Loweski's agility, considering his size, was surprising. He was behind her almost before she'd tried the handle, grabbing her by the hair and causing her to cry out in pain.
"You ungrateful, arrogant bitch," he spat, manhandling her to the far side of the desk and on towards the cupboard door, which he opened.
Rachel cried out again as he half dragged her into a short corridor. Her sandals slipped off her feet when he hauled her into a room in the centre of which was a makeshift bed. It had metal chains with leather cuffs at all four corners. Rachel went cold upon seeing those.
"I'll show you what making movies is all about." The hatred in his sneering voice was unmistakable as he pushed her backwards over the end of the bed.
"Let me go," Rachel demanded, trying to kick out at him, but he was far too strong, and real fear was taking over with the realisation that she was in considerable danger.
Loweski's face was red and twisted in fury. God, he's psychotic, thought Rachel, before momentarily looking away, hoping against hope to see something she could use in her defence. Instead she felt physically sick. Two camcorders were set on tripods to one side of the room, each displaying the telltale red lamp indicating that they were recording.
"Let you go? Oh no. I'll take what I want whether you like it or not, Miss Arrogant, and just for the record, when we've had our fun I'm sure that there'll be a nice little cameo piece to show around -- once I've edited out some of the more incriminating bits, of course.”
Rachel screamed. "Leave me alone. You can't do this." Once again she tried desperately to hit out and wriggle away, then began to cry as she realised that she couldn't. Her voice fell as she begged, "Please don't do this, please let me go," between sobs.
Her tormentor simply laughed. "But I want to, my dear. Lie still and enjoy it, or struggle and I'll chain you to the bed and really get to work on you. It's your choice." The menace despite, or perhaps because of, his matter-of-fact voice was chilling.
He used one hand to hold both of her arms pressed above her head against the mattress and, with the other, ripped her blouse open with such force that he tore a large strip off. Then he tried to pull off her bra.
The next few minutes were bewildering, terrifying and confusing. Rachel felt both hot and cold at the same time. She heard herself scream at least twice, but it was like being in a dream. Loweski's free hand was trying to reach up her skirt along one leg, and his weight pressed hard on her other. She tried desperately to pull her arms free, and to kick out, but that last movement was a mistake. It made it easier for Loweski's hand to reach up and grab her briefs, and she froze momentarily.
There was another, distant sound, one she couldn't quite make out.
A shadow loomed over her and she screamed yet again, sensing a quick movement in her direction, then gasped as Loweski's full weight descended on her, crushing her against the bed. He was so heavy, she couldn't breathe. God, was she to suffocate? Then his limp body rolled off hers, over the edge of the bed and hit the floor, shaking the room.
The shadow, however, was still there. She tried to focus but her eyes were blurred by tears. She felt hands drawing the remnants of her blouse around her and something warm was wrapped around her shoulders before she was lifted up and carried away. Then, for a moment, she blacked out.
Rachel came to with a start. For a few, confusing seconds she wondered where the heck she was, until she remembered Loweski and, realising that someone was holding her, started to panic.
She struggled. "Let me go. Let me out of here.”
"It's OK, honey. You're safe now." It was Annie's voice, calm and reassuring.
Rachel looked up in disbelief, and pulled away from her companion. "Annie? Is that really you?”
"Yes. And Sam's here too." But Rachel had collapsed back into her arms, sobbing profusely.
She couldn't stop the tears. She felt Annie draw her close, stroking her hair and muttering occasional words of comfort, but the horror of the past few minutes wouldn't go away.
There were vague noises from around but she paid scant attention. At one stage she heard a voice, Sam's she thought, saying that he'd put something in the trunk, and soon after that felt the sensation of movement. That was when her senses began to return to normal.
Eventually the tears stopped and Rachel pulled away from Annie. They were in the rear seats of a limousine. What the hell was she doing in a limo? And why was she wearing a sweat-shirt? A man's sweat-shirt, judging from the size of it. She pulled the top away from her so that she could examine what was left of her blouse. That nearly started her crying again.
Rachel dropped her hands. One hit her sandals, which were on the seat beside her, and she absentmindedly slipped them back onto her feet. She looked around.
Sam was in the front passenger seat next to someone she didn't recognise. That guy was driving but occasionally glancing at her in the rear view mirror.
"Where are we? How come you knew I was in trouble?”
Sam turned to face her. "We're taking you home, gal. Meet Paul." He indicated the driver, who gave her a brief nod in the mirror. "You have him to thank. Paul discovered you'd be in danger tonight, and asked us to help out.”
Paul? Who's Paul? And how did he know she'd be in trouble? Before Rachel could ask, the stranger spoke for the first time. "Yes, Miss Starr, and I'm so sorry we were late.”
"Late?" asked Rachel in some surprise, forgetting her questions for a moment. "And it's Rachel, not Miss Starr." Under the circumstances that sounded far too formal.
"OK, Rachel. I was worried about getting you out of the clutches of Loweski only to find yourself in the hands of another man you'd never met. I thought it better that you had a woman around, so I asked Mr and Mrs O'Brien to help.”
"Mr and Mrs O'Brien?" queried Rachel. The questions were bubbling to the surface again and she was finding it hard to concentrate whilst her mind was jumping to and fro like this. Who had he said? "Oh, Sam and Annie.”
Paul continued. "Unfortunately we got caught up in traffic. I'd hoped to get there in time to prevent him doing anything at all. I'm desperately sorry, Rachel.”
"That's plain silly," she responded. "I'm only too thankful that you knew what he planned, and got there before -- before --" She paused and her voice fell. "In any case, it was my fault. I must have sent out the wrong signals. He --“
"Now stop right there." She jumped. There was real anger in Paul's voice. "Get this straight, Rachel. You're not the slightest bit responsible for anything that happened." His voice died down and he even gave her an encouraging smile in the mirror. "Sorry. My anger's not directed at you, but at the likes of Loweski. He and his kind have absolutely no rights to try and take advantage of young women in this way. To use rape and blackmail is --”
"Oh, my God. Blackmail. He was filming his attack. He'll still --”
"Relax, gal." Sam interrupted. "We have all of his videos, including yours, in the trunk.”
"And with luck," added Paul, "there'll be some unedited copies of other assaults he's carried out in the past. People like him relish watching themselves usurping their power over women. Hopefully, we'll find sufficient evidence to hand over to the authorities.”
The limousine drew up outside Rachel's apartment block. Paul turned to face the women. "This OK? Will your flat mate be in? Or would you rather --”
Annie interrupted. "Don't worry, Paul. If Vanessa isn't in, Sam and I will stay with Rachel until she gets back. We can walk home.”
"Sure?" asked Paul.
"Quite sure." That was Sam. "We're certainly not going to leave her alone.”
"Good. OK." As Sam and Annie climbed out of the limo, Paul handed Rachel a small card. "Rachel, go and talk to this lady. She's an excellent agent and she makes damned sure all of her younger clients are looked after.”
Rachel glanced at the name. Alice Williams. She recognised it. "I've already tried her. In fact I reckon I've tried them all. She's got too many on her books and can't accommodate any more.”
Paul gave her a warm smile. "Show her that card. I think you'll find she'll change her mind.”
For a moment Rachel was quiet. She'd taken in all Paul had said, but was feeling a little light-headed, and his smile had disturbed her. Put it down to reaction, she thought to herself before muttering, "OK," and climbing out of the limousine to join the others on the sidewalk.
"All right, dear?" Annie slipped her arm around Rachel's waist. Rachel nodded and moved towards the entrance to the apartments. Then she stopped and spun round.
"Paul, I haven't --" But he was driving away. "Oh." She was disappointed. "I never thanked him properly, or asked him..." Damn. She still had no answers to her questions.
Paul was in a reflective mood as he drove off. He'd managed to get Rachel out of Loweski's clutches, but he was furious with himself for putting her in jeopardy.
Goddamn it, and after all that work. He'd almost wrecked his plans. He should have allowed longer for the traffic. He'd played safe in everything else, following Rachel and keeping a watchful eye on her during the week when he'd no real need to do so. Today was the crucial day. So why hadn't he played safe today as well? Goddamned fool!
Perhaps he should simply have warned her not to go to tonight's audition. That would have been the safest bet, but once he'd got her into the limo out of harm's way, he'd wanted to find the evidence, to collect filmed records of Loweski's assaults. Then he could stop the bastard once and for all.
Paul started to shake at the thought of what would have happened had he arrived much later. He had to stop driving, and it took some minutes to recover.
After that, he felt OK. Rachel was safe; that was all that mattered.
As the three of them entered the apartment, Vanessa came bouncing out of her room. "Hi. That was quick. I didn't expect you so so...on." The word 'soon' was dragged out as she noticed Rachel's pale face and both Sam's and Annie's expressions. "Oh, my God." She went up to Rachel and took her arm. "What's up, Rae?" but that made Rachel dissolve into tears again. "Hey -- what's happened?" The question was directed at Sam and Annie, as Vanessa led her companion to the sofa and sat her down.
Sam and Annie between them explained everything.
"The pig," shouted Ness when they'd done so, jumping up and pacing to and fro. "If I ever catch sight of him, I'll kick his balls until he screams.”
That made Rachel give a weak smile.
"I'd cut them off," commented Annie, and she didn't appear to be joking. "It's a good job the men made me wait in the limo.”
By then Rachel was feeling more composed. "Everything happened so quickly, and it was so confusing. I couldn't take it all in. And I was crying so much I couldn't see properly." She turned to Sam. "I can remember someone wrapping what was left of my blouse around me, and lifting me up. Was that you, Sam?”
"No. Paul. He'd climbed the stairs and smashed the office door down before I'd even reached halfway up the first flight." Sam was clearly impressed. "By the time I got there, he was already carrying you out. Once he'd got you safely into the limo with Annie, we collected up all the camera stuff and tapes.”
"I was really worried when he sat you next to me." Annie's expression reflected that concern. "You looked terrible, and you were so still.”
Rachel pulled at the sweat-shirt. "Whose is this?”
"Paul's," replied Annie. "He wrapped it around you before carrying you out. I managed to get you into it once you were in the limo.”
Rachel reached out and took her hand. "I'm really grateful to you both.”
"Don't be silly! In any case, it's really Paul you should thank.”
Rachel nodded then agreed quietly. "Yes. Paul." But Paul who? She'd have to find out. There were so many questions she needed to ask.