Help me,” the girl pleaded softly.Sam knelt beside her. He recoiled in shock. “Bette?”The left side of Bouncing Bette’s face was covered in blood. There was a gash above her temple. She was panting, gasping, like she had collapsed after a marathon and was trying with her last ounce of energy to crawl across the finish line.“Bette, what happened?”“They’re trying to get me,” Bette cried, and clutched at Sam’s arm.The three dark figures advanced to the edge of the circle of light. One was clearly Orc. No one else was that big. Edilio and Quinn moved into the garage doorway.Sam disengaged from Bette and took up a position beside Edilio.“You want me to beat on you guys, I will!” Orc yelled.“What’s going on here?” Sam demanded. He narrowed his eyes and recognized the other two boys, a kid named Karl, a seventh grader from school, and Chaz, one of the Coates eighth graders. All three were armed with aluminum bats.“This isn’t your business,” Chaz said. “We’re dealing with something here.”“Dealing with what? Orc, did you hit Bette?”“She was breaking the rules,” Orc said.“You hit a girl, man?” Edilio said, outraged.“Shut up, wetback,” Orc said.“Where’s Howard?” Sam asked, just to stall while he tried to figure out what to do. He’d lost one fight to Orc already.Orc took the question as an insult. “I don’t need Howard to handle you, Sam.”Orc marched right up to Sam, stopped a foot away, and put his bat on his shoulder like he was ready to swing for a home run. Like a batter ready for the next fastball. Only this was closer to T-ball: Sam’s head was impossible to miss.“Move, Sam,” Orc ordered.“Okay, I’m not doing this again,” Quinn said. “Let him have her, Sam.”“Ain’t no ‘let me,’” Orc said. “I do what I want.”Sam noticed movement behind Orc. There were people coming down the street, twenty or more kids. Orc noticed it too, and glanced behind him.“They aren’t going to save you,” Orc said, and swung the bat hard.Sam ducked. The bat whooshed past his head, and Orc rotated halfway around, carried forward by the momentum.Sam was thrown off balance, but Edilio was ready. He let loose a roar and plowed headfirst into Orc. Edilio was maybe half Orc’s size, but Orc was knocked off his feet. He sprawled out on the concrete.Chaz went after Edilio, trying to pull him off Orc.The crowd of kids who had come running down the street surged forward. There were angry voices and threats, all aimed at Orc.They yelled, Sam noted, but no one exactly jumped into the unequal fight.

~ Michael Grant