Eva Dolan is an Essex-based copywriter and intermittently successful poker player. Shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for unpublished authors when she was just a teenager, her début novel Long Way Home, the start of a major new crime series starring two detectives from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, was published in 2014 to widespread critical acclaim.
Read an extract from Long Way Home below…
Long Way Home
The last thing he remembered was the pattern on the carpet, barbed strips of indigo and puce, like bruises inflicted by alien implements, then a steel toecap coming at his face. Now there was blood in his mouth, a seep not a flow, and when he probed with the tip of his tongue he found the splintered terrain of broken molars.
His hands were tied behind his back, feet bound with the laces out of his work boots. Through his jeans he felt the barn’s concrete floor, cold and wet, a spray of broken glass under his right thigh. That was a distant and unimportant pain, nothing that would kill him. The pain in his head when he tried to focus on the barn door, that might.
He heard men’s voices outside, shuffling feet, then the clang of a metal gate. They were moving the pigs, bringing them in to feed.
He had to get up. Get to his feet and get out. Now.
The blood was singing in his ears, running out of his broken nose down the back of his throat. This would not be the last thing he saw, this rank barn with its asbestos roof and barrels of dead chemicals. He would not die here. If they wanted to kill him they would have to catch him out there in the fields, in the darkness and the filth.
He rolled onto his back and brought his knees up to his chest, hooked his hands out from behind him, swearing as his flailing leg caught a metal butt and sent it ringing. The rope around his wrists was wet, the knots quickly tied, and he managed to pull his left hand free, skinning his knuckles. With shaking fingers he unpicked the laces knotted around his ankles.
Outside the voices were rising, not enough that he made out the words but he heard the tone change, the new belligerence. It made no difference, no one was arguing to spare his life.
The barn door shot back and he saw the floodlit yard.
‘If you’ve not got the stomach for it, fuck off back to your old woman,’ a man shouted.
His heart was thundering, deafening in the quiet of the barn, and ahead of him he watched his breath billowing hotly into the air, wondering how many more times that would happen before the last long one blew out of him.
He swore at himself. One on one he was as likely as anyone else to win a fight. That’s why they had come for him in the middle of the night, knocked him out while he was sleeping, tied him up and gagged him. They were not the hard men they thought they were.
He moved into the shadows, hugging the wall.
The pigs were trotting in. Dozens of them, snuffling and snorting, huge pink beasts spotted with black, barging against the metal rails. He could smell them, saw the heat rising off their backs in the glare from the floodlights.
There was no way out, he realised. He would never get across the open yard unseen.
How many of them were there?
His brain lurched. Three men in the caravan was it? Two standing over the bed and a disembodied voice nearby? He remembered the walnut stock of a shotgun near his face as he fluxed in and out of consciousness, was sure he had smelled the oil on it.
The front third of the barn was lit now and he saw arcane machinery ranked up but rotting, blades blooming corrosion. There was nothing small enough to use as a weapon, nothing he could get his hands on without being seen.
He wanted to be at home. He wanted his warm bed and his warm girlfriend and the familiar glow of the street light coming through the curtains she had made him buy in Ikea. He wanted to close his eyes and roll over and press his face into her hair.
A rat darted across his foot, escaping from the pigpen. The animals were rootling in the straw snorting, impatient for the food they couldn’t find, knowing it was what they had been brought in for.
He stumbled, aware of voices now, loud, coming closer, and the sound of a rifle bolt ramming home.
Then he was running. Across the yard, heading for the unfamiliar woodland looming in the distance. He vaulted the post-and-rail fence as a gunshot rang out and dropped automatically onto his knees. Behind him dogs were snarling and he heard a barked command as they were released.
He ran across the uneven field, legs pumping and his heart hammering. He sucked down the night air, knowing he was crying, knowing the divine intervention he was begging for wouldn’t come. He kept running, zigzagging as shots ripped past him.
The gibbous moon slipped behind a cloud and he ran on faster, knowing they would have night sights, that even in the woods he was as good as dead.
The field rose up to the margin of the wood and he threw himself across the narrow ditch at the perimeter. The dogs were almost on him, fifty or sixty yards away, he could see their eyes in the moonlight, two massive grey lurchers. Behind them a pickup was bouncing over the grassland, coming up slow enough that the man in the back could brace himself against the cab to shoot.
He moved into the woods, stumbling over the twisted roots, the rocks he couldn’t see until he was on them.
This was it.
A bullet whistled past his head and he ducked behind a stump, dropping down onto his haunches. There was nowhere left to go now. They would hunt him down even if he reached the road. He could get to the village and it wouldn’t matter. False dawn was falling, the streets would be deserted and no one came outside for gunshots in places like this. It would be rabbits or deer, some stupid bastard who probably deserved it.
He swore at the sky and pushed on.