Sabotage at Willow Woods
The Wrong Message
“OOH, ANOTHER COTTON-CANDY SELLER!” My best friend Bess leaned back and craned her neck, pointing down the sidewalk to a middle-aged man surrounded by wispy puffs of yellow and blue—the Boylestown Raiders colors. We were attending a parade and block party to celebrate Boylestown’s football team winning the state championship. Bess, her cousin George, and I all went to a rival school—River Heights High—so why were we celebrating with the competition? Well, George’s cousin, Carrie Kim, had decided to run for Boylestown’s town council, and she
was making her first big speech at the block party. We all wanted to be there to show our support.
“I don’t need another cotton candy,” George, who was my other best friend, muttered with a frown. “I’ll puke.”
Bess turned back and shot George an annoyed glance. Bess is as blonde, curvy, and lively as George is dark, petite, and serious. Over the years, I’ve become very good at refereeing their arguments.
I held up a hand. “Now ladies . . .”
“You don’t need to be such a grump.” Bess frowned at George and looked down the street to where a parade would be starting any minute.
“I’m not being a grump.” George sighed, following Bess’s gaze to where the Boylestown High School band was getting into formation. “I think it’s great that the Boylestown football team won the state championship. And I think it’s great that the town is coming together to give them this parade.”
I cocked an eyebrow. I knew what was coming next. “But . . .”
George looked flustered. “But,” she repeated, shrugging, “I just wish towns like this would pay the same kind of attention to other accomplishments.”
I smiled sympathetically. I knew that George was speaking from her own experience as a nonathlete.
“Non-sports-related accomplishments,” Bess filled in, and then shook her head. I could tell she’d heard this argument before.
One of the drummers in the marching band banged her drum, and we all looked over to see the band members begin marching in place. The parade was starting! The band began playing, and I could feel my heart beating in time with the thump-thump-thump of the drum. What is it about fight songs? They were playing Boylestown High’s, and even though I never went to school there, it still made me want to jump up and down and cheer.
As the band marched past us, I saw George straighten up and begin cheering. I knew my friend was really excited about the football team’s win, deep down. I cheered too, clapping along to the beat of the
song. The crowd suddenly erupted in hooting and applause, and I turned to see that the football players themselves were behind the band, each wearing his uniform and carrying his helmet in his hands. Bess stuck her fingers in her mouth and let out her famous Brain-Melting Whistle. George rolled her eyes and rubbed her temples, but notably didn’t tell her cousin to stop.
The Boylestown cheerleaders followed the players, but after them, the parade petered out. A few little kids marched by, waving pompoms or flags, but I had a feeling they were an unofficial addition to the parade. This hunch was proven when a few middle-aged parent-looking types scurried by just seconds after, trying to round up the kids.
“That’s it?” George asked. “The band and the football team?”
“And the cheerleaders,” Bess corrected her, pulling some pink lip gloss out of her pocket and applying a perfectly shiny coat. I couldn’t help being impressed— how did she put it on so perfectly without a mirror?
But I knew I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bess was an expert on all things clothing-, makeup-, or style-related. She would have been a total girly-girl, if she weren’t also an amazing mechanic.
George let out a puff of breath and ran a hand through her short, straight black hair. George’s interest in makeup or style ran directly inverse to her cousin’s; she couldn’t care less. What she did care about was technology. It seemed to me that George could do anything with a computer: order up dinner, animate a short film, listen in on a conversation taking place across the world. She was also very concerned with justice and fairness. Which made her incredibly useful to me in following my own passion: catching crooks.
“Come on, guys, let’s get moving,” Bess said, gesturing to the stream of people flowing into the street to follow the parade down to the school grounds, where a block party would soon take place. We moved into the crowd. All around us, I could hear snippets of conversation. I didn’t mean to snoop, exactly—it was just habit.
“—such an amazing team—”
“—really incredible, it’s been twelve years since BHS even made it to state!”
“—I know—they’re heroes!”
At those words, I heard George snort. She turned to face me, and I could tell from her expression that she’d definitely heard the same snippets.
“Heroes?” George asked the willowy redhead who’d used the word. “For getting a ball down a field?”
The girl turned to face George. She was a few inches taller, and peered with large green eyes down her narrow nose at this unexpected interrupter. “It’s not that easy,” the girl retorted with a sniff. “I’d like to see you try it.”
“Well, I’d like to see you write a 3-D animation program in C++!” George cried.
The girl frowned. “I don’t know what that even means,” she muttered, before walking away and disappearing into the crowd.
George kept staring at the place where the girl had stood. “Exactly my point!” She turned back to me and Bess and, seeing our faces, sighed. “Look, guys, I don’t
want to ruin a fun day. It’s just—it’s just—”
“Not everybody plays sports,” Bess said in a slightly bored tone. Bess herself was quite the field hockey champ. It hadn’t been long since she’d brought home her own state championship trophy.
“That’s true,” said George, “but almost everybody does something exciting that deserves attention. Did you know the Boylestown chess team is ranked among the top chess teams in the country?”
That surprised me. “I didn’t know that,” I said, feeling a little bad that I hadn’t. “That’s really cool.”
“It is cool,” George agreed. “And it takes hard work. But nobody’s giving those kids a parade.”
I bit my lip and glanced over at Bess. I could tell by her expression that she was thinking about what George had said. But before she could speak, her eyes widened and she stood taller and waved through the crowd. “George—it’s Carrie! Hey, Carrie!”
I looked over where Bess was waving and saw George’s rosy-cheeked, dark-haired cousin moving gracefully through the crowd. She wore a bright-blue
suit with a red-striped blouse, and had a silver eagle pin on her lapel.
“Wow,” George said, grinning as her cousin approached. “You really look the part!”
Carrie blushed and grinned back, gesturing to her suit. “Do you like it? Julia, my campaign manager, thinks it’s important that I look ‘like someone who loves American democracy,’ ” she said, using finger quotes. A few weeks before, Carrie had told George that she was going to run for town council. George had thought it was a great idea—Carrie was one of her favorite cousins, and she was qualified. She had spent the last three years working for a local congresswoman, and George knew she’d be a great voice for the people of Boylestown.
“I always thought I loved American democracy,” George said with a sly grin, gesturing down at her jeans and peasant blouse. “But I guess, as usual, I’m not dressing the right way.”
Carrie reached out and playfully pushed her cousin. George smiled. “Hey, so are you ready for your big speech?”
George had told us that Carrie—herself a former tennis champion at BHS—was set to introduce the players at the block party. First she would make a brief speech about her own experience as an athlete there, and her plans for the school, should she be elected.
Carrie took a deep breath. “I sure hope so. I have a major announcement to make today—one that just might help me win this election!”
Bess cocked her head with a smile. “Do tell!” Since Carrie was George’s cousin on her mother’s side of the family, Bess and Carrie weren’t related. But I knew that she was just as impressed by Carrie’s politics as George was. All of us knew Carrie pretty well, and growing up, we’d all looked up to her.
Carrie shook her head. “No spoilers! You three will have to find out the big news with everyone else.”
George sighed. “No fair! Just whisper it to me. Cousin’s privilege.”
Carrie grinned. “Learn some patience, little cousin.” She reached out and ruffled George’s hair before disappearing back into the crowd.
“I hate it when she does that.” George grimaced, trying to smooth her hair back into place.
I patted her shoulder as we moved to get a good position several yards back from the stage. Already the band was filing into temporary bleachers, having moved on from the school fight song to “America the Beautiful.” I watched as Carrie moved through the crowd and stepped up onstage.
The three of us waited patiently as the band played three more songs. Then the Boylestown principal got up and made a speech about how proud she was of the football team, and finally Carrie rose to speak.
“Here we go,” George whispered. “The reason we came!”
Carrie moved to the mic and introduced herself. “I’m Carrie Kim, I’m running for town council, and I was also a state champion athlete at Boylestown High—in tennis!”
The crowd went wild. “Boylestown! Boylestown! Boylestown!” a few boys to our right began chanting.
Carrie raised her hand to silence them. “Boylestown
has a history of producing exceptional athletes, because the town values the ingredients that make a great athlete: strength, perseverance, and loyalty.”
She paused while the audience cheered.
“But in recent years,” Carrie added, “I believe that BHS, faced with some tough budgeting decisions, has let its facilities decline. As a town, we need to do more to support our high school athletes. The football field is in poor shape and on a rocky, uneven field. The bleachers are too small and in poor repair. Even the gymnasium at BHS is out of date. The football team has to work out at the Y, because they don’t have adequate facilities at the school.”
The football players, who were lined up to go onstage, all nodded their heads in recognition. The crowd let out a few stray boos.
“That’s why,” Carrie went on, “if I’m elected, the main goal of my first term will be to champion the building of an all-new football field and sports complex at BHS!”
If Carrie said anything after that, I couldn’t hear
it—her voice was immediately eclipsed by screaming, clapping, and cheering from what seemed like the entire crowd. Bess was hooting as loudly as anyone else, and even I found myself pretty excited by it all. But then I noticed that George herself was only clapping halfheartedly, and her expression was troubled. I nudged her, and George shook her head. “More money for sports,” she whispered to me. “Did you know BHS had to lay off three teachers last year? The town didn’t budget enough to pay them.”
That dampened my enthusiasm a bit. Was George’s cousin making a big mistake? But the crowd was still whooping and cheering. One of the football players ran up onstage and grabbed Carrie in a big bear hug. Carrie pulled away, laughing.
“I hope you’ll support my campaign for town council,” she went on. “Now, to the real reason we’re here: to introduce the State Champion Boylestown Raiders!”
The crowd got loud again, and the awkward moment was forgotten in pure celebration. After about an hour, when the speeches and awards were over, the
three of us moved off toward the BHS parking lot, where I’d left my car. George spotted Carrie moving through the crowd too. She seemed to be headed for the parking lot but was making slow progress because people kept stopping her to shake her hand or give her a high five. “Hey, cuz!”
Carrie spotted us and gestured for us to wait for her. A few minutes later—after several handshakes, three high fives, and one kissed baby—Carrie emerged, flushed and looking energized. “Hey, guys! I think that went well, huh?”
“Totally,” George said.
Carrie looked down at her hand, where she was clutching a folded piece of paper. “Someone handed me this in the crowd,” she said. “I hope it’s not some guy’s phone number!” She opened up the note and looked down at it, and suddenly her face paled. “Uh-oh,” she whispered.
“What is it?” Bess asked. When Carrie didn’t respond and just kept staring down at the note, George reached over and took the paper from her cousin’s
hand. She tilted the note so all three of us could read it. I leaned in to get a better look, then gasped.
NOT EVERYONE LOVES SPORTS. STOP YOUR CAMPAIGN —OR YOU’LL BE SORRY!