The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 3

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Windows in most buildings in Lyndesfarne were more akin to skylights, set in the ceiling to let in light through the roof. The major difference, as Kevin had found out to his complete astonishment some months before, was that natural light illuminated rooms on every level, not just the top floor.

This use of magic - to provide a multiple one-way connection between different points - was apparently a similar but different application of the same principles used in portals. Windows would only send light, not solid objects, in one direction only, while portals effectively joined two remote places with a bidirectional link through which solid objects - both goods and people - could easily pass.

Kevin had forgotten to reset the opacity of the windows the previous evening. He and Tanji had collapsed into bed late last night, perhaps a little more drunk than he realised and certainly having consumed more than he was used to. He thought of himself as a light sleeper - which meant, he always maintained, that he could not sleep with the light on.

Light from the sunrise was just beginning to illuminate the room and the nascent daylight had evidently disturbed his rest. Tanji was still quite soundly asleep, judging by the daintily feminine snores emanating from her side of the bed. Kevin lay quietly for a while, luxuriating in the superbly comfortable bed and enjoying the sensation of Tanji lying alongside. He seemed to have avoided the worst symptoms of a hangover, although he was very thirsty.

Unable to lie still anymore in the half-light, he found his way through the sitting area of the suite to the bathing-room and managed to recall the magical gestures to operate the cold water supply. He drank from cupped hands under the running faucet, and rinsed his face, before making his way back to bed, remembering to operate the opacity magic for the windows on the way. He slid gratefully back under the still-warm covers, feeling himself dozing almost immediately.

He was just falling back to sleep when there was a loud and urgent knocking at the door. Startled, he sprang up and, hastily grabbing a towel from the bathing-room to wrap around his waist, rushing to ensure that Tanji was not awakened by the commotion.

Peering through the crack in the opened door, he was astonished to see Bret standing there, in the male appearance he had adopted at the party the night before. Bret's normally neat and tidy appearance was shockingly absent, with his hair wild and obviously hurriedly pulled back into a ponytail, and his clothes gave every appearance of being just recently thrown on.

"What are you doing here?" Kevin asked, opening the door wider to admit the other man.

Bret cracked a characteristically ironic grin.

"Well, frankly," he began, "I'm checking on you."

He looked around the room from the doorway.

"And Tanji as well," he added meaningfully.

"I'm fine - I mean, we both are," Kevin muttered, "Come in."

He closed the door behind Bret and motioned in the direction of the chairs. The other man turned and sat down, looking directly at Kevin.

"We have something of a situation," he said quietly.

"What do you mean?" Kevin replied as he sat in the adjacent chair, instinctively leaning forward to catch the other man's words.

"We've found someone on the New Bridge - he's dead," Bret announced.

"Dead? How did that happen?"

"Frankly, we don't know."

"Have you checked the security cameras?"

Kevin had specified a high degree of surveillance on the England side of the bridge, with CCTV monitored twenty-four hours a day. He knew that Bret had insisted upon something similar on the Lyndesfarne side, although he was hazy on the details of the magical methods used.

"It was the first thing we did," Bret countered, "The body was found in the exact centre of the bridge."

"But surely the cameras on the other side could still pick up what happened," Kevin protested.

"All that was visible to the cameras, and indeed the Watching Devices," Bret said slowly, "Was the sudden appearance of the body. One moment, nothing; the next, a dark form huddled against the guard rail."

"Oh. So who was he?"

"We're not sure yet," Bret replied, sounding frustrated, "We're still trying to find out."

He paused, then added, "But we're sure he was a native of your world."

Kevin felt confused, probably understandably given the earliness of the hour and the strangeness of the news.

"So what has this dead man to do with me?" he asked finally.

"Well, nothing that I am aware of," Bret replied, "Although the fact that he appeared in the centre of our bridge gives me cause for concern. So I thought it best to check on you."

"Thank you for your concern," Kevin said politely.

Bret looked sharply at the other man.

"Of course, now that you're awake..." he began.

"Go on," Kevin replied, beginning to suspect what was coming.

"You could help me with this investigation. I've come to know just how good you are at asking hard questions." Kevin was amused, even flattered, despite the seriousness of the situation. He suspected that Bret knew he would be unable to decline such a direct request.

"What's going on?" A sleepy voice said from the inner doorway.

Both men looked up, startled.

Tanji must have woken suddenly from a deep sleep, it seemed to Kevin, and she appeared confused and slightly disoriented. Her hair was tousled and she had also wrapped herself in a large towel. She looked, in Kevin's admittedly biased opinion, utterly gorgeous. He beckoned her over and she sat demurely on the arm of the seat next to him, so that he could put his arm around her waist. Bret rapidly repeated the salient points for her benefit.

"Bret's twisting my arm to assist," Kevin interjected, "I think I'd like you to help, too."

Tanji had clearly woken up completely by this time, and she agreed immediately. The two of them excused themselves from Bret and returned to the inner bedroom. Kevin dressed quickly, now understanding why Bret had looked so dishevelled when he had arrived. Tanji did likewise, and both of them wrapped themselves in their cloaks.

As they stepped outside, Kevin suddenly felt chilly in the cool early morning air, having been so recently wrapped up in a nice warm bed. He appreciated the cloak's warmth, and instinctively performed the simple gesture which initiated the everyday magic that heated the insides of the garment. It was only when Tanji looked at him askance, and with approval in her eyes, that he realised what he had done - correctly performed a magical gesture without a direct conscious thought.

Following Bret, the two lovers walked hurriedly the few hundred yards from the hostel to the portal building at the Old Bridge causeway entrance. From there, they moved briskly though the portal which linked directly to the corresponding facility a mile or two away, and close to the New Bridge.

As they travelled, Kevin thought amusedly about the period where he had been working on the bridge's construction when, in a misguided attempt to keep him in the dark about the importance of portals, he had been transported everywhere by horse-drawn trap. Nevertheless, he had correctly anticipated the need this evening to travel on foot along the bridge itself. They walked in silence, with the sky lightening steadily towards dawn, although the patchy mist over the straights and coastline still made it feel distinctly spooky.

Ahead, Kevin could see bright lights and several knots of people milling around in the centre of the bridge. Amongst the huddle of people, he thought he could just make out a shape, swathed in heavy cloth, which could have been a body.

As they came closer, a member of one of the groups detached themselves and ran back towards them. Kevin did not recognise the young woman who approached and, as she was swathed in a cloak and hood, it was hard to make out any kind of facial features at all. She spoke rapidly to Bret in the Lyndesfarne language.

"What's she saying?" Kevin whispered to Tanji, who was evidently listening carefully.

"They appear to have found out who he was," she said softly in return, but then added, "But they're still unclear how he died, or how he got here."

As if on cue, Bret turned to Kevin.

"Well, we have some news," he said, "But it all seems rather unsettling, even alarming."

"So what is the situation?" Kevin asked bluntly.

Bret turned to the same rather earnest young woman they had encountered a few moments before. She had removed her hood and had been standing politely to one side, clutching one of the magical communication slates which were, Kevin had discovered on his previous visits, ubiquitous in Lyndesfarne.

"This is Yiselle," Bret said, introducing this woman and naming Kevin and Tanji in turn. Kevin held up his hand in his best facsimile of the greetings he had observed used in Lyndesfarne, and was gratified to note mildly approving expressions from both Bret and Tanji.

"Yiselle, please tell us what you know," Bret instructed gently, continuing to speak in English presumably for Kevin's benefit.

The young woman had looked slightly startled to be addressed in this fashion. Nevertheless, she drew a deep breath and clasped her hands together very much as if, it occurred to Kevin, she was about to recite a lesson in a classroom.

"The man found on the bridge was Doctor Andrew Wollack," she began.

"A doctor?" Kevin interjected.

"Yes," Yiselle confirmed, "But not a ..."

She hesitated, clearly uncertain of the correct words.

"Medical doctor?" Bret suggested gently.

"Yes," she confirmed, referring to something written on her slate, "Doctor Wollack was attached to the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London."

"How do you know this?" Kevin asked.

Yiselle held up a card of laminated plastic. The face of a rather serious-looking young man could just be made out in the irregular lighting. The rest of the card was covered in lettering in various fonts and sizes, although none was particularly easy to read. It was clear that it was the kind of identity card familiar to Kevin - the sort of thing now compulsory in modern organisations of all kinds.

"Where did you find it?"

"It was in his wallet, in his trouser pocket, along with several other cards," Yiselle answered immediately.

"Credit cards?"

"Yes," Yiselle confirmed, "Together with a small amount of cash money."

Many years of reading whodunits and occasionally watching television crime serials gave Kevin the confidence to conclude that robbery was not the motive behind the man's untimely demise.

"So how did the Doctor die?" Kevin wondered aloud.

Yiselle hesitated, glancing at Bret as if for guidance.

"We're not yet sure," she said finally, "But we are fairly certain he had been dead for at least two hours by the time we found him."

"Really? And when was that?"

Yiselle appeared to gain confidence where there were straightforward answers to be given.

"It was a few minutes to midnight," she said promptly.

"And he just appeared in the centre of the bridge?" Kevin prompted.

Again, Yiselle glanced at Bret, who made no kind of reaction or movement that Kevin could see.

"Well, yes, that's right," she agreed, "Of course we sent a couple of Guardians to investigate as soon as we realised that something strange had happened. They got to the body very quickly - it could not have been more than ten minutes from when he was first observed to our Guardians arriving."

"Which means," Kevin said slowly, "That our mysterious Doctor must have been killed somewhere else, and then brought here."

Bret and Yiselle nodded slowly in unison.

"We had only been on the scene for a minute or less when a group of Guardians from the Other World appeared," Yiselle volunteered.

"And I suppose they had been alerted because of what that had observed on the cameras?"

"I understand so," she confirmed.

Kevin was silent for a long moment.

"So how did he get here?" he mused, glancing in the direction of the heavily wrapped form not very far away, only later realising that he had spoken aloud. Abruptly, he turned to Bret.

"Can we speak to them?" Kevin asked.

"The Guardians from your world? I expect so," Bret said, "But why?"

"Because," the other man responded, "I need to take a very close look at the CCTV records of the appearance of the dead man."

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