Killing Pace by Douglas Schofield is a high-octane, heart-pounding tale set in Everglades City, Florida, and Sicily, Italy, with three important questions: Where am I? … How did I get here? … and most importantly … Who am I? (available November 21, 2017).
These three questions have plagued Lisa Green for the past two months since she crawled barefoot and bleeding from the wreckage of a catastrophic car accident. Her boyfriend Roland has been nursing her back to health under close watch. Lisa has amnesia. They both know that, but only Lisa knows that she hasn’t lost her ability to reason. And reason tells her that she is not Roland’s girlfriend. She is his prisoner. Escape is her only option, and Lisa must figure out who she can trust and how to stay alive.
It's bad enough that she's been held against her will, but worse, it seems that she wasn't randomly chosen. There's more to her story than kidnapping, and the details appear to cross borders and continents. With organized criminals hard on her heels, Lisa must expose her enemies before they choose their next victim.
Lisa awoke with a ripple of anticipation.
She’d been waiting for this day ever since Roland had finally agreed to let her join him on his bimonthly supply run into town.
She’d been increasing the pressure for the last two weeks, and he’d finally relented.
“Okaaay! Okay! But we’ll have to do it on a Sunday morning.”
He’d explained that most of Everglades City’s townsfolk would either be at home, or in church, or out fishing. “Not so many people around to upset you.”
Ever since early February, when Lisa had wandered away from their homestead in the Big Cypress backcountry—ever since he’d finally found her, sick and bleeding on a remote stretch of back road, with no memory of where she was, or who she was—Roland Lewis had been completely obsessed about never letting her out of his sight. And obsessed, as well, about keeping the outside world where it belonged:
No visitors, no TV, no internet, no newspapers—nothing could be allowed into their lives that might unsettle Lisa in her delicate state. And, just to keep her safe, and to protect her from any lapses, he had locked her in a secure room whenever he went to town. He called it their “safe room.” It had a cot, and a chair, a rusting pole lamp, a pee bucket … and no windows.
Yeah, it was a bit like a cell, but for a good purpose.
After this last incident—after her injuries had started to heal and she’d calmed down enough to listen—Roland had explained the purpose of the room. They had designed it together, he said, after an earlier episode when she’d wandered away in a disoriented state. A “foog state,” he’d called it. He claimed he’d looked up the word, but she didn’t know where because the only book in the cabin was a workshop manual for his pickup. After a while, it came to her that he must have meant “fugue state.” She’d forgotten her name and everything she’d ever done, but for some reason she’d retained her vocabulary, and it seemed to be better than his.
That earlier time when she’d wandered off, he said, he’d found her sloshing around in an alligator-infested strand two miles from their compound. “After ya recovered, you were really scared it would happen again. That safe room was your idea.”
Somehow Lisa couldn’t imagine herself asking to be locked up. But then, she didn’t really remember what kind of a person “herself” was.
And probably the safe room had been a good idea because, before they’d finished building it, “that crazy foog thing,” as Roland called it, had happened again. He said that was in early February and now it was late March, so it had been almost two months and her memory still hadn’t returned.
It did seem like everything Roland did was for her own protection, and she knew she should be grateful. But lately she’d had the persistent feeling that something didn’t quite mesh. It wasn’t just her missing memory.
It was something bigger than that.
He’d told her they’d been together for three years, that they’d planned to get married before everything went to hell. A little over a year ago, he said, she’d had her first spell. She lost her memory, didn’t know her own name, didn’t remember him. Then her memory came back. Then it happened again, and it lasted a little longer. “Ya’d lose your memory,” he said, “and then it’d come back, then go again. Really crazy. The docs said you was mental, wanted to put ya in the nuthouse. Couldn’t let ’em do that, so I brought ya out here.”
Lisa didn’t know what to make of it. Whenever she stared at her image in the black-streaked mirror above the sink in the cabin’s grimy bathroom, she’d get a prickly feeling that a stranger was staring back.
Someone she couldn’t quite bring into focus.
And then there was the other thing.
As Roland led her to the truck, grumbling because he wouldn’t be able to stop for a beer at Joanie’s diner, his iron grip on her hand reminded her of that other thing.
Reminded her that sometimes sex with him could get a bit rough. He would zone out … almost like, in his mind, he was just getting a quick screw from a hooker, not making love to the fiancée he had saved from an asylum.
And then there was that last time, two weeks ago.
They were on the cot in the safe room. He was on top of her, pounding away, when something snapped in her head and she’d started fighting back and he’d smacked her. Hard.
It had only happened that one time.
But it had happened.
He’d smacked her and something inside her head had commanded her to fight back, to make him pay for that humiliating blow. But self-preservation told her she simply owed him too much, that she’d be completely lost without him, so she’d suppressed the urge.
He’d apologized later, saying he thought she was drifting again and he’d only hit her in the hope it would bring her back to her senses. In the hope, as he said, that it would stop her from “fooging” so he wouldn’t have to teach her who she was all over again.
He’d played that card too many times.
Lisa’s inchoate thoughts and sensations had been nudging her toward a single conclusion:
I’m his prisoner.
After that incident, she had carefully adopted the role of the submissive sweetheart, all the while manipulating Roland into letting her join him on today’s excursion. She’d already decided that—amnesia or not—if he didn’t agree to take her, she was going to make a run for it. The problem with that plan was that she had no idea where she was, and no idea of which direction to run.
At least this way she’d have a guide.
Roland opened the passenger door of his old F-150 pickup and made a show of helping her in. As far as she could remember, this was only the second time she’d ridden in the truck. The first time was when he had found her sitting on a gravel back road, bleeding and confused.
He climbed in, started the engine, jammed it into gear, and wheeled across the patchy lawn, making a wide circle around the faded clapboard cabin they called home. The building’s tar-papered roof had been extended on one side to provide rain cover for a rough plank deck that sat on pilings next to a narrow channel of algae-choked swamp. Roland had told her, with no trace of irony, that their little waterway was called Clearwater Strand. There was an old canoe lying upside down on the deck, but Lisa had never known him to use it.
A few hundred yards of rutted driveway brought them to a chained metal gate. Roland got out, unlocked the padlock, released the chain, and swung the gate wide. After driving through, he got out and reversed the process, double-wrapping the chain and snapping the lock in place. Craning to look out the rear window as they drove away, Lisa could just make out a handwritten warning sign wired to the gate.
NO DUMPING FISHING HUNTING
She thought she should at least recognize that misspelled sign from the night Roland brought her home, but she had no memory of it.
I must have been really out of it.
Idly, she asked, “How much property do we have?”
“Twenty acres.” Roland swung the truck onto a gravel road.
“What’s this road called?”
“Parks guys call it Loop Road.”
“We live in a park?”
“Yeah. When the feds made it a park, part ’a the deal was they hadta leave us Gladesmen alone.”
“How far is it to town?”
“Thirty miles.” His pale eyes cut across to her. “Too many questions, girl! Just concentrate on staying calm. And when we get to the market, stay close to me and don’t talk to no one.”
Lisa covered her prickling suspicions by asking mildly, “Why?”
“I already told ya! If someone figures out who you are, the word could get back to those quacks who want you locked up in the bughouse.”
Lisa managed a compliant nod.
The drive was uneventful. The graveled surface of the Loop Road eventually turned into pavement, and after a few more miles, it intersected a main highway. Roland made a left, heading west. Lisa sat in silence, taking in the passing scenery as if for the first time. She knew she must have seen it all before, must have driven these roads before, but nothing looked familiar. They passed signs: MONUMENT LAKE CAMPGROUND … BURNS LAKE CAMPGROUND … BIG CYPRESS SWAMP WELCOME CENTER …
She remembered none of them.
Finally, after another left, they rolled past a multicolored mural that proclaimed:
WELCOME TO EVERGLADES CITY
They crossed a bridge, with waterways and float houses on both sides. There were motels and cafes and gas stations, interspersed with gaudy signs advertising airboat rides and alligator shows. To Lisa, these everyday scenes all carried an air of unreality, as if she had plunged headlong into someone else’s life, with no memory of her own.
After a few more turns and jogs, they arrived in front of a yellow building adorned with red lettering: RIGHT CHOICE SUPERMARKET.
Entering the store through its automatic double doors, Lisa stopped short. What had been an unprepossessing block building on the outside, signaling, at best, a dingy minimart within, turned out to be anything but. Spotless and well-lit, the market featured up-to-date cashier checkouts, polished inlaid flooring, and broad aisles leading to an impressive meat department that spanned the entire rear section of the store. And everywhere—above the meats, over the frozen food coolers, wherever wall space permitted—were enormous, wildly colorful photographs of dark watercourses, mystical stands of mangrove, and dramatic examples of exotic Everglades wildlife.
As Lisa’s protector had hoped, the store was almost empty. In fact, the sole customer in sight was a woman paying for her groceries at the only staffed checkout. Roland grabbed a shopping cart and headed for the meat section, with Lisa trailing behind. As he bent over the cooler, digging through packages of ground beef—his usual cheap and easy standby, as Lisa had learned—she devoted herself to looking around, drinking in the scene, hoping against hope that something might seem familiar.
Her eyes were drawn to a certain product at the end of the aisle behind them.
She had a sudden compelling feeling that she’d eaten Nutella as a child—a deep memory, just out of reach. A memory that carried with it the sensation of an older woman.
She grabbed his sleeve and tugged him toward the display. “Nutella! I think I used to like this when I was a kid! I must have told you that, right?”
He eyed her carefully. “Yeah. Maybe you did.”
His vagueness unsettled her.
They rolled up and down the deserted aisles, filling the cart. Roland seemed to be working from a list in his head. Or, Lisa thought as she watched him make selections, maybe no list at all. Maybe he just bought the same things every time out of habit.
Not once did he ask Lisa for her input.
As they rounded the end of an aisle near the single working cashier, the front doors slid open and a man in his late thirties entered. He was accompanied by a girl of about ten. Roland pulled Lisa closer. “Here, you push the cart,” he whispered. He led her down the next aisle.
After a few more minutes of hurried shopping, he told her to take the cart to the checkout. “Start unloading. I’ll be right there.” He headed for the beer cooler.
This is your chance! Run! Out the door!
A small television was playing on the wall behind the cashier. It was tuned to CNN.
No! Tell the cashier to call the police!
As Lisa wrestled with competing impulses, the news anchor was reporting on a plane crash in the French Alps. A sudden chill washed over her. For some reason beyond morbid curiosity, the story seized her attention.
“We’re learning chilling new details about the last moments of Germanwings Flight 9525, as well as about the copilot who intentionally crashed the jet, carrying 150 passengers and crew, into the French Alps. CNN’s senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is in Cologne, Germany. Frederik, a German newspaper has just…”
A vision of twisted wreckage suddenly assaulted her mind. A huge chunk of fuselage lying in a field … a foreign policeman wearing high-visibility gear … painted words that read CLIPPER MAID OF THE SEAS …
“103,” she muttered. She turned to the cashier. “It was 103! It was 103 that killed him!”
“Killed who, dear?”
“103 … 103…”
She stood there, almost in a trance, repeating the number.
Roland arrived with a brace of six-packs.
The cashier said, “Mister, I think there’s something wrong with your wife!”
Roland set down the beer.
“103!” Lisa’s eyes were wide and faraway. “103, Roland!”
“Shit!” Roland grabbed Lisa by the arm and pulled her toward the door.
“103!” Lisa cried. “It’s something important, Roland!”
He ignored her. As the doors slid open, he half-pulled, half-dragged her across the sidewalk and into the space between his pickup and a late-model car parked next to it.
In that instant, Lisa’s last vestiges of restraint gave way to boiling anger.
“LET ME GO!” she shouted. “I need to find out!” With a strength that took her captor by surprise, she yanked her arm free and ran back to the store. Impatient with the timed delay of the sliding doors, she forced them open with her fingers. She rushed over to the alarmed cashier and stood, transfixed, staring at the television.
Almost instantly she was struck by a blinding flash of memory …
* * *
It was late at night and a woman was moaning. The sound had woken her. She left her bed and ran crying to the woman.
Crying because she was afraid.
The woman wrapped her in her arms, but it took many long seconds before she could speak. Finally, the woman wiped her eyes.
“I want you to be strong,” she said, looking deep into the child’s eyes.
“I am strong!” the child sobbed. “You teached me! I want to grow up like you! I want to be just like you!”
“And you will, my little angel. It’s just you and me now.” The woman clenched her teeth, suppressing a sob. “Just you and me.”
It had taken two more days for her to understand.
Two more days to understand that her father, her wonderful, beautiful, loving Papa, would never be coming home.
He had died on Pan Am 103—blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland.
* * *
As the horror of that memory crystalized in Lisa’s shocked consciousness, other memories began rushing in. But even through this flood of distractions, another part of her brain had switched onto high alert.
That other part of her brain registered a sudden change in the cashier’s facial expression.
And it simultaneously registered movement coming from her right.
She spun in time to see Roland closing fast. He reached for her, his face contorted with rage. Guided by some inexplicable instinct, Lisa’s body swung into action. Her assailant’s fingers came up empty as she neatly sidestepped his lumbering form, and in the same movement lashed out with a lightning kick.
There was an audible crack as the blow shattered his left knee. He crashed into a newspaper stand, toppled a greeting card display, and landed in a writhing heap. As he struggled to rise, Lisa knocked him cold with a single, well-timed punch.
She kneeled beside his unconscious form. She pushed back an eyelid and then checked his throat for a pulse. Satisfied, she was about to rise when she noticed the front page of one of the newspapers that had been scattered by his fall. It carried the story of the air crash in the French Alps. She scooped up the paper, rose to her feet, and faced the ashen-faced cashier. By now, the woman had a cell phone pressed to her ear.
“Sorry about the mess,” Lisa said, with eerie calmness.
She started for the door.
The male customer who had entered after them had witnessed the commotion from a few dozen feet away. In contrast to his own shocked expression, the preteen girl at his side wore a look of unreserved awe.
“Lady!” the man called, hurrying to block her exit. “Wait for the police.”
Lisa fixed him with a stare that stopped him in his tracks.
She stepped out into the sunlight and slowly walked away.
Crossing the street, her step faltered. Fragmented memories flashed through her mind. She couldn’t remember exactly who she was, but she was now positive she’d had another life. Another past. Not the past Roland’s fabric of lies had woven for her.
Not that life. Not that life at all.
Disturbing mental images welled up from nowhere. Heedless of her surroundings, she wandered into an empty lot, almost tripping over a faded realty sign that leaned at a crazy angle. She found herself standing beside a dilapidated boat trailer that was parked among tall weeds near the back of the property. She sat down hard on the trailer’s corroded yoke.
As she stared at the front page of the newspaper, a torrent of revelations flooded through her consciousness.
First came tears of joy at a life miraculously rediscovered.
Followed by sobs of horror at what those memories revealed.
They kept coming … and coming … and coming … threatening to overwhelm her.
When the sheriff’s deputy found her, she was retching up her breakfast.
He stood back respectfully, waiting until she’d finished.
“Miss, my name is Deputy Newman. We had a call from the market. Do you need a doctor?”
Lisa looked up, taking in the uniform, the young male face, the look of concern. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve and stood up. Instead of the embarrassment or nervousness the deputy had expected, he found himself looking into a pair of dark eyes that were cold with unyielding intent.
“I want to report a missing person,” Lisa said.
“Who’s that, ma’am?”
Copyright © 2017 Douglas Schofield
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Douglas Schofield is the author of Time of Departure and Storm Rising. He was raised and educated in British Columbia, where he earned degrees in history and law. Over the past thirty years, he has worked as a lawyer in Canada, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands. Douglas and his wife, Melody, live on Grand Cayman, along with their most excellent and amazing talking cat, Juno.