Winston ambled down a second-story hallway of Croft Manor, tea tray in hand. Despite the sounds of saws and hammers he had heard all morning, he was unprepared when the floor gaped open under his feet. He stumbled, managed to reclaim his balance, and looked down into the hole. A number of floor boards had been pulled up, and the presence of a large saw in the cross beams indicated that the job wasn't done.
"Lara!" he shouted, irritated. Croft Manor may belong to her on paper, he thought, but it was his domain, and had been so for longer than Lara had been alive.
"What is it?" a voice asked from above. He looked up. Lara's head poked through another hole in the ceiling.
"What are you doing?" Winston demanded.
"What would your dear old aunt say, may she rest in peace?"
"I suspect she would take one look and go pour herself another drink. Actually, that sounds quite nice. I don't suppose you'd be willing to fetch me a glass of wine, would you? The one on my nightstand would do. It'll help steady my hand." She waved a hammer jauntily.
Winston didn't move, but asked, in a testing sort of voice, "You're doing this yourself?"
"By myself, yes."
Winston gave into outrage and snapped, "You know nothing about construction! I do believe, in fact, that you're far better at destroying things than building them. You could jeopardize the structural integrity!"
"Oh, rubbish." Lara's face was turning red from hanging upside down. "If I trooped a horde of carpenters and electricians in here, all my secrets would be... less secret. It wouldn't do at all if everyone knew where my trapdoors and hidden passages were."
He blanched at the thought of Lara attempting to rewire anything. "I refuse to watch you rip this house apart, Lara! It has a long and glorious history. Why, did you know that George III spent the night here, and Churchill used to make personal calls to your--"
"Dear old aunt? Yes, yes I know. She was quite the spitfire. But I need to remodel It doesn't suit my purposes otherwise!"
They glared at each other for a few seconds before Winston sighed. "For you aunt's sake, hire a contractor."
She pursed her lips, thinking. "Well, it wasn't uncommon in ancient times for architects of tombs and the slaves who built them to be disposed of to protect the secrets of--"
Winston settled back in the library's comfiest chair and scanned the front page of the newspaper. Trouble in the Middle East, famine in Africa, local lawmakers arguing about tax brackets... today's news was nothing new. He opened to the crossword. To his abject horror, all the answers had been filled in, with indelible ink.
Before he could splutter more than an outraged oath, a knocking at the wall startled him. The knocking grew steadily louder, dislodging bits of plaster from the ceiling. Winston stood and backed away just as a sledgehammer broke through with an explosive shower of stone, plaster dust, and wood paneling. He looked down. The front of his black suit was coated white with the dust.
Lara peered through the new hole. "These walls are much thicker than I thought they'd be. Oh! Winston! I didn't know you were in here."
He spoke slowly, so that she would recognize his wrath. "What. Pray tell. Are you doing?"
"Constructing a secret passage between the library and my bedroom. I'll hide the door with a tapestry or a bookshelf or something."
"Did you finish whatever you were trying to make with the holes in the ceiling?"
"Oh, those are just trapdoors. I'll put rugs over them and any intruders will fall right through." She made a diving motion with her hand to illustrate her point.
Winston turned his back and stomped stiffly out of the library without answering.
The tic in Winston's left eye seemed to spasm in time with the beat of Lara's hammer. Something had to be done about Lara's newfound hobby, and it had to be done before the house came down around his ears. He stared at the kitchen's telephone, scheming. Sending her to play outside wouldn't do any good. That would only invite angry phone calls from the local chief of police, asking if Winston knew what Lara had done and then launching into a tirade against wealthy, overeducated women with no responsibilities.
"Winston!" Lara hollered. "Winston, I dropped my hammer!"
Winston grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose. For most of the year, Lara trotted around the globe, introducing her unique variety of destruction to unsuspecting foreigners and causing international incidents, leaving Winston to enjoy a peaceful semi-retirement at her ancestral home. Trouble cropped up only when she ran out of priceless artifacts to steal and temples to destroy, endangered wildlife to kill and ancient evil to annoy. These dry spells occurred every few years, and the only solution was to find her a new project.
Lara burst through the kitchen door. "Winston! I've just had a brilliant idea. What is your opinion on pressure-plate activated flame-throwers?"
"I know-- you wish you'd thought of it yourself. Now, that is how we should augment security. I'll look into live tigers, too, but they'll be a damned nuisance to smuggle into the country. Maybe I can pinch some from the zoo." Lara stared intently into space, formulating plans. "By the way, that hammer seems to have fallen straight through the ground floor and into the old tombs. While you're down there, grab me a few bottles of the '83. They're in great-grandfather Croft's crypt."
Lara sashayed out, plucking an apple from the fruit bowl as she went. She audibly crunched into it, and Winston knew that he would find the core moldering in a hidden nook weeks from now. He unclenched his fists and took a deep breath.
He needed the military surplus torch if he was going into the tombs. It was the only torch in Croft Manor heavy enough to act as both a light and a truncheon, a necessary implement since Lara's childhood pets, a pair of large, exotic tarantulas, had escaped and founded a venerable dynasty in the dusty old catacombs. Winston had always suspected that the tarantulas had been aided in their escape by a certain young lady in her quest for more excitement, a failing that she had never outgrown.
Winston swatted away a leaping tarantula with his torch. The beam of light swerved over the catacombs, cutting through the dark and briefly illuminating stone walls and cobwebs and glittering dust motes. He retrained the light on the path ahead and continued through the swirling dust. To either side, old stone coffins bore the names of ancient Crofts who would have been long forgotten had Lara not decided that the cool, dry climate of the tomb made an ideal makeshift wine cellar. Shell casings and dead tarantulas, most of them in pieces, littered the ground.
A small set of stairs brought Winston down into a room larger than the cramped halls he had passed through. This room was faintly lit by a gap in the high ceiling. Winston squashed an unsuspecting spider with his gleaming wingtips and inspected the plaques affixed to the foot of each casket. Wm. Crofts I through XI spanned the left wall, while the relatively more recent (and more diversely named) occupied the right, and all had their lids neatly propped against the wall. A single coffin in the middle, the last Croft to be entombed in the family crypt, bore the name "Henshingly Croft."
The skeletal remains of Lord Henshingly had been arranged so that he clasped one wine bottle in his left hand and appeared to be drinking deeply from another in his right. Someone had placed a New Year's 1999 party hat at a rakish angle upon his skull. Neither flustered nor amused by this discovery, Winston pried a bottle away. He was well aware of Lara's lack of respect for the dead. The first thing she'd done when she moved into the manor was take all of the portraits and busts of her revered ancestors from the portrait gallery and set them up against bales of hay for target practice.
The hammer lay nearby Henshingly's final resting place (whether or not he was actually getting any rest these days was debatable, but the sentiment was unchanged). Winston shifted the wine under his arm and carefully bent, not wishing to aggravate his back, and plucked up the hammer. As he stood, the torch beam glinted off something on the far side of the cavern. He almost wrote it off as another bullet shell, until he noted that the object was shinier than the dull copper casings scattered throughout the catacombs.
Winston drew closer. There was no mistaking it - the chunky gold ring, suited for a man's hand, with a tiny constellation chart as its focus. He recognized it immediately from a photograph that had appeared in the newspapers and evening broadcasts during media coverage of Lara's eventful jaunt in Paris. The ring had been prominently displayed on its dark haired owner's raised hand, almost certainly endeavoring to make a rude gesture at the photographer.
Winston had little doubt Lara knew him, judging from the disgusted noises she had made whenever the man's name was mentioned on the television. That didn't explain how his ring had ended up in Lara's family tomb. He had a budding suspicion that this finding would be the key to his salvation. With a smile that was meant to be cheerful, but looked more like scowl on his careworn face, he pocketed the ring and made his way upstairs, briskly kicking aside spiders along the way.
Lara was leaning over a sturdy-looking cage when Winston emerged from the catacombs, trailing dust and cobwebs and the occasional spider. He froze when he saw the cage.
"Lara... what's have you done?" he asked warily. Grinning, she moved aside so he could get a better view of a toothy crocodile.
"Envision, Winston, a murky moat around Croft Manor. A burglar attempts to swim across, unaware that his death is looming. Suddenly, he feels a sharp pain as jaws clamp down around his leg. Within minutes, nothing is left but a skeleton!" She chuckled and patted the cage. The crocodile snapped at her hand.
Winston had been dealing with his employer's eccentricities for too long to give into despair now, and so he kept his face carefully neutral, and said, "Are you certain you're not thinking of piranhas?"
Lara's lips parted. "Piranhas... brilliant. Do pet shops sell those? How many would I need? The moat will be quite large, you know."
"Shall I inform the gardener so he can say goodbye to his lawn?"
"Not yet. He'll probably make a fuss, so it's better to act first and apologize later in this case. I've rented the equipment and everything. Apparently, I need some sort of license to operate it, but really, how hard can it be?"
Winston's imagination, once dedicated to anticipating the needs of his employers, had been honed under his tenure with Lara and was already conjuring up images of the destruction Lara could wreak with the aid of heavy machinery. Exasperated, he put down the wine and the hammer and put his hand in his pocket, wrapping his fingers around the ring. Before he pulled it out, however, he gave into curiosity and asked, "Lara, how many intruders do you think we'll be forced to deal with? Between now and eternity?"
"Well, there's all those countries that claim I've stolen artifacts of 'historical and cultural significance," she replied, the last bit uttered with a dismissive roll of the eyes. "Who knows when they'll finally give up on going through legal channels trying to get those back. And I can't even begin to tell you how many people have sworn revenge upon me and my descendants and my little dog, too. Any night now we could be awakened by the screams of an assassin being mauled by my tiger."
"You don't have a tiger," Winston said.
"Oh, no, not yet. But I'm becoming more and more enamored of the idea. Can you just imagine word getting around that Lara Croft has a tiger pit? The looks on people's faces..."
"So, what you're saying is, the multi-million dollar security system you had installed is less reliable than a tiger?" It was time to bring an end to these shenanigans. He took out the ring and held it up. "Would you care to have a look?"
Lara looked. Her eyes widened, then narrowed. "Where did you find that?" Her gaze swiveled to the abandoned bottle of wine. "Ah, the tombs. Of course. But how... Winston, bring me my backpack and guns. I'm going hunting." She slipped the ring onto her thumb, her lips twisting into a sinister grin. "One more reason we need deadly animals lurking around the grounds."
He left the room at a slow, stately pace until he was out of Lara's sight, and then sped up to a brisk lurch to gather her gear, anxious for her to leave before she changed her mind.
He saw her off with solemn dignity, but as soon as the taxi pulled away from the drive he poured himself a celebratory glass of wine from the bottle Lara had ignored. He glanced at the crocodile, chewing at the bars of its cage. "Would you care to order in tonight?" It snapped its jaws. "I shall call the zoo, then. I suspect that's where you came from." In fact, Winston had quite a few calls to make: carpenters, masons, his bridge club. Tonight's game was back on.
NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness,
and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a
non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.
Entry for the 4th Village of Tokakeriby Tomb Raider Story Competition, 2009.