Authors: Elizabeth Cage
For Gage and Wendyâcongratulations!
“Maybe Uncle Sam is finally going to reveal his true identity to us,” Jo Carreras suggested to her fellow Spy Girls as the trio walked down the long hallway leading to their boss's office. “We've never been summoned directly to his personal headquarters.”
Jo was endlessly awed by the rooms and corridors that constituted The Tower. Unlike most government agencies, The Tower was all about future shockâclean lines and smooth surfaces. There were massive, sectional leather sofas all over the place, and a seriously impressive collection of modern art lined the walls. Kind of like something she pictured when she read the book
but without all that nasty totalitarianism stuff. Jo couldn't wait to get inside Uncle Sam's officeâno doubt, the place would be totally decked out.
“Yeah, right.” Theresa Hearth snorted, responding to Jo. “You
why the great one has summoned us.”
Okay, so there was no way in you-know-what that Uncle Sam was going to let them see his face. A girl could dream.
,” Caylin Pike announced, flipping her blond hair over one shoulder. “We're about to learn all about mission number five.”
Caylin and Theresa were right, of course. The dynamic trio had been back at Tower headquarters in D.C. for almost two days. Their Swiss mission had been successfully completed, and now it was time for a new assignment.
Jo felt a flutter of excitement as the girls neared Uncle Sam's office. Nothing got the old adrenaline flowing like the prospect of yet another top secret mission. She picked up her pace, impatient to reach Uncle Sam's lair.
And there was no doubt that her fellow Spy Girls were equally anxious to find out the itinerary of the next adventure. Over the past few months Jo had more or less mastered the ability to read Caylin and Theresa's minds. It was
hard to believe that less than a year ago, the three young women had been strangers.
Jo would never forget the morning she had arrived at The Tower for the first time. She had thought she was about to matriculate in an elite East Coast college. Uh, try not! Long story short, it turned out that Jo (the linguist)âalong with Caylin (the athlete) and Theresa (the computer nerd)âhad been carefully selected by the U.S. government to be trained as a top secret super-duper spy team. After some of the most intense training Jo could have imagined, the girls were officially inducted into The Tower. VoilÃ ! The Spy Girls were born, and the ride of a lifetime had begun.
“Ready or not, here we come,” Jo called out as she pushed on Uncle Sam's heavy metal door.
Yep. The office was ultraspiffy. Huge glass desk, a ÂRothko hanging next to a floor-to-ceiling window, and several long leather couches.
“Greetings, Spy Girls.” Uncle Sam's gravelly voiceâgravelly-sexy, not gravelly-grossâwas loud and clear, but as per usual, The Man himself was nowhere to be seen. Instead a digitally programmed, ultrapixelated version of
Uncle Sam's silhouette appeared before the trio on a large screen. “You're all looking extremely well.”
Jo plopped onto a black leather sofa. “So, where are we going next?” she asked. “Dallas, Texas? Zimbabwe, Africa? Sydney, Australia?”
“We'd like to go somewhere warm,” Theresa said. “I've been hoping for a chance to try out one of those solar-Âpowered laptops.”
“And headquarters complete with an Olympic-sized pool wouldn't be too shabby,” Caylin added.
Uncle Sam laughed. “You're going to Brazil.”
“Brazil, as in home of the samba and incredibly good-looking Latin lovers Brazil?” Caylin asked.
“That's the one,” Uncle Sam confirmed. “But go easy on the good-looking Latin lovers. You all will be there to work.”
“So, what are we going to be doing in South America?” Jo asked. “Besides working on our tans, of course.”
Uncle Sam cleared his throatâa sure sign that he was about to impart a piece of crucial, possibly terrifying, information. “The Tower has received an anonymous tip from
an informant in Rio,” he said solemnly. “We have every reason to believe that this informant has influence within Rio de Janeiro's thriving underworld.”
“And what does said informant claim is going down?” Theresa asked. “Tell us exactly what we're dealing with.”
As usual, Theresa was the Spy Girl most concerned with getting facts, details, and an outlined plan of action. In Jo's experience, attention to minutiae was a trait common to most computer geekettes.
“The informant promises to lead us to the head of one of Brazil's largest drug-smuggling rings,” Uncle Sam stated. “If you girls complete this mission successfully, some of the most dangerous people in South America will be rendered powerless.”
“WowÂ .Â .Â . big-time stuff,” Caylin murmured.
“That's right,” Uncle Sam agreed. “This drug lord has the blood of hundredsâif not thousandsâof people on his hands.”
Jo felt as if a small, homemade bomb had just exploded in her stomach. Drugs. Drug lords. Drug cartels. The words had a powerful effect on her. All visions of bikinis
and cute guys faded from her mind. In their place was the face of her father. Four years ago Jo's beloved dad, a highly respected Miami judge, had been murderedâall because he had been presiding over a case involving a powerful drug lord. Since then, nothing had been the same.Â .Â .Â .
“This so-called tip sounds a little thin,” Caylin said. “I mean, does this informant have a name?”
“Maybe someone is setting a trap,” Theresa agreed. “This whole thing sounds too good to be true. Fly to Rio. Meet informant. Bring down major drug lord, all as easy as one-two-three.”
“Good point, Theresa,” Uncle Sam said. “It's always possible that informants have ulterior motives.” He paused. “I'm counting on you three to discern whether or not the informant's motives are trustworthy.”
“We won't let you down, Sam,” Jo promised. To heck with the informant. She would track down the underworld baddie herself if necessary. “We'll bring these Âpeople downÂ .Â .Â . no matter what the cost.”
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“So much for the concept of R and R,” Caylin muttered an hour later. “I'm beginning to wonder why we ever bother to unpack.”
The trio had gone straight from Uncle Sam's office to their Tower dorm room, the floor of which was now covered with clothes.
“I still have shinsplints from skiing in Switzerland,” Theresa said, picking up a pair of mud-splattered jeans. “Jeez, where have these
Caylin tossed aside a limp, tattered bikini. “Let's hope we each get a complete new wardrobe at the Rio headquarters. I have nothing decent to wear.”
“How about you, Jo?” Theresa asked. “Are your duds in the same sorry shape as ours?”
“Yeah, noâI mean, sorry, what did you say?” Jo sounded dazed, as if she had heard nothing of Theresa and Caylin's fifteen-minute discourse on the nonlucky series of events that had led to their too quick departure from The Tower.
Caylin tossed a pair of fraying cotton panties into the trash can and glanced at Jo. She was sitting on her bed, staring at the still empty suitcase in front of her.
“Are you all right, Jo?” Caylin asked. “â'Cause we're, like, under some major time pressure here.”
“This is going to be our most dangerous mission yet,” Jo predicted darkly. “Drug lords don't mess around.”
“Why doesn't Sam have something more solid for us to go on?” Caylin asked, struggling unsuccessfully to keep the whine out of her tone. “I mean, we're just supposed to jet to Rio and meet some random informant in a nightclub called El Centro.”
“That's not a lot of information to go on,” Jo agreed. “But it will have to do.”
Theresa slipped her laptop computer into its carry-on bag. “All we know is that we're supposed to look for a red flower and gray-streaked hair.” She paused. “Is the old guy going to be holding a rose between his teeth or what?”
“Look on the bright side,” Caylin said. “If the informant is going gray, we're pretty much guaranteed that we won't be distracted by any pesky romantic notions.”
“Nobody said being a Spy Girl was going to be all fun and games,” Jo said sharply. “Let's remember what we're going to South America to accomplish.”
“Easy, Carreras,” Theresa admonished. “Caylin and I take our missions just as seriously as you do.”
Then something clicked in Caylin's head. Man, she was an idiot. And so was Theresa. How could they have been so insensitive? Going to Brazil to fight a drug lord wasn't going to be just another mission for Jo. In many ways, she would be evening a score.
Caylin shot Theresa a warning glance. They both needed to let Jo know but pronto that they would be behind her every step of the way as she confronted the demons of her past. Yes. It was definitely time for an official Spy Girl powwow. Unless they all addressed what Jo was going through, their fellow James Bondette might not make it through this mission with her sanity.
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Jo stared into space, reliving in vivid Technicolor the day of her father's murder. She closed her eyes against the painful memory, but the images wouldn't go away. For probably the thousandth time since Judge Carreras died her freshman year in high school, Jo found her mind replaying each tragic detail.
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“Be good today, Josefina,” Mr. Carreras commanded. “I don't want to hear from Ms. Pinsky that you got sent to the principal's office again.”
They were sitting in the front seat of Mr. Carreras's aging car in front of Josefina's Miami high school. As he did every morning, Mr. Carreras was dropping off Jo on his way to the courthouse, where he would spend the day listening to prosecutors and defense lawyers pleading their cases before a court of law. Josefina had expected her dad to be in an awesome mood todayâhe had just finished a high-profile drug case that had consumed his every waking moment for six months.
And he was in a good mood. Unfortunately, on this particular morning Josefina's father also seemed determined to give her a lecture on the virtues of being an obedient member of the student body.
Josefina sighed. “Dad, I'm not going to apologize for getting into trouble last week. I don't believe in cruelty to animals, and I absolutely refuse to dissect a poor, defenseless frog.”
Mr. Carreras raised one bushy eyebrow. “Even if that means you will fail biology, Josefina?”
She nodded vigorously. “I will not back down on this issue, Dad. It's too important.”
Mr. Carreras laughed, then reached over and patted Josefina on the head. “My daughter, the crusader.” For a moment he stared into her eyes. “I want you to do well in schoolÂ .Â .Â . but I also believe in standing up for what you believe in.” Again he paused. “Someday you're going to make a difference in this world, Josefina.”
She grinned. She knew her father would come around eventually. He had devoted too much of his life to doing good to undermine his only daughter's effortsâhowever humbleâto change the world.
“Thanks, Daddy.” Josefina leaned forward to hug her father before she left the car. Then suddenly, the peace of her morning was shattered.