Bret and Kevin stood in the street outside the Department store where they had just seen Tanji in the mirror.
"What was that all about?" Kevin demanded, feeling angry and confused.
"Well, for a start, we know Tanji's OK now," Bret replied, apparently trying to retain some modicum of calm.
"Are you sure it wasn't some kind of a recording?" Kevin wanted to know.
Bret shook his head.
"I don't think so. You saw the clock on the wall? It was showing the current time."
Kevin was aware of the magical clocks and timepieces which were a commonplace in all of the parts of Lyndesfarne he had visited, although he had never worked out how to read them. Somehow, the hands and numbers never seemed to align with the time he had been told.
"Surely they could just set it arbitrarily, just to fool us?" he asked, "It could have been yesterday. Or earlier today, even."
Again, Bret shook his head.
"Magical clocks don't use, well, clockwork like they do in your world," he explained patently, "They always show the right time, and it's extremely difficult to fix them so they show anything different."
Kevin was puzzled.
"Surely she must be fairly close. If the clock showed the right time, at least we know she is in the same time zone."
It was Bret's turn to look puzzled. Then an expression of slow realisation spread over his features.
"Oh, we don't have them here," he said, with just a trace of his characteristic wryness.
"All clocks and calendars here display the same time, based on a magical reference set up thousands of years ago," he explained, "So the time and date are always the same everywhere."
Kevin realised in a flash of inspiration where he was probably going wrong trying to interpret the magical timepieces: he was failing to understand about time-zones, and probably confusing the symbols for times and dates to boot. That really should have been part of the NISSA briefing, he thought irately, although he would eventually appreciate that no-one had expected him to spend very much time in the world of Lyndesfarne.
"So, she could be anywhere?" Kevin asked.
"Yes, in this world," the other man confirmed.
Bret paused as if interrupted in some fashion that Kevin could not determine, then dragged his bag from his shoulder. Reaching inside, he pulled out his magic slate. The surface was displaying a couple of lines of text, writ large and in the language of Lyndesfarne that, even after all this time, Kevin had barely the sketchiest idea of how to decode.
"It seems I have a message," Bret said, gesturing rapidly at the slate. His face darkened as he read the contents.
"It's addressed to you," he said angrily, turning the surface towards Kevin.
"Come to the Walled Garden," the message read, in clear handwritten English, "Room 21, at midday tomorrow."
"Where's it come from?" Kevin demanded, "Who sent it?"
Bret turned the slate back to face him, again gesturing at the surface. He muttered something unintelligible that sounded to Kevin suspiciously like a swearword, then lowered the slate.
"I don't know you sent it," he said in low voice, "The slate says that I sent it myself, which clearly I didn't."
He paused then added thoughtfully, "Unless someone's been using my slate while I've been in your world."
Kevin was unsure how to react to this suggestion.
"So what do we do now?" Bret wondered aloud.
"We've got to get back to England," Kevin replied urgently.
"Why?" Bret responded, "Surely you want to go to stay in this world, now that we know for sure that Tanji is here."
"Well, the temptation is very strong," Kevin agreed, "But I think we have time to find out about that barcode. I've got the strangest feeling that it's important, that Tanji was telling us something vital. So I need to know what it means and, to do that, I need to get to a telephone."
Bret blinked at him.
"Let's get going, then," he said.
The trip in the return direction was less smooth and more time-consuming, with Kevin fuming impatiently every time they had to wait for a portal to return to the correct destination. Finally, to his relief - and Bret's too, he suspected - they arrived at the portal terminus by the crossing to Kevin's world.
The two men undertook the usual brisk walk across the causeway. Kevin barely glancing at the change in the scenery in a manner he would have considered impossibly blase only a few months before. At the other side of the crossing, Kevin hurried straight over to the building which stood next to the point where the causeway met the coast. This building was fitted out in the guise of a Tourist Information Office but was, in reality, the local base for the Guardians.
Kevin marched inside and up to the reception counter, trailed by Bret.
"I need to use a phone, urgently," he said without preamble, slightly out of breath.
The middle-aged female Guardian behind the desk looked perplexed for a moment, turning from Kevin to Bret and back again, before wordlessly pushing the phone across the counter.
Kevin found the next few minutes intensely frustrating, trying to remember the precise name of the distribution centre he had visited earlier in the year, while in the middle of a tussle with an operative of the telephone directory services company whose command of English was not all that he could have wished for.
Finally, he got through to the office of the company. Dave, the manager that Kevin had met on his visit, was not available, but the junior staff member answering the telephone said that she would take a message and get her boss to call back as soon as possible. In the absence of any other alternative, Kevin gave her his mobile phone number.
While Kevin was faffing about talking to the distribution centre, Bret had managed to locate a second phone and had summoned their car and driver. Kevin assumed that this had been to facilitate the return his and Kevin's things, the technological accessories - mobile phone, watch, laptop computer and so on - upon which so much of modern life in this world depended.
Kevin turned to Bret after completing his inconclusive telephone call.
"I think we've got to go back to NISSA," he insisted, "It's not very far, after all, and we can easily get there and back in time to make the appointment with the kidnappers."
"Well," Bret began, "Let's not be hasty. We don't want to antagonise them by being late..."
"Look," Kevin interrupted, turning on the other man, "They're not trying to get anything from us. It's just a distraction, a delaying tactic. Tanji will be safe enough if we just turn up at the next meeting."
Bret nodded, slightly taken aback at the sudden outburst from the normally mild-mannered Kevin.
"I agree. But it's too late to go to NISSA now," Bret insisted, "Everyone will have gone home."
Kevin had lost track of time. They seemed to have been travelling back and forth between the worlds, and up and down the country for days. He sagged, suddenly feeling very tired.
"Come on," Bret said kindly, "We'll stay overnight at Cliviger Grange."
A weary Kevin was guided to another of the fleet of cars maintained by RDTE. He was whisked the short distance to the Grange along narrow country lanes bordered on either side by overgrown hedgerows.
Just as they arrived, Kevin's mobile phone rang. It was Dave, the duty manager.
"I've been trying to reach you," he said, "But I kept getting the number unobtainable tone."
Kevin realised that the mobile phone network coverage was probably very patchy in this rural outback.
"Sorry," he replied, "Thanks for getting back to me. Look, I have a small favour to ask of you."
"Sure," the other man replied, sounding faintly surprised, "How can I help?"
Without going into details, Kevin explained that he was assisting in an investigation.
"So," he continued, "I've come across this barcode, and I wondered if you could help me in finding out what product it is associated with."
Dave the manager sounded slightly dubious.
"Well, OK," he replied, "If you think it would help. What's the number?"
Kevin reeled off a string of digits which the other man repeated as he wrote them down.
"Call me back," Kevin insisted, "When you have anything. Any time, day or night."
Having extracted the reassurances he was seeking, Kevin rang off. He looked at Bret, who had been listening silently during this exchange.
"I think it's important," Kevin reiterated, sounding slightly petulant even to his own ears.
Bret mumbled something non-committal which left Kevin feeling only slightly mollified.
After a short and inconclusive briefing with Warden Williamson, he and Bret took their dinner in an open-plan area which looked to Kevin very much like a military mess-hall. Not much conversation passed between the two men, each sunk in their own thoughts and concerns.
Finally, Bret guided the other man to one of the newer buildings, which appeared to be a barracks of some kind, and directed him to a little bedroom. Kevin performed the minimum of ablutions before collapsing into the narrow bed, falling asleep almost immediately in the deep stupor of the truly exhausted.
At some indeterminate dark hour, he was woken by the insistent ringing of his mobile phone.
"Hello?" he murmured, fumbling the handset, hardly awake.
It was Dave, the manager from the distribution centre.
"Sorry to have woken you," he began, correctly interpreting Kevin's groggy mode of speech, "But you did say it was urgent."
"It is," the other man replied, rapidly coming to a much more alert state, "Have you found out what the barcode is for?"
"I have. That code was used for one of many large consignments of green beans, which were shipped to most branches of several large supermarket chains."
"I see," Kevin replied, suddenly feeling despondent. There was no way they could investigate every supermarket in the country.
"Where were the beans from?" he asked.
"On the label, they're marked: 'Country of Origin: Kenya'," Dave answered, adding in a more conspiratorial tone, "But, actually, the beans are imported from the Other World, from an area known as..."
The last word was pronounced as a slur of complex syllables but, even in his half-awake state, Kevin recognised it as the region where he and Tanji had vacationed not so very long ago, the place where they had taken that glorious beach holiday together.
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