Muskrate Creek Confidential

Friday, September 25th, 1959, had been named Good Luck Tammi Paige Day in Muskrat Creek, Wisconsin, a small suburb of Milwaukee. On the following Sunday, Tammi, a senior at Muskrat Creek High School, was leaving for the Women’s Gymnastics Association National Championships in San Francisco. She was expected to make the United States Olympic Team for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and Mayor Clyde had decided to honor her as the town’s most famous resident, give her a big sendoff, and hopefully raise his own popularity before next year’s election. All the town’s kids were thrilled because school would be closed, and a lot of local businesses were giving the adults a holiday as well. Tammi and the Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics team were scheduled to give a gymnastics exhibition, and then there would be a flea market and bake sale, with the proceeds going to help with her travel expenses. The school was also hosting a sock hop with a live band Friday night.

The day before, in a corridor in the school, not everyone was thrilled about the upcoming local holiday. Claire Whitman and Diane Greely, both seniors, were standing by their lockers between classes, griping.

“It really frosts me that that grody Tammi Paige gets her own holiday!” Claire complained. “She’s nowhere! She’s not even really from Muskrat Creek!” Tammi had only moved in with her aunt just last year to be nearer to the Milwaukee Gymnastics Academy. She had grown up in an aerialist family in a traveling circus, and she’d finally convinced her parents to let her take a shot at the Olympics by going to live with her aunt in Muskrat Creek and learning conventional gymnastics.

Becky Taylor, the school’s head cheerleader, walked up to her nearby locker and overheard. “I guess she’s a pretty boss gymnast; I’m nowhere near good enough to get invited to the nationals!” she chimed in. The other two grimaced in annoyance, but they didn’t dare make the head cheerleader mad. “She must be radioactive; all the boys are gaga for her. I know Harvey digs her — he asks about her whenever he calls home. That’s why he’s on his way home for the weekend, in fact — the chance to watch Tammi in her leotard,” she said slyly. Harvey was her brother and had been Claire’s steady boyfriend before he went away to college this fall.

“No way! She’s flat as a board!” Claire leaned forward to emphasize what she saw as her best assets. “Harvey likes ’em big. He’s coming back just to see me! He tells me every day in his letters how much he misses me.”

Not what he tells me at all, Becky thought. And I’ll bet he hasn’t written you two letters since school started! She didn’t say anything more, though, but headed off to class. Claire and Diane stood around gossiping a while longer.

“Say,” said Diane, “Scotty Dillard was boasting in study hall last period that he was chosen from the A.V. Club to run the P.A. system and play the music for Paige’s little exhibition tomorrow.” Scott was the student president of the school’s Audio Visual Club, a vocational-technical student who was studying radio and recording and planned to work in the technical end of the music industry. “Isn’t he sweet on you, Claire? Wouldn’t it be awful if he messed up her music somehow?”

“You know, today might be a good day to invite Cassie to sit at our table at lunch, so the rest of you girls can find out if she’ll fit in with us,” Claire responded thoughtfully. Cassie was trying to get into Claire and Becky’s clique; having Cassie take up the last chair at the clique’s lunch table would give Claire an excuse to sit somewhere else.

***

“Hi, Scotty! Can I sit here today? My table’s full.”

Scotty looked up in astonishment. “Cl-Cl-Claire! Do you really want to sit with me?” he stammered. Oh, crap! he thought. How square was that?! She’s going to think I’m the biggest spaz in school! He was stunned when she sat down anyway, flashing her biggest smile. The breathtaking glimpse he got down her scoop top blouse had to have been accidental.

“I know you look at me all the time during lunch. I think it’s cute!” she spoke in a tone so softly that he had to lean forward to hear her.

“You do?” This was beyond his wildest dreams. “You don’t think I’m a square?”

More like a cube! she agreed enthusiastically, but silently. “Why, I think you’re a pretty cool cat, the way you dig all that A.V. equipment! I wish I was as smart as you.”

Scotty had never really felt all that smart before, but things were changing fast, right now.

“You know, I’ve always wanted to be a famous singer, like Doris May,” she continued. “I’ll bet you could help me make a demo tape to send around to some record companies. I’d be ever so grateful!”

Could I?! I mean, of course I could! The A.V. Club’s already got a studio all set up.” He hesitated. “We can’t start until next week, though. I’ve got to get set up for the show tomorrow.”

“Are you sure we couldn’t get started this afternoon?” she asked sweetly. “If I think about it too long, I’ll get too nervous to sing. Besides, we’ll have a chance to get to know each other better.”

Scott decided it would be worth the trouble he’d get for skipping his next class; he’d finish tomorrow’s setup, and then he could give Claire his undivided attention. “Sure, how about right after school?” Scotty couldn’t believe how swell this was going to be; there would be nobody in the studio but the two of them. He was on cloud nine.

“Boss! It’s a date.” Now all she had to do was live through the rest of lunch period, stuck talking with the biggest stiff in the school.

***

“I heard you’re in charge of the music tomorrow,” Claire said brightly as Scotty showed off the equipment in the A.V. room in the school’s basement. She’d never been in the basement before.

“Natch! I’ve done Tammi’s music since she moved here. We actually made a special tape together, just for this show. It’s going to be really great!” he said proudly.

“Do you think I could hear it? We’re not in a hurry, are we?” Claire smiled her big smile again, but Scotty didn’t notice that the smile never reached her eyes. She watched intently as he set up the big high-fidelity tape recorder for playback. She wanted to know how to work this machine.

After he played Tammi’s program, he asked her, “Not bad, huh? It took me a couple of hours to filter out just the vocals, and another couple of hours to blend the two songs together, so you can’t even tell when one stops and the other starts!” Scotty was justly proud of his work, but Claire was starting to get impatient.

“Can we start on my tape now? I want to sing along to these two records.” She handed him two Doris May 45s, Whad’ya Put in That Kiss? and Dream Your Little Dream Of Me.

Scotty set her up in the sound studio the A.V. Club had set up, with headphones to listen to the records and a microphone so he could record, and then retired to the control room. He was comfortable here; he’d been a member of the A.V. Club since seventh grade, and he had either built or rebuilt every piece of electronics in this room. “Go ahead!”

She was terrible. She was about a half-note off-key, her volume control was terrible, she was screechy and pitchy, and her diction was so poor that sometimes he couldn’t even make out the words. He made her sing both songs several times, much to her annoyance, but following his suggestions, she actually improved, from terrible to just bad.

As bad as she sounded, he was sure he could improve these recordings. In fact, he looked forward to it; making this sound decent would require a lot of ingenuity and was going to be a lot of fun.

“Give me a half-hour in the control room to do a remix, and I’ll play it back for you and see if you like it,” he proposed.

She went out into the equipment room. “OK, I’ll find something to keep me occupied. Maybe I’ll watch TV. But hurry — I can hardly wait!”

He knew some remix tricks. Pick the best sections from several playbacks and merge them. Change the playback speed a little to compensate for the off-key problem. Use auto gain to smooth out the volume, high-frequency filters to soften the screeches. Play a couple more tricks, then remix with the original music. He played it back one more time, and it was sweet. Not as nice as Doris May, but he’d bought a lot of records that sounded worse. He wondered suddenly if the recording engineers for the big stars played the same kind of tricks with their music.

Claire was absolutely thrilled with the recording. “I’ve gotta go play this for my friends!”

And she rushed off, leaving Scotty to wonder if “we’ll have time to get acquainted” had been just a line, or if she’d really just been that excited over the recording. He had a sinking feeling he already knew the answer.

***~~~***

Tammi Paige was sorry she’d come home after school. She had to be back at the gym at 5:30, and she hadn’t felt like hanging out at school the whole time, but now she wished she had. Harvey was back in town, and he must have been just waiting for her to get home. Almost before she’d closed the front door, his hot rod screeched to a halt out front of her aunt’s neatly kept Cape Cod-style cottage, and Harvey Taylor bounded up the walk to bang on the door.

“No, Harvey. I will not go to the sock hop with you tomorrow night,” Tammi insisted, exasperation in her voice. Harvey was standing on the porch; Tammi had opened only the top half of the Dutch door and deliberately not invited him in.

“OK, how ’bout we make the scene at the passion pit instead? They’re showing It Conquered the Earth.” Everyone knew Tammi loved sci-fi films.

“Hey, nosebleed, how many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?”

“Aww, c’mon, Tam! I took the train from Chicago just to see you this weekend!” Harvey whined. He was attending Morris Robert College in Chicago. If someone picked him up at the train station, it was about two and a half hours from his school to Muskrat Creek. He must have skipped today’s classes as well as those tomorrow.

“Claire’s telling everyone you came to see her,” she offered, a chill in her voice, just to see how he would respond.

“I don’t know who even told Claire I was coming home; it wasn’t me. She and I broke up. I told you that when I took you out last month. I thought you and me were really cookin’, gettin’ really tight, baby. I know you liked it when we kissed!” He leered at her.

“You’re actually not a bad kisser — for a grub! I liked it just fine until the next day, when every boy in the school knew I was fast. Cut out, Harvey.” Her eyes flashed with anger, but Harvey ignored the warning signs.

“But I never told anybody!” he protested adamantly, for of course he had, several times, and embellished the story more with each telling.

“That’s close. Tommy Carey told me exactly what you told him — and it was gas. Maybe you thought that being captain of the football team made you a big shot, but I know you’re really just a big $#!t+.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!” he roared. He was used to intimidating girls with his size and his anger, but Tammi wasn’t easy to intimidate.

“I just did! Now, beat it, or I’ll tell everyone about you dressing in your sister’s cheerleading uniform!” she threatened.

“That’s a lie!” he screamed, turning red. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“You didn’t have any problems telling lies about me. Besides,” she added sweetly, “I have Polaroids. So, go away.” She closed the top half of the door, and he heard her throw the lock.

“You’re gonna regret this!” he promised, then turned and stomped out to his car and slammed the door. The engine roared to life, and he peeled out — and almost got killed when he ran the stop sign at the corner and had to slam on his brakes, stalling the car, in order to avoid hitting a cement mixer on the cross street. Then he flooded it when he tried to start it again. He swore furiously, but rather unimaginatively, as he sat in the middle of the intersection, waiting for the engine to fire again. She was going to pay.

***

Tammi headed back to school and met up with the entire Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics team when they showed up with several panel trucks full of equipment. Instead of practice, they spent several hours setting up the gym for tomorrow’s exhibition. In addition to the normal equipment, several trampolines were set up on the floor, and two trapezes were rigged from the ceiling.

Tammi had convinced their instructors to let some of the students show off the circus aerialist routines she’d performed with her parents and had taught her classmates. Tammi hadn’t seen her folks for over a year now, and she missed them and the circus. She hoped that performing some of her family’s aerial routines in front of a cheering crowd would help her feel less homesick.

Once things were set up, the team headed for the local malt shop for a treat. Tammi realized she’d left her purse in her locker at the school. She wheedled the key from her coach and planned to make a quick stop on her walk home.

The door to the gym was around the back, and when she got there, it was already unlocked. She had double-checked it when the team left earlier, wanting to be sure that the special privileges she — and the Academy through her — had been granted for this event wouldn’t be abused. It could be that a custodian had left it open, but she had been told specifically that her group would be the last ones out of the building this evening. She slipped cautiously through the door into the small inner chamber and carefully opened the inner door.

The gym was still dark, but there were people inside — two, at least, carrying dim lights, which she guessed were probably flashlights with something like hankies covering the lenses. And from the noises they were making, she was sure they must be making a mess of the careful setup on which she and the team had worked so hard. She wished she had some way to call the police, and then she remembered that there was a fire alarm right next to this door.

But if she tripped the alarm, these creeps would get away.

So she’d have to keep them here somehow, even with the alarm blaring. Too bad the door couldn’t be locked to keep people inside. She thought fast. The gym was full of gymnastic gear; was there anything she could reach without turning the lights on that she could use to slow them down? Something she could use to trip them, or bar the door? It was lucky the vandals couldn’t see the evil smile that spread over her face.

She moved cautiously along the wall until she reached a talcum powder stand. She carried the box of powder out onto the floor and silently spread most of the talcum powder over a wide area in front of the door, then sneaked back and pulled the fire alarm.

“Crap! We gotta get out of here!” The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it with the blaring of the siren filling the gym. The dim lights started moving quickly toward the door. She waited just a second, then flipped on the lights – just in time to see two figures run onto a section of the waxed wooden floor that was now covered with talcum powder. It was sort of like watching someone run on wet ice — not an unusual sight in Wisconsin.

Their legs started to slip, and they threw their arms up in an attempt to keep their balance. The flashlights went flying to crash into the wall, then clattered to the floor. The smaller one bumped into the larger one and desperately wrapped his arms around his partner, and that ended the struggle to stay upright as the two crashed to the floor. The smaller one was partially underneath and had the wind knocked out of him; he continued to writhe aimlessly, trying to get his breath back as the larger one scrabbled on the dusty floor, trying to get to his knees.

Tammi burst out laughing. “I see Fall’s your favorite season, too, boys!”

“Paige!” the larger one roared, and she was pretty sure it was Harvey, even with the siren wailing in the background. “I’m gonna make you pay for this!”

“Sure, Harvey — that’s what you said earlier, too. You’ll have to catch me first, and how are you going to catch me…” She threw the last of the talcum powder into Harvey’s face. “…if you can’t see me!”

He roared in rage and managed to get to his hands and knees. Tammi ran two steps and took off in a long, low dive in his direction, placed her hands on his shoulders like he was a pommel horse, and pushed off into a flip with a half-twist. He fell heavily to the floor again, barely managing to protect his head with one of his arms as she landed on the other side of the dusted area facing the two boys.

“I have to admit, I like Spring a lot, too!” Tammi said brightly. “Don’t you?”

“Forget the midget, Tank!” Tank had been Harvey’s football nickname. Tammi recognized the voice of the smaller boy now, as well; it was Myron Parrish, a senior who also played football and was a good friend of Harvey’s. “The fire trucks are going to be here any second.” The firehouse was only about a half-mile from the school, and they could already hear truck sirens approaching. Myron had managed to roll out of the powder, and he extended a hand to Harvey.

Tammi rushed over to stop him, but Myron grabbed her arm, wrenched it around, and released. He was smaller than Harvey but much bigger than Tammi — almost everyone was — and she couldn’t resist; she skidded through the talcum powder and fell, then continued sliding for almost a dozen feet.

“A little of your own medicine, witch!” Myron snarled with satisfaction as he helped Harvey to his feet. Before Tammi could do anything more to stop them, they staggered to the door.

Before they left, Harvey turned back and did a little snarling himself. “Don’t dare tell anyone about this, or you’ll be sorry, Paige!” There was poison in his voice. He turned and pushed through the door. This door was on the back of the school, while the fire trucks and police were arriving at the front; the two boys would probably get away.

***

“That’s a mighty suspicious story, Miss Paige.” The chief of police was grumpy; he’d been watching Peter Diamond, P.I., and he hated being interrupted during his favorite TV show. “How do I know you didn’t do this all yourself?”

“Well, for one, I just spent hours setting up, and for two, I’m performing tomorrow,” Tammi said, anger in her voice.

“Maybe you’re scared of performing in front of so many people?” he theorized uncertainly. “Makes as much sense as two guys wearing masks.” Tammi had never seen the boys’ faces, so she hadn’t mentioned their names. The chief would never believe her, anyway; he was one of the football team’s biggest fans.

“Chief Carlyle, she told me she was going to the school,” said her coach, Lori Amway. “She didn’t have a flashlight, and why would she need two of them anyway? Why would she pull the fire alarm and then wait for you to arrive? Besides, just last week she performed in front of hundreds of people at Regionals and won. I think there’s way too many holes in your theory.”

“Nobody asked you!” the chief barked at the coach, a little warily. He turned to Tammi. “You can go now. But you’d better be careful — we’ll be watching you!”

“What’s with him?” Coach Amway asked as they walked away together.

“Somehow he found out I grew up in a traveling circus, and he thinks I’m a carny layabout or something,” she sniffed in response. “Not worth worrying about. Say, we need to take care of the mess those guys made.”

“Don’t worry about it now, Tammi. Go home and get a good night’s rest, and we’ll handle it tomorrow before the show.”

“Like I’m gonna be able to sleep after this!” Tammi sighed. “I guess I gotta try. See you tomorrow.”

Surprisingly, that night, she slept well.

***~~~***

“Good morning, all! I’m Mayor Vince Clyde, and you know why we’re here today…” The short, bald man was starting to speak when an even smaller woman, dressed in a dark blue leotard with her long hair tied back in a severe ponytail, bounced out of her chair and grabbed the microphone away from him. Angry storm clouds formed around his head, but he didn’t dare fight with a tiny girl for the microphone in front of a gymnasium bleachers filled with potential voters. The next election was coming up!

“If they know already, Mr. Mayor, there’s no reason to tell them again.” She waited for the laughter to die down. “I’m Tammi Paige,” she announced with breathless enthusiasm. “Thanks so much to all of you for being here to see me!” She threw the microphone into the air, jumped into the air herself, spun around completely, landed, and caught the microphone. Everyone cheered and applauded again. Tammi clearly loved the spotlight, but she was so cheery and full of energy that it was hard to resent her self-absorption. She waited again for the noise to die down and continued. “And my teammates.” Several other young people of both sexes stood and bowed. “Your cover charge will help me and some of my teammates from the Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics travel to the Nationals this week — and you can watch us again next week on TV!”

“I could stand here all day and tell you about the program, but you’d probably rather watch us than listen to me!” She smiled impishly; she had just happened to notice Claire Whitman and Harvey Taylor sitting together, though neither looked happy. “I think you’ll see some things today that you’ve never seen in a regular gymnastics meet!”

Tammi and five other young people, two more girls and three boys, went to the center of the gym, formed a circle with their backs to the center of the gym, and bowed to the crowd. Scotty Dillard turned on the tape recorder, music started to play, and the gymnasts jumped into action.

It was a stunning, exhilarating performance. Attractive, well-muscled, superbly conditioned gymnasts of both sexes in revealing leotards bounced, ran, flew, spun, strutted, twirled, twisted, jumped, tossed, caught, swung, skipped, rolled, flipped, and danced, laughing and smiling, in a show that was easily worth the half-dollar it had cost to get in. Becky Taylor, the captain of the Muskrat Creek cheerleaders, was a very good gymnast, and two of the others were much better than Becky, but Tammi was the best by far.

In the crowd, Marilyn Bova turned to her friend Dale Lindsay, Tammi’s aunt. “It’s more like a circus than a gymnastics exhibition,” she observed.

“Tammi’s parents are aerialists in a small traveling circus,” Dale replied. “When she decided she wanted to try for the Olympics, they sent her to live with me, so she could train with the Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics. Her coaches let her design a lot of this show, and she based it on the circus routines.”

When their movements brought them close together in a synchronized dance step, Becky whispered to Tammi, “Did you see Harvey in the stands? He didn’t want to come, but Mom made him, since I’m performing.”

“I noticed he’s with Claire. They sure look miserable, don’t they?” Tammi whispered back. “I almost feel bad for her, but she’s such a witch.” They spun apart again. Tammi jumped onto a springboard and did a flip onto a trampoline, bounced twice, and leaped into the arms of one of the boys, who was hanging from his knees from a swinging trapeze. He tossed her to another boy on another trapeze, and she dropped from his hold to grab the top bar in a set of uneven bars, did a giant circle, and released, doing two flips and a full twist before landing on the other trampoline. This sequence brought the crowd to its feet with applause and wild cheers. All six gymnasts did synchronized dismounts from the various apparatus, met in the center of the gym, joined hands in a circle, and bowed simultaneously to the thunderous applause.

Tammi ran to the podium and grabbed the microphone. “I’d like to thank my teammates — that was pretty awesome, wasn’t it?”

The applause began again, with some foot-stomping and cries of, “Encore!”

“You want an encore, huh? I hoped you would!” Tammi yelled back at the wild crowd. “How about a sneak preview of my gold medal performance next week at nationals?”

Everyone else moved off of the gym floor. Scotty dimmed the perimeter lights, drawing everyone’s attention to the illuminated floor exercise mat in the center of the gym. There was movement just beyond the edge of the light, and Tammi emerged from the darkness. She strode to the center of the mat and assumed her opening position.

In the control booth, Scotty tapped the button to start the tape.

Tammi was alone in the gym, the center of everyone’s attention. This was why she worked so hard, why she had pushed herself, why she needed to be the best — so she could be out here, by herself, with everyone concentrating on nothing but her.

She took a deep breath, and then another. The music should have started by now. Why hadn’t the music started?

Scotty was frantic. He checked to make sure everything was plugged in, then checked it again. Everything was connected; everything was working, the reels were spinning — except there wasn’t any music! Somehow, the tape he’d worked on for hours - the tape he’d played for Claire yesterday - must be blank.

Beyond the ring of illumination, Tammi began to hear murmurs. They were barely more than whispers, but as the seconds ticked by, they became a cacophony to Tammi’s ears.

“Way to stand there!” a voice from the darkness called out. “I give it a ten!”

The response was a few chuckles, mostly centered around the heckler, but they soon spread among the rest of the audience.

To Tammi, it was as if time had stopped. Every millisecond seemed like an hour of pure agony. And now it wasn’t the sound of music falling on her ears, it was laughter. Her big day was turning into her worst nightmare.

She knew the music; she could hear it playing in her head. If only the sound system would catch up. “Where’s the @#$%^&* music?!” she screamed in her head.

And then she heard it.

At first it was faint, its beat matching the beat of her heart. She prayed that Scotty would turn it up. The opening bars played — it was the sweetest sound she had ever heard — and she began to dance.

In the booth, Scotty looked at his sound equipment, then back down at the floor. He could hear the music, even better when he removed his headphones, and he realized that the tape Tammi had given him to play was still blank - the music wasn’t coming from his equipment. He shrugged, then turned his full attention to Tammi’s performance.

Tammi could tell there was something different about the music this time. It sounded better — no, not better. That didn’t come close to describing it. The music was fuller, richer, more passionate. It was more like a live symphony than a gymnasium sound system. And she knew that — somehow — this music wasn’t coming from a simple tape over an outdated sound system, it was coming from her. It was her heart, her passion, her emotions that made up this symphony, and she danced.

She moved with the music, feeling it flow through her, and around her, and she became the dance. She felt that Tammi was only a facade, and that her art, her music, and her dance, were the true her. She floated through her routine, putting her love and her joy and her deepest inner being into the dance. The routine became anything but. What she was doing surpassed a floor exercise and went beyond a simple exhibition; it had become her personal artistic masterpiece. And she danced as neither she — nor anyone — had never danced before.

And then, almost before she knew it, the music came to an end, and with it, the dance. For an instant there was silence, and Tammi almost forgot there were others in the building with her. Then she remembered that she wasn’t alone, and the silence seemed to have a pulse of its own. She could almost feel the stillness vibrate with emotion.

She took a breath, and then the silence erupted in roars of approval. Even the sounds of her own thoughts were drowned out by the noise. The crowd was awed. What they saw in this gymnasium would be remembered forever — a work of art that rivaled anything they had ever seen, or heard, or read.

Even as her coach and teammates surged into the spotlight to congratulate her, Tammi smiled, waved, and slumped to the floor, exhausted, spent, and satisfied.

***

Once the gymnastic gear was packed back in the trucks, Tammi went looking for Scotty. She wasn’t sure exactly how she felt about the problem with the tape; the absence of music initially had led to the best performance of her life. Still, she wanted to know what had happened and how Scotty had fixed it. She remembered the feeling that she was the source of that music, but that couldn’t really be true.

Scotty was apparently prepared for the worst; as soon as she entered the A.V. room, he protested, “It wasn’t my fault! Somebody erased the tape! Let me show you…” He turned to his recorder. “This is the tape you gave me — listen!” Before she could speak, he turned it on, and once again there was silence.

“Let me see that tape,” she ordered. He stopped, rewound, and handed her the reel. She had written her name and the name of the music on it with a Speedry marking pen, and this was definitely her handwriting. “So, how’d you manage to erase my tape, anyway?” she asked crossly.

“It really wasn’t me. I put it on the table when you gave it to me yesterday and never touched it again.” He stopped and thought for a minute, and his expression went from one of apology to one of anger. “You know, I’ll bet Claire Whitman did it!”

“You know I don’t get along with Claire, but could she get away with something like that?” Tammi asked crossly. She didn’t think Scotty would be such a weasel. But he explained yesterday’s events, how Claire was alone in the A.V. room for a half an hour, and she had to agree with his assigning of blame.

“Can I hear her original recording? Just curious.” After Scotty played it, she commented, “That was swamp gas! How can she ever hope to get a recording contract?”

“Her voice cleans up well,” Scotty replied. “Here’s the final version.”

“Yes, that’s much better. You’re a genius, Scotty!” He smiled modestly. “So where did you get the recording of my music that you actually played? And how’d you get it to sound so good?” she asked.

“That wasn’t me!” he said, looking mystified. “No way a P.A. system can sound that good! I guess you didn’t see me going crazy trying to figure out what was wrong?”

“So, maybe it was me after all,” Tammi mused. Growing up in a circus, she had seen some unusual things, and her world featured a significant number of people with extraordinary abilities, so such a conclusion was not as wild a jump for Tammi as it might be for someone in our world. Besides, she’d always known she was special.

Scotty was a good one to help her investigate. “So, what were you feeling when you made the music start?”

“I was so desperately wanting to hear that music that I was afraid I would pee!” she exclaimed vehemently. “I don’t remember ever wanting anything more in my whole life, even the time my dad dropped me from the trapeze, and I was praying I’d hit the net.”

“So try it again. You want to hear the music play,” he suggested. “Try to remember what you were feeling then.”

It wasn’t easy, but with a lot of effort on her part and his suggestions, they figured it out. Tammi could play back any sounds she could remember, not just music, with seemingly perfect fidelity. The sounds appeared to play out of the air, and she could control where the source of the sound appeared to be, over a volume of space somewhat larger than the A.V. room. While she had control over the volume of the sounds she created, when she was playing back remembered sounds, she didn’t seem to have control over other aspects; she couldn’t adjust the bass or the treble, or speed up or slow down the sound tracks she played. She wasn’t really good at creating new sounds; any sounds she could make using her voice, she could easily project to other locations, but she couldn’t create new music or conversations using the voices of other people.

They discovered that Tammi apparently had perfect recall for sounds; Scotty couldn’t hear any differences between her playbacks and the originals, and that she recorded sounds even if she didn’t consciously hear them; when she played back a conversation she’d had with Claire over the phone last week, he could pick out the dialog for The Twilight Zone on Claire’s family TV in the background.

This was exciting stuff. “Just think what a great disk jockey you’d make!” Scotty was enthusiastic. “Any song you’ve ever heard! Heck, if you heard the band live, everyone would think they were at the hop!”

“Somehow, Scott, that’s not how I pictured myself: the world’s finest D.J.” She smiled at him to take the sting out of the words. “Besides, that’s already you!”

“Say, maybe you can be a mystery hero!” he said, jumping to another idea.

“I’m not sure how that would work,” she replied with amusement. “How would I stop the bad guys? I could call up the sound of a burglar alarm, or maybe a police siren, and scare them away… Well, I’ve got the rest of my life to think it over. Thanks for helping me figure it out!”

***~~~***

The high school dance could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t. Harvey Taylor wasn’t there; Tammi heard a rumor that he’d roared out of town in his hot rod, as angry as an army ant, when Claire Whitman decided she wasn’t going to give him any more chances to tell stories about her. Claire was in a rotten mood, so the rumor might have been true. And it didn’t get any better for Claire as the night went on.

All the girls wanted to talk to Tammi — even the girls in Claire’s clique. And all the boys wanted to dance with her, even boys she’d never spoken to before. She actually liked it when kids she didn’t know introduced themselves; she liked audacity, and she loved attention.

But Claire became madder and madder. She had to swing the spotlight back her way. She should have brought her demo tape with her. Then she had a great idea. She sneaked out of the gym and down to the A.V. lab and found a copy of the demo tape. Then she headed back to the dance. She stopped in the ladies’ room to make a few adjustments to her clothes, and then she was ready.

***

The band was just getting back from a break when Claire walked up to the lead singer. “Say, can you play something for me?” she asked coyly. “I love your voice — I’d really love to hear you sing All Shook Up by Elvis. It’s my favorite song; I really like the message.” She winked. “My name’s Claire. What’s yours?”

He’d noticed her before; she was really stacked, but her outfit hadn’t seemed to be so revealing before, and she hadn’t seemed very happy. But he wasn’t all that surprised that she’d come up to him; a lot of girls were attracted to the lead singer of the band at any dance. He played along, and by the third song of the set, they’d arranged to meet up after the dance. He was looking forward to another notch on his guitar. She disappeared for a few minutes, and then she was back with an interesting request.

“Can you do me a big favor? I cut a demo tape for some record companies yesterday, and the D.J.’s agreed to play it during your next break. Can you tell everyone? I’d be ever so grateful if you could announce it when your set is over, and introduce me to everyone.”

Well, sure he would; it would be interesting to see how she’d show her gratitude. He was sure he was going to have one heck of a story for the rest of the band tomorrow.

***

Scotty Dillard cut through the crowd around Tammi, a big smile on his face. She was surprised when he asked her to dance; he was usually a wallflower at a dance, standing around with the other boys and looking longingly at the girls dancing with each other, but never getting up the nerve to ask a girl for a dance. And then, during the breaks, he’d spin records. What was he thinking? The girls weren’t here to dance with each other, they were just waiting for a guy to dance with them. Couldn’t the boys see that? But no, many guys just never did see that.

Anyway, when they got out on the floor and started twisting, Scotty was talking to her excitedly. “You’ll never guess what just happened! Claire brought me her tape and asked me to play it the next time the band took a break.”

“And you’re going to?” she asked. “That’s really nice of you, considering the awful things she tried to do to us today.”

“That’s what’s so cool!” he gushed. “She gave me the original — you know, the one before I fixed it up for her? She must have got it from the lab, and she thinks it’s a copy of the final version!” He busted a move. Very impressive, Tammi thought; he could be a good dancer if he wanted to be. “She wants me to play that awful thing for everybody! She’ll be the laughing stock; it sounds like a car wreck! What perfect payback, and we don’t have to do anything; she’s doing it all to herself!” He laughed.

“I asked her several times if she was really sure she really wanted me to play that tape, and she actually got mad at me. Serves her right, the witch! I did my best!” He spun away and twisted so hard he almost lost his balance. “This is their last song. I have to get back to my table and get ready!” He rushed away. Tammi followed him, more slowly, digging something out of her purse.

***

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you all know the boss, talented, and very sexy Claire Whitman.” The lead singer pointed to Claire, who had just stepped up on the bandstand with the band. Claire’s clique cheered for her, and the rest of the audience applauded politely. She preened in the limelight. “What you may not know is that this boss babe is also a talented singer. She’s cut a demo tape at the request of several record companies, and she’s going to let us hear it tonight; we’ll always be able to boast that we knew her before she was famous!” He was laying it on thick, and expected she’d return the favor later. He’d played games like this before.

“I give you… Claire Whitman!”

With a gleeful smile, Scotty turned on the tape recorder. Tammi pushed between him and the recorder and pushed the record button. The reels kept spinning, but the recorder wasn’t playing anything. She then used her newly discovered power to play back the best cut from the tape Scotty had modified.

There was a lot of muttering and whispering; Scotty always played the newest hit records during breaks, and nobody wanted to hear Claire wailing like a wounded alleycat. But the background noise died out almost instantly when Claire’s voice started singing.

“Stars shining bright above you,
Night breezes whispering ‘I love you,’
Birds singing in the old willow tree,
Dream your little dream of me…”

“Somebody’s full of crap,” Tammi heard a boy nearby whisper to his date. “That sounds just like Doris May!”

“Say nighty night and kiss me,
Squeeze me tight so I’ll know you’ll miss me,
I’ll be alone and as blue as can be,
Dream your little dream of me…”

“No, it’s not Doris. I have this record, and she changed the words. It really is Claire!” A rustle ran around the gym as the crowd got the word. When the song was over, the gym erupted into a roar of applause. And Tammi cut the tape with the little pocketknife she’d pulled from her purse.

As almost everyone in the gym crowded around Claire, Scotty confronted Tammi.

“Why’d you do that? She was about to make a fool of herself, and she couldn’t have blamed anyone else. She tried to do the same thing to you, after all! And she used me like a tool!” He was angry; he figured he’d deserved a little payback.

“I’m sorry, Scotty, but I just couldn’t stand to see anyone, even Claire, humiliated like that. And you know she would have blamed you, and she’d have found some way to make you miserable for the rest of the school year. Besides, whatever her motive, she really did me a favor. I gave the best performance of my life today, and I discovered my nifty new power.” The future Miss Music smiled at him.

“You know, you’re a pretty swell gal yourself!” Scotty sighed. “Maybe you’ll end up being a mystery heroine after all!”