>>> >>> Prologue <<< <<<
One does not refuse the “invitation” of a US Senator, so Amanda Evert resignedly accepted the airline ticket and set of instructions the unsmiling man in dark glasses presented to her, and boarded a plane for Washington D.C. She wondered (briefly) how the elder Rutland had discovered her relationship with his son James...she'd kept almost nothing at the condo they'd shared, and had sanitized it of even that when he died. Either the old man had the boy under surveillance that she hadn’t noticed, or the neighbors who couldn’t be bothered to say anything to their faces gossiped behind their backs.
At the posh Capitol Hill offices, she went to a specific service entrance and used the passphrase she’d been given; she was whisked through the basement and side corridors, only emerging into public hallways near the senator’s own door. Even with her being an expressly invited guest, the dark-suited guard outside that door checked her with a metal detection wand. Having come directly from the airport, she hadn’t replaced any of her assorted piercings, removed to get though TSA screening, which was fortunate given the placement of some of them. After scanning her, the man offered to take her grey-barred black trenchcoat. Revealed when she slipped it off and handed it to him was her current (and preferred) outfit – a sleeveless black suede halter top that left her athletic and tattooed midriff exposed, paired with black and grey couture slacks artistically designed to imply a garter belt. The man raised his eyebrows, and suggested she either take her coat back or let them loan her a shirt. It was a bit too warm inside for the jacket, so she asked for the shirt.
What they could find in her size was a summer blouse, clearly belonging to a secretary. No telling if the donor was now running around the office partially undressed; she certainly didn’t care. It was sheer enough that her top and tatoos were still clearly visible through it, but that was deemed acceptable. After all, her shoulders were covered!
After she was ushered into the senator's presence, he sent everyone else away, including his hulking (yet deliberately average-looking) bodyguard. She accepted the chair and the whiskey he offered, straight up, cooled by a chilled and polished stone, sipped it delicately. It was, as to be expected, very fine stuff.
“Tell me how my son died,” he said without preamble; his voice held the harsh rasp of deep Midwestern roots.
“Well, sir, it was that British bi...,” she caught herself, mindful of the genteel surroundings, “so-called archeologist, Lara Croft. She'd been seeking the same set of artifacts as us, and we got there first, fair and square. But she's a sore loser, she stalked him until she caught him away from his bodyguards, then killed him in an ambush.”
This account bore a nodding acquaintance with the truth, if one ignored the facts that they and the mercenaries they'd hired had repeatedly tried to kill Lara first, that the reason James lacked bodyguards was that they'd all already died trying to kill her, and that James had launched the ambush on Lara and perished when it backfired.
“In Ghana, that was?”
“Hm. Yes. The British government will naturally protect her, but I think I have the means to make life...difficult...for her. You've suffered a great loss, dear, is there anything I can provide you with?”
The only thing she'd lost that she really cared about was the amulet, and the shadow-beast that it had given her control of. Lara had confiscated it from her, when they’d last met, in the Himalayas. He obviously couldn't do anything about that, so she declined.
“How about a job? I've got a task well suited for a woman of your...adventurous...sensibilities. ”
As well as he schooled his expression, a hint of leer leaked through. Oh God, James, she thought, you idiot, I thought I destroyed those private videos, did you have another copy...?
“What kind of job?” she asked carefully.
Once her told her, she accepted without even waiting for him the make to veiled blackmail threat that was surely coming next...because it was a new adventure, exactly her sort of job.