Nick was chopping up the apples when the buzzer sounded. Two steps took him to the hallway, and the intercom. "Who is it?"
"It's me, Nick. Buzz me in, would you?"
"Silly bunny – that's what I gave you a set of my keys for." He held the switch down for a good ten count to give the diminutive rabbit a chance to reach the door handle and get the heavy security door open before turning back to the kitchenette, and the dinner he was preparing for Judy.
He looked over the mix: watercress, green bell pepper, fennel leaves, carrot tops, and one finely chopped apple. Favorite foods, for a favored partner.
Nick had just finished dicing the apple into little bits small enough for Judy to eat easily when someone knocked on his apartment door. "Come on in, Judy, you have keys for cryin' out loud!"
Judy bounced down the hall, and began snooping around the small apartment. "It's not polite, Nick. How would you like it if I just 'popped in' while you were in the shower?"
"Oh, I'd love that," he said, laughing. "I can just imagine how you'd look if that happened! Your ears would be so flushed with blood that it would show up on an IR scan from orbit!"
"Laugh it up, foxie. Just because I was surprised – and quite properly so – at what I saw at that 'naturalist club' – is no reason to make fun of me."
"Sorry, Carrots. But you're so cute when you blush."
"Is that the only reason why you'd want me to 'pop in' while you're in the shower? Looking to have me join you there?" she grinned and wiggled her nose. It was her turn to watch the fox blush. "Gotcha! But this place is really nice."
"Now that I've emptied out the few boxes of belongings, and stocked the kitchen with appliances, picked up a decent TV, and, and, and…"
"It is a definite step up from living under a bridge."
"You don't need to remind me – it's not as good as my old apartment, but … I'm not making as much money now."
"But it's honest money," Judy Hopps said, as she slipped in behind the fox to steal a bit of watercress. "Goodie! You got Nasturtium officinale! My favorite." She began nibbling around the edges of the green leaf.
"I thought you'd appreciate it – but … why the long name? I thought it was just watercress …"
"My family, remember? We all learned the scientific names of the plants we grew – we had to learn all about our produce."
"Ok, what's this, then?" Nick held up a handful of chopped carrot tops.
"That's easy – Daucus carota sativus. And I see Foeniculum vulgare leaves, and some chopped up Capsicum annuum. Double yum!"
"Couldn't you just call them fennel leaves and bell pepper?"
"But that wouldn't be as accurate as calling them by their proper names. It's important to call things by their proper names."
"And what's this?" Nick held up a small bit of diced apple.
"Ok, I can't tell just by looking," Judy said, leaning forward to sniff at the bit of fruit. "Oh, that's wonderful – Malus domestica. Can't have too many, though. The sugar content is high, so I can't eat too much."
"Afraid of getting a sugar 'high'?"
"No, silly! I have to maintain my figure. Can't afford to put on too much weight."
Nick turned and looked Judy over carefully. He poked at her midriff. "Don't feel any excess fat there."
"It's the result of exercise. You should try it some time."
"I did enough of it at the Academy. What I need now is a bit more padding…"
Judy chuckled, and openly stared at the fox's rump.
"Look, I do more sitting that I do running…"
"If you were more conscientious about doing your paperwork, you wouldn't have the chief assigning us more paperwork than detective work in retaliation. And if you keep eating and not working it off, you'll end up looking like Clawhauser."
Nick chuckled. "God forbid that it should happen that way, but then there'd be more of me to love." This time, it was Judy's turn to smirk. "Look, carrots, we're uniformed patrolmen. Constables. Cops – the ZPD doesn't really have separate detectives. The department is still organized like BBPD."
"But the people who best know the community are the people who are walking the streets. We walk … and come to that," she said. "We have our 'detectives'. Or have you forgotten our relative ranks, Nick?"
"Oh, my most humble pardons, Lieutenant Judith Hopps. Would you consider the humble opinion of this lowly patrolman? When you say, 'walk', please remember that when we go out into a neighborhood, we drive in a honking big 'urban assault vehicle'. And I need more padding with their passenger seats. I'd swear that an unpadded steel frame seat would be more comfortable."
"Poor little foxie," Judy said, sneaking a pawful of watercress.
"Hey!" Nick swatted at the bunny's paw, but she was too fast and she stole a second pawful of cubed apple bits. "If you keep that up, there won't be any left for your salad."
"Ok, I'll stop. But you have to get more exercise – really."
"I'd rather exercise my mind. Sly fox, remember?"
"And I'm just a dumb bunny?" Judy teased.
"No, you're anything but. But … you're not showing good sense in one respect," Nick said, smirking.
"Aside from trying to change the subject, what do you mean?"
Nick scraped the salad ingredients into a bowl, tossed them, and handed the bowl and a fork to the bunny. "Food. Eat. Enjoy!" he said.
"What are you having?"
"Better you shouldn't know what I'm eating," Nick answered, looming over the diminutive bunny, leering and licking his chops.
"Overdone is underwhelming, fox-boy," Judy said, shaking her head as she headed for the living room couch. "The coffee table ok?"
"Yes – you start. I still have to finish putting my dinner together."
Judy settled down, picking up several books and setting them aside. "Trying to improve yourself, Nick? 'A Historical Review of the Evolution of Police Practices in Zootopia'?"
"Just trying to understand how we got to where we are," Nick came in and set down a bowl of mixed fruit and chunks of unidentifiable roasted … things.
"Ah … Nick … just what are those?" Judy asked pointing at a batter encrusted something, her nose wrinkling at the smell.
"Fried crickets, grasshoppers, and caterpillars." He looked down at the bunny. "Look, I need protein, and I can't digest plants as well as you can. Remember? Predator. Carnivore – a meat eater. And since we've evolved beyond eating other mammals…"
"But that's the sort of thing you'd pick up in a kit's meal at the local McD's. It's not food – it looks like food, it may even smell like food to a predator, but it is not food. Grease, salt, fat with only a touch of protein. And the chitin?"
"Look – it's comfort food. My mom was poor – going to McD's was a treat. And I developed a taste for their fried insect bundle."
"I know that … just that there's a difference between knowing something here," Judy said, pointing at her head, "and understanding it here," she pointed at her heart.
"At least you're willing to acknowledge that 'little' fact," Nick said.
Judy shuddered. "I know we're … different. But sometimes it's a little hard to adjust to the differences."
"Well, when you're finished with your dinner, I'll stick dig out the microwave popcorn and put on a movie."
"What did you dig up for your 'Friday Night Flicks'? And please don't tell me that you didn't get the DVD from Evidence for the Duke Weaselton case…"
"Ok, I won't tell you," Nick said, smirking for just a second before picking up a particularly large fried grasshopper and popping it into his mouth.
"Ok, just a second." He picked up the DVD case from the TV cabinet and tossed it to Judy. "Open the case and read."
"It's a receipt – for a DVD for Mad Yax: Furry Road. I'm sorry I doubted you. But that movie is just a two hour car chase…"
"But it's a fun two hour car chase. It will go better with microwave popcorn."
Judy shook her head in resignation. "You're incorrigible, Nick."
"You wouldn't have me any other way."
"You know you liked it, fluffy," Nick said, as he opened the door for the bunny.
"Ok, but it was so violent."
"Movie violence. Nothing like what we've seen on the street."
"Not fair, Nick. We've had more than our share of … excitement."
"And if we hadn't switched out the night howler extract pellet and replaced it with blueberries…"
Judy shuddered. "Don't even think about it, Nick. That would have been bad – but we did get Bellweather's confession out of it." She stopped, struck a pose, and smirked. "It was a good hustle, sweetheart."
Nick laughed. "Indeed it was. But now it's a bit late…"
"It's only ten p.m., Nick. And tomorrow's Saturday…"
"And I've got overtime tomorrow. So I'll walk you back to your apartment, and then go straight to bed. Have to get my beauty rest."
"Wilde, just why did you put in for o-t?" Judy asked, as Nick shut and locked the apartment door behind them.
"Simple – with my lowly patrolman's pay, I need the money. To pay for this apartment, to pay for the new furniture and the kitchenware I've brought in 'on time', and to afford to take you out on the town once in a while. Those Gazelle concert tickets were not cheap, and …"
Judy sighed. "It costs more for predators to eat than for prey. I could help, you know. A lieutenant's pay is 'just a little bit' better than a 'lowly patrolman's'. At least, I could help until you get the promotion that you deserve with all the cases you've helped to clear. You're good at this business, Wilde!"
"Yes, lieutenant, ma'am. I'll be a good fox. In the meantime, leave me my pride as a male provider type. Got to prove how good a…" Nick stopped and swallowed. Saying too much.
Judy reached up and patted the taller fox. "I won't interfere with your case of testosterone poisoning, then. Shall we go?"Chapter 2: Saturday day, "Overtime is seldom worth the pay"
Bogo glared at the remaining patrolmen. "And you, Wilde, are on traffic."
"Really, chief? Isn't there anything better…"
"We need someone on traffic, and everyone else has something important to do." He held up a hand. "Don't say it – unless you want to spend the next month in Parking writing tickets for expired parking."
The fox closed his mouth with an audible snap.
"Good, now get to it!"
Nick sighed. At least I will get to drive today, he thought as he shuffled out of the bullpen to pick up a patrol car.
Nick checked his watch, probably for the twentieth time since the shift started. 1145 – another fifteen minutes, and I can go "code 7" and no one can complain that I'm not going "by the book".
It had been a boring Saturday morning. While boring had its place – but something vaguely interesting would have been preferable. Is there not one single person anywhere in my patrol zone who is going to break the smallest traffic rule? Not even one speeder? Where is Flash when I really need him? he thought.
Another fifteen minutes of watching an unbroken stream of good and courteous drivers, and Nick pulled into the first mini-mall parking lot with a predator food shop.
"Oh, if Carrots were only here, at least…" he stopped, as he caught what seemed like a familiar scent. He bolted into the McRoughage next to the Policeman's' Subs. A quick visual check showed that his nose had fooled him. He sighed, and then stepped back into the parking lot. He looked at the submarine shop, then at the small J-Juice parlor at the far end of the mini-mall. It's fruit, so it's not all bad, he rationalized.
Ten minutes later, a large razzleberry-and-wheatgrass smoothie in hand, he backed into the Policeman's Subs. No line – good luck for once. "Foot long tuna on wheat, mayo, mustard, oil, vinegar, pickles, tomatoes, no lettuce, extra olives, for here." He rattled off his order, then stood humming the latest Gazelle hit.
"That will be eight ninety-five," the teenage leopard female said.
"Keep the change," Nick said, handing over a ten as he took the sandwich. Eat here – better than making a mess in the patrol car – and having Bogo on my case, not to mention "Lieutenant Judith Hopps". He shook himself. Better not to get into a bad place with her – we're in a good place right now, and maybe we can keep it there.
He wolfed down the submarine and drink, then checked his watch. Twelve twenty – another ten minutes for "meal time" by the numbers and by the book. There were times when the work-a-day world was a distinct drag. But … he needed the extra money for the o-t to pay rent, and to pay off his credit card purchases. Especially as he wasn't drawing in the two hundred dollars a day his last "pawsicle" scheme had earned him.
The rest of his shift went as slowly as the first half – not a single speeder, not a single illegal turn, and (thankfully) not a single accident. At the end of the shift, Nick was tempted to go "code 3"  back to the station house, but he thought of what Judy would say about such abuse of authority – not to mention the trouble it would get him in to with Chief Bogo, and decided to forego the pleasure. At least this time.Chapter 3: Saturday evening, "Boring has it all over the alternative"
Nick stepped off the A-Train at the "Foxtown" (Pine Street) station. Most of the other detraining passengers were foxes, but he still caught a glimpse of rabbit ears bouncing up just past the average shoulder height of the crowd. What is a bunny doing here…unless it's Carrots…and why would she be here except…
Judy launched herself at the fox, jumping up so that she could wrap her arms around his chest and bring herself up to nose-to-nose level. "Hi!"
"No fair hiding in the crowd … but what…"
"You've been gone all day…"
"I was working. You remember that, don't you? What an honest person does to get the money needed for rent, food, and other 'little' trinkets."
"And what are you doing here? You could have called and I would have met you …"
"Someplace safer for a rabbit?"
"We don't eat prey animals anymore, but … you're such an innocent some times. I'd worry about you falling for a three-card monte hustle."
"I think I could manage to avoid such a simple 'short con', Nick. I can talk the talk if I need to. They went over all the more common scams at the Academy."
"The more common ones – but did anyone tell you about my 'pawsicle' scam – and all the little parts of it?"
Judy relaxed her hug and settled her feet down on the station floor. She slipped one arm around Nick's and began slowly dragging him out of the station. "You wouldn't be thinking of taking up your old habits again, would you?"
"Nah. Even if I did decide to leave the straight-and-narrow, I wouldn't reuse an old scam. Repeating yourself – that's the best way that I know to get caught and spend time 'living downtown'. No one ever said that this fox was stupid."
"Just a bit thick skulled at times," Judy said, reaching up with both hands to pull at the taller fox.
"Do you have a specific destination, Carrots, or are you just trying to 'assert dominance'? Should I be concerned?"
"You haven't had dinner, yet, have you?"
"No … and I am most assuredly not in the mood for a 'salad', unless it's a fruit salad. Salad is not food…"
"Salad is what food eats. Heard it before, foxie. And in case you forgot, I happen to eat salad. Are you saying…"
Nick sighed, as the lapine doe continued to drag him through the station to the street. "No … and I suppose I shouldn't repeat myself – at least, not with you. But just where do you have in mind?"
"In fact, there's a new fruit dessert shop that's opened up across the street from my apartment. I tried it the other night and they have a mix of raspberries and blueberries that is heavenly…"
"Ok, that's a kind of salad I can get behind."
"Just so long as you remember to exercise, or it will end up going to your behind," Judy said, looking pointedly at the fox's buns.
"Ahem! Just what has gotten in to you, Carrots?"
"Nothing, yet, and that's a major part of the problem. I'm hungry!"
"Oh, pardon me, I was having thoughts…"
"Nothing printable, I'm certain."
"I wasn't the one drawing attention to parts of my partner's anatomy. Of course, if I were to do so, there is…" Nick stopped. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor, he thought.
Judy continued dragging the fox along for another dozen steps. "You were saying?"
"Nothing … really nothing."
"'Berry-Berry'? Is that really a good idea – naming a restaurant after a dietary deficiency disease?" Nick asked as he took a deep breath in through his nose and open mouth.
Judy's nose twitched as she drank in all the wonderful scents in the restaurant as well as the heavier, musky odor of her partner. She coughed into her napkin. "It smells just wonderful – what are you having?"
"This is their 'Berry Surprise'. And a mug of catnip tea. The joys of modern technology – being able to order ahead."
"I can't understand why you'd drink that stuff. It's a euphoric, isn't it? Why not drink what everyone else drinks – coffee?"
"Not everyone else can handle a triple espresso jolt like you," Nick said, pointing at the mug of dark brew next to the lapine doe. "Vulpines – that's foxes – and canines in general, can't handle caffeine. It's poisonous to us – just like theobromine. That's why I can't eat chocolate or walnuts."
"First time you mentioned it – if you can't eat chocolate, I really pity you. But I thought you loved coffee. Have you really been drinking that stuff all along?" Judy asked, pointing at the steaming mug by the fox.
"Since long before we met, Carrots. It helps me maintain my pleasant disposition," Nick said, and smiled a smile that was, for once, nothing more than a friendly one.
"So, you've beenstoned all these months?" Judy asked, startled.
"No. It just relaxes me a bit. And in case you hadn't noticed, Fangmire drinks easily three times as much as I do in a shift. I use one thermos each shift – he takes four with him when he's doing anything but a stakeout."
"Oh. How many does he take then?"
"He takes a six pack. What do you think that cooler is for that he hauls with him. Sandwiches? No, it's for drinks."
"But is he getting stoned regularly?"
"Hardly. Think about it, Carrots. Fangmire weighs in at 220 pounds – none of it fat. Dripping wet, I tip the scales at 94 pounds. I doubt that he even gets a slight buzz on, even the way he chews on the leftover teabags."
"There's a scene I'd like to see…" Judy said.
"Fangmire chewing catnip teabags? Just catch him at the end of shift sometime…"
Judy laughed. "No, you, dripping wet," she said, then stuffed a mixture of chopped up apple and strawberries and fennel leaves into her mouth.
Nick opened his mouth, started to say something, closed his mouth, then opened again and sat there, temporarily dumbstruck.
"I knew you, as a predator, liked fish. But imitating one while wolfing down fruit? Isn't that going to extremes?" Judy asked.
Nick took a deep breath. "I couldn't believe that you just said that, Judy."
"Believe it. I may be just a dumb bunny, but we do know how to multiply," she said, and grinned at the dumbstruck fox. She stretched out one leg and ran her foot up and down the side of his leg.
Nick stood up straight, moved his leg, and turned to the side, moving just out of reach of a questing foot. "Please, stop. Red light."
"Pooh! You won't let me tease you? Now how is that fair?" she said, settling back in her seat.
"It was getting just a bit too … well … you know. Please don't make things more difficult for me? Please?" Nick begged, a whine creeping into his normally self-assured voice.
Judy bowed her head, then exposed her throat in submission. "Sorry, partner. I didn't think…"
"Exactly. Sore spot." Nick interrupted. "Apology accepted."
They continued to eat, in silence.
"That was delicious," Judy said, bouncing in her seat.
"And you're on a slight sugar high, now, Carrots."
"So – if we go back to your apartment, we can put on a video – and relax for a bit."
"You're sure about that?"
"Yes. Do you have anything else you'd rather do?" She blinked, and opened her eyes as wide as she could.
Nick took a deep breath. "News first, though. We need to keep up-to-date on what's happening, so we don't get behind the loop."
"Behind the loop?"
"OODA," Nick said.
"Ok, what's going on with you, foxie?"
"I didn't stop learning things just because I left school, or left the Academy. The difference between us, Carrots, is that you started this way, focused on becoming the best law enforcement officer there is. Focused. I was just trying to stay alive and do it with a certain amount of style. I have some catching up to do, and I'm not a 'dumb fox'. So I have to learn as fast and as well as I can, just to catch up to you, Lieutenant Judith Hopps."
"That's a nice speech, foxie. But what is 'OODA'?"
"Ok. Observer, Orient, Decide, Act. The person who wins in combat is the one who keeps 'ahead of the loop' compared to his opponent." Nick held up a hand to stop the pending interruption. "And before you say it, no I haven't served in the military. But I listen to the chitchat in the bullpen. And Fangmire is ex-military; he did six years in the Marines as an M-P. He's always willing to tell war stories. Francine was an Air Patrolwoman – she'll tell you tales of the airmen and women that will make your fur stand on end. Most of the force is ex-military. ZPD likes bringing in ex-military, though they prefer ex-military that have had military police training. You – and other Mammal Inclusion Initiative candidates – are in a distinct minority."
"A minority that includes you, too, foxie. If you hadn't been involved in solving the night howler case…"
"Yeah, don't remind me. I wouldn't have gotten in to the Academy with my record of near misses with the law. But I've been a 'good fox' since then. And the Mammal Inclusion Initiative helped me too, so we're both in the same minority, partner."
"But getting a foot in the door was just the first step."
"Acknowledged, Lieutenant," Nick said, as he waved the waitress over to get the check. "My treat, tonight."
"Are you sure, Nick? And … drop the 'lieutenant', please? Sore spot."
Nick looked over the tab, and flinched. "Ok," he said, and he put the bill on plastic.
"Popcorn?" Judy asked, from where she had sprawled on the living room couch.
"News first. Have to see what's happening outside our own little parts of the battlefield."
"Must you? You're acting as if everything was a military action. Ooda, battlefield, and so on? Again, you never served…"
"And quite happy at that," Nick said, as he waited for the microwave popcorn. "But we're both in what amounts to a paramilitary organization, Lieu…" he stopped. "Sorry, I said I wouldn't call you by your rank. But it does prove my point."
"Would you be happier if my title was 'senior manager', or 'lead patrolman', or…"
"Actually, it doesn't really matter. Can we let the matter drop? I'm beginning to be sorry I mentioned it in the first place."
"So, the 'dumb bunny' is right and the 'sly fox' is wrong?"
"You're not a 'dumb bunny', or I wouldn't love … like … you as much," Nick said.
"Oh? So which 'L' word is it, foxie?"
Nick brought in a bowl of popcorn. "News channel first. Thank goodness I got a DVR or we'd have to wait for hours…" Nick said, pointedly ignoring the rabbit's question.
The screen lit up with the Channel 4 news anchors, a large female feline and a larger male moose. Judy hugged the bowl of popcorn to her chest and stuffed a pawful into her mouth. She'd tolerate the fox's news addiction.
"The Center for Disease Control and local medical authorities have recommended a limited medical quarantine as a result of this outbreak of myxomatosis…" Peter Moosebridge's recorded image said.
"Nick, stop the playback!" Judy shouted, past a mouthful of popcorn.
Nick stabbed at the control. "What's the matter, Judy?"
"Run it back – where is the outbreak of myxomatosis. And what form is it."
"I was cued up at the 'start' of the newscast. Time of start isn't perfect, so I may have lost a minute or so. Let's just look it up on your phone."
"Because you've got a bigger data limit, if I know you."
"Hunh. Turn off the set."
Judy brought up the Net on her phone and did a quick scan for "myxomatosis outbreak".
Myxomatosis Outbreak in Bunnyburrow
Eighty-five cases of the peracute form of myxomatosis have been reported in Bunnyburrow since Thursday. As of Sunday morning, there were sixty deaths. The only initial signs of infection may be lethargy, swelling of eyelids, loss of appetite and fever.
The peracute form of the disease progresses most rapidly and may cause death within seven days of infection, and within two days of first demonstration of symptoms.
The Center for Disease Control has sent specialists and supplies of anti-virals to Bunnyburrow in response to the outbreak. A limited medical quarantine has been imposed by local police and medical authorities…
"Crap on a cracker!" Judy said, handing her phone to Nick.
Nick swallowed. "This sounds … bad. Don't you think you should call your parents, and find out how they're doing?" He handed the phone back. "I'm hitting the washroom – you can have a bit of privacy…"
Nick stayed in the washroom as long as he could, trying not to overhear anything. Until he heard Judy crying. Then he burst out and rushed to her side. "What news, Carrots?" He tried to smile.
"Mom is sick. Very sick. She's positive for myxomatosis virus. They put her in isolation at the local hospice."
"You mean hospital, don't you?"
"No, Nick. I meant what I said."
"But that's where they…" Nick swallowed, his throat was suddenly very dry.
"I need to go back to the farm. Tonight."
"Mom doesn't have long. I won't be back for a couple of days. I'll send an e-mail to Bogo and Clawhauser, but if you'd tell people at roll call on Monday?"
"Sure…whatever you need, Judy."
"Thanks – I'll have to take a raincheck on tonight's movie. Maybe Friday after next?" Judy said, trying to smile. Nick wiped a tear of the rabbit's cheek.
"Yeah, sure. See you to the tram?"
"I'll have to stop at my apartment - just need to pack enough for a couple of days."
"Understood."Chapter 4: "The hardest part is waiting"
Monday Morning, ZPD Headquarters
Nick checked his phone for perhaps the tenth time since he'd left Judy at the midnight express train to Bunnyburrow Saturday night. There were no more messages or texts than when he'd check the night before
A yell of "Wilde – my office. Now!" from the second floor overlook brought him back to the "now".
"On my way!" Nick yelled back, and broke into a run. "Bullbutt is going to make things worse, I just know it," he muttered to himself, quietly enough so that none of the other patrolmen heading towards the bullpen could be expected to hear.
Nick checked his watch just as he came to the Chief's office. Twelve seconds. Not bad. Certainly can't be accused of dawdling. "You bellowed, oh Chief of All?" he asked, as he opened the door and strode into Bogo's office.
"Just what is the message from Hopps supposed to mean?"
"Well, sir, I can't be sure what the message was for certain, though I might be able to guess. Was it a text, an e-mail or a voice mail message? And could you let me see or hear it, so that I might be …"
Bogo came around his desk faster than would have seemed possible for one of his size. "Cut the crap, Wilde," he said, as he loomed over the diminutive fox. "Your partner – your senior partner – just said that she was 'taking a week's personal time' and to expect her back in a week. Just what in the pluperfect subjunctive is it about? And I don't need sarcasm right now – I am not in the mood for attitude."
Nick took a deep breath. The Chief was clearly more annoyed than usual; about what, he couldn't be certain, but … perhaps it would be better to not throw gasoline on the obvious fire. "The myxomatosis outbreak – you've heard the news, I hope?"
"Yes, the CDC and the PDs of Bunnyburrow and Podunk are taking care of the problem. So just why does one of my Lieutenants have to take 'personal time' right now?"
"Her mother was infected, sir. And with all due respect to your rank and position, sir…"
A massive paw settled on Wilde's shoulder. "Stop. Right. There."
Another deep breath. "Chief Bogo, her mother was in a hospice on Saturday evening. I ran a check on the Net, and the peracute form that she'd developed has 'a poor prognosis for survival'." He took a third deep breath. "Lieutenant Hopps went there to say goodbye – she took the midnight express on Saturday, and I imagine - and I've not heard word from her myself since I saw her off – that Hopps will have to help her father arrange for a funeral, and … she would be authorized, per regulation, to take at least three days in the event of the death of a parent or guardian."
"And just what gives you the idea that I would tolerate this, patrolman Wilde? And what gave her the idea…"
"With apologies, sir, article 6.7 paragraph A, Memorandum of Understanding No. 25 Jointly Submitted to the Zootopia City Council Regarding the Police Officers, Captain and Above Representation Unit reads, and I quote, 'Each member of this Unit shall be entitled to three days leave of absence with full pay for a death in the employee's immediate family. Any employee may, at the employee's option, choose to use up to two additional days of leave (or up to four additional days when out-of-state travel is required) in conjunction with any bereavement leave. Such additional days of leave shall be, in descending priority, compensatory time off or, if no compensatory time off is available for use, vacation leave or, if neither compensatory time off nor vacation leave is available for use, sick leave.' As we are required to uphold the laws and regulations established and pomulgated…"
"Enough. Darn bedroll lawyers. So she's taking a full week? Just what did she tell you? Has her mother died already?"
"Lieutenant Hopps told me that she was going to e-mail you and that I shouldn't expect her back for a week," Nick said. "As to the status of her mother … I'm afraid that I'm as much in the dark as you are, sir. She hasn't returned my calls."
Bogo growled deep in his chest, but he lifted his massive paw off Nick's shoulder. "If and when the good Lieutenant Hopps decides to tell you anything, you will be so kind as to tell me, won't you? Because if you don't, you're going to be on traffic detail until the next Academy class graduates."
"I will update you, sir, as soon as I hear anything from Lieutenant Hopps. Will that be all, sir?"
"Yes, get out of here. And don't forget to update me!"
Nick backed out of the office and closed the door quietly, then took off for the bullpen. Maybe five minutes to spare before roll call, and I'll need a double strength catnip tea to get the taste of this 'conversation' out of my mouth.
Monday Afternoon, End of Shift
"Please leave your message at the sound of the beep"
"Judy, this is Nick. It's Monday, 5:45 pm, and I just came off shift a few minutes ago. Please call back and let me know what happened – and how things are going for you. If you need me, I can take some PTO myself and come down there to help. If you don't need me, give me a buzz anyway and let me know what's happening. Bogo wants an update too, but I can hold him off for a couple of days at least. I read him chapter and verse from the relevant memorandum regarding your leave."Chapter 5: Moments of Transition, Moments of Revelation
"Please leave your message at the sound of the beep"
"Judy, this is Nick, for about the thirtieth time. I expect that you've been having a rough time there in Bunnyburrow, but have some mercy on those of us who care about you here in Zootopia. Nothing more to say, other than … yeah … it's 6:15, I miss you, and you know my number. Get back to me when you can – and let the Chief know if you're going to need a few more days."
Nick set the phone down on his kitchen counter, and went back to scrounging in the fridge for something to eat. "Leftover fish from Wednesday. Hmmm… is it still any good?" A quick sniff, and the fish joined several other half eaten meals in the trash. The lettuce, watercress, and remaining fennel joined the fish a few seconds later. I'll have to do some grocery shopping … tomorrow. He looked at his paws, sniffed, and decided that after handling all the well-past-date food, they could do with a good scrubbing. On second thought, he sniffed again, maybe I could do with a more extensive scrubbing.
He shrugged out of his Hawaiian shirt, picked up his phone, and shed his pants halfway to the shower. Maybe Carrots will call once I'm in the shower.
He stood, head down, under the spray for at least ten minutes. Not bothering at first with shampoo or soap, just letting the water soak his coat down to the skin. It will take forever to dry, but right now, I can use it. This week has been bad; Judy hasn't called back – I can understand it. When mom died … has it been eight years ago, already? … I was a wreck for the better part of a month. Just let the water wash everything away … cares, worries, everything. Never let it show, never let it stick to you.
Can't just stand here forever, though, he thought, and began lathering up with body shampoo. He began humming the latest Gazelle hit, when he heard his phone. Try Everything, "It's Judy!" he yelled, recognizing the ringtone. He flung open the shower door and leapt to the phone, reaching it in a single bound, slamming an index claw on the "accept" button, almost hard enough to break the plasticene face.
And then he saw the other end of the video call; it was Stu Hopps, Judy's father, looking as though someone had just hit him on the head with a baseball bat. Omigod, I left the video send on…a quick clawswipe corrected the error. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hopps, I was in the shower. I must have looked a sight."
"Were you in the habit of 'showing this much' to my daughter?"
"No, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. But I … a lot of us on the force have been worried about Judy. Can you put her on? How did you wife do?" Nick asked, realizing as he did that he'd asked precisely the wrong question.
"Bonnie didn't make it," Stu Hopps said.
"I … am … so … sorry," Nick said. "My condolences. When will the funeral be?"
"There won't be a funeral."
"They burned the bodies of all the infected in portable crematoria. 'To stop the spread of infection'."
"Oh … then when will the memorial service be?"
"There will be a service for all the rabbits who died this next Wednesday."
"There's no risk of further infections?"
"No … I mean yes. The outbreak is over and the quarantine has been lifted."
"Then I'll be down…"
"No! You are not welcome! If it weren't for you, Judy would have stayed here on the farm after she quit. She would have settled as she should have. And maybe she would be alive, now."
"You mean your wife…"
"No, you son-of-a-vixen. Judy is dead because of you – and your big city ways. If you show your stinking self in Bunnyburrow, I swear I will not be responsible for the consequences!"
It felt as though the floor had fallen out from under him. "My most heartfelt condolences for your losses, Mr. Hopps. I thank you for taking the time to call me and let me know what had happened. Goodbye."
He cut the connection, threw the phone against the wall, settled down on his haunches, and cried.
Nick staggered to his feet and flushed the toilet; he stumbled to the washbasin and rinsed out his mouth. An eight-pack of hard cider was probably too much on an empty stomach. He looked up at himself in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot, his fur was an absolute mess. He'd also managed to throw up onto his undershirt as well as into the toilet earlier – a secondary mess.
He pulled off the undershirt and tossed it into the laundry hamper. At least I managed to throw up into the toilet instead of the laundry hamper. This time.
He turned back to the mirror. His ventral fur was a mess; he'd not bothered to properly rinse out the shampoo the night before, and after he'd started drinking…well…his fur from the waist up stood out in unruly spikes, stiff and brittle. Like my life, right now. He shook his head and immediately regretted it; an ache started at the base of his skull and wrapped around his head like a crown of thorns.
He took a deep breath, and pulled a bottle of OTC painkillers out of the medicine cabinet. He looked at the instructions, his eyes barely focusing on the fine print. Then he poured out four tablets – if two was good, four should be twice as good – and sluiced the four "horse pills" down with several glasses of tap water.
He dragged himself back into the living room, and settled onto his couch. There was a knock at the door.
"Go away!" he yelled, then immediately regretted it; his head throbbed and his eyeballs ached.
The reply was muffled by the heavy door. Then it opened slowly. "Are you decent?" someone said through the door.
"No. I'm not decent. I'm never going to be 'decent' again," he said, then broke down again, sobbing. He put his head down between his legs, fingers laced, his paws behind his head. Let the whole world go away.
"You look to be a real mess, Foxie. I thought that you said you'd never let them 'get' to you? Who hurt you this much?"
Nick shuddered. "I can't be hearing this – it must be a hallucination. Judy's dead, so I can't be hearing her."
"Dead? Just what's gotten in to you, Foxie?" Judy said, as she hopped over the coffee table and settled down beside the fox. "Yuck! What have you done to your fur?" she asked, as she poked at one of the spikes of the fox's ventral fur.
"Ow! That…" Nick's mouth closed with an audible snap as he turned to regard the bunny with bloodshot eyes. "You're not dead!"
"I'm not dead yet. I'm sorry I didn't respond to your phone messages – I was busy taking care of my mother. She lived through the infection – the anti-virals that the CDC brought with them really stopped the outbreak cold. After Sunday, no one died. So why didn't you pick up your phone when I called you?"
"Your father called."
"Oh. I told him about us, and he was a bit … well … it could have gone better. Did you two argue much?"
"He used your phone – he said you'd died."
"Oh, cheese and crap on a cracker! And that's why you're like this? What happened to 'never let them get to you'?"
"You got to me," he sobbed. "And I thought you'd died and I never told you how I felt about you…"
Judy wrapperd her arms around the fox's chest, rubbing at his fur in a vain attempt to smooth the fox's matted, spiked, fur. "Well, I think you just answered my earlier question," she said.
"Which 'L' you meant. So emotional, you foxes. One other question - why didn't you call me back this morning. I left you voice mail."
"I need a new phone."
"After your father told me that you died, I threw my phone against the wall. The wall won."
"My dad has his problems when it comes to trusting foxes. Especially when it comes to … certain kinds of inter-species activities."
"He doesn't like inter-species couples? And so he lied to me – "
"Well, he certainly knew I wasn't dead, and if he told you that I was, he probably just wanted me to be dead to you. He doesn't really like foxes all that much, although he has made a few small exceptions."
"If you can make an exception…"
"I already said so, foxie," she said, and tapped his head, stopping only when Nick winced. "I hope this little incident teaches you not to seek escape in the bottom of a bottle. Just what have you been drinking, anyway?"
"Hard cider – way too much hard cider."
"I think you, foxie, need to go to bed for a few hours. I'll make something for your dinner. And I brought a movie – if you can handle it."
"For you – I'll try. What's the movie?" Nick managed to say.
"Sleepless in Zootopia…"
 General code for mealtime.
 Lights and siren – emergency running.