The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 11

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Kevin must have slept in the car, since he had almost no memory of the drive from Manchester. He struggled awake, finally realising that it was already light. Bret seemed alert, bright-eyed, when he turned his head and saw that the other man was awake.

"We're nearly there," he said quietly.

Kevin yawned and stretched as best he could in the confines of the vehicle. He then sat up straight and looked around him. The driver was skilfully piloting the car along a series of narrow country lanes, with thick overgrown hedgerows on each side.

After a few minutes, the car pulled up outside an old but still exceptionally impressive pair of wrought iron gates that hung from stout stone pillars. Some kind of gatehouse stood on one side, and a discreet sign declared: "Cliviger Grange. Private: No Entry".

Someone stepped out of the little building wearing, Kevin realised belatedly, the not-quite-uniform that characterised the Guardian force. He had seen this style of dress at the causeway so frequently during his numerous visits to the world of Lyndesfarne, and it took a few moments to realise what he was looking at here. The guard saw the Range Rover, waved briefly at the driver and returned to the gatehouse. A few seconds later, the gates swung open on silent motors and the car pulled through.

Cliviger Grange

Looking around, Kevin could see extensive walled grounds, lined with mature trees and thick growths of rhododendrons and laurels which ensured a high degree of privacy. The big car drove quietly along a driveway that ran between carefully-tended lawns on either side. The road was edged with modern concrete kerbstones and surfaced with old but well-maintained tar macadam which seemed to have seen a lot of use over the years.

The main entrance to the impressive old house was approached by the long drive and a turning circle, the latter centred by a flowerbed around an ornate stone fountain. The stonework was worn with age but the carved urns were still flowing with, Kevin imagined, recirculated water propelled by hidden pumps.

A fork in the road just before the turning circle led to a cluster of buildings of similar vintage to the main house, with an arched entrance to a courtyard just visible within. Kevin imagined that these were once stables but were now repurposed as garages. The road had been extended - more recently, it seemed to Kevin - from the turning circle leading to a series of more modern buildings, one or two stories high with pitched roofs, and executed in brick and stone carefully chosen to be sympathetic to the older structures nearby.

The car drew up outside the imposing stone steps which led up to the main entrance. Cliviger Grange gave the impression of a rather grand old house, dating from the nineteenth century, which had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, and subsequently very carefully restored to allow its use as modern offices and meeting rooms. The original fabric of the building had clearly remained undamaged, Kevin thought as he blearily inspected the facade. The large masonry blocks around the windows and doors, and at the corners of the building were all intact, and the intervening spaces were filled with aged but recently re-pointed brickwork.

Much of the front facade was festooned with Wisteria and Virginia creeper. He imagined that the Wisteria would be immensely colourful in its season, earlier in the year, but now the deep red foliage of the Virginia creeper put on a vibrant show. Kevin, who had a professional eye for these things, could see that a significant budget was being expended on the maintenance of house and grounds, and suspected that there must be greenhouses and other garden buildings tucked away out of sight somewhere nearby.

Still feeling rather groggy and dishevelled, he struggled from the car.

"What is this place?" he asked Bret.

"It's called Cliviger Grange," the other man replied calmly, "And it's, well, it's the Headquarters for the Guardians in this world."

"Ah."

Kevin had wondered about this. There were always Guardians on duty at the crossing itself, basing themselves in the building sited close to the entrance to the causeway which he had mistaken, on his first encounter, for a Tourist Information Office.

He knew the Guardians were habitually discreet and probably more numerous than he had at first thought. He also knew that they undertook the careful policing of the crossing itself as well as, he had been given to understand, patrolling the coastline in both directions from the crossing.

With these responsibilities and the level of traffic, they must have more facilities available than the 'Tourist Information Office'. Kevin had long known that this building actually functioned as a guard post, and that it was bigger than it looked, but he realised that there must be other, larger, facilities elsewhere.

Sensing Kevin's contemplative - or perhaps just confused - state, Bret gently guided the other man inside the building, nodding politely to the doorkeeper on the way past. He guided him along the hallway, their footsteps sounding loudly on the polished wooden floor, then up a grand staircase, with the carpet held in place by very old-fashioned brass stair-rods.

At the top of the stairs, Bret turned right, directing Kevin along another corridor before knocking at a door at the end. He paused for a moment outside, apparently to allow Kevin to recover from his temporary state of fugue. He then pushed open the door.

"There are some people here who I'd like you to meet," Bret said.

Kevin made no immediate response, still feeling just a bit out of it. Finally pulling it together, he snapped into focus, looking directly at the man sitting behind a desk.

"Kevin, this is Warden Williamson, head of Cliviger Grange."

Bret indicated a fit-looking man in his early fifties with greying hair cut short in, Kevin thought later, a distinctly military style.

The older man stood, extending his hand over the desk.

"Call me Derek," he said in a deep voice tinged with the plummy vowels of a public school education, "Pleased to meet you."

Kevin muttered something unintelligible in response, and then added more clearly, "Can you help me find Tanji?" The older man looked thoughtfully at him for a few moments.

"Yes," he replied finally, "I think we might just be able to. Come this way."

He ushered Kevin through another door into an adjoining meeting room, followed by Bret. There were several other people already in the room, conversing in low tones. All fell silent as the three men entered.

At one side stood a large and muscular man with the familiar stripes on his arm indicating that he was a Sergeant. He was flanked with three younger people - a man and two women - all also wearing the not-quite-uniform of the Guardians. Kevin thought he might have glimpsed the Sergeant on duty at the crossing, although he could not be sure.

"Sergeant Graves?" the Warden announced his presence in quiet tones, "Can you get everyone together?"

As one, the Sergeant and his colleagues moved over to the meeting room table.

On the other side of the room, Kevin realised with a start, was Tanji's Uncle, whose name he had never quite grasped. The old man was sitting at the conference table, accompanied by a slender youth who was introduced so quickly that Kevin was not sure he had caught his name correctly, but sounded something like Zarb. The young man was quite obviously a Guide from the Guild of Directions who had assisted his Visitor in travelling in a considerable hurry from the Other World.

Kevin knew that Tanji's Aunt and Uncle were her closest living relatives, and that she had been brought up by them from a very young age, after the mysterious disappearance of her parents. Tanji's Aunt was not in the room. As Kevin came to understand it, she was far too distressed to travel and was being cared for at home by friends.

Kevin walked over to Tanji's Uncle, and took the other man's hands in his own. His knowledge of the Lyndesfarne language could be politely described as rudimentary, and in any case it seemed to have deserted him completely at this time.

"I'm so very sorry," he said in English, "I'll do everything I can to find her."

The older man appeared to understand his words, but replied in the Lyndesfarne language. The young man at his elbow smoothly translated his rather formal speech.

"Thank you for your kind thoughts. I too sincerely believe we will find Tanji very soon."

The Guardians had rapidly drawn up chairs and were now sitting around the table that formed the centrepiece of the room. Warden Williamson took a chair at the head of the table, indicating that Kevin and Bret should take seats opposite Tanji's uncle and his guide.

Kevin's anxieties finally got the better of him.

"Why her?" he blurted out, "And why from my flat?"

The Warden paused for a second, glancing around the room.

"Well, I have to say that we don't know yet," he replied, "So let's start at the beginning."

Looking Kevin directly in the eye, he continued, "Can you think of any reason why Tanji, or you, should be attacked by people in Britain?"

"From my own world?" Kevin answered slowly, "I can't think of anything at all. I'm pretty certain I don't have any enemies - at least, any that I'm aware of."

"So you don't think it's you, personally?" Warden Williamson pressed.

"No," Kevin answered, "No, I don't think so."

The Sergeant of the Guardians that Kevin vaguely recognised gave a report on the actions taken so far. The report was brief and crisply to the point, but contained nothing that Kevin did not already know of at least strongly suspected.

"We know that Kevin reported a kidnapping to the British police in Manchester," he continued.

"Ah, well," Kevin interjected, "I might be wrong, but I got the distinct impression that they weren't taking me seriously."

"What do you mean?" Bret asked, leaning forward suddenly.

"I think they considered it a lovers' tiff, and she simply got a friend to collect her in a car."

"Hmmm," the Warden said, "I didn't think we could count on very much help from the civil forces. Mind you, we do have some high-level contacts, and I'll make a couple of calls. We might get lucky - the car might be stopped for some other reason by the traffic police, or something."

Kevin privately thought this was rather unlikely, but made no response.

"And, obviously, we have alerted the Guardians on the ground in both worlds."

Kevin was confused.

"Do you think they will try to take her Lyndesfarne?" he exclaimed, "Why would they do that?"

"We can't rule it out," the Warden responded calmly.

Kevin could not think of a reason either way. He was still struggling with a reason why she had been taken at all.

"The British police will probably want to interview you again," the Warden said.

Kevin felt uncertain about this.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked.

"Just tell them what you said before."

"What about questions like, 'where does she live?'", Kevin demanded.

"Tell them the truth, near enough," the Warden answered, smiling very slightly, "That she lives with her Uncle and Aunt on the Island of Lyndesfarne in North East England. Here's an address."

The Warden handed over a sheet of paper evidently torn from a notepad with a few lines written on it.

"Won't that be a problem?" Kevin asked, "I mean, won't they check up?"

"Almost certainly not," Bret interjected, also smiling slightly smugly, "They will defer the enquiry to the local police force - and we have very good contacts there."

Kevin nodded. He strongly suspected this was not the first time that such a ruse had been used.

"But we still don't know why she was taken," Kevin pressed.

The Warden held up his hands.

"I'm afraid you're right," he said gently, "But we have our suspicions. We think it was someone, or some group, wanting to find out more about the world of Lyndesfarne - to gain access or influence some event we just don't fully understand yet. And, worryingly, we think there's a connection between Tanji's kidnapping and the body on the bridge."

"What?" Kevin exclaimed, "How?"

"We think they're trying to distract us from the death of Andrew Wollack, by kidnapping you. Or perhaps to prevent you from helping us with our enquiries" - the Warden grimaced at the hackneyed phrase - "Someone heard about your trick with the cameras and panicked."

"Since we think there's some link with the dead man," Bret said, "I suggest we continue our investigation of Doctor Wollack's background."

Kevin could not think of anything else to do and it was, he considered, better than sitting around moping. "OK," he replied, "So what shall we do?"

Bret looked suddenly resolute.

"We'll go to London."


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