The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Death on the New Bridge: Chapter 31

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Front of old university building "Before you go rushing off," the Professor interjected, "There might be something - or at least someone - who could help you."

Both Bret and Kevin paused at the door before turning back to face Braxton, who was still sitting at her desk, and looked to Kevin as if she had just been holding her head in her hands.

"And who is that?" Bret inquired coolly.

"It's Wendy's mother," she replied, "Patricia Rossiter."

There was a moment of stunned silence.

"Her mother was apparently abandoned by Wendy's father," she explained, rather sadly, "When she was very young, after some kind of a row."

The Professor paused, then continued.

"I have to say it seems to have left both Wendy and her mother with a negative and distrustful view of men in general. But Patricia might have some idea where to find Wendy," Braxton concluded, "And she lives not very far from the crossing."

Despite the directions provided by the Professor, Kevin suspected that he would have had great difficulties in tracking down their destination. The Sergeant had listened carefully, then held a quiet conference with the two drivers upon their return to the vehicles. After nods all round, the party clambered into the cars and set off confidently. Local knowledge, Kevin mused, so very useful.

Old stone cottage The older Ms. Rossiter lived in an old stone cottage set back in the trees on one of the numerous winding lanes in the area of the crossing. The tiny cottage was of a very traditional construction, with stout stone block-work and weighty lintels over miniscule windows and a low doorway. The roof was formed from heavy slate tiles, now mossy, and a plethora of crooked chimney-stacks emerged from the roortops.

Looking at the building from the kerbside, Kevin was reminded that one of the more obscure meanings of the word "thousand": it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary as a builder's term for twelve hundred slates which, in his opinion, informed everyone of everything one needed to know about both the nature of traditional building materials and Olde English craftsmanship.

The Rossiter abode nestled in an overgrown garden. As Kevin followed Bret along the pathway towards the front door, he noticed that the garden was obviously carefully tended in some areas with rows of plants - a profusion of flowers, herbs and vegetables - whilst other parts seemed to be completely neglected, at least to the eye of someone with two brown thumbs. Indeed, the rambling estate looked to Kevin more like the traditional idea of a witch's cottage than anything he had seen in a very long time.

Bret seemed entirely unperturbed and unhesitatingly knocked loudly on the front door. There was a lengthy pause, and Kevin was convinced that the other man would be required to knock again. Suddenly, there was a noise from the other side of the door, someone tugging hard on the handle. The door appeared to be jammed, or at least very stiff. Bret leant heavily on the door frame, and it opened suddenly with a loud creak.

A grey-haired woman stood framed in the doorway. She looked around shrewdly at the group assembled on her doorstep.

"So sorry about that," she said without preamble, "No one ever uses the front door."

"Ms. Rossiter?" Bret enquired politely.

She nodded, looking from Bret to Kevin to Tanji, and then down the path to Sergeant Graves and his little troupe. The similarity to her daughter was striking, it seemed to Kevin. She was petite and slender, standing straight in spite of her years. Her hair was much longer than her daughters, and worn loose and flowing. Kevin suspected that she was not as old as he might have expected, and that she must therefore have become pregnant with her daughter at a very young age.

The older woman looked closely at Bret.

"You're not really a man, are you?" she asked pointedly.

Bret snorted with characteristic wryness.

"You're quite right, Madam," he responded, "I'm ..."

At this point, Bret rattled off a stream of syllables which Kevin recognised as Bret's full name, one which - to his chagrin - he had never quite managed to memorise.

Her face darkened immediately.

"You're from the Other World, I take it," she said coolly, "I don't think I want to talk to you."

She moved sharply to shut the door. Kevin leapt forward, instinctively trying to prevent the door being slammed against them.

"No, no," he cried anxiously, "Please help us."

When he thought about this incident later, Kevin considered that there must have been something about his appeal - his sincerity, perhaps, or his commitment, or maybe just the fact that he was self-evidently a native of this world. Whatever it was, the older woman relented, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and pushed the door all the way open on its stiff hinges, inviting them into the cottage.

Bret signalled to the Sergeant and his colleagues to remain outside, then followed Tanji and Kevin along a hallway panelled in dark wood and into a room which Kevin instinctively labelled 'parlour'. This was the kind of room he was familiar with from his grandparents' house, when he was a child: an old-fashioned formal room, all chintz upholstery and polished wood arranged around a polished cast-iron fireplace. Every flat surface in the room was decorated by an assortment of knick-knacks - no doubt all very collectable items these days - all carefully dusted and undoubtedly treasured. The whole room gave the impression of being cared for by someone who was particularly house-proud but attempted it on a really limited budget.

Rossiter senior settled herself in what was evidently her usual easy chair in front of the fire and looked up at the newcomers.

"So, who are you people, and what do you want with me?" she asked directly.

"Well, it's not so much you that we'd like to talk to," Kevin began, "As your daughter."

"Wendy's not here," she said simply, turning her head from one to another.

Bret apparently took this a cue to seat himself in a chair whose worn fabric was mostly, but not quite totally disguised by a carefully laundered antimacassar and a clutch of hand-embroidered cushions. Kevin and Tanji sat down together on the sofa, hand in hand, inseparable as always.

"I'm Kevin," he said to introduce himself, "I'm an architect from Manchester, and I helped to design the New Bridge, together with Bret."

"The New Bridge," the older woman echoed, "I've seen it. Not been across it yet, but it certainly looks astonishing. However did you get the two halves to join together?"

Cable-stay bridge under construction Kevin smiled and shook his head at the perspicacity of the older woman. He thought for a moment about describing the way the two independent sections had been designed to move together in the wind, despite the amazing differences between the engineering principles he had employed and the magic methods use by Bret. He could have spoken at length about the use of laminated section in the centre, fabricated with alternate layers of steel-reinforced concrete and magical 'construction stone'.

"It was very difficult," he answered finally.

"I'm sure it was," she said with a slight smile.

"Anyway, this is my friend Tanji," Kevin continued, changing the subject.

Tanji was as usual quietly fading into the background. Kevin had noticed this trait in Tanji. In private, or even amongst strangers, she was outgoing and uninhibited. But when I the company of people she knew well, she would remain still and silent, rarely asking a question or joining in the conversation. Perhaps it was her training as a Guide and interpreter, he mused, or maybe something to do with perceived authority.

"Pleased to meet you," Tanji said politely, holding up her hand in that style of greeting which marked her out as a native of the other world.

Rossiter senior looked at the way Tanji sat close to Kevin, the way she looked at him when she thought no-one was looking. She smiled at the lovers in spite of herself.

"When did you last hear from your daughter?" Tanji asked the older woman.

"It was just a couple of days ago," she answered, "Wendy was on her way to the crossing, but came to see me, as she often does. She usually turns up every week or so, just to make sure I'm OK, I suppose. She let's me have some money, sometimes, and gives me little presents every now and then. She's very good to her old mum."

The older woman paused again, a smile on her face.

"So how did she seem, Wendy, on her last visit?" Bret wanted to know.

She looked askance at the question.

"Well, now that you mention it," she answered, "She seemed distracted, even anxious. She only stayed a few minutes, and she said it might be quite a while before she could visit again."

She paused again, looking thoughtful.

"Usually, she'd stop for a cup of tea, at least, and a chat. She often tells me about what she's been doing, what's going on at the University."

She turned slightly in her chair.

"Come to think of it, she may well have mentioned you," she pointed at Kevin, "Didn't you get taught by Wendy?"

"I did, ma'am," Kevin confirmed, "I had several briefing sessions from her at NISSA last year."

She nodded in apparent comprehension.

"So," Bret interjected, "Can you tell us where she's travelled to, recently, in the Other World?"

Patricia Rossiter shook her head slowly.

"Well, no, not really," she replied, "In fact, I don't think she's been to Lyndesfarne in months."

Bret nodded sagely.

"And did she say why she was making the crossing to Lyndesfarne in such a hurry?" He asked.

"She didn't," Patricia Rossiter said slowly, "But I'm fairly certain I know what she's up to. I think she's going to see her father."

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