The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 19

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Kevin's Volvo

"Are you sure you want to go to Lyndesfarne?" Kevin asked Tanji, as he fought the Volvo through the traffic.

Tanji was gripping the edges of her seat, looking terrified after several near-misses between fast-moving vehicles. Kevin had to repeat his question more loudly to gain her attention.

"Yes, yes," she replied, "I've spent years working in an organisation dedicated to helping people from your world make their way in mine. Almost all of my friends know about the bridge. I'm sure we can track down someone who will help."

"I hope you're right. But they'll almost certainly be watching the Old Bridge. The Professor will have warned the Guardians, surely?"

"But what's the alternative?" Tanji asked. "The New Bridge isn't finished yet, and I'm not sure I want to risk a boat after yesterday's experience."

Kevin smiled.

"Actually, I think we can use the New Bridge," he said, slightly smugly. "Very few people know that they started putting up the scaffolding for the join between the two halves yesterday, and it probably possible to get across on foot."

"Are you sure?"

"Reasonably sure. Besides, I know the building site pretty well now, and we should be able to evade anyone who might try to find us."

Kevin thought for a few moments, then continued.

"But it has to be after dark. The construction teams will be at work on the bridge during the day."

Kevin drove as fast as he dared out of the city and north along the main road, a journey which would usually have taken him rather more than an hour was completed in exactly forty-eight minutes. He thoroughly expected to be stopped by the police at any moment. Fortunately, the traffic on the main road was fairly light, and the journey was incident-free. They might have been flashed by a speed camera but, frankly, thought Kevin, that is the least of my problems right now.

As they reached the road leading to the Lyndesfarne crossing, Kevin realised that he would need to dump the Volvo somewhere where it would not easily be found, as well as find somewhere to hide until it was safe to cross. From many previous trips, he recalled that there were several isolated houses along the road, usually set behind dense hedgerows and overgrown woodland. He slowed the car several times as they got closer to the crossing, looking for somewhere to stop. Finally, about a mile, Kevin judged, from the junction where the road to the New Bridge was under construction, he pulled into the driveway of a house that appeared unoccupied.

"Stay here," he asked Tanji.

Hidden garden near Lyndesfarne

"What are you going to do?" she responded, but Kevin gently shushed her.

"I'll be right back."

He had been thinking about what to do if there was someone in the house. He had come to the conclusion that the best approach was to knock confidently and, if anyone answered, to appear confused. He was mentally rehearsing a spiel along the lines of "looking for my old friend, it must be another house along here somewhere, they all look the same to me" and so on.

In the event, none of this planning was necessary. He got out of the car, and knocked loudly and repeatedly on both the front and back doors, but with no response. He moved quickly back to the car, and restarted it.

"I think the house is empty," he said to Tanji, as he drove the car to the back of the house, "So we can stay here for a while. We should be harder to find. In fact, why don't we go inside the house?"

"You mean, break in?" Tanji sounded appalled.

"Yes. Why not?"

"Well, I suppose so. But how are we going to get in?"

When Kevin had moved into his flat, he had been warned that it was a rough area, and that he should take sensible precautions. He had employed a professional firm to fit a modern motion-sensitive burglar alarm and, when they had left, made a few small improvements himself. He had spent one weekend afternoon buying tools and fitments from a local DIY supermarket, which stocked a considerable selection of home security products. This reinforced Kevin's view of the risks of the area. With a fair amount of effort, he had fitted the flat with window locks, fastenings on interior doors, and deadlocks and strong bolts on both entrances.

In doing all this, he had learned quite a bit about home security, burglar alarms and so on. It also had the side-effect that he also knew how to force open windows and doors, at least in principle. Of course, he had not actually tried it out in practice, but he felt that he had to imagine how a burglar would try to enter his home, in order to do something to prevent it.

Old stone house near Lyndesfarne

While Kevin was knocking on the doors, he had taken the precaution of having a good look around. He could not see any sign of an alarm, and had noticed a couple of windows which did not seem particularly secure. He stopped the car, turned off the engine and got out, again motioning Tanji to stay where she was.

He stood listening for a moment. It was very quiet, with no sounds coming from inside the house. There were no traffic noises, just the distant call of a pheasant, which always sounded to him like someone trying, but failing, to start a rather underpowered moped.

Taking his trusty Swiss Army penknife from his pocket, he applied one of the stronger attachments to a window just to the right of the back door. This had an old-fashioned fastening and ancient wooden frames. After a minute's work, he was able to get sufficient leverage to be able to pull on the frame, which opened with a creak of splintering wood. Well, thought Kevin, now I really am a member of the criminal fraternity.

With much effort, and rather inelegantly, he clambered through the open window, and looked around. He was in a small utility room, and he found he had just climbed over the washing machine on his way in. The only door led to the kitchen, where he found that the outside door had been fitted with a lock which could be opened from the inside without a key - something that Kevin would never have allowed in his own house.

He unlocked the door, and beckoned to Tanji, who slipped quietly out of the car and into the house.

"Is there anyone here?" she whispered.

"I don't think so, but I'll check around in a minute."

The house turned out to be completely unoccupied, and appeared to have been that way for some time. The beds had not been made up, and there were no clothes in any of the drawers and cupboards that Kevin checked. It felt like one of those holiday cottages, rented out on a weekly basis during the season, but now empty and rather lonely.

He returned to the kitchen, where he found Tanji stretching, clearly grateful to be out of the confines of the car.

"You OK?" he asked.

"Yes, more or less," she replied. "How long do we need to stay here?"

"Just a few hours. Let's make ourselves as comfortable as possible for the time being."

Kevin returned to the utility room, and closed the window that he had used for forced entry as best he could. As he was doing so, he looked out at the Volvo, and then past it to what looked like a garage.

Returning to the kitchen, he spoke to Tanji.

"I'm going to see if I can hide the car. I'll bring our stuff in, too."

"OK. Don't be long."

Kevin found the key for the garage hanging on a hook by the back door, and conveniently labelled - another security flaw that he would not have tolerated at home. He walked the few yards to the garage, and managed to open the rather stiff and heavy door with only a moderate amount of struggling. Inside, the garage was surprisingly large, and seemed to contain rather a lot of cardboard boxes. Even so, there was plenty of room for his car.

He drove the Volvo into the garage, and pulled out their bags and outdoor clothes. Having dumped their possessions in the kitchen, he made a return trip to close and lock the garage door. He did his best to minimise any signs of disturbance, and was pleased to see that the window he had forced open looked almost undisturbed, except under the closest inspection. Finally, he returned to the kitchen, then locked the door from the inside, and sighed deeply.

"Is there anything to eat in this situation?" he muttered, mostly to himself.

"What was that?" Tanji asked, looking at him from the other side of the room.

"Sorry. I was just saying that I'm hungry. Shall we add insult to injury by stealing food from the cupboards, do you think?"

There was nothing in the fridge when Kevin checked, which was well cleaned but switched off. When he tried the light switches, nothing happened, but he was able to track down the switchbox and turn on the electricity supply.

"No lights. We don't want to advertise our presence here." he advised Tanji. "But perhaps we can at least make a hot drink."

A short rummage located mugs, instant coffee and powdered milk in a cupboard in the kitchen, as well of an unopened packet of biscuits. Kevin filled and boiled the electric kettle and made something to drink that was not particularly pleasant-tasting, he thought, but was at least brown, warm and wet.

Carrying their steaming mugs, the two fugitives made their way to the sitting room, and sat together on a sofa. Kevin had managed to make the rather feeble electric fire work, which at least kept the room from getting too chilly. All they could do was to wait quietly in gathering gloom, holding onto each other for warmth and comfort.

Kevin woke suddenly to find Tanji already moving about, packing items into her bag. He felt stiff from sleeping in a rather awkward position, but at least felt somewhat refreshed and recovered after their escape.

"Feeling better?" Tanji asked him.

"Much, thanks. Time to go, you think?"

"Yes. Are you ready?"

"Just give me a few minutes to tidy up."

Out of an ingrained sense of tidiness, Kevin took the coffee mugs back to the kitchen, rinsed them and put them away. He made an effort to return everything to its proper place, partially out of guilt about breaking and entering, and partially to obscure the fact that they had been here. Then he put on his jacket, shouldered his rucksack, and turned to Tanji.

"OK. I think we can go cross-country from here. It's about a mile and half. Will you be all right?"

Tanji grinned widely.

"Oh, I'm sure I will survive."

The prospect of a lengthy walk did not particularly worry Kevin, even in the dark. These days, he worked out in a gym fairly frequently. This was an activity he had started in the dark days after splitting up with his ex-wife, really as something to do first thing in the morning that got him out of bed. He had found that he enjoyed it, in a perverse kind of way, and now he visited the gym at least once a week, and sometimes more frequently. Stomping the countryside on both sides of the straights while undertaking site surveys, not to mention the regular walks across the Old bBridge and causeways, had further improved his physical fitness. I'm not really much of an athlete, was Kevin's usual assessment, but I am probably fitter now than I have ever been.

They left the house by the back door, carefully closing it behind them. They could neither see nor hear any traffic on the road, and they walked briskly in the direction of the Old Bridge. Without warning, Kevin grasped Tanji's arm and guided her into a dark gap in the hedgerows.

"Where are we going?" Tanji asked in an urgent whisper.

"Relax," Kevin replied, "There's a footpath here, so we can stay off the road."

During the early part of the project, Kevin had fairly extensively explored and surveyed the Mainland side of the straights in order to determine the optimum site for the New Bridge. During one of these sojourns, he had come across a rather overgrown pathway which joined the old road not far from the house they had so recently ransacked. The start of the path was a stile so hidden in the hedgerow that it was almost impossible to spot unless you knew where to look. The track appeared infrequently used, and he had never seen another living soul walking that way. The footpath passed within a few hundred yards of the end of the New Bridge, and did not intersect the newly constructed road. More-or-less perfect, Kevin mused, for sneaking up on the site.

Now that his eyes had adjusted, Kevin had no problem finding his way along the track. The intermittent moonlight certainly helped, although clouds were moving in front of the moon with increasing frequency. Tanji appeared to be struggling, stumbling over obstructions that Kevin had spotted and avoided without conscious effort. He turned and took her hand, guiding her away from the smaller obstacles and irregularities that were slowing her down.

"How can you see so well in the dark?" she asked.

"I don't know. It's something I've always been good at. Just a knack, I suppose."

The security fencing which surrounded the New Bridge site was not particularly robust, and it had now been in place for quite a long time. Since the site was so far from civilisation, there had been few problems with thieves, vandals and teenagers, and therefore there had been little incentive to maintain the fence. It was the work of just a few minutes to locate a weak section and to force their way inside.

They made their way through the tangle of the site until they reached the start of the bridge, giving the hut where the night security staff dozed away the evenings a wide berth. The site was quiet in the early evening, as Kevin had noted on previous occasions when he had worked late. The workforce preferred to depart early and together, as if something in the area made them uneasy. Indeed, daytime-only working was another one of the unusual requirements insisted upon in planning meetings, and Kevin had thought strange at the time.

As they started to make their way along the bridge proper, Kevin whispered to Tanji.

"Keep to the edge. The barrier will make it harder for us to be seen from the end of the bridge, and from the shore, too."

Tanji nodded, and the two of them crept in single file, bent nearly double. Unfortunately, the design of the high barrier on both sides of the bridge (which Kevin had come up with himself) was such that only the bottom half provided any protection from being seen. The top section was constructed from stout steel mesh fixed to poles at regular intervals, which he had specified in order to keep the overall weight down.

Kevin found that the bent-kneed half-run he had to use to keep low and move quickly simultaneously was incredibly uncomfortable. His lower back and thighs began to ache almost immediately. I must spend more time in the gym, Kevin thought grimly.

They arrived at the centre of the bridge with no sign of alarm or pursuit. But what they found when they got there made their hearts sink. The gap between the sections, although only ten feet of so, was hardly filled.

Only a tiny part of the wooden scaffolding had so far been constructed. It was little more than a plank set into a socket in the concrete, together with a matrix of thin battens, and it looked barely strong enough to support either of the fugitives. Worse, since this was in the cross-over zone between the two worlds, conventional fixings had not been used anywhere. When completed, this entire structure had to be built using old-fashioned carpentry joints, with no screws and nails.

Below the wooden framework, there was just a long, long drop in the dark to a certain death in the sea below.

Bridge under construction

"What are we going to do?" Tanji almost shouted, unable to keep an edge of tension out of her voice.

Kevin knelt, and felt the beam with his hands, then sat up on the concrete edge and kicked at the board with both feet.

"It seems strong enough. There's no movement." he replied, "If we go one at a time, it will be OK, I'm sure."

He turned and held Tanji close.

"You can do this. Just straddle this board with your legs, and then shuffle across the gap on your bottom. It's not far, just hang on tight."

Tanji nodded, clearly steeling herself to do this. She sat on the edge as Kevin had done and, taking a deep breath, moved out over the drop.

"Don't look down. Keep moving, but don't rush." Kevin instructed, trying to convey a sense of confidence.

Just at that moment, he suddenly felt a slight vibration on the bridge. He turned and saw torchlight approaching from the direction from which they had so recently arrived. Someone's footsteps were moving rapidly along the bridge behind them.

Kevin swore under his breath, and started moving across the planking, even before Tanji had completed the crossing. She reached the far side and pulled herself up, gasping with anxiety and tension. Kevin joined her a few seconds later.

"Here, take this," he said, handing his rucksack to Tanji. "Get going, I'll catch you up."

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"See if I can pull out this beam. Now go!"

Kevin again sat on the edge of the bridge, bracing his feet on the lip of construction stone where the new layers of mixed materials would join, and reached down. He could just get his hands under the beam. Taking a firm grip, he tugged up; the beam moved from the socket in the stone, angling upwards and hinging in the socket on the Mainland side.

He changed his grip and pulled as hard as he could, and was rewarded by the sound of the far end scraping on the concrete. After a few moments struggling, the beam came free and went tumbling into the water below, with Kevin just managing to let go before it dragged him over the edge as well.

He straightened his shoulders after the effort, and set off as quickly as he could to catch up with Tanji. They made to the far end of the bridge without further incident, although the clouds had been getting darker and the wind stronger, beginning to howl and whine through the tower and supports of the bridge.

Both of them were fairly familiar with the layout of the Island side building site, which as similarly deserted, and it was the work of a few moments to locate a point to climb out over the fence. They had just clambered down as the rain started.

"We've got to find somewhere to shelter," Tanji said, the wind whipping around her, "We can't go very far in this weather."

Kevin spun around, trying to think of what to do. He did not want to return to the building site. If there was any report that they had been seen on the bridge and there would be a thorough search of both sides, he thought.

Path to Lyndesfarne castle

"The castle," he shouted, "We can shelter there. This way, it's not very far."

They set off, heading down towards the shore where Kevin thought there was a footpath which would take them around the headland and to the castle. To his considerable relief, they came across the track almost immediately, and Kevin vigorously gestured along it.

"We've got to follow the path," he yelled to Tanji, trying to make himself heard over the noise of the wind and the rain, "We can't afford to stray off it in the dark. We'd get lost and risk falling onto the rocks."

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