“Girls, you're doing a great job so far,” Miss Kraczinski said to the panting, sweating team gathered around her. “All you have to do now is keep the game going and not tire out. Do not give them any chance to catch up! I'll pay you all a pizza at Giovanni's if we win this, alright?”
“Alright!” the girls shouted in unison like an army of Spartan warriors.
It was the last quarter of the match against Powell High. The Powell girls were tough as nail, but Sally's team was leading 14 to 12. Eight minutes left to hold, and they would win this match. They didn't need a better motivator: Giovanni's pizzas were absolutely delicious. But Sally couldn't take Cass's threat out of her mind. Surprisingly, she had left her alone until today, but that didn't mean anything... she could be up to something nasty before the end of the match. She cast a glance at Quentin, who was standing still before the bleachers, like a guard, but she had no time to talk to him as the referee blew the whistle, prompting the girls back into action.
The game resumed, and as a basketball player himself, Quentin loved the squeaks of rubber soles against the wood flooring, to his ears it was music, and the thumping of the ball was its rhythmic section. But today, he was not to enjoy the game, he was to observe. The bleachers were overcrowded, not only there were all the other students, there were also the players' parents from both teams, and the friends and supporters from Powell High. One could quickly lose someone in there, that's why he paid particular attention to Cass as soon as he spotted her. She seemed to be utterly uninterested in the game. Or maybe it was an act. You never know with her, and she was still mad at having been fired from the team, it was a pretty safe bet that she might seek revenge by ruining one of the first important games of the season.
Wait, wait, wait, what was she doing? Suddenly she moved, began to walk down the bleachers. Quentin made a sign to Miss Kraczinski to notify her, and the teacher, after looking in the girl's direction, nodded to indicate she understood. The boy began to move towards her with a casual air, and when she moved to the hall, he followed her discreetly. But as he arrived near the locker room, he lost her.
Meanwhile, Ryan left the bleachers to take a bathroom break. But as he was finished and left the bathroom, a large, strong hand landed on his shoulder and shoved him against the wall. He gasped, and found himself cornered by the two shaven Mexican men, always in their sharp gray suits.
One of them slapped him. “Shh,” he scolded, “don't say the Lord's name in vain, boy. How are you doing?”
“Err, fine, thank you... and you, guys?” He had heard of the expression 'cold sweat' before, but he had always thought it was just a metaphor. As he was standing here, literally freezing, he found out it was not. The wall they had cornered him against was in a narrow space between the bleachers, in the shadows. And everyone was way too focused on the game to pay any attention to what was going on in here. Ryan could see the court, the players, all these people who meant safety to him, yet he couldn't reach them.
“It's been three days, Mister Ryan, and we still haven't received any payment.”
“Yeah! Yeah, I know, I'm a little late on schedule, but you know, with that... vigilante around, business is harder than before.”
“Yes, talking about that vigilante. It seems you have been talking to him. Being a snitch, Ryan? What a bad idea...”
“No, guys, I swear it's not what you think...”
“Shut up. Mr Jones is very displeased with the situation. Since you are still young, we were order not to kill you, unless you do something stupid like screaming. And you are not going to scream, are you?” Ryan agreed, in terror, and the man began to caress his cheek gently. “Good boy,” he said, and suddenly his hand turned to an iron grip around his mouth, stopping him from talking and moving his head. “Jones only required that we bring him one of your eyes to teach you a lesson.”
And the other man produced a flick knife which he aimed at the boy's face. In utter panic, Ryan tried to struggle but the other man's grip was too strong, he tried to scream, no matter the warning, he wanted to scream his terror, but the hand muffled his screams into pathetic moans. There was nothing he could do as he stood trembling, staring at the blade as it slowly came closer and closer to his eye.
On the court, Alice grabbed a hold of the ball, and passed to Patty, who passed to Sally, and the girl darted to the opponents' hoop. She had to stay focused, Powell High had just scored a three-pointer and were now leading 15 to 14, and there were only four minutes left! She dribbled and ran like the Devil, dodged an opponent, then another, the hoop was within range! She jumped as high as she could, she was making it! Just one careful shot and she would score... then someone unexpectedly appeared right beside her, knocked the ball out of her hands, and, destabilized, the two of them fell down.
“God damn it!” she roared in frustration. “I almost...” she stopped dead in her speech and felt her stomach freeze as cold as ice when she saw the intruder's face.
“Hope I didn't hurt you?” the vigilante asked, his voice a deep growl coming from the helmet.