Samantha – Co-conspirators

For those of you who are just joining this blog, it’s a character study of the protagonist, Samantha Pederson, for my next book, Antimatter (working title). She tells about her life starting just before she turns 16 and follows the events that shape her personality up till her current involvement in a government organization that researches technical development for potential threats to our security. In the previous episode Samantha had pulled off an elaborate prank on Principal Ashworth, but as careful as she had been about hiding her involvement, someone had called her on it.

My mind screamed, No way anyone could know what I did. Forcing a what-are-you-talking-about expression, I turned on the bench to face my accuser. “Dwayne!” I was dumbfounded. I sat there with my mouth open.

Dwayne filled the silence. “Hey, your secret’s safe with me.” He glanced at Renee. I couldn’t help myself, I looked at her too.

A puzzled expression on her face, Renee asked, “What are you looking at me for? I don’t even know what you’re talking about. What secret?”

Renee wasn’t slow, and I could see the realization dawning on her face. “You mean you …? You set off that awful noise. But … but how?”

We all scanned the bleachers around us. No one was near enough to hear us. It was one of those years for the team, so bad the attendance was always low. I returned my gaze to Renee. I wasn’t about to acknowledge what I did, even by acquiescence unless I had her word she wouldn’t tell.

Renee realized what I was looking for. “I won’t tell anyone either.”

I glanced at Dwayne. He smiled and gave a single nod, confirming he wouldn’t say anything.

First I had to know. “How did you conclude I was involved?”

He shrugged. “From what little I know of you, you’re not the type to let someone wrong you and get away with it, and it was pretty clear you thought Ashworth was deliberately after you. I have to agree with you.”

“Wait. You didn’t actually know I had something to do with this? So you tricked me into admitting …” My anger flared. If he hadn’t been out of reach, I don’t know what I would have done.

It must have shown. He shrunk back. “I had to know. I want in on it.”

I had started to get up, but that stopped me. “You want in on it?”

He nodded. “As long as no one actually gets hurt. It looks like fun, and he’s pissed off enough people with the way he runs the school. He needs some retaliation.”

I relaxed and so did Dwayne. I regarded Renee. “What about you? I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“I’m in. After all, we went to jail together.”

Dwayne’s eyebrows rose. The police incident wasn’t common knowledge. Right then it occurred to me that our run in with the police might be why Ashworth was down on me. I had to say something to Dwayne. “It wasn’t anything. I played a prank on a couple of cops. They took us to jail to scare us.”

“And it worked,” Renee added with a rueful smile. “I’ve never been so scared.”

Dwayne stepped down to our bleacher. “Getting back on the subject, how did you pull this off today?”

It took me all of ten minutes to outline what I had done. Dwayne commented, “You realize this may be your crowning achievement. It’s going to be awfully hard for us to top it.” Something about that statement irritated me, but I couldn’t tell what at the time.

The game should have been called at half-time. Our team was so far behind, the other team could have gone home and we still wouldn’t have caught up by the end of the game. Even the most loyal fans were streaming out of the stadium. Heck, Ashworth had gone silent.

Dwayne stood up. “This is ridiculous. What say we go to Baskin-Robbins and drown our sorrows … while we plan our campaign?”

I nodded and climbed to my feet. At the same time I felt some resentment. Dwayne was taking over my revenge effort. I didn’t want to discourage him, but I wanted to make sure he knew I was in charge.

––– # –––

Baskin-Robbins was filled when we got there, so we had to stand in line. By the time we had gotten our ice cream, a table had cleared out, so Renee and I grabbed it and left Dwayne to pay for our orders. Renee took a window seat and I took the outside seat opposite her to see what Dwayne would do. He took the window seat next to me.

As he sat, he asked, “Do you think we can talk here?”

I scanned the crowd. “We should be okay … as long as we’re discrete.”

“Any idea what the next stunt should be?” Was he taking over again?

Personally I wanted to bask in the glory of having succeeded on my first attempt, but that wouldn’t be taking command. Still I said, “I’m open to suggestions.”

Dwayne responded immediately. “I’m thinking in terms of hacking into the school website and posting unflattering pictures of Ashworth.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” Renee wanted to know.

I nodded. “‘Fraid so … however, we could always start a new website and post unflattering stuff there. I bet we could get a domain name that people would check out because it looks so much like the school’s.”

“But they could always trace the posts back to us,” Dwayne objected.

“Not if we signed Ashworth up from a school computer for an obscure email account and use that account to sign up for a free website.” I was pretty sure that would work.

Renee countered, “Don’t the internet service providers have rules about that sort of thing?”

“How would they know?” I asked.

She looked skeptical. “I don’t know, but I bet they would. Somehow I think all that would be asking for trouble.”

I considered for a second. “I tell you what, Renee. Why don’t you research the ramifications? I want to cause Ashworth discomfort, not get him in legal trouble.”

She still looked doubtful. “Okay, I’ll do that, but I’ll bet it won’t work.”

I glanced at Dwayne. I had managed to take control of the group, and he didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t realize at the time I had driven a wedge between us.

Samantha – The Joke

The scare she had gotten, along with her counselor’s questions, had Samantha thinking about backing out of her plan to play practical jokes on Ashworth. Was it worth the risk? Did he really deserve it? On the other hand would it do him any harm? She finally decided to go ahead with the plan but to be ready to pull out at the slightest hint she might be caught.

Saturday morning I got up early. I had already told everyone I was going for a fifteen mile run and I was going to get an early start. Donning my running gear, I made my way down stairs as quietly as I could. Not that I was being secretive – well, maybe a little, but I didn’t want to wake anyone. I stopped in the garage to work on the clock radio. It was a quick operation. To verify that the alarm would go off when it was supposed to, I tuned to a local country station and set the alarm for two minutes. That worked, so I set the alarm for when I knew Principal Ashworth would be at the microphone. Checking that the clock was set to the correct time, I pulled the radio’s plug and waited impatiently for five minutes before plugging it back in. The radio’s time matched my watch to the second.

With the radio unplugged again, I clipped the speaker and buzzer leads and taped over the display with duct tape so the light wouldn’t give it away. Finally, I slid the radio and my phone into my already empty back pack and headed for the front door.

I got a shock when I heard Mom coming down the stairs. She said, “Have a good run. I’ll fix you breakfast when you get home. When will that be?”

I swallowed hard to get rid of the shakiness in my voice. “It’s fifteen miles, and I’ll be taking it easy. Probably around two hours. I’ll call if I’m going to be later than that.”

“Okay, have fun, dear.”

“See you when I get back.” I waved as I went out the door.

The run to school was easy. As usual the back gate to the football field was open. I took a lap around the track, primarily to see if anyone else was there. I didn’t expect to see anyone at this hour, but I wanted to be sure. It was all clear, so I made my way around to the back of the stands and entered the bleachers through a tunnel. I jogged up the stairs to the broadcast booth.

Doing some simple stretching as cover, I made another check for possible observers. This check was critical, and I was as thorough as I could be. I still saw no one. Taking a last look, I unlocked the booth and slipped inside.

It only took a few minutes to set the radio up. I connected it to the amplifier with the audio cord I had attached to the speaker terminals on the circuit board, turned off the mute switch for the input channel I was using, and adjusted the volume slide to match the slide for the microphone. Finally, since the radio would only buzz if it was on battery power, I plugged it into the socket behind the amplifier.

Crawling out from under the announcer’s counter, I heard a voice. A chill ran down my back, freezing me in place. The sound was coming from the field. I eased up until I could see the track out the window. A couple, obviously not high school students, was trotting around the track, jabbering away at each other as they ran.

When they started their second lap, I knew I had a problem. How long would they stay around? Would someone else come before they left? I didn’t recognize either of them, so they probably wouldn’t recognize me. Deciding I couldn’t afford to wait, I slipped out of the booth and locked it. When the runners had their backs to the tunnel, I flipped my hood up and trotted down the stairs, keeping a wary eye on them.

I ducked into the tunnel, and the stands gave me cover all the way to the south end of the stadium. I waited for the couple to pass the end of the stands on their next lap. Then I slipped around to the front. They weren’t looking back, so I ran for all I was worth onto the field and out the back gate, keeping the back of my hood toward them. I was three blocks away before I could glance back and relax.

––– # –––

The kickoff for the football game was at 2:05 PM, but I was there half an hour early to be sure I could see Principal Ashworth when he came out of the booth. Renee came in just before the game started, and when I waved at her, she joined me. “I didn’t know you were a football fan,” she said as she sat down beside me.

“Every once in a while I like to try new things.” That was true, even if it didn’t really address what she had said.

The game was a disaster from the start. Our team got the ball first. Bill Compton was sharp as the quarterback, but the receivers dropped his passes and the runners seemed to mostly hit brick walls. They had only made twenty yards before they had to punt, and fifteen of those were from a penalty.

Mike Clemens, the punter, got off a terrific kick, and Lamar Stevens downed the ball at the two yard line. Then all hell broke loose. Principal Ashworth was just celebrating the play, when the radio alarm went off. A country song blared from the speakers. It was so loud it distorted into something incomprehensible, and people were slapping their hands over their ears.

Apparently Principal Ashworth didn’t know about the mute switches on the amplifier because the music dropped to a still-distorted but tolerable level and everyone could hear him swearing. He turned out to know some pretty colorful phrases to use when he was angry. Parents who had been holding their own ears started holding their children’s ears.

With a final burst of profanity the noise abruptly cut off, all of it. A little later the sound system came back on, and a subdued Principal Ashworth spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize for what happened, especially my outburst. It was unprofessional and I sincerely apologize. Someone rigged a radio into the sound system and set it off with a timer. We’ll find out who is responsible for this prank and make sure they are duly reprimanded. … Officials, you may resume the game.”

A voice from behind me said, “Sam, you’ll have to tell me how you did that.” My heart stopped.

Samantha – Counseling

Samantha was in the broadcast booth to check out the layout so she could hook a clock radio into the field sound system, when someone passing by noticed the door was unlocked. The door was directly opposite the window that looked onto the field, and she was under the counter beneath the window, checking out the amplifier.

––– # –––

Knowing I was about to be exposed, I watched in horror as the door knob turned. I almost didn’t hear the other voice my heart was beating so loudly. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Whoever’s working in there has a key.”

The knob stopped. The door was still closed. I held my breath. A person in here on legitimate business would respond to what was going on. I lowered my voice as much as I could. “Hey, thanks for the concern. I’ll be a while longer.” I prayed they didn’t hear the tremor in my voice or recognize it.

The first voice said, “Sorry to disturb you.”

“No problem.” I waited, counting the seconds. Finally I heard them moving off.

Relief swept over me, and I slumped against the wall. I sat there for the longest time, waiting for the shakes to subside. I wondered if I was really cut out for this. If I was going to do this, I couldn’t put it off. The game next Saturday was the last home game of the season, and the team wouldn’t be in the playoffs. This would be my last chance.

I kept thinking I needed a co-conspirator, someone to watch out for me. However, I was willing to take responsibility for my own actions, but I couldn’t be responsible for getting someone else in trouble. … Well, maybe Ingrid Hoffman, but that was another matter entirely.

Finally my shaking subsided enough that I was willing to get up. I was finished with this reconnaissance. I eased the door open a crack and looked out. When I didn’t see anybody I opened it far enough that I could look around. I didn’t hear anyone or see anyone. I slipped out and closed the door. Making sure one more time that no one could see me, I locked the door and pocketed the key.

Then I heard someone coming up one of the tunnels. I moved to the opposite stairs and headed down to that tunnel. I managed to reach it and duck inside before the other person came out. I suddenly grasped the disadvantage of being a red-head and trying to be sneaky.

All the way home I questioned my resolution to carry out this prank. I had expected it to be a rush, but all I had felt while almost being found out was fright. I wished desperately that I had someone I could talk to about it. If Brian were still alive … No, I wasn’t going to go there. It had to be me and me alone … or did it?

Mom was seeing a grief counselor, and it seemed to be working. They’d offered me counseling too, but I had wanted to hurt then. Now I didn’t. Maybe a counselor could tell me if pranks were my way of dealing with the hurt that was still there. I doubted they would condone the pranks, but maybe there was something else I should be doing.

––– # –––

I was able to see my counselor at her office on Thursday. Olivia, a strikingly pretty, short brunet, appeared to be young, somewhere in her twenties I guessed. She wore a frilly white blouse and a black skirt short enough to have distracted a man as she sat with her legs crossed. I had other things on my mind. She listened to me whine about Brian’s death. Then she asked me, “So what are you doing about it?”

I thought about her question for a moment. What was I doing about my grief? I didn’t know. Maybe simply hoping it would fade away with time. “As far as I know I haven’t done anything.”

She templed her fingers in front of her face, touching her lips with her finger tips. “The responses to loss differ for everyone because there is no such thing as a typical loss. Each individual grieves in their own way just as they live their own lives distinctly. We speak of five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but how we deal with each stage is intensely personal. Not everyone goes through them the same way nor do they necessarily go through all of them. There is no universal right way. From what you’ve said to me, I’d say you have worked your way through your version of denial and anger, but you seem to have skipped bargaining and gone directly to depression. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s just your unique way of dealing with grief.”

I hesitated. It was time to get to the point. I wasn’t sure I wanted to trust someone else with what I was preparing to do, but I was talking to her now to get this out of my system. Should I be plotting out these devious pranks? Would they do me any good in relieving my grief? I couldn’t put it off; I had to tell her what I had in mind. I spilled everything, including nearly being caught in the booth.

“And you want me to tell you if you’re doing the right thing?” She paused. “You realize I can’t do that. Let me ask you this, do you believe you’ll get some kind of satisfaction out of pulling of outrageous pranks and getting away with it?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Right now I resent the fact that Ashworth targeted me, and I want to get even.”

She frowned a little as if she were considering what I said. “As a general rule getting even is rarely effective. On the other hand, if you were doing it for fun, it might relieve some of your stress.”

“Okay, let’s say I’m doing it for fun. What about that?” I pressed for a commitment from her. Should I do it or not?

She peered at me for a few seconds before answering. “Look, I can’t solve your problem for you. The best I can do is tell you what I think. You have to decide what to do.”

“But you said it might relieve my stress.”

“It might.”

“So what would you do?” I expected another question.

She surprised me. Instead of answering with something about making my own decision, she answered my question. “I’d go for it – as long as nobody would get hurt.”

“But I want to hurt Ashworth. He hurt me.” I could feel my anger rising.

“So we’re back to that. Will you really gain anything from hurting Principal Ashworth?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll tell you what, go ahead with your prank and tell me next week how it felt.” She walked to the door to let me out. “I’ll see you next Thursday.”

I didn’t feel better as I walked out.

Samantha – The Broadcast Booth

After reconciling with her father, Samantha had a new target for her anger, Dr. Ashworth. He had been prejudiced against her even before he had blamed her for the graffiti. She decided to get even with him by playing pranks carefully crafted to leave no evidence that she had done them. The first one came about serendipitously.I got up early Monday morning and went for a run. The marathon was coming up soon, and I needed to increase my mileage. The easiest way to do that was to run twice a day. I added the run to my morning schedule.


A cold front was moving in, pushing up more storm clouds ahead of it. I kept watching them as I ran, and they got increasingly ominous. When I saw that first lightning strike, I decided it was time to head for home. When the thunder took only four seconds—less than a mile—to reach me, I decided a shortcut was in order.

The street I turned down already had trash cans out for pickup. One of the houses had a small pile of odds and ends separate from the trash. The sign said, “Help Yourself.” I don’t know why – I was in a hurry after all, but I stopped to take a quick look.

There it was, the answer to my first prank, an old clock radio. I put it under my arm and started running again. I didn’t immediately know what I was going to do with it, but ideas hit me as I ran for home.

The one that eventually got my vote was more complex than I would have liked, but it would also be the most public. Principal Ashworth took pride in announcing the home football games. I wondered how he’d react to being preempted by a rock and roll radio station. I figured the teams would continue playing without too much distraction, but Ashworth would be flabbergasted. And I knew how I was going to set it up.

First, I had to gain access to the booth. I had the feeling it shouldn’t be too hard. The hard part would be doing it without being noticed. Anyone having access to it would be suspect after the game.

I knew Coach Ford had access because she used the public address to run pep rallies. I guess she figured the amplification would make up for any lack of attendance. I went after her in a roundabout way so she wouldn’t know what my goal was.

I caught up with her after girls basketball practice in the gym.

As I walked up, she noticed me. “Samantha, how’s your marathon training coming?”

“Coach Ford. Great. I’m doing nine miles a day during the week, and I’ll do a fifteen miler on Sunday.”

“How’s your time?”

“Six thirty five.”

She smiled. “Nice. With time like that you can qualify for the Boston Marathon when you turn eighteen.”

I brought up my purpose for approaching her. “I was wondering if you needed any help in the broadcast booth for the rally Friday.”

She brightened. “Well, I could use a runner. Some things I just can’t say on the public address.”

“I’d be happy to help. What time would you need me?”

“The rally starts right after school lets out. If you could pick up the keys from the principal’s office, I could come directly out and help with the set up.”

That had been too easy. Of course, it would connect me with the broadcast booth, but we didn’t have a home game for another week, and I’d have Coach Ford to vouch for me for this week. The only question was how could I get a copy of the key?

I fretted over that for the next couple of days. In the meantime I rewired the clock radio. Dad hat a great workspace set up in the garage. I’d used the soldering iron and other electricians tools for several projects in the past, so I had a good idea of what I was doing. I soldered an audio cable onto the terminals for the wire to the radio speaker and put an RCA plug on the end of it. I planned to clip the speaker wires when I had everything hooked up to the amplifier in the booth. That way it would be harder to trace where the signal was coming from and shut it off.

When I had the wiring completed, I replaced the backup power battery and tested the alarm clock function with a local rock station tuned in. Everything worked as I wanted. I still had several problems to work out, but I was confident I could.

By Friday afternoon I had figured out the key problem. It would take some work as I later found out. I picked up the key from the principal’s office. Ms. Farrow eyed me suspiciously when I told her Coach Ford wanted me to get it. She even made me sign for it. I stopped by the restroom on my way out to the athletic field and took several pictures of the key, making sure I got a straight on shot of its profile.

I took a detour on my way home and went into a hardware store where I bought a blank key like the one for the broadcast booth. I also bought a bit for Dad’s rotary tool.

After dinner I set to work to make a duplicate key. I had made a template from one of my photos. I glued it on the blank and clamped it in Dad’s heavy vise. Then I spent the next two hours painfully resisting the urge to rush as I cut away the excess metal. Then I carefully smoothed the rough edges.

I held the finished key up close to the fluorescent light over the work bench and examined it. There were a couple of places where I had nicked the template. Hopefully the key would still work. I didn’t want to go through this again. I was beat.

The next Monday before I left school for home, I made my way to the booth. I kept looking over my shoulder to be sure no one was watching. The football squad was practicing on the field, and I had to cross open space to reach the booth. I tried to walk casually and look like I was watching the team because I admired what they doing. By the time I reached the booth I was fairly sure no one had even looked in my direction.

The door to the booth was on the side away from the field. I took one last look around, and tried the key. I had to jiggle it a little to get it work, but I was in. The amplifier was on a shelf under the counter that ran along the front of the booth. I crawled under the counter.

There was space enough behind the amplifier to place the clock radio. I’d just have to turn off the digital display so it wouldn’t attract attention. I pulled the amplifier forward to check the back. Yes! There were two empty input jacks. I checked the front. Each input jack had its own volume knob and a mute switch. So far so good. The electrical outlet was was several inches to the side of the amplifier. It had three open sockets, which meant that if someone wanted to plug something else in they would see the power cord to the radio. That was a chance I had to take.

Voices! My heart thudded. Someone was walking by outside. I heard the doorknob turn. A voice said, “Whoever was in here last forgot to lock up. We should check inside.”

Samantha – Payback

Originally posted on March 27, 2017 by Gordon Savage

Samantha had done what she considered to be the right thing. She had called home to report that she had gone UA (“Unauthorized Absence” for those of you who are unfamiliar), taking full responsibility for what she had done. It left her father in a quandary of sorts. She had deliberately disobeyed, but she had also reported herself. On top of that he had realized she had been telling the truth, which meant the grounding wasn’t justified. What was he supposed to do?We drove home in total silence. I looked at Father. His face was grim, and he was staring at the road. I knew better than to say anything. All I could do was sit there imagining what he would do when we got home. It take long for me to find out.

As soon as Father closed the door, he stopped and froze me with a look I can’t describe. I resisted an urge to drop my head. Instead, I came to attention and stared him in the eye.

“Sammy”—He never called me that except when he was apologetic— “Dammit, you’ve put me in a fix. What you did tonight made me understand that you didn’t lie about the graffiti, and you didn’t deserve to be grounded. I have to apologize for that. On the other hand you disobeyed orders. I don’t know which is more important.”

He paused. “So help me, if this had happened last year I would have put you in a military school to teach you some self-control. As it is, a semester – if we could get you in – wouldn’t do you or anyone else any good.”

He looked me up and down. “Right now I should be chewing you out royally, but I recognize my own part in this and your grit for informing me of what you had done. So here’s what’s going to happen. Your grounding is terminated; however, for now your 10 o’clock curfew will continue, and if you screw up again … well, you figure it out.”

I stood there speechless. What had just happened? I had disobeyed, a cardinal sin, and I had gotten off with a reprieve. I had to rethink Father’s – my Dad’s – actions. I was still mad at him for Brian’s death, but he had been more than fair with me, and Brian wasn’t forced to join the marines. He’d made that decision based on Dad’s urging, but it was Brian decision.

Dad snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Sammy, are you alright?”

I realized I’d been staring into space. “Uh. I’m fine… and thank you. May I speak candidly?”

He raised his eyebrows. “Certainly. What’s on your mind?”

I looked down. Then I gritted my teeth. “I need to apologize. I was so mad at you for making Brian join the marines, but I realize it was his decision. I don’t know if he did it to make you proud of him or what, still it was his choice.” I paused to gather my thoughts.

“I’m glad to hear that. I hope that I have my Samantha back.” He actually hugged me.

I teared up. “I love you, Daddy.”

— # —

An hour later I continued to be in shock. What had happened? Dad had forgiven me, and I had forgiven him. The feud was over. I could get back to my life. I should have been elated or maybe a little sad. Instead, I was still feeling angry.

And it wasn’t at Dad. It was at Principal Ashworth. Even before the graffiti incident, he had been after me for some reason, maybe the prank. He had no right to profile me.

The more I thought about it the angrier I got. The idea was slow forming, but I was going to make him pay. He didn’t like my pranks? He’d learn about pranks. I began thinking of ways I could play practical jokes on him – without getting caught.