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.