Epilogue

BAINES ESTATE
ENGLAND
TWO WEEKS LATER

TWO PERSONS MISSING IN AFRICAN DESERT, ASSUMED DEAD

The search for the bodies of Clay Bishop, 34, and Farima Helmme, 11, has at last been called off. The pair was reported missing in Cairo last month. The case has raised considerable suspicion, for scarcely any relation between the two persons exists, save for

Jared Baines folded over the International section of his newspaper with disgust. He was uninterested in reading any further. All that damned depressing business… he decided to sneak a peek at more local stories.

CROFT ANNOUNCES PUBLICATION OF EGYPTIAN ESCAPADE

Lara Croft, world-famous archaeologist and author, has announced the pre-release of her newest travel guide/adventure log, detailing her exploits on her recent investigation in Egypt for the Headdress of Sekhmet. Although the adventurer came up empty-handed this time, her book (which she has entitled She of Two Faces) is sure to be a success

He skimmed down a little further, until something else caught his attention:

profound reflections of encounters with Clay Bishop, an American archaeologist, and Upton Helmme, Bishop’s financier, whose daughter Farima has gone missing along with Clay in the Egyptian desert. While Croft freely admits to having been in the desert at the same time as Bishop and Helmme, she denies any knowledge of their business there or their current whereabouts. It is unlikely that she will be questioned by Cairo authorities

Angry, Baines tossed the paper aside. As he was floating on a raft amid his expansive indoor swimming pool, the paper quickly became soaked and started to sink. An attendant calmly fetched a net and fished the ruined paper out of the water, being careful not to splash his employer in the process.

He sulked. Now there existed no more chances to eliminate her threat. He had been on edge since Danforth turned up dead, and her father took off without a trace. Evan Spencer had felt it best that he should return home as well, leaving Baines no choice but to cancel his Saudi Arabian oil field excursion. And this latest news pleased him not at all.

He lay back on his raft in meditative silence, plotting his next course of action. After a few minutes he became aware of a faint roaring sound, staccatoed by gunfire. He glanced toward the west wall of the pool room, made entirely of expansive glass windows, and pricked up his ears. The roar grew louder and louder still, until at last he discerned a figure on a motorcycle in the distance. Startled, he looked on as the cyclist tore through the carefully manicured lawn, heading directly for the pool room windows. He realized what she was about to do, and gaped, still partially incredulous…

The glass shattered like a still pond as the motorcyclist crashed through it, sending shards of the clear stuff cascading through the air. The driver braked promptly and shut off the engine, shielding herself as bits of glass scattered around her, into the pool and along the mosaic tiled flooring. Blaring alarms reigned once the initial chaos subsided, until the master of the house raised a loud voice of protest over the din. "What is the meaning of this?!"

Lara Croft dusted herself off lightly, returning Baines’ enraged countenance with a calm, cool stare. "We shall get to that presently," she replied, dismounting her trademark Norton Streetfighter and stepping toward the edge of the pool.

As she did so, a pair of Baines’ brawny attendants barreled through the room toward her. "No no, boys. Don’t come any closer," she cautioned. She drew a pair of pistols as she spoke, and aimed one at each of the hired muscles. They lunged at her anyway. Undaunted, she delivered each of them a single shot to the upper thigh. The bodyguards grunted and fell to the floor.

Lara smirked, turning to Baines as she expertly twirled the guns upon her fingers. "Don’t you just hate it when your aim falls short of the family jewels?" she asked as she targeted something across the room.

Baines whirled around in an effort to see what the guns were pointed at, and gasped when he found himself staring at a display case holding his favorite Grecian medallions. "No!"

The pistols fired simultaneously, their bullets striking the security system control pad just centimeters from the display. The noisy alarm went dead. "There now. We can talk in peace."

"About what?" he asked, more than a little flustered.

"I think you know damn well what." She replaced her weapons and folded her arms. "At first I thought Danforth was in it alone. But that’s what you wanted me to think, was it not?"

Jared Baines’ grin was menacing. "Pray tell, my dear. What did you discover on your Egyptian adventure, if not the Headdress?"

"A great deal about you, for one thing. You prefer to be a social enigma, and with good reason. But it wasn’t always that way. Back when you first landed yourself in the oil business, you were aristocratic England’s hottest item. But then there came some trouble in Paradise. I wasn’t joking, back at the Windsor. Business slumped somewhat a few decades ago. And with your prodigal budget, you were on the verge of financial ruin."

"I was, but as you see, things change," he replied, gesturing around the room. "I’ve recovered quite well."

"Indeed. All thanks to Envision Industries." Lara began pacing the floor as she spoke. "You bought it out several years ago with the last of your fortune, but you kept the acquisition secret. That’s because the company served a double purpose for you. Financially speaking, it got you back on your feet again, and found all those lovely artifacts for your selfish pleasure." She looked to him in triumph. "Envision has never been under financial strain, not since you started pumping your oil money into expanding its business worldwide— or, rather, your investors’ oil money. You started swindling wealthy private citizens once Envision brought you back on level ground. And half of those Saudi Arabian fields you flaunt aren’t even yours anymore. Today you take your investors’ money and tell them a bit later on that the venture fell through, just as your Envision benefactors are informed that the excavations were unyielding. All the while, you stuff your pockets and have a good laugh at their expense." She resumed a solid stance, as though to signify a change in subject. "I presume that your cronies came upon the map to the Headdress not too long ago. Being such a connoisseur for antiquity, you knew what the symbols on it meant, but were afraid they would be too vague to convince the average benefactor. So you constructed that ridiculous excuse for a stele and sent a half-wit to rope in a few innocents at the British Museum. Fortunately, I had been tracking Envision activity for quite a while, and could thwart his efforts. And, thankfully, I stopped you before you made my father and Mr. Spencer your latest victims."

Baines was noticeably nervous, but refused to make any show of fear. "It was never my initial intention to invite Lord Croft on the trip," he began. "Evan Spencer, with his newly acquired millions and youthful naiveté, was my true target. But then that ‘half-wit,’ as you call him— Guernsey, I believe— called up with the news that you had entered the race for the Headdress. And when Danforth’s plan to assassinate you failed, I asked Henshingly along and hoped that entering him into the equation would keep you in line. Danforth took the credit for that move, of course, only to keep me out of suspicion."

"How noble," Lara spat disgustedly, shaking her head. "All that for a mere artifact. Why?"

"Don’t pretend ignorance, Miss Croft. Legends hold more truth than you want to admit. Besides, I’m a rather obsessive collector."

"Oh, I’m quite aware of that." Lara pulled a folded document from her backpack. "Here is a list of every artifact Envision Industries has worked to find. None of them are in museums, of course, but I’m sure they can be found within the confines of your lovely estate. I’ve faxed this same list to the authorities, along with some other choice documentation proving your involvement in those swindling rackets—"

A commotion could be heard outside suddenly as several police cars followed the trail of upturned turf left by Lara’s motorcycle. She looked outside for a moment, then turned back to the elderly thief with a smirk. "Speak of the devil."

As Baines shuddered upon his raft like a drowning rat, Lara strode calmly to her ride, mounting it and starting the engine. "If you’ll excuse me, I’ve a new chapter to add to my book before it hits the presses."

She departed promptly, the roar of the Streetfighter dwarfed by the police sirens that sang in the distance.

THE END



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