“Lisa complains all the time,” Pollard cut in. “You can’t listen to her.”
“I was talking to Mrs. Cobb!”
Pollard’s face darkened. He said, “I can speak for myself, whenever I want to.”
“Yes. So you can. But can she?”
“Judy can talk for herself.”
“So, let her!”
Judith Cobb hunched down and looked miserable. Neil asked again, “Didn’t Lisa complain to you?”
Pollard glowered at her in silence. She shook her head.
Neil swiveled around to Bill Campbell and said, “I think one of us needs to talk to Mrs. Cobb alone.”
“No!” Pollard took her by the shoulder and half dragged her to her feet.
Pollard was getting desperate. Neil felt his heart sink. This had started as attempted rape; it could end in murder.
“Judy and I just came to get her little girl,” Pollard shouted. “You’re trying to keep her from her own child. That puts you in the wrong. Now give Lisa to us or I’ll call the police.”
Bill Campbell said, “I already have.”
Pollard’s face went dark with rage. He bunched his fists at his sides and he was all but trembling. His powerful chest was straining the fabric of his shirt. Neil stepped between Pollard and Bill Campbell just as Pollard threw a hard right. He didn’t have time to dodge.
Neil felt his jaw move violently sideways with a dull snap, and saw the darkness coming in from the corners of his eyes. Bill’s desk top caught him across the buttocks and he fell, flipping backward like a stunt man in a movie. He landed on his hands and knees on the far side of the desk, swayed, then staggered to his feet again. The world skidded sideways and he fell back to one knee.
He felt hands on his shirt. Pollard jerked him upright, then hurled him backwards to slam into the wall.
This was not the way it was supposed to happen
Neil threw up his hands to ward off another blow to his face, but Pollard shifted and hit him in the stomach. It doubled Neil over, and he hit the floor again, on his knees this time. Pollard’s legs were in front of him, so he threw his arms around them and tried to pull him down. Something hit him hard at the base of the skull and he slid the rest of the way to the floor.
Neil rolled over. The world was a gray blur. He could see a swirl of interacting figures, like a strobe-lit dance, but none of it would come into focus. Bile tickled the back of his throat, and he fought against the need to vomit.
He was leaving Bill to face a raging bull alone. And after him, Pollard would turn on Carmen and Lisa.
Neil forced himself to his feet again. He could barely support himself. He tried to bring the room into focus and failed.
Failed! How he hated that word.
He concentrated on Pollard, picked his figure out of the swirling mass before him and launched himself toward it. His arms would barely respond, but Neil managed to throw them around Pollard’s chest. He wrapped him up in a death grip and let his weight pull them both down.
He felt consciousness fading and willed his arms to lock, to cling so grimly that death itself would not loosen them. Then he saw the great, gray spiral that led down into blackness, and fell into it. more tomorrow