If I hadn’t been ten minutes late, it would never have happened. Not to me at least.The morning began like a bad dream. I overslept for a start. A shower as icy as Niagara in December and incinerated toast came next. Then to top it all I stuck my big toe through my last decent pair of tights. Not a good omen for the day ahead.
By the time I was ready to leave, I was already running late. When I reached the station my regular, 8.05 to Waterloo was just building up speed in the distance, presumably carrying away all the usual familiar faces who routinely avoid eye contact on a daily basis, a required skill for commuter travel up to London.
The train’s departure left the platform momentarily empty. And that’s when I saw him. A vague sense of recognition caused my gaze to linger a fraction longer than I would normally allow. And to my surprise and embarrassment, he looked straight back at me with a wide, beaming smile.
My initial reaction was panic. Who was this guy? A stalker? A homicidal maniac? This was not the behaviour of your standard commuter.
To my astonishment he approached me as if I were a long lost friend.
‘’Jane,’’ he said. ‘’How great to see you. It’s been a while.’’
‘’Sorry, I think you’re confusing me with someone else.’’
‘’You’re kidding.’’ He was standing right by me now and didn’t look convinced. ‘’It’s Jane West, surely? Don’t you remember me? Andy Yates. We were at Uni together.’’
‘’No,’’ I said firmly. ‘’My name is Lucy Walters. You’ve got the wrong person.’’
‘’Really? My God, you look so like Jane, it’s incredible. Hey, I’m really sorry.’’
Close up he was quite easy on the eye. Smartly dressed, dark brown hair curling just over his collar and eyes as blue as a Greek island sky. And his smile was warm enough to melt the icy puddles on the dingy platform.
So I smiled back. ‘’Don’t worry about it. It’s fine. Anyone can make a mistake.’’ I laughed then too. ‘’It’s weird to think of someone looking so much like me. But they say we’ve all got a doppelganger, don’t they?’’
‘’I suppose they do. Anyway, lovely to meet you, Lucy.’’ He held out a well-manicured hand and we both laughed. It seemed like fun then. Perhaps the unpromising start to my day had been misleading?
My last two attempts at internet dating had proved disasters of graphic proportions, so should I be averse to an old fashioned pick up on a cold and draughty station platform? I thought maybe not.
Just then the 8.15 squealed to a halt and we both headed for the nearest door. It seemed perfectly natural for him to take the seat opposite. I wasn’t used to talking to anyone on my commute. Standard form is nose buried in a book, pen poised over the crossword or unflinching scrutiny of a mobile phone.
So, it was good to chat. A novelty that I really enjoyed.
‘’I’m down here for a few days, staying with a mate,’’ he volunteered. ‘’So I thought I’d take in a few sights, galleries and stuff.’’
He had a lovely accent. A sort of gentle lilt to the words. Somewhere in the north east if I wasn’t mistaken.
‘’Lucky you,’’ I said. ‘’Some of us are just going to work.’’ I told him about the magazine I work for and asked what he did when he wasn’t on holiday.
‘’Oh, you know how it is, Jane. All sorts really. I’m in advertising and I freelance mostly. But what I really want is to be an artist.’’
I was beginning to think how much I really liked this guy. He seemed such a free spirit and it was refreshing. Most of the men I meet are so focussed and dull. Andy appeared so much more interesting. And he did have such lovely eyes.
‘Where do you live?’’ I asked, wondering if perhaps I was being a bit too nosy.
‘’Up north,’’ he replied vaguely with another of those award winning smiles. I was being too nosy it seemed, and a moment later he pulled out a paperback from his overcoat pocket. A cue to end our chat, I wondered? But then it seemed not.
‘’Have you read this?’’ He held up the book for me to see. It was some sort of thriller with a horrible, gory cover. I told him I wasn’t really into crime novels, which surprised him for some reason.
‘’You should read this, Jane,’’ he insisted, and enthusiastically proceeded to outline the plot in graphic detail. It was then that I experienced the first stab of unease. I realised that he’d called me Jane for the second time. Once could possibly be a slip of the tongue couldn’t it? But twice?
By the time we were pulling out of Wimbledon, I was beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Perhaps picking up strange men on station platforms wasn’t such a good idea after all? Not a whole lot better than internet dating.
He was still banging on about what a fantastic book it was. I didn’t know what to think. The change in him had been so abrupt.
I was relieved to finally arrive at Waterloo and eager now to be shot of my chameleon of a companion.
‘’Let’s have a drink tonight,’’ he suggested, grabbing my arm quite fiercely as I stepped on to the platform. His grip was strong enough to bruise, even through my coat.
‘’No thanks. I’m busy tonight. Look, I really must dash. I’m late for work already.’’
I wrenched my arm free and heaved my way into the throng of bodies swarming seamlessly for the tube. I was sweating by this time and desperate to escape. This guy gave me the creeps. And those blue eyes that I’d found so attractive just half an hour ago, felt now like shards of blue glass, piercing my skin.
Luckily I managed to submerge myself in the mass of humanity that is Waterloo station at rush hour. And when I looked over my shoulder and couldn’t see him anymore, my breathing slowly returned to normal. That’ll teach me not to chat up strange men, I thought, even good looking ones with a seductive accent.
I’d set aside that day to plough through a stack of unsolicited manuscripts, but I couldn’t concentrate. Times New Roman jigged before my eyes like dancing hieroglyphics. I couldn’t get Andy out of my head. Where had I seen him before?
At home that evening, I decided to Google the names Jane West and Andy Yates. And that’s when I realised where that dim sensation of recognition had sprung from. An internet news item just a couple of weeks ago. I remembered it now.
Twenty six year old Jane West had been found strangled in the rented house in Whitley Bay she shared with her long-time boyfriend, Andrew Yates. And police were searching for Mr Yates who they wished to question in connection with the incident.
A neighbour, sixty two year old Mrs Angela Davies said she often heard raised voices. And a few days earlier she saw Miss West loading two large suitcases into her car. Mrs Davies believed that Miss West was intending to leave.
A photo of Andy showed him with a beard and longer hair, but the eyes were unmistakeable. I shuddered then to recall how enthusiastic I had been to share my journey with this probable killer. It seems my initial suspicions may have been spot on. And he’d certainly looked unhinged while describing that horrible book.
But then another thought crossed my mind. He knew my name. Would he try to find me?
Grabbing my mobile, I punched a number three times. ‘’Police, please,’’ I replied to the automated enquiry. ‘’I need to speak to someone at once.’
© Sue Hassett