The TSO

The TSO

Part One

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“I hereby call to order the first meeting of the TSO — Tween Spy Organization,” I boomed at my fellow spy-to-bes, Savannah Kingsley and Isabelle Palmer.

We’d formed a spy thingy because Savannah was reading a book, The Copernicus Legacy (I wouldn’t read it if I were you — Savannah tells me it’s a total copy of The 39 Clues), and they were talking about Germany, “the capital of spies and murder and death and foreign movies and spies.”

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I whipped a clipboard out of thin air and did roll call. We’re a nonsensical group of spy-ish tweens, so we start calling names from the bottom of the page, not the top.

“Palmer, Isabelle?”

“Here.”

“Kingsley, Savannah?”

“Here.”

“Copeland, Saige?” I smiled to myself, checking my name off. “Here.”

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Tossing the clipboard and pencil over my shoulder, I asked, “Does everyone have their equipment?”

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“Yessir!” Savannah replied, saluting me. She patted the knife and key hanging from the rope that was looped over her shoulder.

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Isabelle pulled a ginormous knife from her back pocket. “Will this do, Saige?”

“That’s Copeland, Palmer!” I snapped.

“Copeland,” she corrected herself softly.

“And about the knife . . .”

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I edged up to Savannah and we started to whisper.

“I don’t trust her with that thing.” I looked pointedly at Isabelle, who was trying to yank the knife out of its sheath. “She might hurt me.”

“Aren’t you worried that she might injure herself?” Savannah said quietly.

“That doesn’t matter,” I argued. “So, do you think we should give her a different knife?”

“Yessir, Copeland.”

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“Drop your knife, Palmer,” I ordered. I slipped a red knife off of my belt and presented it to Isabelle.

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“This knife is named Robin,” I announced. “It came in a three-pack, its siblings being Nightwing and Batman. May it serve you faithfully.”

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Isabelle flicked the blade open and stared at it, mesmerized. “Oh . . .”

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When Isabelle poked her finger with the knife, Savannah glanced at me and asked in a hushed tone, “Are you sure she should even have a knife at all?”

I shrugged and admitted, “I don’t know.”

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When Isabelle closed the knife and almost cut her finger off in the process, I turned to Savannah. “Give her the key,” I commanded.

She removed the key from her rope and held it out to me. “If she loses this, the whole mission will fail.”

I nodded. I knew the risks, but I was going to take the chance anyway. This was our first mission, and if we failed, none of us would become full members of the TSO.

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I snatched the key from Savannah and pushed it into Isabelle’s palm. “Keep it safe, you hear me?” I said.

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She stared at it in awe and nodded, slowly at first and then so fast it was a wonder she didn’t snap her neck. “Yes, I’ll keep it very safe, ma’am!” she promised.

“Sir!”

She tilted her head skeptically and opened her mouth to say something. Then she thought better of it and curled her fingers around the key. “Sir.”

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“Put it somewhere secure.” We couldn’t lose the key! For good measure, I added, “Somewhere very secure.”

“In my hair?” she inquired.

I rolled my eyes. “No. Not your hair. Your pocket?” I mused, “But that’s not safe enough . . .”

“How about your shoe?” suggested Savannah.

“Yes, that’s the perfect place!” I exclaimed. “Good thinking, Kingsley.”

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Isabelle slipped her left sneaker off and stowed the key inside of it. Once she’d put her shoe back on, I grabbed her foot and shook it back and forth, up and down. The key didn’t come out. It really was the perfect place!

There was just one last thing to do before we started our mission . . .

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“Drop and give me twenty!” I shouted. Savannah and Isabelle obediently began their pushups.

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“I thought this was a spy organization, not boot camp,” Izzy mumbled, still managing to sound all sweet and innocent and pinky even though she’s really a clumsy ballet dancer/evil spy mastermind.

“Zip it, Palmer!”

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Isabelle and Ana finished their pushups and lay on the ground, groaning, while I explained our mission.

“We spy on people!” I barked. “And that’s it!”

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I ran to the edge of our HQ (a tabletop) and, sitting down, inched my legs over the side. I laid my arms on the tabletop, dropped off, and shouted encouragingly at my teammates, “Let’s show the world how Tween Spies get it done!” And I promptly lost my grip and fell to the floor.

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Shouting “Tween Spies!”, Savannah and Isabelle followed me. Izzy tripped while she was jumping and landed flat on her face. Savannah did a very spy-like maneuver: she elegantly slid down one of the table legs, silent as a cat (because cats are quieter than mice).

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Once everyone was on the ground, we sneaked over to the stairwell and I hoisted myself up onto the railing. While I was situating myself for the ride down, Izzy and Savannah whisper-fought about who would go second.

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We flew down the railing and sprinted over to a metal pole that reached the ceiling. I pulled a high-tech compact grappling hook from my pocket and pressed a button on its side, causing the rope to spring out. It wrapped around the pole a couple of times before shooting to another one and securing the line there.

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Wrapping the rope around my hand, I started to climb the pole.

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My heartbeat pounded in my ears as I reached the top of the rope, wrapped my legs and hands around the taut part of it and slithered along. Don’t let anyone see me, don’t let anyone see me . . .

There were three ways you could fail a mission: not achieving the goal, being spotted by the enemy, or dieing. While our mission was as simple as spying on our family, any of those things could happen. I didn’t want to think of what would happen if we failed, but it somehow wormed its way to the front of my mind. None of us will become members of the TSO.

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I reached the end of the rope. I took a second grappling hook from my pocket and activated it. Before continuing along the line, I glanced back and saw my teammates weren’t far behind me.

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The pole the second grappling hook led to was right next to a human table, so we jumped onto that and picked our way down to the floor. Our house was two yards away, and hiding places were conveniently scattered across the distance.

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We regrouped in front of the door. This was it.

“Do you have the key, Palmer?” I asked. Of course she would say yes.

“Yes.” She was wearing a bag like a hat.

“Well, hand it over! We need it to unlock the front door.”

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She pulled the bag off her head and then untied her shoe.

Come on, I thought, hurry up! Someone might walk by any second now.

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Isabelle held the shoe up and shook it. The key didn’t fall out. I snatched it from her and peered into it. The key wasn’t stuck in there.

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“Noo –” I started to wail, but quickly clamped a hand over my mouth. We couldn’t be heard. I tried to collect myself, but as I stared at the empty shoe, I knew my gaze must have been crackling with rage. “How could you lose it, Palmer?!” I hissed at her. “It was just a key — not a microscopic marshmallow — and it was in your shoe!”

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“Um, sir,” said Savannah, daring to approach me. “Don’t you think perhaps we should be looking for the key instead of being angry at Palmer?”

I hated to admit it, but she was right. Three pairs of eyes began searching the room for the missing key.

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Savannah’s keen eyes found it hanging on the second rope at the far pole. “I guess we’ll have to crawl all the way up there,” she sighed.

We stealthily headed back to the human table, our hearts low. The first mission had a time limit of an hour, and already we were nearing the half-an-hour warning. Not completing it in time would result in us failing the mission. Would we have enough time to rescue the key, get into the house, spy on our family long enough to gather information to put into a one page report on suspicious activity and make it back to HQ?

Or would we never become members of the Tween Spy Organization?

Part Two: Suspicious

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The key was retrieved not by climbing the rope but by shaking it. On its ring, the key spun its way toward us at a rapid rate. It took a lot less time than I had expected it to. We could still complete the mission!

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When it was close enough, Savannah slipped the key off the line and clipped it onto her rope. Then we scurried back to the front door.

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Savannah unlock the door and slo-o-o-o-wly pushed it open . . . She stuck her head inside, gasped, and silently slammed the door shut (is that even possible), eyes wide.

“What is it, Kingsley?” I asked, dreading what she would say next. “What did you see?”

“Horrible . . . Something horrible . . .”

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I took Tracy’s phone (which I’d burgled from her for the TSO meeting) and pressed it into Savannah’s hand. “Take a picture.”

She nodded, and before she disappeared into the house, whispered, “I will.”

There was nothing to do but wait.

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 Twenty seconds later, Savannah motioned us into the house. Hidden in the front door’s shadow, we saw the horrible thing that Savannah had talked about. It truly was horrible, but I’m afraid that you can’t un-see things.

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Caroline, wearing a sleeveless dress, daisies clutched in her hand, was dancing. And not to her usual classical music, but to pop.

I covered my eyes and almost blew our cover by gasping. Fortunately, it was a quiet gasp, and Caroline’s music was so loud she wouldn’t have been able to hear me even if I’d done a monster sneeze.

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We slipped past Caroline and darted up the stairs to the room that I shared with Isabelle and MJ. Suspicious things were happening in there: MJ was pacing the room, flipping through a cookbook, and Ivy, leaning against a wall, was staring at her phone.

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I scurried across the room and jumped onto my bed, which shielded me from Ivy and MJ. Savannah and Isabelle followed me. Safely in my bed, Savannah handed Tracy’s phone to Palmer. Now that Isabelle wasn’t in charge of the key, she needed something to do.

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Isabelle peeked around the end of my bed and snapped a couple pictures of our sisters. She gave the phone back to Savannah and we poured over the photographs, pointing out everything suspicious.

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While reading a cookbook seems extremely normal, it’s actually not. That morning, MJ had told us that she was going to bake macaroons. She knew the recipe by heart, so why was she looking at a cookbook?

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I observed Ivy for awhile and saw that she hardly moved, and when she did, it was just a twitch of the thumb. We decided that she was being mind-controlled by aliens and they were speaking to her telepathically.

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In Tracy’s room, the great tomboy herself was bouncing a basketball off the wall, over and over again. In wasn’t unusual for her to punch or throw things at her wall, but this was weird because the basketball hit one spot repeatedly: her Spiderman poster that read “I’m not saying I’m SPIDERMAN, I’m just saying no one has ever seen me and Spiderman in the same room together.”

“Tracy doesn’t play basketball,” I whispered as Isabelle photographed the fourteen-year-old.

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On the top floor, Emily was lying on a pile of bedding, sobbing, and wearing MJ’s pajamas. I think you’ll agree that it was slightly strange.

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Molly was sitting on her bed, staring at the wall. She didn’t move, just sat there.

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Her dog, Boo, was barking at her: he wanted to go outside. But Molly was oblivious to the cries of Emily and Boo.

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Having photographed all of our siblings, we escaped the house and shimmed along our ropes, heading back to our HQ. We still had time left; we could complete the mission!

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Back at the TSO HQ, Isabelle and I sat down on either side of Savannah, and together, we typed up a Suspicious Activity Report.

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Written and printed, Savannah read the finished Suspicious Activity Report to us.

“Suspicious Activity Report.

“Subject: Caroline Abbott. Seen dancing, wearing a sleeveless dress. Music she was dancing to was pop (her usual is classic) and she had stolen Tracy’s radio.

“Subject: Mary-Jane Valdez. Seen pacing in her room, reading a cookbook. She should not have been looking for a recipe because  she told us that morning what she was going to bake.

“Subject: Ivy Ling. Seen staring at her iPhone. She hardly moved, so she was not playing a game, and she despises eBooks, so that was also out of the question. She may have been communicating telepathically with aliens that were controlling her mind.

“Subject: Tracy. Seen throwing a basketball at her wall. More  precisely at a Spiderman poster on her wall. She does not play basketball and was unresponsive.

“Subject: Emily Bennett. Seen lying on a pile of bedding in pajamas that do not belong to her. She was crying loudly.

“Subject: Molly McIntire. Seen staring intently at wall. She didn’t show any signs that she heard Emily Bennett’s crying and the barking of her puppy, Boo, a Pomeranian.

“Report by TSO members Saige Copeland, Savannah Kingsley, and Isabelle Palmer.”

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I retrieved the TSO Book of Secrets from its safe in the wall. We would put the Suspicious Activity Report in it.

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Only when I was holding open the TSO book’s secret pocket and saw the report’s last line — “Report by TSO members Saige Copeland, Savannah Kingsley, and Isabelle Palmer” — did I realize that we really were members. Members! Members of the Tween Spy Organization!

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I sprang up, grabbed Savannah and Isabelle’s arms, and danced around, shouting, “We’re members!” The voices of my fellow spies joined my own. “We’re members!”

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We hopped around for a few more minutes, overly excited, before a thought struck me. “Guys . . . why were our sisters being weird?”

Part Three: Confessions

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Everyone was huddled on the floor in front of the humans’ giant TV. We were all in our pajamas (except for Emily; she had misplaced hers), watching the amazing Batman Begins.

Isabelle Palmer, Savannah Kingsley, and I, Saige Copeland, had been spying on our sisters for the past several months. Ever since we had found out that something fishy was going on in our home.

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Savannah, Isabelle, and I, the first TSO (Tween Spy Organization) members, exchanged a look. The whole family was finally together . . . we would be able to confront them about their suspicious behavior, and perhaps get some confessions.

“Hey, Tracy?” I called, and the eldest in our family paused the movie. “Could we look at your phone for a second?” During our initiation mission, we had photographed our sisters doing odd things. And those images were on Tracy’s phone.

Well, they had been on her iPhone, previously. But, from her phone, I had emailed the pictures to Savannah’s laptop. However, I could access them through the Sent folder on Tracy’s phone.

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Grumbling, Tracy crawled over to where I was sitting and handed me her phone. “Don’t you dare break it,” she warned.

“No worries,” I replied as I turned on the phone. I wanted to make sure that the images had been deleted, so I brought up the camera app and flipped through Tracy’s numerous selfies.

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Tracy slunk back to where she had been sitting, and I sank back onto the ground next to Isabelle. I’d gone through about thirty of Tracy’s selfies all ready, and I was ready to believe that the pictures had been deleted, when I saw it: a photo of one of my sisters, Emily Bennett, crying on a heap of bedding.

“I thought you deleted them!” I hissed at Palmer. She had been trusted with the job of erasing the evidence.

Isabelle smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, Saige. I guess I forgot.”

I leaned across Isabelle and tapped Savannah’s knee. “We have to do it,” I told her under my breath. “It’s time.”

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Us TSO members awkwardly got to our feet and stood in front of our siblings. Someone paused the movie.

I coughed to get their attention. “Uh, we’ve noticed the some of you have been acting a little weird lately,” I began, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

Kingsley elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, “You’re going to blow our cover, Copeland! They’ll know about the TSO, and then our spying days will be over.”

“Calm down,” I ordered. “I’ve got this.

“As I was saying, you’ve been acting strangely,” I continued. “We sort of, um, borrowed Tracy’s phone and took some pictures of you — because we love you and you’re all pretty — and we noticed weird stuff in the photos. Can you guys explain?”

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I brought up the picture of MJ pacing around her room and flipping through her cookbook.

“Here’s one of MJ,” I said. “We thought it was weird that she was looking at her cookbook because she’d told us earlier that day that she was going to bake macarons.”

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MJ leapt off the ground and peered at the photo. Then she laughed. “I’d run out of almond flour!” she explained. Almond flour was an ingredient in macarons. “I needed to find something else to bake.”

Oh. That explained it. Maybe we had jumped to conclusions, assuming that she was up to something.

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Everyone crowded around us, looking at the phone and telling us what they were doing in the photos.

“Show me the photo you took of me!” Tracy exclaimed.

I obediently flicked through the images until I found the one of Tracy.

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When she saw it, she snorted. “You thought that was me being suspicious? I’d died in a video game and I was frustrated. That’s all.”

“What about the Spiderman necklace on the floor?” I asked.

“I’m lazy and I didn’t want to put it on my nightstand. “

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Emily had a legit excuse as well. “I was rereading The Lightning Thief, and I got really sad because I know what’s in store for Percy and Annabeth. So I started crying. And as for wearing MJ’s pajamas — I just wanted to see how they looked on me.” She said the last part rather guiltily.

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When we showed Molly her picture, she pointed to the sliver of purple sticking up from her lap. “I was doing some schoolwork. You know I can block out everything else when I’m concentrating.”

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I showed Ivy her photo. “You don’t like eBooks. Why were staring at your phone like that?”

Ivy shrugged. “You’re right, I don’t like eBooks. But that was a special occasion — neither the library nor the bookstore had the book I was looking for, so I had to resort to reading it on my phone.”

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We turned to Caroline, who was standing uncomfortably at the back of the group. “How about you?” I asked. “Do you have an excuse?”

In her picture, she was wearing a sleeveless dress, holding several daisies, and dancing to some pop music.

“Can’t a girl dance once in a while?” she mumbled.

No, no they can’t. Not in my house, anyway. I was about to press her for more information, but Savannah elbowed me again and gave me a look: Drop it.

So our family wasn’t nearly as weird as we had thought. I was sort of relieved, but also disappointed.

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Our family settled back down and we continued to watch Batman Begins. Nevaeh Taylor, the newest addition to our family, slunk over to our side of the room and sat next to Savannah.

“I know you’re up to something,” she said softly. Her tone wasn’t threatening — it was just curious. Then she hurried back to her seat.

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“That was weird,” Savannah managed, turning to me. “You know, Saige, Nevaeh might be a good addition to the TSO. She’s in the age range, too: ten to twelve years old. Think about it.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “There may be a day in the future where Nevaeh will be needed. But three’s a crowd, and we are the original spying trio.”

Our spying days were not over yet, not by a long shot.

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8 thoughts on “The TSO

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