Before leaving the NISSA building, Bret and Kevin dropped in to thank Professor Braxton, but were apologetically informed by Sanjit that the Professor was teaching and should not be interrupted. Ms. Rossiter was also nowhere to be found. Kevin asked Sanjit if she would pass on their thanks for the assistance to their investigation.
Bret reached for his mobile and phoned their driver, who was already waiting by the time the two men reached the steps at the entrance. They clambered into the back of the car and set off. The relatively short distance from Newcastle-on-Tyne to the Lyndesfarne crossing would usually have been completed in thirty minutes or so. On this afternoon, for some reason, traffic jams on the Old North Road delayed them so much that both men had got visibly worried.
Finally, and with no time to spare, their car screeched to a halt at the causeway entrance and the two men leapt out, once again remembering to leave their mobile phones and other electronic devices with the driver before embarking on the crossing itself. This would previously have been a two-mile walk with no easy way of moving more quickly, since the causeway to the Old Bridge would have been packed with queues of horse-drawn wagons. Now, however, that the commercial traffic was carried by the New Bridge, more rapid movement was possible.
Bret had phoned ahead from the car and was able to commandeer a light horse-drawn trap and driver from the duty Guardians. It was exactly this kind of vehicle, Kevin remembered, that had transported him around the Lyndesfarne end of the New Bridge while it was still under construction.
The driver cracked his whip and the buggy set off at a fast trot across the causeway towards the Old Bridge, the few pedestrians warned of their approach both by the clatter of the hooves and the ringing of a large brass hand-bell. Kevin hung on nervously to the wooden rails as the trap bounced over the cobblestones, but at least they were able to complete the crossing in less than half the time it would have taken to walk.
The trap stopped outside the building that Kevin knew was the base for the Guardians on this side of the crossing. The two men leapt down and Bret thanked their driver before turning to address a group of men and women who were standing expectantly nearby. Kevin had become quite adept at recognising the not-quite-uniform of the Guardians in both worlds. They had apparently been requested by Bret using his mobile phone, and the message somehow communicated to the Other World. How this was done, Kevin did not know, but he assumed that there must be some form of signalling across the straights - using flags, perhaps, or maybe flashing lights - which could be undertaken using both magical and mechanical devices.
It was then just a short walk to their destination. According to the message on Bret's slate, the meeting was to be in the hostel Kevin knew as the Walled Garden, which was only a few hundred yards from the Lyndesfarne end of the causeway.
To his surprise, Kevin was greeted effusively by name by the duty receptionist the moment he came through the door. He had stayed in this hostel many times during the construction of the New Bridge, but did not realise he was so easily recognised. Part of the mystery was solved immediately when the receptionist explained, in accented but readily understandable English, that a room had been reserved in Kevin's name.
The receptionist was a rather prissy-looking little man of middle years dressed in the uniform of the hostel. He had dark hair tied neatly in a ponytail which emphasised the high cheekbones and slightly pointed ears which distinguished natives of this world. He became increasingly and visibly alarmed by the urgency in Kevin's voice, not to mention the stern appearance of Bret's face, and immediately directed the two men downstairs, followed by the squad of Guardians.
The room door opened immediately to Kevin's gesture. He was alarmed to discover that it was the very room that he had shared with Tanji on the evening of the formal opening of the New Bridge. To his way of thinking, this once again emphasised, as if it were really necessary, that he and Tanji had been carefully watched - stalked was probably the most appropriate word - for months.
The hostel room was a large and well-appointed suite with one of those quaintly-named bathing rooms attached. There was no one inside, and no evidence of any recent occupation. Indeed, Kevin thought it was as neatly arranged as if housekeeping had left only a few moments ago.
After a few fruitless moments opening cupboard doors and looking under the bed, Kevin stood wondering what they should do now. At that moment, a faint chime emerged from Bret's satchel emitted, Kevin assumed, by the magical timepiece the other man had shown him earlier.
"Look!" Bret exclaimed.
Kevin spun around, directed by Bret's pointing finger. The mirror over the dressing table showed Tanji, in the same chair in the same featureless room they had seen earlier. She glanced to one side, then stood up energetically and waved at the "glass" on her side. She had obviously just been told that Kevin could see her, and he could see her lips move but could not make out any words.
She stood still for a few moments, a rather wan smile playing about her lips then, without warning, she calmly removed her blouse and let it fall to the floor behind her. Kevin could see her breasts, shrunken and hardened with darkened nipples just like, he realised in a flash, when they were on that beach holiday. She stood quietly, chin held high; suddenly she smiled more widely, her eyes flashing.
"She's telling us where she is!" Kevin exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" Bret demanded.
"I've only ever seen her like that in one place," Kevin explained rapidly, "On holiday."
In the mirror, Tanji paraded around wearing only her leather trousers, still smiling - not a patch on her usual grin, but enough for Kevin to recognise it for what it was. Images flashed through his mind - beach volleyball in the late afternoons, swimming and diving during the day, and - the thought struck him like a flash of lightning - that fascinating excursion where he had seen all of those long green beans for sale.
With only a touch of embarrassment, Kevin rapidly explained to Bret about the beach holiday he and Tanji had taken earlier in the year, and her expressed preference for topless beach games.
Bret got the point immediately.
"So you think she's trying to tell us that she's being held somewhere in the area you visited on vacation?"
Kevin nodded vigorously. Bret looked thoughtful for a few moments, then nodded slowly.
"You know, I think you may be right."
The image in the mirror faded. Bret motioned to two of the Guardians, who unhesitatingly tore the mirror from the wall and carried it out of the room for, Kevin imagined, some kind of magical analysis.
The vandalism had obviously been spotted by the hostel receptionist, who came bustling into the room a few moments later, looking very hot under the collar. He strode up to Bret and spoke rapidly and rather angrily in the Lyndesfarne language. Bret calmly took him on one side, responding equally rapidly and speaking much too fast for Kevin to follow. Even so, he got the impression that Bret was explaining the circumstances and why it had been necessary to remove the mirror.
The receptionist glanced at Kevin a time or two while the other man was speaking, looking increasingly worried. Now much mollified, Bret brought the little man to where Kevin stood. Looking Kevin directly in the eye, Bret reported quietly that the mirror, which had been just ordinary glass, had been broken by an occupant of that room some weeks ago.
"Some weeks ago?" Kevin practically squeaked, "Before I stayed here with Tanji?"
Bret nodded, eyes locked on Kevin's own.
"So what happened?" Kevin demanded.
The hostel receptionist looked flustered. He spoke in the Lyndesfarne language, relying on Bret to translate the gist for the other man's benefit. Apparently, the client had admitted the accident and offered to pay for the damage. The hostel used its usual contractors to install a replacement a few days later, although the receptionist said that he did not recognise the two people who actually turned up to fit the piece.
Kevin was still livid.
"So how did Tanji and I get this particular room?" he wanted to know.
The receptionist looked uncertain and Bret fluently translated the other man's question.
"That's simple," the prissy little man replied in English, "It's the best room in the house."
Bret started slightly then reached for his rucksack. There was another message on his slate. He turned the upper surface to face Kevin.
"You are being so very well-behaved," the message read, "I'm pleased, even impressed. You will hear from us again soon."
Kevin stared at the message silently for a long moment.
"Hmmm. So, how do the kidnappers know that we were viewing Tanji in the magic mirrors?" he asked finally.
Bret glanced at the other man, looking surprised.
"Well, perhaps they don't," he replied, "They might be just assuming that we made the appointment."
Kevin shook his head.
"No. They must be some way of keeping track of us," he asserted, "This is all too organised to leave something like that to chance."
Bret looked at him through narrowed eyes.
"So they could be using some magical means to keep track of us," he said, "Which means a Finder."
"What's a Finder?"
"It's, well, a magical way to determining the location of a person or object," he said eventually, "Also known as a Locator."
"So why haven't you tried to use a Finder to locate Tanji?" Kevin asked urgently in a low voice.
"We have," Bret responded promptly, "And it didn't work. We assumed that she must be in your world, where a Finder is useless."
He paused for a moment, then looked around the room. Kevin and Bret were by now alone in the suite, the remaining Guardians having quietly dispersed.
"But there are ways to mislead such devices," Bret added in a low voice.
"So you think we are being tracked by a Finder?" Kevin reiterated, "At least in this world."
It was Kevin's turn to narrow his eyes.
"I think we should be suspicious of any electronic devices we habitually carry about with us," he said carefully, "They might have a bug of some kind."
"It would only work in your world," Bret replied, "But, yes, you're probably right. But we should worry about being tracked in this world first."
"But what can we do?" Kevin demanded, "Is there some kind of magical counter-measure?"
Bret grinned wryly at the other man's perceptiveness.
"Yes, but it's quite rare, and very carefully controlled by the Boards," he answered, "I'll try and locate one. I'll write to my Mother immediately."
Kevin imagined that the Ferryman would almost certainly have enough clout to engineer the release of such proscribed magic. Bret scribbled rapidly on his slate and then sent his message with a practiced gesture.
"There," he said with a slightly self-satisfied air, "That should be enough to get some help."
In the absence of anything else obviously useful to do, Bret made further enquiries of the hostel staff, although without significant results. No-one could recall anything about the guest who had broken the original mirror, other than he had stayed just one night and paid for the breakage without quibbling.
About forty minutes later, a sealed package arrived, delivered by a tall slender woman wearing a hooded robe and carrying a long staff. Kevin recognised her as a member of the Guild of Messengers. Silently, she took a large packet from her bag and placed it on a table in the hostel foyer. Bret was required to make a complex series of gestures over the envelope before he was allowed to pick it up. The Messenger watched quietly, then nodded and quickly turned on her heel to depart. She had uttered no word for the entire duration of her delivery.
Bret unpacked the parcel quickly, finally holding up a couple of copper-coloured amulets of a complex design which writhed and sparkled with the coloured lights which denoted magic within.
"This is a passive magic," Bret explained, "Once started, it doesn't need any further gestures. It will make us appear as if we are still here" - he pointed at the floor - "until, well, the end of time, or at least as long as we wear these."
He gestured for a few seconds, then thrust one of the amulets at Kevin before sliding the other over his left wrist and up onto his upper arm. Kevin followed suit. He had never been a great one for jewellery of any kind, and so found the sensation of the amulet on his upper arm both unusual and faintly unnerving.
"So, can we get to our beach holiday location now?" Kevin asked urgently.
"Yes," Bret replied, picking up his rucksack, "Follow me."
|© 2007-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 30 October 2008|