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Chapter One: The Piggy Town Showdown
Two days earlier...
Graham had fire in his eyes. He stood toe-to-toe with the older boy, and no matter how hard Ruby tugged at him, he pulled away, refusing to back down.
"You think you can beat the Travelin' Nine?" Graham pointed at the boy's chest. "You don't know what you're talking about."
The older boy waved the flyer back in Graham's face. "You don't know what you're talkin' 'bout, pip-squeak!"
Graham clenched his fists. "The Travelin' Nine can beat any team from your piggy town!"
"Piggy town?" The boy laughed. "Try Porkopolis, small fry. That's what we in Cincinnati call our city. Porkopolis: the pork-packin' capital of the world."
"Piggy town!" Graham repeated, louder. "No piggy-town team can beat the Travelin' Nine."
Ruby grabbed at her little brother again, afraid that he would try to tackle the other boy right into the Ohio River.
"Let me tell you somethin' else." The older boy towered over Graham. "When it comes to baseball, we were first. We had the first pro team in the whole country. We here in Cincinnati take our baseball very seriously."
"So! Who cares?" Graham fired back.
"Listen, runt. You really think a team of Cincinnati ballists is gonna lose to some travelin'-sideshow band of barnstormers?"
That was the final straw. Graham lunged at the older boy and shoved him in the gut. The older boy winced and doubled over, but only for a brief moment, and for not nearly as long as Graham had hoped.
"Is that the best you can do, shrimp?" The older boy stood up taller than ever. He pushed Graham away. Graham stumbled but somehow managed to remain on his feet.
"Now you've done it!" Graham shouted. He lowered his head, drew back both fists, and charged. And as Graham leaped at his nemesis, from out of nowhere he was plucked from the air.
"Whoa!" Griffith said. "Easy, Grambo!"
"You're gonna be sorry!" the older boy said even as he backed off and away. "Sorry you ever came to Cincinnati!"
Graham struggled to escape Griffith's grasp, but years of wrestling with his big brother had taught him there was no use. He stopped flailing his arms and slowly unclenched his fists.
"Grammy, you can't do that." Griffith loosened his grip.
"He started it."
"It doesn't matter. We're new here. You can't go around picking fights."
"Why not?" Ruby flashed an amused smile at her older brother and pointed. "It worked."
In the distance they could see the boy pausing on the Roebling Suspension Bridge; he seemed to be reading the Travelin' Nine flyer. Then he quickly stuffed it into his back pocket before heading off.
"He started it," Graham repeated, crossing his arms over his chest.
Griffith sighed. He knew better than to continue arguing with his brother. Besides, they all had something more important to do. They had to promote the ball game. They had to help distribute the flyers that both Professor Lance and Bubbles were lugging in their overstuffed satchels farther up the road.
Griffith reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the flyers. He thought about his mother's words from earlier that day.
"We need people at the game, Griff," she had said when she pulled him aside. In her eyes he thought he saw something he'd seen once before, but it was so long ago he no longer knew if it was real or just a dream. "Lots of people."
The barnstormers were trying to raise money. A lot of money. Thousands of dollars. Griffith knew it. Ruby and Graham knew it too. It was the reason the Travelin' Nine were barnstorming in the first place.
"What is it?" Ruby said.
"What is what?" Griffith replied, folding the advertisement back up.
"You know what I'm talking about, Griff. There's something you're not telling me."
"Ruby, how many times do I have to say it? I'm not keeping anything from you."
"I know Uncle Owen told you something the night of Daddy's funeral. I know he did, but I don't understand why you won't tell me."
Griffith sighed. "Come on. We need to catch up to Bubbles and the Professor. We have work to do."
Text copyright © 2007 by Phil Bildner and Loren Long