The night’s incessant cold drizzle had forced most tourists from the Praça de Comércio by the time Lara’s taxi arrived. She stepped out of the taxi and onto the vast concrete plain that was the Praça. It was large, almost 200 meters on all sides, and surrounded by 18th century buildings on three sides and the Tagus River on the fourth. On the north end was a five-storey triumphal arch reminiscent of ancient Rome sitting in between two of the buildings which used to serve as the trade centers of the Portuguese empire. Through that arch was the Rua Augusta—a wide, pedestrian affair of bleached cobblestones and small shops—which led upward toward the Rossio, another of Lisbon’s famous plazas. In the middle of the Praça de Comércio was a large equestrian statue of a king Lara could not identify. Lara spent most of her time looking at the statue and its twelve-foot pedestal, as it was the only cover to be found for hundreds of feet. She made her way towards it, hoping that she could dictate, in some small way, where the trade would take place. Her hair was drenched by the time she made it to the statue. Her flesh felt cool and clammy despite the pounding of her heart. Under her overcoat she felt the reassuring weight of her arsenal.
“You disappoint me, Miss Croft.”
Lara turned to see Carlos Vicente rounding the corner of the statue. A few steps behind him stood two men; they were muscular, stone-faced and—judging from the bulges in their coat pockets—armed. Carlos wore a black overcoat. In his left hand he held an umbrella. There was an air of cool confidence around him; the same disconcerting calm she’d seen when he attacked her boat and when she had been led into his dark stronghold.
“Where are my friends?”
“Where is Ryan Caruso? Or have you forgotten the terms of our exchange?” Carlos said icily.
“Ryan Caruso is close by. I’ll tell you exactly where once my friends are safe,” Lara was betting with money she knew she didn’t have. Despite her formidable weaponry, she was severely outgunned; she had already spied five more of Carlos’ men in just a single glance around the plaza. All wore long overcoats no doubt to hide large weapons.
Carlos sighed and whispered something to one of his guards. The guard looked towards the street on the east end of the plaza and made a signal with his left hand. Lara followed his gaze and saw another one of Carlos’ men open the door of a parked black sedan and pull out two men. One was short and pudgy, the other tall and lean. Carlos turned back to face Lara. “Which one should I kill? The case in your hand will buy you the other one.”
“You kill either of them and you’ll get nothing!” Lara spat. “I’ve rigged the case with an explosive charge and I’m the only one who knows the code to disarm it.”
“You’re lying,” Carlos replied evenly.
“Just try me,” Lara growled.
Carlos paused for a few eternal seconds and stared into Lara’s face. Convinced that he was about to call her bluff, Lara’s mind raced to find a new bargaining chip. Her heart began to thud uncomfortably in her chest, cold sweat formed at her temples.
“Alright.” Carlos’ words jolted Lara from her despair. “Your friends can go.” He made a sign towards his man by the car and Paul and James were released. “Now, where is Ryan Caruso?”
The sight of her friends, walking toward her under their own power, flooded Lara with such a sense of relief that she handed the metal case to Carlos without being asked to. Her relief was interrupted by the relentless analyst that was her mind. Carlos’ question had almost gone unnoticed but now it was brought to the forefront of her awareness. This was the moment she most feared—when the balance of power would shift entirely out of her hands—and unfortunately the moment she had least been able to prepare for. It had only been complicated by her new understanding of Ryan Caruso. If she told Carlos where Ryan was and the treacherous Shark Man found his prey would Lara be able to live with herself? On the other hand if Carlos didn’t find Ryan could she live at all?
“Where is he, Miss Croft?”
“He—,” Lara began slowly.
“I’m right here.” Ryan appeared behind Lara as if he had suddenly dropped out of the sky. “You didn’t think I’d try to hide, did you?”
Carlos laughed. There was no levity in the sound. “You really are a fool. A brave fool, but a fool nevertheless.”
“Let’s get this over with,” Ryan said. He sounded resigned but also angry.
“Yes, let’s begin, shall we?” smiled Carlos. In a series of movement so calculated it seemed rehearsed, Carlos and Ryan drew their weapons. Without thinking Lara drew her pistols and trained them on Carlos’ nearest two guards. Their weapons—menacing submachine guns with silencers—were already out. The rest of Carlos’ thugs were closing in.
“Miss Croft, I’ve been more than generous,” Carlos said quietly. “Take your friends and leave, or stay and you’ll all die.”
“He’s right Lara, you need to leave now.” Ryan did not take his eyes of Carlos.
A distant scream informed the combatants that someone had noticed the standoff. Lara estimated that it would only be moments before the police arrived. Still, no one moved. Ryan was outgunned. To leave him now would guarantee his death. To stay would possibly guarantee her own. And Paul’s. And James’. Lara’s heart seemed to be beating in her throat. Her mouth felt dry and the skin on her face was coated in perspiration mixed with rain. Slowly she holstered her weapons.
“I’m sorry, Ryan,” she whispered.
“Don’t be, just get the hell out of here.” Ryan’s tone was urgent, pleading almost.
Lara’s eyes began to cloud up as she walked towards her friends. Fifty meters from the standoff she finally could reach out and touch them. It was the first time in nearly two weeks that she had seen James and Paul. Despite the obvious traces of imprisonment—loss of weight, dirty faces, greasy hair, haggard expressions—they appeared to be all right.
“Lara, you’re alive,” James smiled and embraced her.
“I was going to say the same about you,” Lara smiled weakly. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.” She led her friends towards a line of taxis on the north edge of the plaza. Once her friends were safely inside the yellow Mercedes-Benz, Lara risked looking back at the cluster of armed men standing by the statue. Their weapons were still raised. Police sirens were wailing in the distance.
“I’m so sorry Ryan,” she whispered to herself.Gunfire erupted across the plaza.