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 Sam shivered, alone with two she could see from her position at least three dark tears per cheek. That had to be the group of Brutalos the Mexican had spoken of.

Sam's nerves fluttered. The murmur in the hall continued for a while, until the men had formed eight groups of five. Muerte clapped his hands.

His voice sounded as if he had smoked 60 cigarettes and heavily overused vocal cords. Sam wished him painful lung cancer on his neck.

Like rusty iron, his words bubbled through the room. "End Peace Pact for 30 minutes." With these words he left the room together with the computer geek.

The five groups stopped in silence. Sam perceived movement on the upper rank. Muerte had joined his colleagues. He leaned casually against a pillar and looked at the clock. "Showtime," his raspy voice echoed down at them.

Suddenly there was movement in the groups. The group of women pushed screaming apart, each woman followed by a group of 5 men. Sam stopped waiting and tensed her muscles. The five tattoos formed a semicircle and approached them quickly. The room was filled with the shrill cries of women, the gasps of running men, and laughter from the upper tier.

Sam tried to focus on the five men who were almost with her. She searched feverishly for the physically weakest. But even the thin-skinned men looked wiry and well-trained. All moved with self-confident nonchalance. Sam breathed out his breath. So, Showtime.

She knocked the first hand that grabbed her aside and rammed the ball of her ass from the bottom of the attacker's nose. The crackling noise and spurting blood that wetted her forearm made her scream in triumph. The attacker stumbled back behind his companeros.

Sam had both fists raised as in the boxing match and pranced on tiptoe. The man on the right side kicked her between the legs with full force. He collapsed like a penknife and remained lying on the floor in fetal posture.

Sam turned around. Relentlessly, the remaining three approached. Before her stood a particularly scowling man. He had his eyebrows drawn down to his nose and shouted at her. "We do not have time for such a shit."

He struck her in the stomach with a heavy blow that drove the air out of her lungs. Sam arched her upper body and put her hands protectively on the hit spot. The man pulled her head up by the hair and punched her right cheek. She felt one of her back molars break, then Sam's right half of her face went numb.

Desperately she struggled against the blackness of unconsciousness that closed like a jumping animal from behind her head. She was only held upright by the grip in her hair, otherwise she would have fallen to the floor. She glimpsed the way the man whose nose she had broken passed her and kicked her back from the back of her left knee. Sam fell heavily to his knees and felt the skin on both knees burst open.

Sam groaned. She was grabbed by two men hard on the upper arm. The strong fingers dug deep into her flesh. She screamed and was rewarded with intense pain in her jaw. The men dragged her to the next niche. The uneven stone floor peeled her skin in thin streaks from her back, it burned as if she was beaten with a whip.

The men left her lying on the ground. Immediately Sam tried to fight with arms and legs. But her movements were slow and powerless. Meanwhile, the fifth man, whom Sam had temporarily kicked out, had regained his place in the group. He kicked Sam against the unprotected ribs. A tormented yelp shot from her throat. She hated herself for this noise. Again she tried to ward off the men with her arms.

They laughed when they saw their uncoordinated movements. The man who broke her tooth told the rest of the men to hold Sam. They tore her arms and legs painfully away, Sam lay there as if she should be nailed to a cross. Her tendons were torn to shreds. One man each knelt on her upper arms and Sam's nerves shrieked in protest as her muscles squeezed under the weight of the men.