Chapter 1: The Before
Jean had always been a bit of a loner. Estranged from her family for reasons she couldn’t, or wouldn’t pin-point, she had moved to London at a young age. All of her savings, all the money she had collected by doing odd jobs in and around her home town Glasgow went into the move and she arrived in London, with just enough money to pay a month’s rent on a small flat.
She had hoped to find work there, work that was more challenging to her overactive brain than the jobs available back home. Unfortunately, she promptly had to acknowledge the jobs she could get in London weren’t that different from the jobs in Glasgow. She did need a job though, so she soon got a “normal” secretarial job. It wasn’t what she had dreamt of, but it paid the bills.
The war seemed to slow down life in London. Jobs became unavailable, as employed joined the military, the atmosphere was heavy, and children started to disappear from the London street life.
Fortunately, in these dark times, there is one source of light for Jean. She’s one of the first women to be recruited for work at Bletchley Park. It happens purely coincidental, one of her ex-employers is recruited, and he points them in her direction. She will forever be grateful to him.
It’s quite easy to rise through the ranks for Jean, who doesn’t worry as much about any loved ones serving in the military, and can concentrate on the task at hand instead. It also helps that she’s a bit older than most of the recruited women, and so, she soon gets her own team of female code breakers.
Jean loves the work. The riddles she solves make her feel more alive, her promotion makes her feel useful. She enjoys the company of her colleagues, though, not all of them. The girls that she needs to supervision are young, and friendships with them are not easily formed, nor really desired.
Eventually, Jean finds herself growing fond of them. She wouldn’t really call what they have a friendship, but it is pleasant talking to each other, and they work more closely together than before. Her team is special. Lucy is young, almost innocent, and better than anyone at storing and retrieving information. Susan is soft, but sharp, seeing patterns that other people just couldn’t. And then there is Millie.
That is really the only difficult part, dealing with Millie. Jean likes Millie well enough, and can, begrudgingly, admit that Millie is a fine code breaker, smart and charismatic. The differences between them just seem to be too much to ever overcome, and their personalities are constantly clashing. Jean is Millie’s superior, but Millie never listens well to authority figures. And then there are Millie’s ideas, always bold and bordering on being against the rules.
One rainy night, after a day of arguing over one of Millie’s actions, (risky and silly, Jean deemed it, and would never have approved it if Millie had asked her, so of course Millie didn’t ask,) that had eventually led to better results than Jean could have ever dreamed of, Jean lays awake. Something has been bothering her for some time, making her reactions towards Millie even harsher than they had ever been before. Millie is clever, does apparently know which risks are worth taking, and has an odd sway over some of the younger girls.
Susan, Claire and Lucy, three of the best code breakers in Jean’s team, adore her, and would always notice Millie before even thinking about noticing Jean. It stings, and it stings even more tonight, after Millie has been right once again.
Millie didn’t even gloat about her victories, didn’t hold Jean’s failures above her. And, Jean realizes, Millie never does it for personal gain. Most of the time she lets Jean take credit for her work, let the team take credit for her work. But if Millie ever tried, she would easily be promoted over Jean, and that was what Jean is scared of. Jean laughs, realizing that she is being shallow. It doesn’t matter, Millie doesn’t want to lead the team, she is perfectly content where she is, just cracking codes.
That night, she promises herself that she wouldn’t let jealousy get the best of her again, and she promises she will take Millie’s ideas seriously from now on, because, even if they are risky and Jean doesn’t always think they are worth it, Millie obviously thinks them worth the risk. And, it pains Jean to admit, even to herself: more often than not, Millie is right.
Their relationship becomes much better after this, Jean gives Millie the trust and space she needs to do her job, and Millie flourishes because of it. Millie in her turn starts to listen to Jean when she does give Millie orders, toning down the risks where needed. And so, Millie becomes more like Jean’s equal than someone had ever been before. It isn’t exactly a friendship, but it is closer than anything else ever was.
After the war, there is no need for orders, and more than enough space. Jean thinks they might stay in touch, despite how unlikely it seems their paths would ever cross again. But then, at the celebration party, just as Jean is approaching Millie with a work offer that would keep them as colleagues, Millie turns from where she was standing with Susan at the bar. For a split second she looks into Jean’s direction, with bloodshot eyes and trembling lips, before rushing out of the door. Jean looks at her as she leaves, and understands she will probably not see her again.
She doesn’t keep in touch with any of the girls on her team after the war. They all have a new life to live, new jobs to do, new people to meet. Even though Jean is fond of most of the girls, she is old and wise enough to know that the bonds they formed most likely wouldn’t last, without the job to force them together. She doesn’t spare them much thought, not even Millie. In her work with Turing after the war, she occasionally meets women who would question her authority. It always makes her question Millie’s whereabouts for a moment, before forcibly stopping and turning back to the matter at hand.
One day, after a much-dreaded date proposal of one of her male friends, Jean decides to try and find Millie. She doesn’t come far, knowing not much more than Millie’s last name, and not daring to find the other girls from Bletchley park to ask them. Millie is definitely not in London anymore, and Jean lets it be. She answers “thank you, but, no thank you” to her gentleman friend and goes on with her life.
After Turing is fired from GCHQ in 1948 for his homosexuality, and she loses her job with his, she applies for a job as a librarian. It isn’t as exciting as her job at GCHQ, and it doesn’t even come close to her work at Bletchley Park in the war, but it’s better than the jobs she had before the war. It pays the bills, gives her something to do, and this time it is enough.
Chapter 2: Susan, again
It is nine years later that Susan turns up at the library, signing out 4 books. Jean doesn’t look up at first, doesn’t realize it’s Susan as she says “Dear, you’ve picked up four copies of the same book, it’s not gonna make it four times better, you know”.
Then she looks up and sees Susan standing there. She blinks in surprise. One part of her is quite glad to see Susan, curious about her life after the war. The other part of her though, the reason she never looked Susan up after they went their separate ways. As Jean looks at Susan, for half a second she just sees Millie’s blotched face on the night of the celebration. Then that image is gone again, and Jean shakes herself, taking off her glasses.
“Susan Havers?” she asks, still a bit shocked, “Isn’t this a coincidence.”. At that instant she sees Millie standing behind Susan. “Or maybe not.” She finishes, almost lamely. Of course, it wasn’t.
“Hello Jean”, Millie says, and her voice is just a bit raspier than it was in the war. No doubt because of all the cigarettes Millie probably still smokes.
Susan smiles and, breaking Jeans trance, says “We need your help, but first we need to get Lucy.”
It turns out that Millie knows where Lucy lives, just as she supposedly knew where Jean worked. Jean feels that is a bit creepy, as Millie hasn’t lived in London for a good few years after the war. But she closes off the library (she really shouldn’t, as it’s still the middle of the day and she would certainly be fired if the owner found out, but she doesn’t care at the moment), to accompany them to Lucy’s place. Susan is walking ahead, Millie and Jean following in silence. Jean’s head is still spinning, too much information being processed at once.
When a man opens the door, Jean doubts Millie’s knowledge for just a moment before politely saying “Hello, excuse me, is Lucy home?”.
The man disappears back into the flat, not closing the door behind him and they hear him tell someone “some ladies for you, if it’s the W.I. you can tell them to piss off and stick their nose in someone else’s cake sale.”
“Not very friendly, is he?” Millie remarks to no one in particular, not seeming that surprised.
At that instant, Lucy appears at the door, and smiling at them in wonder, exclaiming “Oh my goodness”, coming outside and closing the door behind her, “It’s been years”.
Well, that answers Jean's question about if the others kept in touch, for Lucy anyway.
“How are you, Lucy?” Susan opens conversation.
“I’m well, I’m really well”, Lucy answers, and if Susan and Millie notice the smile becoming just a bit less genuine the way Jean does, they don’t comment on it. “I can’t believe this, I’d invite you in but err” continues Lucy.
Millie is quick to reassure Lucy that isn’t necessary “oh no, no no no, don’t worry” and for a moment they all stand there in the hallway, smiling at each other awkwardly.
Susan is again the first to get to the point, “we need your help, actually”. And as Lucy leaves with them, heading towards Susan’s home, Jean wonders if it isn’t actually Lucy who needs their help.
The walk to Susan’s house isn’t as silent as the walk to Lucy’s was. Jean walks with Susan, asking shallow questions about each other’s life, “His name is Timothy, we have two kids, you found someone to settle down with?”
“That’s nice dearie, I settled down with my books, the best possible company”.
At some point in the conversation Jean recognizes that they are both more interested in the chattering behind them, than in each other’s life, so the conversation comes to a dead end as they listen.
It isn’t that the conversation Lucy and Millie are having is that interesting, it really isn’t anything deep, but it answers some of Jean's questions. Lucy met her husband, Harry, just two months after the war, and they settled down soon after. Lucy says he was great at the job he had then, but he lost the job. Implied is that he lost some of his greatness at the same time, but she doesn’t say any more on the subject, deciding to ask about Millie instead.
“Oh me? You know me, I was away some time, looking for an adventure. Found it and came back when I needed money, I’m waiting tables again”, Millie answers, and proceeds to tell Lucy small, funny facts of countries she possibly visited.
They arrive at Susan’s house not a moment too soon, all the simple stories exchanged at that point. They settle in, as Susan puts on tea, and tells Timothy they are reforming an old book club.
Timothy seems skeptical, “Phil and lit club, is it?” he asks, “you all read the same book and chat about it?”.
Susan is not as subtle as she probably thinks she is, answering him “more or less”.
Millie takes the lead now, opening her mouth for the first time since they stepped into the house, saying politely but with a small mean smile Jean doesn’t recognize from her creeping onto her face, “we used to do it in the war, so when Susan and I bumped into one another we thought, why not?”.
Timothy doesn’t look fazed at that as he states “I’ll bet the moment I’m out the door, Charles Dickens doesn’t get a look-in and you’ll spend the whole morning gossiping about old times”.
They all smile politely at that. He’s more right than he knows, Jean thinks, but it’s clear Susan hasn’t broken the Official Secrets Act they all signed.
“He may be on to us, Susan”, Millie remarks, and Lucy snorts, almost spitting tea over the table. Jean looks at her in amusement.
Susan gives Timothy one last, almost literal, shove out of the door. “Off with you now, dear”, she says, walking him out, and Timothy leaves. Jean sees Susan look over her shoulder at Millie, their gazes meeting. Susan’s almost conveys a warning, and Millie sighs and looks at her tea. Jean frowns.
After just a moment Susan hurries back into the room, looking almost excited now. Lucy, dear, sweet innocent Lucy, opens the conversation, “I remember a Christmas Carol on the wireless, but I don’t think I’ve read this one.”
Jean feels one corner of her mouth creeping upwards, “I don’t think we’re actually here to read the book, Lucy”, she answers, smiling at her. And then, looking at Susan now, raising her eyebrows, “are we?”.
Of course they aren’t and Susan sits down to explain, telling them about the girls on the radio, the pattern she saw, and how she went to the police, but they didn’t find anything.
They listen in silence, Jean glancing at the other’s faces from time to time. It doesn’t seem to be any new information to Millie, who isn’t really listening as she absently taps her lips with one finger. Lucy, on the other hand, is listening concentrated, frowning at some parts of the story, and her face going blanch at other parts, something Jean recognizes as Lucy trying to recall information she’s heard before.
When Susan has finished bringing them up to speed, they sit in silence for a few moments before they are interrupted by the voice of children at the door. Millie stiffens visibly at the sound, as Susan says the final piece of her speech, “we can do better”.
They probably could, once upon a time, Jean imagines, but that time is long gone, and now they are just four women in a men’s world. “How exactly?” she asks, skeptically.
Susan responds just as Jean thought she would “well, just like we used to.”, and that solidifies in Jean’s mind that Susan hasn’t thought this through. Things have changed but Susan may not have noticed, being married and all.
“If Susan’s right, perhaps we are the only people to find his pattern” Millie agrees with Susan.
Jean lets out a breath, trying to find the words to be polite, but firm, “I know you feel strongly about this, girls, but it’s really not our place.”
“And what if we do find it?” Lucy questions, “we take it to the police?”
Susan flinches at that, “I tried that.”
“Then what is the point?” Lucy asks, and Jean privately agrees.
“Well perhaps we can do more” Susan states, and even Millie seems puzzled by that.
“What do you mean?” she inquires.
Susan seems uncomfortable now as she throws out, “Perhaps we could find him.”
Millie tilts her head, looking almost shocked as she asks “What?”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Lucy supplements.
Jean shakes her head, this is madness. “I’m sorry Susan but I’ll say it again. This is not our place”, she states even more firmly now.
“Well perhaps this isn’t our place either, Jean!”, Susan claims, “sitting around in our cozy front rooms while the police do nothing, we could be useful again.”
Millie rolls her eyes at that, and Jean suppresses the urge to do the same. Susan’s words sting, they remind Jean of times where Jean enjoyed her work, enjoyed using her brain more than her hands. But that time is over, and she won’t let Susan get away with reminding her.
“What do you mean, ‘useful again’?”, she inquires almost angrily, “You’re saying we’re not useful now?”
Susan looks almost as exasperated as Jean feels, “oh come on Jean!, we used to make a difference, every day. We saved lives, we fought.” Jean sighs, again fighting the urge to roll her eyes, “I mean, not like the men obviously, but we did our bit.”
“That was the war” Jean clarifies, “this is different.”
Susan voice changes, half stating half asking when she says, “we’re still the same, aren’t we?”
“So says the housewife with two children and a husband who’s up for promotion” Millie interrupts.
“Don’t be so silly” Susan stands up out of her chair.
Millie looks almost hurt at that, asking “If we’re so silly, why do you need us?”. Susan smiles a tiny, bitter smile, nodding to herself.
“Well. It’s been lovely seeing you all”, Jean states, standing up.
“Please, jean..” Susan exhales.
But Lucy is standing up too, “I’m sorry, but I really do have to be going”, she offers, following Jean out.
Susan rushes after them, trying one last time, “any day now he’s going to take some other poor girl”, yelling “some girl is going to die because you won’t bloody listen”.
Jean doesn’t turn around. They all leave, even Millie, who offers Susan a soft “look, I’ll come and see you next week, I promise”.
Jean offers a quick goodbye to Lucy, who smiles back at her, before going her own way. She hopes Millie will catch up, but she never does, and when Jean decides to look behind her, Millie’s gone. And Jean still doesn’t know where she lives.
“Bloody hell”, she grumbles to herself, before proceeding to walk home. It isn’t until she’s lying awake in bed once again that night, that she realizes that she has broken her silent promise to Millie, to take her (risky) ideas seriously. She doesn’t sleep that night.
Chapter 3: Regrets
The next day everything is just a blur to Jean, she’s so tired. It has been some time since she had to go to work with so little sleep. It doesn’t help that Susan’s words are still ringing in her head.
There are two more nights just like that first one. All right, she has had a bit more sleep than that first night, but it doesn’t seem to lift the dread that she feels in her bones. It’s the morning of the third day that she sees it in the newspaper.
A fifth girl has gone missing, and they hadn’t done anything to solve it before that happened. Millie was right once again, and so was Susan, by extension.
She knows, maybe she always did, that she should have listened. She walked away, just too hurt by Susan’s words and the mess she suddenly found herself in to think clearly, and she has regretted it ever since.
She’s walking back to Susan’s house before even thinking about a plan, one of her hands still grasping the paper, the other hand limp at her side.
Timothy opens the door and lets her in. “The rest of you ladies already arrived, they are just waiting in the front room”, he says.
Jean raises an eyebrow at that but lets him guide her through the house, towards Lucy, who seems relieved to see her appear, and Millie, who tilts her head sideways, inquiring without words. Jean nods to her in answer.
She doesn’t know how to say that she’s here to help this time, to acknowledge that Millie was right. One corner of Millie’s mouth curls into an almost smile, and she nods back. And then they wait for Susan to show up, speaking not one word to one another.
Susan halts in surprise when she notices them sitting in her front room. Jean waves the paper at her in explanation, and Susan’s face lights up, and she hurries towards them.
“Let’s take a walk”, she proposes, “we need to start with collecting information.” She casts Jean a meaningful look. They are all still wearing their coat so it isn’t much of a hassle to leave.
Millie is the first out of the door, jumping to her feet before the words have properly left Susan’s mouth. Jean takes a moment to think back, has she ever had that much energy? Is it Millie’s relative youth, or is it just the way Millie is. Lucy, younger than Millie by a few significant years moves a lot slower, Jean notices, and her motions seem strained somehow. Susan’s faster than Lucy is, but she slows down to kiss Timothy goodbye. There is love there, Jean thinks, enough of it to last a lifetime, but Susan seems distracted.
They decide to walk towards the tram, the stop not far from Susan’s house. “You were right, we didn’t listen, now another girl has gone missing, god willing that she’s still alive and found in time,” Jean breaches the silence once they are on the train. She tries to let a bit of her guilt seep into her tone, while still sounding optimistic. But Jean is a realist, she does know the odds are not in the girl’s favour right now.
“Yes, but I was wrong too, I’m an amateur”, Susan relents, “I saw a connection that wasn’t there, and I convinced myself it meant something.” Jean privately agrees with this, Susan is an amateur, but they can do better together.
“That’s because you’ve been working from newspaper and wireless reports”, she explains, crossing her legs, “but they’re only repeating what the police are telling them, and they won’t be telling them everything.”
Lucy’s look is puzzled, her eyes wide and nose wrinkled as she questions that, “why wouldn’t the police tell them everything?”
Fortunately for Jean, she is saved by Millie from answering, Millie understands this just as well as Jean does. Winking to Jean, she clarifies, “because some of it is going to be too dull.”
“But the dull details are often the vital ones”, Jean smoothly contributes. She allows herself a smile at Millie’s antics as she is interrupted again.
“And some of it is going to be too awful”, Millie says.
If the situation wasn’t this serious, Jean would have taken a moment to think about the way they work together explaining, like two pieces of the same machine, effortless. “Indeed”, she drily says instead, and then continues, “we need to find out exactly what happened to those girls.”
Lucy seems to understand, and Jean is glad, a bit proud even.
At the mortuary, Jean starts with calling in a favour to get her hands on the files they need while the others wait outside. She doesn’t enjoy calling in favours, but it proves useful, still, having her contacts, and she’s glad she’s useful again.
“Let’s go before Dorothy changes her mind”, she calls to the three waiting as she rushes down the stairs, well aware that that may happen. Dorothy always was a bit indecisive.
They sit down at the library with the documents, sorting them and sifting through them, reading. Of course, Lucy is the fastest, but that doesn’t mean the rest of them can’t help as well. The more eyes on the files, the more chance they have to find something the police didn’t.
Susan picks at her eyebrow as she reads and it irritates Jean to no end. It distracts her time and time again. Her eyes go from Susan’s eyebrows to the little wrinkle on Lucy’s face and Millie’s eyelashes.
“So there we have it” she states eventually, when her distraction is getting obvious, “all the information.” She doesn’t know how to continue, mostly speaking just to distract the others from her distraction.
In a soft voice, Lucy asks, “what does post-mortem penetration mean?”. They all look up at that, Jean's eyes meeting Millie’s, before both looking at Susan. Susan looks down again, going back to reading the files, leaving the explanation to them.
It’s Millie who answers, “it means they weren’t raped and then murdered, they were murdered and then raped”, she says softly, not looking Lucy in the eyes. Lucy’s eyes are clinging at Millie’s face as she pales even further.
“All of them?” Susan enquires, in a business-like voice. Jean doesn’t like the way that Susan sounds like she doesn’t care about this, about what these girls must have experienced, only caring about the riddle it provides.
She answers anyway, “we don’t have Jane Hart’s file, because they did the autopsy at st. Anne’s, but these three, yes.”
“Well why were all the others taken to the royal general?”, Susan’s voice is almost curious now, certainly more genuine than it was only moments ago, but it doesn’t take away the annoyance Jean feels.
It would certainly be obvious in her voice if she spoke, so she doesn’t, letting Millie do the talking again, “I suppose by then they knew they were connected, but Jane Hart was the first.”
Jean hums in agreement to that, and Susan states in her new no-nonsense voice, “we really need to see that file too, Jean.”
Of course, Jean sighs wearily, Susan would need more. She looks at her watch, calculating in her head how long it would take her to get those files. “Getting across town at rush hour will take a while”, she thinks aloud, dreading the tiredness noticeable in her voice.
“Use the Goblin”, Lucy responds absently minded, concentrating on the documents in front of her.
Jean just looks at her in confusion and excuses herself, “sorry dear?”
But Lucy did say Goblin, because she elaborates, “the gospel oak and barking line, you’ll have to hurry, the trains only go at twenty past”.
Jean goes to grab her bag, but Susan asks her to wait for a minute. Jean sees something click in Susan’s face as she turns towards her. It’s like a light bulb just went off in her brain.
“They were all making journeys, they were all going somewhere or coming back,” she connects the dots, a frown on her face despite the glistering in her eyes.
A small frown forms on Millie’s face, and her eyes narrow, “yes, but what does that mean?”
Susan lets out a sound that’s somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, “I said it myself, he’s working to a timetable, he’s working to a pattern”, she rubs her forehead with one hand, “So were they. The railways, that’s how he’s finding them”, she concludes.
“Well, that would explain a lot”, Jean says after a few moments of thought, “the only problem now is finding out which train”
“We can work that out, I’m sure of it,” Millie answers, tapping with her fingers against the tabletop. “But I really need to get going, and I’d reckon Lucy and you, too, Susan.”
She doesn’t mention Jean. Probably because she doesn’t have a social life, Jean grumbles to herself. It bothers her, she admits, that Millie doesn’t even seem to be able to imagine she might have a one.
She startles back into the present when she feels a hand on her shoulder. Millie. Jean looks up at her, raising her eyebrows in question. Millie in return just smiles a soft smile at her, squeezing her shoulder once, before letting go and heading out of the door.
Susan seems to have left already, but Lucy is still there, stating in her quiet voice, “It isn’t just about her dinner companions, you know”, before leaving herself. Jean sits back in her chair. “What was that supposed to mean?” she asks the empty room.
Chapter 4: Finding the pattern
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.