The Platypus Physiatrist checked his notepad, covered in some unflattering doodles of his previous patent, took a sip of his coffee, and then turned to his newest, and second most troublesome, patent.
*Over the shoulder panning shot revealing Nick on the couch, hunched up shivering under a silver emergency blanket, teeth gritted, both paws clenched to a paper coffee cup, wet and dishevelled with his fur sticking in all sorts of weird angles.*
"So" asked the shrink, leaning back and taking a long sip of his drink. "How was your day, Nick?"
Nick shuddered, sipping at his coffee. "Been better, Doc." He admitted.
Part Three: Upstairs, downstairs.
Cuts to long shot down the room, of Nick and the Shrink sitting opposite to each other. In the background the radio plays.
Wet Wet Wet: Wishing I was lucky
"So," said the Doctor, making a note "Wait, let me get this straight, was the bit where Judy told the politician who you were before, or after you fell in the lake?"
"Before." Muttered Nick, sulking.
"And, you say you 'fell' " said the doctor, making inverted commas with his claws. "As in, no-one pushed you?"
"No! Why would anyone push me?"
"…You have met you, right?"
"Ha, Ha, Doc. You're a really joker, you should try stand up." Said Nick, bitterly, shivering into his drink.
"I much prefer siting down: it's less effort, and I can still charge remarkably well for it even when I get booed of stage." Joked the Platypus, making a note, or perhaps just doodling Nick's misery.
"Okay, so you turned up, the case is nasty, the politician is, unsurprisingly, a complete battle axe, and Judy let slip that you to are the reason that her boss got fired, her party got sunk in the polls, and she got thrust into the public spotlight leading to the kidnap of her baby… so. How did that go down with the feds?"
"Not too well." Nick admitted, warming his paws on his cup.
"What part of-" ZG, noticed Darren Williams loitering, pulled the kitchen door shut and lowered her voice, cloistering Nick and Judy in the Breakfast room with her. "What part of lie to the family did you fail to grasp!" Hissed ZG, clearly more than moderately pissed. "Did I stutter? Lapse back into Spanish? What part of that was too difficult to make it into your fuzzy little head Judy!"
"I'm sorry, Agent, I'm… I'm just not comfortable lying to victims! She's lost her baby!" Said Judy.
"Which is why I'm trying to manage her stress levels very, very carefully!" Hissed the skunk, facepalming, "She's on the verge of losing everything! Going, what we call in behavioural sciences, coo-coo for coco puffs! She's going to have a complete emotional breakdown unless we get that baby back safe and well, and bloody fast, and our odds of doing that are, right now, about Nick's odds of winning a Dawn Bellwether lookalike contest!"
"Yeah, I'm clearly more a Leo Lionheart. Rocking that butch alpha-pred look." Said Nick, smiling faintly and poking at the draws out of sheer curiosity. They had those handle-less spring loaded draws that were never as fast or easy to open or close as regular draws. Were handles really too much of a departure from the aesthetic of the room? They had handles on the overhead cupboards. Gods, rich people were weird. Wealth is wasted on the wealthy he mused, for about the trillionth time.
"Nick, you did a stellar job on keeping quiet back there: emulate it now!" said ZG, pointing with one finger like an angry mom.
"Judy, when a normal work-a-day mammal has a complete emotional collapse, the worst we need to worry about is them buying a gun and going postal, beating up their boss, or, gods help up, finding Jesus or Buda or the benefits of Reiki or some nonsense like that. When a state senator and up and coming political figure goes utterly Nick-Cage-Freak-Out level meltdown, it's like a star going nova and creating a black hole that will suck in and crush the careers of anyone in the vicinity? Got it? Do you like ticketing cars and attending traffic accidents? If so, please, please please poke the grieving mother! I, for one, quite like being able to work major cases, live indoors, and make my rent without having to sell blood plasma!"
"We're not meant to call then accidents." Said Nick, somewhat muffled, his head in one of the senators snack cupboards. "Official vocab guidelines specify collisions, because accident implies no-one is to blame."
"Bite me, zorro." muttered ZG, before both her and Judy's brains caught up.
"Wait, what?" Judy asked.
"I've been studying for the academy. One of us has to take this seriously." He said, re-emerging from a cupboard with a box of elderly pop-tarts that the senator had either got squirreled away at the back, or that he'd somehow flinched from Narnia. "See, I'm paying attention to this whole cop thing." He declared, seriously, before biting into an uncooked strawberry pop tart, the taste of sweet sweet high fructose nostalgia for any mammal who grew up poor in the 90's. Although in our case it would be off-brand: there's poor, and there's can't get real junk poor.
Judy and ZG shared a mixed look of grudging respect and unbridled horror, before Judy finally spoke.
"Nick." She said, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Did you actually read the vocab-guidelines, or are you just quoting from a film you saw once?"
Nick grinned mischievously, and made a gesture with a paw held up either side of his head, one holding the box, the other a half-eaten pop tart.
"Is it true that there is a place in a mammal's head that, if you shoot it, it will blow up?" he asked.
ZG snorted, and snatched the box of pop tarts from him.
"You, stop eating the evidence. You, Officer Hopps, get way better at lying. You're a cop, darn it: be a sneaky, underhand, dishonest scoundrel, it's part of the job. You, Wilde, stop fighting with Darren Williams when Judy is trying to interview! I know he started it, but don't rise to it! Show some professional discipline and respect for procedure: be less of a sneaky, underhand, dishonest scoundrel, it's not all of the job. The two of you just… just find a happy medium!" she said, gesturing from one to the other and then making a thrusting hand gesture between the two of them. "Come together a bit! Have a Kornenberg teleporter accident and just give me one functional cop! Work something out!"
The skunk blew out a frustrated sigh, and swiped the hair back from her eyes, running a paw over her white stripe from nose to spine, before narrowing her eyes, and pointing at Nick and Judy.
"Okay, now, I like you two. No, what am I saying? I don't know either of you well enough to like you. I enjoy you two. I enjoy working with you. I enjoy not being the only one in the room with brains or a work ethic. I enjoy being able to talk to someone outside of my direct chain of command, not the least because most mammals in my chain of command are incompetent, boring, or both. I enjoy working with mammals who are actually good at this, but still new enough at it to like their jobs. I hope one day I'll get to know you well enough to like you, and I Hope you like working for me.
The Skunk drew a deep breath. "But-" She said.
"I am the federal agent running this case. It is very much working for me, not with me. So, when I give you an order, it's an order. When I give you a suggestion, it's an order. When I give you some good, friendly life advice like don't stress out the key witnesses by pointing out you brought down the pervious mayor! You'd better believe it's an order, conjita. Now, I'm going to give you a lot a free reign here, because you're outside of my usual chain of command and because I don't have time to baby-sit you and the politicians. I'm going to give you a lot of freedom to investigate this how you think it should be investigated because I appreciate the value of a second set of eyes not mired in the bureau politics or their very rigid and proscribed way of investigating where everything comes from one standard playbook: a tried and tested playbook, true, but one that has been wrong in the past. I'm giving you a lot more freedom and power than I would normally trust my liaisons with local law enforcement, because I trust you." She said, leaning in and poking both Judy and Nick in the chests. "Don't make me regret it! Got that?"
"Yes Ma'am." Said Judy, back strait and subconsciously shifting into the proper attention position, ears up.
"And don't call me ma'am, I work for a living! Just…. Just go solve crime, will you? I've got to deal with Williams before he throws his toys out of the pram again. Interview the au pair and the son, and sweep the house for physical, we'll meet up latter and compare notes."
"And get food, like last time?" asked Nick, glancing at the box of pop tarts. It had been a long time since breakfast.
"Oh, you'd better believe it!" snorted ZG, ripping into the box. "Now go solve crime!" she said. Nick and Judy sped off. As they did, the skunk glanced thought the tiny gap in the door, noticed Darren Williams still loitering, and groaned, stuffing no less than three pop tarts in her mouth in sheer desperation.
"God, I miss smoking indoors." She muttered, spaying sprinkles.
Nick and Judy had a quick wander about the outside of the house, sweeping for physical evidence, but the feds had striped the place like Nick on free food: the fibre optic was cut for both the phone lines and internet, disabling the cameras, forensic was yet to give any detail on what it was cut with, but probably the missing garden shears, which were probably in the lake now (a team of otters was dredging it). Several footprints had been found and agar-Moulage castings made of them (plaster of Paris was so last-century in forensics, Nick learned), but there were no results back yet, and the photos made it pretty clear the footprints found were Dana and her family's, and that was it. No tire tracks, no fibres: the perp was remarkably inconvenient in failing to cut themselves on the glass when smashing the balcony window to enter, and also somehow failed to smoke, leave pawprints, spit on the carpet, or lick their name and home address onto the windows before leaving.
"It's almost like they've not seen CSI zootopia and conveniently left a good plot hook for us." Said Nick, joking with the diving team.
"Fire the writers" Joked the female otter floating contentedly in the lake near the little private jetty as Judy took notes.
"I prefer the Miami one" said Judy, finishing her notes. "Thank you for your time, Special Agent Tarka. If you find anything could you-"
"Call me skip. I'll post it to SLEUTH as soon as I do. You have clearance?"
Judy nodded, Nick frowned.
"State and federal Law Enforcement Universal Technology Hub. It's… don't lean on that rail, mister, it's loose, you'll fall in the lake." Said the otter. "I guess they had to lower-case the and federal bit to keep the acronym cool. It's a clone of the British Holmes2 system but it works well enough."
Nick frowned more, and turned to Judy. The rabbit rolled her eyes. "It's a cop database: you tag evidence and witness statements with keywords, so everyone who's working the case can search thought it and find connections that a single cop might miss. It's a vital tool in modern intelligence led policing, otherwise you'd be sending a hundred e-mail per day for each piece of evidence on your incident list."
"Oh. I thought I was a a vital tool in modern intelligence led policing." Said Nick winking and leaning on the rail at the side of the lake. It wobbled alarmingly, forcing him to step back, ungracefully.
"No, you're just a vital tool." Joked Judy, glancing over.
"Oh, self-burn, those are rare." Said the USERT otter, happily. She waved, and pulled a very heavily waterproofed cell phone out from her wetsuit. "Well, if you need me, call. Now if you don't mind, I've got a whole bunch of lake to cover and if I don't monitor my team they'll fool around because… well… otters. I'll see you about and… MUDGE! STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! You and Lylla stop roughhousing right now or I swear I'll…"
Nick and Judy shrugged, and walked away as the shouting from the lake moved into the middle distance.
"So physical evidence is a bust." Said Nick, cheerfully.
"Oh, it often is: CSI type programs give civilians the idea that physical evidence is hyper important for cracking cases, but mostly its timelines: who could have physically been present to commit the crime at the time it happened. If you can narrow the pool of suspects to one just with alibies and known movements, you don't need physical evidence that much. "
"Isn't that a little… circumstantial?" asked Nick, making a face. "Speaking as a Pred, If I were to get put away for something, I'd not like it to be just because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"You sure it's not speaking as a former con artist? And besides, you put Remes away on timeline evidence alone: proved he was in the very wrong place at the wrong time."
"Ouch, don't remind me. And a fellow canine too: I've become that guy from high school who becomes the neighbourhood narc. Well… I if I had finished school, that is."
"It's okay, I think you actually need to work a little harder to ern the title narc: at this point I think you're just a snitch. And don't say narc Nick… that's our word."
"Oh, well excuse me." Said Nick, half-smiling slyly. "I didn't realise I'd crossed a line into profiling there: I don't want to be rude, so if I'm reverting to my primitive, savage ways you let me know so I can grab a cold shower, okay?"
Judy winced and glared upwards, but Nick just laughed and held up a paw with two upraised fingers "Hey, that's only the second time I've taken that dig at you this week: I got two more by Friday before I go over my quota."
Judy sighed, brushed an ear distractedly with the back of her paw, and walked off back towards the house.
"Okay, so physical is a complete bust. So interviews… you want the maid or the teenager?" asked Judy.
"What? You're going to leave me alone? Me, here in this big rich herbivore's house in the 'burbs? Judy, I'd not last a minute! Assuming I didn't get shot or arrested, someone would definitely try to auction me and put their brain in my body: I've seen that movie, Hopps, and I don't think I have the upper body strength to kill someone with a Bocce ball!"
"Aaaand its jokes like that which remind me why I can't leave you alone with witnesses." Said Judy. "Okay, let's go re-interview the maid."
"Au pair, Judy: if you let the neighbours think that a state senator had anything as common as a maid it could lower property values for leagues around. Think of the H.O.A!"
"Fine Au pair. We'll re-interview the au pair." Said said, as they walked into the house. "What is an au pair anyway?"
"I think it's like a maid but costs about five bucks more per hour." Said Nick
If hireling an Au pair vs a maid was costing their employer an extra five bucks an hour, it didn't look like that money was being passed on to the actual worker in this case, Nick thought.
Another victory for Late Stage Capitalism: the economy might be in the toilet compared to the 90's, but at least we're all miserable, and isn't that the true meaning of employment? He thought, looking the hutia up and down. Somehow he'd mentally imagined an Edwardian style black servants dress with a white bonnet and lace pinafore, but apparently he wasn't living in either a Poirot story or an anime, because Kamila was, disappointingly, dressed like every other working class Zootopian female struggling to look respectable enough for white collar work that he'd ever met, right down to the over-focus on emulating wealthy fashion trends, and the accentless voice insecure students and second generation immigrants are careful to curate. Rich hipsters might love their thrift store look, but in his neighbourhood you could tell who was providing for the rest of their family or working their way through college because their knock-off designer gear looked better than the actual brands. You made more tips that way, and could get the better paid end of the gig economy like that.
Mom would never leave the apartment with a stich out of place. He recalled. Even if she had to stich it herself by moonlight because we'd had the power shut off again.
While ZG was well paid enough to rock actual vintage (if second hand) Preyda, and confident enough to own her Latina roots, Kamila was in a pale cream knock-off House of Holland pant suit (hilariously titled House of Zealand) and spoke like someone whose biggest fear was anyone working out that some called Kamila Rivera might just be Puerto Rican.
At last she didn't go for the fake British accent. He thought, playing with his phone glumly Although I for one will never not find it funny to find endless working class Zootopian's who speak Korean or Spanish at home but sound like Bootleg-idict Cumberbatch when the boss is about.
Well dressed, hardworking, and respectable. Thought Nick. There but for the grace of god go I.
She was also clearly almost at her wits end with fear, poor girl.
"So you've been au pair here for…" said Judy.
"Two years. No… well… more like two and a half." Said Kamila, whiskers twitching, hands wringing. "She hired me just before her first pregnancy. Before that she had a cleaner from the agency who came twice a week, but she wanted live in help for the baby stuff, and I'm with the au-pair scheme at Zootopia U so…"
"Whao… whao slow down…" said Judy, calmingly. "You're at Zootopia U? As a student?
The Hutia nodded. "Pre-med. I want to go into paediatrics, that's why I wanted to help a family with a small baby as part of the scheme, for the experience."
"Scheme?" asked Nick. Kamila nodded.
"The Pan-Caribbean au pair scheme: it finds host families in Zootopia who want live-in help, and pairs them with students from the Islands who want to study here. It's easier to get a student visa that way, if you need one, and experience and part time work if you don't need the visa, like me. I do forty hours here and twenty at the University per-week."
"Interesting, so you'd be in and out of the house all the time?" asked Judy, groaning internally. That would make tracing and eliminating her movements a nightmare.
Kamila shook her head. "In between semesters right now, thank goodness. I was so worried when they said they'd be coming here while the town house was being re-modelled, the other house was right by the campus you see-"
"So, you haven't been coming and going?" asked Judy, before the poor girl could start babbling.
"No, I don't even go to the store, Missus Calopus has everything delivered. I haven't left the house for about two weeks."
"At all?" asked Judy. The Hutia shrugged.
"Other than jogging by the lake each morning? No, I don't like to go out here, it's spooky."
"Spooky how so? Out by the lake?" asked Judy. She was taught at the academy that mammal's instincts were pretty powerful things: if they felt like a place was spooky it could be that they'd subconsciously noticed something off.
Like a spot where someone might be watching from. She thought grimly.
Kamila smiled nervously. "Ah, no I like the woods by the lake just fine, I meant this place. The gated community: every house looks the same, half of the houses have never been lived in, rich people just own them as an investment, the rest are holiday homes or summer houses. There's never anyone about: I went jogging down the street once, middle of the day, and I saw no-one. It was like the start of a zombie move or something, you know? Like 28 days later? I saw one gardener in two hours and said hi, and he blanked me, like he's not allowed to talk when he's working or something, and then the private security came in a golf-buggy and demanded to know who I worked for. This place is weird, I wish we were back in the city." She said, nervously. "I just feel very isolated out here. Always did, even before the kidnapping."
"And did you ever see anything, anything at all on your runs that might be considered strange?" asked Judy "Any cars or other vehicles about that you didn't recognise, or thought looked out of place in the community? Any strange mammals, odd happenings?"
"Big creepy old William Bonin van with free candy written on the side?" Added Nick. Judy Kicked him, but otherwise didn't react. Kamila, thankfully, didn't get the reference.
"I saw a door-to-door Organic Sourdough delivery tricycle called the Rye-cycle . Does that count?" she asked, earnestly.
"In this neighbourhood? Probably not, but I'll add it to the list." Sighed Judy. "And you're in the top bedroom?"
"Yes, top back. Overlooking the lake"
"And you didn't see anything suspicious from your room? Anyone by the lake, a boat or anything?" Asked Judy, writing.
"No, I was downstairs doing laundry and helping Travis, from when I got back from my run at about four, working on collage stuff in the study before that, so I wasn't out the back of the house since lunch, I think."
"Uh, and can-*Buzz!* shoot! Can anyone confirm this?" asked Judy, switching her phone to silent as it rung again. Nick glanced over, and then glanced back. That was her personal phone, not her ZPD issue one.
"It was on the CCTV, I think? Me getting back from my walk at least…" said Kamila
Who's phoning her on the personal line? Thought Nick, as Judy went over time-line stuff with Kamila. Must be parents: I don't think anyone outside of her family and I have that number: she doesn't know anyone in the city other than me and cops. He glanced down at Judy's back pocket again, and not just to admire the view. Parents. He decided. The phone is still in the call; I can see the lines shift, so they're leaving a message on the answering machine: a millennial would have just sent text.
Speaking of seeing the lines, it looked like the feds got the landline reconnected, he thought tilting his head towards the intercom/landline set in the corner of the room as the mag-lines bent around it. He smiled.
People always go on about canine's sense of smell, they forget how sensitive we are to magnetic fields. That and the tiny ultrasound noises consumer electronics make. He mused, looking Kamila up and down, eyes narrow and ears back. So why aren't you bending the lines? Nothing on you disturbing the earth's magnetic field. No electronic sounds. She's what? Nineteen? Twenty? And far from home, far from her friends at collage: she should have her phone glued to her. He sniffed, suspiciously. Hot electronics, plastics and ceramic wafers, rare earth metals. You have your phone on you, but you switched it off not long before talking to the cops. Not just silent or airplane mode, fully off, battery removed. Worried someone might trace it? Afraid someone might send the wrong message that the feds might see? You're hiding something. I just don't know what.
Then again, he thought If I thought the feds might look at my phone, I'd throw it over a skeet club and shout "pull" just to be sure, and I've never been dumb enough to have anything incriminating done electronically. The phrase "the innocent have nothing to fear" was clearly not created by any member of a minority unexpectedly finding themselves helping the police with their enquiries.
That was the trouble with police work, he was realising: for years he'd been fairly confident of not getting in trouble with the law because everyone looked and acted guilty when confronted by cops, and it was wonderful camouflage. It had made him feel safe, like a warm cosy blanket, as it meant it was very hard for anyone to single him out. Now I'm realizing it's actually quire inconvenient when you're paid to single out the mammal guilty of a specific crime, and not just everyone else looking guilty on general principles.
She could be our kidnapper, but I doubt it. He thought, looking her up again, sniffing as unobtrusively as he could. She'd frightened and upset, but her stress hormones don't spike when she answers, so she's not lying unless she's a sociopath or really good, and a sociopath wouldn't be upset. Cheating on her tests? Expecting a call from a secret lover? Buying Valerian off the gardener for that sweet sweet rodent high?
God, everyone's crimes are so boring. He thought.At least a good con takes people on an adventure, gives then something to talk about, a tale for the grandkids-
-The sudden smack of the gun butt in his back, cold snow and the fear. The very real fear and loss of control as the racoon conned him, and he could see it happening but could do nothing to stop it-
-Bellweather, conning the whole world, Pred's as her patsies, leering down at him and Judy in that pit-
Nick shuddered and grimaced as he flashed-back. Okay, maybe my crimes weren't that fun for the other's involved. He admitted to himself. The Damn duckbill is right, I'm gonna need a lot of therapy over this.
Nick noticed the weird look Judy and Kamila were giving him, and realised he'd zoned out. Or rather, done that stereotypical Pred thing where he'd zoned in on one thing and stopped paying attention to the rest. Back in the bad old days, a predator that couldn't focus utterly on the target they were stalking wouldn't eat. Prey that couldn't keep a little bit of focus on everything around them got eaten. It was an ugly stereotype that Pred's couldn't do "Big picture" and prey couldn't do "Fine detail" but there were some slight differences, and like most of the evolutionary leftovers, it sometimes reared its ugly head, with or without a grain of truth in its jaws.
"I'm sorry, what?" he asked, as politely as he could under the circumstances, straightening his head. He'd not realised he'd done the inquisitive-canine thing and cocked it to one side.
"Is he meant to do that Ma'am?" asked the Hutia, taking a half step back, now genuinely frightened, Nick realised.
Judy flashed a reassuring and almost genuine smile, and taped his leg with a paw. "Oh don't worry about him, he's just a big dopey sweetheart really." At which point Nick realised he must have really screwed up if she was saying that.
"What did I do?" he hissed to Judy out the corner of her mouth, smiling broadly to reassure the witness. Kamila froze up, face screw up, glancing nervously to Judy with rapid darting eyes, Pleading.
Oh Crap, she can see my fangs! Too much smile, too much! Dial it down Nick! He thought, lessening his grin from Cheshire Cat to normal, and hoping he didn't have Dracula-Fangs protruding too much. I hate it when that happens.
"Ahhh, you Sniffed her, glared and then stared into space and shuddered and wrinkled your nose. Which, fun fact, you can't actually do without your teeth showing a teensy bit." Said Judy, Paw on Nick's leg and fixed grin of the witness, as if reassuring her that everything was cool.
Nick groaned. "Teeth?" he said, embarrassed at himself.
"Friendly teeth!" insisted Judy, trying to reassure the Hutia "he just moved his face muscles about and his teeth showed a teensy bit, perfectly normal."
"Teensy?!" asked Kamila. "If that's teensy, friendly and normal, I don't want to see angry, mister! What were you sniffing and staring like that for, did someone fart or something?" she asked, sarcastically.
"I… I thought I was going to sneeze, but couldn't." Said Nick, weakly.
"Oh, I hate that." said Judy, handing him a tissue, glad he wasn't being spooky and weird "Press under your chin, that works for me if I need to sneeze, anyway..."
"Why have you taken the battery out of your phone miss Riviera?" asked Nick, suddenly, the first time he had directly addressed the witness.
"What?" asked Judy, wincing. The witness looked shocked.
"How did you know I had?" she asked, looking startled. Nick shrugged.
"What." Asked Judy, glaring at Nick. How does he always do that?
"I… the feds asked me for my sim to run a trace. They haven't given it back yet, so I haven't put the phone back together." Stuttered Kamila.
Oh. That makes sense. Sometime people do have law abiding reasons to do things. Nick thought. Sometimes.
Judy and Kamila shared a confused and slightly spooked glance, before both turning back to Nick.
"You done?" asked Judy.
"For now." Said Nick. "Erm… as you were?" he asked, one paw at the small of his back and making an official looking hand gesture with the other, like a traffic cop. Judy rolled her eyes, and went back to the interview.
"So before you kidnapping you were…." Started Judy.
"In the study, helping Travis with his home-work. Until Madam asked me if the baby had been fed, and then she went up to check and then… then." She started to tear up. Judy nodded sympathetically, and moved on.
"Oh, err, Madam ordered me and Travis to lock ourselves in our rooms while she called the cops. I think she went to the front of the house to meet them, but I'm not sure."
"And Miss Rivera, do you know of anyone who may have had detailed knowledge of the layout of the house and grounds other than the family?" asked Judy.
"Oh, no one. Well, except…"
"Except who?" asked Judy keenly. This could be an actual lead!
"Well, except the builders."
"Builders?" asked Judy.
"Sure the construction crew: the reason were here is because the town-house is being re-modelled, but this place was re-modelled and extended just before that. We must have had, twenty, thirty contractors here: more if you count the guys who installed the security gates and the cameras. Oh, and then the construction work messed up the garden, so they had a landscaping crew after that, that was five of six guys… I guess the gardener that comer round weekly too. Oh, and the security company for the gated community has copies of the floorplan and the security code for the gates and the alarms… I think the UPS guy does too, and I know the Amazon guy does… oh and the grocery guys, and the car cleaning company, the fur-dresser and the chiropodist… I think Travis lent his spare keys to some of his friends from school so their drivers may have copies, Madan's ex-husband, his friends, his girlfriend, he took her here you know? When Madam was in the city and he was 'working late'… her friends, The Vanderburgh's next door, they used to call in often, they and their staff have keys, and the guys at Madam's campaign office, her PA Karren… oh and…"
Judy's ear drooped and smile faded. Nick couldn't help but smile. Gated communities: pay a fortune to live in a fortress, and the give the keys to absolutely everyone because you can't go a day without deliveries. God, rich people make such good victims, it's like they're asking to be robbed!
I mean it's less funny when what they've stolen is a baby, I guess… he thought, smile fading, as Judy took notes on everyone who might have detailed knowledge of the security system and lay out of the house. It took six pages.
Lovely, now we just need to run Trace, Interview, Eliminate on all of Zootopia. Thought Nick. Well technically I don't, but presumably Carrots will have to make sure someone did.
Carrots clearly felt so, because the first thing she did after politely dismissing Kamila, was to get her phone out and log into SLEUTH to check that all the people the au pair mentioned were already flagged up on the communal incident list, and had someone assigned to TIE them, and that they'd ether been actioned or had an action scheduled on them.
"Pardon?" asked Nick, when Judy told him this. "You lapsed back into cop-speak there for a second, Carrots." He said, as they walked out of the room and into the main atrium of the house.
"Sorry: I'm making sure every-one she just mentioned as possibly having access to the house has already got their name on this big online list of suspects, and that someone has been assigned to go check each of them out for alibi and motive, and that someone has actually done the job assigned to them, or given a good reason for not doing so."
"Okay." Said Nick. "So, what would count as a good reason for not interviewing the suspects? Not that I'm lazy and looking to get out of work, just genuinely curious."
"Well for example the trace stage showed that of the constriction crew that worked on the re-model of the house, one got hit by a car and died the other week, one was out-off state at the time of the kidnapping, and one's in jail awaiting trial for an unrelated offence since before the kidnapping. Streaking at a ball game, apparently."
"Huh. Surely you'd make bail for that?" asked Nick, slouching along behind her as she typed.
"Not if you refuse to put your closes back on for the arraignment, no." said Judy. "'Deez Nuts' is not legally recognised plea, either. The construction crew is infuriating: they had the best access to the house, and several of them have priors for minor offences, but according to this they all checked out on the first round of TIE. With the exception of or dead guy, vacation guy and drunken streaker, all of them were working on the senators other house at the time of the kidnap. I guess they gave good rates, or something."
"Well I doubt she kept them on for their architectural flair." Joked Nick. "Flemish bond on the main house, but non-matching stretcher bond on the extensions? Unforgivable."
Judy looked up, confused and slightly annoyed as she tried to enter names into the spreadsheet.
"The brick-work on the main house doesn't match the two wings, and the walls are only abutting, and not tied into the original structure, so probably a later extension. Same size and color of brick, but different pattern. You didn't notice?"
"I was looking for clues, not trying to find reasons to dislike the home-owner. Stay focused, Nick."
"Ouch, low blow but fair." He said, smiling weakly. "Any other likely suspects in that endless list of names?"
"Not sure, but some familiar names: the private security for the Community is 'Home-safe'. That's the company Dawn Bellwether first met Doug Rames through."
Nicks blood legitimately went cold. "Jesus, you don't think he's involved, do you?"
"Doubtful: he hasn't worked for them for over five years, and Home-safe and its parent company has over twenty-thousand employees in this state alone, they practically run the prison system, but it's an uncomfortable thought, isn't it?" she said, rubbing her throat subconsciously.
Right at the spot where I pretended to bite her. Does she know she's doing that? Did… did I traumatize her a little? Wondered Nick, feeling lousy.
"Well, could be worse." Joked Nick. "It could be those darn timber-wolves!"
"It very nearly was." Muttered ZG, re-appearing from the breakfast room, and helping the racoon who had been re-wiring the phones for trace, to carry a stepladder. "Backwoods Private Security sent one of their ex-Special Forces goons to sniff around, ask if the senator wanted extra security in the wake of the kidnaping, for her or her remaining son. Scavengers, turning up in the wake of tragedy and trying to sell her a three year bodyguard contract. Thankfully, I talked her out of it, but her campaign manager was all for the idea. He didn't seem to think he could trust the feds, for some reason."
"You did threaten to tazer him. Twice." Said the racoon, helping turn the ladder and get it up the stairs, with much cussing in French.
"He was complaining at a Scene of Crime Officer as they worked and thus interfering in the collection of physical evidence, and also, no. I threatened to taze him once, and threatened to shoot him once, get you facts straight, Bert."
"Backwoods? Larry Ulveflokk?" asked Judy. ZG paused, ladder held awkwardly.
"Oh, you've met? Other than at Cliffside asylum?"
"Contracting for the ZPD. Hired nose on the Nighthowler task-force." Said Nick. "Real charmer. Nice only following orders, unmarked body-bag vibe to him."
"You don't know the half of it. The worst thing is, if I was in the senator's position I'd have hired him in a heartbeat: He'd screw up the investigation running around with his hired guns like our crime scene was a Mogadishu backstreet, but if you were looking for a hired goon he's one of the best. I don't want him within a hundred miles of my investigation, but if I was planning to overthrow a third world government or assassinate a president he'd be the third person I'd call."
"Third?" asked Nick. ZG shrugged.
"I work for the federal government, I know people."
"How… how would he even find out about the kidnaping? It's not been announced to the press, and you've buttoned down the crime scene pretty tight.." Asked Judy. ZG shruged, making the ladder wobble as she and the racoon mammal-handled it up the stairs.
"I suspect Darren Williams called him, but I can't prove it. That ass is so used to micro-managing other people's lives he can't resist sticking his snout into my business at every opportunity." Muttered the skunk, cussing as the ladder boinked of every step, scuffing the expensive hardwoods. Nick took pity on her, if not the décor, and moved to help.
"Or he's trying to disrupt the investigation on purpose: he seemed pretty confident that the public sympathy from a kidnapping could win Senator Calopus votes. Maybe he had a hand in it?" asked Nick, picking up one end of the ladder.
"Nick, just because you don't like him doesn't mean-"
"He is a suspect." Said ZG, quietly, confident no-one would hear over the scuff of the ladder on wood. "No alibi, and he's been investigated before for false-flag political operations to win votes: paying activists to dress in the opposing party's tee-shirts and commit violent public acts during protests, setting up realistic fake websites for rival candidates to miss-represent their views, paying to data-mine voter's online activity to tailor election ads to their individual prejudices, bot-nets, deep-fakes, doxing opponents… the problem is, that's all so common in party politics now-a-days we can't tell if he's, well, if he's a suspect or just a regular political scumbag. That's sort of thing that would have seem a huge red flag ten years ago? Now? It's the new normal."
"Jesus, Horrifying political reality that is the 2020's aside, how is he not under arrest?" asked Nick. ZG shrugged.
"There's a few ongoing investigations over suspicious payments, but we just had a mayor hiring wolves to drag people of to an unregulated extrajudicial detainment centre for the perceived greater good, a deputy mayor actively using chemical weapons to try and start a race-war, and an off-duty cop and a small time con artist crash a train full of chemicals into a subway station, if you recall: the DA has bigger problems in the Zootopian political sphere than nasty facebook posts and paid provocateurs breaking windows. He'll get his hour in court, but it's a low priority."
"Assuming he hasn't kidnaped a baby." Added Judy.
"Assuming. And assuming it not really Senator Calopus's political rivals, left or right, or her own party. Or her husband. Or a disgruntled former employee wanting money. Or Aliens, for all we know."
"Wait, do those exist?" asked Nick
"No of course they don't… wait, did you just assume that because I'm a fed I have some sort of x-files, area 51, Mammals In Black knowledge on that?"
"Well, do you?" asked Nick, joking. ZG smiled back.
"Bert, get the neutraliser, he knows too much."
"Forgot to charge it: it was that or my vape. I have some left-over amnestics from the last SCP breach, if that will do?" Joked the racoon.
"No, we'll never get that past the Ethics committee." Smiled ZG.
"Oh my god, you're all bigger nerds than Nick." Said Judy, finishing filling out the T.I.E. info and putting her phone away, before immediately getting it out again. Several missed calls from the folks. She saw. Either I forgot to face-time them when promised, or I've become an aunt for the 47th time: Beth seems to be competing with Mom on whose going to have had the most kids by 25.
"Double amnestics for the rabbit?" Suggested Nick, trying to sneak a glace at Judy's phone, curious "It's okay: She probably counts as D class personnel."
"Says the career felon." Muttered Judy, debating on texting them back before deciding to keep work and private life a little more separate.
"Never convicted." Said Nick, happily.
"Yet." Muttered ZG, struggling with the ladder. Somehow, that felt a lot more threatening coming from her thought Nick. The skunk clearly knew this, and grinned evilly.
To Nicks surprise, they didn't' stop on the first landing, but started up the second set of stairs, forcing him to once again to pick between the steps too big for him, or the half-risers too small for him running along the edge of the stair.
Could be worse, could be in Europe and have those weird higgledy-piggley alternating tread stairs. He thought, sweating and cussing. He glanced up: they were heading for the Loft hatch into the attic.
He glanced sideways to Judy, and then gestured with his eyes and ears, she looked up from her phone, and frowned.
"You're checking the loft?" she asked.
"Yep." Said ZG, popping the p sound.
"Why, is Anne Frank a suspect?" muttered Nick, struggling to get the ladder round the corner of the stairs.
"Poor taste zorro, and no. No, call me old fashioned, but having seen enough old horror movies, I'd like to make sure that we're not walking into a 'the calls are coming from inside the building!' situation before I use this house as our base of operations. Especially given the Senator refuses to move herself, or her other son, out. Colour me paranoid, but I like to actually secure the scene." said ZG
"What, you really think the villain might be hiding in the loft the whole time? Name one time that's ever happened outside a movie!" said Nick.
"Hinterkaifeck." Said ZG, matter-of-factly "The Villisca axe murders, possibly, although that might have been a woodshed. I can think of nine or ten others from the academy without difficulty, a few with un-sub's still at large."
"That one in the triangle last week." Added Judy. "That was a nasty one."
"Yeah, it's hilariously easy to get into loft-spaces unnoticed. Don't worry though, Nick, it's probably unrelated: those cases are mostly killers, not kidnapers."
"Great, because you know, I personally never wanted to sleep ever again." said Nick, he glanced down: the raccoon was wearing a tool-belt, with wire-cutters, an ohmmeter, cable-finder and other electronic kit. "And the fact you're examining the CCTV for signs of tampering while you're up there is, what? Just a bonus?"
"Compared to scaring you? Always. Yes, were going for the CCTV, well spotted. But I do still want to check the loft its own sakes. We… it's not just the suspect: We need to confirm that the child is no-longer on the property."
"You're not suggesting…" said Judy before trailing off, horrified.
ZG shrugged. "Our specialist corpse-sniffing team didn't get any suspicious scent, but let's just say I didn't call in a diving team and dredge the lake just to look for a missing set of garden shears. Remember your last case, Judy? Sometimes a crime isn't the same crime it seems to be. Do not mention it around the Senator… but we don't actually have any strong evidence the child is still alive."
"Well, that's a grim thought. " said Nick, glancing up at the loft door, and swallowing nervously. "And on that note, we need to interview the teenager. Have fun with your spooky loft-space: if you find the headless body of the old lady from Hereditary feel free to leave me out of it."
"Okay, firstly, very poor taste to mention a film that revolves around a death of a child and a grieving mother, given the circumstances, and secondly have you even seen that film Nick?" asked Judy. "Hanging around the teenaged boy is hardly a safe plan in that specific scenario." She said, kicking Nick in the foot lightly. "Come on, let's get the teenager interviewed. Any advice on that, special agent?"
ZG shrugged, setting up the ladder. "Oh, you're listening to my advice all of a sudden? Don't antagonise him, and don't let Nick either. And don't talk down to him: he's a smart kid, if you do, he'll blank you, and he'll get away with it because he knows as a minor he can stop the interview whenever he wants."
"Isn't that suspicious, him telling us to stop the interview I mean?" asked Nick. ZG and Judy, both cops, shared an amused glance. "Ah yes, a teenager, who when told he legally doesn't have to talk unless he wants to, opts to be moody and silent? Unheard off." Said ZG mounting a flashlight to her handgun in preparation for sticking her head into the loft, and resting a foot on the bottom of the ladder.
"Uncooperative witnesses? Must be guilty: people are never jerks for no reason." Said Judy "It's unprecedented, that's why working in a public-facing role is so relaxing. Come on, Nick: we can combine good cop bad cop with thirty something desperately trying to act cool for the kids."
"I'm feeling very attacked right now." said Nick jokingly, following Judy down the stairs and stopping by the teenagers room, door-knob shaped ding in the plaster a silent witness to more than one moody argument, tape marks on front of door evidence that the maternal unit had won the latest skirmish over poster-placement. Nick examined the door in detail, eyes, ears and nose moving. Sniffing. Paint: Acrylics, and modelling glue. Diorama? Table-top game? Model planes? No alcohol or drugs, not sexually active: for a prep-school star athlete he's a little on the nerdy side. No junk food in the room, no unwashed plates or cups: only teenager in the universe who doesn't have dirty laundry on the floor, that I can tell that by scent. And the au-pair has not been in recently, so he's either a neat-freak or the mother believes that forcing him to tidy his own room is character-building. Having met her, I know which one my money is on. He thought, as Judy knocked. To his surprise, rather than a yell or grunt, telling them to ether come in or go away, the door cracked open, revealing an inch wide segment of Asiatic cheetah, tall and lank, sad amber eye staring.
The door opened further, Travis looking down nervously. Not jittery, or defensive, just cautious, Nick thought. He looked and smelt like he'd just been crying, but Nick didn't think it was tactful to mention that. Judy hit him with the good-cop bunny-smile, and showed her badge.
"Hi, officer Judy Hopps, ZPD, and this is Nicolas Wilde, consultant criminologist. We're just here to go-over the statement you previously gave, if that's all right?"
Travis gave them a long, blank stare in the way only cats and teenagers could, and Judy's smile faded very slightly. "Can we please come in, Travis?"
There was a monetary pause, and then Travis shrug-nodded and moved to one side, opening the door fully for them. He was wearing a soccer jersey, sweatpants, and a glum expression. Judy smiled nicely, and stepped in, gesturing Nick to follow, which he did. Travis hovered, awkwardly, before silently offering Judy the chair by his desk, and sitting on the bed himself. The chair was too high for her, but Judy Hopped up without much problem, and then moved over, making room for Nick. Nick glanced down, and shook his head silently: it was a nice gesture and he wanted more than anything to sit by Judy and feel her warmth, but he was too short to sit on it but too tall to jump up easily, it would just be awkward for him. Plus my struggling to get on the chair and stay on without falling might undercut the seriousness of the interview.
Speaking of the interview, Judy made a start, while he lurked ominously, like a bad air, and Travis moved his eyes slowly between Judy and him, trying to hide the fact that he'd been crying, spinning his phone nervously in his hands, the expensive display scuffed and claw-marked. Nick let Judy get on with the basic introductions and obvious questions, and he looked around the room surreptitiously: people could change their speech, style of dress and body-language so easily depending on who they were speaking to and the impression they wanted to give, he knew and relied on that as a con-artist, but the things they chose to surround themselves with in private, that told you a lot about someone. We should carry out all police interviews on the suspect's bedroom: if nothing else the suspects fear that we might be judging them over their pyjamas should give us some psychological edge. He turned his eyes away from the cheetah, nodding slightly to himself as his suspicions were confirmed.
If the door hinted at parental conflict over how the room should look, the room itself proclaimed it. A good sized room: more than half the size of Nick's entire apartment, with an on-suite bathroom; it had been cleaned to within an inch of its life. And clearly there was an undeclared cold-war being fought over how to decorate it: one of the long walls was mostly windows, complete with a balcony door; now obstructed with crime-scene tape as agents worked on the balcony it shared with the nursery. So far so normal, nice view over the lake. The two short walls, however, had clearly been decorated by different people. The one nearest the door to the room, the one guests could see if they looked in from the landing, was dominated by a writing desk with the latest shiny Apple laptop, shelves of school-books above it, and the wall covered with professionally shot family photos, middle-school graduation photo, certificates of academic and sporting merit, and action-photos of Travis mid-way through soccer, lacrosse and kayaking, as well as at track-meets, debate team and math bee's. The photos were artfully arranged, well lit, and mostly black and white, laid out in the same way as the ones in the hall, by a proper interior designer. Look at my amazing son excelling at his posh school. They screamed.
The other short wall, out of sight from the hall, just screamed.
Vintage horror novels in bright, pulpy covers, floor to ceiling, arranged not with the spines facing the room, but on stands to show off the vibrant and tacky delights of the covers. Shelves of them: mint or near mint first editions behind glass, well-thumbed and ragged flea-market copies or new Valancourt re-prints open to the air. Gothic, Antique books of Poe, Arthur Machen and Robert W. Chambers, Lurid 1980's Robert E. Howard reprints, psychedelic 70's Lovecraft covers, every book by Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, and Joe Hill. Several copies of the House of Leaves with different artwork. A whole shelf of Bradbury, Barker and Steven King first editions, including all the barely circulated first editions of the Richard Bachman novels, signed copies of Rage and Blaze pride of place in the centre of the middle shelf. Multiple copies of the same books where there was good cover art by different people: both the Linda Fennimore and Gerry Grace covers of King seeming to be favourites. The bathroom door had a full sized Bernie Wrightson Frankenstein poster on it, and the front halves of the shelves, in front of the books, were covered in horror or fantasy themed miniatures: vinyl Frank Frazetta collectables, horror themed funko-pops, elaborately customised Warhammer models; a full shelf dedicated to each of the four chaos gods. A second far messier desk covered in paints was framed by the shelves, with an illuminated magnifier and modelling glue and scalpels in pots, a gigantic gaming PC lurking under it. Nick glanced sideways. The long wall, opposite the windows and colonised by an invasive growth of fitted Beachwood closets, was a battle-ground between these two ideologies: neat framed photos of family and school downing in a sea of horror film and heavy metal posters and far more Zdzisław Beksiński art that he'd have personally wanted looking down at him while he was trying to sleep. He nudged the bedroom door open with his foot, and glanced behind it.
16 year old male horror fan… Which combination of horror themes and soft-core pornography will it be, I wonder? The Evil Dead poster? Or perhaps the one for the 1981 Heavy Metal movie, Fire and Ice, or some 70's Giallo flick? Ah. 'Electric Wizard, Witchcraft today'. The one with the goat carrying the half-naked tigress. Of course. Pity it's not the 'legalise drugs and murder 'album: I'd love to see Judy's reaction to that written on a poster.
If this was a film, or a crime story, I'd find all this a bad sign in a 'Criminal Minds' sort of way. But frankly, I'd be more suspicious if a teenager didn't have some evidence of rebelliousness in their room: if my mother was Dana Calopus, I'd probably dress like Anton LaVey's fever dreams just to piss her off, in fact the only think that would stop me is the fact LeVay is possibly the only person who's views were further to the right than the Senator's. Compared to that A few posters are par for the course.
He glanced to the bed, halfway along the wall of windows. Not one but two electric guitars, a very cheap Chinese made off-brand one, beat up, well played and covered in band sticklers which, other than Opeth, he didn't recognise, abandoned casually by the bed, and a pristine 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard hung of the wall above it in-between two window-arches.
Nick tired not to drool at that. That was easily four grand of guitar. And thousands of dollars of rare and collectable books, and as for Warhammer I'm still pretty sure that crack is cheaper by mass, better for you, and less habit forming. Good god: rich parents allow you to have a far nicer awkward Goth phase. Well, more awkward metal-nerd in this case, but still.
I normally say that wealth is wasted on the wealthy, but he's the first person in this house that looks like they're actually having some fun with it. Not how I'd decorate if I was spending mommy's cash, but I wouldn't say no to some of the books. Or that guitar. That… that's an older mammal's guitar. A boomer's. Kids now-a-days don't care about Les Paul Classics. It's like the jag e-type, a midlife crisis purchase: his dad's, originally. Nick glanced around, looking at the family photos. Of the professionally framed ones, the mother predominates… but there are only six unframed, printed- out-on-crappy-paper home-made photos of Travis with his parents in this room: all father and son scenes.
Someone is missing his Dad. Not a feeling I can empathise with given my history, but still. Not a happy divorce, it seems.
Nick felt something and glanced up.
Travis was sitting on the bed, watching him watch the room, both him and Nick ignoring Judy as she spoke. Nick felt… some sensation. A cold sort of kinship.
Know that as you watch, you are being watched. Well, ZG said he wasn't dumb. Cheetah, and Red Fox: the most doglike feline and the most catlike canine staring each other down. Single parent home, messy family life: it it wasn't for the age and wealth gap we might even get along. Heck, I've been the lone teenaged predator having to stay quiet and act nice as the cops searched my room, more than once. Does he sense that, looking at me? Or is he just pissed off that some old dude is judging his stuff?
Travis glanced from Nick, to the guitar, then back again.
Screw it. Thought Nick. I promised ZG not to antagonize him, but I need to check…
"That's a really nice guitar." He said, cutting over Judy as she made introductions. "You play it?"
Travis turned to him, staring. Not a glare, not curious, not angry or afraid, just a neutral, sullen, teenage stare.
"No. Double pickups, clean sound. Not what I like. Cheaper guitars give muddier sounds, better for what I like."
"And that would be… what? Sludge? Stoner? Doom?" he noticed the teen's posture change: he was surprised. Nick elaborated. "You've got a lot of metal band's posters around, everything from symphonic metal and folk metal to 90's Black metal… but Electric Wizard in pride of place, and Sleep, Bell Witch and Red Fang stickers on your amp. You must be quite the connoisseur. You ever hear that Melvins/ Acid Bath double album from back in the day? Shadow over Carcosa? Required listening." he said, making up something that he was pretty sure didn't exist, but based on his limited knowledge of the genera would be really cool to a fan if it had. And an insecure teen would rather than been seen dead than admit ignorance on one of his favourite subjects…
Travis hesitated. "Sure… sure I've heard of it. Named after the Robert W. Chambers book?" Travis guessed, lying.
"Ambrose Bierce, but yes. So you don't play that guitar. Why keep it? Is it yours?"
"Nick, I don't think…." started Judy. Nick didn't take his eyes off the cheetah.
"No. Its' not mine." Said Travis, not looking away, "It was my Dad's."
"Steal it?" asked Nick, rolling that dice.
"Nick!" said Judy
"Yes." said Travis, cutting her off. "Mom was going to get it in the divorce, so I took it from the townhouse and told her it was a birthday present from dad. She never even remembers what it is she's got me, so she never noticed. I just wanted something of his, okay? Before she sells it all."
"U-huh? You ever steal anything else?" asked Nick, sniffing carefully.
"Yes. When I was little. It was a phase. I got over it."
"You kidnap your brother?"
"No." said Travis.
Heart rate has been raised since I asked him about the guitar, a control question I knew the answer to. Same with asking him about the non-existent double album. Polygraph; you ask control questions some of them neutral , some of them designed to cause stress, some to force them to lie, and you see which of them your real question gets a closer response to: was his answer to that more similar to the lie, the easy to answer control questions, or the uncomfortable truth?
Nick sniffed. He's stressed, and he's hiding something, but that question was less stressful to him than lying about the double-album. He's probably telling the truth, or at least thinks he is. Plus, he has an alibi: The au pair confirmed she was helping him with his homework at the time of the kidnap. They could be in it together, covering for each-other, but I doubt it. He's a teenaged feline preppy, and she's a 20 something rodent medical student. The age difference alone would make it unlikely they'd trust each other with a secret, never mind the class and species barriers: they may live in the same house, but they move in different worlds.
Nick paused, and then nodded, making a calming gesture with one hand, unsure if he was making it for Judy or for the teenager.
"Okay, well, if it helps you don't smell like you're lying." He said. Travis smiled, barely.
"Thanks." He said, sarcastically. "Is that what you do for a living? As a consultant criminologist? Stand there behind Officer Hopps and tell her things like that?"
Nick shrugged. "More or less. I'm very observant, but I'm not a trained cop."
Judy sighed, "No, no you are not. Okay, let's start over, shall we? Nick, stand where I can see you and don't antagonise the witness, Travis, could you put away you're phone please? I'm sorry, this shouldn't take too long."
The cheetah nodded, and went to turn the phone off, or to flight mode, but then paused, and looked up to Nick, before turning it off, fully off, he noticed.
"You, you can tell if my phone is off, can't you?" asked Travis, looking directly at Nick. "Foxes I mean, you can see electromagnetism. I keep forgetting canines can do that. "
"Wait, what? No they can't" said Judy, with a half laugh "They… wait can you?"
"Er, see is the wrong word. Detect or sense might be a better term. It's a chemical in our eyes, or something. "
"Cryptochrome 1." Said Travis. "And if you're sensing something with your eyes I'd pretty much call that sight. Its why I hate playing against wolves in lacrosse: the field at school is aligned east-west: so they can see the earth's magnetic lines running north-south. Because the lines are evenly spaced, they just need to count the bands they see and bam: perfect depth perception so long as they face east-west."
"It… it's not perfect, but good, I'll concede to that. Mostly it's just annoying, given how many gadgets people have on them at all times." I'd trade it in a second for cat-like reflexes, but I'll not say that out-loud.
Judy frowned. "Any you tell me now? Anything else Nick? The ability to smell colours of taste radio or anything else I should know about?"
"No, just the usual superb sense of smell, taste, hearing and night-vision that you should of course be forever jealous of."
"Okay, one, you don't get to list hearing in that, not to me, your hearing is terrible compared to a rabbit Nick, and as for taste, Hawaiian shirt and a tie? The early 2000's called, they want their horrible mistakes back."
Travis snorted at that, and Nick had to admit, when it came to policing Judy was every bit as good at luring people into a false sense of comfort and security as he was. She could do the good cop, she could do ego-up, ego own, but she excelled, excelled at the quaint small-town hick act, the Colombo thing of making a suspect think you were a big dumb street cop they were smarter than, and so suckering them into saying more than they should.
And it helps her to have the funny little civilian sidekick to bounce off of. He realised. So long as I don't say anything too stupid or aggravate anyone too much, I'm actually an asset here. Go me.
"So, as was saying before I was rudely interrupted. You were going over the timeline of the night of the incident?" she said, notebook open, disarming goofy carrot pen hovering over it. After all, how could anything written with a novelty carrot-pen be used against you in a court of law? And use of work 'incident' not to stress the witness by saying abduction? Oh she's good. What a waste of natural con-artist talent!
"Er… I got back from school for the weekend Friday, around five. I'm border, not a day-student." He said, as if feeling the need to distinguish himself form whatever lower order sends their kids to a posh school but only nine to five. The plebs! Thought Nick, amused.
"And this would be…. The Forman-Trinity school? On Broad-street and Wall?"
"That's the old campus, Atherton-Wang Hall: I have alternating semesters there and at the Cherryton Sports-campus outside the city. I spend Michaelmas term there for the spring sporting program, and Hillary and Trinity term in the city." He noticed they confused looks, and sighed. "It's an old school, it has dumb fancy names for everything. You don't start at the school, you matriculate, you don't study, you read. Stupid crap like that. It's so dumb, why can't they just speak normally?"
"U-huh? And you come back every weekend?" asked Judy, writing.
"If I don't have a match or track meet, yes. There's nothing to do there at weekends other than study, which is the point I guess, or some club or other. We don't even get our own rooms, because they think shared dorms are character-building. Twenty grand per year to study, and you're sharing."
"U-huh? And how'd you get back? You don't have a drivers licence. Bus? Uber?"
He seemed amused by this. "Got a lift with a friend: Hector's driver was picking him up, so I tagged along."
"And this would be… Hector Van Horten?" she said, reading off her notes. "Has a home the next cul-de-sac over? Was here on Friday from…. Five until eleven, according to your statement? Playing computer-games?"
"Arma III mil-sim, 40K mod. A friend of ours invited us. I was being streamed, that wombat guy on Twitch, if you need to check."
"And you went to bed after that, and saw or heard nothing on the day before the event? No one suspicious or hanging around the house on the Friday?"
"Not unless it was on the screen, no. I… Hector's driver might have noticed something, he was waiting outside."
"For six hours?" asked Nick, a little appalled. Travis shrugged.
"Heck said it was okay for him to go, but he knows if he goes back to Hector's house he'll just be waiting around there until his shift ends, so he just puts on smooth jazz and reads in the car. He's on fifteen bucks an hour, so I don't think he minds."
Fifteen bucks an hour? I wouldn't mind either! Thought Nick. Darn you Bogo, giving that raise money away to the world's worst mystic.
"And on Saturday?" asked Judy. Travis sighed, but went over it with a rehearsed flatness that suggested he'd said it a dozen times for a dozen other cops.
"Woke up early, around eight, went kayaking on the lake, didn't see anything. Mom was at work on her campaign in the city before I woke. Finished kayaking around ten, ate breakfast, showered, started my homework, got bored, ate lunch, played Mario-cart online with some friends until mom called Kamila around four to check on the baby and check I was working on my essay. I wasn't. Kamila switched off the console and made me work in dad's study from about four until… until it happened around seven. After that Mom yelled at me to lock myself in my room, Kamila too, and we stayed in our rooms until the cops arrived. I think mom was at the front gate waiting for them, but I'm not sure. "
"I see. In her statement your mother said she locked herself in here with you?"
"Yes, but only for a while: first she searched the house calling for Owen, although I don't know why given he can't talk, then I think she went and waited by the front gates for the cops, before she got nervous an came back here for me. She then heard sirens and went to the front gates to buzz the cops in." he said. Nick sniffed. He's upset. A little pissed off that his mother left him all alone after a kidnapping? Or is he upset that she felt the need to check in on him like he's a baby.
"I see? And you didn't leave the study between four and the event , at all?"
"No, I left a few times to go the the bathroom, or get soda, oh, and to pick up my uber eats. But not for more than a few minutes."
"Uh-huh? And you didn't see or hear anything suspicious? No one else out on the lake when you were kayaking, no one around the house or anything like that?"
"No. well… some birdwatches on the far shore of the lake, by the boat-ramp, but there's always birdwatchers there. No one came to the house that I noticed other than my uber eats."
"Uh-Huh? And is that a regular thing? The uber eats, I mean?"
"Most weekends, yes. And yes, I've called the same restaurant before and the delivery guy was different this time, I've already told this to the feds and given them a description."
"Okay, I see. It was in the briefing material the feds gave me, but can you go over it again for me? In your own words?" asked Judy. Travis sighed.
"I usually get take out from the same sushi place because the delivery driver is a cute female cheetah, and they do good tuna rolls. This time the car and driver was different: large SUV, sketchy looking spotted hyena, couldn't tell if they were male of female because you never can with hyenas. Claimed he'd forgotten the gate code and asked for me to remind them, and no, I didn't tell them, I just buzzed them in."
Nick perked up at this. "Sketchy how?"
Travis shrugged. "I don't know, just sketchy." He said, demonstrating why eye-witness testimony is like pulling teeth. "The drivers are always predators, because why would a herbivore work for a carnivore restaurant: but usually the uber eats drivers are teens working a first job or immigrants; but this one wasn't. Big expensive car, too, black escalade, and just weird vibe from the guy. The sushi wasn't properly refrigerated either, not that I guess that matters, given what else happened."
Nick and Judy shared a look. That didn't seem like a normal delivery driver
The detail on the food being improperly stored wasn't in the version he gave to the feds. Thought Judy, twitching with excitement. He probably didn't think it was important enough to mention. That's the most expensive sushi restaurant in the area that uses uber eats, they'd never risk their reputation on an error like that if the driver was legitimate! This could be a real lead! This is why you re-interview witnesses multiple times with different interviewers!
She noted it down, and then asked. "Did you complain about that? The food being too warm, I mean?"
"Er… no?" asked Travis. "Why is that important? I was upset, but I was more annoyed that the cute driver wasn't there, to be honest. I mean I thought about it, but this was right about when the internet went down and I didn't want to waste my mobile data: Mom's got me on a limited contract, to try and teach me to be thrifty, or something…."
Judy flicked back thought her notebook, comparing that to the interview he'd given the feds earlier. "Wait? The internet went down when the driver arrived? I mean, did it go down before, or after he was here?"
"I…" Travis frowned. "I don't remember. Why, do you think this guy had something to do with it?"
This guy thought Nick. You're assuming they're male, but sexual dimorphism runs the other way in spotted hyenas. You yourself realised that earlier and said you couldn't tell, but now you're letting yourself fall into the trap of thinking of them as male: if you keep repeating it and referring to them as male, you'll start to miss-remember them as male.
"I… I can't say." Said Judy. "That's something we'd need to eliminate for our enquiries-"
"Are you saying that because you really suspect him, or because he's a pred?" asked Travis, glaring.
Ah. Thought Nick. The elephant in the room, and not a fake psychic this time. Yeah, I've heard the rumour that Senator Calopus only adopted a cheetah son to win the predator vote... and if I've heard that, how many time must he have had that thrown in his face? Kids are cruel: rich kids doubly-so. First time he's said "pred" rather than "predator" or "carnivore", too. Someone has a complex about being a predator in a herbivore society.
Join the club, kid, the therapy bills are immense but you should manage.
Nick glanced sideways. Judy had frozen up at that, looking very guilty. That said, being a herbivore doesn't get you thought life without a few hard knocks either, so it seems.
"You're the rabbit cop form that press conference, aren't you?" asked Travis, quietly. "I remember you."
Judy took a deep breath. "Yes, yes I am, and I'm not proud of it. Bellwether set me up, but that's no excuse: I walked right into it because of my prejudices. Ones I didn't even realise I had, and it's shameful. No, Travis, the suspect's species is not a matter for consideration except for when I pertains to details of the case."
Travis stared, and then glanced to Nick, who nodded slightly, and put his paw on the back of Judy's chair. She's an ally, if not a perfect one. He tried to signal. Travis nodded back after a moment, and relaxed a little.
"My mom, not Bellwether. My mom set you up: it might have been on Bellwethers instruction, and she would take credit in front of the cameras, but my mom organised all of the press interviews Dawn Bellwether was involved with. They… they paid for this house. All this stuff. I guess we're both guilty, in that case." Said Travis, bitterly.
Guilt and self-hated, and he's what? Sixteen? I mean I started at nine, but it's still harsh to see. Thought Nick. Thankfully, Judy remembered they were there to interview, and got on with it before things to got too depressing.
"Okay, so do you remember anything else about the day?" she asked.
"No, Mom came back just before I got my food and was on a call with her PA Carren from before she even walked in the door, I could hear her from the study. She was on the phone from the moment she got in until right before she called Kamila over to check on Owen, and that's when she… when she noticed he was gone." Said Travis, voice trembling slightly.
Stress hormone spike, but also oxytocin. Thought Nick. Whatever else, he does care about his little brother.
Judy also seemed to get that vibe, and there was nothing else to ask about that day, so she moved to closing questions.
"Okay, so, Travis, you've been very helpful, but I've got to run thought some basic questions before we wrap it up, okay? So, can you think of anyone with any reason to want to do harm to your mother or her political campaign?"
"Only anyone who's ever seen her speak publicly or read her manifesto." He said, fidgeting. Judy hesitated, but wrote that down without comment.
"Anyone, anyone more personal than that? Despite the details of this case, Kidnaping is a very intimate crime, and the perpetrator usually know the victim. Anyone with a personal grudge, rather than a political opinion?"
Travis shook his head, but then paused, as if thinking.
"What?" asked Nick.
"Mom's camping manager didn't want her to have the baby." Said Travis, almost a whisper.
Nick's pricked his years up in surprise.
"Darren Williams?" asked Judy. Travis nodded.
"He didn't think the timing was right: not in an election year. He thought it was a distraction, said the pregnancy was why Bellwether got a head in the party primaries and she didn't. And when Bellwether got arrested and mom took over the party in the Zootopia area he wanted mom to get a full time nanny for Owen so she could return to work faster. He… he was not a fan. I think part of that was, at least at first, the baby brought mom and dad closer together."
"Uh-huh, and why would that be a problem?" asked Judy. Travis scoffed.
"Darren's always had a thing for my Mom. It's really creepy. You don't notice it at first but once you do you see it all the time."
Nick took that with a pinch of salt: a kid going through his parents' divorce was always going to want to see an outsider as the one to blame, so on some level, he wasn't surprised to hear that.
Still he thought, frowning, that does cast a new light on just why Darren is so keen to control every aspect of the senators life…
Judy, more professional, didn't comment in any way other than to nod and write that down.
"And about your father…" started Judy.
"My father doesn't have anything to do with this." Said Travis, quietly. "I don't want to talk about that, because he's done nothing wrong."
"Uh-huh, okay but-" Judy said.
Travis was standing up in front of them. He didn't stand up, he was standing: No transition, no visible movement. One moment sitting on the bed, the next stood up, arms at his sides, face unreadable, fists balled. Some dander, no more than a few stray hairs floating down, indicated that he'd passed thought the intervening space. And just like that, Nick and Judy were reminded that they were in a room with a predator more than twice their combined weight, and one that unlike Clawhauser absolutely could move at sixty miles per hour if he wanted to.
Nick glanced to Judy and moved sideways, quickly, protectively. Her fire-arms certificate hadn't come back yet, what with her just getting re-hired after the whole Nighthowler thing, but she was armed: baton and ZPD issue pepper spray, a more powerful irritant that that little fox-repellent can.
She didn't reach for it, didn't move, but she wasn't' frozen up: wasn't tharn; she was just watching Travis calmly.
He's testing us. Nick realised. Seeing how we'd respond to a perceived threat: just like I did after the press conference to see how Judy would respond. And now he knows that whatever her attitude towards preds, she's not afraid of him, and that I'm protective towards her. She passed, I failed. He is smart
Travis seemed to realise that this was a touch too aggressive, and backed down, un-balling his fists, and slumping his shoulders.
"My father has done nothing wrong." He repeated, calmly, his voice never rising. "And I've decided I'm tired. I do not want to talk to you any more, please leave.
"Er, okay Travis but-"
"I'm a minor with no adult representative present and I'm not under arrest, I know my rights, I don't have to talk to you. I'm ending this interview. Please leave. Now." Said Travis, neither angry nor calm, just insistent.
"They teach you to lawyer up that fast in posh school?" muttered Nick, mostly to himself as he helped Judy down of her chair. Travis shot him a blank look, as he walked them to the door.
"Yes, of course." Said Travis, shutting the door behind them.
They stood there for a moment on the landing, looking awkwardly at the door, before Nick looked down to Judy, cocking his head on one side.
"He… he is not a happy kid, is he?" She said.
"No, I guess money can't buy you happiness, just far nicer stuff to be miserable with. You think he was telling the truth?" he said, opening the next door, the one to the nursery: they both peered past at the sad empty room, covered in scale-bars and reference point stickers for crime-scene photos, before Nick shuddered, and closed the door again.
"You seemed to, that was good enough for me." Said Judy.
"I'm not infallible: I fell for Bellwether too, up close and in person, remember?" said Nick, glancing at Travis's door. "Did you catch the bit about the sushi, Carrots?"
"No restaurant that expensive would let a sloppy delivery go ahead, not to this neighbourhood, that's how you get bad reviews, if not lawsuits and surprise visits from the health inspector. That driver was bogus. We need to find him."
"You're assuming it's a him. Spotted hyena, remember?" said Nick, noticing a cupboard under the steps leading up to the top floor and, being a nosy person, opening it up and having a poke around in it while no one was watching. Old toys, vacuum, some winter clothes in storage… hello, what do we have here? He thought, finding a stack of cardboard boxes, and opening up the first one.
"Don't remind me, I was in the academy with spotted hyenas. There are some things you just don't expect to see in the ladies showers no matter how well prepared you thought you were." She muttered. "And what exactly are you doing, Nick? Eliminating Harry Potter as a witness?" asked Judy.
"Looking for The People Under the Stairs." He said, kneeling and checking something out: a series of photo albums, neatly boxed up and tucked away in a dark corner. Curious, he opened them.
Pregnancy Photos, the Senators, professionally shot that… hurt. Seeing her happy like this, with her husband and teenaged son... That makes this hurt. She's such an unpleasant person, with horrible, reactionary politics… but this… this makes her seem a person, with real feelings. And that makes me feel just awful.
Huh, the teenager looks too young for this to be recent photos… and why aren't these on display? All the other baby and pregnancy photos were, and this is a professional shoot, not cheap.
He checked the dates, neatly printed under each photo: over two years old. What was that the au pair said? She was hired for the Senators first pregnancy?"
"Why are you making so many horror movie references today?" asked Judy. "You were at it even before we met Travis and his big wall O' scary."
"Because domestic normality is terrifying. Because I don't like the suburbs. They're too empty, too quiet, the architecture is too repetitive, I can't navigate or work out where I am. Its spooky, like that 'the backrooms' creepypasta. I'm out of my environment, and that makes me uneasy. Also, we're in a house that's too big, too empty, by a cold dark lake, in the suburbs. You ever see a horror film set in a mid-town brownstone? No, it's always a big fancy house in the suburbs, where some nice herbivore family with a sceptical dad, sensitive mom and 2.4 children including a creepy little girl, and they find out from the relator that there's been seventeen unsolved murders, strange noises in the crawlspace, and it's built on a Native American burial ground and they go 'wow, what a deal, sign me up for that' and move in anyway. You'd never see an inner-city family behave like that: they'd bug out before the first ghost could arrive. It's always a big house in the suburbs in the scary movies."
"Not true: sometimes it's an old farmhouse in the back of beyond filled with killer rednecks. Speaking as someone who grew up in a big old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, I was regularly surprised and disappointed by the lack of sexy collage kids wandering onto our land and all but begging to be murdered. It's like Hollywood has lied to us, or something."
Nick snored, looking through the photos. "Please tell me you didn't have a big old barn full of rusty sharp old farm implements swinging ominously in the wind?"
"Of course we did, everyone does: I made a play-house and box-fort in ours. Oh, don't look at me like that Nick, it's not what you city slickers think: less 'we want to have scary rusty sharp stuff everywhere, tetanus be darned' and more your mom shouting at your dad to stop buying post-holers, we already have seven and you only need to put up new fence posts about twice a year, and day saying, 'yeah, but this is a slightly different size of post-holer, what if I suddenly need it one day and don't have one? I ain't paying those rental rates' and you repeat that for seven or eight generations. Farmers never throw anything away. Never, not if there is the slight chance it might be useful. That why all the fences on every farm ever are held together by random scraps of wire and there is an old toilet or kitchen-sink used as a bird-bath or flower pot. You know that meme with the guy shaking his hand no, and then in the next panel looking at the camera and pointing yes? That's farming: throw that weird rusty thing from 1928 away: no. Use it to prop up your hundred-grand tractor because you're too cheap to buy a tire jack: yes." she shifted, awkwardly.
"You get the bit about them locking themselves in their bedrooms?" asked Judy.
"Separate rooms? Yes. And the mother neglecting to mention she was searching the house, and not with Travis, right after the kidnapping was discovered? Could just be it slipped her mind due to stress, but still: everyone has an alibi, give or take a few minutes, up until they notice the baby is missing at seven, and then suddenly for about fifteen minutes all three people in the house are out of each other's presence, right after the kidnapping is discovered? Plenty of time to alter evidence or meet with an accomplice."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Then again, if it was my baby missing, I'd search the house first and then run back and hug my other kid too, so it's not so suspicious in that light. What… what have you got there?" Asked Judy.
Nick closed the album. His instinct was to hide it from Judy. Just looking at it felt voyeuristic.
"Not sure Carrots. Judy, when we spoke to the au pair, did you notice what she said about being hired? About when she was hired?"
"For the Senators first pregnancy? Yes. It's quite sad, didn't you read about it in the briefing material?"
"I… assume I was running late for my therapist and only skimmed it. Sad how?"
"Oh, she's got a faulty chromosome, or something. Has an auto-abortive disorder: she reaches the final stages of pregnancy she starts producing stress hormones uncontrollably. Her body interprets it as being under attack and aborts the foetus in the third trimester to increase her odds of survival. It took a lot of experimental hormone therapy for her to carry to term. Her… her husband is in obstetrics and fertility treatments, and he thought he had the ratio or hormones for the treatment right three or four years ago. H-He was wrong. They spent the best part of half a million and went through two failed pregnancies before they got it right."
"That's… that tragic." Said Nick swallowing. "I… I've hear of canines re-absorbing young in the womb due to stress, but it almost never happens now a days. It's like dying in child-birth: it's medieval. it's just so shocking to think that something like that could happen to someone despite modern medicine."
Judy nodded. "Yeah, reabsorption in rabbits used to be fairly common before modern treatments, but we don't talk about it. It's just so horrible to think that something like that could still happen. So you can see why she's even more protective over the baby that normal? Nick, are you okay?"
Nick took a deep breath. "We need to get that baby back, Judy."
"I… what happened Nick? I thought you didn't like the Senator."
"I don't, but no-one deserves this. This… this just became real for me, carrots." He said, putting the photos album back in the box and standing. "She's rich, she's a herbivore, she's the exact opposite of every belief I have, but it turns out we have something in common: I know what it's like living in a household with a single mother hanging by a thread. Come on: let's solve this case and move on, this just stopped being fun."
At this point there was a clatter from above them, and a string of expletives in Spanish. Nick and Judy poked their heads out of the cupboard just in time to see a stepladder slide down the stars from the floor above and get caught when the steps took a turn.
There was a moments pause, then a single, quieter curse.
"Mierda. A Little help?" said ZG's voice from the loft. Judy rushed to get the ladder and help, Nick following a little more slowly, looking up and grinning.
"That's said, I guess you need to find the funny side of life even more in the dark times, wouldn't you agree, special agent?"
"Mister Wilde, if you're going to stand around talking like that instead of helping you can consider yourself off the case I… oh crap… despite appearances I am in complete control of the situation. Carl I am going to castrate you with a fork if you don't help me!" said ZG, somewhat muffled. A very large black and white tail and a pair of feet were currently decorating the loft-hatch, waving frantically in search for a ladder that was no longer there.
"This is why you have someone on the bottom of the ladder at all times." Said Nick, jokingly, as he helped Judy get the stepladder back up.
"I said that. see, I said that…." said Bert the racoon, currently doing his best Scar from the Lion King impression as he lay flat on his stomach holding onto ZG's arms. "I said this would happen… didn't I Carl?"
ZG glared at him. "So what, Nostradamus, you want a medal? I… something just touched my foot, is that the Ladder?"
"Yes, I've got the bottom." Said Judy, calling up "It should be steady now."
"Much obliged." Muttered ZG, climbing down. And doing her best to maintain her dignity while covered in cobwebs and descending a stepladder in a mini-skirt. Judy looked away, embarrassed for her. Nick, however, seem to find this quietly hilarious.
"Nice beaver." He called up cheekily.
"Thanks, his name is Carl and he works for the Bureau's Operational-technology division." ZG said, waving a paw at the hi-vi clad beaver, who tipped his hard-hat to Nick as he helped the skunk down the steps. "Him and Bert and the OTD boys have been over every inch of this wretched place's electronics looking for clues." She said, stepping off the bottom step and dusting off the shoulders of her suit-jacket with an affronted glare at the cobwebs.
"Any luck?" asked Judy, now stuck holding the ladder as Carl and Bert climbed down.
"No, not a trace of tampering other than the one cut in the fibre-optic. Ether our perp knew exactly what he was doing, or they're the luckiest son of a gun in the city. Do I have cobwebs in my fur?" ZG asked, glaring up angrily and turning, trying to see the top of her own head.
"Yes, said Judy, the exact same time as Nick said no. ZG glared, wiped a hand across her head, snout to neck, and then rubbed the resulting pawfull of cobwebs onto Nick, who squealed.
"Right in the back! Ew, Why? I… that's really hard to reach!"
"Any luck with Travis? At what stage did he kick you out?" asked ZG, grinning, while Nick spun in circles trying to get the webs off his back.
"When we asked about his dad. We got every other question we wanted in. Even got some new info on our un-identified uber-eats driver."
"Really? Well that's good, upload it to SLUETH and tag the relevant people. I-" there was a ping for ZG's mobile phone, and she checked it, and then frowned, cocking her head and pursing her lips.
"Hummm, speaking of the father, as the divorce has yet to settle on custody, he's been informed on the kidnapping and interviewed as one of the victim's two legal guardians. And now that he's found out we're running the investigation from here while we set up a phone trace, he's apparently just driven into the gated community and is heading up the street in his Mercedes as we speak. Excuse me, I need to go diffuse this before he and Dana eat each other in front of my agents and…." she paused, and looked up, an evil grin on her face.
"… and someone needs to keep him busy while I get the senator wrangled and briefed on his arrival so she doesn't explode when she sees him. Judy, Nick… Nick stop that, you look like a kid chasing their tail, its making me dizzy…why don't you two head him off in the front garden? After all, he does still need to be interviewed by the ZPD…."
"Run interference, got it!" said Judy, saluting and jogging off down the stairs. Nick sighed, and followed.
"Stairs, why did it have to be stairs?" he muttered, awkwardly hobbling along on the too small steps.
It only took them a moment to get down the steps and in the hallway, dodging the federal agents decorating it, and out onto the wide gravel driveway, the stones clacking under-foot. And not a moment too soon, as a brand-new silver CLA Coupé pulled up at the automated gates and was immediately flanked by a large wolf and a black bear with identical dark suits and H&K MP5's who seemed seriously interested in confirming it was really Dr Mortimer Calopus before they'd let the car in, even going so far as to check the back seats, under the car, and making him pop the trunk before letting him enter, presumably in case a mad axe murder was luring under the spare tire. After much swearing and waving of his driver licence, the good doctor was granted entrance, and the car swept up then driveway, crunching and swooshing on the gravel.
Nick looked own, and scrunched his toes, claws digging into the gravel with a noise, and then looked sideways, at the windows of the house. Travis and Kamila both said they were in the study, working on Travis's homework. The window is right there, front of that wing, by the front door: with all this gravel, even in pitch darkness with the headlights off, you're not getting a car up to the house without them hearing, even if you know the gate code. So either the kidnaper didn't drive up to the house, or something weird is going on with everyone's version of events.
Nick's musing's got interrupted by the slam of car doors, and the Dr Mortimer Calopus MD was bearing down on him, glaring. He was tall, for a blackbuck antelope, with made him seem ridiculously large compared to a fox or rabbit. Dark furred and long-antlered compared to Dana, which was to be expected for that particular species sexual dimorphism, what he did seem to have in common with his ex-wife was a steely glare and the strong aura that people just didn't get in his way, such things were simply not possible, to the point that Nick was concerned that if he tried to bar his entrance to the house he'd simply get trodden on. He also, like his ex, was impeccably dressed in expensive clothes that were crumpled and smelt like they'd been slept in, and had bags under his eyes that indicated that however much time they had been slept in, it wasn't nearly enough.
"Where is she? Well where is she?" he said, yelling at Nick as he hooked his Ray-Bans over the v of a salmon pink Ralph Lauren with sweat-stains under the arms. "What's the bitch done with my son? I- You! Out of my way! Get off me!" he said, confirming Nicks fear by trying to physically barge past Judy to get to the door.
"Sir! Sir I am an officer of the ZPD! If you don't stop that right now I will place you under arrest." Said Judy, one hand held out to him at shin height, shoving his leg away from her as he tried to stride forwards, the other hand resting on her baton. Nick stepped back, partly to give her room for a take down, but mostly to enjoy the view if she did decide to deck him.
Well, that answers my question on what sort of person would want to sleep with Dana Calopus: someone just as over-confidant and self-centred.
Oh god, does that describe me?
Dr Calopus looked down at Judy, frowning, and looking past her towards the door occasionally as if seriously considering risking it and barging past, before seeming to realise that assaulting a police officer in front of the feds would be a very bad career move. "I thought this case was being handed federally?" he asked.
"It is: we're the liaison with local law enforcement. Officer Judy Hopps, ZPD, Nicholas Wide, Consultant Criminologist. Could we have a moment of your time, Dr Calopus?" asked Judy, in that way police had of asking that really isn't a request. The large antelope paused, clearly undecided and confused now his plan to barge in shouting had been stopped, and then sagged and nodded, letting Judy to lead him off away from the house. Nick followed at a polite distance: i.e. one close enough to sniff at him and size him up, but far enough away he wouldn't be noticed dong it.
Well he's stressed as all hell and hasn't slept in a couple of days, but that would be true if he was a victim or a perpetrator. Diesel exhaust residue trapped in this fur and clothes, and the fine particulate mix of hot metal metal and hot mammal you only get riding the subway: he's come from the city; took public transport to get out of the CBD and then drove the rest of the way, stopped for fuel and canned coffee, but not food. Just what you'd expect for a concerned parent: stay up all night worrying and when you find the location the Feds are running the investigation from you drive straight out and demand to be included in events.
So why is there tree-pollen on you? You've been somewhere other than the city the past few days. I wonder how easy it would be to snatch the kid from here, stash them somewhere, and then drive back into the city in time to be there when the feds check your location. An hour? Ninety minutes, tops. Thought Nick, frowning. But I don't smell the kid on you, and you have not showered or changed clothes since the event, I can tell. Then again, a smart, forensically aware mammal would go jogging, get a set of clothes nice and sweaty, put them away, do the crime, shower thoroughly, and then change back into the sweaty clothes to literally throw of the scent. And you're a medical doctor. Researcher, too; I'd bet you're more forensically aware then the average criminal. Clean hands, even when he's falling over tired and stinky, as you'd expect for a doctor. Yes, I suspect cleaning up after yourself is an ingrained habit, Dr Calopus. If you were involved, you'd have taken steps to cover your tracks, and barging up to the house screaming at your ex to let you in does seem like a good way to throw off suspicion…
While Nick was musing, Judy led the doctor around to the side of the house, in a quiet shady spot near the bottom of the steps up to the veranda. She did not, Nick noticed, lead him far enough around to see the police tape or the smashed window of his son's nursery, what was probably a smart move on her part, Nick thought, as he took up a position almost hidden in the overflowing flowering vines. Judy indicated towards the bottom step of the stairs, and after a moment's hesitation Dr Calopus sat down, and then to Nick's surprise put his face in his and slumped forwards, sighing.
"Oh god, I shouldn't have come here, should I? I just drove all the way here and now I'm here I haven't a clue why I came."
"Humph, I was about to ask you why you' come, sir, but given that statement I won't bother." Said Judy, remaining standing so she was a closer height to the doctor, who even sitting still towered over her and Nick. She got her notebook out and jotted own what he'd said and her response.
"So, Dr Calopus, as I mentioned my name is Judy Hopps, and I'm the liaison between the federal investigation and local law-enforcement agencies. Now, I can see you're clearly very tired and emotional, but I'm going to have to go over the statement you gave to the federal agents and confirm some details. I'd like to do that now, if that's all right sir?"
The doc rubbed at his eyes with both hands, before un-facepalming and looking blearily up at Judy, before waving a hand.
"Sure, why not? What the hell good am I doing here anyway? Ask your questions, officer Hopps." He muttered, rubbing at his neck, as if trying to get out a crick from driving.
Which also gives you an excuse to move about and look pained, a good way to hide any obvious visual tells. Thought Nick. And between the flowers and BO I'm not going to be picking up all the changes in scent. That said, people are very bad a lying when they're tired: the can't make up stuff on the fly as well, or remember what line they need to stick to, so swings and roundabouts I guess.
Judy nodded, and started the interview. "So, Dr Calopus, according to the statement you gave the feds, on the day of the incident you were in central zootopia all day?"
"Yes, of course." He said, glaring. Judy paused, and then smiled sweetly and asked. "And, would you care to elaborate on that? Please just run thought the day, in your own words." She asked, politely, the unspoken get on with it artfully hidden. The doctor sighed, and then continued in a sing-song voice that stopped just short of sarcasm.
"I woke up at six and was at work at seven: I'm staying in the Beekman while the divorce is finalised, so my wakeup call and breakfast order will be on record, and no doubt I'm on cctv about a billion times in the quarter hour between leaving my room and arriving at the hospital. Arrived at the ZU Irving medical centre to check with my secretary for any messages just after seven, and then took my students on morning rounds, then checked on the subjects of the cohort study on ungulate fertility I'm running, that would take me up to eleven. Had a bagel and some coffee and back to work: checked in on the hormone-therapy lab my post-doc students are running from half-eleven till one, lunch, wheatgrass and quinoa salad, consultations with private practice patents in the afternoon. Final private practice patent was at five, finished the consultation but ten to six. Hit the gym in the hospital for half an hour, showered, got a call from my lawyer at quarter to seven letting me know that my dear ex-wife is after my patents in the divorce, stormed back up from the gym to my office to call her and let her know what my opinion on that was, the grasping bitch hung up on me around seven, and every moment I was in the hospital was on CCTV. So unless you're suggesting I could teleport form the hospital to here and take my own son in the time it took her to hang up on me and walk up the stairs, I think I have an alibi, officer."
"Call or web-call?" Asked Nick. The antelope looked over surprised, having apparently not noticed him leaning back in the vines.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Call, or web call. Video call, or audio? Phone, or voice over IP."
"Teams, I think. Why? Why the hell would it matter?"
Nick shrugged. "No reason."
"What, are you suggesting I wasn't calling form where I claimed to? Like I was using a VPN or something?"
"Well, now you mention it…"
"I was visible in the phone call, you moron! I was clearly visibly in my office on the call, seconds before the kidnaping was discovered. Dana could see me, idiot! Are you simple or something?"
"Green screens exist. And even without them you can set personalised backgrounds in Teams…"
"And the CCTV? The patients I was speaking to? The security guards at the Hospital who saw me leave, what are they? Scotch mist?" asked the doctor, sarcastically. Nick hesitated.
"That, that I can't explain away."
"Well you see…" started the doctor, before pausing and glaring at Nick.
"Wait, were you going to say 'yet' in that sentence?" he asked.
"What? No of course not." said Nick, who totally was. Judy sighed, and broke them up before they could fight.
"Okay, I think we're got all the information we need on timelines and alibies, thank you, so let's move onto motives, Dr Calopus. Can you think of anyone who may wish to do harm to you, your wife, or your family?"
"More so that we're doing to each other? Well, half of the left want to stone my wife in public over her policies, and half of her own party want to join them because than think she threw Bellwether to the wolves rather than try to defend her. My superiors at the hospital want her thrown under a bus because if the divorce suit awards her a share of my patents, and not just a share or my earnings from them, then that could be a potently profitable technique out of their hands… oh, and when she discovered my… indiscretion with Dr Clarkei, she decided to make it personal and e-mail certain photos out to patients to try and humiliate her, so in addition to the divorce proceedings Jana… sorry, Dr Clarkei, is suing her for harassment. So most of the city, would be my guess."
"I see." Said Judy. "And if she were to win control over your patents, or at least the income from them, in the divorce?"
"As things currently stand, I'd lose around two million dollars over the next five years, another five million or so in the decade after that, thank you for reminding me, officer."
"That much?" asked Nick, surprised. The doctor shrugged. "Fertility is big bucks, always, back to when we were in caves carving figurines of females with huge tits. You want to get rich in medicine, do what they do in the TV industry and focus on sex: mammals that cant or aren't having it want a cure or to get pregnant, mammals who are getting some want it to be better, or not to get pregnant, or for the itching and embarrassing rash to go away. It's where the money is, always has been."
"I see. So you could really use two million dollars tax free right about now?" asked Nick.
"Oh, get bent foxy." Said the doctor, pointing with his sunglasses. "I'm one of the top fertility researchers in the country, I'll manage just fine without needing to resort to blackmail or kidnap, pre-nup or no."
"Uh-huh?" said Judy, writing that down. "So, does the pre-nup say anything about custody?" she asked.
Dr Calopus stood up, face like thunder.
"This interview is over." He said, marching away. "I know my rights, I'm not talking to you without a lawyer."
"Okay. Have a nice day." Said Nick, before doing his best Colombo impression.
"Oh, by the way, your good friend Dr Clarkei… does she have an alibi for the day of the kidnaping? Because it seems like maybe your alibi is a little too good and while I don't want to say the word accomplice…"
"Oh, oh really? Hey fox, if you like words try these ones: expensive slander lawsuit. Where is that skunk at? I feel a sudden need to talk to someone who is actually looking for my son rather than standing about making stupid accusations." He said, stalking off in the direction of the house.
"Err, no I don't think you want to…" started Judy in a panic, before Nick looked around and nudged her and nodded. Around the corner of the house, out of sight of the doctor now he had moved back towards the front door, ZG was sitting on the kitchen door step, smoking and waving a paw at them in a frantic "Don't tell him where I am" manner.
"Err, I don't think you want to waste time trying downstairs, I think she was in the attic checking the cctv." Said Judy, grinning nervously.
"The attic? She's up there, really?" asked the doctor.
"Er, not sure, but I'm sure she was was a moment ago-" Started Judy. The antelope didn't even let her finish, but just strode straight in the front door in the direction of the stairs.
Nick looked to Judy. Judy looked to Nick. They both shrugged and walked over to the back-door.
Cops, Pred's and other undesirables to the tradesman's entrance. Thought Nick, half amused. I mean if you're ZG I guess you're technically both.
Judy went to greet ZG, but the agent held up a paw, shushing her, and cocked an ear, theatrically. They all paused, and listened in.
In the breakfast-room, Darren Williams was having a phone call, one he seems anxious to keep quiet, apparently unaware that the windows were all open and that Nick, Judy and ZG were too short to be seen by him as he peered out, phone to cheek.
"No, no this is an unmitigated disaster! The house is swarming with cops and I know if I leave for just one second they'll get Danna to say or do something she shouldn't. I… are you listening? I physically can't leave, you need to deal with it! They're digging into where everyone was when it happened and if they ask me for an alibi... it's the feds Bob, not some doughnut-munching mall cop, I can't just threaten or bribe this away. I, look, are you stupid? Want me to spell it out? I. Can. Not .Leave Bob. You need to deal with it. Just, just look, how quickly can you find another location and move the asset? Well get on it, It's not my name on the lease but, these fed pred dirt-diggers are turning over every rock in everyone's life history looking for that kid and if they trace it back to my account- move it to another apartment, buy one if you need to, we have the money. Oh, and put the old one on AirBnB or CraigsList at the cheapest rate you can, get it filled up with hookers or students or something, someone who will trash the place so badly they can't find evidence: if they go over that place with a black-light it should look like Big Splash Mountain and… well hire a truck then! Trucks can be arranged, I want you and your team moved out of that place tonight. Security? Who's going to try to stop you moving? No one even knows I… I… okay, I'll call the timber-wolves: if having soldier of fortune riding shotgun will make you feel better, just get moved out tonight. Bye!"
There was a monetary pause, a deep breath and then a heartfelt "Goddam" from inside the breakfast room, followed by the sound of a door slamming as he moved back into the main body of the house.
ZG smiled, smoking contentedly, an waved Nick and Judy over to her.
"Well, that sure sounded incriminating." Asked Nick, standing up on tippy-toes and leaning past flowering vines to peer through the window.
"Yeah, but for what?" Pointed out Judy. "He's neck deep in something, but is it the kidnaping or just political skulduggery?"
"Skulduggery? Seriously, Carrots? People still use the word skulduggery?"
"It's a legit word Nick!"
"Darren Walliams is guilty as hell." Said ZG, conversationally, just in time to stop Nick and Judy playfully bickering. "But that's the problem with these high profile cases. I hate this Agatha Christie shit: everyone in this house is guilty of something and it makes it such pain in the tail-stipe to work out what." She said, standing and grinding out her Cigarette under-paw. As she did so, Nick stepped out of the flower-bed under the window, and looked down. There was residue of agar, from taking a cast of a footprint, he looked up at ZG, curious.
"Only a partial, medium Digirade pred with not-retractable claws, could be a canine, or hyena, most likely Travis practicing for Lacrosse out the back of the house. We're not that lucky with physical evidence or the CCTV." She answered.
"Did you get anything back on the CCTV yet?" asked Judy. ZG sighed.
"The footage we do have cuts out just before the line was cut, because it was buffering and so the CCTV over IP runs on a slight delay, we see the senator come home, Travis and Kamila go out to greet her, and then we see what may be the uber eats car approach the gate and then the feed dies at about half six, thirty minutes before the child was noticed to be missing, and we can't definitively say where in the house any of the occupants are from that point until the cops show up."
"How much of a delay? Between what the remote server is recording, and what the CCTV is actually seeing?" asked Nick. ZG swept her hair back from her eyes distractedly.
"Out here in the suburbs with copper wire and not fibre, and the teenager's gaming rig eating the bandwidth? Long enough of one that you could pull up to the house, run round, cut the wire and run back the the front of the house and not get seen, if that's what you're asking. Could be our mystery uber eats driver, could be the husband or an accomplice, or Darren, could be someone pulled up to the jetty there." she said Nodding, as the otters methodically searched the lake. "Could be anyone in the house, two million dollars is a strong motive, assuming it's not political or personal."
"Anyone in the house except the senator." Corrected Judy. "It's her baby and her money and carrier on the line… right?" she said, picking up a weird vibe from ZG, who froze slightly as she said that."
"Walk with me." Said the skunk, leading them up the jetty and way form the house and the agents thronging the garden. As she did she spoke softly, low tones, the sort that didn't carry.
"You're aware that I'm BAU trained, right?"
"But they wanted to force you into Hostage Rescue because you're a Skunk and you refused and it ruined your career for years? " said Nick. ZG glared, wide eyed with mock surprise.
"Okay well firstly, ouch, but accurate summary. Well I had a few friends of mine pull up Dana's psyche profile a while ago, and the results just got in."
"And?" asked Judy, equally fascinated and apprehensive.
"And they're all fine and rosy and that's why we're talking about it in the middle of a lake where no-one can hear us?" said Nick, sarcastically. ZG and Judy both glared. "It's post-natal depression, isn't it?" Asked Nick. "She spent so long dreaming of finally becoming a mother and when it happened… it wasn't what she thought. Right?"
"Spot on." Said ZG. "And I doubt the combination of new baby, election and divorce all at once improved matters. She's been seeing a councilor for P.N.D. and was recommended anti-depressants and sleeping aids, which she refused."
"No wonder: I've seen her policies, doesn't her party still tell people with mental health issues to just buck up and change their attitude?" asked Nick. "If it got out that the family values candidate couldn't cope with parenting without drugs, well, between that and the association with Bellwether, that would kill her in the polls."
"It… it still doesn't mean she would…" Judy trailed off, looking at the otter's dredge the lake: there was a lot of cold dark water there.
"She… she has priors: Unlawful burial of an infant." Said ZG. So soft it was almost a whisper.
"She has what?" asked Nick. Judy was to shocked to speak. ZG nodded.
"You're aware of her auto-abortive disorder? She got pregnant and a teenager: Oh no Judy, nothing like that, all consensual, thank god. She was fooling around with her high-school crush and the predictable happened. Her father was also a prominent conservative in state politics, and quite a wealthy televangelist back in the day, so as a girl she got all the money in the world and none of the sex ed. The poor girl didn't even know she was pregnant until she miscarried, she just thought she was putting on weight. Too frightened to tell her pop, too ashamed to tell the boy, a state trooper caught her burying the poor thing in a ditch out on route nine. Because she was a minor, her daddy talked the judge into releasing her into her parents care and sealing the file. I just got it un-sealed as pertinent to the case ten minutes ago. And given her deteriorating mental health and refusal to take her prescribed medication…" ZG shrugged.
"She doesn't meet the typical profile for a killer, even given those facts, but we do need to take into account the possibility that this could now be a homicide investigation."
The Skunks eyes narrowed. "Speaking of psychological profiles, how are you two holding up?"
"I… this is very sad and stressful, but I'm good, if we can do anything to save that baby, I'm in." said Judy. ZG nodded, like she's expected that, then looked over to Nick.
"Me?" he asked. "I… er." What do you think about this all? What do you feel, Nick?
"I… I don't like these people, or this place, but a baby is a bay: I'm willing to do what it takes to make it right, for the kid's sake."
"Okay, and none of that signature Nick Wilde self-destructive cockiness? Because I don't have time for that crap." asked ZG.
"… I'm not self-destructive! Cocky, I'll give you that one, but when have I ever been self-destructive?"
ZG paused, looked skywards, and started counting on her fingers.
"School drop out, living for 20 years on short-cons, not running away screaming when officer Hopps tried to rope you into a missing mammals case, insulting the chief of police to stand up for her after she got you thrown on the top of a sky-tram, going back to her when she asked you for your help, riding an exploding drug-lab train-car for her, the whole swapping the berries thing with Bellwether, which could have gone disastrously wrong if she's checked the magazine, monologing at a wolf once you know he's guilty, calling Judy on an armed Racoon rather than just walking away…"
"Selling Mr Big a Skunk butt-fur rug." Said Judy, chipping in. "You do seem to sabotage yourself a lot, Nick."
"Seriously?" asked ZG "Okay well that counts as two: one for angering Mr Big and one for, presumably, shaving a skunk against their will. Thank you Judy, and… I'm running out of fingers..."
"Okay, okay I get it. I take risks, but I get results. I note you don't consider Judy's part in all this signs of a self-destructive personality in her." Said Nick, pointing.
"Judy is a trained cop: you're a civilian either doing all this for free or consulting for than less than you'd get stacking shelves or bagging groceries." Pointed out ZG. "So either there's something really special about Officer Hopps, or you're marginally self-destructive, or both."
"Wait? What?" said Nick, quickly laughing to hide his embarrassment. "Okay, I know you're BAU trained, but you're off the mark there: This…. This is just me trying to give up crime and go straight, and Judy's helping: I'm not in any way self-destructive, Judy is… is just a friend an I'm certainly not self-sabotaging. And-" he said, leaning back on the rail of the jetty in a desperate attempt to look casual.
The same jetty railing he was specifically warned by the otters not to lean on, he realised with a start as he fell over backwards into the icy cold lake mid-sentence.
*Cut back to Nick shivering and damp in the psychiatrists office, fur sticking up at all sorts of weird angles.*
"I-I mean Doc, do I look like someone who keeps self-sabotaging?" he asked through chattering teeth as he hugged a hot drink.
The Doc paused, not answering that. "And then what, Nick?"
"Ah." Said Nick. "Then, then it got weird."