Code Word: Body Glitter
Once upon a time, I thought that the cheerleaders at my high school were no more capable of intelligent thought or true athleticism than the average dachshund. Suffice to say that unless the wiener dogs of the world have been holding out on me—big-time—I was very, very wrong.
“Amelia Juarez. Jacob Kann. Anthony Connors-Wright. Hector Hassan.” Brooke set the files down one by one, careful to avoid any undue wear and tear on her French manicure. “That’s four TCIs arriving in Bayport in the past two days. The question is why.”
Personally, I could think of a few other questions, starting with “What’s a TCI and why are cheerleading spies so fond of acronyms?” and running straight through to “Do you have any idea how incredibly uncomfortable this godforsaken polyester uniform is?”
To my credit, though, I somehow managed to remain remarkably quiet. Experience had taught me that if I waited long enough, someone would answer at least one of my unasked questions. Experience had also taught me that the fashionistas among us got, for lack of a better word, cranky when you criticized their fabric choices.
“What level threat are we talking about here?” Tara asked from my right. It wasn’t exactly one of my questions, but close enough.
“Nothing higher than third or fourth tier,” Brooke said. She arched an eyebrow at Zee in silent command, and our resident profiler obligingly picked up where Brooke had left off.
“According to our data, their connections to known terrorists and/or terrorist organizations are weak, but the links are there, and in each case, there have been enough person-to-person interactions with suspected terrorists to warrant full profiling and a place on the watch list.” Zee tucked a strand of jet-black hair behind her ear, a gesture I associated more with her ability to dispense gossip than her skills as a profiler. “All four are ambitious, and they all feel that they have something to prove. Amelia Juarez and Jacob Kann are terrorist-connected through their parents—lots of money, lots of power, long, drawn-out history of high-level crimes in both families. Hector Hassan is a businessman—again, young, smooth, very ambitious. And Anthony’s father is an independent operative working primarily for the U.S. and U.K. governments.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Teenage rebellion?” she inferred, as if the children of operatives often rebelled by going over to the dark side and becoming wannabe evil masterminds.
“Try midtwenties rebellion,” Zee said, “but, yeah, more or less. Anthony’s driven by his father’s career choices as much as Amelia and Jacob are by theirs, but in a different direction.”
So far, we had a crime prince, a crime princess, an intelligence brat, and a young businessman, all with some kind of vague-ish connections to terrorist groups. The part of my brain that’s tuned in to patterns and codes played back everything that had been said in the debriefing so far, and zeroed in on the combination of words most likely to fit the acronym.
“Terrorist-Connected Individuals,” I guessed out loud. “TCIs.”
At the head of the table, Brooke rolled her eyes. “Very good, Toby,” she said, her voice syrupy sweet. “Do you want a cookie?”
As a matter of fact, I would have loved one, but somehow, I didn’t think Brooke’s offer was anywhere near the ballpark of sincere. She was our Squad captain. In operative terms, that meant she was technically my commanding officer. In cheerleading terms, it meant she was a bitch.
Either way, I wasn’t getting a cookie.
“No offense, Brooke, but it doesn’t seem that complicated to me.” I was completely unwilling to back down from the challenge in Brooke’s eyes or the condescension in her voice. “An influx of TCIs to Bayport can’t be a good thing, even if they’re only fourth tier. We need to know why they’re here.”
Before Brooke could roll her eyes again, I plowed on.
“It sounds like we’re looking at some pretty basic surveillance maneuvers—minimal interaction, bugs in their hotel rooms…”
“Trackers on their rental cars,” Tara volunteered.
Brooke didn’t acknowledge the fact that I’d actually come up with a decent (albeit obvious) plan. Instead, she turned to Chloe, the original “gadget girl in Gucci.” “Can you get the necessaries by this afternoon?”
Chloe nodded. “I’ll have the bugs and tracking chips in the guidepost by the time the pep rally’s over this afternoon.”
Tracking chips and pep rallies—par for the course.
Without a word, Brooke picked the folders up off the table, and began handing them out. “Chloe, you and April take Amelia Juarez, Zee and I will tail Connors-Wright, Lucy and Bubbles, you’ve got Hassan.”
There was only one folder left and two teams. In the split second before Brooke made her decision, I swore to myself that if she put the twins on active duty and left Tara and me at the school to clean up after the pep rally, someone was going to die. Painfully, and without so much as a single “Go Lions!”
“Jacob Kann is all yours, Tare.” Brooke handed the last folder to Tara, and by the transitive property, she handed it to me.
“We’ll tag the TCIs tonight and report back here afterward to debrief,” Brooke said. “No matter what, with the bugs up and running, we should have some major intel by this time tomorrow afternoon.” She smiled then, a tight, broad smile that took up most of her face, and with that relatively small change, el capitan went from Squad mode to squad mode, from agent to cheerleader. “Next order of business: What color body glitter should we wear today? Blue or gold? Thoughts?”
From TCIs to body glitter in less than three seconds. Confused? Join the club.
I’d been a member of the Squad for less than a month, and I still woke up most mornings thinking it was all just some crazy Twinkie-induced dream. Then I looked in the mirror, noted my perfectly sculpted eyebrows and artificially tanned face, and the truth sank in.
This wasn’t a dream. I, Toby “Antisocial” Klein, had really been recruited to the varsity cheerleading squad, only to discover that said squad was actually a cover for an elite team of government operatives. The most popular girls at my high school were actually secret agents affiliated with a top-secret branch of the government somehow related to the CIA.
Yeah. Try to wrap your mind around that one.
I’d joined the Squad as a computer hacker with a third-degree black belt, and they’d turned me into a cheerleader. After a series of more-than-intense makeovers, fashion interventions, and instructions on the finer points of the toe touch, I looked like a cheerleader, cheered like a cheerleader, sat at the popular table for lunch, and spent my afternoons training for and going on missions that would blow most people’s minds. That last part, I loved. The rest of it was pretty much Toby torture.