Earning the badge.
Nicholas Wilde twitched his ears and adjusted his tie as he lay on the couch, gesticulating.
"I mean a mandatory waiting period. Who's bright idea was that? Yes I understand that it costs the city a lot of money to even run background checks and pre-interview checks on applicants, of course I do. I mean yes, I know that you don't want to send someone to the academy and then when they get there discover 'oh Whoopsie! I don't want to be a cop. Silly little me, actually I always wanted to be an astronaut, or an actuary, or an astronaut-actuary or something equally ridiculous because somehow I expect mammals to actually care about my dreams'. I mean, yes, I understand that the city needs to discourage spurious applications to save money, but really: a three month mandatory waiting period before they'll even read my application? Just to make double-supper-sure that I'm serious? I mean, that's just criminal: and I'd know."
"You know, if this was a movie, they'd just cut from me saving the day at the museum, to me getting the badge, you know. Cut out all that tedious, messy, inconvenient hard work and training that wouldn't look good on film. Or at least shorten it to a montage, or something. Maybe with a nice voice-over. By me, obviously. I'd need to narrate this, although I guess Judy would do in a pinch." He looked at the ceiling for some time, and then made a contemplative face and nodded a few times.
"Actually, it could work with Judy. It'd add pathos nicely." He conceded. "But the point is, they'd gloss over the hard bits. Make it an inspiring story about the power of Mammals to make the world a better place, and not show the effort it takes to do that. They'd make it clean and simple, and real life is never that clean and simple."
"Life is messy." Said the voice, accompanied by the quiet scribbling of a pen on paper.
"Exactly!" said Nick, snapping his fingers. "Real life is messy. You know, Judy always says that, and she's right."
"Judy being the police officer who worked with you on this…" the Platypus physiatrist checked his notes briefly. "This…night-howler case."
Nick looked over, horrified.
"Seriously?" he asked. "Seriously, you didn't read about that one in the papers? See it on the news? Get it in your newsfeed, at all? City in a panic, world-shattering conspiracy, corruption at the highest level of city hall, twice, anti-predator riots, plucky downtrodden street-smart fox and goofy well-meaning bunny cop sidekick save the day? None of this ringing a bell at all?" he held out a paw. "Please don't ring any bells: If you promise not to, I promise not to drool on the couch. You know, I'm surprised you even let canines on the furniture. It's very progressive of you Doc."
The shrink rolled his eyes.
"Ha. Ha." He said sarcastically "You're a very articulate fellow, you know." He said, patronisingly. "Oh, right that case. Sorry: I was on a Golfing holiday that week. I did read a commentary on it in The Zootopian I think. There was quite a good political cartoon about the assistant mayor, a sheep in sheep's clothing, I believe. So, you see yourself as the hero of this story? That's very interesting."
Nick put his face in his paws. "Oh god, I knew that this was a bad idea. Look, Doc, I… I just need to work some things out, okay? Get some stuff straight in my head. If we could just accept that I may or may not have grandiose delusions of grandeur that I like, and that I'm perfectly happy with, and move on to fixing the bits about me that I don't like, that'd be swell." He looked to the ceiling for a moment, and then back to the psychiatrist.
"Doesn't work like that?" he asked, half sarcastic and half pleading.
"Doesn't work like that. All or nothing. Sorry. So tell me about Judy. From what you've said so far, she seems to have been the catalyst for this sudden change in you."
Nick snorted. "Yeah, yeah you could say that, I guess. She's pretty much the entire reason I'm doing this. I mean… I've been a hustler since I was twelve years old. Twelve. I just… I just drifted along quite happily, well, not exactly happily but, you know… it worked. I… look I told you about the thing at Junior Ranger Scouts with the…" he made a quick gesture to his mouth with two fingers, and shifted uncomfortably.
"And for a long time, I let how other mammals saw me define how I saw myself. If all they see is a shifty, untrustworthy fox, then that's all you ever show them. I… I settled. I guess almost everyone does. I decided that since believing in my dreams was hard, and since settling into being what everyone saw anyway was easy, then why not? But Judy, well, she's not a settler. I think I shook her up a bit. A lot, actually, forced her to confront some of her pre-conceptions, and I think she probably sees me as a big catalyst for change in her life, and that's not my delusions of grandeur, I think that's true… but if she had any idea how much she shook me up, how much she challenges my preconceptions… well. I think I'm getting the best out of this deal, to be honest. She… she was a pretty good mammal to start with, and I hope I made her a better one, but that's… that's peanuts, no, that's carrots compared to what she's done for me."
Nick crossed his paws behind his head. "She's… she's kind of a big deal, actually."
"She sounds like a remarkable person." said the Physiatrist, as Nick nodded along in agreement, trying to lever the little plastic lid of his blueberry-spice latte without spilling any on the couch, and finally smiling with relief as he got into it and took a sip.
"Are you sexually attracted to her at all?" the psychiatrist asked.
Nick's cheeks inflated, and he snorted hot coffee out of his nose and then sat up and started desperately trying to towel latte off his shirt and pants as he choked back coffee and tears and made inarticulate noises, to the physiatrists well concealed amusement. Eventually he was able to talk.
"Jeeeez Doc, Firstly, did you have to do that when I had a mouth full of hot coffee? I mean really? It's your couch, and I bet getting stains out of the parquet floor is the devil's own work. Were you that bored? Am I boring you? And secondly, what sort of question is that to ask a guy?"
The psychiatrist leaned back and doodled on his note book. "Oh, well, I don't know, just the sort of question literality anyone with half a brain would expect a psychiatrist to ask. It's one of the four basics."
"The four basics?" asked Nick, trying to towel his scalded crotch dry with the tissue box left for patients who were feeling a little emotional, which to be fair, he now was, just not in the expected manner. The Platypus looked over his glasses, and nodded, holding up a webbed paw with his pen still in it and counting off on his claws.
"The four basics, whenever you mention a new person or thing, let's say you say 'Oh Doc, I just met X.' then my next four questions are 'tell me about X' followed by 'are you sexually attracted to slash sexually intimidated by X' then 'do you harbour feelings of guilt about x' and then finally 'considering the above, how does X make you feel about yourself?' And that's it really. That's about ninety-percent of my job. People think that their psychological problems are unique, that they're tortured and interesting, unique snowflakes, frozen fractals all around, and ninety percent of the time, they're really really not. They're just frightened and frustrated and scared, living here in the big city, and they need someone to unload at. And those four questions help me find what it is they really need to unload about, prod them to find what it is that's really eating them, so they can unload fully at me and feel better. This is basically a mental laxative. It's like going to confessional, except that the goal is to decrease and not increase the supplicant's levels of stress and guilt: the vast bulk of the experience is just window-dressing to put the patent in the right frame of mind to fix their own problems. The couch is just a prop, like the confessional. It's a ritual: you just provide what people expect to see. It's horrible to say, but most mammals' problems, even ones that drive them to the brink, are usually pretty mundane. I mean, I'm not even taking notes. I was making up a shopping list, but my pen ran out three patents ago. See?" he said, showing Nick his blank notepad, half covered by the weird incised lines an empty ballpoint made, describing a series of fairly abstract doodles, which Nick noticed included a cartoon version of him, on the couch. It was in scribbly, storyboard style, but still quite well done.
"Yeah, I noticed. I've faked notetaking enough myself: I can hear the difference between writing and doodles. Aww shoot: I should have put that down on my police application form under unique skills. Is the radio for my benefit too?" Asked Nick, nodding to the modest digital set in the corner by the window.
Radio is playing Bearnaked ladies: Brian Wilson
"K-topia's all 90's marathon. You tuned it to music someone of my age group would associate with their childhood and teenaged years when I walked in. I take it that's an attempt to get me to lower my defences Doc?" said Nick.
"Uh-huh. Yes, that's intentional. When I get millennials in I play early 2000's indie, boomers I play the Rodent Stones. Well spotted. Can I borrow your pen? I feel naked without a prop in hand." Said the psychiatrist.
Nick clutched at the carrot-pen his breast-pocket, suddenly remembering it was there, and checking that it hadn't got soaked by the latte. He blew a sigh of relief: It was okay.
"No. Sorry it's just…. It's just that this pen, this pen right here? This pen is mine. No offence, but it's special to me."
"Uh-huh? Okay, that's fine. We all have things that are special to us. Did Judy give it to you?"
"Oh, what? Just because it's a carrot-shaped pen, it has to be a gift from a Bunny, is that what you're saying?"
"Well, it is a little unusual..."
"Doctor, sometimes a carrot is just a carrot. Don't read into it too much." Said Nick, fishing a blubbery out of his pocket and tossing it into his mouth with forced casualness as he tried to change the subject.
The platypus gave him a look over the top of his glasses, with a slight knowing smile.
Nick sighed, and slumped back down on the couch.
"Yes. Judy gave me the pen. You know you're pretty good, for a monotreme."
"Thank you. We tend to be perceptive. And we're also the only mammals that could make our own custard, a unique skill I doubt the police would care about. So, going back to the question: are you sexually attracted to Judy?"
"You do know she's a different species from me? Right Doc? And I mean, not just a different species of Fox or something, or like when you see two big cats together and think 'Oh well, they're a cute couple.' We're not even the same genus. A predator-prey pairing? That's, that's still kinda taboo."
The doctor smiled. "In Zootopia, Anyone can be anything. Besides, I'm a shrink in the heart of the big city: I've heard it all before. Seriously, I mean it: one of my regular patients is attracted to cereal box mascots. And not even the cool or sexy ones, he wants the Quaker Oats Donkey."
"Seriously? Well, at least he'll have good cholesterol. Is Judy attractive? Yes, of course she is: she's smart and funny and good natured and caring and cute and strong emotionaly and she's got legs from here to…" Nick realised he was making a 1940's-cartoon-esque hourglass hips gesture with his paws, and promptly folded them over his tie in minor embarrassment. "If she were a fox, or I were a Rabbit… who knows. Is she attractive? Yes. Of course. Do I care about her: yes, of course, she's my best friend in the world. Do I have feelings for her? Yes, I do: but after all that we've been through together, that's perfectly natural."
The platypus stopped pretending to write, and gestured with his pen "You do realise that you didn't answer the question, right?"
Nick looked panicked. "Yes I did!"
"No, no you answered the question with another question and then answered that question." Said the doctor, bobbing his pen up and down each time to accentuate the word question. "Four times. I didn't ask you if she was attractive. I asked if you were sexually attracted to her."
"Huh. That question thing usually works. Tell me doctor, do you get a lot of politicians in here?"
"Yeah, but I just keep telling the varmints to jump." He paused, and looked up from his not-writing. "That's a joke, you'll understand. I am a doctor, first do no harm. And besides: after all the failed suicidals I've seen over the years, I'd probably recommend a combination of sleeping pills and a bag over the head: it's not as 100% effective as jumping, anything over twenty meters is pretty much guaranteed to do the job, but it is a lot less stressful for witnesses and far easier to clean up."
"Wow. You're a piece of work Doc, do you know that?"
The psychiatrist shrugged. "True, I don't normally treat my patents like this, it spooks them, but when someone pays for counselling without saying what it's about and then comes in and says that he needs therapy to give up a life of crime to become a cop? Well, that's not something you hear every day, even from the land of cereal-monogamists. I think we can both afford to be a little more candid than usual. I've found that approach works best with those patents of mine who happen to be unelected criminals."
"Yeah, I guess it's less usual than the traditional route of starting out as a cop and then going criminal. Well, I'm a candid canid, sure enough. No worries on that count. You… you see a lot of crims coming through here then Doc?"
The platypus shrugged. "I do some work for the corrections department, psychological assessments and so forth. Out here at liberty? Not many. I do have that one assassin who needed coaching through his high-school reunion, but not so much since that."
"Huh. You know, I think I saw a film like that once."
"Everyone has. So, Judy?"
Nick glanced at the clock in the corner as he swung his legs off the couch and sat up, one paw casually in his hip as he gestured with the other. "Ohhhh, well, shucks will you look at that? Where did the time go? Oh well Doc, tempus fungit, time makes fools of us all, tides wait for no mammal…"
The shrink looked up. "You've still got five minutes." He said, calmly.
Nick got up, swinging both paws casually behind his back and then back forward to make an unrealistically enthusiastic double fist-pumping gesture every few seconds as he backed out of the room, tail swishing.
"Woah, I thought the stereotype about the clock-watching shrink was an old joke! Ha, no seriously Doc, I did arrive a little early, and I'm only paid up for an hour, so you know, don't want to overstay my welcome. I'll tell you what?" he smacked his forehead and smiled enthusiastically as he walked out. "Crazy idea, the commute for me is so much better if I arrive and then leave five minutes before the hour, not on it. That would be good for me next week, is that good for you?"
The platypus shrugged. "That's fine by me, mister Maulwurf. We can talk about Judy next session. And about your parents-"
"Ohh, would you look at the time, I gotta run. This has been swell. Just swell buuut…" made Nick, checking the time on his phone and making the stretched vowel sound that indicated a pressing hurry. The platypus snorted, and leaned in towards the intercom.
"You can't avoid the issue forever Nick, sooner or later, you're going to have to talk about your feelings. Here I'll get Carrol to buzz you out-"
"NO!" said Nick, raising both paws, and then realizing that that had come across a little strong. "Ahah, no I mean, it's a simple enough set up, I survived this city since I was twelve and had a government conspiracy try to kill me last month: I think I can find me way back to the lobby on my own. No need to bother your secretary: I'll make my own way out. See you next week Doc!" he said, standing half-way out of the door and poking a head around it and saluting, half-mockingly. "I'd have to be crazy to miss it!"
The door swung shut.
The physiatrist sighed. "Well, he's going to be a difficult one, I can tell." He said, checking the clock. He had an extra five minutes now.
He flicked the aviator shades out of his pocket, and pulled the sun-tanning mirror out from under the couch and lay back, cracking open a stubby.
"Give me the crazy ones any-day. It's the smart ones always make trouble."
Nick closed the door quietly behind him, and pressed an ear to it to check the shrink wasn't about to burst through. He breathed a sigh of relief, and then moved speedily and stealthily to the secretary's desk and sat at the empty chair behind it just in the nick of time.
The psychiatrists office had clearly been fitted into an oddly-shaped spare space in the office block, with one good-sized room that the shrink used, and a weird L shaped room/corridor leading up to it that was of no particular use and had been converted into a waiting room/reception area. Because of its shape, you'd need to crane your head right around the corner and peek through a bead curtain to see if anyone was actually manning the desk from the waiting area, and it was for exactly this reason that Nick had chosen this particular therapist's to attend. That and he'd found a brochure for it at his usual pawsicle selling spot and was too lazy to shop around.
The Mole in the waiting area leaned in and poked through the curtain squinting suspiciously. Nick stopped pretending to file his claws, and sat up straight behind the desk looking bright and attentive.
"I'm so sorry Mister Maulwurf," he said. "But I'm afraid the doctor still isn't ready to see you."
The mole frowned, annoyed. "But I'm missing my first session, I paid for an Hour, and it's nearly all gone! I mean I block booked, ten one-hour sittings, like in the brochure!"
"And I can grantee you, that ever single hour of those will be used." Nick said, standing up and laying a re-assuring arm around the mole's shoulders. "It's just that the doctor has had one of his more… More Unstable patents re-lapse, and needs to be with him urgently."
"But what could be so important that-"
"Mob hitman. Top Assassin, nervous breakdown and now he needs coaching through his High-school reunion. I'm not supposed to say anything, doctor-patient confidentiality, but if you step through that door and reveal that mammal's identity, why, you could be the target of a mob hit. And then I'd feel just awful."
"Really. Gosh, you know, I think I saw a film like that once…"
"Everyone has." said Nick. The mole nodded.
"So If I need to contact you again about an appointment Mister… " started the mole He looked down at the name tag on the desk. It said Carol.
"Carlos. My name is Carlos, and here's my card, mister Maulwurf, and if you ever need anything, sir, anything at all, you can just call that number at any time." Said Nick, producing a random Business card from the collection he kept in his back pocket and handing it over like a magician, pinched between first and second finger, smiling: he made it a point to grab a few whenever he got the opportunity, because business cards were an invaluable prop for running short-cons. Most of the time, people never even read them: they let you be whoever you wanted to be" Tell you what, mister Maulwurf you just turn up again this time tomorrow and if it happens again, then I'm sure that it would be possible to get you two free sessions for each one that you've missed."
"Really?" asked Maulwurf
"Like I said, I'm sure it's possible. And if it wasn't why, that would be just criminal. Okay, out the door now, see you tomorrow. Bye, bye bye… bye." Nick said, shutting the door gently but firmly behind the mole. He then ran back to the desk, and got a packed-lunch out from under it. It was already half eaten. He carefully inserted a lettuce leaf from his salad onto the front of his shirt, and then waited, plastic spork in hand.
He was convincingly pretending to eat when the outer door opened a second latter, and a young female southern grey wolf in a conservative suit-skirt combo slipped in holding a BugBurger lunch Burrito.
She smiled at him, a tad guiltily.
"Hi Nick, and again, thanks for covering for me."
Nick spread his arms wide and smiled beneficently. "Hey now Carol, it's like I said, I'm just over in the next office, and we're not allowed to eat at our work stations or bring our own food, have to buy from the cafeteria, some company-store type deal. I was glad for the chance to sneak out for an hour. How's the kid?"
The secretary smiled, sheepishly. "As good as gold. Don't get me wrong." she said, holding out a claw. "The doctor is a really great guy to work for, got me signed into the day-care for free… it's just I hardly ever get to see my kid, and he's right over the street. Oh, thank you Nick, you can't know how much it means to me to just sneak out and see him for an hour…."
"Hey, hey? Are those tears? Do I see tears? Here let me get that…" said Nick, reaching for the kerchief in his breast pocket, next to the lettuce leaf. "Big bad wolf crying all over the place…" he said, and she noticed the leaf and burst out laughing.
"Ahhh! You've got a little something there Nick!"
He looked down. "Oh well what do you know? Guess I was saving that one for later." He said, before laughing at his own misfortune, establishing himself as a harmless goof.
"Aww, bless, Did you have any trouble with mister Maulwurf? It's his first session."
"Him? Good as gold. No problem. One happy customer."
"Oh thank goodness. Now how can I thank you?" said Carol reaching for her purse. "At least let me buy you lunch… BugBurger okay? Or ZFC perhaps…"
Nick held up his paws forestalling her, and gently steered her money back into her purse.
"No, no. Firstly, I don't eat meat, fish sometimes, but that's it, and secondly Carol I can't take your money. I… I know what it's like for a single mom in this city. Heck, I should be buying you lunch. Trust me, no." Nick hesitated, and then his face light up as if he'd just had a great idea. "I'm a genius. I know Carrol, I'll tell you what, I've just had the best idea ever: why don't we make this a regular thing? Do this every lunchtime: I can sneak in here to eat my home-cooked lunch, and you can take an hour off to see your son. Say, from ten-to-one until two? I mean, it's clearly a weight off your mind, I don't mind playing secretary for one hour, and I'm in the office right next door anyway…"
"Oh, thank you! You can't imagine what this means to me! Now you do that, and I'll just have to have you for lunch to pay you back. Although not salad: I've never been ashamed of being a predator, and you shouldn't either."
"Hey now, well, maybe someday, but seriously, I would be remiss in my duties as a good citizen if I didn't help you and your kid out here!"
"Oh, wow, that's so kind. Remiss… You're just… just a real articulate fella!"
"Heh. You know ma'am? I get that all the time…"
Two minuets later Nick was in the elevator on his way down to the lobby when his phone rang.
After a glance at the caller ID he smiled and swiped to answer.
"Hey, Carrots. How'd your un-resignation from the force go? Not had it yet? Okay, well, I'll drop over then for it: moral support. Never officially quit? Well yeah, of course just throwing your badge on the desk doesn't cut it, dumb bunny, you still need to give two weeks' notice: it is still a job. So what are they counting your back-to-the-farm metal-breakdown moment as? You know: the one I predicted within thirty seconds of meeting you? Sympathetic leave? Well that must be promising: If Chief Buffalo-butt wasn't interested in having you back he'd have flagged that as unauthorised leave or something. The fact he's willing to meet with you at all has to be a good sign. Well yes, even if there is a standard procedure that when any cop who turns in their badge they get a grace period to change their minds, the fact that Bogo's treating it like that has to be promising. I … look, listen to me Carrots, don't worry about it: you saved the entire city, well, with a little help from a certain handsome, dashing, genius underappreciated vulpine assistant, so even if he does throw the book at you, what's the worst that could happen? Well… well okay, yes, we did technically hijack a train and endanger hundreds of lives … uh huh… uh huh… yeah and the explosions…. Okay yeah oh wow, honestly, we broke that many laws? Twenty years on the hustle and the first time I commit a class one felony it's working for a cop: figures. Mother was right; fast women will be the end of me. Okay, so I guess a lengthy prison sentence is technically the worst that could happen but…. Hey, hey there now don't get all worked up about this: You becoming the stereotypical emotional bunny again helps no-one here; you don't even have my tail to stand on right now. Just stay calm, state your case clearly, and answer his questions with other questions. And I promise, Hopps, if the worst does happen, I'll bake you a carrot cake with a file in it. Deal? Attagirl. My day? Oh, nothing much. Saw that shrink like I promised. Nice guy, for, you know, a platypus: frankly I just don't trust any mammal with a beak. Did you know they could make their own custard? Freaky. No, I don't know how, maybe out a sachet or something, I wasn't going to pry, that's his job, it would have seemed rude. Trouble? Judy. I'm a grown mammal. My word is my bond: when I say I'm going straight, then that's it, I'm going straight. No more hustles. Scout's honour." He said, walking out of the elevator to the left. His eyes went wide and he swiveled 180 degrees on a paw and shifted his phone to cover his face some more as he avoided Maulwurf and made for the other exit, and despite the change in body language his spoken voice didn't falter an iota.
"Honestly, Judy, I'm a changed mammal. I can, with complete 100% confidence say that I'm already feeling significantly less criminal. Hey, you're going to be late for your meeting Carrots. And remember, he's a cape buffalo: worst comes to the worst if you stand still enough, I'm about 80% sure he can't see you. Okay. Bye-bye. Kiss Bogo hi for me!" he said, walking out of the doors and onto the sidewalk
He looked at the phone. Judy had laughed, and then hung up. That was good, he guessed. He was more worried about her going back to the force than he wanted to show, and she was straight-up terrified: if it helped break the tension for her, then that was good.
He glanced the time on his phone, and groaned. He'd forgotten that now he had a real job, he had to keep to a schedule. He glanced at the street, once. He knew the city like the back of his paw: an hour by subway, forty-five by L-train. He needed a taxi. He scanned the cabs at the busy taxi rank at the end of the block, watching the drivers. All prey animals. Chances of them stopping to pick up a shifty looking fox in this neighbourhood? Practically zero. He shrugged, and walked past. Something would come up. Something always did.
This was Zootopia: and anyone could be anything. Including on time.
He loitered by the cab rank outside a department store playing on his phone, thank god for the smart phone revolution, it made this look so much less suspicious, and within a minute a shopper severely overburdened with bags came along and struggled to hail a taxi. A lioness. He moved into action; she met the bill: too many bags, stressed, female, and a larger pred than he was so she'd not feel threatened by him and get defensive.
"Here let me get that for you Ma'am." he said, flagging down the car for her, and opening the door and helping her in: no one would stop a taxi for a fox, but generations of door-mammals and busboys had given taxi drivers in the city an instinct for stopping whenever some tried to help a lady shopper into a cab.
"Oh, why thank you. Sahara square, and step on it!" she said. The taxi pulled smoothly away. He waved as it went. "Have a nice day!" he said, already looking around. He was going downtown, which meant that the species of passenger wasn't a good indicator: if he wanted to go to tundra town, for example, he'd single out polar bears. Downtown was too mixed for that to work.
After seven minutes and his fifth taxi, he struck gold.
"Oh, why thank you. Baobab and central, please driver." Said a leopard, as he helped her with her bags. Nick made a surprised little noise, and leaned on the open door of the cab with one arm, the other cocked causally by his hip.
"Well, isn't this the weirdest coincidence, that is exactly the same part of town I was heading to. Hey, sorry you don't mind if I…" he made a rapid back and forth gesture between the cab and his chest with his fingers "I mean, if we split the fare?"
The leopard looked him up and down once, without fear, and clearly assessed he was no danger to her. And far more importantly unlike a male, she was unlikely to be a danger to him. He only played this with male marks if he was desperate: too easy to wake up in a ditch beaten black and blue and minus wallet phone and pants, although he suspected that last incident was more to do with annoying Mr Big than anything else.
She shrugged. "Sure, why not?" And shifted over her shopping off the back seat to make room for him, while putting in her earphones to indicate that, mercifully, they didn't have to talk and so proper city etiquette could be maintained.
Nick nodded, and sidled into the cab. He'd be there on time, and for half the cost.
Ten stories above them the psychiatrist's radio was still paying the K-tiopia all 90's playlist.
Alien ant farm: Smooth criminal.
Case one: a Class act.
Part one: retail therapy
Frosted glass Door slams, music abruptly stops, close up on door: office of chief Bogo. Silhouette of rabbit and buffalo visible through glass. Ticking clock.
Officer Judy Hopps sat in front of the desk trying not to shuffle nervously as chief Bogo flicked through the file, one page at a time, painfully slowly. He hadn't said anything for… she checked the clock in the corner of the room… six minutes. Six minutes of compete silence as he just flicked through page after page of complaints, reports, and photos of the Nighthowler incident.
A disproportionate number of them either seemed to be of the wrecked train, or exerts from the DA's initial report. Someone, Bogo she suspected, had underlined the phrases "Threat to the public" "reckless endangerment" and "breach of procedure" with a pink highlighter each time they appeared. On some pages there was almost more pink than white.
Flick. Flick. Flick. She tried not to flinch as each page was turned. Her tail had gone numb with sitting there. She envied it: she didn't want to feel this either. Flick. Flick. Flick…
Bogo sighed, and took off his reading glasses
"Officer Hopps: I understand that without your actions the city would have indeed have fallen into a dire peril: held at the whim of a maniac determined to tear us apart, and willing to turn innocent predators into killers, and their victims into unwilling martyrs for her cause. And given how incredibly close you came to ending up as one of those victims, I can only commend both your dedication and bravery. The city owes you and Mr Wilde a debt of thanks."
Judy blinked, twice. "Thank you sir." She said, crisply and automatically, nose twitching. She was still sitting bolt-upright, in her dress blues, cap under her arm. It never hurt to give a good impression during a dressing down, and despite the praise, she wasn't quite so naive as to think that wasn't what this was: she was here to get chewed out, and they both knew it.
Nothing anyone says before the word 'but' really counts. Nick had said to her yesterday. As in, 'I'm not prejudiced but…' Doubly so if they use the words 'that said.' That's when you know you're in the deep doo-doo, Carrots.
"That said." Said Chief Bogo, "There are certain issues I've been asked to raise by the proper authorities, namely regarding the legality of your actions in the time leading up to the arrest of assistant mayor Bellwether."
"I understand Sir." she said, swallowing nervously. "Do… will in need my union rep present for this, sir?"
Bogo gave her a long, slow look, but didn't answer.
"I've read through your own account of the events of the Nighthowler incident, and while your report is as frank and professional as I would have hoped for from a Valedictorian academy graduate and officer of your calibre, there are still, by your own admission, serious procedural problems. And that's not even taking into account the other reports circulating…"
"Other reports sir?" said Judy, her ears drooping and nose twitching nervously.
"Yes, officer Hopps, our other reports. The crime scene investigators, the witness statements from the train-track, assistant mayor Bellwether's defence statement, the arrested ram officers defence statements… Mr Wilde's statement…. and that's just the official reports. We have citizens filming the train chase on their phones, the usual rumour mills, trending hashtags and a number of complaints made on social media, mostly from a certain Duke Weselton."
"I believe it's pronounced Weasel-ton, sir."
"Did I give the impression that I cared, Hopps? No! Officer Hopps, your honesty is commendable, but on your own report , by your own admission, you list enough procedural problems to give the DA, the mayor's office, or at least what's left of it, and internal affairs the headache of the century!" he leaned back, and put his glasses back on and opened the file.
"Collating all the various report, and, for simplicity's sakes ignoring the procedural issues you could legitimately be fired over and the city misdemeanours in order to focus just on the felony charges… let's see…"
Judy shifted nervously. "Sir I-"
"Tiny mouth shut officer Hopps. Now where was I? Oh yes: August 29th last, felony blackmail of one Nicholas Wilde, where you cornered and confronted him and used your position as an officer of the law to force him to work for you, without proper pay or compensation. True?"
"Well, sir he was my only lead on the Otterton case and-"
"Also August 29th, withholding information of a felony offence: failing to report N. Wilde's felony tax evasion. True or false Hopps?"
"True sir but I-"
"August 29th through 31st: reckless endangerment of N. Wilde: that you did with reckless abaddon place an untrained civilian, Nicholas Wilde, into a situation likely to endanger his life, safety or liberty no less than three times even when it was not strictly necessary for the case; at Tundra Limos, Tujunga Sky-tram station and Cliffside asylum, and that you failed to provide him with a weapon or body-armour to defend himself, and that you intentionally brought him into contact with a person of interest; one mister Renato Manchas, without first assessing the individual and area to determine if it was safe and suitable for a civilian. True?"
"Sir, he was a witness not a suspect, we had no reason to suspect that mister Manchas would pose a threat."
"Oh, you had no reason to suspect that the mob boss's driver who was a predator twice the combined weight of you and Wilde could pose a threat? Tell me, officer Hopps, what exactly was preventing you from leaving Nick in the car while you checked out the Manchas property to make sure it was safe?"
"And yet you didn't, did you?"
"And given you were armed with nothing more deadly than a parking-ticket dispenser, what was preventing you from calling for armed backup before approaching the property?"
"And yet you didn't, did you Officer?"
"No, Sir." said Judy, heart in throat and butterflies in stomach. She didn't what to think about how she would have felt if Nick had got hurt.
"No, sir, you didn't." Bogo said, mockingly. "And frankly, you got lucky that in this jurisdiction you only need the permission of one of the participants in a conversation to record it, because it's only the fact you were technically a participant in the events that makes your recordings of Lionheart and Bellwether admissible in a court of law, and even then we had the devil's own work getting your video of Lionheart into court because unlike Bellwether he didn't know you were there and wasn't cocky enough to call the police himself!"
"Sir, I realise that I may have-"
"No. no no no, Hopps, you don't get to talk right now, miss. So, moving away from those 48 hours… you managed to nearly start a race riot with your first press conference, put in two months of, and I will admit to this, sterling service as the situation between predator and prey deteriorated, and then, just as things hit their lowest ebb, you did the one thing I can't forgive: you quit."
He signed, and leaned back. "So there it is: your decision to re-unite with Nick? To take the case? Exactly what was you legal justification for doing that, Miss Hopps? Because unless you've forgotten, at the time you were running around getting mobsters to threaten witnesses for you, laying you open to charges of the attempted murder of Duke Weaselton and selective enforcement, where exactly was your badge, officer? When you chose to violate the Homeland Security act by committing trespass on the railways and hijacking a city train full of propane cylinders and dangerous volatile psychotropic toxins and driving it through mid-town in rush-hour, where was your badge? And when you managed to put Nick's life on the line for the fourth time in the museum, was your badge on your chest where it belonged, Hopps? No, officer, no it wasn't. It was right here, in my desk draw." He said opening his draw dramatically and pointing, sending an angry snort out his nostrils as he did.
"Hi, I'm Gazelle. Wow, You are one hot dancer… CHIEF… BOGO…" said a synthesised voice from the desk draw as he opened it up. His eyes widened and his face showed a half-second of horrified embarrassment, but he didn't break eye contact with her as he slammed the draw shut again and his baseline controlled anger re-asserted itself.
"Blackmail, withholding information, reckless endangerment, attempted murder, selective enforcement, and domestic terrorism... hardly what I thought I'd be getting when I assigned you parking duty, officer Hopps."
Judy sat bolt upright, cap under arm and properly at attention with her head held high as her ears drooped and the tears rolled openly down her face.
"No Sir. But look on the bright side." She said, voice breaking as she sniffed and snorted, nose twitching. "At least I got those two-hundred tickets written up." She said, unpinning the badge from her breast pocket and looking at it sadly. For as long as she could remember, this was all she had wanted. She laid it down on the desktop where it made a sad little plink.
She then slipped of the chair, dropping the distance to the ground that was a little more than her own height, marched over to the door, and gave a proper parade-ground about-turn and a saluted crisply.
"I'll, I'll turn myself over to the custody sergeant immediately, sir. Clawhauser can fill out the charge sheets. I'll plead guilty, save the city some trouble, sir, on the condition that I'm not asked to testify against Nick he… like you said, I forced him into this, he doesn't deserve any of this. It…. It has been an honour to serve with you sir." She griped the door handle, cap under the other arm. "However briefly, Chief Bogo. I'm sorry to have failed the ZPD. Thank you for the opportunity."
She was halfway out of the door when she heard him call out.
"Hopps, did I at any point say that the charges against you included littering?"
"Littering?" She asked thickly, turning and rubbing tears from her whiskers.
"Littering Hopps." He said, peering over at her. "What is this on my desk?" he asked, pointing to her badge with his pen. "Kindly do not leave you possessions cluttering up my office, Hopps. I don't permit that from officers in my precinct. Pick up that badge, and put it back where it belongs: on your chest."
Judy sniffed, looking from badge to buffalo rapidly "Sir?" she asked.
"Your badge, Hopps. Put it on, and close the door before I catch a cold. Did I give you permission to excuse yourself, officer?" he asked, not unkindly. He pointed to the chair. "Sit." He said, gruffly.
Judy rubbed some tears off her cheek with her paw, and walked back to the chair and hopped up.
"I do not forgive Quitters, Hopps… but at least you quit for the right reasons, and when it got tough, you came back when you could have sat it out safely in Podonk , so that's an end of it."
"I'm talking Hopps!"
"Sorry sir. But… the charges? If I've broken the law, then I should go to jail."
Bogo snorted, and leaned back, one arm draped over the back of his chair as he gestured with his glasses using the other. "What sort of hit rate do you think we get Hopps? Let's face it, the vast majority of times mammals' break the law, they walk. No Hopps, you don't get out that easily: you've been dumb enough to show me you've got potential, and I'm damn well going to get the best of it before I let you slip away officer. Don't let it go to your head, and don't break the world again on my watch. Got it?"
"Sorry, sir: I heard it was already broken. But sir, I don't understand-"
"Less of that sass, Hopps. So you don't understand? Well, let me spell it out for you: the DA and Homeland Security are desperately trying to hold the city together in the wake of race riots and both the mayor and assistant mayor being arrested. The last thing they need is to let the public know just how close we came to Bellwether wining. Your chase thorough the city with the train? Classified. Something about a giant mobile bomb filled with a drug that turns mammals savage driving through the city's most populated area at rush hour didn't poll well with focus groups and was seen as potentially distressing to the public, so if anyone asks, it never happened: A training exercise, part of our anti-terrorist contingency planning, and any explosions heard by the public were part of a simulation. Understood Hopps?"
"But sir, even so, the other charges-"
"Do you want to go to jail? No? Good. That's what I thought. No: Duke Weaselton may have made certain allegations about being threatened by a mobster named Mister Big in your presence and under your supervision on social media, but there is no evidence that it ever occurred and there won't be will there Hopps? This is something that just does NOT happen on my force, Hopps, understood? And yes, we are always happy to hear any information about potential abuse by officers. But it appears that while Weaselton may indeed have information that could put you away for the rest of your natural life, he also has outstanding warrants after skipping bail for the florist robbery, and while he's only looking at two years, he clearly values two years of his own time far more than he does sabotaging your career, so he's made no official complaint. Gone to ground, and likely to stay there."
Chief Bogo steepled his fingers and then looked over them.
"So, that brings us to Mister Wilde. I gather you are still in contact with him. Do you believe he's likely to press charges?"
Judy laughed involuntarily, sobbing with relief. "No Sir! No I do not!"
"Harrumph. Shows what you know. Never trust a fox, Hopps. I have a formal statement from Mister Wilde here, taken only last week. When asked if he wanted to prefer charges he answered, and I'm quoting here 'Why yes officer, of course. Absolutely. 100%. I want to pursue all charges against officer Hopps.…'"
Judy's breath froze in her throat. No, Nick, surely not. I know I deserve it, I know I said you had permission to hate me but still… oh Nick…
"… In forty-eight hours.' When asked forty eight hours from when he answered 'Forty-eight hours from whenever the statute of limitations expires.' He also added, and again I'm quoting here so I hope this means something to you because it's nothing to me 'Good hustle Carrots.'" Bogo shrugged and put the paper down.
"So that's it. You will not be facing any criminal charges because no one involved is interested in perusing them, and given that the extreme circumstances of events gave you good cause to… To bend some procedural guidelines, and that you were on compassionate leave at the time, I feel that we can draw a line under the matter and return you to active duty…"
"Oh thank you sir!"
"...as soon as the selective enforcement issue is dealt with." He gave her a long, cool stare. "You are a beat cop with three months on the force, Hopps, one third of that spent moping on some Podonk carrot farm. You do not have permission to work undercover or high-risk work without my say so. You do not have permission to pick and choose assignments. You do not have permission to dragoon con-artists and mobsters in to do your dirty work. You find a mobster or someone with unpaid taxes, you arrest them. Understood? You don't get to pick and choose the laws you enforce or the battles you fight, Am I clear, Hopps? There is no room for selective enforcement in my force."
"And you are not and have never in any financial arrangement with Mister Big? Not otherwise in his debt?"
"And Mister Wilde, his tax affairs are now in order?"
"Yes sir. He is now a fully contributing member of society… fiscally at least."
"I bet he loved that."
"He was… he was happy to put the past behind him sir."
*flashback cut. Nick on a park bench, clutching tax-form to his chest and weeping openly as Judy tries to comfort him.*
"Oh god, Judy. It… it's so much! My money! Call Bellwether, call Mr Big, Call Manchas! At least if I die I can claim the life insurance and afford a nice funeral Carrots!"
"There there Nick, everyone feels like that after tax. I mean they only took…. Oh jeaz, they took that much? Look on the bright side, if they had applied full punitive measures for late payment, it would be far worse. Do... do you need a hug?"
"Yes. And a Blueberry-spice latte."
"Nick, I'm not going all the way to the coffee shop for you."
"Hey, I pay your wages now!"
Bogo snorted. "How did you even get his tax record anyway? You'd need a subpoena or someone with access to… ahh. Bellwether?"
"Hrumph. Don't go over my horns again, Hopps. Particularly not to closet sociopaths. And if I ever see selective enforcement on my force, I have to come down hard. You understand?"
"Yes sir." said, realising that he was about to throw the book at her for selective enforcement.
After a few minutes of sitting there filling out routine paperwork, he looked up at her over his reading glasses. "Are you still here Hopps?"
"Yes sir, you… you haven't said what you were going to do about my selective enforcement charge."
"Oh. Fair enough: I'm doing nothing. I'm choosing not to enforce it: exercising my discretion. Call Clawhauser over on your way out, will you?"
Judy paused for a second, and then got off the chair, saluted, and walked to the door.
At the door she paused.
"Sir… they never covered this at the academy, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but what exactly is the difference between selective enforcement and discretion sir?"
Bogo paused in his writing, but did not look up. "How many major cases have you worked in your career, Hopps? Not counting parking and that citywide mess after your press conference?"
"Counting the florist robbery, Otterton case and Night-howler bust as separate cases? Three, sir."
"Three. Hopps, there have been…" he checked his computer screen. "Two-thousand and twelve nine-one-one calls in the Zootopia central area today, and it's not even past lunch. I have officers to deal with about half of them within our recommend responsive times, half of the rest in two hours, and two-thirds of the remainder over the next twenty four hours. Most of the calls we get are minor, but even so, there comes a point where have to prioritize which cases we pursue, which we paw of onto other precincts or turn over to county, and which we let drop. You as a beat cop can be reasonably expected to deal with all crime in front of you, and if for any reason it's too much, you call for back up and pass it up the foodchain for someone else to fix, and they do the same. It's only when you get to the top of the foodchain and you run out other people to pass it up too that you have to decide what to dedicate the department's limited resources to, and given we can barely afford to police the campaigning for the emergency election of a new mayor, booking you is far more trouble than it's worth. The difference between selective enforcement and discretion?" he jerked a thumb towards the stars on his collar.
"You're looking at him. Dismissed, Hopps. Get out of your dress blues and report to Drill Sergeant Furschia for physical assessment, I want to know that that leg wound and a month munching carrots in the sticks hasn't blunted your edge. CLAWHAUSER! WHERE ON EARTH ARE THIS WEEK'S CRIME FIGURES?!"
"-no, seriously, greatest singer of our time and personal inspiration to me…Coming sir!"
"BEFORE OUR PENSIONS KICK IN, CLAWHAUSER. Oh and Hopps…"
Bogo was holding up a ZPD application form. "Really? I am not known for my sense of humour. He may have been a help during the Nighthowler case, but a leopard does not change his spots. Well, except for Clawud from Traffic, and that turned out to be melanoma. A fox on the force?"
"I know, sir. That would be almost as ridiculous as a bunny with a badge."
He snorted, and perhaps there was a very small smile under that.
"Go, Hopps. Oh, and stop by the bullpen on the way to the locker room: Apparently there's carrot cake. Some sort of 'welcome back hero' party for someone or other. Not that I care. I take it Wilde actually has some sort of legitimate job? I don't want to have to arrest anyone at their preliminary academy interview, that would be embarrassing for everyone involved."
"No, sir. He's… He is adapting well to honest work. I think it suits him."
Nick stared straight ahead, trying to ignore his apron and stupid uniform baseball cap.
"Welcome to Buy N' large, home of the best deals in Zootopia. Can I pack your bags for you Ma'am?"
The marmot looked at him suspiciously, and subconsciously clutched her purse a little closer when she realized the mammal serving her was a fox. He smiled, and even the people who knew him best wouldn't have been able to see anything but genuine happiness in that smile. In defence of the citizens of zootopia, most seemed to barely even notice his species as he worked, but for each nine that didn't, you got that one in ten who just had to give you the suspicious look, or who as soon as you packed the bags, re-packed them themselves to check you hadn't swiped anything, or who carried fox repellent in their purse like this little charmer: he couldn't see it, but he could smell it and the way she grabbed her purse was a distinct tell. At least most of the openly bigoted ones seemed old, although he wasn't sure if that meant the younger generation was less prejudiced, or that they just hadn't looked up from their phones for long enough to notice him.
He tried to ignore her and just focus on packing the bags, and on ignoring the awful musak versions of pop classics that were slowly and inexorably working his way into his soul.
Bearnaked ladies: never is enough.
As he bagged her groceries, he realised that perhaps he was judging her a little harshly: Bellwether had known her trade well, and even nearly a month after her arrest, he'd noticed everyone seemed a little more cautious around Preds, resulting in a particular little dance on public transport where smaller Prey animals wouldn't sit next to him until they realised that the only other seats on the train were the ones left empty for exactly the same reason and they suddenly had to run some sort of mental sorting algorithm to work out exactly who they were least afraid off and finally vote by eventually parking their keister next to him to avoid the tigers, or electing to stand, and he still wasn't sure if he found it depressing, hilarious or both. Say what you liked about Bellwether, and he did, often, she knew how to work a crowd, and Nick guessed it would take quite some time before sales of Fox repellent and Bear-be-gone dropped, he thought, scanning them through the till.
He held up the jumbo-sized canister of fox repellent the lady was buying and smiled with genuine enjoyment as the customer's eyes went wide and she realised she was buying fox repellent from a fox and now trapped in a socially awkward situation that she had no control over. Nick grinned: some times life was just good to you.
"Hi, you know that due to popular demand, we're offering a three-for-two on all species-specific self-defence products at the moment Ma'am? You've already got two, so you could get a third completely free." He said, a little louder than was strictly necessary. He noted that she seemed particularly embarrassed, and that the Cougar in the line behind her did a double-take at that and started glaring at her, disgusted.
"Umm, no, that's okay. Just those please."
"Oh, no ma'am. We at Buy n' Large are quite happy to help cater to your irrational fears in any way we can. So, could I interest you in our fine range of wolf, mustelid and cat deterrents? I mean, you're covered for foxes and bears, but frankly how well prepared do you feel against lion or cougar attacks?" he asked, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the cougar behind her start to grin and enjoy the show. "I mean, I'd hate to feel that we as a company weren't profiting from you insane prejudices as much as we could. Have you considered a big 'ole steel bear-trap? Or how about a nice shrew-taser? That way you could combine your love of being well prepared to fight off angry preds with the hilarity of picking on mammals considerably smaller than yourself? Do you have any neighbours that you particularly dislike? I'm sure we'll have something suitable."
"No." she hissed through clenched teeth holding her purse out in front of her like a shield and looking like she wished the earth would just open up and swallow her. "Just those please. That will be fine."
"Right you are Ma'am." He said, cheerfully dropping the bear-be-gone in the bag and then intentionally failing to find the barcode on the fox repellent so he had an excuse to handle it for as long as possible to draw out the customer's moment of suffering. He let the awkward silence drag for a good long time as he vaguely waved the thing over the scanner.
"It…. It's for my Aunt: she lives alone and scares easily. What with all the stuff on the news… I mean, obviously I would never buy something like that for myself…." She started when it was getting agonising.
"Well, I'm very glad to hear it: it's not often I meet someone so open-minded and non-judgemental. Do you have a loyally-card ma'am? This is worth double points this week." He said. By now they were getting quite an audience.
She automatically opened her purse, like mammals did when you asked them for a card, and just like he'd smelt, there was a canister of fox repellent in there. She slammed the purse shut hurriedly.
"Must have left it at home!" she squawked. "Say… are you still doing that charity fundraiser, for those poor predators hit by that Nighthowler stuff?" she asked, ears reddening as she blushed under her fur. "I mean… anything to help…" She looked down: Nick had already got the donation box out and was holding it meaningfully under her nose. She slammed a twenty in with indecent haste. He smiled, making a point to show as many teeth as possible.
"Why thank you ma'am. Your kindness is an example to us all." He said.
She looked up and wiped her forehead, visibly blowing off relief. It was over.
Nick kept looking at her coolly in the eye from under his stupid uniform baseball cap for a long moment, and without breaking eye contact leaned over and grabbed the microphone on his station.
"Hey, Ashlin, can I get a price check on Fox repellent for the Marmot in the knitwear at till six please? Is it still discounted if bought with another anti-predator product? I repeat, Price check on Fox repellent please." He said, as literally every Pred in the store suddenly stopped and gave the customer the stink eye, and he was pleased to note that at least a third of the prey animals looked equally disgusted.
Perhaps the city was a little bit of a better place than he gave it credit for, he thought as the customer paid and fled and the cougar behind him leaned over and put a twenty in the charity jar without a word but with a slight nod of thanks. Zootopia, the place where anyone could be anything, and things got a little better every day…
"WIIIIIIIIILDE!" Screamed a voice, and Nick nearly slipped up as he shot to attention so fast he tripped on his uniform apron strings. A tiny shrew had appeared from nowhere, and was glaring at him with a depth of rage he'd last seen in animals that had been dosed with Night-howler, only this was worse: this was his shift supervisor.
"Gah! Mr Wilkins I can explain!"
"YOU ARE LATE FOR YOUR ONE MONTH ASSESSMENT WILDE! MANAGER'S OFFICE! NOW!"
"Yessir! Right away!" he said.
"AND AFTER THAT, YOU CAN WRITE THAT CUSTOMER A WRITTEN APOLOGY: SHE HAS BEEN A LOYAL SHOPPER FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS AND IF SHE WANTS TO BUY A DAMMED FOX PELT YOU WILL SERVE HER POLITELY AND WITHOUT SASS OR YOU CAN FIND ANOTHER JOB! I HAVE MY EYE ON YOU! IF YOUR ASSESSMENT RUNS LATE BECAUSE OF THIS, IT'S COMING OUT OF YOUR NEXT LUNCH BREAK WILDE! I'M WATCHING YOU, FOX, ALL THE TIME!"
"Yes sir, I gathered that from your attempt to hide in my till on my first day and jump out and shout at me for forgetting to charge that orphan child the extra five cents for getting a re-usable bag, sir."
"On it sir!" he said, backing away before the tiny little maniac could do anything else weird. He'd forgotten his assessment was today. Well, what was the worst that could happen?
Tick, tick, tick…..
Nick sat in the waiting room as the clock wound down: whoever was running the employee assessments was reinforcing their authority by making him wait even though he was the first member of staff being assessed, and he just tried to focus on how badly he needed a lawful job on his resume if he was going to make it through academy pre-selection: the money was awful and he hated it, but even though his pawsicle scam was technically just on the right side of the law, Judy made it clear that the academy recruitment process heavily favoured applicants who had experience sticking to shift patterns. Even with her perfect grades she had had to work through high-school and beyond just to prove to them that she was a good worker: a twenty year gap on his resume labelled 'don't ask' wasn't going to look good for him so he needed to show that he had what it took to stick it out at a crappy job.
That said, the cold, dead stare of the other workers waiting for their quarterly assessments was not reassuring. The elderly goat opposite him who seemed to be visibly drooping as he watched was particularly distressing. The goat noticed him starring, and nodded.
"First assessment?" asked the goat.
Nick nodded. "Any advice?" he asked.
The goat paused to consider this.
"Try to pretend you're somewhere else." Said the goat. "I try to imagine I'm back on the highschool football team… god, I was so happy then. Young, strong, had the ladies falling all over me… good times. Hard to imagine it was nearly six years ago."
Nick did a double take. "How old are you?"
"In normal years? Twenty three. In retail years, that's about a thousand."
Nick stared, horrified.
"Nick Wilde?" asked a voice, as the door to the manager's office opened.
Nick shook himself, and got up and went in, nudging his uniform cap back a little as he did so.
There were two seats behind the desk and one in front of it. One of the seats behind the desk was occupied by a young male porcupine in a bad suit, and the other presumably for the female tapir who had called him in. He automatically moved to the seat in front of the desk, and then picked it up and moved it to the short-edge of the desk so he was at the head of the table to the clear surprise of the porcupine. He gave a bright, winning smile, and moved over to the porcupine's side of the desk and made a point to shake his paw before he could say anything or get up from his seat: the fact he was standing as he shook his paw and the other guy was still sitting accentuated Nick's height advantage and instantly put the porcupine at a disadvantage. Combined with the re-positioning of the chair, he'd instantly robbed the interviewers of any psychological edge. "Nick Wilde, and so glad to make your acquaintance Mr?"
"Stachel, Harry Stachel." Said the porcupine, and Nick realised just how young the guy was. He must be here for some sort of work-experience. He thought, introducing himself to the Tapir who as it turned out was called Noor-Puteri-Rania and was from Mammalian Resources, via Bunga Raya in the rainforest district.
"So, are we waiting for anyone else?" asked Nick sitting down. "I heard that these interviews were being conducted by some big-shot from corporate."
The porcupine laughed. "Yes, that's me. We find a fresh pair of eyes, emotionally detached from the management of any individual store in out chain is best for these things, so cooperate sent me down." He said, getting out a pen and clicking it and drawing out a clipboard as Noor got out a myPad and begun to make notes on it.
Nick stared at the Porcupine.
"You're twelve." He said, flatly.
The porcupine laughed, a touch nervously. "Ahahaha… no. I'm seventeen."
"Oh. Because that is really different from twelve. By a whole five." Said Nick, horrified. "Sorry, but I have sexual anxieties that are older than you. Does your mother know that you're out? Like, out of the womb."
The porcupine smiled, nervously.
"Ah, well you see Buy N' Large has its Future Successes Program… I realise this will be difficult for you to understand seeing as you're just a shop-floor worker, but the company actively recruits promising individuals directly out of high-school in order to put them through our management program and then sends the most promising individuals from that program through something we call collage… it's okay, I can have some explain the concept to you latter. Basically it's a way for the company to recruit and retain mammals that are actually important to us as opposed to… well." He said, gesturing to Nick's apron and cap with one paw. "As opposed to shop. Noor, I think, what? A L27, D52 and a… oh, a S16?" he said. The tapir nodded, and started ticking boxes on an online form.
Nick paused, nonplussed.
The Porcupine smiled.
"Ah, well you see due to recent rulings of those inconvenient labour laws, we are no longer allowed to discuss important elements of your first-month or quarterly assessment behind your back, you have the right to hear what we are saying about you. But we find that phrases such as unskilled labour, low value worker, dead-end job, mindless drone or comments about your personal habits, hygiene or appearance can be distressing to workers, so we comply with the letter of law by discussing you and your assessment with a nice little shorthand that prevents us from having any risk of upsetting you. If you need any help understanding the shorthand, you're welcome to look up those codes in the employees guidebook."
Nick smiled, and steepled his fingers. "And where exactly is this book?"
The porcupine laughed, and rapped his knuckles on the desk they were sitting around producing a hollow, papery noise.
"Ahahaha… this isn't a table. So, Bob… do you mind if I call you Bob? What made you so keen to be a part of the Buy N' large family?"
"My name is Nick."
"Really? Oh. Sorry. So Nick, Nick Nick Nicky, tricky Nicky. Is that speciesist? Can we still call foxes tricky? Never mind. So, what exactly is your position in this company?"
"I'm a customer service assistant."
"U-huh? And what exactly does that entail?"
Nick stared. "You don't know what the various positions in the company are?"
"I'm in corporate, I don't need to. No, I need to focus on worker- incentivization and cost effectiveness: what you do doesn't matter, so long as you can be made to do it harder and cheaper. So, what is it you do?"
"I work at a till, and if customers have a loyalty card or an online account then I look up that customer's previous purchases with an App to suggest other products they might like based on previous purchases so I can upsell to them, so basically I'm in sales."
"Ohhh, actually, we only use the terms in sales for mammals who have passed our sales first initiative which is not applicable to shop staff, no, you see Bob, the term sales implies that you have some agency in the outcome of events rather than being a purposeless, passive cog, and we find that making employees feel like they make any difference at all just raises their expectations to unmanageable levels. No, being in sales would imply that you have some sort of skill level or acumen."
"I used to make 200 dollars a day selling pawsicles!"
"I'm sorry, I don't speak street, I don't know what pawsicle is code for, although now that you mention it…. Noor, red flag, category D16. And D17, and D21 through 25. Anyway, Bob. What made you want to work for Buy N' large."
"Well, I'm trying to get into the police academy and I need a legitimate job to apply."
The porcupine laughed, a lot, and then froze up when he saw Nick's face.
"Oh god, you're serious? You? Okay… how did that one go down? I mean, why do you think you'd be capable of anything like that?"
Nick glared. "I saved the city from assistant mayor Bellwether's anti-predator plot. I was on newsnight."
"Really. Sure okay, if you say so buddy… Noor, what's our code for clearly delusional again? t19?"
"And on the late show."
"I don't watch TV, I stream what I want online. So tell me, why do you want to join the police?"
"Well, after I got roped into helping with a missing otter case by Judy, she's a police officer I met…"
Nick paused. The porcupine and the tapir were having a whispered conversation swapping these little shorthand codes with each other, and with his position on the edge of the table he could see that the little checklist on the myPad was colour-coded, from green smiley face to red sad face: almost all of his boxes appeared to be in either the red or dark amber category. The porcupine noticed he was glaring.
"Do go on Bob, we're listening. No I want to mark him down in category E7. And remember, we're not legally allowed to put his species down on this, so just put k9, and then in subcategory put f zero roman numeral ten and then a sad face."
"Well, after that I got kidnapped by mobsters, survived, attacked by a savage jaguar, survived, hijacked a train, gave and rescinded a victory toot-toot, survived, and broke a major conspiracy involving both the mayor and the assistant mayor, during which Judy convinced me that I was a better person than I gave myself credit for and could make a good cop, so I'm kind of doing this for her, and then I turned into a small tray of cupcakes… you're not listening to a single word I'm saying are you?"
"Well Bob, we can't all be rock stars. F11, d71, and X13 I think. He looks too well turned out and well-spoken to be an alcoholic, so put him down as an s11 so we have an excuse to deny him promotion if we need it, people will buy that excuse…" the porcupine's phone rang, a pop-punk track Nick didn't recognise.
Panic! at the disco: I Write Sins Not Tragedies
"Oh sorry let me get this, this is important… Hey Dude, yeah, yeah I totally got that Buy n' Large job! Yeah, I'm there now! Yeah they said I failed the job interview because I was still hungover from that house party we hit up on Tuesday, but my dad plays golf with this old tiger dude from Corporate, so I got the job anyway! It's so awesome, I just go around telling dudes how they suck at their jobs… here wait a sec bro." he stopped talking on the phone, and actually moved his chair and leaned over next to Nick "hey dude, hashtag sad employee selfie! " he said, and leaned in and took a selfie next to Nick.
"Yeah man, I even get my own car! It's so great! Yeah, yeah, yeah I can totally get beer for that party later, well, I gotta go, yeah... later dude… right, sorry about that Mr Wilde, important phone call…. so Bob, where do you see yourself in five years?" he said, hanging up and shifting his seat back to its old position.
Nick stared. "In the police. Like I just told you."
"Really… okay, well, fair enough that's the dream, but being realistic... if you are still working for us, assuming you meet our high quality standards that is, then where do you see yourself in five years?"
Nick smiled happily, and leaned over to address the porcupine in needlessly keen and eager tones as he clapped his hands once and then clasped them together like someone delivering good news and tilted his head on one side in an expression of cherubic innocence.
"Well, let me see now Harry, in you little code language of corporate Bull-hooie, do you have a shorthand for 'standing naked in the parking lot screaming and throwing my own poop at the store while my soul leaves my body?'"
The porcupine gave him a bank look for a moment, and then turned to the tapir from Mammalian Resources.
"Code B11. So Bob, where do you see yourself in ten years?"
Nick stayed in the exact same pose for a long moment, but his eyes widened and ears shot flat.
The "Staff only" door between the interview room where they had conducted the assessment and the shop floor kicked open, and Nick walked out with a calm little smug smile as the porcupine and tapir trailed in his wake, the porcupine literally bristling, quills ratting as he chittered and raged.
"How dare you! How dare you Bob, I have never been so insulted in my entire life!"
"Well, that's because you've not been weened yet. Get used to it Harry, you've got another six to eight decades of it to go, and then you die. I take it the exit is still this way?" asked Nick, taking off his uniform cap and Frisbee-ing it into the salad aisle as he turned into frozen goods and, with a quiet and polite smile and an "excuse me, sorry I work here" as he relived a customer of their empty cart and begun to wheel it along the aisle. His shift manager Mr Wilkins begun berating him as well from ankle height, but Nick ignored it. It was beneath him.
"Work here? After what you said about me and my father?" raged the porcupine " You are fired! Fired fired fired. And you are-"
"Have you filled in my pink slip yet?" asked Nick, walking along as he untied the bow on his apron.
"Well, no it's not like I have one on me…" started the Porcupine.
"Then, woopsie daisy, I'm not fired yet." He said, hanging the apron off the porcupine's face as he wheeled the cart into frozen goods and jumped up and used the handlebar to support his weight as he costed along.
"CALL SECURITY!" yelled the shrew at the goat waiting outside the interview room door.
"They're busy dealing with another Code B11 in the parking lot!" said the goat, as Nick coasted past, happily monologing at the porcupine.
"And oh look, since I'm not fired, I'm going to get paid until the end of the day and still be able to use my staff discount, and while ten percent off is a pretty lousy compensation for minimum wage, crazy customers and having to have ever met you, it's still something so double woopsie, I'm buying your entire stock of Jumbo-pop multipacks, and as I'm re-selling them, you're still paying me seven twenty five an hour to do so until the paperwork clears and, whoopsie-number-three-sie: by and large, Buy n' large's IT department sucks, so it will take them several weeks to block my use of that upselling app that allows me to see customers' past purchasing history, and since you mentioned that you dad plays golf with an elderly tiger from corporate, which going by social media profiles lets me narrow it down to head of corporate in the zootopia metro area, senior vice-president Kahn, I've just posted your entire purchasing history of beer and cross-species erotica to his Wall, which given you must have used a fake ID to purchase those age-restricted products, that would be a dismissal offense under Buy N' Large's employment policy, so good luck explaining that to your boss. Not to mention the nature of those magazines you were buying I mean, who even buys magazines any more, don't you have the internet? Sorry, can I cut in? I work here." He said, easing his way into the front of the line.
"I mean, personally I see nothing wrong with a young stud like yourself being interested mostly in armadillos, whatever floats you boat, I just hope you're as open and honest with your dad as you are with your online sales, because if not I may have just outed you. And I'm sure that corporate will be equally understanding and in no way judgemental about the fake ID situation. Just like I'm sure they won't mind that I sent some phone footage I took of Mr Wilkins helping himself to extras from the charity donation boxes to both corporate and internal auditing, and I may yet bring it up with Judy. You'll remember Judy after she gave me the lift in my first day, Mr Wilkins? Yay tall, winning personality, wore a fetching little blue badge-and-body-armour combo accessorised with handcuffs?" Nick paid Alison on the next till to his, told her to keep the change, she had a sick mother, and then and only then glanced back. Harry the porcupine and Mr Wilkins the shrew were staring dead ahead with identical open mouthed oh crap expressions, and either one or both had taken the news particularly badly as they were standing in their own rapidly expanding damp patch on the shop floor.
Nick grinned, and grabbed the mic on Alison's till. "Can I Alison? Always wanted to say this… clean up on aisle four, aisle four please. Well, that's that one off the bucket list." He said, wheeling his shopping cart laden with jumbo-pop's out of the door and into the parking lot, past the screaming naked employee. "Hi Chris, keep up the good work." Nick said as he ripped his uniform polo-shirt off one pawed and flung it aside to revel his Hawaiian and tie underneath (he'd been in a rush after the shrink and had just pulled his work uniform on over his normal clothes, but he had to admit, it made for one heck of a dramatic exit), and pulled out his shades to protect his sensitive night-eyes from the glare of the sun.
Nick glanced around once, and yes, Judy was going to be upset that he'd lost the job, but on the other hand, it looked like a nice hot day, and he was sure that on a day like today pawsicles would outsell hotcakes.
He pulled out his phone as he leaned on the shopping cart as it dialed "Hey, Finnick. Nick. Yeah… you were right, I didn't last a month, just got fired. Yeah, ha-ha, laugh it up all you like, pintsize. Look, you got your van nearby? Uh-huh? And you still got those lollypop sticks from that last job? How many? That many? Good. Finn… get the melting jars loaded up….." said Nick, eyeing up a promising south-aspected rooftop just over the urban divide in Sahara Square. "Let's cook."
*Montage of Pawsicle production and sale to tune of 'Keep Their Heads Ringin' by Dr Dre. Melting down a dozen Jumbo-pops, re-freezing on a massive scale, sales, collect used sticks, sell as lumber, drive to new sale location, sell more pops from cooler, lumber, drive to new location, repeat several times increasingly sped up. Cuts to Nick and Finnick in van, Nick counting out notes and Finn driving, song still playing, but now slightly tinny to indicate it's on the van's crappy radio.*
"Nine fifty, sixty, seventy… okay, wow, five times our usual sales, that's nearly a thousand bucks. Thank god for that school trip from Tundra Town to Sahara, a hundred overheating teenaged polar-bears, won't get that lucky again anytime soon." Said Nick, licking his thumb as he counted out notes.
"I told you we could have hiked the price up to ten bucks for them." Growled Finnick. "You always were too soft on kids." He muttered, cutting through the traffic as they headed towards Savana Central and the ZPD headquarters.
"And if I had, we wouldn't have had them coming back for second and third pops each. What's a better deal, selling a hundred pops for ten bucks each, or three hundred at five bucks a pop? That's why I sell, and you drive the van. Add that to our usual hundred sticks at two bucks from the lemmings, passing sales, and the lumber sales…." Nick cut the wedge of cash neatly into two, and then cut one of those into three.
"Here's your cut, hundred and sixty six, but you saved my tail back there at buy n' large, so I've upped it to two hundred. There."
"Pleasure doing business with you." Said Finn, pocketing the cash without taking his eyes of the road. "So, we back in business, or is this a one-off… copper."
"Hopefully, a one off, but knowing my luck? And less of the copper talk: you know I've always tried to stay on the right side of the law, this isn't exactly as much of a stretch for me as it seems."
"Yeah, whatever Fuzz. Face it, you've never been able to cut it in the big-leagues, so you stuck to short-cons and now you're pulling out."
"Oh, yeah. I'm not street like you, I mean… taking a one-sixth share of short-cons? You're the real gangster here."
"Hey, anytime you want to get out of my van and walk, you're welcome. 'Corse, it's gonna be difficult with no knees but your call. I have a life outside of you, you know Nick?"
"Yeah, I know, you told me a hundred times. Bantam weight, wasn't it? Still not sure I believe it. Say, do you wear the diaper for those fights? I'd pay to see that."
"Well I don't care if you believe it or not: you're quitting. Guess you just ain't cut out for the thug life."
"Guess I'm not." Said Nick, leaning an arm out of the widow and pocketing his share of the loot as they pulled up to ZPD HQ. "Thanks for the ride, anyway. And the sale. It… it felt good to do this again, for old time's sakes." He said, opening the door. He then paused, and held out a paw to Finn. Finn rolled his eyes behind his shades, but went to shake it anyway to show there were no hard feelings.
"You'll be back, Nick, you won't make it straight, I guarantee it."
"Well, you've been wrong before. Take care, little guy."
"Drop dead Nick." Said Finn, not unkindly, before snapping his shades back on. "Ciao." He said, but as he put his shades back on, he knocked the radio/CD player, and switched it to CD.
Dr Dre suddenly stopped, and there was a brief and unmistakable blare of Opera as the CD started. Nick and Finn both stared for a moment, before Finn lunged across the van to hit the pause button, his face a picture drawn in panicked chalk by a neurotic pointillist.
Nick slowly broke into a grin, and then took off his shades and leaned on the door of the van, elbow on the window and other paw on hip, and he gestured with his glasses.
"Oh, yeah. I guess you're right, Finn, I'm just not cut out for this thug life…. Opera boy."
"Shut Up! My... my sister borrowed the van the other week: she must have left that in there!"
"Yeah, whatever…Luciano Pavarotter. I mean, personally I think it's cool, having the guts to branch out from the stereotypical tough-guy hip-hop and gangster rap and try something new. I mean, Vivaldi 's Song of the Ovicaprid slaves from Tosca? Not to everyone's tastes. Kudos."
"Hey! It's Verdi and it's from Aida!"
"Yeah, I know." Said Nick, smugly. "Just seeing if you did. Tell 'your sister' Hi from me: she has excellent taste." He said, making little inverted comas with his claws at the words your sister.
Finn glared, with a cold fury. "One word Nick, one word to anyone, and you're dead, you hear me? Dead!"
"Why, what are you going to do, seal me in a pyramid?" he said, standing up and walking away from the van and gesturing lazily with a paw.
"One word Nick, and fuzz or not I will hunt you down!"
"What, the fuzz like Baron Scarpia in Tosca? Oh, no it's okay, I believe you I mean, after all, you're the baritone and I'm the tenor, so you're definitely the bad guy, right? That's how this works, isn't it?" he said, walking away from him backwards, and grinning before striking a pose with his glasses clenched to his chest with one paw and the other raised dramatically in front of him before giving a brief operatic "Laaaaaaa!" that caused half a dozen passes by, cop and civilian, to give him a funny look, as Finn glared and ground the gears of the van in blind panic trying to get it into drive and leave before someone recognised him.
"Don't you dare call me again, Nick! You call me again, you better have a good apology ready!"
"Okay, I'll send roses to your changing room prima donna! How about that?" he yelled, laughing as the van backfired in a cloud of smelly smoke and then, banging and sputtering, pulled away, skirting the watering-hole in savanna central that was the original centre of zootopia and, in the manner of great historical monuments, now a complete tourist-trap.
Nick looked sideways at the hippo cop giving him the confused look from a few paces away.
"He's had a tough day: got into a fight with a Pharaoh." He said by way of explanation, before walking in to the ZPD headquarters as if he owned the place, fur ruffling for a moment in the welcome blast of the air-con as he took a moment to enjoy that, before walking over to the front desk.
"Hey, Clawhauser, my main mammal! How's life treating you? You lose weight?"
Clawhauser glanced up from his phone, looked around, and then peered down over the desk, his face breaking into a happy grin when he saw Nick.
"Awww, flattery will get you no-where, you know that?" he said, leaning on the desk and reaching over to shake Nick's paw, before groaning and flopping back onto his chair, which creaked and squealed in protest. He fanned himself briefly with a paw, and then reached for a doughnut from the box on his desk.
"You looking for Judy?" the cheetah asked through a contented shower of sprinkles and crumbs, checking his phone again briefly.
"Yeah, is she about? How did her talk with Bogo go?" Nick asked, taking a doughnut to hide his nervousness.
Clawhauser snorted, and took a sip from his bottle of soda.
"Oh, that. Well, a few tears, some drama, but all forgiven in the end, you know?"
"Really? I didn't have Bogo down as the weepy sort: so how did Judy do?" joked Nick, trying to hide his relief that it was all okay. Clawhauser snorted soda out of his nose, and then coughed briefly to hide his laughter.
"Oh, she did fine: Drill Sergeant Furschia is taking her for a fitness assessment, she'll be back anytime now. You want to wait here?"
"Well, I could go outside and admire the monument to where predator and prey first came together to share a watering hole in the spirit of harmony and cooperation and found the greatest city ever known, but I'd never see it through the school trips and souvenir stalls, so I think I'll stay in here with the donuts and air-con if it's all the same with you." He said, helping himself to a second pastry.
"You don't mind?" he asked, nodding towards the box. Clawhauser shrugged.
"Help yourself, they're free, kinda: some charity scheme, they drop of boxes of free donuts every day and then at the end of each week they put a donation box in the atrium here and you get guilt-tripped to putting in for all the donuts you ate in the week. You know, the honour system."
"And they try that with cops? God, they must be losing a small fortune each week." Joked Nick, glancing at the box, and then snorting with amusement. The charity in question was the United Zootopia Foundation and its logo showed an angelic looking sheep holding hands with a wolf in a gesture of goodwill across the species hugely at odds with the two riot-armoured grizzly's wrestling an enraged and swearing rhino who spat speciesist slurs with every other word through the room towards booking, and the other examples of the usual barely controlled chaos of an active police station.
The suspicious distrustful part of Nick's mind, which was to be fair most of it, drew his focus back to the doughnut, and he sniffed at it cautiously. Clawhauser, playing on his phone, noticed and snorted.
"Believe it or not, we did think of that: anyone dropping off free donuts after the situation with Bellwether? We got the drugs-sniffing team to go over them, just in case it was someone with a grudge against the ZPD. If Fangmeyer and her team can't find anything wrong with them, then they're clean."
"Fair enough." Muttered Nick, happily tucking into the doughnut, and then glancing at Clawhauser's phone. "Another Gazelle App?"
"What? Oh, No. Why, don't you have this yet?" asked Clawhauser, leaning over to show Nick the phone. "Gokémon Pro! I loved these computer games and the cartoon growing up, and now you can play it in real life! Isn't that awesome?"
Nick glanced up from the phone to Clawhauser sardonically. "You do realise this is aimed at children, right?"
"Pah, childhood is wasted on children. This is a game for mammals with a sense of joy and purpose and a love of getting outside and exploring their community in the spirit of goodwill… unless you're in the red team, in which case it's just an exercise in trolling. Seriously Nick, how are you not excited about this? It's like the best bits of our childhoods suddenly came to life: I mean, I was a little old for this the first time around, but you're, what, a little younger than me? Thirty one, thirty two? Didn't you have Gokemon as a kid? On Gamecub or something? Have the trading cards? It would have been literally everywhere when you were, what, twelve?"
"Well, I must have had other things going on." Said Nick, breezily. Clawhauser snorted.
"Don't tell me you were into PC gaming or something? The Gamecub was where it was at. Ohhhh, rare Gokemon spotted in the fountain outside!" said Clawhauser, running to the door and pointing his phone through the glass. Nick noticed a dozen mammals outside aiming their phones at the same empty spot, and despite his cynicism and his desire not to open himself up to any more questions about his childhood, his curiosity got the better of him and he wandered over. He spent a while feeling curiously left out by the old school-yard sensation of everyone having a good time but him, before sidling up to Clawhauser and peering at his phone screen from the cheetah's waist height.
There was a brightly coloured animated creature in the fountain, and despite himself, Nick couldn't help but smile at how happy Clawhauser looked throwing animated balls at it with a swipe of his claw.
He got his own Phone out, and started downloading the app.
"How does this work again?" he asked.
Judy leant with her paws on her burning thighs and panted as Drill Sergeant Furschia pulled to a halt outside the ZPD headquarters, and pushed back her battered academy baseball cap from her forehead with a huge clawed thumb, nodding once to Judy with grudging approval before passing her a water bottle. The Big polar bear hadn't spoken two words to Judy since they'd set off for a run a dozen times round the block, and didn't seem to have broken a sweat. At the academy, her repeated shouts of "You're dead!" followed by some rabbit-specific insult had been a minute by minute test of Judy's will, and just when she'd started to wonder if she could stand the big she-bear's mockery another second, she'd started to make progress through the academy training, and while the sergeant had pushed her even harder from that point, there was always an underlying note of approval from then onwards. The horror stories about Drill Sergeant Furschia at the academy were matched only by the stories of her shouting down the police department, mayor's office and even the Bogo himself to make sure that cadets that she thought had promise got through. If she decided you weren't police material, she'd hound you out pitilessly, but once she decided you were police material she'd go to the barricades for you, and that was that. You could graduate top of a class academically, or top of all of them and graduate Valedictorian, or win one of the athletic or Marksmammalship prizes named in honour of long dead police officers and get the medal from the mayor at graduation… but while all the other instructors were there in their dress blues clapping you, Sergeant Furschia would be there leaning on a tree at the back of the crowd in her academy hoodie and sweatpants and that awful sweat-stained old baseball cap, and as you took your first salute as a police officer from the Mayor, you'd glance to her, and if she thought you were worth it, you might get the very smallest nod and it was then and only then you knew you'd made it as a cop. While Judy's happiest moment of that day was seeing the look on her parent's faces when she got the badge, that tiny inclination of the nodding baseball cap was a close second.
"Well, you're not as bad as I remembered Cottontail." said Furschia phlegmatically, taking the bottle from Judy and taking just enough to wet her lips before passing the bottle back to the rabbit. Judy took it and drained it, marveling both at having earned such high praise from the sergeant, and that while lions and kudu seemed to be struggling in today's unseasonable weather, Furschia didn't seem to even notice it through fur the length of Judy's arm. If anything the polar bear seemed to be enjoying it, judging by her unusually good mood:
"That is to say, long-ears, your stamina is just horrible, horrible and I can hear you puffing and panting like a steam-train half a block away: dear god girl, if you weren't born lucky and fast you'd have got destroyed in a paw-chase by now. Valedictorian my eyeteeth. In these politically-correct days I'm supposed to sugar coat that and say that you're not as bad as some of the wallowing rejects I've seen graduate, but if you'd run like that in front of Dill Sergeant MacKenny who ran the academy when I graduated, he'd have mounted that cute little tail-scutt of yours to his door to polish his claws when he kicked it shut, with the rest of you still attached. God's I must be going soft in my old age… let too many of you worms live. Okay, come on sweetness, once more around the block, and then to the armoury: see if you can still remember which end of a tranquiliser gun is which or if you're going to shoot one of your lucky little feet off." She said, moving smoothly into a fast loping jog that looked shuffling and awkward until you realised just how efficiently it ate up the sidewalk. Judy groaned, but put paw to pavement and pulled level with her after a few seconds. People moved smoothly out of their way as they jogged: one of the few fringe benefits of being brutalized by Furschia was, when people saw a 600 pound polar bear in police gear having a contented jog, they got out of the way.
"So, you and the fox saved the day." Said Furschia, without preamble. "How'd that happen?"
Judy glanced up at her, and then dropped her eyes back to the road. "Still not sure myself Drill Sergeant. Guess I got lucky."
Furschia snorted, sidestepping a hippo mother with a stroller neatly. "Luck my huge snowy behind, I've read the reports. You did good, girl. And less of the Drill Sergeant, you're not in the academy any more, and I officially retired from active police duties the day they decided I was naturally cut out for wiping the noses and holding the paws of tiny baby cops on account of my kind and motherly disposition. I'm on the reserve roster, but unless all hell breaks loose and they need me propping-up a riot-shield, then I'm outside of your chain of command, so you ever need to talk freely, then give me a call. Helpful really, because I am a huge and envious gossip who needs constant feeding of info to feel satisfied. But anyway…. I make a point not to say this often, so don't spread it about, but I was impressed by the way you and Wilde played Bellwether. That was artful."
Judy faltered in her jogging for a moment, genuinely surprised "Thank you Drill … er… Ma'am?"
"Uggg, ma'am, really? Go back to Drill Sergeant or Sarge, I don't think I can take being called ma'am: the only time want to hear anyone make a noise even a bit like ma'am is if I've made them run till they puke. And considering that, I think I've been just about nice enough to you for one afternoon…" she said, and then Judy realised that there was a few hollow bear hairs floating in the air where she had been, and a rapidly disappearing blue uniformed shape yelling "Keep up Fufflybutt! I get to the ZPD atrium before you, we do all this again!"
Judy's eyes widened with astonishment for a moment, and then, despite herself she grinned as a single thought came into her head: I am a real cop. And then she put her head down, and despite the burn she was already feeling, she put her powerful back legs into gear and she was dodging through the crowd narrowly avoiding pedestrians as she startled all the mammals not keeping an eye out for someone her height as she cut through the press of bodies, using the path the sergeant had cleared for just long enough to get her speed up and then jinxing sideways, cutting a corner that the larger bear couldn't without physically barging civilians out of the way, and approaching the ZDP entrance at a diagonal and getting in front of the Sergeant with one last frantic burst of anaerobic sprinting.
Clonk. Judy got to the doors of the ZPD, and leaned on them exhausted and panting, heart hammering as the sergeant, now noticeably heavily breathing, pulled up behind her and patted Judy on the back grinning as she walked past, walking off the sprint and cooling down muscles. Judy groaned and let her head bang up against the glass, as she realised that she needed to do some cool-down stretches as well or cramp up, and that those stretches would hurt like blazes.
"I … Still… got it." She panted, slicking her ears back out of her face, they tended to droop a little when she was exhausted, and opening her eyes.
She smiled: Nick was just inside the atrium, about twenty feet away with his phone out and aimed a little off to one side as Clawhauser leaned over the fox's shoulder at the screen and pointed and gesticulated eagerly, clearly having a great time explaining something to Nick. Nick was looking bemused, but happy as Clawhauser gleefully lectured him with several excited paw gestures, and then he happened to glance up, his eyes flicking sideways and his faint bemused smile broke into a grin as he saw Judy, and he gave a sardonic little wave with the paw that wasn't holding his phone and with a theatrically exaggerated mouth movement silently mouthed the words help me before nodding up at Clawhauser and smiling cheekily. Judy couldn't help but laugh: she'd been caught up in Clawhauser's relentless enthusiasm for his hobbies before, and once you were, there was no escape.
No, you help ME. She mouthed back as she grabbed the hand-rail of the door and used it as a bar to stretch out on, nodding behind her to Furschia as the polar bear, with every sign of enjoyment at how much it horrified the tour guides, tilted her baseball cap back as far as it would go and stuck her face in the fountain commemorating the founding of the city to cool down. Nick watched this for a moment as she shook off her wet fur, spraying a passing school party, and then tilted his head to one side, and waved a paw in a gesture of grudging yeah, okay that's worse than Clawhauser acceptance, before giving Judy a mocking thumbs up as the sergeant lumbered over to her and handed her a damp towel to cool off with, then peered at Nick through the glass. Judy noticed that with his usual talent for avoiding trouble, Nick had returned his attention to Clawhauser and his mobile as if he hadn't even noticed Judy there.
"That him?" asked Furschia cocking back her cap with one thumb as she squinted appraisingly at him with a face that reminded Judy of the one her dad got when sizing up second had farm machinery. "That long drink of water?" she said, draping her own towel around her shoulders
"Yes, that's him. The incomparable Nicholas P. Wilde." Said Judy, wiping her face with the towel and then washing her paws with it: it smelt strongly of chlorine from the fountain water, but she didn't mind.
"Incomparable? Well there's a four dollar word for a two dollar critter." said the sergeant, before breaking slowly into a broad grin. "Cute tho', if you go for that sort of thing."
"I wouldn't know." Said Judy primly, ears shooting up with embarrassment. Furschia laughed, a deep throaty chuckle that was somehow far more suggestive than mere words could ever be, and pushed the door open practically bowling Judy in with her.
"I would." Said the Sergeant slyly, and Judy briefly re-assessed her previous comment about words not being suggestive enough, before Furschia rolled into the middle of Clawhauser and Nick like continental drift, dragging the smell of chlorine, wet fur and sweat with her.
"Spots! Is that you, or did they stick your face on a bouncy castle? God's, boy, they still got you staffing that damn desk like they're afraid it will blow away without you weighing it down?" asked Furschia, sauntering over, grasping the ends of the towel draped over her shoulders with each paw like a boxer, and eyeing Clawhauser up. "You ready to lose this Sunday, Jaguar?"
Clawhauser grinned, and leaned on the side of his desk. "Well, we can't all spend our days throwing ourselves at muddy assault courses and frightening the newbies, hun, and I' willing to bet you'll lose this time, Blubberhead."
Judy's eyes widened, horrified. "Clawhauser, you can't just call a polar bear blubberhead! It's really speciesist! And sergeant, Clawhauser is a cheetah, not a jaguar."
There was a brief pause as Furschia, Clawhauser and Nick all stared at her for a long moment, before bursting out laughing. Clawhauser had to sit down, and Furschia started leaning on the desk to keep her balance, tears streaming down her snout for a long time, before she was finally ably to wheeze out between breaths. "NFL! God's, girl, NFL!"
"Huh?" asked Judy, glancing over to Nick who grinned, smugly, and then shrugged.
"Football, Carrots. What else?"
Clawhauser hooted with laughter, clutching at his chest briefly, before pointing to himself and between laughs "Ahahaha…. Tejunga Jaguars, the team I support." He said, before waving vaguely in Furschia general direction.
"Ice-bay Packers, aka the blubberheads. Me and Furschia have had a bet predicting football scores over the season, running for over ten years now Hopps!"
"And you still ain't won it once." Said the big polar bear, leaning both elbows on his desk and adjusting her cap subconsciously. "It's a good thing you're cute, because you sure as hell ain't lucky, Spots."
"Heh, I'll settle for cute Snowy. But no, Judy, by all means let us know if we start being speciesist… because you know, we Preds might just start to revert to type… after all, thousands of years ago…" Clawhauser managed, before he and Furschia cracked up laughing again, and even Nick struggled to hold it in.
Judy groaned, and banged her head on the side of the desk. "I am never living down that stupid press conference, am I?"
"No way Carrots."
"Not in a million years." Said Clawhauser, getting his breath back. "It's okay Hopps, no one blames you, but you have to admit, in hindsight it is pretty funny. It's the police force: everyone has that one embarrassing story that everyone ribs them over, at least you got yours established early on."
"Really, so what's yours Claws?" asked Nick, glancing up at the cheetah in between playing with the new game on his phone and trying to work out what the point to it was. Furschia snorted.
"You're too young to be told." She said, looking down and then extending a paw lazily for Nick to shake. Judy realised that they had never met, and made introductions.
"Nick Wilde, Drill Sergeant Furschia. Nick, she runs the academy's physical conditioning and weapons training programs, but the academy is in between intake at the moment. Sergeant, this is Nick, he's just applied to the academy."
"Be afraid, be very, very afraid." Said Clawhauser jokingly as Nick shook, his paw engulfed in the polar-bear's.
"Aww Spots, don't try and traumatise the poor thing… that's my job. We still up for Sunday?"
"Sure. Is it okay if I bring along Conley, from precinct three?" asked Clawhauser, while Judy took advantage of the moment of calm to stretch off some more against the front desk.
"Conley… is he the cute one, or the one that looks like he's trying to see into both of his own ears at once?"
"Ears, but he's actually really nice once you get past that, and he said he'd bring snacks. Besides, he's a jag's fan, and my run of luck I'll need reinforcements."
"Your run of luck you'll need a dammed miracle, but okay, why not? Pleasure to meet you Nick, look forwards to seeing you at the academy. Come on Hopps, let's hit the showers and then you can disappoint me deeply and lastingly at the shooting range."
"That's what she said." Joked Clawhauser, and Furschia made a rude gesture at him as she walked off. Judy groaned and stopped trying to stretch out her cramp, and Nick realised with a jolt he'd been staring at her as she stretched, and went back to his phone before she noticed.
"Hey." Said Judy. "Thanks for being here for me today… if things hadn't worked out with Bogo…."
"Hey, Carrots, things were always going to work out: Bogo would have to be an even bigger idiot that he looks to let a natural born cop like you slip away. You were always going to do fine"
"That's exactly what I said. Fortunately, I'm not a bigger idiot that I look." Said a deep, calm voice from directly behind Nick. "Hopps, after weapons assessment bullpen, 1500 hours, new assignments. Clawhauser, are you booking in that fox?"
"No Chief Bogo."
"Pity." Said the buffalo, glancing over his glasses at Nick as he flinched, and turned and gave Bogo an apologetic little wave. "Although if not, that does raise the question as to why he's cluttering up my front desk. Come to report a missing self-esteem Wilde?" he said, picking up that week's crime figures from Clawhauser.
"No, just seeing if I could help in any way: do my duty as a concerned citizen… sir." Bogo rolled his eyes, snorted, and walked off. Nick blew a visible sigh of relief. Judy gave him a sympathetic squeeze of a paw. "Don't worry about him, he's better that he seems Nick. You'll just ace that academy pre-selection. So long as you have a legitimate job, they can't touch you."
Nick's face froze up for a moment.
"Yeah about that…."
"Hey cottontail, I know your aim sucks, but how did your body somehow miss the entire armoury?! Insignificant fluffy butt here! NOW!" yelled a voice.
"Oh, peas and carrots! She's going to kill me. Nick, I've got to run. Just, just find somewhere out of the way to wait until I'm done for the day, okay? And remember, I'm so proud of you for sticking at that job!"
Judy said, giving his paw a final squeeze and then running after the Drill Sergeant.
Nick just stood there in the atrium for a long moment, ears askew as he watched her leave.
"Well, good thing you still have the job: I'd hate to be in your fur if you lost it, what with Judy pinning all her hopes on you. What with everything she's been through lately it'd probably crush her emotionaly." Said Clawhauser, slurping the last of his soda through a straw and not looking up from his Gokemon pro.
"Yeah. Thanks Claws." Muttered Nick, still staring into space. "Thanks a bunch. Oh god, somebody just shoot me."
Thock! Thock! Thock!
The three darts slammed into the paper target in a good grouping, near the centre mass and only a little to the left. Judy, grinning behind her safety goggles and comically oversized ear protection, lowered the tranquiliser rifle, feeling pleased with herself.
"Three inch grouping sarge!"
Furschia stood and stared over the range divide, her face resigned with a hint of glum, like someone who'd just spent an hour cleaning her car for every Pidgeon in town to rock up at once.
"You're a cavalcade of bitter disappointment to me in my old age, Hopps, you know that?"
"Eh? What? But my grouping!" said Judy annoyed, putting the rifle down and turning, her badge flashing briefly: she'd changed to her day uniform of body armour and utility belt after her shower, whereas Furschia had simply switched to a cleaner set of sweatpants and academy top; Judy wasn't sure she even owned any other clothes.
Furschia nodded to the rife, leaning on the range divide, which creaked alarmingly under her weight.
"Oh, your shooting is fine, other than having to stand on that box to see over the bench. Not Anne Oakely, but fine I guess. There's nothing wrong with your marksmammalship or your draw speed with the dart pistol or Taser, but your discipline behind the gun is just awful. It's a bolt-action, Hopps, not a barn door, you don't have to work it like it's trying to fight back, it should be a smooth, fluid action. In the time you take rattling and clanking that thing around the perp you're aiming at will have either got away, decked you, or died of old age. Here…" she said, taking an identical but scaled-up rifle off the wall behind the range, and walking over to her with it.
"Okay ZPD dart rifle: two lug, front locking cock-on-closing turn-bolt, fired from compressed air. Designed to be identical in its action and trigger pull to our .338 sniper rifles for ease of training and familiarisation. Three round internal magazine, iron sights or optics and all that doesn't matter a damn if you're fumbling around with the back end of it between shots. The bolt pull is short, the bolt will just tickle your cheek as you open it fully." She said, demonstrating with her huge version as Judy mimicked with her miniature one. "See? So why the hell are you lowering the rifle to your waist between shots to work the bolt? That means that not only is your grip shifting a little between each shot, but the stock is in a different position in your shoulder and you need to re-acquire your target picture each and every time! Get that rifle butt set properly in your shoulder and keep it glued there until the magazine is empty, and your eye does not move away from the rear aperture until you need to re-load. And less grabbing and grasping at the bolt like a teen on a first date, it'll flick open nice and easy if you just lift the side of your paw into the underside of the bolt, and then you roll it with your thumb, like this." Said Furschia, lifting her paw from the trigger flat like a blade and opening the bolt with the edge of it, hooking the bolt handle with the back of a thumb and then rotating her wrist in a little circle, sending the bolt back and then rotating her thumb under the bolt handle so she was now holding it with the front of her thumb and pushing it closed and down.
Whir-click. whir-click Judy watched a couple of times, and tired herself. Clock-thunk-clatter. Furschia winced.
"Well, I don't know what effect it will have on the perps, but you sure scare the hell out of me. Keep at it, you'll get there eventually Bunnykins." The big bear checked her wristwatch. "Now, better get you to the bullpen before you're late and Bogo starts to worry that I've accidently breathed you in by mistake." She said, hanging up the rifle and signing off Judy's score with the range martial before ambling good-naturedly towards the exit. As they walked out into the main atrium, Judy glanced over to Clawhauser, still eagerly discussing Gokemon pro, but now with a perp he was meant to be booking in.
"Huh, you know sarge, somehow I never would have put him down as a football fan. He doesn't seem the sporty type."
"Clawhauser? Huh, Bunny, you ever check out the academy and ZPD trophy stand, in the gym there?"
"Too tall, couldn't see up into it Sarge. Why?"
"Oh, no reason. Head's going soft in my old age." Said Furschia, with a faint smile, before tapping her baseball cap with a claw. "Once it starts to go up, here, it all starts to go. Run along now Hopps, you don't want to keep the chief waiting." She said.
After the rabbit had gone, she stayed watching Clawhauser for a long moment, before putting her paws on her hips, and sighing sadly. She shook her head. No sense dwelling on the past, she thought, as she walked off.
K-topia's all 90's marathon: Exit Music (for a film) Radiohead
*Slamming door: Music cuts off abruptly. Close up of door, sign reading "deployment and briefings." Hand-written graffiti underneath "The bullpen."*
Judy walked down the aisle to her seat at the front of the room, and as usual the testosterone in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife, but unlike her first day she felt like she fitted right in, other officers waving to her, and shouting welcome backs, or encouragements or jokes as she walked along giving as good as she got, wolf-whistling back at Wolford, returning Grizzoli's mocking salute, and rolling her eyes along with Francine and Fangmeyer at just how ridiculous the boys could get as she hopped up onto her chair and fist-bumped officer McHorn, getting pushed back as before, but at least getting a thumbs up from the usually taciturn rhino in the process.
The door kicked open, and Bogo barged in, sheaf of casefiles in hand as always, and the officers in the room shot up, hooting and banging on the desk-tops as usual Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! with Judy joining in whole-heartedly. I am a real cop. She thought, huge grin plastered on her face, just happy to finally be back here again. I am a real cop, and this is where I belong.
Bogo got to his lectern and slammed the casefiles down with a scowl. "All right! Settle down! Settle down!" he yelled, as the hooting stopped. "That's quite enough!"
"Whoo! Whoo!" chanted Judy drumming her paws on the desk, realising just a moment late that she was the only one still chanting. Bogo glared at her, and everyone else laughed, Fangmeyer slapping her on the back good-naturedly.
"In your own time, Hopps."
"Sorry Chief Bogo!" she said, blushing slightly under her fur. Bogo snorted, and shuffled his papers distractedly, having lost his place. He reached for his glasses and took a long moment arranging them, something she noticed he did to buy time during conversation.
"All right, three issues on the docket, firstly, I see we have an officer re-joining us after an absence: glad you could make it in Hopps, we were starting to worry you'd quit on us agian. Now, there was something about a letter of thanks from city hall, expressing their gratitude… whatever." He said, taking the file and slamming it down. That got a laugh, and even Judy had to smile. They all knew the score, any thanks from non-cops was just scrimshaw: pretty embellishment, but meaningless.
"Second, we have a new most-wanted. Public enemy number one." Said Bogo, moving to the chart of mugshots fridge-magnet-ed to the board in the corner that listed the city's ten most wanted, and moving a photo of a scowling Racoon holding a gun and a potted plant down to the number two slot, before slamming a new photo up. Judy shuddered at the sight of those emotionless slit-eyes: it was a face she recognised.
"Doug Ramses." Said Bogo. "Assault 29 counts, attempted murder 29 counts, accessory to the attempted murder of Officer Hopps and Nicholas Wilde before the fact, conspiracy, and violation of the homeland security act. Should be manufacture of a controlled substance as well, but unfortunately Nighthowler isn't illegal yet, although the legislature is working on that. I know at least one of you has met this charmer, but for those of you who haven't, listen up. Believed to be Mayor Bellwether's second in command during the Nighthowler incident, certainly her gunman and chemist, hit 29 known targets during the crisis, turning them into living weapons. Currently the only individual known to be at large from Bellwether's conspiracy since we suspended officers Ovid and Ramsey, and more importantly the only mammal we know of other than homeland security's own scientists who can produce Nighthowler in viable abounds. For those of you needing help with this, this is one bad mammal. Highly intelligent, top grades through high school, joined the cadet branch in school, heavily interested in military affairs from an early age but passed over by the marine corps at eighteen: rejected on the grounds that he was too intelligent for infantry; there was apparently an unacceptably high chance that he would become bored during boot camp and quit part-way, wasting valuable and expensive training… but here's where it gets interesting, the recruiter in question was later removed from recruitment duties on the grounds that in two years, he failed to recruit a single herbivore. The officer, a wolf, maintained even during his court martial that he did not believe that a non-predator could ever have the killer instinct needed for the corps and apparently made no secret in telling the herbivores he rejected this. Whether it had an effect on Mr Ramsey we can only guess, but from that point on, dropped out of university, chemistry major, involved in a number of 'Prey Self Defence' groups and militias, owned over forty licenced firearms at various points in the last decade, a series of low-paid but skilled jobs: barista, paint-mixer, cable tv repair, apprentice auto-mechanic... until about two years ago when he just dropped off the radar. Not registered to vote, no known address, no phone contract, no known employer, no social security paid, no social media accounts, no living family. Nothing. He's a ghost."
Bogo snorted angrily, glaring at the photo for a moment, before walking back to the lectern.
"So we have nothing on him, no leads, no intel… nothing. He's highly intelligent, ideologically motivated, and has no loved ones to leverage, and is considered armed and highly dangerous and if that wasn't enough, he's been a busy boy… Hopps, the lights please. " said Bogo, and Judy dropped of her chair and nipped over to get the switch.
Click. As the light went off, Bogo gave her a nod of thanks, and pulled out a remote and flicked on a projector. A police mug shot appeared on the screen, a large tiger, with a stich above a blackened eye.
"Third on the Docket, Viktor Kazyk, male Siberian tiger, thirty one years of age. Known to ZPD since his teens for petty crime and making affray, but nothing too serious. Worked at a gym, teaching self-defence. This photo was taken that last time we interviewed him. He'd come into a city hospital once a month, regular as clockwork, beaten pretty badly, defensive wounds consistent with a single attacker, usually another large pred, bear, big cat, large wolf. And without fail we'd get a big pred with defensive wounds consistent with a tiger in another city hospital the same day. Both would get questioned by us, claim to know nothing, pay the medical bills in cash and walk. Like Viktor the other guy always had an interest in mixed martial arts, and a lifestyle that exceeded his apparent income. We'd suspected for years that Viktor was involved in back-street, unlicensed prize-fighting and we were just seeing the aftermath, but he always took the fifth, and we could never prove anything. "
Bogo sighed, and took of his glasses, looking up from his case notes. "I pulled him in personally, once, told him that if he kept it up, he'd get killed one day. Illegal fights are illegal for a reason: There are no rules. No match doctors. No safety nets." He said, sadly. "and this is the photo we took of him this morning."
Judy looked for a long second, her nose twitching and ears shooting up with shock, and she swallowed nervously, desperate not to show surprise and look weak in front of other cops. That said, the room had gone very, very quiet, and she thought she heard DelGatto make a wrenching noise.
Bogo looked around the room, being careful to look everyone one of his officers in the eye before he mercifully switched to the next slide. From this point of they were in black and white, courtesy of the medical examiner.
"Precinct four fished him out from the Rainforest district river, and no, the damage you see is not caused by fish or boat propellers, it's what it looks like, teeth... all ante-mortem. We're still trying to work out species, but the dentition on the bite-marks is constant with an ursine. There was bear blood under his claws, and brown bear hairs were found between his teeth. And this is why Ramses has moved to the number one slot on our list: both the bear blood under his claws and his own tox-screen showed high levels of Nighthowler cut with stimulants… on top of that we had last week's ruckus with the ear bitten off at the last Tejunga jaguars football game, Grizzole's bodega robbery where the stoat tried to bite two officers twenty times his weight to death, that incident at the rail station, and the bizarre and violently savage behaviour at that unsolved bank job in Sahara square… in the first the anti-doping force found no banned substances in the athlete's system to explain his aggression, so I ordered the test repeated in our lab, Nighthowler, low levels but certainly there, and he walks because it's not illegal yet. The next two the perps had Nighthowler cut with stimulates in their system, the final case the perps got away, but an inhaler was recovered from the scene… a mix of Nighthowler and the Nighthowler antidote, boiled in rice to coat the antidote in starch to delay its entry into the system … gives a burst of feral rage that wears off after a few minutes. The genie is out of the bottle, people. Someone out there is making Nighthowler. It's on our streets, it's being used as a performance and aggression enhancer, and as poor mister Kayzk can attest, the dosage difference between giving someone an edge in the fight and sending them into a an uncontrollable long-lasting feral state is minimal, and some mammals clearly don't care who gets hurt so long as they get their fight out of it."
He slammed a fist into the photo of Doug Ramses's face. "And this scum here is our only lead on how or where this stuff is getting made. Twenty three years on the force, and I never imagined I'd live to see a drug that makes mammals try to eat each other. I want him. I want him in a cell, on trial, and then taken to our fine prison system and literally thrown to the wolves, preferably ones who don't get congenial visits. And more than that, I want to know if he's just gone corporate and is selling this stuff for fun and profit, or if this is part of some plan to further destabilize our city. Find. Me. That. Ram."
Bogo looked the room up and down, and flicked the slideshow back to what the tiger looked like when the pulled him out of the river, before nodding to Judy to put the light back on and switching off the projector.
"So, any case you run, any strange behaviours you encounter, any sniff of Nighthowler and you drop what you were doing like it's hot, and follow the lead. Got it? This is our priority number one. Now, you all have casefiles and ongoing assignments with the exception of DelGatto and Hopps, DelGatto, I want you on Sahara swat replacing Wolford to free up another drug-sniffing trained wolf for Fangmeyer's Nighthoweler taskforce, report to Drill Sergeant Furschia to renew your weapons training certificate and then transfer to Lieutenant Crocus in Special Weapons. Hopps, you can take over DelGatto's missing mammal's case. Elmi Jamal, Camel oil-securities trader left work at the stock exchange nearly a month ago and never made it home to the wife in Sahara Square. No witnesses, no leads, and hundreds of hours of CCTV we haven't had the chance to look at yet because we only just got it released to us. All yours." Said Bogo, pointing to a wall panel covered with photos stills, phone records and medical certificates
"DelGatto has been trying to make sense of the info on that panel. Briefly put, he left work one afternoon and never made it home, his phone records show nothing suspicious other than a long video-call made from his office PC to his wife at home every morning, a fringe web-chat service specialising in, and this is how they market it, secure romantic calls with a series of filters and music options to set the mood, apparently, and his medical file shows him to be in excellent health physically and mentally. No sightings, wife and best friend at work noticed he was acting strangely in the days leading up to the disappearance, but no firm leads. Copies of all we have are included in the casefile, and you are now inducted to the computer system. Welcome back."
"Glad to be back, Sir."
"Good, then find me that mammal, he has a wife who is very concerned that he's missing… I thought you'd be good at this."
"Don't worry chief, I'll bring him back safe and sound. You can rely on me!" said Judy, sitting up behind her desk radiating keen alertness.
"Dead." Said a familiar bored voice from the back of the room. "Wife killed him."
Judy froze up in horror surely not…
The last row of desks in the room were unoccupied: not enough officers in the room to fill them, and they'd been pushed together in the corner to make a rough wall.
Just visible poking our behind one end of it was a bushy russet tail. A pair of pointed ears adorned the other end.
Judy stared in horror, as did about a dozen police officers.
There was a small sad scrunch nose from the front of the room, as Bogo partly crushed the projector remote with his fist. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously calm, almost playful.
"Hopps, dear officer Hopps… please tell me that I have just had my overdue stress-related stoke, because that fox is not in my Bullpen, is he Hopps? Is he Hopps!"
"No sir, definitely not sir!" yelled Judy, sprinting to the back of the room and vaulting the wall of desks angrily. Nick had pushed all the spare chairs together into an improvised sofa, and was lying on it on his back, playing with his phone.
"Nick! What are you doing? This is a restricted area! Didn't you see the sign? Strictly no entrance unless invited by-"
"Invited by a ZPD officer, yeah. You told me to find somewhere quiet to wait until you finished your shift!" said Nick, leaning up on one elbow as he gestured with his phone. "How was I to know every cop from here to second-street was about to converge on this room?"
"Out! NOW!" she hissed.
"Okay okay! I'm going… it's not like I planned to get trapped in here with you anyway! I was just trying to find a good WiFi spot: I only read you're stupid wall of evidence because I was hoping he'd have writern down the Wi-Fi details." He said, getting up and being shooed out the door by Judy. "Wife still killed him 'tho, having read your wall I'd put money on it."
"What do you mean by that." Said Bogo, in a flat rage. "It is one thing, Mr Wilde, to make a mockery of my police station and damage officer Hopps's reputation in the processes, it is Quite another to throw slanderous actuations out at grieving and frightened relatives of missing mammals. So unless you want a very expensive lawsuit, explain yourself. Now."
Nick paused, and then gestured to Bogo. "Well, missing more that twenty-four hours, so statistically speaking, dead, right? And again, the statistics mean if he is dead, it's usually a loved one? What was the number, more than seventy present of married murder victims, the killer is the spouse? Right?"
Bogo paused a brief second, and then putt on his glasses and made an exaggerated, simpering gesture and matching voice. "Oh really? Well gosh, in my two decades on the force, it would never have occurred to me that that was possible. I was entirety un-aware of those statistics! Silly me!" his face dropped and his voice hardened. "Get that fox out of my building now. And I'll have you know, fox, that the wife has an alibi."
"Yeah, but only from the best friend, and his only alibi is the wife, add that and the timing problem, and it's kinda obvious." He said, as Judy grabbed him by the arm and tried to drag him from the room, before resorting to a police hold, with his paw twisted behind his back.
Both her and Bogo paused.
"Timing problem?" Bogo asked. He gave Judy a look, and a very slight nod, and she let go off Nick.
Nick's leitmotif from the zootopia soundtrack starts playing: "Jumbo Pop Hustle"
Nick gave her a grateful nod, massaging some feeling back into his arm. "Yeah, well, early morning calls to his wife on a specialist secure flirting program? He sees her at six, and he's calling her up again by eight? I'm fine with the idea that they are still very much in love, but firstly, he's Horney as anything if he can't wait until lunch and Secondly, he's an oil trader. "
Bogo paused, nonplussed. "So?"
Nick breamed, and pointed to the photo of the missing mammal leaving the stock exchange for the last time, last confirmed sighting. "Wallow street, corner of the plaza, the Dow-Bones, next to Lemming brothers bank. I sold pawsicles there most days for twenty years: I could tell you an oil trader from a gold trader at thirty paces and what they are most likely to buy, how much they tip, where they go for lunch, what they order, and I know the schedules they keep. The biggest oil producing nations are in the gulf, that's seven hours ahead of us, so the local stock exchange TADAWUL, closes up three pm local time, 1500 hours. So the day's final prices of crude in the gulf are announced at eight am our time, and every day he takes a half-hour phone sexy phone call to his wife call from ten to eight to twenty past, at the one time of the day he absolutely needs to be on the trading floor? Hell, July sixth, he misses the announcement of the second quarter's brent crude production figures because he's having an hour long flirt with his wife? No. No way in hell is he keeping his job if he misses that to flirt with the Mrs, let alone making the huge bonus he made last year… I'm sorry, I read your wall o' info, I was looking for the Wifi password, I know I shouldn't have but I did, and his phone calls do not make sense, until you consider the obvious: he's not the one making the calls. Someone with access to his office who knows when he's busy on the trading floor, and uses the time to call the little lady when he's away… and given we only have the best friend, a gold trader, works in the same office but entirely different schedule, providing the wife's alibi and visa versa…" Nick shrugged. "And since the only reason we assume he vanished under his own power is the best friend and wife both saying he was acting oddly, and that's not cohobated by anyone else, why should we buy that? My money is on a saucy little camel stockbroker love-triangle were someone decided to murderer the hypotenuse. It would be hell to try and check if he was on the trading floor at the times he's supposed to be making those calls, the CCTV will be a mess, too many mammals running around at once… but there will be footage if you try hard enough, and the trades he's registered as having made should help you narrow down the timeline. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he is making the video calls to the wife, but unless he's a time-traveler, he'd have to miss the most important part of an oil trader's day to do so. "
Bogo paused, and looked from him to Judy. "That's still damn thin fox."
Nick grinned, "Yeah, but you know what isn't? The wife. Heh, that reminds me, you want to hear a funny joke? What do you call a three humped camel?"
Bogo glared like he actually wanted to gore Nick into the carpet, and Judy hid her face in her paws. "Oh darn." She muttered. Nick didn't seem to notice either.
"Pregnant!" He said, face lighting up with glee as he laughed at his own joke and gestured to Bogo, delivering the punchline. "Eh? Eh? Okay, Grizoli laughed a little, someone gets it!" he said, making thumbs-up pistol gestures with both paws and pointing.
"Hopps, get him to the cells, and the more stairs he falls down on the way, the happier I will be." Said Bogo, flatly.
Nick chuckled, a touch nervously. "Ahh, but no, seriously Bo-Bea, d'you mind if I call you that? Ohhh, guess not. No Chief Bogo, look at the photo of the wife the day she reported the husband missing, versus at the last appeal for witnesses she made yesterday. " said Nick, taking the remains of the projector remote from Bogo, and getting both pictures up on the whiteboard side by side after a moment's fumbling. "Not quite a huge baby-bump yet… but she has defiantly put on four inches on the waist, at least, in under a month."
"Maybe she's comfort eating because her husband has disappeared." Said Bogo
Nick rolled his eyes. "Sure, whatever. Maybe… except what exactly is a camel's hump made of again?" he said, making a head scratching gesture of comically over the top bemusement. "Remind me again."
"Oh Oh!" went Grzzoli, paw raised in a pick me gesture until Bogo's glare killed it, at which point he looked around awkwardly and said. "Well, it's a water supply for the desert, isn't it?"
Bogo snorted. "And that's why you're a cop and not a medic: only infants believe that, its actually…" he paused, brow wrinkling, as he looked at the two side by side photo's again. "It's fat… a camel's hump is fat, a desert food store…. If a camel gains or loses weight, they gain or lose it at the hump."
"And Mrs Jamal's hump stays the same size, whereas her belly gets a lot bigger. Three humped camel. And given you convinced Mr Jamal's doctor to release his medical records as pertinent to the case and DelGatto pinned them to the wall there, I thought that pregnancy was quite the neat trick, considering that Mr Jamal had a vasectomy nearly two years ago. Gosh, it's miracle. Virgin birth… or maybe, in don't know…. sexy phone calls between husband's office and wife when the husband can't possibly be in that office, Missus suddenly finds herself in the family way, her and the husband's best friend providing alibi's for each other…. Wow, if only there were some cops around to connect all these dots, it's a mystery to me!" said Nick, throwing up his paws theatrically. He then went back to his phone.
"Also, and I'm cheating here because I'm using info you don't have access to, but before I got fired form my Job at Buy N' large, I had to use an app to look up a customer's purchasing history to try and recommend things to them at the tills-"
"Wait, Nick you got fired?" asked Judy, aghast. Nick froze up for a moment.
"Yeah, I was kind of building up to telling you about that… but look the point is, I ran the wife's Buy N Large account for the day the husband went missing, and it's not good: Plastic sheeting, bleach, a hacksaw, Justin Beaver CD, and elbow length rubber gloves and a waterproof apron. Ugg… who even buys CD's anymore? And Justin Beaver? That should be a crime right there. But most tellingly? No spade, no shovel, but eight duffel bags and eight sets of dumbbells. Didn't buy at her nearest store, either, she bought out of an out-of-town 24 hour mega store, near maintenance route eight. That puts her a long way from home, but conveniently close to the old Wombatville industrial aggregates site: abandoned gravel quarry, thirty meters deep, and mostly flooded now a days. You want to find this guy? Don't call Hopps, get the diving team on it." Said Nick, flashing up the store and Gravel pit locations on Zoogle Maps with the projector.
"I… look I know you can't use what I just told you, but if you were, say, to get an anonymous tip from a Buy N Large employee mentioning a camel matching the wife looking shifty and buying these items at that store at that date and time, you could use that to subpoena the wife's credit-card history and the store's CCTV. Send a black and white to pick up her and the best friend once you've got the CCTV, and you could have them both in here in under an hour, stewing in the cells as you tell them you're dredging the quarry, see who rolls over first. My money is on the Friend, I've never met a gold trader yet that didn't love a good flight to safety, he'll deal." Said Nick, putting down the whiteboard remote, and turning to leave: he was suddenly suspired to find that he'd enjoyed working out the details of the case, there was a slightly voyeuristic thrill to it, looking into other people's lives and unpicking them, not unlike the buzz of a good hustle. No not even that, he realised, people lied to the police: it was what you did, and that was them hustling you, you just tried to out hustle them back and he felt strangely… empty… now that it was done.
"I… I'll see myself out. Sorry to have interrupted your first day back, Judy." He said, tuning to go.
He'd just got to the door, when Bogo spoke behind him, his voice incredulous.
"How long were you waiting in here for before we came in?"
Nick shrugged. "About five minutes."
Bogo stared. "You solved a missing mammal case that we've been on for a month, worked out it was a homicide, the culprit, the motive, and the location of the body with no resources other that the casefile and a phone, in five minutes?"
Nick pulled a dismissive, self-depreciating face, muzzle wrinkling: Judy recognised it as the one from the sky-tram, when asked if anything got to him. He seemed genuinely embarrassed.
"Actually, it was more like three: like I said, I was trying to find the WiFi code; Clawhauser got me a free trial on this Gokemon pro game, and I was trying to connect to the servers… ohhh, they're back up!" he said, eagerly, scanning the room with his phone, before aiming it at Bogo and, tongue out the side of his mouth with concentration, he made a little ball-throwing flick with his finger on the screen.
"Ehehehe, got you! Sorry.. you… you had a Pika-Boo between your horns there chief Bogo, and I needed one." He looked around at the stunned and disbelieving faces of the cops in the room.
"What?" he asked.
Judy sat bolt upright in front of chief Bogo's desk for the second time that day as the big Buffalo paced restlessly behind it, snorting and scowling. With the possible exception of when she told Mrs Otterton she'd take the case without his say so, she'd never seen him this angry. What was worse, was that he seemed to a particularly dislike the idea that Nick was right, and had got progressively angrier the more evidence turned up: they'd got the CCTV footage from the store in a couple of hours: they knew the time and date they needed from Nick's tip off, and a store chain that big had dozens of shoplifting cases a week: they had a pretty good working relationship with the police with dedicated liaison officers, and since you had no reasonable expectation to privacy in a store there was no need for a subpoena, and cameras were specifically aimed at the till to catch thieves, so the footage showed exactly who it was, and what they were buying, and came with no legal strings attached. The wife buying, while the husband's best friend was seen in the parking lot waiting with the wife's car. Despite the weight of the dumbbells, all the shopping went in the back seats: they were very careful not to open the trunk in the lot. Forensics had already been over the car and got nothing, but they had now gone back and ripped out the carpets and swabbed underneath; bleach could lift bloodstains and destroy DNA, but when used on carpeting it also tended to laminate some surviving DNA and proteins to the surface underneath. They'd get the results in the morning, in the meantime they were now striping the house and the best friend's home as well. Both suspects were in custody, Judy had been sent to pick up the best friend from the stock exchange while district 5 picked up the wife and brought her to the ZPD HQ, and a diving team was preparing to sweep the lake first thing the next morning. The wife wasn't talking, but the best friend had been in a tense, private discussion with his lawyer for the past hour. He'd asked to speak with the assistant DA. Judy flicked her eyes to the clock on the wall, just once. This morning, she didn't know if she was on the force or fired, this afternoon she had been welcomed back, and Nick had had a job. Now things were a little less certain for the both of them. And it wasn't even nine pm yet.
Buzz. Buzz. Bogo's phone vibrated across the desk, briefly. A text. He glared at if for a moment, and then picked it up and swiped to answer with surprising delicacy considering how agitated he looked.
His eyebrows furrowed, as he glared at the phone. There was a long moment of silence.
"The husband's friend just turned state's evidence: accessory after the fact, under duress and treat of blackmail, full testimony against the wife in exchange for clemency. The DA's considering lowering the charge from accessory after the fact to preventing the right and lawful burial of a body if he goes with the diving team and shows them where to look. Three to five with good behaviour." Bogo scowled, and put the phone down. "Well, I'll see about that. Perhaps I'll tell the wife he's ratting her out, see if she'll return the favour, she looks smart enough to know the prisoner's dilemma, but she might just try and take down lover boy just out of spite. If we can get each of them testifying the other pulled the trigger, we can put them both away for twenty-five to life." He said, grinding his teeth. "In all, a good result." He said, like each word that came even close to praise cost him an ounce of flesh.
He glared at Judy, and as she opened her mouth to speak, held up a finger in warning.
"No. no, if you are thinking of saying what I think you are thinking of saying, then no. no."
"Sir, he did solve the case…"
Bogo slammed both fists down onto the desktop, making Judy flinch.
"He snuck into the Bullpen, read what he could clearly see was confidential information concerning a missing mammals case, abused the fact he was still on Buy N' Large's computer system to pry into the personal accounts of someone who, unless you've forgotten, is still innocent until proven guilty, and then made a fool of us both in front of the entire shift! I don't care if he solved world hunger, he's a dammed con-artist, and if you're about to say what I think you're going to say, Hopps, then I don't want to hear it!"
Judy took a deep breath. She didn't want to do this, but she knew she had too. I am a real cop. Trust, Bravery… Integrity. I have to speak my mind here or lose my integrity.
"Sir, I'm about to say what you think I'm about to say. Sorry Sir."
Bogo scowled at her for a long moment over his desk, before stalking to the door of his office and wrenching it open and bellowing.
"CLAWHAUSER! HERE, NOW! BRING WILDE'S FILE WITH YOU!" he yelled, before stalking back to his desk and dropping into his chair with enough force to send it wheeling back squeaking in protest, before leaning one arm over it as if exhausted, and turning to give Judy a long, slow stare.
"You're a good Officer, Hopps. Even if I don't want to hear it, you deserve to make your point." He said, distractedly reaching into his desk-draw and pulling out a cylinder of prescription anti-acids with built in cud-softener and popping the lid before swallowing two. "So, we'll do what it says in the union's workplace conflict resolution guidelines, and both address our points of view to an impartial third party." He said, chewing angrily, as Clawhauser apologised to the perp he was booking in and made his way over, his radio still playing.
K-Topia's MTV classics hour: Queens of the Stone Age. No one Knows.
"I thought those guidelines were for resolving major conflicts where someone's job was on the line, sir." Said Judy.
Bogo glared at her for a long moment.
"You think it isn't?" he said, jokingly. Or at least, she hoped that was jokingly, as Clawhauser rushed in at his usual speedy waddle and shut the door behind him, muffling the music.
"Is it true sir? About Nick?" he asked, breathlessly.
Bogo scowled. "God's, cops and gossip. Yes, it's true. We're discussing it now."
Clawhauser froze up for a moment, and then clenched his phone to his chest with both paws and let out a noise that could only be rendered phonetically as Squee.
"He actually caught a Pika-boo in the bullpen! O M Goodness! What level was it? Did he say? Where's the spawn point? Did he have to use a lure or incense? Ohhhhh… this is so cool!"
Bogo and Judy just stared, Judy blankly and Bogo aghast. Bogo pointed to the spare chair in the corner, without changing his facial expression a micrometre.
"We were discussing the fact that Mr Wilde violated a police-only area of the station and breached the Protection of Confidential Information directive, and just because he caught a murder everyone but me seems to be somehow impressed by this." Said Bogo, ruminating, before leaning over the desk aggressively and steeping his figures and smiling, with a very clearly un-genuine happiness.
"Now, I believe Officer Hopps had a suggestion about how to proceed with the matter. Hopps?"
Judy took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. Spit it out girl. She thought to herself.
"Sir, we should hire Nick as a consultant sir." She said, quickly before she lost her nerve. "He clearly has the talent, and given that he's trying to find a lawful job to put on his academy application-"
"Absolutely not! It's bad enough that I have to put up with him slinking about the place without paying him to do it! Our budget is stretched as it is and we can't afford to waste tax dollars on mollycoddling ex-criminals into civilian life, let alone into the academy!" he said, before both him and Judy turned to Clawhauser.
"You are supposed to mediate between us." Said Bogo, flatly, after a moment. "Play devil's advocate to whatever we say."
"Oh, Okay. So this isn't about Gokemon?" he said, clutching his phone hopefully.
"Sorry sir. Umm… technically private consultants come out of mayor Lionhearts Safer streets initiative budget, not our operational budget. So… really, it wouldn't be costing us a penny, sir."
Bogo glared. "Well, we could still use that budget for something more constructive than Mr Wilde."
"Well… the only mammal we only ever hired with it was that physic during the Nighthowler missing mammal cases. You remember sir? That elephant "Madam Nangi the Mystical?" filled the entire office with incense smoke and dangled that crystal pendulum over the map? Told us to look within ourselves if we wanted to find the missing mammals and you said "look inside ourselves? That's easy for you to say because I have never seen someone so blatantly pull an answer out of their-"
"That was a one off!" protested Bogo. "The mayor insisted we hire her, and in hindsight it was a pretty good attempt by him to distract us from the fact he had them bottled up in that damn asylum!"
"She did do a good job at fixing the feng-shui in the atrium. I feel a lot better with my desk in the new position: I can see the doughnut devilries arrive before anyone else."
"So… we can afford to hire Nick?" asked Judy. Bogo glared.
"Absolutely not! Even if that budget isn't our main one, we could still find a far better use for it! Right?" asked Bogo, turning to Clawhauser. The cheetah shifted awkwardly.
"Umm, well actually sir we have seventy thousand dollars in there and if we don't spend it before the end of the fiscal year we won't get the same budget next year: we have to show we used all the money or they'll cut the grant, so we need to spend seventy grand in two months. I did send you a memo after last week's consultation board…"
Bogo glared. "So hire some clowns to teach road safety to disabled children! Something more useful than hiring that damned fox!"
"You remember the mayor's No Child Unprotected Initiative sir? The one where the mayor hired clowns to teach children self-defence? The press scandal after the custard pie with the Taser hidden inside, and the kickboxing bouncy-castle ruckus? Bellwether was hospitalised for two months, and she got off lucky compared the rest of the crowd. The specific two-year ban on using civil funds to hire clowns, mimes or jugglers? Grizzoli still has flashbacks, sir."
Bogo glared. "Giving him experience working with the police would give him an unfair advantage over other academy applicants." he said, at Judy. Judy and Bogo then glanced to Clawhauser.
"Umm… well sir, given the number of ex-military, ex sheriff's department and athletics scholarships or honour students that apply, he'd not be the only applicant this year with prior experience in this area, if anything he'd still be at a disadvantage compared to some of the applicants."
Bogo ground his teeth, or perhaps just a particularly stubborn bit of cud, like he wished it was Nick.
"There is no point wasting the department's money or the academy's time trying to help him get a job so he can apply for the academy when he'll be rejected on the grounds of his past criminal behaviour anyway. While we're sitting here discussing him, he's probably thinking up other scams to run."
Judy frowned. "Sir, he is trying, and I for one think that if he says he's going straight, and then he's going straight."
"He doesn't have the temperament for it. He'd never handle the workload."
Judy looked to Clawhauser, who shrugged as if to say that he didn't know Nick well enough to comment on that, and Judy realised he'd have to speak up for Nick.
"Well sir, you say that…but A, it's a little un PC and B, he did make two hundred dollars a day selling pawsicles. That's more than a hundred sticks a day. That's a twelve hour days, walking and talking, all over the city, keeping an eye out for trouble, knowing the streets… one thing he can do, sir, he can walk and talk, and for uniform, that's a heck of a lot of the job sir. He has a laidback look to him, sir, but he's not unfamiliar to honest work. "
Bogo snorted. "Honest? He's up to something, I know it. I just don't know what it is, but trust me, some day he'll slip up, and I'll find out and-"
Bogo's phone rung. Judy and Bogo both went wide eyed, but Clawhauser started Squeeing again.
Slightly Tinny rendition of "Try everything."
"Sir, your ring tone is Gazelle? Awwwwwww!"
Bogo scrambled back into his desk draw to get his phone.
"Not now Clawhauser! Can't you see I have an important call? Hello, Chief of Police Bogo? I… What? Who is this?" Bogo, frowned, and put his face in a hand and leaned on the desk in frustration. "Sir, I don't know how you got this number, but I can assure you mister Maulwurf, that I am not called Carlos, and if you need to re-book your psychiatrist's appointment, then this is the wrong number. Good day!" he said, slamming the phone down.
He paused, an then went pack to glaring at Judy and Clawhauser.
"Where was I?"
"Nick is still conning people and you think you'll find out?" said Clawhauser.
Bogo paused, and then grinned, evilly. "Oh yes. He may think he's smart, but he doesn't have a cops' instincts. One thing that separates an amateur detective from a trained cop, the ability to never miss a lead or follow up a hint when one drops into your lap-"
Slightly Tinny rendition of "Try everything."
Bogo glared, and answered the phone again. "Chief Bogo? No... No you just called the same number again mister Maulwurf. No I don't care what it says on the business card, please don't call again!" he hung up.
"Nick's criminal record will stop him making it through the academy." He said, flatly. Both him and Judy looked to Clawhauser, who shifted awkwardly.
"Well, actually, he's never been arrested or charged with any crime. He's got one formal caution on his record, but it's a misdemeanour, and he was never arrested or charged for it: Trading without a licence and moving undeclared commerce across borough lines: let off with a caution because it was a first offence, and he was twelve at the time. And then nothing for twenty years. If he's committed a felony, it's one we're never likely to find out about"
Bogo started, disbelieving. "Nothing?" he said, biting an anti-acid in half with shock and letting it fall to the desktop.
"Not until he met Judy, sir. And even then, with Homeland Security asking us to keep that under wraps, we'd never be able to charge him, and if he did he could claim duress and sue us. Seeing how upset Homeland are over this whole SafetyNet fiasco I don't think we want to provoke them."
"Safety-net?" asked Judy, nose wrinkling in confusion. Bogo and Clawhauser both had identical oh crud faces for a moment, before Bogo Harrumphed and said.
"Forget you heard that, that doesn't leave this office Hopps. So, you're saying that there is actually nothing that would be an obstacle to Wilde attending the academy?" said Bogo to Clawhauser, genuinely surprised. Judy's heart sored with pride, and she sat up a little straighter, chin held high.
Clawhauser smiled helpfully. "Oh no sir: there are huge problems about him getting into the academy: namely his lack of a high school education, driving licence and his physical fitness."
Judy turned her head sharply to Clawhauser, shocked.
"He doesn't have a high school diploma?" she said, genuinely surprised. "He's the smartest person I've ever met." Clawhauser shrugged.
"He hardly has a middle school diploma: he dropped out of education at age twelve: his mother was listed as home-schooling him, but he only just passed middle school and never attended a high school. His grades were straight A's until he was nine, wavered but still good between nine and twelve, and then he just inched past home education assessments from then on. He'd need to pass a high school equivalency and get a driving licence before he could start at the academy, and the next intake is in a few months: it'd be a close run thing."
Bogo glared "Hardly a ringing endorsement for the academy."
Judy glared back. "Sir, if you honestly think he's not smart enough, or that he couldn't knuckle down and they the equivalency certificate in time, you say so, sir, and I'll walk out of this room and never bring it up again. But he needs a legitimate job, and what's more than that, he's wasted stacking shelves in some supermarket when he could be helping us crack cases, and you know it… Sir."
Bogo sat and watched Judy for a long moment, before snorting and angrily gesturing to the door.
"All right. Fine. I took a risk with you: if he strikes out, I can just fire him later. He gets the same pay that the self-defence clowns got, though. And until he graduates from the academy he's still a civilian, he doesn't clutter up the canteen or bullpen unless I specifically invite him. Get him in here: I know he's waiting out there. I can't see hear or smell him, but I can feel his aura of vague smugness leaching through my walls. Let's get this over with."
Judy nodded, slipping of the chair gently and padding over to the door softly.
"He's not that bad, sir, once you got to know him. He's not smug, sir, just…. Just supremely confident in his own skills, sir."
Bogo glanced up, putting on his glasses and pulling out a casefile form the locked file cabinet in the corner of the room.
"So smug then." He said flatly, as Judy opened the door and went and, booting herself up to see, peered over the railing from the balcony and down to the main atrium.
Nick was sat in Clawhauser's seat at the front desk, laughing and joking with the Hippo Officer that had taken his place and looking unbelievably smug as he played with his phone and nodded his head in tune to some punk-pop track on the radio she didn't recognise.
K-Topia's 90's marathon: The Offspring: why don't you get a job.
She signed, but smiled a little at the same time. She'd never even met that officer before, and in the few minuets Nick had been left with him he'd have learnt more about the hippo than she would in a year: say what you liked about the sly fox, he was articulate, and personable, and good at talking to people. It was an excellent skill for a con artist, but not a bad skill for a cop either, she thought as she trotted down the stairs dodging other officers and made it out onto the marble of the ground floor.
Nick spotted her, and lowered his phone and smiled. "Carrots." He said, slipping off the chair he was on, and dropping to the ground with a slightly theatrical wince.
"Ugg, Clawhauser's chair is just awful. The ergonomics is off and it's just hard as nails. Guess he must carry his own padding. So, how'd it go?"
Judy Put her paws on her hips, and tapped a foot at him, not sure if she was mad at him or not. In his defence, he had that momentary panicked look that tended to flash across his face in the brief moments when he wasn't looking lazily confident, and he apologised after a fashion.
"Look, Judy, I didn't mean to lay all this on you, just so we're clear on that. I didn't mean to get fired… well… I kind of did, but they were really rude to me, and my boss was stealing, and not even in a clever way, and I wasn't going to stand for that. I mean if you're going to be a criminal you have an obligation to at least be good at it, or it's just embarrassing for everyone and…"
Nick noticed the look Judy was giving him. Not angry, just patiently giving him plenty of time to keep digging his own grave. If anything she seemed to be trying to hide a faint amusement. He paused.
"Sorry… kind of lost direction there for a bit. The point I think I was trying to make was, thank you. You don't need to deal with me, you've got enough on your own as it is, and the fact that you take the time to try and help me out means a lot to me, and I should be more careful in how I repay your trust and-"
"Get in Bogo's office before he loses patience and changes his mind." She said, walking. Nick fell in step behind her, walking as he owned the place, as usual.
"Thank you, Nick. For trying. I… I know it can't be easy to you, trusting other people like this. Besides, I have to help you: I'm a cop, it's my job." She said, stopping outside of Bogo's office and gesturing to the door.
"Huh. D'you think anyone's ever told Bogo that?" joked Nick to hide his nervousness as he pushed the door open, wrapping on the glass with his knuckles as he did so.
"I heard that, Wilde." Muttered Bogo, glaring over a thick cream and red casefile. Nick smiled apologetically, and gave a little friendly mock-salute to Clawhauser as he walked across the room to the chair, but Judy did a double take at the sight of the file. Not only was it huge, but ZPD files were colour-coded, active criminal cases should be Manilia, cold cases cream, priority cases red. Red and cream wasn't a combination they used. That was a Department of Homeland Security file. She glanced at the title tag on it: Operation SafetyNet.
Nick levered himself up onto the chair, and looked around, suddenly realising that there was now no-where for Judy to sit, he shuffled over, and after a moment's hesitation, Judy hopped up. Bogo gave her the briefest of glances as Nick instinctively gave her a helping paw up, but then turned back to the fox, and to Judy's complete surprise treated him as polity and professionally as he treated every other civilian.
"Nicholas Wilde, in recognition of your considerable talents and given our extreme workload in the wake of the Nighthowler incident the ZPD had decided to offer you a one off consultancy contract with regard to a single case. If successful in this, you may be offered a three month, zero hour, no-pension contract at our usual rates, subject to requirements of the department. There is no job security, no fixed hours, no overtime, no holidays, no sick days and no time off in lieu of late payment . It's fourteen bucks an hour, before tax deductions which we will take off for you, paid weekly one week in arrears, and while on this contract you obey any and all instructions given to you by any ZPD officer without hesitation or backsass, or you are fired with no recourse to industrial tribunal and with the rest of that week's wages docked, and you are not covered by the police union. This is not a good job: when they come the hours will be long, but you may go a very long time between cases and may struggle to get enough paid hours to feed yourself. Understood?"
"Understood sir. Still beats bagging groceries."
Bogo glared, and frowned a little at that, but kept his voice calm and professional. Judy realised Bogo kept glancing at Nick's carrot pen, and it was only then that she realised that not only was Nick recording everything, but that Clawhauser had got out an old police interview two-tape deck and was recording. No one was taking any chances with this, it seemed.
"And you understand that you will be a civilian contractor. This does not make you a cop, nor does it in any way guarantee entrance or favourable assessment into the academy?"
"Understood, Chief Bogo."
Bogo got out a contract from his desk draw, made a point of reading it and making Nick sit and shuffle awkwardly for some time, before handing it over.
"Sign here, here and here, Mr Wilde." Bogo said, handing over the contract, while Clawhauser gave Nick a pen as the fox theatrically flailed at pockets trying to find one. "Officer Hopps, this needs to be witnessed, sign here."
Nick finished signing his name with the carrot pen, Judy noticed his signature was both showy and lazy at the same time, abstracted to the point it was barely an N and a squiggle, and she took it and added her own next to it, getting the strangest little tingle as she did so.
Not partners quite yet, but one step closer. She realised.
Bogo took the contract back, glanced at it for a bare nanosecond, and then took his glasses off, and nodded to Clawhauser, who stopped the tape.
Bogo turned to Nick. "Off the record, I still think this is a horrible idea Wilde. You have talent, I'll give you that fox… but why waste it on this? There are other things you could do with your life if you're serious about turning it around."
"So I go and get a nine to five job and then what? With respect, sir, what difference is that going to make to the world? Just give me a go at it. Worst case scenario, you're right and I can't cut it, so you fire me and I try the nine to five. Best case scenario? I just must put some bad guys behind bars and get to be Brave, Loyal, Helpful and Trustworthy and get paid for it. Everyone wins."
Bogo snorted. "Worst case scenario: you put the wrong mammal away with that glib mouth of you, get yourself or an officer killed messily because you're not trained and I have not one but two huge lawsuits I could have avoided hitting the department when we've never been weaker and I have to explain to the press why there are bits of fox spread over five city blocks."
Nick paused, eyes wide and ears back. "Or there's that, I guess."
Bogo snorted. "Too late now Wilde, you're in at the deep end. Not my choice, but frankly right now, it's all deep end." he said, throwing the red and cream case file across the desk. "and whatever else you are, you've already been de-briefed by homeland security after you got caught up with Bellwether, so you've already signed all the relevant non-disclosure and information-protection documents needed for this little doozy, so it saves me taking an officer I actually need off their cases for a week of letting Homeland's spooks spell out all the awful things that will happen if they shoot their mouths off."
"They were very explicit on the put in a hole and then throw away the hole aspect of things." Said Nick, picking up the file and flicking it open. Bogo snorted.
"As if I would get so lucky. You too Hopps: from now on, when he's on the clock, you're his handler. For now, anyway, because you're the only other officer who knows enough about the Nighthowler case already without having to go through a load of classified information BS before Homeland would let you on the case. Seeing as you two were already de-briefed by them, you get this little doozy."
"What is it, sir?" asked Judy, leaning over. Nick instantly lowered the file a little so she could see it more easily: there was a map of central zootopia, and a number of blue spots spread out over it. "Are those-"
"Central transport hubs, rail stations, L train, subway, tram, rodent-tube, major traffic hotspots… looks like every major way in or out of the CBD… is this a list of sites they think might get attacked?" asked Nick, horrified. "I used to sell Pawsicles at half these places, they hit any of these with Nighthowler and I'm either feral or I'm served on toast for someone who is!"
Bogo snorted. " You and two hundred thousand other mammals if they hit them all at once, A fact that had occurred to Homeland security. That's why they've got me stretched thin as filo pastry trying to get drug-sniffing wolves or bears familiarised with Nighthowler and at those locations twenty-four seven, but we just don't have the staff to do it. Fangmire's task force are on fifteen hour shifts as it is, and soon the sick leave will build up as that schedule every single day breaks officers and I won't be able to replace them. So homeland security have been throwing money at a project to fit gas chromatography mass spectra to the existing air pollution monitoring stations all of those sites.
Nick frowned, but Judy got the implication. "Artificial noses?"
Bogo nodded. "Exactly, covering not only the main commercial centre of the city, but all major routes that could be used to move Nighthowler in or out of the city, or from biome to biome: if it is being made within a half kilometre of one of these bad boys, they'll know it."
"I'm sensing a 'but' coming…" said Nick, tuning over a page and looking at a complicated circuit diagram. He shrugged, it was meaningless to him.
"But, they are too damn sensitive: false alarms every five minutes. Worse than useless, because some drone in an office at Homeland security keeps wanting to send the SWAT team to the location each time one of these goes off because some florist who once maybe had some contact with Midia…midia" Bogo squirted at his notes, lip moving as he tried to make out the word.
"Midnicampum holicithias?" Judy helpfully suppled.
Bogo and Nick shared a glance.
"With that damn flower waked past." Finished Bogo, flatly. "So they all got switched off, and until we find a way to filter out the false alarms, the entire system is just a very expensive white elephant."
"Oooh, Sir?" said Clawhauser, raising a finger and wincing. "Um, after last month's Sensitivity and Community Engagement guidelines review, we're not supposed to use that phrase anymore. It could be seen to imply that elephants can't budget correctly and that's a bit, well…"
"Do I look like I care Spots? When I first joined the department they filled my locker entirely with red rags for a joke. When I made lieutenant and got an office of my own, the first day I came it, someone had filled it with discount crockery and made a sign reading 'china shop'! Why do you think I keep giving people teapots for Christmas? Get over it: I had to. No, the artificial nose system is broken, and Homeland were pinning all their hopes on a computer program to statistically analyse the number of hits per day and filter out the chaff and give us some useful data about possible concentrations of Nighthowler and their location in the city. And apparently, it was working very well. It was supposed to go live at the end of the week, Homeland and the DA had already planed the press release. It was supposed to be the first bit of good news the city has had since Bellwether was arrested. "
"What happened?" asked Nick, casually flicking over a page in the file. Sitting next to him as closely as she was, Judy felt all his muscles tense up as he froze stock still.
"That happened." Said Bogo, as Judy sat up a little straighter to get the extra inch of height and see the page Nick was looking at over the lip of the folder: Nick had subconsciously raised the folder back to his own eye height as he read. She gasped.
The photo showed a computer lab: a server farm behind a glass divide and three or four workstations in front of it, comprehensively smashed. And that wasn't the scary bit, the scary bit was that the glass divide between the server room and the main office was covered in claw-marks. There were two close up enlargements pinned to the main photo: the rectangular hole from the missing hard-drive, and a photo of a discarded tranquiliser dart, with proper forensics label and scale bar, and the distinctive ink blue droplets of Nighthowler beading the needle.
"The office of the computer company working on the program, Lucian Industries, current brainchild of Lucian Reams, former cryptography whizz-kid in his teens. Quit working for the defence department to go private on the stock market just in time to lose everything on the dot com bubble, build it back up and lost it again in the credit crunch. Maybe you saw the film, the Wolf of Wallow Street? Still has the defence connections and maths degrees to get this contract from Homeland Security, and to keep it secure as possible he kept his team as small as possible, just two other staff, a second mathematician and an electrical engineer to maintain the server farm, a Persian Golden jackal and a Coyote respectively, their files are included. Lucian walked in with the DA to show him the completed program two days ago, found the lab ransacked and the two staff missing. The program is gone, the main hard drive stolen and the paper notes destroyed, both staff missing, room wiped down with bleach, and given how incredibly sensitive this program was, for reasons of operational security they didn't use remote storage back-ups. No plans, no prototype, no backups. One and only one copy of the program, and it's gone and so is two thirds of the brains we'd need to start from scratch. One and only one door in, guard on it at all times and CCTV saw nothing. One window, four stories over a major thoroughfare and no-one saw anything suspicious on the fire escape, window locked from the inside. Nighthowler dart recovered from the scene. No evidence, no leads, no witnesses, and Homeland Security and Lucian himself are prioritizing covering their tails over cooperating with our investigation." Said Bogo, tapping his fingers on the desk.
"And let me guess…" said Nick. "I don't crack it in forty-eight hours, I'm fired?"
Bogo sighed. "I wish. The standard contractors contract isn't that kind to me: you have seventy two hours, and if that fails I can consider if I want to hire you for the full three month contract or not."
Nick frowned, but then jokingly said. "Oh, well no rush then, may as well go and spend the rest of the evening playing pool. Judy, you want to come with?"
"You're right, that still gives us way too much time. Tell you what Bogo-baby, D'you mind if I call you that Bogo? Twenty-four hours, how does that sound?"
Bogo let out a groan, and put his head in his hands and dropped to the desk, elbows slamming onto the table top.
"Just get out of my office before I have to explain to internal affairs how you managed to walk over a very sharp cattle-grate while wearing a very heavy hat and accidently julienned yourself!" he said, massaging his closed eyes with one hand and grasping for his anti-acids with the other. "Hopps, I swear if I develop a ulcer, I'm naming it after you."
"Huh, guess I'm not getting that teapot for Christmas." Said Nick, helpfully tossing the cylinder of anti-acid into Bogo's searching hand.
"OUT!" he yelled. Nick fled, grinning to himself. Judy saluted, and left at a more respectful pace.
After a long moment Clawhauser stood up, and bushed off his chair prissily to remove some loose fur.
"Well sir, I think that went better than expected."
"If you mean that somehow both the fox and I are still alive, then yes."
Clawhauser hesitated. "I think you're being a little too harsh on Nick, sir. He put his life on the line to help Hopps, sir, even when he could have walked away. And what's more than that, he chose to forgive her after that press conference. His heart is in the right place, sir."
Bogo sighed, but didn't remove his head from his hands.
"Believe it or not, I've never doubted that Clawhauser. That's not my main concern."
"Oh. Then what is, sir?
"That fox stood up to me when I demanded Judy's badge, and you know what? He was right to. Every criticism he pulled out at me was right. He backed her to the hilt. Because more than anything, that's what you do when you're partnered with someone on a case. No, In his heart, he could make a perfectly fine police officer."
"But." Continued Bogo. "No matter how good he is, he's no Judy Hopps. I worry about her with him, Claws. She's impulsive, and fearless and naïve, and that's a very good way to end up as a name on that memorial in the lobby. She'll grow out of it, but he backs her to the hilt, and that scares me: alone she's a loose cannon, Together? Dynamite. And if they argue again, or if he reverts to crime or washes out of the academy with her pinning so much hope on him, I think it might break her."
"You really think he's likely to revert to crime, sir?"
"You saw he was recording everything on the carrot pen?"
"Yes, well we were recording too so-"
"And yet when he stared searching his pockets for a pen, you automatically gave him one to sign with, which is why he now has two pens and you have none. He's too smart to be a cop. He'll get bored."
Clawhauser checked his shirt pocket, and then laughed.
"Aww, shoot. Little rascal. Come on sir, it's just a pen: that's a harmless joke."
"You see me laughing Claws?" said Bogo. "This isn't a game of cops and robbers. You want to know what really scares me? That he would make an excellent cop, and a great partner for Hopps. And if he does go through the academy and partner her on the force, what then? The two of them take on Zootopia, with Nighthowler out on the streets and everyone from that dammed Ram and Mr Big to the street pushers knowing that they're already mixed up in it and gunning for them?" He said, watching the pair of them as they crossed the atrium, laughing and joking, Judy reaching for the Carrot pen and Nick lifting it jut out of her reach each time she jumped for it. "He'll draw a target on himself if he has to to save her, and she's too good an officer to have to see him killed in the line of duty, Claws. Kinder if he never gets that chance."
He said, glancing at the page he had intentionally left out of the file before giving it to Wilde, he one that said that due to the classified nature of the case and lack of leads Homeland Security didn't believe it to be solvable at all, before shrugging.
"Wilde goose chase." He muttered to himself.