The First Cut

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Logline or Premise
It’s hard to escape a brutal past.
A vicious killer is on the loose .
Where will they strike next?
This gripping police procedural is set in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The exciting novel is the first in Val Penny’s new series of Scottish thrillers.
First 10 Pages


“I hope that woman’s wrong and there aren’t any kids in this !at. It smells disgusting. Do you want a sniff?” The social worker, Joan McCallum, slammed the letter box and turned to the younger policeman who stood behind her.

“Why on earth would I want to do that? I can smell it from here. It’s honking.”

“Officer, do you agree it’s bloody stinking in there?” Joan asked.

He nodded. “No doubt about it.”

“Then we need to get in and see if there are any kids. I know it’s a nosy neighbour complaint, but we can’t risk it. We would be lambasted for not acting and leaving children in there.” She looked at the senior police officer behind her and wrinkled her nose. She took a deep breath and opened the letter box again. “Can you open the door, sir?” She turned back to the police officers. “It’s John Smith, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”



“Mr. Smith, we’ve had a complaint that there may be children inside who are suffering neglect,” she shouted.

Someone moved inside, but there was no reply. Further down the hallway a door opened, and a neighbour poked their head out. Joan looked at her. “Please close your door, madam,” she said. The woman closed the door behind her and continued to stare. Joan sighed, then turned to the policemen again. “You better force the door.”

“Move aside. We’ll break the door down if they won’t open it,” the senior policeman shouted.

“Did you hear that? The police will break in if you won’t open up,” she called again. “Come on. Just open the door and then we’ll have a quick look and go away…” under her breath she said, “…with or without the children, as needs be.”

Joan peered through the letter box again and saw a tall, skinny man stagger towards the door. He leant on the wall to turn the key in the lock, then weaved his way back along the corridor without opening the door. She turned the handle. The smell of urine, stale beer, tobacco, weed, and rotten vegetables !oated towards her on a sea of dirt and grease.

She followed him along the corridor and into the dirty living room. A heavily pregnant woman lay on the "lthy sofa. She was gouching on heroin and held a can of special brew. The man who had unlocked the door sat on the !oor in front of her, rubbed her extended belly, and smoked a joint.

“Are there any children here?” Joan asked. The man laughed and rubbed faster, shouting.

“Well, there’s one in here!” He giggled hysterically as if he’d made a fine joke.

“Yes, I’d guess we’ll need to take that one as soon as it’s born, but are there any others?”



“Nah, not here, love. Nay kiddies in here.” He laughed again and crossed his !ngers.

The pregnant woman grinned and revealed black spaces where teeth should have been. “Aye, nane here, hen,” the woman cackled.

“I’ll take a look around, shall I?” Neither appeared to have heard what she’d said, or they didn’t care, so Joan proceeded up the hallway and pushed open the doors to the other rooms one by one. There was clearly nobody in the bathroom or kitchen. Both were covered in detritus and the floors stuck to her shoes. She knocked the !rst bedroom door open with the elbow of her coat. A !lthy, unmade double bed dominated the small room. Joan bent down to look underneath it and found herself staring at three pairs of eyes set in grubby little faces. The children could not stay here, of that, she was sure. She became aware of the man who swayed unsteadily behind her.

“You’re no’ takin’ they weans,” he said.

“I think you’ll !nd we are. Of!cer, please restrain Mr Smith.” She spoke with authority and moved past both the policeman and the occupier. Then Joan crouched down on her haunches. Her demeanour and tone changed completely. “Come on, out you come,” she said gently. She ignored the man and enticed the children with an offer of small bars of chocolate. “I think you could each do with one of these.”

“Each?” the little girl in the middle asked.

“Of course, each. Nobody likes to share chocolate. You come out and I’ll get some of your clothes packed into a bag while you eat it.”



“No, Janey. You stay put. I’ll get you some chocolate.” The man whined.

“He won’t,” the oldest child said as he wriggled towards Joan. “Let’s go with her. Come on Janey, Craig. I’m starving.” The younger two followed his lead and moved forward. The boy was right when he said he was starving. The children’s limbs were like sticks. Bruises were clearly visible, and she didn’t think any of them had seen a bath for long enough. The three stood in front of her with their hands out. She gave each the small bar they had been promised and noticed that the older boy unwrapped the treat for his younger sister and brother before he gobbled down his own chocolate.

“You don’t have any more, do you Mrs?” he asked.

“No but we’ll get you some soup and sandwiches when I get you to the home.”

“You’re no’ takin’ my kiddies, hen. I’ll no’ let you.”

“Of!cers,” she called. The second policemen also entered the house and stood between the man and his children.

“You cannae let her take them away,” the father screamed.

She ignored him and the policemen did not answer. From the expressions on their faces, she deduced they did not want to breathe in any more of the rancid air than they had to.

“Where will we !nd your clean clothes?” she asked the children, more in hope than expectation.

“You’ll be lucky,” said the girl. “If there are any they’ll be here” She led the way into the room next door. There was a set of bunk beds and a cot. Under the window, there was also a small



chest of three drawers. The girl pulled out a few things from each one. “We all have our own drawer, and that’s about all that’s clean,” she said.

“No problem. We can get you other stuff at the home,” Joan replied. The few articles they had were bundled into her bag, “Do you have any favourite toys or books you want to take?”

Each child picked up a toy from the f!oor and turned to her for approval.

“That’s fine. Whatever you want.” The littlest one climbed into a bottom bunk and grabbed a dirty toy giraffe.

“Any more for anymore?” she asked in an overly jolly voice. “No, then we’ll be off. Get your coats.”

The oldest child reached for the soiled jackets on the back of the bedroom door and helped his siblings before he put on his own f!eece.

“Don’t take my kids. Get up woman, they’re taking our kids. Stop them!” he shouted at the woman who lay comatose on the couch.

“And I’ll be back for that one when they arrive,” Joan said under her breath, and she led the three children down the stairs to her waiting car. The older boy held her hand while the policemen carried the girl and her younger brother. As they settled the children into the back seat of her car, she spoke to them almost apologetically.

“At this time of night,” Joan said to the officers. “I couldn’t get all three with the one family. The boys will stay together in Fairmilehead, but I’ve had to place the girl separately in Trin‐



ity. It’s the best I could do. Will you go back to arrest the parents?”

“For drug abuse, if nothing else.” They nodded and whispered with her before she got into the car and drove away.

That was the last time Jane saw any members of her family.


Chapter One


What the hell? Who is that guy? He wasn’t meant to be here! Where was the woman? Fuck. He realised he’d been seen. He acted casual. “Where’s Joy?”

“Joy who?”

The guy must be foreign; he’s got a funny accent.

“Joy Tuesday, my aunt. She said she’d be here; I need to find her to drive her home.” Lies came easily to him, they always had. ‘Blame whoever’s not in the room, that’ll keep the group together,’ they’d said. Ridiculous, look how well that had worked.

“Don’t know that name, but there’s nobody else here right now. I’m working. Please just go away.”

He felt the blow of dismissal, like everybody had always dismissed him. How dare they? How dare he? This foreigner didn’t even belong here. None of them did. None of them deserved the time of day, never mind the air they breathed. He would soon stop all that.



He smiled and took a few steps into the room.

“What you busy with? It’s late to be working.” He walked around the desk, took out his blade, and punched it into his victim’s neck with practised precision. He dragged the blade across the neck to slice the carotid artery, a quick second slice to make sure, but the !rst cut was the deepest. He made no errors, no mistakes. There was no hesitation. The blood sprayed over the desk, spattered the bookcase and he even had to lick it off his lips. That tinny, metallic taste he had come to enjoy He watched with satisfaction as the blood covered the laptop and the important work that had required his dismissal.. He would need to wipe his face before he left the room. It was a lucky break that he had a packet of tissues.

He smiled as his victim held his neck, the struggle, the gurgle, the death rattle of the man who tried to hold the life sustaining liquid in his body. They all did that. Again, ridiculous. It would never work. Not for long. It splashed through his !ngers onto the "oor. That carpet hadn’t been up to much before, and it wasn’t worth shit now.

The man flopped over the desk. He wondered if that action had broken the laptop. Not that he really cared, the computer would come with him anyway. He grimaced. Having to rummage through the bloody pockets to get the phone was nasty, but he didn’t want to leave anything behind. Good! Got it !rst time. A decent one. It would get a bob or two.

He chuckled as he thought how confusing this would be, because this one didn’t !t with the pro!les of the other victims at all. It wasn’t possible, this one had nothing to do with anything. Maybe it was a good thing he had missed her. Good name he came up with too, Joy Tuesday. Pity nobody would



ever know or be able to share it. Poor Policeman Plod. This one would make no sense, yet they would have to make it fit.

He left as quietly as he had come, laptop in the waterproof bag under one arm, phone in his pocket, bloody blade in his belt. Then he saw her, the right fucking woman, whatever her name was, he couldn’t remember now because of the excitement. The green flash at the front of her hair was quite endearing. This evening, she had had a lucky escape, but he would be back.


Chapter Two

Several members of the murder investigation team were moving around the edges of the incident room, just going about their business, working different cases while others, including the civilian staff, lingered around to listen to the brie!ng the Superintendent was about to give. They all worked within the professional Police Scotland, but none were inured to the perverse and peculiar excitement crackling around the room, thankfully, but small gatherings like this one were few and far between.

The killer they had gathered to talk about was unusual.

His personal connection to the team added a frisson that none of them had encountered before. Superintendent Graham Miller and Detective Chief Inspector Allan Mackay had sent Detective Sergeant Jane Renwick home, and now Miller stood, ready to address the dozen or so detectives assembled around the desks closest to him. They were the core members of his team. For many, this would be the biggest case they had ever worked. Miller believed he could not only taste the adrenalin but also smell it, as the detectives lived in fear of dropping the ball and letting him down, or, more specifically, Renwick.