A/N: Hello, everyone! I don't know why, but this movie just really caught my attention, and so I started writing something about it. A quick note on chronology- this first chapter, the prologue if you will, takes place between Nick's graduation from the police academy and the encounter with Flash and his sports car, when he is an officer proper.
Also, in this story, my #1 priority is to try to keep Nick and Judy in character, so if there's ever something which seems off, please, PLEASE, let me know so I can try to fix it. Thanks!
Finally, this story or its sequel may, depending on how I feel, cross over into M for scenes of violence, as I hope to capture the evil and cruelty of the killer fully, and that may not be possible while staying inside a T rating. I'll be sure to warn you all before the chapter that might precipitate the change, however.
Day 0- 10:30 PM
Pangolin Grand Arms Apartment Complex
Seven months. Had it really been that long? Seven months since that first day on the job, though she supposed that it had actually begun six months before that, on her first day at the academy...
Still. Seven months since her first day of duty- the first day wearing the badge she was turning over and over in her hands. Seven months since she'd been stuck on traffic duty, only to stumble into a long-running con scheme run by a sly fox.
And it was only a week later when that same fox would be handing in his papers to apply to the ZPD, after the most harrowing week and the biggest and most dangerous case of her career- the turning point in her life, really.
She couldn't believe it had been that long. The days had gone by in a blur of traffic tickets, petty thefts, and the occasional drug deal. Case after case, handily opened and closed, all while Nick had been at the academy, working his tail off.
She smiled at the thought. If she'd felt like it, she could have scrolled through her texts to find the records of his first few days there. From the words she could still remember, they hadn't been good ones for him. But he'd persevered, and through his unique combination of snark, wits, and determination he'd made it through as the valedictorian of his class- just as she had, with a similar rough start.
She'd officially welcomed him into the force only yesterday, but now, while those seven months with him away had passed like a blur, now the seconds dragged on seemingly without end. Now that he would be coming here, she couldn't wait. She knew Chief Bogo wouldn't dare to try to split them up, and end up with two teams with their particular... mentality, and quickfire method of action. No, he'd put the two of them together, if only to keep them conveniently together where he could keep a close eye and a tight leash on them.
And she couldn't wait for it another moment. She missed his snark and the strange synergy they had- arguing as often as they complimented, but throwing ideas off each other with blinding speed. Oh, the partners she'd had while Nick was away were good, professional, and fun to be around, but they just weren't the same. She'd never say this to them, and she didn't mean any disrespect, but they simply couldn't compare as a team to her and Nick. They were slower, they weren't on the same wavelength- what would have taken her and Nick thirty seconds took them forty, an hour, two.
Of course, she wouldn't complain if she could put that synergy to work on a case other than a city-wide abduction spree and coordinated terror attempt. Something a little more low-key was just fine with her- maybe a drug deal, or nudging Mr. Big further towards the path of legitimacy (being the godmother to his grandchildren did wonders when it came to the leverage she had on him, and hints that going legitimate would keep him around longer for the kids was slowly taking effect on what assets he invested in). Something nice like that.
In any case, he'd be at the precinct in six days; the vacation time between Academy completion and reporting for duty was the same length she'd had.
So engrossed in thought was she, she barely even noticed the customary arguing between Mr. and Mrs. Alces. It happened probably once or twice a week, the shouting matches between the two, and eventually even her neighbors, as loud as they were, had stopped trying to shout them down- their volume was prodigious, and they simply didn't seem to care when anyone else in the building asked them to quiet down. Not even the landlady could, unless she was actually at their door. You knew it was bad when even the glare of Ms. Dharma Trinidad, in all its cold fury, could barely solve the problem for a day.
Still, it was a small price to pay for the cheap room and Ms. Trinidad's no-nonsense maintenance, keeping everything running and fixed promptly.
Her phone buzzed, and she flipped it over idly, expecting a text from Nick as usual. To her surprise, however, he was calling her!
He never called. She could count on her paws the number of times that he had, and it had always been trouble with studying before an academy test (he'd procrastinated and was panicking, of course), or, once, him asking for a short ride in the cruiser to the academy after a weekend off, a snowy day, and a broken alarm clock.
"Hello?" she asked, a tinge of concern and/or exasperation unable to keep itself out of her voice.
"Hey, Carrots," Nick said lazily. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," she said. "What do you need help with?"
"What, I can't just call my friends when I feel like it?" he asked.
"You could," she said, drawing out the words, "but when you don't need something you just text."
"Ouch," he chuckled. "Caught red-handed."
"Dumb fox," she laughed back.
"But this time, I didn't really need anything," he said. "I just want to talk for a little bit." His tone was suddenly serious, and she straightened.
"Nothing, nothing!" he said hastily. "I've just been thinking about... things. There's been a lot that's changed in my life, and the academy kept me too busy to think on it, and now that I'm six days away from being a cop... gah, I dunno." He made a noise of frustration. "I've just been having second thoughts, you know?"
She frowned. "It's a bit late to turn back now. And if you try to start up another con, so help me, I will find you, and I will drag your tail to the prison myself."
"I know, I know!" he replied. "I don't want to go back to that either, trust me. I guess it's nerves," he chuckled again, but this time it rang hollow. "So I was hoping to just... talk. About what you've been doing for the last seven months. About how great it is to be a cop and all that. So I can be smug over your mistakes."
For a moment, she was silent. Unbidden, her mind flashed back to the sky tram over the jungle. Then, too, he'd tried to wave off something serious with a quip at the end, but she knew he wasn't really feeling it. It was lame, even by his standards.
"Alright," she finally replied. "You want to hear about Weaselton getting busted for doing the exact same thing two days in a row?"
"Would I!" he said. "You know, before you showed up Duke always seemed to slip out of any trouble. How many times now have you arrested him?"
"Eight," she said smugly. "He's getting so many fines he can't be making anything off his bootlegs now..."
"... and then, Francine tries to put the cuffs on him, but this time, the cuffs are too small since he swapped his set out for a smaller set after the mink incident the day before!" Judy told the story, trying to hold back tears of laughter.
Nick, too, was snorting in mirth, but then a knock came at Judy's door. "Hold on Nick," she told him, "Someone's at the door."
"Got it," he replied. "I'll go grab some water while you talk." Muffled footfalls came from his end of the connection as she opened the door.
Outside stood her neighbor Bucky. The antelopes next door were loud and a bit uncouth, but they loved to talk, and Judy'd enjoyed a few nights swapping stories through the walls. "Ah, hello, miss bunny," he said,and Judy's eyes narrowed. What was with the politeness all of a sudden?
"Yes, what can I do for you?" she asked.
His feet shuffled nervously, and he muttered, "I know you're not on duty, right, but Pronk and I have something we're worried about and we were hoping you could check on it, being a cop and all."
"What happened?" she asked, ears pricking up and swiveling towards him.
"Well, um, you know how the elk upstairs were arguing again, we went and asked the landlady to ask them to quiet down (how ironic, Judy thought, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes). She went upstairs to talk to them, but the yelling got louder all of a sudden and now it's really quiet, so we're kinda worried."
"How long ago did she go up there?"
"40 minutes- about when you started talking on the phone."
Had it really been 40 minutes already? She would have sworn it hadn't been more than ten. And there was no possibility of it being a chat between Ms. Trinidad and the two of them; she'd never seen the armadillo talk with someone for 5 minutes, let alone 40!
"Alright, I'll go check on it. Give me a second to grab my belt."
She closed the door and held the phone against her shoulder as she buckled her police belt around her waist, settling it on her hips and adjusting the taser and tranq gun she kept on either side for the best access.
"I'm back," Nick yawned, with the screech of couch springs as he flopped back onto wherever he was sitting.
"Ok," she told him. "Listen, I'm sorry but something's come up here. Can you stay on the line and grab your radio?"
"Radio? Why?" His voice became edged with concern.
"I just got called on by my neighbor, I've got what might be a DV case upstairs," she said, opening the door and nodding to the antelope still anxiously waiting outside. "If there's something to it, can you relay it to dispatch?"
"Sure," he said, jumping off his feet with the tortured squeals of his couch once again. "Give me 30 seconds."
"Got it," she replied, taking the stairs up to the fourth floor.
The room in question wasn't directly over her room or the Oryx-Antlersons', but it was only one room to the north and one floor up- plenty close to hear the volume of their arguments. But now, it was eerily silent- a very unusual state of affairs for the couple. The door was open a crack, as well, which was doubly unusual. This part of town wasn't a slum, but it wasn't a swanky rich animal's haven, either, and it was a good idea to lock your doors and windows at night. Light spilled into the hallway from inside.
"Hello? Mr. Alces? Mrs. Alces? Miss Trinidad?" She knocked on the door softly. "Anyone home?"
There was no reply, and she frowned, unbuttoning the flap to her tranq gun, and kept one paw on its stock as she nudged the door open with the other.
The Alces' apartment was larger than hers, with a front hallway that branched off into a combination kitchen/parlor on one side, and a bedroom/bathroom on the other. Both doors were closed, and the only thing in the curiously bare hallway was a sole picture of the couple and a flickering lightbulb set in the ceiling.
"Hello?" she called again. "Anyone?"
"Something's wrong," she muttered to Nick.
"Sounds like it. Be careful, Carrots."
She checked the bedroom first, and other than some clothes and assorted toiletries, both it and the bathroom were empty. The bedding was piled up in the bed, messy and disheveled. The window was open, though, and she took a note of it. It wasn't broken and the lock hadn't been jimmied, however, so she let it be and went to check the parlor.
This time, the door was stuck, and she wrestled with the doorknob for a few moments before it finally turned and the door swung open.
The first thing she noticed was Dharma, curled into a ball on the floor in front of her, wicked slash marks clawed across her back.
The second thing she noticed was the blood. It was everywhere- floor, walls, even some had been splattered on the ceiling! It seemed impossible, but it painted the entire room crimson.
Finally, her eyes fell on the two bodies slumped in front of the counter. The Alces looked even worse than the armadillo did, and it was obvious that most of the red in the room had come from them.
She couldn't take a single step, forwards or back, and her breath froze in her throat. She'd never seen such a gruesome sight- not even horror movies could hold a candle to this macabre spectacle. What could do something like this?
Now, the bile came rushing to the top of her throat, and it took a Herculean effort not to vomit all over the floorboards. She gagged and bent over regardless, tears forming in her eyes and thankfully blurring her vision.
"Carrots! Hey! Judy, can you hear me? Judy!" Suddenly, she realized Nick had been calling her name over the phone, with increasing worry.
"I'm here," she said shakily.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I think so," she replied, "but there's multiple 10-34's here. 3 of them, and they'll all need an ambulance." She retched once again, taking several seconds to fight off the nausea. "We might need a coroner too."
"A coroner? What happened there?" Nick asked, even as she heard him tuning his radio.
"You don't want to know." She wiped her mouth and turned around, practically sprinting out the front door. "But it's bad. Real bad."
"I'm coming over," Nick said. "No arguments, Carrots. Your job's done."
"Please," she whispered, sitting down heavily outside and sagging against the wall, burying her face in her paws and closing her eyes, trying to fight off the waves of nausea that synchronized with the scene now burnt into her head. "I could use some company right now."