Midday traffic. Perhaps Judy's least favorite aspect of her job. Bunnyburrow only had three traffic lights, so coming from that to Zootopia took some adjustments in more ways than one.
However, she couldn't see herself ever adjusting to this.
"Are you kidding me?" she bellowed at a taxi that swerved in front of their car, forcing her to slam on the brakes. Nick had braced himself for the sudden stop and was unfazed. "Who the hell cuts off a police cruiser?" The tips of her ears burned, and she gripped the steering wheel so tight Nick could practically hear it..
Nick looked over at her and pondered how much he valued his life. Not enough to not do what I'm about to do.
"So, Carrots," he began nonchalantly. He pulled a lollipop out of his pocket and started unwrapping it. "Do all bunnies get road rage this bad, or is it just you?"
Judy's pupils narrowed, and the glare she gave her partner could have melted a hole through a bank vault. "Nick, I swear to all that is holy-"
Nick threw his hands up in the air in surrender. "Hey, don't mind me, Carrots. Just looking out for your mental health."
"...And the physical health of our fellow drivers, but that's not-" was all he could get out before she snatched away his lollipop and threw it out the window.
Nick cocked an eyebrow. "I'll have you know, Officer Hopps, that littering in Savanna Central warrants a $50 fine, minimum. Also, I was going to eat that."
He was enjoying this. Perhaps too much, but hey, what's too much of a good thing? He could almost see the steam venting out of her ears. He decided to pull back a little bit; they were only a few blocks from The Watering Hole, an upscale cafe in downtown Savanna Central, and Judy was starting to resemble a feral wolverine than a bunny.
"Carrots, relax. We're not late, the place is only a few blocks away, and I promise, you're an excellent driver."
She stopped gritting her teeth and her vicegrip on the steering wheel relaxed somewhat.
"I-, you-, this- ugh!" That was all she could get out before planting her face square on the wheel. The light they were sitting at was still red, and she began rhythmically beating her forehead against the wheel.
"I. hate. traffic. so. much," she whined. Each word was punctuated with a thump of her head.
"Now, how are you going to look with a big red mark on your forehead trying to weasel information out of this guy?" Nick asked.
Judy pulled her head back from the wheel in time to see the light turn green after what felt like decades.
"I don't even have the patience to remind that, once again, "weasel information" is pretty racist," Judy said. "Especially for someone who helped stop a plot to permanently divide predators and prey in the biggest corruption scandal in city history."
"Right, I'll take that into consideration," Nick said amused.
Judy was torn between fuming at the increasing aloofness of her partner and smiling at his obvious, albeit infuriating, attempts to cheer her up. They crossed out of the shadow of a skyscraper as they pulled out of the intersection and sunlight shone through the car. Judy squinted, suddenly frustrated with both herself and the glowing orb in the sky. Why didn't I take Nick's offer to buy me some sunglasses?
She glanced over at her partner as she turned right, only a few minutes to the cafe. The sun hit Nick dead in the face, illuminating is auburn-red fur. He tipped his shades down with a finger, and his half-smile glinted dangerously in the light. "What, Carrots?" he asked. His tone turned flirtatious. "See something you like?"
Her heart skipped a beat. His teeth looked so sharp, but they didn't look threatening. No, that's what old Judy would have thought. Now, in the sun, his cocky grin almost looked… what was the word…
"H-hah, in your dreams, Wilde!" she replied, perhaps a little too hastily.
"Ouch, Carrots, cut right into my poor foxy feelings with that one," Nick chuckled, propping his glasses back into place. Outwardly, Nick was a picture of composure. Inside, though, he practically feel his blood pressure spiking. The palms of his hands felt clammy, and he exhaled a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
What the hell were you thinking? He berated himself. See something you like? What are you, a greaser from the 50s? When have you ever said 'See something you like?' Never, you idiot.
The pair's respective trances were broken when yet another taxi cab darted across the lane in front of Judy, forcing her to slam on the brakes. Nick found himself flung forward against his seatbelt, unprepared for the sudden stop.
"ARE YOU BLIND? HOW DO YOU NOT SEE ME HERE? I'M IN A SQUAD CAR, FOR PETE'S SAKE! I MEAN, CHEESE AND CRACKERS, I'M RIGHT HERE!" Judy roared with all the fury a bunny could muster, all thoughts about Nick's toothy grin abandoned.
"Jeez, Carrots, really got him good with that 'cheese and crackers' line," Nick said, his voice dripping with sour honey.
The fox knew he deserved what was coming, so he just sat back and enjoyed Judy's verbal onslaught with a lazy smile on his face until they reached their destination.
The two managed to squeeze into a spot only a block away from The Watering Hole.
"...And if I hear another peep out of your smug, hustling little mouth, I promise you Wilde, I will end you before this day is through," Judy threatened Nick as they stepped out of the car.
"You know, Carrots, with that attitude you'd make for a pretty good wolf. Or a bear, even. I can picture your hackles raising right now," Nick replied, ignoring her threat.
She sped up in front of him and poked him in the chest as menacingly as she could.
Nick gulped. For such a small mammal, and one that was supposed to be his natural prey, Judy could be downright terrifying when she wanted to.
His tail frizzed out a bit, and he gave a weak salute. "Uh, yes ma'am."
Judy slid her finger up his chest and onto his cheek, cupping it. She knew she'd won. "See Nick," she said, saccharine staining her words. "That's all I wanted to hear."
She pulled an about face and practically skipped towards the restaurant, savoring her victory. Nick stood there, eyes wide, his paw trailing up to his cheek. Hm, looks like today is full of new developments.
He caught up to her as they entered the establishment. Smoky cherry doors opened into a standing area in front of a long counter with the lights dimmed low. The cafe accommodated animals of all sizes, even featuring an outdoor patio section for giraffes. Various mammals were tucked away in the booths lining the cafe, sipping coffees, munching on pastries, and furiously typing away at laptops, while others placed orders with the fashionable baristas behind the counter. Nick eyed the prices above them: a little high, but not exorbitant, with a wide variety of organic teas, coffees, and smoothies. At the back of the restaurant sat an arctic hare in a bowtie with long, snowy ears, a sketchbook in hand, and an herbal tea on the table. Judy signaled to Nick to follow her, and made her way to the hare's table.
The hare looked up as they approached and smiled a toothy grin. He stood up to greet his guests, his white fur more of an light tan in the low light. "Officer Judy Hopps," Cameron Cotton began. "It's a pleasure to see you again." His voice was resonant and sharp, and he spoke a little too quickly, like he was already thinking of the next thing to say. Definitely lived in Zootopia a while, thought Nick. Probably his whole life. Nick also took note of the thin cigarette tin in the hare's front pocket, but couldn't smell any smoke on him.
"It's good to see you again, Cameron," Judy replied.
"Please, Officer Hopps, I'm only Cameron to my mother. Call me Cam."
Judy gave the hare a warm smile. "If you insist, Cam."
Cameron's eyes shifted to Nick. While Nick was a full head taller than Judy, Cameron was only a few inches shorter than he was. The hare's ears definitely gave him an edge.
Judy noticed Cam's eyes. "Oh, right. Cam, this is my partner-"
"Yes, of course. Officer Wilde, 50 percent of the duo that saved the city. Officer Hopps has told me a lot about you," Cam said. He extended his paw to the fox.
Nick took it and shook it firmly. Cam's paw felt strong, but precise, and Nick could feel light callouses on his pads. Nick had shaken a lot of paws and hooves to close deals during his hustling days, and he knew there was a lot to tell from a mammal's handshake. Too hard or too many shakes meant they were overcompensating. A single shake meant they were only interested in business. Reading others was one of his strong suits.
However, despite his street-honed perception, he couldn't glean a single bit of information from the hare, except that he was immaculate about how he presented himself. Nick felt his eyes narrow slightly. "Only tales of my heroic deeds, I'm sure," Nick said, slipping into his hustler persona momentarily.
"Only the most noble and daring, I assure you," Cam said coolly, releasing his paw and taking his seat. Nick could feel Cam's eyes scanning over him, doing exactly what Nick just did to him. "Now, please, sit down. While I appreciate the call, Officer Hopps, I'm sure you didn't reach out to me during work hours just to have a chat."
Nick and Judy took a seat opposite Cam. A waitress came and took their orders. Nick requested a hazelnut coffee with one and a half sugars, while Judy asked for an organic carrot tea.
Once the waitress left to put in the orders, Judy leaned forward. "Cam, you remember when you told me I could come to you for information and vice versa?" she asked.
"Like yesterday, Officer Hopps. May I call you Judy?"
Judy blinked. "Oh, um, sure, I don't mind."
Cam took a quick sip of his tea. "Thank you. Formality is great for first impressions, but I'd say we're past that. So, you're coming for information, is that it?"
"Yes, and while I can't go into any details, sources from the precinct are limited, so we'd appreciate any help you can offer."
Cam leaned back, and a corner of his mouth curled up. "It's the gambling ring, isn't it Officer Hopps?" he asked, his voice steady and smooth.
Judy's eyes widened, and Nick stared at the hare. Cam broke into a full grin. "Hah, I knew it," he said triumphantly.
"H-how did you-" Judy began.
"Officer Hopps, it's my job to know exactly what's going on in the city. It was either that or the drug running operation going on in Sahara Square, and the gambling ring is proximally closer."
Nick paused. "Wait, what drug running operation? What are you talking about?"
Cam took another sip from his cup. "Well, I haven't confirmed that it's drug related yet, but there have been a few high-profile hospitalizations in the last couple of weeks down there. Local celebrities, media personalities, that sort of thing. PR has tried to get it to blow over, and for the most part, it has. Hospital records are obviously locked tight, but my sources have all come back to me with the same list of symptoms. Bounding energy, followed by frantic seizures, followed by temporary catatonia. I could be off, but I imagine your chief will be briefing you in a few weeks about a Nighthowler derivative spreading around our backyard to the south."
Judy slumped back in her chair, taken aback at Cam's words. Nick realized his jaw was slack, and shut it quickly. "A Nighthowler derivative… How long have you been looking into this?" she asked.
"A few months," he replied simply. The waitress came back with Nick and Judy's drinks. Nick immediately took a long sip and nearly scorched his tongue again.
"But that's not why we're here," Cam said, his tone lowering. "You're looking for leads into this gambling ring, right?"
Nick and Judy looked at one another. "Yes, we're trying to keep this on the down-low," Judy said. "Our current sources are coming up… short, you could say, so any assistance would be appreciated."
"Honestly, even the smallest thing could lead to something," Nick chimed in. "But we understand if you don't have much. There's not a lot to go on."
"I wouldn't worry about that, Officer Wilde," Cam replied. "And of course I'll share what I know. Anything to help out the ZPD."
There's no way this guy is this cool under pressure, Nick thought. How is someone so smarmy this good at reading people. God, he reminds me of… of…
Judy's words in the cruiser echoed in Nick's head.
"He reminds me of you in a lot of ways."
Aw, cheese and crackers, he thought.
"Well, officers, at the risk of sounding like a flea market salesman, but you've come to the right place," Cam said, pulling out his notebook. "Now, what you two did during that Nighthowler case did a number on organized crime in the area. Major operations have basically shrunk to zero, at least temporarily, in the wake of the case. Well, except Mr. Big. He still has, and probably will always have his operation in Tundratown, but between you and me, I think he's secretly a big softy."
Nick and Judy looked at one another, and then back to the hare. "Woah, hold up a minute," Nick said. He furrowed his brow at Cam. "Mr. Big has that town wrapped around his little finger. He gets what he wants, when he wants it. How can you call him soft?"
Cam rested his chin on his paw. "Officer Wilde, I know you've got some history with Big. Let me ask you, in all the years you've been around him or people that know him, can you recall even one time that someone legitimately disappeared when they went to him? Or anyone disappearing, for that matter?"
Nick raised a finger, about to reply, but stopped. He thought back; he couldn't recall a single instance of a mammal going missing after a visit to Mr. Big. Plenty of people were threatened with getting iced, of course, but now that he looked back, he never heard of anyone actually getting iced.
"This is just me talking, but I think he wants to give off the illusion that he's this dangerous mob boss killer, when really he's just trying to make money and keep crime down," Cam said, drinking the last of his tea.
Nick fumed silently; how had he never noticed that before? Was he that sloppy to miss something that obvious?
Judy considered speaking up about how threatening mammals with death was still a crime, and didn't excuse anything about Mr. Big, but thought better of it when she recalled her and Nick's 'interesting' method of getting information out of Weaselton during the Nighthowler case.
"Mr. Big's neither here nor there, though," Cam said. "My point was that the work you two did legitimately hit local opinion on organized crime for the last several months, but like poverty and taxes, crime's not something that really goes away forever.
He started flipping through his notes until he stopped at a page heavily inked with what looked like incoherent scribbles. He flipped it around and slid it across the table. Nick turned away and rolled his eyes.
Who does this guy think he is, action star Jack Savage passing us some government secrets?
"I've heard some whispers here and there about a laundromat on Baobab Avenue that seems to be doing much better than its clientele would suggest," he said, gesturing to his notebook. An address, or at least a poor facsimile of one was written in chicken-scratch. "One of my sources said he's seen some shady looking types coming and going semi-regularly. Doesn't mean anything, but the owner's a bighorn sheep that's had some run-ins with ZPD before. Small-time money laundering, pickpocketing, that sort of thing. Name's John Woolenstein, check your records, should be in there."
"Okay, so there's a ram with a rap sheet running a cleaning service, so what?" Nick said. An edge had slid into his voice. Why was he getting frustrated? This was routine police work he and Judy were doing.
Judy briefly glanced at her partner, an eyebrow slightly raised. Nick knew she'd caught the mild frustration in his voice, and if she caught it, then Cam definitely did.
Cam merely smiled. "Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, Officer Wilde, but staking out the laundromat and seeing who goes in could provide some information. If any mammals that head in match the photos I'm sure your chief showed you as proof of this operation, then you may have a solid lead."
Nick felt his internal furnace fire on all cylinders, but Judy beamed.
"Cam, that's brilliant!" she said with exuberance. "Heck, we could have a stakeout organized by tonight, even."
Cam chuckled and put his notepad back into his bag. "Like I said, anything to help out the ZPD and their famous rabbit officer. I'll forward you the information when I get back to the office." Although barely noticeable, Nick noticed Judy's ears snapped to attention at the compliment.
"Oh, please, Cam. Flattery will get you nowhere." She rolled her eyes with a familiarity that Nick wasn't aware she and Cam had.
He shrugged. "Eh, you'd be surprised where flattery can get you in my line of work, Judy."
"Is that how you got to where you are? Overbearing charm and a sharp pen?"
"No. Well yes, but no," he said. He let himself laugh at his own joke. "No, recognizing a smart business relationship has gotten me farther than anything else."
Nick was glancing between the two, their informality not missed on him. Neither was Cam's use of Judy's first name. He fought the urge to frown, forcing himself to appear indifferent to the current conversation.
The waitress brought over a check for them. Judy began to reach for it when Cam snatched it off the table.
"Cam, that's really not necess-" Judy began.
Cam raised a paw and pulled out a credit card from his wallet. "Please, Officer Hopps, I insist. Besides, the News-Herald gives me an allowance for when I go out with mammals of interest, so it will literally cost me nothing." He slid the card into the holder with the check, and within moments their waitress picked it up.
"Well then, at least let me express my gratitude by leaving a tip," Judy said, reaching for her own wallet.
"You're not going to let this go, are you Officer Hopps?"
"'Fraid not. I may be from Bunnyburrow, but letting a man pay for everything isn't something I can abide."
"Well, you stick by your principles. I can respect that," Cam said.
Judy nodded curtly. "Thank you," she said and pulled out a five.
Inwardly, Nick was gagging at the two. She's let me pay for stuff plenty of times, where was this modern-bunny schtick then?
"Is that what I am, by the way? A 'mammal of interest?'" she asked.
"Officer Hopps, you've been of interest to the paper since you joined the force," Cam said. "First rabbit officer? Not gonna lie, Judy, when I saw that you'd joined the force, it… felt good, you know?" Cam seemed to relax, his slyness having melted away into genuine sincerity. "Getting second-guessed by superiors, being mocked for your size, your ideas getting dismissed... well, I'm sure I don't have to tell you about what that's like."
It was becoming harder and harder for Nick to feign disinterest.
Judy unconsciously rubbed the back of her neck. "Things were a little rough going there in the beginning, but we made it through," she said, feeling somewhat self-conscious in the face of praise. "You know, I almost got kicked out of the ZPD for insubordination during the Nighthowler case. I think the Chief didn't like the idea of an uppity bunny officer taking a crack at the case that was stumping his best detectives." The tips of her ears felt warm, and the pride she felt in the morning when she looked at her uniform came surging back.
"See, that's exactly what I'm talking about," Cam replied, leaning forward in his seat. "Rabbits, hares, shrews, weasels… hell, they could all use more ambassadors like you."
Judy felt her cheeks turn pink under her grey fur.
"You too, Officer Wilde," Cam said, looking at the fox. Nick was pulled from his reverie of pretending not to be interested in their conversation? "Hmm? What do you mean?" Nick asked.
"Well, first fox officer couldn't have been a walk in the park, either," Cam said. "I talk to a lot of foxes, and I'm well aware of the unwarranted reputation they have. It's just good to see the little guys get some recognition, you know?"
Nick chuckled, his throat dry. "Heh, I appreciate it, but I don't really consider myself one of the 'little guys,' especially compared to a bunny and a hare," he said.
"Maybe not to us, but compared to a rhino or polar bear? Couldn't have been easy." He glanced at the watch on his wrist briefly. "Ah, I've wasted enough of your time already," he said abruptly, scooting out of his seat. "I didn't even realize it was nearly 9:30, I've got an interview at 10 that I need to prepare for."
"Oh, of course," Judy said, getting out of the booth as well. She extended her paw again. "It was good to see you again, Cam, and thanks for the information."
Cam took her paw and shook it. "I appreciate it, Officer Hopps, and likewise." He then took his other paw and placed it on hers, holding it in his hands. Although they were similar species, his paws seemed to envelop hers. "And remember, if you need any other tips, or you're just looking to chat, you've got my cell. Don't hesitate to call." He smirked, his voice dancing on the line between flattery and sincerity.
Judy was slightly taken aback at the gesture, but gave him a knowing look at his tone. "You charmer, you can't rely on that forever," she replied.
"It's gotten me this far," he said. Judy chuckled. Nick silently retched.
"Officer Wilde," Cam said, addressing Nick. "It was a pleasure to meet you. Judy has my number, so if you need anything, drop me a line."
"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind, Cotton," Nick said, nodding his head once.
Cam grabbed his bag from the booth and began to walk out. Before he reached the exit, he called out, "Oh, and do let me know how it goes! Always looking for a story."
"I'll think about it," Judy teased. With that, Cam stepped out the door and headed for his car.
Judy turned to Nick. "This is great! I doubt Bogo expected us to get a lead so quickly. We've got a bit of setup to do before we can organize a stake-out.," she said.
Nick frowned. "I'm not so sure about this, Carrots," he began. "I mean, sure, some ram with run-ins with the cops has a laundromat with some spooky guys going in. But you know what Baobab is like; there's not a single business in that neighborhood that doesn't serve a few shady types now and again."
"Nick, what are you talking about? This is our only lead that we have."
"Well, I guess I'm not so sure that this is a lead at all. That's all I'm saying."
Judy turned to face him. "Well, do you have any other ideas on where to get a lead?"
Nick thought briefly about asking Finnick if he knew anything about it, but shook the idea out of his head. Every way he looked at it, that exchange wouldn't end well, and he definitely wasn't prepared to deal with the fallout.
Judy jumped onto Nick's pause. "If you don't have any other ideas, why not go with this? It's one stake-out, it's not like it's going to cost us anything."
Nick stayed adamant. "Look, Carrots, I'm just not a big fan of wasting my time, or your time, for that matter. I think we should just move on and look for new information."
Judy squinted at her partner, her face beginning to contort into disgust. "Nick, why are you being like this? This could be a genuine lead, and if it's not, then we're no worse off than before."
Patrons were starting to glance at the pair out of the corners of their eyes, and Nick knew it. He avoided their gaze and stared at his feet.
He huffed, and crossed his arms. "Look, I'm just not sold on this Cam guy, that's all," he said. "He's a reporter, meaning he's got a vested interest in turning a non-story into a story." He paused briefly and shrugged. "I just don't really trust reporters, is all."
Nah, it's really just him, and his too-cool attitude, and knowing stuff that I don't, and calling Judy 'Judy,' and…
Oh, no. No, no way. Definitely not jealous. Nope, absolutely no chance. 100 percent jealousy free, that's me.
Judy softened a bit, but remained steadfast. "Nick, I understand if you're distrustful of the press, but I've gotten to know Cam pretty well. He's a good guy, and I really think this could help the case," she said. "That's all we want to do, right? So please, let's try this out, and if it turns out to be nothing, then we'll try something else."
Nick looked up at her big lavender eyes. He could feel her plea on his skin and smell it in the air. He found it harder and harder to maintain eye contact, and he felt the uncomfortable urge to fidget.
These new developments have to knock it off already.
"Ah, fine, whatever, Fluff, we'll try it your way," he said after a few moments, trying poorly to mask the pout in his voice. "But I want an extra blueberry pastry in the morning if I'm signing away my night to stare at a laundromat."
Judy giggled. "So that'll be what, four tomorrow, then? You better watch the sweets, Wilde, I can't have you lagging behind me."
Nick found a mite of his confidence again, and laughed with her. "Please, Carrots, you could use the handicap. You know I run rings around you."
"Whatever you say, dumb fox," she said, her eyes playful. "But really, I appreciate it, Nick. I know stake-outs suck, but if this works, we'll really be ahead of the game."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Nick groaned. "I just want night to come so we can do this before I change my mind."
"'Atta boy, that's the spirit! Disheartened resignation, exactly the attitude the ZPD strives for," she said, making her way out of the cafe. There was a new spring in her step, and her ears bounced as she stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Nick took a long swig of his coffee. It was the perfect temperature now: not too hot to burn his mouth, but still hot enough to warm his bones as it went down.
"I like to think I can be enthusiastic sometimes," Nick said.
Judy had turned around to face him, and was now walking backwards. "I suppose that's true, but I'm keeping an eye on you," she said. "I expect a certain level of aloofness and disinterested charm from you at all times, so you better keep it up."
"Whatever you say, Carrots."
"See, that's the spirit! Now, let's get back to the station. We've got to pick our ride for the stake-out."
"I'm definitely picking this time. You have absolutely no taste in cars. Last time you picked it almost made me ashamed to be your partner," Nick said.
"Hey, that car was really nice!" she retorted. "It was pretty and blue and had a nice radio."
"Carrots, when one of the ways you positively describe a car is by its color, that's proof you have no taste whatsoever."
"Oh, like yours is any better. You're just gonna pick something gaudy and ugly from the 1970s."
Nick looked honestly shocked. "Hey, I'll have you know the El Cowmino is a timeless classic, whether you're willing to admit it or not."
"I'm definitely picking the car. You'll pick something so obvious it'll be a dead giveaway."
Nick pondered a moment. "Okay, but only if I get another pastry tomorrow."
His partner shook her head, and pointed at his stomach. "You'll get four, and you'll like it. I can't have you getting sick tomorrow from overeating."
"Wait, I was already going to get four. So you're saying you get to pick the car and I get nothing in return?"
She smiled sickly sweet, her eyes closed and her cheeks dimpled. "That's what I'm saying."
Nick sighed; he clearly wasn't going to win this. "Fine, Fluff, whatever you say, you get to pick the car."
Judy did a little hop in the air, fists pumping in victory. "Geez, Carrots, have some respect for the badge," Nick teased.
She stopped hopping, feeling a little more aware of her surroundings. "Heh, whoops. Got a little carried away," she said.
Nick shook his head and smiled. "Nah, go nuts. Far be it from me to spoil your fun."
She looked up at him and nodded. "Well, if you insist." She began dancing her way to the cruiser, shaking her tail to an imaginary beat. Nick's eyes trained on the little tuft of fur poking out of her uniform; watching it bob back and forth may have well been a hypnotist's watch dangling in front of his face. His chest felt warm, and it had nothing to do with his coffee.
The pair hopped in their respective seats. Soon, they were on their way back to the precinct.
"So, Carrots," Nick started, doing his best to sound nonchalant. "You seemed to know Mr. Cotton back there pretty well."
"Really? We've only spoken a few times," Judy replied.
"C'mon, it was obvious," he said. "'Oh, Officer Hopps, may I call you Judy? I'd say we're past formalities now, wouldn't you?'" He spoke quickly in a high-pitched voice and in his best impression of a bad Zoo York accent that he could.
Judy snickered. "Nick, you know he doesn't sound like that."
He laughed along with her. "He might as well have. Geez, I thought I was smarmy, but now? Not even close."
She gave him a look that reminded him of school when he was a kit. "Be nice," she said, doing her best to sound like her mother. "He's a nice guy, and he's willing to help us out. Besides, I… sympathise with him."
Nick stopped. "What do you mean, sympathise with him?"
She felt his eyes on her and was struck with a bout of bashfulness.
"Well, you know..." she began, not quite sure where she was headed. "It's like what he said back at the cafe. He can sort of understand what it was like for me as a bunny officer, and I can sympathise with him not being taken seriously as a hare. There's a, uh, level of understanding there that not a lot of other mammals have."
Nick's face had confusion written all over it. "What are you talking about, Carrots, I understand exactly what you went through. I was there."
"I mean, sure you do, but you're just one mammal," Judy replied, the awkward tension in the air refusing to dissipate. "And you're my partner, so we share basically everything already. It's just nice to, I don't know, have someone else to talk to about it I guess."
"Oh, I see," Nick said, posing with the back of his hand against his forehead. "I'm just not enough for you, am I Officer Hopps? I can't serve your needs, so you're casting me aside like yesterday's news." His voice was inflected with all the theatrical talent of a 4th grade musical.
Judy giggled. "C'mon, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, sort of, anyway," he said, shrugging. "Do you know you can trust him, though? I mean, he's still a reporter, Carrots. He's got to be working an angle here, it's what reporters do."
She swerved to get into a turn lane at the last second, eliciting a cacophony of horns from behind her. She wasn't about to let traffic get in the way of her mood again.
"So let me get this straight," she said. "The ex con-man is suspicious of a hare whose job is literally to tell the truth?"
"Yeah, but when do newspapers actually tell the truth?" Nick said. "You should see some of the slop that gets printed in the News Herald."
"Look, Nick," she said. An edge had crept into her voice. "Do you think I would talk to this guy about this stuff without looking him up first?
Nick sputtered. "I-uh, I mean, that's not what I meant-"
"No, I wouldn't. I've done my research, Nick, and he's a good guy and a good reporter. His stories have lead to a lot of lives changing for the better, and he's been more than respectful of my position with the ZPD."
Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
They'd stopped at a red light. Judy took the opportunity to face her partner "I know you're just worried, but please trust me on this. I know he's smarmy, and I know his job is to gather information, meaning he's going to try to steer our conversations where he wants them to go. I appreciate your concern, but I'm an officer just like you. I can handle the flattery from one reporter."
"Ca-Judy, I didn't mean that you couldn't handle it, I just… I don't know," Nick said, stumbling through his words. He struggled to meet her gaze. Oh god, there's those big lavender eyes again. "You're my partner. I have to watch your back."
She smiled at him. "And you're my partner, so your concern has be duly noted." She pulled out an invisible note pad and began writing in the air on it. "Note from Nick," she said, waving her hand through the air in script. "Cam is a smooth-talking flatterer who is probably looking for his next story. I shouldn't take what he says at face-value." She punctuated the imaginary sentence with a flourish.
Nick smiled weakly, and pulled out his own imaginary pen and paper. "Note from Fluff," he began. "She is a strong, resourceful bunny cop who isn't about to let some slick reporter pull the wool over her eyes, and her partner should trust her more." He pretended to put his imaginary notepad in his pocket, patting it for emphasis. "How's that?"
"Thank you, Nick," she said. She broke out into a smirk. "By the way, you called me Judy again."
Nick facepalmed. "C'mon, Carrots, you gotta be less observant. Throw me a bone, here," he said.
She grinned. "No way, you're not getting off that easily. Now, I was thinking about the car I was going to pick. What are your opinions on red versus an off-white?"
Nick groaned. It was going to be a long drive back to the precinct.