Read the first page of Rough Justice.
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Feeling the constant need to shudder, Noelle walked through the deserted streets. She wasn’t sure if the sensation was due to the slight chill in the air or the events that had occurred earlier that evening while she was at work. A noise sounded behind her, and a sharp glance over her shoulder to see if anyone was following her caused pain to rip through her neck.
“Damn, that bloody hurt!”
The alley was empty, no trace of a stalker in sight. She pulled her fake-fur coat around her scantily-clad body and upped her pace. Why the bloody hell did I leave the car at home tonight? Noelle’s stint at the club had proved to be an anxious one that evening. Three of the punters had tried their hardest to grope her at different intervals during her routine on stage. Not for the first time, thoughts of paying off her student loan quickly sprung to mind. Once that was paid, she would be able to pack in the crappy job and begin her life in earnest. She dreamed of the day when she could announce to her parents that she had successfully started up her own architect business. They would be mortified if they knew about the sordid secret existence she’d led the last few years. How else am I supposed to pay off my loan and feed myself? All she was trying to do was exist. She didn’t do drugs, unlike most of the girls who worked with her, but her parents had no idea how expensive the cost of living was for a single person in the London area. So she flaunted the one desirable thing God had gifted her: a slight but perfectly formed body, which the men seemed to enjoy ogling and sneakily touching when she was on stage.
Every girl rehearsed her routine down to the finest detail, and the security team did their utmost to ensure the punters didn’t get the opportunity to grope the girls. However, things had kicked off big time in the club that night, and the security boys had been preoccupied with ejecting a rowdy group of Noelle’s fellow students, but that had come too late for Noelle. Three of the drunken louts had taken it in turns to pounce on her, groping every bare inch of her flesh—and her skimpy outfit exposed plenty. She shuddered again at the thought of their vile hands pinching and pulling at her skin and her costume, hoping to expose yet more flesh. The night had left a very sour taste in her mouth. Feeling cheap and dirty, she reinforced her determination to get out of the job sooner rather than later.
Another noise caught her attention. Supporting her aching neck with one hand, she glanced over her shoulder only to find the alley was still clear. Maybe her stroll through the area had disturbed a stray animal rummaging for food in the overflowing bins.
She quickened her pace and walked into the lit main street, breathing out a huge sigh of relief when she reached the end of the alley. A few taxis whizzed past, taking the stragglers home from the nightclub. She raised her hand a couple of times, and one of the drivers she used regularly motioned for her to stay where she was and he would return in a few minutes to pick her up. Any other night, she would have waited.
Not tonight, though. Fear of being followed urged her to seek out an alternative ride home. She trotted as fast as she could in her stiletto sandals, to the taxi rank two streets away. She strained her ear, listening for any further movement behind her. Thankfully, she heard nothing.
She opened the rear door of the black cab. “Hey, Don. Boy, am I glad to see you.”
“Jump in, Noelle. Rough night, was it?”
“Yeah, you could say that.” She scanned the area again before the taxi moved off, and she caught sight of a figure lurking in the shadow. Urgently, she begged the driver, “Get me home, quickly, Don.”
“Sure thing, love. Nippy out there tonight.” The driver seemed oblivious to Noelle’s fright.
The taxi pulled away from the curb, and Noelle kept an eye on the spot where the stranger had retreated. When the car turned the corner at the end of the road, she couldn’t make out if the person, who remained obscured in the darkness, was male or female. An icy chill surged through her veins when she realised someone could have been stalking her.
Don chatted casually during the course of the short journey, and Noelle was grateful for the distraction. The driver dropped her off at her flat within ten minutes. She handed him the money for the fare, smiled, and warily got out of the taxi.
“Are you all right, sweetheart? Want me to see you to your door?”
Noelle waved away his kind gesture. “I’ll be all right. You get off. I’d hate you to keep your customers waiting.” During the ride, she’d heard the controller contact him about another job.
“Okay, Noelle. You take care. See you soon.” Don pulled away, leaving Noelle scanning the area.
She swiftly made her way into the covered doorway of the flats. Using her key to the outer door, she entered the building and secured the door behind her. The flat she called home was on the ground floor at the rear of the property. She cautiously opened the door and then chastised herself for being so foolish. Whoever had followed her through the alley had stayed there. She knew no one ever got into the building uninvited, but that thought did very little to push aside her fears. She switched on every light in the flat and filled the kettle to make a cup of cocoa to help settle her nerves. Walking into the bedroom, she tore off her tiny outfit and stepped into her leopard-print fleecy onesie, which always comforted her and helped to block out the seedy part of her life.
Back in the kitchen cum lounge, she poured her drink. Then she returned to the bedroom, where she hopped into bed and picked up her book. Normally, she made herself a cheese sandwich to replenish the calories she burned during her act, but her stomach was churned into too many knots to even contemplate eating. Nope, I’ll settle on having a cocoa then try and sleep. Noelle had a free morning, but the class she was due to attend after lunch was super challenging. So she needed a good night’s sleep to cope with the bombardment of information she knew her lecturer had lined up for the following day. Mr. Crispen was a task master who expected his students to work extra hard. He was from the old school of teaching, the total opposite to some of the younger lecturers, who regularly let their pupils run amok in their lessons.
The warm cocoa calmed her considerably, and before long, she’d headed for the land of Nod. Her dreams turned out to be scarier than what had presented itself that evening, and she sat bolt upright at five a.m., sweat pouring from every inch of her body. “You’re being ridiculous. It was just a dream. Go back to sleep.”
However, no amount of talking to herself reassured her enough to fall asleep again. She got up and decided to go for a run instead. She hadn’t found the time to slot in any form of exercise in more than a month. After slipping on her Lycra jogging pants and a T-shirt, she filled her plastic water bottle from the tap. She left the flat, thankful that the sun was just coming up over the horizon. The park close to her home was a joggers’ paradise. There weren’t many left in the surrounding area due to the local council closing them down in order to erect yet more flats for the needy or to ease the housing waiting list. She passed a young couple who were regulars at the park and smiled at them. To her surprise, the park was fairly quiet. Noelle reminded herself that not everyone started the day at the crack of dawn.
Jogging round the corner, she saw a group of Chinese people just setting out their exercise mats for their morning Tai Chi class. That was one form of relaxation she was truly desperate to try, and she intended signing up to a class after her term at uni had finished. Although sometimes, the thought crossed her mind that it would be better to join the class right away to combat her anxieties while they were at their peak. She had the instructor’s card and made a mental note to ring Mr. Chan later in the day. He waved as she jogged past the group. “Morning. I promise to ring soon.” She held her hand up to her ear and extended her thumb and little finger.
He nodded and acknowledged her with a bow.
Noelle could feel her heart rate increasing and the blood pumping through her veins during her exertion as she climbed the slight incline in the park. Off to her left, she saw a middle-aged woman playing fetch with her black Labrador, and a sudden pang of jealousy pricked her skin. She missed her beautiful Missy, the Rottweiler cross she had grown up with. Missy still lived with her Mum and Dad. I’ll ring them later to arrange a visit. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen them all.
Close by, amongst the bushes, she heard a rustling noise. She decided to err on the side of caution and upped her speed. She heard nothing else from that direction. Is this how it’s going to be now? Because of that one experience, would she obsess over the slightest noise and movement she detected? Can I really exist like that day in and day out? No, was the simple answer.
Maybe the next time something occurred, she should have the courage to confront the person outright. Given her current career and the shenanigans she put up with, she knew exactly what the stalker’s answer would be. He would leave her alone once she slept with him. Well, there was little chance of that happening. She was off men altogether for the moment. Danny, her last boyfriend, had turned her off men, for the foreseeable future at least. She was enjoying her freedom. Noelle wasn’t one of those girls who doubted how good she looked. She’d always felt comfortable in her own skin, and maybe that was why she had become a pole dancer. Apart from her latest mishap, she knew that her work environment was safer than some of the other clubs in the London area. The Tickle Club had a strong reputation of looking after its employees.
Noelle completed another circuit of the park then headed home. The sun’s rays were increasing in temperature, and she had the sense to call it a day before the May heat began in earnest. The forecasters had correctly predicted the latest weather front for once. She wasn’t usually able to get out for an impromptu run without getting soaked at this time of year.
In the shower, she let the water soak through to her aching legs then soaped her skin. After five more minutes, she reluctantly stepped out and wrapped the soft bath towel around her invigorated body.
Noelle walked back into the bedroom and immediately clutched the towel to her chest. “Who… what… do you want?”
The masked intruder ran his eyes the length of her trembling body before he uttered one whispered word. “You.”
Noelle tried to retreat into the bathroom, but her feet remained firmly rooted to the spot. Shit! What do I do now? Scream? Would the neighbours come to my rescue? “Please, I have nothing. What little money I have, you can take—”
“Shut up, bitch. I don’t want your money. I want you.” His voice remained constant, never escalating beyond a harsh whisper. He lunged at her.
Noelle quickly twisted sideways to avoid his outstretched arms. He tripped over one of her shoes and fell to the floor. Thankfully, her determination transmitted itself to her legs, and they sprang into action. She ran into the lounge before the attacker could get to his feet.
“Help, please help me. Jennifer, Trevor… help me!” she cried out to her neighbours above.
The attacker leapt on her, knocking her to the ground. Her towel slipped. He dropped heavily onto her chest and pinned both of her arms with his knees. As he stared at her nakedness, a guttural moan emanated from his throat.
Noelle struggled to break free, turning her head from side to side, but it was pointless in shifting the man. “Please, let me go. Don’t do this.”
The man raised his clenched fist and connected with her jaw. In her dazed state, she heard someone knocking on the door to the flat. However, the darkness descended before she could call out for further assistance.
Noelle woke up to find numerous people, including her neighbours from above and police officers, in her lounge. A doctor shone a penlight into her eyes. “Stay where you are for a moment. Let yourself come around naturally. You’re safe now.”
“What happened… the man…” She tried to lever herself up on her elbows, but the doctor pressed her back down onto the rug.
“He’s gone. There was no one here when we arrived.”
One of the uniformed policemen stood over her, blocking out the light above. “Are you up to telling us what happened, Miss?”
“I think so. He was here… who was he?”
The policeman’s thick lips pulled into a tight smile. “That’s what we were hoping you’d tell us, Miss. Did you know the attacker?”
Again, she attempted to sit up, only for the doctor to firmly press her back down. “It’s too soon. Stay there,” the greying doctor ordered.
“No… at least I don’t think I know him. He was wearing a mask, a ski mask.”
The policeman noted her responses in his notebook. “Did he speak to you?”
“Did he enlighten you as to the purpose of his visit?” He glared at his colleague, who tutted. He rephrased the question. “What I meant to say was, did he say what he wanted?”
“Me. I told him he could have the small amount of money I have in my purse, but he said all he wanted was me. I tried to get away from him and screamed for help.” She scanned the faces and settled on her neighbours. “Thank God you guys were in. Did you hear me?”
Jennifer crouched beside her. “We heard you and called the police right away, sweetheart.”
“Did you see him, Jen?”
Jennifer shook her head. “Sorry, no. I’m so glad you’re safe.”
With her head clearing a little, Noelle tried again to sit upright. This time, the doctor assisted her. “I’m not safe. What if he comes back? He got in here once. What’s to say he wouldn’t get in again?”
Jennifer looked at one of the officers. “How did he get in?”
“Through a window in the kitchen, we’re presuming.”
“Has he left any prints on the window?” Jennifer asked him.
Noelle was glad to have Jennifer around. She was a lawyer at a small nearby firm. Noelle wouldn’t have had a clue what to ask the police.
“We’ve placed the call for the Scenes of Crimes department to drop by ASAP. Providing the suspect has left any prints, and those prints are on record…”
Noelle panicked when she saw Jennifer’s mouth twist. “What’s wrong?”
Jennifer let out a long sigh. “If he wore a mask, the odds aren’t good. Did you notice if he was wearing gloves?”
“Everything happened so fast. I was too concerned about covering myself up to notice what was on his hands.”
“Think, Noelle. Did he touch you? Close your eyes, imagine him touching you. Were his hands rough or smooth? Covered in fabric or bare?”
Noelle squeezed her eyes closed. At first, all she saw was the outline of the man. In her mind’s eye, her gaze dropped to his hands. Disheartened by the image, she informed those gathered around her: “He wore gloves. Damn, there’s no hope of catching him now, is there?”
Jennifer rubbed her upper arm. “Don’t give up just yet. Let the SOCO team examine the place first, okay?”
“I can’t stay here, Jen.”
“I can understand that. Can you stay at your parents’ house for a few days?”
“No, my parents are on holiday. I suppose I can ring a friend from uni and ask if she can put me up in the meantime.”
“Great idea. I’d offer you our spare room, but I think it’s a little too close for comfort. It makes sense for you to get well away from here, just in case he comes back,” Jennifer said thoughtfully, nodding.
Her legs wobbled in protest as Jennifer helped her into the bedroom. Stopping just inside, Noelle whispered, “Jen, what if he raped me? How would I know?”
Jennifer flung a compassionate arm around her shoulders. “I don’t think he had time, Noelle. Maybe we should get the doc to examine you before he goes?”
“If you choose not to, then that question is going to remain unanswered and bug you for the rest of your life.”
Noelle conceded her friend was talking good sense. “Would you mind asking the doctor for me?”
Jennifer walked her over to the bed then went back in the lounge to have a word with the doctor. She returned with the doctor a few moments later.
“I think you’re doing the right thing, Noelle. I’ll be as gentle as I can.” He turned to Jennifer. “Do you mind leaving us alone?”
Jennifer nodded, rushed forward to give Noelle a hug, and left the room again.
Another three hours passed before everyone finally left the flat. Noelle surveyed her surroundings with such distaste that her questionable feelings began to scare even her. After hurriedly packing a bag, she rang her friend Abbie to tell her she was leaving and would be with her within half an hour.
Taking one final look around the flat, relieved, yet sad to be leaving her treasured home, she tested the windows several times to confirm they were shut properly. She secured the door then left. Her old reliable brown Ford Capri was parked in the car park at the rear of the building. Noelle quickly glanced over her shoulder to make sure she wasn’t being watched, then she jumped in the vehicle and locked the car. At two o’clock in the afternoon, the traffic was far easier to combat than she’d anticipated. Two miles into her journey, she felt a shove from behind. Looking in the rear-view mirror at the vehicle, she gasped. “You!”
Noelle tried to outdrive the menacing car following her, but the flow of traffic hampered her attempt. Maybe the traffic is worse than I thought. She turned off the main road, trying to lead the other car away from Abbie’s house. The decision proved to be the costliest she would ever make when her car spluttered to a halt. Immediately, she glanced down at the dashboard to see that the petrol gauge read empty. She bashed the heel of her hand against the steering wheel. In her haste to get away from the flat, she’d forgotten all about needing to fill the petrol tank. She glanced over her shoulder to see the wicked smile lighting up her pursuer’s face as he opened his car door. A tidal wave of fear rippled through her. Within seconds, the man stood menacingly beside the driver’s door, as if expecting her to open it. She looked into his eyes. “Why?”
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