A kid with a blue slip of paper pinned to his t-shirt that said “student aid” walked into Eunice’s science class and handed a piece of pink paper to the Ms. Stint. Ms. Stint interrupted her lecture on the different phyla of algae and examined it. The class tittered.
“Eunice.”, Ms. Stint said., “Could you please take this with you to Assistant Principal Brown’s office?”
“Right now?”, Eunice asked.
“Yes, right now.”, Ms. Stint responded, as a chorus of “ooh, you’re in trouble” arose from the rest of the class.
“Eunice read the note as she made her way down the hall, see through backpack on her shoulder filled with her books and papers. Science was the last class of the day, so she probably wouldn’t make it back. The note simply said that Eunice was wanted, without any explanation. For once, Eunice had no idea why she was summoned. She couldn’t recall any fights, hadn’t skipped school, had good grades so far for the term, and didn’t even have any overdue library books. She guessed they would call her if her mother or father or sister had been killed in some accident. She hoped it wasn’t that. One teacher stopped her in the hall, but when he saw the pink slip, he let her go on.
Mr. Brown’s office was in the main administrative suite for Ranch View Middle School. The walls were faded pastels adorned with posters urging kids not to take drugs and student artwork. A student aid was entering classroom attendance slips into a computer. Two older women were talking together next to the coffee machine. Three kids, two Nigerian and one Anglo, all covered with mud and scratches were sitting on a bench next to the Principal’s office.
“Can I help you?”, one of the older women asked.
“Eunice Anderson, here to see Assistant Principal Brown please.”
The boys on the bench and student aid looked up.
“I’ll let him know you’re here. You can wait on the bench next to his office.”, she pointed, “Over there.”
Eunice sat on the bench and looked at the floor, waiting. A few minutes later, a think Nigerian boy with glasses left the office, empty handed, without a word.
“Eunice, could you come in?”, Mr. Brown said, sticking his head out of his door. Mr. Brown was a light skinned black man in his late 30s. His usual responsibility was discipline and Eunice had seem him holding a struggling eighth grader in each arm to break up a fight.
“Please take a seat.”, Mr. Brown said. A clean cut man in a military uniform was also in the room in a chair that looked like it was usually reserved for parents of misbehaving students.
“Do you know why you’re here Eunice?”, Mr. Brown asked.
“No.”, Eunice replied.
“Do you remember filling out this survey at the start of the term?”
Eunice looked. The school always had everyone fill out endless forms at the start of each term. It looked like her writing, so she said yes.
Mr. Brown handed her the survey.
“Do you know why this survey was given, Eunice?”, Mr. Brown asked.
“Something tell me,”, Eunice said as she directed her eyes towards the man in uniform sitting in Mr. Brown’s office, “that I’d be wrong if I guessed that it was to help set the Cultural Sensitivity curriculum for the year.”
“You wouldn’t be wrong if you said that, Eunice, but no, that wasn’t the only purpose for the survey.”
Eunice’s mind raced. Was she under suspicion of terrorist activity, or what?
“Eunice, we did a special data analysis on that survey, and the other information that all new surveys provided on the first day of school. We looked at your residential address, your attitudes towards the country, and your knowledge of the Nigerian Muslim community. Do you know that out of twelve hundred students in this school that you are one of only four students who aren’t Nigerian Muslims who correctly answer three questions regarding the words of the daily calls to prayer? And, two of those students are here on a magnet program from central Denver, and the other one admitted to guessing.”
“So, I live in a Highlands Ranch ghetto and I’ve picked up a few words of the language’s my dad’s tenants speak. So what? That doesn’t make me a criminal.”
The man in the military uniform finally spoke up.
“No, it doesn’t. And, I’m not here to investigate you. I’m Cass Jackson, Naval Intelligence.”, he also had a Southern drawl. He stood up and extended his hand to Eunice. “My job is to identify terrorist cells that may be operating in Colorado within the Nigerian immigrant community. You’ve been identified as one of a handful of people in your area who would be well qualified to serve as an informant for the Colorado National Guard.”
“Whoa. You want me to be a spy and rat on my neighbors?”, Eunice responded.
“I’d prefer to say that we’re asking you if you’d be willing to serve your country, for suitable compensation, of course. You wouldn’t even have to leave your neighborhood.”, Cass Jackson replied.
“What kind of money are we talking here?”
“Let’s just say that we don’t pay minors anything less than we pay adults doing the same work.”, Mr. Jackson replied.
Eunice thought about that for just a second.
“Parental consent is, of course, required for you to do any kind of work at age fourteen, but it was more convenient for Mr. Jackson to meet with you and a few other possible recruits during the school day, all at once, so I scheduled the initial meeting here.”, Mr. Brown said.
“So what would I have to do?”, Eunice asked. “Would I have to carry a gun.”
“Oh no.”, Mr. Jackson replied. “All you’d have to do is file regular reports and to try to find out information. I’d meet with you from time to time to let you know what we’re looking for and to give you some tips, and then I’d give you a password and user identification for a certain network site that you’d submit your reports at from time to time.”
“O.K., I’ll do it. Well, I mean, I’ll talk to my parents about it. Do you have the forms?”
“Sure.” Mr. Jackson had apparently expected this response and handed her an envelope. You can drop the forms off with Mr. Brown any time through the end of next week.
“Thank you.”, Eunice said. “Are we done now?”
Mr. Brown and Mr. Jackson exchanged a glance.
“Yes, you’re done now. School is over in half an hour, so you don’t have to back to class. You can go to the library if you want. Mr. Brown took another pink slip off a pad on his desk and marked a box. And, Eunice. I’d appreciate it if you were discrete about this matter. If your classmates ask for an explanation, you can tell them that your enrollment paperwork wasn’t complete and that you had to get some more forms to fill out. That should suffice.”
“O.K.”, Eunice said and left. No one was on either of the benches when she left.
Eunice went to the library, pulled out the forms and read them. The disclosure form noted that she was at serious risk of death or serious injury, that this was a volunteer position, and that any violation of protocol could result in her being killed by American forces in order to protect national security. The pay schedule was $2,000 per monthly report and additional bonuses for useful information, all tax free under a special provision of the Internal Revenue Code adopted for the war on terrorism. All told, it was more than her mother made, if she could come up with even a few bits of useful information. She signed her name, and then her parents’ names in different handwriting, as she always did when the school asked for permission slips. She checked the box for payment monthly in cash to be picked up at the general delivery desk of the downtown Denver post office. Then, she lifted the protective plastic shield from a corner of the form and pressed her thumb into it so that the post office could compare the two before releasing the cash. Then, Eunice put the forms back in the envelope in her backpack and headed out to catch the bus home.
The next morning, Eunice left the envelope for Mr. Brown.