Judy woke up a few minutes before the alarm that Nick had set. He had wrapped himself around her, his long muzzle tucked between her ears, and she listened to his slow, even breaths as she waited for it to be time to get up. The light of the rising morning sun through the window of his bedroom made his fur glow, and his arms around her were warm and soft. Considering what they had planned in the Pink Pansy between dances before finally returning to Nick's house, she had expected to wake up tense and perhaps even a little nervous, but those feelings weren't quite there. She could feel a slight quivering of nerves, and maybe that would get worse as they actually put their trap into action, but more than that she felt confident that they would succeed. Maybe it was just the comfort of having Nick with her, but she tried to hold onto the moment, burning it into her memory.
When the alarm did at last go off, Nick had woken slowly, first squeezing Judy against himself before untangling his limbs from around her. "Are you ready?" he murmured in her ear before pulling his head away.
Judy nodded. "Are you?" she asked.
Nick jumped out of bed, landing lightly on his feet and stretching enormously before shutting off the alarm. "Ready as I'll ever be, I suppose," he said, and Judy nodded.
They got ready as fast as they could, and before too long they were standing in front of the bank where Nick had left one of his duplicate ledgers.
The bank was in the heart of the financial district, and there was a steady stream of mammals around them, males in fine suits and females in expensive dresses, but the line moved quickly enough. The architecture of the bank seemed to have been designed to inspire confidence in the bank's ability to keep money and valuables safe; the windows set in the front wall were narrow and tall and showed just how thick the walls of the first story were. The bank had been open for an hour or so and still looked immaculately clean, the polished white marble of the floor free from any scuff marks or litter. A thin and hazy cloud of cigarette smoke hung over the long counter with more than a dozen booths for tellers, arranged with little sets of steps in front of them so that even mammals shorter than Judy would be able to see the teller.
When it was finally their turn, the teller had looked at Nick with an expression of careful disinterest, but Judy thought she could see the wheels turning in the middle-aged goat's head. Nick was a fox, but he was also dressed well, the same pair of emerald cuff links he had worn previously at his wrists and his suit crisp and impeccably pressed. "How may I help you today?" the goat asked, and Nick smiled as he withdrew a small key from his pocket and set it on the counter.
"I'd like to take something out of a safety deposit box," he said, and then he leaned against the counter and added in a voice barely above a whisper, "I've got some very valuable documents I need to look at."
He winked at the goat, who gave no outward reaction. She inspected the key carefully and then nodded after transcribing the number on it to a piece of paper she had pulled from somewhere behind her desk. "I'll just need you to fill this out, sir," she said, and she slid the paper across the counter to Nick.
From what Judy could see of the page, it was a simple form of acknowledgement, and Nick filled it out quickly, signing his name at the bottom with something of a flourish. "I'll be right back, sir," the goat said, and she took the page and left her desk to go into the back of the bank.
Nick drummed his fingers against the counter as they waited, half-turned to look out into the lobby. Even though it was a Monday and most mammals who worked in an office should have been there, there were easily two dozen or more mammals all waiting for their turn. Most of them were taller than Judy and none of them seemed to be paying any attention to her or Nick.
After a wait of a few minutes, the teller came back. "The guard will see you to your box, Mr. Wilde," the goat said, and gestured at a burly ox in the uniform of a bank guard.
"Ducky," Nick drawled, and then he turned to the guard and asked, "I'll just need a few minutes. It is secure, isn't it?"
The guard gave Nick a thin smile. "If we didn't keep the door open, you'd suffocate in there. The vault's air tight."
"Well, that's reassuring," Nick said, and he started following the guard.
Judy began to follow, but the teller cleared her throat and the guard paused. "I'm sorry, miss," the goat said, "But only Mr. Wilde and Mr. Steervens are authorized to view the contents inside the bank. Bank policy."
Judy gestured at the lobby. "I'll wait here, then," she said, and Nick nodded.
"I'll make it quick," he said, and with that he and the ox vanished down the hallway.
As it turned out, it was more than half an hour before Nick returned, a slim ledger with a black cardboard cover tucked under his arm. "I'm sorry about that," Nick said cheerfully as he came into sight of where Judy had sat down in an overstuffed chair in the lobby, "There's so much here we might as well take it with us."
Nick turned and nodded at the guard. "You take care of yourself, Barry!" he called after the ox.
Barry turned and gave Nick a smile. "You too, Mr. Wilde," he said.
"I told you: call me Nick," Nick replied, and the ox smiled again.
"Bank policy, Mr. Wilde," he said, and they both laughed.
As Judy followed Nick out of the bank, she turned to him, more than a little amazed by his little show with the guard. "Barry?" she asked, and he shrugged.
"Being a guard's lonely work," he said, "Poor fella just wanted someone to talk to, really."
Judy nodded, remembering how eager Officer Clawhauser had seemed to talk when he had been her guard. They walked in silence after that until they were back to where they had left the car. Judy had parked the car about a block away from the bank, right next to a police call box. Compared to some of the other call boxes in the city, it was in immaculate shape and looked as though it had been freshly painted. Appearances in the financial district were important, she supposed as she opened the box to grab the receiver, but it was only that the phone worked at all that she cared about.
Nick leaned against the pole, watching mammals go by, and his presence was a comfort. If the mammal on the other end of the line had been less willing to hear the desperation in Judy's voice as she identified herself and made her request to speak to Chief Bogo she might have asked Nick to try smooth-talking, but after a few seconds that seemed to drag on the connection was made. "This is Chief Bogo. What's so urgent, Ms. Hopps?"
The buffalo's voice was tinny and weak over the phone, but there was no doubt that it was him. "I need you to get Director Bellwether into your office as soon as possible. I'll be there as soon as I can," Judy said, doing her best not to stumble over her words.
"Ms. Hopps," Bogo began slowly, "Is this about the matter we discussed yesterday?"
"Yes," Judy said, and in her relief realized she was nearly shouting into the phone, "Yes, absolutely, it is."
"Then I look forward to seeing you," Bogo replied, and with that he simply hung up.
Judy stood at the call box for a long moment, staring at the receiver she held in her paw, and then looked up at Nick. "We've got our chance," she said, and she couldn't stop the grin from spreading across her face.
Nick nodded, but before he got back into the car he paused, looking down the street with a thoughtful expression across his face. "You know," he said, "We're only about half a block away from Angelo's office. We really ought to tell him I'm not going to need a lawyer."
Nick's face split into a sudden smile. "Besides, maybe this way we can make Bellwether squirm a bit while she waits," he said, and Judy laughed.
"Let's go, then," Judy replied, and the two of them started walking in the right direction.
Although Judy would have liked to have held Nick's paw as they walked, she forced herself not to, trying to be content with just being by his side and occasionally brushing against him. They didn't speak on their way up to Angelo's office, but they didn't need to. When they were taking the elevator up to the floor that Angelo's office was on they were alone. Nick reached over and gave her paw a gently squeeze, and she nodded. She knew exactly what he had meant by it; he was there for her as she was there for him.
Judy kept that thought in mind as they entered the law office, where the receptionist was quick to direct them to Angelo. "Nicky!" Angelo said as Judy and Nick walked through the door to his office, "It's great ta see ya again. Listen, I've been askin' around, and I think I can get ya a plea deal for thirty years wid a chance a parole. Wid good behavior, ya'd be out in fifteen, twenny years tops."
Angelo's office looked much the same as it had the last time Judy had been in it; it still seemed comically over-sized for him, but he did have a stack of papers Judy would have been able to pick up and read without having to squint stacked on the large desk that his own tiny desk stood on top of. The little shrew puffed himself up, beaming as though he had given them wonderful news. Then again, considering that Nick was accused of the murders of three mammals, two of them cops, it might really have been a remarkable bit of legal work. "So c'mon over," Angelo continued, beckoning towards his desk and the stack of papers, "We can work out alla details, if ya want."
Nick walked towards the desk, a half-smile on his face, but he shook his head. "I'm afraid that's not going to work out," he said, "We figured out Bellwether's the one framing me."
Angelo reeled back in his chair, an expression of stunned surprise set across his tiny features. "No," he said, "Ya mean that? Really, she's framin' ya?"
"I'm afraid so," Nick said, "So the way I see it, she's not going to let this go. You know what she's like."
Angelo's head bobbed up and down, almost bird-like, before he replied. "But... if ya know she's the one framin' ya, whatcha gonna do?"
Nick's smile broadened. "What I'm best at," he said, and he gestured at Judy, "Make a deal."
At Nick's sign, Judy pulled the ledger out of the bag she wore slung around one shoulder. She gave it to him, and she could feel him drawing out the moment of contact as his fingers brushed against hers. "I thought, what do I have that Bellwether would want? Even if we could prove she framed me, you know she'd just wriggle out of it. Probably come after me twice as hard, too. So we're going to cut a deal with her."
"What kinda deal?" Angelo asked slowly, his eyes going from Nick's face to the ledger and back again, "What's dat book?"
"She might be willing to give me up in exchange for Randall Steervens," Nick said, flipping through the pages until he reached the end, "See? Sure looks like Randall Steervens is alive, doesn't it?"
Nick held the book out towards Angelo briefly, showing him the page that Nick had painstakingly doctored in the bank. The writing was a perfect match for Steerven's own, as Nick had written everything the deer supposedly had, but much more importantly the entries were all quite recent, the newest a mere two weeks ago. Angelo's eyes visibly widened as he saw the page before Nick snapped the book shut and gave it back to Judy. It was a promising start to the ledger passing muster, but the real test would come inside the police station. "We're going to make a little trade," Nick said, "She gets the book and can burn it for all I care. In exchange she pins the blame for framing me on someone else. I figure she has to have a patsy or two ready."
"An' you're goin' along wid this?" Angelo asked, turning to face Judy.
Judy shrugged. "I'm not a prohi anymore," she said, "Besides, we're going to double-cross her once she agrees."
"Ah ah ah," Nick said, waggling a finger in mock warning, "We don't want to put Angelo in a position where he'd have to lie if things go south. Surely you still hold onto some of those wonderful Bureau ideals, don't you?"
"Sorry," Judy replied, shifting uncomfortably, and Nick chuckled.
"We'll let it slide this time. Anyway, Angelo, we're on our way to see Bellwether and Bogo now and I just stopped by to say thank you. I didn't want you wasting your time trying to cut me a deal when we've got it all figured out."
Angelo licked his lips, looking from Nick to Judy and back again. "Listen, Nicky, dis is an awful idea. Why don't ya lemme help ya, huh?"
"I appreciate the offer, really I do," Nick said, "But it's too dangerous. You have a wife and babies. If things go wrong..."
He shook his head solemnly. "We've seen what happens to mammals who cross Bellwether," Nick continued, "I'll admit, she might be smarter than I am."
Nick paused a moment, and then shot a glance over at Judy. "That's where you were supposed to say that she isn't," he added.
Judy crossed her arms across her chest. "This really isn't the time for jokes," she said, and Nick nodded.
"I suppose it isn't," he said, "Anyway, I really do appreciate your help," he said, and he stuck out his paw for Angelo to shake.
After a moment's hesitation, Angelo reached out, grasping one of Nick's claw between his minuscule fingers, and the two mammals delicately shook. "Ya sure ya don't want no help? I'm an awful good lawyer," Angelo pressed, and Nick shook his head.
"Take care of Fru Fru, would you?" he said, "I'm not worth risking yourself over."
"Take care," Angelo echoed, slumping a little in his chair, and with that Nick and Judy left the little shrew's office.
It was a short drive from Angelo's law office to the Precinct One police station, and although the jokemobile (as Nick had once called it, permanently binding the name to the vehicle in Judy's mind) was quiet enough that they could have talked, neither one did. Nick showed no outward sign of tension that Judy could see at their upcoming confrontation, but when he had time to prepare he was incredibly good at hiding his emotions. Judy, for her part, could feel her heart pounding in her throat, and if she hadn't been too busy concentrating on driving she thought her foot might have tapped a hole through the rusty floor of the car.
She hadn't been nervous before, but they had reached the point where everything rode on what happened in the next few minutes. Nick looked up at the station and paused. "Are you ready?" he asked, and Judy nodded.
"As ready as I'll ever be," she said, and Judy opened the door and entered the station.
It was a flurry of activity, from mammals waiting to speak to the receptionist to officers hurrying around the building, some carrying stacks of papers and others escorting mammals in cuffs. Judy remembered exactly where Chief Bogo's office was, though, and she didn't stop for the receptionist, instead striding purposefully forward and trying to exude confidence. If anyone noticed, they didn't stop her, and when Judy knocked on the door to Bogo's office his answer was immediate. "Come in."
When Judy opened the door, she was somewhat disappointed to see that Bellwether wasn't there yet, although the chief had put out three chairs suited for smaller mammals in front of his massive desk. "Ms. Hopps, Mr. Wilde," Bogo said, "Would you care to explain what this is about?"
As Judy took a seat, she gave the buffalo an expression she hoped was suitably apologetic. "Not until Director Bellwether gets here," she said, and Bogo sighed.
He turned back to the stack of paperwork atop his desk and there were a few awkward minutes when neither Nick nor Judy had anything to do as the chief read through a report of some kind. A ceiling fan turned lazily above them, and Judy's ear pricked upwards at the sound. Nick leaned his chair back onto two legs and then let it fall back to the ground, looking from Bogo to Judy. Judy fidgeted, brushing at her nose, and Nick tapped a claw against his leg. "So how about those Cubs, huh?" Nick said at last, and the look that Bogo gave him could have curdled milk.
Before Bogo could say anything in response, Judy heard the clicking of hooves against tile, and a moment later the door swung open as Bellwether let herself in. "This had better be important," she said, "I have to prepare for my meeting with Hooves tomorrow and—"
The expression of disbelief on the ewe's face was comical as she realized that Bogo wasn't alone in his office. "What are they doing here?" Bellwether demanded, her voice rising, "Don't you know what they've done?"
"It's nice to see you again too," Nick replied, a smile crossing his features, "Why don't you have a seat?"
"You—" Bellwether began, but Bogo cut her off.
"Please have a seat," Bogo said, and then he turned his attention to Nick, "Ms. Hopps has something to explain."
By the way that the buffalo spoke, it was clear that he was warning Nick not to speak another word, and the fox seemed to catch the warning. Once Bellwether had sat down, with obvious reluctance, Judy began her explanation. "Director Bellwether," she said carefully, "Yesterday, we found one of your earrings at the apartment of Brian Redfurred."
"Who?" Bellwether asked, a slight scowl crossing her features as she looked at Judy.
"Brian Redfurred," Judy repeated, "He ran a numbers game in Feweler Park. He's also the one who really murdered the Zweihorns and Officer River."
"And you think an earring is proof I did it?" Bellwether sneered, crossing her arms across her narrow chest, "You're delusional."
"Now I understand if you're not going to confess," Judy continued, "Which is why we came to offer a trade."
She pulled the ledger out of her bag slowly and set it on Bogo's desk and flipped it open to the middle, where transactions for November of 1923 were neatly recorded. "Ms. Hopps—" Bogo began, but Judy pushed ahead.
"This is the ledger for how Mr. Big's money was laundered," Judy said, and Bellwether laughed without any humor.
"We've already got that," Bellwether said, "Now really, if you're just going to waste—"
"Not this one," Judy said, "This one goes to 1927."
As she spoke, she flipped to the very last page. Even as Bellwether started to lean in to look at the book, Nick leaped out of his chair, jumped up on Bogo's desk and sent papers scattering, and then jumped again, reaching for the ceiling fan with his arms outstretched. When he landed on the floor, his arms were raised in victory as both Bogo and Bellwether stared at him. Bogo had started to say something that might have been a curse or a question, but he stopped when he saw what Nick was holding. Or, more accurately, who Nick was holding. In Nick's left paw was a dormouse and in his right Angelo Petruccio. "Chief Bogo, Director Bellwether," Nick said cheerfully as he held out the squirming shrew, "Let me introduce you to the mastermind behind the recent series of murders."
"Who is also the head of the Black Paw," Judy added, getting out of her chair and walking over to stand by Nick.
"Well, co-head, right? It's you and Fru Fru at the top, isn't it?" Nick asked Angelo.
The shrew didn't respond, but Bogo at least had found his voice. "What the hell are you playing at?" he demanded, standing up and taking a step forward.
"We figured out who's been behind the gang murders," Judy said, "We can explain everything."
"You wouldn't happen to have a cage, would you?" Nick interjected, "I'd rather not keep holding both of these guys."
Bogo drew out a small wire cage from his desk, which Nick dropped the two much smaller mammals into. Once it was clear that neither was going anywhere, Bogo looked at Judy. "You had better start explaining," he said.
Bellwether had a stricken look on her face. "It was Lionheart who masterminded all of those murders," she said, and Judy could hear a tinge of desperation in her voice, "It had to be Lionheart, it had to be!"
"No, it didn't," Nick said, "Care to explain, Angelo?"
The shrew grunted. "I ain't sayin' nuthin'," he said, and Nick shrugged.
"Take it away, Judy," he said, and Judy did her best; she and Nick had worked out the details of their trap as best they could, but she realized they had never actually thought about how to explain it if it succeeded.
"After Nick's arrest, I knew he was being framed. We were trying to prove it, and yesterday we found the apartment of the mammal who actually murdered the Zweihorns and River. We found an earring identical to one that you have, Director Bellwether, and a gun identical to the one I had, the one that the murders were supposedly done with."
"Which it wasn't," Bogo interrupted, "Forensics confirmed that Ms. Hopps's gun wasn't the one used in the murders, but the one recovered from Brian Redfurred's apartment was."
"No," Bellwether said, and she pointed at Nick, "He's the murderer!"
"It looked like Bellwether had hired Redfurred to commit the murders, but he had held onto the murder weapon," Judy continued, "And then, when Redfurred wouldn't give it up, he was beaten to death. It all made sense. But Nick realized something very important last night: if he was being framed, then maybe Bellwether was being framed too."
Judy didn't think she would ever forget her shock at Nick's words when he had put forth his theory in the Pink Pansy, but the more she had thought about it, the more it had made sense. "He couldn't figure out who would frame her, though, and when I thought about it I realized that there was only once answer that made sense," Judy continued.
"There was something I had heard about the murders at Tundra Town Lanes that just didn't make any sense. Koslov sent the band that was playing that night away right before the murders happened. But why would he do that?" Judy asked, and then Nick picked up the thread of the story.
"Because Koslov knew who was coming for him. He suspected that he was going to be murdered, but his honor just wouldn't let him act on it, would it?" Nick said, looking down into the cage where Angelo glared defiantly at him.
The dormouse, by contrast, had fallen to his knees and was weeping, his arms over his head. "He trusted whoever arranged that meeting. It was Fru Fru, wasn't it? That's what this all comes back to. She knew all the names of Mr. Big's old gang, and it burned her up something fierce that so many of them had been disloyal. They turned their backs on her father when he was arrested. He stood strong, didn't he? He didn't squeal on any of them, and they were probably relieved when he had that fit of apoplexy and then couldn't. So the two of you started planning how you'd kill two birds with one stone: get revenge on all the traitors and take Lionheart out of the picture. The Black Paw would be the biggest, most powerful crime racket in the entire city."
"Ya can't prove nuthin'," Angelo replied, and his face was the very picture of anger.
"The two of you had a good plan, too," Judy said, "River and Zweihorn were both bought off through Redfurred, so when Carajou was murdered in the Thief of the Night you were ready to frame Zoya. She never worked for Mr. Big, but she was a traitor too, wasn't she? She wanted to quit the Black Paw, and no one can quit once they're in."
"It was well done, too," Nick said, "Someone slipped something in Zoya's drink, and then they put some blood under her claws. But the bartender at the bar she was at would never have drugged her, and he didn't see anyone approach her all night. But someone did. Was it you, pal?"
Nick directed this last question at the weeping dormouse, who moaned and shook his head. "Well, someone about your size, I think. They would have been able to sneak up the table and put something in Zoya's drink without anyone seeing anything. That's pretty clever."
"I'm not sure how you were planning on ending things, but I ruined it when Chief Bogo made the deal with me to let me investigate Carajou's murder. Suddenly, it wasn't going to be an open and shut frame job on Zoya. That's why my apartment building got burned down. You were trying to kill me to take me off the case."
Angelo didn't say anything, his grim gaze fixed on Judy. "And you," Judy said, looking at the dormouse, "I've seen you before. You were in the jail when River and Zweihorn arrested me, weren't you? You overheard Bogo and me making that deal. And you've been following us, haven't you?"
The dormouse nodded, sniveling, and Angelo turned on him. "Don't say nuthin', Lonnie! They just talkin'!"
Nick shrugged. "Maybe, but it's all the truth. So when Judy and I visited you at your home, you realized that you had failed: not only was she still alive, but I was back from the grave, too. The two of you had been careful enough all these years, though, so you didn't panic too much. In fact, you had a better idea: you'd give Judy all the evidence she'd need to pin the murders on Lionheart and then you'd frame me while you wrapped up your loose ends. You're not stupid, Angelo, and I'm sure you figured out that if I was still alive it probably meant that I had betrayed Mr. Big. But you never knew that Randall Steervens never existed."
For the first time since Nick had grabbed him, Angelo's expression changed, shock running across his features. "But— No, no, that ain't possible! He had ta be real!" he said, slumping against the wall of the cage.
"It is," Judy said, "Only the Bureau of Prohibition and the district attorney's office knew that, but it's true."
"You really should have checked up on that," Nick said cheerfully, "It's how we set our trap, but we'll get to that later."
"But you never infiltrated the Bureau of Prohibition, did you? You didn't think they mattered too much, but the police did," Judy said, and Bellwether made a choking sound at the words.
"So you started changing your plans a little. Scursly, Bauson, and Carajou were the ones who did the Tundra Town Lanes shooting, and you had already had Scursly and Bauson murder Carajou. You made sure that we'd find all the clues we needed to prove that Zoya didn't kill Carajou. That's how you've done all of this. You've been tampering with crime scenes," Judy said, and Bogo cut in sharply.
"Were the officers guarding the Thief of the Night in on it?" he asked, and a frown crossed Nick's face before he answered.
"I don't think so," he said, "You sent someone in through the environmental tunnel that connected to the hidden part of the basement, didn't you?"
When Angelo didn't answer, Bogo spoke again. "That had been frozen shut for days, at least," the buffalo said, "No one could have gotten through it after the murder was committed."
"No one your size," Nick corrected.
"Or my size, or even her size," he said, jerking a thumb in Bellwether's direction, "But it was a grate. A rodent got through just fine, I bet, and knocked over a bottle to make sure that someone could smell that there was something hidden under the floor."
"Lies," Angelo protested, but his voice was weaker, and Judy picked up from where Nick had left off.
"So you implicated Mr. Quill, who I doubt you cared about one way or the other. He was smart enough to know if he talked you would have him killed, so he clammed up. You probably fed him some kind of story, didn't you? Whatever you did, you waited until after Lionheart got arrested and told Quill to lie and say that Lionheart forced him to allow his crawlspace to be used."
"I wonder what Quill would say now if he knew we caught you?" Nick interrupted, and Angelo sagged even deeper.
"The next step was killing off Scursly and Bauson. You probably had them drive to a garage somewhere near Lionheart's sausage factory, and you made sure it was filled with carbon monoxide. A nice, clean death, and you had an accomplice saw Scursly's horns off for framing Lionheart with later," Nick said.
"The car they had driven—a Camellac sedan identical to one Lionheart owned, just in case anyone had seen them at Tundra Town Lanes and to make it look like Lionheart had a reason to want them dead because they used his car and then had to have another one like it stolen to cover that up—got pushed into the river with their corpses in it, but you had doctored another piece of evidence, didn't you?"
"The cigarette case with Carajou's address was planted in the Camellac," Judy said when Angelo didn't respond, "Probably after the car was in the impound lot. Again, it'd be pretty easy for a rodent to sneak in and do it."
"And Carajou's hotel was another great opportunity for planting evidence. The room was locked, but there was a gap at the bottom of the door. You had someone forge a note from Lionheart and put it in Carajou's binder of the jobs he took. Probably had them destroy the one Carajou actually created, too," Nick continued, and then he looked over at the dormouse.
"Was that you, Lonnie?" Nick asked, directing his question at the dormouse, "There's plenty of jobs here for rodents, and you haven't been talking much."
There was a pause, but the dormouse nodded. "It was," he said, his voice a miserable high-pitched squeal, "I'll tell you every—"
Before he could finish, Angelo gave a cry of rage and jumped at him, but before he could make contact, Bogo had the cage open and the two rodents separated. The chief pulled out another cage and put Lonnie into it, and then motioned for Nick and Judy to continue. "You burned Scursly's apartment down and put a forged note from Lionheart in the ashes before the police got there," Judy said, "And that was enough to get the police to raid Lionheart's house."
"You knew Bogo would bring his most trustworthy officers to Lionheart's house, but that didn't matter, did it? Lionheart's committed enough crimes that there would be plenty to keep the police busy even if there was nothing tying him to the recent string of murders. Besides, all that would mean is that he was careful enough to not leave evidence of committing murders just lying around. Planting Scursly's sawed-off horns in Lionheart's factory was probably a little more difficult than planting pieces of paper, but you managed somehow."
"With Lionheart arrested, you knew his empire would collapse as his crimes came to light, so you planned to finish your revenge by tying off two loose ends and framing Nick. It should have been perfect, but you thought I'd believe Nick would do it, didn't you? When we stopped by your office after I bailed Nick out of jail, you realized you needed to frame someone else. It's also when you realized you needed to keep a closer eye on us. That's when you had Lonnie start following us, wasn't it?"
"It was," Lonnie said weakly, and for once Angelo didn't say anything.
"There were rodents tampering with the evidence, weren't there?" Bogo asked, scowling down at Angelo, "It's not that any of the officers involved turned traitor."
"I think so," Judy said, "He thought you'd buy it if you wouldn't believe that so many of your officers could be involved. Someone swapped out the bullet fired from my gun for the comparison with one from Redfurred's, and I'll bet that someone swapped out the roll of film, too. If Redfurred visited Zweihorn at night before, there might have already been a photograph that could be used for blackmail that could have been tampered with to show Nick instead of Redfurred."
"It might have been Fru Fru forging notes and photographs," Nick said thoughtfully, "She always did have an artistic streak."
Angelo said nothing, but his scowl deepened.
"And what about the test for gunshot residue?" Bogo asked.
"There was probably a rodent hiding in the technician's case, wasn't there?" Nick asked, "Dr. Tolmie said varnish could give a false positive. Just applying a dab to the right swabs before they were used would have been enough."
Neither Angelo nor Lonnie said anything, and Judy continued. "When you realized that you needed to frame someone else, that's when Redfurred was killed. You ordered him beaten to death and planted an earring in his apartment. Are you missing an earring, Director Bellwether?" Judy said.
"No, not that I can remember," Bellwether said, and she sounded somewhat dazed.
"You must have had an identical pair bought. Or you had it stolen from Bellwether and she just hasn't noticed yet," Judy continued.
"You were probably setting this up for us to fail, weren't you?" Nick said, "To try and make it look like we were framing Bellwether so you could get rid of both of us."
Angelo stayed silent, and Judy turned to Bogo. "This is enough to get a warrant to search his house and his office, isn't it?"
The smile that Bogo gave her didn't seem to fit his face; it looked almost predatory. "It is," he said, "Mr. Petruccio, this is a battle you're going to lose."
Angelo threw himself against the side of the cage. "Then take me," he said desperately, "I'll confess ta everything, I swear. Jus' leave Fru Fru alone, will ya? We got children, ya know."
The look that Bogo gave the shrew was entirely without pity. "You should have thought of that before building a criminal empire. You can throw yourself at the mercy of the district attorney."
Angelo slumped to the floor of his cage. "How'd ya catch me?" he asked, "That secret hole in the fan's been there for years."
"I rubbed peppermint oil on my fingers before we shook paws in your office," Nick said, "I could smell you up there. She could hear you, too, when she knew what to try listening for."
Nick nodded his head at Judy. Angelo took a moment, and Judy was sure he was thinking through the plan that she had worked out with Nick. Once she had realized that Angelo and Fru Fru had been the ones arranging everything, the pieces had quickly fallen into place as to how must have done their dirty work, including that they must have had a way to listen in on conversations in Bogo's office. That they had simply made a hidden tunnel through the walls, floors, or ceiling had seemed like the most likely possibility, and by using the ledger supposedly written by a very much alive Randall Steervens as bait, they had ensured that Angelo would want to go along and listen for himself, particularly after Nick had hinted at the possibility of Bellwether destroying the book once they made a deal. After all, if Angelo and Fru Fru were targeting traitors while consolidating power, there was no one they would have wanted more than the silent partner they thought had brought Mr. Big down. By making their plan in the Pink Pansy, where it was too loud for them to be overheard, Nick and Judy had made sure that it had been a surprise, and by acting as though every word they had said before springing their trap could be overheard they hadn't given Angelo a reason to doubt the story they had told him in his office.
"How'd ya figure it wasn't Bellwether?" Angelo asked after a long moment, looking up at Nick.
"If Bellwether really had framed me, she wouldn't have lied to me about Judy making a deal to save herself," Nick said, and when he looked over at the ewe his expression was bland.
"She'd wait to gloat until she was sure it stuck, the same as she did for Mr. Big," Nick said, but Bellwether didn't seem to notice his words.
"It really wasn't Lionheart?" Bellwether said, "It was him?"
She was looking down at Angelo with an expression somewhere between disappointment and terror. "But— But I've staked my reputation on this! J. Edgar Hoover's going to be here tomorrow and—" Bellwether broke off, apparently unable to finish the thought.
Judy thought that the ewe deserved far worse for the casual cruelty she had shown to Nick while he had been arrested, but she said nothing. Nick, however, seemed perfectly willing to speak. "And by stealing the credit for Lionheart's arrest, now you've stolen the blame for getting it wrong," he said cheerfully, "Funny how that works, isn't it?"
Bogo simply sighed. "This is going to be a lot of paperwork," he said.
The days after the arrests of Angelo and Fru Fru were somehow both the longest and the fastest that Judy had ever lived through. It seemed as though she had been interviewed at length by every mammal who could conceivably be involved, from the police to the district attorney, and even J. Edgar Hooves himself. Unlike her interrogation following Nick's arrest, though, every single mammal had been polite, asking clarifying questions and for confirmation on details. At least, every mammal except Hooves, who had only stopped in briefly to congratulate her. "The Bureau of Investigation could use a mammal with your talents," he had said, the words coming out surprisingly fast as the pig shook her paw and gave her his card, "I'm glad that this wasn't a wasted trip."
Despite his words, Judy wasn't sure she had exactly liked the pig; he had seemed to carry a cold, calculating air that even the warmth of his words couldn't offset. None of her other meetings stuck out much in her memory, although she did frequently find herself wishing that Nick could have been with her. She understood why it was important for their testimonies to be separate, but it felt as though they hardly saw each other; Nick seemed to be in extraordinary demand with Robert Cowe, the district attorney (who as it turned out preferred being called Rob over Bobby) and Chief Bogo.
When Judy did get to see Nick, after long and exhausting days of answering every question that they could, they had barely had the energy to try to keep up on the way that the case was proceeding. Judy had tried not to show her pleasure at reading that Director Bellwether had been asked to step down from her role as the head of the Bureau of Prohibition, but that news, which might have made the headlines if there wasn't more going on, had been buried deep in an evening edition. Day after day, the papers were gleefully reporting on the biggest bust in history, as more arrests and the details leaking out began to paint a clearer picture of the true extent of Angelo and Fru Fru's empire. They had likely gotten married in the first place to merge together Mr. Big's Zootopia Outfit with Angelo's Black Paw, and if it hadn't been for the timing of Mr. Big's arrest and the need to lay low for a while they likely would have already run the city. A suspicious number of judges had announced their retirements, and Judy suspected what only the boldest of papers even hinted at—that the reason for Angelo's incredible record as a defense attorney was having a fair amount of the legal system in his pocket. Lionheart, meanwhile, seemed as though he'd be mired in a legal battle claiming that the evidence of his other crimes the authorities had only because he'd been framed shouldn't be admissible.
Otherwise, straightening out the pieces of Nick's life was surprisingly time consuming, from getting reimbursed for the bail money that Judy had paid to getting his Buchatti out of impound. Judy had barely had the time to send a quick telegram to her parents, promising that she was alright and would visit them soon, before the papers had started giving her the credit for taking down Angelo and Fru Fru. To her significant embarrassment (and Nick's unabashed delight) the first paper to run the story was the New Yak Evening Graphic, with an enormous composograph on the front page of her triumphantly holding Angelo and Fru Fru Petruccio in her paws. Leaving aside that the image showed something that had never happened, only the face on the bunny in the picture was actually Judy; whoever had been the body model was significantly curvier and had a magnificent fluffy dewlap at her neck. The model was also wearing a much more revealing dress than Judy ever had, and Nick had tapped one finger on the image. "See, when we go out on the town, this is exactly the dress you'll be wearing," he had said.
"It won't look as good on me," Judy replied, and Nick had laughed.
"Of course it won't," he said, "It'll look better."
The sentiment had been sweet, but the accompanying article had been nearly as inaccurate as the composograph. It credited Judy as a private investigator rather than a fired prohibition agent and didn't mention Nick at all. He, at least, had not seemed to mind, not even when variations on the story started to be picked up in more reputable newspapers.
If the inaccuracies bothered any of the mammals asking them questions, Judy never got a sense of it, and when the last day of questioning came she was ready for it all to be over. Right before she was finally free to go, a mammal she had never seen before had showed up. He was a bull in the uniform of a police captain, and although he had a build to rival Bogo's, his liquid brown eyes seemed soft and kind. "Ms. Hopps," he said as he offered her his hoof to shake, "I'm Captain Joe Ruminante. I think you've gotten a letter from me before."
His voice was as soft as flannel, and his expression was somewhat rueful as Judy realized that he was the head of the Zootopia Police Academy and by extension the mammal who had rejected her first application. "It's— It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," she managed at last, and Ruminante chuckled.
"Likewise," he said, "Normally, we deliver these by mail, but I thought I'd make an exception for you."
He gave Judy a sealed envelope bearing her name and the address of the academy. "Congratulations, Ms. Hopps," Ruminante said, "I'm sure you'll make a fine officer."
"Thank you," Judy said, and she wasn't sure she could have managed anything else.
"It's just a pity about that fox of yours," Ruminante continued, shaking his head.
"Sir?" Judy asked, not entirely sure what he meant.
"We need more predator officers, Ms. Hopps," Ruminante said, and Judy felt a spark of hope ignite in her chest before he continued, "Predator communities trust predator officers more than they do prey. It's good policing, and I'd love it if I could make Mr. Wilde an offer too."
Ruminante sighed. "But the papers would eat us alive if the details of his past came out," he said, and the note of sorrow in his voice was either genuine or masterful acting.
"He's a good mammal," Judy said quietly, and she could feel her heart ache as she realized a fantasy she had barely even allowed herself to consider was truly impossible.
"I'm sure he is," Ruminante replied, and with that their conversation had been over.
When Judy had met up with Nick afterwards back at his house, she had tried to match his mood. He proposed a trip to Podunk to put his affairs there in order, and he pulled out a document he'd been working on. "I'm going to set up a scholarship for the students there," he said, and he didn't have to say the name for Judy to know that he really meant it for Milton, the wolf cub who dreamed of becoming a pilot.
"That's wonderful," Judy said, and her enthusiasm was unforced.
"The D.A. and Chief Bogo had an offer for me," Nick continued, "It's going to take a while to get through all the financial records for Lionheart and the Petruccios. They thought someone with my, ah, financial talents could help."
Nick paused. "So I think I'm going to be staying in the city for a while," he said, and Judy pulled him into a hug.
Just knowing that he wasn't going to move back to Podunk was a relief, and even if he couldn't be an officer it suggested that Chief Bogo, at least, had come to respect his talents. They stood there a moment, and then Nick caught sight of the envelope still in Judy's paw. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked, and Judy nodded.
"From Captain Ruminante himself," she said, and Nick's smile had lit up the room as he picked her up and spun her around.
"We keep getting more things to celebrate," he said, "But before our night on the town, how'd you feel about a little trip by train? We can go to Podunk, swing by Bunnyburrows so you can explain everything to your parents... First class, too."
"I'd like that," Judy said.
"Now, I do have just one more question," Nick asked, and his expression had gone uncharacteristically solemn although there was still a wicked gleam in his eyes, "Are your parents going to be more upset at the part where you're living in sin or the part where it's with a fox?"
Judy couldn't help but laugh at the question, which she thought might have shown genuine concern on Nick's part. "They'll have to deal with it," she said, "I'm never going to be ashamed of you."
"Really?" Nick asked, and his ears perked, "You're giving me carte blanche here."
The interior of the first-class cabin was luxurious in a way that Judy couldn't have guessed at. They had an entire little compartment to themselves, which seemed to be larger than her entire apartment had been, and it was so finely made that Judy thought it would put hotels to shame. The walls were paneled with walnut, and the bed, writing desk, chair, and a little sofa all matched. There were electric lights in glass scones on the walls with elegantly filigreed brass bases, but it seemed as though the compartment would be plenty bright once morning came; in addition to the windows set into the train's side, the entire roof was a beautiful assembly of glass panels in a brass frame. Three fine velvet shades, dusky maroon in color, were currently retracted and the night sky was entirely visible. The bedspread was exactly the same color as the shades, as was the upholstery on the chair and sofa.
It was on the sofa that Nick had sat down, curling his arm around Judy as she looked up through the roof and at the buildings of Zootopia moving past them, slowly at first but then picking up speed as the train left the city. "Well," Nick said, "We've got about eight hours before we get to Podunk."
Judy shifted herself over until she was sitting on Nick's lap and then leaned back against him. She brought her paws up against the fluffy sides of his neck, where she had learned that he liked to be brushed best. Judy's fingers sunk into his fur and he practically purred in pleasure.
"So when does the police academy start, anyway?" Nick asked, and Judy hesitated.
Nick must have sensed it, because he leaned his head downwards, curling his neck around Judy's. "You are going to go, aren't you?" he asked.
Judy sighed. "I've spent my entire life working towards becoming a police officer," she said, "And I've been accepted to the academy now but..."
"But?" Nick asked.
"But you wouldn't be my partner," she said.
That was really the heart of it. Judy could imagine herself working to keep the streets safe, ensuring that criminals got caught and went to jail. She had been imagining it for years, from when she had been too young to really grasp what it would mean, and her mental image of what it meant to be an officer had slowly changed. Now, she realized, it was impossible to imagine doing it without Nick at her side. She knew he would watch her back, the way she would watch his, knew that her own strengths and weaknesses aligned with and were opposite to his own in ways that made it seem as though they had been made for each other. Maybe she could have that with another officer. But then again, maybe not.
"Oh," Nick said, and he nuzzled his cheek against hers, "You really are too sweet sometimes, you know that?"
"I'm being serious," Judy said, but she didn't push him away.
The genuine affection in his tone was obvious even through the teasing. "So am I. What do you want?" Nick asked, and he gently spun her around so that they were facing each other.
Judy watched the lights of the city continue to streak by as the train picked up speed. What did she want to do? She could accept the position at the police academy and finally achieve her dream. She could take up J. Edgar Hooves on his offer and see if the Bureau of Investigation would take her. She could even make the lie that the papers had reported a truth and go into business as a private investigator. "What about you?" Judy asked at last, turning the question around on Nick, "Are you going to take that job Bogo offered you?"
"I haven't decided yet," Nick said, "It does sound pretty appealing but..."
"But?" Judy asked.
Nick chuckled. "But if you decide you want to be a private investigator like the papers say you are, someone's going to have to keep an eye on that little bunny head of yours," he said, and he kissed the top of Judy's head, between her ears.
The spot he had kissed seemed to tingle, and Judy was quiet a moment as she considered. "I know what I want," she said at last.
"And what's that?" Nick asked.
"I want you," she said.
"Well, that's quite a coincidence," Nick said, "Because that's what I want too."
Judy hugged Nick, tucking her head against his. He was warm and soft, and the gentle rocking of the train was lulling. "Then I guess there's no hurry to choose about anything else."
"Very wise," Nick said, and they both lapsed into silence.
The train had passed beyond the borders of the city, and the sky stretched above their cabin, uninterrupted by any buildings. Stars twinkled above them in the vast sky as the lights of the city receded into the distance. Judy knew that a lot of what was coming was going to be difficult. No matter that Nick had joked about it, introducing him to her parents wasn't going to be easy. Living with him in the city, loving him, wouldn't be easy; she had gotten a taste of what other mammals would do and think and it had been incredibly bitter. For once, though, for the first time since she had been a kit and had set her sights on becoming a police officer, the future seemed as limitless and as full of possibilities as the sky was full of stars.
Normally I end these author's notes by expressing my appreciation for you, the reader, but for the last chapter I want to start with it. It's been quite a journey; this story took almost a year in real time to publish and counting the author's notes is nearly a quarter of a million words long. Whether you've been reading from the beginning, picked up this story while it was in progress, or you're reading this months or even years after it was published I want to say thank you. Thank you for sticking with me. It's been my hope that I've been able to add a little pleasure to your day; I know that you've done that for me.
It's more than a little bittersweet for me to realize that this story is now well and truly over. I try to make my stories feel like they're windows into a vivid world that existed before I opened the window and will continue to do so even once it's closed. If that isn't sufficient consolation, this isn't necessarily the end of Jazz Age Nick and Judy; there's still so much history that they could be around for, from the end of the Roaring Twenties and the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929 to the end of Prohibition in 1933 and the US's entry into World War II in 1941.
As for this chapter itself, I usually applied chapter titles (as well as chapter breaks) after the fact, but for the final chapter I knew from the start that it had to be "The Song is Ended (but the Melody Lingers On)," which was composed by Irving Berlin in 1927. It's so wonderfully evocative of the sense that I wanted this story to end with. The case has been solved, but that's not really the end for our two main characters. The future is wide open for them, and I think it's a sign of how both have grown to accept that possibility together as they ride a train out of the city content to have each other even if they haven't decided what to do next.
I'd also like to comment on this story as a whole. It went through an enormous number of changes, but it started from two pretty simple ideas: I thought it would be neat to set a Zootopia story during Prohibition and I realized that Fru Fru may not be as innocent as she seems. After all, in the movie before she realizes that it's Judy, the bunny who saved her life, about to get iced, her objection to her father doing so isn't that murdering mammals is wrong—it's that he promised not to do it on her wedding day.
I did a ton of research before I started writing; if you've read my end of chapter author's notes, you've read more than a novel's worth of historical trivia and detail about the 1920s. Modeling Mr. Big after Al Capone was an obvious choice, and then things started falling in place around that; having Mr. Big become incapacitated after the fall of his empire seemed like a good motive for Fru Fru, and a twisted series of gang murders appealed to my own fondness for convoluted mysteries.
I'm a huge fan of mysteries myself, and one of the things that is often helpful in solving fictional mysteries is meta-knowledge, which I tried to exploit to make the ending be surprising when it happens but obvious in retrospect. I touched on this a little in my first story; when Nick and Judy are watching a terrible police procedural show, Nick correctly deduces who the crooked cop has to be because the actor playing them is the only officer not to appear in the opening credits as a main or supporting character. That kind of deduction is frequently quite useful for figuring out stories, so I thought it'd be interesting if I could use that to my advantage.
I intended it to seem obvious that Bellwether would be behind everything, and if you've seen the movie it's the natural choice. Since I figured that a Bellwether in an era where it was more acceptable to hold prejudices wouldn't try to hide her own dislike of predators, it helped make it seem like she had to be the culprit. Hopefully the true solution feels like it works rather than that it comes out of nowhere, but I did try to include all kinds of little clues, most of which Nick and Judy explain.
There's one clue that the characters don't touch on in this chapter, and is one of the bits of foreshadowing I was afraid might be too obvious and that someone might catch too early. In chapter 15, when Nick and Judy go to Fru Fru's house, Nick introduces Judy to Angelo and Fru Fru as Agent Hopps, and Judy doesn't follow up by mentioning her first name. Throughout the conversation in chapter 16, Nick never calls Judy by her first name either. When Nick and Judy leave, though, Fru Fru calls Judy "Judy" even though she shouldn't know that. Obviously, she knew this because Lonnie had provided the information to her and Angelo.
The dormouse spying on Nick and Judy pops up many times throughout the story, first appearing in chapter 4 as another prisoner in the jail that Judy is placed in when she's arrested at the Thief of the Night. He's therefore present to overhear the conversation that Judy has with Bogo and Bellwether, and he appears again in chapters 42, 46, and 49 when Angelo keeps a closer eye on Nick and Judy.
The district attorney preferring Rob over Bobby is a call back to chapter 17, when Nick implies he knows him well enough to use that nickname. Milton the wolf was in chapter 6, and Captain Ruminante was first mentioned in chapter 2.
Next week, chapter 3 of my next story "The Unlikely Heir," will be up, and that story will run on a weekly schedule in this story's place. If you like my writing and/or Sherlock Holmes, you might enjoy it, as it's a 19th century Zootopia AU written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Thank you again for reading, and I'd love to know what you thought of the story and particularly the ending!