OUT HIS OFFICE WINDOW, Del Brown, principal of Springdale Middle School, watched the ambulance pull out, its emergency lights flashing. Eyes returning to his monitor, he read, again, the comments in Levi Alexander’s file:
“Straight A student; polite; good self‑discipline; happy.”
Class records verified the grades — all A’s.
Further down was another note, this one jotted in by hand in a quick, easy cursive:
“Levi Alexander looks on life as an adventure.”
It was signed with the initials “R. F.,” the words ‘school counselor’ beside them. An official, semitransparent identity verification was superimposed over the hand-written memo, indicating that ‘R.F.’ held a Ph.D. in child psychology. No flag anywhere in the file suggested violence or a tendency to fight.
Minimizing the file, Del looked out the window where Levi Alexander still lay upon the parkway grass, a young paramedic holding a cold‑pack to his face. The boy’s arm was in a splint. Though small and slight, Levi wasn’t as badly hurt as the boy who’d just been taken to the hospital, a boy nearly twice his size and weight.
Del was amazed. Though young and tiny for his age, the Alexander kid knew how to fight. On the audio-visual of the incident, his actions had been calm, deliberate, and horribly effective. His victim, a star athlete, would never play soccer, again.
Despite the pummeling Levi took from the school’s biggest bully, despite the fact his arm was broken, the tape showed Levi’s face calm, his small foot kicking, hard and sharp, just so, into the angle of Chad Miller’s knee. Then, he followed through, leaning his momentum into it, actually standing down upon that knee, riding it to the ground as the big boy fell. That showed deliberate intent. The knee’s snap was audible on tape.
A glance at the clock showed that it would be close to two in Denver. Del clicked on the number listed in the file to the boy’s old school, his speakers blipping as the connection was made, then verified by the pleasant computer voice that immediately answered, “Sherman Elementary.”
Del identified himself, went through the verification process, then asked to speak to the school counselor.
“One moment, Mr. Brown.”
A few seconds later, a black man’s face blinked on inside a video feed. “Hello. This is Robert Freeman.”
Del stiffened. The voice had the distinct reverberation that meant an open microphone. “Ah, this is a confidential call,” Del said.
“I’m in the principal’s office, Mr. Brown. If you can wait a moment, I’ll get back to my own office.”
“No. That’s all right,” Del said. “I’ll need to speak to him, too.”
“What’s this about?” — a deeper voice.
Another video inset blinked open on Del’s screen, the man coming clear in it a Caucasian. “I’m Dr. Poule, principal of Sherman Elementary.”
“Levi Alexander,” Del said, shortly.
“Oh.” A chuckle. “Is he topping out the test scores?” the man named Freeman asked.
“He’s just broken a boy’s knee.”
Both men’s faces stilled, becoming grave almost simultaneously. “An accident?” the counselor asked.
“Purposely,” Dell answered. “We have the live audio-visual.”
“Are we talking Levi Alexander, son of Dee and Brigham Alexander?” asked Dr. Poule. The man was frowning.
“My God, what happened?!” — Counselor Freeman.
“That doesn’t sound like our Levi,” Poule said.
Del showed a snip of video, and the men shook their heads. “Something’s wrong there,” Freeman said. “He must have been provoked.”
“He wasn’t,” Del lied. But, when he pressed for information, he got nothing but denial. “You’re telling me that there is no history of any kind of violence?” Del asked finally, frustration hardening his voice.
“That’s right,” Freeman insisted.
Dell ignored him. “No fighting, acting out…anything, Dr. Poule?” Del demanded, pointedly addressing the white man.
“No,” Poule replied. “I’ve never known Levi to harm anyone. Or anything, for that matter, and I’ve known the boy since he was three, his parents longer.”
Three. Del frowned. “All right. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Keep us posted.”
Del didn’t promise. Touching the connection gone, he hit the button to the intercom. “I want a copy of Levi Alexander’s medical records,” he said.
“Already have them up,” his secretary answered. “I’ll send the file through.”
Seconds later, Del was looking at a locked file that, every time he clicked it, asked for authorization. Touching the intercom again, he said, “I can’t open it, Ruth.”
“Neither could I,” she replied. “I thought you might have the authorization key.”
Locked files meant secrets, and secrets meant someone was hiding something. “Get me Mr. and Mrs. Alexander, please,” he said. “Tell them I require their presence. Immediately.”
“Mrs. Alexander is already here, sir. She’s sitting in your waiting room.”
Del’s eyes immediately went to his security monitors. He saw no‑one. Clearing the distraction screen on his door, Del was startled to see a petite Caucasian woman with feathered, blue‑black hair sitting on the couch — just sitting there. She wasn’t watching the T.V. — the machine was off — and she wasn’t reading any of the complimentary magazines. In fact, her eyes seemed as if they watched him, though, with the bright lights, there wasn’t any way that she could see him through the door’s two‑way mirroring.
He touched his intercom again. “Have security check my system,” he said softly. “I wasn’t notified that I had a visitor. …Oh, and the television died. Have maintenance fix it or replace it when we’re done.”
Changing buttons, Del greeted the woman by both first and last name, inviting her to come through as he touched the door switch. The heavy security glass slid back, the hydraulics hissing faintly.
Immediately she rose, but did not approach. She was elegantly dressed in a high‑necked tunic of brocaded silk — black, expensive — and equally black tights with knee‑high boots, likewise black, no heels. She was straight out of New York’s fall fashion. “Mrs. Alexander,” he repeated, rising and extending his hand in welcome. “If you’d come in.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice soft, mellow, well‑articulated, “but, no, thank you. I prefer not to enter locked rooms. We can speak out here.”
Disturbed, he touched another button — one that notified school security of an irregularity, though, if they were listening like they were supposed to be, they should already have a guard coming. Immediately a small light blinked that indicated acknowledgment. Del waited, and, sure enough, moments later, one of his screens showed a man move into place just out of sight beyond the waiting room’s open entry arch. He sighed relief, then, straightening his tie, walked around his desk. “Mrs. Alexander,” he said, again, stepping through the doorway. He extended his right hand.
She smiled pleasantly, her teeth white and even in the way that told him she’d had an extraordinary orthodontist in her youth. She reached just far enough to meet his handshake with a finger‑grasp that sent a fluttering thrill straight to his crotch. He liked her instantly, despite the fact that she was not well‑breasted, a rare thing these days. “If you’d sit down, Mrs. Alexander, we can discuss Levi?”
Neatly, she obliged, and he took the nearest opposite chair. “Your boy is going to be okay?” He’d planned strict, authoritative, even confrontational. Purposely, he changed his choice to polite and sympathetic. This woman was obviously wealthy, perhaps as well‑to‑do as Chad Miller’s father was. And maybe she was more important. By her manner and her daring, Del was getting more suspicious all the time that the Alexanders were “somebodies.” It would explain the locked records, something that took a lot of privilege to accomplish.
“He’ll be fine,” she said.
“Chad Miller, the boy Levi had the fight with, has a broken knee,” Del said.
She nodded. “Levi has a broken arm and nose.”
“I’m afraid this has to be reported. It will go on his official record.”
“Along with the mitigating circumstances that demonstrate that Levi was justified in defending himself,” she said — stated, actually — in a matter‑of‑fact manner. “I expect that this Miller child will, likewise, receive just and thorough counseling and reprimand for his unprovoked assault upon my son?”
Del frowned. “I don’t understand,” he heard himself say. His voice was catching, almost stammering. Ray Miller, Chad’s father, was the mayor’s brother and the county prosecutor.
“The boy — Chad Miller, as you name him — clearly assaulted my son,” she said. “Your own security monitors will bear me out. And I am very sure that your monitors will also bear out evidence that Chad Miller was goaded into doing it by one of your own teachers, maybe several,” she said. “It’s interesting what a good microphone can hear.”
Mrs. Alexander’s words echoed oddly in Del’s ears. The room was suddenly extremely warm. He desperately wanted to loosen up his tie. A black knot was growing in his gut. “Excuse me for a moment,” he said, rising.
She nodded, and he retreated to his office, almost falling as his shoes caught on the plush blue carpet’s nap. He dropped into his chair, his hands, shaking now, hitting at, but missing, the switch that sealed the door.
With extreme effort, he focused and finally found the correct button. Then he sat, breath heaving, his left hand pulling at his tie to loosen it. No one spoke to a school official in that manner unless they owned a lot power. But these were newcomers. They had no leverage. And why did she suggest that Chad had been instigator?
Touching his intercom again, he said, “Ruth, did you show the school recordings to Mrs. Alexander?”
“Thank you.” He disconnected. He would check that, but Ruth knew the rules. She was a good, obedient secretary — discreet and proper.
Taking five — he counted them — slow, deep breaths, he hit the quick‑dial number to the school attorney’s office. “Joe, were you listening?”
“We have a problem.”
“I know. I’m in route.”
Waiting out the time till Joe made it over from his uptown office, Del watched Mrs. Alexander just continue to sit calmly, never looking bored, never picking up a magazine, not tapping either foot or finger. Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, Joe’s car pulled in. Del began to breathe a little easier. He was about to open his security door again when he got the flash on screen that told him to stay put. It came from Joe. Del sat back down, more pleased and relieved than offended. He left his audio and video on.
Del watched Joe Tremaine shake hands and introduced himself. The lawyer immediately began talking in the double‑speak that seemed agreement, but actually was designed to lull and lure the opposition into an incriminating dialog. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The more the lawyer tried obfuscation, the more direct and to the point was the woman. Del listened, surprised and irritated at how inept Mrs. Alexander made Joe seem. Something was definitely up. She knew too much — too many details.
Sitting up, Del began to type specific queries into his computer interface. The more he typed, the more frantic he became. A search of every private record he could access made no mention of the Alexander family. He found nothing. There was not one listing for them beyond the fact that they had a son who had attended Sherman Elementary, a private school in Denver, that child now enrolled in Springdale Middle School in Oak Haven, Illinois — Del’s school.
So the Alexanders were Somebody beyond Somebody. No one but a high government official or someone in the Federated Church could secure their records to this point of secrecy. …The Church — Del felt his blood drain.
Putting through a long‑distance call to Church’s central database, he requested Barry Waterman, keying through his personal authorization for a wire transfer from the school’s account to the Church of the requisite donation required to allow access to the internal files.
The funds transferred instantly, and, within seconds, Del got his clearance. But when he typed in his search parameters, the machine’s connection stalled, then bounced him back to a fresh query interface. He tried again, but the same thing happened. This time, he posted a complaint, and Barry himself or, at least, a video replica of him, blinked on‑screen inside a secured‑link inset. “Do not pursue this inquiry,” Barry’s head said. The inset immediately blanked, the words, “End of session. Secure link terminated,” flashing twice before the inset itself vanished.
Staring, Del began to sweat, beads of it forming on his forehead. His armpits got hot and damp. He pulled his tie off and undid the top button of his shirt, then the second one, as his ears again began attending the continuing conversation outside his door. Glancing over, Dell saw that Joe had his laptop open, a skittering fan of bars along its side indicating Joe was linked and downloading. The lawyer was speaking gently, plainly, using terms that hinted bribery. With a start, Del realized Joe was pleading.
The woman continually shook her head, then, abruptly rose. She extended her hand which Joe, standing quickly, grasped. She turned to direct her eyes at Del’s closed office door, waved once, then left. Del bolted upright, hitting the door switch. “Joe?”
“She’s got us, Del,” the lawyer said, walking in. He looked tired. “She’s got us all. Her kid’s been wearing a very expensive, very tiny, wide‑angle cam with a super‑snooper mic — a live wireless. So was she today, I’ll bet. I think it’s safe to say that they have recorded everything.”
Del waited till his heart quit hammering. Then, feeling very fragile, he asked, “What’s everything?”
* * *
SPRINGDALE MIDDLE SCHOOL became national, then international, news that day. It hit the Internet about the same time that Mrs. Alexander stood to leave. Within hours, reporters and their camera crews were crawling around Oak Harbor and the school. They were crawling around top schools throughout the nation as other parents and their children vouchsafed incidents very similar to what Levi’s tapes divulged.
Time, Newsweek, USAToday, and a host of PBS events were screaming about rampant corruption and indoctrination in the classroom, of using schools to promote religion, about condoned ridicule and violence against kids who dared defy or question the strictly-enforced, but highly secret national privatized school curriculum imposed by the Federated Church. All of it was backed by images — live feeds as well as stills — cropped from Levi’s cam recordings.
Then there was the eleven‑year‑old’s own testimony. Shy, quiet, his black eyes huge within a solemn face, Levi told the world from Live With Dora, from Good Morning, USA, from NightLive:
“I don’t believe in Creation, and I said that out loud in class. I said I thought religion sucked because it makes people hate each other so much and makes them really cruel…like as bad as in the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials. That’s when all the trouble started.”
The audio and video recordings bore him out.
“So why did your mother have you wear the cam?” Del asked. He was sitting as a guest across from the boy on NightLive, Joe right beside him. It was the one question that burned inside him — his personal obsession.
The boy looked him square in the eyes. “She didn’t. I did it myself.”
“Because God told me to.”
~ ~ ~