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"Holy cow!" Theresa Hearth said as she checked out the spread of Godiva and strawberries on the huge conference table before her. "This is a diabetic's worst nightmare."
Caylin Pike grinned. "That which does not kill you will only make you fatter." She popped a plump strawberry into her mouth for emphasis.
"Like you have to worry about getting fat," Theresa muttered. "Run any marathons this morning?"
Caylin flipped her blond ponytail behind her and fired a roundhouse kick into the air. "Just a ten-K. But I did foil a few muggings on the way home."
"The world should know better than to mess with you, right?" Jo Carreras added, her dark eyes sparkling.
"Right." Caylin straightened her sweatshirt and gracefully slid into one of the massive conference room chairs. Her every move was lithe and athletic. "So what's the deal with this room? It's big enough for a game of racquetball. And it looks so...sterile."
"No kidding," Theresa replied, scanning the high white walls and hidden fluorescent lights. The chamber had to be at least a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. The only furnishings were the gigantic white conference table and three expensive-looking white leather chairs.
One chair for each of the Spy Girls.
"Sometimes The Tower really creeps me out," Theresa remarked. She ran a hand nervously through her tousled brown hair "It's like they plan everything with only us in mind."
"Like they know what we're thinking at all times," Jo agreed. She approached one of the empty chairs tentatively, then tippy-tapped away in her Manolo Blahnik mules.
"Sit down, you guys." Caylin said impatiently. "I bet the show's not going to start until we're all in our seats."
Theresa and Jo remained rooted to the glossy, futuristic hospital-white floor.
Caylin's blue eyes widened indignantly. "What, do you think the chairs will flip over backward and set you on fire like in Austin Powers?"
Theresa laughed. "I loved that part."
"Hey, not funny," Jo pleaded. "There's something about this room that...I don't know. It's freaky."
"Look, The Tower handpicked us to save the world, remember?" Caylin said. "We're the good guys. Nothing bad's going to happen to us here."
Theresa snagged a piece of chocolate and slowly sat down. The chair was surprisingly soft and comfortable. No fire, no flipping. "You know, Jo does have a point," she began. "This is the kind of room where presidents decide which countries to bomb. We trained in this building for four months and we didn't even know this room existed. Good guys or not, doesn't that weird you out in the slightest?"
"Nope," Caylin replied, popping another juicy berry.
"Whoa! Careful with that juice, Cay," Jo warned as she sat down gingerly in the last remaining empty chair. "Would you like the honor of paying my next dry-cleaning bill?"
Caylin pretended to lob a chocolate in Jo's direction. "What do you care when The Tower's picking up the tab?"
"Oh yeah...you're right." Jo smoothed her pristine Prada pencil skirt over her knees. "So why did we get summoned here, anyway?"
Caylin sipped from a bottle of water. "I guess we've got another secret mission ahead of us."
"But we only got back from England forty-eight hours ago," Theresa moaned.
"Yeah," Jo chimed in. "That's not even enough time to go shopping, let alone celebrate our first victorious mission."
Caylin grinned. "We did kick butt."
"You expected anything less?" Jo declared, reaching across the table and high-fiving her comrades. "The Spy Girls rule!"
"Well, we've only had one mission," Theresa said cautiously. "We're no Jane Bonds yet."
"I sure think we are," Caylin insisted. "Boy, T., you need to get your nose out of your laptop and take a good look around you. We totally saved the world last week. Didn't you notice?"
"Yeah." Theresa chuckled. "But didn't you notice how we almost got completely killed in the process? Hmmm...maybe all that bungee jumping has rattled your brain."
"And all that hacking has fried yours," Caylin said, giggling.
Theresa stuck out her tongue. "You couldn't hack your way out of a dressing room."
"Look, all joking aside," Jo interrupted with a smile, "don't forget that that's the whole point."
Theresa lifted an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, Caylin doesn't have to hack her way out of a dressing room because you can. Just like you don't have to bungee jump off Hoover Dam because Caylin can. We're all here because our skills complement each other, you know?"
Theresa gave Caylin a knowing look "Hmmm...Jo must have been taking notes during our orientation speech."
"Naw, Jo was just paying extra-special attention to that speechifying hottie," Caylin quipped.
"So," Theresa mused, "if I'm Henrietta Hacker and Caylin is Action Jackson, then what does that make you, Jo?"
Jo half dosed her eyelids. "I'm the seductress."
Theresa and Caylin groaned and pelted Jo with strawberries.
"My skirt!" Jo yelped. "Hey, watch the couture, okay?"
Their giggling stopped when the fights suddenly went dim. That could mean only one thing.
"Uncle Sam, is that you?" Theresa asked.
A low, powerful hum grew all around them. The Spy Girls glanced nervously at one another. The sound was everywhere, as if it came from deep within The Tower itself.
Slowly, on the far wall, a panel slid open and a giant screen appeared.
It glowed eerily. Blank.
"Time for Captain Kangaroo?" Jo whispered.
"Shhh," Theresa warned. Her heart pounded. She watched, hypnotized with curiosity, as The Tower's fearless leader, Uncle Sam, appeared on-screen. Fearless and faceless. His image was digitally altered, pixilated like a surprise witness's on Court TV. These tiny electronic dots mixed with black, murky shadows to create an image that was more Grim Reaper than Guy Smiley.
"Welcome home, ladies," Uncle Sam said, his honey-rich voice full of pride. "And how are my favorite international spies doing today?"
"Ab fab," Jo said with a purr in her voice. "But we had no idea how terribly boring London could be this time of year, dahling. Was it the off-season for intrigue?"
"Hmmm, I believe it was," Caylin chimed in, employing her impeccable British accent. "Do send us somewhere a trifle more challenging this time, Samuel. I'm dying to know what's next."
"Don't die just yet, Caylin." Uncle Sam said ominously. "There'll be plenty of time for that later."
The girls glanced nervously at one another. Theresa gulped. Was good old Uncle Sammy serious?
The big screen was filled with the image of a sprawling, high-tech building. "This is the U.S. headquarters of InterCorp," Uncle Sam stated. "A multinational corporation that has reportedly been behind some of the more unsavory ventures in recent history. Toxic waste dumping, chemical weapons manufacturing, industrial espionage, you name it. Although we've kept the company under surveillance for years, no one has been able to dig up enough dirt to shut them down."
"I read an article about this company," Theresa said. "Supposedly key people who work for their competitors have a tendency to 'disappear.'"
"Supposedly," Jo spat. "Yeah, right."
The other girls knew not to comment when Jo used that tone of voice. That tone meant she was thinking of her father, a Miami judge who was gunned down right before the fourteen-year-old eyes of Josefina Mercedes Carreras while trying to convict a drug lord. Four years had passed since, but time had done little to soften the blow. Sure, Jo could easily hide her pain behind her naturally fun and flirty facade. But mentions of murder usually sent her crashing and burning.
"Like most people who run an empire with this much money and power, they want only one thing: more," Uncle Sam continued. "And they'll do anything to get it."
"Real sweethearts," Theresa said glibly, rolling her eyes.
A picture of an older, distinguished-looking man filled the screen. "This is Mitchell von Strauss, president of InterCorp," Uncle Sam said. "One of the most intelligent and ruthless businessmen in the world. His accomplishments speak for themselves. Unfortunately his methods do, too. He eliminates his competition some say literally. One magazine compared him to a dangerous dictator someone who thinks he can use any means to achieve his goals. Even murder."
"Disgusting," Jo said. Her dark eyes shot daggers at the image of von Strauss. Suddenly a new image appeared on-screen.
Jo's eyes instantly melted as she took in the vision of a tall, blond hottie with a deep tan and deeper dimples.
The one thing that could send Jo's caution, judgment, and common sense flying right out the window.
"This is Ewan Gallagher, InterCorp's head of international relations, " Uncle Sam explained.
"Relations?" Jo echoed. "Mmm. I can relate."
"He was a boy genius," Uncle Sam continued. "Graduated high school at fourteen, top of his class at Harvard at seventeen. Now, at just twenty four, he's one of the most powerful men in international business."
Jo was practically drooling on the table.
"Wow," Caylin whispered. She looked as if she would hyperventilate at any second.
It wasn't like Caylin to be out of breath. But Jo sure couldn't blame her.
"Come on, you guys," Theresa muttered. "Can't you tell he's a guy who'd sell his mother on the black market?"
"So?" Jo replied dreamily.
"So, do you remember Antonio? The guy you hooked up with in London?" Theresa said. "Italian. Gorgeous. Charming. Liked to kill young female spies."
Jo scowled. "I remember."
"Theresa's right, girls," Uncle Sam said. "Don't judge this movie by its trailer. Gallagher is just as cold and ruthless as von Strauss."
Pouting, Jo tapped her high heels against the floor in frustration. She knew all too well how deceptive appearances could be she'd had plenty of experience in that department. Still, for some bizarre reason she couldn't stop falling for dangerous guys. When she gazed up at Ewan's face on the screen, she didn't see cold and ruthless just warm and guileless.
Note to self, she thought grimly. Get a clue!
She actually breathed a sigh of relief when a gray, sleek-looking building replaced Ewan's face on the screen.
"This is InterCorp's Prague headquarters," Uncle Sam continued. Von Strauss and Gallagher relocated to the Czech Republic's capital city just last week, presumably because an open-trade pact is about to be signed here."
"I love Prague!" Caylin said, ever the jet-setter. "It's so gorgeous."
"The New Russian Ballet likes Prague, too," Uncle Sam stated as footage of a gorgeous, darkhaired ballerina rolled. "This is Anka Perdova, age eighteen. She's the NRB's prima ballerina. The troupe is currently installed at Prague's St. Nikolai Theater."
"That's one big-buck investment." Caylin noted.
"Yes," Uncle Sam agreed. "And guess who is bankrolling their season in Prague?"
"InterCorp," Theresa replied.
"Exactly," Uncle Sam said.
"Why would InterCorp, fund a ballet troupe?" Theresa asked.
"A tax write-off, probably," Uncle Sam replied. "And a smoke screen for their more devious doings."
Suddenly pictures of distinguished-looking men and women of all nationalities were flashing on the screen, rapid-fire. "In just eight days these dignitaries will be flooding Prague to finalize the aforementioned open-trade pact," Uncle Sam said. "It's scheduled to be signed immediately following a performance at the ballet."
"Let me guess," Jo said. "Something's going to go down during the performance."
"I'm getting to that," Uncle Sam said as a close-up picture of an older, graying gentleman filled the screen.
"He looks familiar," Caylin said.
"This is Gogol Karkovic, the prime minister of Varokhastan a small, newly democratic Eastern European country," Uncle Sam explained. "If he signs the pact, InterCorp stands to lose a fortune."
"Why?" Theresa asked.
"Varokhastan is rich with mines," Uncle Sam replied. "Diamond mines. InterCorp has a vested interest in the diamond industry and they're very possessive. They would like nothing more than to lay claim to the diamonds of Varokhastan. And as I mentioned before, they do not like competition something this open-trade pact would create."
A million glittering diamonds filled the screen.
"Heaven," Jo said in awe.
"Not really," Uncle Sam said gravely. "We believe an attempt is going to be made on Karkovic's life before the trade pact can be signed. And we believe InterCorp is behind this assassination plot."
Jo gasped. An assassination plot? She instantly regretted her last breezy comment as images of her father flickered before her eyes.
"How will they do it?" Theresa asked, concern etched on her face.
"That's for you to find out, Spy Girls," Uncle Sam replied.
"And for us to stop," Caylin added. She pounded a fist into her hand for emphasis.
"Exactly." Uncle Sam cleared his throat. "Don't forget who you're dealing with here. Men like von Strauss and Gallagher don't care who they destroy in their wake as long as they get what they're after."
"And that doesn't just mean Karkovic, right?" Theresa asked.
"You're right," Uncle Sam replied. Suddenly the image of Anka Perdova reappeared on-screen. This time she was smiling and signing autographs for a bunch of kids. "Who knows how far InterCorp's plans reach? They could endanger the whole ballet troupe. Everyone in the audience that night. The entire city of Prague. Young children, like the ones you see here. Karkovic may be their target, but anyone anywhere near the theater will be in danger unless you foil InterCorp's plans."
Jo's eyes teared up at the poignant image. To think that such an awful thing could take place during a ballet performance it seemed impossible.
As Jo watched the talented ballerina smile for the young children her heart leaped into her throat. She and Anka, on the surface, seemed so alike. They both had long black hair; they both were eighteen, heck, they both were even lefties. And now they were both wrapped up in a horrible assassination plot.
"Karkovic's bodyguards won't have a chance," Theresa stated.
"So what's the plan?" Caylin asked, bouncing up and down in her seat. Ready to run, move, do something, anything.
Uncle Sam exhaled deeply. "Girls, your mission is to infiltrate the open-trade conference and stop the assassination of Karkovic."
Theresa raised her hand as if she were in grade school. "Uh, we knew that already, Sam," she said half sarcastically. "Don't you have any more for us to go on?"
"Negative," Uncle Sam replied. "You're entirely on your own."
Caylin's brow furrowed. "Why us?" she asked. "This is a big challenge. I mean, we're talking global impact and stuff. Why don't you just notify the pros and let them handle it?"
"You are the pros," Uncle Sam responded testily. "Besides, it's all speculation at this point. The exposure of a formal investigation can't be risked. And since most of the stagehands and interns are young females, we thought you would arouse the least amount of suspicion. Feel up to it?"
"Do we have a choice?" Theresa scoffed. But her gray eyes were dancing with excitement.
A slow, sly grin grew across Caylin's face. "Well, I do love the ballet," she drawled. "And I've got nothing else on my schedule this week. I guess I can cope."
"Me too." Jo sighed dramatically. "So many evil schemes, so little time."
Uncle Sam chuckled. "Glad you're so confident, girls."
Theresa smiled. "Why's that, Sammy?"
"Because you ship out in two hours."
Copyright © 1998 by Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc.