Sam stuck his head around the corner of the school and looked up and down the street. Nobody was in sight except for Pete and Miguel sitting on their bikes at opposite ends of the street.
Pete spotted him, flipped his hand and mouthed, "Go on!"
Sam swallowed. "On three," he whispered. "One...two...three." He started across the cement, toward the edge of the street and the fire alarm box.
Should he? Sam still wasn't sure.
They were each supposed to pick something the others wouldn't want to do, then do whichever they drew out of the cap. Pete had gotten Miguel's pick,running through the backyard of Pepperhead Pepperell's neighbor while the German shepherd was there. Never had the dog barked so much or Pete run so fast. That had been fun to watch and harmless. Like Sam's pick, walking through the graveyard at night, alone, from one end to the other. Miguel's eyes looked like two extra moons as he came speed-walking out.
But pulling a fire alarm...that didn't seem right.
"We can't do that," Sam had said. "Pick something else."
"What's the matter, you scared?" Pete said.
"No, I'm not scared. It's just...stupid, that's all. You can get in big trouble for something like that."
"No, you can't," Pete said. "My brother got caught and he didn't get in trouble. All they do is talk to your parents and tell you not to do it again."
"Great," Sam said, "then I'll be grounded for about fifty years."
"Grounded's nothing," Pete said. "My father would do a lot worse than that if I got caught." He smacked Miguel's shoulder. "He's chicken, Russ. He's afraid to do it. Bahhwwk! Bahwk, bahwk, bahwk, bawhk, bahhwwk!"
Miguel joined Pete in making clucking sounds and strutting about with their hands tucked under their arms, elbows out, heads bobbing like chickens.
"Yeah, like you'd do it, Miguel," Sam said.
Miguel pulled himself up as tall as his short body could stretch. "I would."
"Right. Like when we all said we'd dive off the high dive, and you never did."
"I had to go home, I told you that. Besides, I dove off it."
"A year later."
"Quit stalling," Pete said. He shook his cap with the three choices written down inside. "Just pick your poison."
"What if we do something else?" Sam said.
"Like turn off the lights in the girls locker room, or take all of Mrs. Rizzo's erasers and put them in Fabley's room?"
"The locker room thing sounds good," Miguel said to Pete.
"Nope. It was my pick and that's what I picked." He raised the cap above his head, reached in and grabbed a folded piece of paper. "If I get it, I'm doing it. If you guys get it and don't, you'll be chickens for the rest of your lives."
Sam looked at Miguel and knew just what he was thinking."I'll choose one--and I hope like crazy it's not the fire alarm--but if I get it, you can't make me do it."
Miguel took a deep breath, pulled out a slip of paper and opened it. He blew out his breath. "Whew!" he said, "the graveyard."
Pete opened his and cursed.
Sam was relieved. He examined the last slip, expecting to see "Pepperhead," or "Dog." Something like that. Instead, it read, "Fire alarm."
"You should see your face," Pete said, and laughed. "You better not be chicken, either, or I'll tell the whole school."
Now it was Sam's turn. He was halfway to the fire alarm box and still didn't know if he'd do it. All week long Pete had gone on and on about how it was no big deal, he wouldn't get caught, the firefighters were used to it and it would only take maybe four minutes of their time, no harm would come of it, it would show Sam had "guts." All kinds of reasons why he should consider it just another practical joke and almost his duty to do it.
But Sam's do-good side had also been working on his mind, starting with the thought that occurred most often,it wasn't right. It was stupid, and dangerous, and maybe he'd go to jail. What would his parents do if he got caught? They could be pretty creative and embarrassing sometimes, dishing out "justice." What about the teachers he liked, what would they think? Could you go to jail for it? For how long? Would he have a record? Would that mean he couldn't get a job? For what? Pulling a fire alarm because Pete said he'd be chicken if he didn't? Everyone knew Pete liked to get in trouble. Why should he care what Pete thought?
The fire alarm box was only a few feet away, and Sam's steps became shorter and slower. He shouldn't, but he probably would. After all, what harm would come of it? He looked left, then right. Pete was biking toward him. Sam stopped. Was something wrong? Was someone coming?
Pete stopped five feet away. "What's the matter?" he said. "What's taking so long?"
"I thought there was something wrong," Sam said. "Why'd you come over here?"
"To see what's wrong with you. You were going so slow I thought you were going to start going backwards."
"I was.... just thinking, I guess," Sam said. "I'm still not sure if--"
Pete shook his head and clicked his tongue. "All you got to do is pull it, Sam." He looked at Miguel, who checked his end of the street then nodded. "Like this," Pete said. He pushed his bike into a glide, grabbed the handle and jerked it down.
BBBRRRRRAAAAAANNNNNGGGGGGG!!! erupted from the school building behind them.
Pete grinned. "See?" He dropped off the curve, into the street, and casually pedaled away.
Sam was stunned. He couldn't believe Pete had done it just like that. The bells sounded louder than he'd ever heard them. He jumped forward and pushed the handle up. The bells kept ringing. He looked around. Miguel was gone and Pete was taking the first quick left. Yeah, get out of here!
Sam ran to his bike and raced toward the park and athletic fields behind the building. Just as the soccer field came into view, he spotted Mr. Caldwell and the twins kicking a ball around. One of the twins stopped, tilted his head as though listening, and turned.
Sam spun around and headed back along the building and its clanging alarm. He raced across the cement, over the sidewalk, and onto the street. His back wheel hit a patch of sand and the bike skidded out from under him. His knee, elbow, then head slammed into the road. Ignoring the pain he struggled up, adjusted his helmet, and started riding.
A screen door popped shut. A lady, holding a newspaper, was watching him. He sat down, slowed his pace and tried to act normal. He whistled and looked around as he neared Pepperhead Pepperell's house next to the ball diamond. It was Saturday morning, so Pepperhead had no reason to be spying on the kids, making sure their errant balls remained on his property until a teacher or parent came to retrieve them. But there he was, staring out the side window.
Sam continued on his way, trying to act as though nothing unusual was happening. Had they seen anything? Being in the neighborhood with the alarm sounding was bad enough. Luckily they didn't know who he was. If he could only get out of sight before the fire trucks arrived.
He didn't take the quick left. That was the direction the fire trucks would be coming. He had to go farther and take the next right. Thirty yards from the corner, he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching, and his heart nearly stopped. A police car was turning down the street.
Sam stood up and sprinted. For once he wished he were lighter so he'd be able to ride faster. Ten yards to go. Maybe the police wouldn't see him or connect him to the alarm? Five yards. The fire trucks sounded like they were only a block away.