"Somewhere there's a convertible missing its fuzzy dice," Caylin Pike remarked as she stroked the sleeve of an obnoxious purple mohair sweater.
"Some people pay a lot of money to look like fuzzy dice," Jo Carreras replied, glancing at the price tag on the garment. "But it's not quite me."
"Are you kidding?" Caylin said with a laugh. "It looks like someone skinned Barney."
Jo rolled her eyes. "I forgot who I was browsing with. If it can't be sweated in, it's not fit to be worn, right, Cay?"
She and Caylin continued their mondo browse fest, chatting and maneuvering between close-knit racks of endless fashion.
It's nice to have some downtime, Jo thought. Seems like we spend every waking moment trying to save the free world, but we hardly ever have a spare minute to enjoy our American-born right to shop till we drop.
But the time was now.
She and Cay were on the fifth floor of Bogart's, one of the biggest and most exclusive department stores in New York City. Although few and way too far between, shopping sprees were one of the many perks of being a Spy Girl. From the moment they had walked through the front door, they had been assaulted by infinite temptations and combinations: dresses, blouses, suits, sweaters. Cotton, polyester, wool, knit blends. Ah, but then they also had to accessorize: earrings, bags, shoes, fragrances, scarves. The sheer amount of merchandise was almost too much for a Spy Girl to comprehend.
Jo was all over everything. Playing dress up was her second-favorite contact sport, after saving the world. Which she had actually done a few times. As a Spy Girl she had defused bombs, been shot at from snowmobiles, and fallen out of airplanes. Not to mention the many times she had used her stunning good looks to turn the heads of several charming enemies of the state.
Could she help it that bad guys seemed drawn to her flowing dark hair? Her black eyes and Latina complexion? Her flawless fashion sense? The only problem was her tendency to fall for the wrong men at the wrong times.
Oh, well, she thought. No one said world peace was easy.
Caylin Pike wasn't so flighty, Jo knew. Her idea of a good time was slipping her long blond hair into a ponytail, slapping on the gloves, and having a long session of kick boxing. How savage. Her fashion desires ran more toward cross trainers and running tights. But for this little excursion she had settled for jeans and a baseball jersey.
Sometimes Jo just didn't understand that girl. But baseball players were kind of cute....
Caylin and Jo made up two-thirds of the team known as the Spy Girls. They had been recruited from their various real lives as teenagers and trained in the art of espionage.
If you asked Jo, they had become quite good, thank you very much.
During one late-night movie fest with the other girls, Jo had offered her theory why they had taken to spying so easily: Teenagers are already superspies. They are world-class information gatherers (gossip and secrets), superb infiltrators (sneaking into the movies and hot new nightdubs), and expert evaders (ditching school and ducking teachers). Just add in some language and weapons training and presto! Jane Bond is born.
Jo sighed and gazed helplessly at the endless racks all around her. "I'll need at least three days to do this store right."
"No dice" Caylin replied. "Uncle Sam gave us the afternoon, not the month."
"An afternoon in New York City is the equivalent of three seconds. You can't accomplish anything!"
"My heart pumps Prada for you, Jo," came a voice from behind them.
Jo and Caylin turned and saw a girl their own age. She had brown hair, girl-next-door good looks, and an armful of beautiful blouses. Like, twenty of them!
"Doing a little shopping, T.?" Caylin joked.
"Ha ha," Theresa Hearth replied. "These shirts have my mother's label inside."
"So?" Jo asked. "Your mother does some hot stuff. It deserves to be in Bogart's." Theresa's mother had designed a hot new line of clothing called Girl Talk. She'd been featured on everything from VH1 to E! to Access Hollywood. Very cool.
But Jo knew that Theresa wasn't the type to get sucked into that fabulous world of haute couture and even more haute attitude. She'd rather have her nose pressed up against a computer monitor, hacking into the CIA or something -- and she had several times, actually.
"That's the problem," Theresa said, dumping the pile on a display table full of gloves. "These are supposed to be my mother's. But they aren't."
"What do you mean? There's the Girl Talk label right under your nose," Jo pointed out.
Theresa shook her head. "They're fake. See the capital G and T?"
"So?" Caylin asked.
"My mom's label never has any capital letters," Theresa explained. "When I was little, I refused to ever use capital letters when I was learning the alphabet. So as a sort of inside joke, my mother made the labels that way. No one else knows about it."
"Stupid question," Jo said, folding her arms over her chic leather jacket. "Why wouldn't you use capital letters when you were little?"
"Because they beat up on the lowercase letters," Theresa replied, as if it were the most obvious reason in the world.
Jo rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
"What?" Theresa exclaimed. "It makes perfect sense to me!"
"Why don't you just use all capital letters?" Caylin suggested. "Then no lowercase letters will get hurt."
It was Theresa's turn to roll her eyes. "Yeah, right. Why don't you just call them 'lower-class' letters? No one would ever use them!"
"Girls -- " Jo began.
"Well, if you had your way, no one would ever use capital letters. It's the same thing!" Caylin argued.
"It is not!"
"It is, too!" Caylin exclaimed. "That's why they have upper- and lowercase letters. So you use them both. Then no one gets hurt."
Theresa was all attitude. "That is so stupid. I never --"
Caylin and Theresa glared at Jo. "What?"
"Were those letters capital enough for you?" Jo asked, hands on hips. I think it's time to go."
"I thought we were shopping," Caylin said.
Jo sighed, planted a hand on each of their shoulders, and moved them along. "You've shopped enough."
Caylin Pike loved the city.
It's like a perpetual motion machine, she thought. No one ever stops. Not for a second. A subtle smile crossed her face. Just like me.
Outside Bogart's, Fifth Avenue was truly hopping. Tourists lined up everywhere for Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and an endless selection of the most deliciously shoppable boutiques this side of Beverly Hills.
Caylin threw her arm out to flag a cab.
"We'll never get a cab at this time of day," Jo said, struggling with two large shopping bags.
"Oh, ye of little or no faith," Caylin replied. "I've got a system."
"A system? For flagging cabs?" Jo commented. "I swear, between T.'s capital letters and your 'system,' you make Dilbert look like a well-adjusted human being."
Before she could say any more, a bright yellow minivan pulled up to the curb right in front of Caylin. She turned to Jo and grinned. "You were saying?"
Jo's mouth dropped open in surprise, but she recovered quickly. "I stand by my previous insult."
"I forgive you," Caylin replied, feeling triumphant.
The three Spy Girls piled in with their various bags, stuffing themselves into the backseat of the van like sardines. Finally Theresa managed to shut the door.
"Where to, baby cakeses?" growled the heavyset driver, who came complete with a tweed hat and chewed-up cigar.
Caylin blinked, unable to believe her ears. "Did I just hear...did you hear...did he just call us 'baby cakeses'?"
"Yes, he did," Theresa replied.
"Baby cakeses?" Caylin repeated.
"Relax, Cay, this is New York," Jo said. "He meant it as a compliment. Right, honey buns?"
The driver winked and puffed his cigar.
"Whatever you say, cupcake."
"Yeah, right, scuzzlebutt," Caylin grumbled, folding her arms and sinking into her seat.
"Where are we going?" Theresa asked.
"We have some time," Jo replied. "Another store?"
Theresa suddenly grinned. "I have an idea. Tower Records! Get it?"
"Oh, har-dee-har-har," Caylin muttered.
The organization that had recruited them, trained them, and assigned them to various missions was known only as The Tower. Caylin and the Spy Girls didn't know much about the organization at all. Their contact was called Uncle Sam, and they never saw his face. He was usually just a distorted image on a TV screen. That was the extent of their knowledge. They were on a need-to-know basis, and apparently their need to know was considered needless.
"Sure, Tower Records. Why not?" Caylin replied, looking out the window at the swiftly moving traffic.
"Abso-friggin'-lutely, apples of my eye," the driver said, setting the meter and roaring into traffic with a squeal of the tires. Horns blared angrily from behind them, and the girls scrambled for their seat belts.
Suddenly a voice filled the cab -- what would normally be some New York celebrity reminding passengers to buckle up for safety. This voice was indeed familiar, but it didn't belong to a celebrity.
"Hello, Spy Girls, this is your Uncle Sam reminding you to buckle up and enjoy the ride. But I'm afraid Tower Records is no longer on the agenda."
"Uncle Sam!" Jo piped up, looking around for the speakers. "Are you cleverly tucked in the glove compartment again?"
"Not even close, Jo," Sam replied.
"Are you at least in the same time zone?" Caylin asked, smiling at her friends. They all knew they weren't getting any 411 out of Sammy-poo.
"I'm afraid I can't divulge that information," Sam said smoothly.
"Shocker," Caylin quipped.
"But I bet you're going to divulge the socks off our next mission, right?" Theresa surmised.
Sam chuckled. "Sometimes you girls are just too smart for me."
"What is it this time, Sam?" Jo asked, leaning forward in her seat. "London? Paris? Gstaad?"
"How about Kinh-Sanh?"
Caylin's heart dropped. The girls stared at each other. "Kinh-Sanh?" Theresa replied uneasily.
Kinh-Sanh was an island nation halfway around the world, not far from the Chinese coast. It wasn't exactly known for its glamour.
"Isn't that a long way to go for a trio of American girls with no knowledge of Asian languages?" Jo asked.
"Relax, Spy Girls," Sam said, laughter in his tone. "It's beautiful this time of year. And it's home to the perfect mission for you. Kinh-Sanh has become a prime tourist spot -- especially for young European and American college students who backpack across Asia. It's quite the hotbed for rich young westerners looking for adventure."
"Yeah, we all read The Beach, Sammy," Jo replied.
"Of course. Apparently it seems that a good number of these rich young westerners are going to Kinh-Sanh but not coming home. They've joined with a man known as 'Luscious' Lucien West."
"Luscious?" Caylin asked, raising one perfectly shaped blond eyebrow. "You're joking."
Sam sighed. "You girls know I don't have a sense of humor."
"It's what we like best about you," Jo replied. "Continue, please."
"Right away, young lady," Sam said dryly. "It seems this West runs a religious sect from a compound a few miles outside the capital city. And it's plush. Very opulent, very private, and very hush-hush."
"My kind of joint," Jo remarked.
"Backpackers get word of this place from an underground network running throughout Southeast Asia, and they flock to Lucien West -- along with the account numbers of their trust funds," Sam said.
"Sounds like a cult," Caylin said. She leaned back into the seat as the taxicab left Manhattan for JFK Airport.
"Yes, it does," Sam agreed.
"So what does the Tower want with a self-professed holy man?" Theresa asked, squinting slightly.
The once surly driver slid a dossier through the opening in the Plexiglas partition. "Here you are, ladies," he said, harsh New York accent and chewed-up cigar now gone.
They flipped it open and read while Sam spoke. Several satellite photos -- super-zoom lens close -- were clipped to the dossier. "The problem is that Lucien West's physical profile matches that of an international con man known only by the name of Carruthers. He's a chameleon."
"So we see," Theresa said, passing several photos of men with blond hair, black hair, mustaches, beards, and a dozen kinds of glasses.
"This is all the same guy?"
"Yes. For the past ten years Carruthers has been linked with various schemes in Europe and the United States. Mostly things like counterfeiting, con games, and gambling. But he's never been caught."
"Again I ask why The Tower cares about a con man fleecing some rich Euro-dweebs who don't know any better?" Jo inquired, studying a photo of Carruthers wearing, of all things, a turban.
"Carruthers came to the attention of The Tower when he was linked to a group of terrorists trying to smuggle nuclear weapons out of Russia," Sam answered gravely.
"Whoa," Caylin replied. "Nukes?"
"Yes, Caylin. Nukes," Sam said. "The plot failed, but again he was not caught. It's been three years since Carruthers has surfaced, and there's a good chance that this 'Luscious' Lucien West is his latest guise. And as peace loving and charismatic as Lucien is purported to be, he could be hiding something sinister...and deadly."
"But what if this Lucien guy is the real deal?" Jo asked, glancing warily at her friends.
"That's precisely what you're going to find out," Sammy replied.
Nothing like walking in blind, Caylin thought. "Great," she said. "But what if he's not?"
"That, Spy Girls," Sam said ominously, "is precisely for you to take care of."
Copyright © 1999 by 17th Street Productions, a division of Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc.