Case Two: Part Two; Empty House
"So, tell me again, you actually volunteered for this case? On purpose?" asked Nick, as they sat in the back of the federal pool car that was driving them along a depressingly well-maintained street that squirmed like intestines through the gated community towards the lake. They drove past uniformly well-maintained and dull high end box-houses until they turned past the mailbox and through the security gates, and up the perfectly raked and manicured gravel path scarring the otherwise unblemished lawn of the Calopus residence like the kiss of a C-section. The hour long trip from what he considered real Zootopia out into the 'burbs (Ugg!) was so boring that Nick had been forced to resort to simile. That, and winding up Judy.
"I mean, you didn't miss-hear and think someone was passing round the donuts or something and raise a paw, you actually willingly went for this?" said Nick, sounding mildly amused. "There was no trickery involved? Bogo's not punishing you, and you didn't lose some sort of bet? You chose this?"
"There's a baby involved." Said Judy, not looking up from her notebook, as the music played on the cars radio.
Lost in the supermarket, the Ben Folds cover.
"Okay, I'm sold." Said Nick. Judy glanced up from her note-taking, to look at him, waiting for the punchline. He noticed.
"No joke! I'm a cynic, not an asshat. Even I'm not going to leave a baby in the lurch if I can prevent it." Nick said, glancing out the windows, awkwardly. He knew what it was like to have a crappy childhood. Judy smiled, sadly, and put a paw on his. He coughed, pulled his paw away and made a joke, just like he'd done that time of the sky tram. Dammit, why can't I ever show her my feelings?
"Besides, I want to prove I'm better than some dumb psychic, so I have to take this case even if it means coming so far out into the 'burbs I'll need booster-shots to make it back to civilisation alive: if I'm asked to provide the requisite shifty-fox self-serving motivation for doing so, we'll use that one. I don't know about you, Carrots, but I have a reputation to keep up. It wouldn't do for Bogo to find out I'll do work out of the good of my heart: I want him to think he needs to raise my wage for that to happen." He joked.
Judy snorted, and snapped the cover of her notebook closed. "Good luck with that, I'm unionised and he likes me and I'm not seeing any raise unless the union cost of living negotiation goes through. You have no chance." Her phone pinged, but she muted it: she needed to get in the zone for witness interviews.
"Figures. Oh well." Said Nick "It's not like money can buy you happiness." he said, watching as they pulled up to the lakeside summer house, skirted the dozen or so federal station-wagons and parked between a black Porsche Cayenne and an equally glossy black Range Rover sport, vogue edition. "Just way, way nicer stuff to feel miserable with." He added sourly, looking at his refection in the car's gleaming flanks.
"Uggg, seriously? Outside of drug-dealers and soccer moms, Who even has Land Rovers?"
"Farmers: Dad had an old British Military Land Rover Forward-control, the real question is if you can tell what colour it is without using a chisel to take off the caked-on muck, then what's the point? Four-by-fours are for working, I don't get them as a fashion statement, I just don't" said Judy, who like many a country girl had had some of her very first fumbling Romantic encounters in the back of 4x4 that smelt of very ill sheep, and rather thought she'd been put of them for life as a result.
Nick smiled. "You suggesting it would look good covered in mud and manure? I'm okay with that idea."
"And here was me thinking that you said during your thing with Remes that you liked your millionaires to look like millionaires." Judy Quipped.
"Oh, I do. Just not my politicians: my tax dollars paid for that, Judy."
"No… that car is nearly a year old and you started paying tax last month: my tax dollars paid for that car. You paid for the home-remodel on their townhouse, which is why they're staying by the lake in this unseasonably cold weather."
"Of course, silly me. Well, I guess we all have to slum it every once in a while. I mean, were so far from the nearest boutique, how ever do they survive?" Said Nick, eyeing up the genuine '60's jaguar e-class he guessed the senator was holding hostage as part of the ongoing devoice proceedings. No female mammal has ever willingly owned an e-class: it's the auto equivalent of writing 'I have a huge penis' on a public restroom wall, and about as believable and mature a statement. Thought Nick, trying not to imagine how cool he'd look in it. I guess we all need a little juvenile fantasy now and then. He thought, suddenly ashamed to realise he was imaging him and Judy in it.
Judy paused, about to open the door of the car. "Nick, seriously, she just had her baby kidnapped: promise you'll be nice."
Nick paused, and wrinkled his muzzle. "Nice? I can be professional, maybe even stretch to polite, but I can't promise nice. It's not something you can fake… well okay, I can, I'm a hustler, but its…"
"What, the fact that she's a politician? Richer than you? A herbivore? What?"
Nick shook his head. "No, not those things, well, maybe a little. No it's, this is the person trying to take over Bellwether's followers. And we're going in? After what happened to us? Bellwether shot me with that blueberry, Judy, and if it hadn't been a blueberry…"
"It was a berry. Don't dwell." Said Judy, rubbing at her leg sub-consciously. You couldn't see it thought her fur, but she you could feel the scar, if you knew where it was.
She stayed to watch. Judy thought, and she could tell Nick was thinking about it too. He carried me, wounded and bleeding, because if I was left behind, well, she couldn't afford witnesses… but when we were in that hole and she shot Nick, she stayed to watch.
Judy shuddered, fingers moving from leg to downy throat. Nick's acting that day had been good, so good that when his jaws clamped down on her, her scream wasn't entirely faked. 90% her faking, 95% maybe, but there was an edge of real fear, a tiny what if she switched the berries back for pellets? voice in her head just as Nick lunged. And then she'd looked up into Bellwether's eyes, and saw her almost ecstatic look of victory as those jaws clamped down, and she knew real fear.
She did, occasionally, have nightmares about that moment, but in her dreams it wasn't fox's teeth but sheep's eyes that cut her. Sometimes, most times if she was honest, the nightmare didn't even include Nick at all: it was just her, trapped at the bottom of a hole, all alone, and Bellwether looking down with that obscene look of joy, feverish and perverse. In those dreams she prayed for savage mammals in there with her: anything to hide her from those eyes.
She shivered, and shook her head.
"We're cops Nick, we don't judge the victims, we just make the situation right. Yes, it's a little distasteful, and I can't say I'd vote for her after Bellwether tried to kill me, but we can't fix the world all in one go, that's not our jobs. Make sure it doesn't spread, make sure no one's dead, make sure no one is going to be dead, call for backup before you need it. Fix what's in front of you. Besides, even if the mother is the total harridan that everyone says, we still owe it to the baby to do right. And come on." She said, opening the door. "The last politician we met tried to have us horrifically killed, so how much worse could this one be?" she asked, stepping out of the car.
The front door, thirty feet to her right past more than a hundred grand of parked cars, booted open and a huge rhino in the mid-price off-black off-the-wrack suit and discreet ear piece that was practically the uniform of federal law enforcement stumbled out, moving backwards at speed and practically tripping over his own feet as he hurried backwards. He was beating a retreat so hasty and so sloppy Napoleonic Russia would laugh at it, plastic evidence bag in one blue-gloved hand, tweezers in the other raised defensively. Chasing him like a bantam hen, tiny by comparison, was a screaming, shouting, spitting-mad mid-sized tan-furred female antelope, brandishing a babies milk-stained onesie and welding it like a bullwhip. Her mascara was running, her expensive Peyda suit ruffled and starting to show the slight griminess that came at about the 48 hour mark of not changing clothing, and her fur was at weird angles that spoke to severe sleep-dep, but rather than look weak or on breaking point, Dana Calopus looked like she was challenging her inner Boudicca: head held tall, back straight, and as articulate and passionate as if she were addressing a campaign rally.
"No, no listen, special agent whoever you are, yes, I understand your-" *a hit with the onesie.* "damn-" *a second hit* "reasons perfectly well. Now please listen to mine; you're not taking every damn trace I have left of my son! You took his crib as evidence, his toys as evidence, all his clothes, you even took the milk warmer and the breast milk pump, why in god's name would you even what that? It's nasty as hell, I don't even what that stupid chafing thing, and I'm the one who had the damn thing clamped to my tits! Your forensic lab goon-squad even took his dirty diapers for a DNA database. This onesie here, this awful, stupid, onesie with the cartoon duck I always hated? You can have it when you pry It from my cold dead hands, because if you think I'm letting you leave me all alone without one thing, one single thing that still smells of my son, then you can think again, mister!"
She snarled, giving the agent one last good buffet with the soft blue poplin. He took a final panicked step backwards, rumbling apologies, and accidently went off the front-step, backwards, rolling in the gravel outside the front door and adding nothing to the mock-Georgian formalism of the house. Dana snorted, once, like a bull, and then straightened up her mini-skirt, onesie still in hand, and nodded sharply, as if she'd just gone up a point in the polls. She stood for a moment glaring about her as if daring the various feds milling in the garden to pass comment, when the driver of the car Nick and Judy were in slammed his door, and she glanced over on hearing it.
She made eye-contact with Nick first, and her brow furrowed, confused, as if trying to place him like he was a gardener or a handymammal she occasionally, but only rarely, saw. Then her eyes settled of Judy, skipping instantly to her badge, and then back to Nick again, then to Judy as the antelope's jaw clenched and she frowned, lip curling with recognition.
"I know you." She said, dangerously quietly. "But where do I know you from?"
There was a second car-door slamming behind Nick and Judy, that made them both jump.
"I can answer that. Senator Calopus, why don't we step inside for a chat? That way you can try and see if you can keep down water or some coffee, and my college can get up without fear of getting flogged to death with bedwear." Said ZG, bushing past and pausing when level with Judy to give her a business-like nod of greeting and some second hand smoke as she lit up. She was wearing a retro suit and mini skirt; early 90's and dark smoky blue this time, and a weary expression that suggested that this was not the first officer the senator had dramatically driven from her home.
The senator squinted at the skunk with barely contained hostility, but then snorted and stomped back inside with the onsie trailing behind her, looking for all the world like a moody toddler with their comforter, Nick thought. He glanced over to Judy, and then they both looked to ZG and nodded thanks for distracting the senator before she could work out who they were.
ZG walked past, and Judy fell in behind her, followed by Nick. He glanced up:
The house was a grey mock-Georgian monstrosity, backed by the lake, but nowhere near as bad as most of the random cubes he'd seen on the way up here, having been built by someone who'd at least heard of architecture. A three story block of symmetrical Georgian formalism, complete with whitewashed hardwood windows rather than the ubiquitous PVC of the rest of the street, with two single-story wings with iron railings and patio tops spilling out to either side, the symmetry broken only by the three car garage on one side, and the tarpaulin covered hot tub on the roof patio to his left. It looked like the other wing held the kitchen and unity rooms. There were solar cells on the roof, as required by law for new builds, but otherwise the house was an unblemished canvas of slate, right down to the awning over the front door, propped up by two white pillars, because there was no politician living who wouldn't try to make their home look just a little more presidential if they thought they could get away with it, Nick thought. His eyes slid sidewise, noting the whitewashed wooden steps to the right side of the house, almost drowned in flowering vines. There was clearly access to the roof terrace and balcony from ground level.
Gated communities. He thought, with an amused smile. And that big motorised security gate at the end of the driveway: The assumption that the great unwashed can't possibly get to the house un-invited, so the house itself has less security than my apartment. Finn's van has better security than this; at least he's got a baseball bat!
"Glad you took the case." Said ZG, without preamble. "We'd have to liaise with local law enforcement anyway, and I'd much rather it was someone I could almost trust not to foul it up instantly: the local sheriff's department here just got involved in the 1033 program, and as a result now has more Armoured Vehicles than IQ points."
"Um, thank you?" said Judy. ZG laughed, coughed, and then laughed again, getting the polished hardwood door with her left hand and using her right to wave Judy though, cigarette still clenched firmly. Nick followed, leaning slightly to avoid a cloud of menthol smoke, ducked through the door and into the hallway. "So the sheriffs department, not helpful?" Judy asked.
"You'd not believe the trouble I had just stopping then parking their new toys on the lawn and destroying any material evidence." Muttered the skunk, lingering on the threshold for a moment to finish her cigarette, while Nick and Judy glanced around. The hallway was as wide, bland, and empty as only a rich person could manage, painted in realtor-friendly shades of off-white and sparsely decorated with a few modern ceramics on blocky Swedish designer tables, chosen presumably because they were easy to dust and didn't run any risk of provoking an actual emotional response to the art, Nick thought, checking the framed black and white photos just to make sure they weren't pictures of spoons Tommy Wiseau style. Disappointingly, they were a series of black and white landscape shots of the house and lake, presumably in case someone forgot what building it was they had just walked into, and newspaper cuttings about the senator's career, in case you forgot who lived there. Spoons, framed or otherwise, did not make an appearance. And of course, the house was built for mammals about twice Nick's height and weight, so everything was weirdly off-scale for him, he thought, turning a full 360 in the hallway, ears flat and nose twitching.
The kitchen was off to right, as he'd suspected: he could smell food and coffee. It was probably through the large double doors of frosted glass to his right, although he guessed there would be some sort of lounge or snug between him and it because no one rich enough to buy this house was going to have a kitchen directly off their entrance hall. There was probably a dining room there too, at the back and off the lake, no doubt.
There was a broad staircase of honey coloured wood in front of him and to his right, so it had good access to the double doors. The risers, he noted bitterly, just too tall to be comfortable for him, although there was a miniature set of half-steps built into the far side of the banister to accommodate smaller mammals, each just a little too small for him because of course they were. In front of him and to the left of the stairs was an open door into some sort of breakfast room overlooking the lake, because you know you're rich if you eat your breakfast in an entirely different room to the kitchen, and to his left two doors, one of which he could smell books from and so was probably some sort of study or library at the front of the house, the other had a distant hint of gasoline and so was probably a corridor leading to the garage and utility rooms. The entrance hall was two stories tall, so a mezzanine banister looked down on him, with a door to the left, two doors to the centre and one to the right.
He guessed that the door on the left, the direction leading to the roof patio with the hot tub, was probably the master bedroom. If the room layout was symmetrical he'd guess a guest bed to the right, so the two central doors must be smaller bedrooms, backing onto the lake. One was open, on the left, closest to the master bed, and from the evidence tape and smell of bottle formula he guessed the nursery. The other had the slight dings and dents to the paintwork and signs that posters had been relatedly hung from it and taken off, no doubt at parental insistence, which could only mean teenaged boy. He noticed a dent in the wall next to it, the same shape as the door handle. Someone had slammed that in anger a few times, teen for sure. Past the master bed, the staircase proceeded up to the roof, no doubt spare rooms or servant's quarters or something: the briefing material said they had a live-in au pair. No sign of a bathroom on the landing, which meant that every bed must have had an en suite. God knows, you can't expect a state senator to share a toilet with other people: she might catch something working-class. He thought. He sniffed again. Downstairs bathroom off the breakfast room, cleaning closest also: he could smell expensive hand soap and store-brand cleaning products. Coat-closet under that stairs: wool, mothballs, old toys. So far so normal. He thought.
Other than the dozen or so Federal agents giving him the stink eye, that was. A full range of large, tough looking mega-fauna in a wide variety of dark blue and grey polyester suits were filling the house, using smart phones to photograph every posable surface, standing in the breakfast room and chatting and drinking coffee, or just glaring menacingly to remind people who was in charge. They all seemed particularly interested in him, and none too happy about it. A Fossa and a racoon both in shirt-sleeves and shoulder-holsters paused in the act of re-wiring the land line and glared at him from where they were sat a few feet away, but other than that every single one was a lot bigger than him, and he noticed that bears, big cats and large ungulates predominated. Him and Judy were amongst the smallest mammals in the house.
ZG snorted, ground out her cigarettes on the welcome mat, and stomped in.
"Yes, yes, there are mammal's here who aren't us feds, oh gosh, how ever will we survive the intrusion into our lives? So unless anyone is feeling so insecure they feel the need to whip it out to see whose is bigger, back to work ladies!" Sighed ZG, waving Nick and Judy fully into the hallway. "Bert, do you have that phone trace set up yet?"
The racoon nodded, and tapped the laptop next to him. "Nearly done ma'am, we've got the family's cells monitored, and the house's broad-band re-established and monitored, just the land line to go." He said. He had a faint accent, Nick thought, possibly Québécois.
ZG nodded. "Good, get on it. And our friend the senator?"
The racoon's eyes flicked to the frosted glass double doors to the right, and ZG nodded, slowly.
"Right. Nick, Judy, you two need some coffee, would you please join me in the breakfast room?"
"Um, actually I'd rather if we got straight to work and started interviews." Said Judy, reaching for her notebook. As she did he noticed ZG's expression.
"No." repeated the skunk "I said, you need some coffee. Right?" said ZG, gesturing for them to get in the breakfast room and frantically waving them past the glass door, as if trying to sneak them into the house without being seen. Judy got the hint, and hared it across the hallway, flying under radar, Nick tip-toeing after her, though as a Digigrade, he thought, he didn't really have much choice in the matter.
They got into the breakfast room undetected. ZG glared at the agents leaning on the counter with their laptops, all several times bigger than her, and they got the hint and cleared of as quickly as if their tails were on fire. Once she was sure that they were alone, ZG shut both the door they had come through, and a second door that seemed to lead to the dining room Nick had suspected must be at the back of the house.
Judy nodded, impressed. "Those agents sure moved quickly. Guess they know who's in charge."
"Believe it or not, conjita, as a skunk one thing I can reliably do is clear a room." Said ZG, dryly, as she reached for the discarded coffee pot using a handy footstool to get at the counter top, which was at head height for her and Nick and beyond Judy utterly. ZG still struggled to reach it, swore, and then grabbed a small draw at floor height and pulled it out. Nick and Judy watched, interested, as the draw pulled out revealing a sold step before a dowel in the step's top pulled out the draw above it, and then the next draw and so on until a short set of stairs appeared out of the side of the counter.
"The Au Pair is a hutia," said ZG, by way of explanation as she grabbed some chunky and surprisingly cheap looking mugs from a Beachwood mug tree and poured from the gigantic thermos the feds had clearly installed when they'd taken over the breakfast room as a command centre, in a move that Nick thought was strange until he realised that of course, they'd want a room with lots of table space, Wi-Fi, and easy access to a bathroom. "so the house was built to be accessible. Poor girl is beside herself, acting as if she could have somehow prevented this." Said ZG, reaching for the sugar.
"Dumb move, opening yourself up to guilt in a case like this: the senator is looking to lash out, and us feds poking about? You start on the self guilt, and you could easily get blamed for something serious. And even if not, it's a hiding to nothing, emotionaly. And a case like this? It's going to get emotionaly nasty really fast" She said, stepping down and handing Nick and Judy gigantic mugs of industrial strength plain Joe. Nick sniffed at it, wishing it was a decent flat white, but noticing ZG had remembered exactly how much sugar Judy took as he cautiously sipped at it, ears flat and muzzle wrinkling.
"So." Said ZG "while I appreciate you being here and acting as our liaison with local jurisdiction, let me give you some advice: neither of you have ever worked something like this before, have you? Not with stressed emotional relatives hovering over you as you try to work." ZG held up a claw daintily to forestall them as they went to speak.
"Thought not. The senator has refused to speak to family liaison officers, or the shrinks assigned to her, which is not uncommon. She's in denial about the seriousness of the situation, talking to a professional about it would been admitting that her loss is real and, possibly, permanent. So instead she's acting like this is a temporary setback that can be fixed if she shouts at enough people. Sooner or later the seriousness of the situation will hit her, and she'll crash." Said ZG, sipping at her coffee. "and unfortunately, I'll need to deal with her when she does. You do not, so don't be here. It will not be healthy for your careers. So look around the house, talk to her, interview her, the au pair and the adopted son, do the usual document, trace, eliminate you need to do, and then get the hell away from our grieving politician, because if you get in any way emotionally involved with her or this case, she will work very hard at making you regret it. Understood?"
Nick and Judy shared a worried look, and then nodded.
"Understood." Said Judy. ZG nodded, coffee in one paw and cigarette in the other, before laughing weakly.
"Good, because this is a hell of a case." She said, taking a drag with a slightly shaking paw. The skunk looked almost as sleep deprived as the senator had, Nick thought.
Judy flipped open her notebook. "Any news on the case?" she asked, earnestly.
ZG snorted smoke, then shook her head.
"No, forensics drew a blank on the balcony and in the nursery. The note is written on paper stolen from the senator's own recycling, using a sharpie, and tracing over a printed note to get uniform letters that can't be matched to either a printer or handwriting sample, which shows a worrying level of preparedness and forensic awareness. Balcony door lock smashed with a rock, which presumably then got tossed straight in the lake. No tire tracks, but there are a dozen ways in and out on foot if you're small enough, and the lake itself backs onto a dozen properties and a public park on the other side with fishing launches. You could back a boat up to the other side of the lake, cross, snatch the baby, and be hitching the boat back onto your trailer and away inside of fifteen minutes. CCTV phone and internet cut in one, using a set of garden secateurs that was left out on the balcony after pruning the buddleia."
"Huh." Said Nick "Seems a little under-prepared for a kidnapping. Shouldn't they have brought lock picks or something?"
"And get arrested for going prepared for burglary?" asked Judy. "You need a licence for lock picks in this state, Nick, and carting a bunch of tools about would increase, not decrease, your chances of getting caught. In most home invasions or break in, accesses is achieved using either no tools, or the victim's own tools. So don't leave them lying around unless you want to get robbed."
ZG nodded. "Our unsub is either very, very good, or very, very inexperienced. Given the level of preparedness, up to looking up the brand of CCTV and knowing to take out the broadband to disable it, and steeling the paper from the trash, I'd hazard the latter. Certainly, they either staked out the property extensively before the break in, or already knew the layout."
"You find a nest?" asked Judy. Anyone stating out a property for that long would usually have one or two spots they repeatedly observed it from. Such sites should be rich in forensic material.
ZG shook her head. "No, and the garden is too neat and to open for one. All we found was the adopted son's old treehouse, and it clearly hasn't been used for years. The back of the house, however, could be easily scoped out using a boat. And there are birdwatchers in the park opposite every day, for the migratory waterfowl: a whole bunch of perfectly law abiding folks building hides and running about with binoculars and camo on. We're trying to run trace and elimination on our ornithologists, and it's tying up a buttload of resources." She said, grimacing at her bitter over-brewed coffee just as Nick was.
"Assuming that this wasn't a friend or family member responsible." Said Nick. ZG nodded.
"Ongoing and extremely nasty custody battle, yes. The husband, however, has a solid alibi: he was calling the senator from his office at the hospital at the time the kidnapping happened."
"He could have accomplices." Said Judy. ZG took a drag.
"Yes." She said, evenly. "And we have no idea who they might be: the cause of the divorce is infidelity on his part, so naturally he's been very careful to hide any current romantic partners for several years, as far as we can tell, and with his attempts to hide assets from his wife's lawyers, he could own a speedboat and the house next-door and have a mistress stashed there, and we'd never know. This bastard is good at hiding his secrets."
"Clearly not good enough." Sad Nick, as the sound of the senator shouting at someone came thought, muffled by doorways. ZG sighed.
"The teenaged son forgot his lacrosse kit. The senator drove back to fetch it for his big match and walked in on his dad and a co-worker practicing a different sort of ball-game in the laundry room. Who knows how long it would have gone on for if he had just remembered to pack clean shorts? The son still blames himself for the divorce, apparently."
"Harsh." Said Nick, wincing. "The son?"
"Upstairs, sulking at family liaison. You'll need to interview him when they've done, for completeness." Said ZG. "But I'd start with the senator, and get that over and done with."
"Uh-huh? Sorry, Special Agent, but if this wasn't a parental-abduction, what would the suspects psychological profile probably be?" asked Judy, taking advantage of ZG's Behavioural training while she could.
ZG shrugged. "Older male, typically. Angry young males shoot people, young males after money steel stuff. Kidnaping is more intimate. It's about power and control, so it's typically an older male who feels that they lack those things in other aspects of their lives. Typically someone who's been ground down and frustrated for years, and often works or lives in strictly regimented environment where they feel they lack agency. Despite the political tone of the note, this will probably not be someone who's openly critical of the senator or her policies. This is someone who's been overlooked or ignored for some time, and typically will enjoy the control they can now exert from the shadows. The lack of a phone call or other demands is worrying, however. They should be taking the opportunity to gloat or goad. They haven't: so either they know that electronic communication is too easy to trace, or they have no interest in receiving the ransom demanded, in which case the probability of getting the kid back alive drops off rapidly. Assassination is political: this in intimate. Whoever this is, I suspect they want to watch the senator squirm. I hope I'm wrong, but…" ZG shrugged again.
Two days with no follow up demands. Thought Judy, glancing to Nick. They didn't need ZG to spell out how bad a sign that was.
"Okay." Said Judy, swallowing. "Okay, special agent. Ummm, anything else I should know before I start interviews?"
ZG took a pull on the cigarette, the glowing ash shining in her eyes balefully as she gave Judy a long, cool look, considering this.
"Lie to the family." She said, finally. "If they ask what their odds of getting the child back are, or what our progress is, or what your damn star-sign is, lie to them. Tell them what they want to hear: if we get their baby back they'll be so happy they'll forgive and forget what we said to do it, if we don't they'll be so crushed that nothing will matter to them, so why not lie to the victims?" she said, smoking calmly. She noticed Judy's horrified look and Nick's raised eyebrow. "Yes, I know it sounds callous. And it is. But police work is hard graft, when you get down to it, and have you ever tried doing hard graft without a good set of calluses? It chafes at you, hun, and leaves your hands bloody." She said, grinding out her cigarette in her coffee mug. "If you wanted to stay tender and go home feeling clean, you picked the wrong damn job chica."
And with that, it was time to start interviews.
They carried out the interview in the snug, just beyond the frosted glass doors. There were two expensively bland designer sofas facing each other across a glass topped coffee table in the centre of the room, a marble fireplace behind them, flanked by bookshelves. A far tattyer and harder worn sofa backed up- against one of its more stylish cousins, facing a TV the approximate size of Judy's bed wedged between he bay windows and surrounded by a tangle of the previous generations game controllers and baby toys that not even a full time au pair and weekly deep clean could make look any better. The room was set up and arranged as if the fireplace and the serious political tomes were the centre of the room, it's focus. This is a serious grown up room for serous grown up mammals it shouted. But that battered sofa told a very different story: this was something far less impressive; an ordinary family home, dirt and cheap x-box games included, and both Nick and Judy noticed it.
Dana Calopus (State senator, working mom, mayoral candidate, "I believe in Dana Calopus!") was sat on the central sofa with her back to the TV, flanked by a female Bongo in a ZPD family liaison uniform, and a skinny pacing male Pronghorn in a suit that was far too expensive to be bought on a police salary, Judy thought, feds or not. He, and only he was talking.
"-saying, we can spin this! You're not looking at this correctly, Dana. Imagine the headlines: Preds so scared of United Ungulates inevitable victory they're resorting to kidnapping! Fighting Dana Calopus, striving thought adversity! We could jump four points off this, maybe five!"
"Darren I will not use my son's kidnapping for political gain. This is a temporary setback. Once he's been found, I'll take a day, and then we can start a come-back that's not based on sentiment but focuses on our four-point tax plan and- who's this?" asked Dana, peering out from hooded mascara-streaked eyes and brooding over her son onesie like it was a sacred relic. He voice was alert, calm, crisp and professional, but her body did not look any of those things, and Judy instantly felt for her, but also wondered how long before she'd crack. She noticed Nick wrinkle his nose out of the corner of her eye, and wondered just how bad she looked to someone who could smell stress hormones.
ZG was right, we've only got a matter of time before out mayoral candidate breaks. Judy thought.
Best to work quickly.
Reasoning that there was no time like the present, Judy coughed, and took out her notebook, before making introductions. As she did, she was interrupted by ZG.
"Senator, I Know you've already gone over it, but in order to laisse with local authorities you'll have to repeat your statement to the ZPD, as we discussed. This is offer Judy Hopps, she's here to take your statement, and this is Nicholas Wilde, Consultant Criminologist with the ZPD."
Judy nodded respectfully, brandishing her notebook and pen; it always seemed to calm people and help focus them if you looked like you were doing something with your paws. "Ma'am." She said, flicking on the Dictaphone hidden in her pen as a back-up for note-taking: Nick had bought her a new carrot pen for Christmas, so now they both had one. Nick nodded, politely enough, switching his on as well, although he drew the line and Ma'am and just hovered off Judy's shoulder watching and listening without speaking, as was his preferred tactic when sizing people up.
The pacing Pronghorn stopped, and turned to Nick, snapping his fingers.
"Finally! I told you, Dana, we should have done this from the outset, you, fox! How'd they do it?"
Nick flinched back, surprised, ears up. "Er, excuse me?"
"How'd they get in! Bypass the security or what-not? if you were going to get in and, I don't know, filch the silverware or whatever it is you do, how would you have done it?"
Nick pinched his muzzle and screwed up his eyes, ears flat. "Annnnnd that's a new record with the profiling, good sir, well done. Not even five seconds. It took you some doing but you somehow beat that mall cop who follows me round the store every time I go in despite the fact I've been shopping there for years. Kudos." He said, gritting his teeth. "Seriously, Judy, is this going to happen every time I introduce myself as a consultant Criminologist?"
"Could be worse: the FBI driver who picked us up thought I was going to ticket his car." Muttered Judy, under her breath.
ZG rolled her eyes, and made introductions.
"Mr Williams, Consultant Wilde is a general criminologist, if you have any questions specific to the break in you'd be better directing them to me, or better still, not vocalising them at all because we're not going to give out details on an active case to a civilian, even if he insists on being here. Nick, Judy, this is Darren Williams, Senator Calopus's senior campaign manager."
"Oh, quite the vote winner I see." Muttered Nick. To his surprise, senator Calopus pitched in.
"Darren, these mammals are just trying to do their jobs, don't antagonise them." She said, not getting up or looking away from the onsie on her lap. "I want this whole business to be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as posable so I can get Owen back, and get on with my life." She said, quickly and primly, like it was as easy as that.
Nick and Judy shared a look. It looked like their senator was at least a little in denial about the situation. Judy Pushed forwards, taking a seat on the sofa facing the Antelope, Nick giving her a surreptitious paw up, before standing at the armrest like a bookend and watching. He noticed that these sofas were spotless, whereas the other one covered in what looked like cat-hair and bottle formula. Clearly a segregation between the grown up sofas and the teen and the baby sofa, he thought.
"Ma'am, I can't imagine how hard this must be for you…" started Judy.
"No, you can't." muttered Darren, under his breath, tail swishing and ears twitching irritability. Judy chose to ignore that and press on.
"…At this difficult time, so I'll try not to take too long. Could you please, in your own words, tell me what happened on the night when your child went missing?" she said, turning the big sweet bunny eyes up to eleven. Dana didn't even seem to notice. She recited the account by rote, making Judy wonder how many times she'd have to do this for the feds: most people would consider a robotic or rehearsed sounding version of events suspicious, but the truth was as a cop you heard them every day because people who knew they were going to talk to the cops mentally rehearsed what they were going to say regardless of if they were guilty or innocent. It was the ones who sounded natural and sincere, like Nick, that you had to watch out for: They'd screw you over in a heartbeat.
"I got in around six, train from savanna central, car from the station, the Rover. Went upstairs as soon as I got in to check on Owen, and he was sleeping peacefully. This would have been about quarter past six. Then I checked in on Travis to make sure he was doing his homework, and then I had to take a conference call from Carren, my media strategist about the televised debates at the end of the week. This took about an hour. This was on my cell. Towards the end of the call Travis, my son, sorry should have started with that…. he noticed that the Wi-Fi was down, and then shortly after that I got a call from my ex-husband. Didn't last more than a few minutes. I then went upstairs. It couldn't have been later than seven. The room was dark and the first thing I noticed was how cold it was. I spotted that the French window was open, called out Kamila, the au pair over it, went to the basinet, and then I noticed he was gone. The drapes moved in the wind so I threw the bottle at it because it spooked me. I noticed then that the lock on the French window was smashed form the outside, went out onto the balcony, and found the note. I ran to make sure Travis was okay, he was in his bedroom next door to the nursery, I went in there with him, locked the door, and called the police. That was just past seven, the first officer arrived at half past, the FBI at around nine. "
Judy wrote that down as best she could, in her own rapid shorthand.
"Okay, now, Senator, did you at any point in the day, before or after the kidna- the event." She corrected rapidly, catching herself in time and remembering her training on not stressing the witnesses. "Notice anything strange or unusual, anything at all, no matter how silly, trivial or minor it may have seemed at the time. Anything at all." Said Judy, nose twitching.
Dana snorted, half amused. "Unusual. No. Bloody stressful, a whole bunch, but with an ongoing election we're currently losing, a messy divorce, that witch from the home owners association right up my tail every other moment, and two kids, unusual would be getting a second to think."
"You didn't see anything or anyone unusual in the house, gardens or neighbourhood?"
Darren Williams snorted. "We've been over this already with the Feds!"
"And yet the Feds have asked her to go over it again, Mister Williams." Said ZG. "because, as it happens, this is important and if you interrupt again I will have to ask you to leave." Said the skunk, glaring. The pronghorn glared back, lip curling, but did not speak. Dana sighed, clearly weary of this, but answered politely enough given the circumstances.
"No, I did not notice anyone or anything unusual in the house or grounds. If I had, I would have mentioned it. There was a complete and inconvenient drought of masked killers, thugs and bandits lurking in the garden, so far as I noticed, although to be honest, they weren't in the leftovers I was microwaving, the bottle formula, or my glass of prosecco, and I was so exhausted when I got back from work those were the only three places I looked when I got in."
Sarcasm. Thought Judy. That's a good sign. She hasn't completely emotionally detached yet. She thought, jotting down a note.
They then spent about forty-five minutes going over her movements for the day of the kidnapping in excruciating detail, because document, trace, eliminate, is about getting timelines absolutely right. CSI type programs had given the general public the idea that it was physical evidence that solved major cases, but as Judy had lent in her first week in the academy, it was mostly about proving someone was somewhere other that they claimed at a key moment. Document what the suspect says; and all victims and witnesses are by definition suspects, trace their movements, and eliminate them from your investigations when it turns out there really were watching Netflix in their underwear for nine hours straight, then move on to the next suspect. Wash, rinse, repeat. It wasn't glamorous, or scientific, or even particularly smart, and it involved a lot of legwork and knocking on peoples doors and asking them to confirm someone's location, but that's why a major case could cost millions of dollars and thousands of mammal hours. Because it wasn't glamorous, or scientific, or easy. Because it was damn hard.
It's also why she kept very good notes, because it was very rare any one person cracked a case. She was a little cog in the big machine of the case, and her job was to write everything down and upload it to the computerised case log, because even if she didn't see the significance of a certain fact, didn't mean that someone else wouldn't. Police complained non-stop about the paperwork, but in major cases, paperwork caught more crooks than any Genius super sleuths did because it let you break down the job of working out who was lying and spread the workload over dozens of officers. Nick was a better detective than her, but she was a cop, and he wasn't, so he got bored about half way through this and started glancing round the room, no doubt finding more things about the Senators lifestyle to complain about or silently judge her for. He wasn't the only one, as Darren Williams glared at Nick non-stop, like he half expected Nick to start stealing furniture if he left him out of his sight, with ZG refereeing and no doubt wishing she could get away with smoking indoors.
Eventually it came down to the two big questions.
"Okay, and while I know you've been asked this and a thousand other questions before, Ma'am." Said Judy, taking a moment to re-read her previous notes and make sure they were comprehensive and legible. "But can you think of anyone with a reason to do this to you? Anyone with a grudge, or who has made threatening remarks to you in the past?" Judy asked.
Darren Williams glared. "What? Are you stupid? She's a state senator! She gets death threats every week! The regular crackpots, the Social Justice Warriors and angry environmentalists, heck, following Bellweather's little breakdown we were getting threats from every corner! Are you daft, girl?"
"Little breakdown?" asked Nick, part amused, part incredulous. "Little breakdown? Little breakdown? Buddy, where do you get off? She was darting preds in public hoping one would maul someone to death and she'd have an excuse to stick us all in camps or collar us or something! She-"
She nearly killed us. He was about to say, before he bit his tongue. Probably not the smartest move to point out to these guys who we are, if they haven't worked it out yet Nicky boy. Fortunately, Darren was up and shouting on his own, so no one noticed.
"Dawn Bellwether was a mentally ill heard outlier and her views do not represent our party!" he screamed, almost without pauses, Nick noticed. DawnBellwetherwasamentallyillheardoutlier… god, how many times has he practiced that line?
"Her plan, while deranged, had a very low success probability any any and all suggestions that it was a well organised or well-funded conspiracy are false: she was helped by a few rogue elements, nothing more, and any suggestion that it could have ended in any sort of draconian backlash against the pred community is slanderous scaremongering! Its project fear, and misrepresentation of our party entirely, spread by fake news sites and paid protestors! Agent, I want the fox arrested for slander! Right now!"
ZG facepalmed, and then counted by rising fingers on her other paw. "One, you sue someone for slander, not arrest them, and two: No. Just no. Sir, while I appreciate that you are here for the senator to support her in a difficult time, you need to be a little more circumspect, sir, or I will require you to leave."
Darien stared, as if shocked that anyone in authority could ever not be on his side.
"You'd ask me to leave? Over this… this fox?"
ZG fixed him with a calm stare. "Sir, asking would not be involved."
The aide looked mortified for a moment, and then glared at Nick, sourly.
"I'm just saying that given the clear political motivations behind this kidnapping, we need to be certain that there are no… no rogue elements in the investigation. I'm not suggesting that anyone from law-enforcement might be involved, but given the political atmosphere, and the large about of, errr, members of the predatory community in law-enforcement, shouldn't we make sure none of them might be sympathetic to whatever group it is has done this? Agent, I want to see a full breakdown of you agent's political beliefs and voting habits immediately! We can't be too careful in a case like this. I mean, you, fox, whatever your name is, you're what? Savana Social Democrats, at a guess?"
Nick frowned. "I tend to that or Green…"
"See! See! He's already biased against us and the case!"
"Wait, did you assume I'd vote for Lionheart just because I'm a pred?" Nick asked.
"Well did you?" asked The pronghorn, with a smug half-smile of knowing conceding superiority, which Nick instantly hated. That's my look, buddy.
"I… Not exactly. I didn't vote in the last election. I'm not registered." He said. Hard to register to vote and hide from the IRS at the same time. "But I'll admit I did admire Lionheart, up until a point. I fell out sit some of his policies towards the end." Like hiring mercenary wolves to chase me around a spooky hospital.
"Oh, see, see, he admires that crook Lionhert!" yelled Darren, pointing with both hands, palms up. "He has to go. We can't have people personal political belief interfering with the case!"
"Nor can we." Said ZG, with a wearied voice, as she went to the glass door between the lounge and the atrium. "Which is why you will be leaving, Mr Williams, so Officer Hopps can complete her Document Trace Eliminate in peace." She said, opening the door and gesturing out with a meaningful sweep of her tail.
"I… Surely you can't be serious!" Yelled the campaign strategist.
"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley." Said ZG, deadpan. "Out."
"Darren, perhaps it's best you go: this is just a technicality, it won't last long." Said the Senator, glancing meaningfully at Judy, the unvocalised instruction to get it over with clear as day.
"I… If you like, Dana. I'll be right outside if you need me." Said the aide, glaring poisonously at both Nick and Judy as he got up. He reserved a particularly venomous glare for ZG, and paused on the threshold, as if proving he wouldn't be hurried.
"Just to let you know, I'm only leaving because the Senator asked me to, not because you said so. I'm in charge here."
"Glad to hear it, so long as someone is, I guess I can take a break. Now, if you could be in charge of the other side of this door right now, Sir, that would be just swell." Said ZG using sir as an insult as only a cop could.
"I… Well! There will be complaints about this at the highest level, Special Agent!"
"Glad to hear it, lets me know I'm doing something right. And if you want to complain about a federal employee, sir,…" she said, steering him out the room one handed. "…you can always write to your senator."
Nick had to admit, the look on the pronghorn's face as ZG slammed the door on him was something he'd treasure for some time.
Dana Calopus looked up, eyes hooded and lip curling. "That was uncalled for, agent. He is here at my invitation, and that was intentionally rude."
ZG sighed. "Yes, it was, but his presence is a courtesy I'm permitting you, Ma'am, not a right. He's a civilian who's not your lawyer or a physiatrist: You've waved your right to legal counsel, which I don't need to tell you is the single dumbest thing an innocent person could do, and you've refused to talk to a therapist. You have a right to representation, and a right to someone to comfort you in this time of stress, but nowhere does it say you have the right to the representative of your choice. If someone disrupts my investigation, there're gone. Understood? If he behaves, I'll let him back in… operational parameters permitting."
Added ZG, sashaying back over to the sofa and leaning on the edge of the one facing the senator, hand cupped at the elbow in her usual manner, and Judy was instantly aware of the subtext: these were two mammals who had made it to positions of power in male dominated careers despite their sex and a whole bunch of other obstacles, both used to running the show and giving orders, and neither was willing to let the other take charge. There were definite power-plays going on, and she'd been brought in as a neutral, less threatening version of ZG for the senator to open up too. She wasn't sure how she felt about that: sure, she liked people to think of her as the good cop, the mammal witnesses could open up to, but it was playing into the perception that rabbits were small and harmless and easy to discount. ZG, ever the phycologist, was banking on the senator doing what everyone did, and under-estimating Judy. She wasn't sure how she felt about that: it was good policing, and she could see instantly why ZG had done it, but still…
Nick, even more cynically, watched the power-play, and then went back to the senator's eyes, studying her carefully. Does she know we're the mammals who took down Bellwether? He mused. If not, were the dumb non-threatening beat cops she's supposed to open up to and let slip something she'd be more guarded with around the feds. If she does know… physically isolating you from your one key ally, establishing dominance by ordering someone out of your own room in front of you, and leaving you in the hands of the very people who took down your boss and dropped your entire party more than thirty points in the polls? Are we even here to take an interview, or just so ZG can rattle the witness in case she's still a suspect?
Are we the bad cops? Nick wondered. Is carrots the carrot, or the stick?
Judy shifted nervously, and looked over her notes, getting, now the interruption was over, to the last and biggest question.
"Okay, so, that all seems pretty comprehensive." She said, symbolically closing her notepad and putting away the pen (although not switching off the hidden Dictaphone just yet.) It was, simply, amazing how well just putting away the notebook worked. Hey look. It said. I'm done being a cop now. I'm just a regular working stiff, like you. We're officially off the record, so you can relax now and say what you want. It was astounding how many otherwise smart mammals let slip something important right after you put away the notebook. It was the reason they taught you to act dumber than you were every second you were in uniform, the reason Colombo did the "Oh, one more thing" shtick: it caught people off guard, and that was a boon to any cop.
"Just one more thing, ma'am, for our Community-lead policing strategy" she said, picking the most harmless sounding set of buzzwords she could think of, and turning the affable dumb bunny up as high as it would go without her wearing a straw hat and chewing on a stalk of grass. "Just by the way of feedback, so we know if we're doing a rooting-tooting good job here… if you were running this investigation, what would your next steps be? What questions would you ask if you were in my place?"
This one was always gold. A guilty person would automatically try to lead you away from useful leads by listing, sometimes in remarkable detail, the exact opposite steps from the ones they wanted you to take. Answers could be true, or could be lies, but the questions a guilty person chose to ask, that was always telling. Of course, an innocent person could just start complaining at you at this point and tell you to arrest the neighbours for being noisy or letting their leaves blow all over their yard. A truly innocent person, or a lifetime criminal who like Nick had made a habit of not getting caught, however, would usually just tell you to piss off at this point.
Or ask a really, really inconvenient question.
Dana Calopus snorted, and for the first time looked up from that onesie and made actual eye contact with Judy. Judy Flinched: it wasn't just the running mascara and rumpled clothes, there was something truly deep and terrible and desperate in those eyes.
"If I were running this investigation, what would my next steps be? I'd find my goddam baby if it killed me, officer. Now, do you have any more questions, Officer Hopps, or are you going to get to work?"
Judy swallowed nervously, thanked the senator for her trouble, and slipped off the oversized sofa looking to beat a hasty retreat before the pain and anger in those eyes could escape. Nick, to her pleasant surprise, politely excused himself as well and moved out without antagonising anyone, and ZG muttered something about interviewing Travis and the au pair and being back for follow up questions if the situation required it, before falling in after them and walking them to the door, tail swishing, indicating that as far as the feds were concerned this interview was very much over.
"Oh, and one other thing." Asked the senator, just as ZG was reaching for the over-high door-handle.
Judy froze Did I just get Colombo'd by my witness? She thought, half tuning, ears flattened nervously.
"Ma'am?" she asked.
Dana Calopus, Holding the Onesie like she'd pulled it off the cross, glanced over to them, head low and eyes shining in the half-light of the snug. She looks like something Caravaggio would paint, if he was stuck in a Home-owners meeting. Nick thought.
"You said I could ask Questions. I have only one. Why do I know you? I recognise you and the fox, but I can't place where I know you from. I make it a point not to remember unimportant people, so why do I know your faces? You're not an ordinary cop, and that fox is no consultant. Who are you, Officer Hopps?"
ZG flinched, but carefully, facing into the door so the senator couldn't see, and turned to face her with a perfectly composed expression of bored indifference. Lie to the family. Judy thought, watching.
But she's a mother at her wits end. Should we lie to her?
"Officer Hopps is the first Rabbit inducted in to the ZPD, a successful graduate of the Mammal Inclusion Initiative." Said ZG, smoothly. "She cracked a major case in her first few weeks, and later received a formal commendation for bravery. There was not inconsiderable media attention at the time." Said ZG, borrowing from Nick's playbook of telling a great big lie composed entirely out of several smaller truths like a conversational Voltron.
"The fox was also involved in assisting her, the mere fact it was a fox and a rabbit drew some obvious media interest. Operation Jug-Band, Operation Tsavo and Operation Interregnum, were, I believe, the ZPD codenames names for the operations, if you're that interested.I'll send you her personnel file once we've got the case wrapped up and-"
"It was the Nighthowler bust, ma'am." Judy Blurted out. "Operation Jug-Band was the missing mammals case for Emmet Otterton, one of the Nighthowler affected mammals, Operation Tsavo the citywide containment of the Nighthowler crisis, and Interregnum was… was assistant mayor Dawn Bellwether's arrest and subsequent intvestigations, ma'am."
ZG groaned under her breath. Judy didn't blame her.
Dana Calopus stared, face not changing, for some time.
"Ah. You're that fox and bunny. I see. Well, I guess in that case I have something to thank you for already, officer: if you hadn't removed Dawn and started a surprise election, I guess I wouldn't be in this situation." Said the antelope, coldly.
And with that, Judy decided it was best to take her leave.