Shortly before 8 in the morning, Officer Clawhauser danced his way through the back door of Precinct One with a stack of magazines and homemade DVDs in his paws. For once, he wasn't bringing in his usual stack of donut boxes (not that they would survive in the abominable heat of the Records room). Swinging his hips and long spotted tail in sync with the music he was humming, he waved at Belladine as she switched places at the front desk with the llama officer who had the nightshift.
Belladine waved back at the cheerful, chubby cheetah and wondered what had him in such a good mood. Since being moved to Records, she had noticed that the spring in Officer Clawhauser's steps had been noticeably lacking of late. But not today. He was downright jovial with a bright smile scrunching up his chubby cheeks. If Belladine didn't know better, she would've guessed he had just received an autographed photo of Gazelle in the mail. She didn't have a chance to ask about the reason for his cheerful mood, though, as Clawhauser quickly disappeared into the breakroom.
Walking over to the table where his fellow predator officers Wolford, Delgato, and the Fangmeyer cousins (Steven and Stephanie) sat, along with Bogo's veteran megafauna officers Francine and McHorn, Benjamin flashed them all a big toothy grin. Greeting them excitedly as he sashayed over to the table, he asked, "Do you guys have any idea just who Judy's new fox friend is? You know, the fox who helped her crack the Nighthowler case and bring Bellwether down? Nicholas Wilde?"
Everyone glanced at each other, but then shook their heads. Several of the bear officers sitting at the opposite table were eagerly listening in, but they too had no clue who the mysterious fox was. 'Just what kind of fox would help a rabbit officer?' they all wondered.
Remembering the jeep Nick had driven last Thursday, along with how Chief Bogo had spoken up for the fox, Wolford opened his mouth to ask who Nick was (he had a feeling that the fox somehow owned that expensive, modified blue jeep), but then was interrupted by one of the polar bears sitting at the table behind him, an Officer White, who had been chomping down on a big plate of sushi and reading the funnies in the newspaper when Clawhauser walked in.
"So, is the fox a criminal or not?" White asked with a bit of sarcasm in his deep, guttural voice, as he held a forkful of sushi in his paw. In his opinion, all foxes were born with their paw in the cookie jar.
Clawhauser rolled his eyes, then glanced up and over his coworkers' heads at the bears sitting at the table behind them. "No, Nicholas Wilde is not a criminal." With a wide grin that showcased his short canines (cheetahs had shorter canine teeth than the other big cats), he then said, "Nick is a legend—a Jeep Rally legend!" With this, he slapped the magazines and DVDs down on the table. "Furthermore, Nick is the adopted son of a legendary figure in the city!"
Pointing to the picture on the cover of the top magazine, his sharp, short claw pointed at a very familiar female badger sitting shotgun in a sky-blue jeep with a reddish-orange fox sitting next to her in the driver's seat. In the picture, they were driving over several large rocks as they headed up a rocky hill, with a large first place trophy making up the background of the photo and large lettering with the words: Four Year Winning Streak!
With the exception of a few of the newest recruits, just about everyone in the police department knew of and recognized Maige 'Honey' Badgersen as she had upgraded all their S.W.A.T. gear, as well as improved the climate control walls that separated the various districts in Zootopia. She also donated a lot of money to several charities (Precinct One held several charity balls and dinners which Honey had attended and donated to). She had also been the life of any party she attended as Honey would loudly recount her wild adventures to any who would listen which always consisted of a large crowd of admirers.
A loud clamor swept through the room upon hearing Nick was related to such a prominent figure in the community. Everyone had heard the rumors about Honey taking in a fox and raising him (two foxes, actually, one of which she had taught her mechanic's skills to, and the other who took over her racing duties when Honey's health began failing towards the end of her racing career), but none of the officers could believe the fox who had helped Hopps, the same one they had all trivialized and looked down on, was actually Honey Badgersen's mysterious adopted son. That the two todds were one and the same just blew everyone's mind.
As Benjamin's coworkers and fellow officers began grabbing the magazines to look through as they still couldn't believe that Hopps had teamed up with Honey Badgersen's elusive adopted son, Clawhauser stood back with a wide grin on his face. It wasn't often that he was the one dropping such juicy gossip on the table for his coworkers to devour. Since he lived on Gazelle, donuts, and inter-precinct gossip, Clawhauser was very adept at hearing and passing on gossip, but usually he heard it second-paw. This was one of the few times he was the one providing the juicy information first-paw. And, oh, it was so satisfying—like eating donuts fresh out of the oven down at the bakery! The look of surprise and disbelief on his fellow officers' faces was just too good to miss!
As the murmur of disbelief traveled back and forth between the two tables (White had reached over and grabbed a pawful of magazines for him and his friends to gawk at), Benjamin added the icing on the cake. With a swish of his long, spotted tail, he waved his paws in the air, saying, "That's not even the best part! You're never gonna believe this, but…" The hum died down as everyone turned to the chubby cheetah, filled with curiosity. "Hopps convinced Wilde to sign up for the jeep rallies this year!"
With a clap of his pudgy paws, Benjamin practically vibrated with excitement as he quickly added, "Nicholas Wilde and Finnick Deserttail are going to tear up the trails again this year! Judy is joining them, as well as her older sister, Amy. Amy's going to be Finnick's co-mechanic!" With a squeal as he rocked back and forth on the balls and toes of his feet, Benjamin then said, "The Rallies are going to be so exciting this year! I already called my cousin and I'll be joining his team this year."
There was a moment of silence as this latest news sunk in, and then everyone started talking at once. It wasn't often the smaller species—much less a pred/prey team—joined the Zootopia Jeep Rallies as it catered to much larger mammals. This was big news, and everyone could just imagine the commotion it would cause once news got out that a previous legend would be returning to the rally scene.
This year was sure to have far fewer participants thanks to all the savage attacks and the fear and anger that had swept through the city in response to the attacks, but hearing that two fox todds along with two rabbit does were going to be joining on the same team was unheard of. It was two rabbit does making up a team with their ancient enemy! Furthermore, one of the does was a cop while the other was a mechanic! It was crazy! And they weren't just joining any two foxes, but ones who had won quite a few races back in the day!
Wolfard, sitting across the table from Clawhauser as he stood proudly surveying the commotion he had caused, stared down at the familiar blue jeep he'd seen not four days ago. If Nick was Honey's adopted son, then that meant Nick inherited everything Honey owned when she died. This meant that, yes, the fox owned the wolf-sized jeep he'd been driving Hopps around in. Looking up, Wolfard asked Clawhauser, "Do you think Hopps and Wilde would let me join their team?"
Everyone stopped talking at Wolfard's question. The stunned silence was thick enough to be felt which had him glancing around before quickly adding, "What? I've been looking for a team to join this year and it's not like two small foxes and two small rabbits are going to take up that much room in a wolf-sized jeep." Under his breath, he muttered, "Besides, they have a winning jeep."
You could hear a pin drop, and then everyone started talking at once. There were those arguing about the idiocy of such a suggestion, claiming it was weird enough that a couple of foxes and rabbits were teaming up, without adding a nutty wolf to the mix. While others, those who now had a better opinion of Nick Wilde, and even Hopps, argued that more mixed species needed to get together for activities if the city was ever going to overcome the great divide between predator and prey.
The noise got quite loud, even to the point of White and Grazzoli yelling at each other over whether a wolf should be allowed to join the same team as the smaller foxes and rabbits. White, being a larger polar bear, always looked down on the small mammals around him, feeling they were too tiny to be of much use. Grizzoli, on the other paw, had developed a better opinion of Hopps after getting a taste of her anger the other day when she called the station with her concerns about a possible mole of Bellwether's, while learning about Nick Wilde's connection to Honey Badgersen gave him a better opinion of him, too.
Watching Benjamin fiddle with his claws, Wolfard ignored the commotion of his fellow officers as he waited for his friend to answer his question. The fact that Benji didn't immediately answer in a positive manner (his chubby, donut-loving friend was always positive) was a bit of a surprise to the wolf. Seeing his friend's fidgeting, Wolfard figured it meant the likelihood of him getting on the team was probably slim. As his ears and tail began to droop a little, Benjamin finally answered.
"I honestly don't know if Nick and Judy will agree to have you on their team, Wolfard." With a wave his paw, Benjamin explained, "We didn't exactly welcome Hopps into our 'Family in Blue' with open arms. I'm the only friend she thinks she has here at Precinct One and even I looked down on her when she first arrived." With a nervous flick of his tail, he added, "Wilde is also a fox and cops have never treated him or his family very well, so I can't really say how he'll feel about having another cop on his team." With a shrug, Benjamin said, "All you can do is call them up and ask, I guess."
Wolfard nodded, though he wasn't feeling very good about his prospects of getting on the team. Benji had a point about how coldly they had all treated Hopps when she was here, as well as how poorly they treated foxes in general. He personally didn't have a problem with foxes, but there were all too many cops who did.
Benjamin bit his lip at seeing Wolfard's slightly downcast look, but he couldn't tell his friend the real reason the two might not want the larger wolf on their team. Knowing of Wolfard's easy-going personality, as well as how easily Nick and Judy welcomed him into their home, Benjamin didn't think the adorable couple would hold the Precinct's previous cold attitude towards them against the wolf if Officer Wolfard was sincere in wanting to team up with them…But he was a wolf, for crying out loud!
Furthermore, Wolfard had one of the best sniffers on the Force and had the medals to prove it! Officer Wolfard had won the Annual Sniffing Contest put on by the ZPD three years in a row now, and last year he had even won the Regional Sniffer Competition between Zootopia here on the coast, Podunk of the fertile plains in the northwest, and Rockville in the mountains to the southwest. Moreover, the Regional Competition didn't just pit the police officers of the different cities against each other, but members of the AIA (Animalia Intelligence Agency), the ZBI (Zootopia Bureau of Investigation), the RBI (Rockville Bureau of Investigation), and the PBI (Podunk Bureau of Investigation) also signed up.
With Wolfard out-sniffing all this fierce competition, there was just no way Nick and Judy could hide their relationship if the wolf was hanging around! The idea of Nick and Judy—the cutest, most adorable couple in the world—hanging out with Officer Wolfard and his world-class sniffer was just a disaster waiting to happen! Benjamin didn't even want to think about it. Maybe he should text Judy and Nick and give them a heads up.
The commotion in the room had died down to hot whispers when Clawhauser reminded everyone how badly they had treated Hopps and looked down on Wilde, but then one of the bears, a black bear by the name of Growly, popped one of the DVDs into the small TV mounted onto the wall at the back of the breakroom. The TV had a built-in DVD player and once the movie started, the sound of crunching rock, gravel, and sand under rubber tires silenced the hushed whispers going around the room.
The DVD turned out to be a recording of Honey Badgersen driving down a mostly dry, boulder-strewn riverbed for a very rocky 100 yards or so before climbing up the steep bank to continue along the trail. She was leading a pack of several other jeeps, with the drivers and co-drivers yelling and hollering back and forth at each other as they tried to catch up with the sassy badger with the daredevil attitude. The slick red todd with the orange-tinted coat sitting in the passenger's seat who kept turning around to give the crowd a cheeky grin couldn't be missed, either.
Anyone who had seen Wilde in the video of him and Hopps bringing down Bellwether, and especially those who had met the fox in person, couldn't mistake those bright green eyes of his or the cheeky grin the fox enjoyed sporting. The taunting way Nick kept turning around to wave, salute, or shoot at the crowd behind him with his fingers while hollering back to say they were sooo close to catching up, had the crowd howling to catch up to them. Forget first place, they just wanted to wipe the smirk off the fox's smug muzzle!
It didn't help that Honey would frequently glance back in the mirror, yelling that she was going to take first place again if no one caught up to her on the homestretch. The fact she and Nick were vastly outsized by all the other contestants hot on their tails didn't faze her at all. Being chased by large wolves, lions, tigers, hyenas, moose, elk, bears, bighorn sheep, and even mountain goats had both Honey and Nick laughing in glee and excitement at the rugged race they were winning. They tore down the trail, crawled up a steep rocky cliff and then practically flew down the other side before hitting another dry riverbed. Once they climbed back out, they hit the rocky meadow on the way to the finish line.
On the homestretch, a four-door orange and black jeep with three growling tigers in it, along with a two-door green jeep with a couple of moose who were blowing steam out of their noses, almost caught up to the sky-blue jeep in the front, but just missed closing in on Team Honey before the blue jeep crossed the finish line just seconds ahead of them. They missed first place by mere inches, and both ended up tying for second place. This had the two teams hotly arguing over who really won second place, but the camera caught both of their front bumpers hitting the finish line at the same time, which almost never happened. The bighorn sheep team came in third, closely followed by a team of cheetahs, to which Clawhauser excitedly pointed to, claiming they were his uncle and cousins.
No one saw who came in fifth as the camera was focused on the winning teams, and it wasn't until Honey and Nick climbed out of their multi-winning jeep that anyone noticed the small, sand-colored fennec fox who had been sitting in the front seat next to Nick, videotaping all their crazy exploits over rock, over dale, over dry riverbeds.
Nick and Honey congratulated the second and third place winners, and even though the other teams were howling and grunting at Team Honey during the race, it was all done in good fun, so no hard feelings were felt afterwards (at least not many). The tiger and moose team were still feeling sore, but that was due to tying for 2nd place rather than losing to Team Honey. There was always the next race, and competition was the mother of invention, right? They just had to tweak their engines and jeeps a bit and then they were sure to win the next race. Although Team Honey won more than their fair share of races, no one ever won them all.
As the video ended, the heated discussion about the controversial pred/prey team started up again, along with a heated argument about whether Wolfard could, or should, join up with the award-winning foxes' new team. The Fangmeyer cousins, though, didn't hear any of it as they sat staring blankly at the screen for several moments as their minds took a dusty trip down memory lane. After several heartbeats of remembering the dusty past, as exciting as it was back then, Stephanie leaned towards Steven and whispered, "Is that really the same fox who helped Hopps bring down Bellwether?"
The Fangmeyer family had a team in at least one Rally every year for the past fifteen years, and Stephanie remembered this race. It was her dad and uncle's team, Roaring Stripes, who came in second place and tied with the moose team, Forest Fever.
Her dad was the one driving the jeep with Steven's dad sitting in the passenger seat as the co-driver. This race had taken place 11 years ago and this was Team Honey's second win in their four-year winning streak of the October rally. The two-week long October rally was always the highlight of the season as it was an international competition that brought in jeeps from across the country, as well as Canadae, and even a few jeeps all the way from Europaw.
Stephanie was just a skinny preteen at the time this race was won, while Steven was almost fifteen, though he didn't attend this particular rally. He had summer camp or something, and so had missed this race, but Stephanie had attended it with her dad and uncle and had even seen Honey and Nick up close. She had been too shy at the time to go up and introduce herself, but her dad and uncle had. They even had a photo of them shaking the badger's and fox's paws. But that was a long time ago.
Furthermore, she hadn't been transferred to Precinct One in time to watch the video of Hopps and Wilde at the museum, but remembering the young fox in his early twenties, Stephanie had a hard time believing it was the same fox who had just risked his life to keep Hopps alive long enough to uncover Bellwether's sinister plot and to bring the mad ewe down.
Not that Stephanie didn't believe the Nick from the rallies wasn't good enough or daring enough to stand up to the mad ewe (he was certainly daring enough!). But her only memories of Nick Wilde had been when he was a young, smart-aleck daredevil. Furthermore, no one had heard from or seen him in nearly seven years, not since Honey dropped out of the rallies due to health problems. While trying to reconcile the Nick Wilde of the past with the Nick Wilde of the present, Stephanie had to wonder: What were the odds that Hopps would have stumbled into this particular fox when chasing down her leads?
Sitting to her right, Steven slowly shook his head at his cousin's question. Taking a deep breath, he murmured, "It's hard to believe he's the same fox, but since no one has heard of or seen Nick since before Honey's death, who can say?" With a shrug, he shook his head as he had a hard time believing it, though he could definitely see the startling resemblance between the bright-eyed youth in the rallies to the older todd he'd seen in the museum with Hopps.
The young teenage Steven of the past had been more interested in winning the jeep rallies than in making friends with the competition, so he hadn't gotten close to or even bothered meeting the small members of Team Honey. They were small, irritating mammals who should have been losing in those rugged races designed for much larger mammals, and yet they kept showing them up by winning more often than not—so how could he, as a proud teenage tiger, not get irritated with Team Honey?
But now, being much older and a bit more mature, Steven had to re-evaluate his thoughts and opinions towards Nick Wilde of the past who was a good sport as a small mammal in a big mammal's world, as well as the Nick Wilde of the present—the fearless fox who stood up with a small rabbit against tyranny and evil in its vilest form. Being a fox, no one would have thought twice about him turning his back on a rabbit cop who needed his help. Her 'Family in Blue' couldn't give her the time of day, so what would make a civilian fox give her any? And yet Nick had, against all odds and reason, extended a helping paw to the small cop down on her luck.
And what had they accomplished by working together? Nothing much… They just closed the biggest case in Zootopian history and brought down an evil ewe terrorist hell-built on destroying and enslaving the city through blood and terror, that's all.
Steven had a hard time believing it before, but now, knowing who had raised Nick Wilde, it made a lot more sense that Hopps could succeed with the fox's help. Honey Badgersen was a leading figure in the community in her time and had a lot of innovative ideas and connections—ideas and connections that she would have passed on to her adopted son.
As these new thoughts and ideas swirled through his head, the next DVD Clawhauser had brought was pushed into the DVD player. Steven then realized that he needed to tell his dad and uncle that Nick Wilde was back in the game. Although he wasn't sure what the fox's team would be called this year, he was sure that the rallies were going to be intense as the fox's return would ensure the competition this year would be fierce. And now, with the savage mammals' case resolved and an antidote being made, there was no longer a reason not to sign up this year.
With a wide grin on his face, Steven, along with Stephanie and the others, focused on the screen as Team Honey gave their competitors a run for their money…Again!
Back in the Bullpen, Sargent Higgins entered to announce the Chief's arrival only to stand with his mouth gaping open when he realized that about half the room was empty. Snapping his wide mouth shut with a loud click of his wide, flat teeth, Higgins snorted in irritation, but before he could ask where everyone had gone, one of the sheep officers sitting in the middle row suggested he check out the breakroom as there had been a lot of commotion coming from there when he came in.
With an angry snort, Higgins turned around and bumped into Bogo who was heading in. After informing the startled Chief that they were missing about half of their senior officers in their all-city squad, he led Bogo to the breakroom where all the missing officers were sitting around watching an unfamiliar home video of a jeep rally with a very familiar, orange-tinted red fox with an annoyingly smug grin and bright green eyes.
"Attention!" Higgins yelled to get the delinquent officers' attention, at the same time Bogo gave a loud, angry snort. 'Who said they could be late for rollcall!?' Bogo thought irritably, even as a grim smile graced his lips at watching everyone jump at the unexpected noise he and Higgins had made.
When the officers realized they were late for rollcall, they all scrambled to get to the Bullpen while saluting and apologizing to the Chief as they dashed past him. Once the room was empty apart from Clawhauser, Bogo gave the guilty-looking cheetah a scathing look that said the gossipy cheetah better start talking.
Avoiding the Chief's angry glare, Benjamin stared blankly at the coffee machine on the counter as hot steam slowly rose from the pot of fresh, black coffee while fiddling with his short claws. After a moment of heavy silence, he opened his mouth and explained, "Chief, I thought the other officers might have a better opinion of Wilde if they knew more of his history."
Glancing at Bogo's flabbergasted look, Clawhauser then turned his gaze to the small tv screen just as Team Honey sped across the finish line in first place once again. The cocky young todd with the familiar emerald gaze and cheeky grin, was standing up backwards in the front passenger seat as he held onto the rollbar above him with both paws while yelling at the slower teams behind him, 'Oh, come on you guys, my grandma drives faster than you do! You can do it! Just pick up the pace if you want to beat us!'
Watching the other teams practically foaming at the mouth as they followed the snickering badger and smug fox over the finish line, even as the crowd went wild with hoots and hollers, and even some booing at Nick's derisive taunts, Benjamin murmured, "It's hard to look down on a mammal who was raised by Honey Badgersen and had won a bunch of medals and trophies, right?"
Benjamin didn't think the Chief would be interested in learning that Nick and Judy would be joining the races again this year, so he kept his mouth shut on this matter. The Chief already had enough on his plate as it was, what with all the loose ends they had to track down and resolve regarding Bellwether's bloody plot, and that's on top of all the muggings and vandalism that had been going on against the city's predator population as a backlash to the unrest caused by the savage attacks.
Bogo stared at his donut-loving officer for another heartbeat, then sighed as he raised a hoof to rub his temples in a soothing manner. He could feel another headache coming on, but he couldn't stay mad at Clawhauser. He had a point—the other officers needed to see Wilde's past as a fox in a better light. Although Wilde might have walked a tightrope between legal and not legal, he wasn't the conniving, backstabbing fox that all too many officers assumed about most, if not all, foxes.
With a wave of his hoof towards the chubby cheetah, Bogo muttered, "Fine. Just wait to do it off the clock next time." Benjamin nodded in relief and then Bogo stared at him again, saying, "Speaking of being on the clock, aren't you supposed to be somewhere?"
"Oh, right." With a quick grimace, and an even quicker salute, Benjamin said, "I'm on my way, Chief. You can count on me!"
Bogo stepped aside to let the chubby cheetah exit the room, but then Benjamin paused in the doorway to glance back at the Chief. "Um, when do you plan on seeing Nick and Judy again?"
With a flick of his ear, Bogo answered, "They're coming in later this afternoon to discuss Wilde's enrollment into the police academy. Why?"
With a wide grin, Benjamin shrugged, saying, "Nothing much. They'll probably tell you themselves, but if not, you might want to ask them about their plans for tomorrow evening."
"Huh?" Bogo asked dumbly. What did Wilde's and Hopps' plans for tomorrow have to do with anything? Wilde was coming in today to divulge his past exploits with the notorious mob boss of Tundratown before having his record sealed, but that had nothing to do with Hopps, and certainly nothing to do with their plans for tomorrow evening. And since Hopps wasn't back at work yet, what did their private life have to do with him?
Cocking his head in thought, Bogo considered a few ideas and hoped he was wrong. Wilde wasn't planning to take Hopps on some elaborate date that might tip the media off about their romantic relationship, was he? Or maybe they planned to attend some fancy party at the Big's mansion that he should know about. Maybe a 'Welcome to the Family' party for Hopps seeing as she was soon to be the godmother of Silvano's granddaughter. Or maybe they were throwing a baby shower for Francesca Big seeing as she was naming her daughter after Hopps?
Realizing his thoughts were on a downward spiral around the two tiny, irritating mammals, Bogo had to take a mental step back. Whether they were planning some elaborate date or attending a party with the Bigs, as long as it didn't break the law or upset the media, he really didn't care. It was called a 'private life' for a reason. Although, if they were meeting with the Bigs, he would need to be informed about it and maybe put Hopps undercover to keep tabs on the notorious mob boss's party. Who knew who might show up for it?
With a mental groan, Bogo wasn't sure which was worse: knowing they were dating or that they were involved with the ruthless mob boss of Tundratown. Whichever it was, just knowing this little bit about their private life was sure to give him an aneurism if he thought about it for too long.
Ignoring the Chief's confusion, Benjamin shook his head as he 'zipped' his mouth shut, saying, "I can't say, Chief." Spinning around, he hurried out the door while calling over his shoulder, "I'm late, Chief. See you later."
Bogo stared after his excitable and confusing officer, then wondered what in the world he was talking about? But thinking of the two small mammals who were sure to give him far more gray hairs than any of his other officers, Bogo immediately told himself, "I don't care. I don't care. I do NOT care." Not wanting to waste time thinking about them until he absolutely had to, Bogo made his way back to the Bullpen with the seats now filled and his officers giving him their usual table-pounding welcome.
WingedKatt here. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Next time, we'll get to Nick and Judy's morning as they prepare for their afternoon in town.
Ch. 96: Are You Sure, should post within 2 weeks.
If you have any thoughts or questions, let me know. Have a great week.