Down Among The Dead
As well as The Times Exclusive level, there was also a seven-part story written to compliment the gameplay. It was written by Erica Wagner, who was the then literary editor of The Times. Each episode was published every Saturday, starting on 27th November 1999 and finishing around the New Year 2000. All rights of the story belong to The Times Newspaper.
Lara was bored. November days in London weren’t really her style - it had been too long between adventures. In this first of seven episodes, Erica Wagner, the literary editor of the Times, launches Lara on a perilous journey across three continents to the heart of the greatest Egyptian mystery of them all. Now read on….
Lara rounded the corner and - just as she’d suspected the thing was waiting for her. She felt the adrenaline rush up into the roots of her hair as he lunged at her, swearing, but she feinted, drawing from behind her the lead pipe she’d kept concealed. She swung it at him with all her force, but he was fast too, and managed to dodge away, in the blink of an eye she was staring down the barrel of a gun. Everything slowed, she could see his finger tighten on the trigger, and she heard the shot be fired, point blank, at her chest.
“Bloody hell,” Lara grumbled, pushing her computer keyboard to the side of her desk. What rubbish these computer games were. Anyway, she had better things to do. In front of her was a mountain of papers, books and files… she was sifting through them, trying to decide what the topic of her next book should be. Scott had it Easy: An Antarctic Escapade? Barrelling through Borneo? Nothing seemed quite right. She got up and made herself a cup of coffee, looking out her kitchen window at the garden of the house stretched out before her. The leaves were just starting to turn, her beloved roses had closed and fallen, gone to sleep for another winter. This was always the time she wanted to get out of England, not sit at her desk.
Well, there might be one way… she picked up the letter she’d left lying on the table the day before. It had come… regular as clockwork, as it did every year from her godfather Jeremy, the man responsible for so many of her adventures. Each year he took her travelling, the price of her ticket always the same. She had to solve the puzzles he’d set, which revealed their starting point. It could be anywhere in the world and the test was always exciting.
Now the first of his puzzles lay before her, it wasn’t hard for Lara to summon up the interest, but her concerns about her next professional move still hung over her. She wasn’t a girl any more, after all, and she had to earn a living, all this tomb-raiding was one thing but it wouldn’t pay for the upkeep on this place. She sighed and sipped her coffee, and heading back to her desk, nearly tripped on a book that had slipped out of a not exactly orderly pile. Treasures of the Cairo Museum.
She knelt. She’d forgotten she owned it. She leafed through the pages, Jeremy’s clue still in her mind; the conjunction of the two was serendipitous. As she gazed at stone and gold, in lapis and alabaster. It almost seemed to her that she could smell the dust and bustle of Egypt. She dropped the book quickly. She’d had an idea.
The original copy of the letter no longer existed: the archivist had explained to her that once it had been set in type, it would have been thrown away. It had appeared in The Times in March 1923 “Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of the pharaoh.” The novelist Marie Corelli reminded the paper’s readers - avid for news of what would be revealed in the recently opened tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun. She claimed the admonition could be found in an ancient Arabic text in her possession, but all the same her warning might have gone unremarked had not Lord Carnarvon, patron of the tomb’s discoverer, Howard Carter, died just a few days later. The “Curse of the Pharaohs”.
What rot, Lara thought to herself as she looked carefully through the boxes the archivist had set in front of her. In 1922 The Times had paid £5,000 for exclusive coverage of the greatest archaeological discovery of the century. News from the Valley of the Kings arrived by runner to Luxor in those days: Lara sighed a little, wondering if life before e-mails and modems wouldn’t have been rather more exciting. With its thick brick walls and small barred windows, the archive was quiet as a tomb on this rainy London afternoon.
She knew it was cheeky, just showing up. Luckily her uncle who she hadn’t seen in years, but never mind - had been up at Oxford with the Editor, reading classics. She’d met him a few times and thought he’d seemed all right. Sitting on a fat sofa in his low-lit, low-ceilinged office, she had a feeling he didn’t know what to make of her. Still, he’d let her into the archive. Before she left she wandered over to his bookshelves and pulled off a volume of Xenophon in the original Greek which, she noticed, had once belonged to “The Times Intelligence Service”. Definitely, those were the days. She rattled off the opening paragraph for him; her Greek wasn’t rusty as she’d thought. That, at any rate, made him smile.
Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh. She sat with a pencil between her teeth, wondering where all of this was leading her. The archivist popped his head round the door.
“You all right in there?” She started.
“Yes, fine thanks”, she said. “But is this all the material?” Somehow, curse or no curse, she hadn’t found what she was looking for.
“I think so,” He said. He seemed a nice enough fellow, Lara thought. He’d told her he was new on the job; been there six months. Lara couldn’t have stuck it, shut up in dusty offices all the time. He counted the boxes in front of her. “Hang on”, he said. He went into the back, and after a few minutes returned with another, smaller than the others, made of wood, not cardboard. “Funny”, he said, “I thought it might be part of that lot”. There was a small label on the front, neatly written in black ink, in an old-fashioned hand; '1923’ was all it said. “I’ve not been through it though”. He bent and blew dust off its lid, “Looks like no one has, or not in a while anyway”. He smiled at her, “there you go, then”. He left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Carefully, Lara opened the box, setting the lid on the table beside her. Inside was a mass of papers, unsorted, yellowing. All the other boxes had had their contents neatly divided into folders, tidily arranged. In truth, when she’d seen them her heart had sunk, she couldn’t believe she’d find anything really new in such pristine order. But this… Carefully she began to sift through the material; much of the handwriting, she could now tell, was Howard Carter’s. Occasionally she saw the failing signature of Lord Carnarvon. Mostly it was accounts; there were columns of figures and names of photographers, journalists, news agencies. Among the papers she spotted something else, hidden near the bottom of the box. It was a little handmade notebook. About threes inches by four, made of thick heavy paper and bound with waxed twine, its cover was stained but unmarked. The first page was blank. On the next page some numbers; confused sums. Then a sketch or two; details, it looked like, of jewellery or statues. A Horus eye stared out at her. On the next page, Carter’s writing again, this time cramped and hurried. She began to read:
They say this is the most important archaeological find ever to have been made in Egypt: perhaps anywhere in the world and certainly I know that to be true. And yet I am still quite certain that there is more - of greater importance still, that is possible. And what I have found so far might well lead me on to the next, if I could only -
The archivist. Her heart was pounding. Slowly she closed the little notebook; it almost fitted into her palm.
“Fine, fine,” she said quickly, trying not to sound out of breath, “It’s, um, more of the same, you know… accounts, ledgers, that kind of thing,”
“Not too exciting?” Lara smiled, unconvincingly, she was sure. “Not really.” The archivist shrugged, “Well, you know where I am if you need me,” he said.
When he’d gone, Lara hastily rearranged the papers from the box, piling them back in. They’d never miss the notebook. Well, they wouldn’t, would they? It had been sitting here all these years, not doing anyone any good - she was the one who should have it, she could do something with it. Grinning, she slipped it into the inside pocket of her leather jacket. She felt better than she had in months.
The next installment of Down among the Dead will appear on Saturday December 4. The story will run until the New Year.
Searching through the archives of The Times, Lara Croft has discovered a notebook which she hopes will lead her to the greatest archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun was found. But she needs help - and in the latest episode by ERICA WAGNER, she heads off to the British Museum for expert advice...
Walking down Museum Street, past the little Italian cafes and souvenir shops, Lara checked her watch and patted her pocket, making sure the notebook was still safe. Six o’clock on an autumn day and already it was nearly dark; Lara's breath plumed in front of her and drifted off like hope. Hope! Was it crazy to think she was on to something? Well, she’d soon see.
The museum was closing; a security guard stopped her at the entrance. But she told him she had an appointment, and he let her through. She walked against the tide of visitors leaving the columned entrance of the building, past the scaffolding that still marred its face, the cranes that loomed in the darkness like prehistoric creatures.
Inside a guard led her though long passageways and empty galleries. She caught a glimpse of the Elgin marbles, glowing moon-blue in the half dark; stone faces cast their blank looks on her. The guard left her in a narrow corridor, in front of a wooden door. She knocked.
“One moment, please!” A muffled shout in the American accent she’d heard on the telephone. A scuffling; the sound, she guessed from some familiarity with it, of hasty tidying. And then the door swung open.
“Miss Croft, I presume! How d’you do? Alvin Blackmore, pleased to meet you.” Dr Alvin Blackmore III put out a meaty hand, which she took, and he pumped hers heartily, squeezing her knuckles rather harder than she would have liked. He towered over her - he must have been 6’4” - and though she guessed he was in his mid-sixties he was powerfully built, broad across the chest and shoulders: a vividly striped expanse of costly Egyptian cotton was at her eye level; just above, his thick neck was decorated with a floppy bow tie. His hair was quite white but his cheeks were ruddy; she could easily imagine him, decades ago, star quarterback at - Yale, it looked like, when she peered over his shoulder at the diplomas hanging on the wall behind him. “Come in, come in,” he said. “Do have a seat.”
A great oak desk took up one corner of the small room, which was mostly filled with filing cabinets and a couple of small tables covered with papers; piles of them weighted down, she saw, with small alabaster and granite figures. One was carved, she saw, with a winsome baboon’s face, appropriately enough.
Blackmore cleared the last scrap of paper from the seat he had indicated. “May I take your coat?” he offered.
“I'm fine, thanks,” Lara said. “Thanks for seeing me.”
“Well, any friend of Professor Gilbert’s is a friend of mine,” he laughed. “Now,” he said, seating himself on the other side of his desk. "This was something about a notebook?”
Lara reached into her jacket and pulled out the little paper book. She handed it over to him and watched as he began to leaf through the pages. “Interesting,” he said, almost to himself. “Carter’s handwriting.” He looked up at her, raised an eyebrow. "Provenance?” he asked.
“I can't say.” She looked him straight in the eye.
He shook his head. “Well, well, well.” He stared at her, not the way men often did: what he was appraising, she was sure, was above her neck. “Gilbert said there was something a bit - piratical about you.” He closed the book. “But strictly speaking, I shouldn't even be looking at this. I could get into some pretty hot water; not to mention what would happen to you, my dear.” He smiled.
“It’s about another tomb,” Lara said. “I’m pretty sure it’s authentic, but I wanted to show it to someone else. I think there might be - directions. He talks about Tutankhamun’s widow, Ankhesenamun; she was only 25 when he died and no one knows where she’s buried. He seems to think that her tomb might hold some secret, some - power. He talks about a jewel that can confer eternal life - real eternal life, not the afterlife of Egyptian mythology. I know it sounds mad, but I don’t think it is. I need help to work this out, though. Help from someone I could trust.”
“You don’t strike me as the trusting type.”
“Sometimes I have to be,” Lara said. ‘But I get rather cross when that trust is betrayed.”
“Point taken.” He sat back and looked out the window. “I'd like to have a closer look at this.” He looked at his watch. “Perhaps we might meet again tomorrow.”
"You get to keep the book?”
“I don’t see how I'd be able to have a closer look otherwise.”
Lara shifted in her seat. She was uncomfortable. She hadn’t made a copy of the notebook; there hadn’t been time.
“Look,” Blackmore said. He got up from his desk and picked up one of the little statues he’d been using as a paper- weight. About five inches high and delicately carved, it was an image of Isis, protectress of the dead; the moon enhorned above her head and her son, Horus, cradled in her lap. He gave it to Lara. The stone was cool and smooth. “Why don’t
you hang on to that? Call it security.”
She turned it over in her hand. It seemed wise to her; she could feel its antiquity. She wondered what it had seen. “I guess you don’t get these from the museum shop,” she said.
Blackmore chuckled, and put a hand on her shoulder. “You could say not,” he said. “So ~ shall we say tomorrow? Eleven o'clock? I'll make us some Turkish coffee, how’s that?”
“That would be fine,” Lara said. “I’ll look forward to that.”
He slipped the notebook back into the top pocket of his jacket. He shook her hand again, just as firmly. “Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Croft,” he said. “I think this might be a very fruitful association.”
“Let’s hope so,” Lara said.
She told him she could find her own way out, and as she left, made a point to walk all through the silent Egyptian galleries, looking over her shoulder before brushing her fingers against the incised surface the Rosetta Stone. The little Isis was heavy in her pocket. She stopped in front of a life-size statue, seated, a woman with a lion’s head: Sakhmet, the goddess who brought destruction to the enemies of the Sun god, Re. In the statue’s lap someone had left a loose bouquet of flowers, white fresias and purple irises. The offering made the statue come alive, somehow; the hairs rose on the back of Lara’s neck and she found herself unwilling to meet its stone gaze. She hurried out of the empty museum and into the yellow London night.
It was only when she got home that she realised the last page of the notebook had come loose from its bindings and had remained in her pocket. Well, it didn’t matter. She could show it to Blackmore in the morning.
It was a quarter to eleven when she arrived at the museum the next day, which was bright, with high, scudding clouds. She ran up the stone steps and headed towards Blackmore’s office; a guard stopped her as she was about to go beyond the sign that said ‘Staff Only’. “I have an appointment with Dr Blackmore,” she said.
“Right,” said the guard, a woman, staring at her beadily. “This way.” She led Lara not to Dr Blackmore’s office - the door was shut - but just beyond it, to another door, which she struck with her knuckles and then pushed open. “Someone for Dr Blackmore,” she said.
A woman got up from behind a desk and she and Lara looked at each other. “I’m Lara Croft,” she said. “I’m here to see Dr Blackmore. Is there a problem?”
The woman nodded, and to Lara's astonishment, she saw a tear trickle down her cheek.
Lara sat behind the woman’s desk, a cup of tea cooling in front her. A heart attack? How could he have had a heart attack? He looked so healthy! Frances Brock - that was the woman’s name, she was an assistant curator of some sort, Lara gathered - had broken it to her as gently as possible, but still, Lara was stunned. In the office? At home? Lara had asked; at home, apparently; he'd managed to dial for an ambulance but was dead by the time it reached the hospital. Just as Brock had told her this, the phone had rung. She picked it up, nodded a few times, looking even more anxious, and then hung up. “Will you excuse me a moment?” And she dashed out of the office.
Well, this was a rotten piece of luck. Lara rose, and paced the room. She poked her head around the door. No sign of anyone. She listened. Nothing. No tap tap of heels. Blackmore’s office was just next door...
Without further thought, Lara left Brock’s office and tried Blackmore’s door. Unlocked.
In she slipped.
The next instalment of Down among the Dead will appear on Saturday December 11.
Lara Croft has discovered in a notebook a clue to finding a hidden Egyptian tomb. Having taken the notebook to Dr Blackmore of the British Museum, she is then shocked to find he has died of a heart attack. But where is the notebook? Can Lara manage without his help? Find out in the third episode of ERICA WAGNER'S story...
PAPERS WERE SCATTERED everywhere. Had the place been rifled? Lara was suspicious, but it was hard to tell; it hadn't exactly been orderly before and who knows, Blackmore might have been looking for something in his papers that would help him with the notebook. It looked like his filing system was about as good as hers, which could lead to a great deal of mess. Slipping her gloves back on, she lifted papers and books for some sign of -
And there it was in front of her, the notebook! It was half-hidden under the yellow Post-It that was stuck to it, but she couldn't miss it. Lara was only just able to stop herself from laughing out loud. She glanced at the Post-It before peeling it off and tucking it safely in the pages: ‘Haggarty?’ it read. It wasn’t much to go on. Still, she’d bear it in mind. Quickly she snatched it up and shoved it her pocket and once again made her exit from the museum. It was only when Lara got home that she realised what had happened to the notebook. Now she sat at her kitchen table in the weak evening light, her head in her hands. Pages had gone missing; neatly excised with a sharp blade so that what she had in front of her now was only a little more than half of what she’d had before and mostly useless, she was sure.
“I believe I have found the point at which we should dig,” she read. “It is not far from where we made our great discovery; from that point one must turn to the north and then -- ” and there the page was cut off. Oh, rot! She pounded her fist on the table, leafed through to another mutilated page. “Then,” she read, “when the tomb is at last found, I believe the secrets contained inside will be of a magnitude that will cause the world to wonder as it has never wondered before. For although I find it hard to believe, the indications are that, in the end, Ankhesenamun was able to wrest from her late vizier and later pharaoh, Ay, a power which - ” and here another page was missing. She turned back a page or two “...treasure that was found in the tomb of the boy-king was beyond compare; but I believe there are greater treasures still to be found beneath the Egyptian sands...”
Yet what could Lara do? This couldn’t be a dead end, she refused to accept it. Perhaps the late Dr Blackmore could still help her. In any case, it would give her something to do.
* * *
THE FILIPINO MAID set the laquered tray down on a low glass table; she bent to pour out two cups of China tea into porcelain so fine that Lara could see the level of the liquid rise against the side. A delicate scent of roses floated toward her.
“It’s very good of you to see me, Miss Blackmore,” Lara said. She turned toward the window. “I must say, I find your view wonderfully distracting.” Outside the pane, Central Park stretched away beneath them, the leaves of its tall trees russet and gold against a brilliant autumn sky. The Reservoir glittered flat silver; she could just make out the small figures of runners pounding around its path like clockwork toys. Just below, the steps of the Metropolitan Museum were thronged with tourists and New Yorkers alike; Lara always loved to come here.
“Yes, it’s splendid, isn’t it,” her hostess said. “I could never leave the city. I always felt sorry for my dear brother, living in dingy old London - oh, you'll forgive me, Miss Croft.”
“Of course,” Lara said. “In any case, I quite agree with you about London. I’ve never lived there myself; couldn’t bear it.”
Cornelia Blackmore took a sip of her tea. She was a tall woman, a little older than her brother, Lara guessed, but probably not much. She was strong-boned and elegant; her hair was a dark silver and she wore black slacks and a cream cashmere rollneck sweater. Small diamonds glittered in her ears, but the diamond that glittered on the third finger of her right hand - Miss Blackmore, after all - could never be called small. All this, the Fifth Avenue apartment, the muted grandeur of its decor - the Blackmores were clearly not a family short of a bob. She remembered the doctor’s fine shirt; you didn’t buy that kind of thing on a curator’s salary.
“I don’t know how I can help you, Miss Croft,” Cornelia Blackmore said, seating herself delicately on an 18th-century sofa covered in pale pink watered silk. “What is it you want to know?”
“I'm not sure, really,” Lara said. Maybe this had all been a mistake. Maybe she simply looked a fool. She sat down opposite Miss Blackmore and nibbled at a sugar-dusted biscuit. “It was just that your brother’s death seemed somewhat - unexpected. He seemed such a... healthy man.”
“Did you know my brother well, Miss Croft?” Lara saw the corner of Cornelia Blackmore’s mouth turn up, ever so slightly, and felt herself blush.
“We had only just met,” Lara said. “I hardly knew him at all.” She hadn't said anything about the notebook. What reason to?
“I might say the same,” Miss Blackmore said. “We were never close, even as children. I don’t know, we never seemed to have much in common - except that we both hated Nanny.” She gave a little laugh. “And then he was always all over the place - I couldn’t keep track! Peru, Egypt, the Sudan - I'd get postcards, you know, every so often. He was always on the verge of something great, or so he said; nothing much ever seemed to come of it.” Cornelia looked down into her teacup. “He was like Daddy, I suppose,” she said finally. “Really, they were very similar - always after some adventure, always wanting more of whatever it was. My father would go big game hunting - even after they made Africa into one huge park, you know; if you pay enough you can always find someone to take you to kill a lion. Daddy drowned after he took his yacht out alone in heavy weather; he was mad to do it, of course, but you couldn’t stop him. It was the same with money: he always wanted more, nothing was ever enough, and he was always taking risks to get it, lunatic risks.” She waved her long-fingered hands around at the apartment. “Still, a lot of the risks came good, so I suppose I should be grateful. More tea?” Lara shook her head. “I’m sure if Daddy hadn't died on his boat he would have popped off with a coronary, like my dear late brother. It’s the kind of death one expects for such a man, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps,” Lara said.
“I’m not sure what else I can tell you. If you’re going to ask about his will, he didn’t leave anything - except money, of course. I only tell you because you don’t look like the type who’d be after that.”
Lara blushed again. “No, I’m not,” she said. “I was - I'd met him professionally, as I said in my fax. It was just we had - some unfinished business.”
“Well. You’ve come a long way for very little reward, I’m afraid. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” They sat in silence for a moment. “Well, Rosa will show you out.” She tinkled a little bell on the table and Rosa, the Filipino maid, appeared. “Show Miss Croft to the door, Rosa, will you? I’m sorry, Miss Croft, you had a wasted journey. Goodbye.” She reached out to shake Lara’s hand; her grip was as firm as Lara had expected it would be.
That night, back in her room at the Royalton, Lara couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t the city’s din that was keeping her awake. Her head buzzed with inchoate thoughts; she was sure there was something she ought to understand but it wasn’t coming clear. Finally, tired of tossing and turning, she got up out of bed and got dressed, pulling on a sturdy pair of boots and tying her hair back tightly. There was only one thing to do at a time like this. Exercise. A steam-clean for the brain.
Lara got out of the subway at Park Place; New York always amazed her - even at three o’clock in the morning it had been fairly crowded with people who looked like they were going off to work. She walked quickly past a darkened City Hall; the Woolworth Building loomed behind her, its elongated cathedral shape piercing the sky. Crossing in front of the Municipal Building, she felt her steps lighten as she stepped onto the anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge. This was more like it; this was the place to be.
She strode out towards the New York tower’s twin arches, her heart beating faster as she rose above the river. Soon the main cables, each nearly two feet across, rose up through a cut in the walkway; first to the height of her ankle, then to her knee, then stretching up and up towards the top of the towers where they passed through great metal saddles, keeping the bridge in tension and motion. Easily she hopped up on the cable and began her ascent. The wind stiffened, whipped her ponytail around her neck; she took a deep lungful of air. Lighter cables ran up along beside her and she held these for balance, the steel cold against her fingers.
There was only one obstacle to her climb - other than the threat of being spotted and a clutch of squad cars arriving to drag her down - and that was a gate about 15 yards along the cable, locked and bolted and fitted with extravagant spikes to prevent anyone - well, almost anyone - climbing around them. There were no stairways up through the stone towers, as there were in modern, all steel bridges; the cables were the only way up for repairmen and engineers. It was the best walk in the city, Lara thought. She had a quick scare when her jacket caught on the gate’s spikes and she almost slipped; but the fear gave her a rush as she rebalanced on the wide cable. It soared up toward a sky where she could just see a few faint stars over Brooklyn, and she followed it, one foot in front of the other, until she was able to climb up the little ladder that led from the saddle to the very top of the tower, 276 feet - and six inches - above the East River below. On one side Manhattan glowed and burned like Oz; on the other Brooklyn smouldered in a more stately, less gaudy manner. And here, where the air was high and clear, Lara heard Cornelia Blackmore’s voice in her head again: He was just like Daddy... nothing was ever enough, and he was always taking risks, lunatic risks... He was always on the verge of something great, or so he said; nothing much ever seemed to come of it.
The rifled office, the missing pages; no matter what Cornelia Blackmore said, Lara didn’t think a heart attack was responsible for what had happened to her brother. But what had happened to Blackmore? She was no closer to finding out. “Damn it,” she thought as she scuttled down the cable to the walkway and headed back underground. It was past four when she got back up to her room and finally, she was tired. Until she saw the fax that had been slipped under her door.
Headed paper. Luxor Hilton Hotel, New Karnak, Luxor. Beneath that, handwriting she did not recognise. “Lara - care to turn over a new leaf?” it read. “If so - catch next flight. Wonderful things.”
Lara packed her bags, paid her bill, and was gone before the sun rose.
The next instalment will appear on December 18.
Lara finds herself in Egypt on the trail of the tomb's lost treasures. Having discovered a notebook which might lead her to her goal, Lara showed her discovery to Egyptologist Dr Alvin Blackmore. But Dr Blackmore has suddenly died, and pages from the book have gone missing. In this fourth episode, ERICA WAGNER's tale follows Lara to Luxor... LARA DIDN'T WASTE any time. She left Cairo as soon as she'd arrived, dozing on the train down to Luxor. She crossed the river to the West Bank, nearer to the Valley of the Kings, and found a room in a grotty little guesthouse. She dropped her bag, and headed off to the Hilton. It was early evening now, and the day had begun to cool.
Conscious of being in a Muslim country, Lara had changed into long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt; she'd wrapped a scarf around her hair.
At the entrance to the hotel the doorman gave her a suitably imperious nod but at least allowed her to pass; a blast of damp, air conditioned air chilled her as she paced up to reception.
"Yes?" inquired the concierge. It was only then that it occurred to Lara to wonder whom she should be asking for.
But there was only one name she knew.
"I'm here to see Dr Blackmore," she said, recalling the last time she had used those words and wondering what she would find this time. "I believe he's expecting me. My name is Lara Croft."
"Yes, Miss Croft," said the sleepy-eyed concierge. "You will go upstairs. Room 611, if you please." Lara passed through the ornate lobby - all pale marble and gold - and let the lift enclose her. The hotel seemed very quiet, a few people sitting downstairs on cream leather sofas, nothing more - although she knew this was the height of the tourist season, after the worst of the summer heat had passed. At the sixth floor she got out, and found her way to Blackmore's room. Well. Time to discover what was really up. She knocked on the door.
Silence. She knocked again. "Hello?" she called. Still silence. She tried the door handle and to her surprise, the door swung open.
If, in Blackmore's office, she hadn't been certain of the look of a rifled room, now she was in no doubts. The room was empty and nearly dark; when she tried a light switch nothing happened; the power must have been cut. But pulling a small torch from the pocket of her jacket she cast its beam around the room to reveal drawers that had been flung out of their chests, the wardrobe door wide open, a delicate escritoire plundered - the room was awash in expensive socks, acres of rumpled broadcloth, torn papers and books.
Stepping softly in the thick pile carpet, her heart in her throat, she saw the pages of a glossy magazine ruffle in the breeze: a window was open. When she peered out of it, she saw that it led down a white-painted iron fire-escape, obviously how the intruder - with Blackmore as his captive, she supposed - had escaped. Where could he have gone? Could he know where the tomb was without her half of the notebook? It was just possible. What could she do? As she stood, wondering, the beam of her torch caught a matchbook resting on a low coffee table that was bare of anything else; in the havoc of the room it could only look deliberate. She picked it up. The Ibis, it said; nothing more. She slipped it into her pocket, closed the window, left the room and headed downstairs. The concierge gazed listlessly at her as she walked out of the lift.
"Thanks," she called, brightly, and made as if to head out the door. No need to tell him what she'd seen. The last thing she needed was to be questioned by the Luxor police, heaven help her. "Oh -" and stepping back towards the desk pulled the matchbook from her pocket. "Know where this is?" The man nodded and gave her an address, not far from her guesthouse. He even drew her a little map and she headed off into the maze of Luxor's streets. She walked back to the Nile ferry, then stood on its deck, thinking hard. Whoever was behind all this clearly
felt the risks entailed in the enterprise were worth it.
She remembered what she'd read of Tutankhamun's headstrong young widow, herself the daughter of Akhnaten and Nefertiti. The boy-king - whose own death, in any event, was still mysterious - had been succeeded by his vizier, Ay. Perhaps Ankhesenamun had married him, perhaps not: in any case, she had searched for another husband of her own choice, writing to the Hittite king, Suppiluliumas, asking him to send one of his sons for her to marry. "They say you have many sons and if you send me one of yours, he shall be my husband... I shall never take a servant of mine to make him my husband." Lara recalled thinking, as she'd read those last lines, how easy she'd found it to imagine the relationship the widow must have had with the wily vizier, many years her senior, her ruler and yet still - in her proud royal eyes - her servant.
Ankhesenamun's disappearance from the scene after that Lara couldn't help but find sinister; and wondered what her tomb - if indeed this was what everything was leading to - would reveal.
At last, Lara found what she was looking for and her ruminations ended abruptly. Down the dark alley, a battered neon sign glimmered ahead of her: IBIS. Around the name a bird's beak curved. This was the place. Just as well; she was thirsty now, and hoped she could get a beer. She pushed open the door and went in to the bar.
Clearly this wasn't happy hour. The bar was quiet, except for the vague noise of an old black-and-white television in a corner; the click of chess pieces as two old men bent over a game opposite. She could hear sand scratch beneath the soles of her boots. She ordered a beer from the lugubrious barman and settled herself down near the back door. Something, she was sure, would come up.
"You a stranger in these parts?" Lara turned her head towards the voice, more slowly than her alarm would have had her do.
"Who wants to know?" she asked casually. The stranger stood over her, a handsome man, younger than she was, she guessed, in a white linen suit and an old Panama hat, which he now removed with deference - or mock deference, Lara couldn't be sure. "Would you be the sheriff in these parts?" Lara lifted an eyebrow and stared into the stranger's black eyes.
"Not at all, my dear," the man laughed. Now she heard he was as English as she. "How do you do? Name's Haggarty, Blade Haggarty." Haggarty - the name on the Post-It. The contact who had betrayed Blackmore? Lara felt certain of it. "And you would be -"
"Emily," Lara said quickly. She didn't like this Blade one bit. She knew she had a tendency to snap judgments; a tendency, she reminded herself silently, which had saved her life on more than one occasion. To be fair, his pale suit didn't look like he'd recently made a hasty exit down a fire escape, but you could never be certain.
"Well, Emily; what brings you to Luxor?" He grinned at her with white teeth.
"Just a tourist," she answered.
"Interested in the tombs?"
"I guess." She thought of the word to describe the expression on his face. Leering. Ugh.
"Perhaps I might - show you around?" he offered genially. "I'm practically a native now, you know. I'm with Reuters, by the way. A hack, you might say. A bit of a lonely hack." He winked. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
"Thanks, but no thanks," she said. She put a few coins on the table and checked her watch. Something wasn't right, and she thought it would be best to cut her losses. "My, is that the time? I am tired. I'm afraid I must leave you. It has been a pleasure," she said. She pushed back her chair and headed out the back door, into the alley at the side of the bar. She knew she shouldn't have the second she'd done it - in at the back, out at the front - but it was too late. He'd followed her, and blocked her path.
"Don't leave me so soon, Miss Croft," he hissed. "I couldn't bear it." In the blue dark she could just make out the dull gleam from the barrel of his gun. Could she reach hers? It would be no good. She imagined the explosion in this narrow canyon of old brick. Bad idea. Her last battle - sitting in front of her computer screen - flashed through her mind. This was never a problem in those wretched games.
"Give me the notebook."
"What notebook?" she asked coolly.
"Don't play coy with me, Croft," he snapped. "You won't live to regret it."
"Where's Blackmore?" "Oh, we're asking the questions now, are we?" Haggarty sneered. "I don't think we're in a very good position to do that, dearest Lara, do you?"
"Why did you ask my name if you knew it?" she inquired evenly.
"I wanted to hear you lie. You're quite good at it, I think."
"You'll find I'm quite good at most things."
He didn't see it coming, her right foot out the darkness, kicking the gun out of his hand. It spun away, far out of his reach and hers, but he didn't hesitate - he lunged at her, tackling her to the ground by virtue of his superior weight and height.
It was more than that though - Lara fought to free herself but he was damn strong; he had her arm pinned to her side and she could smell the drink on his breath, his rank sweat. She snapped her teeth, trying to bite him, but he jerked away and laughed.
"Oh, Lara, I just can't wait to see what else you're good at," he growled. His full weight was on top of her and now he brought one hand up to her throat.
She felt it close around her windpipe and now she thrashed in desperation; at this rate she wouldn't be conscious for much longer. The light of blood-lust was in his eyes; victory so close it made him lazy - Lara was just able to squeeze her arm behind her back to the knife she always carried, nestled snugly in the small of her back. Her fingers curled over the haft just as the world began to grow grey.
His eyes opened wide with surprise when she thrust the blade into the base of his neck. He didn't even groan. A gout of black blood drenched his white suit and she felt its warmth through her shirt. His grip relaxed and she was able to roll out from under him.
She searched through his pockets. Ah - his wallet. And sure enough, when she shook it, out fluttered the missing pages of the notebook. Lara made her way out into the alley. When she finally found herself under a streetlight, she squatted on the pavement and had her first good look at the notebook since she'd taken it from the archive. Could she figure it out by herself? Well, now she'd have to. She had no choice.
The next instalment of Down among the Dead will appear on Christmas Eve. The story will run until New Year's Day.
Lara has escaped - barely - with her life from the assassin sent fo kill her in Luxor. But it was he who lost his life - and the vital pages of the notebook which Lara had thought lost. The recovered pages provide her with enough information to head out to the Valley of the Kings. But how to get there? Find out in the fifth episode of ERICA WAGNER’s tale.
REALISING SHE WAS too exhausted to stand upright for much longer, Lara had headed back to her guesthouse after the encounter with Haggarty. She washed the blood from her knife and from her face and hands, and lay down in her clothes on the sagging cot. Despite the roil inside her head, sleep closed over her; but she woke again before the dawn, with the sun only a thin coral hint at the horizon. Before she left she dug the little statue of Isis out of her suitcase and set it on her pillow. If this wasn't the place for talismans, what place was?
She’d piece together where to go, she thought. North from the tombs, a distance measured in paces, that part was easy enough. The trouble was, after that Carter - clearly wishing to keep his discovery to himself - had shifted into what looked an ancient Egyptian system of measurement, based on the sun casting shadows at certain times of day; she didn’t see how she could begin to work it out. But in Lara’s book, being on the spot was three-quarters of the way to understanding. As for what had happened to Blackmore - well, he wasn’t in a position to help her any more, that was for sure, so she tried to put him out of her mind.
Now - how to get to the Valley of the Kings. She wasn’t about to hail a taxi. Luckily, the answer presented itself as she turned into the Sharia al-Karnak. A boy on a motorcycle - an old Royal Enfield! Beat up, but beautiful still - he was arriving, she guessed, for work in some kitchen somewhere. He was just locking it up when she walked up to him.
“Salam’ alekem,” she said.
He nodded at her, looked her up and down warily.
“Nice bike,” she said in English, pointing at it. She hoped for a universal language of motorcycles, and sure enough, there seemed to be one; the boy broke into a wide grin and caressed its headlamp.
“Can I have a ride?” Lara said. She gazed at him with wide, appealing eyes. He stared back, blankly. “You know - a ride.” Lara put her hands out in from her, bent her knees, and growled: “Vrrooom, vrroom. A ride.”
“Ride!” The boy said, imitating her, then grinned again. “Ride! Sure, ride!” He looked like he couldn't believe his luck. He ought to be worried about losing his job, Lara thought sternly, but she’d make sure he wasn’t even late for work. He climbed on and she climbed on behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. He turned back to look at her and grinned even more broadly. He was, actually, pretty cute. “Vrrooom, vrrooom!” he said.
She didn’t wait long; she didn’t want to hurt him. As soon as they’d picked up a little speed she tightened her grip around his middle and flung him easily off the bike; he didn’t weigh much at all. He howled as he fell, and stumbled, and tried to run after her, shouting something she couldn’t understand; but at least he wasn’t hurt. Gunning the engine to surge away from him, she reached into her pocket and yanked out a fistful of $20 bills, throwing them behind her for the boy to catch. “Cheerio!” she called into the wind. “Thanks ever so much!” The wind whipped through her hair and soon the desert stretched before her, gold in the rising sun. Lara tried to keep a sense of hopelessness at bay as she followed the road out to the Valley of the Kings. The notebook - now tucked securely into her pocket - hadn’t provided the answers she’d hoped; and now Blackmore’s disappearance weighed on her mind, too. She felt certain they were both pawns in what was already proving to be a deadly game.
North from Tutankhamun’s tomb...as the sun rose, Lara set her course by it. But as she rounded a curve she saw to her alarm a car speeding towards her, a battered Land Rover with darkened windows. It seemed to take up the whole of the road. Lara tooted the Enfield’s horn but to no effect; within 20 yards it had become apparent that whoever was in that car meant her no good at all.
Lara swerved off the road into the sand, gripping tight to the motorcycle; with most of her traction gone she couldn't risk taking a hand away to reach for her gun.
She cut and dived as best she could, but the Land Rover was travelling easily across the desert, its wheels biting deep into the sand while hers spun fruitlessly. On a last desperate attempt at evasion, Lara’s back wheel whipped out from under her and she threw herself away from the bike as best she could to avoid being crushed. She’d never remember hitting the sand. The world closed around her.
When she woke, there was no sign of the bike, or the car. She lifted her head cautiously and was bitten by a sharp pain in her ribs that made her gasp. Well, she could have done worse than a broken rib. Everything else seemed to be intact. Her face and hair were thick with sand and when she tried to brush it away she winced; clearing it made dried blood run to fresh. She blinked the worst out of her eyes and sat up.
How much time had passed? She looked east, where the sun had now risen well over the horizon; the sky was a pale, dry blue. And looking around her she saw that the desert landscape seemed even more unfamiliar than it had before. Where was she? There was no sign of the bike, nor of the Land Rover. She began to be certain that she had been moved, brought here. Getting away might prove tricky: the terrain was unenticing. Lara had a single canteen of water strapped to her hip (she could feel a bruise where it had banged against the bone). Her throat was already dry, her forehead already prickling with the heat, and the day had hardly begun.
It was then, looking down at the sand, that she saw the step. Or rather, a flatter surface beneath the sand that looked as if - she bent down, brushed the surface of the desert with her hand and in an instant felt stone beneath her palm. In her bag she had a small, collapsible spade and this she now extracted, digging as quickly as she could. The white desert burned all around her. She paid no heed. She dug.
The next instalment of Down among the Dead will appear on Monday December 27.
Thanks to the notebook she discovered at The Times, Lara has found a lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings - a tomb she is certain is that of the widow of Tutankhamun. Lara's Egyptologist contact died in mysterious circumstances and she herself was nearly murdered. But now, in the sixth episode of ERICA WAGNER's tale, Lara finds herself before the very door of the tomb.
Clay seals. Broken once, it looked like, but then sealed again not long after; a cartouche of hieroglyphs was clear in the dried earth. Sweat ran into Lara's eyes and stung when she blinked but she hardly noticed that or the ache in her back or the searing pain in her ribs. She'd been digging for nearly three hours and now this - how had she found this? She thought of Carter, digging, year after year, begging for money and then suddenly - well, she supposed, he could just as easily have found Tutankhamun sooner rather than later. But Lara knew this wasn't luck. She was meant to find this. Whoever had stolen the pages from the notebook had found this place and brought her here to - what? Lara's fear vanished in the excitement of this discovery. Her heart beat hard in her chest. She folded her spade carefully, put it back in her bag, and stood before the door. She did not recognise what she felt, at first: then she thought it
might be reverence.
The clay crumbled easily beneath her hand. The doors of the tomb swung open with an ease that frightened Lara; they made no noise, as if they might have been oiled the night before. Once through the doors she found herself in a long stone tunnel, cool as a cave; she shivered as her sweat began to dry and drew her torch from her belt. Twenty paces: a second set of doors, more clay seals. She peered at them, shining her torch on them and thinking of the centuries and centuries they had been in the lightless black. A shudder ran over
her scalp and through her shoulders and she remembered how someone had told her once, when she was a girl: that means someone's walking over your grave.
Again, she broke the seals. No way to go but forward. Again the doors swung open and when the jackal-headed man lunged at her, she screamed. "God damn - "
The blackened wood of the statue, dried out for aeons below the surface of the desert, cracked when it struck the stone floor. Anubis, the god of the mortuary, had stood guard over the tomb for all this time; Lara had practically walked into his arms. Pulling herself out from underneath him - the figure was nearly as large as she was - she shone her light on his finely carved face, his long eyes leafed with gold. Beautiful and still he lay beside her, his ears cocked, it seemed, attentively. Her heart thumped. His gaze did not meet hers. Only a statue. Lara rose and walked on.
An antechamber, piled with grave goods. Boats, beds, bottles; alabaster, ebony and gold. Lara had to remind herself to breathe as she picked her way through the objects, some of them smashed and jumbled. The resealing: someone else had been here, a long time ago. What ancient breath was in her lungs? The air smelled dryly of dust and old wood.
The walls of the first room were white, washed with lime, she guessed. But then behind another door - more seals, don't pay any attention, Lara told herself, just get through the door - everything was different. Here the floor was nearly bare, and it was easy to place her feet: but the walls crawled with figured paintings and inscriptions, clear as on the day they were written.
"Fear and tremble, you violent ones who are in the storm clouds of the sky. He split open the earth by means of what he knew on the day when he wished to come there."
Then she saw it. As she shone her torch into the chamber its little light caught on a rounded shoulder of stone. Shining; black as basalt. All around were stone blocks, smashed, as if they had been broken with a sledgehammer: the remains of a square outer coffin, smashed by the thieves who must have been here before her. Lara blinked, looked again, made sure. What had happened to those thieves? She suddenly couldn't help but recall Corelli's Gothic curse. Somehow the calmness of her dismissal of it in the tranquility of The Times's archive would not return to her. All the same she made herself walk towards the sarcophagus. Lying down it stood as high as her chest; she had to stand on tiptoe to peer into the stone face.
It was wide and impassive, unreadable. And yet the features, it seemed to her, were surely feminine; there was a delicacy about the mouth and eyes, even - Lara thought - a certain sadness. She shone her light around the rim of the sarcophagus, and almost instantly saw the cartouche she barely believed she would ever see.
Ankhesenamun. She smiled in the darkness: but then caught sight of the great emerald scarab set into the breast of the great coffin. Lara put out her hand to touch it. Oddly, it seemed almost warm against her fingers. No, it was warm: she touched the sarcophagus then the scarab, back and forth a few times. She was not imagining that. Under her fingers, too, she could feel scratches in the stone, as if someone had tried to claw the jewel away and been interrupted. Was this the jewel the notebook had spoken of? What was its power? Lara's innate skepticism poured from her like sand from a glass. It was hard not to believe something, faced with this. She reached her hand out, ready to try to take the jewel, when she heard a familiar, chilling click behind her.
"Not an inch farther, Miss Croft; not if you have any affection for the back of your head."
The next instalment of Down among the Dead will appear on Saturday January 1.
In the Valley of the Kings, Lara has discovered the lost tomb of Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun's widow. She has done so without the help of Egyptologist Alvin Blackmore, whose mysterious death in London left her in the lurch. Standing before the queen's sarcophagus she discovers another tomb-raider pointing a gun at the back of her head. This is the concluding episode of Erica Wagner's tale.
Lara froze. She could feel the gun trained on her; it was like being stared, but worse. She'd have no chance to reach for her weapon. She could only stand and watch as the hulking figure of Alvin Blackmore emerged from the darkness behind to stand facing her over the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun's queen.
"Well done, Lara," he said. "Even if I did have to help you along those last few yards to the tomb. Still, I couldn't bear to deprive you of the pleasure of discovery. And really, these days, I'm far too old for all that digging."
"I guess you didn't have a heart attack," Lara said.
"Healthy as a horse, my dear, healthy as a horse!" He laughed - it echoed, caroming around the tight stone walls of the chamber - and slapped a meaty hand on his broad chest. "Never been fitter. And all the better for seeing you - for the last time."
"It won't work, Blackmore," she said.
"What won't work? Of course it will. You stole Carter's little notebook, of that I'm certain: and you wouldn't have taken it if anyone had been aware of its existence. So now there are two of us who know about it - Haggarty I was willing to take a risk with because I figured you'd do away with him, and I'm grateful to you for not letting me down. But really, once I'd seen what was at stake, I couldn't let you go running around raising a ruckus about it."
"So why not kill me straight away? Why bring me all the way out here, let me find the tomb?"
"Like I said, I wanted you to have some fun before you went, Lara. Mean to do otherwise, don't you think? But I wasn't about to murder the well-connected Lara Croft in cold blood in London. A most unlikely death for you, that would be. But if Lara Croft died in a rockfall while on the trail of one of Egypt's last hidden tombs - why, that would make perfect sense. No one would dream of asking any awkward questions."
"I suppose not," Lara admitted.
"It's a pity, really. I like you. I admire you. You're pretty sharp, if a little naive. But then I suppose you couldn't resist Ankhesenamun's promises either. The kind of thing to make a person throw caution to the winds, don't you think?"
"Looks like it," Lara said. "Then you believe it - the promise of eternal life?"
"Well," Blackmore said. "There's no harm in trying, is there? And anyway - even if it's all crap, you saw the treasure that were outside. I've never been a subscriber to the dour philosophy that money and fame can't buy you happiness. I've always found - at least where the former is concerned - quite the opposite to be true."
"Your sister's got your number, you know. She said nothing was ever enough for you."
"Cornelia? You spoke to Cornelia? Dear Cornelia. How was she? I would say - you must give her my regard, but it's too late for that now." Blackmore grinned, and keeping his gun trained on Lara, reached out for the jewel set in the sarcophagus. His voice trembling with excitement, he recited from the last page of the notebook that had been in his possession. "Whomsoever shall claim the jewel set in the widow's breast shall find that Re never sets on him, nor on his generation," he intoned. "Life eternal shall be his, just as the Nile rises and ebbs eternally in its mighty bank." And he reached out, curled his fingers around the emerald and lifted it from its place.
Instantly it burned with a white light; so bright that Lara could see the bones in Blackmore's hand. His face blazed with it, lit and shadowed by the unearthly light.
Lara began to shake, but held her ground, and when she spoke her voice was almost as firm as she'd liked it to be. "You never saw the last page, did you, Blackmore?"
"What?" His eyes were on fire; he seemed filled with something inhuman and terrible.
"Whomsoever shall claim the jewel set in the widow's breast shall find that Re never sets on him, nor on his generation. Life eternal shall be his, just as the Nile rises and ebbs eternally in its mighty bank. For he who is worthy, this reward will come; for he whose soul falls heavy in the scale, the retribution of the gods will surely follow."
Later, when Lara would try to explain what happened next, she would find her usual facility with words deserting her. How to describe it - she'd written it down, over and over, and then crumpled each effort and thrown it in the bin. The pictures had come off the walls. They had peeled themselves away and rushed at them - not as she'd imagined the falling statue of Anubis moving but reaching out with stretched arms and blazing black eyes, their flat shapes made flesh. Horus, hawk-headed, one-eyed, just and terrible; Osiris, the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt on his brow, bound as a god to rule over the dead; his sister-wife Isis, her fierce face streaked with grief of her loss. And behind them all a figure so awful that Lara felt the air punched out of her lungs to look at it.
Man or beast, impossible to tell - the head of some animal out of a nightmare, great teeth, fiery eyes, slime and foul breath: the stench of the dead. It was this figure that seemed to lead the charge as the creatures turned on Blackmore and tore him into a dozen pieces. The stink of burning human flesh filled the dry air of the tomb.
Lara would have trouble making up her mind whether to include the next detail in her story - she fainted. What she remembered next were shadows turned to spiderweb, to a nest that bound her and held her and bore her out of the tomb, leaving her stretched out on the sand in the desert air. When she opened her eyes she saw - or did she dream it? - the beast-head of Set looming over her with a warning before fading into mist. Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh.
The hot desert sand cradled her head. Lara sat up. Her rib ached worse than ever, but she could stand. In the distance she saw the film of smog that showed her where the city lay; she turned towards it and began to walk. Well, she'd certainly have something to tell Jeremy when she met him at the place his clues had led her to. She wondered if he'd ever outsmart her... but perhaps that wasn't the point. She quickened her pace through the desert heat. She really was looking forward to seeing him.