BY: ROBERT DOWNS
To Veronica Baird, escaping from an underground dungeon and racing through the woods, is anything but convenient, even as her captor in rubber mask attire proves rather persistent in his continued pursuit. Despite her apparent independence, she considers a partnership, albeit reluctantly, with a former classmate who may still have feelings for her.
Pete Nealey still has flashbacks to Iraq and, with the bottle as his eternal companion, tends to fall off of barstools at the most inopportune moments or pass out face down in the tavern parking lot. But what he may lack in cheerfulness, he more than makes up for with his steadfast loyalty to the cause, even when he ends up handcuffed to an air conditioner in a shoddy motel.
But unless Veronica can learn to trust Pete for more than just intermittent intervals, the slipshod relationship, and her freedom, won’t last…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Convenient Escape by Robert Downs, Pete Nealey is a private detective with a drinking problem. One night as he is walking home from the bar, because he can’t remember where he parked his car, he runs into an old flame who has just escaped after being abducted. Since the bad guys are still after her, Pete is reluctantly drawn into her troubles—not that she wants him around. Now Pete has a contract out on him, too, so he may not survive long enough to help Veronica finally get away.
The author has an unusual voice for a suspense/mystery in that the writing is quite laid back and unhurried. Still the plot is strong and filled with enough surprises that I found it hard to stop reading, wanting to see what would happen next.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Convenient Escape by Robert Downs is the story of a woman who knows too much for someone’s comfort. Veronica Baird has been abducted. Not being an heiress, and therefore a likely target to be ransomed, the only conclusion she can come to is that she knows too much about something. Escaping from her dungeon prison, she is now on the run. But the bad guys always seem to be one step ahead of her. Enter Pete Nealey, an old flame from high school turned private detective, who is usually too drunk to find his own home, let alone solve any cases. Veronica runs into Pete the night she escapes, and now she can’t seem to get rid of him. She needs him to help her stay alive, but refuses to admit it, convinced she can take care of herself.
The Convenient Escape is full of twists and turns, the characters intriguing, and the author’s voice unique. I had a hard time putting it down.
Her high heels dug into the soft earth beneath her.
Her skirt and blouse, damp with sweat, clung to her body.
The trees whistled above her, the wind whipping through the branches.
Her heart raced, slamming against her chest. Her right side ached, shooting the pain up toward her chin. Her mind raced as fast as her legs moved–escape remained her only option. A grimace twisted her lips, as the stitch in her side grew stronger.
Footsteps lingered behind her. Not far. Close. Veronica glanced over her shoulder, tripping on a branch beneath her. The soft earth padded her knee and braced her fall. Up. She shot to her feet, as her adversary threatened to close the distance even more.
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw only blackness. Nothing more. She strained to hear his labored breathing, but she heard only her heartbeat instead.
A shot rang out, slamming against a tree branch off to her left. Her head whipped around, as bark sprayed in every direction. A piece caught her cheek, slicing it, and she swiped it away with her left hand. Brushing it aside like a dead fruit fly.
The blood on her fingers lingered.
Saltwater dripped into her eyes, obscuring her field of vision. With the same hand, she wiped away the remnants of sweat–and transferred the blood to her cheek–as a voice called out to her.
“You won’t get far,” the voice said. “Daddy’s going to get you.”
She shook her head, just one quick motion to clear the voice from her mind. Her arms pumped at her sides, like two pistons working together. She grimaced as the darkness found her and a hand touched her shoulder. The hand was stiff, and it lingered longer than it should have. When she turned her head, she discovered it was a tree. An owl hooted above her, as dark shadows crept over her and the surrounding forest. The moon guided her. It was more than enough light to offer her a sense of direction.
She picked up her knees and pushed herself forward. Her hands pumped at her sides faster and faster, as the darkness nearly swallowed her whole.
She stumbled again. This time a rock caught the toe of her left foot. A knee glanced off a root and shot pain up her thigh. The stitch in her side continued to throb and grow with each passing second.
Another shot rang out.
This time the bullet whistled above her head, and then more bark exploded like small projectiles. Darts of wood splattered and shattered around her head. She cursed under her breath, clamored to her feet, and didn’t bother glancing over her shoulder this time.
She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
He was close, though, and the slapping of the earth behind her pushed her onward.
She felt a hand grab her shoulder. Just for an instant. She shrugged it off and tossed an elbow in the direction of her adversary. As bone met flesh, she heard a grunt.
She smiled. And then her giddiness vanished along with her smile.
A distance opened up between them–her and her adversary. As her mind raced through an infinite number of possibilities, she discarded the ones that wouldn’t work one by one, and she was left with only one option. Run. It was her only hope, even though she was tired, weak, and nearly half-starved.
But the thought of getting away gave her more hope than she’d allowed herself to feel for the past two days.
She cut hard to the right, losing one of her three-inch heels in the process. Her other one held on for dear life. She bent over, yanked it off, and tossed it behind her. She heard a crack, followed by a grunt, and a series of curses filled the night air.
This time she did not smile.
She feinted, broke hard to the left, and tore her skirt in the process. Even though she wanted to, she didn’t look down. Instead, she kept her eyes forward. Her hair tumbled down, and she swiped it away. The pin that held it in place fell to the ground and glistened.
She tumbled into a bush. The leaves tickled her arms, legs, and face. A hand dove in behind her poking and prodding, and the man followed his hand. She tossed her elbow behind her and felt only air. Shoving herself forward, she moved away from the man with the errant hand. Her mind wrestled through more possibilities, one after another in quick succession.
Even though she had only been in the woods seven minutes or so, it felt more like two days. The running made her feel weak and vulnerable. Night tumbled on top of her. Her breath came in ragged, erratic bursts.
Her heart sped up, faster than a bullet and with twice as much power.
Another shot rang out. Would the madman ever run out of ammunition? Maybe he had reloaded on the run with the magazine jammed against his thigh.
She didn’t recognize the gun. It was small and black, and every time a bullet exploded in her direction, it reminded her of a shotgun blast.
Leaves fell down on top of her, like bricks tossed from a third story window. Distractions that blocked her vision. Instead of black with spots of light, she saw red, yellow, and orange.
Numbers raced through her mind: The odds were still in her favor. Numbers didn’t lie, even if people sometimes did.
“Why even bother to run?” the voice said.
It sounded harsher, strangled, like the vocal cords had been pinched with pliers. The night grew softer as the voice grew louder. The words–sharp, colorful, and filled with hate–weren’t worth repeating to a therapist or a trusted friend.
She wrapped her arm around a large trunk, as her breath came in short, punctuated gasps. Her heart beat at a marathon pace. Her lips, once soft and supple, were chapped and dry. She licked them. Not that it helped much.
The footsteps behind her grew closer. She tried to quiet her breathing and slow down her rapid heart and thoughts. A steady series of explosions rocked her chest.
As a hand reached out for her shoulder, she ducked and pushed herself onward. Her head tilted down, and the motion of her arms widened. Her skirt flapped about her thighs, and her white blouse was now a dark shade of brown. Her hair was filled with random debris: leaves and bark, dirt, and grass.
The stitch in her side shot all the way up to her head. An explosion of color and white light assaulted her. She stopped, slapped her forehead, and continued on.
Her feet slapped the soft earth, sinking into the hollow ground. She uttered one four-letter word, then another, and then regretted it. Her adversary, never too far behind, grunted in response. Her mind processed another series of mental calculations, each one more negative than the last. But she found strength in her temporary freedom.
She cut hard to the left. Another tear in her skirt: this one even larger than the last. She’d almost slit the skirt to her waist with the upper part of her thigh exposed to the cool breeze. Wool brushed her leg and slapped her thigh, the tear flapping about like a bird with only one wing. The rubbing sensation caused her scattered thoughts to focus on her torn outfit.
She stopped. Listening to the night around her, she gathered the courage to make her next move. The woods remained foreign to her. She preferred indoors, with air conditioning, bug control, and walls that offered the proper humidity barrier. Thick mist enveloped her and made her breathing irregular. Ragged.
She reached the edge of a precipice. The water churned below her, swirling in a small, circular pool. It was nearly a hundred feet below. Maybe less.
The man called out to her once more. His words were swallowed up by the night.
She glanced up at the moon above her: The full globe that had guided her to this point. Veronica considered her options: either jump, and possibly die; or don’t jump, and the possibility of death increased. She chose jump and leapt off the cliff, thrusting her body out before slapping her arms against her sides. The sensation of falling lasted for a second, and she hit the water with all the force her small body could muster. The water swallowed her, plunging her below its depths. Striking the bottom, she stubbed a toe and scrambled toward the surface, thrusting her arms high above her head as she did so. She popped up like a water-logged shoe, swam toward the shore–the water even colder than she imagined it would be–and looked up to the top of the cliff.
The man was gone.
© 2016 by Robert Downs