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The world is wrong

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The next day, they met at Susan’s place. Susan smiles at Jean as she opens the door, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. Jean studies her as she hangs up her coat, she looks worn out, and on edge.

Millie has begun already. She’s sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, busying herself with studying a map that covers most of the surface of the wooden coffee table it’s laying on. A cup of tea is balancing on top of two books laying beside her. She looks so utterly out of space in Susan’s tidy sitting room, in Susan’s tidy life, that it stops Jean in her tracks for just a second.

Jean can almost hear Susan’s’ jaw clenching, see Millie’s posture tensing. The atmosphere changes, while it certainly wasn’t light when Jean entered the room, now it feels ten times heavier.

A small hum coming from the fireplace draws Jean’s attention. She has thought them to be alone, but now she turns towards the sound fast enough to see Lucy’s eyes refocus on the heavy looking book in her lap.

As the tension fades until it’s nothing more than a small clasping in Jean’s stomach, she finds herself a chair. She isn’t gonna sit on the floor, thank you very much. Susan hands her a cup of tea before she starts pacing up and down the room, behind Millie.

Jean understands the sentiment, she feels like pacing too. She’s taught not to though, so she never has, and she’s not going to start now. It’s a bit ironic, she thinks amused, that Susan is the one doing the pacing. Susan who has, more than the rest of them (except maybe Lucy), tried to conform to the norms set for women. Apart from the solving of the murders, of course.

“They all made train journeys”, Susan speaks after a few steps. “Not the same journey, not even the same line, that’s what confused me.”

Jean lifts her head, listening, shifting her attention back to the case.

“I thought they must all be passing through his area, but that’s not it,” Susan continues, “he’s on a train too.”

Jean knows Susan’s right as soon as these words tumble out of her mouth. So does Millie, apparently, because she looks up for the first time since Jean arrived.

“A train compartment, it’s perfect”, she nods. Susan halts her pacing, taking a moment to smile at Millie.

The tension is back, in full force, manifesting as a hand gripping at her throat. This time, she appears to be the only one feeling it. Millie certainly doesn’t seem bothered as she smiles back at Susan.

When Jean can’t endure the silence any longer, she fights off the chokehold she’s still in to say, “It’s private.”

Millie’s head whips towards her. The suddenness of the movement is enough to confirm to Jean that yes, she had almost forgotten about Jean’s presence. The look on her face would be quite funny if she hadn’t felt so bloody ignored.

“A man can talk to a woman and it’s not unseemly”, she states, drawing the attention away from herself and the irritation that is surely visible on her face. She detects a glimpse of smugness on Susan’s face, indicating that she’d thought this out even before Jean said anything.

Millie, on the other hand, has a faraway look in her eyes, her head tilted slightly. Jean feels one corner of her mouth curl upward, her scowl easing as her annoyance makes way for amusement. It isn’t surprising that Millie hadn’t thought about that. Not Millie, who has travelled the world and who never dwells on what other people would deem proper, except to do the complete opposite. Millie wouldn’t think about how the man would stand out, just speaking to women, if he weren’t very careful.

Susan’s patience clearly runs out, watching Millie consider this. “Alright, he talks to them,” she interjects curtly, “but how does he get them off the train and wherever it is he takes them?”

“He can’t just cart them off screaming, through the rush-hour”. Millie acknowledges, her eyes focusing again. They trace the map again, before finding their way upward and connecting with Jeans.

“They’d have to trust him, they’d have to go willingly”, she draws the only logical conclusion.

Millie shakes her head. “But why on earth would they do that?”, she exclaims.

That question is still echoing in Jean’s head as Susan suddenly turns towards Lucy. Lucy’s still turning the pages of the book, sitting quietly by the hearth.

“Have you got it all, Lucy?”, Susan asks. “Everything memorized?” Lucy slams the book shut and looks up at Susan, nodding in answer. Jean takes a better look at the book. A train schedule book, of course.

For the first time, Jean comprehends that they are basically using Lucy like a database. There is so much wrong with that, Jean closes her eyes for one moment, steadying herself. ‘It’s useful,’ she tells herself, ‘it’s necessary’. It doesn’t completely take the sour taste away, but it helps a bit.

When Susan starts quizzing Lucy, it becomes clear that it is indeed quite useful, as they learn more from the answers Lucy gives than they have deduced in the entire conversation they’ve just had.

“All right, how many points of connection are there between the routes the different girls took”, Susan starts.

Lucy’s face goes blanch, a tell-tale of her digging into her memory, before focusing on Susan and answering, “forty-six.”

Susan visibly deflates. “Gosh, he’s not taking forty-six trains, he’s taking one.”

Meanwhile, Millie has started studying the map again, but she looks up as Susan gestures in her direction.

“Millie, lipstick”, is barked out in a tense voice.

‘Was that a question or an order?” Jean thinks to herself, half expecting to see Millie ignore Susan, as she has done to Jean so many times before, in similar situations. This time, however, Millie quickly does as she is asked, handing over her lipstick without even a word of deviance, puzzling Jean with her compliance.

“Lucy, can you mark the map, each journey please.” Despite the ‘please’ at the end of that sentence, it again doesn’t sound like Susan is asking.

‘Great’, a voice inside Jean’s head whispers sarcastically, sounding suspiciously like her elder sister, ‘now Lucy’s not only a database but also a subordinate’. Jean shakes off the thought. She hasn’t spoken to her sister since before she left Glasgow, she’s not going to start listening to her now. It doesn’t matter if she’s right. ‘This is necessary’, she stubbornly tells herself again.

“Now we’re not looking at the lines, we’re looking at where they cross, what they intercept with, because that’s where he is,” Susan interrupts Jean’s line of thinking, “he’s in the gaps.”

Jean fixes her eyes on the lipstick as Lucy starts tracing the lines. ‘What a waste’, Jean thinks, ‘it most definitely looks better on Millie’s lips.’

“Susan, it doesn’t work”, Jean is shaking her head, feeling warm and irritated for no apparent reason. “It can’t, you’ve got three sets of overland train routes here, and all right, they connect to each other, but Emily Dixon didn’t take an overland train.”

Millie gestures to Lucy to give her the lipstick as Jean speaks, some thought evidently crossing her mind. She isn’t interrupting, and Jean is grateful for that, but she does get a bit distracted by the way Millie moves her head as she gestures.

Even so, she pushes on, because she has to say this before they all get caught up in Susan’s one-track mind. “She took the tube from Clapham Common to Turnpike Lane.”

Susan doesn’t look as fazed by this as Jean was expecting her to. “What was her route?” she calmly asks.

“Err, Clapham Common, the northern line to St Pancras, change to Piccadilly line, through to Turnpike Lane”, Lucy points out the route on the map.

A little frown appears between Millie’s eyebrows as she reaches the same conclusion that Jean did a few moments ago. “No connection at all.”

“It has to connect, we’re missing something,” Susan claims stubbornly. They are definitely missing something, Jean concedes in her head.

After a few moments of silence, Susan starts again, “Lucy, she disappeared on the first, anything?” Fortunately for them all, Susan’s voice is softer now, less irritating to Jean.

It’s like a light bulb flicks on above Lucy’s head. “First of May, northern line, no faults or delays reported, first of May Piccadilly line –“ She dives towards the book. It seems this is one of the rare occurrences when Lucy has to look up something.

Susan appears to be half amazed, half horrified that her perfect database isn’t as perfect as she thought. “Lucy?”, she asks in confusion, her voice almost faltering, while Lucy is flipping fast through the, by now, worn pages.

Then Lucy finds what she’s looking for, she turns and points, announcing, “they closed it, here.” She trusts the book towards Jean, who puts on her glasses before bending over it, Millie at her side, as they both read it for themselves.

“There was a points failure the day Emily disappeared; they closed the line for two hours,” Jean quickly summarizes, nodding to herself and then to Susan as she takes off her glasses again.

“So, she arrives at St Pancras, she goes to take the Piccadilly line, but she can’t because it’s shut. So what does she do?” Millie thinks out loud.

“She comes up to the surface,” Jean draws the only possible solution, “at St Pancras Station.”

Susan nods, tapping her fingers against the map. “And he’s right there,” She states.

Lucy’s eyes widen as she asks, “waiting for her?”

Susan shakes her head at that. “No, waiting for his train,” she says quietly, deep in thought. “She would have been there at six o’clock, we’ve got forty-six points of connection between the girls’ routes, but how many are we left with if they all have to connect to St Pancras station around six o’clock?”

They all simultaneously start shifting through the timetables, searching, except for Millie, who’s still focused on the map. Jean’s the first to finish her part. “None of these.” she pushes them away one by one. “Not this one, not that one either.”

Millie silently goes over every line visible on the map. “There it is”, she points out.

Susan laughs faintly, looking for the timetable corresponding with the line on the map. “That’s it, there’s only one,” she confirms, “the six-fifteen slow train from St Pancras to Barking.”

She looks at her watch. “It’s five o’clock, she considers, “Sam and Claire can have tea next door, Timothy is not due home ‘til seven.”

Millie flinches again at Timothy’s name and distracts herself by tracing the line of the murderer with the lipstick. Her hand shakes and Jean wants to reach out to steady it, but knows she can’t. Not now, not without knowing the reason everyone is so tense.

“Why don’t we go and see for ourselves?” Susan proposes. Jean doesn’t see a way that would help, but she still agrees to come because Millie states, looking at her, asking with her eyes, “there is no harm in trying."

It’s busy at St Pancras station at this time of the day. Jean walks with Susan, Lucy and Millie again chatting behind her. For the first time, Jean longs to have such an easy connection with any of them, a friendship that includes mindless chatting, and friendly teasing beside comfortable silences.

She doesn’t have the energy, or the interest really, to try to chat to Susan, so she listens, and tries to feel comforted that they all respect her enough to give her the space she has always needed, the space that feels so empty now.

“Why do men do it?” Lucy asks behind her as they come to a halt on one of the platforms. They all turn towards her, but no answer is forthcoming. The same question has been running through Jean’s mind.

Millie is the first to speak, and she tries to evade the question by playing dumb, asking what Lucy means.

“Kill women”, Lucy clarifies.

“Women kill too, you know,” Millie responds.

“Not like this”, Lucy objects, her lip trembling, “only men do this.”

Millie doesn’t respond, choosing to put one arm around Lucy instead, while pulling up the corners of her mouth in a sort of grimace that tells Jean that Millie doesn’t agree with that at all.

Jean doesn’t respond either, a part of her wants to agree with Lucy, wants to believe women would never do something like this. The other part of her is shaken to the core by the hollowness of Millie’s grimace, the emptiness of her gaze. All of her believes about the cruelty of men and women come crumbling to the ground.

She stumbles for a moment, but fortunately nobody notices, the subject closed off.

Susan put’s her hands in her pockets. “He takes the six-fifteen slow train,” she repeats. Jean is suddenly sure she hasn’t even heard the earlier conversation. “Lot’s of people getting on and off as they travel, different routes on other lines.”

“Lot’s of chances to meet someone,” Millie analyses, “follow them if he wants to, maybe change trains if he needs to.”

“So he meets her, he talks to her,” Lucy says, her voice no longer fragile, strengthened by Millie’s comforting arm, “why does she trust him?”

They are back to the question they were at before they started comparing the train routes. This time, Millie has an answer ready. “He’s someone important, respectable, a businessman”, she nods to herself, lost in thought, “he’s wearing a suit.”

“Why would you go off with a businessman you’d just met?” a bewildered Lucy asks Millie, pulling her back into the present. Jean was thinking along the same lines. There is truth in Millie’s statement, but it’s not entirely correct. However, Jean can’t find a better answer.

“Maybe he threatens her, maybe he’s got a knife?” Lucy suggests.

Jean shakes her head, sure that isn’t it. “Look at all these people, someone would see, one of the girls would have shouted out,” she debunks that theory.

“Nobody saw anything,” Millie says, turning around to follow a few men in railroad uniform with her eyes. Jean follows her line of sight and instantly understands Millie’s thinking.

So does Susan by the looks of it. “He’s invisible,” she whispers.