Judy was almost certain that the pig they had pulled over was drunk. When he rolled down his driver's side window, she was absolutely certain. Even from where she was sitting, behind the wheel of the police cruiser a good ten feet behind the pig's car, the sharp scent of alcohol was unmistakable. From where Nick was standing, right next to pig's car, the smell must have been like a liquor store after an earthquake. To his credit, he didn't react, and treated it as though it were a routine stop. "License and registration please, sir," he said, strictly professional.
Judy had already punched in the plate number and was waiting for Nick to relay the driver's information so that she could corroborate. The pig, however, was taking his sweet time rooting through his glove compartment, and patience had never been her strongest suit. Her foot, seemingly of its own accord, started tapping, gently shaking the cruiser. Nick broke his professional demeanor to shoot a small smile back at the car, and realizing what she was doing, Judy stopped.
The pig, meanwhile, had finally finished his search and forced something into Nick's paws. "Here you go, ossifer," he slurred, "Can I go now?"
Nick looked at what he had been handed. "Sir, are you attempting to bribe me? This is money."
"C'mon, I know you wanna take it. Jus' let me go," the pig whined, "You wan' more? Typical-"
The rush of air from a passing truck made it impossible for Judy to hear how his sentence ended, but from the subtle stiffening of Nick's posture she doubted it was anything friendly. But beyond that slight tensing, something she doubted anyone else would have even noticed, Nick kept his calm. "-doesn't matter. I'm going to need you to step out of the vehicle, sir," Nick finished, the beginning of his response also cut off.
"Officer Hopps, call for a tow truck, please," he said into his radio.
It was protocol, even though he knew she could hear him. She responded in kind through the radio, "Acknowledged, Officer Wilde. Calling for a tow truck."
She put in the request as Nick efficiently cuffed and led the pig back to the police cruiser. The reality of the situation seemed to have set in for the pig, as he had started a stream of mixed complaints, begging, and cursing on the walk over, but it gradually petered out as he stumbled into the back. Rather than getting back into the passenger seat, Nick leaned into the open window and clapped his paws together. "What say you let me drive back, Carrots?"
Judy hesitated for a second as she thought it through. Normally, she'd refuse to give up the driver's seat, but she could tell that something the pig had said had gotten to him and driving might help him cool off. On the other paw, if she let him drive Nick might think she was doing it out of pity. But he wouldn't have asked if he didn't want to. Probably. Unless he was just trying to see if she was pitying him. Getting into his head was difficult at the best of times, but she had to say something. "I thought you'd be eager to get back to the station and end your shift. You know I'm a better driver."
That seemed like a good balance, she thought. She wasn't yielding or outright rejecting. "No, you're a faster driver. And if your driving makes Sleeping Beauty-" he punctuated this with a point to the back of the cruiser, where the pig had passed out and was gently snoring, "-vomit all over the back of the cruiser, you get to clean it up."
Judy could work with that. She imitated Nick's typical half-lidded stare back at him, "So if you make him sick, you'll clean it up? Go ahead and drive, Slick."
Nick chuckled, and Judy allowed herself to relax. Maybe he had just brushed aside the pig's words, and she had simply allowed herself to worry for nothing, projecting her own concerns onto him. "I'll make a hustler out of you yet, Carrots. Fine, I'll do it."
The drive back to the station started quietly, punctuated only by the occasional snore from the back, until it was interrupted by a familiar series of chimes coming out of the glove box. Judy reached in and pulled her phone out, which was displaying a request for MuzzleTime from her parents. "Go ahead, Carrots," Nick said, "Don't worry your parents."
Judy mock-glared at him, "You just want to hear them embarrass me."
Nick put a paw to his chest in an equally mock look of shock, "Do you really think that of me?"
"Yes," she replied, but she accepted the connection anyway.
"Jude!" her father began happily, "It's us! We're just calling to-"
He suddenly stopped and seemed to take in the video that he was seeing, "You're not still on duty, are you? Wait, are you driving? You shouldn't be on the phone while-"
Judy cut him off before he could build up a head of steam. "Nick's driving us back to the station, see? Say hi to my parents, Nick," she said, pointing the phone's camera at her partner.
Nick gave a little wave, but didn't look away from the road. "Hi, Mrs. and Mr. Hopps," he said.
His usual smug grin seemed to have stretched a degree, if that was even possible. "Oh, OK," Judy's father said, apparently greatly relieved.
Judy resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her father's worrying. "But do you have time to talk? Your mother and I wanted to remind you about tonight."
Judy was puzzled at this. Remind her of what? She mentally started going through the birthdays and wedding dates of her family. "About Little Bobby's, Benjamin's, Bella's, and Booker's birthday? I sent them cards a few days ago."
"Oh no, not about that," her father said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"They did get the cards, dear. Big Bobby said that you're Booker's favorite aunt, you know," Judy's mother jumped in.
Judy had hardly any time to reflect on the warm feeling this brought before her father continued. "About tonight! The premiere!"
"The premiere of what?" Judy asked, still lost.
Both of her parents seemed surprised that she still wasn't making the connection. "The TV show!" her mother said.
"With the bunny cop!" her father continued.
Judy did her best to hide her surprise. It was the first she had heard of a show with a bunny cop, but it was kind of flattering. As a kit, she had loved police procedurals, but none of them had ever had a bunny as an officer. The shows that had featured bunnies most prominently when she was growing up were the convoluted soap operas her mother and grandmother enjoyed, dating shows, and warren improvement shows. Maybe a police show with a bunny cop would inspire other bunnies to look beyond farming.
"I'll make sure that I watch it, OK?" Judy said, "But I've got to let you go; we're almost back to the station."
This was technically true, inasmuch as ten city blocks was almost back to the station, but conversations with her parents could last about forever if she never cut them off. After the drawn out goodbyes, Judy looked over at Nick. "Did you know about this show?"
Nick clucked his tongue, and drummed his claws against the steering wheel as he waited for a red light to turn green. "You must not pay attention to commercials on the radio. Or the advertisements on the sides of buses. Or billboards. They've been advertising this everywhere the past few weeks. I mean, look!"
He pointed at a digital billboard showing an advertisement for Chris Pine Marten's new sci fi movie. Judy shot Nick a quizzical glance. "You didn't look fast enough. Give it a minute to change back."
The image of the mustelid's face eventually dissolved and reformed into an image of a pure white rabbit doe standing back to back with a jet black male wolf. He had a police badge clipped to the waistband of his pants and was holding a large gun pointing straight up with both paws, while the doe was holding her badge out to the side with one paw and a small gun straight out away from her chest with the other. Text above the image read "This summer justice is..." and beneath it read "Black and White."
Judy simply gawked at the billboard until the image changed back to Chris Pine Marten. When she looked ahead, she realized that the light had turned green but Nick simply hadn't moved. The driver of the car behind them had apparently decided that honking at a police car wasn't a good idea, even if the police were holding up an intersection. "Nick, the light!" Judy said.
He put the car in motion, and this time Judy was sure that his smirk was wider than normal.
Later that night, back at her tiny apartment, Judy turned on her tiny TV to watch the premiere of Black and White. All I ask, she thought, is that this show isn't terrible. It doesn't even have to be good. Just not terrible. That's not too much to ask, is it?
The following morning, Judy was gloomily waiting outside the coffee shop she usually met Nick at before they went in to work. As it turned out, a television show about a bunny cop had been just about the worst thing she had ever seen on television. Black and White had been an hour of rushed, hackneyed plot and clumsy dialog between an overemotional rabbit and a stoic angst-filled wolf, mercifully broken by commercial breaks that always seemed to occur after a particularly dramatic line. Even worse, it seemed as though the majority of her exceptionally large family had also watched it, and they had spent the night blowing up her phone until she had had to turn it off so she could sleep.
As she waited for her partner, she was scrolling through a chain of text messages to see if there was anything worth responding to. As she was debating the merits of telling her nieces, nephews, and more anxious siblings that cops didn't typically get into shootouts with evil drug-dealing business tycoons and their seemingly endless flunkies, Nick finally showed up. "Morning, Fluff," he said, as though it were any other day and not the day after the premiere of a terrible TV show very clearly inspired by her life.
Judy was in no mood to play games. "Just get it over with."
"Get what over with?" Nick asked, apparently puzzled.
"You know, the mocking. About the show. Just... get it out of your system, OK?" she asked.
"Oh, that? I didn't watch it," Nick said casually.
Judy blinked at him. "Seriously?"
"I spend all day being a cop and doing cop stuff. Why would I waste my precious free time watching a show about cops?"
"I thought you'd want to make fun of me."
"Oh, Carrots," Nick sighed as he leaned down so they were more or less on eye level, "Why would I need a TV show for that when you already give me so much material to work with?"
Judy rolled her eyes at that, but she couldn't deny to herself that she was happy that he hadn't watched it. They got their coffee and walked to the station, Judy vowing that she was going to take whatever happened in stride.
"Change your name, Carrots?" Nick asked as they approached their shared cubicle.
The sign that read "Hopps," positioned above the one that read "Wilde," had been replaced by one that read "White." "Still alphabetical, though," Nick noted.
It was a little joke that they got into sometimes, him insisting that her name was above his because it was alphabetical and her insisting that her name was above his because she had seniority. Judy sighed, "No, I guess I'm not the only one who watched that stupid show."
The bunny's last name on Black and White was, of course, White and the wolf's was Black. Whoever had come up with that had probably thought that they were pretty clever, but Judy didn't. "Ah," Nick said, "Well, you should probably go find Karl and switch nameplates back."
"Karl?" Judy asked.
"Karl White. You know, the rhino that works down in legal? He's the only White I know who works here, but he probably finds it a lot funnier than you do."
Nick's talent for names and faces was impressive, but even that paled in comparison to how he seemed to know and get along with all of their coworkers. He had only been an officer for about two weeks, but he made it seem as though he had been working at the station his entire life. "Right," Judy said, pulling the nameplate off the cubicle and running to make the swap before the morning roll call.
"My great-grandparents changed it from Weiss to White, you know. If they hadn't done that, why, I bet we wouldn't be talking right now! Funny the way things work out, isn't it?" Karl asked.
The rhino had spent the past five minutes talking to Judy. Or, rather, talking at her, since she had barely been able to say why she had gone to visit him before he launched into a rambling monologue that started with him calling himself stupid for failing to notice that his nameplate had been switched, wove through compliments about Judy's deductive skills and a comparison to those of the bunny on Black and White, detoured through a minor dissertation on why the best coffee in the city wasn't from the shop that Judy's cup had come from, and had hopefully hit the end of the line on the history of Karl's family name. At the very least, it was the first time she had the chance to interject. "Yes, it's very funny. Listen, it's been nice talking to you but I really have to make roll call so I'll see you later, OK?"
She didn't wait for a response before she bolted, her (apparently inferior) coffee in one paw and her nameplate in the other as she rushed to make the bullpen before Bogo did.
The ribbing that followed over the next few weeks, Judy decided, was of the good-natured variety that indicated that her coworkers thought of her as part of the group. Or at least, that was what she decided to tell herself. It didn't seem mean-spirited, at least, and she even began bonding with some of the other officers over discussions of the ludicrous plots that had very clearly been written by mammals who knew just about nothing about police work. On the other paw, Clawhauser was a legitimate fan of the show and did his best to defend it. "You just like the bunny, that's all," Wolford accused.
"She's just so cu-" Clawhauser cut himself off with a glance down at Judy, "Strong, but vulnerable, you know? And she just looks so soft..."
He said the last part with a somewhat dreamy look on his face. Judy couldn't deny that, at least. The actress, the improbably named Holly Leaves, really did look incredibly soft in a way that was probably only achievable with a full team of stylists and the help of camera magic. "And you probably just like the wolf," Judy said, looking at Wolford.
"I'm just like him," Wolford said with a toothy grin, one paw on his chest, "Always cool and collected."
"Big talk from a mammal who tackled a porcupine," Judy retorted, "We saw how 'cool and collected' you were getting quills pulled out of your muzzle and chest."
"That was one time!" Wolford protested over Clawhauser's giggles.
"One time too many, I'll bet," she said.
As she spoke, she saw Nick walk into the lobby area, having changed out of his uniform and back into his rather garish civilian clothes. Contrary to the usual stereotypes about males and females, it always took him longer to shower and change at the end of the day. She had never asked, but assumed that it was because his fur was longer. Idly, thinking back to Clawhauser's comment about the fur of Holly Leaves, she wondered how soft Nick would be if he let her pet him. Judy quickly banished the thought. "We'll catch up tomorrow," she said to Clawhauser and Wolford, as she ran from the reception desk to catch up with Nick for the walk to the train station.
They fell into an easy rhythm of conversation as they made the walk and waited for their respective trains. Later, as Judy was making a late dinner, her phone started ringing. She smiled as she picked it up, anticipating a call from either her parents or Nick. To her surprise, it was from Bogo.
"Hello?" she answered.
"Hopps. Get your partner and get back to the station. There was an attempted murder of an actress. The mayor wants you on it," Bogo said, cutting to the point with the characteristic bluntness she expected of him.
Judy could feel in her gut what the answer would be, but she still asked the question. "Which actress?"
And now we're off, ready to go into the case itself! Starting with the next chapter, things will get moving as the investigation starts. And yes, this chapter ends on a dramatic line, just like the act break in a police procedural. I'm a sucker for dramatic effect, I'll admit.
When Judy arrived at the station, she was mildly surprised that Nick was already there, chatting with Clawhauser at the main desk in the lobby. She had never actually seen where Nick lived; she mentally filed away the detail that it was apparently closer to the station than her apartment. "Glad you could make it, Carrots," Nick called out when he saw her, "Bogo wanted you here before he'd explain."
"He just knows that you're not going to be paying attention and only wants to go over the details once," Judy teased.
Clawhauser either didn't think that it was a joke or didn't find it funny. The normally effervescent cheetah's eyes narrowed as he looked at Nick. "You absolutely have to solve this!" he said, reaching over his desk and grabbing Nick's shirt and pulling him closer, "What if the mammal who did this tries again?!"
It was unsurprising that Clawhauser already knew the case that she and Nick had been assigned, but Judy hadn't suspected that his love for Black and White (or at least its starring actress Holly Leaves) ran quite so deep. From the way that the fur on Nick's tail had frizzed out when Clawhauser grabbed him, Nick hadn't suspected it either. "Of course we will, buddy," Nick said as he casually and unsuccessfully tried to get out of the cheetah's grip, "In fact, there's something that you could do that would really help us with this case."
That was apparently enough to get him to drop Nick. "Really?" Clawhauser asked as he pulled back, "You mean it?"
"Absolutely," Nick said, leaning over the desk and waving Clawhauser closer in a conspiratorial manner, "No one else at the station follows celebrities the way that you do, right?"
Clawhauser leaned in and nodded. "What we need," Nick said, waving a paw in Judy's direction and then back at himself, "Is someone to put together a file on Holly Leaves. All the roles she's ever had, anyone who might be holding a grudge against her. Ex-boyfriends, old agents, actresses that she beat out for roles, anyone who might have a motive. Can you do that?"
"Of course!" Clawhauser squealed, his delight at being asked to help apparent, "I'll have it for you first thing in the morning, OK?"
"That would actually be a big help, Clawhauser," Judy jumped into the conversation, "We'd really appreciate it."
"Not just us," Nick said, "But Holly Leaves's very life might depend on your research if whoever attacked her tries again."
That was, in Judy's opinion, laying it on a little thick, but the portly cheetah positively swelled with pride. "I won't let you down," he said solemnly.
"I know you won't," said Nick, "Come on, Judy, let's go see Bogo."
Once they were in Bogo's office, he didn't waste any time and sketched out the case in broad strokes. An unknown assailant had broken into Holly Leaves's apartment, and she had barricaded herself in the bathroom and called the police. While the assailant had been unsuccessfully trying to break the door to the bathroom down, Holly's boyfriend had arrived. The assailant had hit the boyfriend in the head hard enough to knock him out and fled before the first responders had arrived. "There are officers on the scene. They'll be able to provide more details," he concluded.
Judy could hardly wait for the chief's dismissal so that they could begin work, but Nick made no movement to leave. "Why us?" he asked, "What's the rest of the story?"
It was peculiar, Judy thought, as she did the math in her head. The crime couldn't have happened more than an hour or so ago, but that was somehow enough time for the mayor to become aware of it and request that Nick and her be assigned the case.
"Police aren't the only ones with police scanners, Wilde," Bogo replied, "The media happened."
He said the word media with obvious distaste, but it certainly explained a lot. An up-and-coming actress attacked in her own home by an unknown assailant was the kind of story that could be milked for all it was worth. "So the mayor wanted good press for a high profile crime," Judy said, realizing that she and Nick had only been called up to make the mayor look good, "This is all about getting him re-elected, isn't it?"
"Not re-elected, Carrots. No one voted for Escurel," Nick drawled.
It was true that no one had ever voted for Escurel as mayor. Bellwether had appointed the aging squirrel assistant mayor when she took over as mayor following Lionheart's arrest, and Escurel had in turn taken over as mayor following her arrest. Media stories about him tended to dance as close to the edge of libel as possible. It drove ratings far better to imply that he might have been involved in Bellwether's plot than to suggest what was the far more likely turn of events. Namely, that he was a milquetoast politician who lacked the charisma, drive, or intelligence to advance any further than a minor position on the city council and he had only been tapped for the job of assistant mayor precisely because of his lack of charisma, drive, or intelligence. He had been the perfect choice by Bellwether-completely nonthreatening to her position as mayor and her plot to rally prey against predators. But with an upcoming mayoral election, Escurel had apparently discovered that he did, in fact, like the position of mayor and wanted to keep it. Choosing a high-profile attempted murder case to flex his political muscle as tough on crime and a staunch supporter of the ZPD was pretty much Politics 101.
Bogo didn't contradict him. "The mayor has made a very generous offer in order to get the two of you on this case," he admitted, "And if he has found an advantage for himself, I don't care."
"The mayor couldn't find his nuts with both paws down his pants," Nick said with a dismissive wave.
"Nick!" gasped Judy; she should have known better than to be surprised at what he would say to their boss, but he was always pushing the line.
Bogo favored Nick with a glower, but Judy could have sworn that she saw the ghost of a smile flash across the dour buffalo's face. "Be that as it may," the chief continued, "It's your case now. I expect you to solve it."
Nick probably had something more to say-probably to ask what the mayor had offered-but Bogo didn't give him the chance. "Dismissed," he said, with the kind of authoritative finality that even Nick was (usually) wise enough to accept.
The drive to Beklan Heights, where the crime had occurred, was fairly short. It was an older part of the city caught up in a wave of gentrification. The tipping point where none of the original residents could afford the neighborhood hadn't quite been reached yet, but judging from the sheer number of buildings undergoing renovation, it was only a matter of time. Finding the apartment building was rather straightforward because it was the only building on Urtah Street with media vehicles and police cars in front of it. The red and blue lights of the police cars on the scene lit up the veritable swarm of camera mammals and reporters jockeying against the barricades for position. "Why don't we go around the back?" Nick asked.
They hadn't arrived with lights or sirens on, and Judy had no desire to speak with the press. She pulled the car around the back of the building, but the apartment building turned out not to have a rear entrance, just an emergency exit labeled "ALARM WILL SOUND IF DOOR IS OPENED." "I guess it'll have to be the main entrance," Judy sighed.
Fortunately, a male bear officer that Judy vaguely recognized as being from one of the other precincts was making a statement near the main entrance and they were able to get past the media and into the building without drawing any notice. There was another officer waiting inside, a caribou that Judy didn't recognize at all. He waved them towards the elevator. "Sixth floor," the caribou said.
When they got to the sixth floor, which was also the top floor, it was obvious how the assailant had made their entrance. The building was shaped like an L with equal length legs, bulging outwards where the legs met for the lobby on the first floor and for the stairs and elevator. At the ends of halls on the sixth floor, and presumably on all the other floors, there were large windows that led to fire escapes. On the sixth floor there were four apartments in each leg of the building, two on either side of the hallway. In the hallway that Holly Leaves's apartment was located in, the glass of the window to the fire escape was in pieces on the floor. Clearly, the criminal had climbed the fire escape and broken the window.
Nick and Judy made their way to what was the apartment they were interested in judging by the presence of crime scene tape across the open door. Inside the apartment there were a few crime scene technicians taking pictures and another officer. She was a zebra mare that Judy again vaguely recognized as being from another precinct. When she spotted Judy and Nick at the door, her expression immediately soured. "I was told to expect you and your partner, Officer Hopps," she said with a grimace that could not be called a smile without seriously stretching the truth, "I'm Officer Grévy."
Before Judy could say anything in response, the zebra mare continued, "And until the mayor made a few calls, this crime scene belonged to my partner and me. He's down there right now," Grévy said as she gestured downwards to where the bear was presumably still making an official statement, "Talking to the press. But that'll be the last time one of our names gets associated with this case, I expect. It must be nice to be a celebrity cop."
Interoffice and inter-precinct rivalries were something that Judy did her best to avoid, but the zebra did have a legitimate grievance. A high profile case could make an officer's career, and Judy already had one of those under her belt. Grévy and her partner had gotten just such an opportunity only to have it snatched away. It was politics, plain and simple, a graying old squirrel doing what he could legally do to keep himself in an office he hadn't exactly earned, but she had no idea how to explain that.
Nick apparently did, though. "It's politics," he said smoothly, "And when the mayor tells the chief to jump, and he tells us to jump, we don't have much of a choice."
"If I wanted your opinion, I would have asked for it, fox," Grévy snapped back at him, emphasizing his species as an epithet.
If it fazed him, Nick didn't show it, and he continued as though she hadn't just insulted him, "But we're all cops, and there's plenty of credit to share. We can make sure that you and your partner get your share of the credit, or we can take it all for ourselves. Which means how much help you give us now is going to make a big difference down the road."
It wasn't exactly the most ethical of tacts to take, but it seemed to work. Grévy narrowed her eyes at him, "Your partner is going to hold you to that."
Judy was offended on Nick's behalf that his word alone apparently wasn't good enough for Grévy, but she instantly agreed. "You have my word."
"Fine. There's not too much to add to the initial report. Holly Leaves and her boyfriend, a personal trainer and author by the name of-" the zebra grimaced in distaste, "Jacked Rabbit are in Zootopia General Hospital. She's physically fine, but he's got at least a severe concussion."
"Jacked Rabbit?" Nick asked, his delight at the name obvious, "Are you sure he's not an actor like his girlfriend? In, perhaps, a slightly different industry?"
He waggled his eyebrows suggestively to make his meaning clear. He was obviously just trying to push Grévy's buttons, but she didn't take the bait. "Personal trainer and author," she repeated, "He couldn't give a statement because he was unconscious when they took him to the hospital, and Holly Leaves couldn't because she was going into shock. I've got the super pulling the security camera footage now."
"Thank you," Judy said, with all the sincerity that she could muster, "We'll take a look around now."
Officer Grévy grunted an acknowledgement and left the apartment, doubtlessly to follow up with the building's superintendent on the camera footage. The crime scene technicians taking photos had wisely made themselves scarce when Grévy had begun talking, which left Judy and Nick in the apartment alone.
It was significantly larger than Judy's apartment, but somehow still cozy. The furniture looked old and overstuffed, and there were throw pillows and small ceramic knick-knacks everywhere. There was an eclectic blend of art hanging on the walls, everything from embroidery pieces to what must have been family photos to band posters. If anything, the apartment was almost too full, but Judy had a trick for focusing on the crime scene.
When she was a kit, Judy hadn't played with dolls and dollhouses in the same manner as her siblings. While they had played house, she had made crime scenes for the dolls to solve. She wouldn't have admitted it to anyone, but she found it was useful mental tool to visualize the crime scene as though it was one of those little dioramas. The extraneous details that the lived-in space contained fell aside as she concentrated on the items that really mattered.
The door to the apartment had a chain lock, half of which was on the floor. The tool used to cut the chain was readily apparent-on the floor near the bathroom, there was a set of bolt cutters that had a bouquet of flowers taped to one of the handles. The flowers themselves and some of the many loose flower petals on the carpet around them were bloody, in contrast to another bouquet laying on the floor closer to the apartment's door. The door to the bathroom was currently open, and there were fresh gouge marks in the wood near the doorknob.
Judy put the sequence of events together in her head. The assailant, which she was visualizing as a generic doll with neither gender nor species, had broken into the apartment building through the fire escape, and then approached Holly's door with a bouquet of flowers concealing a set of bolt cutters. The presence of the other bouquet suggested that Holly had been expecting her boyfriend; maybe she had looked through the peephole and seen only flowers, or perhaps she had opened the door when the assailant knocked without checking. In either case, she must have left the chain lock engaged and opened the door a crack. The assailant had used the bolt cutters to cut the chain lock and had then forced the unlocked door open, suggesting that it had to be a mammal physically stronger than a rabbit doe. Holly had managed to lock herself in her bathroom, while the assailant used something, probably the bolt cutters again judging from the flower petals on the carpet near the bathroom door, to try to force their way into the bathroom. While the assailant had been hitting the door, Holly's boyfriend had arrived with a bouquet of flowers of his own. The boyfriend had been struck in the head by the bolt cutters, causing a wound that had bled freely. The assailant had then fled, probably back down the fire escape.
Judy frowned. It was a logical reconstruction, but there were two witnesses who could provide additional details. "Come on, Nick,"she said, "Let's go visit the hospital."
Alright, now we're into the thick of it! This chapter was originally much longer, but I figured that it would be better to split it into two since it was already getting kind of long. Thanks to everyone who has read and especially those who have commented. I know it's a cliché, but it really does mean a lot.
They had taken the elevator back down to the first floor, but before they could leave the building they were stopped by the bear officer who had been making a statement when they arrived. When she had seen him outside, Judy had noted that the bear was tall. Inside the apartment building, however, he was positively enormous. He stood more than twice as tall as Nick, and he would have been even taller if he didn't have to stoop to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. He was so powerfully built that, if she joined arms with Nick, Judy doubted that they'd be able to form a circle around him. His claws were bigger than any of the kitchen knives that Judy's mother owned, and his teeth looked sharp as razors. He probably would have been intimidating if it wasn't for the friendly, almost bashful look on his face. "My partner didn't give you a hard time, did she?" he asked.
Their hesitation to answer seemed answer enough for him. "I hope you don't hold it against her. Grévy can be a bit..." he trailed off, apparently trying to find the best word.
Judy had some suggestions she didn't voice, and she would have been willing to bet that Nick had many more of his own, but he mercifully didn't speak either. "Rough around the edges," the bear finished his sentence, "Bill LaMerk, by the way," he said extending a paw about the size of Judy's microwave.
She reached out to shake, "I know who you are, of course," he said to Judy as he grabbed her paw with his own, "The one and only Judy Hopps!"
He was still shaking Judy's paw enthusiastically as he spoke, and Judy felt as though he was about to accidentally lift her off the ground. "But I'm afraid I don't know you," LaMerk said, finally letting go and turning his attention to Nick.
"That's the way I like it," Nick said casually, "Hopps here can get all the attention. Keeps the criminals from focusing on me. Nick Wilde."
LaMerk's laughed at Nick's mild quip and favored him with a handshake just as forceful as the one he had given Judy. "Listen, I know how it is. Just politics is all, right?" LaMerk asked, with a casualness that seemed a little forced.
"Exactly right," Nick said, still in the throes of LaMerk's handshake, "The mayor-"
The bear released Nick's paw and cut him off, "Wants a good story, huh? Take a little of her celebrity for himself?"
"Something like that," Judy cut in, "But I don't want to be a famous cop. Just a good one."
"Too late for you not to be famous. But maybe you can be famous and good," the bear replied, with a smile that seemed genuine, "Just remember the little mammals on your way up."
With that, he left the building, ducking down even further and turning sideways to fit through the door. It struck Judy as a little absurd that, even metaphorically, a bear practically large enough to swallow her whole would consider himself a little mammal in comparison to her. She hadn't lied, though—she had never wanted to be famous, and the celebrity that it brought her was a burden she could have done without. She had worked so hard her entire life to be the best at what she did and not just a token bunny that she found it galling to be handed a case because of who she was instead of because she was the best qualified for it. The thought consumed her the entire drive over to the hospital, which passed without much in the way of conversation.
When they arrived at the hospital, there was a short, fat opossum in a suit practically hissing in anger at the elephant behind the reception desk. "Holly Leaves is my client!" he yelled, jabbing a claw in the receptionist's direction, "And you have to let me see her!"
In contrast, the receptionist seemed almost bored, "No, I don't, sir. And I'm going to have to ask you to leave if you keep shouting, sir."
That drove the opossum apoplectic with rage, "Don't you sir me! Do you know who am? I'm the-"
"I'm calling security, sir," the elephant cut him off, speaking with a mild but clearly deliberate emphasis on the word "sir."
Nick and Judy had been watching silently during the exchange, but that seemed like the appropriate time to act. "I'll take the actress and you'll take the agent, OK?" Judy said.
"Fine by me," Nick said, and strolled up to the opossum, who was ready to double down on his strategy and continue his tantrum despite its failure to get results.
"I don't think we'll need security," he said smoothly to the receptionist as he looped an arm over the opossum's shoulder and started guiding him out, "Nick Wilde, ZPD, and you were already on your way out with me to answer some questions about your client, weren't you?"
The opossum barely got a syllable out before Nick started talking over him, "Great, you'll be a big help. An agent like you must know everything about why anyone would want to go after your client, isn't that right?"
The opossum's anger had turned to bewilderment as Nick had started leading him out, and that was replaced by what seemed like wounded pride, "Of course! I know everything about my clients. I've represented Holly for as long as she's been acting, you know."
Throughout the entire exchange, Nick had continued to maneuver the opossum closer and closer to the door out, and successfully ushered him out on that note. Judy approached the reception desk and said, "I'm sorry you had to deal with that."
The elephant waved her trunk dismissively, "He's not the worst we've gotten. Judy Hopps here for Holly Leaves, right?"
The Holly Leaves that was sitting in the hospital room at the bedside of a rabbit with a heavily bandaged head was barely recognizable as the actress who played Athena White. At first glance, the only thing that they had in common were that they were both albino rabbit does, with stark white fur and pink eyes. On TV, Athena White was always sharply dressed in dramatically contrasting black with the occasional accent in pink to highlight her eyes. She wore high heels (despite how grossly impractical they would be in real life for a working detective) and her fur was always perfectly styled. At the moment, at least, Holly Leaves did not look like a detective ready to take on the world. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy and her mascara had run down her face in lines that vaguely resembled the facial markings of a cheetah. Holly's fur stuck out in all directions, her pale silk blouse and skirt were crumpled, and she wore nothing on her feet. Of course, Holly Leaves was neither a detective nor a law enforcement officer of any kind, and Judy knew that it was unfair to hold her to that standard.
"Holly Leaves?" she asked, more to get the actress's attention than out of any need to confirm her identity, "I'm officer Judy Hopps."
When Judy walked into the room, Holly had been looking off into the middle distance apathetically, but her gaze brightened and she turned her head to look at Judy when she provided her name. "You really are Judy Hopps?" she asked, as though there were other bunny officers that she could be confused with.
"That's me," Judy said brightly, "I know that you-"
Holly cut her off before she could finish, leaping out of her chair and grasping Judy in a surprisingly tight hug. The albino doe was significantly shorter than Judy was, and she had to look up into Judy's face. "I've been wanting to meet you for so long but I was afraid that it'd be too weird or you'd think that the show was mocking you or you'd hate the show or you'd think I was terrible but I only took the job because I really wanted to inspire kits," Holly blurted the words almost too fast to follow along, pausing only to catch a breath, "And I'm a really big fan of yours and I'm making this really awkward aren't I?"
Holly suddenly let go and pulled back. Judy, meanwhile, felt a pang of guilt for all the negative thoughts she had had about Black and White. Not enough to change her opinion on the show—she still thought that it was poorly written—but at least the star had gotten into it for the right reasons. "Don't worry about it. And I don't hate you or your show, either," Judy said, "I'm glad that you're following your dream."
Holly positively beamed at her words, but her face fell just as quickly as it had brightened and she sank back into her chair. "Jacques always said the same thing," she said, reaching out and grabbing the paw of the bandaged rabbit buck in the bed.
Judy didn't say anything, but Holly must have caught the flicker of confusion that went across her face at the name. "His name isn't really Jacked Rabbit," Holly said, with a watery smile, "It's Jacques Lapin. He just thought he needed a catchier name. We have that in common, actually. My agent said that Holly Leaves was a better name for an actress than Holly Leaps."
It made perfect sense, of course. Jacked Rabbit was a ridiculous name for a parent to give their kit, but a (somewhat) reasonable one for a personal trainer to give himself. "My partner is keeping your agent busy right now," Judy offered, figuring that if the opossum always acted the way that he had at the reception desk that Holly would appreciate knowing that he wasn't about to burst in.
Holly chuckled weakly. "Marty can be pretty forceful. But I don't want to think about a press conference or talking to reporters now, not when Jacques is..."
Her words trailed off into sobs. Judy grabbed the other chair in the room and dragged it over next to the actress, then took a seat and offered her a tissue.
Holly took it and wiped at her tears. "The doctors say that there might be..." her voice quavered, but she managed to continue, "...permanent impairment, if he does wake up."
Judy didn't know how bad Jacques's injury was, but knocking a mammal unconscious with a blow to the head wasn't as simple as movies or TV shows made it out to be. Far from being something that the victim would wake up from without any lasting side-effects, a hit like the one that Jacques had taken could have killed him, and he might suffer anything from forgetfulness to mood swings to a loss of motor skills. He could also have no long-term effects, but Judy was sure that was a difficult hope for Holly to maintain as her boyfriend lay in a hospital bed looking small and frail.
"It's my birthday," Holly said suddenly and apropos of nothing, "That's why I answered the door when I saw the flowers through the peephole. Jacques always brought me flowers for my birthday, but I should have checked that it was him before I opened the door."
It was obvious to Judy that Holly was blaming herself for what had happened to her boyfriend, so she quickly thought back to the layout of the apartment to think of something that she could use to dissuade her. She recalled that there had been an intercom panel on the inside of the apartment next to the door. "You had to buzz Jacques in so that he could get up to your floor didn't you?" she asked, "And you heard his voice over the intercom, didn't you?"
"Yes..." Holly replied, not seeming to follow.
"Holly, the mammal that attacked you and your boyfriend came in through one of the fire escapes. They waited for you to let Jacques into the building before they knocked on your door. They had the flowers specifically to trick you. The only one to blame for this is the one who did it, and that's not you."
"But I should have checked before I answered or given Jacques a key or, or—" Holly broke down into tears again.
Judy could have said that everything would be OK, but that would have been a lie. She didn't know if Holly's boyfriend would even wake up, let alone if he would be the same buck he had been before his head injury. Judy gently squeezed the doe sitting next to her, "Whatever happens, he's going to need you to be there for him the way he's been there for you. Sitting here blaming yourself isn't going to help him."
It was meager advice, but it was about all that she could come up with at the moment. Holly seemed to consider it, and a long moment passed before she spoke again. "What would help you find the mammal who did it?"
"Any kind of details you can remember. Gender, species, age, clothes, anything that we could use to identify them."
"I couldn't tell if it was a male or a female. I couldn't tell the species, but they were taller than I am. They were wearing a raincoat. A big yellow one that covered their entire body, with the hood up so I couldn't see their face."
Judy wrote it all down. "Did they say anything?"
Holly shook her head. It wasn't a lot of information, and probably wasn't anything that wasn't visible on the security camera, but there was still something else that Holly might know. "Is there anyone that you can think of who might have done this? Someone who might have had something against you or Jacques?"
She seemed surprised by the question, "No, not that I can think of. And everyone loves Jacques."
There were more questions that Judy could have asked, but Holly suddenly asked a question of her own. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
Judy wondered what caused the question, but it didn't seem unreasonable to answer, "Not right now, no," she answered, leaving out that it had been quite a while since she had so much as gone on a date.
"Then imagine if it was the most important person in your life in this bed," Holly said, gesturing towards Jacques.
The image sprung into Judy's mind, completely unbidden, of Nick in that hospital bed, his head swaddled in bandages and his body surrounded by gently beeping machines. Of Nick waking up without that sparkle in his eyes or the sly grin on his muzzle, a Nick who would be forgetful and moody and never feel like himself again. Of feeling like it was all her fault. She swallowed and forced the thought out of her head.
"I just..." Holly started, "I just don't know what I'm going to say. I know I'll have to give a statement to the reporters, but I'm going to look weak, aren't I? And everyone will laugh at me for being a stupid emotional bunny. Or if I keep it together, will he think that I don't care when he wakes up and sees it? Will everyone think that I did it because it doesn't look like I care enough? What would you do?"
Judy thought about it carefully. She had her own disastrous experience with speaking to the press, and it occurred to her that the mayor would almost certainly want to maximize his political gain by making her the face of solving the case. But that was a concern for later. "Crying because you care about him doesn't make you weak," Judy said, "Just be honest and don't answer any questions you don't want to or can't."
"Are you sure?" Holly asked, looking at her somewhat doubtfully, as though wondering if it could really be that simple.
Judy thought about what had happened when she had returned from her self-imposed exile and found Nick under a bridge. "I'm sure."
I ended up revising this chapter a lot to work on the flow and the dialog. It ended up being longer than I initially thought, so hopefully that work has paid off and you enjoy this chapter. The next chapter will be flipping perspectives to follow up on Nick's encounter with the opossum agent. As always, any and all comments, positive or negative, are appreciated.
If there was something that Nick prided himself on–well, one of the many things that he prided himself on–it was his ability to read mammals. He took in the opossum's appearance with the critical eye of a seasoned hustler and considered the picture that it made. The opossum's suit was expensive but somewhat too small, the center button visibly strained by his gut. The suit was still in fashion, which was somewhat less telling for a male than it was for a female–male fashion tended to change much more slowly, and it would take years for a suit, especially a good one, to be truly out of style. Still, the un-scuffed golden watch that he wore suggested that the opossum wasn't holding onto fading wealth by wearing an old suit that was getting too small; it suggested quite the opposite, that this was a mammal on his way up. Probably later in his career than he would have liked at that, since the opossum looked to be on the older side of middle aged. He was sloppy, his dress shirt coming un-tucked with a sticky-looking brown stain (teriyaki, probably) the size of a dime near the collar and his breath reeking of a strange mix of foods–everything from garlic to dark chocolate to nattō. Nick did his best not to wince at the smell.
Putting it all together, the mammal that Nick was smoothly guiding out of the hospital was an up-and-coming agent whose star had risen with that of his client. He was a stress-eater, getting too big for his tailor-made clothes as he binged on odd combinations of food to soothe the anxiety from his work. Nick reminded himself that he might also be completely off-base. There was, after all, a certain gray-furred and rabbit-eared exception that showed he wasn't always right when it came to first impressions. Still, Nick's gut told him that the opossum wasn't the mammal who had broken into Holly Leaves's apartment. The opossum's age and weight suggested that his days of climbing fire escapes, if that was ever something that he had been capable of, were long behind him. When he was shouting at the hospital's receptionist he had looked about ready to keel over of a heart attack from the exertion, and it was hard to imagine the opossum making it up six floors worth of ladders. The opossum might still be involved, but he would have had to hire someone to do the dirty work for him.
The entire time that Nick had been leading the opossum out of the hospital and onto the front patio outside the hospital entrance, he had kept up a constant patter without even having to think about what he was saying. Once they were outside and seated on a convenient bench, it was time to switch from calming the opossum down to pumping him for information. "Here's my card, by the way," Nick said, handing over his standard ZPD business card.
Nick didn't particularly care for the ZPD business cards. As was to be expected of the government, the cards looked to be the work of the lowest bidder, poorly printed on cheap cardstock and not even perfectly rectangular. The cards Nick had made for his various dubious enterprises had been much nicer. But a business card was a business card, and handing one over, particularly to an older mammal like the opossum, triggered what was practically an instinct. The opossum fumbled in his suit jacket and pulled out a small case, fishing his own business card out of it. "Marty Thanatopsis," he introduced himself, handing Nick the card.
It was a simple card; the name Marty Thanatopsis over the word "Agent" with a telephone number and an email address underneath. Nick pocketed the card and waited for the opossum to continue. "Listen," he said with a sigh, running a paw across the top of his head and making his fur stick up in irregular spikes, "I'm sorry about back in the lobby. I shouldn't have yelled at the receptionist, but..."
Marty trailed off, looking at the ground and seeming somewhat abashed. Nick smoothly provided a suggestion, "You've been under a lot of pressure lately, haven't you?"
The opossum looked up in surprise, confirming Nick's guess with his reaction. "Pressure's not the right word for it. You know what happens when you land a starring role on a prime time show for a nobody out of the soaps?"
Before Nick could even venture a guess, the agent continued, "Every nobody who thinks they didn't get a fair shake crawls out of the woodwork to be your client. And you think landing a starring role is the end of what an agent does? Of course it's not! Now the suits at the network are playing hardball for picking up more episodes and all the other agencies are promising the moon to get my star to jump ship and work for them!"
There was a lot of useful information in that little tirade, and Nick considered what it revealed carefully. By landing Holly Leaves, an unknown actress, a major role, Marty Thanatopsis had apparently become the agent to contact for other unknown actors and actresses, and probably a large number of actors and actresses who were less "unknowns" and more "waiters and baristas with delusions of making it acting." Thanatopsis had happily taken on additional clients; he didn't strike Nick as the kind of mammal to leave money on the table even if the clients had absolutely no chance of landing roles of any kind. The opossum was also dealing, less happily, with the reality that the network wanted to pay as little as possible to keep Holly Leaves on the show (and by extension, keep his cut of the contract as small as possible) while other agents wanted to get his golden goose for themselves.
It certainly seemed possible that the opossum had arranged for the attack on his client himself to raise her profile and make her more valuable during negotiations. But that seemed risky–the attack could easily make the actress decide that life in the public eye wasn't worth the danger and retire to a more private life. Unless, of course, the agent and the actress had staged the attack together, but the injury to the boyfriend made that seem less likely. Nick made a mental note to get Judy's read on how Holly felt about her agent and her boyfriend. Engaging in further speculation without facts wasn't going to reveal anything but his own biases on the matter.
"That certainly sounds like a lot to have on your platter," Nick said, doing his best to come off as understanding and compassionate rather than smarmy and condescending.
It didn't always work, particularly since there were plenty of mammals predisposed to read the worst possible interpretation into whatever a fox said. Thanatopsis, at least, didn't seem to be one of those mammals. "But can you think of anyone who would want to hurt or kill Holly Leaves? Has she received any threats?"
The agent snorted at that. "She's an actress, of course she has. Predators who don't like seeing a little bunny onscreen as a cop getting the better of big bad predators. Bunnies who think she's a bad role model for their kits. Random crazies, that's all."
Nick frowned at that. Considering that his client had actually been attacked, dismissing threats as the work of random crazy mammals seemed a bit short-sighted. "We'll need to see those threats."
"Fine, I'll have my secretary get them together for you in the morning."
Nick made another mental note to follow up on that as well. "We'd appreciate that," he replied, "Now, would you be able to–"
Nick was cut off when the opossum's cellphone starting ringing. Marty looked at the screen and swore loudly. "Sorry officer, but I got to take this," he said, jumping to his feet and answering the phone.
"Rich! It's good to–" the opossum started before the mammal on the other side of the line started speaking over him.
Nick couldn't make out the individual words, but the tone that came through didn't sound particularly happy. "Yes, of course I am. We're going to–"
The opossum was cut off again by the mammal on the other end of the call, and wasn't able to get in much more than a few acknowledgements as the voice kept speaking. "I look forward to it. Listen, I've got to–"
Thanatopsis stopped speaking, the other mammal having apparently disconnected the call while he was mid-word. He hissed wordlessly, then seemed to remember that there was a cop sitting right next to him.
"That was Rich Wolf," he said as though that should have explained everything, "Executive producer for Black and White."
"Ah," Nick said, figuring that the opossum would keep talking given the opportunity.
"This is just like him, always micro-managing everything. Doesn't even trust me to set up a press conference!"
Thanatopsis looked like he was working himself back up into a fit of anger to rival the one he had displayed in the hospital's lobby. "Well, I think I've taken enough of your time," Nick said casually, standing up, "I'll be looking forward to copies of those threats tomorrow, OK?"
"Yeah, yeah," the opossum said dismissively, furiously typing away on his phone and pacing away from the hospital door.
Nick went back into the hospital, resolving to catch up with Judy and get his own take on Holly Leaves.
Judy repressed the urge to sigh. She had tried a number of lines of questions, but Holly Leaves still couldn't provide so much as a guess as to who the mammal who attacked her was or who might have hired them if they hadn't done the deed themselves. Judy almost hoped that it had been the work of a hired mammal, simply because the longer the chain from mastermind to victim was the more opportunities there were for the chain to break. It was obvious that the crime had been planned out fairly well, much more so than the typical murder attempt of a celebrity involving a crazy mammal with a gun and little else. If it had been the work of a single mammal, they were at least sane enough to plan well, which meant that they might also be at least sane enough to avoid easy capture.
As Judy struggled to come up with additional ground to cover, she heard what was unmistakably Nick walking down the hallway. Her ears perked and she was already walking towards the door when he knocked. When she opened it, he briefly dipped his head down towards what he was carrying–a tray that could only have come from the hospital cafeteria, loaded with plastic-wrapped sandwiches and paper cups of coffee–and then towards Holly Leaves. Judy didn't even have to consider the silent question before she nodded in response. The actress wasn't paying attention to their nonverbal exchange at all; she was gripping the paw of her boyfriend and staring at his still form.
"I thought that you probably didn't get the chance to eat anything," Nick said, catching Holly's attention as he walked past Judy and into the hospital room. "I brought some sandwiches and coffee. Decaf."
He set the tray down on the empty table next to the bed. Jacques hadn't been in the hospital anywhere near long enough to acquire flowers or cards; the room was cold in a way that went beyond the physically low temperature. "I'm her partner," Nick said, indicating Judy with the thumb of his left paw as he offered Holly his right paw and gave her his best smile that didn't reveal any sharp teeth, "Nick Wilde."
Holly took the proffered paw and gave it a single pump before disengaging. "Holly Leaves," she replied, "I appreciate the thought, but I'm not really hungry right now."
"I understand," Nick said, "But do you mind if I have one of these sandwiches?"
The actress shrugged. "Go ahead."
"Officer Hopps?" Nick asked, holding up one of the sandwiches.
Mercifully, Nick didn't call Judy by one of the many nicknames that he had for her when they were dealing with other mammals, but she almost wished that he would. "Officer Hopps," though accurate, seemed oddly impersonal in comparison to "Carrots."
"Thanks," Judy said, taking the plastic-wrapped sandwich.
Since Judy had been called back to the police station more or less immediately after getting back home after her day shift, she hadn't gotten the opportunity to eat anything since her lunchtime meal of a fresh salad. By comparison, the sandwich was somewhat lackluster. Although it was vegetarian, the vegetables filling the sandwich were soggy and somewhat wilted and the bread was spongy feeling. Still, once she had it unwrapped, her hunger awakened and made it smell tempting. Judy had to consciously force herself not to eat it too quickly, and noticed that Nick was doing the same. He was taking small, almost dainty bites from his sandwich, and Judy realized that he was avoiding opening his muzzle too wide and exposing his teeth, in much the same way that he had favored Holly with a closed-mouth smile upon meeting her. It also struck Judy that the actress seemed completely indifferent to Nick's presence. It might be that, after living through the attack and then speaking about it, she was too worn out to muster any more energy, or it might be the kind of latent prejudice that a lot of small prey held against foxes.
Before Judy could get much deeper down that line of thought, Holly grabbed one of the remaining sandwiches off the tray. "I guess I should, right?"
Nick nodded, and took one of the coffee cups off the tray. The fact that he had gotten three cups of coffee told Judy that he had clearly planned to split the tray between Holly, Judy, and himself, but she appreciated the gesture. The three of them sat in silence as Holly picked at the mediocre sandwich and Nick and Judy drank the subpar coffee. When Holly had eaten about half of her sandwich and set it back down on the tray, Nick spoke up again. "They'll take care of the tray in the morning."
Holly nodded, but her attention was on her boyfriend again and it was clear she wasn't really listening. Judy and Nick made their goodbyes, and promised to get back in touch with her later.
Once they were out of the hospital and on their way back to their car, Judy immediately asked Nick's opinion of Marty Thanatopsis. Since Judy hadn't spoken to the agent at all she was going to have to rely on Nick's judgment, but she was sure that if anyone could get a read on the agent it would be him.
"He's more worried about his career than anything else. You know, he didn't even ask if she was OK."
"Do you think he's involved?"
Nick shrugged. "Thanatopsis didn't do it himself, that's for sure. Did you see the guy? I don't think he could make the climb to the second floor, let alone the sixth. But I think the only way he could be involved is if Holly was in on it too."
Judy shook her head emphatically. "No way," she said, "You saw the way she was acting."
"Exactly. She is an actress," Nick said dryly, "Maybe she's acting. Maybe things went too far and her boyfriend was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Judy looked up at him skeptically. "Do you really believe that or are you just playing devil's advocate?"
Nick grinned, exposing a mouth full of sharp white teeth. "It is a a natural fit, don't you think? But no. I don't think she was part of it, but I do think we can't discount the possibility yet."
"I suppose," Judy said.
"What about the boyfriend?" Nick asked, "Could he have been the target?"
"If he was, she had no idea why. We'll have to dig on that."
Nick nodded. "I've got Thanatopsis putting together the hatemail that Leaves received. There might be something there, too. And we need to check up on the executive producer of her show; Thanatopsis is not a fan."
"Rich Wolf?" Judy asked, "Holly had nothing but good things to say about him."
"Apparently Wolf is putting together a press conference and cut Thanatopsis out of the planning entirely. Kind of a different perspective between an actor and an agent, don't you think?" Nick said, but Judy could tell that he filing the difference in opinion away for later.
Judy laid out what she had learned from Holly, referring to the notes that she had made. Nick agreed that so far Holly hadn't told them anything that they couldn't get from the crime scene. He also mentioned that while he had been picking up the sandwiches, Grévy had called in about the security camera footage. Apparently, the cameras recorded in an obsolete proprietary format so that while the ZPD had been able to copy the digital files they didn't have a way to view them. Forensics would probably be able to get the right software eventually, but it'd be easier in the short term to just view the footage where it had been recorded. Judy shook her head, "We shouldn't expect much from that footage, should we?"
"Grévy almost sounded happy, so no, I don't think we should."
After dropping the car off at the motor pool, Nick and Judy made their way to the train station to get back to their respective homes. The Zootopia public transit system never stopped for the night and ran just as many trains at night as during the day to accommodate the mammals working night shifts, so it wasn't too long before the train Judy needed arrived at the station.
"That's your train, Carrots. I'll see you..." Nick pulled out his phone and did an exaggerated double take at the time, "Later today, OK? Try to get some sleep."
Judy resisted the urge to yawn. It was either very late at night or very early in the morning, depending on how you looked at it, and they would have to be back at the police station in a few short hours. "You too," she said, as she got on board just before the doors closed.
Nick said something in reply, but even her sensitive ears couldn't catch it over the sound of the train's brakes releasing and the wheels fighting friction to get into motion. Knowing him, it was probably a quip about being naturally nocturnal.
Judy leaned her head against the window of the train and watched as Nick was reduced first to a red and blue blob and then became completely invisible as the train picked up speed and left the station behind. She kept watching out the window, and her view of the city started breaking apart. It had started raining, and the streaks of water running across the window distorted the lights of the city into a colorful blur. It was a bit like the case, actually. The picture they had of it was frustratingly incomplete, but there was no one she'd rather have by her side solving it than Nick.
On most mornings, Judy's alarm clock would barely get the opportunity to make any noise before she would shut it off. The morning following the assault of Holly Leaves, however, it took her several groggy and confused seconds of fumbling to silence the alarm. The initial investigation had stretched into the early hours of the morning, and she was feeling the cost of a lack of sleep. Still, in her mind, mere tiredness was not an excuse, and as she went through her normal morning exercise routine, she began to feel close to normal.
The weather outside seemed an almost perfect reflection of how she felt; the rain had stopped, but the day was sullenly overcast and gray. Dirty puddles of water had collected near some of the curbs, and the wind came in occasionally biting gusts. Despite the weather, when Nick finally met her at the coffee shop as usual, he was wearing his aviator shades. From the droop of his tail and ears, Judy guessed that he was at least as tired as she was, and the sunglasses were simply his ineffectual attempt at hiding it.
Her guess was confirmed when he took the aviators off as they entered the shop; his eyes were well below half-mast.
"Good morning, Mary. Not the usual today," Nick said to the barista before she had a chance to get their drinks started.
"Two large coffees. Extra strong, extra sweet. And whatever she wants," he said, gesturing to Judy.
The deer laughed. "You look like you need it. How about you, darling?" she asked of Judy.
Judy went with her regular order, but wondered if she should have gotten something stronger. Nick certainly seemed to perk up on their walk to the station as a result of his double-fisted drinking; considering the amount of caffeine and sugar he drank it would be more surprising if he didn't. When they got to the station, Judy immediately noticed that they weren't the only ones who looked tired. Behind the main desk in the lobby Clawhauser looked as though he was losing a battle against sleep despite the valiant effort he had taken, if the empty soda bottles were any indicator. Still, he immediately took notice of their arrival. "Judy! Nick! I did it!" he said proudly as he waved them over, "It took all night, but here you go!"
With that, he handed over a thick report that actually looked very professional except for a brightly colored smudge on the first page from what appeared to be a crushed sprinkle. Judy felt a stab of guilt as she remembered that Nick had asked Clawhauser to put together a report of all of Holly Leaves's past roles and any mammals who might be holding a grudge. Nick had pretty obviously only requested it to get Clawhauser to release his death grip, but she had gone along with it. "Wow, Clawhauser," Nick said, "This looks great! This is going to be a big help. You've really gone above and beyond."
Clawhauser glowed at the praise, "Anything to help."
As they walked away, Nick started flipping through the report. "He actually was very thorough," Nick said, "We can... Oh, don't look at me like that."
"Like what?" Judy asked innocently, as though she hadn't been non-verbally guilt-tripping him.
"Like I just swindled Clawhauser out of his pension. I wasn't expecting him to go this far. Look, I'll get him something nice. Like doughnuts. Or Holly Leaves's autograph."
Judy smiled, "I'm sure he'll appreciate her autograph."
Nick shook his head in mock despair, "You're a terrible influence on me, you know that?"
Judy chuckled, but she was proud of how far Nick had come. It made her happy to see him care about the feelings of others, even if he was still cagey about expressing it honestly.
The morning meeting had gone as it usually did, but Bogo had something more for Nick and Judy than merely confirming the case they were on. "The mayor is holding a press conference this morning," he explained, "The two of you will be back here at 11 AM. No excuses. Is that clear?"
When they had responded in the affirmative, he replied, "Good. Be careful out there," and went back to his office without a backwards glance.
"You know, Carrots, I think Bogo is actually warming up to me," Nick said cheerily as they walked to their cruiser, "That almost sounded like concern back there."
"Then why don't we find out what he'll think of you if we solve this case?" Judy asked as she started the car.
"Oh, I fully intend to," Nick said, flipping his aviator shades down over his eyes as they drove off.
Roger Cony, the superintendent of the apartment building, was a rabbit who looked to be in his late fifties or early sixties, his brown fur liberally shot through with gray. He walked with a slight limp, but he otherwise appeared to be in excellent shape. He was dressed in a somewhat grimy looking tank top and paint-stained jeans. "A pleasure to meet you, Officer Hopps," he said warmly, "I'm a big fan. Really appreciate what you've done to show the world what bunnies can do."
Judy had gotten similar reactions plenty of times, but still found it awkward. Thankfully, the superintendent had spun to greet Nick as well without waiting for a response, so she didn't have to figure out what to say. "Are Holly and her boyfriend OK?" he asked once the round of introductions was done, "It's terrible what happened, just terrible."
"Holly's OK," Judy said, "And her boyfriend's still in the hospital."
"Terrible," Cony repeated, "I can't believe it happened."
"Then you can help us make sure that whoever did it doesn't get away with it," Nick said.
Judy took the lead from there, explaining that they wanted to view the footage from the cameras.
"Sure, sure. The security room's in the basement. We'll have to take the elevator, I'm afraid. I busted my ankle pretty bad skiing, hmm, eleven years ago now, and it still bothers me when it rains," Cony said.
As he spoke he pulled up on his left pant leg to show his ankle. There was a thick, twisted scar that overlapped with a perfectly straight and somewhat narrower surgical scar. "Taught me I was getting too old to be doing double black diamonds, though, so it's not a total waste!" he said with a laugh.
"Don't worry about it, the elevator's fine," Judy said, having no intention of forcing him to take the stairs.
It didn't take very long for the elevator to arrive once Cony hit the button to summon it. Once the three of them were inside, he hit the button labeled "B." "Can all of the residents access the basement?" Nick asked.
"Oh sure," Cony replied, "We've got storage down here for 'em. C'mon."
He waved them out of the elevator and into the basement. The basement was, like the building above it, L-shaped. The main area had been divided using chain-link fencing that rain from the floor to the ceiling to create a number of large storage units. Most of the cages were filled with cardboard boxes, and other odds and ends like bicycles and artificial Christmas trees. The area that the residents had access to wasn't as large as the entire building; at each of the ends of the L-shaped area were unlabeled doors. "We've got a furnace, water heater, and air-conditioner for each of the wings," Cony explained, "North wing that-a-way, and East wing this-a-way. The security room for the entire building is this way too."
He made his way towards what he had identified as the mechanical room for the East wing. "Is there anything on the side for the North wing that isn't on the side for the East wing?" Judy asked as they followed him, easily keeping up with the limping rabbit.
Cony shrugged. "An old staircase to ground level from when this building had a coal-fired furnace, but I don't even have the key for that door. Don't think anyone's opened it in years. Now let me show you the security room."
He unlocked the door with a key he pulled from the large ring of them at his waist, and led them through a space dominated by a furnace to a closet-sized room set off in one corner. There was nothing in the security room but a battered chair and a table with a computer on it. The computer connected to the cameras looked like it hadn't been state of the art twenty years ago, and the years that had passed since the cameras were installed had not been kind. It had a small CRT monitor connected to a boxy beige tower that had yellowed with age. Now that she had seen the computer itself, Judy was impressed that the technicians had been able to copy the data off of it even if they didn't have the ability to view the footage on their own systems. "There's three cameras on every floor, excepting the main floor, which has four, and the basement, which has just the one" the superintendent said, as he opened the viewing program.
The fans inside the computer wheezed into motion at an alarmingly high pitch, but Cony simply raised his voice and continued. "Each camera takes a picture every three seconds. The computer here keeps each picture for eight hours before recording over it."
Judy had been writing this all down. "Are they still recording?" she asked loudly to be heard over the ancient computer.
Cony nodded. "Ayuh. I switched cassettes, see?"
He indicated the computer tower. Looking at it more closely, Judy saw that it had two bays, each of which had been marked with a label. Age had made the labels start peeling, but the text was still perfectly clear; one indicated "WRITE ONLY" and the other "READ ONLY." Each bay had a large black plastic cassette in it. "We got three cassettes, so I rotate 'em every week, make sure they still work."
The third cassette was in a plastic container to the side of the computer. To Judy, it looked a bit like a VHS cassette, down to the magnetic tape that was visible through a clear window in the cassette. "So you never have more than twenty-four hours of footage?" Nick asked.
Cony shrugged. "Mr. Drove–he's the one who owned the building when I started working here, that was almost forty years ago, you know–went with the cheapest system that'd keep the insurance company happy. That was back in, oh, '94 he had the cameras put in. His son took over two years ago and is just as cheap, I'm afraid. Hope you won't tell him I said that though!"
Judy waved off his concern. "Of course we won't. When do you normally swap the cassettes out?"
"Saturdays," Cony replied.
That meant that the footage on the cassette in the "READ ONLY" bay of the computer was the only footage from the day of the crime. While they had been talking, the viewing program had finally loaded and the computer's fans had settled down to a low droning hum. "OK, lessee..." Cony muttered to himself, "Floor six, East wing, that'll be camera... eighteen."
He pulled up the footage of the camera feed. There was a time stamp at the bottom of the grainy image that showed it to be from 12:02 PM of the previous day. The camera was positioned above the window to the fire escape so that it had a view down to the end of the hall but not of the fire escape itself. The doors of Holly Leaves's apartment and the one opposite it were clearly visible. As Cony went through the footage at an accelerated clip, there wasn't much in the way of noticeable changes. Some of Holly's neighbors were caught on the tape coming and going, and Holly herself arrived back at her apartment at around a quarter to 6. At 6:18 PM, the criminal appeared in the footage, entering the frame from the side of the hallway closest to the camera. "Could you stop the playback?" Judy asked.
Cony complied, leaving the still image of the perpetrator on the screen. The image was black and white, which meant that what Holly had said about the color of the criminal's raincoat could not be confirmed. Otherwise, the details matched exactly; the mammal was wearing a large raincoat with the hood up that obscured the lines of their body and was holding a large bouquet of flowers. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that would help confirm species. The mammal was wearing dark, baggy pants, large boots, and gloves. There was simply no fur or skin visible, but the image wasn't totally useless. Judging from the height of the mammal compared to the height of the door, the criminal couldn't be any shorter than about two-and-a-half feet. From how baggy the raincoat was, it was possible that the criminal had hunched over to disguise their true height, but even then Judy didn't think that they could be more than about four-and-a-half feet tall. There was a huge range of mammals living in the city between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half feet tall, but it was a start. All they had to do, Judy thought, was to keep eliminating possibilities until they were down to one. "Start the playback again, please," Judy said.
The events that transpired in the low frame rate video continued to match Holly's testimony. The mammal in the raincoat knocked on the door to Holly's apartment, and when the door opened a crack, the mammal jammed their bouquet into the door and shortly after pushed the door open. The camera couldn't capture what had gone on in the apartment, but at 6:21 PM, per the time stamp, Jacques Lapin entered the frame from the other end of the hallway as he exited the stairwell. When he got to the open apartment door Jacques had entered, and at 6:22 PM the mammal in the raincoat left and hurried back down the hallway to the same side he had entered from.
As the playback continued, nothing of any particular interest happened. The first responders and paramedics arrived at 6:43 PM and carried Jacques out of the apartment on a stretcher, and the police moved around until the video abruptly stopped at 7:16 PM. "That's when I pulled the cassette," Cony explained.
"How are the cameras laid out on the first floor?" Nick asked, "Why are there four instead of three?"
"There are cameras at the end of each hall, like all the other floors, and one with a view of the elevator and stairs. The last camera is for the emergency exit," Cony said.
Judy recalled that when they had first arrived at the apartment complex the previous night, they had seen the ground level emergency exit at the back of the building. All of the other floors just had the fire escapes at the ends of the halls.
"Could you show us the feed from the lobby?" Nick asked.
Cony pulled it up, and went through the footage. Unlike the camera from the sixth floor hallway, the camera in the lobby had a fish eye lens that captured the entire room in somewhat distorted form. From where the camera was positioned above the main entrance, however, it couldn't capture what was directly outside the building. Jacques Lapin entered the lobby's vestibule and used the intercom at 6:16 PM. Struggling slightly with his own enormous bouquet of flowers, he had entered the main lobby and went through the door to the stairwell. Judy frowned thoughtfully and looked at her notes. There had only been about a two minute gap between when Holly had buzzed Jacques into the building, and would consequently be expecting a visitor with flowers, and when the criminal had entered the sixth floor through the fire exit. "Thanks, Mr. Cony." Judy said, "We might be back in a bit, but there's something that I want to check out first."
The older rabbit shrugged. "Sure, suit yourself. Just give me a call if you need to get back in."
Once they were outside and at the side of the building with the fire escape, Judy turned to Nick. "I want you to time how long it takes me to get to the sixth floor, OK?"
Nick nodded and pulled out his phone. "Ready whenever you are," he said as he pulled up the stopwatch app.
"I'm ready," Judy said.
"Go!" Nick shouted as he started the timer.
Judy leaped from the street to the ladder to the second floor fire escape, and rapidly pulled herself up. She continued climbing up the fire escapes as quickly as she could until she reached the sixth floor. Once there, she yelled down at Nick, "Did you get it?"
He nodded and gave her the thumbs up. Once she was back down to ground level, Nick showed her the screen of the phone. "Not bad at all, Carrots. Forty-eight seconds."
"I looked around from the top. About the only way you'd be able to see the main entrance from the fire escape is if you were a giraffe," Judy said, thinking out loud, "They must have come from the street level."
"Whatever mammal that was on the video, it definitely wasn't a giraffe," Nick replied, "And I see where you're going with this. How did they know that Holly had buzzed her boyfriend up?"
"Right?" Judy said excitedly, "Look! You can only see into the lobby if you're standing right in front of the main entrance!"
It was true. The front door was glass reinforced with vertical metal bars, but there were no other windows into the lobby on the exterior of the building. The distance between the front door and the door out of the vestibule was such that there was a very narrow viewing angle for seeing if somebody entered the lobby itself. "You think one of the buildings across the street has a camera that looks at the front of this one?" Nick asked, stepping away from the apartment building to survey the businesses across the street from the curb.
He turned in place, taking in the various businesses that might have a view of it. "Maybe," Judy said distractedly, turning back to the building to imagine how it had gone.
She imagined the criminal watching the main entrance, maybe standing near the entrance to the building or from across the street. Maybe they were already wearing the raincoat, or maybe they had stashed it on the sixth floor fire escape. Once they saw Jacques get buzzed in, they would have had to hurry. Judy was in excellent shape and a good climber, and it had taken her nearly a minute to go from ground level to the sixth floor using the fire escape. The criminal would have had to have made it from where they had been watching to the base of the fire escape, made the climb, and then broken in. To do all of that in about two minutes was very fast. As she thinking about the crime, she wasn't paying any real attention to the sound of a car accelerating past on the street until she heard an enormous splash of water and a yelp of surprise.
She quickly spun around to see that Nick had apparently been splashed by a car driving through one of the puddles near the curb. His uniform was soaked through, and the normally cream colored patch of fur from the bottom of his muzzle to the collar of his shirt was stained a light brown. Droplets of the dirty water dripped from his body in an undignified manner, and his tail, usually incredibly fluffy looking, had lost most of its volume as the wet fur clung to his skin. "Nick," Judy gasped, "They did that on purpose! Did you catch the plate? Can you describe the-"
Nick cut her off with an airy wave of his paw. "It's my fault, Carrots. I know better than to stand next to the curb after it rains. See, this is why I need my sleep," he said lightly, brushing off her concern and giving every outward appearance that it didn't bother him at all.
Judy knew better than to believe that it didn't affect him, and wasn't about to let it slide. "I heard them speeding up, Nick! It's not your fault."
"I didn't see the car, so there's nothing we can do anyway. Besides, it's not like driving through a puddle is a crime, either. Just let it go, OK?"
"Please, Judy. It's not worth it."
His use of her actual name tripped her up. Even though they had known each other for months, he called her by name very rarely, and only when he was being serious. She sighed. "Alright, fine. But Nick, you're soaked. Come on, let's get back to the station so you can change."
"My place is closer than the station," Nick said, "It'll be faster and my shower is better."
"Are you sure?" Judy asked, blinking in surprise.
She had never seen his place before, and she couldn't deny to herself that she was curious. "Positive," he said as he retrieved a blanket from the trunk of the police car and did his best to dry off.
"I'll even let you drive," Nick said as he put the blanket over the passenger seat of the car to keep it dry, "Come on, I'll navigate."
The drive from the crime scene to the building that Nick lived in was fairly short, with Nick calling off directions as Judy drove. As always, he was able to do so without any kind of navigational aide; his knowledge of Zootopia's streets probably rivaled those of its best taxi drivers. During the drive, he got a call on his cell phone and continued to provide guidance by indicating the turns with his free paw. From the half of the conversation that Judy could hear, he seemed to be talking with someone at the office of Holly's agent. "That was Thanatopsis's secretary," he said, confirming her guess after he hung up, "They've put together all of the threats Leaps has gotten."
"We can head there after your shower," Judy said.
She had no intention of teasing him about it, but the distinctive and somewhat unpleasant scent of wet canid had begun to fill the car and she was eager for him to clean up and dry off.
In short order, he guided Judy to park in front of a modest twelve-story building in a neighborhood that Judy vaguely knew as being modest and thoroughly middle-class. The slightly tattered awning above the main entrance to the building read "Greenbriar Condominiums" in faded gold letters on a green background.
Nick started to get out of the car and paused with his paws on the door. "Are you coming up, or should I leave the windows cracked open?" he teased good-naturedly.
"If you don't mind," she replied, and when he beckoned her on she quickly followed him into the building and up to his floor.
Judy had occasionally imagined the sort of place that Nick would live in. His closed-off nature made it difficult to narrow it down to a single option, but she had pictured either a squalid bachelor pad that would reflect the same sort of tastes that led to him wearing those awful shirts or some sort of ultramodern glass and chrome domicile that he would have dumped his significant un-taxed income into.
The reality did not match up to either image she had had in her head. Her immediate thought was that it looked like Nick had only just started to move in or was almost done moving out. The main area, a combination living room and kitchen, was larger than her entire apartment, but almost completely empty. There was nothing on the neutral white walls, and the somewhat scuffed wooden floors were almost as bare. With the exception of two large cardboard boxes, the space was completely empty, with not so much as a rug or a single piece of furniture. In fact, the only furniture of any kind that she could see was through the open door to one of the two bedrooms off the main area, and that was a mattress laying directly on the floor. The overall effect was pretty depressing; even a hotel room, with its purposefully unoffensive and bland designed by committee decor, would have looked more like a home. Nick's condo looked like nothing more than a place to sleep. Still, she tried to come up with something positive to say. "Your place is really nice," Judy said, hoping that Nick wouldn't catch onto her insincerity and think that she was pitying him.
Nick chuckled. "You don't have to lie, Carrots. It's a work in progress. I kind of overestimated how much money I'd have left after I bought it; let's just say that Mr. Big did not give me the friends and family discount."
Judy racked her brain for an alternate way to interpret what Nick had just said, but came up blank. "You had Mr. Big launder your money?" Judy demanded, her voice coming out louder and shriller than she intended.
"Money laundering is illegal, Officer Hopps," Nick said with mock formality, "I just so happened to win an amount of money at one of his casinos equal to forty percent of what I could have hypothetically earned over the course of twenty years of hustling. And then I paid tax on my gambling winnings. And once I bought this place, I paid tax on it too. There's a lot of taxes, you know."
"I did it all before I joined the academy, so you don't have to worry. Besides, I think Mr. Big likes me better now that he's got one over me."
"And what are you going to do if Mr. Big tries blackmailing you for a favor now?" Judy asked, finding herself somewhat appalled by Nick's lack of foresight.
"What are you going to do if Mr. Big tries calling in a favor? He might think we owe him one for Duke Weaselton."
Judy's retort died on her lips. Neither she nor Nick had been officers when they had Mr. Big use his goons to force information out of Duke Weaselton in a manner that was at best extralegal, and at worst a felony. However, since they were both currently officers, it was the sort of thing that Mr. Big could try to take advantage of. He probably wouldn't–she didn't think that Fru Fru would stand for it–but the thought had occasionally pulled at her.
Nick seemed to understand her silence. "Look," he said with a sigh, "There's a lot in my past. And I'm trying, I really am, but there's plenty more I've done before I became a cop."
"I guess I have, too," Judy said, offering the other half to the unspoken apology.
Before the ensuing silence could get awkward, Nick clapped his paws together. "Well, I'm going to hit the shower, so feel free to make yourself at home. Grab something out of the fridge, kick back on the couch, watch some TV..."
Judy chuckled politely at his weak joke. Nick's condo didn't have a couch or a TV, which made a connection click for Judy. "Did you really not watch Black and White because you're not interested or was it because you don't have a TV?" she called after Nick, who had already entered the bathroom and shut the door.
"Can't it be both?" he called back, which was followed by the sound of running water.
Judy considered poking around Nick's condo, but it wasn't as though there was really much to see. She considered her curiosity satisfied when she peeked into the cardboard boxes in his living room; they were full of shirts identical to the one he had worn when they had first met. Judy shook her head at her discovery, wondering if he had obtained them in his hustling days as part of some kind of con or if he actually liked the shirts enough to buy them in bulk. If it was the former, she understood why he still had them; it didn't seem likely that anyone else would want them.
While she was waiting for her partner to finish showering, Judy pulled out Clawhauser's report on Holly Leaps. She sat on the floor in the kitchen and began reading. The straightforward and dry professional language made it seem incongruous that the cheetah had written it, but she knew as well as anyone not to judge based on outside appearances. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be much in the dossier that Judy hadn't gleaned from her initial interview with the actress.
Leaps was twenty-seven years old, a Zootopia native that had gotten into acting at the age of eight, playing the ghost of a kit murdered by a wicked stepmother in a convoluted soap opera that Judy recognized as one her grandmother had been a fan of. Her subsequent roles had been a series of parts in other soap operas that progressively increased in importance until she was just short of playing a main character. She seemed to have had a future in the soaps, but had jumped (or, Judy thought wryly, leaped) at the chance to be the co-star of a network television show. Leaps had begun dating her boyfriend, Jacques Lapin, also known as Jacked Rabbit, three years ago. Apparently, he had been her fitness coach at the gym. Then Judy came across something that struck her as odd as she flipped through pages of photos from throughout Holly's career. Prior to her acting roles, she had been a kit model and a regular on the pageant circuit with a history of winning. In each of the photos of a pageant win, Holly's mother, a somewhat rotund brown bunny, was at her side, her kit firmly enveloped in a tight hug. Even after Leaps moved into acting, the mother seemed to always be close by, until she suddenly stopped showing up in the photos. Judy frowned and nibbled at her pen as she scanned through the file again. Holly hadn't mentioned anything about her parents, and there was no indication that they were deceased.
Still, it struck her as unusual that the mother, who seemed to be a textbook stage mother, suddenly stopped appearing in photos at right around the same time Holly had started dating her boyfriend. The absence of evidence was not, of course, evidence of absence, but there was no mention in the file of any previous boyfriend. Perhaps Holly had cut a controlling mother out of her life once she started dating, or perhaps Jacques Lapin wasn't the perfect mammal that Holly had described and had taken over control of her life. Both possibilities were definitely worth looking into.
Judy's concentration was suddenly broken by the sound of Nick knocking on the inside of the bathroom door. "Avert your eyes, Fluff. I'm not decent," he said, his voice slightly muffled by the door that separated them.
Judy was sure that Nick had deliberately given her that opening, but she couldn't resist taking it. She turned away so that her back was to the bathroom door and called back, "I've known that for a long time."
She was rewarded with his laugh as she heard the door swing open. "A low blow, Carrots. Keep your back turned; I'm not responsible if you see something your little bunny heart can't take."
A thought suddenly popped into Judy's head, completely unbidden. Would he be embarrassed if I saw him naked? She felt her ears grow warm as she shook the resulting image out of her head. Nick had certainly seemed comfortable enough at the Naturalist Club, but that had been before they really got to know each other, and it wasn't as though he had been nude.
She heard him walk into the bedroom and the rustle of cloth as he got dressed. "I see you reading that file. Find anything interesting?" he asked.
Still with her back turned to him, she nodded. "Maybe. I think we need to look into her mother."
"Her mother?" Nick asked, walking over to where she was sitting and stooping down to look at the papers Judy had spread across his floor.
"Look at the photos," Judy said, "She's in every picture of Holly as a kit and even when she's older she's never far away, but as soon as she started dating her boyfriend..."
"The mother's out of the picture," Nick said thoughtfully.
Judy rolled her eyes at his weak pun. "Worth looking into, wouldn't you say?"
"It's about 9:30 now," Nick said, glancing at his phone, "Why don't we go get copies of the threats from Thanatopsis and then check out the mother after the press conference?"
The office of Marty Thanatopsis was significantly lacking in glamour. It was in a rather impressive skyscraper, but was squeezed into a corner of the third floor, which it shared with an advertising agency and a market research firm. The tiny waiting room was somewhat shabby; the veneer was starting to peel off the furniture and the plants were both obviously plastic and somehow wilted looking. Behind the reception desk, a frazzled looking capybara was juggling calls on what seemed like a dozen different lines. From what Judy could overhear, the callers were mostly current clients, reporters, and potential clients whose interest had been piqued by the attempted murder of Holly Leaves. Despite the calls, however, the waiting room was completely empty. When the receptionist caught sight of Nick and Judy he appeared noticeably relieved, and quickly put his current call on hold. Apparently going solely off the fact that they were in uniform, he jammed a file into Nick's arms and quickly spoke before they had the chance to introduce themselves. "These are the copies you wanted and Mr. Thanatopsis isn't in so please leave if there's nothing else you want."
Judy opened and quickly shut her mouth, thrown off by the brusque behavior. "No, this is all we need," Nick replied, flipping open the folder and looking at the contents.
The capybara immediately took a call off hold and started speaking again, in a far more polite tone than the one he had used with them.
"Come on, Carrots," Nick said, "We can't be late for that press conference, can we?"
The press conference was set up in the exact same spot of the police station that the one Judy had spoken at months ago had been in. For this conference, however, the podium was significantly lower, and a number of chairs had been set up behind it stadium style in rising rows. A weasel that Judy assumed was the mayor's campaign manager or press secretary or whatever the proper term was had very simple instructions for her and Nick. "Sit there, don't say anything, and clap at the end."
Judy thought that they could manage that. Nick and her, as the shortest officers, were seated in the first row, and officers from other precincts–notably Grévy and LaMerk–filled the other seats. Unsurprisingly, the zebra made no attempt at small talk with Judy or Nick, pointedly engaging her partner in quiet conversation as they waited for the mayor to show and the camera crews to finish setting up. When Pablo Escurel arrived, the mayor looked pretty much the same as he appeared on TV. He was a short squirrel, and in his youth had probably been about the same shade of red-orange as Nick. Age had dulled his coat and filled it with gray flecks; his muzzle was almost entirely white.
Unfortunately, what the snippets on TV and the articles in the newspapers hadn't been able to convey was the true sense of just how boring he could be. Judy normally found it somewhat difficult to wait through something, and her tiredness from the morning was starting to catch up with her as the caffeine wore off. Add to it that Escurel's voice had a positively soporific effect and she was desperately trying to avoid fidgeting or yawning on television. She snuck a glance to her side at her partner to see how he was holding up. Nick's posture was ramrod straight and he had his paws on his thighs. Judy noticed that he had dug his claws into his legs and felt a brief stab of jealousy. Her own nails were far too dull to do that, and she had no doubt that the pain he was inflicting on himself was an effective way of staying awake. Judy resisted the urge to sigh, as throughout her observations Escurel had continued to drone on. After what felt like hours, the mayor finally wrapped up, "...So I am very pleased to announce this expansion of funding for new equipment and additional officers to allow our police to be more effective in fighting crime."
There was a brief moment of silence before everyone realized that he was actually done talking, and Judy clapped about as enthusiastically as he could. The mayor took no questions and quickly left, and Judy was eager to follow his lead.
Nick and Judy had been forced to park their car a few blocks from the residence listed for Holly Leaves's mother, Hyacinth Leaps. The bunny who answered the door of the modest brownstone was not Holly's mother–she was far too young for that–but she was definitely related. Judy doubted that anyone who wasn't a bunny would have spotted the similarities in the shape of their ears and noses, but to her the resemblance was obvious. The bunny before her was clearly Holly's sister, and it was just as clear which one was the more attractive of the two. Holly would have been beautiful even if she had shared the same drab brown coloration of her sister, but her albinism pushed her beauty into the exotic. Her sister was ugly only by comparison with her sister the actress; she was plain and tired-looking, a brown bunny with brown eyes, prominent buckteeth, and a figure that was significantly thicker and less curvy. "ZPD," Judy said, "Is this the residence of Hyacinth Leaps?"
The doe stared at Judy and Nick for a second before the question seemed to register. "Oh, yes," she said in a low voice not much above a whisper, "My mother and I live here. I'm Heather."
"Nice to meet you, Heather," Judy said, "I'm Judy Hopps and this is my partner Nick Wilde. Would it be alright if we come in and ask some questions about your sister?"
"Of course," Heather replied, just as quietly as the first time she spoke, but she made no motion to leave the doorway.
Heather's paws worked nervously. "Just, well, the thing is, uh, you'll have to wear these."
For a brief moment, the absurd thought popped into Judy's head that Heather wanted them to muzzle themselves, but she realized that the objects Heather was offering them were surgical masks. "My mother's very sick," Heather said apologetically, "The doctor says even a cold could, well, you know..."
Heather didn't need to finish the thought. "Of course," Nick said, grabbing one of the offered masks and donning it with an ease that was seemingly practiced.
Judy followed suit, putting on the proffered mask. Heather put on one of her own, and led them into the townhouse. "Her room's upstairs," Heather said, and led the way.
As Judy and Nick followed, Judy couldn't help but notice that the main living area they were in was a shrine to Holly. Actually, calling it a shrine was selling it significantly short. It was more like a temple, or perhaps a cathedral; seemingly every inch of the walls was covered in framed pictures or clippings from magazines and newspapers about Holly. The faded floral wallpaper was barely visible behind the assorted tributes, and a framed copy of TV Weekly displaying Holly and her wolf partner from Black and White prominently on the cover was positioned dead center on the mantle of the fireplace like an altar. Judy also couldn't help but notice that, while many of the pictures also had Holly's mother in them, there wasn't a single one that showed Heather or the deceased Mr. Leaps.
After a short climb up a narrow staircase (made narrower by a chairlift that ran along the wall) with a lintel so low that Nick had to duck to avoid hitting his head, Heather brought them into the master bedroom. The bunny lying in the bed was almost entirely unrecognizable from the pictures that Judy had seen downstairs and in the file that Clawhauser had put together. The bunny from the photos had been short and plump in the way typical for a doe after a few kits and years of motherhood, with well-coiffed brown fur and lively blue eyes. By contrast, the bunny in the bed had no fur whatsoever, which only emphasized the amount of weight she had lost. She was rail-thin, and her skin had an unhealthy yellowish tinge and seemed stretched over her bones. Her dull eyes were equally jaundiced and were sunk deep in her skull. The bedside table was almost completely covered with orange prescription pill bottles, and the air in the room had a nauseating combination of the smell of an astringent antiseptic and something like rotting garbage.
Judy only needed one look at Hyacinth Leaves to realize she had probably found the reason why the doe had stopped showing up in pictures of her daughter. Hyacinth looked like she was on death's doorstep, and certainly not in any shape to leave her townhouse without quite a bit of help. "Mom?" Heather asked softly, "There's two officers here to see you."
Hyacinth stirred and fixed Judy with a weak gaze. "You're Judy Hopps," she croaked.
It wasn't a question. "Yes I am, Mrs. Leaps. Now-"
"Leaves," Hyacinth interrupted grumpily, "I'm Hyacinth Leaves."
Judy made a mental note that Hyacinth was using the same last name that her daughter had adopted as part of her public persona, which only fed into her theory that Hyacinth had been an overbearing stage mother when she had been well enough to do so. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Leaves. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions about Holly."
Mrs. Leaves brightened somewhat at that. "She's really something, isn't she? I always knew she'd be a star, didn't I Heather?"
"Yes, Mom," Heather replied.
"And I'm the one who made it happen, no matter what Mr. Thanatopsis says. He's lucky I chose him. Why–"
Judy had the feeling that this was a topic that Hyacinth Leaves could, and probably would, discuss endlessly given half a chance, so she quickly jumped in.
"Do you have any idea who might have wanted to hurt her?"
Hyacinth sniffed. "Of course I do," she said, and Judy briefly allowed herself to get her hopes up.
"It's that awful bunny she's been dating. He's not good for her, you know. That Jacques has the most terrible little friends he pals around with, isn't that right Heather?"
"Yes, Mom," Heather replied mechanically.
"You wouldn't believe the kind of clients he has! And he's so rude! With that ridiculous name, too–what kind of self-respecting bunny calls himself Jacked Rabbit, hm?"
Mrs. Leaves was working herself into a frenzy, but her rant was cut short when she started coughing. It sounded horrible, both wet and raspy. "You've got to take it easy, Mom," Heather said, handing her mother a tissue and sounding more firm than she had at any previous point, "Remember what the doctor said?"
Hyacinth waved irritably, "Fine, fine. But mark my words: you dig into that bunny's past and you're going to find something. I guarantee it."
With that, she sunk back into her bed, her energy seemingly tapped. It also allowed Judy to catch a glimpse of the lone framed picture on the bedside table that was otherwise covered with pill bottles. It looked like a studio family portrait, with five bunnies stiffly posed in front of a gradient that approximately replicated the sky. One of the bunnies was a young buck who was presumably Mr. Leaves. Three of them were recognizably Hyacinth, Heather, and Holly, although they were significantly younger. Heather and Holly didn't look like either could be older than five or six, placing the photo a good twenty or so years in the past. The last rabbit was another kit, who looked somewhat older than his siblings and significantly displeased with the fancy clothes he was wearing.
"I think we should stop here," Heather said gently but firmly.
"Absolutely," said Judy, "And we do intend to look into Jacques's past."
Heather led Nick and Judy down the stairs and out onto the front steps of the townhouse. "I'm really sorry about that," Heather said, sounding embarrassed, "But she's never liked Jacques, even though he's never been anything but sweet."
"We're not ruling anything out yet," Judy said, "But could you think of anyone who might want to hurt your sister?"
"No, I'm afraid not," Heather said, "She was always so popular. Everyone really did love her."
"Do you see her or your brother very often?" Judy asked.
She was fairly confident that the third kit in the photo on Mrs. Leaves's bedside table was the brother of Heather and Holly, and Heather's answer confirmed it. "Hyperion?" Heather asked, seeming surprised at the question, "I haven't seen him since he was eighteen. I see Holly at least once a week. She's been awfully busy ever since she started filming Black and White, but she still makes the time."
"What happened when your brother was eighteen?" Judy asked, her notebook at the ready.
Heather shrugged, "He just left, that's all. He said he wanted to take his own path."
Judy was deeply skeptical of this being precisely true. It was very easy to imagine that Heather and Hyperion had been marginalized by their mother, who seemed to focus all of her attention on her daughter Holly. She could just as easily imagine a strong-willed buck getting tired of the treatment and leaving rather than choosing to go it alone for no particular reason, just like she could imagine the ignored daughter resenting her popular sister. Of course, that opened up another line of questioning.
"Are you your mother's sole caretaker?" Judy asked.
Heather nodded. "I quit my job to take care of her. She's got so many appointments, you know. I had to take her in for her dialysis last night, and her chemo is this afternoon."
Judy figured that Heather knew where she was going with her questions and was preemptively providing an alibi before Judy could directly ask. "Could I have the names of her doctors and where she goes for treatment?"
"Sure, hold on," Heather said, and fumbled through her overlarge purse.
She pulled out an index card that had the names of doctors and clinics on the front and medication names and dosages on the back. "I keep a few copies of this, just in case," Heather said, "So you can have this one."
"This is good planning," Judy said, looking at the card admiringly.
Heather smiled for the first time. "I'm a nurse," she said simply, "That's all."
"Well, that was some pretty productive police work, wouldn't you say?" Judy asked Nick as they walked back to their squad car, "And I know they're bunnies but you didn't have to let me do all the talking..."
Judy trailed off as she realized that Nick had been abnormally quiet from the time they had entered the townhouse. Looking at him now, he seemed unusually down. His ears and tail were drooping, and he had a faraway look on his face. "Nick, what's wrong?"
With perceptible effort, he stood up straighter and his normal, easy half-grin slid onto his face. "It's nothing, Carrots. Just figured I'd let you take care of the bunnies," he said, flipping the legs of his sunglasses out and putting them on.
Judy was not fooled. Even hiding his eyes couldn't conceal from her that he was wearing his normal expression like a mask. "If you don't want to talk about it, we don't have to talk about it," she said gently, "But don't lie to me."
Nick sighed, and Judy could briefly see a flicker of the pain on his face before he brought it back under control. "It's just... that smell. I could smell it from the instant we walked in."
Judy stayed silent, figuring that he would continue. Eventually he did, his words blandly steady. "It's the same way my dad smelled, at the end. Pancreatic cancer, you know. It was like he rotted from the inside out."
It was the first time that Judy could remember Nick saying anything about his father. "His fur all fell out too," Nick continued, leaning against the cruiser in a horrible imitation of casualness, "He looked almost exactly like she does now. That's funny, isn't it? Cancer, the great equalizer."
His bitter chuckle had no humor in it, and Judy felt her heart open to him again. Without really even thinking about what she was doing, Judy walked over and squeezed him into a hug. He went quickly rigid at first, but then folded his arms around her and squeezed back. They stood there for a long minute before Nick disengaged. "Why, Officer Hopps, what was that for?" he asked, his voice thick but with some of its usual teasing note.
"You sounded like you needed it," Judy said, trying to hold back tears of her own.
"Thanks," Nick said, his voice still thick.
He cleared his throat, "Come on, we have work to do."
The silence in the squad car was quickly becoming awkward. It was the problem with big, emotional moments, Nick mused. They weren't really over even when they ended, not until there was enough time to move past it. The car itself was not helping; in typical bureaucratic fashion, despite the fact that the car itself was practically brand new, the mobile data terminal in it had been salvaged out of the car's predecessor and was badly out of date. The simple act of pulling up the results of a query for Hyperion Leaps' address seemed like it was taking an eternity, leaving him with plenty of time to reflect on their visit to Hyacinth Leaves and what had happened afterwards.
It was obvious to him–and almost certainly equally obvious to Judy–that he had not been paying as close attention as he should have while they were in the townhouse. He had completely missed whatever piece of evidence it was that had clued Judy into the existence of another sibling of Holly, and that was worrying. He didn't expect to catch every single detail that Judy did; part of the strength of their partnership was that each had an eye for details that the other did not. What he did expect of himself, though, was that while they were on duty he would do his best, and he had completely failed at that.
The smell of impending death had brought back too many memories, none of them pleasant. He found it difficult to articulate, even within his own mind, how he felt about showing Judy another one of the vulnerable facets of his life. Equally difficult to sort out was how he felt about her hug. "You know," Judy said suddenly, mercifully breaking the silence, "Maybe you need to do some more research."
"What kind of research?" Nick asked, grateful that she had broken the silence.
"I've got a feeling that Holly's show might be important to why someone attacked her."
"That's what your gut's telling you, is it?" Nick asked.
"Yes, and you've never even watched it. Something about not wanting to waste your precious free time?"
"That does sound like something I'd say," Nick replied in a mock thoughtful tone.
"Well, I think you need to waste some of that precious free time. Why don't you head over to my place after our shifts end so we can watch the first few episodes?"
"Working off the clock?" Nick asked, an eyebrow raised archly, "Why are we going to risk getting in trouble with Mammal Resources and the Police Union?"
He said it teasingly, but he appreciated the unspoken support she was offering by inviting him over.
"Because if my gut is wrong, I don't think Bogo is going to buy that watching a TV show on duty is the best use of our time."
Nick snorted at that. He could only imagine how the chief would react if he caught them watching episode after episode of a police drama on the clock; it would probably make the time Bogo had focused his anger on Clawhauser for neglecting his duties to post on a Gazelle fan forum look like a gentle admonishment. Actually, finding out how the chief reacted to him explaining how watching TV was vital to a case would have almost been worth trying it on the job if they weren't focused on trying to solve the case as quickly as possible. "I suppose I could clear my schedule if you think it's that important," he said, glad that they were able to get back to their usual banter, although he didn't believe for a second that Judy was dropping what he had told her about his past.
He wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that, either, but was able to push those thoughts down for later evaluation when the data terminal between the two front seats on the cruiser finally beeped to indicate that it had successfully found the address of Hyperion Leaps. The address listed was one that Nick recognized as belonging to an upscale neighborhood in Zootopia's midtown. "We've got an address for Hyperion Leaps," Nick said, "Let's pay him a visit."
Judy knocked on the door of the apartment. "Mr. Leaps? ZPD, we have some questions for you."
When Hyperion Leaps opened the door, he was easily recognizable from the picture that Judy had seen at Hyacinth's bedside. Despite the twenty or so years that had passed since the photo was taken, the distinctive brown blotches on his white fur made it obvious that it was the same bunny. He was dressed far more casually than he had been in the family portrait in a pair of jeans and a white polo that emphasized his lithe and athletic build. "I figured I'd be seeing you," he sighed, "Come in."
Hyperion's apartment, amusingly enough, closely resembled one of the options Judy had imagined for Nick's place. It had a very modern appearance, with glass and chrome furnishings. It was scrupulously clean; there wasn't so much as a smudge on any of the many pieces of glass that made up the dramatic floor to ceiling windows or the furniture, and there was nothing in the way of clutter. Besides an abstract rendering of what could have been the sun over a field, the only items on the walls were a number of plaques celebrating sales milestones and one for participating in community theater. Hyperion ushered them to his kitchen table and after they introduced themselves he offered them something to drink. Judy didn't think it was a particularly good idea to accept something from a mammal suspected of murder and turned it down. "No thanks, Mr. Leaps."
"Please, call me Hy," he said, taking a seat.
"You said you expected us?" Nick asked casually.
"Well, not necessarily the two of you, exactly, but I'm right, aren't I? You spoke with my sisters and my mother, didn't you?"
Hy, to Judy's eye, did not appear worried that he had been caught; his anxiety seemed more along the lines of worrying that he wouldn't be believed. Of course, it was also possible that acting ran in the family. "We did."
Hy Leaps didn't have an immediate response to that, and the silence dragged on until he blurted, "I haven't seen them since I moved out. But my mother thinks I attacked Holly, doesn't she?"
Hyacinth and Holly hadn't mentioned him at all, and Heather had only talked about him after being prompted. To Judy, it meant that he was probably telling the truth about them not seeing him for a couple decades, but just because he didn't spring to mind as a suspect to them didn't mean he was innocent.
"Actually, she doesn't," Nick said, "But it's not what your family thinks that you should be worried about."
Nick's tone continued to be light, but Hyperion caught onto his obvious meaning and swallowed nervously. "And you haven't seen them at all in the past twenty years? You live pretty close to them, you know."
It was true that Hy's apartment was less than two miles from both Holly's apartment and the townhouse that Hyacinth and Heather lived in. "Well, now I do, sure," Hyperion said, "But I just moved back to the city about four months ago."
"You're from the country, right?" Hyperion suddenly asked Judy.
If Nick was going to play the bad cop, Judy was willing to be the good cop and play along for the time being. "Yes, from Bunny Burrow," she replied.
"So you probably have dozens of siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles, right?"
Judy wasn't sure where he was going with his questions, but she didn't see any harm in continuing to answer. "Yes," she said, not mentioning that between her siblings, cousins, and her parent's siblings it was well into the hundreds.
"My family's lived in the city for generations," Hyperion said, "And in the city, you can't afford that many kits, not if you want to be able to pay rent. Maybe it would have been harder to tell that Holly was the favorite if there had been more of us.
"Nothing Heather or I did mattered. Heather got perfect grades, but all that meant was that she had to tutor Holly to make sure Holly passed her tests. Heather was the one who got punished when Holly didn't. Mom pushed me into acting too, but once Holly got cast in that first soap opera, suddenly there wasn't time for me anymore.
"When the agent she found for Holly suggested that Holly change her last name to make it more memorable, Mom said that we were all going to change our last names too. I told her there was no way I was going to do it," he said, smiling faintly at the memory, "It was just after Dad died, and it was like it was the last piece of him, you know? I think that was about the first time I ever really stood up to her. It only got worse from there, though. Everything became a fight, and it didn't matter how much Heather tried to play peacemaker. So when I turned eighteen, I told my mother that I was done dealing with her and left the city and got a job on a farm in Deerset. Eventually I started my own greengrocer's store, and I started franchising it through the suburbs. We're opening one in the city now, so I moved here to set it up."
"That explains why you don't talk to your mother. What about your sisters?" asked Nick.
Hyperion fidgeted before responding, his ears drooping. "Before I left, I was..." he trailed off, apparently trying to find the right word, "Cruel. I told Heather that she was deluding herself, that Mom would never love her the way she loved Holly, no matter what she did. And I told Holly that if she had any decency she never would have let Mom treat Heather and I the way she did."
He frowned, "Just not nearly as politely as that. But when I moved back to Zootopia, you known what I realized?"
That question was apparently rhetorical. "If I stayed angry and unhappy, that was letting her win. That just because she ruined her relationship with me, it didn't have to ruin my relationship with my sisters.
"So when I moved back to Zootopia, I wrote them both letters. Apologized for being an angry idiot."
Hyperion sighed. "I never heard back from either one of them. I understand why, of course. But if there's anything I can do to help you figure out who attacked my sister, please just ask."
He handed over his business card. It read, "Hy Leaps, Founder and President, Green Gable Grocers," with his contact information on the front. The back of the card had the addresses and phone numbers of what were presumably all five of his stores, including the one being opened in Zootopia.
"Were you at your new store last night?" Judy asked.
"Yes, I spent the entire day there with one of the contractors to get the POS set up. I didn't leave until about a quarter to midnight."
When he saw the unspoken question written on Judy's face he hastily clarified the initialism, "Point of Sale. It's what we call the registers, not, you know..."
"We'll need to confirm that," Judy said, "Do you have the contact information for the contractor?"
"Sure, just give me a second," he said, pulling out a bulging wallet and rifling through a number of business cards.
He finally pulled one out and handed it over. "Feel free to stop by the store, too. They'll be doing the shelving and flooring over the next couple days."
Until they had the chance to check his story, it didn't seem as though there was anything more that Hy could tell them. For the moment, though, Judy didn't think that he was involved.
As she and Nick went to leave, Judy paused and turned back to face Hyperion. "Look," Judy said, "We don't know what it was like, growing up with your mother, or whether you need to forgive her. But I think you should know that the only photo your mother has in her room is of your entire family. All five of you."
He seemed surprised at that, and his mouth worked soundlessly. "Just something to think about," Judy said, and pulled the door shut behind her.
"You didn't tell him that his mother is dying," Nick observed as they walked back to the car.
"It's not my place to try guilt tripping him into making peace with her, you know?"
"And telling him about the picture wasn't a guilt trip?"
Judy hesitated. Nick sounded genuinely curious, like he was interested in her reasoning.
"That's different," she said finally, "Maybe she's got that picture because she regrets what she did. Maybe she keeps it because she was happy then, even if the rest of her family wasn't. If Hy goes to her to find out why, it's not the same as going to her because she's dying."
Nick seemed to consider it for a moment, and he nodded thoughtfully. "You're probably used to all kinds of family drama, aren't you?"
"Nothing like the Leaves–"
"Leaps," Nick interjected, a finger raised.
Judy rolled her eyes. "Nothing like the Leaps, but there were always little squabbles. You know, who was a gossip, or got too loud during the holidays, or accidentally-on-purpose dropped a casserole dish..."
"Do you miss that?"
"Sometimes," Judy said.
She had left Zootopia once, thinking that she would never return. Even after giving up on being a police officer, however, a quiet life on her parents' farm had been no more appealing than it had been when she first left it. Judy loved her parents, and her entire family, dearly, but she knew that she wouldn't give up on her dream and the city again.
"Maybe Hy misses his family too. Even if he does envy his sister."
"So do you think Hy's the one who did it?" Judy asked.
Nick shrugged. "On the one paw, it seems like he's got a good life going now. Why risk that for revenge now? Twenty years and change is a long time to nurse a grudge. On the other paw, well, it's not unheard of."
Nick's implication to Judy was perfectly clear; he had held onto the pain of something just about as long. Assuming, of course, that Hy was the guilty party.
"I don't think anything points one way or the other for him right now. We still have a lot to follow up on, you know," Nick said.
He was right. They had to follow up on alibis for Hy and Heather, see if any of the stores around Holly's apartment building had usable footage that might show the assailant's face, look into Jacques Lapin, and talk to Holly's coworkers. "Why don't we split up and cover more ground?" he continued, "You can follow up on Hy and Heather, and I'll see if I can track down anything around the apartment building."
An investigation was a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle after someone hid the pieces. Most of the time spent wasn't figuring out how the pieces went together; it was finding the pieces themselves. The sad fact of police work was that a lot of it was very boring and completely unproductive. The moments when the pieces aligned and a portion of the picture became clear could be few and far in between. The entire reason for the search was because they didn't know where the pieces would be found, which was the thought that Nick kept going back to as he came up empty-pawed.
The neighborhood that Holly's apartment building was in had a fair number of stores and other apartment buildings surrounding it, but very few of them had cameras that faced the street and might have captured something helpful. In the end, after a couple hours of doing his best at behaving like a reasonable authority figure trying to solve a crime and not a tired con artist, Nick walked away with three sets of camera footage. Mercifully, all of the shops he had procured them from had been much more modern in their security methods than Holly's apartment building, and the footage was at a decent resolution on a media format that the police station was actually equipped to read. The three cameras didn't provide anything close to complete coverage of all the possible approaches to Holly's apartment building, unfortunately. It was entirely possible that, either through luck or preparation, the assailant had slipped through without being recorded anywhere besides the hallway to Holly's apartment. But it was also entirely possible that the assailant hadn't, and the footage might be the clue that broke the case wide open.
Nick wasn't one for unfounded optimism, though. Even if the new camera footage was the key to the case, it would probably take a lot of monotonous watching of quiet streets to get to the useful parts. Just the thought of it made him have to stifle a yawn; he was still exhausted from the late night that kicked off the case. Still, he hadn't gotten word from his partner yet that she was done following up on the Leaps's (or Leaves's, since he fully intended on cheerfully correcting her no matter which one she used), and she had the car. He decided to follow up on Holly's apartment building to burn more time.
Nick was pleasantly surprised to find that the super of Holly's apartment building was just as friendly and cheerful as he had been when Judy had been there. Judging from Mr. Cony's accent, Nick had pegged him as being from the upper Northeast, probably from one of the places where a prey mammal could count on one paw all the predators they knew. Nick had expected–and prepared himself for–thinly-veiled patronizing condescension, of the sort that Judy herself had exhibited when they first met. Instead, Cony had warmly welcomed him back and reiterated that he would help in any way he could. "I was wondering if you could tell me more about Holly's neighbors," Nick said.
Cony paused for a moment, and the only sound was the slight hum of the elevator moving. There probably wouldn't be anything that Cony could tell him that the bunny hadn't already told Grévy and LaMerk, but Nick figured that there might be something that the hostile duo hadn't thought was worth writing into their report. Not that he had bothered to read it yet anyway. "Well, we got eight apartments on her floor," Cony said, "Only seven tenants, but it's really more like six."
"Why's that?" Nick asked, as the elevator dinged to announce that they had reached the sixth floor and the doors opened.
Nick allowed Cony off first, waiting as the older bunny limped into the hallway. Cony walked around the corner to the hallway that Holly's apartment was in before he answered.
"This one's Holly's, o'course," he said, gesturing at the door to the apartment that was on the side of the wall closest to the elevator, "'Cross the way, that one's Mr. Drove's place–he's the one who owns the building, mind–but he ain't hardly ever in. Don't think he cares much for Zootopia, so he only stays when business takes him here."
Nick nodded, understanding why Cony would consider Drove to not really be a tenant. "Is he out of town now?"
"Ayuh, probably won't be back for another couple weeks."
"What about the other two apartments in this hallway?" Nick asked.
"That one there," Cony said, pointing at the door of the apartment that was on the same side of the hall as Holly's, "Is the empty one. The one 'cross from it is Dave Hispid's. He works in a club or something like that. Works nights."
"How long's the empty apartment been empty?" Nick asked, wondering if a former neighbor might have had a grudge against Holly.
Cony looked both ways down the hall to confirm that they were alone before he answered, which instantly piqued Nick's interest in his response. "It used to be old Mrs. Lotor's place. The building's mostly bunnies, but she was a raccoon. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. But when her husband passed, she went a little funny."
This was starting to sound promising to Nick. "Funny how?"
"She started hoarding. Filled the place with worthless junk. Maybe she was always like that and her husband kept her from collecting too much. Maybe it was just because she was getting up there in years. But she started getting paranoid, thinking someone was going to steal her garbage. Always complaining about the other tenants, you know."
Nick nodded. "What happened next?"
Cony looked both ways down the hall again, and his answer was barely above a whisper. Nick leaned in to hear. "Well, Mr. Drove said to tell the other tenants that she moved out. Doubt any of them missed her. Truth is, though, one of her piles of garbage collapsed on her. Was at least a couple days before I found the body 'cause she didn't drop off her rent check."
That wasn't the answer that Nick had wanted, since he doubted that a dead raccoon was attempting murder. "And none of the other tenants know that?" Nick asked, his voice just as low as Cony's.
Cony nodded. "Ayuh. Mr. Drove made sure it stayed all quiet-like. He got a company to do the clean up, but the apartment's gutted now. Down to the studs and baseboards."
Nick sighed. It was a juicy piece of gossip for the super, but didn't seem particularly relevant to the case. The living tenants of the sixth floor weren't particularly helpful either. Dave Hispid, the only mammal who actually lived in the same hallway as Holly, had been particularly grumpy when Nick had woken him up by knocking on his door. The sullen rabbit was in his early twenties, with fur that had been artfully shaved into geometric patterns and dyed in colors that probably fluoresced under black lights. He had large wooden ear gauges that made the tips flop over from their weight and metal studs through his eyebrows and nose. Hispid had bloodshot eyes, narrowed as he evaluated the cop before him, and reeked of patchouli, which might have masked the scent of pot to a mammal with a worse sense of smell.
Overall, Nick found it easy to believe that Hispid worked in a club. "Look, I don't know anything, OK?" Hispid said, moving to close the door.
"But I haven't even asked you any questions!" Nick said brightly, giving the rabbit his most winning (and toothy) grin.
"I told the other cops," Hispid whined, "I was at Club 966 all night. So unless you got a warrant, leave me alone."
Hispid closed the door, and Nick frowned. Maybe he should have read the report that Grévy and LaMerk put together. Nick shrugged; he still had the tenants on the other side of the sixth floor to check up on.
The other tenants had been considerably more polite than Hispid, but they all told essentially the same story. They hadn't heard or seen anything until the police had shown up and started asking questions the night before. Considering that the the two apartments on the other side of the sixth floor that were closest to Holly's belonged to a bunny who looked about old enough to be Judy's great-great-grandmother and was almost completely deaf and a bat who worked nights and hadn't been home at the time of the assault, it was entirely believable.
While the interviews had been a complete bust, there was one more thing that Nick had wanted to check. It had occurred to him, when he saw the warning on the emergency exit on the first floor, that the building had an alarm system. Sure enough, there was a similar warning on a sign set on the wall next to the broken window that led to the fire escape. It had the text, "IN CASE OF FIRE, LIFT BAR AND OPEN WINDOW. ALARM WILL SOUND."
Above the words there were little pictograms of a stick mammal following the written instructions. The broken glass on the floor of the hallway had been cleaned up and the window covered with a tarp. The reason why the alarm had failed to go off was immediately obvious to Nick's eye; a metal shim had been jammed between the window and its frame, which kept the alarm circuit from going off. That, at least, was a potentially useful piece of evidence. He'd have to get Cony to turn the alarm off so that the shim could be removed; there was a good chance that the shim had forced the contacts apart enough so that once it was removed the alarm circuit would trip.
His train of thought was interrupted by a call from Judy. He leaned against the wall and answered, "Find anything, Carrots? I haven't."
"Maybe," she responded, and even over the tinny connection he got the impression that she was a lot more confident in what she had turned up than the word implied, "I'm coming to get you, OK? Where are you now?"
"The apartment building."
"I'll be there in five."
After dropping Nick off in the neighborhood around Holly's apartment building so that he could, in his words, "Work his magic," Judy made her first stop at the address that Hyperion Leaps had provided for the Zootopia branch of his greengrocer chain.
The store was a modest size, occupying most of the first floor of an older brick building. There was a white awning over the entrance, which was set at the corner of the building that intersected two streets, with the Green Gable Grocers logo (a cartoonish representation of a winking green rabbit head) emblazoned on it. While the exterior of the store looked essentially done, with the windows in particular standing out as brand new, the interior looked as though it still had a ways to go. The flooring was mostly done, and the shelving looked almost completely set up, but the store was starkly empty of produce. It made sense, of course–if the store really was a greengrocer's it wouldn't do to have product sitting and rotting before the store opened–but it made the sign in the window announcing the grand opening with a date only three days in the future seem somewhat optimistic. One thing the interior of the store was not lacking, however, was mammals. There was a crew of beavers hard huddled around a bunny who seemed to be giving them instructions. When he spotted Judy, he broke off and headed for her. "Excuse me, you can't be in–" he said, cutting himself off when he realized that she was wearing a police uniform.
"I'm sorry," he quickly apologized, "What can I do for you, Officer Hopps?"
He had obviously recognized her, which seemed like a general trend for bunnies living in the city. He was probably around forty or so, with a bit of a paunch and wire-rimmed glasses that seemed a bit incongruous with his ripped jeans and paint-splattered T-shirt. Despite his outfit, his fur was neatly styled and his nails were clean and shiny, which to Judy clearly indicated that he didn't do manual labor for a living. He looked more like a banker saving some money by doing his own renovations on his day off than the head of a group of contractors. "I'm investigating an assault," Judy replied, "Are you in charge here, Mr...?"
"Warren, Jim Warren," the bunny said distractedly, "Is Mr. Leaps OK? Did he get attacked like that actress?"
Warren seemed genuinely concerned for his employer and Judy was quick to assuage his concerns. "Mr. Leaps is fine, Mr. Warren. I'm actually here about that actress, Holly Leaves."
"What?" Warren asked, sounding puzzled, "Why?"
He quickly added, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I just don't understand what she could have to do with any of us."
Judy paused for a moment as she evaluated his responses. So far, Warren had seemed honest, but she found herself wishing that Nick had been with her. He had a much better ability to read mammals than she did, but since she was on her own, she'd just have to rely on her own instincts. "Of course," she said, "Do you have someplace private we could talk?"
The crew of beavers hadn't moved after Warren had separated from them, and they were clearly trying to listen in without it being obvious. Seeming abashed, they scurried off to their work, but Warren didn't seem to notice their attempts at eavesdropping. "Sure, this way."
The office at the back of the store was labeled with a simple plastic placard on the door that read "Jim Warren, General Manager." After Warren led her in, Judy looked around. Perhaps clutter would accumulate once the store was actually open, but at the moment it was neat and orderly. There was a small, cheap desk with a desktop computer on top of it and a couple chairs in front of it. A number of filing cabinets dominated the rest of the room, but the sterile appearance of the office was broken up by a few children's drawings that had been framed and placed on the walls and a picture of Warren, his wife, and their kits on the desk itself.
Judy had figured that Warren would be more forthcoming with her if he wasn't worried about the contractors overhearing him, but from how preoccupied he was acting it probably wouldn't have made a difference. It might have been simply because he was juggling a dozen tasks for the store's grand opening and had been thrown off balance by the appearance of the police, but Judy knew better than to dismiss his behavior entirely. "I'm guessing that Mr. Leaps never told you this, but Holly Leaves is his sister," she began carefully, attempting to gauge his reaction.
"No, he never told me that," Warren said, looking surprised, "Actually, he never really spoke about his family. I always got the feeling it was kind of a sore spot for him. Better not to pry, that's what I thought. But... You don't think that he's the one who attacked her, do you? He'd never do something like that!"
Judy held up a paw placatingly. "Right now, we're just following up with the mammals who know her," she said soothingly, not wanting to agitate him.
"Oh," Warren said, "So how can I help you?"
"I just have some questions about Mr. Leaps," Judy said, "You must know him pretty well, right?"
"I suppose," Warren replied, "He brought me in about six months ago to set up this store and run it once it's open."
"What's he like to work with?" Judy asked.
She was mostly trying to get a better picture of Hyperion without saying anything about him that might cause Warren to talk offense on his behalf and become less forthcoming; it was clear that Warren strongly admired and respected Leaps, and his answers only bore that out. Hyperion was a perfectionist, and part of the reason the store was still so unfinished so close to the grand opening was because he had demanded that work that didn't meet his standards be redone. To hear Warren tell it, however, this was not a fault, but simply a sign of how much Hyperion cared about getting things right. And while Hyperion demanded a lot of the mammals who worked for him, he rewarded success quite lavishly. Hyperion had given the artist who painted a bucolic mural of rolling fields on the wall a significant bonus for the quality of her artwork, and every time he came into the store to check on the work and assist, he always made sure the workers got a free meal from him. "Last night, for instance," Warren said, "When we were getting the registers set up, he got everyone sandwiches and soup from this upscale little deli on the East side. Just about the best watercress sandwich I've ever had."
"Did he get it delivered, or did he go out and get it?" Judy asked.
Throughout Warren's monologue she had mostly made noises of agreement and a few statements to indicate she was paying attention, but this seemed as though it could be important. "He went out and got it," Warren said without hesitation, "Took him a while, but it was worth the wait."
"Traffic, right?" Judy said, carefully nodding in commiseration.
"Probably," Warren said with a shrug, "He left around 5:30 and didn't get back until about a quarter to seven."
"You know," Judy said, doing her best to sound casual and mask her excitement, "I'm a fan of watercress sandwiches myself. You wouldn't happen to have the address of that deli, would you?"
"Sure," Warren said, opening one of the drawers of his desk and flipping though it.
He eventually came up with a menu and handed it over. "Try the pumpkin soup, too," he said.
"I'll try both," Judy promised.
They left the office and Judy paused as she was about to leave the store. One of the empty displays was a glass case labeled "Fresh Flowers," but it wasn't quite empty. There were a few shriveled flower petals on the bottom of the case, and cones of cellophane and paper hung neatly off the side of it. "Were there flowers in this?" she asked, attempting to come across as casual.
"What? Oh, yeah," said Warren, scratching the back of his head, "The florist we get flowers from got the date of our opening wrong–wrote it as the 13th instead of the 18th. Mr. Leaps was pretty steamed about that, let me tell you. We had to throw them all out; they wouldn't have been any good by the time we open. Only the best, you know?"
Judy did the rather simple math in her head. The current date was the 15th, which meant that it would have been trivial for Hy to have held onto at least one bouquet's worth of flowers prior to using them to disguise the bolt cutters that had been used to gain access to Holly's apartment. Hyperion's trip to the deli was perfectly timed to give him the time to commit the crime and get back to the store, and he was fit enough to make it a reasonable conclusion that he could quickly climb up the fire escape to gain access to the sixth floor window. On the other paw, he had been estranged from his family long enough that he wouldn't have known where Holly lived and her address wasn't easily found or, at least, hadn't been prior to the assault. "Of course," Judy said, "Thanks for your help, Mr. Warren."
Judy wanted to immediately confront Hyperion, but the only evidence she had was, at the moment, highly circumstantial. She was determined to learn from the mistakes she had made in the Night Howlers case, and that meant continuing to investigate and keeping an open mind. While the evidence was starting to point at Hyperion being the guilty party, none of it said he had done it alone. With that in mind, she pulled out the list of doctors that Heather Leaves had provided and punched the first address into the squad car's GPS.
A couple hours later, a good portion of which had simply been spent waiting for mammals to become available to talk to her, Judy had gotten to the last and probably most important name and address. It was for the dialysis center that Heather had (supposedly) taken her mother to at the time that the raincoat wearing assailant had attacked Holly. As Judy parked the car outside the dialysis center, she hoped that it would be more fruitful than the other stops she had made following up on Heather and Hyacinth; the general summary of those stops was that Hyacinth was very sick and Heather took her to all of her many specialists.
The dialysis center's somber and somewhat brooding-looking brick exterior was markedly different from the interior, which was brightly lit and painted in soothing pastel colors. The cheery interior couldn't quite offset the nature of the facility; it had the same kind of antiseptic smell as a hospital. The mammal behind the front desk, a male caracal wearing a set of teal scrubs that complemented the color of his fur, seemed eager to talk to Judy. She got the feeling that, since he spent his days dealing with mammals who were sick and oftentimes dying, he probably didn't talk to many mammals at their best. It was something that she herself was familiar with after some shifts as a cop.
"I have to be careful about what I can tell you because of HIPAA," the caracal explained apologetically, "Unless you have a warrant. We take our responsibility to the security of our patients' medical data very seriously."
Judy nodded. She had gotten similar responses at the other locations she had gone to, although some of them had been a bit more lax. "Do you have a visitor's logbook I could see?"
"Here," the caracal said, pushing the logbook across his desk, "It's our policy that everyone, especially mammals coming to sit with the patients as they get treated, has to sign in and out."
Judy had to stand up on tiptoes to reach the book, but she managed to pull it down into her arms to flip through it. Once she got to the page for the date of the assault, she noted that Heather had signed in at around 3:30 PM, signed out at about a quarter to six, signed back in around 7 PM, and then back out at about 8 PM. When she flipped further back into the logbook, she figured that based on when Heather was signing in and out, Hyacinth was in for dialysis three times a week, always on the same days and times, and that the process took about four to five hours. Heather, however, didn't seem to spend every session waiting with her mother. While there were plenty of innocuous reasons why Heather might step out–anything from needing to run errands to simply having some time to herself away from her mother–she had indirectly lied to Judy by providing the excuse of her mother's treatment as her alibi for the night of the crime.
Judy returned the logbook to the caracal and thanked him for his time, and then made her way back to the squad car with her mind running at about a mile a minute. Had Heather or Hyperion committed the crime alone? Had they worked together? If neither of them had done it, who had? When Judy dialed Nick's number, he answered almost instantly. "Find anything, Carrots? I haven't."
"Maybe," she replied, trying not to sound too certain about what she had discovered, "I'm coming to get you, OK? Where are you now?"
"The apartment building."
"I'll be there in five."
As soon as she had picked Nick up, Judy headed back to the police station and started explaining what she had found, which took most of the trip. As she expected, Nick found it just as suspicious as she did that both Heather and Hyperion had gaps in their alibis that coincided with the crime so well. "We have some more video to review too," Nick said after he explained his mild success as he logged the evidence in, "Maybe we'll get lucky and one or both of them will be on it."
"Maybe," Judy said, "But we need to follow up with Heather and Hyperion. And talk to Holly's coworkers. And look into Jacques. And–"
Nick sighed. "We'll look into it tomorrow, Fluff. I believe we already have plans to do more research tonight."
His tail wagged playfully and he put the word "research" in finger quotes, which was entirely unnecessary considering the emphasis he had put on the word as he said it.
"Of course!" Judy replied cheerfully, "And I was expecting you to try to wiggle out of watching Black and White."
"Would I ever try to wiggle out of something that I didn't want to do?" Nick asked.
"Don't answer that," he added quickly, before Judy had the opportunity to do more than open her mouth.
"You sure?" she teased, "I think I could come up with enough examples to last all the way back to my place."
She wouldn't have actually done it, of course, but Nick's mock outrage and empty threats of reporting her for police brutality, and her own counters, were enough to keep their banter going from the time they left the station to the time they arrived at Judy's stop.
I want to thank everyone that's bookmarked, left kudos, or commented; your support means so much to me. A special thank you goes out to everyone who's left me multiple comments; SallyWhite92, DrummerMax64, Aronim, gonekrazy3000, L.A.Julian, VenusTheMarvelTurtle, Anteroinen, Erinnyes, MassGains, DtheQuiet, and ChaoticImp. It makes me happy that you've spent your time reading my story and commenting on what you think. As my way of saying thank you to everyone, I'm posting this early as a bonus chapter, so chapter 14 will go up as usual this weekend. I had a lot of fun writing this chapter, so I hope you enjoy it! Thanks again for your support!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The warehouse was dark and dusty, with boxes scattered haphazardly across the floor. It looked as though no one had been in it in quite some time; the current occupants had left dusty pawprints on the grimy concrete floor. There was a ferret, dressed in the sort of gaudy suit that stereotypical mobsters wore, and his companions–mid-sized mammals, about half a dozen in total–were similarly dressed. While they looked like stereotypical mobsters, however, the mammal they were meeting simply looked dangerous. He was an impressively muscled wolf who stood literally head and shoulders above the mobsters, and his jet black fur was matched by equally dark clothes. Even the briefcase he carried was black. His monochromatic appearance was broken by a sharp and dangerously intelligent-looking yellow eye; he had only the one, as the other was covered by a black eye patch. A thick scar ran down about half an inch or so from beneath the bottom of the eye patch, which only served to increase how menacing he appeared. "Are you sure no one followed you here, Patch?" the ferret asked the wolf.
"Positive, Audobon," Patch replied, his voice deep and resonant, "I've got the money if you've got the stuff."
The wolf opened his briefcase. "One hundred thousand," he said, encompassing its contents with a sweep of his paw, "Plus a little extra for your trouble."
Patch pulled out a bundle of cash and held it out to the ferret. Audobon, however made no motion to grab it. "A little extra," he echoed, and reached into the briefcase.
A quick slash of the ferret's claws ripped open the lining of the briefcase and he pulled out a small bit of circuitry with a blinking red light on it. "An interesting choice of words, Patch," he sneered as he crushed the tracking device, "Or should I say Detective Lucas Black?"
Audobon's goons had surrounded Black and had a motley assortment of weapons leveled at him, mostly knives and clubs but also several shotgun. Guns of any kind were notoriously difficult to procure in the city, but Audobon–or at least the organization that he worked for–appeared to have gone to the trouble. "All this, for me?" Black asked, his tone light.
"What can I say?" the ferret asked, "My boss doesn't appreciate loose ends."
"That's funny," Black said, "Neither does mine."
With that, he dove to the floor. Audobon and his thugs had enough time for a look of confusion before a black SUV burst through the wall of the warehouse as though it were made of cardboard. One hapless goon was struck by the car and was sent flying into a support pillar. His body hit with a meaty sound and he did not rise again. "What are you waiting for?" Audobon shrieked, "Get them!"
The mobsters went into motion, but far too slowly. Black wrestled a shotgun away from the closest thug and hit him with the butt of it hard enough to take all the fight out of the weasel, who slumped to the ground bonelessly. The driver's side door of the SUV opened and a gray wolf exited the car, smoothly drawing a tranquilizer gun and diving for cover behind one of the boxes on the floor of the warehouse. "And here you said you this was going to be easy!" the newcomer yelled at Black with a grin.
"You can gloat later, Amarok," Black retorted as he tried to pin down one of the other mobsters.
The mobster Black was fighting caught him with a glancing cut to his arm. Black roared with pain and swung out, but when his fist missed making contact he reached up and pulled off his eye patch, which took the fake scar with it. His other eye uncovered and his depth perception restored, Black's next blow hit home and the mobster collapsed.
"And you can thank me later," Amarok said as he put a tranquilizer dart into the back of a bobcat with a crowbar in his paws attempting to sneak up behind Black.
"Audobon knew my real name," Black said once he and Amarok had worked their way behind the same crate.
"We must have a leak," Amarok said grimly, "But we can deal with that later. Audobon's getting away!"
Amarok burst out from behind cover and began to pursue the fleeing ferret just as Black yelled, "Amarok, wait!"
The warning came too late. A mobster Amarok hadn't seen jumped out from behind a pillar and drove a knife into his chest. Black unloaded his stolen shogun into the mobster, but it was too late for Amarok. Black's partner collapsed to his knees, a thin stream of red running from the corner of his muzzle. Off in the distance, the sound of sirens started and rapidly began to get louder. The mobsters, taking advantage of Amarok being down and Black being distracted, simply fled. "Just hang on, help's on the way," Black said, desperately putting pressure on his partner's wound as he cradled his head in his lap.
The gray wolf shook his head weakly. "Tell Carol..."
"You'll tell her yourself, OK? Stay with me," Black said, cutting Amarok off.
"I love her..." Amarok gasped, and then fell silent.
Three weeks later, Detective Black was sitting in the office of the chief of police. The office was modern and clean, gleaming white with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the bullpen that could be made opaque at the touch of a button, as they were at the moment. "How's the arm?" the chief asked.
She was a middle-aged cheetah with the first signs of gray in her muzzle, but she still had a youthful slimness to her that made it clear that she hadn't neglected her fitness regimen on her way up the ranks. "Fine," said Black shortly, rotating his arm for good measure, "I've got the clearance to return to active duty."
The chief picked up the file on her desk and flipped through it. When she was silent for a moment, Black spoke up again. "You've got to put me back out there, chief. We were so close; I can feel it."
The chief sighed and dropped the file. "Do you know why they call you Lucky Luke?"
Before Black could respond, she continued, "It's not because of your history of making arrests. Six partners you've gone through in five years, Black. Six!"
"Benson and O'Malley retired," Black retorted, a defiant set to his muzzle.
"Yes, and Hammarskjöld went to desk duty," the chief acknowledged, "But you see what they're worried about, don't you?"
"I'm afraid I don't," Black said, a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
"Then I'll spell it out for you," the chief said flatly, "They're afraid that, when push comes to shove, the only back you watch is your own."
"That's ridiculous!" Black spat, "There's nothing I could have–"
"I'm not telling you what I think," the chief interrupted, "You're a damn fine detective. But you're just about radioactive. No one wants to touch you."
"And you won't send me out without a partner, will you? Look, there has to be someone, right? I'll take anyone."
"I was hoping you'd say that," the chief said, the smallest hint of a smile on her face.
She hit the intercom button on her desk. "Send Detective White in, please."
"Yes'm," came the tinny reply.
There was only a moment's delay between the reply and the office door opening. A slim albino bunny entered and offered her paw to a stunned looking Black. "Athena White," she said, "Your new partner."
When the opening credits ended and the show went into the advertisements that Zulu thought Judy would be most interested in, Nick spoke up for the first time since they had started watching the episode. "If that's Wolford's idea of acting calm and cool, it really explains a lot about him."
"Black's partner was killed in front of him," Judy protested, finding herself defending the show simply to egg Nick on, "He's normally much more reserved."
"You mean wooden?" Nick shot back, "Which reminds me: if I ever die in a sting gone wrong, I'm expecting you to dramatically shout my name to the heavens."
Judy laughed and rolled her eyes. "Only if you'll drive a car through a warehouse for me."
The two of them were sitting on Judy's bed, watching the show on her laptop, which she had perched on her dresser. The laptop was old and not particularly large, and they had to sit so close together that their hips were touching to both be able to see the screen. On the way back to Judy's place they had stopped for takeout; they each had one of the rapidly cooling white containers in paw. "About that," Nick said, "How did Amarok know where to go through the warehouse wall? There weren't any windows. He could have just as easily run everyone over instead of just that one mook."
"That's... actually a good point," Judy said with a frown, imagining the anticlimactic carnage that would have resulted.
"I'm in for a ride, aren't I?" he asked as the commercials ended and the show came back on.
Having started his commentary, Nick didn't stop even while the show was playing. When Black and White arrested two twitchy-looking ferrets, Nick waved his paw dismissively. "They didn't do it," he said.
Judy had already watched the episode, and knew that Nick was right, but she wasn't about to tell him that. "What makes you say that?" she asked.
"We're only twenty minutes in," he said, "If they already caught the criminals, what are they going to do for the rest of the episode? Fill out paperwork? No, that was too easy."
"Well then, if you're so clever, who did it?" Judy asked, leaning over to look Nick in the eye.
He shrugged, "Rooferton, probably. He's got to be the dirty cop."
Judy narrowed her eyes, "Have you been looking up spoilers?"
"If I wanted spoilers, all I'd have to do is pay attention when everyone at the station talks about this show," he retorted, "But it's pretty simple. The only two cops who have names who aren't in the opening credits are Amarok and Rooferton, so I'm not betting on either one showing up in the next episode."
Judy's ears stood up. "That's cheating!" she said, "You're supposed to figure it out from the show!"
"And I did, Carrots," Nick said easily, "You're just making it harder on yourself if you don't use all the information."
As Judy already knew, Nick was right, and he crowed in victory when the ending showed that Rooferton was the guilty party, having done it at the behest of an evil real estate developer with a convoluted and frankly somewhat nonsensical plan. On the screen, the two lead actors were wrapping the episode up with a heart-to-heart while generic-sounding music played and the camera slowly spun around them. "I don't want you to feel like I'm replacing Amarok," White said.
"Good," said Black bluntly, "Because you can't."
When her face and ears fell, he was quick to add, "Because you shouldn't. I've had six partners before you, Athena. Every one of them was their own mammal. And after this case, well, I think you are, too."
"Seven," she sniffed between tears, "That's supposed to be a lucky number, right?"
Black barked a rare laugh. "I guess so. Come on, I bet the chief has another case for us."
The episode went to the end credits, and Nick looked over at Judy. "How many more of these do we have left?"
Nick grimaced. "Are they all this bad?" he asked in mock despair.
"No," Judy said with a grin as she queued up the next episode, "Some of them are worse."
Judy awoke in the predawn darkness, something warm and soft in her face. Nick's body was curled around hers in a gentle comma and his shirt had ridden up his chest; it was the downy fur of his belly that had rubbed against her muzzle. When she looked up, she saw her laptop had gone to sleep and the screen was black; she must have fallen asleep sometime after the start of the third episode of Black and White, and Nick must have also dozed off. Her first reaction would have been to wake Nick up, but she paused.
When Judy was young, her grandfather had spent a lot of his time sitting on the porch swing. Sometimes he'd be listening to a game on the radio, sometimes he'd have a newspaper, but more often then not he'd simply be sitting, watching the crops on the back forty rustling in the wind. She had asked him, once, what he was doing. Pop Pop had considered her question, and the answer he gave her was one that didn't make sense for a long, long time. He had told her that he was taking the time to enjoy the moment he was in. "Everyone I love is happy and healthy. The crops are growing well. If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."
Judy, however, had spent her entire life living not in a moment but working towards the next one. Every success was just a stepping stone to the next one that she needed to reach her goal of becoming a police officer. Even when she had succeeded and become a police officer, the need to prove herself as a real cop had ensured that still had something to reach for rather than appreciating what she had. But now? She sighed contentedly and rested her head against the warmth of Nick's chest. She couldn't guess what would happen in the morning, let alone what the rest of the day would bring. But for now, she had a job she loved working with about the best partner she could ask for. If this isn't nice, I don't know what is, she thought as she drifted back off to sleep.
Writing pieces of a TV show of dubious quality was a lot of fun, as was having the characters react to it. This chapter doesn't move the mystery forward at all, but I think that it's still a meaningful part of the overall story I'm telling. The burn is slow, but it's starting to heat up!
Pop Pop's line is from a Kurt Vonnegut quote: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'”
Nick was woken up by the shrill buzzing of an unfamiliar alarm and had a moment of disorientation as his brain tried to start. In his hustling days, he had habitually woken up at a time he had considered early to get the jump on preparing, but becoming a cop had shown him that what he considered early really wasn't. He had never been a morning mammal in those days, and he still wasn't one, which explained his groggy confusion at trying to figure out where he was and how he got there.
Throughout his days at the academy, Nick had tried a variety of methods to wake up feeling alert. None of them—not coffee, not cold showers, not going to bed extra early—had ever really worked. Suddenly, however, he found a method that did. At the same time that the alarm shut off, something hard slammed into his chest and knocked the air out of him.
"Hurk!" he choked out, adrenaline flooding his veins as he desperately and futilely tried to suck in air, his heart racing like Flash in a car.
"Nick!" Judy yelped from somewhere near his torso, "I'm so sorry! I was just shutting off the alarm and—"
He sat up and waved off her concern, finally able to gulp down a breath. It was obvious what had happened; the alarm had also woken Judy up and she had incidentally hit him hard in the chest as she leveraged herself out of the bed far enough to reach the alarm with the other paw. Rather than saying the first thing that popped into his mind (Do you do that to every guy you share a bed with?), he took an approach that she'd probably find less embarrassing. "You hit pretty hard, Carrots," he said, going for his most casual tone.
From the way that the insides of her ears flushed pink (somewhat difficult to see as her ears also drooped), she clearly still found it plenty embarrassing. The way that they were positioned didn't help, either. Having been snapped into full consciousness by what the primitive part of his brain insisted was a near death experience, Nick was fully aware of what had happened and how they ended up. His memory of the previous night stopped at the ending of the second episode of Black and White; he must have fallen asleep sometime after that, still fully clothed. Judy's bed, like all of the furniture in her shoe box of an apartment, was bunny-sized, which meant that he had been somewhat curled to be able to fit on the small bed. He had been wrapped around Judy, and she had clearly been sleeping on his chest. His shirt had ridden up his chest almost all the way to his armpits and the fur of his stomach had a wet spot on it where she must have had her head. "Is this drool or tears?" he asked as he ran his fingers through the patch of wet fur, not realizing until after he said it that he had spoken out loud.
Perhaps he wasn't quite as fully awake as he had thought. Judy's ears flushed an even darker shade of pink; he wouldn't have guessed that she could have gotten even more embarrassed, but the evidence was clearly pointing in the other direction. "Never mind," he said, "There's no possible way I could make you cry, so you must have just drooled all over me in your sleep."
That got a chuckle out of her. He could—and had, in the not so distant past—make her cry, which he never wanted to see again if he could avoid it. "You're not seeing me at my best," she managed.
"You could have kicked me out last night," he said.
"I fell asleep with the show on too," she replied.
Nick nodded. They had both apparently underestimated how tired they had been from the first night of investigating their current case. "I don't think I can go into work like this," he said, looking down at himself.
His shirt was pretty crumpled from having slept in it, and from the current time he'd never manage to get back to his condo for fresh clothes and then to the station on time. Even if Judy's apartment did have an ironing board hidden somewhere—which he doubted—there also wouldn't be enough time to properly get the wrinkles out of a silk shirt. Nick took a lot of good-natured (and some not-so-good-natured) ribbing from his colleagues about his wardrobe, which as far as they could tell was composed entirely of garishly colored button up shirts. What they didn't get, and what he had never articulated out loud, was that they were a sort of armor, just as much as the disinterested expression he could slip on like a mask. Judy probably understood, or at least could have guessed, but it wasn't something that they had ever discussed.
Judy's ears perked up and her natural enthusiasm started to shine through, banishing her earlier embarrassment. "I think I've got something that'll fit you," she said, hopping to the floor and going to rummage through her battered dresser.
"Really?" Nick asked skeptically, "I don't know if you've noticed, Fluff, but I'm about twice your size."
He had a brief mental image of himself wearing one of her flannel shirts, which even if he could button would leave a lot of his midriff exposed. "Ha ha," she replied sarcastically, and while she had her back to him he could easily imagine the eye roll, "This'll work."
She spun around and brandished a T-shirt at him. It was a pale gray with a stylized ZPD logo in blue on the front. It actually looked large enough to fit him, which was a surprise. He wasn't actually twice Judy's size, but he was both taller and broader than she was. A shirt large enough to fit him would be like a particularly modest dress on her. "And why do you own this?" Nick asked, "Did you steal this from someone?"
"I didn't steal it. They sent me the wrong size, but I kept it because it's perfect for a nightgown."
"Then I guess I'll take it. Do you have a shower somewhere?"
"Down the hall and to the left," Judy replied, giving him the shirt and a towel.
Having to wear his clothes from the previous day, minus the shirt, wasn't ideal, but there was absolutely no reason for Judy to have pants or underwear that would fit him. Actually, even if she had the latter, he wouldn't have taken them. Using a communal shower was also less than ideal; while it was at least early enough in the morning that there was no competition for the shower (he had gone to the male shower on one side of the hall while Judy had gone to the female shower on the other), it couldn't hold a candle to the shower in his condo. If the female shower was equally lacking in water pressure, he felt sorry for Judy. In his opinion, a hot, stinging shower was one of the simple pleasures of life, and they made mornings a lot more bearable. He'd have to try to get her to move out of her dismal apartment.
The shirt ended up being a bit long and a bit form-fitting, but not unreasonably so. A lot of the younger and vainer male officers favored form-fitting T-shirts in their civilian clothes to emphasis their muscles. Nick wasn't, and never would be, as well-muscled as they were; he was in the best shape of his life, but he was still pretty slim. All in all, he was satisfied with his reflection in the mirror, although he hadn't had a brush to tackle his fur and had to make do with his fingers. The shampoo that he had "borrowed" from one of the other tenants wasn't his usual brand, but it smelled inoffensive and seemed to have worked OK. The end result wasn't up to his normal grooming standards, but he wasn't going to go into the office looking like he had spent the night in a ditch, which was going to have to count for a victory.
The advantage of heading to work from Judy's apartment was that he got the opportunity to tease her the entire way about the show they had spent the previous night watching. Truth be told, Nick didn't think that Black and White was quite as bad as Judy had implied. He suspected that her dislike for it came from seeing her own flaws exaggerated and emphasized for the viewing pleasure of millions rather than the quality of the show itself. If its lead wasn't a rabbit doe, perhaps she'd be more charitable. The acting was frequently stiff (he had asked, after several poorly delivered lines, if that had really been the best take), and the plots made him suspect that none of the writers was entirely familiar with technology more modern than the 1990s, but the two leads actually had decent chemistry together on screen and the effects were decent. And while the character of Athena White was a fairly stereotypical bunny in a number of ways, from her emotional nature to her naïvety, she had the same kind of out-sized courage that Judy herself did.
Of course, he wasn't going to tell Judy that. "All I'm saying is that we have to do more research," Nick said solemnly, "The clue that cracks this case open might be hidden in one of the episodes I haven't seen. Do you want that on your conscience, Officer Hopps?"
Judy laughed at that. "I think we have plenty of other leads to follow up on first."
She was definitely right about that. Both Hyperion and Heather had suspicious gaps in their alibis, and either of them had an understandable motive. Even better, if they had worked together, it would provide an easy explanation for how the assailant had been able to time their attack so perfectly. Having one mammal standing watch in front of Holly's building to see when Jacques entered and alert a second waiting on the fire escape would explain the speed at which the assailant went from knowing that Jacques had been buzzed in to breaking into Holly's apartment.
The logic of police procedurals, like the two episodes of Black and White he had watched the night before, would suggest that neither Hyperion nor Heather was the guilty party because it was too obvious, but in reality the obvious solution was usually correct. Nick grinned as he imagined telling Bogo that he was sure Hyperion and Heather were innocent using the logic that it'd make a better story on a cop drama. That might actually stun the chief into silence before sending him into a fury.
In any case, there were plenty of other angles to work. Holly's manager was somewhat suspicious in Nick's mind, Holly's co-workers still needed to be looked into, and there was always the chance that Holly's boyfriend had been the real target.
For the rest of the train ride, and their trip to the usual coffee shop, they went over their plan for the rest of the day. Nick and Judy were deep in conversation when they walked into the station, but Nick still caught the surprised look on Clawhauser's face when the cheetah caught sight of them. Nick still had some clean uniforms in his locker, so he wouldn't look out of place once he changed, but the difference in his civilian clothes had clearly not gone unnoticed. "Nick!" Clawhauser greeted him with a wave, "Trying a different look?"
"What, this?" Nick asked, sweeping a paw down his chest to take in the T-shirt, "I just had a bit of a laundry situation. Didn't have the chance to do it yesterday, what with everything going on."
It wasn't technically a lie, since he really hadn't had the chance to do his laundry the previous night. Of course, he had a cardboard box full of clean and neatly folded clothes back at his condo, but Clawhauser didn't need to know that. The cheetah was easily the biggest gossip in the station, and perhaps in the entire police force, and learning that Nick and Judy had slept together in the strictly literal sense of the word would send his tongue wagging with talk of how they must have slept together in the euphemistic sense of the word.
"Is that it? I would have guessed you got too close to the heat lamps in Sahara Square and melted the one shirt you own," Wolford said, butting into the conversation from across the lobby.
Nick applied his best put-upon face. "My shirts—plural, make a note of that, I have more than one—are silk, not nylon," he said in a deliberately haughty tone, "They'd burn, not melt."
"Really?" Judy asked, "Can we try? You know, just to be sure."
"Only if you're paying for the replacement."
The morning briefing was, as typical, brief, allowing Nick and Judy the opportunity to get to their work. They had decided that the best course of action was to first follow up with Hyperion and Heather before sifting through Holly's hatemail, and then heading over to the studio where Black and White was filmed. As long as Jacques Lapin was unconscious, it'd be impossible to interview him, but they would at least look into his business and associates in the meantime.
As far as Hyperion and Heather went, the prudent course of action was to stick together rather than splitting up, which was why their first stop was to take the cruiser to the brownstone that Heather shared with her mother. After Judy parked the car, she hesitated before opening her door. "Are you going to be OK?" she asked, the concern evident in her voice.
Nick considered the question. He hadn't done all that well when they had entered the house on their first visit. The smell had taken him back, triggering memories in the way that only a smell could and pulling at a wound he had thought long-since closed. Still, he didn't want to lie to her. "Probably," he said with a shrug.
It would have to do. When they knocked on the door, Heather got to it fairly quickly. Nick felt the bile rise in the back of his throat as the open door brought with it that stench of a dying mammal. "Heather? We have a few more questions about two nights ago," Judy opened pleasantly.
Heather looked resigned. She stepped out of the house and closed the door behind herself. "There's nothing wrong with my mother's ears," she said with a sigh.
That left the three of them standing on the porch. Nick found himself wondering what Heather had to say that she didn't want her mother to overhear. "We know you weren't at the dialysis clinic the entire night of the attack on your sister," Nick said, falling easily into his role in their questioning.
"I just didn't want my mother to know," she said, a pleading tone in her voice, "She'd absolutely freak out."
"Freak out about what?" Judy asked cautiously.
"Well," Heather mumbled, looking down as her ears flushed, "Just—don't laugh, OK?"
"Of course we won't," Judy nodded encouragingly, waiting for the other bunny to continue.
"When I quit my job to take care of my mother, I ended up with a lot of free time. I mean, she needs a lot of care, don't get me wrong, but it's not like when I was doing shifts at the hospital. So I, well, I started talking to strangers online."
The insides of Heather's ears were bright red now; she clearly found the story highly embarrassing, humiliating even. Nick wondered if that was something typical for a bunny, feeling like a failure for reaching out for support to strangers instead of family, or if it was just another one of the ways in which Hyacinth had messed up her non-golden kits. "And I met this guy. Bruce. He's charming and sweet and he actually cares about me, you know? He asks questions about my day, and how I'm feeling, and not even Holly does that. She worries about Mom, and she stops by when she can but it's like I'm not even really—"
Heather was starting to cry now, and she cut herself off to catch a breath. "Anyway," she continued shakily, "I started meeting Bruce in person a couple months ago, when our schedules line up."
Heather gave a weak chuckle, "That's actually why I scheduled my mother's dialysis visits for when I did. Isn't that awful?"
Judy took Heather's paw gently and offered her a tissue. "No, not at all," Judy said firmly, "She's still getting the treatment that she needs, and you're getting a break. What's wrong with that?"
Nick guessed that Hyacinth would probably have some objections, based on how ashamed Heather looked, but Heather didn't seem particularly well-endowed in the self-esteem department. "I guess you're right," Heather said, seeming to consider the logic.
"So you think your mother wouldn't approve of him?" Nick asked.
"I know she wouldn't! I haven't told her because I know she'd tell me to stop seeing him," Heather said with a surprising vehemence.
"She's always going on about how Jacques—that's Holly's boyfriend—isn't respectable enough, and that's just because she doesn't like his job!"
Nick suddenly knew exactly what Hyacinth's objection was to Heather's beau, but he waited to let Heather say it. "So you think she wouldn't approve of your boyfriend's job?" Judy asked.
Heather laughed bitterly, but she didn't object to Judy calling the mammal she met online her boyfriend. "She probably wouldn't, but no, that's not why."
Heather pulled her phone out of her pocket and swiped through it before turning it to face Nick and Judy. The image on the screen was of a handsome dingo who looked to be about Heather's age. "It's because he's a predator."
Judy did her best to control her reaction to Heather's revelation. Inter-species relationships weren't common in Bunny Burrow; the only such relationship she could remember was between a sheep and a goat, and they had been a constant topic of gossip. She had seen several similar relationships in Zootopia, including her next-door neighbors. For the most part, they seemed to pass more or less unremarked in the city, but she had noticed that they tended to be between fairly similar species.
Nick hadn't reacted at all, but that might have just been his poker face. "So you met up with Bruce the night your sister was attacked?" he asked, eyeing Heather carefully.
Heather nodded miserably, wiping at the tears on her face. "We went to my favorite restaurant for dinner," she said.
"I'm trying to get him to try more vegetarian meals," she added with a weak smile.
Judy hadn't been able to tell, from the picture that Heather had shown, what kind of canine Bruce was, so she couldn't even guess at how plausible an explanation that was. Some predators, she knew, subsisted almost entirely on fish and insects and weren't able to digest much in the way of vegetation.
"Could we have the name of that restaurant?" asked Nick, nodding, which was Judy's sign that he thought it was at least possible that Bruce could have found something edible at a vegetarian restaurant.
"The Brier Patch," Heather said, "It's up on Twelfth Street, just past the metro station."
"That's a nice place," Nick said approvingly, "Do they still have those pumpernickel rolls?"
Heather seemed surprised that Nick would be familiar with it, but Judy wasn't. She had never seen him eat meat of any kind, and while Nick had never directly said it, she assumed that he was at least mostly if not entirely a vegetarian. "Yeah, they do," Heather said, "Bruce must have had at least half a dozen while we were waiting for our food."
Nick chuckled. "I can believe it. I think I could eat that many, and he's got to be bigger than I am, right?"
Heather nodded. "He's maybe half a foot taller than you," she said, "But he's got more muscle than you do."
Heather's ears flushed red again and she clapped her paws over her mouth. "No offense."
Nick breezily waved her concern away. "None taken. It was pretty obvious from the photo you showed us. Does he do a lot of lifting at his job?"
"Some," Heather said, "He's a mechanic."
"Bruce owns his own shop," she said proudly.
"Could we have his contact information too? Just to corroborate your story."
"Of course," Heather said, digging through her purse.
Eventually she came up with a business card that had an oily smear on the front and gave it to Nick. The words on the card, however, were perfectly legible. The name of the shop, "EZ Collision and Glass, Ltd" was largest, below which was the text, "Bruce Newcastle, ASE Master Technician," followed by a printed phone number and an address. When Nick flipped the card over to look at the back, Judy caught a glimpse of another phone number written by paw. "That's his personal number," Heather explained, "But the address on the front is his personal address too. He lives above the shop."
Judy found herself impressed with how quickly Nick had been able to ingratiate himself to Heather and effortlessly pump her for information. If Bruce was half a foot taller than Nick that would put him on the high end of her estimate of the raincoat-wearing attacker's height, but the picture she had seen of him definitely made it look as though he'd easily have the physical strength necessary to knock Jacques out. There was, however, one more detail she found herself curious about.
"Just one more question," Judy said, raising a paw.
Nick quirked an eyebrow, but didn't interrupt. "Have you told your sister about your boyfriend?"
Heather looked down and kicked her foot. "Well... not exactly," she mumbled sheepishly.
"Not exactly?" Judy repeated.
"I told Holly I was dating someone, and I asked her not to tell Mom, but..." Heather trailed off.
Judy suspected that Heather was going to say that she hadn't told her sister that she was dating a predator, but she waited for Heather to say it out loud.
"I never told her Bruce was a dingo. I... kind of implied that he was a bunny, and that I didn't think Mom would like him because he's a mechanic."
"So what do you think?" Judy asked, once they had made their goodbyes to Heather and were back in the car and driving to the station.
She was interested in seeing what insights he might have had on the case. Nick shrugged, flicking his sunglasses open and putting them on. "Are you asking if I think she tried killing her sister with her boyfriend's help?"
Judy waited a moment, but by his lack of a follow up he apparently wasn't asking a rhetorical question. "Yes, that's what I mean."
"I don't know," Nick said, "It would have made more sense for them to go after the mother, don't you think?"
Judy had to agree that Nick had a point there. Then again, there were plenty of potential reasons why they had gone after Holly. "Maybe Holly found out about Heather's boyfriend being a dingo and threatened to tell their mother."
"Blackmail?" Nick asked, "I don't think Heather has anything Holly could want. Maybe if Heather was the favorite, but that's Holly."
Again, that made sense. Holly was a television actress and probably wasn't hurting for money. Heather, on the other paw, was a nurse, and technically unemployed at that. "It wouldn't have to be blackmail," Judy said, "Maybe Holly's a lot like her mother."
Nick nodded. "Could be. Did you get the sense from Holly that she was hiding something like that?"
"Not really, no," Judy admitted.
"I didn't get the sense Heather was hiding anything but her boyfriend," Nick said, "But I could be wrong."
They lapsed into silence, leaving Judy alone with her thoughts. It might just have been because the Leaves family were bunnies, but she found herself wondering how a revelation like Heather's would have gone down in her own family. Her parents had happily—and profitably—partnered their business with that of a predator, but how would they react if one of their kits started dating one? Would they react in the way that Heather feared her mother would? Not that any of her siblings would date outside their species, of course, but—hypothetically speaking—if she was the one—"Something on your mind, Carrots?" Nick interrupted.
Judy realized that she had parked the car back in the motor pool, operating entirely on autopilot. She couldn't actually remember the last few minutes of the drive, but from Nick's reaction she must have been sitting too long without making any motion towards getting out of the car. She shook her head. "Just thinking about the case," she said, "We've got some time before we need to head over to the studio, and we have to make the most of it."
Nick smiled, "Of course," he agreed, a slight teasing tone in his voice, "If we waste time, that's like stealing from the taxpayers."
Before she could even begin a retort, he continued, "Of which I am one. Do you realize we pay our own salaries?"
Judy laughed. "I'll remember that for the next time someone tells me that their taxes pay our salaries."
The volume of Holly's hate mail actually wasn't all that impressive, so Nick had volunteered to look through it himself, leaving Judy free to do more digging on Jacques Lapin, alias Jacked Rabbit. From the information that she had easy public access to, there didn't seem to be anything in his background that would give a mammal cause to hold a grudge against him. He hadn't received so much as a parking ticket, although that could just be because he couldn't afford a car. He had a degree in Sports Medicine from a mid-sized college that didn't seem like a scam, but Judy suspected that he probably had a fair amount of student loan debt. Judging from his tax returns, it'd take him a while to pay those loans back, as he didn't make all that much as a personal trainer. Judy found it funny how much living in the city had changed her perspective; the amount of income he'd claimed would have been enough to live comfortably in Bunny Burrow, but he was probably barely able to afford his studio apartment in the city's heart.
Jacques was also an author, but neither of his books—both on his fitness philosophy targeted at bunnies and other similarly-sized herbivorous prey mammals—looked to have sold all that well. His chosen pen name didn't seem to have helped all that much with sales. The author blurb she found online claimed that Jacques had his own ZooTube channel. When she navigated to it, she wasn't expecting much, given the other aspects of his life, which is why it came as a surprise when she looked at the numbers for his videos. Jacques had been consistently publishing videos at least twice a week for the past two years, and the most recent ones had hundreds of thousands of views. The most recent video, published the day before he had been knocked out, had almost half a million views and thousands of comments.
Judy put her earbuds in and clicked to view it, curious as to what mammals were saying. Jacques was, quite clearly, an at least moderately popular Internet celebrity. When the video started, it was impossible to tell where it had been filmed. The background was a white wall, and there was a blue mat on the floor of the sort that Judy vividly remembered from gym class in school. On the mat was a chin up bar, but there were no clues as to whether the video had been shot in a gym or just against a wall in Jacques's apartment. Jacques stepped into the frame, dressed only in a loose white T-shirt and a pair of black basketball shorts. "This is Jacked Rabbit," he said, while flexing his arms a little, "And today I'm going to show you the proper form for chin ups."
It was the first time that Judy had heard his voice, which was rich and surprisingly deep for a bunny. He seemed perfectly comfortable in front of the camera, his body language fluid and relaxed. "First, I want to show the muscles that chin ups work out," he said with a small smile, grabbing the hem of his shirt and pulling it off in a single motion.
Judy stared. Jacques's pen name might not be helping his book sales, but it was totally appropriate. She hadn't gotten a good look at him when she had seen him in the hospital, as he had been under the sheets of a hospital bed, but in the video he was easily the strongest-looking bunny she had ever seen. That was saying something considering that she had grown up on a farm with hundreds of bunnies, but Jacques had every other bunny she had ever seen completely beat. To further emphasize his musculature, Jacques had shaved his fur close to his skin, which made his rippling muscles stand out like snakes fighting inside a balloon as he went through the motions.
While Jacques was earnestly explaining the difference between the two major grip styles for chin ups, Judy scrolled down to look at the comments. The older comments that had been posted the day the video had gone up were pretty typical for ZooTube. There were lots of poorly spelled and grammatically incoherent comments about how much the poster loved Jacques, comments from self-styled fitness experts claiming that what Jacques had shown was wrong, and declarations of love and the desire to do things with (or to) Jacques that made Judy's ears flush. The newer comments, after Jacques had been attacked, were mostly messages of concerns, prayers, and fans sharing their favorite moments from his previous videos and how much he meant to them. There were, however, also a number fairly bitterly attacking and blaming Holly, with an apparently sizable number of fans theorizing that she had been behind it.
Judy sighed and scrolled back up to the video, where Jacques was now doing chin ups with one paw. Judging from the comments, she got the feeling that most of Jacques's fans were watching to ogle him, not to learn anything about fitness. It seemed at least possible that a crazed fan had tried targeting Holly to get her out of the picture, possibly attacking Jacques in their panic or out of the philosophy that if they couldn't have Jacques than no one should. Jacques himself would be the best mammal to answer questions about concerning or possibly unstable fans, but the last she had heard he was in a medically induced coma as the doctors worked to prevent his injury from killing or permanently disabling him. She'd have to either wait for him to come out of it—an option she doubted Bogo or the mayor would be happy with—or continue digging as best she could, which would probably mean more questioning of Holly Leaves. It was possible that, with some distance from the time of the attack, Holly might be thinking more clearly and remember some useful detail, but Judy felt it was more likely that she'd accomplish nothing more than picking at an open and painful wound for the actress.
Suddenly something tapped her on the shoulder, and Judy yelped in surprise and spun around. Nick was leaning over her chair, looking at her screen. "This your type, Carrots?" he asked casually, gesturing at the screen, where Jacques was still doing one-armed chin ups but smoothly alternating paws between each one, "I didn't have you pegged as the type to watch this kind of stuff at work."
Overcoming her shock at Nick's interruption, Judy pulled out the earbuds that had prevented her from hearing Nick's approach and glared at him. "This is Holly's boyfriend, Jacques Lapin," she said.
"I thought it was Jacked Rabbit," Nick said, "That's more appropriate, isn't it?"
"That's what he calls himself. You didn't think that was his real name, did you?" Judy asked.
"Your mother's name is Bunny, Carrots," Nick retorted, "It didn't seem impossible."
"It's Bonnie," she shot back, "And if I remember correctly, last night you were saying that Black and White would be more interesting if it was more like The X-Files."
"And?" Nick asked, either missing her point or deliberately choosing to ignore it.
"And you're going to tell me that Fox Mulder is a more likely name?"
"No, that's a pretty ridiculous name," Nick agreed, "But we can catch up in the car. We've got to leave now if we're going to make our appointment at the studio."
Before she had actually looked into it and set up an appointment, Judy had imagined that the studio that Black and White was filmed in would be in the magnificent Art Deco skyscraper downtown that the television station owned. The truth was a lot less glamorous. Black and White and a number of other shows were all filmed in a sprawling and squat building down by the waterfront far away from the city center. The mostly windowless walls were painted a dingy blue that did nothing to make the building look any more attractive, and security was limited to a bored-looking hippo who barely glanced at their badges before giving them instructions on how to get to the portion of the building that they wanted. "He probably should have been paying more attention, don't you think?" Nick remarked once they were out of earshot, "How was he supposed to know that we're real cops and not part of the show?"
"Either way, we'd be going to the same place."
"True," Nick replied, "But maybe he just recognized me."
Judy laughed at that. Nick was clearly being facetious, but she didn't mind. She found it uncomfortable, sometimes, being so easily recognized in public. Sometimes she envied his relative anonymity, but she had the feeling that the longer he spent as her partner the less of it he would have. Was that something that he'd mind? She dismissed the thought as they reached their destination, a lobby quite a bit nicer than the security booth they had passed through.
The lobby was clean and welcoming, with light-colored wooden furniture and bold geometric prints on the walls. At the moment, the only other mammal in it was a slim and professionally dressed wolf who couldn't have been any older than Judy behind the desk. "Excuse me?" Judy said as they approached, craning her neck as she attempted to look him in the eye.
The young wolf was significantly taller than her and the reception desk was just tall enough that she couldn't see over it, which meant that she had to stand back to actually keep him in sight. "I'm Officer Hopps and this is my partner Officer Wilde. We have an appointment for 10:15."
The wolf made a show of checking his computer. "I'm so sorry ma'am. I'm not seeing anything for you at that time," he said, in a chipper tone that all but oozed false sincerity.
"It was Officer Hopps, correct?" he asked.
Judy did her best to conceal her annoyance. "Yes, that's right. I made the appointment with a mammal named Bryce a few hours ago."
"That's me, ma'am," the wolf said, "Oh, that's right, I remember your appointment now. I think you must have gotten the time wrong. Here, look."
Bryce spun his monitor around, which didn't do much for Judy because it was too high off the ground for her to get a good look at. "See? We have you in at 15:10."
Then, as though he were speaking to a young and not particularly bright kit, he added, "That's 3:10 PM. I can see how you might have gotten confused."
Judy swallowed her growing anger. She couldn't make any claim at being perfect or not making mistakes, but she knew perfectly well that the time she had been told was 10:15. "Well, we're here now," she said, "Is there any chance that you could fit us in?"
The wolf flipped his monitor back around and again made a show of using it. "I'm afraid not, ma'am. But if you come back for when you're scheduled, we'll get you right in."
"Alright, then," she said, "We'll be back for 3:10."
"That's wonderful," Bryce said with a plastic smile, "I hope you enjoy the rest of your morning."
Judy waited until they were back to the car before she spoke to Nick again. "He deliberately told me the wrong time on the phone!" she said, fuming.
"I figured that was probably the case," Nick said, nodding.
"And I think I can guess why," Judy added darkly.
She didn't have to explain it to Nick, of course. He knew, better than any other mammal, just how much she regretted what she had said about predators at her first ever press conference. It wasn't the first time she had encountered a predator holding a grudge, and she was sure that it wouldn't be the last. The worst part was, she could hardly blame Bryce for how he felt. Whether or not anything had actually happened to him or anyone he knew, to see just how fragile the unspoken rules of society were, and how easily they could bend and potentially break down entirely, must have been terrifying. "But look on the bright side, Carrots," Nick said, "The worst he could do is mildly inconvenience you. Not much of a show of power, is it?"
"I guess not," she admitted, "But it's wasting our time."
"Then how about we go to lunch?" Nick suggested.
Before Judy could protest that going to lunch before it was even 10:30 didn't seem like a good use of time either, he added, "The Brier Patch should just be opening by the time we get there."
When she was growing up, Judy had never heard anything positive about foxes. They were natural-born tricksters who would abuse any kindness offered to them, liars and thieves who couldn't be trusted any further than they could be thrown. And that was leaving aside everything she had heard about vixens. Something that moving to Zootopia had taught her was that she wasn't as far beyond those old prejudices as she might have thought, which made acknowledging that they existed and colored how she reacted to situations especially important. That was, at least, what she was telling herself; that her interpretation of events might be based more on prejudice than on fact.
Nick had entered the restaurant a step ahead of her, and seemingly the instant that he did a vixen had pulled him into a hug and squealed, "Nick! It's so good to see you again!"
She was slim and tall, only a few inches shorter than Nick. Her eyes were a shining gold, and her fur was an orange red, set off by a blue polo shirt. Her skirt was black and almost inappropriately short. Nick had hugged her back, but it took him a moment to disentangle himself as she had also curled her tail around him in what struck Judy as a possessive gesture. "Jamie!" he said, "How's it going? I was hoping you'd be working today. I'm—"
"Did your little friend get a new outfit?" Jamie interrupted, looking down at Judy as she seemed to notice the bunny for the first time, "He's so cute!"
Nick laughed. "Don't let Finnick hear you say that," he said, "He doesn't like being called little."
"He's never complained to me," Jamie said coyly.
"Only because he's a complete softy for a pretty vixen," Nick said with a smirk, "But this isn't Finnick."
"Judy Hopps," Judy introduced herself, trying her best to be pleasant with Nick's irritating friend.
"The Judy Hopps?" asked Jamie, her eyes going wide.
She turned back to look at Nick. "So you really did become a cop?"
Nick nodded. "That's right."
"Oh, wow! It's so nice to meet you," she said, offering Judy a paw to shake.
Judy couldn't help but notice that Jamie's sharp claws had been painted the same shade of blue as her polo, which on closer inspection had "The Brier Patch" embroidered over the heart. Still, she accepted the proffered paw and mentally reminded herself that she needed to give Jamie a fair chance. Yes, the vixen had been pawing at Nick and hugging him closer and longer than was probably appropriate for a friend (certainly closer and longer than she had ever hugged Nick) and she had called Judy "cute" but that didn't necessarily make Jamie the sort of succubus that the stories she had heard about vixens would imply. Of course, it didn't necessarily mean that she wasn't, either.
While Judy had been having her internal conflict, she had been half-paying attention as Jamie had lead them to a small both tucked away in a back corner of the restaurant and procured menus for them. Just as Jamie had been about to join them to answer their questions about Heather and Bruce, the bell above the restaurant's door had jingled and she dashed off to see to a mole myopically blinking and looking around. "I'll be right back," she promised.
Judy took the chance to look around the restaurant. It was rustic in the way that chain restaurants often attempted but never truly got right. The floors and walls were rough-looking wood. The lighting, even at a quarter to eleven in the morning, was dim, and the decorations were what Judy guessed was jazz memorabilia. The sign on the door had said that the Brier Patch opened at 10:30, but for the moment it seemed as though the only customers were herself, Nick, and the mole that had wandered in.
"She seems to like you," Judy said, "Girlfriend of yours?"
She asked the question as lightly as possible, but Nick just snorted. "Don't try to play matchmaker, Carrots," Nick said, "I'm old enough to be her father."
"Well, old enough to have been rejected by her mother, at least," he added with a self-deprecating laugh.
Judy worked out the math on that in her head. Nick was older than she was, but not by all that much. It meant that Jamie wasn't as old as she had first guessed—she probably couldn't be more than eighteen—and that if her mother was around Nick's age that the mother had been a teenager herself when Jamie was born. "So how do you know her?"
"Her mother took out a non-traditional loan, if you understand what I mean," Nick said, "It was just the two of them, and Jamie was only about eleven or so at the time. So Anna—that's her mother—was having a hard time paying it off."
Judy nodded slowly. "I helped her renegotiate the terms," he finished simply.
Judy was sure that his story was leaving a lot out—in particular, the details of how Nick had had the sway to influence the conditions of what was presumably an illegal loan shark deal—but she could appreciate the picture that it painted. "That was really kind of you."
Perhaps it was just Judy's imagination, but she could swear that Nick's ears momentarily flicked down in embarrassment. "It wasn't entirely out of the kindness of my heart," he admitted, "And grand gestures tend to work better in movies than in real life anyway."
He pulled his menu off of the table and flipped it open, his face disappearing behind the sheet of paper. It was more in line with the Nick that she knew—and particularly the Nick that she had first met—that he'd help a single mother more out of an attempt to woo her than out of altruism, but he had done what was pretty unambiguously a good deed. "Do you still talk to her? Anna, I mean."
"Occasionally," Nick said, putting his menu down, "But you know me. I'm friends with everyone."
He smiled as he said it, but Judy wondered, not for the first time, if he was fundamentally lonely. She was pretty sure that she was the single closest friend he had, and all the others were more or less acquaintances or business partners he was simply friendly with. That was a heavy topic for lunch, and one that she wasn't sure he'd even be willing to talk about if she brought it up, so instead she had agreed and asked him what he recommended.
"Anything, as long as you can handle spice," Nick said, "The owner's a Dixieland bear at heart, trying to spread the joy of Creole food to mammals that can't or don't eat meat."
He had recited the description as though he were quoting something, and when Judy looked down at her menu she saw that on the back there was a small box with more or less those exact words as part of a short paragraph on the Brier Patch's history. "But what do you recommend?"
"The gumbo z'herbes," he replied without hesitation, "With the pumpernickel rolls. Not that those are exactly Creole, but there's plenty of mammals who would say it's not really gumbo without shrimp, so..."
Nick shrugged. "As long as your country bunny tastes can stand the heat," he teased, "Otherwise, go for the grits."
Judy narrowed her eyes, "Do you even know what we eat out in the country?"
"Carrots, corn, and fried vegetables?" he guessed.
That was, actually, fairly accurate for a number of the bunnies who Judy had grown up with, which also explained why so many of them were overweight, but she wasn't about to concede the point. "I can handle spice just fine," she said, hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be a lie.
Further conversation was forestalled by the reappearance of Jamie to take their orders, which she did without writing anything down. Then again, considering that the restaurant wasn't exactly full, it probably wasn't much of a challenge for the vixen to remember two orders that were the same except for the portion size. Not wanting to back down from Nick's teasing, Judy had ordered the gumbo z'herbes as spicy as they would make it, and Nick had followed suite. Jamie had raised an eyebrow at that, but hadn't commented on either order. "I'll just put this into the kitchen and then I'll be back, OK?" she asked.
Nick nodded agreeably, and in short order Jamie returned, snagging a chair from a nearby table on her way. "So what's this all about, Nick?" she asked, her golden eyes bright and curious.
"We're investigating an attempted murder," Judy cut in before Nick could speak, "There were a couple that was in here a couple nights ago on the fourteenth. Did you work that night?"
"Yes," Jamie said, turning her focus to Judy, "Why, were they the ones who did it?"
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Nick said smoothly, "A male dingo and a rabbit doe. Do you remember seeing them?"
Judy didn't have high expectations; a busy restaurant would have dozens of customers cycling through in a single night, but she hoped that the unusual nature of the couple in question would make them stand out in the waitress's memory. "Sure, Bruce and Heather," Jamie said, "Kind of an odd couple, right? They've come in about half a dozen time while I've been working. They always sit outside on the patio."
"Do you remember what time they were here on the fourteenth? Or does the restaurant have cameras?" Judy asked eagerly, leaning across the table.
Jamie shrank back a little from the eager bunny. "I don't really remember, no. And there aren't any cameras on the patio."
Judy slouched back in her chair, frowning. It didn't definitively clear Bruce or Heather of the crime, or strongly indicate that they were the ones who had done it. On the one paw, they could have just eaten their dinner and enjoyed each other's company, as Heather had said. On the other paw, one or both of them could have slipped away from the patio long enough to commit the crime, and it probably would have gone unnoticed. Either way, it would come down to either tracking down other patrons and getting more eye-witness testimonies—which probably wouldn't be all that reliable—or finding confirmation or refutation of the alibi somewhere else. "Do you really think that Heather and Bruce tried murdering someone?" Jamie asked, sounding somewhat anxious, "They've always been so nice."
"We're just considering every possibility," Nick said firmly.
"OK," Jamie said, but she sounded a little less upbeat, "Is there anything else?"
Judy shot Nick a glance. He shook his head slightly, and Judy nodded back. "Just our lunches, please," Judy said.
The gumbo looked like it was just short of boiling, and the taste was about the flavor equivalent. Judy's first spoonful of the gumbo was like filling her mouth with molten steel. Her taste buds cried out in agony, barely able to register the flavor of the stew underneath the intense spiciness of the dish. She did her best to conceal her discomfort, which was more than could be said for Nick. His muzzle contorted as though he had been stabbed and he seemed to have to force himself to swallow the gumbo instead of spitting it out. "Who can't handle spice now?" she crowed, even as she desperately tore apart one of the fresh pumpernickel rolls and shoved the pieces into her mouth in the hopes of killing some of the intensity of the flavor.
"I have a more sensitive nose than you do," Nick said thickly, as his nose starting to drip and his eyes teared up, "Which means I also have a better sense of taste than you do."
"Ha!" Judy laughed through lips that were completely numb, "There's no way you have a better sense of taste than I do. I've seen your shirts."
"Fine, I admit that you're tougher than I am," Nick panted as he finished his bowl of gumbo, "But this stuff is a lot better when it isn't so spicy."
Judy thought that he was probably right. As prepared, the actual flavor of the meal had been hard to taste underneath the spiciness of the dish, but the ingredients had all been fresh and it seemed well-prepared. "We'll have to come back," Judy said.
Nick nodded his agreement and took another gulp of his drink. Judy had lost count of how many sweet teas he drank, but it had to be at least half a dozen. She had stuck with water, which hadn't done much to kill the heat in her mouth, but also didn't have far more sugar in it than any bunny could reasonably take. "You all set?" Jamie asked, reappearing at their table.
"Never let me order the gumbo this spicy again," Nick said.
Jamie laughed as she handed over the bill. "I won't."
Nick fished a pawful of cash out of his wallet and stuck it into the bill holder, giving it back to the vixen. "You take care now, OK?" he said, as he and Judy got up to leave the restaurant.
Jamie pulled him into a hug again. "Only if you promise to do the same," she said.
Nick smiled. "I always do."
EZ Collision and Glass looked pretty much exactly how Judy had expected it would. It was a modest two story brick building in an industrial park full of similarly sized buildings that ran the gamut of small businesses, from silk-screening to electronic cigarettes. The shop did, however, stand out from the others, since it was the only one that had a fenced-in side lot full of cars of all sizes and types, from ones that a bunny could drive to one that could only be meant for a giraffe. In terms of damage, the vehicles ranged from ones with mild dents to ones that Judy would have guessed would be totaled, but they were all neatly arranged. The cars with broken glass or missing doors had plastic sheeting carefully taped over the openings to keep the weather out.
Inside, the shop's waiting area was also neat, but fairly well worn; it probably took a lot of effort to keep it clean. The paint on the walls was chipped in places and the linoleum flooring had a worn gray streak near the front door. An ancient-looking coffee pot on a battered end table next to a series of wooden benches filled the waiting room with the not quite unpleasant smell of burnt coffee, which fought for dominance with the pervasive scent of motor oil. There was a reception desk with no one behind it, but there was a buzzer on the desk that had been labeled "Please 'Ring' for Service," in even block letters next to a drawing of a bell.
Nick glanced around the waiting area, apparently taking in the minimal decor. There were some faded posters on the wall advertising a particular brand of oil and one showing how to determine if it was time to replace a set of tires. There were also some wooden plaques indicating that EZ Collision and Glass had sponsored a youth softball team for years and a few awards from an organization Judy had never heard of called the Slow N Low Society.
Although the waiting area was entirely empty of mammals, Judy could hear the sharp sound of an impact wrench from what was presumably the work area beyond the waiting room. She pressed the buzzer and was immediately rewarded with the faint and somewhat incongruous sound of the Westminster chimes going off from behind the door marked "Employees Only."
Nick's muzzle quirked up in a smile at the sound the buzzer had produced. "I'm sure that never gets irritating," he said.
A moment later, the door to the garage area opened and a dingo walked in. He was unmistakably the same one from the picture that Heather had shown Nick and Judy, although at the moment he was dressed in a grimy set of gray coveralls. As Heather had said, Bruce was a few inches taller than Nick was and much more solidly built. His fur was tawny and streaked with grease. Bruce was wiping his paws off with a stained cloth that might have been white at one point when he walked through the door, and when he caught sight of Nick and Judy his friendly expression fell to something more serious. "Two of you are here about Heather's sister, right?" he asked.
"That's right," Judy said, offering him a paw to shake, "I'm Officer Hopps and this is Officer Wilde."
Bruce gave his paws a final wipe before he shoved the cloth into the back pocket of his coveralls and accepted her shake. "Bruce Newcastle," he said, "But I figure you already know that. You mind if we talk in my office?"
Bruce jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate that it was through the same door he had entered through. "Not at all, Mr. Newcastle," Judy replied.
"Call me Bruce," he said, as he opened the door for them.
The garage floor filled pretty much all of the first floor of the building, with a number of cars in various stages of repair taking up most of the space not occupied up by a pair of four point lifts and a staggering array of tool chests. The office was set off in the corner of the building diagonally opposite from where the waiting room was, which meant that they had to walk across the entire area. While most of the cars being worked on were fairly unremarkable commuter cars clearly being repaired, there was one that stood out from all the others. Judy wasn't particularly interested in cars as anything other than as a means to an end for traveling, so she couldn't identify what exactly it was other than that it looked a few decades old. The car was long and so incredibly low to the ground that it looked as though it would scrape over every single speed bump. What made it stand out, though, was the paint. The car was a deep metallic blue and looked as smooth as a mirror, but it wasn't a solid color. There were stripes and curves subtly worked into the paint in contrasting shades that emphasized the lines of the car and made it call to be looked at. Nick gave an appreciative whistle as they walked past. "'64 Impala?" he asked.
Bruce grinned and stopped for a moment. "That's right," he said proudly, "Almost done with it now. Real beauty, isn't it?"
"It's a real work of art," Nick agreed, "You paint it yourself?"
"Had a little help with the pin-striping, but otherwise, it's all me."
Bruce glanced at the car again, and then lead them to the door to his office.
"Hey, 'Lisa!" Bruce called out before they entered, "Keep an ear out for the buzzer, OK?"
The grubby arm of a pig holding a wrench appeared from beneath one of the car and waved in a lazy salute. "A'ight," said a deep but unmistakably female voice.
Bruce's office was a small room with a desk, a workbench, and a series of filing cabinets crammed into it. Paperwork of all kinds was scattered across the room and available surfaces, everything from invoices and receipts to wiring diagrams and service bulletins. The workbench was covered with oily looking car parts that looked vaguely similar to tractor parts. There was one battered office chair behind the desk, a stool behind the workbench, and a scratched metal folding chair against the wall near the door. Bruce took the chair behind the desk and said, "Please, take a seat," with a gesture that encompassed the two remaining seats.
Judy took the stool, since it was easier for her to climb up onto, and Nick took the folding chair. "So how can I help convince you that Heather didn't do it?" Bruce asked once they were settled.
"We just have a few questions," Judy started, but before she could get to her first question Nick jumped in.
"Heather didn't tell us exactly how the two of you met," Nick said.
Bruce smiled slightly. "She might have thought I'd be embarrassed," he said, "She's always so worried about other mammals."
"And is it embarrassing?" Nick asked.
"Not to me," Bruce replied, "Do you know what Li'l Friends are?"
Judy did. She was too old to have ever played with the dolls herself, but some of her much younger siblings had begged their parents for them. They hadn't seemed all that special to Judy, but she supposed that they had been rather efficient for the company that made them to churn out. The Li'l Friends dolls had soft plush bodies, plastic heads, and cloth ears, which meant that the same basic pattern could be used to represent all sorts of different species just by using a different tail, head, and ears. Judy nodded, and was surprised to see that Nick had done the same. She shot him a questioning glance, and he shrugged. "They were the hottest Christmas toy a couple years ago," he said, as though that explained it.
She supposed that it did; Judy found it very easy to imagine Nick, in his hustling days, selling authentic or bootleg toys to desperate parents at inflated prices right before the holidays. "That's right," Bruce nodded, "My niece got a Dolly the Dingo a few years back. Absolutely loved that doll."
Judy nodded along, unsure of where he could possibly be going with his story. "But then her little brother decided to give Dolly a nail polish remover bath," Bruce continued, "Took all the paint right off her head. My sister tried finding a replacement, but the company that makes Li'l Friends stopped making Dolly the Dingo. They got Dorothy the Dingo now, but my nice wanted Dolly."
Bruce chuckled. "Of course, Dolly goes for hundreds of dollars online now. So my sister asked me to take a crack at repainting the head."
"I'm betting you did pretty well," Nick said, "If that Impala is any indication."
Bruce nodded. "My niece loved it, and her friends were all so jealous. I did a couple more, and a few more, and before I knew it I had a steady second job."
Judy realized where he was heading. "So you started posting online," she said.
"That's right," Bruce said, "Heather was making and selling little outfits for the dolls as a hobby, and we started talking."
Bruce smiled, and it lit up his entire face, "Luckiest thing that ever happened to me, my nephew ruining that doll. Never would have met Heather otherwise."
Looking at Bruce, it was obvious to Judy that he absolutely loved Heather. She sincerely hoped that neither one of them was guilty of the attack on Holly, but mammals could do crazy things in the name of love. "Have you ever met Holly?" she asked.
Bruce shook his head. "Never," he said firmly, "Heather didn't even tell me about Holly until we'd been going out for about a month."
He laughed. "You wouldn't believe how happy she was when I told her I had no idea who Holly Leaves was."
Judy could believe that. Before her big break into a mainstream TV show, Holly's acting credits were all in shows targeted pretty firmly at the bunny demographic, so it wasn't all that surprising that a predator wouldn't know who she was. "Do you want to meet her family?" she prodded.
"Only when she's ready," Bruce said, "I can't really blame her, you know. My parents weren't very happy when I told them I was dating a bunny."
Judy supposed that mammals found it easy to think that they weren't bigoted as long as there wasn't a direct impact on their life. It was one thing to say that inter-species relationships were fine in the general sense, but if it was your own son or daughter, well, that was something else entirely. "I understand," Judy said sympathetically, "Could you tell us how your date with Heather went the night Holly was attacked?"
Bruce's versions of events lined up with what Heather had told them. He had met Heather at the Brier Patch and they had eaten dinner out on the patio. They had been forced to call it a night so that Heather could get back to the dialysis center and pick up her mother, but he insisted that they hadn't left the restaurant until then.
After Bruce finished telling them his version of events, Judy asked, "One more question. Do you have any idea who might have wanted to hurt Holly?"
"I'm afraid not," he said.
It was the answer Judy had expected, but she knew that she had to at least try. "Thanks for your time, Bruce," she said, and let him show her and Nick out.
Once they were back in the car, Judy considered what their next steps should be. Between their lunch and meeting with Bruce, they only had a couple hours left before the appointment at the studio. "Where to?" Nick asked when she made no move to start the car.
Judy frowned and chewed at her lip. "Do you think Heather or Bruce did it?" she asked.
She had asked Nick the question before, but she wondered if his answer would change. "Now? No, I don't think so."
Judy sighed. "Neither do I," she admitted.
"We could still be wrong," Nick cautioned, "But why don't we check out Hyperion's alibi?
The deli that Jim Warren had said Hyperion had gone to on the night Holly was attacked looked like it had been there since the city was built. Liam's Deli was charmingly old-fashioned, down to the faded sign on the door which declared, in somewhat uneven text, "CASH ONLY" and the actual bell that jangled when the door opened. There wasn't much room inside the place to sit down and eat, and there was a small line of mammals, mostly bunnies, waiting to order. Nick and Judy got in line and patiently waited to get to the front. "Could we have a few minutes of your time, please?" Judy asked brightly with a smile, "ZPD."
The bunny behind the counter, a fat, older bunny with a name tag that read "Will" nodded. "You're Judy Hopps! Just give me a few minutes for the line to end, OK?"
A few more mammals had gotten in line behind Nick and Judy while they waited. "Absolutely, thank you," Judy said.
"Anything else?" the bunny asked.
"Two chocolate egg creams, please," Nick said.
Will shouted down the deli counter to another bunny, "Two egg creams!"
"Comin' right up," the bunny said, setting to work.
"Chocolate egg creams?" Judy repeated, as they walked over to the part of the counter that had a sign indicating that it was the spot to wait for orders and pay.
"Don't worry, Carrots. I don't know why they call them that. They don't have any eggs in them. Or cream. Just chocolate."
"Isn't chocolate bad for you?" Judy asked.
"Do you mean 'you' in the general sense, or me specifically?" Nick asked, smirking.
"The answer's the same to both, actually."
Judy rolled her eyes. "I don't want you getting sick," she said.
"Your concern is touching," Nick replied, and she found it difficult to tell whether or not he was being sarcastic, "But I'll be fine. There's barely any theobromine in chocolate syrup."
"If you're sure," she said, doing her best to push down her natural tendency to worry for him.
"I'm a big fox," Nick said, smiling.
While they had been talking, their desserts had been prepared and Nick paid up. Judy hadn't been exactly sure what to expect, but it turned out that a chocolate egg cream was a frothy and carbonated chocolate drink. "It's good, isn't it?" Nick asked, after she had taken her first sip.
The combination of chocolate and carbonation was an odd one, but it was refreshing and completely killed the remaining spicy aftertaste of her lunch. "Pretty good," she agreed, "Is this a city thing? I'd never heard of it."
Nick shrugged. "I guess. I haven't left the city much."
Before they could continue their conversation any further, the bunny they had asked to question walked over, all of the customers in the line having been served. "What can I do for you, Officer Hopps?" he asked.
"We're following up on a bunny that stopped in here a few days ago the night of the fourteenth. Were you working then?"
"Yeah, sure," Will said, scratching at one floppy ear.
"His name is Hyperion Leaps. Do you recognize him?" Judy asked, holding out a picture of Hyperion on her phone.
Will examined it closely. "We get a lot of customers every day. Most of them bunnies. Don't exactly stick out, you know?" he said.
"So he doesn't look familiar?" Judy asked.
Will shook his head. "Sorry."
"Do you have cameras?" Nick asked.
Judy thought about another way to go about it. "He came here to pick up an order. Do you keep records of that?"
Judy was afraid that the answer would still be no, but Will, who had been looking increasingly apologetic, suddenly brightened. "Oh yeah, why didn't you say he was here for an order? My son's real good with computers, he set up this order system. The fourteenth, right?"
"That's right," Judy replied.
"Just a minute," Will said, and then disappeared into the back of the store.
Nick and Judy sipped at their drinks while they waited for the bunny to get back. He finally reappeared with a printout, showing that Hyperion Leaps had put in an order for pickup on the fourteenth at about 4:30 and had picked it up at 5:57. "Thank you," Judy said, "Can we keep this?"
"Yeah, sure," Will said.
Before they could leave, he spoke up again. "There is just one more thing," Will said, fumbling with his apron nervously.
Judy's ears perked up, wondering if he had remembered any of Hyperion's visit. "Could I get a picture with you? My granddaughter's never gonna believe I met you if I don't."
She held back a sigh. "Of course," she said, as Will pulled a phone out of his apron pocket.
Nick looked positively gleeful. "Here, let me take that for you," he said, reaching for the phone as his smile split his face.
As Judy had figured would be the case, the snotty young wolf was still behind the reception desk when she showed up with Nick for their appointment. Mercifully, Bryce made no attempt to pretend that he didn't remember who they were or why they were there; he was probably an expert at pushing things just far enough.
"Mr. Wolf's office is just down the hall and to the left," Bryce said, his large fake smile on his face as he indicated the direction, "He's expecting the two of you."
Judy started off towards the doors that the wolf had indicated, but stopped when she realized that Nick hadn't moved from where he had been standing in front of the reception desk. "Tell me, Bryce, do you know what 'plausible deniability' means?" Nick asked in a friendly tone.
"No," Bryce replied shortly, and Judy caught a glimpse of something ugly flicker across his face.
Nick grinned. "I'm sure your teachers would find that a very plausible denial," he said jovially, "But I'll give you some free advice—one, it's a crime to interfere with a police investigation. And two, you might want to be careful about what you say over the phone. It's awfully easy to record a call. Just a couple things to think about."
Bryce's benign expression fully dropped, and Judy saw a brief moment of panic flit across his face before it was quickly replaced with out and out loathing. "I'll keep that in mind, officer," he said in a disinterested tone as he regained his composure, having apparently realized that the conversation would have gone very differently if Nick had actually had a recording of him telling Judy the wrong time.
"Glad to hear it!" Nick replied, and then started off in the direction that Bryce had indicated.
Once they were past the doors into the hallway, Judy grabbed Nick's arm and pulled him to bring his ear closer to her level. "Thanks," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I didn't do anything," Nick replied with a shrug, "I just gave him some advice."
I'm going to be traveling for Christmas, and I probably won't have Internet access. I didn't think anyone would mind if the next chapter went up early, and I didn't want to post it late. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy your holidays!
The first sign of Rich Wolf's power was the plaque on his door. While the other offices that they had passed on their way to his had plastic plates with the name and title of the occupant on a paper card, Rich Wolf's door had a brass plaque with nothing but his name on it. Compared to the other offices, it gave the sense of permanence, that while the mammals around him would come and go Rich Wolf would always be there.
At Judy's first knock, the door was pulled open by a coyote somewhat older than the wolf at the reception desk but with an identical dress sense. "Officers Hopps and Wilde to see you sir," he called into the office.
Rich Wolf's office was dominated by a massive desk, elaborately carved out of a dark wood that Judy couldn't identify. He didn't have a computer on it, just a telephone, a Rolodex, and neat stacks of paper. The wall opposite the door had a view of the waterfront, and the remaining walls were covered with the various awards Wolf had won over the course of a decades long career in television. The wolf himself was tall and thin, towering over everyone else in the office. He wore dark slacks and a white dress shirt with the top button undone. At his wrists were cuff links of what looked like solid gold, which matched a watch that probably cost more than Nick and Judy combined earned in a year. Although he had to be at least seventy, his pale blue eyes were sharp and alert and his presence was palpable. "Please, come in!" he said warmly, "I must say, it's a pleasure to meet you, Officer Hopps. And you as well, Officer Wilde! We had considered a fox as White's partner, but the test audiences think 'wolf' when they think police. Not that I can claim to be completely unbiased, of course."
He chuckled at his little self-deprecating remark. "I've always said, my secret is just that I figure out what the audiences want and then give it to them. As simple as that."
Rich Wolf clapped his paws together. "But where are my manners! Rich Wolf," he said, by way of introduction, thrusting his paw forward and giving Judy and then Nick in turn a firm shake.
"That'll be all for now, Carlos," he said to the coyote who had answered the door.
The coyote nodded sharply once and then left the office, closing the door behind himself.
Rich Wolf took a seat behind his desk and gestured at the chairs in front of it. Once Nick and Judy had sat down, he leaned forward, his fingers laced together. "So how can I help the two of you?"
"Anything you could tell us about why someone might be after Holly Leaves would be a big help," Judy replied.
Rich Wolf frowned. "I'll be honest with you," he said, "I'm the executive producer. I focus on the big picture, not the details. But if you want to talk to any of the actors or crew, I made sure they're all available for you."
Judy wondered if part of the reason that Bryce the receptionist had deliberately wasted their time was because he knew that his boss was going to be helpful and was doing his petty best to disrupt that. In any event, she wasn't going to waste the opportunity. "Let's start with her co-star," she said, "Thomas Lupowitz."
The dressing room of Holly's co-star, Thomas Lupowitz, was not particularly glamorous. It was a cramped room with a couch, a few chairs, an armoire, and a mirror over a small desk. Lupowitz had surrounded the mirror with photographs, which seemed split about evenly between ones showing him and a taller wolf that looked like he could be his brother and ones that were presumably from previous acting jobs, including several in which he was dressed in a turn of the century costume with sleeve garters, a straw boater hat, and an overlarge briefcase with the words "Prof. Harold Hill" painted on it. Lupowitz himself looked almost exactly as he did on Black and White; he was an entirely black wolf in excellent shape with yellow eyes. Where he diverged from how Judy expected him to look, however, was his height. She had seen him and Holly Leaves onscreen together and had met Holly, so in retrospect she should have realized that Lupowitz wasn't the average height for a wolf. He was easily the shortest wolf that Judy had ever met; he had at most three inches on Nick. Perhaps Thomas had a chip on his shoulder about his height, as he seemed to size up Nick as though he was expecting the smaller mammal to fight him. Either that, or it was one of those "canine things" that Nick occasionally referred to dismissively. Despite that, he introduced himself warmly enough and directed them to the couch while he took the chair in front of the mirror.
"What's your relationship with Holly like? Are the two of you close?" Judy asked.
Thomas laughed. "If you're asking if Holly was having an affair with me, Officer Hopps, let me put it to you this way. We'd both be cheating on our boyfriends."
Judy realized that the other wolf in the pictures around Lupowitz's mirror was probably not his brother, and that he had been sizing Nick up in quite a different way than she had initially thought. "That doesn't answer her question," Nick said smoothly, taking over the flow of the conversation.
The wolf sighed. "We're coworkers. We're friendly enough onset, but we've never done anything offset, you know?"
Judy wondered what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with her partner. When Nick had been at the academy, they had texted back and forth as much as their schedules would allow. Certainly, friendly but not friends described her relationship with most of her coworkers, but she couldn't imagine it extending to her partner. But then, Holly and Thomas were not really partners; they only played it onscreen.
"And she's a good actress to work with?" Nick asked.
Thomas nodded. "You know, I thought she'd be a nightmare because of her agent, but she's about the best I've ever worked with. Never has any trouble remembering her lines, listens to the director... She's a real professional."
Judy leaned forward. "What about her agent?"
Thomas paused for a moment, seeming to collect his thoughts. "Well, you know, I understand that an agent has to fight for their client. I expect my agent to try to get me the best possible deal. But this Thanatopsis guy... he was just going too far, you know?"
Nick smiled. "I don't, actually. What was he doing?"
Thomas laughed a bit more than the quip seemed to deserve. "I'm sorry. It's a bad habit," he said, clearly in reference to his tendency to insert the phrase "you know" into conversation, "Thanatopsis was just real pushy and demanding. He kept trying to get rewrites to give Holly more lines, he'd pitch fits at the producers... It got so bad by the second week of filming they banned him from the set."
Nick and Judy exchanged a wordless glance. "How well did he take that?" Judy asked.
"Not very," Thomas replied, "He blew up at Holly, told her she'd be nothing without him and she'd regret it if she dumped him when it came time to renegotiate her contract. Said that Rich Wolf would eat her alive."
Judy was furiously scribbling it all down. "Has it happened yet?" Nick asked.
"What, contract renegotiation?" Thomas asked, scratching the back of his head.
When Nick nodded, the wolf continued. "For her, maybe, I guess. They haven't officially renewed the show, but it's doing way too well to cancel. Holly only signed a one season contract, you know. The rest of us are all on a five year contract, so Thanatopsis must actually be pretty good at negotiating."
While Judy had never worked in television, she figured that the principle was pretty much the same as it would be in any field. With a one season contract, Holly had a lot more leverage than the other actors if the show was a success; she'd be negotiating from a position of strength since it'd be difficult for the show to replace one of its costars. The other actors, conversely, wouldn't be in a position to demand a raise until years down the line. She recalled from the packet of information that Clawhauser had put together that Black and White was going to run for ten episodes and the show hadn't been officially renewed yet. There were only four episodes left, and the next episode was scheduled to air the following day. It'd make sense for Holly to be in the middle of negotiating a new contract; the show had been a solid hit and Judy had the feeling that the drama surrounding the assault on its lead actress would only increase its popularity.
Nick had previously voiced his suspicion of the agent, and it sounded like there was definitely a potential reason to dig deeper. Thanatopsis had also been frozen out of Holly's press conference following the assault; she made a note to get a copy of the footage to see if there was anything useful there. Perhaps Holly had been on the verge of quitting the show or changing agents or otherwise doing something that Thanatopsis saw as a threat to his position.
"Can you think of anyone else who might be holding a grudge?" Judy asked, more as a matter of course than out of any expectation that the answer would be yes.
Lupowitz shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Well..." he started, sounding nervous.
Judy leaned forward a bit, but didn't say anything, and Nick did the same besides her. "There's this one guy. One of the lighting techs. Seemed to have a thing for Holly, you know? Like he was flirting with her a little. I don't know if she ever really realized that he was into her that way. But about four weeks back, I caught him."
When Lupowitz's pause started dragging on, Judy prompted him to continue. "Caught him doing what?"
"I saw him going into her dressing room," he said.
He dipped his head and his ears flattened back against his skull in obvious embarrassment. "Caught him going through her underwear," he mumbled to the floor.
That sounded like the kind of behavior that could have eventually lead to the attack. Perhaps the lighting tech had planned on getting revenge for his unrequited feelings, or perhaps Holly's boyfriend had been the target all along. "Holly didn't mention this guy, did she?" Nick asked, turning to face Judy with a thoughtful frown on his face.
"No, she didn't," Judy replied, seeing where Nick was going.
It was very strange that when prompted to think of a mammal who might want to hurt her or her boyfriend, Holly hadn't named the mammal who was at best a pervert and at worst some kind of crazed stalker. Lupowitz continued staring at the floor. "I never told her," he said, sounding ashamed, "Just the producer, Jim Capricorn. He fired the guy on the spot."
"Why didn't you tell her?" Judy asked.
Lupowitz sighed, and then looked up. "I'm almost forty," he said looking defeated, "I just... If this show doesn't work out, this might be it for my acting career, you know? So I thought, if Holly knew she had a creep after her, maybe she'd just walk when the season ended and it'd all be over. God, isn't that about the most selfish thing you've heard?"
He spoke the last of it with what sounded like genuine self-loathing, but Judy found it somewhat difficult to empathize with him. He had, in conjunction with the producer, kept Holly unaware of something that could have resulted in the death of her or her boyfriend. The fact that he was ashamed of his decision was a start, but even if Jacques Lapin made a full recovery Lupowitz had a burden he'd have to carry for the rest of his life if it turned out that the lighting tech was the guilty party. "Do you remember his name?" Judy asked, "Can you describe him?"
She kept her carrot pen poised over her notepad, waiting while the wolf tried to recall the details. "Bobby... something," Thomas said eventually, chewing his lip, "I think it started with an 'S.' He was some kind of rodent, I think, not a bunny."
Judy wasn't sure if Thomas was implying that he thought bunnies were rodents or merely specifying that Bobby wasn't a bunny, but his description sounded like it was enough for the studio to be able to find him in their files.
The mammal that Rich Wolf got to look into the studio's Mammal Resources files for them was his personal assistant, Carlos. Considering that Rich Wolf didn't seem to have a computer of his own, Judy got the feeling that Carlos did a lot of other tasks for him as well. The coyote had listened to the description they provided, and then started to type away at his keyboard. A few minutes went by as he apparently checked entries and didn't find matches until, at last, a small smile of triumph appeared on his face. "Roberto Escurel," the coyote said, rotating his monitor and showing them the file onscreen.
The picture that went with the name was of a squirrel who had apparently dyed his fur black, and hadn't done such a great job of maintaining it if the red roots were any indicator. The last name was instantly familiar, and Judy saw Nick's eyes widen in surprise as he made the same realization. "Escurel?" she asked, her heart pounding, "As in—"
Carlos cut her off. "Yes. He's the mayor's grandson."
As it turns out, I ended up with a pretty long layover on Christmas Eve and I do have Internet access. I was able to get the next chapter written and now that all my nieces and nephews are in bed, I have the means to post it. I figured I'd put up another chapter as my Christmas gift to you. If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you enjoyed it. If not, I hope it was still a nice day for you.
"Was that why he was hired?" Nick asked.
Carlos shrugged. "You'd have to ask the folks in MR about why he was hired, but he definitely didn't let anyone forget it when he was fired. Look."
Carlos pointed at a field further down the screen, which was labeled "Employee Termination Notes." The comments that had been entered in were blandly phrased, but the content was screaming red flags. Roberto Escurel had become aggressive and confrontational when he was fired and had to be escorted out by security. The entire time, he had been raving about how his grandfather the mayor would sue the studio and how he, personally, would make everyone regret firing him.
"Do you have an address listed for him?" Judy asked eagerly.
Roberto Escurel was by far the most promising lead of the case so far, and she had no intention of letting it slip away. "Sure," Carlos replied, "3200 14th Street, Apartment 9A."
"We have to call this in," Judy said, already out of her chair and ready to run to the patrol car.
"Wait a minute," Nick said, grabbing her arm, "That address is useless."
Carlos frowned at that, and Judy was equally puzzled. "Roberto probably isn't there anymore, but he could have left something behind," Judy protested, "We should be able to get a warrant and—"
"That's not what I mean," Nick said, "I mean it's not a real address. 3200 14th Street would be about a mile into the bay. And unless they've done a lot of expansion since I last checked, I don't think there's an apartment building out there."
"Oh," Judy replied, her ears drooping in disappointment.
She forced herself to perk up. Yes, it was a setback, but they did at least have something to go on. "Well, we can still call it in," she said, "It'll just be a little harder to find him."
A sly grin suddenly spread across Nick's face. "You're right," he agreed, "That sounds like a job for Grévy and LaMerk."
Judy paused. While it was more than a little petty, his logic was sound. They had promised the zebra and the bear that they would share the credit for the case, and having them do the legwork that would lead to the likeliest suspect to date was a good start. The fact that it could be a wild goose chase was besides the point. "That's a good idea," she agreed, a small smile of her own appearing on her face, "I'll go report it in."
"I'll stay here and talk to MR," Nick replied, and then called out after her retreating back, "Make sure you tell Grévy and LaMerk not to drive off the pier!"
The nameplate on the door of the studio's Mammal Resources Director identified her as Brenda Stipula. She was a cheerful middle-aged hedgehog, her purple pantsuit somewhat snug around a generous midsection. Her office was quite a bit smaller than Rich Wolf's, and the desk and the view out the window weren't nearly as nice, but she had made it quite homey by covering her desk and walls with photos of her family and what had to be artwork done by her children. The largest work of art was a white piece of construction paper that had a lumpy brown blob in the center that vaguely looked like a hedgehog. At least, Nick assumed that it was supposed to be a hedgehog since the word "Mommy" had been written underneath it in large, shaky red letters. Nick wasn't an art critic or a father (although he had pretended to be both while running hustles), but he'd guess that the child who had painted it couldn't have been more than seven or eight.
Carlos had made a quick introduction before popping out of the room to whatever other tasks his boss had assigned him; Nick suspected that the poor coyote's job description was something along the lines of "Do whatever I tell you to do at any time of day." Brenda's greeting had been warm and her shake firm, but that was about what he had expected. The type of mammal who could work their way up the ladder in MR tended to be pretty much exclusively outgoing and gregarious. "How can I help you today?" Brenda positively beamed at him.
"We're investigating the assault on Holly Leaves—"
"Such a shame!" the hedgehog interrupted, "She's such a sweet thing."
"—and we're looking into Roberto Escurel," he finished.
Stipula's face fell a little at that, and her cheeriness seemed to go down a degree. "Oh dear. He made quite a fuss when he was fired."
"Yes, that's what we heard," Nick replied, "Were there any warning signs before he was caught in Holly's dressing room?"
"Absolutely not," she said firmly, "Everyone who worked with him said he was quiet and kept to himself. Never complained, just did his work."
"I see," Nick said, "And what was his work?"
He already had a vague understanding of Roberto's job, but he was interested in seeing what Brenda's reply would be. Despite what she might claim, the job of MR was really to protect the company, not the employees, and he suspected that she would be willing to stretch the truth a little to do that. "He was one of our junior lighting techs," Brenda said, "They set up and take down studio lighting. It takes a lot of lights to make a show like Black and White, you know."
"Of course," Nick said easily, "So how did he get the job?"
That was the question that he considered the answer to most important. It was possible that Roberto's grandfather had pulled some strings to get his grandson the job, and considering how Zootopia's past two mayors had turned out, it seemed worth poking into. He eyed Brenda carefully, trying to spot any sign that she might be lying. "He was working towards his film major, he had some experience with lighting, and he was already in the union," she said with a shrug, "We got some other applicants, of course, but he was the most qualified."
"So it didn't have anything to do with his grandfather?"
"Of course not!" Brenda replied, looking mildly scandalized, "He didn't even mention he was related to the mayor until he got fired."
If she was hiding something, she was doing an excellent job of it; Nick hadn't seen any signs that she was lying. Nick switched gears to the next question that might reveal the hidden paw of Roberto's grandfather the mayor. "Has Roberto tried suing for wrongful termination?"
Brenda shook her head. "Not so much as a peep from a lawyer," she said, "But I've been in Mammal Resources almost twenty years now. A lot of folks like to say they'll sue when they get fired, but once they cool down a little they realize it's not worth it."
Describing a squirrel who had apparently been forcibly ejected from the building cursing out the other employees and vowing to make them pay as needing to cool down a little seemed like a gross understatement, but minimizing things was probably one of the more important parts of her job. "OK," Nick said, "Besides Thomas Lupowitz and the producer—Jim Capricorn, right?—did anyone else know why Roberto was fired?"
"We don't make that kind of information known," Brenda said, her tone a little chilly, "Thomas and Jim were the only ones."
"And did Roberto know that Thomas was the one who caught him?"
"Absolutely not," Brenda replied, her tone downright frosty, "We strive to ensure that our employees can speak up when they see something without fear of retribution."
To Nick, that sounded more like a direct quote from the employee manual rather than a statement of fact, but it answered his question. Stipula's obvious growing frustration was understandable; she seemed like the sort of mammal who took pride in her work and his questions could be taken as indirectly asking if she was incompetent at her job. "Well, thank you for your time," Nick said, "We appreciate your help."
Just like that, as though a switch had been flipped, Brenda's face went back to a cheerful but ultimately hollow expression. It wasn't all too different from the one that had served Nick well in his hustling days. "Anything we can do to help the ZPD," she said.
Following Nick's interview with the mammal in charge of MR and Judy radioing the station, they had spent some additional fruitless time speaking to other members of the cast and crew at the studio. None of them had been close to Roberto, not even the other mammals working in the same area as him. He was apparently something of a loner and had never joined in conversations with others or even eaten lunch with them. With nothing else left to do at the studio, they had headed back to the squad car.
"So," Nick asked brightly as he closed the car door, "What are the odds we have three criminal mayors in a row?"
Judy laughed as she put the car into drive and pulled out of the lot. "You don't think Mayor Escurel is involved in this, do you?"
Nick frowned. "It doesn't seem likely, does it? It's been weeks since Roberto was fired and the studio hasn't so much as heard from his lawyer. I get the feeling that he's not going to be suing the studio. And if the mayor is involved, why would he pull strings to get you assigned to the case? He knows what happened with the last big case you had."
"We solved it on my second try," Judy replied.
"Well, yes," Nick conceded, "But if the mayor's involved, there's no way he could think you'd help cover that up unless he's really stupid."
Judy was quiet for a minute, thinking about what Nick had said. Whatever her failing were as far as the missing mammals case went, it was absolutely true that she had demonstrated she wouldn't stand by and allow the abuse of power by an authority.
It's the same thing they said about Minxon," Judy said.
"What's that? 'I'm not a crook?'" Nick replied, quoting Minxon's famous line in a surprisingly good imitation of the former President.
He had taken his mimicry a step further by stretching his arms out with his fingers in the V for Victory pose that the mink had been fond of using. Judy snorted and pushed his left arm away, which had been getting a bit close to the steering well. "No, not what Minxon said. What they said about him. You know, that it's not the crime, it's the cover up?"
"So Roberto didn't get granddaddy's help committing the crime..." Nick said.
"But maybe he got some help afterwards," Judy replied, nodding.
Nick ran a paw along his narrow muzzle. "We can ask Roberto ourselves once Grévy and LaMerk track him down. Speaking of which, did he have a driver's license on file?"
"He did," Judy said, "Same fake address that the studio had. I just can't believe the DMV didn't catch that."
Nick laughed. "Really, Carrots? You've been to the DMV. Did you really get the impression that they'd care about something like that?"
"No, I guess not," Judy sighed, "But his license did have his height listed."
Nick's interest seemed suitably piqued, and she waited a moment to draw it out before he finally asked, "And...?"
"Two foot ten," she replied, "Close to the low end of our estimated height on the assailant, but definitely a possibility."
"I think we'll need to pay his grandfather a visit, too," Nick said thoughtfully.
After completing the paperwork to document what they had done that day, Judy made her way to the female locker room to change back into civilian clothing before heading back to her apartment. Although she had eagerly and proudly walked into the building on her first day of work in full uniform, she had quickly learned that there were a number of practical reasons not to do that. In particular, that if she got sweaty or dirty on a shift, she'd have to either go home in the same state or waste a change of uniform. Since the past shift hadn't been physically demanding at all, she skipped the shower and simply started getting changed.
She had finished changing and was in the process of stuffing the worn uniform into a bag when she heard the telltale sign of one of her coworkers approaching. While Francine could be remarkably quiet for an elephant, even her gentlest tread was always audible to Judy's delicate ears. Francine had clearly just finished a shower and was wrapped in a towel that Judy could have used to make five or six sets of bed sheets. "Judy!" the elephant called cheerfully as she opened her locker and started rummaging around, "How's it going?"
"Pretty good," Judy replied, studiously turning slightly away to avoid catching a glimpse of the elephant naked, "How about yourself?"
"Oh, can't complain," came the response, "Did Nick introduce you to his new girlfriend?"
Judy completely forgot about not looking at the elephant and spun around. "His what?"
Francine was, mercifully, not exposing anything at that point, but she just chuckled, apparently misreading Judy's surprise. "You don't have to cover for him," she said, "Bogo won't care unless he's taking extra breaks without clocking out, and I figure there's no way you'd let him do that. I heard from Wolford that Nick came back today reeking of a vixen."
Apparently Clawhauser was merely the biggest gossip in the police station, not the only gossip. Judy's first reaction was simple palpable relief. "That wasn't his girlfriend," Judy said, "We ran into a friend of his at lunch and she hugged him, that's all. I didn't know Wolford would be able to smell that."
She hadn't been able to smell Jamie on Nick at all, but considering the way that the younger fox had wrapped herself around Nick it made sense that a wolf would be able to pick it up. "Uh huh," Francine replied, not sounding convinced at all.
"You don't have to cover for him," the elephant repeated, "Clawhauser said Nick came in this morning with his fur un-brushed, wearing a T-shirt. A T-shirt! You really expect me to believe he didn't spend the night with a vixen? What'd he tell you he was doing last night?"
"He slept with me last night," Judy replied without thinking.
When her brain caught up with her mouth and she realized how that sounded, she quickly corrected herself, "I mean, we slept together last night."
That wasn't any better. Francine's eyebrows were climbing up her forehead in apparent disbelief. "That came out wrong," Judy said with a nervous chuckle, "I mean, we were watching TV at my place last night, and we both fell asleep. He didn't wake up until my alarm went off, so he didn't have time to go back to his place and he had to borrow one of my shirts."
Judy's speech had sped up a little and her ears had heated in embarrassment at her slip, but the elephant didn't seem to catch it. "Oh," Francine said, sounding to Judy as though she was disappointed that Nick was neither involved with a mystery vixen she could talk with Judy about nor involved with Judy herself, which would have been an even bigger piece of gossip for the station.
If, of course, that wasn't already what they were speculating. "Well, take care," Francine said, giving Judy a lazy wave with her trunk as she left the locker room.
"You too!" Judy called after the elephant.
She gave herself a minute to compose herself, then grabbed her bag and headed out. Nick was waiting in the lobby, chatting up the ibex who pulled desk duty after Clawhauser. "Ready to head out?" he asked.
Judy nodded, and they left to walk to the metro station. Nick was apparently absorbed in thoughts of his own, because they walked in silence. For her part, Judy was puzzling over the possibilities of the case. Was Roberto the assailant? Was his grandfather involved at all? She tried to push the thoughts away, and realized that they had somehow made it the station without her noticing. There were a few minutes before either of their trains would arrive, so she made a decision.
"Do you want to head over to my place and watch a few more episodes of Black and White?" Judy asked, "I owe you for lunch; I can pick up something for dinner."
A slow smile spread across Nick's face. "As long as I can catch a train back to my place afterwards. The showers in your building are terrible."
Author's Note: I've got the time off of school and work, so here's another bonus chapter!
"All you've got is conjecture and coincidence, Detective," the lawyer sneered, "No jury would ever convict my client."
The lawyer, a sharply dressed caribou, put an arm around his client. She was a middle-aged mountain lion, her eyes apparently red from crying. At the moment, however, she was stony-faced and glaring across the table in the interview room at the two detectives opposite her. The small room was made of cinder blocks and harshly illuminated by overhead fluorescent bulbs. The only pieces of furniture in the room were metal chairs and a metal table, all of which were bolted to the concrete floor. "Perhaps," Detective Black said evenly, "But then, perhaps not. We'll see when it goes to trial, won't we?"
"If you're done wasting my client's time, we'll be leaving now," the lawyer blustered, "Come on, Mrs. Leão-Baio."
The caribou and the mountain lion stood to leave, and the bunny and the wolf made no immediate move to stop them. When the lawyer had his hoof on the doorknob, Detective White spoke up. "You didn't mean to kill him, did you?"
The caribou grabbed Mrs. Leão-Baio by the paw. "You don't have to answer that. Come on."
The mountain lion had frozen in place. "It was an accident, right?" White continued, "It must have eaten you up inside, seeing your husband running off with someone young enough to be his daughter. But you still loved him, didn't you?"
"Come on, Helen," the caribou urged.
"He wasn't supposed to drink from that mug, right? Why wouldn't he use his favorite? Why would he give it to her? He never let you drink out of his favorite mug, did he? Maybe he just loved her more than he loved—"
The mountain lion tore her paw out of her lawyer's grasp and all but leaped across the table at the bunny. Even when her muzzle was mere inches away from Detective White's nose, the bunny didn't flinch. "He never loved her! Never! All she had to do was die and he'd move past it. It's her fault!" the mountain lion snarled.
"Helen, please!" the lawyer tried to interject.
"If... if she had just drank from the right mug... I wouldn't have... I wouldn't have killed him," the mountain lion sobbed as her entire body shook, her anger falling apart as her sorrow took over.
As Detective White snapped the cuffs onto the weeping mountain lion, Detective Black looked to the lawyer. The caribou's shoulders had collapsed as his client confessed to the murder, but he had forced himself back upright. "Conjecture, coincidence, and a confession," Black told him, sounding somewhat smug, "You might want to reconsider what a jury will do."
After the commercial break, Black and White came back for a brief coda in which the titular detectives discussed the twisted lengths to which some mammals would go for love, after which the scene faded to black and showed the credit for Executive Producer Rich Wolf, followed by the other credits. "When Grévy and LaMerk catch Roberto, can we interrogate him like that?" Nick asked, "I'll even let you be the bad cop."
Judy laughed and pushed the remains of her dinner around. She hadn't been particularly hungry for dinner after their lunch, but she had figured that they had to eat something. Her solution had been to pick up some fresh vegetables from the bodega around the corner from her apartment building and stir-fry them on her hotplate. One of the things that she had realized after moving to the city and becoming completely independent was that she couldn't survive off of frozen meals in the long term and she didn't have the cooking skills to prepare much else. Her options were limited when all she had to work with was a microwave, a mini fridge, and a hotplate, so while she thought she had more or less mastered stir-fries she was starting to get sick of them. Nick, for his part, hadn't objected to her selection for their dinner beyond telling her not to try stir frying grass. "You know that's not how interrogations work, Nick," she replied.
"Reality never lives up to our expectations, does it?" he asked in faux despair.
Although he clearly was not being serious, she considered what he had said. Her first day on the job as a police officer had gone nothing like how she had dreamed it would have gone, where she'd immediately be accepted as a valuable member of the force and win the respect of her colleagues. On the other paw, even in her wildest fantasies she had never imagined cracking a conspiracy that went to the very top of the city government and becoming a minor celebrity, or that her partner and best friend would be a fox. "That's not always a bad thing," she said.
Nick shrugged. As they had been the night before, they were sitting on her bed, watching the show on her laptop. "I should head out," he said, "If I show up to work in one of your shirts again, I think Clawhauser might explode."
"It's not just Clawhauser," Judy warned, "Francine told me that Wolford told her that you 'reeked of a vixen' when we got back today."
Judy had put the relevant phrase in finger quotes, which Nick laughed at. "Not the phrasing I would have chosen, but I'll take it as a compliment. They just can't believe someone this good-looking could possibly be single."
He hooked his thumbs towards himself and winked, but Judy just groaned. She threw one of her pillows at him lightly. "Get going, Slick."
Nick grabbed it out of the air and threw it back. "I can tell when I'm not wanted," he sniffed.
Judy just shook her head and put the pillow back in its rightful spot on her bed. "This was fun," she said smiling, "Maybe we can do this tomorrow, too. We've still got a couple episodes left."
"I could make some time," Nick agreed, "But tomorrow I'll make the dinner."
"You didn't like my stir fry?" she asked, playing up her disappointment a little.
"No, that's not it," Nick said, "It tasted fine. But you didn't enjoy it, did you? I'll bet you've been eating a lot of those same stir fries. Tomorrow I'll show you how to take them to the next level."
Judy had known Nick long enough to not be surprised by his perceptiveness; he had clearly noticed that she hadn't eaten much of her portion and correctly deduced why. "The next level, huh? I'll hold you to that."
Nick was on his way out her door at that point, but he paused in the doorway and smirked cheekily. "Nick Wilde never disappoints," he said, pulling the door shut behind himself.
"He does talk about himself in the third person though," she called through the door.
After he left, it was just about the time that she usually called it a night when she had work the next day, so she went through her usual bedtime preparations. When she crawled into bed, Judy realized that her blanket smelled faintly like Nick. It was comforting, somehow, and her last thought, as she drifted off to sleep, was to wish that she could have used him as a pillow again.
After the morning meeting, Judy's spirits were buoyed by the discovery that the new day had brought a few minor updates to the case. While Grévy and LaMerk hadn't managed to track down Roberto Escurel yet, they had identified a number of leads that they were working down. Jacques Lapin was still in his medically-induced coma, but the worst of the swelling in his brain had gone down and the doctors expected to be able to wake him up the following day if he continued to progress at his current rate. Additionally, the forensic technicians had apparently taken the obsolete file format of the video footage from Holly's apartment building as a challenge and had managed to convert the video into a format that would actually play on the police station's computers. Before she had the chance to dive deeper into any of the updates, however, the phone on Judy's desk in the cubicle she shared with Nick began to ring. "Hello, this is Officer Hopps speaking," she answered.
The telephones hadn't been updated in ages, and consequently most of the desk phones didn't have caller ID. As such, she was surprised when the voice on the other end of the line was Clawhauser's. "Judy! The mayor's here to see you!" he hissed into the phone.
"The mayor?" Judy asked.
"He's heading to your cube right now!" the cheetah warned, and then hung up.
Nick spun around, having apparently heard her half of the conversation. "What's that about the mayor?" he asked.
"That was Clawhauser," she replied, "Apparently the mayor is here to see me."
Nick frowned. "That's interesting timing," he said, "I wonder if the mayor has a source in the department."
Judy only had a moment to consider the implications before the mayor showed up outside the cubicle. Apparently, when Clawhauser had said that the mayor was on his way the cheetah hadn't been exaggerating. Mayor Escurel looked much the same as he had at the press conference of his that she had attended, although it looked like he was wearing a different tie. "I'd like to speak with you alone, Officer Hopps," the mayor said, ignoring Nick completely.
"There's nothing that you can say to me that you can't say in front of my partner," Judy replied.
"I think that I'm the judge of that," Escurel said archly.
"I'll just catch up on some paperwork," Nick said.
"It'll be fine. Why don't the two of you grab a conference room?" he asked, then spun around in his chair to face his desk.
Judy reluctantly allowed Escurel to escort her to the nearest conference room, which was a bit too large for two relatively small mammals. The furnishings were plain and limited to a scuffed table and a few mismatched office chairs. "Are you going to ask me to leave your grandson out of this?" Judy demanded as soon as Escurel shut the door behind them.
"You insult me, Officer Hopps," the mayor replied, but he looked more bemused than anything else.
"You insulted my partner," she shot back.
Escurel inclined his head, conceding the point. "You can tell him whatever you like after this discussion. For now, though, I'll be blunt. I don't trust him."
This was a side of Escurel that Judy had never been able to see through his appearances on TV or the interviews he had given. He usually came off as being somewhat stiff and boring, but still avuncular. Now, however, he appeared coldly calculating, and Judy could imagine how he had managed to get on the city council in the first place.
"Because he's a fox?" Judy asked innocently.
"Because he's a former petty crook. Tell me, why does he deserve a second chance?"
"Nick passed a full background check," Judy said tightly, willing herself to remain calm and not allow the mayor to see her aggravation, "You're not being fair to him."
"Life isn't fair," the mayor responded, "And that's the point I'm getting at. My grandson has had his troubles, yes. We've tried getting him help, and he's tried overcoming those troubles. He's had second, third, and fourth chances he never would have had if he wasn't related to me. And if he's lapsed again, if he's the one who committed this terrible crime, then I will not stand in the way of his prosecution. But unless you know, beyond any shred of doubt, that he's the one who did it, I'm asking you to keep his name out of the press."
Judy remained silent, considering the mayor's request, which he apparently took as an invitation to continue. "If this gets out, there will be riots. Mammals will be calling for my head, and they probably aren't going to care much about due process. You've seen what happens when mammals lose faith in their government. You know, better than anyone, I think, what's at stake if you're wrong."
"You could have stepped down," Judy said, "None of this would matter if you had left office after Bellwether's arrest."
Escurel smiled slightly, as though she had made a joke. "I'm not stupid. I know that Bellwether only chose me as her assistant mayor because she thought she could control me. But I also know what this city needs, and I've got the chance now to make sure that the city gets it."
"And what does the city need?" Judy asked.
She was genuinely curious. The mayor had campaign slogans and promises, but they all seemed like little more than empty buzzwords. The mammal in front of her seemed like the real Escurel, not the image he projected in front of audiences. "Sameness."
"Sameness?" she echoed.
"It shouldn't matter that Holly Leaves is a popular actress. Every attempted murder should get the same attention. It shouldn't matter that your partner is a fox. He should be treated the same as every other officer."
"And it shouldn't matter that Roberto is your grandson?" Judy asked.
Escurel smiled, but his eyes remained hard. "Exactly. Think about what I've asked. I'm sure you'll make the right decision. Things could get very difficult for you—and your partner—otherwise."
"Is that a threat?"
"Of course not," Escurel said, "Just an observation about how the world works."
With this regularly-scheduled chapter, it'll be back to the normal weekly update schedule for a while. I loved being able to post bonus chapters, but I'm also working on another Zootopia work of fiction; my goal is that the first chapter of the next work will be posted at the same time as the last chapter of this story. There's plenty of story left in Black and White, Red and Blue, so that's still a while off. I'd like to thank again everyone who's commented, bookmarked, or left kudos; your support really does mean a lot to me. I do read every comment and I've been trying to take the feedback that I get to heart to improve my writing. I hope you had a great 2016, and I look forward to continuing to write in 2017!
Having apparently made the point that he wanted to, the mayor stood up to leave. "Please sit down, Mr. Mayor," Judy said firmly, "We're not done."
She had spent a lifetime standing up for herself in the face of mammals who dismissed her and her dream of becoming a police officer and she wasn't about to let herself be intimidated into backing down by the mayor. Escurel made no motion to sit, but he didn't seem surprised. "If you want to make an observation of your own, perhaps that you and your partner have brought down two mayors and will make it three if you have to, don't bother. I think we understand each other."
"That's not what we have to talk about," she replied.
That, at least, seemed to pique enough curiosity in the squirrel for him to grudgingly sit back down. "Then what do we have to discuss, Officer Hopps?"
"We can't do what you're asking. Not commenting about an active investigation is one thing, but if we make an arrest that's public record."
Escurel smiled thinly. "We both know that an arrest is as good as a conviction in the court of public opinion. You'll have to figure something out."
Judy thought her way through the problem. "If your grandson comes in for questioning, that's not an arrest," she said carefully, "Do you know where Roberto is now?"
"No," Escurel replied, "But you have my word that when you do find him, if you take him in for questioning on this case without arresting him for it immediately, I'll make sure he doesn't go anywhere until you find the culprit."
Judy considered his proposal. It wasn't ideal, but it also wasn't flagrantly illegal. "Only if I still have your word that if the evidence does point to him you won't stand in the way of his arrest."
The mayor nodded. "You have my word."
"Then help me. What kind of trouble has your grandson had?"
Escurel considered her question before he responded. "When Bobby takes his medicine and sees his therapist, he's fine," the mayor said slowly, apparently choosing his words with care, "But eventually, one of two things happens. He starts feeling like he doesn't need them anymore or he starts feeling like the medicine is killing his creativity. Either way, he stops. Sometimes he's fine for a few weeks, or even a few months, but it never lasts."
Mental health was a delicate issue, and it was one that Judy guessed the mayor was somewhat sensitive about when it came to his grandson. She couldn't tell whether that was grandfatherly concern, fear that having someone in his family labeled as "crazy" by the press would ruin his career as a politician, or a mixture of the two, but she thought playing on his concern might help. "What kind of art does he do?" she asked.
The mayor seemed surprised by the question. "What's that?"
He had probably been expecting more prying into whatever condition that his grandson had rather than a question about his grandson as a mammal. "You said that he feels like the medicine hurts his creativity. He must be an artist of some kind, right? Does he paint or play an instrument or—"
"He writes," the mayor said, with a faint smile and what sounded like genuine pride in his voice, "Ever since he was little, Bobby's been writing movies."
The mayor sighed and his expression became melancholy. "When he's not taking his medicine, he can write dozens of pages a day. When he takes it, he struggles to do more than a page a week. I understand why he stops, but it makes everything else fall apart. He doesn't take care of himself, he stops going to school or work, but he's never been violent."
Escurel looked her dead in the eye, "He's never hurt anyone but himself, Officer Hopps. I promise you that."
Judy reconsidered her opinion of the mayor. He was still a hypocritical bully, but there was more to him than that. In a way, it was a little disappointing; it was easier to dislike him when he was just a ruthless politician. "That must be difficult to watch," she commiserated.
"I hope you're never in a position to understand it, Officer Hopps," the mayor replied, standing up to leave again.
This time, Judy made no move to stop him.
"So, what was that about?" Nick asked once Judy got back to their shared cube, "Or is this one of those 'If I told you I'd have to kill you' type scenarios?"
"The mayor doesn't want us to arrest his grandson unless we're confident that he's the one who did it."
"Ah," Nick said with a nod, but he didn't look surprised.
"So what did you tell him?" he asked.
"I agreed that we'd only bring Roberto in for questioning to start with and the mayor agreed that he'd keep an eye on Roberto so that he doesn't run," Judy replied.
"Do you think I did the right thing?" she added suddenly.
Nick scratched his muzzle, and Judy watched as his tail wagged back and forth thoughtfully. "You probably didn't have much of a choice, did you?"
"That's not a yes or a no," Judy replied.
"Neither was that," Nick said with a chuckle.
When she didn't respond in kind, his joking facade receded and he grew serious. "I don't think you had a good choice, but I think you made the best one."
"But was it the right one?" she pressed.
Judy hated the idea of choosing the lesser of two evils, particularly when it came to her work. In her mind, the police were supposed to make the world a better place for everyone whether or not that inconvenienced those in power.
"It might not matter anyway," Nick said with a shrug, "We can see what Roberto says once he's brought in. But right now it's not looking so great for him."
"Did you find something?" Judy asked hopefully.
"I did," Nick said, grinning broadly, "Look at this this."
He beckoned her over to his computer, where he had a video, currently paused, pulled up onscreen. "This is footage from one of the shops near Holly's apartment building," he explained, "A few of them have cameras with street views."
He started the playback. The footage was much better than the one from the apartment building; it was still in black and white, but the picture was crisp and the frame rate was much higher. At first, it wasn't obvious that it was a video, since it was a fixed view outside the building, capturing the outside of the door and the street, but then a car crossed the frame and a couple mammals walked past, all of them in rapid motion. Apparently Nick was fast-forwarding. Once he got back to the spot he wanted, he paused. "Look familiar?" he asked, tapping a claw on a figure onscreen.
The mammal he had pointed out was unquestionably Roberto Escurel. He was dressed in dark clothes and wearing a backpack, and the image was sharp enough that there was no mistaking that it was him. "Nick!" Judy said excitedly, "This is great!"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," he cautioned, although he seemed to be basking in her praise. "This is from about fifteen minutes after the attack, if the time stamps on both cameras are right. He is heading away from Holly's building, though."
"Were you able to find footage of him going towards the building?" she asked.
"Not yet, but I really only just started looking while you were talking to the mayor," he said.
They spent the next few hours combing through the other available footage, but didn't come up with anything. Due to the fact that the camera coverage was limited, this wasn't necessarily a surprise; it would have been quite possible to approach or leave the apartment building without crossing the line of sight of one of the cameras. To illustrate this, Nick had printed out a map of the city block that Holly's apartment building was in and drawn in lines indicating where the cameras did see. The other issue, as Judy pointed out, was that there was no telling how long the assailant had waited by Holly's apartment building waiting for Jacques Lapin to show up and make their attack, or how long they had waited around afterwards. It could have been minutes or hours, but they had no way of telling.
Judy frowned as she considered the map again. "Maybe we just need to widen our scope," she said, "We could take a look at footage from some of the cameras that are further away."
Nick yawned widely, his long tongue flapping out theatrically. "Maybe," he agreed, "But if we make our net wider, the holes just get bigger."
He did have a point there. Every gap in camera coverage they tried to account for would just lead them further and further out into the city, and it would quickly become unmanageable to review all of the footage. Of course, it was also possible that Roberto wasn't the assailant and they had seen and disregarded the true perpetrator onscreen. Judy was still considering the best next course of action when her desk phone rang.
"Hello, this is Officer Hopps," she answered automatically.
"Judy! Ben again," came the response.
She was almost afraid that the mayor had come back, but the cheetah on the other side of the line continued. "Officer Grévy from Precinct 4 just called in. Something about having your guy? Do you know what that means?"
Judy's heart sped up its pace in her excitement. "Grévy and LaMerk have Roberto Escurel? Are they one their way here?"
"I don't know, she was pretty rude," Clawhauser replied, and Judy could practically hear the pout in the friendly cheetah's voice, "She just said they'd be here in ten."
Judy heard something she couldn't quite make out from the other side of the line—one of the other officers trying to get Clawhauser's attention, probably—and he hurriedly said goodbye and hung up.
Nick had his usual lazy expression on his face, but Judy could tell he was picking up on her excitement and had gotten the gist of the conversation. "Come on," she said, "Let's go to the lobby."
Grévy's muzzle and forearms were covered with thin scratches, apparently from sharp squirrel claws, but the zebra and her partner both looked rather cheerful. LaMerk was holding Roberto Escurel in a single massive paw; the bear was so much larger that the squirrel looked like a stuffed toy. Roberto looked much the same as he had in his employee photo, although he did look rather disheveled and his right eye was swelling shut. His fur was still poorly dyed black with the red roots showing, but it looked greasy, as though he hadn't washed himself in quite some time. This was supported by the appearance of his T-shirt and jeans, which were covered with food stains, and with the rank smell that he gave off. Upon seeing him in the fur, Judy also understood why Thomas Lupowitz hadn't been able to identify Escurel's species. She had assumed that, like many mammals, Thomas simply had difficulty identifying mammals by species outside his own genus. However, Roberto had completely shaved his tail, removing what most mammals would have used as the key identifier that he was a squirrel. Beneath the fuzzy red stubble on his tail she could see bold black geometric tattoos.
In a way, Judy was impressed by Roberto's spirit. He was muzzled, cuffed, and being held by a mammal who probably outweighed him and his entire family twice over, but he was still struggling furiously. "He tried to run," Grévy explained with a laugh.
"As though a squirrel could outrun a zebra," LaMerk added.
"He was certainly able to outrun a certain bear," Grévy replied, playfully poking LaMerk's gut on the side opposite the arm holding Roberto.
The bear didn't flinch at her prod and simply smiled. "Next time, you can catch and hold the perp. I'll take him to processing."
For the second time that day, Judy was struck with the feeling of seeing a different side of somebody. When she had met the zebra, she wouldn't have imagined her to be capable of cracking jokes or of bantering with her partner. As LaMerk ambled off, Judy turned to Grévy. "Are you OK?"
The zebra waved her concerns off. "They're just scratches. I'll be fine."
"Why's LaMerk taking Roberto to processing?" Nick asked.
Grévy looked at Nick as though just realizing that he was present. "Do you mean besides resisting arrest?" she asked scornfully, and Judy was reminded of the distaste that the zebra had shown for Nick the night they had met, "We caught him trying to sell pills. And don't forget our deal, Officer Wilde. LaMerk and I get all the credit for this one."
Judy caught Nick's eye and sighed internally. The mayor wasn't going to like this.
Nick grinned. "We'll make absolutely sure the two of you get all the credit for arresting the mayor's grandson," he said.
Grévy's eyes narrowed and she took a step closer to him. "Is this all just a game to you?" she asked.
"Certainly not," Nick said, his face a perfect mask of sincerity that didn't fool Judy for a second.
From the way that Grévy took another step closer to Nick and leaned down to look him in the eye, it was clear she saw the insincerity as well. "Justice is supposed to be blind, fox," she said, her muzzle inches away from his.
Nick didn't flinch as she continued, "It shouldn't matter who you know."
Judy got the feeling that Grévy meant "you" in the specific case of Nick rather than in the general sense, and it went a long way towards explaining the zebra's dislike for her partner. She apparently thought that Nick had escaped punishment for his own misdeeds simply on the strength of his connection to Judy.
Before Grévy could continue or Nick could fire back with a cutting remark of his own, Judy put herself between the two mammals. "Hey!" she said, "We're all on the same side here."
The zebra snorted. "Mammals don't change," she said, giving Nick a hard look.
Judy tensed, wondering if Grévy was about to do something more, but the zebra turned and started pointedly walking away. "Keep an eye on your partner, Hopps," she called over her shoulder, "If you're not careful, you'll go down with him, celebrity or not."
"Always a pleasure talking to her, isn't it?" Nick asked brightly, "Such a ray of sunshine."
"She can't talk to you like that," Judy protested, and started off after the zebra.
Before she could finish taking a single step, Nick grabbed the back of her collar. "It's not worth it," he said, his face serious.
"But nothing," he said firmly, "Grévy's got a few years of service on us, but she's never going to get promoted because she won't play the game. And every time she gets passed over because she's rigid and unpleasant and cares more about the letter of the law than the spirit, she'll blame everyone but herself. That's enough for me."
Judy considered Nick's take on Grévy. She didn't particularly care to think of office politicking as a game, but he had a point. Judy wondered how her own career would be going if she had never gotten involved in the missing mammals case. Would she have eventually turned out like Grévy, blaming others and refusing to consider how her own attitude affected the way her fellow officers treated her?
"It's still not right for her to talk to you like that," Judy said softly.
Nick shrugged. "I don't really care what she thinks."
He said it lightly, but it looked like he meant it. "Why don't you call the mayor, and I'll go see what I can get out of his grandson before he figures out how to get him off the hook?" Nick asked.
Judy sighed. "Sure, take the easy job."
Judy reluctantly dialed the mayor's office, not looking forward to the conversation. The rings of the phone were agonizing, but eventually her call was answered by a chirpy female voice. "Mayor Escurel's office, how may I direct your call?"
Judy forced herself not to sigh. Of course he wouldn't directly answer his calls. "This is Officer Judy Hopps," she said, "Can you tell the mayor it's urgent? I need to talk to him now."
"Just a minute, please," the mammal on the other side of the phone said in that same unnaturally cheery tone.
Judy tried distracting herself as she waited on hold by trying to guess what song the muzak was butchering. She thought it might be something from R.A.M. or the Naked Bear Ladies, but her musings were interrupted when the hold music ended and Escurel answered. "What is it, Officer Hopps?"
Judy had done her best to plan out her end of the conversation ahead of time, and it was apparently time to find out how the mayor would take the news. "Your grandson's been arrested for the attempted sale of prescription drugs, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer."
"I see," said the mayor, and while he spoke softly Judy could practically hear the undercurrent of raw anger in his voice, "I'm very disappointed to hear that."
"Those are the only charges currently against him," she continued, "But he is being held until his bail gets set."
"You are a mammal of your word, aren't you?" the mayor asked, his voice tinged with bitterness, "I appreciate the call."
With that, he hung up. Judy stared at the phone for a moment. Technically, she hadn't violated the agreement that she had made with the mayor; Roberto had been arrested on charges totally unrelated to the assault on Holly Leaves. Still, she wouldn't put it past the mayor to find some kind of way of getting back at her for his grandson's arrest and what would likely be a media circus. The call had been much shorter than she had anticipated, which meant that Nick was probably still interrogating Roberto. She sighed as she leaped to her feet and headed towards the interrogation rooms. She just hoped that Nick was having some luck.
The interrogation room actually looked a lot like the ones that showed up in movies and TV shows. One wall was a large one-way mirror and the furniture was limited to a few chairs and a single table. When Nick entered, Roberto was already sitting, and the squirrel pointedly ignored him.
"Hi Roberto," Nick said, "I'd like to ask you a few questions."
"I'm not saying anything without my lawyer here," Roberto said defiantly.
"OK," Nick replied easily, "What's your lawyer's number?"
Roberto shifted uncomfortably in his seat and didn't reply.
"What's your lawyer's name? We can look them up," Nick continued.
When Roberto made no response, Nick shot him a disarming smile. "You don't have a lawyer, do you?"
Roberto's silence continued a moment longer, before he sighed and collapsed in his chair. "No."
"Would you like us to call your grandfather?"
Roberto crossed his arms. "No. And I'm not saying anything else."
Nick shrugged, making a careful mental note about the squirrel's reaction to the mention of his grandfather. "That's your prerogative," he said, "But I still have to ask the questions, even if you don't answer. Bureaucracy, you know how it is."
The squirrel remained silent, but he was fidgeting in his seat and tapping one foot against the leg of his chair. "Could I get you something?" Nick asked, "Something to drink, maybe some ice for your face?"
Roberto's right eye had swollen completely shut, an apparent memento from Grévy arresting him. Nick wondered if she had tackled him; considering how much bigger the zebra was, he must have hit the ground pretty hard. "I'd like some ice," Roberto said grudgingly.
"Alright," Nick said, and then hit the intercom button, "Could we get an ice pack in here?"
Nick waited patiently, perfectly willing to allow Roberto to stay silent. When an officer entered the room with a bag of ice wrapped in a paper towel, Nick gestured towards Roberto and the officer handed it over. Roberto winced and quietly hissed in pain as he put the ice pack to his black eye. Once he had it in place, the squirrel relaxed marginally.
"Bobby—do you mind if I call you Bobby?—things aren't looking so great for you right now," Nick said.
The squirrel made a noncommittal noise that Nick took as an invitation to continue. "I can help you if you can help me," he continued, "We spoke to Mammal Resources at the studio. They said you were caught trying to steal Holly Leaves's underwear and—"
"That's a lie!" the squirrel interjected heatedly, "I was leaving her a letter. They just wanted to get rid of me!"
"OK," Nick said, "But they also said that you made threats when you were fired. Something about making everyone regret it?"
Roberto's ears drooped and he slumped further down in his chair. "I got carried away," he admitted, "But I'd never hurt Holly. Never."
Nick considered the squirrel carefully. "That's an interesting choice of words," he said, "Since the only one who got hurt was Holly's boyfriend."
"I didn't do it!" Roberto said, dropping his ice pack and pounding the table with clenched fists.
Nick didn't react to the squirrel's display of emotion. "I didn't say that you did," Nick replied, "But you can see how it looks, can't you?"
"I didn't do it," Roberto repeated, somewhat more quietly, as he picked his ice pack back up and reapplied it to his eye.
"Then help me," Nick urged, leaning over the table, "Do you have any idea who might have done it?"
Roberto hesitated. He opened and closed his mouth several times, apparently struggling with whether or not to say something. Nick did his best to maintain his cool outward appearance while he resisted the urge to try pressuring the squirrel. One of the lessons that he had learned hustling—and one of the lessons that was surprisingly applicable to life as a cop—was that most mammals would eventually talk just to fill the silence. "Well," Roberto eventually started, "I guess—"
He was cut off when the door to the interview room slammed open and a middle aged badger in an expensive suit stormed in, trailed by the same officer that had delivered the ice pack. "My client isn't going to answer any more questions," the badger said icily as he took up a position by Roberto, "Particularly questions unrelated to the charges that he was arrested for."
Nick held up his paws in a gesture of acquiescence, while inwardly he wished that the lawyer hadn't shown up for another minute. Roberto had been difficult for Nick to read, but the squirrel had clearly been extremely nervous. That wasn't unexpected for a mammal who stood facing some pretty serious charges, so Nick wasn't sure whether or not he was lying. It made Nick wish that Grévy and LaMerk hadn't caught Roberto committing a crime; it would have made it easier if the squirrel didn't have two different crimes he could have been worrying about.
When Nick left the room, Judy joined him, coming from the small adjoining room on the other side of the one way mirror. "His grandfather arrange the lawyer?" Nick asked.
"Probably," Judy replied.
"So what now?" Nick asked.
"LaMerk got Roberto's real address. Why don't we check it out?"
Nick smiled. One of the things he appreciated most about his partner was her seemingly boundless determination. "Can I drive?"
Judy laughed, already off down the corridor like a shot. "No, we're in a hurry here!" she called back.
Nick opened the door to Roberto's apartment and instantly recoiled. A second later Judy caught the stench and understood his reaction. It was terrible, a combination of unwashed mammal and rotting food. "I don't think he'll be getting his security deposit back," Nick said after he took a moment to recover.
That was something of an understatement. The apartment was even smaller than Judy's, with a ceiling low enough that Nick couldn't quite stand up straight. Aside from the arc that the door swung through, the floor was covered with crumpled clothes, half-empty takeout containers, and assorted other garbage. The small bed was covered with a mound of dirty laundry that Roberto evidently slept in if the depression in the center was any indicator. There was a small table with a laptop and a stack of empty bottles, fast food wrappers, and junk mail on it, along with a battered office chair that was the only piece of furniture not covered by the mess. The walls themselves looked greasy and were splattered here and there with mysterious stains and mold. Once they were inside, Judy carefully looked around, her nose wrinkled, gingerly standing on the bare spot of the floor by the door.
It hadn't been visible when she was standing outside the room, but the wall that the door was in was a shrine to Roberto's obsession. He had covered the wall with pictures and articles about Holly Leaves. The somewhat haphazard and uneven arrangement of items made it like a creepy reflection of Hyacinth Leaves's own shrine to her daughter. Judy recognized some of the photos from the packet that Clawhauser had put together, including one that had been of Holly and Jacques walking paw in paw. The picture on Roberto's wall, however, had been trimmed to remove Jacques entirely. In addition to the photos, there were articles that had been printed off the Internet or cut out of magazines, most of which had lines highlighted. The common thread seemed to be that Roberto had highlighted personal information about Holly, like her favorite foods, hobbies, and seasons, but one stood out as particularly ominous. She recognized the article as being from the same issue of TV Weekly that Hyacinth had framed in her living room. Roberto had highlighted and underlined part of the interview in which Holly had said that she wished she could meet her personal heroine, Judy Hopps. It was also the only article on the entire wall that had something underlined as well as highlighted.
Judy frowned as she considered the facts of the case. The only mammal injured in the attack had been Holly's boyfriend Jacques, who had been removed from every photo of the couple that Roberto had on his wall. Had Jacques been the real target of the attack? Had Roberto been attempting to take Holly's boyfriend out of the picture in reality while simultaneously trying to grant her wish of meeting Judy? It made a twisted sort of sense, and Roberto's apartment didn't strike her as being the product of a balanced mind.
She continued looking around the room, carefully making her way to the table with the laptop. She cursorily flipped it open, fully expecting the computer to be locked but still willing to check. As she expected, it was locked, so she started going through the rest of the mess on the table. Most of it was literal garbage, and Roberto's stack of mail didn't seem to have anything worthwhile in it, just letters from creditors demanding payment and the same sort of junk solicitations that made up the bulk of her own mail. Judy was ready to move on to help Nick go through the mess on the floor when the image on the laptop's screen caught her eye. While she had been going through the items on the table, the computer's screen had switched from showing the lock screen asking for the password to a screen saver of images Roberto had apparently saved to its hard drive. Most of them looked like they had simply come off his cell phone, including pictures of menus and a shot of a park partially obscured by his thumb over the lens. But one of the images that came up was of a group of mammals on a stage holding a sign that read "Team Dramatically Personal." There were about two dozen mammals, most of them around the same size as Roberto; she hadn't immediately spotted him in the image because his fur was its natural red rather than the black that he had dyed it to. Judy thought she had spotted another recognizable face in the team, but she had spent enough time looking for Roberto that the picture changed before she could confirm it. The next image that came up, however, made it much easier. Roberto was hoisting a trophy that read "1st Place - Drama" while the same mammals from the prior image celebrated around him. One of the mammals, frozen in time clapping Roberto on the back, was a bunny with white fur with brown splotches.
"Hy!" Judy said.
Nick looked up from where he had been digging through the mess on the floor, and then out the open door where there was no one standing, and back at her. "Hi, Carrots," he said with a wave.
"What?" she asked, before realizing his confusion on the homophone, "No, I'm not saying 'Hi.' Hyperion! Look!"
She pointed at the laptop's screen. The image had changed again, but the current picture looked like it had been taken right around the same time as the previous one, and Hyperion Leaps was still plainly visible standing next to Roberto. Nick's eyes widened in understanding. "Wait a minute," he said excitedly, "Bobby said that he was trying to give a letter to Holly, but he never said that it was from him."
Judy hadn't been present for all of Nick's interrogation of the squirrel, but she had watched part of it through the one-way mirror and Nick had given her the highlights of what she had missed on their drive over to the apartment. Her own eyes widened as she realized the connection that Nick was making. "Hyperion said that he wrote a letter to Holly, but how would he have sent it to her? He didn't have her address and it wasn't one of the pieces of mail her agency received but—"
"Maybe he got his friend from the community theater group to deliver it for him," Nick finished, clearly pleased that she had caught on so quickly.
"But Holly never mentioned that letter," Judy said with a frown.
"The studio might have gotten rid of it so that Holly wouldn't know that someone was poking through her underwear drawer," Nick pointed out, "I got the feeling that Brenda wasn't telling me something. But Roberto and Hyperion clearly know each other, and that's what's important."
Judy mulled it over. It didn't quite make sense that both Roberto and Hyperion would mention the letter that connected them if they were trying to avoid getting charged, but not every criminal was exactly a mastermind. She turned her thoughts to some of the other details of the case. "Hyperion's store had the same kind of bouquet wrap as the one that the bolt cutters were hidden in," Judy said, her foot starting to tap in excitement as the pieces came together, "Do you think that they did it together? Or was Roberto just Hyperion's patsy?"
"I don't know," Nick said, "But I'm thinking that Roberto was the one at the door."
He pulled something off the floor and shook it out with a theatrical flourish. In one gloved paw Nick was holding up a yellow raincoat that looked exactly like the one that the perpetrator had been wearing in the video footage. "I think it's time we pay Hyperion another visit," Judy said.
Although Judy's first instinct was to immediately rush out to question Hyperion again, she grudgingly forced herself to wait until after the forensics team showed up and she had the chance to emphasize how important it was that they check out the rain coat. Considering that the perpetrator of the attack on Jacques had struck the bunny in the head with a pair of bolt cutters hard enough to break the skin and leave a puddle of blood on the floor, it seemed likely that the raincoat the perpetrator was wearing could have been splattered with blood. If Roberto's raincoat had bunny blood on it, the case against the squirrel would be more or less airtight. In the meantime, however, until they had a definitive case against Roberto, the investigation had to continue with the mammal that seemed most plausible as a potential accomplice.
Hyperion was at Green Gables Grocers, which was unsurprising since the store's grand opening was scheduled for the following day. Since their first visit to the store, an incredible amount of progress had been made; the building itself actually looked finished. There was produce lining most of the displays and the smell of fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm competed with the chemical scent of almost equally fresh paint. Hyperion, his store's general manager Jim Warren, and about half a dozen assorted other mammals were working their way down one of the still bare aisles and setting it up. Nick caught the bunny's attention by scratching his claws against the glass of the store front; Hyperion looked up with an annoyed expression (which Judy was sure she had shared, as the resulting noise was painfully loud from where she was standing at Nick's side) that vanished once he saw who his visitors were. He quickly made his way over to the door, let them in, and then ushered them to the manager's office at the back of the store while Warren and the other employees continued their work.
"Do you know Roberto Escurel?" Judy asked, carefully trying to gauge Hyperion's reaction.
"You mean Bobby?" he asked, sounding genuinely surprised at the question, "Sure, we were in a community theater group together. What about him?"
Judy had half-expected and half-hoped that he would deny any knowledge of Roberto; it would certainly make things easier if they could catch him in a lie.
"You said you were in a theater group with him. What happened?" Nick asked.
Hyperion scratched at one ear. "I joined the group when I first moved out here," he said, "The group needed someone to pay for everything, and I wanted a way back into theater that didn't need a lot of my time."
Judy recalled that Hyperion had said, when they first interviewed him, that he had been involved in acting until his sister's career started taking off and his mother switched her focus. He smiled thinly. "They never complained about how little I showed up, and I got to call myself the producer. Win-win. The group was doing a contest for a ten minute play, and Bobby wrote the script."
"He did?" Judy echoed.
Considering what his grandfather had said about him, it wasn't too surprising that Roberto had written a script, but considering the state of his apartment and how he had been described by mammals at the studio as being strange and standoffish it did strike her as a bit unusual.
"He did the lighting, too," Hyperion said.
"He must have been pretty good," Nick ventured, "At script writing, at least. I don't know about the lighting."
Hyperion chuckled. "He was, at both. We won first place in the drama category."
"Would you say you were friends with him?" Judy asked.
"Not really," Hyperion said with a shrug, "He was kind of..."
The bunny seemed to struggle for the right word. "Off. I mean, even for a squirrel he was twitchy. He'd never really look you in the eye when you were talking to him, and he was really thin-skinned about his script. He blew up at the lead actress when she had some suggestions for her monologue."
Hyperion shook his head. "There's a lot of drama in drama. Lots of mammals under a lot of stress, and considering the kind of mammal that acting attracts..."
Judy wasn't sure if that was a veiled dig at his sister or not, but Hyperion continued. "I made sure he apologized to her, and he was never as friendly to me after that."
"So why did you ask him to give your sister a letter? You did that after all of that happened, right?" Nick asked.
"I did," Hyperion acknowledged, "I figured it was the best way to make sure Holly got it. When we did talk, he was always telling me about how lucky he was to work with her and what an amazing actress she was. I didn't have her address and I thought that if I sent it to the studio or her agent that it'd never end up in her paws."
"You had said that you never heard back from Holly," Judy said, "But did Roberto say anything? About how she reacted to getting it?"
Hyperion's answer had been perfectly reasonable, but Holly had supposedly never received the letter. Judy was interested to see how he would respond to her follow up question, although it was more than a little leading. "He said she tore it up and told him not to give her anything else from me."
If Hyperion was lying, he was doing a very good job of it. He had sagged a little in apparent disappointment as he explained his version of events. If he was really trying to reconcile with his family after years without contact, his frustration that the bridges he had burned on his way out were still impassible was understandable, but it was still quite possible that he was just covering his own involvement in the attack on his sister. "Do you still see Roberto as part of the theater group?" Nick asked.
"I've had less time as we got closer to the store opening," Hyperion replied, "I haven't been to any of the meetings in about a month, but I heard that Roberto quit the group about three weeks ago."
Roberto had been fired from his job about a week before that, which made Judy wonder how long Roberto's downwards spiral had gone on. "Have you heard anything from him recently?" she asked.
"No, I haven't," Hyperion said, "I tried calling him a few times when I heard he quit, but he never answered his phone."
There didn't seem to be anything else to ask Hyperion at the moment, so Judy thanked him for his time and headed out of the office, Nick slightly ahead of her. On their way out of the store, Judy noticed Nick fixing his attention on a display of fresh blueberries. "Nick!" she hissed up at him, "Don't even think about it!"
He favored her with a wounded expression and shook his head in mock dismay. "You think so little of me, Officer Hopps," he said sadly.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm hungry too," she admitted; they hadn't stopped for lunch and the sun was starting to set.
"Let's grab something," Nick said, "I can make you a better stir fry some other night."
Judy felt a stab of disappointment, but she had no intention of stopping for the day; she had the feeling it was going to be a long night.
"OK," Judy said, "But I'm paying this time."
"Then I'll make sure it's something expensive," Nick said with a grin, plucking the keys to the cruiser out of her paw before she could react.
"Well, someone's lying," Nick said between bites of his (actually quite reasonably priced) sandwich, "But does it matter?"
Judy could see the point to his question. There were, as she saw it, four basic possibilities about the letter from Hyperion to Holly. Either it existed or it didn't, and if it had existed, Holly had either received it or hadn't. At a minimum, either Holly, Hyperion, Roberto, or the Mammal Resources director at the studio was lying, but it was also possible that more than one of them was lying. Perhaps Hyperion really had written a letter and given it to Roberto to deliver, but Roberto had simply discarded it and really had been going through Holly's underwear to his own ends. To Nick's point, none of that affected the basic facts of the case. If Hyperion had told the truth and Roberto had lied to him about delivering the letter, it might be a motive for Hyperion to go after his sister as revenge for ignoring his attempts to mend their relationship. But if that was the case, had Hyperion acted alone or with Roberto's help? The raincoat and the frankly disturbing shrine to Holly that they had found in Roberto's apartment, along with the camera footage from one of the shops near Holly's apartment building that placed him in the general vicinity of the crime scene at the right time, strongly suggested Roberto's involvement. "Maybe not," Judy replied, "But what else can we look into?"
They were sitting in a booth of the sandwich place that Nick had driven them to, which was on just the right side of the spectrum that ran from "should be shut down by the health department" to "charming." The floor was well-worn checkered tile, many of which had cracked, and the corners of the building were caked with grime that whoever mopped the floors had apparently never bothered to clean. Smoking in restaurants had been banned for years, but the yellowish-brown tint to the white walls and the faint scent of stale smoke probably meant that either someone on the staff kept smoking in defiance of the ban or that it had been a very long time since the place had been thoroughly cleaned. The table in the booth was topped with chipped Furmica laminate, and the seat covers were cracking red vinyl. Despite the less than encouraging status of the restaurant itself, the sandwiches were surprisingly good, but that could have been influenced by how hungry Judy was.
At her question, Nick slowed the pace at which he was demolishing his own sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. "It's really looking like Roberto did it," he said, "But if he didn't act alone, who could have helped him?"
"Hyperion, obviously," Judy said as she ran down the other options in her head.
Nick nodded. "The only other possibility that I'm seeing is Holly's agent."
Judy considered his answer. The other mammals who might have been involved didn't seem like they could have any potential connection to Roberto, and when Nick had interrogated the squirrel it had seemed as though he had been about to suggest someone before the lawyer had shut him up. Considering that Holly's agent, Marty Thanatopsis, had been banned from the studio early on in the filming of Black and White, it seemed at least plausible that he had tried to recruit someone on the inside to report to him. Considering that Rich Wolf was attempting to squeeze the opossum out, perhaps the opossum had decided that if he couldn't have Holly as a client than no one could. She repressed a sigh. It was a shaky lead, but it was worth looking into.
Compared to the rather shabby appearance of the waiting area for Thanatopsis's office, his office itself was about what Judy had expected. He had a cheap desk, filing cabinets that covered three of the walls, one of which had a rather droopy looking fern on top of it. The carpet was made out of the same cheap, high-wearing material that most of the office space in the police station had been carpeted with, and the pattern, a seemingly random speckling of gray and blue, was almost identical. There were a few more expensive items, including a gold pen set, but the cheap nature of everything else in the office made them stand out as vulgar touches. Thanatopsis himself looked worn out; his suit was crumpled and he had dark bags under his bloodshot eyes, as though he hadn't been getting much sleep. The agent's immediate reaction to seeing the pair had been to swear loudly, and then mutter under his breath about his nightmare getting worse as he ran a paw through the already wild fur of his head. "I'm sorry," he said, "But really, what do you want? I'm up to my eyeballs here!"
"We just have a few more questions," Judy said, "We heard you got banned from the studio."
"What, is that supposed to be a question?" Thanatopsis snapped, "Yeah, so what? I try fighting for my client and that makes me the bad guy?"
"Whoever attacked your client in her own home is the bad guy," Nick said, "But you don't know anything about that, do you?"
"Why would I attack Holly?" the opossum demanded, "What would I get out of putting my client out of work or in a coffin?"
"There could be a lot of reasons," Judy replied, "Maybe it was a publicity stunt. Maybe you were making sure no other agent got your client. Maybe—"
"That's ridiculous!" Thanatopsis cut her off, "Holly's been like a daughter to me. I've been her agent since she was this big!"
He held his paw fairly low off the ground. It was true that they had worked together for years; there had to be something about the abrasive opossum that kept Holly from leaving for another agent. It could just be the familiarity, or maybe the two mammals really were like family. That seemed somewhat unlikely, as from what Nick had said of his first encounter with the opossum, Thanatopsis hadn't seemed particularly concerned about Holly's well-being. Still, throughout their current conversation, Thanatopsis had been getting more and more worked up, which was just what Judy wanted for her most important question. If he was off-balance, he might be more likely to blurt something out rather than think it through. "Do you know Roberto Escurel?" Judy asked.
"What, like the mayor?" Thanatopsis asked, his anger replaced with apparent bafflement. "I think..." he stood up from behind his desk, which required both paws to force himself and his significant girth upright, and made his way to one of the filing cabinets that lined his wall.
He rifled through it, muttering to himself, before he pulled a file folder out. "Kit wanted me to represent him," Thanatopsis said, holding out a file folder, "Try to shop his scripts around. Not my usual line of work, but hey, he's related to the mayor, right? Might be something in it for me if I land him a movie deal."
Considering the conversation that Judy had had with the mayor, she was sure that he would be less than thrilled that the opossum thought he'd grant political favors. "Can we take this?" Judy asked.
Thanatopsis shrugged. "The files are all in the computer anyway. I don't need it."
Judy gladly took the thin folder, neatly labeled with Roberto's name. "How recently have you spoken with Roberto?" Nick asked.
The opossum cocked his head thoughtfully. "Maybe about six months? It's been a while."
As Nick and Judy got up to leave, Thanatopsis had one question of his own. "You don't think that this guy was the one who attacked Holly, do you?"
"We're still investigating," Nick said smoothly.
"If he was, you make sure he stays locked away," Thanatopsis said with surprising fierceness, "Make him rot."
After returning to the station, Nick and Judy claimed one of the more comfortable conference rooms and started spreading out the material that had been gathered in support of the case. Despite the fact that the case had only been open for about three days, there was enough material to fill four banker's boxes. While Judy started organizing the case files on the table, Nick turned on the TV mounted on one of the walls and flipped it through to a news channel. When Judy had looked up from her work, he had explained it simply. "I want to see if they're saying anything about Roberto yet."
They didn't have to wait long. After the station finished their run of commercials and went through the weather forecast, the first news item was about Roberto's arrest.
"The mayor's grandson, Roberto Escurel, was arrested today on charges of attempted sale of prescription drugs, assaulting an officer, and resisting arrest," the news anchor intoned solemnly over footage that had clearly come from a security camera.
Judy recognized the setting as part of Zootopia University's campus, which made sense considering the charge; a lot of colleges had problems with students buying and selling ADHD drugs for the supposed edge that it gave them in studying. If Roberto had been trying to offload one of his many different kinds of pills at a profit, a college campus was probably the best places to do so. In the clip, Roberto was clearly in the process of handing off a small packet to another mammal in exchange for something, which had been a poor decision considering that Grévy and LaMerk had been standing less than ten feet behind the other two mammals. There wasn't any sound, but when the two officers confronted the other two mammals, it was clear that something had been said before Grévy attempted to arrest him and the squirrel clawed at her face and then took off like a shot. "This comes as a blow to the mayor's election campaign, already mired by questions about his knowledge of Bellwether's—"
Nick turned the TV off. "Well, at least the mayor will know who arrested Roberto," he said with obviously false cheer.
"Come on," Judy said, beckoning him away from the TV and towards the table, "We're overlooking something or someone. I can just feel it. And we're not leaving this station until we figure it out."
The table of the conference room was covered with files and papers. The whiteboard on one wall was full of notes in Nick's even and spindly writing, as he could reach higher on the board than Judy could, although the conclusions that they had been able to draw from the facts were pretty meager. They knew the assailant had been wearing a raincoat and was somewhere between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half feet tall, and that the assailant was either athletic enough to quickly climb up six floors of fire escapes or had already been in position outside the window on the sixth floor and had an accomplice at street level watching for Jacques. The assailant knew enough about Holly and Jacques to bring flowers, and had been strong enough to swing a set of bolt cutters hard enough to give Jacques a severe concussion. They knew the timing of when the assailant had made their entrance and exit, but that was it. Everything else was simply supposition, although they had spent hours going over everything that was available with a fine-toothed comb trying to find something new. The file that Thanatopsis had provided on Roberto hadn't told them anything worth knowing, unless it was important that the opossum had made almost no effort to shop the squirrel's screenplays around.
Judy was woken with a start by the sound of someone knocking on the door. She had a brief moment of confusion before snapping back into full awareness. Her back was sore from the position she had fallen asleep in, sitting in a chair with her arms and head resting on the conference room table. Nick's ears twitched at the sound of the knocking, but he gave no sign of waking up from where he was, curled into a tight ball with his tail tucked under his nose, on one of the other chairs. Judy quickly checked her phone for the time—it was almost six in the morning—but hesitated before putting it back away. With a small smile, she snapped a picture of her sleeping partner before answering the door.
The mammal standing there was an impatient-looking platypus, taller and thinner than she was and drably dressed. Judy recognized the platypus at the door as being one of the forensic technicians, but had to look at the plastic ID badge (showing a stone-faced picture of the platypus next to the text "Caldwell, Willow H.") that the platypus wore on a lanyard around her neck to catch her name. "Your rush job is done," she said, her bill giving her something of a lisp.
"The results on your raincoat were inconclusive," Caldwell said as she gave Judy the report.
If the platypus found Judy's undoubtedly bedraggled appearance, or the presence of a sleeping fox in the conference room, unusual she kept it to herself.
"What do you mean inconclusive?" Judy asked, "Did it have blood on it or not?"
"It's in the report," the tech replied, a peevish note creeping into her voice, "It might have been cleaned with bleach, which would denature any blood on it, or it might have never come in contact with blood and it's just got residue from how it was manufactured. That apartment was practically a bio-hazard; you can't expect miracles."
Judy knew that Caldwell was right, but it was still disappointing. "I'm sorry," she said, "I was just hoping for better news."
The platypus shrugged. "I just run the tests," she said, and turned and left.
While Judy was flipping through the testing results, Nick stood up and stretched, his fur sticking out wildly. "What'd I miss?" he asked, standing behind her and peering over her shoulder at the results.
Judy sighed, and brought the results up so that he could get a better look at them. "The tests were inconclusive," she said, echoing Caldwell, "They can't be sure whether or not the raincoat ever had blood on it."
Judy could feel the warmth of Nick's breath against the back of her neck as he took it in. She didn't have to spell out the rest of it for him; without the confirmation that the raincoat had bunny blood on it, there was still no definite link that Roberto was the guilty party.
"It wasn't a complete waste, though," Judy said.
"Really?" Nick asked, "Did you figure something out?"
"No," she said, "But I got this."
Judy spun around and shoved her phone out to show him the picture she had taken of him while he slept. Nick tried to snatch her phone away, but she pulled it out of his reach. "Carrots, if you don't delete that I will," he said, but he sounded more bemused than annoyed.
"Why would I delete it?" she teased, "You just look so cute!"
"Oh, I see how it is," Nick said archly, "You can call me cute, but I can't call you cute because only bunnies can use that word?"
"That's about it," she replied in her best impression of his smuggest tone, "This is going to be your new contact picture."
Nick shook his head. "When you least expect it I'm going to even the score," he said.
"Are you threatening an officer?" Judy asked.
Nick chuckled. "Consider it a promise," he said, "But as much as I'd love to stay and chat, I better get going."
"Going where?" Judy asked.
"We've got some time before the morning briefing," Nick said, "I'm going back to my place for a shower."
"What's wrong with the showers here?" Judy asked, as she fully intended to just freshen up at the station.
"Nothing, but I'm out of clean uniforms here and I can't wear this one again," Nick said.
He did have a point. As a result of how he had slept, his usually crisp uniform was covered with wrinkles, and Judy knew how much pride he took in his appearance. "I'll see if I can get the hospital to give us an estimate on when we can talk to Jacques," Judy said.
The last she had spoken with the hospital, the doctors were intending to take Jacques Lapin out of his medically-induced coma that day, and he was the last lead that they hadn't been able to fully trace down.
Nick nodded. "You do that," he said, "I'll grab something on my way back here. Any preference? How about bagels?"
"That's fine," she said, and added the test results from the raincoat to the paperwork on the table.
It was only after Nick had left that she realized he had subtly returned her favor and called her cute. Somehow, it didn't bother her.
When they arrived in Jacques's hospital room, Judy was struck by how different it appeared from her first visit. The previously cold nature of the room had been brightened by colorful flowers and cards, but the biggest difference in the atmosphere was in its occupants. Holly was sitting at Jacques's bedside and holding his paw, as she had been the last time, but her worry had seemingly evaporated and she was looking at her boyfriend with a kind of whole-hearted adoration that was almost uncomfortable to see, as though she was interrupting something that should have remained private. Jacques, for his part, looked much improved considering that he was actually conscious, although it was clear that his head was bothering him. "Officer Hopps!" Holly called out when she saw that they had entered, sounding glad to see her again, "Please, come meet Jacques."
"Officer Hopps," Jacques said, smiling, "I've heard a lot of good things about you."
He turned and faced Nick. "You must be Officer Wilde," he said, "Holly told me you got sandwiches for her the night this happened."
He gestured at his head as he said it. Instead of the mass of bandages that had been wrapped around his forehead four days ago when they had first seen the bunny, he was down to a simple gauze pad taped to a roughly square section of skin that had been completely shaved of fur. "It was nothing," Nick said.
"But speaking of the night you were attacked, we'd like to ask you a few questions," Judy said.
"I don't know how much I'll be able to help you," Jacques said, "I don't remember anything after I picked up the flowers."
That was disappointing, but not unexpected. Judy had hoped that Jacques would be able to describe the face of the attacker, but considering that he had been badly concussed it wasn't surprising that he had some memory loss. She recalled that one of her younger brothers had gotten a concussion playing sports and had lost his memory of the entire day, and his injury had been comparatively much less severe than the attack Jacques had suffered. Jacques must have seen the disappointment on her face, because he quickly added, "But I'll try to answer anything I can."
"I'll leave you alone," Holly said with a shudder, "I don't want to hear any more about it."
When Holly left the room with one final lingering glance at her boyfriend, Jacques became somewhat more anxious looking. Before they could ask any questions of their own, he asked one the instant Holly closed the door. "This guy hit me in the head as soon as I went into Holly's place, right? Nothing else happened?"
"That's right," Judy responded, a little puzzled.
"Oh, thank God," Jacques said, looking visibly relieved, "When I didn't see the ring on her finger I was afraid she said no."
That added another dimension to the case; Holly had not mentioned a ring, and after spending the previous night poring over the case files, Judy was absolutely sure that a ring had not been found at the crime scene. To be absolutely sure, she asked Jacques, "You mean an engagement ring, right?"
"Well, yeah," Jacques said, "I was going to propose."
"And you thought she might say no?" Nick asked.
Considering the way that Holly had been looking at Jacques, Judy understood Nick's skepticism. Jacques scratched his forehead just under the bandage and winced. "A few weeks back, her producer told her not to even think about starting a family. He played it off as a joke, but... Well, I could tell that it got to Holly."
"Was the producer Rich Wolf?" Judy asked.
"I guess so," Jacques said, "I've never met the guy. Holly just told me about it after work one day."
He smiled crookedly, "Do you have the ring? I can try again once I'm out of this place."
Judy exchanged a look with Nick. "No one found a ring in Holly's apartment," she said cautiously.
"What? That's... I had it with me!" Jacques said, his voice escalating in volume as he started getting worked up, "I..."
He had sat upright, and clearly regretted it. The skin underneath the fur of his face visibly blanched and he winced in pain.
"Take it easy," Judy said, guiding him back down, "You'll get dizzy if you move too fast."
After taking a moment to recover, Jacques said, "Could you get my phone?" and gestured towards the stack of his personal effects on the bedside table.
Nick brought it over to him and the bunny held it an arm's length away from himself—farsighted, probably—and flipped through it before finding what he was looking for and showing them what was on the screen. The ring wasn't the sort of thing that she would ever wear herself—Judy wasn't much of a fan of jewelry—but she had to admit that it was beautiful. It was white gold, worked to look like strands of ivy, with minuscule emeralds forming the leaves around a large pink flower cut diamond. "It's my grandmother's ring," Jacques explained, "But I had a jeweler clean it and replace the stones."
He had shown them the picture of the ring as part of a chain of texts from a week past with what were presumably his sisters, judging by the names, all of them admiring the job the jeweler had done and demanding that Jacques tell them how the proposal went as soon afterwards as possible. "You have to find it," Jacques begged, "Please."
"We'll do our best," Judy promised, not wanting to get his hopes up.
She got the information from him about the jeweler who had done the ring—the pink diamond had a number microscopically etched into it and was theoretically traceable—and asked if he could think of anyone who would want to hurt Holly or himself. Like Holly, however, he couldn't think of anyone, not even when Nick pressed the point about the possibility of it being one of his online fans.
Their brief discussion had clearly worn the bunny out, and Judy didn't think that there was anything else they could learn from Jacques considering that he couldn't remember any of the attack itself. They were on their way out when Nick paused with his paw on the doorknob. "That's a nice ring," Nick said, "Did you pay for the new stones with your ZooTube money?"
"Yeah," Jacques said, seeming confused by the question.
Nick chuckled and shot him a grin. "Make sure you report that income," he said, "Take it from me; you do not want to deal with the IRS."
Upon their return from the hospital, Nick had added an additional line on the whiteboard in the conference room to the paltry list of facts that they knew about the assailant: stole an engagement ring. He stood back and frowned, the marker still in his paws. "Let's say you're Roberto," he said, "You've got a fixation on Holly and thousands of dollars of debt. What would you do with her engagement ring?"
Judy immediately saw the point he was getting at. There were a few options for what Roberto could do with the ring, but it seemed reasonable that he'd either keep it for his shrine to Holly or sell it for cash. The forensic team had torn his apartment apart without finding a ring, although it was possible that he had hidden it elsewhere. If he had sold the ring, however, it didn't make sense for him to be selling his medicine for cash. "It doesn't quite fit," she said, "How much would a ring like that be worth, anyway?"
Nick shrugged, "Jacques probably paid about five grand for that diamond. Give it another thousand for the emeralds and the ring itself. I doubt a pawn shop would pay more than about twelve hundred for it, though."
"I guess we'll have to see if any of your contacts spot it," Judy said.
On the return trip from the hospital, Nick had put out the word of the ring that they were looking for, although he hadn't seemed optimistic that it would be found. A moderately clever thief could have made the ring untraceable by separating the jewels from the ring, melting the ring down, and either removing or modifying the number etched into the diamond before selling it.
Nick nodded absent-mindedly in agreement and took three of his business cards out of his pocket and laid them face up on the table. With a felt-tipped pen, he made an "X" across one of them, and then took each of the cards, flipped them over, and gently creased them in half so that they rested on the table like little tents. "Three-card Monte?" Judy asked, somewhat incredulously.
Nick had shown her the con game before; he had been very clear on the point that it was a con and not a hustle. He had never exactly said what the difference was between the two, but Judy got the idea that a hustle was clever manipulation of the rules to stretch them as far as was possible without breaking and a con was simply an illegal scam. "I'm thinking," he said, smoothly shuffling the cards around on the table.
Judy tried to ignore him and went back to reviewing the files; if playing with cards helped him focus, she supposed it wasn't really any different from her doodling or playing with her pen. They had spent all of the previous night reviewing files and trying to figure the case out, but neither that nor their interview with Jacques Lapin had gotten them any closer to solving it. Judy put the video footage they had on the monitor on the wall of the conference room opposite the whiteboard and flipped through it, trying to force her brain to spot something. Across the table, Nick's manipulation of the cards slowed and then stopped, all of the cards flipped to show that the one in the middle had the "X" on it. "I've got an idea, Carrots," he said.
Her ears perked up. "What's that?"
"Follow the X."
He flipped the cards back over and his paws moved across the table, first slow and then faster and faster. Judy kept a close eye on the marked card and saw the trick—at one point during his shuffle, he picked up two cards with one paw and slid the one on the bottom up over the top one. Everything else was simply misdirection, and when the cards stopped she was confident she knew which one hid the "X." Nick leaned back from the table and put his paws up. "Which one?" he asked.
Judy reached to flip the leftmost card over, but before she had her paw more than halfway there, Nick spoke up. "Don't touch them yet!"
She rolled her eyes at his theatrics and pulled her paw back. "If I was good at this game—and I am—I'd be able to force you to pick the card I wanted you to," Nick said.
"You're bluffing," she said, eyeing him suspiciously, "You're trying to trick me into changing my card."
Nick ignored her interruption and gave no reaction to her accusation. "But no matter how good I was, maybe I'd misjudge you. Flip your card over."
Judy flipped the leftmost card over. "Ha!" she said, "Read it and—"
Her victory crowing was cut short when she saw that it was unmarked. "How did you do that?" she demanded, "I saw the trick. I saw it!"
Nick favored her with a lazy grin and laced his paws behind his head. "You saw what I wanted you to see. But what if I'd done the impossible and overestimated you? Maybe you wouldn't have seen the trick. Let's say that you lost track of the card completely, OK?"
"OK," Judy agreed reluctantly, although the result showed that it was closer to the truth than she would have liked.
"So here's one more question. Why should I give you a one in three chance of getting it right by guessing when I could make sure you'd have a zero in three chance?"
Before Nick could react, Judy reached out both paws and flipped the remaining two cards over simultaneously. Neither of them had the "X."
She had no idea how he had done it; she had seen him pull out three cards, mark one of them, and shuffle them, and he hadn't touched them since they stopped moving. "Looking for this?" he teased, and as he held out one arm with a flourish the card with the "X" on it appeared in his paw as if by magic.
Judy frowned. "That's a great trick," she said, "But what does it have to do... with the..."
She trailed off and her eyes widened as she realized the idea that Nick must have had. She had guessed the card wrong because she thought that she was following it, but she had only been following what Nick had wanted her to see. Once she started looking at it from that perspective, the pieces of the case started clicking into place, each detail meshing perfectly with the others. There was only one possibility for how the crime could have been committed, and when she said it out loud Nick agreed. "I was hoping you'd come to the same conclusion," he said.
They sat in silence for a moment, thinking through the implications, before Judy looked at Nick excitedly, "I know how we can prove it!"
"What are we waiting for then?" Nick asked as he got to his feet, "Let's get to the car."
This is it! The last chapter before the reveal. I've done my best to make this a "fair" mystery; you have all the information that Nick and Judy currently do with the exception of their conclusion. If anyone can figure it out before the next chapter goes up, I'll give you a shout out in my notes on that chapter. The next chapter will also be the last. I hope you enjoy this one and I'll see you next week!
Holly hadn't returned to her apartment since the night of the attack, and had been living in a hotel room, watched over by a pair of officers. That was a pretty clear sign of the importance of the case to the mayor, but the real sign of how important he considered it was that when Nick and Judy arrived at Holly's apartment building, there was already a police cruiser parked in front of it. From the time that the police had first arrived on the night of the attack up through the present, there had always been officers present at the crime scene. Their reports had been some of the drier reading in the case files; there were only so many ways to write that nothing had happened during a guard shift. One officer would watch the building itself while the other would stand guard at the door to Holly's apartment itself. From the officer who was sitting behind the wheel of the other patrol car, Judy had a pretty good idea of who was going to be waiting for them at the door to Holly's apartment. "Officer LaMerk," Judy said to the bear in the car, as cheerfully as she could manage, "How are you doing?"
The massive bear, who looked as though he was positively squeezed into the patrol car, gave a shrug that made the entire car shake. "I don't think the mayor's particularly happy with me or Grévy, but otherwise, you know, not bad."
Judy winced. It was a particularly petty piece of payback if the mayor was putting the pressure on Grévy's and LaMerk's precinct chief to give them guard duty, but she was hopeful that it wouldn't be much longer before she and Nick had what they needed to wrap up the case completely. "I'm really sorry about that," she said, "But I think we can prove that the mayor's grandson didn't do it."
"The sooner you can do that, the better," LaMerk said, "What do you need here?"
"We need to take one more look at Holly's apartment," Nick said, "Would you mind waiting by the door of the apartment building?"
LaMerk shrugged. "Wouldn't mind getting out of this car," he said, which Judy figured was as good as a yes.
Leaving LaMerk behind, Nick and Judy did a quick circuit of the apartment building before heading to the front, where the building's superintendent, Roger Cony, was waiting; Nick had called ahead on their way over. "How can I help you, officers?" Cony asked once he met Nick and Judy at the main door to the apartment building.
Judy looked around and then leaned forward conspiratorially, beckoning the older bunny closer. "Don't tell anyone, because we're not supposed to discuss active cases," she began in a low voice, "But we think Holly's producer and her costar were the ones who attacked her."
"Naw!" Cony said, eyes wide with shock, "You figured it out, then? Them other cops said they didn't find nothing."
Judy wondered what other cops had told the bunny that, since it was true that cops really weren't supposed to discuss active cases with civilians. She doubted it was Grévy, since the dour zebra was about as by the book as they came, and she thought that LaMerk would never hear the end of it from his partner if he did.
"Not all evidence is at the scene of the crime," Nick said smoothly, and in a low tone to match Judy's, he added, "They tried framing one of the lighting techs who used to work on her show."
Cony shook his head, looking almost overwhelmed by the revelation. "Two of you got to be pretty smart, figuring all that out. But what do you need my help for?"
"Well, here's the thing," Judy said, "We know that they're lying. But they planned things too well to leave behind any physical evidence at the crime scene. There were no prints on that set of bolt cutters, and we couldn't find them on camera once the assailant left the building. We just want to check out the crime scene again and find something we can pin them down with."
"Oh, sure," Cony said, nodding, "That makes sense."
Cony led them, limping, to the elevator. "Does your leg still bother you, Mr. Cony?" Judy asked.
The bunny chuckled. "Always does. It's worse when it's raining, but it always hurts."
Judy nodded sympathetically. "That must be difficult to live with," she said.
"I manage," Cony said with a shrug, "Don't see no use in complaining."
"Do you have one of the apartments near the top of the building?" Nick asked.
It was common practice for building superintendents to live in the buildings that they served, and Cony was no exception. "I'm on the ground floor," Cony said, "The street level ones are cheaper, but it works out better for me anyway."
The hallway didn't look too much different from how Nick had described it from his last visit. The broken glass was, of course, still gone, and there was still a tarp over the window to the fire escape. Police tape crossed the door to Holly's apartment, and Grévy was standing watch ramrod straight outside it. Judy watched with a certain fascination as the zebra's muzzle contorted upon seeing them, clearly wanting to say something but being unwilling to do so in front of a civilian. Nick, however, did not waste the opportunity to needle the zebra. "Grévy!" he cried enthusiastically, "How's it going? Anything to report?"
"Nothing," the zebra all but growled through gritted teeth, "What are the two of you doing here?"
Nick threw an arm around Cony, "The three of us, I think you mean," he said cheerfully, "Just taking one last look at the crime scene."
Grévy snorted but moved out of the way to allow the three mammals to enter the apartment. The major evidence had been taken away and logged; there were no longer any loose flower petals on the floor, but there were markers were they and the set of bolt cutters hidden in the bouquet of flowers had been. The blood from Jacques's head wound had dried to a brown stain on the carpet.
"You know, this apartment is kind of crowded," Nick said, looking around.
It was true; as Judy had noticed the first time that they entered the apartment, the relatively large space was absolutely packed with furniture and nick-knacks. "Would you mind letting us into the empty apartment next door to this one?" Nick asked, "It'd make it easier for us to visualize things if there wasn't so much stuff."
"Well, I guess," Cony said, "But the floor plan's different. It's a mirror of this one."
"Even better!" Judy said cheerfully, "Maybe that'll help too. You know, seeing things in a different light."
The superintendent made no further protest and led them out of Holly's apartment, past the dismissive gaze of Grévy (if Judy had to guess, she would say that the zebra was probably thinking that they had wasted a trip), and to the door of the apartment next to it. Cony fumbled with his ring of keys as he tried to unlock the door to the empty apartment. "Sorry," he said with a nervous laugh, "Arthritis's acting up a bit."
"No problem," Nick said, with a nonchalant shrug.
The apartment located next to Holly's wasn't just empty; it was completely gutted, down to the baseboards and the studs. It looked as though it was in the process of being renovated, as the rear wall had had drywall put up, but it hadn't been mudded yet and the seams were plainly visible. There was a somewhat lighter line running down the floor where a wall had once stood. "There used to be three apartments on each side of the hall, right?" Judy asked, pointing out the line.
"Ayuh, that's right," Cony said, "Remodeled about eight, ten years ago. One of old Mr. Drove's ideas. Thought that mammals'd be willing to pay enough to make up for having fewer apartments, but I think he just wanted a nicer one for himself."
Cony laughed, and then continued, "Seemed to work, though. His son's been on me for not having this one ready to rent out again, but he's too cheap for contractors and I can only work on it during the day or we get noise complaints."
"That hardly seems fair," Judy commiserated, "But this is perfect. We're going to walk through the crime again."
"Do you need me here for this?" Cony asked, "Begging your pardon, but I've got some things to take care of."
"Oh, this shouldn't take too long," Nick said, placing himself between Cony and the door, "We might have a few more questions about the building for you."
Cony nodded, but he didn't seem particularly happy about having to spend more time with them. Judy pulled out her notes and flipped through them. "It all started when Holly's boyfriend buzzed her apartment to let her know to unlock the main door for him," she said, "Now, this panel's the same as the one in Holly's apartment, right?"
She had walked over to the apartment door and gestured at a panel set in the wall to the side of it. It looked pretty straightforward, just a metal rectangle with a grille in it above three buttons labeled "TALK," "LISTEN," and "DOOR." "They're all the same," Cony said.
"See?" Nick said, "We do need you a little longer. Now, the button labeled "DOOR" unlocks the door at the entrance to the main lobby, where the elevator is, right?"
"That's right," Cony said.
"And outside the lobby, there's a bigger panel with all of the apartments listed, right?"
"Ayuh, same as any other apartment building," Cony said.
Judy grabbed her radio and spoke into it, "LaMerk, could you buzz Holly's apartment, please?"
"You don't really have to test it," Cony said hastily, "You know it works, right? Holly's boyfriend wouldn't have been able to get in if she didn't buzz him up."
While he had been talking, LaMerk had replied over the radio. "Buzzing now, Hopps."
The coarse electric buzz of the intercom system was perfectly audible from the apartment next door. "That wall must be awfully thin," Judy said, looking at the wall that was shared between Holly's apartment and the one that they were in.
"I—I guess so," Cony said, "Never really thought about it much."
"Hmm," Nick acknowledged, "Anyway, the next part is where we need to figure things out. We know that it had to be Holly's costar, Thomas Lupowitz, who was the assailant. Holly's producer is way too tall. We've got a phone log showing a cellphone call from Rich Wolf to Lupowitz at what would be about the right time for it to be Wolf telling Lupowitz that Holly had buzzed her boyfriend up."
"The camera footage we have shows that Lupowitz came in through the fire escape window only a few minutes after Holly buzzed Jacques up," Judy said, picking up the thread of the sequence of events, "He jammed a shim into the window so that the alarm wouldn't go off, then broke the glass and came in. He made his way down the hall and knocked on the door to Holly's apartment. He had a pair of bolt cutters hidden in a bouquet of flowers, so when Holly looked out of her peephole all she saw was the flowers. Jacques always got her flowers for her birthday, so she didn't think about it twice. When Holly opened the door, Lupowitz used the bolt cutters to cut the security chain on her door and forced his way in. Holly ran into the bathroom and locked the door, so Lupowitz tried breaking it down with the bolt cutters until Jacques arrived. When Jacques showed up, Lupowitz hit him in the head with the bolt cutters and fled the same way he came in, and disappeared down the fire escape. Holly had called the police while she was in the bathroom, so the first responders showed up and they got a hold of you to pull the video."
"That's right," Cony said, his earlier unease having vanished.
Judy flipped through her notes again. "So you haven't been in Holly's apartment since the attack until we went into it a few minutes ago, right?"
"Naw, of course not," Cony said.
Judy flipped her notebook shut and gave Nick a glance, which he returned with a nod. "So if we search your apartment, we're not going to find the bracelet that Jacques was going to give Holly?"
Cony shook his head emphatically. "I don't know nothing about any ring, and I don't appreciate you accusing me of stealing from my tenants."
"Well," Nick said, a slow smile spreading across his face, "We didn't say anything about a ring."
Cony's face drained of blood beneath his fur, and the insides of his ears went nearly white. "Well—I—I must've misheard, is all."
"Maybe," Judy said, "But we've got another idea for how things went, don't we?"
Nick's grin became positively predatory. "We realized that the cameras on this floor aren't aligned properly," he said, "When this floor switched from six apartments in each hallway to four, you kept the doors in the same position for the apartments closest to the elevators, but for the ones at the end of the hall, the doors ended up much further down the hall then either of the ones they replaced had been. The cameras don't actually see the doors to this apartment and the one across the hall from it.
"The cameras only record eight hours of footage at a time. So you had quite a setup, didn't you? You hid in this apartment long enough before you were going to commit your crime that you knew there'd be no footage of you walking down the hallway from the elevator. You could have easily jammed that shim into the window frame of the fire escape to keep the alarm from going off in advance, and then all you had to do was open the window from the inside, break it, and throw some of the pieces of glass far enough forward to be seen by the cameras. You've been Holly's super ever since she moves in, so you knew Jacques would bring her flowers for her birthday. He does every year, after all. And I bet you hear a lot, being the building super.
"After you hit Jacques, you actually left down the fire escape, and made your way around the building to the old coal cellar door, where you could get back in without being picked up by one of the cameras, and then waited for the police to show up. You lied to us about that coal door when you said you didn't have the key; we checked before we came up and there are fresh scratches on the lock. Did I miss anything, Officer Hopps?"
"It was very clever," Judy admitted, "You made us think that the attacker came up the fire escape, which you wouldn't be able to do with your bad leg, but you could manage to go down the fire escape perfectly well. You ended up getting pretty lucky that there were so many other mammals who might have wanted to hurt Holly—"
"I didn't," Cony blubbered.
Tears had begun to silently roll down his face as Nick laid out the crime, and his voice was thick with tears. "I didn't mean to hurt her or her boyfriend," he said, his voice shaking, "I read that interview she did. She just wanted to meet you, Officer Hopps. I—I thought if I just scared her... And... I thought Jacques would be fine, like on the show but—but I nearly killed him, didn't I? Oh God, if she had been slower... and if I had hit her..."
The bunny had collapsed to his knees and was sobbing into the bare baseboards of the empty apartment. It took a moment for him to regain enough composure to speak. "I was going to give the ring back. I don't know why I grabbed it in the first place," he admitted, "Once Holly moved back into her apartment, I was going to say I found it and give it back. You have to believe me."
He looked up at Judy, his face wet with tears. "Please, you have to believe me."
"It'll be a hard sell," Nick said, "But if you cooperate, we can see what the D.A. will do."
"Anything," Cony sobbed as Judy cuffed him, "Anything."
"That was some fine work," LaMerk said.
Following the arrest and Cony signing a confession, Mayor Escurel had wasted absolutely no time in calling a press conference. At Judy's fervent (and Nick's somewhat more reluctant) insistence, LaMerk and Grévy had joined them behind the mayor as he did his level best to take full advantage of the resolution of a high profile case. Following the official statement, LaMerk, Grévy, Nick, and Judy had broken away while the mayor kept answering questions for the press.
"You too," Judy replied, "I'm impressed you were able to even find Roberto, let alone catch him."
The bear laughed and shook a massive paw dismissively. "It was all Grévy. She remembered that there were some tips called in from the college about a black-furred rodent of some kind trying to sell drugs and made the connection that it might have been Roberto."
Grévy smiled, which made Judy remember that immediately following Roberto's arrest, the zebra had actually been joking around with her partner the bear. Although the zebra's attitude had certainly colored Judy's opinion of her, it was a reminder that Grévy was a thinking, feeling mammal and not just a petty roadblock. "The mammal we caught with Roberto trying to buy the pills couldn't give up Roberto's address fast enough," she said with a small laugh, "If they were any smarter, they would have kept doing their deals there rather than on the campus in front of cops."
It actually was kind of funny that Roberto and his would-be buyer had been so short-sighted as to not notice the police officers in their duty uniforms not ten feet away, so Judy and Nick shared a laugh. Afterwards, no one said anything else and the silence between the four mammals began to grow awkward, none of them moving, until LaMerk gave his partner a nudge that may have been subtle from his perspective but was strong enough to noticeably rock the zebra forward.
"I may have misjudged both of you," Grévy admitted.
Judy chose to enjoy the sentiment and ignore what it had taken to get it out of the stubborn zebra. "Mammals can change," she said, "Try to keep that in mind."
Grévy nodded. "Take care, officers," she said, and the zebra and the bear walked away.
Nick and Judy were on their way back to their patrol car when the mayor caught up with them. "I'm not entirely happy about how all of this went," Escurel said with a sigh, "But I don't suppose that I can blame you for any of it."
"So what happens with Roberto now?" Judy asked.
"I think my lawyer can get him down to probation on a suspended sentence if counseling is part of the deal," the mayor said, with a small shake of his head, "But Roberto does need help."
On that point, she was in absolute agreement with the mayor. "The voters might like that," Judy offered, "Balance out being tough on crime with some compassion."
Escurel shot her a wry smile. "Preparing to run for office yourself?" he asked.
Judy laughed. "Never."
"Never is a very long time, Officer Hopps," Escurel said, and then left the pair alone.
As they got into the car, Nick sighed. "What's wrong, Slick?" Judy asked.
If anything, she expected him to be proudly bragging that he had solved the case, considering that it had been his insight that what the cameras in Holly's apartment building had shown had been carefully setup to manipulate their conclusions and from there determining that the only mammal who had the knowledge and opportunity to take advantage of the setup was the building super. "I was just thinking," he said, "Now we have to write the report. And you're going to insist that we take care of it today."
Judy laughed. "Come on, Nick! It'll be fun!"
"Fun for you, Carrots," Nick said darkly, but he was smiling.
Detectives Black and White were in a small home office, both huddled around a desktop computer. "I think this password I found on the back of this picture frame might unlock the computer," White said, and carefully typed it in.
The computer chimed agreeably, and White began to click through various file folders. When she got to one and opened it, both she and Black recoiled. It wasn't possible to see what it was, since the camera was framed such that their faces and the back of the monitor were visible. "You're telling me this guy gets off to piglets' little tails?" Detective Black asked in disgust.
"How long has he been a detective?" Nick asked, interrupting the drama playing out on the screen of Judy's laptop.
Despite Nick's whining, the report hadn't taken too long to finish up, and in recognition of the work they had done, Bogo had let them go home early. The way that he had phrased it was that tired officers were a danger to themselves and the public, but Judy had seen that it was just his typical gruff bluster. Mercifully, Nick hadn't felt the need to antagonize the chief, and they had decided to spend the extra free time catching up on the episodes of Black and White that Nick hadn't seen yet. Judy shrugged. "Five years, I think. They said it in the first episode."
"He certainly doesn't act like it," Nick observed.
They were on the episode that had most recently aired, sitting close together on Judy's bed and watching the show on the small screen of her laptop. Judy was about to launch into a joking defense of the show when Nick's stomach gurgled, which made her remember that they hadn't had anything to eat since the bagels that Nick had brought to the station on his way back from showering and changing at his condo that morning. "You know," Judy said, "I still have to try the gumbo at the Brier Patch without all the extra spices."
Following a much more pleasant tasting dinner than the first lunch that Judy had eaten at the Brier Patch, they were leaving the restaurant and walking past the outdoor patio seating area when someone called their names. "Officer Hopps! Officer Wilde!" Holly waved the pair over.
She was sitting at a table with her boyfriend along with Hyperion, Heather, and Bruce. The dingo's chair must have been significantly shorter than that of the bunnies he was sharing the table with, because the top of his head was about even with Jacques's, who was otherwise the tallest mammal at the table. "Jacques insisted on leaving the hospital," Holly explained.
"And Heather was kind enough to volunteer to look after me so Holly won't worry herself sick," Jacques finished.
Heather was, as Judy recalled, a nurse, which made her particularly well-suited to keeping an eye on Jacques. "I thought it was time for Bruce to meet my family," Heather said, smiling fondly at the dingo.
Nick turned to Hyperion. "So how did you get pulled in?" he asked.
It was something that Judy had been wondering herself. Hyperion hadn't successfully made contact with either of his sisters, which made his presence a little puzzling. Holly coughed delicately. "It's kind of a funny story," she said, "I got a letter from Hyperion that the studio said they 'misplaced'."
Judy was willing to bet that whoever at the studio was responsible for removing the letter from Holly's dressing room drawer had been trying to cover their own tail by ensuring its return, but she supposed that it was one part of the mystery she'd have to satisfy herself not knowing the answer to. "The two of them," Hyperion said, indicating his sisters, "Were willing to hear me out if I paid for dinner."
"I picked the place," Heather added helpfully.
It didn't look as though they had eaten yet; they had a bottle of wine on the table and everyone except Jacques had a glass. Considering that he was probably on some kind of medication, that was probably for the best. "Don't let us interrupt you," Judy said, not wanting to get in the way.
"I wanted to thank you," Holly said, "Both of you. For figuring out who hurt Jacques... and for bringing my family back together."
It was somewhat strange to think of, but the crime really had brought Holly's family together. Judy thought that it was likely that Hyacinth Leaves had destroyed the letter that Hyperion had written to Heather, and if it hadn't been for the attack it was likely that his letter to Holly would have never been 'found.' She guessed that Heather would have eventually introduced Bruce to Holly, but probably not nearly so soon. "What about—" Judy began asking before she was cut off.
"Our mother can deal with it," Heather said firmly, "We're all going together to pick her up from her dialysis treatment after dinner, and she can decide if staying in her kits' lives is worth accepting their choices."
That was a conversation that didn't seem likely to go well. Then again, it was as she had told Grévy. Mammals did change, and perhaps all it would take in Hyacinth's case was for her kits and their mates to stand up to her in a unified front. "We won't keep you then," Nick said, but before they could walk away, Holly called back to Judy. "Wait!"
"Officer Hopps," Holly said, the inside of her ears flushing red, "Could I have your autograph?"
She pulled a newspaper article out of her purse that Judy recognized as coming from shortly after Bellwether's arrest and thrust it and a pen at Judy. "Absolutely," Judy said, bending over the table to sign it.
"Maybe you could return the favor," Nick said, pulling a promotional photo of Holly from out of one of his pockets.
Judy wondered if he had stolen it from the studio. "And would you mind making it out to Benjamin Clawhauser?" Nick asked.
"This was nice," Judy said, as they approached the train station.
"It was," Nick agreed, "Maybe next time we can do dinner and a show at a theater. Something a little more highbrow than a police drama."
"That sounds a lot like a date," Judy teased.
Nick's smile spread across his face slowly, a genuine one that Judy didn't get to see very often. "It can be whatever you want it to be," he said.
She thought about it. Over the course of working the case with Nick, she had gained a further appreciation for the fox. There were plenty of reasons, and good ones at that, not to date him. He was older than her (but not by too much), he was cynical and frequently smug (but he had the heart and compassion of an optimist buried deep in his chest), they were partners on the force (but what did the rules on fraternization say about partners), they weren't the same species (but Heather and Bruce seemed so happy)... And yet...
"I'd like it to be a date," she said.
"How does our next day off sound?" Nick asked, getting up.
While they had been talking and Judy had been thinking, Nick's train had arrived. As Nick started walking to the open doors of the train that would take him to the station closest to his apartment, Judy grabbed him by the paw and pulled him around. "You're not getting on that train," she said.
"I'm not?" he asked.
"No," she said, "You're coming back to my place with me."
"I am?" he asked, grinning slyly.
Judy grabbed his tie and pulled him down into a kiss. "You are."
Author's Note: First up, at the end of the last chapter I promised a shout out to anyone who figured it out before this chapter went up. There were some great theories; BubbleBtch got the perpetrator wrong, but correctly deduced that the empty apartment was part of it, and JustNibblin pegged Roger Cony as the culprit.
There's a kind of bittersweet feeling I get when I come to the ending of a good story; there's the pleasure in seeing how it all ends and the sadness in knowing that's it's done. I don't know if you're feeling that, now that you've come to the end, but I feel something similar as I come to the end of the first fanfiction story I've written. While this is the end of the story, it's not the end of my writing; if you enjoyed Black and White, Red and Blue, perhaps you'll enjoy my next story, A Study in Gold, the first chapter of which is up now. It's not a sequel, or even set in the same universe; A Study in Gold draws heavy inspiration from the original Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock stories, and is set in what I imagine a Victorian era Zootopia would be like. It will be thematically and stylistically very different, but it seemed like a fun challenge for me to try to expand my horizons as an author. Check it out here!
I will also say that I'm not done with the work I've put into Black and White, Red and Blue either. It took me months to plot out the story to the point that I was satisfied with my outline and I started writing it; I do plan on writing a sequel, but I'm not going to start posting chapters until I've got something that I think is worth reading. In the meantime I have no intention of stopping posting other works, since holding myself to at least one chapter a week has done wonders for my discipline as a writer. I think, and I hope you'd agree, that I got better as the story went on.
Whether you've been a reader from the very beginning, or you've been able to binge through the entire story in a single sitting some time after I published this, I want to say thank you again. I'm not always so great at expressing my own feelings, but the support that I've gotten has been incredible and has on more than a few occasions been the bright spots in otherwise dark days.
Before I hit publish and put this chapter and story entirely to rest, I figured that I'd also post some answers to questions that I've gotten.
Is Rich Wolf a reference to Dick Wolf, executive producer of Law and Order ?
Absolutely, yes. Most of the names that I came up with are references to something, and Rich Wolf was a pretty obvious and easy one for me to go with. A lot of other names are just references to the species, although some are marginally more complex. The mayor Pablo Escurel and his grandson Roberto take their last name from the Old French word for squirrel. Officer Grévy is named after Grévy's zebra, one of the three species of zebra. Her partner, Officer Bill LaMerk, is named in a somewhat convoluted reference back to Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which features a cyborg bear named Shardik (itself a reference to a book of the same name by Richard Adams, also the author of Watership Down). Cybernetics in the Dark Tower series are primarily the work of two companies: North Central Positronics and LaMerk Industries. The Leaves/Leaps family are all named after plants that start with an H; Hyacinth Leaves's insistence that her last name is Leaves and not Leaps is a direct reference to Hyacinth Bucket (supposedly pronounced bouquet) of the TV series Keeping Up Appearances. Holly's boyfriend's stage name is a pun on jackrabbit, and his actual name uses the French word for rabbit as a last name. The forensic technician, Willow H. Caldwell, is named in reference to W.H. Caldwell, the naturalist who was the first scientist to prove that platypuses are egg-laying mammals. Holly's costar, Thomas Lupowitz, has a name constructed in a similar fashion to Clawhauser; I took the word Lupo, meaning wolf in Latin, and simply appended a common name ending. I never bothered naming the actor who plays Lupowitz's original partner on the show Black and White, but the character he played, Amarok, has a name borrowed from a giant gray Inuit wolf of legend. The perpetrator, Roger Cony, has a first name in reference to Roger Rabbit and a last name taken from the word coney, an archaic term for a rabbit.
The show Black and White isn't as bad as I thought it would be.
That's not actually a question, but it is a fair observation. My original intent was to never show any scenes from the fictional TV show so that you could imagine how bad it was rather than being able to judge for yourself. After all, no matter how bad the writing is in the samples I provide, you could always imagine something worse. I changed my mind when I came to think that it added more to the story than it took away. In particular, I like the contrast between the show, which is pretty overwrought and action packed, and the actual story that I wrote, which you may also find overwrought but is definitely not action packed. All of the traditionally exciting bits that are in my story, like the initial attack and chasing down a suspect, are only ever described and never shown; I figured that it was a somewhat more realistic depiction of police work than if I made it more like a typical modern police procedural. I love police procedurals, so even though I have more than a few of the tropes in my story, I couldn't resist kind of tweaking the conventions of the genre. I also thought that the use of the show as a framing device for Nick and Judy spending time together outside of work worked pretty well; chapter 13 in particular is probably my favorite of the whole story.
How much of this did you have plotted out ahead of time?
From the time that I wrote the first chapter, I knew who the culprit was and I had the broad outlines of the story fleshed out. I had also already picked out the characters that I was positioning as red herrings, although some of them changed quite a bit from how I originally intended them. My initial intent for the mayor was for him to be more or less as he's described the first time he's mentioned: bland, not particularly cunning, and weak-willed. My early version of Roberto was a kind of spoiled brat, so that the dynamic would be that it was believable that a personally weak but politically powerful mayor was bending to the whims of his selfish grandson. As I actually started writing the chapters that they were to appear in, however, I figured that making the mayor far more clever and politically-adroit than suspected made him more compelling. I also thought that making Roberto more of a tragic character made the story more interesting, as it also made it seem more likely that he could be the victim of a framing by someone else.
The actual logistics of how the crime was committed was something that I gave a lot of thought to and consumed most of my preparations. It's also at least part of the reason why I'm taking some time to work on something else before I try coming back with a sequel; I found it tough to come up with a compelling mystery that used modern technology to good effect rather than not including it at all or hand-waving it away like a cell phone in a horror movie.
Can I use your characters in a story of my own?
If you want any of the original characters that I created to show up in a cameo in one of your stories, or for your characters to watch Black and White, go right ahead! All I ask is that you give credit in the notes of your story.