The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 17

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Car parking at the University of Newcastle, where NISSA was located, was always difficult, and even more so in term time, when there were students' cars parked everywhere. Kevin was forced to leave the Volvo some distance from the NISSA building, parked - illegally, of course, but just like several other vehicles - partially on the pavement.

The drive from Manchester had gone reasonably smoothly, with just a couple of short delays caused by the usual roadworks. During the trip, they talked over the predicament repeatedly, but without significant further conclusions. After that, the conversation had ranged over numerous other topics, giving Kevin the opportunity to try and entertain Tanji with what he liked to think of as his ironic sense of humour. Kevin began to recover something of the pleasure and calmness he had felt during the journey in the opposite direction only the day before.

From the point where Kevin had abandoned the Volvo, it was a walk of about ten minutes. By now, he knew his way around the University campus reasonably well, having got lost on at least one previous visit, and had therefore inadvertently explored much of the area. He was now confident that he could find the most direct route to the NISSA buildings, which seemed to involve a surprising number of alleyways and several shortcuts past loading bays.

NISSA Building

Kevin guided Tanji into the NISSA building and up the stairs to the suite of offices occupied by Professor Alan Wilmington and his staff. He knocked on the outer door, which was closed. There was no response, so after a short wait Kevin tried the handle. The door opened easily and quietly. The capable young woman who was, as Kevin understood the situation, in administrative control of the organisation as well as the Professor's assistant, was evidently away from her desk just at the moment.

As on a previous visit, the inner door to the Professor's office was slightly ajar, and Kevin knocked gently and pushed it open a little further. The Professor looked up from his desk, then sat up straight, dropping the document he had been reading.

"Kevin!" he exclaimed, "I didn't realise that you were scheduled to be here today."

"Well, I'm not. But I was hoping you could spare me a few minutes."

"Yes, of course. Come in, come in."

Kevin stepped through the door as Alan moved around his desk to shake his hand, and then gestured towards the seating in front of his desk. The Professor's gaze caught Tanji, who was calmly standing in the office doorway. The change in his expression clearly told Kevin that Alan had spotted Tanji's typically Lyndesfarne appearance and recognised it for what it was.

"Alan, let me introduce Tanji. She's my guide from the Guild of Directions - from Lyndesfarne, obviously."

"Pleased to meet you, Madam," the Professor responded, holding up his palm in greeting and, Kevin noted, making no attempt to shake her hand. Tanji raised her hand in response, then moved to sit in another of the comfy chairs while the Professor returned to the padded throne behind his desk.

"So how can I help you?" Alan enquired, glancing rapidly from Kevin to Tanji and back again.

"I'm not sure where to begin," Kevin began, "But I've come across something inexplicable."

The Professor leaned forward on his desk, steepling his hands in a pose conveying intense interest.

"Go on."

"I've found an item, an artefact from Lyndesfarne, which quite definitely works here. Tanji tells me this requires some quite powerful, err, magic."

At this statement, Alan leant back in his chair with an expression of annoyance on his face.

"This is nonsense," he huffed, "You're deluding yourself. Not to mention wasting my time."

Both Tanji and Kevin were taken aback by this flat statement. The Professor must have noticed this, and continued.

"Look, we've tried importing all sorts of items from Lyndesfarne over the years and, frankly, none of them work. Indeed, anyone who claims to have bought a so-called magic item has been the victim of a fraud."

"Well, that's what I was told, too," countered Kevin, "Which is why we were both confused when we discovered this."

Kevin opened his rucksack and pulled out the paperweight, which he then unwrapped from its packaging and placed on the desk in front of him. Glancing at the Professor, he made the "make light" gesture with his hand, and the glass lit up from within.

Lyndesfarne paperweight

"There!" he explained.

There was a sharp intake of breath from the other side of the desk. The Professor leant forward, then reached over and made a series of gestures, turning the light off and on repeatedly, just as Kevin had done earlier in the day.

Kevin pointed out that the weather prediction icons were still working. They now showed a slightly different prediction about the weather, presumably because of the passage of several hours and a lengthy car journey.

"Where in the world did you get this?" the Professor asked, picking up the paperweight and inspecting it closely.

"Well, I don't think it was in this world," Kevin responded.

Tanji giggled discretely behind her hand at this remark.

"I bought it in a shop, in Lyndesfarne, yesterday morning." he continued, "But it's the only magic we've found that's working here. Tanji says she can't shapeshift here, and the other items we happened to bring with us are completely inactive."

The Professor was still fascinated by the paperweight, turning it this way and that in his hands.

"So how did you get it here?" he enquired, not taking his eyes from the magical glass artefact.

Kevin related the story about their unexpected journey across the straights caused by the storm, and sketched the trip down to Manchester and back.

"I see," Professor Alan said finally, "Have you told anyone else about this?"

Both Kevin and Tanji shook their heads.

"No," Kevin replied, "We couldn't think of anyone else to talk to."

The Professor nodded, looking up at them and returning the paperweight to the desktop.

"This is fascinating. I'd like to look into this some more. But I really need to visit the gents first. I won't be long."

He stood up, pushing his chair away from the desk and stepped out of the room, the door shutting behind him with a soft thud. In the silence that followed, there was a quiet but clearly audible click from the door. Kevin and Tanji both heard the noise, and looked at each other, suddenly alarmed. Kevin moved to try the door and found it to be locked from the outside.

"We're locked in," he said, "What's going on?"

As he had noticed before, this old building had very solid wooden doors and stout locks, and besides, the office door opened inwards. Kevin swiftly came to the conclusion that there would be little point in throwing his weight against it in an attempt to force it open.

He rushed back to Tanji, unsure of what to do. She had not moved, seemingly stunned by the turn of events. Kevin's eye ran over the array of phones on the Professor's desk and picked up one, with the unformed thought of trying to call someone for help. There was no dial tone. He frantically pressed various buttons without notable success, and had begun to suspect that the Professor had disabled the phone lines from the outer office.

Cursing, he realised that he had not brought his mobile phone with him. He had got out of the habit of carrying it around, since it would not work on the Island, and on this occasion he left it in the glove compartment of the Volvo.

As he was struggling to make the phones work, Kevin heard a sound he recognised. In the course of his professional life, he had attended numerous and usually interminable meetings where some of the participants were attending by telephone conference call. Every now and then, some idiot would leave their mobile phone close to their desk phone, so that the chuff-chuff-rurrrr noise of radio interference from an unexpected incoming call would disrupt the entire meeting.

Kevin could hear that familiar noise of a mobile phone operating close by, on the desk phone which appeared otherwise dead. Finally managing to concentrate closely on the telephone controls, he identified and pressed the button which activated the intercom between the inner and outer offices. He could faintly hear Professor Alan speaking aloud.

Mobile Phone

Seeing Kevin suddenly stop pressing buttons and start listening intently, Tanji wanted to know what was going on.

"It's the Professor. He's making a call. On his mobile, I think," Kevin said, "I can just make out what he's saying. Shhh."

He put a finger to his mouth to indicate silence, just in case the intercom was working in both directions, then pressed the loudspeaker button, so that Tanji could hear as well.

It seemed that Alan was making some kind of a report, and being repeatedly interrupted or overridden by the other party. Kevin got the distinct impression that the Professor was being told what to do.

"Yes, I'll keep them here," they hear him say, "I don't think they've told anyone else. That's what he said."

There was a pause.

"Yes, of course I understand. They can't be allowed to communicate with anyone."

There was another, longer pause. Kevin got the impression that the Professor was steeling himself to interrupt.

"But they'll have to be silenced, permanently."

Kevin looked up straight into Tanji's face to see an open-mouthed look composed equally of horror and fright. He repeated the silence motion. Outside, the one-sided conversation was still continuing.

"How long before the Watchers get here?"

Pause.

"OK. Yes, right away."

That appeared to be the end of the conversation. They heard nothing more, apart from a thud and a click which Kevin took to be the Professor closing and locking the outer door. He turned off the intercom and sat down, his mind whirling.

"We've got to get out of here." he whispered urgently.

"Yes. But how?" she squeaked in response.

Kevin jumped up and went to the window, which overlooked the car parking at the front of the building and the grass-covered area beyond. There was no sign of anyone out there, no movement of people or vehicles that he could see. He turned his attention to the window itself, which ran nearly the full width and height of the room, and certainly contributed to the airy feel of the office.

"I think I might be able to open these," he said to Tanji, "Perhaps we can get out this way."

The windows did not look like they had been opened for years. However, the woodwork and fastenings seemed to be in good condition, having been given, Kevin suspected, the same gold standard refurbishment as the rest of the building.

While he was inspecting the window catches, Kevin found himself wondering why this potential escape route had been overlooked. So why, he mused, did the Professor not think of this? Kevin remembered that, on the Island, windows usually do not actually open; rather, they were just a one-way conduit for light and the view. So maybe, he wondered, perhaps Alan is actually from Lyndesfarne, perhaps even some kind of spy or agent?

The window fastener opened with a snap which made Tanji jump. She moved to stand next to Kevin as he pulled the window open.

Outside, there was a small balcony, less than two feet wide, with a low stone balustrade which would provide absolutely no restriction on one's ability to fall. Leaning forward and looking carefully, Kevin could see that the balcony led to a flat area nearby, in the dip between two angled sections of the roof.

"We've got to get out this way," he said, pointing out the way to Tanji, "Can you manage that?"

She looked out nervously, and then nodded.

"Come on, then."

Kevin grabbed his rucksack and slung it over his shoulder, handing over Tanji's bag so that she would not forget it. He then clambered out over the low sill, and moved extremely cautiously towards the flat roof. Looking over his shoulder, he could see Tanji following, appearing to be more confident that he felt. Once they had both reached the relative security of the flat roof and caught their breath, they made their way towards the back of the building. There, they were relieved to find it was straightforward to clamber down to a lower roof and, by hanging onto window ledge, drop the last couple of feet to ground level.

They set off at a run back to the Volvo, following the obscure route Kevin believed was the most direct. Kevin unlocked the car with the remote control and flung open the boot, dropping his rucksack inside and gesturing for Tanji to do the same.

"Get in," he shouted, breathing heavily after the run.

She needed no further urging, and he slammed the boot shut before leaping inside and starting the engine. He accelerated away, the car audibly complaining at the unaccustomed brutality of his driving.

"Where are we going to go?" Tanji asked.

Kevin didn't answer immediately. He considered talking to the police, but seriously doubted that attempting to explain their predicament to a friendly police sergeant would be in the least bit effective. He could practically hear the "stop wasting my time" response. The other possibility would be someone in his company. But who, he wondered. Besides, it was his company who had put him in touch with NISSA and the Professor in the first place. And what would his company be able to do anyway?

"I don't know," he answered resignedly.

"It's best we head for Lyndesfarne," Tanji almost shouted over the noise of the Volvo's engine. "I have friends, family there."

"Do they live near to the crossing?" Kevin asked, brightening up.

"No, we have to travel. I think there must be a portal somewhere near the bridge," Tanji said, "but I don't know where it is."

Kevin had long suspected that any portal near the crossing would be inside the warehouses on the Island side of the bridge. In any case, he thought, portals close to the causeway were likely to be locked up, and probably closely guarded.

"Let's avoid portals," Kevin replied. "We can go to Bret's family house. I'm pretty certain I can find my way there on foot. It's a bit of a walk, but we could probably do it in an hour or two."

"OK. Let's go."

It was only when they reached the exit from the University campus that Kevin realised that, in the rush to leave, he had left the paperweight behind.


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