WARSAW: THE BELL TOWER WAITING ROOM The Stare Miasto district of Warsaw is an illusion. It appears to be centuries old, with buildings dating back to the 1200s and a city wall erected to fend off the Mongol hordes. But the district's venerable appearance is false. Stare Miasto was leveled during World War II--not a stone left standing--and everything you see is a twentieth-century reproduction made to look aged using rubble that was left after Hitler and Stalin pounded the city into ruin. In other words, Stare Miasto is a counterfeit antique: well built and lovely, but fake. I know about counterfeits. I've seen many. My name is Lara Croft, and I collect old things. It was December--a clear cold night with the snow ankle deep. Warsaw's streets were empty, except for a few late stragglers whose breaths steamed ghostlike into the air. Their heads were probably full of Christmas: presents to buy, food to cook, decorations to string over the hearth. My thoughts, however, were elsewhere. I'd been called to Warsaw by a friend . . . and my friend was in trouble. His name was Reuben Baptiste: born in Trinidad, educated at Cambridge, and a useful fellow for someone in my line of work. Reuben was a freelance research assistant. He had a knack for finding exactly the right paragraph in exactly the right book--often in dusty libraries where the books were uncatalogued and stacked in random heaps on the shelves. Reuben had a good eye for deciphering faded hieroglyphics and for spotting inscriptions so faint they were almost invisible. Above all, he could talk to people. He could talk to scientists of the Royal Society in their clubs off Piccadilly; he could talk to native shamans as they sat around smoky campfires; he could talk to people in rest homes and coax out the story of how they'd once seen something odd fifty years ago while strolling beside the Nile. Of course, Reuben had his shortcomings--all his knowledge came from books and conversation, not from hands-on work in the field. He'd never entered an ancient tomb or even visited an archaeological dig. Still, he was excellent at what he did. Whenever I was too busy to do such chores myself, I'd hire Reuben to track down information for me. He, in turn, always sent a heads-up my way if he came across something of interest . . . so when he telephoned to say, "Drop everything and meet me in Warsaw," I hopped the first plane from Heathrow. Before leaving, I did take a moment to ask Reuben what he'd found. He said he couldn't tell me till he got permission from his current employer . . . and, no, he couldn't say who that was. But if everything worked out, this unknown employer would be eager to sponsor me on a chance-of-a-lifetime expedition, and I'd be eager to go. That's all Reuben would say. I didn't press for details. One reason I valued Reuben was that he never divulged the secrets of those he worked for. When Reuben first called me, we'd arranged to meet at the Bristol, Warsaw's most exclusive hotel, so distinguished it's listed as a Polish national monument. Just after my flight landed, however--while I was queued up at customs, moving at a snail's pace because Ok(ecie airport was in the middle of a high security alert--I checked my messages and found a voice mail from Reuben, saying, "Forget the Bristol; meet me at Dr. Jacek's." His voice sounded bad: breathless with pain. I pushed my way through customs with unladylike haste. Dr. Jacek's clinic lay on the edge of Stare Miasto, housed inside what was once the Church of St. Anthony the Great. The church was a victim of recent history. Much had changed when Poland won its independence from the Communist bloc, and one of those changes was a gradual outflow of people from Warsaw's inner city into new surrounding suburbs. Fewer residents meant smaller congregations . . . until finally the bishop had to close several lesser-used churcheGardner, James Alan is the author of 'Lara Croft Tomb Raider The Man Of Bronze', published 2004 under ISBN 9780345461735 and ISBN 0345461738.