The Cabal wasn’t my only enemy. Yet, it was the worst.”
She sat up and swung her hair to her back.
“I’m struck by one thing about you.” Then Kurtis said, looking at her soft curves. “You don’t have a single scar.”
She laughed. “And you look like Christ himself!”
“Thanks.” He growled.
“That’s a compliment! You know Roman legionnaires and gladiators compared scars to see which one of them had more? They were like medals of honour. And if there were none in the back it was even better, since it meant they had never given their back to the enemy to flee. Or so they thought.”
“I’m not a Roman.” Kurtis said. “And the worst of my scars is on my back.”
Lara came near him and put her arms around his waist as she leaned her head against his shoulder. “If you tell me what you dreamt, I’ll tell you why I’ve not a single scar.”
“I’d guess you had them removed, Miss Aristocrat. Why are you so worried?”
She was silent. “Because you woke up screaming. That’s not usual for you.”
“You’ve only been sleeping with me a few nights.”
“Plenty enough for me.” She said smiling.
“You think someone might have noticed?”
“Sooner or later...God, Selma’s going to be unbearable.”
She closed her eyes. Soon, she heard again his voice: “You’ll laugh at me.”
“I promise not to.”
“I think it was a bad premonition. I dreamed someone killed you with a silver bullet.” Kurtis turned towards her. “You’re smiling.”
She lifted her head and looked at him. She was in fact, smiling. “I’m not laughing at you. Lots of people have shot at me...as at you. These are perks of our jobs.”
He shook his head. “Protect yourself, Lara.”
“Where exactly?” She whispered, still smiling.
Kurtis hesitated. Then he stretched out his hand, and with his fingertips brushed the contour of her left breast, finally touching a point next to it, almost in the centre of the sternum. “Here. Right in the heart.”
“I’ll wear a breastplate.” Teased her, and bent to kiss him.
Two days later, the Italians received an unexpected visit.
The first to sight the dark figure was the beautiful Bay Li, who was sitting on a rock on the exterior of the camp, her long dark hair drying in the sun, while muttering under her breath as she combed her hair. The Mediterranean sun burned her soft Chinese skin. A camp in the rocky desert was no place for a delicacy like her.
She looked up to see a shadow covering the sun. She squinted and said: “Who are you?”
“I’m looking for Daniele Monteleone.” Answered a sweet and musical voice, speaking from the depths of a thick hood.
“Show me your face.” The Chinese girl insisted.
The visitor dropped the hood and Bay Li saw a woman younger than herself, who seemed very beautiful, even though she hadn’t yet found the appeal of Western women. “Are you sure it isn’t Maddalena whom you’re looking for?” Bay Li insisted, seeing her so beautiful she should likely to be a young prostitute in search of support.
“Of course.” Smiled the other, revealing a row of perfect white teeth.
Bay Li got up and guided her through the camp. As she passed, all men turned to look at her, speechless. The Chinese woman captured a strange scent that seemed to come from the stranger’s hair, which was even blacker than hers, with that dark shine of Eastern women.
Arriving at Monteleone’s tent, Bay Li called Maddalena and exchanged a few words with her. The visitor waited patiently. Finally, the redhead opened the tent.
The boss was sitting in his chair, drinking his Martini, and raised his eyebrows in surprise at seeing the woman. “Benvenutta signorina. Parla l’italiano?”
“Perfectly.” Smiled the other, sitting elegantly on a couch nearby.
“Maddalena told me you weren’t looking for her, so I guess that...”
“Indeed, I’m not a prostitute. I’m an art dealer and I come to provide certain information that may interest you.”
The other smiled again, innocently. “About the Scepter, of course. And also about the people who are right now across the brook.”
Monteleone looked at her, stunned. “You have my full attention, signorina...”
Maddalena carefully studied the woman. She didn’t like her. She chose the most beautiful women to give satisfaction to Monteleone’s men, but acknowledged that, despite this one being perfect, she would never have chosen her. That woman seemed a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Too pretty to be good. She was convinced she hid a den of depravity...and also her ominous name. The name of a sinner, as every devotee should know. And Maddalena, though had rarely been allowed to set foot in a church, was very pious.
Your name is also a sinner’s name, Maddalena.
The young prostitute looked up, and met Bathsheba’s green eyes. She went back, terrified. Was it she who had spoken? Or were they hallucinations? Shivering, she turned and left the tent.
Monteleone hadn’t noticed anything. “Please, enlighten me.”
“I’ve come to warn you.” Said Bathsheba. “If I may.”
“Go on. You intrigued me.”
“Lara Croft is making fun of you.”
The boss looked at her dumbfounded. “Dio mio, what does that mean?”
Bathsheba leaned forward, and with a sweet smile, whispered: “She’s been making fun of you from the very beginning. When you first saw her, she already had the Scepter in her possession, stealing it from Lilith’s statue. Now it’s in her power and she comes every day to pry information from you, while all of them there are laughing at you.”
Monteleone remained silent for a few moments. He had a grim look on his handsome face. “How do you know that? Why should I believe you?”
“You can believe me and take action on the matter, or not, and have them continue to laugh at you. As for my sources, I’m sorry but I prefer to keep them hidden. I’m interested in the Scepter as much as you, as a matter of my job. And the truth is I’d rather see it in the hands of a professional like you than in that trashy robber’s hands.”
He remained silent, looking irritated. He rubbed his chin with relish. “So she made fun of me...bene, bene. But something else has to be in all this. Why did you come to me? You could get the Scepter, could steal it or deal directly with them.”
“I already said why. Anyway, ther e’s something more that interests me.”
“Tell me an amount.”
“I don’t want money. I want a man.”
Monteleone was again blown away. “A man?”
“Yes, he’s in their camp. And I want him alive. You must not touch a single hair on his head.”
“The man who’s with Lara Croft all the time. Kurtis Trent.”
“It shall be as desired. But...curious if I may...why are you so interested in him?”
“His head is priced. A price both me and my people want to charge.”
A sly smile crossed the face of the mafioso. “Paso lungo e bucca curta.”
“Don’t be fooled. We’re not a mafia like you. But he’s ours. You deliver him to us and you’ll have the rest.”
“And what interest could be in such a man? Just a loser. Never heard him open his mouth.”
Bathsheba smiled again. So sweetly. “I’ve said enough, signore Monteleone. Have a nice day. Ciao.”
The next morning, while checking all documents and maps drawn to the referent of the excavation, Selma and Lara were surprised by the visit of Sciarra, Monteleone’s favourite man. He stood boldly in the middle of the tent.
“Il signore Monteleone is pleased to invite signorina Croft to his tent to discuss new sources about the subject which is employing you.” He announced with a mocking voice, glancing obscene at Selma, who looked away, upset.
“Selma’s the excavation director.” Lara challenged, frowning. “She should come with me.”
“What’s up, rich daddy’s girl? You fear I eat you?” Sciarra laughed.
Lara threw the compass on the maps and passed beside him, whispering: “You better fear me, cocky minion.”
Sciarra stared for a moment at the gentle sway of Lara’s hips as she was heading towards the mafia’s camp. Then he followed her with a leisurely pace. “So you’re British.” He said as he followed her to the camp. “Funny. Thought all British women were ugly.”
She didn’t answer. “Also, I thought you were a prude. But judging from what you were doing with that guy some nights ago, on the banks of the river, seems I was wrong.”
“Did you enjoy the show?” She replied, undeterred, grinning with cynicism.
“Well, I’d rather not tell...who would’ve enjoyed that must be that bitch Maddalena, who dreams of your man since the first day. I’d keep an eye on her if I were you...any Italian chick will always be more desirable than a skinny British prude.”
Lara didn’t answer this time, but she kept her sarcastic face.
“Signorina...is a pleasure to have you here again.”
Lara suspiciously scrutinized Monteleone’s face. A change had come over the mafioso’s face, no doubt about that. He seemed slightly tenser. “Sit down, please. I want to tell you something.”
She obeyed, and stared at the handsome fifty-year-old man, who was spinning his eternal Martini with a nervous gesture. “How to start?” He muttered. “How to say I’m extremely disappointed with you? No, wait, don’t say anything. I know everything. I know that from day one you’ve been hiding the Scepter. You’re very smart, aren’t you? And you’re strong. You believe everyone else can bend to your will, to make them dance like puppets to the sound of your orders. But believe me, Lara, you can’t play with the Cosa Nostra, not even an aristocrat like you, who thinks to have the world at your feet only because wherever you go, you take what you want by simply reaching out for it. You think everything is yours and you get whatever you seek. And now look at me.” He got up, proudly standing. “Indeed, I’m not a brute. I’m as gentlemanly as any of your English courtiers. I’ve treated you with respect and courtesy. I’ve been patient with you; I’ve shown you documents and provided information to which most people don’t have access. I’ve opened my heart to you and you’ve been making fun of me, you and that multiracial gang of yours. I’ve been underestimated, signorina, since I’m as willing to use polite language as weapons.”
Obviously, Lara had sensed the danger long before he’d finished his solemn speech. She wasn’t armed, and when she saw the capo putting his hand on his coat’s lapel, she jumped from her chair.
But Monteleone was quick and well trained. He took the tiny nickel-plated pistol at a speed which had nothing to envy from the best shooters, and fired. And Lara only had time to raise her arm to cover her chest.
The tiny bullet, made of silver, entered her forearm shattering the bone, pierced the flesh and plunged into her chest, level with her left breast. The impact threw her back and she hit a trunk, fell backwards and lay on the ground, clutching her wounded arm while the blood flowed in torrents.
Maddalena ran in, and seeing the Dantesque scene, let out a cry of horror. “Daniele!”
“Hush, cara mia, hush.” Calmly replied the other, taking out a silk handkerchief and wiping the gun’s barrel. “It’s ok.”
Lara gasped and tried to sit up, but her bloody hands slipped on the top of the trunk and lay back. She bit her lip to hold in a scream.
Monteleone walked up to her slowly, still holding the gun in his hand. He pulled a chair up to her and sat quietly in it. “Weird.” He said. “That bullet was aimed at your head. But first you stood up and then you put your arm in its way. God help me if I’ve ever seen anyone moving so fast. But you see, you weren’t fast enough.” He sighed. “I guess I should be a gentleman and end your agony, but these silver bullets are really expensive and I won’t waste one more of them on your filthy person.”
He put the pistol on the table and, turning to the horrified prostitute, who was trembling in a corner, he said: “Maddalena, bella, bring me another Martini. I’ll stay to keep company to signorina Croft until she bleeds to death. It wouldn’t be polite to leave her alone, don’t you think?”
The redhead stepped back, trembling, and left the tent. She stepped forward and then she hesitated. She looked back.
The canvas tent was splattered with blood where Lara was laying. She shuddered with horror, and soon, she turned and ran, not to order Monteleone’s Martini, but towards the camp of the excavators.
Selma was with Kurtis when he suddenly stood up and touched his chest, as if he’d been stung.
“You okay?” She asked, alarmed.
He didn’t answer. He pulled his hand away slowly and stared at it, as if expecting to see something on it. Then he looked up. With horror painted on his face, he slapped away the canvas tent and went outside. Selma followed him, frightened, to see how Maddalena came running, her face almost as red as her hair. She stopped a few steps from Kurtis, panting, fell to her knees and put her hand over her heart while she breathed laboriously, trying to catch her breath, because of the race she’d been cast into. “Kurtis!” She gasped when she saw him. “Oh, Dio mio...!” She choked.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “What happened? What the hell happened?”
Selma stared dumbfounded at that woman whom she hardly knew, but had come to them without hesitation to say that... “The British...Lara...there... shot down...”
That was enough. Kurtis dropped her and ran toward the Italian camp, ignoring Selma’s cries.
“The hell is going on?” Zip yelled, emerging from his tent and ripping his MP3 headphones out.
“Lara’s hurt!” Said Selma. “I don’t know how...! Hey, wait!”
Maddalena, deaf to the conversation of the two young people, had risen again and ran towards the Italian camp. She didn’t know what had driven her to seek Kurtis, to call him. But she knew she shouldn’t have done that. She had to get him away from there before something terrible happen.
Santo Dio, Daniele, what have you done?
Lara managed to move her good arm, but each movement meant a trial. Through the red haze that clouded her eyes, she saw Monteleone looking around and wondering why his diligent Maddalena was taking so much time.
“You and your bloody Martinis.” She sputtered. “Hope they kill you.”
“Say what you want, darling.” He replied smiling. “Here you’re dying and I’m here alive and kicking. You’ve brutalized your own memory and I kept my honour. So things are.” He leaned towards her. “I’ll tell you something. I think you’ve a right to know, now that you’re going to die. Yesterday a woman came, an informer, who told me about your funny joke. You want to know the only thing she asked in return? Your friend’s head, that Kurtis Trent.”
The comment made the desired effect. Lara’s eyes widened. She tried to say something, but no words came out - her chest ached horribly.
“That woman...she said her name was Bathsheba. Oh, so you know her! Well, you should have been more cautious with your enemies. It would have me worried to have such an enemy, pulling the strings so sophisticatedly. But you’re proud and self-confident. I don’t know for what she wants your friend, but seems he won’t survive after you for long...”
He’d no time to finish the sentence. Suddenly, a loud noise, like a creak, made him turn his head. What he saw was a sharp curved blade ripping up and down the tent’s canvas, which discovered, when falling, Kurtis’ figure. The terrible expression on his face completed a picture that would terrify the bravest person on earth.
Monteleone took the gun and jumped from his chair. He fired. The bullet whizzed by Kurtis’ head, who was leaning slightly to one side - then charged against the capo and knocked him down on the floor. The Italian man struggled, holding the gun which Kurtis tried to take, and began to shout: “Sciarra! Sciarra! Come to me!”
Kurtis silenced him with a punch that broke several of his front teeth. On the corner of his eye he saw Lara, covered with blood, making a terrible effort to get up. Then she looked behind him and gasped: “Kurtis...!”
That warning was enough for him to move aside rolling on the floor - a shot hit the wood of the trunk. At the entrance of the tent was Sciarra, wielding a shotgun. But Kurtis was significantly faster than him - he jumped up, grabbed Monteleone by the neck, who hadn’t recovered from the punch yet, and touched the Chirugai’s blade to his throat: “Move an inch and I’ll behead him.” He threatened.
Sciarra smiled cruelly. “No rush. I can wait until your girlfriend bleeds to death. Although it would be a shame, since the poor chick would get bored before going to hell.”
The blade’s edge sank into Monteleone’s flesh, who began to moan, while a trail of blood soaked his collar. Sciarra tightened his teeth. “Kill him,” he said, targeting Lara, “and I’ll send her to her final destination in a blink.”
At that time, there was a horrible crunch behind Sciarra. The assassin’s gun slipped between his fingers, he rolled his eyes and collapsed on the floor. Maddalena appeared behind him, still holding a stool with both hands. “Take that, you bastard.” She spat through her teeth, throwing aside the stool.
“Maddalena?” Stammered Monteleone. “What are you doing?”
She arose, smiling calmly. “Saving your life, Daniele.” Then she looked at Kurtis. “Please, let him go. Your friend is weak and she won’t live long. I know he shot her, but I warned you, and now I beg you to leave this man.”
Kurtis didn’t hesitate - he pushed the mafioso to the floor and went towards Lara. Monteleone stared in amazement the unconscious body of his killer, and then he cast a look of hate to Kurtis: “You won’t escape, figlio di putana!” He gurgled, spitting blood through his broken teeth. “You soon will be caught by those who seek you!”
Kurtis wasn’t listening - he leaned over Lara, who put her healthy arm around his neck, and then he lifted her gently in his arms.
“Let’s go.” Urged Maddalena. “No time.”
They left the tent, but immediately were surrounded by Monteleone’s men, who upon hearing the fuss had come armed to the teeth. They both would have died in that moment, riddled with bullets, if Maddalena hadn’t covered them with her body and extended her arms, shouting: “Fermo! Don’t shoot! Lower your guns!”
And they, who already had their fingers on the triggers, hesitated, because Maddalena was respected almost as much as the boss. Those moments of doubt were enough for Kurtis, who disappeared in the blink of an eye, taking with him his precious burden.
The Sicilian redhead dropped her arms and looked at him earnestly as he rushed away, carrying Lara in his arms. For love, she’d betrayed her people. And betrayal never goes unpunished.
Selma was the first to see them coming. She stepped forward, and seeing Lara, she screamed. Next to her, Zip and a lot of workers came running.
“Oh, God, oh God.” The Turkish woman cried. “Lara!!!”
“Get away.” Grunted Kurtis, going toward his parked motorbike. While still holding Lara, he climbed to it and fasten her in his arms.
“I’m cold.” She murmured, shivering.
Selma suddenly appeared with a blanket in her hands and quickly wrapped her, no questions asked, while Zip watched Lara, shocked.
“Selma...” Lara muttered. “Run away, all of you...as soon as possible...they know about...the Scepter...”
Kurtis started the vehicle.
“Where are you taking her?” Zip shouted above the engine’s roar.
“To someone who can help!” He cried, and drove off. The motorbike lunged forward and disappeared, leaving a trail of dust.
Zip and Selma remained still for a moment. Suddenly, she seemed to lose her mind. She turned and ran towards the tents.
“Hey, hold up, princess...!”
The crowd of workers and excavators were watching her in shock. Then, they saw her again - she brought the Scepter in her hand, shining in the light of the afternoon sun. In one leap, Selma jumped on top a wooden box. She wasn’t a shy girl anymore. She’d become an exhilarating and fearless leader.
“Listen to me, all of you!” She shouted, brandishing the silver rod. “Those who have hurt Lara wanted this! You want to know what I say? These butchers won’t get it! Are you with me?”
“Yes!” Roared part of the crowd - others just watched her, frightened.
“At this time, they’re coming over here! They come to kill us! Those who don’t want to die, follow me!” She said no more, but jumped down and ran towards the excavation. Instantly, the whole crowd moved behind her.
“Selma, Selma!” Zip managed to reach her. “Where you goin’?”
“To Tenebra!” She cried. “They won’t follow us there!”
Zip shuddered in horror. He stopped her, grabbing her arm. “Are you nuts?”
“It’s our only chance!” She shook off of his arm and ran.
Zip looked around. People left the camp at full speed. He hesitated a moment. Then... “Hey, princess! I’m with ya!”
In the distance, the first shots were heard. The Cosa Nostra attacked.