Tomb Raider: Ghosts

James Woodson

Almost 48 hours after Ryan’s departure, Lara was ready to go looking for James and Paul at the embassy. Her hair was now dirty blonde and reached just to her shoulders. She wore it back in a loose pony tail. She was dressed in tan slacks, a chunky wool sweater and a light hooded rain jacket. It was scarcely what Lara would call functional apparel but she had decided that the less she looked like a tomb raider, the better. In one pocket she carried the passport of the fictitious Alex Smith—recently completed by the remarkable Joaquim—along with what was left of her cash. In the other pocket Lara carried a folding knife she had purchased at a sporting goods store along with some other items.

A light rain started to fall when Lara was about three blocks from the embassy. This allowed her to put her hood up, making the disguise complete. Lara had considered just turning herself in—it would have to happen sooner or later—but the thought of being detained without knowing for sure that James and Paul were safe was too much for her. She would play Lott’s chameleon for just a little bit longer.

As Lara turned onto the Rua de Luís Fernandes her pace slowed slightly. She had jogged past the embassy the day before as a form of reconnaissance and physical therapy. Now she checked every building and car and cobblestone for signs of something out of place. Here, as in a tomb, out of place signaled danger. About fifty meters from the front gate of the embassy everything was out of place.

The day before there had been two security officers posted at the gate. Today there were four. There were three police cars parked opposite the gate and several officers were standing in knots on the sidewalk. Lara felt the hairs on her arms stand up. She had to will her legs to keep moving her forward. Twenty meters to the gate. Lara struggled to keep a reasonable pace. Was she limping? Was she walking too slow? It felt like she was running. Ten meters. Out of the corner of her eye she could see one of the police officers across the street looking at her. Five meters. One of the security officers was handed a sheet of paper. Lara caught a glimpse of it. It was a series of stills from a security camera showing a woman in jogging apparel with shoulder-length blonde hair. Lara’s heart caught in her throat. She stopped in front of the gate. She knew she needed to move but her feet had adhered to the white cobblestone walk.

Flashing lights and a siren behind her jolted Lara out of the trance. Another police car was coming down the street behind her. I’m through, Lara thought. She waited for one of the officers to clamp handcuffs on her wrists. But instead two of the security officers left the front gate to open a larger side gate for the car to drive through. The car drove to the side of the three story building and parked. One of the officers got out and opened the rear door. A man in handcuffs got out. Lara couldn’t help herself, she stared. It was James Woodson.

Lara snapped back to reality. She turned from the gate and kept walking at a medium pace down the street. At the Rua da Escola Politécnica she hailed a cab. “So I’ll have to do it the hard way then,” Lara muttered to herself.

The circumstances of Lara’s return to the embassy that night could not have been more different from what they had been in the morning. After nightfall she had entered an apartment building almost a block from the embassy, climbed onto the roof, and then traveled by rooftop until she was perched across from her target. She was dressed in black spandex tights, black sneakers, and a black hooded jacket. Her hair was hidden under a black stocking cap. From a duffel-bag Lara pulled a long coil of nylon rope, a hunting bow, and several arrows. With expert hands she affixed the rope to one of the arrows.

It was going to be a very tough shot. The embassy roof was about ten meters away and there was nothing soft in which to embed the arrow. The only possible target was a section of aluminum air duct on the far edge of the roof. That meant she needed to hit a target less than a meter wide, more than twenty meters away, with enough force to pierce a sheet of aluminum several millimeters thick. And not be seen or heard by the guards while doing it. Lara reminded herself. She peered over the edge of the roof to check on them. Three guards were patrolling the grounds. A fourth stood just outside the gate smoking a cigarette.

Lara tied the other end of the rope to a chimney behind her and then stood, bow in hand. She nocked an arrow, drew back on the string, and let out half of her breath in a slow, steady exhale. Fffffchk!

There was a whistle, much too loud for Lara’s taste, and a metal crunch as the arrow buried itself in the duct. She immediately dropped to the ground, praying no one flashed a light up there. She heard the guards congregate by the side of the building closest to her. The muttered to each other. She waited. It was fifteen minutes before she dared peek over the edge of the roof. The guards had resumed their patrols.

With the utmost care Lara tugged on the rope, testing it. It held. She put one leg over the edge of the roof and put some weight on the rope. It held. And now the moment of truth. Lara put both legs over and eased herself onto the rope.

It held.

She crept along the underside of the rope, ankles crossed, hand over hand. Each second she was out there, totally exposed, Lara was convinced a guard was going to look up. She forced the fear out of her mind and pressed on. After an eternal minute she was on the embassy roof. She made her way to the side and climbed down a drainpipe until she was perched outside a third story window. It was dark inside. She tested the window. It was unlocked! Lara heaved an inward sigh of relief at not having to climb around the entire building, pushed open the window, and dropped lightly inside.

Once her eyes had adjusted she found that she was in a kind of anteroom leading onto an office. There were a few armchairs, a low table, some large potted plants, and an antique dressing screen in one corner. Lara could hear voices in the adjoining office. James! Lara moved closer to the door. The other voice was not Paul’s, Lara’s heart dropped a little. Then she heard it. The second voice…she knew that voice. The voice was Daniel Hunter’s, the reporter who had clued her in on Ryan’s whereabouts and his membership in the Knights Templar. What is he doing here?

Lara pressed her ear to the door.

“Look, I don’t know where she is.” James’ voice. Protesting.

“You didn’t really try to look for her.” Hunter’s voice. Chiding.

“The damned local police got in my way!”

“They told me they found you at a bar, halfway through a bottle of Smirnoff.”

“Speaking of which, I'm thirsty…” The sound of footsteps approached the door where Lara crouched listening. She sprang to her feet, crossed the room at a run and ducked behind the dressing screen just as the lights came on.

“Don’t think you’ll get off that easy,” said Hunter. Lara heard the sound of the door shutting followed by the sounds of a bottle opening and a glass being filled.

“You think this is easy for me?” James fired back.

“Whether or not this is easy is irrelevant. What matters is how far you’re willing to go to keep the truth buried. So, are you ready to try again?”

“The police won’t let me off the leash again,” muttered James.

“We have people who can make the police change their mind,” replied Hunter. Lara heard someone, probably James, take a seat in one of the armchairs.

“What happens when I find her?”

“I don’t think you ought to know that, Dr. Woodson.” Hunter’s voice was icy. The hairs on Lara’s neck stood up.

“What happens?” James said hoarsely.

There was a long pause before Hunter spoke: “In the Praça do Comércio, Lara Croft showed an unfortunate sympathy for the cause of Ryan Caruso. That makes her a threat to Carlos. He wants that threat eliminated.”

Lara couldn’t help herself. “Who the bloody hell are you?” Lara half shouted as she stepped out from behind the screen. Both men’s heads whipped around. James’ mouth dropped open. Daniel Hunter smiled.

“Lara--,” James began.

Lara cut him off. “What is he talking about? How do you even know him?”

“Go on, Dr. Woodson,” Hunter smiled. “Explain yourself.”

James just shook his head. “Lara, you shouldn’t have come,” he whispered.

“No?” Hunter asked. He continued to smile. “Then allow me to clear things up. Dr. Woodson and I met shortly after the murder of his fiancé, Evelyn Tanner.”

James turned to look at Hunter, eyes wide, mouth open.

“Not so Dr. Woodson? Very well, let’s call it forced suicide. Frankly, I don’t see much distinction between the two terms but have it your way. You see Miss Croft, Evelyn Tanner had never shown more than a casual interest in Dr. Woodson despite his many entreaties. Her being so unattainable made him even more desirous to have her. And so he flexed his Oxford muscle and told her that if she didn’t marry him she would be expelled from the university. Evelyn had little money, no connections; school was all she had. And so she played along. That is, she played along until the thought of being Mrs. Dr. James Woodson so repulsed her that she took a mega-dose of sleeping pills that killed her.

James was looking deeply into the bottom of his glass of gin.

“James…is this true?” Lara whispered.

“I’m afraid so,” Daniel Hunter said as he forced a frown. “But there’s more. Evelyn Tanner wanted to make Dr. Woodson pay for extorting her love. She left one note behind in their flat detailing the good doctor’s devious machination and sent a similar note to the dean at Oxford. The first note was destroyed by Dr. Woodson. The second note was intercepted by a very clever and supernaturally connected investigative journalist. And Dr. Woodson’s secret was held in reserve against a time when the Shadow Kingdom would need his services.”

“Is this true James?” Lara demanded. “Answer me!”

“He’s deceived you this long. Why should he come clean now? But he doesn’t have to tell you the truth. Examine the facts for yourself. Who put you onto the trail of the Idol? Who prompted you to go back for it? And how to explain that Carlos knew exactly where and when to find you and that I knew the right moment to call you and plant the seed of distrust?”

Lara’s tomb raider mind assembled the puzzle pieces in an instant. “James, how could you?” she whispered.

“He sold you to the devil, Miss Croft. Doctor Judas Woodson.”

“You bastard!” James cried as he leapt from his chair. His hands clamped like claws on Hunter’s neck. Both men fell to the floor. Hunter put his hands in James’ face and pushed.

“Help! Help!” Hunter shouted hoarsely. Lara heard footsteps in the hall.

James looked up at Lara. “Jerusalem, Lara. Carlos is in Jerusalem.”

Lara felt as if she were very far away watching her body from some distant vantage point. Lara climbed through the window as if someone else were pulling her like a puppet. She heard the door open, men’s voices, a scuffle. She climbed up to the roof and across the rope. She barely worried about the guards now. Only when Lara was a block away in a taxi headed heavens knew where did she begin to cry. She cried until she could taste the salt on her lips. She passed a sleeve over her reddened eyes and pulled a pre-paid phone from her jacket pocket. She dialed the only number on the phone and held it to her ear.

“Hello?” answered a man’s voice. Calm. Gentle.

“Jerusalem. He’s in Jerusalem.”
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