Changing the Rules (Judge # 1) by Catherine Bybee

Neil walked in the room with another man and cleared his throat. “Have a seat, guys.”

Chairs scraped against the floor as the team turned to give Neil their attention.

“I see everyone had a chance to welcome Cooper back,” Neil started. “With him here, I’m likely going to be replacing him overseas. After today’s meeting I’ll be looking for volunteers, if any of you are interested.”

“It’s a cush job,” Cooper announced.

“Stupid cold in London this time of year,” Jax said.

“Neil had me all over the place. Not just London.”

Neil cleared his throat a second time and they stopped talking among each other. “Details on that later.” He turned to the man standing beside him. “This is Detective Thomas Warren.”

Detective Warren looked around the group with a slight smile.

“He is the lead on a local task force that is targeting human trafficking. I’d like you to give him your undivided attention.” With the introduction made, Neil stepped back and leaned a hip on one of the many desks in the room.

“Thanks, Neil. I appreciate you all coming in. Like Neil said, I’m part of a larger group of detectives that has been working on identifying and apprehending the organizations that are responsible for human trafficking in our area. Specifically, child sex trafficking.”

Claire glanced at Jax, who sat silently beside her.

“Our team uses outside help on a continual basis. That’s where you come in, if you choose to take on the task. There has been an increase in child sex traffickers finding their victims in several local high schools. While many believe that this only happens in the inner city where the income and poverty level among the community is a factor, that wouldn’t be entirely true. More and more private schools and Title One schools are reporting kids dropping out and seemingly disappearing as well. There appears to be a much more organized effort to target younger and younger teens across the board.” Warren indicated Neil. “Neil and I became acquainted through a mutual friend. I know each and every one of you in this room has a special set of skills that would soar your rank if you ever decided to join the force.”

“Most of us are retired military. We’re not interested in being cops.” Lars spoke for many of them.

Warren shook his head. “And I don’t blame you. The rules we have to abide by tie our hands more often than not. But you guys don’t have that. What you do have are skills to infiltrate the local schools, help us identify at-risk teens, and point us to those who prey on them. More importantly, you’re able to keep yourselves and the victims safe should they ask for your help.”

“This sounds like something your department can do undercover,” Claire said.

“And we have. In the past we’ve managed to identify several victims and those that pulled them into the sex trade.”

“Then why do you need us?” Claire asked.

Warren took a second to look at all of them. “We need fresh eyes, young eyes.” He looked directly at Claire and Jax. “My department has successfully gone undercover acting as teachers, office staff, and the occasional student. All of which turned up the gangs involved. Only now our resources are coming up dry. And no one believes these self-proclaimed ‘entrepreneurs’ have stopped manipulating teens into prostitution.”

“Entrepreneurs. Really?” Isaac asked.

“That’s a stretch,” Cooper added.

Warren kept talking. “The pimps we’ve managed to take down claim no gang affiliation. Of course, many of them lied to keep face with their people. And by gang, we aren’t talking anything as big as those we see in downtown LA, or any of the bigger cities. Some of these guys have a small culture, some as small as a half dozen, or as large as several dozen. Not very organized, but even then, they recruited and pimped their victims independently.”

“You mean the money didn’t go into the gang,” Lars said.

“Exactly. But, as our sting started outing these dirtbags, some formed bigger organizations and changed the way they operate. And that’s the issue we’re having now. Our crisis in over twenty schools has seemingly gone underground almost overnight.”

“The unorganized became organized,” Cooper stated.

Warren pointed at him. “Right. And I’ve been asked to go out, hire a team, and flush out the problem. We still have dropouts, runaways, kids that fit the profile, and some that are just flat-out disappearing.”