"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 shock -- clean 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 1984, but without all that nasty totalitarianism stuff. Jo couldn't wait to get inside Uncle Sam's office -- no doubt, the place would be totally decked out.
"Yeah, right," Theresa Hearth snorted, responding to Jo. "You know whythe 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.
"Get ready, chicas," 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) -- along with Caylin (the athlete) and Theresa (the computer nerd) -- had 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. Voilà! 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 Rothko hanging next to a floor-to-ceiling window, and several long leather couches.
"Greetings, Spy Girls," Uncle Sam's gravelly voice -- gravelly-sexy, not gravelly-gross -- was 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-powered 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 throat -- a 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."
"Wow...big-time stuff," Caylin murmured.
"That's right," Uncle Sam agreed. "This drug lord has the blood of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of 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 murdered -- all because he had been presiding over a case involving a powerful drug lord. Since then, nothing had been the same....
"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, A 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 people down...no matter what the cost."
"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 been?"
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, no -- I 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. "'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 nightdub 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 pow-wow. Unless they all addressed what Jo was going through, their fellow James Bondette might not make it through this mission with her sanity.
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.
"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 today -- he 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 school...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 effort -- however humble -- to 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.
She whirled around and screamed.
A man had placed a gun to her father's head and pulled the trigger. Two terrible shots that changed Josefina's life forever. As she rushed to her dying father's side, his last words echoed through her mind. Someday she would make a difference. Someday.
"Jo? Are you okay?" Theresa's soft voice broke through Jo's tortured memories, and her eyes fluttered open.
"Yeah, I was just...remembering." She was surprised to see that tears were falling onto the legs of her jeans. Jo hadn't even realized that she was crying.
"We know this is going to be tough for you," Caylin said.
Jo dried the tears from her cheeks as sadness was replaced with anger. "I still can't believe that the man who shot my father never went to jail."
Theresa shook her head in sympathy. "I don't understand how the defense claimed there was a lack of evidence. Somebody must have paid off an official."
Jo shrugged. "Who knows?" She tried not to dwell on the details of the investigation surrounding her father's murder. In fact, she had blocked out most of the time immediately following that horrible morning. She simply couldn't deal with the injustice that had allowed her fathers killer to go free.
"But the police were positive that your father's murder was connected to the trial of a drug lord," Theresa said. "Which probably means this mission is going to be extra hard on you."
Jo nodded. She knew firsthand how ruthless the drug trade was. The people who got rich selling white powder didn't care how many lives they destroyed. As long as they had their fancy cars and mansions, they were happy.
"I just have a bad feeling about going to Rio," Jo admitted to her friends. "We've been in over our heads before...but this is different."
"Theresa and I won't leave your side for a moment," Caylin said reassuringly. "Besides, we may fly to Brazil and discover that the informant's information is no good."
Theresa nodded. "Yeah, we could be on a plane heading back to The Tower two days from now."
"I have to confess that there's a part of me that hopes this trip doesn't pan out," Jo said softly. "As much as I despise everything having anything to do with drugs, I also have a feeling that this whole mission is going to be an emotional roller coaster."
"That's not the Jo I know," Caylin answered. "You're usually the first one of us who's ready to risk anything to fight the bad guys."
Caylin was right. Jo remembered the steely resolve she had felt in Uncle Sam's office. This was an important mission. Jo couldn't allow her personal history to get in the way.
"We'll be with you every step of the way," Theresa reminded her. "The three of us will get through this mission together."
Jo smiled. Bonding with Theresa and Caylin had been the best part of her new fife as a spy for The Tower. They filled a place in her life that had been emptied when her father was killed. They made her feel safe and secure -- no matter how dire any given situation seemed on the surface.
"You guys are right on," Jo said. "If it turns out that the gray-haired guy is for real, then I'll fight with everything I've got to put this drug lord where he belongs -- in memory of my dad."
"He would have been so proud of you, Jo."
Theresa plopped down next to Jo and threw an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sure he'll be watching over us while we're in Brazil."
Jo took a deep, calming breath. From this moment forward, she was going to put her all into this mission. For her father. For justice.
"Enough gloom and doom," Jo announced suddenly, bouncing up from the bed. "Life is for the living!"
Caylin shoved her suitcase into the comer. "You said it, Spy Girl. Let's do something fun -- preferably an activity that doesn't involve packing. "
Jo walked to her CD collection and pulled out one of her all-time favorite discs. "All right, Chiquitas. It's time you learned how to samba!"
Theresa stood up, kicking aside a pile of clothes to make room. "Me, dancing?" She laughed. "Now this is going to be dangerous!"
Copyright © 1999 by 17th Street Productions, a division of Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc.