Bret and Kevin had not even got as far as the stairwell when Bret's phone rang again. He reached for it casually, anticipating - Kevin imagined - a further update on the vehicle that had just been located.
"Yes?" Bret said into the phone, then stopped dead, Kevin almost colliding with him in the narrow corridor.
"Yes," he said again, and then, "I understand."
Bret turned to face Kevin, looking at him in a bizarre way that the other man had never seen before.
"What was that?"
"That," Bret said slowly, "Was a man who claims to be holding Tanji."
"What?" Kevin practically shrieked, "What did he say?"
"He instructed me - us - to go to Jaireby."
"Well, not Lyndesfarne proper," Bret corrected, "But definitely in my world. Do you know it?"
Kevin was flabbergasted. This was the place that he and Tanji had visited - on vacation - not six months before.
"I've been there," he replied, "But exactly what did he say?"
"He said, if you want to see Tanji alive, then come to Jaireby in" - he glanced at his watch - "a little more than five hours time."
He glared at the phone as if the device itself was responsible for this deadline.
"And then he gave an address," he continued, "And then hung up."
Kevin was not sure how to react, with worry and anger in turn running through his mind. Then he was struck by a realisation.
"So she's on her way to Lyndesfarne," he said through clenched teeth, "In fact, she's probably already there."
Bret nodded his agreement.
"And," Kevin added grimly, "I think I know how she got there."
Bret froze, seemingly astonished.
"What?" he demanded anxiously.
"They've put her," Kevin enunciated slowly, angrily, "In a crate."
"What?" Bret was aghast, "How do you know that?"
"It's just occurred to me," the other man replied, "The place where the car was found, it was close to one of the country's biggest logistics and distribution centres - a huge warehouse operation - with goods and materials going in and out on a regular basis."
"And I bet they send stuff to the crossing all the time."
Bret stood immobile for a long moment, eyes wide, staring at Kevin. Then he lunged for his mobile phone, pressing buttons urgently.
Someone answered after a few seconds, someone in the Guardian organisation, Kevin imagined, and Bret started issuing a stream of instructions to intercept and open every crate big enough to hold a body on its way to Lyndesfarne. Kevin watched the other man dejectedly.
"It won't do any good, you know," he said sadly, "They won't be so stupid as to issue a demand like that without Tanji already delivered."
"You're probably right," Bret agreed, "But it's best to be doubly sure. In any case, if we're to get to Lyndesfarne by that time, we'll have to get a move on."
"Right," Kevin agreed.
The two men hurried down the steps, Bret once again speaking into his mobile phone to summon car and driver. The traffic was busy in Central London although, thinking back, it did seem to Kevin that they were invariably lucky with the traffic lights, always passing them just before they changed to red. Perhaps it was just the skilled driver, but even the well-known permanent traffic jams on the North Circular and at the infamous Hanger Lane Gyratory System seemed to melt away and it was not long before the big car was blasting its way north on the M1.
The driver kept the car to a steady speed, faster than Kevin would normally have driven himself and certainly well in excess of the speed limit. Whether it was just by luck, or some other factor, they were delayed neither by traffic police or slow-moving vehicles and they arrived at the crossing faster than Kevin would have thought possible.
In the entire four hour drive, they stopped only once to refuel, take a comfort break, and to select more junk food at the service station. They discussed the message from the kidnappers again and again, Kevin desperately trying to squeeze more information, more meaning from the few words that Bret had reported spoken. Having exhausted that line of enquiry, the two men moved on to plan their actions when they arrived.
"We'll collect a squad of Guardians at the crossing," Bret stated flatly.
"They did not say 'come alone'," Kevin noted, "So they must be very confident that we can't rescue Tanji by force. So is there any point in taking more people?"
"Yes, to guard you!" Bret said urgently, "I'm still very concerned for your safety, and I'm not yet certain that this whole business isn't just a ploy to grab you."
Kevin remained unconvinced, but was touched by Bret's concern for his wellbeing.
Pre-warned by one of Bret numerous mobile phone calls, three Guardians - two women and a man - were waiting for them as the left the causeway. Bret greeted them in the Lyndesfarne language and Kevin had the presence of mind to hold up his hand and speak his name in the Lyndesfarne style.
Expertly guided by Bret, the little group made their way through the portal network to the tropical seaside city that Kevin and Tanji had visited before. They rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for a portal connection to change. Kevin now appreciated enough about the complexity of transport in the Other World to realise just how an impressive a feat it was to arrive a matter of twenty minutes later.
"This looks familiar," Kevin muttered half to himself as they emerged from the portal building.
"You have been here before, then?" Bret asked.
"Oh yes," Kevin replied, momentarily distracted by the memory of the trip with Tanji.
"Hmm," Bret pondered aloud, "So do you suppose that the kidnappers knew that you had been here before?"
Kevin slowly realised, with the hairs standing up on the back of his neck, that he and Tanji must have been under some kind of surveillance for a considerable time.
The place that the kidnappers, whoever they were, had designated was on the promenade, outside a large display window that was, Bret re-assured him, just ordinary glass and allowed light through in either direction. Kevin was sure he had passed this very shop in the company of Tanji on at least one occasion.
They had arrived with ten minutes to spare, according to Bret's timepiece, a surprisingly large object he carried in the rucksack he had collected when he arrived in this world. Both he and Kevin had left their personal collection of technological gismos - mobile phone, watch and so on - with the driver.
The two men stood around on the pavement, waiting until the appointed time arrived. The Guardians they had brought with them had spread out and were trying to look casual - with some success. They seemed to Kevin to be quite practiced at this, and no one appeared to be paying them any attention.
As the prearranged time approached, Kevin looked anxiously up and down the street. There were a few passers-by at this late afternoon hour, but no one who could be mistaken for Tanji, unless shapeshifter capabilities were even more extreme than he thought.
Frustrated, he turned to face the Department store window display. This was a room set, a bedroom with artfully arranged bedclothes and soft furnishings, together with a dressing table with a mirror over it. All nice enough, Kevin mused, but he did not want to be reminded of romantic bedroom settings just at the moment.
Kevin turned back to the street, again scanning the occasional pedestrians for anyone who might have been approaching them. From the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of movement in the window behind him. Tanji had appeared in the mirror.
"It's window magic," Bret exclaimed, "She can't see us or hear us!"
Kevin could see her head and upper body, caught in the action of sitting herself comfortably in an easy chair. She was not restrained in any way that he could recognise. Behind her, he could see a wall painted or papered in a mid-brown colour and, to one side, some kind of clock. Several of the magic lights that Kevin was now familiar with provided plenty of illumination. Otherwise, the room seemed to be featureless - deliberately so, he suspected, to give as little away as possible.
"Come on!" Bret cried.
He dashed into the shop, followed closely by the Guardians and a startled Kevin. In common with Department stores in his own world, Kevin noted that the shop had an exceedingly confusing internal layout, but after a few panicky moments they finally got to the window with the display they had seen from the outside.
Tanji was still visible in the mirror, even when Kevin lifted it from the wall. It was surprisingly heavy, but the image did not so much as flicker as he held it close to his face, studying every detail.
As he watched, Tanji shifted her position, bringing her feet up to rest on some padded stool. Her feet were bare, her legs clad in the soft leather trousers she so often wore. In this position, her feet must have been close to the glass of the window on her side. Stuck to the sole of her left foot, there was a paper label with a little plastic wrapping film still adhering to it. The label was printed with a barcode and a series of numbers, and the film was now decomposed badly having been, he realised, through the magical barrier at the crossing.
In a flash of inspiration, he realised that Tanji must have known it was there, and that she also must have realised what the matt black panels in her prison were for. Somehow, she had managed to keep the barcode label concealed from her captors, and was spending as much time as possible with her feet close to the glass.
Kevin put down the mirror as quickly as he could, grabbed the notebook and pencil he always carried in his bag and hastily scribbled down the numbers on the label.
He had reacted just in time. The image faded, and the mirror returned to the ordinary reflective surface he had first noticed. He let out a great sigh, mainly in relief that Tanji appeared to be alive and in good health.
"Did you see it?" he demanded of Bret.
"See what?" the other man asked, sounding perturbed.
"The label! The bar code," Kevin reiterated, practically shouting at the other man, "On the sole of her foot."
Bret looked confused. Kevin hurriedly explained that the bar code uniquely identified a certain type of goods, and that it might give some clue as to where Tanji might be.
Just at that moment, a shop assistant hurried up, understandably rather concerned about the disruption to the display by a loud group of rowdies. Bret and one of the Guardians smoothly intercepted him. Part-way though the conversation, Bret turned to Kevin and said, "Put the mirror back on the wall, please." He complied, wondering just what was being said.
The assistant retired look somewhat mollified, pausing only to tug straight the bedspread which had become rumpled by the mad dash through the store. Bret turned back to Kevin.
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully, "That was strange."
"The shop assistant," Bret explained, "He said that the window display has been in place for nearly a month. And they used a mirror that had been around for longer than that."
He paused, then added, "Someone must have been planning this for a long time."
|© 2007-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 29 October 2008|