Ziba MacKenzie profiles killers. Now one is profiling her.
“I raced through this gripping, dark thriller and loved the central character. Can’t wait for the next instalment.” —Laura Marshall, author of Friend Request
Rush hour, London: Ex-Special Forces profiler, Ziba MacKenzie is on a packed commuter train when it collides with a derailed freight wagon. After the crash, a dying woman passes on a cryptic message, and a serial killer dormant for twenty-five years strikes again.
As the London Lacerator prepares to rain terror on the capital, Ziba scrambles to piece together a profile in the hope of predicting his next move. But the closer she gets to uncovering his identity, the closer he gets to destroying hers.
It happened at 17.27 on a Thursday evening in early autumn. The weather was unsettled and I was out and about for the first time in weeks.
‘The train now approaching Platform 1 is the northbound Thameslink service via King’s Cross St Pancras. Please remain behind the yellow line at all times for your safety.’
I stood well back. The edge of the platform has an allure I can’t trust.
People jostled for position as the engine tore down the line, fighting their way to the front before it had a chance to stop. Rush hour doesn’t bring out the best in anyone. We’ve all got places to be.
The doors hissed open. The crowd surged forward.
The carriage was jammed but I managed to spot a vacant rear-facing seat by the window and plonked myself down before someone else nabbed it. I inhaled deeply and focused on my breathing. It didn’t work; my chest was tight, the edges were closing in.
Embrace the suck and get a bloody grip, I thought. Today’s supposed to be special.
‘This train is ready to depart. Please stand clear of the doors. Mind the closing doors.’
There was a strong smell in the carriage, like steamy refuse or gone-off fruit. Wrinkling my nose I looked around, trying to get my bearings and ground myself. A coping strategy, my old therapist called it.
A guy standing in the aisle a few feet away was looking at me. He had a buzz-cut, pleats down his shirtsleeves so sharp you could have cut yourself on them, and a tie knotted tight. So, highly strung and clearly agitated, I thought, observing his twitching facial muscles and rapid blinking.
In the row adjacent to mine, a man with cystic acne, hollow cheeks and rotten teeth was swatting his arms and picking at his skin. All the physical characteristics and behavioural tells of a methamphetamine addict. He caught my eye then turned away quickly.
Narcotics aren’t my field, but I picked up a bit from Duncan when he moved to Vice, or SCD9 as it’s called these days. Most meth-heads have a criminal record. And the profile’s nearly always the same – paranoia, violence, insomnia, hallucinations. Though when they’re not high, users can actually be quite lucid.
Across from me, a lady in her late sixties wearing a small gold crucifix and a rosary bracelet was reading the Metro, biting her fingernails and jiggling her leg up and down. Nervous then. Or perhaps what she’s reading is making her uncomfortable, I thought, glancing at the headline at the top of the page spread open on her lap. Without thinking I gave her the once-over.
Crucifix. Rosary. So a Catholic – a believer in redemption and hell. Blouse buttoned all the way to the top. Handbag small and unbranded with stiff handles and a snap clasp. A person indifferent to status, someone closed off from those around her. And beige clothes, a neutral tone often linked to feelings of loneliness and isolation. I looked down. My jacket was the same colour.
This was a woman who shut herself off from the world. Possibly someone she’d trusted had let her down. Maybe she thought she was safer keeping herself to herself or perhaps she just didn’t like people.
We stopped at a signal point. I leaned against the wall of the carriage, resting my head on the window. There was a drill going behind my left eye, the beginning of a migraine. The cool glass was soothing.
Outside, the scene was as grey as the sky. High walls spray-painted with obscenities. Tunnels and metal bridge supports. Rail huts and lines of wires. All covered in a thick film of soot.
A freight train trundled past on the neighbouring tracks. A maroon-and-yellow locomotive pulling thirty corrugated metal containers tagged with graffiti. And at the back of the line, eight silver cylinders with the Shell logo printed on the side.
‘We apologise for the wait. We’ll be moving shortly.’
I yawned, opened the copy of the Metro I’d picked up at the station and began to flick through it.
Five pages in, there was an article about the anniversary of Samuel Catlin’s murder. An illustrated double-page spread with the photo of him in his school uniform that made all the papers when I was a kid.
There was also one of him waving goodbye to his parents with his baseball cap on back to front and a rucksack covered in dinosaur stickers. It had been taken as he walked to the bus stop, the first time he’d ever travelled to school on his own.
He was ten years old and he never made it home that night.
Parents’ Plea to Catch Son’s Killer
Twenty-five years ago today, Samuel Catlin, 10, was kidnapped and murdered on his way home from school. His body was later found on a canal towpath by Camden Lock in North London, his head resting on a folded anorak. Despite a massive national investigation and widespread interest in the case, the person responsible has never been caught.
Yesterday, his parents issued a renewed appeal to the public for help catching their son’s killer.
‘Samuel had this gorgeous blond hair and a smile that’d melt your heart. He wanted to be a helicopter pilot when he grew up. He loved chocolate-chip cookies and pancakes – anything sweet.
‘Our lives will never be the same without him. We won’t stop looking until we find who took him from us,’ said his mother, Anne, 59.
‘Someone out there knows something. They may think it’s too small to be significant but every detail matters. If you know anything at all, please contact the police. We need your help to catch Samuel’s killer so the person who did this to our son can finally be punished.’
Fighting back tears, Samuel’s father said the devastation his family felt was made all the worse because his child’s murderer had never been brought to justice.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The woman opposite me shut her eyes and sighed. Her thumb was tap-tapping the handle of her bag. The corner of her mouth was twitching like she was trying not to cry. She’d been reading the Samuel Catlin article too.
She whispered something so quietly that if it weren’t for my ability to lip-read I may have missed it.
They never caught him.
She sighed again making the sign of the cross.
I sighed too. I shared her sentiments but I also knew from experience that unsolved child homicide cases always remain open. Perhaps the Catlins’ appeal will produce fresh evidence, I thought. Though given the amount of time that had passed it was pretty unlikely.
My eyes wandered again. The paper wasn’t holding my attention. I’d been reading the same line over and over, unable to concentrate. I’d slept the night before but it had been a cursed sleep: light and fitful and filled with nightmares so that when I’d woken in the morning it was as if I’d never slept at all. And it looked like I wasn’t the only one.
There was a guy across the aisle with bags under his eyes, felt-tip on his shirt cuffs and a white splotch on the shoulder of his pinstriped suit jacket. A father, then, with a new baby and a toddler at home; a little girl probably, given the glittery pink ink stain. And a formula-fed baby, judging by the chalky colour of the spit-up.
The woman next to him – blonde hair, little skirt, lots of cleavage – was applying lip gloss. The badly concealed shadows under her eyes told me she hadn’t had much sleep either but going by the smile hovering at the corners of her mouth and the love bite on her neck, it was for a different reason.
And what about the woman absently stroking her barely-there stomach and looking off into the middle distance? Well, she may not have been yawning just then but if I was right about her she’d know all about sleep deprivation in less than nine months’ time.
‘We will shortly be arriving at Kentish Town. Please ensure you take all personal belongings when departing the train.’
The Catholic woman opposite me folded up her newspaper and popped it in her bag, checking the seat for forgotten items before getting up and making her way to the doors.
I glanced at my watch as we emerged from a tunnel, shooting out into the semi-daylight.
The air was warm, the train’s rhythm soothing. I was just closing my eyes, head against the glass, hugging my bag to my chest, when the train jolted. There was an ear-rupturing screech and the shriek of steel grinding on steel, as the engine fought to decelerate.
My eyes shot open. There, lying on their sides across the parallel track, were three cylindrical Shell containers – the word FLAMMABLE painted in red across the centre.