Chapter 1: Part 1
Judy Hopps huffed heavy breaths as she came to the end of her 3 mile morning run. Her feet ached mildly but her fur felt nice in the crisp autumn wind. She braced herself for a strong finish as she rounded her last corner and pushed all the way to the end before slapping the lamppost outside of her apartment building which rang with a metallic shimmer.
"Whew!" she huffed.
"Carefull, officer legs. You might wear yourself out before your patrol even starts," a voice said from beside her.
"Nick!" she jumped and found her partner with coffee in hand on her doorstep in full uniform.
"Well duh. How many foxes do you know again?" he jabbed.
"For your information, I know more than a pawful. Also, what are you doing here? I thought you had a night shift with fangmeyer?"
"I did. Am I not allowed to see my most amazing friend in the whole wide world before catching some much needed z's?"
Judy furrowed her brow. She saw right through his routine.
"What do you need this time?" she asked with a sigh.
"Carrots, I'm offended that you think I can't be nice without needing something from you," he said and put his paw to his chest. "But since you mentioned it, I was hoping to catch said z's at your place? I have an afternoon shift in a few hours and your place is so much closer to work."
"Nick, the last time you did that I was cleaning out orange fur from my shower," she scoffed.
"I promise, I won't shower and I'll strip the sheets," he begged.
"Ehhh . . . ok fine. But wait, if you're going to sleep, why get coffee?"
"Actually this was supposed to be a bribe, but now that you're letting me squat at your place so quickly I'm not sure what to do with it now," he said and looked at it absentmindedly. Judy smiled and rolled her eyes.
"You're just supposed to give it to me, dumb fox. It's called doing something nice."
"Eeeh not so sure. Doesn't sound like much fun," he said and handed the hot cup of joe over to his partner. She smiled and handed him her set of keys before turning towards the precinct.
"Thanks for the coffee!" she called out. "See you at 2!"
"Fight the good fight, and all that jazz!" Nick waved and headed inside. He was out like a light within two seconds of his head hitting Judy's pillow.
The past year for the two of them had been wonderful, albeit less eventful than their first few weeks knowing each other. The Night Howler case came and went in no time by comparison, and Judy found that most police work was simple routine. Bull-pin in the morning, assignments (if any), patrol till noon, lunch downtown, patrol, coffee, then paperwork and clockout. Nick was right about Judy's place being so close to work, but she hardly spent any time there at all since work took up so much time. She was fine with that.
That morning's patrol had been like most. She was assigned time with a relatively green officer by the name of Derek Shepherd, a sheep with a notable love for peanut butter. Her squad car always smelled of the stuff after a patrol with him. She made a mental note to get the car washed during her second patrol with Nick. She eventually made her way to the lobby to wait for Nick to show up and stopped by the front desk.
"Hi Benjamin," she said to the flabby cheetah.
"Oh hi Hopps! Here to sample the greatest piece of Zootopian culinary perfection ever created?"
"If you mean donuts then no thank you."
"Not just donuts, these are Flake's donuts! My mother is in town visiting and she brought these from Saharah Square. I tell you, these will be the death of me and I will die a happy predator," he said and gleefully chomped down on a strawberry delight.
"I'll pass, but thanks. That's high praise coming from you."
"Suit yourself . . . Oh, maybe your fox would like one," he said and gestured to the door. Judy saw Nick, again in full uniform, making his way to them from the main entrance. She winced for a second at Clawhauser's wording.
"He's not 'my fox', Clawhauser," she corrected him.
"Oh yeah?" he said and leaned over the reception desk so he could whisper. "Then why did he stay at your place?"
"What? How do you know about that?" she said a little surprised.
"Ha! I didn't until just now!" he said with an excited giggle, "you two rooming now or what?"
"It's not like that! I just let him-" before she could finish, her phone began to ring in her rear pocket. She rolled her eyes and walked past Nick away from the gossip loving cheetah.
"Can you tell Clawhauser why you were staying at my place, please? I need to take this," she said and answered the call.
"Sure thing carrots." Nick answered. Judy plugged her earbuds in and began to speak.
"Judy? It's Jake!"
"Hi Jake! What's going on?"
"Well believe it or not, I'm in Zootopia right now! And Rodger is here too"
"Hey Jude," another voice called out.
"No way! What are you guys doing so far from home?" she asked.
"We're just running a few errands and thought we might stop by and see how our favorite police officer is doing. You free at all tonight?"
"Speak for yourself, bro, she's maybe top 3," the other voice chimed in again.
Judy jumped a little in excitement. "Of course! Do you guys want to meet my partner? He'll be free too," she offered.
"Well, yeah sure! Bring him on by. We're getting dinner at Enzo's tonight on Tuskan avenue. When can you meet us there?"
"Let's do eight. Thanks so much! I'll see you guys tonight!"
"See ya jude," they both chimed before the call ended. Judy swiveled around and bounded towards the desk again and found the two predators eying her suspiciously.
"Hey Nick! My brothers are in town tonight and we're getting pizza after work. Want to join us?"
"Carrots, don't you have like, I don't know, over a hundred brothers? I'm not sure there's enough pizza in Zootopia to go around."
"These two were in the same litter with me, so we are much closer than most of my siblings."
"I see, so why bring me? I mean, foxes don't have a great track-record of getting along well with rabbits from bunny burrows. Need I remind you that this is the same family that armed you with fox-away when you moved here?"
Judy winced at the comment, and inwardly thanked herself for not telling Nick about all the other anti-fox protective gear her parents bought for her before she moved.
"Don't worry Nick, if anything these two will get along with you too well," she reassured him.
"Oh oh, Hopps, Wilde?" Benjamin's called out. They both looked at him covering the phone mic with one paw. "Chief Bogo wants to speak with you . . . what's that sir? . . . Ok. . . and he says you can make dinner plans on your own time."
"Tell him we'll be right up," Nick said and followed Judy towards the elevator.
Judy and Nick made their way down the hall towards the chief's office and knocked before entering quietly. Bogo wrapped up his conversation with Clawhauser before hanging up his phone and donning his reading glasses and thumbing through a case file on his desk.
"Have a seat," he said and gestured to the chairs beside his desk.
"Is there something wrong, sir?" Judy asked.
"Yes, Hopps, you two are in major trouble," he said calmly. Judy froze up immediately, but Nick crossed his arms and scowled.
"This isn't about the time we let Flash off with a warning again, is it?" he asked.
"I reserve the right to punish a violation of a direct order whenever I see fit, but no," the chief responded. "You two are now officially the only officers equipped to handle this case since I'm promoting Fangmeyer to homicide," he said and waved a red file around angrily.
"Really? Wow, way to go howler," Nick mumbled to himself.
"The case requires covert reconnaissance and you two proved capable during the Night Howler incident. But be warned, this one could get much more grimey. I need to know you are in before I can give you the details," he said and waited for them to respond. Judy shot her partner a glance. Nick gave a sly smile and winked at her, his trademark signal of approval, and she smiled back.
"We're in," Judy nodded.
"Who are we chasing down this time?" Nick asked with his coy attitude still on display. Bogo frowned and dropped the file at the edge of the desk, glaring at them.
"Meat traffickers," he said coldly. Nick's smile immediately vanished and Judy audibly gasped.
"In Zootopia?" she asked.
"We believe so. McHorn and Delgato busted an underground gambling parlor last week that was serving real steaks and venison. They found a meat locker that was completely stocked with well-packaged frozen meats," he described.
Judy felt sick. The thought of murdering animals was horrible enough, but to butcher and cook their bodies? It sent a shiver down her spine.
"Have there been any missing mammal cases reported?" Nick asked.
"None out of the ordinary, and there was no evidence of butchery so we believe this operation imported their inventory from abroad."
"So we're looking at smugglers?" Nick clarified.
"Extremely well-funded smugglers. If this meat was acquired from abroad, then to even get a few pounds in undetected would take mountains of resources. At this scale, we expect the suppliers to be established and organized," the chief clarified.
"Do you mean we might have an underground meat cartel in Zootopia?" Judy asked, still a little in shock.
"That's your job to find out. Wilde, use whatever contacts on the ground that you have and find out where this casino got their supply from," he said and tossed Judy the case file.
"You can count on us, sir!" she said and saluted.
"Now careful, Hopps. You can't go and make arrests once you start finding more. If there is a cartel, then we need to keep them thinking we are none the wiser. Find out what you can and report directly to me, understood?"
"Yes sir!" they booth chimed and saluted before heading out the door. Judy still felt a little queasy from the thought of butchered animals, but kept her head level. The meat trade was extremely illegal in Zootopia, and could easily get a mammal a life sentence, but other countries were less developed and less secure. Some even had legal practices where a mammal that died of natural causes could be butchered and used for the predators of their society, but those were certainly the exception. Any imports of illegal meats was easily found by the sniffers at border patrol, so it had been decades since Zootopia last had a problem with real meats.
"Can you believe it? How could anyone do something like this," she said to Nick in a hushed tone.
"Hey Carrots, I'm with you. The synthetic stuff is delicious and the thought of eating something that use to serve me ice-cream just makes my stomach sick," Nick answered.
"So why do it? I mean, it's very expensive and extremely risky to do, so why try it if the ethical alternatives are so good?"
Nick shrugged. "My guess is that some preds like to brag about having real stuff. Might be a status symbol."
"Any ideas on where to start?" she asked.
"What, you think cause I'm a predator I'll know everything about the illegal meat traffickers?" Nick jabbed.
"Nick, you know I don't mean it like that!"
"Take it easy, Hopps, I'm just teasing. I'll put my ears to the ground. I don't know anything about meat, but I might know a few guys who like to gamble," he hinted. Judy didn't ask anything more. When Nick was brought on the force, his history led to some of his old contacts to go dry. It took a while to convince Bogo, but eventually they found that his contacts in the petty-crime life were too valuable to go hunting down so everyone adopted a 'don't ask don't tell' policy when it came to his contacts. As long as he got results, it was worth it and Nick never let the department down once.
The rest of the day went by with menial paperwork and patrol tasks for the two of them; a few domestic disputes, a few speeding cars, and a tiger cub who got stuck up a tree. The two of them met up in the lobby after hitting the showers and changing into their civilian clothes. Enzo's pizza was farther in midtown so they caught a bus to city center, all the while chatting about work and how Judy's bed was too small for him. It was good for Judy to get her mind off the case for a bit, and she was certainly excited to see her brothers.
After walking down a few blocks from where the bus dropped them off, Nick and Judy spotted the corner Pizza shop lit by red neon. Nick noticed two rabbits wearing jeans and button-down plaid waiting outside the restaurant. Judy bounded forward and nearly tackled them both with a hug, taking them both by surprise. They laughed and shoved each other, making Nick chuckle a bit at the sight.
"I can't believe you guys are here! You know, you guys are the first of the Hopps family to come visit me in the city?" Judy congratulated them.
"Well, we're just better brothers," one of them joked.
"Oh, guys, this is my partner on the force, Nick Wilde," she said and turned them towards Nick who caught up to them. "Nick, these are my brothers Jake and Rodger."
"How's it going Nick, good to meet ya," Jake said and extended his arm. He was tall for a rabbit, but somehow thinner than Judy, as if he was the same amount of bunny stretched out a little farther. He had a warm smile on his face and a slightly browner coat. Rodger was in between Jake and Judy's height and wore a sly smile that made Nick feel right at home. He was a little stockier and darker shade of grey and kept his arms folded. Nick shook Jake's paw and smiled back.
"Pleasure, Jake. First time in the city?"
"First time in years, but I remember this place being particularly good," he said and gestured to the restaurant.
"You've got good taste. Let's head inside, I'm starving."
The four of them sat down at a booth and quickly got settled. They ordered a large mixed veggies pizza for the rabbits and a smaller pepperoni for Nick. Rodger was devouring his food while he spoke.
"So you're a cop too, right? Ever see any action?" he asked with a long string of cheese connecting his mouth with his slice.
"Well, I once had to dart a cheetah moving at top speed," Nick said with a smile.
"No way! How did you manage that?" Rodger asked after another bite.
"Officer fluff over here was driving the squad car chasing after him. Cheetahs can get up to 60 miles an hour, but they tire out really quickly so as soon as we catch up beside him, I roll down the window and say 'Excuse me sir, can you give me directions to the nearest Zooburger?' then POP, I hit him right in the tush and he goes down hard." Nick accents his story by slamming his fist against his paw and finishes with another bite of his pizza. Jake and Rodger laughed heartily at his wit.
"Wow, officer fluff, didn't know you had it in you," Rodger joked.
"Did that really happen?" Jake asked. Judy nodded.
"Yup. He rolled down the window, he made a stupid joke, all during a high-speed police chase in a crowded area. Now you see what I have to put up with," she said and gestured to Nick.
"Oh don't be such a sour-tail. You gotta keep the job interesting somehow," Nick said.
"Yeah, because high-speed chases after dangerous criminals are not interesting enough," Jake joked, which got a laugh from everybody at the table. Judy loved seeing her brothers, and she was loving how well they were getting along with Nick. She decided to switch the subject to avoid talking about their next big case.
"Soooo Jake? How's your girl?" she teased. Jake suddenly got a little bashful and looked over to Rodger, who knowingly gave him a nod.
"That's actually why we're here," Jake said.
"Everything ok?" Judy asked, a little concerned.
"Oh yeah. Annabell is fine. Everything's . . . well it's ok, but also, like . . . more? It's all . . . well," Jake fumbled.
"Jake's proposing," Rodger said flatly with a smug smile on his face. Judy's ears perked up and she gasped with a shriek before giggling madly.
"Oh my goodness! I can't believe it, I'm so excited!" she cheered. Nick laughed as she literally hopped out of her seat a little.
"Congratulations in advance there, bunny-boy. You scouting locations?" Nick asked while Judy tried her best to calm herself down. Her stupid smile went from ear to ear and for a bunny that is saying something.
"I'm actually shopping for a ring. Can't do it in Bunny Burrow without everyone in town knowing about it," Jake explained. Nick then turned to Rodger.
"And you're here just helping a brother out?" Nick asked.
"That, and scouting locations for the bachelor party," he said with another sly smile. Judy immediately went from happy to cross.
"You better not be going to any naked bars, you two," she said with a wag of her finger.
"Yes, of course not," Nick nodded in agreement. "You certainly shouldn't partake in such debaucherous activities, especially not at 'Honey-Bunnies' down on 14th and Clawton street. The ladies there would pollute your righteous hearts."
"Nick!" Judy said and slugged him on the shoulder.
"What?! I told them not to, I'm on your side," he defended, unable to suppress a chuckle. Jake and Rodger both laughed loudly at his teasing. Judy frowned.
"Well if you boys are going to talk about such things, then the less I know the better. I'm going to the restroom," she said and got up. Nick politely let her out and took a seat and another bite while Rodger wrote down the address he mentioned on his phone.
"But in all seriousness, congrats," Nick said to Jake.
"Thanks. And thanks for looking after our sister on the force."
"Yeah we were all a little nervous when she first moved out here," Rodger commented.
"Hey, give the lady some more credit. She ends up saving my skin much more than the other way around," Nick confessed.
"Yeah she's taken us all by surprise! Doing so well on the force, taking down a major conspiracy, and she's got a fox for a partner!" Jake said. Nick inwardly scowled but kept his face the same.
"Why is that surprising?" he asked politely. Jake immediately realized how he sounded and choked a little on his cola.
"No no! I mean, not like foxes can't be great cops or anything, or that they're dangerous. I meant about what happened when she was younger," he clarified.
"Yeah, with Gideon," Rodger said. Nick's face finally twisted in confusion.
"What happened, what are you talking about?" he asked.
"You know, when . . . the whole . . . holy scatt, did she not tell you?" Jake said.
"Yeah, this is the face of someone in the know," Nick said sarcastically.
"Well, . . . when we were kids . . ." Jake began.
"She was attacked by a fox when we were all young," Rodger explained.
"What?" Nick said, and reeled back in his chair.
"Yeah, this fox named Gideon swiped her right across the face, and held her down against the ground for a minute shouting all kinds of mean things. Scratched her up real good on her cheek," Rodger said and demonstrated by dragging his claws across his left cheek.
"But he's an alright guy now!" Jake clarified. "He was just a jerk back then, but he's apologized and everything. But after that day, I thought she'd be terrified of foxes forever. I'm surprised her face didn't scar,"
"What? How can you tell?" Jake asked his brother.
"Remember when we were 17 and Judy got bubblegum in her fur?"
"Yeah. Dad had to buzz her fur on her face, she was not happy about that."
"Well if you look really closely, you can still see the lines on her face. You just can't see it when her fur is covering it, but it's there," Rodger said.
Nick took in everything that her brothers were saying. No wonder she was so terrified of foxes when they first met. That fox repellent now seemed tame by comparison, and he always gave her a hard time for it too! It's been well over a year since they met and yet and he still brings it up just to tease her.
"She never told you this?" Jake asked quietly. Nick snapped out of his daze and looked back at the boys.
"No," he said softly, then shrugged and put on his best poker face. "I'm sure she thought it would offend me or something crazy, it's no big deal," he said.
Later that night, after Judy gave her brothers thick hugs goodbye, Nick walked quietly by Judy as she explained all about how bunnies typically move to a new town whenever they get married to avoid overpopulating their hometowns, that being in part why bunnies are farmers so often. Nick couldn't help but steal glances right at her cheek as she spoke.
" . . . because out in the midwest, land is so cheap so you can buy 100 acres to raise crops and a big family without worrying about space. That doesn't mean we still don't get . . . Nick? Are you ok?" she asked, snapping Nick out of another daze.
"Sorry," he said and shook his head. "Long day, I think I need to get some real sleep."
"In your own bed this time," she said waggling her finger at him. They soon came to the intersection where they had to part ways.
"Alright, get some rest, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning," Judy said with a smile.
"My excitement can barely contain itself," Nick said sarcastically. "See ya carrots."
"Wait, Nick?" she said and stopped him.
"Hmm?" he asked. She hesitated for a moment, then threw her arms round his torso and squeezed him tight. "Woah, what's all this?"
"Thank you, Nick, for meeting my brothers and for being so nice to them."
"Hey, no problem. They're good bunnies and easy to get along with."
"It does my heart good knowing my best friend can get along well enough with my family," she said and let him go.
"Yeah. . . Ok, I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked and she nodded.
Nick waved and turned to walk back to his place by the water. He couldn't get the image of his partner trembling in fear of him out of his mind. He knew if he dwelled on it too long he would grow restless, so he thought it best to distract himself. The case deserved his attention anyway. Somewhere on the planet, innocent prey were being chopped up and shipped out to predators in his city. As cynically as he took the world around him, that was not ok. The leads on the subject were sparse at best, so he would have to make his own.
He had a few ideas.
Chapter 2: Part 2
The next morning Judy had to explain to Chief Bogo why it was nearly noon and her partner had not shown his face at work yet. It was a difficult task since all she got from him this morning was a text reading 'Hold down the fort' and he did not answer any of her calls since. He was going to be nose-deep in paperwork for being this late, but if he didn't show up soon with a good explanation, he could get in real trouble, perhaps even suspended.
Judy propped her forehead up by her paws on her desk with a groan. Harsh words would soon become a shouting match if he did not show up soon. She spent the morning going over the case file to distract herself. The information was sparse but unusual. The casino that was raided was in the northern part of the rainforest district, far away from city center. McHorn had compiled evidence for weeks before the bust, but nothing on the list lead him to suspect meat was being served there. All the supply was frozen and packaged with no label, and there was no equipment for butchering nor any blood or byproduct, so the meat had been butchered elsewhere for sure.
She groaned again and rubbed the spot between her eyes when a snout placed itself between her ears.
"You won't find any leads there, bunny," Nick said. Judy startled and wheeled around before grimacing and giving him a much-deserved slug on the shoulder.
"Nicholas Wilde, you slimy piece of dirt, I could smack you right across the snout!" she hissed.
"No carrots, don't hold it in, tell me how you really feel," he toyed and leaned up against the door to her cubicle.
"Do you have any idea how much trouble you're in?" Judy accused.
"I already spoke to the chief, so yes I do and the answer is none."
"None," she repeated.
"Scot-free, which for me is an ironic phrase because the only guy I know named Scott is in prison," he wondered aloud.
"How did you manage that?"
"Well, are you done being angry with me?"
"No!" she spat.
"Then come chat with me when you're ready to talk about a lead," he said and began striding off. Her ears dropped and she followed him eagerly.
"Do you have one?" she asked excitedly.
"Yup," he answered and kept walking. She grabbed his arm and stopped him from going any further.
"Okay, Nick, I'm not mad anymore, what's this lead?" She asked. Nick smiled.
"Oh, I stopped by an old friend of mine's place this morning to see how things have been. Couldn't go in uniform of course, but he did say he was on a recent winning streak at the roulette tables, and I don't mean the legal ones," he said.
"So did he know about the bust in the Rainforest District?"
"Oh he knew all about that, but wasn't a patron. He did mention, however, that his favorite spot recently abandoned ship out of nowhere."
"You mean they deserted it?"
"My source says they were all fine and dandy till last week they packed up and abandoned the place. The owners of both knew each other quite well, and my buddy mentioned how the 'company was terrible but the food was delicious."
"You think this casino was also selling meat and got spooked by McHorn's bust?"
"Only one way to find out, and I got the address. So, are you sure you're not angry with me anymore? You could always sit this one out, I'm sure there are plenty of reports to finish filing," he jested.
"Nick you're amazing!" she said and bounced a little, slugging him on the shoulder affectionately.
"Ow! You know, the amount of abuse I get in the office should really be looked at by Animal Resources. My arms gonna fall off at this rate," Nick said and rubbed his shoulder.
"Oh quit your whining. Let's go!" she said and moments later she was driving the squad car up Beaker street with a fierce grin on her face.
Nick's source led them to a relatively rough part of town by the waterfront. The street lined a steep cliff that bordered a valley with a set of warehouses below. On the other side were rows of townhouses, most of which were run-down with a few foreclosure notices pinned to the front doors. The house they were looking for was towards the end of the street that seemed to drop out over the bay like an infinity pool.
Nick suggest they park a block up, so that the squad car didn't arouse suspicion. This was a recon case after all. When they got to the street that lined the cliffside, Judy looked out over the view.
"Hey Nick! Check it out, I can see your bridge from here. See it? The one that I found you at during the night howler case?"
"And you broke down like a baby and started leaking water from your face? How could I forget," he said and kept on walking. She scowled at his jab and followed him to the house they were looking for. The house was 4 stories tall and a dark shade of blue with boards on the windows. Clearly the house was foreclosed some time ago.
Nick and Judy walked up the stoop to inspect the place.
"The door looks like it hasn't been touched in years," she said giving the doorknob a tug to no avail.
"Come around this way, Carrots," Nick beckoned her and led her to a small space between the house and the neighboring one. He pointed up at a thin window that swung lightly in the breeze. The frame below the window was scuffed up with claw marks.
"After you," he said with a bow to his partner who jumped up to the window and peered inside. It was dark but she saw no movement so she climbed her way inside through the swinging window and hit the floorboards with a light thud.
"Clear," She called out and Nick followed her in.
The house was empty, dark, and dusty but there was a clear path where animals had been walking between floors.
"Basement first," Judy said and turned on her flashlight. She led them both down the creaky steps to a basement that was dark as night.
"Nick, do you see a lightswitch?" She said. A clicking sound followed by a lighted chandelier answered her question. The room was empty but smelled thickly of cigar smoke. The chandelier looked brand new and was positioned very low, as if to go over a table. She lifted the rug off the floor and found a few stray poker chips underneath.
"Looks like our casino, let's check the kitchen," Nick said and led them both back up the stairs. The first floor had a small kitchen in the back that looked older than the house somehow. Dishes piled up in the sink and rancid food was dried to each one. Nick gave the faucet a twist and nothing came out. Judy opened the fridge and found some rotten vegetables and jars of fruits but nothing out of the ordinary.
"No meat," she said.
"I don't think this is where they cooked. The sinks don't work. Let's try upstairs," he said and they both went up a floor where they found a bedroom that looked just as old as the kitchen. Nick poked around the bedframe looking for hidden compartments while Judy began opening drawers.
She found something odd. It looked like a belt to her, but it had a strange buckle with a light on it. The inside had two silver diodes facing the wearer, but it had no method of adjusting the size. The sight of the garment puzzled her, so she turned to Nick and held it up.
"Hey Nick, what's this?" she asked. He continued to look for clues.
"I don't want to know what you found in their underwear drawer, Carrots," he waved her off.
"Nick, look," she said.
Nick turned around and saw what she was holding. His face immediately dropped into a frown and he scowled at her.
"Very funny carrots," he said a little angrily.
"What? Nick I'm honestly asking," she pressed on.
"Are you serious? You have never seen a T.A.M.E. collar before?" He said and put his paws on his hips.
"A what?" she asked again. Nick's eyes widened and he put a paw to his forehead.
"You can't be serious. What are they teaching you out in Bunny Burrows?"
"Nick, would you please just explain what-"
"It's a shock collar. Decades ago, back when my grandfather was younger than I am, predators in Zootopia were required by law to wear collars like that at all times," Nick explained.
"What? You can't be serious," Judy protested.
"Yeah, well, back then prey were still looking for ways to feel safe around predators. Since the population was majority prey, they passed the law easily and predators had to wear those or get locked up." Nick continued to look for clues while he explained. "If a predator became too aggressive, the collars would emit a shock and that would 'remind' us to behave civilized."
Judy dropped the collar in disgust. "That's barbaric!"
"Hey, they were different times. Guess Bunny Burrows doesn't have many predators in the first place so I'm not surprised you never heard about it," Nick said and looked up. Judy was visibly shaken by what he was telling her. She looked at the device on the floor in a mixture of shock and disgust. Nick rolled his eyes and placed a comforting paw on her shoulder.
"Look, Carrots, the law was repealed before our parents were even born, so it's ancient history. Things were bleak, but with the support of most prey, the predators overcame it. Don't think too hard on it, ok?" Judy looked at him and placed a paw on his forearm and managed to give a weak smile before nodding. He smiled back and led her out of the room.
"Come on, two more floors to check," he said and led her to the third floor. There they found an empty room at the edge of the building with clear plastic tubes running out of the walls and into a sink. Judy inspected the tube and found a valve on one end which, when turned, ran clean water down the sink. Nick was following his nose towards something particularly pungent. He wiped a finger along the counter by the sink and gave it a lick.
"Salt and pepper," he said.
"I see," Judy observed. "These tubes probably run to the neighbor's plumbing where the water is still running. That way they can syphon water without being on the grid."
"Check this out," Nick said and poked at a large metal structure near the window. A large black cylinder swung open revealing grid lined metal bars and an exhaust line that went into the wall where the tubes went. "It's a grill," Nick observed. "Eugh, and it stinks!" he said and waved his paw around his nose. Judy took out her phone and began taking pictures of the tubes in the wall and the grill. She opened up her Ev kit and swabbed the inside of the grill as well as the countertop before shoving the evidence back in her belt.
"So far we have an illegal gambling house that served food by syphoning water through the neighbor's house. No meat," Nick said.
"We still have one more floor," Judy said with a shrug.
The two of them trudged up the last set of stairs to the fourth floor where they found yet another empty room. Oddly, the window frames had no windows and a cool breeze blew in freely. Nick sniffed around the room but could not find anything odd about it. It was a bedroom that had been emptied out completely, not even carpet left behind, just a set of drawers like the ones on the second floor.
"There's gotta be something," Judy said. Nick finished sniffing the room and shrugged his shoulders at her. She gave the drawers a tug but they didn't budge. She braced her footing and gave it another tug, but this time the whole chest budged a little.
"Is it locked?" Nick asked.
"There is no lock on it," she said and tried the rest of them. "They're all nailed shut."
Judy hopped up and gave the very top drawer a heave, but it didn't budge. Rather, the whole chest began tilting and falling to the floor. She gave out a shriek as she tumbled backwards with the massive chest about to squash her. Nick pounced and caught the falling bunny and they rolled to the side as the massive chest pounded loudly against the floor.
"You alright?" he asked her.
"Yeah, thanks Nick," she said and rolled over to dust herself off.
"That's one you owe me," he said dusting himself off as well.
"What, we're counting now?" she jested. Nick thought about it, before giving her a nod.
"Yes, starting now."
"Oh shut up," she shushed him.
"No no I think I could beat you by the year's end," he argued.
"No, seriously Nick, shut up and look at this," she said and gestured to the chest of drawers.
The backside of the chest was completely missing. In it's place was a massive white hatch with iron doors. It was shiny and looked brand-new. The entire structure was using the chest as a cover. Judy immediately began taking photos again.
"No wonder it fell over, it's so top-heavy!" Nick pointed out.
Judy hopped up onto the hatch door and undid the latch, which came undone very easily. She squatted down and began to heave at the door before Nick's paw gripped her own.
"Wait," he said.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Carrots, we need to be prepared for what we might see in here," he said carefully. "It could be too horrible to imagine."
He was right. If they found what they were looking for inside, then Judy would immediately never want to see it again. She took a deep breath, relaxed her paw and gave her partner a firm nod. He nodded back and they both lifted the hatch upward and it swung open with a loud metallic squeak.
"It's empty," Judy said, nearly heartbroken and relieved at the same time.
"Not just empty, it's spotless. Look, even the hinges have been polished clean from the inside. There's no rust or wear or anything, and I can't smell a thing," he observed and pulled his snout out of the freezer box. Judy took a few more photos before shoving her phone back into her pocket.
"If they wanted to erase any trace of what was in here, why not just take the whole thing with them?" Judy pondered.
"Maybe they were in a rush? The counter in the kitchen was only kind-of wiped down and the casino room still had a few things in it," Nick suggested.
"Maybe. That or they weren't done with this place yet," Judy suggested.
Nick's ears dropped with a sigh.
"Awww does that mean we have to stakeout? We just did one last month and I thought I was going to spontaneously explode with boredom."
Judy was about to respond before her ear twitched. Something caught her attention.
"Seriously though, I think chronic boredom is diagnosaBLFMMMF!" Judy clasped her paws down on her partner's snout and shushed him violently. Her ears stayed at full attention and turned towards the door. Nick stopped struggling and listened as well.
Someone was downstairs.
They both quietly peered down the staircase and heard the sound of hoof steps and hushed voices. They gave each other a look and both drew their tranqs. The voices got louder as they climbed to the second floor.
"We can't arrest anyone," Judy whispered. "Otherwise they'll know we're on to them. We can't even be seen."
"If we dart them, can we sneak out without them seeing us?" Nick whispered back.
"No, they'll know it was police," she whispered back. The voices were getting close enough to understand and Judy holstered her gun.
". . . So when I take her out tomorrow night, I'm going to wait for her to offer to pay for dinner. We'll see who's whipped then, won't we?" one of the voices said.
"Still you," the other voice responded and then snorted loudly.
Pigs. They were two males and large by the sound of them. They made their way to the third floor and set to cleaning up the counter.
"You can't take her out tomorrow night anyway. We're working remember?" one of them said.
"Aww darn it, the big party thing is tomorrow night? Can't you take care of that? You don't need me for that one."
"No one needs you for anything. But Jaeger wants us both there. He's got a thing for displaying power and two bodyguards are better than one."
Judy's eyes widened. This was exactly the kind of information she was hoping for. Not only did she learn their boss's name but she knows what he'll be doing tomorrow night.
"Hold it, what the heck is this?" one pig asked. There was a moment of brief silence and Nick and Judy looked at each other nervously.
"The sink has water in it, but the tubes aren't leaking," one of them said in a hushed tone.
Judy slowly began backing away from the staircase and into the room. Nick followed her with an extremely nervous look on his face. His tail was frazzled and shaking.
"Someone's been here, and recently too," one said.
"Shush! They might still be here!" the other said.
"Spread out and search the place."
Judy stepped back and panicked. She thought wildly about what to do. They had to escape without being seen, but there was no way they could slip by them now. With the pigs split up, one of them would find her where she was and she couldn't sneak out the window without being seen by the other pig. She needed to think, she needed to escape, she needed the pigs in one place . . .
Judy threw the door to the bedroom door closed loudly and the sound echoed throughout the house.
"What are you doing!? They definitely know we're here now," Nick called out in confusion and whipped his tranq out again.
"Put it away and help me!" she called out and began rolling the massive freezer-drawer towards the door. Nick realized what she was doing and rallied behind her. Two sets of hoofsteps began loudly scaling the last flight of stairs as they got closer to the door. Just as they shoved the freezer box against the door, another SLAM came from the door in front of them.
"Get up here! They're on the fourth floor!" a voice called out and more bashing against the door followed. With the chest propped up against the door, that bought them some time. Nick held himself up against the chest securing it up against the door.
"What is it with you and trapping us in places at times like this!" Nick accused her. "At least last time it was a train so we could get moving."
"We could be a rival cartel for all they know. We just need to get out of here without letting them see us," Judy responded. "Can we climb down from out the window?" She said and peered out the window.
"Not without the-*SLAM*-high possibility of gruesome death," Nick said as the pig rammed the door.
"There's got to be a way down, help me!" She called out. Nick groaned.
"Switch with me!" he said and Judy was by his side holding the door closed a split second later. Nick ran to the window and looked around outside. The shingles on the side of the building would not hold either of their weight, and there was no rope to propel down. Nick looked down at the street that lined the cliffside and held very still while another few SLAMs rang out from the door. He concluded that the only option was to dart the criminals or jump.
"I have an idea, but you're really not going to like it," he said and rejoined Judy holding the door closed. "We jump."
"You are absolutely right about me not liking that idea," she exclaimed.
"Listen, if we can clear the street and pass the cliffside, we'll be fine. All we got to do is jump straight out that way," he said and pointed towards the window. The thought of plummeting to her death made Judy's blood curl. The window scared her a thousand times more than the violent criminals trying to kill her.
"This is crazy!" she protested as another slam came from behind them. The wood on the door frame was beginning to crack.
"Fluff, look at me!" Nick shouted. Judy kept herself propped up against the chest but looked at Nick, who was returning her gaze directly into her eyes.
"Do you trust me?" he asked quietly.
"With your life?" he said and gestured to the window. She hesitated, looking at the window and then back to him. She was scared stiff, but she gave him a slight nod.
"Yes," she said a little more quietly.
"Then on my mark, run and then jump as far as you can," he exclaimed.
Oh this is crazy this is crazy this is crazy! She heard herself think. She braced herself against the chest and peered out the window with her nose twitching like mad.
"Now!" he bellowed and began sprinting towards the window. Judy cried out in protest as she followed as quickly as she could. The fox was faster than her, but she could out-jump him so as soon as she left the windowsill she caught up to him in the air.
Nick turned and grabbed her paw, pulling her in closer till they were the same mass of mammal plummeting downwards. Judy felt her sense of orientation fall away as they turned in freefall. She braced for impact with the street. Their feet narrowly missed the edge of the cliffside where the street was and they continued to plummet downward. Below them, Judy caught a glimpse of a rooftop that they were barreling towards. She shrieked and braced for impact again, pulling herself closer to Nick.
The two of them crashed through a thin sheet of glass that exploded into thousands of pieces and continued falling. Judy saw nothing as she kept her eyes closed as tight as she could. Expecting to feel the terrible stiffness of ground beneath her, she cried out again.
The impact came, but it was odd. The wind got knocked out of her chest but the ground somehow moved out of the way for them as they connected with it. There was a sound hundreds of pieces of plastic rubbing against each other, almost like the sound a flock of pigeons make when startled. A split second later and they were not moving anymore.
Judy kept her eyes glued shut and her breath held in as tightly as she could, for fear that as soon as she opened her eyes and tried to breath the pain of death would sweep over her. She could feel Nick's body beneath hers, but strangely divided from hers somehow. She dared not think or move or breath until she heard something odd.
"Y'alright there carrots?" Nick said with a huff. She opened her eyes and shifted herself on top of him. As soon as she did her vision was blocked by a swarm of soft round balls of plastic. She felt the weight of more of them on top of her. She wiggled her fingers, toes, and tail to make sure she still had her limbs and pushed upward from Nick. Her head surfaced above an ocean of color.
"A ball pit?" Judy wondered as her partner shifted underneath her. She swam aside and let him surface as well.
"That's two, Carrots, in the same day," he said a little dizzily, holding up two fingers from beneath the surface. Judy looked above her and found herself in a large warehouse with a glass ceiling that had a newly formed hole in one frame. They had fallen past the street, over the cliff, through the ceiling and into the large ball pit that they were currently swimming in.
"Nick! Are you alright?" she said and took his face in her paws. His face seemed disoriented but he smiled just the same.
"I'm not splattered on pavement, which is nice," he commented and rubbed his forehead with a paw. "That ceiling didn't feel too good though."
"Nick, that was the craziest, stupidest thing you've ever done," she scolded him.
"Hey, I'd take it over being flushed. Remember that bright idea? At least this time we're not wet." Nick slowly rolled and swam his way to the edge of the ball pit, climbing out onto the paved tiled floor.
"But how did you know we would land in here? Where are we even?" she called out and climbed out of the pit herself. She took a moment to regain her footing and followed her partner.
That's when she noticed the rest of them. There were rides and attractions everywhere around her. She could not see to the other side of the massive building through the various games and rides. One wooden roller coaster ran above her, an arcade game of some kind was to her side, and behind her rested the giant ball pit featuring a pouncing board and a large colorful sign that read 'Little Bites'. Towards the back, a large and rickety stage was set up with rows and rows of seats lined up for performances.
The whole place was colorful, beautiful, and massive, but eerily quiet. Normally a place so beautiful would beg the sound of children laughing and folks cheering with the hustle and bustle of everyday mammals, but the whole place was deserted. The plants grew out of their pots and dirt collected in piles along the floor.
"Nick?" she called out again and wandered about looking for him. The place was bigger than she first thought. Her voice echoed in the large chamber as she called out for Nick. She passed by a jaw-strength testing machine and a sign near the entrance that read 'Chompers only.' There were a few games that look like it was designed to catch prey, which made her feel a little nervous.
"Nick!" she called out one more time, and finally got a response.
"Carrots," she heard and followed the voice to the entrance of the park. She found her partner gazing upward with his hands in his pockets.
"Nick," she said as she finally found him. "What is this place?"
He simply pointed to a large sign above them.
'Wilde Times' the sign read. Beneath it sat a large colorful carousel with lights and all manner of birds and beasts for seats.
"This place," Nick began, "Was my grandfather's response to the T.A.M.E. collars. Not sure how, but he found a way to remove the collars. For a small fee, any predator could come here and literally check their collars at the door. He had to keep it secret, of course, because removing them was very illegal at the time. But the shifty fox hid his paradise in this place away from prying eyes, and all the predators who came here loved it and him. This was the only place they were free."
He spoke softly, as if just mumbling to himself, but Judy hung on every word. She observed the walls and the lights and the colorful everything and knew just how important the park was to her partner.
"What happened?" she asked after a moment, and Nick smiled.
"The law was repealed, the predators were free, and old gramps had to shut the place down. Heh, it's funny. I don't remember much about him, but he said that the happiest day of his life was when he went out of business," Nick explained. He turned and began to head towards the doors, fishing out a small key from his rear pocket. A small keychain with a cursive 'W' on the end dangled from the end of the old rusty key. That's when Judy realized something.
"Nick?" she called out. He stopped but did not turn around. "This place has got to be expensive to keep, let alone run. The rent costs alone would bankrupt anyone . . ." she began. He showed no reaction at all. "When I met you, you were living under a bridge down the road from here, but you were making more than 200 dollars a day tax-free and still homeless somehow."
He didn't respond.
"Nick? Have you been paying rent on this place?"
Again, no response. He simply began walking again towards the exit. He placed the key in the door and it swung open with a loud click. Judy followed him out, catching up with him and putting a concerned hand on his shoulder.
"Listen, Carrots," he started.
"No you listen Nick. I know you care about this place but you can't let it hold you-"
"Shhhhhsh, listen!" he hissed and looked upwards towards the cliffside they fell from. A strange sound echoed off of the cliffside.
"Sirens?" she asked.
"Did you call for backup?"
Nick shook his head. The sirens were getting loud, and Judy could tell that there were multiple cars. Then came a loud and violent horn that got them both on edge.
"This way!" he said and led her towards an area underneath a parking lot where a set of rickety stairs took them back up to the street level. They passed through a shabby-looking medical clinic, Judy guessed it was a front for the theme park, and ran back out onto the street they were earlier. Once they arrived, they stopped dead in their tracks.
The blue house they were investigating was now roaring with flames and billowing smoke out into the harbor. The flames began flying higher and higher and the air stunk of arsenic and smoke. The two officers looked at the place dumbfounded as the fire trucks pulled to either side of the blaze and began connecting with nearby fire hydrants.
"Whelp, guess this means we don't have to do a stakeout," Nick said.
It was a bright side Judy had trouble enjoying.
Chapter 3: Part 3
Judy and Nick got the biggest earful from Bogo on record. The shouting lasted so long that when they finally emerged from his office, Fangmeyer, Higgins, and Clawhauser were standing outside the door their performance. Clauhauser even kept time, saying it was a new precinct record.
The house burned all the way down, along with any evidence it had and the neighboring houses on either side. When Bogo told them to go covert, this is not what he had in mind. The damages were massive and while their evidence was strong, it was all gone now. All they had to go on now was a party that night and the name 'Jaeger.' It was hardly much to work with, and certainly not worth destroying half a city block for while nearly leaping to their deaths. It would take some time to get Judy's samples back from the lab, so they had to operate under the assumption that there was meat at the casino and they would have to catch the culprit that night.
Judy and Nick sat at their cubicles back to back scouring their resources looking for the right mammal. There were no connections between the name Jaeger and two pigs in the arrest records, and the census had far too many mammals that went by that name to nail down any one. Nick sighed as he flipped through pages and pages of documents that were getting him nowhere fast.
"Oh what the heck," he groaned and clicked on the internet browser. He searched for 'Jaeger' and 'Party' under the date and started scrolling. Nothing promising at first, but then he found a link to a news article run by ZNN about some non-profit organization. Judy was still studying every mammal named Jaeger in the census when she was tapped on the shoulder.
"Hey Carrots?" Nick asked. "Ever heard of the Pred-Prey Alliance Collective?"
"P-PAC? Sure. They led pred-rights demonstrations last year during the night-howler incident. Why?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Well they're throwing a fundraiser tonight at the Hippostein Ballroom. I think that might be our party," Nick explained.
"What makes you say that?"
"Got a hunch that the keynote speaker might be our guy. He's a super-rich philanthropist, which is the biggest oxymoron in existence so I already don't like 'em. On top of that, he's an outspoken pred-rights activist and on the board of directors at P-PAC. His cover is just too perfect for me," he said while scrolling through his bio on the company website.
"Well, what's his name?" she asked.
"Robert Catalan," he confessed.
"We're looking for a 'Jaeger,' Nick. We can't go chasing leads on hunches," she said and turned back to her computer. Nick got up from his seat and leaned over her shoulder pointing at the screen.
"Just bare with me fluff-butt. Look him up."
Judy took a second to sneer at his not-so-cute name for her and typed in the name. A few news articles popped up referencing the party and P-PAC, but not much more information on Catalan.
"Keep scrolling . . . there, click on that link," he said and pointed to an editorial. Judy opened it up and a short article flew on screen. The photo at the top was of a fierce looking Bobcat in a business suit looking off-camera. His ears were pointed sharp and Judy's instincts noticed the smallest bit of fang hanging out underneath his lip. He was tall with arrow-straight posture and a fiery glare in his eye.
"Turns out all you need to find dangerous criminals is Zoogle. That cat is our mammal," Nick assured her.
"Nick, there's nothing to suggest that at all," she sighed.
"Bet you a coffee and twenty bucks I'm right," he claimed.
"Ok sure. Easiest twenty I ever made. Pay up," she said, beginning to get irritated by his insistence.
"Wait, wait . . ." Nick said and ran his claw down the article and began to read aloud. " . . . for predators and prey alike, none can claim the dollar amount donated nor the supreme influence over P-PAC than that of one Robert J. Catalan!"
Judy's ears perked up and followed his claw, reading and re-reading the article as he read it. She immediately switched to her census folder and typed in Robert J. Catalan. Two names came back and Judy opened them both. The first one had 'Dentist' listed under occupation and 'Panther' under species. The second name read 'Self-Employed' under occupation and was listed as a bobcat.
Legal name: Robert Jaeger Catalan.
Judy groaned and turned her head to find her partner directly at eye-level with her. He didn't speak or move, he just had the slyest and most infuriating grin on his face that left all of his other smiles to shame.
". . . that still doesn't mean he's our guy," Judy defended herself.
"Fine, still not convinced? Look him up on the tube. Look for a press conference or something," he said and Judy reluctantly obliged. A handful of videos came up, most of which were P-PAC promos, but one featured an inside look at the board of directors. They featured a few minutes on a fox, another minute on a pair of hyenas, and a short clip of Robert Catalan, walking out of his limo onto a red carpet.
"Pause!" Nick said and Judy tapped her keyboard. She looked closer and saw exactly what Nick did. The mammal opening the door for him in the video was a pig, and so was the driver. This Robert Catalan was the 'Jaeger' they were after.
Judy focused on his face, scowling at him. His features were neat and respectable. His fur on his chin dipped downward into a point, giving him equally sharp features on all sides of his face. He would be intimidating if he was mouse, but he was terrifying as a predator.
Judy felt Nick's cold nose against the inside of her ear.
"I like cream and no sugars," he whispered tenderly into her ear, which dropped down her shoulder in defeat. The coffee and $20 bucks was annoying, but now she had to deal with Nick's arrogant attitude which was one hundred times worse. Nick began laughing as he made his way towards Bogo's office.
"Time to get fancy, Carrots! We're going to a party!"
The chief was on board with the investigation until he saw the price of admissions to the fundraiser. To avoid suspicion, they'd have to go as patrons and it was certainly not cheap. It was the type of party rich mammals threw to tout how rich they were to all of their wealthy friends under the guise of it being 'for charity'. They would have to do their best not to draw attention to themselves and find out more about Robert Catalan to find out for sure if he was the 'Jaeger', they were after. This meant fitting in, and that meant dressing up.
Nick went home to put on his best suit while Judy went into town for some shopping. They were to meet by a police surveillance van that was disguised as a press truck a few blocks from the venue. Delgato would be helping them set up monitoring equipment like microphones and earpieces so they could receive intel. The plan was to find Jaeger, bug his phone, and get out without making a scene.
Nick was the first to arrive. His suit fit him perfectly, adorning him with a dark red vest and matching tie. He found a 'Chan-4' news truck parked on the curb where they were told to meet. He knocked on the door, which slid open and revealed a surprising face.
"Well hello there you handsome fox!" came the voice of Clawhauser.
"Clawhauser? Where's Delgato?" Nick asked.
"Chief assigned me to the case last minute, said he had something more important for Delgato to do tonight," he explained.
"What's more important than catching meat traffickers?"
"No idea, but I'm already having so much fun I don't care! I haven't been out on the field for years," he said and playfully swung his feet as he swiveled in his chair. The van was filled with computers, monitors, and various equipment making 'blip'bleeping sounds. Nick rolled his eyes at the cheetah's enthusiasm.
"Alright, we should be getting in there soon. We're already 20 minutes fashionably late. Where's Hopps?" Nick asked, looking inside the van for his partner. His answer came at the sound of a car horn honking from behind him. Nick turned and looked at the street, finding a set of headlights facing them. Pulling up behind the van was a long white limo that looked uncomfortably familiar. It had gold trim, and a license plate that read 29THD03.
"Oh you can't be serious," Nick groaned and made his way to the passenger door. The sunroof slowly opened with an electric hum and out popped a set of tall grey ears.
"Carrots, is this your idea of not drawing too much attention to ourselves?" he said and ran a paw down his forehead.
"What? We need to be rich right? We can't show up to the party in a Zuber," Judy said and propped herself on the edge of the sunroof.
Nick stopped for a moment because he could have sworn he was looking at a different bunny. She was beautiful, elegant, and strangely confident. Her dark blue dress fitted her perfectly and around her neck rested a bright diamond necklace that shined as much as her eyes. Nick shook his head and tried to act like he was not floored.
"Well well, little miss meter-maid is moving up in the world, huh?" he quipped.
"Let me guess, you were expecting a straw hat and overalls because I'm such a 'country gal'?"
". . . yes?"
"For your information, Wilde, I was a debutante at Bunny Burrows, so I will know how to behave myself in there," she said and gestured down the street.
"Well at least you look the part," he sighed.
"Hmmm, I'm going to go with 'compliment' on that one. And you don't look so bad yourself, Mr. pawpsicle. How much did that suit cost the department?"
"For your information, my father was a tailor. I was wearing a shirt and tie long before I started wearing kevlar over it," he finished and straightened out his tie.
That's when Judy smiled at him, and for some reason he could not find any witty remarks in his arsenal. It was as if the tiny fox in his brain responsible for quips was asleep on the job for the first time ever. For some reason, he didn't seem to mind. Then came a white flash and clicking sound came from their side. They both turned to find Clawhauser holding his phone up and giggling like mad.
"Oooh you guys are too cute! Seriously, you two should write books on flirting because this is professional grade material right here," he said and flipped through some more photos on his phone.
"Clawhauser? Where's Delgato?" Judy asked.
"There's the question for the night. Chief assigned us this ball of sunshine instead, probably because of our escapade downtown yesterday. At least he knows how to use a phone," Nick snickered.
"Get on out here and finish suiting up," Clawhauser said and beckoned them both over to the van.
Clawhauser strapped them with Wires and earpieces and tested them out through his intercom system. Any conversations they had would be recorded for evidence later. Judy was given a small black chip that, when inserted into the headphone jack, could transfer any conversation from a cellphone to the van.
Once they were both set up, they climbed into the oversized limo and set off. Judy's nerves finally started to set in as they left for the party. This was potentially a very dangerous and perhaps murderous criminal they were chasing, and if they were right about him, this would be the first predator she would have a real reason to fear. She felt a primal jitter start to creep up her spine that she had not felt since they were chased by Mr. Manchas during the Night Howler case.
"Manchas, Is that you? Good to see you old pal, how's the newlywed life?" Nick's voice shook her out of her stupor. The driver window rolled down and a familiar black jaguar was smiling back at Nick through the rear-view mirror.
"Very good, officer Wilde, thank you," he said and tipped his hat.
"Did she put you up to this or did Mr. Big grace us with your service?" Nick asked.
"I called in a favor from Mr. Big," Judy explained. "When I said it was for a case, he was hesitant, but when I said it would be a big fancy party, he said," she cleared her throat and put on her best shrew-voice, pinching her fingers together and squinting her eyes. "If my grandbaby's godmother is going to a party, she's going to look good."
Nick laughed. "Not bad. I take it he has no idea I'm involved, otherwise we'd be walking. How is baby Judy anyhow?"
"She's so cute, learning how to talk it melts my heart! You should come with me next time I visit. Even your heart would get lukewarm seeing her,"she said and elbowed his side.
"Hey, I'm not heartless around kids, fluff," he protested.
"Well, if you're half as good a father as you are pretending to be a father, than I'd say you would do just fine," she said and laughed.
Where did that come from? They both wondered.
The rest of the ride was mercifully short because they arrived at the venue entrance and stepped out of the car. A small group of mammals of varying sizes lined the steps up towards the main entrance, all wearing the nicest clothing and fur styles. The venue was lit brilliantly by bright amber lights that looked nearly centuries old; a historic Zootopian landmark for sure. They thanked Manchas for the ride and made their way inside, giving Clawhauser's microphones a 'check-check' once they did.
"We're all good from here, guys," their earpieces rang out. "Judy, you've got the bug so once it's in, find a time to slip out. From here on out, I'm going dark unless you guys need me. Have fun you two. Clawhauser out," the heard and their earpieces went silent.
"So how are you going to bug it without him noticing?" Nick asked.
"He probably keeps his phone in his coat pocket, so I was thinking I 'accidentally' spill some wine on him. He'll need to use the restroom to clean up so when he leaves his jacket out in the ballroom, I'll quietly move by his table and bug the phone," she explained with a hush.
"What if he brings it in the jon with him?" Nick asked.
"Then I give you the bug and you follow him in," she answered.
"Simple enough. Let's schmooze a little with some rich folks first before dinner. We can't be too shifty, or else he'll know what's up," Nick suggested. Judy nodded as they made their way past the check-in desk and into the ballroom.
The building was old but in beautiful condition. The ceiling was bright white and lit by amber chandeliers that bounced light off the gold-painted trim along the pillars. Round dining tables with lavish flowers filled much of the room on the ballroom floor. On one side, a small stage with drawn red-velvet curtains stood above a small open area for dancing. A band was playing something slow and jazzy on stage as mammals made their way inside.
"On second thought, let's just go sit down," Nick said and took Judy's hand and started walking. She stumbled a little as Nick almost dragged her quickly to the far side of the room.
"What on earth?" she mumbled as she nearly needed to run to keep up with her partner.
"This is perfect, right here," he spat and quickly sat down at an empty table in the farthest corner of the room, seated facing the wall.
"What are you doing!?" Judy hissed at him. "You just said we shouldn't look shifty, yet you sprinted to the quietest part of the room looking like Weasleton! What happened to schmoozing? And why are you facing the wall? We can't spot Catalan if we can't even see the crowd."
"What? we're supposed to be covert. Here, you sit on that end of the table and see if you can spot him," he said and sank a little deeper into his chair slouching his shoulders.
"What has gotten into you?" she reprimanded him.
"He'll be the keynote speaker tonight anyway, just follow where he sits after he speaks."
Judy was about to press farther when their waiter appeared. An otter wearing a black tie and vest approached their table and greeted the two of them politely.
"Can I interest you in something to drink?" he asked.
"I'll have a glass of tonight's house red wine," Judy asked.
"I'll have what she's having," Nick echoed. Judy shot him a glare as the waiter bowed and left to fetch their orders.
"We're not drinking on the job, Nick. This wine is for Catalan's suit," she scolded him. "What is going on, are you nervous or something?" she asked.
"No, not at all, why would you ask that?" Nick said with a shrug.
"Why? Nick, you were your usual cool self when you walked in here and now it's like someone's got a knife to your tail. Did you see someone you recognize in here?" she said and looked around the room. The tables were filling up with patrons and the house lights were brought down a little. Nick didn't answer her question.
"Who is it, and what did you do to tick them off?" she asked with a scoff. Nick sighed and looked at her sheepishly.
"It's the band, Carrots. I know the band, and I'd rather not let them know I'm in the building because they'd recognize me and might blow our cover," he said quietly. Judy looked back towards the stage where a quartet of players were finishing up a smooth piece of jazz. There was a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and a piano player who was also singing. Judy's eyes narrowed as she inspected them closer. That was when she noticed they were all foxes. A grey Fennec fox played a small guitar while a white arctic fox sang at the piano. The other two were around the same shade as Nick.
Judy scoffed again.
"Why didn't you just say so? We'll avoid getting too close during our mission, ok?" she reassured him and saw him breath a little easier. The waiter brought their drinks by as the song ended and soon a round of applause filled the air. On one side of the stage, a tiger wearing a tidy suit walked up towards a podium and was met with more applause as he approached the microphone and began to speak.
"Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemammals, for joining us this evening. I always enjoy seeing such a diverse group of mammals, predators and prey alike, join us for these special occasions. As president of P-PAC, it is my esteemed pleasure to welcome our keynote speaker for the afternoon. A member of the board for more than a decade, he has served more time and donated more funds to our cause than anyone else 10 fold. He's an outspoken advocate for predator-rights and was key in designing city hall's 'Mammal Inclusion Initiative'. Please help me in welcoming to the stage, Mr. Robert J. Catalan," he finish and gestured to his side. The room filled up with more applause as another figure joined him on stage.
"Target spotted," Judy whispered and nodded towards the stage. Nick ventured a glance and turned in his seat to look over his shoulder.
Catalan was a bobcat of extremely trim figure. His face was sharp and the edges of his mouth looked as if they were pulled downward. Even when he smiled and shook the tiger's paw, it still looked like he was cross. What Judy noticed most was his eyes. They were a fiery orange color that lit up like stars. He carried himself with a swave calmness that followed him as he approached the podium and began to speak.
"Don't worry, everyone, I promise not to keep you from your meals for too long," he began, and the crowd chuckled. His accent was thin but noticeable, and his voice was calm and silky smooth.
"Still think that's our guy?" Judy asked Nick quietly. He didn't answer, he just looked back at her and nodded as Catalan continued to speak.
"When I was very young, my father told me about a wonderful land called 'Zootopia' where predators and prey coexisted together. To me, it was always a magical place where all of my dreams could become reality. Then, when I was still a cub, we immigrated to the city and lived in the rainforest district. That's when I learned something very important; dreams really are just dreams until our paws hit the ground," he said and a few members of the crowd nodded at his statement.
"At first, I was blinded by the peace. There were no collars, no pred-suppression police, and I could move freely from one district to another without papers or fear of prosecution. It really did feel like my dream. Then, I began to learn about the various ways predators were treated. Prey looked upon us with a passing fear that manifested itself in subtle ways. These subtle fears may not have bothered most predators, but to me they were treading upon my dreams. That is why I pledged my success to serve this wonderful city; to breathe life back into that dream," he said and waved a paw with a grand gesture to the members of the audience. The crowd quietly applauded in agreement and he waited for a moment before continuing.
"We celebrate today a momentous occasion, as it has been one full year since the police arrested mayor Bellweather and exposed her plot to turn predators and prey against each other during the Night Howler incident. We learned two very important things that day. First, we learned that despite all of our growth in bringing different species together, we still have work to accomplish to open the eyes of Zootopian citizens against intolerance. But the second thing we learned is how many mammals are out there supporting us. From the peace rallies to the noble work of the ZPD, we showed this city that predators and prey do coexist. We showed them that we want to coexist, and we showed them that peace among our fellow mammals is the way of the future," he said stoically. There was a small wave of applause that died out and waited for him to finish.
"The contributions we make tonight will act as another rung on the ladder that will take us to that future. I believe that the world is built on the acts of those who cared more about the future of others than their own present. Tonight, let us celebrate our history as we continue to carve a path forward, to where every mammal is free to be what they were born to be. Perhaps someday, with your support, a small cub's dream will be safe once more. Thank you," he finished and another round of applause filled the room as he waved to his supporters and posed for a few photos on stage.
Judy watched as he made his way from the stage and back into the ballroom floor. The band began to play another relaxing tune as he found his way to his table. He was seated near the back of the room and was surrounded by a host of other mammals congratulating him on his speech.
"See him?" Nick asked taking a sip from his wine glass.
"Yes. He is towards the back a few tables across from us," she said, keeping her focus on him. Her eyes widened as he sat down and began eating. "Nick, he took his coat off! It's resting on the back of his chair," she observed.
"So you want to go for the wine-spill maneuver?" Nick suggested.
"I might be able to sneak up behind him and reach into his jacket pocket without him noticing. That way, we can bug his phone without him having to see either of us," Judy guessed.
"Listen, Carrots, you're sneaky, but you're not that sneaky. He would smell you from behind anyway," Nick argued.
"Hey, I can be stealthy if I want to be. And if he's eating his food, I doubt he would smell me. I'm not even wearing any perfume," she said back.
"You can't pull off a pick like that when he's eating dinner. Just wait for him to get up, he might leave his jacket there."
"Nick, we might not have another shot at this, so we've got to take it now," Judy assured him. Nick sighed loudly and looked back towards their target assessing the options. It was true that if they could avoid being seen, it would avoid any suspicion, but if she got caught bugging a tycoon's phone in a place like this, there would be no avoiding a major scene and the whole night would become a catastrophe. He groaned and looked back at his partner with a reluctant idea.
"If I can distract him well enough, you should get in there and bug his phone without any problem," Nick suggested.
"We can't cause a scene, Nick, and we don't want him seeing either of us anyway," Judy argued.
"I won't cause a scene, but I will grab his attention," Nick said and got up from the table, placing his napkin down on the chair. He began walking away before Judy could argue.
"Wait!" she hissed.
"Don't worry Carrots, you'll know it when you see it," he said over his shoulder and walked out into the ballroom floor.
Idiot, she thought as she lost him behind another table full of bears. She calmly got up from her chair as well and fished out the bug from her purse. She carefully held it between 2 fingers as she walked towards her target's table. She kept towards the back wall and slipped behind a decorative plant a few feet from Catalan's table. She hid just a few meters behind him and waited for something to happen, but a few minutes passed by and nothing came. She peered around the shrub looking for any sign of her partner before resuming her hiding and focusing on her target. Catalan was eating and nodding politely at one of the other party guests. She couldn't sneak behind him without someone else from the table noticing.
"Hopps? Hopps what's wrong?" Clawhauser said from her earpiece. She put a paw to her shoulder and spoke into her hidden mic back at him.
"Nothing, what's going on Benjamin?" she hissed.
"I just lost Nick's feed from the wire. His ears are still working but I've got nothing coming in," the cheetah said franticly. Judy peered around again, looking for her partner with a worried look on her face. If something happened to him, she would have no idea.
"Nick? What is happening?" she called into her microphone as quietly as she could. She got her answer, but it was not what she expected.
"Excuse me, my I have everyone's attention please?" a voice came from the stage. Judy looked towards the stage and saw the piano player standing at a microphone at center stage. The room quieted down as the guests looked towards the stage.
"We have a very special guest joining us this evening. Once upon a time, he was one of our valued band-members, and since then he's joined the fuzz. He's asked to come up on stage for a reunion performance that has been nearly 10 years in the making. I am certainly not one to turn down an old friend, so please put your paws together for our very own . . . Nick Wilde."
No . . .
Judy's mouth dropped open and the audience respectfully clapped as Nick made his way onto the stage with the rest of the band members. Two of them gave Nick a slap on the back and greeted him with loving smiles as he bent down and opened a black case by the Piano. After a brief awkward period where everyone was waiting for him to take the center stage, he rose and donned a black strap around his neck and hooked on a shiny golden saxophone he held in his paws, licking his lips.
NO . . .
Judy was too stunned to even move from her hiding spot, and her jaw was thrown so far open it began to ache. She did not even dare blink for fear that the sight would vanish like a mirage. Her paw gripped the shrub tightly as if she was watching a train collision about to happen. Nick stepped up to the microphone and smiled.
"Uh," his voice echoed in the ballroom, followed by empty silence. "Hi everyone. It's been a while so let's see if I can still make something happen," he said and placed the instrument to his lips. He breathed, he blew, and out came a horrible ear-splitting squeak that rang out in the speaker system. A few mammals in the front row covered their ears, and Judy winced harder than the first time she bit into rhubarb.
"Wait," he said, his voice echoing again into nothingness and adjusted something on the mouthpiece. Once again, he breathed, he blew, and this time an amazingly smooth sound cascaded over the walls of the room as he quickly played a scale up and down and ended on a long lingering note.
"There we go," he said with a sly smile and a few audience members smiled and clapped lightly for him. Judy was beside herself. The sight of Nick on stage would normally make her laugh, but seeing him play a saxophone looked a little like seeing a mouse spontaneously turn into a giraffe.
"Hopps?" she heard in her ear.
"N-nevermind Clawhauser, situation green," she fumbled into the microphone without taking her eyes off of the stage.
"Hmmm, guess I should start the song now right? Now is no time to dawdle," Nick said into the microphone with nearly gritted teeth, looking over towards her.
"Oh!" she cursed at herself and began shifting quietly towards Catalan's table. Darn it, she was so conflicted! She knew her job was more important, but she wanted to keep her eyes on the stage as the drummer counted them in. The last thing she needed to do though was blow this golden opportunity. Catalan's entire table was fixed on Nick.
"This one is for all those lovers out there," Nick said and began playing.
NO . . . HOPPING . . . WAY . . .
Judy nearly stumbled across the floor as Nick and the band began to play one of the cheesiest romantic songs from decades ago called 'Careless Whisker.' It was the same kind of song that would have played when her parents were going to school dances when they were young. Nick played into the microphone loudly and the smooth sound of his saxophone reverberated off of the walls. He was good, she had to admit.
She slipped behind the table, keeping her head low and her ears down over her back. She slowly approached Catalan's seat where his coat hung and looked to either side to make sure she was unnoticed. She reached into one pocket on the side, but it was empty. The pocket on the other side was empty as well, so she reached underneath the coat and into the breast pocket, being very careful not to tug on the fabric and alert its owner. She dug down into the pocket until her paw touched something metallic and thin.
Got it, she thought and gently pulled it free from the pocket. The music calmed down as the band got to the first verse and the piano player began to sing. She quickly fished out the bug insert and placed it into the headphone jack. It clicked with a satisfying snap when she pushed it all the way in, and the phone looked no different from the outside. Satisfied, she brought the phone back up to the tip of the coat pocket, when the band got to the chorus and disaster struck.
Nick was singing!
He was backup for the piano player, but his voice was unmistakable. Judy involuntarily let out a squeak in shock. Catalan's ear twitched, and Judy clasped her paws around her mouth and dove underneath his seat. There was barely enough room to hide her underneath the bobcat, but as Catalan turned to see the source of the strange noise, he found nothing. After a moment, he turned back to the stage and Judy cursed herself for not keeping her composure. She reached back up under the coat and gently placed the phone back in the pocket before slowly backing away from the seat.
She made her way slowly back to her table letting out a massive sigh of relief. She was going to have to find a way to get Nick back for this, but for now she was content to watch the rest of his performance. She told Clawhauser about the bug being in place and propped her chin up with one paw, gazing at the stage. Her relief was gradually replaced with shock once again as she matched the sounds she was hearing with what she was seeing on stage.
Nick sang along with the lead singer during the chorus, keeping his signature half-lidded smile on his face the entire time. He caught the microphone with one paw a leaned it over to get closer to the pianist, who smiled back at him. He moved with a sort of smooth swagger that he never even showed on the force. He looked almost comfortable up on stage as his voice finished out the last chorus.
On that last line, he raised the saxophone back up to his mouth and played out the melody once again. He held the saxophone with a sort of tenderness that surprised her. His paws skillfully moved up and down the instrument as he began to sway back and forth with the music. His tie swung around as he turned and danced lightly with the saxophone, finishing out the last line of music with the band slowing down and ending the song with a long crashing note. He bowed and smiled again.
The crowd applauded much louder this time, and there were even a few cheers and whistles thrown his way. Nick thanked the audience and waved, making sure to make eye-contact with Judy at the table to make sure she was done before bidding his crowd adeu. He bowed again and left the stage to allow the rest of the band to finish out the set and made his way back to the table. A few mammals shook his paw as he passed their tables to thank him. He politely shook paws and moved on before finally sitting down across from Judy, whose mouth was still open. There was a moment of silence as Nick sipped his wine and Judy gawked before he spoke.
"So did you get it done or not?" Nick asked calmly.
"No, you don't get to ask that and pretend like what happened didn't just happen," Judy said a little angrily.
"Nothing happened, right Judy?" Nick asked and pointed to his ears and gave her a wide glare. Judy realized that Clawhauser could still hear everything they were saying, and he was not likely going to be very talkative if the most gossipy member of the force learned about his escapade. Judy sighed and undid the microphone under her dress strap with a snap, giving Nick a look as if to say, Happy Now?
"Judy? Hopps, I lost you. Helloooo, Nick? Judy?" Clawhauser began and fought with his controls to get the signal working again.
"Where did that come from?" she asked him coldly.
"Nowhere," Nick assured her and took another sip of wine.
"Ok Nick, here's the deal. You're going to answer all of my questions about this, and in exchange I won't tell Clawhauser and you won't be known throughout the precinct as 'Careless Whisker'." Judy folded her arms and thumped her foot on the floor impatiently waiting for him to respond. Nick eventually rolled his eyes.
"Fine, shoot," he said softly. She leaned forward and eagerly fired.
"When did you play in that band?"
"Years ago," he answered vaguely.
"I thought you were a popsicle hustler since you were twelve?"
"Hey, can't a guy can have a hobby? Gotta make a few bucks at night anyway."
"Where did you play?"
"A few pubs downtown, nothing major. The guys must be doing well to get a gig like this," he observed.
"What's the band's name?" she asked.
"When did you stop?"
"Got sick of getting tomatoes thrown at me."
"Are you aware that song is the most clichéd corny song in history?" she asked with a cocked eyebrow.
"George Spikael is a musical genius and will forever be one of the greatest artists in Zootopian history," he answered.
"When were you going to tell me?"
"Nick," she started. "This is not something you hide from your closest friends."
"Well, when were you going to tell me you were a debutante? Or about . . ." he said but stopped himself.
"What?" she goaded and he shook his head.
"Look, Carrots, I'm not sure why you insist on knowing everything about me, but my gigging days are behind me. Can we just focus on the reason we're here?"
"Ok . . . alright sorry. I just never expected that out of you," she apologized and shook her head. Clearly the subject was bothering her partner so she decided, against her desire to press further, to drop the subject. Not before trying to cheer him up, that is.
"For what it's worth, you were really good up there. You looked like you were having more fun than I've ever seen from you," she offered meekly.
"I could not agree more," said a smooth voice that came from their side. Judy startled and turned to see none other than a Robert J. Catalan staring them down. Every muscle fiber in her body screamed at her to turn tail and run, but she fought it back, gripping the table slightly. Nick's eyes widened and his ears dropped as he looked up at the bobcat staring down at him.
"My apologies for interrupting your dinner. I simply had to venture over and introduce myself," he said politely and smiled, extending a paw to Nick. "My name is Robert Catalan, and that was a stirring performance of a great classic I must say."
Nick sheepishly extended his own paw and shook it.
"Nick Wilde. Heck of a speech you give."
"I know who you are, Mr. Wilde. You were key to overthrowing that terrible plot a year ago. I'm glad to see you supporting our cause, and I thank you for blessing us with your song," he offered.
Eughh, Nick inwardly grimaced at his hoity-toity pompous attitude.
"Well, just trying to keep those predators and prey . . . allied, y'know?" he said and nervously laughed.
"Indeed. I also know you are now partnered with the officer that cracked the case, so might you be a Ms. Judy Hopps?" He said and turned to Judy. She looked up at him and nervously nodded. Something about his voice was setting her on edge. She knew she should be terrified of him, but his voice being so calm and regal, it was almost inviting. His eyes were bewitching as well, and she hated how comfortable she was with them.
"It is an honor to meet someone who did so much for our cause," he said and smartly bowed.
"Well, I didn't do too much. I just stumbled upon the answer when I went home," she confessed.
"Yeah, plus she was the one who had prey blaming predators anyway," Nick commented, earning him an intense scowl from his partner.
"Ah yes, but she mended it, and Zootopia is all the stronger for it. I thank you for your service officers," he said and bowed again. He then rose and took a step toward Judy.
"So what brings you into our midst today, officers? I hope you're not on police business." Judy's heart sank as she reached into her brain to try and find a suitable lie. Nick, cool as ever, responded first.
"We had the night off, so we decided to come out and show our support," he said taking another sip from his wine glass.
"I see. I hope at least we gave you a police-officer's discount," he said and chuckled at his own joke. "It is good to see such progress being made in the world. Not long ago, interspecies relationships were frowned upon by most in Zootopia, and before then it was outlawed. Now evidently they are going so far as allowing it between partners at the ZPD," he remarked.
Nick coughed and nearly spat out his wine, covering his snout in case he accidentally sprayed. Judy gasped and waved her paws around and shook her head, fighting back a crimson color rising in her face.
"No no, we're not like that, it's not what you're thinking. We're honestly just partners," she clarified as Nick swallowed and nodded weakly.
"Really? I apologize, I assumed you were on a date," Catalan asked.
"Nah, she just needed a plus one and I enjoy a glass of wine so . . ." Nick said, trailing off at the end and looked back down at his food absent mindedly.
"Wonderful. If that is the case, Mr. Wilde, you will not mind if I borrow your partner for a moment?" he asked. Nick eyed him suspiciously up and down at the statement.
"Borrow me for what?" Judy asked. She was worried that her cover was blown, so she glanced around the room to make sure their exits were clear if they needed to run for it.
"For a dance, of course," he said and bowed his head down offering a gentle paw. Judy's eyes shot open again and fought back a slight blush as Nick nearly choked on his wine for the second time.
"Well, I uh . . ." Judy stumbled, and looked back into his eyes. They were fierce and welcoming at the same time. She found herself less frightened and more intrigued as the bobcat stared at her patiently.
"I'd be delighted," she said softly and took his paw. He smiled and gently led her from the table. She took one quick glance at Nick and patted her ear with a paw, signalling him to turn his microphone back on. She subtly snapped her own microphone back on and Clawhauser's panicked voice came rushing into her earpiece.
"There you are! Darn it guys, you can't be leaving me in the dark like this!" his voice whined.
"So, Mr. Catalan, are you enjoying your evening," she said into her microphone.
"Oh snap," was all that Clawhauser said from then on out.
Nick watched as his partner followed the bobcat out towards the dance floor where a handful of other couples were slow dancing to his own band's quieter tunes. He was taller than even her ears, but his super-expensive suit complimented how she looked in her dress very well. The two of them looked like they matched, and for some reason it made his dinner seem less appetizing. He realized he was gripping his knife with all of his strength, so he breathed and relaxed his paw.
"Be careful, Carrots," he said in a hushed tone into his microphone. By the dance floor, Catalan was ushering Judy forward with a gentlemammal's arm.
"I'm afraid I won't be the smoothest dancer here tonight," Judy began. "I haven't needed to dance ballroom since my debutante ball years ago."
"Well I'm sure you will be lovely, Officer Hopps," he said and brought a paw down to her waist, taking her paw in his and began to turn with the music. The two of them gently swayed in a crowd of other couples in a waltz, and Judy tried her best to look unafraid of her dancing partner.
"See? You are a natural," he said and smiled at her.
"You dance quite well yourself, Mr. Catalan," she offered back politely.
"Please, my friends all call me Jaeger, and I have no intention of being formal with you," he said.
"Eugh!" Judy heard Nick gag in her earpiece. She giggled a little and found it hard to look at Jaeger in the face as she nodded her head.
"My apologies, am I being too forward?" Jaeger offered, though something told Judy that he did not really care about his boldness.
"It is alright, really. I just . . . I have never been . . . well this would be a first for me," she said as diplomatically as she could word it, hoping he would catch on.
"You mean you've never been approached by a predator before, correct?" he clarified.
"Anyone but a bunny, really. But I don't mean anything sour by it!" she tried to clarify before he smiled and shook his head.
"No no, I understand. It can be a bit jarring for those who have never explored out of their own species before," he said, and Judy became very quiet. They continued to dance softly, and she tried to find anywhere but his face to observe as they did. His grip on her paw was gentle, but his features on his face still felt menacing yet, somehow enticing.
"Judy, you've got to lay the moves on him!" Clawhauser said through her earpiece.
"What?" she spat.
"I'm sorry?" Jaeger said and Judy looked back up at him.
"Oh, I'm sorry I thought you said something?" Judy said quickly. He simply smiled at her, making her feel all kinds of uneasy and she looked back down towards the walls as they continued to dance.
"Nice save Carrots. I think Clawhauser is saying you should try to get close to him. There's no telling what he might say to you if you get in nice and close," Nick explained. Judy thought about the concept for a moment. They had accomplished their mission, so she wanted to simply finish their dance and be done with it. But her colleagues were right. Getting closer could only help them catch something incriminating, or find out that they had the wrong mammal. But the concept of flirting with a potential murderous predator made her very nervous. She took a deep breath and looked back up at Jaeger with a slight smile.
"So . . . I take it you have experience with heterospecial relationships?" she asked. He looked back down at her and nodded with a slight chuckle.
"Perhaps," he said simply. "I like to imagine that love can exist anywhere, so why limit ourselves to our own kind when there are so many possibilities out there?" he said. His voice regained it's smooth and relaxed quality.
"Are you sure it is not because it looks good for a pred-rights activist to be seen dancing with a rabbit?" Judy toyed. Jaeger laughed loudly.
"I ensure you, officer, my intentions are completely genuine. If I may be so blunt, I have rather admired you from afar since your arrest of Mayor Bellweather," he confessed. "When I saw that you were here at the event, I simply could not allow such an opportunity to escape me."
"Well I am glad you came over. I very much enjoyed your speech by the way. When I was very young, I had a very similar image of what Zootopia was like."
"And has your time in the city confirmed your dream or broken it?" he asked softly.
"Well, as you said, they are just fantasies until our paws hit the ground. When mine hit the ground, things were hard. They still are hard, but the friends I have made here make it easy to handle," she said honestly.
"I admire your courage," he said and spun her around. "I imagine being a police officer as a rabbit has its set of challenges."
"That's putting it lightly," Judy scoffed. "But the other members on the force have really brought me into their lives and helped me when I needed it. Now it feels like I'm a part of a family and I would not trade them for the world," she told him.
"Including your partner, I imagine?" he asked.
"Nick?" she asked, a little confused. "Of course. He's an insufferable rascal from time to time, but I would be still be a meter-maid without him. He's a good friend to have," she explained, remembering how Jaeger mistook them for a couple. "Only a friend though," she clarified.
"And a fox of many talents, it seems."
"Yes, well, I have a few talents I keep from him as well," she jabbed.
"Dancing the waltz, for example?" Jaeger offered.
"Yes," she laughed. "That among others."
"Well well, it seems there is more to you than meets the eye, officer Hopps," Jaeger complimented her.
"Please, call me Judy," she offered and tried to mimic Nick's signature half-lidded smile. It seemed to work like a charm.
"Of course, Judy," he said returning her smile. They continued to dance as the music crescendoed and more couples joined them on the dance floor. Judy began to worry that some of the larger mammals would accidentally veer towards them while dancing, but Jaeger expertly maneuvered them between the other pairs without taking his eyes off of Judy for a moment.
"My my, I'm afraid I am the poorer dancer tonight, Judy," Jaeger said. She had to keep herself from snickering at his obtuse gesture.
"What makes you say that? You have been leading this whole time."
"True, but despite the number of beautiful ladies here tonight, no one can seem to take their eyes off of you, myself included," he pointed out. She glanced around the room with a slight blush. Sure enough she caught a glance from a hippo seated at a nearby table followed by an otter dancing beside her.
"I'm sure they are just wondering what I did to get the keynote speaker to dance with me," she said shyly.
"If you would like an honest answer, all you had to do was look like this," he said without missing a beat. Goodness he is smooth, she thought.
"You are a little forward, aren't you?" she jabbed back, trying to keep up without seeming flustered.
"Again, I apologize. I know that you have never been approached by a predator before."
"To be honest, I never really put much thought into it," she said meekly.
"Oh?" he prodded.
"Well, growing up in Bunny Burrows, being surrounded by bunny families and bunny siblings with bunny parents and an army of bunny boys in school, other possibilities never really crossed my mind. I am a career bunny, so they did not find me very appealing anyway. I guess I just never saw a reason to consider it," she professed.
"And . . . might I convince you to consider it now?" he offered. She was fully flustered at this point. She searched for what she could possibly say here without blowing her cover or the opportunity, but she could not think of anything short of run away. What would Nick say? He is always so sly, throwing whatever insults or jabs she had back in her face. She looked back up at him and gave him Nick's smile one more time.
"Perhaps," she quipped, and the music mercifully came to a stop. They both turned and applauded the band as the pianist took a bow and the rest of the dancers began to find their seats again.
"Judy," Jaeger began, but was interrupted by a voice from behind him.
"Sir," someone said in a hushed tone. A pig, dressed smartly in a tuxedo, tapped him on the shoulder and leaned closely to whisper something in his ear. Judy could not hear what the pig was whispering over the sound of the applause, but she saw Jaeger nod his head and gesture towards the door. He then turned back to her and smiled again.
"My apologies again. I have to leave on some urgent business," he asked.
"Oh, I understand," Judy said, waving off his apology. "Will I be seeing you again?"
"I guarantee it, Judy. After all, I already have your number," he said and smiled again.
"You do?" she asked a little surprised.
"Of course. It's still Nine-One-One, correct?" he joked and followed his bodyguard out of the door.
Judy watched as her suspect followed a bodyguard out the ballroom doors and out towards the street. Soon she found herself standing alone on the dance floor and she bashfully stepped back into the crowd of tables and rubbed her paws on her temples.
Cheese and crackers, she cursed at herself. She just had a romantic flirt-session with a potential murderer/cartel boss, and Clawhauser caught the whole thing on tape! If she ever had to listen to that conversation again, she was afraid she might vomit. The concept disgusted her, yet she found herself oddly drawn to his charm. He had an element of elegance to him that she felt depraved of working around criminals. He was more than just terrifying, he was interesting.
If her mother or father ever heard her say that about a bobcat, or any other predator for that matter, they would spontaneously combust. It was likely that the tape of the night's conversation would circulate around the office, and she might see hell for it at the office, but Nick taught her how to laugh the names off so that no one could hurt her with them. As long as it did not leave the precinct walls, she would be fine.
But she had to see him again, she realized. Part of her felt excited about getting closer to busting a major criminal, but the rest of her begged to be replaced by anyone else at the moment. She collected herself and began making her way back to the table where Nick was glaring at her intensely.
"Did you get all of that?" she said in a hushed tone into her microphone.
"Whew!" Clawhauser called out. "Sorry Wilde, that bobcat just stole your flirting crown. It's getting all hot in the van here guys, what a charmer! Judy, if you don't want this cat, I'll take 'em," he remarked.
"After we cuff the lunatic, he's all yours," Nick commented as Judy sat down beside him.
"You still think he's our guy?" Judy asked her partner, but Nick did not keep eye contact with her. He didn't even respond to her question, he simply mumbled into the microphone looking back towards the stage.
"Are we done here, Clawhauser?" he asked quietly.
"Well, I get to track his cell-phone conversations for the next five hours, but since he's no longer at the party, I'd say you guys are done. I'll take care of the debrief since I'm supposed to run a night-shift tonight anyway so I'll catch you guys up in the morning," He answered.
"Keep us posted if you hear anything important," Judy added.
"Will do. Officers Wilde and Hopps, you are relieved for the night. See you tomorrow."
Nick did not even say a word of thanks. He simply brought his paw up to his hidden microphone and snapped it off. He got up from the table and began making his way towards the exit before Judy could say anything. She switched her microphone off as well and quietly followed Nick closely.
"Nick, why are you leaving? We haven't even eaten yet, why not stay and enjoy ourselves while we're on company dime?" she suggested, but he kept walking. No word, no snicker, not even a sly remark about how spending police funds on leisure was not her style. She followed him out the doors and down the steps of the old building before she had enough of his brooding and caught him by the wrist.
"Nick!" she spat. "What is up with you tonight?"
"I . . ." he began, then sighed and slumped his shoulders. "I just remembered I have something else very important to take care of tonight."
"Nick," Judy began again. "If something is up, we need to be able to tell each other. We're partners, and that means helping each other out. So what's going on?"
Nick finally turned and looked her over. Her face showed nothing but concern looking up at him. She held onto his arm with a lingering grip, and her ears dropped over her back. Nick smiled at her as he removed her paw from his hand and shook his head.
"You bunnies are so paranoid. Look Hopps, nothing is wrong ok? I remembered I got some follow up to do with that contact of mine and I'm supposed to meet with Finnick by the docks in an hour, and I'd rather not be late from siting and schmoozing with the fourth richest camel in Sahara Square. Can you really blame me?" he said and folded his arms. Judy took a step back and eyed him up and down suspiciously.
"I guess not," she said slowly.
"Well then, I guess since we're done here, I'll see you tomorrow?" he said with a leading smile.
"Nick . . . alright, I'll see you tomorrow," she said and tentatively waved at him. He smiled, knowing full well that she was still concerned, and gave her a brief hug that she gladly returned.
"You did pretty well in there, fluff," Nick complimented.
"You too, Nick. I wanna hear more music from you sometime," she said and let him go. Her face was a few shades brighter and she looked much more convinced that everything was alright.
"Not gonna happen," he said and waved at her goodbye.
Satisfied that he deflected her prodding, Nick made his way back towards the street where he caught a Zuber back home. The entire ride home, Nick could not get the image of Judy out of his mind. The way she smiled down on him from atop the limo felt strange to him. Stranger still was his frustration when she was dancing with the possible criminal. He was ready to jump in and fight him off if he needed to, but the thought was so absurd that it felt out of place.
After getting back home, he carefully placed his suit on a hanger and rolled into his bed squeaky bed with a groan. Something about his head was bothering him, keeping him from getting any sleep. He replayed the night over and over in his head, looking for the part that was making him feel uneasy.
They had both been undercover before, and despite Jaeger's intimidating air they have taken down scarier beasts. She did look beautiful in that dress, but a thought so innocent would not keep him awake at this hour. Obviously he did not like their dance-interrogation tactics, but he agreed that it was the best way to move forward and guarantee another lead. So what was it?
He turned and tried to put the image of her dancing with Jaeger out of his mind. That was when he imagined her with another animal besides Jaeger. The thought of her dancing with a hippo made him laugh, and he contemplated how a dance between a bunny and a giraffe might work. Then he placed himself in the dancer's position, and saw her looking eagerly up back at him, feeling a sigh of relief wash over him. That was when he realized what was bothering him. It wasn't that she was with a dangerous criminal, it was that she was with another anybody and liking it. Had it been another bunny she was dancing with, he might have hate it more.
That image made his stomach churn a little, and Nick decided it best not to drink on the job anymore. Being around Judy Hopps was confusing enough.
Chapter 4: Part 4
Judy was in early the next morning compiling evidence and filing a report on the previous night's events for the Chief. Unsurprisingly, she was relentless with the details. She listened to the audio tapes of her conversation with Jaeger over and over again, paying close attention to anything that could reveal more. But after a few hours of analysis, the case seemed to cool down for her. Nothing they had thus far was incriminating of course, but she began to realize it was not particularly suspicious either. She groaned rubbed her brow as the morning quickly vanished and she yearned for a break when the phone on her desk rang.
"ZPD, this is officer Hopps speaking" she said, calmly scooping up the phone.
"Hi Hopps, it's Clawhauser. I've got a package at the front desk waiting for you," Benjamin said, with a slight giggle.
"Huh, I don't remember ordering anything."
Clawhauser laughed again, "Oh I don't think you did, honey-bunny."
With that, he hung up and Judy made her way to the lobby. She saw Clawhauser sitting at his desk giving her a sly look with a little wave of his fingers. He had a pile of boxes mixed in with his usual assortment of snacks on one side of his desk, and on the other side there was a remarkably large bouquet of flowers displayed in a decadent glass vase.
"Wow, Clawhauser. Who are the flowers for?" she asked eyeing them up and down. The vase was nearly as tall as she was.
"Why their yours you lucky rabbit!" he said and giggled madly. Her mouth fell open and she looked the flowers up and down once more. They were expensive looking, and unbelievably fragrant. The smell seemed to fill the entire front lobby, which was no small feat.
"Wha . . . I can't even fit these on my desk! Let alone my apartment. Is this Nick's idea of a prank?" she asked.
"They're not mine," a voice said from behind her. She turned and found Nick wearing a scowl on his face, his eyes hiding behind his shades and a coffee steaming in his hand. He scoffed and walked right past her, ignoring the mass of foliage on Benjamin's desk.
"Then who . . ." Judy wondered.
"Who do you think?!" Nick called out as he rounded the hallway and left the lobby. Judy furrowed her brow and looked back at Clawhauser, who was holding out a small envelope with gold trim towards her.
"This came with it," he said and handed her the note. Judy carefully tore it open, shooting another glance to where Nick had exited before reading.
Dinner, or else the next one will be twice as big.
A phone number was written on the back. She quickly hid the note from Clawhauser and blushed, looking down at the ground and back at the flowers again. They were all variations of purple and white, and they were really quite beautiful.
"Sooooo?" Clawhauser said with another sly smile. "Is it from our new favorite bobcat?"
"He's a suspect, Clawhauser" Judy reminded him and walked back to her desk.
"That doesn't mean guilty!" he said and dreamily stared at the flowers on his desk while helping himself to a pawful of chocolates.
Judy shook her head and smiled. He had a point, but she needed to focus on getting the job done. All evidence pointed to him . . . right?
"Cheap bastard didn't get me any flowers," she heard Nick grumble from his desk.
"You want them? they're yours," she said leaning up against the wall of his cubicle.
"I'll send them to his prison cell," Nick scowled.
"Yeah, about that Nick . . ." she began. The Fox swiveled in his chair and shot her a look over his glasses. "I'm not sure we've got the right guy," she confessed.
"What? Carrots, you can't be serious."
"Just listen. So far we have a burned down casino we're still waiting on lab results for, and two pigs whose faces we haven't seen who simply work for a 'Jaeger', who may or may not be the same one we bumped into last night," Judy explained.
"Carrots, there were pigs working security for the guy last night, just as we expected," Nick countered.
"We only saw one, but that's besides the point. These pigs might just be hired security! What if the boss they were working for to clean the gambling ring was a separate boss from Jaeger? We have nothing to prove otherwise."
"We're looking for a well-funded mob boss here, and this guy has connections in all the right places and the perfect cover."
"Or he's just a millionaire philanthropist," Judy retorted. Aggravated, Nick tossed his glasses on his desk and looked at her, clearly cross.
"Hopps, this kind of left-field yank is not like you. I mean, you can't seriously be buying his act," he said.
"I'm just saying, Nick, maybe it's not an act. We have to be prepared to learn that we have the wrong mammal. I mean, we only went to the party last night on a hunch, and we can't make arrests on hunches."
"So . . . what, do we just assume he's clean and look elsewhere?" Nick asked.
"Well, he's invited me to dinner, so maybe I'll learn more about him then," she said with a shrug. Nick looked almost surprised before standing up and glaring at her.
"You're hoping he's clean, aren't you?"
"What is that supposed to mean?" She said and glared back.
"I heard the tape, Carrots. A few minutes of flirting, a dance, flowers at your desk, and now suddenly he's innocent?" Nick said and gestured to the lobby.
"Where on earth are you going with this?" she asked, waving her paws in the air in surrender.
"You've been hustled, Carrots. By an amateur no less, and now you're falling for him," he accused.
"Nick! I'm not falling for this guy, I'm just trying to get to the bottom of the case," she defended herself.
"Admit it. If he's not our mob-boss, then you'd be all over him, right?" Nick accused her, with a roll of his eyes.
"No!" She spat. Nick made a show of mocking her, placing his arms behind his head to mimic her ears.
"'Oh, he's just a millionaire philanthropist. No criminal could ever be that devilishly hansom," he accented his mock with a fake swoon before folding his arms and giving her another glare.
"Nick, he's a predator! I could never see him like that!" she defended herself loudly. Nick stiffened, keeping his gaze right at her. She didn't soften, she simply returned his glare and angrily thumped her foot on the floor a few times. After a moment, she saw him scoff again and put his shades back on.
"Whatever you say, Carrots. Since you're so eager to inspect the rich guy, I'm going to dig into his security. Have a nice date," Nick said and placed his radio on his hip before walking towards Bogo's office.
"What has gotten in to him?" she asked herself quietly. For a moment, she considered whether or not she offended him with her comment about predators, but he knew she meant only in a romantic sense. Besides, she was too angry to correct herself at the moment. She huffed, and turned towards her desk and sat down with another sigh. She heard something softly hit the ground beside her. Looking down, she noticed the card Jaeger left for her had fallen out of her pocket and onto the floor. She scooped it up and read the number on the back again, then turned it to read the message again. She shook her head and scowled at herself.
"Dumb Fox," she mumbled and picked up her phone and put the earpiece on before dialing the number on the card. She hit the REC button as it began to ring. The phone rang a few times while Judy pondered why she was so defensive of Jaeger. It was true that she never considered a predator, or any mammal other than a bunny for that matter, but something about Jaeger did not feel quite right. Sure, many females would swoon at the opportunity, but she was a career bunny and had little time for romance. Even if she did, he was far too polite and formal. He made her feel a bit like a princess, but she would much rather be with someone that made her feel like herself. Kind of like the way she felt around Ni-
"Hello?" a voice called from the phone. Judy snapped back to reality and fumbled with the earpiece.
"Oh! Yes, uh, Hello?" she offered weakly.
"The number on my ID says the Zootopia Police Department, so either this is Judy, or I am in serious trouble," he said, which made Judy laugh.
"No, you're not in trouble Jaeger, I just wanted to thank you for the flowers. They're really . . . big if I'm honest," she noted.
"Ah, you are welcome Judy. I'm glad you like them. But I intend to make good on my threat of a bigger arrangement next time if I do not get to see you again," he jested and she laughed again.
"Well, you mentioned dinner in your note. Perhaps something a little less expensive? That fundraiser is not exactly a regular night out on a cop's salary."
"Not a problem, Judy. We can simply meet in Savanah Central since that is close to work for you. I own a wonderful little restaurant in the Ramhorne building. If that is too much, we can always meet at my house and eat for free? I'm a terrible cook though, so you'll have to excuse the service," Jaeger suggested. Judy felt herself blush again at the rather forward suggestion that she go home with this Bobcat, but she remembered she was trying to get information and, if the suspected mob leader had any supply at his own home, this would be the perfect opportunity to collect more information.
"Actually, that sounds lovely," she said, laying the eager tone on thick.
"Really? Well in that case, can I expect the pleasure of your company tonight?" He suggested.
"Hmmm someone's eager," she joked. Her smile grew as she flirted, unable to deny how much fun she was having.
"I assure you officer, my intentions are just to get to know you better," Jaeger said confidently. Judy watched as the little red light next to the REC button was flashing at her. She drew a breath and calmly and clearly spoke for the record.
"That makes two of us," she said. "Tonight will work great."
"In that case, you can expect a car to pick you up after work. My house is in the Rainforest District, so I hope you are fine with heights," Jaeger said.
"Thank you, I look forward to dinner," she said before bidding her suspect goodbye and hanging up. She sighed as she filled out notes from her conversation on her note pad. She heard a knock on her cubicle wall, turning to find officer Wolford standing at the door. He wore a sly smile on his face.
"Hey Hopps! You've got that cat wrapped around your paw like water on a hippo," he complimented her.
"Oh it's all for the case, you know that!" she defended herself. He smiled and gave her a thumbs up.
"I know, Hopps. I'm just saying you're very good at that. I mean, heck I'll never believe a lady's signals ever again after that performance."
"Oh, and I'm sure you've got all the females howling at you, right?" she jabbed with a smile on her face.
"I got my ways," he said and ran a paw through the fur on his head. "But that charm is a real asset to the ZPD. I might need you to seduce some of my suspects later," he joked again.
"Thanks, but I don't want to be known as the residential heartbreaker. That's Nick's job," she suggested. The wolf laughed heartily and shook his head.
"Nick? The guy's actually more of a dud than a stud," Wolford said.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"He's been here a while, and I'm always joking around with the guys about how the ladies love a wolf in uniform, right? But he's never even talked about any vixens at all, not even jokingly. I mean, I thought for a bit that he might prefer males, but Clawhauser assured me that there was no way. Who'da' thought that sly fox was a bit of a shy one," he explained.
"I'm sure Nick has just got some respect, Wolford. You should try it some time," she jabbed agin, earning another laugh from her colleague.
"That sly devil has been rubbing off on you. Good luck tonight, Hopps," he said and gave a casual salute before heading out of her cubicle.
Judy thought back to what Wolford had said about her partner. Something about it seemed off. He was certainly as smooth as they come, but in all the time she knew him he never once mentioned a vixen or even females at all. With all they joked about, it seemed out of place. If he wanted to, Judy bet that he certainly could be a heartbreaker, but perhaps he wasn't interested. She then remembered that she learned about his entirely-secret musical talent the night before, along with a history of playing in a band. It was certainly possible he was keeping other secrets, and it was not her place to go around prying into what her good friend did not want to share.
Later that day, Nick found himself kicking himself over his spat with his partner. What on earth had gotten into him, he thought. He knew better than to think she was actually falling for the personification of pompous. Something about how she defended him nagged at his brain and left a bad taste in his mouth. But she did have a point. There was no actual link between him and the casino arsonists, and without undeniable proof, there was no way they were going to get a warrant for the arrest of one of Zootopia's richest philanthropists. He had to concede that perhaps she was right, and that Catalan was just a hunch. He rubbed the fur on his head and sighed when his phone rang.
"Wilde. My office," Bogo's voice rang.
"Need help decorating, sir?" he jested, before hearing a dial tone. It was not always wise to aggravate the chief before even getting in the office, but Nick couldn't help himself sometimes. He made his way down to the Chief's office and let himself in.
"Hopps says she's doing some recon alone tonight, I'm sure your aware," Bogo said. While she mentioned the date, she said nothing about going alone.
"Of course," he lied.
"She asserted that she did not need backup, but I'd like you to stay on standby just in case, clear?" Bogo. NO he wanted to say. Not Clear.
"So you want me to sneak into a rich possible-mob-leader's house and spy on my partner without her knowledge?" he asked.
"No! You daft fool, we don't have a warrant on Robert Catalan. So as per protocol, she is going on personal time, not police business," Bogo explained.
"Wait, so she's going there without any backup, gear, or escape plan?" Nick said rising to his feet.
"Why do you think I'm asking you to stay on standby?" Bogo asked.
"What am I supposed to do, sit around and wait for something to go wrong?" Nick was raising his voice a bit.
"Listen to me, Wilde. I need an operative close by, but if you dare so much as think about sneaking inside, you are in for a world of trouble," Bogo reassured him. Nick stiffened, before shrugging and playing off his practiced routine.
"Alright alright, I get your drift Chief. I'm in no rush to get my tail bagged for breaking and entering," he said. Bogo scowled and pointed to the door.
"See that you park your car and stay put, Wilde," the chief asserted. Nick was about to ask where the non-bust was happening when there was a knock at the door.
"Chief?" A voice called. It was Francine, holding a file in her hoof.
"Ah, is that the gambling den lab report?" Bogo asked and invited her in.
"Yessir," she said and handed the form over to her boss. He thanked her before thumbing through a few pages, keeping his paw at his chin and scratching lightly. Francine left the room and Nick waited in silence impatiently.
"Well," he said and removed his reading glasses. "Looks like you two were on something after all."
"Was it positive?" Nick asked.
"For nearly everything. That swab you took of the grill near the waterfront had traces of real venison, bison, elk, rabbit, sheep . . . That place was positively rank with contraband, and this should hold up in court nicely," the chief complimented their work. "But we still need evidence that Catalan is tied to the gambling ring, otherwise the case is cold."
"And how are we supposed to do that?" Nick asked rhetorically.
"Your partner is ahead of you on that one. It's certainly not standard procedure to let an officer investigate on personal time, but with three meat-serving casinos busted, I need this tied up soon before the public catches wind," he said firmly.
Nicks ear twitched.
"Three? I thought we had two? This one and the Rainforest District joint that McHorn busted," Nick asked.
"There was another bust last night, Sahara Square. That's why I pulled Delgato from your recon assignment last night. He and Higgins found another ice box behind a dresser like you had, only this one was filled to the brim with contraband," Bogo explained. Nick thought back to the previous nights events. Something worried him.
"Chief, do you have the report from the bust last night?" he asked. Bogo raised an eyebrow, before opening his desk cabinet and tossing a blue file to the fox. Nick thumbed through it quickly, looking at time signatures. His green eyes darted from side to side sporadically as he scanned the pages.
Door Breach: 2130hrs
"hmm," he said counting on his fingers. "That's . . . 9:30," he whispered.
"What is it Wilde?" Bogo asked. Nick didn't answer. He simply closed the file with a snap and flew out the door. He could vaguely hear Bogo's protests as he ran down the hallway towards his cubicle. He sat down and began pulling files on his computer. He found the audio files from the previous night's assignment and opened Judy's wire file before throwing his earbuds in.
"All set . . ." Judy's voice rang in his ear as he hit play. He pressed fast-forward to find the spot he was worried about, keeping an eye on the clock. ". . . So cute learning how to talk . . . can sneak up behind him . . . Of course, Jaeger." Nick stopped and listened carefully as Jaeger and Judy spoke. The audio went quiet for a moment, before Jaeger's voice creeped back into his hears.
"My apologies again, I have to leave on some urgent business." Nick slammed his paw on the stop button and looked at the clock on the file. 9:31pm. Jaeger left the party not a minute after Delgato's crew busted another gambling joint. If one of his subordinates called it in, he would have left to cover his tracks. Nick kicked himself for doubting his instincts and rose from his chair to find his partner. But when he got to her desk, it was empty.
"Hopps?" He called out, whirling about on his heels before calling out louder. "Has anyone seen Hopps?!" Nick ran frantically down the stairs making his way to the front desk.
"What's going on Wilde?" Clawhauser asked.
"Have you seen Judy?!" He huffed, a little out of breath. Clawhauser gave him a concerned look.
"She just left a few minutes ago," he explained.
"Where?!" He slammed a paw down on the desk, startling the poor cheetah.
"Uh, I'm not sure. She changed into her civies and got in some fancy car out in the lot. I assumed it was her relative in Tundra Town again!" He said. Nick guessed Clawhauser was talking about Mr. Big, but he knew. He looked solemnly at the clock, noticing it was just past quitting time.
"I gotta go," Nick mumbled before heading out to the parking lot and jumping into his cruiser. He quickly typed 'Robert J Catalan' into his mobile database and pulled up the address. Without waisting a minute, he sped off towards the Rainforest District.
"We're here, ma'am," the driver said before pulling into a long driveway. He had taken her up a long winding road that snaked its way up the Rainforest District's tallest tree: the Bhengra Tree. The giant mass sat in the eastern most part of the district, giving it beautiful views of the canopy to the west during sunset. The higher the house was, the more lavish and expensive it was. The car drove up branch after massive branch, passing by giant homes each outclassing the last. By the time they turned into Jaeger's driveway, there were no other trees blocking their view of the city.
"Wow," Judy grasped at the sight. The sky was bright orange as the sun began to set, casting brilliant reflections off of the city skyline. The entire branch of the tree, while smaller than the ones near the bottom, was all part of the same house. Estate was the better word to use, she thought.
The house itself was beautiful, but it felt out of place somehow. Most of the homes in the Rainforest District grew along with the landscape. The houses bent and curved along with the trees, as did the roads connecting them. They felt like an extension of the tree, whereas this house was sharp and pointed, cutting itself into the tree and demanding it bend to its will. Massive windows lined one side, and Judy spied an orange firelight gleaming over a classical looking library.
"Cheese and crackers," she gulped as the driver stopped and opened the door for her. She suddenly felt underdressed in her blouse and jeans. She straightened her fur out nervously before knocking on the mercifully normal-sized door. Jaeger answered the door a moment later, wearing a button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and jeans.
"May I help you officer?" He smiled at her, his striking eyes softening upon seeing her.
"No badge here," she said and nervously laughed, swinging her arms back and forth.
"So you are not here to arrest me?" he jested, and stroked the sharp fur on his face.
"I've locked up enough mammals to meet today's quota," she said with another nervous giggle. He had no idea how close he was to the truth.
"Well I'm sure chasing around wanted criminals all day can work up an appetite. Care to come in?" He said and invited her in. She smiled and followed him down a spotlessly clean entryway towards the kitchen. Jaeger had an open-design kitchen that featured a beautiful table near a window that looked over the whole canopy. She heard the sound of boiling water and smelled butternut squash grilling.
"Pasta?" She asked.
"Yes, with squash and marinara. I think a little pasta is will not prove too challenging, so it shouldn't worry you," he said, stirring some spaghetti in the pot.
"I'm sure it will be fine," she waved him off.
"Care for a drink while we wait for it to finish? You enjoy wine if I remember correctly," he said and pulled out a bottle from a wine cabinet.
"That sounds lovely," she lied. She only ordered the wine at the party because she was intending to spill it on him. She was more of a beer-lover, or anything with lots of hops. He poured each a glass and they wandered toward the window, eyeing the sunset as they drank and chatted.
"I hope you don't mind if I add some sausage to my plate," he mentioned.
"Not at all."
"Synthetic of course," he clarified.
"Well of course, you don't need to remind me," she said, shooting a nervous look towards the ground.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to pressume. It's nice to know some prey won't assume the worst in a predator like myself," he said and sipped his wine. Judy frowned and swirled her own drink.
"Yeah," she shrugged, before shaking off the feeling.
"Something wrong?" He asked.
"Oh, I just remembered how terrible I was when I first moved here. I knew predators were just like prey, but deep down I was still afraid," she said.
"Well, you seem to have opened your mind since. Am I correct?" he asked.
"Yes, but there was probably a time when I would have assumed the worst in you, not the best," she mentioned. He simply smiled again and swirled his drink in his hand. She cleared her throat and decided to change the subject. "Why don't you show me around? Your house is beautiful," she said gesturing to the kitchen.
"Of course! If you'll follow me this way," he said, and led her through the grand entryway again, taking note of the restrooms, living room, and garage that housed a very nice-looking car that Judy had not the faintest clue about.
"And you live here alone?" she asked.
"I prefer a little solitude in my life. Though I do enjoy the company of business partners and acquaintances here from time to time," he said as they walked.
"I live alone as well, but I don't particularly like the isolation," she commented.
"I'm sure!" he said with a laugh. "Growing up in a family of rabbits, I'm sure privacy was a rare commodity."
"More like a non-existent commodity," she added. "Everywhere you turned, there was another sibling ready for you. Oddly enough, it felt nice to have someone there. If you got sick of one bunny, you had another in your corner the next room over."
"Do you see your family at all?" He asked.
"A few of my brothers actually visited town last week. But for the most part, I'm spending time with police officers."
"I'm sure they keep you very busy," he said. She nodded as they passed underneath the staircase. The front entryway surrounding the main staircase featured a picturesque fountain that babbled lightly. Judy imagined pluming this high up would be expensive enough, so adding a decorative fountain in the middle of the house was certainly a luxury. She looked to her side and noticed a door hidden underneath the staircase. Judy motioned towards the door with a paw.
"What's in there?" She asked.
"Downstairs? That's just storage. I keep the exciting things upstairs, follow me," he said and led her up the steps to a finely carved wooden door at the end of a hallway. Judy's nose twitched. She smelled something potent as they approached the door. Somehow the sent felt familiar.
"This is where I keep my inventory," he said and opened the door. Along with a wave of overpowering sent came a wave of light as well. As soon as her eyes adjusted, they widened.
"Flowers," she gasped. It was an understatement. The entire room was a giant glass dome that dripped with water, letting in all the natural light there was to be had. The greenhouse was filled with flowers similar to the ones she received that morning, all of which smelled overwhelmingly of fine perfume.
"I was serious about my threat of a larger bouquet," he said with a smile.
"I'll say. This place is gorgeous! What do you mean by inventory? Are you a florist?" She asked, and he chuckled.
"I run a shipping company specializing in imported perishables. So that's exotic vegetables, beer, pineapples, bananas, and flowers," he explained. "Of course most of our merchandise goes straight to retailers, but I always have these flowers shipped here first."
"Why?" She asked as he closed the door. He paused, looking back at her before saying simply,
"They remind me of home." Judy took mental notes about everything she heard, reminding herself to jot them down afterward. Jaeger finished his drink, leading them back downstairs towards the kitchen were he began filling their plates and setting the table.
Diner was lovely, she had to admit. They spoke about the city, his work with the organization, and more differences between the ZPD and Bunny Burrows. Judy tried her best to avoid talking about his work too much to avoid suspicion, but she had to find out more. While she did enjoy herself, she had to remind herself she was there for a reason. As they ate and chatted, Judy came up with an idea.
"I'm sorry, Jaeger, may I borrow a restroom?" She asked politely.
"Of course. Front hallway, past the fountain, by the stairs," he said and she excused herself, making her way down the hallway they passed on the tour. She made a show of opening and closing the bathroom door loudly before quietly stepping towards the door to 'downstairs'. She tugged on the handle, which did not budge.
"Locked," she cursed. Nothing she found thus far was damning, but she found it extremely odd that a house the high in the canopy could even have a basement at all. It might be to throw off would-be investigators, or it could just be storage. She lowered her paw to the crack under the door. There was a subtle draft breathing onto her fingers that was much cooler than the rest of the house. She also noticed a line of dirt that trailed out into the hallway. In a house that was spotlessly clean, this was the only spot that had any sign of regular use. For a mammal who lives alone in a large house, why would he need to go in and out of storage so often?
"I see you're done with the restroom," Jaegers voice came from beside her. She jumped in shock. Normally her hearing would pick up on someone approaching, but he was absolutely silent. She quickly stood up and nervously laughed.
"Oh, umm, I was actually trying to get in the restroom but the door seems to be locked, heh," she lied.
"Odd, because I could have sworn I heard you open and close the bathroom door a minute ago," Jaeger pointed out with a scowl on his face.
"You know, Jaeger, I'm really sorry but I actually have to go back home now. It's getting really late and I certainly don't want to take up any more of your time," she said and started slowly backing up past the fountain and towards the front door. Jaeger was silent and glared at her fiercely. "Thank you so much for dinner, but I really should get going."
"Perhaps you should," he said coldly as he watched her leave. She turned to open the door, keeping her nervous smile plastered on her face and keeping her ears at full attention. She did not have any weapons, backup, and while the chief knew where she was, he was not expecting her back until the next morning. She suddenly felt like her worn-out welcome was becoming much more dangerous by the second. She turned the handle and opened the door, only to find a large pig standing in her way.
The pig was dressed in a dark shirt and filthy pants, staring down at her with an intense glare. While she might be able to take him in a fight if need be she wanted to avoid that as best she could, and at that moment he was taking up the entire doorway.
"Oh, excuse me," she tried her best to feign politeness.
"Boss," the pig said, looking past her and towards Jaeger. "We got a problem," he snorted.
A groaning sound came from behind Jaeger. Judy turned and observed the storage door she tried to open before. The handle turned, the door swung open, and out stepped her partner with his paws cuffed behind his back. He groaned in pain and fell to the floor, shortly before a second pig followed him out of the stairs and closed the door behind him, looking at her menacingly.
"Nick!?" She called out. Nick's eyes shot open, looking at her with panic in his face.
"Judy, Run!" he cried out.
Confused, Judy turned to look at the pig blocking her exit, only to immediately receive a hoof to her midsection and tumble across the floor. She groaned in pain as she willed the air to return to her lungs. She rolled over, looking at her partner who was struggling wildly against his captor, lunging toward her.
The pig who was blocking the door closed it behind him and snapped the deadbolt with a click. Judy refused to panic and began rifling through her blouse. She pulled out her tranq and fixed it on the pig standing between them and the exit. Just before she could pull the trigger, a foot came slamming down on her wrist, pinning her whole arm to the ground. the tranquilizer gun skidded across the floor out of her other arms reach, where Jaeger's henchman scooped it up and trained it on her.
"Judy!" She heard Nick call out. His cry was met with a quick jab in the side from the pig holding his cuffed paws behind his back.
"I told you brining a cop here was a bad idea," one pig said to Jaeger.
"And I told you these were the same ones from the house," the other pig jabbed back. "We should get rid of them now."
"Cops?! Are you crazy? We're in deep enough as it is."
"Heh," Nick groaned from the floor. "You have no idea how deep you guys are in."
"Quiet, fox!" His captor said and jabbed him in the gut for good measure.
"That is enough," Jaeger called out commandingly. The whole room went quiet as the bobcat, who loomed over Judy like a nightmare, thought quietly to himself. His fierce eyes fixed on Judy, who glared right back at him. He knelt downward, bringing his face lower as she lay pinned to the floor under his foot.
"Why don't you tell me why you're really here," he nearly whispered. Judy looked at her arm, giving it another tug to no avail before looking back at him and glaring.
"Meat," she said coldly. Jaeger groaned with a sigh before standing back up.
"Well, I'm honestly surprised. We've been keeping an eye on any wayward customs agents and the ZBI, but a simple officer went under my radar. But then again, you're not just any officer, are you?" He said before turning to Nick, keeping his foot pressed hard against Judy's arm. "But you? I expected more from a fox. You come to my house, sneaking into my basement without a warrant?" He said, to which Nick frowned.
"I saw everything, you creep. My pals at the office are going to blow this joint sky-high," Nick threatened.
"I think not," Jaeger said with his superior tone. "If you had enough evidence for a warrant, you would have come through my front door. Breaking and entering is not exactly police protocol, so I'm willing to bet that your superiors don't know you are in here. In fact, I don't believe your partner even knew about your prowling, am I right?"
Nick closed his mouth and growled at him, earning a satisfied smile from Jaeger. The bobcat turned back to the bunny held underneath his foot. Her eyes shifted between her captor and her partner, trying to figure out what her next move was.
"Why, Jaeger?" Her voice said coldly.
"Why?" He responded and knelt back down beside her again. "Let me ask you something, officer. Do you have exceptional hearing?"
She cocked an eyebrow at her captor, who quietly waited for a response. She simply nodded her head.
"Does your foot thump when you get frustrated?" He asked. She nodded again. "Does your nose twitch when you get anxious?" She did not bother replying, because at that moment her little nose was twitching like mad.
"You are a bunny. And as such, you are allowed to be your natural self. Of course you decided to become a police officer, which I'm sure was difficult, but you never needed to change what you are to become who you are. Do you follow?" She starred back at him angrily, and he continued anyway. "Me however, I am not that free. I cannot show my teeth without mammals cowering in fear. I cannot satisfy my most basic urge to hunt. And I am barred from ever sustaining myself with what nature intended me to eat. So why? Officer Hopps, I eat meat for freedom. And I share that freedom with the predators of this city who are so cruelly denied their most basic needs."
"And what about the innocent mammals that have to die just so you can have lunch?" Judy asked.
"My supply is obtained through morgues overseas, Officer. I am no killer," he explained.
"So that's your method? You buy it off of butchers abroad and ship it here to your own house?"
"Of course. The safest place is within eyeshot," he agreed.
"So how did you get it past customs?" Nick asked from behind him. "The sniffers at boarder patrol train for years to spot contraband, so how can you get it past them?"
"Ah, Judy saw my smuggling practice first hand already," Jaeger responded. Judy scowled as she thought back to her tour around his house, when a familiar sent crossed her nose
"Flowers," she realized
"Yes, my flowers are grown in the mountains near my old home. Their fragrance is particularly powerful and just so happens to chemically cancel meat odor. In freight, when mixed with the sent of meat, even the most experienced patrol wolf in the world cannot tell one from the other," he explained.
"So you have the flowers shipped here, and the meat hidden inside?" Judy asked.
Jaeger was clearly growing tired of their conversation and sighed. He stood back up, which sent pain shooting down Judy's arm that was starting to feel numb. He looked back towards Nick and let go of Judy's arm. She rubbed the sore spot where his foot had been, but did not dare move since one of his security officers had her own tranquilizer gun fixed on her back.
"That's enough of my confessions, officers. Now it is your turn."
He motioned with two fingers, and the pig holding Nick brought him to his feet and held onto his cuffs tightly as they walked towards Jaeger. Nick stood up tall and looked Jaeger in the eyes as the babbling fountain filled the silence between them.
"No radio today?" Jaeger asked. The pig began searching through Nicks pockets aggressively. He pulled out his baton, city map, pocketbook, all of which fell to the floor as the pig rifled through his effects.
"Got it," the pig said and pulled out Nick's cellphone and handed it to Jaeger. The screen was black. Jaeger scoffed and simply tossed the phone beside him, where it landed in the fountain pool with a plop.
"You have any idea how much my contact-list was worth? Not to mention the selfies," Nick said flatly.
"I'm sure you'll find a way to carry on without them for a few more minutes," Jaeger said back. Judy noticed Jaeger's accent was slowly becoming more noticeable, and his tone was darker.
"Now, officer Hopps, you're turn. Phone please," he said and motioned towards her with an outstretched paw. She held back, shooting a glance to the pig pointing her tranq at her.
"Maybe you did not hear me," he spat.
Jaeger swiftly turned around, catching Nick's collar in one smooth motion, and throwing his head sideways. Nick voiced his shock moments before his entire head plunged into the icy cold water of Jaeger's fountain. Jaeger held his paw down on Nick's head, keeping his fiery gaze on Judy.
"Okay Okay! Let him go!" She cried as she quickly fished out her phone from her pocket. Nick was struggling against Jaeger, mumbling panicked cries muffled by the water. The pig and bobcat both wrestled him down against the fountain, keeping him from coming up for air. She threw the phone at Jaeger who caught it and simply placed it beside Nick's head under the water.
"Now answer me this question," Jaeger spat, keeping his paw firmly on Nick's neck.
"Please stop it! You're killing him!" She cried as she watched Nick's arms and legs kick wildly in protest. If another second went by, she would rush them both. She was not about to watch her partner die.
"Answer me this first," he retorted.
"Who knows you're here?"
"Police chief Bogo!" She cried out.
"She's lying!" The pig called out from behind her.
"Tell me the truth, Judy," Jaeger growled. Nick's protests began to slow and the sounds of splashing began to die down as he became docile under the water.
"It's the truth!" She cried, tears beginning to form on her eyes. "Chief Bogo knows I'm here but not on police business. Please! Let him go!" She cried out.
"Well," he said and released his grip on Nick's neck. "This makes matters more complicated."
The pig who was holding Nick's body picked him up and tossed him to the floor. His body hit the marble with a thud accompanied by the splash of water.
"Nick!" Judy screamed and ran beside him. She was relieved to find him coughing at grasping for air. He winced and barred his teeth. His chest glowed with pain as he continued to gasp.
"Eugh! Tastes like ego and rhino piss," he choked out and looked up at his partner weakly. Judy was cradling his head in her arms, the water slowly beginning to soak the fur on her paws. "Hi-ya Carrots," he whimpered and smiled weakly.
"Oh Nick," she sighed and rubbed his fur soothingly.
"You need to run," he whispered.
"And leave you here alone? That's not happening," she whispered back.
"Carrots," he began, but was cut short when one of Jaeger's henchmen pulled her arms behind her and wrestling her off of the limp fox. She fought back as best she could, but she was out of her weight class and he had a good grip. The other pig lifted Nick up and held him beside her, facing Jaeger.
The Bobcat was holding Judy's tranq in his paw and thoughtfully running a finger over it. Jaeger paced a little as he thoughtfully observed the weapon in his hand. After a moment of collecting his thoughts, he looked up at her and frowned.
"Judy," he began. His voice frightened her. Not because it was threatening, but because it was dripping with sorrow. "I really wish it did not have to be like this," he said and reached out a paw towards her cheek. She recoiled, stopping his advance.
"I want you to know that this is the most painful thing I'll ever do," he continued.
"Oh, well when he puts it like that, I guess it's ok," Nick whimpered before coughing again. Judy's eyes widened as she realized what Jaeger meant. She turned to the bobcat and noticed how his brow creased, like he was consoling a grief-stricken lover.
"Would you rather?" He asked quietly and held up her tranq at her leg. His finger hovered over the trigger as he offered his mercy ". . . You won't feel a thing."
Judy's mind was racing. Confronted with what looked like her immanent death, she could choose to feel nothing at all. She did not want to know what horrors awaited her if she denied. She missed the opportunity to fight back, and her partner was in no condition to outrun any of them. So she took a deep breath, looked at Jaeger in the eyes, and spat.
"Fine," he said, and wiped his face with the back of his paw before facing his compatriots. "Take them downstairs, and don't forget to turn the freezer up to max. I'm headed to the airport. I must return home and lay low for some time. After you take the bodies to Tundra Town river in the morning, I suggest you do the same."
Judy's eyes widened. They were going to freeze them to death.
"No," Nick groaned but barely had the strength to stand, much less fight. "Carrots you need to run," he hissed. The pigs began escorting them to the door to the basement and down the stairs. She tested the grip of her captor, giving her arms a tug, but she barely budged.
"I'm not leaving you here," she hissed back at him.
"Carrots, please," he said before they arrived at the end of a dark hallway. There was no light, only one large stainless steel door with a hatch lock.
"Think they'll last the night?" One pig asked as he opened the door. A hauntingly cold breeze swept over her toes.
"A short-fur rabbit and a drenched fox? I give them two hours tops," the one holding Judy said.
She prepared to drop to her knees and try to twist herself out of the pigs grip before she heard something that stopped her.
"Not this," Nick said with a whimper. His broken tone distracted her, and she saw the look on his face. He was terrified.
"In!" The pig barked and kicked her in the back, making her fall forward on the icy floor. She turned and saw Nick slumped on the floor behind her.
"Wait!" She cried before the door slammed with a crashing noise and she became enveloped in utter darkness. She got up and pounded against the door with her paws, screaming obscenities at them. A moment later she heard the sound of the air turning on and feeling a deathly breeze fall over her shoulders. She clutched her torso as the cold went right through her clothes and fur.
"Nick?" She called out, unable to see her partner.
"Carrots," she heard from her side. She followed his voice with her paw until she found his paw waiting for hers. He was sitting up against the wall with his feet splayed.
"Nick, can you see anything that'll help? The doors locked from the outside."
"Hopps," he said.
"Maybe there's a drain or a vent we can get through. You're vision should be helpful, I can't see a thing."
"Judy," he whispered. At the sound of her first name, her breath caught in her throat and she stared at the blackness where Nick's voice had come from.
"Why didn't you run? . . . I told you to run . . ." He sounded weak and sad.
"Nick! We can't give up yet! We've got to figure a way out of here," she hissed and found his face with her paws. She felt his head shake.
"I found this place earlier while you and Jaeger were touring the house. I took pictures of everything, but there's no way out beside that door," he said weakly.
She stopped still. Here eyes were wide, but only for a moment because the bitter breeze stung, causing them to tear up a little.
"Nick," she said with a shaky voice.
"I'm sorry, Carrots," Nick replied.
She fell to her knees and bowed her head against his chest, choking back a sob. They were going to die in there. With no way out, their only hope was the chief sending backup. But without a warrant from city hall, he couldn't send anyone inside, and a warrant would not come until the next morning. Judy groaned against Nick's chest as the cold began to seep deep into her bones and in through her chest with every breath.
Nick wrapped his paws around Judy and curled his tail around her back. She moved in closer without thinking, beckoned by the warmth of his figure. He rested his chin on her forehead, and she choked back another sob. The last bit of water soaked through his chin and onto her head, but she didn't care. It didn't matter.
Her mind raced of the coming events. They would find their bodies in a river. She saw her parents learning about it, their faces of horror and heartbreak brought tears to her eyes. She wiped them away, for they became like ice in moments. She pictured her brother getting married, her post at the ZPD being filled by a new recruit, a new tenant for her apartment. There was so much work left undone. But above all else, there was Nick. He'd be robbed of his future too, and if she hadn't fought with him that morning, if she had listened to his warning, maybe they wouldn't be in this mess at all. But here they were, cold and afraid.
"Blueberries," she heard Nick say from above her head.
"What?" She whispered.
"The first thing I'm going to do when I get out of here is get myself some blueberries and chow down," he said. She could hear through his voice that he was smiling. She rubbed her head against his chest, not wanting to think about what she was missing.
"Then I'm gonna go down to Finn's van and finally get my darn ipod back."
She chuckled, continuing to fight back tears.
"Then I'm going to go buy a bootlegged movie from Weaselton and watch it with a bag of popcorn the size of you," he said, his smile growing on his face.
"Nick," she began.
"What? You got something against buttered popcorn?"
"No. It's just-"
"Well alright then, what are you gonna eat when we're out of here?"
Just sighed, deciding against fighting with her partner in her last moments.
"Carrot cake," she confessed.
"Typical," Nick said, his smile returning to his face.
"Á la mode," she continued.
"Mmmm, now we're talking."
"I'm gonna take that cake and ice cream on the train and head to that park across the river from Sahara Square, where there's this incredible view of the Palmtree Building at sunset. And I'm gonna eat and take a nap in the shade right there in the grass," she explained. As she spoke, she could practically feel the soft earth through her feet. Perhaps that was just her loosing feeling in her toes from the cold, but she savored the feeling all the same.
"I'm gonna call up Jake, and tell him I'm coming to his wedding," she continued, her voice shaky as she began to shiver. Nick brought her in even closer till their chests were pressed against each other, keeping his arms wrapped tightly around her.
"And I'm gonna tell my neighbors to pipe the hell down," she finished.
"Huh," Nick commented quietly.
"Nothing, I just expected you to say something dreamy, like 'make the world a better place'."
"The world is a better place with carrot cake," she said back.
"Touché," he conceded.
"But if you must know, I think I will make the world a better place. I want to head back to my office, file the arrest report for Jaeger, and hunt for more criminals just like him," she said confidently.
"So that's it? You'll be a officer forever? Boring."
She would slug him if her arms could move.
"Yeah? That's a lot from a popsicle hustler who's dream is to watch bootlegged movies with popcorn alone at home."
"Hey, I enjoy the simple life," he commented.
"No more music?" She added.
"Nah. Gave that up a long time ago," he shrugged. She noticed Nick was starting to shudder when he spoke from the frigid air.
"Why?" She asked.
"I told you carrots, I got sick of tomatoes in my fur," he answered.
"Nick, tell me why you stopped playing," she repeated herself, more seriously this time.
Nick sighed. He only had himself to blame for starting this conversation, and given the circumstances, now was no time to be aloof.
"My dad taught me how to play, and I gave it up when he died. It just . . . didn't feel right anymore."
"Nick," Judy cooed. "I'm so sorry. I'm sure it hurt to play at the party the other night. But for what it's worth, I really thought you were great. You looked so . . . happy up there."
"Funny, I figured you for a pop music fan," he said. She smiled as she pulled her arms in close to warm her center.
Another thought occurred to her.
"What about your grandfathers theme park?" She asked.
His breathing softened and he grew much quieter at her mentioning it. His grip around her shoulders did not loosen, though.
"I want to sell it. Preferably to someone who will use it. If I can't find someone to re-open it, then maybe to someone who can turn it into a museum. Anything but a wrecking ball," he said softly.
Judy rubbed her head into the fur of his neck comfortingly, despite the cold water still dripping from him.
"But you were right, Carrots. I can't let that place hold me back anymore. I've got bigger things to do," his voice was barely a whisper.
"Yeah? Like what? I'm pretty sure watching bootlegged movies with popcorn does not count as 'bigger things' Nick" She asked, holding back a violent shiver. She regretted they were having this conversation now, but Judy was happy because she never knew Nick to have any aspirations.
"Yeah well . . . There's this girl," he said softly. Despite the rush of cold air flowing between them, Judy lifted her head back in surprise, looking at the dark mass in front of her. She could tell that he wasn't looking back at her.
"Really?" She asked. "This is the first I'm hearing about it."
"Ehhh forget it. It doesn't matter now anyway," he said softly.
"No! Tell me. What's she like?" She asked. She was unsure of why she wanted to press the subject so much. Given their situation, it was unlikely to go well.
"She's . . . A little crazy if I'm honest. She wouldn't be the smart choice, that's for sure."
"Have I met her?"
"Perhaps," he said.
"Nick, now is not the time for secrets," she scolded him.
"Well it doesn't matter anyway. She's not interested," he said coldly. Judy stopped and softened. The subject was clearly sore for him.
"Did she tell you?"
"Pretty much asserted that she could not see me that way. But hey, a frozen foxicle can dream, can't he?"
She leaned in again and rubbed her face back into the fur of his neck.
"But she's worth keeping around. She's the type of mammal who builds you up, makes you want to root for her. She's got this stupid look on her face that, on the one paw makes her look foolish, but on the other makes me never want to see another face for as long as I live. She's . . ." Nick stopped. Judy held onto his figure, wanting more than anything to will these dreams into life for her partner.
"She's my home," he finished. Judy was scared, strangely. Perhaps it was the cold, or the thought that she was effectively robbing him of his chance to square things with this vixen, but the thought of seeing less of him tugged at her chest. Odd, considering he'd be the last mammal she would ever see.
"Nick," she began. "First thing you do when we get out of here is go find her and get her," she said, tapping her head against his for emphasis.
"What about the blueberries?" Nick joked.
"Uh-unh. Girl first," she demanded.
"Maybe I'll give her her some blueberries. Is that fair?" Nick suggested. Judy smiled.
"Deal" she said. "Why haven't you ever said this before, Nick? You know I can keep a secret. Aren't I . . . Wasn't I your closest friend?"
"Sure you are Carrots. But hey, when we're you gonna tell me why you were afraid of foxes?" He countered.
She lifted her face off of his chest again and looked up at him. While all she could see was a dark mass, he could see all of her features, down to the way her ears folded down over her back. He was eternally grateful that she could not see in the dark. The horrors that surrounded them on the shelves and hanging from the ceiling would make her break down. It was all he could do to manage to ignore it. The look of concern on Judy's face certainly helped.
"What do you mean?"
Nick slowly brought one of his paws from around her torso to her face. He momentarily hissed at the stinging cold that replaced her warmth. He brought his thumb up to her left cheek and slowly and gently dragged the digit across her fur, bending it back against the grain. Sure enough, he could see the faint discolored skin and feel the 'bump bump bump' of three scars drawn down her face, just as her brother described. A fox had done this to her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked gently.
"I didn't want you to get offended. It was years ago, and it doesn't change how I feel about foxes, least of all you," she encouraged.
"But doesn't it? I mean, The fox repellent you wore on your belt seems tame now."
"I kept that day on my belt next to that repellent for too long, Nick. I could finally put it behind me when I saw that Gideon had changed. I guess putting the repellent behind me was what put you in front of me now, huh?"
"Gee, when you put it that way," Nick groaned and motioned to the room they were in, emphasizing their predicament.
They had moved too far apart and a sickening breeze snuck between them, chilling them both to the bone. They immediately embraced again and held onto each other firmly, catching the warmth before it could escape.
"I'm sorry," Nick confessed.
"For fighting with you earlier today about Jaeger."
"I'm the one who should be sorry. My optimism got the best of me," Judy asserted quietly.
"No it was me. I got angry and jealous and acted like a kit," Nick said. "And I'm sorry for it."
"Aw Nick," Judy waved him off. "Don't worry about that. You were worried about me, but I could never actually fall for someone like Jaeger. That was just a stupid nothing."
Nick's shaking around her started to escalate to a constant tremble. Judy squeezed up against him a little tighter, but she could not hold back her own shivering either.
"Yeah . . ." He echoed. "A stupid nothing."
Nick became still as he let the weight of his head rest against Judy's. With Nick's tail wrapped around her back and her face pressed into the fur of his neck, Judy felt sheltered from the vile breeze completely. It did not keep the cold from soaking into her bones, but it did allow her a bit of comfort. She felt as if she had more to say, as if some part of her subconscious was begging for her to keep talking. But her mouth refused to open and her jaw stayed shut. Her eyes stayed closed and her breathing began to calmly slow down.
Something about the frigid air and Nick's warm center beckoned her consciousness away. She began to drift, thankful that by the very least she was comfortable. It felt selfish of her, but she found herself grateful to be with Nick in that moment. She felt consoled, she felt content, she felt sheltered.
Nick felt cold.
Judy's eyes peeled themselves open, only to shut themselves violently as a blinding white light invaded her brain. She turned and rubbed her head into Nick's fur to comfort her aching retinas. Her ears twitched, despite being so stiff, as she heard voices begin to surround her. She pulled her eyes open again and saw tall figures surrounding her holding flashlights pointing in every direction.
"Delgato?" She realized looking up at her co-worker who bent down on a knee to see her closer.
"I've got them chief!" He said into his radio. "We need an EMT."
"Chief? Nick, did you hear?" She said weakly, her voice a little broken but bright. She looked up to Nick who still had his resting against hers. He was still.
"Nick?" She asked. The water that was dripping from his fur had frozen and his face was lined with a layer of frost.
"Nick!" she said again and pulled her stiff arms up to cradle his face. The ice crunched under her touch and his fur felt thick and solid. She brought his snout down and pressed his nose against hers. She gripped his fur tightly and pleaded in desperation with whatever powers that be that they weren't too late. She shut her eyes tightly and begged to feel something.
She felt warmth against her nose. It was faint, but it was slow and steady. She smiled and held onto the fur on his cheeks. His breath washed relief over her face like water seeping into dry soil. She held her nose against his and savored the feeling of her partner so close to her. She heard a slight rumble and a laugh escaped her mouth. The idiot was asleep still, and he was snoring.
"Come on, Hopps," the tiger said and gently scooped her up into his arms, carrying her out of the room that was filling up with more and more officers. McHorn carried Nick up as well, peeling him off the wall as the frost crackled around him.
Their coworkers brought the two frigid officers up the stairs and outside where the entire road was lined up with police cars with their lights whirling around lighting up the entire neighborhood. Nick was carried out to a waiting crew of EMT officers who began to strap him on to a stretcher and into an ambulance. Judy was brought to a separate ambulance where a thick blanket was tossed over her shoulders and a young squirrel began taking her vitals. Her limbs stung as the circulation in her bloodstream returned life to her fingers and toes. The EMT asserted that she showed signs of frost bite but was lucky that a hot drink and some warm rest would be all she needed.
"What about Nick?" She asked the medic. He leaned into his shoulder and pressed the button down on his radio.
"How's he doing Sean?" He called into the radio. A muffled voice returned a moment later.
"Frostbite on the tail and forearms, but it doesn't look severe enough to warrant amputations. We're gonna take him back to general to be sure, but he should be just fine," the voice called back, and the squirrel smiled at her.
"Thank you," she said softly and smiled, sighing happily that everything was going to be alright. She looked over towards the ambulance that Nick was in. He was sitting up in the stretcher with Clawhauser speaking frantically at him. While the worried cheetah continued to wave a bag full of food at him, Nick looked right at her with a sad smile on his face. She gingerly waved to him from across the mass of cops, and he managed a wave back before the EMTs closed the ambulance doors and the ambulance roared into life before spinning down the massive tree towards downtown.
Judy kept a worried eye on the ambulance as she watched it turn down the road and out of sight. She looked around and saw Wolford escorting one of Jaeger's henchmen into the back seat of his cruiser. Seeing the bad guys get their dues had a certain satisfaction to it, but she felt as though she would not feel secure until things were the way they were before. With Nick cracking jokes and Chief screaming at them, and Clawhauser not looking so worried.
"Hopps! Oh my gosh, are you alright? What did they do to you?" Clawhauser said, bumbling up to her ambulance. She smiled at his energetic mothering and waved him off.
"I'm fine, Clawhauser, really. Didn't you hear the details from Nick anyway?" She asked.
"No! He was being super weird and not cracking any jokes or anything," he said and looked back towards the spot that Nick's ambulance had been, biting his claws.
"He's had a long night, Ben," she reassured him. But the thought worried her too. Nick found a way to joke after nearly drowning to death that same night, so something about the freezer had gotten to him. He was surprisingly open with her about his past when they were afraid they were going to die. She had no idea about his father, or his plans for the theme park, or this girl. But she smiled, because they could now find ways of putting those plans into action.
"Would you like anything to eat?" Clawhauser offered. "I got protein bars, celery sticks, some twinkies, fruits, veggies, and donuts."
"You brought snacks, Ben?" She said with a cocked eyebrow.
"Hey, departmental morale is key to maintain in times of stress, and you and Nick get first dibs," he said and held up a grocery bag towards her.
"No thank you," she waved him off.
"Oh darn, Nick said the same thing," he said with a scowl. "Why won't you two let me be helpful?"
"If you must, you can give me a ride home," she offered. Clawhauser smiled and got to his feet.
"I'll bring the cruiser around, but before I do, Nick wanted me to make sure you got this," he said and rifled through his bag.
"I don't need anything, Ben," she reassured him again.
"Now now, Nick was emphatic about this; made me promise I'd get it to you," he said and pulled out a small paper bag and handed it over.
Judy cocked an eyebrow again as she took the small bag from his paw. She opened the bag, and for a moment, she wasn't exactly sure why Nick was so insistent. A moment later her eyes shot open and she stared back at the spot where Nick had waved her goodbye not a moment before.
"Blueberries . . ." She said, showing Clawhauser.
"Yeah. Seemed like the sort of thing he would want. It was weird how he wanted you to have them so much, he loves those more than anything," Ben said and marched off to grab the cruiser, leaving her alone.
She wasn't sure if the cold had caused a misfire in her brain, but Nick's words were swirling around in her head like mad.
Never want to see another face for as long as I live . . .
She's my home . . .
A stupid nothing . . .
Her chest felt heavy. She wasn't sure if she was still cold or lit on fire, but her whole body locked up. She continued to stare at the spot where he waved at her. She could still see his sad, almost apologetic smile on his face.
Chapter 5: Part 5
Judy sat in the precinct break room where the TV replayed footage of Jaeger's arrest on ZNN. Blue and red lights flashed onto a creamy-white jet that was refused takeoff clearance. Jaeger walked with his paws in cuffs in a dignified fashion towards the backseat of the chief's cruiser, escorted there by the buffalo himself. The news anchors continued to repeat what information they had, which was hardly the full story. She hoped that this particular case would not lead her in front of cameras again. That did not end up well for her first case.
She sighed with disappointment, as she was not the one to make the arrest. However, part of her felt like it would be difficult to take satisfaction in arresting Jaeger. Something about his sincerity when he apologized to her, before trying to kill her, left a bad taste in her mouth. At the moment, she was not sure she would be in any mood to gloat anyway.
She almost died, and that fact shook her a bit. Being cops, it was pretty customary to be confronted with a life or death situation at work on rare occasion. Perhaps they became easier to deal with, and it was not necessarily the first time it happened for her. Had her first case gone south, she would have been torn to pieces by a mindless predator. But this case, she inhaled what she thought were her last breaths, convinced the end was near. Had it not been for her co-workers, she'd be dead.
And then there was Nick. They spent their 'last moments' together, and he was the most comforting and caring mammal in the world. They opened up to each other in ways she did not expect, and she found herself happy that she could at least have him there in the end. But everything was different now.
"Are you going to eat that or are you going to just keep fidgeting with it?" Chief Bogo asked from behind her. She snapped to, and fumbled about nervously. She had been rolling one of the blueberries Nick had given her in her paw, staring at it blankly.
"Chief!" she yipped.
"At ease, Hopps. Don't mean to startle you. You handling everything alright?"
"I think so sir," she guessed.
"Good. Any news from the hospital about our fox?"
"He'll be out in the afternoon," she said with a slight smile.
"Also good. He'll get tomorrow off. I offer the same to you, but you didn't take me up on it today, so I expect you won't take me up on tomorrow either," he guessed. She did not respond, only letting her gaze drift back to the blueberry in her hand.
After being cleared by the medics, Judy went straight to the station instead of home. She placed the berries in the break room fridge and set to work on wrapping up the case. There were meetings with all the other detectives on the case that busted meat dens and combined evidence into one neat pile. Lawyers from the public prosecutor's office arrived the next morning and discussed at length what evidence could be used to put Jaeger and his goons behind bars for life. She would be called to give a testimony at the trial should he plead not-guilty, something she was happy to do. It was all work through the night for her, and she was grateful for the distraction. But now, with everyone waiting on Nick's return, there was not much else to work on and was thus she was left alone with her thoughts, which was dangerous.
Nick had confessed, in his own way, that he felt something for her. It was true that she valued him as her closest friend, and she never believed she could get so close with anyone let alone a fox. But romance was still confusing to her. She thought back to what he said about her, and how warm his chest felt in the freezing cold, and the way he smiled at her from the ambulance. The last thought made her blush a little.
"Hopps? You've been silent for about a minute now, so you're either going home or getting back to work," Bogo said sternly.
"Oh! Sorry chief. I guess I have a lot on my mind. And not much sleep," she added.
"I've seen officers go through worse and come out strong, and I've seen officers go through less and nearly lose it. Trust me Hopps, right now you need to get your mind off of things. Get some rest, see some friends, talk to some family. Just don't pretend like you are too tough to feel shaken," he said and smiled at her weakly.
"Thanks chief, that's good advice," she said and smiled back. "By the way, how much trouble is Nick in?"
"Well let's see. Insubordination, breaking and entering, searching without a warrant, and endangering the life of himself and his partner," Bogo counted on his fingers. "He's getting paid suspension."
"That's all? He'll consider that vacation time," Judy wondered. "Chief? Permission to speak freely, sir?" she said looking up at him. He nodded and folded his arms over his chest, looking down at her.
"You sent Nick to standby in case something happened right? I mean this with all do respect, but did you really expect him to sit quietly in his patrol car? This is Nick Wilde we're talking about," she ventured. This was dangerous territory of insulting the chief, but he smiled as he looked back at her, not saying a word.
". . . you didn't expect him to wait, did you? You sent him on purpose," she realized.
"I haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about, Hopps," he said and made his exit. Judy looked back at the looping footage on the screen. The showed footage of Jaeger's house surrounded by patrol cars, and an ambulance making it's way down the tree towards the hospital. She smiled, knowing she'd expect nothing less from Nick either.
An hour later, she decided rest was a good option and clocked out. She continued to space out for a bit as she walked towards the train. She was so absent minded she almost did not hear her phone ring. She quickly scooped it out of her pocket, placed her earbuds in and hit the reply button.
"Hi Judy!" her brother's face hollered from her screen.
"Hi Jake! How is everything?" she said with a smile.
"Good, good. Great actually! I've got Annabelle here too," he said, and another bunny entered the frame. Annabelle certainly was too pretty for her brother, but her smile was as big and genuine as hers was when the assistant mayor first pinned her badge on her chest.
"Hi Annabelle," Judy said with a wave. Her smile brightened as she saw how happy they both looked.
"We've actually got some pretty big news," Jake said.
"Look!" Annabelle said excitedly and held up a paw with her palms facing in. The entire frame was filled with a gleaming diamond ring that was as bright as the sun. Judy gasped and nearly bounded out of her seat on the train in excitement.
"Oh my gosh! I can't believe it! I'm so happy for you two!" she said, trying her best to be polite to the mammals around her with her hollering.
"Thank you! Jake hid the ring around the greens of a carrot and gave it to me. I didn't even realize and nearly ate it!" Annabelle said with a laugh.
"Jake, you dum-dum, you're lucky your fiancé pays attention. You could have broken her teeth or something," Judy scolded.
"Eh, she'd be just as pretty regardless," he said and gave his lady a coy smile. She blushed and pushed at his chest, a sight which caused Judy's heart to flutter a little.
"Who else have you told?" Judy asked.
"Mom and Dad know, her folks know, and pretty much anyone out of town, including you now. We are going to the burrows in an hour to make the announcement before everyone else," he explained.
"Oh that reminds me, I should call my sister Margaret since she's abroad!" Annabelle explained.
"Go give them a ring, I'll wrap up here," Jack suggested.
"Ok. Bye Judy!" she waved turning to the phone.
"Bye Annabelle. Congratulations!" Judy replied with a wave.
"Thanks," she said and turned to her betrothed, "I'll be right back honey, love you," she said and planted a thick kiss on him, lingering just a tad too long in front of Judy, but she didn't mind much.
"Awww," Judy exclaimed after she left. Jake bashfully rolled his eyes.
"Whatever, Judes. How're things in the city?" he asked genuinely.
"Things are good," she began, before pausing. "Things are . . ."
"Hey Jude, everything alright?" He asked, showing a bit of concern.
"I'm fine Jake, really, I just finished up a really tough case and things are a little topsy-turvy right now," she explained.
"Everything ok with Nick?" he asked flatly. She immediately raised a brow and shot him an amazed glance.
"Why do you ask that?" she asked. Jake shrugged.
"Well, you guys seemed pretty joined at the hip when I met you last week in the city, and he's not with you right now so I guessed that something was up. Though since you still haven't answered my question yet, I'll venture to say my guess was not far off?" he replied.
Judy looked around the train car nervously, checking to see if there were any mammals within earshot for the conversation. Luckily there were one or two other mammals on the car, both of which had music in their ears. She brought the phone closer to her face and spoke in a hushed tone.
"Jake, can you . . . describe what being in love is like? Just, you know, in a general sense," she asked. Her brother's eyes went wide and he fumbled to find the right words for a moment.
"Uh, okay sure. It's like . . . I guess it's like being home?" he ventured.
"You cannot tell me that Annabelle reminds you of being surrounded by hundreds of nosey siblings," she said with a roll of her eyes.
"No I mean the feeling is much like being home. You know? Like, even if I'm a thousand miles away from anywhere I've ever been, I can still feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be with her. Even on her worst days when she's her most frustrating self, I don't want to be anywhere else but by her side. It's like being myself is as easy as breathing. Does that make sense?" he asked.
". . . I guess so, yeah," she pondered.
"So you're in love with Nick?" he asked.
"Jake!" she bashfully growled.
"Alright, okay, take it easy!" he reassured her. "But that means . . . Nick is in love with you then?" She did not respond. She could only manage to look down towards the ground.
"And you don't feel the same back then?" he followed.
"I don't know . . ."
"Well, how do you feel about him?" Jake started.
"Jake, I don't think I need to tell you the obvious problem with an interspiecies romance," she said.
"That is not what I asked. Plus, I'm not sure what you mean, Judes. I mean, sure some folks dislike it, but it's not like it use to be. Besides, you shouldn't not be with someone because others might dislike it."
"Sure, but come on, this is me we're talking about. Can you really imagine a Hopps to fall for a non-bunny? A fox no less?" She asked. She was trying to make a point, but she could not deny she was actually curious about the answer.
"Honestly? The way you and Nick were? I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest," her brother responded. "It all depends on how you feel about him. So?"
"Jake, I'm not sure this is going to help," she said.
"Judy, for right now, just humor me ok? Answer my questions," he retorted.
"Well . . . he's my closest friend. I've been with him through thick and thin and I really don't like the concept of living in Zootopia without him," she explained.
"Are you attracted to him at all?" Jake asked.
"That's hardly your busin—"
"—Nanananaa, are you attracted to him?" he said wagging is finger at her.
"How on earth am I supposed to know if I'm attracted to a fox?" she barked.
"Let me dumb it down for you. Do you want to put your face on his face?"
"Wha—" Judy could not quite believe what she was hearing from her brother, but thought about what he was asking. She remembered the way the fur on his cheeks felt against hers the night before, and how warm it felt inside her chest as she nestled in closer. The thought alone brought a sort of warmth to her chest at the mere memory. She imagined him looking down, smiling, closing his eyes and pulling her closer.
"Judy?" Jake repeated.
". . . yeah, there is something there. I'm so disgusting," she said with a cringe.
"Hey Judes, he's just a fox, not a pile of manure. There is nothing wrong with you," he mentioned.
"I guess, but I just never imagined it would happen to me," she stated flatly.
"While that part's pretty key, it's not the whole story. Have you guys ever fought?" he asked.
"Of course," she answered easily.
"When you fight, do either of you have each other's best interest in mind, or is it because you're simply mad at each other?" Jake asked.
Judy thought back to their fight about whether or not Jaeger was innocent the day before. She certainly was angry with him, but she was only trying to solve the case. He, however, seemed angry because of her alleged feelings towards Jaeger. In retrospect, he was likely jealous, which made her smirk. But he immediately sprung into action and followed her to Jaeger's house, which suggested he did not want her flirting with danger.
"I've been angry at him for most of the time that I've known him," she continued. "But when he's angry with me, it's either because I hurt him or because he's afraid I will hurt myself."
"Last question: when you are angry with him, do you want him to disappear? Have you ever wished for a new partner?"
"No, of course not," she said easily. Jake smiled and nodded at the speed of her answer. "What? What is that look for?" she said, honestly wanting to know.
"Judy, I know this is probably not easy for you, but I think you got it."
"It?" she asked.
"Yeah, you got it. You got it bad. There's no way on earth it would make any sense to you because one, you've never dated anyone before, and two, he's a predator. A fox no less. But trust me, from what you just told me, and what I saw at dinner last week, you two are like Romeo and Juliet."
"You know they die in the end of that story?" she jabbed.
"Eh, we all die at the end of our stories. Just make sure you spend the story with someone important," he said with a coy smile.
"What should I do, Jake!" she said, a little flustered at his assertions.
"You guys are already close right?"
"Then just go put your face on his face and see what happens! From the sound of it, I bet he'd probably like that," he said with another smile.
"If mom and dad find out you're trying to get me to kiss a fox . . ."
"Hey, at least I don't have to explain why I'm in love with one. Good luck with that one when you get there."
"I'm pretty sure dad will stick his gun in Nick's mouth," Judy said with a giggle.
"Aha! See! you said 'will', not 'would'," Jake pointed out. Judy blushed again and shrugged at her brother. "If you're nervous or unsure still, then just go see him again, ok? My guess is that if you just place yourself in front of him, you'll make the right decision. Just follow your nose and let your hoppers take you where they will," he finished and gave her a thumbs up on one paw.
The train mercifully came to a stop at her station and she hoped off and onto the platform. She wished her brother congratulations again and thanked him for his advice before switching off her phone. She was still not sure of what she wanted, or whether or not this was something she even do. But her brother was right. If she could put herself next to Nick again, perhaps things would be clearer. She knew what she wanted to do next, and hurried down the steps from the train station.
Nick sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he trudged down the beaten dirt path towards his bridge and warehouse. His phone was completely devoid of messages. While he was a little bitter about not hearing any concern from anyone at work, he guessed that the radio silence from his partner was on purpose. Clawhauser certainly gave her the blueberries at the crime scene, and she was spooked.
"Dammit Nick, you had to get all sappy," he cursed at himself. His hospital wristband chaffed at his fur and his uniform was untidy and stiff. He made his way to the bridge he slept under and found his lawn chair and umbrella before taking a seat and staring at the evening sky. The cool air whipped at his fur, and he should probably clean up, or at least get some grub since the hospital food was so atrocious. But he could not bring himself to move just yet.
"Hey pops . . ." he wondered aloud. "Got any advice for a fox whose fallin' hard for a bunny?"
Nick's ears nearly rang in the silence that followed. He closed his eyes and sighed again, hoping to goodness that the waiting period would be over soon. There was this maddening nausea eating at his gut as he imagined her turning him down, or embracing him. Either one was hard to accept, and not knowing was going to keep him from sleeping.
"Is it too much to ask. . . . for a little communication here!" he called out loudly and tossed his phone into the dirt by his chair. With a groan he rubbed the spot between his eyes tenderly.
His ear twitched. Foxes have decent hearing by comparison to other members of the animal kingdom, but what he heard did not make sense so he guessed he was imagining it. Still, the sound persisted. He could hear the faint chime of bells and flutes and an organ playing an upbeat and jovial tune on repeat.
"What the heck?" he said and stood up, facing the warehouse. He followed the dirt path that led to his grandfather's amusement park and dug out his keys from his butt pocket. The sound was surely coming from inside.
"Who on earth has the guts to . . ." he said as he made his way inside. The carrousel in the center of the park entrance was lit up and spinning. The carnival tune that was playing echoed through out the warehouse and in his ears. But it wasn't the music that caught his attention. It was laughter.
"Hey!" he called out, but no one responded. A moment later the laughter returned as the carrousel made it's way around again.
There she was. Officer Judy Hopps, giggling like a child on the back of a giant bird making it's way up and down as she continued to spin.
"Carrots!" he called out again. He knew she could hear him, but she just ignored him and continued to laugh and play off the carnival ride, bouncing from one seat to the next. Nick groaned and followed the waiting lines up to the carousel and hopped on effortlessly, as he had done many times before. He made his way up to the chuckling rabbit and stared up at her.
"Hey!" he called out one more time. This time she whipped her head around and looked down at him from her perch as they both lightly spun. The amber lights of the ride whipped around them in a dazzling display, yet they held eye contact with each other. He was scowling, yet she was beaming. Her smile covered her whole face as she looked down towards her partner.
"Hey," Nick called out again. "Are you finished?" he asked coldly.
"No!" she laughed. "You think you can hide an entire theme park from me? How dare you think you can own one of these and not expect me to ride it?" Nick continued to scowl at her.
"I don't believe you have purchased a ticket, ma'am," he asserted.
"Oh that's okay, I know the owner," she jested.
"Oh do you now?"
"Mmhmm. He can be a real jerk sometimes, but at least he knows how to have a good time. Hey, if you see him, can you ask him to get his fuzzy butt up here and join me?" she said and bounded towards another plastic eagle making it's way gently up and down. Nick rolled his eyes, charged his hind legs and leaped up towards the seat, bounding after her.
"Ah, there you are Nick!" she said with a laugh.
"You know, carrots, this ride is meant for predators? Have you noticed the little plastic squirrels on the ground that all of these birds are chasing after?" he mentioned as they continued to jump between seats.
"Well, mister predator, you'll just have to chase after me instead. That should make it more interesting," she said playfully.
"Don't think I won't, fluff."
"Show me!" she said and caught one of the handle bars in the air and swung around a few times before launching herself to the next one. Nick's glare fired up as he started to give chase. Judy laughed as he nearly caught her from her left. She dodged right as they continued to run. The figurines gently raising up and down made it blissfully fun to dodge him, and he very much enjoyed chasing after her.
"Almost got ya!" he howled and slipped on one seat that was worn down too far and tumbled to the ground.
Judy was beside herself with laughter as she gleefully skittered away. She always enjoyed these kinds of rides, and for the first time ever she was enjoying one on her own. She gandered back again to see if he was still giving chase. She saw no movement. She nervously stopped and looked back towards the direction they were running, then back at where she'd left him. She saw nothing still. She kept her eyes on a swivel, and decided finding a lower spot to hide would be a better idea. She leapt from one perch to another.
"Gotchya!" Nick hollered as he pounced up from beneath her and brought them both tumbling down. Judy squealed and laughed as they landed on the ground with a roll. She ended up in his clutches squirming but laughing uncontrollably. He laughed along as he pretended to take bites out of her ears and head.
"Okay! Okay! You win," she said and rolled over. She was staring down at him, smiling brightly, far too close for comfort. His smile faded into a nervous look as reality of their proximity closed down on him. The music wound to a close and the carousel began to slow as she continued to smile down at him. As they came to a complete stop, there was no more pretending. Here she was, looking right down at him, alone in his grandfather's theme park.
"Judy . . ." he said nervously.
"Yeah?" she said, continuing to smile. Nick tried to form more words, but they rushed from his head as she began easing her face closer to his. Her eyes began to close.
"Stop," he said abruptly.
"What's wrong?" she asked, backing away from his face and allowing him some space. Her mind began to race with explanations. Had she completely miss-read everything?
"Don't," he continued quietly.
"I'm sorry . . ." she started, her heart beginning to sink. "I thought you wanted . . ."
"I do," he finished for her. She shot him a confused look and sat up on her heels.
"Then why stop me?" she asked.
"I'm not buyin' it," he said and slowly rolled to his own feet.
"There's nothing to 'buy' Nick! I'm not trying to hustle you here," she reassured him, splaying her hands apart as if to show her sleeves were rolled up.
"Come on, Carrots," Nick said and stood, dusting himself off briefly before looking back at her. "This time yesterday you said that you could never feel that way about a predator."
"Well maybe I was wrong!" she defended herself.
"Come on, fluff. I'm sorry but your not going to fix it this time," he said and began walking from the carousel. Judy paced angrily behind him, a little more than furious that he turned his back to her. They passed by the power switch that lit the giant 'Wilde Times' sign above them. He angrily threw the switch as he walked past and the sign snapped dark with a loud crack. Now the carousel was all that lit their faces.
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"That's what you do, Carrots!" he turned and leered at her. She saw in his face how nervous he was. "You fix things. You take what's nasty and you make them better. You see a crying child? you want to buy it ice cream. You see a fearful mouse? you want to protect him. You see a house on fire? you want to run inside and save everyone."
"and?" she spat, hoping he would just get to the point.
"And, you see your partner feeling love-sick? You want to do anything you can to fix it," he said with a slight growl. Judy's eyes jumped open and scanned her partner's features. He was trembling with a look he had never seen on him before, and it terrified her. Her features quickly hardened as she refused to be taken so lightly.
"Do you really think I'd be so naive?" Judy asked.
"Oh, right, coming from the bunny who assumed Jaeger was innocent," he said with a scoff.
Touché, she thought. But she was not going to let him hear it out loud.
"Nick, I'm not trying to fix you," she said a little more softly. "Is it really that hard to believe I might feel something for you?"
"Yes," he said easily. "You're not in love with someone because you spent a night in a freezer together."
"Nick, what happened in that freezer-"
"It should have stayed there. I'm . . . I'm sorry," he sighed and brought his fingers up to pinch his brow. "If I thought we were going to make it, I would have kept my big mouth shut."
"You're the one who got all sappy with the blueberries, remember?" she said and folded her arms over her chest.
"I dared to dream, perhaps in a haze of frostbite and ambulance drugs," he said and dropped his paw from his brow with a sigh.
"Alright slick," Judy said with a groan. "Let's forget about me for a second. Obviously there is something important that you haven't spelled out yet, and whether we stay partners or start something more, you need to lay it out for me."
"Come on, Hopps, I feel like I did that plenty back in the ice-box."
"That was you chickening out of saying it to my face honestly," she reminded him. "I want you to say it to my face."
"Carrots, I'm not goin-"
"Don't give me your quick-tongued 'never let them see they get to you' bull. I'm calling on you right now, as a friend and partner. Lay it out for me," she demanded sternly. She was right up in his face now, not giving him an inch. He continued to tremble a little, looking at her up and down nervously.
"Hopps," he started again.
"Spill it!" she commanded.
"Fine!" he barked and loomed over her. "You are the single most important mammal in my life! It was during our very first case together that I considered you my best friend. I've spent so much time near you that it's hard to believe you were ever not there. So when the thought of loosing you to some buck popped into my head, it was like looking down the barrel of a gun!"
Judy backed off, watching him closely as he waived his arms up and down frantically. The walls finally down, he angrily spat at her everything with his teeth bared and his legs shaking.
"So what did I do? I lied. I pretended. I acted like you weren't on my mind all the time. I pretended not to love the way your sent lingers on me after a long day in the cruiser. I kept my phone locked when I wanted to call you late at night just to hear your stupid voice. I feigned indifference when it hurt just to look at you. I acted like I didn't fantasize about us decades from now fighting over who's turn it is to watch the kids. And I certainly buried my thoughts about spending a glorious night with you in your crappy apartment." He was out of breath, and her heart was racing. He looked as though he wasn't finished, pausing for a moment and observing her closely.
"Why?" slipped out of her mouth without thinking. She fought back tears as her previously angry demeanor all but vanished.
"Because I would rather be miserable for the rest of my life than risk not having you around anymore!" he barked one more time. She asked for it all laid out, so he gave it to her. He heard somewhere that opening up and laying all your feelings bare was a liberating experience, that it was good for the soul. What chump thought that? Nick was both angry and terrified, because this was either the start of his dream come true or his worst nightmare.
"Nick," she started. He felt his feet shift. His legs begged him to run, and in a past life he might have done so. But he was a cop, he was her partner, and his feet were not going to fail him now.
"Nick, I don't want you to pretend anymore," she said softly.
"Why?" he repeated back to her.
"Because I would rather be miserable for the rest of my life than not have you around anymore," she cooed. His eyes fell open a bit, as he began to understand she was speaking honestly.
"See these?" he said and opened his lips to one side, exposing his teeth. "These are canines. And these? These are claws."
"I'm aware you're a fox, Nick," she reminded him. "But on the way over here, I asked myself two questions. The first was this: If I took away the claws and teeth, is there something there? If you were a bunny, would I have fallen for you already? The answer was a resounding yes, with a few laughable images of you as a bunny in my head."
Nick frowned, looking down at the ground and scowling at the thought. 'If Only' is a waste of breath, he thought. It didn't make it hurt any less though.
"And the second?" he asked timidly.
"Do I still want you anyway?" she said softly. She moved closer to him slowly. He bent down onto one knee so they were at eye level with each other and held firm as she came within paws reach of him. She motioned to move closer, but he stopped her, recoiling just slightly.
"Judy," he whispered. "I'll give you this one chance right now to do the smart thing. If you turn around, wave goodbye and leave, I promise things won't be weird between us. I might need some time to cool off my head, but we'll be friends. We'll still work together and pal around and be just as we've always been. I will never hold anything against you. But if you come any closer, you'd better be absolutely sure that it's what you want."
"And you are sure?" she asked.
"I've never been more sure about anything," he said immediately back.
She held herself there for what felt like ages to him. His heart continuously skipping beats like it was firing twice as fast, or perhaps not at all. He looked at her form, trembling with fear as the life he wanted so much was within his paw's reach.
She took a step back. His ears dropped as she back-paced and slowly turned away, walking back towards the carousel. His heart really did drop as she began taking confident steps away. The way she boldly strode off sank daggers into his chest with every step. He inwardly cursed himself for trying, knowing that any rift that now came between them was his fault.
Judy finally came to a halt at the base of the power-switch. She grunted and threw the switch upward with a clack, and the 'Wilde Times' sign hummed back to life brilliantly. She turned from the switch and looked Nick dead in the eye with a confident smile. Then, as if a starting gun went off, she bolted towards him as fast as her feet could carry her and threw herself into his arms.
Nick cried out as he struggled to keep their balance as she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips against his. Shock first held him stiff, as he supported her weight with his arms. Shock melted into relief, relief melted into bliss. He dropped back down onto one knee and began wildly returning her kiss, taking her cheek in one paw and wrapping the other around her back. She held his face between her paws, happily savoring the delightful feeling of his lips against hers.
After a few moments that may have been an hour in reality, Nick laughed and broke their embrace, bringing their foreheads together.
"You evil," he started, smiling at her and rolling her fur underneath his thumb. "sadistic, cold-blooded, and unusually cruel bunny you."
She laughed, satisfied that she proved her point. She knew there was no going back. She knew that the second she decided to come see him. But he needed some convincing, and the slightest little hustle was sure to get to him.
"I love you too," she said back at her infuriating fox, and leaned back into his embrace.
There would be more rides and laughs that night. They'd share samples of carnival food, trade stories of the past day apart, and enjoy a nice long walk back to Judy's place for some much-needed rest. But the part of the night that stuck with them, the part that they talked about decades later, was how warm they felt kissing under the sign at Wilde Times.