Earning the badge, case two: family matters.

Part one: Contractors.

In the Psychiatrists office Nick lay back and stared at the ceiling, feeling that while good, the music was a little too upbeat for what he was feeling.

UB40 & Pato Banton: Baby Come Back

"… and that's more or less how it happened."

The shrink stared, appalled.

"You robbed a hospital?"

"I was forced to! At gunpoint! You think that's how I wanted to spend my holidays? The guy had what I strongly suspect was a fuel rod in a can, I wasn't going to argue with him! I… Christ, I feel terrible about that."

"And they haven't caught him?"

"You're kidding? A, no one believed me, and B, The snow we had and the airports in full lockdown? The ZPD couldn't even spare anyone to look for two days. Got clean away."

"U-huh? And how does that make you feel? All this must have been very traumatic for you."

Nick grunted, and then blew air past his teeth in a frustrated sigh. "Doc, I used to work on and off for Mr Big, I've had guns pointed at me before. Bellwether cornered me last year and shot me with what she thought was Nighthowler, thinking that I'd eat Judy alive and then get shot by the ZPD first responders, and then she stayed to watch. Trust me, this doesn't even get close to traumatising me. Oh, I've got a burse the exact size and shape of a gun butt in the small of my back, but mostly all that got hurt was my pride. It's not that its…. Uggg, this is going to sound so narcissistic but it's just he was a better con artist than me! Near perfect Bavarian Fire drill, no props, no pre-planning, just ad-libed the whole thing as he went along and used whatever he found, including me, to make himself seem more convincing and relied on sheer gall to fool everyone! I mean, he was just so good at it, and there was nothing I could do to derail him. I feel like he ate my lunch, and for a canine that's serious business."

"You've never been a victim of crime before?"

"Hell no, I grew up in the triangle: I'd got mugged twice before I hit seventeen, and Mr Big…. I didn't get into working for him by choice, there are neighbourhoods where exploitation by organized crime is just something you have to live with. It's just…. Mugging, burglary, organised crime…. Those are all the bad sorts of crime! The sort that involves guns and knives and property damage. Con artistry, that's my type of crime, and it made me feel like a complete idiot to be on the receiving end of it! I feel…. Stupid, and slow, and dull and…. used. Frightened and angry and used. God, this feels just awful!" said Nick, placing both paws on his muzzle, and flattening out his ears, he then glanced over at the shrink.

"Did I do this to people? Did I make them feel like this!?"

"Probably. Almost certainly, in fact. Why Nick, did you have some delusion that what you did was a victimless crime?"

"Well, no… but I thought that this was something that only idiots ended up a victim of, when suddenly you find yourself getting pulled into a con, it makes you feel a fool! And I knew it was happening and I couldn't do anything to stop it, and that made it so much worse! How, how do people cope with this? How do they trust people again after this crud?"


"Says the guy selling therapy."

"We're all selling some con or another Nick, but yes: People tend to feel just as bad, or even worse, when they've been a victim of a con than if they'd been targeted by violent crime. Violent crime breeds fear of danger from others, but being the victim of a con causes far more intimate trust issues at it typically makes people doubt other mammal's motives for being nice. The truth is, Nick, that while selling people ice water at a ridiculous mark up might seem innocuous enough, some of the other things you've admitted that you've done would really really shake people once they realise that they've been the victims of a trick. Even the ones that seem petty or even funny at the time."

"Uggg, you mean like the laundry thing?"

*flashback cut*

Close up of Nick's finger ringing a doorbell, door opened by a friendly looking groundhog.

Nick grins, and scratches ears looking confused, an consulting his phone before peering at the house number. "Hi, I'm sorry, I'm not sure if I have the right address, but are you the guys selling the washing machine online?"

"Sure! Come on in, it's in the utility room, through here."

*Cut to Nick, inspecting a washing machine.*

"Well, the price is more than fair," said Nick. " But, uh, trying to put this nicely but I've been stiffed a few times in online sales before, and I don't want to be rude, but do you mind if a try it out before I buy it?"

"Sure, you want me to throw a towel in there or something….."

"Actually, I've got a sack of laundry in my car, hey, could I maybe borrow a tide pod or something….."

*Cut to Nick and the Groundhog watching the washing machine cycle. The groundhog scratches the side of his head.*

"You, you want a coffee or something?"

"Thanks, that would be nice." Said Nick.

*Cut to Nick unloading his wet laundry into a sack*

"Well, I'm sold. This looks like exactly the sort of thing I was after. " sad Nick. " Just let me get my wallet from my car…."

*Cut to Nick on the bus, holding his still wet sack of laundry on one shoulder and paying with his phone while outof the window the groundhog angrily chasses after the bus before falling behind. Eventually long, long after he's outpaced the groundhog and is in a different part of the city, Nick hits the bus's stop button, and steps out on the the street, walks half a block, hides his bag of laundry under a car and then checks an address on his phone and rings the doorbell.

The door opens, and Nick scratches an ear, looking apologetic and slightly confused.

"Hi, sorry to bother you, not sure if I have the right address, are you the lady selling the tumble dryer?"

"Sure! Come on in. Can I get you a coffee?"

Nick grins. "Thanks, that would be nice."

*Flashback ends.*

"Oh god, I saved so much compared to the coin laundromat." Muttered Nick, wrinkling his muzzle, ears down. " Doc, Am I a bad person?"

"Yes." Said the shrink, disinterestedly.

Nick made a face. "You didn't even hesitate there!"

"Oh, don't flatter yourself Nick, ninety plus per cent of mammals are bad people, that's why I'm never out of business. You, at least, are in the minority who are actively trying to improve themselves. Besides, Mr Maulwurf, it's not like you've ever done anything really bad, like identity theft." He said, doodling.

"Well I guess… wait, that's the bad one?" asked Nick, somewhat nervously.

"Umm, duh and or hello? It's stealing someone's identity, that really, really psychologically hurts, more than most of the others. Other than clairvoyants It's about the lowest con that's out there in terms of psychological damage."

"Oh." Said Nick, trying not to think of the amicable blind little mole who was currently sitting in the waiting room and probably reading old National Geographic's for the topless tribes while Nick used up the therapy session he'd paid for. "So, Kind of a scummy thing to do?"

"Absolutely. 100%." said the Psychiatrist. "And not to sound smug, but I did bring this up last session." Said the shrink, doodling. "and what did you say, Nick?"

Nick swore, and buried his face in his paws.

"Sorry, what was that, didn't quite catch that?" said the shrink, sarcastically, cupping A paw to where his ear would have been.

"I said." Said Nick, muffled as he wasn't taking his paws of his snout for this. "That you rationalize it: it's nothing personal, it's just a con."

"Yeah, you did. So here what I'm telling you, Nick, you can't he half a cop and half a con artists, and you can't try and help people and turn a blind eye to how you hurt them. And I can't tell you which of them to pick, mate, you're going to have to decide which life is going to make you completer, and which one you need to let fall by the wayside. I can't tell you which life to pick, but you do have to pick, Nick. Can you sit with someone, in a room like we are now talking about someone's deepest insecurities, knowing that you're going to use everything they say against them and feel okay with that and keep coning them to their face, or are you going dig deep and actually help some mammals, starting with yourself?

"Because I'll tell you this, Nick, one mammal who owes their living to other mammals' pain and stupidity to another, it always feels personal, and you're either okay with that or you're not. And if you don't decide, life has a way of deciding for you."

Nick and the Platypus sat there for a long moment, glancing at each other, before the Platypus sighed, and clicked his pen, putting his doodle pad down.

"And that's time. Okay Nick clear off. Keep writing the blog and see you next session. Oh, and don't think I've forgotten about Judy or your baggage with your parents: just because you somehow managed to get involved in something ever crazier than usual you don't get a free pass on your existing romantic or family issues: throwing extra chickens in the air doesn't mean that the existing ones won't come back to roost."

"Doc, seriously, Chickens? Triger warning! I am a fox after all." Said Nick, jokingly as he walked out of the room and, as surreptitiously as possible shut the door behind him.

After a moment a vulpine snout poked through the bead curtain that separated Carrol's reception area from the wanting room, as Nick peeked thought the veil.

Mr Maulwurf was snoring peacefully, National Geographic draped over his snout.

Nick blew out a relived sigh, and started to skulk out of the room on tiptoe. He'd nearly made it past the sleeping mole when the carrot pen Judy had given him, hanging half out of his shirt pocket caught on one of the chains of beads and, tugging on it it, snapped the thread.


Plink Plink plinkplinkplink….. WOOSH!

Nick froze as a hundred glass beads tumbled onto the limnonym behind him, making a noise like one of those thinks you turn upside-down to make unconvincing rain-sounds at grade school, and the mole woke up with a snort, and glanced over the glossy pages of the magazine.

"Carlos?" said the elderly Mole, as Nick froze up, snapped nylon fishing line from the bead curtain draped over his muzzle like the world's longest Fu Manchu moustache, before blowing it of his muzzle with a Huff out of the side of his mouth, before completely unconsciously sliding into hustler mode as decades of practice kicked in and he automatically moved to diffuse the situation.

"Mister Maulwurf! What a pleasure to see you!" said Nick, with completely convincing sincerity that came as naturally as breathing. "And how are you today?"

"Carlos, I've been wanting here for over an hour-"

"And patience is indeed the prince of virtues, but I'm afraid the doctor is dealing with a very unstable patent right now-" said Nick "and I'm afraid we'll have to reschedule, just one more time…."

The raised a claw indignity, about to object, and then visibly drooped as he decided it wasn't worth it. I guess that's why con-mammals traditionally target the elderly and confused, they tend to back down from confrontation even when it's obvious something's up. Thought the part of Nick that wasn't maintaining that professional and helpful façade, horrified with himself. I need to stop this, oh gods, this… this isn't me.

But it was him, and that's why his mask didn't falter no matter how much he hated himself for it.

"So…. How about we re-schedule for next Tuesday?" said Nick, wringing his paws together with keen and eager energy, his smile genuine and reaching his eyes.

"Tuesday?" muttered the mole, put out an uncertain. "I'm, I'm not sure I can make Tuesday. I'm at a meet-up…."

"Well, if and when you think of a time," said Nick, automatically pulling a random business card out of the two-dozen in this back pocket "You just call that number and-"

" don't think the number on that card is right, last time I tried calling it I seemed to get some police officer and-"

"yes yes yes, we've been having all sorts of trouble with the phone company, but no, trust me, it'll sort all this out." Said Nick, not realising how true that statement was. "Okay?" he said, drooping a paw re-assumingly over the moles shoulders as he walked the mole out the door with him.

"Okay, I guess." Said the Mole, squinting at the Business card, while Nick slinked off, thinking about how he needed to stop doing this.
Oh god, the shrink is right. I can't go round fixing crimes half the day and commuting class a felonies the rest. I mean, yeah, technically I can, I just did, but I feel lousy about it. Stretched, worn thin.

Schrödinger fox.

Thought Nick. Trapped in a box, about to get gassed, and until an outside force acts on it and collapses the wave space both an upstanding member of society and police consultant and an active identity thief.

"But it's okay." Said Nick, to himself. "All I have to do is sort my life out, quit this, and hope that in the mean-time nothing happens to collapse the wave-space."

Behind him, the real Mr Maulwurf shrugged and tucked the new business card, that Nick had handed him completely at random, back into his wallet behind his Buy N' large loyalty card, obscuring the ZPD crest. And the wave space wobbled.

Officer Judy Hopps, uniform only slightly green from silage, waved goodbye to Francine as she stomped off to the cells with the public order offence that they'd picked up on morning patrol, checked the time on her phone, and realising that she'd got an hour to kill before deployments, headed off to the ZPD gym for a forty minuet run, planning to shower and change into a clean uniform before she got her new caseload that afternoon.

*Montage of Judy in gym gear on treadmill running as she dictates her report on the morning's arrest into a blue-fang headset as she put on some jogging music on her MyPod nano, picking something familiar to help her relax*

P!nk: Raise your Glass

She still had music playing out of the earphones dangling loosely around her neck when she finished and handed the treadmill over to the next cop, a female African wild-dog she vaguely recognised, wearing the plain grey tee from Special Weapons in preference to the blue of a standard ZPD uniform. The tall handsome bitch nodded to Judy as Judy picked up her towel, and then to her surprise handed her bottle of water.

"Hopps, right? Precinct one, with Francine?"

"yes…. Ma'am." She added, spotting sergeant's stripes. The sergeant snorted, sounding amused.

"Don't call me Ma'am, I work for a living. Sergeant or Sarge. I hear that that rabble out there are your fault?" said the sergeant, half jokingly as she hid the treadmill at a fast lopping pace that looked so effortless that Judy could have killed for it. "I swear, it was bad enough with just the morons in the ZPD, you bring another pack in and it's only a matter of time before we all go deaf from howling, assuming they don't just cut to the chase and try to scent-mark the building in two."

Judy wrinkled her nose, confused. The sergeant snorted and jerked a thumb over her shoulder towards the main atrium, and then immediately forgot that Judy was there as she spotted a Spotted hyena in the same SWAT grey grab the treadmill next to her and, maintaining eye contact with the sergeant, turn the speed up to one notch higher than the Sergeant in what must have constituted a clear challenge.

Judy, turning her back on SWAT's attempts to out-apex-predator each other, and went to crack the door between the gym and the atrium open and peer out, curious.

There had to be at least a hundred wolves in the atrium, not of itself unusual given how may worked in the ZPD, but none of these were in police uniform. In fact, they all seemed to be in identical black V-necks and khaki combat trousers that made Judy think of bouncers, or the guys that leafleted for gym membership. Confused, she walked out into the atrium, rubbing at her ears with the towel and trying to ignore the Kelly Clarkson playing tinnily from the swinging earphones as she wandered through the crowd towards the front desk. After a moment she noticed she was getting some hostile looks from the wolves, and one in-fact sniffed, and did a visible double-take on catching her scent, and it was only then as he turned towards her that she recognised him.

Oh god…. Him? What on Frith's earth?

Realising that she was unarmed and wearing little more than running shorts, her MyPod and a ZPD issue tube-top, Judy somewhat nervously adjusted the towel over her shoulders and decided that the best course of action was to just act confident and not think about how wolves could famously smell fear and definitely not think about the circumstance under which she' met these guys before. So head held high, she headed for Clawhauser's desk like it was an island in shark infested water. She most defiantly did not run, but she wouldn't say that her pace was casual either as she ducked inside the shelter it represented.

Clawhauser, typically, was entirely unaware of the hostile vibe. I fact, he was rather predictably chatting with one of the wolves on his favourite subject.

"No, I mean the Laundry Service Album was clearly Gazelle's best work up until the self-titled album!"

The wolf leaning on the front desk snorted

"Pffff, and they say cats have natural rhythm it's clearly-"

"Let me guess, She Wolf?" joked Clawhauser, leaning both elbows on the desk and cradling his chin in his hands, tail swaying lazily.

"I…. I wasn't necessarily going to say that." said the wolf, looking embarrassed. He then sniffed, and looked down suddenly, directly at Judy. Clawhauser finally noticed she was there.

"Oh, hey there Hopps, hey , let me introduce these guys, this is Larry Ulveflokk, from Backwoods Private Security. He's-"

"A mercenary. We've met." Said a voice from directly behind Judy, as Nick arrived for the day's meeting with Bogo and moved to flank Judy protectively, eyes narrowing at the larger canine as her MyPod played to itself

Judy's Work-out playlist- Speed Machine : Confrontation

"Cliffside asylum, right? One of mayor Lionheart's famous Timberwolves." Said Nick, with Mock casualness, not quite able to hide the distain in his voice, and his eyes flattened and his tail fluffed up defensively. "kidnaping and guarding the mammals that went savage, civil rights abuses, chasing me and Judy with Tasers, you know, the usual Mercenary stuff."

"Private Security Contractor." Corrected the wolf, mildly. "And we have in the past taken many contracts from governmental and non-governmental actors, both domestic and foreign."

"Yeah, because that doesn't make you sound like a mercenary, am I right? Jesus, you say that like when you not knocking over small democratically elected governments in Latin America or filling a spooky abandoned hospital with kidnapped mammals, you're somewhere on a beach with Hans Gruber, sipping mai-tai's and earning 20%." Said Nick.

The wolf actually laughed, to Judy's surprise. "Oh god, I wish. That's the first sign that you're getting old, you re-watch Die-hard and what strikes you is what it would be like to have the economy like that again! And the Cliffside job was just some basic enhanced security. Spooky hospital." He said, leading his elbows on the counter top in order to squint down at Nick and Judy and accentuate his height advantage over them, and grinning, or at least, Judy thought un-easily, flashing his teeth. "You make it sound like a Scooby-Doo episode!"

"Yeah, and you would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for us meddling kids." Said Judy quietly, narrowing her eyes and staring him down. "Right Nick?" she said, wondering what exactly would have happened to them if she hadn't gotten them out of there. Lionheart didn't seem like the type to kill us in cold blood, but his plan, which he genuinely seemed to believe was necessary to save the city, could never have worked if he'd let us out of there alive, so best case scenario the wolves pump us both full of drugs and I wake up in an asylum years later with no idea who I am. Worst case, and she could see this clearly looking into the wolf's eyes, Lionheart just wouldn't ask what happed to them so long as they were gone….

Nick grunted, clearly following a similar line of reasoning to her.

"Right. And I particularly like the bit when we pulled the mask of in the end and it turned out to be creepy old Miss Bellwether, the owner of the haunted Amusement park. So, what's the pleasure of your company for? Because, and this is just a guess, but I'd have thought given the whole kidnapping, illegal imprisonment and the bit where you burst in on us with unregistered Tasers and forced me to flush myself down a toilet to escape I would have guesses that what you'd have been up to since we last met included some serious prison time, right?" said Nick. "You here to turn yourself in?"

The wolf paused, an then grinned. "You don't know? Oh, well this is classic." Larry said, leaning in closer, until Judy could feel his breath on her whiskers "No, thing is, since you busted Bellwether, honey-bun, and found out about this Nighthowler drug , the demand for drug-sniffing trained wolves had been through the roof, and when were all in the county jail, wanting to be charged over the Cliffside thing when suddenly Governor Noble and Congresmammal Ysengrim and the District attorney came and offered us a great offer: full immunity to all charges if we testify against Lionheart and accept a contract to provide an extra hundred and fifty drug sniffing wolves for the duration of the emergency. See, it looks like the current crop of ZDP graduates just can't cut it." He said, glancing meaningfully at Judy. "So we're here to lend a paw and pick up the slack." He said. His tone was pleasant and conversationally, even jolly, and none of the words he said were nasty, but the implication was clear: We're not even cops, but were more cop that you, bunny and it was all Judy could do not to grind her teeth, and she felt Nick stiffen and stand up taller with rage behind her. Larry noticed, and just smiled. He wasn't unpleasant, but he was dismissive and his jolliness made that sting worse, like every athletics-scholarship fratboy jerk Jock she'd ever known.

"Well, given it's only for the duration of the emergency, it shouldn't take you too long before you can start trying to get yourself back into a prison cell again, Mister Ulveflokk." she said, smiling back at him with a smile just as fake as his.

"One with a toilet too small to flush yourself in. You know, unless that's what you're into. Let's not kink-shame." Added Nick. "No, wait, that was rude of me: you're a Timber wolf: if you flush yourself in the toilet, what will you have to drink out of?"

Larry barked laughter, once. "Nice one, fox! You should be a comedian. As opposed to… well… whatever it is you think you are." He said, signing for a box of ZPD consultants badges from Clawhauser and, eyes on Nick, tossing the box to another wolf who started to hand out the badge Nick had worked so hard to earn like candy.

"And besides, given there is this wild rumour starting to circulate that the SafetyNet system isn't as fool proof as it should be…" he said, eyeing up Nick and Judy, clearly fishing for information. "Who know how long that temporary state of emergency could last?"

He said, glancing from Nick, to Judy, to Clawhauser. "But…. you three wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

Judy glared, and pushed ahead of Nick and Clawhauser before either of them could give anything away.

"Goodbye, Mister Ulveflokk. Go fish somewhere else."

"Or failing that go play fetch." Said Nick, making a ball-throwing gesture. The wolf glared.

"Dude, the invisible ball fake out? Not cool, dog, not cool. Doing that to a fellow canine? This isn't third grade, no one is going to fall for that-"

There was a loud BONK! sound behind them as one of the v-kecked wolves looked up from the consultants badge in his hands, saw Nick make the throwing gesture and subconsciously turned his head to follow the gesture, jumped up extrapolating, and ran straight into the glass doors of the building. The white wolf staggered back, clutching his muzzle.

"Ow… Jesus my Nose! Goddammit!"

Larry looked from this, then back over to Nick Judy and Clawhauser, and to be fair, even Nick looked a little shocked that that had actually worked. Larry made a two-finger pointing gesture at Nick.

"Not cool, bro. Well, guys I'll see you guys around. Give me a yell if the police work turns out to be too hard for any of you, or even if you just feel you need flushing down another toilet, and we'll swing by and help. Officer Hopps, Officer Clawhauser…. Consultant Wilde. Smell you later. Goddamit it Garry, what did I tell you about glass doors? Peter, Geralt, help him up…."

Nick grimaced, and pinched the bridge of his nose "You know, one of these days us primarily olfactory mammals will need to reclaim that phrase from the unrepentantly douchey-guys."

"Huh, I thought it was a canine thing." Said Clawhauser.

"Only if you scent is mostly mountain dew, misogyny and desperation. Those crotch-sniffers do not represent most canines."

"Well, I'm glad to see that you at least are more mature." Said Judy, laying a paw on Nick's shoulder, part of her glad he'd turned up when he did.

"Judy, I am the very spirit of maturity, dignity and responsibility. Say, Carrots, you think if I started howling we could get them all doing it? I bet Bogo would kick them out. Bet you a nickel."

"Oh, clearly maturity personified." Said Judy. "Nick, this is the ZPD, we're meant to be justice personified: we can't just embarrass or harass someone just because they're a bit of a douche….

Can we?" she asked Clawhauser.

"Way…way ahead of you sister. Hey, Snowy!" he yelled, gesturing Drill Sergeant Furschia over as she waddled back in form her customary mid-morning raid on the Timmy Horton's in tundra town. "Great white north, get your butt over here! I got something for you."

"I swear to god, spots, if it's another Gokemon or Gazelle app I'm taking that phone and I'm shoving it in the elephant's graveyard where the light never touches, if you get my drift. Hey there sweetness." She said to Judy, distractedly. "Yeah, what? I don't have all day."

"You're retired and the academy is in-between intake: you're only here for the free donuts." Said Clawhauser, cattily. " Hey, I was meant to be giving these new wolves we hired as contractors a basic physical assessment… some nice, gentle, basic fitness testing exercises."

"And?" asked the big she-bear, slurring from a double double the approximate size of Nick. "Have you finally, officially, merged with your chair, becoming some sort of immobile robo-receptionist we just throw donuts into like we're offering up virgins to a volcano, leaving you unable to do it? If so, I win six bucks from the betting pool."

"Yes, but more importantly they were rude to Hopps." Said Clawhauser.

"Rude doesn't cover it. They were the guys guarding Cliffside. I'm about ninety per cent sure if they'd caught us they'd have killed us and fed the bodies to the savage mammals to dispose of the evidence." Said Judy, rubbing her arm slightly nervously. "and they were fishing for info about our last case. The classified one."

"Break them, take scalps, leave no prisoners. Got it." Said Furschia, not even changing facial expression. "I'll tell Sergeant Tswalu and Lieutenant Crocus I need the gym, and if they want to stay they'll have to act as pace-setters for the rest. They'll hate that." Said Furschia, slurping coffee casually. "Wolves think that their stamina is all that, but those two have only just got warmed up, spotted hyena and painted dog, both insane hyper-competitive Misandrist's to boot? They've both done a sub two-hour marathon, at altitude, and the Rainforest District iron-mammal in 40 Celsius heat and 90% humidity. Once those two have got 'em warmed up, I'll take the pups through bleep testing and then they can try me for weights. I'll see what I can dredge up info-wise too." Said the bear, shambling off, "Hopps, Sweetness, if you're going to hit the shower move now before I clog the gym and changing room with pained, pained puppies. But first, let me go introduce myself. It would be rude not to." She said, an evil gleam in her eye.

"Hey, idiots, what are ya'all doing cluttering up my nice clear atrium, you scruffy wastes of fur!? Two lines, zero questions! NOW! I am Drill Sergeant Furschia, and I'm your worst nightmare leg-humpers: a 600 pound drill instructor with PMS and a badge and you just interrupted my mourning coffee and…. ARE YOU EYEBALLING ME MISTER?! Nayhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Judy, rather than being relieved by that was made a little uneasy: if she was going to be working with the wolves, she didn't want bad blood between her and them any more so that already. Plus Furshia's hit the showers comment made her suddenly hyper aware that she was standing in the middle of the atrium, the most public part of the ZPD, in gym clothes that amounted to little more than underwear, sweaty and ruffled-furred after an eight our morning shift and half hour on the running machine, with Nick standing right there.

Judy adjusted her towel to cover her shoulders a little more, suddenly self-conscious.

It's okay, Jude, it's Nick and Clawhauser, they, um, they probably both know what a mess you are. Besides, I mean, not only are they both different species form you, but you're 90% sure Clawhauser's tastes run in different directions entirely, and Nick's fished you out of a river, bandaged a leg wound, and faked biting your throat, for Frith's sakes. You shouldn't be self-conscious about your body around him. Should you?

But she was, somehow, so she coughed nervously and changed the subject.

"How, how could they even suspect something about…. About that last case?" she asked, genuinely put out. "Other that the feds, only us three and Bogo knew anything about it."

Nick shrugged, and then thy both looked to Clawhauser, playing on his phone. After a moment the cheetah noticed their glare.

"What? What? Oh, so it has to me me, does it? I'm not that bad a gossip." He said.

"Spots, you and Furschia constitute about half the ZDP's gossip between you." Said Judy.

"Clawhauser." He corrected, suddenly and, if not angrily, then at least firmly. "Claws if you have to give me a nickname, but never Spots. Bogo calls me Spots, Snowy over there too, but if you value your hides it not use spots, snowy or horns within earshot of Bogo or Furschia. Polite warning."

Nick and Judy shared a confused look, and then Nick said. "Oh-kay. Any reason I should know about?"

"Ancient history, sweetness. The sort that gets guarded by a giant rolling bolder and pit traps, and no good to come from Lara Croft-ing it. And I am not that bad a gossip!"

His phone Pinged. They all looked at it.

"Okay, I am tweeting how Furschia is humiliating those wolves life, in real time. But who wouldn't? besides, I know better than to cross the feds. Bogo would have my tail in seconds!"

Nick and Judy looked to each other, and shrugged. "Maybe it is just a rumour, Carrots. The guy was fishing, so maybe he doesn't know a thing. That's the simplest explanation, and you'd be surprised how often people miss what's right under their noses, even canines…." Said Nick, glancing down at Judy. His eyes then when wide, and he did a double-take: in his rush to deal with the wolves and back Judy up, he'd not even noticed she was in gym gear.

Nick coughed, trying to hide an exclamation under it as he looked away an Judy likewise coughed nervously and glanced in the other direction, ears drooping with embracement.

"I… erm." She snapped her fingers, and pointed to the gym. "I am going to go shower and change before I have to turn up to case assignments like this in front of the entire precinct."

"Yeah, yeah good shout. I'll see you up there, okay? For… um…. Case assignments." said Nick, trying not to perv as Judy hustled off to the showers but, sweet Jesus, those gym shorts didn't leave much to the imagination.

Embarrassed, Nick turned back to Clawhauser and tried to distract himself.

"So, Claws, how about that cell phone of yours! You still into that Gokemon thing, or did you stop when the craze peaked?"

"Still on it occasionally, but mostly geometry dash right now. You? You still into it?"

"Nah, not as such, I'm, er, pursuing a different, rarer prize right now." Said Nick, trying and failing not to stare at Judy.

"ohhhhhh!" said Clawhauser, nodding understandingly. "So you got Gokemon Sol and Lun? "

"I've got something bad, right enough. " muttered Nick. He then frowned, disgusted, as he watched the ZPD consultant's badge bang off one of the wolves chests. I work my tail of for one, and now suddenly they're just giving them out?

"Uggg, Bogo really hired all these wolves?"

Clawhuser shorted soda out of his nose at that.

"Bogo? No, Bogo hated the idea, this is the DA and the governor forcing this on him. He dug his hooves in and made sure if they wanted it that bad, that they paid for it out of their budgets, these guys aren't even getting paid out of the ZPD consultancy budget, which is interesting considering."

"…. Considering what?" said Nick, his instinct for a con telling him to pry deeper, thumbs tingling.

"Oh, the budget you're being paid out of still has seventy-thousand in it, and we need to spend it all by the end of the year or not get it next year, so we either need to hire someone else as a consultant, like, yesterday, or give you a huge raise."

Nick stared at Clawhauser. Clawhauser stared at Nick.

"Oh Gosh-darn it! I probably shouldn't have told you that!"

They both turned back to loom out across the atrium, Nick trying not to see dollar signs in his eyes.

Furschia had got two of the wolves, Larry and Garry, in the front -row, and was taking it in turns to roar in their faces, a long, low undulating "Nyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!" that never seemed to vary in pitch or tone.

"Is…. Is there even a point to that?" asked Nick, after a moment, horrified. "I mean, she's not even using words."

"Hurm? Oh, no. She never does. " said Clawhauser, sipping soda through his straw and flicking over a page of his Gazelle fan club magazine with a claw. "Not for the first few hours, anyway. They need to earn words." He said.

They both regarded the big bear happily screaming herself horse for a long moment.

"She really needs to get a hobby." Said Nick.

"Tell me about it." Said Clawhauser.

Judy, combed back the last stray tufts of fur from the back of her ears, before putting the hare-brush back into her locker, and glancing once at her reflection in the mirror mounted on the inside of her locker door to check there were no stray hairs on her uniform, she nodded, and slammed the door.

She'd initially been surprised that Bogo had asked her to bring Nick to the daily briefing, but in hindsight it made sense: Bogo was a mammal of his word and a famous stickler for the rules, the ultimate by-the-book cop. So if he promised to give someone consultancy work if they passed a test case, he would, even if he couldn't stand the person and made no secret of it.

That said… Bogo and Nick in the same room? She was going to make damn sure she was as sharp and presentable as possible, because she doubted that Nick was going to make a good impression on the chief and she felt that she ought to do her best to counter-act that.

Hustling back out through the atrium, sidestepping a panicked looking wolf getting what she recognised form her time at the academy as Furschia's third best glare, she moved over to Nick, who was waiting for her by the stairs, playing with his sunglasses distractedly. She had to suppres a grin at that. she didn't know if he was doing it intentionally or it was subconscious and he was unaware he did it, but Nick had a tendency to play with his aviators when he wanted to act "Cop like". For example, insisting on wearing them on every ride along. Maybe he just associated the brand with police movies.

"Ready to go?" she asked, Hopping past him and up the first stair. He fell into pace at her side naturally, nodding.

"Born ready, Carrots. Let's fight some crime!" he said, making finger guns at people and making a pew-pew noise under his breath. She rolled her eyes. Most mammals would be nervous about their first real day on the job, but Nick being Nick seemed to just find it hilarious.

"And you understand the way that these briefings work?" she prompted. He nodded eagerly.

"I sit down and shut up, and if I do or say anything to embarrass you in front of other cops you'll kick me so hard I'll fly backwards around the world reversing time and making my own grandparents retroactively brain damaged from the kick?"

"Got it in one." She said, cheerfully. "So kindly holster those six-shooters before I demonstrate some concealed carry with them." She said. Nick, reluctantly, stopped making the finger-gun gesture at people. He still seemed weirdly chipper about something though, and part of that was setting of low-level alarm bells in Judy's mind. If he was this happy, then something was up.

"You're in a good mood." She said, lightly, wondering where to go next if he didn't bite. Nick snorted, and smiled that faint little smug smile of his.

"And you're an awful interrogator, for a cop. It's okay Carrots, you can just ask me what it was Clawhauser told me."

Claws! I might have known. She groaned inwardly. "If it's the story from the academy about that first day in weapons training-"

"Where the rifle's recoil knocked you clean over and Furschia laughed so hard she swallowed her gum and started to choke and you had to Heimlich her by jumping into her stomach, no, I've already heard that one, like, weeks ago. No, I just found out that the consultancy budget I'm being paid out of has to be entirely used up by the end of the year, or the ZPD will get a smaller grant next year!"

"Huh? Ohm, yeah, so? That's pretty standard with government funding contracts. Why?"

"There's still seventy thousand dollars in it Hopps! Bogo has to spend seventy grand in a matter of weeks, and he's only got me to spend it on! Ker-ching ker-ching, paycheck. Oh, he's going to be so salty about it too, I can tell. This'll really annoy him, I can tell!"

Judy groaned. "Nick, don't provoke Bogo, for pity's sakes honestly, what's wrong with you?"

"I'm reverting to my primitive, savage ways?"

"Okay, I'm going to have to put a limit on the number of times per week you can bring that up to make me feel bad and win arguments."

"I'll get a card to keep track, like with free coffee." He said, winking. "You have a little paw print shaped stamp, right? One free latte every ten guilt trips. Deal?"

She had to laugh at that. it was imposable to stay mad at him.

Although, she thought as she pushed open the doors to the bullpen, Bogo was having a very good go at it.

it isn't like him to be here first. She realised, as she walked in and found the room was silent, everyone already at attention. He likes you to be in here messing around, so he can storm in and make a big entrance, yelling at us to settle down…

The effect with everyone in the room silent and at attention was very different. It was actually quite sinister, all those silent unformed shapes, so much taller than her, just watching… and she suddenly realised that was exactly why Bogo had done it: he was trying to freak out Nick.

It seemed to be working, because as he entered the Bullpen after her, Nicks banter died away, and his ears flattened and his fur stood up a little as he got the vibe. Swallowing nervously, he glanced to Judy for re-assurance just once, and then followed her to the seat that had been saved for them, near the front. More a practicality than a courtesy given that they'd never see over the larger mammals if they were at the back, but it had the secondary effect of maximising the distance Nick had to walk, so Bogo and the other cops had more time to glare at him evilly.

Nick awkwardly pulled himself up onto his chair, Judy giving a hand pulling him up, and when he was there, he looked around.

"Oh, well this is friendly." He joked, grinning nervously to break the tension.

"Wipe that smug look of you face, Wilde!" growled Bogo

"Um, actually, chief, I think you'll find that that smug look is my face."

Bogo leaned in, and stared long and hard at Nick from a very close distance, as if confirming this, making the fox shift nervously.

"You're quite right, my apologies…. Wilkins! Sit in front of Wilde so I don't have to look at him!"

"That won't be necessary sir," said Judy. "Nick has been briefed and is going to be suitably serious, solemn and respectful through the entire meeting."

"I am? Oww! Right, right I am!" he said, rubbing at his deadened arm, while Judy sat staring straight back and Bogo radiating professional alertness.

Bogo cleared his throat loudly, and Nick finally shut up.

"Now what we're all finally here…" he growled, despite the fact that Nick and Judy both knew they were perfectly on time. "Three items on the Docket."

"One, as the more astute of you will have noticed, we have some new faces with us today, sticking their muzzles in where they've got no business being," he said, eyes flicking to Nick just once.

"But the District attorney and governor insisted, so we're stuck with the wolves literally at our door and we'll all just have to deal with it. The one upshot of this is for the first time since we founded it, Fangmire, your Nighthowler task force might actually be adequately staffed, so make the best of it. While the money lasts, we've got a hundred and fifty extra noses, and rather unfortunately the rest of the bodies that go with them, but let's make the most of it. Saftynet has got the criminals running scared, so let's strike while the irons hot. Fangmire take the entire task force and all of those merc's, and seal off the choke-points between rainforest and the other biomes, and then I want a block by block, street by street sweep of the Rainforest District. Once you're done, leave a few wolves on every route in or out of Rainforest to stop any Nighthowler getting back in, and hit Sahara, and then Tundra town and then the triangle and keep repeating. Let's hit this on the head before they can go to ground again: we shut down three labs last week alone, one of which was pumping out something so impure it was killing users of renal failure before they even had a chance to go savage. Nail the Blighters, Fangmire, and pull everyone you need of other duties to do it.

"Because, this is getting even nastier.

"Item two on the Docket, as many of you working in the triangle and Midtown may have heard by now, we have a serious problem developing. Hopps, lights please. Thank you." He said, as the room darkened. He put the projector on again.

"You all remember Victor, our dead prize-fighter pulled out of the river last month after coming of worse against an opponent high on Nighthowler? Well, after that, Vice decided to put some of our intelligence assets in place, and try to get some information out of our usual informant network into who was running these fights….. and this was the result."


"uggg, oh, yeash! Content warning!" said Nick, grabbing his muzzle with both hands and looking away.

"You think you get content warnings at crime scenes, consultant Wilde?" asked Bogo.

"No sir…. You miss-understand, that was me warning you all that the contents of my stomach just tried to escape!" Judy Kicked Nick under the table, he seemed to upset to even notice. "What happened to them?"

Bogo ginned, clearly enjoying that fact that Nick had just given him the opportunity to lecture on it.

"Who happened to him would be a better question. Argali are famously tough, and Vincent here was a long-time informant who knew how to cover his tracks and look after himself. Not that it seemed to help him any in this instance."

"In this instance? Where did his body go? He's just a spine, some hooves and some horns! I've seen more meat on soy dogs Ugg, next slide!"

"An astute observation as always Wilde. But the fox has hit it largely on the head: it kind of looks bad for our reputation if long-time police informants are turning up eaten, and the DA was somewhat concerned that this might discourage mammals form coming forward with information somewhat."

"They… they did this to him because he spoke to the cops?" asked Judy, horrified.

Bogo sighed. "I sure as hell hope so: he's the third one like this, and we've not even I.D. the others. As bad as a Nighthowler fueled hit on an informant might be, the alternative is even worse. Either it's someone covering up the fights, or it's a serial killer. Same M.O. in all three cases, eaten alive in their own homes, and some punk dumps cigarette butts and the lint from industrial laundromat's dryer filters on the scene afterwards."

"Ugggg, well that's one way to throw off forensics I guess: good luck getting a DNA or fiber hit after that, you'd have saliva, fur and clothing fibers for half the city in that room!" Muttered Nick.

Bogo snorted. "Bloody CSI: this was so much easier before tv taught criminals how to mess with us. But no, no hits. Dental from the gnawed bones gives us a rough guild to the species of the killer, but that's it. Snarloff, Higgins, you're on this stinker. Your suspect pool currently includes every canine in the greater zootopia area. Start with Wilde, and after that there only 150 more downstairs, and then once we've made sure it's not one of the wolves in this actual building that only leaves about a hundred thousand other mammals in the city you need to get elimination evidence from." Said Bogo, sarcastically.

"And on that note, the final item on the docket: as some of you may well know, were short staffed at the moment, and given the seventy thousand dollars in the consultancy budget, I've decided to bring in some extra help for the interim and spend the money on an external consultant who is joining us today, and many of you may have noticed…."

Nick sat up a little straighter at this.

"Some of you may well recognize them form before, as they were an expert and invaluable help to us during the Otterton missing mammals case and subsequent Nighthowler case."

Nicks ears shot up, and he smiled smugly and fluffed his tail with some pride.

"And, joking aside, I think I speak for all of us when I say we at the ZPD happy, indeed proud to work with such an esteemed member of the community again…."

Camera focus on Nick, centre screen.

"So lets have a big precinct one welcome back to…. Madam Nangi the mystical!"

*camera dolly-zooms backwards to reveal the elephant sitting right next to Nick.*

"What." Said Nick.

"Madam Nangi, we all look forwards to your mystical insight as our resident consulting psychic." Said Bogo, eye glinting as he stared directly at Nick, daring him to comment. "Indeed, I for one can't think of anyone more deserving of the money in the consultancy budget. I'm hoping you will once again aid us, as you did when hired by Lionheart to scry for our missing mammals."

The elephant seemed to finally realize Bogo was talking to her.


Bogo stared. "Mayor Lionheart."

Nangi looked around the room, and then glare back at Bogo, confused.


"Money well spent." Said Bogo, glancing down at Nick victoriously. "Dismissed, all of you! Oh, Hopps, bring the fox, my office, ten minutes. New assignment or you, but it's too delicate to do in front of the others. "

"Right chief!"

Nick sat open mouthed for a long time, as the room emptied.

"Did, did I just get trolled by the chief of police?" he asked after some time.

"Yes, and it was brutal." Said Judy.

"Yeah….. god help me Carrots, I think I'm actually starting to like Bogo!" he said, grinning and sliding off the chair. "Well, let's see what this is about!"

Bogo met Nick and Judy in his office, Nick still complaining about both Nangi and the wolves. Both Bogo and Judy ignored him.

"Sit down, the both of you." Said Bogo, gruffly.

They sat down. Bogo did too, slumping in a way that indicated he was less than happy with the situation, and then snorted.

"How's the leg, Hopps?"

"Little stiff in the cold, but otherwise good as new, thanks to Nick's fast actions, sir."

Bogo snorted. "You two did well against Bellweather, and with Remes. I'll give you that. So let's cut to the chase, shall we? As the wolves downstairs show, and the fact that I had just had to hire the world's most useless mystic in order to keep a grant for next year, it should be clear that I am no-longer remotely in charge of what I get to spend the city's law enforcement budget on: from the Mammal Inclusion Incisive to DARE, to that forgetful narcoleptic yoga instructor, I'm beholden to so many state, city and federal funding bodies that I can no longer control what gets cash real policing should get, let alone what gets the ZPD brand attached to it. With me so far?"

"Wouldn't be with you if that wasn't the case, literally wouldn't" said Nick, happily. "You'd never have hired me."

"Right… so whatever happens, you can't blame me for this." He said, spilling a half-dozen glossy leaflets across the table.

Judy picked one up, and then froze like it was a spider in her paws.

Her own face beamed out at her from a glossy recruitment poster, a draft of what looked like a full-page magazine advertisement.

It was worryingly familiar.


Nick, however, had never seen it before, and seemed pleased. "Huh. Neat: they got your good side, Carrots, so…. When do I get mine? I get poster to, right? and not one that says wanted anywhere on it."

"Nick….. chief, this…. This is the recruitment add Bellwether designed! Me as the herbivore face of the ZPD."

Nick froze up. "What?" he sounded disgusted. "What the hell's wrong with you?" he asked Bogo.

"Age, indigestion, budgetary constraints and a massive ginger-furred pain up my backside, Wilde. In this case budgetary constraints: some moron at the mayor's office has decided that since we've already spent the money on graphic designers, it's not viable for us to get new recruitment material this budget cycle, so we have to release the adverts Bellwether designed. We've got no budget to re-do them. Sorry."

"I… Chief, I don't want this!" protested Judy.

"Me neither, but we don't have a choice: you're employment contract has a clause that allows the ZPD to use your distinctive likeness in recruitment adds and other media releases, same as mine, standard contract. The only way to stop it is if you're undercover, and given you're a rookie with under a year on the force and I can't legally send you under cover anyway, your only way to stop this is to quit. I'm sorry Judy, the adds go live next month."

Bogo and Judy digested this for a moment. Nick, however, was leaving through the pages of adds, flyers, and promo, quarter sized posters, disgusted.

"There isn't a single pred in any of these adverts! It's not just Judy everywhere, all the background cops are Prey animals! We're not represented at all! Oh, wait, no, spoke to soon literally every example of a perp being arrested is a pred. That's our one depiction in this, as criminals!"

Bogo winced. "Bellwether. She's screwing with us still, from her jail cell. She set the budget for this before her arrest, so no matter what, we couldn't get the photo shoot re-done. Yes, those would probably cause a small race riot if those hit the shelves, so we managed to scrounge together a coupe of hundred bucks and get the boys in the identity- parade and CCTV departments to digitally edit the final release poster to make them more inclusive. These are the final drafts." Bogo said, handing over a sheaf of papers. Nick and Judy took them and studied them, Judy looking horrified and embarrassed every time she saw her own face, Nick squinting suspiciously.

"These… These are exactly the same." Said Nick, after a while.

"It was a small budget, we did the best we could to add positive pred role-models into the shots in post-production, but we only had a day to do it before they went to the printers, so it was a little… Rushed."

"What is this, a dammed where's Waldo? I'm still not seeing it." Nick complained sardonicaly. They all three squirted, until Judy eagerly tapped Nick on his shoulder and pointed.


Nick groaned.

"Did you guys literally just Photoshop the same stock picture of Clawhauser into the back of every crowd-shot?"

"No, actually we took several shots of him, they just all came out looking like that. He always looks like that in photos. It's uncanny." Said Bogo, glancing out at the employee of the month wall, where a hundred identical Clawhauser's looked down, giving identical thumbs up. He glanced as Clawhauser, as he passed by the office on one of his errands, noticed Bogo looking at him, and struck and identical grin and thumbs up. Bogo sighed and pulled the blinds to block that out.

"Jesus, it really is a where's Waldo!" said Nick. He then started to go through each one, trying to spot Clawhauser. " Huh, in this one he's wearing a hat and… dammit! In this one he's circle-game-ing the camera!"

Bogo groaned, and covered his eyes. "It's not ideal, I'm just warning you as early as possible: it was this or no recruitment posters at all."

"Is that such a bad thing, compared to this trash?" asked Nick, holding up a glossy flyer that had Judy on the front,but on the back depicted a feral looking lion getting handcuffed by worryingly good looking ram and hippo, with Clawhauser unconvincingly giving them a grinning tums up for the back of the watching crowd. "I'm not exactly comfortable with this."

"Well, it can't be worse than our old recruitment and crime prevention posters." asked Bogo phlegmaticaly, going over the the glass wall of the office, and pulling up the blinds so they could look out to the corridor wall opposite.

A large blue and white poster glared down at them. On it Drill Sergeant Furschia pointed Uncle -Sam style and glowered at the camera under a giant ZPD logo and the caption that just said. WE'RE WATCHING YOU, SO DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!

Both Nick and Judy shot up on their chairs a little in shock. Nick winced and said "Okay, in hind sight that's way worse than –Ahhhhhhhha!" he yelled, grabbing onto Judy as the poster surged forwards, and Sergeant Furschia slammed her paws into the glass of the office window, snarling. Judy shot up in start, and even Bogo flinched.

The big she bear bust out laughing. "Sorry, I was walking past and overheard you talking about posters and couldn't resist….."

Bogo stared, duck-faced and appalled. "Sergeant, were you waiting there in that exact pose just so you could make that forced perspective joke?"

"Yeah well… I'm retired and the academy is in between intake at the moment, so I've got a lot of time on my paws… what ya'all doing in there?" she asked, putting both huge hairy paws on the glass with an annoying squeaky sound, and turning her head sideways so she could bring and eye closer to the glass that her long muzzle would allow, and peering in.

Bogo glared at her impassively for a moment, and then just closed the blinds on her.

"Awwwww." Said the blinds.

"She really needs to get a hobby." Said Judy.

"Tell me about it." Muttered Bogo reclaiming his seat and the room's collective dignity.

"So just a warning, that even if you don't keep taking high profile cases, Hopps, that you won' be able to avoid the press for much longer. You've arrived, and trust me, no one ever likes that in the long run."

"So…. You are about to offer us a high profile case?" asked Nick. "Because I for one cannot wait to stick it to those wolves and that dumb elephant and…." Nick realised that Judy and Bogo were both staring at him, and the Judy still seemed a little shaken by the revelation that she was going to be the unwilling face of the ZPD.

Great, because being insensitive and emotionaly scaring your crush is a smooth move, Nick. He thought, shutting up promptly.

"Could I speak with you about that for a moment, officer Hopps?" asked Bogo "Alone." He added, darkly. Nick got the hint and reluctantly slinked off.

Judy paused, and remained seated on her chair, wondering exactly what had gone wrong now.

Bogo shut the door before returning to his desk, he shuffled some papers vaguely, and then took off his reading glasses and asked, a little gruffly.

"How are you holding up officer? Your recent cases have hardy been pleasant."

"Sir?" asked Judy, in just the right tones of earnest concern. The word "Sir?" asked as a question with various different inflections was the policemammals one true friend when dealing with un-expected questions from their superiors. From alert and keen, to gormless with just a hint of apologetic, used correctly it would do you no wrong. Even Nick's skill at answering questions with other questions paled in comparison to it.

Bogo sighed "Judy." he said, and that's when alarm bells started to ring, because a senior officer unexpectedly using your given name never bodes well, being just one red flag lower than the infamously ill-omened words off the record.

"Off the record, is everything okay with you and your current case load Hopps? I make no apologies for you're being overworked, we're all overworked just now…. But you do seem to have accidentally drawn some of the less savoury cases of late, and it's been flagged by the station councillor that you've not raised it with her. I'm just informally checking that you're all right. You seem to have drawn the sticky end of the stick of late, officer."

Judy paused, she had to admit that that was true. "No one said that police work was going to be easy or pleasant, sir…"

Actually, most of her job was. About 90% of all police work, at her level, was low-risk tedium, with eight out of ten of her interactions with the just public tourists asking for direction or minor traffic stuff. Of those that warranted her exercising her authority as an officer of the law, most didn't end in arrest: her responses ranging from a formal caution and the threat of arrests, giving a drunk who was worse for wear a quick medical check and chivvying their friends into taking them home, to talking calmly in a soft voice until every stopped crying and explained just what the hell was going on.

It was the small percentage you didn't see coming that kicked you in the teeth. She pointed this out to Bogo, and he agreed.

"True, but your recent cases…" he flicked through a clipboard of yellow copies of reports

"Exemplary police work in all of them, but just looking at your recent cases, that thing over the holidays: many officers would have just dropped the calf off with socials services, filed a report, and run home for Christmas, and no one would have thought less of you if you'd done that, but you stayed the distance to do the right thing, and in particular your due diligence with the DNA work brought a very nasty situation to a prompt end, caught a dangerous criminal who is now enjoying the warm welcome that city goals reserve only for child molesters, and quite possibly saved two lives, because there is no knowing where that would have ended if you'd not put a prompt stop to it. I note that Wilde was involved in ending this?"

"He was there, sir, but only at the end."

"Well, it's more that social serves were, or us for that matter, we should have seen this earlier… anyway, that does him some credit. But on top of that… your mugging gone wrong last week…"

"Any news?" asked Judy, earnest and worried for real this time.

Bogo drummed his fingers on the table. "It's not a murder case yet, if that's what you're asking. But you don't need to be a doctor to know that with multiple gunshot wounds and double pneumonia he's unlikely to pull through. Then there was your house search, and the traffic incident last week."

Judy winced. The house search had been routine, but unpleasant. Neighbours in a nice suburban neighbourhood had finally noticed that they'd not seen an elderly neighbour since Labour Day, and between that and the funny smell someone eventually called the cops. Francine had had to break the door down, and from the stench they'd known right away what they were going to find, but someone had had to go in and check, and given an elephant wouldn't fit through the door, that left it to Judy. Even if you knew how these stories always ended, you couldn't just palm the whole job off to forensics there and then, you had a duty of care to do due diligence and confirm there was no one in the building who was at risk or needed help, protective sweep it was called. The neighbour had been a hoarder, as it turned out, and it took Judy some time to locate what was left of the body, crushed under a fallen stack of newspapers taller than Francine.

The car crash had been worse. Most civilians would assume that the first dead body a police officer would see would be a murder, or at least a suicide, but it's almost always traffic. Her first had been in the awkward gap between that awful press conference and her quitting the force. As they went it wasn't too bad, the body was a mess, hitting a bridge support as speed would do that, but the driver had been alone in their car, no others hurt, and he was quite old. The ME said he'd had a fatal stroke behind the wheel, most likely, and never even felt the crash. It was sad, but Judy had gone to bed that night worrying about the mistrust between pred and prey she'd stirred up and whether Nick was okay or not. It hadn't weighed on her mind

Last week… head on, Two cars, High speed. She was the first responder, and had found the passenger, a young tapir, wandering the roadside with the pale, wide eyed, vacant look that indicated shock. She'd laid him down safely off the road, elevated his legs, called an ambulance, and then checked the drives, both of whom were beyond any help mortals could give. She'd gone back to keep the passenger, Darren, warm and keep talking to him soothingly until the paramedics arrived. He was eighteen, driving with his Dad, and had just enrolled in college. He was going to be a doctor, and save lives. He was going to make the wold a better place, he said, like her.

The car crash had apparently ruptured an artery, and he was bleeding internally, invisible to both him and Judy, and he died on that roadside without warning or fuss while Judy held his hand, still asking if his dad was okay. The paramedics said even if the car had crashed in the surgical trauma suite, there would still have been no way to save him in time. He was a dead mammal walking before Judy even met him, apparently.

Strangely, that didn't make it feel any better.

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I'm okay sir. It's just rotten luck, that's how the cases fell, sir."

Bogo gave her a long, slow look. "Okay, Hopps. Fair enough. And if you ever need to talk, my door is…. Actually, no, go see a real therapist, we have several and they're all better at this stuff than me. Anyway, these cases, have you had any sensitivity training? Family liaison, anything like that?"

"No, sir, I'm still on probation." The ZPD didn't give speciality training to cops on their two year probation: they had enough on their plate as it was, and there was no point spending the money on it when a large percentage of rookie cops discovered they couldn't hack it and quit in their first two years.

"And yet you've handled everything from angry soccer crowds to grieving relatives flawlessly. You seem to have a knack for defusing bad situations and comforting the needy, Hopps, a rare skill at it in fact." Said Bogo.

"I… I just treat them how I'd like to be treated, sir, they're just mammals. I treat them like I'd treat anyone, sir."

Bogo glared for a long time, and then grunted and pushed a file across the table to her. She raised an eyebrow.

"I'm offering this, not ordering it. It is a request from the feds, not an instruction from the ZPD. You can refuse it at will, and no one with think any worse of you for it. And I'm offering it without Wilde here because he'd jump at it and try and get you to take it, to prove a point, but I want your opinion on it. This has the makings of a really awful case for everyone involved, but still… you have the right skill set."

She opened the file. "A kidnapping, sir?"

"Emphasis on Kid: stolen baby, god's help us. Always gets everyone stressed as hell, and more than likely to end badly. To make matters worse, the mother is a state senator, hence the high profile federal involvement. Dana Calopus, famously a real hard-ass, and at about her wits end by the sound of it. So a stressed, frightened angry alpha-bitch mother who makes her living verbally tearing people to shreds, and has the connections and power to ruin the career of anyone who dares to stick their snouts into her moment of grief. And if that's not enough, she's one of many centre-right candidates trying to mop up what's left of Bellwether's political assets. Not only has losing the mayor opened up the job and created a power vacuum, but it's started a major race to win over the allegiance of all her supporters: the mammals who voted for Bellweather haven't gone anywhere, and while her allies are openly distancing themselves from Bellwether, there's still going to be dozens of mammals involved in this case who'd be quite happy to see you and Nick disappear of the face of the earth over your involvement. It's a perfect storm, and has all the hallmarks of ending up as a real hot mess. The kind that stains anyone involved with it."


"Yes. Oh, and other than ZG, everyone involved with this wants no part of you or Nick there, the fed's will give you the cold shoulder too. But with Nick's brains and your heart and brains…" Bogo shrugged. "I'd still not touch it with a barge poll, if I had any sense. It's a garbage fire of a case."

"So, to sum up: nasty case, emotionally charged, likely to end badly, and certain career suicide?" asked Judy.

"Pretty much."

Judy checked the file. There was a photo there of the victim, a family shot, showing two antelope, with a teen cheetah at their side, smiling and holding a tiny baby antelope, small and helpless and precious.

Judy got out a pen and her notepad.

"What can you tell me about the baby?" she asked