Topiary Genetics: Part 11

Winning hearts and minds in Thompsonville

Today really sucked, Nicole thought. All because some idiots valued having a good sports team over the health and safety of people her friends lives were getting worse. A bunch of butt-hurt rednecks had caused this problem. Butt-hurt was a new phrase that she had learned in her D&D group. She thought it aptly described the people that had been causing the problems.

Nicole decided a walk would help her think. She grabbed her hoodie and headed for the track behind the school. Since all of the incidents had been happening they were confined to the school grounds unless they were in a group of at least three. She hoped that she could get permission to host her D&D group in one of the activity rooms, otherwise she wouldn't be able to play. There must be something they could do to speed things up she thought for about the hundredth time. The problem was that the situation was too big for her to do much to solve it on her own. When Kelli saved Jennifer Malone from a bad situation, the boys involved had made matters worse and ended up in enough trouble to keep them from playing sports. Because they were star athletes some people blamed the Sutton School girls and Kelli in particular for the problem. They became 'butt-hurt' and took out their anger on the Sutton girls. It was a shame, Nicole thought. There were probably only a few bad apples but no one would come forward to identify them.

Her musings had finally brought her to the track. Nicole began to trot around the track at an easy pace. Easy now anyway. When she had come into the program as a seventy-two year old retired distribution manager, even one lap around the track would have left her old male self wheezing for breath. Now Nicole found that the exercise cleared her mind. Lap after lap she ran but no magic solution occurred to her. The things that did keep coming to mind were that any solution that had a chance of success would need all of them working together. They would need to turn public opinion in favor of the school and also in favor of poor Jennifer Malone and her family. They would need to be organized, motivated and focused. When put that way she knew just who she needed to talk to.

***

Nicole finally found the girls she was looking for playing ping pong in the recreation center.
"Britney and Kaitlin," she said, "You are just the people that I was looking for."

"Uh-oh," Kaitlin said. "Let's hear it. My dad always said that when someone comes to you wearing a smile that big they want to sell you something or they want you to do something."

"Well," Nicole said, "he wasn't wrong. At least not right now."

"What do you need Nikki?" Britney said.

"I think that the situation with the townies sucks," she began. "Things are only going to get worse if we don't do something. I think we need to get the town on our side. We need a charm offensive and I think you two should lead it."

"Wait, what?" Britney said.

"Why us?" Kaitlin said at nearly the same time.

"You two are always the ones to organize everything. We've all noticed that when you are in charge things get done and everyone seems to have a good time. You two are probably our best leaders and organizers and I think that this is a situation that calls for everyone to do what they do best."

The two stood there looking at her for a few seconds before Kaitlin spoke to Britney. "She has a point. We do like to be bossy bitches and it is probably worth it if only for the good public relations."

"I agree," Britney said, "but I want Nicole to be our public face. It was her idea after all. Besides it is hard to dislike someone who's that beautiful and still nice." With that said, she gave Nicole a once over that made her feel like a sheep at a wolf convention.

"If we agree to help, will you be the public face for us?" Kaitlin said twirling a strand of her dark brown hair around her finger. "Britney has a point. Even with so many pretty girls here you have to be in the top five for looks and those five so close it comes down to personal preference. Plus you sing in a band so being in the spotlight won't be too hard. I know it doesn't seem like it but I've always been somewhat introverted around people I've never met. Any plan we make will necessarily involve lots of meeting new people to win them over. Will you do that part?"

"I am in, I'm going to want Kelli to be a big part of this though. She seems to be where most of the ill will is focused." Nicole said.

"I agree that Kelli needs to be heavily involved," Britney said "How is she with new people?"

"I think she'll do fine. What do you have in mind?"

"Not sure yet," she said distractedly. "Grab Kelli and meet us in my room for a brainstorming session."

* * *

The four girls batted the problem around for a little while before deciding that they needed more input. One after another they asked others what they thought and each one thought of at least two others that might contribute something to the plan. Soon they needed to move their rapidly growing group to one of the multipurpose rooms before eventually ending up in the old auditorium. Nicole and Kelli were not surprised at how smoothly the meeting ran. Both Kaitlin and Brittney knew how to keep a meeting on track and what issues to sideline until consensus was reached. They also had been clever about the order in which they had brought in student leaders. By the time everyone was involved the general shape of the plan had already been determined. In the end the entire student body was gathered in the auditorium. Nicole was thankful that none of the teachers were around to run them out for having an unauthorized meeting without supervision. Sometimes it was hard to remember to act like a teen.

"Well, that looks like enough of a plan to present to Hailey and Holly," Kaitlin said referring to the rolling white board that they had hijacked from one of the classrooms. "If any of you have a major issues with the outline now is the time to say so." When the room was silent for a few more seconds she continued. "I move that by a show of hands that Nicole, Kelli, Britney and myself be empowered to present our ideas to the school management. All in favor?"

Nicole watched a sea of hands go up from her perch on the edge of the stage.

"Opposed?" Kaitlin asked. No hands were up. "The motion carries with the unanimous consent of the student body. If the club and activity leaders could be back here in an hour we will report back whatever we learn. If we run long we will try to send someone to let you know what's going on."

There was a momentum to these kind of things and Nicole had just been the first to feel the need to deal with the issue. Now that everyone was fired up Kaitlin knew that they needed to direct that energy to constructive uses as soon as possible. To do that they needed permission from the administrators and some funding to make it happen. She thought that Hailey and Holly would jump at the chance. They tried Hailey's apartment first, then Holly's before trying their offices. She had not expected them to be working late on a Saturday evening. Eventually they found them in the conference room with some tired looking men. She thought she recognized one of them as Simon Graves, the CEO of Topiary Genetics but she could not be sure.

"Hello, ladies. What can we do for you?" Hailey said.

"We had some ideas about getting the town on our side so that our students will stop being hassled," Nicole said. They had agreed that they needed a spokesperson on the way and the other three had elected her. "We can come back at a better time. We didn't know that you had visitors."

Simon looked at the quartet of pretty girls standing just inside the doorway. He briefly wondered what they had looked like before Daniel had worked his magic. Things were just too big now for him to have much personal involvement with the volunteers. He was happy that he had a good team in place to see that they were taken care of. The last thing he wanted was to treat people badly. He and Dan had started this whole thing to help people. "Why don't you three join us. I am Simon Graves, the Chairman of Topiary Genetics. These two gentlemen with me are Mr. Andrew Hansen and Mr. Edward Dobbs. They are outside experts and are here to help get to the bottom of the current trouble. Please, introduce yourselves and tell us your plan."

Nicole quickly introduced Kelli, Kaitlin and Brittney then moved into the scheme that the students had come up with over the last few hours. "We think we need to become more integrated with the community. We want to sponsor a festival here at the school to coincide with the fall festival down town. We thought that we could use the event to raise money for the VFW. Mr. York and Mr. Knox are cosponsors of the auto club that some of the girls have started and both of them belong to the local post. We know they need a new roof. Anyway we thought we could put together some events like a car show a free concert and some activities for kids since we are so close to main street we could get some of the people circulating through from the parade and craft show. Right now it is just the shell of an idea. We would need permission to contact the Festival organizers to see that might work with their plans," Nicole said before taking a big breath and continuing.

"All of the student clubs have expressed enthusiasm for the idea. Getting involved would let more people see us in a positive light. Not that we have ever done anything wrong in the first place. Some people are just mad because outsiders showed some of their own to be less than what they thought they were and are lashing out at us from anger and stupidity. We think we need to charm them enough to make it socially unacceptable to continue behaving badly toward our students. We feel that a big splash at Fall Fest as well as a looser policy on interacting with people from town will provide us the opportunities we need to achieve our goal."

"What do you guys think?" Simon asked the adults at the conference table.

Hailey and Holly were smiling but nodded to the experts to go first.

"I don't have a problem with this," Dobbs said. "This should all be well supervised and pose little risk to the young women. It won't hurt and may help us find out the information we need to pursue the avenues that we were discussing earlier. What do you think, Andy?"

Mr. Hansen was quiet for a few moments. Obviously ordering his thoughts before speaking. "There are some issues of liability and proper permits that will need to be worked out. Other than that and the risk of bad elements disrupting the event I think that the proposal can only strengthen our hand. I would let them proceed, Simon."

"Sis, I think I know what you are going to say so spit it out," Simon said to Holly.

"I think this will be a great exercise in team building for our students. If for no other reason than that I approve of the suggestion."

"Your thoughts now please, Hailey."

"It is a much better idea than some whispers about taking things into their own hands that I have heard. The last thing we need is for more townsfolk to get hurt by our girls – no offense Kelli. This idea will focus their energy in a much better way. I am sure that Principal Weinberger will also think it is a great idea but he will probably insist that the girls also incorporate other forms of community service to the plan. The biggest hurdle is that we don't have any money for this kind of event. "

Simon paused a moment to think before addressing himself to the students. "I will bankroll this project out of pocket. I will want a strict accounting of every dime when it's over and some preliminary numbers before you start. Can do?"

"We can do that" Kaitlin said. "I will have our finance committee drop something with Hailey by tomorrow afternoon. Is that acceptable?"

"You already have a finance committee?" Simon asked.

"We will have in about an hour. If there is nothing more, may we please be excused. There's much to do."

"We will be interested to see your results."

***

"Your students seem to be exceptionally well organized," Ed Dobbs said. This situation hasn't really been going on for long. This is quick work, especially considering they are all from broken homes. Amazing work."

"We are very proud of them," Hailey replied. "They really bonded during our summer camp. I think that Holly could give you a more in depth answer but basically they think of themselves as a big family."

"On the security side," Andy Hansen said, "I think I should higher on a few guys to walk the grounds in uniform to keep people from making any bad decisions."

"Great," Simon said. "We can address that later. You were about to tell me what you found about our troublemakers. What have you got, Andy"

"From what I can tell it is a small group of people mostly related to the football team members and coaches. The boys that your girl dropped-- and I still find that pretty unbelievable -- were star players, up for scholarships at mostly second tier state schools but around here that is still a big deal. Those folks are mad and they blame your girls, not their boys for the trouble. I have a list. After checking records we found that most have at least one family member employed at the electronics plant. They are spread out on what church, if any that they belong to so that won't give us much leverage. Ed has been figuring the legal side while I did my investigation. Maybe he has a silver bullet for you."

Ed Dobbs smoothly transitioned into his part of the presentation. "Simon, the truth is that legally they haven't done anything we can prove. Other than a couple of the coaches we cannot place anyone near the girls during the incidents and with the coaches it is their word against your girls. In any local setting their word holds much more weight than an orphan that just moved to town. Working through the courts will probably backfire on us."

Simon leaned back in his chair rubbing his temples in thought. The silence around the conference table stretched out until finally he spoke. "Well, it looks like we can either back down and be on the defensive forever or we can fix this problem. Ed, I want you to find out who owns the electronics plant here in town and see what it would cost to buy the thing. If we have to hurt the local economy to get them to play nice then we will. Don't do anything more than a few inquiries yet. I want to see if the girls can fix this for themselves. Hailey, I am fully behind the charm offensive that your girls are working on. Just be sure to keep me in the loop. I think they understand what needs to be done but I want you to steady them if they get overenthusiastic. If there is nothing else I have a conference call in ten minutes.

***

The hastily formed Suttonfest finance committee had worked late into the night to get a rough breakdown of what they were going to need and when. Simon had approved the plans and everyone sprang into action on Sunday morning beginning with those girls who had chosen to become members of a church.

The school encouraged the girls to attend church in order to better fit in the town and nearly a quarter of them attended regularly. The girls who had joined a local church did so mostly to meet new people. As one girl pointed out there were a lot of cute guys in the youth group at the United Church of Christ. They would begin the outreach by speaking to their pastors, ministers and priests and letting them know the way the girls were being treated by an evil minority of the population. With luck the pastors would want to help. Getting the clergy on your side in a small town in the bible belt was half way to winning the fight as far as the Sutton girls were concerned.

After church let out it was time for others to do what they could. The different clubs met to figure out what they could do for the proposed Suttonfest. Nicole met with the bands to hash out details of what they were going to do. Brittney made contact with a member of the fall fest organizers to set up a meeting to see what kind of involvement they were interested in.

Emily Decker who was president of the Sutton Car Club contacted Mr. Greg York of York Auto Body and Mr. Albert (Red) Knox of Red's Auto Repair who were both outside sponsors of her club. They provided the actual instruction while Mr. Phillips the faculty sponsor just was there because state law required it. Greg and Red were also members of the local VFW. They agreed to meet her, Nicole, Kelli and the car club's secretary Madison and a few others at the school's old bus garage after Emily had outlined the plan to them.

Mr. York and Mr. Knox had arrived with another old guy from the VFW post. The stranger turned out to be Matt Smith the post commander. After greeting the men Emily suggested that they all sit at the big work table to discuss how they all might help each other.

"Thank you for coming guys," Emily said. As I mentioned to Mr. York and Mr. Knox on the phone we have a problem with how we are being treated and we think that we might be able to help ourselves by helping your post fix its roof. Nicole here is going to give you our sales pitch if you don't mind."

It was easy to see that Emily and Madison had Mr. York and Mr. Knox wrapped around their fingers. With their easy friendliness and girl-next-door good looks they were both pleasant to be around. Kelli also knew that in her former life Emily had been the owner of a small town garage and knew older cars from the inside out although she had lost much of her knowledge of how to fix newer models during the treatment. Emily had told Nicole that she had passed it off as things she had learned from her grandpa. It had been Emily's idea to start the club and it had taken her a couple of weeks to get the old men to support her. After their initial hesitation the men and their wives had made a complete turn around and now looked on the car club girls as nearly like daughters.

Nicole gave them her best smile. "Like Emily said, we want to help you raise money to put a a new roof on your building and maybe help with some other projects. If the school lets us we will even help do the work. We want to do this because we need to improve our image to the point where knuckle heads will no longer be seen as anything more than bullies when they mess with us. Emily pointed out that you all had a problem that we could help with and that you were good people. That made the VFW our first choice. We, that is the student body, are trying to set up a small festival of our own that will compliment the Fall Fest that is coming up. We want to sponsor an auto show and have a battle of the bands and maybe some other things. We have already got a promise of funding for prizes and such from the school. We just need to get everyone else to agree to let us participate. So, gentlemen may we please help you raise some money to fix your roof?

"I'm not one to turn down help but the way I heard it your girl and another girl from town made up stories about those boys to get them in trouble because of a breakup or something," Mr. Smith said. "They are saying that there never was any real problem until the lady that runs the school called the police. The paper never said much about it other than that the police had hauled those boys in that night."

Nicole stiffened an urge to scream in anger that anyone could believe such a thing. "I understand how stories can become unclear when they aren't reported accurately. I can clear up some of the facts for you. My best friend Kelli was the girl from our school that was involved. Why don't I let her tell you what happened?

Kelli spoke up, "I'd never met Jenny Malone until that night although we are all friends now. I was walking home from the library when I saw Jen being harassed. I used what we learn in our self defense classes to help Jen get away. We ran straight to the school and called our dean. The rules say anything involving violence must be reported so Hailey, the dean, called the police. What happened later is those boys got drunk and busted out the windows on Jen's car and beat up the body. By the way, she just got it back from York auto body. Your guys did a great job of getting the dents out Mr. York. Jen gave me a ride to Walmart the other day and I couldn't even tell where they took a bat to the fenders."

"That's the straight story Matt," Greg York said. "Pretty close to what Ben Malone told me too. The Briggs boy's parents paid for the repairs. I don't think they would have done it if they didn't think he did anything wrong."

"I suppose you are right," the old guy replied. "I just had it told to me different and didn't want the post to look bad."

"Probably a lot of guys have it wrong," Mr. York said. "Tell you what, let's get a bunch of the guys and the auxiliary together at the post and grill some burgers this evening. We can have the girls here and maybe their dean and a couple of others over and get everyone on the same page. I think that they are good folks and if they think we can help them by letting them help us I am all for it. I think everyone else might be too."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Red Knox said stroking his mostly white beard. "I like these girls. They work hard and don't bitch about the small stuff. I think that the rest of the guys will like them too. What do you say Matt? Do we give them a chance."

Matt Smith thought about it while looking at the pretty girls sitting across from him. Their story sounded better than the one he got from Jim Briggs who was Dylan's uncle. It wouldn't hurt to let everyone else hear their side. Just like that he realized which story he believed. Football star or not young Dylan was the kind of entitled little shit that was ruining the country in his opinion. "I suppose we could do that. I have to say these girls changed my mind. I will make the calls if you two can go by and check if we need to pick up anything for the kitchen.

* * *

After the men had left to see about their impromptu meeting the two girls went to find Hailey. After relating the details Hailey was thrilled to have such a good opportunity to connect with the community. With luck there would be a good crowd. She suggested that Brittney and Kaitlin come as well as Marissa because she was slightly older and might be more approachable.

The local VFW or Veterans of Foreign Wars post was a low brick building just two blocks from the school on North 12th Street. The Sutton women had walked over arriving at precisely five o'clock. As they walked through the parking lot Nicole admired the landscaping in front of the building The centerpiece was a magnificent Japanese maple in full color surrounded by a well tended array of plantings. It was obvious to her that this place was well cared for and wondered how the roof had become so bad. As she followed Hailey up the stairs to the front door she took a moment to admire the shapely rear end in comfortable jeans before her. She then briefly reaffirmed her promise to herself not to let this body go to flab as she had her original one.

After they entered she looked around and saw a fairly standard bar. The place was not badly decorated if you went in for red white and blue. The floor was red white and blue linoleum tile. The tables and counter tops were all red white or blue. The back wall had all of the service flags displayed. Behind the bar in a red velvet case was a display of rifles starting at the top with a musket and the bottom looked to be an M16. She had never been a real gun guy but thought it was a pretty cool centerpiece for the bar.

There were more people inside than Nicole had expected. Not all of them were old like she had expected either. When she thought about it, the younger faces in the crowd made sense but having grown up the first time so long ago she still had kind of thought of the old WWII vets she remembered as what she would find here. Matt Smith was there with Red and Greg from the auto club to greet them. They offered to introduce the girls to people before the meeting. Hailey Madison and Kaitlin wandered off with Mr. Smith to talk to some older guys at the back. Red Knox grabbed Emily and Marissa and steered them through a side door where Nicole saw pool being played. That left Brittney, Kelly and her with Mr. York.

"You girls stick with me for a minute," he said. "I got a couple of guys that I want you to meet then I'm going to turn you over to my wife. She can introduce you to all of the gossipy old biddies she hangs out with and you can tell your story to them."

After being introduced to the owner of the local Ford dealership and a guy named Phil that was a the vice commander for the post Mr. York brought them into one of the meeting rooms where most of the women were congregated. "Ladies, this is my lovely wife Maryanne," Mr. York said. "Maryanne is on the Fall festival committee as well as a couple of her cronies that I see lurking around back here. Why don't you tell her your ideas while I go find myself a beer."

Maryanne was a sharp white haired lady who refused to let the girls call her Mrs. York. After they made their pitch and explained their reasoning to her Maryanne seemed angry.

"Excuse me Maryanne," Nicole said. "Did we say something wrong?"

"Oh no, Dear. I am just mad because of what those people have been telling everyone." The way she said 'those people' made the words a potent curse. "I think your ideas about linking your celebration with the Fall Fest make a lot of sense both for you and the Festival. If nothing else it will bring more young people down town if only so the boys can drool over you girls. I've met all of the girls in the car club and now you three. Don't think that the fact that none of you seem to be homely hasn't been a topic around town. It is probably why so many old crows have been happy to repeat that other story. Don't worry. We can fix that. Let me introduce you to some ladies that might help."

* * *

To say that the Sutton women were pleased with the results of their dinner meeting would be an understatement. In just three short hours they had managed to get assurances that the VFW would support them and be happy for any funds they could raise. They had also been assured that the Fall Fest committee would do whatever they could at this late date to integrate them into the Fall Festival. The girls had also gotten agreements from several businesses to let them hold Saturday car washes in the weeks before and after the Fest to raise as much cash as they could for the roof. That had not been a hard sell. Kelli had overheard several remarks that it would be great if the weather warmed up enough for the girls to wear bathing suits. Appreciative chuckles usually followed along with glances toward her or another of the Sutton contingent. She didn't care if they looked, she was rather proud of her new body.

The Sutton girls spent the next week making lists, assigning tasks and getting things ready. The first event coming up would be a car wash at the First National Bank of Thompsonville on Saturday although somewhere in all of the time spent meeting people some of the people on the library board had asked of the Sutton girls would help get the library cleaned up for their winter busy season Saturday Afternoon. There had been plenty of volunteers for both projects even with all of the other activities promoting the Sutton additions to the Fall Fest.

** *

Sadly, in the weeks that led up to the fall fest incidents of vandalism and harassment still happened occasionally. Since the girls now went everywhere in groups the direct harassment took the form of name calling for the most part. Olivia Nguyen began keeping a tally on her arm in sharpie of every time she had been called something derogatory when she was away from the school. One Friday night someone spray painted 'FUCKING CUNTS' in large red block letters across the doors of the bus garage. The next day was to be the last car wash before the Fall Fest.

"Did we bring the icky sponges," Nicole shouted to the rest of the car wash crew. She had just spotted the same three muddy trucks that had come to every other event. The guys who drove them were huge douche bags in her opinion. They obviously dumped buckets of mud all over each truck before arriving at the wash. To make the situation even more douche they never donated more than a dollar and usually just a hand full of change for all of the effort. There had been a lot of debate about whether or not to let them get their trucks washed but the consensus was that it was better for their image to just get through it as fast as they could without making a scene.

"I have 'em," Kelli said. "I take it our friends are coming back?"

"You know it. At least they came during a down time." There was only one car in line to get washed. They had taken in almost $2,500 in donations over the last three weeks. Nicole didn't mind that at least half the reason most of the guys that brought their cars through was to watch the girls. She liked being looked at as long as that was all they did and nobody got creepy.

Soon enough they were hosing off what one of the girls called a metric ass-ton of dirt and doing their best to get the trucks perfectly clean. Each one took about twice as long as any other vehicle that they had washed that day and when they were finished with the last one the boy who drove it made a production of dropping two pennies into the donation bucket before getting into his truck and driving off.

"Asshole," Kelli muttered to herself as she watched him go. She heard some of the others laughing behind her.

"Nikki and Kelli, you've got to see this," Olivia said when she stopped laughing.

Wandering over to the table where the donation bucket was she saw everyone was looking at Connie Salazar's phone. She was a dorm mother and was there to provide adult supervision to the event.

"Hang on, I'll rewind it," Connie said. "Everyone hush so they can hear." She handed Nicole her phone and it showed the muddy truck getting washed all the way to the guy dropping his two cents into the bucket. Nicole could hear his voice but had a hard time understanding what he was saying with the wind and the traffic noise.

"What is he saying and why is it funny?"

Olivia said using an over the top redneck voice, "Here's two cents, cuz that's all you bitches is worth." She continued in her normal voice, "Please note he actually said 'bitches is worth.'"

"How is a gender slur and bad grammar that funny?"

"It isn't funny," Connie said. "What is funny is that I have this guy getting out of his super muddy truck and driving away with it all shiny and clean. I am going to post the whole thing for everyone to see. By the way Nikki you look really hot in the video especially when you had to stretch to get the center of the hood. The guys are going to watch that part over and over again."

"Karma is a bitch," Nicole laughed. It was a pretty good revenge especially because the sign on the table clearly showed it was a charity car wash, complete with a little hand drawn graphic showing how much they had raised.

Glen Dunn was the enterprise reporter that weekend for the Thompsonville Gazette, the local newspaper. The nice thing about a small town paper was even though larger papers were going out of business a tiny local one would be viable long after he retired. The reason was no one outside really cared about the things that happened in a small community but the people who lived there cared a lot. Of course it would be nice if they had the budget for a dedicated photographer. As the enterprise reporter it was his job to fill the front page news hole for the coming Monday paper with something. He had gotten his car washed this morning by those new school girls. He should have got some filler shots but it would have probably been wasted effort. His boss Jake Lukas had laid down the law that whatever they were doing it was not news. He had been driving around all day and had not yet found anything. If nothing came up in the next ten minutes he decided he would swing by and take a few photos anyway. In his mind it was never a bad thing to have cute girls on the front page.

"Ten minutes to quitting time," Nicole said. "I don't know about you all but I am way ready for lunch."

"Come on and help me tear down the first wash station," Kelli said. "You could have a bagel. I think that there are still a few."

"I don't want to get too far off plan."

Glen turned the corner and was disappointed that there were no cars being washed. It looked like they were starting to put away their supplies already too. Oh well at least they were doing something. He decided he could pull over here and get a few shots before they noticed then go over and find out how much they had raised or whatever. If Jake didn't like it he could go start a fire or something. The town was just dead today

"Do you think we need new sponges for the next one of these?" Nicole asked Kelli as she squatted to retrieve a tire brush.

"It probably wouldn't hurt," Kelli said, walking over to give her friend a hand up. It did not seem to matter how fit they were, four hours of this kind of effort made you tired.

Glen noticed movement in his viewfinder as he framed the two girls. That blond was just stunning and the little brunette girl was really cute too. This shot was probably going to turn out well. He pressed the button and held it to take a series of pictures. He had found that when he did it this way there was usually at least one shot that everyone had their eyes open.

Kelli screamed as something cold and slimy cascaded over her head and down her body. She heard Nicole cursing too. She wiped her eyes clear of what looked like and probably was mud to see two figures in ski masks running back around the side of the bank. Without another thought both she and Nicole bolted after the running figures.

Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Glen was sure that his first sequence had the two men appearing and advancing far enough to launch the muck from the large buckets they were carrying at the two unsuspecting girls. He hoped that he got at least one good shot showing the muck splashing all over them. He would check later he had to keep photographing this. The girls were now running after their attackers and it looked like the other car wash girls were going to join in. This was going to be a great story.

***

Their prey had gotten away by climbing into the back of a familiar looking pickup and speeding away. Kelli did not know yet whether she was relieved or angry about that. She was pretty sure that if she had caught one of those guys she would have hurt him badly and that wouldn't have helped at all. After they had caught their breath She and the other girls walked back to finish putting things away. At least there was still one hose out so she could get some of the filth off of her. As they rounded the corner they saw Connie who had stayed with the money deep in conversation with a middle aged man in a blue oxford shirt and tan slacks which was pretty weird thing to wear on a Saturday in Thompsonville. Connie seemed to be in a way better mood than the situation warranted.

Connie saw them before the man did and called Nicole and Kelli over.

"Girls, this is Mr. Dunn from the local paper. He happened to be taking pictures of the two of you cleaning up when you were attacked. The pictures are amazing. This is actual proof of the harassment our students have been suffering. I think it also proves that our students aren't the problem."

"Well I guess some good might come of this," Nicole said before turning to face the newsman. She glanced at her hand before continuing. "Forgive me for not shaking hands but mine are unexpectedly dirty."

"I quite understand. May I ask a couple of quick questions about the incident before the police arrive?"

"Police?" Kelli asked.

"I called 911 as soon as I saw what happened," Connie said. "This was an assault whether or not people call it a harmless prank. If nothing else it needs to be documented like all the rest."

"Can we do it after we get dry? I am starting to get really cold," Nicole asked.

"I am pretty sure Hailey won't mind if you stop by the school," Kelli added.

* *

Glen hung around long enough to get a promise from the officer that responded to the call to fax him a copy of his report in exchange for emailing him the whole photo sequence then headed back to the office to get a better look at the photos. This was going to be a great story. It had drama and violence and some back story. They would be likely to sell a lot of papers. Hell the AP would probably pick it up based on the photos alone. Before he got too far ahead of himself he decided to call Jake. He would blow a gasket if he weren't called about something like this.
By the time Jake arrived he had Crafted a pretty good lead and had a credible first draft of the events of the day. He thought a sidebar with a timeline wouldn't be a bad idea if he got the overtime approved for it.

"Okay Greg, show me why I had to leave my nice chair and the Kentucky game to see this."

I made a gif of the images to post for the web edition. It is on the graphics computer in the other room. I will tell you everything while you have a look."

Greg briefly went over the facts again before waking up the computer and revealing the image sequence that he had left cycling.

Jake watched the images from the first where the girls were innocently cleaning up the work area to the to the last one with mud splashed all over them. He swore he could practically hear the startled screams coming out of the open mouths of the muddy girls in the photo. This was excellent. He had promised his sister who married into the Briggs family that he would try to keep Dylan out of the paper as long as nothing else happened. Even with the police reports, going against the local coaches would not have been the best move. In a this small town high school sports sold a lot of papers. This however, was too good to pass up. They had a great visual and a great narrative, With luck this whole thing would take weeks to play out. The Gazette could really use some bigger circulation numbers going into the Holiday season and Jake wasn't above stirring the pot once in a while.

"Here's what we are going to do. I am going to clear the entire Monday edition of the usual filler from the wire. Then I am going to call Judy and see if she can do a backgrounder. I want that last shot as big as we can get it above the fold. Crop in as tight as you can on their faces. Those screams are probably good for another couple hundred papers. Inside I want a photo page to run opposite the jump page move adds around if you have to."

"Got it boss. I will be going over to the school in a while. Want me to wait for Judy? She could probably dig up some human interest on the girls." Just then Greg's phone buzzed with an incoming message.

Unknown: Greg, this is Connie from the school. You might also be interested in the linked video that I have just posted to YouTube.

Greg showed Jake the message then clicked the link. Connie had posted the video of the kid giving two cents.

"I know that kid," Greg said. Isn't he..."

"Yeah that's Randy Conway. He is my sisters nephew. Stupid little shit is overdue for a lesson in manners."



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