Changing the Rules (Judge # 1) by Catherine Bybee

“Not directly.”

“Private schools and public schools don’t compete as a rule,” Lars said.

“True,” Neil said. “But it isn’t uncommon for kids to move out of the private schools and into the public schools when they show athletic ability. Especially if the private school doesn’t have an organized team. As an example, Bremerton doesn’t have a football team, Auburn does. Many parents cave to the pressure of letting their kids go to public schools so they can compete and possibly earn athletic scholarships for college. And therefore there are plenty of kids here . . .” He pointed to Emma’s school. “Who know the more vulnerable kids here.”

“Emma’s too smart to let this kind of thing happen to her,” Isaac assured him.

“This isn’t about Emma.” Neil dropped the marker.

“The hell it isn’t.” Claire flat-out called bullshit on Neil’s words. “If there are dirtbags gunning for young girls at Emma’s school, you either flush them out or send her off to a boarding school. Which everyone in this room knows doesn’t guarantee safety.” As Claire voiced her opinion, some of the reasons why Neil would even consider this assignment made sense.

Neil narrowed his eyes, stared directly at Claire. “This is about teenage rebellion being exploited and used for the purpose of financial gain for everyone but that teenager.”

And Emma, Claire mouthed silently.

Cooper laughed. “If anyone so much as looked at Emma wrong, Neil would simply eliminate him.”

Neil didn’t confirm or deny that.

“You were the one who said you needed some excitement,” Lars reminded Claire.

Yeah . . . that had happened yesterday.

Claire broke eye contact with Neil and glanced at Cooper and then Jax.

Jax shook her head. “Looks like we’re going back to school.”


“Do we really look young enough to pass for high school seniors?” Claire stood with a pool cue in her hand and waited while Cooper took his turn.

“I still get carded all the time,” Jax said.

“Even if we look the part, we know next to nothing about American high schools.”

The local bar was a dive. Dark corners and burned-out lights. But the place was clean, and the drinks were decent.

Jax took up space on a stool next to a high-top table that held their drinks.

“What’s to know?” Cooper asked. “You have the cool kids, the mean kids, jocks, and geeks. You have the emo group and the outcasts. The party kids, the popular ones. And they’re all on their phones twenty-four seven.”

“Oh, damn, that’s right.” Claire and Jax were the exception to the twentysomething rule when it came to social media accounts. Claire didn’t have her own cell phone until she moved to the States after her years at Richter. And once they started working for Neil, he made it clear that social media was contraindicated when you worked with him. Private security was just that, private. Social media didn’t fit.

Cooper bounced his solid ball off the bumper, but missed the shot.

“We don’t have accounts,” Jax added.

“As soon as you get your identities, you’re going to have to change that. It’s the way kids communicate,” Cooper said.

Claire walked around the table looking for a shot. “I wouldn’t know what to post.”

“Selfies,” Jax said.

“How self-indulgent.” She lined up her ball and pulled the cue back.

“Yeah, but no one will think twice if you’re taking pictures all the time. And when we learn who the players are, we’ll have images,” Cooper said.

“I wonder how long this assignment is going to take.”

Claire angled her shot and sunk the ball. “Takes time to earn people’s trust and start knowing their secrets,” she told Jax.

“It didn’t sound like a quick job to me,” Cooper said.

“I always thought I’d do undercover work, but didn’t think that would mean I’m going back to high school,” Claire said.

“I know, right? I saw myself on the coast of Italy following someone who jacked all of Neil’s money.”

“How does Neil have that bank account, anyway?” Jax asked Cooper. The man never seemed without funds. And in cases like this one, he had a steady stream of organizations that funneled money into worthy causes.