Title: The Lost Ones
Criminal Minds
Summary: Chicago, 1997. A beat cop and a federal agent join forces to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of a homeless teenager. They uncover a conspiracy that turns their fight for justice into a fight for their lives.
Author's Note: At the end.

The Lost Ones

Chapter Twenty-Three

'Carlson was a CI,' Heller announced, a revelation that made Hotch frown. 'Unofficially, apparently; never gave a name, but fed them some intel on a human trafficking ring.'

'That's consistent with what I've heard,' Hotch said. 'Rumors on the street of people being sold for sex. I'm waiting for a callback from someone who can tell me more.' He gave a frown. 'If he's feeding intel, then that means he's been in contact with them. Is there a way that we can check pay phone records?'

'He could have a cell,' Heller pointed out.

'Possibly,' Hotch conceded, but he wasn't entirely convinced.

'I'll put word through to our computer people, but it might take a while; you can't just pull this stuff from anywhere.'

Hotch nodded. He tried to be as hands on as possible, but there was only so much he could do without technical intervention.

'Do you think they're still alive?' Heller asked, and Hotch wasn't quite sure how to respond. He wasn't used to this. He was used to Gideon, or Rossi, or Ryan being in charge. He'd worked on his own a lot as a prosecutor, but this was completely different. This was life or death. Even then, the cases he usually worked were a lot more straight forward; the pathology of single unsubs. Psychotics, or narcissists, or sociopaths. The group psychology of a human trafficking ring was a whole different ball-game.

'It's possible,' he settled on. 'We haven't found a body yet, which could mean that they're waiting until the attention has died down a little. They don't want to be noticed – their game relies on people not noticing them.'

It was another twenty minutes before they get an update on the phone records. Heller had no doubt put a priority call on them, because the paper was crumpled, and the ink barely seemed dry.

Hotch pointed to the list for one of the pay phones. 'Here – not far from where Eric frequented, the same number was called half a dozen times in one day. "Ferber's Consulting." Consultancy can be a pretty vague business.'

'You think it's a front?'

'I think we need to take a look at their financial records – just how good are your computer people?'

'Pretty good,' Lieutenant Heller said with some confidence. 'Why, the Bureau doesn't get computer guys with their budget?'

'Sure,' Hotch nodded. 'Two people for an entire department – sometimes it's quicker to just do the legwork. I'm only asking, because if we accidentally tip them off, then Morgan and Prentiss are dead.'

Heller nodded. 'You need them to find the records without leaving a trace. Got it – but if we get the info without a warrant, then anything we find won't be admissible in court.'

Hotch considered the point. On the one hand, if they didn't move soon, two people could end up dead. On the other hand, he knew well the problems that arose when the Rule of Law wasn't followed to a T; prosecution could be tricky.

'We need to do it anyway,' he said finally. If there was something to find, he could pull a few strings to get a warrant for a raid, but he wanted to wait until the last possible moment before putting it into the system, just in case they did have their feelers out.

Hotch waited, while Heller put his second call through to the Department's computer experts. The tension was slowly starting to build up; closure didn't seem so far away.

'They have four locations,' Heller pointed out. 'Which one do we hit?'

Hotch frowned. 'It'll be out of the way enough that nobody gets suspicious about strange activities.'

By the time they had narrowed it down to a location that fit the profile, the financial records had returned, eliciting a number of suspicious transactions. Hotch didn't even want to think about what would happen if they had something wrong; if the company was just another company, if they went to the wrong place. Any misstep, and both Morgan and Prentiss would end up dead, and their unsubs would be lost to the wind.

He wasn't going to let that happen.

A/N: Okay. Let's get this out. Apologies for 1) the fact that this took so ridiculously long, and 2) that it's not a particularly good update. I start off with ideas for case fics, and then realise that even if I have an ending planned out, I can never make it work without falling back on the same techniques, or making it sound really stupid. Right now I'm mostly focusing on getting as many stories done as possible, and I'm sorry that this one had to suffer for it. I think I got a little overambitious.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I will makes sure that next time, I won't bite off more than I can chew.