They sat quietly discussing options. The clock ticked and the phone remained silent. Bill decided to call the sheriff, but as he was reaching for the phone, they heard the sound of tires on asphalt, and the squeal of brakes. Neil cursed, and Bill snapped, “Listen, you damned hothead, let me do the talking. Don’t screw this up for us.”
Bill sat back at his desk. His face seemed placid, even serene. For the first time in months, Neil really looked at Bill Campbell, and realized that he was an old man. This was not his first crisis; it was not his fiftieth crisis. That experience gave him confidence.
It did not give Neil confidence. A man can get too used to doing only what seems possible, and letting the rest go. He can forget that sometimes it is necessary to reach beyond yourself, to put yourself at risk.
There was a knock at the door and a man put his head around the corner, calling, “Hello. Is anybody here?”
“Come on in,” Bill invited.
Neil got his first look at the boyfriend, and let out a slow breath. The man had once been small; possibly spindly. You could still tell it. He wasn’t more than five feet eight, but every inch of him had been made over by countless hours at the weight machine. His short blond hair was in deliberate boyish disarray and he had a ready grin. Likeable and domineering at the same time. He made you want to stay out of his way, or make friends fast. Neil was only an inch short of six feet himself and of athletic build, but he felt the daunted by such a powerful body.
Bill said, “May I help you?”
“I’ve come to pick up Lisa Cobb.”
“I’m afraid I can’t just let her go off with someone I don’t know. You are . . . ?”
“Of course. I’m Jim Pollard, Lisa’s mother’s fiancee.”
“I see. Well Mr. Pollard, I’m afraid that doesn’t help much, because I don’t know you personally. Please don’t misunderstand. I am only trying to take care of the children I’m responsible for, but I can’t let her go with you on just your say so.”
Pollard’s face grew dark, but he controlled himself and said, “Lisa’s mother is in the car. You know her don’t you?”
He slammed the door behind him without waiting for a reply.
Neil looked at Bill and asked with bitter humor, “Do you have a baseball bat?” Bill waved him to silence. He was dialing the sheriff.
There was a coil of barbed wire in Neil’s stomach as he waited for their return.
The door did not exactly slam open. It was under complete control, and Pollard never let it hit the wall, but he shoved it open with such force that the effect was the same.
Judith Cobb was as tall as Pollard, yet she looked dwarfed beside him. She smiled at Bill and Neil; then the smile became a twitch and disappeared. She could not hold it for more than a few seconds. Pollard had her by the arm. He looked as if he were giving her support; she looked as if she would fall if he let go.
Judith Cobb said, “Jim said that you wouldn’t let Lisa go with him because you didn’t know him. Where is she?”
Bill had made his decision. He motioned them to seats, then said, “She is with one of our other teachers, and I don’t intend to let her go until someone gets here from Child Protective Services. She tells us that Pollard tried to rape her.”
For a moment, Jim Pollard looked as if he would leap to his feet and strike Bill Campbell. Then he did something even more dangerous. He held his temper. He turned to Judith Cobb and said, “See, Judy. Now she is lying to these people. I told you she needed counseling.” more tomorrow